July 6, 2014
The dog days of summer are upon us; arguably the worst time of year for birding. The migrating birds have all moved north, and the local nesting birds offer very little variety and are generally lethargic after about 9:00am in the morning due to the very hot daytime temperatures.
Lately I have been focusing (pun intended) on the local ponds and marshes. It’s surprising how these seemingly peaceful settings are actually full of life – especially in the very early hours of the day. There are dragonflies, muskrats, beavers, frogs, turtles, and some very interesting birds.
Without question the most active, visable, and vocal of the marshland birds is the Red-winged Blackbird. This ubiquitous bird is nesting everywhere, and constantly defending its territory, driving off every perceived threat. This includes much bigger birds like Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, Osprey, and even the occasional bird photographer if he wanders too close to where they’re nesting.
Here’s a shot I took last weekend of a Red-winged Blackbird (upper right hand corner of the photo) showing its displeasure with a Great Blue Heron.
(click on the photo for a closer look, then use the ‘back’ button to return to the blog)
We can easily recognize the male Red-winged Blackbird with its distinctive shiny black feathers and red shoulder patches, but the female (who looks quite different) is often overlooked or misidentified. Here’s a shot of one that I took at the edge of a pond near the Moira River last week.
Another bird that frequently visits the local ponds looking for food, is the Green Heron.
This small heron (about 17″ long) often sits with its long neck pulled in tight against its body (as in the picture here). It is an incredibly adept hunter of fish and frogs. It will even sometimes use old scraps of bread to bait fish to the surface so it can catch them. These advanced techniques have earned it the title of the world’s most intelligent bird.
Another of my favourite marshland birds is the Belted Kingfisher. With a disproportionately large head and tiny feet, this amazing looking bird will dive completely underwater to catch its prey. For the past two years a family of kingfishers have been hunting in the the Sawguin Marsh just south of Belleville. Yesterday I set up a blind (which means I scooched down into some tall weeds and draped myself with camouflage netting) and tried to get some photos of these incredible divers. They are very alert and wary birds, so it takes a lot of patience and stealth in order to get close to them, but the effort is well worth it.
Despite being a very slow time for birding, our local rivers, ponds, and marshlands still offer quite a lot to see, and I am relishing the serenity of the summer mornings and the interesting activities of the animals that live along the water’s edge.