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

“Backyard Bird Feeding” Book Signing

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I made this poster for the signing and posted them around town.

I’ve been meaning to post about biologist and author Myrna Pearman‘s Vermilion book signing this past December for some time now, but December, January, and February have been so busy between holidays, school, and activities.

Myrna’s new book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guidewas published late last year.  During November and the early part of December, Myrna traveled around Alberta to various Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware Stores for book signings; Peavey Mart is one of the book’s sponsors.

Having corresponded with Myrna about photos for the book, I was looking forward to meeting her and so emailed her to ask if she might be coming to Vermilion for a signing.

The powers that be weren’t sure that there would be enough interest in our small town, so the originally scheduled signing had been cancelled. I told Myrna I would see if I could gauge interest, and in the end there was enough for a book signing not only at Main Street Hardware but also at our local library. As president of the Vermilion River Naturalist Society, I brought up the signings at our November meeting, and members decided to join the other businesses as a sponsor of the signing.

Fortunately, despite the snow the night before the signing, Myrna made the drive from Lacombe safely. I spent the day with Myrna starting with the first signing at 11 am at Main Street Hardware. There wasn’t an idle moment, with many people getting their books signed and talking to Myrna about the birds in their backyard.

With Vermilion Main Street Hardware manager Ebony (standing), and Myrna (seated, at right). MSH provided us with  feeders and bags of birdseed for the display and also offered coffee and doughnuts.

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We moved our table to the library after a quick lunch. During our time there, we had a bit more time to talk and learned that we are related through marriage — it is such a small world!

Two young naturalists got their book signed and told us their bird stories,

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Our adventure continued on into the evening since Myrna had been invited to the Wainwright Wildlife Society’s annual Christmas supper. She gave a presentation about the important work the Ellis Bird Farm does, and a slideshow of her amazing bird and mammal photos.

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With Laurence Hoover, the president of the Wainwright Wildlife Society

Knowing it was going to be a long day with a long ride back to Lacombe, my mother had invited Myrna to spend the night, so we had more time to talk in the evening and then in the morning over breakfast.

After knowing Myrna only through email correspondence, it was very nice to finally meet her in person.

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One of the local papers interviewed Myrna about her book

I’d like to thank Main Street Hardware, the Vermilion Public Library, and everyone who came out for the book signing!

An Autographed Peterson and “The Birds of Alberta”

My Facebook friend Michael sent me a message last May to offer me his copies of Birds of Alberta by W. Ray Salt and Jim R. Salt and an autographed second edition of Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds (1961).

Since Michael lives in Edmonton, he dropped the books off at the Wild Bird General Store from where I picked them up a few days later. I’ve recently had the chance to spend more time reading through them. It’s wonderful to have them in my collection. Thank you very much for such a generous gift, Michael, and for thinking of me.

Michael told me that the autographed Peterson Field Guide was previously owned by the late Dr. Otto Hohn of the University of Alberta, an avid birder and international expert on avian endocrinology. My mother just got me a copy of one of Dr. Hohn’s books, A Northern Naturalist, which I’m also looking forward to reading. Thank you, too, Michael, for the introduction to Dr. Hohn.

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The autographed page,

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It’s facinating reading through Dr. Hohn’s checklist in the guide,

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Book Review: “Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean”

Guide to OwlsThe Peterson Reference Guide to Owls by Scott Weidensaul is my first owl-specific guide and my first volume in their “reference guide” series, and what a wonderful introduction to both.

The book covers all 39 species of owls found in North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. This is a very comprehensive, authoritative, and beautifully illustrated book which has everything you need to know about owls. Because it’s hardcover, it would also be a great coffee-table book.

Scott Weidensaul is a co-founder of Project Snowstormthe research project that bands and tracks the movements of owls that appeared in the recent irruptive years; he is a co-director of Project Owlnet, a project with almost 125 banding and research stations across North America studying owl migration; and for nearly 20 years he has directed major studies on Northern Saw-Whet Owls.

The first part of the guide is the “How to use this book” section which covers a longevity, alpha codes, how to read the range maps, the topography, and explanations for such terms as reversed sexual dimorphism (where “females may be 20 or 30 percent larger than males”).

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The next and largest section is the Species Accounts. The accounts range in length from three to 17 pages, representing the knowledge and research available on that species.

Each Species Account includes both English and scientific names, and the banding (alpha) code. Measurements, longevity, and a general description of the species follow. There are more detailed sections on Systematics, Taxonomy & Etymology, Distribution, Description & Identification, Vocalizations, Habitat & Niche, Nesting & Breeding, Behavior, and Status. At the end of each species accounts, there are Notes and Bibliography for further reading and research.

Each account contains a up-to-date range map and there are also subspecies distribution maps for Spotted Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Eastern and Western Screech-Owls.

One of the best parts of the book is the photos — there are 340 color photos included in the guide. I have an awful time getting photos of owls, so I take my hat off to the many photographers who spent time capturing the behaviour of theses secretive and hard to photograph birds. The easier owl species to find are represented with lots of great photos while lesser-know owls such as the Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl have only one photo.

As owls are generally heard more than seen, much emphasis has been put on the vocal descriptions which are very detailed and descriptive. However, I find the best way to learn the calls is to actually listen to recordings. The author and publishers have put together a list for anyone interested in audio with 86 owl vocalizations which you can download for free from the Cornell’s Macaulay Library of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — a wonderful bonus!

The Acknowledgments section includes a list of all the researchers, photographers, and even citizen scientists who helped with the book. Next is the Glossary where you can find all the owl terms mentioned in the book.

There are five pages of General Bibliography listing published papers, ornithological articles, and citations; these are primarily paper versions but there are some links to online sources too. The index includes species and subspecies names, both English and scientific. Pages for photographs, maps, and captions can be found in a bold font.

Even though much of the information is technical, Mr. Weidensaul’s style is very engaging and easy to read. One of my favourite sentences is from the Northern Pygmy-Owl: “Northern Pygmy-Owls rather famously lack a sense of proportion when it come to picking their prey.” And the back of the book is as helpful and comprehensive as the front.

For anyone interested in owls and their ecology and behaviour, the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean is a must-have. It’s incredibly well-written and well-designed, with informative text, and the photos bring each species to life. This book deserves a special place on the shelf or coffee table. This is a really wonderful book, and I’m hoping it will help me change my bad luck with owls.

I’d like to thank my good friend Ray of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds for sending me a copy of this guide.

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Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide Winner!

After a random draw, congratulations to Aislinn, the winner of the holiday giveaway of an autographed copy of the new book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Myrna Pearman!

Thank you to everyone who entered. And thank you to Myrna, of the Ellis Bird Farm, for providing the book and making the giveaway possible.

Happy birding/feeding with your new book, Aislinn!

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!