Finally we get back to adding another saga to our birding days. Lately we’ve been busy with family events as well as trying to get out to see the spring migrants and saying adieu to the winter birds. Today the spring migrants are certainly showing up as the yard presently has about 50 small and larger brown birds madly hopping around, eating seeds and arguing as to who is the boss. White-throated sparrows have arrived in numbers today after one or two earlier in the week.
The American Tree sparrows are still around even as they are on their northward migration but I guess they will soon find the competition a bit more active as the other sparrows move in. There are presently White-throated, Field, Song and Chipping sparrows as well as several Dark-eyed juncos eating and flying around as I type. This Field sparrow is quite light coloured compared to the White-throated sparrow and can be identified further by its pink beak.
Along with these birds a Brown thrasher decided to join in the scratching and showed up today to check out whatever is hidden under the leaves in the yard. These thrashers have a fairly complex song of many musical notes that may be partially copied from other birds songs. We find it fun to listen to as well as use it as one of the true signs Spring is settling in.
Since our last blog entry we’ve birded around Bruce County, birded with our local birding club in Algonquin Park, checked out a few birds in Ottawa during our family Easter weekend gathering there. We’ve also started to watch the yard more carefully as new birds show up. Some don’t linger long as they are heading far to the north to raise a family before summer arrives. Sometimes the shorebirds don’t even stop en route heading north as they are eager to get the family started before the short summer disappears. We have seen Greater and lesser yellowlegs, Pectoral sandpipers, Spotted sandpipers so far and even had a visit from a Ruff less than an hours drive from us. Our first view of the Ruff was during a fairly heavy rain event and since the bird was fairly distant the photos aren’t great. The bird is still around near it’s original location where it was discovered and has had some nice photos taken of it as it forages and displays.
During our Algonquin hike we saw a nice flock of Evening grosbeaks at the visitor centre. These birds had been in that area in numbers this year but for the past few years have been almost absent in the Bruce County area. There have been a few small flocks seen but fairly rarely compared to several years ago. Twenty years ago they were a far more common sight here but overall their numbers have gone down, as is the case for many of the bird species.
Another friendly visitor in the park was a Gray jay that came to greet us and have a few snacks from some hands. Usually there are more of these jays out to socialise but presently the females are nesting and raising their young. These birds often are sitting on the nest during the snowy season but still only have 1 brood per year. There are interesting facts about the Gray jay at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Jay/lifehistory . These jays have been around a long time as they have recovered fossils from them dating to the Pleistocene era (18,000 years ago). The Gray jay has been recommended to be the national bird of Canada by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society after voting and discussion.
In Ottawa we usually stop by Britannia Park to have a stroll in the woods and see what birds inhabit the forest there as well as what new birds are showing up. It’s always wonderful to get up close to a duck that generally flees whenever people come close. The Wood ducks there are used to seeing people so they cruise by not bothered by the photographers that take advantage of that fact to get some nice colourful photos.
The Pileated woodpecker was busy tidying up a hole far up the side of an old tree to make it’s nest for the season and the Pine warblers were flitting around in the tops of the pine trees catching bugs and chasing each other. Every so often a Black-capped chickadee, White-breasted nuthatch, or a Downy woodpecker would land on a close branch looking for a handout of seeds. It’s a wonderful park in the city for a nice relaxing woodland walk.
Some birds have adapted well to a life in the city as we found when we took the grandchildren to the park to work off some of their energy. On the way back home we looked up and there was a Merlin staring at us from a tree right at eye level. We had heard them in the area but this was a close-up meeting with a beautiful bird of prey.
It flew down to the ground in front of me for a moment then back up into a low bush and then gave its typical Merlin call to its mate who was some distance away. After a few calls it decided to go looking and see what its mate was up to. It was a surprise meeting in the midst of Ottawa.
Back home again the cool weather continued but the numbers of Yellow-rumped warblers, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, and various sparrows continue to grow as the spring migration progresses. The American robins, Eastern phoebes, Common grackles and Red-winged blackbirds are busily carrying nesting material to get their new homes ready for this years brood. Our pair of local Bald eagles had their nest blow out of the tree after all their work of building a new nest this spring. Still determined to raise a family they hurriedly added some more material to some sticks that were left from their original nest site and appear to be ready to try and raise a family there. Hopefully the nest hold up if they are successful at hatching a chick or two.
As we have had more days of rain lately seasonal ponds in the fields are now attracting Greater and Lesser yellowlegs as they drop in for a few days on their way north to breed. These wet areas are also prime real estate for the many Wilsons snipe that make their homes in Bruce county. The snipe do blend in well with the grasses and mud but if you do spot one you can usually get a good photo as they stay perfectly still hoping to avoid detection. They are far easier to photograph when they pose like this.
In respect to water birds the Red-necked and Horned grebes are mostly changed to their breeding plumages now and although there are still winter gulls around (Glaucous and Great Black-backed) the Bonaparte gull that show up have their black head feathers in place and are looking quite different from their mostly white winter plumage.
Several of the Glaucous can still be seen here with both adult and juveniles present. When they catch the sunshine these while gulls sure do catch your eye. This species will probably disappear during May only to return again later in October.
We do have more sparrow photos now as well since they are steadily moving through to the north but I’ll save them for next time in case we don’t get too many good photos on our imminent trip to Colorado. I can’t imagine that happening but you just never know. So in closing we’ll include a photo of a sleepy Eastern Screech owl that was just too tired to even open its eyes when we took a few photos of it in Ottawa. These birds sure do blend in with their habitat nicely.
Happy Birding and for those of you in the northern hemisphere enjoy the spring birds as they arrive in their breeding colours. We’re also looking forward to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival in May that will be starting soon after we get back from our Colorado trip. Busy times ahead!!