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.

The Northern Flickers arrived a few days ago, and yesterday I saw this one sitting on our roof,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

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 saw my first American Robin of the season on March 30th — spring has arrived!

An American Robin,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

My New Binoculars

My Nikon Monarch 8×42 binoculars have served me well for the past six years, since my grandfather gave them to me when I first started birding. I’ve seen more than 300 species through them, and they’ve traveled with me to the Caribbean, New York City, Ontario, and recently to Europe — I’m still finding sand in crevices from my adventures at Long Point in 2012 and 2013.

However, one of the eye-cups broke recently and both of the objective lens covers broke off a long time ago, and I realized while in Europe looking at unfamiliar species that I could do with better optics. Last month, I started researching new binoculars, since I was ready for an upgrade.

I wanted a pair with similar specifications and that would last me a long time. After some research and because I already have a soft spot for Swarovski optics (my spotting scope is a Swarovski ATM 80), I made my decision. Because I live far from any stores to test binoculars, I had to go with previous experience, what I’ve seen other birders use, and what I’ve read about.

With the help of my mother (to use her credit card), we ordered a pair of Swarovski EL 8.5×42’s from the Pelee Wings Nature Store in Leamington, Ontario. Pelee Wings is an excellent store with wonderful service and very fast shipping. They have a vast selection of optics for birding and guarantee that they will meet or beat any lower price on binoculars or scopes in Canada.

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My new binoculars arrived this past Wednesday and they’re wonderful! They came with a carrying case and strap, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and some Swarovski stickers. They’re a little heavier than my old binoculars, but that’s not much of a problem and a small price to pay for the improved optics. So far I’m very impressed and can’t wait to see what birds these new binoculars will help me find.

Whooping Crane Tours

For the first time ever, Parks Canada is offering guided tours to the Whooping Crane nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in May, June, and August. Wood Buffalo National Park located in northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories and is the largest national park in Canada.

Birders have been divided about the opportunity — while some have been so quick to take advantage of seeing the cranes that $3,820 Heli-Hike tour is sold out, others are concerned that the added traffic could disturb this endangered species.

Whooping Cranes were close to extinction in the 1940s, and since then the population of cranes in Wood Buffalo National Park has grown to 310 birds and growing about four percent each a year.

What are your thoughts on these tours by Parks Canada? Do you think that these tours will help the cranes by raising awareness of this endangered species, or do you think the added disturbance will upend all the time, money, and effort that has been put into saving this species. You can find more detailed information at the Parks Canada website here.

A Whooping Crane feeding a chick, at Wood Buffalo National Park. Photo by Klaus Nigge/ Parks Canada

A Whooping Crane feeding a chick at Wood Buffalo National Park. Photo by Klaus Nigge/Parks Canada

SongbirdSOS — The Messenger

bird_infographicFive years ago, Su Rynard, Joanne Jackson, and Diane Woods created SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. with the idea of producing documentaries about the challenging affecting songbirds around the globe. This spring, SongbirdSOS Productions is releasing The Messenger, full-length feature film:

The Messenger is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird, and what it means to all of us on both a global and human level if we lose them. Humans once believed that birds could carry messages, their presence was meaningful. They have helped predict the change of seasons, the coming of storms and the rise of toxins in the food chain. Once again they have something to tell us, and the message is not a comfortable one.

Last Thursday, CBC’s longstanding “The Nature of Things” featured a special documentary on SongbirdSOS, narrated by David Suzuki and directed by Su Rynard. If you’re in Canada, you can watch the documentary at the CBC website. Because documentary films are expensive to make, there’s a crowd-funding page for The Messenger. The money raised will cover film post-production, completion of the sound mix, picture editing, colour grading, and mastering finishing costs. You can support The Messenger by helping to  fund their Indiegogo campaign here. By donating, you can receive some great perks, including bird-friendly coffee, signed copies of books by Bridget Stuchbury who appears in the documentary, a DVD copy of the film, some great resource material from Bird Studies Canada, and more.

In Canada, Tree Swallow numbers have declined 62 percent since 1966, IMG_3866

Spring Arrival Dates for Alberta Birds

Spring Arrival Dates for Alberta Birds

Spring is approaching and birds are preparing to fly north to their nesting grounds, so it’s time to start thinking about when spring migrants will arrive.

I recently asked a question on the Alberta Birds Facebook group about possible blog ideas — Delores and Karen each suggested a post of what species to expect in the spring, and the general arrival dates of migrating birds in Alberta. With that suggestion, I’ve created a list of spring arrival dates (March through May according to eBird) for species that migrate though and breed in the province of Alberta. I used the eBird frequency graphs for my arrival dates data.

In this list, I didn’t include species that are rare in Alberta during spring migration, resident or irruptive species, and species that are more frequently encountered during the winter months.

I also didn’t include species such as Killdeer, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Goldfinches, and some species of waterfowl, since these species overwinter in parts of Alberta — mainly Calgary and Edmonton — and it’s too hard to average out their arrival date. If you’re interested in finding out when these species will arrive in your area — click here.

Please keep in mind that Alberta is a vast province with a variety of habitats and species arrival dates will vary based on your location in the province. The arrival date will be earlier in Calgary but later in my home area (seven hours north of Calgary). For example, the first arrival date for Barn Swallows in Calgary is April 15th, while it’s April 22nd in my area.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird,

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A Barn Swallow in our yard from June 2011,

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Here are the average arrival dates for some of the more common Alberta species. If you think of a species that’s missing from the list, please let me know and I’ll add it to this list.

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First arrival date: March 1st

Ruddy Duck, Ring-billed Gull, Canvasback, American Coot, and Snow Goose.

First arrival date: March 8th

Mountain Bluebird, White-crowned Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Purple Finch, Rusty Blackbird, Franklin’s Gull, Hooded Merganser, Brewer’s Blackbird, Ferruginous Hawk, Wood Duck, and Ring-necked Duck.

First arrival date: March 15th

Red-tailed Hawk, Chipping Sparrow, Double-crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Say’s Phoebe, and Greater White-fronted Goose.

First arrival date: March 22nd

Swainson’s Hawk, Common Loon, Ruddy Duck, American White Pelican, American Avocet, Sandhill Crane, Red-necked Grebe, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Western Grebe, Thayer’s Gull, Fox Sparrow, Black-necked Stilt, and Greater Yellowlegs.

First arrival date: April 1st

Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Clay-coloured Sparrow, McCrown’s Longspur, Bonaparte’s Gull, Spotted Sandpiper, Cassin’s Finch, Violet-green Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Marsh Wren, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and Solitary Sandpiper.

First arrival date: April 8th

Wilson’s Snipe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, American Pipit, White-winged Scoter, Spotted Towhee, and Lesser Yellowlegs.

First arrival date: April 15th

Loggerhead Shrike, Vesper Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Willet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rough-winged Swallow, Marbled Godwit, Hermit Thrush, White-faced Ibis, Sprague’s Pipit, and Semipalmated Plover.

First arrival date: April 22nd

House Wren, Purple Martin, Wilson’s Phalarope, Grasshopper Sparrow, Common Tern, Cliff Swallow, Pectoral Sandpiper, Swainson’s Thrush, Eastern Kingbird, Nelson’s Sparrow, Sora, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bank Swallow, and Upland Sandpiper.

First arrival date: May 1st

Tennesse Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Baird’s Sparrow, Palm Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Western Tanager, Brown Thrasher, Black-and-white Warbler, Rufous Hummingbird, Rock Wren, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Piping Plover, Brewer’s Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Winter Wren, and American Golden Plover.

First arrival date: May 8th

Red-eyed Vireo, Black Tern, Calliope Hummingbird, Veery, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, Western Kingbird, Cassin’s Vireo, Black-bellied Plover, Lazuli Bunting, Canada Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Whooping Crane.

First arrival date: May 15th

Grey Catbird, Magnolia Warbler, MacGillvray’s Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bay-breasted Warbler, Lark Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole, Mourning Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

First arrival date: May 22nd

Common Nighthawk, Sedge Wren, and Great Crested Flycatcher.

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You can look up your own arrival dates on eBird, here.

A male and female Northern Shoveler in early April 2014,

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Alberta’s First Spring Goose Hunt

In January, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) announced its first spring Snow Goose and Ross’s Goose hunt. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have had spring goose hunts since 1999.

The current Snow Goose population in Canada is about one million birds, which is about twice the number scientists believe the Arctic nesting grounds can support.

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The new hunt will attempt to deal with overpopulation that could devastate the arctic breeding grounds. The degradation of the breeding grounds would affect all wildlife, not just geese, that depend on that habitat. Environment Canada’s 2013 Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 7 Prairie and Northern Region: Taiga Shield and Hudson Plains notes,

Ecosystems within BCR 7-PNR, particularly in the coastal regions, but more recently in the tundra areas of the Hudson Plains, are under high pressure from a large overabundance of Lesser Snow Geese and rapidly growing populations of Ross’s Geese. A special publication from the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (Leafloor et al. 2012) is a current and expansive review of the situation and conservation options for dealing with this issue. Lesser Snow Goose populations have increased at a remarkable rate, up to 7% per year from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, due primarily to the agricultural food resources available throughout their migratory routes and on their wintering grounds (Abraham et al. 2005). The abundance of these herbivores on breeding areas in BCR 7-PNR is causing loss or degradation of habitat for a variety of other bird species, and may, over time, cause changes in bird communities in the affected habitats. For example, Savannah Sparrows and their grass/shrub habitat showed large declines, up to 77%, over a 25-year period from 1976 to 2001 in an area adjacent to coastal salt marshes in northern Manitoba (Rockwell et al. 2003). This is attributed to destructive foraging by snow geese causing changes in the properties of the soil, and erosion of the unvegetated soils resulting in potentially irreversible changes (Jefferies et al. 2006). Decreasing Snow and Ross’s Goose numbers will likely require large-scale, intensive management efforts since recent evidence suggests that increased bag limits and the special conservation season (spring hunt) are not curtailing population growth as much as expected (Leafloor et al. 2012).

The spring hunt season this year will run from March 15th to June 15th. The daily bag limit will be 50 geese total (Snow and/or Ross’s), but there will be no possession limit.

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Some Albertans are concerned that hunters might accidentally shoot swans instead of geese. Many hunters are very good at identifying geese from swans, so I don’t think this hunt will be much different from the annual fall hunt.

For reference, Snow Geese can be identified by black wing tips and a short neck. Swans and much larger and have entirely white wings and a long neck. This goose/swan ID comparison from the ESRD website,

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