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.

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One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,

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The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,

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

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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,

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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,

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Playing in the snow,

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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.

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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,

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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.

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

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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

 

Blueberries and Ospreys

Last week, my parents and I headed up to Moose Lake to pick up my brothers from 4H camp. The landscape around the lake is quite different from home as the lake area is part of the northern boreal forest. The habitat around the lake includes paper birch, poplars, jack pines, white spruce, sand dunes, and lots of wild blueberries!

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There were quite a few of other berry pickers in the woods, but there were lots of berries go around. My family picked three ice cream pails of blueberries and so far, my mom has made jam, and a blueberry crumb cake, and I made blueberry-cream muffins.

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There weren’t very many birds in the woods, but there were quite a few squirrels,

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This squirrel was nibbling on a pine cone,

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More blueberries,

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I was walking through the woods and came across this active Osprey nest. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the Ospreys on the nest as they flew away as I approached, but I watched them circle the nest for quite some time,

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A close-up of the very large nest,

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The Ospreys were a Year Bird for me, putting my 2014 Year and Alberta lists at 162 species,

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There was a flock of Black-capped Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding in the the pines. There were also a few small songbirds mixed in with the chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers that I wasn’t able to identify as they were difficult to see in the trees.

Here’s my eBird checklist from our adventure of blueberry picking.

Here’s one of the three Dark-eyed Juncos that were feeding in the low shrubs,

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Some of the beautiful trees that surround Moose Lake,

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Don’t Overlook Sparrows!

Some more advanced birders overlook sparrows because they are just “Little Brown Jobs”. For novice birders, sparrows species can very tough to identify. And to others, sparrows don’t have the flashy plumage of warblers or complex songs of orioles. But sparrows are very beautiful birds if you really look at them and take the time to tell them apart.

Where I live, I’m lucky if I see more than five species of warblers a year, so I focus on sparrows instead.

I’ve seen Clay-colored Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Vespers Sparrows, a Harris’s Sparrow, Chipping Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos visiting my feeders at one time or another, and Song Sparrows around our yard. Some of their songs are quite melodious and it’s really fun watch their antics, especially the Savannah Sparrows.

For those who would like some more help with sparrow identification, there’s a very good article by Marcel Gahbauer on telling sparrow species apart, at the Migration Research Foundation/McGill Bird Observatory website.

Chipping Sparrows are very distinct looking sparrow and their song is a long trill,

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White-throated Sparrows have a beautiful song are very easy to identify and the mnemonic for their song is ” O Sweet Canada Canada Canada”,

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Vesper Sparrows are one of the more nondescript sparrows, but their song is very lovely,

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Dark-eyed Juncos are very pretty sparrows, and depending on where you live you might get different variations of juncos,

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One of the first sparrows to arrive in the spring are the White-crowned Sparrows, they don’t stay for long as they are just migrating through. I think they look as if they are wearing bicycle helmets,

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Don’t overlook sparrows because you might find something out of the ordinary! This Harris’s Sparrow stopped at my feeders last month and stayed for a couple of days. I was very excited to see him, because I had never seen a Harris’s Sparrow before and they are uncommon in my area,

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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.

This Dark-eyed Junco was at my grandparents’ yard eating sunflower seeds,

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Must-see birds: October

(I got the idea for a northern Alberta version of “Must-see birds” from Pat Bumstead’s and Bob Lefebvre’s Birds Calgary blog. Matthew Sim, who is another young birder, had the idea for the “Must-see birds” posts and writes them all.)

In October, most of the summer migrants have left, but you might be lucky and see some late migrating shorebirds and warblers. Here are my five must-see birds for October (all photos by me):

1. Dark-eyed Junco

The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium sized sparrow, with a pale pink bill, gray body, and white belly and under tail. I was able to get a lot of photos of the junco,

2. Greater White-fronted Goose

The Greater White-fronted Goose is my new favorite goose species. The GWFG has a mostly brown body, white at the front of the face, pink bill and orange feet. They can be found in flocks of Canada Geese and Snow Geese,

3. Black-bellied Plover

I saw this Black-bellied Plover on Friday, it was my favorite bird of September. The Black-bellied Plover is a medium sized plover: grayish body with white spots, brown cheek patch, white eyebrow and white rump,

4. Horned Lark

The Horned Lark is a medium sized songbird with a brown body, pale yellow throat, black mask, brown cap and ear tufts. The Horned Larks were in the same field as the Black-bellied Plover,

5. Snow Goose

Snow Geese are very beautiful birds. Snow Geese have a white body, black wing tips and pink feet. Here are some on a nearby big slough,