Friday, 22 February 2013

Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker and more...

Sunday 10th - Tuesday 19th February, 2012

It's been a relatively slow couple of weeks bird-wise but that's not surprising really. February is often that month when winter gives you another little surprise before handing over to the business of Spring in early-mid March. Admittedly, the days are lengthening quite noticeably now and other than a few snow days (including a news-worthy storm), we have had mainly bright but bitingly cold weather.

Despite not seeing anything new, I've managed some great observations of commoner species and have had the time and opportunity to grab one or two fairly decent shots too. I'll never meet the standard or have the equipment of some of the other amateurs out there (let alone pros), but for me the primary experience of birding is in seeing the wildlife do its own thing and being there to experience and record it.

The following three pictures show two species of squirrel, the Eastern Grey Squirrel and the American Red Squirrel. However, here in southern Ontario most of our 'grey' squirrels are actually black. The blond one is genuinely unusual and the only one of its colour form I've seen. We do have the occasional grey form but they are probably outnumbered by at least 10:1. The red squirrel is much smaller but surprisingly aggressive towards the greys. A squirrel story follows the pictures...

Eastern Grey Squirrel stealing bird seed, My Garden

Eastern Grey Squirrel - 'Blondie', Lake Ontario Park

American Red Squirrel, Lake Ontario Park

I've now got 3 bird feeders set up in the garden, two with regular mixed grain bird seed and one with peanuts. I've had mixed success; some days with House Finch, Dark-eyed Juncos and even Northern Cardinal, but more often just Black-capped Chickadees and the occasional White-breasted Nuthatch. The nuthatches tend to give themselves away by calling constantly and just like a toy trumpet. I've also been battling with the local squirrels. They are the Eastern (American) Grey Squirrel - the same species that amazed audiences in the UK many years ago by solving increasingly complex challenges for a reward of food. Their antics even became an advert for beer (Carling Black Label) performed to the theme music of Mission Impossible. And yes, my squirrels have been learning too and are becoming increasingly competent at getting their reward. Having learnt the hard way, I now have my feeders hanging off a thin 3mm plastic line, about 4 feet off the ground and 4-5 feet away from foliage. However, one young male has taken to leaping from higher branches and landing on top of the biggest feeder. To do this he first cleared a 'jump-way' by removing twigs in his way! He usually just skids off the feeder shaking enough onto the ground to keep him and his companions going for half an hour or so. However, yesterday he learnt a new trick and managed to grab onto the line with his front paws first, leaving his hind legs dangling in the wind. He then hooked all four legs to the underside of the line and shimmied along it, upside down, to the peanut feeder which, despite being metal, provides lots of 'hand-holds'. Unfortunately the lid on this particular feeder isn't tied down, so with a little manoeuvring, he pulled it up, tipped it sideways and spilled his reward all over the ground. Being a meany, I have now removed even more branches - what will he do next I wonder?

Back to the birds then, and off to a great start with this lovely pair of Downy Woodpeckers seen at Lake Ontario Park. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest species in North America, and is about the same size as the Europe's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - that's about 15cm long, or the size of a nuthatch. The female lacks the red hind-crown shown by the male.

Female Downy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

Male Downy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

I regularly see three species of woodpecker in the local area. The next, Hairy Woodpecker is superficially quite similar to Downy, but being almost twice the size and with a much longer and stouter bill shouldn't really pose any identification problems.

Male Hairy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park
The third species is Red-bellied Woodpecker. I regularly see a single bird in the park but have yet to see this species elsewhere. I actually wrote about it in an earlier post as it was a lifer for me but as I have a bit of a woodpecker theme going, here it is again. And before you ask, 'Why isn't it called 'Red-headed Woodpecker'?', well there's another much rarer species that's already bagged that name... However, this one is easy to identify with its fine barring on the back and extensive red crown. In this species the female also shows red, but only on the nape and at the base of the bill.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

So, to the last of today's woodpeckers. Just 2 streets over from mine, in a quiet but residential area of the city, I came across a female Pileated Woodpecker busy hammering away at a tree in someone's garden. From North America's smallest species to the largest is quite something - this species is getting on for half a metre in length. She was completely unconcerned by my presence, or by the passers-by who seemed more interested in this lanky Brit apparently staring in wonder at a tree. The Pileated is not a new species for me, and seems to have a thin but quite widespread distribution.

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park
Well, this little write-up is turning into quite an essay so, cracking on, I'll just post some photographic highlights including this cracking Barred Owl seen in Marshlands Conservation Area,...

Barred Owl, Marshlands Conservation Area
... a very photogenic female Northern Cardinal seen the same day,...

Female Northern Cardinal, Marshlands Conservation Area

...and this American Tree Sparrow, which is now a regular entertainer at the far end of Lake Ontario Park.

American Tree Sparrow, Lake Ontario Park
To round off today's blog, I just want to share my latest Pine Warbler picture (which I've not seen now for nearly a week) and an illustrative shot of an American Black Duck that shows the intricacies of their plumage.

American Black Duck, Lake Ontario Park

Pine Warbler, Lake Ontario Park
Till next time...