Recent Arrivals – Warblers!

One of the most popular spring migrants families is the Warblers, with their bright plumage and stunning songs capturing the attention of even non-birders. In the last week, many species of Warbler have returned to Alberta, including even a few Black-throated Green Warblers spread across the province.

One of my personal favourite warblers is the Cape May. Bright yellow, with black streaking and an orange face patch, this small bird tends to stay high up in spruce or deciduous trees. Yesterday, however, we got lucky with one and it came down low for some photographs.

CMWA
Male Cape May Warbler

Another warbler which just came in is one which breeds in Banff, but has not been seen in Canmore until I found this individual on Policeman’s Creek: Blackpoll Warbler!

BLWA
Male Blackpoll Warbler

Finally, the American Redstart. Three this morning in Flowing Waters was a good count for this time, but these charismatic little fellows will be commonplace in Canmore before long.

AMRE
I have yet to photograph a Redstart with my new camera, so here’s a photo from spring last year.

Here’s to the Tennessee, MacGillivary’s and more still to come!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks 2018 – May 13th Trip Report

Eight people made their way to the walk on this fine spring morning in Canmore. We started early, heading down the boardwalk and then back via the Mallard Pond overlook, catching a total of 27 species. Yellow Warblers are still yet to arrive, but the first Sora of the year whinnied from the reeds, and a plethora of sparrows buzzed and whistled across the marsh.

MALL
Mallards shone in their breeding plumage.

The real highlights, however, were the many blackbirds. Brown-headed Cowbirds fluted their notes above, while the “Ko-kaaachunk!” of the Red-winged Blackbird reverberated around the creek. Also present were Brewer’s Blackbirds setting up their territories, and a lone Common Grackle flew over towards the end of the walk.

BRBL
A male Brewer’s Blackbird lays claim to its home patch.

For those who want to see the full list, click here. I hope to see you all out for our next walk, on May 27th at 7:15! By then, we can expect a good many more species, including the likes of Yellow Warbler and American Redstarts.

Great Canadian Birdathon 2018

Sorry for not posting in a while – I’ve been busy with school and sports, but that should be cooling down for a few weeks before my final exams, so I should be posting more soon.

As more and more birds stream into the province, the annual assortment of birding events, festivals and counts begins. Already, the Global Big Day has been and gone, with 6,098 species reported by over 28 thousand observers on May 5th. One of the biggest events yet to come (at least for me) is the Great Canadian Birdathon. This will be my 6th birdathon, and my 2nd as part of the Saw-it Owls team. I’ll be joining up with Gavin McKinnon of Calgary once more, searching for roughly 125 species in Southern Alberta. While we failed to reach that target last year (112 species), we have high hopes and a completely different route this May, hitting some of the best habitat in Alberta.

The highlight of last year, Harlequin ducks are looking pretty unlikely with the altered route.

For those who don’t know what the birdathon is, it’s a fundraiser run by Bird Studies Canada with intent to protect our birds and preserve their habitat. Participants accept donations either as flat amounts (e.g. $25) or by a per-species gift (e.g. $1 for every species found). Then, we choose one 24 hour period in the month of May to go out and find the most bird species possible. It’s always been a great time, and all for a worthy cause.

GCB Shirt
The 2018 GCB t-shirt design

Anybody interested in helping out with the fundraiser can go here to donate, or sign up through the Bird Studies Canada Birdathon Page. Thank you everyone who has donated already, and if you haven’t, consider joining the cool crowd by doing so, to keep our backyard beauties in fine feather!

Photos from previous years:

2013
Raven eating pigeon
Common Raven eating a Rock Pigeon
2014
Eared Grebes
  2015
Indigo Bunting
2016
Eastern Phoebe
Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit
2017
American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans
Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
See the posts for these years here:

2013                            2014 pt. 1

2014 pt. 2                   2015

2016 pt. 1                   2016 pt. 2

2017 pt. 1                   2017 pt. 2

Don’t forget to donate here!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks 2018 – April 29th Trip Report

It was a cold, wet kickoff for the Canmore Spring Bird Walks this year, but well worth being out! In the early morning chill, a Great Blue Heron flapped across the boardwalk, where Song Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and some newly arrived Lincoln’s Sparrows burbled out their cheerful melodies.

Great Blue Heron

Four American Pipits feeding amongst the rocks in the big pond were nice, and almost made it as the highlights of the day. Sadly, we missed the Sora which came in on Friday, but towards the end of the walk we ran into a large mixed flock of White-crowned Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Song Sparrows. Scanning the flock for Orange-crowned Warblers, a loud, harsh “Veeeeer” rent the air behind us. Warbling Vireo! This bird is the first reported in Alberta this year. I unfortunatly failed to procure any photos, but there is no doubt about the identification.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The usual mix of starlings, chickadees and robins rounded off the trip, but the Vireo took the cake. May this be a lesson to you who chickened out because of the rain – twice the first walk has been in poor weather, and twice it has turned up great birds (See May 7th 2017).  I hope to see you out for the next walk on May 13, rain or shine!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks 2018

It was spring of 2017, and in a rare moment of quiet solitude, I was thinking. Thinking about my hotspot, Policeman’s Creek (see the eBird hotspot here for species and details) and how it was so little birded by anyone but me. Then it struck me – an idea that has prospered in Banff, something that a friend and I had halfheartedly tried in Canmore once – guided walks! It had failed on the first attempt in Canmore, but undaunted I began preparations for that year.  And what a success it was! For a new event in Canmore, the participant numbers were great, and we detected almost fifty species across four walks – including a bird not reported in the county for over forty years (Bullock’s Oriole)!

Due to such accomplishment then, I am once again leading these walks on Policeman’s Creek. Commencing at 7:00 AM at Canmore’s well known Big Head sculpture on Main Street, the walks will be held on April 29th, May 13th and 27th and June 10th. Already I have seen unusual numbers of waterfowl passing through the creek, and the spring promises to be a good one.

NSHO
Northern Shoveler, male

I hope to see you all out on April 29th for the first walk! Contact me at birdboy.ca@gmail.com for more information.

Here are the posts about last year’s walks:

May 7th                                May 21st

June 4th                                June 18th

Perplexing Plumage – Hairy vs Downy Woodpeckers

A flash of white streaks by and alights on a nearby stump. You spin, and place your binoculars on a small white and black woodpecker. It’s either Hairy or Downy, but do you know which? This question is a common one for beginning and novice birders across the continent, as these friendly little chaps will come to almost any feeder – suet, sunflower, peanut – for at least a short visit.

Identification can be a challenge, especially when you don’t know much about the two. Hairy is bigger than Downy, but in the field, this can be difficult to judge accurately, so how do you do it?

In the two above photos, (click to enlarge) you can see the key mark between them – the bills. On the Downy Woodpecker, the bill is a short projection of about one third the length of the head, where the Hairy has a big, thick bill, almost entirely the length of its head. Another interesting feature is the black shoulder mark on the Hairy – if you look closely, most Hairy Woodpeckers have a comma shaped black mark protruding from the back over the shoulder and sometimes on to the breast. Downys almost never have such a mark, but occasionally they can show something similar, so keep an eye out!

Downy on suet feeder.
Downy on suet feeder.

One final useful tool  is the call. As the name suggests, Downy Woodpecker’s rapid fire “dododododododo” slips DOWN the scale towards the end, decrescendo style, while a Hairy’s call stays level or even goes up at the end.

So next time you’re out, take a long look at the local woodpeckers, and try to identify them. Take photos if you can – a snapshot never flies away! – before watching it. Downys especially can be quite tame, and may even land on your hand if you train them. Why not try it? Take your kids out, enjoy nature and provide a cool experience that may start them off on their birding career.

Other Perplexing Plumages:

Mallard or Gadwall?

Molt and Eclipse

Song vs Lincoln’s Sparrows