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  • Merri-Lee M.

Winter Visitors

Updated: Mar 6

Winter has arrived, and brought some wonderful Winter visitors to our region. Some of them are just passing through, while others have travelled here from their Northern breeding grounds for their Winter vacations!



In mid-December, I was invited to visit a farm that was hosting a late-staying guest: a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, that should have been long gone, had been frequenting the feeders there. It seemed to especially enjoy a meal of peanuts.





Around home in early January, there have been between 50 and 100 American Goldfinches coming to the feeders daily. These birds are year-round residents, but we see many more Goldfinches in Winter than we do in the Summer.




A handful of Common Redpolls have kept company with the Goldfinches. These tiny birds breed in the far North, on the tundra and sub-tundra, and find their way to our area in varying numbers each year. They love chipped sunflower seeds and snowy mornings!




For the most part, the Goldfinches and Redpolls share quite well. If there is an argument over food, the feisty Redpolls are the ones that will be the agressors.


2 American Tree Sparrows, with their rusty caps and single chest spots, have been at the feeders for the last few days.


The Snow Buntings have not arrived in large numbers just yet, but there have been a few stopping by for a snack of cracked corn. These 2 finished eating, then rested on a Bluebird house for half an hour or so before flying off.




Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a visit from some less common travellers. In late December, there were reports of flocks of Crossbills being seen near Crosshill. Most of the time they stayed high in the Spruce trees, but on one of the days that I visited, this little White-winged Crossbill was feeding at eye level.

It would fly down to the ground, find traces of road salt perhaps,

then head back up into the lower branches to extract seeds from tiny cones with its crossed bill.



In the days after my visit, good numbers of Crossbills were seen along Greenwood Hills Road, and it is hoped that this lonely guy found his flock again.


A few days later, a friend and I came across a flock of around 30-40 Crossbills in the mature Spruce trees around a small cemetery on Boomer Line. Most of the birds were White-winged Crossbills, travellers from the North (around Hudson Bay). Male White-wings are a soft red colour, with black wings and tails, and 2 white wingbars. They favour the smaller Spruce cones, which they remove with their bills, carry to another branch, and pry open to find the seeds inside, which they then extract with their tongues. The ground is covered with discarded cones under "Crossbill Trees".








Female White-winged Crossbills, with golden breast and rump, streaking, and dark gray wings, blend into the Spruce trees.


Here we see a Crossbill using her specially-designed "tool" to pull a cone apart,

and diving in for the seed!


This cross-section of a Spruce tree is alive with at least a dozen Crossbills, eating busily. One is dropping to a lower branch with his cone.


Some White-winged Crossbills are coloured quite differently from the rest...

The first one (a young male?) looks much like the one I had seen a few days before, with its soft, pastel colours.


And this one, our last White-winged of the day, was what one elderly gentleman, who was watching with us, called "tangerine"!



A small number of the Birds were Red Crossbills. The males stayed high in the Spruce Trees, hanging on the bigger cones and feeding. Red Crossbills lack the white wing bars of the White-winged Crossbills, and have larger bills and heads. (There are at least 9 different types of Red Crossbills -- not sure which ones these are!)



Female Red Crossbills are coloured in subtle shades of yellow and soft gray. They were feeding lower in the trees than the males, with their White-winged friends, and preferred the smaller cones.





It was wonderful to witness all of these Crossbills in one spot. Both Red and White-winged Crossbills move in flocks and seem to appear out of nowhere quite suddenly, feed hungrily, then disappear all at once, leaving the trees silent, and the ground littered with empty cones and seed pieces.

It's always a thrill to see an Owl or 2 ... or more! Magnificent Snowy Owls have just started to appear regularly in our area. ( I took this photo several years ago, and have refrained from taking many Snowy photos since that time, unless I can know for sure that I am not bothering the Owls.) This female Snowy Owl had landed beside the road, and tried to balance on a small Spruce tree, sitting still only long enough for a quick shot from the vehicle before flying to a more stable perch. Love those big fluffy "boots"!


Short-eared Owls have been sighted near Linwood this Winter. 4 of them have been seen perching on the fenceposts, flying overhead, and hunting in the fields, usually in the late afternoon. When we visited the site, the Owls were hunting away back in the fields, and I only saw a single Bird parked on a post in the distance.

The photos below are, again, from a few years ago, when there were Short-eared Owls around our farm. The first one was taken in the Spring.


The rest are Winter shots, and they have appeared in another blog. However, since I wasn't lucky enough to see them at close range this year, these will have to do!

Our Short-eared Owls were usually most active on snowy, blustery days... when it was really hard to photograph them,



but one beautiful, sunny, frigid morning, a pair of Short-ears were flying high in the sky over our barn. They look so different when they are overhead, all white and light.



Another Owl that is being seen this year in our area is a Barred Owl. I only saw it briefly as it cruised from a small meadow into the forest. The one pictured below was along the St. Jacobs Mill Race a few years ago.


I hope that frequent Owl sightings are an indication that these marvellous Birds are enjoying success in finding adequate food and habitat in our area this year!


And so Winter progresses, and the days are brightened by the arrivals of some incredible creatures. As we make our way through another "lockdown",

every close-to-home miracle is a real gift!


Wishing you a safe, fulfilling New Year, filled with Nature's blessings!

-Merri-Lee

*Many thanks to my friend Theresa, who found out about the Crossbills, and shared in the adventures!

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