Visiting the Canadian Rockies

Last week we took a short vacation, our first family skiing trip to the Rocky Mountains — known for some of the best downhill skiing in the world. We stayed at Hidden Ridge Resort just outside Banff. It was a real treat because skiing is such great fun and the setting is so incredibly beautiful.

I was also excited about the photography opportunities and birding. There were a few species I was hoping to see and add to my Life List: Mountain Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Dipper, Stellar’s Jay, Northern Pygmy Owl (a slim chance for this species, but worth a try), and American Three-toed Woodpecker.

The first two days in the mountains, my brothers and I skied all day at Sunshine Village, a 20 minute drive from Banff. As we drove to Sunshine on the first morning, I was looking at the scenery and as we turned onto the Sunshine EXIT, there was a Northern Pygmy Owl sitting at the top of a tree! I saw it for only a few seconds but long enough to ID it. It was one of the first birds of the trip and certainly a special one.


Taken with my iPhone 6

I had only my iPhone when we were skiing and to the chagrin of my brothers would stop and get a few shots of the mountains on the way down the runs,


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6

The mountains are breathtaking and the skiing was terrific. From one of the chairlifts, I saw my second lifer of the trip — Clark’s Nutcrackers below us in the spruce trees.

The second day of skiing I saw Mountain Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills on the mountains,


Taken with my iPhone 6

The final two days I went birding instead of skiing. My parents and I dropped my brothers off at Lake Louise and then drove to the Chateau Lake Louise. The last time we were in the mountains and visited the lake, I was 18 months old, so I don’t remember anything.

We pulled into the parking lot at the hotel and immediately saw Clark’s Nutcrackers at very close range,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 1000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

They sit on parked vehicles hoping to get a meal from the visitors,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

It was an overcast day, but the snow and vistas were lovely. It’s truly a winter wonderland,


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6

My parents and I walked quite a ways down the lake, this is a view of the Chateau from the sleigh ride path,


Taken with my iPhone 6

The heavy snow blankets everything,


Taken with my iPhone 6

I believe this is black tree lichen growing on the branches,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back near the Chateau, Clark’s Nutcrackers were everywhere,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

I had to back up to get the whole Nutcracker in the frame, because they get so close,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

There were also Grey Jays which weren’t as curious as the Nutcrackers and stayed at the top of the spruce trees,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

An inukshuk made of snow outside the Chateau,


Taken with my iPhone 6

We took a swing through the Chateau were we stayed 17 years ago. My dad remembered that I called the mounted Caribou on the wall “bearabou” at the time.


Taken with my iPhone 6

Stay tuned for more posts and photos about my adventures in the Rockies! 

Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide Winner!

After a random draw, congratulations to Aislinn, the winner of the holiday giveaway of an autographed copy of the new book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Myrna Pearman!

Thank you to everyone who entered. And thank you to Myrna, of the Ellis Bird Farm, for providing the book and making the giveaway possible.

Happy birding/feeding with your new book, Aislinn!

Vermilion Bird Book Signing

Celebrated Alberta biologist and author Myrna Pearman will be in Vermilion on Saturday, December 12th for two book signings for her latest edition of Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide.

BBF front coverThe first signing will be at Main Street Hardware, in the Vermilion Mall, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Main Street Hardware/Peavey Mart is one of the book’s sponsors, and I’ve found it to be one of the best sources in town for bird seed and bird feeders.

The second signing will be at the Vermilion Public Library, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Myrna is a nature photographer and writer, and has been the biologist and site services manager at the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe, Alberta, since 1986. All proceeds from the sale of the guide go to support programs at the Ellis Bird Farm.

The book has been completely updated and revised since the first edition was published in 1991. The new guide covers feeding birds in all seasons, how to deal with unwanted visitors at your station, bird feeding myths, and much more. It includes lots of colour photographs (including one I took, of a Northern Shrike!).

The signings are a wonderful opportunity to meet Myrna and ask any bird feeding questions you might have. And the book makes a great Christmas present for nature lovers of all ages, and is helpful for getting young children and seniors more involved in the outdoors.

Please come join Myrna for the signing and don’t forget you bird/bird feeding questions!

M at Peavey NOV 15 first signing SITE

Myrna at the first book signing on November 15th. Photo by the Ellis Bird Farm

Alberta’s Christmas Bird Counts 2015

December brings an important event for birders — the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC)!

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest running wildlife census in North America. It was started over 100 years ago by the National Audubon Society in the United States, and in Canada is co-ordinated by Bird Studies Canada. The information collected by thousands of volunteers makes up one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data, and provides scientists with important information on populations and distribution of wintering birds.

Christmas Bird Counts are conducted on a single day for each community between December 14th and January 5th. Counts are carried out within a 24 km (15 mile) diameter circle that stays the same from year to year. Birders count every bird they see or hear, and all the data are compiled at the end of the day, sometimes at a get-together or potluck.

There are two different types of counters: field observers and feederwatchers. Field observers cover a portion of the count circle individually or with a small group. Feederwatchers count the birds at their feeders, often in the comfort of a warm house, which makes it the perfect activity for young children, seniors, and those in colder climates.

New and beginning birders are always welcome and encouraged to participate. Most organizers place an experienced birder on each team, so don’t be concerned if you’re still learning the ropes of birding.

I’ve been participating in my area’s count for six seasons, and this year I’m organizing our count in Vermilion.

There are lots of counts taking place all over Alberta, and while the Nature Alberta website has a list of some of the counts, I thought I’d make a more comprehensive “At a Glance” list. You can find a PDF version here. If you see that your community isn’t included, please let me know in the comments below.


To find all the counts happening across Canada, go to the Bird Studies Canada’s map here.

To find all the counts happening across the United States and Canada, go to the National Audubon Society’s map here.


Holiday Gifts for Birders

The holiday shopping season seems to have arrived, and it’s time to start thinking about what to get the birder in your life. Here are some of my picks for this year, based on what I’ve received myself and what I’d like to get!


I’m a women’s size small, so finding bird-related clothing that fits me well used to be a challenge, until Paul Riss at PRBY Apparel in Ontario started designing very artful, well-designed, clothing in a range of sizes, not just unisex. My favourite birding pieces are the Snowy Owl toque (which my mother got me last year  for Christmas) and the Gray Catbird t-shirt. If you’re looking for some cool birding apparel, head over to the PRBY Apparel website.


One of my favourite yearly gifts are birding/bird photography calendars. My mother usually gets 12312373_10100370719862427_1951080304_n me a calendar by David Sibley, but this year I’ve ordered one from Calgary photographer, Daniel Arndt. Daniel writes at the Birds Calgary blog and is an amazing photographer. If you’re interested in a calendar and in supporting a local birder, visit Daniel’s Facebook page or email him at birdscalgary AT gmail DOT com to place an order.



In October, the Peterson Reference Guide Series released a new guide by Scott Weidensaul, covering all 39 species of owls in North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The Peterson Guide to Owls is an extremely comprehensive guide with 340 colour photos of every species. It features information about ID, habitat, calls, nesting, behaviour, and very accurate range maps. This new book was one of my first holiday presents this year, thanks to Ray Brown!

Speaking of Ray, his radio show Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds got me hooked on Droll Yankees bird feeders. This past spring and summer I put out a Droll Yankees Hummingbird Window Feeder which attaches to the glass with suction cups. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visited the feeder all through the summer and seemed to prefer that feeder over the one in front of the house. This would make a perfect gift for anyone who’d like the chance to learn more about birds and birding, and it’s great for kids.

kingfisher Artist Louise De Masi has some really lovely and accurate watercolours and acrylic bird prints and paintings in her Etsy shop. She’s an Australian artist and while many of her pieces of Australian birds, a number feature North American and European birds as well. This European Kingfisher is one of my favourites as it reminds me of the ones I saw in France earlier this year.

For birders wanting a “compact” and more portable version of The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, check out the Warbler Guide app which has all the information from the book plus more. The app is a terrific for birders who love warblers. You can purchase it at the App Store, or give a gift card for the iTunes Store or Google Play.


For my Alberta readers, the new Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Alberta biologist Myrna Pearman has just been published. The book has been updated and revised since the first edition was published in 1991. The new guide covers feeding birds in all seasons, how to deal with unwanted visitors at your station, bird feeding myths, and much more. The guide is geared for Alberta, but much of the information is useful for anywhere in the country and the Northern U.S. (Full disclosure: I have a photograph in the book and will be receiving a copy from Myrna as compensation.)



The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed a new pocket-size waterfowl ID series, centred on picking out patterns of white and dark in common waterfowl and duck-like birds in North America. The three laminated foldout ID guides — The Basics, Dabbling & Diving Ducks, Sea Ducks & Others — focus on identifying waterfowl based on the overall shape of the bird and where the patches of white are located. The foldouts are $7.95 U.S. each, but if you purchase all three, shipping is free from The Cornell Lab’s Store, Wild Birds Unlimited at Sapsucker Woods.

WarblerscolouringColouring books for adults are all the rage now, and Ontario birder and artist Sarah Rupert has created two colouring books — Warblers and Owls. Each book has 20 pages to colour, and features 21 species of wood warblers and Great Gray, Snowy, and Eastern Screech Owls. You can find her colouring books and other works of art at her Etsy store.

Gift memberships to Bird Studies Canada, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Birding Associationyour local naturalist society, or any other birding/nature group make for a great gift. With all of these groups, you’ll join a community of like-minded people, receive various publications and exclusive member information, and you’ll also be supporting a good cause.


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)