Posts Tagged 'Great Blue Heron'

Maplewood: February 6th 2010

Another weekend, another opportunity to get out birding; this past Saturday I went to Maplewood Conservation Area. The weather was fantastic and a fair number of birds were out singing.

At the mudflats I was lucky enough to watch a flock of at least 150 Mallards all landing on the water at the same time; it was quite a spectacle. Mixed in with the Mallards were several Northern Pintails…

At the McCartney Creek outflow I managed to find a California Gull mixed in with the regular Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls.

A few Great Blue Heron were resting on some of the pylons that dot the mudflats. At one point another Heron flew in from the north and gave a single “Frawnk” call as it forced a gull off of a pylon (1). You can listen to a recording of a Great Blue Heron at UBC over at xeno-canto.

Over at the western side of Maplewood I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk perched in one of the trees. Typically when I see one of these birds I’ll get it sighted in my spotting scope and then it’ll look right at me and fly off. I’ve never been closer to one than about 25-30m and I’ve always stopped and looked at the bird as soon as I’ve seen it; never approaching or making any attempt to reposition myself for a better view, yet every time it’ll take flight as soon as it sees me looking at it. Today I paused and thought about the consequences of my actions. I’m almost positive that the bird knows I’m watching it before it leaves its perch and so I feel responsible for forcing it to move to a new location. By simply looking at the bird from a distance am I compelling it to waste energy in search of a new position? Would it have taken flight even if I had not seen it but it had seen me? It’s terrible to think that I may be having a negative effect on these birds just by looking at them.

On my way out I was approaching the bird feeders at the entrance when there was a sudden commotion. I raised my binoculars just in time to watch a Sharp-shinned Hawk chase a group of House Finches into the bushes. It was just as exciting as the last time I witnessed a Sharp-shinned Hawk hunting at this location and, like my previous encounter, the hawk was unsuccessful at getting a meal.

Sufficed to say I had a great outing; it’s not often that one sees two species of hawk during a single trip to Maplewood, in fact I think this may be the first time I’ve witnessed such an occurrence.

Reference:

Bayer, R. 1984a. Vocalizations of Great Blue Herons at Yaquina Estuary, Oregon. Colonial Waterbirds 7:35-44.

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Maplewood: October 3rd 2009

I had an excellent afternoon of birding (when is time spent birding ever not excellent?) at Maplewood Conservation Area last week Saturday. A Bewick’s Wren was active in the brush near the mudflats as well as several Song and one (Sooty) Fox Sparrow. The tide was out and American Widgeon, Northern Pintail, and Mallard were in the shallows close to the water’s edge. Out on the water were several Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Loon (now in non-breeding plumage). A Great Blue Heron was also foraging about 25m away from the viewing area and a Bald Eagle was perched on one of the pylons.

A Belted Kingfisher was perched on branch close to the footbridge that separates the east and west side of the area. I watched as it made three dives into the water but each attempt was unsuccessful and eventually the Kingfisher flew off.

While watching the Belted Kingfisher I noticed a Horned Grebe swimming about in the small bay to the south of the bridge. It preened itself for a minute or two before settling its head onto the feathers of its back and resting. The Horned Grebe appears to be undergoing a breeding range contraction towards the northwest resulting in the species being Blue Listed in the USA (Tate 1986) and “vulnerable” in Quebec (Shaffer et al 1995). In British Columbia no changes in range have been noted (Cambell et al 1990). Both Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts show declines for the population but, due to methodology used (ex. BBS involves driving along a road which may not be located in prime wetland habitat), these may not be the best tools to study population change in Horned Grebe (Stedman 2000). The biggest threat facing the species in its wintering range is habitat degradation due to oil spills and pesticide accumulation in the ecosystem (Stedman 2000). Horned Grebe is seen as an indicator species for wetland health and in my opinion its population declines can be seen as sign of poor or lower quality habitat in eastern North America; this serves to stress the importance of protecting B.C.’s wetland habitat for the conservation of the species and other wetland organisms.

A group of Double-crested Cormorants were preening, sunning, and resting on a sandbar viewable from the southwest corner of the area.

While making my way back along the southern path on the western side of the property a Cooper’s Hawk flew across the trail and into a group of trees. When it noticed me it flew further east and I followed only to have the bird take flight again. As I continued walking along the path I came across a group of six or seven Black-capped Chickadees which were all actively giving scolding alarm calls. I wonder if perhaps I disturbed the hawk’s hunt and thus forced it into a poor position that made it noticeable to the Chickadees which then must have notified almost every other bird in the immediate area.

In contemplating my incident with the hawk and what I have learned about the threats facing the Horned Grebe it is clear that we all have some measurable and ultimately avoidable affect on birdlife. Had I chosen not to stop and stare at the Cooper’s Hawk it might have had a more successful hunt and if we, as individuals, make a similarly small change in our lifestyles regarding agricultural products and the use of pesticides the Horned Grebe and many other birds would be better off.

References:

Tate, J. 1986. The Blue List for 1986. Am. Birds 40:227-236.

Shaffer, F., P. Laporte, and M. Robert. 1995. Rapport sur la Situation du Grebe cornu (Podiceps auritus) au Quebec. Tech. Rep. no. 242. Can. Wildl. Serv. and Environ. Canada, Québec Region, Ste. Foy.

Campbell, R. W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. M. Cooper, G. W. Kaiser, and M. C. E. McNall. 1990. The birds of British Columbia, Vol. 1: introduction and loons through waterfowl. R. Br. Columbia Mus. Victoria.

Stedman, Stephen J. 2000. Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/505doi10.2173/bna.505