Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Research Halts after Bird's Head Gone

I ran across this interesting article and video at PopSci.Com about researchers using actual birds (real, but stuffed ones) to investigate wing movements in bird communication.  Watch the video in the article, it's quite interesting.  I've never seen birds using their wings like this before.  You learn something new every day.

Click on the link in the paragraph above to watch the video.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snowy Owl!

Yesterday, my brother Dan (check his blog for a post eventually? :) ), his son Josh, and I headed to St. Catharines in hopes of seeing at least one of the two Snowy Owls which have been there since before Christmas.  I had known they were there for a while, but hadn't really had the time to make the trip all the way to St. Catharines - I haven't really done any bird "twitching" (quickly travelling to see a bird).  Snowy owls do appear in our neck of the woods from time to time, but it certainly is not common. Last year there was one for a short while in southeast corner of Hamilton harbour and another appeared in Oakville along the Lake for a couple weeks.

I had had another commitment that morning, but we headed out with bright sunshine, and we drove to the location shared with me by Dave Van de Laar and my brother Rob where the male owl had been routinely sighted.  As we searched for the bird, spotting the small cluster of cars and people along a small country side road was the immediate clue we were there.  It didn't take too long to spot the beautiful bird, but had it been a completely snow covered field rather than the centimeter or snow which had freshly fallen overnight, it would have been more difficult.

Can you spot the Snowy Owl?

The mature, male Snowy Owl is almost completely white with muted black markings. Females retain the dark barring that the young start out with. Photographing something pure white against a snowy background is a challenge and stretched my skills, having me doubting myself a couple times as a photographer next to me kept providing advice about bumping up the exposure - advice which I still think was either wrong or he had his terms mixed up?  Still not sure.

male Snowy Owl

My pictures are significantly cropped - the owl was a good 100m from the road and the field is marked with recently posted "private property" signs.  Aside from giving the owl space, the field side of the ditch was the limit our advance.

Snowy Owl leg stretch

Unfortunately for my nephew Josh, he had left his camera at home, resulting in understandable disappointment.  He shared the camera with his Dad and got to use my binoculars most of the time.  That ended up having its benefits and he ended up likely having the most profound experience of us all.  He was looking through the binoculars and the owl suddenly took off, flying almost directly towards us.  With the close view of binoculars, he suddenly jumped and exclaimed, "He's coming right at me!"  I'm sure it pretty much his entire binocular view was filled before he jumped up to see the owl fly within about 15m of us and snatch a white mouse which we had watched meandering through the snow for the last 30 minutes.  It was an escaped mouse from some other people who had been attempting to bait the owl.  They had since left.  It's amazing to think of the extremely sharp eye sight to spot that movement, especially since the mouse was white!

Here are a series of photos of the take-off and then landing afterwards with the catch.  Obviously missing is the actual catch.  But it was so close in front of us that it was hard to capture it.  Photographing a moving, almost uniformly white subject against a background with lots of sharp focus points (stubble) is a challenge.  The camera quickly decided on the stubble instead of the bird many times as I had switched it to the wide selection AF mode.

Gathering speed.

Touch down.

Snowy owls breed in the Tundra up north, only coming into our area rarely, usually because there usual food supply of lemmings and voles are decreased.  Apparently when this owl arrived in St. Catherines, it was quite bedraggled but has since bulked up again.  Very likely due to all the baiting it is receiving which is not seen to be a good thing as it may hesitate here too long and not head north again as it should.  They usually dwell on the ground, often on a small rise, knoll, or snow drift, conserving energy and watching and listening for a small animal to catch, flying in flow and catching with the element of low, silent approach.

male Snowy Owl

This last picture is a tease - for me!  A lady set up beside me with a Sony camera and a nice big 150-500mm Sigma lens.  I built up the courage and then asked if she minded if I could pop my camera on for a few shots.  The picture below is cropped as well, but much crisper and missing the chromatic aberration my lens gives.  I use a purple fridge reduction script in GIMP for my pictures, but the colours are still not as good as the uncorrected version off the Sigma lens.

Scanning the field for prey through almost closed eyes.

All in all, a great few hours of watching a very beautiful bird.  I'm glad we got to see it in flight once, and benefited from it moving a little closer to the road.  But otherwise, it just sat relatively still aside from slowly scanning back and forth with partially open eyes, looking rather cozy and dozy in its thick plumage of feathers.  Who knows when or if I'll ever get to see one again.  Life bird #107 will stand out for a while. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ruthven and Wild Turkeys

Just a quick follow up... my boys appeared on Ruthven's Blog along with some other pictures I took for them of the kids bird banding event they held.  Here is a link  - you need to scroll down a few screens.

Goldfinch caught in mist net.

And because I both forgot to share this earlier and don't have any recent photos, here are a couple shots of wild turkeys I saw on my way to work back in the fall.  They frequent a farmer's field just outside of St. George.  They are very skittish though, and I only got a few shots off before they scattered into the underbrush.  I followed them, but only got sight of them noisily flying off further into the forest.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys flying through the trees.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ruthven - Bird Banding for Kids

In between starting and finishing this post, my dear Grandmother died and went to her Heavenly Father.  I wanted to share a few thoughts, which are at the end of the post....

After quite a lack of any birding or photography in my life for the last while, things have picked up quite nicely.  This Wednesday I headed back to work after a nice vacation of just over a week filled with lots of Christmas and New Year's gatherings with family and friends.  That morning I was treated to see two coyotes chasing a rabbit through the snow across someone's lawn.  The next day, on my way to work, I had to turn around after noticing a small flock of 40 or 50 sparrow like birds which didn't look at all like sparrows.  Once I'd located them again, it turns out they were Snow Buntings (life bird #105).  I didn't have my camera, so I hope a trip into work will find them again in the same location, along Hwy 5 just west of Lynden Road, a driveway to a grain storage/mill where spillage from the trucks likely attracts them.

Saturday, I took my three boys to Ruthven where Peter Scholtens was hosting an event for kids which was sponsored by A Rocha Canada and Bird Studies Canada.  The kids were introduced to birding, bird banding and then were able to watch them take the birds out of the mist nets, band the birds, and then each child was able to take a turn to release a bird.

Andrew releases a Common Redpoll

Jordan releases an Common Redpoll

Head Bird Bander Rick sets Justin up with a bird.

Justin releases an American Tree Sparrow

Peter sets up a scope for the kids to look through.

The three amigos.

We all went for a hike out on a loop along the Grand River - it was a beautiful day for the outing with the wind having died down over night and the sun shining brightly.  It was a nice surprise to see friends from church (Dave and kids) there too.  A big thanks to Peter and Rick (and I'm afraid I don't know the name of the other lady bander) for putting this on for the kids (and big kids too!)

The group on a bird hike.

There were lots of Common Redpolls there, which was a new bird for me (life bird #106).  They were very comfortable with people near by, meaning I could sneak in some photography time while the boys played with friends on the grounds.

male Common Redpoll

male Common Redpoll

male Common Redpoll

female Common Redpoll

male American Goldfinch

Those weren't the only birds to be seen, but I disciplined myself to no birding pictures till the end (taking your telephoto lens off the camera will do the trick) and then a limited amount at that.  A Great Blue Heron lazily flew over, and a pair of Common Ravens were heard and then seen, followed by a Bald Eagle slowly coasting over the grounds.

Bald Eagle

I made some headway on starting this post yesterday afternoon, and then left to spend time with my grandmother during the night hours... I was taking my turn at her bedside along with the rest of my mom, brothers, sisters, cousins and uncles and aunts as she finished her earthly days.  Not long after I got there, she peacefully died and was freed from more than 12 years of Alzheimer's.  Although still sad, our family (her 10 children, 63 grandchildren, 129 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild) is all thankful that she now, with a clear mind is thanking her Saviour face to face!  She was a godly woman and it was very touching to see that although she didn't know any of us at the end (so far as we know), she would still mouth the words to many of the hymns and Bible passages by memory as we would sing and read with her.  Those tucked away words never faded and were never confused.  This week will be a mixture of feelings as we gather as extended family to remember her life, contemplate the shortness of this life, and the be reminded of how we will all stand before our Maker one day.  I pray that all of you will be able to say one day, "It is well with my soul!" because you love Him as your personal Saviour.

Here is one of the many notes my Grandmother wrote while her mind was still somewhat clear in the earlier years of her Alzheimer's....

"But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. "
Isaiah 40:31