Category Archives: Tips

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.

Perplexing Plumage: Lincoln’s or Song?

Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows are both common birds in Southern Alberta, and indeed in many places across Canada, but to many people, the two can be tough to differentiate without hearing them singing. They are both generally small, brown birds with a streaked breast. They both have grey and brown striped heads with a white throat and pink legs.

Song Sparrow

So how do you tell them apart? Well, some people would call attention to the Lincoln’s slight crest and (sometimes hidden) white eye-ring. Others might mention the Song Sparrow’s dark breast spot and long, rounded tail. These are all good factors to consider when attempting to identify one, but not, to my eye, the most useful, or even the most obvious.

In my opinion, the best thing there is to tell a Lincoln’s from a Song is the overall color scheme. Song Sparrows are dark brown, and heavy streaking and the dark malar stripe both add to the feeling of a dark bird, as the streaking blocks the pale breast, and the malar stripe subdues the white of the throat.  Lincoln’s don’t have a malar stripe, and their streaking is lighter and much finer. Their backs are pale brown, and there is a heavy buff wash across their breast.

Wet immature Lincoln’s Sparrow

The two differ in habitat as well, though there is much overlap. Where the Lincoln’s prefers marshes and riparian thickets (often in mountainous regions), the Song Sparrow turns up in denser vegetation along watercourses, marshes and wet fields. In both cases, the males sing from prominent perches while the females remain highly secretive, and the Lincoln’s females even leave the nest by ‘mouse-running’ along the ground.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

A final clue can be found at the nest site – Song Sparrows jointly hold the dubious honor of the most common Cowbird host with Yellow Warbler, whereas Lincoln’s are almost never prey to such parasitism.

To sum it up:SONG SPARROW
(Melospiza melodia)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW
(Melospiza lincolnii)
Key differences on the head:Dark malar stripe, notably round head shape.White eye-ring and crested head.
Key differences on the body:Darker overall, note dark breast spot, highly variable but always present heavy streaking.Lighter overall, with light, fine streaks, heavy buff wash (may extend to back)
Other notable differences in plumage and structure:Longer, rounded tail, occasionally bigger than Lincoln's.Short, square tail. less bulky than Song, even when equal sizes.
Habitat & Habits:Wet meadows, marshes, watercourse edges. Will come to feeders in winter.Bogs, marshes, riparian thickets usually in mountainous areas. Shyer than Song.
Range:Common across lower 48 states and all Canadian provinces. Regular on South-western coast of Alaska.Common across Canada and mid-western States as well as all southern states and Alaska.
Notes:Very common Cowbird host. Monogamous except when females outnumber males. Most varied bird in North America with 31 subspecies.Rarely parasitized. Assumed monogamous, but not confirmed.

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

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.

Certifying a Golf Course at 8:00 AM

After eight, we started seeing other people around the course. That didn’t bother us too much, as we were mostly staying away from the holes, and doing pretty well there anyways (read the first post in this series of two here). We found a nice little creek containing Red-eyed Vireos, Warbling Vireos, and 3 Cape May Warblers.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

They flew in a large circle around us, pausing occasionally in a tree, so we could get some photos.

IMG_6369-3Going closer to the green, we saw an American Goldfinch, and heard a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a cluster of bushes and trees near hole 11.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

A Tennessee Warbler sang from on top of a tree close by.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Almost back at the entrance, an Osprey flew by too quickly for a photo. In the pond that we had first seen, a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds were singing nicely

Red-winged Blckbird

Red-winged Blackbird

The other group appeared, and since birders are never competitive, we checked our numbers. 49 species was quite good, until we realised that they had 50. Considering everything, it wasn’t that bad of a result. the full list of species (including the drive home) is here. Thanks for reading my posts!

Day 2 of The BowKan Bird Count

Through what could be the biggest schedule change ever, I ended up going on the next day in addition to the usual Saturday. We started at 10:00 at the main parking lot in Dead Man’s Flats, where we heard a Swainson’s Thrush singing continually as we waited for the fourth and last member of our group to arrive.

We strolled around the campground, listening to the Chipping Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrush, and Robins. A Common Merganser flew down the river, across which there were singing Tennessee Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

In the Hamlet itself, we discovered Northern Waterthrush, White-crowned Sparrow and Yellow Warblers. The three main corvids were everywhere.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

We drove down the highway a little ways to a place we call “The Dyke.” Inventive name, right? Oh well.

The Dyke was filled with birdsong, but it was in one spot in particular that the Warbling Vireos, Tennessee Warblers, and American Redstarts came into the spotlight. All of the other birds, exept White-throated Sparrow, fell to the background.

American Redstart

American Redstart

As this part of the count never really lasts that long, we ended then, at 2:00 pm. I have created a list of all the bird species that I saw here, if anyone is interested.

And so I waited patiently for 6 more days until my next big birding excursion. But that will have to wait for later.

The BowKan Bird Count

It seems like every Saturday is a big birding event right now! The BowKan Bird Count is the bird count that I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old. We have two counts per year, one in the spring and one in the winter. While in England, I missed the first count since I started. Back for the Spring count, I car-pooled with 4 other counters for the whole day. We started (as usual) at the Lac Des Arcs campground where we saw the all the regulars exept Belted Kingfisher. It was gloomy and overcast, but that didn’t hold the birds down.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

At the Al Lesann Bridge Trail, we were walking along, trying to hear that little peep in the bush when a pair of Rufous Hummingbirds whizzed around us. It was all good fun, until they started trying to kill us. Having a tiny red bullet shooting throught the air at our heads is kind of unnerving, but that was nothing compared to my shock when, after ducking under a low branch, I straightend up and was hit! At first I was worried about the hummer’s health, but when it was obvious that the bird was ok, I started to take photos. I actually got some nice ones of the bird sitting, preening in a tree 30 feet off.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

A quarter-hour later, we were stepping out of the van at the Buffalo Bill Pond Trail-head. Chipping Sparrows and Juncos were prominent, with many invisible Least Flycatchers, some Mountain Bluebirds, and a Vesper Sparrow all there.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Farther down, we found one of the two Kingbird species that were there last year.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

At the pond itself, there were 5 swallows, many Coot, and a Ruffed Grouse boomed behind us. There were some Spotted Sandpipers and Yellow Warblers down the shoreline. A Pied-billed Grebe in the water.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

And lots and lots of Little Blue Butterflies.

Little Blue Butterfly

Little Blue Butterfly

We ended the trip back at Lac Des Arcs, but on the other end. Strolling down the path,  we came upon some (very) fresh bear scat. It was a place that bears frequented, so this was not surprising. We continued down the path, and found one spot that was rich in birds. Stopping there to watch the Warbling Vireos, Warblers and Redstarts, we followed as the flock moved down the path a little ways. Turning a corner brought us the sight of a large and healthy Black Bear, so we, disappointed, turned back, having completed about 17% of what we wanted to do there.

Black Bear

Black Bear

We decided to end the day then, as it was already 3:45 pm. It was a successful count, on which I found 61 species over two days, in about 11 total hours. I’ll post some photos and the story from the next day soon.

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!