Friday, December 29, 2006

Prince Edward County does not disappoint

I'm down in Prince Edward County for the rest of the year (except for a brief excursion north tomorrow for the Belleville Christmas Bird Count).

As always this place is excellent for birds. But for me, particularly for the Red-bellied Woodpecker, a bird I saw for the first time last year, and which is hanging around the yard every day since I've been down here this time. Beautiful bird, wonderful call, great flight pattern. So like the woodpeckers I know well, and yet different enough to intrigue.

Here's a record of the bird--not good, taken through a window, but satisfying for me to have a photograph of this great bird.

red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker at feeder

And here is a link to the range map at Project WildSpace, showing the bird as stopping on the south side of Lake Ontario. No more!! Soon perhaps I'll see it in my Thomasburg yard--what's 75 kilometres to a bird?

All aboard the Friday Ark--Last call for 2006!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I and the Bird #39

A beautiful holiday edition of I and the Bird, the carnival of the best of recent bird and birder blogging, is up at NaturalVisions. Straight from Sandy Claws, a great collection of posts from all over the world. Check it out!

I and the Bird
I and the Bird #40 will be hosted by Peregrine's Bird Blog, deadline for submisions January 9. See I and the Bird Central for details.

And if you write about invertebrates, get your submisions in today for the next Circus of the Spineless, being hosted by The force that through. See the call for submissions here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Presqu'ile CBC

Yesterday was the Presqu'ile Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

I guess I'm a floating counter for sure now. When the Belleville compiler (boss of the count) called me this year, he invited me to take part in two counts, Belleville and Presqu'ile. The Presqu'ile count centres in the park, I'm guessing, and the east side of the circle (this part I know) takes in at least part of Trenton (aka Quinte West), a town on the shores of Lake Ontario immediately to the west of Belleville. (Here's a link to the weekly Presqu'ile birding report.)

So dark and early Sunday morning I headed down to meet (for the first time) my partner Jim, a very experienced birder, to make the rounds of a little piece of Trenton. I'd been watching the weather forecasts all week--half of them called for rain on Sunday, but as it turned out it was partly cloudy and very warm, high +12C.

The great things about a warm weather CBC: it's not too cold; ponds are open and ducks are on them; short-distant migrants might be hanging around out of season....did I say, "it's not too cold"?

The bad things: no birds at feeders, or in large groups at other sources of food or shelter; the living is easy, food is plentiful, and the need to eat isn't as great as it is when it's cold, in other words, birds are loosely flocked, widely dispersed, not sitting around waiting to be counted; oh, yes, and you have to watch out for the golfers if you're birding a golf course--this is not usually a problem on December 17 in southern Ontario. There were 8 parties of golfers on the small course we birded--At one point, after we let the guys behind us play through, we were focused on the edge, a steep, shrubby bank going down to a railway line, looking for birds. When we turned around there were two balls on the course just behind us, driven there by players we hadn't noticed sneaking up. On the other hand we had some very good looks at a Merlin on that golf course.

We saw lots and lots of chickadees, and some other good birds (list below), but it wasn't all birds all the time. Our route took us to the top of a drumlin (great view of the lake and the town). The summit was accessible by stairs, and as we were climbing we noticed that a couple of crows were kicking up a terrible fuss on the other side of the parking lot below, behind some kind of big tank. We watched for a bit, then decided we better go back down and try to see what had them so upset. Just as we started down a red fox trotted out from behind the tank and down the hill into town. The crows quieted immediately. Who knew crows had a thing about foxes? Ummm, I have a feeling that I have heard something about this. Gotta love Google. See Aesop's The Fox and the Crow. Now I understand.

The twenty-seven species Jim and I counted for the Presqu'ile CBC, mostly inland (unofficial):

House Sparrow 24
Double-crested Cormorant 8
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Common Merganser 20
Hooded Merganser 5
Great Blue Heron 1
American Crow 17
Black-capped Chickadee 88
American Goldfinch 21
Ring-billed Gull 10
Great Black-backed Gull 6
European Starling 122
House Finch 18
Blue Jay 15
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Ruffed Grouse 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Mourning Dove 31
Slate-coloured Junco 6
Merlin 1
Northern Cardinal 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Cedar Waxwing 3
American Robin 8
Mallard Duck 6
American Tree Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 3

For more about Christmas Bird Counting in Canada, see this page at Bird Studies Canada, or for the rest of North America, this one at Audubon.

And here's a sampling of current CBC blog posts: A DC Birding Blog, 10,000 Birds, Stokes Birding Blog, Search and Serendipity, Bootstrap Analysis, SitkaNature. I wrote about counting for Belleville last year here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wild, Wild Turkeys

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) reintroduction in Ontario is a huge success story. Not so many years ago the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, working with the Ministry of Natural Resources, started the process of releasing wild turkeys from the US into suitable Ontario habitat. (Here are links to a couple of stories about the program.) The birds took off! Or rather, stayed, and were fruitful multipliers.

In my uncle's yard, Woodview, Ontario (north of Peterborough)

The picture shows just a few of the forty or more birds my uncle was seeing every day. I don't see turkeys in these numbers in Thomasburg, but as I travel back and forth to Prince Edward County every week I almost always see at least one flock somewhere along the way.

Thanks to Don Wood for the photograph.

And now we're off to board the Friday Ark.

I and the Bird at Ben Cruachan Blog!

Duncan at Ben Cruachan Blog of Australia is the host of I and the Bird #38. And a very gracious host he is too. The carnival is a collection of the best of recent bird and birding posts from all over the world. And Ben Cruachan Blog is a wonderful place to read about and see the marvellous birds of Australia, beautifully photographed--not only exotic looking to my North American eyes, but wonderfully named too. So go for the carnival, but hang around, explore the site.

I and the Bird

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


After a brief cold snap we're back to unseasonably warm temperatures. The snow is gone now (except for a forlorn patch or two), but on Saturday there was still snow on much of the ground. Sure I see the occasional rabbit, and even more occasional fox or coyote, but once the snow comes I see that they are all everywhere, all the time. In the yard there are tracks of at least two rabbits (big and small, I call them). And in the field, canids galore besides. Some are certainly foxes, more are coyotes, and maybe a dog or two thrown in.

orange rabbit pee
First orange rabbit pee of the season

Walking on the trail created by the heavy equipment that comes to take topsoil in the scrape (but hasn't been here since the snow fell), I saw a clue that something was amiss.

Blood on snow

Snow not only preserves tracks, it also shows up whatever has gone on. When I saw the blood I first wondered if it was cast-off from a kill. But there was a regular trail, and soon I came upon this:

bloody paw print
Bloody paw

Somebody had cut a toe on his back foot, I could see small spots of blood in a whole line of tracks. Cut on ice?

There certainly was ice. We've had enormous amounts of rain over the last few weeks, then the cold snap, producing scenes like the one below.

Trees in ice

There was a good breeze blowing, making the trees in the ice sway, producing quite an amazing sound of crackling and heaving. A lot of the water had drained away, leaving a gap between its surface and the ice.

And there were birds. Not many--things are pretty quiet this time of year. But there were chickadees, of course. But what was that other sound? I could hear something not quite right. I pished a little, brought in a couple of chickadees and another bird. Yellow-rumped warbler! This warbler is known to hang around well past the time the rest have flown. Fifteen were reported in last week's Prince Edward County and Quinte Area Bird Report, from Prince Edward County. But I've never seen one here this late before. But if you look at this range map, you can see that they are known to winter in New York State, just the other side of Lake Ontario. Maybe the winter range is shifting north, like the ranges of so many species are.

The Cedar Waxwing on the other hand is a common winter bird here. On my way back home I saw a nice flock of 15 or so, bouncing back and forth between two trees.

cedar waxwings
Cedar Waxwings

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Circus of the Spineless #15

The circus is in town, the town called Words and Pictures. A wonderful presentation of invertebrate stories from all over the world, from water bears to banana slugs to harvestmen plus my own encounter with a burying beetle, and much, much more. Check it out!

But first enjoy my most recent photo of a western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis), a perennial favourite among Google searchers (right up there with red rabbit pee, here and here).

western conifer seed bug
Found on the patio, November 29.
Photographed on the woodpile.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Last night we had our first real snow fall of the season.

The air was cold but the snow was soft and thick, clinging to everything.

The flock of House Finches that's been hanging around the feeders surveys the scene from on high.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Catching Up

Thursday morning I left for a very quick trip to the archives at the University of Guelph. Great train connection got me from Belleville at 8:30 a.m. to Guelph at noon. Pouring rain!! Connections back not so good., So Friday afternoon I was to take a bus to Toronto--arrive around 7:00 p.m., then the train back to Belleville, and drive at around midnight 25 clicks up the highway to Thomasburg (so I could spend Saturday at home, watching the Liberal Leadership Convention). Friday morning I was glued to the Weather Network for clues as to how the first winter storm of the season was going to affect the plan. Freezing rain was predicted for north of Belleville--I stared at the line on the map trying to guess how wide that little band north of the lake, out of the freezing rain zone, was. No way to know.

By 5:00 p.m., when I was boarding the bus in Guelph, the rain had stopped. I peered out the window the whole way monitoring precipitation. None, though things were plenty wet! Toronto, windy, but the rain had stopped, and the temp was 6 C. Hung around the station wishing I had bought a first class ticket so that I could have been in the first class lounge watching the leadership candidates give their speeches (some nature buffs are also political junkies). Ten p.m. came, and I boarded my train and started my precipitation watch again...lots of water, nothing falling from the sky! Belleville, no rain, lots of water sitting around, temp still above the freezing mark. Ferocious wind!! So I started out. Did I say "wind"? Highway was bare and dry, but the wind was so strong I could just barely keep the car on the road. I did though, and arrived home safely, feeling like I'd been away for ages. Bev of Burning Silo, northeast of Thomasburg, was not so lucky Friday. She describes the storm in her post, We got lucky this time (clearly luck is a relative concept), and also makes reference to the 1998 ice storm, which she was also in the thick of. We were lucky then too, in fact the edge of that storm was just 20 or 30 kilometres to the east of Thomasburg!

Watched the balloting Saturday. I think the Liberals probably made a good choice electing Stéphane Dion as their new leader. Sunday? Wandered in a fog (of the mind). And today realized that in my brief absence, Carnivals came to town:

I and the BirdI and the Bird #37 is up at Five Wells. I and the Bird is a carnival of bird and birder blogging, and this edition is a thanksgiving treat. Check it out!

Festival of the Trees

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush--I don't know about that, I like birds in bushes. Festival of the Trees is a celebration of trees (and bushes), and without trees I wouldn't have most of my favourite neighbourhood birds.

Downy in Maple

The 6th edition of Festival of the Trees is up at Arboreality. It's a fantastic collection of tree-related blog posts. Do not miss it!

Circus of the Spineless is normally up by now too--but November's edition has been delayed--expect it December 7. Today is the last day for submissions--send to Tony of milkriverblog, hurricanetg AT