Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Brackets of the Day

The same day I was able to to to Bronte to see the Red-Necked Grebes, I went into work early to stop by the Osprey nest which I pass on my way to and from work every day.  I also stopped on my way home at a storm water management pond behind the Walmart in Waterdown.  These to little stops bracketed the more exciting Red-Necked Grebe visit, but I lest these poor birds feel left out, I'll dedicate a post to them too.

The Osprey nest is atop a cell tower northeast of the Highway 6 and 403 interchange south of Waterdown (here). You can easily access it by the parking lot of the City View Motel off of Plains Road.

Osprey nest atop the cell tower.

Although not a scenic setting, they are still amazing, huge raptors and I should probably try a few more stops this summer with an early departure time for work allowing a morning to try and capture a shot of one of them returning with a fish.  Osprey are known for how they carry their catch in a head forward position for aerodynamics.

It preened for quite a while atop a nearby TV antenna, and then flew off towards Cootes Paradise.  I waited for a while, but never saw it return, and I had to head for work.

Osprey leaves for breakfast.

But while waiting, I was treated with the sweet song of a very vocal Yellow Warbler.  Not hard to find these bright birds in the morning sun!  And I took full advantage of the morning sunlight which I seldom get.  As I've mentioned before, most of my outings are at lunch time which often means harsh lighting conditions.  This lighting didn't dissapoint!

Yellow Warbler singing.

Yellow Warbler portrait.

I've stopped here before last year trying to see the Osprey, and also saw the Yellow Warbler in exactly the same location.  There is a small strip of trees and scrub against the slope to Highway 6 and it must like this location as it seems to return here.

Yellow Warbler singing away.

Yellow Warbler... still singing.
Although quite common, this little warbler is such an enjoyable sight and holds a special place as it's one of the first birds I saw when I started this little hobby.

On the way home that same day, I stopped by the SWM pond behind the Walmart and Rona (here).  I'd heard of other birders from Hamilton stopping in here and thought since I drive within 2 minutes of this location every way to and from work, I'd try it out.  There wasn't too much visible in my quick time there.

A bright flash of blue caught my eye as I descended down the gravel path.  A Silvery Blue Butterfly.  The blue interior was only visible when it flew, staying inconspicuous when resting with its wings closed.

Silvery Blue Butterfly

Of course, for a location like this there would be something wrong if there weren't a number of Red-Winged Blackbirds.  I saw this one quite nimbly fly out and catch a dragonfly.

Red-Winged Blackbird with dragonfly catch.

Red-Winged Blackbird portrait.

As I walked around the trails in the pond basin, I suddenly heard a loud, squeaky call from the bull rushes.  As I approached, a Green Heron flushed out and flew over to another section of the pond.  I approached slowly and wondered why it wasn't retreating further into the protection of the greenery. It had landed on an abandoned Swan nest which had one egg sitting lonely and unattended.

Green Heron

Green Heron stalking

It was soon evident why the Green Heron had not been paying attention to me - it was preoccupied with a frog it suddenly lunged for and caught it.  You can just see the legs in the shot below before it went down the hatch.  After that, the heron suddenly noticed me again, and winged off into forest cover beyond to let the wriggling frog settle into its stomach away from me.

Green Heron downing a frog.

I should probably try that location again soon and see what else there is to see with a little more time to spend.
Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Red-Necked Grebes in Bronte Marina

This has been a "grebey"summer so far. I've seen all three of the different grebe species  which are normal for this area within a month including Pied-Billed Grebe at Valley Inn Road, then Horned Grebes in Grimsby, and now a beautiful pair of Red-Necked Grebes in Oakville. 

Red-Necked Grebe attending the nest.

I don't typically get much further than LaSalle Park in Burlington, but I had a meeting in Richmond Hill and decided to use my lunch hour to stop by the Bronte Marina where a pair have been nesting for years on tire in the boat marina.  This year, the tire seems to be sitting lower in the water, and was not even visible, vegetation covering it nicely.  Nice for pictures, but must be a bit nerve wracking for the birds with any rougher water cooling the eggs down.

For the first while of my visit, the one bird (male and female have similar markings and size is the only real way to tell the difference - since they were never side by side, I could never make out which was which) decided to preen for quite a while.  I had hoped to see some interaction but that didn't seem likely at first.

Red-Necked Grebe preening

Red-Necked Grebe showing off "ear tufts" or "horns".

Post preen fluff.

After all the preening, the bird gave a nice stretch and I felt like I was at Marineland with a trained Grebe doing a polite wave to the crowd.

You can see here how Grebes have partially webbed toes and their legs
are located way back on their bodies.

And then, it decided to try for a snooze.  They will often put one leg up on their back, and then use the other leg to manoeuvre against the wind to hold their desired location.

Snoozing Red-Necked Grebe

But, patience paid off and soon nap time switched to nest reinforcement.  The one bird kept diving down and coming up with green algae which was strategically placed on the nest with cooperation from the two of them.

Red-Necked Grebes reinforcing their nest.

Red-necked Grebe pair.

Just as I was about to head out, the nest sitting bird must have needed to stretch its legs, or more likely, wanted to make sure it was keeping all the eggs warm with a new position.  A nice view of at least seven eggs became mine before they were covered by the hopeful parent.  That was a rewarding end to sitting with your butt on the corners of rip-rap!

Seven Red-Necked Grebe eggs.

Now, if only a meeting out east would come up again... I'd love to see the young ones.
If you'd like to find and see them for yourself, the pair is here and they are nice and close to the edge of the water giving great views. With a well used public walkway, they seem to be quite comfortable with onlookers, so their doesn't seem to be any risk of scaring them off their nest.

Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ignoring Close to Home

It's weird that somehow it always seems more exciting to try and bird somewhere a distance away from your own backyard. And although birding in the Hamilton area is well documented to be very productive, it doesn't mean there is nothing close to home to see and enjoy. Over the last few weeks there have been more than one occasion for that to be true.  There was my recent trip to a nearby farm which started as a firewood acquisition.  And the next opportunity also resulted because of getting more firewood.

I was on the south side of St. George cutting and lugging home a few cords from a huge, old Beech tree which the hydro company had taken down in a big wire protection campaign they did in the area.  While feeding the thirsty chainsaw or filling the trailer with wood, consistently I was hearing a persistent, unfamiliar bird call.  On my last load, I brought the camera with me and decided to push into the neighbouring woods which also backs on to an adjacent golf course.  But before I could circle in on the source, I heard and then spotted a Eastern Wood-Pewee.  Their distinctive "PEE-ah-WEE" call gives them away, but they are small and like the tree tops, so I've not gotten a close look before. This one seemed curious about me, so although not really close, I could get a nice look and some closer shots.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Ironically, my circling in on the original singer lead me back to where I started, and I finally found the little creature who had been singing along with my chainsaw all day.  It was a cute little House Wren (life bird #124 - I skipped this one).  Unfortunately my vantage of the bird was through other underbrush and I couldn't seem to get a good angle, so I had to switch to manual focus and in low light, that didn't prove to result in many good pictures that were in focus.

House Wren

One other sight I spotted was a thoroughly tapped Pine tree by a Sapsucker.  I had "borrowed" and posted a photo from another website previously when I saw my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but now I have my own picture to share.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker food site.

Again close to home, there is an old sewage lagoon from the old Carnation condense milk plant in St. George which has since been closed.  And the sewage lagoon has also been decommissioned and reduced to a small fraction of its original size.  They basically excavated a big outlet in the original banks they had constructed years ago and left a shallow area of water to remain.  The location was still suitable for a small group of about 10 Canada Geese, and a little mixed flock of shore birds.  About three or four Spotted Sandpipers were courting each other and wading along the water's edge.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper courting "chase"

There was also a small group of four Killdeer there, and they seemed to be very busy with a prolonged argument.  If it's possible to tell male and female, I certainly don't know, so I'm not sure if this was a territory or mating battle, but the four would all slowly approach on each other and then one would make an aggressive move on one of the other in the group and they'd all wing a short retreat back.  It was repeated over an over again.

Killdeer standoff

The next few pictures have been quite a mystery to me.  A few of you received emails from me asking for your advice.

Sanderling? female Semipalmated (l) and Least Sandpiper (r)
The bird on the right I'm confident is a Least Sandpiper.  The yellow legs, size, etc all clearly point to that ID.  But the bird on the left is another story.

Sanderling? female Semipalmated Sandpiper (l) and Least Sandipiper (r)

At first, I thought I had a Semipalmated Sandiper.  But the beak seemed too long, and too pointed.  Some of you suggested Western (I try not to get myself excited about rare finds, of which that would be for this area) so I didn't really consider it.White-rumped was also considered but discounted because the wings don't seem to pass the tail really.  I was leaning to a juvenile Western though after lots of looking on the web.  For good measure I thought I'd ask the Hamilton Birders Group, and it seems the consensus is that it's a juvenile or female Sanderling.  That does seem to fit best and be most likely, though I still feel like the beak looks to long.  So, to be conservative, I'll stick with that ID and forgo an exciting new life bird tick.

Sanderling? female Semipalmated Sandpiper searching for food on the water bottom.

Thanks to everyone (Dwayne, Peter, Caleb, Wayne, Gerry) for their input.  Although somewhat frustrating not being able to come out with a clear ID, I think I learned a number of "peep" traits that hopefully will help in IDing them better in the future.

UPDATE: I received an email this morning from Kevin McLaughlin (who I understand is more than qualified on peeps) that female Semipalmated Sandpipers are known to have beaks that are almost as long as the Western Sandpipers.  So, based on that new information, I think I have a firm ID and learned something new in the process.  Thanks Kevin.

And, the moral of this post is, don't ignore the little spots close to home... there's likely more bird life hanging out there than you might think, even if it doesn't seem so exotic to burn gas getting to somewhere "else".

Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Savannah Sparrow and Virginia Rail

Two weeks ago I headed out for a Sunday afternoon visit to Grass Lake.  The plan was to enjoy some close opportunities with the Osprey pair there and see if the Sandhill Cranes were still nesting in the same spot after hearing some crazy photographer hip-waded directly to the nest!

But when I arrived, the Osprey nest was a big pile of scattered branches and corn stalks on the road. Apparently a couple nights before, a big storm had blown it right off the supporting hydro wire wood braces.  I felt sorry for the bird pair, but they were "silly" not to have used a sturdy nesting box which had been put there this winter for them.  Realizing of course that they don't "think" like we do, you do wonder what made them think the much more precarious location they used was better. 

But, in the same location, I noticed a "little brown jobby" (an affectionate term for the many sparrows and other small birds that look alike from a distance) that appeared somewhat different.  It was not shy and allowed me to get quite close, and even continued with its interesting song.  I almost dismissed it as the very common Song Sparrow, but soon I noticed a yellow flash above the eyes.  It was a Savannah Sparrow and a life bird (#124).  It's a grassland sparrow and shares the habitat in that area with the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and other grassland sparrows that I have yet to see there.

Savannah Sparrow

In the same area, Horned Larks were traveling back and forth between a farmer's field and the protection of the grasses of the antenna field.  A stop on the road seemed part of their little routine too.  Not sure why as I can't imagine there was anything like salt from the winter to entice them.  There forays into the grasses would often start a squabble with a larger Bobolink that would attempt to guard its territory.

Horned Larks

I'm pretty sure this next picture is a juvenile Horned Lark.  I know Robin fledglings are out already, but I wasn't expecting to see young from other birds yet.  I guess at first I as just hoping it was another rare bird to get excited about, but I think my assumption on the juvenile Horned Lark is right.  I'll be glad to be proven wrong.

juvenile Horned Lark

This Bobolink kept coming back to one of two small saplings to sing away its claim to a certain area of the thick wild grasses.

male Bobolink

male Bobolink near nest?

This male seems to have a beak deformation of some sort.  Or, it lacks some personal hygiene.  I did a bit of research, but it seems that naturalists are completely sure what causes different beak abnormalities, aside from assumptions that there may be nutrition issues, or simply an abnormality from birth.  The defect seems to affect birds of all strips... here's a link to a collection of many different birds with the sad fate.  For many, it will mean a short and/or difficult life.

I headed out to Grass Lake for the reminder of my visit time, to see if anyone could give me an update on the Cranes and their nesting/eggs status.  Just as I arrived a few of the Cranes flew in along the north side of the lake.  No one really knew the status of the nest or if any eggs were being tended.  The last nest site I had seen was well hidden in last year's cat tails, so I'm not sure anyone will know if they are still using this location until, hopefully, some young colts are walking around.

Sandhill Crane landing

Another man with a few other photographers were working to call out some Virgina Rail they had heard.  I'm not adverse to using bird calls if it's done respectfully (of the birds and other birders/photographers) but, I'm afraid this guy was beyond anything I've seen before.  He had it on repeat and would simply flick on his little speaker and let it play for minutes on end at full blast.  We were at the top of the road embankment, and he along with some other photographers seemed of the opinion the birds would walk up the steep hill to them for a posed picture.... maybe I'm too unfamiliar with this bird, but I don't think so! 

Virginia Rail hiding

I decided to head down the embankment, partially to avoid the audio assault, but to see if some good old looking and quiet "hunting" would pay off.  It did!!  They are extremely hard to find and see, but I finally spotted one.  Now photographing them is completely another story!!  You can forget auto focus - trying to shoot into the thick grasses they like to hide in and expecting .  So the shots I got were hard fought, and topped of by the fact that they were of life bird #125!

Virginia Rail

 Till next time... Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Two Nests and Two Life Birds

A little bit back, I saw activity on the bird boards that there were some American White Pelicans in the area and that they had recently moved to Coote's Paradise and were spending time on a sandbar of one of the small islands there in the mornings.  I decided to head into work early to see if they could be sighted.  It didn't take a second glance to confirm they were their.  They are huge, and their size and pure white plumage stood out in stark contrast to the cormorants that were making their company.  I had no close access, so had to make due with a tripod shot from on on the ridge that York Road follows.  These shots are quite cropped, but definitely show the dark flight feather markings of the bird landing. An exciting life bird (#122).

American White Pelicans with Double-crested Cormorants in Coote's Paradise

American White Pelicans

That lunch hour I headed to Valley Inn Road, and headed down the Grindstone Trail.  The songs of many birds filled the air and the distinctive sweet sound of the Yellow Warbler belied its location for a brief picture.  Interesting how birds will still sing even while preening.  I guess that's a lesson in doing your work with cheer!

Yellow Warbler preening

As I headed further down the trail I was met with another flurry of yellow, but darker, larger, and mixed with black. Three Baltimore Orioles were loudly dueling over territory, and later, I discovered a nest right in that vicinity, so one male was courageously dealing with two trespassing intruders.

 Baltimore Oriole nest - way up in the top of a big Poplar Tree

male Baltimore Oriole
female Baltimore Oriole

Further down the path, I startled two Northern Flickers off a dead snag, and with a second look, noticed that there was a freshly chiseled opening.  Biding my time, I settled in for a wait, and sure enough, one returned to what was confirmed as a nest.  Inside he popped, promptly checking on whatever was inside.

Northern Flicker nest entry

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker

 After tolerating my presence for a while, suddenly the bird became quite agitated, squawking and looking down below.  I wasn't sure why, but soon it left and I saw the reasons... a Red-bellied Woodpecker pair were on the same tree, and a flurry of chasing began.  It was too fast to try and get any pictures and not one even caught anything.

Protesting the visitors

Notice the Red-belly on the bottom of the picture
and the Flicker at the top.

male Red-bellied Woodpecker
Strangely, it all seemed to end quite quickly, and the male Red-belly remained to feed on a tree just next to the snag with the nest.  It was quite unconcerned with me.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were given the wrong name in my opinion, given the inconspicuously small patch of slightly red belly they do have.  Others have written the same and I agree with one writer who thought they should have been called "Ladder-back Woodecker".  You can see why in the picture above.

male Red-bellied Woodpecker feeding on ants from a branch hole.

male Red-bellied Woodpecker feeding

Hoping not to belabour the Flicker pictures, I got a couple pictures with the bird blinking. Woodpeckers have a number of significant design features which are all necessary for it to survive its interesting habit of whacking its head on trees (see a previous post about this here about this bird's design features).  One thing they need is strong eyelids to protect and keep their eyes from popping out of their sockets as their head stops with the impact.

Thick, protective eyelids.

I was met by a nice lady who had just spent an hour just around the corner trying to photograph Kingfishers which I had heard noisily rattling away from up the creek while I was at the Flicker nest.  When she came by, I kindly pointed out the Pileated nest.  She got very excited but couldn't seem to spot the nest hole I was pointing her to.  Seems, I had, as I wrote above, mis-spoken. Oops, not a Pileated, a Flicker nest.  Then I understood her excitement and the fact that she could not spot the very large hole that would be present had it been a Pileated Woodpecker nest!  I subtly tried to regain some of my reputation and hoped I could assure her that, although not an expert, I did know what I was talking about. Susan posts some very nice pictures here.  Sorry for disappointing you Susan!

And if I'm honest, I think I was also pointing out following Orchard Orioles (the pictures above), though it obviously turns out that Orchard Orioles are much more of a dark, almost chestnut colour.  Boy, did I ever eat humble pie that day!

In the same area as the Flickers, there was a pair of tiny Blue-gray Gnatchatchers busily harvesting tiny bugs from a flowering Pin Cherry tree.  They are such tiny, cute birds.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - funny look

On my way back to the car, another pair of small birds caught my attention as they flitted about in the trees... They didn't stay long, but I got enough distant pictures for Peter and Caleb Scholtens to help me ID it later on as a Warbling Vireo.  (life bird #123) 2nd of the day!

Warbling Vireo

Just across from the parking lot, this adult Racoon was out in the middle of the afternoon, an odd time for this generally nocturnal animal.  Made for a nice picture though!

Racoon in broad daylight.

More life birds and good times still to post....
Keep enjoying His handiwork!!