Pre-Ontario Birding

I went for a birding walk on August 7th, a few days before I left for Ontario. The day was a little cool and overcast, but that makes for good birding. Shorebird migration is in full swing here, but there aren’t any good spots for watching shorebirds within walking distance, so I decided to set my sights on the family of Pied-billed Grebes at one of the nearby sloughs.

I did see one of the grebes, but it quickly disappeared after I set up my scope, and none of the babies came into view. I did see a female Ruddy Duck with seven fairly new ducklings, along with more than 30 American Coots, six Killdeer feeding in one of the flooded fields, along with a Lesser Yellowlegs, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a flock of about 45 Red-winged Blackbirds, two Eastern Phoebes, two juvenile Eared Grebes, and 24 Blue-winged Teals as my highlights.

There were still a lot of breeding birds around, but when I return to Alberta in mid-September many of them will have left. Waterfowl migration will have started, and I hope to find some new species and get some good photos of the thousands of Snow Geese.

Some photos from my walk the other day:

I saw over 20 Clay-colored Sparrows,


A female Ruddy Duck and her seven ducklings,


A juvenile Eared Grebe (digiscoped),


There was lots of Water Smartweed growing in the ditch,


The Killdeers got quite close to me which made it easier to get good photos, but they don’t stand still for very long, so lots of my photos are blurry. Here are my best two,


Killdeer (digiscoped),


Spring Calves

It isn’t officially spring yet, but once March calves start coming on the farm, spring is just around the corner. Our herd of cattle started this Sunday and we have five calves so far. The calves are all Black Angus cross and as calves are always, very cute! On a birding sidenote: I saw the first Canada Goose yesterday too, another sign of spring!

This bull calf was born yesterday and was quite frisky, jumping and bouncing around, even chasing after our dog.

You can see the calf chasing our dog in this video,

A sleeping calf,


Cow and calf,


DIY Digiscoping Adapter

One of the things I am hoping to learn with my new scope is digiscoping. Digiscoping is using your scope with a camera (point and shoot or dslr), even an iPhone, to take close-ups. It’s a good alternative to an expensive telephoto lens (especially once you have spent all your money on a scope!), and some people can take amazing digiscoped photos.

One of those people is Sharon Stiteler aka Birdchick. Not only is she a great digiscoper, but she is a great teacher as well and has video tutorials, posts, and other helpful tips on digiscoping at her Birdchick blog.

One downside to digiscoping is that the adapters that help you get better photos can be expensive, especially if as mentioned above you have just spent a lot on a scope. You can hand-hold the camera to take photos, but it can be difficult to hold it still enough. One solution, which I like, is a DIY adapter. While it’s not as good as the real ones, it works quite well and is very cheap!

You will need:

A plastic pop/soda bottle (a 2-liter bottle works well)

Duct tape (also known as gaffer’s tape)


A hot glue gun

Backer rod foam insulator (from the hardware store)

Most importantly, patience!

Following along with my how-to video below, cut the plastic bottle to the specifications of your scope’s eyepiece. My adapter’s dimensions are 4″ high and  8-1/2′” long. Make sure the adapter isn’t too tight or too loose, and that it slides up and down the eyepiece easily. I wrapped duct tape all around the clear plastic to give it more of a finished look. I glued backer rod, cut in half, inside the adapter to give the camera support when taking photos.

Here’s my finished DIY effort,

When taking photos with this adapter you get vignetting, which is the black ring around the photo. You can get rid of the vignetting by cropping to get rid of most of it, or zooming in with the camera to reduce the amount of vignetting.

Before cropping,


After cropping,


Swarovski holds an annual “digiscoper of the year” contest, and there is a Facebook digiscoping group too.

In winter in my part of Alberta there aren’t a lot of digiscoping opportunities, but it’s fun to practice on the chickadees, redpolls, and woodpeckers at my feeders. I took more than 40 photos of this Common Redpoll,


My 10 Favorite Birds of 2011

2011 was a great year for birding for me. This year I saw eastern birds I had never seen before. I was able to see 145 year birds and 61 life birds. I was hoping to break the 200 barrier, so I’ll try for that next year (starting tomorrow!).

1. Long-tailed Duck (Toronto, Lake Ontario)

2. Tufted Titmouse (Central Park, NYC)

3. Great Gray Owl (our farmyard)

4. Wilson’s Snipe (across the road from our farmyard)

5. Western Meadowlark (the pasture across the road from our farmyard)

6. Yellow-rumped Warbler (the woods down the road)

7. Ruddy Duck (the slough across the road)

8. Common Merganser (the slough across the road)

9. Turkey Vulture (provincial park near town)

10. Pine Grosbeak (the woods down the road)


Happy New Year and happy birding in 2012!