Category Archives: Tips

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!

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!

Sparrows: in the Field

Sparrows are one of those families of birds where most of the species are very similar, and not all are easy to ID when in the field. There are about 35 species of sparrow in North America. These birds, commonly known as Little Brown Jobs, or LBJs, can be seen in almost every, if not every habitat across Canada. The most common in my area are Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Though many other species are around, these are the ones most commonly seen – here. Not everywhere has the same selection. In fact, the sparrow variety varies greatly. Sparrows that are extreme rarities in one place are the most common bird in another. At first glance, most sparrows are small, brown birds that live  everywhere and chirp lustily all the time. Right?
Look closer.

Size is generally similar, but a few (such as the Grasshopper Sparrow) stand out by being either bigger or smaller. Breast colour, streaking and spots range across all of the options available, while bill colours and eye rings/colour simply add confusion to the mix. So how do you tell them apart?

Start with the breast patterns. I will mention only a few of the common species across Canada, not including the House Sparrow.

Song Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows have very similar breast streaking (note photo above), and are told apart generally by the Song Sparrow’s deep chocolate breast spot, situated in the very centre of the breast, among the lines, and the Lincoln’s lighter breast streaking. The Lincoln’s has a darker colour of streaks than the Song, which has a heavy dark chocolate brown, as opposed to the Lincoln’s sharp black.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrows at Frank Lake

Clay-coloured Sparrows have a flat, for lack of better words, creamy-clay breast. Pretty much only Chipping Sparrows can compare to the streak-less, spotless breast of the Clay-coloured.

Brewer’s Sparrows also have nondescript breasts, but they also have nondescript everything, as opposed to some other characteristics of they Clay-Coloured and Chipping.

Savannah Sparrows are closest to Song and Vesper Sparrows. For a front view, Song Sparrows have extremely heavy, dark streaking with an unusual “blurry” quality. The streaks on a Song’s breast are lumped together and blotchy. Compared to a Savannah, it should be easy to compare and contrast the two, but variation in the field makes it difficult. Watch for the Song’s darker overall colour and its longer tail.

Vesper Sparrows, also have darker streaking, although it is a lot finer than the Song’s. It is, however very similar to the Savannah, and the best differentiating tip-offs are the Savannah’s yellow head stripe and creamy breast where the Vesper has an plainer head colouration head and white breast background.Vesper Sparrow

Stay tuned for more info on your spring sparrows!

 

What Does a Birder Need? #2

Last post, I asked you what was more important – field guide, camera or notebook. The majority voted field guide, so that is what this post is on.

Field guides, or bird books, have detailed drawings of the birds that you are likely to find in your area, as well as information on habits, songs and range. The information on range is often shown in a map, but also mentioned in the text.

Songs are given words, such as this:

song is a loud “chippy-chuppy, chippy-chuppy, chippy-chuppy,” and the call is a curt “witch.” (Connecticut Warbler).

Now, though, there are also apps to put on small, handheld devices (Ipods, smartphones, etc.) which have both drawings and photos of the bird, but also the recorded song.

My personal favorite is Nat. Geo.’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, edited by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathon Alderfer. I especially like the precise illustrations and the thumb tabs.

The next post in this series will be information on Cameras.

Here is the first post in the series: What Does a Birder Need?