Friday, July 24, 2015

South Wolf Island

Bioblitz Weekend

Recently a team went to South Wolf Island in the Bay of Fundy to survey the plant and bird populations.  The island is about 300 acres in size and is uninhabited.  The only human footprint there is an automated lighthouse on the southern end.  The rest of the island is rugged rock, forest, and meadow.  We set up camp on the northern end where there was a cobble beach fit for landing.

The environment there is pristine.  The air is pure and there are no sounds except for the birds and waves crashing on the beach.  The exceptions to this paradise are the Grand Manan ferry which wends its way by regularly and the human garbage washed up on the beaches.  This is mostly fishing paraphernalia and plastics of various sorts.  The garbage really is appalling.  There is so much of it one wonders how much there must be in the worldwide oceans.

The birds were very much in evidence.  Most were nesting; Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders.  We also saw Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Puffin, Whimbrel, Razorbill, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet.  The island appeared to be one of the important nesting areas for the Black Guillemot.  Whenever we were near shore they saw them, waiting just offshore with food in their beaks to feed young hidden in rock crevices.
Black Guillemot
 We saw Common Eiders with young.  They seemed to like to be near shore.  This was probably so the young could get out of the water to rest.

Common Eiders with Young
The island provided many beautiful photo opportunities.

We did a thorough plant survey.  We did find some interesting plants.  The island is covered mainly with spruce forest, mainly white spruce but also red and black.  Roseroot seen below was found in several places in rock crevices.  It is found only in the Bay of Fundy area.

Roseroot Rhodiola rosea
Woodland Strawberry in an uncommon strawberry.  It grows in calcareous, rocky areas from B.C. to Newfoundland.  We found it in a rock crevice.

Woodland Strawberry Fragaria vesca
We looked hard for orchids and found one abundantly growing in one part of the island, Platanthera obtusata.  We found it as described in Hinds book, "in full shade beneath cedar or other conifers".

Blunt-leaf Rein Orchid Platanthera obtusata
In one bay there were many seals hauled out sunning themselves.  It was interesting to watch them jostle for preferred spaces.

Another of the many vistas we enjoyed.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Four Common and Two Rare Species 

Red-eyed Vireo
Birders in New Brunswick could possibly see six species of vireos.  But what is a vireo?  A vireo is a small insectivorous bird.  It is slightly larger than a warbler and is usually quite vocal.  So, we often hear them before we see them.  They live in the foliage of large trees, usually deciduous, where they find plenty of insects and their larvae to feed themselves and their young.  

Vireos look much like warblers but they are actually closely related to shrikes.  They are typically gray or green above and white or yellow below.  When trying to identify them, watch for the presence or absence of wing bars,  eye rings or spectacles, eye lines, eye brows, and in some cases the eye colour.  We have six species of vireos, four of which are common.  Three species have wing bars; Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, and White-eyed Vireo.  Three species do not have wing bars; Red-eyed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo and Warbling Vireo.  The two rare species are Yellow-throated Vireo and White-eyed Vireo.

The Red-eyed Vireo, seen above, is probably our most common species.  It can be heard almost anywhere in the province during summer, singing almost incessantly from hardwood trees.  It has a red eye, a white eye brow with a dark line above it and a dark line through the eye.  It is one of our most common summer birds.  It is said the male sings to the female while she is on the nest in order to keep her brooding.  That explains the persistent song.  

The Blue-headed Vireo is also very common.  It is found in mixed woods.  Its song is similar to that of the Red-eyed but slower in tempo.  The head is a nice blue-gray colour and the white spectacles are very evident.
Blue-headed Vireo
The Philadelphia Vireo prefers open woodlands and thickets near streams.  Its song is similar to that of the Red-eyed but slower, thinner and higher pitched.  It has a white eyebrow with a dark eye line and its body is mainly green above and yellow below.
Philadelphia Vireo
The Warbling Vireo is a wonderful songster.  Its song is characterized by long melodious phrases.  It is our plainest-looking vireo, being dull gray or greenish above and whitish/yellowish below.  It has a whitish eyebrow which lacks a dark upper border and there is no strong eye line.  It likes deciduous forests especially riparian areas.
Warbling Vireo [Internet Photo]
The Yellow-throated Vireo is uncommon in NB.  Its yellow is shockingly bright.  Its yellow spectacles are distinctive.  The dark grey wings and white wing bars make it easy to identify.   It prefers deciduous and mixed woods.

Yellow-throated Vireo [Internet Photo]
The White-eyed Vireo is rare here.  Its yellow spectacles and white eye are distinctive.  Its "explosive song from a thicket or tangle of vines" (National Geographic Birds of North America) identifies this bird.  That is exactly what I discovered the first time I ever saw this species.  It was making strange sounds from a thicket and would not show itself.  Only by persistence did I get to see this bird!  It is seen occasionally here during migration.

White-eyed Vireo [Internet Photo]

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Eye Candy

We Have Some Very Beautiful Birds!

Baltimore Oriole

Florida, California, Texas, move over.  We have some very beautiful birds, too.  Now that it is summer, we have our full complement of birds here in our province.  Well, I have to qualify that, because we do have a few winter residents that have left us for more northerly climes.  But our bird population is at its maximum right now.  That means lots of species and high numbers.  The birds that summer here are in full numbers.  The young of the year have left the nest (or soon will) bumping up the population numbers.

Some of our summer residents are overly beautiful.  They are all unique and many are beautiful, but some are off the chart.  Today I am featuring three such species; the Baltimore Oriole, the Scarlet Tanager and the Indigo Bunting.

Generally speaking, the birds are in their breeding plumage in the spring and towards mid-to-late summer they start to moult. They gradually lose (and replace) their flight and body feathers.  Often their second plumage (non-breeding) is less spectacular.  

The Baltimore Oriole (see above) arrives in late May and stays with us into the autumn.  At that time both the male and female are beautiful but the male is brilliant.  His flaming orange, yellow and black colours pattern his body beautifully.  It is interesting that his orange is the same colour as a ripe orange fruit and they enjoy treats of oranges put out for them on their arrival.  We had them coming regularly to oranges this year.  I was amused to see the male come and peck on an orange light bulb of an outdoor light to see if it could be eaten.  The orioles feed on fruit and insects and nest in large deciduous trees.

Scarlet Tanager

The Scarlet Tanager arrives in mid-to-late May.  It prefers to live high up in large deciduous woods.  They are not often seen for that reason.  However, if we take time to learn their song, we can become more aware of their presence.  They sound a lot like a Robin.  Some describe their song to be like a Robin with a sore throat.  The male tanager is amazingly beautiful.  The scarlet red on his body could not be any brighter.  When viewed at close range, it looks fluorescent.  It is set off beautifully with the black wings.  The female is more subdued with yellow and black.  Tanagers feed on insects and fruits.

Indigo Bunting

The Indigo Bunting arrives about the same time as the orioles and tanagers.  They feed on insects, seeds and fruits and are often first seen at feeders.  What a delight it is to look at your feeder and see this bird!  Its blue is rich and iridescent.  The female is a much duller brownish colour.  As the spring advances, the buntings move away from feeders and feed near their nesting sights in bushes and thick vegetation.

Summer is the time to enjoy our avian treasures.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Early Morning Bird Walk

Birding with Friends

Red-winged Blackbird
Two friends and I went early morning birding to Wilkins Field, which is in Fredericton North.  It is a lush area of floodplain with grasses, alders, ephemeral ponds, permanent ponds, and marsh.  With all these diverse habitats, there are usually many birds present.  

The Red-winged Blackbirds are ever-present.  They can be heard and seen from any vantage point.  This male was actively proclaiming his territory and telling us to beware.   Note the bright red epaulettes bordered with yellow.  When he flies he flashes these.  To us they look beautiful but to birds they probably look intimidating.

Cedar Waxwing
The Cedar Waxwings were present in small flocks, actively feeding on insects.  We saw some young which were out of the nest and being fed by adults.  Their high-pitched whistle/song was very evident.

Belted Kingfisher
There was at least one pair of Belted Kingfishers there.  The male above often perched in a prominent place and 'rattled' at us.  His song is a rattling noise, reminding some of the noise a fishing reel makes when line is pulled out.  This species is a bit different in that the female has the bright colours and the male is subdued.  This is because the male sits on the eggs in this species and thus the nest location is protected by the subdued plumage.  The female has a bright orange band across her breast.  The Kingfisher dives for fish which it observes from an elevated perch.

We found this beautiful feather lying on the ground, dropped by some flying bird.  The iridescence was striking.  We guessed that it came from a Common Grackle.  The iridescence is typical and it is probably a tail feather.  Note that the shaft is located in the middle of the feather.  A wing feather would have the shaft offset with more 'feather' on one side than the other.