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

Review: eBird Mobile App

New birding apps are coming out all the time. One app that looks new, eBird Mobile App, is in fact the Birdseye Log (or BirdLog) with a facelift.

Back in 2012, David Bell’s company, Birds In The Hand, released the BirdLog app. The app was the first and only app to send your birding checklists directly to your eBird account. The Birdseye Log app became so popular that the Cornell Lab and Mr. Bell reached an agreement last year to move the app’s management and development to the eBird team at Cornell.

The revised app, now called eBird Mobile App, can be used worldwide and is available for free on the app store. eBird Mobile sends information directly from your iOS device to your eBird account on the eBird website.
At the moment, the app is available only for iOS devices with the 7.0 update or later. The Android version is in the development stages and should be available soon.I downloaded the eBird Mobile app couple of weeks ago and enjoy it very much, so I thought I should write a review.
The home screen is very clean, fresh, and easy to understand. The first thing you do is tap the start button.

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When you’re ready to pick a location, the app pulls up your established eBird locations or hotspots based on your device’s location, using GPS. You can also create a new location if you’re in a new birding spot. Offline checklists are helpful if there isn’t cell reception.

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Here, I’m choosing a location from the map. If you decide to change your birding location, all you have to do is tap on any of the pin-points,

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After choosing your location, it’s time to set your date and time. Your start time will default to the current day and time, but you can easily change the day or even year if you like. Just scroll down the days, hours, or minutes to set your exact time.

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Once you’ve picked your location and entered the start time, you can record the species you see. The species are listed alphabetically or taxonomically (set your preference in the settings). You can spell out the species name or search by four-letter banding code. For example, the Snow Bunting’s code is SNBU and Black-billed Magpie is BBMA.

Every time you enter a count for a species, the app keeps track and adds to whatever you already have. For example, if  enter “5 BCCH” (Black-capped Chickadees) in the search bar, I then have five Black-capped Chickadees in my checklist. If I see four more later on my walk, I can enter 4 BCCH and then the checklist total will be nine.

Now say I miscounted the chickadees. All I have to do is enter negative numbers and that will subtract the extra birds and give a new corrected total.

You can also add species by tapping on the left-hand side of the bird’s name. You can increase the number of species seen, one tap at a time. This works well if you see only a few birds. However it’s not very practical when entering 1,000 Snow Geese or more. In this case, tap on the right side and you can enter the numbers by keyboard. With this function, you can also add comments to that particular species.

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At the end of your birding, enter the protocol information for your checklist — how long it took, how the observation was made (Travelling, Stationary, or Incidental) along with distance traveled, number of observers in the birding party, and if you’re listing all the birds you saw.

The app keeps track of how long you’ve been birding, but unfortunately not your walking distance (there are other apps that can keep track of that). If you have any extra notes about your checklist, you can add them to the comment box.

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All your checklists, including In Progress and Accepted can be found in the My Checklist part of the app (found on the home screen). You can delete inaccurate or test lists by swiping right to left on the right side of the checklist to show the delete button.

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If you submit a checklist and then decide you want to go back to edit it, the app sends you to the eBird website. This is my only quibble with the app. It would certainly be easier if one could edit the checklist in the app; however, it isn’t a big problem. If I do have to edit, I usually wait to do so on my laptop.

Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Submitting a checklist from the field requires a cell connection, so if you have only WiFi you’ll be unable to enter checklists.

Since I have my new phone with me all the time now, the app makes it very convenient for submitting sightings to eBird. Just last week, I was horseback riding and saw a Rough-legged Hawk flying over our pasture — my first for the fall season. I was able to enter my sighting right from the field. The app is so easy to navigate that you can even use it on the back of a moving horse!

Overall, the app is wonderful and I highly recommend that birders download it on their phones. It’s free, easy to use, and you are contributing to the knowledge of bird distribution and abundance across the world.

You can find the app at the iTunes store here.

Birding at Parc St. Aubin

One of the things that sets France apart from North America is how little towns and cities run into one another. You’ll be driving through one town, but by then you’ll see a sign for the next town, but you’re already in it — there is often no clear distinction between the towns.

One of these little towns is Samoreau, near Fontainebleau. On January 17th, my father and my youngest brother discovered Samoreau’s Parc St. Aubin along the Seine river, while my mother and I caught up on emails at a nearby McDonald’s (it’s very handy for travellers that McDonald’s offers free WiFi).

After we finished at McDonald’s, they picked us up and we drove back to the park. From the parking lot I could see the pond, with six Mute Swans along the bank.

There are walking paths all around the pond, so I set off to see what I could see. Unfortunately, it was another very rainy day so I didn’t bother taking my camera out.

I saw Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, Eurasian Moorhens, Eurasian Coots, and Black-headed Gulls on the water; and Eurasian Blue Tits, Eurasian Treecreepers, a Eurasian Wren European Robins, and Eurasian Blackbirds in the bushes. I also saw what I thought was a Eurasian Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground, but the bird flew away before I could get a good look.

I didn’t make it all around the pond as we had to get going. On the way back to the car, a bird flew overhead and landed in some trees along the river. I looked through my binoculars and saw a Eurasian Jay — a lifer!

I saw 23 species* while birding around the pond; you can view my eBird checklist from my first visit to Parc St. Aubin, here.

The next day, I went back to Parc St. Aubin for more birding. The sun was shining and there seemed to be a good number of birds around. My father dropped me off at the parking lot, and this time I had time to walk around the whole pond. Below are some of the pictures I took.

Male and female Tufted Ducks,

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European Robins have the most beautiful songs,

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There were quite a few Common Pochards on the pond,

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A pair of Mallards — I’m not sure if the bird on the right is partially leucistic or domestic,

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In the birch trees along the pond were Eurasian Siskins feeding on catkins — another lifer for me. I wasn’t able to get a photo of the siskins as they were in the shadows.

An adult Common Blackbird,

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Canada Geese,

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A Great Cormorant,

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Black-headed Gulls are the most common gull species in France,

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Black-Headed Gulls in winter plumage,

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A Eurasian Coot,

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While walking back to the car, a woodpecker flew up from a tree. It landed in a backyard and I could clearly see it was a European Green Woodpecker.

Here’s my eBird checklist from my second trip to Parc St. Aubin.

Just like la Plaine de Sorques, if you’re visiting the Fontainebleau area, taking some time to visit Parc St. Aubin is well worthwhile. You will likely see Tufted Ducks and European Robins, and maybe a Eurasian Jay and a Eurasian Green Woodpecker or two.

It’s a very peaceful, beautiful place and well used with many people walking the trails, though no any obvious birders.

The view from the south side of the pond,

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* I wasn’t certain with my identification of the Eurasian Green Woodpecker from January 17th, since as I didn’t get a clear view. But after seeing another Eurasian Green Woodpecker on the 18th and confirming the ID, I added the woodpecker to my first checklist.

Spring Arrival Dates for Alberta Birds

Spring is approaching and birds are preparing to fly north to their nesting grounds, so it’s time to start thinking about when spring migrants will arrive.

I recently asked a question on the Alberta Birds Facebook group about possible blog ideas — Delores and Karen each suggested a post of what species to expect in the spring, and the general arrival dates of migrating birds in Alberta. With that suggestion, I’ve created a list of spring arrival dates (March through May according to eBird) for species that migrate though and breed in the province of Alberta. I used the eBird frequency graphs for my arrival dates data.

In this list, I didn’t include species that are rare in Alberta during spring migration, resident or irruptive species, and species that are more frequently encountered during the winter months.

I also didn’t include species such as Killdeer, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Goldfinches, and some species of waterfowl, since these species overwinter in parts of Alberta — mainly Calgary and Edmonton — and it’s too hard to average out their arrival date. If you’re interested in finding out when these species will arrive in your area — click here.

Please keep in mind that Alberta is a vast province with a variety of habitats and species arrival dates will vary based on your location in the province. The arrival date will be earlier in Calgary but later in my home area (seven hours north of Calgary). For example, the first arrival date for Barn Swallows in Calgary is April 15th, while it’s April 22th in my area.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird,

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A Barn Swallow in our yard from June 2011,

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Here are the average arrival dates for some of the more common Alberta species. If you think of a species that’s missing from the list, please let me know and I’ll add it to this list.

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First arrival date: March 1st

Ruddy Duck, Ring-billed Gull, Canvasback, American Coot, and Snow Goose.

First arrival date: March 8th

Mountain Bluebird, White-crowned Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Purple Finch, Rusty Blackbird, Franklin’s Gull, Hooded Merganser, Brewer’s Blackbird, Ferruginous Hawk, Wood Duck, and Ring-necked Duck.

First arrival date: March 15th

Red-tailed Hawk, Chipping Sparrow, Double-crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Say’s Phoebe, and Greater White-fronted Goose.

First arrival date: March 22nd

Swainson’s Hawk, Common Loon, Ruddy Duck, American White Pelican, American Avocet, Sandhill Crane, Red-necked Grebe, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Western Grebe, Thayer’s Gull, Fox Sparrow, Black-necked Stilt, and Greater Yellowlegs.

First arrival date: April 1st

Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Clay-coloured Sparrow, McCrown’s Longspur, Bonaparte’s Gull, Spotted Sandpiper, Cassin’s Finch, Violet-green Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Marsh Wren, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and Solitary Sandpiper.

First arrival date: April 8th

Wilson’s Snipe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red-naped Sapsucker, American Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, American Pipit, White-winged Scoter, Spotted Towhee, and Lesser Yellowlegs.

First arrival date: April 15th

Loggerhead Shrike, Vesper Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Willet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rough-winged Swallow, Marbled Godwit, Hermit Thrush, White-faced Ibis, Sprague’s Pipit, and Semipalmated Plover.

First arrival date: April 22nd

House Wren, Purple Martin, Wilson’s Phalarope, Grasshopper Sparrow, Common Tern, Cliff Swallow, Pectoral Sandpiper, Swainson’s Thrush, Eastern Kingbird, Nelson’s Sparrow, Sora, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bank Swallow, and Upland Sandpiper.

First arrival date: May 1st

Tennesse Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Baird’s Sparrow, Palm Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Western Tanager, Brown Thrasher, Black-and-white Warbler, Rufous Hummingbird, Rock Wren, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Piping Plover, Brewer’s Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Winter Wren, and American Golden Plover.

First arrival date: May 8th

Red-eyed Vireo, Black Tern, Calliope Hummingbird, Veery, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, Western Kingbird, Cassin’s Vireo, Black-bellied Plover, Lazuli Bunting, Canada Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Whooping Crane.

First arrival date: May 15th

Grey Catbird, Magnolia Warbler, MacGillvray’s Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bay-breasted Warbler, Lark Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole, Mourning Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

First arrival date: May 22nd

Common Nighthawk, Sedge Wren, and Great Crested Flycatcher.

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You can look up your own arrival dates on eBird, here.

A male and female Northern Shoveler in early April 2014,

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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.

Rusty Blackbird Blitz 2014!

Yesterday marked the launch of the new Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz 2014 in Alberta. The Blitz is a North American-wide citizen science project that birders can participate in by submitting checklists to eBird. There are different target dates for the different states in the US and different provinces in Canada, and you can find them all here. The target dates for Alberta’s Rusty Blackbird Blitz in Alberta are April 1st through mid-May. The population of the Rusty Blackbird has been rapidly declining across North America, and this decline has raised concerns for the past few decades.

The new Spring blitz is an initiative by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies to track the RUBL population and hopefully learn about conservation strategies for this declining species.

From the website:

In an effort to better understand the distribution of this species during migration, the Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz was initiated this year. This citizen science project will provide insight for conservation objectives such as Rusty Blackbird habitat selection during migration and whether or not some of these choice stopover locations may or may not be protected.

Researchers are also interested in “zero-observations”. So, if you’re out and do not see any Rusty Blackbirds, please report “0” in your eBird checklist. Even if you don’t see any Rusties, that’s valuable information for researchers.

To submit a checklist, click on the “Other” tab and select the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz (as shown here),

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Explaining the need for the Blitz, Southern Alberta co-ordinator Yousif Attia wrote to me, “The reasons for the sharp decline in Rusty Blackbird numbers over the past 20 years still remain largely speculation, [and] initiatives such as this one may shed some light on the cause(s) before it’s too late. Identifying specific stopover habitat and locations can help focus conservation efforts and at the least provide some measure of assistance to the species.”

You can learn more about the Blitz, Rusty Blackbirds, and how to submit your sightings at the Rusty Blackbird Blitz website, and there is also a Rusty Blackbird Facebook page you can follow.

If you have any questions about the Spring Blitz, please contact any of the co-ordinators for Alberta: Yousif Attia (Southern Alberta), ysattia (at) gmail (dot) com; James Fox (Northern Alberta), jamesfox (at) hotmail (dot) ca, and Jason Rogers, hawkowl (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Rusty Blackbirds in our farm yard in October 2012, gathering up for Fall migration,

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Birding News #11

:: Some facts about migrating birds and their long-distance journeys from Nature Canada

:: Tips for identifying tricky finches

:: Starvation could be the reason hundreds of dead puffins washed ashore on the east coast of the United Kingdom

:: A little bit about the Short-eared Owl, an endangered species in Michigan

:: In New Jersey, the Duke Farms Bald Eagle Camera was attacked by a Red-tailed Hawk. Unfortunately, the hawk didn’t make it out alive: “They finished off the hawk already,” Almendinger said. “They were eating trout yesterday.”

Great posts in birding blogs this week:

:: From Scott, beat writer, at Birding Is Fun: Identifying Waterthrushes

:: From Sharon, beat writer, at Bird Canada: Drilling for “oil” in the nursery

:: From Nate, beat writer at 10,000 Birds: IATB Theme: I Want Robins, Of All Kinds

:: From Laurence, beat writer, at Birding Is Fun: The Empid Enigma: To Catch a Flycatcher

:: From Bill of Bill of the BirdsThey’re Baaaaack

:: From Dan, beat writer for Birds CalgarySunday Showcase: Long-eared Owl