July 26 2017, SC Johnston Trail, Brantford, ON. That there’s always something interesting to be found underlies the origins of My Bird of the Day. I hold that whenever I go birding, regardless of how otherwise dismal the day may be, there’s always at least one bird that makes me think Wow! Today we investigated new, unexplored-to-us, places. Although we weren’t exactly off trail there was plenty to enjoy including some interesting mid-summer bird behaviour, an identification lesson or two and a wow! of a different kind, an insight into brevity, longevity and timelessness.
Our first lesson came when we misidentified a Grasshopper Sparrow calling it a Clay-colored Sparrow. I should know better by now, not that it matters all that much, we got it right in the end.
We had half expected to encounter a pair of Orchard Orioles, half expected was appropriate for when we did we saw only the female. She popped up quite unexpectedly at the edge of a dense, shrubby willow allowing just enough time for one photo and a moment or two to wonder quite what we were seeing. My first impression was of a large Yellow Warbler; but hardly. What then? Once I’d got it, it was a good reminder (lesson number two) that Orchard Orioles are noticeably smaller than their Baltimore Oriole cousins and that the females look nothing like the brick-red coloured males, she had me baffled for a moment.
I’ve noted a few times, in recent posts, how bird song diminishes as summer displaces spring. Most song that is, not all, I still hear a Carolina Wren around our neighbourhood and on today’s walk we became aware of a repeated note, the dry fitz-bew exclamation of a Willow Flycatcher. We found it patrolling the edges of a small patch of willows and young cottonwoods. It was a wonderful opportunity to study the bird: we both managed to get some decent photos. Because it and two close relatives, the Least and Alder Flycatchers, are so easily confused, the long and instructive encounter enriched our morning and made it My Bird of the Day; I suspect for both of us.
There were a couple of other contenders for the title: Eastern Meadowlarks, A flock of a dozen or so circling and feeding over nearby river flats and a Black-billed Cuckoo feeding busily in the upper levels of an overhanging Manitoba Maple. We probably would have spent more time watching the cuckoo had it not been for biting mosquitoes and a noisy grass-trimming team.
I started this with the observation that there’s always something interesting to be found and I think the Encounter of the Day was finding a Preying Mantis making its painstaking way up the vertical face of a boulder. I’m not sure what you’d call this: A study in contrasts? A metaphor for time fleeting and immemorial? Here, a predator with a life expectancy of just one summer, with the eponymously fitting scientific name of Mantis religiosa and the lineal descendent of insect species going back for perhaps 300 million years. It was on a pinkish boulder placed precisely in its place by someone driving a front-end loader to mark a trail’s end. The rounded rock, the size of a lawn chair, has been tumbled around by ice sheets for a few hundreds of thousands of years but got its start about 1.2 billion (!) years ago as the metamorphosed bedrock of a long-vanished mountain chain. Now, not that it cares, it too has a name, Grenville gneiss. Nice.