Thursday, March 31, 2016

Red-shouldered Hawk

Rare Hawk Makes Visit

Red-shouldered Hawk
On March 24 and 29 a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK paid us a visit.  On the first occasion it was perched in a nearby tree and appeared to be sleeping.  As we watched, it was harassed by a red squirrel which forced it to leave.  On the second occasion it appeared in a tree near the house and we watched it for about 30 minutes.  It flew down and caught a rodent on two occasions and we watched it eat its prize, preen and rest.  What a wonderful opportunity for viewing and photography.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shoulderd Hawk is a medium-sized buteo which rarely appears in New Brunswick.  It is a permanent resident of the eastern half of the United States where it winters, also moving into Mexico.  Its breeding range extends into southern Ontario and Quebec and occasionally into southwestern New Brunswick.  There is also a population along the southwestern coast of the US.  

It prefers wet deciduous woodlands especially near water.  It is very vocal and emits a high-pitched kee-urh sound.  Females are larger than males and they look alike.  As you can see in the photos, they are quite mottled in appearance.  The breast is orange with horizontal and vertical stripes.  The back is dark brown and mottled with light areas.  The tail is striped and they normally show 3 narrow white stripes.  I am including a rear view to show just how mottled they are.  These hawks show white crescents on their wingtips in flight.  This is an identifying feature which separates them from all other species.  

Red-shouldered Hawk - Showing Tail and Back
The juveniles are similar to adults but show bold vertical stripes on the breast and are brown and beige, not showing any orange.   There are 5 subspecies.  The Eastern subspecies (lineatus) shows vertical stripes on the breast as can be seen in the photos above.  The southeastern (alleni), the Texas (texanus), the south Florida (extimus) and the California (elegans) are the other subspecies.

But, why is it called the Red-shouldered Hawk?  Adults in good light show red on the forward part of the wing/shoulder.  It is not visible in the bird illustrated here indicating it is a young adult.  The red shoulder is visible in older adults but is never an outstanding feature.  

The video above shows the hawk just after it had consumed a rodent.  It shows it cleaning its beak on the branch.  The bird we saw on the 24th (it may or may not have been the same bird as seen on the 29th) whistled for us, giving us a fine display of its vocal abilities.  

We should all be watching for more sightings of this species as a few of them move into New Brunswick to establish breeding territories.   

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Black-headed Gull

Rare Gull Arrives

Black-headed Gull [Nelson Poirier Photo]
 A field trip on Saturday with the Sussex Nature Club brought a rare gull along with a wonderful array of waterfowl.  Shown above is a first-winter Black-headed Gull. This bird was seen briefly on Saturday and more thoroughly on Sunday at the Hampton Sewage Lagoon.  It takes two years for this gull to reach maturity so the individual seen is a juvenile.  This is evident by the brown feathers seen mixed in with the gray mantle (back) and in flight it shows its black tail band.

The Black-headed Gull is a small gull, a little smaller than a Ring-billed Gull.  Though a little larger than the Bonaparte's Gull, it looks similar.  In this geographical area we have to distinguish the Black-headed from the Bonaparte's Gull.  The Black-headed has a larger bill which shows dark red at the base (Bonaparte's bill is all black); the legs on the 1st-winter birds are orange compared to the pink legs on a 1st-winter Bonaparte's; the underwing of the Black-headed shows more extensive black on the primary feathers than the Bonaparte's; the legs on the adult Black-headed are a deeper orange-red.  If the two birds are side-by-side, differentiation is easy.  But seeing a single bird requires a close look.

Black-headed Gull Adult Nonbreeding Plumage
The Black-headed Gull is a holarctic species, occurring in northern latitudes around the world.  In our area it winters sporadically along the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia south to Cape Cod.  It breeds in Greenland and Iceland as well as in Northern Europe.

Black-headed Gulls
This group of Black-headed Gulls was photographed in Newfoundland where a small flock winters around St. John's.  Notice the 1st-winter birds with the brown in their mantles mixed in with the adults with the solid gray mantles.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bird Migration

Early Spring Migrants 

So far this spring some of our migrating birds have come back early.  One wonders if it is because of our early spring.  It would seem this is a logical reason but if most birds migrate according to an internal mechanism which is controlled by day length, then weather should not make a huge difference.  Spring storms would stop migrating flocks and cause them to hold up until clear weather, so I would expect weather to have some effect.  Whatever the reasoning, so far this year some of our birds are back early.  

Belted Kingfisher
Birds that come back early face increased survival risks.  Bad weather can be severe.  Today is March 17 and we are having a snowstorm.  Early migrants will have to endure this weather and probably go without being able to feed today.  I remember one spring when an Eastern Phoebe came back very early to our place and probably died in the winter storms we had after its arrival.  There certainly would not have been many insects for it to feed on.  When migrants arrive they are especially hungry from their long flights.  They need rest and nourishment.  

Red-winged Blackbird
Migrating birds are anxious to get here early because they want to claim nesting territories.  That is why we often see males arrive first.  They begin singing and thus claiming their territories even before the females arrive.

Turkey Vulture
The first early migrant I saw was the Belted Kingfisher.  We spotted it sitting on a branch over-looking the river on March 12.  That is over a month early!  In the last 5 years the first one I saw was on the following dates: April 25, 19, 27, 26, and 15.  One wonders if it will survive, but with the river being open, I expect it will.

Song Sparrow
The first Song Sparrow seen this year was March 16.  That, too, is early by about 2 weeks.  Other first dates in the last 5 years are:  April 3, March 16, April 1, 5, 8.  These are hardy sparrows and probably will have no trouble surviving until the warm weather.   I look forward to the first Song Sparrow song in the spring.  To me, it means that spring is really here.  I am not so sure about yesterday's bird. 

The Red-winged Blackbird is another early arrival.  My first this year was seen on March 13, which is a week or more early.  Other first dates in the last five years include:  March 23, 12, 30, April 1, 3.

The Turkey Vulture has also started coming back early.  These are traditionally warm weather birds but have surprised us by moving into our area during summers and in late years, extending their stay into cold weather.  A few have showed up here already this spring.  I saw my first on March 16.  That is 3 to 4 weeks early!  Other first dates seen in the last 5 years include:  April 18, 17,  4, 10, and 8.  They feed on roadkill so should be able to survive.
The Killdeer is also a harbinger of spring.  Its killdeer, killdeer call heard across the dormant landscape of early spring is welcome indeed.  It brings promise of better things to come.  I heard one yesterday, March 16.  How nice that was!  But, it, too, is 3 weeks early!  Other first dates for this species in the last 5 years are:  April 25, 3, 8, 6, 14.  This is generally a hardy species and will probably be able to make it through the snowstorms of today and tomorrow.  

Spring migrants are a blessing and bringers of hope and promise.  After a long winter they are a welcome sight and sound.  We should be diligent about keeping our feeders stocked with good food in order the help them regain their strength after their long flights.  It is important to put mixed grains on the ground near 'cover' (trees or bushes) so the sparrows can feed.  Some sparrows prefer to feed on the ground.  Needless to say, cats should be kept inside and away from such areas.

Enjoy our spring arrivals.  Step outside and listen to the bird song.  It is one of our true blessings!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tufted Duck

Rare European Duck Visits Saint John - Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula

Tufted Duck Male
A rare European duck has been wintering in Saint John.  The Tufted Duck is a species that normally breeds in Iceland, northern Scandinavia and Russia.  It usually winters in the British Isles, mainland Europe and around the Mediterranean.  Finding it in New Brunswick is unusual.  However, we occasionally have one winter here.  A male was first found wintering here in Saint John in 1995-96.  Others have been seen at Moncton in 1996, Grand Manan 1997, Dalhousie 1998, and a male seen by me and others at Sheffield on the St. John River in 2000.  So, it is unusual but not totally unexpected.

Tufted Duck Female
The Tufted Duck is closely related to the Greater Scaup, the Lesser Scaup and the Ferruginous Duck (European).  Although the male Tufted Duck looks much like the Scaup it stands out from among them by its black back, its round head which sports a long tuft down the back.  The female looks much like the female Scaup but has a darker brown back and breast and paler flanks.  Sometimes you can see her very small tuft.

The Tufted Duck in Saint John is hanging out with both Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks.  The Ring-necked Duck has more white on its bill and has a showy white wedge between the flank and the breast.

Tufted Duck Immature Male
The immature male Tufted Duck shows a grayish mottled flank and a shorter tuft.  When males fly they show extensive white on the trailing edges of the wings.

The Tufted Duck is abundant and widespread.  It is a rare but regular visitor to our west coast and south to California.  They feed in shallow water  by diving for seeds, roots, clams, snails, aquatic insects and occasionally amphibians and fish.  My references indicate they utter a low whistle during courtship.  I haven't been lucky enough to hear that.

Tufted Ducks - Female, 2 Males
The photo above shows how distinctive are the black back and tufts of the males.  The female is usually with the males and her dark brown colour makes her relatively easy to spot.

The photos in this post were taken by me in Newfoundland where there is often a small wintering flock of Tufted Ducks.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Plastic Refuse Kills Birds and Other Wildlife

It Is Time To Clean Up Our Act

Bird With Plastic Loop Caught Around Head [Internet Photo]
Every time I pull the plastic ring off a juice bottle I think of our birds and other wildlife.  This post is written to make the reader aware of the dire problem we have created for them with a multitude of plastics polluting the environment.  

We use a humongous amount of plastic.  Virtually all of it ends up in landfills and scattered around the landscape.  Granted, some is recycled but much of that eventually ends up as pollution.  Have you been out on our rivers, lakes and oceans lately?  There is a lot of plastic floating around and piled up on our shores.  Our oceans are becoming a literal plastic dump.  There is no place anymore on our Earth where plastic refuse is not found.

Mallard Female with Plastic Can Holder Caught Around Head [Internet Photo]
We have a serious problem.  It is worse for pelagic birds because they eat bits of plastic and also feed them to their nestlings.  This is causing high mortalities due to impaction and starvation.  The birds are so full of plastic they cannot eat.  Many carcasses are found with the digestive tract heavily impacted with pieces of plastic.

This post will focus on what we can do to help.  We obviously are not actively throwing plastic into the ocean (well most of us).  Take a look around at our environment.  There are plastic bags hanging from trees everywhere we go.  We can remove them and dispose of them properly.  The proper way to dispose of them is to recycle them.  We must, however, take care that they do not blow away from our recycle bin as we set it out for pick up.  

Two items we use regularly create problems; any plastic ring and the plastic ring assembly used to package a six pack of beer, pop, etc.  These are traps waiting to catch unsuspecting birds and wildlife.  See the photo below showing a female duck with a 2-pack ring caught around its beak and head.  The birds are not able to remove the ring and eventually die of starvation.

Duck Caught by Plastic Ring [Internet Photo]
What can we do to help?  We can minimize our purchase of products which use plastic in such configurations.  But we cannot eliminate our use totally.  What we can do is simple.  We can just cut each ring open before disposal.  This is easy and simple and prevents an unsuspecting bird, mammal, turtle, etc. from getting caught.  When I remove the ring from a juice bottle, I just cut it through before I put it in the garbage/recycle.  Easy!  See below.

Plastic Ring From Juice Bottle - Cut Open

Cutting the Rings From a Six-Pack Holder [Internet Photo]
Cleaning up our oceans, lakes and rivers is something we are going to have to face.  Some of our good citizens are actively cleaning up camping sites along our rivers now.  We must adopt the habit of 'taking out more than we take in'.  What I mean is, we must carry a garbage bag along with us and collect and carry out for proper disposal garbage on every one of our outings.  It would be surprising how quickly we could make a difference.

The oceans are a different matter, a very serious matter.  It is going to take a huge effort to clean up what is there already.  As well, we must stop the continuous amount of pollution that is taking place.  It is my hope that we get after this problem now.  Our efforts would be much better for the Earth and for ourselves if we spent our time and resources on that and not on nations fighting one another.

Stork With Plastic Bag Caught Around its Body [Internet Photo]