Friday, May 24, 2013

From Firewood to Birds

A few Saturdays ago I was cutting up a dead tree along a busy road, and a driver did a u-turn, stopped, and got out.  He approached asked if the place was mine?  Uh oh! No, but it was in the ditch so I figured it was fair game, was my reply, wondering if I was going to be challenged on my ability to claim it. Turns out he wanted me to cut up a tree where he lives, and I could have the majority of it for my favour to him in cutting it up.

I did both of us the favour and got a good trailer load of nice dry Elm.  They live on a large tree farm, with a 2 acre, fish stocked irrigation pond, and immediately I started noticing all the birds around.  I had to make a run back for lunch with my original load of wood, and with the gentleman's permission and encouragement, returned with my camera as well.  After the "work" (cutting firewood is the fun part!) of cutting the tree down, chasing a Yellow-rumped Warbler around some big willow trees.

male Yellow-rumped Warbler

male Yellow-rumped Warbler

male Yellow-rumped Warbler (here you can see the yellow rump)

male Yellow-rumped Warbler

Next I headed to the pond where a group of probably about a hundred mixed swallows were hunting.  On the way, a Chipping Sparrow stopped to preen allowed me to approach quite closely for a nice picture.

Chipping Sparrow

On to the Swallows... you'd think with that many flying about, I'd have captured at least one or two good flight pictures.  Harder than it seems - though I did start learning some tricks by the end.  Zoom out and let the bird come into view, rather than trying to zoom to extents and show them farther away.  My first intuition was that it would be easier for the latter, to follow and capture, but it wasn't in my experience.

female Tree Swallow

male Barn Swallow

I was trying so hard to capture the white tail feathers on the barn swallow.  When it fans its tail out, there is a band of white that shows, and almost looks translucent.  You can see it in the picture above, but it's more displayed (maybe not more visible here) in the picture below.

male Tree Swallow (l) male Barn Swallow (r)

three Swallow species: male Barn Swallow (background), Bank Swallow? (mid),
male Tree Swallow (foreground)

male Tree Swallow

male Barn Swallow

As I headed up past the farm house, the lady of the house pointed out a nesting bird in a hanging basket she had left when she noticed the eggs in it.  A House Finch pair has set up home there.  I'm a little perplexed though... the closeup shows what I'm guessing are little larvae of some sort, but the eggs would not have hatched yet, and so I'm not sure why the male would be there with a delivery of food.  Could it be that its infected somehow with a parasite? Anyone know anything about this at all?

House Finch on hanging basket nest.
(note the tiny larvae on the closeup on the left)

After thanking the kind homeowners, I spotted the Chipping Sparrow again.  It was searching for bugs in the grass lawn, and passed behind a large tree.  Anticipating it moving in the same direction, I took the opportunity to quickly sneak up close with the tree blocking my approach.  It came into view just as I thought and gave some nice full frame pictures and didn't seem to mind my presence.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

On my way out the lane way, I had to stop once more for a male Brown-headed Cowbirds that was posing on the tipsy fence of the neighbouring farmer, and then it joined it's mate in the corn stubbled field.

male Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird pair

I saw a few other birds that I have now forgotten with the passage of time.  I hope to get a chance to pop out there again some time as I'm sure there are more to discover.

Thanks very much Brant or the opportunity to wander around your place.  I'll be sure to "warn" you first if/when I come again, if not only to keep your "killer" Jack Russells off of me. :)

Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Horned Grebes in Grimsby

A couple weekends ago Holly and I left the kids with Opa and Oma so we could attend a conference.  We slept over there as well and I snuck out for an hour to visit the shores of Lake Ontario early in the morning.  The sun was rising, the temperature was beautiful, and the water was relatively calm.  There were lots of Mergansers out on the water, and as I approached, most of them made a hasty retreat for deeper waters.  One pair lingered long enough for me to get a half decent family picture.

Red-breasted Merganser pair

As I was snapping away at the Mergansers, up popped another bird quite close by.  From the familiar profile I was pretty sure right away that it was a Grebe, but was quite excited to see that it was a Horned Grebe when I got the camera up on it!! (life bird #121)

Horned Grebe surprise

male Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe dive.

I followed the Grebe west as it dove and resurfaced, but once I reached a point that became the beginning of a small bay, I ended my pursuit as my distance increased from the bird.  As I walked back, I caught sight of a rabbit hiding in the brambles and underbrush

Eastern Cottontail

Not much further along, a Song Sparrow was heartily welcoming the morning sun with its chattery song.

Song Sparrow

Not far back into my return along the water edge, I spotted the familiar profile again and wondered if the Grebe had flown back to try another run along the dive path it had taken previously, but a quick shoulder check dispelled that notion.  And then up popped another right by its side, a female.  Three Grebes in one morning, and a pair to boot!!

Horned Grebe pair.

Horned Grebe pair.

Interestingly, Horned Grebes more often than not, prefer to nest on a floating surface.  They will nest on land, but prefer an isolated, floating nest which is built on top of, and tied into vegetation that anchors it in place.

Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!


Friday, May 17, 2013

Quick Post

I'm getting far behind on my posts... that's a good problem really I guess because it means I'm getting some nice shots that need to be shared.

This is from a lunch trip to LaSalle Park and I'll keep it brief with a few pictures.

I stopped by the small inlet to the right of the parking lot first, and a Double-crested Cormorant was diving quite close by.  I had not known, but when in breeding plumage, their wing feathers actually have a lighter outer edge to them giving a scaly look. 

Double-crested Cormorant in breeding plumage.

As I headed east along the boardwalk, I spotted a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds that paused in a tree long enough for a picture or two.  With the back light, it was hard to get a shot of the male.

Brown-headed Cowbird pair
female Brown-headed Cowbird
I walked inland this time hoping to see something else for a change.  There is a small pond, and there I spotted some sunning turtles, and lots of American toads croaking away.

Painted Turtle sunning

Of course, as soon as I tried to take pictures of the toads with their throats bulging with air to release for their croaking chorus, they stopped.  I waited forever, but they never started again.

American Toad

The male American Toads will hop on the female and hold on with tight "horns" on their fingers in what is called grasping.  They , and wait till she releases her eggs.  When the eggs are released, the male releases his sperm and tries to fertilize as many as possible.

grasping pair of American Toads

More posts to come soon... Horned Grebes, Warblers, and a Flicker nest.

Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Merlin Pair - Hamilton Mountain

A few weeks ago we had a couple from church over for a Sunday evening visit.  In conversation it came up that there was a Merlin pair and nest in a big Spruce tree just down the road from them.  A couple days later, I made my way up the "mountain" to see if I could find the nest and the birds.

Knowing the birds were most likely to nest in a big coniferous tree of some kind, the first big Spruce tree in the area was the first clue and turned out to be the one.  Although not easily visible, there's a nest in the top of the tree.

female Merlin

 At first I only saw the one Merlin, and it was in a big silver maple tree that was in full flower.  But the tree was in the middle of all the backyards, and not possible to get any closer to.

female Merlin calling

female Merlin wing stretch

European Starling buzzing female Merlin

The nest tree is located here in the large spruce tree in front of the house on the NW corner of Howe Ave & E 17 Street.  If you go to see it, please be respectful of both the homeowners (I try to knock on the door first before standing in front of someone's house with a camera!) and the birds themselves.  Merlin don't usually nest till May or June, so this pair is either returning to an old nest, or got an early start.

Merlin nest tree

As I was standing by the tree, the female landed and eyed me for a while.  I was surprised how close she let me stand without either taking off, or protesting at me.

female Merlin in nest tree

When she did take off, I followed her flight to where she joined her mate in some taller trees in other backyards.  The home owner was outside there and graciously welcomed me down her driveway to get a closer view.

the Merlin pair (male top, female bottom)

Notice the size difference... this is typical for most raptors and owls in that the female is often about a third larger than the male.

the male Merlin flies in
Female Merlin trying to catch the male's eye.

female Merlin

female Merlin all plumped up for preening

I aim to return there later when, hopefully, there are some young ones flying about.
A big thanks to Doug and Vanessa for letting me know they were there!

Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Grass Lake Nesting Activity

A couple Sundays ago (starting to notice a pattern of posts being made weeks after the outing?) most of the kids were away at friends between church services so I headed to Grass Lake for a couple hours.

My first stop was an Osprey nest which a pair of raptors has built on top of a hydro pole right at the corner of Brant Waterloo Road and Shouldice Side Road, just south of Grass Lake.  The funny thing is, some generous souls had built a nest platform just a couple poles down the road.  The Osprey pair must not have approved, and built one on a narrow double plank wire support instead.  When I arrived, one was on the nest fussing around with the nesting material...


...while the other one was keeping watch from a tree across the open field.



The Sandhill Cranes did not disappoint, and arrived shortly after I did.  It had been reported that their first nest attempt had been flooded out, but I soon found their new nest location in the middle of a thick clump of bulrushes within a mild view of the road.  Last year they had nested in a more secluded location, but not at all sheltered from view.  I was able to skirt down to the bottom of a bank and to the water's edge and when they raised their heads to look about, provided this view.

Sandhill Crane pair on nest. 
(note the second bird's head below)

Sandhill Crane

It's a mystery as to what gets the birds going, but with no notice or apparent cause, they will both stand up and begin their very loud, trumpeting raucous with great flourish.

Sandhill Cranes calling

It was also fun to meet Dave V there unexpectedly, and it was nice to share a unique spot down by the water compared to the view his friends had.  Did they see the results of the great location yet Dave?

Sandhill Cranes claiming their patch?

On the way out, another couple had found a Northern Water Snake which had made its way up the bank, a good ways from the water.  It posed for a long while which was helpful given I only had my large lens with me.  The sky was quickly darkening with heavy clouds which were soon to let loose some rain, so the lighting was hard to get a shot with enough depth of field to show much of the snake's markings.

Northern Water Snake

As I headed home, I did the usual, "one more stop" as I spotted a Horned Lark winging back and forth between the grassy field and the fence posts guarding the antenna field to the west.  I got off the first shots with a messy background and a single piece of grass in the way, and when I moved to change the background, I got one picture of the bird turning it's back in preparation to flee.  But the last shot nicely shows the "horns" it is named for.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

I hope to return here soon to see both the Osprey and Sandhill Cranes sitting on nests full of eggs.

Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!