Friday, 29 January 2016

Checking out Nest Boxes.

We have a variety of bird boxes in place over our farm and this is the time of year when I am usually out and about checking on them.  As natural cavities become less common, many species that depend on them do very well in man-made nest boxes.  The species we mainly target here on the farm are the wood ducks, eastern bluebirds, tree swallows and northern flickers.

Wood Ducks
 Many of the wood duck boxes are only accessible this time of year due to the frozen ponds so I take advantage of the cold weather to clean them out from last year and put in fresh shavings.

 The wood duck is probably the most commonly known  duck nest box user, but bufflehead, common goldeneye and hooded merganser will also make use of them.  Usually the wood duck is the only one nesting in our area of Ontario, but last year a batch of hooded mergansers was raised on one of our ponds.

Unusual species sometimes make themselves at home in the boxes and screech owls and squirrels are quite common.  It is more unusual to find a hibernating raccoon like I did in this box. This is also a sign that the box needs repairs.  

We have had many successful wood duck hatches over the years.  The photo below shows a duck nest with a mouse nest build overtop later.  This duck nest was successful as hatched shell fragments can be seen among the nest materials and were evident as I cleaned it out.

But with success, comes the occasional abandoned nest.
 I clean out last years nest material and replace with fresh shavings, not sawdust as it  could cause newly hatched ducklings to suffocate.

Notice the wear on the pieces under the hole made by years of ducklings using them to climb out.

Bluebirds and Tree Swallows
I also cleaned out other boxes I come across. 

Tree Swallow
The nest below is characteristic of a tree swallow, but bluebirds and chickadees have also been known to nest in the boxes.

Tree swallows use feathers found in the general area to build their nests, making them fairly easy to recognize.  

Tree swallow nest with egg.

Note the baby tree swallows in the middle of the mass of feathers
The empty nest.
I do not have any photos of bluebird nests as they are less frequent nesters on the farm.  However they do take up residence in a box from time to time and their nests of fine grasses are also quite easy to identify.

Northern Flicker

I have not yet observed flickers actually using the boxes, but flickers are residents here during the nesting season and so I am always hopeful. 


 It is not just the birds that can make use of a box.  This one was put up in the hopes of encouraging our local bat population.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Harris's Sparrow in Oxford County

Birders in southern Ontario may have heard about the long staying Harris's sparrow, just outside of Embro in Oxford county.  The bird was only a 25 minute drive from home for me and considering that it has been hanging around since November, I hoped to add it to my life list before it decided to move on.  Unfurtunately I did not pick the most pleasant day.  The car temperature read -11C on my way there and a recent snowstorm made the roads rather slick which slowed me down somewhat. 

Nevertheless I arrived at the property and immediately started scanning the birds.  In a phone call with the landowner that morning, he described where the sparrow was commonly being seen and I positioned myself in a corner of the yard where I could see the feeder and the ground underneath where plenty of juncos and american tree sparrows were hanging out. 

I did not see the sparrow right away, but decided to wait it out.  The usual yard species presented themselves and I added goldfinch, downy woodpecker, cardinal, mourning dove, blue jay, american crow (flyover), house sparrow and white-breasted nuthatch.  But there was no harris's sparrow to be seen. The wind chill did not make the cold temperatures any more pleasant.  I ended up returning to the vehicle for warmer gloves which made operating a scope more clumsy, but provided a bit more insulation.

40 minutes into the watch and I was considering leaving for home when an unusual sparrow landed on the ground.  I got on it with the scope and watched in picking around under and on the feeder.  I quickly pulled off my gloves and attempted a couple phone scoped shots for identification purposes.  They are pretty poor quality, but do confirm my sighting.
Seeing the bird made my frozen fingers worthwhile.  It was a great sighting and my first new bird on my life list for 2016.