As April comes along so do the spring rains to bring the vegetation back to life. As well as the vegetation the worms and bugs start to show up and you know what that means…….BIRDs….!!! Much to the chagrin of photographers like us the birds love to arrive when the weather makes the day overcast, wet and tough to get good photos but they are indeed arriving. The birds that spent the summer here or much farther to the north are coming back all dressed in their best colours and ready to start a new generation of our feathered friends!
Our winter birds are starting to disappear from the area but it’s hard to say goodbye to the Snowy owls as they begin to show up fewer in numbers in the area. It was an amazing year for them but as the snow goes so does the Snowy owl. Replacing these
birds in respect to the photos opportunities they present is tough. Most of the other owls are nocturnal or so well camouflaged that they seldom show up in our photos anyway! In place of them the colourful warblers will be our main subjects for photos in the next few months. The one main problem with that decision is the “posing factor”. Snowy owls will sit for minutes, hours, or sometimes most of the day while warblers usually sit for milliseconds, so it’s time to tune up the reflexes and get ready for some action. Our first warbler of the year was this Yellow-rumped warbler
that appeared in the misty rain today. Not a great photo but it shows off the yellow and white of the Myrtle subspecies of this warbler. The Audubon subspecies has yellow under the throat and is not found as often in the east of the country. Soon more of the warblers will begin to appear as they chase the bugs from branch to branch and leaf to leaf. The trees will literally be alive with action. Good luck to you photographers bent on getting something other than a butt shot or an empty branch as the bird is usually faster than the shutter :).
Now that the fields are clear of snow the birds that make the pastures their homes are also starting to show up in numbers. The Eastern meadowlark is another beautiful bird that sometimes tough to get a photo of. They operate much like hawks
and when you close in on them they make a hasty retreat in the opposite direction. The males with their bright yellow do make quite a colourful statement in the drab pastures. Other bright birds that are now appearing in numbers are the male Wood ducks. Often they are also tough to get photos of but sometimes everything lines up and you get lucky. The Mallard in this photo Is no slouch in respect to colours
either but often we overlook it as their numbers here make it a very common duck. When I talk to my brother who lives on the Pacific shore he speaks about the common Harlequin ducks there and sends me photos of the rare Mallards that sometimes show up on his shore. The Mallards aren’t that keen on salt water so the habitat in Canada makes quite a difference as to what birds are either a common or a rare sight in your area.
This time of year other life starts to reappear and get ready to start a new generation as well. The Spring peepers can now be heard trilling away when dark arrives and the Spotted salamanders that live in our area have come out of hiding with the first warm spring rain. They head to the swamp to mate and get the new generation started before heading back underground or under logs to repeat the process again the next year. These salamanders can live up to 30 years but I’m sure
only a small portion of their offspring will survive to keep their numbers from dwindling too low. Habitat loss and traffic near their migration paths can have quite a detrimental affect on the salamander populations.
Some of the migratory birds stop for a refuelling before continuing on to their mating grounds in the far north. This year we were fortunate enough to get a few photos of 5 Ross’s geese as they foraged in a field among some Herring and Ring-billed gulls.
As you can see from the photo these geese are about the same size as the Herring gulls and are surprisingly difficult to pick out when they are in a field of gulls. Anne-Marie noticed their extra whiteness so we were able to stop and enjoy seeing them during their short stopover. Canvasback ducks are another species that breeds to the north and west of us so seeing a few up fairly close was another special treat for us a few days ago. The very long and sloped bill on these ducks makes identifying them
from a distance a fairly easy task. Their bodies are a lot lighter colour than the Redheads they often accompany and it makes it easier to pick them out of a crowd. In this case they were on their own so although the day wasn’t great for photos it was good enough to be able to see the bright red of the birds eye.
One of the cheerful early migrants is the Golden-crowned kinglet. These little birds appear just about the same time the bugs appear and are continually hopping from
one branch to the next in search of dinner. After 30 or 40 photos you might get one showing the colourful crown in all its glory. This photo only shows the yellow on the head but the centre section has bright orange that is sometimes raised giving the kinglet quite a colourful appearance. The Ruby-crowned kinglet is another bird with a bright red crown feather that can be raised at times but is usually a bit later to show up than the Golden-crowned. Those bits of bright colour help to give a good start to spring until the warblers in all their glory bring the trees alive with colour.
Sometimes as you search for new birds in the spring you come across an unexpected bonus. In my case it was a Eurasian Tree sparrow that just happened to be sitting in a tree beside where I parked to check out the Port Elgin harbour. It was in a small tree with a Song sparrow so I decided to snap a few photos not knowing initially what I was even taking a photo of. As I got closer to the tree I realised what species I was looking
at. We had seen one a year ago up near Red Bay and another one a year earlier in Niagara. This time it just sat there not worrying about anything until some construction equipment at the harbour started up and flushed both birds. As with most bird meetings it was a short but sweet encounter. These birds are common in Europe and Asia and were introduced to America near St Louis, Missouri in 1870. The population didn’t spread the way the House sparrow population did and is still generally localized around the St Louis area. It always pays to look carefully at any bird you see as surprises do pop up :).
As the local birds begin to mate and set up their nest we see our visible local Bald eagle population change a bit. At Baie du Dore where we often see 20 to 40 Bald eagles in the winter we now see a lack of eagle with the white heads and tales. The adults have gone a bit further inland to nest and get their families started so the ones left to put in their time during the summer are the juvenile birds. There are still several of them as you can see from this photo taken recently at Baie du Dore.
There were a few more juveniles on rocks along the shore when we arrived at the bay. They would regularly go for a cruise low over the water scaring up the ducks as they passed, hoping to get one that was injured or slower than the rest to have for lunch. At the present time there is an ample supply of fish in the bay so the eagles weren’t too persistent on catching a duck or two.
The spring is also a time for other visitors to the bird feeders or at least where the bird feeders were during the winter months. This Racoon was intent on scraping up whatever seeds were left uneaten and from the size of wasn’t suffering from any malnutrition at the time. It didn’t stick around to cause any more havoc
in the yard during the night but these animals can certainly find their way into any food source that they come across. Hopefully it will stick to the woods and keep healthy as it tries to find whatever kind of food it can scrape up.
I guess that’s about it for now but hopefully soon the warblers will arrive and we’ll have more photos and information to share with all of you! This Hermit thrush that visited today is one of the furtive birds that tries to visit without letting you know it’s here. Spring seems to have sprung …….at least a bit and hopefully soon the thermometer will make it up to the double digit area as the days get longer and the sun gets stronger.
Until next time…..Happy Birding and Happy Spring.