Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cardinals countersinging in February

Walking along the back of the berm today I came across this cardinal perched on a cedar hedge along the fence. He was busily chirping away in counter point to another cardinal somewhere behind me. I hadn't recognized his song initially because it was just a modest chirp echoing the other cardinal not a lusty multi-syllable song like I am used to in the spring time. So I checked the internet about the significance of cardinal songs and came across an extract from Gary Ritchison's book on the Northern Cardinal that might explain something of their behaviour.

According to Ritchison in January and February young males will practice parts of songs that they hear from other male cardinals. They perch lower to the ground in bushes and don't sing too loudly while practicing. This behaviour is called subsong. As the days get longer the birds will have perfected their song and then they go up to the highest perches and sing loudly their repertoire. When they hear another cardinal they respond by countersinging where the two cardinals take turns singing their songs. Sometimes a cardinal matches the song of the other cardinal, perhaps to tell him that his response is directed at that cardinal in particular. I wonder if there is a bit of competition to it where the cardinal that can first learn the other cardinal's song "wins". It sounds plausible and would explain why cardinals produce such elaborate songs and why there tends to be regional dialects. According to Ritchison, cardinal songs have regional dialects where birds of the same region have similar repetoires but the further away two bird's home territories are the less their repetoires will overlap. (Link to The Northern Cardinal by Gary Ritchison)

So perhaps these two birds weren't really ready to start establishing territories as it is still only February but they happened to be close to each other and they got into a bit of a competition countersinging their subsong chirps. Either that or we have particularly unimaginative cardinals here in Manordale.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Robins and Starlings

It was a nice warm sunny day for a walk along the berm today and the snow has melted away from the base of the trees on the south side of the berm. The bare ground has attracted a flock of about 30 starlings and a bunch of robins as well. I can't say that these are the first robins I've seen this spring because there has been a miserable looking robin hanging out in the crab apple tree by our house for weeks now but this was certainly the first flock of happy robins this year.

Starlings are considered a pest because they are an introduced species but I rather like them. They have lovely songs and are quite pretty with their yellow beaks and iridescent plumage. I don't see as large flocks of starlings in recent years as I once did, so I rather feel they haven't over populated their niche. I don't know what native ground foraging birds they might be directly competing with other than robins and grackles who seem to be holding their own.

I also spied a downy woodpecker hanging out at the top of the populars. They stay all winter in Ottawa but it is the first I've seen along the berm this winter. I wouldn't have expected the top of a popular tree to be very productive hunting grounds for a woodpecker but I expect it knows what it's doing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Where are the winter rabbits?

I went for a walk today to see if I could find some rabbit tracks along the Hunt Club berm. I was quite surprised to find that except for close to the cedar hedge by Kimdale street there aren't any rabbit tracks visible along the berm east of Newhaven. There are some squirrel tracks but no rabbit trails. Rabbits often follow specific paths and it is interesting that no rabbits have chosen to live this winter along the berm. There are rabbit trails in the bushy area to the east of Kimdale.

Above is a picture of a rabbit trail among the cedars to the east of Kimdale. In the first picture the rabbit trail goes up and to the right in the picture. You can see some discoloration in the snow due to rabbit pee and a few rabbit pellets along the trail. You can't make out any particular rabbit tracks as the trail is so heavily used.

In the second picture above is a single rabbit track. Squirrel and rabbit tracks are very similar when viewed in isolation. The context of it being on a clear rabbit trail in association with rabbit pellets makes it very likely to be a rabbit track. In addition, rabbits tend to put their front paws one in front of the other parallel to the direction of travel while squirrels tend to put their front paws beside each other. In the above picture the rabbit was traveling away from the camera. When a rabbit is moving it puts its back feet down in front of where it planted its front feet.

One interesting thing about the second picture is the blue rabbit pee in the left paw print. According to the following link the blue pee is due to the rabbits eating buckthorn bushes.

Crows roosting along the Rideau

Last Sunday I was in my car driving along Hunt Club about 5 o'clock when I noticed the stream of crows flying directly over. I took the opportunity to see if I could find out where they were going. It wasn't too hard to follow them as the old saying "as the crow flies" has a great deal of truth. They followed HuntClub to past Merivale Road and then continued on over Collonade to the Rideau river. I lost them for a bit as I had to go up to Hog's Back to cross the river, but I found them soon enough over Vincent Massey Park. I followed them up Riverside drive and noticed quite a few crows in the trees along the river past Bronson. When I got to Bank I saw a flock heading west back towards the trees along the river so I figure there must be more than one crow skyway back to the roost each evening. When I eventually parked on the northside of the river and got out of my car, my ears were assaulted with a great racket from the crows over head. There were also hundreds of crows out on the ice of the river. I took a few snaps, but you couldn't get the entire roost in one picture. The above picture doesn't include the crows on the main roosting trees where they were almost as densely packet as leaves in summer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

coyote tracks in snow

Here is the track of a coyote that visited the berm area a few days ago. It walked along a ski trail heading towards the north-east corner of the triangle. I consulted the internet (link) to make sure it wasn't a dog track. The track is 2.375" long and 1.875" inches wide. You can see the X pattern that forms between the pads of the coyote track. For comparison below is the track of the dog (Irish Setter ?) of the person who commonly skis along the ski track. His or her track is 3.5" long and 2.875" wide. You can see that the dog's toes are more splayed out and the X pattern is less pronounced.

In addition to the shape and size another factor that helps confirm it is a coyote track is that the animal didn't wander around too much. The animal proceeded in a straight line heading directly towards the raspberry bushes in the corner even when the ski track turned away from the bushes. According to the internet, dogs tend to zig-zag and wander around more than coyotes.