Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Return of Waterfowl

Winter mallards at Avon River, Stratford
The warm weather of spring seems to turn a birder's mind to thoughts of . . . spring migrants.  This is the beginning of one of my favorite times in the birding year when the snow begins to melt creating ponds in the fields.  These flooded patches make excellent viewing of some of my favorite birds, the waterfowl.  I am fascinated by birds of all kinds, but waterfowl for some reason are special.  Basic waterfowl are easily recognizable by birders and non-birders alike.  They're fun to watch and photograph.   And they are one of the first major group of birds to return to Canada in the spring arriving just as the snow begins to retreat, long before other birds like the warblers.

This time of year is the last chance in my area to see certain ducks as they are usually only passing through.  The buffleheads, goldeneyes and mergansers for example can occur throughout winter and early spring and then they mostly leave our area until the fall and winter months.

These are not all spring pictures of waterfowl, but I decided to share them anyway.
Canada Geese at the Avon River- Stratford, Ontario

Unusual Coloured speculum on this duck.  Not sure what it is, probably some type of cross.
Distant Common Goldeneye on home farm, Perth County Ontario.

American Coot- Avon River, Stratford Ontario
Mallard pair-Avon River, Stratford, Ontario

American Wigeon- Avon River, Stratford Ontario
The ducks and geese aren't the only marsh life returning to breeding grounds around here.  Red-wings and grackles have arrived in full force and are singing away.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Birding Illinois USA

I have just returned from a five day trip into the United States.  Most of the trip was spent visiting friends in Illinois, but I also managed to visit several birding hotspots, mainly lock and dam 13, a bald eagle hotspot in winter and early spring.  My ebird list is available here.

Before the visit to the locks, I got a chance to take a walk in a natural area in the town of Peoria Illinois.  I added tufted titmouse to my list.  I'm kind of embarrassed that it's taken me this long to add a species that is quite common in North America.  For some reason they just are not a common occurrence in Perth County, Ontario where I live.

Two days later, I managed to visit the Lock and Dam 13 on the Illinois-Iowa border of the Mississippi River

The view of the locks from the Illinois side of the river.

A friend who was with us, got some excellent pictures of the eagles, but I unfortunately I did not think to ask permission for them, so you will have to deal with my binocular-scoped-phone pics.

I was surprised when the first flock of greater white fronted geese flew over.  For about 10 minutes the flocks flew steadily over the Mississippi.  At least 1000 birds flew over in this brief period of time.  I had never seen this species of goose before and it was a real surprise to have these massive flocks to scan.
It's difficult to see, but I took a picture of one of those many flocks.

I also heard the distinctive rumbling call of a sandhill crane, a species that has been recently observed here.

The view of an old windmill not far from the locks.

I ended the trip with 4 more species on my lifelist: bald eagle, tufted titmouse, greater-white fronts and sandhill crane.  The eagles and cranes can hardly be considered lifers, but I saw these birds a long time ago before I started my lifelist and I feel good having seen them again recently. 

The birding in this area can be amazing if you get the chance to visit the area.  In the winter, the bald eagles congregate on the open water around the dams in the hundreds.

I missed seeing the canvasbacks which were also apparently around during the time I was there.  I have been trying to add cans to my life list for a long time.  They are not very common in my area of Ontario.  I had considered trying to find them along the St Clair river where they have been commonly reported in the winter, but by the time we had crossed into Canada, I was tired and ready to get home.

This warmer spring weather continues to bring in new migrants.  Good luck birding.

Monday, 9 March 2015

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Spring

It was quite a change today to be outdoors in weather that actually climbed above the freezing mark.  With the sun out and hardly any wind, it was a great day to be outdoors.  The birds were singing strong and it would have been ideal for a birding walk.  Of course, work and school came first today.  However, this semester I managed to get a co op placement working at home on the farm in the afternoon.  It meant I had to work, but I also had time to take some pictures during my chores.

It was interesting watching these wild turkeys wade through the snow.

 I had to shovel off the trampoline before it collapsed under weight of the snow.

Cat got in the way :)

And then there's those tiny signs of spring.  Like the beginning of little buds.
I'm always trying to learn new ways to take decent quality pictures with the camera equipment that I have (cell phone camera and digital camera).  It's not great for long distance shots (like the turkeys), but it will do me for now.  I'm not ready to buy a fancy camera right now, but someday maybe. 

My mom and I have business tomorrow that will bring us down in the area of Long Point.  While down there I hope to visit the bird observatory just outside of the park.  It's too early for much in migrants yet, but I'm still looking forward to visiting a new birding location.

Enjoy the springlike weather.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Wood Duck Box Cleanout Part 2

Last weekend I finally decided that with a break in our unseasonably cold weather, I should clean out the remainder of the wood duck boxes on our property.  I was really looking forward to preparing the boxes and bringing along my camera to take lots of pictures for the blog. 

Well, things did not turn out the way I had hoped.  The snow was so deep that I attempted to take the snowmobile and tie a ladder onto the back.  The problem was, the drifts were too deep for even the snowmobile and I spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to dig out a stuck snowmobile twice.  Both, times I had to give up and call my brother and the tracter to fight through the snow to pull me out.  Luckily the tractor did not get stuck either time.  On a more positive note however, I got three of the four remaining boxes cleaned and ready for the spring breeding season.  The final one is in an area that I can easily get to when the snow melts.  I was on my way to it when I got stuck the second time and after finally getting out, was not in the mood to deal with it.  When I get to it, I will include the findings from that box sometime in another post.

The first box of the day was on my brother's pond on the farm next door.  While there, I took a picture of the same scene I photograped last summer, it made for an interesting comparison. 
When I got the box open, it became clear that whatever had lived in there last, it was not a wood duck.  The amount of grassy stems is not a duck nest.  Wood duck hens pluck down from the breast and together with the shavings is all they need. 

The next duck boxes that I hope to put up will not be quite as high :)
It was after this that I got stuck for the first time trying to turn the snowmobile around.  That took time to warm up the tractor in the cold weather and get through the snow without ending up with a stuck snowmobile and tractor. 

With the snowmobile free, I moved on to a box on the edge of a ditch between our farms.

There was not much in here, but a few feathers signified some type of raptor, screech owl or american kestrel maybe at some point.

The third box was apparently one of the most successful from last year.
The thick down from the hen and bits of shell were signs of a good hatch.
 After this I got stuck on my way to the final box.  By the time my brother had pulled me out for the second time, I was ready to call it a day.  But that last box is not forgotten and I plan to return to it hopefully before the ducks do. 

So overall, it wasn't a great day, but I am happy that I managed to get several boxes done.  The wood ducks are always an incredible sign of spring and I hope to continue to manage these boxes and continue to have wood ducks nesting on our farm for a long time to come.