Whilst many birders will travel miles to see a new species, my objective is to see as many different species within striking distance of the cottage. I am including those we see when out in the canoe or kayaks as well as any on our drive in once we leave the main road, but it is a relatively small area and so far I have already seen a fair number.
As I mentioned, we got to see two woodpeckers on our way in for this year’s winter visit.
We saw a Pileated Woodpecker – not a good picture, but it is all I have! We also saw two Downy Woodpeckers.
Woodpeckers are fascinating and curious to watch. They can strike a tree up to 300 times a minute up to 12,000 times a day and reach speeds of 13-15 miles per hour! Our trees are full of holes where they have been foraging for insect larvae, making nesting holes, claiming territory or just “drumming” as part of their springtime mating ritual.
I was reading about the cardboard bicycle helmet, which has been designed by studying the woodpecker and how it absorbs so much impact. The woodpecker has a unique corrugated cartilage structure, which separates its beak from its skull and this idea of allowing some flexing to absorb impact is used in the design of the cardboard bicycle helmet.
There are eight different species of woodpeckers that I can potentially see, but I have only seen those that are common or uncommon but found with some effort (Pileated Woodpecker). Earlier in the year we saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the tree behind the cottage. We were able to watch that one for quite some time from the window and had a really good view. My attempt one day at an action shot is not in focus, but I rather like the effect it created.
One bird that I was thrilled to see was a Scarlet Tanager. I have never seen one before, or since come to that, even though they are listed as common. It was deep in the forest, high on a branch, which is where they like to hang out. I think I have heard them since then, but never managed to spot one again. Only the male is this brilliant red colour and he trades his feathers for the olive-yellow colours of the female after breeding, but retains his black tail and wing feathers.
Out on the lake we get to see many gulls. I don’t find watching them fish as thrilling as watching the Bald Eagles fish, because they seem common, but there are 21 different species of gulls recorded in Ontario and some of them are uncommon or rare. There are about 50 species of gull worldwide; so we get a large proportion of them here in Ontario.
Gull watching is challenging because they come in a variety of plumages and I find it hard to tell them apart. There is also hybridisation between species of gull that occurs quite frequently, so that makes it more complicated to identify the species.
They are noisy birds with their squawking calls and I am thankful that we don’t have rock islands close to us where you often find densely packed colonies. They are mostly ground nesting birds, which is why a rock island is such a desirable abode, but a few build nests on cliffs. I remember camping one year and the gulls on an island close to where we were camping kept us awake far into the night because they made such a racket!
Gulls tend to be long-lived and can live for almost 50 years. They mate for life, but divorce does occur. It is interesting that when this happens there is a social cost that lasts for a number of years, so the colony reinforces monogamy and fidelity. They are very resourceful, inquisitive and intelligent birds and some species have exhibited tool use behaviour, by using bait to catch fish.
We do enjoy seeing them on the islands in the lake, where they tend to gather.
They are a good indication for rocks just under the water that are not very visible.
I always enjoy seeing the heron, even though we see them fairly frequently.
They are shy and don’t hang around for long once they see us, so getting a glimpse of them always feels like a treat.
They are such odd looking birds when they fly. Their feet look too big for easy flying.
Another bird we have seen when we are out in the canoe is the Sandpiper. There are actually 22 different species of sandpipers in North America, but some of the differences are subtle. I think this is the Spotted Sandpiper.
A bird that we see frequently is the Turkey Vulture. They are normally around somewhere, riding thermals up to higher vantage point and sniffing for carrion. They look black in the sky, but they are actually brown.
We got to see bunch of them eating something on the side of the road on our way out one time. When we stopped the car they flew off into the trees, so we weren’t able to watch them eating, but it was cool to see them closer than in the sky where we normally see them.
These are truly weird looking animals. The idea of them being creepy harbingers of death makes them somewhat repulsive, but the do provide a very welcome service by consuming dead animals. They are actually quite social and roost in large community groups, breaking away to forage independently during the day.
They are certainly more beautiful to watch in the sky than up close! They are awkward and ungainly on the ground. In the sky they hold their wings in a shallow V-shape, which makes them easy to identify. When they court, pairs perform a display where one bird leads the other through twisting, turning and flapping flights and these can last as long as 3 hours. I haven’t seen this, but it is something to look out for.