Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grass Lake and West Shore of Hamilton Harbour

The very first day of June was a Sunday and I went to Grass Lake for a quiet afternoon. I started out walking on the south side of the 570 AM antenna field where five huge metal spires send the radio signal at the KW Cambridge area.  I met one of the technicians there one evening last summer and chatted with him for hours into the darkness. It was a very interesting chat as he explained lots of the technical information about the antennas and system. The first two (southern) towers actually cancel out background signals, the middle one sends out the radio signal, and then the last two (northern) towers repeat and boost the signal.

Being early afternoon, there wasn't a lot of bird activity, but a Tree Swallow perched for a picture for me not far from its nest box in the radio field.

male Tree Swallow

There were a few pairs of Bobolinks flying around, but not as many as I've seen in the past. I hope that's only because they were all attending nests or young.  But I finally saw as well as got a half decent photo of a female. I'd only ever seen the males before. I still love hearing the completely unique call of these birds. It is such a un-birdlike sound. I've noticed recently though, that Red-winged Blackbirds share slightly in that very different sound characteristic. Has anyone else noticed or heard it too?

female Bobolink

Along the same fence line, you are always sure to see some of the Savannah Sparrow pairs.  They, of all the birds in this area will allow you to get closest.  Moving slowly but surely, they often let me get quite close. It's interesting how different birds characteristically allow approximately the same distance until they are no longer comfortable with your approach.

Savannah Sparrow

Walking towards Grass Lake, a House wren was signing heartily in a small patch of mostly dead Pine Trees.

House Wren

As I walked along the dirt road which sweeps around the water's edge of the shallow, grassy lake, a pair of Sandhill Cranes quietly glided in. I was too slow on the draw and missed getting any pictures.  They landed quite far back in where the deeper, open water is and proceeded to make their presence known to the rest of the lake with their loud calls and comical head movements.

distant Sandhill Cranes

I got startled as I walked along the road edge when suddenly, something large enough to move a significant amount of the long grass at the top of the bank moved quickly towards the water's edge.  The creature turned out to be a large snapping turtle and made a mad slide down the bank, crashing into small trees and branches as it headed for the cover of the water. I went back to the spot and noticed a circular track it had made in the grass with an untouched area of grass left in the middle about a foot and half in diameter. Being early June, it's possible it was looking for a nest site, though it didn't seem like a prime location given a hard packed gravel shoulder with grass roots reinforcing it all.  Then again, those stocky legs and sharp claws would likely suit that task well.

I had heard that there was a Brown Thrasher nesting on the north west end of the lake, but saw no sign of the nest nor the bird. I headed home and decided to leave the opposite directly I usually do, and though not intentionally, past the supposed Thrasher location.  Just as I passed, a big Brown Thrasher flew right in front of me and swept up and landed in a dead tree.  Quickly stopping and trying to get my window down and camera up and ready was too long for the bird to get wary and it flew. I got out and after some searching finally found it way up in a big tree.  I climbed a bank for a better view and still got some nice pictures of life bird #204.

Brown Thrasher

Later that week, I headed out early in the morning before work to the east shore of Hamilton Harbour close 1to the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters on the west side of the QEW.  There had been reports of American Pelicans regularly visiting the man made islands for a number of days and I thought I'd see if I could get some pictures in the early morning sun. Turns out I waited too long and they were not reported again.  But I got to see the large colony of Caspian Terns nesting there mixed among the Ring-billed Gulls doing the same.  You can just make out the fuzzy, well camouflaged young of both species in the pictures.  I'm not sure what the Tern in the middle was doing. It had caught a nice little fish, but was just standing in the same spot for quite a while.  I'm surprised it was not attacked by the other birds around it and either forced to down it quickly, fly away to protect his catch, or drop it and flee. But none of those things happened and I'm not sure what it was waiting for.

nesting Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls

Sharing the same island, but perched on the trees that are barely surviving the acidic anointing they are receiving are the Double-crested Cormorants also attending to young.

nesting Double-crested Cormorant
I was standing on a narrow beach that was just beside a flight path where, over and over again, Cormorants were swooping down from just crossing the QEW bridge for a short, low approach over the water to the island. Many were still bringing nesting material and after many pictures I finally got a half decent one.

Double-crested Cormorant with nesting material

Until next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Monday, July 7, 2014

LaSalle Park and Tresspassing

About a moth ago now, I went for a lunch hour to LaSalle Park. Late fall, winter, and spring this place is great for water birds, but I often don't go here because it's a little further away for my short lunch hour (ok, I'll wait for all the comments from people who only get half an hour!). But I thought I'd give it a go again for an early summery visit.

Walking down the trail east from the Pavilion parking lot, two Osprey were busy scanning the Hamilton Harbour Bay's edge and circling close overhead.  I wasn't aware of any nesting in this area, so I wonder if these two are the pair at the base of Hwy 6 and 403.

Osprey eyes me closely as it flies over.


A little further down the trail, a Warbling Vireo paused long enough for a picture.

Warbling Vireo

This little male Yellow Warbler was not willing to pose and this was the best picture I could get.

male Yellow Warbler

A Baltimore Oriole was willing to show off its contrasting orange and black outfit.

Baltimore Oriole

A Gray Catbird pair were mewing at me, and I barely got this shot off as it perched out in the open for a few seconds.  Being much more shy than the similarly sized and shaped Robin, they generally prefer to be lower down among lower perches or even on the ground.  This bird wasn't happy as I approached and actually "bristled" its feathers and a show of strength.  I wondered if there was a nest nearby, but there wasn't any typical setting for that - usually a clump of shrubbery or something dense enough for their usual hiding place.

Gray Catbird

That was pretty much all I saw that day on that short visit.

I was out wandering in my neighbour's yard early one morning, quite annoyed!  I had heard a bird singing heartily since the early morning hours.  On and on it went and I didn't recognize it... not that I profess to be very good a recognizing that many bird calls yet.  At one point, I decided to just get up and find it; I wasn't going to sleep anyway.  It was actually across a church parking lot, across the street and behind the house of a neighbour we know quite well. In the morning, the sound travels well, but this little bird had quite the voice.
I'm embarrassed to say, it turned out to be a Baltimore Oriole. I don't hear them often, but somehow it didn't click.  I'm also embarrassed to say, I got caught in the backyard of said neighbour, who had been up early as well. I should have known better as I knew was an early riser and risking walking down her driveway was sure to get her quite confused as she couldn't see who I was.  I sheepishly explained that I didn't figure she'd be up and so I had risked it. She's way to good natured to really be upset, but had started to call me with a stern good morning until she figured out it was me. :) Ironically, I was out birding while she was up having already done a load of laundry! You're inspiring Jo!

As I apologized for startling her, I caught the unmistakable sound of the whistling of feathers that only comes from a fast flying bird... two Common Loons were also up early getting a head start on the morning commute and making use of the cool morning to travel some where. We don't have any resident loons in our area that I know of and being this far south, so they must have been late migrants.  Strangely, they weren't terribly high, which is where they usually are situated when they're making their long distance flights.  Loons are very fast flyers!  I remember doing a science project on them as a young kid in school... If my memory is still correct, their cruising speed is often around 100km/hr!

Common Loon flying over St. George

Common Loon

A short while later, I was doing my own commute to work at roughly the same speed.  Only thing is, a whole lot of technology was required to get me moving that fast.  And a lot more inefficiently!  What a marvel these creatures are. Yet, we never hesitate to look at the technology that we use daily in our lives and make the reasonable conclusion that it is obviously the result of a detailed and well thought out design.  And the more we learn and the closer we are able to look at the detail of the world around us... I still can only can conclude...

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Psalm 19:1-3

Till next time...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ernie and Burt

Actually, Ernie did not show. And neither did Bert, but I did spend time with Burt (Road) twice last month. Mid May I took a Sunday afternoon two weeks in a row to go just east of town to a dirt road which is all but closed due to a bridge over Fairchild's Creek which has been condemned and never replaced.  The quiet lane passes through a mix of settings including the creek, low scrubby growth, open farmer's field, and then some hardwood forest.

Down by the creek, a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers were flitting around collecting bugs.  I believe this one is a 1st year male.

1st year male Yellow-rumped Warbler

As I walked along an Indigo Bunting scolded me and then sung from the tops of the trees, keeping out of view for pictures.  I heard lots of protest from blackbirds in the distance and wondered if I might find an owl on my own. But soon after, the reason for the noise flew over - a Red-tailed Hawk with some Red-winged Blackbird pursuers on the attack.

Red-winged Blackbirds repelling a Red-tailed Hawk

Across the bare farm field, some deer stood watching me and then finally trotted into the bush.  I decided to follow and hiked around in the woods in that direction.  At one point, both a deer and I spooked each other as I came around a clump of trees... it must have been bedded down in the long grass and jumped out to flee, scaring me as well.

White-tailed Deer

On the way back, I passed along side an open scrubby area full of lower bushes and tangles of still dead raspberry stalks and I thought I'd see if I could raise some sing of life from some perfect habitat for Common Yellowthroats.  I use it sparingly, but resorted to playing bird calls from my phone with Sibley's Bird app [link].  Immediately I got the reaction I expected with the chattering scold to warn the interloper.  It was accompanied by lots of posing, tail up and head down and forward ready to attack.

male Common Yellowthroat

aggression pose of the Common Yellowthroat
The little guy was so intent on seeing who the offending visitor was, it was hardly even aware of me and came quite close.  Almost two close to keep up with with the camera to take a picture.

male Common Yellowthroat

The activity brought out the female as well and I got a pretty good shot.  It was early enough in the season that I'm thinking she was likely not nesting yet and maybe thought the new male was worth checking out.  Most of the time she would stay low to the ground and skitter through the tangled undergrowth, just giving glimpses of a view.

female Common Yellowthroat
As I stood up to leave the pair in peace, I noticed a raccoon sleeping up in tree not are into the bush bordering the Yellowthroat's territory.  However, it seemed to look odd and not quite right. I realize they can look quite strange while wedged into a crook in the treed, but this one looked some how very large in the body, and with quite a thin and matted head.  I'm not sure if it's pregnant (seems late), sick (would seem to match the strangely thin looking face and flat head hair).  Not surprisingly, when I returned on my next Sunday visit, it was no longer there.

Racoon (pregnant, sick, awkward?)

A few Turkey Vultures flew overhead and swooped quite low and fast over me.

Turkey Vulture

On my first trip, a Indigo Bunting was passing back and forth between two trees, singing its song to ensure everyone knew where it had claimed home to be.  I didn't get any great shots.  But my second Sunday outing was much better finding a second bird not very far away in a clump of isolated trees in the field. I was surprised their territories would be that close. I could actually see the other Bunting flying around along the lane way a short distance away still visiting the same trees.

Indigo Bunting ruffled by the wind.
Again, I thought I'd try the bird calls briefly and saw for the first time the phenomenon I had saw and shared [link] in a previous post of a video showing the wing wage warning.  The next two pictures show it clearly.

Indigo Bunting wing warning.

Indigo Bunting wing warning, more pronounced.
A bright and brilliantly coloured bird!

Indigo Bunting

Heading back to the car, as usual later than I should be because of the one more picture delay, my eye caught the tips of two big ears just barely poking out of the grass behind where the Common Yellowthroats put of their show for me the previous week.  In the picture below, the female White-tailed Deer I had spotted had already noticed me and was trying to figure whether she needed to get up from her comfortable spot.

White-tailed Deer doe.
Decision is made and the white flag was lifted and soon she bounded into cover, and then proceeded to let me know she was not impressed at all with a long series of surprisingly loud snorts. I didn't see any other activity and was half hoping I'd see some fawns come out of the grass somewhere with those warning sounds.  If they were there, I saw nothing.

White-tailed Deer doe.

On the way back, I spotted a Blue Jay busy making a nest, busily carrying and arranging twigs in a big, old Sugar Maple.

Blue Jay nest building

Just before getting back to where I left my car, I was delayed even further with a Eastern Bluebird who also wanted its picture taken, though shyly as it would not let me get too close.

Eastern Bluebird

I'm getting really far behind here on posts...Lots of chores around the house this spring so the picture editing and posting does not happen as often. I've not been out birding in a while either. Hopefully I can change both "problems" a bit soon.

Till then...
Keep enjoying HIS handiwork!