Backyard and Slightly Beyond with the Muellers in October

With September ending off with our first Junco appearance to the backyard; I didn’t think we’d be getting Red-winged Blackbird appearances through the first 2 weeks of October.  Sure they were sporadic, like 1 among a flock of 100 or so Common Grackles, but they were popping in.
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A couple mornings the sounds of the Grackles have been deafening.  Check out this short video. YouTube Preview Image
It’s really hard to pick out the other bird calls with all that noise, but we have had some brief but pleasant stop-ins from Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows bouncing through the conifers.
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The Hawk activity has dropped off significantly so far.  I guess those seen in September were just passing through.  We do have a resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks a stone’s throw from the house who occasionally stop in here for a snack.  One made the attempt to catch breakfast the other morning.  She was unsuccessful this time.  Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows and a couple Black-capped Chickadees seem to be our regular visiting species on top of the hordes of Grackles.
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The Northern Mockingbird has made a couple appearances to the bird baths in the last 2 weeks.  It’s funny because the Mockingbird is not a seed eater but he can be a little territorial of the area.  He has put on some great flight displays, showing his aggression to the Grackles.  One bird against so many and he does chase those away those in his sights.
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Project Feeder Watch starts up in a few weeks.  We enjoy participating in it every year.  Back in the early days of backyard bird feeding, I would sit by the kitchen window and document all the species showing up to our feeders.  Neither of us had any idea there was data being collected about the birds coming to people’s feeders.  So doing this just came naturally once we signed up.  If you haven’t, you really should.  You don’t need a big backyard, you don’t need a lot of bird feeders either.  Maybe you have natural food sources that pull the birds in?  It’s a lot of fun!  And you really start to focus on the world outside your door.  I can easily sit back in my chair on the deck, close my eyes, and identify all our regular visitors by their sounds.  The whistling wings of the Doves, the swooshing of the Pigeon wings, the screams of the Jays, the familiar peeps of the others.  I guess to seasoned birders, this really isn’t that impressive knowing the sounds of all these commoners, but it does impress other friends not so into the birds.  If you are not a participant with PFW, maybe consider signing up?  Here is a link to check it out.
So as the Grackle invasion continues (and not a lot else) half way through October, we are fortunate enough to have other distractions out back.  There are a couple Skunks visiting our garden morning and night.  It’s been years since we’ve had such a species coming in, that we’ve seen alive and well, not just smelling the aftermath or finding on the main road.
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Two young Raccoons live down at the back of our property.  I know it’s either you love them or you hate them.  We love them and have learned to co-exist with them.  It’s work to ensure they have no access to our roof, cutting branches back from the pines behind the house.  We let the feeders run empty through the day so there is nothing for them to get at after dark except what they can find on the ground dumped by the birds.  We always ensure fresh water is available for everyone because water is harder for an animal to come by than food.
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Seeing a mother Raccoon with her playful babies through the summer months is quite entertaining.  I tell you, we don’t need a television, as we have our own nature channel out back.
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When things get dull around here, we bird locally to some great parks around our west Toronto home.  A half kilometre one way and we can be treated to a lovely Great Horned Owl on occasion.  A half kilometre another way and some days we chance upon a little Screech Owl.  It’s a blessing to find such birds in our travels.  We don’t see them all the time but it’s nice to know such birds are around us.
Can you spot the Screech Owl in the cavity?
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Screech Owl hiding in a cedar tree.
screechGreat Horned Owl.
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On October 23 we had a massive kettle of Turkey Vultures glide over the backyard, all migrating.  I counted at least 65 birds with 1 Red-tailed Hawk in the mix.  YouTube Preview Image
I managed to capture 52 of them in this photo.
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The same day I spotted a Barred Owl in a park near our home.  Thanks to a Cooper’s Hawk for alerting me to his presence.  Here is the squabbling capture.  It was the Cooper’s acting out his disapproval to the Owl.  The Owl stood his ground on that branch.
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We don’t see Barred Owls very often in our travels, so it’s always something when the surprise encounter occurs.  Here he is some 6 hours later when I had an opportunity to revisit the park.
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As I work to finish this in the final days of October, the Red-winged Blackbird activity has gone overboard.  Most of the Grackles have left us, we’re down to half a dozen at the moment, but the RWBBs in the last week have been up around 15 or more.  It’s been many Autumn seasons since we’ve had this species in such numbers hanging around the feeders this late.  I love the noise of these birds, they are the first sign of Spring for us here in Toronto since most Robins do not migrate from here anymore.  A Sharp-shinned Hawk just snagged herself some breakfast near the back in way of a House Sparrow.  I can hear the call of a White-throated Sparrow.  Another surprise this morning.
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October 26th we spotted a new species to the backyard, that being a Fox Sparrow.  Of course they may have popped in other days over the years but we’ve not seen one visiting.
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There is about 8 Juncos staying around us now.
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We just experienced the remnants of Hurricane Patricia over last 30 hours.  The rain has stopped but the winds are strong.  Will something blow in with this last day of October?  I guess if there is another paragraph, then yes, if not, see you next month on the 10th!
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October Birding on Prince Edward Island

Bird Canada 1 October is a month of eclectic birding on the Island. Birds are in migration and it can be hit or miss. But, as a conciliation, there is usually great weather and the colour is wonderful!

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Greater Yellowlegs in Noonan’s Marsh, Borden-Carleton.

The marshes and fields are maturing and even a little snow offers some variety. We appreciate the fact that it didn’t amount to much nor stay too long.

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Canada Geese in DeSable.

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White-throated Sparrow in the yard. One of a small flock.

The song birds, including sparrows and robins, were passing through and one would see lots one day and few the next. There are also the locals that will be with us all winter.

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Canada Geese found gold in Ellen’s Creek in Charlottetown.

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American Crow, enjoying a little lobster tail, in Cavendish.

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Red-tailed Hawk in Hampton.

Some of the late migrating shorebirds were still around and, with luck, one could come across Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Plover, Sandpipers and Sandering. It is also a great time to look for Ducks, Scoter and Loon.

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Carleton Cove was also golden and hosting an assortment of Shorebirds.

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Part of that flock; including a Sanderling, White-rumped Sandpipers and Dunlin.

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Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper.

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Dunlin

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Sanderling

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Local Colour!

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Local Colour!

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Farrar Road

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What’s in a Name?

My first passion was not birds but words: I started writing in my twenties, but only discovered birds in my mid-fifties. So maybe it’s not surprising I have a thing about how birds are named. As a novice birder I expected (foolishly) that the common name of a bird would help me identify it – or at least refer to what the bird does, or where it lives. Sometimes that was true. There are some perfectly good descriptive bird names. Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadee come to mind.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Black-capped-Chickadee. Photo by Donna Dewhurst, USF&W.

Black-capped-Chickadee. Photo by Donna Dewhurst, USF&W.

Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrow also work as descriptors.

White-crowned sparrow. Yep, the crown is white.

White-crowned sparrow. Yep, the crown is white.

Then there’s Yellow-rumped Warbler. How many other birds have that bright yellow rump? And the Red-winged Blackbird. The red epaulet is a dead giveaway – when it’s showing.

RW Blackbird, male. Photo by Garry Davey.

RW Blackbird, male. Photo by Garry Davey.

In the world of ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye is helpful since there are no other ducks in BC with yellow eyes – that I know of.

Barrow's Goldeneyes off Orlebar Point, Gabriola Island

Barrow’s Goldeneyes off Orlebar Point, Gabriola Island

Of course, many common bird names are useful some of the time. Rufous Hummingbird, for example, works, even for females, as long as you pay attention to the plumage on the sides of the female.

Rufous Female. Note the rufous colouring on the side.

Rufous Female. Note the rufous colouring on the side and belly.

Among ducks, Northern Pintail is a helpful name if you’re looking at a male. Then there’s one my favourite seabirds, the Double-crested Cormorant. Again, a useful common name for phalacrocorax auritus IF the bird you’re looking at happens to be a male in breeding season with his nuptial crests showing. But that’s a big IF.

Double-crested Cormorant during breeding season. Photo by Michael L. Baird. CC license.

Double-crested Cormorant during breeding season. Photo by Michael L. Baird. CC license.

Overhead, Bald Eagles aren’t bald. But at least they look that way from afar because of the white feathered head.

Bald Eagles on Gabriola. Photo by Bill McGann.

Family of Bald Eagles on Gabriola. Photo by Bill McGann.

And Turkey Vultures have nothing to do with turkeys. But apparently, the person who came up with this name for cathartes aura thought its bald red face and dark plumage was reminiscent of a wild turkey.

Turkey vulture. Photo by Eileen Kaarsemaker.

Turkey vulture. Photo by Eileen Kaarsmaker.

Some names reflect the song or call of the bird. Trumpeter Swan is certainly a good name IF the swan is vocalizing. Unmistakably like a host of tuning-up trumpets. Song Sparrow, though, doesn’t help with identification, since all sparrows have songs, but since the Song Sparrow sings such a lovely tune, I won’t argue the point. It deserves the name.

The majority of common bird names, though, make me shake my head in wonder. Who, for example, decided to call pipilo maculatus a Spotted Towhee? Sure it has spotted wings but so do a zillion other birds. But no others have red eyes! Why not call it a Red-eyed Towhee? Wouldn’t that be more helpful?

Spotted Towhee on tree stump

Spotted Towhee on tree stump

And House Finch? Why? What has it got do with houses? And Purple Finch? It’s definitely not purple. Why not call it like it is: Raspberry Finch?

Purple Finch. Photo by Cephas. CC license

Purple Finch. Photo by Cephas. CC license

Then there are evocative names, like Magnificent Frigate Bird. These giants of the air that make holidays in Mexico even more lovely, truly are magnificent to watch, both in flight and on a nest during breeding season.

Magnificent Frigatebird during breeding season

Magnificent Frigatebird during breeding season

But frigate? Well, there’s a tale there: seems this part of their name comes from the fact that they steal food from the mouths of other birds in the air – like pirates! Okay, I can go with that.

Female Magnificent Frigatebird. Photo by Tom Friedel. CC license.

Female Magnificent Frigatebird. Photo by Tom Friedel. CC license.


Ancient Murrelet
, the small pelagic auk that lives along the west coast of BC and Alaska, has a name that, to me, evokes deep dark mystery. But it’s actually named after its white head plumes. They reminded the German ornithologist who gave this bird its Latin name, Synthliboramphus antiquus, of an old man’s white locks. So not so mysterious after all. Too bad.

Ancient Murrelet. Photo courtesy USF&W.

Ancient Murrelet. Photo courtesy USF&W.

In other parts of the world there are even more interesting bird names, names like Red Quetzal and Hudson’s Godwit, and Blue-footed Booby. And oxymoronic names like Greater Pewee and Invisible Rail. And then there’s the Fluffy-Backed Tit Babbler. No comment there.

What about you? What common bird names make you sit up and take notice, or scratch your head, or laugh, maybe?

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Notes From a NW Ont. Backyard – Oct. 2015

Hello, again!  Another month gone and now, winter is right around the corner.  We had our first official dusting of snow on October 16th.  Crazy how fast time goes and it’s funny:  it seemed to CRAWL by when I was a kid!

Anyway, I don’t really mind the approach of winter because it means Project FeederWatch is coming up and with that, the webcam in my backyard will go live worldwide for another season!  As some of you may know, I have a webcam in my yard on loan indefinitely from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that’s aimed at my feeders.  It’s only online for the Project FeederWatch season, roughly from late October to about mid April. Through it, you can view all the birds that visit my feeders all winter long including Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Common & Hoary Redpolls, Gray Jays, Blue Jays, Hairy & Downy Woodpeckers, etc.  Here are a few recent snapshots taken through the webcam since it’s not online yet:

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks with a Dark Eyed Junco

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Female Evening Grosbeaks with my season’s first Pine Grosbeak, a beautiful red male

Ruffed Grouse, Chickadee & Nuthatch

A Ruffed Grouse with a Black Capped Chickadee & a Red Breasted Nuthatch

Starlings

European Starlings

A couple of Sparrow species are still around but they have been in pretty low numbers this fall, for some reason.  Most of the White Throated, Savannah and White Crowned Sparrows have moved on but right now, I still have Song and American Tree Sparrows. I’m always hoping to see a Fox, Harris’s or Lincoln’s Sparrow during migration but so far, no luck this season.

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Adult male White Crowned Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

This past week, I was lucky enough to spot a big flock of Lapland Longspurs in a parking lot … I’ve only ever seen them in spring before.  No photos unfortunately.  I also don’t have photos of the flocks of Snow Buntings I’ve seen around here lately.  I’m hoping that throughout the season, a few will show up in my yard.  Robins are moving through in good numbers.  I had 2 in my yard yesterday but I’ve seen a dozen at a time in various neighbourhoods around town.  American Pipits are still here but their numbers are dwindling as they move on.

I’m not seeing the Warblers this fall that I saw last fall.  I was seeing them earlier in September but then sightings slowed right down.

YR Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler … the last Warbler I’ve seen so far this season.

Some other sightings in recent weeks (along with another Bald Eagle soaring over my neighbourhood) include:

Young Herring Gull

A young Herring Gull that calmly walked up my street the other day :)

Rusty Blackbird

A single Rusty Blackbird that visited my yard last week … still hoping for more yet.

Male Evening Grosbeak

My beloved Evening Grosbeaks have returned to my feeders this week … I’m always hoping for more! In my best season, I had approximately 150 all winter long. Heaven!

Grackle

Grackles are still here but their numbers have finally dropped some.

Crows

My resident Crow family (4 birds in total) has been around, stealing peanuts from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays

Upwards of 6 to 7 Blue Jays are around daily now for peanuts. Funny but they never come to the feeders in summer (when they’re out without bear activity!), returning in September.

By the time I post again next month, Project FeederWatch will be in full swing and with any luck, the webcam will be up and running without any glitches this year.  In the meantime, I hope all of our Canadian readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week.

Until next month, thanks for reading!

Tammie in Manitouwadge, ON

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Autumnal Albertan Avian Action

TH7D2529d&b-flickrHow’s that for a post title? :)

As readers of my blog posts will know, I particularly enjoy the fall season for all the gorgeous colors that it brings. Combine that with some of the most spectacular plumage to be found on any North American bird – such as the Wood Duck drake above – and you stand a good chance of ending up with some memorable images!TH7D2371d&b-crop2b

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A female Wood Duck shows off its own bright colours

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The happy couple…

So to illustrate my point, here are some shots I took in late September and early October at Calgary’s Inglewood Bird Sanctuary that has recently re-opened after being closed for repairs since suffering significant damage during the flood of 2013. A number of Wood Ducks have taken up residence at the Sanctuary and in my opinion they are always a pleasure to see:TH7D2726d&b-mask2 TH7D2636d&b-mask-port-fb TH7D2632-finalcrop2-flickr TH7D2598d&b-finalv4 TH7D2579d&b TH7D2192d&b TH7D2863d&b

TH7D2902d&b TH7D2984From a photographic point of view, I normally like to photograph waterfowl as close to pond-level as possible however in fall I depart from this rule in order to maximise both fall colours and reflections and tend to shoot from a standing position. At Inglewood, the lagoon has steep sides so it’s difficult to get really low anyway so this works out well.

The Wood Ducks are the Sanctuary tend to be rather skittish and keep their distance, so to get the extra reach I needed I used a Canon 7D Mk2 (with a crop-factor of 1.6) paired with a 1.4x teleconverter and a 600mm lens to give me an effective focal length of 1340mm! With good bright light I could keep the ISO around 800 or below and therefore capture relatively noise-free images.

Also enjoying Inglewood’s lagoon was a pair of Pied-billed Grebes:TH7D3190-fb

I’m not sure whether they were juveniles or adults in their eclipse plumage, but they certainly liked to hang out together:TH7D3152d&b-fbTH7D3213d&b-flcikr

This grebe motored along half-submerged like this for several seconds at a time.

This grebe motored along half-submerged like this for several seconds at a time.

But even the more common birds, such as Canada Geese, look better with a little fall colour too:TH7D3386 TH7D3365

And as I was heading back to my car a fellow park visitor pointed out a Great Horned Owl perched in a tree right next to the pathway so even though the light was poor I took a couple of portrait ‘potshots’ with my bazooka lens and was please that this one came out:TH7D2430d&b-final-fb2

The Western Irrigation Canal which runs past Inglewood also offers good birding opportunities this time of year and I was pleased to see one of my favourite species – the Hooded Merganser – in reasonable numbers:TH7D3983d&b-fb TH7D3943mask-v2-fb

A pair of Hooded Mergansers - male in front, female at back

A pair of Hooded Mergansers – male in front, female at back

While the drake Hooded Merganser is undoubtedly striking, the female isn’t so shabby either:TH7D4030-fb TH7D4265-crop-fb

The fishing must be good in the Canal as I have seen Double-crested Cormorants plying the waters like a submarine there on each of my visits:TH7D3499-fb TH7D3460-fb

…but it didn’t stay long:TH7D3508-final-fb

TH7D3522-crop-fbAlso of note was a dozen or so Long-billed Dowitchers perforating the mudflats – this was in the 2nd week of October so seems quite late for these shorebirds to be coming through:TH7D4669 TH7D4661

And of course where birds gather you will also find their predators, although I must admit I was somewhat surprised to find the Red Fox in the middle of the city!:TH7D4318-fb

I expected him to have a crack at the many mallards or gulls on the shoreline, but he seemed more interested in digging something tasty out of the mud.

Finally, I’d like to share some shots of a not-so-common variation of a fairly common bird, namely a leucistic (a condition where there is partial loss of plumage pigmentation) American Robin:TH1D7245-fb

This bird was in amongst the 50 or so robins at our campground in September and I must admit it took me a little while to ID the unusual-looking bird.

Gobbling down an earthworm :)

Gobbling down an earthworm :)

Cheers for now, Tim.

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Bird Tales from a Toronto Backyard – Fall Changes

A Northern Flicker was a surprise visitor one sunny September afternoon.

A Northern Flicker was a surprise visitor one sunny September afternoon.

September is a busy and unpredictable month in our backyard. We’re sad to see our summer visitors leave us, but we look forward to the freshness of Fall. The Baltimore Orioles were gone by September 1st, and our last Ruby-throated Hummingbird sighting was September 13th. We still keep the sugar water feeders cleaned and refreshed in case of any stragglers.

The yard has been very busy with Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, sometimes it’s hard to see the lawn for blackbirds, and oh boy, the noise! Music to our ears in a way though, the lively chatter of so many birds.

With Fall migration in full swing we never know what species is going to make an appearance in the backyard, and we have had some visitors that we don’t see very often. We were pleasantly surprised to have a Northern Flicker and Northern Mockingbird arrive in the yard on the same day.

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A Northern Mockingbird pops in for a drink on a sunny afternoon.

We’ve also had had hints of the Fall/Winter season to come. Our Blue Jay numbers have increased and the Chickadees are returning. The hawks are back as well, a Sharp-shinned and Coopers are regulars to our backyard during the colder months. And probably the biggest hint of the colder months returning much to fast, our first Dark-eyed Junco of the season arrived September 30th!

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A Blue Jay enjoys a peanut.

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Our Chickadees have returned.

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Fall brings in the hawks – Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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Coopers Hawk

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The cold blustery weather brought in our first Dark-eyed Junco Sept. 30th.

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A rare bird-less moment in the backyard, a hawk must be around.

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Always happy to see Monarch Butterflies in the backyard.

Enjoy the Fall birding, the snow will be flying before you know it!
Angie

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Heading South

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Indian Head Lighthouse at the mouth of Summerside Harbour. This is a wonderful area to look for shorebirds although the rocks near the light are covered with Double-crested Cormorant. We also found Common Terns and Gulls here.

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Sanderling were among the many shorebirds we found spread across the beach at this location.

September on Prince Edward Island has been a great month with some fine weather. It has been a good time to explore our beaches and see just what shorebirds are passing through. In addition to the weather, a couple of events have had some out and about. The World Shorebird Day was a global event that had birders all over counting shorebirds over the first weekend. The provincial Bennett Classic Fall Bird Count had local teams counting birds in support of Island Nature Trust later in the month.

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Willet at Carleton Cove.

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Savannah Sparrow. While not a shorebird, a nice find along the beach.

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Exploring Carleton Cove during World Shorebird Day.

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A Northern Harrier flew past to join the event.

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A flock of cooperative Black-bellied Plover joined the party in Tryon.

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Later in the day, a couple of Least Sandpiper availed themselves.

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Least Sandpiper – Beach Light Road

For the Bennett Fall Classic some teams bird from early morning (3:00 AM for Owls) until dark covering as much of the Island as possible. We did not have the opportunity to do that but explored the southern shore from Nine Mile Creek to Carleton Cove at a more leisurely pace. With a high tide and less time, we came across some of your usual suspects.

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Bald Eagle at the wharf in Nine Mile Creek.

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Great Blue Heron in Tryon.

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The beach to the west of the Bridge is another good area to look for shorebirds. Regrettably, on this day it was mostly gulls.

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Local Gulls. But I am sure, if you scoped the flock thoroughly, you might come up with a couple from away.

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A pair of Redheads we spotted in the lagoons at Borden in the company of Ring-necked Ducks. Redheads are rated as Rare/Uncommon in the Fall on PEI.

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Nelson’s Sparrow in Carleton Cove.

BC - Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Of course, birds were not the only thing that captured our attention this September.

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Lunar Eclipse September 2015

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How I fell in love with an app

In May I got an iPhone for my birthday – the one that made me, officially, a card-carrying, pension-getting senior.

Cupcakes by Brie, my daughter, the one who bought me the iphone. The cupcakes were for someone else, alas.

Not for my birthday, alas, these sweet things were made by my daughter, the one who bought me the iphone

 

Now I text with friends and get emails wherever I am. I like these features in a phone. But more exciting is the fact that I can download apps. It wasn’t that long ago that I had no idea what an “app” was. App? Is that slang for apple? (The fruit, not the company, although that does bring me to my point … )

Two months ago I bought my first app – iBird Canada 7.2. It took me a while to realize how wonderful this little gem is. But now I’m head over heels in love.

I may have to go on a holiday to Mexico just to play with my app.

I may have to go on a holiday just to explore new birds with my app.

 

But here’s what I can’t figure out: how can such an encyclopedic amount of information about 689 species of birds be packed into such a little device? And how is it that all this data, including thousands of photos (distinguishing sex and age and location) and songs (complete with sonograms) and references and options to load your own notes and photos, all at the tap or swish of a finger, sells for $8.95! I can hardly believe it.

Here are just a few of the many things I’ve discovered playing around with iBird:

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Poecile rufescens, the most numerous bird on Gabriola during the 2014 Christmas Bird Count, is divided into two species: rufescens which has chestnut-coloured sides (which I thought was the only one) and barlowi, which has gray sides. (News to me.) In iBirds’s CBC GENERAL category, one of 17 categories, there are pictures of the two sub-species. If you tap FIELD MARKS ON at the top of the pictures, brief descriptive phrases pop up. Is that not brilliant?

Chestnut-backed Chickadee, rufescens variety

Chestnut-backed Chickadee, rufescens variety

 

The RANGE MAP category for the American Robin, (Turdus migratorious) shows that these ubiquitous birds winter in the US and parts of Central America. This makes me wonder: how did the robin become such a well-known symbol of and harbinger of spring? Surely that’s not the case just in Canada? And by the way, did you know a group of robins is called a “worm”? The collective nouns for groups of birds are listed in the FACTS Being a word nerd, I like this a lot.

American Robin, Sept 2015, eating firethorn berries

American Robin, Sept 2015, eating our firethorn berries

 

The appearance of Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) can change dramatically depending on the sex, the light, the position and age of the bird. In addition to the photo under GENERAL for this hummer, there are 11 images under PHOTOS, no two alike! By the way, if you have a great photo you’d like to share with the iBird world, click Photo Submission Guidelines at the bottom of the Photos page. You’ll be led to a detailed description of how to submit your own bird photos and what the benefits of that might be.

Anna's Hummingbird, juvenile. These hummers stay in BC all year round now.

Anna’s Hummingbird, juvenile. These hummers stay in BC all year round now.

 

In the past few decades, as old growth forest in B.C. was decimated, Barred Owls (Strix varia) moved westward into traditional Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) habitat. Sometimes these two species now mate and their offspring are called, according to the FACTS category on iBird, a Sparred Owl. News to me.

Barred Owl on garage roof

Barred Owl on garage roof


Northwestern Crow
(Corvus caurinus) or Common Raven (Corvus corax)? For the uninitiated here on the west coast, it can be confusing, especially from a distance. But with FIELD MARKS ON, iBird shows that in flight the Northwestern Crow has a rounded tail and the Common Raven has a wedged-shaped tail. The raven’s shaggy throat is also a give-away – if it’s visible. But perhaps the best way to ID the corvid in question is to wait for it to vocalize. On iBird, you can switch back and forth between the SOUNDS the two species make with the touch of a finger. Essentially, the raven’s call is deeper and lower in pitch. The SOUNDS function allows you to listen to several variations in songs and calls from various locations for all 689 species. Wow. Plus you can watch the sonograms! And listen to the songs and calls of SIMILAR species. It’s easy as pie.

Northwestern Crows in parking lot, finishing off a meal

Northwestern Crows in parking lot, finishing off a meal

 

Common Raven

Common Raven

 

My favourite iBird category, today at least, is FACTS. But then I’m a Trivial Pursuit fan. Here are a few interesting things I learned while cruising FACTS:

  • The American Coot is “kleptoparasitic” – look it up! Or check iBird. :)
  • The Anna’s hummingbird has a heartbeat of 1260 beats per minute
  • There’s a Crayola crayon named Robin’s Egg Blue (now that’s trivia)

And there are lots more categories chock full of information – IDENTIFY, ECOLOGY, BEHAVIOUR, FAMILY, NEST and EGGS, plus links to flickr and Birdipedia. Plus a GLOSSARY. … Do I sound like a commissioned salesperson for iBird? Are you suspicious that they’re paying me for this post? Nope. Wrong on both counts. This post, like everything related to birding – for most of us, anyway – is a labour of love. And I love this app.

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Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard: Sept., 2015

September is already half over and fall migration is in full swing.  Geese are flying by the hundreds overhead, the trees are changing color and dropping leaves already.  And my yard is FULL of Grackles!  Sometimes, a dozen or so Starlings are with them.

Common Grackle - 1 of 50+ visiting daily

Common Grackle – 1 of 50+ visiting daily

It’s been an interesting few weeks for sightings in and around the yard.  One day last week, I heard the unmistakable call of Sandhill Cranes. They sounded low so I didn’t think I’d get to see them over the treeline but they looped around and flew low over the horizon.  This was a family of 4 … I think it was the same family that nested on our local golf course once again this summer.  Bittersweet to hear and see them now as I know they are leaving for another winter.

My husband and I went fishing one evening last weekend and had some lovely sightings of a Great Blue Heron, a Bald Eagle that flew over our little boat twice and a single female Common Goldeneye Duck.  Also saw a couple of Loons but not anywhere near enough for a photo.

Majestic adult Bald Eagle on his second trip over our little boat.

Majestic adult Bald Eagle on his second trip over our little boat.

Great Blue Heron

Magnificent Great Blue Heron

Female Common Goldeneye Duck

Female Common Goldeneye Duck

A very cool sighting for me last week was when I looked out my living room window and spotted a Pileated Woodpecker on the Hydro pole at the edge of my across-the-street neighbour’s backyard (fair distance so fuzzy photo!).  It’s the first one I’ve seen all summer although I know they nest here.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

It’s odd but woodpeckers of all types have been very scarce this summer except for Northern Flickers.  They nested in my neighbour’s yard just 3 houses down the street from me so they have been around all summer long, much to my delight.  :)  I sure hope for the return of the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers for this coming winter.

Male (notice the black 'moustache') Northern Flicker

Male (notice the black ‘moustache’) Northern Flicker

The Philadelphia Vireo made a return visit to the yard on August 23rd and stayed around the neighbourhood for a week or so.

Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

Cedar Waxwings are still around, hitting any tree or shrub with berries on them.  I saw and heard a flock of at least 30 fly over my yard again this morning.

Cedar Waxwings are still being seen in great numbers.

Cedar Waxwings are still being seen in great numbers.

Last week, I was FINALLY able to see a juvenile Evening Grosbeak!  A small flock of a half dozen showed up for 2 days, adults and young.  These lovely birds have been sorely missed all summer during nesting season.  I normally see youngsters in the yard by late July but this year, I had to have ALL feeders put away for the summer due to nuisance bears roaming around so the birds haven’t been around much either.  I’m SO hoping they’ll be around for the winter again!

Juvenile male Evening Grosbeak

Juvenile male Evening Grosbeak

6 Black Capped Chickadees, 3 Red Breasted Nuthatches and a few American Goldfinches with young are around quite a bit now.  I love to hear their chatter when I have my windows open.

Black Capped Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Thirsty Female Goldfinch

Thirsty female American Goldfinch

I had a late (for up here) sighting of a juvenile male Ruby Throated Hummingbird on Sept. 13.  He was SO chubby!  Adorable!  I won’t be surprised if it’s the last one for this season although my feeders will stay out until month’s end.

Very chubby juvenile male Ruby Throated Hummingbird snacking at a Monarda blossom

Very chubby juvenile male Ruby Throated Hummingbird snacking at a Monarda blossom

And 2 definite signs of fall:  small flocks of Dark Eyed Juncos and White Throated Sparrows, adults and juveniles in each group since they both nest up here.

Dark Eyed Junco

Dark Eyed Junco

White Throated Sparrows

Adult (top) and juvenile White Throated Sparrows

Sightings will only pick up in the coming weeks …. fall is a great season to be a bird watcher!

As some of you may already know, I will once again be hosting a webcam in my backyard this winter, for Project FeederWatch on behalf of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I believe this will be my 5th (or maybe 6th!) season with this webcam aimed at my backyard feeders for the FeederWatch season.  We are hoping to begin streaming online in October so hopefully, by the time I do my next post, I will have a firm date to give you!  In the meantime, you can follow this link to check out some of Cornell’s feeders already online:http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/40/Cornell_Lab_FeederWatch_Cam/

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read!

Tammie in Manitouwadge, ON

 

 

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Warblers, shorebirds and fall-outs – late Summer birding in Southern Alberta

A Wilson's Warbler, taken in Calgary in early September.

A Wilson’s Warbler, taken in Calgary in early September.

Winterizing my trailer already? Where did the summer go? Just when things seemed to be warming up, it starts to cool down again…typical Alberta. I can’t complain though, the summers may be relatively short here (at least compared to Australia where I grew up), but they are mighty sweet!

August was a busy camping month from my family, so much so that I didn’t find enough time to post last month, so I hope to make up for it with two blogs’ worth now! First up is a shot taken at Buffalo Lake of a Black-crowned Nightheron in its ‘element’…this was taken just after sundown with the nightheron having just flown in from its daytime hide to take up its night-time roost:TH1D3524d&b-fb

At a nearby shallow slough the following day I was also able to capture some of the shorebirds passing through on their south-bound migration.

A Willet chasing sand-flies.

A Willet chasing sand-flies.

A Lesser Yellowlegs - a pretty common site in these parts in late summer.

A Lesser Yellowlegs – a pretty common site in these parts in late summer.

An American Avocet going the full stretch!

An American Avocet going the full stretch!

Pretty much all these shots were taken lying on my belly so that I can get eye-level with the birds, and also obtain visually-pleasing out-of-focus backgrounds. I wear goretex overalls as the shorelines where I set up are not only water-logged and/or muddy, but the water itself is often quite stinky – great for the birds, but not for me! I also wear a cap for sun protection, but mainly to hide my features especially my eyes…I’ve found that birds are more accepting of you if you don’t trigger their survival instincts i.e. try to reduce your ‘human silhouette’ (achieved by camouflage clothing and lying down) and don’t make eye contact…you’re less likely to be viewed as a predator if you ‘don’t have eyes’ so to speak. That’s my theory anyway and it seems to work for me.

One of my fave birds - the Black-necked Stilt.

One of my fave birds – the Black-necked Stilt.

An American Avocet preening it's non-breeding plumage.

An American Avocet preening it’s non-breeding plumage.

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

A helpful habit of shorebirds is that they tend to return to the same spot to feed…while ideally I want to set up without the birds being aware that I’m there, if I do happen to cause the birds to flee as I set up, if you wait 5-15 minutes, there’s a good chance they will come back. Alternatively, new birds may fly in to take their spot. A good way to tell whether you’ve been successful is when the birds return to active feeding or, the ultimate indication, when they relax completely and take a nap!:

A trio of Avocets in various states of repose. The 'knee sit' was a new one for me!

A trio of Avocets in various states of repose. The ‘knee sit’ was a new one for me!

All birds, even those of the same species, do not necessarily behave the same way…just like humans! You have your skittish introverts, the young and naïve, the seasoned veterans…every personality is out there. Shorebirds are no exception: oftentimes I need all the camera ‘reach’ I can get (e.g. 600mm lens with a 2x teleconverter), but then I’ll come across other shorebirds that come so close my camera can’t focus (which is a pretty special experience in itself because it happens so rarely, plus it’s comforting to know the birds don’t mind your company).

Northern Shoveller - I will often get wary ducks cruising by while I'm chasing shorebirds...sometimes it feels like I'm looking up at them!

Northern Shoveller – I will often get wary ducks cruising by while I’m chasing shorebirds…sometimes it feels like I’m looking up at them!

Camping at Gull Lake in August, I had my longest and best views to date of the normally shy Sora.

Bigfoot - a young Sora foraging.

Bigfoot – a young Sora foraging.

A family of five Soras were busy feeding and foraging in the open and seemed unfazed by my presence on the boardwalk that traverses their marsh home. A couple hundred campers must cross that boardwalk on a daily basis on weekends, so I guess these Sora have become acclimated to humans in their habitat – so a real plus for the photographer!

Young Sora

Young Sora

Another young Sora.

Another young Sora.

Adult Sora

Adult Sora

A nice bonus - a Northern Waterthrush that made a brief appearance while I photographed the soras.

A nice bonus – a Northern Waterthrush that made a brief appearance while I photographed the soras.

August also ushers in the start of warbler migration, a fun and exciting period because on any given day, as Forrest Gump would put it, ‘you never know what you gonna get’ ! Such is the case at Confederation Park in central Calgary which, for reasons best known to the warblers, seems to be something of a magnet for them during migration. This park is only 5 minutes from my home, so I get to make frequent trips to check it out. Sometimes it can be very quiet, other times it’s hopping with migrants. Here’s a selection from this fall…

Orange-crowned Warbler - had to refer to a few guides to ID this one!

Orange-crowned Warbler – I had to refer to a few guides to ID this one!

Wilson's Warbler - a female I think, frolicking in late-season dandelions.

Wilson’s Warbler – a female I think, frolicking in late-season dandelions.

Willow Flycatcher - I think!

Willow Flycatcher – I think!

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

MacGillivray's Warbler - a nice surprise. Shame the sun was in the wrong spot :(

MacGillivray’s Warbler – a nice surprise. Shame the sun was in the wrong spot :(

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Another Willow Flycatcher?

Another Willow Flycatcher?

Warbling Vireo - I didn't notice the yellowjacket wasp the vireo was eyeing off until I got home & reviewed my images. They appear to be looking at each other!

Warbling Vireo – I didn’t notice the yellowjacket wasp the vireo was eyeing off until I got home & reviewed my images. They appear to be looking at each other!

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

A Tennessee Warbler strikes a pose during preening.

A Tennessee Warbler strikes a pose during preening.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

But it’s not just songbirds that pass through this park, there are some even smaller migrants…

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird...a nice surprise!

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird…a nice surprise!

…and where there are lots of small birds there are also larger birds that prey on them, such as the Cooper’s Hawk:

Cooper's Hawk - this juvenile has at least two siblings and had yet to develop a fear of humans like me.

Cooper’s Hawk – this juvenile has at least two siblings and had yet to develop a fear of humans like me.

TH1D5248d&b-fb TH1D5245d&b-crop-fb

One particular highlight from this summer would have to be my first warbler migration ‘fall out’, which took place while I was camping at Little Bow Provincial Park. A fall out occurs when migrating birds (warblers migrate at night) run into inclement weather and land to sit out the storm. Having arrived on Thursday evening, I was pleased to find a couple of warbler species (Blackpoll, Redstart, Yellow-rumped, Northern Waterthrush) but they were few and far between.

Northern Waterthrush - I found they like to skulk in the undergrowth but will occasionally pop up for a look around.

Northern Waterthrush – I found they like to skulk in the undergrowth but will occasionally pop up for a look around.

A young Blackpoll Warbler...the incredible southward migration to South America this species make still blows my mind...a 3,000 mile non-stop 88 hour flight over open ocean!

A young Blackpoll Warbler…the incredible southward migration to South America this species make still blows my mind…a 3,000 mile non-stop 88 hour flight over open ocean!

American Redstart

American Redstart

Perhaps the scruffiest-looking Yellow-rumped Warbler I've ever seen LOL

Perhaps the scruffiest-looking Yellow-rumped Warbler I’ve ever seen LOL

A forecasted cold front arrived just after lunch on Friday and it rained non-stop until the early hours of Saturday morning. By 8am, it was sunny out and I went for my usual morning birding sortie. While it started off pretty quiet, some new birds suddenly started to appear…the first being a Caspian Tern:

A big Caspian Tern that did a few loops of the boat launch then headed off. When I looked up the legbands I found it was banded in 2011 in Goose Bay, Washington.

A big Caspian Tern that did a few loops of the boat launch then headed off. When I looked up the legbands I found it was banded in 2011 in Goose Bay, Washington.

However, when I went and checked out the usual warbler trees and bushes they were literally hopping!

An elusive (for me) Black & White Warbler female.

An elusive (for me) Black & White Warbler female.

TH1D5438-fb

Yellow-rumpeds everywhere, pairs of Redstarts flitting around, bright yellow Wilson’s darting around.

An American Redstart pauses for a rest very briefly.

An American Redstart pauses for a rest very briefly.

American Redstart

American Redstart

Then when I looked up higher in the surrounding conifers – more warblers!: a pair of Cape Mays and even a handful of Townsend’s Warblers.

Cape May Warbler well on its way to non-breeding plumage

Cape May Warbler well on its way to non-breeding plumage

Townsend's Warbler - easily the best looks I've ever got of one of these.

Townsend’s Warbler – easily the best looks I’ve ever got of one of these.

When I returned to my trailer for breakfast I got confirmation of a fall-out as waves of warblers made their way through the campground trees, highlights being multiple Magnolias and even a Canada Warbler!

Magnolia Warbler - a pair of these fed in the trees next to my trailer.

Magnolia Warbler – a pair of these fed in the trees next to my trailer.

Alas, the one that got away...a Canada Warbler just was just too flighty for me to get a decent shot...next time!!

Alas, the one that got away…a Canada Warbler that was just too flighty for me to get a decent shot…next time!!

The migrating warblers took advantage of the return of good weather, and by the next morning the campground was a virtual ghost town warbler-wise! Ah well, it was great while it lasted and I was happy that the migrants got to move on again soon to the warmer and more bountiful lands to the south. By my count I got 13 species of warbler during the 24 hrs, not to mention the multiple vireos and flycatchers. Definitely an experience I’ll not soon forget!

A young Yellow Warbler

A young Yellow Warbler

As for warbler photography, this is definitely a challenge & can be equal parts frustrating and rewarding! These birds are by nature shy of humans and they also like to stay out of sight to avoid predators and they move very, very quickly. Normally I will take many shots but only a very few will be worth keeping for one reason or another (out-of-focus, blurry, bird not facing the camera, etc). Because of the habitat warblers favour (forest, undergrowth) light is often not great so to get the highest shutter speed I can I set my aperture as wide open (smallest f-stop) as possible I will generally set my ISO as high as I can tolerate (from a graininess perspective) which on my Canon 1Dx is ISO5000. I wouldn’t have dreamed of using such a high ISO on my old Canon 7D…ISO800 was the most I could bear, and it is this (and frame rate) that for me put the 1Dx head and shoulders above every other Canon DSLR (and also why the price is head & shoulders above everything else too!!). With these settings, it’s then a matter of patience plus skill plus luck to find and shoot warblers…patience to find and wait for a warbler to work its way out into the open, skill to be able to aquire, focus on, adjust exposure and shoot the warbler for the second or two it is visible, and luck for the bird to strike a nice pose and look in your direction (shots of birds looking at the viewer are generally more visually-pleasing than those that aren’t)! When it all comes together and you nail a sharp shot of a skittish warbler in a great pose you will be one very satisfied photog and I think rightly so – good luck!

I started with a Wilson's Warbler, so why not finish with one too? This bird was one of several Wilson's plucking insect larvae from reeds by a stream.

I started with a Wilson’s Warbler, so why not finish with one too? This bird was one of several Wilson’s plucking insect larvae from reeds by a stream.

Posted in Bird Canada | 14 Comments