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Mar 31, 2015

An Osprey called Mr. Rutland

Photo by Rutland Wildlife Trust
The season of the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) has begun with the arrival of the Osprey affectionally known as Mr. Rutland at Rutland Water, Leicestershire, in central England.   It will be his 15th breeding year in the same location.   May he have many more.   In the photo below, Mr. Rutland would appear to be an excellent provider and in the bottom photo the Rutland Water Nature Reserve looks to be a perfect habitat for the fish-loving Osprey.

 Photo by Geoff Harries
Photo: Rutland Water Nature Reserve
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Mar 30, 2015

Tufted Titmouse's tasty treat

Photo by Greg Derr / AP
A Tufted Titmouse (Beaolophus bicolor) savours maple sap dripping from an icicle that formed on a broken branch of a maple tree in Marshfield, Massachussetts.   Marshfield is a town located 40 kilometres, by land, south of Boston, and 40 kilometres, by sea, across Cape Cod Bay from Provincetown.   Below is a photo of a juvenile Tufted Titmouse. 
Photo by Renee Harper / Bluebirding Forum
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Mar 29, 2015

House Sparrows and European Starlings numbers still plunging

Photo by Andrew Rhodes / Alamy
The Royal Society for the protection of Birds has reported the results of its 36th annual 'Big Garden Bird Watch'.  While some numbers were bright spots, others were not.   House Sparrows and European Starlings have continued their dramatic decline in population, with House Sparrows declining almost 60% since the survey began in 1979 and starlings plunging by 80% over the 36 years.   Scientists are troubled and say changes to farmland management and good habitat losses are the primary factor in falling populations.   While still widespread, the two species are actually on conservation watch lists.   Who would have imagined many years ago that these two ubiquitous species could face a questionable future?   In Canada and the U.S.A., starling populations have had a 41% cumulative drop in numbers over a 44 year period (1966-2010) according to the American Breeding Bird Survey.   Dramatic changes like this have become common knowledge but little has been done so far to address the underlying causes.

                                                              Photo by BarrytheBirder
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Mar 28, 2015

Alberta may join other prairie provinces hunting Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane photo by
Possible peril for Whooping Cranes?
Mary W.Yandell, of the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, reports this week that the provincial government of Alberta, Canada, after years of hunter lobbying, is seriously considering a Sandhill Crane hunting season for Alberta.    Up until now, concern for the safety of the endangered Whooping Crane by conservation groups such as the Alberta Wilderness Association and others working to protect this population has kept the government from moving forward with such a hunt.   While the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan already have Sandhill Crane seasons, Environment Canada regulations give wildlife officials the power to prohibit hunting of 'Sandhills' in specific areas where there are Whooping Cranes.   Alberta listed the Sandhill Crane as a sensitive species in 2000, 2005 and 2010 on its website.   It is not known if that official designation has been altered.   The government would have to amend legislation to designate the Sandhill Crane a game bird.   The world's only existing group of wild Whooping Cranes migrates twice each year to and from its secluded northern breeding ground in Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the Alberta and Northwest Territories border.   That migration route runs through the entire length of Alberta.   The wintering ground is at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.   There is no rest for those who keep the vigil.

Whooping Crane photo by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
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Mar 27, 2015

Blame it on Harry Potter...

Photo by Casey Christie / AP
Philip Hoare, writing in England's Guardian newspaper, reports that next month Londoners will be able to pay 20 pounds to sip cocktails in the presence of six unusual Soho barflies: Barn Owls.   The film versions of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels started the modern fad for Barn Owls, with inevitably disastrous results.   The Potter franchises created a boom in would be Hedwigs, all too soon abandoned to the care of bird sanctuaries.   It speaks to selfish needs for animals to behave for human benefit.   To become adjuncts to the human world rather than existing in their own.   The London owl nights do have an excellent underlying purpose.   They've been organized to raise money for the conservation of owls.   That humans can only experience intrinsically beautiful animals as entertainment speaks to a desperate disconnection from the natural world.   Is this then what is has come to?   Indeed sad.
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Mar 26, 2015

Tree Swallows: "...cheerful series of liquid twitters"

 Photos by Dave Kemp 
The Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) in the top photo, photographed by British Columbia photographer Dave Kemp, seemed to be giving more than "...liquid twitters" to each other, followed by disinterest or disdain in the second photo.   "...cheerful series of liquid twitters" is how my almost 40-year-old Audubon field guide describes the voice of the Tree Swallow.   Although somewhat dated now, this field guide is still a favourite of mine, notably because of the anecdotal nature of the bird descriptions.   Following is part of what my 1977 version of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region) has to say about this small blue and white beauty. "This bird's habit of feeding on bayberrys enables it to winter further north than other swallows.   Although most on the east coast winter in the Carolinas, a few may be found on Long Island or Cape Cod.   It is the first of our swallows to reappear in the spring.   It sometimes breeds in unusual situations: several pairs once nested on a ferry boat that shuttled across the St. Lawrence River, foraging on both  the American and Canadian sides.   Tree Swallows often enjoy playing with a feather, which they drop and then retrieve as it floats in the air.   They gather in enormous flocks along the coast in fall, where they circle in big eddies like leaves in a whirlwind".   Rather charming narrative, what not?
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Mar 25, 2015

A black and white photo in colour...

Photo by BarrytheBirder
Black Crows / White Birch / Blue Sky
Spring is upon us.   There is little snow left on the ground.   Crows are creating a raucous scene...their spring scene.   They are rushing and gushing; noisily greeting the onslaught of mating.   They are pre-empting the robins as harbingers of the new season.   They are fully black, yet glossed with purple in strong spring sunlight.   So too are their bills and feet quite black.   This year they look well-fed also; quite a feat considering we have just come through the coldest February in recorded regional history.   Until such time as the robins and bluebirds return, I welcome the noisy Corvus brachyrhyncos.   After all, they are rather gregarious at this time of year.
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Mar 24, 2015

Almost 6 million Snow Geese head north across U.S. and Canada

Photo by Sean Simmers
Tens of thousands of Snow Geese ~ Middle Creek Wildlife Area
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette
500,000 Snow Geese visit Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area in early April
at Bair-du-Febvre, Quebec, Canada
Photo by Doug French / Barcroft Media
1.2 million Snow Geese migrate north through Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Missouri, U.S.A.
Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) number approximately 5.8 million birds in North America (5 million Lesser Snow Geese and 800,000 Greater Snow Geese). Lesser Snow Geese have shown a 300% increase in their numbers since the mid-1970s and are found from Alaska to the eastern seaboard.   Greater Snow Geese (caerulescens atlanticus) occur from Nunavut in northern Canada to Greenland.   Snow Geese are now among the most abundant waterfowl in North America and are eating themselves out of house and home in many areas. Hunters take approximately 400,000 birds each year in the U.S.A. and Canada.  
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Mar 23, 2015

New Great Horned Owl book by Scott Rashid

                                                                                                                                     Photo by Barry the Birder
Above is a photograph of the cover of THE GREAT HORNED OWL, a new book by Scott Rashid.   The publisher asked if I might be interested in reviewing it for the readers of this blog.   I said yes.   I will start be saying I have learned more about the Great Horned Owl in these 112 pages than I have in 25 previous years as a serious birder.   This is not a book just for the ornithologist.   It is written for and designed to appeal to a very broad audience of birdwatchers.   It does not resemble a textbook so much as it does a distinctly personal diary, capturing both facts and feelings; not to mention over 130 photos and selections of artwork.   Scott Rashid has written and published work about owls previously, but he is not primarily an author.   He is however a person with a background in many related things that have contributed to this effort, in which he takes the reader along as a partner on a highly personal, comprehensive and intensive mission to learn everything about this intense predator.   Great Grey Owls are bigger, Snowy Owls are heavier, but no owl is as domineering and widespread in the western hemisphere as this brute, which, by the way, kills and eats other owls.   Rashid is succinct but intimate in bringing forth all the information about Bubo virginianus that he has observed and collected over many years.   It makes for informative and fascinating perusing.   I have come away from reading and absorbing this book in one evening, feeling that although I may know a few things about a large number of bird species, I now know a helluva lot about the Great Horned Owl.   Thumbs up on this one by Mr. Rashid and Schiffer Publishing. ($35 U.S.)

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Mar 22, 2015

Grebe reflections

 Photos by Dave Kemp
The lowly Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) actually looks rather attractive in these fine reflecting photographs by British Columbia photographer Dave Kemp.   This grebe is rarely seen in flight which makes it a more easily captured photographic subject.   The images were captured at Terra Nova Park, on the north arm of the Fraser River, south of Vancouver International Airport.  
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Mar 21, 2015

Britain's national bird?

Photo by Pat Bonish / Alamy
There is a nationwide competition in Britain that is about to choose a national bird for the country.   Some of the favourites for the title include the Robin, the Blue Tit, the Mute Swan, the Kingfisher, and the Hen Harrier.   However, Alan Reynolds of Smetwick, suggests in the March 16 edition of The Guardian newspaper " has to be the Magpie; loud, cocky, bit of a geezer, always on the look for something to nick, it fills its nest with cheap, gaudy tat and predates on its smaller neighbours.   Perfectly British".   My, my, rather jaded, methinks.
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Mar 20, 2015

Spring's first chicks...

                                                                                                 Photo by BarrytheBirder
New arrivals at Nobleton Feed Mill
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Mar 19, 2015

White-tailed Eagles hard on each other

Photo: Sylwia Domaradzka / Barcroft Media
White-tailed Eagle
Halieetus albicilla
White-tailed Eagles are seen above fighting over food in mid-air in Poland.   It is common for juvenile eagles to battle in the skies as they compete for scarce food in cold winter temperatures.   White-tails are native to Poland where they are a protected species and their numbers are rising steadily.   However, brutal battles in the air are the main cause of death for the protected and magnificent birds.   They are native across the arctic (including parts of Alaska, Greenland and Iceland) and widely over the temperate parts of the old world. 
                                                              Photo by Mike Watson
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Mar 18, 2015

White Storks

Photo by Boris Roessler / Corbis
Colourful White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) are pictured in a courtship display in Biebesheim, on the Rhine River in west-central Germany.   These migratory birds have a nesting colony, where they have returned every year to rear their young.   White Storks are long-distance migrants that breed as far north as Finland and winter as far south as South Africa.   They are carnivorous (see photo below of stork with a dead young rabbit in its beak).

Wikipedia photo
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Mar 17, 2015

Quiscalus quiscula

Photo by E.J.Peiker
The Grackle
There are 18 species of grackles in the world.   The one pictured above is the Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula).   In 1772, its name was spelled 'Gracule', followed by 'Grakle' in 1782.   The month of March is heralding the arrival of the icterid species and they will soon be bullying the goldfinches into submission in the backyard.

Photo by BarrytheBirder
The Grackle
by Ogden Nash

                                   The Grackle's voice is less than mellow,
                                           His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
                                           He bullies more attractive birds
                                           With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
                                           And should a human interfere,
                                           Attacks the human in the rear.
                                           I cannot help but deem the grackle
                                           An ornithological debacle.

Photo by Barry Wallace
There are 44 Common Grackles in the photo above, which I took last spring in my backyard. Although this shot is typical, when there are not quite so many grackles present, it is also common to see Red-winged Blackbirds, Starlings, and Cowbirds mixed in with the grackles. Of course, the other blackbird species are lower on the pecking order, beneath the domineering grackles.

Photo by Linda Wallace
And when one needs a respite from birding, there is the always The Grackle Coffee Company, a landmark coffee shop on Schomberg's Main Street.   It's small, but more than makes up for that, with conviviality, atmosphere and yummy pastries, tarts and cookies.

Photo by BarrytheBirder
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Mar 16, 2015

Restoring the species...

Photo by BarrytheBirder
Trumpeter Swan
Cygnus buccinator
Here's what the Royal Ontario Museum Field Guide to Birds of Ontario has to say in the lead-in to its species account of the Trumpeter Swan: "The Trumpeter Swan was extirpated from Ontario during the 1880s.   However, since the 1980s, efforts to restore the species have had some success.   Reintroduction programs typically use captive birds to foster Trumpeter cygnets to independence".   Such is the case with the bird above.   I took this photograph this morning on a private pond in the hamlet of Glenville, in northern King Township.   The reintroduction effort has been going on there for a few years and seems to be meeting with success, although I have yet to confirm that with the property owners.   The status of this bird in Ontario, at the start of this century was described as: "...rare introduced breeder...rare migrant".   the evidence seems to be that species is moving past that scant status and the re-introducing efforts are definitely successful.   How widespread the success is still being determined, I believe.
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Mar 15, 2015

22 hummingbird species In Trinidad & Tobago

Photo by MeegC/wikipedia
Copper-rumped Hummingbird
Amazilia tobaci erythronota
The Copper-rumped Hummingbird is one of 22 hummingbird species one can find on the islands of Trinidad and/or Tobago.   Trinidad, the larger of the two-island nation, is home to 20 of the 22 species (15 of which are exclusive to Trinidad) while Tobago is home to seven of the 22 species (two of which are exclusive to the smaller island).   The beautiful picture above was taken at the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.   Many times I thought I would like to visit Trinidad but haven't made it yet.   Of course I could see even more hummingbirds if I flew to Ecuador (135 species), Venezuela (104 species), or Bolivia (82 species).   But so far I have not been able to afford to get to Trinidad, so mainland South America is even more unlikely.   It is alluring though.   My friend and neighbour, here in King City, Ontario, Gerry Binsfeld, saw over 500 species in three weeks on his last trip to South America.   One day maybe...
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Mar 14, 2015

Biggest recorded eagle nest

Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation
The Canadian Wildlife Federation commented today that humans are not the only creatures about to engage in spring cleaning.   The CWF says that Bald Eagles are sprucing up their nests also.   The federation describes these eagles as the 'Joneses' of the avian world, as they keep making their abodes bigger and bigger and bigger.      Using sticks and branches they start off with an initially small nest about 15 to 37 metres above the ground, and each year they add to the nest.   Eventually nests get so big they can accommodate humans (see photo below).   So far, the record for the biggest nest sits in St. Petersburg, Florida.   It is three metres wide and six metres deep, and weighs in at an estimated 2 tons!

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Mar 13, 2015

Poachers and Ambelopoulia may lead to extinction of rare birds in Cyprus

Photo: Birdlife International
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has rattled some cages and they are not birdcages. According to the RSPB, over 900,000 birds were illegally killed in just two months on a British military base in Cyprus in 2014.   The RSPB's international director has called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to do more more to stop local poachers, who, according to reports, took 15,000 birds every day during September and October from British Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA).   The report highlights that illegal trapping of songbirds on the base has dramatically escalated and is urging the MoD authorities to resolve the crisis before the 2015 autumn migration.
But the MoD rejected the RSPB's findings and questioned the methodology of the survey.   RSPB overseas territories leader Jonathon Hall said the MoD had signed off on the 12-year-old survey's methods and that likely the numbers were conservative, adding that it was unfortunate to be questioning something which was previously accepted.   The MoD declared it had arrested nearly 50 poachers during the last migration period. Each autumn, millions of songbirds use Cyprus to rest and feed on their way from Europe to Africa.   For centuries, Cypriots have hunted the birds during migration to make a local dish called Ambelopoulia (pictured below). 
Traditionally, the trapping used branches covered in sticky lime that birds would land on and be unable to escape.   Then the invention of large indiscriminate netting techniques that could capture thousands of birds, including threatened species, led to the outlawing of both Ambelopoulia dish and the hunting in 1974.   Most of the birds trapped by poachers are common species such as robin and blackcap and their capture has a negligible effect on their conservation, but the RSPB declares the practice is a real problem because of the rare species captured, such as the Cyprus Wheatear and the Cyprus Warbler (pictured below).   The RSPB has suggested the Ministry of Defence is loathe to come down too hard on poachers because it will antagonize the local community, which presumably houses many of the poachers.

Cyprus Wheatear ~ Photo by Reinhild Waschkies

Cyprus Warbler ~ Photo by Daniele Occhiato

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Mar 12, 2015

Wailing Pacific Loon

Photo by Dave Kemp
My British Columbia friend Dave Kemp, from the Pacific coastal community of Richmond sent me this interesting picture of an Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) which he recently photographed.   I say interesting because I don't recall ever seeing a loon yodeling with its head pointed straight upward.   I went to Google and quickly viewed hundreds of photos of Pacific Loons, but did not see one shot with a wide-open beak pointed straight skyward.   I doubt there's anything unique about this behaviour, but it is an uncommon perspective which caught my eye.   Oh, to have heard its high-pitched cry.
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Mar 11, 2015

Bar-headed Goose

Photo: STR/EPA
Highest migration altitude on earth
Three Bar-headed Geese are seen (above) landing in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, India.The geese will stay in the sanctuary until May, before they leave for Tibet, which means making the highest altitude migration on earth.   The trans-Himalayan flight will see the Bar-headed Geese reach heights of more than 23,000 ft. (7,000 metres).   Some observers claim to have seen Bar-heads flying above Mount Everest (29,029 ft. or 8,848 m.).   Oxygen content of the air at 29,000 ft. is about 10%.   In the photo below, a researcher studies Bar-headed Geese close-up by kayak. 
Photo: BBC News
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Mar 10, 2015

Long-tailed Tit

Photo by Krys Bailey / Alamy
Gives new meaning to 'beady-eyed'
The Long-tailed Tit, a.k.a. the Long-tailed Bushtit (Aegithalos caudatus) is found throughout Europe and Asia.   Despite its very long tail, this bird is tiny (only 5 to 6 inches long, including its 3 to 3.5 inch tail).
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Mar 9, 2015

Close call at Uganda's Lake Mburo

Photo by David Driver
The alarming aspect of the compelling photograph above has to be moderated by the unlikely possibility that the hippo would actually eat the egret.   Hippos are of course mostly on grass.   It was nevertheless a close call.   The hippo, Africa's notoriously most-dangerous animal, opened its jaws wide and roared, at which point the egret decided to move upstream a bit and continue its fishing. The incident occurred in a national park in southern Uganda.   I can't help but wonder if the hippo is a vegetarian, why does it have those whacking great teeth.
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Mar 8, 2015

2014 Great Backyard Bird Count photo contest winners

Nine Canadians have been named as prize winners or honourable mention recipients in the 2014 GBBC photo contest.   They were among 48 overall winners and honourable mention recipients in six categories in the worldwide contest.   Below are the Canadian award-winning photos and the names of the photographers.   To see all of the winning photographs, go to Google and enter 2014 gbbc photo contest winners.  

Overall Winner (Honourable Mention)
Black-capped Chickadee ~ Missy Mandel, Canada

People Winners (First Place) - Jamie Burris, New Brunswick

People Winners (Honourable Mention) - Mark Peck, Ontario

People Winners (Honourable Mention) - Jo Liebe, British Columbia

Habitat Winners (Third Place)
Short-eared Owl ~ Sandra & Frank Horvath, Ontario

Group Winners (Fourth Place)
Gray Partridge ~ V. Mann, Saskskatchewan

Group Winners (Honourable Mention)
Bohemian Waxwings ~ Monikah Wiseman, Alberta

Composition Winners (Fourth Place)
America Tree Sparrow ~ Missy Mandel, Ontario
The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.   Between February 13 and 16 of this year, participants from over 100 countries counted 5,090 species, representing nearly half the possible species in the world.

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