Category Archives: Christmas

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.

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…

My First Week in England

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Eurasian Robin

I  have now been in England for a week. First impressions? More birds than Canada in winter. Small birds everywhere, many Wood Pigeons, and a few Eurasian Collared Doves. On the lake, Black-headed Gulls galore, with lots of Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Coot around. Little Egrets burst out from the banks on occasion, and Blackbirds dart around the paths. Gold-, Bull-, Green- and Chaff-finches litter the skies while Blue Tits rule the bushes.

And they sing. They sing and they sing and they sing. Being a stranger to the songs of English birds is definitely the biggest difficulty you can have here. The Robin’s song has caught me out more than once. A surprising lack of raptors is present, for I have seen but a Red Kite, two Eurasian Kestrels and one Buzzard in a lot of birding time.

Today I went out to a nearby lake, Stewartby Lake. It is the best birding spot in Bedfordshire, with a species list including Caspian Gull, Little Egrets, Yellow-footed Gull and others. We didn’t leave until about 9:45 local time, but we still got a reasonable checklist.

Starting off with a Blue Tit, we walked around the lake with my uncle, my mother, my sister and a dog. Eurasian Coot, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebes were he first thing we found on the lake itself, continuing with a million and two Black-headed Gulls. A Kingfisher roared past, and as we followed its path, we hit upon the first rarity of the day – a Little Egret!

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Little Egret and Eurasian Coot

After a while, the Uncle, Mother, Sister and the dog left to go back home, but we stayed on for the full loop of the water. Further on, we came across some strange ducks. Mallard sized, they were mostly black, but with a white throat and upper breast patch. Not a bird either of us had seen before. It took us until we found these birds to figure them out: Mallard hybrids!
IMG_1499

Continuing, we walked past the sailing club, and found a small dockyard full of birds. by now, the light was too bad for any good photos. My Uncle has lent me his telescope to use as a spotting scope, and it was with this that I saw something behind the Moorhen on the dock – a Dabchick, or Little Grebe!

IMG_1417Nearing the end of the loop, we passed out of  the lake habitat and into a more wooded area, where a flash of red led us to a Bullfinch, and as we were leaving, we found a Song Thrush!

In a few days, I shall leave for Cley Marshes, in North Norfolk, where I expect to see a good number of species. So though I shall post then, I suspect that I won’t post again until then.

Happy New Year!

The Birder Murder Mysteries

Do you have a hard to shop for birder in your family? Or just want a new series of books to read? Well here it is. I don’t want to sound like an advertiser, but this series is one of the best I have ever read.

A young Chief Inspector in a small North Norfolk town who has come by fame and (some) fortune. But what he really wants to do is go birding. Watch how the guarded Domenic Jejeune weaves his way through dangerous murders, excellent birders, and the ever present doA-Siege-of-bitternsubt of his team.

In the first book, A Siege of Bitterns, Jejeune has to deal with the murder of a well known ecologist known as “Marsh Man.” In the man’s notes, he finds an unusual report – Am. bittern. How does this fit into the death of Marsh Man? Leave it to Domenic Jejeune to find out.

In the second, A Pitying of Doves, two people are found dead in a bird sanctuary, locked in a cage from which a pair of doves had been stolen. Who stole the doves, and why did theya-pitying-of-doves-188x300 ignore the expensive jewellery on the man body? When it turns out that the Mexican Embassy is involved, Jejeune is given very strict instructions – do not even think about blaming any of them. Follow along as the entire North Norfolk police team encounters injury, shame and puzzlement throughout the whole case.

I haven’t read any of the others yet, but I am sure that I will like them, and actually understand the place more, as I’m going to North Norfolk this winter. I leave on Dec. 22 to go to the exact place that these books are based!

Good luck with the books!