On Sunday Deb and I went birding together. It had been a while since she’s been able to get out, so she was missing out on a lot of new spring arrivals; I suggested we head out to the Dunrobin area which has been very productive so far this spring. We got lucky on some of the back roads where we spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perching on a telephone pole right next to the road and a pair of bluebirds checking out a bluebird house in the same area. Savannah Sparrows were singing on fence posts, an Eastern Meadowlark was singing on a telephone wire right above the road, and Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead.
Sometimes nature puts on a show so spectacular that even those who are only vaguely aware that there is a wonderful, wild world beyond the technology-obsessed, glass and concrete cityscape take notice. This happened last week when millions of migratory butterflies journeyed north from their wintering grounds in the United States and invaded Eastern Canada, descending on city parks, green spaces and backyards to the astonishment of many. I received notice of this mass migration on Monday, April 16th from fellow OFNC member and University of Ottawa biologist Maxim Larrivée, who sent an email out to me and several other butterfly enthusiasts advising that thousands of migrating Red Admirals, American Ladies and Question Marks had been reported that day as far north as Brampton, Ontario. Maxim is a postdoctoral fellow leading the Canadian Butterfly and Global Change research at the Canadian Facility for Ecoinformatics Research and has been working hard with U of O biologist Jeremy Kerr to develop an online database similar to eBird for citizen scientists to report their sightings. This database, appropriately named eButterfly, has only been live for a few weeks now.
On Saturday morning I headed out west to Dunrobin again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail first, as usual. I tallied 18 species on my walk, more than I’ve seen there on a single visit so far this year; highlights include Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Bufflehead, three female Hooded Mergansers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, one Common Grackle, four Purple Finches, four Tree Swallows, and one Eastern Phoebe. Both the Tree Swallows and the phoebe were new for Sarsparilla this year, and both were flycatching over the large pond. I first noticed the phoebe when it landed in the dead tree closest to the observation dock, although it quickly flew off to a more distant snag. Surprisingly, I didn’t see or hear a single sparrow at Sarsaparilla. The juncos seemed to have disappeared and the Swamp Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows haven’t arrived yet.
After a long week of sunny but cool weather and a strong north wind which brought migration to a halt, Friday was warm with a high of 16°C. I couldn’t afford to take the afternoon off to look for bird and butterflies so I spent an hour and a half at Hurdman instead. Not surprisingly, I found no new birds and very few individuals; city workers were noisily clearing downed trees along the feeder path, which may have sent any birds that were around scurrying for cover.
Easter Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and I found it terribly amusing that the first mammal I saw (other than the usual squirrels sitting on my back deck waiting for me to feed them) was an Eastern Cottontail rabbit near the storm water management ponds in my subdivision. This is the first rabbit I’ve seen since early January when one spent a couple of weeks hanging around my street, so I got out of the car to take a few pictures. As it was Easter Sunday, I was briefly tempted to go up to him to see if he’d laid any Cadbury chocolate Easter eggs; then I decided that to do so would seriously damage any credibility I may have gained as an amateur naturalist!
Saturday was supposed to be sunny as well, but thick clouds moved in late in the morning and that same cold north wind kept temperatures in the single digits. I started the day off with a walk at Jack Pine Trail where I hoped to photograph the Winter Wren. I didn’t hear him in his usual spot behind the OFNC feeder, but when I heard the chickadees calling excitedly a little further down the path I discovered a juvenile accipiter flying over the marsh. It dove into the cattails but failed to catch anything; it emerged from the vegetation and landed on a tree branch with its back to me. Then he turned his head and saw me, and I saw the yellow eyes of an immature bird. He flew off before I could see any features that would identify him.
I have blogged before about the nest cams hosted by the BioDiversity Research Institute in Maine, USA. The BRI’s mission is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. Its website is one of the most reliable for wildlife webcams, and it is well-known for its eagle and loon cams which have been in operation for a few years now.
This year, it has four web cams in operation (the loon cam is currently off-line as the loons nest later in the season):
This year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is hosting two webcams for the first time from its location in Ithaca, New York.
The Great Blue Heron nest is in a large, dead white oak in the middle of Sapsucker Woods pond, right outside the Cornell Lab’s Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity. Herons have nested here since summer 2009, hatching and fledging four young each year and raising them on a steady diet of fish and frogs. The nest itself is nearly four feet across and a foot deep, and wraps almost entirely around the trunk of the tree. The birds have slowly built up the nest over the last three years. Neither of the birds is banded, so we don’t know how old they are.
On April 6th the female laid the fifth and final egg. Both parents share incubation duties for 25-30 days. Hatch should occur sometime during the last week of April when the young hatch asynchronously over 2-5 days. After hatching, it’ll take 7-8 weeks before they fly from the nest for the first time. You can see the heron nest cam here:
The Red-tailed Hawk nest is located on a light pole 80 feet above Cornell University’s athletic fields on Tower Road. These hawks have nested here for at least the past four years; in 2012 the lab installed a camera to get a better look at these majestic birds as they raise their young amid the bustle of a busy campus. So far, they have recorded the birds bringing prey such as voles, squirrels, and pigeons to the nest. The female, nicknamed “Big Red” in honor of her alma mater, was banded in nearby Brooktondale, New York, during her first autumn in 2003, making her nearly nine years old. The male, nicknamed “Ezra” after the co-founder of Cornell University, was first banded in 2006 as an adult bird, making him is at least seven years old. Big Red laid her third and final egg on March 22. Incubation lasts 28-35 days, so hatch should be around the week of April 13. You can see the Red-tailed Hawk nest cam here:
April is finally here. This is the month when it truly begins to feel like spring, yet Mother Nature played a cruel April Fool’s trick on us by sending us a mix of snow and rain on Sunday morning. I managed to get in an hour’s worth of birding before the gray skies began spitting snow, starting first at Sarsaparilla Trail where I found a male Wood Duck, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a male Bufflehead, and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks on the pond. This was the first Bufflehead I had seen here, bringing the total number of species observed to 75 – up 15 from the 60 I reported in my blog entry about Sarsaparilla Trail.