Summer Moves into Autumn

It’s been a while since I sat down and got a few photos together to show how summer has been progressing in our lives. During the summer months the birds are busy feeding and caring for their young so as you have seen from previous blogs we’ve expanded a bit to include whatever subject comes along. Starting off this “end of summer” edition brings one of our snake friends that often come out to bask in the sun to get their body temperature up before they go hunting for breakfast. We have two of these Northern water snakes that you can count on for a photo or two as they warm up in the morning.

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These snakes can be brown, grey, reddish-brown or black so they can have quite different appearances. They have the dark stripes and blotches on their bodies and I’m sure someone could even think they are looking at a Massassauga Rattlesnake if they aren’t looking carefully enough. This next photo shows the blotchy patterns on the Northern water snake so when you do come across a snake in the wild stay still and have a good look at it before coming to any quick conclusion as to its identity. These snakes are non-venomous but can look quite impressive as they can grow up to 135 cm long.

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All snakes are beneficial in that they consume many of the pests in nature and help keep a good balance in other species. The Lake Erie water snake eats the invasive Round gobie that makes up about 90% of the snakes diet. Water snakes are similar to Garter snakes in that they give birth to live snakes instead of laying eggs as many other snake species do.

Often in a flower garden you will see a movement that appears to be a hummingbird feeding at a flower. Taking a closer look will reveal not a bird at all but a Hummingbird Clearwing moth. This moth will visit the flowers sipping nectar with its proboscis similar to the many butterflies that will be visiting the yard during the summer. The first photo

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shows the typical colour of the moths as well as why they are called “clearwings” The second photo shows the moth happily sipping away at a Butterfly bush flower.

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Some of these Hummingbird moths come in different sizes, as well, as there are about 125 subspecies of the Hummingbird moth in North America. When you see some movement in the garden have a good look as it could be a moth instead of a hummingbird coming to visit the blooms on your flowers. Another moth that is not as obvious is pictured in the following photo. Its wingspan is only about 18 mm so this one

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is not nearly as noticeable as the Hummingbird moth but still quite photogenic! When you see these you will find there is a mint plant not far away as that is what the caterpillar of this moth likes to eat, thus the name Orange Mint moth. No matter what the size of some of these moths they can certainly give a photographer a great opportunity.

As August moves along shorebirds that migrated north in the early spring begin to start their migration back to their southern wintering grounds. Since we aren’t on a direct migration path and since many birds don’t waste much time stopping here after fattening up in more northern spots like the James Bay mud flats we only see a small number of these birds here. Sometimes we do get a treat and a rare migrant will stop by for a few days as did this juvenile Red knot. It was foraging along the shore of a local pond and thanks to an eBird entry by the birder who saw the bird first several more of us in the area were able to see and photograph this interesting shorebird.

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The juvenile Red knots are grey in colour so not quite as obvious as their parents that will have a much redder breast especially in breeding season. These birds have quite the migration as they fly about 15,000 kms from their Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego near the tip of South America. Due to this long migration they don’t often grace us with their presence so it was a treat to see the juvenile that dropped in for a few days.

As Anne-Marie and I cruise the roads looking for interesting birds or other nature subjects to photograph an interesting photo op will pop up and catch our attention

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as did this field of sunflowers. As the whole field of them point towards the sun it makes a colourful, happy photo to include with our blog. We also appreciate these flowers, as they are the basis for most of the winter food that keeps our feathered friends healthy through the cold winter months.

This year has been a very good year for the Monarch butterflies. Hopefully the many that did hatch and grow up in this area will make it to Mexico safely for their winter rest.

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These amazing insects start out quite small when they hatch but in two weeks of eating various species of milkweed they then turn into a pupa for about 10 days. After that the

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adult Monarch emerges from the chrysalis and lives for 4 to 6 weeks to lay eggs and start the process over. If it is the late summer generation, these butterflies will live for 6 to 7 months over wintering thousands of kilometres away in Mexico. I covered much of this in the last blog but it is still an amazing story for this interesting insect.

Another shorebird that shows up around this time of year is the Semipalmated plover. Often again the juveniles are working their way south and stop to fuel up for a few days along the shore of various area ponds. This is probably the first time in their lives they have seen humans so often you can close enough for a good photo of these interesting

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little shorebirds. Along their migration routes they are often seen in flocks of thousands of birds but usually in this area we see three of four at a time foraging along mudflats.

This year our birding club had a real treat thanks to our youngest birding club member Kiah Jasper. On the way to our BBC hike he spotted three Glossy ibis foraging in a field with Canada geese. Once we heard the news we quickly headed off to the field Kiah had seen the birds in. The Glossy ibis were still there and we had great views for quite some time as the binoculars, scopes and cameras were quite busy.

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This following photo shows a size comparison in respect to a Canada goose. The three of them didn’t seem to mind the attention of all the observers as they found lunch.

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Eventually something did come along that got their attention. As we all watched, all of the birds in the field lifted off and soon a Bald eagle cleared the hill so we knew what had gotten their attention. The three ibis flew around a bit but didn’t land again in the same field and we watched them disappear past some trees as they headed for a safer place to eat.

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The Paisley Fall Fair provided us with an opportunity to see some birds up close that we seldom if ever see in the wild. Wild Ontario (based out of the University of Guelph) had a display that included several of their birds that can’t be returned to the wild. A view of

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a Gyrfalcon in the wild is rare as they are a northern bird but a close-up view like you see here will not be something that happens in the wild. These birds are the largest falcons in the world and are rare visitors to southern Ontario in the winter months.

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Another bird that is a bit more common in this area but heard more than actually seen is the Barred owl. It is one of the owls that hunts nocturnally so unless you come across one roosting quietly in a tree during the day you won’t often see one.

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Owls are interesting birds to hear and observe and hopefully as the winter months close in we’ll get the opportunity to see a few Snowy owls in the local area. The Snowy owls hunt in the day or night so your chances of seeing them are much better.

As well as seeing many birds this year I also got to experience a bit of what a bird feels as it cruises in the air. A hot air balloon ride that I was a bit concerned about initially

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turned into an amazing experience as we flew with the wind for about an hour. The balloon ranged from 400 to 2400 feet in altitude during the flight and other than excited chatter from the passengers and the odd blast of the burners it was an amazing, quiet experience.

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We did see some birds along the way but it was tough trying to identify them as you see them from the top instead of the bottom or side views that we normally observe. If you get a chance go for a flight, as I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Back to birds again with my feet firmly on the ground, or in a car as was the case here, I observed a juvenile Red-tailed hawk intently watching the grassy hollow as it perched on a post along the road. It wasn’t bothered by my approach so it gave me the rare opportunity to get some close photos of a wild Red-tail.

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Eventually the hawk gave up its hunt as no mice appeared for lunch. The next photo is one I’m sure most people have seen just before the bird takes to the air ……and after it had blown off a bit of extra ballast :).

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The next day at home we had a few visitors to the point to the north of us. Three Sanderlings stopped by on their way south to check out the rocks for tasty morsels to refuel on. I had the opportunity to get close for some good photos as they went about there business of eating.

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These were in their winter colours already. The black beak and legs and the black and white feathers are the colours most people see when they head to the sunny south in the winter. These birds are often running along the shore picking up little bits that wash up along the shores of the ocean.

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In the spring they are a bit browner but still exhibit the same type of feeding activity as they run along, seldom staying still for long.

Autumn now has officially arrived in this blog as we head to Long point for the Ontario Field Ornithologists annual convention and hike weekend. The heat of the weekend was a bit of a bother as birds weren’t out in numbers but there were still a few that graced us with their presence. This warbler shown below it typical of many warblers in the fall as

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its appearance is totally different from the blacker breeding colours of the spring Blackpoll. Several of the warblers look quite similar at this time of the year so it usually takes a bit of discussion among the birders to verify what you are looking at. The following photo is a male Blackpoll warbler in its spring breeding colours.

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As we hiked along one or two of the group would alert the rest of us to bird movement and we would zero in hoping for a chance at a photo or two. This Red-bellied woodpecker stopped long enough to give us a good view but then moved along

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hoping to find something to eat. Whenever the birds were hiding because of the heat the butterflies were out enjoying it and searching for just the best flower to sample.

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This Great Spangled Fritillary stopped long enough for a nice view as it moved around on the yellow Swamp milkweed plant. Out by the roadway a Silver Spotted skipper feasted on a clover bloom and didn’t mind the heat of the day at all!

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Several Painted Ladies (of the butterfly variety) 🙂 were also working their way along the side of the road. This year millions of these butterflies have made their presence know all across Canada and the USA. It is indeed a good year for Painted Ladies!

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The birds that were out were keeping close to the shade and the water. A good bath was what this Least sandpiper used to beat the heat. It was really having a good bath when

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we first saw it and we weren’t even sure what species it was. After it came out to preen and dry out a bit the yellow legs, small size and black beak gave us a positive ID.

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On one of our hikes a bird floating on the water looked initially like an immature gull until someone scoped it and realised it was a Jaeger. The morning sun wasn’t great for viewing but eventually the bird took to the air and proceeded to fly low directly overhead (to the point my large lens couldn’t get a good photo). It was classified as a Parasitic Jaeger and we got to add another bird to our life list.

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I’ll start winding down this blog edition for now and continue on with the rest of our fall adventures in another update…. very soon hopefully. Back home we saw this nice male 12 spotted skimmer perched and waiting for a photo. The juveniles and females actually have 12 spots and the adult male has those 12 and another collection of white spots among the 12, really setting it off.

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The birds around home are getting prepared for the colder months ahead and are all decked out in their new fall feathers now. They look quite nice compared to the

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worn summer and moult period as you can see from this Northern cardinal. The Hairy woodpecker does indeed enjoy the peanut feeder and will be a regular visitor when the snow flies again.

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I’ll sign off for now but get back soon with the continuing saga of Bob and Anne-Marie Birding days as the fall migration continues!

Happy Birding and enjoy all of the beauty nature has to offer!

One thought on “Summer Moves into Autumn

  1. Thank you for that wonderful synopsis of your adventures birding. I particularly liked the 2 photos of the Blackpoll Warbler and was amazed at the complete change of garb.
    Pam B


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