Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – July 2016

Hello again!  Hope you are all enjoying your summer.

Around here, it’s juvenile bird time in the yard!  I’ve been having great fun watching & listening to families of birds at my few summer feeders & in my trees.  I’ve been watching juvenile Red Breasted Nuthatches, Black Capped Chickadees, Crows, Starlings, Grackles, Bluebirds, Chipping Sparrows & Purple Finches.  I’m expecting the arrival of juvenile Evening Grosbeaks any day now ….. the highlight of my summer!

Juvie Nuttie1

Juvenile Red Breasted Nuthatch

Juvie Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Crow (left) with adult

Juvenile Crow (left) with its parent

I’m beyond thrilled this summer to have a small family of Eastern Bluebirds nearby!  They didn’t nest in my yard but somewhere nearby in my neighbourhood and now, I’m lucky enough to watch them flitting around catching bugs.  The adult female likes to perch on the corner of my back neighbour’s eavestrough and hunt from there.  The adult male and one of the juveniles like to perch on the street light post at the end of my driveway.  One day last week, the adult male came down and landed on my back fence for a nice pose.  🙂  Every year, I’m so hopeful they’ll choose my birdhouse for nesting.  Fingers crossed!

Male Eastern Bluebird2

Male Eastern Bluebird on a line above my backyard.

Male Eastern Bluebird1

Male Eastern Bluebird on the street light at the end of my driveway.

Female Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird perched on my neighbour’s eaves trough.

I usually have Tree Swallows nesting in my birdhouse but this year, I messed up:  we forgot to clean out the house last fall so no one used it this year.  I’m so sad!!  First time in 10 years no one nested in my birdhouse.  Interestingly tho’, during the neighbourhood fledge week, I had over a dozen Tree Swallows going into & seriously squabbling over (at least, it looked like squabbling to me!) the bird house.  I’ve never seen them do this before since normally Tree Swallows completely vanish until the following year right after fledging.  And it wasn’t just my birdhouse either:  people reported the same activity all over town.  I have no explanation for it.

Tree Swallows2

Some of the Tree Swallows that lined up watching the birdhouse after fledging season.

Tree Swallows

Some of the Tree Swallows squabbling over the bird house the week after fledging season ended.

Tree Swallows3

A SERIOUS squabble over the birdhouse the week after fledging! I thought maybe they might try to have a second clutch but no.

Here are some photos of other feathered visitors to the yard in recent weeks:

Singing male Purple Finch

A lovely adult male Purple Finch, singing away

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin – just starting to see them again after nesting.

Female Purple

Female Purple Finch drinking from the birdbath

Female Downy

Female Downy Woodpecker: she looked right at me just as I snapped her photo!

Cedar Waxwing

Lovely Cedar Waxwing in my Honeysuckle shrub – a half dozen of them have been around the yard much of the summer

Adult Chipping Sparrow

Adult Chipping Sparrow – they nest in my neighbour’s shrubs & come here to get more food.

Nuttie

Adorable Red Breasted Nuthatch that found a tasty morsel in my pine trees.

I found this adult male White Throated Sparrow in my flowerbed last week …. he was completely missing all of his tail feathers.  I don’t know what happened to him but he was fine at the time.

Tailless WT

Adult male White Throated Sparrow missing all of his tail feathers.

And this is my little pal, Chip.  He’s one of at least 5 Eastern Chipmunks that adopted my backyard this summer.  Chip will come and sit on my feet or run around me until I give him a snack.  He’s adorable and thankfully, he’s not doing any damage to my flowerbeds this year!  Last year, the Chipmunks dug up and destroyed all of my tulip & lily bulbs.  Next to none of either left in my beds!  Cute little terrorists ……

Chip

And that’s about it for this month.  Enjoy your summer and I’ll ‘see’ you in August!

Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

TO Backyard – Keeping Birds and Cats Safe

Hello and welcome back to our Toronto backyard… and sometimes slightly beyond!

We have just started to see a couple Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming around, usually at dawn and dusk.  FINALLY!

hummer hummer1

There has been no shortage of Cedar Waxwings high up in the trees as well. Seldom do they come down low except when the holly berries are ripe for picking later in the fall as the weather starts to turn.  We hear them more than we can see them.  But it’s still nice.

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Of course we have a lot of the usual birds coming to visit our feeders and baths (Cardinals, Blue Jays, RWBBs, Grackles, Starlings, Gold Finches and House Sparrows) but I’ve not been in pursuit of taking photos as I try to just sit back and enjoy what is with us than try for pictures. Away from the yard, it has been very busy with all sorts of wildlife activity to share another time.

For this blog I want to share about enjoying the yard, and not just for us, but for our cats too. Free roaming felines can be a hot topic with some people. Some say there is nothing wrong with them doing this. Others loathe the cats wandering about. We have to agree with the later, while we love cats, but not when they are given absolute freedom to hunt and kill birds and other wildlife.

Our cats, Merry and Molly, just turned one year old recently.

sisters

We’ve been wanting to have them outside with us but know right now it would be too much to handle with the two of them on leash and harness. Our last cat Meadow loved being on the leash and she was great with all the backyard activity. In all her years, never did she ever harm another creature.

This is how she loved to spend summer afternoons with us out back. Just take in the warm sun and relax.

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It was through a friend of ours that we learned about the KittyWalk products. She has one for her cat that lays across the deck. We thought about this for a number of days before deciding on the 10 ft long lawn piece.

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The walk is a huge hit with Molly!

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Merry, it can be hit or miss, as she’s a bit high strung and skittish. But we work with her and we are having more better days with longer outside periods with her.

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Sure they aren’t as inexpensive as a leash and harness but they really do help keep the cats under control and the birds safe. Peterborough Ontario just passed a bylaw banning free roaming cats and hopefully other cities and towns will soon follow suit.

It’s an ongoing debate with some people. No matter how much you tell them about the bird kills, or even the dangers to their wandering cats, they still have their backs up about any sort of containment. They somehow think their cats are invincible to disease, cars and larger predators that may be in their neighbourhood.

This is a Great Horned Owl I found near our house a couple weeks ago. What cat could stand a chance if she silently came down on it?

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Or how about momma Raccoon if someone’s cat got too close to her young?

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Those who disagree might have a change of opinion if their cat ever brought home an Indigo Bunting in it’s teeth. This is one of the males nesting in a park near us. Photo’d July 2, 2016.

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Some stats…

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Even if you aren’t seeing your cat bringing home birds does not mean it’s not done harm to them in it’s travels. Not all cats bring them home as presents. Not all birds are killed right then and there. Some birds do escape, often flying off and dropping dead, being literally scared to death. Cat saliva is full of bacteria and a tooth puncture will also eventually be the death of a bird. Believe me, I know about cat bites, I received one and it put me out of work for almost 2 weeks. I was unable to move my fingers for 6 days due to the swelling. I was on intravenous antibiotics for 4 hours in emergency the first night. They wanted to admit me but they had no available beds. If one single cat bite can do that to a full grown man, just imagine what such a bite would do to a bird.

We love our cats and we love the birds that visit us. We work hard to enjoy both with us outside. I hope you do too, if you have a cat or two.

Posted in Bird Canada | 3 Comments

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – Top 5 Birding Locations!

A Brief Introduction to StaderArtBirds (Marcy & Ray Stader)

As new contributing authors to Bird Canada, we are honoured to share our stories, images and videos of birds across this great country.  We live on an acreage just south of Calgary, Alberta and enjoy spending as much time as we can in nature.

Our discovery and appreciation of birds can be attributed largely to the lens of a camera. Photography provides us a glimpse into the elusive world of birds by enabling us to capture incredible detail that we would otherwise never have been able to see with the naked eye.  A beautiful bird in an amazing setting may only last a second or two, but with photography and video, we can permanently capture and appreciate that moment long after it has passed.

For us, it’s about Moments in time when time stands still…

We will be contributing a blog post to Bird Canada once a month (on the 5th of every month).  You can also follow us at StaderArtBirds where we regularly post images and stories about birds from Canada, and many other places around the world where we travel.

 


Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, an Oasis in the Prairie!

Spared from the glaciers that flattened everything in the Canadian prairies 25,000 years ago, the Cypress Hills are an anomaly in the landscape of southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan.  More importantly, what it means to birders is that there are over 239 recorded bird species, and counting in this very unique and special place!

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Over 30 years had passed since we last visited the Cypress Hills – long before either of us was an avid birder – so we embarked on the trip with much enthusiasm and anticipation!  We spent 5 days in the park and started birding at 5:30 am every single day.  It was epic, so much so that we need a vacation to recover from the vacation 😉

 

These are the top five birding hotspots we discovered in Cypress Hills:

Hotspot #1 – Elkwater Lake Shoreline Trail & Boardwalk

One of the best places for birding is the Elkwater Lake shoreline trail and boardwalk.  It’s a well constructed 3.4 km trail (one way) along the south shore weaving in and out of the marshes and willow thickets–a great habitat for birds! It’s also easy walking and very accessible for 2 legged creatures!

The boardwalk along Elkwater Lake

 

It seems Cypress Hills wanted to make a very good first impression with us.  Not more than 5 minutes into our first birding excursion on the very first day, we encountered a Red-naped Sapsucker!  This was pretty exciting for us as we don’t see many of this particular species.  After observing this bird for a little while, we realized that he and his significant other had a nest in a bush not more than 30 feet from us.   They were making pretty regular “air express” meal deliveries to the nest while keeping a wary eye on “invasive” species like us humans.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

 

Common Yellowthroat Mania – Wow!  We have never seen an abundance of Common Yellowthroats quite like this before.  These little birds were everywhere, but nowhere.  We had to be extremely patient to get this photo.  We stood nearly motionless on the boardwalk for over half an hour and finally this little guy “came out of the closet” and revealed its striking beauty, but it was well worth the wait!

Common Yellowthroat

 

While totally focused on photographing the Common Yellowthroats, we almost missed the fact there was a Wilson’s Snipe perched on the boardwalk!  We think he was feeling a little bit left out over all the attention the yellow birds were receiving.

Wilson’s Snipe

 

Sometimes you get lucky…  or perhaps you create your own luck when you spend hours and hours in the early morning looking for birds.  After a few mornings along the Elkwater Lake shoreline trail, we had a very nice surprise when a Baltimore Oriole appeared out of thin air.  It only stayed about 10 seconds, just enough to steal this image.

Baltimore Oriole

 

If you lookup the definition of “random” in the dictionary, surely you’ll find “Song of a Gray Catbird.”  Most birds have a pretty repetitious song, but not the Gray Catbird.  At first it’s a difficult song to recognize, but with experience it becomes one of the easiest to identify because of its randomness.  Like the Common Yellowthroat, this Gray Catibird required A LOT of patience.  Most of the time it was buried deep in the vegetation and only on one occasion did it “show its quality.”

Gray Catbird

 

Cedar Waxwings also make themselves at home along the shoreline trail.  We usually found them in small groups of 3 or 4 birds foraging for berries along the trail.  We never tire of seeing Waxwings!

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The shoreline trail ends where the road crosses over the lake and there are some fantastic wetland areas on both sides.  We watched Black Terns flying at high velocity picking up insects over the water.  It was extremely difficult to photograph them in flight (especially when they don’t face the right way) but eventually one of them felt sorry for us and perched on a post!  Thank you!

Black Tern

Black Tern

 

Species sighted: common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, red-winged black bird, red-naped sapsucker, white-crowned sparrow, tree swallow, black tern, gray catbird, baltimore oriole, cedar waxwing, red-necked grebe, canada goose, mallard, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, lesser scaup, white-winged scoter, wilson’s snipe, ring-billed gull, caspian tern, belted kingfisher, mourning dove, northern flicker, american robin, eastern kingbird, red-eyed vireo, black-billed magpie, american crow, bank swallow, black-capped chickadee, song sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, turkey vulture, red-breasted nuthatch, veery, western wood-pewee, american white pelican, least flycatcher.

 

Hotspot #2 – Reesor Lake 

Although the shoreline trail along Elkwater Lake could keep a birder busy for weeks, there are some equally fantastic locations in other areas of the park.  Reesor Lake is one such destination worth visiting and it’s only 20 minutes from Elkwater townsite.

A few minutes before we arrived at Reesor Lake, something caught our eye high up in a tree.  We were looking into the sun so all we could see was a dark blob — a silhouette against the sky – but we knew it was something worth checking out.  We had to drive about 5 minutes further down the road to find a turnaround spot and come back toward the bird with the sun shining in the right direction, hoping the bird would still be there.  Yawza!  It was a beautiful Osprey!  We watched him for about 15 minutes before he eventually flew off, probably thinking about his next meal.

Osprey

Osprey

 

Reesor Lake has a nice concentration of American White Pelicans.  They seem to have no fear of people at all and lazily float by the fishermen on shore.  However, as docile as these big birds may appear, they have a sneaky side too!  We were watching Caspian Terns catch fish in Reesor Lake and the Pelicans would immediately chase after the Tern!  Quite often the Tern would drop the fish while escaping, providing yet another unearned meal for the Pelican.

American White Pelican in flight

 

 

There is nothing like watching a Caspian Tern soar above a lake and then tuck its wings in and dive like a missile into the water!  They rarely miss either.  It seems like the only ones coming up empty handed at Reesor Lake were the line of fishermen along the shore 😉

Caspian Tern in flight

 

While enjoying the views of Reesor Lake and the antics of the terns and pelicans, we heard the loud raucous call of two Belted Kingfishers. The male was flying around, making a racket around the lake, while the female was up on hill calling back.  We think they probably had a nest and the boy was bringing back “lunch,” like the fish he caught in the image below.

Belted Kingfisher

 

Species sighted: common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, red-winged black bird, white-crowned sparrow, tree swallow, bank swallow, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, canada goose, caspian tern, belted kingfisher, american robin, black-billed magpie, american crow, brown-headed cowbird, american white pelican, osprey, mallard, double-crested cormorant

Hotspot #3Horseshoe Canyon / Beaver Creek Hiking Trails

This was an experience we will NEVER forget.  While out for a day hike we came across a pair of Northern Harriers.  It was a windy afternoon and they were playing in the updrafts while making their laughing “kekekekeke” calls.  We stood there watching for almost an hour and every once in a while one of them would line us up and dive-bomb toward us, pulling up just before they got within reach of our heads!  They were messing with us and they knew it – the “kekekeke” calls got even more animated.  They were laughing at us, we were laughing at them, it was an amazing encounter!

Northern Harrier (male)

Northern Harrier (male)

 

While hiking the trail we could hear a house wren singing in the trees.  After surveying the forest for a few minutes, we found our little friend going to and from his nest in a tree cavity.  We could hear the wren babies inside the nest incessantly begging for food and it seemed like the parents were just barely able to keep up with the demand.

House Wren

 

As populous as the Common Yellowthroats were along the shoreline trail, White-crowned sparrows were just as populous along the Horseshoe Canyon / Beaver Creek hiking trails.  These guys never stop singing all day long, and we love it!

White-crowned Sparrow

 

Yellow Warblers were pretty frequent in most places in the park.  This one struck a nice pose for us.

Yellow Warbler

 

Species sighted: common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, red-winged black bird, red-naped sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, white-crowned sparrow, tree swallow, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, mourning dove, northern flicker, american robin, eastern kingbird, black-billed magpie, american crow, black-capped chickadee, song sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, red-breasted nuthatch, veery, western wood-pewee, least flycatcher, northern harrier hawk, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, house wren, chipping sparrow, dark-eyed junco.

 

Hotspot #4 – Ferguson Hill Road and Campground

Wild Turkeys were introduced to the Cypress Hills in the 1960’s and we were determined to find at least one of these bizarre looking creatures.  We skulked around Ferguson Hill Road and campground at 5:30am in the morning while everyone was sleeping in their tents and trailers.  Yeah it was a bit creepy, but once again, Cypress did not let us down! We saw a family of about five Wild Turkeys waddling around one of the campgrounds. They were scavenging around picnic tables, beside tents, and under trailers.  Nobody saw this happening except us.  One time we surprised the Turkeys when they were right beside someone’s tent and the male let out a bellowing “gobble, gobble gobble” call – now that’s an alarm clock you won’t forget anytime soon!  Oops – sorry camper!

Wild Turkey

 

Hotspot #5Spruce Coulee Road

Spruce Coulee Road is a quiet gravel road that takes you out to Spruce Coulee Reservoir.  We really liked birding along this road because we could stop the car and watch a bird for an hour before another vehicle would drive by.  Oh, and another reason we like it is we saw some pretty cool birds there!

While driving down Spruce Coulee Road we nearly got whiplash when we saw an unexpected bird along the fence – a Bobolink!  This was our first sighting of a Bobolink so we were pretty excited, to say the least.  The male was singing his unusual song all morning and every so often the female would fly in beside him for a few minutes.  A super memorable experience!

Bobolink (male)

Bobolink

 

Savannah Sparrows are common and widespread across Canada, so capturing an interesting image of one of these doing something different is always the objective.  The wind was blowing one afternoon and this guy was struggling to keep his balance on a bush causing him to flap his wings every once in a while.  We were pretty happy with how this image turned out!

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

American Robins are so common everywhere that we often do not pay enough attention to them.  Cypress had no shortage of Robins either, but this one stands out as one of the nicer Robin images we’ve captured because the light was absolutely perfect in that moment and the colour of his plumage was amazing..

American Robin

 

Species sighted: common yellowthroat, mountain bluebirds, american goldfinch, white-crowned sparrow, tree swallow, mourning dove, american robin, eastern kingbird, black-billed magpie, american crow, brown-headed cowbird, song sparrow, savannah sparrow, clay-coloured sparrow, vesper sparrow, bobolink, western meadowlark, swainson’s hawk, european starling.

 

As you can see, this was an action packed birding trip to Cypress Hills and there was so much more we could have included but this blog post was getting pretty long already!  We also captured some fantastic images of birds on some excursions just outside Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. If you like Hawks, Horned Larks, Western Kingbirds, Eastern Kingbirds and Sharp-tailed Grouse, you can find these images and stories over at StaderArtBirds.wordpress.com

Thanks for reading!
StaderArtBirds

 

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds, Nature Photography, Raptors, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Waterfowl, Wood Warblers, Woodpeckers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Gabriola Commons: habitat extraordinaire

It’s a remarkable place both physically and in terms of how it came to be. A twenty-six acre  parcel of land, The Gabriola Commons is owned by the people of Gabriola Island under a unique “Commons Covenant.”

The Cobb Wall.

The Cobb Wall.

 

The Commons was once a privately-owned goat farm. When it was listed for sale in 2005, a Gabriola non-profit society, the Amazing Grace Ecological Society, bought it. They donated a substantial down-payment to cover the mortgage until the community could come up with a plan for realizing the long-held dream of owning the property collectively. And over the last ten years, that’s exactly what happened. For more on The Commons today and its history, click here: http://www.gabriolacommons.ca/index.html

I was thrilled when this photo of the Commons property was a winner in the EcoJustice Photo Contest this spring. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

I was thrilled when this photo of part of the Commons property was a winner in the Ecojustice Photo Contest this spring. Photo by me, Sharon McInnes. 🙂

 

Today The Commons is home to organically farmed orchards, allotment gardens, a pond and wetland area, open vistas and meadows, cedar groves and forests, a labyrinth, a Community Kitchen, a workshop, and the main Commons building which houses People for a Healthy Community and meeting and performance spaces.

One of the many allotment gardens with a not-very-scary scarecrow lady.

One of the many allotment gardens with a not-very-scary scarecrow lady.

 

Very close to the village core, The Commons is a tranquil place to walk, work, reflect, and observe wildlife, including a plethora of birds!

The Commons labyrinth, a place to walk softly, reflect, breathe.

The Commons labyrinth, a place to walk softly, reflect, breathe.

 

The man-made pond is habitat for water birds, beavers, and frogs, including the endangered Red-legged Frog. Some of us are thinking about creating a blind near the edge of the pond where people can observe the wildlife up close without disturbing them, especially during nesting season. Lots of water birds nest along the shores.

The pond from a distance.

The pond from a distance.

 

Beavers have built a formidable dam at the exit, complete with its own slide made from a salvaged piece of plywood!

The beavers are most visible at dawn and dusk. Photo by Patrick Roux.

The beavers are most visible at dawn and dusk. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

For the past few years islanders have been creating an “Ecosystem Baseline Inventory” of all the flora and fauna species on Commons land. Participants have discovered 20 ‘polygons’, or intact micro-habitats, some of which are repeated in various parts of the Commons lands, and at least 25 people have adopted a polygon to steward and report on annually. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know all the birds that live on or migrate through the Commons land but I hope to identify and record all of them (including the warblers and flycatchers that drop by during migration) in the next year or two. Today, though, I’ll give you a taste of just a few of the birds that we know call this little piece of paradise home. Or at least a favourite breeding spot.

Probably the most popular bird on the Commons this time of year is the Red-winged Blackbird with its unmistakable song. Conk-a-ree!

Male Red-winged Blackbird. Photo by Patrick Roux.

Male Red-winged Blackbird. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

The arrival of these colourful blackbirds, one of the most-studied wild bird species in the world, mark the beginning of spring for us.

Female Red-winged Blackbird. Her drabber colour is designed not to attract attention to herself as she sits on the nest.

Female Red-winged Blackbird whose drab colour does not attract attention as she sits on the nest.

 

Of course we do appreciate the more traditional harbinger of spring, the American Robin which often arrives in flocks in early spring then disperses to set up a breeding territory. Some, though, live here year-round.

American Robin. Photo by Patrick Roux.

American Robin. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

Brewer’s Blackbirds, with their bright yellow eyes, are also prolific in spring and summer. The Commons hedge is woven with their nests and, like the famous Vancouver crows, they are not averse to dive-bombing anyone who ventures near.

One of many Brewer's Blackbirds with nests hidden in the big hedge.

One of many Brewer’s Blackbirds with nests hidden in the big hedge.

 

One of the more exciting sightings recently was this secretive Virginia Rail nesting along the edge of the pond.

Virginia Rail at the edge of the pond. Photo by Patrick Roux.

Virginia Rail at the edge of the pond. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

Gabriola is the adopted home of many families of California Quails. This family lived at the Commons a few years ago.

California Quail family. Photo by Patrick Roux.

California Quail family. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

In spring and summer Barn Swallows and Violet-green Swallows breed under the eaves and in nest boxes, spending their days swooping overhead for mosquitoes and other flying insects.

VGS at box

The land is also home to many species of sparrows, including the Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and the handsome White-crowned Sparrow.

Spotted Towhee. Photo by Patrick Roux.

Spotted Towhee. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

The song of the White-crowned Sparrow is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior.

White-crowned Sparrow on fence post.

White-crowned Sparrow on fence post.

 

Various species of geese and ducks including Buffleheads, Mallards, and Canada Geese either pass  through or nest here.

Canada Goose nesting. Photo by Patrick Roux.

Canada Goose nesting. Photo by Patrick Roux.

 

And a recent initiative is the installation of several bat boxes around the property.

Bat box, recently installed and waiting for bat babies.

Bat box, recently installed and waiting for bat babies.

 

Other bird species known to inhabit the Commons include: Common Ravens, Brown-headed Cowbirds, European Starlings, Steller’s Jays, House Finches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Wrens, Barred Owls, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Rufous Hummingbirds, House Finches, House Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, many species of woodpecker (Northern Flickers are probably the most numerous), and Great Blue Herons. Sometimes Trumpeter Swans drop by too. Overhead, Turkey Vultures are a common sight riding the thermals this time of year. Bald Eagles live here year round.

So do many flocks of feral turkeys who pretty much do as they please on Gabriola, whenever and wherever, including on the roads, at our new “mall,” and at the Commons.

Turkeys Christmas shopping last year.

Christmas shopping at the new mall last year.

 

If you’re ever in our neighbourhood (just a twenty-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island) and would like to drop by for a visit, wander The Commons for a while, you’re more than welcome. If I’m here, I’ll gladly show you around. But not at dawn. I’m not that kind of birder.  🙂

Many thanks to Patrick Roux for sharing his photos. All other photos are by yours truly, Sharon McInnes. 

 

 

Posted in Bird Canada | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – June 2016

Hello again and welcome to Summer!  It was so cold in May, we were really beginning to wonder if warmer temperatures would ever actually hit.  Well …….. they have:  it’s 27C today.  🙂

Most of the photos in this post were taken earlier in the month.  It’s much quieter in the yard now than it was a month ago.  The birds are off nesting now and the ones that aren’t nesting have youngsters chasing after them for food!  This post will be more photos than anything else but these are all visitors to the yard (aside from a small handful).

Black Capped Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Pine Siskins

A tiny portion of the Pine Siskin flock that took over the yard for a month or so!

Blue Jay

Blue Jays usually disappear for the summer but in recent weeks, I’ve had a couple coming around.

Female Downy Woodpecker

I normally have a half dozen Woodpeckers around in summer, between Hairies & Downies but so far this season, only this female Downy has been around … & sporadically at that.

Female Evening Grosbeak

Female Evening Grosbeak on the birdbath rim.

Male American Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch. Haven’t seen many of them but at least a couple little Flying Lemons are here!

Male Eastern Bluebird

This male Eastern Bluebird was here for a few weeks in late May. Have not seen him since. 🙁

Male Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks are nesting nearby so with any luck, I’ll get to host the young ones in the yard later this summer.

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrows are also nesting in the area.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows nest in my next door neighbour’s shrubs every year & use my yard for hawking insects to feed the young. 🙂

Cedar Waxwing in blooming Crabapple Tree

Beautiful Cedar Waxwings were around for a few weeks as fruiting trees & shrubs were in full bloom. This one was in my Crabapple tree.

Juvenile Starlings

Juvenile Starlings are throughout the neighbourhood now, loudly squawking to be fed!

Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds were very late to my yard this year. I didn’t have my first sighting until the end of May instead of the middle of the month.

When I sit out on my back deck now, I regularly hear Red Eyed Vireos & Ovenbirds calling from the woods outside my back fence.  If I actually went out in the evening, I’d probably hear Hermit Thrushes too.  One even last week, we had our patio doors open about 10:00pm when one of my (indoor only) cats freaked out & bolted for the screen.  A bird had gotten into our gazebo!  My husband & I went out to rescue it.  I was able to scoop it up off the screen wall & look just quickly enough to discover that it was a type of Thrush but it was too dark to see clearly … plus the bird was panicked so we just let it go.  No idea how it suddenly ended up in the gazebo!

Soaring Bald Eagle

Out in my backyard one day last week, I watched this majestic Bald Eagle soaring over my neighbourhood. It caught a thermal & quickly disappeared.

Another Swan was discovered on my local Manitouwadge Lake this week.  I’m hearing now that they are expanding their range into this area & may even nest here in coming years.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

While traveling to the Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival at the end of May, my husband & I took a drive through the little town of Rossport where we’ll be catching a charter boat in July for a day on Lake Superior.  As we were leaving town, we spotted this Turkey Vulture standing atop a power pole.  It just stood there staring at us and then slowly flew away.  Almost frightening looking things when you see them up close but still a majestic creature!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

We always visit the Nipigon Marina in Nipigon, On., on our way to the Festival because we almost always find Pelicans there.  This trip did not disappoint but we only saw the one this time.

Pelican with Gulls

Pelican with Gulls at the Nipigon Marina

Ending with an interesting tidbit this month:  I just learned yesterday that we actually have Whip-poor-wills up here.  This is definitely a new one for me, having never heard them before.  A friend even sent me a call that she recorded last night from her driveway … no mistaking it!  I’ll be listening more closely for them from now on.

Thanks for reading/looking …. Happy Summer …. ‘see’ you in July!

Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

Birding Magee Marsh – a postcard from Ohio

TH1D3710d&b-v-fbFor this month’s post, I’m going to share some images from a special place just south of the Canadian border…the self-proclaimed ‘Warbler Capital of the World’: Ohio’s Magee Marsh wildlife refuge. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Magee is a magical birding spot. I had the opportunity to spend 3 wonderful days at the refuge during the height of spring migration in mid-May, and spent almost 10 hours each day photographing (or at least trying to!) the many, many songbirds that were present. I had only visited Magee briefly once before, but I was told by others (and have heard since as well) that this year was a particularly good one for the amount and variety of birds that were seen…so I consider myself very lucky!

A curious Cape May Warbler foraging in the tree-line.

A curious Cape May Warbler foraging in the tree-line.

By virtue of its location and habitat, Magee is a ‘migrant trap’: the refuge is the last land before a major non-stop water crossing (Lake Erie) for migrating birds, and is also one of the few oases of preserved natural swamp/woodland in a sea of cleared farmland. Indeed, I personally tallied 22 warbler species, not to mention many other songbirds (vireos, thrushes, etc) and many other birds species as well. While I had seen some of them before (usually in their southward migration in late summer/fall), I had only seen a few in their full spring ‘breeding plumage’ glory and some of the warblers seemed to glow – the Blackburnians especially so!

A striking male Blackburnian Warbler...like a glowing ember.

A striking male Blackburnian Warbler…like a glowing ember.

Of course, with such a reputation, the refuge attracts thousands of birders and it can get pretty cramped on the narrow boardwalks at times but just about everyone was very polite and understanding which made for an enjoyable experience for all.

On 'the boardwalk' at Magee Marsh - this was a typical scene.

On ‘the boardwalk’ at Magee Marsh – this was a typical scene.

Magee really has to be experienced to be believed, and personally, I have to say that on my visit it lived up to the hype. I took literally thousands of photos and have tried to sift out my favourites…so here they are. Hopefully they convey something of Magee’s birding magic!

Blackburnian Warbler (my personal fave):TH1D3300d&b-flickr-final-wm

Black-throated Green Warbler:TH1D4468d&b-v TH1D2072

Black-throated Blue WarblerTH7D8509d&b-crop-v TH7D8381d&b-mask-v

Yellow Warbler:TH1D2128d&b-crop

Cape May Warbler:TH7D8710d&b-mask2-flickr-final

Black and White Warbler:TH7D7742d&b-mask2-fb-crop2 TH1D2664-mask

Chestnut-sided Warbler:TH1D2113 TH1D4502-land-flickr TH1D1844d&b-mask-fb-final

Prothonotary Warbler:TH1D3468d&b-mask-flickr-final TH1D4227

Tennessee Warbler:TH7D8171d&b-crop-v

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:TH1D4278d&b

Magnolia Warbler:TH1D1923d&b-crop TH1D3995d&b-crop TH1D3720d&b

Nashville Warbler:TH7D9377d&b-crop-v

Bay-breasted Warbler:TH1D2711d&b-crop

American Redstart:TH1D1806d&b-fb-wm TH1D4544-mask TH1D5019merge-fb-wm

Yellow-rumped Warbler:TH1D4134-fb

Northern Parula:TH1D3108d&b TH7D7539-crop

Palm Warbler:TH1D1866-mask-fb TH1D3603-flickr

Canada Warbler:TH7D8425d&b-mask2-v TH7D8346d&b-crop

and no, not a warbler but a House Wren:TH1D2453d&b-crop

 

and a couple of non-warbler highlights…an Eastern Whip-poor-will (somewhat soggy from a passing shower) that perched all day on a stump only 2 feet off the boardwalk:TH1D2065

and finally the curious-looking American Woodcock which patrolled the forest floor:TH1D2279d&b

enjoying a juicy earthworm!:TH1D2388d&b

For more of my wildlife images you can follow me here: https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

 

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T.O. Backyard – Road Trip!

reflect2

A stunning male Pronthonotary Warbler at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Rob and I took off on a four day, three night birding road trip during the height of Spring migration here in Ontario. From May 8th to 11th, we visited three of our favorite spots in southern Ontario; Hillman Marsh, Rondeau Provincial Park, and the world renowned, Point Pelee National Park.

We had a fantastic time! It had been a few years since we had been in the area, and it was wonderful to experience it again. We saw close to 100 species, and enjoyed the many birding friend sightings we had as well as the birds.

Rob took close to a thousand pics, and it was hard to pick a few to share in what is going to be more of a picture blog. I hope you enjoy the pictures I chose to share, as they may of made it to this blog because of the memory more so than picture quality.

All photos by Rob Mueller unless otherwise stated. Enjoy!

HM3

My first warbler sighting, a beautiful Palm Warbler. Hillman Marsh

HM4

This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dandelion buffet. Hillman Marsh

wildmoment

This Bald Eagle was chased right outta the marsh by the determined gull, an interesting sight to witness. Hillman Marsh

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A Black and White Warbler in the shadows. Point Pelee

RT2

A Barn Swallow greeted us at the tip of Point Pelee.

RT3

A Black-throated Green Warbler in the trees. Point Pelee

RT4

A Cape May Warbler along the road side. Point Pelee

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A Blue-winged Warbler was quite cooperative for the photographers. Point Pelee

RT6

The strikingly beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Point Pelee

Warbler

This Kirtland’s Warbler created quite a frenzy in the park. Photo by Dave Iluck.       Point Pelee

Kirtland’s Warblers are rare in the area and we just happened to be in the park the day one was sighted. This was a life bird for both Rob and I, and also our friend Dave, who was standing beside me when he took this picture.  There is a whole story about how this sighting came to be, and if you’d like to read about it, check out my personal blog HERE.

nighthawk

A Common Nighthawk roosting close to a washroom was quite popular as a photo op. Point Pelee

RT1

Is there anything more beautiful than the call of a Wood Thrush? Point Pelee

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The Wood Thrush looking more at home on the forest floor.  Point Pelee

scowl

Our last sighting in Point Pelee, an Eastern Screech Owl.

eabb

Our first Eastern Bluebird sighting of 2016 was not in an area we expected to see one, a wooded area of Rodeau Provincial Park.

Redstart

A pretty male Redstart in Rondeau Provincial Park.

reflect

A Prothonotary Warbler checking out how handsome he is in the pond or maybe he was looking for bugs. Rondeau Provincial Park

I hope you enjoyed our Spring migration picture blog, until next time, good birding!

 

Posted in Bird Canada | 5 Comments

When Birds Get Sick

If you pay attention to wild birds you’re bound to see a sick one at your feeder from time to time. Birds get sick and die for a myriad of reasons, just like humans – old age, accidents, disease. They also get taken by predators (both the natural and human varieties) and, increasingly, die young due to poor health or starvation related to fast-changing habitat. We can’t do anything to prevent death from old age, of course, and it’s an ongoing challenge to protect bird habitat – as the recent State of North America’s Birds 2016 Report demonstrates all too well – but we can try to do something to reduce early deaths resulting from disease.

Hummingbird’s Tongue Fungal Infection

Anna's Hummingbird with "Hummingbird Tongue" Fungal Disease. Photo by John Rakestraw with permission.

Anna’s Hummingbird with “Hummingbird Tongue” Disease. Photo by John Rakestraw with permission.

One disease we can help prevent is a deadly fungal infection often called “hummingbird’s tongue” which causes a hummer’s tongue to swell, making it impossible to eat. You might see the sick hummer just sitting at a feeder with its swollen tongue hanging out of its mouth. Eventually it dies of starvation. See John Rakestraw’s blog post about this disease here:  https://johnrakestraw.net/2011/05/11/hummingbird-tongue-fungal-infection/ 

Since sugar-water is conducive to the growth of pathogens, the only remedy is a preventative one: CLEAN feeders. Be sure to use only white sugar (never honey or organic sugar or brown sugar) when you make up your sugar-water solution (1 part sugar to 4 parts water, boiled) and avoid the red-dyed commercial preparation!

Glass hummer feeder that comes apart for easy cleaning

Glass hummer feeder that comes apart for easy cleaning

To clean your hummingbird feeder, empty and thoroughly wash the whole thing in hot water using a bottle brush to scrub the interior glass. Do not use soap. Once a month or more, use a solution of I part bleach to 9 parts water as a cleaning solution. Clean all removable parts with a toothbrush and/or Q-tip. Make sure every speck of foreign material is removed and it’s clean enough for YOU to drink from.

If your life is too busy to stick to a cleaning regimen, you can still enjoy hummingbirds by planting fuschia and flowering currant and many other kinds of brightly-coloured native plants in your garden. If you plant it, they will come!

Salmonella
Another disease we can help prevent is salmonella, a bacteria that is spread in bird droppings then ingested. At first glance, birds with salmonella may appear cute and almost tame, not even trying to fly away when a human gets close. Pine Siskins are particularly susceptible to this bacteria, especially during irruption years, partly because they’re highly social, travel in flocks, and eat together.

Sick Pine Siskin

Sick Pine Siskin

Salmonella also occurs in Evening Grosbeaks and Brown-headed Cowbirds as well as in cats that kill and eat sick songbirds. If you have handled a sick or dead bird, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly because salmonella is the bacteria associated with food poisoning in humans.

Avian Pox

Dark-eyed Junco with suspected Avian Pox

Dark-eyed Junco with suspected Avian Pox

Avian Pox Avian Pox is a virus that can be transmitted from bird to bird by infected mosquitoes or air-borne particles contaminated with the pox virus. It is not a zoonose so cannot be transferred to humans. It also not the the Avian Flu! For more information click here > http://gabriolabirdblog.blogspot.ca/2015/08/a-pox-on-avian-pox.html

Conjunctivitis

House Finch with Conjunctivitis

House Finch with Conjunctivitis

This bacterial disease seriously affects House Finches. For information and more photos, click here > http://feederwatch.org/learn/house-finch-eye-disease/.

How to Help

If you’re seeing sick birds in your yard, consider taking down your feeders for a while. Let the birds eat from natural sources — they’ll be fine and will soon return after you restock your feeders eventually.

If you leave your feeders up, be vigilant about keeping them and the area underneath them clean. Plastic or metal feeders are easier to keep clean than wooden ones. Clean them regularly in a solution of 10% bleach or white vinegar and 90% clean water, then rinse thoroughly and allow to dry naturally before re-hanging. Also, rake under the feeders often day and put the old seed and droppings in a bag in the garbage – not in recycling. You can spread feeders out to discourage crowding.

Birdbaths can also carry the salmonella bacteria, so change the water every few days to get rid of regurgitated seeds and feces.

Juvenile Song Sparrow in bird bath

Juvenile Song Sparrow in bird bath

Scrub birdbaths every week with a plastic brush to remove algae and bacteria, then rinse well. Make sure you allow the brush to dry thoroughly following each use. Because salmonella bacteria can live for months on unclean feeders and on the ground, and can also be brought into your back yard from the wild, it’s very hard to eradicate once it hits.

Thanks for doing your part to keep birds safe and healthy.

 

 

Posted in Bird Canada | 7 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – May 2016

Hello again!  I hope you’re enjoying spring migration.  It seems to be a little slower than normal up here but this month, we’re finally seeing a few migrants moving through.

Common Loon

Always so wonderful to hear the calls of Common Loons

Hooded Merganser with Common Goldeneye Pair

My favourite duck, the Hooded Merganser on the left with a pair of Common Goldeneye Ducks.

Ring Necked Ducks

A striking pair of Ring-Necked Ducks.

In late April, I was thrilled to see a flock of Rusty Blackbirds in my yard.  They stayed for just a couple of days and then moved on.  Some years I see them, some years I don’t.  These lovely blackbirds are seriously declining but a cause has not yet been found. Hopefully, I’ll see them again during Fall migration.

Rusty Blackbirds

Flock of Rusty Blackbirds

Male Rusty Blackbird

The glossy black male Rusty Blackbird

Another beautiful blackbird visited a few times this spring – a stunning male Yellow-Headed Blackbird was in my yard at least 3 times.  This mostly western blackbird is being seen in this region almost every year now.

Male Yellow Headed Blackbird

Male Yellow-Headed Blackbird

An assortment of Sparrows have been around including White Crowned (below), White Throated, American Tree and Chipping Sparrows.

White Crowned Sparrow

White Crowned Sparrow

A single Mourning Dove visited the yard for about a week.  I normally only see 2 or 3 Doves in a season.

Mourning Dove & Purple Finch

Mourning Dove with male Purple Finch

Northern Flickers have been exceptionally busy … and noisy! … lately.  Hammering on everything in sight to be as loud as possible and calling, calling, calling!  At one point, there were 4 Flickers in my area …. there was no mistaking that!

Male Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

Goldfinches are always late arrivals and this fellow didn’t show up until last week.  He was here again today but so far, I’ve only seen the one.

Male Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch

Juncos and Purple Finches will nest here.  I’m always hopeful to see the young of both.

Female Purple with male Junco

Male Dark Eyed Junco (top) with female Purple Finch

On a trip out to our camp last week, we came across quite a few of these handsome fellows:  Spruce Grouse.  I don’t often see them but we saw 5 that day.

Male Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

A couple of days ago, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that there was a Swan on our local lake.  I ran around a bit trying to track it down but could only ever see a white dot on the other side of the lake.  I stopped at another friend’s house where there is a lovely dock and we watched it for a while.  After about 20 minutes, we suddenly realized that the Swan, a Trumpeter, was slowly swimming right toward us.  Surprising since there were 3 good size, rowdy dogs playing in the water!  The curious Swan swam up to within 30 feet of shore and honked at the dogs.  We had beautiful viewings of it from the dock.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

On a recent trip out of town, my husband and I had some nice sightings of wildlife.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes nest around here so we watch for them every year.

Black Bear

Black Bear – my first sighting of the season.

Cow Moose

Moose

Chipmunk

First Chipmunk of the season … put up yer dukes!

One evening last week, we had our season’s first thunderstorm and this beautiful rainbow (was actually a double) was the result.

Rainbow

Portion of a double rainbow.

I have my annual Great Canadian Birdathon coming up this weekend.  I’ve raised $820 this year, my best ever.  Thank you sooo much to those who have donated.  If you would like to donate to my birdathon, it’s not too late!  Follow this link to make a pledge and again ….. thank you!

On May 28th & 29th, we’ll be in Dorion, ON., for their annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival .  It’s the highlight of my spring!  Professional birders & guides lead us through a day and a half of hiking around Dorion & Nipigon, Ont. birding hotspots.  In that time, we normally tally over 120 species.  Great fun!

Well, that’s it for this month.  Thanks so much for reading and …….. Happy Sightings!

Posted in Bird Canada | 8 Comments

Battle at the Lek: Sharp-tailed Grouse on the Alberta prairie

TH1D9040mask-flickr2Through the generosity of a rancher south of Calgary, the help of my local birding club and the encouragement of some photographer friends, I had the opportunity to see and experience my first grouse ‘lek’. The grouse species in question was the Sharp-tailed variety, and a lek is “…an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visiting females who are surveying prospective partners for copulation” (Wikipedia).

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse 'dancing' at the lek, southern Alberta.

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse ‘dancing’ at the lek, southern Alberta.

After leaving Calgary at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, I met up with my three other birder friends south of the city and together we proceeded to the lek location. Timing was critical as we needed to arrive and be set up in a blind before sunrise so as not to disturb this important ritual in the grouse’s reproductive cycle. By 6am we were safely hidden from view and then settled in to watch and photograph the action.

Daring another male to challenge him.

Daring another male to challenge him.

As the light from the still-below-the-horizon sun began to increase, each minute more and more of the lek was revealed and it soon became apparent that about 30 grouse were in attendance. Interestingly though, I only saw one female – so the boys would have to put on a pretty impressive show to have a chance at winning her interest.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

Before too long, individual males appeared to set up ‘their’ position on the lek and then spent the best part of the next 60 minutes dancing, drumming, squaring off against other interlopers, chasing away rivals and not infrequently launching into some spirited tussles.

The dancing involved rotating in circles pointing their tails straight up, head down, wings spread, purple throat patched visible, crowing while beating (or ‘drumming’) their feet very rapidly – quite the sight!

This following images give a typical example of what I saw:

Squaring off...

Squaring off…

A dance-off...

A dance-off…

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Calling to the female...

Calling to the female…

...all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

…all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

Whenever I saw a ‘fight’ break out (which was signalled by the sound of rapid flapping and grouse jumping in the air), I simply pointed my lens in that direction, focused and held the shutter release down. The action was so fast that it was only later at home when I reviewed my images that the brutality of these short but intense battles became apparent:TH1D9004-fb

TH1D9044d&b-fb TH1D9021d&b-fb TH1D8990-fb TH1D8987d&b-fb TH1D8745-v-fbOnly two incidents interrupted the lekking, both of which were due to a predator over-flying the lek (first a Northern Harrier, and then a Prairie Falcon which actually made a dive for one grouse), and sent almost all the grouse flying in all directions. Only one or two stayed behind hiding in the long grass, seemingly either too brave or too ignorant to join their comrades!

By 8am the sun was well and truly up and just about all the grouse had dispersed, and certainly the lekking had come to a conclusion and it was time to emerge from our blind. This was my first proper ‘blind’ experience and I have to say it was nice to have the birds acting and behaving naturally in close proximity as opposed to sneaking up on them.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience and one I’ll long remember! Looking ahead, with a bit of luck next month I’ll have my shots from Vancouver Island ready to post. Cheers for now.

Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments