Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brown Thrasher and a few other notes

Some birds have moved on in the past few days, among them American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow and Common Redpoll. Other fish-eating birds are here for the summer. A single loon is diving in our bay where it is joined periodically by single Ospreys and Great Blue Herons.

Less expected was the Brown Thrasher that was tossing leaves in the garden outside our kitchen window this morning.

We are still being visited several times each week by a female Red-bellied Woodpecker. She used to come for the sunflower seeds. Now, she only eats the suet.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Owling near Apsley

Last night between 8:30 pm and 11:30 pm I monitored our Ontario Nocturnal Owl Survey route, east of Apsley. Ours is one of about 300 such routes in the province which are attended by volunteers co-ordinated by Bird Studies Canada. The protocol is simple. Over a 12 minute period at each of ten stops we listen for owls before and after we broadcast calls of Barred and Boreal Owls - we're told that the Boreal Owl call elicits calls from the closely related Saw-whet Owl.

Participants also collect data on other crepuscular/nocturnal animals including calling amphibians and courting Wilson's Snipe, American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse. Each route is monitored on one evening each April, a month when owls are most likely to exhibit territorial behaviour. The data are compiled by Bird Studies Canada and provide a means of monitoring changes in owl populations over the long term. The Ontario survey began in 1995. This was our third year on this particular route.

The cold night air depressed the frog chorus and made it easier to listen for owls. At three of the ten stations along the 20 km route a pair of Barred Owls responded aggressively to the recordings. The birds flew to trees within 30 metres of the car and energetically declared their territory. The photo above shows one of the birds that we encountered at our first stop. At a fourth stop, a single nearby Great Horned Owl hooted before and after we played the calls of the other species. We didn't hear any Saw-whet Owls calling this year. In past years Saw-whets have been heard on the last leg of this route.

This was the first year we didn't hear any snipe, woodcock or grouse although I did see a lone Ruffed Grouse at the roadside as I drove to the first station, a few minutes before sunset. The only amphibian I heard was a single Spring Peeper.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hoary Redpoll and and other wonders

Over the years we've looked at many thousands of redpolls swarming our niger feeders.
At times we've been able to study several hundred birds at once. We've marveled at their variability. Some are heavily streaked: some are radiant pink. We have always scrutinized the palest birds in these flocks, hoping to differentiate the Hoary Redpolls. Until today, we've never been satisfied that the characters of the pale birds fell enough beyond range of the Common Redpoll to call them Hoary Redpolls.

Today, a pale bird joined the throng of Song, Fox and American Tree Sparrows feeding below the sunflow seed hopper. It never joined the Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and American Goldfinches tending the niger seed silo. The characters - bill shape and nasal feather tufts, frosty colour and reduced streaking - correspond closely with the exipes reace of the Hoary Redpoll. This is a new bird for our our yard and our BIGBY list!

This was one of 22 species we had visiting our feeder. The high number of individuals was also impressive - American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Common Redpolls numbered more that 50 each.

I scattered some cracked corn on the roof of my workshop, beyond the reach of the deer and just right for a pair of Rock Pigeons.

Purple finches reappeared only a week ago after being wintering to the south.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Snow day - II

With the added inducement of cracked corn, birds of 20 species swarmed our feeders all day. It was hard not to stop and gawk out any of our windows.

There were seven or eight species under the feeder at any given time - click on image to view large and count the species.

Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards and Wood Ducks swam off the dock.

Redpoll numbers grew through day - there were 50 or so here at supper time.

Of course there were the regulars - Hairy, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays and Crows.

The four Fox Sparrows stood out among the scores of Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Purple Finches and American Goldfinches.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Snow day!

The warm weather that sent the salamanders marching also thawed much of our bay over the weekend. Ones and twos of Common and Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and Mallards are foraging along the edge of the receding ice. I heard my first Eastern Phoebe in the early evening and a few hours later, a Woodcock displayed over the nearby gravel pit while an unseen flock of Common Goldeneye passed overhead. All were welcome additions to the BIGBY list, which has grown to 40 species.

We are now experiencing a late spasm of winter weather - about 5 cm of snow has fallen with more expected this afternoon - tough on the Phoebe's I suspect. There was lots of activity at the feeder all day - 17 species. Even a Robin landed in the snow among the juncos and poked around the sunflower seed hulls.

Dark-eyed Junco and American Goldfinch.

Fox Sparrow

Sparrows trying to kick up some breakfast.

Purple Finch and Pine Siskins

Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackle

European Starling

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rusty Blackbird

As drenched Black-capped Chickadees, Common Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have been feeding heavily through this rainy day, a lone male Rusty Blackbird has been hanging around under the feeder.