Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – May 2016

Hello again!  I hope you’re enjoying spring migration.  It seems to be a little slower than normal up here but this month, we’re finally seeing a few migrants moving through.

Common Loon

Always so wonderful to hear the calls of Common Loons

Hooded Merganser with Common Goldeneye Pair

My favourite duck, the Hooded Merganser on the left with a pair of Common Goldeneye Ducks.

Ring Necked Ducks

A striking pair of Ring-Necked Ducks.

In late April, I was thrilled to see a flock of Rusty Blackbirds in my yard.  They stayed for just a couple of days and then moved on.  Some years I see them, some years I don’t.  These lovely blackbirds are seriously declining but a cause has not yet been found. Hopefully, I’ll see them again during Fall migration.

Rusty Blackbirds

Flock of Rusty Blackbirds

Male Rusty Blackbird

The glossy black male Rusty Blackbird

Another beautiful blackbird visited a few times this spring – a stunning male Yellow-Headed Blackbird was in my yard at least 3 times.  This mostly western blackbird is being seen in this region almost every year now.

Male Yellow Headed Blackbird

Male Yellow-Headed Blackbird

An assortment of Sparrows have been around including White Crowned (below), White Throated, American Tree and Chipping Sparrows.

White Crowned Sparrow

White Crowned Sparrow

A single Mourning Dove visited the yard for about a week.  I normally only see 2 or 3 Doves in a season.

Mourning Dove & Purple Finch

Mourning Dove with male Purple Finch

Northern Flickers have been exceptionally busy … and noisy! … lately.  Hammering on everything in sight to be as loud as possible and calling, calling, calling!  At one point, there were 4 Flickers in my area …. there was no mistaking that!

Male Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

Goldfinches are always late arrivals and this fellow didn’t show up until last week.  He was here again today but so far, I’ve only seen the one.

Male Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch

Juncos and Purple Finches will nest here.  I’m always hopeful to see the young of both.

Female Purple with male Junco

Male Dark Eyed Junco (top) with female Purple Finch

On a trip out to our camp last week, we came across quite a few of these handsome fellows:  Spruce Grouse.  I don’t often see them but we saw 5 that day.

Male Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

A couple of days ago, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that there was a Swan on our local lake.  I ran around a bit trying to track it down but could only ever see a white dot on the other side of the lake.  I stopped at another friend’s house where there is a lovely dock and we watched it for a while.  After about 20 minutes, we suddenly realized that the Swan, a Trumpeter, was slowly swimming right toward us.  Surprising since there were 3 good size, rowdy dogs playing in the water!  The curious Swan swam up to within 30 feet of shore and honked at the dogs.  We had beautiful viewings of it from the dock.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

On a recent trip out of town, my husband and I had some nice sightings of wildlife.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes nest around here so we watch for them every year.

Black Bear

Black Bear – my first sighting of the season.

Cow Moose



First Chipmunk of the season … put up yer dukes!

One evening last week, we had our season’s first thunderstorm and this beautiful rainbow (was actually a double) was the result.


Portion of a double rainbow.

I have my annual Great Canadian Birdathon coming up this weekend.  I’ve raised $820 this year, my best ever.  Thank you sooo much to those who have donated.  If you would like to donate to my birdathon, it’s not too late!  Follow this link to make a pledge and again ….. thank you!

On May 28th & 29th, we’ll be in Dorion, ON., for their annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival .  It’s the highlight of my spring!  Professional birders & guides lead us through a day and a half of hiking around Dorion & Nipigon, Ont. birding hotspots.  In that time, we normally tally over 120 species.  Great fun!

Well, that’s it for this month.  Thanks so much for reading and …….. Happy Sightings!

Posted in Bird Canada | 8 Comments

Battle at the Lek: Sharp-tailed Grouse on the Alberta prairie

TH1D9040mask-flickr2Through the generosity of a rancher south of Calgary, the help of my local birding club and the encouragement of some photographer friends, I had the opportunity to see and experience my first grouse ‘lek’. The grouse species in question was the Sharp-tailed variety, and a lek is “…an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visiting females who are surveying prospective partners for copulation” (Wikipedia).

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse 'dancing' at the lek, southern Alberta.

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse ‘dancing’ at the lek, southern Alberta.

After leaving Calgary at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, I met up with my three other birder friends south of the city and together we proceeded to the lek location. Timing was critical as we needed to arrive and be set up in a blind before sunrise so as not to disturb this important ritual in the grouse’s reproductive cycle. By 6am we were safely hidden from view and then settled in to watch and photograph the action.

Daring another male to challenge him.

Daring another male to challenge him.

As the light from the still-below-the-horizon sun began to increase, each minute more and more of the lek was revealed and it soon became apparent that about 30 grouse were in attendance. Interestingly though, I only saw one female – so the boys would have to put on a pretty impressive show to have a chance at winning her interest.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

Before too long, individual males appeared to set up ‘their’ position on the lek and then spent the best part of the next 60 minutes dancing, drumming, squaring off against other interlopers, chasing away rivals and not infrequently launching into some spirited tussles.

The dancing involved rotating in circles pointing their tails straight up, head down, wings spread, purple throat patched visible, crowing while beating (or ‘drumming’) their feet very rapidly – quite the sight!

This following images give a typical example of what I saw:

Squaring off...

Squaring off…

A dance-off...

A dance-off…

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Calling to the female...

Calling to the female…

...all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

…all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

Whenever I saw a ‘fight’ break out (which was signalled by the sound of rapid flapping and grouse jumping in the air), I simply pointed my lens in that direction, focused and held the shutter release down. The action was so fast that it was only later at home when I reviewed my images that the brutality of these short but intense battles became apparent:TH1D9004-fb

TH1D9044d&b-fb TH1D9021d&b-fb TH1D8990-fb TH1D8987d&b-fb TH1D8745-v-fbOnly two incidents interrupted the lekking, both of which were due to a predator over-flying the lek (first a Northern Harrier, and then a Prairie Falcon which actually made a dive for one grouse), and sent almost all the grouse flying in all directions. Only one or two stayed behind hiding in the long grass, seemingly either too brave or too ignorant to join their comrades!

By 8am the sun was well and truly up and just about all the grouse had dispersed, and certainly the lekking had come to a conclusion and it was time to emerge from our blind. This was my first proper ‘blind’ experience and I have to say it was nice to have the birds acting and behaving naturally in close proximity as opposed to sneaking up on them.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience and one I’ll long remember! Looking ahead, with a bit of luck next month I’ll have my shots from Vancouver Island ready to post. Cheers for now.

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T.O. Backyard – April- “Hello Spring, are you there?”

Hello and welcome to our Toronto backyard!  What a month it has been since our last post.  What an April!  Snow, no snow, more snow, no snow, and this was how it was like on a number of days early in the month.  A pretty morning out back.


By the time the work day was over, it was gone.

Despite the mix of weather, the birds still sang.

migrateMigration seemed very slow.

migrationOr did it?  Cormorant flying over the backyard one afternoon.  Sure sign of warmer days coming.

migration1Around mid-April though we suddenly started getting Pine Siskins.

psbetrAnd Juncos too!  It was a confusing month.  For us, in Toronto, the Juncos are gone by now or so we’ve experienced over the years.  And Siskins?  This was a first for April.

juncoOne Sunday afternoon I heard my neighbour playing Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”.  I silently begged her to turn that off.  As much as we love our winter bird visitors, it’s Spring.  Where are the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?  Where are the White-throated Sparrows?

“Here I am!”  Finally one showed up.


The Juncos remained with us into the first days of May.  The Siskins are still coming in daily.


Hawk activity dropped to almost nothing except one day when this Cooper’s Hawk (although there is much debate on the species) came in and snagged breakfast.  I did a blog about this moment since it was different than the usual Hawk catching a meal scenarios.  One could not help but feel sorry for this Starling.

lastNice surprise for us the last couple weeks is a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers have been coming in!  We get Downys daily but Hairy activity is quite random and they seem to disappear on us through the colder months.

hairyOur nesting pair of House Sparrows are doing fine.  They are entertaining to watch right outside our back door.

houseRed-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have been scoping out some of our other boxes, even began a little excavating, but in the last week it’s not been promising to have another species nest with us this year.


It really did look promising for “Chickadee action” as you can see below!


Meanwhile, in some nest boxes not too far from home, we have been very fortunate to see a pair of Eastern Screech Owls on occasion.

R-OWLS 3Over the Easter weekend while my wife was away, I decided to do a little Owl prowling in another nearby neighbourhood and lucked out with another pair of Screech Owls.  There was a lot of trilling, whinnying and even some mating going on between the two Owls shortly after sunset.

onarollsignaIt’s amazing to know we have at least 2 pairs of these Owls minutes from our home!

The night time Snowy sightings have come to an end for another season.  I finished off with 59 encounters in total.   This was the last encounter where I was able to capture a record photo.


Have you had enough of our birds yet?  How about some mammal activity?

No shortage of Raccoons wandering around (delight to some, not so much to others).  We are pro-Procyon.  We keep an eye on our property, ensuring there is no access to our rooftop.  The Raccoon population in Toronto took a huge hit due to canine distemper.  So seeing some healthy masked creatures in our neck of the woods warms our hearts.

A daytime visit one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back.  I blogged about this encounter.

rb3An Opossum has been showing itself a few nights a week too!  He’s rather shy.  I took a very short video of him one night.  I eat an apple a day and leave the core out back.  Sometimes I just throw it out there for whoever to find.  Sometimes I will set it near the back of the house and hope to chance upon a moment like in the video.

11164631_10155441598640262_6212134749983638792_nSo even as April was an unsettled month, signs of Spring do appear.  Like the awakening of a resident Chipmunk.

chippyThank you for visiting our backyard and slightly beyond through this blog post.  That’s it for now, in a nut shell. *groan*

hvrI just caught on to the comments we’ve received in past posts.  Thank you!  I may have to do some replying soon.  Cheers!

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Birding: Hard, Easy, or Something Else?

Ted Floyd, Editor of Birding Magazine, recently wrote an article called Birding is Easy and Hard ( It was inspired in part by two earlier blog posts of Greg Neise, who’d come down on both sides of the argument at different times. Floyd took up the challenge of clarifying the seeming paradox: “The takeaway, surely, is that birding is what you make of it. Hard or easy, it’s your choice.”

Seems reasonable. But his article got me thinking. Hard? Easy? These adjectives are pertinent only if birding is primarily a task, something to be achieved. But is it? Certainly I like identifying the species I happen across as much as the next person, whether in my own backyard or elsewhere. I especially like knowing what bird I’m hearing in that tree up there. Before I learned to identify birds by sound I was pretty much oblivious to the ones I couldn’t see; now they’re present, visible or not. I like that, a lot. And although I don’t go traipsing around the globe in search of new birds, when I’m on holiday I keep my eyes and ears open, my binoculars and camera handy, and a guide to local birds nearby, just in case.

Pigeon with interesting plumage in the San Miguel de Allende Plaza

A pigeon with interesting plumage in the San Miguel de Allende Plaza caught my eye.

When I visit Puerto Vallarta, for example, I always go to the Botanical Gardens to see the San Blas Jays and Yellow-winged Caciques.

San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caciques at the PV Botanical Gardens

San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caciques at the PV Botanical Gardens

Once I even hauled myself up at dawn to go on a birding tour from which I returned with hundreds of mosquitoes bites and a having seen a few new birds (Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Happy Wren, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper). Too bad I don’t keep a Life List. And the highlight of my trip to St. Miguel de Allende in 2015 was not seeing Gloria Steinem at the SMA Writer’s Conference (although she was amazing) but visiting El Charco del Ingenio for a guided bird walk.

El Charco del Ingenio, a birder's paradise

El Charco del Ingenio, a birder’s paradise

That’s where I saw my first Vermilion Flycatcher and a flock of Groove-billed Anis!

Vermilion Flycatcher. Photo by barloventomagico (Public domain)

Vermilion Flycatcher. Photo by barloventomagico (Public domain)

Groove-billed Ani. (Public domain photo)

Groove-billed Ani. (Public domain photo)

Okay, maybe going on a guided tour doesn’t count as “hard”. But getting up at four a.m. to hunt for birds in the forests of Mexico is not my idea of easy!

But maybe I’m not a real birder? Maybe real birders are happy, even eager, to get up with the birds and traipse into insect-infested forests full of hope to see that elusive lifer? Or maybe it’s not hard for them? I wonder – what makes someone a real birder anyway?

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 47 million birders, of which 18 million are ‘active’, in the USA. Since Canada’s population is roughly 10% of that of the USA, and assuming a similar level of involvement in birding, Canada would have almost 5 million birders of whom maybe 1.3 million are “active” or “away from home” birders who travelled at least a mile to watch birds. A rather large number.

In a recent post on 10,000 Birds, Jason Crotty, a birder from Portland, questions the USFW stats ( and adds his own wisdom to the mix. “I believe that most of the 18 million ‘active birders’ would be quite surprised and a bit perplexed to find themselves so categorized.” He suggests that in order to realistically determine the number of active birders, we count things that are concrete and measurable: the numbers of members in birding associations, birding magazine subscribers, people who use ebird, people who own binoculars and field guides, numbers of ‘likes’ on the ABA Facebook Page. I like this idea – it confirms what I think: I am, indeed, a birder. I just happen to be one who doesn’t do hard. I couldn’t recognize a “Thayer’s Gull—in definitive alternate plumage” (Floyd) for the life of me. My scope lives in a drawer most of the time. And I certainly don’t do ‘big years.’ I don’t even do little ones.

Hard and easy – neither of these adjectives apply to the kind of birding I do. My descriptors of choice would be, depending on the circumstance and my mood: fun, therapeutic, calming, exciting. Mostly, birding just is. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is check on the birds in the yard. Right now Rufous Hummers are battling at the feeders under the kitchen window and our resident Spotted Towhees are building a nest under the pampas grass. The American Robins are pulling worms in the front garden. The Song Sparrow is singing from his favorite perch at the top of the cedar tree by the fence. A Northern Flicker, a Downy, and a Hairy are eating suet. The chattering Chestnut-backed Chickadees are pulling peanuts from their feeder. And Steller’s Jays are lined up along the pergola waiting for their peanuts.

Two Rufous Hummingbirds, one drinking and one guarding -- although probably not through any kind of mutual agreement

Rufous Hummingbirds, one drinking and one guarding — although probably not through any kind of mutual agreement!


Spotted Towhee near nest site

Spotted Towhee near nest site


Chestnut-backed Chickadee getting nuts

Chestnut-backed Chickadee getting nuts


Harry Woodpecker at suet

Harry Woodpecker at suet


These birds invariably bring me back into the present moment. I feel connected to them. The word love pops into my mind. Love, of course, has its downfalls. Recently, for example, I found a little Yellow Warbler, a female, on the back deck, dead from hitting the glass door. I thought about how far the little bird had flown, probably from South America, to come to Gabriola Island to breed. All that work and she dies flying into my sliding glass door. That’s hard to take. I held her in my hands for a long time, saying goodbye, saying I’m sorry, before laying her out back.

The month before, a hawk captured and devoured one of the seven jays that come for breakfast every day. I wondered which jay it was. Was it the one I call the lookout? Or the one with the bright eyebrows? Or the one with the faint white feathers in its wing? It was hard to be happy for the hawk who had a good lunch that day.

Mr. Blue Brows, RIP

Mr. Blue Brows

Clearly, there are many things that are hard about birding: knowing that habitat loss and climate change are decimating bird populations worldwide; seeing Committee Against Bird Slaughter photos of birds trapped in Malta and Italy and France;  finding a dead warbler on my deck or a sick siskin at my feeder. But most aspects of birding are easy: observing, listening, learning, letting yourself fall in love. In the end I have to agree with Ted Floyd: birding is neither hard nor easy, it is “what you make of it.”

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Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard: April 2016

Hello again!

Despite today’s freezing rain storm, Spring has finally arrived in Northwestern Ontario. This post will likely be mostly a photo essay.  I’ve been busy with the camera these past few weeks as migrants have been moving in.

These first 2 are not migrants but I thought the photos might show the differences between Ravens and Crows.  Notice how the Raven is much ‘shaggier’ than the sleeker Crow.  The Raven is also almost twice the size of the Crow.


Common Raven on my garage roof


American Crow on my platform feeder

Ruffed Grouse have still been coming into the yard almost every evening and some afternoons.  This one took some cover in my spruce tree on a cold, blustery spring day.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Evening Grosbeaks are around in good numbers; seemingly more now than throughout the winter and that’s perfectly fine with me.

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male Evening Grosbeak

A female Hairy Woodpecker has been around off and on, nibbling on the peanuts.  A male Downy Woodpecker has been here a few times too.  Lately, I’ve been hearing the calls of a Pileated Woodpecker in my neighbourhood.  🙂

Female Hairy Woodpecker

Female Hairy Woodpecker

A few Robins have been in the neighbourhood this week.  This one was singing away in my front yard birch tree.


American Robin

This small Merlin, a type of Falcon, was hunting my yard for a few weeks although I never found any evidence in the yard of a successful hunt.



A pair of Bohemian Waxwings were nibbling on leftover fruit in my neighbours yard this week.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Some of the only open water in town right now was quite busy this week with Canada Geese, Cackling Geese, a Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper and an assortment of ducks including Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Ring-Necked Ducks.  A single Swan was also seen here for just a few moments one evening but I missed it.

Geese & Ducks

Canada Geese, Mallards and Common Goldeneye Ducks in flight.

An assortment of Blackbirds has shown up in the last couple of days.  I enjoy having mixed flocks of Blackbirds in the yard … I consider them to be nature’s cleaning crew in the spring.


European Starling

Below, my favourite!  I always love having flocks of Rusty Blackbirds show up!  I don’t get to see them every year but so far, this year looks promising.

Male Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird, 1 of about 40 on April 17’16

Male Red Winged Blackbird

Another favourite, a male Red Winged Blackbird in my Crabapple tree

I guess the one below is NObody’s favourite …

Male Cowbird

Male Brown Headed Cowbird

It seems most people don’t care for these guys below either but I kinda like them.  🙂


Common Grackles

My husband and I went out to our camp last weekend (April 8 & 9) to complete our annual Nocturnal Owl Survey.  On the way out there, we came across this fellow below, in the exact same spot and even the same tree we saw him/her in 2 weeks before.  This is obviously a favourite hunting perch.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

We also saw a flock of Gray Jays actively foraging …. they have young to feed now so they are busy birds!

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

There is a pair of Bald Eagles nesting on our favourite lake out there, every year.  They’ve had some setbacks over the years with their first nest tree (a dead poplar) collapsing one year; they moved to another spot on the lake and rebuilt only to have a vicious storm come through a few years later and take down their nest, killing 2 of that year’s 3 young and breaking our hearts.  🙁  Now, they rebuilt in the current spot a few years ago …. in a nice, healthy, sturdy tree.  Fingers crossed for a successful season for them.

Bald Eagle1

Bald Eagle just outside of her nest

We thought our owl survey was going to be a bust as we didn’t hear a thing for the first 9 stops but finally on stop #10 (of 20), we had a Boreal Owl respond to our calls.  A few stops after that, we picked up a pair of Boreal Owls ‘duet-ting’ (calling to each other) and on the next stop, a pair of Northern Saw-Whet Owls ‘duet-ting’.  It was a cold (-10C), breezy night but it worked out in the end.

Also while out at camp, we had a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker calling loudly from a small stand of trees across the street from a camp and we found a flock of about 30 Snow Buntings in the top of those trees the next morning.

Last photo for this month:  We saw this majestic adult Bald Eagle standing on the far side of our local Manitouwadge Lake yesterday.  I never get tired of seeing these gorgeous birds!

Bald Eagle2

Bald Eagle standing on Manitouwadge Lake, April 17’16

Other migrants have moved in this week including:  Purple Finches, American Tree Sparrows, Sandhill Cranes, Dark Eyed Juncos and Pine Siskins.  A variety of Sparrows and Warblers will be arriving soon along with Tree Swallows and Bluebirds.  🙂

Before I forget, I’m sorry to say that the webcam in my yard will be shutting down for the summer season on Sunday, April 24th.  ‘My’ webcam is for Project FeederWatch and that season ended on April 9th.  We will hopefully be up and running once again in early November.  In the meantime, you can watch quite a few other webcams through Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

And on another note, I am completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon one day in mid May.  Last year, I tallied 67 species in one day …. I’m hopeful to break the 70 mark this year!  If you would be interested in sponsoring me, please follow this link to donate online. If you prefer to donate by cheque, please email me at and I will send you my mailing address.  Thank you for your generosity!

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed the report from up here.  Thanks so much for reading and I’ll see you in May!


Posted in Bird Canada | 15 Comments

Grey Ghost of the North: more Great Grey Owls in pictures

TH1D5288d&b-mask3v2-fbWell, I was lucky to get another morning or two watching some Albertan Great Grey Owls in action, so I thought I’d share some of the resulting images. My focus was on in-flight images and I managed to capture some shots that I have long dreamt about. My paltry writing skills do the owls no justice, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…TH1D5762-fbTH1D5140-crop2-fb TH1D5109-crop2-final-fb


TH1D5106mask3-final-fbThe weather was quite different on each of the occasions I visited, sometimes it was cloudy while other times it was clear and sunny. And since the owls went wherever they pleased, this meant I had times of back-light (resulting in ‘glowing’ wings), front-light as well as side-light…all of which added a little something different to the resulting images.TH1D5272d&b-crop2-fb TH1D5168d&b-crop-fbTH1D5834-v TH1D5862-mask-v-fb TH1D5808-fb2

Apart from the ‘head-on’ shot at the top of the post, the other shot I have day-dreamed about is one of a Great Grey with its huge wings fully outstretched coming into land…a great feeling to finally get something close to what I’d hoped and wished for:TH1D5918-mask3-v-blogAnd of course, I never get tired of this cool face:TH1D5390-fb

I won’t soon forget this spring, that’s for sure! And I’m very happy to say that all of these owls were wild and free. Not baited, not ever.

And last but not least, a couple of shots of a pair of American Dippers. These were taken at a very popular tourist spot in Kananaskis and in the middle of a sunny day…two situations that I normally avoid like the plague due to, respectively, the lesser likelihood of seeing wildlife and the harsh light for photography. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that the dippers didn’t seem to mind all the people and when they moved into the shade it made for some interesting (at least in my mind) backlight conditions. So thanks Mike for suggesting we try this spot out 🙂TH1D5481v-fb

TH1D5727d&b-fb TH1D5545-vign-fbFor my next post I hope to share some of my images from a weekend on Vancouver Island…lots of cool birds there for sure!


Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

T.O. Backyard – Seasonal Switch

An American Robin on a snowy April day.

An American Robin in our Toronto backyard on a snowy April day.

March and April are always interesting months in our backyard. The calendar says Spring arrives, but Winter puts up quite a fight to stay around.

The first of our Spring/Summer migrants have arrived, Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles.  We’ve been making sure the feeders are well stocked to help them out, as the weather has been cold and snowy the last couple weeks. Spring teased us with a warm spell the end of March, and we thought our Juncos had left for the season, but some returned with the snow and winter like temperatures.

Still, signs of Spring are here. We’ve noticed a pair of Robins in the yard almost daily. We’re hoping they nest nearby, as that would be a first for us. A spunky House Sparrow has claimed a bird house quite near our back door. He’s found himself a lady friend and seems quite proud of himself, as he’s always singing and hopping around near his crib. We know House Sparrows aren’t popular with most, but he has been quite entertaining these last two weeks, and we actually set this house up specifically for House Sparrows, as we found in the past it keeps them out of the other houses in the backyard where we have had Chickadees nest.

We know it won’t be long now until our winter visitors are really gone for the season and more of our Spring/Summer visitors return, like our Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and the cycle starts all over again.

We expect the Red-breasted Nuthatches to be gone for the season soon.

We expect the Red-breasted Nuthatches to be gone for the season soon.

Our Red-winged Blackbirds returned March 8th this year.

Our Red-winged Blackbirds returned March 8th this year.


Female Cowbird in the backyard April 2nd.


The courting House Sparrows.


On top of their house.


Lots of nest building taking place.


The neighborhood Red-tailed Hawks have returned to their regular nesting spot close to our backyard.

The next few weeks should be very eventful for all birders across Canada, enjoy it!

PLEASE NOTE; All photos taken by Rob Mueller, March or April of 2016. The shots of the House Sparrows were taken through the kitchen window as not to disturb them. 

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Winter Birding in Canada | 4 Comments

Anchorages in the Pacific Flyway?

Once again, it’s big industry over citizens and the environment. In this case, five new anchorages are being proposed by Pacific Pilotage Authority (PPA) for the northeast stretch of coastline of Gabriola Island, along Whalebone and Sandwell beaches. If the PPA has their way, capesize freighters could soon be anchoring along these wild pristine beaches that are part of the Pacific Flyway as well as home to many resident birds, seals, otters, herring, orcas, humpback whales, Chinook salmon, and all the other fish and vegetative life that sustain them.

Orca off coast of Gabriola Island. Photo by Chris Straw.

Orca off coast of Gabriola Island. Photo by Don Butt.


Sea Lions. Photo by Chris straw.

Sea Lions. Photo by Chris Straw.


Many of the species that use these waters, including the Humpback Whale, Bald Eagle, and Surf Scoter, are on BC’s Blue List, designating them as of special concern because they’re particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

Family of Bald Eagles off Whalebone Beach. Photo by Bill McGann.

Family of Bald Eagles off Whalebone Beach. Photo by Bill McGann.

Some, including the Orca, Double-crested Cormorant, and Marbled Murrelet, are on the BC Red List.

Cormorants over the bay. Photo by Doris Gallas.

Cormorants over the bay. Photo by Doris Gallas.

This is a map pf Gabriola Island.

Gabriola Island

Gabriola Island

The proposed freighter anchorages would be situated long the northeast coast of Gabriola Island (where the words Salish Sea are printed) directly in front of wetlands, spawning beaches, community parks, a provincial park, numerous walking trails and one of the most densely populated areas within the Gulf Island region. This coast frequently experiences onshore winds of 38-60 kilometers an hour.

Sandwell Beach. Photo by Chris Straw.

Sandwell Beach. Photo by Chris Straw.

The photo below is of a capesize freighter. If a ship like this were to drag anchor and ground, or spill fuel while bunkering, the resulting oil spill would rapidly drift onto the coastline and destroy shore and marine ecosystems.

Capesize freighter. Photo by Capt. Jan Melchers.

Capesize freighter. Photo by Capt. Jan Melchers.



Gulls galore. Photo by Dirk Huysman.

Gulls galore. Photo by Dirk Huysman.

Over 250 bird species – including a lot of gulls! – use this stretch of coast, either year round or during migration. Below are photos of  just a few of the species that live along this pristine stretch of coastline all year long.

Marbled Murrelets. Photo by Ruby Chapman.

Marbled Murrelets. Photo by Ruby Chapman.

The Marbled Murrelet is on the Red List in BC and listed as Threatened in Canada. These birds forage at sea in shallow waters, including in marine habitats that support various prey, including sand lance. Read more about this important bird here: Marbled Murrelets

Here’s what the waters off these beaches look like during the herring run:

Herring run 2012. Photo by Iain Lawrence.

Herring run 2012. Photo by Iain Lawrence.


Herring run. Photo by Dave Hendry.

Herring run. Photo by Dave Hendry.


2010 herring run. Photo by Kristin Miller.

2010 herring run. Photo by Kristin Miller.

Bald Eagles
nest and live along this stretch of coastline year round. Two nest trees are monitored by the Gabriola Eagle Nest Monitoring program that I wrote about in February. If you missed that post, please check it out here: Love is in the Air

Bald Eagle pair at Whalebone. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

Bald Eagle pair at Whalebone. Photo by Tina Kirschner.


Raven explaining the facts of life to Bald Eagle. Photo by Doris Gallas.

Raven having a few choice words with Bald Eagle. Photo by Doris Gallas.


Other birds that live here year round or during the winter include …

Mallard pair. Photo by Bill McGann.

Mallard pair. Photo by Bill McGann.


Harlequin Duck. Photo by Bill McGann.

Harlequin Duck. Photo by Bill McGann.


Black Oystercatcher in the seaweed. Photo by Dave Hendry.

Black Oystercatcher in the seaweed. Photo by Dave Hendry.


Surf Scoters along Whalebone. Photo by Dirk Huysman.

Surf Scoters along Whalebone. These birds are on the BC Blue List. Photo by Dirk Huysman.


Snipe. Photo by Phyllis Fafard.

Snipe. Photo by Phyllis Fafard.


Mountain Bluebirds. Photo by Ruby Chapman.

Mountain Bluebirds. Photo by Ruby Chapman.



It’s estimated that one billion birds use the Pacific Flyway as their migration route. Here are pictures of just a few of the birds that come through this little piece of paradise, many staying to breed.

Turkey Vultures foraging on the beach. Photo by Phyllis Fafard.

Turkey Vultures foraging on the beach. Photo by Phyllis Fafard.


Red Crossbill. Photo by Garry Davey.

Red Crossbill. Photo by Garry Davey.


Three Rufous Hummingbirds passing through on migration. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Three Rufous Hummingbirds passing through on migration. Photo by Sharon McInnes.


Barrow's Goldeneyes. Photo by Sharon McInnes

Barrow’s Goldeneyes. Photo by Sharon McInnes


Black-headed Grosbeak. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Black-headed Grosbeak. Photo by Sharon McInnes.


Currently we await the results of an environmental assessment that will not, unfortunately, be an independent full-fledged environmental assessment. The consultant preparing the study has been engaged and paid by the proponent of these anchorages, and they have set the parameters. We fear that the assessment will rely heavily on published materials for information and will include only what is discovered during the few months of the review process, not the year-round habitat.

This proposal is just one of many fossil fuel and port development projects underway in the Salish Sea in Canada and the USA. According to a recent study in PLosOne each project has the “potential for negative environmental consequences, as the vessel traffic associated with these projects is expected to increase underwater vessel noise, increase risk of vessel collision or vessel strike of wildlife, increase oil spills, increase exposure to coal-associated contaminants in biota, impact access to or availability of watchable wildlife, and greatly impact human access to the harvest and consumption of fish and wildlife.” (


Whalebone Beach. Photo by Eileen E. Kaarsemaker.

Whalebone Beach. Photo by Eileen E. Kaarsemaker.

I’m sure if the birds had a say in whether or not to approve five more anchorages off the coast of Gabriola Island, their home, they’d vote NO. Life is hard enough for a bird without having to cope with the impact of more industrial development at sea.

To learn more about the proposed project please go to

Thank you to all the photographers who shared their pictures!

Posted in Bird Canada, Shorebirds | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – March ’16

Hello again from NW Ontario and welcome to Spring 2016!

Since you last heard from me, we’ve lost about 18″ of snow and I actually have a bare patch of grass in my backyard now, where the snow was thinnest.  Unfortunately today, we’ve reverted back to winter and it was -16C (3F) this morning … and will be tomorrow morning too.  Last week’s break in the cold temperatures (up to 10C, 50F for a few days) was a lovely reminder that spring is indeed just around the corner.

With the nice temperatures last week came a new (that I know of) visitor to my backyard: a male Red Crossbill!  There were actually 2 of them but 1 flew away almost immediately. This fellow, however, stayed for a good 5 hours, working over the pine cones in my trees. He was very cooperative too, staying just outside of my windows for some lovely photos.  I was hoping to see a female as well but no such luck.  Have not seen this species again since last week either.

Male Red Crossbill1

Male Red Crossbill working on the pine cones my backyard trees.

Male Red Crossbill

Such a handsome fellow! Here, showing where his name comes from.

A few weeks before the Crossbill, I had another (super adorable!) visitor that was another first (I believe) for my yard:  a Boreal Chickadee!  This wee one was waaaayyy harder to photograph as it barely sat still for 2 seconds at a time.  I saw it in my spruce tree 4 times over 2 weeks but have not seen it again.  Sure hope it returns ….. and brings relatives!

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee in my spruce tree

Redpolls are still here in pretty incredible numbers.  This week alone, they have been numbering between 100 to 150 at a time!  I am filling my nyjer feeder twice per day and could fill it 3 times if it was more affordable!  Also putting seed on the platform for them twice per day and filling the triple tube hanging feeder every day to second day.  They are loading up for their journey back to their Arctic nesting grounds.  One day, an adorable male Hoary Redpoll sat for a lovely portrait.  🙂

Male Hoary Redpoll

Fluffy male Hoary Redpoll


A portion of the Redpoll flock in my crabapple tree

Redpoll Wings

Redpoll wings (with a male Pine Grosbeak looking on)

Evening Grosbeak numbers have picked up some while Pine Grosbeak numbers have been dropping.  The Pines are still around, they’re just not hitting the feeders as hard as they were.  One day last week, I counted 34 Evening Grosbeaks in and around my backyard!  Lately, their singing on the webcam has been incredible most mornings.

Pine Grosbeak Pair

Male (right) and female Pine Grosbeaks

Male Pine Grosbeak Squabble

Male Pine Grosbeak squabble!

Male Evening Grosbeaks

Male Evening Grosbeaks

Female Evening Grosbeak

Female Evening Grosbeak

Webcam Snap Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls

Female Pine Grosbeak with a few of the Redpolls

2 of my visiting Ruffed Grouse have now paired up for the season.  I’ve been seeing them here together in the yard almost every evening, just before dark, for the past week.  Sometimes, a single one will fly into my pine trees, settle in on a favourite branch and nap the day away in the backyard.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse in my flowerbed

Here is a (now nearly world famous!!) video clip from a year ago of a Ruffed Grouse courtship display that took place at my feeders and live on the webcam.  I never get tired of this clip!

The Gray Jays have pretty much disappeared now for nesting season.  I have not seen one in over a week.  Blue Jays are still around but only sporadically, not coming into the yard much now.  I do hear the female’s ‘Blue Jay Growl’ mating call regularly.  Love that sound!

Gray Jay at Bird Bath

Gray Jay having a drink at the bird bath.

Crows are around the neighbourhood more now.  I had a pair of them all winter but now, more have returned and are busy building or repairing their nests.  Ravens too.  I’ve seen them flying around, hauling twigs for their nests.

Crow in Snowy Pine Tree

1 of ‘my’ 4 resident Crows

Even Chickadees are disappearing, not being seen in the yard daily anymore.  Everyone’s busy now!

Chickadee & Redpoll

Black Capped Chickadee (bottom) with Common Redpoll in my crabapple tree.

I’ll end this month with one more new visitor report, this time just from my neighbourhood, not my yard.  One night last week, while it was so warm and melting like mad outside, I had my bedroom window open before I went to bed.  I stuck my head out the window to smell and listen to the heavy dripping for a few minutes when I realized I was hearing something else too:  the high pitched hooting of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl! Turned out it was in the woods down at the end of my street and some of my neighbours had heard him calling for about 3 weeks.  Not sure why they didn’t TELL me!!  Anyway, I only heard him the one night and suspect he has now moved on.  I will hope to pick up more calls during our annual Nocturnal Owl Survey coming up in April.

I guess that’s it for this month (enough, right?  😉 ).  Happy Easter to you all … and again, Happy Spring!  Thanks for reading!


Posted in Bird Canada | 8 Comments

‘On the Prowl’…a Great Grey Owl hunt in pictures

TitleBeing able to observe a Great Grey Owl hunting for voles in the foothills west of Calgary has to be one of the great joys one can experience as a birder in southern Alberta. Moreover, no matter how many times I have the privilege to witness these owls in action the thrill of the experience remains undiminished. So in this month’s post, I’m going to try and share some of this experience through my pictures…
After rising early, followed by an 90 minute drive full of hope and anticipation of an owl encounter,  the slow crawl along dusty, gravel roads begins in ‘owl country’: thickly forested areas adjacent to vole-filled meadows. Even with your eyes peeled and driving at 10km/h, the perfect camouflage of the Great Grey (their plumage is a virtual perfect match for a pine trunk) makes spotting them a challenging proposition. You’re in luck though when they help you out by choosing a prominent perch…TH1D4878
The GGO will constantly swivel its head watching, but mostly listening, for voles burrowing under the snow and grass. But not every patch of meadow seems to have the sought-after voles and the owl will often move a short distance…TH1D4795mask
…to a new perch from which to resume the hunt on a, hopefully, more productive stretch of field.TH1D4902
TH1D4919This can go on for some time, the owl spending anywhere a few minutes to half an hour on a perch. Perches might be anything from fence-poles to tree trunks…TH1D4970mask
…to branches high in trees…TH1D4870
…anything that gives a good view of the hunting ground.
Until all of a sudden they seem to ‘lock on’ to a sound and launch into hunting run…TH1D4788
TH1D4790The GGO floats completely silently above the grassy field, eyes intently focused… TH1D5014
…honing in on the target as it gets closer and closer…TH1D5020
…until finally plunging almost straight down with talons being brought forward at seemingly the very last moment on the unsuspecting vole…TH1D4887d&b
If successful, the owl will spend a few moments with its talons buried in the grass or snow performing a sort of shuffle as it gets a surer grip on the prey. A quick bite to the neck ends any resistance from the vole, and then the GGO takes off – vole in beak…TH1D4996
…to consume (or share with its mate or young) the unlucky rodent elsewhere, often deep in the depths of the forest…TH1D5055
The hunts I’ve seen are successful maybe 30-50% of the time, and it never ceases to amaze me how incredible the GGO’s sense of hearing must be for them to detect such tiny prey, from such distance, under anywhere up to a foot of snow!TH1D4774crop
TH1D4843Well, I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of what a GGO hunt is like – for sure, no hunt is the same but each and every one is always great fun to watch!TH1D4835
(Please note that these shots were taken on two separate days, with two different owls – I’m just not a good enough photographer to capture all the action in one sharp sequence 🙂  ).
For more of my wildlife photography check out my facebook page here.
Posted in Bird Canada | 10 Comments