Friday, June 29, 2012

Down by the River

On Sunday, the two oldest were invited to friend's houses between church services and Justin settled for the consolation of going for a walk with Dad to try and see the Bald Eagles on the Grand River in Brantford. I hadn't been there since March either not having time, other locations pulling me, or the weather not cooperating. I didn't see the Eagles this time.  Apparently one has prematurely fallen out of the nest - wonder how it has fared.

Bank Swallow

But we did enjoy walking along the river's edge, Justin looking for frogs and me enjoying watching the swallows swiftly darting just above the water with deft maneouvres to catch insects in the air.  Amid the Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows were some Northern Rough-winged Swallows (life bird #87).  They are mostly light brown, with a light, pale underbelly.  Their name comes from a rough barb-like feathers on the leading edge of their wings.  It's not known what they are for, but thought possibly to assist them in producing sounds during mating - the males roughness is more pronounced.  They live in small colonies in river banks.

UPDATE: Thanks to Caleb S for pointing out that my identification of the swallows is likely wrong and probably Bank Swallows, not the Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I thought.  The two birds are quite similar, and pictures I had seen weren't terribly clear.  But by looking around a little more and at other photos I had but didn't post I think he's right. So my tags and picture labels and list have been updated (life list on Tuesday as it's at work). Consolation is that it is still a lifer.

Bank Swallow

Justin suddenly got enthusiastic about finding things on his own and spotted two of these butterflies.  He was quite proud of himself when I commended him on his good eye!

Cabbage White Butterly

Delaware Skipper Butterfly

The bright-eyed little guy.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Drive-by Birding

On Tuesday I enjoyed seeing more birds than I had every expected, and it all turned out to be within a few paces from the same road - Hwy 5 between work and home. I had my camera along and ended up making lots of stops all with birds making an appearance.

Spotted Sandpiper reclaiming a caterpillar.

In the morning, I had to stop at a client's development site to check out where existing drainage ultimately is collected to.  I popped up an embankment to review the topography of the neighbouring Lafarge Gravel Pit which is being reclaimed with fill slowly being brought in.  A Spotted Sandpiper noisily protested my appearance and flitted away from a marshy area with its stuttering wingbeats.  When standing still, which is not often, their tail bobs down and up.  I had my camera with me that day and the bird dropped to the stony ground to reclaim a caterpillar I must have startled it into dropping.  Shortly later, it let me approach while pacing back and forth along a dead tree branch.  These Sandpipers don't follow the traditional roles in the animal kingdom with the female being the leader and the male assuming the responsibility of raising the young.

Spotted Sandpiper

I know I just shared a post about these beautiful butterflies, but I liked them enough to include here anyways.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

A song sparrow was cheerfully singing a tall Ash tree overhead.

Song Sparrow

Our office was part of a Habitat for Humanity house project and sodded the yard and cleaned the house for an afternoon.  Only thing - the afternoon only took about an hour once we got going with the gang we brought.  The boss was generous and said he certainly didn't expect all us dirty sweaty folk to return to the office after working in the hot sun.  So I headed home, but decided to take the opportunity to stop at a few locations along the way home that I'd been eyeing.  Time for that hadn't been available when trying to get to work on time or home to a wife eager for relief from the crazy kids.

My first location was unplanned as I saw a Turkey Vulture in a field just west of Rock Chapel Road.  

Turkey Vulture
It was drinking at a shrinking puddle and warily let me approach somewhat closer than my road's edge vantage point.  It nicely stretched its wings which typically range five to six feet across.  When I tried to approach closer, it took off and headed for the hills.

Turkey Vulture wing stretch.

Interesting fact: If they think they are danger, Turkey Vultures will throw up, leaving an incredibly foul smelling deterrent (not surprising considering they eat rotting animal flesh) which makes the predator hesitate long enough for the vulture to make its get away.

Turkey Vulture

My next stopped was a planned location - a bird box on a hydro pole just west of Peter's Corners (intersection of Hwys 8, 52 and 5).  Early one morning I spotted a bird atop a nesting box and actually had wondered if it was a small owl.  It was quite "plump" and larger than I expected for a Kestrel.  However, watching the location on the drive to and from work, I confirmed it was in fact a rather large American Kestrel and I would see it almost once a day at this location.  (Peter Scholtens - you were right.)

This was the sight that I was might by as I stopped the car a fair distance away, planning to quietly walk closer.

American Kestrel peaking from its next box.

Not surprisingly, as I approached the bird retreated inside for protection.  I spent the next 20 minutes or so patiently using the passing cars to cover my advance in the roadside grass, and then waiting patiently with camera cocked for what I anticipated would be a brief appearance and disappearance when it sighted me closer by.  But nothing happened and my arms wearied.  Once I decided to head out, and with nothing to lose, I squeaked a few "kissing" sounds expecting nothing of a reaction.  However, I was pleasantly surprised and rewarded with an immediate appearance of the little falcon on its doorstep.  And it didn't disappear either.  It bobbed and weaved its head, seemingly trying to figure out the strange guest clicking away in its front yard.

female (I think) American Kestrel

American Kestrel

My last planned stop was to visit a Bluebird box where I had seen Eastern Bluebirds resting on the fence wire nearby.  When I arrived, a pair was nicely perched in a nearby tree, watching for bugs on the ground to fly down and catch.  Generally, this is their hunting style, dropping down from a perch to capture unsuspecting insects on the ground, though I did see them snatch the odd one out of the air as well.

male Eastern Bluebird

I'm not sure if this box is put up by them, but I met one of the organizers of the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society at Ruthven and the have a number of boxes up in the area around St. George.  I hope to make it out to one of their events in the future to see their work with this beautiful little bird more closely.

female Eastern Bluebird

At one point while I was sitting on the roadside in the grass with my back against a road sign post, out of the corner of my eye I caught movement and saw the unmistakable, brilliantly crimson red head of the aptly named Red-headed Woodpecker.  My twisting attempt to quickly capture a picture resulted with the picture below as the best I could get.  Shutter speed being too slow and my less than optimal position didn't help with a clear shot, but I was excited to see this bird for the second time in my life, and so close to home at that.  It was certainly the highlight of my afternoon and a nice way to end my unanticipated birding afternoon.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Early Morning Traipsing

Last Friday evening, all of my family (less my brother and sister-in-law out west) gathered at my sister and brother-in-law's beautiful place on 4 acres south of Brantford. We were combining the birthday celebrations of three June birthdays into a night of BBQ, campfire, and a camp-out in their back yard. The adults loved it almost as much as the kids who were quite thrilled to spend time with their cousins and enjoying staying up past mid-night ending with a night in a tent trailer or tent. Although most of the kids were impervious, the late night for me didn't keep the birds from an awakening at 4:30am. Their full volume met the morning light with gusto, and the thin layer of the tent did nothing to let me sleep in.  By 5:30am, my brother Dan also awoke and followed through on his plan to sit in the small bush in the back yard beside a good sized pond.  I joined him with a couple of the older kids in tow who had also not slept in.

The morning skies were full of singing, and stirring birds.  A Great Blue Heron traveled across neighbouring farmer's fields to its hunting grounds for the day.

Great Blue Heron flies across early morning skies.

And the rising sun glistened off the night's dew left condensed on the surrounding corn fields.

Morning haze over corn field.
Dan capturing sun's reflections off dew.

The night before, my sister had mentioned the small herons they had often seen around the pond - Dan and I were eager to see if we could track them down. We heard them calling with what Cornell's Bird Site indicates is an "advertising" call.  You can hear the call here.  The vocalization has a deceiving effect - it is not very loud and yet, the sound travels well.  But when you hear it, the bird is often much closer than first though.  So as we followed the sound, very often the bird would be perched in a tree, closer than anticipated, and more than once we'd find the bird by having flushed it off it's perch only to have to track it down again.

Green Heron in the top of a Spruce tree -
the first clear view
We spent a couple hours walking through the "bush", back out over the fence and following what ended up being three of these little herons.  We'd end up following as they would avoid our approaches and fly to a dead Elm tree in the open, and then as we approached, they'd head back to the cover of the trees and pond again.

Green Heron in dead Elm tree mobbed by Starlings

While traipsing around, there were other sights to see too....

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

Red Admiral Butterfly

But finally we got a closer look at these small herons. The green colour is not clearly apparent, but their lightly edged feathers do in fact have a green hue to them, contrasting against the rusty breast feathers. Case in point on my comment about the "advertising call" being deceiving, I must have walked right under/past this bird.  Dan was on the other side and got much closer pictures. I'm not sure if he will post as he's created (but not really started) a blog as well.

Green Heron

This is what the Green Heron looks like when it's making
the advertising call.

This is the closest I ended up getting, though not a unobstructed view.

Green Heron
Obstructed, but the closest shot I got of the herons.

A neighbour also had a small pond with open edges, and a solitary Spotted Sandpiper was perusing the water's edge for breakfast.

Spotted Sandpiper

We spent a few hours that morning circling around and waiting for the light "boink" sound to give us a clue as to where one of the three birds were.  Two new life birds too - the Green Heron and Spotted Sandpiper. It got me itching to do some more exploring and longer excursions some day. I'm hoping sometime this summer something will work out if Dan ends up with a holiday to spare. Hint, hint.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Violent Lunch Hour

During lunch on Friday I got away to enjoy the beautiful blue, sunny skies, the perfect temperature, and a nice, dry breeze - the comfortable summer days of June! I headed to Valley Inn Road where I had to pick my path through Canada Geese sunning on the paved trail, only a glance of the one eye not tucked below feathers lazily checking me out.  A Gray Catbird was spilling its convoluted tune as I walked into the wooded portion of the path, and I could hear Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers singing.

In an opening in the trees, two Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies were chasing each other, and then landing on the fringes of the night before's rain puddles.  I'm guessing it is a pair as I doubt two males would be this close together?
A pair of  Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies.
I was curious about why these butterflies were "drinking" off the muddy soil rather than straight from the puddle just beside them.  Seems they may have been "mud puddling".  If they were, then they are drinking from the soil where water is evaporating to drink up moisture which is more enriched with dissolved things like sodium and other nutrients.  They will actually drink large quantities and expel the liquid, quickly processing the water straight though, extracting the nutrients.  The males do this often to increase their chances of fertilizing after mating.
 Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
As I was photographing the butterfly above (which I had followed after landing at a new puddle just a few moments earlier), I noticed movement to my right... a Northern Leopard Frog was resting a part of the puddle.  It was a couple feet away.  I took a picture or two more of the butterfly, and then noticed, another frog .... well, shimmying (best I can think of) towards the butterfly.

the approach...
It didn't take much to figure out what was going to happen next, but one more second would have allowed me to zoom out to capture the "violence" referenced in my post title.  I missed it, except for the off screen action you can guess at in the following picture.

...the censored action
(too bad it wasn't the camera "sensored" action!!)

You can see the clear set of eyelids of the frog,
one of three sets it has.

After I looked up from catching these shots, I realized the puddled area around me was being carefully watched by about another five other jealous leopard frogs who had hoped to have had that juicy meal.

A Northern Leopard Frog with no lunch.

The rest of my walk was a little less eventful, but I did see a pair of Downy Woodpeckers chasing each other through the tree branches.  They were very active and hard to capture in their brief moments of staying still. They must have been quite distracted in their games because they repeatedly came very close to me, but of course not long enough for me to line them up and get a picture at that range.

Downy Woodpecker
Interesting how the camera catches how the leaves filter the light coming through to a shade of green.  Our eyes auto correct, and we don't tend to notice what the camera shows after.

Downy Woodpecker

A song sparrow landed near by, it's plain markings contrasting with its talented melodies.

Song Sparrow

As I was regretfully heading back to the office, a Common Grackle was giving it's squeaky call from a dead tree snag.  I still have not got clear in my head the differences between a Common Grackle and a Brewer's Blackbird, but am convinced upon reviewing the pictures this is the former.  From what I have gathered, the Grackle is slightly larger than a blackbird and has a stouter beak.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle displaying

One last parting shot of these two Red-winged Blackbirds... fluffed up in begging mode, the fledgling appears larger than its mother.

female Red-Winged Blackbird and fledgling

Another lunch well spent!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Bees and the Birds

No worries, this is not a "birds and the bees" post.  I changed the order for a reason.

Neighbouring two sides of our place is church property. On one side is a parking lot on which our kids are all one by one learning to trust that two wheels will in fact hold them up. Behind us is a very beautiful garden full of flowering perennials and trees.  We get to enjoy the benefit of the view with someone else maintaining it. There is always lots of  bird activity, and although mostly of the common kind, it's still fun on a Sunday afternoon when the rain stops and the sun peeps out to see what is there to see. I had noticed lately a pair of Cardinals persistently perching and singing and frequently giving off their "tink" alarm calls. It seemed very likely that there was a nest in the area. Until a couple days ago, my search had not been successful. I found it in a standard of some sort in the middle of the garden with only one young one in the nest.  

View of the gardens from our backyard (quickly snapped on my new phone)

But, since the order of my post title was purposely switched, I have to show some bumblebee pictures first. This bumblebee is loaded with pollen.  In the first picture you can see the pollen flying off it in the air as it had just "settled" down on this location.

Bumblebee laden with pollen - you can see the pollen in the air above

Bumblebee on Greater Meadow Rue

When I got back out on Sunday to try and capture a picture or two of the Carndinal chicks in the nest, they were no longer there.  I followed the high pitched peeps, and finally located two fledglings in the near by trees and cedar hedge.  They were already flying quite well and seemed to be confident in their ability to wing away, letting me get pretty close before putting some distance between us.

Fledgling Cardinal in Linden Tree
"What YOU lookin' at?"

Cardinal Fledgling in Cedar Hedge

Fledgling Cardinal
(you can see the ear openings just behind and below the eye)

Here are the parents, who surprisingly, were not very agitated by my presence, allowing me to get some pictures without feeling too guilty about stressing the little family out very much.

female Cardinal in rose bush

male Cardinal in Redbud Tree