Sunday, 23 October 2016

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnes trompettes) along the Grand River

23 March 2016
rare Charitable Research Reserve
Cambridge, ON

      Miriam and I do bird monitoring at rare each weekend, spring and fall, and the route we do on Sunday mornings is called the East Cliff Forest Route, which takes us along the bank of the Grand River.
     This morning, for the very first time, we observed Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator along the river, one adult and three cygnets to be precise.

     This species migrates in family groups, so it was a bit of a mystery as to why the second adult was not present also. As may be seen, the young birds are now fully as big as their parent.
     The adult bird seems to have some king of vegetation wrapped around the front of its body, but this seemed not to impede it in any way, and I suspect that upon taking flight it would quickly shake it loose.

     It was a very special sighting and certainly Trumpeter Swan was "the bird of the day."

     We were accompanied this morning by Jade Bassler, a University of Waterloo environmental studies undergraduate, who added much to the conviviality of our walk. As you have learned from previous blog posts, Jade has been out to SpruceHaven with us a couple of times, and both Miriam and I will look forward to doing more with this enthusiastic, committed young woman. It was our pleasure to have her along today.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sittelle à poitrine blanche) feeds from the hand

19 October 2016

     Today was as classic a fall day in southern Ontario as one could imagine and Miriam and I decided to take advantage of it and go for a walk along the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs, one of our favourite walks in the area.
     It was pleasantly warm and the colours were breathtaking.

     In addition, Miriam has a new Nikon Coolpix B700 camera and she wanted to get some practice shooting with it, before our upcoming vacation in Cuba.
     I don't think we will ever totally grow up, at least I hope not - perhaps we can remain children with wrinkles! Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus will readily accept seeds from the hand; in fact along well worn trails such as this one they have come to associate walkers with food and are quick to surround you as soon as you enter their territory

      For children this is a magical experience indeed, but for adults hardly less so, I suspect. I know that it's true for me and today, when offered some seed by a kind fellow trail walker, I could not resist.
     White-breasted Nuthatches Sitella carolinensis often keep company with chickadees, especially at this time of the year when they are both looking for food to cache away for the harsh months ahead. 

     In all the years that I have hand-fed chickadees I have never had a White-breasted Nuthatch land on my hand, nor even attempt to do so. Imagine my surprise and delight, therefore, when this individual landed on my hand to get its share of seed.

     Not only did it fearlessly alight on my hand, it made no attempt to snag a seed and leave quickly. It moved around on my palm and sorted through the seeds until it found the choicest item being offered. If an impudent chickadee attempted to horn in, it was summarily driven off.

      Not only that, the nuthatch flew away to hide its prize and then returned to my hand for more.
      It was a remarkable encounter indeed, filled with pleasure. Any time I can have intimate contact with a wild creature I cherish it, and this experience was supremely memorable.
      Thanks to Miriam for the pictures. If this is what she can get on the first day using the camera, when she is not yet familiar with all the settings, we can look forward to good things to come.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Dedicated University of Waterloo Students at SpruceHaven

15 October 2016

     Once again we were very happy to welcome dedicated students from the University of Waterloo to witness our bird banding operation and to add to their knowledge about the avian diversity of the area.

     From left to right in the above picture are Jason Bell whose field of study is Geography and Environmental Management, Jade Bassler who is immersed in the Environment and Business curriculum, Emily Krampien who is studying International Development and will be putting in time in a third world country next year, and Josh Pickering whose programme encompasses Environment and Resource Studies.
     These very fine young people were at SpruceHaven before first light, anxious to participate and contribute in any way they can. They were prepared to work at invasive species removal but Sandy is away in Scotland for a couple of weeks, and without her supervision and direction they were unable to accomplish this task.
     I cannot commend these students enough and to say what a pleasure it is to be associated with them. They are our future and we are not turning over a world in good order to them. Miriam and I were delighted to have this contingent over to our house for dinner last evening. What a fine and stimulating time we had. I hope they will come back again soon.
     In terms of banding we had a relatively modest day and captured only one new species for this fall's operation. It is an American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea depicted in the pictures below.

     One may clearly see the bi-coloured mandible, rusty cap and central breast spot which are the identifying characters of this species.
     As we process the birds, it gives us a great opportunity to show the students the various feather tracts and explain their function. They get to observe the birds up close and discussions cover far ranging aspects of the birds - flight, thermoregulation, migration, fat deposition - and much more. Our desire to pass on our knowledge is only surpassed by their desire to acquire it.
     This male Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis (Slate-coloured subspecies) clearly shows the white outer tail feathers so diagnostic of this species.

     We were fortunate to band both male and female Golden-crowned Kinglets Regulas satrapa. It is safe to say that this species elicited more appreciative sighs than any other, especially from Jade! Perhaps more than the rest of us she identifies with being tiny but tough! The first two picture below show the male, the last one the female. 

     For all of us who have the pleasure of doing myriad kinds of avian research at SpruceHaven we cannot express our appreciation too much to Dave, Sandy and Jamie for the rare opportunity they afford us to pursue our passion. From the bottom of our hearts THANK YOU!

Total species banded 15 October: Downy Woodpecker (1), Blue Jay (1), Black-capped Chickadee (2), Golden-crowned Kinglet (2), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), American Goldfinch (5), Nashville Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (5), White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow (1).
Total individuals: 22

Tuesday Rambles with David - RIM Park, Waterloo, ON

11 October 2016

     On Tuesday last we did our regular ramble at a local birding spot, this time choosing RIM Park in the northeast corner of Waterloo.

     Our regular group met in the parking lot and we were off on our walk when Franc's cell phone rang. It was Francine on the line. She and Jim had been unable to make the previous outings because they have a yoga class on Tuesdays. But what is yoga compared to the thrill of birding on a bright fall day? She wanted in! So we returned to the parking lot to meet them and Francine and Jim joined us for a great morning of birding, banter and fine companionship.

     From left to right above - Franc Gorenc, Carol Gorenc, Francine Gilbert, Mary Voisin, moi, Judy Wyatt, and Jim Huffman. Miriam was taking the picture; in fact she and Franc took all of the photographs, so I am contributing only the narrative. Seems like a great group effort to me!
     In the sky above we spotted a rainbow-like apparition, but it did not curve in the usual fashion and arc towards the ground; it was in fact a sun dog I am told.

     Not far into our walk we spotted a distant Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus, a lifer for Francine, so she was elated and even happier that she had decided to forego yoga in favour of coming with us.

     Our entire ramble was punctuated with birds, but the most numerous was Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula. This tiny bird migrates in great numbers in the fall and Franc was able to capture a bit of the ruby crown, seldom observed, and more likely to be seen in the spring when males are displaying.

     American Robin Turdus migratorius was also common. Most of these birds will be migrating out of our area soon, but ever more frequently this species is found overwintering, exploiting micro climates in ravines and other sheltered places. It is now to be expected that American Robin will show up on our Christmas Bird Counts.

     I think that Franc has done a splendid job in the above picture, capturing the red breast of the robin contrasting so wonderfully with the autumnal foliage.
     The following shot of a Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris is equally appealing to my eye.

     Several species of sparrow are to be found in the fall, some migrating through this latitude; others already arrived from the north to settle in here for the winter.
     White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys is a very handsome species.

     Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia has been with us all summer, and as is true of the American Robin, some hardy individuals will spend the winter here.

     There were patches of mist here and there along the Grand River and the light was quite variable. Canada Geese Branta canadensis, to no one's surprise, were ubiquitous. The picture below could have been painted by the first European explorers to southern Ontario; the beauty conveyed is timeless and so iconically Canadian.

     Mallards Anas platyrynchos were equally content to share the river.

     Most of the Western Ospreys Pandion haliaetus that breed so successfully along the Grand River and in other parts of the watershed have departed for the south, and we were all surprised and delighted to see this individual still patrolling for a meal.

     I am not sure why but there were few gulls that morning, but Franc captured this shot of a Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis passing by, highlighted by the fall foliage behind it.

     Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus were happy to scold us as we passed by for not bringing them gifts of sunflower seed.

     Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus is a species that has experienced catastrophic declines in recent years so any sighting is a cause for rejoicing.

     This grasshopper (sp?) was in clear view along the path, risking becoming a juicy morsel for some passing bird it would seem.

     This interesting looking fungus is a species of Stinkhorn, I believe, and was spotted initially by Miriam near the end of our walk. See Jan's comments below. This is a Shaggy Mane Caprinus comatus. 

     It was a fabulous way to spend the morning, with the very finest of companions, and Miriam and I decided to celebrate its success by going to the local sushi restaurant on the way home for lunch.
     Weather permitting, the next account of Tuesday Rambles with David will be from Mounstberg Conservation Area. À la prochaine tout le monde!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Wilson's Snipe (Bécassine de Wilson)

Ellacott Lookout
Cambridge, ON
13 October 2016

     Miriam had to go into Cambridge to pick up a blade for one of her fabric cutters so we decided to go together and check out the bird life at Ellacott Lookout afterwards.    

The Speed River from Ellacott Lookout

     We were very happy to locate four Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata feeding at some distance from the shore, along with five Killdeer Charadrius vociferus. 



Wilson's Snipe

     These two species of shorebird, along with Dunlin Calidris alpina, are among the latest to migrate southwards through our area. Their numbers will peak towards the end of October and a few may still be seen into early November.

     The following shot, albeit from a distance, shows a snipe snagging prey in its long, flexible bill. 

     Today, at the rare Charitable Research Reserve, also in Cambridge, I saw this Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris at the edge of a hole in a tree.

    It begs the question as to whether this species is still breeding at this late date, or whether the bird was simply taking shelter in the cavity. I suspect the latter, because I observed the bird for almost fifteen minutes and it never left its position. I assume that if it still had young it would have left to gather food to bring back to the nestlings.

     I apologize for the poor quality of these images but the zoom on my Canon Powershot 50 is unable to do any better.   

Saturday, 8 October 2016

An Educational Day at SpruceHaven

08 October 2016

     Cara Poulsen, a student in the environmental studies programme at the University of Waterloo, recently came out to Sprucehaven to help us with tree planting and other chores. She is keen, committed and anxious to learn more about birds, and to add practical knowledge to the theoretical base of her curriculum.
     It was a great pleasure, therefore, when I received an email from Cara asking if she could participate in our weekend bird banding. 
     She was willing to get up early and Miriam and I picked her up at 06:20 this morning on our way to SpruceHaven.
     Very quickly, she was put to work, making the circuit of the nets with us, to see first hand how the captured birds are carefully extracted from the mist nets.
     Here she is with her first batch of birds, safely ensconced in the bags used to bring them from the nets to the banding station.

     In for a penny, in for a pound, as the old saying goes, she settled down to scribe for Kevin, recording all the pertinent details as each bird was measured, weighed and banded.

     In no time at all she had the various codes down pat and was working with fluid efficiency.
     A couple of weeks ago we trapped a White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis but Kevin had released it before I thought to photograph it. No such absent-mindedness with this individual this morning!

     By now Cara was really in the groove and looked entranced with the process of recording the banded birds.

     A tiny Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis was a new capture for the year.

     In addition to Cara's participation this morning a group of children from our naturalists club offshoot, Waterloo Region Nature Kids, were visiting, and as you can see the children and their parents were very interested in seeing the bird banding take place.

     Cara was unfazed by the crowd surrounding her.
     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis have been arriving from the north over the past week or so, but I had not seen one this fall before capturing this individual in our nets this morning.

     The white outer tail feathers, so diagnostic of this species, are clearly visible.
     Various interpretive undertakings were carried out for the visiting parents and children, but we neglected to take photographs at various stages of the two hours the children were there, and the following images were all captured at the bird banding station.


     Sandy, as ever kind and considerate, had potted seedlings of Red Osier Dogwood Cornus stolonifera, and each child went away proudly bearing their gift of a native species to be planted in their gardens at home.
     It was a successful morning of banding, part of which I missed while conducting the children on their tour of SpruceHaven, but here is Kevin closing up the nets after another fruitful session. 

All species banded 08 October:  Blue Jay (1), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2), Winter Wren (1), Tennessee Warbler (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Common Yellowthroat (1), Song Sparrow (6), Lincoln's Sparrow (2), Swamp Sparrow (2), White-crowned Sparrow (1), White-throated Sparrow (2), Dark-eyed Junco (1)
Total individuals: 21