Monday, October 27, 2014

Birding Trip

Yesterday a friend and I went on a day's birding trip.  Our first stop was at the 2 lagoons in Salisbury.  Stilt Sandpipers had been reported there but we did not find them.  But what we found was spectacular.  The number of waterfowl there was outstanding.  There was a huge flock of NORTHERN SHOVELERS.  A low estimate was 300.  We had never seen so many shovelers in one place before.  

Northern Shovelers

There was also a large number of Mallards (150), mostly males.  This large accumulation of waterfowl (along with other species) made for wonderful viewing.

American Wigeon
We also found an AMERICAN COOT and a NORTHERN PINTAIL which are uncommon.

American Coot

Northern Pintail Female
At Sackville we visited the large fields between the road and the river and after careful searching found a HUDSONIAN GODWIT with a flock of PECTORAL SANDPIPERS.  Shorebirds stop in this area to feed and renew their fat stores before continuing their migration south.  Large flocks of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS were reported from this area but we found only 4.  

Pectoral Sandpiper

There was a lot of activity at the Waterfowl Park.  Most species were present in moderate numbers.  We were interested in the shorebirds that have been roosting there and found GREATER YELLOWLEGS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and 1 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER.  The boardwalk took us close to where they were roosting, affording good views.  Also of note were another AMERICAN COOT, 3 PIED-BILLED GREBES, and a HORNED GREBE.  What a waterfowl bonanza there was there.

Greater Yellowlegs 
Green-winged Teal Female 
Horned Grebe
Sackville Waterfowl Park

At Salisbury we found 2 ICELAND GULLS and 3 more on our return to Fredericton.  Unfortunately that is a sign that winter is coming.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ayers Lake Lookout

We recently hiked to Ayers Lake Lookout which is located 10 Km beyond Hawkins Corner, east of Millville.  We were able to drive into the base of the 'mountain'.  That left a fairly difficult 1.2 Km hike up to the lookout.

The area has a lot of old-growth Acadian forest with mainly sugar maple, red oak, beech, spruce and hemlock.  We saw some sugar maples that were 1 metre in diameter.  It was a sunny day and although the leaves were past their prime, they were still beautiful.  Most of the reds were gone but there was lots of colour left.

From the lookout one can see a pristine valley including old-growth forest, a lake, streams and a bog.  Off in the distance can be seen a vast wilderness marked by hills and promontories.  There are many hiking trails leading through the hardwoods, softwoods and to the lake and bogs.

Bird life was a bit quiet but we did see a large number of Dark-eyed Juncos.  They must have been migrating with several flocks feeding in the area.  The highlight was a Ruffed Grouse which posed on the road and a Buteo sp. which was too far over the mountain to be identified.  Also seen were Gray Jay, Hermit Thrush, Black-capped Chickadee, Raven and a flock of Pine Siskins.

 Gray Jay
Ruffed Grouse

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New England Aster

In early October I found an outstanding aster growing near Lorneville.  I brought a piece home and keyed it out.  It was New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) and it was the most impressive aster I have ever seen.  Its blooms were very large [5 cm (2 inches) across] and a deep purple colour.  It was attracting many bees with its showy inflorescence.  Its leaves were lanceolate and clasping the stem.  It was about 1 metre (3 ft) high and was growing in a gravelly area beside a road.  There were only 2 or 3 plants in that area.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rare Birds

There are two rare species I would dearly love to see.  This summer I actually got to see them!  Well, actually they were specimens at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.  There they were on a dusty shelf crammed in with lots of other neat bird specimens.  Most people would not know how special they really are. 

The Curlew Sandpiper is very rare in New Brunswick.  There have been less than 15 reports in recent times.  One was found dead on Grand Manan in 1966.  Other reports were from Marys Point and near Sackville.  This sandpiper is a vagrant from the Old World, breeding in Siberia and wintering in Africa, Asia and Australasia.  Occasionally it will stray to the east coast of North America.  It is 8.5" long and has black legs and a decurved bill.  It should be distinguished from our more common Dunlin.  

The Yellow Rail a very rare summer resident and migrant to New Brunswick.  There was a small population of calling birds in the Grand Lake Meadows in the 1990s.  This species prefers wet sedge meadows.  It is 6.4" to 7.6" long and has a short bill and tail.  It is difficult to see because it is very secretive and stays in dense cover.  Its unique vocalizations are of note.  They vocalize on the breeding grounds at night and sound like 2 stones being clunked together.  The sound is a tic-tic for about 5 notes.  Its breeding range extends over the Prairie Provinces through Ontario and southern Quebec and it winters on the coasts of the southern US states and the Gulf Coast of Texas.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Polygala/ Purple Milkwort

Polygala is a very rare (S2) wildflower found only in a few places in New Brunswick.  We were lucky to find it on a botany field trip to Grand Lake near Fredericton in late August.  It was found in open woods near the lake shore.  It is also found in old burn sites, roadsides, clearings and meadows.  It grows 15 to 38 cm high.  The leaves are alternate and narrowly elliptic.  The flower is a dense cylinder and a pinkish to purple colour.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Late Fall Warbler Birding

In the last couple of weeks I have been birding in the Black Beach Road area of Lorneville looking for late fall migrants.  There were a few small flocks of warblers still around.  More sparrows were starting to appear, especially Song and White-throated Sparrows.  There were many Ruby-crowned Kinglets with the warblers.  Vireos were abundant especially Blue-headed Vireos, and on one trip, Philadelphia Vireos were seen.  Especially pleasing to see were an Orange-crowned Warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a Tennessee Warbler.  At one point after hearing a loud raucous bird call, a Gray Jay appeared on top of one of the conifers.  

Blue-headed Vireo
Black-and-white Warbler
Black-throated-green Warbler
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Common Yellowthroat
Red-eyed Vireo

Friday, October 10, 2014

Monarch Butterfly Population Decline

According to Newsweek magazine, the Monarch Butterfly population numbers have decreased by 90% in the last 20 years.  Many of us have believed that the main reason for this catastrophic decline is the loss of wintering habitat in Mexico.  Recent studies show that that is not the case.

According to research done at the University of Guelph, the main reason is habitat loss on breeding grounds in the United States (Journal of Animal Ecology).  The butterflies depend on the availability of milkweed plants to complete their life cycle.  Because many farmers in the Corn Belt in the US are growing genetically-modified crops (Roundup-ready corn and soybeans) that are resistant to traditional herbicides, they are now using more and more herbicide sprays on their land.  This is eliminating the milkweed plants causing huge population declines in the butterflies.  According to the Guelph research, 70% of the milkweed in the region grows on farms where genetically-modified crops and heavy herbicide spraying are on the increase.

Unless something is done to prevent the loss of milkweed immediately, we may lose our Monarch Butterflies permanently.