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June 2021 Observations Nature Observations

The Wonders of Wrens

Twice on the Lynn Valley trail this past month, I managed to get some pictures of Wrens singing. These tiny birds burst with song much larger than themselves and it’s always a treat to see or hear them. 

When I saw and photographed the two Wrens, I assumed them to be the same species, and even possibly the same individual bird. I had found them in the same general location on the trail, separated by about a week and in location maybe only 100 metres away from each other. After submitting the pictures to iNaturalist (a website I use extensively for my observations and identifications), they were identified as two separate species in the same Genus. The Genus was Troglodytes, an evocative title for such small birds, one that stems from their habit of nesting or foraging in hidden holes, which I suppose are like caves. My first Wren spotting was a Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis).

Winter Wren

The Winter Wren constructs its nest of twigs and moss and often hides it in one of the most incredible places: the tangled roots of fallen trees (Bull and Farrand Jr., 1994). When I encounter fallen trees, I have often been struck by the vertical clifflike nature of the mass of dirt still held fast by thick tree roots. On these miniature cliff faces, the Winter Wren hides its nest, and hides it so well that they are notoriously difficult to find. Bernd Heinrich, in his excellent book Winter World, describes the nest as “a snug little cavity with walls camouflaged with a lattice of moss and conifer twiglets” (p 61). Amazingly, only the Male Wren constructs the nest (at least in the two Wren species I’m writing about here) and he will often create more than one as part of his territory, from which the female can choose her favourite. When the female chooses one of these nests, she will add the lining of fur or feathers and the male will know that his territory has been accepted (Stokes 1979). This strategy of nest building (though not the nest location) applies to the other species I spotted on the Lynn Valley Trail: the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon).

The most conspicuous feature of Wrens (the Family Troglodytidae) in my experience is their stiff little tails and the way they flick them around often perpendicularly to their backs. According to A Guide to Bird Behavior, the tail is raised more and more to the vertical with increasing excitement or disturbance. This seems to indicate that I’ve rarely observed calm Wrens. House Wrens don’t nest among the upturned roots of fallen trees like the Winter Wrens, but instead in a natural or manmade cavity. The House Wren’s acceptance of human-made structures for nesting is the origin of their name. Besides nesting in nest boxes constructed by people for birds, House Wrens will apparently also nest in mailboxes, flowerpots, and jacket pockets that are hanging outside (Bull and Farrand Jr. 1994). I can think of few more appealing things to find in my jacket pocket than the nest of a tiny bird.

References:

Stokes, Donald W. A Guide to Bird Behavior. 1979.

Bull, John and Farrand Jr., John. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region, 1994.

Heinrich, Bernd. Winter World, 2003.

For more Bird Observations, see:

-Nature Observations: Pinery, Winter 2019

-Feeding Opportunities

-Eaters of the Dead

And for more photos and natural history check out my instagram: norfolknaturalist!

Categories
June 2021 Observations Nature Observations

A Visit to Big Creek, Part 2

This is the second loop of my journey through the Big Creek Conservation Area Trail. For part 1, go here.

Having returned to the parking lot, I saw some amazing aerial masters. Similar to the Kingfisher and the Black Terns, I saw Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) maintaining a single position in the air, this time in groups. They were incredible to watch, and thankfully one landed for a moment so I was able to get a clear photo of it.

Barn Swallow, kindly sitting still for once for a picture.

It was only recently that I realized there were so many different species of Swallows in our area. Later in this same hike I took (very blurry) pictures of two other species: Tree (Tachycineta bicolor) and Northern Rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) Swallows.

I saw more Mute Swans, this time sleeping with their elongate necks tucked around themselves. In the picture below, you can really see how bizarre that long neck looks when it’s not extended.

Mute Swans, sleeping and preparing to sleep.

A small brown shape on the path ahead revealed itself as an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). Wikipedia says of this animal: “The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open.” This seems to describe my sighting perfectly as the rabbit was fully exposed on the path, but disappeared into the plants at the edges as soon as I neared, and I was unable to spot it again.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit frozen by my presence, until it disappeared into the vegetation.

One of the only Insect observations I made were some mating Deer Flies (Genus Chrysops). Although they cause pain when they bite and can be determined adversaries, when you get a good look at them you realize they are also quite beautiful. Look at those wonderfully strange eyes and patterned wings.

Mating pair of Deer Flies.

I had to pass through the Redwing assault again, and once through I saw the rarest observation of my hike. A black dome was crossing the trail at a decent rate for what I quickly realized was a turtle. In my excitement I couldn’t get the zoom lens to focus on the turtle for some reason. As I was trying to get a picture, I rushed forward, hoping to get a good picture of the turtle before it disappeared into the undergrowth that it was making for. While doing this, I startled something to my left. A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) took to the skies, disturbed from its ambush site by the turtle-seeking human. I quickly snapped a couple of pictures of the Heron before moving forward, hoping to still find the Turtle.

After this mutual startling, I made it to the location of the Turtle, which had reached the shelter of the vegetation. I was still able to see the turtle (it was, after all, not moving incredibly fast) and took a few pictures of its shell. From this, I was able to determine that it was a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). I have only ever encountered Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles before, so this was a very exciting sighting for me, even if I didn’t get a good photo.

My clearest shot of the Blanding’s Turtle as it barreled through the undergrowth.

Just a few dozens of meters further I came upon a young deer browsing in the middle of the trail. It still retained the spots of a fawn, and was smaller than an adult but certainly not a helpless baby. The deer seemed pretty unaware of me until I was quite close so I got some good pictures as it looked at me and after it saw me it wandered off into the marsh.

I could hear Marsh Wrens all around making their buzzing calls, but they are extremely difficult to spot and even more difficult to capture with the camera. This was one of my closest attempts, it’s almost as though the Wren is mooning me with its upright tail sticking out into the line of my camera instead of its chirruping face:

Most times in the summer, I have the Macro lens fixed to my camera because of the abundance of insect life, but on this trail I kept the telephoto equipped for all of the bird sightings I had. Near the end of my walk, I came upon a Dragonfly perched on the ground of the path and I was able to capture it adequately with the telephoto. It was A Blue Dasher Dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), which occurs throughout most of the United States but only in the very Southern portions of Canada.

Blue Dasher Dragonfly resting in the path.

Ahead of me, meandering along the trail, was a pair of young Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). They were interesting to me, because they weren’t the Goslings following their parents and they weren’t Adult size either. The one appears to be much more “gosling-like’ than the other, which has started to acquire the characteristic facial markings of adult Canada Geese.

Young Canada Geese.

My final farewell to the trail this day was seeing a Heron stalking in the shallows, wreathed in fog. This Heron of the Mists was a perfect sendoff to my journey through the Long Point wetlands.

For previous posts about nature observations of this kind, see:

A Visit to Big Creek, Part 1

Pinery, Winter 2019

MacGregor Point Observations (May 2018

-Algonquin Observations (July 2018), Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

And if you’re interested in seeing more of my photos and learning some facts about the creatures I’ve observed, follow me on Instagram @norfolknaturalist.