Friday, 23 January 2015

Wood Duck Box Cleanout Part 1

This post is one that I had long hoped to do, but never seemed to have the time.  Every year, during the winter is the time of the wood duck nest box cleanout.  For years my dad and I would drive around to our ponds, cleaning out the boxes.  We used to put this off until it was getting plenty late in the winter.  It's better this time of year because the ice allows me to access boxes that I could not otherwise.  I thought that other birders would be interested to 'accompany' me on the project through this post. 

I arrived at our first pond nearest the house and home to two duck boxes.  If I sneak down here in the spring, I can regularly see wood duck life on this pond. 
I put my ladder against the pole of the first box and headed up.  Of course, it was at this point that I realized I had forgotten a pliers to open the box.  I quick trip to the shed and back, and I had the box open. 

This box had very little inside, but the few shell pieces I found told me that wood ducks had been in here at some point since last season. I replaced the old shavings with new, and moved to the next box.
Egg Shell

The next box at the other end of the pond was an interesting story. 

I found some egg shells under this, but clearly something inhabited the box after that clearly had a different diet than  a duck.  There's a good chance that this box contained an eastern screech owl.  I always open the boxes carefully and if lucky, might see a little owl snoozing inside.  I also found an owl pellet in the nest box material, confirming that there was an owl in here.  
The bits of feather and bone confirmed what it was.

I packed up and headed to the next pond.
My transportation between ponds.

I had to park a little ways from to next pond to avoid getting stuck.  It's sure good exercise to carry the ladder and pail of shavings through the snow.
  Parked at the pond.

This was probably one of the tallest boxes.  It's at least 10-12 feet high.  I had to clean it out carefully.  The boxes do not have to be this high, but it does allow for extra protection from predators.  I wasn't quite sure what happened at this nest.  There were a few eggs remaining in the box.  Perhaps it was only a partial hatch, or else none hatched at all.  It sometimes happens, but I'm not sure why.  This pond is one of the best for wildlife.  We are almost guaranteed to get wood ducks here.  I saw some young ducks here last year, so this pond clearly had some success.

The pond was entirely frozen which made for easy walking.  Last year, I remember cleaning the above box while a common goldeneye swam some distance off.  It was plenty late to be doing the boxes last year with the melting ice.

The second box was just as high, but I got the ladder up and got it opened up fine.
For some reason, this nest also had some eggs remaining.
I added the fresh shavings and decided to do one more box in the amount of daylight I had left.

The last box is here on the edge of the frozen ditchbank. 

 I opened it and this is what I saw.
This is the sign of a squirrel nest.  Luckily the squirrel was not home or I could have gotten him straight at my head when I cleaned it out.

On the way, back home, this happened.

It wouldn't be a Canadian winter without the odd stuck vehicle would it?  I was pulled out with the tractor and all was fine.

Anyway sorry for the long post.  Hope you enjoyed it.  I have four boxes left to check, meaning a part two is in the forecast sometime soon.  I'll conclude with some random pictures I took during the day.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Kind of a Random Post

It's been a while, so I thought I would write a little something to let you know that I'm still around and doing my best to keep this blog active. 

I've been busy lately with work at home as well as preparation for exams.  On top of that, it's naturally a slower time of year for birding and outdoor exploration.  Last Sunday, I did manage to make it to the Thames River in St. Marys.  The usual crowd of mallards, black ducks and canada geese was present.  I also saw four common mergansers, my first ones for this winter.  They can usually be counted on to show up at the larger rivers in our area around this time in the winter. 

Driving between St Marys and Tavistock yesterday, I saw a red-tailed hawk and my first rough-legged hawk.  I wish now that I had spent more time observing it, but when I saw it at first I didn't think anything about it.  Looking through the field guide when I arrived home, I noticed that there was limited variety around here for dark hawks.  Other field marks such as the light patches on the tail matched with rough legged, a common species around here, but a first for me since I started a life list. 

That being said, my life list on this blog is somewhat inaccurate.  There are birds that I have seen in the past before the life list came into being.  I have added some of them to the list in cases when I can confirm the identity.  However part of the fun for me is to 'refind' (if that's a word) some of these birds and then add them to the list.  I have seen common loons on Manitoulin Island in the past, but haven't put them on the life list because I live close enough to have the chance to visit manitoulin again sometime and then I have something to watch for.  Some birds from my trip to Alberta I have added here, because I don't get out west all that often.  It all boils down to how sure I am of the ID and how likely I am to see one again.

These mild days where the temperature hangs around one degree Celsius reminds me of those days to come this spring when birding is at it's best.  I admit I like winter, but it gives me something to look forward to.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Snow Day Feeder Watching

It's been a great start to my back to school week.  Monday was snow squalls and no school.  I was back to it on Tuesday and Wednesday (today) was another snow day.  We've had snow  most of the night and had a pretty decent covering this morning.  The roads are a mess.  I should know.  I was driving between farms helping my brother with the morning's barn chores.  I actually enjoyed getting up this morning and going out to the barn just knowing that I didn't have to go to school today. 

Lots of snow outside today!!

The feeders were really active this morning.  That's the way it usually is on these cold winter days.  I put in a good 25 minutes this morning observing the feeders.  I posted an Ebird checklist, but I just post my sightings here too to make it easier.

10:40am on Wednesday January 7th, 2015.
Duration: 25 minutes

2 common redpoll  (haven't had a huge number yet this year so it was great to see these guys)
1 house sparrow
1 house finch
2 american tree sparrow
2 black-capped chickadee
6 blue jay
4 northern cardinal
15 dark-eyed junco (slate coloured race)
30 american goldfinch
1 downy woodpecker
1 hairy woodpecker
1 red-bellied woodpecker
6 mourning dove
1 white breasted nuthatch
2 red breasted nuthatch
The downy munching on suet.

 Cold mourning dove.
Goldfinches perched in the crabapple tree in our yard.

The above two photos of the red-bellied were taken a week or so before we got this snow, but I figured that they were worth posting anyway.
And these pictures too were taken about a week ago, but I thought they were worth posting.  Cardinals are fun to photograph and it was interesting to see the cat's reaction to a visitor that rarely actually comes into the yard.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is that even on those cold winter days, birding can still be amazing.  Birds themselves are amazing.  I noticed that the goldfinches are starting to show just the slightest bit of colour change already.  An early sign of spring I guess.  As we continue to move forward into the new year, there should be more and more to see.  I'm hoping for some passing through visitors like the evening grosbeaks that sometimes show up late winter.  Time will tell. 
Have fun birding!!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Look Back on 2014 and Looking Ahead

Finally, I've managed to get blogging again.   I hope that everyone's had a great Christmas and New Years holiday.  I'm trying to make the most of mine before school starts again next week.My last year of high school is almost half over. . .  It's kind of a scary thought.

Anyway, this post is meant to review what happened in 2014, back before I started this blog.  Lets start of with with late winter and early spring.
Keeping the feeders filled meant that there was often something to watch there even when most of my usual areas were slow.

The Avon river in Stratford was typically a busy location even during the coldest months.  Lots of ducks stay around, many of them depending on handouts from locals.  Relatively new with my life list at the time, I picked up hooded and common mergansers and common goldeneyes during the early part of the year.

Later on in the spring and summer is when the action really began to pick up.  I made several lifer observations and learned a lot.

It started late in the spring when a Eurasian  Wigeon was sighted at the nearby Mitchell Sewage Lagoons (West Perth Wetlands).  The fact that it had been seen for several days had me itching to get out there with the binoculars.  I arrived with my parents on that day with high hopes.  I knew that a rarity like that was questionable as to how long it would stay in the area.  I scanned a group of American Wigeon with the binoculars and in the centre of the group I found him.  The reddish brown head and creamy patch on front made it obvious what I was seeing.  It was seen for about another day before it left and didn't come back.  But hey,  I saw it!!

My eurasian wigeon checklist-

The first half of the summer was filled with birding around home and raising monarch butterflies.  I added many bird species to my life list, but nothing unusual for this time and area.  I have always been fascinated with monarch butterflies and for the past few years have been raising some.  My dad and I built a cage a couple years back and I have raised multiple batches of larvae in it since.  My 2014 total monarchs raised and released was 12 females and 18 males.  I was happy with the total.  Next year my goal is to purchase and stick tags onto the butterflies that I release in the hopes that at least one might be recorded in Mexico.
                                         A small sample of my successful monarch year.

My family was shaken late in the summer when my dad passed away.  I found that the outdoors was a very healing environment and I still turn to it when I am feeling low.

Early fall was when my mom and I took  a visit to Point Pelee.  I had been there once before and was interested in visiting again.  I was not disappointed.  I highly recommend Pelee for a visit if any of you get the opportunity.  I would like to mention that the pictures I show you from the Pelee area were taken by a friend that I met this fall, Frank Shepley.  I met him at Hillman marsh just outside of Pelee and at Holiday Beach Conservation Area.

We arrived on a Friday night and went straight to the motel for the night.  The following morning we headed off in the Pelee direction.  On the way, we stopped to look for a rarity that had only recently been seen in the area and seemed to be hanging around, a Eurasian Collared Dove.  I realise that many of you reading this will be unimpressed.  Eurasian Collared Doves are rapidly advancing across North America.  However Ontario only has a small handful of records of the species.  They are more common in recent years, but exciting nonetheless.  Maybe someday they will establish themselves here as a common species, but I was still thrilled to spot the two doves perched together on the power line.

We left the doves and headed for Point Pelee National Park where we spent the morning.  Nothing especially unusual.  There were plenty of wood ducks in the marsh and the trees thick with warblers and ruby throated hummers.  The pelee tip had surprising amounts of double-crested cormorants, at least 1000.  They were constantly flying over and landing in the water far off shore.  The monarchs had also arrived and were resting in trees along the beach.  We saw at least 100 in our 15 minute walk.  I wonder if any of the ones I released were there.

After Pelee, we visited Hillman Marsh.  Great egrets, great blue herons, ring-billed gulls and more cormorants were the most common form of bird life.  I did see a duck out in the water that proved to be a female bufflehead.  It was considered rare for this time of year according to Ebird.
                                             Frank takes some beautifully clear photos

The last stage of the Pelee trip was a visit to Holiday Beach Conservation Area during the hawk festival.  This seems to be one of the best times to visit the area.  The numerous hawks soaring overhead and experienced birders spotting and willing to point out the species was an added bonus.  It was here that I put together one of my largest ebird checklists in a long time.

 I was excited to see two of the several snowy egrets that had recently been visiting the area.  This was another lifer species.  Luckily Frank was there and got an excellent photo of the birds.

He also took an unusual photo of a great blue heron sharing a rock with a muskrat/beaver??
                                                         Beautiful looking birds

I will end my series of pictures with some nice closeups of a birds of prey display at Holiday.  Thanks again Frank.
Please remember these photos are property of Frank Shepley

This marks the close of my major events of the year.  Let's hope for another great birding year in 2015.
Happy Birding!!