Pelicans at Astotin Lake at Elk Island National Park yesterday – soon to move on. Redwing Blackbird nestlings, judging from the adults’ tenacious & raucous herding of a crow along the shoreline.
Merlins from our block mating last week.
Magpie nestlings in backyard spruce for the past 2+ weeks.
Downy Woodpecker nestlings in front yard rowan trunk for at least a week – first heard them Sunday. The parents have been industriously emptying our bird feeder for the past week or more, in that busy “I’ve got hungry mouths to feed” sort of way. The male is a little scruffy guy.
Woodpecker Nest Entrance – A Perfect Circle
This morning a raven, or very large crow, visited my neighbour – the magpie nest. It was accompanied by an entourage of one or two smaller crows. A dozen magpies gathered to drive it away, although their efforts seemed to be ineffectual. The raven was not intimidated and settled at the side of the nest. Magpie nests are hooded, which must make them easier to defend – buying the defenders some time to drive the intruder away. The raven wasn’t deterred, and moving aside a branch from the top of the nest, plunged its beak into the nest several times.
After the raven flew away, mama magpie checked the nest, then gently shooed the magpie warriors away from her nest. The pair hung around the nest afterward, occasionally flying to it to peer inside.
A couple of hours later the raven returned. Instantly nearly 20 magpies materialized from nearby trees to defend the nest. The raven landed at the nest, then soon retreated this time… perhaps finding no treasure left.
Magpies will do a ‘take two’ if the first clutch fails. These two haven’t abandoned this nest – they’ve continued to busily tend to it throughout the day.
I was delighted to see the friendly neighbourhood magpie couple decided to build this year’s nest in the rowan tree outside my front window – prime armchair viewing location. I suspect this is the pair that has nested for the past two summers in our neighbour’s backyard spruce.
This year they salvaged twigs from a nest several years old in another trunk of the same rowan, as well as hunted for any other available loose branches. It was interesting to see the struggle it is to manoeuvre long twigs through tree branches, using only a beak. Forward, left twist, back… got it!
One tended to be the collector who brought the hard-won goods to the other at the nest, who took each and tucked it away in just the right spot – the master builder. It was like watching new parents-to-be assemble their Ikea crib, “ok, now hand me part n… there should be four of them…”
Over three weeks the new nest transformed from a thin collection of sticks to a respectable plump, round bundle in the crook about two-thirds up the tree.
It has been completed for a few weeks now. Earlier today I saw both sitting together, and now I see only one, sitting across from the nest in the “next door” tree, facing attentively toward his new nursery. I wonder if it holds its treasures yet…
A pair of magpies frequent the rowan tree outside my window.
One morning this winter they were huddled together on a branch, their white breasts gleaming together in the sunlight.
I often see one silhouetted atop a spruce in the distance – a striking tree-topper.
Last month I saw one of them struggling to remove a branch from the abandoned magpie nest in the rowan, and fly with it across the street to a tree in the alley – an early sign of spring!
Three weeks ago this pair were chasing a harassed little red squirrel through the rowan tree (all our squirrels are little and red).
Today a blue jay alighted in the tree with what appeared to be a peanut shell in its mouth. Before long this pair arrived on the scene and chased the jay around the yard and out of sight.
Midway between equinox and solstice, the dark time of the year begins. And right on cue, the first snowflakes fall from the sky, beautifully drifting down at a meditative pace. The leaves have dropped from most trees, leaving behind decorative bright red berries or helicopter seed pods. In nature lore the sacred Crone mourns the death of her spouse for the next six weeks, until the solar babe is born and the light begins its annual growth. A time of peaceful reflection, rest, and waiting.
This spring the raucous call of a merlin could be heard echoing through my neighbourhood. I’ve seen the small hawk perched in trees and soaring over the block throughout the season.
In the past two weeks a group of three appeared as a prominent presence – perhaps a fledged family – an adult pair with a juvenile, or an adult with two juveniles? They call to each other as they swoop through the neighbourhood.
The activity is centred one block east of mine, so perhaps their nest was in a backyard tree in that block. Apparently they like to move into old magpie and crows’ nests – and certainly there is an abundance in this neighbourhood. We had a crow family raised in a pine at the park a block away, and there were at least three magpie families in the immediate neighbourhood this year, as every year.
Ambling along the sidewalk by the river valley, hidden from view by the snowbanks lining the walk, my dog and I came upon a short-legged, shaggy animal with a big round body, somewhat larger than a large domestic cat.
It seemed to be a uniform dark colour. Its tail was flat and angled down toward the ground from its body. The tail was about half to two-thirds the length a cat’s would be, relative to the body size.
Although it rolled from side to side in quick, waddling steps, it progressed slowly down the path – clearly not an animal that relies on speed.
Skunk tracks had criss-crossed the neighbourhood last week, so that was my first thought, but its tail and markings were different from a skunk’s. The tail wasn’t fluffy and there were no tell-tale white markings on its back or tail.
I think it was a porcupine, or possibly a woodchuck, newly emerged from hibernation. Maybe a young one, given its size.
I kept our distance, since my dog was along, so we didn’t get close enough to confirm.
Alongside the cheery chickadees and nuthatches flitting through the branches, this industrious Downy woodpecker didn’t mind a nearby admirer…
Downy Woodpecker, North Saskatchewan River Valley