Birding: Hard, Easy, or Something Else?

Ted Floyd, Editor of Birding Magazine, recently wrote an article called Birding is Easy and Hard (http://blog.aba.org/2016/03/birding-is-easy-and-hard.html). 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 (http://10000birds.com/how-many-birders-are-there-really.htm) 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.”

Posted in Bird Canada | Tagged , | 4 Comments

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.

Raven

Common Raven on my garage roof

Crow

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.

Robin

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.

Merlin

Merlin

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.

Starling

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.  🙂

Grackles

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 bthache@yahoo.ca 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

TH1D5119

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.

COWBIRD

Female Cowbird in the backyard April 2nd.

courting

The courting House Sparrows.

HouseSparrows

On top of their house.

house

Lots of nest building taking place.

rthawk

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!
~Angie

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.

 

BIRDS BIRDS BIRDS!

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.

 

DURING MIGRATION

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.” (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0144861)

 

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 www.gabriolaanchorrage.org

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

Redpolls1

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.
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Bird Tales From a Toronto Backyard – From Our Backyard to the Night Owls

February came and went in a flash.  Even with the extra day this year.  I guess having so many days with Spring-like temperatures made it one of the most pleasant February(s) we’ve endured in a few years.

The backyard didn’t present too much activity, or rather nothing out of the ordinary.  We were just going through the motions of the regulars coming and going at their choice.

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Our Project Feeder Watch counts averaged 10 species with 90 to 100 individuals, 75% + being Pigeons and House Sparrows. We were blessed with half a dozen Northern Cardinals usually coming in together at dusk.

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Hawk activity reduced to very few sightings which the other birds certainly did not mind.

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What really made February interesting was all the night Owl activity in our region. Snowy Owls to be exact. There was a time when we would not have believed that such an Owl visited the Toronto area. The irruptions in the last 5 years brought us many sightings. This time around, there was no irruption, and we thought it was going to be a season lacking for Snowy Owl sightings. This turned out to be true in one way as there have not been any regular reliable daytime sightings with the lake parks like many of us have been used to over the last number of winters.  But come nighttime, for myself anyway, they suddenly appear.

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The previous winter I was fortunate to have sightings of these Owls, often more than just one any given night on my way home from work. I started documenting all my encounters but when a lull in the sightings occurred for a number of weeks, I stopped logging. I heard that a total of 35 Snowy Owls were trapped and re-located from Pearson Airport in December of 2014. It made for a much quieter January. But as February rolled in, the Snowys started popping up again. I was regularly spotting these Owls after dark right up until my last sighting in mid-April of 2015.

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This season I spotted my first Snowy Owl on October 29, 2015. I went a full month before I saw my next bird. From that first Owl sighting until the end of January 2016, I accumulated 10 sightings in total. There have been far less Owls in our region this time around. I’d not heard about any trapping/re-locating at Pearson this season. So interesting that for different reasons, there still has been a lull in that same time frame.

February arrives and so did the Snowy Owl sightings or “encounters” as some call them. Luckily I did not discard my notes this time around. Through the 29 days of February I managed 23 Snowy Owl night encounters in my travels from work in Mississauga to our home in the west end of Toronto. I’m guessing that I’ve been seeing the same approximately half dozen Owls. Some nights I’ve spotted one, some nights two, my record is four. I’ve gone 3 or 4 nights without any Owl sightings and then night after night I am encountering them once again.

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They aren’t always so easy to spot. They aren’t always in areas where I can stop the truck and have a safe view of them, so I just keep driving. Night Owl viewing isn’t the best for photographs either. This is something I am learning how to capture record shots with manual camera settings, not using flash photography on the birds. Sometimes it works out well, other times it doesn’t. A lot depends on where the Owls are sitting, if I can make use of street lighting or not.

Here is a perfect perch for a nighttime photograph.

perfectspot

Here is a less than ideal spot. Just for the record is all I’m using such photos.

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The night sights have made for some interesting pictures though…

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Just as years ago I thought Snowy Owls would never be seen in Toronto, and I was proven incorrect. I never thought I’d experience, and have so much fun, birding at night in the winter. Seeing these Owls after a long evening at work is a blessing.

Last winter Angie woke me up at 3am one Sunday in February, asking me if I wanted to go look for some Snowys. She wanted to experience what I was enjoying. We managed to find 2 within a couple kms of each other not far from our home. I remember not being so enthusiastic in the waking moment but am happy we did go out and spot a couple.  It’s great when a couple share a passion.

Here is my favorite photo from February this time around.

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It wasn’t the nicest of nights as you can see in this next shot. The settings are different and so is the angle. A night most people wouldn’t think of stepping out of their homes to go look for Snowy Owls. I know I probably would not have either but since I am out and on my way home from work, I am not going out of my way by any means.

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Call me lucky. Call me a little spoiled. I will agree. I don’t tire of the views because I know it’s only for such a short amount of time.

A Snowy Owl at night can provide some memorable moments as they are much more active than any day time view I’ve had of one.  They hunt, often diving into nearby fields.  And seeing them where I have been, along back roads off the highway 401, I don’t need to step out of the truck to enjoy the views (or take a photo).

I encourage people to open their eyes to the wild world around us, even at night.  Just be safe about it and of course always remain courteous to the Owls.

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

Love is in the Air

On the day before Valentine’s Day, GROWLS (Gabriola Rescue of Wildlife Society) held a wonderful event in celebration of Bald Eagles. Aptly-named Love is in the Air: An Eagle Affair, the day included a tour of eagle nests and a talk by provincial biologist Ian Moul about the Gabriola Eagle Nest Monitoring Program. That part of the day was introduced by Gabriola’s very own Member of Parliament, the Honourable Sheila Malcolmson, long-time crusader for the coastal environment where Bald Eagles live and breed. Sheila urged us all to conduct our lives in a way that is “compatible with the eagles’ lives.”

Bonded pair at Orlebar Point in front of the Surf Lodge. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

Bonded pair at Orlebar Point in front of the Surf Lodge, Gabriola Island. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

 

On Gabriola, home to about 4000 people, we have 23 recorded nests and 49 known nest trees. GROWLS has been monitoring Bald Eagle nests for over 25 years with the support of the BC Federation of Naturalists’ Wildlife Tree Stewardship (WITS) initiative, whose purpose is to protect nesting habitat. Through their Community Mapping Network we know that there is a Bald Eagle nest every kilometre of coastline. Knowing where nest trees are is the first step in protecting Bald Eagle nesting habitat. Under the BC Wildlife Act, Section 34, these nest trees are protected by law, year-round. Removal or modification of a nest tree without a permit is punishable by a fine of $100,000 or one year in prison or both. If you live in British Columbia and have a concern about a protected tree call the Conservation Officer at 1-877-952-7277.

 

Nest in tree. Photo by Tawny Capon.

Nest tree with nest. Photo by Tawny Capon.

 

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are not, of course, bald. Even when young their heads are well-covered in brown feathers, their dark brown bodies mottled with white. By about five years of age, adulthood, they have white heads and tails, dark brown bodies and wings, and bright yellow legs and bills. From afar, the head might look bald but it certainly isn’t. The Bald Eagle has, in fact, 7000 feathers! (Thank you for this tidbit, GROWLS!) The adult female weighs about 12 pounds; the male is smaller by 25%.

 

Eagle up close and personal. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

Bald Eagle up close and personal. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

 

These majestic birds, national emblem of the USA since 1782 and spiritual symbol of First Nations peoples, live along the coast and inland on lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and marshes. Although once endangered because of hunting and pesticides, they have flourished since being protected by law.

 

Family of Bald Eagles along Whalebone. Photo by Bill McGann

Family of Bald Eagles along Whalebone. Photo by Bill McGann.

 

The call of the Bald Eagle is surprising, given the size and strength of the raptor.

Eagles calling 1. Photo by Les ...

Eagles calling. Photo by Les Hulicsko, Wandering Sole Images.

 

You can listen to these two eagles calling here: Eagles calling  (Thank you to Les of Wandering Sole Images for use of this video. To see more of his amazing nature videos, click here: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hulio7271)

That Bald Eagles breed during February probably has nothing to do with Saint Valentine – but one never knows for sure. Their preferred breeding home is a big gnarly Douglas Fir with a view of the ocean, their primary food source. Unfortunately, there are few stands of “old growth” trees left due to logging and development; the ones that do remain are gradually being lost to natural decay or are being removed because of their danger of falling on homes.

 

Nest. Photo by Tawny Capon.

Eagle Nest in tree. Photo by Tawny Capon.

 

At certain times of the year Bald Eagles will scavenge, in great numbers, in garbage dumps. But most of the time they eat fish, often preferring to nab a fish from another creature rather than do their own fishing. They’ll also hunt and eat mammals (rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, cats) as well as gulls and waterfowl.

 

Eagle with catch. Photo by Michael Auger.

Eagle with salmon. Photo by Michael Auger.

 

Once mated, at four or five years of age, Bald Eagles get down to the business of procreation. Nests are carefully constructed of sticks, grasses, weeds, moss, and sometimes feathers. A wonder to behold, the largest one on record (in Florida) was 2.9 meters in diameter and 6.1 meters tall. They can weigh up to one metric ton.

Nest with parent flying in. Photo by Tawny Capon.

Nest with parent flying in. Photo by Tawny Capon.

 

Unlike most birds, Bald Eagles lay their eggs two or three days apart. If food is plentiful all is well, but if not, the second egg or weaker ones may be eaten in order to maximize the chances of survival of the healthiest one. Nest success rates can vary between 26% and 75% depending on location.

Nest and baby. Photo by Tawny Capon.

Nest and baby. Photo by Tawny Capon.

 

Nest with young. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

Nest with young. Photo by Tina Kirschner.

 

Between first-year mortality rates, habitat loss and destruction, electrocution on power lines, and dwindling salmon populations, the life of a Bald Eagle is no piece of cake. Want to help? Here are a few things you can do:

  • Do not feed the eagles! (It’s not good for them or for the ecological balance of their habitat.)
  • Never disturb nest trees (whether known to be in use or not) from January through August
    • No branch clearing
    • No burn piles
    • Minimal noise (eg loud machinery)
  • Building a house? Make use of the BC Develop with Care Guidelines. Click here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bmp/devwithcare/
  • Participate in habitat protection: contact WITS at wildlifetree.ca
  • If you have a potential nest tree on your property, designate it a “Wildlife Tree” by contacting the Ministry of the Environment at 1-866-433-7272
  • Arrange for your power provider to install ‘bird diverters’ on power lines to help stop electrocutions. There are a variety of types of diverters. The one pictured here reflects sunlight in the daytime and glows in the night, acting as a visual deterrent. Several years ago, at the request of GROWLS, BC Hydro installed a series of these diverters along a Gabriola road where several eagles had been electrocuted. Since then, no eagles have been electrocuted along this stretch of road, as far as we know. Research in other places demonstrates their effectiveness. (http://www.conservationevidence.com/actions/265)

 

Bird Diverter. Photo by Iain Lawrence.

Bird Diverter on Berry Point Road, Gabriola Island. Photo by Iain Lawrence.

 

A HUGE THANK YOU to all the GROWLS folks for your tireless commitment to and passion for Bald Eagles and all the non-human living things that share the island with us.

 

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Nature Photography, Raptors | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – Feb.’16

Hello again!  Hope everyone had an enjoyable Valentine’s Day.

Believe it or not, it is time for the Gray Jay to nest!  Up here in NW Ontario, I believe the Gray Jay is the earliest species to begin nesting, usually in mid to late February.  The signs have been there lately too.  Twice this week, I’ve seen a pair feeding each other peanut butter from the log I have hanging with my feeders.  Last week, I was able to see this from 5 feet away, as one fed the other from my honeysuckle shrub while I was standing there watching.  I loved it!

Gray Jay

Gray Jay enjoying the rare sunshine

GJays sharing peanut butter

Mating pair of Gray Jays: one is feeding the other peanut butter …. SO sweet to see!

GJay eating peanut butter

Gray Jay on the peanut butter log

3 Gray Jays

3 Gray Jays: 2 are a mating pair, one is a loner

Redpoll numbers have finally picked up nicely in my yard and the bonus is that there are a couple of Hoary Redpolls in the mix.  The season for them started out very slow.  I normally have Redpolls at my feeders by the end of November but this year, although I would see or hear small flocks of them flying around, they didn’t come to my feeders until nearly Christmas and even then, the numbers were very low.  Now, I’m averaging 40 to 60+ at a time …. much better.  🙂

Redpoll at -35C

Male Hoary Redpoll

Male CRedpoll

Male Common Redpoll

Male & Female CRedpolls

Male (top) and female Common Redpolls

Hoary & Common Redpolls

Two Common (top) and one Hoary Redpoll

Female CRedpoll

Female Common Redpoll

Grosbeaks are here pretty steadily.  Evening Grosbeak numbers fluctuate from 5 to 20 per day.  Pine Grosbeak numbers are pretty steady around 15 at a time.

Male & Female EVGB

Male (top) and female Evening Grosbeak

Busy Feeders

Pine Grosbeaks with Common Redpolls

EVGBs on Birdbath

Male (right) and female Evening Grosbeak at my nearly frozen heated birdbath (it was -35C that day!)

Speaking of Grosbeaks, I had a visit from a very interesting one last week.  I thought at first that this was a female Pine Grosbeak with messed up colors but once I asked around to a couple of ornithologist friends, I found that this is actually a MALE Pine Grosbeak with a condition called Xanthochroism:  excessive yellow pigment instead of the normal red.  I’ve seen various forms of this before in the Pine Grosbeaks but never to this extent.  He’s stunning in lovely gold!

Pine with Xanthochroism2

Male Pine Grosbeak with Xanthochroism: excessive yellow pigment

Pine with Xanthochroism1

Male Pine Grosbeak with Xanthochroism: excessive yellow pigment

One or two Ruffed Grouse are still coming around almost daily.  A few days ago, this smaller Grouse spent an entire day in the yard.  She (I think) had breakfast at the feeders, then she made her way over to my spruce tree where she has a favourite perch in the middle of the tree.  She settled in there and spent the whole day resting, napping and looking around, well protected from the elements.  I have a perfect view of that spot from my office window.

Grouse hiding in feeders

One of two Ruffed Grouse that visit daily. This one is the smaller of the two.

Two Crows come in to fight the Blue Jays for peanuts.  It can get very noisy sometimes but the Crows are actually quite shy and jumpy.  I don’t mind having them around one little bit either.

Crow

Crow eyeing up the peanuts on the platform feeder

A few Chickadees come around off and on all day long.  This little Black Capped Chickadee finally sat still just long enough for a quick snap.  I’ve been very lucky in the past two weeks to have a couple of quick (VERY quick!) visits from this fellow’s cousin, the Boreal Chickadee.  In almost 12 years, these are the first two visits from a Boreal that I can be sure of.  I’ve heard them nearby before but have never seen them in the yard until this month. No photos of them ….. yet.

Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee

And that’s about it for this month.  By the time you hear from me again, it will be just as spring is officially arriving!  Doesn’t that make you feel good?

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Bird Canada | 15 Comments