Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Spring Update

The mild weather of late has encouraged the first push of migrating birds, emerging mammals and some early spring plant life.

Just steps from the front door, the familiar snowdrops and crocuses are making their presence known. 

Spring birds are also beginning to trickle in.  Red-Winged Blackbirds are here in full force, colonizing territory around available wet and marshy areas.

Tundra swan migration started early this year.  However the odd flock continues to pass overhead from time to time.

Migrating ducks are here in good numbers.  One of our ponds is hosting ring-necked ducks in larger numbers than I have ever seen here.  Recently I counted 17, not a big number for some places but a good total for one pond around here.  A pair of hooded mergansers were present as well.  Hopefully they will nest on this pond again this year.

Two weekends ago, I visited Norfolk county with the Stratford Naturalists.  The main objective of this yearly trip is to see the tundra swans that congregate there on route to breeding grounds.  I thought that most of them might have passed through early this year due to the early mild spell in February.  However there were still plenty of swans around down there along with a wide variety of other waterfowl.  An early eastern phoebe also made a brief appearance.
Gaggle of Gadwall

I have made several recent trips to Stratford's TJ Dolan Natural Area in search of the long staying Tufted Titmouse.  A couple Titmouse (titmice?) showed up here last fall back during a Titmouse eruption here in southern Ontario when the species was showing up in areas not commonly found.  The first couple times that I went to look for the bird it eluded me, but the regular species are always fun to watch.

Last weekend, I decided to try again. Armed with more precise information on where it was commonly being seen, it wasn't long until I was setting eyes on my first Ontario Tufted Titmouse.

This afternoon, I decided to check out the West Perth Wetlands.  Highlights included my first Northern Shrike and a rare for this area Horned Grebe.
The coming weeks should bring some good sightings.

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Not-So-Seasonal Day in Algonquin

Yesterday afternoon was spent up north in Algonquin Park.  It was a trip that I had been interested in for a long time after reading several different blog posts on the winter species being seen up there. 

I arrived at the West Gate of Algonquin Park by early afternoon and after picking up a park permit, headed down toward the other end of the park to start the day at some of the best birding locations.  Not far along the highway, I spotted a small flock of birds feeding at the roadside.  After pulling over and several photos later, I had seen my first flock of Red Crossbills of the trip.

From there it was on to the Visitor Centre. 

All that remains of the moose carcase which at one time hosted a wide variety of species.

 My main target here was Evening Grosbeak.  They visited the home feeders at least once that I can remember many years ago, but I didn't have the same interest in birds and nature back then that I do now.  I was hoping for some good views of this species.  At the feeders, I quickly picked out several grosbeaks.  The large numbers that had been seen at the feeders didn't show up, but I was happy with the few that I saw.

Large flocks of goldfinches along with familiar faces from the feeders back home were also observed.  A pileated woodpecker was also heard somewhere out in the trees.

Many red squirrels were taking advantage of the birdseed buffet, a species I only rarely see at home.

The spruce bog boardwalk was the next location of interest for me and so that is where we went.  Arriving in the parking lot, we were immediately swamped by friendly black-capped chickadees and nuthatches.

Although great to see such close views of these familiar birds, I was hoping to see some more Algonquin specialties at some point along the trail. 

There was plenty of snow still around despite the 7 degree temperatures.

Partway along the trail, I heard what sounded suspiciously like a boreal chickadee.  Unfortunately it didn't come out into the open.  We reached the end of the trail and I decided to walk back over to the feeders in the hopes of one last chance at something new.  Arriving at the feeder, I immediately spotted a boreal chickadee just up ahead.  Unfortunately it didn't want to sit still long enough for a photo.  The cause of its nervousness became apparent as I watched a pine marten creeping through the branches and sending the birds into a fluster.  I turned my attention to the marten and got some great views.

Another photographer was there also snapping shots of the marten.  We got talking and I discovered he had travelled up from the Rondeau area.  To my surprise I found out it was fellow blogger Rondeau Ric.  It was great to finally put a face to the name.  Ric had obtained some excellent shots of the boreal chickadees before the marten showed up.

Ric suggested checking out Opiongo road for a chance at gray jays and Mew Lake Campground for close views of more pine martens.  Unfortunately both locations turned up empty for what I was looking for, but the afternoon had provided other great sightings so it was not a big lose. 

By this time it was getting late in the day and so rather than push for home the same day, the night was spent in Huntsville.

The drive home started with periods of heavy rain, but as we neared home, things cleared up.  I made a brief stop at the Nith River in Wellesley and picked up my first Common  Mergansers of the year. 


I had some free time upon arriving home and so I decided to revisit familiar territory and take a hike over the farm.  What a contrast from Algonquin.  Practically no snow left here and Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and Tundra Swan were around earlier than I ever remember seeing them.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Preparing for a New Season: Duck Box Cleanout

Mid to late winter marks a time that I look forward to every year, checking in and cleaning out various nest boxes over the farm.  I remember making the rounds to check the boxes with my dad and the excitement of what we might find inside.  It's been two years since he passed away, but it brings back happy memories to make the rounds every year. We have nine nest boxes located on multiple ponds and creeks on the property and this is the best time of year to check when the ice is solid enough to access them. 

Last weekend, I loaded my supplies onto the tractor and set off to start the cleanout.  I set up the ladder at the first box, climbed up and carefully opened the side.  I wasn't quite high enough to see right inside, so I raised the camera and took a couple pictures.   I was extremely surprised to see what I had found.

Although not an unusual occurrence in nest boxes, it has been many years since I have found an eastern screech owl in a box and this was the best view I have ever had of one.  It appeared to have been in residence for a while based on the pellets in the box.  Anyway, I didn't bother it and carefully closed the box back up, planning to come back and clean out later.  Based on what little I saw inside the box, it appears that there was indeed a successful duck nest last year based on shell fragments.

Not all boxes show the evidence of a successful season, and abandoned nests do occur.

The final box was also quite interesting.  It was an abandoned nest, but I found some different looking eggs in there along with the wood duck eggs.
Wood duck egg on left and hooded merganser on right.

After consulting my nest box guide, it appears they are the eggs of a hooded merganser.  Back in the summer of 2015 we had a successful batch of mergansers raised on that pond and I was fortunate enough to watch the hen with her seven ducklings swim over the pond.  I didn't see them last year, but apparently they had visited. 

The fun thing about cleaning out nest boxes is that you don't know what you might discover.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Post From the Past: Snowy Owl in June

Way back in June of 2012, I was informed of a snowy owl that had been spotted a couple blocks from home.  I was just starting to get interested in birds at the time and was eager to see a snowy, and yet had no idea at the time how unusual it was for one to still be around in June.  The drive out to see the bird was a successful one and I obtained multiple distant but identifiable photos of the species. 

Years went by and I remembered seeing the owl, but could no longer say for sure what time of year exactly.  Then yesterday, upon going through old pictures, I found my photos from that day with an attached date of June 17th 2012.  Now, years after the sighting, I can indeed say that I saw a summer snowy owl.  Recent examination of old ebird records also indicates that other observers saw the bird, which further helps confirm the sighting.

Snowy owl is not an unexpected species in this area during the winter months, but they don't seem to invade Perth county in the same numbers that they sometimes do elsewhere.  This makes every one seen, a special sighting.

I was curious to see how often snowy owl shows up in the general southern Ontario region in the winter compared to odd summer sightings like this.

The ebird map below shows submitted snowy owl reports between the months of November to April, the time of year when snowys are more common visitors.

And this map shows the records from May to October.  It's quite self explanatory.

Needless to say, I was very glad to have seen that owl back in 2012.  It was the first snowy that I had seen and the fact that I can now confirm that it was an odd time of year, makes it even more special.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016 Year in Review

Seeing that the end of the year is upon us, I thought I would put together a post of some of my nature highlights of the year.  Many of those are birds, but there are are many other aspects of the natural world that deserve to be included as well.  The following photos represent the highlights of various posts of each individual month.  Some photos are poor quality, but I associate with a memorable experience.  Some photos are of common species, but are ones that I feel show that species in a good way.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my posts over the past year and I have very much enjoyed following along on many other nature blogs.  I may not post as regularly this year as I have done in the past, but when I do, I will try my best to make it worth your while to read.  Best wishes for the new year and hopefully you will enjoy getting outdoors and discovering Ontario's birds and wildlife.


Harris Sparrow, Embro ON


Glaucous Gull: Avon River, Stratford ON

Great-Black-Backed Gull: Avon River, Stratford ON
Mallard/Black Duck hybrid: Avon River, Stratford ON

Bufflhead: West Perth Wetlands, Mitchell ON

Partially Leucistic American Robin: West Perth Wetlands, Mitchell ON

Northern Cardinal: Old Cut Field Station, Long Point ON

Lesser Scaup: Home farm, Amulree, ON

American Wigeon: Avon River, Stratford ON

Trumpeter Swan: Home farm, Amulree ON

Trumpeter Swans: Home farm, Amulree ON

American wigeon: Home farm, Amulree ON 
Moon: Home farm, Amulree ON
Fox sparrow, Home farm, Amulree ON


White-crowned sparrow, Home farm, Amulree ON

Marsh Marigold, Home farm, Amulree ON

Yellow-rumped warbler, Home farm, Amulree ON
Northern Mockingbird, Pennsylvania USA

White water lily, Pinery Provincial Park, ON

Common whitetail, Pinery Provincial Park, ON
White trilliums, Home farm, Amulree ON

Yellow warbler, Home farm, Amulree ON
Black swallowtail, Home farm, Amulree ON

Lady's slipper, Home farm, Amulree ON

Launching the canoe at Proulx lake, Algonquin Park ON

Common merganser family, Algonquin Park ON

Common loon, Algonquin Park ON

Viceroy, West Perth Wetlands, Mitchell ON

Painted Turtle, Point Pelee Provincial Park ON

Pipevine Swallowtail, Tennessee USA

Black Vulture, Tennessee USA

Summer tanager, Tennessee USA

American Snout butterfly, Tennessee USA

Five-lined skink, Tennessee USA
Bald eagle, Bird Studies Canada Headquarters, Long Point ON

Golden eagle, Bird Studies Canada Headquarters, Long Point ON

Autumn Scene, Home farm, Amulree ON

Mallard, Avon river, Stratford ON

Black-Capped Chickadee, Stratford ON

Rough-legged hawk, Stratford ON