Monday, May 28, 2012

A Morning with Dad at Ruthven

On May 19th, Jordan, son number two, got his long awaited one-on-one time with Dad for an outing as we headed to Ruthven for bird banding morning.  Jordan's turn was overdue with Andrew's having happened back in December.  Jordan had often reminded me but neither of us had come up with what he wanted to do.  When Pete Scholten (moderator of Hamilton Birders group) let me know of the event Ruthven was holding, I suggested it to Jordan and he was quite excited about the idea of being able to hold birds and release them.  I was not at all pushing the idea as it's supposed to be something they want to do.  But it sure is nice if they want to find interest in something we can share over the years.

---Creation of this post interrupted by neighbourhood fire!---
Shed Fire
Nothing like a fire to get the neighbourhood out onto the street on a quiet Sunday evening.  While working on this post, I heard a good bang ("Really, not more fireworks again?") and then two very large bangs outside ("That was definitely not fireworks!").  It sounded like the back gate on a dump truck slamming shut just outside the house.  I grabbed my phone and headed quickly out the door.  When outside I could hear the crackle of fire and black smoke just starting to heading upwards into the darkening evening sky.  As it was definitely more than a crazy backyard campfire, I called 911 but had already been beaten by what I later found out was the neighbour just next door who obviously knew something was not right.  Thankfully no one was hurt or injured from what was "only" a shed on fire about 10 houses down.  The neighbours are guessing it might have been an ancient John Deer riding mower the shed owner uses and keeps there.  As for the large explosions, we could only guess at gas tanks exploding or the tires, maybe propane tanks?  Needless to say it had the entire street outside.  Our kids were sleeping already and will likely be quite upset tomorrow when they find out they missed it.
...back to the post ...actually, completion delayed till the next day 

Ruthven is a beautiful park in the form of a land trust donated from the Thompson family who had built a large mansion on the bank of the Grand River just north of Cayuga.  You can read about the history and the programs here.  Aside from the bird banding which happens in spring and fall, there are mansion tours and nice grounds with trails for walking through the Carolinian forest and along the Grand River.

We arrived at about 7:30 in the morning on good advice from Pete that the best hours were before 10am. The staff were already busily untangling a bird from the mist nets strung up all over the grounds. 

Pete Scholtens removing a bird from the mist nets.

The birds are thoroughly examined and identified, and then banded with a unique number which traces them back to this birding station.  They rank their health, measure them up, look for ticks, weigh them and keep a record of the bird for future reference.

Bird banding in process with the tools of
the trade in the foreground.
They had just finished banding a Magnolia Warbler which Jordan got to hold and release.

Jordan about to release a Magnolia Warbler
Of note, this little bird doesn't get to be added to my life list count.  The accepted "rules" are that the bird has to be seen in the wild and be free.  Getting caught in a mist net isn't really free!

Peter took Jordan and I and a few others on a hike along the Grand River trail where we enjoyed the perfect weather and sites and sounds of lots of birds.  Purple Martins (life bird) were noisily circling over some colony houses, nesting material being flown in for accommodation building.

female and male Purple Martins
female Purple Martin

A pair of Tree Swallows (life birds) were sunning on top of their nest box.  The iridescent blue wings contrast so vividly with the snowy white underparts on the male.

female and male Tree Swallows

We headed down the bank to the river and walked through the pink Dame's Rockets.  We first heard and then saw a Belted Kingfisher flying very high up, and I sighted a Red-headed woodpecker (life bird) flying up river.  Peter pointed out a Eastern Wood-Pewee (another life bird), and we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker emptying a old tree knot of nesting material.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

An Indigo Bunting was seen by the rest of our group, but not by me.  For some reason, there have been a number of times that I've been places when others have see this bird, but it seems to allude me!

Jordan on the trail.

When we returned there were more birds to release.  A Red-bellied Woodpecker female was busy pecking at a staff worker's finger.  If you open up the picture and view it larger, you can actually see the serrated tip of it's tongue which it has to snag and pull out bugs from with the little holes it chisels in the trees.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Jordan got to see a Chipping Sparrow up close. Along with House Sparrows, these are fairly common in your back yard in Southern Ontario, but nice to see up close.

Chipping Sparrow

Here is a series of burst shots of Jordan releasing the sparrow converted into a GIF.  I love his face on about the 3rd frame.  He did this for every release. :)

Jordan releases a Chipping Sparrow into the bushes behind him.

A Gray Catbird was Jordan's last release.

Learning the bird-bander's hold.
Releasing a Gray Catbird

Ruthven is definitely a place to return to and from what I've seen so far, looks like a great place for a family for a day outing.  I hope to come back with the whole family some time soon.  The park staff encourage bringing the kids to see the banding.  Nice to see how good they were with the kids.

Jordan was very excited to tell of his fun when he returned home, confirming that it had been fun day for him, as well as for me.  Justin's up next.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cranes and Links

I went to Grass Lake again the other Sunday, hoping to catch the Sandhill Crane colt before it can fly and the parents start traipsing around the country side foraging through the hay fields and grazed, hilly pastures where they like to wander.

This adult was already checking out this alfalfa field, possibly scoping for the future... I was able to get relatively close.

Sandhill Crane in alfalfa field with lots of dandelions

Sandhill Crane takeoff
The colt and it's noisy parents were there, however, the young one was never very well in view.  Not surprising, but I had hoped it would repeat the nice show it had put on the week before, wandering into the water a little.

Sandhill Crane colt and adult pair

Sandhill Crane trumpeting
The cranes must have been near a Red-winged Blackbird nest, because one was very persistent in verbally and physically making it known that the cranes were not welcome there.  The bird would often land and sit on it's back, pecking away until a jab of the long, pointy bill would send the bird circling to start the aerial assault again.

Red-winged Blackbird pestering Sandhill Crane
Red-winged Blackbird assault
This Red-winged Blackbird was more content to put on a display for some hidden female somewhere.

Red-winged Blackbird

Here's my birding buddy for the afternoon...


The Eastern Meadowlarks were singing away again, but what got my attention this time was a very unique call... Bobolink!  They are a provincially threatened bird, and it's a new life bird for me.  The call is described as being "bubbly" which sort of describes it.  It almost has a tight echo built into the sound.  Hard to describe but when you hear it, it's hard to forget that ID.  

Male Bobolink still in breeding plumage.

There were at least 5 or 6 of them flying around, appearing out of the long grass as I walked around.  They nest on the ground so I was sure to be careful of not stepping on anything.  They would fly up out of the grass, circle me a few times and the drop down to the cover of the long blades, leaving just a dull yellow head barely visible.

Bobolink collage - in flight

Bobolinks migrate a huge distance.  Travelling from their summer region of the northern states and southern parts of the provinces, down to central South America.

Bobolink in flight

I have to say, Grass Lake has been quite the spot to visit.  It's not far from my house, and somewhat secluded.  I'd love to explore the back part of the lake more when there is more time than I usually have between our church services.  My brother Dan will want to join me on that I'm sure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back to an Old Spot

Over lunch earlier last week, I headed over to an Osprey nest that I drive by on the way to and from work every day (bottom of Hwy 6 and Hwy 403 in a cell tower by a Motel).  I think I see at least one of the Ospreys on every trip as I head to the office or home.  But this time they were either sitting on the nest, or out hunting for food and I saw nothing.  Of course, as I drove home I saw one sitting on one of the antennae again.  I'm hoping later on, if their eggs hatch, I can get some flight shots as they come back with caught fish.  

While there, I heard, and then sighted this pretty little Yellow Warbler.  They are a bit special for me as it was the first "non-backyard" bird that I found on my own as I started out on this adventure. 

Yellow Warbler

Instead, I headed down to an old favourite spot - Valley Inn and there was quite a bit of activity.  Terns, the compulsory Canadian Geese and Mallard Ducks, a Trumpeter Swanbut and there were a couple Great Blue Herons, and a Great Egret there.

Great Blue Heron and Great Egret

Great Blue Heron fishing

Great Blue Heron

I walked out onto one of the man made dividers which the RBG staff make out of the Christmas trees discarded every year after they have assisted with the seasonal festivities.  This one has become quite solid and gave some interesting views.  This Red-winged Blackbird wasn't so sure what to think as I don't know that too many people venture onto this location. It seemed paralyzed from getting out of its awkward position.

Red-winged Blackbird

I purchased Sibley Bird guide for my phone, and a small powered speaker to play bird calls.  There is a lot of care needed to be taken with this setup - it can get people quite upset if you use this to attract birds, and is illegal in many parks.  One thing I noticed recently at another location, is that some people are very use this method without asking those close by first.  It can get quite annoying too if used repeatedly.  I thought I recognized the characteristic Oriole sound, and tried out the setup.  Sure enough, coming to explore the potential intruder was a Baltimore Oriole.  It works, though aside from territorial defense, most birds are paired up and aren't going to come quite as quickly to investigate I don't think.

Baltimore Oriole
I'm actually getting quite behind on the blog posts.  Today we substantially finished with some landscaping work around the house.  That has taken a number of evenings and the weekend.  I hope to catch up at some point. Though I guess it's a good problem to be getting good shots that I want to share but can't seem to get to.

Hope you all enjoyed the great weather during this Long Weekend!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cecropia Moth

I missed out on this one... my son  Jordan had brought home a cocoonish looking item from is cousin's house when Holly and kids visited a wile back in the spring.  He had left it, forgotten in the van.  Upon leaving for an errand the other day, the kids crawled into the van only to find there was already someone inside.  Turns out the cocoon was from a Cecropia Moth.

Cecropia Moth

Cecropia Moth and cocoon

Cecropia Moths are the largest North America moth and can get up to 6" or 150mm across in wing-span.  One thing unique about this has no mouth or any way to eat.  It's sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs.  On average, the moths live about a week.

The process of metamorphosis (larvae to pupa to moth/adult) is an amazing wonder and remains a mystery... to me it is a testament of intricate design.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Missed Pictures

With no camera, I have had no pictures to post and no real reason for a blog post.  With no new pictures to review, I looked through my old shots and found a few I had missed and can share.  Actually, I noticed there was one complete day back in March that I had downloaded at work and forgot to bring home.

I had gone to Valley Inn Road during that unseasonably warm March break week we enjoyed.  Warmer weather than we are having right now in fact, if I remember correctly.  Though I must say, this past weekend were two perfect spring days!

In one location on the trail from Valley Inn towards Hendrie Valley the leaves were being russled by a whole lot of Garter Snakes.  They were all headed down from the hill beside the trail, crossing the broken pavement, and headed down the next bank towards the waters of the Grindstone Creek.

Common Garter Snake

An Eastern Chipmunk was busy filling its cheeks with seeds left for the birds by the many walkers and bird watchers.

Eastern Chipmunk filling its pouches.

On my way back, a Northern Cardinal was singing it's unique tune in it's characteristic location - at the highest point in a tree. I thought I'd try and take a picture from a non-typical view - straight up!

Northern Cardinal - always at the top.

This little Song Sparrow was so lustfully and busily singing, it let me approach quite close.  It is also a life bird - number 76.  I'm just noticing that I didn't include it in list since I hadn't done anything with those pictures.  That brings my life list bird count up to 79.

Song Sparrow

Back at Grass Lake about a month ago, I was heading home, likely later than I intended to be.... why is it that the last 10 minutes before when you know you should be leaving, always end up being about 15 or 20 minutes by the time you look at your watch again?  Anyway, I was rushing home, but saw these Eastern Meadowlarks out in the antenna field across from Grass Lake and had to briefly stop.

Eastern Meadowlark
There was a stiff breeze, and they were hopscotching each other.  The bird in the rear would fly into the wind, then float in the breeze above the other, and then touch down slightly ahead.  This was then repeated by the bird just left behind, and then again.  I couldn't find anything on the net describing this, but wonder if this is a courting ritual of some sort?  Or they were just enjoying the warm day and it was something to do in the wind.

Eastern Meadowlark pair courting?

News on the camera front... Apparently the Tsunami is still having its affects - no parts to repair my camera's stuck shutter. Henry's will either replace with another A33 or replace it with a comparable model.  If the latter is the case, I've been told that they believe that will be an A57.  From what I've read, that would be an excellent "compromise"!!  There are a number of improvements which will be welcome.  I'll not get into them now as I'm trying to keep my hopes up on that possibility.  Henry's system shows one A33 in stock in the warehouse and has been ordered. They were not certain if that would in fact be an accurate number as they aren't a current model any more. We'll find out in a day or so.

So, a few more days of patience, any maybe I can catch a few of the exciting picture opportunities around here still: hatched Bald Eagles in Brantford, the Sandhill Crane family with their colt which I saw on Sunday.  I met my brother Dan along with all our boys, and Peter Scholtens and family also arrived to see the Cranes.  I'm glad Caleb could get some shots - hope to see some of them on his family's blog (Hint, hint!)