Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hoo Hoo's around Tommy Thompson

There's been quite the few species around Tommy Thompson the past two weeks!

The weekend before Thanksgiving was I believe when I last updated a little bit!  We have had some species that I found particularly exciting!  Some were birds that I have seen quite often flying around but have never had the opportunity to see close up, while others were birds I had never even seen (or sometimes heard of!) before.

The first photo that is on the list is of this Herring Gull!  This gull is usually seen flying around with Ring-billed gulls. These guys are best to be ID'd by their size and shape as often their colouring (even their bills) can be the exact same as their counter part the Ring-billed!  Although gulls are usually thought of as being more "trash birds" due to the ones flying around parking lots trying to eat anything they can get thrown to them...they are super beautiful up close!  There are many different kinds of gulls which are amazing to look at, I hope that we get to see a few more before the station closes for the winter!

Herring Gull

Next on the list is the wonderful Fox Sparrow!  I had never been a huge fan of sparrows as everywhere in the city you go, the House Sparrow follows...the very, very common House Sparrow.  Which I had learnt is not even in the true sparrow family at all, it is an old world bird as it was introduced into the States in 1851 spreading up northwards to Canada!   The Fox Sparrow is part of the sparrow family that is native to North America. These guys nest in the very north of Ontario in hardwood forests and are on their way to their Wintering grounds in the States.   I couldn't get over how beautiful and BIG it was!  When I first saw it my first thought was that it was a wood thrush...but alas!  It wasn't!

Fox Sparrow

Staring Contest!
Next up is another bird that as we, living in Ontario, often find either incredibly annoying in the early mornings or beautiful yet common so we over-look it.  Cardinals are known by many as that red bird who is constantly smacking themselves against windows and car mirrors...well, this is because they are incredibly territorial, in fact they are obsessed with defending it and believe that their reflection is another bird.  This boy was absolutely beautiful close up and I couldn't believe the depth of colour that the red was...and boy did he ever know how to bite!  Or should I saw...pinch! I learnt while holding this guy that cardinals have AMAZING clamping powers with their beaks and pinch so tight they can almost give you a blister!  Sheesh!

Northern Cardinal
Next up is another really neat bird that I just learnt about while volunteering here. It is called an American Pipit!  These guys are not really much to look at...no bright colours, no fun patterns (minus on their tail which I LOVE), but they are really determined little guys!  We only see them in this part of Ontario during migration as they breed way up in the arctic tundra and fly south for the winter to their sites in Mexico/almost Costa Rica.  They fly overhead in very large flocks (we saw up to 200!) and  make a very distinct "peep"s!
American Pipit
American Pipit Tail
The next...was my most exciting sight of the week. Those who know me know that I can be slightly obsessed with Owls...so when we caught this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet Owl, I just about died! This adorable little guy was caught close to 11pm and certainly made us know he was not pleased with the little clicking sounds (that were just so cute).  These guys are caught using a "too-too-too" call that lures them towards the mist nets we set up. After that they are caught and extracted like every other bird! It's something about their huge eyes that are just captivating, and I can't wait to see more!

If you plan to visit Tommy Thompson Park in search of Owls...make sure that you read their "Owl Guidelines" before going to view.  Many people also see the wonder of these creatures and want the best shot, which often times comes at the expense of the bird. So please come and see how wonderful and beautiful they are...but also respect them, even if it means not getting a great photo.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall has fallen on G Ross

Apple Orchard
Fall has certainly landed in North York! The beautiful fall colours are everywhere to be seen. I took a walk a week or so ago through G Ross Lords park again on my lunchtime and was delighted that there were quite a few critters about!

When first coming from the office I walk through this little apple orchard.  I don't believe the Orchard is crab apples, but instead apples that haven't been treated for quite some time with pesticides and if you find a good one...they are quite yummy!!

I noticed quite a few little guys fluttering around the area. Squirrels were running around eating anything they could find.  I first noticed a little Downy Woodpecker (female since it has no red mark on its head) pecking away at a variety of trees.  I followed this little gal around for quite a while trying to get a good photo, must have looked quite hilarious to the few people eating their lunches.

Downy Tree Climbing
Female Downy Woodpecker

While following the Downy I saw another little flutter in the apple trees.  As usual for many fall songbirds, it was a little yellow blob. I (stupidly) had no binoculars with me so the only way that I was able to get a good look was through my camera and was hoping to at least snap a good enough photo that I would be able to ID it later.  Luckily for me...I FINALLY snapped a good enough one!  From what I was able to see from it, I was able to ID it as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.   If anyone has better suggestions though, please send them to me!

My little yellow blob

I didn't get to walk too much further into the park, but was able to see some really beautiful colours.  Instead of walking along the road seen in the photo below, I walked towards the forest to see what was hiding in some of the shrubs and pine trees.
Fall Colours
There were not too much in terms of species variety, but Black-capped Chickadees were having a blast with pine cone seeds, bugs, and anything else that they can find!  I also was able to spot a little Red-breasted Nuthatch trying to find a snack along the trees.  There was one other species of Warbler I was able to see amongst some of the shrubbery but unfortunately in the light...it was a silhouette jumping around not once staying still.  If only they would!
Red-breasted Nuthatch

On my way out I was able to spot this last little guy taking a little nap.  He moved around quite a few times and decided that this would be the most comfortable position!

Raccoon taking a nap!

I hope that everyone is able to get out and enjoy some of the fall while we still have it!  With this week getting cooler temperatures I have a feeling that leaves will soon be disappearing even faster.  Hopefully I will be able to catch up on a few more posts this week from banding...we've been seeing some amazing things!

Happy Outdooring!

Fall time!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's beautiful, it's gruesome, it's the circle of life.

A few weeks ago I was walking a long a trail taking photos of some dragonflies. The day at the banding station was pretty slow, so learning dragonflies...why not! I had taken a few shots of a FINALLY still black saddlebag, those guys just never, ever sit still long enough!

Black Saddlebag Dragonfly
I turned around again to see if there were any more and heard rustling amongst the vegetation. Excited, and curious I started poking around to see what was in there making such a ruckus. To my surprise I saw the dragonfly, that I had just taken a photo of, had been caught and was slowly being eaten by a praying mantis! Alive!

I'm sure many of you know what a praying mantis is. But in case not, they are these awesome green, "tall", sticklike bugs. Their main diet consists mainly of  other bugs. They are perhaps most known for their sexual cannibalism where after mating the gleams will often decapitate the male. Cool isn't it?

So, while I was taking photos of this a tour group came by and wondered what I had been looking at. The vast majority of them were very excited to see this, curious, and feveroushly trying to take a photo and find out more about the praying mantis. One particular lady was the one who caught my attention. Once she found out what we were looking at she screamed in disgust and said to me that it was "entirely gruesome and disgusting. It is horrifying that it would be doing that".

The only response I could come up with at the time was "Well mame, that's nature. It's beautiful, it's gruesome, it's the circle of life". Unfortunately, praying mantis don't have the option to become vegetarians!

My mind immediately shot back to when I watched the lion king and the part where Mufasa says "the antelope eats the grass, we eat the antelope, and when we die...we become the grass. That is the circle of life".

It then struck me. That entire concept has been lost on quite a few people in today's time. Similarly to this lady, the frame of mind is that nature is all butterflies, daisies, it's peaceful, and animals are in harmony with one another. In reality, sure it is beautiful, but nature is also gruesome, it's dirty, it's mean, it's a fight for survival and a strive for evolution. Animals eat other animals, and many times while their prey is alive...some big cats even play with their food before hand. Praying mantis decapitate their mates, turtles lay eggs and leave their young to survive alone, individuals fight to the death to protect their territory, some birds are known to "nest hop" and mate with other already paired birds, ducks have a screw-like penis while cats have a barbed penis so their mates can't remove themselves until their genes are passed. Its a tough world out there! 

I think that many times people portray nature in a human light and evaluate by a human point of view. As humans, we have the ability to set values, to have ethics, to choose how and what we eat, to choose how and who we love. Many things in the animal kingdom, such as this praying mantis eating a dragonflies head off while it's still squirming alive, could be a disgusting thought to humans as we (except for lobsters) eat only dead meat (if meat at all).  Now, although humans are able to have morals and ethics, we still do a lot of horrible things to others, whether they be human or animal.  Perhaps, through all the portrayals of nature in books or through Disney, we expect nature to be a refuge from these things, a pure place where everything lives in harmony. When we place this ideology onto the animal world it can suddenly become "revolting and horrible" when we see things like this, but when we don't evaluate nature in a human lights and say to ourselves "yeah, that's kinda weird, but it's the circle of life, it's their means to survival" a whole new world of wonder and curiosity can open up.

How did a slow moving praying mantis catch a flighty dragonfly!? Why is it eating head first, does it always do that? Will it be able to eat that whole thing? What other bugs does it eat?

Nature can be pretty gruesome when evaluated by human standards. But...it can also be pretty damn neat! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

End of Sept. Banding

With a weekend of banding blown away by the rainy forecast, I thought I would share a few more photos of some of the birds we got the past two weeks! There have been some amazing little guys coming through and I am starting to get really sad that there are not too many weeks left before migration is over!  

For most of my life so far,I have been quite the night owl.  Heading to sleep at midnight or later, waking up around noon.  It was such the life!  When I first got up to do my first breeding bird survey at 3am...I wanted to cry. Literally...I thought it was the worst wake up time anyone could ever have and that people who do this for a living are utterly insane!  As karma always turns around...now I hear that same line used over and over, except this time it's other's saying it about moi!  The first while, I'll admit was brutal, biking through Toronto at 4am..sketchy beyond belief...But if you love it, it's worth it!  One of the things I have absolutely grown to love about being a morning person, is seeing some absolutely amazing sunrises. I've almost grown fonder of them than sunset!
Sunrise, TTP
Sunrise reflecting off the Toronto Skyline

We've had some pretty awesome birds lately too!  One of my new favourites has been the Winter Wren.  These little guys have a really loud sound for being in such little bodies (isn't that true for all small birds...or things!).  The big black eyes and little white specks all around it's back make it most distinguishable for me. Being a forest bird, they can be difficult to spot while walking in the woods, but their sound...gives it away immediately!  Cool Fact: Per unit weight, the Winter Wren delivers its song with 10 times more power than a crowing rooster! (allaboutbirds.org)

Winter Wren
 Next up, we have been getting LOADS of Kinglets!  These little guys love chattering up in the treetops with their wheezy voices.  I, for some reason, have a hard time distinguishing their sound from some sounds chickadees make...but thankfully with the practice you get from seeing billions of them, is you never forget their sounds!  These birds are separated into two different birds, the ruby-crowned (on the left) and the golden-crowned (right).  As you can see, each of their crowns match their names!  Some of the males in the golden-crown species, like the one in the photo, have that extra flare of orange added, it makes for quite the looker!  Cool fact: Although they are small, these birds are hearty and often can survive when the weather dips below -40 by huddling together for warmth! (Allaboutbirds.org)

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
The next species we found a few of was a Brown Creeper!  These guys are really neat to watch as they creep along trees.  You can usually spot these little guys climbing up trees (creepers creep up! Nuthatches fall down, is how I remember it).  Brown Creepers are so beautifully coloured and often remind me of Gonzo, from the Muppets! Cool fact about these guys (again from allaboutbirds.org).  Brown Creepers burn an estimated 4–10 calories (technically, kilocalories) per day, a tiny fraction of a human’s daily intake of about 2,000 kilocalories. By eating a single spider, a creeper gains enough energy to climb nearly 200 feet vertically. Wow! 

Brown Creeper
Next up, was our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  These guys are in the woodpecker family and when an adult (this ones a young bird) they have a red cap on their head, red throat, and yellow belly.  Being a woodpecker, they peck holes into trees in order to find bugs but also rely heavily as sap for the primary source of their diet!  I can definitely say that I was terrified to hold this guy when we were banding him, but I am so glad that Charlotte made me! It was definitely intimidating to hold a woodpecker who was pecking away trying to shatter your knuckle, but...SO COOL!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Me and the YBSS (Photo by: Charlotte England)

The last two birds I thought I'd share are the Black-throated Green Warbler and Northern Parula.  Both are members of the Parulidae family.  The Black-throated Green is a common breeder in the northeastern coniferous forests and is seen in this area during migration on it's way to Central America and northern South America.  Although my favourite is the Black-throated Blue...this guy is just as equally beautiful with it's bright yellow and black throat.  It's heard throughout forests singing it's loud "Zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee!" In fact, an individual before had been heard sining it's song 466 times in one hour (allaboutbirds.org)!!
Black-Throated Green
The Northern Parula has to be one of the most beautiful Warblers that I have ever encountered.  In the fall, when most warblers lose their breeding colours and look a little more "dull", the Parula is still absolutely gorgeous. It has blue-gray wings and hood and a yellow chest.  Across it's chest is a reddish speckled band that looks stunning against the yellow.  They are closely associated with epiphytes such as beard moss, which they use for nesting material. It's worried that with changes in climate and increased air pollution, that the moss needed by this bird are starting to disappear, reducing the area available for it to nest.

Northern Parula
Until next time....Happy Birding!