My Baillie Birdathon Experiences 2014

And we have completed the list, with a whopping 91 species!

For the story, I will start where I left off, at Carburn Park. There were a pair of Common Goldeneye swimming around in the pond, and a Downy Woodpecker was hammering away at a nearby tree. As we strolled down the trail, a rising cacophony of sound swirled around us. After looking for a while, we identified it as a large group of about 100 Tree Swallows, not over the water, as you would most often see here, but actually in the trees themselves! Soon thereafter, a large span of the Bow River appeared through the trees. Once we arrived there, we scanned the sky for an Osprey or possibly a Bald Eagle. Seeing nothing, our eyes dropped down to the river, where we found three Common Mergansers, and 2 Mallards. We were just about to head into the inviting spread of woodland ahead, when Tommy spotted an Osprey circling the sky above! We watched the Osprey until it disappeared over the horizon, at which point we turned back towards the forest, which was full to the brim with birdsong and activity. On our first step into the wood, we were stopped by a bright group of 3 male Western Tanagers in full mating colors.

Western Tanager
You can’t see me!

 Almost immediately, Tommy put a hand up and asked if we could hear something in the mix of song – a Least Flycatcher! Further ahead, we spotted a Blackpoll Warbler among both Myrtle and Audubons Yellow-rumped Warblers.IMG_9645Nearing the end of the walk, I thought that I’d seen a Wilson’s Warbler, but I didn’t get a clear view and we coudn’t find it again, so we didn’t count it. Some Franklin’s Gulls flew by, their voices harsh against the clear afternoon sky, while a White-breasted Nuthatch crawled up and down a tree in the classic Nuthatch style.

Seeing nothing else new, we decided that it was time to move on, so it was back to the car and on to Weed Lake. Weed Lake, for those who don’t know, is usually a great birding place, and it certainly fulfilled my expectations! We saw a multitude of ducks, including Ruddy Duck, Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Cinnamon Teal. Swimming nearby, Eared and Horned Grebes splashed.

Eared Grebe
A female! Hmmm…


Eared Grebe
She’s mine!
Eared Grebe
Now keep away you!

Afterwards, we continued down to two different sloughs around Calgary. At the first one, we saw a lot of shorebirds: Marbled Godwit, Willet, Killdeer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt and Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Swainson’s and Red-tailed hawks circled above, while a Northern Harrier swept over the lower parts.

Semi-palmated Sandpipers
Semi-palmated Sandpipers

The second also produced a fair number of waders, but others as well, with the 2 Willets being the only non-new species! There were eight Lesser Yellowlegs, and 3 Pectoral Sandpipers. Two Mourning Doves sat on a wire, not straying too far from the equal number of Eurasian Collared-Doves on an opposite power line. Driving out, we were halted by another bird on a wire – Western Meadowlark!


The next day…


I had convinced my Dad to get up at 5:45 (a thing he rarely – if ever – does!), and so we got down to the local boardwalk, where we added two more species to my list: Orange-crowned Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat. Our time there was limited, as we had an appointment in Banff at seven. Arriving at the Martin Stables, the birding started instantly, with Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees in the parking lot. Stepping out of our car, we were greeted by a boisterous Sora, screeching out from the marshland in front of us. Passing under a wire, we got exellent photos of the three types of swallow perched there.

These are the three types of swallow, not in order: Violet-green, Tree and Northern-rough Winged. Can you guess them?

As we rounded the stables, there sat a Wilson’s Snipe, on a tussock of grass. I was just putting my binoculars to my eyes when a Wood Duck called from somewhere out in the swamp. Swinging around, I searched for it, but got not even a glimpse. We turned and headed down the simple trail to an open bit where we could see the water – and the birds of course! There was a Northern Shoveler, six Bufflehead, two Green-winged Teal and a Red-tailed Hawk to name a few!

Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler

 A Savanah Sparrow sang from a nearby tree as we turned back to head somwhere new.

Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

Leaving all others to their own, we cast out on an mission by ourselves. We had to hop over little bits of path that had been flooded out, but still were able to bird while doing so – except for the risky leap over a muddy stream from the end of a sunken log! We identified Yellow-rumped, Blackpoll, Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers. There were also a few kinds of sparrow, mainly White-crowned and Savannah and Chipping but there were some Lincoln’s, and an amazing Swamp Sparrow.  At this point, thanks to Jason for both joining us early, and correctly identifying the Swamp Sparrow – a lifer for me.

Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler

Near the end, a Townsend’s Warbler just managed to stick itself into my time.

Townend's Warbler
Townend’s Warbler

And so ends the 2014 Baillie Birdathon! Here – Baillie Birdathon 2014 Species List – is a full list of what was seen.

And last (but not least) I’d like to thank all of my sponsors who have donated to my birdathon!

My Baillie Birdathon Experiences 2014

The Baillie Birdathon was a great success, however I can not provide full results as I am still analysing the count. When we [our friend Tommy, my dad, and I] started on Friday, we were expecting bad weather. It was great! The sun shone through a blue sky, with not a cloud to be seen. My dad and I had started without Tommy, at the U of C, trying to see one or both of the Peregrine Falcons that nest there. As we didn’t want to start the 24 hour period before 11: 45, we wasted as much time as we could at the University, hoping that the falcon we’d seen would stay in the place that we had seen it in earlier. When we finally pulled out of the university, our eyes glued to the falcon, it was 11:46!

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

After that, we drove to the north end of Glenmore Reservoir, where we most definitely would have got more if I owned a spotting scope! Be as that may be, we did get a few species, namely Bonaparte’s Gull and Say’s Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe

At about 1:00, we met Tommy at Carburn Park, and it was a huge species gain [in many different lists!]. We started in the parking lot, with a male House Sparrow, then continued down to the nearest small pond, where some Canada Geese were lying, their goslings close by.

Canada Goose goslings
Canada Goose goslings

I don’t have much time now, so I will be posting more on the Birdathon soon. Thanks for donating – those who aready have – and if you haven’t, please do so by the end of May!

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz!

I have just received an email from our ebird co-ordinator, declaring the fact that a) the Rusty Blackbird population is declining rapidly, and also b) there is going to be a “Rusty Blackbird Blitz.”  The Blitz will be held at different times in different places, judging on when they migrate through various states and provinces.

Thanks to Amar Athwal for these photos.
Thanks to Amar Athwal for these photos.

This is the email:

Prior to 1920, the Rusty Blackbird was a common to abundant species in North America. By 1950, a decline in its population was apparent. And since the 1960s, the species has been in a free fall with its numbers dropping by up to 95 per cent!
Over the last 15 years, scientists have been working to identify threats to the species. Because “Rusties” require forested wetlands, they’ve likely suffered as a result of wetland destruction on their wintering grounds in the U.S. Southeast. It’s also likely that they’ve been incidental victims of blackbird control programs there.
On their breeding grounds in more northerly forests, climate change (which may reduce the extent of boreal wetlands and alter their chemistry and invertebrate communities) could be taking a toll. And human activities such as logging, peat production, and reservoir formation have affected Rusty Blackbird breeding habitat by consuming boreal wetlands and altering hydrology. Acid rain and mercury contamination may also be affecting this habitat.
While the greatest Rusty Blackbird declines have been seen in the breeding populations of eastern North America, the current and planned industrialization of the boreal forest here in western Canada could deal a major blow to our breeding populations.
Thanks to Amar Athwal for these photos.
Thanks to Amar Athwal for these photos.
But while we’re getting a clearer picture of the threats faced by this species in winter and summer, we still know very little about its ecology, distribution, and habitat use during migration. Are there hotspots where Rusties congregate? Are there stopover areas that they use predictably each year, and are these locations protected?
These are questions that the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is hoping to answer. The blitz, which kicks off this spring, is a three-year citizen science project organized by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, eBird, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. Birders from across the southeastern U.S., East Coast, Midwest, Alaska, and Canada (all areas through which Rusties migrate) are being encouraged to participate in the blitz.
Participating is easy: Simply go birding this spring and submit your bird sightings to eBird ( Even if you don’t find any Rusties on your outings, the bird sightings you submit will contribute to the blitz by showing when and where Rusties were not found.

I’m going to particpate in this, and think that you should find out more, if not participate!

The Twelve Days of Birding (#12)


Baillie Birdathon
One of many things people have helped me with, donating to help the conservation of bird species.

On the Twelth Day of Christmas, Birds and Birders gave to me:

5 years of friendship!

Over the years I have gone from knowing almost no one who is interested in birds, to finding whole communities of people who care about birds. They have been very generous giving me all sorts of useful stuff, e.g. this blog, friendship, my binoculars, etc.

From the day my interest in birds was established, to today, people have supported me in all sorts of ways. They have taken me to places, taught me about the natural world  and helped me ID unknown birds. People who I hadn’t even met before have invited me in to their homes and yards to watch their backyard birds with them. I have even received emails asking for the identification of birds, world wide!

Many of these people have become good friends and I am looking forward to meeting more people during my birding life.

Thanks to all of you who have been part of my birding life – have a great year in 2014!

The Twelve Days of Birding (#11)

Great-Blue-Heron-banner.jpgOn the eleventh Day of Christmas, Paul gave to me:

1 Bird Blog!

Two years ago, for christmas, my honorary uncle gave me this blog. Having a blog is a wonderful thing and most bloggers out there will agree it is a very useful tool for expressing your feelings about things that you really care about. If you look at my first couple posts, you will see that they are not as good as some of the writing I am doing now. In fact my first post, Please sponsor me for the Baillie Birdathon! is not very long, only two short paragraphs long! This blog has even become a kind of friend to me. I now am spending half my life posting and birding and thats nothing bad! Thank you to all the people that have supported me up to this point and hopefully a little longer!

The Twelve Days of Birding (#10)

An Osprey I saw on a previous count.

On the Tenth day of Christmas, Cliff gave to me:

10 Birdcounts (and counting…) !

The reason that I didn’t post earlier, is that I have done two birdcounts this year.

The first was the Banff-Canmore Birdcount on the fourteenth of December. This one I did with my dad and our friends Donna and Doug. We covered the Cascade Ponds to Lower Bankhead – a large territory. But even such a large area didn’t provide much. We got a lot of squirrels though! Here’s a full list – with numbers – of what we saw:

  • Common Raven – 6
  • Boreal Chickadee – 11
  • Gray Jay – 3
  • Mountain Chickadee – 17
  • Brown Creeper – 2
  • Townsend’s Solitare – 1
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch – 3
  • Black-billed Magpie – 2

Afterwards, there was the count potluck, a large meal where we talk, eat and report our counts to the count organisers. Every year, one of the members (who is a brilliant photographer) gives out two of his photos to two lucky counters. This year, we got first pick! A photo of the photo we got is shown below.

Chickadee Photo

Chickadee Photo

And the second – the Bowkan Birdcount – was yesterday. It was much colder than the first, but we saw more species! This one I have done for five years now and am quite familiar with the places and people who do it. There was however a new counter who had just heard of the count. He turned out to be a really good spotter, catching quite a few birds we missed. You will probably notice that the type of birds is not so different from the Banff Birdcount, chickadees, nuthatches and corvidae – the only thing that’s really different is the Woodpeckers and the pair of Mallards we saw with the Bowkan group. Here’s the second list – again with numbers.

  • Common Raven – 11
  • Boreal Chickadee – 3
  • Blue Jay – 1
  • Mountain Chickadee – 5
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 1
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 1
  • Black-billed Magpie – 7
  • Mallard – 2
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 2
  • Black-capped Chickadee – 3

The difference between the Banff potluck and the Bowkan potluck is that Banff’s is held at the seniors’ center and the Bowkan birders’ is hosted by a different person each time. This year, it was held at Mary’s house, which is pretty close to mine! I’m hoping to add a photo of our group soon.