Category Archives: Bird Feeding

Canada’s National Bird: The Grey Jay!

It may or may not be news to you, but for the past while, Canada has been searching for a national bird. Starting with forty contestants, then narrowing down to 5, it has been an intense period of voting on exactly which species to choose.

The decision to have a national bird is (another) way of celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, which is fast approaching. In the end, the five finalists were voted on by the public, but the winner was decided by a committee with members from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl, second in the voting

At the end of the voting period, the Common Loon had the most votes, followed by the Snowy Owl, and then the Grey Jay. The other two contestants were the Canada Goose, and the Black-capped Chickadee.

Unfortunately for the owl, loon and chickadee, they had all been claimed already as provincial birds. The Snowy Owl in Quebec, the Common Loon in Ontario, and the Black-capped Chickadee in New Brunswick. This, according to the deciding committee, ruled them out.

Common Loons

Common Loons

That left the Canada Goose and the Grey Jay.  The Jay has a lot going for it in that battle.
The Canada Goose is despised in many places, by many people. It is considered a pest; it eats crops, spoils public parks, and, to top that off, has a renowned bad temper. Is this the bird that Canadians want representing them? Frankly, it goes against the current public view of us as a kind, gentle group of people who couldn’t be temperamental if we tried. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it conveys the general idea.

Who, me? Temperamental?

Who, me? Temperamental?

The Grey Jay, on the other hand, is a hardy little songbird, braving the north cold, and storing and remembering vast numbers of caches. It comes across as cute, intelligent and yet still tough, perching on your hand to take a seed while its mate devours a vole, or insect. Oh, and it was called the Canada Jay for over two hundred years.

Grey Jay

Grey Jay

Although I personally would have chosen the Pine Grosbeak, I believe that the Grey Jay, or Whiskey Jack, is the best choice out of the five contestants. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Black-throated Blue Warbler Update

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The rare warbler I saw on Friday has been hanging around our house recently. It is a
Black-throated Blue Warbler and is really a south-eastern species, having between 15 and 25 official reports in Alberta. A few people have been over to see him, but all these photos are mine.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Here, it’s bending it’s wing over its back to get past a close tree branch as it flies.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The Rarest of the Rare

I’m sitting here in shock. Looking through the photos, checking Sibley’s, looking at the photos.  There’s no doubt that I saw what I immediately identified. I just still can’t believe that it’s over here.

Back it up. I had just been out for a walk along the best birding areas in Canmore, but I hadn’t seen much. Instead of turning home with a book full of warblers and thrushes, I had a few Mallards and an American Crow.  I turned into my yard and saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and then another, and a third. Kinglets are tiny and bounce around a lot, and it was while I was watching them that something else flew into the large bush.

I looked over, expecting to see a Dark-eyed Junco, or a White-crowned Sparrow, and instead see a stunning, male warbler. And not just any warbler. A Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Of course, as I maneuvered around the cars and trees (yes, they were that close together, this is Canmore) I was thinking about this eastern species. Suddenly I remembered. If you see a rare bird, especially one like this, you take a photo to confirm it.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

It naturally flew away very soon after that thought and I was left with forgetfulness to blame for my few snatched photos as it hopped around on the other side of the bush.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

So, I’m sorry that I can’t give you better shots, but I will try again today, if I can find it.
A Black-throated Blue Warbler is quite the find in Alberta, never mind in this little mountain town. And, of course, in my own yard.

Drive to Drumheller and Back Again

We were going out to Drumheller for the Saturday. I knew what this meant. No more than fifteen minutes out of our way was Langdon Corner Slough. I had been preparing all week – for what? For the first time ever, an Arctic Tern was nesting in Alberta, and we were going to see it.

I know Langdon Corner Slough pretty well, and I knew that the tern was nesting on an island a good distance out, too far for our cameras too do much good. That was why I had my Uncle’s gleaming fixed 400 ml. lens beside me with two extenders. The extenders would slow down the shutter speed by a stop or two depending on which one we used, but it would give us the extra distance I needed to get a half-decent shot.

Sadly, the ARTE is not the one flying, but second from the left sitting.

Sadly, the ARTE is not the one flying, but second from the left sitting.

I found it almost immediatly, but could not get a good photo because of the distance and heavy camera. Through my scope, we found also the two hybrid Common/Arctic immatures, but they were hidden by the long grass. Here is a Common feeding its baby (not a hybrid).

Common Tern feeding young

Common Tern feeding young

The terns were active quite a bit, and the one time that the Arctic flew and I caught it, it was out of focus. Here is the shot. The Arctic is in the bottom left corner.Flying TernsIn one corner of the Slough, we saw a large number of Marbled Godwit. I haven’t really looked for one, so if anyone sees a Hudsonian in there, please let me know.

Godwits

Godwits

That was it for Langdon, but there will always be Upland Sandpipers on the way out East.

Going, Going...

Going, Going…

False Alarm!

False Alarm!

I also got a nice photo of the all too common White-crowned Sparrow. If your ebird checklist doesn’t have one here, you’re cheating.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

And that’s it! I will post again soon.

The Rest of England

Coal Tit; Blue Tit; Great TitAfter Christmas and all, the birding kind of cooled down, other than Cley, of course. I went to Stewartby once or twice, including a trip to a birder’s favourite place – the sewage lagoons. Grey Wagtail (Lifer), Pied Wagtail, and Yellowhammer (also Lifer) were the only birds actually on the excrement but all around were Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Robins.
Hopping around in the scrubby bushes and on the ground was another lifer – Chiffchaff (a Siberian race, spending the winter in a summer paradise – for it at least)!

Furthermore, it was my cousin’s 10th Birthday the next Saturday, and we were going to his Grandparents’ farm. On the way, however, we decided to stop at the “Danish Camp.” There we saw an Eagle-Owl, Mandarin Duck, Eider, Black Swan, and Garganey. Only the Garganey was wild – the others were part of a private collection.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

We left that night for Portsmouth, not intending to bird watch too much…
that didn’t happen. At the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, there were gulls all over. Herring, both Black-backed, Black-headed, and a rarity – Ring-billed Gull! I don’t do well on boats, but on the short tour of the bay, we found Gooseander (Common Merganser), Cormorant, and even a Eurasian Shag! At the restaurant where we ate lunch, there was a Water Pipit, some Gulls, and a Pied Wagtail.

The next day, we went for a short walk, on which we found Ruddy Turnstone, Pied Wagtail (they were everywhere), Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker and others.

Turnstone

Turnstone

Back in Bedfordshire, I could most often be found watching through the window out at my Grandparents’ acre, where I registered about 30 species. One day, I came across half a dozen Linnets, a Yellowhammer, and 6 Dunnock in addition to the regulars. Another, I saw a Green Woodpecker flying across the lawn. Pheasant were present in the back corner, and I once had a fleeting glimpse of a Eurasian Jay.

And only a few days before we left, a couple others and I went down to the Sandy RSBP Lodge to see what was there. We got there and found the feeders, but there was only a couple birds there – Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, etc. Further on, we hit on a bird hide watching over some feeders, where we found Nuthatch, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and more. Back near the Lodge, we identified Reed Bunting, and Redwing as well as Goldfinches, Tits, Chaffinches and a solitary Brambling!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

 

 

 

Brambling & Chaffinch

Brambling & Chaffinch

Overall, it was a good trip, with lots of great birds. The most notable thing was the birdsong, which filled the air where ever you went. The one downside was that I did not see a single owl, but that was okay. I was surprised by the number of shore birds there, although you must consider the fact that England rarely drops below 0 Celsius, even in winter.

And now I’m on the plane back. Vacation goes too quickly, especially with a place like Cley Marshes in it…

Hummingbird Cam A-buzz

I recently found out about a new Cornell Lab of Ornithology webcam – for hummers! This great Cam is filled with these tiny birds flitting to and fro on the two feeders. The species seen here include: Magnificent, Lucifer, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds. They even get, occasionally, a Green Violetear! Here is the link. Have fun!

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Feeders

What  types of feeders are best? Where can I get them? If I can’t get them, can I build them? These are all questions that pass through the heads of many new bird watchers who have decided that they want to attract birds to their very own gardens. I  wrote this post to help answer some of these queries.

First, let me start with one important fact: habitat is essential. And it’s true. Will a nuthatch come to a yard with no trees, or a duck to one with no water? Unlikely. Birds need food, but they also need shelter. You can provide both. By planting trees and shrubs around your garden,  you can attract a large variety of birds within a short period of time. IMG_6677Hawthorns, mountain ash, and crab-apple trees are excellent sources of food for thrushes, and other birds as well. For shrubs, the best you can provide are probably Honeysuckle, Juniper, and Barberry. Having some tall pines is also good, as they provide plenty of shelter, and the cones can bring in siskins and cross-bills. I don’t claim to be a botanist, but that is my humble opinion.

 

Now I come to the feeders themselves. There are two general favorite feeders, and they are the hanging feeder, which comes in many forms, and the platform feeder. The hanging feeder has a few basic designs: the tube feeder, which is best used for sunflower seeds, the house, which can effectively work with most seeds, and the rounded, which is sort of like a tube feeder, but more squat, and wider.

The tube:

Finches love this feeder, and other birds are not afraid to use it. It is a good feeder, and can feed multiple birds at once. IMG_6683I would advise buying these, as they are extremely difficult to create on your own. Sunflower seeds work best in here, but any type of large seed will satisfy.

Next, the house feeder. I do not actually posses one of these feeders, but I know that they are decent all-round feeders – almost anything will use them! Northern Cardinals, Pine Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, the list goes on. Any type of seed goes in and comes out as quickly as the birds can eat it.

And finally, the rounded:IMG_6689

Woodpeckers up to the size of a Northern Flicker eat from here, along with Grosbeaks, Siskins, Redpolls, Chickadees, and others. All seeds work, and all seeds work well. If you are looking for a single feeder, this would be the best to get.IMG_6692

What about platform feeders? There is really only one basic formula for these. If you want to make yours, make a platform. It’s simple – drive a single nail through a piece of thinnish wood and into a pole, which you stick in the ground. Simple, really, but there are so many add-ons. You can put a house feeder on top, or bumps on the edges to keep seed from falling off. You can add squirrel baffles, roofs, and perches. Do what ever you like!

 

 

I didn’t mention suet. It is one of the other favorite foods. This is where the build-it-yourself type of people should start paying attention. Suet feeders can be made out of nearly everything. Drill some holes into a small log, or fill an old onion bag with this mix. There are store bought suet feeders, and store bought suet can fill them. You can fit suet into everywhere. Be creative!IMG_6696
You can make your Suet as well, but I’ve never tried it, so here is a link to Back Yard Bird Watcher’s recipes.

And then you can choose how to make your own designs. When I was younger, I turned an umbrella upside down, and filled it with pine-cones and seeds. It actually worked! You can get birds simply by spreading feed on the ground. If you have a high up deck, fasten in some trees, and hang feeders off the branches. I do it, and it lets you get plenty of good views of the birds that come to your yard.

Good luck!