This Merlin was surprisingly still when I found him, but before long he began to preen, and preening birds often make interesting photos, so I stuck around. After the usual body feathers, however, the falcon transitioned it’s attentions to its legs, something I have never seen a Merlin do before, though I have seen it in other birds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A few photos for this Feathers on Friday. Sharp-tailed Grouse from the lek! They were very tolerant of the blind, coming within ten feet of us, so though the day was overcast, I managed to extract some nice photos. The males would hold their wings out, turn in a circle and stamp their feet very quickly while popping their purple air sacs.
I’d seen Sharp-tailed Grouse once before, but that was distant, and of course, the males weren’t displaying, so this was quite an experiance. We had to be settled in the blind an hour beforee sunrise, which meant a 3:30 start from our hotel (it would have been 1:00 AM from home).
The females were in short supply, and were constantly being chased around by hopeful males.
All in all, a brilliant way to spend Mothers Day!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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.|
The most un-obstructed view I could get of this pretty male Western Tanager. They have hit Canmore with force, as they always do during spring migration. Today is also my brother’s birthday, so Happy Birthday, Stephen!