Surrounded by Snipe

A few years ago, I discovered the snipe.  There was this strange moving sound, a rapid hu-hu-hu-hu-hu, seemingly right overhead though I could not find its source.  I had never heard one before, but wondered if it could be the winnow of a snipe (produced by the modified outer tail feathers).  A quick listen to some recordings on the internet when I returned home confirmed it, and ever since, the month of April sends me in search of snipe.

Last year, squinting against the rising sun, we actually managed to see them in flight: tiny, long-billed black specks, whizzing across the sky.

And this year, well, this year was the best year yet.  As we listened, delighted, to their winnowing, and spotted them in the sky above the marsh, we began to hear abrupt peent! calls coming from the cattails.  First here, then over there, then there, and there, and there.  It was the vocal call of the snipe, and though we could not see them, they were all around us.  Filled with wonder and delight, we stood there listening, absolutely and utterly surrounded by snipe.  I’m not sure now if I had a silly smile, or if my mouth was hanging open as I held my breath.  But either way, those really are the best birding moments.

Wilson’s Snipe in flight – note the outspread outer tail feathers

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Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – April 2017

Happy Belated Easter to all!

Spring is a very confusing season up here in Northern Ontario.  Temperatures can change by upwards of 30 degrees in 24 hours or less.  Last week is a good example of this.  On April 9th, we reached a daytime high of 21C.  The next day however, the temperature plummeted and we had -10C wind chills.  It’s painful when that happens!

Ruffed Grouse in snow just before the big 21C melt

I’m sure it must create some confusion in the birds as well.  A mixed flock of blackbirds, including Grackles, Starlings and Red Winged Blackbirds showed up in my yard when it was nearly 20C and then they got hit with those wind chills the next day.  On top of that, we had wet snow over the Easter weekend, about 3″ worth.  The only ones who didn’t really seem to mind were the Juncos!

Finch Fest just prior to the big melt – Redpolls & Pine Siskins

Recently returned Dark Eyed Junco sitting on my hummingbird ornament

I’ve been watching the birds in my yard pairing up for the season.  Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Crows, Ravens and Red Breasted Nuthatches have all been in pairs in my yard in recent weeks.

Male (above) and female Hairy Woodpeckers

Pair of Red Breasted Nuthatches

I’ve had a small assortment of Finches vising the feeders lately.  The Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks have moved on north but in their place, I now have Purple Finches and Pine Siskins.  I expect to see Goldfinches any day now.  Evening Grosbeaks will likely stay for the summer now, to nest.

Purple Finches with Pine Siskins

Handsome male Purple Finches

Evening Grosbeaks

I recently noticed one Pine Siskin that was more overall yellow than the rest. The term for this is Xanthochromism: an excess of yellow pigment

Along with the pair of Crows, other blackbirds are now visiting the yard daily.  I have mixed flocks of Grackles, Red Winged Blackbirds and Starlings coming around.  I’m really hoping to see Yellow Headed Blackbirds and Rusty Blackbirds again this spring.

One of ‘my’ Crows in the Easter snowfall, having a drink from the birdbath

Some of the Grackles and colorful Starlings visiting my yard

Recently, I received a report from a friend of mine that she had seen a pair of Trumpeter Swans on a pond off the back road toward our camp.  My husband and I took a drive out there the next morning to try and find them but no luck.  My husband did happen to see them the next morning, when he was on his way to work.  Others have now reported seeing them as well … they have been in this pond now for nearly 2 weeks.

Trumpeter Swans … see the Goldeneye Duck in behind? 🙂

We might have missed the Swans that day but we did see a nice assortment of ducks and some geese including:

American Black Ducks (male is on right with bright yellow beak)

A trio of Canada Geese

Female Hooded Merganser

A male Common Goldeneye displaying for his mate

My favourite: the male Hooded Merganser

A pair of Mallards

Synchronized Hooded Mergansers!

Another recent trip out on the dirt roads showed that the Bald Eagles returned in March, once again.  Such majestic beauty!

Adult Bald Eagle

And a classic sign of Spring:  The Robin.  I went for a walk around my neighbourhood yesterday and saw at least 20 of them in less than a half hour!  I was also lucky enough to see a Fox Sparrow and 2 Turkey Vultures.

The first American Robin sighting from my backyard this season

My busiest birding season is now on my doorstep.  On the evening of Friday, April 21st, my husband and I will be conducting our annual Nocturnal Owl Survey.  On May 5th, we’ll be completing our very first American Woodcock survey.  On May 20th, I’ll be completing my annual Great Canadian Birdathon (please follow this link if you would be interested in sponsoring me … all funds I raise go to Bird Studies Canada!  You can also email me at bthache at yahoo dot ca for other methods of donating).  And on May 27 & 28th, we’ll be participating in the 9th annual Dorion’s Canyon Country Birding Festival .

On a final note, the Cornell webcam in my yard has now been shut down for the summer season. Thank you to all who watched ….. we’ll be back up and running around the first of November.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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T.O. Backyard – Deck Birding

Birding the backyard from the deck.

Living in Ontario, the first day of Spring is always welcomed to a birder, as it signifies that Spring Migration is just around the corner! But for me this year, the first day of Spring put my birding activities to a halt. A fall on the stairs at home gave me a broken right foot, not a good way for a birder to start Spring.

The winter weather hung around the first couple weeks of Spring, so it was easy to remain in the house, and thankfully just as cabin fever was setting in, some Spring like weather arrived. It was an absolute joy to sit on the back deck and watch the birds in our backyard. Signs of Spring are everywhere!

The male Goldfinches are going through their Spring molt and becoming bright yellow.

A male House Sparrow claimed this Nuthatch house, and is trying to attract a female to his new, fancy digs.

The return of the Red-winged Blackbirds signifies the return of Spring to us, no matter the date on the calendar.

The Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds always arrive together to our backyard every Spring.

Such welcomed brightness on a cloudy day.

We have a pair of Robins making themselves at home in our backyard.

Year-round but sporadic, it’s nice to have some Mourning Doves back with us.

Seems everyone has nest building on their minds.

Still, a few of our winter birds are hanging around, but we know it won’t be long now before they disappear until Fall.

We had a couple pairs of Red-breasted Nuthatches with us all winter.

About a dozen Juncos are still with us.

A few White-breasted Nuthatches spent the winter with us as well.

The Hawk sightings have really dwindled, except for the local pair of Red-tailed Hawks that nest nearby. The Mockingbird hasn’t been seen for awhile but he may be back to enjoy our bird baths later in the Spring. Our year round regulars like Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Downy Woodpeckers always make the backyard enjoyable, but I’m not going to lie, there are are two species I am most looking forward to returning for the summer; Baltimore Orioles and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds!

I read the Baltimore Orioles are just across the lake, so the feeder went up this weekend.

Ready and waiting!

All pictures were taken Sunday April 9th in our backyard by my hubby, Rob Mueller. He’s been taking great care of me! Here’s hoping the boot-cast if off by our next post.

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Duck, Duck, Swan

Duck, duck, swan! is the best way to describe my bird sightings in the month of March.  Early in the month, I spotted many goldeneyes and a gorgeous pair of “Hoodies” (Hooded Mergansers) along the rough and rushing Otonabee River.  As the ice retreated over stiller waters, rafts of Buffleheads and Common Mergs appeared.  But all through the month, I’ve been watching the swans, and so this post is just for them.

A family of Trumpeter Swans live around the little village where I work.  I often spot them in one of two ponds on my way to or from work, and during the day see them flying over.  Their call, a sort of honk that sounds a bit like a goose with something caught in its throat, brings us all running outside to see them go over.  This month, among my many sightings of them, I had my best view of them yet.  Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me that day, but there’s something special about just looking with your own eyes, without the distraction of a camera.  The pair of Trumpeters stood in a stubbled field maybe fifty feet from the road and I couldn’t help but be staggered by their size.  These swans are big!  And though my sightings of these swans have become quite regular, they are special nonetheless.

Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from eastern North America over two centuries ago.  In 1933, there were reportedly only 77 breeding in Canada and 50 breeding in the United States.  Before their reintroduction, the last Ontario record was of a migrant from the west shot in 1886 on Long Point, Lake Erie.  As a result of the Ontario reintroduction program, initiated in 1982, today the province once again has a self-sustaining population, with over 1000 trumpeter swans in the south-central part of the province as of 2009.

Even though this post is called duck, duck, swan, I think these photos need to be titled goose, goose, swan.  They do give some good size reference – Canada Geese aren’t small, and these swans positively dwarf them!

“In migration they fly at such immense heights that often the human eye fails to find them, but even then their resonant, discordant trumpetings can be plainly heard.  When seen with a glass at that giddy height in the heavens, crossing the sky in their exalted and unswerving flight, sweeping along at a speed exceeding that of the fastest express train, traversing the continent on the wings of the wind, their long lines glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, they present the grandest and most impressive spectacle in bird life to be found on this continent.  When at last they find their haven of rest they swing in wide majestic circuits, spying out their landfall, until, their spiral reconnaissance ended and their apprehensions quite allayed, they sink gently down to the grateful waters to rest, drink, bathe and feed at ease.

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

 

You can read more about the reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swan in Ontario here:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1522367?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://www.wyemarsh.com/swans

https://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/2009/03/29/trumpeter_swans_making_a_comeback_in_ontario.html

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Alison’s Fishing Birds

By Sharon McInnes

When I first read Alison’s Fishing Birds, just published by Caitlin Press, my impulse was to co-opt children from the playground, gather them around, and read them the stories. But I didn’t, hoping instead that you will read these lovely stories to the children in your lives.

Alison’s Fishing Birds by Roderick Haig-Brown


Roderick Haig-Brown 
is believed to have written Alison’s Fishing Birds in 1939 or 1940 but the stories were only discovered after his death in 1976. One of BC’s most influential conservationists, he emigrated to British Columbia from England as a young man, eventually settling near Campbell River and becoming its magistrate for over thirty years (http://www.haig-brown.bc.ca/.) There, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Haig-Brown was captivated by the natural world and became active in the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the BC Wildlife Federation, and several fly-fishing organizations. Lucky for us, he also wrote twenty-eight books celebrating the natural world including Starbuck Valley, The Whale People, and this gem, Alison’s Fishing Birds.

What I like most about the connected stories that make up Alison’s Fishing Birds, beautifully illustrated by Sheryl McDougald and Jim Rimmer, is their capacity to create deep empathy for the natural world. It’s hard not to identify with Alison’s surprise and delight when the dipper suddenly lands on a rock “not more than half a dozen steps away from her” or when her father leads her to the kingfisher’s nest with eleven eggs “all neatly packed together in a hollow among the roots”.

Kingfisher linocut by Jim Rimmer

And it’s just as hard not to identify with her concern when the eagle snatches the fish from the osprey who’s worked so hard to catch it or when the Belted kingfisher eats so many fish she’s worried he won’t be able to fly. The birds, of course, set her straight, every time. Alison accepts their lessons gratefully and gracefully, keen on knowing “what the birds are really like and what they really do.” Who can fail to admire that?

Haig-Brown’s Alison is a “quick little girl” who learns about the ‘fishing birds’ by the river – dipper, kingfisher, heron, merganser, and osprey – with her father’s thoughtful guidance.

Common Merganser. Illustration by Sheryl McDougald

But mostly she learns through mindful observation, whether from the window of her family’s brown house with the pale blue trim, or hiding in the “secret place she had near the pasture fence”, or walking along the river bank. Alison knows how to pay close attention, resisting the urge, for example, to scratch her nose or pull her dress “down a little on her shoulder, where it was uncomfortable” to avoid scaring off Walk-up-the-Creek, a fine old heron fishing by the river.

Great Blue Heron aka Walk-up-the-Creek

In his title story Haig-Brown assures us that “You couldn’t call Alison a naturalist or bird watcher or anything dull like that. She didn’t sneak and peer and creep around looking for birds, but she liked to go up the river and she was quiet and her eyes were quick …”

Maybe Alison doesn’t “watch” birds, but she does observe them closely and studies their habits and behaviour, and even talks to them – and sometimes they talk back, teaching her important lessons about their particular niche in the natural world. They make her think and wonder and worry and hope and give her stories to tell her dolls at bedtime.

In the foreword environmental writer Andrew Nikiforuk says of Haig-Brown’s (and Alison’s) penchant for watching the natural world: “Any engagement with wildlife – whether listening to the chatter of river otters, hunting grouse or watching a black bear denude an apple tree – restored human meaning and brought us back to the point of things: there is no end to wonder and joy when you care about a place.”

Indeed, these stories offer readers the opportunity to share in the wonder and joy of a few of the ‘fishing birds’ that live here on the far west coast. And McDougald’s detailed illustrations of not just the birds but also elements of their habitat – bumble bee, Pacific tree frog, coastal gum plant, western red-backed salamander, dragonfly, clam shell, and various types of feathers – add immensely to the reality of the sense of place.

Feather. Illustration by Sheryl McDougald

I’m confident that parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone else with young children in their lives will find this a perfect book to read with them or to them. I must admit, I’ve already read it several times, all by myself, for the sheer pleasure of the stories and illustrations.

One more thing – a word of advice to readers who typically ignore the preface of a book: don’t ignore this one. Valerie Haig-Brown’s story of how Alison’s Fishing Birds came to be published, decades after the death of her father, is a heartwarming tale all on its own.

Thank you to Caitlin Press, who sent me a copy, no strings attached!

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Notes From a North Western Ontario Backyard – March, 2017

Welcome to Spring!!

It is officially the Vernal Equinox as of 6:28 am Eastern time today.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?!

Unfortunately, most of my photos this month still look like mid winter.  March has been an exceptionally cold month with brutally high winds, wind chills sometimes nearing -40 at night and daytime high wind chills near -30C.  Pretty incredible.  I so dearly hope we are finally finished with those temperatures but I fear we’re not.

Throughout winter’s bitter cold, many bird species appreciate a drink of water.  This first series of photos is all about thirsty birds either standing on the rim of the bird bath for a sip or actively drinking.

Female Common Redpoll (left) and female Pine Siskin.

Golden female Pine Grosbeak

Male Common Redpoll

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Pine Siskins

I don’t have a high number of different species visiting the feeders right now but between Redpolls and Pine Siskins, the yard is absolutely hopping with finch activity.  I’m feeding 65+ Common Redpolls, 5 to 12 Hoary Redpolls and over 35 Pine Siskins.  I have 2 nyjer feeders out there that get refilled twice per day along with the platform feeder containing peanuts, cracked corn, safflower, suet & black oil sunflower seed.  I am now well into my second 50 lb bag of nyjer seed this season.

Speaking of Redpolls, I was thrilled a few weeks ago to receive a message from Jon Ruddy, a top birder in Ontario, telling me that he had completed the Redpoll Challenge at my feeders, remotely, over the webcam in my yard!  I was shocked when he described seeing all 4 subspecies of Redpoll:  rostrata (Common), Hornemann’s (Hoary), exilipes (Hoary) and flammea (Common).  Here is Jon’s EBird report.

Paul Nicholson, a bird writer at the London Free Press in London, Ontario, did an article this month about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s webcam program, including the webcam in my yard.  You can read his article here.  Some of the birds seen on ‘my’ webcam include:

Ravens (and Crows)

Red Breasted Nuthatches

Pine Grosbeaks (with incoming Hairy Woodpecker!)

Gray Jays

Hairy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

Black Capped Chickadees (with Nuthatch)

Ruffed Grouse (with Blue Jay)

You may also see something a little more interesting like this female Pine Grosbeak (below, far right).  She’s been around my feeders for part of the winter.  She has a very strange tuft of feathers sticking out of her right side, appearing to come from under her right wing.  She can move & fly normally.  This affliction doesn’t slow her down at all.

Far right: female Pine Grosbeak with abnormal feather growth

Another angle showing the size of the odd feather growth

Recently, I picked up some other interesting things over the webcam, not just birds.  One night last week, I happened to put the cam on just to see what I could hear and I caught a coyote conversation!  Then, a couple of nights ago, I did the same thing and discovered this fellow!

Well, that’s it for this month.  I’m hoping to see the return of Purple Finches and various Sparrows any day now.  Maybe I’ll even get to hear the little Northern Saw-Whet Owl over the webcam again like I did last year.  We can only hope.

Oh!  Before I forget:  I am participating, once again, in the Great Canadian Birdathon (previously known as the Baillie Birdathon) one day in May.  I have not picked an exact date yet but it will be around the middle of May.  I am currently looking for donations.  All funds I raise will go to Bird Studies Canada.  If you would be interested in sponsoring me, please go to this link to make an online donation or email me at bthache at yahoo dot ca if you would prefer to send a cheque or email transfer.  Thank you for your consideration.  🙂

Thank you so much for reading …… ‘see’ you in April!

 

Posted in Bird Canada | 4 Comments

Postcard from Vancouver Island: birding around Victoria B.C.

Almost a year has passed since I made my first trip in April 2016 to check out the wildlife around Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and I am only just getting around to processing my images from this visit…oh well, better late than never! So here we go…

With a forecast for clear, cloudless skies and bright sunshine, my first stop was a visit to the coast for sunrise in the hopes of catching some of sea-ducks and shorebirds. The weatherman was spot on and the excellent morning light, combined with a high tide that brought the birds close in, made for some mouth-watering coastal birding that was pretty special for a land-locked Albertan like me.

High on my extensive list of ‘target birds’, the sight of 10 or so Harlequin Ducks bobbing and feeding in the surf while resting intermittently on the exposed rocks was a fantastic start to the day:

A lovely hen Harlequin

Shortly after, a fly-by by two dozen Surf Scoters was, was a pretty cool way to add a new ‘lifer’ to my bird photography list:

And if that wasn’t enough, I added my second ‘lifer’ just a few minutes later when a couple dozen Brant geese flew in…

and began feeding nearby:

My hat-trick ‘lifer’ came in the form of a relatively large shorebird in the form of a very distinctive pair of Black Oystercatchers that also flew in and joined the breakfasting at this popular spot:

These oystercatchers really seemed to know their stuff and I quite enjoyed watching them combing the rocks for food: Then, as you might now have guessed, I was able to tally a fourth ‘lifer’ when I noticed movement on the rocks close to the breaking waves and was able to make out a number of well-camouflaged Black Turnstones:

These well-camouflaged birds expertly negotiating the wet, slippery sea-weed coated rocks as they foraged for some salty snacks:

After a very satisfying 90 minutes of photography, I took a short 15 minute drive further down the coastline to Esquimalt Lagoon. No lifers to be had here, but I did get my best-ever views of a Golden-crowned Sparrow:

As well as some of my closest encounters with the very-skittish-in-Alberta Northern Pintail:

With the sun now high in the sky, I thought it time to try my luck inland where it might be a little shadier and headed off to Goldstream Provincial Park. The park is beautiful and has some great hiking trails…which not surprisingly attracted a lot of other people and so the number of birds was a little less than I’d hoped. I heard many Pacific Wrens, but did not succeed in my quest to find the brilliantly-coloured Red-breasted Sapsucker. However, a nice view of a Belted Kingfisher was a nice consolation:

As late afternoon approached, I decided to visit a duck pond in a local park and was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of ducks, as well as how tame they were…most likely because they had become accustomed to the numerous park visitors:

A resplendent Ring-necked Duck drake

Sunset was by now rapidly approaching, so I decided to make a return trip to the coast to see what birds were about. As it was a gorgeous, warm Friday evening there were a heck of a lot more people out and about than there had been at the same spot at 6:30am when I was there earlier and as such most of the birds were far away in the waves. However, I was able to finish off a super day by racking up yet another lifer when I spied a somewhat unusual shape in the surf: a Rhinoceros Auklet!

With such a promising start to my 3-day visit, and having gone to bed with sunshine again forecast, I woke early the next morning with high hopes of repeating my success. However, my hopes were dashed when I opened my motel room door to be greeted by…a complete fog in! The heavy sea mist did not lift for several hours and the light on the coast even then was murky to say the least. So, I decided to head north up the east coast and try out a few locations all the way up to Qualicum Beach. In almost a compete reversal of the day before, I had very little luck and saw very few birds…in fact, this friendly Harbour Seal was pretty much the highlight:

My luck returned on my final day and with cool, cloudy conditions in the morning I headed off to the suburban Mount Tolmie Park. The birds were once again back in good numbers and variety, including Spotted Towhee:

Pacific Wren:

Two more ‘lifers’, the first being a Bewick’s Wren:

… that foraged and sang in equal measures…

And the second being the Chestnut-backed Chickadee:

Some other highlights included a pair of Bushtits:

… putting the final touches on their lovely hanging nest (note, I normally shy away from taking pictures of nesting birds for fear of them abandoning their nest. However, this particular nest was literally right beside a popular dog-walking trail and the Bushtits seemed to have no apparent concern for the many passers-by):

The final personal highlight was a tiny, but colourful, male Anna’s Hummingbird that, unlike its peers that seemed to favour the tallest trees in the vicinity, kindly decided to perch on a branch that was in range of my lens:

This trip certainly had it’s ups and downs, however this only reinforced what I’ve already learnt about birding and bird photography:

1. Birds and weather are prone to being unpredictable and you should be prepared for surprises, both good and bad.

2. Every birder will likely have a ‘bad’ day of birding at some point, but these only make the ‘good’ days so much sweeter!

 

For more of my wildlife photography, please visit my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

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T.O. Backyard – Winter birds. Spring birds. And Owls… cuz we all love Owls.

Hello, welcome back to our neck of the woods in the west end of Toronto, Ontario…  our backyard!

It’s been confusing for everyone including the birds on just what season it really is out there.  February gave us some record breaking warm temperatures which really brought out the song in our birds…  and brought us some very early migrants to the area.  Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were being sighted in the 3rd week.

First of year Common Grackle for us.

Then when the weather turned more like winter, we started to have a Northern Mockingbird visiting our backyard once again. The last few years we’ve gotten one every winter. I thought that wasn’t going to happen this time but he finally showed up. The Holly bush is what seems to attract this bird but for whatever reason, this time around, the Mockingbird is also hitting up our peanut feeder (something I’ve never witnessed before).

Other than that, it’s just been nothing out of the ordinary. Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, both White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, couple American Goldfinches and we’re down to one lone Downy Woodpecker. No shortage of House Sparrows most days either. Hawk activity was very low until recently.

I found an Owl pellet on our shed roof late February. A sign that the Screech Owl that was in the box in December is still around.

Last week we had 3 species of Hawk hitting the backyard for a meal. Red-tailed Hawk caught a Pigeon one day, a Squirrel another day. Sharp-shinned Hawk caught a Starling one morning. Then we had a Cooper’s Hawk hang around for 3 days and catch two Pigeons that I had witnessed.

Red-tailed Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawk made for quite a story, which I blogged about on my own blog. It wasn’t just raptor catches prey, the end.

The Hawk activity has put some of our backyard friends in hiding. They are missed but better to be elsewhere and safe, than here and threatened.

Meet “The Jerseys”. They started coming around last September. They do get a lot of love on social media compared to some of our other unique individuals.

The Spring like days have awoken some of our night creatures. In a few days I had chanced upon all 3 of our usual suspects… Raccoon, Opossum and Skunk. Two mornings in a row there was a pair of Skunks still out scrounging around at first light! We look forward to the warmer evenings, sitting out back, and watching them all pass through.

The Spring like weather brought out many bird songs we’ve been waiting for. It also has made for some amorous moments like this.

Red-tailed Hawks courting.

We love everything that comes through here, furry or feathered.

Now for a little of what has been seen away from the backyard.

Winter brings Owls to the area. They certainly are a highlight for most people.

Last year I totaled 57 Snowy Owl encounters. It started in late October and kept up until early April. I didn’t go out of my way to see this Owl species, they were just around many nights on my way home from work. This time around, I was seeing two Owls over about 5 weeks, and they disappeared mid-February when those Spring like days started occurring.

A couple Northern Saw-whet Owls spent some time with us.

Not always easy to spot.

Sometimes a little more out in the open but still easily missed by most people.

Elusive Long-eared Owls.

How many can you see in this photo?

There’s one! Did you spot the other 2?

Unfortunately there were 2 incidents this past winter where this species was reported to the public by individuals. Both times masses of people came to see the birds. The first time, in a park I frequent all year, any season, with or without Owls. I had spotted the Owls just days before all hell broke loose. I was saddened once I learned their location was shared to the world by someone. In less than 2 weeks it went from 6 Long-eared Owls to chance of seeing just 1 bird.

No begrudging those who went to see this species but to those who went day after day, who spent hours on these birds, robbing these nocturnal creatures of their day time rest. This park was THE place to be for a couple weeks but once the Owls were gone, so were the people. Occasionally I still ran into the odd person searching the same area and coming up empty. One man told me he was there every day for at least a week. He took over 9,000 photographs of these Owls that did nothing unless flushed. Ugh! His reasoning was he felt so lucky and wanted to keep returning to see if he could get even luckier with better angles and lighting. He could not answer me when I asked him what he was going to do with all those photos.

Then weeks later another report of Long-eared Owls popped up at a lake park. Once again here came the people by the dozens. Funny enough many of the same people who rushed the first area. This colony started out with up to 13 Owls but quickly diminished to nothing in days. The stories that came from this one were an ethical birder/photographer’s nightmare. Individuals threw snow balls in the direction of the roosting Owls to wake them up. Individuals shouted at them. Individuals broke branches as well in attempts to get the attention of these Owls. At least one, but possibly two incidents where an Owl was picked off by a larger Hawk. This is not unusual; but I do wonder if the steady harassment, constant flushing of the birds, had something to do with it? So with the rumors floating of these disturbances, then people sharing photos of their finds of dead Owls at the park, it really was too much. The ones found dead most likely starved to death. Not all of it can be blamed on human interference but we all know that did not help.

For as many people that were rumored to be on these Owls, there were just as many who took the high road and decided to stay away and not be a part of this. Not everyone sucks out there.

It is what it is, Owls are the s**t every winter. Unfortunately a lot of negative stories come with reported birds.

Some of us do like the adventure of looking for these birds on our own, away from the hot spots. Some of us do luck out but it’s more effort on our part. When we do find them, it’s a feeling beyond description. And to have a few peaceful minutes alone with them. Insert expletives plus AMAZING.

Long-eared Owls that escaped being publicly posted.

Another chance of spotting more than 1 Owl roosting together. Good luck in seeing the others here!

The last great find to date was a Barred Owl in mid-February. Every winter there’s an area east of us that gets one, and a lot of people go to see it. We’ve not been out that way in 4 years now. Honestly, the Owl seems to care less about the people coming to the park to see it. But it’s the crowds that some of us don’t like, behaved or not, just not everyone’s thing.

Light searching all winter, meaning not going out of the way looking, but always got it in the back of our heads whenever out. Then finally, one mid-February morning that was really slow otherwise, there was this bird…

What bird? Bit of camouflage showing with this cropped photo.

I was not too far from our home but also in the middle of no where. My jaw dropped when I walked right past this bird, maybe 15 ft to my right. I think his presence startled me more than mine to him. He looked at me for maybe 20 seconds and then went back to looking at the ground. The morning sun was melting the icy landscape, and all the crackling sounds had his attention. I lightly but quickly backed up and then had an *expletive insert* amazing time viewing this beauty for a brief spell before heading back to the truck. I am always thankful for these moments, just an Owl and me, and I do give silent thanks afterwards. I wish my wife or a couple good friends were with me but they are happy for me when they hear about it after; just as I’d be happy for them.

A friend reminds me on occasion that for every known Owl location, there are far many more that go on unnoticed or escape the overall general public, facing far less disturbance. We have to take comfort in that. He is right.

My favourite photo from this season. A peaceful moment with a Long-eared Owl. At least I thought it was peaceful. Contrary to what some people think, Owls and most wild life do not like us.

Thanks for stopping in. See you all next month!

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The Birds this Tree has Held

I was thrilled a couple weeks ago by my first Red-bellied Woodpecker.  I spotted it back in the woods and, even as I was wishing it would come a little closer, it flew into the yard.  It landed in the sumac, where it had a brief altercation with a starling (which took off), investigated the berries for a moment and then returned the treetops.  Just enough time for me to grab my camera and stick my head out the door to snap a couple quick pictures.  It’s hard to say whether I loved the look of it or its wonderful rolling call more.

Red-bellied Woodpecker and European Starling

As I waited outside later in the day, hoping for its return, I watched the starlings, robins (not spring robins, mind you, but stubborn winter residents), chickadees and goldfinches in the sumac.  The woodpecker didn’t come back to the yard, but I could hardly be too disappointed when all these other birds were posing so nicely for photos.

Black-capped Chickadee

American Goldfinch

American Robin

This tree is the hub of bird activity in our yard.  In this tree hangs the blue birdhouse that the House Wren calls home.  Also, the feeder, frequented by chickadees and goldfinches, and such nomadic winter visitors as the Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll.  The White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers have all explored this tree’s limbs.  Sparrows and juncos and finches, warblers and blackbirds, the cardinal, the Catbird and the Red-eyed Vireo, have all perched in its branches.  And the Indigo Bunting, too, which appeared in a flash of surreal brilliant blue right before my surprised eyes.  All these birds, and that is just some of what I know about.  I can’t help but wonder… what else has stopped by in the sumac when I wasn’t watching?

Posted in Winter Birding in Canada, Woodpeckers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – February 2017

Hello again!

As usual, I find it hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another month already.  The months just seem to be zipping by.  That’s alright though:  it means that spring ….. and access to my flowerbeds ….. is getting closer!  Right now, I can’t see much but WHITE out there but the Ruffed Grouse don’t seem to mind.  🙂  I’ve had 2 of them visiting my yard in recent weeks.  I actually think I have at least 3 coming around but I’ve only ever seen 2 at a time.  A friend of mine down the street has seen *5* in her yard!

Two Ruffed Grouse taking advantage of my daily offerings: black oil sunflower seed, striped sunflower seed, white millet, peanut hearts, corn & peanuts in the shell. They are partial to corn & peanut crumbs.

Below is my resident female Ruffed Grouse.  In this photo, she is not happy about the Blue Jays floating around the yard.  She is noticeably smaller than the male Grouse (the one on the ground in the photo above).

Female Ruffed Grouse getting her snack just before dark.

The next photo is also of my resident female Grouse.  She has a favourite perch in my spruce tree.  On this day, she was tucked into the tree from 9:30 am until 5:20 pm!  That’s when she wandered out for her evening snack before flying off to roost or bury herself in the snow somewhere for the night.

Ruffed Grouse have incredible camouflage, even when they are right outside your window!

I’ve been having great fun this winter with the Raven in the photo below.  This is the yearling Raven …. you can still see the red mouth interior very clearly.  And he/she still loves the suet!  I think I’m going to be finding all kinds of it on my back lawn come spring.  He/she keeps flying away with these big chunks but ends up dropping them in the snow about 10 feet from the feeder.  Yesterday, the resident pair of Crows worked at this piece in the snow but I think it got buried too deeply for them to reach.  They now have to wait until the snow melts to get at it.

Webcam Snap: Yearling Raven with eyes much bigger than its beak! He/she dropped the chunk of suet into the snow a few feet from the feeder, never to be seen again until spring!

My resident pair of Crows is still visiting daily.  Gimpy, the Crow on the left, is the one with the injured leg/foot.  The bird is managing quite well with its disability.  Its mate is almost always with it.  They sometimes spend hours in my pine tree on the left of this photo.

Webcam Snap: Resident pair of Crows.

The healthy Crow, being curious when it saw me at the patio door 🙂

The 3 Gray Jays are still coming around a few times per day although they are not always together now.  I believe the mated adult pair below have sent the third one packing to get its own territory.  This pair will be leaving any day now to begin this year’s nesting season.  Gray Jays are, I believe, the earliest nesters up here, laying their eggs in late February/early March.  Pretty impressive!

Webcam Snap: Adult mated pair of Gray Jays

Thank you, Lord, for this water we are about to receive ….

Such a handsome bird that will officially become Canada’s National Bird this summer!

Handsome, fluffy Gray Jay … one of my most favourite birds of all time.

Blue Jays are in the yard most any time I look outside.  If I have the webcam on (which I do 90% of the time!), I can hear all manner of calls & noises from them throughout my neighbourhood.  They have quite the repertoire!

Pretty Blue Jay in my pine tree

The winter finches are in pretty low numbers this season.  Pine Grosbeaks are one of the most common species in my yard this winter with numbers near 20 at a time where I would normally see 30 to 40.

Male Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak numbers in this area are really low this winter.  I’m lucky to be able to count 10 at a time where I would normally have well over 50+.  I’m hearing that they are being seen in higher numbers around the Chapleau – Cochrane, Ont. areas.

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male & fluffy female Evening Grosbeaks on a particularly cold day

One day, I actually watched this female Evening Grosbeak pick & eat a pine needle.  I had no idea that they would eat pine needles!

This female Evening Grosbeak clipped off the tip of the pine needles and ate the rest. Interesting!

Webcam Snap: Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks & Redpolls feeding together

Redpoll numbers have finally picked up a little for this season but, like the Grosbeaks, they are significantly lower than normal.  I’ve had a high count so far of only 35 where I would normally have well over 100 by this time.  I’ve heard that many of them stayed in the Arctic this winter instead of migrating down this way.

Webcam Snap: Common Redpolls

I’ve seen 3 Hoary Redpolls so far this season.  I love seeing them in my Crabapple tree like the photo below ….. they look like little fluffy snowballs!

Hoary Redpoll (right) with Common Redpoll.

And that’s it for this month.  Maybe …. just maybe …. I’ll have some Juncos or Purple Finches by the time I do up my March post.  You never know.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Posted in Bird Canada | 10 Comments