Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A Real Beauty 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) is a beauty to look at and to listen to.  Its colours make it one of our most beautiful species and its song is a beautiful warbling melody.

The male is unmistakeable.  You will hear him before you see him.  He will be in the deciduous forest canopy perched high up singing his heart out.  The song is a series of warbled phrases, somewhat similar to that of a robin.  He may be difficult to see among the foliage but when you see him, you will be astounded at his beauty.  The brilliant throat patch is a bright rosy pink, at times appearing fluorescent.  That is set off by the black head and upper back.  The white on the belly and lower back contrasts with these colours.  The white wing patches add interest to an already beautiful pattern.  The white beak is very large, like all grosbeaks.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is here from mid-May to October.  It breeds in our hardwood forests and graces the landscape with its presence.  It is found in the summer in most of southern Canada east of the Rockies.  It winters mainly in Mexico.  

This large finch builds its nest  of twigs, grass and plant fibres in a low tree branch.  It lays 3 to 5 light green or bluish eggs with reddish brown spots.  Its diet consists of insects, fruit, and seeds.  It will also come to feeders, where it will feast on safflower seeds, sunflower seeds, suet, millet and peanuts.

The female is much plainer.  She is mainly brown with some white streaks.  She looks like a very large sparrow but her large beak identifies her if you look closely.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baltimore Orioles

Orange is for Oriole

Baltimore Orioles are arriving everyday now.  Ours were first seen this past weekend.  

Baltimore Oriole
As soon as oriole season arrives we put out oranges slices for them.  They have travelled a long way and need quick nourishment.  At this time of year they are attracted to oranges.  The colour attracts them and the fruit helps them replace their depleted energy reserves.  This year our oranges were only out for 2 days before we saw the oriole feeding on them.  I have found later on in the season they no longer prefer the oranges probably because they feed mainly on insects at that time.

Female and Male Baltimore Orioles
The photo above shows the colourful plumage of the male oriole.  The female, of course, is duller but still shows some orange.  She can be variable in plumage.  The female shown above has considerable brown on her head.  Others can show more orange on the head.

Baltimore Orioles breed in deciduous forests, forest edges of parks and forests along rivers.  They winter in Florida, Mexico and the West Indies and arrive here in mid-May.  They raise their young here and stay until mid-August to early September.  They are known for their woven hanging basket-like nests which used to be found in elm trees here.  Fortunately they have adapted to other species of trees when we lost so many of our elms to Dutch elm disease.

The Baltimore Oriole received its name because its colours resemble the colours of the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore.  The orange of the male oriole is the most brilliant orange you can ever see.  Being set off with the black makes it a very beautiful bird.  No wonder they are attracted to orange!  Last year we had an interesting sighting which shows just how much they love orange.  We have a solar garden light that is round and orange in colour.  I watched one day as the male oriole landed on it and began to pick at it.  He appeared disappointed that it was not filled with juice!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Welcome Spring Flowers

Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower)

We all look forward to spring flowers.  It doesn't take long for the beautiful colours and sometimes fragrances of spring flowers to make us forget winter.  
Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower)
Mayflowers (Trailing Arbutus Epigaea repens) are one of those special spring flowers.  These are found in woods in southern Canada and northern USA and on mountains farther south.  Here in Atlantic Canada they are found in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  Blooming in May, their preferred habitat is cool, moist acid woods.  

Trailing Arbutus
The Trailing Arbutus plant is a low, creeping, evergreen plant.  Its leaves are oval and leathery.  Its stem is hairy and woody.  The flowers can be either white or pink and are oh-so fragrant!  They are tubular with 5 petals.  

I sometimes see these plants being sold at the Fredericton Market at this time of year.  That is a shame because these plants are slow growing and should not be picked in large quantities.  This activity should be discouraged.   Please do not buy these plants from local vendors, thus ensuring the longevity of this early spring treasure.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Swamp Sparrow

Sparrow of Marshes and Wetlands

Swamp Sparrow
There is a sparrow that is well known to  seasoned birders but not to the casual birder, the Swamp Sparrow.  It is a small dark sparrow with dark streaked upper parts, gray breast, rust brown on its crown and wing, and a gray face with a dark streak running from the eye posteriorly.  

The Swamp Sparrow breeds in Canada and the northern regions of eastern and central USA.  It winters in central and southeastern USA and into Mexico.  Its preferred habitat is the edges of fresh water marshes, ponds, bogs and along streams.  It feeds on the ground mainly on insects and seeds.  

Swamp Sparrow
The Swamp Sparrow can often be located first by its song; a long single-noted trill.  Its call note is a sharp, metallic note.  When you hear either,  look around and you will find the Swamp Sparrow sitting on a cattail or willow bush near the water.  They have been back here in New Brunswick now for about 2 weeks.  The bird in the photos above has its crown feathers raised.  I have never seen that before and it probably indicates a bird alert to danger.

The photos above were taken at the St. George marsh where the Swamp Sparrows have settled in for their summer breeding program.  This is a species that is rewarding to look for.  Good luck.