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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Jays’

garden

Halfway through February! We are well along on our journey through winter. Every day, the sun sets a little later and it is cheering to still have daylight at six in the evening. Still, the view out the front door is daunting. It is hard to believe that the July garden, pictured below, is just a few months away.

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This annual transformation from green abundance to snowy slumber, and then back again, is like a miracle, amazing to observe. Still, in February, the snowy days drag on relentlessly.

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I went out and measured the snow depth in one of the passageways cleared by the snowblower. We have about 16 to 18 inches of snow right now. Certainly, the plants will be glad of this deep blanket because temperatures have been brutal, with a frosty wind making -20C and lower temperatures even more biting.

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Another annual miracle is that tiny birds can survive these punishing temperatures. I stock the bird feeders daily, and in return, I am rewarded with a view of their comings and goings. I put out peanuts, both shelled and unshelled, and large stiped sunflower seed for the blue jays. They watch for me, and when I venture out to the feeder, a shriek goes up. With a whirl of wings, a flock of these noisy, clamourous, beautiful birds descends upon the feeder.

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A steady stream of busy chickadees attends to the two silo feeders stocked with black oiled sunflower seed. I often fill these feeders twice in a day to meet demand.

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A mixed seed combination attracts a variety of birds to the platform feeder and the driveway. There are American Tree sparrows, juncos, redpolls, goldfinches, mourning doves and a few cardinals. Adding a few crusts of bread attracts a pair of crows, who, like the blue jays, watch for my arrival.

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A pair of suet feeders attract a number of Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, but recently we had a first: a visit from a large Pileated Woodpecker.

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Last winter, there was an unusual movement of Snowy Owls south of their usual range. This year, I have spotted just one, this female, perhaps the same one that I saw last year, who favors the top of a hydro post to look out over the fields.

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Animal activity is not so conspicuous. However, I did see this trio of muskrats early in the winter, just before the river froze over for the season.

ermine

This unfortunate short-tailed weasel, dressed in an ermine-white winter coat, was found on the driveway one morning. These little carnivours are reportedly quite common in Ontario, but it is unusual to see one. They travel and hunt mostly at night, in areas with good cover, where they seek out small prey such as mice and voles, amphibians and bird eggs or nestlings. They are reputed to be fearsome, fierce hunters.

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My most surprising sighting of the winter was this coyote. I spotted it one day as I was driving home along the St. Lawrence River. It was far out on the ice, looking back to shore. As I watched, it made up its mind to travel on, and set out across the frozen water, leaving Canada and heading toward the American shore.

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snowy

Happy 2013! I hope you enjoyed a pleasant holiday season and wish you all the best for the upcoming year.

As you grow older, time seems to speed up. With each passing year, the days and weeks grow shorter and shorter. Can it really be that we are already nearly two weeks into 2013? Amazing. With each passing year, a big snowstorm becomes more and more of a bother and less and less fun, so perhaps it is just as well that the winter is speeding by.

Here is southeastern Ontario, we had a white Christmas, with a significant snowfall a few days before the 25th. This was followed up after Boxing Day with a major storm that blanketed the landscape with an additional foot of snow.

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We’ve also had some crisp, cold days, with the temperature dipping below -20 C. This is rather reassuring to those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s. It seems “right”, the way winter is supposed to be. But actually, all the snow and cold has been something of a mirage. In spite of winter cold snaps and a snowfall that set a one-day record in Montreal, a few hours east of here, December was warmer than normal. It just shows how deceptive appearances can be.

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The Weather Network had this to say about December:

Temperatures across southern Ontario were a couple of degrees above normal for December,” says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Normally, Toronto sits at about 1°C for daytime highs in December, but in December 2012, Toronto was 4°C. The same goes for southwestern and eastern Ontario.

After a nippy start to the New Year, temperatures for January have taken an upswing too. Today, the mercury climbed above 0 C and light precipitation fell as rain.

blue jays

In fact, if you are 27 years old or younger, you’ve probably never experienced a colder-than-average month (global average, local conditions vary).

Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman notes the last cooler than average month globally occurred in February, 1985 (almost 28 years ago), “the year the hit film “Back to the Future” [the original, not the sequels] first hit theaters”.

“To put it another way, if you are under the age of 27, you have never experienced a month in which global average surface temperatures came in below the 20th century average,” Freedman writes. (Washington Post)

The weather’s just not what it used to be.

joe crow

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snow1

Except for a few little spats, Winter has been gentle so far this year, with many unseasonably mild days and little snow. On Thursday, he decided it was time to get tough, and our first real storm of the season settled in. Freezing rain began to fall in the wee hours of the morning, and by mid-day, everything had a coating of ice.

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Over the course of the afternoon, the freezing rain turned to snow. I kept the feeders filled and the blue jays and chickadees took full advantage of the handout. Birds would just as soon do their own foraging, and with the mild winter weather we’ve had to date, business has been slow at the feeders, but with a storm underway, the birds were anxious to stock up.

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Even Little Red dropped by, once those pesky blue jays cleared out.

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The snow continued through Friday, far exceeding the 4 inches predicted by the weatherman. By Saturday morning, the ground had a blanket of more than a foot of snow. The storm had moved on, and Saturday was sunny and clear. Wow! What a winter wonderland! Everywhere you looked, the world was postcard perfect. It sure felt like winter too, with the temperature plunging. On Sunday, another beautiful day, we woke to the mercury crouching low in the thermometer, -30°. A gardener is grateful for a good blanket of snow when the temperature dips so low.

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When the snow slipped from branches, it exposed the initial layer of ice, sparkling in the sun.

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As the sun set on Saturday evening, it bathed the snowy landscape in a warm glow, a beautiful ending to the day.

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bluejaypack

My birdfeeder attracts an assortment of the usual suspects, Chickadees, American Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches, Mourning Doves and others. However, by far the dominant visitors in both numbers and attitude are the Blue Jays. Dozens of them take over the feeder each morning when I put out fresh seed, keeping the smaller birds at bay. In an effort to lure the Blue Jays to a separate location and allow the smaller birds better access to my main feeder, I set up a second feeder behind the house this fall.

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I stock the second feeder with striped sunflower seed, instead of the smaller oiled sunflower, and add peanuts and a bit of cat kibble. The feeder is definitely a hit, and while it hasn’t lured the Blue Jays totally away from the main feeder, it has helped. I can watch the new feeder from my kitchen window, and while the blue marauders aren’t good neighbours to their feathered peers, it is a delight to watch these beauties come and go. Such handsome birds!

Few smaller birds visit this feeder, at least while the Blue Jays are around, but I did notice Downy and Hairy woodpeckers stopping by. I attached a suet feeder for the woodpeckers to the post underneath the feeder, where it would be kept dry and the woodpeckers would have less competition from the Blue Jays. As you can see in the first photo, this wasn’t entirely successful, but the woodpeckers do approve of it, and a steady stream of the black and white Hairies and Downies appreciate the suet.

Hairy

In Birds at Your Feeder, a compilation of research from Project Feeder Watch, authors Dunn and Tessaglia-Hymes note that groups of 15 to 50 jays may spend the winter together within a relatively small area and concentrate on one feeder. Many flock members or their offspring may return to the same wintering area in successive years. Flock turnover is high as about half of adult Blue Jays die each year.

Blue Jays usually carry off several food items from each visit, filling their gullet before taking flight. Blue Jays may travel as far as 2 1/2 miles with their food and in fall, this behaviour makes them important seed distributors. Plants with heavy seeds, such as oaks with their acorns, may depend on Blue Jays as distant dispersal agents. Of the many species of creatures that rely on acorns as a food source, only Blue Jays carry them far from the parent tree and bury them in sites where germination is possible.

birdsatyourfeeder

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