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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black Velvet

Correctly, it is the nominate European race of Melanitta fuscus which is the Velvet Scoter, whilst North American birds are White-winged Scoters, indeed the British Ornithologist's Union even considers them separate species. Nevertheless, I do rather prefer the more romantic version, the gorgeous males are indeed smooth, velvety sea-ducks. This male of the North American deglandi race has a fantastically orangey-red bill contrasting starkly with the overall black plumage...and just look at that white iris!

This series of photos was taken along the Hamilton Ship Canal which provides access to Hamilton Harbour from Lake Ontario. The harbour itself is entirely iced over now and the shipping season has ended, but the channel provides open water and, presumably, good foraging, for the thousands of ducks which spend time there during the winter. This is the Lift Bridge, which does what it says on the tin - lifts - to allow larger ships to pass along the channel.

Looking into the harbour the extent of the ice - and ducks - is clear. The most numerous species here are Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye.

I counted 137 White-winged Scoters along the canal last friday, a very small proportion of the local wintering population, which can top 30,000 in record years.

Flashing wings...

These two are clearly not adult males, but what are they? I would posit that the rear bird is an immature male, judging by the pinkiness starting to emerge on its bill. The front bird, not sure.

This bird, grappling with a cluster of mussels, maybe an adult female as the secondaries appear to have quite extensive white tips?

A couple of flight shots now. They're pretty unmistakable in flight, even when they're a couple of kilometres away, out to sea or on the lakes. This male has some brown tips visible on the greater coverts - perhaps a second-winter bird?

Big old plates too.

Cruising with the Long-tails. These two scoters have some dark tips to both the greater coverts and the secondaries themselves.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Birds in the Arboretum

The Royal Botanical Garden Arboretum in Dundas is a fine place for a stroll. I donned snowshoes and stomped around for a few hours last week, hoping to run into some White-winged Crossbills and get some pictures, but I failed - they are around, but rarely come down low enough for photography. Nevertheless, there were many other woodland denizens in evidence, including this White-breasted Nuthatch.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker - sexed by the extent of the red crown, running right down the forehead to the bill. Females have grey foreheads.


Male Northern Cardinals really shine at this time of year, amongst the drab colours of winter.

Look at those beautiful frosted feather edges.

A few White-throated Sparrows hang around the feeders here in southern Ontario, even when it is -20ยบ C.

Much less concerned by the chill are American Tree Sparrows. These are real northern birds - in Ontario they only nest on the taiga around the fringes of Hudson Bay.