The Christmas Bird Count, a Lifer & The Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids)

This past Sunday was the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Vermilion area. The weather was quite nice, probably the warmest CBC I’ve participated in. The temperature was just under -10 degrees C  without any wind, which made the birding much more enjoyable than in previous years. It was also quite foggy and the hoarfrost on the trees was beautiful.

The Vermilion CBC is split up into the usual four quadrants — SW, SE, NE, NW — as well as the Town, College, and Reservoir.

I live in the NW quadrant, so I cover this area every year with a friend who lives nearby.

Sharon picked me up at 9 am and we both decided to head straight for my grandmother’s yard. On the way over, we saw a flock of Snow Buntings, and some Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies.

At my grandmother’s, we watched the birds in almost constant motion as they flew to the many feeders in her yard; three Downy Woodpeckers, two Hairy Woodpeckers, 26 Black-capped Chickadees, two White-breasted Nuthatches, a wary Blue Jay and three Black-billed Magpies were all the species we counted just in the yard.

We shared mugs of hot chocolate and ate Toffifee while looking out the kitchen windows. My grandmother spotted a Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the ground underneath a spruce tree. She said a pair of Juncos had been hanging around her feeders, so it was very nice to see one on count day.

A Blue Jay enjoying peanuts at one of my grandmother’s feeding stations.

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One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,

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The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,

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I’ve never seen a Dark-eyed Junco in December before, so it was exciting to be able to add one to our list,

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My grandmother has been regularly seeing a Snowy Owl on the road just south of her house. We drove down that road where the Snowy Owl was supposed to be, but unfortunately didn’t see it. The only birds we did see were two Common Ravens and one Black-billed Magpie.

We drove through town and saw a large flock of Rock Pigeons then headed down to the Vermilion River on the old bridge where there is currently open water. In some years there’ve been a few ducks on the river during the Christmas Bird Count, so I was hoping there would be some again this year. We didn’t see anything at first, but then I saw something flying towards us. It landed on the river right in front of us, and it was a drake Mallard.

A Mallard in the river and snow on the edge,

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We finished ups after three hours of birding and counting since Sharon had another event at noon, and I had to be at provincial park for the CBC4Kids at 1 pm.

In three hours of birding with Sharon we saw 12 species of birds: Snow Bunting, Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Rock Pigeon, Northern Shrike, and Mallard. We also counted the two mammals we saw: a Meadow Vole and a Muskrat.

I had a quick lunch at home and then headed out the park to lead the first CBC4Kids for Vermilion as well as for the province of Alberta! Joining me for the walk were four very excited young birders/naturalists and their parents; we were also happy to have Emily from the local office of Alberta Fish & Wildlife come along. Even though the weather was very nice, perhaps because of the heavy fog, the birds didn’t seem very active — at least where we were. Black-capped Chickadees were feeding in the trees along the trails and two squirrels were chasing each other around a spruce tree. Common Ravens were performing aerial acrobatics and a White-breasted Nuthatch called from a tall spruce.

At one of the benches in the park everyone posed for a photo,

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Playing in the snow,

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As we headed back to the CN Station, five birds flew overhead, and at first I thought they were Bohemian Waxwings. When they landed in some nearby trees I could see that they weren’t waxwings, but Pine Grosbeaks.

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On one of the trails leading to the parking lot, we could hear the tapping of a woodpecker on a tree. Listening, we followed the sound until we were finally able to get a good look. It wasn’t the expected and usual  Hairy or Pileated Woodpecker, but something entirely different. We were able to get great looks at the bird as it was completely absorbed in stripping the bark from the dead spruce tree looking for grubs and insects.

We identified the bird as a female Black-backed Woodpecker,

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This woodpecker species is a little south of its usual range, since Black-backed Woodpeckers usually stick to boreal forest, especially areas with burned trees.

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Watching the bird of the day, and lifer for all,

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We saw seven species in total in the park and the two squirrels. The CBC4Kids was lots of fun and I hope we can hold the event again next year.

In the evening, there’s always a CBC potluck supper in town where everyone shares stories from the day and our compiler tallies the count numbers. Here are the official count numbers:

CBC count day:

Snow Bunting – 140
Black-capped Chickadee – 461
Rock Dove – 174
Northern Flicker – 2
Pine Grosbeak – 37
Blue Jay – 21
Dark-eyed Junco – 1
Black-billed Magpie – 189
Mallard – 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 2
White-breasted Nuthatch – 27
Snowy Owl – 2
Gray Partridge – 24
Common Raven – 49
Common Redpoll – 9
Northern Shrike – 1
House Sparrow – 265
Bohemian Waxwing – 90
Downy Woodpecker – 33
Hairy Woodpecker – 15
Merlin – 1
Woodpecker species – 1 (the Black-backed Woodpecker)

Total Species – 21 Total Individuals – 1,544

Count Week:

American Robin – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 2
House Finch – 12

Christmas Bird Counts around North America run up until January 15th — CBCs are excellent ways to meet other birders in your area as well as to add some new winter species to your list. And you might even find a lifer.

:: Find more CBC4Kids events here

:: Find CBC events across Canada here

:: Find CBC events across the U.S here

 

Washington, DC Trip Report

It’s been over a month since my trip to Washington, but the memories are still fresh in my mind and I’ve been meaning to share my adventures with all my readers.

My dad and I left for the airport in Edmonton on Wednesday evening, November 6th, as our flight was very early the next morning. From Edmonton, we had a three-hour long stopover in the Minneapolis airport.

I found that the Minneapolis airport is a nice place to kill time — stores, restaurants, and a sky bar with iPads to borrow and a place to charge your own iPads!  We got into Washington in the evening and took the Metro from the airport to the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill Affinia, where we dropped off our bags and headed to Legal Sea Foods for supper — I had a steamed lobster (my favourite) and dad had fish and chips. The supper was wonderful, but we both desperately needed sleep.

We woke up on Friday around 9am, then walked to the Natural History Museum to look at the exhibits before the radio show. One of my favourite exhibits was The “Once There Were Billions” display, located in the museum’s main hall. Behind the glass of the exhibit are Carolina Parakeets, Heath Hens, a Great Auk, and three Passenger Pigeons, including Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon. The display was both fascinating, and very sad.

These small-scale bronze sculptures of the extinct North American are part of the Lost Bird Project. The large sculptures are on display in the Smithsonian Gardens until March 15th, 2015.

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The Heath Hen, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet display,

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A beautiful poster explaining the exhibit and I love that the poster includes a QR code,

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The Great Auk display,

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Martha is on the left (11), a study skin (12), and a Passenger Pigeon male with seed (10),

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Henry the Elephant in the rotunda of the museum,

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We spent four hours touring the rooms and halls of the museum; the Hope Diamond, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, and the mounted mammals were all highlights for me! Back at the hotel, we both had a nap, then went for an early supper. The restaurant was Cafe Berlin and we both enjoyed our meal very much, and dad his draft beer.

Saturday morning, Mark and Sharon arrived at the hotel where we sat down in the hotel restaurant had some chocolate chip scones and did some catching up. We were meeting Ray and his friend Catherine at the museum’s theatre at noon, where the show was going to be broadcast from.

The Qrius Theatre is large, (holding about 100 people), but very intimate, with lovely green seats — it’s a very nice space.

After looking around the theatre, Ray and Catherine went to the hotel to drop off their bags, but Dad, Mark, Sharon, and I took a quick tour of the museum.

Outside, the day was so sunny and warm, perfect for a walk to the Washington Monument as we all wanted to get a closer look at it.

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A view of the Capital Building from the monument,

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Sharon took this photo of me in front of the monument — thanks Sharon,

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On the walk back to the hotel we passed the Capitol Building which was under some construction,

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Just like New York, squirrels are everywhere,

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The trees around Washington were beautiful — oaks, elms, and maples with leaves of gold, red, yellow, and green,

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Saturday evening we all had supper at one of the restaurants in Union Station, it was a wonderful get together.

Sunday morning was the big day! The radio show started at nine, but we all got to the theatre at seven — setting up everything we would need for the show.

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People started to arrive at around 8:30, including the show’s guest, Dr. Bruce Beehler, who is an ornithologist, ecologist and naturalist based in the Division of Birds in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Beehler is one of the authors of the Birds of New Guinea which was recently released as a seconded edition by Princeton University Press.

At nine the show started Listen the the full show here (you can also listen here on tumble and here on iTunes). Ray played a clip of my first call in to the show four years ago, he talked to Dr. Bruce Beehler about his book and crossbills, and I was very honoured to read the clues for the show’s mystery bird contest.

You can find more photos from the 500th show here on a previous blog post.

photo courtesy of Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds (Facebook)

photo courtesy of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (Facebook)

Thanks to the Talkin’ Birds Crew for signing my copy of the show’s program,

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After the show, Ray had a short slideshow that everyone enjoyed thoroughly, then a short Q and A with the audience. It was a wonderful show and I meet wonderful people.

One of the birders who attended the show was Nick who writes at The Birdest. Nick asked if I wanted to join his friend Zach and Emily. The four of us walked to the reflecting pool where Canada Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards were all feeding. I spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead and Nick saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk with the eagle. 

I was a nice walk with some good birds — thanks Nick, Zach, and Emily!

Here’s our eBird checklist from our walk.

A drake Mallard,

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Back at the museum, we took a cab to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for brunch/lunch,

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Thanks to Catherine for this photo

Thanks to our waitress at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for taking a photo of all of us,

Thanks to our waitress at the Hawk 'n' Dove for taking a photo of all of us

From brunch/lunch, Ray, Catherine, Dad and I walked back to the hotel.

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Pansies near the Capitol,

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Squirrel in the pansies,

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This Northern Mockingbird was perching and eating berries in a tree near Union Station,

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One of the many Blue Jays around the city,

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Right near the Capitol Building is the United States Botanic Gardens, which houses almost every fern, tree, orchid, and cactus you can think of.

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I had an excellent time in Washington D.C. for the 500th radio show at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

2013 in Review

Looking back on the past 12 months, I did a lot of bird-y things in 2013 — helping out with the Edmonton Nature Club’s Young Naturalists’ Corner at the Snow Goose Chase, raising money for Bird Studies Canada and my local naturalist society with the Baillie Birdathonbirding in Central Park, a month-long internship in Ontario helping with fall migration monitoring, working on my Young Birder of the Year projects, and the Alberta Birds Facebook group I started in 2012 is up to 763 members, including lots of great birders and photographers.

A Savannah Sparrow (digiscoped) in June,

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I added 31 new species to my Life List, putting it at 266 species. I was a little disappointed with my Alberta List, since I saw only 137 species compared to 154 last year. For my Year List, I saw 22 mammal species and 210 bird species.

On of my lifers this year — a Harris’s Sparrow that showed up at my feeders this past spring,

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I added a new species to my humble yard list — a Blue Jay which stayed for only a few minutes in October, but I was very excited to see it,

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A Double-crested Cormorant in Central Park in July,

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Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

One morning last week, I woke up to the sound of a Blue Jay outside. I thought I was dreaming because we don’t have the right habitat for Blue Jays around our house, but when I looked out the window there was indeed a Blue Jay! Their colors are so beautiful,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts: 

:: From babsje at Great Blue Herons: The Red Tailed Hawk’s Guide to Hitchhikers

Fall Migration Hike

I spent Tuesday from 9 am to 1 pm at the local provincial park to look for Fall migrants.

I started along the river side of the park. The first birds I saw were Black-capped Chickadees, though after looking through the photos, I realized I hadn’t taken any photos of the chickadees. I saw a quite a lot of species, from Yellow-rumped Warblers to Turkey Vultures. I saw 18 species in total: four Pied-billed Grebes, eight Red-necked Grebes, one Double-crested Cormorant, five Mallards, two Gadwalls, 10 Buffleheads, three Turkey Vultures, one Northern Harrier, 15 Ring-billed Gulls, 23 Black Terns, one Belted Kingfisher, one Blue Jay, five American Crows, countless Black-capped Chickadees, three House Wrens, 17 Cedar Waxwings, 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and eight White-throated Sparrows.

Red-necked Grebe,

At first I thought this raptor was a hawk,

It was a Turkey Vulture,

One of the highlights of the trip, a Belted Kingfisher,

Non-breeding Black Tern,