Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘Fall’

Taking Advantage Of The Full Moon For Rutting White-tailed Deer

deer 2 - Taking Advantage Of The Full Moon For Rutting White-tailed Deer

Fall is a great time to observe White-tailed Deer in Southwestern Ontario.

After the rush of fall migration has passed, I often switch my focus to photographing White-tailed Deer. Fall is mating season, also known as the rut, for these large mammals making them highly active at this time of year. Unlike other times of the year when deer are more active at dusk and dawn, during the rut White-tailed Deer are easily located during daylight hours. Large bucks are often observed at close range as they are less wary of humans during the rut as they have only one thing on their mind. 

Deer 4 - Taking Advantage Of The Full Moon For Rutting White-tailed Deer

During the rut, I try to keep my distance from White-tailed Deer as they can be aggressive at this time of year. This particular buck crossed the path only a few meters in front of me.

Research suggests the second full moon following the fall equinox triggers the peak of the rut in White-tailed Deer. With last Friday’s full moon being said moon, I grabbed my camera and headed to the woods in search of some White-tailed Deer.

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This doe garnered the attention of several bucks.

Making my way into the woods the imprints of fresh deer tracks were present in the mud, and I knew that the day’s target species couldn’t be too far ahead. A short distance down the trail rustling in the bushes caught my attention as the first White-tailed buck of the day came into view.

Raising may camera I took several photos as this was a decent sized buck with an imposing set of antlers. As he crossed the trail in front of me, a doe behind him was observed grazing on vegetation. A few minutes passed and a smaller buck came into view. The first buck quickly turned and chased the second buck out of the area. 

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Not all of the bucks on this day had impressive antlers. Several younger bucks were mixed in with the herd.

Doubling back on the trail to not disturb this pair, I made my down another trail. Hearing more rustling in the bushes another buck passed only a few meters in front of me presumably chased by the first buck encountered. Making my way deeper into the woods, several more bucks of various sizes were observed. Some were young bucks with only small antlers while other were mature bucks displaying more remarkable antlers.   

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This past week I had great views of several bucks demonstrating their typical rutting behavior.

In total, six bucks were observed in this small area all within sight of each other. Mixed in with these bucks were several does. Keeping my distance, I watched from behind a large oak tree. A medium sized buck to my right was busy chasing two smaller bucks whenever they came too close to the does nearest him.

To my left, two larger bucks briefly locked antlers but as I attempted to raise my camera for a photo, a smaller buck was running in my direction as he tried to escape the pursuit of a much larger buck. Not wanting to take my eye off these moving bucks, I failed to capture an image of the battling bucks, but no picture is worth risking my safety. The two bucks quickly unlocked antlers as the slightly smaller of the two seemed to give up rather easily as the exchange was short lived. 

deer 5 - Taking Advantage Of The Full Moon For Rutting White-tailed Deer

This large buck was clearly the king of the forest. Only a subtle movement on his part and the other bucks took notice. 

Watching this rutting behaviour was certainly fascinating, and I was grateful to experience it first hand. One other observation I made was the respect that the largest buck in the group commanded. He was the least active of the group, but his limited actions were responded to most by all of the other bucks. As the other bucks chased each other and defended their own small areas, all activity ceased when the largest buck so much as turned his head. One step in any direction and the 5 other bucks were on the move. Observing this chain of command was truly impressive and I could only imagine the battles this buck has lost and won over the years to achieve his spot in the forest’s hierarchy.  

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From behind a large oak tree, I watched as several mature bucks moved through the forest.

If you are planning on heading out in search of White-tailed Deer in the coming weeks there are a few things to keep in mind. Be aware of the hunting seasons in your area and whether or not hunting is permitted on the land you plan to search. The area I chose is a public area within the city limits and hunting is not permitted. Remember, White-tailed Deer are wild animals and large bucks do defend their territory and the does within it aggressively so be sure to keep your distance. The average weight of a mature White-tailed buck in Ontario is between 140 lbs and 250 lbs, add in a large set of antlers and this is not something you want to be on the receiving end of. Play it safe and observe and photograph mature deer form a distance.

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Opportunities to observe large White-tailed Deer will continue throughout the fall.

Despite the peak of the rut coming to an end, White-tailed Deer will continue to breed into December and thus will remain quite active. With the remaining leaves quickly falling from the trees, the added light in the forest makes locating deer and observing them much easier. Many of our ESAs, conservation areas, and other public lands have healthy populations of White-tailed Deer, so travelling far to observe these impressive creatures is not necessary.

Taking in a late fall hike and observing White-tailed Deer is a great way to spend time in nature. Next time you are out at your favorite natural area, listen for movement and keep an eye out for fresh tracks on the ground and you might just be rewarded with an excellent view of a White-tailed Deer.

Good birding,

Less Yard Work Equals More Birds

pil - Less Yard Work Equals More Birds

Dead limbs and branches will attract more birds to your yard by providing a food source and potential nest sites. If safe to do so, consider leaving a few dead limbs around your property. 

Fall and winter months are excellent times to attract more birds to your yard and fortunately there is an easy way to do this. In fact, attracting more birds during these months is so easy it involves doing very little at all. With fall now upon us, many homeowners are reaching for rakes and pruners and are busy bagging leaves, picking up sticks, and cutting back perennials that have long since flowered in an effort to beautify their properties. The truth is many of these items considered yard waste are incredibly beneficial to birds and will actually attract more of them to your yard. 

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American Goldfinches are among the many birds attracted to the seeds produced by New England Asters and other garden flowers.

Seed heads produced by many perennial flowers offer an excellent food source that will attract a wide variety of songbirds to your yard. Refraining from cutting these back until next spring creates a steady supply of natural food throughout the fall and winter months. In my garden for example, the seeds produced by native coneflowers have been attracting American Goldfinches for several weeks now. The asters and goldenrod that were providing a food source for migrating Monarch Butterflies only a few weeks ago are now offering a natural food source as well. White-throated Sparrows have recently migrated back into our area and the bounty of seeds in my garden has attracted good numbers of these birds looking to replenish spent energy.

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White-throated Sparrow enjoying the seeds from a goldenrod flower.

By not cutting back perennials until next spring the remaining dry foliage of these plants also provides a home for many insects. Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees are regularly observed during fall and winter months extracting gall fly larva from goldenrod stalks.

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Downy Woodpecker preparing to extract a gall fly larva from a goldenrod stalk.

This past week I observed an Orange-crowned Warbler foraging on insects in my garden as it made a brief stop to feed during its migration south. These insects would not have been present had I cut back the flowers in an effort to make my yard more aesthetically pleasing. Other birds observed feeding heavily on seeds and insects this past week in my garden were both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Tufted Titmouse, and Dark-eyed Juncos which have recently returned to our area to spend the winter months  By leaving the remnants of these flowers, my garden offers a natural food source for many songbirds while also providing plenty of cover from predators and the elements. 

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The dried foliage of garden plants is home to many insects which attracts an abundance of birds during the fall including Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

After the recent high winds many of us will find tree limbs scattered across the ground on our properties. Rather than bundling them up and dragging them to the curb or breaking them down so they will fit into a container, consider constructing a brush pile by piling them in a corner of your yard. Brush piles attract birds by providing shelter from harsh weather and predators. 

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Many ground feeding birds will forage in fallen leaves for both seeds and insects.

Leaves in a garden may not be the look most of us are accustomed to when it comes to landscaping but this so called yard waste is incredibly beneficial. Allowing leaves to decompose in a garden will enhance soil quality and provide nutrients to trees, flowers, and shrubs. Leaf litter is also home to a multitude of insects which in turn attracts a variety of birds. Rather than bagging my leaves and placing them at the curb, I now mulch all of my leaves with a lawnmower and add them to my gardens while leaving some on my lawn over the winter. I quit using fertilizer years ago and my lawn (excluding this summer’s extended dry spell) has never looked better. 

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Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters will be attracted to dead limbs and branches left around your property.

Another great way to attract more birds to your property with less yard work is by not removing dead limbs or branches from trees if safe to do so. Many birds prefer dead limbs for perching while also being drawn to the bevy of insects found within the wood. Come spring, these same dead branches will provide potential nesting sites for cavity nesters such as woodpeckers and nuthatches.  

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After a heavy snowfall this American Tree Sparrow found food emerging from the snow in the form of seeds from a Calico Aster.

If you are like me and love attracting birds to your yard, try implementing these methods this fall. I think you will find that soon after taking these measures you will notice an increase in the number of birds visiting your yard. Not only will you enjoy more birds and potentially even a new species or two, spending less time doing yard work will free up more time for birding and other leisure activities on your well-deserved days off. 

Good birding,

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*


Sanderling and Sunsets Along Beautiful Lake Huron

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Birding along the Great Lakes provides views of many species; this Sanderling was observed foraging amongst the rocks along the shores of Lake Huron.

The Great Lakes are excellent for birding anytime of year, but with fall migration underway now is the perfect time to hit the shores in search of birds. Two flyways, the Atlantic and Mississippi, cross over the Great Lakes with shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, gulls, and waterfowl all following these routes from as far north as the Arctic, all the way to the southern United States, Central and South America. Their shorelines act as natural highways for these birds, as they make their way south to their wintering grounds. Regardless of which Great Lake is nearest you, great birding opportunities await.

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Birds are not the only things that provide beauty along the Great Lakes; the sunsets are simply stunning.

I recently had a chance to spend some time in Bayfield Ontario, located on the east shore of Lake Huron. The mixed habitat provided a nice variety of birds. Along the lake itself was a typical Great Lake shoreline, consisting of a sand beach with mixed rocks and wood. Adjacent to the beach was a beautiful dune covered in American Beach Grass, new growth Poplars, and White Pines. Behind the dune was a wooded area made up of cedars and a wide variety of deciduous trees.

North winds prevailed during my visit which helped push the migrating birds down the shoreline through the area. Bonaparte’s Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, and a group of six Blue-winged Teal were observed only a few feet from the beach, flying past in a southerly direction. A lone Sanderling walked down the beach foraging in the sand and stones. Monarch Butterflies were also taking advantage of the north wind; I counted twenty three in just a short period of time which is by far the most I’ve seen in recent years. Birds of prey passed overhead, with counts of Turkey Vultures being highest. A Merlin landed briefly in the top of a dead cedar tree before carrying on.  As the sun dropped low in the sky prior to setting, sixteen Common Nighthawks moved up and down the beach over the dunes feeding all the while.

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Bonaparte’s Gulls were among the species using the north winds to propel them along the shoreline.

The mixed forest was full of birds, both migrating and resident species. Listening to the various calls was quite enjoyable. Cedar Waxwings, with their high pitched whistling calls seemed to be the most prevalent, while Blue Jays did their best to drown them out. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds moved along the forest edge feeding on the native Jewel Weed. Swainson’s Thrushes could be seen gorging in the tree tops, both on berries and insects. These same mixed forests provided me with views of two new species for my life list, a Philadelphia Vireo, and a Northern Waterthrush. The Philadelphia Vireo was seen overhead moving from tree to tree, ingesting insects along the way. The yellow underparts clearly distinguished it from other vireos. The Northern Waterthrush provided the best view of all birds as this one was observed after striking a cottage window. Concerned for its well being, I didn’t even think to photograph it. I approached it slowly and quietly. Its wings were tucked in and it was sitting upright, although breathing heavily. Once it gathered itself, the bird took flight and headed back into the forest, appearing no worse for wear.

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The sunsets over Lake Huron are truly breathtaking and making the short drive to take them in is well worth it.

As September progresses along and we move into October, migration and birding will get even better. Peak numbers are typically observed mid September, but anytime you can get out is the best time to go. Research conservation areas, parks, and other public areas on the shores of the Great Lakes and find one close to you. Pack your binoculars, field guide, water and a snack and give birding in one these areas a try. Migration along the Great Lakes will not disappoint.

Good birding,


The Rut Is On For White-tailed Deer

deer 2 - The Rut Is On For White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are in the middle of the rut right now. It is a great time of year to see a mature buck like this one.

White-tailed deer sightings in our area are quite common. Southwestern Ontario has a rather large population and with not a lot of natural predators, their numbers are on the rise. Deer can be found in every Environmentally Significant Area in the city as well as many parks and cemeteries. This time of year is a special time for the deer as it what is called the rut or simply mating season.

Bucks have only one thing on their minds at this time of year, and that is finding as many does as they can. This makes them much more active and less cautious then usual so an encounter with one is much greater. Keep this in mind when driving in the dark as these bucks travel many kilometers in search of does and collisions with cars increase at this time of year.

During this rutting period bucks will mark their territory by rubbing their antlers on trees and making scrapes on the ground with their hooves.  These are excellent indications that a buck in the area so keep an out for these signs if you are wishing to encounter a mature buck. Watching a buck chase a group of does is quite a sight to see. Seeing two bucks lock antlers and fight over a territory is even more impressive. The best times to view this activity is at first and last light of the day as bucks are most active at night.

I like to head out first thing in the morning just as the sun is coming up and get into a location to photograph these animals. Morning works best for me because I find the animals are already out and there is less human activity than in the evening. I like to position myself on the edge of an open field where I know there are good numbers of deer. Keep in mind that a deer’s sense of smell is incredible, so position yourself downwind to avoid alerting the deer to you presence. Remember to keep still and quiet and you will likely be rewarded by witnessing some of the deer’s rutting behavior first hand.

Good birding,

Think About the Birds When Doing Your Fall Yard Clean Up

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American Goldfinch feeding on the seeds of a Thistle plant.

By this time of year fall yard clean up is well underway. Many people are spending their weekends cleaning out their gardens of perennials that have succumbed to the cooler temperatures. Before you go cutting, bagging, and bundling everything, stop and think about our feathered friends. Lots of things in your yard can be more beneficial to birds than to the inside of a brown paper bag. Look at what you are about to cut back and see if any of it has produced seeds. Coneflowers and Sedum are examples of common garden plants that birds, especially Goldfinches will feed on in the fall and throughout winter once they’ve gone to seed. By leaving these natural foods for the birds, you are making your yard more attractive to them than your neighbours. I like to leave my Coneflowers, Sedums, and some grasses because not only do they provide food, but the dead stalks and stems also provide excellent nesting material come spring. These can then be cut back and bagged in the spring for collection when the new growth appears.

Dead branches are another thing to consider leaving in your yard, provided they are not at risk of falling and injuring people, or damaging property. Larger birds such as Mourning Doves prefer a dead limb to a live one as a perch, because there is more room for them to land. You will notice this more when the leaves are still on the trees. Dead braches also slowly decay which attracts insects and in return birds. Woodpeckers, and Nuthatches can quite often be seen looking for insects on dead branches. These same dead branches make it easier for birds that excavate a nest site to do so.

Many people put their bird baths away in their sheds at the same time as they do their patio furniture. Consider leaving your birdbath out right up until it freezes. Birds, like all living things require water, and a decent source will attract more birds than food. Moving water is recognized as fresh by birds, so if you have a pond, waterfall, or other type of water feature think about leaving the pump running. If you are serious about providing water for the birds year round, birdbath heaters are available at your local birding shop.

Hopefully this fall you will reconsider some of your old habits when cleaning up your yard and preparing for winter. Some simple practices can make the life of a bird a little easier. When you are all finished sit back and these peaceful little creatures will be the reward for all your hard work.

Good Birding,