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Black-backed Woodpecker!

Black-backed Woodpecker

On Sunday morning I went out hoping to see some woodland birds – various thrushes, kinglets, sparrows, Blue-headed Vireos and Winter Wrens are all moving through now, and I was looking forward to seeing some of these birds. However, rain was in the forecast, and as I wasn’t sure how much time I had before it was supposed to start, I started my outing with a brief walk at Sarsaparilla Trail. I found lots of activity on the pond – several mallards, American Black Ducks and Hooded Mergansers were scattered among the hundreds of Canada Geese present, while a single Great Blue Heron was fishing patiently on the opposite shore. I was surprised there weren’t any other waterfowl species on the water or tucked among the reeds, and although I spent some time scanning the pond in case any Green-winged Teal or Wood Ducks were hiding amongst all the other birds, my search turned up nothing. Similarly, I found few birds of note in the woods: a few juncos and a single Golden-crowned Kinglet were the only migrants that I found, though the usual chickadees, nuthatches, robins, and a single Brown Creeper were present.

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European Skippers

Least Skipper

Least Skipper

Yesterday was a great day for seeing new things. I started the morning at Old Quarry Trail with no particular goals in mind; it’s been a few years now since I’ve been there at the height of breeding season, so I just thought I’d take a look around and see what I could find. This was a good decision as I ended up adding two new birds to the eBird hotspot list (one of which was also new for my Stony Swamp patch list!), and found a new lady beetle species.

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Snowshoe Hare Bonanza

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Yesterday was eBird’s Global Big Day 2016, a Cornell Lab project which tries to find out just how many birds can be recorded across the globe in a single day. During this project, eBird asks people to submit all their bird observations on May 14th into eBird, a global database used by scientists to study the distribution of birds all over the world. eBird is one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, with more than 300 million records, and last year’s Global Big Day tallied a total of 6,158 species. As I already use eBird to track my bird sightings, I was eager to participate. However, I didn’t have the car, and had to make do with going somewhere reachable by bus. Unfortunately, OC Transpo’s weekend bus routes in Kanata South are not designed to get you any place efficiently except Hazeldean Mall, which severely limited my options – even places like Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park take two or three different buses to get there, and places like Shirley’s Bay and Jack Pine Trail are out of the question. Worse, the forecast called for rain later in the morning, so I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to stay out in the event I wanted to go to two or more areas. Because of these limitations, I decided to go to Old Quarry Trail right across from Hazeldean Mall, which is only about a 15-20 minute bus ride from my house and has enough trails in its extensive system to keep me occupied for a couple of hours.

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Birding in the New Year!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

For the last few days I’ve been eagerly awaiting January 1st and beginning a brand new year list. After the snowstorm on December 29th (which dropped a whopping 25 cm of snow on the city) I didn’t even feel like going out and searching for birds as I knew I would be doing the same thing on January 1st when every species would be brand new again. So when I awoke yesterday at 5:30 am, still a little bleary-eyed from staying up until midnight, I was excited to hit the trails and see how many birds I could add to my 2016 year list.

Last year, I spent New Year’s Eve trying to calculate the most likely birds I would see. I ended up with 18 species out of the 30 most frequently recorded species. Despite getting out the door at 7:40 am yesterday, I was only out for 2.5 hours when the scattered flurries in the forecast turned into a heavy snowfall that sent me home. Again I ended up with only 18 species, having decided to forego my trip to Mud Lake because I wasn’t sure how quickly the road conditions would deteriorate.

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A New Camera

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

So on November 16th I finally went out and bought a new camera. There was nothing wrong with the old one except for a deficiency in zoom; while a 30x zoom seemed more than sufficient when I bought it, super-zoom cameras now have up to 83x zoom, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I could really benefit from that extra reach. As I still haven’t spent last year’s Christmas bonus, I decided it was time to go to Henry’s to take a look at their super-zoom cameras. In the end, I decided to go with the Nikon Coolpix P610 because its 60x zoom gives me double the zoom of my Sony Cybershot HX200V, and its image quality seemed much better than the Sony Cybershot’s 50x zoom camera. The price was also good since Nikon had just released the Coolpix P900, its 83x zoom camera; this meant I could stretch my bonus further and get a new scope, too (choosing the Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 spotting scope for its excellent quality). Although switching brands meant I would have to spend some time learning the Nikon’s controls, in the end the only thing I regretted was not getting this camera sooner in order to practice taking macro photos of dragonflies!

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Shorebirds in the Morning

Dunlin

Dunlin

On Sunday morning I spent just over an hour at Andrew Haydon Park, enduring the sub-zero temperatures and frigid Arctic wind to hang out with the water birds there. The usual Canada Geese and mallards were present, but the first bird that caught my attention was the adult Brant feeding on the grass near the western pond, likely the same one that was here the day before. The second bird I noticed was the juvenile Great Blue Heron standing on the island in the western pond, looking cold. It was standing on one leg and had its neck all hunched up and feathers puffed out to protect it from the wind. Normally I find Great Blue Herons to be very regal-looking; this one was as un-majestic as any I had ever seen.

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Woodpeckers with Three Toes

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Most birds have four toes. The toes of most perching birds, shorebirds, and gallinaceous (game) birds are arranged in an anisodactyl arrangement – that is, three of the toes point forward while the first toe, called the hallux, points backward. This arrangement is evident in the tracks of a Ruffed Grouse in the snow, or the tracks of a sandpiper or crow on the mudflats of your favourite river or beach. Woodpeckers, Osprey, owls and cuckoos, on the other hand, have a zygodactyl arrangement of toes: the first and fourth toes point backward while the two middle toes point forward.

However, three woodpecker species exist which have only three toes. Two (the Black-backed Woodpecker and the American Three-toed Woodpecker) are found in North America, while the third (the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker) is found in the Boreal regions of Europe and Asia. These species all inhabit coniferous forests where they feed chiefly on wood-boring beetle larvae. The American Three-toed Woodpecker has the northern-most breeding range in North America, while the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker has the northern-most breeding range in Eurasia. These two species were considered one species until 2003, when they were split because of differences in voice and in mitochondrial DNA sequences. All are believed to have a common ancestor which lost the first toe, the hallux, over time.

The fourth toe is not fixed in a backwards direction, but is able to rotate sideways or even forwards as the woodpecker moves up and down a tree. It is thought that woodpeckers with four toes only use three toes to grip the tree trunk, while the fourth is kept beneath the leg or extends out to the side, thus limiting the amount of force a woodpecker is able to deliver while hammering on a tree trunk. Woodpeckers with three toes do not need to accommodate this extra toe and are able to extend their body back further from the tree when it strikes.

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