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.

Filling up while the sun shines

The sunny, warm weather seemed to spur squirrel activity as well. The squirrel in the top two shots was bustling about in the leaf litter yesterday, searching for tidbits, possibly things it had previously hidden, then devouring them when they were located. The squirrel at the bottom I first thought was a bird when I noticed its shape in the tree, but apparently hawthorn berries aren't just bird food.

Passing in the morning

This beautiful weather has certainly caused increased activity among the muskrats at the marsh. Yesterday I caught these two as they swam past each other, with nary a glance at one another.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Unwitting entertainers

There are definitely more Buffleheads than anything else on the marsh these days. These birds are so small (they are our smallest duck) that on rough water like today, they bob on the surface like corks. They are also among the most amusing ducks to watch, especially during courting season. The three shown here include, from left to right, a first winter male, an adult male, and an adult female.

Taking it in stride

Today was the first sunny day in over a week, so was very welcome. The waters on the marsh were still being buffeted about by the strong winds, though. It's not often whitecaps are seen at the marsh. I was happily surprised to see five American Coots on the upper side of the marsh, busily feeding, oblivious to the rough conditions.

Hugging the shallows

Yesterday, the 10th, still under gray skies with strong winds, I did find twelve Green-winged Teals, ten males and two females, feeding and resting in the cattails at the upper end of the marsh (three of the males shown here). No sign of them today, so they may have departed.

Is that a scowl?

No, I didn't get lost, I was just grounded by five days of rain. I returned to the marsh on the 9th, to very high water, with no dabbling ducks in sight - although still plenty of the diving variety, especially the buffleheads. I did find one lone Cedar Waxwing which was accompanying a small flock of robins, feeding on rose hips and hawthorn berries. In this shot, the waxwing looks as though he didn't appreciate being interrupted.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pretty boy - or girl

I saw five White-throated Sparrows this morning feeding on berries, plus a number of Song Sparrows flitting among the vegetation. And the Dark-eyed Juncos have definitely moved in, hopefully to stick around for the winter. I caught this fellow posing on a tree branch.

More mergansers

I saw these four male Hooded Mergansers swimming towards the marsh edge this morning, so hurried along to where they were headed. I was pleasantly surprised to find ten in total, six females in addition to the four males. They could remain on the marsh until it freezes, and then move out to the river.

Handsome couple

There are still a number of Mallards at the marsh. This morning I caught this pair which had been feeding at the marsh edge.

Late leaver

The nicer weather today seemed to bring out more birds at the marsh, including this one which I'm pretty sure is a female Common Yellowthroat. I found it in a multiflower rose bush; I certainly didn't expect to see one here in November! (I applied a poster edges filter to sharpen the image.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Paired up

There seemed to be fewer birds on the marsh today. Although I saw four of the Ruddy Ducks, I couldn't find the Coots. I did however, see this Hooded Merganser pair, male and female. The female is the one in the bottom photo.

Haven't left yet

I wasn't sure I was going to find any Wood Ducks at the marsh yesterday, but I did - the pair were way at the far end of the sewage lagoon, standing on one of the pipes. It's probably the pair I saw on the marsh the day before. I saw the male on the marsh today, but no sign of the female.

American cousins

Yesterday was cold and windy, but there were still many waterfowl on the water at the marsh. These five American Black Ducks were part of a group of ten that were clustered together (three males in front with yellow bills, followed by two females with olive bills). An American Coot is shown in the background. There were two coots rather than the three I had seen the day before. I watched them for a few minutes feeding; when they dive, they almost jump out of the water first, and then bob to the surface a few seconds later. It's a good thing these birds wear down coats.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All by its lonesome

I spotted this lone Pied-billed Grebe on the marsh this morning, definitely a straggler. The majority have usually left by mid-October, but it isn't unusual for the odd one to remain into the late fall.


I was happily surprised to see two Wood Ducks, a male and a female, on the open water this morning. Here it is November 1st, the latest I've ever seen wood ducks on the marsh.

Unusual visitors

While scanning the deeper water this morning, I noticed these three birds who definitely looked different than familiar ducks. Their heads were bobbing back and forth as they moved through the water. When I got a closer look at the photo, I discovered they were American Coots, which belong to the rail family. I have seen Coots on the marsh before, but in the summer months, and only single birds. A common local name for this bird is Mud Hen.

Forager of the marsh edges

I didn't see any white-throated sparrows today, but I did see several Song Sparrows, including this one, perched on a birch sapling. As for other land birds, the junco population has definitely increased at the marsh.