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


Brightening up a grey day in January. Photo by Rob Mueller

It’s not very often that Rob and I go on a nature/birding walk with a target bird in mind. But on a grey, dreary Saturday in January we did just that, we went looking for Eastern Bluebirds.

I still remember the first time I saw an Eastern Bluebird. We were driving around back roads of southwestern Ontario many years ago, and there on top of some road side wires we saw our first pair. They took our breath away, even if it wasn’t a picture perfect perch. Since that time Rob and I have become members of the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society and I have managed their Facebook page for the last few years. It was a way for me to give back to an organization that has helped this species thrive.

Eastern Bluebirds overwintering in southern Ontario is becoming more common. A friend of ours saw a few at a park about a half hour drive from our home on December 18, 2016. His sighting was the reason for our outing in the new year. They are not a bird we will see in our backyard, the suburbs of Toronto isn’t a good habitat for them. Cavity nesting birds, they prefer open fields and meadow type areas if the right bird boxes are supplied.

Rob is currently working with a local college that has an area on their grounds that provide the perfect habitat for Eastern Bluebirds. They nested there years ago, and are still seen there on occasion. The college, with Rob’s assistance, are hoping to have them nest there again. They did have success with Tree Swallows last year.

Overwintering in Burlington, Ontario. Dec. 2016 Photo by Dave iluck

We always have to travel out of our backyard to see Eastern Bluebirds, and we usually see them in May during migration, when like many other birders we are making the most of the opportunity to see many different species.

Two female Eastern Bluebirds. Jan. 2017 Photo by Rob Mueller

This particular Saturday we wanted a hint of the beauty that arrives with Spring, so in search we went. Bronte Provincial Park in Burlington, Ontario hosts monitored nest boxes, and it seems some of the Eastern Bluebirds decided to stay for the winter. We walked for quite a while, and then it happened, that brilliant flash of blue caught our eyes.

Male Eastern Bluebird. Jan. 2017 Photo by Rob Mueller

We saw six Eastern Bluebirds on our outing, three male and three female. Watching them was joyful, and a beautiful reminder of the coming season.

Photo by Dave iluck Dec. 2016, Bronte Provincial Park, Burlington, Ontario  

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Birding in Southeastern Ontario

“Of late years there has been a great awakening of interest in the subject of natural history.  More and more people are beginning to realize the pleasure and profit that can be derived from observation of common natural objects.  In this growing field of nature study, few subjects have attracted so much popular attention as birds and few forms of life appeal so strongly to the aesthetic sense.  They are beautiful; they arouse curiosity; their elusiveness piques the imagination; and by presenting constantly new aspects they never become commonplace.”

P.A. Taverner in Birds of Eastern Canada, 1919

Taverner was the first ornithologist in the government of Canada, and his Birds of Canada stands proudly on my bookshelf.  Taverner really watched the birds he wrote about, and I delight in his writing because that comes through with every word, and because I, too, love to write and birds are one of my favourite subjects.  I have always loved nature, but really fell for birds while completing my three year Fish and Wildlife diploma.  These days, I work at a groundcovers nursery, and much of my spare time is spent bird watching locally and freelance writing.

This is Miller Creek Wildlife Area, and it seems necessary to share it with you as I introduce myself.  Miller Creek, you see, is my favourite place to bird.  It is home to Sandhill Cranes, Virginia Rails and Snipe, the American Bittern, Green and Great Blue Herons.  The Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats flit from every shrub and cedar, the Harrier glides on immobile wings above the marsh, the muskrat snacks noisily beneath the bridge, and the Eastern Kingbird nests beside the beaver pond.  The Veery’s song echoes through the spring foliage, giving way to the Chorus Frogs’ calls where the trees turn to cattails, and the Ruffed Grouse’s tracks mark the snow when winter comes.

Barn, Tree and Bank Swallows

Virginia Rail

Baby Virginia Rail

American Bittern

Green Heron

Common Yellowthroat

My backyard here in Ennismore, Ontario comes in as a close second among my favourite places to bird.  The faithful House Wren always takes up residence in the blue birdhouse, and year to year I never know who else will make our yard home.  We’ve had Chickadees and many Robins, as well as Starlings, White-breasted Nuthatches, Grackles, Mourning Doves, Song Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos.  And of course there are all the visitors, those who nest nearby and those just passing through, like the Great Blue Heron who discovered our little pond and thought it his own private little paradise.

House Wren

European Starling Nestling

Mourning Dove Nestlings

Red-eyed Vireo in Nest

Great Blue Heron

I can hardly wait to see who will come this spring.  My first bird of 2017 was the American Goldfinch, closely followed by the White-breasted Nuthatch and the hardy, ever-dependable Black-capped Chickadee.  I keep a checklist each year of all the birds I see, and there is something very exciting about a new start in January.  Looking back over 2016, some of my most exciting bird encounters include

Bald Eagles feeding on carp and leaving footprints on the ice of the Otonabee River;

Immature Bald Eagle

Eagle Footprints

my first Brown Creeper (which I watched, utterly enthralled, as it spiraled up each tree trunk before flying down to the base of the next);

Brown Creeper

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs together in a flooded field;

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Upland Sandpiper babies (!);

Upland Sandpiper

Baby Upland Sandpiper

and hearing Whip-poor-wills call as the sun set in Frontenac Provincial Park.

I look forward to sharing my bird encounters of 2017 with you – who knows what the year holds!


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Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – Jan. 2017

Hello & a belated Happy New Year to all of you!  Since I missed putting out a December post, I’ll take this moment to say I sure hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas & New Year holiday.

I hope you are all enjoying the winter season thus far.  It’s been a chilly one up here until this week. We, like the rest of Ontario, are enjoying a ‘January Thaw’ & we actually had some light rain showers this afternoon.  I’m really hoping that won’t continue as the deep freeze will likely return next week sometime.

Runoff from a defunct dam, at the New Year, near our camp

It’s turning out to be a fairly quiet winter in my backyard.  I have steady activity from about a dozen different bird species but numbers of individuals are significantly lower than I’ve had in recent winters.  The most notable absentees are Evening Grosbeaks & Common Redpolls.  I have both species at the feeders daily right now but nowhere near the numbers I’m used to.  In a really good year, I’ll see 50+ Evening Grosbeaks and 120+ Redpolls at a time.  In an average year, I’ll see 30+ EVGBs & 50+ COREs.  This year?  I’m lucky to see a dozen EVGBs & 20 COREs.  So, they are here but most of them have gone elsewhere for this season.

Male Evening Grosbeak

Female Evening Grosbeak

Female Common Redpoll

Just this week, I finally spotted the season’s first Hoary Redpoll on my nyjer feeder.  In my best year ever, I had 20 Hoary Redpolls in my yard … it was amazing!  Normally, I’ll see about 5 in a winter.

Season’s first Hoary Redpoll, bottom left on Lighthouse feeder

Numbers of Pine Grosbeaks are also a little below average this year.  I’m seeing about 15 to 20 at a time where I would normally have at least 25 to 30.

Female (left) and male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak at the very top of my hoar frost-laden pine tree

One little treat this winter has been sightings of a couple of leucistic Pine Grosbeaks.  Leucism is a lack of pigment or color in some feathers.  The beautiful female Pine Grosbeak on the left in the photo below is a prime example.  Notice how she has so much more white in her feathers compared to the other birds.  She was stunning!

Leucistic female Pine Grosbeak (left)

This next photo, I find, is quite interesting.  It shows a leucistic male Pine Grosbeak but also shows how color is variable in the same species.  The middle male is more orange-ish while the one on the right is the standard rosy red.

Leucistic male Pine Grosbeak

Aside from the disappointment of lower-than-average numbers, I’ve been having great fun watching the Crows & Ravens this winter.  It used to be that we would never see Crows in winter … they would all migrate south.  That has changed in the past 10 years, however, and now it is common to see them all year round.

This winter, I have a crippled Crow visiting my yard almost daily.  I noticed  in late November that one Crow had a lame leg (see the Crow on the left).  The right leg was hanging & totally useless to the bird.  As the winter has gone on, the leg is now ‘petrified’:  stiff.  The Crow cannot close the talons or bear weight on the foot at all.  It has managed quite well all winter, coming to the feeders daily & drinking from the bird bath.  The other Crow is near it most times so I’m assuming they are a mated pair.

One Crow has a lame leg but is still managing alright to feed.

Healthy Crow

Ravens have been great fun as well.  I even learned something about them recently:  the Raven below is a ‘yearling’ or ‘hatch-year’ bird, just hatched last spring.  How can I tell?  Someone pointed out to me that the interior of a yearling Raven’s mouth is red!  When this bird is a full adult, its mouth interior will be solid black.  Interesting!  And this bird had great fun trying to fly away with an entire chunk of suet.  It would drop the suet just out of the webcam’s view, then sit on the ground to eat it.

Yearling Raven with red mouth interior to prove it.

Handsome adult Raven

I have a small flock of European Starlings visiting this winter.  It’s always hit or miss with blackbirds in the winter.  Sometimes I’ll have one or two Grackles spend a winter, this year it’s 8 Starlings.  I don’t mind them in lower numbers like this.  They are beautiful to look & very cool to listen to with their large assortment of whistles, clicks, etc.

2 of the 8 European Starlings that stayed around this winter.

Webcam snapshot of Starlings on the platform feeder with Pine & Evening Grosbeaks

Canada’s new (likely!) national bird has been spending some time at my feeders this winter.  Three Gray Jays have been coming around a few times per week.  Two of the them are a mated pair (I saw them feeding each other in my trees 2 days ago!) and the third one is probably their offspring from last season.  It will likely be sent packing shortly (if it hasn’t already), before this year’s nesting season begins.

Gray Jay fluffed against the cold air.

I have 6 to 10 Blue Jays that come around daily for their peanuts.  They have me well trained so that the platform feeder is loaded with peanuts in the shell for them every morning!  Lately,  I’ve been hearing the ‘Blue Jay Rattle’ around the yard again.  I believe this call is only made by the female and it’s something to do with courtship.

Lovely Blue Jay

I believe I have three Ruffed Grouse coming to the yard but I never see them at the same time. This webcam snapshot below is one of the rare times this winter that I’ve seen two together.  One Grouse is noticeably smaller & appears to be the only one that tolerates the Blue Jays.  The larger Grouse (males, I believe) do NOT tolerate the Jays & send them packing immediately!

Two Ruffed Grouse temporarily sharing the platform feeder

Super fluffy Ruffed Grouse on a bitterly cold day.

After an entire year of virtually NO woodpecker sightings (Hairy & Downy, anyway), a few are finally finding my yard.  A little female Downy Woodpecker has been around most of this winter.  The Hairy Woodpecker visits have been much more sporadic …. few & far between.  An exciting thing to note though:  I finally had a PAIR of Hairy Woodpeckers (a male & a female) chasing each other through my yard today!  🙂

Female Hairy Woodpecker

This little female Downy has been alone in the yard most of the time but I did recently see a male Downy in my birch tree.

Female Downy Woodpecker

Okay, I guess I’ve rattled on plenty long enough!  This gives you an idea of how my winter feeding season is going anyway.  Before I go, here is the link to the Project FeederWatch webcam in my yard.  It will run until mid April for the FeederWatch season.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the read & the photos.  Until next time, thanks for taking a look!

Posted in Bird Canada | 15 Comments

A Winter of Content – Birding Calgary Nov 2016 to Jan 2017

Sunrise at Carburn on a late autumn morning.

The city of Calgary had somewhat extended autumnal weather (i.e. above zero temps, no snow) lasting until late November, which meant that waterfowl migrating south were able to enjoy open ponds for longer than normal. Taking advantage of this, I made a number of visits to Carburn Park on the banks of the Bow River to photograph the ducks as they passed through. First off were half a dozen Ring-necked Ducks, a species which I have only seen very few of in YYC:

Three particular highlights (which I’ve found difficult to separate) of my visits were:

#1: A lone young Tundra Swan…this bird always seemed to be way out in the middle of the main pond…except on one day where it came very close to the shoreline and I was able to get some close-ups. There’s just something about swans that conveys a majestic feeling in my mind:

#2: One completely unexpected surprise…walking back to my car to head home after shooting the ducks, I heard several nuthatches making a real racket and chirping incessantly…so, with bated breath, I went to investigate the source of their annoyance…and was greeted with the two huge eyes of a Northern Saw-whet Owl looking back at me! So, a big thank you to the nuthatches as I can’t really claim credit for ‘finding’ this pint-sized beauty:).
(If you look at the bottom right you might be able to make out the deer mouse the owl appears to have caught and saved for later!):

#3: Finally, on my last visit before the ponds froze over, a last-minute decision late in the day to pop by Carburn and see what was there…to be welcomed by the main pond literally teeming with hundreds of ducks, all in glorious late-afternoon sunshine! As half the pond had iced up already, the ducks were all concentrated in a relatively small area and fairly close to the shore where I was, so I sat down and clicked away…I spent a good chunk of time on a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes, birds I very rarely see, and it was fantastic to see the drake’s indigo colours in all their splendour thanks to the great light:

Not to be missed as well were the rafts of diminutive Buffleheads coursing through the hundreds of much larger Canada Geese.

Buffleheads are a real treat to see up close, not just because the drakes’ head plumage colours light up spectacularly in good light, but also because I’ve found them such a skittish bird that close-up opportunities are extremely few and far between…but today, with all the other birds around, they seemed relatively comfortable to cruise past me…

  Later in the month, heading in the opposite direction and out west into the foothills, I enjoyed the company of a Great Grey Owl for over an hour as it went about its morning hunt…(please note: I never bait owls…patience and knowledge of their habits are all you really need to get pleasing shots)

December brought with it winter in all its might, with some sizable snow dumps in combination with week-long stretches of sub -20C temperatures. With time off over the festive season I was able to go on a few jaunts in search of a few winter specialties, such as the Snowy Owl (down from the Arctic for a few months), of which I was able to spy no less than 9 individuals in 3 hours:

And it would be remiss of me not to include this beauty…

A lovely Merlin I came across while out looking for Snowy Owls.

I was also fortunate to see the Snowy Owl’s smaller cousin, the Short-eared Owl, which seems to be being seen in good numbers this year:

A different angle on a Shortie….note the freshly-caught vole in the left talon.

Despite the extreme cold giving my exposed trigger fingers a beating, I find watching Shorties sweep and float across the fields to be a relaxing and magical spectacles, especially when the low winter sun shines through their long, translucent wings.

A beautiful prairie sunset…

Closer to home, I continue to be grateful to be only 15 minutes’ drive from yet another great city park – the Weaselhead Nature Area.

Chickadees…always keep you entertained.

All sorts of great wildlife show up here during the year from moose, to bobcats, multiple owls, and even hummingbirds. But in winter, I love to go and see the winter finches that gratefully come to feed on the seed that, year-in year-out, tireless locals put out for them on their own dime. This welcome source of sustenance draws in not only the resident chickadees and House Finches but also the pink and yellow-hued Pine Grosbeaks and the ever-popular Redpolls – their warming shades a comforting spectacle during the depths of a cold, blue winter:

A female Pine Grosbeak

A male Pine Grosbeak in rich scarlet


I just love the pink on Common Redpolls

Until next blog, good birding!

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T.O. Backyard – Screech Owls

Good day!  Is it too late to wish you all a “Happy New Year”?

Here we are in January 2017.  The backyard so far for this year has been average, but let me tell you about how it ended in 2016.  I guess the title gives it away though.  Yes, we had a visiting Eastern Screech Owl to our little piece of land in Toronto.  But let me rewind a bit…

39 months prior to his visit, I had bought a hand made Wood Duck box which could also be shelter to Great Crested Flycatchers, American Kestrels and Eastern Screech Owls.  I wasted no time getting it set up down back where I thought would be a great spot.  3 years passed and nothing other than the occasional Squirrel taking refuge from a storm.


One day a juvi European Starling a couple hours in it.  Some how he found the box, went in, and just sat there watching the big new world around him.  It was comical to witness.  I guess he felt safe in it?  But then he left, joining all the other young Starlings with their parents and that was it.

September 2016 I decided to move the box.  I picked one of the few trees actually on our lot to use.  Unfortunately it would have the box face north/west which is supposed to be the worst direction to face a box due to winds and storms.  But that’s where I could put it.  I thought about all the Owls I’ve seen out there in the wild, not every cavity faces that recommended south/east direction.  So why not take the chance?

The box went unnoticed until December 19th when I happened to be looking out our kitchen window while I was getting ready for work.  I saw a grayish lump at the entry hole.  First glance I thought a Squirrel must have found it.  But my brain said “open the shutters and get the bins”.  I did just that and to my joy and surprise it was an Owl!


I can’t share my exact words of excitement on this blog. It was a colorful spree, repeated over and over again, in a positively excited manner. I also made a quick call to my wife, informing her of our visitor, so she got the news first hand before discovering it on social media.

For the photo, I made my way out the front of the house, slinking up the side, and then hopping up on our back deck. I was well away from the box and did not want to disturb the Owl. Unfortunately others took notice to our new visitor, who did not like him nearly as much, and gave him some serious hell. A couple Squirrels just went crazy on him. They were running up the tree, which made the Owl retreat into the box. Then they would shove their head in the box, then quickly back out. Why the fuss? What’s a Screech Owl going to do to a Squirrel?

Then I had to go to work. I wished the Owl luck in my absence and hoped the Squirrels would back off.

The next morning I was at Rona (similar to a Home Depot or Lowes store for any non-Canadian readers). I bought stove piping to wrap around the tree, hoping to help deter the Squirrels. I figured 16″ worth would be good to keep the Squirrels from running up the tree. And that worked.

We watched the house over the next few days and saw nothing. We had high hopes but as the days passed, they did fade.

Then I noticed a gray Squirrel in the box. *sigh* The Squirrel was using the next tree over, climbing high up in it, going to over hanging branches, then taking a big leap to this tree, and then coming down into the box. Gotta give it kudos for some clever thinking on how to get into that box.

I will admit it did frustrate me but what’s done, is done. It now had the box, and was quickly filling it full of leaves and even some insulation it gathered from who knows where. I don’t have the heart to evict the Squirrel now.

Here it is on this snowy morning, snapped this through our window just now.


In no time though, I had gotten a new Screech Owl box, and set it up in another spot about the yard. The box is more suited for Screech Owls with a 3″ entry hole. It’s actually got some ventilation with small slots just under the roof. It’s got drainage underneath in case water ever got inside. And it’s also got slight grooves along the inner wall to help young Owls find their way out of the box, if we were ever blessed with such a thing as nesting Owls. The Wood Duck box is missing a couple of these things. The new box is well away from trees no matter how things look in the below image. I’ve used the stove piping underneath it. It faces south/west, which is better than north/west. And it’s got a large grove of tall cedars on the north side for added shelter, blocking those winds.

Wish us luck!


What’s funny is that a few weeks prior to this encounter, I was doing nocturnal Screech Owl searching in some spots not too far from our home. I went out after dark, visiting some old wood lots, playing a Screech Owl call, and over a 2 night period I had 6 individual Screech Owls through 4 different areas!

It’s quite an experience for someone who enjoys the birds. The Owls will call back, sometimes even flying in to see who is in their territory. It is at this point, once you have an Owl responding to your calls, that you should stop playing them. I don’t move. I just listen and try to view the bird if it’s near by. I may also try for photos even though it’s quite difficult. I won’t use flash. I do try and use natural lighting, if there is any with the moon, or if street lights aren’t too far off. I have to tweak my camera settings, cranking up the ISO as high as I can go (which isn’t that high on my old Canon Rebel T1i), using manual focus and if I get anything, I still have to manipulate it quite a bit once I have it on the computer. The pics aren’t for anything more than record shots, sharing with friends about the experience. People are more apt to pay attention with an image attached than reading one of my long scribes. Speaking of long scribes, is anyone still here reading this?



About a week and a half after this night Owl adventure, I chanced upon a roosting Screech Owl in another area. Total surprise, almost missing this bird in a line of cedars along the path. #7! I use a 500 mm lens so trust me when I say that I was not in the Owl’s face so to speak.


Then of course ours 10 days later, making #8.

Screech Owls really are in abundance about the Toronto area!

Here are some daytime finds throughout what I see is all from 2012 (I had quite a good year for them).  Now, is it me or have these Owls chosen trees with color matching to their plumage?





People often say they never see Owls. Sometimes they are there, right in front of you, and you just don’t realize it. Here is a link to a video I took a couple winters ago. The other birds told me where a Screech Owl was roosting. You can’t see the Owl in this video but this may help you in future outings. Just listen to the birds around you.

Screech Owls are a nocturnal species of Owl. So if you do ever find one during the day, please be quiet, keep your distance, and don’t linger. It’s a blessing to see any Owl in the wild. Please respect them.

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This morning Rob and I took part in our first ever Christmas Bird Count for Bird Studies Canada. It was taking place at an area we have been birding for over a decade, The Humber Areboretum, and the organizers there, as well as from Bird Studies Canada were happy to have our assistance.

The count was actually for kids, but the adults and teenagers enjoyed it as well. Who doesn’t enjoy hand feeding Chickadees. It was actually the first time the Humber Areboretum hosted a bird count, but it won’t be the last time, the event was full.

Over all we saw 21 species which I have listed below. Sorry we don’t have many pictures to share, we were too busy enjoying the birds and the socializing.


Instructions before heading out.


Away we go!


A pair of Northern Cardinals stand out on an over-cast day.


The star of the day.


Someone is Geocaching here as well. 


Always fun to witness people hand-feed Chickadees for the first time.


How many Cardinals do you see?

Our 21 species:

1. Mourning Doves
2. Chickadees
3. Mallard Ducks
4. Crow
5. Northern Cardinals
6. Goldfinches
7. Northern Harrier
8. House Finches
9. White-breasted Nuthatches
10. Red-breasted Nuthatches
11. Juncos
12. Ring-billed Gulls
13. European Starlings
14. White-throated Sparrows
15. Downy Woodpeckers
16. Hairy Woodpecker
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker
18. Canada Geese
19. House Sparrows
20. Rock Pigeon
21. And we accidentally flushed a Long-eared Owl

All in all it was a great morning and we look forward to taking part again.

From our house to yours, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and a great 2017.

Merry Christmas, Angie & Rob


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The Birds of Bow Valley Provincial Park

We are away for the winter in Panama enjoying a warmer climate, as well as some spectacular birding, so this month’s post takes us back to one of our favourite summertime destinations in Alberta!

Psssst!  Wanna hear a little secret?  Bow Valley Provincial Park is a hidden gem in Alberta.

The park is only 33 sq. km but it is packed with a dense variety of habitat, wildlife and birds.   We go there early in the morning from time-to-time (while the masses visit Lake Louise and Banff) and we never seem to be disappointed!

This Lincoln Sparrow stayed hidden most of the time but every once in a while he popped up onto branch and posed for a second or two (with a yummy breakfast in its beak).

Lincoln Sparrow


Willow Flycatchers are often overlooked and/or confused with other species.  There are several that look the same and it’s difficult to tell them apart from one another, but this little guy gave himself away by repeating his song over and over!  He was very cooperative and posed several times for the camera, often approaching us at close range.

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher (Close-up)

Who doesn’t like a Yellow Warbler?  This boisterous male was hanging out in the same willow thicket as the Willow Flycatcher.  Yellow Warblers are pretty common but they have this knack for dashing in and out of bushes a few seconds before you can click the shutter button on the camera.  Patience won the battle for us today, however.  Gotcha!

Yellow Warbler

Over 220 species have been recorded in Bow Valley Provincial Park according to ebird.  Check here for a complete list of recent sightings:

Marcy & Ray Stader

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Notes From a NW Ontario Backyard – November 2016

Someone Flipped The Winter Switch!

Hello again!  It is most definitely winter up here in NW Ontario.  In the past 3 days, we’ve gone from heavy rain to heavy freezing rain (about a 1/2 inch worth!) and now to blowing snow and about -15C wind chills.  I had to bring all my birds feeders in to thaw the ice off of them and put fresh ones out to get through the rest of the storm.  I guess I can safely say it’s cold outside enough now to put the suet feeder out.

For the first time, I finally managed to catch 4 of my 6 Blue Jays at once on the platform feeder.  You can see that one got hit with a gust of wind that really messed up its ‘do.  They seldom tolerate each other.


4 Blue Jays on the platform feeder in the freezing rain


Handsome Blue Jay standing on the webcam in the freezing rain, awaiting his turn at the trough

The Ruffed Grouse have been coming around, mostly morning and evening.  This one is a female and she tolerates the Blue Jay for a minute or two.  The male Grouse will not tolerate the Jays at ALL and will instantly show aggression with wide open tail feathers and a fully displayed ruff (fluffed out neck feathers).


Female Ruffed Grouse barely tolerating the Blue Jay on the platform feeder


Female Ruffed Grouse preparing to leave the feeder for the night.

A small flock of Purple Finches was hanging around the yard for a few weeks.  The Dark Eyed Juncos have migrated for the season but the Purples are still here, as are a small number of Goldfinches.


2 male Purple Finches with a male Dark Eyed Junco

It’s funny:  my neighbourhood is absolutely polluted with Red Breasted Nuthatches but they seldom come into the yard.  This one was here off and on for a few days, hauling away and hiding small chunks of peanut.  Hopefully, a couple will stay around for the winter.


Red Breasted Nuthatch getting ready to hide a peanut morsel in the bark of my pine tree

Black Capped Chickadees come to the feeders regularly.  I see anywhere from 3 to 6 of them daily.  This little cutie is in my crab apple tree, enjoying a snack.


Black Capped Chickadee working on a seed

I normally have 3 Crows that visit the feeders daily but this week, a glorious Raven showed up.  It visited the feeders for 2 days, about 20 minutes straight on each day.  A very striking bird!


A Raven that was delicately eating peanuts

I was thrilled to see the season’s first Common Redpolls last week!  Three of them showed up and they were about three weeks earlier than normal.  A fourth one has joined them now and I expect many more to showed up in the coming weeks.


Male Common Redpoll


Female Common Redpoll

Evening Grosbeak numbers have picked up in recent weeks.  I can see anywhere from 10 to nearly 40 on the feeders or below at any given time.


Male & female Evening Grosbeaks on the platform feeder


This female Evening Grosbeak had just been nibbling at the pine cone


2 female Evening Grosbeaks on the winter birdbath for a drink of water


This handsome male Evening Grosbeak had also been working over the pine cones

Pine Grosbeak numbers continue to increase as more migrants move in for the winter season.  This handsome male was sitting on a branch in my crab apple tree.  The female was posing beautifully for me in my Pine tree.


Male Pine Grosbeak


Female Pine Grosbeak

An exceptional treat in the yard this week was a visit from a pair of Bohemian Waxwings.  I had seen them visiting my neighbour’s fruit shrubs but got lucky one day and saw them in my ornamental crab apple tree.


Bohemian Waxwings

Aside from birds, I had a couple of other nice sightings this week.  I have been going out walking most days with a friend and we walk to a bridge about a mile from here.  We’ve seen a few ducks there recently including a pair of Common Goldeneye, a lone Bufflehead Duck and an absolutely lovely lone female Long Tailed Duck … a species I’m lucky to see once, maybe twice per year as they pass through.

Up at the other end of our local Manitouwadge Lake, I came upon a brand new, under-construction beaver house with 2 beavers outside of it.  They both appeared quite small so they may be the teenagers of the family.


The first beaver outside of the new house. It quickly dove when I first approached.


This second, and smaller, beaver was more curious and actually swam up to look at me.  It’s body (without the tail) was no more than a foot long.

And to end this month, did everyone get a chance to see the stunning Super Moon last week?  I finally have a camera worthy of taking photos of the moon!


Thanks so much for reading.  You’ll hear from me again just before Christmas.  🙂

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