Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Phantom of the North: Great Grey Owl

As I was leaving work on Dec 23rd I received a call that a Great Grey Owl was in Kingsville.  This was the very first record of a Great Grey for Essex County and was a "life bird" so I immediately set off in hopes to catch a glimpse of North America's largest owl. As I arrived the sun was setting and at least 10 other birders were already there standing together on the shoulder of the road. And there it was, a Great Grey Owl. It was amazing; the largest owl I've ever seen! The bird was perched on a tiny branch at the top of a tree. I've been told that these owls are capable of landing on a goldenrod stock without breaking but it was still remarkable to see such a large bird perched on such a small branch. The size of the Great Grey is very deceiving as the feathers of this owl actually make up the bulk of their size. Both Snowy and Great Horned Owls outweigh the Great Grey; however in terms of length the Great Great is still the largest owl. I stayed and watched this majestic bird for several minutes before darkness set in. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera to document my first Great Grey so I made plans to go back. 
The following morning I drove out to the site and again it wasn't hard to find the owl as many people were already there. The owl put on a magnificent display, flying from the top of a cedar and landing on a post right next to the road. This was definitely one of the most memorable bird watching/photography experiences for me yet. What a great way to end the year; can't wait to see what 2012 brings! 

Great Grey Owl, Kingsville Ontario December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Snowy Irruption: Snowy Owl

In years when the lemming population is scarce, Snowy Owls will often fly south in search of food. However, this year the irruption was attributed to overcrowding on the wintering grounds due to a very successful breeding season. Historic high lemming populations in the Arctic have allowed females to produce up to 12 eggs! For the last three weeks, at least four Snowy Owls have been present outside of Point Pelee National Park. They have been seen regularly in the farm fields on concessions C, D, and E. These birds can be spotted easily as they perch on the ground, and the conspicuous white plumage highly contrasts against the black soil. This has been an exceptional year for Snowy Owls in Southern Ontario with many birds being reported.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dragonflies: The Aerial Acrobats

Green Darners are one of the 16 known migratory species of dragonflies. These large dragonflies are the first to arrive from Florida and Southern Texas in early spring. My first record for 2010 was on April 2nd at Ojibway Park in Windsor, Ontario. Very little is known about the dragonfly migration because they fly over such a wide-ranging area, making it difficult to track their movements.

Common Green Darner (Anax junis)

In this photo the female Green Darner is laying eggs in the submerged vegetation. She uses her sharp ovipositor to pierce the stem of the plant and deposit the egg inside.

Dragonflies spend the first stage of their life underwater, feeding on almost anything that moves. The length of the larval stage is species-dependent and could take anywhere from one month to five years to complete their life cycle. When the larva is ready to transform into a dragonfly it will crawl out of the water, attach itself to vegetation, rocks, sand, etc. and then the adult will emerge from the exoskeleton. The exoskeleton or exuviae can be found clinging to the surrounding vegetation. Next time you’re visiting a body of water look closely at the plants near the waters edge for these larval castings, and if you’re really ambitious you can try to identify the dragonfly by keying out the exuviae.

Dragonfly Larva 

Damselfly larva can be easily distinguished from dragonfly larva by the three feather-like gills protruding from the abdomen.

At rest, the Spreadwing dragonfly sits with their wings out at an approximate 45-degree angle. This characteristic gives this family of dragonflies its name.

Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)

Damselflies are delicate, narrow-winged dragonflies. When perched they sit with their wings folded back over the abdomen. Damselflies are weak flyers and usually fly low to the ground. These fragile flyers are the smallest of the dragonflies.

Familiar Bluet? 

The male attaches himself to the female with his abdominal appendages to ensure his paternity. The pair will fly in tandem until the female has deposited all of her eggs.

The Ebony Jewelwing is the only member of this family to occur in Essex County. These dragonflies are commonly found around flowing water. During the summer, the Cahill Drain at Brunet Park in LaSalle is a reliable place to view these magnificent creatures. Look for their distinctive fluttering flight and bright green iridescent bodies that will be sure to catch your eye.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis)

Clubtails acquired their name from the bulge at the end of their abdomen.

Skimmers are among our most common family of dragonflies. During the summer months these dragonflies can be seen in great numbers on almost any body of water.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

 Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta)

Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta)

Dot-tailed Whiteface (female)

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

 Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Female)

 Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum)

Immature Male 


White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum)

A total of 169 species of damselflies and dragonflies have been recorded in Ontario. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Migration: A Journey Against the Elements

After their long flight over Lake Erie, songbirds burn up most of their fat reserves and depend on Point Pelee to fuel up for their next flight. Unfortunately the weather this past week has been unseasonably cool with lots of rain, and this combination makes it very difficult for them to find food (insects). The majority of the birds I encountered today were below eye-level, foraging in the undergrowth, and when I made it to the "tip" warblers were perched on the sand, completely exhausted. It was very hard to watch them as they struggled to find food after making it all this way, and because Mother Nature wasn't cooperating, these birds would probably perish. I couldn't help but wonder what these birds had already been through on this journey we call migration; it really is an amazing feat.

Black-throated Green Warbler 

 Chestnut-sided Warbler 

Red-eyed Vireo 

Magnolia Warbler

This Eastern Pipistrelle was hanging outside of the women's washroom down at the tip; looking a little chilly. 

Even the interior of the park was filled with hungry songbirds. It made for amazing viewing and photo opportunities. 

Scarlet Tanager (male)

Scarlet Tanager (Female)

 Prothonotary Warbler

 Eastern Wood-Pewee

 Black-throated Green Warbler 

 Wilson's Warbler 

  Lincoln's Sparrow 

Note the black-legged tick on the eyering.

American Redstart