Thursday, November 27, 2014

Winter Birds

We had a big snow storm last night and this morning which dropped over 30 cm  (1 foot) of snow on us.  The high winds blew it into drifts which are deeper than that!  

The birds seem overly hungry before and after a storm.  They were slow getting their feed this morning because it was difficult to access the feeders.  It is nice to feel appreciated when wading snow nearly to one's knees in order to feed them!  The crows were waiting in the trees.

The Mourning Doves were checking under the feeders.  

The American Goldfinches were glad when the feeders were filled.

And our special guest, the Ring-billed Gull, came for breakfast and was not disappointed.

The crows had to defer to the gull and wait for their turn.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Howland Falls

New Brunswick has many beautiful water falls.  Howland Falls is an easy drive from Fredericton and a trip there makes a worthwhile outing.  

Howland Falls

The falls drop about 11 metres in two stage.  The trail down to the base of the falls is short and well-marked.  It is steep but certainly manageable. Good footwear would be an asset.  The falls are on Howland Brook which flows into the St. John River.  The gorge is rugged and beautiful.  

To get to this site, drive west from Fredericton on Route 105.  After you pass Mactaquac Park, drive  about 20 Km. to Bear Island.  Turn north on Scotch Lake Road for about 1 Km. to a cement bridge.  Take the trail down to your right to the falls.  There is a good place to park near the bridge.

There was a lot of water coming over the falls when I was there recently.  Even though it is November, the colours of plants, rocks and rushing water were beautiful.  The twisted rock layers are interesting.  Visit this area and enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Migrating Ducks

Photo from The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding, Vol. 1
Immature Female
I was birding last week with a friend along the river and we found some diving ducks.  There were two flocks of COMMON GOLDENEYES totalling 30.  Under the bridge was a flock of 11 RING-NECKED DUCKS.  There was one with the Ring-necks that was a bit different.  It was approximately the same size and shape as the Ring-necks but had a different head.  The flock was feeding heavily, moving frequently to the bottom, making it difficult to get a good view.  The unusual one kept disappearing making me wonder if I was seeing things.  Finally I got a second look and it certainly was not a Ring-neck.  It had a sloping forehead and some white on its head.  It looked like the photo above but much darker because it was at a distance.

Getting a closer look I noticed there were two white spots on the head and a small white patch on the wing speculum.  That prompted me to get my bird book out to confirm my suspicions.  Yes, it was a WHITE-WINGED SCOTER.  But the female should have very muted white patches on its head and this one had much whiter spots.  It was a juvenile!  The head of the juvenile is different this time of year; whiter spots.  

Photo from The Sibley Guide to Birds, p.99

That is a somewhat unusual species here on the river in Fredericton.  A single bird with a group of Ring-necks is also unusual.  But, things get mixed up during migration.  Groups of scoters do migrate down the St. John River but they are usually pure flocks of scoters.  They can be mixed scoter flocks (Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, and Surf Scoter) but it is unusual for them to have other species with them.  And, it is even more unusual to find a single scoter mixed in with a flock of other ducks.  Such is migration and how nice!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Passenger Pigeon 


On September 1, 1914 the last Passenger Pigeon on Earth passed into oblivion.  What a sad day for humanity!  "Martha" spent her last years living alone in the Cincinnati Zoo.  Her species declined from billions in about 100 years.  

Once the most populous bird in North America, if not the world, the combination of an abundant bird, the greedy market hunter, and the rampant destruction of hardwood forests, spelled the end of this magnificent avian species.  Today we are left with about 1500 mounts, skins and eggs in museums around the world.  Prior to 1800 the population was estimated to be 3 to 5 billion.  It was reported that in Michigan in 1878, 50,000 birds were killed every single day for 5 months.  This kind of slaughter occurred all over its range, supplying restaurants in the East.  No wonder that huge population dwindled to nothing by 1900.  

What does history tell us about this bird?  Alexander Wilson, the father of American ornithology, in the late 1700s or early 1800s described the huge flocks as sounding like a tornado, like thunder, making so much noise it scared the horses.  John James Audubon reported a flock in Kentucky in 1813 as so large that when it passed, the sky was darkened like in a solar eclipse.  In 1866 in Ontario, a flock was reported that was 500 km long, 1.5 km wide and it took 14 hours to pass.

Female and Male Passenger Pigeon, mounts from Royal Ontario Museum

Male Passenger Pigeon, mount from Laval University

Juvenile, Male, Female Passenger Pigeon, Watercolor by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

These birds were beautiful to see, showed some very interesting flight dynamics and certainly played an important ecological role in North American ecosystems.  

The Passenger Pigeon migrated to New Brunswick annually to feed and breed in our hardwood forests.  Our earliest record comes from writings by Nicolas Denys (1672 ) who reported in 1650 many great flocks numbering over 600 passing over the area of present-day Miramichi City (The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America, 1908 translation).   Our last record was one killed at Scotch Lake, NB, near Fredericton in 1899 and reported by William H. Moore (A List of the Birds of New Brunswick, 1928).  There are mounts of this bird in the New Brunswick Museum and in the Grand Manan Museum.

It leaves a sick feeling in a naturalist's stomach to realize that that is all we have left of such a magnificent species.

[Material for this article including photos was taken from the Internet]

Monday, November 3, 2014

Rare New Brunswick Oak

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is one of the White Oaks.  It is uncommon in New Brunswick.  We recently found two of these trees in the Loyalist Cemetery on Brunswick Street, Fredericton.  There are others growing near the east end of the Burton bridge and in a few other places around Fredericton.

The leaves are distinctive; 10 to 20 cm long and 8 to 15 cm wide; oblong with entire margins (no teeth).  The two centre sinuses of the leaf reach nearly to the midrib.  In the fall the leaves turn yellow or brown and are whitish underneath.  The acorns are 2 to 5 cm long and the caps have a fringe around the margin.  Is this why it is called Bur Oak?  The twigs are yellowish brown, pubescent and may have corky ridges.  The bark is dark gray with vertical ridges.

This tree is at its distribution limit here.  It grows mainly in central and north-eastern United States but also extends into southern Ontario and Quebec.  We are lucky to have some growing here.  Check it out the next time you are in the area.