Dancing with Sharp-tailed Grouse!

Each year our local naturalist society makes the one-hour drive to the Canadian Forces Base at Wainwright, Alberta, to see the annual Sharp-tailed Grouse dance at their lek. The field trip is arranged by the Wainwright Naturalist Society, whose members also maintain the several blinds where we sit and observe. This part of the province has the highest counts and density of breeding Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Thursday morning at 3 am I was awake and ready to head out to watch male Sharp-tailed Grouse strut their stuff at the lek (mating ground) on the Camp Wainwright base, along with Lakeland College students in the Wildlife & Fisheries Conservation program. We left Vermilion at 4 am because there’s a security briefing at the base, about not touching anything, including exploded and unexploded mines.

Once the briefing was over, we drove to the part of the base, all native prairie, where they practice with mines and explosives and then walked about a quarter of a kilometer to the blinds. The birds start dancing at sunrise, which is why the field trip starts so early. This year we actually arrived before the grouse did, so it was good that we didn’t disturb them as we got ourselves situated in the blinds. There are very few places left with any Sharp-tailed Grouse at all, let alone breeding pairs.

Our group counted 15 displaying males this year, up from last year’s six grouse. The grouse weren’t as active as in previous years — not dancing as much and spending more time just huddled up, which was probably attributable to the wind, cold temperature (-8 c), and snow falling. But otherwise it was a great morning!

After we finished watching the birds at around 7 am, we drove back to the base for breakfast in the mess hall, where they prepare anything you might want, from pancakes, waffles, and sausages, to eggs and fruit.

This is the fourth year I’ve watched the Sharp-tailed Grouse dance, and the day is always one of the highlights of our naturalist society activities and of my birding year.

Some of the males got fairly close to our blind which provided me with a good opportunity to practice with my new camera,




Here’s a short video I made,

One of the other blinds and a couple of pairs of males. How many can you count?




I wasn’t able to get very good photos of the birds dancing, but in this photo you can see the bright purple air-sac,


IMG_0575 IMG_0583

Feathers on Friday

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A sign of Spring — an American Robin from earlier this week,


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Birding News #65

:: The US Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory studied three solar farms in Southern California and found a disturbing amount of bird injuries — 233 total birds, over 71 species — and says that there are no easy fixes to the problem.

:: A new list documenting the world’s most distinctive rare bird species, according to their appearance, behavior, and evolutionary history, has been compiled by researchers at Yale University and the Zoological Society of London as part of the EDGE of Existence conservation program.

:: Mountain Bluebirds and other cavity-nesting bird species in Nevada are being killed by the hollow plastic pipes driven into the ground to mark mining claims on public land; the birds go into the pipes but can’t climb back out or spread their wings to fly, so trapped at the bottom, they slowly die of dehydration.

:: The U.S. Geological Survey and researchers from the University of New Mexico and Northern Arizona University released a report last week the effects climate change on wildlife species in the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau ecosystems; the Pinyon Jay is projected to lose nearly one-third of its breeding range, while other species could lose as much as 80 percent by the end of the century

:: BBC nature show host Chris Packham is criticizing television producers and bird charities for ignoring the mass slaughter of migrant birds in Malta.

:: The US Fish & Wildlife Service has again extended, to April 25, the public comment period on a proposal to list Yellow-billed Cuckoos as a threatened species, because of last year’s government shutdown.

:: Several iconic bird spices in the Adirondacks (NY) are in trouble — including the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and  Palm Warbler –  with declines driven by the size of their wetland habitats, how connected these wetlands are to one another, and how near they are to human infrastructure, according to a new Wildlife Conservation Society study.

:: According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and WildEarth Guardians, a new federal plan to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened rather than endangered would not reverse the species’ decline because it would allow ongoing destruction of the bird’s habitat, and so the three groups plan to sue the US Interior Department and US Fish & Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

:: Carole Burns of The Washington Post interviews David Sibley about the new edition of his Sibley Guide to Birds

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Jeremy at A Victoria BirderEndemics, Undemics, and Everything in Between

:: From Josiah at Birds in Your BackyardSpring has Sprung! (Part 1)

:: From Kirby at Birding is Fun: Pledge to Fledge — Every Day!

:: From Ethan at Bird BoyA Trip to Kimberley, BC #2

:: From Jochen at 10,000 Birds: Know Your Audience: A Ring-necked Duck in Germany

:: From Jeff at NeoVista BirdingSunshine’s Got Me Humming for Hummers!


Earlier this week on Facebook, one of my friends shared this terrific sparrow poster created by Richard Edden.


It’s a very handy chart if you’re out in the field and quickly want to compare sparrow “faces”.

A few days later, Mr. Edden shared a poster of “warbler faces” and also announced that he’s working on an app called BirdFace, which will be out soon!

In reply to a Facebook query I sent him, Mr. Edden replied, ”Within 24 hours of posting the first graphic online, there was so much positive feedback and support from MD [Maryland] birders, but also throughout the US, that I decided to jump to producing an app, BirdFace. This is my first foray into iOS App programming, so BirdFace is an exciting, evolving project, with on-going feedback through Facebook. The anticipated release date in App Store is April 12th, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Updated to add:

Mr Edden just created a Facebook page for BirdFace today!


Birding News #64

:: Canada Rare Bird Alert: A Common Shelduck was found near Renews, Newfoundland, on April 2nd. Pending acceptance, this would be a first provincial record and potential first for the ABA area.

:: One of the UK’s most important bird of prey colonies is apparently being targeted in its core breeding area, after 16 raptors were found fatally poisoned in a small area of the Scottish Highlands; the bodies of 12 Red Kites and four buzzards were found near Inverness, in what ornithologists suspect is the largest mass poisoning of birds recorded in an effort. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is offering a £10,000 reward for information leading to a successful prosecution

:: It has taken researchers 10 years to create the first comprehensive map of hummingbird evolution over its 22-million-year history.

:: The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP Canadais looking for volunteers this spring to help rescue injured birds and collect dead ones on the streets of Ottawa.

:: Artist Todd McGrain’s “Lost Bird Project”, about extinct species, has landed at the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, DC

:: Artificially changing the size of a Jackdaw brood can have fatal consequences for parent birds

:: A pair of White Storks have been seen nesting at the Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens near Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, England. The last record of storks breeding in Britain was at Edinburgh, in 1416.

:: Houston Audubon volunteers have counted about 140 oiled birds from the Galveston Bay Oil Spill last month.

:: A new Anna’s Hummingbird livecam has been set up in British Columbia — you can learn more about the cam here

:: Two Hoosiers have started a grassroots campaign to change Indiana’s state bird, from the Northern Cardinal to the White-breasted Nuthatch

:: The US Army Corps of Engineers plans to kill birds at some Snake and Columbia River dams in Washington State to help protect juvenile salmon and steelhead; the plan will allow as many as 1,200 California Gulls, 650 Ring-Billed Gulls and 150 Double-Crested Cormorants to be killed.

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Len at Focused on Fauna (and a little flora)S. Padre Island Mar 30,31 and April 1 2014

:: From Jeremy at AZ BirdbrainCatching Up

:: From Duncan at 10,000 BirdsBirding Borneo with Non Birders

:: From Wallace at Our Florida JournalSpringing Into Action!

:: From Mia at On the Wing PhotographyMountain Plovers – Technology today is amazing

:: From Kathleen at BirdworthyWings after Work

:: From Grant at The Birders LibraryWin the New Sibley Guide

Feathers on Friday

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I saw this Common Goldeneye on the Vermilion River last Friday,



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Rusty Blackbird Blitz 2014!

Yesterday marked the launch of the new Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz 2014 in Alberta. The Blitz is a North American-wide citizen science project that birders can participate in by submitting checklists to eBird. There are different target dates for the different states in the US and different provinces in Canada, and you can find them all here. The target dates for Alberta’s Rusty Blackbird Blitz in Alberta are April 1st through mid-May. The population of the Rusty Blackbird has been rapidly declining across North America, and this decline has raised concerns for the past few decades.

The new Spring blitz is an initiative by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies to track the RUBL population and hopefully learn about conservation strategies for this declining species.

From the website:

In an effort to better understand the distribution of this species during migration, the Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz was initiated this year. This citizen science project will provide insight for conservation objectives such as Rusty Blackbird habitat selection during migration and whether or not some of these choice stopover locations may or may not be protected.

Researchers are also interested in “zero-observations”. So, if you’re out and do not see any Rusty Blackbirds, please report “0” in your eBird checklist. Even if you don’t see any Rusties, that’s valuable information for researchers.

To submit a checklist, click on the “Other” tab and select the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz (as shown here),


Explaining the need for the Blitz, Southern Alberta co-ordinator Yousif Attia wrote to me, “The reasons for the sharp decline in Rusty Blackbird numbers over the past 20 years still remain largely speculation, [and] initiatives such as this one may shed some light on the cause(s) before it’s too late. Identifying specific stopover habitat and locations can help focus conservation efforts and at the least provide some measure of assistance to the species.”

You can learn more about the Blitz, Rusty Blackbirds, and how to submit your sightings at the Rusty Blackbird Blitz website, and there is also a Rusty Blackbird Facebook page you can follow.

If you have any questions about the Spring Blitz, please contact any of the co-ordinators for Alberta: Yousif Attia (Southern Alberta), ysattia (at) gmail (dot) com; James Fox (Northern Alberta), jamesfox (at) hotmail (dot) ca, and Jason Rogers, hawkowl (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Rusty Blackbirds in our farm yard in October 2012, gathering up for Fall migration,