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Dog days of summer

July 18, 2016

July 16-17, a rare summer weekend with no plans, and a bit of time to spend on the balcony and to recap what has happened with my birding from the balcony project since that extraordinary month of May.  Our balcony is a very comfortable place to hang out in the summer – literally.  We have an excellent hammock that stretches pretty much the length of the balcony, and fortunately Cris and I don’t argue over it, though it is a pretty sweet place to be on a warm day.   The main bird feeder is about a metre above and off to the right of where my head is when I lay in the hammock. Better that it is not direcly above or it would be showered with sunflower chips!  The hummingbird feeder is above the railing hanging from the roof, as are several hanging flowers.  Water in plastic olive containers attached to the wooden supports are positioned at either end of the balcony, and a nyger feeder hangs out over the garden below.

The Japanese elm in front of the balcony grows like a weed and is a sight to behold.  There is constant motion and movement within its foliage, mainly from a family or families of chickadees that pretty much own the place.  They constantly zip in and out from the feeder, the water, and the plants, with the tree as their base.  Bright golden tennis ball-like male American Goldfinches and their more earthy-coloured wives and the teenagers from last year are ever present also.   There are always several goldies, as we call them, squeeking and chattering away and squacking at the peppy chickadees when they face-off at the feeder.  Never far away is a family of White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, a Hairy Woodpecker, Cardinals, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and House Sparrows.  The hummingbird zipped in today while my eyes were closed.  There was also a visit from an unexpected visitor.  Nothing new for the year, but a surprise nonetheless, a Yellow Warbler.  It looked like a young bird, wandering through the neighbourhood, a sign that the breeding season has come to a close for some species.   The tree and yard is not Yellow Warbler breeding habitat, but we are past breeding season for this species, at least this individual – which serves as a reminder to me that birds wander around after breeding and during migration, and that anything can turn up in that tree!  I just have to keep vigil.


Goldie photo by Cris Navarro

June and early July were very slow after migration ended, but I applied a new technique, using my excellent scope to watch an open area between two trees over the Ottawa River in hope of adding a few more birds.  While I cannot see the river as it is completely hidden by a combination of a giant apartment building, other buildings and trees, as well as the slope of the land – we are about 25 metres above the river, there is one patch of space where there is a gap in the trees and I can see much closer to the level of the river, perhaps within about 5 metres.  I see birds streaming past through this gap in the last hour or so of the day.   That gap proved to be enough to notice many swallows feeding above the river. When the light was right, even from about a kilometre, I was able to see enough detail to identify two new species for the year – Cliff Swallow and Tree Swallow.   Both nest within a few kilometres so their presence is not a surprise.  All I needed was a strategy I guess.

Another new species was Black-crowned Night Heron.  It nests within a kilometre or two from our place but mostly stays along the river and of course is more active at night.   The first one was spotted passing through the same gap over the river.  A day later I saw two fly past our apartment at about 9 pm.

So that puts me at 91 species for mid July- edging closer to my goal of 100.  It will not be easy to get to 100, but with the knowledge that there are a couple hundred species to the north of us that migrate over or past our place each late summer and fall, I know that I have a shot.  I just have to be in the right place at the right time to detect them.  This will mean putting in observation time later this summer and this fall.

However, those species for which our balcony is home, the chickadees and goldies especially, bring great delight to us every day!


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  1. How peaceful a picture you paint.

    Myrna Wood

    Prince Edward County Field Naturalists


    “IBAs, the most important places on earth for birds, are today as imperilled as the species of concern they harbour.” Birdlife International. March 2015

  2. It is lovely to have such a place of solace so close

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