Feb 012018
 

Abundant Wild Turkeys entertain rural residents with their interesting behaviours.

It was a blockbuster trade for the ages. However, it wasn’t athletes that were shuffled around. It was wildlife. In 1984, Ontario sent River Otters to Missouri, Ruffed Grouse to New York and Moose to Michigan in exchange for 274 Wild Turkeys from all three states.

The last native Wild Turkey disappeared from Ontario more than 100 years ago. Habitat loss and unregulated hunting did them in. There were many attempts at reintroduction, including at least one in the 1960s with turkeys from Pennsylvania. It was spearheaded by ‘Turkey Jack’ Davis, a well-known outdoors writer who later moved to Peterborough. His daughter, Wendy, remembers a “garage full of turkeys” at their Port Credit home. These early attempts were never successful, unfortunately, because they used captivity-raised birds, which couldn’t adapt to life in the wild. However, thanks to the wide genetic spectrum of the turkeys acquired in 1984, this reintroduction was an astounding success.

Bearded hen & tom Wild Turkey – April 8, 2017 – Doug Gibson

Since then, Ontario’s turkey population has skyrocketed to about 100,000 birds. Most remarkably, they now range as far north as Algonquin Park and Sudbury, which is likely outside their historical range. Initially, there were fears that the climate would be too harsh, but the resilient turkeys proved the biologists wrong.

Catching the wild American birds was made possible by the development of a Howitzer-propelled net – a technology still used today. Jennifer Baici, a PhD student at Trent University who studies Wild Turkey social structure and behaviour, describes how the trapping works.” We begin by finding a flock and learning its schedule. This includes noting when the birds typically leave the roost, the path that they take throughout the day and what time they tuck in for the night. Turkeys are highly predictable in the winter, so we can make a plan about how to bait them. This involves intercepting their daily path with a ‘bait line’ of corn. We extend this line out into the middle of a field where we put down a large pile of corn. Once the flock is visiting the bait at roughly the same time each day, we set up a camouflaged net and wait for the turkeys to arrive. Although these birds are usually quite predictable, they still surprise us by occasionally sleeping in way later than expected!” To see a 10-second video of turkey trapping in action, click HERE.

A bird we notice

In researching this article, I contacted a number of people living out in Peterborough County for any turkey anecdotes they might have. As we’ll see, everyone had numerous stories. I should note, too, that turkeys often show up right in Peterborough.

Wild Turkeys are a striking bird. They have iridescent bronze-green feathers and bare skin on the head and neck, which can vary from to red to blue-grey. The bare skin probably plays a role in heat dissipation, since turkeys are essentially southern birds where hot weather is a challenge. Males – and very occasionally females – also have a bristly “beard” made of modified feathers that extend off the chest. Its purpose is poorly understood, but it may play a role in mate selection by the female.

Wild Turkeys in front of barn on Chemong Road at 3rd Line – Wasyl Bakowsky

In early spring, the toms (males) gather in clearings to perform courtship displays. They strut about gobbling with hormone-charged exuberance. Annamarie Beckel, who lives just south of Lakefield, has had a front row seat to the spectacle. “We woke up one May morning to find a tom and about six hens in our front yard. The hens were browsing in the grass, while the tom was displaying for all he was worth – the fully fanned tail, the fluffed up feathers and the dropped wing. The hens, of course, appeared to ignore him!”

The hens nest in hedgerows, along the edge of woodlots and sometimes in hayfields. The birds stay in family groups most of the summer. Sometimes two or three hens and their broods will join together. Winter flocks, however, are the largest. On average, a flock contains 25-50 birds, but sometimes there are many more. “In winter, we’ve seen large flocks of 100 or more in neighbouring fields,” says David Frank, who lives on Stewart Line near Cavan.

Wild Turkey nest (Marie Adamcryck – Bailieboro)

Turkeys are well-established north of Peterborough, too. Dennis and Lynn Johnson, who live on the north shore of Stony Lake, have been noticing them for at least 12 years. Across the lake on Dodsworth Island, Rob Welsh sees them there, too. “In winter, they parade between islands in more or less single file – a comical sight!”
At dusk, turkeys fly up into trees to roost for the night. For several years, Tim Dyson watched a flock that roosts in trees west of the junction of Preston Road and Fire Route 23 near his former home at Belmont Lake. One night he counted 118 turkeys lining the branches.

 

Diet

Turkeys eat just about everything. This includes acorns, beech nuts, hickory nuts, fruit, insects, worms, snails and even amphibians. Tom Northey of Little Britain told me of a hunter friend who was cleaning a bird and found Leopard Frogs in its crop. They will also eat crops such as wheat and corn, which does not go over well with farmers.

Turkeys can also turn up at backyard feeders. Dyson recalls a behaviour he dubbed the ‘Kenturkey Derby’. “The birds would see me go outside with a tub of bird seed. After I went back in the house, they would come running from 100 metres across the field to gorge themselves.” Dennis and Lyn Johnson’s Stony Lake birds will come right up and practically eat out of their hands.

Unfortunately, the turkey’s taste in foods can become problematic. Dennis explains. “Last year, my wife Lynn made her usual fall/winter outdoor pots of greenery. Included in the arrangement were several sumac heads. We’d never seen them eating sumac in the wild, but they sure enjoyed eating them from Lynn’s arrangement. After replenishing the sumac three or four times, Lynn decided that the turkeys could go down the road and get their own!”

Wild Turkeys at Armour Road condominiums (Betty Mitchell)

 

Predators

An abundance of nutritious turkey meat has not gone unnoticed by predators. Several people I emailed have seen coyotes stalking the birds. Raptors, too, are getting in on the action. Rick Stankiewicz of Keene writes, “On the edge of an open field at daybreak, I watched as a Great Horned Owl attacked and tried to fly off with a turkey decoy!” Tom Northey saw a Northern Harrier grab one in a hayfield, and this past fall his daughter came across a Bald Eagle eating a turkey.

Tim Dyson watched a female Northern Goshawk attack one of eight wild turkeys as they fed on scattered seed behind a house. “Once the hawk had seized the much heavier turkey by the rump, the other turkeys quickly surrounded the two and put on a rather aggressive display by spreading their tails and dragging their wings in an manner not unlike their courtship display. This intimidation seemed to work, since the hawk soon released her grip and sped off. The turkey fared well – only minus a few feathers!”

The interplay between turkeys and competitors for food is also interesting. Rick Stankiewicz has seen numerous interactions between turkeys and White-tailed Deer.” They always seem curious and tolerant of each other, but not in a friendly or playful way.” Trent’s Jennifer Baici also has an interest in these interactions. She is studying flocks of turkeys that congregate with groups of deer and hopes to learn more about the social dynamics between the two.

Turkeys and geese also interact in curious ways. Laura Summerfeldt, who lives near Keene, writes: “A few years ago in late autumn, we saw an extraordinary spectacle. A flock of Canada Geese had settled in the corn field adjacent to our house. The resident flock of a dozen or so turkeys withdrew to the hedgerow. The geese stayed on. The next afternoon we happened to be watching and observed that the turkeys “rallied” and en masse CHARGED the flock of geese in an organized manner. With wings outspread, they ran across the field in a line. Truly, it was like a cavalry charge. They drove the geese to the far end of the field and then resumed feeding!”

Wild Turkeys at Dodsworth Island – Feb. 2017- Rob Welsh

Hunting

Thanks to their abundance, there is now both a spring and fall turkey hunt. In the spring, only males can be targeted. This puts less pressure on the population, since the toms are highly polygamous and can impregnate up to 15 hens. Hunting turkeys is not easy, however. Turkeys are extremely wary and have excellent eyesight and hearing. The success rate for both seasons is only one bird for every three hunters. For hunters who are successful, the meat is delicious and close to domestic turkey in taste.

Population study

Part of Jennifer Baici’s research is to investigate the usefulness of citizen science platforms such as eBird and iNaturalist in estimating turkey population size. This winter, she is running a pilot project in Peterborough County and is requesting turkey sightings that fall between December 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. This can be done either by adding observations to eBird or by submitting photos of any flocks seen to the Peterborough Wild Turkey Count project on iNaturalist. You will need to sign up for the project first. Be sure to include where you saw the birds and how many there were. Eventually, Jennifer hopes to expand the project and explore whether citizen science platforms can be applied to estimate Wild Turkey population size for larger areas, such as the province of Ontario – so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 302017
 

Expect a lot of snow and a ‘classic Canadian winter’

In my fall nature almanac, I had the temerity to predict that the sunshine and cool temperatures of early September would lead to extraordinary leaf colour. Well, I sure got that wrong. In fact, this fall’s colour show was one of the worst in recent memory – especially for sugar maples, which are a dominant tree species in the Kawarthas. From all accounts, the reason for the poor display was the intense heat that soon arrived and lasted until the end of October. With average temperatures about three degrees above normal and near-drought conditions, the intense reds, oranges and yellows never materialized. Yellow and brown leaves dominated the landscape and many leaves fell early. As a result of climate change, warmer temperatures are expected to delay the onset of peak colours in future years and shorten the colour season as a whole. When temperatures are as extreme as they were this year, duller colours are likely to be the norm, as well.

Looking ahead to winter, the forecast right now is for more snow than usual – a “classic Canadian winter” in the words of The Weather Network. La Nina conditions in the equatorial Pacific are expected to affect the weather pattern across North America in the coming months. La Niña is a large-scale climate pattern associated with cooler than normal water surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña often results in greater precipitation in eastern Canada. That being said, the winter is not expected to be unusually cold.

As a reminder of what to watch for in nature in the coming months, I have prepared the following list of highlights.

DECEMBER

·        A large incursion of snowy owls is possible this winter, maybe similar to 2013-14. Several birds have already been seen locally, including one at the Peterborough Airport. Snowy owls are usually observed in fields, where they perch on knolls, fences and hay bales.

·        Last winter, record numbers of American robins overwintered in the Kawarthas, thanks mostly to a huge crop of wild grape. This year’s grape crop is quite small, however, so far fewer robins are likely to remain. Those that do stay might be attracted to the abundant berries on eastern red cedars and winterberry hollies.

·        Keep an eye out for wild turkeys. Their large, dark bodies are easy to spot in winter, as flocks feed in fields. Jenn Baici, a PhD student at Trent University, is studying these birds and would love your help. If you see wild turkeys, please submit your sighting at eBird.org. You can also share a photo of the flock at the Peterborough Wild Turkey Count project on iNaturalist.org. Just be sure to include the location and number of turkeys observed. Using this data, Jenn hopes to estimate the size of Peterborough County’s wild turkey population.

·        Throughout the late fall and winter, gray squirrels are often seen high up in maples feeding on the keys.

·        Ducks lingering on lakes until freeze-up may include common goldeneye, buffleheads and both common and hooded mergansers  A small number of common loons, mostly young-of-the-year birds, remain until the ice comes, as well.

·        The early morning hours of December 13 and 14 are the peak viewing times for the Geminids meteor shower, which is the most consistently good meteor display of the year.

·        Before too much snow falls, take time to walk around the edge of wetlands to look for interesting ice formations such. These include ice crystals imitating stalagmites. Leaves, sticks, and bubbles frozen in the ice can also be intriguing.

·        Welcome to the “dark turn of the year.” Daylight this month averages only about 8 ¾ hours. Compare this to 15 ½ hours in June – a difference of nearly seven hours!

·        Balsam fir makes the perfect Christmas tree. I love its symmetrical shape, long-lasting needles and wonderful fragrance.

·        From December 14 to January 5, Christmas Bird Counts take place across North America. The counts data reflect trends in bird populations. The 66th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 17, while the Petroglyphs Count is scheduled for Wednesday, December 27. Birders of all levels of experience are welcome to participate. For more information, contact Martin Parker (mparker19@cogeco.ca) for the Peterborough Count and Colin Jones (cdjonesmclark@gmail.com) for the Petroglyph Count.

·        Thursday, December 21, marks the winter solstice and the first day of winter. The tilting of the Earth away from the sun also produces the longest night of the year. The sun rises and sets at its southernmost points on the eastern and western horizons.

·        Watch for common redpolls and pine siskins at your nyger-seed feeder. There is a good possibility that both species will turn up this winter. Keep an eye on the tops of your spruce trees, too, for flocks of white-winged and red crossbills. They love to eat the seeds hidden in the cones, and this year’s cone crop is huge!

JANUARY

·         Even though the days grow longer after the solstice, they begin to do so very slowly. In fact, in the first week of January, sunrise is later than at any other time of the year. The sun doesn’t peak over the horizon until 7:49 a.m. Compare this to June 20 when the sun rises at 5:29 a.m.

·        Watch for ruffed grouse at dawn and dusk along tree-lined country roads. The birds often appear in silhouette as they feed on buds such as those of trembling aspen.

·        Small numbers of common goldeneyes and common mergansers can be seen all winter long on the Otonabee River, at Young’s Point and at Gannon Narrows.

·        Coyotes are quite vocal during their January to March mating season.

·        If you’re walking in the woods, you’ll notice that some of the smaller trees have retained many of their leaves. These are usually beech, oak, or ironwood.

·        Honeybees are the only insects to maintain an elevated body temperature all winter. They accomplish this by clustering together in a thick ball within the hive, vibrating their wings to provide heat and eating stored honey for the necessary energy.

·        Barred owls sometimes show up in rural and suburban backyards, where they prey on feeder birds or mice and voles that are attracted at night by fallen seeds.

·        In late January, black bears give birth to cubs no larger than chipmunks. Generally, two cubs are born.

FEBRUARY

·        We begin the month with about 9 ¾ hours of daylight and end with 11, a gain of about 75 minutes. The lengthening days are most notable in the afternoon.

·        Groundhog Day, February 2, marks the mid-point of winter. However, our groundhogs won’t see their shadow – or light of day, for that matter – until mid-March at the earliest. In case you were wondering, no animal or plant behaviour can portend upcoming weather beyond a few hours.

·        Although tentative at first, bird song returns in February as pair bonds are established or renewed. Black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, and white-breasted nuthatches are several of the birds that usually start singing this month.

·        Gray squirrels mate in January or February and can often be seen streaming by in treetop chases as a group of males chases a half-terrorized female. Amazing acrobatics are usually part of the show.

·        The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place Friday, February 16, through Monday, February 19. This citizen science event 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. Go to www.birdcount.org for details.

·        The male common goldeneye puts on an elaborate courtship display in late winter. He thrusts his head forward and then moves it back towards his rump. With his bill pointing skyward, he utters a squeaky call.

·        On mild, sunny, late winter days, check the snow along the edge of woodland trails for snow fleas. What looks like spilled pepper may begin to jump around right before your eyes!

·        Testosterone-charged male skunks roll out of their dens any time from mid-February to early March and go on nocturnal prowls looking for females. The smell of a skunk on a damp, late winter night is a time-honoured sign of “pre-spring.”

MARCH

·         Duck numbers increase as buffleheads and hooded mergansers start arriving.

·        Chipmunks make their first appearance above ground since late fall. They were somewhat active all winter, however, making repeated trips to their underground storehouses for food.

·        The furry catkins of pussy willows and aspens poke through bud scales and become a time-honoured sign of spring’s imminent arrival.

·        By mid-March, the first northward-bound turkey vultures are usually seen. The first songbirds, too, usually return by mid-month. In the city, the most notable new arrivals are robins and grackles. In rural areas, watch for red-winged blackbirds perched high in wetland trees.

·        For anyone paying attention, the increase in bird song is hard to miss. If you don’t already know the voices of common songsters, this is a great time to start learning them. Go to allaboutbirds.org, enter the name of the species, and click on the Sound tab.

·        Jupiter and Mars are spectacular in the early morning sky this month.

·        The spring equinox occurs on March 20 as the sun shines directly on the equator. Both the moon and sun rise due east and set due west. For the next six months, we can enjoy days that are longer than nights.

 

 

 

Nov 282017
 

I am a PhD student at Trent University studying wild turkey populations in the Peterborough area. More specifically, I study wild turkey social structure and behaviour. Part of my research is to investigate the usefulness of platforms such as eBird and iNaturalist in estimating wild turkey population size.

I am running a pilot project this winter in Peterborough County and am requesting that folks submit wild turkey sightings by either adding observations to eBird or by submitting photos of any flocks seen to the Peterborough Wild Turkey Count project on iNaturalist (you’ll need to join the project first). You can add observations on your computer by following either of the links below, or through the eBird or iNaturalist mobile apps.

eBird: http://ebird.org/

iNaturalist: https://www. inaturalist.org/projects/peterborough-wild-turkey-count

On either platform, the most important information to include is a) where you saw the wild turkey(s), and b) how many wild turkeys you saw. We are especially interested in observations submitted between December 1st, 2017 and March 31st, 2018. Eventually, I hope to expand this project and explore whether citizen science platforms can be applied to estimate wild turkey population size for larger areas, such as province of Ontario – so stay tuned! Thank you in advance for any and all wild turkey observations you’re able to contribute this winter. I am hoping to gather as many observations as possible, so please spread the word!

Happy sighting!

Jenn Baici   jenniferbaici@trentu.ca

Wild Turkeys – Wasyl Bakowsky

Oct 212017
 

Oct. 21 – Narrow-winged Tree Cricket – Rob Tonus found this very late tree cricket on the grass beside the Rotary-Greenway Trail, just south of Nichol’s Oval Park. Note the reddish cap. This species sings at only at night, producing a mellow trill of variable length (usually 2-10 seconds). It is reminiscent of an American Toad. Drew Monkman

Narrow-winged Tree Cricket (Oecanthus niveus) 2 – Nichol’s Oval – Oct. 21, 2017 – D. Monkman

 

Oct 21 – Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) (1)
– Reported Oct 21, 2017 15:44 by Warren Dunlop
– Peterborough Landfill Wetland Project ponds, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “adult, white morph”

Snow Geese (Marcel Boulay)

 

October 20 – Monarch butterfly – I saw a very late Monarch today on County Road 16 at Edenderry Line. This is my latest date ever. There were also 10 Wild Turkeys in the same field.  Drew Monkman

Monarch on Boneset flowers – Drew Monkman

Opossum:  Recently, I found the remains of an Opossum – skin still intact – in our backyard. There were a couple of tufts of skin and hair nearby, so I am thinking our neighbours cat dispatched of it but didn’t like the taste! Our neighbour, directly behind us, found one on his property (also dead) one week before. Our neighbour at the end of our sub-division (Simons)..off Simons Ave. (off Chemong Rd.) saw a live one a short time ago and another neighbour saw one as well. On another topic, we have a variety of different birds in our sub-division from time to time, including 12 American Robins or so that stay all winter for a few years now…We did have frogs and toads but the frogs have gradually disappeared from view in the last few years. The strip of woods behind our sub-division and behind McDonald’s, adjacent to our sub-division and below the hill/tower behind Sobey’s, had or have coyotes and an occasional deer or fox are spotted from these areas. Sadly, not commonly known, we will be subject to more houses taking up the 25 acres in those areas mentioned by the year 2022. We are on wells yet with no benefits…but we too will feel the loss of land and habitat, its animal inhabitants and maybe our health as well.  Gloria Lamond

An opossum photographed in Ennismore several years ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 20 – Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) (1)
– Reported Oct 20, 2017 08:02 by Iain Rayner
– Peterborough–Fairbairn Street wetland, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Calling and then finaly seen moveing through hedgerow. Well seen from close distance. Black back head and tail, rusty sides. White patch on wing and white either side of tail”

Eastern Towhee – Karl Egressy

October 17 – Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) (1)
– Reported Oct 17, 2017 20:00 by Michael Mechan
– James McLean Oliver Ecological Centre, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Dave Heuft)

October 15 – Just looked out the window and there were Chipping Sparrows everywhere. I was counting and at 18 when the White-throats came back again and I gave up. They are loving the spruce and birch seeds.    Sue Paradisis

Chipping Sparrow – Karl Egressy

 

 

October 14  – American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) (1)
– Reported Oct 14, 2017 17:23 by Amie MacDonald
– Peterborough–Loggerhead Marsh, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

American Pipit (from The Crossley ID Guide of Eastern Birds)

October 14 – Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) (3)
– Reported Oct 14, 2017 09:23 by Chris Risley
– Trent University: N. end of DNA building, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Lincoln’s Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

October 11 – Virginia Opossum

On or about this date, Hugh Kidd trapped and released a Virginia Opossum at the east end of the 7th Line of Selwyn, near the Otonabee River. Report via Leo Conlin

Opossum on Johnston Drive, south of Peterborough – Mary Beth Aspinall – Feb. 2014

Dec 072014
 

I saw a large flock of 35+ Wild Turkeys bunched up in the farm field across from the Subaru dealership on Chemong Road on the way home from groceries. I grabbed my camera when I got home and went back to take some pics. Unfortunately they had spread out by then…

Wasyl Bakowsky

Wild Turkeys - Lisa Bakowsky

Wild Turkeys – Wasyl Bakowsky