Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reader Feedback Poll

Well, it's been exactly 8 months since I started this little blog, sharing the moments when I have some excitement in enjoying the wildlife around where I live and work.  I find it interesting that people have been following these posts and hopefully enjoy my little narratives.

Actually, I'm curious as to what happens when you pop onto the blog from time to time... are people interested in just looking a the pictures briefly, am I just boring people with my ramblings?  I've set up a little poll on the right side bar which you can fill in if you care to. (You can click all the options that apply.)  I'm not intending to change my habits based on the results, but was just curious to see what people are actually getting out of the blog.

Don't worry... it's anonymous!

Feel free to leave a comment if you feel you need to get more off your chest than the poll answers provide. :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bald Eagles in Paris

Holly was sleeping and the kids were either napping or playing nicely downstairs, trying to get over a bad cold that most of them have.  So I made a quiet exit and headed out to Glen Morris and Paris to the Grand River.  I had seen a posting that there were four juvenile Bald Eagles frequenting a field west of Grand River and thought I'd see if an ice Sunday drive with my camera would turn into any nice sightings.

The field and roads in the vicinity of the purported location yielded nothing, and along the drive I wasn't even seeing the Red-tailed hawks which I expected would be out on a somewhat sunny afternoon.  However, as I drove towards Paris on the west side of the river, I saw a set of the classic red-tailed hawk silhouettes circling lazily in the sky over the opposite side.  They were maintaining their location, so I hoped maybe they'd still be there once I'd crossed the river in Paris and doubled back.

juvenile Bald Eagle on the Grand River (heavily cropped shot!)
Well, I got something  better...  just as I passed under the high rail bridge on Willow Street (see this map) a huge form flew over head and banked back towards the river.  A juvenile Bald Eagle landed in a snag across the river.  I quickly parked, jumped out and got off only one picture before it flew away, heading south and raising all the Canadian Geese into the air from their grazing in the golf course across the way.

Back in the car, I followed in pursuit and parked in the rail trail parking lot just a little further down, where I couldn't see any sign of the bird after pushing my way through the bush to the top of the steep bank of the river.  I did pause there to speak with an older gentleman who walks the trail every day.  He mentioned he had heard there were two adults and two juveniles, and that there was talk of the adults nesting in the area.  I'm hoping someone on Guelph/Cambridge/KW Birding has heard more of this and can fill me in.  Here's hoping they stay in the area.  Bald Eagles have made quite a come back in the Great Lakes area, and around this area having been seen for a number of years now along the Grand River, and in Hamilton Harbour.  They have nested in Brantford in the past and are being watched in Coote's Paradise on RBG side this year, hopeful that they will raise some young there.  The last link from RBG gives some brief history on Bald Eagles in the area.

Well, I headed down to the old railway bridge lookout (near the end of Blue Lake Road) off the Rail Trail.  I waited there for a while, seeing if there was anything of interest.  The older gentleman had said he's sat their before and watched the eagles soar right past at eye level.  While waiting I saw a lone, injured Canada Goose float by.  It appeared to have a broken wing.  I can't imagine it will survive long like that.  (The picture is heavily cropped as it was on the far side of the river.)

Canada Goose with broken wing

My patience finally paid off, as soon on the horizon, flying north towards me were two large sets of wings.  They were having fun, jockeying in the air.  Hard to capture in pictures.  Again, they were far off, but it was still exciting to see the large shapes that your eye immediately knows are larger than the typical hawk proportions.

Two juvenile Bald Eagles having fun.
They landed in a large tree down river where they called to each other for a while.  It was strange, sort of almost a whistling sound.  

juvenile Bald Eagles

Then, after about 5 minutes, they took off and, to my dismay, headed south instead of north towards me, swiftly flying towards Paris and climbing up the bluff and somewhere into town.

I have to admit I never expected to see any Eagles when I left, but was quite pleased to be able to see them  after all.  I'll have to try and get some more information about where they are regularly being seen and make some more trips in the future.  If they're hanging around here, the lookout is only a 10 minute drive from my place.  Finally, a bird I pursued found! :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Thin Ice

Continued from my last post, here are some pictures I took of the Mallard Ducks and Trumpeter Swans which were walking across the ice or perched on one leg, sleeping with their heads tucked under a wing.

The Trumpeter Swans moving over the ice to a small patch of open water were somewhat comical.  Because the ice was slippery, they were moving with a cautious, stiff legged gait, even more awkward then the usual, unnatural walk that waterfowl have on land.  They were obviously built to fly or swim.  You can see in the background of the picture below, many sets of webbed footprints from when the ice was recently softer.

Awkward trek of Trumpeter Swans across the ice.

Shy Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan with "angel wings"

Mallard Drake on what remains of the ice
at Bayfront Park

Male and Female Mallard Ducks

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

White-winged Scoter

Today at lunch I changed my usual routine and instead of heading down the trail at Bayfront Park, I thought I'd head along the east side of "the channel" and around to the other side of the park.  I didn't make it that far, but glad I changed things up.  I saw a new bird for my list today - a White-winged Scoter.  It was sitting quietly by itself up on the armour stone break wall just west of the sandy beach.

White-winged Scoter
After letting me get relatively close, it dropped off the rock into the water and eyed me for a bit.  It didn't head off too far, giving me the impression it would really like to head back to the spot on the rock it had just gotten warmed up.

But not long after, it dove under water, searching on the bottom for the crustaceans it eats.  The water was nice and clear and I could see it swimming around, poking in the rocky bottom for mussels or crayfish for food.  It was hard getting a picture of the bird with its recently caught food... upon hitting the surface the bird quickly gobbled down its prize before I had time to relocate it with the camera and click.

White-winged Scoter with lunch.
Scoters are another of the waterfowl I've been seeing this winter which over-winters in this area or is on its way back to its normal habitat of western and northern Canada from the east coast.

White-winged Scoter - stretch
So far as I can tell, this is a first winter bird, likely a male but I can't tell that for sure.  Ultimately it gets dull black and the males have a bright white "comma" under their eyes.

White-winged Scoter

I also got some nice shots of the Trumpeter Swans still there (note I had my identification of the Tundra Swans in my recent post corrected (thanks Caleb) - they are in fact Trumpeter Swans.  When I saw them last, they were not close to the Mute Swans so I had eyed them up as being smaller.  However, today they were mingling and they were basically the same size.  That would explain the missing yellow patch behind the bills on that many of the same kind.  I keep learning. :) 

I'll post the shots of the Trumpeter Swans and more in the near future.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Strange Perch-fellows

In cleaning up some of my picture files, I noticed I had completely forgotten to post that I had seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a visit to Bayfront Park back in January.  Although not typical for January, that was another warm day which seems to have become somewhat typical of the weather this winter.  Of note, although we've had an unseasonably warm winter in much of North America, many other areas of the world have had a frigidly cold winter.  Typically I like my winters snowy and cold.  Makes keeping the house warm with the wood stove that much more rewarding after having cut and split it the spring before.

Sharp-shinned Hawk and Canada Goose

However, I believe I was out enjoying the warm weather, looking for some of the bird rareties which had been reported along the trail.  And I had my usual lack of success.  But I did get to see this Sharp-shinned Hawk which was moving between the railway cars in the rail yard which abuts the Bayfront Trail.  When I came upon it, it was odd to see it along side about 10 Canadian Geese up on the rail cars!  Although a Sharpy would not take on a large goose, I would assume this would not have been a comfortable arrangement in the eyes of the geese.  They didn't seem bothered in the slightest though.

The high chain-link fence along the trail that I was shooting through kept me from getting any closer, which I would have loved to do. Raptors are really my keenest interest, but they are so hard to get near to in their natural element. It's hard to tell Sharp-shinned hawks apart from Cooper's Hawks with their very similarly markings and shape. Some of the key distinguishing differences I try to remember are these:
Sharpy's head looks small compared to the body;
Cooper's looks more like the proportion of a Red-tailed Hawk
Sharpy's tail is more squared and the cooper's rounded. 
Cooper's have a thicker white tip where the Sharpy's is much finer.

Here is a great link which gives good tips to tell the difference:

On my way home from work that night, I was treated with a beautiful sunset.  Many people also did the same thing as me and parked along York Street, just past the high bridge, and tried to capture with camera what you really can only truly enjoy in person.  What beauty has been given to us to enjoy.  Thinking of trying to capture something as grand as a sunset, gets you to ponder how amazing the eye is: it can quickly focus far and near, adjust to a huge range of light levels, registers a splendid range of colours, and captures a very large field of view of almost 180 degrees.  This last ability of the eye is why capturing a grand view like a sunset with a camera just doesn't seem to match our memories from being there in person.

Sunset over Cootes Paradise

And though we do not even think to doubt there was a team of designers who produced the cameras we use and enjoy, can it be comprehended that our eyes are any less the handiwork of an amazing Designer?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Waterfowl

It was a beautiful day today and I was able to take my lunch down at Bayfront Park again.  I headed there hoping to see the King Eider which has been sighted there, but my success rate is not good.  I'm afraid my record of finding sighted birds is not too good.  After sharing my poor record with another birder I met on the trail,  he kindly asked if I could let him know the next time I was going to attempt to see a rare bird so he'd know not to bother coming that day. :)

I've seen most of these birds already this winter, but there seemed to be more of the males for some of the birds that I had only seen females before.  The American Coots were new...

American Coots

It was nice and sunny and with most of the ice off of Hamilton Harbour, the waterfowl were all busily searching for food along the water's edge.

Common Goldeneye

I find the cormorants have a comical way of moving through the water.  They often seem to be in a hurry, and hold their head cocked up slightly giving them the appearance of being a bit snobby.

Greater Scaup and Double-crested Cormorant

Hooded Merganser

Canada Goose landing
UPDATE: These are Trumpet Swans, not Tundra Swans....

I also saw some Tundra Trumpet Swans up close for the first time.  I had seen them fly over at a distance earlier this winter.  Although easy to distinguish from the Mute Swan with their black bills, they are very hard to tell apart from Trumpeter swans unless they have a yellow patch in front of their eyes (not always as in this case).  Generally, Tundra Swans are smaller than the Mute Swans we're used to seeing around here.  The Trumpeter Swan is larger than the Mute, and not very common in this area.  >>Once I saw them together with the Mute Swans, I realized they were bigger than I thought. <<

Trumpeter Swan profile

Trumpeter Swans

I also got some directions for where a Great-horned Owl has been sighted a number of times, so I may try that out tomorrow if lunch is free and the sunny weather stays a bit longer.

Of note, I switched back to my old Sony lens today.  I did get some shots with chromatic aberration again, but I do think the shots are much crisper.  We'll see...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"New" Lens

I'm taking a few minutes for a break from cleaning bathrooms, getting at least one of the kids to keep the vacuum cleaner moving through out the house, and feeding the washing machine with never ending supply of laundry. :)

the "new" Tamron lens

I mentioned back in December that I had purchased a new lens... it's new to me, but actually it's likely about 13 years old.  I bought a Tamron AF 28-300 F3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical IF 185D off Kijiji after looking here and here for the only real reviews I could find.  For now (and may never be) it is not in the budget to purchase some of the fine glass that is out there to take really crisply focused shots.  I paid $100 for the lens and a Minolta 3600 HS D flash which I thought was a good deal.

The benefit of the new lens is that it has some low dispersion (LD) glass in it.  My previous Sony kit lens is all plastic elements.  So the new Tamron lens doesn't get the chromatic aberations (CA) or purple fringing nearly the same as the Sony lens.

Here is a shot of a kingfisher at Bayfront Park this January, which on the Sony lens would have turned out with all the branches being purple.  The bottom right side still has a slight bit of the CA happening, but not as bad as the Sony lens would have.

Belted Kingfisher

Another plus of the Tamron is it's bottom end of the focal range: 28mm  vs 70mm of the Sony; a welcome extension to the almost wide angle range.  It actually is 42mm (1.5 x 28mm for the APS-C sensor size) so not wide angle, but still provides a bigger range on the bottom end all in once lens.  It also "collapses" into a smaller length than the Sony which is nice for carrying around.

...Well, it's now the next day... :)

However, a trade off seems to be that the Tamron doesn't seem to be quite as crisply focused at the longer focal lengths out to 300mm.  That is somewhat frustrating and I feel like I have to choose between the CA issue and focus quality.  Especially with birding, it's often that you're shooting against sky and back lighting, so the CA often creeps up.  But it is never enjoyable to trade of good focusing!

Another thing I've noticed, is that the Tamron doesn't get you in as close as the Sony does.  Although they both say they are 300mm lenses, the Sony zooms in closer.  Does anyone know if lenses are given their focal lengths like car's engine sizes are - rounded up often somewhat dishonestly?

Oh the trials we have to we go through as relatively wealthy people!  Much of the rest of the world has to make decisions which involve how to feed or put a roof over their families.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Long-tailed Duck

I have had no time for any birding at all in a long time... my dear wife is suffering through her very rough pregnancy leaving me to pretend to be a mom before and after work. I tell you, you sure notice how much your wife does when she's down and out for weeks on end. I'm not going to pretend I'm even keeping up the standard she does, and I'm getting lots of help from great friends at our church with the kids and meals.  I don't say it often enough - Thanks for all you normally do to keep this house running and raising our kids dear!!

Long-tailed Duck
I had to go to Spencer Smith Park in Burlington to review the park grounds and take pictures for a proposal I'm working on with others from our firm.  While walking around to take shots of the grading, drainage and the promenades there, I saw the usual Canadian Geese and some Mute Swans, but also a number of Long-tailed Ducks.  This is a new bird for me, and not common in Southern Ontario as it's an arctic bird.  It's an attractive bird and also has a very distinct call, which as far as I know, is unusual for waterfowl which don't usually have much more than a single note or sound.  Here is a link to what they sound like.

Correction - The Long-tailed Duck seems to have grown to very large wintering numbers in this area since the zebra mussel's appearance in the Great Lakes.  The range maps I looked at online are either out of date or... well, I'm not sure.  I've looked at some more and now see their range extends below the lakes and into NE USA. Thanks to those who emailed or commented to put me straight. ;)

Male and Female Long-tailed Duck

This seagull is losing it's juvenile stage and decided to put on a show for me while I was taking pictures of the lower promenade.  I had the point and shoot camera from work but got some decent pictures still.

Ring-billed Gull

Till next time... :)