Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jacob's Woods, St. George

A couple Sundays ago, in the couple hours between church services, I went for a quick walk through the local green space area in St. George.  It's a patch of forest with two different section: a mix of older, more traditional forest of pines and deciduous, and as section of slowly maturing, planted white pines.  Unfortunately, it has never really yielded much in the way of bird life in the times I've walked through it.  This time however, I heard a House Wren chattering its scattered song.  I saw it flitting around me in the trees, checking out who the intruder was in it's territory, but it was too quick for any pictures.

I did see a few butterflies moving about though.  A new butterfly, the Gray Eastern Comma (thanks for the correction Dwayne) was one of them.

Gray Eastern Comma

Gray Eastern Comma.
(the sun just nicely came out as it opened its wings)

Norther Pearly-Eye

With the lack of activity, I soon headed up the ridge to behind the cemetry where someone has been maintaining a few mown trails through a young aspen forest.  It's a neat forest; the trees are all reaching for the light and there is no brush under cover.  At eye level, the view is pretty clear, the only bottom vegetation lower down a thicket of wild raspberry and goldenrod, providing plenty of food for birds that prefer "emergent cover".  Soon enough, I heard the scolding sound of the House Wren again.  The trail I was on was on the top of the ridge, the bottom of which was approximately where I had seen the wren before. So it's quite likely it was the same bird and I was still in its territory.  This time I could see it with more light and clear views.

House Wren

House Wren in classic wren pose.

Soon, I recognized the song of an Indigo Bunting (I'm starting to learn some more bird songs which is helpful).  It was too shy for pictures though. As I came out of the woods and passed a small brush pile from the cemetery, I heard a stern warning "buzz" of a worried little bird and I soon saw a flash of bright yellow and white and black meandering through the tangle of twigs and sticks.  A Common Yellowthroat, life bird #130.

Common Yellowthroat on the edge of a brush pile.
Common Yellowthroat
With a bird name containing the word "common" you almost feel guilty if you've not noticed them more before.  Checking in the Birds of Hamilton (we're in the Hamilton Bird Study area), the frequency charts do show them as common, but not abundant like Robins, etc.  The Common Yellowthroat's tendency for low, dense underbrush and nesting in a brush pile like I found this one would contribute to them not being easily, or often seen.  A very cute little bird.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

As I headed home through the cemetery, I noticed a Chipmunk hole with the remnants of harvesting the the meat from walnuts. Someone is busy preparing for winter! The kids call the walnut shell halves "pig noses."

Chipmunk hole and walnut shells.

In the golden rod along the way home, I noticed two busy flies. Not sure what they are.

Two busy flies.

There is an old, abandoned (I think) tree nursery of some sort on the edge of town, and my walk home brought me through there.  In one spruce tree, there was a whole group of both male and female House Finches.

House Finches

A nice Sunday walk!
Till next time.... Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Bronte Marina Grebe Pictures

I'm getting behind again!  And that is my excuse for the fact that I can't remember for sure how/when I visited the Bronte Marina again, except that I think I had a meeting just after lunch in Oakville.  The chicks were a little bigger, and I got to see the feeding routine a couple times with better views than my last visit.

This time I was there sometime mid day, and with partially overcast skies, the light was dispersed instead of a glare.

Joey?? Where are you?!?

In my room, Mom!

It was still just the two chicks from last time.  This time, there were eight eggs, one of them a fresh white colour - evidence of egg dumping.  I had seen someone mention this on the Hamilton Birders group and thought they were mistaken... I thought it meant they were starting to push their own eggs overboard, giving up on the ones that didn't hatch.  But when I looked it up, I learned that it's actually an offensive, competitive move by neighbouring Grebes to try and sabotage the egg recipient's efforts at incubation.  Seems backwards at first, but if they have too many eggs, then they can't keep them all at the proper incubation temperature.  The Grebes end up rotating them all and often then none of them stay long enough at the proper temperature and none of the larger clutch size hatch. 

Evidence of 'Egg Dumping'
(note the one bright white egg on the right)

The strategy seems to have worked here - out of the final egg count of 10, only two hatched.  It was reported not long ago that the nest is abandoned with no eggs left, and the chicks almost the same size as the adults.

Room Service

Now what Dad?
Son, there are little fish, and big fish. 
You eat the little fish, but the big fish eat you!

Red-necked Grebe with vegetation
they continually add to the nest.

Red-necked Grebe chick.

Red-necked Grebe chicks on adult's back.

I doubt I'll be back here again this year. Sure a nice spot to see these birds up close and enjoy seeing the distinctive chicks with their neat colour patterns.

Till next time...
Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bronte Marina Grebes

I went into work really early one morning a couple weeks ago, with plan to go first to Bronte Marina hoping to use the first light for some pictures of the Red-necked Grebe chicks. I had seen on someone else's blog that that two chicks had hatched and wanted to see if the morning light would be better than the mid-day sun I had had last visit.

Red-necked Grebe in the early morning sunlight.

For the adult birds swimming around, the light turned out alright for a few angles, but the rising sun is still on the water side of the birds and there is no public access to the floating Marina docks where the lighting would be amazing.

I didn't get many pictures that I was really happy with, though the following one was hilarious with one of the two chicks resting under an adult's wing with its legs just dangling out.

Red-necked Grebe pair - one chick hanging out, tucked under mom's wing.

The water's edge was just teaming with little minnows, and the Grebes must continually be catching them to feed to their young.

Red-necked Grebe with minnow.

Red-necked Grebe preening.

Under the Marina eaves, a small colony of Cliff Swallows (life bird #129) make their nests and raise their young.  What a lot of mouth-fulls of mud it must take to slowly create these sturdy shapes that become little caves of mud to protect little clutches of eggs and young.

But my first glimpse was actually of these beaks and eyes, not of swallows but of sparrows.  Soon an adult arrived with food and the hungry mouths opened with eager anticipation.  I can't exactly figure out what type of sparrow this is.  I believe it is a female, but can't figure out which kind.  Any suggestion? 

UPDATE: House Sparrow - thanks Caleb S.

House Sparrow young

female House Sparrow feeding young.

The Cliff Swallows were noisily flying back and forth. I didn't see any young ones, and didn't see any birds arriving with food, but they arrived so quickly and darted in their small nest holes so quickly, it was hard to see.

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow adding to nest - you can see the new
part it just applied and some mud still in its beak.

Cliff Swallow nests

Cliff Swallow

Till next time...
Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Father's Day Outing

On Father's Day, the boys were either away or had friends over between church services so I took the opportunity to see if the Fox kit would be out again since my last visit.  'Twas not to be, so I headed north on Weirs Road.  As I was driving by, I noticed a bright flash of blue and got my eyes on my first Indigo Bunting (life bird #128).  I got a shot through the trees along the side of the road where the bird was singing away on a dead sapling.

Indigo Bunting

I tried to get closer, but it was too wary of me.  After I flushed it, it seemed to prefer a perch near the top of a dead tree on the roadside.  It immediately started singing as soon as it landed, probably clearly proclaiming its territory edge.  Later in my walk and a return that evening, I found more Indigo Buntings, so I'm guessing that the territory reinforcement was likely true.

Indigo Bunting - it returned to this exact spot
over and over to sing it heart out.

I had initially waded through the golden rod and wild raspberry tangles to see if patience would reward me with a return of the bird to its previous, closer perch, but I only annoyed a Song Sparrow who must have had a nest somewhere in the weeds near by - it sat their the entire time with an insect in its mouth waiting for me to leave.

Song Sparrow with insect.

That evening, I took my three boys for a walk, returning to a Rail Trail which I had quickly checked out in the afternoon.  We headed first to the fox den I mentioned in my last post, but I struck out again that day as I had hoped to share the sight of the Fox kit with the boys.

While there, I heard a big raucous of Crows from down the tracks in a tree row on the edge of a farmer's field. Seeming agitated, I told the boys that often this will mean that either a hawk or owl is roosted in a tree where the crows don't approve.  Sure enough, as we tried to approach quietly, we flushed a Red-tailed Hawk out and watched as the Crows followed to encourage the change of location.  At one point the Crows relented, but then some blackbirds (too far away to tell what) took up the offense and continued as the hawk climbed higher.  The smaller birds stuck with it for quite a way into the sky.

American Crows chasing Red-Tailed Hawk

Blackbirds chasing Red-Tailed Hawk
We headed west down the old Grand Trunk Railway trail just east of the Harrisburg station which although now is just a small town, used to be a junction between a northern route to Cambridge and the nearest east-west towns of Lynden (then on to Copetown and Hamilton) and Paris. (see map here) We forgot to bring bug spray, so we had to keep moving to out pace the mosquitoes which hadn't been out during the middle of the day.

Grand Trunk Railway rail trail.

We did see a Baltimore Oriole with a fledgling quietly foraging overhead, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, and something very large which flushed out of the trees to thick to see through (agh!) and stopped at a little pond which some locals report has some fish in it.  Didn't see much here except some basking turtles and a few Tree Swallows.

On the way back, we again saw some Indigo Buntings and this time I sparingly used my phone to play a call and the male definitely came closer to determine who was that close in his territory.

male Indigo Bunting

After my quick, close encounter it headed straight for the nearest treetop to make sure any real or imaginary competitors knew he was there.

Indigo Bunting in its usual treetop location

Just as we were heading home, with the light starting to fade and the mosquitoes getting more hungry, we spotted a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  So tiny, it looked like just a bump on the dead tree it was perching on.  It was very hard to get all three of the boys to find it, but they finally all did.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

As I type this, I realize a pair of hummingbirds had zipped past me while I was standing in the weeds earlier in the afternoon when I was trying to wait out a closer picture of the Indigo Bunting.  One even landed only a few meters away on a bush, but didn't pause long enough for what would have been a close picture.  I console myself with the fact that being so small, I'm sure it would have been very hard to find and focus on, even if I had had the chance.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird - you can just see the Ruby flash.

This little tiny bird is such a testament to being designed.  It's a little miracle which has so many amazing features: incredibly fast wing-beat for an agile flight, a long, tiny tongue which actually has tiny nectar traps (see info and video here), deep sleep to preserve energy.  This little bird migrates over the Gulf of Mexico in one flight, but yet is so tiny. All these features had to be present together in order for it to function and survive.  It was the first time seeing these little birds out in the "wild."

A fun Father's Day outing with the boys and they were all excited to share the sightings with Mom before heading off to bed, glad they got to stay up late!  Summer evenings!!

Keep enjoying His handiwork!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fox Kit

I stopped by the fox den outside of Lynden a few weeks ago on my way back from work.  I had completely forgotten to check to see if a litter had been born this spring.  I parked, quietly walked down the path, and approached as stealthily as possible, hoping they would be out and about in the late afternoon light, waiting for mom and dad to bring catch back from the day's hunt.

As I rounded the corner of the driveway to the tracks, my eye caught a glimpse of orange and I immediately knew I was seeing a still fox just behind a railway rail.  But I wondered right away whether they'd be foolish enough to nap that close to the very active tracks.  As I approached, I got close enough to realize that even a dozing fox would have awoken and was pretty sure it was not alive any more.  By that time I had spotted a brother or sister laying by the den further ahead and figured I'd better take advantage of that one before it spooked.

My first sight of the fox kits - only this was a sad start.

With the wind blowing towards me, helping to keep my presence unknown for a bit longer, it hadn't noticed me yet. Its preoccupation with something on the ground was distracting it from my advance as I slowly walked closer hoping it wouldn't bolt once it saw me.

Preoccupied Red Fox kit.

Once the inevitable happened, the youngster almost casually got up and eyed me with not a lot of concern.  In fact, after I'd taken some pictures, we just looked at each other for a while and the fox lost the staring game.  It looked off as if I was of no worry.

Red Fox kit below its den hole.
Red Fox kit.

I slowly tried to get closer, but at some point the kit moved up and started to retreat to the den. But then it seemed to change it's mind, and again we just quietly watched each other. Soon an itch must have become more important and my presence must not have been too much of a worry as it lay down for a good scratch.

Red Fox kit comfortable enough with me to scratch an itch.

Red Fox kit.

Unfortunately, the leg which was bearing most of my weight as I was leaning awkwardly against a bridge support was going numb and my need to adjust spooked it.  He (or she?) trotted quickly into the long grass to the left and quietly disappeared.  An enjoyable few moments with a beautiful little creature!

I headed back a couple times over the next week or so trying to show the boys, but was not successful.  I was disappointed that I couldn't let they boys see too.

Earlier that day I had made a trip to Valley Inn at lunch time to see if the Northern Flickers had hatched and were out.  They were not, but I saw a Barn Swallow pair gathering mud from a recent rainfall puddle to build a nest under the newly constructed bridge by the ponds. I wonder how they cleanup after filling their bills with mud like that.

Barn Swallow gathering mud for nest building.

Barn Swallow with nest mud.

Just down from the Flicker nest, I saw a flash of yellow and noticed this Yellow Warbler as it caught a caterpillar from a tree branch.  You can just see it going down the hatch in the second picture.

Yellow Warbler with caterpillar.
Yellow Warbler eating caterpillar.

Well, two posts in two days means I'm hopefully catching up with the picture back log. The boys have soccer tomorrow night though so I doubt I'll get another post out for a bit.

Till then...
Keep enjoying His handiwork!