I haven’t been blogging as much this winter for a simple reason: I haven’t been going out as much. It’s been a strange winter since January ended, with warm rainy spells interspersed with snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures. The weather on the weekends hasn’t been conducive for getting out; this is the second weekend in a row that morning temperatures have started in the double negative digits with a windchill bringing the temperature below -20°C. I am so sick and tired of the winter that I just can’t do the cold any more. And if it isn’t the cold, it’s the snow, or else I haven’t been feeling well.
The temperature dropped this weekend. With the sun rising on temperatures as low as -10°C, I didn’t feel like rushing out at daybreak to go birding. It usually takes some time for me to adjust to the cold, and after last week’s milder weather I wasn’t quite ready to bundle up in five or six layers. On Saturday I did some shopping but spent most of the day watching the birds at my feeder. During the work week, it’s dark when I leave in the morning, and dark when I get home, so I have no idea what goes on in my backyard during the day. On Saturday I was happy to have four or five Blue Jays descend upon my feeder and threw some peanuts onto the patio to keep them happy. Although they visit my yard regularly during the fall to fatten up on the peanuts I give them, they usually become scarce once the snow arrives. I also had five on November 12th, so it appears a family group is visiting together. Two juncos, five chickadees, four House Sparrows, a goldfinch, and two Mourning Doves were also in my yard or visible in the neighbour’s.
Sometimes it amazes me that even my own backyard can host an incredible variety of wildlife. I live in a townhouse with a tiny yard, and have very little in the way of shelter for birds or bugs – there is a large tree-like shrub on my front lawn which is as tall as the house and produces little helicopter seeds in the fall that the squirrels love (one of these years I’ll get around to asking my botanist friends to identify it for me) and a six-foot tall Arrowwood Viburnum in the backyard. A couple of small Weigela shrubs are still doing well in the backyard despite their location in a shady part of the garden, and that’s it other than the annuals and perennials chosen to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. My yard is just too small and does not get enough sun to plant the kind of butterfly and pollinator garden I would really like. Further, our back lawn hosts a lot of different weeds as we aren’t exactly diligent about removing them. I hate applying any kind of chemical herbicide or pesticide, and while I go crazy a couple of times each summer trying to remove them by hand, they just keep coming back. Our neighbours probably don’t like us very much.
Woodland Ground Beetle (Carabus sylvosus)
After I returned home from Mud Lake I spent some time packing for my upcoming trip to southern Ontario to visit my Dad. As is my habit, I kept a close eye on the avian activity in my yard throughout the morning. A Mourning Dove visited briefly to eat the seeds beneath the feeder, while a House Finch and Cedar Waxwing were noted flying over. Two Chipping Sparrows visited later, followed by a large group of House Sparrows. The most I ever saw at one time was eight, but there might have been more. Then I noticed this bird:
I didn’t get much birding in this past weekend as I had quite a few errands to run, so I spent much of my free time watching the birds in the backyard. The winter finch invasion has continued for the second week in a row, and it was a real treat hearing all the Pine Siskins in the neighbourhood during the week and watching them in the backyard this weekend. Purple Finches are moving through as well, for I found three of them in the park three days in a row last week, and had at least a male and female in the yard behind mine on Thursday and Saturday. The neighbours in the house in the yard behind mine have been keeping their feeder stocked, so there were plenty of finches around on the weekend. Even though it was cold all weekend – it barely reach 0°C on Saturday and 3°C yesterday – the birds spent a lot of time in the trees and shrubs in neighbouring yards, as well as at the feeder in my yard and in the yard behind mine.
American Tree Sparrow
Today is the last day of my vacation – and it snowed all day. I really wanted to find more birds to add to my year list, but I wasn’t sure how bad the roads would be and didn’t want to take a chance driving. Instead I stayed home, worked on my blog, and watched the birds through the window. As the snow was quite heavy at times, I didn’t think I would see a lot of birds; however, the weather seemed to have the opposite effect, for not only did I see a record-high number of species in one day (at least for the winter), I also got a new yard bird!
Activity started early in the morning, with three Dark-eyed Juncos and a single chickadee visiting the feeder out back. The large flock of starlings returned, with four out back and the rest perching in the tall tree across the street. A Blue Jay landed briefly in the same tree, a distance apart from the starlings, then flew off toward my backyard a few minutes later. Although two others were perching in a tree several yards away, none came to my feeder. Usually I don’t see any Blue Jays around in the winter, as the ones that come regularly for peanuts in the fall usually suddenly disappear toward the end of each November – I suspect they may migrate south.
Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)
The end of September is a good time to see a variety of hover flies (also known as flower flies, syrphid flies, or syrphids). It is also the end of dragonfly season. Most odonates are already done for the season – only a handful of species will continue flying into October, with the last species, Autumn Meadowhawk, flying into November if the weather cooperates.
As the last week of September was still quite warm, I was able to find and photograph a few different species of both insects – even in my own backyard! I finally added Autumn Meadowhawk to my official yard list on September 19th. I’ve seen a few meadowhawks in my yard over the years, but have only identified White-faced Meadowhawk and Band-winged Meadowhawk so far. I found it on the asters at the back of the yard, although it flew up onto the fence when I tried to get closer for a photo. Given how abundant and widespread it is, the Autumn Meadowhawk was the most likely species to be added to my yard list. Now that it has shown up in my yard, I’m not sure what the next likeliest species is – Common Green Darner? Twelve-spotted Skimmer?