Thursday, July 28, 2011


I couldn't believe it this morning when I discovered another nesting box (this one sitting in the midst of a glossy buckthorn bush) - with tree swallows still in residence! I caught two little heads peeking out of the entrance hole, and then one of the parents as it landed at the entrance.

On our blacklist

Last year I mentioned the shrub Glossy Buckthorn that is found just about everywhere you look at the marsh. New seedlings carpet the forest floor and young plants border the trail in the wooded area, and mature shrubs abound in the open areas surrounding the marsh. This shrub, introduced many years ago in North America as an ornamental, is an extremely invasive species, crowding out and replacing native vegetation. It grows rapidly, and resprouts vigorously when cut. Apparently it was noticed twelve years ago in Nova Scotia. As you can see, it is an attractive shrub - but it is a very unwelcome addition to the marsh landscape.

Growing up

The marsh is looking more populated with ducks these days as the young are getting larger, some now nearly as big as their parents. However, they seem to congregate far from shore, making it difficult to get decent shots of them. This morning I was lucky to find a few juvenile wood ducks feeding in the duckweed fairly close to shore. This photo (shot through the tall grass) shows two of them, a young male in front, with a young female behind.

Return of the owls, Part 1

On Tuesday the 26th, I discovered the great horned owls were back roosting at the marsh. I first saw the juvenile pair sitting side by side on a snag where the wood duck nesting boxes are located. They then flew over to perch in a spruce tree, and when I moved to get a closer look I noticed that their mother was sitting in a pine tree alongside the spruce. As I watched them, the smaller of the offspring kept looking toward its mother, making soft rheee sounds. When I saw it scrunch down, I knew it was about to take off, so held my shutter button down...(cont...)

Return of the owls, Part 2

... and its large wings stretched up as it lifted off to settle next to its mother, for a cuddle. The reading I've done on great horned owl behavior says that the adults wander around during the summer months, while the young remain in their breeding territory. However, it is obvious in this case that the female has remained close to her offspring. (Photos digitally modified.)

Fully packed

On Monday, I saw this little shape in the trail ahead of me, and discovered it was this chipmunk. I didn't notice its bulging cheeks until I zoomed in. Doesn't it look like it has a major case of the mumps?? (Photo digitally modified.)

Varying their diet?

Sorry, I'm getting behind in my blog postings. On Monday the 25th, several yellow warblers were flitting about the gray birches that border the trail, and occasionally moving over to the grasses by the water's edge. I caught this male on a stalk of wool-grass, which seems to be of interest to the warblers. I know they are primarily insect eaters (especially caterpillars), with the occasional berry thrown in, but didn't think they were interested in seeds. Perhaps there is some insect that frequents the wool-grass that they are after.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Backyard visitor

This has nothing to do with the marsh, but it does concern wildlife. I have a big pot of geraniums by my back door. Sunday night I had the porch light on, and I noticed something big fluttering around the blossoms. It looked similar to a hummingbird, as its wings moved rapidly, and it was nearly as large. I grabbed my camera and was eventually able to get this shot. It was a White-lined Sphinx moth, commonly known as the Hummingbird moth, apparently very common, although I've never seen one before. They visit many kinds of flowers for nectar.

Streets in the pond

I didn't get to the marsh until Sunday evening (the 24th), as I picked raspberries in the morning when I usually walk (and made jam in the afternoon). Those of you who walk the marsh may have noticed the paths through the duckweed in the frog pond (top photo here). I assumed they were made by the muskrats that live in the pond. I had just snapped the photo when sure enough, I noticed one swim into the path at the bottom right. He swam along the path, even executing a sharp turn as shown in the bottom photo. They obviously are creatures of habit.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Late nester

This is where I could have used the video function on my camera. This morning I decided I'd take a closer look at the little crab apple tree that surrounds one of the tree swallow nesting boxes. I had assumed that nesting was long past, so was surprised to see a tree swallow fly out when I approached, and then heard the unmistakable cries of baby birds coming from the box. Tree swallows only produce one brood per season, and here it is late July and these haven't fledged yet! I decided to focus my camera on the box entrance and wait for the adult to return (both sexes feed the young). It wasn't long before it did (top photo); it then looked at me (middle photo); entered the box (bottom photo); Continued in next panel....

Late nester Part 2

. . . poked its head out of the hole to look around (top photo), then flew off to catch more insects (bottom photo).

Doing a little research on these fascinating birds, I discovered that tree swallows, during spring migration and when they first arrive at the marsh, depend for a large part on bayberries and wax myrtle berries to get them through until the first hatching of insects. How coincidental.

More orphans?

I startled four (three shown here) very young ducks this morning who had been feeding in a patch of duckweed. There was no parent in sight, so it appears they are on their own. I hope their mother didn't fall prey to one of the owls. I think they are black ducks, although it's difficult (for me anyway) to identify them conclusively at this age.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A feathered gymnast

Yesterday morning there were a number of chickadees foraging in the wooded section of the trail, making their cheery sounds. It's a delight to watch the positions they get themselves into as they search out grubs and what have you from every little crevice. This fellow obviously found the cocoon of some insect.

Berry nice

This is a continuation of last evening's posting. Thunderstorms and computers don't mix.

I'm pretty familiar with most of the plants around the marsh, but there is a common one I couldn't put a name to. After checking my guides, I found that it's called Northern Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica). The shrubs look similar to azaleas, although they are not related. The berries turn a waxy pale blue-gray color, and remain on the plants through the winter. They are popular with pheasants, ruffed grouse and migrating songbirds, including the yellow-rumped warbler, the first warbler to appear at the marsh in the spring. And yes, those sweet-smelling bayberry candles are made from these same berries.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shared parenting

There's an abundance of song sparrows around the marsh this summer. They often have two, sometimes even three broods during a season, nesting into August. Fledglings typically leave the nest before they can fly, hiding in the ground cover, being fed usually by the male, while the female renests. This one seen this morning carrying a caterpillar, obviously has young nearby.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Froggy went a'courtin'

The frog chorus was in full swing in the frog pond this morning. That's not all that was in full swing. There was some heavy courting going on as well. I now know where the term "leap frog" came from. As I stood and watched, the (presumably) male frogs began leaping toward the females, who in turn leaped away from the males, playing hard to get. It was a hoot.

Proceed with caution

This flower looks very much like the Queen Anne's Lace which is beginning to come into bloom now, but it definitely is not. Queen Anne's Lace grows in dry locations, whereas this plant, called Water Hemlock, grows in wet places. One of my resources lists it as the most toxic plant in North America. The roots and stems are the most problematic. It is toxic when ingested, but suggestions are not to even handle the plant. I noticed two places where it is growing at the marsh, and there may be others.

Deja vu

I spotted (presumably) the same catbird this morning in a hawthorn bush, which stands next to the dogwood in which I saw the bird yesterday. He wasn't quite so agitated, but was still making himself heard.

The eagle has landed

I met a fellow marsh walker on the trail this morning who had just spotted a bald eagle near the causeway, so I hot footed it over to see if it was still in sight. It was, although with the heavy fog the shot leaves more than a bit to be desired. He was perched on a spot where cormorants and seagulls often sit and watch for fish to come through the gates.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In a dither

I heard another agitated catbird this morning, and followed it until it emerged far enough from this red osier dogwood bush for me to get a decent shot. The catbirds love the white dogwood berries, by the way.

The lure of the outdoors

I had to take some landscape shots at the marsh this morning, as the cloud formations and colors in the sky were especially eye-catching.

Kind of lonesome

I saw the bufflehead again this morning, all by its lonesome. It's possible it is a male juvenile, as they closely resemble the adult female.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Still a baby

In the same chokecherry tree that I've been seeing the common yellowthroats, I found this female juvenile yellowthroat this morning, probably one of the offspring of the pair. I stood watching it for several minutes, and then I saw it open its beak when it heard one of its parents calling within the tree. Now isn't that precious?

Berry picking

As I mentioned earlier, the robins are loving the service berries which are fast ripening. I found this juvenile robin at the top of a tree this morning, and with luck happened to catch it as it picked a berry.

Ducks in disguise

I've been wondering where the male adult wood ducks have been hiding. I know at this time of the summer that the males look for a sheltered spot while they molt into their eclipse plumage, during part of which time they're unable to fly. Well, today I found them. They were close to the shore at the edge of the forested section of the trail, hidden from sight by the tall grasses. I startled them when I approached, and ten swam out into open water, two of which are shown here. They certainly don't look like their dapper selves.

Flying practice

I haven't mentioned our geese lately, but they are still present at the marsh. When I spotted them today way out in the middle, it was obvious they were getting ready to try a practice flight. Sure enough, they started their honking, and then took to the air. Well, a little bit of air, as you can see.

Two of these ducks are not like the others . . .

This is one of several black duck families at the marsh. Yesterday I saw a black duck with two very young chicks, probably a younger female, who usually breed later and have fewer offspring. Two of the young in this group seem to be larger than the others for some reason.

Avian Beau Brummell

A svelte bird if there ever was one, not a feather out of place. I've been seeing a small flock of cedar waxwings at the marsh the last couple of days, probably drawn by the ripening berries. This one was posing on a snag yesterday.

Is she lost??

This is a bird I was surprised to see at the marsh yesterday. I'm almost positive it's a female bufflehead. The buffleheads don't normally return to this area until October (they left in May for their breeding grounds - or I assumed they all did).

Bird menagerie

Yesterday, in the same chokecherry tree in which I had seen the male common yellowthroat on the 15th, I found a female, perhaps his mate. Actually, the tree was full of birds, likely attacted by the berries. Besides the yellowthroat, I saw in the tree or saw fly out of it, a yellow warbler, a purple finch, a robin, and a very indignant catbird! Here's the female yellowthroat (bottom), and the female purple finch (top).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Once rare in N.S., now common

I met this pair of mourning doves foraging on the railbed section of the trail this morning. I stood perfectly still as they worked their way towards me, moving back and forth, back and forth across the path as they searched for seeds. They are beautifully marked birds when seen up close. They are classified as gamebirds in 36 states in the U.S., but in most of Canada, including Nova Scotia, they are classified as songbirds, so are illegal to hunt.

Safe for now

When I checked one of the spots at the marsh where the owls have been roosting, I found no owls, but instead this young red squirrel munching on a new spruce cone. It's the same spruce tree where the owls were perched on the 12th. I haven't seen or heard as many squirrels around the marsh this year as I usually do. Is that because of the presence of the owls, I wonder??

Making an appearance

I was happy with this find this morning. I first saw the female common yellowthroat, and then as luck would have it her mate appeared in the tree nearby. I find these birds especially difficult to catch out in the open.

Shedding his baby feathers

I happened to spot this juvenile male yellow warbler this morning. He's obviously molting into his adult garb.

Swallow nursery

Yesterday morning the swallows were doing their aerial acrobatics over the water. As I came up to one of the dead English oak trees at the marsh edge, I spotted several of them lined up along the branches. They were all juveniles, who probably don't have the stamina of the adults yet, and needed to take a break. They are a mix of tree and bank swallows, the bank swallows being smaller with grey bands under their chins. Apparently by mid-July groups of juvenile swallows called creches tend to gather together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quite the pair

The owls were still in the same location this morning when I checked. I first found the young pair atop one of the snags at the marsh edge. I watched them from three different locations, finally finding a spot with no branches blocking my view. They didn't seem to be bothered by my presence, often trying to get a closer look at me (top shot). When someone finally came through the trail pulling a noisy wagon, the two turned their heads in the direction of the noise (bottom shot). They then moved off to a spruce tree, where their mother was perched.

I did a bit of research on these birds. It seems that juveniles will remain in the vicinity of their nesting site during the summer months, moving on in the fall to begin to establish territories of their own. The adults, however, who usually wander during the summer, return to their breeding territories in the fall.