Sunday 25 May 2014

Yellow-headed Action, and more....

The presence of the colony of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, along Angler Line just south of Mitchell's Bay, is such a treat. One wants to make the most of it, as they are quite likely to be in more remote and inaccessible locations next year. So for a few hours today, I decided to check them out again.

The cattails are growing quickly, so there is no telling how that will affect the visibility of these colourful birds. At the moment, they can be quite visible, sometimes perched on last year's stems of Phragmites, right along the road side.

I had really been trying for the perfect male with the wings out and curved, against the bright blue sky. I got one, sort of.....

Close, but not as in focus as I would like. They don't often get up that high in the air, spending most of the time at cattail level or just above, but with more cattails in the background. There was a brief time when one or more got higher, as a raptor floated by, causing many blackbirds to sound the alarm and go up to let the hawk know it better not come any closer. Turns out it was a Cooper's Hawk, which afforded some decent views and photo ops.

Both Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds exhibit fairly aggressive territorial behaviour, making for some interesting interaction.

The red-wings like to show off their brilliant red epaulets. Research has shown that the brighter and more vivid the red is, the more dominant the male will be in a colony. Some researchers, many years ago, captured some dominant males and painted their red epaulets with some dark water-based paint. The result was that during the time the red was covered up, the dominance of these males dropped to almost zero. But when the black paint washed off and the red was more visible the birds once again returned to their dominant position in the colony.

I'm not sure what the Yellow-headed Blackbirds thought about this behaviour. There clearly was some territorial defence-work in action. Here, a male of each species was quite vehement about the presence of the other.

It seemed that, for the moment, the Yellow-headed won this round.

Red-wings were quick to harass some of the other birds.....perhaps in frustration over being beaten out by the Yellow-headeds?

Great Egret being harassed by a male Red-wing

I did manage to get a few other shots of the Yellow-headeds in flight, to show the white wing patch.

While all this was going on, there were other birds of note: a Least Bittern dropped in from a short distance away; an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron flew over; Common Moorhen was heard cackling from the cattails and a probable Virginia Rail called as well. One or more Green Herons flew by from time to time.

A non-bird highlight of this outing was finding a rare species of turtle out crossing the road. A fellow photographer noted it first, and proceeded to get it to the side of the road before an oncoming truck came along.

This little one is a Musk Turtle, quite a rarity in Ontario. It has a high (for its size) rounded shell, and its nose is rather pointed. It is small and spends almost all of its time in the water, hence the mossy look to its back. Due to its shy nature, small size and tendency to spend so much time in the water compared to many other species of turtles, it might not be as rare as its status indicates. Nonetheless, in my ~40 years of field work, I have only seen them on land on half a dozen occasions.

And with that, I will bring this post to a close.

The End!
Although I should point out that unbeknownst to many observers, the feathers under the tail are a bright yellow.


  1. Allen, I stopped by this location yesterday and was amazed not only at seeing these birds so close, but hearing their odd vocalizations! I took a few record shots but later realized I should spent a little more time getting the exposure better. Your shots are excellent! Good birding! -DM

    1. Hi Dwayne...thanks for the comment. The birds seem quite settled in so hopefully you can get back to the area. Their range of their vocalizations is truly amazing. I should investigate recording them and adding them to the blog, but it may be beyond my technical capabilities.

  2. Great shots, Allen.

    1. Hi Deb....thanks for the comment. The birds seem to be well into the nesting process, so will undoubtedly be around for a few more weeks. Maybe you can get out to see them first hand when you are in the area.

  3. Allen
    Yes, we counted six male Yellow-headed Blackbirds [ thanks for the location info] Also, .Mitchell's Bay Conservation "walk" is a great start [however, wonder about the Golden Eagle info } ATB - Barry G

    1. Hi Barry...thanks for the comments. I'm glad you got to see the YHBBs while you were in the area. I agree that there is some info posted on the display boards along the Lakeshore Trail that is questionable, and some of it is outright erroneous. I understand there is a trail extension being planned, and hopefully the project managers can see fit to get appropriate review of any material posted, so as to be accurate. We'll see......

  4. Great story and photos Allen and it is very tempting to make the 4 hour drive.

  5. Al - really enjoying your blog and photos. I am coming to Chatham this weekend and have a few hours this saturday from 1-4 (during wedding shower) to check this place and the St Clair Wildlife area. If you are interested in joining me let me know.