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Apr 28, 2010

Is this sturgeon for real?

Not being a fisherman, I don't usually mention fish and fishing here, but this picture is an exception. It was passed on to me via three old newspaper colleagues of mine, Pat Pappas, Tim Whittaker and Peter Marsh. This sturgeon was caught and released in Lake of the Woods, near Kenora, a couple of weeks ago. It weighed in at over 1,000 lbs., measured 11'1" long, 56" in girth, and took 4 guys (taking turns) 6.5 hrs. to reel in. Apparently any sturgeon over 5' in length has to be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water. Sturgeon over 5' are regarded as good brooding/breeding stock. The story goes that this great specimen was worn out from the fight to catch it, but was released shortly after the photo was taken.
In the Caspian Sea, sturgeons grow to 18' and 4400 lbs., but in Ontario,the record for Lake Sturgeon is just over 5.5' and 168 lbs, while the record in adjacent Minnesota is also 5.5' but only 94 lbs. So either this is the catch of the century or an hoax.

Apr 27, 2010

The last couple of mornings I've had to chip ice off the birdbaths, so regulars like this cardinal and house finch can get a drink. The spring migration has stalled a bit it seems. So much for my witless speculation that the hummingbirds might come back early this year. I've had none so far. They'll probably make their appearance around May 10, much like always. Meanwhile there are eight nectar feeders waiting for them, as well as me and my camera.

Apr 22, 2010

Birding for beginners on June 5

Yellow-rumped Warbler ~ Jokers Hill ~ photo by BarrytheBirder, September 2009

I will be leading a one-day workshop entitled 'Birding for Beginners' on Saturday, June 5, 2010, between 9.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., at the University of Toronto's Koffler Scientific Reserve in King Township, at Jokers Hill, on Dufferin Street just south of Hwy. 9. The cost is $60 per person, including lunch from Dorio's Bakery in Kettleby, as well as the use of binoculars supplied by the university. My intention is make the day both informative and entertaining. Jokers Hill is a 348-hectare ecological observatory situated on the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine and a perfect setting for a day of learning about and enjoying eastern North-American birds (see photo below). For more details and registration info go to
Photo by BarrytheBirder, Jokers Hill, 2009
Good birding, BtheB

Apr 21, 2010

Today's new spring arrivals

White-throated Sparrow

Eastern Towhee
Here are a couple of perky spring migrants that will probably stay in the backyard for a couple of days. As far as I'm concerned, they can hang around for as long as they want.

Apr 18, 2010

Sandhill Cranes and lots of ducks

I stumbled across a new wetlands area, north of the Queensville Flats, in upper York Region this week. I made a mental note to go back with my spotting scope and did so today. Here's an incomplete list of the birds I spotted in the water-covered fields and marshes, on the north side of the Ravenshoe Road, 2.5 kms. east of Leslie Street.
~ 3 Sandhill Cranes
500 Canada Geese
~ 8 pairs of Northern Pintails
A pair of American Black Ducks
~ 2 pairs of Northern Shovellers
~ A pair of American Wigeons

2 pairs of Blue-winged Teals
1 pair of Green-winged Teal
~ 1 Canvasback
1 Willet
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
Even with my telephoto camera lens, I couldn't get get close enough for any good pictures. But later in the day, at the Cold Creek Conservation area, my luck was better. Below are shots of a Turkey Vulture, nesting Tree Swallows, and a basking Midland Painted turtle.

A pretty good day, all things considered. Here's hoping yours was also.


Apr 17, 2010

Goldfinches in breeding plumage

It's that time of year (mid-April) when you can once again tell the difference between the male and female goldfinches. I took this picture a few minutes ago, in the backyard. The males have almost completed their change to bright yellow breeding plumage. They are a welcome sight, indeed.

"Time for your close-up, Mr. G".


Apr 16, 2010

The "upside-down bird"

Kenn Kaufman, in his Lives of North American Birds book, calls nuthatches the "upside-down birds". The photo, at left, which I took recently, neatly illustrates that description. Nuthatches have extremely strong toes and claws, with which to grip bark and other uneven surfaces. It also helps if you only weigh 10.5 to 13 grams, as is the case with the Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) pictured here. This captivating little bird is found in every continental U.S. state and every Canadian province.
Mid-April to early May marks the start of the breeding season for many birds in this neck of the woods. The male Red-breasted Nuthatch, having caught the eye of a female, performs as follows: he turns his back on the lady (seems non-productive), points his head in the air, droops his wings, and sways from side to side. This doesn't sound very alluring but maybe it helps him to 'shake his booty' in a sexy way. Appearances notwithstanding, it seems to work quite well, as there are always plenty of Red-breasted Nuthatches about. The male feeds the female, both on and off the nest, and both parents feed the nestlings. They seem content to raise just one brood a year. Sounds all very dutiful and practical to me, which is good because we all need lots of nuthatches around and about, to entertain us.

Apr 14, 2010

I shot these two pictures this afternoon, at the new wetlands area of Seneca College's King Campus. It's now mid-April and Tree Swallows are to be found everywhere in southern Ontario. What good-lookers they are. And their beauty is exceeded only by their flying prowess. My birder-friend, Gerry Binsfeld, advised a group of us one day, that he had taught his kids to use binoculars by telling them to: "...follow the swallow...". It's good advice. If you can follow a swallow with your binoculars, then you can follow just about any bird.
As for honey bees, their populations are dying off at alarming rates in many places around the world. Great efforts are be made to comprehend this calamity and so far, as I understand it, it is referred to as a syndrome, as opposed to an identified disease. But the healthy-looking bee pictured above was very busy trying to put a huge dent into a crop of emerging Coltsfoot along the Oak Ridges Trail. Its success can be measured by the sacks of pollen attached to its hind legs. Please comment if you wish.

Margaret Atwood fires us up

Linda and I went to the Granite Club last week, to listen to the husband-and-wife team of Grahame Gibson and Margaret Atwood reflect on wildlife and wildife habitat at ON Nature's fund-raising Green Tea Party. The authors/naturalists were very interesting and inspiring as they updated the status of many biodiversity projects around the world, some of which they are personally involved in. Among many other things, they are currently Joint Honourary Presidents of Birdlife International's Rare Bird Club. And while their conservation efforts are not flagging, there was a detectable aura of foreboding and gloom about prospects for world-wide biodiversity. At one point, Ms Atwood mused that civil disobedience might be the next necessary step to make politicians, and the people who elect them, wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to wildlife species declines, habitat destruction, and degraded and poisoned environments. Linda and I have decided that we are not too old for civil disobedience and will join such insurrections as they present themselves. In fact, we are on the look-out for legitimate protests that involve animals and the environment. Meanwhile, I highly recommend an essay that Margaret Atwood published recently, in England, on birds and the greening of the world. Her insight and arguments are compelling. Click on .

Will hummingbirds arrive early?

I just filled-up my eight hummingbird feeders in the backyard. This is 3 weeks earlier than last year. What with global warming, several lovely days of sunshine, and certain flowers already up, I decided to anticipate the early arrival of one of my favourite birds. Last year my first 'hummer' showed up on May 9, the day after one showed up, at my neighbour, Shirley Ormsby's, place. For a few years now, Shirley has beaten me to the punch, by being the first to call and say: "They're baaa-aack". Have a safe journey, my little friends.