Thursday, January 18, 2018

White Morph Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon Seen in New Brunswick

Gyrfalcon [Jean-Guy Gallant Photo]
On December 18, 2017 a white morph Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) was seen and reported near Caissie Cape by Nora Hebert.  The Gyrfalcon is such a rare bird it has sparked a frenzy of birders travelling to the area in an attempt to see it.  It was seen sporadically there for 3 or 4 days and then seemed to disappear.  Fortunately it was seen again (or another individual) in the Buctouche area by the same birder on January 8.  There it has been spotted almost daily since.  

Referring to the photo above (thank you, Jean-Guy Gallant) this bird is a juvenile white morph.  The Gyrfalcon comes in three morphs (or plumage types), white, gray and dark.  The present bird is a typical white showing a very white white with spots and streaks in dark reddish brown and dark gray. It has dark wing tips with a smudging of colour on its head, nape, belly and tail.  The bill and feet are a light grayish colour, making it a juvenile.  If it were an adult these would be bright yellow.  Please see a previous post (February 24, 2017) for more detailed information on this species.

The Gyrfalcon is our largest falcon.  Our other falcons are the Peregrine, the Merlin and the Kestrel.  The Gyrfalcon is 51-64 cm long (20"-25").  It has more body than our other falcons.  Note the heavy body and broad wings.  That makes it a powerful predator which can take down flying prey easily.  It feeds mainly on waterfowl, pigeons, and rodents.  

We saw this bird on January 12 and it was chasing pigeons.  The area it is frequenting in Buctouche is ideal habitat.  There is a highway bridge and a walking bridge, 2 lagoons, a pond, a large bay and the ocean all close by.  That day the Gyrfalcon was making a pass at a large flock of about 50 pigeons.  When I saw it, it was in the middle of the flock, in the air.  The flock was flaring in all directions and the falcon was right in the middle trying to grab one of the pigeons.  It appeared fast and powerful!  Its pattern seems to be to make a couple of passes at the pigeons or ducks in the morning and sometimes again late in the day.  The window of opportunity (to see and photograph the bird) is very short and the weather is not conducive to standing out watching for long periods.  However, to see the bird makes the effort well worthwhile.  We saw the flock of pigeons in wild chaos again about an hour later that morning and suspect the Gyrfalcon was after them again but did not see it among the flock.  

The Gyrfalcon's range is all of Arctic Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the very northern part of the prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador.  It is a holarctic species so also occurs in the most northern part of Europe and Asia.  It rarely comes south but occasionally vagrants show up in Newfoundland or the Maritime provinces.  We are lucky this is one of those years!  To view this bird is a rare opportunity which may not come again for many years.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Our Smallest Owl


Northern Saw-whet Owl
Early Sunday morning my telephone rang and a neighbour told me that a small owl had just hit their window and it was on the ground 'shivering'.  I quickly made plans to go and rescue it but received another call soon afterwards telling me it had flown away.  That was good news.  That meant that the owl was probably just stunned and was recovering.

The owl shown above was another individual which appeared around houses looking for something to eat.  There were bird feeders there and the owl was watching for rodents or small birds as prey.  Northern Saw-whet Owls are strictly nocturnal.  Their main diet is rodents, shrews, voles, birds and insects. They forage close to the ground and spend their days roosting in thick evergreens.  

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Shown above is the actual bird that sparked the phone call.  It is an adult Northern Saw-whet.  Notice the small size, the white 'V' between its eyes, the fine white streaks on the forehead, the reddish brown vertical streaks on its breast and the spots on the sides.  This cute little owl is only 20 cm (8") long!

The Northern Saw-whet Owl inhabits a large area of North America from Alaska across all of southern Canada southward to southern US.  In winter some individuals migrate a short distance to more southerly climates within its range.  It is a permanent resident of New Brunswick.  It nests in abandoned woodpecker holes or natural cavities in trees.  The female incubates the eggs for 26-28 days and the male brings her food.  They vocalize only during the breeding season making a monotonous short repeated sound that sounds like a saw being filed or 'whetted'.  

Northern Saw-whet Owl [Internet Photo]
The only other owl species that might be seen here that one would confuse with this species is the Boreal Owl.  That is a much more northern species which is very rare here.  It is slightly larger but has white spots on its forehead rather than the streaks of the Saw-whet.  The juvenile Northern Saw-whets are very different looking.  They are dark brown overall with an orange breast and belly.  They show the white 'V' between the eyes, the same as the adult.

Northern Saw-whet Owl [Internet Photo]
Sometimes the winter brings hard times for these owls.  That is often the reason they are seen near human habitation.  They are desperate for food and hope for rodents or other food.  That makes them prone to injury (as in this case) from window or automobile strikes, predators,  or interference with humans.  Some of them are so tame or so starved that they allow humans to approach too closely.  It is best to back off and protect these little creatures at these crucial times.  With deep snows finding food is difficult and they are stressed from weather, starvation and being in close proximity to human habitation.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Mactaquac Christmas Bird Count

Annual Christmas Bird Count

White-throated Sparrow

The Mactaquac Christmas Bird Count is an annual event taking place on January 1.  A team of hardy citizen scientists brave the cold weather and conduct a bird census in a large 24-km circle running from Keswick to Upper Prince William and Mazerolle Settlement to Springfield.  This count has been done for many years now and the data are collected and compiled by NatureNB, Bird Studies Canada and the Audubon Society.  

The weather was severe this year.  Participants braved extreme temperatures and a wind chill up to - 29ÂșC.  Being on the road for most of the day made conditions difficult.  Participants observe from their cars but frequently get out to look for birds and to walk through woods, roads and lanes.  Most groups consist of 2 people, a driver and a recorder, both watching carefully for birds.  

White-winged Crossbill
This year we counted 1697 birds representing 32 species.  Both total numbers and species numbers were below average.  This is probably for two main reasons.  Firstly, the weather was so severe many birds held tight in whatever hiding place they had chosen away from the wind and cold.  Secondly, so far this has not been a finch year.  Our fruit and cone crops are low and migrating flocks of finches are not coming into the area to feed.  Many of these flocks are staying well north of us.  That may change as the season progresses and they are forced to move into this area seeking food sources.  There was also less open water this year with the extreme cold so a lot of waterfowl have moved out of the area.  

We did however find a remnant of winter finches.  Note the White-winged Crossbill shown above.  We found only 6 of these.  And, only 1 of the White-throated Sparrow shown above.  We did, however, notice some trends.  The Blue Jay population is high, having seen 164.  We also noticed that the American Goldfinch population is rebounding.  In the last few years the goldfinch population has plummeted.  Not so anymore.  They are increasing now in this area.

Shown below are two charts, one showing a summary of the birds seen on this year's count.  Below that is a comparison of the last 7 years of counts comparing species numbers and total numbers of birds counted.  

Mactaquac CBC 2017


Jan. 1, 2018





Species
Total




Am Black Duck
80

Mallard
1

Common Goldeneye
84

Hooded Merganser
4

Common Merganser
41

Bald Eagle
9

Ruffed Grouse
3

Great Black-backed Gull
11

Rock Pigeon
231

Mourning Dove
35

Barred Owl
1

Downy Woodpecker
7

Hairy Woodpecker
18

Pileated Woodpecker
2

Blue Jay
164

American Crow
88

Common Raven
51

Black-capped Chickadee
223

Red-breasted Nuthatch
37

White-breasted Nuthatch
12

Brown Creeper
4

Golden-crowned Kinglet
8

European Starling
167

American Tree Sparrow
24

White-throated Sparrow
1

Dark-eyed Junco
29

Northern Cardinal
4

Snow Bunting
13

Purple Finch
58

White-winged Crossbill
6

Pine Siskin
51

American Goldfinch
229

Accipiter sp.
1

Total 
1697

No. of Species
32





Mactaquac CBCs 

No. of Species
Total Birds
2011
38
2821
2012
40
2469
2013
32
1942
2014
39
1616
2015
38
1747
2016
36
1965
2017
32
1697
Average
36
2037



Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fredericton Christmas Bird Count

Fredericton Christmas Bird Count - Douglas Sector

Bald Eagle
For many years we have participated in the Fredericton Christmas Bird Count, covering the Clements Drive/ Douglas area.  Our sector covers the area from the Claudie Road to Grand Pass and all the side roads and areas in between.  It is our job to assess the bird population in that area.

Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have been done in North America for over 100 years.  Prior to 1900 there was a tradition called "Side Hunt" in which hunters conducted a Christmas Day hunting 'free for all'.  It was a contest to see who could come in at the end of the day with the most dead birds.  Fortunately the conservation movement was beginning then and Frank M. Chapman, an early officer of the Audubon Society,  proposed a day in which people would go out and conduct a Christmas bird census rather than kill so many birds.  That year 25 Christmas Bird Counts were conducted.  The first one done in New Brunswick was part of that first count and was conducted at Scotch Lake by William H. Moore.  Here is what he recorded counting for one hour from 9:00 to 10:00 am at Scotch Lake, Dec. 25, 1900:  Goshawk 1, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 1, Blue Jay 2, Pine Grosbeak 1, Brown Creeper 2, White-breasted Nuthatch 20, Chickadee 6.  Total 9 species, 36 individuals.  (There are only 8 species mentioned so an error was created somewhere along the line).

Black Duck
Today thousands of counts are done throughout North America (about 50 in New Brunswick) on any day from Dec. 14 to Jan 5.   In Canada about 60,000 volunteers conduct CBCs including people on the road and those watching feeders.  A circle 24 km in diameter is laid out and then divided into sectors.  Groups of people are assigned to a sector or partial sector.  The assigned group is in the sector from dawn to dusk observing birds, looking for good habitat and checking around houses and barns.  They count both numbers and species.  These people are generally well trained and watch the skies, trees, low vegetation and house and barn yards.  Each group usually has a driver and a person who records the birds. 

The general public can help by keeping their feeders free of ice and snow and filled with good bird food.  They can welcome the birders as they drive in their driveways or park along the road.  A friendly wave is always helpful.  

Following are the results for the Clements Drive/Douglas Sector.  

Canada Goose
85
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) B
2
Mallard
32
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
9
Hooded Merganser
1
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) B
5
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) B
5
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) B
2
Rock Pigeon
9
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) B
43
Great Horned Owl
1
Downy Woodpecker 
3
Hairy Woodpecker 
3
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) B
13
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) B
42
Common Raven (Corvus corax) B
3
Black-capped Chickadee 
88
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) B
1
White-breasted Nuthatch B
8
American Robin   (Turdus migratorius) B
1
Bohemian Waxwing   
4
Dark-eyed Junco   (Junco hyemalis) B
29
American Goldfinch   (Carduelis tristis) B
9
Chipping Sparrow
1
Wild Turkey
3
Total No. Species       
25
Total No. Birds
402
Mammals

White-tailed Deer
13