Photo essay from the West Coast

After a two month absence, which I can only blame on my busy family life and poor memory, I thought I would share a few photos taken in Vancouver and Whistler this month (January 2015).

In order to save time and space, I should mention that all of these photos were taken with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED. The birds in question were not called in, set-up or baited.

American Dipper, Whistler, BC:

AMDI-Whistler-2015_01_02

Black Oystercatchers, Stanley Park Seawall, Vancouver, BC:

BLOY-Stanley_Park_Seawall-2015_01_13

Glaucous-winged Gull, 1st year, Wreck Beach (near UBC), Vancouver, BC:

GWGU_1st_year-Wreck_Beach-2015_01_14

Hooded Merganser (male), Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC:

HOME_male-Stanley_Park_Lost_Lagoon-2015_01_13

Mew Gull (winter plumage), Wreck Beach (near UBC), Vancouver, BC:

MEGU-Wreck_Beach-2015_01_12

Pacific Wren, UBC (Point-Grey Campus), Vancouver, BC:

PAWR-UBC-2015_01_06

Ring-billed Gull (winter plumage), Wreck Beach (near UBC), Vancouver, BC:

RBGU-Wreck_Beach-2015_01_14

 

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Shorebirds | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Winter Birding, Calgary-style – a Photo Essay

Well winter is well and truly upon us, but thankfully in Calgary it has been fairly mild (at least compared to the record snowfalls last year) and the we’ve had some great winter bird visitors within the city limits already.

Firstly, it was fantastic to see the return of some of the winter finches, after being almost entirely absent last season. Among my favourites would have to be the Pine Grosbeaks for their gorgeous colours and their love of fruits which make for luscious backgrounds in the depths of freezing winter:

I believe this is an immature male Pine Grosbeak

I believe this is an immature male Pine Grosbeak

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A female Pine Grosbeak

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Another female Pine Grosbeak getting stuck into the frozen berries!

 

A male Pine Grosbeak in its striking scarlet plumage

A male Pine Grosbeak in its striking scarlet plumage

Redpolls have not been around in great numbers yet, but I have at least seen a few:Redpoll

The Cedar Waxwings of summer have departed, while their cousins the Bohemians have taken up residence in their massive flocks:Bohemian_Waxwing (by Tim Hopwood)

But of course, we shouldn’t forget the hardy birds that call Calgary home from the always-cheerful Black-capped Chickadees:Chickadee

to the ever-challenging-to-photograph Brown Creepers:BrCreeper

and the Pileated Woodpeckers which are a treat for the eyes no matter what the season:Pileated_Woodpecker#2 (by Tim Hopwood) Pileated_Woodpecker#3 (by Tim Hopwood)

A couple of personal highlights this winter has been seeing not one, but two of the smallest owls in the province – the Northern Saw-whet Owl:NSW1

and a pair of diminutive Northern Pygmy Owls that have gained celebrity status in the local birding community:NPO1 NPO2 NPO3

Snowy

Check out those eyes! This Snowy was just on the outskirts of Calgary.

And last, but by absolutely in no way least, it wouldn’t be a proper winter in Alberta without the arrival of the majestic Snowy Owls which birders and non-birders alike seem to be enchanted by:

I look forward to sharing more winter bird photography in my next monthly blog!

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January Birds

With winter upon us, most of our activities during December focused on the provincial Christmas Bird Counts. We had fine weather during most of the month so they mostly went off without a hitch.

Our first Count was at East Point, starting with our meeting at the Lighthouse at the crack of dawn to view the sea ducks. We were rewarded with 2 large rafts of ducks including Common Eider, Black and White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and a group of 13 Harlequin. Also noted were Black Guillemot, Black-legged Kittiwake and a Razerbill. Other count highlights were Bohemian Waxwings, American Tree Sparrows, a Great Horned Owl and a late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

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Birding East Point

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Bohemian Waxwings

Our next Count was in the area of Prince Edward Island National Park. Nothing too unusual came to light on this count but what was interesting was the lack of sparrows and finches. Finally, coming across a few Pine Grosbeak saved the day for us.

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Pair of Eagles on the Causeway to Robinson’s Island.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – PEI National Park

The final two Count Circles were Hillsborough and Montague. One of the first birds to come to light in the Hillsborough Count was a Snowy Owl located on the old bridge piers. The following day, birders looking to see that owl came to find two more for a total of three Snowy Owls located in and around the Bridge. Since those birds were seen we have also had other sightings reported in Charlottetown, in the National Park and in other areas across the province. Of the two counts, nothing unusual has been reported other than the owls but they fit nicely into the Echo Year that others have contended.

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Snowy Owl on the old bridge piers in Charlottetown reported during the Hillsborough Christmas Bird Count.

With January, and the new year, we are getting into the planning for 2015. This will get us into activities such as the PEI Winter Woodlot Tour 2015 (January 31) and generating interest in the Great Backyard Bird Count (February 13-16) . After that we will be looking forward to Spring. Bring on the birds!

 

 

 

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Christmas Bird Count & New Brunswick Winter Bird List

Birding during the winter months in New Brunswick is quite different compared to the other three seasons. The following chart was posted on a birding site one time and sums up what a lot of birders feel throughout the year.

Birders here get quite enthusiastic about the Christmas Bird Count, but if I could, I would also add the Winter Bird List to the chart above.

Since 1996, Gilles Bellieveau has maintained a list of species that are found in New Brunswick during the winter specifically from December 1st to the last day in February. Each list can be found here; http://nbwinter.gbnature.com/

To date there have been 154 species found so far this year and 254 overall since 1996. These totals will go up one species by the end of today however as a Northern Lapwing was found this past week in St.Martins but was just positively ID’ today. This is the third major rarity this winter in NB, the other two being a Barn Owl and a Long-billed Curlew. I posted links below that have a picture of each of the three rarities. I found a rarity on my own a few weeks ago right here in Woodstock. A Canvasback was in the lagoon and stayed just long enough to be included for the Winter Bird List (link to my blog also below). I often get the itch to check more species off my life list so it was nice to find a lifer without even having to leave!

 

 

The Christmas Bird Count website for NB can be found here; http://users.xplornet.com/~maryspt/CBC/CBC.html and is maintained by David Christie. If you were to look under Compilers, you would see my name beside the community of Hartland. For the past few years there hasn’t been one there (it is 15 minutes north of Woodstock) so I convinced three other birders that we should go for it. We decided December 20th would be the main day and you can also keep track of different species found within the count period of December 14th to January 5th.

After seven plus hours of driving, the four of us found 29 different species within a 24 km radius. Before and since the count, another 10 species have been found so we were quite pleased that this brings us up to 39. I have some of the previous data for Hartland and the high was 36 for the day and another 4 found during the period. There are a few species that we could realistically still find and we still have a good week and a half to do so (ex. Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Purple Finch).

The number of different species found and total overall number of individual species vary greatly from every county in the province. Some communities don’t have a count at all and others really could use more volunteers. Ideally for Hartland, I would have split the area up with another two groups of two and put more time into walking some trails. We were pretty tired near the end of the day too because we had a lot of ground to cover with just two vehicles. Hopefully next year we can do some more recruiting!

 

Here are photo’s of some of the species that I have found in December;

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – I found two last week!

Pine SiskinPine Siskin – I don’t see a lot around here but we did find two on Saturday


Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak –  we were pleased to find two flocks in two different areas (18 in total) for the Hartland CBC

Gadwall

Gadwall – it was out of the ordinary for this duck to still be in Florenceville last week

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler – from the data I do have related to the Woodstock CBC, this is the first time one has been found at any time during the count period for this area

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker – I’ve had one in my yard three times this month!

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow – this is the latest I’ve had one in my yard. It has been a mild December here. I had three one day last week.

American Robin

American Robin – also the latest I’ve seen a robin in the county

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren – still here! It stuck around long enough for the count period and just might be around on the 28th, we’ll see!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll – they’re back! A flock of 60 or so was in my neighbor’s tree last week

Snow Bunting

Snow Buntings – found my first flock of the winter on the 20th for the Hartland count

Rarities for December

Canvasback – found by me! http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/2014/11/canvasback.html

Northern Lapwing – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152609011985028&set=pcb.766507430110903&type=1&relevant_count=4

Long-billed Curlew –  http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/long-billed-curlew-courlis?context=featured

Barn Owl – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/forum/topics/barn-owl

Tufted Titmouse – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/forum/topics/tufted-titmouse-1

 

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/

Posted in Bird Canada, Birdwatching Events, Canadian Birds, Citizen Science, Winter Birding in Canada | 4 Comments

Shorebirding – A Week at Weed Lake (Part 2)

Cover - Willet1As I mentioned in last month’s post, in 2014 I made a concerted effort to see and photograph shorebirds  on their fall migration as the birds headed south and stopped over at Weed Lake, just east of Calgary.

An immature Black-necked Stilt

An immature Black-necked Stilt

While last month’s post focused on the sandpiper family, Part 2 of that post – this post – shows a sample of some of the plovers, stilts, avocets and other shorebirds I photographed at Weed Lake over the last weekend in July and first weekend in August.

American Avocets sweep across the shoreline.

American Avocets sweep across the shoreline.

American Avocets have always been a favourite species of mine and I think it has something to do with their delicate features – the slender upturned bill, long blue legs and attractive plumage. As it was fall, some of the avocets were molting into basic plumage, but they were still nonetheless a very photogenic bird.

American Avocet - up close and personal.

American Avocet – up close and personal.

Black-necked Stilts were also present in good numbers, with a notable number of immature birds  – positive signs of a successful breeding season. Indeed, apparently breeding Stilts in the Calgary area were quite rare up until the last 20 years.

An immature Black-necked Stilt.

An immature Black-necked Stilt.

I find that stilts are like the ‘guard dogs’ of shorebirds – once they see you, they will yap away incessantly until you leave and this can go on for five minutes or more and almost always it’s me who quits the area first just to get a break!

Marbled Godwits were also busy puncturing the mudflats in their quest for a meal and were quite happy to plunge their whole head under the water to find a tasty snack.

A pair of Marbled Godwits feeding on the mudflats.

A pair of Marbled Godwits feeding on the mudflats.

Another group of shorebirds that were plying the shallow waters just offshore were Short-billed Dowitchers still largely retaining their rusty orange alternate breeding plumage. I still haven’t quite nailed down how to tell Short-billed from Long-billed Dowitchers, so please feel free to correct me if my ID is not correct!

A flock of feeding Short-billed Dowitchers.

A flock of feeding Short-billed Dowitchers.

Willets are also fairly common and about the size of an avocet and in my experience also they tend to share some that ‘guard dog’ habits of stilts – once they see you they’ll let you know!

A Willet - a fairly common sight at Weed Lake in late July.

A Willet – a fairly common sight at Weed Lake in late July.

One of the personal highlights of these shorebirding weekends was the opportunity to shoot two members of the plover family – the Black-bellied and Semi-palmated:

A Black-bellied Plover at rest amongst a flock of phalaropes.

A Black-bellied Plover at rest amongst a flock of phalaropes.

A Semi-palmated Plover sprinting a long the shoreline.

A Semi-palmated Plover sprinting a long the shoreline.

The larger of the two, the Black-bellied Plover, tended to be a fairly solitary bird and would patrol up and down a stretch of lakeshore, moving in fits and spurts and pausing in between to keep a wary eye on its surroundings.

A Black-bellied Plover keeps a close eye on things.

A Black-bellied Plover keeps a close eye on things.

The much smaller Semi-palmated Plover is like a smaller version of its cousin, the Killdeer. I saw these little plovers at various time, both as flocks and individuals. In each case, they were very skittish and would depart the area at the slightest alarm.

Semi-palmated Plover - I think I may have been spotted!

Semi-palmated Plover – I think I may have been spotted!

Semi-palmated Plover yanking a worm from the mud.

Semi-palmated Plover yanking a worm from the mud.

Which brings me to my few key tips for shorebird photography – all shorebirds are fairly wary, although it varies between species. Some will tolerate you at a distance you can get decent shots from (e.g. avocets) while others are unlikely to let you get near them if they know you are there – such as the aforementioned Semi-palmated Plover. So, I find it always pays to firstly scope out the general area with a pair of binoculars and determine what shorebirds are in the area, then slowly approach a spot where the birds will be in shooting range. This might take a few minutes, and it pays to pause – to let the birds get used to you – before advancing a little closer. Patience is key!

A Short-billed Dowitcher - shot from almost ground level, hence a completely out-of-focus background.

A Short-billed Dowitcher – shot from almost ground level, hence a completely out-of-focus background.

Some birds just will not let you get close if they know you’re there, so this is when a blind or otherwise concealed shooting position helps. This technique relies on finding a spot which you think will be attractive to shorebirds (a good spot is where you saw them feeding just before they saw you & flew off!), setting up & waiting for them to come to you. I’ve stayed in the same spot for 60-90 minutes and have seen all sorts of shorebirds come and go – half the fun is waiting to see what will turn up! Personally, I prefer to lie down behind some shoreline vegetation for concealment and wait. This achieves two things: one, I’m somewhat camouflaged so the birds hopefully won’t detect my presence; and two: shooting at ground level you can achieve nice out-of-focus backgrounds that draw the viewer’s eyes to your subject – the shorebird.

As for gear, I recommend the longest lens you have. Personally, when shooting birds I use a full-frame Canon 1Dx DSLR couple with a Canon f4L ISII 600mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter 90% of the time. But when it comes to shorebirds and their inherent skittishness, I will use a 2x teleconverter (which gets me a focal length of 2 x 600mm = 1200mm) more than half the time. With all that glass you need good light and high ISO to get sharp shots, and I’ve found my sharpest shots are when I stop down to f11 or f13 (I normally shoot at f5.6 for any other birds).

Shooting at ground level also works great for ducks, such as this young Northern Shoveller.

Shooting at ground level also works great for ducks, such as this young Northern Shoveller.

But be warned: shooting lying down for extended periods is definitely not for everyone. Be prepared for a stick neck/upper body afterwards, to literally ‘get down and dirty’ in the mud, and to also meet all sorts of creepy-crawlies (flies, midges, mosquitoes, spiders, hairy caterpillars, etc) in an up close and personal environment! To prepare myself, I try & do a little neck stretching in advance, wear a water-proof coat and pants and spray a bit of repellent on my cap. But at the end of the day, to get a quality shot it’s usually going to be a case of ‘no pain, no gain’! That said, when you land a killer image all the mud, bugs and pain seem to just disappear from your mind replaced by the satisfaction of nailing a great shot. And that’s the feeling that keeps me coming back for more!

Not a shorebird, but this Bald Eagle certainly made them scatter when it paid a brief visit to the lake!

Not a shorebird, but this Bald Eagle certainly made them scatter when it paid a brief visit to the lake!

 

Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

Birding Through December

December is starting out slow but we have been getting some interesting sightings across the province. We have had a number of reports in the past few weeks of Northern Cardinals being seen at various locations on the Island. Reports are of 5 individuals so far, including 4 females and a male. Cardinals are not common at all but are being seen regularly in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and are apparently breeding there.

Other reports that have been coming into our Listserve, and being reported on Birding on PEI, are some of our northerly visitors, the latest of which includes a Snowy Owl as well as Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Purple Sandpipers and Harlequin Ducks (the last two being seen on our field trip November 9).

 

Harlequin Duck - female

Distant female Harlequin Duck off Cavendish Shore, seen in early November

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Sanderling off Cavendish

So now our attention will begin to focus on the upcoming Christmas Bird Counts. There are four Counts in the province including East Point, Prince Edward Island National Park, Hillsborough (east of Charlottetown) and Montague. Hopefully, the weather cooperates and we will have an opportunity to record some great birds while enjoying the outdoors and having some fun.

Boreal Chickadee

One of the birds we will be looking for during Christmas Bird Counts – Boreal Chickadee.

As well, December 1 initiated the beginning of our Winter Bird List, a friendly competition with our neighbouring provinces to see who can see the most species from December 1 through to the end of February. Wish us luck!

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We are expecting Evening Grosbeak to be seen during our CBC’s and on our WBL.

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Red-tailed Hawks are frequenting the province and we love to add them to both Lists.

In the meantime, keep on birding and enjoy the spirit of the season!

 

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Kinder Morgan & The Birds of Burnaby Mountain

Nov. 26 2014:  On Gabriola Island a lot of us have been paying close attention to what’s happening on Burnaby Mountain, just across the Strait of Georgia. Maybe you’ve heard? Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based multinational oil company is drilling in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area,  a 576 hectare park created, in perpetuity, by a 1996 referendum of the citizens of Burnaby British Columbia. The drilling contravenes the by-laws of the City of Burnaby and is opposed by its Mayor, its citizens, and much of the province of BC.

Totem Poles on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake with thanks.

Totem Poles on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake with thanks.

The Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area (BMCA) is primarily forested park land. According to the BMCA Management Plan (2000) it is “one of the most significant natural areas in the Lower Mainland and the largest component of the Burnaby Parks System…. (it) represents an important island of wildlife habitat in a predominantly urban area.  … at least eleven species of provincially Blue and Red-listed wildlife may be found at or near Burnaby Mountain based on the types of habitats present and the geographic ranges of the species.”

The forest supports Black-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and occasionally black bears as well as bats, squirrels, rabbits, moles, voles, shrews and mice. And since it is part of the Pacific Flyway, habitat for more than one billion birds, you’ll find lots of birds here, especially in spring when large fallouts of migrants, including warblers, sparrows, vireos, flycatchers, hummingbirds, and tanagers, stop on the mountain for rest and sustenance.

Here are photos of just a few of the many birds that inhabit Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area year-round or use it during migration. (Many thanks to Adam Blake for the use of his gorgeous photos.)

Wilson's Warbler. Photo by Adam Blake.

Wilson’s Warbler on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

White-crowned Sparrow on Bby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

White-crowned Sparrow on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

Spotted Towhee on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

Spotted Towhee on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

Sooty Grouse hen, on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

Sooty Grouse hen, on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Adam Blake.

Other birds known to inhabit the BMCA include the Varied Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Black-throated Grey Warblers, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo and Warbling Vireo, Fox Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker, and Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Fox sparrow on Gabriola. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Fox sparrow on Gabriola. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Red-breasted sapsucker.  Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Red-breasted sapsucker. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Varied Thrush. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Varied Thrush. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Olive-sided Flycatcher. Photo by Dominic Sherony (CC License)

Olive-sided Flycatcher. Photo by Dominic Sherony (CC License)

Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by George Clulow, Burnaby Outdoors.

Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by George Clulow, Burnaby Outdoors.

The city of Burnaby has been working to preserve and protect the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area for years. For details, check out the BMCA Management Plan (2000) here:  https://burnaby.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?Id=1172

You’ll see nothing in these plans about pipelines being built through the mountain. So it’s hardly surprising that Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is fighting Kinder Morgan in the courts, and that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and a majority of BC citizens and First Nations are opposed to the project.

Gabriola's Save Our Shores Group joins the ptotest on Burnaby Mountain

Gabriola’s Save Our Shores Group joins the protest on Burnaby Mountain. November 26 2014.

I walked up the mountain today, Wednesday November 26. On the way, I looked for birds.  (It’s a habit I can’t seem to break.) I struck out. Not one. Is it any wonder?

Drilling equipment being used in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area by Kinder Morgan.

Drilling equipment in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area

We islanders are sensitive to the events unfolding on Burnaby Mountain. After all, if the Kinder Morgan pipeline is ever built, some 400 tankers a year, some of which are sure to be of the AfraMax variety holding 750,000 barrels of oil, will make their way from Burrard Inlet down the Salish Sea, right past this island whose shores we share with Harbour Seals, Steller’s Sea Lions, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Belted Kingfishers, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Bald Eagles, and a huge variety of species of geese, ducks, and gulls. Do you know how much oil it takes to kill a sea bird? One teaspoon. And how many actually survive, even after cleaning? Estimates run from 1-10%. Those are not great odds.  

Female Belted Kingfisher with fish. (Creative Commons photo. Thank you.)

Female Belted Kingfisher with fish. (Creative Commons photo. Thank you.)

Black Oystercatcher and Gull on shores of Gabriola Island.  Photo by Sharon Mcinnes.

Black Oystercatcher and Gull on shores of Gabriola Island. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Many of the bird species that live on the shores of Gabriola also live in and around Stanley Park on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, a nationally recognized Important Bird Area. It is from here that oil tankers carrying fuel from the Kinder Morgan Pipeline would depart for Asia. It is also here that Great Blue Herons nest in huge colonies.

Great Blue Heron at Brickyard Beach on Gabriola Island. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

Great Blue Heron at Brickyard Beach on Gabriola Island. Photo by Sharon McInnes.

The birds of Burnaby Mountain, Gabriola Island, the Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, the planet: they’re all at risk if this pipeline goes through. As if tar sands tailing ponds and habitat loss and climate change weren’t enough to deal with!

A GOOD NEWS UPDATE! Yesterday (Nov. 27) the BC Supreme Court refused to extend the Kinder Morgan injunction and ordered the company to leave the mountain by December 1. All 103 arrests for Civil Contempt were thrown out! Thank you to all the protesters, supporters, and to Judge Austin Cullen and the rule of law. 

 

Posted in Conservation | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Winter Birds of New Brunswick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rarities for November

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

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

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

 

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

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/

Posted in Bird Identification, Birdwatching Events, Canadian Birds, Winter Birding in Canada | 2 Comments

Shorebirding – A Week at Weed Lake (Part 1)

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

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pectoral Sandpiper3

A Pectoral Sandpiper combing the mudflats.

Pectoral Sandpiper4

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandpiper (immature) - in sunny light

Sandpiper (immature) – in sunny light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

A young Wilson's Phalarope

A young Wilson’s Phalarope

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

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

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

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

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

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Fraternizing with the Locals

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

blue-jay3a

Blue Jay

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

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

Black-capped Chicadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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

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

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

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser with a Mallard

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

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

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

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

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

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

 

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