Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nesting Sandhill Crane

Where did spring go?  Snow recently?  I guess we are actually experiencing spring now, and summer is back in it's regular place after spring!  Looks like warmer weather is coming though.

Sorry for the delay on the nesting Sandhill Crane shots I promised a while ago.  Though I doubt anyone was  changing any part of their life with the holdup on this post.  I've been under the weather lately with a cold/flu that just doesn't seem to want to leave!

This post is going to be sparser than usual on the words and I'll just let the pictures do the talking... I'm off to bed earlier these days trying to get rid of this bug which just seems to suck the energy out of me!  I hear there are a lot of people struggling with similar, nasty bugs too.

This was the first sight I saw as I returned to try and find the nest Dan found after I had left last time.  I was in the wrong spot, but enjoyed a bit of a closer view as this crane perused the grass for small crustations and insects to eat.  It slowly wandered to the south into the leafless bushes out of sight.

Sandhill Crane
Turns out it was headed over to the nest site, where it later "hovered" in the background keeping an eye on us.  It didn't seem distressed or concerned, but quietly kept us under surveillance.

Sandhill Crane patrol.
Dan arrived a bit later and pointed me to the correct location of the nest.

Grass Lake and the hills beyond.
The golden, afternoon sun nicely lit the bid bird on the nest.  Budding leaves from the trees behind us on the bank will soon block out this desirable lighting.

Sandhill Crane nesting.
Just as we were going to leave, it stood up, giving view to two large eggs which will hatch after about 30 days of incubation.

Sandhill Crane turning the eggs.

Thanks again to my brother Dan for finding the nest!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Uh Oh! That Didn't Sound Right!

I'll wait till the end to share the bad news...

UPDATE: A colleague at work here (thanks John!) corrected me on my turtle identification.  The two turtles I thought were Painters are actually Red-eared Sliders.  They are not native to Southern Ontario but likely pet releases.  They don't make it through the winters here, so will likely not be around next spring. Unless we get an even crazier winter than the past one!  So replace Painter with Slider when you read the post. :)

I went out today for a short lunch break to Bayfront Park and was enjoying a rather bold Painted Turtle. They are usually quite quick to relinquish the warm sun for the cover of the cool water when anyone approaches. Its fellow sunbathers were more typical, splashing into the water as I approached closer than my initial picture or two.

Painted Turtles sunning,
maybe a Northern Map Turtle?
I didn't realize this until looking at the pictures tonight... In the picture above, the middle turtle has a somewhat "serrated" edge along the back.  The focus is on the front turtle, so hard to really see the pattern on the shell.  Also, the shell doesn't have the "brim" effect the other two Painters do. Might be a Northern Map Turtle?  They are threatened species in Ontario.  Any professional opinions?

The brave one, or the foolish one?

Coming in for a look.

Man, this shell is heavy!

The segue into the next topic is the turtle in the bottom of the picture below.  With the distance, the harsh noon day light, and my lack of knowledge of turtles, I could not tell what kind it was.  It didn't look like a painted turtle to me.  A smaller snapper?  Seemed a strange place to be, and I wonder if it was hanging out there, hoping for an opportune moment for a meal?  Again, anyone know if this is possible?

So, the Mute Swan pair is back by the gazebo in the boat launch bay at the park.  They've made a larger, taller nest just a little north of their last year's site.  Though I wonder, maybe the other nest started out the same size - I only started visiting not long before the goslings hatched.  I wonder if the nest slowly settles as the lower reeds get water logged and lose their buoyancy.  

Mute Swan incubating eggs with a
turtle on the nest edge.

I was told by others there that there are 12 eggs this year which would be a very large clutch.  Last year there were 9 which was also larger than the average 6. I'll see if I can get an actual count soon.

Now the bad news...
You know that great sound and feel of camera shutter action? There is something about that feel and sound that is satisfying.  Well, during a series of quick shots while the turtle was climbing out of the water, (not that they move that quickly) the reassuring click was not the same - it was short and incomplete.  Next, the camera shut off with no warning.  My first thought was that it did not sound right, and second hope was, did the battery die so suddenly that the camera couldn't put out it's usual warning?  I was hoping, but my gut told me no.

'Twas not to be.  Back at the office confirmed the shutter was stuck shut.  I dropped it off at the camera shop tonight to be shipped to Sony for repair, still under warranty thankfully.  It will be 4-6 weeks, or longer if parts aren't available.  Hmm.... Bald Eagles just hatched, Sandhill Cranes nesting, who knows what else during the exciting spring months?

Of course, life does not end, and I should probably put this freed up time towards spring yard cleanup, lots of Church work on the to do list, etc, etc.  Priorities right?  Although I enjoy this hobby, it's telling to see how one reacts when the things we find joy in are removed (although I realize this is just temporary).  Brings back to mind my post about hobbies where I was challenging myself previously.  I'll have to think on whether I followed through on some of my plans there!

I do have more Sandhill Crane pictures to post, so those will come sometime soon.  Till then, I'll have to be content to enjoy seeing things without a camera in between the creature and me.  Maybe that's not a bad thing.  But I'll be anxious for the camera back.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sandhill Crane Success

Not always, but sometimes patience pays off.  Or persistence at least. Lately, I've taken a few Sunday afternoons to go to Grass Lake hoping to see the Sandhill Cranes that have been seen, back for their summer stay to raise another brood. My first two Sundays' attempts were filled with good company: my oldest son the first time, and then another birder/photographer I spent over an hour chatting and swapping stories with.

However, this time I arranged to meet with my brother Dan who had just purchased a new camera and was eager for an excuse to come out. I was hoping it would not be another failed attempt to find them. Thankfully, that was not to be, and before he joined me I had already spotted a lone crane preening out in last year's grasses of the wide marshy area of the lake.

Sandhill Crane preening.
We took turns balancing on a log that protruded part way into the lake to enable the closest view possible. The misting rain held off long enough for us to enjoy the sites of this large bird that is part of a small number of cranes that seem to return to this location for a number of years now. Although the birds number in huge quantities and flocks are often in the 10,000's, they're not very common in this area. 

Post preening nap.

After having poor success in seeing them previous times, the tide had turned and soon we saw another four flying about in the back stretches of the lake. Soon two flew over and noisily landed in the distance behind where the preening crane we were watching was stationed. They are big birds.

Sandhill cranes coasting in for a landing

We traipsed over to the side of the lake where the two new visitors had landed, but couldn't see much more than glimpses as that side of the lake's edge is quite grown in with vegetation at water's edge. However, we caught site of a Canada Goose nesting, and trying hard to keep from our notice although in plain view. It wouldn't move an inch the whole time we watched. Not sure if this is more characteristic of more "wild" geese compared to the more "domesticated" park variety. I'm more used to encountering the geese who make you feel you need apologize while you walk around them on a trail they happen to be sauntering down as well.

Canada Goose nest.
I'm not sure if this nest is the handiwork of the subject goose, or whether it is leasing the roof off of a muskrat. I'm thinking this is quite the mound for a goose to create, but possibly this is the fruits of many years of nesting at the same location.

Red-winged Blackbirds abounded, their raspy calls filling the air with the corresponding feather-spread displays. The drab weather and lighting didn't help for exposing a black bird, and they always seem to know where the camera is, insisting on facing away.

Red-winged Blackbird

With time running out for on a successful outing, a Turkey Vulture lazily circled and dropped down quite low... never turn your camera off until you're in the car. This was a bit of a hastily taken shot somewhat salvaged with Picasa (which I have taken a liking to lately with relatively easy touch-up [I try to keep my editing to a minimum], except for a purple fringe correction in Gimp to compensate for my inferior Sony lens!). This is the closest shot I have gotten yet of this large bird.

Turkey Vulture

I had to leave before Dan did, and he excitedly emailed me later that day letting me know he had found the Sandhill Crane nest we had gone out to find (on report and picture evidence from others on a birding board I frequent). Although we had just been, excitement won out and our wives agreed to the likelihood of two dads being late for supper, arrangements being made to meet the next day after work. I'll save the pictures from that outing for another post which I should get out soon.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Great Horned Owl and Young

We headed to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law's place for the afternoon today, and enjoyed the warm sun on the deck while the kids played with their cousins leaving us to a great visit.  Being situated in a beautiful spot half way up the Niagara Escarpment, I got distracted often by the many Turkey Vultures lazily circling the bright blue sky, often close overhead.  When I finally got the camera out, they decided to keep their distance.  Earlier a pair of Red-tailed hawks had landed close by in the crown of a spruce close by, calling to each other with their famous forlorn but piercing cry.  Of note, this cry is what you almost always hear in the movies, even if the bird is an eagle or other raptor.  

Great Horned Owl nest - as close as we could get from the top of  a ridge.

At one point Jer mentioned he had heard of an owl nest down the road and thought he knew the general location.  With no need to ask me twice, we headed off to see if it could be found.  With little effort, the nest was spotted about 50m from the road.  The large stick built nest was in the crotch of a large tree centred in the middle of a ravine the road followed.  Almost right away we saw movement in the nest.  Then, the sighting of characteristic, widely spaced tufts and the size of the bird produced the excitement of knowing it was a Great Horned Owl!

Great Horned Owl nest with young

I've only been sure of seeing an owl twice before in my life, both only being a silhouette as I drove in early morning.  One was perched on a road sign and the other on a hydro line.   The latter I had enough of a view to be quite certain it was a Great Horned Owl, indicators again being the "ear" tufts and size.  The only other time I believe an owl crossed my path was in very late dusk, also driving, when I saw a large bird glided a great distance across the road from one field to another, and the shape just seemed different than what my brain is used to registering as a hawk.

But back to today, even more reason for excitement was viewing confirmation on the zoomed in camera preview that there was at least one young one in the nest.  The white fluffy down, and another set of big yellow eyes was in the photo.  With the sun behind the nest, it was hard to see clearly though.

Great Horned Owl Nest 

To get a little closer view from the opposite bank and avoid the back-lit condition from the road, we crossed the small creek that calls the ravine home and crested the ridge in a farmer's field where we had a nicely lit view of two young owls with a huge parent keeping a watchful eye on us.  At one point while I had my camera glued to my eye, Jer saw a large shadow quietly but swiftly move through the forest and stop as something landed in a large tree off to the side.  We couldn't locate it, but I wonder if it was the mate which may have been drawn in by Jeremy's pretty good whistling imitation of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Cropped image showing the two young owls.

Great Horned Owl Fledglings

This was a pretty exciting find for me.  I've long hoped to see an owl in enough light to clearly see it and get some pictures, but never dreamt I'd get to see young ones as well.  If I lived closer to the location, I'd love to camp out on the ravine's edge and watch the activities of this owl family.  We couldn't stay long as the rowdy young in the relative's "nest" up the road would soon revolt should a meal not be provided there. With Jer on the soon fired up BBQ, a great meal was enjoyed with great visiting.  Thanks for making my day with the owl outing Jer... Oh, and thanks for having us over for the visit Maria - we enjoyed that too!