May 312017

Did you, as a kid, see Hitchcock’s “The Birds”? We our having a “Birds” experience ourselves. The Ruffed Grouse at the cottage that began following us (and our dog, Toby) around last summer has turned nasty! A day or so ago, he started by fluttering at Toby’s head from point blank range. Next, he whacked Sandy from behind. He then whacked me from behind twice; the second time was from a long distance – he really dive bombed me. I can tell you it is a surprise when a grouse swoops in unbeknownst and hits the back of your head! Then, last evening, Sandy sat down in the sun room and the bird tried to get at her head, but luckily the storm window intervened. This guy is demented.

We have chased him, pushed him with long sticks, and he just walks away, but then returns immediately.

It may be necessary to relocate him. If he gets close enough, I think I can throw a cardboard box over him and take him for a looooooong drive. Do you want us to bring him to your home in Peterborough?

Rob and Sandy Moos, Parry Sound

Ruffed Grouse – Parry Sound – via Rob Moos

Jan 192017

Between mid-December and early January, birders in over 2000 localities across North, Central and South America took a break from the holiday festivities to spend a day outside, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, the Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running Citizen Science projects in the world. The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data. The data are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds. The counts are organized at the local level, often by a birding club or naturalist organization.

The count area is always a circle, measuring 24 kilometres in diameter. The circle is then sub-divided into sectors, each of which is covered by a group of birders. This involves driving as many of the roads in the sector as possible and walking or skiing into off-road areas of different habitat types. The basic idea is to identify and count – as accurately as possible – every bird seen or heard.

Once again this year, two counts took place locally – one centred in Peterborough and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park. Martin Parker of the Peterborough Field Naturalists organized the Peterborough count, while Colin Jones compiled the Petroglyphs count.

Peterborough Count

The 65th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 18 under cold but sunny conditions. Forty-one members and friends of the Peterborough Field Naturalists spent all or part of the day in the field, while seven others kept track of birds visiting their feeders. One observer was also out before dawn listening for owls.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds – male at upper right – Wikimedia

By the end of the day, participants found 13,860 individual birds, which is a new high. A total of 59 species was recorded. There were two new species for the count, a Horned Grebe and two Eastern Bluebirds. The grebe was found on the Otonabee River at Millennium Park, while the bluebirds turned up near the intersection of the Lang-Hastings Trans Canada Trail and County Road 35. The grebe and bluebirds bring the total number of species found on the count its 65-year history to 130.

The biggest story of this year’s count, however, was the huge number of American Robins. These birds clearly missed the memo that it was time to migrate! The 1,943 robins recorded more than doubled the previous high of 759 tallied in 2011. Observers described seeing flock after flock of robins flying across roads and fields to thickets full of wild grape – a favourite winter food and the main reason why so many robins took a pass on flying any further south. If the birds can get enough to eat, cold is not a problem. It will be interesting to see if there is sufficient food to keep the robins remain here until spring.

Record highs were also tallied for Bald Eagles (5), Eastern Screech Owls (4),   American Crows (953), White-breasted Nuthatches (120), and Dark-eyed Juncos (543). Previous highs were tied for Sharp-shinned Hawks (5) and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (8).

Three rarely seen species also turned up, namely a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Snow Goose and a Brown Thrasher. This was only the second time the latter two species have ever been found on the count. Thrashers are usually in Louisiana at this time of year!

American Robin in mountain-ash March 2014 – Jeff Keller

As is the case every year, there were also some notable low numbers. For instance, observers only found only 71 Canada Geese. This was because cold weather just before the count had reduced the amount of open water. As has been the pattern in recent years, the number of Great Horned Owls (1) and Ruffed Grouse (2) was also very low. To put this into context, 82 grouse were recorded in 1979. It is well known, however, that grouse numbers fluctuate a great deal from year to year and even decade to decade. The factors responsible for these periodic fluctuations remain poorly understood. As for Great Horned Owls, the Canadian population has declined by over 70% since the 1960s.

The overall data for the Peterborough count is as follows: Snow Goose 1, Canada Goose 71,  American Black Duck 5, Mallard 1006, Long-tailed Duck 1, Bufflehead 1, Common Goldeneye 95, Hooded Merganser 2, Common Merganser 1, Ruffed Grouse 2, Wild Turkey 88, Horned Grebe 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk  5, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Northern Goshawk 2, Bald Eagle 5, Red-tailed Hawk 25, Rough-legged Hawk 2, Ring-billed Gull 71, Herring Gull 131, Lesser Black-backed Gull 1, Great Black-backed Gull 1, Rock Pigeon 1006, Mourning Dove 515, Eastern Screech-Owl 4, Great Horned Owl 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker 8, Downy Woodpecker 64, Hairy Woodpecker 40, Northern Flicker 5, Pileated Woodpecker 7, Merlin 2, Peregrine 1, Northern Shrike 3, Blue Jay 261, American Crow 953, Common Raven 29, Black-capped Chickadee 1722, Red-breasted Nuthatch 15, White-breasted Nuthatch 120, Brown Creeper 6, Eastern Bluebird 2, American Robin 1943, Brown Thrasher 1, European Starling 2674, Bohemian Waxwing 4, Cedar Waxwing 220, Snow Bunting 1010, American Tree Sparrow 344, Dark-eyed Junco 543, White-throated Sparrow 2,  Northern Cardinal 104, Brown-headed Cowbird 1,  House Finch 44, Purple Finch 1, American Goldfinch 533, and House Sparrow 147.

Petroglyph Count

The 31st Petroglyph Christmas Bird Count took place on December 27, in less than favourable weather conditions. The day was dull and overcast with strong winds and intermittent periods of light snow and freezing drizzle. The strong winds made listening difficult for the 24 participants. A successful Christmas bird count depends not only on seeing the birds but also on hearing them. Calm days are therefore best. Only 28 species were found, which is six lower than the 10-year average. The number of individual birds (1937) was also below average.

Although no new species were recorded, there were some notable sightings. A record 318 Bohemian Waxwings was more than four times the previous high of 76. A Cooper’s Hawk was recorded for only the fourth time on the count, and a Rough-legged Hawk turned up for only the sixth time. The 11 American Robins counted was only two shy of the previous high.

Bohemian Waxwing (Karl Egressy)

As for low counts, only six Ruffed Grouse were recorded. This is well below the 10-year average of 22 and the count high of 77. Blue Jay numbers were down, too, with only 74 putting in an appearance. The 10-year average is 271, and count high is 653. A poor acorn crop probably explains the Blue Jay’s relative scarcity. Most jays simply chose to migrate south this year in search of more abundant food. Numbers of Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Golden-crowned Kinglets were also much lower than average.

A worrisome miss was the Gray Jay. A pair was visiting a feeder just before the count but was not present on count day. An average of five birds was recorded every year up until 2009. Since then, however, they have only been tallied once on the day of the count. Gray Jays are one of many species that are expected to decrease in number as the climate warms, especially at the southern edge of their range such as here in the Kawarthas.

No Barred Owls were found this year, either. This very vocal species had been recorded every year since 1995 except for 2012 and this year. With the exception of reasonably good numbers of American Goldfinch (326) and Evening Grosbeaks (44), no other finches were found.

The overall data for the Petroglyph count is as follows: Ruffed Grouse 6, Wild Turkey 43,  Bald Eagle 5, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Rough-legged Hawk 1, Rock Pigeon 34, Mourning Dove 5, Downy Woodpecker 23, Hairy Woodpecker 25, Pileated Woodpecker 4, Northern Shrike 1, Blue Jay 74, American Crow 10, Common Raven 65, Black-capped Chickadee 676, Red-breasted Nuthatch 32, White-breasted Nuthatch 92, Brown Creeper 24, Golden-crowned Kinglet 4, American Robin 11, European Starling 45, Bohemian Waxwing 318, American Tree Sparrow 22, Dark-eyed Junco 19,  Snow Bunting 26,  American Goldfinch 326, and Evening Grosbeak 44.  A Gray Jay was also seen during the count period but not on the day of the count.

Ruffed Grouse – Parry Sound – via Rob Moos

Kids Count

In order to help young people develop an interest in birding, the third annual Junior Christmas Bird Count (CBC 4Kids) also took place on the same day as the Peterborough count. Organized by Lara Griffin, the Peterborough Field Naturalist Juniors scoured the grounds and nearby trails of the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre on Pioneer Road. The birds they found were added to the Peterborough count data. The junior event incorporates many of the same features as the adult version. However, it is far less rigorous and designed more like a game.

Great Backyard Bird Count

If you are interested in contributing to Citizen Science and maybe introducing your children or grandchildren to birding, consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This year, it is taking place February 17-20. The GBBC engages bird watchers of all levels of expertise to create a real-time snapshot of the whereabouts and relative abundance of birds in mid-winter. Anyone can participate. Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world! Go to for details.



Nov 202016

I told you about the “friendly” Ruffed Grouse at our cottage near Parry Sound. Apparently the bird was following neighbours around too. Our dog almost got him several times, despite being on leash, because the grouse would fly after us when we were walking around and land closely. Attached is a photo taken by our next door neighbor from about 3 feet away!

Rob Moos

Ruffed Grouse - Parry Sound - via Rob Moos

Ruffed Grouse – Parry Sound – via Rob Moos

Jul 292016
Cardinal Flower - August 3, 2016 - Big Gull Lake - Elaine Monkman

Cardinal Flower – August 3, 2016 – Big Gull Lake – Elaine Monkman

Here are some sightings of interest from this past week (July 25 – 31, 2016)) at my brother’s cottage on Big Gull Lake, south of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

  1. Family group of Cooper’s Hawks. Two or three very vocal juveniles, “whistling” loudly. As big as adults.
  2. A covey of 8 Ruffed Grouse, almost adult size.
  3. A Hummingbird Clearwing Moth on the petunias at the dock.
  4. A “convocation” of five, non-breeding Common Loons on the lake.
  5. A larval Blue-spotted Salamander, which was still showing gills behind the head. Was in a backwater section of shoreline, protected from waves by a large fallen log.
  6. Several Dragonhunter dragonflies.
  7. Numerous Red-eyed Vireos (probably young ones) on cottage property.
  8. Two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at nectar feeder.
  9. Cardinal flowers in bloom along shoreline.
  10. Bird song: Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Pine Warbler

Drew Monkman

juvenile Cooper's Hawk - Linda Easton

juvenile Cooper’s Hawk – Linda Easton

Nov 292014

I know nothing about Ruffled Grouse but thought you might like this story. Monday was a nice warm day and we worked outside all day decorating pots and putting up the Christmas lights. Around noon I wanted to go to clip some more branches that I see on my morning walks which are not on anyone’s property. Peter pulled the car into a clearing and I got out to go into the woods. I kept hearing this soft noise but couldn’t see anything until some movement caught my eye. It was a grouse. I spoke softly to it and it came closer and closer…so very camouflaged in the leaves.  I didn’t make any sudden movements and continued to speak to it. When I decided to walk down into the woods further – about 30 feet – it followed me, and when I turned around to come back, it came back with me. We took some pics with Peter’s cell phone.

I went up today to the same spot with some corn, nuts, and sunflower seeds – not really knowing what to give it – and it was still there. It gladly ate the corn but left the food to follow me again and back.. I call it “Pretty Boy” but don’t know if its male or female  Do  you know anything about them? It seems so tame and friendly and now I want to go up to see him all the time. I feel so privileged. My husband is calling me the “bird whisperer!”

Jennie Gulliver

Note from Drew Monkman:  For  reasons that are not completely clear, some grouse lose or never develop a fear of humans and will walk right up to you. This seems to occur mostly in the fall. Fall is also called their “crazy season,” because they will often fly into all manner of objects: garage doors, windows, badminton nets, etc. These may be inexperienced young grouse leaving the family group to establish their own separate territory. Clearly, some are not the greatest navigators!

Here is an explanation for the tame behavior that I was able to find on-line. “Actually this is not as rare of an occurrence as you might think,” said Gary Zimmer, the Ruffed Grouse Society’s biologist in Wisconsin.  “I get reports of ‘tame’ ruffed grouse each year across their range and have seen three individual birds exhibit this ‘strange’ behavior myself.”  Several factors associated with grouse make this possible, he said:

• Male grouse in particular are mostly solitary individuals at least once they seek out and set up their small territory, which usually covers 6-12 acres.

• Ruffed grouse are notably territorial birds that challenge intruders.

• They often let other males know they “own” the area by doing their drumming sound at various times of the year.

• Hearing the drumming sound stimulates an established grouse to come out and protect its territory. Most of the “tame” birds have responded to a sound that is close to the drumming sound, such as the noise from an ATV, chain saw or old truck with a bad muffler.

“We assume the drumming-like noise elicits a response by the male grouse to go and confront this intruder,” Zimmer said. ”When he finds its not a competing grouse he checks things out. As long as he isn’t shot (and eaten), he might adopt a new buddy to escort around his territory.

“The birds I’ve encountered would only follow me to certain spots, which I suspected was the edge of their territories, and then they’d leave.

“Also most of the birds that exhibit this behavior have been males, and that would make sense as males are more territorial than females.”

Andy Weik, Ruffed Grouse Society regional wildlife biologist for New England, also said he hears numerous cases of ruffed grouse forming bonds with humans each year.

He suspects that the grouse drop their guard after the first territorial standoffs simply because humans walk upright, as do grouse.

“I haven’t noticed grouse acting this way toward four-legged animals, such as a fox or fisher – probably because it would end badly quickly for the grouse,” he said.


Pretty Boy eating corn

Pretty Boy eating corn

"Pretty Boy," the Ruffed Grouse - Peter Gulliver

“Pretty Boy,” the Ruffed Grouse – Peter Gulliver

"Pretty Boy," the Ruffed Grouse - Peter Gulliver

“Pretty Boy,” the Ruffed Grouse – Peter Gulliver

Oct 012014

If you are walking along the Trans-Canada Trail near Lily Lake, keep an eye out for a Ruffed Grouse, almost acting like a ‘tame chicken’ –  on the main path between the pedestrian bridge to the new housing development and the Lily Lake bridge.  My son Greg and I saw it on the path yesterday at about 5 pm as it watched 2 runners go by. Then it (finally) went into the bush as a man with a dog passed. It came out of the bush again to see us and walked around our legs for quite awhile but didn’t seem to be expecting a handout.

Shelley Marchand, Peterborough

NOTE: For largely unknown reasons, some grouse lose or never develop a fear of humans and will walk right up to you.  This time of year is also called their “crazy season” because they will often fly into all manner of objects: garage doors, windows, badminton nets, etc. These may be inexperienced young grouse leaving the family group to establish their own separate territory. Clearly, some are not the greatest navigators! D.M.

Tame Ruffed Grouse approaching Rob Welsh near Stony Lake

Tame Ruffed Grouse approaching Rob Welsh near Stony Lake