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

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fall Bluebirds

The Bluebirds Are Still Here 

Eastern Bluebird - Male
Fall might be upon us but the Eastern Bluebirds are still here.  That is good news.  These beautiful small, colourful thrushes are still flitting around orchards and meadows looking for food and training their young, getting ready for migration.  We were lucky to find a small flock of these neat birds near Fredericton yesterday.  It was a warm  sunny day and the bluebirds were making the most of the many insects flying around.  They were moving actively between an orchard and the hydro poles and wires.  They treated us with their presence.

Eastern Bluebirds, like most birds at this time of year, are in their basic (alternate) plumage.  The bright feathers of the breeding plumage are mostly gone.  That makes it difficult to see the brilliant blue of this species.  They are still beautiful, however, with the deep orange breasts and muted gray blue on their heads and backs.

The male and female bluebirds differ slightly.  The female is duller and shows white on the throat and a more pronounced eyering.  Shown above is the male in basic plumage.  Note the solid orange on the throat and the gray-blue on the head.  The brilliant blue head of spring's breeding plumage is now gone.

Eastern Bluebird - Male
Shown above is also a male.  Note the solid orange throat and the bright blue on the wing feathers.  If this were spring, the entire head and back would be brilliant iridescent blue.

Eastern Bluebird - Female
Shown above is the female in basic plumage.  Note the more pronounced eyering and the whitish throat.  The orange breast and gray on the head and back are also duller than in the male.

An interesting fact about Eastern Bluebirds is that if a predator or other danger appears and no male is around, the female will sing a specific song in order to alert the male and have him return to protect her.  

The bluebirds will soon be leaving.  October is the time for them to migrate south.  Our birds will spend the winter in the eastern US south of Vermont or Massachusetts.