Summer in the City

Ah Summertime.  A favorite time of year for most people spending more time outside and being social.  For birders, some of us embrace the slow down after Spring migration.  Others crash and burn, missing the Warblers and others that have long passed through, and are always ready for more birds.

A one afternoon only rare visitor being this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Marie Curtis Park in Mississauga a couple weeks ago sure gave many people the rush once again.

Even closer to home, not quite a rarity, but not a very common sighting for us is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  We have at least 2 pairs nesting near our house.  It appears to be a great year for them in Toronto.

Indigo Buntings are also once again nesting right near our home.  So close, but they’ve yet to venture into our backyard.

Sadly we had another pretty blue bird come visit our backyard.  A Budgerigar.  Warmer weather often brings us these exotics that have most likely escaped from their owner’s home with open windows and doors.  My list grows every Summer with Budgie and fancy Doves sightings coming to our backyard.  Some I’ve been able to catch and help but most fly off after a short visit here.  The Blue Jays really do not like these odd visitors and have no problems showing their disapproval.  This poor girl felt their wrath and fled for her life.

Summers for myself, have become quite busy with monitoring though.  I’ve been assisting in Peregrine Falcon fledge watches at a couple sites in the west end of Toronto for about 6 years now.  A watch can last anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.  Some years I am able to give a fair amount of time, other years not quite as much.

This year the watch was done in 7 days.  We had one fatality due to a window strike, a few minor rescues as the young birds came to ground or ended up in some kind of mischief in their first flights.

This is Falk.  There are moments where we are powerless, watching these young birds learn and explore the area, not realizing that reflective glass is a killer.  Too often it is a recovery and not a rescue after they hit the glass.

This is Apollo.  He was rescued from a nearby condo garden fountain his first day of flight.  Three days later he landed on a balcony and could not figure out how to get back out to his family.

For the 2nd year now I’ve been participating in nest box monitoring in an area not far from us.  I’ve birded the area for about a decade now and have volunteered to help take care of the boxes.  This involves cleaning the boxes every Spring before the birds arrive and every Autumn after they have gone, ensuring the boxes are in overall good condition for the birds to nest in and they have proper predator protection.  We document the species, how many eggs, how many hatch and fledge, how many do not hatch or do not make it out.  Our goal is to attract Eastern Bluebirds which once nested here many years ago.  So far though we are only getting Tree Swallows but since I started taking on this project, spending more time on the boxes, we have gone from 7 nesting pairs in 2016 to 13 nesting pairs this year.  It’s a roller coaster of a ride with ups and downs throughout the season.

Embrace the triumphs which would be finding an empty nest at the end of season.

Accept the tragedies.  Sometimes things just happen and we don’t know why.  Finding 5 young Tree Swallows all dead in this box still remains a mystery.

Since doing the nest box monitoring, I am more attentive when I see boxes elsewhere in my travels.  Of course I don’t tamper since I don’t know who set them up.  But I discovered a nest box trail near our home last year.  In total approximately 80 boxes were set up a very long time ago.  Most of the boxes were beyond repair.

Some of the boxes birds were trying to use.  I took it upon myself to make any necessary repairs of claimed boxes.  I took a few salvageable boxes home to clean up and make any repairs, then returned.  It was nice to see the birds (Tree Swallows) were using two of these boxes I gave some extra attention to.

Then I discovered two other nest boxes in my travels also needing attention.  To my joy and surprise, both these boxes contained Eastern Bluebirds!  You don’t hear of many nesting Bluebirds in Toronto.  The boxes only needed minor repairs which I easily took care of on site.

I took the Bluebirds to an emotional level and it was one of the most grueling and dramatic things I’ve ever encountered.  From the two pairs, both had a nest of 5 eggs each.  Somewhere along the way, the male was found dead inside the one nest box, laying on top of the 5 eggs.  The female abandoned the nest.  The other nest, 2 of the 5 eggs hatched.  Then just days before fledge, the female was killed.  I found her remains not far from the box.

I was still seeing the male in the vicinity and thankfully he stayed with his children, caring for them in the final days and the 2 young birds successfully fledged.

One thing I have learned is that you cannot just set up nest boxes wherever and then walk away thinking you did a good thing.  It is your responsibility to look after them, for the birds, and if you cannot, then they should be taken down.

Funny that a few years back my Summers were very low key.  The monitoring is only done every 10 to 14 days over three months.  Each outing eats up a morning of my time and that’s not bad.  The involvement throughout seems to be much more though.  I will be glad when this season is done but will be longing for it come next Spring.

I started a nest blog this year about my finds throughout, it can be viewed here for anyone interested.

As always, I thank those who have stopped in here to give our blog entry a read.  See you all next month!

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Barn Swallow Fledglings

Happy Canada Day from the newest feathered generation!

Barn Swallows nest in the potting sheds where I work and this week the young ones began leaving the nest.  As you can see, they are at a size now where with four or five to a nest they’re overflowing their little home.

These four fluffy little masked bandits ventured from their nest yesterday.  First, one particularly intrepid individual flew over to the next crossbar on the ceiling, sat there for a while looking around, occasionally visited by a parent, then returned to the nest.  Later in the morning, all four of them fluttered over to one of the pipes and perched there for a time before somehow all squeezing back into the nest.

Their nests are built of mud and lined with fine grass and feathers.  It is particularly distracting in the spring watching them collect big chicken feathers.  One might fly in with a feather, but drop it before it reaches the nest, and another swallow will fly through and catch it.  Other dropped feathers reach the floor, swirling around in the breeze, and I love watching the swallows hop around on the ground after them with their tiny little feet.

The Barn Swallow has the widest distribution and is the most abundant swallow in the world, and its breeding range in Canada extends from coast to coast.  I love having them around, whipping in and out through the door and perching above our heads, their busy chatterings filling the shed.  It gets to be quite raucous when they all get going, and then suddenly they all stop at once… it goes quiet for a brief second, and then away they go again.

Adult Barn Swallow

“One hardly knows what quality to admire most in . . . the Barn Swallow. All the dear associations of life at the old farm come thronging up at sight of him. You think of him somehow as part of the sacred past; yet here he is today as young and as fresh as ever, bubbling over with springtime laughter.”

William L. Dawson, The Birds of California (1923)

“No bird in North America is better known or more truly the friend and companion of man than the swift and graceful Barn Swallow.  It nests within his buildings, and with a flight that seems the very ‘poetry of motion’ it follows the cattle afield, or swoops about the house dog as he rushes through the tall grass, and gathers up the flying insects disturbed by his clumsy progress.”

E.H. Forbush, A Natural History of American Birds of Eastern and Central North America (1939)

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Notes From a Northwester Ontario Backyard – June 2017

Hello again and welcome to Lilac season, up here anyway!  I know in other areas, Lilac season is already over but we’ve had an incredibly cool spring & it looks like early summer, at least, will be the same.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Lilac blossoms

As promised, a report on my annual Birdathon, which I held with my husband’s help on his birthday, May 20th.  It started out pretty chilly in the morning but warmed up into the teens C by afternoon and stayed nice & sunny.  Here are a couple of photos from the day:

Bonaparte’s Gull

This Hermit Thrush posed beautifully for me in the morning sunshine. I’m amazed at how many of them I saw throughout the early spring … easily seeing a dozen at a time during a walk.

This Broad-Shouldered Hawk followed us (or we followed it) for a few miles on one back road … he/she was hunting for breakfast.

This Savannah Sparrow was warming up in the morning sunshine.

 

All in all, it was a great day.  I had initially thought that, because of the cool/cold spring, the Birdathon wouldn’t go well …. I hadn’t been able to pick out many Warblers or other spring migrants so I didn’t have a whole lot of hope.  As it turned out, I needn’t have worried:  we had our best Birdathon EVER with a tally of 71 species!  Funny how things turn out sometimes.  🙂  I send out my great thanks & appreciation to all who donated for my cause.  I raised over $1100 for Bird Studies Canada this year.  🙂

The week after our Birdathon, we made a trip to Dorion, ON., an hour east of Thunder Bay, for the 9th annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival.  We haven’t missed a year yet and as per usual, there was great fun to be had all weekend.  The weather was mostly good (at least it didn’t snow!) & we had a great time hiking through trails to Ouimet Canyon (a natural wonder of NW Ont. where Peregrine Falcons nest) …

Vantage point: standing on a lookout, looking to the right of Ouimet Canyon

… and through the beautiful trails of Hurkett Cove & Lake Superior’s Black Bay in Dorion.  Heaven on earth.  Some photos from the weekend:

A Red Eyed Vireo

The bird I look SO forward to seeing each year: the Pelican

A Northern Parula

My lifer sighting! An Eastern Wood Pewee, a type of Flycatcher!

A VERY lucky shot of a Golden Crowned Kinglet at the top of a birch tree

A Cormorant in flight

A Chestnut-Sided Warbler

My husband and I had a great half hour period on our own at the head of one trail when I discovered that we were surrounded by Warblers:  Yellow-Rumped, Chestnut-Sided, Redstarts, Black Throated Greens …. they were EVERYwhere at head level!  It was incredible!  I can’t wait for the 10th annual next May.  🙂

Unfortunately, we have seen this spring throughout our region that we have ticks up here now.  I photographed a moose that was covered in them ….

A moose covered in ticks at the end of winter.

… and a Hare at the festival that had ticks on its face:

Snowshoe Hare with at least 3 ticks on its face

They were pitiful looking creatures, especially the moose.  Enough ticks on one animal can cause anaemia and death.  So sad to hear the insects have made their way up here now.

On to other news.  We came home from the Bird Festival to discover a bear had been visiting the yard that weekend, while we were away.  I knew something was missing from my feeder post – my husband found my peanut feeder in our woodshed!  The next morning, we got up to find the bear had returned and torn down my platform feeder during the night.  Thankfully, when we rebuilt our feeder system last summer, we built it strong so the post was not damaged, just some brackets and one hook.  We were planning to remodel the platform feeder itself anyway.

Since then, I have very little seed out in the yard but what I do have is still bringing in some lovely visitors like ….

Purple Finches (in my blooming crab apple tree)

Super busy & super cute Chickadees (this one is in my honeysuckle shrub)

Hummingbirds were quite late this year ….. or at least our sightings of them were.  I didn’t see my season’s first one until May 31st when I normally see them by the 15th.  They are busy now with both males & females vying for my 2 feeders regularly.  I have lots of flowers out for them now too.

Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird in the rain, on my newest feeder.

We were surprised 2 weeks ago, while we were sitting on our back deck, to look over and see a Groundhog on our firewood pile in our driveway.  Two weeks before that, we had a Pine Marten running around our backyard and climbing our pine trees.  Add in the bear visits & it was a fairly busy spring for mammal sightings in the yard!

Groundhog in our woodpile …. check out those chompers!

I’ll leave you this month with a smile …… just because.  🙂  Happy Summer!  See you in July!

My Funky Chicken flower pot 🙂

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Changes

Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes!
– David Bowie

I have more than once caught myself humming David Bowie’s 1972 hit Changes over the past few weeks. Spring in southern Ontario is very much a season of changes – from day to day, week to week, month to month. It’s an exciting time to be a newbie birder since, with apologies to the late, great David Bowie, each time you turn to the window it seems you face the strange, in the form of a new bird you haven’t seen before or in a very long while.

The unmistakable chirp of a blue jay – a sure sign that the feeder is once again out of peanuts.

Downy woodpeckers are year-round residents, but they seem so much more active in spring.

Living as we do near the western end of Lake Ontario, we’re blessed with an abundance of temporary visitors who stop by the feeders for a day or two on their annual migrations. We see them briefly, then they’re gone – some not to be seen again till the fall, others not till the following spring. The white-crowned sparrows, for instance, show up faithfully each May but stay for only a day or two, prowling around the base of the feeders before continuing on to their summer homes somewhere else. We see white-throated sparrows far more frequently, making the white-crowned birds all that much more special.

White-crowned sparrows visit every spring, though they only stay for a few days.

Wish they would stick around longer.

The rose-breasted grosbeaks follow a similar path. Although our bird books show them to be resident in this area year-round, for some reason we only ever seem to see them for a day or two each spring. That first prolonged warm patch in early May always brings a small number of grosbeaks to the feeder, where they camp out on the safflower cylinder and proceed to positively gorge themselves. And then, just when you think they’ve eaten so much that there’s no way they can fly any more, poof! They’re gone for another year.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are always welcome guests in our yard.

Frisky blue jay, attempting to smooch with the finial on our feeder pole.

Even the birds who live in our yard year-round go through changes each spring. Take the goldfinch gang, for instance. In April the males are still dressed in their duller winter plumage, blending right in with all the girls. Then as the weather warms, for a week or two they begin to look downright scruffy as old feathers give way to new. But by the Victoria Day weekend, transformation complete, the boys have donned the brilliant yellow summer plumage that gives these birds their name. Each passing day brings a different view at the feeder, as our little friends swap winter olive for summer gold.

April goldfinches all look alike …

… then by month-end some of the males begin to sprout summer brilliant yellow feathers.

By Mother’s Day, the males are stunning.  This one is joined at the feeder by our first indigo bunting.

Yellow birds … blue birds … and red birds decorate the yard in a festival of colour.

The arrival of the first Baltimore oriole is always a welcome sight.

While every season offers its own unique charms, spring will always be special for the changes that it brings. Whether it’s the first ker-cheep of a red-winged blackbird confirming the end of winter, or the first glimpse of a bright orange oriole marking the true start of summer, spring brings the promise of something new with every glance at the feeder.

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T.O. Backyard – A Different View

A different yard view for a few days.

Rob and I usually book two weeks’ vacation in May, and this year was no different. The big difference this year was that I was still recovering from a broken right foot, still in a boot-cast, and not allowed to do a lot of walking. Rob, the never ending optimist said “we’ll make the best of it”, and so we did.

We had booked a cottage for a 3 night, 4 day getaway in the Long Point/Port Rowan area at the beginning of the year. It was our first time renting a cottage or doing any real birding in the area. We were both looking forward to it, even though we both knew I had to watch how much time I spent on my feet.

We rented a two person cottage at Bayside Vacation Resort, the perfect location for birding in the area. It is just minutes from all the great birding areas, including the Long Point Bird Observatory, Backus Woods and Bird Studies Canada. What was a pleasant surprise were all the birds we could watch from our cottage deck and grounds! We are used to all our backyard regulars like Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Finches, Blue Jays, etc. But for our time there are “yard birds” were Common Terns, Killdeer, Barn Swallows, etc. We weren’t even there 30 minutes and we had a fly over from a Bald Eagle, and a Loon was also spotted nearby.

We had just under 90 species for our trip and enjoyed the birding in the area. You can read  more about it and view other pics by clicking here to read my personal blog, but in the meantime, please enjoy a few pics of our vacation yard birds during May 8 -11, 2017. We enjoyed the entertainment they provided and have already booked for next year!

The Common Terns were a lot of fun to watch.

Thrilled to see a Loon.

Killdeer made fun neighbors.

Mute Swan surrounded by Barn and Tree Swallows.

Our cottage bunny greeted us every evening.

Sunrise.

Tree Swallows liked to swoop our heads.

White-crowned Sparrow calling.

We never knew what was going to fly by or swim up the channel!

In case you didn’t make it over my personal blog, I have to share the highlight of my trip. I have been wanting to hear the call of a Whip-poor-will for close to a decade, and on this trip if finally happened. We had at least 5 birds calling around us the evening of May 10th, thanks to help from local birders. It was amazing! Rob recorded some of it, and you can hear what we heard by clicking here.

I hope the Spring migration was good for everyone!

 

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Birding on the Carden Alvar

Sleeping in always sounds so good as I anticipate a day off… but there is one thing that will make me eagerly jump out of bed at the crack of dawn on a weekend morning: birds.

On the gorgeous Saturday morning of the May long weekend, we struck out for the Carden Alvar, just north of Kirkfield, Ontario.  An alvar is an area of little to no soil on limestone bedrock, often flooded in the spring and facing drought conditions in the summer.  This rare habitat supports distinctive grassland species of plants which typically occur in the western prairies.  The Carden Alvar is an Important Bird Area, and one of my particular favourite places to visit.  I hope that you might get a sense of why from my photos below.

The Carden Alvar

First sighting of the morning – a Wilson’s Snipe.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Prairie-smoke, a wildflower so named for its fluffy seed heads, creating swaths of hazy pink where the plants are numerous

Brown Thrasher

Grasshopper Sparrow, named for its buzzy, insect-like call

Savannah Sparrow

Killdeer

Upland Sandpiper – I love this beautiful, big-eyed bird!

Upland Sandpiper

It was a great morning (we also saw Eastern Bluebirds, Meadowlarks, and Bobolinks), and the best trip yet for seeing the Upland Sandpiper.  In the space of five minutes we saw spotted three (and who knows how many more we passed, hidden in the long grass!).  You can read more about this bird on my own blog here

‘Til next month, happy birding!

Rachel

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Grasslands Birds | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Curiosity

Although curiosity didn’t do much good for the proverbial cat, I have to confess it has always served me well, continually opening my world to delightful new discoveries. Most recently, this has come to include the joy of watching birds.

Straight up – I don’t know the first thing about birds. Well, back up a bit – I know they like to poop all over my truck, and I know they make such a fuss in the wee hours before dawn that sleeping with the windows open around here is pretty much impossible. But beyond that, where birds are concerned I remain at a complete loss.

My wife, Laura, doesn’t know much about birds either, so I’m not really sure how we wound up owners of a shiny new bird feeder for the yard. I honestly don’t remember buying it. Perhaps it was a housewarming gift? That’s a possibility, since its appearance seemed to coincide with our moving into the new house. In any case, it was a delightful brown stamped metal thing with clear plastic sides, adorned with a supportive wire cage that would slide down when too much weight was applied to it, a feature said to deter squirrels from eating all the bird seed. Fairly ornate, it was decorated on each side with numerous little oak leaves, each stamped out of the same thin brown metal and tacked into place on the wire cage covering. It had a lid that lifted vertically to open, and little perches for birds to sit on while they stuffed down their free lunch. It seemed quite high-tech at the time. So we duly hauled off to Canadian Tire, bought a steel Shepherd’s pole to hang it on, filled it up with bird seed and peered excitedly out the kitchen window to witness the results. That was it – we were now bird watchers.

To my surprise, and I think Laura’s too, there weren’t exactly a lot of birds to watch that first afternoon. As in, none at all – nada, zero, zip. In fact it was the next morning before the first curious house sparrows arrived to check it out this odd new addition to the garden. Our first customers!

The original feeder, with the sparrow gang.

 

Then there were more sparrows. And more. I may not know the first thing about birds, but even children can recognize a house sparrow. And we seemed to have clouds of them. Although our bird identification book suggested that all sorts of colourful little peeps lived in our area, none seemed remotely interested in our little enterprise. All we got day after day were swarms of the same little brown birds.

When we finally did succeed in attract something other than sparrows, we wound up getting a bit more than we bargained for. We were surprised to peer out the kitchen window one morning to find the feeder was gone, the steel shepherd’s hook standing alone in the yard, no longer vertical, but tilting drunkenly toward the fence at a 45 degree angle. Stepping outside to investigate, we soon located the feeder about 20 feet away, shattered. A telltale tuft of grey fur pinched in its crumpled metal frame, supported by some muddy paw prints clearly visible up and down the Shepherd’s pole, revealed the culprit to have been a raccoon.

That disappointing start led us to begin researching birds, and ultimately brought us to a birding specialty store. Soon enough our yard was adorned by a new feeder on a new pole, this one complete with a raccoon-proof baffle. The feeder now had the right kind of seeds in it, and while we still got our share of house sparrows, many other, much more interesting birds soon found our set-up to their liking. Success at last.

That was a few years ago and, while we still don’t know a whole lot about birds, every day continues to bring new fresh new discoveries and exciting new visitors to the feeders. It also brings us to this humble effort. We have come to enjoy reading other people’s blogs, and wanted to share our own experiences. Hopefully, you’ll find them to be as much fun as we have.

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Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – May 2017

Hello again and welcome to the May Long Weekend!

Spring has been very slow in coming up here.  We had a brutal ice storm at the end of April, just when many migrants were arriving.  It didn’t get too cold but we received nearly 6″ of ice pellets followed by an inch of freezing rain and then the temperature dropped to nearly -10C.  The 6″ of ice pellets froze into a solid block of concrete EVERYwhere.  The birds were absolutely desperate for food so word was put out online throughout the entire region:  Don’t even bother with feeders, just throw seed out by the handful, as much and as often as you can.  That’s what I did for 3 entire days, going through more seed in that week than I did in the entire month of February!

My foot-tall rabbit statue was half buried in ice.  A Robin showed up for cracked corn with the Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Tree Sparrows & everyone else

A small portion of the birds feeding on top of the ice in my backyard in the days following the April Ice Storm.

I had quite the assortment of birds in the yard following that storm, including:

Two pairs of Yellow Rumped Warblers … they nibbled on cracked corn & the peanut feeder for a week.

A very unhappy male Yellow Rumped Warbler

White Throated Sparrows

American Tree Sparrows

Lots & lots of Purple Finches & Pine Siskins

A small flock of Rusty Blackbirds like this male with Grackles, Starlings & Red Winged Blackbirds.

Many Dark Eyed Juncos

There was a fall-out of Fox Sparrows throughout the region. I’m normally lucky to see 1 or 2 in a year …. at the end of April, I had *7* in my yard!

A single Mourning Dove

This poor Ruffed Grouse came flying in while I was throwing down cracked corn. She didn’t care how close I was, she dove right into that feed!

It was incredible the number of birds in the yard that week …. well over 200 at a time!  I was very glad I still had lots of seed left from the winter so I could continue to put out an assortment for as long as they needed it.  I put out black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanut hearts, peanuts in the shell & a blend of safflower, peanuts, sunflower seeds & dried fruit.  They sure appreciated it since it was a good 4 days before that ice began to soften!

Spring finally started showing a bit after that storm and some lovely, colorful migrants arrived.

White Crowned Sparrows

Tree Swallows: their nesting season may begin a little later than normal due to the cooler weather but they seem to like the new birdhouse 🙂

2 very handsome Rose Breasted Grosbeaks arrived this week, the first ones I’ve seen in a couple of years.

A Common Loon with a perch minnow for breakfast.  A good assortment of Ducks have also returned.

Lesser Yellowlegs, a type of Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs, a type of large Sandpiper

A small flock of Goldfinches finally found my yard this week

A good number of Sandhill Cranes are back in the area for nesting season

Along with watching all of these recent migrants, my husband and I completed our first-ever American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey last weekend.  Like the Owl survey, you don’t watch for these birds, you listen for them after dark.  In our 10 scheduled stops, we heard the mating call (peent) of 4 Woodcocks and got buzzed by a Snipe that flew low & loud over our heads …. great fun!

During this upcoming long weekend, I will be completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon.  I have surpassed my goal in donations so I’m sending out a huge thank you to all who donated.  Any funds I raise go to Bird Studies Canada for conservation & research.  I will post my results next month.

And in ending, in typical fashion for the upcoming May Long Weekend up here, we had another snowstorm today, May 18th!  It started with rain, turned to freezing rain & ice pellets, then turned into 4″ of heavy, wet snow.  Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll see my season’s first Hummingbird today.

Brand new feeder for the 2017 Hummingbird season … snowed in!

Enjoy the ‘first official long weekend of Summer’, stay safe & thanks for reading!

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Welcome back birds! – Spring birding in Calgary, 2017

2017 has flown by for me thus far. While I have been managing to get out and go birding, most of it has been outside of Canada – exploring some of the other wonderful avian species to be found in birding meccas such as south-east Arizona, Ohio and more far-flung locales such as Mexico and Costa Rica. As such, this post represents something of a round-up of my Canadian birding for the start of this year.

First off, a Northern Hawk Owl decided spend part of the winter on the outskirts of Calgary where it hunted voles in Aspen-fringed, snow-laden fields. The only access was from the side of a fairly busy road with very limited parking and it was not the most ideal photography location so I only spent about 30 mins there. As an aside, I noted that passing motorists, seeing big super-telephoto lenses on tripods (not me, I hardly ever use a tripod), seemed to think these were speed cameras and would often slow to a crawl as they came past!

Another owl that got the Calgarian birding population excited was a Barred Owl that spent a good part of Jan and Feb residing in one of Calgary’s main parks in the centre of town. Barred Owl are not particularly common in Calgary, and this bird would be a ‘lifer’ for me, so I made a number of trip in an attempt to see it. Despite being taunted and teased by many, many images of this bird being posted by others, this owl eluded me for quite some time. Finally, on one trip when I was just about to return to my car with an empty memory card once again, a little piece of out-of-place brown caught my eye and as I took a closer look the ‘brown’ turned out to be the wing feathers of the superbly-camouflaged Barred Owl! After 5 minutes alone with this beautiful bird I left it as I found it, and headed home a very happy camper. Finding a bird is always satisfying, and finding it on your own after trying for some time is even better!

On a trip out west through the Rockies to see what was stirring at the end of winter…I found the answer was: not much! However, a flock of Clark’s Nutcrackers saved the trip and it was nice to one on a natural perch, and not on a car in the Lake Louise parking lot :)…

With the approach of spring, the thawing of ponds and other water formations also heralded the return of waterfowl. A few brief trips to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary yielded some of the ‘regulars’ such as Common Mergansers…

A new pose for me when it comes to mergansers 🙂

… and Common Goldeneyes…

… as well as the ever-present Canada Geese loudly honking their presence:

Out on the prairies, April is the main month of lekking for the Sharp-tailed Grouse and I was once again able to visit a lek site and enjoy 40 males and 5 females doing their famous drumming, dancing, fighting and mating:

One unexpected, but gratefully received, encounter was a fine-looking coyote that came strolling right through the lek:

Interestingly, the grouse did not scatter as I though, but just stood and watched…presumably because they felt could escape if needed, but didn’t want to give up their hard-won patch of lekking territory.

I took a lot less images this year, but filled the gap with video footage which is something I have just begun trying my hand at. While one can get some stunning photos at these leks, I feel that video is really the only medium that truly can capture the frenetic sounds and actions that you witness at these leks. And this has been borne out by the much greater interest (relative to my pics) that my young kids showed in a few brief clips I shared with them!

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet in a hurry.

Finally, what would spring be without the northern passage of colourful warblers & other songbirds up through Alberta.

An Orange-crowned Warbler showing off how it earned its name.

Even the abundant Yellow-rumped Warblers look ever so handsome in the breeding plumage. These particular birds were all from the same flock:

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle sub-species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon’s sub-species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle x Audubon’s sub-species??

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle x Audubon’s sub-species??

With the current debate to re-separate the sub-species of Audubon’s and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers, I thought a montage of the above would make for an interesting comparison as these 4 birds (same flock) show both Audubon’s, Myrtle and possibly hybrid markings…

As I wrote this blog, more & more waterfowl are returning and it’s always great to see the Scaups re-appear…they have such curious faces…

I look forward to seeing what else spring brings in the coming weeks!

You can see more of my wildlife images at:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/timjhopwood/

https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

Cheers,

Tim.

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

T.O. Backyard – Spring Things

Hello! Welcome back to our Toronto backyard and slightly beyond. Spring is in full swing, migrating birds coming back to our region (or passing through, heading further north), and for some odd reason a winter species still remain here in early May.

We just started a 2 week vacation so please excuse the rushed photographic blog this month. I hope you enjoy the sightings I am sharing as much as we’ve enjoyed seeing them.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks made a short stop at our safflower feeder. It’s been 3 years since we’ve encountered these birds at our feeders.

The male.

The female.

Eastern Bluebirds have been passing through and any close to home sightings are a thrill.

Male Bluebird.

Female Bluebird.

Odd for us but not exactly unusual is a Cooper’s Hawk hanging around. Normally for us they leave by March or so and we don’t see this species again until early Autumn.  It’s made a few attacks at the Pigeons who frequent our backyard.

A Rusty Blackbird I spotted at a nearby park. I can count on one hand how many encounters we’ve had with this species of bird (and it’s been a few years). So spotting this one around the corner from us recently was great!

A pair of Great Egrets are hitting some local ponds the last few weeks. Big beauties that are a joy to watch hunt the ponds.

No shortage of Northern Mockingbirds around us now. The holly bush in our yard is bare once again so it’s not often they come in for a stop.

Tree Swallows are back, claiming nest boxes in most of the parks. We’re monitoring a number of nest boxes in our area now.

This White-crowned Sparrow has been in our backyard for almost 2 weeks now. He’s bopping around, singing his song and we enjoy every day he’s here because any time now he will move along, heading further north to nesting grounds.

A pair of White-breasted Nuthatches are visiting us many times every day. Not uncommon for a lot of people but it is for us. Most years we see the odd one in fall migration and that’s it. We haven’t had any overwinter with us in over 5 years. With a pair, obviously they are going to nest close by. We’ve also got a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches still coming in. They overwinter every year with us but are usually gone by March.

No shortage of Red-winged Blackbirds anywhere. They are our first real sign of Spring. The females just started showing up in the last couple weeks while the males started coming in late February. I love these fierce birds, standing up to just about anything that nears their nest, no matter the size.

A few days we were treated to the sounds, and a few sightings of Field Sparrows. Their call is unmistakable much like that pink beak of theirs.

Local Eastern Screech Owl occasionally showing from this nest box. We never see young since first seeing it a few years back. The Owl does disappear through the warmer months so this may have been one of the last views until later in the fall.

And probably the coolest story around here is the appearance of this male Downy Woodpecker. As you can see, he is banded. My wife noticed the band while we were having coffee on the back deck. It was my mission that afternoon to get the band numbers with my camera. About 70 photos over the next 5 hours, I finally got the band and reported it.

The bird was banded in November 2014, in a woodlot about 3 kms from us. It was a 2012 hatch bird (or earlier). He’s at least 5 years old. A little survivor. And testimony to the positives of banding birds. Everyone is delighted to hear about the encounters with banded birds that are still alive. The kicker is the bander is a friend of ours! She was thrilled to learn about the Woodpecker finding our pure suet feeder.

Dark-eyed Juncos are still with us which is another unusual sighting for May.  They are also showing in the parks, so it’s odd to see one and then seconds later spot any of the Warblers we’ve been encountering such as Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Yellow and Black & White.

Black & White Warbler.  They race around the trees in similar fashion as Nuthatches.

Black-throated Green Warbler.  Now that’s one heck of a black throat!

As always, we appreciate those who stop in for a read of our blog entry. Enjoy the remaining weeks of Spring… and the birds passing through!

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments