Sunday, January 27, 2013

Oatka Creek Park • January 26

Pileated Woodpecker. Today's hike in Oatka was taken during the midday due to the cold single digit temperatures of the morning. The Pileated Woodpeckers were still out and about, briefly calling to each other from different parts of the woods and hammering away at the trees. Though alert to my presence as I made my way through the trees, this female tolerated my approach and never left her perch. She clearly was more interested in excavating the tree.

Pileated Woodpecker. These birds have an interesting investigation technique that I have not noticed with other woodpeckers: first they hammer for a bit, then they turn their heads fully ninety degrees as if to put their cheek on their shoulder. They first turn to one shoulder, and then the other. They appear to be triangulating on the area in the tree they are evacuating.

American Black Duck amid Mallards. Being cold, the shallower ponds of water in the area are frozen over. At these times the raft of Mallards on Oatka Creek grows noticeably. (The current of the creek is strong enough to prevent freezing.) Once you have a dozen or more Mallards, it seems the American Black Ducks and its hybrids will show up, too. This duck looked like a "mostly pure" male American Black Duck. (Due to its frequent hybridization, truly pure American Black Ducks might be hard to find, but see below.) There was an obvious American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid out of shot to the left that wasn't being cooperative photographically.

American Black Duck amid Mallards. Though the American Black Duck is looking away in the background, it is easy to see the differences with the female Mallard in the foreground: the biggest and best difference is the color of the bill - dark yellow for the Black Duck and orange with black for the Mallard. I have heard a lot of talk about American Black Ducks breeding so much with Mallards and other similar duck species that they might "disappear" from the genetic landscape. Cornell's Birds of North America, however, seems to say that is not likely: "Hybridization of an abundant species with a less abundant and declining one can lead to genetic extinction of the species with the smaller population. American Black Duck seems not so threatened because it is not geographically isolated, not limited in habitat, and its losses due to harvest are now decreasing." In other words, American Black Ducks appear to be safe because they are spread over a large portion of eastern North America, can exist in a number of habitat types, and are being successfully protected with hunting restrictions (take limits).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Oatka Creek Park •January 20

Trout Run Trail. High winds came to the area after midnight and there were a number of blowdowns in the park this morning. During my hikes I and at least another regular hiker in the park clear what we can by hand on an ongoing basis, leaving the heaviest stuff for the chainsaws of the park workers and other volunteers.

American Beaver. This bittersweet sight greeted me along the banks of the creek. There was no sign of decomposition or predation, so this beaver may have died just hours before. Still, what an opportunity to inspect up close this nocturnal creature! The work of beavers is obvious all along the creek throughout the year with new trees being felled all the time. There were indications of a new lodge being constructed in the creek at this location. There are large beaver mounds upstream near the boundary of the park.

Pileated Woodpecker. The wind continued to blow strongly this morning causing much swaying in the trees. As this Pileated flew across my path and then landed on a nearby tree, it was a challenge to keep the bird in the field of view of my camera long enough to get a focus! For every picture I kept, I probably discarded twenty.

Pileated Woodpecker. This is a female. Perhaps it is one that I have photographed a number of times recently.

Pileated Woodpecker

Black-capped Chickadee. These birds are no so easy to photograph when they are not sitting in your hand! A flock of four or five were feeding on, perhaps, the only fruit remaining in the park in any kind of abundance: Staghorn Sumac.

Black-capped Chickadee. Staghorn Sumac berries are edible by humans, too. You can break off a head of berries and steep it in boiling water to make a tea reminiscent of rose hips. I had some during a camping trip many years ago.

Eastern Bluebird. A flock of about half a dozen bluebirds crossed my path as I walked down the dirt road back to the parking lot. This female was clearly keeping guard duty as it would perch near me and keep a close watch on me while the other birds would fly to more secure perches. Only after the other birds were settled into their new perches would this one move on. This happened two or three times. It was very deliberate.

Eastern Bluebird. The other bluebirds were behind this one, so it couldn't necessarily see any of them. However, it would know exactly when they were settled and would time its movement accordingly.

Eastern Bluebird. By the way, this dirt road has been around for over 100 years as I saw it on a map from 1907 in a book I recently read on the history of the town of Wheatland. Many of the main trails in the park were former roads from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mendon Ponds Park • January 19

Black-capped Chickadee. It was a warm midwinter afternoon, just right for comfortably feeding the chickadees along Birdsong Trail in Mendon Ponds Park!

Black-capped Chickadee. Though there was occasionally a report from another bird species, it was almost all chickadees today.

Black-capped Chickadee. So, here are several pictures showing a wide range of chickadee expressions and behaviors!

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Irondequoit Bay Outlet Bridge • January 19

Long-tailed Duck. This morning Mary Flood and I went on the Rochester Birding Association bird trip to the Irondequoit Bay Outlet and places west along the Lake Ontario shoreline. Approaching midwinter, there should have been a lot of ice in the water, concentrating the overwintering ducks into the channel by the bridge. However, the recent warm snap had melted the ice and the ducks were relatively scarce. There were a few dozen Long-tailed Ducks, perhaps our most common migrating duck this time year.

Long-tailed Duck. This is the male's winter plumage. Come spring when it is nesting in the tundra of upper Canada its plumage will look quite different and consist more of blacks and tans.

Long-tailed Duck. This is a female. 

Trumpeter Swans. Our most common swans are the Mute Swan. Trumpeter swans have bills that are black and smooth whereas adult Mute Swans bills are orange and have a large knob at the base.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oatka Creek Park • January 5

American Robin. Robins have been unusually scarce in Oatka this winter. This is probably due to the lack of remaining fruit in the park. The robins that do show up seem mostly interested in drinking from the creek.

White-tailed Deer. The thick blanket of snow on the ground is making it harder for the animals to find food. Along the creek are several places where the deer have excavated the snow down to the bare ground to get at the vegetation. This deer is one of the two young deer that were completely unaware for several minutes of me standing on the bridge photographing them. Their quest for food must have been quite intense!

White-tailed Deer. This is the other member of the duo. Finally noticing me, the first deer ran off, but this one held its ground for some time before walking away.

Pileated Woodpecker. The Pileateds have been very vocal of late! Just prior to taking this picture, this bird and two other remote Pileateds were calling back and forth. They seem to have well established territories as the calls come from seemingly the same tree each morning. This location here is just behind the lodge and far more accessible than the other two locations.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oatka Creek Park • January 4

Eastern Bluebird. The bluebird flock in the park this winter numbers about ten individuals. I have been hearing and seeing them consistently since the end of December. Today I found them along the southern bank of the creek, sheltering from the wind and taking an occasional drink.

Eastern Bluebird. Perhaps because of the combination of red and blue, these birds seem to stand out against the winter backdrop even more than Blue Jays or cardinals.

Common Muskrat. I had just given up on unsuccessfully chasing a Great Blue Heron for a picture today after having seen it three times along the creek. I looked down in the water and a muskrat was swimming close at hand! This would be one of the best photo-ops I've even had of this animal.

Common Muskrat. Then it decided it wanted to look at me! It stopped swimming and turned to given me a good, long visual inspection before finally diving out of sight.

Common Muskrat. There are mounds upstream of the bridge along the creek that I had assumed were beaver mounds. (There are signs of beavers felling trees all along the creek banks.) However, muskrats make (smaller) mounds, too. Perhaps I need to investigate them a bit more closely.

Eastern Bluebird. One my way back along the creek I encountered the bluebirds again. They were taking sips from the creek.

Eastern Bluebird. It has been commented that heated bird baths are bad things because birds will bath on days with temperatures below zero and then their wings will ice up once they leave the bath. Others say this is nonsense and that birds have enough common sense not to do such a potentially fatal thing. Today the temperatures were hovering just below freezing. As I watched, I noticed that the bluebirds were very careful to drink without otherwise getting wet. I think the wings icing up story is just urban legend.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Oatka Creek Park • January 3

Hairy Woodpecker. It was a cold and snowy morning in Oatka today. As I approached the creek from the south, I could hear a good sized mixed flock approaching and heading north in the same direction I was going. What luck! I quicken my pace, crossed the bridge and planted myself in the path of flock on the northern bank. Sure enough the birds descended onto the trees all around me and began foraging for food. This woodpecker was one of the members.

Hairy Woodpecker. Usually Hairies are very vocal and would be raising an alarm in response to my presence for minutes. However, this particular bird was focused on finding food and keeping up with the flock, so it didn't really make too many sounds.

White-breasted Nuthatch. There were at least two nuthatches in the flock and they were constantly making their nasal sounding calls. Tons of chickadees and a few titmice were included, too, as would be expected.

Brown Creeper. However, what caught my attention at the very beginning when I first heard the approaching flock were the calls and songs of more than one Brown Creeper. Sure enough, as I surveyed the composition of the flock on the northern bank, I found at least three Brown Creepers.

Brown Creeper. Yes, mixed in will all the calls, there were several abbreviated sequences of rising song notes from the creepers. The chickadees added a few quick "fee-bee"s, too. A couple of days ago there were the brief winter songs of titmice and nuthatches along the creek. As with nearly all winter birdsongs, these were all short and mostly softer than the full springtime repertoire. Of course, the Carolina Wrens have been singing without regard to time of year and they don't have a "soft" song setting, so there's no mistaking what one is hearing there! Still, the wren songs are, at least, winter abbreviated.

Northern Mockingbird. Our "crossbill" mockingbird is still around, defending its winter food supply. Note the snowflake on its eye. (You can always click on a picture for a larger version.) It was not there in earlier shots. In some shots you can see the nictitating membrane (third eyelid) wiping across the eye to move the snowflake. 

Northern Mockingbird. The snowflake is moving, but slowly! Interestingly, it is not melting right away, either. Also, note the bird is perched on only one leg. You can just see ends of the talons of the other foot tucked up against its breast for warmth.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oatka Creek Park • January 2

White-tailed Deer. A buck! Though the park is filled with deer, spotting a buck, let alone having one hang around for a photo-op, is an uncommon occurrence. True, it was quite some distance away. Still, it stood out in the open and gave me a long, direct stare. It is hard to see the points to count them, but from other photos in this sequence, it may have only been a four pointer, i.e., young.

White-tailed Deer. It was only a few minutes after sunrise on an overcast morning, so the lighting for photography was pitiful! :-)

Carolina Wren. The story, as it usually goes, was not with the picture I got, but the one I missed. Just minutes before this I saw a mink swimming in the creek near where I was standing. It ducked into a thick snag of wood and debris jutting out from the bank and that was the last I saw of it. This all happened before I could raise my camera. I had noticed minutes before some fresh animal scat in the snow. From the associated small paw prints I had guessed it was fox. However, after the sighting I was thinking mink instead.

Carolina Wren. This mainly southern species does not migrate and western New York is the pretty much the northern boundary of its range. A bad winter will cause the population to crash, like it did two or three winters ago. However, they are an extremely prolific species and will produce two or three broods a year, so these birds recover fairly quickly. 

Carolina Wren. As with all overwintering bird species, these birds can survive our cold temperatures just fine if they have enough food to keep their internal heaters fueled. Cornell's Birds of North America suggests that Carolina Wrens may rely on backyard bird feeders during the winter a bit more than other bird species. (This is more of a conjecture than an established fact.) There are probably several such feeding stations associated with the houses that back up to the northern boundary of the park not far from where this picture was taken.