attention to scale

PHOTO POST

It’s a great idea – but does it scale? 

“Warm-blooded flying dinosaur” is not only a time-tested concept, but one that works at a wide range of scales. This post stars the tiniest bird in our neighbourhood – but a distant relative a thousand times as big also makes an appearance.

If we expand the view beyond birds to include the smallest insects one can see clearly with the naked eye, I guess we would need two or three more zeroes to express the scale range.

But enough of arithmetic.

At the foot of a hummingbird

We leave plenty of room in our garden for Bergamot, not only because the long-lasting flowers are gorgeous, but because we can expect Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to drop by many times a day to sip the nectar.

When there are no hummingbirds to be seen, we might spot equally beautiful, though much smaller, flying insects.

Dragonfly on Bergamot

Angel Dance (Hoverfly on Bergamot)

This year the Hummingbirds have become quite accustomed to our presence, and now that the fledglings are also feeding we can watch from a distance of just a couple of meters.

Totally tubular

Face-on

A clothes-line proves a perfect resting place with a great view across the gardens.

Clothes-line with Hummingbird

Due to the nearby marsh we see many damselflies and dragonflies in the garden, including this male Long-Tailed Skimmer.

Long-Tailed Skimmer

It can be difficult to get away from the gardens at this time of year but there was a special show in the marsh one recent evening.

Gathering of Swallows

Scores of Northern Rough-Winged Swallows were chattering up a storm, with many swooping low over the water in pursuit of insects, then suddenly switching places with others to sit on slender reed perches while they groomed themselves.

Judging by the vivid highlights on their wings I’m thinking some of these were juveniles, said to have cinnamon streaks which the adults lack.

Sitting Swallow

As the sun sank low that evening a Great Blue Heron flew by.

Blue Streak

And as the sun rose over the garden in the morning, a hummingbird was waiting in a cherry tree.

Morning’s glow

as big as life

PHOTO POST

On a bright day in July it’s hard to go a more than a few fathoms in any direction without coming across some arresting sight.

Just off the front step, a web of spider silk has caught the rain over a cluster of sedums.

Suspended Rain

At the end of the lawn, Black Mud-Dauber Wasps favour a flowering Rue.

Mud-Dauber Wasp on Rue

Scattered throughout the marsh are floating yellow pond lilies.

Pond Lily by Setting Sun

It’s a safe bet that Sora have raised their young in this marsh every year, but I had never seen a juvenile Sora until a few nights ago. Then, just an hour before sunset, a bright shaft of light chanced across a young Sora and there it was, big as life.

Shaft of Light

The next night, same time, same place, I drifted by again and saw not one but two young Sora.

Sora on quiet evening

Portrait of a Young Sora

On a bright July morning, the nearby savannah is alive with Cedar Waxwing, Goldfinch, Savannah Sparrow and Willow Flycatcher*.

Outlook is Bright

A short rest

Savannah Sparrow

Flycatcher on a very green morning

In meadows, gardens and orchards another flashy creature has made its appearance. As beautiful as Popillia japonica may be, it is not a welcome sight as it does a lot of damage to fruit and vegetable crops.

Popillia japonica

Bees moving between Geranium flowers, on the other hand, are a sight for sore eyes.

I can’t stay long

Roadsides are festooned with blue Chicory, which attract pollinators including the Eastern Calligrapher fly.

Calligrapher on Chicory

Back home in the vegetable garden, the blossoms of sugar-snap peas would be beautiful even without the promise of the delicious green pods just a week away.

Real Sweet


* Flycatchers are reputed to be extremely difficult to identify unless you hear the bird’s song, and this one didn’t sing for me. Based on the pictures I consulted, a Willow Flycatcher was the closest match – but I’m no ornithologist.

bright lights of june

PHOTO POST

In the first week of June, the last of the far-north migratory birds were still passing through. By the end of the month some local nesters were ushering fledglings out into the world.

Ruddy Turnstones and Red Knots at Port Darlington breakwater, June 5, 2022

In the meantime a wide variety of flowering plants made up for a chilly spring by growing inches a day – aided by lots of sunshine and frequent rains.

Primrose rays

But bees of all sorts have been noticeably, worryingly scarce this year. I was glad to see this bumblebee shake off the water and resume flying after a drenching shower.

Bumblebee shower

Some of the beautiful insects I first mistook for solitary bee species turned out to be flies of the hover fly family (aka “flower flies”, aka “Syrphid flies”). They make their way from flower to flower harvesting pollen, so they are important pollinators.

Fleabane after rain

Daisy fleabane is one of the first meadow flowers in our yard each spring, and the hover flies are busy.

Fleabane and Syrphid

Daisy dew

A spread of white daisies also beckons pollinators to unmown areas of the yard.

Daisy flower fly 1

Daisy flower fly 2

Virginia spiderwort blossoms, each only the size of a twenty-five cent piece, look a deep blue in shade and purple-lavender in full sun.

Virginia Spiderwort

Though I spotted what appeared to be a single small grey bumblebee visiting the spiderwort, it didn’t stick around for a photo. There was a much smaller creature grasping the spiderwort’s yellow anther – not a bee as I first thought, but likely a hover fly known as the Eastern Calligrapher.

Eastern Calligrapher

Meanwhile, overhead, the Baltimore Orioles have filled the air with chatter and song – especially as the fledglings were coaxed out of the nest.

It’s time to go

It’s such a nice nest

Perhaps the most ancient beginning-of-summer ritual, in these parts, is the march of turtles to lay their eggs. This Painted Turtle came out of the marsh and made her way across the lawn to the sand. She dug a hole for a nest just a few meters away from last year’s chosen spot, she deposited her eggs, she carefully covered them, and she tamped down the sand. We looked away for a moment, and she was gone.

Turtle procession

a whistling of whimbrels

PHOTO POST

It’s always fun to gaze across the water looking for our usual residents. But in springtime you never know when a beautiful stranger might drop by for a few hours or a few days.

On a warm evening in the marsh, you might spot an ancient snapping turtle looming large at the surface, ready for any meal that might come within striking distance.

Swim a little closer please

Looking through clouds of midges in the calm of early morning, you spot Cormorants and Ring-Billed Gulls looking for breakfast.

Sparkling Shadow

Splashing Gulls

Red-breasted Mergansers are usually here for just a few months. When they come close to shore they make great entertainment, disappearing for long dives, skittering around the surface in boisterous play, and then suddenly, simultaneously, rising up and away in flight.

Fish is the Point

Skitterskatter

We’re outta here

But one quiet afternoon this week I could hear that something different was going on, somewhere near the breakwater. A chorus of peeps – or was it squeaks, or tweets, or whistles?  It wasn’t a familiar sound so I set out to investigate.

What should I find but a few dozen Whimbrels (or Hudsonian Curlews, as some older references call them).

Over the ridge

They mingled with the Gulls, sang their songs, stretched their wings, and then departed in smaller groups until, shortly before sundown, they were all on their way to the far north.

A Singular Bird

Don’t Cross Me

Whimbrel Wings

Come morning, a bright sun rose on another group of visitors, the Dunlins, likewise stopping for a short rest during a long journey.

Merry Company of Adventurers

Down to the Waterline 2

Rise and Shine

Different Strokes

By mid-morning they too had departed for parts north.

But back to the title of this post – do whimbrels whistle, or is that wordplay just whimsy? You can listen and decide for yourself:

an eye on the sparrow

PHOTO POST

One morning last week two of the less-seen sparrows visited our front yard together.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

These two sparrows, plus the Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, and the Dark-Eyed Junco, often search for food in the lawn and gardens. The Savannah Sparrow and the Swamp Sparrow occasionally allow themselves to be seen in a nearby meadow and marsh.

Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to do a post just on the various sparrows in this neighbourhood?

Well, it probably was fun … for the sparrows. I frantically tried to be everywhere at once, searching all the right habitats, while of course also moving as slowly and as close to soundlessly as I could manage. All while scanning the ground and thickets with great care, and equal futility – since I never saw the tiny bundles of camouflage until the second they darted for deeper cover.

Keeping an eye on the sparrow is easier said than done.

Was the exercise a waste of time? Not at all. When you go outside and you pay attention to what’s right around you, you’re likely to see and hear things you didn’t expect.

Stairway to Heaven

A Grackle showed off its colours, and I got glimpses of a Brown-Headed Cowbird, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler. And one evening a soft squawk caused me to look a long way up, where I spotted a larger bird shape.

It was a Northern Flicker hollowing out a nest near the top of a dead tree. The nest was on the east side of the trunk and the sun was setting in the west – but at least I knew where to focus in better light.

The next morning I was back, lying on the forest floor with a convenient tree root serving as my pillow, watching a drama unfolding close to the sky.

Flicker Builds Nest (larger views – top section here; bottom section here)

Based on what happened next, I’m guessing the nest was nearly ready for eggs.

Flicker Duet for Spring

The embrace was brief, but brought on spectacular fireworks.

Northern Flash

When I returned my gaze to earthly matters I saw that a few fiddleheads were unfurling.

Soon, Ferns

In the very shallow water at the outside edges of the marsh, where it’s almost impossible for wind or waves to disturb the placid surface, I puzzled over tiny floating seedlings. This is one effect, I think, of the gentle rise and fall of the marsh as it equalizes with every slight fluctuation in the level of Lake Ontario.

Sprout

Even occasional tufts of moss had detached from land and were sinking down to become part of the rich muck –  but not before creating some beautiful ripples.

Moss Makes Waves

And just when I thought I’d see everything except sparrows, one ventured out on a rotting log along the creek bank.

Swamp Sparrow by Evening Light


Composite at top of page, clockwise from top left: Swamp Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrow. (Click here for full-screen view)

in and around the woods

PHOTO POST

The forest floor is still cold and in many places soggy. But the flowers that live there are in a hurry to bloom before the canopy fills in and blocks the sunlight.

That means there is a lot of beautiful change happening every day – and a lot of delicate growth that might be crushed by a hasty, careless or disrespectful step.

The first blooms of Trillium are just now emerging.

Leaf Over Leaf

Skunk Cabbage is a common Ontario woodland plant but I haven’t seen any within walking distance of home. The one photographed below is along the Seaton Hiking Trail in north Pickering. I saw scores of them popping out of the mud in particularly wet areas. Botanists use the word “spathe” for what most of us would call “that purple and gold pointy-curvy thing that sticks up beside the leaves.”

Let’s call a spathe a spathe

American Goldfinches are singing their songs throughout the neighbourhood, including from the branches of small trees at the edge of the woods.

Sunny As Spring

The tiny perfect flowers of Coltsfoot light up muddy creek banks.

Coltsfoot on Creekbank

Within the woods are many species of mosses. I found that by holding a reading magnifier in front of my camera lens I can get slightly improved pictures of the delicate features. The trick is to get down low enough on the ground so I can look up through the moss. The more detail I see, the more I think “I’d really like to get a more powerful lens.” (If I do get one, obviously, I’ll think “I should get an even more powerful lens.”)

Floor to Ceiling

Periscope

In the marsh next to the woods I was lucky enough to come across this female Common Merganser. (Not a fair name for such a splendid bird, I agree.)

Merganser Watch

This male Wood Duck may live nearby; Wood Ducks nest in trees although much of their diet comes from the marsh.

Marsh Moiré

Tree Swallows spend many hours swooping gracefully over the waters of the marsh while dining on insects. This pair was checking out a prefab house now available in the savannah just between the marsh and the woods. Location, location, location.

Sheltering Swallows 1

Sheltering Swallows 2

Sheltering Swallows 3

Skittering from tree to tree are the squirrels, keeping the forest lively throughout the seasons.

Upon Closer Inspection


For full-screen view of composite at top of page, click here.

 

red shift

PHOTO POST

The green is on its way, but the first vivid colours of spring around here tend to the red.

Bright Curve

Tiny sedums poke out between twigs. Alongside the fence rhubarb erupts. On a path a weathered log feeds new life.

Onset of Rhubarb

Cracked Wood

Venturing beyond the yard, I find a few birds that I don’t see every day.

Wet Spark

Red-breasted Mergansers like to fish on the open lake at this time of year, but it’s a treat to spot one close by in the creek.

I think I’ll try the fish

Herring Gulls are not exactly rare, though nowhere near as numerous here as Ring-Billed Gulls. This one was preoccupied with the discovery of a large fish on the creek bank, and paid little attention to me as I drifted closer.

Herring Gull

Just a few minutes later the cascade of late-afternoon sun was turning to shadow – time for a beaver to begin the night’s work.

Twilight Falls 2

Twilight Falls 1

When daylight returns I lie on the beach to admire new growth of dune grasses, making the most of precious moisture and, if we give them a chance, doing their best to anchor the sands against the storms.

Red Shift

 

Wave Grass 2

Wave Grass 1


Photo at top of page: Snowdrops in Ivy (full-screen image here)

 

sweet water songs

PHOTO POST

It was a brisk Saturday morning as I made my way to the lakeshore.

Getting from here to there

I wasn’t after fish, but those who I sought would be fishing, or so I thought. I was on the trail of Long-Tailed Ducks, hoping to capture not only pictures but sound.

Writing in 1925, Edward Howe Forbush called these birds “perhaps our most loquacious ducks,” adding that “their resounding cries have been likened to the music of a pack of hounds.”

The trick was to get close to their deep-water haunts, without slipping into the deep myself. I failed that morning, but when I returned late in the afternoon the Long-Tails went about their business with little notice of my presence. I was pleased to note there was little wind, giving me an excellent chance to hear and perhaps even record their song.

Chapter thirteen

Long waves

Four’s Company

In the video below you may also note the odd Scaup and Goldeneye. (You may need to turn up the speakers to hear the Long-Tails’ calls, about 20 seconds in.)

Sun was setting over a frozen harbour channel as I made my way home.

Mouth of the Channel

The glassy water gave no hint of a coming storm.

Night Flight

Yet the bay was transformed by sunrise. A stiff south wind had picked up overnight, collecting thin sheets of ice from across the lake and depositing them, in a million pieces, on our shoreline.

Dawn breaks on Sunday

Waves were rolling up against the ice edge, so far from land that the scrunch of ice against ice was barely audible.

Blue Silence

Zig-zag-sun

But waves are nothing if not patient. On Sunday night a rhythmic smashing of ice had grown louder than the wind. By Monday morning the ice sloshed back and forth against the shoreline, shards splintering. By Tuesday morning the ice had returned to water.

(The video below is best viewed full screen, ideally on a screen approximately the size of Lake Ontario.)

lakeshore medley

PHOTO POST

When you’re looking for fresh new scenery on a daily basis, the January lakeshore obliges – especially when the temperature plunges, heavy snow falls, and waves rearrange the ice, water and steam ceaselessly.

Breakwater Boulder (click image for full-screen view)

As dawn breaks frost is forming on icicles at the waterline.

Mouth of a Cave

The delicate filaments of frost are gone by the end of the day … but they’ll be back soon enough.

Sunset Arch

Gentle waves roll over pebbles at sunset, carving a path under a coating of ice.

Sunset Flow

It takes much bigger waves to topple the more massive ice formations.

Snaggletooth & Friends

Right along the coast is not always the best place to go looking for fauna, as most species of waterfowl stay well away from shore. But just a short drive to the west at Lynd Shores Conservation Area, it’s not hard to spot lots of wildlife.

White-Tailed Deer

Mourning Dove at Evening

Barred Owl

When you love ice and snow the lakeshore is a special place, not least because the sounds are just as beautiful as the sights. Here’s a short suite from the shoreline over the past week:


Photo at top of post: Branching Out (click here for full-screen view)

 

 

back yard blizzard

PHOTO POST

When a blizzard blew over a few days ago the wintering birds knew what to do: gather round the feeders and feast.

Like most blizzards in Ontario’s deep south, this one was mild in temperature. But perhaps the birds sensed that much colder weather was on the way. They were so intent on taking their turns at the feeders they paid little attention to pesky paparazzi.

Finch and Junco (click images for full-screen views)

American Goldfinches (above right) worked at the nyjer thistle seed all day. Dark-eyed Juncos (above left) gave it a try too, though their fatter beaks aren’t a good fit for the narrow holes in the finch feeder.

Woodpecker Candy

The Downy Woodpecker (above), as well as its larger lookalike the Hairy Woodpecker, hammered away at their high-calorie treat – seeds frozen in a suet block.

Inspector Starling

The Starlings gave it a try too but had a harder time of it.

American Tree Sparrows found their picnics at ground level.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 1

Their name is a misnomer, since they nest and forage on the ground. Grass seed is a favoured food, and a deep drift of snow put the seed heads on tall stalks within a short hop.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 2

By the time the sun rose the next morning the wind had calmed, the snow was no longer drifting, and the skies were clear. There is no better time to stroll the beach, watching the light show play out where sand and stones meet ice, waves and the first rays of sunrise.

Sedimentary Colours 1

Sedimentary Colours, 2

Sedimentary Colours 3

Sedimentary Colours 4

The rest of the beach is equally beautiful with bright cottage colours set off against new snow.

Cottages at Port Darlington

When I return home the birds are again busy in the back yard and this Junco waits for a turn at the feeder.

Junco on White


Photo at top of page: Snowy Morning Doves (full-screen version here)