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Posts Tagged ‘red-eyed vireo’

bird1

Northern Cardinal

This beautiful cardinal can be heard every morning now, singing out his song from a treetop perch. He’s been here all winter, but he has just started giving full voice to his chorus of “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie! Whit, whit, whit!” in the last week or so. What female could resist him?

It’s hard to believe that it was only last weekend that I spotted the first Red-winged Blackbird. Now they are everywhere, chucking and oak-a-leeing in the branches and foraging beneath the bird feeders. Over the course of the week, other migrants have joined them. There are quite a number of Common Grackles joining their numbers. Look at the beautiful iridescent colours on this fellow, helping himself to a seed at the feeder.

bird5

Common Grackle

As I was walking past a pine tree, I noticed a Brown-headed Cowbird keeping a cautious eye on me. There have been a few American Robins around for a few weeks, but now they are back in plentiful numbers. And this morning, I spotted a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the river. They skillfully avoided my attempts to capture them with my camera, taking off for a site farther upstream.

The birds are early, ready to put The Winter That Wasn’t behind them and move on to spring. This winter was the 3rd warmest on record here. Three of the warmest winters ever have been recorded in the last six years. What was additionally notable about this winter was the lack of precipitation. It was also the second driest winter on record.

How are these shifts in winter weather patterns affecting migrating birds?

bird3

Brown-headed Cowbird

A special report titled The Winter that Wasn’t: Bird Migration aired on CBC’s morning show The Current on March 7th. Biologist Allen Hurlbert from the University of North Carolina, B.C. biologist Dick Cannings and eBird editor Mike Burrell from Bancroft all addressed this question.

They note that the timing of migration is vitally important to the success of the upcoming breeding season. If a bird arrives back too early, he may encounter the bad weather and lack of food he flew south to avoid. If he arrives back too late, he may fail to find a good breeding territory and prospective mate.

One of the most important elements about timing is hitting the height of the insect season just right. Birds need a big supply of bugs to feed their demanding young. Without them, chicks may starve. If a warm spell disrupts normal insect patterns, causing bug populations to peak earlier, parent birds may not be able to adequately supply their young with food if they have started nesting according to their normal schedule.

We often have a poor appreciation of just how interconnected the natural world is. Failure or changes to one sector can have a ripple effect right through an ecosystem. Some bird species, such as Red-eyed Vireos seem to be adapting to changing weather patterns. Other species, such as Barn Swallows have been devastated. While Barn Swallows were once common birds, their numbers have plummeted by 75% over the last few decades.

You can learn more by listening to the full broadcast linked here.

bird2

American Robin

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After running some errands in Brockville on Friday, RailGuy and I visited the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area, located on the northern edge of the city, and enjoyed a short hike. The day was a bit overcast, but it was mild and there wasn’t much wind. The main feature of the wildlife area is a large lake and wetland, and several trails follow the shore of the lake and wind through mixed woodland.

We followed the Railway Trail, which is so named because about half its length follows the abandoned bed of a railway track. It was quiet in the woods, as is usual at this time of year. Apart from a troop of chickadees, we didn’t see any wildlife stirring. However, there were signs of summer activity.

Close to the trail, I noticed this nest, still in good shape for so late in the winter. The weather has taken a toll on many nests by February. From the trail, it looked like a woven ball, but by pulling the branch down a bit, the interior of a nest was revealed. It was probably constructed by a red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Red-eyes are common woodland birds, but they are more often heard than seen as they usually sing from perches high up in the canopy of the forest. They are about 6 inches long, a bit bigger than chickadees, and rather plainly dressed in olive grey. They really do have red eyes. Their song always reminds me of a hyper robin.

The nest, constructed by the female, is typically deep-cupped and suspended in a horizontal fork of a slender tree branch. She uses grasses, paper, bark strips and rootlets. It may be bound to the supporting twigs and covered on the outside by spider webbing.

Another tree showed evidence of yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius). Sapsuckers drill holes in trees in spring and drink the sap, usually early in the year when insects are still scarce. Their handiwork, or maybe billiwork is very distinctive. The small holes are drilled in orderly rows. These holes may have been a couple of seasons old. They were perhaps drilled in 2008.

This snag had been well-worked over by a piliated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). Piliateds are very large woodpeckers, about 18 inches in length. They are year-round residents, but it is more usual to find their excavations, sometimes very large, than to see the birds themselves.

The rail path leads down to the waterfront. Looking out over the lake, we spotted a paraskier near the far shore. He/she was moving along quickly…until a tumble.

Close to shore, there were a few muskrat lodges.

Farther along the trail, this pile of branches suggested a beaver had been at work at some time, but the lodge didn’t look occupied. In fact, the long stems and seed pods of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) were springing from the branches.

On a section of the lake near the parking lot, ice had been cleared for an outdoor skating rink, and there was even a heated cabin for changing into skates available. Probably the ice is busy on weekends, but on a Friday afternoon, there were no skaters on hand. The park is a nice spot for dog-walking and is probably popular, being close to the city. We just met one dog and his walker, as we were returning to our car. Samson was delighted to meet RailGuy. Mac Johnson Wildlife Area offers Brockville residents a great spot to enjoy nature close to the city.

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