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


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.

A Hairy Woodpecker in my grandmother’s yard during the Vermilion CBC last Sunday,


More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Woodpeckers Come in Threes

On Saturday, I went out for a walk around the slough across the road from our house. The weather was fairly cold -15 C (5F), but luckily there was no wind so it was quite a pleasant walk. Even thought it’s still the beginning of November, winter has set in on the Canadian prairies; the sloughs are covered with ice, snow has blanketed the ground, and most animals have migrated to warmer places or are hibernating. On my two and a half hour walk, I saw only seven bird species: Downy Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Raven, Pileated Woodpecker, and Hairy Woodpecker.

This is the first walk  I’ve taken where I saw all three species of woodpeckers occuring in our area. I was able to get fairly good photos of the Downy and Hairy, but not the Pileated! It flew away before I could take a photograph. The Pileated Woodpecker could be considered a nemesis bird for me because I’ve never been able to get a photo of one. Hopefully on my next walk I’ll see another one and finally get a photo.

Some photos from my walk:

A view of the slough and woods,


This Downy Woodpecker was tapping away on some cattails,



I found this Meadow Vole hiding in the snow,


A young Whitetail buck jumping over the silt fencing that was put up to keep amphibians away from the pipeline activity in the summer,


Snow covered woods,


A male Hairy Woodpecker flew into the same bunch of trees just as the Pileated flew off,



Must-see birds: January

(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.)

January, a new month, a new year, and new birds. January is very similar to December bird-wise, so I don’t have much to write about January, other than one is still able to find many different species of birds in the cold winter months. Here are my two Must-see birds for January (all photos by me):

1. Common Redpoll 
The Common Redpoll is a small finch with a red cap, black chin and lores, boldly streaked flanks and undertail coverts. Redpolls can be found at feeders that people have provided or feeding on birch seeds,
2. Hairy Woodpecker
Unfortunately I don’t get Hairy Woodpeckers at my feeders but my grandmother does. The Hairy Woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a longer bill than a Downy Woodpecker and a contrasting black-and-white body,

Christmas Bird Count Results

I had a wonderful Christmas Bird Count this year. I counted with two friends, we started at 9:30 am and went until 12 noon. We would have gone longer but one of our counters had to go to a hockey game in the afternoon.

We started by going around to the acreages by my house. We were able to count five House Sparrows, 16 Common Redpolls, three Black-capped Chickadees, and two Black-billed Magpies. After the acreages, we drove to my grandparents house. On the way there, we found six magpies feeding on a dead Gray Partridge, and one of the best finds of the day, a Rough-legged Hawk sitting on a power pole. At my grandparents, we counted one Pine Grosbeak, one Common Raven, 23 Common Redpolls, and I was the only one to catch a very brief glimpse of a Snowy Owl flying through the yard. After birding around the yard, we went into the house and there, while looking out of the kitchen window we counted 24 Black-capped Chickadees, two Downy Woodpeckers and one Hairy Woodpecker feeding at my grandmother’s feeders. On the way back to my house on the same road we had traveled before, we picked up five Rock Pigeons at a farm yard. And about four miles from my house I spotted a Bald Eagle, a very good find!

Altogether this year’s Christmas Bird Count was very good, a lot of common species and a couple rare ones. And I can’t wait to see what next year will bring!

Here are some photos of my CBC:

Rough-legged Hawk,

Pine Grosbeak at my grandparents,

Common Redpoll,

Hairy Woodpecker at my grandmother’s feeder,

Downy Woodpecker,

Bald Eagle,