As an amazing February came to a close it now seems like winter in Bruce County is just a fading memory. The Red-winged blackbirds are singing and displaying, some American robins are singing (but not too loudly yet) and just yesterday we saw our first Eastern bluebird. Even though there will still be a few cold days ahead we are certainly seeing the return of some of the migratory birds :).
Before I get too carried away with all the talk of the arrival of spring and warmer weather I’d better cover our last few weeks. With the lack of snow this past few weeks it was quite easy to talk ourselves into heading out on the road in search of birds in the area. One of the local birds that we have been keeping an eye on is the Bald eagle pair that is building a new nest on the 6th concession of Bruce. Unfortunately during the winter their old nest blew down during a particularly nasty wind and initially it appeared that they would rebuild this spring in the same location. After seeing a few sticks build up in the old tree it was noted that another nest was starting to be built just to the east of the original one. We did see the eagles sitting on both sites at one time but soon the new nest site got the nod and work began on getting the nest done for a family this year. This photo was taken on February 10 2017 when the new construction was noticed.
After a few weeks it’s easy to see the progress these large birds can make as they bring in sticks that would even be a challenge for us to fit into a nest form. From a distance it’s hard to perceive the actual size of their nest but when you see the birds in it working away it gives a better idea as to just how large a nest Bald eagles do build. As per information from the National Eagle Centre webpage:
these nests can be on average 4 to 5 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet deep. Each year the pair can add 1 to 2 feet of new material to the nest as the nest building is part of their bonding process. The largest nest documented in Florida was 9.5 feet in diameter, 20 feet deep and weighed almost 3 tons. It’s easy to see how the tree can get a bit stressed as the nest grows from year to year. Here’s a photo of the nest on February 27 2017 and they are still adding sticks as I publish this blog.
As the Bald eagles prepare for their planned family other birds arrive to see if they can think about pairing up and getting the nesting business started as well. Red-winged blackbirds can now be heard almost everywhere you stop the car and they are trilling and showing their colours as they practice for when the females show up a bit later.
American robins have also shown up both to stay and also in numbers as they migrate farther north. At time in the fields you can see flocks of up to 100 foraging on the ground as they eat what they can before heading farther north as the lack of snow cover allows. This American robin was relaxing after eating several cold berries on a cold day in February. I think it was looking forward to the 16 C weather we would get later in the month.
Accompanying the robins while they were eating up the berries was a flock of Cedar waxwings. There were some sitting in a tree relaxing after eating and there were others flying from bush to bush as they gorged on the berries they found there.
Some Cedar waxwings do stay in this area all year round if they can find enough to eat but some also migrate as well so we don’t often see as many this time of year. When we do see them they are most often in flocks as they search for berries and fruit to eat. As a comparison we also sometimes see Bohemian waxwings during the winter months as they also search for food to sustain them. They migrate much further north and we are basically on the southern edge of their winter migration so only some winters we’ll have the good fortune to see a flock of Bohemian waxwings swoop down on bushes or trees to ravage the fruit they find there. This flock we saw was resting after having a drink of water from a nearby stream. Soon they were off again in search of more food.
You can see the differences in these birds as the Bohemians have a rusty colour under their tails and grey breasts compared to the Cedar waxwings lighter colour under their tail and the brown of their breasts. Both of these waxwings can certainly make a photographer happy as they pose nicely and don’t seem to mind a bit of attention.
A bird that always reminds me of spring is the Tundra swan. This time of year they are heading north to their breeding grounds in the far north of Canada in large numbers. In a field near Grand Bend there can be thousands of these birds as they stop to refuel on the waste corn before continuing their journey to the north. This year probably due to the warmer temperatures in February that migration is at least two weeks ahead of schedule and lately we’ve seen flocks of 20 to 30 Tundra swans flying or foraging in local flooded fields along with Canada geese and a variety of migrating ducks.
These large birds can provide a magnificent view as they take off from a field, cruise to a landing or even as they chatter among themselves while foraging and arguing in a field. If you check out the flocks carefully sometimes you can also pick out a Trumpeter swan that sometimes will accompany the Tundras. The Trumpeter swans are our largest native waterfowl and can be up to twice the size of the Tundra swans. They were at one time endangered but are starting to recover with help from breeding programs. These birds also migrate to the far north of Canada to breed.
Even with the arrival of spring we often see reminders that winter isn’t that far away as we travel the sideroads of Bruce County. Often we come across flocks of Snow buntings and one flock we saw lately must have included at least 10000 birds. It was amazing to see the birds swoop, land, eat, and soon take off, only land again not afar away and continue the process. These flocks often contain Lapland longspurs and Horned larks which I’ve chatted about in previous blogs. Another bird that we often come across now is the Snowy owl. Soon they will be gone so I’ll post another photo of one here, as last month was a time when there were many of these beautiful owls in the area. We’re not sure why so many have picked a small area to relax in for a while but they do at times seem to disappear, only to reappear in numbers a few days later.
On one of our tours to the north of Bruce County (it takes about 2 hours to drive from the south end of the county to the north tip) we came across some birds we hadn’t seen before. Pine grosbeaks again are ones that spend the summer far to the north of us so this time of year is our only opportunity to see them close to home. Where we live the land is usually too open for these birds as they prefer treed areas, as they live and breed in the Boreal forest during the summer months. The northern part of the county has much more tree cover and is more to these birds liking.
The Males are red as you can see from the above photo and the females and immature birds have russet colours on their heads and backs. Some can also have some reddish in place of the russet colour.
It was exciting to see these birds as well as have them stop close enough to us for a photo or two. You just never know what might show up when you head out on the road.
I guess for now I’ll sign off and see what I can find in the days ahead to add to our spring bird list. This time of year is always exciting as the sounds of birds begin to fill the air again. It starts to make me check the calendar to see what birding plans we have in the coming months. Usually April and May are the prime months for the migratory birds to arrive but early birds are always welcome and make our view of the yard just that much more interesting as something new shows up at the bird feeders or along the hedge bottom.
If you do have the urge to get out and enjoy nature but aren’t sure where to go don’t forget the Huron Fringe Birding Festival in May and June. With knowledgeable leaders and many parts of Bruce County to explore it’s a wonderful opportunity to get out and have a breath of good fresh country air!!
Until next time……Happy Birding .