Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Flycatchers, Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

The recent hot, muggy weather has caused a jump in the local mosquito population or perhaps the lack of wind has made them more apparent. I have always enjoyed the shores of the Great Lakes more than inland lakes as there is always a breeze that keeps biting insects at bay.

If you want to see insect eating birds in action, you have to go where the insects are. Mosquitoes really don't bother me much, but this year I have had more bites than usual. A couple of weeks ago, I felt mildly achy and unwell for a day or two and wondered if I had contracted West Nile virus. Infected dead birds and ponds have been identified in our region this season.
I feel 100% well now, and hope that I have been infected, although the chances are very low. An infection gives a person an immunity from the virus, like a natural immunization.
Only 20% of people infected with West Nile virus have any symptoms at all and only 1%, often those who are immuno-compromised, become seriously ill. There are far more serious mosquito-borne illnesses around the world such as malaria and dengue fever.

This Eastern Wood Pewee is common along the Grand River. It takes short flights from a perch, in this case an abandoned tree swallow box, to catch insects. They are quite photogenic and cooperative!

There are at least a dozen Eastern Kingbirds near some old hickory trees along the river. They also take short, acrobatic flights to catch insects. I have tried unsuccessfully to capture a picture of them in flight. They move so quickly! This one kept returning to a dead twig, just for me.

I have seen plenty of bank, cliff and barn swallows skimming the water. I had posted pictures of a nesting colony under a bridge near the hospital. I almost missed these nests under a rusty bridge that blended well with their rusty colour.

I haven't given up on finding a rookery and watch every flying heron with interest. I took this picture into the sun, giving the bird a phantom-like appearance. It doesn't eat mosquitoes, but eats fish that presumably eat mosquito larvae.

It was worth a few insect bites to see these birds in action.


  1. The mosquitoes have been few here too for lack of rain, but that's one thing we've not missed. :c) Love the photo of the Pewee!

  2. Wonderful bird photos, Ruth! We are also dry so mosquitoes aren't a problem here. I am glad because I'm allergic to the bites.

  3. Is there West Nile Virus in Ontario? According to the CDC there have been no human cases in 2007 any further east than Illinois.

    Anyway, I love your bird photos, and hope West Nile isn't that far east & north. It is quite deadly for many birds.

  4. Jayne and Mary- it is dry here too so mosquitoes have not been a problem at home. However, by the river is a different matter. The water levels are low and the flow is sluggish so there a many stagnant pools ideal for mosquitoes.

    KGMom- We have had West Nile Virus in Waterloo Region for 3-4 years now with many birds testing positive. There were 3 human cases reported in Ontario last year.

  5. Ho boy. This is interesting. I'm probably headed home to mosquitoes in Ohio.

    Yes. Yes, I tell myself. I've probably already been inoculated, but Dang! I resent the loss of innocence. I mean - remember those care-free days? A mosquito was a whinny nuisance. Now . .

    My kid sis is here from Colorado and she knows people who were fairly seriously affected. Partial paralysis etc. Dang.

    I'm glad you're OK. Would you ever consider getting an antigen titer? Wouldn't it be great to know you have nothing to fear?

  6. Cathy- West Nile Virus gets a lot of press in this area. Our city buses have big signs on the back that say "Fight the Bite". One lady from this area died of it a couple of years ago. I know it can cause serious neurological problems, but I prefer to think about the majority who don't have a problem. I have considered an antigen titre.

  7. Anonymous9:10 pm GMT-4

    I am one who has always said that west nile is a virus that I want to get now while I am healthy instead of when older and not so able to withstand the bad sides of it.

  8. Tom- You may have been infected and can only find out if you have a blood test. I hope so for your sake, considering the amount of time you spend outdoors.


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