Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving at the Lodge

I missed posting a few pictures from our fall outing up north to the Lodge for Thanksgiving.  We alternate between both our families and this year was with Holly's family up north.

female Mallard in fall morning light

One of the mornings I headed out early to see what might be out in the crisp temperatures meeting the morning light.  There was not much; most birds have migrated south from the Bancroft area by this time of year.  Oddly, there was a lone female Mallard in a small bay of a little lake on the opposite side of the Lodge property. It kept calling and calling its comical quack, seeming to hope someone would listen and give it company or join it to head south.  Later in the week, a second female joined it and the calling stopped.  I rarely see ducks on either lake in the summer, so I wonder if they are isolated migrants.

female Mallards

While sitting patiently at the same location, I watched a female Kingfisher that was still patrolling the edge of the lake, constantly scolding anything around with its distinguishable call.  They are so hard to get anywhere near and this is the closest it ever came to me, on the other side of the little bay.  Interestingly, Kingfishers are one of the few birds where more colour and distinguishing features belongs to the female.  In the picture below you can just make out the faint markings of a second band on its chest below the top band of powdery blue and bronze.  The male is more simple with only a single, blue band.

female Belted-Kingfisher

In the same location later in an evening, a Common Raven silently and calmly flew over the tree tops.  Their throaty calls always bring back my memories of working way up in Northern Ontario where families of these birds would wake me at 4am with the early summer morning light of the northern latitudes.

Common Raven

A walk in the woods didn't result in anything more than a few Chickadees and a Downy Woodpecker, and then two curious Hermit Thrushes.  Only curious enough long enough for me to get a couple pictures in the very low light of a fall afternoon.

Hermit Thrush

We went for a walk one afternoon to Egan's Chute which is beautiful spot. According to the locals, the fall colours up north this year were very quick because it had been so dry in the prior weeks.  The leaves let loose and carpeted the ground quicker than usual so when we got there, not much was left to enjoy.

The first drop of Egan's Chute

a progressively closer view

and closer yet

The picture below was taken a shutter speed of 1/2500s and ISO 1600 to freeze the turbulence of the water as it plunged over the rocky fall. Quite interesting shapes and textures.

a closely zoomed shot of the bottom left portion of the picture above

Back at the Lodge the Eastern Chipmunks and Red Squirrels were all very busily preparing for winter, gathering and storing seeds and food, and collecting leaves to plump up winter lodgings and sleeping holes.

Eastern Chipmunk gathering winter lodging materials.

Eastern Chipmunk

Till next time....
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Housekeeping Post

After spending all day yesterday cleaning up my basement workshop, I spent a bit of time cleaning up my picture files last night and noticed I have missed a few notable items from this year... so I thought I'd lump them into one cleanup post.

Back in September of last year, I went biking during a Sunday afternoon on the old rail trail, starting from the Jerseyville Road parking lot.  Along the way we just about biked over these two Dekay's Brownsnakes.  They were quite cooperative for photos.  They are quite common in Southern Ontario and prey on food like earthworks, snakes, and other insects. Picking them up is not difficult and they are somewhat passive as snakes go for adventurous kids (or adults) to hand hold.

Dekay's Brownsnake

Dekay's Brownsnake

Dekay's Brownsake

In March of this year, I stole an hour while visiting family and headed to the Beamer Hawkwatch tower, located on the top of the Niagara Escarpment in Grimsby, and joined the knowledgeable raptor counters on the tower for a short time.  The highlight was seeing a new life bird... a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  It was not close, so my record shot, though definitely clearly identifying the bird, is heavily cropped.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

In August of this summer, my family all gathered at my sister's place and camped out together before a day to celebrate my parent's 40th wedding anniversary.  While there, my brother and I were able to get some shots of recently moulting or hatching cicadas.  None were actually doing it at the time, but there was one rather fresh cicada and a number of their excoskeletons still hanging on trees.

brother Dan and Cicada.



These insects are part of the audio experience of mid summer for many people... the slowly increasing volume of the buzzing, and then slow peatering out, is a sure sound during a hot summer afternoon.  These creatures feed on the sap of trees and plants, and lay their eggs in groves they cut into tree branch bark.


Cicada with exoskeleton

I bought a tent for eagerly anticipated, future camping outings in the years to come which I pitched on the lawn this fall for a backyard camp-out with the kids.  When I brought some of the blankets back inside a butterfly hitched a ride in with them.  It has an interesting name: Milbert's Tortoiseshell. We had lots of caterpillars on our Pin Cherry this summer, and I didn't pay a lot attention to what kind they were.  I'm now wondering if this beautiful butterfly is the only joy we got out of watching the larvae form munch almost every leaf off of the tree.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly
(note all the hair (not on my arm!) on the wings by the body)

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly

When I let it outside, it flew to the chrysanthemum on the porch for a nice contrasting setting for a picture.  Not sure, but I'm guessing with the lateness of the season, that this one didn't end up migrating anywhere, but succumbed to the cooler temperatures.

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly

That covers off a few missed pictures.  I did realize I missed a few shots from up north at the Lodge - we headed up there for Thanksgiving, but I'll post those separately.

Till next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Monday, November 18, 2013

LaSalle Marina Visit

Earlier this week (yes, I'm pretty much caught up on my posts!), ror the first time in ages, I took a lunch hour to do some birding.  Once out, I realized how much I had missed doing it.  Strangely, even though I enjoy it, I'll have to admit much of my lack of outings is laziness.  I headed to LaSalle Marina with hopes of seeing Canvasbacks (a duck which I still have not seen) that were reported on the Hamilton birders group, along with other migrating warblers that had been seen.

The weather was nice with the temperature gaining a few degrees and the winds of the day before calmed down, but there was not much activity in the way of birds. The early migrating ducks were showing some appearances thought: Buffleheads Redbreasted Mergansers, and Scaups were there in small quantities.  The Trumpeter Swans that overwinter here were noisily making sure they were noticed.  I did spot one lone Redhead Duck which is my first self found bird of that variety and only the second time I've seen one.  I also saw female Buffleheads, which strangely I had never seen before - or just never noticed maybe?

Redhead (l) and Bufflehead (r)

I walked the boardwalk hoping to get a glimpse of the foxes that have been frequenting the beach area with an apparent comfort with the many visitors in the area, but they were not to be seen.  A White-breasted Nuthatch gave up on handouts from me and went back to finding the food it is supposed to find in the crevices of the tree bark.

White-breasted Nuthatch

A walk down and back along the trail east past the beach yielded only a couple Northern Cardinals and Chickadees... surprisingly quiet.  I visited the opposite side of the Marina and saw a few other birds around the rocky break wall.  A female Bufflehead did a nice slow cruise quite close by giving me opportunity to add a nice few shots of the fairer sex of that variety.

female Bufflehead

Notice the stiff tail feathers fanned out in the picture above.  It uses these as a rudder to help it steer underwater as it dives for small underwater insects and crustations.  Along with Goldeneyes, and Wood Ducks, Buffleheads don't nest on the ground like most ducks, but lay their eggs in tree cavities, nesting in cavities created by other birds like woodpeckers such as the Northern Flicker.

female Bufflehead

female Bufflehead

On the unprotected side of the wind-break, the Red-breasted Mergansers were foraging.

female Red-breasted Merganser

I also spotted a bit of a find - at least two Horned Grebes.  They were not too excited about me being around though so I had only a few moments to try and get some shots as they bobbed in the waves
from the wind that had slowly been picking up during my hour there, or dove out of sight.  The pictures aren't the greatest, but do show the more defined border between its black crown and white neck compared to an Eared Grebe.  I was hoping the Eared Grebe would be the ID, another bird I've not seen yet.

non-breeding Horned Grebe

non-breeding Horned Grebe

As I headed back to the car, a clear and unique bird song caught my attention.  I spent a good five minutes trying to locate and track it down, but never found it.  Usually as I move about I can pin point the location, but it would singing a few phrases, and then stop only to move slightly and through me off.  I never did find it, and could not remember it well enough to play bird songs to try and ID it that way.  A mystery never to be solved.  Just makes me realize that that part of my ability is pretty thin and would help me to know where to look and what I'm looking for.  Maybe some day.

Till then,
keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Arrowhead Provincial Park

Back in September, I was finally able to follow through on a promise to my boys to take them camping for a weekend up north.  It wasn't for lack of will or trying, but it was hard to find a weekend that would work.  Finally, a weekend was chosen and with a site booked list making, planning, and then packing started in earnest.  The weather forecast changed by the day and it included some rain and cool temperatures.  But we stuck with the plan.

We headed up to Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville on Friday morning with the van packed with gear, three eager boys and a dad, and the canoe strapped on top.  The drive was pretty uneventful in the traffic department with the highlight of spotting a Pileated Woodpecker on a hydro pole on Hwy 11 just before Bracebridge.  After setting up camp and leaving the canoe down by the beach, we biked down to Stubb's Falls.  Along the way, I was surprised to bump into a couple (Ralph and Charmaine) I knew from a church we both attended when young people.  They were there the exact same nights as us, and about six sites down the same road as us.  Having them so close sure came in handy later in the weekend!

The falls were a great spot for the boys, lots of interesting rock formations for them to scramble around on.  But a highlight for me was a juvenile Great Blue Heron which seemed to love the fall's final plunge pool as its hunting grounds for the entire weekend.  We visited the falls every day, and it was there every time.

Needless to say, the boys were quite agreeable to stay at this location for lengths of time, building dams, walking in the cold water, and sliding on the rock slopes.  While they did that, I was quite happy to set up shop on a rock across the pool and hope I could capture the heron successfully catching a meal.  That never happened, but I did shot a few hundred pictures which I've filtered down to a smaller selection.

Here was the scene at the bottom of the falls with the heron seeming not to mind our presence.

juvenile Great Blue Heron at the bottom of Stubb's Falls

The boys building dams in the rocks.

Another activity the boys kept busy with
(their mom later wondered if I thought of their pants wearing out from sliding down the rocks)
These pictures are a mix of shots taken over the four days.  I perched on a rock just big enough for me and my tripod, getting cramped, kinked legs and tire shoulders from keeping my finger on the shutter waiting for plunges of the sharp bill.

My observation post.

Wing details


The stab!


Another try...
the plunge! But still nothing!

juvenile Great Blue Heron closeup.

After all that waiting, I never saw the bird catch anything, never mind try to get a picture of it. The first day we arrived and saw the heron at the falls, the couple we knew graciously agreed to watch the boys so I could race back to the site and grab my camera.  Ironically, when I returned the let me know I had missed the heron making a nice fish catch.  That would have been a nice shot!  But it was still enjoyable to be that close to a beautiful, large bird.  I'm pretty sure the fact that it was a juvenile was the reason I was able to get that close.

We did lots of hiking, biking, canoeing, and enjoying the sights at the park.  The nights were cold, temperatures going down to 2 degrees overnight one night, but we kept warm and enjoyed the outing.  Sunday night it rained hard, and our site flooded out.  Thankfully Ralph came to the rescue with a camping shovel and we trenched the water out of our depressed site and into the forest.

On one of our hikes we saw a Pileated Woodpecker, and I was able to get my first pictures of the bird.  It was eating berries from a tree (not sure what kind), and never gave me a nice clear view, but it was still exciting to see a bird not common to the area I live in.

Pileated Woodpecker eating unknonwn berries.

Pileated Woodpecker

Red Squirrel behind our camp site.

Here's shot of the camping gang.

We did a hike around the lake, without seeing much in the way of wildlife.  We did see what I had initially thought was a Loon way across the lake.  Later looking at the pictures and cropping them way in, I had a moment where I thought it could be a Yellow-billed Loon.  I think I'm wishing too hard, and a more realistic, though still a somewhat interesting conclusion that it is likely a Double-crested Cormorant.  I don't think this location nor habitat, namely a smaller, northern lake, would be considered normal for this bird. I'm open for corrections to the Yellow-billed Loon!!

Double-crested Cormorant???

Entering Arrowhead Lake from Little East River.

I'm looking forward to doing this again with the boys.  I've since bought some more camping equipment and I'm ready for the next adventure with the boys.  Hopefully next time my brother and his boys will join us too.

Till next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!