Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

I wonders where the birdies is

“The bird is on the wing”

Don’t be absurd, the wing is on the bird.

– (Old poem remembered from childhood, learned from my father)

Well, I’m back after spending March working day, night and weekend, so taking a few days off to recover.

I’ll start with today and work back a bit, as I did post a few of these pictures on Facebook and Twitter.

We have had the coldest winter since I moved to Ontario almost 35 years ago.  Even Alberta warmed up faster than here.  However, finally, it is up to 12ºC (54ºF for you old-fashioned folks south of the border) so there is finally some ground showing, even though it is still frozen, so SNOWDROPS! (Snoopy dance performed!)

Snowdrops
Snowdrops

DO NOT look at those seedlings sprouting. They are illusory. There are no weeds going to grow in my garden this year.

From yesterday, here is a picture of a pair of cardinals.  Since they are on the bird feeder, it’s not a lot of effort for that male to pick up a seed and hand beak it to to his mate, but it is a touching gesture.

Cardinal love birds
Cardinal love birds

The migrants have begun to arrive.  The Red-winged Blackbird was the first I saw, though there are Canada Geese honking overhead and wetlands birds are usually earlier so I’ll have to head over the the conservation area which is about 5 miles downstream from here, where the river flattens out enough for water birds.

He has been doing his mating dance, so I might catch that soon; it’s too hard to do while on global conference calls which have been running most of the daylight for the last few weeks.

The male turkey was doing the same today, but I scared them off as I hadn’t seen them until the same moment I came around the corner of the house and they saw me, but Laurie was watching them.

Red-winged blackbird
Red-winged blackbird

Here is another migrant, just arrived.

American Robin
American Robin

I don’t see the local meadow voles very often as they live in tunnels just below the surface of the ground.  However, in winter, the tunnels are under snow right at the snow/ground boundary so as the snow melts they have to dash between patches until the ground thaws and they can dig.  When I looked them up on the Internet, I came across this quotation: “The Meadow Vole is believed to have the highest reproductive rate of any mammal in the world”.

Meadow Vole
Meadow Vole

One reason they like to stay underground is this hawk, who would love to have a vole for dinner but meanwhile is trying to get a junco out of the ninebark, but the bush is too thick for the hawk even though it is very impressive how deep it can penetrate while still flying. The junco got away as the hawk eventually gave up.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

I’m guessing it is a sharp-shinned hawk. I checked pictures and the main difference from the Cooper’s seems to be that the shoulder is much lower on the Cooper’s, but I could be wrong. Any bird experts care to comment?

Here are a couple of shots of it in flight (!) in the middle of that ninebark.

Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark -2
Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight in ninebark -2

Finally, a lesson in camouflage. The squirrel shows how to do it.

Gray squirrel
Gray squirrel

The cardinals do not seem to have got the point.

Cardinals in thorn bush
Cardinals in thorn bush

Bigger (red-tailed?) hawk

The larger hawk now seems to be a regular around our garden though it doesn’t come quite as close to the house as the smaller one.  For now, I’m guessing it is a red-tailed hawk although I didn’t get a good look at the back of its tail. Maybe it’s not old enough to have turned more red and as it is new to the garden, that could be it.

Red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawk (?)

As usual, I just got it starting to fly but only got a few feathers on the next shot.  Must learn to hold the button down for a few more frames.

Red-tailed hawk 2
Red-tailed hawk 2

For comparison, here is a repeat of the smaller one, a little over ½ the size.

Are you staring at me
Sharp-shinned hawk (?)

More hawk pictures

The small hawk was back today.  There were well over 50 small birds in sight without searching too hard, getting seeds from weeds and our feeder, mostly juncos, with chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and probably a few others, when suddenly they disappeared.

It didn’t take too long to see why.  The hawk was back.  It stopped to look around from several perches but I was not quick enough on the shutter to catch it in flight from one to the other, with one partial exception.  These are very fast birds.  I’m still thinking this is a sharp-shinned hawk but I’m no expert.

Are you staring at me
Are you staring at me?

Sharp talons! (Even assuming it is a sharp-shinned hawk, I’d be more concerned with the talons than with the shins).

Hawk on head
Hawk on head

Maybe there’s something down there.

Surveying hawk
Surveying hawk

“Better take a look”.  It goes for a quick dive, to the foot of the golden nine-bark.  What always amazes me is that it can fly, weaving, through that thick bush, in pursuit of prey.

Departing
Departing

It just dropped off the head, to the ground.

Hawk on snow
Hawk on snow

In case anyone was wondering about the head, it is called Abraham, carved by the Canadian artist, Peter Van Gils.  I’m in two minds about whether to clean it up in the spring and preserve it with a coat of varnish, or to let it return to nature. It fits in so well with the garden as it is

 

Abraham - by Peter Van Gills
Abraham – by Peter Van Gils

Sharp-shinned hawk

This hawk has not been around the garden for a while but Laurie told me to look out the window to see the large flock of juncos feeding on the weeds and seeds under the snow.  Just as I turned, they scattered.  Laurie thought it was my turning suddenly near the glass doors that scared them but we soon realised that it was a hawk.

I don’t know about sharp-shinned but it’s talons are sharp.  I’m not 100% sure of the species but I think it’s correct.  It can do very tight turns in the air, even flying through fairly dense bush branches. But by the time I’d got the camera and changed the lens, it had gone a bit further away so I only got this more distant picture.

Sharp-shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned hawk

Because I had been shooting slow-moving insects before, I wasn’t prepared for a fast bird and it took off within seconds before I could change the shutter speed. Still, I was lucky to get the head in focus while all else was blurred.

Sharp-shinned hawk blurred flight
Sharp-shinned hawk blurred flight

I put a picture of another hawk on Facebook and Twitter a few days ago. Here it is.  It may be hard to tell from the photos as it was a bit further away, but it was quite a bit bigger than the one today.  I’m guessing at Cooper’s Hawk, or even bigger, a Northern Goshawk.  It certainly agreed with the part of the goshawk description in one of my bird books that it sits and waits on a perch rather than flying in search of prey.

Cooper's Hawk (?)
Cooper’s Hawk (?)

I’d welcome more educated IDs from anybody more of an expert at identifying birds from blurry pictures.

Birth and Death in the Spring

I took these pictures on the weekend. Spring is a time for marvelling in new life, like these flowers.

Spring Beauty flowers
Spring Beauty flowers

but it’s not just the flowers that burst into life, it is also the agents of decay.  About 3 years ago, this was a beautiful, 15m tall (50 feet) black cherry.  Now it is feeding grubs which in turn feed woodpeckers.

Rotting Black Cherry tree
Rotting Black Cherry tree

It’s hard to see in this picture, without 3D, but the bubbly-looking mass to the left of the woodpecker hole looks like a river of bubbles pouring from the fork in the tree but is actually a fungus colony.

This is the guy who made the hole:

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker

Another sign of spring this weekend that is just surviving the recent return of winter with -5ºC lows is this butterfly which found a blown away section of the newspaper a good place to bask in the sun.  After its long journey to get here, it did well to pick the Travel section.

Red Admiral Butterfly
Red Admiral Butterfly

While we’re on the subject of flying creatures, back to birds.  The thrasher has returned

Thrasher
Thrasher

and the hawk has never left.

Cooper's (?) Hawk
Cooper's (?) Hawk

I think it’s a Cooper’s hawk – please comment if I’m wrong.

Finally, a more abstract picture – the sun was streaming in at an angle that cast a neat shadow on our newly-painted wall from the tropical plants in the window:

Plant shadows
Plant shadows