Saturday, May 6, 2017

It's Gonna Be May

Before we got too far into May, I wanted to make sure that I got at least one blog in for April! With a thesis handed in and marking over, I've been trying to take at least a little bit of time to myself to get out and do some of the things I love (like birding and photography) and for once without feeling guilty about it!

Our backyard has been incredibly busy the last little while.  Pine Siskins and Purple Finches have come back in numbers, American Goldfinches have molted becoming brighter, and a few other species have slowly started to trickle back!  Last week, we saw our first of the year (FOY) Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and White-crowned Sparrow!

Fox Sparrow
Molting American Finch.  Dull colours out, bright yellow and black in!
While in my driveway one day, I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker bounding through the backyard.  I sat in my car watching it for a few moments before noticing it actually enter a cavity. So you know what that means....I COULD have young woodpeckers to report on at some point this summer!!  The cavity is a perfect view from my driveway, so it'll be easy to keep tabs on with my binoculars.  If there are any young, I'll be able to use my scope to get a photo later in the summer.  Also visiting still....are Evening Grosbeaks! 
Male Evening Grosbeak
Female Evening Grosbeak
Pileated Woodpecker
Driving around the last week I was able to get up close and person to an adorable Ruffed Grouse! I sat down on some grass to snap a few photos of her and to my surprise, she continued to walk closer and closer to me!  It was an amazing experience to be able to see her up close, listen to soft little clucks she made, and eventually she wandered off continuing to forage.

All around the Parry Sound county I've begun seeing Hooded Mergansers, many of them even taking up nests. Other waterfowl that have been common lately have been Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, 
Hooded Merganser female (left) and male (right)
Wood Duck females (outer two) and males (inner two)

There are two pastures close to our house in Carling and they almost always have something exciting on them. During April, one of these pastures had a flock of 25 Snow Geese (pretty rare to actually find in Parry Sound!) and also my first Red-shouldered Hawk! The second pasture is closer to Killbear Provincial Park.  During April I would often see Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese, but two visits found some awesome birds!  During one visit, I saw my FOY (first-of-year) Eastern Meadowlark and Northern Harrier, while another visit I found my first Great Egret for the year and county!  

Eastern Meadowlark in tree

Great Egret

During the last weekend of April, we finally had a day that was sunny, warm, AND not raining (it's been a very soggy spring!). My partner and I took off to hike a few of the local trails and see what migrants have been trickling in.  Our first trail was absolutely beautiful. We got our FOY Brown Creeper, Swamp Sparrow, and every shrub was fluttering with Butter Butts (or Yellow-rumped Warblers).

Yellow-rumped Warbler showing its "butter butt"

Whatcha lookin' at?

We then drove towards a local heronry to see if any herons had claimed nests for this upcoming breeding season. To my surprise we only saw three herons!  The sight, however, was absolutely beautiful.  I've always seen heronries from the roadside, so it was amazing to see one that was a hike in.

Great-Blue Heron on a nest from last year
The heronry also provided me with my first painted turtle of the year and some beautiful spring flowers, including a Red Trillium.

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)
Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana)
Our final stop was a beautiful wetland.  With all the rain we have been getting water levels were incredibly high, in fact, much of the path was underwater.  
View of the pond

View of the pond from outlook
Birds here were relatively the same as our other sites that day, minus a high number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing around us!  These little guys are always so difficult to photograph as they are always bouncing from one branch to the next. I was so excited to have finally captured a photo of one and it, so say the least, is a little awkward! 

April has been an incredibly busy month and May will only be busier as I prepare for my defence. Here's hoping that I get out at least a few time birding....that is if it ever stops raining!

Mike waving hi while near Simms Lake
Classic wispy pines of Georgian Bay

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Winter Weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park

Well, all blogs at this point are way long over-due...but hey, my thesis is officially submitted! So, while I wait for a defence date, let's try and catch up on the last few months.

Snowshoeing Algonquin Park

During the weekend of March 11th, I took a break from thesis edits, work, and well a computer screen in general, and heading over to Algonquin Provincial Park for some winter birding with some of my labmates from Trent University.  Throughout the winter I’ve been seeing so many posts from friends and on Ontario Birds Facebook Page about the great species that can be found here during the winter time.  We also wanted to visit the Wildlife Research Station and see if we could watch some of the Gray Jay work that was being done. With the winter we have been having, mind you, I didn’t expect it to be -25 most of the time we were there!  While we didn’t see many of the species we were hoping to (Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, and an illusive Boreal Chickadee), we were able to get in some great species.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bundled up
Saturday we started out by visiting the Visitors Centre where there were a number of Evening Grosbeaks present!  I have been used to seeing a flock os 19 or so at our bird feeder in Parry Sound, but seeing a flock of 50 was an amazing sight (and sound!).  During one of our stops at the VC, we spotted my first ever Red Crossbill (male and female) feeding on the road.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks at VC Feeder

Red Crossbill

We then visited both the Opeongo Road and Spruce Bog trail to see if we could spot some Boreal Chickadees, Black-backed Woodpecker, or Spruce Grouse.  Unfortunately, we weren't lucky and saw none of them!  While we didn't see any of these species, we did spend quite a bit of time having fun feeding chickadees and even a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Ariel and a Chickadee

Bev Vs. Chickadee staring contest

The main purpose of this trip was to tag along with some fellow friends from the University of Guelph who are there studying Gray Jays.  It is a little embarrassing for me to admit that I had never seen a Gray Jay (except for one about 1km away), so this was especially exciting for me!

Field site panorama
It was an incredibly cold day when we hiked out to search for Gray Jays.  We went to a variety of sites throughout Algonquin Part and were able to find one pair (plus a young from last year).  They met us quite a distance away from their nesting area and followed us all the way along.  We then spent just a little bit of time trying to determine where their nesting this year so that the researchers will be able to go back and measure the reproductive success of the nest this year! Much of the research being done here at the park focuses on hypotheses as to why the Gray Jay population has been declining in the park.  Studies on quantity and quality of food caches with relation to climate change and reproductive success are just some of the questions being asked.  To read more about the research, check out the links at the bottom of this page.

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FINALLY a close encounter!
Maybe the Gray Jays are over there?
I had only been to Algonquin Park once before this in the summer. Winter was like a whole different world here, and since we were not interior camping this time it was great to be able to explore some of the day trails.  While I don't have a "favourite" per say, they were all wonderful for their own unique reason.  The Spruce Bog Trail was an amazing way to get up close and personal with some feeding birds, especially with the suet feeder being there.  The Big Pines trail, an old logged area of the park, was absolutely stunning in the winter.  Old moose prints could be seen throughout the trail and towering pine trees were giants amongst what could be considered the "regrowth" of old logging.

Big Pines

Suet feeder at Spruce Bog

Group photo at Spruce Bog Trail!
Our last stop of the day was back to Opeongo Trail where in previous days there was a report of a Great Gray Owl.  While we didn't see that, we did spot a flock of White-winged Crossbills and a few more Gray Jays who were quite eager to grab some peanuts.

Hiking down and around Opeongo Road
Gray Jay with colour bands for ID

To read more in depth about the research being conducted on Gray Jays at Algonquin Park, visit the Norris lab:

Calling all Gray Jays
Follow the Gray Jay researchers on twitter at:

You can also follow all the research going on at the Wildlife Research Station at Algonquin Park by following them on twitter:

Moon rising on Spruce Bog Trail

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Project FeederWatch 2016: New Year, New Update

It is a new year, which means that it is also a new month for Project FeederWatch in my backyard, just north of Parry Sound, Ontario.

Pileated Woodpecker on tree in the backyard
Since the last update the Parry Sound region was pelted with about two-weeks of constant snow.  It was crazy!  I saw that with the large amounts of snow in the region my bird feeders just started getting more and more active.

Snow banks along our driveway (FYI, I am 5'1)

Panorama of our winter wonderland

The snow brought large amounts of American Goldfinches to the backyard, at times numbering close to 60.  For a week before Christmas holidays, a lone European Starling even added itself to our feederwatch lists.  It was even a new species for our backyard in general.  A single American Tree Sparrow has also been seen off and on the last few weeks, however it has not been seen since the new year. A single Pileated Woodpecker, though not at our feeder, was also seen within the range of where I count!

Starling and Downey Woodpecker on Suet
American Tree Sparrow

Purple Finches have been in and out of our backyard but not reaching the same numbers that they did last year.  However even still with this number and with the number of Goldfinches, I have been able to do a little more with FeederWatch than in previous years.  Project FeederWatch is not only about counting birds at your feeders, for example my previous post explored a new behavioural monitoring initiative that looks into bird interactions at feeders. Another form of monitoring that is part of this citizen science project is House Finch Eye Disease.

Winter has set in and so have the Goldfinches!

This avian disease was first noticed by FeederWatchers in the D.C. area and since has spread throughout much of the Eastern USA.  This disease can affect House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak.  By adding additional information on whether or not you see signs of this disease on these species within your counts, helps increase the amount of information gathered on the spread of disease and how much of the population it may be affecting.  To learn more on this and see photos of what it looks like click here.  Research has shown that bird feeders likely have attributed to the spread of this disease, however there are easy ways to help combat this and lower this threat to your feeder birds.  One of these is washing your feeder a few times a year with a diluted bleach solution.

While we haven't had many exciting "new" birds at our feeder, we have had some very exciting predators! The first predator to grace our backyard was a Northern Shrike!  We heard it's call from the tree tops and then got to watch it whip around the feeder area.  We did not see it catch any birds as prey, but it was very exciting to watch!

Northern Shrike waiting to strike
The second predator only came two days ago.  While working away at my desk (which faces our backyard and bird feeders) a flurry of action suddenly occurred. I was surprised to look up and see a Barred owl staring into my window from the closest tree!  I assume that it attempted to catch one of our local squirrels.  It quickly retreated into a tree further away and settled in for a half hour.  The funny thing about owls is that you could have absolutely no idea that it is there.  Had it not attempted to catch a squirrel, it is quite possible that I would have not even noticed it!

Barred Owl watching our feeders

Red Squirrel...likely traumatized ;)

The final predator to visit our feeder was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  This was the first one I witnessed successfully depredate our feeder, flying off with an American Goldfinch in its talons.  Perhaps it will be back another day so I can take a photo!

White-breasted Nuthatch on suet feeder

The last observation I have for you all is a little bit funny!  We have a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that visit our feeders every day.  Even though we have two suet feeders available for them, they still prefer to feed from our regular bird feeders!  While they normally hang off the edge and feed as other birds do, the odd time I have found them below the feeder and drilling into the bottom!!  I wasn't sure whether to be angry that it was damaging my feeders or incredibly impressed at its problem solving skills!
Hairy Woodpecker drilling at feeder bottom

That's all I have to update for now! If you are interested in joining FeederWatch for this year, it still isn't too late to sign up! Visit this link to learn more or sign up:

Barred Owl overlooking our feeders