Posts Tagged ‘Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’

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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When I was walking out to the barn, I heard a woodpecker tap-tap-tapping and spotted this fellow at work. I don’t have the quality of photographic equipment needed for great bird shots, but was pleased to get a picture of this individual. It’s a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). Birdgirl identified it as a young bird, hatched this year. It can be identified as such by its mottled brown head. This is its juvenile plumage. It will moult in the late fall or early winter and acquire its adult plumage, which features red patches on the crown and forehead.


Sapsuckers drill parallel rows of small holes in the bark of trees. Insects are attracted to the holes as they fill with sap. The sapsucker makes rounds of the trees it has tapped and laps up both the sap and the insects trapped in the sap.

Just after seeing the sapsucker, I spotted the bird shown below in the Viburnum bush. It appeared to be checking out the fruit on the bush.


Fall warblers can be difficult to identify and I asked Birdgirl for her help with this one too. It is a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), a young of the year, just hatched this summer. It’s not surprising that there should be young yellowthroats in the area. There were a number of yellowthroats singing in the spring. They are more often heard than seen, as they tend to stay hidden in the foliage of bushes. The male’s song is easily identified, a crisp “Witch-it-y! Witch-it-y! Witch-it-y!” If you do catch sight of a male, its black mask is distinctive. Below is a yellowthroat I saw outside the kitchen window this spring.


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