Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – May 2017

Hello again and welcome to the May Long Weekend!

Spring has been very slow in coming up here.  We had a brutal ice storm at the end of April, just when many migrants were arriving.  It didn’t get too cold but we received nearly 6″ of ice pellets followed by an inch of freezing rain and then the temperature dropped to nearly -10C.  The 6″ of ice pellets froze into a solid block of concrete EVERYwhere.  The birds were absolutely desperate for food so word was put out online throughout the entire region:  Don’t even bother with feeders, just throw seed out by the handful, as much and as often as you can.  That’s what I did for 3 entire days, going through more seed in that week than I did in the entire month of February!

My foot-tall rabbit statue was half buried in ice.  A Robin showed up for cracked corn with the Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Tree Sparrows & everyone else

A small portion of the birds feeding on top of the ice in my backyard in the days following the April Ice Storm.

I had quite the assortment of birds in the yard following that storm, including:

Two pairs of Yellow Rumped Warblers … they nibbled on cracked corn & the peanut feeder for a week.

A very unhappy male Yellow Rumped Warbler

White Throated Sparrows

American Tree Sparrows

Lots & lots of Purple Finches & Pine Siskins

A small flock of Rusty Blackbirds like this male with Grackles, Starlings & Red Winged Blackbirds.

Many Dark Eyed Juncos

There was a fall-out of Fox Sparrows throughout the region. I’m normally lucky to see 1 or 2 in a year …. at the end of April, I had *7* in my yard!

A single Mourning Dove

This poor Ruffed Grouse came flying in while I was throwing down cracked corn. She didn’t care how close I was, she dove right into that feed!

It was incredible the number of birds in the yard that week …. well over 200 at a time!  I was very glad I still had lots of seed left from the winter so I could continue to put out an assortment for as long as they needed it.  I put out black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanut hearts, peanuts in the shell & a blend of safflower, peanuts, sunflower seeds & dried fruit.  They sure appreciated it since it was a good 4 days before that ice began to soften!

Spring finally started showing a bit after that storm and some lovely, colorful migrants arrived.

White Crowned Sparrows

Tree Swallows: their nesting season may begin a little later than normal due to the cooler weather but they seem to like the new birdhouse 🙂

2 very handsome Rose Breasted Grosbeaks arrived this week, the first ones I’ve seen in a couple of years.

A Common Loon with a perch minnow for breakfast.  A good assortment of Ducks have also returned.

Lesser Yellowlegs, a type of Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs, a type of large Sandpiper

A small flock of Goldfinches finally found my yard this week

A good number of Sandhill Cranes are back in the area for nesting season

Along with watching all of these recent migrants, my husband and I completed our first-ever American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey last weekend.  Like the Owl survey, you don’t watch for these birds, you listen for them after dark.  In our 10 scheduled stops, we heard the mating call (peent) of 4 Woodcocks and got buzzed by a Snipe that flew low & loud over our heads …. great fun!

During this upcoming long weekend, I will be completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon.  I have surpassed my goal in donations so I’m sending out a huge thank you to all who donated.  Any funds I raise go to Bird Studies Canada for conservation & research.  I will post my results next month.

And in ending, in typical fashion for the upcoming May Long Weekend up here, we had another snowstorm today, May 18th!  It started with rain, turned to freezing rain & ice pellets, then turned into 4″ of heavy, wet snow.  Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll see my season’s first Hummingbird today.

Brand new feeder for the 2017 Hummingbird season … snowed in!

Enjoy the ‘first official long weekend of Summer’, stay safe & thanks for reading!

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Welcome back birds! – Spring birding in Calgary, 2017

2017 has flown by for me thus far. While I have been managing to get out and go birding, most of it has been outside of Canada – exploring some of the other wonderful avian species to be found in birding meccas such as south-east Arizona, Ohio and more far-flung locales such as Mexico and Costa Rica. As such, this post represents something of a round-up of my Canadian birding for the start of this year.

First off, a Northern Hawk Owl decided spend part of the winter on the outskirts of Calgary where it hunted voles in Aspen-fringed, snow-laden fields. The only access was from the side of a fairly busy road with very limited parking and it was not the most ideal photography location so I only spent about 30 mins there. As an aside, I noted that passing motorists, seeing big super-telephoto lenses on tripods (not me, I hardly ever use a tripod), seemed to think these were speed cameras and would often slow to a crawl as they came past!

Another owl that got the Calgarian birding population excited was a Barred Owl that spent a good part of Jan and Feb residing in one of Calgary’s main parks in the centre of town. Barred Owl are not particularly common in Calgary, and this bird would be a ‘lifer’ for me, so I made a number of trip in an attempt to see it. Despite being taunted and teased by many, many images of this bird being posted by others, this owl eluded me for quite some time. Finally, on one trip when I was just about to return to my car with an empty memory card once again, a little piece of out-of-place brown caught my eye and as I took a closer look the ‘brown’ turned out to be the wing feathers of the superbly-camouflaged Barred Owl! After 5 minutes alone with this beautiful bird I left it as I found it, and headed home a very happy camper. Finding a bird is always satisfying, and finding it on your own after trying for some time is even better!

On a trip out west through the Rockies to see what was stirring at the end of winter…I found the answer was: not much! However, a flock of Clark’s Nutcrackers saved the trip and it was nice to one on a natural perch, and not on a car in the Lake Louise parking lot :)…

With the approach of spring, the thawing of ponds and other water formations also heralded the return of waterfowl. A few brief trips to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary yielded some of the ‘regulars’ such as Common Mergansers…

A new pose for me when it comes to mergansers 🙂

… and Common Goldeneyes…

… as well as the ever-present Canada Geese loudly honking their presence:

Out on the prairies, April is the main month of lekking for the Sharp-tailed Grouse and I was once again able to visit a lek site and enjoy 40 males and 5 females doing their famous drumming, dancing, fighting and mating:

One unexpected, but gratefully received, encounter was a fine-looking coyote that came strolling right through the lek:

Interestingly, the grouse did not scatter as I though, but just stood and watched…presumably because they felt could escape if needed, but didn’t want to give up their hard-won patch of lekking territory.

I took a lot less images this year, but filled the gap with video footage which is something I have just begun trying my hand at. While one can get some stunning photos at these leks, I feel that video is really the only medium that truly can capture the frenetic sounds and actions that you witness at these leks. And this has been borne out by the much greater interest (relative to my pics) that my young kids showed in a few brief clips I shared with them!

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet in a hurry.

Finally, what would spring be without the northern passage of colourful warblers & other songbirds up through Alberta.

An Orange-crowned Warbler showing off how it earned its name.

Even the abundant Yellow-rumped Warblers look ever so handsome in the breeding plumage. These particular birds were all from the same flock:

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle sub-species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon’s sub-species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle x Audubon’s sub-species??

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle x Audubon’s sub-species??

With the current debate to re-separate the sub-species of Audubon’s and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers, I thought a montage of the above would make for an interesting comparison as these 4 birds (same flock) show both Audubon’s, Myrtle and possibly hybrid markings…

As I wrote this blog, more & more waterfowl are returning and it’s always great to see the Scaups re-appear…they have such curious faces…

I look forward to seeing what else spring brings in the coming weeks!

You can see more of my wildlife images at:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/timjhopwood/

https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

Cheers,

Tim.

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T.O. Backyard – Spring Things

Hello! Welcome back to our Toronto backyard and slightly beyond. Spring is in full swing, migrating birds coming back to our region (or passing through, heading further north), and for some odd reason a winter species still remain here in early May.

We just started a 2 week vacation so please excuse the rushed photographic blog this month. I hope you enjoy the sightings I am sharing as much as we’ve enjoyed seeing them.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks made a short stop at our safflower feeder. It’s been 3 years since we’ve encountered these birds at our feeders.

The male.

The female.

Eastern Bluebirds have been passing through and any close to home sightings are a thrill.

Male Bluebird.

Female Bluebird.

Odd for us but not exactly unusual is a Cooper’s Hawk hanging around. Normally for us they leave by March or so and we don’t see this species again until early Autumn.  It’s made a few attacks at the Pigeons who frequent our backyard.

A Rusty Blackbird I spotted at a nearby park. I can count on one hand how many encounters we’ve had with this species of bird (and it’s been a few years). So spotting this one around the corner from us recently was great!

A pair of Great Egrets are hitting some local ponds the last few weeks. Big beauties that are a joy to watch hunt the ponds.

No shortage of Northern Mockingbirds around us now. The holly bush in our yard is bare once again so it’s not often they come in for a stop.

Tree Swallows are back, claiming nest boxes in most of the parks. We’re monitoring a number of nest boxes in our area now.

This White-crowned Sparrow has been in our backyard for almost 2 weeks now. He’s bopping around, singing his song and we enjoy every day he’s here because any time now he will move along, heading further north to nesting grounds.

A pair of White-breasted Nuthatches are visiting us many times every day. Not uncommon for a lot of people but it is for us. Most years we see the odd one in fall migration and that’s it. We haven’t had any overwinter with us in over 5 years. With a pair, obviously they are going to nest close by. We’ve also got a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches still coming in. They overwinter every year with us but are usually gone by March.

No shortage of Red-winged Blackbirds anywhere. They are our first real sign of Spring. The females just started showing up in the last couple weeks while the males started coming in late February. I love these fierce birds, standing up to just about anything that nears their nest, no matter the size.

A few days we were treated to the sounds, and a few sightings of Field Sparrows. Their call is unmistakable much like that pink beak of theirs.

Local Eastern Screech Owl occasionally showing from this nest box. We never see young since first seeing it a few years back. The Owl does disappear through the warmer months so this may have been one of the last views until later in the fall.

And probably the coolest story around here is the appearance of this male Downy Woodpecker. As you can see, he is banded. My wife noticed the band while we were having coffee on the back deck. It was my mission that afternoon to get the band numbers with my camera. About 70 photos over the next 5 hours, I finally got the band and reported it.

The bird was banded in November 2014, in a woodlot about 3 kms from us. It was a 2012 hatch bird (or earlier). He’s at least 5 years old. A little survivor. And testimony to the positives of banding birds. Everyone is delighted to hear about the encounters with banded birds that are still alive. The kicker is the bander is a friend of ours! She was thrilled to learn about the Woodpecker finding our pure suet feeder.

Dark-eyed Juncos are still with us which is another unusual sighting for May.  They are also showing in the parks, so it’s odd to see one and then seconds later spot any of the Warblers we’ve been encountering such as Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Yellow and Black & White.

Black & White Warbler.  They race around the trees in similar fashion as Nuthatches.

Black-throated Green Warbler.  Now that’s one heck of a black throat!

As always, we appreciate those who stop in for a read of our blog entry. Enjoy the remaining weeks of Spring… and the birds passing through!

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Surrounded by Snipe

A few years ago, I discovered the snipe.  There was this strange moving sound, a rapid hu-hu-hu-hu-hu, seemingly right overhead though I could not find its source.  I had never heard one before, but wondered if it could be the winnow of a snipe (produced by the modified outer tail feathers).  A quick listen to some recordings on the internet when I returned home confirmed it, and ever since, the month of April sends me in search of snipe.

Last year, squinting against the rising sun, we actually managed to see them in flight: tiny, long-billed black specks, whizzing across the sky.

And this year, well, this year was the best year yet.  As we listened, delighted, to their winnowing, and spotted them in the sky above the marsh, we began to hear abrupt peent! calls coming from the cattails.  First here, then over there, then there, and there, and there.  It was the vocal call of the snipe, and though we could not see them, they were all around us.  Filled with wonder and delight, we stood there listening, absolutely and utterly surrounded by snipe.  I’m not sure now if I had a silly smile, or if my mouth was hanging open as I held my breath.  But either way, those really are the best birding moments.

Wilson’s Snipe in flight – note the outspread outer tail feathers

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Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – April 2017

Happy Belated Easter to all!

Spring is a very confusing season up here in Northern Ontario.  Temperatures can change by upwards of 30 degrees in 24 hours or less.  Last week is a good example of this.  On April 9th, we reached a daytime high of 21C.  The next day however, the temperature plummeted and we had -10C wind chills.  It’s painful when that happens!

Ruffed Grouse in snow just before the big 21C melt

I’m sure it must create some confusion in the birds as well.  A mixed flock of blackbirds, including Grackles, Starlings and Red Winged Blackbirds showed up in my yard when it was nearly 20C and then they got hit with those wind chills the next day.  On top of that, we had wet snow over the Easter weekend, about 3″ worth.  The only ones who didn’t really seem to mind were the Juncos!

Finch Fest just prior to the big melt – Redpolls & Pine Siskins

Recently returned Dark Eyed Junco sitting on my hummingbird ornament

I’ve been watching the birds in my yard pairing up for the season.  Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Crows, Ravens and Red Breasted Nuthatches have all been in pairs in my yard in recent weeks.

Male (above) and female Hairy Woodpeckers

Pair of Red Breasted Nuthatches

I’ve had a small assortment of Finches vising the feeders lately.  The Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks have moved on north but in their place, I now have Purple Finches and Pine Siskins.  I expect to see Goldfinches any day now.  Evening Grosbeaks will likely stay for the summer now, to nest.

Purple Finches with Pine Siskins

Handsome male Purple Finches

Evening Grosbeaks

I recently noticed one Pine Siskin that was more overall yellow than the rest. The term for this is Xanthochromism: an excess of yellow pigment

Along with the pair of Crows, other blackbirds are now visiting the yard daily.  I have mixed flocks of Grackles, Red Winged Blackbirds and Starlings coming around.  I’m really hoping to see Yellow Headed Blackbirds and Rusty Blackbirds again this spring.

One of ‘my’ Crows in the Easter snowfall, having a drink from the birdbath

Some of the Grackles and colorful Starlings visiting my yard

Recently, I received a report from a friend of mine that she had seen a pair of Trumpeter Swans on a pond off the back road toward our camp.  My husband and I took a drive out there the next morning to try and find them but no luck.  My husband did happen to see them the next morning, when he was on his way to work.  Others have now reported seeing them as well … they have been in this pond now for nearly 2 weeks.

Trumpeter Swans … see the Goldeneye Duck in behind? 🙂

We might have missed the Swans that day but we did see a nice assortment of ducks and some geese including:

American Black Ducks (male is on right with bright yellow beak)

A trio of Canada Geese

Female Hooded Merganser

A male Common Goldeneye displaying for his mate

My favourite: the male Hooded Merganser

A pair of Mallards

Synchronized Hooded Mergansers!

Another recent trip out on the dirt roads showed that the Bald Eagles returned in March, once again.  Such majestic beauty!

Adult Bald Eagle

And a classic sign of Spring:  The Robin.  I went for a walk around my neighbourhood yesterday and saw at least 20 of them in less than a half hour!  I was also lucky enough to see a Fox Sparrow and 2 Turkey Vultures.

The first American Robin sighting from my backyard this season

My busiest birding season is now on my doorstep.  On the evening of Friday, April 21st, my husband and I will be conducting our annual Nocturnal Owl Survey.  On May 5th, we’ll be completing our very first American Woodcock survey.  On May 20th, I’ll be completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon (please follow this link if you would be interested in sponsoring me … all funds I raise go to Bird Studies Canada!  You can also email me at bthache at yahoo dot ca for other methods of donating).  And on May 27 & 28th, we’ll be participating in the 9th annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival .

On a final note, the Cornell webcam in my yard has now been shut down for the summer season. Thank you to all who watched ….. we’ll be back up and running around the first of November.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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T.O. Backyard – Deck Birding

Birding the backyard from the deck.

Living in Ontario, the first day of Spring is always welcomed to a birder, as it signifies that Spring Migration is just around the corner! But for me this year, the first day of Spring put my birding activities to a halt. A fall on the stairs at home gave me a broken right foot, not a good way for a birder to start Spring.

The winter weather hung around the first couple weeks of Spring, so it was easy to remain in the house, and thankfully just as cabin fever was setting in, some Spring like weather arrived. It was an absolute joy to sit on the back deck and watch the birds in our backyard. Signs of Spring are everywhere!

The male Goldfinches are going through their Spring molt and becoming bright yellow.

A male House Sparrow claimed this Nuthatch house, and is trying to attract a female to his new, fancy digs.

The return of the Red-winged Blackbirds signifies the return of Spring to us, no matter the date on the calendar.

The Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds always arrive together to our backyard every Spring.

Such welcomed brightness on a cloudy day.

We have a pair of Robins making themselves at home in our backyard.

Year-round but sporadic, it’s nice to have some Mourning Doves back with us.

Seems everyone has nest building on their minds.

Still, a few of our winter birds are hanging around, but we know it won’t be long now before they disappear until Fall.

We had a couple pairs of Red-breasted Nuthatches with us all winter.

About a dozen Juncos are still with us.

A few White-breasted Nuthatches spent the winter with us as well.

The Hawk sightings have really dwindled, except for the local pair of Red-tailed Hawks that nest nearby. The Mockingbird hasn’t been seen for awhile but he may be back to enjoy our bird baths later in the Spring. Our year round regulars like Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Downy Woodpeckers always make the backyard enjoyable, but I’m not going to lie, there are are two species I am most looking forward to returning for the summer; Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds!

I read the Baltimore Orioles are just across the lake, so the feeder went up this weekend.

Ready and waiting!

All pictures were taken Sunday April 9th in our backyard by my hubby, Rob Mueller. He’s been taking great care of me! Here’s hoping the boot-cast if off by our next post.

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Duck, Duck, Swan

Duck, duck, swan! is the best way to describe my bird sightings in the month of March.  Early in the month, I spotted many goldeneyes and a gorgeous pair of “Hoodies” (Hooded Mergansers) along the rough and rushing Otonabee River.  As the ice retreated over stiller waters, rafts of Buffleheads and Common Mergs appeared.  But all through the month, I’ve been watching the swans, and so this post is just for them.

A family of Trumpeter Swans live around the little village where I work.  I often spot them in one of two ponds on my way to or from work, and during the day see them flying over.  Their call, a sort of honk that sounds a bit like a goose with something caught in its throat, brings us all running outside to see them go over.  This month, among my many sightings of them, I had my best view of them yet.  Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me that day, but there’s something special about just looking with your own eyes, without the distraction of a camera.  The pair of Trumpeters stood in a stubbled field maybe fifty feet from the road and I couldn’t help but be staggered by their size.  These swans are big!  And though my sightings of these swans have become quite regular, they are special nonetheless.

Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from eastern North America over two centuries ago.  In 1933, there were reportedly only 77 breeding in Canada and 50 breeding in the United States.  Before their reintroduction, the last Ontario record was of a migrant from the west shot in 1886 on Long Point, Lake Erie.  As a result of the Ontario reintroduction program, initiated in 1982, today the province once again has a self-sustaining population, with over 1000 trumpeter swans in the south-central part of the province as of 2009.

Even though this post is called duck, duck, swan, I think these photos need to be titled goose, goose, swan.  They do give some good size reference – Canada Geese aren’t small, and these swans positively dwarf them!

“In migration they fly at such immense heights that often the human eye fails to find them, but even then their resonant, discordant trumpetings can be plainly heard.  When seen with a glass at that giddy height in the heavens, crossing the sky in their exalted and unswerving flight, sweeping along at a speed exceeding that of the fastest express train, traversing the continent on the wings of the wind, their long lines glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, they present the grandest and most impressive spectacle in bird life to be found on this continent.  When at last they find their haven of rest they swing in wide majestic circuits, spying out their landfall, until, their spiral reconnaissance ended and their apprehensions quite allayed, they sink gently down to the grateful waters to rest, drink, bathe and feed at ease.

E.H. Forbush in A Natural History of American Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 1939

 

You can read more about the reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swan in Ontario here:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1522367?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://www.wyemarsh.com/swans

https://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/2009/03/29/trumpeter_swans_making_a_comeback_in_ontario.html

Posted in Bird Conservation Canada, Conservation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Alison’s Fishing Birds

By Sharon McInnes

When I first read Alison’s Fishing Birds, just published by Caitlin Press, my impulse was to co-opt children from the playground, gather them around, and read them the stories. But I didn’t, hoping instead that you will read these lovely stories to the children in your lives.

Alison’s Fishing Birds by Roderick Haig-Brown


Roderick Haig-Brown 
is believed to have written Alison’s Fishing Birds in 1939 or 1940 but the stories were only discovered after his death in 1976. One of BC’s most influential conservationists, he emigrated to British Columbia from England as a young man, eventually settling near Campbell River and becoming its magistrate for over thirty years (http://www.haig-brown.bc.ca/.) There, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Haig-Brown was captivated by the natural world and became active in the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the BC Wildlife Federation, and several fly-fishing organizations. Lucky for us, he also wrote twenty-eight books celebrating the natural world including Starbuck Valley, The Whale People, and this gem, Alison’s Fishing Birds.

What I like most about the connected stories that make up Alison’s Fishing Birds, beautifully illustrated by Sheryl McDougald and Jim Rimmer, is their capacity to create deep empathy for the natural world. It’s hard not to identify with Alison’s surprise and delight when the dipper suddenly lands on a rock “not more than half a dozen steps away from her” or when her father leads her to the kingfisher’s nest with eleven eggs “all neatly packed together in a hollow among the roots”.

Kingfisher linocut by Jim Rimmer

And it’s just as hard not to identify with her concern when the eagle snatches the fish from the osprey who’s worked so hard to catch it or when the Belted kingfisher eats so many fish she’s worried he won’t be able to fly. The birds, of course, set her straight, every time. Alison accepts their lessons gratefully and gracefully, keen on knowing “what the birds are really like and what they really do.” Who can fail to admire that?

Haig-Brown’s Alison is a “quick little girl” who learns about the ‘fishing birds’ by the river – dipper, kingfisher, heron, merganser, and osprey – with her father’s thoughtful guidance.

Common Merganser. Illustration by Sheryl McDougald

But mostly she learns through mindful observation, whether from the window of her family’s brown house with the pale blue trim, or hiding in the “secret place she had near the pasture fence”, or walking along the river bank. Alison knows how to pay close attention, resisting the urge, for example, to scratch her nose or pull her dress “down a little on her shoulder, where it was uncomfortable” to avoid scaring off Walk-up-the-Creek, a fine old heron fishing by the river.

Great Blue Heron aka Walk-up-the-Creek

In his title story Haig-Brown assures us that “You couldn’t call Alison a naturalist or bird watcher or anything dull like that. She didn’t sneak and peer and creep around looking for birds, but she liked to go up the river and she was quiet and her eyes were quick …”

Maybe Alison doesn’t “watch” birds, but she does observe them closely and studies their habits and behaviour, and even talks to them – and sometimes they talk back, teaching her important lessons about their particular niche in the natural world. They make her think and wonder and worry and hope and give her stories to tell her dolls at bedtime.

In the foreword environmental writer Andrew Nikiforuk says of Haig-Brown’s (and Alison’s) penchant for watching the natural world: “Any engagement with wildlife – whether listening to the chatter of river otters, hunting grouse or watching a black bear denude an apple tree – restored human meaning and brought us back to the point of things: there is no end to wonder and joy when you care about a place.”

Indeed, these stories offer readers the opportunity to share in the wonder and joy of a few of the ‘fishing birds’ that live here on the far west coast. And McDougald’s detailed illustrations of not just the birds but also elements of their habitat – bumble bee, Pacific tree frog, coastal gum plant, western red-backed salamander, dragonfly, clam shell, and various types of feathers – add immensely to the reality of the sense of place.

Feather. Illustration by Sheryl McDougald

I’m confident that parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone else with young children in their lives will find this a perfect book to read with them or to them. I must admit, I’ve already read it several times, all by myself, for the sheer pleasure of the stories and illustrations.

One more thing – a word of advice to readers who typically ignore the preface of a book: don’t ignore this one. Valerie Haig-Brown’s story of how Alison’s Fishing Birds came to be published, decades after the death of her father, is a heartwarming tale all on its own.

Thank you to Caitlin Press, who sent me a copy, no strings attached!

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Notes From a North Western Ontario Backyard – March, 2017

Welcome to Spring!!

It is officially the Vernal Equinox as of 6:28 am Eastern time today.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?!

Unfortunately, most of my photos this month still look like mid winter.  March has been an exceptionally cold month with brutally high winds, wind chills sometimes nearing -40 at night and daytime high wind chills near -30C.  Pretty incredible.  I so dearly hope we are finally finished with those temperatures but I fear we’re not.

Throughout winter’s bitter cold, many bird species appreciate a drink of water.  This first series of photos is all about thirsty birds either standing on the rim of the bird bath for a sip or actively drinking.

Female Common Redpoll (left) and female Pine Siskin.

Golden female Pine Grosbeak

Male Common Redpoll

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Pine Siskins

I don’t have a high number of different species visiting the feeders right now but between Redpolls and Pine Siskins, the yard is absolutely hopping with finch activity.  I’m feeding 65+ Common Redpolls, 5 to 12 Hoary Redpolls and over 35 Pine Siskins.  I have 2 nyjer feeders out there that get refilled twice per day along with the platform feeder containing peanuts, cracked corn, safflower, suet & black oil sunflower seed.  I am now well into my second 50 lb bag of nyjer seed this season.

Speaking of Redpolls, I was thrilled a few weeks ago to receive a message from Jon Ruddy, a top birder in Ontario, telling me that he had completed the Redpoll Challenge at my feeders, remotely, over the webcam in my yard!  I was shocked when he described seeing all 4 subspecies of Redpoll:  rostrata (Common), Hornemann’s (Hoary), exilipes (Hoary) and flammea (Common).  Here is Jon’s EBird report.

Paul Nicholson, a bird writer at the London Free Press in London, Ontario, did an article this month about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s webcam program, including the webcam in my yard.  You can read his article here.  Some of the birds seen on ‘my’ webcam include:

Ravens (and Crows)

Red Breasted Nuthatches

Pine Grosbeaks (with incoming Hairy Woodpecker!)

Gray Jays

Hairy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

Black Capped Chickadees (with Nuthatch)

Ruffed Grouse (with Blue Jay)

You may also see something a little more interesting like this female Pine Grosbeak (below, far right).  She’s been around my feeders for part of the winter.  She has a very strange tuft of feathers sticking out of her right side, appearing to come from under her right wing.  She can move & fly normally.  This affliction doesn’t slow her down at all.

Far right: female Pine Grosbeak with abnormal feather growth

Another angle showing the size of the odd feather growth

Recently, I picked up some other interesting things over the webcam, not just birds.  One night last week, I happened to put the cam on just to see what I could hear and I caught a coyote conversation!  Then, a couple of nights ago, I did the same thing and discovered this fellow!

Well, that’s it for this month.  I’m hoping to see the return of Purple Finches and various Sparrows any day now.  Maybe I’ll even get to hear the little Northern Saw-Whet Owl over the webcam again like I did last year.  We can only hope.

Oh!  Before I forget:  I am participating, once again, in the Great Canadian Birdathon (previously known as the Baillie Birdathon) one day in May.  I have not picked an exact date yet but it will be around the middle of May.  I am currently looking for donations.  All funds I raise will go to Bird Studies Canada.  If you would be interested in sponsoring me, please go to this link to make an online donation or email me at bthache at yahoo dot ca if you would prefer to send a cheque or email transfer.  Thank you for your consideration.  🙂

Thank you so much for reading …… ‘see’ you in April!

 

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Postcard from Vancouver Island: birding around Victoria B.C.

Almost a year has passed since I made my first trip in April 2016 to check out the wildlife around Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and I am only just getting around to processing my images from this visit…oh well, better late than never! So here we go…

With a forecast for clear, cloudless skies and bright sunshine, my first stop was a visit to the coast for sunrise in the hopes of catching some of sea-ducks and shorebirds. The weatherman was spot on and the excellent morning light, combined with a high tide that brought the birds close in, made for some mouth-watering coastal birding that was pretty special for a land-locked Albertan like me.

High on my extensive list of ‘target birds’, the sight of 10 or so Harlequin Ducks bobbing and feeding in the surf while resting intermittently on the exposed rocks was a fantastic start to the day:

A lovely hen Harlequin

Shortly after, a fly-by by two dozen Surf Scoters was, was a pretty cool way to add a new ‘lifer’ to my bird photography list:

And if that wasn’t enough, I added my second ‘lifer’ just a few minutes later when a couple dozen Brant geese flew in…

and began feeding nearby:

My hat-trick ‘lifer’ came in the form of a relatively large shorebird in the form of a very distinctive pair of Black Oystercatchers that also flew in and joined the breakfasting at this popular spot:

These oystercatchers really seemed to know their stuff and I quite enjoyed watching them combing the rocks for food: Then, as you might now have guessed, I was able to tally a fourth ‘lifer’ when I noticed movement on the rocks close to the breaking waves and was able to make out a number of well-camouflaged Black Turnstones:

These well-camouflaged birds expertly negotiating the wet, slippery sea-weed coated rocks as they foraged for some salty snacks:

After a very satisfying 90 minutes of photography, I took a short 15 minute drive further down the coastline to Esquimalt Lagoon. No lifers to be had here, but I did get my best-ever views of a Golden-crowned Sparrow:

As well as some of my closest encounters with the very-skittish-in-Alberta Northern Pintail:

With the sun now high in the sky, I thought it time to try my luck inland where it might be a little shadier and headed off to Goldstream Provincial Park. The park is beautiful and has some great hiking trails…which not surprisingly attracted a lot of other people and so the number of birds was a little less than I’d hoped. I heard many Pacific Wrens, but did not succeed in my quest to find the brilliantly-coloured Red-breasted Sapsucker. However, a nice view of a Belted Kingfisher was a nice consolation:

As late afternoon approached, I decided to visit a duck pond in a local park and was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of ducks, as well as how tame they were…most likely because they had become accustomed to the numerous park visitors:

A resplendent Ring-necked Duck drake

Sunset was by now rapidly approaching, so I decided to make a return trip to the coast to see what birds were about. As it was a gorgeous, warm Friday evening there were a heck of a lot more people out and about than there had been at the same spot at 6:30am when I was there earlier and as such most of the birds were far away in the waves. However, I was able to finish off a super day by racking up yet another lifer when I spied a somewhat unusual shape in the surf: a Rhinoceros Auklet!

With such a promising start to my 3-day visit, and having gone to bed with sunshine again forecast, I woke early the next morning with high hopes of repeating my success. However, my hopes were dashed when I opened my motel room door to be greeted by…a complete fog in! The heavy sea mist did not lift for several hours and the light on the coast even then was murky to say the least. So, I decided to head north up the east coast and try out a few locations all the way up to Qualicum Beach. In almost a compete reversal of the day before, I had very little luck and saw very few birds…in fact, this friendly Harbour Seal was pretty much the highlight:

My luck returned on my final day and with cool, cloudy conditions in the morning I headed off to the suburban Mount Tolmie Park. The birds were once again back in good numbers and variety, including Spotted Towhee:

Pacific Wren:

Two more ‘lifers’, the first being a Bewick’s Wren:

… that foraged and sang in equal measures…

And the second being the Chestnut-backed Chickadee:

Some other highlights included a pair of Bushtits:

… putting the final touches on their lovely hanging nest (note, I normally shy away from taking pictures of nesting birds for fear of them abandoning their nest. However, this particular nest was literally right beside a popular dog-walking trail and the Bushtits seemed to have no apparent concern for the many passers-by):

The final personal highlight was a tiny, but colourful, male Anna’s Hummingbird that, unlike its peers that seemed to favour the tallest trees in the vicinity, kindly decided to perch on a branch that was in range of my lens:

This trip certainly had it’s ups and downs, however this only reinforced what I’ve already learnt about birding and bird photography:

1. Birds and weather are prone to being unpredictable and you should be prepared for surprises, both good and bad.

2. Every birder will likely have a ‘bad’ day of birding at some point, but these only make the ‘good’ days so much sweeter!

 

For more of my wildlife photography, please visit my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments