Thursday, September 29, 2016

Late Fall Warblers

A Few Lingering Species

I recently checked out the few species of fall warblers remaining in my area.  They were well hidden in the foliage but so enjoyable to see.  Most warblers migrate in late August and early September.  Each year there are always a few stragglers.  It was these I was looking for.
Palm Warbler
Warblers lose the bright colours of their breeding plumage in late summer.  They turn more muted, often more yellowish and some even show a dramatic change.  This makes fall warblers difficult to identify.  Experience is the best teacher.  Just getting out and seeing many warblers helps one learn to identify fall warblers.  Shown above is a Palm Warbler in fall (or basic) plumage.  The bright yellow body feathers are muted and the bright rusty cap is nearly gone.  I saw many of them in one area which would indicate they were migrating together.

Black-and-white Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Both the Black-and-white Warbler and the Common Yellowthroat shown above are in basic plumage.  The Black-and-white looks ratty and it has lost the sharp demarcation between the stripes.  The Common Yellowthroat is much more muted.  The brilliant yellow is gone and the black mask is barely discernible.  Often the species can be recognized by their habitat, their behaviour and the way they move.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is also in basic plumage and is very muted in colour.  The bright yellow spots of spring are still visible but much less so.  The dark colours are washed out.

The Blue-headed Vireo is still around in small numbers.  As shown below, it is still showing its breeding plumage although it is just beginning to look a bit muted.

Blue-headed Vireo
Fall warblers, though a challenge to identify,  make interesting birding.  Get yourself a good guide to birds and go outside and find a few.  You will enjoy it!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Plein Air Painting

Painting Outdoors

I have been lucky to paint en plein air in the last two weeks.  It has been enjoyable.  Painting en plein air or out-of-doors in nature under the elements is a challenge but a good experience.  I recently spent a week in Nova Scotia which included a 2-day workshop in Chester under the tutelage of Poppy Balser, a watercolour artist from Digby.  She put on a wonderful event for 12 students where we painted ocean scenes mainly from the front veranda of the Chester Yacht Club.  There was a wonderful view there of the harbour with many sailboats of various kinds and yachts moored out front.  Below is a view of the Chester Harbour from the Yacht Club.  The sun was brilliant that day making interesting white ripples on the water.

Chester Harbour from Yacht Club

Shown below is another view showing the west side of the harbour.

Chester Harbour
Paint the Past was held at Kings Landing, NB this past weekend.  It is an annual event where juried artists set up and paint relevant scenes from the Landing over two days.  It is a fund raiser for the Kings Landing Foundation.  Twenty-one artists were there and about 55 paintings were framed and on display at the reception held late Sunday afternoon.  The paintings were judged by a panel and the winning painting was done by Sharon Levesque.  Congratulations, Sharon!

Shown below are the two I painted.  The Lint House was done in bright light.  It is a very old, small house, built in 1830.  I sat in the garden to paint this one with apples falling from the tree over my head.  The wagons were dropping off and picking up passengers right across the fence from me making dust and lots of excited conversation from the happy people.

The Lint House
The second day was very rainy so I painted from inside St. Mark's Church.  It was dark in there because there were no lights, of course, it being a 19th century building.  I enjoyed the ambiance there for the time I worked inside.

St. Mark's Church, Kings Landing
"Plein air painting is much more difficult than painting in the studio."  I heard that comment many times over the weekend from the artists.  For some it was their first time.  One has to brave the elements, people, weather, etc.  In many cases it is done standing up and the light is also very variable.  Often the scene looks very different when the painting is half done than it was when starting.  Light is a big part of the painting and it changes in plein air work.  That adds to the challenge.

Please note that blowing up paintings in a digital form makes them look different than they are in real form.  Enjoy and consider doing some painting yourselves.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Solitary Sandpiper

The Sandpiper of Muddy Ponds

Solitary Sandpiper
 The Solitary Sandpiper is well named.  It is usually alone or in small groups.  It is unique in that it is often found feeding in small woodland or meadow ponds.  It prefers wet grassy areas and creeks where it feeds on insects, small crustaceans, spiders, mollusks, worms and small frogs.  We see it here in spring and fall migration as it passes from its breeding grounds in northern Quebec and Ontario to its wintering areas in Central and South America.  It also breeds in the northern parts of the rest of the Canadian provinces up to Yukon and Alaska.

The Solitary Sandpiper is a medium-sized sandpiper (length 22 cm/8.5 in).  It has a spotted dark brown back and rump, white underparts with streaks on the neck and sides.  It has a black tail with white barring on the edges.  Birders find it easy to identify by the white eye ring and the greenish bill and legs.  Both male and female birds look alike.

Solitary Sandpiper
The Solitary Sandpiper has some interesting behaviours.  When it lands it often holds its wings up showing its dark underwings.  It is the only sandpiper that nests in abandoned songbird nests.  It lays its olive eggs marked with brown spots in abandoned Rusty Blackbird, Bohemian Waxwing, Gray Jay or American Robin nests.  It will also build its own nest.

Solitary Sandpiper
 Even though this species is fairly easy to identify, here we have to differentiate it from two species which may be found in similar habitat; Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs.  The Lesser Yellowlegs is about the same size but it is grayer in colour and it has bright yellow legs.  The Spotted Sandpiper is a smaller bird with a white eyebrow not an eye ring, breast spots in the spring and no streaks on the sides and neck in the fall.  It also has yellow legs.   

The Solitary Sandpiper was first described in 1813 by Alexander Wilson but its nest was not discovered until 1903.  Before that it was confused with the Spotted Sandpiper.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Banding/Tagging Plovers

Tagged Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover
 Above is a Semipalmated Plover.  I saw many of these on a recent trip to the Acadian Peninsula along with many other species of shorebirds.  Shorebird migration is well along now and such species as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, etc. are common on our sandy, muddy ocean shores.

On Miscou Island near Wilson's Point I saw a tagged Semipalmated Plover among the many 'peeps'.  It appeared to have a flag (tag) on its left leg.  With special binocular focusing I could read the number on the tag, 'EE4'.  I photographed the bird to confirm my report.

Tagged Semipalmated Plover
The top photo above shows a Semipalmated Plover in breeding plumage.  Immediately above shows the tagged plover which is in basic plumage.  That means it has changed its plumage to a less dramatic colouring which is normal for late summer.  It basically has a new set of feathers making it ready for its long flight to wintering grounds along the southern Atlantic coast of the US and Mexico and the West Indies.

The tagged bird was seen on August 26.  I reported it to the NB Bird Information Line and got a response the same day which referred me to a group who were doing bird banding in New Brunswick.  Here is what I found out.  The bird was tagged 3 weeks before in the same area.  At the time of tagging it was underweight.  That is often the case in newly arrived birds.  They usually remain in the same area to feed and gain weight before their next long flight.  That is what this bird was doing; resting in the same area and feeding heavily.  The information I provided also showed that the bird was doing well and enabled the team to check their transmission towers information accuracy which confirmed the location of the bird.

Tagged Semipalmated Plover
This plover has a tag (flag) on its left leg above the tarsus, a band on its right leg and a transmitter on its back feathers.  The tag and the band can be seen in the two photos above.  The transmitter cannot be seen but a fine wire running from it to the ground behind the bird can be seen on careful scrutiny.  The transmitter is temporary.  It will be shed at the next molt.  My observation of this bird showed the bird is coping well with its tags and transmitter and is contributing to the study on bird movements and feeding areas.  The data from this study will contribute to our understanding and protection of shorebird activity and movements.

The team studying shorebird migration which banded this bird is from Mount Allison University working in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service.  They were happy to receive information on this bird.  Tagged birds should be reported to

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Red Knot

Migrating Shorebirds Bring a Variety of Species

Red Knot
Our sandy coastal shorelines are feeding grounds for many species of migrating shorebirds this time of year.  It is interesting to watch them as they feed.  We have over a dozen species of shorebirds bulking up here before they continue their journeys south.

One interesting species is the Red Knot.  This species was newsworthy a few years ago because of its staging area in Delaware Bay (more on that later).  It uses our shorelines to feed on mollusks, worms, snails, seeds and gastropods.  It is found only in small flocks here as the population makes its way south.  

The Red Knot breeds in our high Arctic islands where it nests on tundra.  It winters along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern USA and also in Central and South America.  It also lives in Europe and Asia.  

Red Knot
The Red Knot is a medium-sized shorebird.  It is larger than the 'peeps' (Semipalmated Sandpiper, for example) but smaller than the Yellowlegs and Willets.  It appears here only in its winter (basic) plumage. That is too bad because it is really beautiful in its breeding plumage, with a bright reddish face and breast and a speckled brownish and grayish back.  

In its winter plumage, as seen in the photo above, it appears overall grayish.  Of note are its medium-length black bill, dark legs, white underparts with gray spots and streaks going up the sides and neck. A good identifying feature is the gray chevrons or streaks along the white sides.  In flight it shows a long wing with a gray lining and a fine white line above.  The tail and rump are gray.

Red Knot
The Red Knot has been made famous by the media due to its staging area in Delaware Bay, USA.  As much as 90% of the entire population gathers there to feed.  This is one of its main staging areas and there it feeds on horseshoe crab eggs.  These are energy rich and give the birds enough energy to complete their flights southward.  The problem arose when horseshoe crab fishermen overfished the crabs, depleting the food source for the knots.  Through good  horseshoe crab management in the US, the problem is resolved for now.  The crabs are very important in the ecology of coastal areas.

The horseshoe crab is important in the medical industry for sterility testing in medical equipment and intravenous drugs.  Also, research on their eyes has provided a better understanding of human vision.  

We will continue to have problems when human 'needs' interfere with the ecology of our native species.  Education and good management hopefully will avoid serious effects on the birds.