Looking back… and looking ahead

With the end of one year comes the beginning of another — 2014 was full of excitement as well as some difficulties; I got my driver’s licence, had the best summer job, and my trip to Washingto, DC, where I finally met Ray Brown and the crew of the Takin’ Birds radio show. There were also some sad moments: my grandfather moved into the nursing home after a stroke and my dad was diagnosed with cancer (though his surgery was successful and is feeling great now).

My lists:

I saw a total of 170 species in Alberta this year — it’s a good list of species, my best so far.

I added three species to my Year List while in Washington, DC: Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I was able to add five species to my Life List bring it up to 272 species I’ve seen since I started birding in 2012. The new species for 2014 were Black-backed Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo, Western Kingbird, Le Conte’s Sparrow, and American Bittern.

My resolutions:

1. To blog more. A blog needs fresh posts regularly.

2. Make more of an effort to submit eBird checklists every time I go birding.

3. Read through my collection of bird books. I have lots of books I still haven’t read yet.

4. My target species for 2015: Boreal Chickadee, Fox Sparrow, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Here are some of my favourite photographs from 2014. Happy New Year everyone and may you have a happy and healthy 2015!

A Northern Mockingbird from my trip to Washington, DC, in November,


A squirrel,


A Dark-eyed Junco,


A male Ruffed Grouse,


A male Mountain Bluebird,IMG_4333


Birds & Blooms for the New Year


In September, I received an email from Ken Keffer, an editor at Birds & Blooms magazine, asking if I’d like to be part of an article about young birders; I said yes and started getting my answers ready to send back to Ken. I had “met” Ken back in 2013 when my mother bought the book he wrote with Stacy Tornio, The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, as a giveaway for that year’s Snow Goose Chase Young Naturalist Corner. I reviewed the book for my blog here, and Ken was kind enough to send along some bookmarks to give away, too.

Last week, the January 2015 issue of Birds & Blooms Extra arrived in our mail box with the young birders feature on page 29.

One of my grandmother’s favourite magazines is Birds & Blooms, and it was her late mother’s favourite as well; my family has sponsored our library’s subscription in great-grandma’s memory since she died and I think if she were still alive, she would enjoy seeing one of her great-grandchildren in the magazine and having another birder in the family!

My Christmas present to my grandmother this year was this issue of the magazine. I put a Post-It Note on the page of the article, so she could find it easily. When she opened to the marked page, she smiled and said, “Hey, I know that girl!!!”

I’m so glad she enjoyed my Christmas present, and I thought you might too.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)



Birding News #95 (Holiday Edition)

Not a lot this week!

An art installation of fanciful bird sculptures in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, is the idea of a 17-year-old high school student.

A new study on Zebra Finches shows that successful egg fertilization depends more on sperm length than sperm speed.

Here in Alberta, Christmas Bird Counts have turned up a number of uncommon species, including a Northern Mockingbird in Grand Prairie, and an American Tree Sparrow and 15 Eurasian Collared- Doves in Beaverlodge.

Great posts in birding blogs this week:

:: From Shyloh at Beakingoff: 6th Annual Tagish Christmas Bird Count

:: From Eileen at Viewing Nature with Eileen: Snow Geese

:: From Kathie at Kathie’s BirdsRiverwalk: a Photo Essay

:: From Sharon at BirdchickBirdchick Podcast #182 Women vs Men birders…

:: From David at 10,000 Birds: Purple Swamphen Supertramp or Superspecies

:: From Kathleen at BirdworthyLost Animals of Yesterday and Tomorrow

The Warbler Guide and App Winner!

Warbler-tour-smallI’m sorry for not publishing this on Christmas Day, but with the arrival of a new ram for our flock, Santa, and then helping out with our community Christmas Day dinner, the day got away from me.

Congratulation to Nicole R., the winner of this month’s holiday giveaway of The Warbler Guide, and the new Warbler Guide app.

Thank you to everyone who entered, you were all very close with your guesses.  A special thank you to Jessica from Princeton University Press for making the giveaway possible.

Happy birding in the new year with your new app and book, Nicole!

The birds in the quiz were:

1. Connecticut Warbler
2. Black-and-White Warbler
3. Tennessee Warbler
4. Black-throated Green Warbler
5. American Redstart
6. Blackburnian Warbler
7. Black-throated Blue Warbler

Here’s another chance from Princeton University Press to win a copy of the The Warbler Guide app (now out on iTunes), a copy of The Warbler Guide, and also a pair of Zeiss TERRA ED binoculars; click here for your chance to win theses great prizes.

Birding News #94

:: The Calgary Zoo says that it will continue with its captive breeding program for the endangered Greater Sage Grouse, despite a difficult start which has seen only two of 13 hatchlings survive to the age of seven months.

:: GrrlScientist writing for The Guardian has her first-ever list of best bird books of the year; and her list of best nature books of 2014 is here.

:: Scientists figure out just when birds lost their teeth

:: PacifiCorp Energy pleaded guilty in federal court in Wyoming to two counts of violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, after the discovery of more than 370 dead protected birds at two of the company’s wind farms, under a plea deal with prosecutors, and will pay US $2.5 million in fines.

:: The journal Science has published a series of papers on the evolutionary origin of birds, the genes and brain mechanisms that drive their behaviour, their relationships to each other. The papers are the result of an unprecedented consortium focused on the sequencing and analyses of at least one genome per avian order; the analyses have resulted in eight papers published in Science, as well as 20 papers in other journals, with the flagship study announcing that 48 birds — at least one from every major bird lineage — now have had their entire genetic code uncovered.

:: A recent study suggests a never-before documented ability in Golden-winged Warblers, to sense severe storms in advance of their arrival

Great posts in birding blogs this week:

:: From Bob at Birds CalgarySnowy Owls of the Calgary Area

:: From Maureen at Hipster Birders2014 Year in Review

:: From Clare at 10,000 Birds: Gifts to Impress a Female Friend

:: From Julie at Birding Is FunSeafood Feast at Low Tide

:: From Josiah at Birds in Your BackyardMy Field Guides Update

:: From Rob at City BirderChristmas Bird Count at Floyd Bennett Field

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.



One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,


The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,


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


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,



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,


Playing in the snow,


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.


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 dead spruce tree looking for grubs and insects.

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


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.



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



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