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Migrating Waterbirds - Landing on Water Near You!

Late October 2016

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Featured Species: Those @#$%^##$!!! Geese 


Question:  When are taxonomists a positive force for biodiversity? 

Answer:  When they make two new species out of one old one! 

Just when you thought that you had enough geese now you have more: science has split the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) into a large-bodied, interior- and southern-breeding species (still Branta canadensis), and a small-bodied tundra-breeding species, the Cackling Goose (now B. hutchinsii).  To make things even more confusing, there are four Cackling subspecies and seven Canada subspecies.

The obvious difference is size, as shown in this photo. And keep in mind that our resident Canadian, the Giant Canada Goose , is even bigger than canadensis above.  And the Giant is really a success story.  Nearly eliminated in early 1900’s by over-hunting and loss of habitat, the Giant Canada Goose was believed to have gone extinct by the 1950s.  But in 1962, a small flock was discovered wintering in Minnesota.  With improved conservation practices and habitat reclamation and preservation programs, their populations have recovered in most of their range.  Too well, according to some, but when you build great habitat (short grass near water), eliminate predators and provide lots of food, you have to expect that they will come.  Most of the birds you see now on our lakes and rivers will be these Giants.  Most of the Cackling and other Canada Goose subspecies will have moved further south, but a few may still intermingle as they rest along their way.  See if you can spot any smaller geese when they raft up. 

It might be easier to see Snow Geese , distinctive, almost all-white waterfowl (although there are also "blue phase" birds with blue-gray colouration) which can occasionally be found among Canadas and other water birds.

In southwestern Ontario the vast flocks of migrating white geese are Lesser Snow Geese whereas in eastern Ontario and Quebec, you are more likely to see Greater Snow Geese flying overhead. Snow Geese are rarely seen in the Atlantic Provinces although occasionally birds will be blown off course during bad weather and their unexpected presence can be a delight for bird watchers.  


Other Happenings:   

  • Golden Eagle 42 a young male Golden Eagle, was found injured in Minnesota late fall of 2008, rehabilitated, banded and outfitted with a satellite transmitter in, March of 2009.  Since then we watched his fall migrations through Canada to Wisconsin, as well as his summer wanderings in Northern Quebec, Nunavut, Labrador and Newfoundland.  “Whitey” either died or dropped his radio in the fall of 2011, but Golden Eagles 45, 46 and 53 were currently active in 2013, and you can track their travels as well.
  • Porcupines are beginning to mate, if you can imagine what that must be like.  Fortunately for the male, the underside of the female’s tail does not have quills. The male also does an elaborate dance for the female, and sprays urine on her head.  Why this doesn’t make her very angry is beyond me.  This also means that porcupines are a bit more active and wandering.  If they’re on the roads, their instinct is not to run, so take care at night.
  •  Lake Trout are spawning over shallow rubble shoals in lakes when temperatures drop to around 10ºC.  Ask anglers about any possible locations in your area.  You can often spot them spawning at night using a high-powered flashlight. In Algonquin Provincial Park on Opeongo Lake, researchers (at times with volunteers) have been tagging, and now sonically tagging, Lake Trout in order to estimate population size, survival rates, spatial distribution, tag loss, and fishing pressure, and to improve monitoring technologies. Lake Trout are actually not trout, but a char.
  • You can still find some wasps (which you may have seen a lot of this summer), flies and ladybird beetles on sun-warmed building sides. But frosts have begun - keep your ears tuned for the silence that means the end of most insect activity. 
  • Monarch Butterflies should have begun to cross into Mexico (as of this writing, they were stacked up in southern Kansas awaiting a cold front) on their journey to their highland sanctuary, flying as high as 3350 m/11,000 ft. in search of favourable winds.  This year, far lower numbers are expected than normal, due to both recent and longer-term impacts
  • Those Heath Asters should be finishing up, ending the wildflower season for another year (but not all blooming – stay tuned).
  • North Americans will see a partial solar eclipse on the 23rd, with larger chunks missing further west and north.  Here is a list of eclipse times for a city or town near you.  For many in Ontario, the eclipse will not end before the sun sets.  Watch your eyes!  This makes October fairly unique in having both a lunar (total) and solar (partial) eclipse. 
  • The very young moon will be near Saturn after sunset in the southwest sky on the 25th, and will appear to progress towards and past Mars as the month proceeds to its conclusion.