Thursday, December 31, 2015

Woolly Bear

Insects in Winter

Woolly Bear
Seeing an insect slowly crawling across the trail in front of me last week was a surprise.  I knew Wooly Bears were common but had never noticed one alive and active so late in the season.  Our good weather in December must have contributed to its late activity.

The Woolly Bear is the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  Its adult form is a smallish moth with light orange wings and orange body with black dots running down the length.  It is found in many cold regions including the Arctic.  

In some areas it is called the Woolly Worm.  In the USA there are Woolly Bear Festivals!  The Woolly Bear is not 'woolly' at all.  It is actually covered with stiff bristles and feels much like a stiff brush.  

Folklore tells us that the Woolly Bear is a weather predictor.  As the story goes, the width of the black bands on the front and rear of the caterpillar are indicative of the coming winter weather.  If the bands are narrow, we will have an easy winter.  Conversely, if the black bands are broad, we will have a severe winter. 

Isabella Tiger Moth  [Internet Photo]
The Woolly Bear (Isabella Tiger Moth) completes its life cycle in one year in the temperate zones of North America.  Farther north it may take more than one year.  In the Arctic it may take several years because of the short season for the caterpillars to feed.  Some have been known to take up to 14 years!  How does it do this?  Well, the Woolly Bear caterpillar can freeze and thaw without damage.  

The adult moths lay their eggs in summer and the larvae develop over the summer to become the Woolly Bear caterpillar, as we know it, by late summer.  In late fall they disperse, looking for suitable sites to overwinter, in holes in rocks and trees and logs.  There they freeze solid.  In spring they thaw and then spin a cocoon in which they develop into adult moths.  An interesting cycle!

So the two Woolly Bears I found last week were still looking for suitable sites to overwinter.  I hope they found something because heavy winter has since come.  With the temperature at -13ÂșC this morning, and about 25 cm of snow which has come since, they are likely in for the winter.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fredericton Christmas Bird Count

Douglas Sector

Bald Eagle [Internet Photo]
The Fredericton Christmas Bird Count has taken place now for over 50 years.   I have participated in a very large number of them.  It has been an interesting experience.

We cover the Douglas sector, the area between the Claudie Road and the former site of Hillcrest Fruit, just above Grand Pass.  It is usually held on a Sunday before Christmas, this year on Dec. 20.  We spend most of the day on the roads or somewhere on the landscape in that sector trying to establish the species of birds that are present and their numbers.  

This year the river was totally open so that tends to depress the waterfowl count.  One would think the opposite but it is because the vast surface of open water disperses the ducks, making fewer in our area.  Sometimes in very cold years, the only open water is at Currie's Mountain,  just below Grand Pass, and many ducks can be present there.

This year finch numbers were low.  That was unexpected because we had heard of a huge number of Redpolls which had passed through Quebec earlier in the season.  Naturally we expected to see large numbers here.  That was not the case.  We found that there is a large amount of fruit on the trees and that should bode well for winter feeding.  We found lots of apples, mountain ash berries and grapes on the vine.  There is a heavy cone crop as well.  We should get a lot more birds moving into the area as winter progresses.  

Also, we found a few members of migratory species still hanging around.  That is not surprising given the mild weather we have had so far this winter.  We found a large flock of robins and in other sectors they found a Common Yellowthroat and a Black-and-white Warbler.

American Robin s

Notice that we saw no sparrows, no starlings and no pigeons.  Finch numbers were indeed low as were waterfowl.  The Red-tailed Hawk was a nice bonus.  We had seen it around occasionally before the count and were fortunate to find it on count day.  

Red-tailed Hawk [N Poirier]

See below for the list for our sector.

Canada Goose 31
American Black Duck 16
Mallard 5
Bald Eagle 5
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Ring-billed Gull 2
Herring Gull 3
Mourning Dove 31
Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Blue Jay 9
American Crow 45
Common Raven 6
Black-capped Chickadee 102
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Brown Creeper 1
American Robin 40
Bohemian Waxwing 9
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Purple Finch 9
American Goldfinch 35

Friday, December 18, 2015

Red Is For Christmas

Nature's Red Spells Christmas

High-bush Cranberry Viburnum opulus
Christmas is a time for red, to cheer us from a dull landscape.  The human eye likes the colour red.  Perhaps it is because it is the complementary colour to green which we see so much of in our surroundings.  It acts as 'eye candy' and a wonderful accompaniment to Christmas.

Red Trillium Trillium erectum

Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinals [Internet photo]

Red is not a common colour for wild flowers.  So, we start celebrating in summer with the two shown above, the Red/PurpleTrillium and the Cardinal Flower.  The Red Trillium grows in our mixed and hardwood forests in early spring.  It is a welcome sight after a long winter.  It is sometimes called Wake Robin.  The Cardinal Flower is smallish and insignificant on first sight.  But looking closely it is very beautiful.  What a gorgeous colour!  It grows along stream banks and adjacent damp meadows in a few places here.  

Mountain Holly Ilex mucronatus
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Shown above are the pleasing red of two of our berries.  These ripen in the fall.  Mountain Holly is found in damp thickets, swamps, bogs and wet woods.  Winterberry is beautiful in late fall and early winter as the bright red berries cling to the naked stems.  It is often picked and placed in Christmas bouquets.  

Florists market many commercial red flowers at Christmas time.  Shown below are the red rose and the amaryllis.

Red Rose

And, to finish this post, I will show a photo I took of a visit to a greenhouse where poinsettias were being grown for Christmas.  What a sight this was!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mountain Bluebird

Rare Fall Vagrant Found in Acadian Peninsula

Mountain Bluebird 
New Brunswick has had a rare visitor for the last 10 days or so.  A rare fall vagrant has been found in the Acadian Peninsula near Inkerman at Four Roads.  Although the bird may have left yesterday according to a report today, many birders and other interested people have seen it.

The Mountain Bluebird is a member of the Thrush Family and is a 'cousin' to our Eastern Bluebird and our American Robin.  Its preferred habitat is fields and field edges and mountainous areas.  It normally breeds in the Prairie Provinces, British Columbia, the western states and northwards into Alaska and Yukon.  It winters in southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and northern Mexico.  So the bird that was found here should be headed for Arizona now.  It is rare to find this species here but it does happen occasionally.  One was seen in 1996 in Caraquet and one in Pennfield in 2000.

Why is this bird here?  We don't know for sure but it is thought that their navigation system gets damaged somehow so instead of travelling southwest, they travel northeast, for example.  It could have also got caught up in high winds during a weather system which blew it way off course.

Mountain Bluebird
The Mountain Bluebird is about the size of our Eastern Bluebird, 7.25 in. or 18.5 cm long.  The male is very blue over most of its body, darker on its wings.  The blue of this bird is iridescent, a very beautiful colour.  Eye candy indeed!  Our visitor is a female and she is duller with gray on her throat and breast and ultramarine blue on her wings and cerulean blue on her back and tail.  She is still amazingly beautiful.  They are cavity nesters like our bluebirds and readily use nest boxes.  They use tree cavities in the wild.
Mountain Bluebird [L Legere Photo]
Mountain Bluebirds feed on insects, fruits and berries.  They are the only bluebird which hovers.  That was what the bird at Four Roads was doing, hovering over the field and dropping down to get an insect.  The one which I saw in Pennfield in 2000 was in a blueberry field eating blueberries.

The Mountain Bluebird flies like our Robin.  It has long primary feathers and the long primary projection is a way to tell it from the Western or Eastern Bluebird when there is a question.  This could happen when sometimes the female shows a bit of orange tinge on its breast causing some confusion.  The primary projection is a technical term used by serious birders and denotes the length the primary feathers project over the tail in a sitting position.

Mountain Bluebird
Shown below is one of the many peat harvesting sites from the Acadian Peninsula, near where the Mountain Bluebird was found.  It is good to boost the economy with the sale of natural resources but one wonders how long it will take before these areas return to natural vegetation which can be used by our wildlife.
Peat Harvesting

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Birding the Tantramar

Tantramar Marsh Supports Significant Bird Population

Tantramar Marsh
On November 26 we visited the Tantramar Marsh looking for birds and other wildlife.  It was a warm, sunny day and great to be out!  Although we covered all the roads in the marsh we spent more time on the Anderson Marsh Road.  

We were looking mainly for raptors.  The marsh is a good area for them to rest on migration because of suitable habitat and a high rodent population, the main diet of many raptors.  We saw many hawks including 13 Northern Harriers, 4 Rough-legged Hawks, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks.  

Rough-legged Hawk [Internet Photo]

Red-tailed Hawk
Eagles were also taking our attention.  There had been a few sightings of a Golden Eagle there in the last two weeks but in spite of careful searching we did not find it.  However, we did see 2 Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagle

Golden Eagle [Internet Photo]
The Golden Eagle has a very large territory for its 'home range' so was probably hunting over marsh areas across the border in Nova Scotia.  There were some ducks in the many streams flowing through the marsh and they were attracting the Bald Eagles.  The Common Eider shown below was seen in one stream.  A few days earlier a birder had seen an eagle feeding on an eider in this area.

Common Eider
The highlight for me was also another raptor species.  We saw two Short-eared Owls.  These owls have been seen on the marsh lately but it is unusual to see them active during the day.  We saw two of them in flight.  We did not know whether they were feeding or if they were being harassed by the many crows on the marsh.  

Pheasants and Snow Buntings were very numerous.  We saw many groups of Ring-necked Pheasants numbering at least 50 individuals.  There were several flocks of Snow Buntings, some very large.  We estimated seeing between 300 and 500 buntings altogether.  

As you can see we had a wonderful day exploring the Tantramar Marsh.  There were not many cattle pastured on the marsh but there were large round hay bales everywhere.  We did see a group of Scottish Highland Cattle on the edge of the marsh.  They were enjoying the breeze and the lush feed.

Scottish Highland Bull