Monday 28 September 2009

I'm still here.

How gratifying that somebody misses me.
I have beeen off work for a couple of weeks with a knee injury, unable to hobble to the nearest birdy patch.

Here is a piece about Victoria Peak that I should have included with the Hong Kong Wetlands post.

During winter and passage, one might expect to find some exciting thrushes and flycatchers on the peak, but as this was early summer, I did not imagine that I would find anything out of the ordinary. What I especially wanted to get was a photo of a kite from above. The Hong Kong variant is the Black-eared Kite and it often soars on the thermals around the buildings and the peak. A circular path around the mountain gives the opportunity to look down on them as they fly. I had previously got some nice shots, but the air had been a little misty on that occasion. Today it was clear so I hoped that I could get a better one.
Bus no. 15 leaves the bus terminus at Central and takes about 40 mins to reach the peak. A path runs in a loop around the mountain. It is a flat, paved path which made for easy walking on a hot day. There were the predictable Chinese and Crested Bulbuls and a few kites in the distance.
Much of the path is lined with secondary forest. Here and there a drive leads up to a desirable residence. Occasionally, an open area affords a view over the city.
There are two proper lookout points. From the first of these, I tried to get a shot of a kite against the mirrored glass of the huge buildings, but it was too distant to be realistic.
At the second lookout, there were kites gliding around in the wooded valley below. They would come up the mountainside and cross a ridge into the next valley before reappearing a few moments later. All the time, they kept very distant. There was a potential shot of a bird against the islands in the distance, so I set up for it and waited for it to happen.
Each time a bird came into frame, I fired on motor-drive at nearly 3 frames per second, hoping that it would wheel around and complete my picture. Sadly they kept going straight and appeared as a black line on the photo rather than a recogniseable bird shape.
After nearly 200 frames, I had a couple of marks that might, without prompting, be taken for birds, but not quite what I was hoping for.
The traditional Hong Kong afternoon rain was closing in, so I waited for one more bird to fly through the frame and then packed up. No sooner had the tripod been hoisted back onto my shoulder than something spooked the birds in the valley below. Suddenly there were 30 kites in the spot where my framed picture would have been. I quickly tried to set up the shot again, but now I had more bird-like shapes than I knew what to do with.
The second lookout is almost exactly half-way round the loop. Just slightly further on, travelling anticlockwise, a big fig tree spreads out over the path. Birds were very loud here and I hoped that the Crested Goshawk might be close. Magpie Robin, bulbuls, White-throated Laughing Thrush, Common Tailorbird, White-eye and Peking Robin were all calling.
Crested (red-whiskered) Bulbul
Perhaps it was a snake, I never found out. The threat appeared to pass and all the birds melted back into the trees.
Just for fun, I tried to create the image I had been hoping for using my photo-editing software. Is it too much do you think? Perhaps I should include a prayer?

Friday 11 September 2009

High Park in Toronto is a public area of oak and sycamore woodland with a few dotted pines, lawns, meadows and ponds. There are areas of ground cover plants and tangled understorey. It takes about 20 mins on the Subway. On the Yonge/University line, head from Union Station to St George. Change here onto the westbound platform of the Bloor Line. High Park has a station named for it. Get out here and the park is just across the road.
This morning, the birds seemed to be suffering the same hangover as the human inhabitants who had been celebrating Labor Weekend. It was very quiet in the park. I had hoped that a few fall warblers would be moving through. Apart from a brace of Wood Duck on one of the ponds, I didn’t see a bird until nearly an hour in.
A few quiet contact chips eventually announced the arrival of a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. Mixed in with them were a Red-eyed Vireo, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches and a warbler that I couldn’t identify.
Once this party had passed through, the woods became very quiet again. Even a pair of American Robins were followed with relish and I resorted to taking pictures of House Sparrows in case I had nothing better to blog about. Halfway through the morning, a tug of attention came about when I thought I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but could definitely smell bacon cooking. Another small party were passing through the pines close to the Grenadier Restaurant. Guests of honour were indeed some Red-breasted Nuthatches, sounding like the hooter on a little toy car, Northern Cardinal and more chickadees.
After an excellent breakfast, I made for the Grenadier Pond. It is more like a lake, but in such close proximity to Lake Ontario, there has to be a scale I suppose.
A Ring-billed Gull sat quietly in the sunshine while the eclipse Mallards roosted on the bank. A Great Blue Heron flew across the lake and a Black-crowned Night Heron climbed about in a snag on the far side.
A path follows the eastern shore of the lake. Martin boxes lined the reedbeds on the western side A patch of flowers had attracted a Ruby Throated Hummingbird and at the top end, Wood Ducks preened and roosted on snags poking from the water.
I back tracked to the point where the paths meet at the lakeside. A patch of small sunflower-like weeds was busy with American Goldfinches and chickadees. The male goldfinch was looking very worn. Close-by a small tree showed signs of beaver activity. The mammal life is quite good for such a small park. There are Racoons, groundhogs, Eastern Grey Squirrels in grey and black forms, Eastern Chipmunks, and reportly, Coyote. A Striped Skunk was out by day near to the zoo enclosures. It did not look at all well, which may explain why it was out in the daylight.
I found myself by to the ponds at the southern end of the park and close to Lake Ontario. Apart from a flock of Canada Geese, some eclipse American Wigeon and Gadwall and a Great Egret, the rest of the day was taken up with dragonflies so follow the link to see what happened next.

Bird species 21
Pied-billed Grebe 1, Double-crested Cormorant 1, Great Egret 1, Great Blue Heron 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 1, Mute Swan 4, Canada Goose 200, Mallard 30, American Wigeon 6, Gadwall 3, Ring-billed Gull 20, Peregrine Falcon 1, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2, Black-capped Chickadee 16, White-breasted Nuthatch 2, Red-breasted Nuthatch 2, American Robin 2, Red-eyed Vireo 1, Red-winged Blackbird 3, House Sparrow 15, Northern Cardinal 6, American Goldfinch 20

ps. when in Toronto, visit the Open Air Book and Map Shop. It is a basement shop down some stairs at the corner of Toronto and Adelaide. It is exactly what it claims to be and even with agoraphilia like mine, I find it a pleasure to spend hours inside. Bird books and mammal encyclopaedia, insects, travel. There are no books about cooking or teen idols, no magazines about overexposed celebrities, just outdoor books and maps.
A Peregrine Falcon breeds on a building across the road from the shop. Each year, volunteers with bikes, rucksacks and radios collect the newly fledged chicks when they make their maiden flights. Apparently the tram lines are a bad hazard. The volunteers communicate on where the chick came down and the cyclist picks it up, puts it in the rucksack and takes it back up in the lift to the roof of the nest building to try again

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Newark, Woodbridge

Regulars to this blog may recognise the cycle route around Woodbridge, New Jersey. From the Renaissance (nee Sheraton) Hotel at Woodbridge, turn into Gill Lane and freewheel down to the bottom of the hill. Here, you will recall, is a railway line with a trail running alongside. The trail and the surrounding trees have been recently mascerated, so while access is good, all the ground cover and leaf cover have gone.
Still, the few remaining fruiting trees and shrubs were pulling in the birds. American Robins and Grey Catbirds were feeding from the berries and were joined by a Red-bellied Woodpecker, acrobatically picking fruit from the highest clusters. Northern Cardinals and Song Sparrows, Mourning Dove, Blue Jays, American Goldfinches and a Northern House Wren, made this quite a hotspot.Beyond the railway line is a large Jewish cemetery on both sides of the road. American Robins and Starlings were abundant on the lawns. At the far side is an area where earth is dumped. Being a graveyard, the area is regularly topped up with loose soil and has developed a covering of rank vegetation, weeds and thistles.This was another hotspot with Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Grey Catbird, House Wren, American Redstart and Warbling Vireo.It was only 09.30, but the first dragonfly of the morning was already on the wing.
My next stop was Merrill Park, South. It was just a short ride away.
I made my way along the stream that runs through the park and noticed a pair of Belted Kingfisher and later, a forlorn looking chick. A Red-tailed Hawk flew over and spooked the kingfishers. It circled, gaining height, then dove down in a stoop, pulling up just before the tree line.The sun was high, the day was hot and the dragonflies were zipping back and forth above the stream. Most of the rest of the day was spent “oding” (if there is such a word). For those of you who wrote in urging me to “stick to the birds”, here are some pictures especially for you.A Green Heron, perched on a stake in the lake at Menlo Park, looked as if it was just about to lunge for a fish. Note the damselfly in the bottom right corner of the picture. Now note the damselfly in the Green Heron. So after the coot in LA last week, the score stands at Birds 2 – Odonata 0.If you prefer to see pictures of live dragonflies, go to for some hot New Jersey odonata action.I would be interested to know if any of you notice a reduction in the resolution for these pictures. I had reduced the resolution to take a picture to upload to e-bay and forgotten to adjust the setting back to the thumping 6mp that you are more used to.

Bird Species list 25
Double Crested Cormorant 1, Green Heron 2, Mallard 15, Canada Goose 100, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Mourning Dove 20, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2, Belted Kingfisher 3, Downy Woodpecker2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 4, Warbling Vireo 1, Blue Jay 15, Northern House Wren 3, American Robin 200, Grey Catbird 12, Northern Mockingbird 2, Starling 150, American Redstart 3, Common Yellowthroat 2, Northern Cardinal 8, Song Sparrow 4, Brown-headed Cowbird 12, Common Grackle 30, House Finch 4, American Goldfinch 25.