2birdfeature #11: Fog/bog

If you’re wondering what effect heavy morning fog has on a photograph, I can show you numerous examples. Take today’s two birds, for instance. I photographed them around 6 AM from the middle of a bog in St. Alban’s, Newfoundland.

PALM WARBLER

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Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) – St. Alban’s, Newfoundland

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Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) – St. Alban’s, Newfoundland

Palm Warblers are very vocal little birds that breed in bogs. Especially bogs lined with spruce and tamarack (the description of every Newfoundland bog). They won’t turn their bill up at your lawn either, in a pinch. Especially if you let it get extra weedy. They are carnivores in the summer (insects) and vegans in the winter (berries and nectar). Nestling Palm Warblers are on a fairly strict 12-day schedule. Incubation lasts for 12 days before they hatch and then they get free meals from mom for about 12 days in the nest before getting the boot.

It’s all around quite difficult to find warbler nests and even harder to catch them with nestlings inside. Their entire egg/nestling/fledgling cycle is complete in a matter of just over 2 weeks.

GREY JAY (Canada’s new national bird-elect!)

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Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) – St. Alban’s, Newfoundland

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Grey Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) – St. Alban’s, Newfoundland

The Grey Jay (“gray” in North America) is known by many names, some of them curse words. Canadians often call them whiskey jacks. Back in Colorado we call them camp robbers. If they’re not stealing dog food right from your dog’s dish, they are gracefully swooping in to take the sandwich right from your mouth. I might give this little arse of a bird the award for Most Brazen Bird.

Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and an absolute classic. Just, no one likes to have their sandwich stolen. Rude.

One thing I love about the Grey Jay is that it sticks around for the tough winters. While other birds are frantically trying to reproduce during the warm months up here in Canada, the Grey Jays are waiting it out, twiddling their thumbs as it were. They don’t even consider sexy time until the snowpack is substantial. They lay eggs starting in late February.

There is an interesting development in 20% of Grey Jay nests which consists of a third adult bird taking on some of the workload from the two breeders. The third wheel is very seldom allowed to feed the nestlings but is relied upon for chasing away intruders. Though if he oversteps his bounds, the breeding male will chase him away aggressively.

Are you enjoying the Newfoundland birds? I’ve got a bunch more for you! Stay tuned!

2birdfeature #10: Boreal Band

Today, two very vocal species. A bird that sings early and often in the Newfoundland forest is a much appreciated friend to folks like me who survey birds and need to identify them by song. Even in the thickest fog. More often than not, early morning birding here in Newfoundland is an activity for your ears, not your eyes. We have a lot of weather!

RED FOX-SPARROW

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Red Fox-sparrow (Passerella iliaca) – Gambo, Newfoundland, Canada

The Red Fox-sparrow’s song is a series of loud, clear whistles at different pitches, stopped off with a buzzy note. The male is the primary singer, of course. He’s trying to attract the ladies. But occasionally, female Red Fox-sparrows will also sing.

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH

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Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis) – Portland Creek, Newfoundland, Canada

The Northern Waterthrush is actually a warbler, not a thrush. His song begins with 3 short, loud notes and ends with a slurred flourish. This song is faster and longer at dusk when male Northern Waterthrushes sing during flight.

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Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis) – Portland Creek, Newfoundland, Canada

Later this week, more Newfoundland birds!

Caribou in Newfoundland

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Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) – Heritage Run, Newfoundland

Let me answer this question once and for all. Is a reindeer the same thing as a caribou? The answer is…yes…and no. It’s sort of a chicken or egg situation. Only it’s not, because there’s a definitive answer.

Caribou, a member of the deer family, evolved in North America–specifically, what is now Alaska and the Yukon–and spread eastward. All the way eastward to Europe and Asia, where they are known as reindeer.  Potato, patahto. This whole migration took place before the last glaciation of our planet. We’re talking about a world where Europe, Asia, and Alaska are still connected. Think big here. 21,000 years big.

Caribou and reindeer are the same species, yes. But, they are vastly different subspecies genetically and would not interbreed well. Because of their differing environments, they are two different beasts.

The caribou that live in almost all Canadian provinces (including Newfoundland, where I live) are called Woodland Caribou. They survived the Great Ice Age and moved into much of Canada for good ~10,000 years ago.

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Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) – Heritage Run, Newfoundland

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Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) – Heritage Run, Newfoundland

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Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) – Heritage Run, Newfoundland

The original caribou, the herds that live in Alaska northeast to Baffin Island, are called Barren-ground Caribou. There is one other subspecies called the Peary Caribou that lives only on Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. And then, of course, there are reindeer.

Hopefully that cleared things up.

A quick note on antlers. The magnificent rack of antlers seen on male and female caribou grow from nothing and fall off every single year. Male caribou grow a much larger and more complex set of antlers than females starting in March every year (female antlers begin growing in May). Antlers bear a soft, fuzzy tissue called velvet during development. This tissue is basically a protein shake (more like continuous supply of blood and nutrients) for the antlers beneath as they grow and harden. Caribou (and other deer species) rub the velvet off on trees and rocks when the antlers are fully grown. A male caribou starting with tiny nubs of velvet in March may have 3-foot-long fully developed antlers by August. Just in time for mating.

Antlers fall off in late fall after the rut (breeding season) for males. Females keep their antlers until after they calve.