2015 Christmas Bird Count and CBC4Kids

The 26th annual Vermilion Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19th. I’m the president for our local Naturalist Society this year, so I organized the count, made sure we had field counters for each of the quadrants, and also tried to publicize the count in the local papers to encourage more feeder counters and let the community know to expect birders walking around. We had a total of 29 field counters and nine feederwatchers.

My friend Sharon picked me up at 9 am and we drove around our part of the NW Quadrant, stopping at farmyards along the way, checking to see if there were any birds at feeders or in the mature spruce trees surrounding the yards. Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, and Common Ravens were our most seen species, but the Common Redpolls were the most abundant — we saw over 400 in just under two hours.

At 11:30 am we headed to my grandmother’s acreage to see what was at her feeders. We enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate and ate Christmas baking while looking out her kitchen windows. We added two Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers to our list. Three Blue Jays fed from the peanut ring that my grandmother put out.

Downy Woodpecker,IMG_9990

One of the Blue Jays checking out the peanut feeder,IMG_9982 IMG_9983

A male Hairy Woodpecker,IMG_9988

A White-breasted Nuthatch also made a brief appearance,IMG_9997

This year, I organized the second annual Vermilion CBC4Kids in the Vermilion Provincial Park. Sharon dropped me off at home and I drove to town for the CBC4Kids starting at 1 pm. We had seven kids, six parents, and one novice adult birder come out for birding in the park. I talked about the possible species we could see and explained more about the Christmas Bird Count, then we started walking the trails.

A reporter from the one of the local newspapers joined us to cover the CBC4Kids just before we started our walk. Thanks for coming out, Shannon, and for the great article, which I hope encourages other families and young birders to come out. 

Two junior birders, photo courtesty of Shannon O’Connor, The Vermilion Voice.

Two junior birders (photo courtesty of Shannon O’Connor, The Vermilion Voice)

We looked for the large flocks of finches that had been previously reported in the spruce trees, but all we saw for winter finches were two Common Redpolls. Black-capped Chickadees were the most abundant on the walk and one particular bird came very close to the group, so everyone got a good look.

Other than birds, we found snowshoe hare tracks, various bird nests, a willow where a porcupine had stripped the bark off the top branches, and a bunch of trembling aspens that beavers chopped down in the summer or fall and left behind.

Searching for woodpeckers to no avail,IMG_1452

After a climb up a fairly steep hill, we caught our breath and got a group photo,IMG_1450

We finished the walk having traveled over two kilometres and seen six species. Even though the kids were a little tired after the long walk, they all had a good time. I’m looking forward to next year’s CBC4Kids, and think I might lead a walk for beginning adult birders who can’t commit to a whole/half day of counting, but would like to learn more about the wintering birds in Vermilion.

Here’s our list of species from the CBC4Kids walk:

Blue Jay — 1

Black-billed Magpie — 2

Common Raven — 2

Black-capped Chickadee — 38

Bohemian Waxwing  — 35

Common Redpoll — 2

There’s always a CBC potluck supper in town where everyone shares stories from the day, and our compiler tallies the count numbers. From the regular count and the CBC4Kids, counters saw a total of 4,340 individual birds of 41 species, a new record on both counts. Two of the species — a Cooper’s Hawk and a Northern Saw-Whet Owl — were new additions for the count and were both seen in the NE Quadrant.

Christmas Bird Counts around North America run up until January 5th — CBCs are excellent ways to meet other birders in your area as well as to add some new winter species to your list.

:: Find more CBC4Kids events here

:: Find CBC events across Canada here

:: Find CBC events across the U.S here

The Birds of Bourron-Marlotte, France

I went birding a few times around Bourron-Marlotte (population 3,000) along rue Renoult, where we stayed at a friend’s house; it’s about 90 minutes by car south of Paris. The neighbourhood is very good for birding since it borders the Forest of Fontainebleau, and many yards are well landscaped with mature trees and thick bushes.

A map of the area where we stayed,


The three eBird lists for the birding walks I took on rue Renoult are here, here, and here. And here are some of my favourite photos from our stay:

It rained every time I went birding in Bourron-Marlotte, so many of my photos have water spots or smudges on them, and of course the sky is overcast,



I saw two Crested Tits while in France. They’re very pretty little birds, but the ones I saw both stayed high up in the trees, so my photos don’t do them justice,


In the forest, many fallen logs were covered in moss and fungi,


Chaffinches were all over the forest floor looking for seeds,


Down the road from our friend’s house is a thickly treed yard where I saw many good species. This bird is a Firecrest; it was very quick and difficult to see as it flitted about in the bushes,


Woodpeckers were very common in the woods as there are many mature trees. This is a Great Spotted Woodpecker,


Common Blackbirds are very common around the countryside in France. Although the species name is “blackbird”, this species is in the thrush family and closely related to the American Robin.

Adult blackbirds have an orange-yellow bill while first winter birds have an all-dark bill,


Great Tits were one of the most common species I saw in the village,


While Eurasian Nuthatches look very similar to the Red-brested Nuthatches here at home, they sound very different,


Blue Tits get their name from the blue cap on their head,


This woodpecker is a Middle Spotted Woodpecker, which is distinguished from the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker by the amount of white on the back,


There are two species of treecreepers you can see in France. The one below is a Short-toed Treecreeper which can be identified by white spotting on the wing tips and a long bill, but the songs are probably the best way differentiate the two species.

A Short-toed Treecreeper scaling up a tree,


Along with birds, I also saw some mammals in France including this Red Squirrel; other mammals I saw included Wild Boar, Red Fox, and lots Roe Deer,


Stay tuned for more posts about birding in France and Germany!

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,