The 2016 Snow Goose Chase

After missing last year’s Snow Goose Chase because of 4-H Selections, I was very happy to be able to attend the Chase this year. My mother came with me and we left at 7:30 am to be in Tofield for 9 am.

The weather was a little dreary — cold and rainy — but as they say, it was good weather for ducks. I saw all three species of geese on the drive, American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, a Horned Grebe, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of ducks, and my FoS Double-crested Cormorant.

The displays at the Tofield hall included taxidermied bird mounts from the Royal Alberta Museum, with curator of ornithology Jocelyn Hudon on hand to talk to people; Pete Heule, the Ram’s Bug Room/Live Culture Supervisor and Natural History Outreach Tech, with live insects and reptiles; the Edmonton Nature Club; the Beaverhill Bird Observatory; Nature Alberta and its Nature Kids program; live raptors from the Edmonton Valley Zoo; a pond life display; various pelts from trappers Bill and Duncan Abercrombie of Alberta Trapline Adventures; amazing bird and animal carvings from the Boag Lake Carving Studio; and a table from the University of Alberta ZooManiacs zoological enthusiasts club.

I was at the Young Naturalists’ Corner table again this year, displaying nature books for kids and teens, Bob’s fascinating butterflies of Alberta display; pamphlets from Bird Studies Canada and Ducks Unlimited; and Urban Bio Kits from the City of Edmonton and the Mennonite Centre for newcomers. The kits are guides to help encourage new Canadians to learn about and explore the City’s natural areas.

I’d like to thank all the Edmonton Nature Club members and Snow Goose Chase volunteers for all the time and effort they put into the Chase. A special thank you to Bob who did yet another amazing job organizing everything, and also helping 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.

Our display table with a selection of books from my family library, Bob, and the Edmonton Public Library too,

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The new Nature Kids banner from Nature Alberta,IMG_0008

What would the Snow Goose Chase be without some birding after the activities in the hall? A Dunlin had been reported at the Tofield Quarry earlier in the week, and a Fox Sparrow was seen at Francis Viewpoint the morning of the Snow Goose Chase.

My mother and I went first to the quarry since it’s just a few kilometres south of Tofield. You can see the quarry very well from the road, but in order to get a good view of the birds we drove on the well-used path into the field. The gate was open and there were no “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” signs to be seen, so I thought it would be all right to drive in a few hundred metres. I searched for the Dunlin but couldn’t see one, though there were lots of Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Shovelers, two Northern Harriers, American Avocets, and other ducks and geese. The weather was deteriorating, so after 10 minutes I abandoned the search for the Dunlin.

At Francis Viewpoint I found a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and more Northern Harriers, but no Fox Sparrow. I was skunked on the two birds I was hoping to see, but other than that it was a really lovely day.

A banded female Mountain Bluebird at Francis Point,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

An unbanded male bluebird,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/640, ISO 640, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

Birding Around Heidelberg

(All my Life Birds are noted in bold)

As part of my Germany trip last month, we also planned a side trip to Rome, where we spent three days, with several stops along on the way. My grandmother, my German great aunt (with whom we were staying), and I left Barnstorf on March 6th to spend a few days in Oer-Erkenschwick where my great uncle lives. He showed us around Recklinghausen and area the next day, and our plan was to start driving toward Rome on March 8th. The destination for the day was Heidelberg in the south of Germany, a three-hour trip on the Autobahn from Oer-Erkenschwick.

Before my grandmother and I left for Germany, I had emailed one of my German birding friends, Jochen, whom I’ve known for several years through his blog and mine, and his writing at 10,000 Birds. We didn’t get the chance to meet last year since he lives in the Ulm area which is about six hours from Barnstorf. Jochen works near Heidelberg and since we were traveling through, we were able to co-ordinate times to meet and go birding together.

We decided to meet at the McDonald’s in Heidelberg around noon. We arrived at 12:30 and after introductions, my grandmother, great aunt, and great uncle went inside for a coffee and a rest, while Jochen and I drove to the old Leimen quarry to see the nesting Eurasian Eagle Owl. The owl was sitting on the nest in plain view — if you know where to look. It was such a treat to see the owl, and I took some photos and watched it for a little while before we returned to the McDonald’s. Eagle Owl update #1: as of the end of March, the owls had abandoned the nest and no-one is certain where the adults went or why they gave up on their nest. Eagle Owl update #2: Jochen let me know the other day that the owls have re-nested, so hopefully this nesting attempt will be successful.

The female Eurasian Eagle Owl sitting on her nest,DSC_1667

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After meeting up with my family, I went with Jochen in his car and everyone else followed in my great uncle’s car as we drove to Korsika Island within the old Rhine forest (the former “bayous” of the Rhine). On the drive to the island, Jochen spotted a Black Woodpecker flying over the road! We were incredibly lucky to see it and it was my only sighting of one throughout the whole trip.

There was a chance to see Crested Larks in a residential area along the way. We stopped to look, but there were no larks around.

A Smew had been reported a few days earlier at Korsika Island, so there was a chance it would still be around. We scanned around and found Little Grebes, Common Pochards, Great-crested Grebe, Common Linnets, Great Cormorants, Mallards, and two drake Mandarin Ducks (a lifer for me and now countable in Germany since there is a self-sufficient breeding population), but no Smew.

A view of the Rhine,DSC_1678

A Crested Grebe,DSC_1681

A Great Cormorant,DSC_1696

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A Grey Heron hiding at the edge of the water,DSC_1701

For some reason, on the way into the forest we missed seeing the huge stork nest and the two adult White Storks, but we saw them on the way out of the forest. Their nest is located near the village and along the road so we got out of the vehicle to look at the storks, which didn’t seem to mind our presence.

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Our last stop of the day was at the well-known nature conservation area, Wagbachniederung. The Naturschutzgebiet (nature reserve) Wagbachniederung is located on the right bank of the Rhine in Waghäusel southeast of Speyer, between Mannheim and Karlsruhe and in the eastern part of the valley and covers 224 hectares. The Wagbachniederung was formerly a Rhine loop which was separated from the main stream in a natural way about 8,000 years ago. It is made up of remnants of original Ried and wet meadows, an abandoned gravel pit, and mostly of sewage and sludge ponds from a sugar factory in Waghäusel. The wetland is an important stopover for migratory birds, especially shorebirds.

My relatives visited a nearby monastery while Jochen and I walked around the wetland. We arrived around 3 pm and had just under an hour to bird the Wagbachniederung. Graylag Geese, Canada Geese, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Common Shelducks, three male Red-crested Pochards, Northern Lapwings, Gadwalls, and Mallards were all swimming and feeding by the water. There was a slim chance we could a hear a Water Rail call, and almost on queue, one started calling! Common Reed Buntings also were present, and as our time was running out we moved on.

The male Red-crested Pochards, a Mallard, and a female pochard,DSC_1713

The three males,DSC_1710There’s a pathway lined with shrubs and trees between the bodies of water, and there were some European Goldfinches feeding with a single Lesser Redpoll, which Jochen said is a really good bird for the area and time of year. One of the thrush species I had missed seeing were Song Thrushes and as we passed the tree where the redpoll was feeding, a flock of Song Thrushes flew past.

The redpoll was hiding behind the branches, so my camera couldn’t focus on the bird very well.DSC_1717

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We made it back to the parking lot just after 4. I had a really wonderful time and I’m so glad we had a chance to meet and to go birding together. I’d like to thank Jochen again for making time to show me around. I saw lots of species I couldn’t have seen with out his guidance. I’m hoping we can go birding again soon, Jochen!

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Birding with Bird Boy

Just a few hours before we left last week on our last-minute ski trip to the mountains, I emailed my friend Ethan, whom you might know already as Bird Boy, to let him know I’d be in the area and ask about birding around Banff and Canmore.

As it happened, Ethan and his family were just returning from a trip of their own, so the timing was perfect. Ethan has a couple of posts on his blog about birding in England — you can find them here and here. Ethan’s family invited us to dinner on our last evening and the next morning before we headed out, Ethan showed me around Canmore for some birding. Thank you all very much for your hospitality, a very enjoyable evening, and all the birding!

Ethan and I walked along some of Canmore’s trails and talked about being young birders, the birds we still need to see, and the feral rabbits that are taking over the town!

Along with Banff, Canmore is very nature and outdoor-centric, so there are many good natural areas and walking trails in the city. We saw Mallards, Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Coyote, Red Squirrels, a Pileated Woodpecker, and more. You can find our full eBird checklist here.

The Mallards provided us with some good photography chances and while we watched them, a coyote walked by on the other side of the bank,DSC_1457DSC_1463DSC_1453DSC_1449Mountain Chickadees are more prevalent than Boreal Chickadees, but we got to see a few Boreals up close and I got this shot,DSC_1476Ethan was a terrific guide and it was so nice to spend time birding with him. It’s now your turn, Ethan, to come visit here in the Lakeland region and I’ll show you Sprague’s Pipits, Sandhill Cranes, and maybe a Harris’s Sparrow!IMG_0009

Birding the Fenland Nature Trail

While I was birding the Bow Falls trail on our last day in Banff, I caught up with my parents and went back to our cabin for lunch. After drying my mittens and recharging my camera batteries we drove to the Fenland Nature Trail — the trail is a two-kilometre loop with the river running around it. 

I was dropped off at the north end of the trail on Vermilion Lakes Drive and walked down the path to the bridge that crosses the river. After not being able to find an American Dipper earlier in the day, I was determined to find one before we left. While I saw something fly over the water just as I got to the middle of the bridge, it wasn’t enough for me to ID it as a dipper.

Looking out over the bridge,IMG_0007

I continued down the path finding good numbers of Brown Creepers, Mountain Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a Belted Kingfisher perched on a snag along the river.

This nuthatch along with a second one was foraging underneath a spruce tree,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

A group of about 20 Elk were feeding just off the path,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/3,200, ISO 2500, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This female has a radio collar for tracking her movements,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Completing the two kilometre loop, I was going to try again to find the dipper when — success! An American Dipper was feeding on the far bank and then flew and landed on the close bank on a dead branch. It was fascinating to watch, but when a jogger ran by the bird flew off and I lost sight of it.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Showing its white eyelid,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back down the path was a male American Three-toed Woodpecker flaking off bark,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/400, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The Fenland Nature Trail is a great birding and mammal spot and the walking is very easy. Here’s my eBird checklist for the walk.

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Elk About Town

On our last full day in Banff I decided to go exploring instead of skiing. I left our cabin in the morning shortly after my parents headed out to take my brothers skiing at Lake Louise. Banff is a touristy, nature- and outdoor-centric town, so there are many trails and natural spots in the town. The public transit system — The Roam Bus — makes getting around very easy, and signs are posted everywhere, so it’s very difficult to get lost in and around Banff.

I walked a few blocks from the bus stop to the Bow Falls Trail which borders the Bow River on the south side of Banff. My target birds for the walk — and the trip — were Boreal Chickadees and an American Dipper. 

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Taken with my iPhone 6

I took this photo from the small pedestrian bridge looking west to the Rocky Mountains,

There were Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees. I also saw my lifer Boreal Chickadee in the flock, but all the birds were too hidden in the trees so I didn’t get any photos. I walked along the river’s edge, but it was absent of Dipper life. Here’s my eBird checklist from my walk. I did get some good shots of the mammals on the trails.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,200 ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Just off the path was this big bull Elk. Elk are a very common sight in the town of Banff and throughout the National Park as well. These big ungulates are very habituated to people, but that doesn’t mean people should go near them. They are large wild animals and capable of a lot of damage. If you find yourself around Elk or any other mammals, please give them space.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,640 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The only camera other than my iPhone that I used on the Banff trip was my Nikon D610 with the 200-500mm lens. Because of the very cold weather at home and not having extra time, this was the first time I’ve been able to use the camera and lens for any appreciable amount of time, and I really enjoyed using both. The lens isn’t appropriate for landscape use because of its close focus, but it’s perfect for close-ups of animals.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

There was a second bull Elk on the trail, this one was was feeding and raking his antlers on the small spruce trees,

 

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The ice formations on the river were very interesting,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This photo was taken with my iPhone,IMG_0012

The American Red Squirrels were constantly scolding me, for what I don’t know. Occasionally one would pose long enough for a few photos,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Please stay tuned for the afternoon part of my last day in Banff!

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.

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