Visiting the Canadian Rockies

Last week we took a short vacation, our first family skiing trip to the Rocky Mountains — known for some of the best downhill skiing in the world. We stayed at Hidden Ridge Resort just outside Banff. It was a real treat because skiing is such great fun and the setting is so incredibly beautiful.

I was also excited about the photography opportunities and birding. There were a few species I was hoping to see and add to my Life List: Mountain Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Dipper, Stellar’s Jay, Northern Pygmy Owl (a slim chance for this species, but worth a try), and American Three-toed Woodpecker.

The first two days in the mountains, my brothers and I skied all day at Sunshine Village, a 20 minute drive from Banff. As we drove to Sunshine on the first morning, I was looking at the scenery and as we turned onto the Sunshine EXIT, there was a Northern Pygmy Owl sitting at the top of a tree! I saw it for only a few seconds but long enough to ID it. It was one of the first birds of the trip and certainly a special one.

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Taken with my iPhone 6

I had only my iPhone when we were skiing and to the chagrin of my brothers would stop and get a few shots of the mountains on the way down the runs,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

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Taken with my iPhone 6

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Taken with my iPhone 6

The mountains are breathtaking and the skiing was terrific. From one of the chairlifts, I saw my second lifer of the trip — Clark’s Nutcrackers below us in the spruce trees.

The second day of skiing I saw Mountain Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills on the mountains,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

The final two days I went birding instead of skiing. My parents and I dropped my brothers off at Lake Louise and then drove to the Chateau Lake Louise. The last time we were in the mountains and visited the lake, I was 18 months old, so I don’t remember anything.

We pulled into the parking lot at the hotel and immediately saw Clark’s Nutcrackers at very close range,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 1000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

They sit on parked vehicles hoping to get a meal from the visitors,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

It was an overcast day, but the snow and vistas were lovely. It’s truly a winter wonderland,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

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Taken with my iPhone 6

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Taken with my iPhone 6

My parents and I walked quite a ways down the lake, this is a view of the Chateau from the sleigh ride path,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

The heavy snow blankets everything,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

I believe this is black tree lichen growing on the branches,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back near the Chateau, Clark’s Nutcrackers were everywhere,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

I had to back up to get the whole Nutcracker in the frame, because they get so close,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

There were also Grey Jays which weren’t as curious as the Nutcrackers and stayed at the top of the spruce trees,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

An inukshuk made of snow outside the Chateau,

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Taken with my iPhone 6

We took a swing through the Chateau were we stayed 17 years ago. My dad remembered that I called the mounted Caribou on the wall “bearabou” at the time.

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Taken with my iPhone 6

Stay tuned for more posts and photos about my adventures in the Rockies! 

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.

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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.

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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

Vermilion Bird Book Signing

Celebrated Alberta biologist and author Myrna Pearman will be in Vermilion on Saturday, December 12th for two book signings for her latest edition of Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide.

BBF front coverThe first signing will be at Main Street Hardware, in the Vermilion Mall, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Main Street Hardware/Peavey Mart is one of the book’s sponsors, and I’ve found it to be one of the best sources in town for bird seed and bird feeders.

The second signing will be at the Vermilion Public Library, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Myrna is a nature photographer and writer, and has been the biologist and site services manager at the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe, Alberta, since 1986. All proceeds from the sale of the guide go to support programs at the Ellis Bird Farm.

The book has been completely updated and revised since the first edition was published in 1991. The new guide covers feeding birds in all seasons, how to deal with unwanted visitors at your station, bird feeding myths, and much more. It includes lots of colour photographs (including one I took, of a Northern Shrike!).

The signings are a wonderful opportunity to meet Myrna and ask any bird feeding questions you might have. And the book makes a great Christmas present for nature lovers of all ages, and is helpful for getting young children and seniors more involved in the outdoors.

Please come join Myrna for the signing and don’t forget you bird/bird feeding questions!

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Myrna at the first book signing on November 15th. Photo by the Ellis Bird Farm

“Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide” Giveaway Reminder!

BBF front coverThere are two days days left to enter my giveaway for a copy of the brand new Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide

To enter the giveaway, please comment on this post down below (or on my previous one) with the name of your favourite feeder bird or feeder species.

For a second entry, head over to my Facebook page Prairie Birder as well as the Ellis Bird Farm’s Facebook page and “Like” them both. For a third entry, use the hashtag  on Twitter. For a fourth entry, share my original post on Facebook (linked here) to your Facebook page/wall.

Please mention below in your comment that you have “Liked”, shared, or tweeted (if you’ve already liked our pages, that still counts).

The deadline to enter is this Saturday, December 5th. After a random draw, I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, December 6th.

By the way, for those in the Vermilion area, you’ll have the chance to meet the author, Myrna Pearman, and get your autographed copy of the book on Saturday, December 12th, in Vermilion. details to come soon!

Good luck to everyone!

Giveaway Contest for “Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide”

BBF front coverI’m thrilled to announce a giveaway for the new book Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Myrna Pearman. Myrna is a nature photographer and writer, and has been the biologist and site services manager at the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe, Alberta, since 1986. All the proceeds from the sale of the guide go to support programs at the Ellis Bird Farm.

The book has been completely updated and revised since the first edition was published in 1991. The new guide covers feeding birds in all seasons, how to deal with unwanted visitors at your station, bird feeding myths, and much more.

I’m honoured to have a photograph in the guide — my Northern Shrike picture on page 57; anyone with a photo in the guide received a complimentary copy. When I was emailing back and forth with Myrna earlier this fall, I asked about the possibility of a copy to give away on my blog, and Mynra very generously sent along a second one, also autographed.

To enter the giveaway, please comment on this post below with your favourite feeder bird or feeder species.

For a second entry, head over to my Facebook page Prairie Birder as well as the Ellis Bird Farm’s Facebook page and “Like” them both. For a third entry, use the hashtag  on Twitter. For a fourth entry, share my original post on Facebook (linked here) to your Facebook page/wall.

Please mention below in your comment that you have “Liked”, shared, or tweeted (if you’ve already liked our pages, that still counts).

The deadline to enter is Saturday, December 5th. After a random draw, I’ll announce the winner on Sunday, December 6th.

Good luck to everyone!

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.

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

Call for Photos — “Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide”

Myrna Pearman, manager and biologist at the Ellis Bird Farm (EBF) in southern Alberta, is updating EBF’s now out-of-print Winter Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide. The revised book, to be called Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide, will cover the feeding of wild birds through all seasons for the province of Alberta.

Myrna is looking for photographs of the following species to include in the book:

Species:

Clark’s Nutcracker
Baltimore Oriole (male and female)
Varied Thrush
Wild Turkey
Gray Catbird
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Harris’s Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Gray –crowned Rosy-finch
Golden-crowned Kinglet

Preferably on/at feeding stations or birdbaths:

Black Bear
Weasel, any species
Saw-whet owl
American Crow
Ruffed Grouse
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-bellied/Red-naped Sapsucker
Flying Squirrel
Northern or Loggerhead Shrike
Red-winged Blackbird (male and female)

Other:

Bald Eagle on roadkill
Townsend’s Solitaire at a birdbath
Mobbing behaviour by feeder birds
Crows washing/dipping food in a birdbath
Any bird bathing in winter
Any bird drinking at a birdbath
Any bird eating grit/oyster shell/eggshells
Feeder bird (preferably Blue Jay) in moult
Displacement behaviour at a feeding station
Cat at or around feeder, or with bird or small mammal in mouth
Woodpeckers pecking at siding/window sills (causing damage)
Any interesting/unusual feeder bird/birdbath behaviour

If you have photos of some of the species listed, please send them to mpearman@ellisbirdfarm.ca no later than January 31, 2015. The final photo selection for the book is February 28, 2015.

Selected photos will be published in the book, and the photographer will be credited and will also receive a complimentary copy of the guide.

The guide is expected to be published in May 2015.

Here’s a photo I submitted — a Harris’s Sparrow from 2013,

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