Sunday, May 8, 2011

Something New In The Forest

After what seemed an eternity, the right combination of days off work and pleasant weather provided me a much-welcomed opportunity to hit the trails and do a little birding. And I knew exactly where I wanted to go - the Birchwood Trails. I'm not sure that I've mentioned it as much as it deserves to be mentioned but the city is blessed with a number of green spaces and hiking trails, which really gives a lie to the portrayal of Fort Mac as some sort of northern gulag according to left-wing media types. Anyhow, with camera, binoculars and bird guide in hand, I headed out.

I was only a few yards beyond the trail head and my ears were already being treated to a delectable symphony of sound. I quickly spotted a robin, a couple ravens gave me a nice fly-by and some mallard flew overhead. A distinctive knocking sound grabbed my attention and I was treated to the sight of a downy wood pecker. Unfortunately my camera isn't the best for long-distance shots but after a little brain-wracking and experimenting I was able to get a half-decent shot of him by holding the camera lens up to the binoculars. I'm glad I came across this little trick as it was to come in quite handy as my outing progressed.

Edit - As pointed out to me by Clare's able eye, the bird in the above photo is in fact a female yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Heading down into the valley toward the creek I rounded a corner when quite suddenly a strange bird landed on some dead fall mere feet from me. Swinging up my binoculars I noted its distinctive yellow cap, pointed beak and black-and-white plumage. I knew it was some sort of wood pecker but wasn't initially sure what I was looking at. Fortunately, although the little fellow flew up into a tree a short distance away and hung around, giving me ample opportunity to consult my field guide.

I figured the yellow head would be a dead giveaway to help id the bird but the guide of course showed two species of wood pecker with yellow caps - the 3-toed wood pecked and the black-backed wood pecker. After several minutes (I had to re-position as he moved around the trunk of the tree), the distinctive black-and-white ladder-like markings on his back allowed me to identify him as a 3-toed wood pecker. So fortunately I didn't have to worry about counting toes to see if there were three rather than the usual four.

A little further up the trail I noted what I thought was a second 3-toed wood pecker, only this one lacked the black-and-white markings on his back. His back was completely black and it seemed a little bigger than the last one, although I did manage to get a little closer to him so who knows. And while I'm not 100%, I do believe this was the black-backed wood pecker. So two new species in under 30 minutes and I was pretty impressed.

Another thing I didn't expect to see were a couple mallard ducks in a small marsh along the trail. It was a pretty secluded spot buried deep in the brush and didn't strike me as a place a mallard might frequent. But then I'm new to birding and its always great to be wrong when it works out in your favour. Although it's difficult to tell, there really is a female mallard in the picture below.

As an added bonus, while I was patiently waiting for the mallards to swim close enough to me for a decent picture (which never really happened) I came across the side of the trail. Had not his hop caught my eye, I doubt I ever would have spotted him, so well did he blend into the surrounding leaves.

Ah, the Birchwood Trails. So nice to know that in a metropolis of 80 000 with scenes like this....

...that you aren't very far from a bridge over a quiet stream surrounded by nature.


Clare said...

Well Darcy I think you can add a third new species to your total, for the first picture isn't a Downy Woodpecker, but a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

The technique of taking a photo through binoculars and the like is called digiscoping, well done.

Way Way Up said...

Wow! What a great eye Clare. Funny you should mention the yellow-bellied sap sucker as I saw a nice male this afternoon while on a short excursion. I was going to blog about it but I only saw it for a few seconds before it flew off. It had a very distinctive red chin to it. I did come across a nesting site of a pair of hoary woodpeckers in a poplar I believe it was and spent some time watching them fly back and forth feeding their young which I could clearly hear inside the trunk.

Glad the digiscoping worked out...much better than I thought it would. I was impressed with myself thinking I had developed some sort of new technique but I'm sure I'll be doing much more of this in the future to help id anything I'm not sure about.

Clare said...

You need another edit Darcy. It is the bird in the top photo, the one you said was a Downy Woodpecker that is the sapsucker. And in your next post it should be "Hairy" Woodpecker vice "Hoary". Also I don't know if you know about ebird ( or not, but it is a great way of keeping your lists on line, and helping with the data collection for bird populations.


Way Way Up said...

Thanks Clare, I was afraid I might get a little bit of "overload" from seeing so many species of woodpeckers in such a short period of time while trying to keep them all straight in my mind. I caught myself writing "hoary" woodpecker a few times the other day since I had hoary redpolls on my mind after seeing a couple so I started second-guessing myself about what exactly I had written for the post you refer to.

And I will definitely be checking out that link you mentioned. I have a birding journal I make good use of, which I was just updating before writing this actually, but my curiosity about keeping on-line lists has definitely been piqued.