Thursday, March 31, 2011

A chance encounter

This is what met my eyes when I turned around after taking the shot of the northern shovelers (top photo). Apparently it had just noticed me, too, as it paused in mid-step before moving into a thicket. I eventually realized there were four deer in the group. The raised tail of the deer at the top was probably a warning sign to the others that 'danger' was near. The deer in the lower shot seemed to be more fearless, and came very close to me (within 15 feet) as the others crossed the meadow and disappeared into the trees. You can tell they still have their darker, heavier winter coats.

Early birds

What a change at the marsh this morning, after several cold, windy days. The air was filled with birdsong and the marsh was filled with waterfowl - plus a raft of seagulls. I spotted something way out next to one of the islands, and upon a closer look discovered these two Northern Shoveler males, the first I've noticed this year. They are commonly late arrivals, so nice to see them here. (American black duck in the background.)

Perpetual motion

Yesterday I caught this chickadee searching in the bark of a dead Scots pine at the marsh. It would repeatedly dig something out of the bark, fly to a neighboring branch to eat it, and return to the pine tree for more.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Back from the sunny south

The migrants are slowing returning to the marsh - this morning I saw the first Green-winged Teals, two pair to be exact. They are one of the earliest of the ducks to return to the marsh, and our smallest dabbling duck. The drake, in full breeding plumage, is seen in the top photo, with the hen, showing her green speculum, in the bottom one.

Handsome fellow

Within the past week, twice I have seen wood ducks on the sewage lagoon next to the marsh. This morning as I was walking the trail I saw a male wood duck fly into the marsh, from the direction of the lagoon, the first I've seen on the marsh this year. He is now in his full breeding plumage. Come summer after he moults he will look much different.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New arrivals

My first sighting of the year of Hooded Mergansers on the marsh. With luck they will nest here. Like the wood ducks, they usually nest in tree cavities, and are often seen with wood ducks in the summer time. A beautiful addition to the growing diversity of wildlife at this wetland.

Spring fever??

More black ducks. I could hear a duck commotion as I was walking the trail this morning, and when I came to the spot, I saw a group of 16 black ducks (ten shown here), apparently all drakes, milling about, swimming a few feet in one direction, turning and swimming a few feet in the opposite direction, back and forth, back and forth - why they were doing what they were doing is a puzzle to me!

The color purple

These are the same two black ducks I spotlighted on the 21st - at least I presume they are the same two since they were at the same spot. I discovered they are not a pair, but two drakes, given they both have yellow bills. That probably means their mates are already nesting somewhere, since apparently black ducks begin nesting shortly after arrival. These two were busy preening when I saw them this morning. I wanted to include this shot since both are showing a distinctive feature of the black duck, their purple speculums, or upper wing patches.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Announcing the start of spring

The marsh rang with birdsong this morning, particularly from the song sparrows and the red-winged blackbirds. The tips of many of the trees sported one or the other of the songsters. I caught this male red-wing atop a spruce tree just as he uttered his distinctive call.

A little limelight for a change

The American Black Ducks are the most numerous of the dabbling ducks at the marsh. Since they are so common, they can easily be taken for granted, so I thought I'd give them a little exposure (pun intended). There's at least one thing that makes this duck stand out - its the 'quack' of the hen of this species that has become the standard sound of a duck. Not all ducks quack! Even the male black duck just makes a croaking sound.

This pair was resting when I caught them this morning, although the drake (yellow bill) lifted his head as I approached.

The early bird catches the worm

Yesterday at the marsh, the last day of winter (phew!), I saw my first robin of the season. It was hopping along the side of the trail, cocking its head as if listening for worms in the soil. Apparently they don't hunt by listening, but by sight. Since their eyes are on the sides of their heads, they tilt them and use one eye to look for worm castings in the grass, or the tunnels made by the worms.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The supermoon

A bit off-topic, but something that doesn't occur every day. This evening CTV news suggested that people take photos of the 'supermoon' and submit them to the station. Apparently tonight's full moon is the closest the moon has come to the earth in 18 years. So I thought I'd give it a try...

Muskrat maneuvering

I've been watching the muskrat lodges at the marsh for signs of activity, and this morning I was finally rewarded. This fellow was enjoying a mid-morning snack of its favourite food - cattails - in the marshy area on the town side of the railway bed. It then moved to another spot, scratched an itch, and then - appeared to stand on its head! I couldn't figure out what it was doing, and then it came to me. These are 'musk-rats'. They have two musk glands at the base of their tails, and especially during breeding season, the males spray the musk to mark their territories. Now, how many people have seen a muskrat mark its territory?? Not many, I'll wager.

A mink encounter

I told one of my faithful followers just recently that one reason why I continue with this blog is the feeling of anticipation of what I might see at the marsh. Well, today was a prime example of what I meant.

What I noticed first when I entered the trail was that the ice was completely gone. The warm temps of the last two days did it in. I was walking along, watching all the buffleheads out on the water, when I caught a movement just ahead of me on the side of the trail near the water. "Good," I thought to myself, "my first sighting of a muskrat for 2011." Well, it wasn't a muskrat as you can see from the above photos. The mink slipped into the water then swam toward the shore again, came out about three metres from me, moved along the edge past me, poking its head into holes, occasionally stopping to look at me, then retraced its steps and disappeared down a hole leaving its tail sticking out. Its appearance - and disappearance - may explain all the holes I have noticed along this stretch of trail, which I had attributed to muskrats. Although the mink could have taken over a muskrat's den, which often happens. One thing I have to get used to - they are primarily carnivorous, which means, although fish are at the top of their menu, it also includes waterfowl and muskrats.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Here today, gone tomorrow

I encountered probably the same flock of Common Redpolls feeding under the gray birches at the marsh this morning. The seeds from the birch catkins are a favourite of the redpolls, and by late winter they have all fallen to the ground. These tiny birds are never still and are easily startled, so getting a shot of one is a challenge. I don't expect to see them around much longer, as their breeding range is in Newfoundland and the far north.

Another herald of spring

This song sparrow was singing its heart out in a multiflower rose bush at the marsh yesterday. A welcome sound after a long winter. I saw a number of them foraging on the ground as well.

A meeting of old friends

Yesterday on my walk I came upon a flock of Common Redpolls feeding on the ground under the gray birch trees. I moved into the trees to try to get a better view but instead scared them off. When I emerged from the trees, what should greet my eyes but the pair of Canada geese from Wednesday's posting, almost right in front of me. (I was pretty sure they were the same ones, as over the years this pair has gotten used to me being near them.) The goose was busy feeding; she has to build up her reserves before nesting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Much ado about starting anew

What a difference a day makes. This morning large sections of the marsh were free of ice, and ducks were much in evidence, Buffleheads in the water and Black Ducks loafing on the islands. As I neared the first corner, I heard the sounds of geese, and sure enough, two flew in from the river and landed at the upper end. They were certainly making their presence known (especially the gander), and were answered by another pair on one of the long points of land. With much noise and to-do, the newly arrived pair proceeded to swim toward the round island where a pair has nested for several years now, so I assume it was the original pair.

Canada geese are among the first birds of the year to nest, so once again the cycle begins...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Early arrivals

I snapped some shots of the ducks on the sewage lagoon this morning, and was pleased to note, when I zoomed in on a shot, that there was a pair of Wood Ducks among the Buffleheads and Black Ducks. I expect they are newly arrived from their wintering grounds. Woodies usually pair off before migration, with the females returning to their old nesting grounds, followed closely by their new mates.

Three's a crowd

The ice on the marsh was making eerie noises this morning as the warm of the sun struck the surface. Another couple of warm days and most of the ice will be gone. I wasn't seeing much of anything wildlife-wise, so thought I'd check out the sewage lagoon. As I reached the top of the rise I heard a Canada goose honking, and sure enough, there were three of them on the ground opposite.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hello blackbird

I have marked spring for years by the first sighting of the Red-winged Blackbird. This fellow was right on the mark, time-wise, and I was so glad he held still long enough this morning for me to get a shot for the blog. We'll be seeing a lot of him and his buddies in the days and weeks to come, followed in a few weeks' time by their mates.

Little clowns

I was surprised there were no ducks in the open spots on the marsh this morning, but I know it won't be long before they'll be appearing. I checked the sewage lagoon to see if there were any there, and sure enough, there was a fairly large group of Buffleheads swimming and fluttering about. They are in courtship mode now, so will be displaying their amusing antics.

It's all in the game

Spring is approaching fast at the marsh. The ice is retreating from the shore, and several open spots were visible this morning on my walk. As I neared the entrance to the marsh, I heard a Song Sparrow and a Red-winged Blackbird sounding off - a sure sign spring is just around the corner.

I spied my little friend among the rocks again this morning. He was scrounging in the leaf litter for edibles, and the photo at top shows him ready to eat a nut of some sort. Right after I took the shot, he was startled by something in the woods below, and ran off into one of his holes among the rocks. I climbed down to see if I could find what had scared him, and heard this red squirrel scolding from a tree branch. Probably their territories overlap, and red squirrels are very defensive of their territories during breeding season. While I was below the tumbled rocks, I thought I'd see if I could find the chipmunk's holes, and while searching, this little face popped up. . .

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring is in the air

Even in winter there's a certain beauty about the marsh. But with the approach of spring comes a sense of things being on the brink of coming to life again. Under the ice in this scene the turtles and frogs are awaiting the warmth of the sun, as are the buds on the gray birches at the left. The muskrats in the lodge at centre left will soon be selecting mates - if they haven't already - to produce the season's new crop. And before we know it, the male red-winged blackbirds will arrive and claim their territories here among the cattails.

A matter of survival

I was checking for squirrel activity around the Scots pines in the wooded section of the trail this morning when I came upon this patch of feathers, I believe from a pheasant, which obviously had become something's dinner.

Signs of spring

Today was my first complete circuit of the marsh since the middle of January. It was really the first time it could be traversed with relative ease, except for the occasional stretches of fairly deep, soft snow. With spring just around the corner, I thought I might find some signs of the approaching season, and I wasn't disappointed. When I got to the section of the trail where a jumble of rocks spread out on one side, I kept my eyes peeled for a little critter that I know lives among them, and to my delight, he appeared. And while I was watching him (her?), what should I hear but one of the quintessential sounds of spring - the honking of Canada geese, flying high in 'v' formation, heading northeast.