Fraternizing with the Locals

As we work further into the Fall, those birds that have been with us from spring into late Summer, like the Warblers and Shorebirds, have mostly moved on. Now we are left with those hearty birds who live with us through the Winter or those tough guys from the North, who think this is the South. As well, we do get those birds which decide to come to the coast, rather than spend the winter inland.


Blue Jay

The most common of those birds that we find across the province is the Blue Jay. These birds are with us all year. We see them, individually and more secretly, throughout the breeding season but as the weather changes in the Fall they begin to collect in flocks and become a lot more vocal and obvious. As winter progresses the flocks continue to grow until one can find flocks of thirty or more at your feeder.

Another favourite in the province is the Black-capped Chickadee. These birds are with us all year long and are active at our feeders throughout the year, much to the delight of everyone. Those who might be new to birding find the Chickadee easy to identify and this in turn might lead them to develop their interest further.

Black-capped Chicadee

Black-capped Chickadee

But Fall also brings some exciting and colourful birds to Prince Edward Island. Some of those are the Waterfowl that pass through in the later stages of migration or who might just be coming into the area in hope of open water and the chance of food. These include some birds like the Northern Shoveller, Hooded Merganser, Wood Ducks and Loons, both Red-throated and Common, which are frequently seen off our coasts. Also, if we are lucky and determined to get out as the weather becomes more inclement, we might get to find some Purple Sandpiper and Harlequin Ducks.

A distant flock of Red-throated Loons off Cavendish Shore.

A distant flock of Red-throated Loons off Cavendish Shore.

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall

The subtle beauty of a Gadwall.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser with a Mallard

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

Northern Shoveller wirh Black Duck

With this in mind, the next activity for some of us is an Event with Birding on PEI and NaturePEI called “Get Your Duck On”. We will be visiting an number of sites in and around the Prince Edward Island National Park to find what birds we can in the area. Hopefully, we can scope out some of the great fall waterfowl as well as other birds that might be local, or just passing through.

In a previous post listing birding sites across Canada, I noticed that there were none related to Prince Edward Island. In fact, there are a few sites you might like to view. These are:

In checking the lists above, you will see that recent sightings include Fox Sparrows, a Pileated Woodpecker, an atypical Red-tailed Hawk and a rare juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.


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On Being Heard Above the Din

By Sharon McInnes, Gabriola Island, BC

I know the Spotted Towhee squawking in the back yard isn’t actually talking to me. Still, I feel like he is, and can’t help but talk back. “Hello. What’s up?” Maybe it’s a character flaw, I don’t know.

Spotted Towhee on tree stump, not squawking ... for the moment.

Spotted Towhee on tree stump, not squawking … for the moment.

Same with the Steller’s Jays who wait for peanuts every morning, quite patiently, on the back deck. “Good morning,” I say, as if these visitors have come to greet me, and not my peanuts. Sometimes they do make a funny little noise, one that seems rather un-jay like, and I wonder.

Steller's Jay, one of our "family" of nine, waiting for a peanut.

Steller’s Jay, one of our “family” of seven, waiting for a peanut.

Some birds can ‘talk’, of course, if by ‘talk’ you mean mimic. Ravens, for example, can even learn to mimic the human voice. (You can watch Terry the Raven “talking”, here, if you’re so inclined:

And mockingbirds, starlings, crows, Northern shrikes, gray catbirds, and magpies mimic other birds as well as sounds in their environment. In recent years the blackbirds of Somerset England stirred up a lot of attention by incorporating all kinds of new sounds into their repertoire, sounds like ringing cell phones that no one ever answers (how annoying is that?) and ambulance sirens and car alarms. Good grief.

Common Blackbird, in Warwick Square, London, England. Photo by Charles Sharp. CC license.

Common Blackbird, in Warwick Square, London, England.  Gorgeous photo by Charles Sharp. CC license.

Are these just blackbirds with a wicked sense of humour? Or maybe they’re bored, needing a little variety in their staid British lives? Or could it be that they simply enjoy learning? The more I learn about wild birds, the less certain I am about any of the many theories that abound.  Whatever their motivation, though, the Somerset blackbirds may be, inadvertently, setting themselves up as desirable mates, avian Lotharios. Female blackbirds, after all, much prefer males with experience, and in the world of blackbirds (and many other birds) song variety relates to maturity which relates to experience. So the more sounds a blackbird has in his repertoire, the more attractive he is as a mate.  (Makes sense to me. Certainly, I’ve heard of lots of crazier ways to pick a mate.)

Other city birds are also responding their environments in unique ways. According to the work of Hans Slabbekoom  of the Netherlands, Little Greenbuls, Great Tits, and European Blackbirds are changing the sound frequency of their calls in order to be heard above the din of the city.

Little Greenbul. Photo by  Hechtonicus. CC license.

Little Greenbul. Photo by Hechtonicus. CC license.


Great Tit. Photo by Francis C. Franklin. CC license.

Great Tit. Photo by Francis C. Franklin. CC license.

And scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered that, after millennia of singing at daybreak and onwards, some European Robins living in big cities have begun to sing only at night!

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

European Robin. Photo by Pierre Selim. CC license.

Why? Because it’s just too hard to make themselves heard during the day above the din of vehicles and people. And according to a study at the Berlin Free University (now there’s a concept) nightingales in that city now sing louder on weekday mornings than on weekend mornings when the streets are quieter.

But it’s not just the songs of birds that are being affected by us humans, it’s also their stress levels. Birders who use smartphone apps in the field may be doing the birds they love a serious disservice, according to Graham Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England. He writes: “… when birds hear their song played over and over again, they are likely to think it’s a rival male encroaching on their territory and fly out to see what’s going on. While that might make for a great photo, it also means that the nest is unprotected and vulnerable and the bird is stressed.”  Especially during nesting season, when the chores never end (building the nest, brooding and feeding the babies, eating and preening, keeping the nest clean, watching for predators, and on and on) the last thing a wild bird needs is the stress of thinking some other bird is after its territory!

But back to the Spotted Towhees and Steller’s Jays in my back yard for a moment. I wonder now if my talking back or morning greeting has unintended negative effects. Does it mean something completely different to the bird than it does to me? Does the towhee hear a threat? Does the jay hear a message that confuses and stresses him? Should I just keep my big trap shut?! I sure hope that’s not the case because, honestly, I doubt I can.



Posted in Bird Behaviour, Bird Canada, European Birds, Songbirds | Tagged | 1 Comment

The birds are leaving and the leaves are falling

As I am typing, more and more species are leaving not just my area, but all of New Brunswick. There aren’t any shorebirds left in Woodstock although you can still find a nice variety all along the coast, but the numbers are decreasing. Most of the warblers are gone, almost all the flycatchers & vireos have moved on and it is even hard to find a blackbird now that it is almost November.

Since I last posted I’ve checked two more species off my life list (Ruddy Duck & Greater Scaup) and added three first timers to my county list (Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead & Common Tern). As I have mentioned before, there is very little data for species found in Carleton County. There are 15 counties in New Brunswick and right now Carleton is in just 12th place.

Before I started submitting to ebird, Carleton was in just 14th place so I’m slowly bringing them along. One of the few birders around here has found at least another 10 species in the area and I’ve been trying to convince them to start using ebird. No luck yet, but I am hopeful!


Here are a few pictures from either my backyard or in the general area;

Yellow-rumped Warbler – I’ve had a couple right in my yard during the past few weeks. It is one of the few types of warblers left to be found in NB.

Yellow-rumped Warbler


Green-winged Teal – I have been finding a lot of different species of duck in the local sewage lagoon. I finally found a bright male just a few days ago and it was close enough to the fence to get a decent picture.

Green-winged Teal


White-crowned Sparrow (juvenile) – A few showed up in my yard a couple of weeks ago. The only reason I could even figure out what this was is because there were two adults with the two juveniles.

White-crowned Sparrow


Fox Sparrow - A few of these have been spotted in the province during the last few weeks. They really stand out from other common sparrows that visit backyard feeders.

Fox Sparrow



Rarities for October;

 Blue-winged Warbler –

Fork-tailed Flycatcher –

Western Kingbird –

Stilt Sandpiper –

Hooded Warbler –


I can close again by mentioning that “my” Carolina Wren was still around this past weekend. It has been raining since Monday and that was the last day that I heard and saw it in my yard. Even if I don’t see it around this weekend, I got to have it around for more than two months!

Until next time,

Nathan Staples

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Waterfowl, Wood Warblers | Comments Off

Birding hot spots in Metro Vancouver: Jericho Park


Song Sparrow | February 2014

With more than three years of birding and bird photography under my belt in the Metro Vancouver region, I am starting to have just enough photos and birding trips to talk about various birding “hotspots.” I have therefore decided to talk about these over the next few months. With a bit of luck, I might include a few places in the rest of the province. I hope you will like this feature!

This month, I will focus on what is probably Vancouver’s least known birding hotspots, namely Jericho Beach Park. Situated in the northern part of Vancouver’s West Point Grey neighbourhood, this park includes a variety of ecosystems, including ocean beach, a mostly deciduous forest, extensive ponds, a marsh, several areas with fruit bushes (including invasive Himalayan Blackberries) and several grassy areas. Recent rehabilitation efforts have focused on restoring the area’s wetlands and other natural areas, as well as removing some of the invasive plant species. It culminated in June 2013 with the removal of the Jericho Park Marginal Wharf.

The number of birds listed as having been seen in Jericho Park on the eBird website is an astonishing 210 species. This number is surpassed only in four birding hotspots in Metro Vancouver: Iona Island (Richmond), Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary (Delta) and Maplewood Conservation Area (North Vancouver). Jericho is virtually tied with Stanley Park, which has 5 more species on eBird.

If you are looking to see as many of the region’s iconic species and do not have a lot of time on your hands, this would be an ideal spot. On a bad day, you should be able to see at least 25-30 species, but on a good one, you could easily top 50 at this one location and could probably accomplish this in less than three hours.

The following photo gallery includes bird species that I photographed in the past couple of years in Jericho:


Spotted Towhee | May 2014


Red-winged Blackbird | March 2014


Red-winged Blackbird (female) | May 2012


Ring-necked Duck | March 2014


Northern Pintail | September 2014


Golden-crowned Sparrow | April 2014


Great Blue Heron | May 2014


Fox Sparrow | May 2014


Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile) | October 2014


Bushtit | May 2014


Black-capped Chickadee | May 2014

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Fall Splendour – enhancing your bird photography with autumnal colours


A Yellow-rumped Warbler – the colours and leaves clearly convey that this autumn!

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus


I like Chickadees any day of the week, but I like them even more with a splash of colour in the image

I love the quote above from Camus as I wholeheartedly agree with him. Having grown up in Australia, I find the autumns here so much more vibrant with colour – thanks to the many native North American deciduous trees. And just as an image of a bird is enhanced with a colourful spring flower, so is an image that uses fall colours.

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

A Rusty Blackbird in its striking fall plumage

However, the colourful leaves fall fast & I find I only have 2 to 3 weekends before most of the colour has gone. My favourite spots to visit are obviously those with colourful trees & shrubs, but if I can find a spot that has water (a lake, pond, stream or even irrigation canal!) then I get twice the bang for my buck as water reflections of fall colours are just as good, if not better!


An Eared Grebe paddling through some reflected aspens.


A Northern Shoveller stretched its wings


The same Shoveller giving a view from the back


A Canada Goose on a pond of liquid gold

Indeed, even the common local birds that don’t always rate a 2nd glance normally (gulls, anyone?) look a little more interesting with some autumnal upgrading…


Ring-billed Gull reflected


Ring-billed Gull again – this was taken in the middle of the day


Bonaparte’s Gull with a little splash of fall yellow


Forster’s Tern

So here is my 2014 ‘fall collection’ – I hope you enjoy. And if the leaves are still around where you live in Canada I very much encourage you to get out & try some using the fall colours to transform your images into something a little more colourful!


Wood Ducks are a might handsome bird on any background, so I was pretty chuffed to get to shoot this one on a fall background!


Wood Duck again – not a lot colours from the rainbow missing here!


Hooded Merganser – love that hair do :)

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

Canadian Bird/Birding Groups

Especially in Canada, autumn is the beginning of fall migration any a busy time of year for many of us. One way to to learn about rare birds in your area or large concentrations of migrating species is through different forums, listservs, and Facebook groups. Luckily, there are some very good groups for the provinces and territories, below.

And for those provinces and territories without groups, it’s the perfect opportunity for a birder or group of birders to start one. I started a Facebook group for Alberta Birds in June 2012, and we’re now up to 2,019 members. It’s a great place for birders, naturalists, and photographers, and we also get a lot of members who plan to travel to Alberta for birding.

:: British Columbia (Birding British Columbia) and (British Columbia Birds)

:: Alberta (Alberta Birds)

:: Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Wildlife Photographers)

:: Manitoba (Manitoba Wildlife)

:: Ontario (Ontario Birds)

:: Quebec (BIRDS!! Quebec)

:: Newfoundland (Newfoundland Birdwatching Group)

:: New Brunswick (Grand Manan Birders) and (Birding NB Oiseau NB)

:: Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Bird Society)

:: Yukon (Yukon Birds)

:: Nunavut (Birding Nunavut)

Posted in Bird Canada | Tagged | 2 Comments

Here Comes Fall

September brought us into the middle of shorebird movement through Prince Edward Island. Shorebirds have been moving through on their southward migration for a while now and we were eager to get on with it by participating in a brand new, world-wide event called World Shorebirds’ Day. The actual event took place on September 6, with an option to do it on the 7th. We chose Sunday, September 7 with the hope of attracting additional birders. We stared our day at Locke Shore on Malpeque Bay. The tide was high and did not allow us to explore the area as much as we would have liked but did allow for some interesting sightings among which were Semipalmated Sandpipers as well as some accommodating Nelson’s Sparrows.

Semi palmated Sandpiper

Semi palmated Sandpiper

Nelson's Sparrow

Nelson’s Sparrow

From Locke Shore, we moved to the dock in Summerside we were able to locate a nice pair of Ruddy Turnstones as well as numerous gulls and a lonely White-winged Scoter.

One of two Ruddy Turnstones seen in Summerside.

One of two Ruddy Turnstones seen in Summerside.

Afternoon found us in Carleton Cove, where we were able to pick up our first highlight of the day; 19 Red Knots among Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover and both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

One of the nineteen Red Knot seen in Carleton Cove

One of the nineteen Red Knot seen in Carleton Cove

Another highlight of the day was a Red-necked Phalarope located in the Borden Lagoons. This bird is not common on PEI and had been reported previously as having been see recently on the PEI listserve.

Red-necked phalarope

Red-necked phalarope

The month ended with the Bennett Birding Classic. The Classic is a fundraising event for the Island Nature trust. Four teams took part by exploring the Island from early morning to late in the evening in a challenge to find the most birds in 24 hours. Funds are raised by sponsorship or donation base on the number of birds counted as an option. One team was able to list total of 102 species, including: 2 Peregrine Falcons and a Cackling Goose! Another team was able to locate Sandhill Cranes, another unusual visitor to PEI.

Greater Yellowlegs counted in Noonan's Marsh during the Bennett

Greater Yellowlegs counted in Noonan’s Marsh during the Bennett

Great Cormorant counted at Orby Head during the Bennett

Great Cormorant counted at Orby Head during the Bennet

Overall it has been a fine month of birding on Prince Edward Island and we are looking forward to what October brings!

Posted in Shorebirds, Songbirds | Tagged | Comments Off

Seven Steller’s Jays and a Hungry Hawk

By Sharon McInnes
Gabriola Island, BC

Since you’re reading this on BirdCanada, you’re probably already interested in birds. You might, like me, not only watch them but also go to some lengths to create a bird-friendly habitat in your back yard, complete with native flowers and fresh water and protection from prey.

Steller's Jays at favourite bird bath.

Steller’s Jays at favourite bird bath

You might also feed them. I do, in the fall and winter anyway. It’s the middle of September as I write this, and I recently started tossing a few handfuls of peanuts-in-the-shell to “our” seven Steller’s Jays every morning.

Waiting for breakfast

Waiting for breakfast

The morning banquet

The morning banquet

It’s fun to watch them fly in, squawk at each other, then carefully choose their peanuts, stuff one or two in their mouths, take them away to the garden or a faraway tree or the eaves of one of the sheds to squirrel them away for the winter.

One jay, one mouth, two peanuts.

One jay, one mouth, two peanuts.

First, I'll crack open one to eat right now.

First, I’ll crack open one to eat right now.

Then I'll poke one into the garden with this twig.

Then I’ll poke one into the garden with this twig.

There - that's got it!

There – that’s got it!

Then a little dessert: leftover suet that falls onto ground when Flicker eats.

Then a little dessert: leftover suet that falls onto ground when Flicker eats.

It’s fun, that is, until a hawk shows up. That’s what happened today. I put the peanuts out, then stood at the patio door in my bathrobe, eating my bowl of granola and watching the jays swoop down for their morning peanut-hiding routine. One jay (the one with the brightest eyebrows) was on the table, busy weighing peanuts (gotta get the heaviest one!) when, in my peripheral vision, I noticed another bird in mid-swoop toward the table top.

Mr. Big Blue Brows

Mr. Big Blue Brows

My brain must have recognized something a little different about this particular motion because I immediately looked up – to see a hawk, probably a Cooper’s. Another jay and I reacted at the same time. I dropped my bowl of granola, waved my arms, and yelled like a madwoman; he flew down, his wings spread all the way out, crest high, squawking like crazy. The hawk veered off.

Unfortunately, it only went as far as the maple tree in the front yard, maybe twenty feet away, where it sat, watching.

Cooper's Hawk. (Public Domain image.)

Cooper’s Hawk. (Public Domain image.)

The jays soon flew back down to the table with the peanuts. NOOOO! I flung all the peanuts onto the rattan patio chair, tossed a big pillow over them, then ordered the jays “Back in the trees!” They looked at me, quizzically, their little heads bent. NOW!! I flailed my arms, yelling so loudly that the yappy dog up the hill must have thought it was his signal to start his morning barking routine. They complied, though, headed for the backyard cedar tree, and sat among its branches.

Jay in a tree - waiting for further instructions?

Jay in a tree – waiting for further instructions?

Were they thinking I’d lost my mind? Wondering what happened to all that cootchy-cooing they usually get in the mornings?

This went on for half an hour, the jays staying in the trees (mostly) , the hawk staying in the maple tree (mostly), me ON GUARD (full-time) on the deck. When a jay would venture out, I’d yell and flail my arms. He’d scoot back. A few times the hawk changed trees, causing a whole new level of commotion. A few times, when a jay left the safety of the trees, the hawk glided down after him – always to the background music of my screeches and screams. These must have put his timing off because the jays always managed to escape – at least when I was watching. But eventually, I lost sight of the hawk and could no longer hear it (which means absolutely nothing, I realize) and it was time to get dressed and catch the ferry for a dentist appointment in Nanaimo. All the way there, I thought about what I was doing: putting the jays’ already precarious lives at risk by feeding them peanuts.

Bushy beard Jay

Bushy beard Jay

Don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly fine with letting nature takes its course. Hawks need to eat too, obviously. But I don’t want to set a breakfast table that makes the jays easy pickin’s for a hungry predator. It’s a big picture dilemma, of course – the risks and benefits of feeding the birds.

I’d love to hear how you handle it. (Please share your ideas in the Comments section below.)


Posted in Bird Canada | Tagged , | 4 Comments

First day of Autumn

At the beginning of the month I ended up completing what was basically a Big Day. This wasn’t my original intention because all I really wanted to do was go to all my usual spots as much as possible before school started up again. Someday I’d like to go birding for 12+ hours like I know some birders do. On this particular day, I went out for a few hours in the morning, kept an eye on my backyard and went out again for another hour in the evening. I ended with 75 species which I was quite pleased with considering where I happen to live.

Highlights for me included; Bay-breasted Warbler (lifer), Long-tailed Duck (first time I had found one in the county), Common Tern (another first for the county, most likely first ever for anyone), Philadelphia Vireo (only second time I’ve ever found one) and a few late Common Nighthawks as well as one late Chimney Swift. A few of these species might not seem that special to the average birder, but if you ever happen to come to this part of New Brunswick, you’d understand that these are all nice sightings for this area.

I was quite pleased to find a couple of Norther Shovelers in Woodstock just a few days ago. It was the first time I have found this species in the county.

Northern Shoveler

Last week I found a Gadwall for just the second time in this area. I could have easily overlooked it, but I happened to see it fly away so the black and white really stood out.


There aren’t a lot of shorebirds to be found in western New Brunswick. I often see Solitary Sandpipers however and have even found up to eight in the same area before.

Solitary Sandpiper

I can’t say I paid much attention to birds when I was young. I do remember having Killdeer around our home a couple of different times though. Their alarm call fascinated me so I still like to see or hear them around.


I have enjoyed hearing Cedar Waxwings fly over my yard the past few months. In the next few weeks they will be moving on, but by November there will be Bohemian Waxwings to take there place.

Cedar  Waxwing

I wanted to mention a few rarities that have been spotted in the province over the past couple of weeks. This might become part of my regular post for each month.

Snowy Owl – Just yesterday it was reported that one has stayed in northern NB for the entire summer!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron – It isn’t often that this species makes an appearance here;

South Polar Skua – A few were found during a Pelgaic trip off of Grand Manan island. This is one of the best spots to go birding in the province! 

My goal for this Fall is try to find 6 more species to beat my record for most species found in a year. There are a few I could see this Winter that would be different, but with Fall migration, now is the time to beat a record with lots of different species stopping on their way through. The competitive side of me would really like for this to happen so I’m hoping to get down to the Bay of Fundy to help increase my chances. If I can accomplish this, this will be the topic of my post next month.

To close I wanted to mention that the Carolina Wren I posted about last month is still in my yard! I didn’t see it for almost two weeks, but I just went outside after supper and there it was helping itself to the suet. It has been a very pleasant surprise that it came to my yard in the first place and a nice bonus that it has stayed so long!

Nathan Staples

Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Shorebirds | 2 Comments

Birding the Alberta Grasslands – a photo essay

The Burrowing Owl - one of the most endangered birds in the grassland region.

The Burrowing Owl – one of the most endangered birds in the grassland region.

Living in Calgary in the south of Alberta, I have the great fortune to be able to spend the summer camping season in a number of very enjoyable, and very different, regions only a few short hours way: from the mountains to the west, the parkland to the north and the grasslands to the south and east. Unfortunately, the grasslands have rapidly become one of the most threatened regions in North America. As the Alberta Wilderness Association informs on their website:

‘The North American grasslands, or Great Plains, extend from Mexico, across the U.S., and into the three Canadian prairie provinces. The northern portion of this vast ecoregion is referred to as the Northern Great Plains and covers more than 720,000 km2, sweeping across five states and two provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Because temperate grasslands are particularly suitable for agriculture, an estimated 99 percent of the non-urban grassland landscape is either under cultivation or livestock grazing. Only about 1.5 percent of the Northern Great Plains is located in protected areas such as parks and reserves.

Although it is facing enormous threats, Alberta’s prairie region contains some of the world’s best and most important remaining grassland, but today less than 1 percent of Alberta’s Grassland Natural Region is protected.

The grasslands region is now considered one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America. Most of the non-urban landscape of this region is either farmed or grazed by domestic cattle, with the additional threat of oil and gas development and its concomitant infrastructure of roads, well sites, and pipelines. Extensive fragmentation, invasion of non-native species, and loss of habitat is reflected in the number of endangered and at-risk grassland species in the southeastern corner of Alberta.’

In the hopes of raising awareness of this issue I would therefore like to highlight some of the 30 or so grassland bird species that inhabit the region, a disproportionate number of which are endangered:

Western Meadowlark - a nice splash of colour in the grasslands

Western Meadowlark – a nice splash of colour in the grasslands

Western Meadowlarks are ubiquitous in summer and their song is literally music to my ears on early mornings.

Horned Larks - very common in SE Alberta grasslands

Horned Larks – very common in SE Alberta grasslands

Equally common is the Horned Lark, which must be a pretty hardy bird as it chooses to over-winter in Alberta.

Along with Ferruginous and Red-tailed Hawks, the Northern Harrier is also one of the key raptors of the region. The shots below were one of those moments where opportunity meets preparation…I’d gotten into a good shoting position with the sun at my back and was waiting for shorebirds at a marsh when I spied this Harrier starting it’s low altitude hunting circuit of the marsh, so knowing how wary the Harrier is, I crouched down behind some reeds and waited. As the Harrier came within range I popped up and grabbed this close-up:

Northern Harrier - getting this nice close-up was another highlight of the summer.

Northern Harrier – getting this nice close-up was another highlight of the summer.

A more common, yet equally-impressive raptor is the Swainson’s Hawk:

Swainson's Hawk - portrait of a raptor

Swainson’s Hawk – portrait of a raptor

That said, I have seen a Swainson’s take the bird below, a Long-billed Curlew, as prey. Indeed, it was quite a sad sight to see the dead Curlew’s mate trying in vain to rescue it’s partner and not something I’ll soon forget…

Long-billed Curlews that I've come across are quite territorial and not shy of coming into the middle of the road and challenging me & my vehicle!

Long-billed Curlews that I’ve come across are quite territorial and not shy of coming into the middle of the road and challenging me & my vehicle!

A Long-billed Curlew patrols a field

A Long-billed Curlew patrols a field

Other species of shorebirds also take up residence in the sloughs and ponds that dot the grasslands, from the Marbled Godwit:

Marbled Godwit fly-by

Marbled Godwit fly-by

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

through to the Willet:

Willet - sounding a warning call

Willet – sounding a warning call

Willet on a morning flight

Willet on a morning flight

and even the Spotted Sandpiper:

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

And of course, the hardy and adaptable Killdeer, has also found a home in the grassland:

Killdeers usually see me before I see them and they let me know it with alarm calls, and sometimes a fly-by like this.

Killdeers usually see me before I see them and they let me know it with alarm calls, and sometimes a fly-by like this.

However, a ‘shorebird’ that is truly a grassland specialty is the Upland Sandpiper – quite a sizeable ‘peep’ that has a penchant for fence posts:

Upland Sandpiper - I have yet see one NOT on a fencepost!

Upland Sandpiper – I have yet see one NOT on a fencepost!

It would be remiss of me to not mention the multiple species of sparrow that also inhabit the region, from the numerous Savannah Sparrows:

Savannah Sparrows - a very welcome sight in spring, but seemingly everywhere by summer!

Savannah Sparrows – a very welcome sight in spring, but seemingly everywhere by summer!

Savannah Sparrow - singing away in early spring

Savannah Sparrow – singing away in early spring

to the equally-abundant Vesper Sparrow:

Vesper Sparrows battle with Savannah Sparrows to be the dominant sparrow of the grasslands.

Vesper Sparrows battle with Savannah Sparrows to be the dominant sparrow of the grasslands.

and also the handsome Lark Sparrow:

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

However one of my ‘target’ sparrow species this year were the longspurs of the grasslands. So it was personal highlight to see & photograph BOTH Albertan grassland longspurs this summer, and I must express my great thanks to fellow Albertan bird photographers George and Alan for very kindly helping me find these elusive birds:Chestnut-collared Longspur

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Chestnut-collared Longspur

I have to say that the Longspur is a skittish bird indeed, and it took me a LOT of waiting and patience to capture all of these images!:

McCown's Longspur with a nagging Brown Cowbird fledgling in tow

McCown’s Longspur with a nagging Brown Cowbird fledgling in tow

McCown's Longspur - a highlight of this summer for me!

McCown’s Longspur – a highlight of this summer for me!

Again, thanks to some fellow birders (George again!, and Ron) I was also able to get some terrific views of resting Common Nighthawks. While they may be ‘hawks of the night’, I have seen them regularly hunting (presumably insects) over Little Bow Provincial Park in the middle of the day:

The Common Nighthawk at its daytime roost - blending in quite well with this fence post.

The Common Nighthawk at its daytime roost – blending in quite well with this fence post.

A Common Nighthawk up close & personal

A Common Nighthawk up close & personal


But amidst what was genuinely a summer of birding highlights, perhaps the pinnacle was the rare and privileged opportunity to observe and enjoy one of the jewels of the grassland: the Burrowing Owl…

Burrowing Owls - with one just visible from the burrow entrance.

Burrowing Owls – with one just visible from the burrow entrance.

Burrowing Owl

A big thank you to fellow photog Ron for graciously allowing me to also enjoy this fantastic experience. As I’m sure most readers know, this owl is endangered and its numbers are dwindling in Alberta and elsewhere.

So, I hope you enjoyed this post, but I hope it also raised your awareness of the precarious position the Alberta grassland region is currently in.



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