Monday, September 28, 2009

Backyard Birding

Sometimes it's the easiest kind of birding... a nice cup of tea on a comfy chair under the gazebo... why go seek out birds when they can come to you?

For the past few years we only put out safflower seeds, since that seemed to be the only kind the squirrels weren't a fan of. We're fans of squirrels, but unfortunately so is the household dog - in a big, loud, explosive, screen-busting way. So we do our best to avoid inviting squirrels onto our property. The safflower seeds were a hit with the doves and cardinals, but that seemed to be the limit of what we could attract, besides the odd chickadee. Mid-summer though, while Davis and I were out west, his parents decided to put out a mixed-seed feeder at the far end of the yard. Instead of a plague of squirrels though... we got a plague of grackles and sparrows, plus a bunch of their rag-tag friends.

This freckled friend was hanging out in our maple tree. We tentatively identified it as a Swainson's thrush. To me, all three speckly brown thrushes - Swainson's, Bicknell's and the gray-cheeked - look exactly the same, so I more-or-less went with Swainson's because it seems more common in this area.

I think this is the matriarch of the gang of Northern cardinals that frequent our feeder. There seems to be a family of six that probably nested nearby, and we also get the occasional straggling male pop by.

I love any birds with crests. It gives them such a punky, what-choo-lookin-at demeanor.

We also have a pair of white-breasted nuthatches that regularly peruse our maples for bugs and other tasty bits. This one was flying solo today.

Grackles, even without the crest, still tend to give off punky vibes. Check out this guy's yellow glare - he's all, "take a picture, it'll last longer."

I like the set-up on our garden, with the little waterfall and goldfish pond, mostly because the birds like it too. It's a little too deep for the teeny tiny birds, but the grackles, robins, and jays will often stop by for a dip.

Drying himself off in the sun...

And then a nice snack for the road.

The sound of geese calling always makes me feel a little funny in the chest. Part of me wants to jump up and go with them - see what they see and travel where they travel, down south to the warm countries or up to the wild north. If you know of any pre-teens or about that age range, I highly recommend The Fledgling by Jane Langton. It's a wistful, dreamy story about a girl who befriends an old goose who teaches her to fly. It was one of my favourite books when I was 13 or so, and I plan on reading it to my children one day.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Photo Tag: Gyrfalcon

Once again, a few days' downtime on this blog and I feel that I have been remiss. Being away in New Brunswick for a week means I fell behind in my classes, so I have been trying to catch up with all 6 of them while working and studying for the GRE and - well, mostly doing none of the above and sneaking off and making jewelry instead. And watching Glee, my new distraction. Unfortunately with all those classes and obligations I get home way too late to do any photography, so this weekend I am looking forward to taking advantage of the daylight to get some of my new pieces up in my shop.

A quick blog post though, to tide me over until I can post my process of making smoked salmon eggs benedict from the weekend. I was tagged by the very cool Lost Earring in a game of photo tag. The rules are:

1. Open your first photo folder.
2. Scroll to the 10th photo.
3. Post the photo on your blog and tell the story behind it.
4. Tag people to do the same.

I think I may have cheated since my first photo folder only had 5 pictures in it - so I went to the second folder from my summer job at a university out west.

The majority of my work involved researching the pattern of inheritance of plumage colouration in gyrfalcons. Depending on who you talk to, there are between two and seven colour morphs in this species varying from pure white to black. But the mechanism of inheritance turned out to be kind of quirky, with black chicks being hatched to white parents and white chicks being hatched to black parents. We had some breeding records from a local falconer who had been breeding these beautiful birds since the early 1980s. We went to visit him a couple of times, and he gave us a tour of his facility and some of the chicks that had recently hatched. The chick above was a few weeks old, and the falconer had her out to handfeed her so the bird would begin to associate the falconer with food, so she could eventually be flown free and would return to the glove. He also had a leather hood out (not pictured) that he would place over her head periodically so she would get used to it from an early age.

He also showed us some very very young chicks, only a few days old. This guy was tuckered out after a big meal:

You can also see here the difference between white chicks and dark chicks:

And here were some of the parents, part of his breeding stock. These birds would probably be called silver, with the dark patterning on their wings but a light belly.

And that was my summer job! What was the best job you ever had?

Let's keep the game going... I'm tagging the following 5 bloggers, but feel free to pick up the game for yourself and start tagging others!

Inki Handmade
Ben McFuzzylugs
April Ink

Monday, September 21, 2009

Parc Nature Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard

As mentioned in my post a few days ago, I returned from a week long field trip to New Brunswick on Friday night. Late Friday night. I had forgotten that I had promised to go birding with Davis and a friend of ours on Saturday... and for you non-birders, this usually means being up for the sunrise in order to see the most amount of birds. Fortunately we are all university students (aka sloth-vampire hybrids) so we had agreed to meet only at 7:30 am. When my alarm went off at 6, I thought I was going to vomit - I am not a morning person - my mother jokes that I have had morning sickness since I was 12.

But the morning was crisp and the sky was blue and as soon as I got out into the air I was feeling fine. We went to the Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park which has a beautiful boardwalk through a marsh as well as forest paths.

Our first spotting was two mallard ducks, one of which was a juvenile judging by the blue-violet patches on its wings. There were a lot of mallards on the marsh this morning - I counted over thirty ducks paddling around and going bottom-up in search of tasty tidbits in the pondweed.

A few pairs of belted kingfishers zoomed around the lake, aggravating each other and making their chattery little calls.

From time to time, we could watch them go fishing from a tall dead tree or snag.

Their punky hairdo and irascible nature almost make them rivals for blue jays in terms of attitude.

Although we were technically birdwatching, it's always fun to see the other creatures that inhabit the marsh. This dragonfly was hanging out on some leaves.

We spotted a few great blue herons... one in some reeds... doing a flyby...

...and one perching awkwardly on top of a 20-foot-tall snag.

Usually we see over 50 common moorhens on the marsh, but I think it might be a little early in the season for them to be moving around in large numbers. We counted less than ten of these birds... this one had just made a landing... barely.

Looking for a snack.

Three little white-breasted nuthatches gave this dead tree a good combing, looking for bugs and other tasties.

Two or three shy little wood ducks were hidden in the reeds.

We almost missed this downy woodpecker hidden in a tree... it was making funny little noises that we initially mistook to be a red squirrel.

Okay, so any other birders reading this, tell me what you think. We think Eastern phoebe, because of the colouration and because it was flicking its tail. But this species is supposed to be somewhat uncommon, and is usually found in woodland edges, not marshes - according to Sibley, anyway.

I am pretty confident about the phoebe.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whale of a Tale

I got home late last night from the second field week for a course I am taking about fisheries and wildlife management. The first week was a trip to the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York; the second week was a longer excursion to a small town on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick called St. Andrews to learn about Atlantic fisheries. I was pretty cranky about the trip before going - I don't like to be away from home, and I am a very private person so although I like all the people in my class, I wasn't really looking forward to spending a week in close quarters with them.

The town itself was really nice - their major source of revenue is tourism, but it doesn't feel like a tourist trap. The main street was full of nice gift shops, beautiful clothing (there was a very heavy, very expensive wool fisherman's sweater that I coveted), tasty cafes and of course great seafood.

Some highlights of the week... splashing around in tidepools like a bunch of 10 year olds, looking for cool organisms. We found starfish, lots of crabs, worms... and the scenery was beautiful!

The major highlight of the trip was whale watching! We went by Zodiac, which I would definitely recommend. It was a lot faster than some of the other boats that were going out, so we were able to check out a lot more locations in the couple of hours that we had. As well, there are only 12 people per boat, and almost everyone is seated around the perimeter of the Zodiac so no one had bad viewing seats.

Small island with cormorants and gulls:

We spotted a pod of about 5 finback whales:

Sooty shearwaters!

Harbour seals

We also saw parasitic jaegers, kittiwakes, lots of different species of gulls and cormorants, harbour porpoises, a few bald eagles and my favourite - a PUFFIN.

We also learned how to electrofish to monitor fish populations - it doesn't hurt the fish, it just paralyzes them temporarily so you can catch them and identify them. We visited a sturgeon hatchery...

...and a fish ladder on the Magaguadavic River...

...learned to identify some rather alarming fish (this one was a silver hake)...

...went trawling for benthic creatures and fish, and gave a presentation about different topics to local schoolchildren.

So overall, it was a good week. Unfortunately a 12-hour drive home to arrive at midnight combined with the fact that I had forgotten I had a birding date this morning at 7:30 means that I am a little bit of a space cadet at the moment. I also wish that my pictures were better quality, but I didn't want to risk bringing the dSLR along and breaking it so I had to make do with the Powershot.

Coming soon though: better pictures from the dSLR of today's birding excursion!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Come into my garden...

...said the spider to the fly. Or rather, my mother-in-law's garden - to be more precise.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Decisions, decisions

At the end of August was the birthday of a good friend of mine - who I'm fairly certain doesn't know this blog exists - and I have been searching for a gift for her since then (without guilt, I might add, as we have an agreement that birthdays generally get a 2-month grace period). Unfortunately she still lives in my hometown, so I only see her when school's out for the summer. I still consider her a close friend, but unfortunately this means that since I don't see her often, I don't know what she wants or needs in terms of gifts. Jewelry is usually pretty safe, but since I know she received a few pairs of earrings for the birthday, I've been looking at necklaces. She is usually pretty minimalistic when it comes to jewelry, but when she goes out I know she favours large dramatic pendants, that type of thing. I've always liked these asymmetrical floral necklaces that seem to be popular on Etsy, though I probably wouldn't get one myself as I am not a big necklace person. But, I think my friend might like them. The only problem now is narrowing them down!

The following two are from Cymbaline's Designs. The first one is called Springtime. The funny thing about these necklaces is that while the flowers make them feminine, they don't feel overly frilly or girly to me. Just romantic, and a little vintage. I like the pink flower combined with the peridot glass beads in the first necklace. The second one, also from Cymbaline, is called Raspberries and Champagne. I really love the two colours in this second necklace - it definitely adds to the vintage feel, and I prefer the duskier pink to the baby pink of Springtime. So out of these two, I would pick Raspberries and Champagne.

The next two are from It's Beautiful. The first is called Essence, and again it follows a coral and peridot theme. For my friend, I would have to say I would choose this over Springtime, since the colours are a little more dramatic and the flower is slightly larger, which I think suits her taste a little better. For myself though, I would probably pick Springtime. It's so hard when you buy gifts not to let your own taste take over! The second one from It's Beautiful is Sea and Ivory. I like this one because there is no pink at all, and although my friend does wear pink I don't think it is her favourite colour. I really like the ivory rose on this one - it's hard to find a realistic alternative to pink when it comes to these acrylic flowers. Hard to choose between these two - maybe Sea and Ivory, since the glass beads aren't as glittery as in Essence, which brings down the drama a little. But again - maybe that's my taste interfering!

The last option is from Wiyomu. It's one of the few purple ones I've seen so far, which is a colour I like for being feminine but not girly. It's called Purple Plumeria, and I like that the focal flower is different from all the others. With only one colour, it is a lot simpler than the others, which I like too. Con: it's a bit pricier than the others, but not outside my range yet. Pro: it also comes in a gift box, which makes my life much easier!

So hard to choose! I think I have it narrowed down to Raspberries and Champagne, Sea and Ivory, or Purple Plumeria. What do you think?