Saturday, January 25, 2014

Neighbourhood in Chaos!

 We have a new friend in my Chatham neighbourhood! When I got back home a week or so ago I noticed that quite often, birds in the area would be in a panic, flocks of them out fly very fast past the window...strange isn't it!?  I figured something must be there scaring them off, whether a person or predator.

One day while sitting at the table I saw a flash of a larger bird going by following a flock of mourning doves.  I think I scared my parents by how fast I jumped from the table!  "IT"S BACK!  THE COOPERS HAWK IS BACK!" I screamed!  I remember last winter when I was home, I saw a Coopers hawk hanging around the neighbourhood, and that time it was in my tree!  Now, although I am not overly sure if it is actually the same one...I have a feeling it is!  You could say my Camera and Binos have been on high alert and stationed 24/7 on the kitchen table.

While outside one day I looked up and noticed a red-tailed hawk circling!  I was actually really surprised as I've never seen one around my home before.  It circled close over my house and then suddenly a second one joined in!  I'm not very good at ID'ing hawks at a distance...and unfortunately my hawk book is already packed away.  Based on it's tail (spread out and no barring) and wings, I know that it was different than the Coopers.  The tail had a reddish glean to it leaning me to choose Red-tail.

Two days ago, my dad and I came home from doing some chores and I spotted the Coopers Hawk in our neighbour's tree.  What a beautiful sight it was!  It stayed for a few minutes and let me take a few shots of it, but unfortunately flew off once I came a little too close to it.

I spotted the little guy today in the middle of a snowstorm perched on the back fence a few houses down.  I wanted to go take another photo but walking to a house and saying "Hi, I noticed a hawk in your backyard, I like 5 houses west of you...can I take a picture of it in your backyard?" was just a little bit creepy...

It has been so much fun looking out of different windows of my house and seeing flocks of birds scattering from a certain direction.  It is something that I think most people in my neighbourhood wouldn't think twice about, but now I (and even my parents!) think "oh hey, that hawk must be over there!".  It's been my latest source of entertainment being able to guess where abouts it is in the neighbourhood and even guessing by the flocks when it will fly over our house.  Let's say I haven't been getting too much packing accomplished...

Someone posted in a local site asking what to do in Chatham for the day, they were tired of only going to a skating rink. I replied to the post saying that it is an amazing day and we have many local places to walk and hike like Rondeau, Paxton's Bush, or St. Clair NWA.  The lady said "Oh that's always the same old".   This comment really struck me as being funny and strange. When I look in my backyard, that I have seen for the past 11 or so years, I barely ever see the same old thing.  Sure the same tree is there, the garden is in the same spot, but there is always something new to see.  I've been to Paxton's Bush ever since I was 6 and there is still always something new to experience, I guess you just have to be open to looking and seeing the differences.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Hoot of Time!

On Sunday I got a report of a Snowy Owl fairly close to my house.  I get all excited when these come in because it gives me a bit of a "starting point" when I want to head out and look for some.

When I got to the area the bird had been reported from...there was absolutely nothing. I parked on the roadside at various angles and searched with my binos everywhere...not a sign! I figured that I was already out here looking, so I may as well keep going!  I started to drive past Tilbury to a spot I remembered seeing one in the dark on my drive home from the Windsor Airport the week previous.  As I was driving and scanning the fields I suddenly noticed a bird flying!  My brain automatically assumed it was a crow (in tend to assume anything dark and flying is a crow..there's SO MANY OF THEM).  

I started to second guess myself when I was like "Shit...if that's a crow it has one hell of a wingspan, and is bicoloured...OMG IT'S A SNOWY OWL!!".  I hopped out of the car and watched in awe as it flew over. I had realized the true size of them before this moment.  Unfortunately I was in such a moment that I didn't take a photo. I drove over to where it landed in a nearby field and was able to spot it through my binos.  Of course it was smack in the middle of the field so the photo I was able to snap of it is the one below.  It adds a bit of a "game" to it...Instead of where's waldo it is where's the owl!.  With all the clumps of dirt and snow it certainly blends in well!
Snowy Owl in the middle of a field.
After a little while, I continued down the road and spotted this red-tailed hawk.

Red-Tailed Hawk

I continued up towards Lake St. Clair and zig-zagged my way through a variety of concessions to see if there was anything other than turbines around.  I spotted a flock fly across the road and land in a field. At first I assumed they would be snow buntings, but then with a closer look....horned larks!  First time seeing them this year.  I first ID'd these guys while working in farm fields and hearing their call. They would always dart away from me before I was able to find my binoculars to see what they were.
Flock of Horned Larks
 A little while later I was just north of Tilbury heading back towards Chatham when I spotted something out in one of the fields!  Pulled over and took a look hoping to find that it was another snowy owl (but meanwhile I was assuming it was just another large chunk of mud).  I was completely wrong!  It was actually a fox, curled up beside a frozen puddle, smack in the middle of the farm field!  I really wish that the fox was in focus and I could have zoomed the photo in a bit more.  It was really, really adorable!
Red Fox
It's funny. Having grown up in the Chatham-Kent area I always thought it was such a boring place that was just full of fields and nothingness.  Now when I come home with this appreciation for nature and addiction to constantly looking around me....I see that there is so much around us just have to look for it.  The same can go for almost anywhere.  So matter where you are or where you go...always keep your eyes open and your binos ready!

Happy Naturing!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winter Drive to St. Clair NWA

Well!  Finally home in Chatham and decided last Friday to take a little drive around the area.  I set out originally to find some Snowy Owls that might be around, but unfortunately had no luck!  But just because there were no Snowys, certainly didn't mean that it was a wasted trip, there were so many other birds that I was able to see, and firsts for this year!

I left Chatham and headed West towards Pain Court.  The first birds I saw were a flock of Snow Buntings!  They were very, very skittish around my car so I was unable to get an actual nice photo of them, but instead caught them in flight! Which is actually pretty amusing to see.

A little further down the road, the sound of vehicles passing flushed a pair of Northern Harriers! I was actually quite surprised to see them for some reason, but their flight patter and the iconic white rump patch gave them away almost instantly!

I then found myself practically right beside St. Clair National Wildlife Area.  As I worked here in the past, I've really fallen in love with this place.  It's really a Chatham-Kent Treasure that not many people actually know exists!  As I drove through the driveway, the first bird I spotted was a juvenile bald eagle.  I wish I had been able to see it from a little closer of a distance, but it was a pretty cool find either way!  Certainly much different looking than it's adult counterpart.

I continued along the trails towards the footbridge. I heard and saw a flock of Goldfinches fly by and land in nearby trees.  A Downy Woodpecker also began calling from high took quite a while to finally pinpoint where he was, even with the trees bare I find Downy's to be quite difficult to spot with their fast and almost constant movements.  While looking around in the same area, I spotted some little birds jumping around in the Phragmites. These ended up being American Tree Sparrows!  I held one of these in the hand this past fall while banding, so I was actually quite excited to spot one and ID it in the field by myself! 
American Tree Sparrow

I unfortunately had to turn around at the bridge so that I would be able to drive home while it was still fairly light out, but it was certainly a beautiful winter walk.   There were quite a few trails on the ice of various critters.  A particular track I was able to easily see were Turkey tracks (or possibly pheasant too I suppose!).  Looking around all else was seemingly still and quiet, just incredibly peaceful!
Hopefully I will be able to make it back there once more before the big move to Peterborough!  The drive home didn't have any Snowy's in sight either, but another trip yesterday did prove to be more successful!  Hopefully I'll get a few moments today or tomorrow for another post.

Happy Naturing!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Importance of Bird Banding

A few months ago I started a little volunteer gig to learn how to bird band with the great folks at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Banding Station.  We saw so many different birds here and it was not only an amazing learning experience for myself, but also for the public who often stopped in to the station and see what was up. 

In a previous post I mentioned that many people question the work that bird banding does, saying that it is an unnecessary way to gather information on our feather friends.  "Can't you just look at them?  Can't you just count their numbers from the roads or some other way?  Isn't there another way to gather this information without catching the birds and handling them causing stress?" Although banding does impose some stress on birds, the short answer is No.  The information gathered is vital to understanding their life history, threats, health, migration, and basically every aspect about them!
Banding sheet in public display about retrapped birds

I received an email from our Head Bander a while ago and wanted to share the information in it with everyone, it was amazing! I truly shows the importance of banding and the information that we are able to collect from this. The information was specific to Owls that had been banded, but the same information and importance can be crossed to any bird group!

  • On the 10th of Feb 1996 a Great Grey Owl was banded as an "After Second Year" bird in Alberta. On March 16th 2013 that owl was hit by a car.  Since it was banded, this code was entered into the database it was discovered that it was approx. 18 years and 9 months at the time it was killed. 
  • A female "After Hatch Year" Snowy owl banded on Jan 17th 1994, also in Alberta she was retrapped and released alive on the 23rd of Feb 2013.  That means she was 19yrs 7mths and still going!
  • A Barred owl, banded as a local in the nest, on the 24th of May 1986 was found dead, tangled in fishing line June 9th, 2010! This means that the Owl was 24 yrs old and did not die of natural causes! 
WOW Right!  The age these birds were found to be is outstanding. It means they were able to survive yearly elements, raise young, and found enough food to survive every year...amazing!  Without having been banded, we would have never been able to come across this information and much about bird life history and current threats would be still left unknown. 

TTP Banding Lab

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quick Trip to the Sault.

Happy 2014 Everyone! Hopefully everyone has had a great start to the New Year.

Drive out to Sault Ste. Marie
I started off the New Year with a quick trip to Sault Ste. Marie to visit some relatives. While there, of course, I tried to also get a wee bit of birding in!

We were able to visit some awesome family who took us on a snowmobile ride through the back bush of the Sault. I hadn't been on a Skidoo since I was super young, so it was really so much fun being back on one!  When we first started off we right away saw a Bald Eagle flying overhead while zooming under the powerlines.  Now, although they are not my favourite raptor, they are incredibly beautiful.  Later on the ride we came across a tree that had about 4-5 Bald Eagles perched in it! What a sight!  I was kicking myself that I had not brought my camera with me and it was so cold that my little powershot actually froze shut!  But, it was nice for once to actually just sit and watch.   There weren't too many other sightings, minus a few chick-a-dees and ravens, but I'm sure had the machines been quieter there would be a lot bustling back there!

Out on the Skidoo
View from the Skidoo rest stop!

 The last day we did a little bit of touristy things and although we didn't see too many birds I was able to get a nice shot of two!  The first stop was at the Sault Locks.  Here I was SO excited to see an Owl, that was oddly perched on top of a lamp post. Upon closer inspection it had a polka dot belly and was certainly made of plastic...oops!   Looking into the locks themselves there were a bundle of ducks diving and floating in the fast (and I mean really fast!) water.  We were finally able to spot one for a longer period of time to see that they were Goldeneye!  

Goldeneye in the Sault Locks
 Next stop was near the Roberta Bondar Tent Pavilion.  The snow was deep (and we had crappy boots on) but we managed to only see a few more Goldeneye and a flyby of some common Mergansers!

Common Merganser

That is about it for that trip!  We recently also took a stop at Kelly Lake here in Sudbury to look for the Gyrfalcons that had been reported but had no luck.  Seems like you need snowshoes to walk out to where they perch so looks like it may be a skunk for us!

Happy New Year and Happy Naturing!

Sault Moose!