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. http://blog.aba.org/2012/02/is-bird-tape-the-solution-for-window-kills.html) 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: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill) 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? http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-20/scrunchies-prevent-wildlife-death-study-finds/6337222?pfm=ms

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: https://www.audubon.org/news/10-plants-bird-friendly-yard 

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

The February Blues

Regrettably, the big story on the Island for the month of February is not the birds. The story these days is the snow and ice. In February this year we had a record 222.8 centimeters of snow. Needless to say that has made it a rough month for birds and birders. Those with feeders have had snow around their yards and houses so high that it has limited their access and many have just resorted to simply throwing food out on the ground to feed as best they can. The same has been recorded throughout the Maritimes


Creating a platform feeder on a snowbank.

Fortunately, most of the birds we have been seeing are happy with food most anywhere they can find it.The finches are here in numbers. Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and American Goldfinch joining the local Chickadees and Juncos. Other birds that don’t mind eating off the ground are Snow Bunting, Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur.


Another hanging feeder which has become a walk-up window. American Goldfinch, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Black-capped Chickadees


Common Redpoll


Pine Siskin


Snow Bunting


Horned Lark

Other birds not always seen at our feeders include pheasants and partridge. We have had reports of a number of flocks of Gray Partridge coming to feeders. I have not had them in my yard but have been regularly seeing a small flock down the road. With more recent snow, I have not seen them lately but hopefully they have found themselves a cozy farmyard in which to spend the rest of the winter.


Gray Partridge


Gray Partridge

Another of the northern birds that are common this year and have been seen in large flocks is the Bohemian Waxwings. These birds are visiting our yards looking for any fruit sources they might find. Locally they have been visiting berry bushes, flowering crabapple and even decorative berries in outdoor arrangements.


Bohemian Waxwing


Bohemian Waxwing


Bohemian Waxwing

Another bird that has been reported this month is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. We have had numerous reports and photos of them. It looks like they are hungry also.


Sharp-shinned Hawk

On the other hand, all the snow and ice has been hard on our waterfowl. We have had numerous reports of Megansers and Goldeneye, as well as others, that are struggling to get through the winter. Many have been found and turned in to area veterinarians to try to save. Apparently, they are not finding enough food.

It has been a tough February for us all.




Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

Backyard Bird Count Sets New Records


Great Backyard Bird Count Sets New Species Record

Nearly half the world’s species identified in four days

New York, NY, Ithaca, NY, and Port Rowan, ON–Participants from more than 100 countries submitted a record 147,265 bird checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count and broke the previous count record for the number of species identified. The 5090 species reported represents nearly half the possible bird species in the world. The four-day count was held February 13-16, the 18th year for the event which is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale made possible by using the eBird online checklist program. A sampling of species found by intrepid counters include Ibisbill in India, Bornean Bristlehead in Malaysia, and Magellanic Plover in Chile, complete with amazing photos. GBBC participants even reported two species, Millpo Tapaculo and Santa Marta Screech-Owl, that have not yet been described in the official scientific literature.

Bitter Weather

Northern Flicker by Linda Izer, Arkansas 2015

Northern Flicker by Linda Izer, Arkansas 2015

The bitter cold, snowy weather in much of Canada and the northeastern United States was a major factor in this year’s count. In much of the Northeast, Sunday was particularly frigid and windy, and the number of reports showed an obvious dip as some counters were forced indoors. As one participant in Quebec noted, watching birds came with a price as wind chill temperatures rarely topped -20 degrees Celsius.

For those who did brave the cold, the GBBC data will help to better understand the impact of the cold on birds and bird populations. For example, scientists will be able to compare the abundance of some so-called “half-hardy” species, such as Carolina Wren and Yellow-rumped Warbler, to see if this cold winter has affected their populations.

Snowy Owl Echo

Snowy Owls are one of the most charismatic and emblematic birds of winter. They breed in Arctic regions worldwide and drop south in some winters (“irrupt”), depending on food supplies and their breeding success in the previous summer. The winter of 2013-14 was a huge year for these owls, which appeared in amazing numbers across southern Canada, the Great Lakes states, Northeastern U.S., and the Atlantic Coast. GBBC reports for 2015 also show a surge in Snowy Owl sightings across the same range, though the frequency of reports is about half of last winter’s. This is a well-known phenomenon with Snowy Owls, with the year after a very large invasion often being referred to as an “echo flight.”

Winter Finches

Winter finches—such as Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, redpolls, and crossbills—are popular among GBBC participants. These birds also “irrupt” south of their usual haunts depending on food supplies, so their numbers in a given region may change widely from year to year.

2015 was a banner year for Pine Siskins which are reported on 10.5% of GBBC checklists so far. Compare that to 1.2% of checklists in 2014 when most siskins stayed far north in Canada. Siskins will likely be hanging around through April and May, especially if the feeders are stocked with their favorite nyjer (thistle) seed.

GBBC Top 10 Lists

Surprisingly, a Eurasian species, the Brambling, appears on the Top 10 list of most reported species for the first time ever. Since November, some of these birds have been spotted on the West Coast and others strayed even farther by turning up in Montana, Wyoming, and Ontario, with one 2015 GBBC record in North America from Washington state. But the Brambling’s appearance among the Top 10 can be traced to one checklist from Germany reporting a flock estimated at one million birds. Up to three million Bramblings have been known to gather at that site.

In North America, California sits atop the leader board with the most checklists submitted and the greatest number of species, followed by Pennsylvania and New York. Ontario, Canada, is in the Top 10 for the second year in a row, nudging past Ohio and Georgia. In Canada, participation is up in Québec this year largely because of a new eBird portal hosted in partnership between Regroupement QuébecOiseaux and Bird Studies Canada. Quebec residents have submitted 1520 checklists, while last year’s total was 1014. British Columbia participants have the highest species total so far, with 197.

Posted in Bird Canada, Citizen Science | Tagged | Comments Off on Backyard Bird Count Sets New Records

Birding in San Miguel de Allende

By Sharon McInnes

Earlier this month I went to San Miguel de Allende (SMA), in the mountains of central Mexico, to attend the 10th anniversary SMA Writers Conference, where keynote speakers included Gloria Steinem, Jane Urquhart, and Alice Walker.  It was, in a word, fabulous.

San Miguel de Allende. CC license photo. Thanks Wikipedia.

San Miguel de Allende. CC license photo. Thanks Wikipedia.

On my first day in SMA, however, I discovered there was a lecture on
The Birds of San Miguel, hosted by the local Audobon chapter, at the library
in town. Obviously, I skipped out of the writing workshop I’d signed up for and
headed to the library. The speaker, Signe Hammer, is an extremely knowledgeable
expat birder who leads birding walks around SMA and at El Charco del Ingenio
(the Puddle of the Genius?), a wonderful botanical garden and
natural reserve on the outskirts of SMA.

I’d been in SMA over twenty-four hours by this time so had already seen or
heard a few birds, although not nearly as many I’d expected. When I mentioned
this to someone at the lecture, he reminded me that we were at six thousand feet
and the weather at the time was unseasonably cold – down to seven or eight
degrees Celsius at night. Many of the local birds, he said, were keeping warm
at lower elevations for a while. I could empathize, having left my jeans
and wool sweaters at home!

It did warm up in the afternoons, though (when it wasn’t raining) as you can see
from this pic of me in the Plaza being egged (they’re filled with confetti)
by some local boys!

Egged in SMA. Photo by Rohana Laing, a wonderful SMA artist.

Egged in SMA. Photo by Rohana Laing, a wonderful SMA artist.

The day after the lecture, armed with the local Audobon field guide booklet of local birds,
I started identifying the unfamiliar birds I did see – when I wasn’t at the writing conference that I had paid good money for. There were plenty of House Sparrows (passer domesticus) and Rock Pigeons (columba livia), of course, everywhere,
at all times. I liked the colouring on this guy.

Pigeon in the Plaza

Pigeon in the Plaza

Since I didn’t bring my camera to SMA – a hazard of my carry-on only policy –
most of the photos below are Creative Commons licensed and in the public domain.
The ones without this designation were taken be me – not necessarily in SMA,
but you’ll get the idea. THANK YOU to all the photographers who’ve
so generously shared their work with the world!

In the mornings I woke to the cooing of Mourning Doves (zenaida macroura) …

Mourning Doves. Photo taken not in SMA but at Sapsucker Woods, several years ago.

Mourning Doves. Photo taken not in SMA but at Sapsucker Woods, several years ago.

… and to the song of the ubiquitous White-winged Dove (zenaida asiatica).

White-winged doves. CC license.

White-winged doves. CC license.

Initially, I thought I was hearing some particularly meek and submissive
Barred Owl because the four notes of the song of the
White-winged Dove – who cooks for you? – are reminiscent of  –
although much softer than – the call of that owl
that Gabriolans know so well!

I fully expected to see Rufous Hummingbirds (selasphorus rufus) in SMA,
since I always see them in abundance in Puerto Vallarta, and wonder
if the ones I’m watching are the very ones that visit our feeders on Gabriola
in the spring and summer. But in SMA I saw no Rufous Hummingbirds.
Perhaps SMA, designated a World Heritage Site, is too high for them?
Or had they already left on their journey north? (If you know, please comment.)
I did see, however, the resident Violet-crowned Hummingbird
(amazilia violiceps) with its red bill and white breast,
feeding in the garden of the B&B I stayed at.
This stunning species, which breeds in arid scrub,
is typically a mountain species.

Violet-crowned-hummingbird. CC license.

Violet-crowned-hummingbird. CC license.


Another morning I woke to the call of a Golden-fronted Woodpecker (melanerpes aurifrons) in the trees outside the B&B. Such a nice way to greet the day.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker. CC license.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker. CC license.

El Charco del Ingenio.

El Charco del Ingenio.

On the day before I left SMA, I went to El Charco.  You can read about this important site here: http://www.elcharco.org.mx/Ingles/index.html.

The highlight of my morning there was seeing a flock of 8-10 Groove-billed Anis (crotophaga sulcirostris). They look positively prehistoric – perhaps they are?

Groove-billed ani. CC license.

Groove-billed ani. CC license.


I stood with my binoculars glued to my head for an inordinate length of time,
gazing at these odd-looking members of the cuckoo family. My bird walk companion, David, a retired ornithologist, said he’d never seen an Ani there before;
it was an exciting moment for both of us.

Another exciting moment for me was seeing, for the first time, the spectacular
Vermilion Flycatcher (pyrocephalus rubinus),
which lives in Central America year round.

Vermilion Flycatcher. CC license.

Vermilion Flycatcher. CC license.


Later, over La Presa, the El Charco reservoir, we saw an immature Red-tailed Hawk circling and on the water a variety of ducks – Pintails, Mexican Mallards
(not of the same family as “our” mallards, although they sound the same),
Blue-winged teals, Ring-necked Ducks, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, a Snowy Egret, an American Coot.

Black-necked Stilt. Photo by Frank Schulenburg. CC-license.

Gorgeous photo of a Black-necked Stilt. Photo by Frank Schulenburg. CC-license.


Snowy Egret in full plume. Photo by Jason Engman. CC license.

Snowy Egret in full plume. Photo by Jason Engman. CC license. The Snowy I saw in SMA was NOT in full plume but this is such an amazing photo, I wanted to include it.


American Avocet, Bullgate Dike, Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge, Oregon. Photo by Alan D. Wilson at www.naturespicsonline.com

American Avocet, Bullgate Dike, Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge, Oregon. Photo by Alan D. Wilson at www.naturespicsonline.com


American Coot. Photo (taken at the Reifel Bird sanctuary in Delta BC)

American Coot. Photo (taken at the Reifel Bird sanctuary in Delta BC)

On the rocks near the dam a Great Kiskadee (pitangus sulphuratus) rested in the sun.

Great Kiskadee. CC license.

Great Kiskadee. CC license.


On the mudflats a Cattle Egret (bubulcus ibis) searched for food.

Cattle Egret. CC license.

Cattle Egret. CC license.

Finally, along the pathway back to the El Charco Visitor Centre, a variety of sparrows, including Chipping, Clay-coloureds, Brewer’s, White-crowned, and
a Canyon Towhee, popped in and out of the scrub to grab food.

It was a lovely birding day! BUT I did not see a Curve-billed Thrasher or a Phainopepla or a Ruddy Duck with its blue bill, all known to inhabit El Charco.

Curve-billed Thrasher. Photo by Peter Wallack. CC-license.

Curve-billed Thrasher. Photo by Peter Wallack. CC-license.

Phainopepla. Photo by Lip Kee Yap. CC license.

Phainopepla. Photo by Lip Kee Yap. CC license.

Ruddy Duck. Photo by Alan D. Wilson, www.naturepicsonline.com.

Ruddy Duck. Photo by Alan D. Wilson, www.naturepicsonline.com.

 I guess I’ll just have to go back next year and try again!
When I do, I’ll bring my camera – and some warm clothes!

Posted in Bird Canada, Nature Photography | Tagged | 11 Comments

Spring, where are you?

Here in New Brunswick, I can’t properly describe how much snow we have. Prince Edward Island has it worse however, and many of the pictures & videos my father in-law keeps sending us don’t even seem like they could be real.

Although it has been great to have such a nice variety of winter finches around, I would certainly welcome even just one sign of Spring!

If you find yourself stuck inside, take some time to check out the following links. The first two are for photo contests and the last is a great hawk quiz. I entered both contests and spent some time figuring out the birds of prey in each of the five videos. The photo contests are going to be for photos taken each month and need to be in New Brunswick. There will be a grand prize for the photo of the year and so far, it has been a great way for birders to beat the winter blues!





Here is what I have been seeing around over these past few weeks;



Horned Lark – if you’re driving out in the country, be sure to check the sides of the roads for small flocks of this species. There was a flock of 11 just outside of town (Woodstock) a few weeks ago.





Pine Grosbeaks – I could easily find this species every day in January & February if I really wanted to. There are small flocks in different parts of town (Woodstock) and often six or seven stay in my neighbor’s tree. I finally had a bright adult male after many weeks of females and juveniles.



Bohemian Waxwings – another species that I could see everyday but in much larger numbers. One day this month there were well over one hundred flying over my house.



Pine Siskin – the past few winters I can pick only one or two with the flocks of American Goldfinches or Common Redpolls. This winter I have often had just as many or more Pine Siskins compared to the other two abundant winter finches.



White-throated Sparrow – after every snowstorm I dig out some snow from under my hedge and throw out some millet and nyger seed. For about two straight weeks this month, I had this visitor in my yard.


Not too many species to report for rarities this month. I have found 51 species in Carleton County so far this year. If it would stop snowing and if I had some extra spare time, I probably could find another four or five species but not too many more than that really. Next week I hope to get down to the Bay of Fundy and check another ten or more species of my year list. Some I might never see in this part of the province, but others will come up this way eventually. Hopefully I can find a nice variety and if I do, that will be what my post will be about for next month.


Until next time,

Nathan Staples




Posted in Bird Canada, Winter Birding in Canada | 2 Comments

Pygmy Owls in the Park, Winter 2015

(My blog is a little late this month as I was off enjoying the warmth of the Mexican sun…and chasing all sorts of wondrous tropical birds too!)TH1D2870mask-fb-crop

This winter Calgarian birders, and local wildlife appreciators in general, have been treated to the presence of a pair of Northern Pygmy Owls who appear to have taken up residence (at least for the moment) in Fish Creek Provincial Park, located within the city limits.TH7D7311d&b-fb


Adopting a defensive posture as a raven cruised by.


Emerging from a tree hole after caching a vole


All the voles in these shots are different…a really prolific hunter!

TH1D2810d&b-crop-fb TH1D2477-fb These owls caused quite a stir in the local birding community and Fish Creek was quite the hotspot for birder for several weekends. I went down for two weekends in January and had a great time watching the owls hunt (very successfully, on the local vole population), rest and generally go about their business while at the same time enjoying the company of fellow birders (and park-goers in general) as thrilled as I was to watch the Pygmies in action. The vast majority of the time the owls were high up at the top of tall trees, but occasionally coming down to lower limbs when they wanted to hunt.TH1D3259merge-fb TH1D3136d&b-fb TH1D3210d&b-mask-fb2-final TH1D2347d&bv2-fb

The behaviour of all was very respectful in my humble opinion, and only once did I see someone unknowingly encroach ‘too close’ and that was a passer-by trying to get a close-up with their cell-phone!

The typical size birder & photog crowd I saw over the two weekends.

The typical size birder & photog crowd I saw over the two weekends.

TH1D3795-final-fb TH1D3695-fb TH1D3653crop2-fb TH1D3598-fb TH1D3500-fb TH1D3345d&b-finalv2mask-fb

All in all, it was a wonderful experience for me personally and I hope you enjoy the shots I’m sharing here.TH7D7181d&b-fb



Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

It’s That Time of Year


Downy Woodpecker

It is the time of year when birding on the Island slows down. It seems that most of the birds that we are all looking for have left the province – warblers, song birds and shorebirds. But there are other birds that are here these days garnering our attention. We have had reports of Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings and Bohemian Waxwings. Finches that normally would be found much further north are in the province now. As well, we are getting reports of birds that are not typically found in the province. Recently we have heard of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a couple of Northern Cardinals, a Field Sparrow and a Pine Warbler. Who knows what we might add to our Winter Bird list.


Dark-eyed Junco


Red Squirrel – Always a feeder attendant.


American Crow


Snow Angel – Created by visiting birds.

Keeping most of us active are those birds that are coming to our feeders. We are seeing some of the regulars, like Blue Jays, American Crows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Black-capped Chickadees. Finches are adding to the interest and providing some colour. Those include American Goldfinch, Common Redpolls and the feisty little Pine Siskins.


American Goldfinch – Male showing the beginning of the spring molt, brighter yellow and the start of the black cap.


Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin

Of course, it is always worthwhile to check our areas of open water for waterfowl. These days it is likely we will see Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Greater Scaup but with luck, who knows, you might find Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Ducks or Purple Sandpiper.





Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser

To keep people interested, we are trying to keep our Winter Bird List up to date. As well we are creating events such Winter Feeder tour of Charlottetown and Area and participating in the Winter Woodlot Tour 2015.










Posted in Bird Canada | Comments Off on It’s That Time of Year