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.


Remembering Owler #1


Mr. Cromie holding a Great Grey Owl

The Alberta birding community lost a great naturalist and birder over the weekend.

Ray Cromie was a retired Sherwood Park school teacher and vice principal. He studied owls in northern Alberta for many years and in the 1980s he became a master owl bander.

I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cromie, but many birders across the province had the chance to learn from his extensive knowledge about birds, especially owls.

Gerald Romanchuk, a member of the Edmonton Nature Club (ENC) posted this thoughtful piece on the Albertabird listserv and ENC Discussion Group remembering Mr. Cromie:

Ray was a long-time and very beloved member of the Edmonton Nature Club. He was a recipient of the club’s Edgar T. Jones Conservation Award and Nature Alberta’s Loren Gould Award.

Ray was probably best known as a owl and raptor bander. He banded thousands of owls over the years. Many Edmonton-area birders were lucky to experience Ray’s generosity. Hundreds of us saw lifers of several hard-to-find owl species directly because of Ray’s guidance.

Besides being an expert on owls, Ray was a very knowledgeable all around naturalist. He could just as easily talk to you about warblers, or butterflies, or plants, as the nesting habitat of Saw-whet Owls.

Ray was a tireless volunteer. He was always giving presentations to all sorts of groups. He led countless owling field trips for the ENC. The trips were always very popular. Folks got to get an up close look at the whole procedure of finding, catching, processing, and banding birds like Great Gray and Hawk Owls. His owl display at the club’s annual Snow Goose Chase was always a big hit with all the children.

But more importantly than any owls was the way Ray showed us, by shining example, how to be a great leader, mentor, and teacher. And how to be a good, generous person. And he did it all with an awesome and charming sense of humour.

If you’d like to learn a little more about Mr. Cromie, he was featured in an article from 2005 in the Edmonton Nature News, which can be found here

My deepest sympathies to Mr. Cromie’s family and friends. He will be missed by many.

Nature Alberta Youth Award

Nature Alberta has introduced Youth Awards this year, for young naturalists ages 6-11 and 12-17, and is looking for nominations for award recipients. The deadline for nominations is October 15th, 2015. Nature Alberta is aware of the short notice, but the executive staff are hoping to present the award at the 45th anniversary gala on November 7th, 2015.

If you know of a deserving young Alberta naturalist, please nominate him or her in order recognize young Albertans who are making a difference in conservation efforts and nature awareness.

Nature Alberta’s criteria for the Youth Award:

There are two categories for nomination for the Nature Alberta (FAN) Youth Award based on age:
Ages 6-11
Ages 12-17

Youth members of any member group or affiliate group related to Nature Alberta are eligible for nomination. This includes the program group NatureKids.

Youth nominees are expected to be active participants and members of their local nature club, or affiliate club.

Nominees will have experienced, appreciated, and enjoyed Alberta’s natural resources through regular activities of the club.

Youth nominees will have illustrated an ongoing interest in learning about Alberta’s natural resources and natural elements of Alberta’s wild environment relevant to their age and abilities.

A letter of support will accompany the nomination. It should outline the nominee’s participation and growth as a young naturalist and reasons for the club’s nomination of that individual. It will be submitted by email to the chairperson of the Awards committee by a member of the club who is making the nomination for the Award.

A person wishing to nominate a youth member will not be a family member of the nominee.


(Above, a photo I took last December during the Christmas Bird Count of two young helpers!)

Snow Goose Chase 2013

Last year was my first time to attend the Tofield Snow Goose Chase, organized by the Edmonton Nature Club, and I had a wonderful time! Not too long after the Chase I had an email from Mr. Parsons, the ENC’s  Special Events Co-ordinator, who had invited me to the Chase in the first place, and who does so much of its organization. He had an idea for this year, to include a Young Naturalists’ Corner, and asked if I could help with the organization beforehand, and then working at the table. I thought it was a wonderful idea and started planning for the table last May.


At this year’s Snow Goose Chase — this past Saturday, April 27th — there were some terrific displays at the Tofield Community Centre, including four live raptors from the Edmonton Valley Zoo; Alberta’s own John Acorn, the celebrated naturalist and entomologist whose enthusiasm on Saturday was infectious; a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; an incredible variety of touchable animal pelts from trapper Bill Abercrombie of Alberta Trapline Adventures; Royal Alberta Museum ornithology curator Jocelyn Hudon with the always fascinating mounted bird specimens (including a beautiful Scarlet Ibis); a table from the Beaverhill Bird Observatory; a display of various live and preserved reptiles and amphibians (including some of the preserved ones in water for the kids to touch), and a display of bird and animal carvings from the Boag Lake Carving Studio.

Considering it was our first year, the Young Naturalists’ Corner seemed to be very popular with all the kids and their families. In fact, there were nine buses of kids and their families, so it was almost overwhelming at times with so many people. Bob arranged for Andrea, a student, to help out, and our mothers were there as well, and also Petra Rowell, the executive director of Nature Alberta, with whom we shared the space.

We had some great door prizes to give away including two new children’s birding and nature books:  Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013) and The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, and illustrated by Rachel Riordan. Annette donated three autographed copies of Look Up!, which was an amazing gift for the Corner, and Ken sent along some promotional bookmarks for The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book — thank you Annette and Ken. Both titles were among the stars of the Young Naturalists’ Corner, with kids reading through the books and hoping to win them, and parents and grandparents writing down the titles and authors. Petra and Nature Alberta donated a number of things too, including several toy/plush Ord’s Kangaroo Rats!

We all answered questions from kids and their parents, about how to start your own local nature club for the summer, where to find nature in the city, joining Nature Alberta’s “Young Naturalist Club” program, for kids ages 5-13. They loved guessing what animal had shed the antlers (White-tail Deer) and holding them up on top of their heads. Lots of the kids asked, “What are these books for?” or “Where can we get them?” So we told them that the books, which you can find at the library or a bookstore, are great for learning more about the animals they would see, and experiences they would have, at the Chase.

Bob did a wonderful job organizing everything and also taking time to help me with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. Thank you again, Bob, for everything — especially for asking to me to be part of such a wonderful day. It’s an honor to be asked to join everyone who works so hard to put on such an amazing experience.

I saw two first-of-season species while my parents and I were driving around Tofield: a large flock of Sandhill Cranes and five Canvasbacks. I also saw one male Mountain Bluebird as we were approaching Tofield in the morning, also 10 Red-tailed Hawks, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls.

Below are some pictures my mother and I took last Saturday:

The Young Naturalists’ Corner’s banner, especially made for this year’s Chase,


Here I am with John Acorn and Andrea who was helping me at the YNC,



Mounted waterbirds from the ornithology collection at Royal Alberta Museum,


Here is part of our table with all the prizes and pamphlets from Bird Studies Canada and Nature Alberta, and some of the books I’ve written about in the past few weeks,


A deer skull and a pair of antlers (both from White-tail Deer) we brought from home for the table (sorry for the blurry photo, my mom didn’t have her reading glasses on at the time!),


A beautiful carved Green-winged Teal from the Boag Lake Carving Studio,



Kids admiring the carvings at the Boag Lake Carving display,


The Cows, Fish, Cattledogs, and Kids display,


An Alberta crawfish (Orconectes virilis) in the pond life display,



A young Peregrine Falcon,


Even though we see thousands of Snow Geese in the slough across the road from our house, what would be a Snow Goose Chase without going to see some Snow Geese around Tofield?! Because of our late Spring the geese were a little harder to find, but we saw some very large flocks and I got some very good views, thanks to my scope!

Some digiscoped photos of the geese,