Thursday, June 30, 2011

Double Crested Cormorant

Another trip to Bayfront Park...

The Double Crested Cormorant is common in Hamilton Harbour and Cootes Paradise, though usually quiet shy of people.  It's a large waterbird which is found along large rivers, lakes and shorelines.  The bird sits very low in the water, often with only it's neck above water.  It swims quickly, diving and moving with it's webbed feet and large tail to manouvre to chase and catch fish that tend to be in schools.  The bird's name comes from two white tufts of feathers they get on their crowns when they are breeding.

You can see if you zoom in, the hook at the tip of its beak to capture and get a good hold on the fish.

Double Crested Cormorant
Their feathers are not waterproof as most other waterbird's are.  This is why they sun them selves in that characteristic, wings spread wide pose to catch the sun, and dry out.

Lunch caught
If you download the picture below and then scan across, you'll see a sequence of the cormorant carefully adjusting the fish in its bill while it's madly flopping away, then down the hatch it goes.  Must a strange feeling for a bit while that fish still keeps moving down there in the stomach!  They regurgitate pellets which gets rid of the bones and other parts they can't digest.

A sequence of adjusting the fish to go down head first, then swallow...

Cormorants were affected both by deliberate targeting by fisherman who thought they were threatening their livelihood, and by DDT in 1960s.  They have recovered well.  Compared to the popular loon, they are often ignored because of their plainer, darker colours, and lack of an attractive call - they mostly grunt and squawk.  However, they too were created with amazing abilities to efficiently hunt and catch food underwater, holding their breath for over a minute while diving and swimming hard at the same time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Going for a Ride

Well, here is a post I was looking forward to putting up for a while... 
I think this was one of my favourite lunch hours so far at Bayfront Park.

The "ugly" duckling?

Proud momma with five cygnets.

Pile on mom!!

Wait for me!

High, dry, and cozy.

Best seat on the ride.

Starting to preen right away.

Dozing off.

Taking up the rear.

the Cob just up from a snack.
Here is some more information about swans on a neat website I found.  Lots of interesting facts about swans.  A few highlights that you might not have known (or may never care about):
- A swan has 23 vertebrae in that long graceful neck
- Cygnets have to peck for almost a whole day at the egg with the "egg tooth" on their little bills before hatching.  No wonder they look completely wearied when they hatch, wobbling all over the place.
The male is called a "cob", and the female a "pen".
- The cob typically can be distinguished as the larger of the two, and also has a larger knob at the base of its beak.

A beautifully designed bird, enjoyable to watch with their young.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mute Swans and Cygnets 2

Continuation from the previous post on the cygnets hatching...

Mother Swan helping

Babies are in the nest for one day, and then are already into the water.  Shelter on the back of the female is never far away.

Two hatched, seven eggs left.

Two oldest Cygnets under Mom's watchful eye.

The pair I watched had nine eggs, of which I believe six hatched, and four lived.  Although the young can fly within about two months, they stay with the parents for about a year to learn migration routes, after which they're sent packing to set out on their own.


One more swan post to come with pictures of the other pair and cygnets up for a ride.
I also recently camped at Long Point Provincial Park where I saw a number of birds and other wildlife... a post to come on that in the near future.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mute Swans and Cygnets

There were two sets of Mute Swans hatching eggs at Bayfront Park in Hamilton.  Over a week or so ago, I visited almost every lunch to watch the activities and try and get some pictures.

Male Mute Swan - in challenge display chasing away a Canada Goose .

Mute Swans are actually not native to North America, but were introduced in the late 19th century by the rich to add to their waterways and ponds for the ornamental effect.  They are considered by some as an invasive species because their numbers have grown so much.  Mute Swans are relatively comfortable around people compared to the other North American swans like the Trumpeter Swan or the Tundra Swan.  These are seen less frequently.  Mute Swans aren't silent, but are named this because their calls are much quieter than other swans.

The couple on the reed nest - of the 9 eggs, only a few are visible

Mute Swans are one of the heaviest flying birds.  The male usually weighs about 12kg (26lb) and their wing span ranges from 2 to 2.5m.

Hatching... the female was panting away, grunting a squeaking ever time
there was some movement below her, sheltering with her wings.
They usually mate for life, and create large nests out of reeds, where they will lay a clutch of large, light brown or greenish eggs which are incubated for about 36 days, with the male and female taking turns, but the female taking charge when they are hatching.  The males especially, will very aggressively guard the nest with some pretty exciting chases.  They will even drown other larger birds which sees as a threat.

A little hole can be seen on the left egg, the egg tooth on the beak
just  visible from a cygnet soon to hatch.
Under a protective wing.
I'll post some more of the rest of my shots... But what an amazing process.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Walk in the Park

Have you ever been places a number of times before, and then come to that place with a camera, and suddenly see that there are lots of things you didn't notice before?  I've discovered there are lots of different birds in Bayfront Park, not far from where I work.  Some are common, but a close up makes capturing them fun.

The Eastern Kingbird is a flycatcher, somewhere between a sparrow and a robin in size.  It catches insects in the air, darting after them with quick movements.  You will also see them picking bugs off trees branches and leaves - darting through and along branches to catch them for lunch.  They often like to perch in branches of dead trees.  I never really noticed them before, thinking they were swallows.  The white tip of the flat tail is the key to setting them apart.

Eastern Kingbird

The all too common Canada Goose...

Canada Goose - going for a snooze

Canada Goose - head shot

This baby Red-winged Blackbird is flying about already.  They look like an old man with big fuzzy eye brows.

Red-winged Blackbird Fledgling
Female Red-winged Blackbird

Another familiar sight, but a nicer setting than around the backyard.

Mourning Dove on thistle teasels

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Other Squab

The second Mourning Dove hatched today, and now there are two little dusty yellow ones in the very sparse nest.  

Both little white eggs have hatched
Not much comfort here, only some small sticks to rest on.  There isn't a bit of comfort added to this nest in the way of down, feathers, or grass.  I'm not sure if they nest in the same place (up to six broods per summer) or whether they make new nests every time - that might explain the sparse nest then.

The one which hatched today is on the left - it's smaller.

Each time I go up, the Mourning Dove does its false, desperate flight into branches, fluttering to the ground, and then flaps along the grass feigning injury to have me follow it away from the nest.  It's similar to what killdeer do, but with much less determination, persistence, and noise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mourning Dove Chick

One Mourning Dove egg hatched at some point today.  When I got home after soccer with the boys this evening, there was one, slightly fluffy chick in the nest.  The other egg shows no sign of anything yet.  Actually, the technical term for dove and pigeon babies is a "squab."  Somehow doesn't seem to fit what are normally elegant looking birds.

Mourning Dove squab
Chicks are fed crop milk, or also called dove milk, for the first few days because Mourning Dove's eat almost exclusively seeds.  Other birds eat more insects, and can then regurgitate this for their young.  Dove milk is produced as a secretion from the bird's crop. A few days before the eggs hatch, the adults won't eat so they can produce this milk.

Mourning Dove squab
The little baby is only about 40cm here.  Amazing how this comes out of the tiny egg.  The whole amazing design and working of how birds begin and hatch from an egg is an amazing design with perfectly working processes - a testament to an amazing and creative Designer!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are common in Southern Ontario.  It's a peaceful sound that they make often in the still of the evening; a mournful, gentle cooing sound.  One unique sound they make is when they take off or land - their wings whistle so that it sounds like they need some greasing at their joints.

Mourning Dove on the nest
This nest is in a tree right beside our place.  They are very courageous little birds - I climbed into this tree and was within a meter of the nest and it only finally flew away at the end.  The female builds the nest, with the male brining her the supplies.  Both male and female sit on the eggs, and apparently it's pretty regular as to who does what shift: the male takes morning to afternoon shift, leaving the rest of the afternoon, evening and night to the female. 

Mourning Dove eggs
Mourning doves are monogamous, and can have as many as six broods in a season, which is necessary as mourning doves seem to have a high mortality rate, both for the young and adults.  They also only lay two eggs per brood, so they don't get too far ahead each time around.

Male Mourning Dove
We'll see if  I can catch some photos of the chicks hatching as well...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Myrtle Beach - March 2011 Part 2

Continuing my Myrtle Beach post from a few weeks ago....

I went for a late afternoon trip to Huntington State Park - to see what there was to see.  There is a very nice, untouched and ungroomed beach here compared to the beaches by the condos.  There are some mild dunes that find themselves between the southeastern forests and the ocean.

Beach at Huntington State Park
Here are some of the shore birds I was able to see and capture some photos of.

Willett Sandpiper
The Willett Sanpiper is one of the larger in the sandpiper family.  It's about three times the size of the sandpipers were used to seeing on the beaches in Southern Ontario.

Willett Sandpiper
The Ruddy Turnstone gets its name for doing it exactly what it sounds like, flipping stones over looking for bugs and small sea creatures to make lunch out of.  Sometimes they will dig holes larger than themselves pursuing something like a crab, burrowed in the sand.

Ruddy Turnstone
Apparently, if you've seen a shore bird, you'll most likely have seen one of these - a Sanderling - as they are the most wide spread shore bird in the world.

Sanderling in Winter Plumage
Also at Huntington Beach State Park, there is a unique feature called a salt water marsh.  The tides flood it with salt water, and it is a breeding ground for things like shrimp.  The egrets, herons, and terns usually flock here, but I must have hit a slow day.  I saw some, but not many...

Immature Double Crested Cormorant sunning
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Snow Egret
Great Egret
The park also has a fresh water lagoon which had a large number of American Alligators.  They got quite close to a number of us were standing (about 5 other photographers there - with much bigger "fire power"!!) which was somewhat unnerving at first.  However, we were up an embankment which separated the fresh water lagoon from the salt water marsh.  Apparently they cross this every night, and we were counting on the fact that they were planning to do this later in the evening when we were gone.

A young American Alligator
A younger American Alligator, waiting in the algae.  Probably was about 5 ft long
A large bull American Alligator sunning in the mud.
American Alligator - swimming towards the crossing point we were taking pictures from.  It was probably about 12 ft long.

The common Moorhen is a unique bird.  The males exclusively build the nests, but they build more than one.  One is used for hatching the young, but when the babies are mobile, they will travel around use the other nests for sleeping at night.

Common Moorhen
And of course a turtle had to be sunning somewhere...
What I think is a River Cooter
As I was leaving, I saw this Merlin up in the trees. Though I followed it for quite a while, it was not going to let me get too close, so this was the best I got.  The Merlin is a small falcon, very active and very aggressive, often pestering and competing with larger hawks.

All in all, a great 6 hours or so of enjoying a wide variety of animals and birds I don't get to see in my part of the world.  What a vast number of creatures He has made for us to enjoy and marvel at.