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 | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Bird Canada | 10 Comments

Fraternizing with the Locals

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

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Blue Jay

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

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

Black-capped Chicadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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

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

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

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser with a Mallard

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

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

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

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

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

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

 

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On Being Heard Above the Din

By Sharon McInnes, Gabriola Island, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Greenbul. Photo by  Hechtonicus. CC license.

Little Greenbul. Photo by Hechtonicus. CC license.

 

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

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

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

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

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

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

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

 

 

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

The birds are leaving and the leaves are falling

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

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

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

 

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

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

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

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

Green-winged Teal

 

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

White-crowned Sparrow

 

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

Fox Sparrow

 

 

Rarities for October;

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

http://natethebirder.blogspot.com/

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Waterfowl, Wood Warblers | Comments Off

Birding hot spots in Metro Vancouver: Jericho Park

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Song Sparrow | February 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotted Towhee | May 2014

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Red-winged Blackbird | March 2014

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Red-winged Blackbird (female) | May 2012

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Ring-necked Duck | March 2014

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Northern Pintail | September 2014

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Golden-crowned Sparrow | April 2014

GBHE-Jericho-2014_04_02

Great Blue Heron | May 2014

FOSP-Jericho-2014_02_05

Fox Sparrow | May 2014

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Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile) | October 2014

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Bushtit | May 2014

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Black-capped Chickadee | May 2014

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Fall Splendour – enhancing your bird photography with autumnal colours

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

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

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

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

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

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

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An Eared Grebe paddling through some reflected aspens.

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A Northern Shoveller stretched its wings

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The same Shoveller giving a view from the back

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A Canada Goose on a pond of liquid gold

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

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Ring-billed Gull reflected

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

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Bonaparte’s Gull with a little splash of fall yellow

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Forster’s Tern

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

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

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

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Hooded Merganser – love that hair do :)

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments