Not gone forever

While the natural world around me is bubbling with life and excitement as late spring rolls into full summer, there is so much to write about. And show.

Just this morning, for example, a pair of adult white-breasted nuthatches were in one of the old oaks beside my house, hammering away, getting out grubs.  Then, good parents that they are, they immediately took them to their babies waiting patiently on a branch.

The wonder of this season makes it doubly annoying that WATC is temporarily out of commission, wrestling with horrible computer problems.

Well, actually, Wild about the City is not personally wrestling with them.

My seriously disabled computer seems to have taken up semi-permanent residence at the shop. The latest diagnosis of its psychedelic screen output was that a sick graphics card was to blame. New graphics card ordered. Arrived D.O.A.  Shop sent for another new graphics card. WATC continues to wait, hopefully.

So, until I get back online, Wild about the City is taking an enforced break.  Just a break. Not gone forever.

Please check back later.

Mr. Cardinal feeds his babies

male northern cardinal

A male northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, pauses on a branch after hunting a worm to feed to his babies yesterday at Ashbridge’s Bay.       © BCP 2011

Wild About The City is busy busy busy! Travelling here and there, trying to get out every day to experience the miracles of spring unfolding around us. Trying to be receptive in understanding the grand design of Ma Nature.

Am preparing for another jaunt, so must keep this post brief. But I did want to share my picture, taken Wednesday this week at Ashbridge’s Bay, of Mr. Cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis) as he successfully hunted for worms. At least I think that green glob in  his beak is a worm. Or something. I’m pretty sure he was hunting for his babies. The Mrs. was nearby, as usual.

It’s been a spectacular week at the bay for bird lovers like me. A huge flock of cedar waxwings have been flitting from treetop to treetop at the point at the end of the path, while eastern kingbirds perform their swooping loop-de-loops overhead in their ceaseless forays to hunt flies.

Perhaps most spectacular of all, there are countless — and I do mean too many to count — Baltimore orioles throughout the whole park, their bright, clear and piercing song a joy to hear from the parking lot to the point.

Many more pictures of these wonders coming. Soon. I promise.

© BCP 2011

More backyard birdies

A white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolensis, is happy to have a sunflower seed I put out last week. © BCP 2011

Must be doing something right in my quest to have a bird- and butterfly-friendly yard. It’s party time in my backyard this year — at least if you happen to be either a bird or a squirrel. But how long can I continue to put out the buffet? These guys are going through seed like they’ve never eaten before!

It’s so entertaining — especially watching the squirrels trying to get food out of my “Squirrel Buster,” that even if it weren’t helping the birds, it would be money well spent.

Today is International Migratory Bird Day, with a local celebration being held at Tommy Thomson Park (AKA the Leslie Street Spit.) Don’t think I will be able to make it to that event, but in honour of the day, I am posting a picture of a migratory bird that arrived in my yard last week, just like magic. I have never seen a brown thrasher, Toxostoma rufum, anywhere around the residential area where I live, so this was more than a surprise. (Lucky duck, er, thrasher, he got to spend the winter in Texas, if I’m reading my bird guides correctly.)

I tried very hard to get a clear shot of the thrasher, but he was a devil to photograph. Very, very skittish. I finally had to settle for a peek-a-boo shot of him, below, scratching through the dusty duff in my yard, searching for berries, insects, nuts and seeds — and whatever else he could get that long curved beak of his on!

The brown thrasher is a very large member of the Mimidae family, the family of mimics that also includes the northern mockingbird, making a bit of a comeback in our area. (Recently in the Don Valley, I heard a mockingbird going through this long, laughable repertoire repeatedly. The mockingbird’s astonishing range of vocalizations have to be heard to be believed.  You can hear a sample here.)

At the top of this post, migratory bird day notwithstanding, I’ve included a photo of a bird that stuck around all year — the white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolensis, above. This bird’s call has been ringing out through the trees in my backyard recently. You can hear his piercing, unmistakeable call here.

This little fellow came by to get some sunflower seeds. . . . I felt like telling him to be quick. Grab one before the phalanx of squirrels back there get them all. As you can see, he was successful.

I’ve filled up the feeder again. I wonder what bird will arrive next?

A brown thrasher, Toxostoma rufum, plays peek-a-boo in my yard last week. © BCP 2011

© BCP 2011

A small slice of summer in my own backyard

A white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, visits in my yard this week. © BCP 2011

It is a wondrous day, indeed, when the incomparably beautiful song of the white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, first rings out in my backyard in spring. One day, the wintry winds are still clutching and grasping at the just-emerging ephemerals, trying to hang on. Then, just like that, you hear “Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” coming from the still-bare trees, and voila! We skip spring and go straight to summer.

These dapper little passerines with their fancy hats and neat white bibs aren’t here for long. They’re just passing through our town on the way to the cottage. (Ours, not theirs.) For a week or 10 days, their high-pitched song is heard in our backyards, parks, ravines and woodlots as they enjoy a pit stop before embarking on the next leg of their migration to points north — Muskoka, Algonquin Park, the Madawaska — well, you get the picture.

For me, the song of the white-throat echoing through the forest is the very essence of Ontario summer. You can hear its song here.

Of course, it’s not just Canadians who enjoy this harbinger of summer. Our American friends love this bird, too. And, naturally, they don’t describe its song the way we do. They say its song sounds like “Po-or Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”

However you describe it, you have to agree. It is astonishingly beautiful.

© BCP 2011

A frequent visitor stops by for a bite

An eastern grey squirrel, Sciura carolinensis, displays an intriguing two-tone fur pattern. Could he be moulting? © BCP 2011

Hey! Didn’t this guy get the message? Eastern grey squirrels, Sciuris carolinensis, are supposed to be, um, grey?

Mr. Big Redtail enjoys a treat in my backyard yesterday. (At least I think he’s a mister.) © BCP 2011

Well, actually, there is a black morph, known by biologists as the “melanistic form,” which comes from the Greek root melanin, meaning black. Large natural populations of the melanistic form of the grey squirrel are found in Ontario and Quebec.

Here’s what wiki has to say about black squirrels:

“As a melanistic variety of the Eastern Gray Squirrel individual black squirrels can exist wherever grey squirrels live. Grey mating pairs may produce black offspring, and in areas with high concentrations of black squirrels, mixed litters are common.[1] The black subgroup seems to have been dominant throughout North America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, since their dark colour helped them hide in virgin forests which tended to be very dense and shaded. As time passed, hunting and deforestation led to biological advantages for grey coloured individuals.[2] Today, the black subgroup is particularly abundant in the northern part of the Eastern Grey Squirrel’s range.[3][4] This is likely due to the significantly increased cold tolerance of black individuals which lose less heat than greys.[5] Black individuals also enjoy concealment advantages in denser northern forests.[1]

I didn’t check all wiki’s references, so I don’t know how strong the evidence is for the above theories. They’re interesting, though.

Now what about my two-toned squirrel?  A little digging on the Internet, my partner in research, and I found that sightings of these colourful creatures occasion quite emotional reactions. Some people call them “Copper Tails” and others call them “Brown Backs.”

I don’t know the explanation for the distinctive tail colouration in individuals. I’d love to hear if anybody knows.

© BCP 2011

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