Birding News #51

:: Two Bald Eagles were killed last week at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Alberta, Canada, after the roof of the eagles’ enclosure collapsed from a heavy snow load

:: An article from USA Today about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count on February 14th – 17th

:: The Red-necked Phalarope is one of the UK’s rarest birds, but one Phalarope made a 16,000 mile trip during its annual migration

::  AltaLink and retired forest scientist and environmentalist David McIntyre are investigating reports of a mass bird kill — hundreds of ducks — by an AltaLink power corridor just north of Pincher Creek, Alberta; The Calgary Herald also had an article two days later.

:: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released its new free Merlin Bird ID app, which uses eBird to help birders identify birds in your area. You can download it on iTunes here.

:: The Calgary Herald weighs in with an editorial in favor of protecting Sage Grouse habitat: “Albertans understand that the energy industry is tremendously important to our province’s prosperity, but they also accept responsibility for caring for the environment, including endangered wildlife species. If the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas Inc. have identified some glaring faults in the protection plan, by all means air them, but under no circumstances can the survival of an iconic prairie bird rest on a wing and a prayer. The time for action has long passed.”

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Kathie at Birding is FunSaying Good-bye to Arizona Birds

:: From Rob at The City BirderA Decade of Brooklyn Bird Blogging

:: From Clare at 10,000 Birds: Common Noddy in Broome

:: From Jeff at the ABA BlogABA’s 2014 Bird of the Year Revealed!

:: From Eileen at Viewing nature with Eileen: Loch Raven walk

:: From Jeff at NeoVista BirdingErrand Birding: More Productive Than Simply Birding?

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.

I was very excited to receive a new camera as a late Christmas gift earlier this month, the camera is a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. Here is one photo I took with my new camera a few days ago.

A Black-capped Chickadee at a neighbor’s feeder,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

:: From Josiah at Birds in Your Backyard: Feathers on Friday

:: From babsje at Great Blue Herons: Wonderful Great Blue Herons Nests

Where Are the Snowy Owls?

KeepCalmThis might be a strange question to ask with so many Snowy Owls being reported in the eastern United States and Canada the last couple of months. One group of birders from Newfoundland counted 301 Snowy Owls in weekend and one Snowy Owl made it all the way to Bermuda! But for those of us in western North America, who are accustomed to seeing Snowy Owls in the winter months, it’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves.

In fact, Snowy Owls have been found this winter in every northeastern state and even in some southern ones. This explosion of owls has excited birders, and even some non-birders, everywhere the owls have been reported.

Here’s a screenshot of all the recent Snowy Owl sighting reported to eBird. It’s hard not to notice the lack of reports from the owls’ usual winter range in northern Canada and Alaska. There are a handful of reports from the west side of the continent but nothing compared to the east side,

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Snowy Owls breed in the very northern part of Canada and Alaska where there is constant daylight in the summer, so during breeding season they have no choice but to hunt during the day. In the winter, they hunt by day or night, which is why this species is more commonly seen than other owl species. Snowy Owls mainly eat lemmings, voles, and mice, but they are opportunistic hunters. A Snowy Owl can eat more than 1,600 lemmings in a single year.

Lemming populations fluctuate drastically from year to year with peak number happening about every four years. Lemming populations don’t affect only Snowy Owls, but also Arctic Foxes, Rough-legged Hawks, weasels, Gyrfalcons, and other Arctic wildlife. When the lemming populations are high in the spring and summer, other species’ populations increase; when the lemming population drops, other species that depend on lemmings for prey decline. So goes the cycle of Arctic life.

A Snowy Owl nest in northern Quebec in 2013 -- brought to the nest even before the eggs have hatched. (photo by J. F. Therrien

A Snowy Owl nest in northern Quebec in 2013 — brought to the nest even before the eggs have hatched. Photograph by J. F. Therrien. I found this photo on the Arctic Raptors Facebook page

It seems likely that most of the Snowy Owls being seen/reported in the east are young ones that have been pushed out of their normal range by the adults or have moved out looking for food. This results in an irruption, or an invasion as some birders like to call it. An irruption is a large, temporary migration of a species into areas where they’re usually not found.

This recent invasion is likely caused by a lack of food supply for the owls, following a plentiful supply of lemmings last spring and summer in the owls’ breeding grounds, which meant the adult owls were able to raise lots of young. But this past fall and this winter, the lemming population may not have been able to keep up with the increased owl population, forcing young owls and even some adult birds south and east in search of food.

Last week I asked members of the Alberta Birds Facebook group if they’ve been seeing as many Snowy Owls as in previous years, more, fewer, or about the same. Some members said that they’ve seen fewer owls, and others said that they’ve seen about the same number as in previous years. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a Snowy Owl yet this winter, so I find myself wondering, where in North America are the Snowy Owls I usually see in the winter. The numbers of Snowy Owls in Alberta are definitely nothing compared to the east.

Here are some photos of a Snowy Owl I took a couple of years ago near our farm,

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As a result of the irruption, some researchers have started a project to track the Snowy Owls movements with transmitters. Project SNOWstorm is a really neat opportunity to study Snowy Owls, so please be sure to check out the website and donate if you want to help study Snowy Owls!

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More Snowy Owl stories:

:: An interview with Newfoundland birder Bruce Mctavish 

:: The New York Times looks at tracking the Snowy Owl irruption 

:: An article from eBird on Snowy Owls

:: From the ABA Blog: The 2013 Snowy Owl Invasion: It’s Getting Crazier by the Minute

Birding News #50

:: A Snowy Owl survived a collision with a pickup truck in Ohio

:: An article about all the new species of birds discovered in 2013

:: A USA Today story for the New Year about the renewed popularity of birding

:: The city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, has filed a joint application along with LGX Oil & Gas Inc. to ask that a recent federal environmental protection order, to help save the Greater Sage Grouse, be quashed or suspended to protect the viability of the city’s oilfields; the filing came just as the 30-day appeal period was set to expire.

:: Alberta’s proposed South Saskatchewan Regional Plan for the southern part of the province is open for public consultation until January 15th; the government is planning to finalize the SSRP this winter and put it into effect in April. There are good articles here on the SSRP by The Calgary Herald‘s environment reporter and by Kevin Van Tighem, author and retired superintendent of Banff National Park.

:: The Moluccan Woodcock may not be as endangered as scientists thought

:: New Hampshire state representative David Campbell killed six ducks with his BMW

:: Neil Hayward’s Big Year made it into The Boston Globe

:: A story from The Wall Street Journal about the controversy of playing tape calls

:: Two Bald Eagles were shot and killed in Maryland

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Michael at The EyrieOpen Mic: Citizens clean up and researchers protect birds after oil spill

:: From Dan at Birds CalgaryMy 2013 Birding Year in Review

:: From Neil at The Accidental Big Year: Cooking with Skuas

:: From Kenneth at Rosyfinch RamblingsHungry cormorant babies

:: From Kathleen at BirdworthyDoesn’t Rain, But It Snows

:: From Julie at Birding is FunThe Longboat Key Pelican Squadron

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.

I’m sorry for the late posting. Here is a drawing of a male Black-throated Blue Warbler I sketched while I was in Ontario last summer,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

From Josiah at Birds in Your Backyard: Feathers on Friday

From Stephanie at Rainbow Magic Sparkle ButterflyThe Birds Visiting my Yard today – 1/2/14

From Babsje at Great Blue Herons: Beautiful Great Blue Herons Beginning Their Nest

Happy New Year!

Today is the start of a New Year, which to me means new birds and also birding resolutions. Here are four of my resolutions which I’m going to try to achieve this year:

1. I’m going to try to submit a checklist to eBird every time I go birding and also take field notes and make sketches more regularly.

2. Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (I have some exciting news on the camera front, but I will keep it under wraps until a little later.)

3. Trying to get others interested in the beauty of birds and birding.

4.  Some of the species I’d like to see this year are: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak, and a Western Tanager.

Do you have any bird goals or resolutions for 2014, or nemesis bird on your list to find?

Happy New Year and the best birding in 2014!

Some of my favorite photos from the past year:

An American Goldfinch,

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A male Blue-winged Teal,

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A Black-crowned Night-Heron,

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