The Battle to Outwit the Jays

My bird-feeding habits are seasonal. In the spring and summer I let most of the birds fend for themselves. Natural food abounds and I like them to eat the larva and bugs on the trees and bushes. It’s cheaper and easier for me, and probably healthier for them. I do, though, offer some food year round. I toss a handful or two of peanuts to the jays most days. Sometimes I “hide” them in the driftwood feeder. Just for fun.

The Steller's Jays seem to like the driftwood feeder

The Steller’s Jays like this driftwood feeder


I also put out shelled unsalted peanuts for the chickadees and nuthatches year round.

Chestnut-backed chickadee eating peanuts

Chestnut-backed chickadee eating peanuts


And feed the hummers, constantly!

Rufous hummers in the spring

Rufous hummers in the spring


I change my feeding habits in the late fall, though, putting out suet for the woodpeckers and whoever else is interested, and filling the seed feeders with Black Oil Sunflower seeds or a mix, intending that food for the various sparrows, finches, and other songbirds.

Dark-eyed Juncos in the maple tree when the leaves have fallen

Dark-eyed Juncos in the maple tree when the leaves have fallen


The moment I put the seed out, though, the jays arrive en masse, like mosquitoes at a picnic. This seems to annoy Dennis even more than me. One morning he commented that “the little birds” weren’t getting any food because of the big bad jays. I commiserated. He wondered if I should stop putting out suet, for which the jays have such a passion. Would they give up and go away? I mentioned that they’re corvids, the smartest of the smart in Birdland, but he was hopeful. (It was quite endearing.) So, for a few days I tried this. But I felt guilty as all-get-out when the young flickers showed up looking for their fat rations. So that didn’t last long.

Juvenile Flicker at suet feeder in late summer

Juvenile Flicker at suet feeder in late summer


We started brainstorming. (Scheming would be a more honest word.) I thought about bird behaviour; Dennis thought about contraptions. Here’s a picture of contraption #1.

Hanging suet feeder with a floating roof

Hanging suet feeder with a floating roof


In the beginning, it worked. The sparrows and chickadees and nuthatches had no problem feeding from it, piece of cake. Even the flickers could manage it. But the floating top stymied the larger, more rambunctious Steller’s Jays. So the next day Dennis made a second one. By the time that one was up, though (less than twenty-four hours later) the jays had figured it out, were happily swinging from the first one, having flown in from below and grabbed on to the bottom of the suet cage. Jays 1, humans 0. Back to the drawing board.

Our friends were having a similar problem in their yard. They sent us a photo of the contraption they created. (Thanks Dee and John.) Unfortunately, they soon reported it didn’t work either. The jays reached right through the 3” grating. But they’ve renovated it since then, and it’s more jay-proof now. So far.

Another creative contraption that didn't work - in this incarnation

Another creative contraption that didn’t work – in this incarnation. Photo by Dee Jacobsen.


Finally, when we were out of town in November, the owner of a bird store listened to my sad story, which he’d heard before, a million times, and made some suggestions. One was to fill the feeders with pure millet for the sparrows and their friends because jays don’t like millet. I rushed home and put up a couple of millet-only feeders.

Feeder with millet only

One millet feeder


It took the jays no time at all to taste this new offering. Apparently they like it. Maybe Gabriola jays aren’t as fussy as non-island jays?

An unfussy Gabriola jay

An unfussy Gabriola jay


Suggestion number two was to use a tube feeder for the sparrows because jays can’t get at those. When I laughed (like crazy) the owner added two other ideas: trim the footrests to make it difficult for the jays to hold on; and push the rain guard down.

Fat tube feeder with guard lowered :)

Fat tube feeder with guard lowered :) and regular sized footrests


It took the jays less than twelve hours to figure out how to do this

Well, this isn't so hard!

Well, this isn’t so hard!


So we initiated Plan B: trim the footrests. That solved the problem! The sparrows, including the towhees, are fine with shorter footrests. The jays, not so much. Not at all, in fact.

Song Sparrow demonstrates use of shortened footrests

Song Sparrow demonstrates use of shortened footrests


But the problem of how to protect some suet for the smaller birds remained. Dennis put on his thinking cap.

Dennis dons his thinking cap

Dennis dons his thinking cap


Then one afternoon we happened upon wire pots at a garden shop, inspiring him to return to the drawing board. Here’s what he devised.

Contraption number ? Suet in a wire cage.

Contraption number ? Suet in a wire cage.


This worked! It appears the jays can’t hang on and reach in at the same time, possibly because the contraption wobbles so much. But the sparrows have no trouble!

Spotted Towhee eating happily in the contraption

Spotted Towhee eating happily in the contraption

Now we have two.

Two is better than one

Two is better than one


As far as the ‘jays versus the woodpeckers’ battle (which is only in my mind, I do realize) I’m letting them fight it out for the suet, knowing that those big long woodpecker bills have the advantage anyway.

All things being equal, the guy with the longest, sharpest bill wins

All things being equal, the guy with the longest, sharpest bill wins


We also bought a chickadee-type suet feeder. The idea is that only chickadees and nuthatches and small woodpeckers that eat upside down will avail themselves of the two cakes of suet that are accessible from the bottom.

Downy feeding from "Chickadee Suet Feeder"

Downy feeding from “Chickadee Suet Feeder”


Jays aren’t supposed to be able to maneuver into position to feed from this one.

For a few days the jays jumped up and grabbed small bites. Then, this happened!

For a few days the jays jumped up and grabbed small bites. Then, this happened!


Yeah, right. Well, win some, lose some; choose your battles.  I called it a draw. Then I saw this adorable little heart-shaped bird cage at GIRO (Gabriola island Recycling Organization), brought it home, took the door off, and hung peanuts inside. For whoever. It reminds me why I feed the birds in the first place.


Heart feeder E


What about you? Any tried and true “jay management” strategies you’d like to share? (Use comment box below.)


Posted in Bird Canada | 12 Comments

Notes From a NW Ont. Backyard – November 2015

Another month has passed already and winter is right around the corner.  We had a really sloppy (for lack of a better term!) storm last week that brought some heavy rain in the morning before turning to wet, heavy, slushy snow by noon.  I picked that afternoon to take a snapshot of my backyard so you could see the area I write about every month.  As you can see in the photo, I have shown where the webcam is situated.  We are now streaming online worldwide for the current season of Project FeederWatch, running from November to mid April, 2016.  Catch the webcam here.

yard map

My backyard map showing my webcam (on loan from Cornell) and feeder set-up and where certain plantings are located in relation to them.

The morning after this storm, I went outside to fill the feeders and discovered mouse trails all over the yard!  They ran up & down the side of the garage, through the flowerbeds, etc.  There were little teeny-tiny footprints everywhere along with tunnels dug through the snow.  Really cool!

Mouse Trails in Snow

Mouse trails down the side of my garage and a tunnel out toward the main part of the backyard. They were busy critters!

At the end of October, I received a phone call from someone telling me that he had just seen a Snowy Owl on the ground beside our rec center, when he went by on his bicycle.  Hubby and I immediately drove up there to see for ourselves and this lovely girl was sitting there.  I got my best photos ever of a Snowy as she calmly sat there and let us watch her.  She was there for 2 days.  A huge thrill for me!

Snowy Owl

Day #2 of our Snowy Owl sighting. The first day, she was obviously tired but thankfully had a full belly as she had a kill still in her talons and blood on her face. The next day (in the photo) she was a whole lot perkier.

October also brought a thrilling sighting to my yard when I discovered a beautiful female Pileated Woodpecker in my crabapple tree one day!  I’ve always known these huge Woodpeckers were around … I hear them in the neighbourhood regularly … but to my knowledge, this is the first one actually IN the yard.

Female Pileated Woodpecker

Gorgeous female Pileated Woodpecker floated around my yard for about 5 minutes one day in October, much to my delight.

There have been many great sightings around my yard in the past month … some expected …. some not so much.  In the last week of October, Robins migrated through in big flocks.  I had 4 at a time in my yard but drove through neighbourhoods where I saw at least a dozen at a time fly away.


American Robin during fall migration

I have at least 7 Blue Jays visiting my yard daily.  I put peanuts out for the them and it is such great entertainment watching them battle the Crows and Ruffed Grouse for their share!

4 Blue Jays

This photo shows 4 of the 7 Blue Jays that visit the yard daily. The webcam and feeders are just to their right.

Evening Grosbeaks are back at my feeders steadily and will be here for the winter now.  I have about 25 visiting daily at this point.  I dearly love these loud, rambunctious, opinionated birds!

Pair of Evening Grosbeaks

Male (top) and female Evening Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeaks are now here for the winter too.  Whereas Evening Grosbeak are here all year round, Pines are migratory and only show up from late October to about late April.  They are my version of the Red Bird since I don’t get Cardinals here (altho’ a female was seen on the other side of town last week!).  I absolutely love the sound of the Pine Grosbeak’s super soft whistles.

Male Pine Grosbeaks

Male Pine Grosbeaks on my platform feeder

I noticed a flock of Waxwings this week, hitting my neighbour’s crabapple shrubs which were loaded with fruit this fall (unlike mine).  Once I stepped outside to get better photos, I realized instantly that the call of this bird was different and was not a Cedar Waxwing:  they were Bohemian Waxwings!  There were about 35 to 40 birds in the flock and they cleaned off this particular shrub in 3 days.

Bohemian Waxwings

Just 3 of the 35+ Bohemian Waxwings partaking of the fruit in my neighbour’s yard this week. Notice the beautiful rosy cheeks!

I still have a pair of Dark Eyed Juncos hanging around.  They might migrate any day now (like the rest of their flock) or they might stay part of the winter.  They are one of those species that could go either way.  I most certainly wouldn’t mind if they stayed.  :)

Dark Eyed Junco

Dark Eyed Junco in my pine tree.

Fem. EVGB Drinking

Female Evening Grosbeak getting a drink from the heated birdbath. Contrary to popular belief, the water does not get warmed … it is heated JUST enough to prevent freezing so the birds have a drinking source.

Female Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak in the crabapple tree, waiting for her turn at the feeders.

We now have 3 Ruffed Grouse that visit the yard and feeders.  I have one here almost every day.  Sometimes, like yesterday, 2 will spend a whole day in the yard and every once in a while, the third one will come around.  One Grouse (in the photo) is smaller than the other two, making me think it might be a first year bird.

Grouse & Cranberries

Young Ruffed Grouse eating berries from my High Bush Cranberry shrub.

Grouse Tucked In

One of the larger Grouse tucked itself into my Spruce tree during last week’s storm. It was well protected from the precipitation and winds so it had a 2 hour on & off nap.

My most special visitor of this week came yesterday morning.  I logged onto Twitter and the webcam as I do every morning and one of the first things I saw was a post of a squirrel seen on cam before daylight.  Knowing that I’ve had 2 little Red Squirrels now able to get up onto the feeders this year (plants are just big enough for them to jump now!), the viewer thought that’s what it was ….. but Red Squirrels don’t come out in the dark.  This little critter is a Northern Flying Squirrel that flew in for breakfast yesterday at 5:45 am!  I’ve always known there are Flying Squirrels here but this is the first documented sighting for my yard!  :)  You can also see the short video of its visit here.

Northern Flying Squirrel

And that’s the way the month has been!  When you next hear from me, it will be Christmas ….. thanks so much for reading!

Posted in Bird Canada | 8 Comments

Backyard and Slightly Beyond with the Muellers in October

With September ending off with our first Junco appearance to the backyard; I didn’t think we’d be getting Red-winged Blackbird appearances through the first 2 weeks of October.  Sure they were sporadic, like 1 among a flock of 100 or so Common Grackles, but they were popping in.
A couple mornings the sounds of the Grackles have been deafening.  Check out this short video. YouTube Preview Image
It’s really hard to pick out the other bird calls with all that noise, but we have had some brief but pleasant stop-ins from Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows bouncing through the conifers.
The Hawk activity has dropped off significantly so far.  I guess those seen in September were just passing through.  We do have a resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks a stone’s throw from the house who occasionally stop in here for a snack.  One made the attempt to catch breakfast the other morning.  She was unsuccessful this time.  Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows and a couple Black-capped Chickadees seem to be our regular visiting species on top of the hordes of Grackles.
The Northern Mockingbird has made a couple appearances to the bird baths in the last 2 weeks.  It’s funny because the Mockingbird is not a seed eater but he can be a little territorial of the area.  He has put on some great flight displays, showing his aggression to the Grackles.  One bird against so many and he does chase those away those in his sights.
Project Feeder Watch starts up in a few weeks.  We enjoy participating in it every year.  Back in the early days of backyard bird feeding, I would sit by the kitchen window and document all the species showing up to our feeders.  Neither of us had any idea there was data being collected about the birds coming to people’s feeders.  So doing this just came naturally once we signed up.  If you haven’t, you really should.  You don’t need a big backyard, you don’t need a lot of bird feeders either.  Maybe you have natural food sources that pull the birds in?  It’s a lot of fun!  And you really start to focus on the world outside your door.  I can easily sit back in my chair on the deck, close my eyes, and identify all our regular visitors by their sounds.  The whistling wings of the Doves, the swooshing of the Pigeon wings, the screams of the Jays, the familiar peeps of the others.  I guess to seasoned birders, this really isn’t that impressive knowing the sounds of all these commoners, but it does impress other friends not so into the birds.  If you are not a participant with PFW, maybe consider signing up?  Here is a link to check it out.
So as the Grackle invasion continues (and not a lot else) half way through October, we are fortunate enough to have other distractions out back.  There are a couple Skunks visiting our garden morning and night.  It’s been years since we’ve had such a species coming in, that we’ve seen alive and well, not just smelling the aftermath or finding on the main road.
Two young Raccoons live down at the back of our property.  I know it’s either you love them or you hate them.  We love them and have learned to co-exist with them.  It’s work to ensure they have no access to our roof, cutting branches back from the pines behind the house.  We let the feeders run empty through the day so there is nothing for them to get at after dark except what they can find on the ground dumped by the birds.  We always ensure fresh water is available for everyone because water is harder for an animal to come by than food.
racc1 racc4
Seeing a mother Raccoon with her playful babies through the summer months is quite entertaining.  I tell you, we don’t need a television, as we have our own nature channel out back.
When things get dull around here, we bird locally to some great parks around our west Toronto home.  A half kilometre one way and we can be treated to a lovely Great Horned Owl on occasion.  A half kilometre another way and some days we chance upon a little Screech Owl.  It’s a blessing to find such birds in our travels.  We don’t see them all the time but it’s nice to know such birds are around us.
Can you spot the Screech Owl in the cavity?
Screech Owl hiding in a cedar tree.
screechGreat Horned Owl.
On October 23 we had a massive kettle of Turkey Vultures glide over the backyard, all migrating.  I counted at least 65 birds with 1 Red-tailed Hawk in the mix.  YouTube Preview Image
I managed to capture 52 of them in this photo.
The same day I spotted a Barred Owl in a park near our home.  Thanks to a Cooper’s Hawk for alerting me to his presence.  Here is the squabbling capture.  It was the Cooper’s acting out his disapproval to the Owl.  The Owl stood his ground on that branch.
We don’t see Barred Owls very often in our travels, so it’s always something when the surprise encounter occurs.  Here he is some 6 hours later when I had an opportunity to revisit the park.
As I work to finish this in the final days of October, the Red-winged Blackbird activity has gone overboard.  Most of the Grackles have left us, we’re down to half a dozen at the moment, but the RWBBs in the last week have been up around 15 or more.  It’s been many Autumn seasons since we’ve had this species in such numbers hanging around the feeders this late.  I love the noise of these birds, they are the first sign of Spring for us here in Toronto since most Robins do not migrate from here anymore.  A Sharp-shinned Hawk just snagged herself some breakfast near the back in way of a House Sparrow.  I can hear the call of a White-throated Sparrow.  Another surprise this morning.
October 26th we spotted a new species to the backyard, that being a Fox Sparrow.  Of course they may have popped in other days over the years but we’ve not seen one visiting.
There is about 8 Juncos staying around us now.
We just experienced the remnants of Hurricane Patricia over last 30 hours.  The rain has stopped but the winds are strong.  Will something blow in with this last day of October?  I guess if there is another paragraph, then yes, if not, see you next month on the 10th!
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October Birding on Prince Edward Island

Bird Canada 1 October is a month of eclectic birding on the Island. Birds are in migration and it can be hit or miss. But, as a conciliation, there is usually great weather and the colour is wonderful!

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Greater Yellowlegs in Noonan’s Marsh, Borden-Carleton.

The marshes and fields are maturing and even a little snow offers some variety. We appreciate the fact that it didn’t amount to much nor stay too long.

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Canada Geese in DeSable.

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White-throated Sparrow in the yard. One of a small flock.

The song birds, including sparrows and robins, were passing through and one would see lots one day and few the next. There are also the locals that will be with us all winter.

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Canada Geese found gold in Ellen’s Creek in Charlottetown.

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American Crow, enjoying a little lobster tail, in Cavendish.

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Red-tailed Hawk in Hampton.

Some of the late migrating shorebirds were still around and, with luck, one could come across Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Plover, Sandpipers and Sandering. It is also a great time to look for Ducks, Scoter and Loon.

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Carleton Cove was also golden and hosting an assortment of Shorebirds.

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Part of that flock; including a Sanderling, White-rumped Sandpipers and Dunlin.

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Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper.

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Bird Canada Leaves 1

Local Colour!

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Local Colour!

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Farrar Road

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What’s in a Name?

My first passion was not birds but words: I started writing in my twenties, but only discovered birds in my mid-fifties. So maybe it’s not surprising I have a thing about how birds are named. As a novice birder I expected (foolishly) that the common name of a bird would help me identify it – or at least refer to what the bird does, or where it lives. Sometimes that was true. There are some perfectly good descriptive bird names. Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadee come to mind.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Black-capped-Chickadee. Photo by Donna Dewhurst, USF&W.

Black-capped-Chickadee. Photo by Donna Dewhurst, USF&W.

Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrow also work as descriptors.

White-crowned sparrow. Yep, the crown is white.

White-crowned sparrow. Yep, the crown is white.

Then there’s Yellow-rumped Warbler. How many other birds have that bright yellow rump? And the Red-winged Blackbird. The red epaulet is a dead giveaway – when it’s showing.

RW Blackbird, male. Photo by Garry Davey.

RW Blackbird, male. Photo by Garry Davey.

In the world of ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye is helpful since there are no other ducks in BC with yellow eyes – that I know of.

Barrow's Goldeneyes off Orlebar Point, Gabriola Island

Barrow’s Goldeneyes off Orlebar Point, Gabriola Island

Of course, many common bird names are useful some of the time. Rufous Hummingbird, for example, works, even for females, as long as you pay attention to the plumage on the sides of the female.

Rufous Female. Note the rufous colouring on the side.

Rufous Female. Note the rufous colouring on the side and belly.

Among ducks, Northern Pintail is a helpful name if you’re looking at a male. Then there’s one my favourite seabirds, the Double-crested Cormorant. Again, a useful common name for phalacrocorax auritus IF the bird you’re looking at happens to be a male in breeding season with his nuptial crests showing. But that’s a big IF.

Double-crested Cormorant during breeding season. Photo by Michael L. Baird. CC license.

Double-crested Cormorant during breeding season. Photo by Michael L. Baird. CC license.

Overhead, Bald Eagles aren’t bald. But at least they look that way from afar because of the white feathered head.

Bald Eagles on Gabriola. Photo by Bill McGann.

Family of Bald Eagles on Gabriola. Photo by Bill McGann.

And Turkey Vultures have nothing to do with turkeys. But apparently, the person who came up with this name for cathartes aura thought its bald red face and dark plumage was reminiscent of a wild turkey.

Turkey vulture. Photo by Eileen Kaarsemaker.

Turkey vulture. Photo by Eileen Kaarsmaker.

Some names reflect the song or call of the bird. Trumpeter Swan is certainly a good name IF the swan is vocalizing. Unmistakably like a host of tuning-up trumpets. Song Sparrow, though, doesn’t help with identification, since all sparrows have songs, but since the Song Sparrow sings such a lovely tune, I won’t argue the point. It deserves the name.

The majority of common bird names, though, make me shake my head in wonder. Who, for example, decided to call pipilo maculatus a Spotted Towhee? Sure it has spotted wings but so do a zillion other birds. But no others have red eyes! Why not call it a Red-eyed Towhee? Wouldn’t that be more helpful?

Spotted Towhee on tree stump

Spotted Towhee on tree stump

And House Finch? Why? What has it got do with houses? And Purple Finch? It’s definitely not purple. Why not call it like it is: Raspberry Finch?

Purple Finch. Photo by Cephas. CC license

Purple Finch. Photo by Cephas. CC license

Then there are evocative names, like Magnificent Frigate Bird. These giants of the air that make holidays in Mexico even more lovely, truly are magnificent to watch, both in flight and on a nest during breeding season.

Magnificent Frigatebird during breeding season

Magnificent Frigatebird during breeding season

But frigate? Well, there’s a tale there: seems this part of their name comes from the fact that they steal food from the mouths of other birds in the air – like pirates! Okay, I can go with that.

Female Magnificent Frigatebird. Photo by Tom Friedel. CC license.

Female Magnificent Frigatebird. Photo by Tom Friedel. CC license.

Ancient Murrelet
, the small pelagic auk that lives along the west coast of BC and Alaska, has a name that, to me, evokes deep dark mystery. But it’s actually named after its white head plumes. They reminded the German ornithologist who gave this bird its Latin name, Synthliboramphus antiquus, of an old man’s white locks. So not so mysterious after all. Too bad.

Ancient Murrelet. Photo courtesy USF&W.

Ancient Murrelet. Photo courtesy USF&W.

In other parts of the world there are even more interesting bird names, names like Red Quetzal and Hudson’s Godwit, and Blue-footed Booby. And oxymoronic names like Greater Pewee and Invisible Rail. And then there’s the Fluffy-Backed Tit Babbler. No comment there.

What about you? What common bird names make you sit up and take notice, or scratch your head, or laugh, maybe?

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Notes From a NW Ont. Backyard – Oct. 2015

Hello, again!  Another month gone and now, winter is right around the corner.  We had our first official dusting of snow on October 16th.  Crazy how fast time goes and it’s funny:  it seemed to CRAWL by when I was a kid!

Anyway, I don’t really mind the approach of winter because it means Project FeederWatch is coming up and with that, the webcam in my backyard will go live worldwide for another season!  As some of you may know, I have a webcam in my yard on loan indefinitely from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that’s aimed at my feeders.  It’s only online for the Project FeederWatch season, roughly from late October to about mid April. Through it, you can view all the birds that visit my feeders all winter long including Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Common & Hoary Redpolls, Gray Jays, Blue Jays, Hairy & Downy Woodpeckers, etc.  Here are a few recent snapshots taken through the webcam since it’s not online yet:

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks with a Dark Eyed Junco

Male Pine

Female Evening Grosbeaks with my season’s first Pine Grosbeak, a beautiful red male

Ruffed Grouse, Chickadee & Nuthatch

A Ruffed Grouse with a Black Capped Chickadee & a Red Breasted Nuthatch


European Starlings

A couple of Sparrow species are still around but they have been in pretty low numbers this fall, for some reason.  Most of the White Throated, Savannah and White Crowned Sparrows have moved on but right now, I still have Song and American Tree Sparrows. I’m always hoping to see a Fox, Harris’s or Lincoln’s Sparrow during migration but so far, no luck this season.

WC Sparrow

Adult male White Crowned Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

This past week, I was lucky enough to spot a big flock of Lapland Longspurs in a parking lot … I’ve only ever seen them in spring before.  No photos unfortunately.  I also don’t have photos of the flocks of Snow Buntings I’ve seen around here lately.  I’m hoping that throughout the season, a few will show up in my yard.  Robins are moving through in good numbers.  I had 2 in my yard yesterday but I’ve seen a dozen at a time in various neighbourhoods around town.  American Pipits are still here but their numbers are dwindling as they move on.

I’m not seeing the Warblers this fall that I saw last fall.  I was seeing them earlier in September but then sightings slowed right down.

YR Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler … the last Warbler I’ve seen so far this season.

Some other sightings in recent weeks (along with another Bald Eagle soaring over my neighbourhood) include:

Young Herring Gull

A young Herring Gull that calmly walked up my street the other day :)

Rusty Blackbird

A single Rusty Blackbird that visited my yard last week … still hoping for more yet.

Male Evening Grosbeak

My beloved Evening Grosbeaks have returned to my feeders this week … I’m always hoping for more! In my best season, I had approximately 150 all winter long. Heaven!


Grackles are still here but their numbers have finally dropped some.


My resident Crow family (4 birds in total) has been around, stealing peanuts from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays

Upwards of 6 to 7 Blue Jays are around daily now for peanuts. Funny but they never come to the feeders in summer (when they’re out without bear activity!), returning in September.

By the time I post again next month, Project FeederWatch will be in full swing and with any luck, the webcam will be up and running without any glitches this year.  In the meantime, I hope all of our Canadian readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week.

Until next month, thanks for reading!

Tammie in Manitouwadge, ON

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Autumnal Albertan Avian Action

TH7D2529d&b-flickrHow’s that for a post title? :)

As readers of my blog posts will know, I particularly enjoy the fall season for all the gorgeous colors that it brings. Combine that with some of the most spectacular plumage to be found on any North American bird – such as the Wood Duck drake above – and you stand a good chance of ending up with some memorable images!TH7D2371d&b-crop2b


A female Wood Duck shows off its own bright colours


The happy couple…

So to illustrate my point, here are some shots I took in late September and early October at Calgary’s Inglewood Bird Sanctuary that has recently re-opened after being closed for repairs since suffering significant damage during the flood of 2013. A number of Wood Ducks have taken up residence at the Sanctuary and in my opinion they are always a pleasure to see:TH7D2726d&b-mask2 TH7D2636d&b-mask-port-fb TH7D2632-finalcrop2-flickr TH7D2598d&b-finalv4 TH7D2579d&b TH7D2192d&b TH7D2863d&b

TH7D2902d&b TH7D2984From a photographic point of view, I normally like to photograph waterfowl as close to pond-level as possible however in fall I depart from this rule in order to maximise both fall colours and reflections and tend to shoot from a standing position. At Inglewood, the lagoon has steep sides so it’s difficult to get really low anyway so this works out well.

The Wood Ducks are the Sanctuary tend to be rather skittish and keep their distance, so to get the extra reach I needed I used a Canon 7D Mk2 (with a crop-factor of 1.6) paired with a 1.4x teleconverter and a 600mm lens to give me an effective focal length of 1340mm! With good bright light I could keep the ISO around 800 or below and therefore capture relatively noise-free images.

Also enjoying Inglewood’s lagoon was a pair of Pied-billed Grebes:TH7D3190-fb

I’m not sure whether they were juveniles or adults in their eclipse plumage, but they certainly liked to hang out together:TH7D3152d&b-fbTH7D3213d&b-flcikr

This grebe motored along half-submerged like this for several seconds at a time.

This grebe motored along half-submerged like this for several seconds at a time.

But even the more common birds, such as Canada Geese, look better with a little fall colour too:TH7D3386 TH7D3365

And as I was heading back to my car a fellow park visitor pointed out a Great Horned Owl perched in a tree right next to the pathway so even though the light was poor I took a couple of portrait ‘potshots’ with my bazooka lens and was please that this one came out:TH7D2430d&b-final-fb2

The Western Irrigation Canal which runs past Inglewood also offers good birding opportunities this time of year and I was pleased to see one of my favourite species – the Hooded Merganser – in reasonable numbers:TH7D3983d&b-fb TH7D3943mask-v2-fb

A pair of Hooded Mergansers - male in front, female at back

A pair of Hooded Mergansers – male in front, female at back

While the drake Hooded Merganser is undoubtedly striking, the female isn’t so shabby either:TH7D4030-fb TH7D4265-crop-fb

The fishing must be good in the Canal as I have seen Double-crested Cormorants plying the waters like a submarine there on each of my visits:TH7D3499-fb TH7D3460-fb

…but it didn’t stay long:TH7D3508-final-fb

TH7D3522-crop-fbAlso of note was a dozen or so Long-billed Dowitchers perforating the mudflats – this was in the 2nd week of October so seems quite late for these shorebirds to be coming through:TH7D4669 TH7D4661

And of course where birds gather you will also find their predators, although I must admit I was somewhat surprised to find the Red Fox in the middle of the city!:TH7D4318-fb

I expected him to have a crack at the many mallards or gulls on the shoreline, but he seemed more interested in digging something tasty out of the mud.

Finally, I’d like to share some shots of a not-so-common variation of a fairly common bird, namely a leucistic (a condition where there is partial loss of plumage pigmentation) American Robin:TH1D7245-fb

This bird was in amongst the 50 or so robins at our campground in September and I must admit it took me a little while to ID the unusual-looking bird.

Gobbling down an earthworm :)

Gobbling down an earthworm :)

Cheers for now, Tim.

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Bird Tales from a Toronto Backyard – Fall Changes

A Northern Flicker was a surprise visitor one sunny September afternoon.

A Northern Flicker was a surprise visitor one sunny September afternoon.

September is a busy and unpredictable month in our backyard. We’re sad to see our summer visitors leave us, but we look forward to the freshness of Fall. The Baltimore Orioles were gone by September 1st, and our last Ruby-throated Hummingbird sighting was September 13th. We still keep the sugar water feeders cleaned and refreshed in case of any stragglers.

The yard has been very busy with Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, sometimes it’s hard to see the lawn for blackbirds, and oh boy, the noise! Music to our ears in a way though, the lively chatter of so many birds.

With Fall migration in full swing we never know what species is going to make an appearance in the backyard, and we have had some visitors that we don’t see very often. We were pleasantly surprised to have a Northern Flicker and Northern Mockingbird arrive in the yard on the same day.


A Northern Mockingbird pops in for a drink on a sunny afternoon.

We’ve also had had hints of the Fall/Winter season to come. Our Blue Jay numbers have increased and the Chickadees are returning. The hawks are back as well, a Sharp-shinned and Coopers are regulars to our backyard during the colder months. And probably the biggest hint of the colder months returning much to fast, our first Dark-eyed Junco of the season arrived September 30th!


A Blue Jay enjoys a peanut.


Our Chickadees have returned.


Fall brings in the hawks – Sharp-shinned Hawk.


Coopers Hawk


The cold blustery weather brought in our first Dark-eyed Junco Sept. 30th.


A rare bird-less moment in the backyard, a hawk must be around.


Always happy to see Monarch Butterflies in the backyard.

Enjoy the Fall birding, the snow will be flying before you know it!

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Heading South

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Indian Head Lighthouse at the mouth of Summerside Harbour. This is a wonderful area to look for shorebirds although the rocks near the light are covered with Double-crested Cormorant. We also found Common Terns and Gulls here.

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Sanderling were among the many shorebirds we found spread across the beach at this location.

September on Prince Edward Island has been a great month with some fine weather. It has been a good time to explore our beaches and see just what shorebirds are passing through. In addition to the weather, a couple of events have had some out and about. The World Shorebird Day was a global event that had birders all over counting shorebirds over the first weekend. The provincial Bennett Classic Fall Bird Count had local teams counting birds in support of Island Nature Trust later in the month.

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Willet at Carleton Cove.

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Savannah Sparrow. While not a shorebird, a nice find along the beach.

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Exploring Carleton Cove during World Shorebird Day.

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A Northern Harrier flew past to join the event.

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A flock of cooperative Black-bellied Plover joined the party in Tryon.

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Later in the day, a couple of Least Sandpiper availed themselves.

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Least Sandpiper – Beach Light Road

For the Bennett Fall Classic some teams bird from early morning (3:00 AM for Owls) until dark covering as much of the Island as possible. We did not have the opportunity to do that but explored the southern shore from Nine Mile Creek to Carleton Cove at a more leisurely pace. With a high tide and less time, we came across some of your usual suspects.

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Bald Eagle at the wharf in Nine Mile Creek.


Great Blue Heron in Tryon.

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The beach to the west of the Bridge is another good area to look for shorebirds. Regrettably, on this day it was mostly gulls.

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Local Gulls. But I am sure, if you scoped the flock thoroughly, you might come up with a couple from away.

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A pair of Redheads we spotted in the lagoons at Borden in the company of Ring-necked Ducks. Redheads are rated as Rare/Uncommon in the Fall on PEI.

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Nelson’s Sparrow in Carleton Cove.

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Greater Yellowlegs

Of course, birds were not the only thing that captured our attention this September.

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Lunar Eclipse September 2015

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How I fell in love with an app

In May I got an iPhone for my birthday – the one that made me, officially, a card-carrying, pension-getting senior.

Cupcakes by Brie, my daughter, the one who bought me the iphone. The cupcakes were for someone else, alas.

Not for my birthday, alas, these sweet things were made by my daughter, the one who bought me the iphone


Now I text with friends and get emails wherever I am. I like these features in a phone. But more exciting is the fact that I can download apps. It wasn’t that long ago that I had no idea what an “app” was. App? Is that slang for apple? (The fruit, not the company, although that does bring me to my point … )

Two months ago I bought my first app – iBird Canada 7.2. It took me a while to realize how wonderful this little gem is. But now I’m head over heels in love.

I may have to go on a holiday to Mexico just to play with my app.

I may have to go on a holiday just to explore new birds with my app.


But here’s what I can’t figure out: how can such an encyclopedic amount of information about 689 species of birds be packed into such a little device? And how is it that all this data, including thousands of photos (distinguishing sex and age and location) and songs (complete with sonograms) and references and options to load your own notes and photos, all at the tap or swish of a finger, sells for $8.95! I can hardly believe it.

Here are just a few of the many things I’ve discovered playing around with iBird:

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Poecile rufescens, the most numerous bird on Gabriola during the 2014 Christmas Bird Count, is divided into two species: rufescens which has chestnut-coloured sides (which I thought was the only one) and barlowi, which has gray sides. (News to me.) In iBirds’s CBC GENERAL category, one of 17 categories, there are pictures of the two sub-species. If you tap FIELD MARKS ON at the top of the pictures, brief descriptive phrases pop up. Is that not brilliant?

Chestnut-backed Chickadee, rufescens variety

Chestnut-backed Chickadee, rufescens variety


The RANGE MAP category for the American Robin, (Turdus migratorious) shows that these ubiquitous birds winter in the US and parts of Central America. This makes me wonder: how did the robin become such a well-known symbol of and harbinger of spring? Surely that’s not the case just in Canada? And by the way, did you know a group of robins is called a “worm”? The collective nouns for groups of birds are listed in the FACTS Being a word nerd, I like this a lot.

American Robin, Sept 2015, eating firethorn berries

American Robin, Sept 2015, eating our firethorn berries


The appearance of Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) can change dramatically depending on the sex, the light, the position and age of the bird. In addition to the photo under GENERAL for this hummer, there are 11 images under PHOTOS, no two alike! By the way, if you have a great photo you’d like to share with the iBird world, click Photo Submission Guidelines at the bottom of the Photos page. You’ll be led to a detailed description of how to submit your own bird photos and what the benefits of that might be.

Anna's Hummingbird, juvenile. These hummers stay in BC all year round now.

Anna’s Hummingbird, juvenile. These hummers stay in BC all year round now.


In the past few decades, as old growth forest in B.C. was decimated, Barred Owls (Strix varia) moved westward into traditional Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) habitat. Sometimes these two species now mate and their offspring are called, according to the FACTS category on iBird, a Sparred Owl. News to me.

Barred Owl on garage roof

Barred Owl on garage roof

Northwestern Crow
(Corvus caurinus) or Common Raven (Corvus corax)? For the uninitiated here on the west coast, it can be confusing, especially from a distance. But with FIELD MARKS ON, iBird shows that in flight the Northwestern Crow has a rounded tail and the Common Raven has a wedged-shaped tail. The raven’s shaggy throat is also a give-away – if it’s visible. But perhaps the best way to ID the corvid in question is to wait for it to vocalize. On iBird, you can switch back and forth between the SOUNDS the two species make with the touch of a finger. Essentially, the raven’s call is deeper and lower in pitch. The SOUNDS function allows you to listen to several variations in songs and calls from various locations for all 689 species. Wow. Plus you can watch the sonograms! And listen to the songs and calls of SIMILAR species. It’s easy as pie.

Northwestern Crows in parking lot, finishing off a meal

Northwestern Crows in parking lot, finishing off a meal


Common Raven

Common Raven


My favourite iBird category, today at least, is FACTS. But then I’m a Trivial Pursuit fan. Here are a few interesting things I learned while cruising FACTS:

  • The American Coot is “kleptoparasitic” – look it up! Or check iBird. :)
  • The Anna’s hummingbird has a heartbeat of 1260 beats per minute
  • There’s a Crayola crayon named Robin’s Egg Blue (now that’s trivia)

And there are lots more categories chock full of information – IDENTIFY, ECOLOGY, BEHAVIOUR, FAMILY, NEST and EGGS, plus links to flickr and Birdipedia. Plus a GLOSSARY. … Do I sound like a commissioned salesperson for iBird? Are you suspicious that they’re paying me for this post? Nope. Wrong on both counts. This post, like everything related to birding – for most of us, anyway – is a labour of love. And I love this app.

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