Category Archives: Raptors

And Let Birds Fill The Sky – If The Wind Isn’t Too Strong

We had puzzled over where to go during the spring break, as the suite that our friends owned in Kimberly had been sold. I wanted birds, my Mom needed ttranquillity and my Dad didn’t want to drive too far. The kids didn’t care – as long as there were rocks, trees, or snow to play on, they were fine. Flip-flopping between Edmonton and Waterton National Park, we eventually settled on the latter (though I now wish we had gone to south eastern Hanna – there was an Alberta first Common Crane there!).

During the four hour long drive, I observed many dabbling ducks and hawks, but little else. Briefly stopping over at Frank Lake, we found that it is bursting into Spring, supporting Greater and Lesser Scaups, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck and four Red-breasted Mergansers. I think that the male Red-breasted Merganser is probably the most beautiful bird I’ve seen – which means something. Unfortunately, they were half a kilometre out, and we obtained no good photos.

Continuing to Waterton, we identified meadowlarks hawking from roadside poles and hawks hovering over the rolling meadows. When we eventually reached the diminutive hamlet of Waterton, I was surprised at the exact measure of solitude – there was only one shop open in the whole area! I do not believe that we saw more than 10 people the entire time.

Moose

A Moose we saw.

Waterton is very windy, with winter winds whistling through at an average 100 km per hour. Not enough to blow you over, but it can make it tough to hold your camera steady. Despite this, we manged to pick up quite a few species at the Hay Barnes Trail, an excellent short walk for anyone in the area. There is a theory that the first five minutes after you get somewhere are the best, and this was hardly disputed when an adult Prairie Falcon skimmed the long, waving grasses within a minute of our arrival. It alighted on a tall aspen and surveyed the surrounding fields. It took off a second later, joining a high-flying Red-tailed Hawk. However, as is often the case in these things, the fragile peace between the two raptors was broken when a Common Raven came hurtling out of the sky at the Hawk. The falcon joined in, and soon all three had disappeared over the hilly horizon.

A distant shot of the three birds – Raven on top, Red-tail below, and Prairie Falcon to the left.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall – click to see whole photo.

Upon our return to Waterton, we found three American Dippers broadcasting their songs by bouncing them off the stony cliffs by the waterfall. The other treasures occurred during the 50 km drive between Waterton and Pincher Creek, which we completed three or four times. Great-horned Owls, Northern Harriers and Golden Eagles supplemented the Red-tailed Hawks, while countless Mountain Bluebirds sang from the fence line. Every once in a while, we saw some Sandhill Cranes or Red-winged Blackbirds.

Northern Harrier – male

Naturally, when we returned, we learned of the Western Bluebird, the Cassin’s Finch, and that blasted bird, my nemesis, the Short-eared Owl that had been seen. Why oh why must those annoying owls insist on avoiding me? Oh well.

That’s all from me, but I’ll post more as migration continues. In the mean time, please consider donating to my Great Canadian Birdathon if you haven’t already. Thank you to all who have!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

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.

The Banff-Canmore Christmas Bird Count Results

Well, another Christmas Bird Count has come and gone, this one leaving us with much to
ponder.

Four weeks before the day, the weather forecast was for -12 to -13. Great, I thought. The warmest count in quite a while! Two weeks before the day, it was calling for -15 to -20. That’s OK, about average weather. The day before the count, I was sending out a weather warning to my counters. It will be -29, with windchill -45. Dress warmly! Don’t start at dawn! And please, please don’t get frostbite!

Yes, it was the coldest count since 1966, and it did not look promising, especially for people with Reynolds Syndrome. Despite the weather, we only had one group pull out, and still ended up with the largest number of participants for our count since we started. Too bad we also had the lowest number of species since then.

This is going to be mostly writing, as I did not fancy carrying the four hundred ml camera around in the cold. A friend of ours, though, is never without his camera, and he had attached some heat packs to the body with duck tape. Talk about dedication! I’ll include some of his shots here. This one is mine, though.

Mallard Hen

Mallard Hen

It was so cold, that on last Tuesday, I found the body of a Black-billed Magpie lying prone on a branch, frozen to death. I didn’t take a photo, though. On the count, the 17th, I did a section of a partition before returning to collect results at my house. Tallies were small, as birds were hiding from the cold, but we found some rather lost sparrows, including a Song and a White-crowned Sparrow in Canmore, with two more Songs and a White-throated Sparrow in Banff.

Common Raven

Common Raven, Credit: Miles Tindal

We almost cracked the individual numbers record for Common Ravens, with 319, but overall numbers were down. Total species were 7 short of the long term average of 43 species, not including count week birds, which was joint lowest ever. Woodpeckers were in short supply, as we did not find a single Flicker or Pileated during the entire week, leaving us with only three species.

No flickers, but we found 7 Downy Woodpeckers

No flickers, but we found 7 Downy Woodpeckers

The winter finches were down from their explosive numbers last year, but that is understandable, considering how irruptive they are. Ten Pine Grosbeaks, 11 Common Redpolls and nothing else was still slightly surprising. There were also only 41 Bohemian Waxwings on the count, spread out into small flocks. Small birds held to their averages, some of them slipping a bit, but nothing special.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee, Credit: Miles Tindal

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee, Credit: Miles Tindal

Jays were down slightly, with only one Stellar’s and 7 Blue. Grey Jays added up to a good total of 26. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Canmore record no Ruffed Grouse, and Banff only one.

Still, the participants were good, with plenty of new faces, and many of the missing numbers can attributed to the cold. The full list is here. I hope to see many new people next year as well, and hopefully some more birds!

Christmas Bird Count For Kids Results

I held the first ever CBC4Kids in the Bow Valley today, December 10th. As it was the first time, cold, (-17), and snowing, we did not expect many kids, or birds. However, four children came out for a nice hour, and enjoyed excellent views of Mallards, Ravens and a Bald Eagle fly-by.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

We also saw 6 Common Redpolls, some Magpies and, of course, Rock Doves. Even thought the Redpolls were the stars for me, three young kids sat down on the ice and watched for a while as 70 Mallards swam around in front of them.

Kids Enjoying the Mallards

Kids Enjoying the Mallards

We kept it short, only an hour, then headed back to Elevation Place for cookies and hot chocolate, graciously provided by local places Le Chocolatier and JK Bakery. Outside Elevation Place, two white rabbits crouched in the snow.

White Rabbit

A very cold looking rabbit.

All in all, it went well, with a species list of 7 and an individual count of 115 birds. Although it has started small, the CBC for Kids in the Bow Valley promises to grow, and I hope that it will become a regular, respectable event.

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

The West Coast Trip (Week Two)

First of all, a correction – I had, in the last post, made an error in my identification of photo number six – it is a Savannah Sparrow, not a Golden-crowned.

I’m sorry this comes out late; despite being one of the best things ever to happen to me, homeschooling rhythms have yet to fully settle in.

We started the second week with high hopes – it all revolved around the pelagic tour that we hoped to do in Tofino. Long Beach and Englishman River Estuary also looked promising.

Monday we visited Long Beach, where both of my siblings had a lot of fun jumping over waves.
I, on the other hand, scoped the ocean hoping for murrlets and Pacific Loons.
After about ten minutes of searching, something other than a Pigeon Guillemot or Surf Scoter brought excitement.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Through the fog, I could see something that could possibly be a Pacific Loon!
Nope, false alarm. It was a Red-necked Grebe. Though still interesting, it was not what I had hoped for. A few minutes more, and this time I had found a loon. In fact, there were about 6 of them, but unfortunately too far away for photos.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The only bird other than a gull to turn up actually on the beach, a Least Sandpiper.

That afternoon, we headed into Tofino, and found three Bald Eagles circling behind a sea-side restaurant, which was throwing out it’s fish guts.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Tuesday was the day planned for the pelagic trip. Sooty Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklets and many others awaited. We walked in to the tour office, and the co-owner radioed a captain who was out near where we would go. Apparently,  there was still fog out near the island, and the waters were getting “tricky.” In short, we could not go. That hit us hard. The entire trip had hinged on this outing!

We drove back across the island (meaning Vancouver Island) and once on the other side, met up with some friends who had recently moved there. At least, the others did. My Dad and I went to Englishman River Estuary for a couple hours.

Killdeer were the first  things we saw, and we went on to count 35 of them along with the Western and Least Sandpipers, and a few Sanderlings. A bunch of Common Mergansers and a late Western Gull added to a total of 21 species.

Killdeer

Killdeer

The next day, we had a long stop at Rathtrevor Beach, where there were oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls galore. There was also a quickly approaching tide, so some wet feet were involved.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

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In Victoria, we did a short whaling trip during which I did as much birding as possible, drawing out Surfbirds from a photo of an island. At the time, I was unsure of their ID, but now there is no doubt, though the photos are bad. An aqua-phobic just can’t take photos from a boat.

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher – 2 of each, but the turnstone

Can you find all the birds?

Rhinocerous Auklet

My Dad’s shot – Rhinocerous Auklet

That evening, we headed out to Clover Point, where we (eventually) found the much-hoped-for Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gull

Heerman’s Gull

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Back on the mainland, a quick stop-over at the fabled Reifle Bird Sanctuary turned up 35 Herons, 10 Sandhill Cranes and a Virginia Rail among others. This Leucistic Mallard is banded, but unfortunately I was unable to get the band information.

Leucistic Mallard

Leucistic Mallard

And that’s it from my West Cost Trip #2! Thank you everyone for reading, and stick around to hear about the Canmore Christmas Bird Count.