Category Archives: Birdathon

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2017 (Day One)

Ten days ago today,  the team Saw-it Owls was kicking off their Great Canadian Birdathon. Starting at a Purple Martin colony in Chestermere, we headed to Weed Lake, then down to Carburn Park. We were starting at the Martin colony because, for the first time in my memory, the Peregrine Falcons were not nesting at the University. With two scopes, three cameras and four pair of binoculars, we set out. Purple Martins are not hard to find at their homes, and we were not disappointed, with nine individuals showing for us.

Purple Martin

Male Purple Martin

Weed Lake is usually a very good place for shorebirds, but the water levels are high this spring, and we only identified the disappointing tally of 3 shorebirds not seen anywhere else. Black-bellied Plovers were the highlights, but a Black-crowned Night-Heron flyover was a nice accompaniment to a conservative estimate of 5000 Franklin’s Gulls, among which rested a single Bonaparte’s Gull.

Franklin's Gull

Franklin’s Gulls

Carburn Park was a good stop, throwing up a California Gull, American White Pelican and House Wrens. We also saw Western Wood-Pewees, a Belted Kingfisher and three Bank Swallows. It was a good thing too, as South Glenmore Park was barren of birds, excepting some out on the reservoir.

American White Pelicans

Preening session!

Heading out of the city, we took a short stop where someone had seen a Golden-crowned Sparrow recently. We missed the sparrow, but there was a lucky Western Tanager and a Tennessee Warbler.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

We dined in Cochrane, then headed out to Horse Creek Road Marshes. Sometimes tough to find, these marshes are a brilliantly consistent place for Yellow Rails, of which we heard 3. Nelson’s Sparrows were absent, but the buzzy call of a Le Conte’s Sparrow rang out three times. We of course, were 12 hours too early for the Sedge Wren reported there the next day.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe are a common sight at HCR marshes.

That pretty much ended the first half of the 24 hours, as we saw little on the return drive via Sibbald Creek Trail. That is also the end of this post, but stay tuned for the second half from Saturday in the Bow Valley! There is still time to donate to this important cause, so please click this link to see my Birdathon page. Thank you!

Canmore Spring Bird Walk May 21st

The second of my bi-monthly Spring Bird Walks on Policeman’s Creek started at 7:30 AM on Sunday May 21st, the day after the second half of the Great Canadian Birdathon. The sun was long up, and the day was turning out to be pleasantly warm. 21 participants correlated with the date, and was a large enough number to split into two groups, one headed upstream to the Spurline Trail, and the other moving downstream to the Great-horned Owl nest.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

If you don’t know where it is, the nest is quite well hidden. There have been many new birds coming in since the last walk, including Spotted Sandpipers, Sora and Yellow Warblers, and between the two groups we totalled 38 species. Coming so soon after the Birdathon, I was more than a little tired, which is why my post is out so late – I slept until 9:30 today, and replacing the deck is a time consuming job. Before the walk had even started, we heard Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and White-crowned Sparrow among others, all species we would go on to see.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

The group headed to Spurline did well, seeing three Clark’s Nutcrackers and a Solitary Sandpiper, while the downstream crew got good views of the four visible owls, Yellow Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Violet-green Swallows. Rare for the area was a pair of Common Grackles seen after most people had departed.

Clark's Nutcracker

A Clark’s Nutcracker taken at our feeders.

The eBird checklist is here, for anybody interested. If anyone wants to come out to our next walk, it is on June 4th at 7:30 AM (meet at 7:15) at the Big Head on Canmore’s main or 8th Street. See you then!

See previous post here: Canmore Spring Bird Walk May 7th.

Canmore Spring Bird Walk May 7th

Townend's Warbler

A Townsend’s Warbler I took several years ago on the Banff Bird Walk

Banff Community Bird Walks are a well known series of Saturday morning walks led at the Cave and Basin in Banff. They are free to attend, and participant may see anywhere between 20 and 40 species, depending on the time of year. It came as a great surprise to me, therefore, to learn (when I started birding) that there were no similar events run in Canmore, where 25-30 species is a regular count for me in an hour.

So I have started the Canmore Spring Bird Walks, led every other Sunday morning (so people can still attend the Banff one) from 7:30 – 9:30 am. My local hotspot, the Canmore Boardwalk, is very productive, and has this year alone turned up such rarities as an Eastern Pheobe on April 7th and a Hammond’s Flycatcher on April 26th. It has 114 species seen one it, (of which I have seen 104) and continues to show more every year.

Hammond's Flycatcher

Hammond’s Flycatcher

The first Canmore Bird Walk was yesterday, May 7th. I woke up to the ever unpleasent presence of a Rockies spring snow – heavy, cold, and above all, wet. Despairing for participants, I pulled on my heavy coat and tried unsuccesfully to protect my brand new camera and lense from the ferocious weather (at the end of the day, I would rejoice in the fact that I had chosen the Canon EOS 80D, as its excellent weather-proofing proved invaluable). As it turned out, my worrying was unjustified, with 8 people coming out that morning to see the Boardwalk’s first ever Solitary Sandpiper, and the largest flock of warblers I have ever seen – over 200 Yellow-rumped Warblers swarmed one section.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle x Audubon's)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle x Audubon’s)

Other highlights included a male Blue-winged Teal, Chipping Sparrow, and a Great-horned Owl. All in all, it went well, and hopefully on our next walk we will have considerably better weather. By then we can expect Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, and Soras to be back in force. Thanks to everybody who came out yesterday, and I hope to see anyone who’s interested on May 21st, 7:20 at Canmore’s famous Big Head.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2017 – A Five Year Anniversary

BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2013BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2014BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2015BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2016

As I mentioned in my last post (Springing into Spring), the Great Canadian Birdathon is happening again this year, and it is a special one for me, as it will be my fifth time participating. Those of you who have been with me the whole time will remember that some of my first ever posts involved the 2013 Birdathon, back when it was called the Baillie Birdathon.
I have included links to all of the previous Birdathon posts at the bottom of this one.

Great Canadian Birdathon Shirt 2017

The new shirt design

The Birdathon has taken me many places and given my many exiting experiences. I am trying a new approach this year, which is to captain a team. This team will include Canadian Birder, and hopefully we will see some new birds – perhaps even that Short-eared Owl that has been evading me for so long.

James L. Baillie was an Assistant Curator in the Department of Ornithology at the Royal Ontario Museum for roughly half a century, and both the Baillie Birdathon and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund were set up in his honor. The birdathon’s name was changed in 2015, but the memory continues in the memorial fund, which receives part of the funds raised every year from the Birdathon.

Thank you everyone who has donated already, and if you haven’t, consider joining the cool crowd by following this link: Birdathon, and donating to keep our backyard beauties in fine feather!

 

Photos from Previous Years:

Great Canadian Birdathon 2013:

Raven eating pigeon

Common Raven

Ethan Baillie Birdwatching

Great Canadian Birdathon 2014:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Great Canadian Birdathon 2015:

American Avocet

Brown Thrasher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Great Canadian Birdathon 2016:

Marbled Godwit

Great Horned Owl

Eastern Phoebe

Links to posts:

2013                             2014                             2014#2                             2015

2016                             2016#2

Springing into Spring

Spring has finally started to slouch back in to Alberta. Swans, ducks and geese, shorebirds and sparrows are all starting to arrive from down south. And what is spring without a good snow-storm?The Eagle watch is running once more, (see posts here and here about my experiences with that in previous years) and the Great Canadian Birdathon has started (previous posts: 2013 2014, 2015, 2016, 2016 #2). This is the first year that I will be doing my birdathon in a team, and I will be joined by Canadian Birder.

In terms of bird species arriving, it is just starting, but some good birds are coming through already. A first ever Killdeer on my local creek, as well as Robins, Song Sparrows and a Varied Thrush.

American Robin and Killdeer

Varied Thrush

Reports have been streaming across the province of Pintail, American and Eurasian Wigeon, Scaup, Geese and Gulls. A Wood Duck has arrived already, and I saw only the third Trumpeter Swan in the Calgary area this year, then followed it up a week later with five more.

Green-winged Teal and Ring-billed Gull

Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers are drumming and displaying nuthatches litter the woods. American Crow numbers are growing, and the snow is slowly melting as I type.

I’ll post more photos soon, as the light increases and the birds grow in numbers. There are lots of events coming up, so I’ll be really busy, but I’ll do my best to get some posts out.

Best Photos of The First Half of The Year

This post is for the photos, so I’ll keep the words short. All of the photos after a certain header are from that place/event, and they are the best that I took there. Enjoy!

CRANBROOK

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat

LONG-EARED OWLSLong-eared Owl Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owlets Long-eared Owlets

JUNE FOURTH BIG MORNINGIMG_6369-3

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

THE BOWKAN BIRDCOUNT

Little Blue Butterfly

Little Blue Butterfly

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

MY GREAT CANADIAN BIRDATHON

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

BIRDING AROUND THE VALLEY

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brewer's Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

EAGLE-WATCHING

Lynx

Lynx

Lynx

Lynx

ENGLAND

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Brambling & Chaffinch

Brambling & Chaffinch

Turnstone

Turnstone

Pink-footed Goose; Brent Goose

Pink-footed Goose; Brent Goose

My Great Canadian Birdathon #2

This is the second post in my series of two posts about my Great Canadian Birdathon. In my last post, I mentioned the abundance of waterbirds that we saw. This post is all about the passerines. Find the first post here. To find out more about the Birdathon, listen to my radio interview here:

I woke up early on the Saturday, and toured the local hotspot near my house. Surprisingly, there was not too much new there, but it was still an enjoyable walk.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

At 7:30, we stopped by at an Osprey nest to pick them up, and found not only the pair, but a Pileated Woodpecker in addition.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

We found ourselves racing against the clock to get to the Banff Birdwalk in time. Screeching to a halt, we jumped out just in time to depart on the walk. The organiser, whose birding by ear is brilliant, was unfortunately not there, so the walk was perhaps slightly slower than we would have liked. The ponds were dried up, and the morning was cold and wet, but the birds were active. By nine, we had seen a few new species including a Western-wood Pewee displaying for us.

Western Wood Pewee

Western Wood Pewee

At 9:30 I was twitching, and by ten I gave up. “We have to leave the group. We’re not getting anything new, and by my count we need four species still to break 100.” My Dad agreed, and we slipped away from the group and continued, going at a rather faster pace towards a better birding place. On the way we found a Boreal Chickadee.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

As we turned a corner, we ran into an off-shoot of the group that had had the same idea as us. “Did you see the Wilson’s Warblers?” they ask.  “No.” A Wilson’s would be a new one for the day. Before we had the chance to find one, a thrush flew up onto a branch above us. Northern Waterthrush! And then the Wilson’s called. “That’s it” I crowed, “100 species!” How wrong I would turn out to be.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Nearing the very end of the count, first I, then my Dad ventured into the swampy undergrowth at the side of the marsh, pursuing what would turn out to be a Le Conte’s Sparrow. Out of nowhere, the sharp tic-tic-tic of avian feet walking along thick branch caught our attention. Simultaneously, we swung around just in time to see a Virginia Rail disappear into the bushes. This rarely seen bird is heard on most Christmas Bird Counts here, but to see it is pretty good going. Too bad we didn’t get a photo.

I glanced at my watch. Time was up. By my count, we had broken 100 species by exactly one. Boy was I wrong. In retrospect, going through photos and adding all the lists together, the count was 1 short of my biggest big day ever. We got 120 species. See the full list here: 2016 Great Canadian Birdathon Species List

Oh, and on the way home I got some decent photos of a Black Bear, so I thought that I would share them.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

There is still plenty of time to donate! Please help me make this Birdathon even greater by supporting me here! Thank you very much to those who have done so already, your donation is greatly appreciated!

My Great Canadian Birdathon 2016 #1

I had 46 species before the Birdathon had even started. An owl chick, a mating pair of hawks and a Vesper Sparrow were all things that I was not to be graced with during the count. But I would never have guessed what I would see during my fourth birdathon.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

As per usual, I spread my Great Canadian Birdathon over two days, starting at 11:08 at Frank Lake on Friday, May 20th and ending at the same time on the 21st at the Cave and Basin (Banff).

Frank Lake… possibly the best birding lake in Alberta. The fifty odd species that I saw there ranged from Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson’s Phalarope to Western Meadowlark and four types of swallow. We only went to the North West access point, where the blind is, but there are two excellent places that only take a minute or two to walk to.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

We bombed at Blackie, where there are often two species of dove at the grainery, but we found nothing new but a Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Everyone knows  that the back roads are rich in birdlife, and only a little slower than the big roads. On 306 Ave east, we found seven new bird species. Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs made up the contingent of shorebirds, while hawks and harriers roamed the fields.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

At Langdon Corner Slough, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher and Greater Scaup were amongst the newcomers. However, what we watched the most was the antics of a Foster’s Tern divebombing a Cananda Goose, trying to drive it away from its nest. This event, unfortunatly was too far away for any usable photos with my lense, so here is a photo of a different Forster’s.

Forster's TernForster’s Tern

It was a day for Swallows, as we found many in all places, but especially at Inverlake Road where over 600 of the birds were flying. In 1000 or so other birds, though we were not sure at the time, we have now confirmed a lifer there in the form of Semi-palmated Plover!

Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover might be in there too.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover might be in there too.

McElroy Slough was deserted because of its exposure to the howling wind. If I were a duck, I wouldn’t want to be out there.

We were worried for a time at Chestemere, for it appeared that the Purple Martins would not show until single bird fluttered over our car as we were leaving.

American Robin

American Robin

Uh Oh. 5:00 and we didn’t have a single Ring-billed Gull. Time to head for Glenmore Reservoir. Amongst the 500 Franklin’s Gulls we found three Great-Blue Herons, a Solitairy Sandpiper and, yes, four young Ring-billed Gulls.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

We were not at Glenmore for Glenmore, though. We were there for the Weaselhead Natural Area right beside the reservoir. If you glance back through the post, you’ll see that it was mostly wetland that we visited, so the passerine numbers were rather low. An hour at the Weaselhead proved invaluable.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Female)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Female)

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And (supposedly) to end the day off, we headed to Horse Creek Road Marshes to try for Yellow Rail, Nelson’s Sparrow and Le Conte’s Sparrow. By a quarter to nine, it didn’t look like we would find any of them. But just as we were pulling out of the pull-out, I heard a buzzy “T-shhhhhhhh-t” as a Le Conte’s Sparrow sounded. And we drove home.

Or, I thought that we were driving home. My Dad had other ideas.”Don’t laugh, it might work” he says as we turn into Ghost Lake where there is often a Calliope Hummingbird. It’s 9:30 at night, and dumping a gallon of rain per foot per second. I laugh, but my tune changes when I spot a Rufous hovering around some bushes.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

But that’s not all. As we watch the hummer, something sings out from behind us. Not a song I’ve heard in (exactly) a year. It’s a warbler, and not the most regular, though it does not show up as a rarity in eBird. Chestnut-sided Warbler, to be presise. Try as we did, we could not see it, but the song is exactly right.

And then we truly went home.