Quebec chronicles – Domaine Forget & birds of black and white

One afternoon during our recent stay in Quebec, we took time to visit a lovely park and academic center called Domaine Forget de Charlevoix, located in the village where we stayed, St. Irénée. The Domaine is a music and dance academy on grounds featuring flower gardens, open-air sculptures, studios, dormitories and a concert hall where an international music festival takes place from June to September.

The grounds also contain small practice cubicles of very basic and inexpensive construction, though each also has a small solar panel (but it was not clear what it powered).

   

It wasn’t clear at first what these little sheds were but when I pushed open a door, I saw they were furnished with a table, chair and walls covered in messages left by students who practiced there. Many of their comments focused on the music that they loved.

 

  • There are people out there who would give anything to play as well as you. Don’t forget to be grateful for what you have.
  • Perfect practice makes perfect
  • Chill! (Responding comment: There is no chill in Paganini ☹)
  • To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable – L.v. Beethoven (responding comment: If you can have both, it’s still a bit better)
  • Love your instrument, but love music more! (Responding comment: Unless it’s a viola)

More of the messages left behind are interspersed below throughout the blog as I show you a first batch of birds we saw in the Canadian province. The focus here will be birds that are mainly black or black and white, their colors nicely complementing the paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) that we saw everywhere.

The Domaine grounds proved to be a wonderful birding spot and our group was excited to see a blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) there. I had never seen one before so spotting this black-striped forager was a treat. Their song is so high-pitched that it is almost inaudible even to people with good hearing.

  • You’re sounding great ♥
  • We do not project our voices, we resonate our souls. RH
  • Play as if no one is listening

These amazing little songbirds – they weigh less than 0.42 oz (12 grams) – make one of the longest non-stop migratory journeys over the Atlantic Ocean of any avians, flying non-stop for over three days!

  • I count myself a king of infinite space
  • If you take time, you will go nowhere/anywhere
  • Endless rivers, boundless time, love flows free

Another small bird present at many of the sites we visited was the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), which looks just like the Carolina chickadee to me. Apparently, the black-capped has more white edging on its feathers but it is a subtle difference.

This pair was busy at the Tadoussac dunes where they were foraging while also collecting some nesting material.

These birds rely on tree cavities for their nesting sites (although they will also use nest boxes if available), so when trees are cut down, they are losing vital habitat features for their survival.

These are one of the animal species that hides food in order to retrieve it later; the chickadees can remember thousands of hiding places – a useful memory feature for lean times!

 

Whereas chickadees are only 4.7-5.9 inches in length (12–15 cm) and weigh only 0.32–0.49 oz (9-14 g), the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos brachyrhynchos) measures 16–21 inches long (40-53 cm) with a weight of about 11.1 to 21.9 oz (316-620 g).

 

 

We saw several crows at different sites, in some cases chasing ravens. The group watched a crow that apparently had a nest nearby as well. An interesting and sad fact about them is that they are unfortunately susceptible to West Nile virus.

  • There is nothing more difficult and therefore more precious than to be able to decide
  • Profit du temps présent le plus possible
  • Through iron and blood we solve our problems, attack them head first!
  • Take a risk! You never know what might happen

An interesting fact about the lovely black-throated blue warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) is that the monogamous males all sing at the start and peak of the spring breeding season, but those who do not find a mate stop singing as the season draws to a close. The males who manage to entice a female into mating continue to sing! Their vocal virtuosity therefore indicates reproductive success!

 

  • Let the music speak through you
  • Everybody wins, just some sooner than others!!
  • Smile. Maybe someone loves you 😊
  • Love yourself more than anything else in the entire world

When species identification first took place, the male and female black-throated blues were classified as different species. The females (not shown here) are more muted in color than the males, without any blue feathers but a white line through the eye. Both sexes sport the “pocket handkerchief”, however, i.e., the white patch on their wings.

 

 

A warbler that we see often in North Carolina is the black and white warbler (Mniotilta varia), a bird that seems to always be in a hurry and in motion as it scurries along tree trunks seeking insects.

 

 

 

While birders usually see these attractive individuals in trees, they actually place their nests in leaf litter on the ground. The females can be distinguished from the males by their white throats.

 

 

 

 

The final bird in this black and white line-up is one that we can see often in the US South – the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). I have to admit that this is one of my favorite species – I find them to be really sweet.

 

In my yard, they do not chase other birds away, do not fight for a place at feeders, sing sweetly and are alert and caring parents.

  • Shoot for the moon, even if you miss it, you’ll land amongst the stars (Responding comment: I don’t think you understand astronomy)
  • Be happy 😊
  • You can always be better – everybody that came here believes that
  • Dieu ne choisit pas les gens qui sont déjà capables, il rend capables ceux qu’il choisit.
  • No matter how well or badly you play, always remember you are human and therefore deserve love and support

I do have to acknowledge that not all the Domaine students were into encouraging one another.

  • Don’t be a diva. Listen to Diva by Beyoncé
  • You’re wasting so mutch time [sic]
  • Who just wasted a lot of time reading through these walls? (Responding comment: Me! Me!)
  • I don’t like inspirational bullshit

But they also reminded us about the importance of what is beautiful in our lives. And their thoughts can apply to any activities in which we choose to engage, be they jobs or avocations like wildlife watching and nature appreciation.

  • One day your life will flash before your eyes – make sure it’s worth watching
  • Most confuse wealth with success. Wealth means different things to different people. It doesn’t mean someone is happy or content. Ultimately your career is a concept that exists in your mind. What you really have is a series of jobs, strung together, that forms a story you are in charge of writing. Sarah Hill, performance artist
  • If you suppress the arts [or people’s ability to enjoy nature], then you’re suppressing the deepest dreams of a people

Next up – some of the “flashy” birds we saw on a top birding day!

“Nuts” for nuts!

A primary source of nutrition for many birds is nuts.This high-calorie food provides them with dietary fat, which can be especially welcome during the colder months. As nuts ripen, you can see the birds flying by, carrying acorns and beechnuts, as well as seeds of various kinds. Some birds are especially suited to eating nuts with their thicker, cone-shaped bills, which are shaped to help them crack open pods and seed cases. Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), sparrows, grosbeaks, finches and woodpeckers are seed and nut lovers.

I had been lax in providing my yard birds with these culinary treats except for sunflower seeds and the seed pods in my yard trees. So one day early last year, I purchased a nut and seed holder and proceeded to give them peanuts, which are not actually nuts but the seed of a legume (Arachis hypogaea). This makes no difference to the birds like the Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) of course.

I first tried peanuts in the shell and an occasional blue jay and tufted titmouse would stop by. However, they didn’t seem to want to put much time into removing the nuts from the shells and I didn’t really want the shells littering the ground either.

Then in the spring I put out some shelled peanuts from a container I’d bought for my own consumption and the avian visitors were delighted. Reading about peanut feeding informed me that I should avoid giving salted peanuts. I couldn’t readily find unsalted ones at the grocery store, so I began removing the salt, either by shaking the nuts in a paper bag or by washing off the salt.

   

Northern cardinal                                            Brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla)

Before they left for the summer, the yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) and ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) tried the peanuts, too. Sometimes I wondered if the kinglet was also not looking for insects around the peanut feeder.

   

My choice to provide nuts was a big hit; I was rewarded with a procession of individuals of varied species who came by to quickly gulp or carry off a tasty nut. Some are pictured below – they came at different times of the day.

 

White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)     Tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

    

Tufted titmouse                                                       Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus)

   

Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)      Northern cardinal

 

Gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)        Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

       

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)         Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

The common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) will sometimes break down the nuts (and are quite messy about it, compared to the chickadees and titmice), but they will also swallow the treats whole.

  

Others are intent on breaking the peanuts into smaller pieces that are easier to get down; this seems especially true for the smaller birds like the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) below. Here we also see Riley, my banded Carolina wren, enjoying a treat.

   

The blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) often gulp down some nuts quickly and then try to carry off several nuts at a time.

One good thing about the peanuts is that thankfully the starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) don’t appear fond of them (they gulp down the dried mealworms, however, as if that food is going out of style). One will occasionally sample a nut, but they never seem to want a second.

As time passed, I realized that the peanut feeding strategy was rewarding me with frequent avian visitors, but was also rather costly. In the autumn, I began putting out a less expensive fruit and nut mix. This has also proved very popular and various species of birds are willing to share space at the feeders. The chickadees especially will feed alongside others, like the house finches and Northern cardinal below.

Species that usually forage on the ground, like the white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), also make occasional forays to the nut feeder.

When the nut feeders are empty, it’s not uncommon to see birds sitting atop them; when they see me, some will call out, as if saying, “Hey, fill up that feeder, please!” And I usually accommodate them, especially when it is very cold, as has been the case the first days of 2018 – we have had a record-breaking stretch of days in which the temperature did not rise above freezing, an unusual occurrence for our southern state of North Carolina.

 

Yellow-rumped warbler  (Setophaga coronata)  House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

The nut feeders have also been very attractive to the resident Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), one of whom has been VERY persistent in devising ways to get onto the feeders. Each time s/he succeeds, I change the position of the feeders or stumps and branches nearby. Currently, that clever rodent hasn’t been able to get up there. In compensation, I occasionally throw a handful of nuts on the ground.

             

So, not all the birds are “nuts” for nuts, but plenty of species think they’re mighty fine! They are definitely a worthwhile addition to the birders’ array of feeder offerings.

American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

 

 

 

An evening at Bolin Creek

After a day waiting for four bluebirds to fledge (next blog!) and a health-care appointment, I decided to forego some chores and instead to spend some time at a bridge over Bolin Creek, a waterway in the local Carolina North Forest which belongs to the University of North Carolina. My naturalist friend Mary discovered that this spot is a favorite bathing spot for birds in the late afternoon and evening. Since the weather forecasters predicted rain most afternoons this week, I decided to make a quick foray there while I had the chance. I knew that photographing the wildlife could be difficult as the sky was dull, overcast and we were expecting a downpour but I was up for the challenge. And once in a while a bit of brightness emerged from behind the clouds to give me some encouragement.

At first, it seemed very quiet – no bird song or buzzing insects; I thought perhaps everyone was hunkering down in anticipation of a coming rainstorm. But then the sky lightened a bit and a handsome robber fly (Promachus) alighted on a nearby leaf. I think this is a red-footed cannibal fly; these insects look like little old men to me.

 

 

A little while later, there were suddenly three avian visitors. The female Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) was the first to take a bath.

     

 

The blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) didn’t go to the water but flitted overhead.

 

The first of two American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) also hopped from branch to branch but eventually ducked behind some rocks to bathe.

A pair of damselflies hung out on the stream rocks; the blue-tipped dancer’s (Argia tibialis) dark purple made it look almost black in the twilight.

 

 

Then a beautiful female hooded warbler (Setophaga citrina) came by for a bath. Her golden feathers shone in the dark foliage and against the stream rocks.

 

 

 

A pair of gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) came together but only one entered the stream for a thorough drenching of its plumage.

 

 

 

   

The redstarts returned but stayed on the branches as the daylight began leaking away.

A few other birds were in the vicinity but didn’t come near: American crows, Northern cardinals, a common grackle and two yellow-billed cuckoos. My visit ended when the sky really darkened — I started down the path in an effort to reach my car before the rain began. A Southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) crossed in front of me and paused in the grass, enabling me to get a quick portrait. And then a nettle of beautiful violet color called out for a photo, too. I made it to the car just as the first raindrops fell. Quite an enjoyable impromptu photography session!

Warbler watching and migration – a shared pleasure for birders!

black-and-white-warbler-i77a3458-maria-de-bruynAutumn migration in North America has been underway for some weeks and our bird populations in North Carolina are changing in composition. Some birds stay year-round – for example, I see robins, blue jays, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice in all seasons to my great delight. However, other birds who have been here since spring are now getting ready to leave for a southerly jaunt to a place that will be warmer for them in winter – most of the ruby-throated hummingbirds and some gray catbirds have departed already. (I have had a catbird stay year-round but others leave.) Many black and white warblers (Mniotilta varia) will be leaving, too.

american-redstart-i77a4367maria-de-bruyn-resThe Nature Conservancy has noted that the autumn songbird migration is one of the top four migrations in this state. The Audubon Society has even published a guide to this migration and when certain species usually begin their travels. (Left: American redstart male)

 

This seasonal event means that dedicated birders make special efforts to visit places where it’s likely we’ll see warblers. Many of North America’s 50 species don’t eat seed or suet, so you won’t find them visiting your feeders often. I have found, however, that pine warblers (Setophaga pinus) and yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are pretty social and those who are here for the winter are already joining my “regular” birds at feeding stations. The pine warblers especially like suet (female left, male right below).

pine-warbler-i77a0184-maria-de-bruyn-res        pine-warbler-i77a0409-maria-de-bruyn-8-x-10

The yellow rumps are still looking around a lot for insects; this one snagged a skipper butterfly.

yellow-rumped-warbler-i77a5552-maria-de-bruyn-res

In the autumn, many of these songbirds no longer have their beautiful breeding plumage, which is often so distinctive that you can identify them easily, especially the males. I was lucky enough to see some of those beauties during spring migration as well as in the summer for the ones that spend the warmer months here.

prothonotary-warbler-i77a2854-maria-de-bruyn-res   prothonotary-warbler-i77a9933-maria-de-bruyn-res

Prothonotary warbler male (Protonotaria citrea)

yellow-throated-warbler-img_0418-maria-de-bruyn        prairie-warbler-i77a1622-maria-de-bruyn-res

Yellow-throated (Setophaga dominica) & prairie warblers (Setophaga discolor)

american-redstart-i77a7811-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

The warblers’ non-breeding coloration is frequently duller and drabber than their breeding plumage. Often only experienced birders can tell some species apart on first sight. Added to that is the fact that young birds don’t yet have their adult plumage and the immature males often look just like adult females. So it is a challenging time for identification, especially for me, but an exciting time for discoveries.

 

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1289-maria-de-bruyn-resGetting photos of these lovely birds can be tricky since they move about a lot in search of their insect meals. It is ultimately the pursuit of those culinary delights that leads the warblers to migrate South, since the insect population declines dramatically in areas with cold weather.

Nature photographer Mary had discovered a spot where the warblers could bathe in a relatively protected fashion; she kindly shared the location with some of us and a number of avid birders sat with her for hours waiting for the birds to appear. Some of our more “common” avian friends used the site, too, including a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) and a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum).

gray-catbird-i77a4922maria-de-bruyn-res    brown-thrasher-i77a4880maria-de-bruyn-res

northern-waterthrush-i77a5013maria-de-bruyn-res

 

A Northern waterthrush (also a warbler, Parkesia noveboracensis) found the spot enticing.

The trees around the water hosted birds as they looked for insects, like the black-throated blue warblers below (Setophaga caerulescens), seen a few weeks apart.

 

 

black-throated-blue-warbler-i77a8117-maria-de-bruyn-res  black-throated-blue-i77a4426maria-de-bruyn-res

A female American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) spent time working the shrubs surrounding the creek with some success.

american-redstart-i77a4981maria-de-bruyn-res    american-redstart-i77a4996maria-de-bruyn-res

The male redstarts hopped about the branches and rocks hanging over the creek for a while before venturing below to bathe.

american-redstart-i77a7628-maria-de-bruyn-res american-redstart-i77a4217-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4477maria-de-bruyn-res  american-redstart-i77a4480maria-de-bruyn-res

The birds appeared to enjoy their bathing spot immensely, sometimes dipping under water over and over again.

american-redstart-i77a4685-maria-de-bruyn-res  american-redstart-i77a4693-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4658-maria-de-bruyn   american-redstart-i77a4629-maria-de-bruyn-res

american-redstart-i77a4710-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

They also didn’t mind sharing the space with each other (or sometimes other species)..

magnolia-warbler-i77a2250-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

 

 

The Magnolia warblers (Setophaga magnolia) did the same, giving me some good looks and making my first in-person sighting of this species (lifer!) quite special.

 

 

magnolia-warbler-i77a5161-maria-de-bruyn-res    magnolia-warbler-i77a5184-maria-de-bruyn-res

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5210-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

The chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)was a very vigorous bather!

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5230-maria-de-bruyn-res

chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5207-maria-de-bruyn-res    chestnut-sided-warbler-i77a5203-maria-de-bruyn-res

hooded-warbler-i77a4728-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

A male hooded warbler (Setophaga citrina) made a brief appearance one day, followed by some female and male common yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas).

 

common-yellowthroat-i77a4431maria-de-bruyn-2common-yellowthroat-i77a4316maria-de-bruyn-res

Another water body that provided me with some excellent views of warblers was the Haw River. In the small town of Bynum, a bridge crosses the river and gives birders a great vantage point to see birds in the tree canopy close to eye level. There I was able to see two more lifers a couple weeks ago – the first was a bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea).

bay-breasted-warbler-i77a1004-maria-de-bruyn-res    bay-breasted-warbler-i77a1003-maria-de-bruyn-res

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1315-maria-de-bruyn-resThis beauty was followed by another that had me confused. At first, I thought I was seeing a kinglet but this bird was a bit large and then as I got closer looks, I realized it looked like a bay-breasted warbler but had yellow feet. A search on the Internet showed I had seen a blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata), likely a non-breeding male. Experts on an American Birding Association Internet site confirmed the ID for me.

blackpoll-warbler-i77a1320-maria-de-bruyn-res    blackpoll-warbler-i77a1329-maria-de-bruyn-res

black-and-white-warbler-i77a7204-maria-de-bruyn-resMy migration warbler watching culminated with some exciting finds in my own yard. I was surprised by several I hadn’t seen at home before, including common yellowthroats, a black and white warbler looking for insects in my willow oak and a gorgeous Northern parula (Setophaga americana), who even came to my feeders before pursuing a caterpillar in a Rose of Sharon nearby.

northern-parula-i77a7131-maria-de-bruyn-res   northern-parula-i77a7117-maria-de-bruyn-res

northern-parula-i77a7076-maria-de-bruyn-res

 

I’m now hoping to see some birds that breed further North during the summer arrive here for their late fall/winter/early spring sojourn, such as a ruby-crowned kinglet who has spent time with me each winter for the last three years. Next time I’ll share some of my pollinator sightings with you, in the hope you find them as fascinating as me. Have a nice day!

The banded birds are back!

gray catbird DK7A2255© Maria de Bruyn resIn a previous blog, I described how six birds were banded in my backyard so I could track them over time. Bird banding has been done for decades, indicating that it is a practice that truly works for monitoring lifespans and locations of individual birds. But it still seemed to me that being caught in a net, having someone hold you as they extricated your legs and wings from the clinging threads, then putting rings on your legs and sticking you into a container (for weighing) would be a traumatic enough experience for you to decide that this geographical area was not where you wanted to be. Anthropomorphizing the banded birds’ reactions meant that I wouldn’t have been surprised (albeit very disappointed) if I had not seen the six birds again.

gray catbird DK7A2210© Maria de Bruyn resMy expectation was almost immediately proved wrong, however, confirming that birds do not stay away from sites where they were given their ankle bracelets. Corey, my tail-less gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) was the first one I spotted again, the very next day after the banding. He has an aluminum band on one leg and 2 red bands on the other.

Since the bands are such different colors, I decided to name the birds as that is easier to note down for sightings. The gray catbird with an aluminum band (they all have this color as it contains their registration number) and white and purple bands became Camden. The catbird with the lovely yellow and green bands was dubbed Clarissa. All three have been very regular visitors to the feeders, proving that a little discomfort was not enough to dissuade them from visiting the always available buffet of mealworms and other delights.

gray catbird Camden DK7A2085© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird Clarissa DK7A2091© Maria de Bruyn res

The catbirds have a fondness for sweets and like both apples and blueberries. Grape jelly is a real treat, for which they will return again and again.

gray catbird Clarissa DK7A2647© Maria de Bruyn resgray catbird Camden DK7A2198© Maria de Bruy resn gray catbird Camden DK7A1965© Maria de Bruyn resCorey’s return visits have shown how his tail feathers grew in again nicely over time. gray catbird Corey DK7A2472© Maria de Bruyn resI named the Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) Clancy and I first spotted him again 2 days after the banding. He has not been a regular visitor, however – or I just haven’t caught sight of him among the bevy of other male cardinals that flit around the trees. However, a few days ago he turned up among the apples!

Northern cardinal Clancy  DK7A7771© Maria de Bruyn res northern cardinal Clancy  DK7A7753© Maria de Bruyn res

Carolina wren Willow DK7A2608© Maria de Bruyn resWillow, the Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), has been a very infrequent returnee. When he comes, he tries to stay out of sight, choosing the side of the feeder away from me and only lingering a short while in plain sight. At least I know he is ok.

The one bird I have not yet seen is Rusty, the American robin (Turdus migratorius). I’ve been staring at the legs of every robin that hops around the yard but have yet to see one with leg jewelry. Perhaps he was just a stray visitor the day of the banding? I will certainly keep a look-out for him.

My first re-sighting data were entered into the Nestwatch site on 1 June 2015; it will be interesting to see how long I can maintain this input. Clarissa is a very frequent visitor so I think she will be in many entries. Or perhaps she is just busy right now feeding young ones.

gray catbird Clarissa DK7A2504© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird Clarissa DK7A2503© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird Clarissa DK7A2498© Maria de BruynEastern bluebird IMG_3881© Maria de Bruyn resIn the meantime, I am monitoring two nests for data entry; one for Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), who have babies in a nest box, and one for gray catbirds, who have a nest in the middle of a shrub next to my carport.

The catbird parents are ever so vigilant and call out warnings to me whenever I approach the shrub. They hesitate to go into the shrub with food when I am near, even though those babies must be hungry. I finally got a view of them through the twigs when they were close to fledging. They are now hopping around on twigs in the shrub near the nest. Yesterday, when I came too close, Mama catbird dive-bombed, actually grazing my head!

Gray catbird IMG_3887© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird IMG_3873© Maria de Bruyn

The parents in both pairs are very diligent about bringing the babies meals, working as a team. One catbird parent seems to be good at collecting a variety of foods, in one case bringing three different insects at once (presumably one for each baby). I will look forward to seeing the young ones out and about and sincerely hope my neighbor’s cat doesn’t get them.

gray catbird DK7A2939© Maria de Bruyn res gray catbird DK7A2937© Maria de Bruyn res

Bird watching is an enjoyable way to spend time; doing it and contributing to scientific data collection is even cooler!