Green Heron Fishing

Green Heron

Green Heron

On the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend we got to leave work early. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to bring my birding gear and head out to Mud Lake after lunch. Migration is well under way now, and there’s no better place in the city to take it all in than Mud Lake – particularly since it’s one of the few places I can get by bus during the week. I knew I had plenty of time to wander around before my express bus to Kanata started running, so instead of going straight to Mud Lake, I took the 87 to the base of Woodroffe Avenue and walked across the parkway to the Deschenes Rapids lookout. Only four days ago I’d spotted an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree above the small inlet here during my morning bus ride – an awesome bird for my bus list, and the main reason why I decided to start my afternoon adventure here.

Even though the eagle was long gone, there was lots to see. I walked into the small woodlot along the east side of the inlet and heard the chip notes of a couple of warblers flitting about in the trees. I started pishing and was pleased when a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Northern Parula popped into view. There were a few other birds moving about in the canopy, but I wasn’t able to identify them as all I could see were their silhouettes.

My attention was distracted by a large fly which buzzed by me and landed on a leaf; I was happy when I recognized it as a hover fly, although it wasn’t a species I had seen before. The stripes on the abdomen and the fuzzy yellow hairs surrounding each segment were intriguing, and I was able to identify it later as Sericomyia militaris, a hover fly with no common name. It was great to add a new species to my photo life list.

Hover Fly (Sericomyia militaris)

Hover Fly (Sericomyia militaris)

At the gravel spit I found several Ring-billed Gulls and Mallards resting near the water. I didn’t want to walk across the rocks to the parking lot, so I made my way back through the small stand of trees. I heard a Warbling Vireo and a Song Sparrow singing along the way, and when I checked the shore of the river on the west side I saw more Ring-billed Gulls – and this immature Herring Gull. Its large size made it stand out from the other gulls, as did the predominantly brown colouration. What interested me were the black feathers surrounding each eye – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

There wasn’t much else of interest at the lookout, so I continued walking west toward the small stormwater pond, and entered the conservation area at the southeast corner. I didn’t see many birds as I walked north toward the filtration plant, but a small open area on the eastern shore of the lake proved productive for insects. This is likely because there were so many flowers in bloom, including Purple Loosestrife, Broadleaf Arrowhead, and Spotted Jewelweed.

Spotted Jewelweed

Spotted Jewelweed

There were also some lovely Forget-me-nots in bloom:

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

My best insect find was a tiny Fragile Forktail flying low in the short vegetation. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one at Mud Lake, so I followed it around for a bit, hoping to get some interesting photos. I like this one of him on a Smartweed flower.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

A butterfly fluttering in the area caught my attention, and when it landed I was thrilled to see a wonderfully fresh Eastern Comma.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

A few Sweat Bees were looking for pollen in the Purple Loosestrife flowers, and one eventually landed on a leaf where I was able to photograph it. While some of these small, metallic bees are completely green, this individual has a black-and-yellow striped abdomen. Sweat Bees are fairly common in the summer and are important pollinators as they take pollen from a variety of plants, particularly those with flowers that are too small for larger bees. They are also attracted to human perspiration, and are named for their habit of alighting on bare skin in order to collect the salts contained in human sweat. However, they are not aggressive and most will simply fly off it you brush it off. Males do not sting, and the pain from a sting of a female is said to be minimal.

Sweat Bee

Sweat Bee (Agapostemon sp.)

A few White-faced Meadowhawks were also taking advantage of the insects buzzing about, perching on plants while waiting for a suitable prey item to fly within reach. I also found a couple of Slender Spreadwings, identifiable by its proportions alone.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

I didn’t see any Common Yellowthroats in this location, but a Song Sparrow was quick to pop up and voice its displeasure with me.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

From there I headed to the path behind the filtration plant where I found a couple of bluets in tandem (possibly Tule Bluets) and a Garter Snake basking in the sun.

Garter Snake

Garter Snake

A few Powdered Dancers were also sitting on the trail, including this blue form female.

Powdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

Once I reached the lawn near the five spruce trees I started seeing more migrants in the vegetation. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was feeding on some berries right above the area where this Magnolia Warbler was foraging for insects.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

The Magnolia Warbler proceeded to pluck a small grub or caterpillar from beneath a leaf and eat it:

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Nashville Warbler, and a Canada Warbler were among the same flock. The Nashville Warbler was searching for bugs in the vegetation close to the ground, where it is most commonly seen, while the Yellow-rumps and the Canada Warbler were flitting in the trees overhead. I was happy to see the Canada Warbler as it was a year bird for me.

From there I headed up to the ridge which was equally productive. A few Black-and-white Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, another Nashville Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and at least three Northern Parulas were all foraging happily in the trees. I was quite happy to see all the activity right in the middle of the day – usually early morning and evening are the best times for birding, but perhaps because these birds were all migrating they needed to spend as much daylight as possible gathering food for the journey ahead.

A Scarlet Tanager, either a female or an immature bird, was perching in the shrubs on the slope leading down to the small swampy area. It’s not often I see these birds out in the open; they breed in the forest where they spend a lot of their time in the canopy. I really wanted to get a good picture of the tanager as I don’t have very many pictures of this species. Unfortunately the sun was almost directly behind the bird, and this was the best I could do with the backlighting:

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

While I was walking down the ridge I saw a large darner fly by overhead. I stopped to watch it, and eventually it landed in a shrub where I was able to identify it as a Lance-tipped Darner.

Lance-tipped Darner

Lance-tipped Darner

A Black-and-white Warbler was kind enough to perch out in the open as well:

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

From there I headed through the western sumac field toward the gate in the southwestern corner. Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, another Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a couple of Cape May Warblers, several Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Great Crested Flycatcher were all busy flitting among the trees and calling from the vegetation. Two American Redstarts were also still present; these are one of the first warbler species to disappear in September.

In the woods I heard an Eastern Wood-pewee and saw an Ovenbird, a species that is only found at Mud Lake during migration. I also saw a pair of Cedar Waxwings feeding three newly fledged young – it seems late in the year for these birds to still be tending their offspring, but then Chris Lewis and I saw a Cedar Waxwing still sitting on a nest in early August at Britannia last year!

I stopped by the observation platform from which I could see numerous Wood Ducks and Canada Geese swimming with a couple of Hooded Mergansers. A Turkey Vulture flying over was a nice surprise, and a Great Blue Heron was fishing on a stump or a log in the middle of the lake, bringing my tally up to three. I thought that this would be my only heron species of the day, but when I checked the small bay in the southwest corner I found this young Green Heron fishing from a downed tree:

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

The heron ignored me when I moved down to the water to take some pictures, and was walking along the tree trunk so slowly and deliberately that I decided to shoot some video with my camera. In this clip you can see it catch two different fish, take interest in a dragonfly buzzing around (dragon-hunters will be able to ID it as a Common Whitetail), and become fixated on something in the sky above it. If you watch the video carefully you can see that its first catch has a really long thin tail, so I’m not actually sure if it is in fact a fish; if anyone knows what it is, please let me know in the comments!

At one point it looks up and then takes a bittern-like posture and freezes with its bill pointed toward the sky, seemingly focused on something high above it. I was too busy trying to keep the camera steady to look up and see if a hawk or eagle was soaring overhead, but it was interesting to see the heron’s reaction to whatever it was.

One thing I’ve noticed with the Nikon Coolpix P610 is that when shooting video, the focus tends to wander off the subject. This is something I’ve never encountered with my Sony Cybershot cameras, and it was quite dismaying – I wouldn’t have thought that the camera would have trouble focusing on something as large and as close as the Green Heron, and in great light (I had had the same problem last winter with the American Wigeons at Mud Lake and thought it was because of the dark, overcast day). I’m not sure if anyone else has had the same issue, but it definitely warrants some research to see if it can be fixed.

After spending some time with the heron I left, heading out of the conservation to catch my bus. As I was cutting through the small green space toward Howe Street I encountered a nice flock of mixed birds in the trees next to the bike path. These included my only Blue-headed and Philadelphia Vireos of the day mixed in with a group of Yellow-rumps, bringing my total number of species for the afternoon up to 48. It was a nice way to end my afternoon, which was fun even though it entailed a lot of walking to get in and out of the conservation area. I was quite pleased with the day’s tally, as I hadn’t expected much from a warm, sunny outing in the middle of the afternoon; I will have to make it a point to take more afternoons off during fall migration and see what’s happening at Mud Lake.

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One thought on “Green Heron Fishing

  1. Hi, I’m a bit behind on your posts… I see a few other people with the same P610 issue, but no solution off-hand. Didn’t see any firmware updates. You probably saw this, but you can change the AF mode to only happen at the beginning of the video, but then you’d be up the creek if the bird, well, moves. 😛

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