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!


Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

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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Spring Arrivals

Spring has sprung here in New Brunswick. We were spoiled with a couple of sunny/warm days at first, but lately it hasn’t even been in the double digits and has been raining off and on. More and more birds continue to arrive each week regardless of the rain. Here is what I have been seeing so far in April;


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl



 Palm Warbler


American Kestrel


Eastern Phoebe


Snow Goose


Northern Cardinal


Pied-billed Grebe


Wood Duck


Rarities for April

Blue Grosbeak –

Little Blue Heron –

Glossy Ibis –


Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Owls, Waterfowl | 1 Comment

More spring birding around Calgary

Common Merganser female

Common Merganser female

Well spring migration is really kicking into gear since my last post, and it’s been great to see swags of species coming back to southern Alberta each week. Many waterfowl species are in making their way through, from the American Wigeon, Canada Geese, mergansers and Mallards:

Mallard drake

Mallard drake

Canada Goose pursuing rivals

Canada Goose pursuing rivals

American Wigeon - female

American Wigeon – female

American Wigeons

American Wigeons

I was also quite pleased to get some shots of the striking Northen Pintail:

Northern Pintail drake

Northern Pintail drake

And the ever-majestic Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are always a pleasure to see:

Trumpeter Swan portrait

Trumpeter Swan portrait

Trumpeter in flight

Trumpeter in flight

But of course it’s not just the ducks and already another early summer resident – the Mountain Bluebird – has become abundant in the past few weeks. On a sunny day, the plumage of these passerines is just electric:

Male Mountain Bluebird

Male Mountain Bluebird

Spring also means that a number of owl species will be on the nest and raising young, which in turn means they will be out actively hunting more than usual both to feed their nesting partner and in time a number (hopefully) of hungry young mouths to feed. Indeed, since my last post I’ve seen several more Great Greys out & about on their vole hunts:TH1D7016d&b-fb-web

GGO hunting at sunrise

GGO hunting at sunrise


TH1D6987-fb TH1D7295merge-web TH1D7334mask2-fb-webA kind fellow birder (thanks Jackie!) also gave me the chance to shoot some more of our soon-to-be-departing winter finches, namely the photogenic Common Redpoll:TH1D6692d&b-mask2-fb-web TH1D6663-fb-web TH1D6608d&b-crop-fb-web TH1D6592d&b-mask2-crop-fb-web

And finally, with the snow rapidly disappearing & trails becoming walkable, I was able to re-visit a local provincial park forest and see more of the up-tick in spring activity in the form of little forest gems singing away from the cheerful Pacific Wren:

Pacific Wren in full song

Pacific Wren in full song

Pacific Wren - they seem to like to sing in spring :)

Pacific Wren – they seem to like to sing in spring :)

To the never-sit-still Golden-crowned Kinglet:

Golden-crowned Kinglet - male. What a cool hair-do!

Golden-crowned Kinglet – male. What a cool hair-do!

Golden-crowned Kinglet - female

Golden-crowned Kinglet – female

However, the biggest personal highlight for me was to finally get to see the stunning Varied Thrush – also in full spring song mode:TH1D8043-web





Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

The Birder In Me

My name is Raymonde Savoie and I live in Moncton, New Brunswick. Since this blog is devoted to my favourite subject, birding in Canada, I am pleased to be posting related entries every 10th day of the month.  I am joining a long list of Canadian birders who post here from across the country every month to bring you their thoughts, discoveries and observations on the topic of birds.

I’ve been involved with birds ever since I can remember. It all began when, while watching some yellow and black birds feasting on thistles at the farm where I grew up in St. Maurice, I wondered what their name was. I imagined it to be an exotic name, for what else could this stunning bird possibly have but some name as beautiful as it was? Imagine my touch of disappointment finding out this was ‘just’ an American Goldfinch. To me, they will always hold this special attachment of being the first bird I identified from a field guide.  new-goldie

My fascination with birds grew as I got older, and keeping a list of the ones I could identify and count came as second nature. I have lists dating back to the early seventies, which I am slowly uploading on eBird. None of the other family members had this interest so I was made fun of more often than not, as I traipsed the fields and creek banks to spot anything with wings.

I’ve moved a lot in my life and everywhere I went, I made sure I listed and counted birds. Most notable of my past residences were Bancroft, Ontario, several places in Australia, and Vancouver Island. Seeing a Kookaburra for the first time was just as moving to me as my first American Goldfinch!

But in all the places I’ve lived, I’ve always had this inward calling to come back to New Brunswick and, besides my family and friends, to my beloved Maritime birds.

Now I reside in the city but I’m surrounded by parks and urban areas that birds love to frequent. I’m partial to the Irishtown Nature, and Centennial, Parks, but the Riverfront Park also holds treasures because of its location on the Petitcodiac River. I am blessed to live in an apartment building right beside the Fairview Knoll Park, off Elmwood Drive, with a view of the park’s east side. I’m living my bliss: writing my book, observing and counting birds, walking and painting.  What more could a birder want?

new-rustyRusty Blackbird, Caissie Cape, Kent County, NB, December 2012.

Posted in Bird Canada, Bird Identification | 2 Comments

Is it Spring yet?

Spring is slow to come to this little Island. At the best of times, we are surrounded by ice and the North wind from across the gulf keeps the renewed strength of the sun at bay. This year, it has been complicated by an accumulation of snow in excess of 500 cm (and more forecast to come) and snow on the ground in record amounts for this time of year.


Snow on Tryon Cross Road last Sunday.


Snow banks in Victoria-by-the-Sea.


We are still seeing some of our winter visitors but are looking forward to the arrival of some of those birds returning from the South.


Dark-eyed Junco


American Goldfinch; beginning the spring molt into breeding plumage.

Pine Siskin2

Some of those feisty Pine Siskins.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

So in search of signs of spring, last Sunday I took a drive up to the Tryon area. The Tryon River usually is a draw for any Canada Geese in the area. A couple of farmers in the area spread cull potatoes in the pasture there and that typically attracts the Geese. Last Sunday, I found a few.


A few Canada geese in Tryon. They were accompanied by many Mallards and Black Ducks.

On Friday, I followed up and the numbers of Geese had grown greatly.

Five Canadas – signs of thing to come.


Canada Geese along the Tryon River.




And more…


…And the fields were dotted with more.

IMG_2747Along the way, I was able to find more in Victoria-by-the-Sea and in DeSable.

I was also able to see a couple of Northern Flickers along the way and we have also been seeing reports of First of Year American Robins, Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Fox Sparrows. You can see those on

Finally, a shot of another of the locals. Looking forward for more to come. Maybe some Warblers?


Posted in Bird Canada | 3 Comments

A Risky Business

I’ve been feeding the birds in my backyard ever since that morning eight years ago when I noticed several black-hooded birds hopping around the overgrown garden of our new home on Gabriola Island. They made an odd, metallic chip, chip, chip noise that forced me to sit up and pay attention. Once I started looking, of course, I saw all kinds of birds, many much more colourful than the Dark-eyed Juncos that I now refer to as ‘my gateway drug’, and many with a much more beautiful song, like this male House Finch.

House Finch couple in tree. Beauty and oh that song!

House Finch couple in tree. Beauty and oh that song!

I was quickly hooked. It was all so easy: all I had to do was put out seed and suet and fresh water in return for a never-ending supply of avian visitors that charmed and entertained me. Friends and family were flying all over the world in search of adventure; I just had to sit on my deck. A glorious win-win.

Birds can read, right?

Birds can read, right?

Back yard photo - June 2014

Deck from which I often sit and watch.

The Rufous Hummers have arrived, a sure sign of spring.

The first Rufous Hummer arrived here on March 15 this year, same as most other years, as I watched from the deck.

A bush full of juncos

A winter quiz: How many Dark-eyed Juncos do you see?

The Northern Flicker likes this natural feeder.

The Northern Flicker likes this natural feeder.


Then, one day, tragedy struck. A window strike. Fortunately, the little Pine Siskin survived – although many birds do so, in the short term, only to die later of internal injuries.

Pine Siskin resting after hitting sliding glass door

Pine Siskin resting after hitting sliding glass door

Over the years I’ve lost too many birds to the windows (one is too many!) and have experimented with various ‘solutions’, including decals and keeping drapes closed in order to reduce the  perception of a flyway. So far, the solution that has worked the best is the American Bird Conservancy Tape. Since installing it on our garden room windows we haven’t had any bird strikes – that we know of. I just ordered some more for other windows.

Garden Room with ABC tape applied.

Garden Room with ABC tape applied.

Sometimes one of “my birds” is taken by a bird of prey. Last fall when a Cooper’s Hawk stopped by for a meal, I spent an hour trying to get the Steller’s Jays to ignore the peanuts I’d put out and get back up into the blasted trees! Fortunately, all seven jays survived to tell the tale another day – probably a tale about the woman in the back yard flailing her arms and hooting and hollering like a maniac.

What? I'm busy!

What? I’m busy!

But I can’t be there 24/7 to shoo away hungry hawks.  I’ve witnessed them munching on a junco on the back fence and seen remnants of kills in the gardens several times. The rational part of me screams, as I write this, “The hawks need to eat too!” Another part of me answers, dejectedly, “I know this.” But the reality is that by encouraging birds to congregate in one spot, a feeder, they become easy pickin’s for birds of prey.

And don’t get me started about cats!

Cat behind bars.

Cat behind bars. :)

See the sad stats on kills-by-cat here: Although I adore INDOOR cats and am averse to violence, I have been known to keep a long handled water gun at the ready. (It’s ridiculous, of course, does nothing but make me feel slightly less helpless, since by the time I open the door and aim the thing, the cat is already high-tailing it out of its favourite spot under a feeder.) Maybe I should deliver scrunchies to all the roaming cat-owners in the neighbourhood?

These hazards – window strikes, being eaten by a natural predator, being murdered by a cat – can happen at any time of year. But spring, now in full swing here on Gabriola …

Daffodils in the garden - now!

Daffodils in the garden – now!

… brings a new problem: disease. Pine Siskins with salmonella and House Finches with conjunctivitis have shown up at our feeders a few times, in spite of my obsession with keeping the feeders clean. The spread of disease is the peril that upsets me the most and that most makes me consider abandoning my bird-feeding habit once and for all.

House Finch with conjunctivitis.

House Finch with conjunctivitis.


Sick Pine Siskin, probably with salmonella.

Sick Pine Siskin, probably with salmonella.


The risk of spreading disease is why I took down my big seed feeder, the one where, in the spring, many birds fight for a spot while others scratch around in the ground below.

The big seed feeder full of Songbird Buffet. Hairy waiting for the RS Northern Flicker to finish lunch.

The big seed feeder full of Songbird Buffet. Also Hairy waiting for the RS Northern Flicker to finish his lunch.

The day came where I just couldn’t bear to look at the patch of ground under the feeder. We’d covered it with a wooden contraption that we moved periodically, hoping that would help reduce the risk of disease (wishful thinking? delusion?) but whenever I looked at it (often) I just saw a patch of earth teeming with deadly bacteria. It had to go.

Now I have various small feeders placed in strategic positions all over the yard, hiding under bushes and hanging from branches and garden structures. I also toss seed by hand and provide suet for the woodpeckers, especially in winter and during breeding season, and shelled peanuts for the chickadees and nectar for the hummingbirds. And I plant native plants and flowers, more every season. Here’s a great resource in that regard: 

Hairy Woodpecker at suet

Hairy Woodpecker at suet

Northern Flicker with the suet block all to himself.

Northern Flicker with the suet block all to himself.

Rufous hummers

Hungry Rufous Hummers

And I still toss peanuts-in-the-shell to the jays that seem to think they own the place.

Steller's Jay resting on patio chair.

Steller’s Jay resting on patio chair.

One part of me nudges me to stop feeding the birds altogether, to just quit, cold turkey, especially in spring and summer when natural food is plentiful. So far, though, a much bigger and louder part immediately screams NO! – and begins to whimper. Apparently, it’s not quite ready for me to give up my habit. At those times, I go looking for support and corroboration from experts. Luckily, it is there to be found!  I found this invaluable information, for example, on the Cornell Lab website:

Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, during migration in the spring, a bird feeder might be a very welcome source of food for a bird that has already come a long way from its wintering grounds and still has a long way to go before reaching its breeding grounds. In the summer, even though there is a lot of food available for birds, their energy requirements are high because they must feed their young.”

Thank you Cornell, for enabling my habit. I owe you one. :)

Have you struggled with this dilemma? Any insights or advice to share?

Posted in Bird Behaviour, Bird Canada | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Spring Warbler Quiz (Eastern)

I thought I’d do something different this month. Before I get there I must mention that those of us in Atlantic Canada have a hard time believing that it really was the first day of Spring a few days ago. Nevertheless, I went back through ebird to find when species were first coming to where I live in New Brunswick (Woodstock) last Spring. I’m skeptical some will come as early since there is still so much snow here, but you never know!

April 3 – Killdeer and American Robin

April 6 – Wood Duck and Canada Goose

April 11 AM – Eastern Phoebe and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

April 11 PM – Palm Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, American Kestrel, and Savannah Sparrow

April 12 – Tree Swallow

April 13 – Osprey and Northern Harrier

April 22 – Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler

I was the first in NB to see quite a few of these species last year because I traveled thirty minutes to work every day. This year I’m only two minutes away so I’ll have to make a point to do some searching for spring migrants this year.

I’d be curious to know what April looks like in other parts of Canada. Hopefully those of you reading from other provinces will share!


Next I thought I’d include photos of various warbler species that we get here in New Brunswick. This is a nice way to get ready for Spring and is something to look forward when you look outside and see so much snow. This isn’t too hard as all the pictures are of males and that is what will be arriving here first anyway so its great practice.

Please comment and guess what you think each warbler is. I’ll post the answers in a week or two and will include some hints if I need to. The pictures aren’t the greatest on purpose and some are more obvious than others, good luck!


Spring Warbler Quiz (8 different species)











Until next time,

Nathan Staples

Posted in Bird Canada | 5 Comments

Late winter/early spring birding in Vancouver

For my guest blog this month, I thought I would provide a small sample of the birds I have seen and photographed from mid-January to mid-March in the greater Vancouver region. To say that it has been warmer than the rest of the country for most of the time would be an understatement, but if it can make you feel better, we did get long periods of rain, especially in January!

In case you are wondering, all of these photos were taken by me with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED. None of these birds were baited, called in or set up…

Anna’s Hummingbird (female), sipping a few cherry blossoms at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus in February:

ANHU_female_03-UBC-2015_03_02And speaking of hummingbirds, I discovered several days ago that this Anna’s Hummingbird chose build her nest on a wind chime, next to the front door of one of our neighbours! I am guessing that the eggs may hatch in the next 10 days or so…

ANHU_female-North_Van-2015_03_16This dashing male Northern Flicker seemed to be scouting, with his female companion, a suitable location for their nest:


And this handsome pair of Hooded Mergansers seemed to have been enjoying a leisurely swim in March no the pond at Jericho Beach Park:

HOME_pair-Jericho_pond-2015_03_07And last (but certainly not least), the following photo of a female Bushtit hanging on a fern was taken in February at UBC Vancouver:

BUSH_female-UBC-2015_02_11See you next month…

Pierre Cenerelli

Not only for the birds?

Posted in Bird Behaviour, Canadian Birds, Hummingbirds, Nature Photography, Songbirds, Winter Birding in Canada, Woodpeckers | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Late winter/early spring birding in Vancouver

Early Spring 2015 Birding in Calgary

A male Northen PygmyOwl

A male Northen PygmyOwl

Due to a combination of vacation, multiple family commitments and unfavourable weather, I haven’t got out birding that much the past month. That said, the few forays I have made have been reasonably productive so I can’t complain.

Another shot of the male Pygmy Owl

Another shot of the male Pygmy Owl

A real highlight was getting to see a second Northern Pygmy Owl – a male – in Fish Creek Park.

Male NPO emerging from a tree cavity.

Male NPO emerging from a tree cavity.

This bird has a lovely rufous-brown colouration (vs the more grey-brown of his mate), but has proven just as adept at hunting as the female.

Another successful hunt...the owl saw this vole in the snow from 30 metres away!

Another successful hunt…the owl saw this vole in the snow from 30 metres away!

Note, the only way I can tell this bird is a male is because I have seen it mating …fair to say this pair do not seem particularly shy!

A female Northern Pygmy Owl just after pouncing on a vole.

A female Northern Pygmy Owl just after pouncing on a vole.

The female NPO with its catch - each hunt I've seen ends with a 'coups de gras' with the owl biting the back of the vole's neck

The female NPO with its catch – each hunt I’ve seen ends with a ‘coups de gras’ with the owl biting the back of the vole’s neck

Another birding destination was the Weaselhead Natural Area, a local park not far from where I live. While the very mild Alberta winter has brought out a lot more dog-walkers, joggers, etc there have still been some good birds to see despite the increased foot traffic, including Pine Grosbeaks, House Finches, Redpolls and Dark-eyed Juncos:

A female Pine Grosbeak

A female Pine Grosbeak

The same Grosbeak, up close

The same Grosbeak, up close

A 'red' House Finch

A ‘red’ House Finch

A 'yellow-red' House Finch - I gather the various colourations have something to do with diet

A ‘yellow-red’ House Finch – I gather the various colourations have something to do with diet


Dark-eyed Junco - I find they like to spend most of their time foraging in the underbrush

Dark-eyed Junco – I find they like to spend most of their time foraging in the underbrush

Same Junco as above, different pose.

Same Junco as above, different pose.

This weekend, I decided to try and find a Great Grey Owl which are always exciting to find and photograph. I was hopeful more than anything as it’s been over a year since I’ve lucked out in seeing a GGO, but I guess today was my today and I managed to get two brief glimpses of GGO!

A Great Grey Owl - always a treat!

A Great Grey Owl – always a treat!


Great Grey Owl - a face full of personality.

Great Grey Owl – a face full of personality.

Looking ahead, the early spring migrants have already started arriving in Alberta, so hopefully next month I’ll be able to showcase a few of these.

And finally, this blog marks the start of my fourth year of bird photography – it’s been entertaining to look back at my first shots from 3 years ago and see how I’ve progressed to today. But best of all, it’s still so much fun – which is what got me started in the first place!



Posted in Bird Canada | 3 Comments