Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Migratory Birds and Other Fine Feathered Friends.

American Kestrel. Greg5030, (Wiki.)

Zach Neal

This is a wonderful time of year to observe rare and migratory birds. The other day I was out riding the bike and I heard an unusual song, one strongly reminiscent of the sparrow. I turned and saw a bird of the most intense blue, sitting on top of a small shrub. The head was black and there were no light or buffy underparts. The bird was an Indigo Bunting, which I have seen maybe three times in my life.

At a local conservation area, I saw a Green Heron. They’re not exactly rare, but it’s more common to see them canoeing on local creeks and rivers than in more developed areas.

The Osprey. Pyslexic, (Wiki.)
The Osprey in flight bears a strong resemblance to a large seagull. The shape of the wings in flight, the overall planform, is very similar. The giveaway is the quality of the blacks on the wing tips, the pattern of darks and lights, the strong-looking head and neck, and that bib of black mottling under the chin and neck.

Kingfishers are relatively common in southern Ontario, but they are never going to turn up at backyard feeders, and unless a person is already into birds, people either never notice them, or mistake them for a big blue jay. The kingfisher has a distinctive, swooping, whoop-de-doo flight path. Once you’re convinced, and the massive head and bill are good identification marks, they’re easy enough to identify in flight. Compared to a blue jay, the tail is quite short and the bill is large.

I was watching a small, undistinguished little bird. He was walking and flitting along a small creek, right at the water’s edge and for a moment I mistook it for a dipper, which is unlikely because their range is far to the west. Unable to get a good picture, I am relatively convinced that it was the Least Sandpiper, which is at least within its range. Some birds will be resident and some will keep moving on migration, some of them ending up on Arctic islands and seashores. Unlike the dipper, the sandpiper will not actually go under the surface, they’re not nearly as heavy looking and the tail is longer.

Least Sandpiper. Britta, (Wiki.)
The Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. It’s also the most colourful, and the local population is large. You can see them sitting on telephone lines, fences and the like without even leaving the car. The kestrel has a distinctive wing-beat and will hover over a grassy area, looking down and waiting to strike. They eat everything from insects to rodents and small song birds when they can get them.

The American Redstart is a colourful little bird. A migrant, they are rarely seen except during spring and fall. The one I saw recently was in low trees, feeding among the branches and the patterns on the wing and tail were not beet-red but more of a ruddy warm salmon colour.

It’s past the season now, as these migrants are mostly already on their northern breeding grounds, but I saw one Sandhill Crane this year. They visit ploughed fields, as the birds are just too big and ungainly to visit city parks or backyard feeders. They’re eating grain and grubs, food available after the melt but before real spring growth begins to show.


Wood Warbler, Steve Garvie, (Wiki.)
I’ve seen quite a few woodland birds, warblers and vireos, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Without my bird book handy and without a big lens to get a picture, half the time I don’t even know what I’m looking at.

The old eyes just aren’t that good anymore.


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