A Stay-at-Home Spring
Updated: May 26
"If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere."
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
May is usually the month for exploring Point Pelee, Rondeau, the Bruce Peninsula, and all of the other Ontario “hotspots" for Spring migration. However, 2020 has been the year for seeking out, and being open to, the many treasures that are close to home. There is such incredible diversity all around us, and this is never more true than in the Springtime of the year!
In the Avian world in May, there seems to be no end to the brilliant colours and patterns showing up on birds of all shapes and sizes. Before we get into all of the flashy fellows that appear this month, though, let’s consider a few of the often-overlooked feeder birds: the Sparrows, in their “mostly-brown” attire deserve a closer look.
The common House Sparrow, introduced to North America in the mid-1850s, is extremely adaptable, and aggressive toward native birds. House Sparrows are noisy, hungry, and bold, but they are handsome guys too.
The tiny Chipping Sparrow seems polite and well-mannered by comparison. Chipping Sparrows arrive here in the early Spring, and nest in low shrubs in our yard.
Shades of brown can be quite attractive.... the Song Sparrow, with its long, rusty tail, streaked breast, and 3 “chest spots” that distinguish it from other Sparrows, is very common, but so lovely. Its sweet song is a welcome sound in the Spring. Song Sparrows are migrants that breed in our area.
The smaller Savannah Sparrow has been a frequent visitor to feeders. At first glance, it appears to be similar to its cousin, the Song Sparrow, but the Savannah has a shorter tail, and a yellow stripe above the eye. Its song is a buzzy little whistle-y sound. This bird nests in the hayfields, and has rarely been seen at the feeders other years; however, it has been a daily visitor this Spring. It has even enjoyed some time in the bird bath.
There have been good numbers of White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows scuttling through the gardens and ground feeders over the past weeks, but they will likely soon move on to their nesting sites north of here.
The White-throated Sparrow has black and white or tan stripes on its head, a white patch on the throat, and a bright yellow spot above the bill on each side.
Enjoying a bit of a rest after a long flight...
White-crowned Sparrows are similar to their White-throated cousins, but they lack the yellow lores, and their bills are pink. None of our other visitors has the clear black and white stripes of the little White-crowned Sparrow.
So...6 kinds of Sparrows have been ongoing visitors at feeders here this year. The seed has been disappearing faster than I can replace it in this crazy weather; on May 9, I was brushing several inches of snow off the buffet. Today it is raining, but everyone is busy eating anyway, oblivious of the showers. There were even baths being taken in the downpours this morning.
Along with the Sparrows, there have been other regulars around the yard:
American Goldfinch Male
American Goldfinch Female
and the Grackle ... with his iridescent good looks and brassy nature!
Chickadees have claimed a small house in the front yard, and have completed their soft nest of moss and fur. Chickadees are welcome year-round guests in our yard.
There have been at least 3 male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks enjoying the sunflower seeds and bird baths for the past week or so. So stunning with their jet black, pure white, and rose colouring!
This Grosbeak just climbed out of the bath.
2020 has been the Year of the Orioles! We have counted 10 at a time feeding on oranges and grape jelly. The adult male Baltimore Oriole is nothing short of spectacular. These boys were filling up on sweet snacks in the rain.
One of the males is the self-proclaimed “Buffet Boss”, and chases the others out. This poor guy is waiting on the clothesline in the pouring rain for his turn at the jelly feeder.
The females and young males come in all shades of orange/brown/black.
An Oriole that had a different appearance showed up, and fed for a few days with the Baltimore Orioles. A black face, yellower overall colouring with touches of chestnut, and 2 distinct wing bars would indicate that this is a juvenile male Orchard Oriole. We had never seen one here before this Spring. A lovely chestnut adult had flown in for a few moments, about an hour before this one arrived, but the Baltimores chased him away. They seemed to tolerate this young fellow, though.
The Orioles certainly do brighten up the yard. Add in a Grosbeak or two, and there is quite a display of colour...
While we rarely see Warblers on the farm, we did have a several-day visit from a Palm Warbler this May.
And on May 14, we had a real surprise -- a Blue-winged Warbler hit the window (which has all kinds of “lines" to bird-proof it!) and landed on the deck. Fortunately, it recovered quickly, and flew off. This Warbler is a real rarity in our area .... and I am so glad it survived to complete its migration journey.
Not far from here, on a small trail near Floradale, I caught sight of a Mourning Warbler in a brush pile. He hopped out for just long enough to have a few portraits taken, before disappearing back into the dead branches. Mourning Warblers arrive here in May, and some of them nest in our area. I have friends who tell me that they see them fairly often, but this was my first sighting close to home.
On the outskirts of Floradale, Warblers pass through on their migration routes. Some stay to nest, and others head further north. One of the first to arrive in the Spring is the colourful little Yellow-rumped Warbler. Neither of these shots show the yellow patch on the back that gives this Warbler its name, but.... very pretty, isn’t he?
On May 17, a friend and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in the midst of a bit of a "Warbler fallout". We saw a Black-throated Yellow briefly,
and a Black-and-white foraging along in its Nuthatch-like manner.
A Blackburnian Warbler hunted for insects in the bark and tiny buds of the young trees.
Several Black-throated Blue Warblers, both male and female, found food in the leaf litter and low vegetation near our feet. One male in particular was fearless, and hopped around within a metre of us. It was a privilege to be so close to these tiny gems, as they foraged for much-needed sustenance after their long journeys.
A few American Redstarts showed up, and chased each other through the Dogwood bushes near the water. This one was showing off for a female, I think, when the wind caught his feathers.
The female Redstart is grayish, with an olive back, white underside, and flashes of yellow.
A Vireo (Warbling, I think) was travelling with the Warblers.
Away back in the wetlands in another spot, a Bay-breasted Warbler made a brief appearance.
An Ovenbird dropped down within a few metres of where I was standing near the dam in Floradale. Ovenbirds are one of the larger Wood-Warblers. This poor little one has what looks like a tick under its bill.
Ovenbirds are beautifully patterned. When it flew up to a branch a short distance away, it tipped its head to provide a nice view of the crown and chest markings.
A real treat was the sighting of 2 Northern Parulas flitting about in the small trees, directly in front of us! Although they moved quickly, they were catching insects in a fairly open area, and it was possible to get a few nice shots of these gorgeous Warblers.
On this adult male Parula, we can see the distinctive yellow lower mandible (bill), the yellow throat, the faint partial “necklace" of black, and the rust-coloured breast patch. He also has small bits of rust along the lower edges of the yellow on its front. What a beauty!
Other Warbler sightings in the area over the past week (without photos) include Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Canada Warbler. A wonderful collection, considering they were all seen without travelling more than 10 km from home!
Along with the Warblers in the marshes, I saw elusive Wood Ducks pairing up and hunting for nesting spots in dead trees.
Birds, with their colour and song, certainly brighten the Spring days. Wildflowers are at their peak as well; in the wetlands, Marsh Marigolds are in full bloom,
and White Trilliums have been in flower for a few weeks in the drier understory of the forest.
In our little pond, Green Frogs are awake and active now, and spend warm afternoons sunning themselves.
Wherever we are, it’s a wonderful time of the year to be outside enjoying all that Nature has to offer. A special treat over the past months has been the presence of a family of Red Foxes on a hill on the outskirts of St. Jacobs. 4 kits appeared on the evening we stopped by, and played near their den.
All in all, “Spring-near-home” has not been too hard to take! Bird migration has been a short, intense explosion of colour and activity, and now that the weather has finally warmed, blossoms and leaves are popping open everywhere. In our birdhouses, nests are being constructed and eggs laid, and it won’t be long before young birds are demanding to fed. Baby Cottontails will soon be chasing each other through the grass in the evenings. Butterflies and Moths have started to appear....it just keeps getting better!
John Muir has a wonderful way of expressing it:
This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.