Thursday, October 29, 2015

Field Trip to Maquapit Lake

Bur Oaks and More

Bur Oak
On Friday past a friend and I went on a field trip to see a stand of Bur Oaks near Maquapit Lake.  Bur Oaks are not common in New Brunswick and to see a stand of them was an exciting prospect.  It was a sunny day about 10ÂșC.  Our fall colours are a bit past their peak but never-the-less are still beautiful.

The habitat was mainly lowland hardwood with a rich understory of ferns, blueberries, and other plants.  The overstory was dominated by water maples, red maples, balsam poplars and oaks.  The oaks were mainly bur oaks with very few red oaks.  We estimated there were at least 50 bur oaks, mostly mature trees.  We measured three of the largest and their diameters were 86, 78, and 66 cm.  Those were big oaks!  Pictured above is a view looking up into one of them.  They still had some of their foliage left although much had fallen off.

Bur Oaks
The Bur Oak's range extends from eastern Canada to the prairies and south through the mid-western states to Texas.  It is a hardy species being able to withstand fire and drought.  Note the thick bark shown below which protects it from fire. 

Bur Oak Bark
Bur Oak Leaf

The Bur Oak was an important source of food for aboriginal peoples.  The acorns are edible and today provide a food source for mammals and birds.  I have searched for bur oak acorns under nearly every tree I have found over the years and I always find a lot of acorn debris but rarely intact acorns.  They are all chewed open or show evidence of worm holes.  I suspect the animals are practically under the trees waiting for them to drop or the squirrels are in the canopy harvesting them before any other creature gets a chance.  It would be fun to harvest a few and boil them up to see what they taste like.  They have been found in archaeological digs going back 5,000 years showing they were an important source of food for our ancestors.  

Bur Oaks
Pictured below is the bark and leaves of the Red Oak.  Note the similarity the red oak bark shows with the Bur Oak.  The leaves are quite different.

Red Oak Bark

Red Oak Leaves
According to "Edible Wild Plants" by Lee Allen Peterson, the acorns of both the white and red oaks are edible although the red oaks are not as desirable as the white oaks.  The Bur Oak is a white oak and the acorns are apparently sweet.  The nuts (acorns) of white oaks can be used for flour, meal, or eaten as nuts or candy.  They are usually shelled and boiled to remove the tannins and then dried and roasted.  Dried nut meats can be dipped in maple sugar and eaten as candy or ground into a meal and used to make breads and muffins.  They are an excellent source of protein and fat.

The habitat we were in was on the shores of a marsh leading into Maquapit Lake.  The scenery there was beautiful as noted in the image below.  

Maquapit Lake Marsh
The waterfowl habitat in the marsh was excellent.  We found wild rice (Zizania) growing and other abundant food for waterfowl.  We happened upon a large flock of about 50 Wood Ducks and 20 Green-winged Teal.  See below.  We also found 5 Great Blue Herons.  

Ducks Feeding and Preening in the Marsh

Wood Ducks with Green-winged Teal in Background

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Birding Saints Rest Marsh

Lesser Yellowlegs
On a cold, rainy day last week I visited Saints Rest Marsh in Saint John.  It is a little late to look for shorebirds but there were still a few there.  We drove the roads of the marsh and Taylor Island slowly but found nothing interesting.  Being past low tide but not yet high tide, I walked the marsh.  This requires good boots and tenacity because the walking is not easy.  But, it paid off.  There were shorebirds there that were not visible from the road.

Above are two of the several Lesser Yellowlegs present.  One flew in and lit right beside me, obviously not realizing I was there.  There were a few Greater Yellowlegs in scattered ponds as well.  I also found Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins, Black-bellied Plovers and a Stilt Sandpiper.  The Stilt is a rather rare shorebird here but a few pass through in the fall.

Lapland Longspur
Walking among the marsh grass sometimes reveals other interesting birds.  This time it was a Lapland Longspur.  I spotted this bird feeding on tidal debris and was able to get a photo before it spotted me and hid in the grass.  This species breeds in the high arctic tundra and winters in the United States where it feeds in grassy fields, airports and beaches.

While I was surveying a group of ducks at the nearby lagoon, a Peregrine Falcon flew over and struck one of the ducks as it was attempting to get fly to safety.  It knocked the duck back into the water but did not kill or capture it.  That was dramatic!  Also seen in the area were the Double-crested Cormorant and Great Black-backed Gull pictured below.  With the gull are Ring-billed Gulls.  The cormorant is a juvenile.

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Black-backed Gull
Below is the list of birds seen (not including waterfowl seen at the lagoon).  The crow is marked with and 'x' to indicate they were not counted.

Green-winged Teal 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 12
Greater Yellowlegs 3
Semipalmated Sandpiper 3
Dunlin 3
Stillt Sandpiper 1
Black-bellied Plover 6
Great Blue Heron 3
American Crow X
Canada Goose 30
Peregrine Falcon 1
Lapland Longspur 1
Savannah Sparrow 2
Black Ducks 20

Thursday, October 15, 2015

White-throated Sparrow

Migrating Sparrows

 White-throated Sparrow
 Last week we had a flock of  20+ White-throated Sparrows around our property.  That is a common occurrence during migration.  Sparrows usually gather into flocks to migrate.  This flock was probably from further north and was feeding and resting on our area.

Pictured above is the White-throated Sparrow in its  non-breeding plumage.  It has lost a bit of its brilliance but is still striking.  Note the conspicuously-outlined white throat, dark bill and crown stripes.  It has a broad yellow to white eyebrow and rusty upperparts.  The underparts are grayish and either clear or slightly streaked as seen above.  Both the male and female are similarly marked.

White-throated Sparrow
The photo above shows the breeding plumage.  Notice the brilliant yellow patch on the anterior aspect of the eyebrow stripe.  Also note the bright throat patch.  

The White-throated Sparrow is a woodland sparrow.  It prefers mixed woods and woodland edges where it feeds on seeds and insects.  It breeds here in our province as well as most of Canada north to but not including the Arctic.  It winters in the southeastern United States.  This sparrow is famous for its song.  We have all heard the 'Old Tom Peabody Peabody Peabody' of the northern forest.  It makes us feel right at home.  A more popular interpretation of the song is 'Pure Sweet Canada Canada Canada'.  I think we can claim this species as ours since it breeds almost exclusively in Canada so the latter interpretation of its song is more appropriate.

Watch for this sparrow feeding on the ground under your feeder where it scratches to find seeds dropped from above.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

CSPWC Symposium

Canadian Society of Water Colour Painters Meet

The Canadian Society of Water Colour Painters met in Cornwallis, NS Sept. 28 to Oct. 3.  Forty-Nine participants, 8 instructors and other members met to put on 5 days of classes and to celebrate water colour painting and related events.

Digby Wharf
The Symposium was held at the Annapolis Basic Conference Centre which was a wonderful place to hold the event.  Right on the ocean, it is very large with many places to walk, paint, dine and hold classes.  The living accommodations were wonderful and adjacent to Desmond Piers Memorial Hall where the classes were held.  On the other side was James Horsfall Memorial Hall where meals were served.

The Margaree 
With 8 instructors one could spend one day with each of 5 of them or more than one day with your choice.  Ron Hazell presented classes on ripples in water and on breaking waves.  Bill Rogers and Poppy Balser covered plein air painting and took us out to interesting locations to paint.  Ann Balch presented portrait painting.  Rex Beanland did cityscapes.  Karen Isenburg presented still life painting.  Bianka Guna taught non-objective painting (abstract painting).  Lio Lo's class was flower painting.  What a choice!  I found the instruction excellent.  We were really motivated to paint and had the experts right there at our side to help with problem areas.  

Unfinished Cityscape
The 'after school' times were full of social gatherings.  One evening we had an in-depth presentation on Golden products.  We saw 100s of products and were shown their many uses.  Bianka was generous with samples as well.  Another evening we had a session on life drawing with a nude model.  It was interesting to watch the experts sketch and paint the model.  Students were free to sketch or paint as they wished.  A Market was arranged and vendors were present to show and sell us products.  A silent auction was exciting too.  We also had a lobster dinner.  It was well done and delicious.  There they set up a display of paintings by the instructors.  It was interesting to see the range of their expertise.  

Portrait in progress

The week went by quickly and was well worth the time and expense for me.  I met many new artists and had a good time as well as gained a lot of artistic experience in the process.

Digby Scallop Boat

Monday, October 5, 2015

Broad-winged Hawk

Migration Spectacle 

Broad-winged Hawk - Adult
The Broad-winged Hawk is a common woodland hawk in our area in summer.  It breeds here and in the rest of southern Canada from Alberta eastward as well as in eastern United States.  We hear it more often than we see it during summer with its distinctive high-pitched whistle.  It is in the fall that this species becomes famous.  It gathers in flocks or 'kettles' to migrate down the eastern coast, through Central America to its wintering grounds in northwestern South America.  Because it does not like to fly over water it follows the coast southward.  This spectacle does not occur in the spring because in the northward migration it flies over various inland routes.

To migrate the birds use natural updrafts or thermals in the atmosphere.  These are areas where the air is moving upwards caused by temperature differences or winds.  This makes flying easier and allows them to gain altitude.  In these updrafts the birds gather in kettles or groups and then move off on their southward journey.  After they reach maximum altitude, they can then fly by winging or by soaring on south winds, slowly losing altitude but covering large distances.  When they reach the next updraft, they repeat the process.  Updrafts are caused by land masses like mountains, large hills or ravines which cause the air masses to move upwards.  It is these areas where birders gather to see the concentration of migrating hawks.  See the photo below which shows kettles of hawks spiralling upwards or perhaps waiting for favourable winds before moving southward.  Research shows that these birds migrate about 4,300 miles (6800 Km) in total and about 70 miles a day (110 Km).

Migrating Hawks [Wikipedia Photo]
The Broad-winged Hawk is the smallest member of the Buteo family.  Other Buteo species that we have in New Brunswick are the Red-tailed Hawk, the Red-shouldered Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk.  The Broad-winged Hawks get their name from the fact that the secondary feathers in their wings do not bulge outward like they do in the other species.  Their general shape shows a broad wing and a smallish tail.

Adults have a mottled dark brown back with reddish-brown streaked upper breast and white belly with some streaking.  The tail is  black with wide white bars.  The juvenile shows a white breast with some streaking.  See the photo above for the adult and below for the juvenile.

Broad-winged Hawk - Juvenile
Hawk watchers have seen thousands of these birds migrating through New Brunswick this fall.  One viewing area is from Greenlaw Mountain near St. Andrews.  One memorable sighting for me was a few years ago when I was standing in the woods near the coast at Coleson Cove and above me I began to see Broad-winged Hawks silently soaring just above the trees.  I counted over 20 birds as they circled overhead.  I felt privileged to observe this spectacle.