Thursday, 9 February 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Mill Race Trail, St. Jacobs, ON and Conestogo, ON

07 February 2017

     It was with extra pleasure that we met to embark on our regular Tuesday morning outing, because we were able to welcome Franc and Carol back from Arizona, with an abundance of memories of great birds, but ready to get back into the flow with us again. In addition, Franc was able to resume his role as the "official photographer" of Rambles with David!


     Francine and Jim are still away in Québec and we will not all be together again until the end of the month. It is the leitmotif of my recent birding experiences that this is the most agreeable and compatible group of eight birders ever assembled and I am looking forward to our "Gang of Eight" venturing forth together again.
     We decided to cover the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs first, where winter usually holds a nice variety of species and the absence of crowds on a weekday makes for a very pleasant experience.



     There was quite a bit of snow on the ground but the temperature was mild and the walking was easy.
     White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis is a very common species here and along with Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus has lost its fear of humans and readily descends to the hand to take seed.



     It was only recently that I first had a White-breasted Nuthatch feed from my hand, but I have witnessed this phenomenon in a different location since. Red-breasted Nuthatches Sitta canadensis have never been reluctant to approach humans for an easy meal, but the champion of all is the Black-capped Chickadee - and speaking of which..........


     I swear that if I live to be a hundred I will still derive pleasure from this simple act!
     Several American Tree Sparrows Spizelloides arborea were seen and we universally commented on the subtle delicacy of the plumage of this species that fills us with delight from late fall through early spring.



     The day was quite gloomy and the presence of snow at least contributed a little light, but photography was still a bit of a challenge.



     A vivid male Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis no doubt aids the photographer with its bold splash of colour.



     On a sunny day at the end of the month these males will already be singing courtship songs - for a birder one of the true signs of impending spring, whatever the calendar says!
     There was a thin layer of water atop the ice and this drake Mallard Anas platyrynchos looks like it is walking on water!



     Woodpeckers were quite common, with both male and female Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens being frequently seen.





     Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata enlivens any winter walk.



     As has been mentioned in other recent posts American Robin Turdus migratorius is now a common species in winter. While a few birds have always exploited ravines for shelter and prolific berry crops for food, a robin in winter was nevertheless a relative rarity. Now it is commonplace.




     Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura has traditionally been with us all winter, but no doubt they welcome the trend towards overall milder temperatures, since they are prone to frostbitten feet in extreme conditions.



     Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa is a tiny bird that defies logic in spending the winter here and coping with it so well. The great naturalist Bernd Heinrich in his book Winter follows a flock of this diminutive species in the forests of northern Maine and provides great insight into their highly developed adaptations for survival under severe weather conditions, with temperature/wind chill factors sometimes approaching forty degrees below zero. Highly recommended reading!




     When we were almost back at the car Franc pivoted his camera upwards with that sweep of the arm we have all become familiar with, to capture this picture of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii. Not a bad bird to end the walk!



     Franc and Carol patronize a local coffee merchant called EcoCafe in St. Jacobs, where a wide variety of beans from different coffee producing countries can be obtained, with advice on how to store, handle, grind and make coffee. We all had a coffee there and chatted for a while; Franc and Carol replenished their stock. Now I can't wait to visit them so that Carol can make me as fine a cappuccino as you could have in a gourmet coffee house in Italy. And did I mention the biscotti.......or the Slovenian cake to die for!
     Our final destination was the little town of Conestogo where a pair of Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus has successfully fledged young for the past couple of years and is already preparing for this year's breeding season. 
     By the time we got there it was snowing lightly and the light had deteriorated substantially. Nevertheless Franc managed this shot of one of the eagles in flight, as majestic a spectacle as you could ever wish to see.



     The river held only Mallards and Canada Geese Branta canadensis other than for a lone male Common Merganser Mergus merganser.



     Our group broke up knowing that we had seen a fine array of birds and wondering when the first spring arrivals will start to dribble into the area. A month from now will no doubt be a whole different story!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Èpervier brun) in our Backyard

     The fact that so many more people are feeding birds than was true in the past, combined with increasingly warm winters, means that accipiters like Sharp-shinned Hawk  Accipiter striatus are ever more frequently choosing to remain here rather than migrate.
     We have been fortunate to have one showing up in our yard regularly.



     There is a smorgasbord of prey awaiting her (we believe it's a female based on size) but so far we have not seen her take a bird. She is a magnificent specimen in prime condition and is obviously making a very good living. Perhaps when she rests here for a while she has recently eaten and is not in hunting mode.
     In fact in the picture below, American Goldfinches Spinus tristis which initially scattered with the arrival of the hawk have returned and are perched in the branches above her. She is glancing up but seems disinclined to initiate pursuit.




     There is an impressive range of species for her dining pleasure, our feeders having been especially active this year.
     Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis is a regular visitor, both male and female, and we see them most days.




     There is a small ground conifer under the birch tree and Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis tend to hide under it and dart out to snag seed knocked down by the American Goldfinches. But a couple of them have figured out that they can perch on the feeder themselves and get direct access to the sunflower hearts.



     Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura are always present, sometimes as many as six individuals; they are often the first birds to arrive at first light. One of them would make a fine meal for a Sharp-shinned Hawk.



     House Sparrow Passer domesticus attends in small numbers and has shown a particular fondness for suet, but it does not hesitate to take seed also. This male seems to be rearranging his feathers.



     Nuthatches, as everyone knows, are among the acrobats of the avian world, and this White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis seems perfectly adept at feeding on suet by hanging upside down.



     American Goldfinch is by far the most numerous species we have at the feeders, sometimes as many as thirty all jousting for position and squabbling as they are wont to do. They seem to have remained yellower than normal all winter and look quite wonderful against a snowy backdrop.



     Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus is never far away and feeds on every feeder at one time or another. This species bred in one of our nest boxes last year and a couple of times I have seen them apparently checking it out. Perhaps this is just casual behaviour with no specific meaning, for it seems far too early for pair bonds to have been cemented, let alone to have nest selection underway.



     Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus has never been a regular visitor to our yard so we were especially delighted when this male showed up one day. Fortunately Miriam had her camera at the ready and was able to memorialize the visit.




      And so we have a real cross section of our winter species coming to the garden and we are happy to see them all, not the least of which is our "very own" Sharp-shinned hawk.




  
     I hope to be looking out the window when she arrives today.  

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Hamilton and Halton

01 February 2017

     It has been a while since we have been able to go on one of our regular rambles; it seemed that if we had a bad day's weather that's the day it would happen and we had no choice but to cancel. Even this week's ramble had to be postponed to Wednesday due to a presentation I had been scheduled for months to make on Tuesday.
     Francine takes piano lessons on Wednesday mornings so she and Jim didn't join us, Franc and Carol are on their way back from Arizona (hooray!), so it was just Miriam and me with Judy and Mary (who has missed the last few walks for one reason or another). It was great to have the two of them in the car with us to enjoy the delightful, interesting, humourous, multi-faceted chatter that always takes place when we are together. When I consider the various experiences and careers we have respectively enjoyed, there is little wonder that the car is a lively place!
     Our first stop was at the Hood Century Farm to which we had been invited by Diane Hood. Gracious as always, Diane invited us all in and made coffee and served us wonderful Newfoundland ginger snap cookies. It was great to chat with her and talk about plans to return in the spring.
     While we were sitting drinking coffee an American Tree Sparrow Spizelloides arborea flew into one of the windows, seriously stunning itself, and prompting Diane to consider bird- proofing the window. The bird sat for quite a while on the sill; the quality of the picture is marred by the fact that it was taken through a mesh screen and glass.



     We were all concerned for its welfare but felt that the best course of action was to leave it where it was. Slowly it revived and finally flew from the sill to the ground where it seemed alert and ultimately flew off.
     After leaving the farm we travelled south to the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, where winter birding is generally very good. 


       We were greeted, as usual, by a row of Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis  lined up on the fence like soldiers on parade. 


     These birds are so accustomed to humans you can almost touch them. They know, along with the Canada Geese Branta canadensis and Mallards Anas platyrynchos, that they will not have long to wait before some doting parent brings a child with bags of goodies to feed them.
     The Canada Geese and Mallards far outnumber other species to be found on the water.



       We scanned the Canada Geese for a while, hoping to locate a few Cackling Geese Branta hutchinsii, but if they were there they eluded our gaze.
       This outing had originally been planned as a morning only event, but it was by now lunchtime and we were all well-provisioned with power bars so we decided to extend it and we motored over to LaSalle Park and Marina, one of the best local areas for winter birding, where there are substantial populations of waterfowl, in addition to varied and  interesting species along the woodland trail.
      The signature species at LaSalle is the regal Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator where sometimes up to two hundred birds are present.



     Several Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator were observed, both male and female, and it was impressive to watch their mastery of the water. These birds move adequately on land, swim and dive with precision, and have command of the skies too. Most human have but a passing acquaintance with water, and none with the air, uni-dimensional lesser beings that we are!



     American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus were infrequently sighted and were clearly outnumbered by the ubiquitous Ring-billed Gulls, but Miriam succeeded in getting this shot of a fine-looking individual.


       LaSalle is a reliable spot to study American Coot Fulica americana during the cold months of winter, and we succeeded in finding a few, but nowhere near the large concentrations I have observed in the past.


     Bufflehead Bucephala albeola was present of course; we would be shocked if it were not!


      I have often remarked (as I am sure have many others) on the sheer beauty of a drake Mallard, and the fact that familiarity leads us to ignore it. We did not fail to appreciate it today.


     A Canvasback Aythya valsinaria is always a welcome sight and it is rare that large numbers of this very handsome species are observed.


       Many people bring bird seed to LaSalle and leave little piles along the boardwalk. Eastern Grey/Black Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis are well aware of this fact and waste no opportunity to get to it before the birds do.


     Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus  has expanded its range considerably in recent years and seems to have little difficulty surviving our winters, which are on average warmer than in times past. We listened carefully for the loud, rollicking song of this charming species and were rewarded with view of four of them.


     A few Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis foraged on the ground, busy as always scratching and scraping for tasty morsels.


     A Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii, perched low to the ground, was pointed out to us by a group of photographers. There is little doubt that this accipiter can make a good living at LaSalle.


     Too bad it wouldn't turn and face us!
     Before setting out on our journey this morning, Judy brought over a cartoon her husband, Ross, had cut from a newspaper, thinking that I would get a chuckle out of it - and I did! Perhaps you will too.