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

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.

There were lots of headless Mallards in Canmore when I went birding with Bird Boy on our way back home after our week of skiing and birding.

A male Mallard,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,2500 ISO 2000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

A female Mallard,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,2500 ISO 2000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

JG Birds+

Backyard Bird Blog

The Morning Side of Life

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,


European Robins have the most beautiful songs,


There were quite a few Common Pochards on the pond,


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


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,


Canada Geese,


A Great Cormorant,


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


Black-Headed Gulls in winter plumage,


A Eurasian Coot,


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,


* 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.

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.



One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,


The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,


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


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,



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,


Playing in the snow,


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.


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,


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.



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



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


Spring Migrants near Vermilion

Most of the spring migrants have returned to this part of the province, with many species — including the Tree Swallows, Mallards, Green-winged Teals, and Barn Swallows — already sitting on eggs. I’ve been able to go birding quite frequently this month, so I though I’d share some of my favorite photos from May.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker excavating a nest in a poplar tree,


A male Ruffed Grouse taking a break from displaying,


Song Sparrow,


This male Baltimore Oriole was quite difficult to photograph as it kept hiding behind leaves and branches,


The first warblers to arrive in the Vermilion area are Yellow-rumped Warblers (this a Myrtle variant),


I came across this Mallard nest on one of my walks,


This handsome Le Conte’s Sparrow is the most recent addition to my Life List,


A male Yellow Warbler,


I found this dead Red-necked Phalarope near one of the sloughs,


Birding in Central Park

We arrived in New York City on Saturday, July 6th, and on Sunday morning at 9 am I went on a bird walk with Bob DeCandido (“Birding Bob”) and Deb Allen in Central Park. It was a very hot day (we found at the end of the day there had been an extreme heat and humidity warning for City), but we saw some great birds including an early migrant — a female Black-and-white Warbler, which was very exciting.

I counted 27 species in total on the Central Park walk, and added Chimney Swift, Great-crested Flycatcher, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, and Black-and-white Warbler to my “Year List”.

The walk started at the Turtle Pond dock and it was very nice to be greeted by about 15 Red-eared Sliders,


A Red-eared Slider,


A Red-bellied Woodpecker,


Part of the group watching a Great-crested Flycatcher,


I saw three Black-crowned Night Herons throughout the walk ,


A Northern Flicker nest,


What would Central Park be without seeing a squirrel?


A shy Carolina Wren,


A pair of Mallards at the boat pond,


A Double-crested Cormorant drying off at the Boat pond,


I was only one foot away from this Mallard. That’s the beauty of Central Park — the birds are so used to people,


I had an excellent time with the other birders, got some good photos, and saw some great species. Central Park is such a wonderful place, and Bob and Deb are great park guides!

Here we are at the end of our walk, with Bob and Debra on the right. Thank you again for such a wonderful time (and the only real birding I got in while in NYC)!