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The Swainson's Thrush is the greyest and most spotted of our native thrushes. It is a woodland bird of the deep forests. I find them at higher altitudes and along the gnarled coastal forests. They are easy to find and identify by their musical song.
The Blackburian Warbler is as usual spectacular to see. In my experience they are a successful species, easy to find thanks to its song, much like a Black-and-White Warbler but different enough to easily separate the species.
They tend to favour mixed mature forests although they can be found anywhere.
The nesting colony of Pine Warblers is loading up. This bird is special because it is a recent addition to the nesting warblers of Nova Scotia, about 15 years in my experience.
Mill Falls – Kejimkujik National Park
I went to Kejimkujik National Park yesterday but alas the cool weather has everything behind schedule at least one to two weeks. Warblers were scarce and flycatchers even more so save the Least Flycatcher which was behind every second bush.
Mill Falls are a treat and a must visit at the park. The water is running high and very frothy.
Mill Falls – Kejimkujik National Park
The Ipswich Sparrow congregates along Nova Scotia's east coast especially on the beaches directly adjacent to Sable Island. When the starting gun is sounded they migrate over the Atlantic Ocean to nest on the sand dunes of Sable Island. A few nest on the mainland and some even overwinter behind the beach ridges in the vegetation.
The Grey-cheeked Thrush was moving about in company with the Say's Phoebe on and about Sandy Cove Beach, Halifax. One can imagine rather romantically that they have migrated together for some time.
It is almost identical to the rare Bicknell's Thrush and reliably separated by voice especially since they often nest in the same locations. It is a rugged northern thrush.
Grey-cheeked Thrush (Gray-cheeked Thrush-US spelling)
The Say's Phoebe is a western bird rarely seen in Nova Scotia. This one showed up yesterday at Sandy Cove Beach, Halifax. Sandy Cove is one of the premier rare bird sighting locations currently known in Nova Scotia although many great locations remain undiscovered. I've enjoyed visiting this place for 23 years.
The trick here is to find a soft comfortable rock preferably at high tide which bunches the birds up and just sit and wait for the birds to march by. The light was poor this morning so hand holding a 1200mm lens was a challenge since I can't crank up the speed too much. I usually consider ISO 6400 as a maximum for bird photography.
Say's phoebe (Sayornis saya) is a passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family. A common bird across western North America, it prefers dry, desolate areas. This bird was named for Thomas Say, the American naturalist.
Say's phoebe was formally described in 1825 by the French naturalist Charles Lucien Bonaparte from a specimen collected near Pueblo, Colorado. He coined the binomial name Muscicapa saya where the specific epithet was chosen to honour the naturalist Thomas Say. The species is now placed in the genus Sayornis that was introduced by Bonaparte in 1854.
Two subspecies are recognised:
The adult Say's phoebe is a barrel-chested bird with a squared-off head. It is gray-brown above with a black tail and buffy cinnamon below, becoming more orange around the vent. The tail is long and the primaries end just past the rump on resting birds. The wings seem pale in flight and resemble a female mountain bluebird. The juvenile is similar to adult, but has buffy orange to whitish wingbars and a yellow gape. Adult birds are 7.5 in (19 cm) long. They have a 13 in (33 cm) wingspan and they weigh 0.75 oz (21 g)
Distribution and habitat
They are found year-round from western Colorado, southwest to southern California, east to the western panhandle of Texas and south through western Mexico. They breed from Alaska south through western and south central Canada, south through North Dakota, the midwest and to New Mexico and westward. They winter in the desert southwest to southern Texas and south through Mexico to northern Central America. During migration these birds can be found thousands of miles out of range. There are regular fall reports in New England, U.S and Nova Scotia, Canada.
These birds prefer dry, desolate, arid landscapes. They can be found on farmland, savanna and open woodlands, usually near water. They tend to be early migrants to the western U.S
The Snowy Egret is an annual regular to Nova Scotia, usually uncommon but rare in some years. This bird was jumpy unlike some I've encountered that are quite approachable.
Most Mayflowers have a tinge of pink around the edge but finding Mayflowers that are all or almost all pink is harder. This is a cluster we find beside the road on our evening walk.
Horsetail, Mayflower and Red Soldier Lichen
Our evening walks are becoming more interesting as flora and fauna begin to appear. The Horsetail is just beginning to come forth but later it will blossom into little fir like trees, hence the name. I tried to photograph the "pinkish-blue" Mayflower with limited success. Lighting is very important in capturing the colour successfully. The Red Soldier (British Soldier) Lichen has just started to appear. Again the lighting is very important in successfully capturing the colour of the lichen. I will keep trying because it is now time to carry my camera on our walks.
Horsetail Plant (Equisetum)
Equisetum (/ˌɛkwɪˈsiːtəm/; horsetail, snake grass, puzzlegrass) is the only living genus in Equisetaceae, a family of vascular plants, which reproduce by spores rather than seeds.
Equisetum is a "living fossil", the only living genus of the entire subclass Equisetidae, which for over 100 million years was much more diverse and dominated the understorey of late Paleozoic forests. Some equisetids were large trees reaching to 30 m (98 ft) tall. The genus Calamites of the family Calamitaceae, for example, is abundant in coal deposits from the Carboniferous period. The pattern of spacing of nodes in horsetails, wherein those toward the apex of the shoot are increasingly close together, is said to have inspired John Napier to invent logarithms. Modern horsetails first appeared during the Jurassic period.
A superficially similar but entirely unrelated flowering plant genus, mare's tail (Hippuris), is occasionally referred to as "horsetail", and adding to confusion, the name "mare's tail" is sometimes applied to Equisetum.
Despite centuries of use in traditional medicine, there is no evidence that Equisetum has any medicinal properties.
The name "horsetail", often used for the entire group, arose because the branched species somewhat resemble a horse's tail. Similarly, the scientific name Equisetum is derived from the Latin equus ('horse') + seta ('bristle').
Other names include candock for branching species, and snake grass or scouring-rush for unbranched or sparsely branched species. The latter name refers to the rush-like appearance of the plants and to the fact that the stems are coated with abrasive silicates, making them useful for scouring (cleaning) metal items such as cooking pots or drinking mugs, particularly those made of tin. E. hyemale, rough horsetail, is still boiled and then dried in Japan to be used for the final polishing process on woodcraft to produce a smooth finish. In German, the corresponding name is Zinnkraut ('tin-herb'). In Spanish-speaking countries, these plants are known as cola de caballo ('horsetail').
Equisetum leaves are greatly reduced and usually non-photosynthetic. They contain a single, non-branching vascular trace, which is the defining feature of microphylls. However, it has recently been recognised that horsetail microphylls are probably not ancestral as in lycophytes (clubmosses and relatives), but rather derived adaptations, evolved by reduction of megaphylls.
The leaves of horsetails are arranged in whorls fused into nodal sheaths. The stems are usually green and photosynthetic, and are distinctive in being hollow, jointed and ridged (with sometimes 3 but usually 6–40 ridges). There may or may not be whorls of branches at the nodes. Unusually, the branches often emerge below the leaves in an internode, and grow from buds between their bases.
The spores are borne under sporangiophores in strobili, cone-like structures at the tips of some of the stems. In many species the cone-bearing shoots are unbranched, and in some (e.g. E. arvense, field horsetail) they are non-photosynthetic, produced early in spring. In some other species (e.g. E. palustre, marsh horsetail) they are very similar to sterile shoots, photosynthetic and with whorls of branches.: 12–15
Horsetails are mostly homosporous, though in the field horsetail, smaller spores give rise to male prothalli. The spores have four elaters that act as moisture-sensitive springs, assisting spore dispersal through crawling and hopping motions after the sporangia have split open longitudinally.
Equisetum cell walls
The crude cell extracts of all Equisetum species tested contain mixed-linkage glucan : Xyloglucan endotransglucosylase (MXE) activity. This is a novel enzyme and is not known to occur in any other plants. In addition, the cell walls of all Equisetum species tested contain mixed-linkage glucan (MLG), a polysaccharide which, until recently, was thought to be confined to the Poales. The evolutionary distance between Equisetum and the Poales suggests that each evolved MLG independently. The presence of MXE activity in Equisetum suggests that they have evolved MLG along with some mechanism of cell wall modification. Non-Equisetum land plants tested lack detectable MXE activity. An observed negative correlation between XET activity and cell age led to the suggestion that XET may be catalysing endotransglycosylation in controlled wall-loosening during cell expansion. The lack of MXE in the Poales suggests that there it must play some other, currently unknown, role. Due to the correlation between MXE activity and cell age, MXE has been proposed to promote the cessation of cell expansion.
Red Soldier Lichen (British Soldier Lichen)
The Ring-necked Duck is an elegant diver common everywhere in Nova Scotia. The hunters that first hunted this bird called it the Ring-necked Duck due to the brown collar around its neck although clearly the sporty bill would suggest other more appropriate names.
Mayflower and Coltsfoot, Early Spring Flowers
Mayflower and Coltsfoot are Nova Scotia's beloved early spring flowers. The Coltsfoot has been blooming everywhere for two weeks but our local Mayflower just bloomed today.
The Red-tailed is a hulking big buteo (soaring hawk) but is nonetheless shy and tricky to photograph. As soon as you stop your car or roll down your window off it goes.
This one was so interested in grooming that it ignored me so I did manage a few quick photos.
When driving along in the countryside look for the "belly band" which allows for a quick and easy indentification even at distance.
The first photograph below shows quite graphically the distinct field marks of the adult Green-winged Teal on the left versus the Eurasian Teal on the right.
It is a rare bird with only 20 visitors since 1970. Some folks consider it a separate species from the Green-winged Teal, not a subspecies.
Eurasian Teal, also known as Common Teal and Eurasian Green-winged Teal
The Eurasian teal (Anas crecca), common teal, or Eurasian green-winged teal is a common and widespread duck that breeds in temperate Eurosiberia and migrates south in winter. The Eurasian teal is often called simply the teal due to being the only one of these small dabbling ducks in much of its range. The bird gives its name to the blue-green colour teal.
It is a highly gregarious duck outside the breeding season and can form large flocks. It is commonly found in sheltered wetlands and feeds on seeds and aquatic invertebrates. The North American green-winged teal (A. carolinensis) was formerly (and sometimes is still) considered a subspecies of A. crecca.
The Eurasian teal belongs to the "true" teals, a group of small Anas dabbling ducks closely related to the mallard (A. platyrhynchos) and its relatives; that latter group in fact seems to have evolved from a true teal. It forms a superspecies with the green-winged teal and the speckled teal (A. flavirostris). A proposed subspecies, A. c. nimia of the Aleutian Islands, differs only in slightly larger size; it is probably not distinct.
Whether the Eurasian and green-winged teals are to be treated as one or two species is still being reviewed by the AOU, while the IUCN and BirdLife International separate them nowadays. Despite the almost identical and highly apomorphic nuptial plumage of their males, which continues to puzzle scientists, they seem well distinct species, as indicated by a wealth of behavioural, morphological, and molecular data.
The Eurasian teal was first scientifically named by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 edition of Systema naturae. His Latin description reads: [Anas] macula alarum viridi, linea alba supra infraque oculos – "a duck with green speculum, a white line above and below the eyes" – and his primary reference was the bird's description in his earlier work Fauna Svecica. In fact, the description he used in Systema Naturae was the name under which the bird went in the Fauna Svecica, demonstrating the value of his new binomial nomenclature by compressing the long-winded names formerly used in biological classification into much simpler scientific names like Anas crecca. Linnaeus also noted in his description that earlier authors had already written about the Eurasan teal at length: Conrad Gessner had described it in the Historiae animalium as the anas parva ("small duck") among his querquedulae ("teals"); Ulisse Aldrovandi had called it phascade or querquedula minor ("lesser teal"), and was duly referenced by Francis Willughby who named the species querquedula secunda Aldrovandi ("the second teal of Aldrovandi"[note 1]). John Ray may be credited with formally introducing the name "common teal", while Eleazar Albin called it simply "the teal". As regards the type locality Linnaeus simply remarked that it inhabits freshwater ecosystems in Europe.
The scientific name is from Latin Anas, "duck" and kricka, the Swedish name for this species. The specific name of Linnaeus is onomatopoetic, referring to the male's characteristic call which was already discussed by Linnaeus' sources. The scientific name of the Eurasian teal—unchanged since Linnaeus' time— therefore translates as "duck that makes cryc"; common names like the Bokmål krikkand, Danish krikand and German Krickente mean the same.
The Eurasian teal is one of the smallest extant dabbling ducks at 34–43 cm (13–17 in) length and with an average weight of 360 g (13 oz) in drake (males) and 340 g (12 oz) in hens (females). The wings are 17.5–20.4 cm (6.9–8.0 in) long, yielding a wingspan of 53–59 cm (21–23 in). The bill measures 3.2–4 cm (1.3–1.6 in) in length, and the tarsus 2.8–3.4 cm (1.1–1.3 in).
From a distance, the drakes in nuptial plumage appear grey, with a dark head, a yellowish behind, and a white stripe running along the flanks. Their head and upper neck is chestnut, with a wide and iridescent dark green patch of half-moon- or teardrop-shape that starts immediately before the eye and arcs to the upper hindneck. The patch is bordered with thin yellowish-white lines, and a single line of that colour extends from the patch's forward end, curving along the base of the bill. The breast is buff with small round brown spots. The center of the belly is white, and the rest of the body plumage is mostly white with thin and dense blackish vermiculations, appearing medium grey even at a short distance. The outer scapular feathers are white, with a black border to the outer vanes, and form the white side-stripe when the bird is in resting position. The primary remiges are dark greyish brown; the speculum feathers are iridescent blackish-green with white tips, and form the speculum together with the yellowish-white tips of the larger upperwing coverts (which are otherwise grey). The underwing is whitish, with grey remiges, dense dark spotting on the inner coverts and a dark leading edge. The tail and tail coverts are black, with a bright yellowish-buff triangular patch in the center of the coverts at each side.
In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the hen; it is more uniform in colour, with a dark head and vestigial facial markings. The hen itself is yellowish-brown, somewhat darker on wings and back. It has a dark greyish-brown upper head, hindneck, eyestripe and feather pattern. The pattern is dense short streaks on the head and neck, and scaly spots on the rest of the body; overall they look much like a tiny mallard (A. platyrhynchos) hen when at rest. The wings are coloured similar to the drake's, but with brown instead of grey upperwing coverts that have less wide tips, and wider tips of the speculum feathers. The hen's rectrices have yellowish-white tips; the midbelly is whitish with some dark streaking.
Immatures are coloured much like hens, but have a stronger pattern. The downy young are coloured like in other dabbling ducks: brown above and yellow below, with a yellow supercilium. They are recognizable by their tiny size however, weighing just 15 g (0.53 oz) at hatching.
The drake's bill is dark grey, in eclipse plumage often with some light greenish or brownish hue at the base. The bill of hens and immatures is pinkish or yellowish at the base, becoming dark grey towards the tip; the grey expands basewards as the birds age. The feet are dark grey in males and greyish olive or greyish-brown in females and immatures. The iris is always brown.
Moults during summer. Male in eclipse resembles female, but with darker upperparts and grey bill. Flight feathers are moulted simultaneously and birds are flightless for up to 4 weeks.
This is a noisy species. The male whistles cryc or creelycc, not loud but very clear and far-carrying. The female has a feeble keh or neeh quack. 
Males in nuptial plumage are distinguished from green-winged teals by the horizontal white scapular stripe, the lack of a vertical white bar at the breast sides, and the quite conspicuous light outlines of the face patch, which are indistinct in the green-winged teal drake. Males in eclipse plumage, females and immatures are best recognised by their small size, calls, and the speculum; they are hard to tell apart from the green-winged teal however.
Distribution and habitat
The Eurasian teal breeds across the Palearctic and mostly winters well south of its breeding range. However, in the milder climate of temperate Europe, the summer and winter ranges overlap. For example, in the United Kingdom and Ireland a small summer population breeds, but far greater numbers of Siberian birds arrive in winter. In the Caucasus region, western Asia Minor, along the northern shores of the Black Sea, and even on the south coast of Iceland and on the Vestmannaeyjar, the species can be encountered all year, too.
In winter, there are high densities around the Mediterranean, including the entire Iberian Peninsula and extending west to Mauretania; on Japan and Taiwan; as well as in South Asia. Other important wintering locations include almost the entire length of the Nile Valley, the Near East and Persian Gulf region, the mountain ranges of northern Iran, and South Korea and continental East and Southeast Asia. More isolated wintering grounds are Lake Victoria, the Senegal River estuary, the swamps of the upper Congo River, the inland and sea deltas of the Niger River, and the central Indus River valley. Vagrants have been seen in inland Zaire, Malaysia, on Greenland, and on the Marianas, Palau and Yap in Micronesia; they are regularly recorded on the North American coasts south to California and South Carolina.
From tracking wintering teal in Italy, most individuals departed the wintering grounds between mid-February and March, using the Black-Sea-Mediterranean flyway to reach their breeding grounds, from central Europe to east of the Urals, by May. This slow migration is due to long stopovers near the start of migration, mainly in south-eastern Europe.
Altogether, the Eurasian teal is much less common than its American counterpart, though still very plentiful. Its numbers are mainly assessed by counts of wintering birds; some 750,000 are recorded annually around the Mediterranean and Black Seas, 250,000 in temperate western Europe, and more than 110,000 in Japan. In 1990 and 1991, a more detailed census was undertaken, yielding over 210,000 birds wintering in Iran, some 109,000 in Pakistan, about 77,000 in Azerbaijan, some 37,000 in India, 28,000 in Israel, over 14,000 in Turkmenistan and almost 12,000 in Taiwan. It appears to be holding its own currently, with its slow decline of maybe 1–2% annually in the 1990s – presumably mainly due to drainage and pollution of wetlands – not warranting action other than continuing to monitor the population and possibly providing better protection for habitat on the wintering grounds. The IUCN and BirdLife International classify the Eurasian teal as a species of Least Concern, unchanged from their assessment before the split of the more numerous A. carolinensis.
The Eurasian teal is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
The Evening Grosbeak is often hard to find despite its predilection for visiting feeders. This is my second encounter this year with this elegant and active bird.
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