Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reading the signs

What were also very evident in the snow yesterday, were the tracks of deer.  Quite a few deer make their home in the town year round, with the marsh being one of their favoured spots.  I followed the tracks of at least two deer moving toward town along the trail spur that comes out by CARP headquarters (in the old train station).  They had paused along the route to nibble at the tips of the multiflower rose and red osier dogwood bushes.  The top photo shows a small dogwood sapling with all its tips bitten off.  The bottom shot shows where a number of deer had climbed down to drink from the water in a ditch by the trail.  Their tracks continued to the old train station and then up towards the main street.

Wildlife signs

Although there's not that much wildlife to see around the marsh in the winter months, there is evidence of their presence once the snow comes.  Yesterday I spotted the tracks of several different critters, including those of a small rodent (top) and those of a pheasant heading off into a stand of phragmites (bottom).  The pheasant tracks were quite plentiful, and its not unusual to hear their calls at various places around the marsh.

Winter walking

Although the snow has melted once more, while we had it, people continued to walk the trail around the now frozen marsh.  The trail was covered with tracks when I went for my walk yesterday morning.  That's the old train station off in the distance at the left. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Taking flight

The geese were still on the marsh when I arrived this morning, but it wasn't long before they began to sound their departure calls.  When they rose into the air, I got this shot.  They headed northeast, perhaps to the Belle Isle Marsh.

Keeping a low profile

This morning I spotted a small furry body sitting on a grassy clump at the marsh's edge.  I wasn't quick enough to get a shot of the muskrat's head before it slipped into the water, but I was happy just to have caught a quick glimpse of one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Strutting their stuff

The hooded mergansers were in the same place today as they were yesterday, although today their number was up to fifteen.  I stood and watched them for a few minutes, snapped a few pictures, and then I saw the adult males (there were four of them) begin to act strangely, and I heard a weird sound coming from them.  I realized I was witnessing courtship display!  Their crests, composed completely of feathers, were raised high and they were contorting their heads and bodies in a myriad of positions.  As they did so, they emitted a frog-like growling sound.  I've never seen anything quite like that.  Here is some of what I witnessed.

Sure muskrat sign

I walked the marsh trail yesterday for the first time since last Wednesday when a foot of snow dropped on us.   It was also the first time I've seen ice on the marsh.  The upper part was completely covered with a thin sheet.  When I entered the wooded section of the trail, I startled a number of ducks that had been sheltering at the marsh's edge, including nine hooded mergansers.  As they swam out, I moved closer to get a better look, and that's when I noticed this muskrat lodge, the first of the season.  I was encouraged to see it, as I had seen little sign of the industrious animals since early summer.  I found two more lodges before my walk ended.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Familiar songster

I have seen a number of robins at the marsh lately, mostly on the stretch of the trail that comes out at the old train station.  There are quite a few hawthorn trees and multiflower rose bushes along here, now sporting their red hips, which probably explains their presence.  I suspect these birds are from the pairs that nested in the area this year.  Apparently thousands of robins overwinter in the province, although we don't commonly see them until later in the winter when food sources are getting scarce, and they move closer to human habitation.  Some of the foods they may be fed at this time are raw apples, raisins, grapes and bread crumbs.

There were three robins feeding in this multiflower rose bush on the trail this morning.


I watched this blue jay for several minutes gleaning the snags at the marsh edge yesterday morning, including the one on which it is perched here.  I did a little reading up on this bird, and learned that although its diet consists mainly of vegetable material like seeds, nuts and berries, it also feeds on insects.  Apparently it figures largely in the control of tent caterpillars.  I also learned that in the fall, the young gather in flocks and migrate south, while the adults remain where they nested and form groups with other blue jays in the neighbourhood.  I am amused by what one author has to say about this gregarious bird: "The crowd at [our] feeders is no mob.  It's not even a rabble.  It's more of a family reunion.  But . . . jays are greedy.  Nothing can empty a feeder faster than a reunion of blue jays.  Chickadees politely take one seed at a time and eat it in sight of the feeder.  Blue jays eat and run.  And they return again and again until all the seed is gone."  The thing is, they're not eating all the seed they take, they also hide much of it, in crevices or by poking it into the ground.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Goose explosion

The numbers of Canada geese on the marsh have continued to rise, now reaching about 135.  Apparently the marsh has become a staging area for many family groups.  They will rest here until the time comes for them to migrate.  The top shot here shows about half of the flock.  Sometimes they leave the marsh during the day to feed elsewhere, returning to the marsh for the night. The bottom shot, taken this morning, shows the two white geese that have joined the gathering, both with varying amounts of grey mixed with the white.  They are definitely larger than their Canada cousins.

Our smallest merganser

On Monday I was able to get close enough to get this shot of two of the hooded mergansers that are now on the marsh.  I believe the lower bird is a female as it has a yellow bill (the first year males look much like the females, but have a darker bill).  The upper bird is a male with its crest raised.  They may remain until the marsh freezes, then move to the river.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


For those of you who have been wondering if I've fallen off the face of the earth, I'm still here and still walking around the marsh every day. The reason there have been no postings of late is that I've had few sightings of anything close enough to get a good shot. Compared to last year, there seems to have been much less activity at the marsh. There are still ducks on the water - blacks, mallards, buffleheads, American wigeons, green-wing teals, even a few hooded mergansers - but for the most part, they stay quite a ways from shore. I have had one muskrat sighting since mid-summer. Even the chipmunks and red squirrels haven't been as plentiful as usual. I think some of the reason has to be because of the presence of the great horned owl family that nested near the marsh last winter and remained in the area until the end of the summer. I'm sure the wildlife at the marsh were easy pickings for these predators. I will continue to walk the trail until it becomes impassable, but postings from now until spring will likely be intermittent. Until next time, here's a couple of shots I got recently. The one of the cedar waxwing was taken on Halloween, a lovely day that followed the nor'easter that blew through. The bottom shot was taken yesterday. There were two black ducks perched on the stick to the right when I approached, but when they saw me they jumped off into the water and swam away. I happened to get this shot just as the second one plopped into the water.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Return of the clowns

The buffleheads have returned to the marsh from their breeding grounds farther north. (I call them clowns because of their playful antics.) A few have been here for a couple of weeks, but were mainly on the sewage lagoon. I caught these two this morning on the marsh proper. Its difficult to tell if these two are adult females or first winter males, as the young ones of both sexes resemble adult females. They'll be seen bobbing around the marsh until it freezes over, at which time some may move to the river and remain through the winter while the remainder may move farther down the coast.

Standing out

The geese are remaining on the marsh longer in the day now. I have only seen one of the white geese with the large flock these last few days. Doing some research on the presence of white geese with Canadas, and given the large size of the bird, I'm inclined to believe that it is a cross between a domestic goose and a Canada goose. Snow geese are generally smaller birds than the Canadas. This shot was taken on Tuesday of this week.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Two surprises

I got to the marsh Friday morning before the Canada geese had left for the river. I was surprised at the explosion of numbers - I counted 105 birds (a week ago there were between 50 & 60). What I was also surprised by was the presence of two white geese among the pack (one shown here). Since they were far out on the water, I couldn't get a clear shot, but it looks like the white birds may be snow geese.

Flight of the fisher kings

When I saw these birds flying over the marsh last Friday, I assumed they were the Canada geese that spend nights on the marsh and fly out to the river come morning. However, I thought it rather odd that they weren't making any noise. When I zoomed in, I discovered they were cormorants. What I may have witnessed was a migratory flight, as apparently October and November are the peak migration times for northern cormorants.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Species competition

I didn't know until today that the American black duck population is declining, due to pressure from the ubiquitous mallard - through interbreeding and displacement from preferred breeding habitat. The black duck population at the marsh appears to my eyes to be relatively consistent, but there does seem to be a growing number of mallards present. This shot shows some of the mallards I saw this morning.

Still here!

Until yesterday, I hadn't seen any of the wood ducks for a couple of weeks. I even checked the sewage lagoon where a pair remained into November last year. But yesterday I got a glimpse of at least one drake, and this morning I spied several of the ducks, including these two males. They are now in their full breeding plumage, and present the sleek appearance that we associate with these birds.

Last sighting of the season?

This northern shoveler drake was feeding by himself at the marsh this morning. He still hasn't achieved his full breeding plumage. I expect he will be leaving for his wintering grounds any day now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The magic of the marsh

I got to the marsh this morning just as the night's fog was lifting and the sun was breaking through. Fog makes the marsh a magical place.

Smart move

Last year about this time, there was a good-sized group of green-winged teal that had moved from the marsh proper into the small pond alongside the railbed. This morning I found these three, one male, two female, feeding there, along with another group resting on a clump of cattails. They are one of the last ducks to leave the marsh in the fall - and one of the earliest to return in the spring.

Late leaver

The yellow-rumped warblers are still here, as evidenced by this one seen at the marsh this morning. Its now in its non-breeding plumage, which isn't as colorful. It could be here for another couple of weeks yet.

Preparing for the journey

This swamp sparrow was feeding on a gone-to-seed goldenrod plant at the marsh this morning. The gray 'collar' and the rufous flanks of the bird helped to distinguish it from similar sparrows. Most swamp sparrows leave the area by the middle of October, so chances are this one won't be here much longer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Asleep on its foot

There have been several greater yellowlegs around the marsh lately, especially on the edges of the tidal creek, since they are shore birds. This one, however, was fast asleep, standing on one of its long yellow legs on a floating log in the cove at the sailing school the other day. They breed farther north as well as in Cape Breton and northern Nova Scotia, but some always spend time here in the fall on their migration route.

Welcome visitor

I know, this isn't a very good quality shot, but as I couldn't get a better one it will have to do. I include it because it is of a duck that I've never seen before at the marsh (although that doesn't mean they haven't been here before). The duck was some distance away, and looked very similar to a female mallard, but I noticed its neck was very long. After checking my field guides, I'm pretty sure it was a female Northern Pintail (the males have much more elaborate markings, plus longer tails). Apparently they nest in salt and freshwater marshes in the province, but I don't believe we've had any nesting here as yet. I'll keep my eyes open for more of these birds.

Still active

Bumble bees are still quite active, as evidenced by this one collecting nectar from a late-blooming knapweed blossom yesterday at the marsh. Apparently bumble bees are often the first bees out in the spring and the last in the fall. If this is a queen, with the first frosts she will find a safe place to hibernate. The queens are the only ones to survive the winter.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Who does he think he is??"

There were a few black ducks at one of their usual spots in the tidal creek at the marsh this morning, along with a yellowlegs (probably a greater, difficult to tell from a distance) - and a double crested cormorant, which seemed to have engendered some interest from the group . . .

Hanging in there

It has been very quiet at the marsh since the rain and wind of last weekend and into the beginning of the week. Ducks seem to be scarce, as are the song birds. No sign of the yellow garden spider or her web, but her egg sac remains. This group of ducks - four male mallards all spruced up in their breeding plumage, one female mallard and an American wigeon (left rear) - were feeding far out on the water yesterday morning and again today.

Organic shopping in the rain

The rainy weather kept me from the marsh for a few days, although I did take part in a Scott Kelby Photo Walk in town on Saturday, October 1st. This is the fourth year for these photo walks that occur all over the world on the first weekend in October. We were fortunate to have one of only three that occurred in Nova Scotia. Our route began with the Farmers' Market, then along the boardwalk to Fort Anne and the Garrison Cemetery, and back down the main street to Ye Olde Towne Pub where participants met for lunch. You may recall that it was a rainy day, which made for some innovative picture taking, believe me. I bailed out after the Farmers' Market, but here is one of the shots I managed to get - and which I submitted to the Annapolis Royal Photo Walk group on Flickr.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tightrope walking

I finally got to see the great blue heron that my son has been seeing at the marsh most mornings (he's out earlier than I). It was standing on the trunk of an old fallen tree at first, then moved over to one of its branches. Some of the foam often seen on the river around the tidal power plant had been blown into the cove at the sailing school.

Pest control

The yellow garden spider was wrapping a grasshopper that had gotten caught in her web when I stopped to check on her this morning. Apparently the spiders inject their prey with venom to kill them, then wrap them in silk for later consumption. I have seen grasshoppers stuck there a number of times.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall harvest

These colourful New England asters are in bloom in many places now, including the marsh. This cluster had four bumblebees busily collecting nectar from the blossoms yesterday, two of which are shown here. Apparently bumble bees are attracted to blue and purple flowers like these asters.

Caught in the act

On Monday morning there were a number of juvenile cedar waxwings feeding on berries in the glossy buckthorns. It was amusing to watch them plucking the berries and gulping them down. With luck I was able to catch this one with its berry-stuffed beak.

Eggs a-plenty

I've been checking the yellow garden spider every day since I first spotted her. She's still at the same location, but when I looked on Monday she wasn't in the centre of her web as usual, but was off to one side guarding her egg sac as seen here. Apparently the spider will be killed by a hard frost, but her egg sac will remain until spring when the eggs will hatch, releasing up to 1,000 baby spiders, each the size of a dust mite. (Image Photoshopped)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sprucing its feathers

It was my son who spotted this male yellow-shafted northern flicker high in a poplar tree as we were leaving the marsh this morning. As we watched, it began to preen, and it certainly did a thorough job of it. It's easy to see why it's called a yellow-shafted flicker.

Hiding in the reeds

There were a number of common yellowthroats foraging in the large phragmites patch alongside the railbed this morning. It was difficult to get a shot, as they are constantly in motion, but I did manage to get this female.


There were a number of these yellow-rumped warblers flitting about this morning. They'll be here for awhile yet, as they are one of the last of the warblers to migrate. This one is a first winter female.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pint-sized predator

Today being the last day of summer, I was hoping to find something special at the marsh to post to the blog. I wasn't disappointed. Although I've seen these little falcons at the marsh on the odd occasion, I've never been close enough to get a shot of one. Previously known as the pigeon hawk, it is now called a merlin. Apparently they are most frequently seen in September and October, probably as they gather to fly to their winter quarters in the south. These two shots are of the same bird, but there were at least two, being harassed by a small group of blue jays.

Another sparrow puzzle

Here's another shot of a sparrow that was moving about in the low brush near the water's edge this morning. I think this one might be a juvenile tan-striped white-throated sparrow, but again, I'm not absolutely sure, and am hoping someone out there can tell me if I'm right - or not.

Natural art

I noticed a number of unnatural additions to the marsh landscape on this morning's walk, including this charming woodland scene hanging from a Scots pine tree. I'm pretty sure they are the work of an art class at the Academy, as they have done similar things before. The pieces are all created out of natural materials, and are placed in various locations around the trail. I especially liked the little figure in this creation. (Image Photoshopped)

Wary duck

This young male American black duck happened to be feeding close to the water's edge this morning, so I got off a few quick shots before he swam away.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pretty, if you like spiders

I met a new creature at the marsh yesterday. One of its common names is Yellow Garden Spider, or technically Argiope aurantia. Doing a little research on the arachnid, I discovered that it is a very common spider, found throughout most of the U.S. and in southern Canada. It usually stays in the same spot all season long. It consumes the central part of its web every day, then spins a new centre. Yesterday there was a partially eaten grasshopper in its web. Today the spider was in the same spot, and the grasshopper was gone. The tiny green midge in the lower shot got caught in its web while I was watching.