Winter Birds of New Brunswick

Basically all the typical New Brunswick winter birds have arrived in the past few weeks even though winter hasn’t really made up its mind yet. There isn’t much for snow and still a decent amount of open water along the Saint John River. They’re saying overall that our winter shouldn’t be as cold or have as much snow compared to the past few years. I’m hoping it stays that way especially for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count.

There have been reports of Pine Grosbeak, Northern Shrike, Common Redpoll and White-winged Crossbill. I hope to see all of those eventually. I did see an Evening Grosbeak last week and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, but didn’t get a picture of either unfortunately. I posted four pictures below of species that are all over NB right now (the American Tree Sparrow I just saw in my yard today).

I should correct myself actually as “typical NB winter birds” for this winter are really everything that we got to see the year before last. That is the way it often goes here in New Brunswick. Last winter there were very few reports of crossbills, grosbeaks or redpolls so this winter is already looking to be filled with much more of a variety and larger numbers for the Christmas Bird Counts. The one I will be taking part in will be December 20th so that will be the topic of my post next month.

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American Tree Sparrow – last winter I really only saw two types of sparrows around, this one and junco’s

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Bohemian Waxwings - I saw a dozen for the first time this winter last weekend

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Dark-eyed Junco - The highest I’ve had so far this winter is 12 in my yard

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Gray Jay – last winter I saw five all in the same area

 

Rarities for November

Scarlet Tanager – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/fall-scarlet-tanager?context=featured

Redhead – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/redhead-3?context=featured

Painted Bunting – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=796129053762745&set=gm.743501585744821&type=1

 

I can once again close by mentioning that the Carolina Wren was still around as of this past Tuesday. It is now over three months that I have heard it early in the morning as I am leaving for work or I’ve noticed it quickly coming and going from the suet feeder. I can’t help but hope it sticks around for the CBC!

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/

Posted in Bird Identification, Birdwatching Events, Canadian Birds, Winter Birding in Canada | Leave a comment

Shorebirding – A Week at Weed Lake (Part 1)

A25K2327d&b2I started birding and bird photography in earnest in early 2012, and each subsequent year I’ve made mental notes to check out certain places at certain times to try and see certain migrants that might be passing through southern Alberta. Up until this year, one glaring omission from my photo archives has been the shorebird family, in particular sandpipers.

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

So I was determined to make an extra effort in 2014 to see & photograph as many ‘peeps’ as possible. After abysmal results in spring (either through ‘life commitments’, weather, or other something else), I happily did a lot better on the fall migration as the birds headed south and stopped over at Weed Lake, just east of Calgary. Indeed, all of the photos below were taken at this birding mecca in the last weekend in July and first weekend in August.

Looking out over Weed Lake - this kind of vista makes a shorebirder drool!

Looking out over Weed Lake – this kind of vista makes a shorebirder drool!

Some of my most enjoyable moments from the shorebirding experience came from photographing a number of ‘life birds’, as well as the excitement of going through all my shots at the end of the shoot and learning to ID them all and finding little gems that I’d missed whilst busily shooting away.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper - a fairly common 'peep', but a lifer for me in 2014

A Semipalmated Sandpiper – a fairly common ‘peep’, but a lifer for me in 2014

And after selecting a nice spot on the shoreline & laying down with the sun at my back, it was exciting to wait and see what variety of birds would come by. By finding a well-covered spot I found almost all birds were oblivious to my presence (my technique also worked on fellow birders as on several occasions I could see and hear other photographers and birders wandering around me with no idea I was there!).

Early morning at Weed Lake...waiting, like these Pectoral Sandpipers, for the sun to rise.

Early morning at Weed Lake…waiting, like these Pectoral Sandpipers, for the sun to rise.

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A Pectoral Sandpiper combing the mudflats.

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Pectoral Sandpiper – the same bird as above chirping away…I had no idea they had a flexible upper beak!

Other highlights included the time I had hundreds of phalaropes chasing down sandflies in front of me…

Wilson's Phalaropes vigorously pursuing individual sand flies amongst the swarms on the mudflats.

Wilson’s Phalaropes vigorously pursuing individual sand flies amongst the swarms on the mudflats.

Another Wilson's Phalarope just about to catch a sand fly.

Another Wilson’s Phalarope just about to catch a sand fly.

 

…and when Spotted Sandpipers would come sprinting by only a few feet away stopping intermittently to bob their tails up and down…

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

And for comparison, an adult Spotted Sandpiper sprinting toward me.

And for comparison, an adult Spotted Sandpiper sprinting toward me.

…and before I knew it a mixed flock of Pectoral, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers would land close by and start foraging.

One of a pair of Solitary Sandpipers that fed for a few minutes in front of my position.

One of a pair of Solitary Sandpipers that fed for a few minutes in front of my position.

Solitary Sandpiper portrait - on quite a number of occasion the birds came so close I couldn't focus!

Solitary Sandpiper portrait – on quite a number of occasion the birds came so close I couldn’t focus!

All these highlights more than made up for the less fun parts of shorebirding – namely having to crawl over some ‘questionable’ shoreline areas (Weed Lake used to receive the treated sewage from the local town of Langdon!), the very variable summer weather that would go from bright sunlight to overcast to even thunderstorms!

Sandpiper (immature) - in sunny light

Sandpiper (immature) – in sunny light

A Semipalmated Sandpiper in bright light - contrast this with earlier Semipalmated when the conditions were dull and cloudy.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper in bright light – contrast this with earlier Semipalmated when the conditions were dull and cloudy.

Wilson's Phalarope - doing a post-preen stretch.

Wilson’s Phalarope – doing a post-preen stretch.

Another ‘fun’ moments was while I was lying on my belly one morning and I had a vole duck into my coat pocket! Mind you, it could be a lot worse if I was down south – no snakes, venomous spiders or alligators to worry about in Alberta!

A Baird's Sandpiper - another lifebird. And I used to think all peeps looked the same...shame on me :)

A Baird’s Sandpiper – another lifebird. And I used to think all peeps looked the same…shame on me :)

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

A young Wilson's Phalarope

A young Wilson’s Phalarope

A Stilt Sandpiper - cal, wind-free mornings like this are great for shooting & also relaxing

A Stilt Sandpiper – calm, wind-free mornings like this are great for shooting & also relaxing

As you can tell, for this month’s blog I’ve focused on my target birds – the sandpiper family. However, for my next monthy blog, I’ll share my other shorebird images (avocets, stilts, plovers, etc) and talk more about the techniques and gear I use to get these shots and provide a few tips based on my experiences to date.

And last but not least, except in name, the cute little Least Sandpiper.

And last but not least, except in name, the cute little Least Sandpiper.

Posted in Bird Canada | 7 Comments

Fraternizing with the Locals

As we work further into the Fall, those birds that have been with us from spring into late Summer, like the Warblers and Shorebirds, have mostly moved on. Now we are left with those hearty birds who live with us through the Winter or those tough guys from the North, who think this is the South. As well, we do get those birds which decide to come to the coast, rather than spend the winter inland.

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Blue Jay

The most common of those birds that we find across the province is the Blue Jay. These birds are with us all year. We see them, individually and more secretly, throughout the breeding season but as the weather changes in the Fall they begin to collect in flocks and become a lot more vocal and obvious. As winter progresses the flocks continue to grow until one can find flocks of thirty or more at your feeder.

Another favourite in the province is the Black-capped Chickadee. These birds are with us all year long and are active at our feeders throughout the year, much to the delight of everyone. Those who might be new to birding find the Chickadee easy to identify and this in turn might lead them to develop their interest further.

Black-capped Chicadee

Black-capped Chickadee

But Fall also brings some exciting and colourful birds to Prince Edward Island. Some of those are the Waterfowl that pass through in the later stages of migration or who might just be coming into the area in hope of open water and the chance of food. These include some birds like the Northern Shoveller, Hooded Merganser, Wood Ducks and Loons, both Red-throated and Common, which are frequently seen off our coasts. Also, if we are lucky and determined to get out as the weather becomes more inclement, we might get to find some Purple Sandpiper and Harlequin Ducks.

A distant flock of Red-throated Loons off Cavendish Shore.

A distant flock of Red-throated Loons off Cavendish Shore.

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser with a Mallard

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

With this in mind, the next activity for some of us is an Event with Birding on PEI and NaturePEI called “Get Your Duck On”. We will be visiting an number of sites in and around the Prince Edward Island National Park to find what birds we can in the area. Hopefully, we can scope out some of the great fall waterfowl as well as other birds that might be local, or just passing through.

In a previous post listing birding sites across Canada, I noticed that there were none related to Prince Edward Island. In fact, there are a few sites you might like to view. These are:

http://birding.aba.org/maillist/PE

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birding-on-PEI/157504117632145?ref=hl

In checking the lists above, you will see that recent sightings include Fox Sparrows, a Pileated Woodpecker, an atypical Red-tailed Hawk and a rare juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

 

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On Being Heard Above the Din

By Sharon McInnes, Gabriola Island, BC

I know the Spotted Towhee squawking in the back yard isn’t actually talking to me. Still, I feel like he is, and can’t help but talk back. “Hello. What’s up?” Maybe it’s a character flaw, I don’t know.

Spotted Towhee on tree stump, not squawking ... for the moment.

Spotted Towhee on tree stump, not squawking … for the moment.

Same with the Steller’s Jays who wait for peanuts every morning, quite patiently, on the back deck. “Good morning,” I say, as if these visitors have come to greet me, and not my peanuts. Sometimes they do make a funny little noise, one that seems rather un-jay like, and I wonder.

Steller's Jay, one of our "family" of nine, waiting for a peanut.

Steller’s Jay, one of our “family” of seven, waiting for a peanut.

Some birds can ‘talk’, of course, if by ‘talk’ you mean mimic. Ravens, for example, can even learn to mimic the human voice. (You can watch Terry the Raven “talking”, here, if you’re so inclined: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZyBNWVD70w)

And mockingbirds, starlings, crows, Northern shrikes, gray catbirds, and magpies mimic other birds as well as sounds in their environment. In recent years the blackbirds of Somerset England stirred up a lot of attention by incorporating all kinds of new sounds into their repertoire, sounds like ringing cell phones that no one ever answers (how annoying is that?) and ambulance sirens and car alarms. Good grief.

Common Blackbird, in Warwick Square, London, England. Photo by Charles Sharp. CC license.

Common Blackbird, in Warwick Square, London, England.  Gorgeous photo by Charles Sharp. CC license.

Are these just blackbirds with a wicked sense of humour? Or maybe they’re bored, needing a little variety in their staid British lives? Or could it be that they simply enjoy learning? The more I learn about wild birds, the less certain I am about any of the many theories that abound.  Whatever their motivation, though, the Somerset blackbirds may be, inadvertently, setting themselves up as desirable mates, avian Lotharios. Female blackbirds, after all, much prefer males with experience, and in the world of blackbirds (and many other birds) song variety relates to maturity which relates to experience. So the more sounds a blackbird has in his repertoire, the more attractive he is as a mate.  (Makes sense to me. Certainly, I’ve heard of lots of crazier ways to pick a mate.)

Other city birds are also responding their environments in unique ways. According to the work of Hans Slabbekoom  of the Netherlands, Little Greenbuls, Great Tits, and European Blackbirds are changing the sound frequency of their calls in order to be heard above the din of the city.

Little Greenbul. Photo by  Hechtonicus. CC license.

Little Greenbul. Photo by Hechtonicus. CC license.

 

Great Tit. Photo by Francis C. Franklin. CC license.

Great Tit. Photo by Francis C. Franklin. CC license.

And scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered that, after millennia of singing at daybreak and onwards, some European Robins living in big cities have begun to sing only at night!

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

Why? Because it’s just too hard to make themselves heard during the day above the din of vehicles and people. And according to a study at the Berlin Free University (now there’s a concept) nightingales in that city now sing louder on weekday mornings than on weekend mornings when the streets are quieter.

But it’s not just the songs of birds that are being affected by us humans, it’s also their stress levels. Birders who use smartphone apps in the field may be doing the birds they love a serious disservice, according to Graham Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England. He writes: “… when birds hear their song played over and over again, they are likely to think it’s a rival male encroaching on their territory and fly out to see what’s going on. While that might make for a great photo, it also means that the nest is unprotected and vulnerable and the bird is stressed.”  Especially during nesting season, when the chores never end (building the nest, brooding and feeding the babies, eating and preening, keeping the nest clean, watching for predators, and on and on) the last thing a wild bird needs is the stress of thinking some other bird is after its territory!

But back to the Spotted Towhees and Steller’s Jays in my back yard for a moment. I wonder now if my talking back or morning greeting has unintended negative effects. Does it mean something completely different to the bird than it does to me? Does the towhee hear a threat? Does the jay hear a message that confuses and stresses him? Should I just keep my big trap shut?! I sure hope that’s not the case because, honestly, I doubt I can.

 

 

Posted in Bird Behaviour, Bird Canada, European Birds, Songbirds | Tagged | 1 Comment

The birds are leaving and the leaves are falling

As I am typing, more and more species are leaving not just my area, but all of New Brunswick. There aren’t any shorebirds left in Woodstock although you can still find a nice variety all along the coast, but the numbers are decreasing. Most of the warblers are gone, almost all the flycatchers & vireos have moved on and it is even hard to find a blackbird now that it is almost November.

Since I last posted I’ve checked two more species off my life list (Ruddy Duck & Greater Scaup) and added three first timers to my county list (Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead & Common Tern). As I have mentioned before, there is very little data for species found in Carleton County. There are 15 counties in New Brunswick and right now Carleton is in just 12th place. http://ebird.org/ebird/subnational1/CA-NB/regions?yr=all&m=

Before I started submitting to ebird, Carleton was in just 14th place so I’m slowly bringing them along. One of the few birders around here has found at least another 10 species in the area and I’ve been trying to convince them to start using ebird. No luck yet, but I am hopeful!

 

Here are a few pictures from either my backyard or in the general area;

Yellow-rumped Warbler – I’ve had a couple right in my yard during the past few weeks. It is one of the few types of warblers left to be found in NB.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

Green-winged Teal – I have been finding a lot of different species of duck in the local sewage lagoon. I finally found a bright male just a few days ago and it was close enough to the fence to get a decent picture.

Green-winged Teal

 

White-crowned Sparrow (juvenile) – A few showed up in my yard a couple of weeks ago. The only reason I could even figure out what this was is because there were two adults with the two juveniles.

White-crowned Sparrow

 

Fox Sparrow - A few of these have been spotted in the province during the last few weeks. They really stand out from other common sparrows that visit backyard feeders.

Fox Sparrow

 

 

Rarities for October;

 Blue-winged Warbler – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/blue-winged-warbler-grand-manan?context=featured

Fork-tailed Flycatcher – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/fork-tailed-flycatcher-7?context=featured

Western Kingbird – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152348833516697&set=gm.774899702556113&type=1&theater

Stilt Sandpiper – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=341262749378731&set=gm.728884417206538&type=1

Hooded Warbler – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=971328029560953&set=gm.777835475595869&type=1&theater

 

I can close again by mentioning that “my” Carolina Wren was still around this past weekend. It has been raining since Monday and that was the last day that I heard and saw it in my yard. Even if I don’t see it around this weekend, I got to have it around for more than two months!

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Waterfowl, Wood Warblers | Leave a comment

Birding hot spots in Metro Vancouver: Jericho Park

SOSP-Jericho-2014_02_05

Song Sparrow | February 2014

With more than three years of birding and bird photography under my belt in the Metro Vancouver region, I am starting to have just enough photos and birding trips to talk about various birding “hotspots.” I have therefore decided to talk about these over the next few months. With a bit of luck, I might include a few places in the rest of the province. I hope you will like this feature!

This month, I will focus on what is probably Vancouver’s least known birding hotspots, namely Jericho Beach Park. Situated in the northern part of Vancouver’s West Point Grey neighbourhood, this park includes a variety of ecosystems, including ocean beach, a mostly deciduous forest, extensive ponds, a marsh, several areas with fruit bushes (including invasive Himalayan Blackberries) and several grassy areas. Recent rehabilitation efforts have focused on restoring the area’s wetlands and other natural areas, as well as removing some of the invasive plant species. It culminated in June 2013 with the removal of the Jericho Park Marginal Wharf.

The number of birds listed as having been seen in Jericho Park on the eBird website is an astonishing 210 species. This number is surpassed only in four birding hotspots in Metro Vancouver: Iona Island (Richmond), Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary (Delta) and Maplewood Conservation Area (North Vancouver). Jericho is virtually tied with Stanley Park, which has 5 more species on eBird.

If you are looking to see as many of the region’s iconic species and do not have a lot of time on your hands, this would be an ideal spot. On a bad day, you should be able to see at least 25-30 species, but on a good one, you could easily top 50 at this one location and could probably accomplish this in less than three hours.

The following photo gallery includes bird species that I photographed in the past couple of years in Jericho:

SPTO_male-Jericho-2014_02_05

Spotted Towhee | May 2014

RWBL_male-Jericho-2014_03_14

Red-winged Blackbird | March 2014

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Red-winged Blackbird (female) | May 2012

RNDU_male-Jericho-2014_03_14

Ring-necked Duck | March 2014

NOPI_female-Jericho-2014_09_13

Northern Pintail | September 2014

GCSP-Jericho-2014_04_02

Golden-crowned Sparrow | April 2014

GBHE-Jericho-2014_04_02

Great Blue Heron | May 2014

FOSP-Jericho-2014_02_05

Fox Sparrow | May 2014

COHA_juvenile-Jericho-2014_10_11

Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile) | October 2014

BUSH_male-Jericho-2014_05_21

Bushtit | May 2014

BCCH-Jericho-2014_05_21

Black-capped Chickadee | May 2014

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fall Splendour – enhancing your bird photography with autumnal colours

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A Yellow-rumped Warbler – the colours and leaves clearly convey that this autumn!

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

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I like Chickadees any day of the week, but I like them even more with a splash of colour in the image

I love the quote above from Camus as I wholeheartedly agree with him. Having grown up in Australia, I find the autumns here so much more vibrant with colour – thanks to the many native North American deciduous trees. And just as an image of a bird is enhanced with a colourful spring flower, so is an image that uses fall colours.

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

However, the colourful leaves fall fast & I find I only have 2 to 3 weekends before most of the colour has gone. My favourite spots to visit are obviously those with colourful trees & shrubs, but if I can find a spot that has water (a lake, pond, stream or even irrigation canal!) then I get twice the bang for my buck as water reflections of fall colours are just as good, if not better!

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An Eared Grebe paddling through some reflected aspens.

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A Northern Shoveller stretched its wings

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The same Shoveller giving a view from the back

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A Canada Goose on a pond of liquid gold

Indeed, even the common local birds that don’t always rate a 2nd glance normally (gulls, anyone?) look a little more interesting with some autumnal upgrading…

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Ring-billed Gull reflected

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Ring-billed Gull again – this was taken in the middle of the day

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Bonaparte’s Gull with a little splash of fall yellow

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Forster’s Tern

So here is my 2014 ‘fall collection’ – I hope you enjoy. And if the leaves are still around where you live in Canada I very much encourage you to get out & try some using the fall colours to transform your images into something a little more colourful!

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Wood Ducks are a might handsome bird on any background, so I was pretty chuffed to get to shoot this one on a fall background!

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Wood Duck again – not a lot colours from the rainbow missing here!

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Hooded Merganser – love that hair do :)

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

Canadian Bird/Birding Groups

Especially in Canada, autumn is the beginning of fall migration any a busy time of year for many of us. One way to to learn about rare birds in your area or large concentrations of migrating species is through different forums, listservs, and Facebook groups. Luckily, there are some very good groups for the provinces and territories, below.

And for those provinces and territories without groups, it’s the perfect opportunity for a birder or group of birders to start one. I started a Facebook group for Alberta Birds in June 2012, and we’re now up to 2,019 members. It’s a great place for birders, naturalists, and photographers, and we also get a lot of members who plan to travel to Alberta for birding.

:: British Columbia (Birding British Columbia) and (British Columbia Birds)

:: Alberta (Alberta Birds)

:: Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Wildlife Photographers)

:: Manitoba (Manitoba Wildlife)

:: Ontario (Ontario Birds)

:: Quebec (BIRDS!! Quebec)

:: Newfoundland (Newfoundland Birdwatching Group)

:: New Brunswick (Grand Manan Birders) and (Birding NB Oiseau NB)

:: Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Bird Society)

:: Yukon (Yukon Birds)

:: Nunavut (Birding Nunavut)

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Here Comes Fall

September brought us into the middle of shorebird movement through Prince Edward Island. Shorebirds have been moving through on their southward migration for a while now and we were eager to get on with it by participating in a brand new, world-wide event called World Shorebirds’ Day. The actual event took place on September 6, with an option to do it on the 7th. We chose Sunday, September 7 with the hope of attracting additional birders. We stared our day at Locke Shore on Malpeque Bay. The tide was high and did not allow us to explore the area as much as we would have liked but did allow for some interesting sightings among which were Semipalmated Sandpipers as well as some accommodating Nelson’s Sparrows.

Semi palmated Sandpiper

Semi palmated Sandpiper

Nelson's Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrow

From Locke Shore, we moved to the dock in Summerside we were able to locate a nice pair of Ruddy Turnstones as well as numerous gulls and a lonely White-winged Scoter.

One of two Ruddy Turnstones seen in Summerside.

One of two Ruddy Turnstones seen in Summerside.

Afternoon found us in Carleton Cove, where we were able to pick up our first highlight of the day; 19 Red Knots among Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover and both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

One of the nineteen Red Knot seen in Carleton Cove

One of the nineteen Red Knot seen in Carleton Cove

Another highlight of the day was a Red-necked Phalarope located in the Borden Lagoons. This bird is not common on PEI and had been reported previously as having been see recently on the PEI listserve.

Red-necked phalarope

Red-necked phalarope

The month ended with the Bennett Birding Classic. The Classic is a fundraising event for the Island Nature trust. Four teams took part by exploring the Island from early morning to late in the evening in a challenge to find the most birds in 24 hours. Funds are raised by sponsorship or donation base on the number of birds counted as an option. One team was able to list total of 102 species, including: 2 Peregrine Falcons and a Cackling Goose! Another team was able to locate Sandhill Cranes, another unusual visitor to PEI.

Greater Yellowlegs counted in Noonan's Marsh during the Bennett

Greater Yellowlegs counted in Noonan’s Marsh during the Bennett

Great Cormorant counted at Orby Head during the Bennett

Great Cormorant counted at Orby Head during the Bennet

Overall it has been a fine month of birding on Prince Edward Island and we are looking forward to what October brings!

Posted in Shorebirds, Songbirds | Tagged | Leave a comment

Seven Steller’s Jays and a Hungry Hawk

By Sharon McInnes
Gabriola Island, BC

Since you’re reading this on BirdCanada, you’re probably already interested in birds. You might, like me, not only watch them but also go to some lengths to create a bird-friendly habitat in your back yard, complete with native flowers and fresh water and protection from prey.

Steller's Jays at favourite bird bath.

Steller’s Jays at favourite bird bath

You might also feed them. I do, in the fall and winter anyway. It’s the middle of September as I write this, and I recently started tossing a few handfuls of peanuts-in-the-shell to “our” seven Steller’s Jays every morning.

Waiting for breakfast

Waiting for breakfast

The morning banquet

The morning banquet

It’s fun to watch them fly in, squawk at each other, then carefully choose their peanuts, stuff one or two in their mouths, take them away to the garden or a faraway tree or the eaves of one of the sheds to squirrel them away for the winter.

One jay, one mouth, two peanuts.

One jay, one mouth, two peanuts.

First, I'll crack open one to eat right now.

First, I’ll crack open one to eat right now.

Then I'll poke one into the garden with this twig.

Then I’ll poke one into the garden with this twig.

There - that's got it!

There – that’s got it!

Then a little dessert: leftover suet that falls onto ground when Flicker eats.

Then a little dessert: leftover suet that falls onto ground when Flicker eats.

It’s fun, that is, until a hawk shows up. That’s what happened today. I put the peanuts out, then stood at the patio door in my bathrobe, eating my bowl of granola and watching the jays swoop down for their morning peanut-hiding routine. One jay (the one with the brightest eyebrows) was on the table, busy weighing peanuts (gotta get the heaviest one!) when, in my peripheral vision, I noticed another bird in mid-swoop toward the table top.

Mr. Big Blue Brows

Mr. Big Blue Brows

My brain must have recognized something a little different about this particular motion because I immediately looked up – to see a hawk, probably a Cooper’s. Another jay and I reacted at the same time. I dropped my bowl of granola, waved my arms, and yelled like a madwoman; he flew down, his wings spread all the way out, crest high, squawking like crazy. The hawk veered off.

Unfortunately, it only went as far as the maple tree in the front yard, maybe twenty feet away, where it sat, watching.

Cooper's Hawk. (Public Domain image.)

Cooper’s Hawk. (Public Domain image.)

The jays soon flew back down to the table with the peanuts. NOOOO! I flung all the peanuts onto the rattan patio chair, tossed a big pillow over them, then ordered the jays “Back in the trees!” They looked at me, quizzically, their little heads bent. NOW!! I flailed my arms, yelling so loudly that the yappy dog up the hill must have thought it was his signal to start his morning barking routine. They complied, though, headed for the backyard cedar tree, and sat among its branches.

Jay in a tree - waiting for further instructions?

Jay in a tree – waiting for further instructions?

Were they thinking I’d lost my mind? Wondering what happened to all that cootchy-cooing they usually get in the mornings?

This went on for half an hour, the jays staying in the trees (mostly) , the hawk staying in the maple tree (mostly), me ON GUARD (full-time) on the deck. When a jay would venture out, I’d yell and flail my arms. He’d scoot back. A few times the hawk changed trees, causing a whole new level of commotion. A few times, when a jay left the safety of the trees, the hawk glided down after him – always to the background music of my screeches and screams. These must have put his timing off because the jays always managed to escape – at least when I was watching. But eventually, I lost sight of the hawk and could no longer hear it (which means absolutely nothing, I realize) and it was time to get dressed and catch the ferry for a dentist appointment in Nanaimo. All the way there, I thought about what I was doing: putting the jays’ already precarious lives at risk by feeding them peanuts.

Bushy beard Jay

Bushy beard Jay

Don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly fine with letting nature takes its course. Hawks need to eat too, obviously. But I don’t want to set a breakfast table that makes the jays easy pickin’s for a hungry predator. It’s a big picture dilemma, of course – the risks and benefits of feeding the birds.

I’d love to hear how you handle it. (Please share your ideas in the Comments section below.)

 

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