Mini-update: Wildlife Close to Home

I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.

On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

There are still plenty of Eastern Cottontails in the park, including this one I saw feasting on clover.

Eastern Cottontail

I returned to the ponds the following weekend, at my usual time first thing in the morning. I again counted 21 species, although a Great Egret had replaced the Green Heron, a few Barn Swallows were flying around, and the Osprey was absent. Only two Spotted Sandpipers were seen this time, though I counted three Belted Kingfishers on this visit. The biggest surprise were the two juvenile Herring Gulls resting on the rocks in the middle of the central pond. Their uniform brown colour and large, bulky size made them stand out from all of the other Ring-billed Gulls.

Herring Gull (juvenile)

At home, a family of crows have taken up residence on my street, as I’ve heard the distinct, high-pitched nasal “caaaws” of their young for about a week. One day I saw a juvenile sitting in the tree outside my computer room – it had a yellow gape and blue eyes, and every 30-60 seconds it gave its distinctive call. About a week later I looked out the window one afternoon and saw a dead crow on the road at the corner of my street and Grassy Plains. I was heartbroken, as I was sure it was one of the family living on my street – I didn’t hear any juveniles for several days after that. However, I’m sure that one of the two adults that have been coming to my yard for peanuts is still around, as one landed in the nieghbour’s birch tree next door while I was out back a few days ago. I put some peanuts on top of the fence and went inside but the crow didn’t take any.

Other birds visit me from time to time, including both adult and juvenile Chipping Sparrows, an adult male Northern Cardinal feeding its newly fledged young beneath my feeder, and the occasional grackle. I was surprised one day to hear a Purple Finch singing about a block away, as I haven’t heard any in the subdivision since the beginning of June. This grackle at my birdbath was a nice surprise.

Common Grackle

This is probably the same grackle back again the following day when it was cloudy:

Common Grackle

I haven’t spent a lot of time in my yard this summer looking for insects, mostly because of how wet it’s been. I haven’t seen any butterflies until recently, when the ubiquitous Cabbage Whites started appearing, and no dragonflies whatsoever. A firefly on my back door was a nice surprise one day, as was an Orange-spotted Lady Beetle in my garden.

This small hover fly visiting my yarrow was more cooperative for photos. Hover flies may look like miniature black and yellow wasps, but they are completely harmless, and are usually first noticed by their habit of hovering in place while their wings beat too fast to even see. They are also called “flower flies”, as they are important pollinators of various flowering plants. There are many different species in our area, some quite large, and others – like this one – almost too tiny to photograph.

Hover Fly

I haven’t seen many deer around this year, but this one on Moodie Drive startled me when it crossed the road in front of me. I had just driven north of West Hunt Club when it appeared about 200 metres in front of me, crossed the road, and parked itself beneath an apple tree near DA Moodie Intermediate School. I pulled over and watched it eat the apples for a good 15 minutes; it preferred the ones on the tree to the ones on the ground.

White-tailed Deer

After leaving the deer I drove up to Andrew Haydon Park, where I found a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron, a Hooded Merganser, an Eastern Kingbird, a couple of Warbling Vireos, a couple of Purple Martins, and an American Redstart among the more common breeding birds. I usually start checking the park in July for Bonaparte’s Gulls and other species undergoing post-breeding dispersal; this started when I found an adult in breeding plumage on the grass with the usual Ring-billed Gulls way back on July 26, 2008. Though I’ve never seen one there again in the middle of summer, the following year I found a non-breeding adult at the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds in July!

I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail briefly on my way home, and in my 20 minutes there I found two Wood Ducks, a Pied-billed Grebe, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler among the usual suspects. The warbler was in the trees next to the parking lot, right where I had seen one a week ago. My best sighting there was this large Northern Water Snake on a log next to the boardwalk; I haven’t seen any at Sarsaparilla so far this year, so it was nice to know that at least one was still around.

Northern Water Snake

Despite the cool and rainy weather so far this summer, it is good to see the wildlife coping and finding food. And while this summer hasn’t been great for photographing insects thus far, there are lots of other creatures around to make any outing worthwhile, from the familiar breeding birds in unexpected places to the various mammals and reptiles in my favourite conservation areas close to home. However, with warmer, drier weather this past week and forecast for the next, I hope to get out and do some real dragon-hunting again soon.

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