Birding the Fenland Nature Trail

While I was birding the Bow Falls trail on our last day in Banff, I caught up with my parents and went back to our cabin for lunch. After drying my mittens and recharging my camera batteries we drove to the Fenland Nature Trail — the trail is a two-kilometre loop with the river running around it. 

I was dropped off at the north end of the trail on Vermilion Lakes Drive and walked down the path to the bridge that crosses the river. After not being able to find an American Dipper earlier in the day, I was determined to find one before we left. While I saw something fly over the water just as I got to the middle of the bridge, it wasn’t enough for me to ID it as a dipper.

Looking out over the bridge,IMG_0007

I continued down the path finding good numbers of Brown Creepers, Mountain Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a Belted Kingfisher perched on a snag along the river.

This nuthatch along with a second one was foraging underneath a spruce tree,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

A group of about 20 Elk were feeding just off the path,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/3,200, ISO 2500, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This female has a radio collar for tracking her movements,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Completing the two kilometre loop, I was going to try again to find the dipper when — success! An American Dipper was feeding on the far bank and then flew and landed on the close bank on a dead branch. It was fascinating to watch, but when a jogger ran by the bird flew off and I lost sight of it.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Showing its white eyelid,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back down the path was a male American Three-toed Woodpecker flaking off bark,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/400, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The Fenland Nature Trail is a great birding and mammal spot and the walking is very easy. Here’s my eBird checklist for the walk.

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Feed the Birds: My Grandmother’s Homemade Suet Cake Recipe

Suet is an excellent source of energy for birds. You can provide plain suet, or mix it with nuts, raisins, and other fruit. You can buy the mixture, or make your own. One of the benefits of making your own suet cake is saving money as well as knowing what’s in it. Suet can be provided in a variety of feeders: smeared on a branch or log or even on a pine cone, in a suet cage, in a tray, or in a mesh bag (like in the kind onions come in).

Here is my grandmother’s recipe which is a hit with Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and even Redpolls, as you can see from the photos below. My grandmother reminded me that birds enjoy this in the summer, and one of the benefits of this recipe, since it’s not straight suet, is that it’s not very drippy when the temperature gets warmer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lard and some bacon grease (or the fat of your choice) [edited/updated to add: if you are vegetarian or vegan, you could try substituting your favourite type of solid vegetable shortening, like Crisco — you might have to add more cornmeal and flour ]
  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 6 cups cornmeal
  • 5 cups flour
  • any dried fruit or nuts you’d like to add

Directions:

Melt the lard/fat with the peanut butter, then add cornmeal, flour, and any dried fruit and/or nuts to the mixture and stir well. Let it cool and harden in any container, and then it’s ready to put on a tray feeder, in a suet cage, or in a tin can. If you make the whole recipe and have too much, it freezes very well.

If you have a favorite recipe, please share it in the comments!

White-breasted Nuthatch in my grandparents’ yard,

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Downy Woodpecker,

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Red-breasted Nuthatch,

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Birds in Winter

Unlike last year, it has been snowing almost every day since the middle of October and there will definitely be a white Christmas this year, barring any sudden heat wave. Last year’s Christmas was brown, which was disappointing and not very Christmassy .

I haven’t been birding as much as I’d like (in part because it’s safer not to go out in November during hunting season), but I’m enjoying the birds at my feeders. A few weeks ago a male Downy Woodpecker started coming to the feeders, a flock of about 10 Black-capped Chickadees visit regularly everyday, and one House Sparrow comes too. I’m still waiting for the redpolls, but they usually come in January.

Our local Christmas Bird Count is on Saturday and I hope to see some good species just as my team did last year. If you haven’t signed up for a Christmas Bird Count in your area yet, you should! It’s lots of fun, and you are contributing to science.

Downy Woodpecker in my grandparents’ yard,

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Red-breasted Nuthatch at my grandparents’,

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A Common Redpoll at my grandparents’ yard,

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This last picture is probably one of the worst photos I’ve ever taken. I don’t have very good luck when it comes to seeing and photographing owls, so I thought I would post it anyway.

A Short-eared Owl,

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Must-see birds: February

(I got the idea for a northern Alberta version of “Must-see birds” from Pat Bumstead’s and Bob Lefebvre’s Birds Calgary blog. Matthew Sim, who is another young birder, had the idea for the “Must-see birds” posts and writes them all.) 

It’s February, only about two more months until the geese return. But until then, here are my two Must-see birds for February (all photos by me):

1. Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwings are one of the most beautiful birds to visit Alberta in winter. The waxwing has a gray body, yellow tipped tail, rufous under tail coverts, and yellow and white wing tipped feathers. Theses waxwings can be found in large flocks, eating mountain ash berries and crabapples.

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2. Red-breasted Nuthatch 

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a very pretty little bird which can be found through coniferous and mixed woods. The breast is red, with a gray back, a white eyebrow, a black eye-line and a characteristic that all nuthatches share, an upturned bill.