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.