Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mixed Bag of Birds

Bald Eagle just about to slip out of view behind a sappling.

I've made a few different trips over the last few weeks.  As mentioned in my last post, I went back to the Brantford Bald Eagle nest to if there was any activity to capture.  In fact there was, but I mistakenly took my uncharged battery and missed some nice opportunities.  For a short while, a seagull decided to protest the larger predator, bombing the bird from above and putting forth a very noisy statement of its dislike for the eagle's presence in the airspace around the nest.

As I think I mentioned previously as well, there was regular movement of Buffleheads, Common Merganser, and Canada Geese along the river, giving great opportunity for flight pictures to those with a charged battery - not me.  I did get one half decent shot of a pair of Common Mergansers before my battery retired.

Pair of Common Mergansers over muddied waters of Grand River

On the way home from church with the boys last week, we saw White-tailed Deer in the distance of a farmer's field.  The waning light allowed only for 1600 ISO or higher pictures and slow shutter speeds.  Not conducive to trying to capture some frisky does who were obviously enjoying the early warmness of a spring evening.  As you can hopefully see in the picture below, they were jaunting up to each other and then springing lightly into the air.  Spring fever I think.

Frisky White-tailed Deer does.

On the way to a meeting the other night, I stopped briefly to watch a huge Red-tailed Hawk perched in the glow of the setting sun, nicely lit in the golden rays, but too far away for a good picture.  Driving on my way again, the familiar shape of a hawk came into view.  Strangely, its aggressive wing beaten path slowly began to merge with my road bound direction, matching my speed of about 80km/h.  But then, with a sudden burst of speed, it veered away, dropped in elevation, and then swooped up into a large maple at the side of the road and with amazing agility, manoeuvred through the branches into the centre of the tree top to capture a Red-winged Blackbird.  I quickly turned around and was able to capture the picture below just as it took off with a late evening meal to devour.  You can see the flash of red and yellow giving evidence to the species of supper.  It's a terribly blurry shot, but still had to share as proof of my story.

Cooper's Hawk with Red-winged Blackbird catch.

Below is a video showing the agility of a Goshawk which is known for the same ability as the Cooper's Hawk - flying through dense brush to surprise small prey including birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc.  They have an amazing ability to fly through tight spaces, keeping on track and ultimately nabbing the target.  I often marvel at the amazing diversity of tactics wildlife use for catching, luring, and killing prey.  To me it speaks of a creative Designer, and not to the theory that these methods evolved out of the need for survival.  In my mind, the latter would produce a more uniform set of methods only produced out of practical needs and easily developed solutions.  I'd be glad to hear your thoughts if you think differently.

Later in the week, I made a brief stop at Mountsberg on my way back from a work meeting, spending my "lunch hour" to drive the back roads in the area.  On my short jaunt, I saw a Northern Shrike sitting atop of a hedgerow in a farmer's field not far from the road.  Just as I jumped out of my car, it flew off, even though I for once had my camera out and ready for such an event.  No picture.  A significant life bird for me though.

Driving around some more, I did get to see some more common birds, but not may pictures.

Mourning Dove just north of Mountsberg

I headed to Grass Lake last Sunday with my youngest son Justin, to see if we could find the Sandhill Cranes which are reported to be back for their annual summer stay on that lake.  Justin was proudly decked out with his own binoculars...Canadian Tire had a pair on sale for $8 - perfect for all three of my boys who at this point stick dirty fingers on the glass and drop them on the ground when something else interests them suddenly.  We didn't see the cranes, but I did hear and see in the distance an Eastern Meadowlark.  Dad, remember your "wordification" of their song "This-is-my-hydro-tower" from our years on Pinedale Drive?

I thought this blurry shot of a Canada Goose flying over us was kind of interesting.  Blurry, but something about it I like.

Canada Goose

The Red-winged Blackbirds were all noisily courting.  Strange how the duller coloured ones always seem to be the ones closest to the camera... some are definitely have brighter colouring.  This one's wings were tipped with a tinge of light brown.  Not sure if this a first year adult just loosing it's juvenile plumage?

Red-winged Blackbird

On the way home I just happened to notice this Yellow-shafted Norther Flicker.  I was able to get surprisingly close (Never close enough though!!!  Full frame shots are just a dream with a 300mm lens and this is significantly cropped still).  I'd love to capture these birds in flight - that's when the yellow underside of the wings bursts in a flash as they make their flitting, undulating flight typical of a woodpecker.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker

All in all, though none of the specific trips on their own felt like a spectacular success, I've seen some noteworthy birds and sites, and the weather is spectacular, if not strangely odd.  We'll see what the next weeks bring.  April snow storms have happened a few times over the last years!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brantford Bald Eagles

On a dreary, windy, and rather cool day last Sunday, I took my two oldest boys Andrew and Jordan to see if we could find the Bald Eagles which had been reported to be actively tending a nest on the Grand River in Brantford near Brant Park.  We headed down to two known nest sites with very good information from Bill Lamond from the BrantBirds group.  We found the first nest without too much trouble, but didn't see any evidence of it being occupied.

Bald Eagle nest - the original one
From this nest which is a little southwest of Wilkes Dam, we traveled downriver towards the second nest site to see if there was any activity.  As we walked along the bank, we passed an old Indian dam, the remnants of which are only evident at this time of year by a relatively straight line of agitated water as it tumbles over the rocks placed there years ago to raise the water level.  I've tried to find out online why the Indians built a dam here, but couldn't find anything about it.

We met a gentleman on the path who lives just south of the area, and he pointed us to an eagles a bit down river of us where he had just waked from.  He also pointed out to us the site of the second, newer nest which I understand was built over the winter this year.  He said the newer nest is built in a huge old Sycamore tree, lower down, and much more stable.  It's larger than the old one too, though not very visible from where we were standing.  No one seems to be sure why, but the eagle pair has decided go back to the old nest which they attempted unsuccessfully last year to raise young in.  The old nest is higher up in a more slender tree, and it was swaying significantly in the blustery weather we buffeted by.

Bald Eagle
Not long after we had arrived, the eagle had had enough of this lookout point, stretched out its magnificent wings, lifted off, and turned back to soar up river towards the active nest.

Bald Eagle in flight.

From what I am reading and learning online, I would have to guess this is the female.  When side by side, the female is larger in overall size, and in wingspan.  But apart, and if close enough to tell, the clearest ways to tell are:
  1. Eye shadow and eye brows: The female has a very pronounced eye brow and around the eye it looks like she is wearing eye shadow.
  2. Mandible end point: the female's mandible ends at or almost behind the eye where male's is closer to before the eye.
  3. White head: the male's is almost always brilliant white where the female has some faint streaking in it.
Here is actually a pretty good link for a short video where they go through the visible differences.

We followed the flight back to the nest site, and got to see the two eagles on the nest together.  If I'm correct that we had seen the female earlier, she relieved the male of egg sitting duties.  A post on BrantBirds says that at least one egg was laid on Feb 29th which would mean that about April 4th (35 days) the egg would hatch.  Its unknown how many there are, but it would seem there are eggs with obvious duty switches and persistent nest watch being taken seriously.

Male Bald Eagle leaves female (just visible) a turn on the nest.

I returned for a second visit today again and saw both the eagles.  I didn't get many pictures but will post a short description with photographic evidence soon.  Even though I didn't get many good pictures, it was a beautiful day standing in short sleeves, enjoying the warm sun!

After just getting lost part replaced by my machinist brother, I left my tripod there - I had lost track of time and had to rush to get home and back to church!  But I'm grateful to Sue, who I met and spent the afternoon watching the eagles with, for taking it home with her till we can cross paths in the near future so I can get it back!  Thanks Sue!