Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Migratory Birds and Other Fine Feathered Friends.

American Kestrel. Greg5030, (Wiki.)

Zach Neal

This is a wonderful time of year to observe rare and migratory birds. The other day I was out riding the bike and I heard an unusual song, one strongly reminiscent of the sparrow. I turned and saw a bird of the most intense blue, sitting on top of a small shrub. The head was black and there were no light or buffy underparts. The bird was an Indigo Bunting, which I have seen maybe three times in my life.

At a local conservation area, I saw a Green Heron. They’re not exactly rare, but it’s more common to see them canoeing on local creeks and rivers than in more developed areas.

The Osprey. Pyslexic, (Wiki.)
The Osprey in flight bears a strong resemblance to a large seagull. The shape of the wings in flight, the overall planform, is very similar. The giveaway is the quality of the blacks on the wing tips, the pattern of darks and lights, the strong-looking head and neck, and that bib of black mottling under the chin and neck.

Kingfishers are relatively common in southern Ontario, but they are never going to turn up at backyard feeders, and unless a person is already into birds, people either never notice them, or mistake them for a big blue jay. The kingfisher has a distinctive, swooping, whoop-de-doo flight path. Once you’re convinced, and the massive head and bill are good identification marks, they’re easy enough to identify in flight. Compared to a blue jay, the tail is quite short and the bill is large.

I was watching a small, undistinguished little bird. He was walking and flitting along a small creek, right at the water’s edge and for a moment I mistook it for a dipper, which is unlikely because their range is far to the west. Unable to get a good picture, I am relatively convinced that it was the Least Sandpiper, which is at least within its range. Some birds will be resident and some will keep moving on migration, some of them ending up on Arctic islands and seashores. Unlike the dipper, the sandpiper will not actually go under the surface, they’re not nearly as heavy looking and the tail is longer.

Least Sandpiper. Britta, (Wiki.)
The Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. It’s also the most colourful, and the local population is large. You can see them sitting on telephone lines, fences and the like without even leaving the car. The kestrel has a distinctive wing-beat and will hover over a grassy area, looking down and waiting to strike. They eat everything from insects to rodents and small song birds when they can get them.

The American Redstart is a colourful little bird. A migrant, they are rarely seen except during spring and fall. The one I saw recently was in low trees, feeding among the branches and the patterns on the wing and tail were not beet-red but more of a ruddy warm salmon colour.

It’s past the season now, as these migrants are mostly already on their northern breeding grounds, but I saw one Sandhill Crane this year. They visit ploughed fields, as the birds are just too big and ungainly to visit city parks or backyard feeders. They’re eating grain and grubs, food available after the melt but before real spring growth begins to show.


Wood Warbler, Steve Garvie, (Wiki.)
I’ve seen quite a few woodland birds, warblers and vireos, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Without my bird book handy and without a big lens to get a picture, half the time I don’t even know what I’m looking at.

The old eyes just aren’t that good anymore.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tick Heaven

The Black-Legged tick, hostes scapularis.

Zach Neal

Oh, how I hate ticks.

This time of year, southern Ontario is tick heaven.

In Huron County, ticks have been confirmed to be carrying the virus that causes Lyme disease.

So far this year, I have pulled at least a half a dozen ticks off my legs. Yesterday, I went for a walk. Sticking to the centre of a groomed trail might be one thing, but the second you step off onto a side trail or into long grass, the little bastards are all over you. The one day I was wearing shorts, and walking at Wawanosh Wetlands. I sprayed my shoes, socks, bare legs and shorts with insect repellent. (For mosquitoes, you want to do the upper parts as well, including the back of the neck and the elbows, anywhere you can’t see them.)

That seemed to work. The next time, (back to yesterday). I was wearing jeans. Two minutes off the trail and I had four black-legged ticks on my pants. The ones you can see, you can remove. Last year, the things kept turning up in my car, in my house, my bedroom…

They’re riding home in amongst your shoelaces, or on the back of your sweater when that happens. There’s nothing better than finding a blood-engorged tick on the rug, or pulling them off of you and finding a blood-spot.

The tick has to be on you for a minimum of twenty-four hours. I took them off pretty damned quick. It always sucks. Last year after being bitten twice, I went to the doctor and got tested for Lyme disease. The test came up negative, and I was bitten once more last year and at least once so far this year. A yearly test for Lyme disease might be a pretty good idea for anyone that works or plays regularly outdoors.

Ticks are active down to some pretty low temperatures. In the winter, I enjoy walking in the woods. In summer, I tend to avoid it. In the past, that was mostly due to mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus.

This year, tick populations are up an estimated 26 % in Sarnia-Lambton. (Observer.)

What really concerns me is that my eyes aren’t too good these days. When I spot a bug in the house, I have to run and find my reading glasses, find it again, kill it and then try and identify it.

In the woods, all you have to do is brush up against a blade of grass or a twig, or just walk down any trail to pick up a tick. I’ve picked them up in German Park, which is in the central city. Today’s tick was picked up in Canatara Park, which is heavily treed, with some brush, and a really nice beach with some low scrub along the shoreline. (The author is in Sarnia pretty often. - ed.)

Once you’ve seen a tick on you, every little itch, every little tickle, every little sensation anywhere on your body magically transforms itself into a tick—and it’s annoying as all hell.

I was wearing my ball cap. Now that I’ve taken it off, my hair is sort of unsticking and lifting itself up gradually…either that or I’ve got invisible ticks all over me.

That’s not entirely rational ladies and gentlemen, but that’s sure as hell how it feels…also, those ticks in the apartment might be coming in from the lawn outside. It’s a short climb, after all, and they are hungry.


(Zach's got a book and some stories on Google Play. - ed.)