Local Robins

The robins have been very active in our neighbourhood this season. They start singing well before dawn and keep at it until about noon. I captured this one in the tree outside our window one morning a week or so ago.

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A Murder of Crows

This list is re-posted from my old blog. The generics “congregation,” “dissimulation,” or “flock” will do for any bird but, c’mon, that’s not much fun.

  • A wake of buzzards or vultures
  • A mews of capons
  • A brood of chickens
  • A clutch of chicks or eggs
  • A murder or storytelling of crows
  • A piteousness or prettying of doves
  • A raft (while on water) or cloud (while flying) of waterbirds (avocets, ducks, etc.)
  • A fling of dunlin
  • A convocation of eagles
  • A mob of emus
  • A cast of falcons or hawks
  • A charm of finches
  • A flamboyance of flamingos
  • A wedge (flying) or plump (while on water) of geese
  • A bazaar of guillemots
  • A confusion of guinea fowl
  • A colony, screech, or squabble of gulls
  • A siege of herons
  • A charm or troubling of hummingbirds
  • A scold of jays
  • A concentration of kingfishers
  • A deceit of lapwings
  • An exaltation or ascension of larks
  • A tiding, gulp, or tribe of magpies
  • A richness of martens
  • A watch of nightingales
  • A stare of owls
  • A pandemonium of parrots
  • A bevy or warren of partridges
  • A muster or ostentation of peacocks
  • A creche or huddle of penguins
  • A loft of pigeons
  • A conspiracy, unkindness, or storytelling of ravens
  • A crowd of redwing
  • A building of rooks
  • An exultation of skylarks
  • A host or ubiquity of sparrows
  • A murmuration, scourge, or chatter of starlings
  • A muster of storks
  • A gulp of swallows
  • A ballet, lamentation, or whiting of swans
  • A spring of teal
  • A mutation of thrushes
  • A raffle of turkeys
  • A pitying of turtledoves
  • A fall of woodcocks
  • A descent of woodpeckers
  • A herd of wren

Sources: birdnature.com, lyberty.com, and the Baltimore Bird Club.

Spotted: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

While looking out the kitchen window one day about a week or two ago, I saw in the apple tree, amid of host of chattering sparrows, a smaller, silent bird moving restlessly from one perch to the next. All I noted before it flew away was a white eyering and white outer tail bars on neutral plumage (maybe dun, or grey). I thought maybe kinglet, or flycatcher. It was actually a blue-gray gnatcatcher — perhaps a juvenile, given my vague impression of brown.

Spotted: Tree Swallows & Cowbirds

As I approached the field of nest boxes on my way to the lake this noon, I noticed a small group of long-winged aerobic songbirds playing overhead. Their high-pitched chatter reminded me of Chimney swifts. As I passed the boxes, one flew down and perched on a box by the path. We observed each other briefly while I praised his beauty: pure white belly and brilliant blue-green topside (bathed, as we were, in a full sunlight that truly made the most of his iridescence). He soon glided over to a nest box deep in the field and far from the path, and I went on my way.

I also witnessed a nasty fight between some floating Canadian geese; a Red-winged blackbird, come down to drink from a pond right beside me (just a sapling between us), apparently (and uncharacteristically, at least in my experience of the species) ignorant of my presence; and, my first sighting of brown-headed cowbirds, foraging by the path to the west campus … but the Tree swallow truly takes the cake. Welcome Spring!

Eager Sparrow

scrapbook image includes two close-up photos of male house sparrow from behind, one in which he has turned to look at the camera; and the words 'Thomas? 03-03-12'

I’ve been following this local bird, I call him Thomas. He is a low-class sparrow (check out his “bib” — more of a goatee, really), but what he lacks in status, he makes up for in enthusiasm — his recognisable feature being loud, sharp, persistent chirping, discernible from down the street (when he’s out front, and I’m coming home), or the other end of the apartment (when he’s out back, and I’m reading in the living room). Out front, he perches just above our window or, as in the photographs above, on our neighbour’s ground floor external window sill. But his real spot is out back where he’s staked out an area on the garage that he figures for the perfect nest: just against the external wall (garden-side), and hidden behind the overhang below the roof. I’ve watched him chirping there for weeks (he perches on a telephone wire that runs just outside his spot — his stoop, you could say), and then one day this past week, I came home and I — is it? Yes, a female first-year (lower bill still yellow, mid-moult and down everywhere). I haven’t seen her since, and Thomas hasn’t quit his calling, so who knows?

Today, after many exchanges through glass, we met face-to-face out front. I said “hello” and gave him a few quick glances, but I was eager to let him be and make a good impression. He’d been chirping loudly as we walked down the street, then stopped as we approached, but before we got inside he started up with some sub-notes — I believe they were for us, a hesitant but friendly gesture.

Good ‘ol Thomas. (I say “?” in the picture because, you know, am I sure it’s Thomas? Sure looks like him; sure sounded like him; but was it him? Yes. Or was it?)

Image Credits

Background: “Paper 3” from Paper Works kit copyright CuddleBeez Scraps (Brenda Pfingstler) with all rights reserved

Spotted: Female Downy Woodpecker

I’m quite sure it’s either a Hairy or Downy; I say Downy because of the short bill; I say female because of the missing red cap and white patch on the back). This is another example of confusing wildlife! I took this footage last spring. I watched this woodpecker work on the fence in our backyard for at least 5 minutes before, like sudden inspiration, she looked up at the apple tree above, stared for a second or two, and then shot into its branches never again to return to the fence. I saw her for the next few days before she left for greener pastures. Could this woodpecker really have confused dead with live wood? Hard to believe…

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

I finally got around to editing the footage I took of the hawk last winter. I’m still not sure if he’s related to the adult hawk we so often see around the neighbourhood (not sure of that hawk’s species, as close up sightings have revealed a short tail — so, not a Cooper’s, or a Cooper’s with a ragged tail?), but lately S has spotted that hawk with a companion, so either way, I think a new juvenile or two is on its way!

Spotted: female Cedar Waxwing

Took a walk through Col. Samuel Smith park today and saw many flocks of starlings flying overhead in synchronized fashion, alighting on barren tree branches, chittering and squaking, etc. I noticed a fight between a starling and a robin — the robin being a solitary intruder on the treeful of starlings, I suppose. Then I noticed more robins flying heavily between the small trees and shrubs; and then, amongst the robins, I saw something new. (I knew they were around before this, because I’d seen them flying in small flocks overhead, but with the foggy overcast weather and the distance, identification would have been an impossible pursuit.) They were lovely little things (I guess I say that about all my new sightings, but anyway): vaguely thrush-like in shape but definitely smaller and more able-bodied than the robins, with a slight crest, light grey body, white or pale buff belly, pointed black mask (around the eyes and under the shin), and, to my surprise and delight, a yellow-tipped tail. I really only saw one of them close up; they were eating large red berries from a small twiggy tree and watching me apprehensively — most took early refuge in a larger tree nearby that had heavier foliage and was much less accessible to me. The one I saw up close was not nearly as colourful as that illustrating Cornell’s ID page, but it looked very much like the one featured on Wikipedia and this blog post (although I did not notice the brownish head). So: a female.

I also saw a new duck, but from a bit of a distance. It was a small (juvenile or just small?) shallow diver (by which I mean it dissapeared under water, but returned quickly and to the same spot — not like the Long-tailed duck, for instance), black, and with a white (I thought) beak. It seemed a little skittish. It was all alone. Black scoter? I don’t know of other all-black ducks but I’m not sure about that beak…

Spotted: Northern Mockingbirds

They’ve been at the TTC Humber loop all season but I only managed to identify them today (thanks to the helpful folks at birdforum, and no thanks to the Cornell Lab, which classifies their body type as “thrush-like” … I was stuck on “blackbird-like,” considering the long tail … I suppose that’s my ignorance speaking, as I had no prior experience with mockingbirds or thrashers, or thrushes for that matter, excepting the robin). But oh those black and white stripes! Very striking. Good bird.

Birding on the Lake

You know where’s a nice place? Colonel Samuel Smith Park, right on Lake Ontario. It’s a pretty big park with all kinds of plants and hidden places; there’s a marina there, too. I fed a pair of swans and a paddling of mallards (mostly female) my homemade mix of groats, split peas, sunflower seeds, and walnut — at first they eschewed it, being more familiar (I’m sure) with doughnut, but once they got used to it they really went to town. I think they enjoyed rooting through the weeds and mud for the little morsels. A few fights broke out, but mostly it was a good time had by all. (The ducks seemed prone to squabble; but the swans! More calm overall, but they sure would get nasty to your duck who’s floated a tad close.) I spotted some manner of emberizid, again (Chipping sparrow? Grasshopper sparrow? American tree sparrow? Female Lapland Longspurs?), and I’ve been seeing new birds, too:

  • Belted kingfishers fishing
  • Cormorants standing around on the pilings
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets (I believe) flitting about amongst the shrubs