Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Oakville Bunting

On Monday, I was driving home from Newmarket and decided to stop in Oakville after seeing so many Ontbird posts about a Painted Bunting that was found in a backyard. Painted Bunting are technically supposed to be found in and around New Mexico/Texas area, so the fact that one showed up here in Oakville is very strange. There is some debate as to whether this is actually a vagrant bird (one who is "lost" from perhaps a storm) or whether it may be a released bird that was once captive. While we hope that it's a vagrant (since it will then "count" towards our ebird lists), but either way it is still really exciting to the entire community that it's here and provides a cool experience too.

When I arrived to the subdivision there was about eight other people. The people in the house are super nice and allowed us to sit in their backyard to wait for the bird. We all squished nice and cozy  between the house and a hedgerow and just sat waiting and staring at a bird feeder. Most people who were there had been waiting for about an hour so far, but were predicting that the bird might show up around 4 o'clock (apparently that's been the trend the past few days anyways!).

Just as we predicted at about 4 o'clock we noticed the little guy in the hedgerow of cedar and eventually it flew up to the bird feeder. There was a quick almost perfect view of bird when it was in the hedgerow, however as soon as it flew to the feeder it ended up being on the exact side with no view...of course! Eventually it did move back into the hedges and everyone there had a perfect view, and it was fantastic!

Vagrant or not, I have to say that this is probably one of the most beautiful birds I've ever seen.  It had a beautiful yellowish-orange belly and a forest green on upper back, as you moved closer to the centre of the back the green became almost more lime coloured, then of course a beautiful blue head!

I was so lucky during this visit to get some pretty good shots, although I think I was on the wrong setting as they are pretty pixely! I was also super lucky to have met and chatted with one of the visitors there who was one absolutely fantastic and hilarious. He is an 87-year-old birder, I believe his name was Alan, and if he ever reads this I give a big hello! While we waited he told us some fantastic stories about how he was drafted back in the war in 1944, and how he also knew the president and founder of Trent University (now the campus is actually named after him!).

He said he's been birding since he was a young teenager and how on one of his first Christmas Birdcounts there was actually a Barn Owl seen on the Toronto Islands, but of course he wasn't in the group that day and hasn't seen on (still kicking himself over 50 years later!)! We then chatted a little about Snowy Owls and I taught him how to tell the difference between males and females to which he said "Wow...I am 87 and you just taught me something new!" made me feel SO good!

When we first saw the Painted Bunting he was so excited and just kept saying to me "Oh isn't the most beautiful bird! I'm so happy to come and actually be able to witness it! Tianna isn't this a beautiful bird and WE saw it together!".  This just pointed out one of my most favourite parts of birding (and the natural community in general), the people you meet.  I had never been one to go alone to do things, but now that I have begun birding more and gained some confidence I have met some of the most wonderful people on outings.  Most times even if you don't see the bird, the people you meet and the stories you share while waiting are just as amazing as what you went there to see.  

Little White-breated Nuthatch who was also around!
I want to extend a huge thank you to everybody who lives in that subdivision.  Most people don't let a bunch of people trample all over their yard, but these ones set out fair guidelines so that everyone would get the chance to see the little guy and even brought out coffee once in a while! A big thank you also to all a fantastic birders who went to see you and resected all the wishes of the landowners and for respecting their property.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday and New Year!!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fields of White

Well, it's back to Chatham for the Christmas break! 

On one of my first days home my father and I decided to go and check out to see if we could find any Snowy owls.  There have been so many bird alerts coming to my email of them that I just couldn't resist trying to show him one of these awesome birds!  Snowy owls seem to be having an interruption year again where many of them are moving further south for the winter than they usually do. This is pretty darn exciting for those of us who are pretty infatuated with owls (which is..who are we kidding...most of us!).

Dad and I started by driving from Chatham all along Bearline Road, pretty much up until the very end which leads into the Bear Creek Unit, part of the St. Clair National Wildlife Area. On the part of the road that becomes the driveway to the unit, our first Snow Goose was seen with about 400 Canada geese!  The picture, of course, makes it super hard to see, however it is that small white speck!

We then drove up and down a bunch of different concession line that were running east to west.  Quite a number of farms has large numbers of Tundra Swans in them, with in one field counting approximately 600 overall!  I might guess that at this point there was probably close to 1000 that I was able to see throughout our drive. 

I had quite a lot of fun using my camera and trying to capture some of the Tundra Swans who were coming in for a landing. It was really entertaining seeing them coming in. The angle that they were at made them look so goofy and yet still so majestic with their wings fully spread and their legs flopping around behind!

We then drove down to Winterline Road and where it intersects with Mallard line. We managed to finally find our very first Snowy Owl of the excursion. My dad and I actually spotted it at the exact same time, except it ended up being that they were two entirely separate birds! We took out a scope that I had borrowed over the Christmas break, as well as our binoculars and cameras. After about 20 minutes we ended up counting approximately nine of them in the field, a total which is absolutely crazy!  It seemed as if everywhere we looked there was always another one.  About four of them seemed to be adult males (they were all pure white), and a couple others seemed to be either young male or female adult (mostly white but also with prominent black barring).

A few days later the boyfriend came to visit and the two of us set out on a little excursion both to Rondeau Provincial Park and Pain Court to see if any exciting birds were around. We saw the usual hundreds and hundreds of Tundra Swans and Canada Geese; some ducks were out in the bay, but we were unable to fully ID them as they are too far away.  We then went to the visitors centre to see if the feeders had any Tufted Titmice yet this year, but the feeders were actually empty of any bird! Out along the dunes I did see as large number of American Tree Sparrows and through the scope found a Horned Grebe and one lone Goldeneye.  We did check around dog beach for the Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper that was reported, however we couldn't seem to find it.

We then left Rondeau and drove down towards Pain Court again to see if there were any Snowy's around.  Luckily within minutes we spotted a beautiful snowy owl perched on top of the telephone pole and we were lucky enough to get really great photos of him! 

A few days after this my Mom and I were driving to Windsor when we spotted two more Snowy Owls.  We stupidly didn't stop to look at them but it was so exciting none-the-less, especially since they were her very first ones!  Looking forward to seeing many more this winter!

Happy Naturing!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Ross's Goose

Two friends and I decided to take another drive up the river and see if the Ross's Goose was still around the Otonabee River to look at.  I was hoping it might be a little closer that my tiny zoom would be able to reach it enough to snap a good shot!

We were really excited when we came around the river to actually see it, amongst 150 or so Canada Geese, on the east side of the river!

Happy Naturing! 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Some lost feathers...

There seems to be a few lost birds here in the Peterborough area these days!

The first to show up was a Townsend Solitaire!  Generally these birds are found in British Columbia and a little portion of Alberta, so the fact that one actually ended up here in Peterborough is a little strange!  It was first seeing along the hedgerows of someone's lawn out near Rice Lake.  It has stayed within the same lawn for the last two weeks now and we suspect it would likely stay there for much of the winter.

We first arrived there around 9:30 at the location that it has been regularly seen.  Most of the e-bird reports had been from around this time so we were hoping it was a trend!  When we first arrived to the site, there were three other cars of people standing around.  Only one of them had seen the bird about 40 minutes previously before it flew off over a hedgerow.  We all stood around and waited checking nearby bushes and trees regularly for any movements. Of course there were tons of Blue Jays around tricking us...or "mocking".  

After about 20-30 minutes there was a thrush-looking bird that perched on top of one of the Mountain Ash trees and begun feeding on berries.  That was it!  We all were able to get a great look of him through our binoculars before it flew off into some large trees.  One man put out his scope so that we could all get a great look.  I don't believe any of us actually got a good photo, the distance was far (hence the photo through the scope!) or the lighting (making for many silhouette photos!).

After about 20 minutes, the Townsend flew off again into an unknown area.  We ended up heading down to a little outlook area on Rice Lake.  There were many Herring Gulls, RBGU, Common Mergansers, Goldeneye, and even a Great Black-backed Gull!  Otherwise there wasn't too much to report!

The second bird of excitement around here was a Ross's Goose!  These birds generally are in Manitoba, and another little population on the boarder of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  It seems that quite a few of these guys end up coming through Ontario in the winter time.  It has been seen along the Otonabee River and most recently feeding in the fields.  I took a little break after one of my classes to take a little drive along the river to see if I could spot it.  After an unsuccessful drive to the locks, I spotted a large flock of Canadian Geese on the river after a little while. It took quite a while to finally spot it, but I did eventually!   What a cutie!

The flock was on the other side of the river, so unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo at all minus one attempt through my binoculars!

It was very exciting to be able to see such two "rare" birds in this neck of the woods.  I am glad that so many others here were able to see them too!

Hopefully there will be a few more exciting finds this winter!

Happy Naturing!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A (not so) Wild Goose Chase!

There's been quite a few different kinds of waterfowl popping up in Peterborough County, but none have been creating quite the stir as the Snow geese and the Brant goose have!

Earlier this week Mike and I went to try and find the young Snow Goose that had been seen just out of town near Lock 22 and 23.  We searched for a good while and only saw Canada Geese and a bunch of ring-billed gulls. We did drive along a few more locks to see if it had moved but no luck.  We eventually gave up and began to drive back to Trent. Of is always when you give up when you find what you are looking for!  On the drive back we suddenly noticed a REALLY large gull, so we pulled over and alas!  It was a young, slightly grey, Snow Goose!  I had seen one only once before back home, however it was flying over head so I never did get a good luck at it. Here though, it was in perfect sight and what a beautiful sight it was!  A first of the year for me, and a lifer for Mike!    We also saw our first Horned Lark of the year there too!

Snow Goose Flapping
In with the CANGs
Horned Lark

Today, a few of us went out to Bobcaygeon to take down our owl nets and decided to make a couple pit stops on the way back home.  Our first stop was in Burleigh Falls where there had been recent reports of a Brant goose that had been seen there.  We took a quick stop, and I have to say it was probably the easiest twitch i've ever followed!  Right smack there in the middle of the boat ramp, was the little guy.  It was a lifer for two of us (me included!) so it was incredibly exciting!!!  

Our second stop was at the Lakefield Sewage Lagoons.  We were expecting to see many more ducks than what was there, but it was still nice to see 4 different species!  There had been some reports of a female Wood Duck in the lagoons.  At first sight we saw a number of Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, and 2 Ring-necked ducks.  When we wandered towards Cell 2, we startled up the female Wood Duck.  There were a few more bufflehead in this cell, along with one female scaup.  Otherwise....there wasn't much else!!

 New reports of an adult Snow Goose had begun in the last day or two, so we drove by the area where it had last been seen. Again, it was super easy to find, especially amongst the Canada Geese!!

Overall, it was a pretty good day!  I still can't believe we were 3 for 3 for sightings (and 1 for 1 the other day!). It's not that often you head out to chase some reported birds and find them all! 

Hope everyone has been having a great fall migration!   Happy Naturing!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Clear Creek and Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons

The other weekend I was home visiting in Chatham (first time in a long time...sorry mom!)

My dad and I decided that we wanted to go on a little hike up to Clear Creek Forest.  This is a little (though large for Chatham-Kent) forest just north of Rondeau Provincial Park.  It had previously been owned by the Nature Conservancy, however it has since been taken over by Ontario Parks.  It is also one of the last remnants of old growth forest left in the area.  Although I've lived in Chatham-kent for most of my life, we'd never visited this place.  I left with the question in my head...why?

Clear Creek Forest was pretty quiet minus the flocks of Canada Geese flying over head.  We managed to spot some kinglets, hermit thrushes, a wren, and my first of the year Red-bellied Woodpecker.  It was utterly beautiful to walk though this forest in the fall, all the leaves fallen. I couldn't imagine if I had been there just a week before.   Here's a few photos from our little walk!

On our way home we visited the Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons....and boy was I glad that we did!   We spotted flocks of Tundra Swans, mallards, Redheads, Shovelers, Black Ducks, Buffleheads, and one of my all time favourites...the Ruddy Duck.  Most of the ducks were pretty far towards the back of the ponds, so unfortunately we got crappy photos!   Before this I had actually only seen one Ruddy Duck during the Toronto Christmas Bird Count, so you can only imagine my surprise when I counted a flock of 54!

Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, Redheads, Mallards, Blackducks, etc!


Ruddy Ducks in the background mixed in with some mallards

Shoveler in flight

We were then of course treated to a really beautiful sunset on the drive back home. Of course the photo wasn't without the trademark turbines.  I am still working on some photos from a trip to Illinois, so hopefully I can get those up and on here shortly!  

Until next time....happy naturing!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Life of the Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch Butterfly is probably one of the most well known butterfly in North America. It's beautiful, easily identifiable, and likely the most talked about as it is a species of Special Concern.  In fact, Monarchs are also the only insect to migrate over 2.500 miles each year!  More information on it's threats and status can be found on the Species at Risk Registry below.
Monarchs make their way into our lives every summer when they come up to Southern Canada and the USA.  During this short span of time there are 3 generations of Monarch.  Generation 1 is the group who migrated up from Mexico to breed, lay eggs then eventually have young form into a new butterfly.  The second generation is formed in the early spring.  They too will lay eggs, but the second generations life span only lasts generally the course of the summer.  Then, the third generation of Monarchs (fall generation), they leave us to winter in Central Mexico. 

I had the pleasure this past month to rear a Monarch from a caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly and it was such a wonderful experience! It's easy to do with a little knowledge on the butterflies biology and can be a great way to teach kids about nature. Since the population is at risk, rearing butterflies can also help to ensure the chrysalis isn't predated giving the butterfly a better chance at survival.

I first found the caterpillar while walking along the lakeshore while I was doing my last days of field work in August!  I was so excited to find it because after seeing one of my assistants rear a butterfly, I wanted so badly to do it myself! So I took the little guy home and placed him into a bucket with a lot of fresh milkweed.  Milkweed is the type oh plant that these caterpillars rely solely on.

Within a few days, I noticed that my caterpillar had attached itself to the stem of the milkweed.  Before I realized that he was preparing to change, I got a little freaked out thinking that he may be dying!  But no, they actually just...hang there!

Before I knew it he had changed into a chrysalis.

Monarchs will stay in this form for about two week. During this time you notice very small changes to the Chrysalis.  First I started noticing gold-ish shimmering speckles coming up in a rim along the top.  A few days later these also started showing up near the bottom too.  During the last week, I could slowly see the outlines of a butterfly forming within with hints of orange coming through the green chrysalis.  Then suddenly one day the butterfly was totally evident inside.

The very next day the Chrysalis turned a dark black colour.  I got really worried at this point, a little worried that the colour meant the butterfly hadn't survived.   Luckily there was no odor to that I could smell, which according to multiple Monarch websites means the Chrysalis had failed due to something called "black death syndrome".  Luckily some butterfly friends told me to keep an eye on it and that there were two options. either 1) this black death syndrome was true and within the next 24 hours it wouldn't hatch, or 2) it was preparing to come out.

Butterflies likely emerge from their chrysalis in the morning hours with the sun.  My little guy....he had no perception of time and I completely missed it!!  While I was brushing my teeth and doing my nightly routine he decided to come out.  Believe me when I say that I almost shreaked. I was utterly surprised at 12am to suddenly see a butterfly in my living room that wasn't there 10 minutes before when I went into do my routine.  I will have to be much more vigilant at watching next year!

Butterflies take approximately 3 hours after emerging for a butterfly to dry their wings before they can learn and start to fly.  I took an old fish tank I had and created a little terrarium for her to stay the night.  It seems like my fishnets have a purpose now other than the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween nights!  I also placed a few other things in there as you can see, such as: sticks to climb on, pieces of watermelon if she felt like eating (they contain natural sugars that butterflies need), and a sponge with some water.

The next morning I brought the butterfly to school.  My field assistant, Madison, had bought Monarch tags this year and so we made sure that this little gal didn't go without her tag!  The tag is placed on the butterflies underwing right in a certain cell.  To hold the butterfly you must make sure all 4 wing parts are held together.  The sticker is then placed into the cell and with one finger behind on the opposite wing pressed firmly but softly to ensure it is stuck and will not fall off.  We then wrote down the tag number, that it was wild but reared, and sexed it.  In this case, it's a female!

But how could we tell it was a female you ask?   Well, below you can see two photos. One is of my little butterfly (female) and the other is of an image I borrowed from the internet (a male).  The bottom one has something that the top doesn't, little black patches (where the little yellow arrow is pointing to).  Male butterflies have these patches on the veins of their upper wings because they contain pheromones, which are released in order to attract the females.

My Female Monarch
Example of a Male Monarch

After all the "data" part of the project was over, I took our little Monarch outside to let her go.  It took her about 10 minutes before she got really interested in wanting to fly!  Her first jump was a little bit of a doozy and she ended up in some grass, but her second try had her up and fluttering off into the distance.

Good luck flying south my fluttery friend!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bank Swallows

Well, time to try and play some more catch-up!

I've started my Masters at Trent University and this summer has been totally dedicated to the field work.  Working everyday and for long hours has pretty much put my blog posts on the back burner, which is unfortunate because there is just so much to talk about!

Bank Swallows have been practically consuming my life this summer...and I love it, no matter how tired I might be.  They are such cute, feisty, chatty, and interesting research subjects!  I'm surprised at the number of people I've met who know what they are....but as with anything you get the few people who hilariously ask "Oh...Are those the little brown things with wings?" ( happened).

For those of you not familiar with Bank Swallows, I'm going to use this post to discuss them a little bit!

In the field, Bank Swallows are primarily identified by their colouring.  They are a brownish-grey above and their belly and throat is white. Contrasting to the white on their underside is a dark breast-band.  They look most similar to Northern Rough-winged Swallows, however these do not have that distinct breast-band.

Bank Swallows breed throughout North America ranging from California to Alaska and over to the Maritime provinces and central States. During late-April and May birds begin to arrive on their breeding grounds where they make their nests and care for their young. Starting in late-July through to Mid-August birds begin to leave their breeding grounds and head south to Chile and northern Argentina.  To where we are, the best chance to see Bank Swallows would be at their colonies along the great lakes (particularly Erie and Ontario).

Bank Swallow Colony

It is absolutely adorable in late-June and early July when all the young are hanging their heads out of the burrow entrance!

Young hanging out on the edge of the burrow

Swallows in air
Bank Swallows are the smallest of the swallow species in North America and are found on almost every continent.  In the Americas they are called Bank Swallow (Riparia Riparia), but overseas are known as Sand Martins.  Combining these two names makes it really simple to figure out where they Sand Banks!  Natural habitat for them is along lakeshore and riverbank sand bluffs.  However, due to the hardening of shorelines (ex. humans trying to prevent erosion) the availability of natural habitat has been diminished.  Birds have been seeking habitat in more artificial settings such as gravel pits, quarries, and sometimes even soil piles.  Since these bird shave just been listed by Ontario as being Threatened under the ESA (Endangered Species Act, 2007), I am trying to see how important gravel pits are to these birds compared to their natural habitats.  Are these areas productive? Do they have ample food sources? Are the young as healthy and successful? 

All summer my assistants and I have been conducting video surveys, nest checking, mist netting and banding these birds to try and learn more.  Now that the field season is almost over, we have hours...and hours of videos to watch and bugs to ID!

Babies looking from inside a burrow