Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Cuckoos and Caterpillars

Many of you have probably noticed that we are experiencing a serious outbreak of Gypsy Moth caterpillars this summer. While seeing the leaves being stripped off many species of trees is disconcerting, there are some compensations.

Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos specialize in eating fuzzy caterpillars and they will move around to regions where their favorite food is plentiful. So, when we have high populations of either species of tent caterpillar or Gypsy Moth caterpillars these two nomadic species often appear in higher than usual numbers. Yellow-billed Cuckoos, in particular, may be difficult to find in “non-caterpillar” years.

This year, I have seen many Black-billed Cuckoos, often flying across the road when driving. I’ve heard both species at our place but a Yellow-billed seems to have settled on territory on our property. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be making a noticeable dent in the caterpillar population yet.

Black-billed usually calls in series of 2-4 notes: cu-cu…cu-cu-cu… for example. Yellow-billed often produce a long series of single cowp notes. They also give a rattling series of accelerating cuck notes, trailing off into several loud cowp or cahowp notes. Be aware that Black-billed can also produce series of cuck notes that can fool you into thinking you have a Yellow-billed, so it’s always good to get a look at the bird, too. I have found both to be quite responsive to low whistled imitations of the Black-billed Cuckoo’s calls. I’ve had them come in very close to check out the “competition”. Recorded calls should work too but should not be used frequently during the breeding season.

So, when you’re cursing the caterpillars remember to listen for the cuckoos and try to catch a glimpse of these reclusive and skulking birds.


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Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owls are a boreal species which behaves like a hawk but looks like an owl.  The black outline around the face combined with the long tail and barring on the front distinguish this medium size owl.   The Owl in the picture appeared in mid December near Hwy 7 at the east end of Lanark County but unfortunately it was killed in a few days by a car.   Sometimes in winter this species moves south.  There has been a number of sightings across southern Ontario this year so far.  As Owls are a considered a “sensitive” species it is best not to disturb them.

Picture by Michel Gauthier

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Merlin and Dragonfly

We usually see Merlins as fierce predators on small birds. They are predators but are not limited to hunting birds. This male has been hunting over our beaver pond this fall but it was difficult to see what he was eating until I got this photo of him feeding on a large Blue Darner dragonfly. In this photo he has scraped off the wings on the branch below and is eating the body. He is able to catch these very fast dragonflies on the wing. Like most falcons Merlins can put on amazing bursts of speed and they do it in level flight rather than by diving like Peregrines.  He is identified as an adult male by the blue back and wings.

Merlin and dragonfly (Photo: Ken Allison, Almonte, Sept. 29, 2019)

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Juvenile Barred Owl


This photo was taken in mid-September but this young-of-the-year can still be recognized by the downy tips on the feathers on his head.
Lanark County has quite a bit of great Barred Owl habitat. Unlike the Great Horned Owl, they need extensive areas of forest for breeding and cannot make do with small woodlots or even trees in hedgerows as that species can. For this reason, they have largely abandoned most of southwestern Ontario with its agricultural landscape. However, the southern Canadian shield provides great habitat and populations have actually increased in the past few decades as many previously cleared areas have grown up into mature forest. They particularly like hunting around wetlands and should be expected near beaver ponds in the forested parts of the county. The loud and far-carrying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-aaall?” is a familiar sound during late winter and early spring. Calls can be heard throughout the year, though, and even occasionally during the day, especially if it’s cloudy.

Barred Owl (photo: Lise Balthazar, Sept. 16, 2019)

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MVFN Nature Notebook Sightings 2019

Monarch Butterfly

Received August 30, 2019

Almonte, August 2019. Photo by Michel Gauthier.

Each fall millions of monarch butterflies migrate to overwintering sites in Mexico and to a scattering of locations along the coast of California. In the spring monarchs return to breeding areas and the cycle starts again: a two-way migration that is one of the most spectacular on the planet.


Stretching chick, loons on Clayton & Taylor Lake

Received July 1, 2019

“It appears that most loons on Clayton and Taylor lakes are still nesting as of 2019-06-30. There was one family with a single chick that was stretching its leg. Up until now I had never seen a chick stretching its leg and at one point it was stretching both of them at the same time.” More information.

~Howard Robinson

Loon Chick stretching, Clayton Lake, June 2019. photo H. Robinson


Nesting Common Loon, June 2019. photo H. Robinson


Green heron calling from tree-top in Almonte garden near Mississippi River

Received July 1, 2019

“A “strange” sound alerted me to a bird sitting high up atop a locust tree in our garden a few blocks from the Mississippi River. It took examination of these photos to identify the bird as a green heron. And a search of sounds documented for this bird, revealed that what I probably heard was the bird calling for a mate.” More information.

~ Pauline Donaldson

Green Heron, Almonte, ON June 4, 2019. photo P. Donaldson


Green Heron, Almonte, ON June 4, 2019. photo 2 P. Donaldson


Green Heron, Almonte, ON June 4, 2019. photo 3 P. Donaldson


Spring bird sightings

May 5, 2019: Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak. More information.

photo L. Balthazar

May 7, 2019: First Oriole, Sheridan Rapids More information.

May 9, 2019: White-crowned Sparrow More information.

photo L. Balthazar

May 9, 2019: Female Purple Finch. More information

photo L. Balthazar

May 9,2019: Rose-breasted Grosbeak. More information.

photo Lise Balthazar

May 11, 2019: Juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak

photo L. Balthazar

May 11, 2019: Ruby-throated Hummingbird. More Information.

photo by Lise Balthazar

May 11, 2019: Song Sparrow. More information.

photo by Lise Balthazar

May 13, 2019: Oriole at bird bath.

photo by Lise Balthazar

April 16, 2019: Male Hooded-Merganser, Mississippi River. More information

photo N. Capitanio

Female Hooded Merganser.

April 11, 2019: Trumpter Swan, Fallbrook Ontario. More information.

photo N. Capitanio


The colours of winter

These photographs of birds during January 2019 in Sheridan Rapids, Ontario are by Lise Balthazar, sent in on January 29.

Evening Grosbeak, photo Lise Balthazar


Pine Grosbeak. photo Lise Balthazar


Redpolls, photo Lise Balthazar


A Red-bellied Woodpecker

January 12, 2019. A Red-bellied Woodpecker was observed locally in the Halpenny area. Photos and report sent in by Gerard Rumleskie. This is quite a rare sighting for our area, with only one of these birds seen on the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count this year, and that was a record for the count. Thank you for sending in this sighting! More information.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Jan 2019, Halpenny, ON photo Gerard Rumleskie


Red-bellied Woodpecker, Halpenny, ON. photo courtesy G. Rumleskie

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