May 302019
 

Cuckoos eating Eastern Tent Caterpillars: Today, May 31, I came across a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos near Burnt River  that were eating tent caterpillars. I was not aware that birds eat these caterpillars. Carl Welbourn, Kawartha Camera Club

Black-billed Cuckoo eating tent caterpillars – Burnt River – May 31, 2019 – Carl Welbourn

Black-billed Cuckoo 2 – Burnt River – May 31, 2019 – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (2)
– Reported May 30, 2019 12:25 by Sheila Collett
– Lakefield Marsh, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Large white swans with long necks and orange/black bills.”

Mute Swans – Sept. 26, 2016 – Drew Monkman

Sora (rail) – Wikimeda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sora (Porzana carolina) (1)
– Reported May 30, 2019 11:02 by Matthew Tobey
– Peterborough–Fairbairn Street wetland, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) (3)
– Reported May 30, 2019 08:55 by Dave Milsom
– Cavan-Monaghan–Jones Quarter Line, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Singing. Regular at this location.”

Clay-colored Sparrow – Wikimedia

Blue-winged Warbler – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) (2)
– Reported May 30, 2019 08:55 by Brian Wales
– Cavan-Monaghan–Jones Quarter Line, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2567769,-78.5402148&ll=44.2567769,-78.5402148
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56913976
– Comments: “Pure birds. Both singing typical BWWA song.”

Gruesome discovery: I had a rather gruesome but interesting discovery this morning, May 30, at about 6:30. I went to fill one of my bird feeders and found the decapitated head of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak in one of the feeder holes. I found the body a few feet away atop a fence row of grape vines and Virginia creeper. One wing was mangled and there looked like a puncture wound on the abdomen. The body was cold but not yet stiff, so I’m guessing she died sometime early this morning. My hypothesis is that she was feeding when a hawk or owl attacked; when there was the resistance from the head detaching, the predator dropped the body??? I don’t know, but that’s all I can think of. It’s sad, because she was probably sitting on eggs or hatchlings.  Annamarie Beckel, Lakefield

Note: I suspect an owl got the bird. Decapitation is common owl behaviour. That being said, it could also have been the work of a cat or, from what I’ve read, even a grackle. D.M.

Sparrow-like female Rose-breasted Grosbeak – Cindy Bartoli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) (2)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Least Sandpiper – Wikimedia

Semipalmated Sandpipers – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) (6)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2269157,-78.2073089&ll=44.2269157,-78.2073089
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56866100

Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2269157,-78.2073089&ll=44.2269157,-78.2073089
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56866100
– Comments: “continuing individual”

Short-billed Dowitchers – Blenheim Sewage Lagoon – May 12, 2016 Drew Monkman

Cliff Swallow building nest – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) (2)
– Reported May 29, 2019 15:16 by Olivia Maillet
– Trent University, Peterborough CA-ON (44.3577,-78.2907), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56874182

Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) (1)
– Reported May 28, 2019 07:30 by Roy Burton
– STEWART HALL, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56884990
– Comments: “brick red male”

Orchard Oriole – Wikimedia

male Blue-winged Teal in flight (Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) (1)
– Reported May 28, 2019 18:52 by Olivia Maillet
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56851453

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 15:33 by Warren Dunlop
– Squirrel Creek–4th Line Bridge, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Media: 2 Photos
– Comments: “Calling and singing from treetops. Very active.
Have had at this location previously.”

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Karl Egressy

Red-headed Woodpecker – July 2018 – Kingsley Hubbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 08:00 by Joe Latour
– Smith-Ennismore-Lakefield, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56833702
– Comments: “Landed on our sunflower seed feeder for a few seconds, then flew up into an ash tree. Gone by the time I got my camera. First Red-headed woodpecker I’ve seen around here in over 20 years.”

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 15:35 by John Bick
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56814701
– Comments: “onging bird”

Greater Scaup (male) photo from Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 12:41 by Thomas Unrau
– 130–182 Fire Route 10, North Kawartha CA-ON (44.5658,-78.1252), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56798531
– Comments: “Silhouetted on a tall dead tree calling repeatedly. ”

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 07:57 by Dave Milsom
– Peterborough–Hubble Road, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “Apparent pure BWWA seen well singing typical BWWA song.”

Red-necked Phalarope: Seen May 27 on Stony Lake near the centre of Lower Stony near some islets. It was swimming in deep water (catching surface insects) and more than 50 metres from an islet. Rob Welsh

Red-necked Phalarope – Rob Welsh – Lower Stony Lake – May 27, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Chestnut project: – May 23, 2019 – Last Fall I harvested a total of six plump, seemingly viable chestnuts from two of my American Chestnut trees up near Crystal Lake, three from each tree. I put them into moist (but not wet) sawdust in the refrigerator for the Winter and then planted them in seeding medium on the Vernal Equinox. I’m happy to report that as of today (May 10, 2019), five of the six chestnuts have sprouted and I hold out hope that the last will also. I plan to harden the seedlings off and put them in the ground after the last frost. I now have proof that my trees can produce viable nuts. What remains to be seen is whether or not they can propagate successfully in the wild. My trees are now quite large and I’m hoping that all three produce nuts this year, for the first time. I will collect as many viable nuts as possible and share them with you, if you would like. I will keep some to plant as I did last year but I would also like to do the penultimate test: Plant some directly in the ground in the Fall. The ultimate test will then be to have the squirrels, etc., plant the nuts and have American Chestnut trees come up as a result.  Michael Doran, Peterborough

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Thrasher: This morning, May 20, my wife and I noticed a bird we haven’t seen at our feeder before and after looking it up online we found it to be a Brown Thrasher. Dave Bosco, Fairmount Blvd, Peterborough

Brown Thrasher – May 20, 2019 – Peterborough – Dave Bosco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Parula – On May 20, this bird drew my attention with its lovely song. I couldn’t get more than one photo with it sitting still as it was very “flitty”. I think there was more than one in the trees of our yard. I believe it’s a Northern Parula. A new bird for me!  Nancy Cafik

Northern Parula – May 20, 2019 – Nancy Cafik

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sightings on Rotary Trail: This morning, May 18, was a busy day for birding on the Rotary Trail behind TASSS. I was able to photograph an American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Gray Catbird, House Wren and a Least Flycatcher. Carl Welbourn

Blackburnian Warbler – Rotary Trail at TASSS – May 20 – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy morning in Bridgenorth: The migration today was amazing! These are all from this morning, May 17. Jeff Keller

Yellow-rumped Warbler – May 17, 2019 – Jeff Keller

Baltimore Oriole – May 17, 2019 – Bridgenorth – Jeff Keller

Scarlet Tanager – May 17, 2019 – Jeff Keller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baltimore Oriole at feeder: Just reporting that we had a Baltimore Oriole at one of our hummingbird feeders at 7 p.m. on May 13. I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough. Wendy Marrs, Ridgewood Road, Peterborough

Baltimore Oriole on hummingbird feeder – Doug Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy morning at the feeder: I just wanted to forward you some of pics from our backyard visitors. We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of new visitors this year.  Nima Taghaboni

Note: I don’t recall a spring in which so many people have had Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles at their feeders. I suspect that the cold weather has meant that there is little insect food available, which would make life especially hard for orioles. We had one on our feeder that was eating peanut bits! A first for me. Other people have seen them eating suet. D.M.

Baltimore Orioles – May 14, 2019 – Nima Taghaboni

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks – Nima Taghaboni – May 14, 2019

Indigo Bunting – May 14, 2019 – Nima Taghaboni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grosbeaks and oriole at feeder: I saw some amazing birds at our feeder this morning, May 10. There were 5 male and 1 female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as well as a Baltimore Oriole. Bet Curry

Nesting Great Horned Owl and Merlin: I went looking for the Great Horned Owl that’s been popping up on e-bird near Airport Road… and found it! I’ve attached pictures of the adult and chick that I was able to see. They were quite far so these pictures are as close as I could get. There’s also a big nest on one of the trees on the Sacred Heart Church property (across from the New Canadians Centre parking lot) on Romaine Street. At first I thought it was a hawk, but a birder friend said it’s a Merlin because of its size and calls. Reem Ali

Merlin – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

Great Horned Owl chick – Ptbo Airport – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

Great Horned Owl – Ptbo Airport – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-crowned Night Heron – I managed to get a picture of this bird today, May 7, on the Rotary Trail. Carl Welbourn

Black-crowned Night heron – Carl Welbourn – May 7, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broad-winged Hawks: On May 5th, we saw a pair of Broad-winged Hawks perform their courtship display up over our heads while we were working outside. The pair hooked talons and spun around before flying off together. That was a real ‘WOW’ moment.   Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Broad-winged Hawk – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Yellowlegs and Wilson’s Snipe:  I found these birds on a trip along Brown’s Line on the morning of May 5. Carl Welbourn

Greater Yellowlegs – May 5, 2019 – Brown’s Line – Carl Welbourn

Wilson’s Snipe – May 5, 2019 – Brown’s Line – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Bald Eagle shots from Lower Buckhorn Lake: I kayaked this morning, May 5, on Lower Buckhorn Lake and took these photos. Robin Williams Blake

Bald Eagle – May 5, 2019 – Lower Buckhorn – Robin Williams Blake

Bald Eagle – May 5, 2019 – Lower Buckhorn – Robin Williams Blake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bald Eagle on nest – May 5, 2019 – Robin Williams Blake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo Bunting at feeder: I had my first sighting ever of an Indigo Bunting.  I first spotted him yesterday, May 3, in my backyard around 6:15 p.m. and he hung around for over an hour.  He’s been back this morning and this afternoon too!  Are they common in our neck of the woods? I’m in the Old West End near Queen Mary. (Note: The bird was still around as late as May 26.) Monique Beneteau

Note: Yes, they are fairly common and sometimes show up at feeders in the spring. If you know the song, you can hear them all over the Kawarthas, especially in open, brushy areas. D.M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 242019
 

A visit to Point Pelee and Rondeau parks is a celebration of the wonder of spring migration

For anyone wanting to see Ontario’s most spectacular birds – Red-headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, and more than two dozen species of warblers – a trip to Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Provincial Park  is a must. You will also be treated to species we rarely find in the Kawarthas, including Orchard Orioles, White-eyed Vireos, Carolina Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Prothonotary Warblers.

Spring migration, which peaks during the first three weeks of May, is the time to be there. The birds are in dazzling breeding plumage and most species are singing. They are also easy to see, since the cool water of Lake Erie delays leaf emergence. On days when temperatures are extremely cool, birds that normally remain high in the canopy often forage close to the ground– sometimes nearly at your feet – and seem  oblivious to human presence. This allows for wonderful closeup views and superb photo opportunities.

Rondeau, which is near Blenheim, and Point Pelee, located 70 kilometres to the west at Leamington, are peninsulas that extend into the western basin of Lake Erie. They are situated at the crossroads of two major migration routes – the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways. Most importantly, they are one of the first points of land that spring migrants reach after crossing Lake Erie at night.

On May 13, Brian Wales, Chris Risley and I, made our made our annual pilgrimage to both southern Ontario birding meccas. Here, we met our fellow birding companions Jim Cashmore, Greg Piasetzki, and Mitch Brownstein and his wife, Liliana. It was wonderful having Liliana join us for the first time. Her unbridled enthusiasm added new interest to birds the rest of us have seen countless times before.

Point Pelee

Point Pelee is arguably the best place to bird in Ontario. Approximately 385 different species have been recorded here, including 42 of the 55 regularly occurring North American warblers. Not surprisingly, the park is known as the “warbler capital of North America.” The variety and number of birds often changes from day to day, depending on temperature and wind direction. On Monday, for example, Nashville Warblers were everywhere, while later in the week species like Blackburnian Warblers and Wood Thrushes became very common. Pelee is also famous for its migrant “fallouts” which occur when weather fronts collide, and huge numbers of birds are forced down out of the sky. Such was the case on the morning of May 9 this year. A huge fallout occurred at the tip of Pelee with hundreds of warblers, tanagers, and sparrows hopping low on trees, rocks, and even the beach. Oh, to have been there!

For  anyone arriving from the Kawarthas, you immediately notice how different the habitat is. The park is dominated by Carolinian forest with abundant Hackberry Trees interspersed with Eastern Redbud, Chinquapin Oak, Sassafras, Shagbark Hickory and American Sycamore – many supporting huge vines. The forest floor is covered with wide diversity of native flowers like Sweet Cicely, Spring Beauty, and Appendaged Waterleaf.

Each day at Pelee, we usually follow the same routine. Our first stop is the park tip, where we hope for newly arrived migrants. We then make our way north along the west beach where birds often bask and feed in the morning sun. A walk through the Sparrow Field is next on the list, from where we make our way back to the Visitor Centre via the Woodland Nature Trail. We then consult the sightings board for rarities and enjoy a quick lunch, courtesy of the Friends of Pelee. In the afternoon, we usually check out Tilden’s Woods, DeLaurier Trail, and the nearby trails at Dunes and Sleepy Hollow Trail. The day concludes with a trip up to Hillman’s Marsh to look for shorebirds and ducks.

Each visit is marked by its own special moments. This year, it was watching a beautiful male Kentucky Warbler foraging for insects in a tangle of vines and shrubs. The bird’s dark mask and bright yellow throat glowed in the sunshine as it hopped about completely unperturbed by the dozen or so ecstatic birders only metres away. The Kentucky is one of several birds that routinely “overshoot” their normal breeding range south of the Great Lakes.

Other special Pelee moments this year included great views of a rare Prairie Warbler flitting about in a fallen tree in the morning sunshine; gorgeous Canada and Hooded Warblers that frequented the same section of trail for days in a row; Nashville Warblers hovering at flowers in  hummingbird fashion; a famished Rose-breasted Grosbeak eating flowers in a low shrub almost at our feet; a Black-billed Cuckoo perched a foot off the ground and only metres away; an Orange-crowned Warbler that finally showed itself after we’d waited for half an hour in the rain; and half-frozen Scarlet Tanagers posing for pictures on the shoulder of the road.

The people

There are two spring migrations at Point Pelee: the birds themselves and the people who flock to see them. Yet, despite the thousands of people in the park and the sometimes-congested trails, birders show an unwavering respect for both the birds and for fellow birdwatchers. People speak in such hushed tones that you almost feel like you have the trail to yourself. Birders also help each other with identification problems and share the location of nearby species of interest. This information is often provided without even having to ask. It’s also wonderful to be in the company of so many like-minded people and to chat with visitors from the U.S., the United Kingdom and all over Canada – Quebec, in particular. At times you hear almost as much French as English.

This year, we were also encouraged by the number of younger people, many in their 30s and 40s. Because birders ‑ and naturalists in general ‑ are usually committed conservationists, this bodes well for the future. There were also as many women as men, which is a welcome change from the past. Anyone going for the first time can’t help but notice the number of photographers, too, as large telephoto zooms are nearly as common as binoculars.

Rondeau

After two-and-a-half days at Pelee, we made the 70-minute drive east along Lake Erie to Rondeau Provincial Park. Rondeau offers a quieter counterbalance to Pelee’s frenzy. The birding can be almost as good, and there are far fewer people. Rondeau is also larger and more heavily forested with spectacular Tulip and American Beech trees. The Visitor Centre provides many of the same services as at Pelee but on a smaller scale. Unlike Pelee, Centre has bird feeders, which attract a non-stop parade of orioles and grosbeaks and sometimes even Red-headed Woodpeckers and Tufted Titmice.

A lasting memory form this year’s Rondeau experience is that of a Wood Thrush building its nest in a small tree on the edge of the Tulip Tree Trail. Standing only metres away, we watched as it fashioned the cup with dead beech leaves. In little more than an hour, the nest was nearly half completed. Watching if work, I couldn’t help thinking of a Wood Thrush that overwintered in the garden beside the house we rented in Costa Rica this winter. As absurd as it sounds, it was fun to imagine that this might even be the same bird! Not only is the Wood Thrush the most beautiful member of its genus and a gifted singer, but it has also come to represent the plight of songbird decline.

Other special Rondeau moments this year included watching an Eastern Screech-owl peering out of a hole in a giant American Beech; a pair of rare Black-necked Stilts feeding in a flooded field; hundreds of swallows and Purple Martins sitting on the road at the nearby Blenheim Sewage Lagoons; seeing all seven of Ontario’s vireos; finding 12 species of warblers along the Spicebush Trail as toads trilled in the background and wildflowers lit up the forest floor; and enjoying the evocative calls of an Eastern Whip-poor-will and an American Woodcock against a background chorus of Spring Peepers.

Experiencing Point Pelee and Rondeau reminds me each year why so many people are captivated by bird watching. When you are fully focused on finding, identifying or simply watching a given bird, it is possible to live entirely in the moment. There is so much to be enjoyed: the beauty, numbers and diversity of the bird themselves, the rich orchestra of songs, the smell of the spring air and the warmth of the May sun. Being there to experience the migration is no less than a rite of spring for thousands of people.  Each of the 150 or so species we saw provided us with its own, unique expression of the wonder of spring migration. The season of migration is now giving way to the season of nesting, which holds the promise of bountiful young birds that will commence their own journey – southward this time – in just a few short months. If you plan to go next year, or even in early September, book now.

Climate Crisis News

Across the country people are gathering to brainstorm solutions to the climate crisis. The ideas will be compiled to form a collective vision for Canada’s Green New Deal – one that provides a vision for a new economy where no one gets left behind. Your input is needed! The Peterborough meeting will take place May 30 at Trinity United Church, 360 Reid St., starting at 6 p.m. For more information, go to Facebook and search for “Green New Deal – Peterborough”  I also invite people to listen to the latest episode of Tapestry on CBC radio to get a true sense of the magnitude of the climate crisis.

 

May 102019
 

Knowing the songs of common birds opens the door to greater enjoyment of the natural world

May’s explosion of leaves will soon draw a green veil upon our neighbourhoods and woodlands. As beautiful and welcome as the burst of foliage may be, it complicates seeing and appreciating the many bird species that make spring such a wonderful season. To be fully aware of all the avian diversity that surrounds us, we therefore need to depend on our ears as much as our eyes. Knowing the songs and calls also means you don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy tracking down the mystery songsters.

With practice, nearly all birds can be identified by their vocalizations, namely their songs and calls. The distinction between songs and calls can be complicated but, in general, songs are longer and more complex and are associated with courtship and mating. They are usually heard only in the spring and early summer. Calls tend to be short – sometimes only one or two notes – and serve as alarms or keeping members of a flock together. A good example is the Black-capped Chickadee. It makes its “chick-a-dee-dee” call all year round, but usually only whistles its “Hi-cutie” song in late winter and spring.

Describing songs
Learning and describing bird song involves some special vocabulary.  For example, when talking about the quality or tone of the song, we often use words like clear, harsh, liquid, flute-like, trilled, or buzzy. A clear song is something you could whistle (e.g., American Robin, Northern Cardinal); a harsh song has scratchy notes (e.g., Common Grackle, House Finch); a flute-like song suggests a musical instrument (e.g., Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush); a trilled song contains numerous notes in a row and too fast to count (e.g., Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler); while a buzzy song has a bee-like quality (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, many warblers).

Songs also differ in pitch. Most birds sing in a characteristic range, with smaller birds typically having higher voices than larger birds. The pitch might rise as the bird sings (e.g., Prairie Warbler), fall (e.g., Veery, Northern Waterthrush), remain steady  (e.g., Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco), or be variable (e.g., Song Sparrow).

Some birds characteristically repeat syllables or phrases. Brown Thrashers and Indigo Buntings typically repeat twice before changing to a new syllable. Often, bird songs can also be broken down into sections. A section begins whenever there is a dramatic change in pitch or speed. The Song Sparrow has many sections in its song, as does the European Starling. Birds also sing with different rhythms. House Wrens pour out their song in a hurry, while White-throated Sparrows opt for a leisurely pace. There is no doubt that some species sound similar.  However, when you take into consideration the context of the song – habitat, time of year and the characteristics of the song itself – the choice usually comes down to only a handful of species.

Memory aids

Memorizing bird song as pure sound is difficult. For me at least, it is much easier to convert the songs to a mnemonic, which is simply any device that serves as a memory aid. Sometimes, it’s useful to find your own, personal comparison or memory aid for remembering a song.

The following is a list of mnemonics that birders have been using for years. I have grouped the birds by the habitat in which they are most typically found: MH (many habitats), U (urban), W (wetlands), FF (fields and farmland), F (forests)

American Robin (MH):  CHEERILY-CHEERY-CHEERILY-CHEER… – a series of short, clear, musical whistles, rising and falling in pitch. Robins are especially vocal just before dawn.

American Goldfinch (MH):  PO-TA-TO-CHIP! – this distinctive call is given on the up rise of the goldfinch’s roller-coaster flight.

Black-capped Chickadee (MH):  HI-CUTY or SPRING-IS-HERE – a clear, two or three note whistle. The last note drops in pitch is often double-pulsed.

Blue Jay (MH): QUEEDLE-QUEEDLE – a pleasant, musical song, given in a quick burst. Listen also for “squeaky wheelbarrow” sounds and the jay’s harsh, descending “jaaaay” scream.

Cedar Waxwing (MH):  SREEEE-SREEEE-SREEEE – an extremely high-pitched, hissy, weak, non-musical whistle. This is a common late summer sound in the Kawarthas.

Chipping Sparrow (MH):  a mechanical, rapid trill consisting of dry chips, lasting several seconds, and almost sounding like a fast-running sewing machine.

Eastern Phoebe (MH):  FEE-BEEE – a very emphatic, two-note song with a raspy or burred second note. It is repeated constantly. Phoebes are most commonly found around cottage and farm outbuildings.

House Wren (MH): a rapid, bubbling series of trills and rattles, both rising and descending. This bird can be a non-stop singer practically all day long.

Mourning Dove (MH):  HOOO-AH-HOO-HOO-HOO – very slow and “mourning.” The song could be mistaken for that of an owl.

Song Sparrow (MH):  MAIDS-MAIDS-MAIDS-PUT-ON-YOUR-TEA-KETTLE-ETTLE-ETTLE – a variable, complex series of notes that includes one long trill in the middle.

Song Sparrow – Karl Egressy

Chimney Swift (U):  CHIT-CHIT-CHIT-CHIT – an ultra-rapid burst of notes given as the birds fly overhead, usually in Peterborough’s downtown core.

European Starling (U):  WHEEEE-ERR – a long, down-slurred “wolf-whistle,” accompanied by an unmusical series of chips, squawks and squeaky notes. Starlings often sing from telephone wires.

 

 

 

House Finch (U):  think of this bird as “the mad warbler” because of its loud, bubbly, quick-paced, warbled song. Harsh “churr” notes are often included. This bird often sings from the very top of spruce trees in the city.

House Sparrow (U):  CHIDDIK-CHIDDIK… – a dry, monotonous series of identical chips.

Northern Cardinal (U):  TWEER-TWEER-WHIT-WHIT-WHIT-WHIT or BIRDY-BIRDY-BIRDY-BIRDY – a loud, rich and persistent song, usually sung from a high perch.

Red-winged Blackbird (W):  KON-KA-REEEEE – a harsh, gurgling song ending in a trill.

Common Yellowthroat (W): WITCHITY-WITCHITY-WITCHITY-WITCH – a song characterized by an up and down rolling rhythm.

Yellow Warbler (W):  SWEET-SWEET-SWEET-I’M-SO-SWEET – clear, high, whistled notes that are rushed at the end.

Yellow Warbler (Karl Egressy)

Bobolink (FF): – a rolling, bubbling (boboling!) warble of very short notes that seem to almost trip over each other. It is given as the bird flies low over a hay field.

Eastern Meadowlark (FF): SPRING-OF-THE-YEAR – a slow, clear, slurred whistle that carries surprisingly far.

Killdeer (FF):  KILL-DEEEEER or KEE-DEE – a high, strident song, often given in flight.

Ovenbird (F): t-CHER-t-CHER-t-CHER-t-CHER-t-CHER! – a loud, ringing, series of two-syllable “teacher” notes repeated quickly and accented on the second syllable.

 

 

Veery (F): VER-VEER-VEER-VEER-VEER- a smooth, calming series of fluty, ethereal notes that spiral downward.

Red-eyed Vireo (F):  LOOK-UP, OVER-HERE, SEE-MEE, UP-HERE… – a series of simple, whistled, robin-like phrases, repeated over and over and sung from tree tops both in the city and county.

Resources

Thanks to a plethora of bird apps and websites, learning bird songs and calls is easier than ever.  One of the most convenient ways is to use an app such as Merlin (free) or the Sibley eGuide to Birds. Both these apps provide a number of different songs and calls for each species. This is because there are often regional differences or “dialects” within the same species. Another wonderful resource is xeno-canto.org. This is a website at which volunteers share recordings of sounds of wild birds from  across the world. You can download the songs to your phone or computer, as well. This is something many birders do when they travel and want to have the songs handy. Instructions for doing this can be found under “Frequently Asked Questions”. If you wish to watch a given bird as it sings, try searching on YouTube.

Some people find it useful to visualize bird songs using spectrograms (sonograms). They are a visual representation of a bird’s song. If you wish to try this technique, Google “Bird Song Hero”. This is a game in which you match the song to a choice of three spectrograms. Finally, I would also recommend allaboutbirds.org which is usually the first website that comes up when you search for a given bird on line. Click on the Sounds tab. If you go to the Topics tab and select “Bird ID Skills”, there is also an excellent resource called “How to Learn Bird Songs and Calls”.

Being able to recognize bird song is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy the natural world. To the practiced ear, a chorus of bird song is like a symphony in which you recognize each of the individual instruments. Stepping out the back door or walking down a forest trail and hearing the expected birds singing in the expected locations provides a reassurance that the bird community is healthy, and the seasonal rhythms of the natural world are occurring as they should.

Climate Crisis News

              In a U.N. report released this week, we learned that up to 1 million of the Earth’s plant and animal species are at risk of extinction — and many within decades. In the Kawarthas, this will mean saying goodbye to species such as Golden-winged Warbler, Least Bittern, Eastern Wolf and Spotted Turtle. The burgeoning growth of humanity is putting the world’s biodiversity at perilous risk with alarming implications for human survival. Climate change is a major driver of the extinction crisis and is on track to become the dominant pressure on many natural systems in coming decades. It is already exacerbating the effects of overfishing, pesticide use, pollution and both urban and agricultural expansion into the natural world. Sustained public pressure on politicians for enlightened climate action is absolutely necessary. The Ford government’s environmental policies are the antithesis of enlightened action. It’s heart-wrenching to think that the so many of the wild animals in the bedtime stories we read to our children and grandchildren will soon be gone.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 032019
 

The flowers of our common trees are an under-appreciated element of spring’s beauty

A beautiful spectacle unfolds above our heads each spring. The lengthening days and increasing warmth are stirring flower buds that have lain dormant through the long winter months. Where only weeks ago there were just bare branches, the flowers of many of our most common trees now punctuating the landscape and offering up a gentle array of colours and shapes. As the flowers open, tree crowns take on a hazy, pastel appearance, announcing the long-awaited change of season. Make a point this spring of looking up and appreciating this blossom parade that can easily go unnoticed.

Flower parts 101

Like the annuals and perennials in our gardens, all trees produce flowers. Their raison d’etre, of course, is to produce seed to assure future generations. Flowers, however, vary in their configuration and can’t be fully appreciated without knowing the various parts. This might require reacquainting yourself with some special vocabulary. Let’s start with a typical or “perfect” (hermaphroditic) flower, such as those of a cherry or apple tree. A typical flower has both male and female reproductive organs together in the same structure. The female part is the pistil, which is usually located in the center of the flower and rises above the male parts. The pistil consists of the stigma (the sticky, widened top), the style (the long tube holding up the stigma) and the ovary, which is hidden at the base of the style. The ovary contains the female egg cells called ovules.

The male parts are called stamens and usually surround the pistil on all sides. The stamen is made up of the anther (the widened, pollen-producing top) and the filament, which is the stem of the anther. When a flower is pollinated (fertilized), pollen adheres to the stigma, and a tube grows down the style and enters the ovary. Male reproductive cells travel down the tube and fertilize the ovule, which then becomes a seed. The ovary becomes a fleshy fruit. Remember this the next time you eat an apple, because you are actually eating an apple flower’s enlarged ovary. Because insect activity is so unpredictable during the often-cool days of April and early May, most early‑flowering trees depend primarily on the wind to spread their pollen.

Not all flowers are “perfect”, however. Flowers may also be unisexually male and only bear pollen-producing stamens (staminate flowers) or unisexually female and only bear seed-producing pistils (pistillate flowers). Unisexual flowers often appear in long, caterpillar‑like structures called catkins. Each catkin contains dozens of individual flowers – all male or all female. Think of a cob of corn and each tiny flower as one kernel on the cob. Some common trees with catkins include willows, poplars, aspens, alders, and oaks.

The parts of a flower (Drawing by Judy Hyland)

Male catkins of Speckled Alder – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because catkins are easily jostled by the breeze, they are a superb adaptation to wind pollination. Let’s take the example of the Speckled Alder, whose catkins light up local wetlands. In the warm April sunshine, they swell into eight-centimetre-long purple, red and yellow garlands, releasing their pollen in golden puffs when disturbed. The female flowers are nestled in small, erect catkins that become cone‑like in appearance when the seeds are ripe.

One house or two?

Like human sexuality, the sex of trees – male, female or both – is complicated. Some species have separate male and female flowers on each individual tree. That is, one branch or twig might male flowers and another have female flowers. These species, along with species possessing the more typical “male and female together” flowers (a.k.a. perfect flowers) are referred to as monoecious (from the Greek, in one house).

However, there are also plants like willows, poplars, aspens, hollies, and Manitoba Maples that have separate sexes, just as animals do. They have male flowers on male plants and female flowers on female plants. These species are called dioecious (in two houses). This means that female trees can only produce fertile seeds if there is a male nearby. Hollies are an example that gardeners are familiar with. An individual holly is either male or female and produces either functionally male flowers or functionally female flowers. The word “functional” is important here, because sterile, reduced-in-size, non-functional flower parts of the opposite sex are present in both the male and female flowers of hollies.

Even within the monoecious/dioecious framework, there are exceptions. In the case of Red Maples, for example, some individual trees are monoecious, and others are dioecious. Under certain conditions an individual Red Maple can even switch from male to female, male to hermaphroditic (perfect flowers), and hermaphroditic to female.

The flowering calendar

Trees and shrubs flower in reliable order each spring. With climate change, however, the dates have tended to become earlier on average.

Late March: Silver Maple, poplars, aspens; Early April: Red Maple, Speckled Alder, Pussy Willow;

Mid-April: American Elm; Late-April: Manitoba Maple, White Birch; Early May: Serviceberry (Juneberry); Mid-May: Sugar Maple, Norway Maple, Common Lilac, Pin Cherry, apples;  Late May: Striped Maple, White Ash, Chokecherry; Early June: Bur Oak, Red Oak, American Beech; Mid-June: Black Locust, Black Cherry, Black Walnut; Late June: Catalpa, Small-leaved Linden; Early July: American Basswood

The maples

Each spring, I like to pay special attention to the flowers on maples. The Silver Maple is the first of this genus to blossom, with flowers often appearing as early as March. The fat, bright clusters of red flower buds produce either male flowers with dainty yellow stamens or female flowers with reddish pistils. When the male flowers are ripe with pollen, the whole twig looks yellow. Twigs with female flowers appear all red when the pistils appear.

In early April, Red Maples have their turn. The profusion of tiny, red flowers against the tree’s smooth gray bark is one of spring’s loveliest sights. The flowers have small, red petals, which hang in tassels. The Red Maple wears its name proudly, because all the tree’s interesting features are indeed red: the winter twigs and buds, the spring flowers, the leafstalk and, in male trees especially, the fall foliage. In the Kawarthas, Red Maples are primarily a Shield species. Both Red and Silver Maples attract bees on warm spring days, thanks to their offering of pollen and nectar. They are also pollinated by the wind, however.

A cluster of male flowers (L) from a Sugar Maple. Three female flowers, each with two long styles, can be seen at the bottom on the cluster on the right. (Drew Monkman)

Another member of the maple clan to flower in April is the Manitoba Maple, a somewhat aberrant member of the genus. Not only does it have ash‑like, compound leaves, but the seed flowers and pollen flowers appear on separate trees. This is a very common species of urban areas, taking root in some of the most inhospitable sites imaginable

In the next couple of weeks, Sugar Maples will be flowering. To the trained eye, blooming Sugar Maples are one of the most conspicuous trees in both the urban and rural landscape. The trees glow in a garb of pale yellow-green as countless, long-stalked clusters of flowers hang from the twigs. At a glance, the floral display might be mistaken for leaf-out, but the leaves have usually only begun to emerge when Sugar Maples are in full flower.

The male and female flowers of Sugar Maples can appear on separate trees, on separate branches of the same tree, or even on the same branch in the same tree in the same cluster. There are no petals on the flowers. Clusters of male flowers are 7-10 centimetres long with hairy stalks. Each cluster has 8-14 individual flowers. At the end of each stalk is a bell-shaped, yellow-green calyx. Six to eight stamens extend just beyond the calyx. Most of the flowers low on the tree are male.

Female flowers appear in shorter clusters, measuring only 2-5 centimetres in length. The pistil has two curved styles, which protrude from the calyx. Female flowers are most common higher up in the tree. Within a week or so, the male flowers fall to the ground, leaving a yellow confetti on sidewalks and roads. Female flowers, of course, develop into paired keys, which spin to the ground in late summer.

Norway Maples, which also bloom in mid-May on average, also deserve a close look. The flower clusters resemble giant, lime-green pompoms. The leaves and flowers emerge simultaneously. Unlike the Sugar Maple, the flower clusters are erect, and each flower has five petals. Male flowers are composed of eight fertile stamens, while female flowers have eight sterile stamens and a long green pistil, which splits into a pair of curved styles.

The flower clusters of Norway Maples, sometimes resemble giant, lime-green pompoms. Drew Monkman

I encourage readers to take some time this month to look more closely at tree flowers. It’s fun to try to see all the floral parts and to determine whether the flower is male, female or a perfect flower combining both. Try to follow the progression on female flowers from blossom all the way to seed, maybe capturing the development with your camera.  Nature reveals so much more when you take time to really pay attention.

 

 

 

 

Arguments for Climate Action

              When talking about climate change with friends and family, remind them that a majority of Canadians in every province, except for Alberta and Saskatchewan, are in favour of a carbon tax.  A majority also believes that government must lead the climate effort and that individual action won’t be enough. When people say, “Well, what can I do?”, the answer is simple: support strong government action. In addition to a carbon tax, this includes phasing out coal and implementing stronger regulations like more aggressive clean fuel standards. Point out that 70 percent of Canada’s emissions are industry-related. All these initiatives, of course, involve costs to taxpayers – either transparent at the gas pump or hidden when it comes to regulations affecting industry – so paying these costs is “what you can do”.