Today at Kingsford – Crummy bird photos

Red-shouldered Hawk flyover

My photos are still trapped on my camera, so I turn again to some recent ones I’ve taken the last few weeks. I’ve ordered a card reader off of that incredibly handy site, eBay, but don’t expect it to arrive until after the long weekend, unfortunately. However, the poor weather has been helpful in limiting the number of photos I’ve taken in the meantime. Today’s archive special is crummy bird photos. I certainly have lots of them.

We’ve had lots of birds arriving the last few weeks. My BIGBY list is now up to 50 species, with the most recent addition being a House Sparrow, of all species, showing up at our feeders. It’s pretty unusual to see House Sparrows outside of urban or agricultural habitats, and I’m not sure what it was doing out in the boonies here. Species number 49 was a Northern Cardinal, also a rarity around here, I can count on one hand the number that we’ve seen since we moved in. It was also at the feeders, foraging alongside the House Sparrow.

Most of the species have been ones we’ve been expecting, though. The Red-shouldered Hawks returned a couple of weeks ago, two of them together. Red-shoulders pair up prior to arriving on their breeding territories, and usually hold the same territory from one year to the next, so I think the two that have been hanging out around our house are the same individuals as we saw cruising the area last summer. We think they have a nest in the forest across the road.

Red-shouldered Hawk flyover

They soar directly over our house fairly frequently, but naturally I rarely have my camera at the ready when they do. The one time I happened to have the camera out, with the long lens on it, the bird came upon me too quickly for me to get the lens focused, though I fired off half a dozen shots anyway hoping one might be okay (none were). I was very excited about the hawks’ return, and was hoping to post something on them, but it might have to wait for later in the summer.

Eastern Phoebe

Another instance where I was unprepared. I had my 100mm lens on the camera, and didn’t have the 300mm with me. The 100mm is my macro/portrait lens, and I’d been out looking for bugs. I’d decided to leave the extra weight of the 300mm at home. Of course, that happened to be the day that I came across my spring-first Eastern Phoebe, foraging just close enough to be tempting, and just far enough to be out of reach of the shorter lens. I haven’t had a good photo op of a phoebe since that afternoon. Phoebes are one of my favourite birds, so I’ve been pleased at their return. When we moved in, we noticed an old nest on our security light, and we hoped maybe to see them there again this year since they do sometimes reuse nests, but I think they’ve probably been put off by the dog.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest cavity

Finally, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, excavating a nesting cavity. This one I actually had my 300mm for, I just happened to be too far away for a good photo, which was a bit disappointing since how often do you stumble across nuthatches building nests? He was working away up high in a tall dead snag. It looked like it was maybe an inch or two deep, just in the early stages, based on how far he was sticking his head in. This one will be a tougher one to monitor than the Pileated nest, mostly because it’s quite high relative to the size of the bird, but since it’s right along the road I’ll be by it often and can check in now and then.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest cavity

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Easter birds

Red-winged Blackbird

At my parents’ for Easter dinner yesterday, I popped outside for some around-the-house birding while waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven. I decided not to venture further because there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground, and with the (slightly) warming temperatures it’s quite soft now. Also, the driveway practically requires galoshes to navigate cleanly, and I haven’t unpacked mine from the winter yet.

There was still a fair bit of activity even just around the house, which is where birds congregate due to the presence of the feeders. I had to wait a little while, but I did finally get to see the Red-winged Blackbirds that my mom had reported arrived the other day. They usually come to the seed spread out on the driveway in front of the house, but yesterday they were sticking to the cast-off litter under the feeders in the backyard, possibly because of the seven cars parked in the driveway turnaround surrounding the seed. One also visited the suet a couple of times, which was where I got the best photos of him.

This is just a youngster, a second-year bird, meaning he was hatched last year (as birds’ ages are labeled by calendar year – he won’t truly be a year old till the summer). You can tell because the black feathers on his back and wings are fringed with orangey-brown, a characteristic of young males.

American Goldfinch and Red-winged Blackbird

Behind the blackbird, a couple of American Goldfinches were coming to the nyger feeder. They’ve been mysteriously absent for the last couple of months, only just starting to return recently. I’m not sure where they all went. Normally they spend the winter mobbing the feeders in fairly substantial numbers. The most I’ve seen at a time since mid-winter has been three.

The males, like this guy, are starting to get their brilliant summer yellow plumage. You can see it all beginning to come in around his face. In the middle of winter you can still tell the males from the females despite their relatively drab plumage because some males will retain slightly brighter yellow faces. Also, their wings and tails are a sharp, crisp black, rather than the duller brownish-black that females sport.

European Starling

The starlings have settled in. There’s at least a couple of pairs present now, with the two males often counter-singing to each other from their respective territorial perches. This particular male seems to have chosen the north peak of the house as his nest site of choice. Here he pauses in his singing to check out the activity (me) below. Two starlings, a Blue Jay and a White-breasted Nuthatch are the birds to have discovered the suet dough, so far. The nuthatch takes respectable small pieces, but the other two species really toss it back when they visit the feeder.

Red-shouldered Hawk

While standing out there watching the feeder birds, I glanced up at a crow crossing the the sky, and happened to spot, up high behind it, this Red-shouldered Hawk moving with purpose to the north. It was right at the reach of my (relatively) short 300mm lens, this is a close crop on the original image. There are a pair of Red-shoulders that live in the neighbourhood every year. I’m not sure where they nest, other than that it’s somewhere to the west of my parents’ place. I regularly hear them calling from that direction in the summer.

I recall some years ago there being some concern over decreasing populations in the province, but I think these declines are more limited to the southwestern portion, west and southwest of Toronto. That said, the recent Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas recorded them in quite a number of areas where they hadn’t been 20 years ago. There is some likelihood that this is due in part to new surveys that were implemented for the species by Bird Studies Canada in 1991, contributing a lot more targeted effort than took place in the first atlas. Still, even taking this into consideration, the results of the atlas are encouraging, and probably suggest increasing forest cover in the south of the province as abandoned fields regenerate. They remain an uncommon species in most of my “home range”, and I’m always pleased to see one.

Also on the raptor front, although I wasn’t able to get a photo, I spotted a Turkey Vulture circling over the escarpment, the first of the season. They migrate south for the winter, so are always a welcome sight in the spring. Come summer you can usually see at least one or two over the escarpment where the topography of the cliffs creates great thermals for soaring. During the peak of migration you can have up to a couple dozen.

Common Redpoll

This Common Redpoll has been hanging around the feeders for a little while, she was there earlier in the week as well. She doesn’t seem to be doing too well, although I’m not sure what she might be ill with. She was feeding periodically, and moving around on the ground, but at other times would just sit on the feeder perch or at the top of the birdhouse in the centre of the garden, looking around but otherwise not doing much.

She’s identifiable primarily because she’s always fluffed up into a near-spherical shape. Fluffing like that is a bird’s way of putting on extra layers – when we would go grab an extra sweater, the birds will fluff up their feathers. The amount of fluffing is similar to the number of layers of clothing, as the air pocket trapped under the feathers, which traps warm air close to the body, will increase as the feathers are further raised. None of the other birds were fluffed this much, it wasn’t that cold out. Birds that are sick will usually fluff their feathers as well, I suspect in a similar reaction to our burying under the covers when we have a fever and are suffering chills.

She was too active for me to consider trying to catch her, and she is continuing to eat, so that’s in her favour. However, she was still sitting at the feeder at dusk, one lone redpoll. I hope she gets well.

Common Redpoll