Archives

The Annual January Thaw

Great Horned Owl

For the past three days I’ve been listening to the sound of the steady drip of water from the snow melting on my roof. Almost every year we get a warm spell where the temperature climbs a few degrees above zero for a couple of days. While it is usually called the “January thaw”, sometimes it occurs in February, usually right in the middle of Winterlude. It is a welcome break from the bitterly cold days that remain well within the negative double digits. Not only does this weather make birding more pleasant – despite the heavy gray skies that usually accompany these warm spells – but birds and animals become more active, moving around instead of hunkering down against the cold.

I was hoping that this would happen on Saturday, and started my morning at the Trail Road landfill where I hoped to find at least a couple of different species of gull. Once again I found only Herring Gulls, and the only other birds present were two Red-tailed Hawks, crows and starlings. Even these seemed down in numbers.
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Backyard Bug Inventory

Maple-Basswood Leafroller

Maple-Basswood Leafroller

I haven’t done as much photography in my own yard this year as I would have liked; I’ve seen no butterflies other than the ubiquitous Cabbage Whites, no flashy moths visiting my flowers or perching on my house during the daylight, and no odes other than a couple of darners flying too high up to identify. Still, I knew there had to be some colourful insects around, and once I made the effort to go looking for them, I ended up finding some colourful old friends as well as quite a few new species for my yard.

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Pine Siskins in the Backyard

Pine Siskin numbers have really increased lately. The bonanza started on March 26th when I found at least 30 of them along March Valley Road. Since then I’ve observed them on almost all of my birding outings, including at Mud Lake and Sarsparilla Trail last weekend, and all three Stony Swamp trails I visited yesterday. I was hoping they would show up at my feeder during their migration north, and yesterday they finally did.

Pine Siskin

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Cooper’s Hawk

I don’t often see accipiters in my suburban neighbourhood. It’s too open, as the few mature trees dotted here and there are too far apart to provide the type of canopy they prefer; however, every now and then one shows up to check out my feeder. The last one I positively identified was a juvenile sitting on the back fence with a dead female or juvenile House Sparrow in its bill, while a male House Sparrow scolded it from a safe distance. That was back in July 2014.

This morning I was working at my computer, which is in a spare room overlooking the street, while keeping an eye on a large flock of starlings in the trees across the road. I wasn’t the only one watching the starlings, as a larger bird flew in and landed in the same tree. It was partially obscured by the branches of the two trees on my front lawn, but something about it didn’t look right for American Crow, which is the most common large bird in our subdivision. I grabbed my binoculars, focused on the bird through the branches, and was stunned when I realized it was a hawk. I grabbed my camera and headed outside. Fortunately it didn’t see me skulking at the end of my driveway as I took a few shots.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

It was an adult, as evidenced by the brownish-orange chest and slate-coloured back. The large size and dark capped appearance identified it as a Cooper’s Hawk, the most commonly seen accipiter in my neighbourhood (or at least the one I’ve most often successfully identified). The starlings all flew out of the tree in a panic, and about ten minutes later the Cooper’s Hawk flew off as well. It was a bright moment in an otherwise dull day, and I only hope that the Cooper’s Hawk doesn’t wait another 17 months before its next appearance.

An October Butterfly

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

I have been home these past three days, recovering from having my gallbladder removed on Monday, October 19th. Although I wasn’t able to move around much on the first two days, I have been recovering slowly, using the time to watch the birds and bugs in my yard. Yesterday I recorded eight bird species in a couple of hours, including a pair of female House Finches at the feeder and five Dark-eyed Juncos scrounging for seeds in both my yard and my neighbour’s. A pair of chickadees, a pair of Blue Jays, and at least ten House Sparrows also came to sample the food at the feeder, and I was happy to see the sparrows bathing in my birdbath. Canada Geese have been flying over the yard these past two days, many more today than yesterday.

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Little Miss Broken Paw

Little Miss Broken Paw

Little Miss Broken Paw

One particular Eastern Gray Squirrel has been visiting my yard for about two years now – perhaps more. I recognize her by the way her damaged front left paw is curled up against her wrist, immobile, and because of this I call her (with great affection) Little Miss Broken Paw. It looks as though her wrist got broken at some point and healed permanently in this position. While such an injury would be devastating to a human, it has not affected her in any way that I can see; I have long admired how she is able to climb the fence and scamper along the top of it without so much as a limp.

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Wildlife Around the Yard

Chipping Sparrow (Juvenile)

Chipping Sparrow (Juvenile)

I live in a townhouse in suburbia, so my backyard is quite small. The front yard is even smaller since our driveway takes up half of the property, but I do have a large shrubby tree right outside my front window that attracts some interesting birds every once in a while (I have not gotten around to identifying said tree, though I’m sure many of my naturalist friends would know what it was if I sent them some photos and asked; it’s sort of fun leaving it as a mystery). The most recent addition to my “front tree” list – which includes Wilson’s, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers and a female Purple Finch – was a Red-eyed Vireo singing in the foliage last May. Lately, a pair of cardinals have taken to roosting in the tree at night. I’ve seen evidence of this in the form of bird droppings on the car every morning, and know it’s the cardinals because I hear their metallic chip notes outside my computer room window just after sunset and before sunrise most days.

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