night moves

PHOTO POST

The days grow shorter but marsh birds grow bolder.

With nesting finished and fledglings close to adult size, both the parents and the juveniles are easier to spot in that short interlude between the brightness of afternoon and the deepening dusk.

Black-crowned Night Herons lurk at the edges of the cattails, but their light colouring makes them conspicuous even in the shadows.

Night Heron awaits the dark

A young Great Blue Heron, with just the first few wisps of an adult’s plume, catches the last direct rays of sunlight.

Profile of a young Great Blue

Dense congregations of lily pads cover much of the water. Young Spotted Sandpipers, looking all grown up except that they have no spots on their bellies, nearly disappear behind upturned leaves as they hunt for insects.

Pipers dashing after supper

Compared to the pipers, an almost full-grown Gallinule looks shockingly large and nearly sinks through the lily pads in spite of its huge feet.

Gallinule looms large

A Green Heron hides in semi-darkness, but a turn of the head makes its bright eye patch stand out.

Conspicuously hiding

At this hour even the Virginia Rail sneaks out beyond its usual cover to grab worms from the mud.

Virginia Rail reflection

Profile of Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail – the edge of the shadow

• • •

To close, something completely different. A look at the dry loose sand in the full heat of an August afternoon shows sand wasps working tirelessly to dig tunnels where they can lay their eggs. They have no interest in any picnic lunch humans might bring to the beach – they just want to get their larvae hatched, and then bring the larvae enough tiny insects to get them on their way.

In the meantime sand must fly.

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.

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:

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.

 

walking into winter

PHOTO POST

Gliding through the harbour one morning just before freeze-up I spotted a mink.

Though I’ve looked many times since, it proved an elusive sight. No more mink so far, but instead …

On the beach a crayfish rested its final rest, still but still intact, having escaped the mink and the pike and the herons.

Mine eyes have seen the glory

At the edge of the woods just after sunrise, maple keys grabbed the light.

Key

What work of abstract expressionist art did the sunshine reveal? Is it an alien crop circle, seen from a spaceship? 

Tooth Trail (1)

No, just the hard work of beavers who have been chewing through twigs and trees.

Tooth Trail (2)

As mornings got colder the starlings sought warmth – even if that warmth had to be created by fluffing their feathers and being as round as possible.

Points of Light (2)

The miraculous chickadees survive the coldest mornings in spite of their tiny size. But they certainly appreciate a bowl of unfrozen water to drink from.

At the watering hole

The big lake remains open though wind and waves scatter icy spray across the shoreline.

Winter Wave

When the harbour channel remains thawed it’s a great place to watch waterfowl in the warmth of afternoon.

Shimmering down the creek

But when both winds and temperature drop, the channel and the marsh begin to freeze.

Perpendicular Ice

Gulls gather one day at the lakeshore, another day in the centre of the marsh. For a few days, at least, the Ring-billed Gulls were joined by a less common visitor – a Great Black-backed Gull who stood still and did its best to act inconspicuous.

A giant among us

And then one morning dawns very cold and even the harbour channel is mostly solid. Canada Geese huddle on the ice in small groups awaiting the sunrise.

Minus Twenty-Two Morning

Will the cold last? Not likely, but we do our best to enjoy while we can. And if some day very soon the sun shines on an open harbour again, I’ll be looking for that mink.

Beautiful Niche (2)


Photo at top of page: Beautiful Niche (1)click here for full-screen view

november, by grace

PHOTO POST

So we’ve made it this far … and what’s not to love about this November in this place?

When dawn comes cold, the frost shines so brightly that winter feels near. But by afternoon, in a sunny spot out of the wind, summer feels close too.

With most of the south-migrating birds long gone, those who remain – whether for a few more weeks or for the whole winter – are even more precious to watch.

Drama Swans

And warm afternoons, just before sunset, are a great hour for bird-watching.

Neon Cormorant

The Catch

To The Nines

The Speed of Setting Sun

Merganser, She Appears

In the right time and place, it matters little if no birds appear; the play of light with sky and water is enough.

Clearly, perpendicular

The light of sunrise is different – cold, you might say, perhaps even harsh.

Blue Spirits of Dawn

But minute by minute the frost turns to soft dew and the colours get warm.

Just Chill

Under Tension, 1

Under Tension, 2

Deep in the forest the day is brief – until a momentary breakthrough of sun, just before it dips behind a hill, illuminates the understory.

Fall Forest Flash


At top of page: Three November Lights

making arrangements

PHOTO POST

Two birds move near each other. An insect hovers next to a flower. A ray of light sneaks between two big trees. Temporary arrangements all, sometimes enduring an hour, sometimes a second. But if you can arrange to get your camera into the right place at the right time, you might make the arrangements last a bit longer.

Swallowtail and Phlox

In the lawn and garden special arrangements form every day, rewarding a fresh look.

Painting with Wind

 

A Tree is an Open Window, 1

 

A Tree is an Open Window, 2

In the marsh the egrets and wood ducks add new pictures.

Proximity

 

Quiet Glitter

As migration time approaches, a few turkey vultures along the shoreline gradually become dozens. They glide with seemingly effortless grace but they’re all business when they come closer to earth.

Rustic Perch

As the season turns, travelling birds wait for their moment, then fly south in their ones, twos and hundreds. Far below, deep in the woods, a profusion of mushrooms erupts from the soil, flashing through the rich damp dark.

Six of One

 

Tip of the Hat

 

Almost Like New

 

Behind the Curve

the otters and the others

PHOTO POST

This post is mostly about “the others” – meaning those other herons who aren’t so well known as the Great Blue Herons. But some other others also have a way of popping into the photo opp when you least expect them.

And even the Great Blues, which you see almost every time you gaze across the marsh, can still surprise with new poses.

Meerkat Impressions, First Prize (click images for full-screen views)

This bird gave me a double-take, because I didn’t recall ever seeing a Great Blue stand so perfectly erect. Just a moment later the same bird looked a lot stouter.

Space Needle

What I really love about this time of year, though, is that the small herons make themselves visible too. The Green Heron and the Black-Crowned Night Heron both stay hidden most of the time in early summer, but now that their young ones have left the nest both adults and juveniles are out and about, particularly as the sun sets.

Whether you see much green in its feathers or not, the Green Heron is, in my considered opinion, one of the snappiest dressers in the neighbourhood.

Focus Right

But both the Green Heron, at left below, and the juvenile Night Heron, at right below, have beautiful and striking patterns that nevertheless can serve as great camouflage in many marsh settings.

Different Strokes

Young Night Heron at Dusk

Other than the distinctive red eye, the juvenile Night Heron looks only slightly like its dowdy parent, below. The elder sports a nifty long white plume, but otherwise keeps the design simple.

Night Heron, Plumage

The small herons keep their eyes open for small fish and frogs – and grab insects when they are close at hand. (Or close at foot; an insect landed on a Green Heron’s foot, below, and was snapped up in a flash.)

Very Light Supper

Whether in full light of day, the glow of sunset, or by the light of a full moon, there are few birds more striking than the Green Heron.

Listening Post

That being said, while you’re out looking for herons you never know who else might light up the evening. On one recent evening, a Wood Duck turned on the wattage before slipping back into the shadows.

Wood Duck Glow

And just as darkness falls, a couple times a year if you’re lucky, the Otters might suddenly join the party, splashing and diving and swimming circles around each other.

Surfacing

While you watch them they periodically perform an “up periscope” routine to get a closer look at you. And then after a few breathy barks, they suddenly disappear among the lily pads and the waters are still.

Pop Goes the Otter

the fullness of summer

PHOTO POST

The afternoon sun is hot, but the evening air cools. Gardens and marshes are lush and green, but golds and reds peek through. Fruits ripen, seeds swell. The fullness of summer is now.

Wood Duck in a Rippled Mirror

A young Spotted Sandpiper (the spots will come later) hunts in the shadow of lily pads.

Sandpiper seeks Shadow

The full-grown pads easily support the weight of these diminutive birds.

Sandpiper seeks Light

The lily pads may also hide supper – a frog, perhaps? – for a Great Blue Heron.

Blue on Green

Closer to home a Blue Jay relaxes in the early-morning sun.

Blue Jay with Tall Grass

The hundreds of Red Soldier Beetles that gathered on a Hydrangea Paniculata were not ready to relax.

Busy Beetles

Mushrooms pop up every day and many, like these on a wood chip path, won’t stand up to the mid-day sun.

Sprouting through the wood chips

The Tomatillos in the garden, on the other hand, love the August sunshine as long as they get enough water.

Tomatillo Forest

The Sour Cherry crop is now put away – and our resident Chipmunks were glad to help in the harvest.

Ground Squirrel out on a Limb

Cherry Chipmunk