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.