Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘Nature’

Inaugural Photo Walk Reveals A Nice Mix Of Birds

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Black-capped Chickadees were among the first songbirds observed and photographed during the first photo walk in a series I have planned for area photo enthusiasts.

Thursday December 28, 2017, marked the first in my series of photo walks taking place at several of my favourite birding locations. During these two hours walks, participants are guided through the area while I offer birding and photography tips as we stop along the way to photograph birds and wildlife in their natural environment. To make sure everyone receives personal attention and instruction, group size is limited to six participants.

The inaugural photo walk took place in London’s Spingbank Park. This location was chosen due to the abundance of birds and wildlife found here throughout the winter months and the close proximity at which these species can be observed and photographed. The walk began at 10 a.m. as by this time the sun is high enough in the sky to clear the treetops providing excellent light on our subjects. Between 10 a.m. and noon also happens to be a time of day that I find birds quite active, often feeding, which makes for more successful birding and photography.

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Northern Cardinals were a favourite bird among the group. Several pairs of these birds were located along our chosen route.

This past week we experienced the first real cold snap of winter with wind chills between -20 and -30 Celsius every day. Fortunately on this day winds were quite light, and we were treated to the warmest day of the week so far. 

Heading west, we observed a variety of waterfowl on the Thames River including Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Hooded Mergansers. These three species regularly overwinter on the river each year and with more cold weather in the forecast expect their numbers to increase as the Thames will be the only open water available in the area.

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Male Northern Cardinal.

Making our way through a stand of cedar trees, Black-capped Chickadees were the first songbird to be observed. Hearing the high pitched calls of the Golden-crowned Kinglet we looked up and saw several of these birds feeding on the seeds high up in the cedars. Even higher up, among the tops of the cedars, a flock of Pine Siskins were observed feeding.   

As we continued west past the defunct Springbank Dam, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches were seen and heard. Out on the river, hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards were observed. This particular section of the park is typically best for waterfowl, so our observations were quite typical.

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Despite being a species in decline, several American Black Ducks were observed during the photo walk.

In my last blog post, A Proven Hot Spot For Winter Waterfowl, I mentioned the small pond adjacent to Storybook Gardens and the wide variety of waterfowl I have observed here over the years during winter. This was our next stop to see if any unusual ducks were present. As we combed through all the Mallards a few American Black Ducks were observed.

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This male Northern Northern Pintail was the most notable dabbling duck observed.

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Male Northern Pintail preening.

As I scanned the far bank, a patch of white caught my eye. This easily could have been dismissed as snow on a fallen log, but as I looked closer I could see that this was in fact the breast and neck of a male Northern Pintail. This duck was sleeping comfortably with its head under its wing not presenting well for photos. We decided to leave this bird and look again on our way back in hopes that it may be awake and more acitve. Fortunately, we did later relocate the male Northern Pintail as it provided better views and images of its beautiful plumage. 

Northern Cardinals were a favourite bird of the group and several pairs were located on this day. At various locations, the light through the clouds illuminated these birds beautifully as we made our way through the park. Several questions were asked regarding proper exposure and I was happy to provide advice on this with participants quite satisfied with the images they were able to capture. 

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As is the case most times when walking through Springbank Park during the winter months, a Bald Eagle was observed. This juvenile provided great views as it passed by at close range.

Continuing along, a juvenile Bald Eagle made a close pass providing great views. Later in the walk, this bird was observed again soaring high overhead. A lone Belted Kingfisher was located perched high above the river on a wire and observed trying to capture food as it dove repeatedly into the water.

As we made our way back through the park in the direction of our vehicles, more songbirds were encountered. Dark-eyed Juncos were observed low to the ground feeding on the various seeds from this year’s wildflowers. White and Red-breasted Nuthatches were seen foraging along tree trunks while the calls of two Brown Creepers alerted us to their location. 

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Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the seeds of one of the park’s many wildflowers.

All in all it was a great day birding with several species observed, many of which presented great opportunities for photographs. Participants were happy with the birds encountered and the images they captured, while I was grateful to share my passion for birding and photography with the group. If you would like to be among the first to register for upcoming photo walks, please contact me and I will notify you once they have been scheduled. 

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The white feathers around this female Northern Cardinal’s eye indicate leucism, a condition where there is a partial loss of pigmentation.

I would like to express my appreciation for those who braved the cold weather and made this day such a success. With another photo walk scheduled next week at another location, I look forward to seeing more familiar faces while meeting a few new ones. London, Ontario truly has some excellent birding opportunities and sharing my knowledge of local areas is something I am really looking forward to in the new year. 

Good birding,

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Nature Photography Workshop

Nature Photography Workshop - Nature Photography Workshop

Are you interested in joining me for a workshop to improve your nature and wildlife photography this November?

Whether you’re new to photography or are more experienced but not getting the results you want, use a DSLR or point and shoot camera, this workshop will help you improve your overall photography.

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During my photography workshop I will teach you how to get the most out of your camera and lens combination. You don’t need expensive gear to achieve great images. This Black-capped Chickadee was photographed using a Canon 55-250mm lens, a lens that retails for $229.00.

The two hour workshop will be $25 per person, held at an event center in south London, and will be limited to five people for individualized attention.

The first half of the workshop will be indoors and we’ll focus on optimal camera settings for nature and wildlife photography, as well as other technical elements such as composition, shooting techniques and tips to improve your overall photography. 

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If you are not getting the desired results from your camera and lens combination, register for my nature and wildlife photography workshop.

During the second half of the workshop, we will venture outdoors to apply this knowledge in a natural setting. I will be providing one-on-one assistance as you photograph birds and other wildlife in their natural environment.

Please contact me if interested, and let me know what day of the week is preferred (weekdays or weekends) as well as time (morning or afternoon), as I will be booking the venue based on your feedback. 

Good birding,

Butterflies Provide Plenty Of Action During The Summer Months

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Southwestern Ontario is home to an abundance of butterflies including the Black Swallowtail and the summer months present the best time to get out and enjoy them.

For as long as I can remember I have always had an interest in nature. Even as a young child I enjoyed observing birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Birds were and continue to be my passion, but in recent years my fascination with butterflies has grown exponentially. I think part of this fascination comes from the fact that we have such a variety of beautiful butterflies throughout Southwestern Ontario and I seem to encounter a different species almost every time I am out.   

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Searching area meadows filled with wildflowers for butterflies is a great way to spend time outdoors during the summer months. I recently photographed this Question Mark Butterfly on a coneflower.

Depending on the weather, butterflies are typically observed in our area from April to November with different species being observed at different times of the year. As the seasons progress, new species appear providing variety throughout the year. This continued influx of species adds to my fascination and makes every outing different. In many ways it is very similar to bird migration knowing that there is the potential to see something new every time I am out in the field. 

Observing and photographing butterflies throughout the summer months and into early fall is a great way to spend time in the outdoors. I find it a nice change of pace from photographing birds and to be honest less challenging. Compared to birds, butterflies move slower, are less wary, and when nectaring on a flower often provide unobstructed views. Also, butterflies can be quite predictable regularly landing on the tallest flower in a group or the one with with a clear flight path to it, which allows me to prepare myself for the shot long before it presents itself.

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Despite being a species at risk in Ontario, Monarch Butterflies can be found in area fields and meadows. Searching meadows that contain milkweed is this best way to locate this beautiful butterfly.

When it comes to butterflies, the Monarch is by far my favourite followed closely by the Black Swallowtail. Perhaps the fact that the Monarch Butterfly is a species at risk in Ontario combined with its impressive fall migration spanning thousands of kilometers is why I am so intrigued by this species. 

Butterflies are plentiful in Southwestern Ontario and can be found in a variety of habitats. I like to concentrate most of my time searching fields and meadows with an abundance of wildflowers. Meadows containing a few small trees and shrubs adjacent to a forest edge are particularity productive as this offers the most diverse habitat and provides a location for butterflies to feed, seek shelter, and roost. 

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Red Admiral Butterfly nectaring on a dogwood blossom.

Since butterflies roost at night and during cold, wet weather, the best time to locate them is from mid-morning to late afternoon on sunny days. This is when daytime temperatures are the highest and consequently so too is butterfly activity. During the summer months, getting out during the midday sun in the hot humid conditions is the best time to locate butterflies. While birds and mammals may be less active during the heat of the day, butterflies are quite the opposite.  

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While out photographing butterflies at an area meadow I found this monarch caterpillar within the buds of a Common Milkweed plant.

When photographing butterflies I like to use similar camera settings as I would when photographing birds. If you are comfortable shooting in manual mode I would recommend doing so and adjust your ISO and aperture to give you a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second. This may seem like a fast shutter speed for butterflies, but has become my benchmark shutter speed for all nature photography. Butterflies may not move as quickly as birds, but a fast shutter speed is equally important for several reasons. First, butterflies will almost always give a slow wing flap when nectaring on a flower. This motion may not appear like much, but can result in a significant amount of blur on your final image if your shutter speed is too slow. Second, on windy days the flower or other object that the butterfly is resting on will move back and forth in wind. Having a fast shutter speed will help to freeze this action leading to a sharp image. Finally, a fast shutter speed will help compensate for any camera shake encountered while trying to steady the lens. If you are not comfortable shooting in manual mode than I would recommend aperture priority mode and again adjust your ISO and aperture to give you give you a shutter speed as close to 1/1000 of a second as possible. I prefer to photograph all nature including butterflies on sunny days as the bright sun really brings out the colours and contrast of an image, so achieving this fast of shutter speed under these conditions is never a problem.

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Butterfly identification can be incredibly challenging as many species are very similar in appearance. For example, the American Lady (top) displays 2 large eyespots visible on the underside of the hindwing. The Painted Lady (bottom) displays 4 smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.

During these sunny conditions one issue that is readily encountered is excessive highlights in your image. Often times flower petals and/or the buttery’s wings will be overexposed resulting in a loss of colour, contrast, and detail. I recommend turning your camera’s highlight alert on and paying close attention to your histogram to watch for this. These extreme highlights can be easily corrected by adjusting your camera settings to slightly underexpose the image if you are shooting in manual mode or by making use of exposure compensation in aperture priority mode. I find that on most sunny days I underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop to compensate for these highlights. Making these simple adjustments will result in a better final image as it will capture the true colour, contrast, and detail of both the butterfly and the flower.    

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The Question Mark Butterfly is named for the pearly silver question mark visible on the underside of its hindwing.

When out photographing butterflies during summer conditions there are a few things I do to protect myself while out in the field. Wearing sunscreen is a must. It doesn’t take long these days to get a sunburn and the damage to your skin caused by the sun is not something to take lightly. I also make sure I stay hydrated and nourished by drinking lots of water and taking a snack. I prefer energy bars as they are quite filling and fit nicely into my pocket. Dehydration and hunger can sneak up fast on hot days and by being proactive both are easily avoided. I also choose to wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants rather than shorts and a T-shirt not only to protect against the sun’s harmful UV rays, but also protect me from insects including mosquitoes and ticks. I also apply insect repellent for added protection. When searching for butterflies in areas where I have encountered ticks in the past, I tuck my shirt into my pants and my pants into my socks to prevent access to my skin. These simple measures make sure my time spent outside is enjoyable despite the conditions.   

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Black Swallowtail Butterfly nectaring on a Common Milkweed Flower.

If you avoid getting out and enjoying nature during the summer months because it is too hot and humid or you find conditions slow, give searching for butterflies a try. I think you will agree that there is always plenty of action and will quickly forget about the heat, humidity, and undesired insects as you get lost in the beauty of not only the butterflies themselves but also the colourful summer blooms they are attracted to.

Good birding,


Breathe Easy: Dispelling The Goldenrod Myth

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Goldenrod is a late blooming native wildlower found in our area and an important food source for Monarch Butterflies as they make their long migration to Mexico.

Goldenrod is one of the most abundant native wildflowers throughout Southwestern Ontario. Found in meadows, city parks, and even backyards, goldenrod grows just about everywhere. Unfortunately, goldenrod is viewed as a weed by many and its benefits to our landscape are often overlooked. To make matters worse, goldenrod continues to be falsely blamed as a cause of seasonal allergies.

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Common Buckeye nectaring on a goldenrod flower.

Often mistaken for ragweed, goldenrod is considered by many to be a contributing factor to their congestion, runny nose, and watery eyes. The truth is, unlike ragweed which relies on airborne pollination, goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy to travel by air and therefore must rely on butterflies and bees for pollination and consequently does not contribute to seasonal allergies.

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During late summer and early fall a wide variety of butterflies can be found nectaring on goldenrod. Long after other flowers have bloomed, goldenrod provides a vital food source. This Tawny Emperor is one of many butterflies I photographed last September feeding on goldenrod.

Blooming throughout late summer and early fall, goldenrod is an incredibly beneficial late season food source for many pollinators including the Monarch Butterfly. During August and September, monarchs are often found nectaring on goldenrod’s colorfoul yellow flowers providing them the required energy needed to complete their long migration south to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

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Since letting a patch of goldenrod grow in my yard I have seen an increase in the number of American Goldfinches. Finches are just one of the many songbirds that consume goldenrod seeds.

Butterflies are not the only wildlife that benefit from goldenrod, Throughout fall and winter many songbirds can be found feeding on the seed heads after the flowers have lost their vibrant yellow colour. American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, and Dark-eyed Juncos are among the birds that can commonly be observed in our area feeding on goldenrod seeds.

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

Many insects overwinter in our area at various stages of their life cycles and they too benefit from goldenrod. Dry leaves and stalks provide the perfect location for insects to spend the cold weather months until they are ready to emerge in spring. Goldenrod Gall Flies are just one example of the many insects that use goldenrod to overwinter. Each summer, gall flies lay their eggs on the stalks of goldenrod plants. Once the egg hatches, the larvae burrows into the stalk which forms the round gall that can be found near the top of goldenrod stalks. It is here where the larva will spend the winter before exiting the gall the following spring as an adult fly to start the cycle all over again. Gall fly larva is readily consumed by both chickadees and woodpeckers and these birds are often observed pecking at the galls trying to extract the larva.

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Large mammals including White-tailed Deer use goldenrod as a source of cover.

Goldenrod is an important part of any ecosystem as it provides both food and shelter for many creatures from tiny insects to large mammals including deer. For these reasons, I have incorporated goldenrod into my landscape and am quite happy that I have. I enjoy watching Monarch Butterflies each fall during their migration as they stop to nectar. I do not cut my goldenrod back in the fall after it has bloomed, but rather leave it until the following spring. As a result I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of American Goldfinches visiting my yard each fall and winter as they are attracted to the bounty of seeds produced by this native wildflower. My garden may appear a bit messy to some as a result during these months, but I am happy knowing that these plants are still serving a purpose despite being a little less aesthetically pleasing. Come spring, I then remove the old stalks to make way for the new growth that is emerging.

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Black-capped Chickadee feeding on the seeds of a goldenrod flower.

Due to its tall height and tendency to spread rapidly, goldenrod is not one of the most desired garden plants despite its tremendous benefits to our environment. Over the years, I have discovered a few tricks that have removed many of the headaches associated with goldenrod. First, I stay on top of pulling unwanted small plants in the early spring, which keeps my patch manageable and contained to exactly where I want it. Fortunately goldenrod pulls quite easily especially when the soil is moist after a spring rain. Second, in late June I cut my goldenrod back by about 1/4 to 1/3. By reducing the height of the plant it makes them less top heavy and prevents them from falling over after heavy rains associated with summer thunderstorms. After cutting, the plants bush out and produce more flowers which in turn means more food for the pollinators and more seeds for the birds.

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Dark-eyed Juncos are among the many songbirds that feed on goldenrod seeds.

There are several varieties of goldenrod available at area garden centres that specialize in native plants including those that do not grow as tall or spread as aggressively. If you are interested in adding goldenrod to your landscape, do some research and pick a variety that is best suited to your garden.

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Monarch Butterflies nectaring on goldenrod at Point Pelee National Park.

Searching large patches of goldenrod for wildlife to observe and photogrpah is highly productive at any time of the year. Whether it is insects, birds, or mammals their is always something to find among the leaves, flowers, and stalks of this incredibly important native plant. Next time you are out in the field and come across a patch of goldenrod stop and have a look. I think you will be impressed by the abundance of wildlife that you find relying on this plant for both food and shelter.

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On a trip to Point Pelee National Park during the peak of Monarch Butterfly migration, goldenrod was the nectar plant of choice. It was not uncommon to find multiple Monarchs nectaring on the same flower.

Suffering from seasonal allergies is certainly not a pleasant experience, but when it comes to goldenrod breathe easy knowing that this native wildflower is not to blame and take solace in all the benefits this colourful flower provides to our environment.

Good birding,









Monarch Or Viceroy?
Look For Subtle Differences To Positively Identify These Similar Butterflies

Watermark - Monarch Or Viceroy? <br> Look For Subtle Differences To Positively Identify These Similar Butterflies

Due to their similar appearance Monarch Butterflies and Viceroy Butterflies are easily mistaken for each other.

Butterfly identification can be extremely challenging. Often times only a slight variation in colour or marking is what separates two similar butterflies. Their small size combined with their propensity to not stay motionless very long often adds to the challenge of identification. Knowing what to look for can help achieve a quick and positive identification. 

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The Monarch Butterfly (top) and Viceroy Butterfly (bottom) are often found in similar habitats throughout Southwestern Ontario.

Two virtually identical butterflies found in Southwestern Ontario are the Monarch and the Viceroy. At a quick glance these two butterflies can easily be mistaken for each other. Fortunately, there are a few distinguishing characteristics I look for when out in the field to differentiate between the two.

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vr1 - Monarch Or Viceroy? <br> Look For Subtle Differences To Positively Identify These Similar Butterflies

The black line running across the hindwings of the Viceroy Butterfly is visible from both the top and bottom.

The most obvious way to tell the difference between a Monarch and a Viceroy is by looking at their hindwings. The Viceroy displays a black line that runs across the hindwings, which the Monarch does not have. This line is visible from both the top and bottom making it particularly easy to see when the butterfly is at rest.

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Goldenrod readily attracts a wide variety of butterflies including the Monarch (top) and Viceroy (bottom).

A second but less obvious way to separate the Monarch from a Viceroy is by size. Monarchs typically have a larger wingspan than a Viceroy; however, a large Viceroy and small Monarch can have almost the same wingspan, so this characteristic is less dependable.

The third way I differentiate between a Monarch and a Viceroy is by their flight pattern. A Viceroy’s flight is much more erratic and less graceful than that of a Monarch. A Monarch tends to fly smoothly often gliding while making slow turns, whereas a Viceroy displays a more rapid wing beat, glides less frequently, and makes faster, sharper turns.

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The Monarch Butterfly (top) lacks the black line running through its hindwings that is visible on the Viceroy Butterfly (bottom).

Perhaps the real challenge of butterfly identification is getting a long enough look to observe any or all of these unique characteristics that each butterfly displays. If you see one of these butterflies and are unsure whether it is a Monarch or Viceroy remember these three traits.

When I am out in the field and see a butterfly in question I quickly run through these 3 characteristics in my mind. If the butterfly is in flight, I will observe the size and flight pattern to get an accurate identification. With lots of practice I can now confidently recognize the flight pattern of either butterfly. I will then watch for the butterfly to land and when it does, I quickly look to see whether or not the butterfly displays a black line across the hindwings to make certain of my identification.    

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Monarch Butterfly nectaring on a sunflower.

Next time you are out in the field and question whether you see a Monarch or a Viceroy, try observing these characteristics to assist you with identification. As mentioned previously, looking for the black line across the hindwings is by far the easiest and most accurate method to positively identify these similar butterflies, but with a little time and practice recognizing size and flight pattern will soon become apparent too.

Southwestern Ontario is home to a wide variety of butterflies and getting out during the summer months to enjoy their beauty is especially satisfying. I think you will find that recognizing these three characteristics will be incredibly useful in helping you positively identify Monarch and Viceroy butterflies.   

Good birding,

If You Plant It, They Will Come:
Success From My Monarch Waystation


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Creating a Monarch Waystation is a simple, inexpensive measure anyone can do to help this at risk butterfly.

In the summer of 2015 I decided to designate a portion of my yard for the construction of a butterfly garden. I wanted to create a large habitat attractive to all pollinators, but in particular the Monarch Butterfly.  After doing some research and following the guidelines laid out by Monarch Watch and their Monarch Waystation Program, I decided on the plants I wanted and came up with a size and shape for my garden. My existing garden already consisted of several of the plants required for a Monarch Waystation, but I wanted to increase the size of my garden and the variety of the plants within it. In particular I wanted to add more milkweed in hopes of eventually having Monarch Butterflies reproduce in my garden. I spent the first few weekends that September constructing the garden in anticipation of the fall native plant sale that takes place each year at the St. Williams Nursery. For those of you not familiar with this nursery, they specialize in native plants found in our area, and I knew I would be able to find everything I needed to complete my garden at this annual event.

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Swamp Milkweed is an excellent choice for wet areas. The purple blooms provide an excellent nectar source for adult butterflies, while the leaves provide food for Monarch Caterpillars.

As expected, I was able to find everything I wanted at the plant sale and was especially impressed by both the quality of the plants and the prices. I ended up coming home with a wide variety of native wildflowers including four varieties of milkweed. My garden already contained Common Milkweed that I had grown from seed, but I purchased several more plants as I wanted to have a more substantial patch in one particular section of my garden. The other varieties of milkweed I purchased were Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and Sullivant’s Milkweed. 

When I returned from the sale I quickly got to work getting everything planted. As part of the planning and construction of my garden, I had already marked out where I wanted everything based on plant height and light requirements. Many of the plants I purchased were still in bloom, and it wasn’t long after getting them in the ground when I observed several bees moving from flower to flower. 

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Butterfly Weed is a low growing variety of milkweed. The beautiful orange blooms are a great food source for all pollinators and as is the case with all types of milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly.

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This sign on my fence indicates that my yard has been certified as an official Monarch Waystation.

Meeting the criteria set out by Monarch Watch for their Monarch Waystation Program, I submitted an application form and registered my garden as an official Monarch Waystation. A few weeks later, I received my certificate and metal sign, which I proudly display on my fence overlooking my waystation.  

Despite their recent drop in numbers, I had always observed a few Monarch Butterflies in my yard each year, typically during their fall migration as they would stop briefly to feed on my goldenrod and other late blooming wildflowers. To my knowledge, I had never had a Monarch Butterfly reproduce in my yard as I would often check the milkweed for eggs, caterpillars, or any signs of caterpillars including leaves that had been chewed or even droppings, also known as frass. I was optimistic that with my new larger garden and wider variety of milkweed this would eventually change.

As we entered spring of 2016, I was excited to see all of the plants I had added the previous fall emerge form the soil. I found myself out in the garden almost daily pulling weeds and watching as each plant grew. By summer, my garden had filled in nicely and everything was in bloom. Watching bees and other butterfly species move from flower to flower was quite rewarding, but unfortunately still no signs of Monarch Butterflies reproducing. 

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In the fall of 2016, I photographed this tagged Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my New England Aster.

Even without any signs of Monarch Butterflies reproducing in my waystation, I was still very happy with my creation. I spent many hours that first year watching and photographing bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds as they all benefited from the habitat I provided. In September of 2016, I observed a tagged Monarch Butterfly as it nectared on one of my New England Asters. I was able to photograph the butterfly and read the number on the tag, which I submitted to Monarch Watch, as well as other online sites for sharing tagged Monarch sightings including various Facebook groups. Unfortunately, I never found out where the Monarch originated, but was still happy to see that my waystation was providing a food source for this particular butterfly as it made its long journey south to its wintering grounds in Mexico.  

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Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Butterfly Weed.

Spring of 2017 was virtually a carbon copy of 2016, I was out in the garden almost daily pulling weeds and watching plants emerge for another season. What was more challenging this year was that many of the plants had spread, so I had to be extra careful making sure that I was in fact pulling weeds and not any of the beneficial native plants that were now showing up in areas where I had not planted them. With the spread of these plants I am now planning to transplant many of them this fall and have already started designing another butterfly garden for my front yard. 

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This Monarch Butterfly egg was found on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in my Monarch Waystation.

By the end of May, I had observed several Monarch Butterflies in our area, but none in my yard. I began searching my milkweed plants for eggs and caterpillars, but still no sign of them. Eventually in mid-June despite having not seen a Monarch Butterfly in my yard, I discovered the first egg on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in my garden. Finally, a sign that Monarch Butterflies were reproducing in my waystation. As weeks passed, I continued to find more eggs throughout my waystation and even a few small caterpillars.  

lay - If You Plant It, They Will Come: <br> Success From My Monarch Waystation

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf.

One day in early July, I noticed a Monarch Butterfly as it flew in circles over top of my Common Milkweed patch. I watched as it moved form leaf to leaf depositing several eggs on the underside of the leaves. What was unique about this Monarch was that she was missing the top portion of her left forewing, which made identifying her quite easy. As the month progressed, I noticed an increase in the number of Monarch Butterflies frequenting my waystation and consequently discovered more eggs. About a week had passed from the time I first observed the female Monarch Butterfly with the torn wing when she captured my eye once again moving about my Common Milkweed. I grabbed my camera and watched and photographed as she deposited more eggs on the underside of each leaf. In total, I saw her lay 31 eggs throughout my waystation. A few days passed, and once again the same female with the torn wing appeared in my waystation, again laying eggs. This time I witnessed 36 eggs laid bringing the total that I have seen laid from this one butterfly to 67 eggs. 

cover photo - If You Plant It, They Will Come: <br> Success From My Monarch Waystation

Creating a Monarch Waystation involves planting a variety of plants not just milkweed. Other flowers both for nectaring and shelter are required. Earlier this month I photographed this Monarch Butterfly as it nectared on a Purple Coneflower.

So far this year, I have observed multiple Monarch Butterflies in my waystation including several females laying eggs. I have enjoyed watching them as they nectar on the various flowers that are now in bloom including many of the milkweed plants. In fact, I have observed more Monarch Butterflies this year than I have by mid-July in previous years, which makes me optimistic that maybe their numbers might be on the rise.

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I have observed this female Monarch Butterfly, easily separated from the others by her torn left forewing, lay 67 eggs in my Monarch Waystation.

Those of you that have followed my blog for while now will know that I have particular soft spot when it comes to species at risk, so observing Monarch Butterflies reproducing in my waystation is incredibly rewarding for me. In fact, words cannot describe exactly how this makes me feel. What started out as an idea and a hope nearly two years ago has finally come to be, and I could not be happier. 

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Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Swamp Milkweed.

Creating a Monarch Waystation or a similar habitat for Monarch Butterflies in your yard is easier and less expensive than you may think. Suitable plants can be found at many area garden centres and you do not need a large area to designate, simply start with a few plants. If you don’t have a yard of your own, ask a friend if they would be interested in creating a butterfly garden together in their yard. Other options would be at your child’s school, your church, or perhaps convincing your condominium corporation to add one on the property. With habitat loss being one of the biggest threats facing the Monarch Butterfly creating habitat is something anyone can do to make a difference.

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With its low height and compact size, Butterfly Weed can be incorporated into even the smallest garden. 

Several varieties of milkweed can be purchased at local garden centres with each one having unique characteristics. Some varieties grow tall, some short, while others prefer moist areas. Regardless of your landscape, there is a type of milkweed perfectly suited to it. One thing all milkweed shares in common is that it is the only plant consumed by Monarch caterpillars and therefore the only plant Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on. Without milkweed there would be no Monarch Butterfly.

I hope this post will inspire you to create your own Monarch Waystation or similar habitat. With a little work and some patience I think you too will see that if you plant it, they will come.

Good birding,



Stormwater Management Ponds:
Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

gbh - Stormwater Management Ponds: <br> Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

Great Blue Herons are among the many birds you can expect to observe while birding around a stormwater management pond.

Stormwater management ponds are located throughout large cities and can be found in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. These human-made ponds and their adjacent habitats are often overlooked as birding hotspots. Last week, after receiving a tip from a blog subscriber, I decided to check out a stormwater management pond that I had not yet visited, and was rewarded with great views of a variety of birds.

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Female Red-winged Blackbird.

The pond I visited is located in the northwest part of London, Ontario in the area known as Hyde Park. I accessed the area from Gainsborough Road, where there is a small area for parking. Upon exiting my truck, I immediately heard the calls of the Red-winged Blackbird and American Robin. Grabbing my camera and binoculars, I headed north along the paved path. On each side of the path was a narrow meadow-like habitat consisting of mixed grasses and small shrubs. Hearing rustling to my right, I turned to look, and from the dried stalks of grass appeared an Eastern Cottontail. Further down the path a small pond came into view, with a  wooded area on either side. I was eager to see what species I might encounter next.

ec - Stormwater Management Ponds: <br> Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

This Eastern Cottontail was the only mammal species I observed on this day.

As I continued on, a Northern Flicker could be heard calling and drumming from the woodlot to the east, as an Osprey circled the pond. The small shrubs lining either side of the path contained several Field Sparrows. I’m sure anyone who recognizes the song of the Field Sparrow will agree, it is a lovely trilling sound. Other sparrow species observed around the area were Song and White-throated, both singing beautiful songs of their own. Eastern Phoebes could be seen flying within the meadow, briefly landing on the grass stalks.

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Song Sparrow.

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Eastern Phoebe.

I watched as the Osprey hovered over the pond, and anticipated this bird to plunge into the water after a fish. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The large raptor banked to the east and disappeared over the treeline. The rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher echoed over the pond as it moved about the small trees that circle the area. On the far bank I could see a Great Blue Heron wading in the shallow water. As I made my way around the pond, it became clear that this bird was more fixated with what was below the surface than it was on my presence. I raised my camera as it slowly stalked its prey. With a quick strike and a large splash, the heron captured something. Whatever the prey was, it was not visible to me and was immediately consumed as the bird threw back its head.

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Great Blue Heron capturing a meal.

At the water’s edge I could see movement. I raised my binoculars to see a Spotted Sandpiper running along the muddy bank, while a Killdeer called not too far away. Scanning the bank with my binoculars, the Killdeer quickly came into view.. These and other small shorebirds blend in extremely well with their surroundings and can easily go overlooked without the aid of a pair of binoculars. I watched and listened as three Greater Yellowlegs circled overhead, but these birds must have been aware of my presence and continued north.

heron - Stormwater Management Ponds: <br> Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

In the blink of an eye, a Great Blue Heron can capture and consume its prey.

Bank, Barn, and Tree Swallows were all observed darting over the pond while feeding on insects. Surprisingly, waterfowl was almost nonexistent with only a few Mallards and pair of Canada Geese present. Quite often during migration, stormwater management ponds are popular stopover areas for a variety of migrating waterfowl. In total 19 species were observed on this day, which made for a rewarding morning.

kill - Stormwater Management Ponds: <br> Often Overlooked Birding Hotspots

Killdeer and other shorebirds blend in extremely well with their surroundings. Watching for movement and scanning the bank with binoculars is often the best way to locate them.

Stormwater management ponds are easily found by searching Google maps. These online maps will show the pond itself plus any access points. Be aware that some of these ponds may not be on municipal property, or access may be restricted. Please be sure to obey the rules of any posted signage at the pond you visit.

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Spotted Sandpiper.

Spring migration can be one of the best times of the year to view a variety of birds at one of these habitats. I am a huge fan of shorebirds and these ponds can be one of the best locations to view these birds close to home. It has been at stormwater management ponds that I have achieved some of my best views of Great Egrets in our area during migration. If you have never birded around a stormwater management pond, I highly recommend visiting one in your area.

Good birding,




Orioles Are On The Move: How To Attract These Beauties To Your Yard

bo - Orioles Are On The Move: How To Attract These Beauties To Your Yard

Baltimore Orioles are one of the more vibrant birds that regularly visit backyards. These colourful birds are easy to attract by offering their favourite foods.

The next big wave of migrants is set to descend on Southwestern Ontario. Included in this group will be the Baltimore Oriole. Orioles overwinter in the southern United States, Central, and South America returning each spring in late April or early May. Reports of these birds in our area are beginning to come in, so it is time to think about attracting them to your yard.

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The striking plumage of the male Baltimore Oriole is a welcome sight in any yard.

Feeding on insects, fruit, and nectar the Baltimore Oriole doesn’t visit your typical backyard feeder filled with seed; however, they will visit a feeder designed specifically for orioles. A nectar feeder, similar to those used for hummingbirds, is one of the more popular feeders used by homeowners to attract orioles to their yards. Since orioles have larger bills than hummingbirds, these feeders have larger ports for the birds to access the nectar.

Nectar can be made easily at home by mixing four parts water to one part sugar. In a pot, bring one cup of water to a boil on your stove. Add in 1/4 cup of white sugar and stir as the sugar dissolves. Remove the mixture from the stove and allow it to cool before filling your feeder. Be sure to replace the nectar in your feeder regularly, especially in warmer weather.

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As is the case with most birds, female Baltimore Orioles are not as colourful as their male counterparts.

Oranges are another great option to offer orioles that visit your backyard. By placing either orange slices or halves around your yard, orioles will quickly move in to consume the fruit. Orange halves and slices can be stuck on tree branches, shepherd’s hooks, or any where the birds can access them. It has been my experience that squirrels too will eat oranges, so it is a good idea to place them in a location where these small mammals cannot access them. Commercial feeders designed specifically for offering oranges are also available at your local seed retailer.

Watermark 1 6 - Orioles Are On The Move: How To Attract These Beauties To Your Yard

Regardless of which food you decide to offer orioles, make sure it is fresh. Nectar, oranges, and jelly all spoil quicker than traditional bird foods, especially in warmer temperatures.

Grape jelly is another excellent food for attracting orioles to your yard. Be careful though, as not all jellies are created equal. Many of the grape jellies available at your local grocery store are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup affects the bird’s ability to feel full, and is therefore not a healthy option. Be sure to check the ingredients on the label and make sure that the grape jelly you buy is either unsweetened, or sweetened with sugar only. If you are unsure, commercial jelly designed specifically for birds is available at your local seed retailer.

Grape jelly can be placed outside in a shallow dish, or again commercial feeders are available specifically for jelly. Some of these feeders are combination feeders, meaning they will accommodate oranges and jelly, or oranges, jelly and nectar. Visit your local seed retailer to see the wide variety of commercial oriole feeders available. As is the case with nectar and oranges, replace the jelly regularly especially in warmer weather. When replacing the food, whether it’s nectar, oranges, or jelly, clean the feeder at the same time. This too will ensure the health of the birds.

bo1 - Orioles Are On The Move: How To Attract These Beauties To Your Yard

Oriole sightings are being reported from around our area. If you haven’t already, add an oriole feeder to your yard and attract this stunning beauty.

Orioles are one of the more vibrant birds that will visit a backyard, and are easy to attract. If you haven’t put your oriole feeder out yet, now is the time. If you don’t own an oriole feeder, I highly recommend adding one to your yard. These feeders are inexpensive to purchase and well worth the investment once you see that first flash of black and orange in your backyard.

Good birding,


Provide A Home For Cavity Nesters

pil - Provide A Home For Cavity Nesters

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of many birds that excavates its own tree cavity for nesting.

Cavity nesting birds come in all shapes and sizes. Small songbirds, medium sized ducks, and even large birds of prey make up the 85 North American species that nest in tree cavities. These birds excavate their own holes, use holes excavated by other species, or use naturally occurring cavities that have resulted from decaying trees. You may have seen woodpeckers in early spring excavating their own cavities, while wood ducks, flycatchers, and owls use existing cavities.

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Great Crested Flycatchers prefer to nest in natural cavities, but will use an old woodpecker hole or nest box.

Several cavity nesting birds have seen their numbers decrease in recent years, with habitat loss being a contributing factor. As trees are cleared to make way for development, so too are potential nest sites for these and other bird species. In many of our ESAs, city parks, and neighbourhoods, dead trees and limbs are removed due to safety concerns further reducing potential nest sites.

bcc - Provide A Home For Cavity Nesters

Black-capped Chickadees are another species that excavate their own cavity. I photographed this bird as it excited a decaying willow branch with a beak full of wood.

Some of the more common backyard cavity nesting birds found in our area are: woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches. Depending on the habitat of your yard you may also find: swallows, bluebirds, ducks, and even owls nesting in cavities on your property. If your yard lacks dead, decaying limbs or you have removed them for safety reasons, many of these cavity nesters will readily accept a properly placed nest box of the appropriate size.

Watermark5 - Provide A Home For Cavity Nesters

The Eastern Screech Owl nests in natural cavities or one previously excavated by a woodpecker. These small birds of prey will also use a nest box of the correct size.

I like to make my own nest boxes with materials purchased from my local building supply store. Boxes are easy to make and the supplies needed are inexpensive to purchase. I have had great luck attracting cavity nesters to my yard following the free plans provided at 50 I find it incredibly rewarding to watch birds nest in a box that I made with my own hands. If you do not have access to tools, or just prefer the convenience of a ready made box that only requires hanging, nest boxes can be purchased from the same local independent retailer where you purchase your seed.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker peeking out of a tree cavity.

Now that the spring weather has finally arrived, cavity nesters are busy searching for potential nest locations. Survey your yard for any dead trees or limbs, assess any potential danger, and if safe to do so contemplate leaving them. If they have to be removed, or you have previously removed them, consider adding nest boxes to provide potential nest sites for any displaced cavity nesters.

Good birding,

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
August, 28 – September 4, 2015

egret - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

Great Egrets are often observed during fall migration at The Coves in London, Ontario.

With fall migration now underway, great opportunities exist across the city for observing a variety of migrants. Warbler activity increased this past week with several species being observed. One of the best locations I found for warbler sightings was my own backyard. I observed five species in total from my deck while enjoying my morning coffee, including: Yellow, Pine, Black and White, Blackburnian, and Magnolia. These birds could be seen high in the tree tops, quickly moving from branch to branch as they fed on insects. Other warbler species recorded from areas other than my yard were Nashville and Common Yellowthroat. Warblers can be extremely difficult to identify, especially in fall, so having a pair of binoculars handy along with a field guide is recommended.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Late summer is one of the best times to observe Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. My backyard feeder was busy this week with birds looking to fuel up before heading south. Many people take their feeders down too early in September and miss out on all of the activity. Make sure your nectar is fresh, especially with the high temperatures we have been experiencing. Homemade hummingbird nectar is cheap and easy to make by boiling 4 parts water to one part white sugar. Be certain to let the mixture cool completely before refilling your feeder. If the mixture in your feeder looks cloudy, clean out your feeder and replace with fresh nectar. Hummingbirds can also be observed at the various parks and ESAs throughout the city. Look for these tiny birds hovering around blooming wildflowers, particularly Jewelweed. These small, orange, trumpet shaped, native flowers are a favourite of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

eeee - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

Great Egret

Great Egrets typically stopover at The Coves each August during migration, and this year is no different. Excellent views from Springbank Drive have been achieved daily for several weeks now. It has been my experience that this egret is best viewed on the north side of the road in the morning, and on the south side during the afternoon. Other birds observed at this location include Great Blue Herons, Lesser Yellowlegs and Wood Ducks. Most of the Wood Ducks present are either females, juveniles or males in eclipse plumage, so don’t expect to see any vibrant males displaying breeding plumage just yet.

gbge - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

Great birding at The Coves as a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret wade in the shallow water.

Along the Thames River several raptor species were observed, including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and Osprey. Shorebird species were also recorded with Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, and Killdeer all viewed in Greenway Park.

swi - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

Chimney Swifts circling the Chimney located at King’s College before entering for the night.

Early September is the perfect time of year to observe large flocks of Chimney Swifts entering communal roosts at sunset. In London, we are fortunate to have several such roosts that had impressive numbers of swifts entering each night. Chimneys located at King’s College, Labatt’s Brewery, and Smith Fruit had counts of 525, 473, and 527 swifts respectively this past week. Don’t let these numbers fool you; the counts are down from previous years and Chimney Swifts are listed as threatened on Ontario’s Species at Risk List. If you wish to experience this incredible sight, I recommend getting to one of these locations about half an hour before sunset. Watch as a large flock of Chimney Swifts forms and begins circling the chimney. As darkness falls, swifts will begin diving into the chimney where they will roost for the night.

mon - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

We may not see the same numbers as we did in years past, but Monarch migration is now underway and it is a teat to see these beautiful butterflies.

Birds are not the only species beginning to migrate in London. Despite their recent drop in numbers, Monarch Butterflies are beginning to make their way south. This past week I noticed an increase in the number and concentration of Monarchs. While observing the warblers in the backyard, two Monarchs also made their way through. Yesterday at Greenway Park six of these at risk butterflies could be observed nectaring on teasels and thistles in an open meadow in the east end of the park. This area has been supporting Monarchs for several weeks now and the numbers here have recently increased, albeit slightly.

lesser - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> August, 28 - September 4, 2015

The shallow mud flats of the Thames River are the perfect place to find Lesser Yellowlegs during migration.

If you get the chance this long weekend, head out to your favourite park or ESA and take in some of these migrants. Before you know it they will be gone, not reappearing until next spring. I personally am going to try to get as many shots of Monarch Butterflies as I can while they are still around. Many of the late blooming native wildflowers are flourishing right now, providing the perfect backdrop for these beautiful butterflies.

Good birding,