Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Westmount Golf and Country Club, Kitchener, ON - No. 2

22 August 2016

     Many regular readers will recall the account of a visit we made to the Westmount Golf and Country Club in April this year: 
     It was with a good deal of pleasure that we accepted the invitation of our friends Ron and Thelma Beaubien to accompany them on an early morning walk once again. The course is tranquil at 06:00 and a lovely place to walk and enjoy nature. As a sure sign that fall is approaching the temperature when we started off was a mere 11°.
     Although the sheer diversity of birds was not as great as during our previous visit there was an interesting variety, and a couple of noticeable highlights. Having seen a pair of Wood Ducks Aix sponsa there in the spring, we had been wondering whether they bred at the club. Given the number of undisturbed tracts of woodland it certainly seemed likely that a suitable cavity would be present. We had our confirmation. Two young males, on their way to acquiring adult plumage were seen and they were quite confiding. I am sure that they are well habituated to human activity given that they have been raised in the vicinity of a very active golf course.

     The pictures above were taken in poor light but it is important to include them since they are the two birds that we saw, and in some ways the murky light is quite atmospheric.
     Here is what they will look like when they are in full regalia.

     Ducks the world over display a stunning range of plumage; few, however, are more handsome than a Wood Duck.
     Ron had been chatting to us about the number of Red-tailed Hawks Buteo jamaicensis he had been seeing on the course this year as he played golf, sometimes three at a time. I suspect that these were birds of the year having fledged from this nest that we located.

     Red-tailed Hawk is the most common raptor in our area and is in fact widespread over the entire continent. It comes in a mind boggling range of plumage from almost chocolate brown to a pale cream.

     The common feature on adult birds is a red tail whence the bird takes its name.

     The presence of Red-tailed Hawks at a golf course should be cause for rejoicing. These efficient birds of prey will render valuable service in keeping the population of rodents under control.
     The final very interesting observation we made was of a female Common Green Darner Anax junius which had somehow gotten stranded on the grass. Perhaps it was too heavily laden with dew to take flight, or perhaps it was waiting for rising temperatures to facilitate flight. In any event it gave us a great chance to photograph it up close.

     Our thanks go out again to Ron and Thelma and to the management of the golf course for having an enlightened attitude towards wildlife and permitting us to roam the course before the day's golfing gets underway.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Successful Morning's Banding

20 August 2016

     Last week we launched our mist net operation at SpruceHaven, but did not have an auspicious start, due to heavy rain at the outset and the fact that we had to set up the nets before starting to band birds. At most we got in an hour of actual banding, so today was effectively the first day's activity.
     As usual, Kevin Grundy, our distinguished and highly professional bander was in charge, and we were impressed (and very happy) with the results we had. Kevin's friend, George Hentsch, came to help us this morning and we appreciated his assistance.
     Song Sparrows Melopsiza melodia have obviously had a very successful breeding season and, as expected, they predominated in captures. This hatch year bird was retrieved from the first circuit of the nets.

     American Goldfinch Spinus tristis is a common resident bird and they are still breeding, spurred on by the prolific crop of thistle seeds.

     One of the ways we determine the sex and breeding status of a bird is to examine it for the presence of a brood patch, that area of bare skin whereby the incubating female transfers body heat to the eggs.
     The brood patch is very evident on this female American Goldfinch.

     We know that House Wrens Troglodytes aedon bred successfully since they fledged young from one of our nest boxes, and we were not surprised to capture young birds fresh from the nest.

     We were delighted to capture a migrating Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia and here Kevin consults the bird bander's bible to check on the finer points of aging and sexing.

     Black-and-White Warbler is quite distinct and is impossible to confuse with any other warbler. In habits it mimics a nuthatch.

     In addition to capturing juvenile Song Sparrows we also netted several adults, all of which now carry identifying bands, their vital statistics having been measured and recorded.

     A Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica was the second species of migratory warbler we captured this morning.

     We wish this first year female favourable winds on its journey south to as far as northern Ecuador.
     A Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea, captured and banded, is a cause for celebration, although in the fall the males do not feature their stunning and highly distinctive breeding plumage.

     We captured the first Empidonax flycatcher of the season and were very happy that it was a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventri, a species banded relatively infrequently.

     Baltimore Orioles Icterus galbula have been a fixture at SpruceHaven since spring, so it was no surprise when this bird was captured.

     Our last capture of the day was a Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus on our final round of the nets to close them up. This bird has two colour variants - Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted - and it is easy to identify this bird as a Yellow-shafted Flicker.

     Rare among woodpeckers, the flicker feeds primarily on the ground, on ants, and it is clear from the mud on this male's bill it has been digging in the soil in search of food.

     This was a great start to our bird banding operation at SpruceHaven and as the seasons moves along and the pace of migration increases we have only bigger and better successes to look forward to.

All species banded: Northern Flicker 1), Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1), Black-capped Chickadee (3) Barn Swallow (1), House Wren (3), American Goldfinch (2), Black-and-white Warbler (1), Chestnut-sided Warbler (1), Baltimore Oriole (1), Song Sparrow (16), Scarlet Tanager (1). Total individuals: 31

Friday, 12 August 2016

House Wren (Troglodyte familier) and Cedar Waxwing (Jaseur d'Amérique)

10 August 2016
Hullett Marsh, Huron County, ON

     We had planned a visit to Bayfield and left ourselves enough time stop by Hullett Marsh on the way - and it was a couple of hours well spent.
    Many nest boxes have been located throughout the property and this year House Wrens Troglodytes aedon seem to have claimed squatters' rights.

     They are aggressive little birds and able to defend their territories pugnaciously against all comers.  This individual perched atop his nest box and uttered his rollicking song as though to challenge those who might dare to interfere.

     It was curious behaviour in a way, because the bird would enter the nest with food in its bill, obviously feeding young, and then come back out to take up its position on top of the post and sing loudly.
     Perhaps in complete disdain of us it turned its back!

     Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum were actively flycatching and had found the rails of an old bridge very convenient perches.

     This is a very handsome species indeed and one that never fails to be appreciated by visitors who have never seen it. It is a year round resident and with a little diligence can be found at any time of the year. It is primarily a frugivorous species and even feeds its young a principally fruit-laden diet, supplemented by a few insects.
     The following picture shows a close-up of the waxy tips on the wings giving the bird its name. I remember my grandmother used to seal the string on parcels to be mailed with sealing wax, looking very much like the bright red wingtips of a Cedar Waxwing.

     From any angle this species is one of our most enigmatic residents.

     Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca is at the peak of its inflorescence in August and it was seen throughout.

     Milkweed is vital in the life of a Monarch Danaus plexippus and they were present, although in small numbers; this year does not seem to be a good year for Monarchs.
     It always strikes me as amazing when I see butterflies with a large part of their wing(s) missing, yet they still are able to fly proficiently. This Monarch flitted from flower to flower without any problem that we could ascertain, whereas one would think it would be aerodynamically unbalanced.

     Hullett Marsh, in all its seasons, always holds delights in store for a visiting naturalist, and there are many more treasures waiting to be discovered on subsequent visits. We will look  forward to it!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A couple of SpruceHaven birds

     A pair of Green Herons Butorides virescens have been present at SpruceHaven since the spring and even though their breeding attempt seemed to have been thwarted they now are seen regularly with a single juvenile. 

     These birds are quite wary and slink back into dense vegetation if they feel even the slightest bit threatened. Fortunately, by knowing where they are, a little patience is rewarded with a sighting of one or more of the birds.

     When I took these photographs a couple of days ago a family of Mallards Anas platyrynchos was preening and splashing in the water directly below the Green Heron.

     The Mallards posed not the slightest threat but the Green Heron was clearly unhappy that they had invaded its space. 

     It made half-hearted jabs at them but the Mallards paid the heron no attention at all and finally it returned to the security of dense cover, as though to sulk in silence.
     Our Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica colony is a thriving affair indeed and we have several nests in the barn with second clutches. In fact we will be banding again tomorrow evening.

     The birds are frequently seen on the roof of the barn and perched along the eaves troughs and we are always happy when we spot a bird that we have banded this year.

     I care not a fig for the Olympic Games and they seem to be far less about athletic performance than they do about drugs, corruption, self-interest and the determination of the IOC to have the games go ahead no matter what. The host country says to hell with its people, let's put on a good show. To hell with pollution, to hell with crime, to hell with clean water. And if the athletes take a few drugs to hell with that too.
     Perhaps a few of these so called athletes should adopt the Barn Swallow as their inspiration. Six to eight weeks after they are born these little birds embark on a perilous migration to South America, encountering all manner of hazards along the way. And they do this unassisted, without benefit of anything to enhance their performance. Some of them will live to return next year and we look forward to welcoming them home.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Rock Point Provincial Park

03 August 2016

     Rock Point Provincial Park is situated near Dunnville (Haldimand County), Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Erie. We had not previously visited this park and, having bought an annual pass to our provincial parks this year, we decided to visit it to see what it was like.
     We had asked our friends John and Geraldine Sanderson if they would like to accompany us and they too looked forward to visiting a park previously unknown to them. We picked them up at 08:00 and set off together for the day's adventure.
     Once inside the park we found an area by the lake that seemed to hold the promise of good birding - and we were not disappointed. Perhaps most impressive was the sheer number of American Yellow Warblers Setophaga aestiva already migrating south, a stark reminder that summer is waning and fall will soon be here.

American Yellow Warbler - male
     We were attracted to the clamour of a fledgling Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater begging incessantly for its surrogate Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia parent to feed it. It seemed that no matter how many insects the dedicated "parent" stuffed into the cowbird's gape it was never enough.  

Song Sparrow feeding Brown-headed Cowbird
       Many butterflies were found in this area, the most ubiquitous being Cabbage White Pieris rapae.

Cabbage White

     We have not seen many Monarchs Danaus plexippus this year but a few have started to show up here and there, and small numbers of this archetypal species were present in the park.


     Not to be outdone the diminutive Spring Azure Celestrina lucia was often observed flitting from plant to plant, alighting only briefly and often concealed by foliage.

Spring Azure

     Actually the whole azure complex has recently undergone taxonomic revision and I believe that the Spring Azure may have been merged with another azure species. Butterflies not being my field of expertise, I am not sure whether the name has been retained or not.

     Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilo glaucus, large and majestic, drifted everywhere, always an impressive sight.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

     The final butterfly species I was able to photograph was Red-spotted Purple Limenitis arthemis astyanax, a distinctive member of the Nymphalidae.

Red-spotted Purple

Red-spotted Purple

     There are various species of Katydid and I am not proficient enough to know which species this one is, but it was certainly an interesting looking creature.

Katydid sp.

     Periodically along the beach small groups of gulls were sighted, both American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus and Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis.

American Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

     When we had lunch we were entertained by a family of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica. The adults were providing a constant stream of food to young birds that looked just about ready to fledge.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

     After lunch we returned to the car and drove around the park to explore its different features.

     There were several dead fish on the beach, mostly quite large, and of unknown species. As you can see from the following picture nothing had gone to waste.

     The shoreline at this point was predominantly a limestone shelf with sporadic stands of vegetation.

     This sub adult American Herring Gull had located a dead fish in the water and was enjoying easy pickings.

     This park has a sandy beach for families who come to enjoy the water, but the limestone formations prevail for most of the area, especially in the southeast corner of the park.

     Miriam was able to snap this Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius, darting in and out of cover to feed. 

     This park is renowned for its fossil formations dating back to the Devonian period, some 300 million years ago, and it was not hard to find them embedded in the limestone and bedrock.

     We all had a splendid day and we will look forward to visiting this interesting park again, perhaps in different seasons, and getting to know some of its secrets.

All bird species observed en route: Canada Goose, Mallard, Wild Turkey, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Common Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Common Grackle, Indigo Bunting.

All bird species observed at Rock Point Provincial Park: Canada GooseMallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Grey Catbird, American Robin, American Goldfinch, American Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Brown-headed Cowbird, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.

Total species: 35