Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fast Times at Carden Alvar

Birding is not the only thing to do at Carden Alvar; the botany is also dynamite.

Dude, Where's My Binoculars?

This newspaper article from 2010 might explain why some locals in the Kirkfield area are so sensitive to birders snooping around with binoculars... they are afraid we will discover their stash!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The Big Twitch

In The Big Twitch, Aussie birder Sean Dooley goes to extreme lengths to see the most birds of any person in a singular calendar year.

The year is 2002 and the Australian big year record stands at 633. Dooley sets for himself an ambitious goal of 700 species and then proceeds to go full tilt for the entire year.

As I've mentioned before, the "big list" premise is not original, and perhaps even a little cliché. Obviously the novelty with this book is the geographic locale; reading this book is a great first step to becoming familiar with the birds of Australia and their distribution. The book is well planned out and well edited, making it enjoyable to read. The pace of the book is very even; no big gaps are left in the narrative, and the author shows a lot of discipline by allocating the 300 pages of writing equally throughout the year. Dooley has a self-deprecating humour which makes him likeable, and also reveals some very sad aspects of his life. His humour, though sometimes crude, shows great wit and insight. Dooley also possesses something very rare in an accomplished birder: modesty and self-awareness. Unlike many birders, Dooley has a realistic grasp of the bigger picture outside of the birding sub-culture.

Overall, this was an extremely fun read, and a useful introduction to Aussie birding. On the binocular scale, I rate The Big Twitch as a Kowa.

Friday, July 19, 2013

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Description from Dennis Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East:

Eyes reddish-brown over pale greenish; face pale-yellowish.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Thorax brown in front, lighter brown on sides with pale yellowish areas below.

White-faced Meadowhawk ()

Abdomen tan with wide black ventrolateral stripe from S4-9, covering larger parts of segments towards rear.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Wings have some orange suffusion at base.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dragonflies Up Close

Last Friday the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington held its annual dragonfly count.

Blue Dasher (♀)

I have participated on other odonate counts in the past (e.g. Carden Alvar and Pelee Island) but its nice to be able to do one a little closer to home.

Blue Dasher (♀)

Close-up photos reveal a lot of interesting detail, which is fun.

Unicorn Clubtail (♂)

Many of the dragonflies we encountered had only recently emerged from their larval phase; wings are not yet stiff and body parts have not hardened completely.

Unicorn Clubtail (♂)
Unicorn Clubtail (♂)

Males and females of the same species often appear quite different, especially with respect to coloration.

Common Whitetail (♀)
Common Whitetail ()

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The ABC Guide to Bird Conservation

According to the publisher, The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation is "the most authoritative book on bird conservation in the Americas ever published".

It's true: this book is comprehensive. Within its pages are species accounts of all conservation "WatchList" species from the United States. Its American bias is perhaps unfortunate, but nevertheless the book remains substantially applicable to Canada as well. Also, the treatment of Hawaiian birds was very eye-opening (Hawaii has the most endemic bird species and has experienced the most bird extinctions by far of any US State or Canadian Province/Territory).

Although I read it cover-to-cover, this is really more of a reference book. Many of the threats and issues of concern to bird conservationists are common to many species, so you will find that if you read it in a linear fashion the book does become repetitive. On the other hand, the information provided is thorough and some of the repetition allows you to draw connections and see commonalities where they exist between different bird species. This book also includes a discussion of the Neotropics, which is not only a location of conservation concern for our migratory species, but also for its own resident bird species and populations.

On the binocular scale, from Tasco on the low end to Swarovski at the high end, I rate The ABC Guide to Bird Conservation as a Nikon. Not really necessary reading, but innovative and well done.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cambridge Bank Swallow Colony

While we were doing our breeding bird survey ("BBS") route last week we noticed at one of our stops that there was a steady stream of Bank Swallows going back and forth across the road. We were in the middle of a 50 station survey, so we didn't have time to investigate, but we returned today to search the area.

We found the colony in no time. There were approximately 200 nest cavities excavated out of the sand bank. As well, we estimated 200+ Bank Swallows circling and foraging overhead.

The birds were quite nervous at our presence. When we approached too close, the nestlings retreated deep into the nest crevices where they were not visible and the adults would not enter the nest cavities. We had to maintain a distance of about 50 metres before the birds returned to normal.

According to BBS data, populations of Bank Swallows have declined significantly in Ontario in the past 40 years. Federal and provincial government committees continue to debate whether or not these birds should be deemed to be "at risk". In the meantime, Bird Studies Canada and some of its partners have initiated the Ontario Bank Swallow Project to document the locations and characteristics of Bank Swallow colonies and roosting sites.

Bank Swallow is a cosmopolitan taxon, and is known by Europeans as the "Sand Martin" (though some eager taxonomist could probably make a case for splitting the North American population into a separate species). On a worldwide scale Bank Swallows are abundant and not considered to be a conservation concern.