Monday Miscellany

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

This weekend was spent visiting my family, at my parents’ new place east of Brockville. I packed up Raven and headed out on Friday, and then returned home late today. It was a tri-purpose gathering, combining a belated Mother’s Day with two birthdays (mine and my sister’s, which are two days apart, usually on Mother’s Day weekend). My entire immediate family was there, an uncommon event these days as we’re spread across nearly half of southern Ontario, with close to 450 km (280 miles) separating the two furthest people (the closest two are still an hour’s drive apart). It was a really nice weekend, full of family and good times, but I must admit that in four days I didn’t do a smidge of naturalizing. I barely did any birding, even; aside from about 15 minutes spent with the binoculars Saturday afternoon, my only birding was what I noticed singing or caught a glimpse of while wandering around. My camera spent the weekend in its bag.

So my Monday Miscellany is on the short side this week. The first photo is from mid-week. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, including this stunning male, have been making regular trips to the feeders. I’ve been seeing more of the females than the males, although the males can be heard regularly singing in the vicinity. They’re big fans of the sunflower seeds, so we’ve been continuing to fill our feeders even though the winter birds have all mostly departed. I always look forward to the return of these guys to the feeders in spring.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have settled in to the area, I think. My mom had at least two females visiting her feeder, and I heard a male doing a U-display at one point. I have yet to see a female here, but then again, I was away all weekend. It astounds me how fast these little birds can beat their wings when flying (an average of 50 beats per second, but substantially higher in certain situations). Watching them hover in the air as they pause to scan their surroundings is like magic. They should be starting to nest soon; also magic? the amazingly tiny nests they build, and the even more amazingly tiny eggs they lay in them.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

On the particularly rainy day we had last week, I noticed this little guy sitting on the small sumac tree that’s near the feeders in front of our house. He would feed, then sit on the branch for a while, then return to feed, then back to the branch. I guess with the weather so cool and wet, he didn’t want to waste a lot of energy flying all over the place, so he stuck close to a guaranteed food source.

Autumn colors in spring

On my birthday Dan and I went out in the afternoon to visit one of the MAPS sites. It’s the site we have to paddle in to, and at the launch point where we were putting the boat in to the water, I noticed a large patch of vibrantly coloured bushes. The area where they were growing seemed to be under water, and it was hard to tell if the plants were victims of higher-than-normal water levels, or if they were swamp or other wetland bushes. Their colours, and those of many of the small saplings growing among them, really reminded me of the autumn landscape.

Basiaeschna janata - Springtime Darner

These could almost have gone in to the “Wings of the day” W week post. I’ve noticed both dragon- and damselflies to be becoming much more abundant recently. The above, a Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), and below, a Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura), were both observed along a stretch of dirt road slightly to the north. They were flying along the edge of the road, in the low, open area between the hard-packed dirt and the forest. Many dragonflies are territorial, and will patrol up and down a stretch of road, path, forest or pond edge, or other open area, as they watch for intruders and look for females. Indeed, these two were doing just that, sweeping up and down the road and then periodically landing on a tree or twig to sun and “recharge”.

Epitheca cynosura - Common Baskettail

Today at Kingsford – Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Yesterday morning our first hummingbird of the season showed up in our yard. It was a bit earlier than I was expecting it to be; I wasn’t really thinking of looking for them till next week, and as such the feeders weren’t out yet. In fact, the feeders weren’t even out of storage. As soon as Dan called downstairs that he’d spotted a hummer in the yard, I dug our two feeders out of the cupboards, washed and rinsed them out, and then made up some sugar-water to fill them with. I hung them out, one at each end of the deck, and waited.

It didn’t take long for the little bird to find it. Within half an hour I spotted him coming to the feeder, and he returned at regular intervals throughout the day. Unfortunately, it was somewhat overcast, so the colours in the photos are muted. At one point, Dan saw another male come in, which the first chased away from the feeder, and a bit later I thought I might have heard him displaying somewhere. Seems like they suddenly arrived all in one big push.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are daytime migrants. A large part of this is because they need to feed as they travel. Hummingbirds are so small and their method of flight so energetically costly they can’t store much fat and still expect to be able to fly efficiently. For most of the migration they build up their energy stores during the morning, and migrate throughout the afternoon, pausing periodically along the way to refuel. The exception to this is the big Gulf of Mexico jump, which is about 20 hours of straight flying without food, and so they lay on as much fat as they can while still being able to fly.

These hummingbirds are probably all migrants, just passing through. Indeed, I don’t think I saw one all afternoon today. Probably the individuals we saw yesterday arrived late Monday, and possibly hung around all day yesterday. They visited the feeders this morning as they fueled up, and then moved on by the afternoon. Alternatively, it may have been two separate individuals, one that arrived Monday and departed yesterday, and another that arrived yesterday and departed this morning.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

There is very little information to connect hummingbirds to particular wintering grounds. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter from the tip of Florida all the way south to Panama, but it’s not clear whether northern breeders also winter further north (or further south), or if there is no correlation and they just mix it up. Regardless, all of these birds need to move north again in spring. Hummingbirds that winter in southern Mexico or further south are faced with crossing the gaping expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. It takes them 20 hours of non-stop flying to do so, barring inclement weather or strong headwinds, and they reach the far side understandably exhausted. Many may never make it. So why do they do it? Because it’s considerably faster than going overland around the gulf, and the bird that reaches the breeding territories first gets first dibs. If he can secure the best quality territory, he significantly improves his chances of successfully raising young that year.

We may not see our breeders arrive for a little bit yet, but it’s nice to have these charming little sprites coming to our feeders again.

At home with the birds

Dusk

Well, here I am, finally! I didn’t intend to be gone quite this long, but through various mix-ups, miscommunications and snags, we only just got our internet hooked up today. We opted to go for a bundle deal with one of the primary companies around here, and have been rather unimpressed with how things have gone. Our phone was hooked up two days late, and our satellite television still isn’t working quite right (we have a service person out today to have it looked at). Hopefully the last of all this will be sorted out today.

But, we made it, without incident, and we’ve otherwise settled in. We unpacked the last of our boxes yesterday, and there’s just a few last tidying-up details to take care of. It’s certainly feeling like home already. We’re just loving the location. Although it’s a bit further from town than we’d probably originally have considered, it’s still an easy, reasonable drive for once- or twice-a-week trips for supplies. If we were the commuting sort, it would be an average commute in to the “big” city (big being a relative term; compared to Toronto, virtually all of Ontario’s cities, with the possible exception of Ottawa, are moderate in size).

Dawn

The scenery and wildlife make it all worthwhile, however. Right across the lake is a provincial park, and the non-park shore has a pretty low population density itself. It’s not a small lake, at about 3.5 km long, but there’s only a couple dozen buildings along its outer shore. There’s hardly ever anyone out on the lake, at least that we’ve noticed. This weekend was a holiday long weekend for most people, and even then, while there was an increase in boaters, it still wasn’t busy, by any means. During our housing search we checked out a couple of other places that were located on lakes, but they were very busy, and noisy. Not our speed, really.

The birdlife here has been amazing, and we’ve only been here a week. We’ve tallied 63 species so far at our home, on the lake, or within a short walking distance along the road. To put that in perspective, our yard/neighbourhood list back in Toronto was less than 30 after five years of living there. August is perhaps the quietest time of the bird-season (April through October), when all the breeders have stopped singing, but the migrants haven’t really started to arrive yet. And in winter, while the diversity is lower, they’re coming to your feeders and are easy to observe. We anticipate some great birding through the rest of the year. The park has a checklist of 170 species to date, so we still have lots yet to see!

REVI2

Red-eyed Vireos are abundant, in any flock of birds there will be at least two or three of them. For the first few days after we arrived, there were Red-eyed Vireos hanging around in the trees just off our deck. At first we just saw the adults, but shortly a fledgling showed up with them. This photo was taken from the deck, looking down into a little shrub the family was sitting in. Also in the trees around the house has been a regular family of chickadees. Young chickadees are very vocal, loudly begging for food from their parents, so we can always tell when they’re outside.

CERW

A few mornings ago, Blackburnian was on his way down to the dock with his morning coffee when he heard some commotion along the road, a mixed flock of birds moving along the trees of the road edge. He grabbed his binoculars and went out to check them out. Among the flock was a family of Cerulean Warblers, and, knowing that I’d like to see them, he came back in to get me. Ceruleans are an endangered species in Ontario, sparsely distributed through the southern part of the province and only found in certain local patches. However, in these areas they can be locally common. One of the spots recognized as being among the best places to find breeding Ceruleans is not too far east from us, and we’re at the western edge of their eastern Ontario stronghold. It’s a great place for them; around here there is extensive forest cover, because of the low population density and the rocky landscape, which makes farming impractical.

YTVI

Although this isn’t a great photo of it, this was one of the birds I was most pleased to catch a glimpse of. It actually sat rather obligingly for a little while in this open spot on the branch, catching the morning light nicely to illuminate his bright colours. It’s a Yellow-throated Vireo, and it’s a bird that’s been on my jinx-bird list (those birds that seem to elude you no matter how hard you try to find them) for quite a while. I had heard a few singing before, but try as I might I’d never been able to see one. I hadn’t actually expected them to be breeding this far north and east, I tend to think of them as a Carolinian species, but consulting my recently-published copy of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, I see that they actually occur in a strong band along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, as well, and their largest pocket of high abundance in the province is actually the Frontenac Axis.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warblers are also abundant in the area, if not quite so much as the Red-eyed Vireos. I haven’t seen any adult males, with their bold black throats, but I’m not certain whether that means the birds I have seen are females and immatures, or if the adult males have already moulted into their winter plumages. There’s a surprising diversity of warblers in our area. Back in Toronto and area we had a small handful of species that might breed commonly. So far here we’ve tallied 10 species of warblers, all of which would be local breeders, with the potential of another 10 or 11 that we haven’t encountered yet.

RTHU2

The first birds we observed at the house were a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on our first viewing of the place. One of the first things we did outside once we moved in was to fill up the hummingbird feeder. The previous residents had a feeder in place, but it didn’t look like they’d been keeping it filled. It didn’t take long for the hummers to find it. Since they did they’ve been regular visitors. They decided quickly that we weren’t any serious threat, and will often feed while we’re only half a dozen feet away.

COLO

And finally, the quintessential cottage-country birds, Common Loons. We didn’t notice any when we were viewing the house, but we were only here for an hour or so each time. Once we moved in they became quite apparent – but more by their calls than by spotting them. They call regularly every evening and periodically through the rest of the day. They seem to be done breeding, and move often from our lake to any of the many others in the area. On the same morning that we were out looking at the Cerulean family, a family of five Common Loons flew overhead, calling to each other, as they moved to the lake on the other side of the road.

We also noticed a phoebe had built a nest on the security light above the deck stairs, and occasionally hear one singing in the area. I was worried that we wouldn’t have scrub and meadow birds around here and that I’d miss birds from my parents’ like the Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird or Indigo Bunting, but they’re all here. There are Osprey and Red-shouldered Hawks frequently seen along the lake edge. We also have some more northern birds that I was hoping to get in the area, such as White-throated Sparrow, Common Raven, or several of the warblers. We’ve heard Red Crossbills on a few mornings, though it’s hard to say if they’re post-breeding dispersals or early “winter” irruptives.

And that’s just a small sampling of things! The rest of the local wildlife is just as varied and abundant… but that’ll be another post.