The Birds, the Bees, and a Drought

This summer we’re “feeling the heat” as we deal with drought and worry about the threat of fire on our island. (Where would we go??) Water conservation is nothing new to any gulf islander, of course. Although Dennis and I have a good well, many islanders buy drinking water year round and use captured rain water, held in cisterns, for other purposes. My friends in Vancouver are now under Level 3 water restrictions, which means no watering of lawns or washing of cars, etc. They’re busy learning how to cope with limited water supplies. But no one I know here on Gabriola Island would ever waste precious well or captured water to keep a car clean or water a lawn. I guess we’re always on a self-imposed Level 3. And these days many of us, our household included, are catching most of the water coming out of our faucet in a big bowl and carrying it out to water selected plants in the garden, mostly the food. And we save our pre-shower water (what would “normally” go down the drain as the water is heating up in the morning) to replenish the bird and bee baths every day.

For two days this week, though, we got some RAIN! Not enough to replenish the aquifers or help the deep root trees, but enough to give a lot of the very thirsty plants and ground cover and birds a fighting chance.

Speaking of birds, our yard is inundated with families right now. I guess they know what side their bread is buttered on.

The Nursery

The Nursery

Our little “wild” back garden is a favourite nesting spot, especially for Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. I think they like the cover of all the salal as well as the weed seeds! So far it’s survived the drought quite well without any watering. This photo was pre-rain, after weeks of high temps.

Female Pileated Woodpecker teaching daughter how to use suet feeder

Female Pileated Woodpecker teaching daughter how to use suet feeder

When this Pileated Woodpecker mother and daughter showed up in the yard, I quickly stocked up on suet.

Juvenile getting suet "all by myself"

Juvenile getting suet “all by myself”

She quickly learned the ropes while Mom and Dad watched from a cedar tree not far away.

Juvenile Hairy  Woodpecker

Juvenile Hairy Woodpecker

I don’t see much of the parents but this juvenile Hairy Woodpecker is a regular. Note the beginnings of the red cap.

Hairy Woodpecker juvenile

Hairy Woodpecker juvenile

A nice bath is always good after lunch, especially in this heat!

Black-headed Grosbeak, juvenile male

Black-headed Grosbeak, juvenile male

For the first time this year, we have a big family of Black-headed Grosbeaks, parents and 3 offspring. I’ve bought more suet, the non-drippy kind, in bulk.

Female Black-headed Grosbeak in Cedar tree

Female Black-headed Grosbeak in Cedar tree

Not sure if this grosbeak is the mother or a juvenile. They look quite similar, although I think the mother’s plumage is slightly darker and more variegated.

Spotted Towhee with berry

Spotted Towhee with berry

There are two families of Spotted Towhees in the yard. One is based in the side garden (as above) and the other in the back garden. I think this is the mother of the side garden family. I’ve tried to get some photos of the kids but they’re just too rambunctious!

Juvenile Song Sparrow taking a bath

Juvenile Song Sparrow taking a bath

This is one of the two juvenile Song Sparrows from the back garden clan who constantly fight with each other. This one just won the battle for the bath. His sibling is waiting, out of sight, under the bath.

Anybody got a comb? Or feather blower?

Anybody got a comb? Or feather blower?

A quick dry off in the hot sun.

Red-breasted Nuthatch with nut

Red-breasted Nuthatch with nut

Honk honk honk!! This is the parent of a family of Red-breasted Nuthatches. For such a small bird, it’s amazing how far their “honk” carries.

Red-breasted Sapsucker post bath

Red-breasted Sapsucker post-bath

I haven’t seen any babies from this Red-breasted Sapsucker but he’s a regular visitor to the yard. This is the first time I’ve seen him in one of the bird baths.

Female Anna's

Female Anna’s

This spunky Anna’s female is a year-round visitor.

Mama Robin and baby in Japanese cherry tree outside bedroom

Mama Robin and baby in Japanese cherry tree outside bedroom

My what a big mouth you have dear!

My what a big mouth you have dear!

Love waking up to the robins!

Juvenile House Finch in plum tree

Juvenile House Finch in plum tree

Always lots of House Finches. This guy was gleaning bugs from the plum tree.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee enjoying a nut

Chestnut-backed Chickadee enjoying a nut

These little guys are so comfortable with us humans. If  I take the feeders down for awhile and am patient enough, they’ll eat from my hand. Chestnut-backed Chickadees are unique to the gulf islands, Vancouver Island, and the Pacific coast. Their Black-capped kin inhabit the Pacific Coast (though not the islands) and the rest of the country.

Bee bath

Bee bath

This is the first year we’ve put out a Bee Bath. Both honey bees and wasps feast on the oregano then have a drink. What would life on earth be without the birds AND bees?

Save the Bees cake by Brie, my multi-talented daughter

Save the Bees cake by Brie, my multi-talented daughter

How are YOU and your birds and bees coping with the drought?

Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

July Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard

Hello again!

This is not the busiest time of the year in my yard but there are still a few visitors making an appearance lately.  It’s quite noisy in the yard these days, actually, because we are being overrun with Grackle and Starling juveniles.  When you get 20 or 30 of them, man, can they make a racket!!

Once again, my husband and I are birdie empty nesters.  Our family of Tree Swallows officially fledged on July 4th.  Our resident pair successfully raised 5 chicks, once again.  Most exciting though, is that this was the first year that I was actually able to sit and watch 3/4 of the process. When we looked outside at 8:00 am that day, my husband was the first to spot 3 youngsters on the ground against the garage door, right below the birdhouse.

2015's first 3 brave little Tree Swallow fledglings

2015’s first 3 brave little Tree Swallow fledglings

As I watched over a period of another 3 hours, the other 2 came out, one of which landed right at my feet!   I kept a very close eye on them the rest of the day, having to rescue 2 of them from traffic.  They made their way out to the street and I had to shoo them off the road … I actually stopped one truck so I could do the rescue!  The adult Swallows are another huge hazard:  if I got within 10 feet of the juvies, I’d have about 20 adult Swallows dive bombing my head! Dangerous work!  By 2:30 pm, they were all gone …. safely, I can only hope.

Last 2 fledglings in the bird house for 2015

Last 2 fledglings in the bird house for 2015

Last Tree Swallow fledgling to leave for 2015

Last Tree Swallow fledgling to leave for 2015

Hubby and I went out in the woods for a ride in our Teryx (side by side 4 wheeler) last weekend and came across 2 separate families of Ruffed Grouse.  The juveniles are so freakin’ cute right now!  Instead of having a full head crest, they just kind of have a ….. spike …. for lack of a better term!

Juvenile Ruffed Grouse

Juvenile Ruffed Grouse

Their tail feathers haven’t completely grown in yet either so they are far from professional fliers at this point.  They stick pretty close to momma Grouse who is VERY protective of them.  With any luck this winter, we’ll have these lovely birds visiting the yard again for the season.

Protective Momma Ruffed Grouse

Protective Momma Ruffed Grouse

We’ve had many Robins in the neighbourhood this summer, successfully raising their families.  I’ve been putting out dried mealworms this summer …. first time I’ve ever used them (we can’t get fresh ones up here, that I know of).  The Robins and Crows love them!

Robin in the flowerbed

Robin in the flowerbed

A  neighbour of mine was lucky enough to have a family of Northern Flickers nest successfully in his yard.  They fledged just last week.  This morning, I took a short walk and had 3 Flickers fly over my head from different directions before I even reached the end of my own lawn!  What fun it’s been to have them around.

Purple Finches are still around but I haven’t seen any young from them yet.  The Goldfinches have mostly disappeared recently so I suspect it is nesting time for them.  Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows are around almost constantly.

Female Purple Finch in the Crabapple Tree

Female Purple Finch in the Crabapple Tree

We have also been lucky enough this year to have a pair of Eastern Bluebirds nesting in the neighbourhood.  They are getting closer to the yard!  I remain hopeful for next year.

Male Eastern Bluebird on a powerline over my driveway

Male Eastern Bluebird on a powerline over my driveway

My yard is getting much more colorful these days and will be a riot of color very shortly as my late summer plants burst into full bloom.  This Tiger Swallowtail loves the Honeysuckle blossoms as do the odd Clear-Wing Moth.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Honeysuckle Shrub

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Honeysuckle Shrub

Peony Shrubs

Peony Shrubs

Funky Bird in backyard garden!

Funky Bird in backyard garden!

Until next month ….. thanks for reading!

Tammie  :)

Posted in Boreal Forest Birds, Canadian Birds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Birding and Camping…it must be summer!

I love birding and I love camping (both of which I consider a form of ‘candy for the soul’), so when the two combine in summer I’m in a particularly happy place!

Spotted Towhee at Dinosaur PP

Spotted Towhee at Dinosaur PP

My first family camping trip this year was out to Dinosaur Provincial Park in south-eastern Alberta, world-renowned for its ‘badlands’ landscapes as well as the incredible amount and variety of fossils found there. The Park has a nice campground and also offers lots of short hikes for families with young children like me. And for the birder, you get to see several species that aren’t that common elsewhere in the province such as the Brown Thrasher and Lark Sparrow:

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Other more common birds include:

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

House Wren

House Wren

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

A great treat was to find and photograph my target bird of the trip, the Yellow-breasted Chat:TH1D0601d&b-v3-fb TH1D0463d&b-v3crop-fb TH1D0439d&b-fb TH1D0431v2-fb

But a word of caution if you visit Dinosaur: while birders like to spend a lot of time looking up, be sure to look down regularly here so that you don’t step on one of these:TH1D0078d&b-fb

….yes, the venomous Prairie Rattlesnake calls Dino home and I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to photograph and observe one at close, but safe, quarters. TH1D0157d&b-fb

However, it was right on the trail and you do need to keep an eye out. Indeed, the weekend following our trip a young girl was bitten by a rattler while running across the long grass behind the campground (she spent a week in hospital but is fine, I gather). All that said, personally I’d rather take my chances with a snake here than a bear at the mountain campgrounds…because unlike the snake, the bear is the one that will decide whether you live to tell the tale of your encounter!

A weekend back in Calgary allowed me to check some local ponds and some waterfowl were still putting on breeding displays, such as this Ruddy Duck:

Ruddy Duck performing the `bubble bath`courtship display.

Ruddy Duck performing the `bubble bath`courtship display.

but most seemed to be tending to their hatch year offspring, such as this American Coot that kept a close eye on me:

American Coot

American Coot

Our next camping destination was again to south-eastern Alberta, this time Kinbrook Island PP on Lake Newell. Flycatchers of all shapes and sizes were prevalent:

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Western Wood Peewee

Western Wood Peewee

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

While various gulls seemed to have taken up residence in a nearby field as well, this one here loudly proclaiming its rights to a roadkill ground squirrel it had found:TH1D1753

While at Kinbrook, I took a drive around the surrounding area to see if I could find any Ferrugionous Hawks of which I spied two at long range, but Longspurs were in good numbers throughout:

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Chestnut-collared Longspur

And while I was out shooting the longspurs, I was delighted to come across this small family of grazing Pronghorn:

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Back at the campground, the surrounding marshes are home to a number of Marsh Wrens who never cease to amaze me with their bottomless energy levels that enable them to sing (or rather chatter) away from dawn to dusk:TH1D1860d&b-fb

I`m always happy to photograph these little characters:

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Have a fun & safe summer!

Cheers,

Tim.

 

 

Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

May & June

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler during the Macphail “Birds & Breakfast”.

The birds are back, and are well into the breeding season. The morning chorus is slowing and many young birds have fledged. We have had a number of nice events and some good sighting. Here are a few of the highlights.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

American Redstart

American Redstart during Bain Birdathon.

 

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

 

Cedar Waxwing7

Cedar Waxwing at Campbell’s Pond.

 

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush at Bonshaw Park.

 

Northern Parula5

Northern Parula

Eastern Wood Peewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

 

 

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

 

Gray Partridge

Gray Partridge at Campbell’s Pond.

 

Wood Duck

Wood Duck at Borden Lagoons.

 

Willet2

Willet at Cape Traverse.

 

Yellow Warbler2

Yellow Warbler at Noonan’s Marsh.

Now we look forward to the passage of the shorebirds through our area as they will soon begin to migrate on their way south. Bring them on!

Posted in Bird Canada | 1 Comment

The Tar Sands, a Forest, a Billion Birds

In June 2012 I submitted my concerns about Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline (NGP) to the Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board (NEB). As I told the panel then, “Honestly, I’d rather be bird-watching, but sometimes there’s just no choice.”

Enbridge tanks

Images of Canada Geese on Enbridge’s oil storage tanks. Very annoying.

Of the 1161 citizens who made submissions to the NEB, two were in favour of the project. Nonetheless, in December 2013 the NEB approved the pipeline and sent it to the federal government for a final decision. Six months later, when Prime Minister Harper approved the pipeline, I thought of all those migrating geese that had already suffocated in tar sands tailing ponds. If you have the stomach for it, the article that follows includes a video of ducks struggling to get out of a tailings pond owned by Syncrude Canada Ltd in 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/no-charges-to-be-laid-in-case-of-duck-deaths-on-tailings-pond/article4590596/

Then I thought about the Boreal Forest, breeding grounds for at least 325 bird species, nearly half the species found in North America. Billions of birds.

The Boreal Forest. Photo by Olga Oslina. CC-image.

The Boreal Forest. Photo by Olga Oslina. CC-image.

It’s also home to the Tar Sands.

The Tar Sands

The Tar Sands

I thought about the slow and painful death of democracy in Canada.

Then I thought about my beloved coastline, about what an oil spill will do to coastal communities, to the sea birds and mammals and ocean, to the 127,000 people who work in the BC tourism industry. http://credbc.ca/role-energy-sector-bcs-economy/.

Brickyard Beach on Gabriola, part of the Bird Studies Canada Beached Bird Survey program

Brickyard Beach on Gabriola, part of the Bird Studies Canada Beached Bird Survey program

I ranted. I raved. I cried.

It’s three years later; I’d still rather be spending my spare time watching birds.

Great Blue Heron at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC

Great Blue Heron at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC

Instead, though, I’m here – writing, grieving, getting angry all over again as I try to decide whether or not to participate in the Public Hearing for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMPE).

The National Energy Board accepted my application to comment on this project over a year ago. The rules had changed by this time. Applicants now have to demonstrate (via a 10 page application form) that they’re either “directly affected” by the project (what coastal resident isn’t?) and/or have “relevant information or expertise”. In my application to comment I ticked both boxes then wrote about the impact of Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion on the more than one billion birds, including twenty-four priority bird species that migrate along the Pacific Flyway and the more than seventy species that make their home on or migrate through Gabriola Island, my home.

I wrote about my concern over oil spills and the fact that even one drop of oil can be lethal and that a significant percentage of birds die even after being cleaned. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/06/100608-gulf-oil-spill-birds-science-environment/).

Oiled birds after Exxon Valdez spill. CC license.

Oiled birds after Exxon Valdez spill. CC license.

I wrote about the chronic oiling of seabirds and mammals, oiling that will increase dramatically as the number of tankers leaving Burrard Inlet and heading down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, passing through several internationally-recognized Important Bird Areas, rises to over four hundred a year. I mentioned that these IBAs are critical for the maintenance of the world’s bird populations because they support millions of nesting, wintering, and migrating birds.

Since the NGP hearings, things have gotten worse. The Harper government (perhaps fearing that the NEB might be infiltrated by a bunch of radical birders?) included an amendment in its infamous omnibus bill C-38 stating that even if the NEB should recommend against a project, the federal government has the final say. To make matters even more depressing, the NEB took the “Public” out of “Public Hearing”. You can read about that here – if you’re up to more bad news: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/restrictive-neb-pipeline-hearing-rules-violate-charter-free-000011109.html

I’m not alone in my outrage. Expert intervenors and commenters are dropping like flies as the deadline to submit approaches. http://www.news1130.com/2015/06/07/cant-do-anything-to-make-kinder-morgan-hearing-appear-fair-neb/

Recently energy executive Marc Eliesen, an intervenor who withdrew, called the hearing process “jury-rigged with a pre-determined outcome“, “a public deception” by an “industry captured regulator.” (http://www.desmog.ca/2014/11/03/energy-executive-quits-trans-mountain-pipeline-review-calls-NEB-process-public-deception).

The deadline to make my submission to the NEB is July 23 and a big part of me doesn’t want to play the game. What, I ask myself, is the point? … Then I think of the birds. Somebody has to speak for them, right?

Black-headed Grosbeak at our suet feeder

Black-headed Grosbeak at our suet feeder

The problem I face now is that much of what I’d want to say is verboten. NEB rules no longer allow commenters to mention, for example, climate change. (!!) Yet, according to the 2014 Climate Report by the Audubon Society, it’s climate change – fueled to a considerable extent by tar sands oil production in Canada – that “seriously threatens bird species across Canada and the United States”. The report, “314 Species on the Brink”, warns that “half of all birds studied could see their populations drop dramatically on account of climate change.” (http://climate.audubon.org/)

Among the species identified as “severely threatened” due to habitat destruction brought on by climate change are some of my favourite backyard birds:

Varied Thrush female

Varied Thrush female in our yard

82% of the Varied Thrush’s summer range and 44% of its winter range has been lost due to climate change.

Hairy Woodpecker in our back yard

Hairy Woodpecker in our back yard

The Hairy Woodpecker has lost 78% of its summer range and and 30% of its winter range.

Hermit Thrush. Photo by Garry Davey.

Hermit Thrush. Photo by Garry Davey. (Thank you.)

The Hermit Thrush has lost 74% of its summer range and 31% of its winter range.

Western Tanager in our front yard, migrating through

Western Tanager in our front yard, migrating through

The Western Tanager has lost 70% of its summer range and 37% of its winter range.

A nest of Violet-green Swallows at Folklife Village, Gabriola Island.

A nest of Violet-green Swallows at Folklife Village, Gabriola Island.

The Violet-Green Swallow has lost 65% of its summer range and 38% of its winter range.

Pair of Common Ravens at Scarlett Point BC. Photo by Ivan Dubinsky. (Thank you.)

Pair of Common Ravens at Scarlett Point BC. Photo by Ivan Dubinsky. (Thank you.)

The Common Raven has lost 62% of its summer range and 35% of its winter range.

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Gary Stolz. USF&W photo. (Thank you.)

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Gary Stolz. USF&W photo. (Thank you.)

Some birds, including the Northern Saw-whet Owl have lost 100% of their winter range.

Trumpter Swans passing through Gabriola. Photo by Eileen Kaarsmaker. (Thank you.)

Trumpter Swans passing through Gabriola. Photo by Eileen Kaarsmaker. (Thank you.)

Others, including the Trumpeter Swan, have lost 100% of their summer range.

Even though birds are pretty good at adapting to their environment, the climate is changing faster than their capacity to adapt. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Yard Map folks explain: “Birds have a relationship with habitat that is often delicately intertwined with climate. As the climate slowly shifts so does the make-up of their habitats, sometimes removing expected food sources, favorite nesting locations, or sources of water. As warmer winter temperatures become more common, one way for some animals to adjust is to shift their ranges northward. But a new study of 59 North American bird species indicates that doing so is not easy or quick—it took about 35 years for many birds to move far enough north for winter temperatures to match where they historically lived. … Most likely, birds are not shifting their range faster because the vegetation they rely on as a part of their habitat shifts very slowly.”  http://content.yardmap.org/learn/habitat-defined/climate-change/  Gary Langham, lead investigator of the Audobon Climate Project, summarizes the issue: “Birds have wings. Trees don’t.”

The sad conclusion of the report is that unabated climate change is “likely to lead to the decline of bird populations across North America and, in some cases, outright extinction.”

Submitting my concerns about the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion without talking about climate change would be like discussing the obesity epidemic without mentioning the fast food industry. Or grappling with the plight of the First Nations in Canada without mentioning the residential school system.

But that’s not all. Not only is the NEB not interested in hearing about climate change, in its own words, it “does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.”

Yikes. I am not permitted to voice my outrage about all those toxic tailings ponds where so many birds suffocate and die every year? (Luckily, I did have an opportunity to that, to some extent, here, thanks to BirdCanada: http://www.birdcanada.com/drilling-for-oil-in-the-nursery/).

And I can’t mention my worry over the increase in the number of huge Aframax tankers that would ply their way down the west coast, home of the Pacific Flyway, just inviting an oil spill destined to devastate the human and animal communities along my beloved coast – for decades? (https://dogwoodinitiative.org/no-tankers/learn-more/more-info/kinder-morgan-backgrounder)

Just what – of any import – would I say? What would YOU say?

I wonder: what would one of those Mallards suffocating in a tailings pond say? Or one of the Trumpeter Swans that have lost all their summer range? Or one of the 325 species that breed in the boreal forest? Maybe I’ll speak for them, say whatever I darn well please. After all, they don’t know the rules have changed.

All photos are property of the author unless otherwise noted. 

 

Posted in Bird Canada, Boreal Forest Birds, Global Warming | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard

THacheHello from Manitouwadge, in Northwestern Ontario.

I will soon be contributing to Bird Canada on the 20th of each month, mostly about bird sightings in, near or around  my yard but sometimes, maybe my flowers too!

Just so you know, I am nowhere near being a professional birder or ornithologist … not even close!  But I do love to watch the birds in my own backyard and area.  I write a weekly birdwatching column for my little local newspaper, an article called Notes From the Bird Lady.  In it, I post about my sightings, mostly in my own yard but also of where ever I may happen to go.

Manitouwadge is in the Canadian Shield and Boreal Forest.  We see some amazing species up here year round.  This area is special enough that, since I’m a long term Project FeederWatch member, Cornell Lab of Ornithology selected my feeder station for placement of one of their web cams.  It is set specifically for Project FeederWatch and the webcam has been online from late October to mid April the past 4 years.

I hope you enjoy my future posts from my own backyard and whatever else happens to catch my eye!

backyard

Posted in Bird Canada, Boreal Forest Birds | 2 Comments

Birding the west, east and south of Canada…and even a little further!

The past month I’ve been hitting the birding pretty hard trying to capture as much of the spring action as I can. A highlight of the month for my first ever trip to the famous spring migrant trap – Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park located on the northern coast of Lake Erie, and also famous for being the most southerly point in Canada! Flying into Windsor in mid-May, I based myself in Leamington which is only a 15 minute drive away. One of the first birds I encountered was the Common Grackle, and there were a lot of them! This particular one pulled a rather dramatic pose as I focused on it and snapped away:TH1D4733d&b-crop2-fb

And in a relatively un-dramatic pose:TH1D4708The mornings I was there were quite foggy and the light was quite dull, especially in the forested areas, however I was able to get some shots of sparrows, grosbeaks and thrushes:

A Lincoln's Sparrow - small flocks of these patrolled the forest floor.

A Lincoln’s Sparrow – small flocks of these patrolled the forest floor.

Veery - a bird of the thrush family.

Veery – a bird of the thrush family.

TH1D4666

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

On an even more colourful note, this shot from Pelee – this time a Yellow Warbler. I was packing my gear into my vehicle after a long afternoon of birding when I noticed this fellow ‘attacking’ the hood of the car next to mine. It seems he thought his reflection was a rival male…he must have been surprised to find someone whose tenacity was matched only by his own!:TH1D4810-fb

But alas my main target – warblers other than the Yellow variety – were not overly abundant (at least that I could locate) and almost all were high in the tree canopy making for less than pleasing photographic opportunities. So, having noticed that another ‘warbler mecca’, Ohio’s Magee Marsh preserve on the south side of Lake Erie, was only about 2 hours’ drive away I decided to pay a visit…boy was I glad I did!  I know this is the Bird Canada site, but it seems sinful not to share some of the warbler riches I photographed there, especially since many of them also breed in Canada…so please indulge me just a little:

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler – a shy bird that did not like coming out in the open. This was the clearest shot I got in over an hour of trying!

TH1D5505d&b2-flcikr

One final highlight from Magee…a beautiful male Bay-breasted Warbler.

From a photography perspective, shooting warblers at Magee was much more preferable as there much less tall trees and therefore the birds were often much lower down. That said, the crowds were also quadruple the size of Pelee which made for pretty busy boardwalks and trails at times.

Returning to Calgary, it was time to catch up some of the local action. The lakes, ponds and marshes were still very active with many birds actively courting, displaying, ‘making little birds’ or just showing off their breeding plumage:

TH1D3868

A male Canvasback airing out its wings

TH1D4286-blog

Marbled Godwit – Weed Lake

TH1D3567

The ever-wary Pied-billed Grebe.

TH1D3472

Female Northern Shoveller

TH1D3466

A Greater (maybe Lesser) Scaup drake

TH1D6910-fb

A female Lesser Scaup

A Gadwall in full flight

A Gadwall in full flight

Two of my favourite birds – stilts and avocets – were very active:TH1D7691d&b-fb

 

Chasing away a Stilt...

Chasing away a Stilt…

...to get some privacy...

…to get some privacy…

...then lovingly rubbing bills. The male looked to have a spring in his step too!

…then lovingly rubbing bills. The male looked to have a spring in his step too!

And lots of action from the Black-necked Stilts too:

TH1D4097d&b

Mirror-like conditions on a crisp, still morning.

TH1D6571d&b-fb

Chasing away another stilt pair that came too close!

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The stilts also share the avocets’ habit of rubbing bills post-mating

I was also happy to get my first decent looks at Red-necked Phalaropes in breeding plumage:TH7D9658-fb TH7D9624-crop-fb TH7D9588-fb

and a Wilson’s Phalarope that was nearby for comparison:TH1D6699

While the omnipresent Red-winged Blackbirds are always characters and fun to shoot to what poses and faces they might pull:

TH1D4465d&b-v4-flickr2

A male Red-winged Blackbird in full display mode!

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A female Red-winged Blackbird, just as chirpy as the males!

Finally, a weekend trip to Waterton Lake National Park on Alberta’s southern border yielded yet another personal highlight – the Harlequin Duck:TH1D8006d&b-flickr-fb

I had been looking for bears but after 90 mins I’d seen a whole lot of nothing, so started heading for home. About a minute later I saw 4 folks carrying telephoto lenses coming down the road toward me ‘walking with a purpose’, so I stopped and asked if they’d seen anything. They responded, ‘Oh we’re birdwatchers’ and I replied ‘Same here’, and they then proceeded to tell me they had spied two male Harlequins heading upstream in our direction so they kindly let me join them and about two minutes later we got a wonderful swim/fly-by ! I was also very surprised that the birds were swimming upstream against the fast current, but it also meant they moved fairly slowly giving me time to better get them in focus.TH1D7946d&b-crop-fb1 TH1D7917d&b-fb TH1D8043d&b-crop-fb

Looking ahead to the summer, for me this means a lot of family camping trips to provincial parks in southern Alberta, so I hope to be able to showcase an even greater variety of birds next time!

Cheers,

Tim.

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How to Create a Wild Bird Garden Haven

To attract birds to your backyard, you will need to provide the three main conditions to help them thrive: shelter, food, water. We all know that birdbaths and birdfeeders will attract our feathered friends to our neighbourhood. In addition, there are things you can keep in mind while you plan for your landscaping and flower beds this spring that will make your yard bird-friendly year-round.goldfinch-on-eveprimroseHere is a list of plants that offer different bird-attractive features to implement into your landscape. All the plants listed will grow in New Brunswick, but please check which gardening zone covers your area to make sure they are hardy for your yard.

Trees and Shrubs for Shelter and Food
(whether used as single specimens, in groups or as a hedge)

Brown_ThrasherServiceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.), Hazelnut (Corylus spp.), Holly (Ilex spp.), wild Cherry (Prunus spp.), Sumac (Rhus spp.), Currants (Ribes spp.), Roses that produce rose hips (Rosa rugosa), Blackberries (Rubus spp.), American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), Hawthorn (Cratagus spp.), Barberry (Berberis spp.), Coral Beauty (Cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’), Burning Bush, the dwarf variety (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’), and Weigela spp.

branch-with-red-berries-on-the-riveYou can also incorporate Vines in your hedge or on trellises that birds love, such as American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), Grapes (Vitis spp.), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), climbing Roses, Trumpetvine (Campsis radicans), Clematis spp., and Morning Glory (Ipomea spp.).

Passion-FlowerYou can plant any combination of the above options in a mixed or a single specimen format, trim them to keep them small if you wish, and delight in the abundance of berries and fruits that they produce for your fall and winter visitors.

Perennials and Annuals In Containers and Garden Beds

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Garden Primrose (Oenothera spp.), Phlox varieties, Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), Cone Flower & Black-eyed Susan (Echinacea, Rudbeckia), Sunflower (Helianthus spp.), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia), Coreopsis, Marigolds (Tagetes), Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium spp.), Globe Thistle (Echinops), Yarrow (Achillea spp.), Aster, Osteospermum, Calendula, Chrysanthemum, Artemisia, Erigeron, Forget-me-not (Myosotis), Heliotrope, Borage, Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Passion Flower (Passiflora), Fuchsia, Lamb’s Ears (Stachys spp.), and all the herbs such as Catnip, Sage, Parsley, Rosemary, etc.

These flowering plants are most especially attractive to Hummingbirds:

Wandflower (Gaura lindheimeri), Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and varieties), Columbine (Aquilegia spp.), Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), Penstemon, Beebalm (Monarda didyma), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.), Peony (Paenioa spp.), Hibiscus, Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Echinacea spp., Oriental Poppy (Papaver spp.).

EchinaceaNow onto the Seed-Bearing Trees that attract birds. Many of these trees also attract Wood Warblers in the spring with their flowers where they find the first insects coming out of hibernation.

Maple, including Box Elder (Acer negundo): Finch, Grosbeak, Chickadee and Nuthatch.
Birch (Betula spp): Finch, Chickadee, Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Redpoll, Fox & Tree Sparrow.
Catalpa: Cardinal, Finch, Grosbeak.

House-SparrowAspen, Poplar, Cottonwood (Populus spp): Crossbill, Finch, Quail
Willow (Salix spp.) for their buds: Grosbeak, Grouse, Redpoll.

Grasses ~ Make a Grass Bed for Seed-Eaters

pheasant-w-grassesPlant these grasses in a site that gets full sun, and make sure you dig down to a depth of at least 6 inches. No need to fertilise. They are fast growing, but keep the seeds moist to help with germination. Make your grass area square or rectangular, and place a marker to show that it’s not just a neglected part of your garden, but a controlled plant bed. These are some of the most bird-loved grasses for their seeds.

Crabgrass (Digitaria): Chipping & Song Sparrows
Switchgrass: Panicum virgatum
Millet: Panicum miliaceum
Canaray Grass: Phalaris canariensis
Foxtails: Setaria spp.
Milo: Sorghum bicolour
Wheat: Triticum spp.
Annual Ryegrass: Lolium multiflorum

This is by no means the last word on what you can plant to attract birds, but it’s a start. I hope you have great birding days while you watch all the birds that come to enjoy the blooms, seeds and fruits from your landscape, containers and garden beds.

Many thanks to these references:

Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible, Sally Roth, Rodale Press, 2000.

Jean Sorensen: http://landscapenewbrunswick.com/winters-bounty-of-beautiful-berries/

Birds and Blooms website: http://www.birdsandblooms.com/gardening/drought-tolerant-gardening/top-10-low-maintenance-perennials/

Lotus Land: http://www.lotusland.org/learn-green-practices/attracting-beneficial-bugs-birds-and-butterflies/

Raymonde Savoie in Moncton, New Brunswick

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds, Hummingbirds, Wood Warblers | Leave a comment

The Characters

Sapsucker and downspout

A wake-up call on the downspout at 5:15 AM.

Each spring I look forward to a couple of characters to return to our yard. The first generally indicates his presence with the squeaky voice sounding like a child’s lost toy. Next, I usually hear him drumming on whatever might be the loudest thing he can find in the neighbourhood. From then on it is always the question of where he might be drumming next? This is the bird that looks like the local clown; the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

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On the Barbeque.

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On the neighbours old snowblower.

Sapsucker calling

Calling and drumming on the guard rail.

 

On his heels, he is closely followed by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This is another character that generally keeps us entertained throughout the summer by keeping an eye on what happens to be flowering as well as chasing and protecting “his” feeders from his completion including other males, perhaps mates and offspring.

R-t Hummingbird2

Back for the summer.

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“I can keep an eye on that feeder from here.”

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“Lookin’ my best!”

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“Maybe if I sit here, I can keep those bums away.”

Between these two characters, we will be busy all summer.

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A Lovely Bouquet of Crows

Have you seen the cartoon  – on Facebook recently – with two crows sitting on a beam in the middle of an expanse of lawn, looking off into the distance, for … something? Being a lover of both birds and words, I laughed like crazy. Not everyone does, apparently.

A birder joke

A birder joke

Crows are in the news in Vancouver these days, as they are every spring, as they protect their nests from potential predators, including humans walking down the sidewalk. You can read about the current “bit of a war zone” (in the words of George Clulow, president of B.C. Field Ornithologists) here: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/they-do-draw-blood-crows-are-terrorizing-pedestrians-in-a-vancouver-neighbourhood

 

Crow in Stanley Park. Photo by Doug Walkley.

Northwestern Crow in Stanley Park.  Photo by Doug Walkley.

 

Personally, I adore corvids, crows included. And I’m in good company. Van Gogh, for example, immortalized them in this 1890 painting.

Vincent van Gogh - Wheat Field with Crows (1890)

Vincent van Gogh – Wheat Field with Crows (1890)

 

And when I took a Cornell Lab webinair called The Secret Lives of Crows the instructor, Dr. Kevin McGowan, urged us to avoid the term “a murder of crows” on the basis that it’s unscientific and perjorative. He’d prefer, he said, “a bouquet of crows.” McGowan has done more than 25 years of research in Ithaca New York, home of Sapsucker Woods and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on the social and reproductive behaviour of the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – so I bow to his recommendation.

American Crow - wikipedia image

American Crow – wikipedia image

There are many corvids on Gabriola Island but most of them are Common Ravens or Steller’s Jays.

Common Raven

Common Raven – note the shaggy throat

 

Steller's Jay relaxing on our back deck

Steller’s Jay relaxing on our back deck

 

During the 2014 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) only 8 crows were counted here – versus 96 ravens and 35 jays. The crows we do have are the Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) which is slightly smaller than the American Crow and has a more nasal call but “is so similar that the two may in fact be the same species.” (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northwestern_Crow/id) Given the similarities, I think it’s fair to assume that McGowan’s findings apply to our crows too.

Northwestern Crow. Photo by Dick Daniels, CC license.

Northwestern Crow. Photo by Dick Daniels, CC license.

 

In Nanaimo, the city just across the strait, over 1000 crows made the 2014 CBC. Well, crows do prefer cities. They started moving into them, in large numbers, in the 1980s. McGowan explained that this press into urban environments was due in part to the fact that hunting is banned in cities. The sad fact is that crows have been hunted – by both farmers and “sport” hunters – since the dawn of time, and still are. In BC, crows are one of a select group of “Schedule C” birds that are not protected under the BC Wildlife Act – along with black-billed magpies, European starlings, house sparrows, rock doves and brown-headed cowbirds.

So, who can blame the crows, intelligent, social, family-oriented corvids that they are, for choosing to leave the countryside?  Besides safety from hunters, city living offers the advantages of readily-available food (crows have adapted to scavenging our leftovers) and fewer predators, including raccoons, squirrels, owls, and hawks.

Crows in parking lot in Nanaimo eating a dead bird.

Crows in parking lot in Nanaimo eating a dead bird.

 

McGowan’s research shows that city and suburban nests are subject to less predation than rural nests and that 57% of city nests compared to 48% of rural nests are successful. There are disadvantages, though, to leaving one’s home in the country.

Three Crows. Photo by Junior Libby. CC license.

Three Crows. Photo by Junior Libby. CC license.

 

For one thing, that city ‘fast food’ is less easily digestible than the crow’s natural diet of invertebrates, fish, snakes, frogs, small birds and mammals, bird eggs, nestlings, fruit and seeds. And besides being less nutritious, the garbage that crows ingest in cities also carries the risk of contamination. This may not be a big deal for an adult crow but it can be deadly for a nestling.

In the end, though, the advantages and disadvantages of the two habitats appear to cancel each other out in terms of nesting success, and they end up with the same number of fledglings.  Still, even though fewer rural babies survive, the ones that do are bigger than their city counterparts.  They’re heavier by 40-50 grams, have longer legs and bills, and possibly (although this not yet proven) larger brains.  McGowan and his team wondered: what makes the difference? Turns out it’s all that good old country grub. Researchers discovered this by feeding their city crows the kind of food mama crows would feed their babies in the wild. The result? Bigger nestlings.  It seems that crows will eat junk food – to their detriment – just because it’s there. Seems we humans have that in common with them.

 

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Citizen Science, Corvids | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments