Thursday, September 24, 2015

Northern Flicker

Ground-feeding Woodpeckers

Northern Flicker
For the last two weeks we have had flocks of Northern Flickers feeding in our yard.  We have seen as many as 10 or 12 at once feeding on the lawn.  There were probably more in the bushes and trees around the house.  These are migrating woodpeckers which are stopping over to feed and rest.  They are probably from further north, on their way to central and southern United States and Mexico to spend the winter.  

Flickers are ground-feeding birds that are members of the woodpecker family.  They feed on ants and other insects.  They are one of our most colourful woodpeckers.  As you can see below they have a large black cresent on their breast and a red 'V' on the back of their neck.  Their body is beige with black bars or dots and their head is gray.  They show a white rump patch when they fly.  Their wings and tail are yellow underneath.  The tail looks black from the top.  The shafts of the feathers in the wings and tail are yellow.  The legs are gray.

Northern Flicker
The two photos below show a tail feather from both the top and bottom aspects.  The feather is a rich yellow on the underside with a yellow shaft.  The top is black also showing the yellow shaft.  In Western North America the Northern Flicker is 'red-shafted'.  It shows a red shaft to its feathers and red wing linings and undertail.

The flicker shown here has a black malar stripe.  That is the black mark running from the beak down the side of its throat.  This shows that this is a male bird.  The female lacks the malar stripe.

Northern Flicker
The Flicker nests in cavities in trees, utility poles, and in birdhouses.  It lays 3 to 12 white eggs which hatch in 11 to 16 days.  Flickers will come to your bird feeder and eat suet, seeds and nuts.  They are quite vocal, making a 'flicker' sound, a 'kleeer' or sometimes a 'wicka-wicka-wicka'.

Now is the time to get outside and look for this friendly species.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Another Shorebird Species

The Dunlin is a relatively common fall migrant in our area.  It is rare in the spring.  That is because its flight routes in the spring take it up the central flyway.  In the fall it migrates south down the coast lines (Atlantic and Pacific flyways).  

It is a bird of North America and Eurasia.  Here in North America it breeds from Alaska east to Hudson Bay.  It winters along the coast from southern Alaska and Massachusetts south to Mexico.  It nests on tundra and winters on beaches, mudflats, lakes and river shores.  

The Dunlin is a medium-sized shorebird often showing a short neck.  Its general appearance often appears hunch-backed.  The Dunlin has two plumages, breeding and non-breeding.  Here in Atlantic Canada we usually see the non-breeding plumage or something in between the two.  In the photo above we see the non-breeding plumage with a trace of the breeding plumage.  The non-breeding plumage shows a plain gray head, neck and upper parts, faintly spotted gray breast with a white chin, throat and belly.  It has a largish black bill which is slightly decurved (curved downwards).  The legs are black or gray.  The breeding plumage shows a distinctive reddish-brown back and a black patch on the belly.  The upper parts are whitish with fine dark streaks.  

Dunlin (showing incomplete breeding plumage)
The Dunlin is a later migrant in our area, often peak numbers appearing in September and October.  They feed on insects, marine worms, small crustaceans and snails.  They are tactile feeders probing food from the mud with their sensitive bills.  Although we do not get to see it, on the breeding grounds the male attracts the female by performing display flights.  I would like to see that!  Their song is a soft 'cheerp'.  
In the photo above the bird is showing a streak of reddish brown on the back, a remnant of the breeding plumage.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper

An Interesting Shorebird

Pectoral Sandpiper [Internet Photo]
Pectoral Sandpipers are migrating along our shores now.  They are often seen in small flocks as they feed and rest in wet fields, marshy ponds and along our seashores.  Birdwatchers generally like this species because it is usually easy to identify.

It is a heavily streaked bird with scaled, dark brown upperparts, a heavily streaked brown breast and a plain white belly.  The streaked breast usually ends in an abrupt line.  It has a dark bill with a pale base, a faint eyering, and yellow legs which often are greenish.  It is a larger shorebird, usually about 8.8 inches long (22 cm).  When it flies it shows a faint wing strip and it has large white patches on the sides of its tail and rump with dark down the middle.  Some birders think it looks like a large Least Sandpiper.  
Pectoral Sandpiper [Internet Photo]
The Pectoral Sandpiper is a long distance flyer.  It breeds in Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia and winters in South America and Australia.  It passes through here mainly in the fall.  Feeding on our shores is important for building up body fat so it has enough energy to complete its long journey.  The photo below was taken at Saints Rest Marsh in Saint John where the birds are often found in the fall.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpipers feed on freshwater and marine invertebrates, seeds and algae.  They feed by probing their bill deep into the mud where their sensitive tactile bills discern food items.  When put to flight their voice sounds like 'churrt' or 'kreek'.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Birding the Acadian Peninsula

Two weekends ago we went for a short vacation to the Acadian Peninsula.  Our main objective was to see shorebirds, many shorebirds, as they migrate through that area on their way south.  Shorebird migration starts in late July and proceeds through September.  Thousands of birds of several species use our shores to feed and rest as they proceed south.

Greater Yellowlegs
Some of the areas we checked for birds included Maisonnette, LeGoulet, Miscou Point, Lac Frye, Petite-Lameque, and Wilson's Point.  There is so much shoreline there that nearly any place has its population of shorebirds at this time of year. 

Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Plover
Some of the common species are shown above, the Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, and Black-bellied Plover.  Also common are the Lesser Yellowlegs shown below.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Shorebird activity is governed more by the tides than the time of day, so in order to see them well one must watch the tides.  The best time to see them feeding is about an hour after high tide.  At high tide they are usually resting and may be difficult to see.  The tide brings in a fresh supply of food which they are anxious to eat.  

Least Sandpiper
The small shorebirds are commonly called 'peeps'.  They are numerous and are fun to watch as they actively feed.  Shown above are two species of peeps, Least Sandpiper and Sanderling.  The Sanderling prefers the ocean shore especially close to the wave action.  It is often seen chasing the waves in and out as they crash on the shore.  Shown below is another species which prefers the ocean shore, the Ruddy Turnstone.  It is our most colourful shorebird.

Ruddy Turnstone
Our rarest shorebird is the Piping Plover shown below.  The North American population is severely compromised and we must be diligent to protect the shoreline habitat of this bird.  A few breed on the Buctouche shoreline, for example, where Environment Canada is actively protecting them.

Piping Plovers
Piping Plover
Another interesting shorebird is the Solitary Sandpiper.  It prefers muddy areas and is often found feeding along the shores of small ponds.  Shown below is one we found actively feeding.

Solitary Sandpiper
 This sandpiper is often found alone, hence the name.  It is distinguished by the eyeing, the greenish legs and the spots on the back.  It is a real beauty as are all the other species.  Shorebirds are difficult to identify but definitely worth seeing.