Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bohemian Waxwings Arrive

Abundant Winter Fruit Brings Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwing [Brian Stone Photo]

This is a winter of abundant wild fruit.  The apple, mountain ash, wild cherry, cranberry, and other edible wild bushes are laden with fruit.  This brings flocks of fruit-eating birds to our area.  

Last week I visited the Post Office on Hughes Street and was treated to a display of Bohemian Waxwings second to none.  There were about 75 birds feeding on the crab apples in the two trees in front of the building.  Many more were resting in the trees in the hedgerow behind the building.  They were emitting their constant twitters and chatter.  It was wonderful to listen and watch.  

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings normally travel in large flocks and are here only in winter.  They breed in summer in Alaska and the northern parts of Canada and spend their winters wandering around the more southern regions of Canada and northern US.  They are a holarctic species being abundant also in northern Europe and Asia.  

The group of Bohemian Waxwings shown above is only a small part of the whole group.  They were resting on a cold day,  having fed heavily on wild grapes along the river bank. 

Bohemian Waxwing

The Bohemian Waxwing (18 cm long) is a little bit larger than our Cedar Waxwing, a common summer resident.  They eat mostly fruit in winter but also eat insects and flower parts in summer.  They are very beautiful with their gray upperparts, pink-gray crest, black mask and chin, and gray underparts.  Their wings are black with a yellow or white line.  The tail is dark and has a yellow tip.  The cinnamon brown under the tail is a distinguishing feature, differentiating it from the Cedar Waxwing.  The red 'wax' on the wings is brilliant and a feature unique to waxwings.  It is really a bead-like tip to the secondary feather.

The Bohemian Waxwing has an extremely large range here in North America and gets its name from its nomadic life style.  Large flocks are normal and they range widely looking for suitable food and shelter.  We are lucky to have them here this winter.  I have seen several flocks ranging in size from 30 to over 100 in the Fredericton area.  Watch for them.  I often realize that they are in the area by hearing their chatter and then start looking.  I hope you can find them, too.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Common Shelduck

Very Rare European Ducks Arrive

Common Shelducks
Three very rare ducks were discovered at Saints Rest Marsh, Saint John this week.  On Tuesday, December 20, we visited the marsh and found them, along with several other keen birders.  It was a very cold day and wind from the marsh was flesh-freezing but the birders were excited to see such beautiful and rare visitors.

Common Shelducks
The ducks were feeding about 400 metres away from our nearest viewing site, making it very difficult to get good photos.  Even though it was so bitterly cold, they were were comfortably feeding and moving around.  There were many other birds there also:  Black Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads, Herring Gulls, Common Mergansers.  

I was struck by the beauty of these ducks.  There appeared to be two males and a female.  The excessive white on these birds is eye-catching among our waterfowl.  The dark green head appears black at a distance.  The deep red bill is very fine and slightly upturned.  The female's bill is more orange.  The brilliant chestnut breast band goes over the back and turns to black and runs down each side of the back with white in between, the chestnut showing again on the back at the posterior of the primary feathers.  The bird has white sides and a large chestnut patch on the vent.  There is also a black or chestnut stripe (I could not distinguish which) on the belly.  The legs and feet are pink or orange.

The two photos above show the actual birds observed.  Shown below is an internet photo showing a close-up of a male and female.  Some males have a red knob on the upper front of their bill.  Our three visitors did not show this knob.

Common Shelducks [Internet Photo]
The Common Shelduck is a native of Europe.  It is found year-round in the British Isles and the northern coast of France, Germany and Netherlands.  It also spends summers and breeds along the coast of Norway and Sweden.  It winters along the northern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.  

The Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated Checklist does not mention the Common Shelduck.  If there have been previous sightings, they were obviously considered escapes from zoos, etc.  I don't recall this species ever being seen here before (and I have been birding for a long time).  I believe it is a first for the province.  Some will say the sighting is not 'countable' (not accepted as a true wild occurrence of the species) but I believe these are truly wild Common Shelducks which somehow ended up here rather than along the south shore of the Mediterranean.  We have had other unusual vagrants from Europe this year (Pink-footed Goose).  Their behaviour seemed typical for wild birds.  Perhaps we will know with more certainty in time.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Beth Leroux the Wood Carver

Beth Does Wonders with Wood

Beth Leroux 
As Christmas approaches magic things are happening at Santa's Workshop, aka Beth's Wood Carving Workshop.  Shown above is Beth welcoming us inside to see what is happening.

Black-capped Chickadees in Various Stages of Completion

Black-capped Chickadee Showing Intricate Feather Detail
Inside we see many interesting projects in various stages of completion.  It is clear she has an interest in many aspects of carving.  She has birds, masks, carousel horses, whimsies, nativity scenes, fish, marine mammals, wall plaques, etc. to catch the eye.  She has accumulated a nice set of hand tools and big machines to make her work easier and detailed.  I see various finishes, brushes and a library of reference material.  The workshop is warm and sunny and clearly a nice place to work.

Beth does most of her work for golf prizes and various fund raisers.  We golfers are very familiar  with her many prizes: tortoises for the Mary Hopper, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Woodpeckers for various golf prizes and Fore-the-Cure.  Shown above are three Black-capped Chickadees in various stages of finish.  What wonderful prizes these make!

Beth with Two Atlantic Puffins
Beth with a Greater Roadrunner
Shown above are future birds for prizes or fund raisers.  The Atlantic Puffin has a beautiful beak that will make a fabulous prize.  The Greater Roadrunner would be gorgeous, as well.

Speed Skater under Construction
Dolphin Wind Chime
Canada Goose

Beth with Carousel Horse
The few photos above depict some of Beth's creativity.  She has a wonderful way of transforming a mental image into a 3-dimensional piece of wood.  For a recent Christmas Ladies' Luncheon at the Fredericton Golf Club Beth made Christmas tree ornaments to raise early money for the 2017 Fore-the-Cure.  We sold tickets and drew them at the luncheon making many happy recipients.

Christmas Tree Ornaments

Beth with Santa
I saw prize-winning ribbons from various competitions in which she has entered her work.  That is exciting that she has reached that level.

Rough-Sawn Woodpecker
Shown above is a future golf prize, a Hairy Woodpecker or a Northern Flicker.  I will try to play well for that one!  Thank you, Beth, for all the good work you do and for your generosity to golf and breast cancer research.  Also, thank you for promoting appreciation and conservation of birds and other wildlife species through your work.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Brown Thrasher

Rare Thrasher Appears 

Brown Thrasher
Earlier this week a Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum appeared at a feeder up river from Fredericton in Lower Queensbury.  The Brown Thrasher is a member of the Mimidae family or the mimics.  It is a vocal bird similar to the Mockingbird, also a member of the same family.  It sings a long, melodious phrase usually repeated 2 or 3 times.  Its call note is a 'churr' or a smacking 'spuck' sound.

Several years ago we had a Brown Thrasher here on our property in Fredericton.  I was attracted to the edge of our field by the voluminous, loud sound that bird was making.  On inspection, I saw a beautiful thrasher doing just that, thrashing.  It was scratching and scrambling around in the leaves in a hedgerow using its long curved bill to flip up the leaves and debris, looking for insects, seeds, and other invertebrates.  The bird seen this week was feeding on seeds on the ground under the feeder.

 Brown Thrasher
The Brown Thrasher is rare in this area.  It normally breeds and spends its summers in the northern and central parts of the US, southern Ontario and the prairies.  It winters in the southeastern US. There are seven species of thrashers in the US.  They are generally large brown ground-dwelling birds many of arid zones.  They often run with their tail held high in the air.  There have been population declines in the Brown Thrasher in the northeast mainly because of habitat loss.

Brown Thrasher
The Brown Thrasher is a large bird, 29 cm long (11.5 in), slightly larger than the Blue Jay.  The rusty brown on its back and brilliant stripes on the breast are stunning.  Watch for it at your feeders.  You never know what might show up this time of year.  It readily feeds on sunflower seeds, suet and nuts.  I bet peanut butter would be a welcome feast!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rough-legged Hawk

Winter Hawks

Rough-legged Hawk Light Morph
Even though winter has come there are still hawks around.  On a recent run through Sheffield to Jemseg we saw 9 Red-tailed Hawks and 4 Rough-legged Hawks.  Another birder just 2 days before on the same run saw 12 Red-tailed Hawks, 17 Rough-legged Hawks and 5 Northern Harriers.  It is likely that some of those hawks have now left but there are still Rough-legs and Red-tails around.

This time of year it is easy to see the hawks.  They are either flying or perched in hardwood trees.  The trees are now bare of leaves making it easy to see them.  They sit high in the trees in good observation areas, watching for movement of rodents upon which they can feed.  Some of these hawks will remain all winter if the food supply lasts.

Rough-legged Hawk Light Morph Showing Belly and Wrist Patches

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a winter buteo.  It is named because it is feathered down its legs to its toes.  There are only 2 other species with that characteristic, Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle.  It is a holarctic species, being found also in Europe and Asia.  It breeds in the Arctic in tundra and taiga habitats where it nests on rocks and cliffs.  It migrates to southern Canada and northern US during the winter where it prefers marshes, plains, and agricultural areas where rodents are abundant.

The Rough-legged Hawk occurs in two forms called morphs, light and dark morph.  Both morphs are seen here.  The light morph, shown in both photos above, is boldly patterned.  It shows a dark belly patch and dark wrist patches.  The dark morph is uniformly dark when perched and in flight shows light primary wing feathers on the underwing and white under the tail.  Males are darker than females.

Rough-legged Hawk Dark Morph
Shown above is a dark morph individual.  Seen at a distance it might be mistaken for a crow.  Hawks are interesting to observe.  Winter is a good time to get out and see what is around.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret Visits Fredericton Area

Cattle Egret

For the past week the Fredericton area has had another rare visitor, a Cattle Egret.  In the photo above it is perched on a fence with one leg and foot pulled up while preening itself.  The bird is an adult in non-breeding (basic) plumage.  In breeding plumage it would have orange plumes on its crown, neck, and lower back; a bicolored bill with red at the base and orange at the tip, and dark red legs.  Some of the photos of this bird show some orange on the head and on the tail.  

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets are the smallest of the heron family and are more terrestrial than the others (they prefer to feed on land).  They are named for their habit of following livestock in the fields, feeding on the insects and invertebrates the animals kick up with their feet.  They have adapted to modern times and can be seen following tractors as they work the fields.  

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets are normal to most of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies.  They are only partially migratory, retreating from the northerly parts of their range in winter.  They are also endemic to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.  

The Cattle Egret is well known for its amazing ability to expand its range.  It did not always live in North America.  It is thought the species originated in central Africa.  From there it expanded its range around the world.  It was not seen in North America until the 1930s (West Indies) and first in Florida in 1941.  From there it has expanded its range widely in the New World.  

Cattle Egrets are colonial nesters in trees with other herons and egrets.  They breed from the southern US and Gulf Coast southward.  Visits to our area are rare but almost always in the fall.  They will usually then hang around a farm or other large animal facility until cold temperatures drive them southward again.  

Let's celebrate this tough, adaptable species.  Watch for them around livestock in your area.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pink-footed Goose

Rare Goose Visits Fredericton

Pink-footed Goose
Since November 3 there has been speculation that a Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) has been in the Fredericton area.  Several of us have been searching for it and it was finally located on November 11 at Carmen Creek Golf Course.  We went immediately to see it after receiving the report.  There it was feeding with about 100 Canada Geese.  It has been staying with the geese in the Fredericton area ever since, sharing its time between the golf course, the agricultural station, and the river.  Many people have come to see this rare goose.

The Pink-footed Goose is a very rare goose in North America.  We have had one other confirmed report.  A single Pink-footed Goose was present in Cormierville, NB in 2010.  It stayed for a few days and some of us saw it there.  This is probably not the same bird.  

Pink-footed Goose
The Pink-footed Goose is a bit smaller than the Canada Goose.  It is a beautiful bird with a brown head, light gray back with nice white edges to the feathers, pink on its bill and bubble-gum-pink legs and feet.  It appeared very comfortable with the Canadas.  

Pink-footed Goose
The Pink-footed Goose is very rare here because it is a goose of the Old World.  It normally breeds in Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard (north of Norway).  It winters in the British Isles and northern Europe.  It is pretty distinctive but could be confused with two similar species, juvenile White-fronted Goose and Bean Goose.  The Bean Goose is larger and has never been here.  The juvenile White-fronted Goose has a longer pink bill with a white base.  Its legs are orange.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Rare Fall Visitor (Spiza americana)

Dickcissel Adult Female [Carmella Melanson Photo]
The Dickcissel is a rare fall visitor to New Brunswick.  In ornithology parlance it is a 'vagrant' which means it has wandered beyond its normal range.  A few usually show up here in the fall as singles or sometimes in small groups.  It is very unusual for them to be here in spring or summer.  Right now there are at least two individuals in the Saint John area.  The photo above shows a female taken in Grand Manan.

The Dickcissel is a sparrow-like bird about the same size as a House Sparrow.  In fact, they often hang out with House or other sparrows.  They readily come to feeders in this area but on their normal range they are birds of fields and meadows where they feed on seeds, grasses, and insects.  In summer their normal range is the central US from eastern Montana and the Great Lakes region south to Texas and the Gulf coast.  They winter from southern Mexico into South America.  When preparing for migration they often gather in large flocks sometimes in the thousands.  On the wintering grounds their roosts can number into the millions of birds. 

Dickcissel Juveniles
The male Dickcissel in breeding plumage is very showy with a black bib, white chin, yellow eyebrow, and yellow breast (sorry, no photo).  His back is grayish brown and patterned.  His wings have a bright chestnut shoulder patch.  The female is more muted and lacks the black bib or she may have remnants of it.  The yellow eyebrow of the male is duller in the female and it is often a buffy colour behind the eye.  Juveniles are more like the female and have fine streaking on the breast and flanks.  They also do not have the chestnut shoulder patch.  

Dickcissel Juvenile

Dickcissel Female
Dickcissel Female
The Dickcissel in the two photos shown above is feeding in a coarsely-wired cage placed on the ground designed to allow small birds to enter so they can feed away from larger dominant birds like Starlings and Grackles.  It is a good device which makes it so all species can get to the food.  

The Dickcissel nests on or near the ground.  The nest is made of plant stems and grass and the 3 to 5 eggs are pale blue.  All the work related to nest-building, incubation and the rearing of young is done by the female only.  The unusual name of this species comes from its song which is lustily sung by the male from the top of a bush or post.  He says something similar to 'dick dick ciss ciss'.    

The first Dickcissel ever recorded in New Brunswick was in 1951 from Machias Seal Island.  We have had a lot of them since then.  Perhaps you will have one at your feeder this fall.  Keep a close eye on the ground under your feeders!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Rare Fall Visitor

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
According to the Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List, 2004, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a rare fall visitor to the province and a very rare spring visitor.  This fall seems to be one of those years when a few of these birds move into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  We have had 2 or 3 sightings in each province in the last 2 or 3 weeks.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo prefers riparian habitats.  The only times I have ever seen this bird, it has been in alder bushes.  It does not breed here so that explains why we see it only in the fall.  There is sometimes a movement from their breeding grounds further south (as close as southern Maine).  The normal breeding range of the species is most of the eastern US, northern Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.  It winters in northern South America.  The birds from this area and the Eastern Seaboard migrate down the eastern coast of the US, over Cuba and Haiti and on to South America.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo [N Poirier Photo]
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a large, secretive bird.  It is 31 cm (12") long, mainly gray-brown on top and white underneath.  It has a long tail that has large white spots underneath.  It has a yellow eyering and its bill is bicolored with dark gray above and yellow below.  It shows rufous brown in its primary wing feathers.  It likes to hide in bushes and rarely shows itself.  It can be identified by its song, which is a rapid staccato kuk-kuk-kuk which slows down into a kind of yelping sound.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
The only species that one could confuse with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is the Black-billed Cuckoo.  They are alike in size and coloration but the Yellow-billed has a yellow eyering (red in the Black-billed), yellow on its lower mandible, shows rufous on its wings and shows much more white on its tail.  The Black-billed is a summer resident and breeds here.  Its song can be heard in summer, a monotonous cu-cu-cu.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo eats mainly caterpillars, but also other insects, birds eggs, snails, small vertebrates, berries and other fruits.  It is most common here in years of heavy caterpillar infestations.

It is always interesting to see what avian surprises fall brings our way.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Horned Larks

Winter Birds Are Showing Up 

Horned Larks
We know winter is coming when our winter birds start arriving.  Today I watched five Horned Larks feeding on the ground at the Agricultural Research Station.  They were actively feeding on insects and weed seeds.

The Horned Lark is a medium-sized bird with pale or dark brown upperparts and white underparts.  The face and throat are yellow.  The black mask and cap contrast with the yellow.  This species has small ear tufts but they are not always visible.  They don't show in the photos below.

Horned Lark
Horned Larks are seen most often here during spring and fall migration.  Some, however, are permanent residents in the southern part of the province.  Most of the population breed in Labrador and the far north and spend winters in the USA.  Its preferred habitats are open areas, like fields, airports and beaches.  They nest on the ground in shallow depressions lined with grass.

Horned Larks
 Horned larks are difficult to see when foraging in large areas.  You often notice them when they fly short distances to find new feed.  They are a delight to watch, even if they mean winter is coming!  Please note the above photos were taken at a different time and place than today.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cranes Visit Fredericton

Sandhill Crane Stopover 

Sandhill Crane
Fredericton birdwatchers were treated to a visit from three Sandhill Cranes yesterday.  They actually appeared on October 18, were present on the 19th and are still here today.  They put down from their migration flight south into a large field off Springhill Road to feed and rest.

Sandhill Cranes breed and spend their summers in the northern parts of Ontario and the prairie provinces, Yukon, Nunavut,  Northwest Territories and the Arctic Islands.  They winter in Florida, Texas,  parts of other southern states, and Mexico.  Some live permanently in Florida where they breed and raise young.  They also inhabit China, Korea, Japan and Cuba.

Sandhill Crane
In the group that arrived here there were two adults and one young.  The cranes are noted for their bugling call but we were not lucky enough to hear it.  I did see them fly and their long necks are held out straight, making their identity unmistakeable.

Sandhill Cranes, Fredericton, October, 2016
Shown above is the actual group that visited here.  Note the two adults and one juvenile.  The juvenile has brown on its head, no red patch, a lighter coloured bill and amber eyes.  It would be interesting to know exactly where these birds came from and where they will spend the winter.  I hope they come back again next year.

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Cranes are noted for their elaborate courtship displays.  Cranes often preen with pieces of vegetation and mud stained with iron oxide resulting in a reddish brown colour over their normally gray feathers.  

There is an interesting archaeological fact about these cranes.  A crane fossil was found in Nebraska that was 10 million years old.  It was identical to the modern Sandhill Crane.  That makes it the oldest known bird species still surviving!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall Colours

Fall Colours At Their Peak

Panorama of NB Fall Colours
Our autumn colours are now at their peak.  Just stepping out the door gives one a fabulous view.  How magnificent the colours look on a sunny day!  Although it is difficult (and impossible in my view) to capture that beauty on camera, I am showing some of my photos to try to show off some of our splendour.

School Road, Scotch Lake
The colours are best in hardwood or predominantly hardwood habitats.  The sugar maples turn red and orange; the red maples are red or yellow; the oaks and beeches are brown, the birches and poplars are yellow.  Add to that the many shades of each of these colours and mix them with a multitude of shades of green from the yellow greens of deciduous leaves just beginning to turn to the dark cool greens of softwood trees and you have a bonanza of colour.  Nature has a way of doing it best!
Red Maple and Birch Leaves Against Spruce
Coverall Road
Trail to Howland Falls

Nature is putting on a magnificent show before it drops its leaves and goes dormant for the winter months.  Now is the time to get out and enjoy it.  And while you are at it, you just might catch one of our spectacular sunsets, like the one shown below seen recently.

Sunset Taken in Fredericton, 2016