Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – June 2016

Hello again and welcome to Summer!  It was so cold in May, we were really beginning to wonder if warmer temperatures would ever actually hit.  Well …….. they have:  it’s 27C today.  🙂

Most of the photos in this post were taken earlier in the month.  It’s much quieter in the yard now than it was a month ago.  The birds are off nesting now and the ones that aren’t nesting have youngsters chasing after them for food!  This post will be more photos than anything else but these are all visitors to the yard (aside from a small handful).

Black Capped Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Pine Siskins

A tiny portion of the Pine Siskin flock that took over the yard for a month or so!

Blue Jay

Blue Jays usually disappear for the summer but in recent weeks, I’ve had a couple coming around.

Female Downy Woodpecker

I normally have a half dozen Woodpeckers around in summer, between Hairies & Downies but so far this season, only this female Downy has been around … & sporadically at that.

Female Evening Grosbeak

Female Evening Grosbeak on the birdbath rim.

Male American Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch. Haven’t seen many of them but at least a couple little Flying Lemons are here!

Male Eastern Bluebird

This male Eastern Bluebird was here for a few weeks in late May. Have not seen him since. 🙁

Male Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks are nesting nearby so with any luck, I’ll get to host the young ones in the yard later this summer.

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrows are also nesting in the area.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows nest in my next door neighbour’s shrubs every year & use my yard for hawking insects to feed the young. 🙂

Cedar Waxwing in blooming Crabapple Tree

Beautiful Cedar Waxwings were around for a few weeks as fruiting trees & shrubs were in full bloom. This one was in my Crabapple tree.

Juvenile Starlings

Juvenile Starlings are throughout the neighbourhood now, loudly squawking to be fed!

Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds were very late to my yard this year. I didn’t have my first sighting until the end of May instead of the middle of the month.

When I sit out on my back deck now, I regularly hear Red Eyed Vireos & Ovenbirds calling from the woods outside my back fence.  If I actually went out in the evening, I’d probably hear Hermit Thrushes too.  One even last week, we had our patio doors open about 10:00pm when one of my (indoor only) cats freaked out & bolted for the screen.  A bird had gotten into our gazebo!  My husband & I went out to rescue it.  I was able to scoop it up off the screen wall & look just quickly enough to discover that it was a type of Thrush but it was too dark to see clearly … plus the bird was panicked so we just let it go.  No idea how it suddenly ended up in the gazebo!

Soaring Bald Eagle

Out in my backyard one day last week, I watched this majestic Bald Eagle soaring over my neighbourhood. It caught a thermal & quickly disappeared.

Another Swan was discovered on my local Manitouwadge Lake this week.  I’m hearing now that they are expanding their range into this area & may even nest here in coming years.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

While traveling to the Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival at the end of May, my husband & I took a drive through the little town of Rossport where we’ll be catching a charter boat in July for a day on Lake Superior.  As we were leaving town, we spotted this Turkey Vulture standing atop a power pole.  It just stood there staring at us and then slowly flew away.  Almost frightening looking things when you see them up close but still a majestic creature!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

We always visit the Nipigon Marina in Nipigon, On., on our way to the Festival because we almost always find Pelicans there.  This trip did not disappoint but we only saw the one this time.

Pelican with Gulls

Pelican with Gulls at the Nipigon Marina

Ending with an interesting tidbit this month:  I just learned yesterday that we actually have Whip-poor-wills up here.  This is definitely a new one for me, having never heard them before.  A friend even sent me a call that she recorded last night from her driveway … no mistaking it!  I’ll be listening more closely for them from now on.

Thanks for reading/looking …. Happy Summer …. ‘see’ you in July!

Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

Birding Magee Marsh – a postcard from Ohio

TH1D3710d&b-v-fbFor this month’s post, I’m going to share some images from a special place just south of the Canadian border…the self-proclaimed ‘Warbler Capital of the World’: Ohio’s Magee Marsh wildlife refuge. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Magee is a magical birding spot. I had the opportunity to spend 3 wonderful days at the refuge during the height of spring migration in mid-May, and spent almost 10 hours each day photographing (or at least trying to!) the many, many songbirds that were present. I had only visited Magee briefly once before, but I was told by others (and have heard since as well) that this year was a particularly good one for the amount and variety of birds that were seen…so I consider myself very lucky!

A curious Cape May Warbler foraging in the tree-line.

A curious Cape May Warbler foraging in the tree-line.

By virtue of its location and habitat, Magee is a ‘migrant trap’: the refuge is the last land before a major non-stop water crossing (Lake Erie) for migrating birds, and is also one of the few oases of preserved natural swamp/woodland in a sea of cleared farmland. Indeed, I personally tallied 22 warbler species, not to mention many other songbirds (vireos, thrushes, etc) and many other birds species as well. While I had seen some of them before (usually in their southward migration in late summer/fall), I had only seen a few in their full spring ‘breeding plumage’ glory and some of the warblers seemed to glow – the Blackburnians especially so!

A striking male Blackburnian a glowing ember.

A striking male Blackburnian Warbler…like a glowing ember.

Of course, with such a reputation, the refuge attracts thousands of birders and it can get pretty cramped on the narrow boardwalks at times but just about everyone was very polite and understanding which made for an enjoyable experience for all.

On 'the boardwalk' at Magee Marsh - this was a typical scene.

On ‘the boardwalk’ at Magee Marsh – this was a typical scene.

Magee really has to be experienced to be believed, and personally, I have to say that on my visit it lived up to the hype. I took literally thousands of photos and have tried to sift out my favourites…so here they are. Hopefully they convey something of Magee’s birding magic!

Blackburnian Warbler (my personal fave):TH1D3300d&b-flickr-final-wm

Black-throated Green Warbler:TH1D4468d&b-v TH1D2072

Black-throated Blue WarblerTH7D8509d&b-crop-v TH7D8381d&b-mask-v

Yellow Warbler:TH1D2128d&b-crop

Cape May Warbler:TH7D8710d&b-mask2-flickr-final

Black and White Warbler:TH7D7742d&b-mask2-fb-crop2 TH1D2664-mask

Chestnut-sided Warbler:TH1D2113 TH1D4502-land-flickr TH1D1844d&b-mask-fb-final

Prothonotary Warbler:TH1D3468d&b-mask-flickr-final TH1D4227

Tennessee Warbler:TH7D8171d&b-crop-v

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher:TH1D4278d&b

Magnolia Warbler:TH1D1923d&b-crop TH1D3995d&b-crop TH1D3720d&b

Nashville Warbler:TH7D9377d&b-crop-v

Bay-breasted Warbler:TH1D2711d&b-crop

American Redstart:TH1D1806d&b-fb-wm TH1D4544-mask TH1D5019merge-fb-wm

Yellow-rumped Warbler:TH1D4134-fb

Northern Parula:TH1D3108d&b TH7D7539-crop

Palm Warbler:TH1D1866-mask-fb TH1D3603-flickr

Canada Warbler:TH7D8425d&b-mask2-v TH7D8346d&b-crop

and no, not a warbler but a House Wren:TH1D2453d&b-crop


and a couple of non-warbler highlights…an Eastern Whip-poor-will (somewhat soggy from a passing shower) that perched all day on a stump only 2 feet off the boardwalk:TH1D2065

and finally the curious-looking American Woodcock which patrolled the forest floor:TH1D2279d&b

enjoying a juicy earthworm!:TH1D2388d&b

For more of my wildlife images you can follow me here:


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T.O. Backyard – Road Trip!


A stunning male Pronthonotary Warbler at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Rob and I took off on a four day, three night birding road trip during the height of Spring migration here in Ontario. From May 8th to 11th, we visited three of our favorite spots in southern Ontario; Hillman Marsh, Rondeau Provincial Park, and the world renowned, Point Pelee National Park.

We had a fantastic time! It had been a few years since we had been in the area, and it was wonderful to experience it again. We saw close to 100 species, and enjoyed the many birding friend sightings we had as well as the birds.

Rob took close to a thousand pics, and it was hard to pick a few to share in what is going to be more of a picture blog. I hope you enjoy the pictures I chose to share, as they may of made it to this blog because of the memory more so than picture quality.

All photos by Rob Mueller unless otherwise stated. Enjoy!


My first warbler sighting, a beautiful Palm Warbler. Hillman Marsh


This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dandelion buffet. Hillman Marsh


This Bald Eagle was chased right outta the marsh by the determined gull, an interesting sight to witness. Hillman Marsh


A Black and White Warbler in the shadows. Point Pelee


A Barn Swallow greeted us at the tip of Point Pelee.


A Black-throated Green Warbler in the trees. Point Pelee


A Cape May Warbler along the road side. Point Pelee


A Blue-winged Warbler was quite cooperative for the photographers. Point Pelee


The strikingly beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Point Pelee


This Kirtland’s Warbler created quite a frenzy in the park. Photo by Dave Iluck.       Point Pelee

Kirtland’s Warblers are rare in the area and we just happened to be in the park the day one was sighted. This was a life bird for both Rob and I, and also our friend Dave, who was standing beside me when he took this picture.  There is a whole story about how this sighting came to be, and if you’d like to read about it, check out my personal blog HERE.


A Common Nighthawk roosting close to a washroom was quite popular as a photo op. Point Pelee


Is there anything more beautiful than the call of a Wood Thrush? Point Pelee


The Wood Thrush looking more at home on the forest floor.  Point Pelee


Our last sighting in Point Pelee, an Eastern Screech Owl.


Our first Eastern Bluebird sighting of 2016 was not in an area we expected to see one, a wooded area of Rodeau Provincial Park.


A pretty male Redstart in Rondeau Provincial Park.


A Prothonotary Warbler checking out how handsome he is in the pond or maybe he was looking for bugs. Rondeau Provincial Park

I hope you enjoyed our Spring migration picture blog, until next time, good birding!


Posted in Bird Canada | 5 Comments

When Birds Get Sick

If you pay attention to wild birds you’re bound to see a sick one at your feeder from time to time. Birds get sick and die for a myriad of reasons, just like humans – old age, accidents, disease. They also get taken by predators (both the natural and human varieties) and, increasingly, die young due to poor health or starvation related to fast-changing habitat. We can’t do anything to prevent death from old age, of course, and it’s an ongoing challenge to protect bird habitat – as the recent State of North America’s Birds 2016 Report demonstrates all too well – but we can try to do something to reduce early deaths resulting from disease.

Hummingbird’s Tongue Fungal Infection

Anna's Hummingbird with "Hummingbird Tongue" Fungal Disease. Photo by John Rakestraw with permission.

Anna’s Hummingbird with “Hummingbird Tongue” Disease. Photo by John Rakestraw with permission.

One disease we can help prevent is a deadly fungal infection often called “hummingbird’s tongue” which causes a hummer’s tongue to swell, making it impossible to eat. You might see the sick hummer just sitting at a feeder with its swollen tongue hanging out of its mouth. Eventually it dies of starvation. See John Rakestraw’s blog post about this disease here: 

Since sugar-water is conducive to the growth of pathogens, the only remedy is a preventative one: CLEAN feeders. Be sure to use only white sugar (never honey or organic sugar or brown sugar) when you make up your sugar-water solution (1 part sugar to 4 parts water, boiled) and avoid the red-dyed commercial preparation!

Glass hummer feeder that comes apart for easy cleaning

Glass hummer feeder that comes apart for easy cleaning

To clean your hummingbird feeder, empty and thoroughly wash the whole thing in hot water using a bottle brush to scrub the interior glass. Do not use soap. Once a month or more, use a solution of I part bleach to 9 parts water as a cleaning solution. Clean all removable parts with a toothbrush and/or Q-tip. Make sure every speck of foreign material is removed and it’s clean enough for YOU to drink from.

If your life is too busy to stick to a cleaning regimen, you can still enjoy hummingbirds by planting fuschia and flowering currant and many other kinds of brightly-coloured native plants in your garden. If you plant it, they will come!

Another disease we can help prevent is salmonella, a bacteria that is spread in bird droppings then ingested. At first glance, birds with salmonella may appear cute and almost tame, not even trying to fly away when a human gets close. Pine Siskins are particularly susceptible to this bacteria, especially during irruption years, partly because they’re highly social, travel in flocks, and eat together.

Sick Pine Siskin

Sick Pine Siskin

Salmonella also occurs in Evening Grosbeaks and Brown-headed Cowbirds as well as in cats that kill and eat sick songbirds. If you have handled a sick or dead bird, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly because salmonella is the bacteria associated with food poisoning in humans.

Avian Pox

Dark-eyed Junco with suspected Avian Pox

Dark-eyed Junco with suspected Avian Pox

Avian Pox Avian Pox is a virus that can be transmitted from bird to bird by infected mosquitoes or air-borne particles contaminated with the pox virus. It is not a zoonose so cannot be transferred to humans. It also not the the Avian Flu! For more information click here >


House Finch with Conjunctivitis

House Finch with Conjunctivitis

This bacterial disease seriously affects House Finches. For information and more photos, click here >

How to Help

If you’re seeing sick birds in your yard, consider taking down your feeders for a while. Let the birds eat from natural sources — they’ll be fine and will soon return after you restock your feeders eventually.

If you leave your feeders up, be vigilant about keeping them and the area underneath them clean. Plastic or metal feeders are easier to keep clean than wooden ones. Clean them regularly in a solution of 10% bleach or white vinegar and 90% clean water, then rinse thoroughly and allow to dry naturally before re-hanging. Also, rake under the feeders often day and put the old seed and droppings in a bag in the garbage – not in recycling. You can spread feeders out to discourage crowding.

Birdbaths can also carry the salmonella bacteria, so change the water every few days to get rid of regurgitated seeds and feces.

Juvenile Song Sparrow in bird bath

Juvenile Song Sparrow in bird bath

Scrub birdbaths every week with a plastic brush to remove algae and bacteria, then rinse well. Make sure you allow the brush to dry thoroughly following each use. Because salmonella bacteria can live for months on unclean feeders and on the ground, and can also be brought into your back yard from the wild, it’s very hard to eradicate once it hits.

Thanks for doing your part to keep birds safe and healthy.



Posted in Bird Canada | 7 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – May 2016

Hello again!  I hope you’re enjoying spring migration.  It seems to be a little slower than normal up here but this month, we’re finally seeing a few migrants moving through.

Common Loon

Always so wonderful to hear the calls of Common Loons

Hooded Merganser with Common Goldeneye Pair

My favourite duck, the Hooded Merganser on the left with a pair of Common Goldeneye Ducks.

Ring Necked Ducks

A striking pair of Ring-Necked Ducks.

In late April, I was thrilled to see a flock of Rusty Blackbirds in my yard.  They stayed for just a couple of days and then moved on.  Some years I see them, some years I don’t.  These lovely blackbirds are seriously declining but a cause has not yet been found. Hopefully, I’ll see them again during Fall migration.

Rusty Blackbirds

Flock of Rusty Blackbirds

Male Rusty Blackbird

The glossy black male Rusty Blackbird

Another beautiful blackbird visited a few times this spring – a stunning male Yellow-Headed Blackbird was in my yard at least 3 times.  This mostly western blackbird is being seen in this region almost every year now.

Male Yellow Headed Blackbird

Male Yellow-Headed Blackbird

An assortment of Sparrows have been around including White Crowned (below), White Throated, American Tree and Chipping Sparrows.

White Crowned Sparrow

White Crowned Sparrow

A single Mourning Dove visited the yard for about a week.  I normally only see 2 or 3 Doves in a season.

Mourning Dove & Purple Finch

Mourning Dove with male Purple Finch

Northern Flickers have been exceptionally busy … and noisy! … lately.  Hammering on everything in sight to be as loud as possible and calling, calling, calling!  At one point, there were 4 Flickers in my area …. there was no mistaking that!

Male Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

Goldfinches are always late arrivals and this fellow didn’t show up until last week.  He was here again today but so far, I’ve only seen the one.

Male Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch

Juncos and Purple Finches will nest here.  I’m always hopeful to see the young of both.

Female Purple with male Junco

Male Dark Eyed Junco (top) with female Purple Finch

On a trip out to our camp last week, we came across quite a few of these handsome fellows:  Spruce Grouse.  I don’t often see them but we saw 5 that day.

Male Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

A couple of days ago, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that there was a Swan on our local lake.  I ran around a bit trying to track it down but could only ever see a white dot on the other side of the lake.  I stopped at another friend’s house where there is a lovely dock and we watched it for a while.  After about 20 minutes, we suddenly realized that the Swan, a Trumpeter, was slowly swimming right toward us.  Surprising since there were 3 good size, rowdy dogs playing in the water!  The curious Swan swam up to within 30 feet of shore and honked at the dogs.  We had beautiful viewings of it from the dock.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

On a recent trip out of town, my husband and I had some nice sightings of wildlife.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes nest around here so we watch for them every year.

Black Bear

Black Bear – my first sighting of the season.

Cow Moose



First Chipmunk of the season … put up yer dukes!

One evening last week, we had our season’s first thunderstorm and this beautiful rainbow (was actually a double) was the result.


Portion of a double rainbow.

I have my annual Great Canadian Birdathon coming up this weekend.  I’ve raised $820 this year, my best ever.  Thank you sooo much to those who have donated.  If you would like to donate to my birdathon, it’s not too late!  Follow this link to make a pledge and again ….. thank you!

On May 28th & 29th, we’ll be in Dorion, ON., for their annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival .  It’s the highlight of my spring!  Professional birders & guides lead us through a day and a half of hiking around Dorion & Nipigon, Ont. birding hotspots.  In that time, we normally tally over 120 species.  Great fun!

Well, that’s it for this month.  Thanks so much for reading and …….. Happy Sightings!

Posted in Bird Canada | 8 Comments

Battle at the Lek: Sharp-tailed Grouse on the Alberta prairie

TH1D9040mask-flickr2Through the generosity of a rancher south of Calgary, the help of my local birding club and the encouragement of some photographer friends, I had the opportunity to see and experience my first grouse ‘lek’. The grouse species in question was the Sharp-tailed variety, and a lek is “…an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visiting females who are surveying prospective partners for copulation” (Wikipedia).

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse 'dancing' at the lek, southern Alberta.

A male Sharp-tailed Grouse ‘dancing’ at the lek, southern Alberta.

After leaving Calgary at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, I met up with my three other birder friends south of the city and together we proceeded to the lek location. Timing was critical as we needed to arrive and be set up in a blind before sunrise so as not to disturb this important ritual in the grouse’s reproductive cycle. By 6am we were safely hidden from view and then settled in to watch and photograph the action.

Daring another male to challenge him.

Daring another male to challenge him.

As the light from the still-below-the-horizon sun began to increase, each minute more and more of the lek was revealed and it soon became apparent that about 30 grouse were in attendance. Interestingly though, I only saw one female – so the boys would have to put on a pretty impressive show to have a chance at winning her interest.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

The lone female Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek.

Before too long, individual males appeared to set up ‘their’ position on the lek and then spent the best part of the next 60 minutes dancing, drumming, squaring off against other interlopers, chasing away rivals and not infrequently launching into some spirited tussles.

The dancing involved rotating in circles pointing their tails straight up, head down, wings spread, purple throat patched visible, crowing while beating (or ‘drumming’) their feet very rapidly – quite the sight!

This following images give a typical example of what I saw:

Squaring off...

Squaring off…

A dance-off...

A dance-off…

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Showing off the purple throat patch..

Calling to the female...

Calling to the female…

...all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

…all that and this lady grouse still looks pretty unimpressed!

Whenever I saw a ‘fight’ break out (which was signalled by the sound of rapid flapping and grouse jumping in the air), I simply pointed my lens in that direction, focused and held the shutter release down. The action was so fast that it was only later at home when I reviewed my images that the brutality of these short but intense battles became apparent:TH1D9004-fb

TH1D9044d&b-fb TH1D9021d&b-fb TH1D8990-fb TH1D8987d&b-fb TH1D8745-v-fbOnly two incidents interrupted the lekking, both of which were due to a predator over-flying the lek (first a Northern Harrier, and then a Prairie Falcon which actually made a dive for one grouse), and sent almost all the grouse flying in all directions. Only one or two stayed behind hiding in the long grass, seemingly either too brave or too ignorant to join their comrades!

By 8am the sun was well and truly up and just about all the grouse had dispersed, and certainly the lekking had come to a conclusion and it was time to emerge from our blind. This was my first proper ‘blind’ experience and I have to say it was nice to have the birds acting and behaving naturally in close proximity as opposed to sneaking up on them.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience and one I’ll long remember! Looking ahead, with a bit of luck next month I’ll have my shots from Vancouver Island ready to post. Cheers for now.

Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

T.O. Backyard – April- “Hello Spring, are you there?”

Hello and welcome to our Toronto backyard!  What a month it has been since our last post.  What an April!  Snow, no snow, more snow, no snow, and this was how it was like on a number of days early in the month.  A pretty morning out back.


By the time the work day was over, it was gone.

Despite the mix of weather, the birds still sang.

migrateMigration seemed very slow.

migrationOr did it?  Cormorant flying over the backyard one afternoon.  Sure sign of warmer days coming.

migration1Around mid-April though we suddenly started getting Pine Siskins.

psbetrAnd Juncos too!  It was a confusing month.  For us, in Toronto, the Juncos are gone by now or so we’ve experienced over the years.  And Siskins?  This was a first for April.

juncoOne Sunday afternoon I heard my neighbour playing Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”.  I silently begged her to turn that off.  As much as we love our winter bird visitors, it’s Spring.  Where are the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?  Where are the White-throated Sparrows?

“Here I am!”  Finally one showed up.


The Juncos remained with us into the first days of May.  The Siskins are still coming in daily.


Hawk activity dropped to almost nothing except one day when this Cooper’s Hawk (although there is much debate on the species) came in and snagged breakfast.  I did a blog about this moment since it was different than the usual Hawk catching a meal scenarios.  One could not help but feel sorry for this Starling.

lastNice surprise for us the last couple weeks is a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers have been coming in!  We get Downys daily but Hairy activity is quite random and they seem to disappear on us through the colder months.

hairyOur nesting pair of House Sparrows are doing fine.  They are entertaining to watch right outside our back door.

houseRed-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have been scoping out some of our other boxes, even began a little excavating, but in the last week it’s not been promising to have another species nest with us this year.


It really did look promising for “Chickadee action” as you can see below!


Meanwhile, in some nest boxes not too far from home, we have been very fortunate to see a pair of Eastern Screech Owls on occasion.

R-OWLS 3Over the Easter weekend while my wife was away, I decided to do a little Owl prowling in another nearby neighbourhood and lucked out with another pair of Screech Owls.  There was a lot of trilling, whinnying and even some mating going on between the two Owls shortly after sunset.

onarollsignaIt’s amazing to know we have at least 2 pairs of these Owls minutes from our home!

The night time Snowy sightings have come to an end for another season.  I finished off with 59 encounters in total.   This was the last encounter where I was able to capture a record photo.


Have you had enough of our birds yet?  How about some mammal activity?

No shortage of Raccoons wandering around (delight to some, not so much to others).  We are pro-Procyon.  We keep an eye on our property, ensuring there is no access to our rooftop.  The Raccoon population in Toronto took a huge hit due to canine distemper.  So seeing some healthy masked creatures in our neck of the woods warms our hearts.

A daytime visit one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back.  I blogged about this encounter.

rb3An Opossum has been showing itself a few nights a week too!  He’s rather shy.  I took a very short video of him one night.  I eat an apple a day and leave the core out back.  Sometimes I just throw it out there for whoever to find.  Sometimes I will set it near the back of the house and hope to chance upon a moment like in the video.

11164631_10155441598640262_6212134749983638792_nSo even as April was an unsettled month, signs of Spring do appear.  Like the awakening of a resident Chipmunk.

chippyThank you for visiting our backyard and slightly beyond through this blog post.  That’s it for now, in a nut shell. *groan*

hvrI just caught on to the comments we’ve received in past posts.  Thank you!  I may have to do some replying soon.  Cheers!

Posted in Bird Canada | 1 Comment

Birding: Hard, Easy, or Something Else?

Ted Floyd, Editor of Birding Magazine, recently wrote an article called Birding is Easy and Hard ( It was inspired in part by two earlier blog posts of Greg Neise, who’d come down on both sides of the argument at different times. Floyd took up the challenge of clarifying the seeming paradox: “The takeaway, surely, is that birding is what you make of it. Hard or easy, it’s your choice.”

Seems reasonable. But his article got me thinking. Hard? Easy? These adjectives are pertinent only if birding is primarily a task, something to be achieved. But is it? Certainly I like identifying the species I happen across as much as the next person, whether in my own backyard or elsewhere. I especially like knowing what bird I’m hearing in that tree up there. Before I learned to identify birds by sound I was pretty much oblivious to the ones I couldn’t see; now they’re present, visible or not. I like that, a lot. And although I don’t go traipsing around the globe in search of new birds, when I’m on holiday I keep my eyes and ears open, my binoculars and camera handy, and a guide to local birds nearby, just in case.

Pigeon with interesting plumage in the San Miguel de Allende Plaza

A pigeon with interesting plumage in the San Miguel de Allende Plaza caught my eye.

When I visit Puerto Vallarta, for example, I always go to the Botanical Gardens to see the San Blas Jays and Yellow-winged Caciques.

San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caciques at the PV Botanical Gardens

San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caciques at the PV Botanical Gardens

Once I even hauled myself up at dawn to go on a birding tour from which I returned with hundreds of mosquitoes bites and a having seen a few new birds (Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Happy Wren, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper). Too bad I don’t keep a Life List. And the highlight of my trip to St. Miguel de Allende in 2015 was not seeing Gloria Steinem at the SMA Writer’s Conference (although she was amazing) but visiting El Charco del Ingenio for a guided bird walk.

El Charco del Ingenio, a birder's paradise

El Charco del Ingenio, a birder’s paradise

That’s where I saw my first Vermilion Flycatcher and a flock of Groove-billed Anis!

Vermilion Flycatcher. Photo by barloventomagico (Public domain)

Vermilion Flycatcher. Photo by barloventomagico (Public domain)

Groove-billed Ani. (Public domain photo)

Groove-billed Ani. (Public domain photo)

Okay, maybe going on a guided tour doesn’t count as “hard”. But getting up at four a.m. to hunt for birds in the forests of Mexico is not my idea of easy!

But maybe I’m not a real birder? Maybe real birders are happy, even eager, to get up with the birds and traipse into insect-infested forests full of hope to see that elusive lifer? Or maybe it’s not hard for them? I wonder – what makes someone a real birder anyway?

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 47 million birders, of which 18 million are ‘active’, in the USA. Since Canada’s population is roughly 10% of that of the USA, and assuming a similar level of involvement in birding, Canada would have almost 5 million birders of whom maybe 1.3 million are “active” or “away from home” birders who travelled at least a mile to watch birds. A rather large number.

In a recent post on 10,000 Birds, Jason Crotty, a birder from Portland, questions the USFW stats ( and adds his own wisdom to the mix. “I believe that most of the 18 million ‘active birders’ would be quite surprised and a bit perplexed to find themselves so categorized.” He suggests that in order to realistically determine the number of active birders, we count things that are concrete and measurable: the numbers of members in birding associations, birding magazine subscribers, people who use ebird, people who own binoculars and field guides, numbers of ‘likes’ on the ABA Facebook Page. I like this idea – it confirms what I think: I am, indeed, a birder. I just happen to be one who doesn’t do hard. I couldn’t recognize a “Thayer’s Gull—in definitive alternate plumage” (Floyd) for the life of me. My scope lives in a drawer most of the time. And I certainly don’t do ‘big years.’ I don’t even do little ones.

Hard and easy – neither of these adjectives apply to the kind of birding I do. My descriptors of choice would be, depending on the circumstance and my mood: fun, therapeutic, calming, exciting. Mostly, birding just is. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is check on the birds in the yard. Right now Rufous Hummers are battling at the feeders under the kitchen window and our resident Spotted Towhees are building a nest under the pampas grass. The American Robins are pulling worms in the front garden. The Song Sparrow is singing from his favorite perch at the top of the cedar tree by the fence. A Northern Flicker, a Downy, and a Hairy are eating suet. The chattering Chestnut-backed Chickadees are pulling peanuts from their feeder. And Steller’s Jays are lined up along the pergola waiting for their peanuts.

Two Rufous Hummingbirds, one drinking and one guarding -- although probably not through any kind of mutual agreement

Rufous Hummingbirds, one drinking and one guarding — although probably not through any kind of mutual agreement!


Spotted Towhee near nest site

Spotted Towhee near nest site


Chestnut-backed Chickadee getting nuts

Chestnut-backed Chickadee getting nuts


Harry Woodpecker at suet

Harry Woodpecker at suet


These birds invariably bring me back into the present moment. I feel connected to them. The word love pops into my mind. Love, of course, has its downfalls. Recently, for example, I found a little Yellow Warbler, a female, on the back deck, dead from hitting the glass door. I thought about how far the little bird had flown, probably from South America, to come to Gabriola Island to breed. All that work and she dies flying into my sliding glass door. That’s hard to take. I held her in my hands for a long time, saying goodbye, saying I’m sorry, before laying her out back.

The month before, a hawk captured and devoured one of the seven jays that come for breakfast every day. I wondered which jay it was. Was it the one I call the lookout? Or the one with the bright eyebrows? Or the one with the faint white feathers in its wing? It was hard to be happy for the hawk who had a good lunch that day.

Mr. Blue Brows, RIP

Mr. Blue Brows

Clearly, there are many things that are hard about birding: knowing that habitat loss and climate change are decimating bird populations worldwide; seeing Committee Against Bird Slaughter photos of birds trapped in Malta and Italy and France;  finding a dead warbler on my deck or a sick siskin at my feeder. But most aspects of birding are easy: observing, listening, learning, letting yourself fall in love. In the end I have to agree with Ted Floyd: birding is neither hard nor easy, it is “what you make of it.”

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Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard: April 2016

Hello again!

Despite today’s freezing rain storm, Spring has finally arrived in Northwestern Ontario. This post will likely be mostly a photo essay.  I’ve been busy with the camera these past few weeks as migrants have been moving in.

These first 2 are not migrants but I thought the photos might show the differences between Ravens and Crows.  Notice how the Raven is much ‘shaggier’ than the sleeker Crow.  The Raven is also almost twice the size of the Crow.


Common Raven on my garage roof


American Crow on my platform feeder

Ruffed Grouse have still been coming into the yard almost every evening and some afternoons.  This one took some cover in my spruce tree on a cold, blustery spring day.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Evening Grosbeaks are around in good numbers; seemingly more now than throughout the winter and that’s perfectly fine with me.

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male Evening Grosbeak

A female Hairy Woodpecker has been around off and on, nibbling on the peanuts.  A male Downy Woodpecker has been here a few times too.  Lately, I’ve been hearing the calls of a Pileated Woodpecker in my neighbourhood.  🙂

Female Hairy Woodpecker

Female Hairy Woodpecker

A few Robins have been in the neighbourhood this week.  This one was singing away in my front yard birch tree.


American Robin

This small Merlin, a type of Falcon, was hunting my yard for a few weeks although I never found any evidence in the yard of a successful hunt.



A pair of Bohemian Waxwings were nibbling on leftover fruit in my neighbours yard this week.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Some of the only open water in town right now was quite busy this week with Canada Geese, Cackling Geese, a Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper and an assortment of ducks including Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Ring-Necked Ducks.  A single Swan was also seen here for just a few moments one evening but I missed it.

Geese & Ducks

Canada Geese, Mallards and Common Goldeneye Ducks in flight.

An assortment of Blackbirds has shown up in the last couple of days.  I enjoy having mixed flocks of Blackbirds in the yard … I consider them to be nature’s cleaning crew in the spring.


European Starling

Below, my favourite!  I always love having flocks of Rusty Blackbirds show up!  I don’t get to see them every year but so far, this year looks promising.

Male Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird, 1 of about 40 on April 17’16

Male Red Winged Blackbird

Another favourite, a male Red Winged Blackbird in my Crabapple tree

I guess the one below is NObody’s favourite …

Male Cowbird

Male Brown Headed Cowbird

It seems most people don’t care for these guys below either but I kinda like them.  🙂


Common Grackles

My husband and I went out to our camp last weekend (April 8 & 9) to complete our annual Nocturnal Owl Survey.  On the way out there, we came across this fellow below, in the exact same spot and even the same tree we saw him/her in 2 weeks before.  This is obviously a favourite hunting perch.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

We also saw a flock of Gray Jays actively foraging …. they have young to feed now so they are busy birds!

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

There is a pair of Bald Eagles nesting on our favourite lake out there, every year.  They’ve had some setbacks over the years with their first nest tree (a dead poplar) collapsing one year; they moved to another spot on the lake and rebuilt only to have a vicious storm come through a few years later and take down their nest, killing 2 of that year’s 3 young and breaking our hearts.  🙁  Now, they rebuilt in the current spot a few years ago …. in a nice, healthy, sturdy tree.  Fingers crossed for a successful season for them.

Bald Eagle1

Bald Eagle just outside of her nest

We thought our owl survey was going to be a bust as we didn’t hear a thing for the first 9 stops but finally on stop #10 (of 20), we had a Boreal Owl respond to our calls.  A few stops after that, we picked up a pair of Boreal Owls ‘duet-ting’ (calling to each other) and on the next stop, a pair of Northern Saw-Whet Owls ‘duet-ting’.  It was a cold (-10C), breezy night but it worked out in the end.

Also while out at camp, we had a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker calling loudly from a small stand of trees across the street from a camp and we found a flock of about 30 Snow Buntings in the top of those trees the next morning.

Last photo for this month:  We saw this majestic adult Bald Eagle standing on the far side of our local Manitouwadge Lake yesterday.  I never get tired of seeing these gorgeous birds!

Bald Eagle2

Bald Eagle standing on Manitouwadge Lake, April 17’16

Other migrants have moved in this week including:  Purple Finches, American Tree Sparrows, Sandhill Cranes, Dark Eyed Juncos and Pine Siskins.  A variety of Sparrows and Warblers will be arriving soon along with Tree Swallows and Bluebirds.  🙂

Before I forget, I’m sorry to say that the webcam in my yard will be shutting down for the summer season on Sunday, April 24th.  ‘My’ webcam is for Project FeederWatch and that season ended on April 9th.  We will hopefully be up and running once again in early November.  In the meantime, you can watch quite a few other webcams through Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

And on another note, I am completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon one day in mid May.  Last year, I tallied 67 species in one day …. I’m hopeful to break the 70 mark this year!  If you would be interested in sponsoring me, please follow this link to donate online. If you prefer to donate by cheque, please email me at and I will send you my mailing address.  Thank you for your generosity!

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed the report from up here.  Thanks so much for reading and I’ll see you in May!


Posted in Bird Canada | 15 Comments

Grey Ghost of the North: more Great Grey Owls in pictures

TH1D5288d&b-mask3v2-fbWell, I was lucky to get another morning or two watching some Albertan Great Grey Owls in action, so I thought I’d share some of the resulting images. My focus was on in-flight images and I managed to capture some shots that I have long dreamt about. My paltry writing skills do the owls no justice, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…TH1D5762-fbTH1D5140-crop2-fb TH1D5109-crop2-final-fb


TH1D5106mask3-final-fbThe weather was quite different on each of the occasions I visited, sometimes it was cloudy while other times it was clear and sunny. And since the owls went wherever they pleased, this meant I had times of back-light (resulting in ‘glowing’ wings), front-light as well as side-light…all of which added a little something different to the resulting images.TH1D5272d&b-crop2-fb TH1D5168d&b-crop-fbTH1D5834-v TH1D5862-mask-v-fb TH1D5808-fb2

Apart from the ‘head-on’ shot at the top of the post, the other shot I have day-dreamed about is one of a Great Grey with its huge wings fully outstretched coming into land…a great feeling to finally get something close to what I’d hoped and wished for:TH1D5918-mask3-v-blogAnd of course, I never get tired of this cool face:TH1D5390-fb

I won’t soon forget this spring, that’s for sure! And I’m very happy to say that all of these owls were wild and free. Not baited, not ever.

And last but not least, a couple of shots of a pair of American Dippers. These were taken at a very popular tourist spot in Kananaskis and in the middle of a sunny day…two situations that I normally avoid like the plague due to, respectively, the lesser likelihood of seeing wildlife and the harsh light for photography. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that the dippers didn’t seem to mind all the people and when they moved into the shade it made for some interesting (at least in my mind) backlight conditions. So thanks Mike for suggesting we try this spot out 🙂TH1D5481v-fb

TH1D5727d&b-fb TH1D5545-vign-fbFor my next post I hope to share some of my images from a weekend on Vancouver Island…lots of cool birds there for sure!


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