The Calgary Count Circle Competition

As many of you know, I recently participated in an eBird-run challenge to find the most species in an 80 kilometer circle and the 2015 calendar year. There were three categories: Youth, Beginner, and Experienced, and about 115 participants.

Probably the first species I got in the Youth Waterfowl challenge
Never short of Canada Geese

In addition to the main competition, there were three seperate challenges. Early Bird Challenge (whoever finds the most species before March 1), Youth Winter Waterfowl Challenge (the most species of waterfowl found before May 1) and the Latecomer Challenge (whoever finds the most new species for their list after August 1). The Latecomer and Early Bird challenges were for all the participants together (so no specific categories), and the Youth Waterfowl one was for the Youth competitors only.

Out of the four competitions, I came second in two and tied first for one. It was annoying, for I had been leading the race when I left for England, but the very next day, my main compettitor found 6 new species. Six species, even if I hadn’t been away meant a lot at that stage.

The whole year was a  fierce battle between me and him, who actually lives in the circle (I don’t). The lead flip-flopped the whole way, most notably when I was in Ontario, then again when he was in the States. I thank him for the competition, but wish he had slacked off a little more!

It was still a great year, and I found 235 species in the circle, including one of my favorites, the Great Grey Owl.

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl

The biggest highlight for me was a Big Day lead by Dan Arndt, which you can read about here. Thank you Dan for that and co-organising this competition!

Western Tanager
Western Tanager
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl





















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!

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker extinct? David Sibley thinks so. Roger Tory Peterson didn’t. I don’t, either. Typical me, going against the biggest, best field guide out there.


-The Ivory-billed lives in old forests, with swampy undergrowth.
-The male looks very similar to a male Pileated, but it has more white on the back and wings.
-The female is the same but with a black crest.
-Both sexes weigh in at around 500 grams.
-It eats insects, fruit and nuts.
-Last confirmed report, supposedly in 2003, but there have been unconfirmed sightings since.


So what do you think is the answer? Cast your vote in the comments.

North American Owls – A good book?

Owls are fascinating to us because they are simultaneously foreign and familiar.” So states Dr. James R. Duncan on page 6 of his book The Complete Book of North American Owls. He goes on to explain the biology and unusual features of North American Owls. Further into the book, he has a complete profile of every known species of Owl in North America. The result is an all round excellent guide which is essential to any Owling expedition, whether diurnal or nocturnal.


The introduction is informative, but manages to convey its large amount of information in an interesting way. Mainly on the biology and ‘special adaptations’ of owls, this document starts off with captivating sentences that show the relationships between owls and humans. On page 6, he states it well and plainly. “When owls and humans meet, it is sometimes hard to know which is more fascinated, startled, and sometimes even frightened.” Once he has the reader in his grasp, he progresses to the more scientific parts. He explains the intricate mysteries of owls and their amazing arsenal of survival skills. This entirety is built upon the excellent images that are not simply pictures of owls, but relevant and comprehension-aiding parts of the book.IMG_6136


This brings me to my next point: photography.
The photos are all clear, and have the proper photo credits. The more common species have multiple photos, at least one of both adult and immature, while the lesser known species may have only one or two. The photo choices and placement fits and does not get in the way, but helps with understanding the species. I did, however, notice one slight error: the front page photos from the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Mountain Pygmy Owl had been swapped! Apart from this, everything was exceptional for all the pictures.

Most owl species in the book have 1 to 4 pages of detailed descriptions and photos. On each owl’s front page, the Owl’s common and Latin names are top of the sheet, precise range maps and a general physical summarization lie beside the text. In the writing itself, the primary information is the song, range, food, and nesting. Behaviour and nesting habits are also mentioned. I found that the author tried to insert some interesting little pieces of info that may not help with identification, but are interesting nonetheless, including quotes such as this: “It [the Northern Hawk Owl] roosts within forested stands at night, and has been seen flying for such cover from open areas when Great-horned Owls emerge at dusk to start hunting.” (page 128).

The book is well organised, a 25cm tall, 19cm wide, 2cm thick volume, the font is easy to read and a reasonable size. It is not so much a field guide as a home guide, in my opinion, meaning that I would keep it at home and read it there rather than take it into the field (although if you’re going owling, take it when you can, it would be very useful).

To conclude, the pictures are good, the writing is very informative, and you can tell that the author has made an effort to keep it interesting. All in all, Dr. James R. Duncan has succeeded in making one of the best and most influential owl guides that I have ever read.