Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard

THacheHello from Manitouwadge, in Northwestern Ontario.

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

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

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

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


Posted in Bird Canada, Boreal Forest Birds | 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Veery - a bird of the thrush family.

Veery – a bird of the thrush family.


A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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

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

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler


Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Canada Warbler

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


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

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

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


A male Canvasback airing out its wings


Marbled Godwit – Weed Lake


The ever-wary Pied-billed Grebe.


Female Northern Shoveller


A Greater (maybe Lesser) Scaup drake


A female Lesser Scaup

A Gadwall in full flight

A Gadwall in full flight

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


Chasing away a Stilt...

Chasing away a Stilt… get some privacy...

…to get some privacy…

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

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

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


Mirror-like conditions on a crisp, still morning.


Chasing away another stilt pair that came too close!



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

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

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

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


A male Red-winged Blackbird in full display mode!


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

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

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

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



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How to Create a Wild Bird Garden Haven

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

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

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

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

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

Perennials and Annuals In Containers and Garden Beds

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

These flowering plants are most especially attractive to Hummingbirds:

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

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

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

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

Grasses ~ Make a Grass Bed for Seed-Eaters

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

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

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

Many thanks to these references:

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

Jean Sorensen:

Birds and Blooms website:

Lotus Land:

Raymonde Savoie in Moncton, New Brunswick

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds, Hummingbirds, Wood Warblers | Comments Off on How to Create a Wild Bird Garden Haven

The Characters

Sapsucker and downspout

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

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


On the Barbeque.


On the neighbours old snowblower.

Sapsucker calling

Calling and drumming on the guard rail.


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

R-t Hummingbird2

Back for the summer.


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


“Lookin’ my best!”


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

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

Posted in Bird Canada | 1 Comment

A Lovely Bouquet of Crows

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

A birder joke

A birder joke

Crows are in the news in Vancouver these days, as they are every spring, as they protect their nests from potential predators, including humans walking down the sidewalk. You can read about the current “bit of a war zone” (in the words of George Clulow, president of B.C. Field Ornithologists) here:


Crow in Stanley Park. Photo by Doug Walkley.

Northwestern Crow in Stanley Park.  Photo by Doug Walkley.


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

Vincent van Gogh - Wheat Field with Crows (1890)

Vincent van Gogh – Wheat Field with Crows (1890)


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

American Crow - wikipedia image

American Crow – wikipedia image

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

Common Raven

Common Raven – note the shaggy throat


Steller's Jay relaxing on our back deck

Steller’s Jay relaxing on our back deck


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

Northwestern Crow. Photo by Dick Daniels, CC license.

Northwestern Crow. Photo by Dick Daniels, CC license.


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

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

Crows in parking lot in Nanaimo eating a dead bird.

Crows in parking lot in Nanaimo eating a dead bird.


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

Three Crows. Photo by Junior Libby. CC license.

Three Crows. Photo by Junior Libby. CC license.


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

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


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

Spring arrivals continued

It seems like every time I get out birding this month, there are a couple new species that have arrived in my area (Woodstock, NB). Just last week I found 75 different species! I’m up to 135 for the year and need just another 30 to beat my record for what I’ve found over the course of a year in New Brunswick.

Here is what I’ve been seeing around Carleton County;

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler


Brant (lifer) – it stayed around for a week. It is very common to see this species around here so it was great that I didn’t have to go to northern or southern NB to find one.


Blue-headed Vireo


Blackburnian Warbler – usually this species is up high in the trees so it was nice to see this one up close and low enough to get a photo!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) – I’ve had the male and female in my yard for over a week now


Northern Parula – a very easy warbler to find around right now. Ovenbirds are too, but they are much harder to photograph!


Rarities for May – New Brunswick

Yellow-crowned Night Heron –

Sandhill Crane –

Orchard Oriole –

Blue Grosbreak –

Yellow-throated Warbler –

Glossy Ibis –


Until next time,

Nathan Staples

Posted in Bird Canada, Migration, Wood Warblers | Comments Off on Spring arrivals continued

Birding around Calgary – May 2015

TH1D2575d&b-crop-fbWell, things continue to hot up around Calgary as more and more returning birds make their way north. This time of year I like to go visiting ponds and sloughs all over Calgary and its outskirts as I never know quite what will be around.

One returning species that I particularly look forward to is the graceful American Avocet with its delicate upturned bill:TH1D2534-crop-fb

When the weather cooperates and I get a cloudless sky with minimal wind, it’s worth the effort to get up early and get shooting shortly after sunrise. Not only do you get great glass-like reflections from the water surface, but this also combines with warm, saturated colours from the golden sun which can add some interest to any shot:TH1D2341-d&b-crop-fb

In company with the avocets were a number of Yellowlegs:TH1D3064-fb TH1D2433-fb

However they were not exactly ‘best friends’ and the avocets would frequently chase away their more diminutive shorebird cousins:TH1D2035-fb

Not to be outdone, a handful of Bonaparte’s Gulls made an appearance and after giving me a couple of squawking fly-bys to let me know they knew I was there, then quickly settled on the pond surface and proceeded to feed on what looked like snails:TH1D2758d&b-crop-fb2 TH1D2142-fb

TH1D2183-fbWaterfowl are now back in great numbers and at some other ponds I came across the striking Red-necked Grebe:TH1D3119-fbTH1D3149-fb 

As well as flotilla of Redheads:TH1D3256d&b-fb

As you can tell from the shot above, I don’t always shoot at water-level as often you get some attractive water reflections simply shooting from kneeling down.

While doing all this shooting, I was serenaded by the spring chorus of a dozen Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds – a sound that epitomises spring for me:TH1D3212d&b-fb

The surrounding shrubs and trees also produced a few new birds such as the White-crowned Sparrow:TH1D3274-fb

and a resident-all-year Red-breasted Nuthatch who picking off newly emerging spiders:TH1D1386d&b-fb

Elsewhere I was very pleased to get some close-ups of Canvasbacks, which happened to be a target bird of mine this year as I’d never got any shots I was happy with until now:TH1D2499d&b-crop-fbTH1D3777-fb

as well as a Cinnamon Teal revealing its gorgeous wing plumage:TH1D4227-fb

At Prince’s Island Park at the northern edge of downtown I was also pleased to see a pair of American Wigeons going about their day, with the male being particularly vocal:TH7D8913d&b-fb TH7D8810d&b-fb

TH7D9265d&b-crop-fbThis park also hosts dozens of Canada Geese:TH1D3292-fb

and it was great to see my first goslings of the year – such photogenic yellow puffballs!:TH7D9392-fb

 Looking ahead, by the time you read this I should be on my way to Point Pelee National Park in Ontario to try & capture some warbler action. Needless to say I’m quite excited at the prospect, so with a bit of luck I’ll be able to share my results with you next month! Cheers, Tim.


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Park Visits and Global Bird Day

With the spring migration underway, I’m avidly watching the States wind direction forecast for the upcoming week for the eastern part (Upper Midwest and Northeast Forecast) that will also affect the bird migrating trends on our end here in New Brunswick.

But that’s for next week. This past week has seen an influx of sparrows, some warblers and there have even been reports of a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being spotted, so I set out to visit two parks here in Moncton to see what I could find. I was rewarded handsomely with a list of 30 species for Centennial Park on Sunday the 3rd and from Irishtown Park on the 6th, I gleaned 19 species from very windy conditions. This Red-breasted Merganser skirted past me behind some shrubs and I couldn’t resist that stunning red eye.

A note about my photos: Please click on the image
to enlarge for a crisper, clearer picture.

parkday2-merg2The deciduous trees are taking their time in putting out flowers and leaves, so perhaps it’s a good thing that there aren’t many warblers showing up quite yet. I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler on the 5th near the feeder area that I have at Fairview Knoll Park, and last week I was blessed to see a flock of 15 Rusty Blackbirds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me on either occasion.


At Centennial Park, I walked to the lake and watched a pair of Canada Geese who seemed unaffected by the drop in water level. One individual was nesting on the little island with her mate swimming nearby. It was a hot day and I admired her (if it was the female) tenacity to sit on that nest for so long.

parkday1-cgnestparkday1-cg-maleAs I sat at a picnic table I soon noticed some bird action behind me in the shade. I turned, stood still and focused. There appeared out of the shadows several species: the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, a few Rock Pigeons, Dark-eyed Juncos, a couple of courting Blue Jays and one lone Mallard, intent on figuring out what I was doing with my camera.

parkday1-curious-drakeThree days later, I visited Irishtown Park on a very windy day and frankly, because of this I didn’t expect to see many birds. But I was hopeful the Loons had returned so I went anyway. There, too, the deciduous trees are pretty much still quite bare.

parkday2After taking the Yellow Trail through the woods I was alone for most of the way until I first heard, and then saw, a shy Hermit Thrush in the underbrush. Being late afternoon, all the photos I took in the forest came out too shadowy for my liking. But as soon as I reached the bridge that spans the reservoir, the light was just right and there it was: my first Common Loon this year. Then later two more appeared. This one was so hard to capture that I’m sure she knew that I wanted to take her photo and was being evasive on purpose. As soon as I would aim and try to hold the camera still in the high winds, she would duck underwater and disappear from view for minutes at a time.

parkday2_common_loonThen along came the Red-breasted Mergansers and I completely forgot all about the Loon! There were fifteen males and females. I managed to capture them up close and personal, then again I caught them in the mad rush to get away when I came too close, on their flight shoreward. The shrubs between us kept me camouflaged, but it was also a hindrance to a clear, open view. Nevertheless, they seemed to cooperate nicely. This next photo shows the long, curved bill.



parkday2_merganser3But the week wasn’t over after my two park visits. There was still the Global Birding Day leftover as a special treat, and this day I decided to spend at Grande-Digue near the water.  The different habitats I visited included wetlands, meadows, deciduous and coniferous woods, the shoreline from Cap de Cocagne to Caissie Cape, and different human habitations, including my sister’s feeder that she keeps amply stocked.  Seen with their attractive heads looking away are: White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch females and one male. Later a couple of Pine Siskins, a Blue Jay, and the ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadees made their late afternoon visits, as well as the Ring-necked Pheasant, a resident in these parts.

globalday2-05-09-15There, too, spring is slow in arriving with the Sugar Maple flower buds just erupting. The Red Maples are not even opened yet.

globalday1-05-09-15 On Global Day, May 9th, my sister and I saw or heard 40 different species. Most of the time, she spotted, and I recorded, the birds. Of note on the list is my first of the year Black and Surf Scoter, American Kestrel, an immature Great-crested Cormorant, Northern Pintail Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and several Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Osprey. But no Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Yet.

Speaking of warblers, I must refresh my memory on calls, songs and the myriad array of colourful plumage our guests will sport as they migrate to our fair land.  Until next time…

Wishing you great Birding Days!
Raymonde Savoie

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds, Migration, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Wood Warblers | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

They are Coming to Us

With the changing season, some of the locals are getting new wardrobes and others, who have spent the winter here, are considering moving on.


Pine Siskin – These birds are preparing to return North.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch – Our goldfinch have almost completed their molt and are singing daily.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker – Woodpeckers are active; calling and drumming.


Hairy Woodpecker


Dark-eyed Junco – Juncos have been with us all winter but rather than remaining as ground feeders, they have chosen to go directly to the source.

With the days lengthening and warmer weather, we are seeing new birds almost on a daily basis. The dawn chorus is beginning and we are hearing new song, tweets and rattling and drumming each new day. In recent weeks we have had an influx of Sparrows beginning with Fox and Song followed shortly by White-throated. Dark-eyed Juncos have been with us all winter but seem to have become more active and singing in the past few weeks.


Fox Sparrow – This is one of many, passing through the province, and delighting all with their song.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Purple Finch

Purple Finch – These birds have arrived recently and along with their colour, they are adding to the song.

Purple Finch - Female

Purple Finch – Female


Ring-billed Gull – In bright breeding plumage (but dirty feet).

Gull From Away

Strange Gull – This gull this thought to be a Ring-billed/Black-headed Gull Hybrid.

Ring-necked Duck pair

Ringed-necked Duck – Pair in breeding plumage.

But May is the month of warblers…Bring them on!


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Something to Celebrate

On the brink of becoming an official card-carrying senior, I find myself embarrassed, more and more often, at the things we humans do. As a younger person, I was rather optimistic about the world. Now I’m not. Now I wonder, every ten minutes, what are we thinking?

What are we thinking, for example, when we decide to slaughter 10,912 Double-crested Cormorants, shooting them out of the sky with shotguns, and at close range with rifles as they tend to their nests in the Columbia River Estuary? Or when we plan to destroy 26,096 of their nests?  All this slaughter is supposed to solve the problem of declining salmon populations. But the cormorants about to be slaughtered didn’t create the salmon decline, and killing them probably won’t solve the problem.

Thankfully, the Audobon Society of Portland is trying to stop this slaughter. Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Friends of Animals, they’re seeking an injunction to stop the killing while a case now in the courts proceeds through the system. (Read more at and

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Jim Cruce.

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Jim Cruce.

Closer to home, here in BC, what are we thinking when we decide to kill Barred Owls in order to improve the survival chances of the Spotted Owl? The Spotted Owl problem is due to the fragmentation of their old-growth forest habitat by logging, not to any crimes perpetrated by Barred Owls. (

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

And what are we thinking when we okay the shooting of Grizzly Bears by trophy hunters in BC’s Chilcotin Cariboo? (

Or as we plan to shoot wolves, by helicopter, in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace in BC in order to save dwindling caribou herds? (

Are the government officials making these decisions out of touch with their citizens? It would seem so. Certainly, many many BC citizens actively oppose the Barred Owl cull and the hunting of Grizzlies and the barbaric and ineffective wolf cull. Over sixty national and international organizations, in fact, signed an open letter to the Premier of BC on Feb 25 2015 in opposition to the wolf cull. (


Grey wolf

Grey wolf

Farther afield, in the Mediterranean, what are we thinking when we allow the killing of millions of migratory birds a year to line the pockets of poachers and satisfy the palates of European diners? In Malta, Cyprus, northern Italy, and southern France the poaching of protected migratory birds happens on an industrial scale operation. In spite of the laws of their respective countries, hunters trap and kill Ortolan Buntings, Thrushes, Golden Plovers, Finches, Skylarks, Bramblings, Sparrows, and Lapwings for sport and to sell to restaurants that serve them as a delicacy. As if cats and windows and habitat loss weren’t enough to deal with!

Songbirds on a plate

Songbirds on a plate. CABS website photo.

I am, therefore, very grateful for the brave and persistent work of The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), a group of volunteers dedicated to stopping the illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Mediterranean. Recently they’ve been celebrated in Emptying the Skies, a documentary based on a New York Times article by Jonathon Franzen. He describes the group as an “intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers waging a secret war against poachers, disrupting illegal trapping to free as many as possible.”  Trailer: (

Bird stuck to lime stick

Bird stuck to lime stick. CABS website photo.

Among its many activities, CABS conducts training camps where “novices learn to move unobtrusively across rough terrain, detect the poachers’ carefully concealed nets and traps, and lead Forest Police patrols to ambush positions.” It’s not a job for the uncommitted – volunteers have been beaten up, shot at, had their cameras smashed.

CABS is also involved in research, in making legal challenges to ‘special regulations’ that benefit trappers and hunters, and in educating the public about the illegal bird-trapping problem. A non-partisan, politically independent organisation, it is financed exclusively through donations from the public.

The CABS volunteers who risk their lives to save the lives of birds remind me of all the good work being done on behalf of the natural world by all kinds of people. They help me feel a little less mortified at being a member of the species that slaughters innocent animals in a half-hearted attempt to solve human-created problems. They remind me that many people are not only thinking about the long-term needs of the natural world but also working hard on its behalf.

So, this year, to celebrate my 65th birthday, I am doing a slide show, Celebrating the Birds of Gabriola, as a fundraiser for CABS. It’s May 8 at 7 pm at The Commons. If you’re on the island, please come. I’ll pass a hat at the end.

A White-crowned Sparrow nesting on Gabriola

A White-crowned Sparrow nesting on Gabriola. “Please come!!”


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