Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Bird Count 2011

On Boxing Day I took the day to do an activity with my oldest son Andrew.  He's taken an interest in birds and in the old camera we gave him to use so I hoped that doing the Hamilton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) would be an enjoyable outing together as father and son.  We were invited by Peter Scholtens to join him in the two areas he was given to cover.  I'd never done the CBC before nor really knew what it was.  Every year, for single 24hr period somewhere between Dec 14 and 31st, a count is done of any and all birds seen. Count areas are split up into zones and we walked the area southwest of Clappison's Corners bounded by Hwy5, Rock Chapel, Valley Road, York Road and Hwy 6.  The other area was Globe Park in Hamilton. Apparently a few years ago a Snowy Owl was seen here so it stays on the list of locations to count. :)  The Hamilton CBC area is defined as anywhere within 15miles (or just over 24km) of Dundurn Castle.

A group of 9 of us gathered at Tim's for breakfast to get started.  I had been apprehensive about joining the bird count as I was sure there were going to be some pretty serious birders and I'm both inexperienced and don't consider myself a serious birder.  But the group of definitely experienced guys were more than friendly and willing to share of their knowledge.  Peter had brought his two sons Caleb (he was the one who had solved my Red-tailed Hawk crop mystery) and Jonathan along so that we nice for Andrew who hit it off well with Jonathan who was his age.

I forgot to mention that the morning started with a bang, though I didn't know it till I met up with the gang!  I knew I had seen the silhouette of a largish owl on a hydro wire along Hwy 5 just east of Spencer Creek bridge.  When I mentioned the size and the prominent ear tufts Peter was sure it was a male Great-horned Owl.  That is a pretty exciting find for me. If we hadn't been our way to the bird count I would stopped, dark as it was.

We hiked the Bruce Trail along the escarpment and then went down through the RBG Berry Tract and into the Cartwright tract on the Bruce Duncan Memorial Trail.  As compiled by Peter, here's the list of what we saw and counted there:
Starlings 311
Canada Geese 44
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Crow 14
Ring-billed gull 9
Mourning Dove 1
Northern Cardinal 3
Junco 2
Downy Woodpecker 9
White-breasted Nuthatch 12
Blue Jay 4
Black-capped Chickadee 18
Rock Dove 6
American Goldfinch 49
Eastern Bluebird 26
Red-breasted Woodpecker 2
Red-tailed Hawk 2

The Eastern Bluebirds were the highlight.  Hard to get close enough for a good shot though with a large group. :)  Here is a really bad quality picture cropped to 100%.

Eastern Bluebird - 100% crop

One other interesting shot from here was what a woodpecker or two had done with this stump.

Woodpecker art

We stopped for lunch and took a group picture before splitting up with some of us going onto Globe Park with a few staying to survey some areas we had missed from our first area.

The crazy birders. (I'm on the far left and my son Andrew is in the tan coat.)

We headed off to Globe Park (appropriately named for the large water tank painted as the globe of the earth visible from the QEW just south of the Burlington Street exit.  Here was the list of birds we observed there:
Ring-billed gulls 74
Starling 24
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Mallard 2
Canada Geese 71
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Cardinal 2
Northern Shoveler 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Song Sparrow 1
Mourning Dove 1
We also could see the Red Hill SWM Pond and observed these, though they  were not in our count area:
Canada Geese 20
Red-Tailed Hawk 1
Bufflehead 1
Mallard 14
Starling 2
Kestrel 1

Canada Geese overhead

Canada Goose

Opportunities for great bird photography wasn't at its highest, but I had a great time learning a lot about birds and many other items from the other birders.  I certainly saw a lot of birds I wouldn't normally, being at the sides of experts. Thanks for letting a rookie join you!

Andrew was still game to stop by Bayfront Park to see if any of the warblers were still there so we "popped" in there.  I'll post some pictures from here in the near future.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two Lunches along Bayfront Trail

Earlier this week I was able to spend two lunch hours away from work along Bayfront Trail both on the Coote's Paradise and Hamilton Harbour sides enjoying the variety of birds that this time of year brings.  There has been quite a buzz about a number of birds rare for this time of year here including some warblers and gnatcatchers.  You can read the reports and see the photos on Josh Vandermeulen and Brandon Holden's blogs.

I've never chased any birds that I saw on any of the bird reports before, but this time, since the reports of these birds were on the Bayfront Trail right within reach from my work in Hamilton, I thought I'd give it a try and see if I could see them too, let alone maybe get a picture or two.  In my search, I met lots of other birders, young and old, thoroughly armed with binoculars and cameras.  The birds might be getting a little self conscious with all the equipment showing up because when I headed out there, not many were having success in finding them any more.  I did find the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but they are hard to photograph - not staying still for long at all in their constant inspection of every little crook and bud of the brambles and shrubbery they were in, looking for bugs to supply the energy for their constant motion.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - best shot I could get.

Amongst the birders, I got to meet Josh Vandermeulen, a birder who I've learned quite a bit from while reading his very regular blog posts.  I got to chat with him for a while as we waited where the Black-throated Gray Warbler had been seen earlier.  While chatting, a runner flushed a bird up from the ground and we both saw the flash of it as it headed for cover.  We were sure it wasn't just a sparrow which shortly after seemed to be hanging around in the same vicinity - strange how your memory of something can sometimes be affected by what you want something to look like.  It might have been the warbler, but we never saw anything, and I wasn't to see any more of the other rareties either.

A Norther Mockingbird was also still there, enjoying the sun.

Northern Mockingbird

And a male Downy Woodpecker was tapping at trees branches looking for food.

male Downy Woodpecker

However, I did see many firsts in the duck department those two days.  Quite a list of firsts for me:
Lesser (I think) Greater Scaup
Red-throated Merganser
American Black Duck
Black Scoter - I think I saw one from a bit of a distance in the marina side of Bayfront Park, but I never ended up going back to check.

from left to right:
female Common Goldeneye, three male Common Goldeneye
and a female Greater Scaup

male Greater Scaup

male and female Northern Shovelers

This shot still makes me smile... The migrating ducks would skidaddle right out to deeper water with any approach of mine.  A lone mallard with in the mix of this group of birds and as they were heading out, he, more used to humans looks like he's thinking, "Calm down already!  Watch where you're going!"  He's pretty much headed the opposite direction of the Scaups and Goldeneyes paddling furiously to safety.

A male Mallard duck wonders what all the fuss is about.
I couldn't get very close to this little Bufflehead duck.  This one was the slowest of the bunch as the rest headed off quickly at my approach as well.

male Bufflehead

I also saw this pair (I think?) of American Black Ducks.

American Black Ducks

At the end of the hour which always goes way too quickly, I headed back to the parking lot.   Close to the boat launch end was a female Red-breasted (thanks Peter) Hooded Merganser that had just finished preening on a rock.

female Hooded Merganser through the Bullrushes.

female Hooded Merganser

Well, it's Christmas Eve and we'll be enjoying a movie night with the kids tonight.  A number of  us are struggling with a bad cold, but we exchanged our gifts with the kids last night and they're enjoying a new Wii!  They're quite excited and we're all getting the hang of it slowly.  Some very hilarious moments actually if you just watch the person moving about with the motion controller.  We'll likely be getting some teaching moments with the kids with this gift, and as parents, the opportunity to learn patience. :)  Looks like some fun family times ahead though...

But at this time of year we also remember that the Creator of all the amazing variety of birds and creatures we get to enjoy, humbled Himself to become one of us as a baby, growing up and eventually, as a man, dying to pay the debt we owe.  The debt owed is because He created all we see and know to praise Him. We all know none of us is perfect, but what we don't like to hear is that we owe a perfect life to the One who gave us life in the first place.  Thankfully, He chose to make a way available for us out of this mess, and believing in Him as our Saviour is the way to not only know the designer of all the amazing wildlife and heavenly wonders, but to know a new joy and meaning and purpose in life and see the world through different eyes.  If we believe and accept this gift, when we die some day, He'll welcome us instead of pronouncing judgement because of the debt paid for us on the cross.  

I was asked one time, "Why do you Christians always have to push your way as the only way and try and get more people in your club?"  This person was a "bystander" to me answering questions from someone else regarding my faith, and thought I should keep my opinion to myself.  My answer was something like this. "If you believed someone was desperately in need of life saving measures and you knew you had the cure, would you share it?  Even if you knew they might not appreciate it first?  Of course!  I believe the same has been done for me, and now I have the same great news to share.  Sharing the gospel has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with you!  It's only that I care for you that I'd risk our friendship or possibly what you'll think of me after, to let you know the great rescue that I've been given."

And so, if you even wonder a bit about what this Christmas Day is really all about, I encourage you to visit here.  It's doesn't directly speak to what Christmas Day itself is all about, but it does ask and answer some big questions about Christianity and who Jesus claimed he was.  And to the person who asks, "What do you gain from sending me here?" - nothing at all, but I hope you do.

Merry Christmas and happy birding(/wild-lifing?) in 2012!

PS. If you'd like to email me on anything at all, I welcome your thoughts or questions.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk Mystery Solved

A few days ago I posted a few cropped pictures of distant shots of a Red-tailed Hawk that had a strange shape to its neck...

The mystery shots - solved.

I had asked if anyone knew of the reason for it and got a number of responses.  As one of the responders put it, my "cropped" images were ironically named.  I got the answer to the mystery from a number of people  including one from Caleb, a 12 year old who is obviously a well informed, young birder! (see some of his pictures here).  Turns out that the "lump" in its throat was likely lunch sitting in its crop.  From notes provided by those readers and after researching the net a bit, the crop is a holding place before the bird's stomach which will slowly release food after eating a large meal.  The hawk may not eat again for days so the food is released slowly to be more efficiently digested rather than all the food going through the bird's system where not nearly as much of the food value would be absorbed.  A brilliant design feature for sure.

Thanks for the responses everyone.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Not so Rare "Greater Black-backed Gull"

I purchased a new lens (new to me anyways) last week, and got to try it out at lunch today heading to Princess Point in Coote's Paradise and swing along the Bay Front Trail, heading a short ways towards Bay Front Park.  It was a gray day, but saw quite a few "firsts for me" birds.  What variety in Creation.

I also think my new found hobby got the better of me today... I posted on OntBirds (a birding list where you can post finds of uncommon or seasonally unusual birds) that I had sighted, what I thought was, an uncommon bird - turns out not. One person pointed out to me already that it's not really rare in this area, so, oops! ;)  I had thought I had seen on the blog of another popular birder in the area that it was.  I checked back and I had misread it.  Another kind birder on the list pointed out that I had likely identified the bird correctly as a greater black-backed gull, but that it wasn't male and female but likely one adult and the other in "one of the first to third year plumages".  (Thanks Bob!)

Here are the photos anyways.  Amongst other ducks in the background, these gulls stood out clearly as they are much bigger than what seems to be common Ring-billed gulls we're used to seeing here.

Greater Black-backed Gull  (adult and 1st to third year)

The older one seemed to be trying to break something apart, possibly eating something?  This was a fully zoomed in shot, and my tripod is getting a missing part made (thanks to my brother who's a machinist!), so it's not the clearest picture.

Greater Black-backed Gull eating something?

Some interesting facts I found from reading around on the net: Greater Black-backed Gulls are less like the

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Lure or Deterrent?

This past weekend we went with the family for the yearly Christmas event with my wife's side of the family for a great time of food, fellowship and fun for all.

Saturday afternoon, we headed out for a walk along the Bruce Trail to enjoy a crisp and sunny day.  With a crowd of about 15 of us who went for the "long walk" along the Bruce Trail, most of the wildlife was likely flushed on ahead by the rambunctious kids running back and forth. It was never intended to be a silent photography run and it was fun to be out with the kids who seem to have endless energy!  But cameras were along to document the event, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also on the lookout for wildlife along the way.

On the way back, towards the end of the walk, I did linger back and ended up seeing a few of the more winter loving birds: chickadees, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, blue jay, and one nest which I wasn't sure if it was a raptor's or not.  Not much really though.  I strayed off the trail at one point seeing a large flock of noisy starlings gathered to scavenge the spilled grapes from a harvest recently past.  Lately there have been a number of people posting links for videos of some pretty fantastic flocks of starlings.  Their movement creates some pretty fantastic effects as the change directions, seemingly with one mind.  This was a small group though, with not nearly the same effect.  However, soon I sighted a Red-tailed Hawk, also watching the flock.  I don't believe they are quick enough to chase and catch these birds, preferring to hunt small mammals on the ground and surprise them from above.  But as I approached, it was annoyed enough by my presence to move to a tree further away, crying back at me in annoyance.  Soon there were two others circling over head as well.

Seemingly contrary to my previous assumptions though, at one point I thought I was going to see one of the hawks go straight into the flock of starlings for a kill.  The raptor must have been behind the birds though, creating the effect of being right inside the flock.  It gives the appearance of what would seem like "shooting fish in a barrel" for a hawk.  But I was surprised that the starlings didn't flee at the sign of the hawks, nor even how close they seemed to let the hawks fly by.  Although the pictures collapse the sense of depth, they weren't too far away.

Red-tailed Hawk behind a flock of Starlings.

Red-tailed hawk behind Starlings (almost in the middle of the picture).

My little side track off the trail ended up with two mysteries though.  One I solved, the other not...

Mystery #1 - Unsolved
Later when looking at the pictures (none of which turned out great being so far away), I noticed one of them had a rather strange looking neck.  Here are some crops in the filmstrip series below.  I'm afraid the compilation lost some of the quality, but they were crops already.  I'm not sure if anyone has any thoughts on what I'm seeing?  Is it a growth of some sort, or a really buff hawk who has been working out on it's main breast muscles? Not likely!

Red-tailed Hawk with mysterious looking neck - a growth of some sort?
UPDATE: see this post for the mystery solved.

Now, mystery number two...

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Catch a Fox

In a recent stop to ask if I could take some downed trees for firewood, the homeowner mentioned there is a fox den or two under a nearby railway bridge.  As much as I like getting free firewood (we heat our entire house completely with a wood stove), that got more of my attention!  I"m not sure about this time of year for getting good shots, but I'm hoping to get a few hours on a Saturday soon to find the den(s), check them out and see if there are signs of activity there.  I'm also hoping the den isn't too far under the bridge abutment or it won't be very bright  for pictures.

I did a bit of searching on the net to see if there were any tips to glean on photographing foxes. Here's the list of tips I found so far to keep in mind when attempting to photograph:
  1. Situate yourself where you're downwind, but also with the sun position in mind - generally behind you at best, but not beyond the subject unless you're creating some interesting effects.
  2. When fox pups are born, morning and evening are when the adults are usually gone hunting.
  3. Wear inconspicuous clothing.  Camouflage is good, but not necessary.  Don't wear bright clothing.
  4. An interesting tip from one photographer:  sway on a windy day to blend into the other moving grasses, etc.  Not sure about that one...
  5. More to come???
....Well, it is now one week after having started this post.  And I was able to head out to the supposed fox den location.  My in-laws were over and my father-in-law was game to head out there with my three boys in tow as its only about a 5 minute drive from our place.  The joke for the rest of the night with the boys was to

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wildlife Photography Locations Google Map

I've often wondered where "everyone else" finds the wildlife they enjoy watching and/or photographing.  Slowly I've found some spots myself, but for some, other photographers I've bumped into have shared a good location.  I've tried many Google searches to see if I could find references to good locations, but not found much.  And many are locations listed by birders who are using scopes, far out of the range of my meager 300mm lens.  I've not been to a lot of locations, but I've found a few that have been "productive" and it made me think that there may be others in my shoes that would benefit from me sharing where I've been.

So, I've created a new page on my blog with a Google Maps map to list these hot or not-so-hot spots to share.  As I discover new locations, I'll add them to the list with a general comment about how it ranks, and what I've seen there.

Here's the map...
Wildlife Photography Locations Map

View My Picture Taking Spots in a larger map

Feel free to comment and share if you have found a good location with the Hamilton, Brant County area that you know of or have been to.  Just note, I'll likely hold off putting them on the map till I've been there and checked them out myself. :)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Been a While

As mentioned in my last post, life has been very busy lately.  I'm struggling to keep my head above water at work with a very large work load.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for work, knowing there are many without right now.  If you know someone in the civil engineering field looking for work in land development consulting industry, feel free to send them my way!

I decided I'd take lunch and head off to Hendrie Valley Marsh for a walk with my camera to relax and see what there was to enjoy on a crisp fall day.  On the way, I stopped along York Boulevard just past the high bridge.  Often on my way into, or heading home from work, I see hawks riding the wind which is forced up by the ridge Yord Boulevard follows.  They face into the wind, and float in a stationary location.  I understand the lift keeping them vertical, but I still haven't figured out why they aren't pushed back.  Unless they are slightly tipped forward?....  There was one red-tailed hawk who must have just tired of that spot and headed out over Coote's Paradise after I got only a couple distant shots.
Red-tailed Hawk

I stopped at the ponds just off the Old Valley Inn Road and there was one lone
Double-crested Cormorant perched there.  Many have already gone south for the season.

Double-crested Cormorant

It seemed very nervous with how close I was, constantly moving its head back and forth, but didn`t seem to want to either jump into the water, or try and fly away.  I`m not sure if they can make a direct take-off into

Friday, November 4, 2011


Hobbies are something that, not so long ago, few people really had time or money for.  Today, for many people it is what defines them.  It`s their reason for working and becomes a large focus in their lives.  Many of us live in a day of relatively great wealth, in the Western world that is, and pursuing things we enjoy doing can be done with quite a bit of disposable income.  For some it`s not disposable and jeopardizes other important things in our lives.  What can also be sacrificed though is time. Time with our family, time with those who need help, and time with the One who gave us the very number of days, already determined before time began.  He already knows the date of our last breath, yet we often spend it with the attitude that it`s all ours, and as if it never will end, with a large focus on our own wishes and wants.

I started this blog as a way to share with a few interested people, a hobby and interest of mine, which when I have the time, I enjoy pursuing. Obviously lately I haven`t done much of it as there hasn`t been a new post in a while. Part of it is due to a very busy fall season of work, church responsibilities, and fading light in the evening hours, etc. There is also one other reason which has somewhat affected the sparser posts... I share this because it has to do with this hobby in some ways....

I recently saw the movie Courageous...

This movie was made by a very small, independent film company called Sherwood Pictures.  The makers of the movie lay down quite a clear challenge to fathers, putting clearly into question

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Older Photos

I was going through some of my old photos and doing some house keeping.  I found a few photos from previous trips to Bayfront Park that I hadn't posted and thought I'd share them.  I haven't done much of getting out to photograph anything of late.  Life is quite busy at the moment!

Mute Swan taking off.
I enjoy watching terns make their hunting circuits over the water.  There is something about how they fly that I like.  Their wing strokes are different from gulls, more definite and crisp with a kind of movement that somehow brings the word "lilt" to mind.  It seems so effortless, and you can see them sure ahead with every stroke.  They like to set up a number of  loops which they patrol a few times, and switching between them periodically.  When a small fish is seen close enough to the surface, they tuck and plummet into the water to pursue the prey.

Common Tern looking for lunch.

Friday, September 16, 2011

August at the Lodge

I seem to have completely forgotten to post of our second summer trip to the Lodge in Bancroft this August...It's been a busy summer. But again we enjoyed great times up with family, this time Holly's sisters and parents and all us married in brother-in-laws along with the nieces and nephews; 35 of us in all if I count right.  We celebrated a 100th birthday combination of Mom and  Mark that week, some good laughs being had during a short program after a great birthday meal.

As for wildlife and photographing thereof, I had some fun with that too.  Here are a few shots of things around the grounds.

Cabbage Butterfly

I couldn't quite confirm what this one was.... It's either a type of skipper or dash butterfly I think.

Long Dash??

One afternoon, I headed out to a little larger lake a little ways from the Lodge where I had often seen an adult and young common loon.  I was rewarded with a bit of patience as they ended up coming to that end of the lake for a short while.  The adult was bringing small fish to the young one.  It appeared that the adult would catch a fish, bring it near the young one, then let it go a short ways away for the young one to chase and catch itself.  Fun to watch.

Common Loon adult and juvenile - Learning to fish

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Plus 2)

Two Saturdays ago, four of us guys from church went on an trip usually more associated with younger boys, more the likes of the title of this post.  Friends Joe and Nate had built a raft last summer, and I and another friend, Rob, got to join them for the last trip of the summer down the Grand River on an overnight jaunt.  This raft does not resemble anything of what Tom or Huck would have traveled on.  Nate has a business where he gets sheets of styrofoam in bulk, and after glueing together large slabs, they sheathed it in plywood and 2x4's, and then built a counter and upper platform.  It's unsinkable, and to un-experienced rafters not too bad to maneuvre.

It was a great evening, the best spot being seated in a chair up on the "upper deck", peacefully floating down the river. 

Nate's got the best seat on the raft.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Saturday Morning's "Work"

Continuing my narrative starting with sunrise pictures on VanWagner's Beach....

When Dave arrived, we headed over to VanWagner's Ponds, one of the locations I had thought might be a good birding location.  At least the OntBirds email list had said this was a good location.  We unpacked and set up our cameras to head down the path.  While we were getting set, a starling was chasing a cicada straight towards us, and last minute abandoned the pursuit as it came close.  Although it had been flying, the early morning temperatures must not have allowed the cicada to warm up enough yet, as it was somewhat sluggish still.

Well, after scaring out two herons we didn't realize were there, we really saw nothing else. The ponds have higher banks which were mostly filled in with bull rushes, not the greatest for trying photograph through without hipwaders.  We soon decided to head on over to another location I had also seen on OntBirds - Windermere Basin.  However, it was nothing like what the Google satellite view shows, as it is under some very major construction.  Again, we saw a few herons and shore birds, but none within range, and certainly not with an attractive backdrop.  

So, off we went to RBG, hoping the Henrdrie Valley area where we've both been a few times would provide better success.  On the way though, we stopped on Eastport Drive where there is a small strip of land in Hamilton Harbour which is a nationally designated bird sanctuary, mostly for cormorants.  This narrow portion of land has been populated by hundreds, if not thousands of cormorants, their feces completely killing any vegetation along it.  

Cormorant Nesting Tree

Thursday, September 1, 2011

VanWagner's Beach Sunrise

My adventure in photography didn't start last winter, but it got a kick start then.  We had just purchased our new camera, and I met a nice gentleman who was photographing song birds in Niagara Falls (previous post). Well, after a few attempts, we finally met for a Saturday of picture taking.  While arranging a start time, Dave jokingly challenged me that, if I was a real birder, then I'd be on location at 6:30 in the morning to be ready for good light conditions.  After seeing that sunrise coincided with this hour, I decided to try my hand at capturing the sunrise, knowing that the sun would be rising across Lake Ontario on VanWagner's Beach.  The goal for the rest of the morning was to go to a few locations near there which had shown promise, as far as I had understood, from an OntBird email list I get updates from.  The promise of lots of shore birds sounded like a good Saturday morning of photography.

That morning, the moon was in its "just waxing" phase, and the silver crescent sliver greeted me in the dark as I headed out from home at about 5:30am.  Here was the scene that welcomed me as I headed to the beach, a slight warm breeze, and soft waves the surroundings.

A long exposure softens the water to appear as fog.

Again, a longer exposure leaves the dark, hard rock
appear to sink in  mist.

Although the oranges and reds are disappearing as the sun rises, it's interesting how exposure changes affect the colours of the captured photo.

Purples and blues.

Well, that was the start to the rest of the morning.  Sunrise is something you don't have long to "play" with, as it won't pause for you.  I had in fact missed the "magic moment", the sun breaking the surface as I was out scouting our location before Dave arrived, thinking the sun was behind the clouds on the horizon.  Looking back, I saw the molten ball rising above the water, and sprinted back to re-setup and capture only a few shots, past the best moments in time.

Too late...

I'll try and post some of the birds we got to see in the near future.  Life has been rather busy with many obligations.  Posting has not been able to make it easily on to the list with limited time available.  More coming soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

July at the Lodge and Young's Point

Well, vacation is over for the summer, back from my second time up at the Lodge in Bancroft.  Although shorter for me, we had a great time with Holly's side of the family.  It was cooler than the record highs of our previous stint in Bancroft, which meant a little less water activities.  But a great time with relaxing and even construction of a new swing over the water.

Still sharing pictures with you from my week with my family in July...  I got to see and get some pictures of what really are my favourite group of wildlife, raptors.  They are hard to photograph, having such great eye sight, and having a preference to be left alone for the most part.

When we arrived that week, I quickly noticed characteristic, piercing cries of a raptor.  Soon I located the source, across the lake three falcon-like figures, rolling and diving, chasing and then fleeing from each other with great speed.  A couple years back I remembered having gotten quite close to a young falcon/hawk (didn't get close enough to see which), and recognized the cry as being similar.  

Not wanting to be accused of disappearing right away from family vacation time, I put it off for a number of days into the holiday.  On one of our last days, I noticed I had not heard the sound of the birds, which is a persistent "kee, kee, kee", somewhat reminiscent of a killdeer.  I was afraid I had waited to long.  One of my brothers, Dan and I thought we'd see if we could find what we guessed would be a nest site in the large pine which they seemed to frequent most of the time.  After about an hour of hiking in the bush on that side of the lake, and not finding the nest, patience finally paid off, not because of a skillful search, but with the tell-tale cries coming nearer and nearer.  We came down from the ridge we were on, and walking on, Dan spotted the first, then the second juvenile Merlin, quite grown up already.  The one didn't hang around long, but the other decided to take a nap there.  I had to stop short of banging pots and pans to get it to open its eyes for some photographs - well, not quite.  You can see it sleeping in the third of the photo-strip picture below.

Juvenile Merlin

Spreading, Scratching, Snoozing, Stretching Juvenile Merlin

On the way back to the Lodge, my brother spotted the nest, in one of the big pines on the lot of one of the cottages across the lake from us.  It was much closer to the water than I had thought.  Recent talk in Holly's family might mean that we'll be back next year in July, which might mean another attempt to get a little closer to the young.  I'd love to try and get into one of the nearby trees to get a nest view, but don't think that will be possible.  

Merlin Nest

I posted some facts about Merlin when I saw my first one in Myrtle Beach this past winter.

For the last 10 years or so, we've come home from the Lodge through Young's Point which is about 25km north of Peterborough on Hwy 28.  Almost every time we pass, there is an Osprey sitting on a nesting platform on top  of a hydro pole, just beside the bridge which crosses the Trent-Severn Waterway (near lock 27).  Well, when you're either 3/4 of the way on a four hour trip with kids in the back, and getting close to the cottage, or, finally finished packing, got the kids settled in the back, and no longer asking if we're almost home... you don't get much more than the glance through the windshield and then maybe the side mirror.  This time, I dared to ask :) as I was sure my brother Dan would want stop as well, and we were graciously "granted" a quick dash to the bridge by our wives.  I assured it wouldn't be longer than 5 minutes....though how do those minutes always somehow stretch to 10 or 15 ?!?  I think we didn't do too badly though.

Osprey nest with Adult and Juvenile
As we approached, the adult on the left sounded a warning, and the juvenile (though already as large as the adult) quickly disappeared out of site in the nest.  The parent took off and warily circled, higher, then lower, around us as we walked nearer to the nest.

Osprey circling as we approached the nest
Osprey are large raptors, with wing spans of up to 6ft that feed almost exclusively on fish.  They will watch with amazing eyesight, for a fish in a lake, stream, or river, and then dive, often from great heights, and pull up, feet first to grip their prey, sometimes fully submerging themselves under the water to reach their quarry.  They have unique feet compared to other hawks, with one toe being able to pivot backwards or forwards to assist the other rear toe, extending long, sharp talons into slippery, scaly fish.  As they climb up from the water's surface, sometimes with a fish weighing as much as they do, they will arrange the catch to be head first, a more aerodynamic position reducing the effort required gain altitude again and head back to the nest.

The osprey was also designed with special legs compared to most raptors; they are much more heavily muscled, longer to reach deep into the water (up to 3 feet) and covered with very thick feathers to help cushion the impact as they hit the water during the speedy dives to surprise and catch the fish.

An interesting link with more information (and some of the information above) can be found here: 
If time had allowed the adult might have gotten more trusting and landed on the nest to allow for closer shots.  However, after the 5 minutes (likely 10) we walked back, turning around to get some pictures of it landing to assure junior again. 

Osprey landing at the nest.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

July at the Lodge 2

I didn't end up taking a lot of time to go hunting for wildlife or photos - being there with the family was full of activities with the kids and adults: boating, lots of swimming considering the temperatures were in the high 30's all week, a zip-line type airplane game for the kids my Dad made, etc.  But sharing the grounds of the lodge, there are enough unique creatures to enjoy right nearby.

The following picture is my consolation on what I was hoping would be a great shot of a fish bursting through the water's surface to gobble up this unfortunate moth.  It had ended up in the water somehow, and through the clear water, a few moments earlier I had seen about four nice sized bass cruising the area.  I was assuming this is the sort of thing any fish would notice quickly and come straight for.  Nothing - they must have been full.

A moth beating a standing wave pattern on the water's surface.

Dock spiders (or also known as fishing spider, raft spider) are about the biggest spider in Southern Ontario.  These ones are about 75mm across, but get bigger.  These spiders hunt by water, waiting along a rock or similar location, to snatch a passing insect out of the air, off the water's surface, and sometimes from below.  While watching them on another occasion, I saw one of the spiders snatch a damsel fly whose path came too close, no camera on me of course!  

Female (left) and male (right) dock spider.  Males are typically smaller in spiders.

Their eyesight isn't terribly keen though, and they usually rely more on their sensitive legs which have many tiny hairs to sense vibrations in the water.  These hairs also provide the surface tension which allows them to run across the water to pursue creatures which come within range such as water beetles, water striders, or even young fish that tend to stay to the shallows.  Amazingly, they can differenThey can tell though, which vibrations are what - differentiating between an insect struggling on the surface of the water, and a leaf falling into the water.

Hunting on the water's edge.

Once caught the prey is quickly injected with the poison and digestive juices through their hollow jaws, just barely visible behind its "hairy mostache".

Dock Spider.

Dragonflies are amazingly design creatures.  Of insects, they have some of the fastest accelerations and speeds.  Some can travel up to 45 km/hr, with full mobility of movement: up, down, sideways, backwards.  They have very good eyesight, their compound eyes giving them pretty much a 360 degree view, and very sensitive to movement.  They catch, and usually eat their prey of insects on the wing, keeping the balance of one of their main diets, mosquitos, partially in check.

I have not found a great online source for determining dragonfly and damselfly species yet.  If anyone knows one, I'd be grateful for the nudge in the right direction.

Dragonfly - Calico Pennant

Dragonfly - Blue Skimmer

And here's a familiar sight - a grasshopper.  Their design is incredible, allowing them to catapult themselves proportionately huge distances with strong, leveraged hind legs.  Did you know they had "ears"?  Like crickets, they also call to each other with chirping sounds.  On this grasshopper, the drums are located just above where the hind leg joins to the body - there is a partially covered, round depression partially hidden by it's wing.  Other grasshoppers have them on their front legs.

Two-striped Grasshopper.

Well, we're off to the Lodge with Holly's family for part of the week.  I have to come back early, and won't be able to enjoy the full week with them.  Should be a great time though.  When I get back I'll post the remainder of the pictures from my last trip - I've saved my favourite ones for last - Merlin and Osprey.