The Christmas Bird Count, a Lifer & The Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids)

This past Sunday was the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Vermilion area. The weather was quite nice, probably the warmest CBC I’ve participated in. The temperature was just under -10 degrees C  without any wind, which made the birding much more enjoyable than in previous years. It was also quite foggy and the hoarfrost on the trees was beautiful.

The Vermilion CBC is split up into the usual four quadrants — SW, SE, NE, NW — as well as the Town, College, and Reservoir.

I live in the NW quadrant, so I cover this area every year with a friend who lives nearby.

Sharon picked me up at 9 am and we both decided to head straight for my grandmother’s yard. On the way over, we saw a flock of Snow Buntings, and some Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies.

At my grandmother’s, we watched the birds in almost constant motion as they flew to the many feeders in her yard; three Downy Woodpeckers, two Hairy Woodpeckers, 26 Black-capped Chickadees, two White-breasted Nuthatches, a wary Blue Jay and three Black-billed Magpies were all the species we counted just in the yard.

We shared mugs of hot chocolate and ate Toffifee while looking out the kitchen windows. My grandmother spotted a Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the ground underneath a spruce tree. She said a pair of Juncos had been hanging around her feeders, so it was very nice to see one on count day.

A Blue Jay enjoying peanuts at one of my grandmother’s feeding stations.

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One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,

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The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,

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I’ve never seen a Dark-eyed Junco in December before, so it was exciting to be able to add one to our list,

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My grandmother has been regularly seeing a Snowy Owl on the road just south of her house. We drove down that road where the Snowy Owl was supposed to be, but unfortunately didn’t see it. The only birds we did see were two Common Ravens and one Black-billed Magpie.

We drove through town and saw a large flock of Rock Pigeons then headed down to the Vermilion River on the old bridge where there is currently open water. In some years there’ve been a few ducks on the river during the Christmas Bird Count, so I was hoping there would be some again this year. We didn’t see anything at first, but then I saw something flying towards us. It landed on the river right in front of us, and it was a drake Mallard.

A Mallard in the river and snow on the edge,

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We finished ups after three hours of birding and counting since Sharon had another event at noon, and I had to be at provincial park for the CBC4Kids at 1 pm.

In three hours of birding with Sharon we saw 12 species of birds: Snow Bunting, Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Rock Pigeon, Northern Shrike, and Mallard. We also counted the two mammals we saw: a Meadow Vole and a Muskrat.

I had a quick lunch at home and then headed out the park to lead the first CBC4Kids for Vermilion as well as for the province of Alberta! Joining me for the walk were four very excited young birders/naturalists and their parents; we were also happy to have Emily from the local office of Alberta Fish & Wildlife come along. Even though the weather was very nice, perhaps because of the heavy fog, the birds didn’t seem very active — at least where we were. Black-capped Chickadees were feeding in the trees along the trails and two squirrels were chasing each other around a spruce tree. Common Ravens were performing aerial acrobatics and a White-breasted Nuthatch called from a tall spruce.

At one of the benches in the park everyone posed for a photo,

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Playing in the snow,

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As we headed back to the CN Station, five birds flew overhead, and at first I thought they were Bohemian Waxwings. When they landed in some nearby trees I could see that they weren’t waxwings, but Pine Grosbeaks.

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On one of the trails leading to the parking lot, we could hear the tapping of a woodpecker on a tree. Listening, we followed the sound until we were finally able to get a good look. It wasn’t the expected and usual  Hairy or Pileated Woodpecker, but something entirely different. We were able to get great looks at the bird as it was completely absorbed in stripping the bark from the trees looking for grubs and insects.

We identified the bird as a female Black-backed Woodpecker,

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This woodpecker species is a little south of its usual range, since Black-backed Woodpeckers usually stick to boreal forest, especially areas with burned trees.

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Watching the bird of the day, and lifer for all,

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We saw seven species in total in the park and the two squirrels. The CBC4Kids was lots of fun and I hope we can hold the event again next year.

In the evening, there’s always a CBC potluck supper in town where everyone shares stories from the day and our compiler tallies the count numbers. Here are the official count numbers:

CBC count day:

Snow Bunting – 140
Black-capped Chickadee – 461
Rock Dove – 174
Northern Flicker – 2
Pine Grosbeak – 37
Blue Jay – 21
Dark-eyed Junco – 1
Black-billed Magpie – 189
Mallard – 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 2
White-breasted Nuthatch – 27
Snowy Owl – 2
Gray Partridge – 24
Common Raven – 49
Common Redpoll – 9
Northern Shrike – 1
House Sparrow – 265
Bohemian Waxwing – 90
Downy Woodpecker – 33
Hairy Woodpecker – 15
Merlin – 1
Woodpecker species – 1 (the Black-backed Woodpecker)

Total Species – 21 Total Individuals – 1,544

Count Week:

American Robin – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 2
House Finch – 12

Christmas Bird Counts around North America run up until January 15th — CBCs are excellent ways to meet other birders in your area as well as to add some new winter species to your list. And you might even find a lifer.

:: Find more CBC4Kids events here

:: Find CBC events across Canada here

:: Find CBC events across the U.S here

 

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A Hairy Woodpecker in my grandmother’s yard during the Vermilion CBC last Sunday,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

The Warbler Guide App, and a Giveaway

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I’m very excited to be a part of The Warbler Guide App blog tour in partnership with Princeton University Press, to promote the new Warbler Guide app, which will be released soon. And please be sure to head over there to see the other blogs participating in the tour.

Some of the exciting features of the new app include 3D models of birds in all plumages; under-tail views; and the ability to find birds by filtering by colour, alphabetical order, song type, and taxonomic order.

Now for the giveaway!

Below are five photos of unidentified warblers, all taken by me at the Long Point Bird Observatory, Long Point, Ontario, in 2012 and 2013. The photos are labelled #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7.

To enter the contest, just leave a comment in this post with your bird ID for each number. The person who correctly guesses the most species wins a copy of both The Warbler Guide book (print edition) and the new app as well!

Thanks to Jessica at Princeton University Press for providing me with the book and app.

The deadline to enter the contest is December 24th, and I’ll announce the winners on Christmas Day.

Good luck everyone!

#1:

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#2:

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#3:

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#4:

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#5:

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#6: 

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#7:

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Washington, DC Trip Report

It’s been over a month since my trip to Washington, but the memories are still fresh in my mind and I’ve been meaning to share my adventures with all my readers.

My dad and I left for the airport in Edmonton on Wednesday evening, November 6th, as our flight was very early the next morning. From Edmonton, we had a three-hour long stopover in the Minneapolis airport.

I found that the Minneapolis airport is a nice place to kill time — stores, restaurants, and a sky bar with iPads to borrow and a place to charge your own iPads!  We got into Washington in the evening and took the Metro from the airport to the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill Affinia, where we dropped off our bags and headed to Legal Sea Foods for supper — I had a steamed lobster (my favourite) and dad had fish and chips. The supper was wonderful, but we both desperately needed sleep.

We woke up on Friday around 9am, then walked to the Natural History Museum to look at the exhibits before the radio show. One of my favourite exhibits was The “Once There Were Billions” display, located in the museum’s main hall. Behind the glass of the exhibit are Carolina Parakeets, Heath Hens, a Great Auk, and three Passenger Pigeons, including Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon. The display was both fascinating, and very sad.

These small-scale bronze sculptures of the extinct North American are part of the Lost Bird Project. The large sculptures are on display in the Smithsonian Gardens until March 15th, 2015.

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The Heath Hen, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet display,

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A beautiful poster explaining the exhibit and I love that the poster includes a QR code,

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The Great Auk display,

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Martha is on the left (11), a study skin (12), and a Passenger Pigeon male with seed (10),

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Henry the Elephant in the rotunda of the museum,

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We spent four hours touring the rooms and halls of the museum; the Hope Diamond, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, and the mounted mammals were all highlights for me! Back at the hotel, we both had a nap, then went for an early supper. The restaurant was Cafe Berlin and we both enjoyed our meal very much, and dad his draft beer.

Saturday morning, Mark and Sharon arrived at the hotel where we sat down in the hotel restaurant had some chocolate chip scones and did some catching up. We were meeting Ray and his friend Catherine at the museum’s theatre at noon, where the show was going to be broadcast from.

The Qrius Theatre is large, (holding about 100 people), but very intimate, with lovely green seats — it’s a very nice space.

After looking around the theatre, Ray and Catherine went to the hotel to drop off their bags, but Dad, Mark, Sharon, and I took a quick tour of the museum.

Outside, the day was so sunny and warm, perfect for a walk to the Washington Monument as we all wanted to get a closer look at it.

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A view of the Capital Building from the monument,

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Sharon took this photo of me in front of the monument — thanks Sharon,

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On the walk back to the hotel we passed the Capitol Building which was under some construction,

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Just like New York, squirrels are everywhere,

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The trees around Washington were beautiful — oaks, elms, and maples with leaves of gold, red, yellow, and green,

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Saturday evening we all had supper at one of the restaurants in Union Station, it was a wonderful get together.

Sunday morning was the big day! The radio show started at nine, but we all got to the theatre at seven — setting up everything we would need for the show.

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People started to arrive at around 8:30, including the show’s guest, Dr. Bruce Beehler, who is an ornithologist, ecologist and naturalist based in the Division of Birds in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Beehler is one of the authors of the Birds of New Guinea which was recently released as a seconded edition by Princeton University Press.

At nine the show started Listen the the full show here (you can also listen here on tumble and here on iTunes). Ray played a clip of my first call in to the show four years ago, he talked to Dr. Bruce Beehler about his book and crossbills, and I was very honoured to read the clues for the show’s mystery bird contest.

You can find more photos from the 500th show here on a previous blog post.

photo courtesy of Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds (Facebook)

photo courtesy of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (Facebook)

Thanks to the Talkin’ Birds Crew for signing my copy of the show’s program,

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After the show, Ray had a short slideshow that everyone enjoyed thoroughly, then a short Q and A with the audience. It was a wonderful show and I meet wonderful people.

One of the birders who attended the show was Nick who writes at The Birdest. Nick asked if I wanted to join his friend Zach and Emily. The four of us walked to the reflecting pool where Canada Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards were all feeding. I spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead and Nick saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk with the eagle. 

I was a nice walk with some good birds — thanks Nick, Zach, and Emily!

Here’s our eBird checklist from our walk.

A drake Mallard,

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Back at the museum, we took a cab to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for brunch/lunch,

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Thanks to Catherine for this photo

Thanks to our waitress at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for taking a photo of all of us,

Thanks to our waitress at the Hawk 'n' Dove for taking a photo of all of us

From brunch/lunch, Ray, Catherine, Dad and I walked back to the hotel.

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Pansies near the Capitol,

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Squirrel in the pansies,

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This Northern Mockingbird was perching and eating berries in a tree near Union Station,

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One of the many Blue Jays around the city,

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Right near the Capitol Building is the United States Botanic Gardens, which houses almost every fern, tree, orchid, and cactus you can think of.

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I had an excellent time in Washington D.C. for the 500th radio show at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Passenger Pigeon Book Winners!

Congratulation to Bob L. and Jennifer, the winners of this month’s double book giveaway of The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller, published by Princeton University Press (September 2014). Thank you to everyone who entered, and especially to Jessica Pellien from Princeton University Press for making the giveaway possible.

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Birding News #93

Bird news (from a fairly slow week):

:: GrrlScientist writes about the annual Christmas Bird Count — the “granddaddy” of all citizen science projects — for The Guardian.

:: There’s a possibility of training birds to bring down drones.

Great posts in birding blogs this week:

:: From Josiah at Birds in Your Backyard: My Field Guides

:: From Terry at Birding FrontiersAn Exotic Robin in China

:: From Don and Lillian Stokes at Birding Is FunPhotographing Birds in Flight Tips

:: From Clare at 10,000 Birds: Pied Oystercatcher Family Starts To Disperse

:: From Nathan at Nemesis BirdNew York Townsend’s Solitaire Plus More

:: From Josh at Ontario Birds and HerpsNiagara to Oakville – December 5, 2014

Feed the Birds: My Grandmother’s Homemade Suet Cake Recipe

Suet is an excellent source of energy for birds. You can provide plain suet, or mix it with nuts, raisins, and other fruit. You can buy the mixture, or make your own. One of the benefits of making your own suet cake is saving money as well as knowing what’s in it. Suet can be provided in a variety of feeders: smeared on a branch or log or even on a pine cone, in a suet cage, in a tray, or in a mesh bag (like in the kind onions come in).

Here is my grandmother’s recipe which is a hit with Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and even Redpolls, as you can see from the photos below. My grandmother reminded me that birds enjoy this in the summer, and one of the benefits of this recipe, since it’s not straight suet, is that it’s not very drippy when the temperature gets warmer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lard and some bacon grease (or the fat of your choice) [edited/updated to add: if you are vegetarian or vegan, you could try substituting your favourite type of solid vegetable shortening, like Crisco — you might have to add more cornmeal and flour ]
  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 6 cups cornmeal
  • 5 cups flour
  • any dried fruit or nuts you’d like to add

Directions:

Melt the lard/fat with the peanut butter, then add cornmeal, flour, and any dried fruit and/or nuts to the mixture and stir well. Let it cool and harden in any container, and then it’s ready to put on a tray feeder, in a suet cage, or in a tin can. If you make the whole recipe and have too much, it freezes very well.

If you have a favorite recipe, please share it in the comments!

White-breasted Nuthatch in my grandparents’ yard,

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Downy Woodpecker,

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Red-breasted Nuthatch,

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