Fall for Raptors

I’ve been seeing a large number of raptors lately, from American Kestrels to Bald Eagles. This past Wednesday, I drove around looking for raptors and enjoying the colours of fall. The day was very overcast and cool, but I saw some top-quality birds!

This American Kestrel had been hunting around our house for the past few days, finally perching long enough for me to get a photo. The photos are not the best quality, but I love the colours of the kestrel and the trees behind it,IMG_9757IMG_9755

I barely got out of the truck, opting to park on the side of the road most of the time. I live in an area where the county roads have a good deal of traffic at harvest time — combines, swathers, grain trucks, pickup trucks going to town for parts. But the roads are quiet on rainy days when farmers are at home waiting for the fields and grain to dry.

Whether rural roads are quiet or busy, I always park in as much of the ditch as I can when birding with a vehicle, and I never park on the crest of the hill. If I’m driving and see a bird sitting close to the road, I check the rearview mirror to make sure it’s safe to pull over.

Our neighbours often stop to check on me when I’m watching something from the truck, just to make sure I’m not having any trouble. Everyone knows by now that I’m birding/photographing birds, but it’s a very nice gesture and I appreciate the stop very much.

I love birding by vehicle because you can get fairly close to some birds. Ducks and geese are very cautious at this time of year, so watching birds from the truck gives me more of a chance to look at them. I took our new truck as it’s very quiet, excellent on fuel, and has ample room for my scope, two cameras, and binoculars in the front seat.

A Blue-winged Teal,IMG_9761

This summer, the American White Pelicans frequented the slough (pond) across the road. There was only one this time, accompanied by Black-bellied Plovers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Mallards, Gadwalls, teals, Northern Shovelers, an adult Bald Eagle; Snow, Greater White-fronted, and Canada Geese; Ring-billed Gulls, and Sandhill Cranes.

The American White Pelican and a Ring-billed Gull,IMG_9763

In the willows along the road were White-crowned, White-throated, and Clay-coloured Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The birds were very difficult to photograph as they stayed hidden in the branches, like this White-crowned Sparrow,IMG_9774

I left the slough and headed north. A Blue Jay flew out of a neighbour’s yard and there was a Northern Goshawk sitting in a dead tree just up the hill. I was disappointed I didn’t get a photo of the goshawk, but just then, a Great-horned Owl landed in the tree in front of me.

The owl was uncomfortable with my presence so it took off. Fortunately, it landed nearby in the slough just off the road.

The Great-horned Owl flying away,IMG_9775

I quietly got out of the truck and snuck around the slough and got these photos — my best yet of the species!IMG_9782IMG_9784

After five minutes, the owl flew away, scaring a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs on take off,IMG_9789

The most interesting sighting of the afternoon was a Eurasian-collared Dove that flew out of the willows. At first, I though the dove was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but then it came into view. I’ve never seen this species before, but their range is moving northward in Alberta so I might be seeing more of theses doves in the future.IMG_9791

The migrating geese enjoy feeding on the combined grain fields. I spent 15 minutes taking pictures with my new camera,DSC_0782DSC_0798

The building on the hill is Chatsworth School, a one-room school house between 1917 – 1953 for all the children in the area,DSC_0816DSC_0817

Playing with the exposure a little bit,DSC_0821

The sun was shining through the clouds,DSC_0829

After an hour and a half, I started heading back home and was passing by our wheat field. On a six-acre section of the field, we’re growing Red Fife Wheat, the oldest variety of wheat in Canada, originally from the Ukraine. This Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in the poplars along the field and there was a Merlin on a fence post.

Red-tailed Hawk,IMG_9803

I took these photos of the Merlin with my Nikon D610 with the 70-200mm lens. I cropped them just a bit,

DSC_0839DSC_0840DSC_0838

All the raptor species I saw on my drive: American Kestrel, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Great-horned Owl, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Harrier.

Feeding Birds in the Winter

Winter is a hard time for birds, especially in north central Alberta. Grasses are covered in snow so the seeds are hard to get; the berry supply starts to dwindle and also gets snow-covered; and insects are either hidden underground, indoors in houses, or burrowed deeply into tree trunks.

Before people started feeding birds through the winter, birds survived without man-made bird feeders, but putting up feeders does give birds more of a chance in winter and it’s fun to see which species will visit your feeders.

A Common Redpoll at a nyjer feeder,

If you feed birds, you must clean your feeders regularly and thoroughly to prevent the spread of disease. Clean and disinfect feeders often, one or two times a month should be sufficient. Use nine parts warm water to one part household bleach to thoroughly disinfect your feeders.

Here are some of my suggestions if you are new to feeding birds, or you would like to try something different and fun!

I’ve given some links, for informational purposes only. I particularly like Droll Yankees feeders, which I know well because I’ve won eight of them from Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show (the Mystery Bird segment). Their feeders are good quality, withstand Alberta’s extreme elements very well, and are made in the United States. But I’m not sponsored by or an affiliate of either Droll Yankees or Amazon or any other store.

Seeds:

If you want to offer only one type of seeds to birds, black-oil sunflower seeds are the way to go! Black-oil sunflower seeds are fairly inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk. Black-oil sunflower seeds are easier for birds to open than the striped sunflower seeds, and the kernel is larger too. Sunflower seeds can be put in a hopper-, tray-, or tube-feeders, or on the ground. You can also buy the sunflowers seeds hulled, it’s a little more expensive, but it reduces the waste on the ground and it’s also a big treat for the birds.

Nyjer (thistle) seed is a favorite among finches, although it can be expensive. It is a small black seed, and is best put in a nyjer feeder or a nyjer sock. You don’t have to worry about Nyjer seed sprouting because it is heat-treated, but it can go rancid or moldy quickly in wet weather, so it’s more economical to buy in small bags and keep it dry.

Some seed mixes are better than others. Talk to other birders in your area to see what they have to recommend. Cheap mixes are usually not the best quality, with lots of filler that birds don’t like, such as red millet and milo. The better mixes have sunflower seeds, peanuts, white millet, and cracked corn. There are also some specialty online stores where you can custom-make your mixed-seed blend.

Birds need a lot of energy and protein to get through an Alberta winter, and peanuts are a great source. Jays, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees will readily visit a feeder for peanuts. If you provide peanuts, make sure they are unsalted and not honey-roasted either!

Suet is a great source of energy for birds. You can provide plain suet, or you can mix it with nuts, raisins, and other fruit. You can buy the mixtures, or make your own. Suet can be provided in a variety of feeders: smeared on a branch or log, in a suet cage, in a tray, or in a mesh onion bag.

Here’s a good page from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology about the different kinds of feeders with some photographs.

Water:

In the winter birds eat snow to keep their bodies hydrated. It does bring down the bird’s body temperature, but they can survive. They also will bathe in the snow to keep their feathers clean.

Heated bird baths are wonderful for cold climates. The heater doesn’t actually heat the water, it just keeps the water from freezing. I don’t have a heater so I just take warm water and thaw the ice in the bird bath every morning.

Never put any anti-freezing chemicals in the water or use any harsh chemicals, such as bleach, to clean the bird bath either. Sun is a natural disinfectant and it is good for bird bath.

A Black-capped Chickadee,

When feeding birds, be prepared for some surprises at your feeding station. Some people see Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins hanging around the yard hoping to catch some of the feeder birds.

Last March this Northern Shrike visited my feeders hoping to make a meal of one of the Common Redpolls,

If you are in or around the Edmonton area, the Wild Bird General Store has a remarkable assortment of bird seed (from small brown bags to big barrels in bulk), bird feeders, bird baths, and anything you can think of relating to birds. Many hardware stores have a good selection of bird feeding items as well.

A Merlin on our TV antenna keeping a close eye on the goldfinches,

A Downy Woodpecker enjoying my grandmother’s homemade suet,

Feathers on Friday

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

This Merlin was sitting on a TV antenna in town on January 4. I was surprised to see it, because Merlins usually don’t stay through our winters,

Evening Birding

I went out Tuesday evening in search of owls, I didn’t have any luck, but instead I was able to find about  20 Lesser Yellowlegs, one Merlin, one Western Meadowlark, countless Canada Geese and 26 Sandhill Cranes. It was a great night for birding even though the skies are now getting dark before 9 pm.

Some of the Lesser Yellowlegs feeding,

A Lesser Yellowlegs,

As I was watching the Yellowlegs, I saw a flock of Sandhill Cranes. They were in a neighbors wheat field eating the grain,

I love these two pictures of the cranes where you can see just their heads,

To end my post I thought I should add a picture of the beautiful sunset we had last night. Though I saw many great species of birds I never heard or saw any owls,

Feathers on Friday

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

This Merlin was in our yard, on our television antenna, much to the distress of the Tree Swallows protecting their nests, but a great photo op, since this is a life bird for me!