Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Breeding bird summary, 2014

Some readers may have noticed the lack of mention of breeding birds in my blog posts. Breeding birds are of great interest to me for various reasons, but I decided to save them for a special posting near the end of the breeding season. The season isn't quite over yet, as some species will continue with nesting activity into September. I have photographed Cedar Waxwings feeding half-grown young at the nest well into that month.

So here are some of the highlights that I noted for the Rondeau area, mostly those that I attempted to photograph, in 2014.

Great Horned Owls begin early. I only saw one nest, however, and it was not really photograph friendly. A Red-tailed Hawk nest which I found was in similar circumstances, and although the adult regularly flew over expressing anxiety, I didn't photograph it either.

Canada Geese were relatively abundant. Anywhere near water was fair game, whether it be sewage lagoons or the sloughs of Rondeau. In the former location, it was not uncommon to see upwards of 200 Canada's amongst the lagoon property, most of which were flightless young.




One that nested in a location quite visible to anyone who walked around the Tuliptree Trail is shown here. I'm not sure if it successfully hatched or not. I saw the adults later, but not with any young visible. I had seen a Mink in the vicinity before this, so it may have been a factor.



 Killdeer are early nesters as well. I found several nests, as usual.


The distraction display is always entertaining when you get too close to a nest.


A Bluejay took up residence just south of the maintenance compound. I watched this bird build, and then incubate, but I never got back to see if the young fledged.



 A trek out to the south end of the marsh via kayak indicated that the cormorants are indeed doing well. In addition to the ones nesting on the sandy islands, a few took up residence for the first time in some trees a bit farther north.



Herring Gulls are normally ground nesters, but on occasion can be found in trees. This is the first time I have seen them nesting in trees in the Rondeau area.


 One of the highlights for me was to come across a Pileated Woodpecker nest tree. I wasn't the one who found it, but I did keep an eye on it. I have never photographed this species nesting, and was looking forward to getting some of those iconic photos of the mostly grown young with their heads out of the hole. I watched from a safe distance on several occasions. The waits were long in between any adult action....usually it was at least 60 minutes and sometimes more than 90 minutes. This next photo shows the 'changing of the guard', with the male leaving to let the female back in.


I got concerned when, after several weeks of this kind of activity, there was no indication of the adults feeding young. The incubating adult would partially stick its beak out from time to time, but except for their coming and going, that was it. Finally, on June 10, with the male repeatedly sticking his head out farther and farther, he gave a noisy call from the cavity.


This was quite unusual. Normally these birds are very quiet around the nest. I expect he was trying to get the female to return, as she had been away for at least 2 hours by this time. I stuck around a little longer, thinking that the female might show up. But finally, after another 45 minutes, even the male gave up, and left.


He flew north and I heard him calling several times. Even though I checked the nest a couple of times in the next day or so, I never saw any more action. I assume that the eggs were infertile, and the female gave up before the male did.

Interestingly while this pair of Pileateds were attempting to nest here, a Downy Woodpecker nested successfully quite a bit higher and on the other side of this same dead tree. And a Cooper's Hawk was nesting in the upper part of an American Beech tree less than 100 metres to the south. Both were too distant to attempt to photograph, however.

Another woodpecker that was much more successful in its nesting efforts was a pair of Red-headeds, nesting in a dead cottonwood tree east of the Visitor Centre.


 They were quite cooperative, and because it was next to  a small parking area, were quite used to vehicles and people. I stood right in the parking lot beside the car for these photos. The nest cavity faced the southeast so there was good morning light. However a dead branch was somewhat in the way and made it more challenging......one would think the birds could be a little more careful in their nest placement :-).

Frequently one of the adults would perch on a dead stub not too far from the cavity.



As the time came for the young to fledge, the adults were less likely to go straight to the cavity. Instead they would land somewhere in the area, and make a few calls, to entice the youngter(s) out. This next photo shows the adult with food in its mouth on the other side of the tree, while the young is eagerly waiting for that mouthful of insects.



I didn't see the actual departure of the young, so I have no idea how many birds fledged. Only one brown head was ever sticking out at a time, but there seemed to be some changing of birds from time to time.

A bit earlier in the season, this Wood Thrush built a nest in a Buttonbush a short distance from a boardwalk along the Spicebush Trail. As the leaves of the shrub and nearby vegetation grew out, the view of the nest was more and more obscured. I think at least a couple of young fledged.



 Along the Tuliptree Trail was this oh so visible Yellow Warbler. It was in a honeysuckle shrub less than a metre from the boardwalk. I'm not sure it realized how busy the trail would be with birders, not to mention numerous school groups. But it persisted. There were at least three eggs at one time, plus an egg of a Brown-headed Cowbird. Normally the cowbirds are the successful young to fledge. However it is uncertain whether any young fledged, due to possible storm activity or a predator.



Another warbler species, and one that Rondeau is well known for, is the Prothonotary. The first nesting record in Canada was noted at Rondeau, back in the early 1930s, and the park has been the stronghold for the species for decades since. At one point it was determined that there were at least 23 pairs in the park, and possibly as many as 50. However the population at the north end of its range has declined dramatically, and in the last couple of decades, less than 20 pairs have been present in Ontario, with most years having less than 10 pairs. Last year was about the worst ever, but the numbers are a bit higher in 2014. At least two pairs are at Rondeau that we know of, and given how little of the ~70 km of the linear slough habitat has been surveyed, it would not surprise me if there were at least a few more pairs. However they seem to be using man-made boxes more often than natural cavities, so if they have switched totally to nest boxes, then there won't be many more in the park.

I kept an eye on a pair using a box near Bennett Avenue. Here, a male arrives nearby with a yummy insect!




No, this isn't a new variety called the Two-headed Prothonotary.....both adults arrived almost simultaneously with the female landing slightly behind the male. This next photo looks a little more normal.


While watching this pair from time to time, I noted a pair of Pileated Woodpecker showing interest in a large, not quite dead tree nearby. I didn't check it out carefully, but based on the behaviour I had seen at the other nest described above, I suspect this pair had a nest here.

At the north end of the Marsh Trail, I came across this family of Barn Swallows. The young had probably been raised in a nest associated with a cottage or garage, but here they were perched on some dead branches waiting to be fed by an adult. It was really challenging to get any photos at all, since the birds were backlit so some flash was necessary, and when the adults came in they would only swoop in for a split second, so I could only get one photo at a time. Fortunately the adults came fairly often, so I had a few chances. Here the bird in the middle is getting fed a damselfly, while two of the other three look on with their best 'begging' posture in hopes that the adult would feed them.


 A little farther down the trail, adjacent to a dead tree stub, was an adult Tree Swallow. A nest hole was just out of view, facing west.


And finally, I post a few images of one of Rondeau's popular bird species, the Bald Eagle. Its nesting season begins much earlier than most species, usually in March. But they spend a long time incubating and raising the young, so there is ample opportunity to observe them if you find a nest.

This nest is not far from the Marsh Trail, but not all that visible except from a few locations. The White Pine has a broken top, with a new leader branch. The broken top is perfect for a nest. This first photo shows the female arriving with a fish in her talons, while the single eaglet waits in anticipation and the male observes from his lookout. An Eastern Kingbird is flying above. Often when the adults are flying about, a smaller bird such as a kingbird or blackbird can be seen harassing the eagles.


Mother eagle has delivered the goods, and the eaglet is busily scarfing down the fish.


When not at the nest, the adults have several perches within a couple of hundred metres or so to keep watch.





There was lots of breeding evidence of other species, such as Ruddy Duck, and of course Wood Duck and Mallards. The Great Blue Herons nested again near Shrewsbury, but I didn't get out with the kayak this year to document the event.

2 comments:

  1. Great photos, and an informative write-up. Thank you. I learned a lot about one of my favourite parks.

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  2. Hi Hester...thanks for your visit and comment. Glad you enjoy Rondeau....it is a wonderful place for a whole lot of reasons!

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