Friday, December 31, 2010

Snow sign

When I walked the trail on the 29th, again, very little wildlife in evidence, but I did see signs in the snow of their presence. These tracks are those of one of the red squirrels that live in the wooded area. BTW, a number of the Scots pines along here were uprooted by the high winds of the recent storms.

The door is open

When I visited the marsh the day after Christmas, I didn't see much wildlife activity, but I did notice this particular muskrat lodge (top photo), which seems to have an above-ground entrance (usually the entrances are underwater). The shot at the bottom is the same lodge when it was in its early stages of construction, back on November 30th. I think the muskrats must do their lodge building in the early morning or around dusk (apparently their most active times) as I've never noticed any building going on during the daytime.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not camera shy

Just as I entered the wooded section of the trail today I spotted this female Hairy Woodpecker, which I watched for at least ten minutes. It was foraging, quickly moving from one tree to another, checking for tidbits. In the top photo above, close to the ground in a clump of willows, it has just found what appears to be an insect pupa, a common winter diet item. Shortly after this shot, the bird sat back on it haunches and rested for a few minutes, which is when I took the middle shot. It then flew to the pine tree in the lower shot, right in front of me, and posed for the camera. During the whole time I observed the bird, it showed no sign of alarm at my close presence.

A closer coot

I got a much closer look at the American Coot at the marsh this morning. It was with a group of the hooded mergansers which flew away when I approached the viewing stand - but the coot flew toward the shore instead. It looked weird as it flew, with its feet pawing the air. Coots are not true ducks but belong to the same family as the rails.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home sweet winter home

I couldn't believe all the Hooded Mergansers at the marsh this morning. I counted nearly 30 in total. It's encouraging that so many have decided to make this area their winter home, which seems to be the case. The ice can be seen in the top half of the shot.

Mink alert

I saw three of my muskrat friends this morning, including this one that just seemed to be taking everything in. I can now see eleven muskrat houses at various locations around the marsh, with probably others I have yet to find.

It's a stretch

There was the usual contingent of Black Ducks in the open water at the rail bed end of the marsh. Being 'dabblers' they feed by tipping over, as you see by the 'bottoms up' position of this group. The ice is visible across the lower edge of the shot.

Mystery critter

This sighting was an unusual one. I first saw this animal sitting on the edge of the ice, then it started to run, jumped into the water and swam about, then back out on to the ice, and then when it heard some people approaching along the trail it took off toward the shore. The top shot is just its silhouette, as I was facing into the sun, while in the bottom shot it's just a blur as it headed back toward shore. It must have disappeared into a hole in the bank, because I could see nothing when I reached the spot.

I'm pretty sure what I saw was a mink. When I did a little research online to see what their winter diet is, I found that mainly at this time of the year they feed on muskrats (plenty of them here!), other small rodents and waterfowl.

A bird in the bush

Not many land birds evident on this morning's walk, but I did catch this Song Sparrow when it lighted in a bramble patch. That's not a crest on its head, it's just wind-blown feathers.

Can't miss that white bill

The weather, no sightings of note, or Christmas projects have led to no recent postings, but today makes up for it, I hope. The majority of the marsh's surface was skimmed with ice this morning, but there was still ample open water for the waterfowl that were about. This lone American Coot was feeding along the edge of one of the long berms that reaches out into the marsh.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Trees decked out in feathered finery

I heard this buzzy, trilly chorus soon after I got to the marsh this morning, which I discovered was coming from a flock of birds perched in the treetops. My first thought was starlings, but as I got closer I could see they were sporting crests. My next thought was cedar waxwings, although I thought it was a big flock for Cedars - there were some 130 birds in total. When I got home and got the photos into Photoshop, I discovered I had seen a flock of Bohemian Waxwings, a first for me. The Bohemians are chunkier than the Cedars, and their wingtips are more colorful, as seen in the lower shot above. Apparently Bohemians are irregular winter visitors to Nova Scotia. Their nomadic behavior led to their being named Bohemian.

The loner

The mallards are still present on the marsh, as seen here, which isn't at all unusual for this time of the year - but what is unusual (although not unheard of) is for this one lone male Green-winged Teal to still be around.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Did he forget to leave??

What to my wondering eyes should appear but a young Double-crested Cormorant at the marsh this morning. He was busily diving for food as if it wasn't unusual for him to still be in Nova Scotia in early December (although not unheard of, apparently).

Nosing around

Yesterday at the marsh I caught this Blue Jay busy poking around in an old tent caterpillar nest. I don't know what he may have been finding there. I have seen chickadees checking them out as well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And siskins make three

Those same catkin-laden gray birches were alive with little birds again this morning. This time it was a mixed flock of American goldfinches and Pine Siskins, one of which is shown here - a male with its yellow wing bars. These are the first pine siskins I have seen at the marsh so far this fall, although they have been coming to my bird feeders at home for the past few days. These two tiny birds plus the Common Redpoll are close relatives, and are often seen together.

Behaviour interpretation exercise

This morning I spied the Red Squirrel above running down a pine tree in the wooded area, so I moved closer in the hopes of getting in a shot or two. I stood and watched that squirrel for at least 10 minutes run up one tree and down another, under piles of brush and out the other side, through thickets of multiflora rose bushes, never more than 15 feet away from me, until he/she finally picked up a pine cone and sat and gnawed away on it. I figured there had to be a reason for the behaviour he was exhibiting, but the reason escaped me until he ran off and I took a closer look at the top of the brush pile where he had been eating. On it was a big patch of discarded cone scales, whole cones and cone 'cobs'. After a bit of searching on the internet, I found I had discovered a squirrel 'midden', or "central storage depot" as one article described it. Every squirrel has one, and they are vigorously defended. Some of them can be enormous. I had been standing close to the midden - I was encroaching on his territory but a little too big to chase off, so perhaps he was trying to divert me. This could have been a juvenile squirrel, and according to Wikipedia: "Juvenile American Red Squirrels must acquire a territory and midden prior to their first winter. Juveniles without a midden don't survive their first winter."

Fickle weather

Yesterday the marsh was still ice-covered, so I checked to see where the ducks may have relocated. I found a group of about 35 black ducks and mallards in the cove at the sail center, a few of which are seen here. However, the sewage lagoon drew the most of the displaced; some 65 black ducks, buffleheads and at least one of the hooded mergansers were enjoying the ice-free water. Back they all came today, though, when the ice went out with the return of mild weather.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Facing winter

It was a beautiful sunny day today, but since last night was cold and calm, I was met with wall to wall ice at the marsh once again. So, no ducks in sight, but it was a different story with the muskrats. When I started to walk toward the viewing stand, I noticed a good-sized muskrat lodge about ten feet to the left of the stand - with a muskrat on top! It was the first time I had seen a muskrat on around one of the lodges.

Turning to the right, where I usually see several muskrats, I wasn't disappointed - several were swimming around in a small open space next to the cattails, then, as I watched, five of them - count them - climbed out and huddled together. Muskrats are usually quite territorial, but when cold weather comes they know it makes sense to stick together - literally!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And more mergansers

It seems as though every day I see more Hooded Mergansers at the marsh. Today I counted a group of 17 of what appeared to be juvenile females and males, as from a distance they all looked alike. It is nice to see so many of these birds here. There's a good chance they may winter over here, moving out to the river as soon as the marsh freezes over.

They are very wary birds, so it is difficult to get good shots of them without a telephoto lens. This shot, taken yesterday, shows four of them swimming away from me.

Muskrat/cattail connection

My muskrat buddies were out in full force yesterday. Again, I counted seven of them, busily feeding in one area. I also found another fairly large muskrat lodge in the vicinity. Muskrats are known as nature's marsh managers, as they control the marsh vegetation. Cattails are their favorite food, as well as the primary building material for their shelters.

In the top photo here, one of the younger muskrats is seen taking a bite out of the root clump of a cattail plant. He then returned to his perch to eat what he just bit off (centre shot). The bottom photo shows two of the five animals I saw feeding on the opposite side of the entrance to the viewing stand.

Good to the last scale

The next thing I spotted eating up a storm was a couple of Red Squirrels. I hadn't seen any for several days, but yesterday they were out chowing down on pine cones. I watched this fellow very deftly clean every scale off that cone, for all the world like someone eating corn on the cob. He would chew from one side to the other, then turn the cone a bit and repeat the process, occasionally turning it on end to chew there.

Another cattail fan

Yesterday was a banner day for wildlife sightings. Almost everything was busily filling their stomachs when I spotted them. The first thing I noticed was a couple of chickadees -- feeding on cattail heads! That was news to me, but apparently not unusual.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Watery playground

The muskrat youngsters were performing their hi-jinks this morning in their usual spot next to the entrance to the viewing stand. I heard splashing sounds even before I saw them. This little fellow sat for several minutes on his cattail perch before he became aware of me.

Taking the weather in stride

November's fickle weather dished up snow flurries today, so I enclosed my camera in a plastic bag when I made my daily trek to the marsh. I noticed a variety of ducks here and there - the usual buffleheads, some ring-necked ducks, 15 hooded mergansers, and about a dozen American Black Ducks, including these two males, seemingly unperturbed by the snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More catkin capers

No ice left on the marsh this morning, but lots of rough water. A few buffleheads and ring-necked ducks were scattered about bobbing on the waves. High in a catkin-loaded gray birch alongside the trail was a flock of Common Redpolls busily feeding. They were a delight to watch, clinging to the slender, swaying branches as they plucked the seeds from the catkins.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hanging on to home

Three Black Ducks had found a narrow strip of open water in the ice at the marsh this morning, two of which are shown here (watercolor filter applied). I checked the sewage lagoon to see what might be present there - about 30 black ducks took to the air when I got close. There were also a number of bufflehead ducks swimming about on the lagoon. In the inlet to the French Basin I spied one lone American coot.

Nearly ice-bound

This morning I came across a couple of the muskrats that were presumably from the group seen on Sunday. This shot shows one of them climbing up on the edge of the ice. Muskrats are able to take ice in stride. Even when the marsh is frozen solid, they create 'push-ups' in the ice, openings through which they push up chunks of cattails on which they feed.

Mysterious tracks

To my surprise the marsh was still frozen over this morning, with the exception of a few narrow strips of open water. At one spot I came across several patches of unusual tracks on the ice, ending in small openings. I'm not sure if they were the tracks of ducks who had landed on the ice, or of muskrats who had emerged from under the ice.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nature's bird seed

I came across a small flock of American Goldfinches plus a few Common Redpolls in the top of a gray birch this morning at the marsh. Ordinarily the goldfinches fly off when I get close, but today they were intent on feeding on the catkins. This male goldfinch had just taken a bite out of one of the catkins in front of him. Chickadees and Pine Siskins are also fond of birch catkins. After the snow comes, the ground under birch trees can be seen sprinkled with their seeds.

Iced out

I was met with a blank slate - of ice, that is - when I reached the marsh this morning. The cold snap of the last few days plus a calm night combined to produce a thin coating of ice over the entire marsh. It was eerily quiet, with no buffleheads diving or flying about, no black ducks or mallards swimming away from the edges as I approached. The only evidence of life on the surface was a group of seagulls. I did see six black ducks fly over and land on the ice, looking rather perplexed. And just outside in the French Basin a few black ducks, several hooded mergansers, and the odd bufflehead were seen. I'm sure they'll be back on the marsh, temporarily, when the milder weather returns tomorrow and takes the ice with it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Furry family

I spied a young muskrat among the cattails at the marsh's edge as I approached the entrance to the viewing stand this morning, which I watched for a few minutes, then noticed that there were several swimming about or sitting on cattail clumps. I eventually counted seven in total. Most of them were quite small, so likely this year's crop. Some of them seemed to be playing with one another, like the 'kids' they are. There's a newly built, fairly large muskrat house near where I saw this group, so perhaps it's their winter quarters.

Ice time

Several fairly large areas of the marsh had a skim of ice on them this morning. There were still plenty of ducks in the open areas, however. I was able to locate the six American coots and there seemed to be more hooded mergansers than my last count. This American Black Duck was resting on a clump of grass in mid-marsh; that's the edge of the ice at the bottom of the shot.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dabbling ducks

A more typical November day today, weather-wise, than we've been having. The buffleheads were scattered all over the marsh this morning. I saw one green-winged teal, several black ducks, and eleven mallards, eight of which are shown here. Without boots I couldn't get to the viewing stand to see if the coots and hooded mergansers are still on the marsh. They were there yesterday. I also saw a six-point buck yesterday which I wished I could have gotten a shot of, but I didn't take the camera since it was quite damp. This being hunting season, he's lucky he was where he was or he could have been in the sights of a more lethal implement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still here

On Monday I also saw five male Green-winged Teals when I thought they had all left the marsh. They were together with several black ducks, hiding among the cattails. I caught these two after I had startled them out of the cattails.

Feathered forager

I'm afraid I've been lax about posting to the blog. Certainly the sightings have been on the decline, but I don't like to disappoint dedicated followers (whom I deeply appreciate, by the way), so here's a couple of shots taken on Monday, Nov. 15th.

As I was walking through the wooded area of the trail, I noticed something moving in the leaves. I assumed it was a squirrel, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a White-throated Sparrow foraging in the leaf litter. It was acting just like a chicken would, scratching away the leaves with its feet, then searching in the soil for edibles. I watched it for several minutes, during which I noticed two other White-throats doing the same thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mergansers again

I saw the ten Hooded Mergansers again, both yesterday and today. This shot, taken yesterday, shows two adult males - the crest on the male in the center is completely raised - and one female, on the right. Although some of the ones I presume to be female could be juvenile males, which resemble the female.