It is spring and, as the song says, love is in the air. We have certainly observed this at the cottage as we have seen lots of courting couples and a few babies already.
One of the most obvious and amusing courting behaviours we are privileged to see at the cottage is that of the ruby-throated hummingbird. The male is energetic and determined in his airborne ballet as he noisily flits back and forth in front of the female who rests quietly on a branch assessing the quality of her suitor. The male flies in a controlled horizontal arch, back and forth, back and forth for perhaps 30 seconds before resting for a few then dancing again. This dance sometimes goes on for several minutes. We see this courting dance in May, then again later throughout the summer. Our research indicates that each female typically has at least two broods a year. This photograph captures the male hummingbird in mid-dance, but in this picture the female is also airborne.
Both male and female hooded mergansers arrive at White Lake in late April. The male is easiest to identify with his showy white crest. Once we had photographed the male we assumed the pretty female he was hanging out with was a female hooded merganser and indeed we were able to confirm our identification using our other photographs, allaboutbirds.org, and the expertise of our friends at Ontario Birds. We have seen babies from a distance, but even our longest lens does not produce a photograph worth showing to you. We hope that some year the hooded mergansers will find and use the nesting box Bruce built and installed for them this past winter.
The boldest of our courting waterfowl is the Canada goose. We observed their nests in the marshy area of the lake in April 2016. This year the proud parents and five wee chicks started showing up at our waterfront in the third week of May. Recently, we have noted only three chicks coming with their parents to eat and fertilize the grass adjacent to our beach. Although it could be different families, as there a few on White Lake, it is not unreasonable to assume it is the same one, and that some of the babies were predated by red fox, raccoons or hawks. Life in the wild is harsh.
We do not expect to ever see the actual courting behaviour of the red fox, but certainly we know it has occurred successfully. Two weeks ago, the female and male red fox appeared with one kit, more or less in the same area as we saw a female fox and two kits last year. We assume the female has a den nearby. This year’s kit looks to be healthy and energetic, … and so cute.
White Lake has a good population of red-winged blackbirds again this year. We have known since our youth the iconic master of the marshlands, the male red-winged blackbird with his black body and flash of red and yellow bars on the wings. Only in the last couple of years, though, have we learned which of the many brown birds among the cattails is the female. With her conservative brown colours the female red-winged blackbird blends well in the marsh where she builds her nest. The first picture captures her peeking out from a protective veil of cattails. The second profiles her more clearly.
In addition to our own observations and photographs to prepare this article, we also relied on information provided by Chris Earley in his book Waterfowl of Eastern North America and our friends at the Ontario Birds Facebook page.