Thursday, November 16, 2017

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Another Southern Bird Here?

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Shown above is a rare bird we saw on Miscou on October 28 on Wilsons Point Road; a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea.   It is a small fast bird with a high pitched call note.  We were hoping to see this species because it had been showing up periodically this fall on Miscou.  It came in to our call and stayed long enough for us to get a few photos.  It was very actively flitting around among the branches and tree tops.  I hadn't seen one in over 5 years so was delighted to get reacquainted.  My last sighting was in South Carolina.  The last one I had seen in New Brunswick was in 1959!  This present sighting made some in our group so happy they did a dance.  (Some people think birders are strange people but they should see them dancing on the side of the road!  Fortunately that old attitude towards birders has pretty well disappeared.)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher [Internet Photo]
The photo far above is of the actual bird we saw on Miscou.  It is moulting its tail feathers and shows only one feather remaining.  The photo immediately above shows an adult male in breeding plumage.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are mainly blue-gray (or sometimes just gray) above and white below.  They have a characteristic white eyering and their tail is long and black with white outer tail feathers.  They fan their tail from side to side, probably to stir up insects on which they feed.  This is a small species, only 11 cm (4.3 in) long (and much of that is tail!)  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are often single birds but they do sometimes associate with flocks of kinglets or warblers.  They are busy, feeding on mainly insects which they glean from the edges of deciduous trees.  They are, however, adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats.  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the northernmost member of its family.  It is the only member of the family that is truly migratory and its breeding range is expanding into the northeast.  It normally breeds in the southern and central US and it winters in the very southern US, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.  It is a permanent resident in the southeastern US states and Mexico.  

In late years more of these birds have been appearing in NB, indicated that they may be slowly expanding into our area.  If that is true, we look forward to it because they are a welcome species to help balance out our insect population.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Migration Fallout Drops Vireos

Rare Vireos 'Everywhere'


Adult White-eyed Vireo
The recent migration fallout brought reports of White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos from all areas of the fallout zone, Grand Manan, Campobello and southwestern Nova Scotia.  Flocks of these migrating vireos were put down by the storm and strong winds.

Vireos are about the size of warblers (13 cm/5 in) and look much like them but appear chunkier.  They live in trees and bushes and feed on insects, spiders, seeds and berries.  In New Brunswick we normally have 4 species; Red-eyed, Blue-headed, Warbling and Philadelphia Vireos.  White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos are rare here.

Shown above is the White-eyed Vireo. This species loves thick low bushes and is usually discovered by its bursts of raspy song.  It is a good mimic and usually sings loudly mimicing several different bird songs.  

Juvenile White-eyed Vireo [Jennifer Pierce Photo]

There are only two bird species in North America with white eyes, the White-eyed Vireo and the Wrentit (from the west coast).  The young White-eyed Vireo (shown above) has a dark eye until the next spring when it turns white.  

The Yellow-throated Vireo is slightly bigger than the White-eyed but is shaped much the same.  It normally lives high in the canopy of deciduous trees.  It feeds on insects and small fruits.  Its song is not as loud or abrupt as the White-eyed.  It is a slow 2 or 3-syllable phrase with long pauses between sometimes depicted as 'three-eight three-eight three-eight'.  

Yellow-throated Vireo [Jennifer Pierce Photo]
The brilliant yellow of the Yellow-throated Vireo is distinctive.  Note, in the photo above, the brilliant yellow on the throat, spectacles and breast.  That bird is hard to miss!  The eye is always dark and the bill is thick like all vireos.  Yellow-throated Vireos need large tracts of land to breed successfully (at least 250 acres).  As a result of landscape fragmentation, their breeding success has become threatened in recent years.  

Yellow-throated Vireo [Internet Photo]
White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos breed in summer in the eastern US and winter in the very southern part of the eastern US, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.  The flocks that landed here during the recent severe storm obviously got blown off course in their southward journey.  Fortunately they found good weather here which would have provided sufficient insects, spiders and small fruits to allow them to renew their entry stores so they could return to the south.  Come again beautiful vireos!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Migration Fallout

Birds Falling Out of the Sky

Summer Tanager
On Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 26 and 27, the northeast had over 100 mm rain, fog, and winds up to 100 km/h out of the south and southeast.  That severe weather forced a lot of migrating birds to 'fallout'.    When migrating flocks meet severe weather such as heavy rain and/or opposing winds, they look for the nearest landfall and put down.  Here they rest and feed to replenish energy reserves. This rare phenomenon is difficult for the birds but exciting for birders.  It often brings rare species into areas in which they are not normally seen.  For decades birders have made the connection between bad weather and good birding opportunities.

This is exactly what happened in the Passamaquoddy Bay, Bay of Fundy area over the weekend.  Rare birds sought landfall in Grand Manan, Campobello and Nova Scotia.  Flocks of rare species were found in these areas on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  In some cases there were 12 to 20 individuals seen of species which we don't normally see here.

Birders in these 3 areas found basically the same species, indicating that the flocks were mixed with these same species.  There were likely also smaller flocks of single species.  These birds will likely remain in place for a few days until they have sufficiently fed and the weather provides favourable winds to continue their migration.  

Summer Tanager
Birders in these areas reported the birds feeding furiously on insects or whatever they could find for food.  According to one seasoned birder, Sunday, Oct. 29,  was his 'most memorable [day] for bird rarities all concentrated together'.  Most birders reported the same group of species.

Seen were the following species:  Summer Tanager (as seen above), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Hooded Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cattle Egret, Golden-winged Warbler, Indigo Bunting.  There were dozens of Indigo Buntings.  The vireos were seen in many places.  The Golden-winged Warbler is very rare.  The Hooded Warbler is also very rare here and 8 were seen.  All of the above represent fabulous birding.

Hooded Warbler [Internet Photo]
 A fallout is risky for the birds.  They are forced to put down in unfamiliar territory.  Whether they find food safely is sometimes questionable.  Their safety from predators, pollution, human interference, etc. is a big risk.  It appears the birds that put down here in our area are safe and are feeding well.  

Shown below are two photographs taken by Ralph Eldridge on Machias Seal Island of a fallout of warblers.  A flock had put down because of bad weather and were literally everywhere around the lighthouse buildings.  There are several kinds of warblers in the group.  The warblers left the next day when the weather cleared and the winds were favourable.

Migration Fallout of Warblers on Machias Seal Island [Ralph Eldridge Photo]

Migration Fallout of Warblers on Machias Seal Island [Ralph Eldridge Photo]
I will close with an interesting bird fallout story to illustrate just how extensive this phenomenon can be.  In April, 2013, a team of 6 birders created a record in Texas by seeing 294 species in one day due to a fallout which had occurred in that area due to bad weather and large flocks migrating northward.  Migration is indeed an event of huge magnitude and we can get a small glimpse into it when weather interferes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bird Migration

Bird Migration is an Amazing Phenomenon

Birds migrate to move to and from areas of abundant food and nesting sites and back to areas with milder winter weather and suitable habitat and food sources.  That means that in the spring and fall there are millions of birds moving north and south through our skies and landscapes.  These are critical times for the birds, exposing them to the dangers of navigating the huge land areas of human development, the exposure to predators, pollution, collisions, starvation, exhaustion, severe weather, and other dangers.

Cattle Egret
Migration periods bring strange birds to our province.  These birds have somehow been misled or driven off their normal flight paths to arrive here.  Just to mention a few of what has occurred in New Brunswick this year, we have a Cattle Egret (shown above) and a Western Meadowlark in Grand Manan this week (see photo below).  There has been a Burrowing Owl also on Grand Manan for about two months.  There has been a Crested Caracara in the Shepody/Alma area for a month.  There is a Fork-tailed Flycatcher on Miscou now and there was a Scissors-tailed Flycatcher at Cape Enrage recently.  There was a Swainson's Hawk and two Yellow-throated Warblers on Miscou last week.  All these species are well away from their normal areas.  

Incredibly just this week there was a bird found in Forteau, NL (on the Labrador coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) which is normally found from Finland east to Siberia and south to southern China.  This bird is a Yellow-breasted Bunting and has never been seen in eastern North America before.  There have been a few sightings of it over the years on the Aleutian Islands in the far western part of Alaska.

The Cattle Egret shown above should be in Georgia, Florida or Texas now, not in New Brunswick.  The   Burrowing Owl shown below should be in Florida, southwestern US or Mexico now, not here.  

Burrowing Owl
Why do birds make mistakes?  Why do they appear in places that are obviously way off their normal migration paths?  That is a difficult question and the answers are diverse.  Bad weather and severe wind storms play a big part.  Other reasons include disruption in their navigation systems by manmade structures and communication waves/towers, confusion within the bird itself related to its navigation system and many other reasons some of which are unknown.  There are other reasons related to the species population or circumstances which promote a behaviour called 'dispersal' which causes some of the birds to fly away from their normal flight paths.  This is an evolutionary strategy for the potential success or dispersal of the species.  

Western Meadowlark [Jennifer Pierce Photo]
In recent years great strides have been made in the research on bird migration.  In the 1940s the best technique for studying bird migration was to use telescopes to watch the birds as they passed in front of the moon.  Bird banding has been used for hundreds of years but since the recapture rate is only 1.3%, it reveals relatively little data.  In the 1950s they began to use radar to study the movement of bird masses during migration.  Since the 1970s scientists have been using geolocators and satellite transmitters.  Geolocators are small and can be used to track the movement of birds.  A Swainson's Thrush, for example, was tracked in its migration flight from Alaska to the southern Amazon region.  Satelite transmitters are heavy and can be used on birds no smaller than Mourning Doves.  

Scientists are now using nano tags which emit VHF radio waves and can be received by the Motus Network of towers.  They are very small and can be used on creatures as small as insects, making them very useful for birds.  To date 10,000 birds, bats and insects have been tagged.  This method has been much more successful than anything in the past.

But science is not done yet!  High Resolution Genetic Markers are also recently being used.  These measure DNA from feathers and by isotope analysis they can determine where the bird was hatched and where it has been.  It will be interesting to see what data can be gathered from this new technique.

These latter techniques have gathered a lot of data on bird migration.  We know a lot more about it now than they did in 1960 or 1970.  However, we have done little to help the birds and improve their migration success.  We need to preserve key stopover sites, to clear the night skies for them to successfully migrate.  We need to turn off our night lights on large buildings and other prime collision sites.  We need to protect flocks that are forced down during weather fallouts.  The key is education and action.  We must get the general population and cities and municipalities involved.  Four percent decline per year is way too much!!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gray Jay

Visit with the Gray Jays

Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis)
We recently took a trip to Claudie, an abandoned, overgrown settlement deep in the woods north of Fredericton.  We stopped for a visit with a friend who was working on his cottage there. He had a group of Gray Jays which had been habituated to humans.  They soon visited with us and expected a handout.  

At first they landed nearby in the trees making a variety of noises, mostly 'wee-ah' or 'chuck chuck chuck'.  Next, one bird landed on our friend's arm which prompted his producing gifts of bread for the birds.  They then flew in close to take the bread from our hands, even landing on our heads a couple of times.  After stuffing their bills with food, they would fly off and remain away for a few minutes before returning for more.  This was repeated many times.  It was obvious they were storing the food somewhere.

Gray Jay Coming for a Treat
The Gray Jay is about 29.2 cm (11.5 in) long and appears to be a jay with a long tail and no crest on its head.  It has dark gray upper parts, light gray underparts, a white head with a dark gray nape.  Its gray tail is tipped with a narrow white band.  It has a noticeably small black beak and black legs and feet.  The young Gray Jay is dark gray all over except for a faint light gray moustachial line. Juveniles gain their adult plumage in July or August.   Gray Jays on territory live an average of 8 years.  The oldest known Gray Jay was 17 years old (banded and recaptured).  

Gray Jays are omnivorous.  They hunt arthropods, small mammals such as rodents, and nestling birds.  They also hunt amphibians and even land on moose in the winter and remove and eat engorged ticks from their backs.  They also eat carrion, fungi, seeds and fruit.  Gray jays twist and tug their food apart unlike blue jays which hammer it.   

Gray Jay
The Gray Jay inhabits the boreal forest of most of Canada.  Its range also extends into the western US in mountainous areas where there is boreal forest.  Its population is sparse, however.  

Gray Jays are permanent residents throughout their range.  They do not migrate.  They survive the winter months on food they have carefully cached all year.  This may prevent them from migrating.  They have a unique way of caching food.  They roll the food around in their mouths and coat it with a special sticky saliva which allows them to safely stick it into the crevices of bark and under lichens.  It also seems to help preserve the food.  This is then used to feed nestlings and the adults throughout the seasons when food is scarce.  They have good memories and know in great detail where their food is stored.  

Gray Jays nest in late winter, usually March or April.  The female does not leave the nest in such cold weather and is fed by the male.  Both parents feed the nestlings.  Each Gray Jay pair also has a juvenile which remains with them throughout the year to help feed the nestlings when they fledge.  Apparently when the fledglings mature there is a lot of rivalry among them to see which is dominant and 'wins' the chore of remaining with the adults for another year.  Researchers have measured high mortality in the other juveniles which are driven away from the parental area.  They team up with other jays which have had nesting failures that season.  

Gray Jay
The Gray Jay has several colloquial names.  Here it is often called the Canada Jay.  In 2016 an online poll was conducted by the Canadian Geographic magazine to select a national bird for Canada.  The Canada Jay was selected from the top five choices, although it was not number 1.  Another name for the bird is the Whisky Jack.  The origin of that name is interesting.  Since the species is associated with the history of First Nations cultures, the name comes from that.  There was a benevolent First Nations mythological figure called Wisakedjak, and the name for the bird was anglicized from that to Whisky Jack.  In Maine the bird is sometimes called Moose Bird or Gorby.  It is possible the derivation of the name, Gorby, is from the Scottish and Irish word root 'gorb' which means 'glutton' or 'greedy'.

Apparently there was a superstition in the early 20th century among Maine and New Brunswick woodsmen which prevented anyone from harming a Gray Jay.  They believed that whatever they did to a Gray Jay would happen to them.  I wonder what effect that had on the human habituation of the species.  We are probably seeing the effects of that early treatment of this species even today.  

There were three birds in the group we saw in Claudie.  They must have been a pair and their juvenile assistant.  Neat!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Willet

The Willet is a Shorebird 

Willet Showing Breeding Plumage
The Willet (Tringa semipalmata) is a fairly common shorebird which breeds in grassy marshes along the marine shores of the Maritime provinces.  It is a large, rather plump shorebird, a little larger than a yellowlegs.  It has a thick gray bill and gray legs.  It is 38 cm (15") long and appears long-legged.  It feeds by probing along the shore and sometimes in the water.

Willet
As in most shorebirds breeding and non-breeding plumages are quite different.  We usually see the non-breeding plumage or a transition stage between the two.  The breeding plumage is much darker than the non-breeding plumage.  The Willet in breeding plumage shows dark gray or brown above and white below with heavy streaking on the neck and barring on the breast and sides.  The non-breeding plumage is plain gray above and white below.  The streaking and barring disappear in the non-breeding plumage.  The outstanding field mark of the Willet is seen in flight. It shows a striking black and white wing pattern in both plumages.

Willets Feeding
The Willet gets its name from its vocalizations. It often says its own name, characterized as 'pill will willet'.  It winters along coastal shores from the Carolinas southward to the Caribbean.

There is a western race of this species.  It inhabits the coastline of the western US and winters in western Mexico.  This race is a bit different from the eastern race.  It moves inland to breed on the prairies and areas of Oregon, California and Nevada.  The western race differs anatomically as well.  It is 10% larger, has a longer bill and longer legs.  Its bill is more slender and it is much lighter in colour.  It makes one wonder if it is a different species.  DNA testing would be useful to determine the relationship between the two races.

The good news for bird watchers is that there is a western Willet presently in New Brunswick.  It was seen in the last few days (Oct 9, 2017) in Cormierville and is well documented.  It shows the light gray colour, the longer legs and characteristically is feeding in deep water.

According to IBirdPro, the Willet is the only North American sandpiper whose breeding range extends southward into the tropics.  All other species breed in the north.  An interesting shorebird species!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Giant Butternut

Large Butternut Tree Found

Giant Butternut
Butternut trees (Juglans cinerea) are common in some parts of New Brunswick.  They prefer limestone-rich well-drained soils in shallow valleys and gradual slopes.  They grow singly or in small groups and are intolerant of shade.  In New Brunswick they are found in mixed hardwoods often with sugar maple, silver maple, red maple, elm, beech, and white and yellow birch.  Here they are found mainly in the St. John River valley and also a few are found in the Miramichi River valley.  

Butternut Tree
The Butternut tree is a species of eastern North America and is found in Quebec and Ontario as well as New Brunswick.  It has compound leaves with 11-17 leaflets.  The leaves are yellowish green, rough above and hairy and often sticky.  The twigs are orange-yellow, hairy and with a reddish brown pith.  The tree bark is light grey in colour, smooth on young trees and shows coarse intersecting vertical ridges on older trees.  We are all familiar with the beauty of butternut wood.  Much of our prized furniture is made from it.  The wood is light, soft, coarse-grained and reddish-brown.  

Butternut Tree
The seeds of butternut trees are the nuts which are found in abundance each fall on the ground under the trees.  They are an important source of food for wildlife.  The nuts grow in groups of 2 to 5, are a greenish-yellow colour and have a sticky, hairy surface with a pleasing fragrance.  They are 4 to 6 cm long, round with a pointed end.  When the husk is removed it reveals a deeply corrugated hard shell.  Inside is the nut which is sweet, oily and very tasty.  The nuts turn a dark brown colour as they age.

Butternuts
The Butternut tree which prompted this post is a giant of its kind.  It was found in Sunbury County in the St. John River valley.   For its protection, no further location details will be given.  It is a large, very old tree and still reasonably healthy.  It is the specimen shown above.  It has the typical growth pattern with a fused large stem splitting into two main trunks about 1 metre off the ground.  The two trunks are not exactly the same size, with the larger trunk more healthy-looking than the smaller.  The tree is growing in a hedgerow on the edge of a wet area among mainly silver maple and red maple.  The circumference of the larger trunk is 7 ft 9 in. (236 cm) and the circumference of the smaller trunk is 6 ft 0 in (183 cm).  The circumference of the combined trunk about 3 feet (1 m) up is 11 ft 7.5 in (354 cm).  The diameter breast height (dbh) of the larger trunk is 29.6 inches (75 cm).  According to Textbook of Dendrology, 1996, Harlow, Harrar, Hardin, White, most butternut trees range from 12 to 24 in. dbh.  That makes our tree very large!  Also according to the above, butternut trees don't usually live more than 75 years.  So, how old is this tree?  We did an official core sample and it revealed that our tree is approximately 150 years old!  A grand-daddy of butternut trees and still going! Wow!

While we were in the area we saw some beautiful landscape and came upon two interesting New Brunswickers.  See below for photos of the pair of moose, a cow and a bull, which were hanging out together.  It is breeding season for moose and the cow was probably in heat.  A wonderful day in the Picture Province!

Cow Moose
Bull Moose Hiding

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sanderling

Wave-loving Shorebird

Sanderling
The Sanderling (Calidris alba) is one of our shorebirds commonly called 'peeps'.  This term is often used for the smallest shorebirds that frequent our shores especially in the late summer and fall.  Their call notes are interpreted in the name.  We have many different species of shorebirds but the smallest ones are limited to about 6 species; Least, Semi-palmated, White-rumped, and Baird's Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover and the Sanderling.  The other common species are larger to varying degrees.

The Sanderling is a very active sandpiper.  It loves large bodies of water where it appears to chase the waves as they break on the shore.  See the photo below.  Actually what they are doing is searching for invertebrates and insects brought in or stirred up by the waves.  That action makes them active little birds.  It is interesting to watch small flocks as they actively feed.  

Sanderling Chasing Waves In and Out
Here the Sanderling is usually seen in the very pale whitish non-breeding plumage.  It shows a distinguishing black patch at the leading edge of the folded wing.  In flight it shows a wide white strip on the wing with a black leading wing edge.  The breeding plumage is much different and rarely seen here because we don't see this species here in the spring.  Acquired in late April, the breeding plumage shows a deep mottled rusty brown on the head and back, with white underneath.  I have never seen a Sanderling in this plumage.  In both plumages, the Sanderling has a black bill and legs.

Sanderling Showing Black in Anterior Aspect of Folded Wing
The Sanderling nests in the far north in our Arctic islands.  It migrates north usually up the central flyway (up the centre of the continent).  In the fall it returns south down the east and west shores of North America as well as the central flyway.  That brings the birds here to New Brunswick in the fall  where they feed on our sandy shores  until gaining enough weight to continue their journey south to Mexico and the Caribbean islands.  

The Sanderling is one of our shorebirds with a worldwide distribution.  It also breeds in Northern Europe and Asia and winters in the Mediterranean and eastward.  This species was first describe in 1764 by a German naturalist, Peter Simon Pallas.  It is a cheery little species and makes our visits to the shores of our large lakes and oceans much more interesting.

Sanderling

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Blackpoll Warbler

Dramatic Plumage Change in the Fall

Blackpoll Warbler in Breeding Plumage
The Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata) is a warbler species which undergoes a big plumage change twice yearly; into its breeding plumage and into its non-breeding (alternate) plumage.  The change is so dramatic it is difficult to recognize it as the same bird.

Shown above is the male Blackpoll Warbler in breeding plumage.  This is what it looks like when it arrives here in the spring.  Note the black cap extending through the eyes, white cheek and black malar (cheek) line.  The back is black-streaked on warm grey; the sides are heavily streaked in black and the underparts are white.  There are two white wing bars and the feet, legs and bill are yellowish.


Blackpoll Warbler in Alternate Plumage [N. Geographic Complete Birds of N America p. 539]
And, as you can see above, the fall Blackpoll Warbler looks vastly different. The back is a dull olive green with black streaks.  The underparts are white with yellow streaks on the sides.  There is white under the tail.  The face is yellow with a dark streak through the eye.  It has the same two white wing bars.  Even the legs have turned dark!  

Now you can see why fall warbler birding is difficult!  But how does this little bird change so dramatically?  I recently was shown photographically by a good birding/blogging friend who has kindly given me permission to use her photos.  She has luckily photographed a Blackpoll Warbler in the transition stage.

Blackpoll Warbler [Lisa de Leon Photo]

Blackpoll Warbler [Lisa de Leon Photo]
These photos above show how this bird changes its plumage from breeding to fall (alternate) plumages.  It must do it quite quickly because we seldom see birds in transition like this.  If you had a fall-plumaged bird in hand you could tell for sure it was a Blackpoll because it retains the yellow soles on its feet.

The Blackpoll Warbler breeds in the summer in the Maritimes and throughout most of northern Canada to Yukon and Alaska.  It migrates southward in the fall eastward and then south either down the eastern US or to the Maritimes and south directly over the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Islands and South America where it winters.  This amazing latter flight route averages 1864 miles over water!  That would require a non-stop flight of approximately 88 hours (Ibird Pro).  In order to do this, this species needs to double its weight by feeding heavily here in our province on insects in August and September where we have plenty of suitable habitat.  A remarkable species indeed!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Big Bald Mountain

Let's Climb Big Bald Mountain

View From Near Top of Big Bald Mountain
On August 20 a small group of botanists climbed Big Bald Mountain in Northumberland County.  The road leading up the mountain is about a half hour north of Red Bank, near Miramichi City.  We were able to drive to the foot of the mountain, leaving an hour climb up a steep trail.  It was interesting to watch the vegetation change as we climbed.  Northern/alpine species of plants grow only on mountain tops in New Brunswick.  

View From Top of Big Bald Mountain
We saw lots of moose sign on our way up.  It was surprising to me to see that moose could find something attractive to eat way up there.  We also saw flocks of White-winged Crossbills and Dark-eyed Juncos and heard Fox Sparrows.  As we climbed, the vegetation got shorter and sparser.  The view was spectacular from the top.  You could see for miles, mostly untouched wilderness.  We could, however, see vast areas of former and some new clearcuts.  There were a few roads and two or three lakes.  One lake had a cabin on its shore.  The air was so pure and there were no sounds other than those of nature.  Such a delight to be there!

The most outstanding plant we found was the Highland Rush Juncus trifidus.  This is an extremely rare plant found only once before in the province in the same area in 1982 by H. Hinds.  It is normally found on peaty heathland in Hudson Bay, Baffin Island, northern Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and Eurasia.  That was a very important find!


Juncus trifidus
Juncus trifidus
The dwarf birches were interesting.  It is hard to believe they can become so small and low-growing.  It is amazing how nature can adapt to harsh growing conditions.  We saw Betula glandulosa and Betula minor.  The Betula glandulosa was so low to the ground we had to get on our knees to photograph it.  It is a true dwarf and apparently reaches only 2 metres when fully mature.  What we saw was up to 30 cm tall.  Its leaves are very tiny and one would wonder if it really is a birch.  It is also extremely rare (S1).  

Betula glandulosa Dwarf Birch
An interesting fern was growing on the cliff face at the top of the mountain, Dryopteris fragrans, Fragrant Wood Fern.  Although this species is not unduly rare (S3), it was spectacular in the site in which we found it.  It required mountain goat-like agility to get close to it.  Plants are amazing how they can populate the most severe areas.  Fragrant Wood Fern normally is found from Yukon to Newfoundland and south to New England.

Dryopteris fragrans Fragrant Wood Fern

Dryopteris fragrans Fragrant Wood Fern
Canadian Mountain-Rice was another interesting find (Piptatherum canadense).  It is also an S1 plant, meaning extremely rare.  It grows on sandy barrens and rocky outcrops from British Columbia to Newfoundland and south to New Hampshire.  

Piptatherum canadense Canadian Mountain-Rice
Are we getting a pattern here?  Amazing how many rare plants are growing up there.  Another S1 plant we found was Vaccinium boreale Alpine Blueberry.  It was growing in small patches among
 the more common blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium.  Alpine Blueberry is remarkable in how small it is.  It was only about 5 cm high!  Its berries were small and sweet.  This plant was first found in the province by H. Hinds at this location in 1982.  

Vaccinium boreale Alpine Blueberry
We also found Mountain Cranberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea.  This is not particularly rare but is not something I see very often.  It is the common Partridgeberry of Newfoundland.  

Vaccinium vitis-idaea Mountain Cranberry
Another interesting find was Northern Comandra Geocaulon lividum.  This is a parasitic species and is listed as uncommon (S3).  It grows in sphagnum bogs and dry sandy areas from Alaska to Newfoundland south to New England.

Geocaulon lividum Northern Comandra
This was a very rewarding and unique botany trip.  To find so many extremely rare species was exciting.  We were viewing parts of New Brunswick few people have seen.  Although many have climbed Big Bald Mountain, I am sure most did not realize what an important ecological area it is to support such rare plants.  We are so blessed to have such areas still relatively untouched in New Brunswick.  It is our responsibility to protect them.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Eastern Phoebe Second Nesting

The Phoebes Have Fledged

Eastern Phoebe
This year we had a pair of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) nest under our raised deck.  They raised two clutches and were more successful in the second clutch.  The first clutch was parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds.  See a previous post for more details (June 17, 2017).  The first clutch had 3 phoebe chicks and 1 cowbird chick.  The second clutch had 3  or 4 phoebe chicks.  

Eastern Phoebe Fledgling
The phoebes like to nest on or near human habitation.  In our case they built on top of a shelf over a light affixed to the underside of a raised deck, a secure, dry spot indeed!  The nest was made of mud pellets and moss and lined with fine grasses.  Such fine workmanship!

After the eggs hatched, both parent phoebes were very busy feeding the hungry chicks.  Every possible perch around our yard was used by the adults as they hawked insects.  The youngsters grew quickly and were poking their heads up at the least sound or motion near their nest.  

Eastern Phoebe Fledgling
The chicks fledged at age 2 to 3 weeks.  I was made aware of the eventful day by our dog who was witnessing the event from inside the house.  I didn't know what the commotion was about until I went out to hang clothes on the line.  A baby phoebe landed on the line right beside my hand!  I was able to gently stroke its breast while it decided what its next move would be.  That was a neat experience.  With the dog securely shut inside, I waited outside to watch the event.  There were 3 or perhaps 4 very young phoebes wheeling around unsteadily, obviously trying their wings and this new mode of transportation for the first time.  The adults were noisily giving advice from the sidelines.  It did not take long for the young ones to gain more control of flight and to get themselves hidden away in the shrubbery.

Eastern Phoebe Fledgling
I felt privileged to have been a witness to the rearing of at least 6 new phoebes this year.  Our yard was a good nesting site and we are grateful for all the insects that have been removed from our environment.  We are especially pleased that this second clutch was not parasitized.

Eastern Phoebes make great neighbours.  They unobtrusively build their nests and raise their young around our buildings and help rid our areas of insect pests.  It is nice to watch them perch on garden stakes, lamp posts and every other suitable perch while watching for the next meal to come within  range.  We will certainly miss our phoebes when they leave for their wintering grounds in southeastern US and Central America.  Safe journey, friends!