The 2016 Snow Goose Chase

After missing last year’s Snow Goose Chase because of 4-H Selections, I was very happy to be able to attend the Chase this year. My mother came with me and we left at 7:30 am to be in Tofield for 9 am.

The weather was a little dreary — cold and rainy — but as they say, it was good weather for ducks. I saw all three species of geese on the drive, American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, a Horned Grebe, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of ducks, and my FoS Double-crested Cormorant.

The displays at the Tofield hall included taxidermied bird mounts from the Royal Alberta Museum, with curator of ornithology Jocelyn Hudon on hand to talk to people; Pete Heule, the Ram’s Bug Room/Live Culture Supervisor and Natural History Outreach Tech, with live insects and reptiles; the Edmonton Nature Club; the Beaverhill Bird Observatory; Nature Alberta and its Nature Kids program; live raptors from the Edmonton Valley Zoo; a pond life display; various pelts from trappers Bill and Duncan Abercrombie of Alberta Trapline Adventures; amazing bird and animal carvings from the Boag Lake Carving Studio; and a table from the University of Alberta ZooManiacs zoological enthusiasts club.

I was at the Young Naturalists’ Corner table again this year, displaying nature books for kids and teens, Bob’s fascinating butterflies of Alberta display; pamphlets from Bird Studies Canada and Ducks Unlimited; and Urban Bio Kits from the City of Edmonton and the Mennonite Centre for newcomers. The kits are guides to help encourage new Canadians to learn about and explore the City’s natural areas.

I’d like to thank all the Edmonton Nature Club members and Snow Goose Chase volunteers for all the time and effort they put into the Chase. A special thank you to Bob who did yet another amazing job organizing everything, and also helping me with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. Thank you again, Bob, for everything — especially for asking to me to be part of such a wonderful day.

Our display table with a selection of books from my family library, Bob, and the Edmonton Public Library too,

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The new Nature Kids banner from Nature Alberta,IMG_0008

What would the Snow Goose Chase be without some birding after the activities in the hall? A Dunlin had been reported at the Tofield Quarry earlier in the week, and a Fox Sparrow was seen at Francis Viewpoint the morning of the Snow Goose Chase.

My mother and I went first to the quarry since it’s just a few kilometres south of Tofield. You can see the quarry very well from the road, but in order to get a good view of the birds we drove on the well-used path into the field. The gate was open and there were no “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” signs to be seen, so I thought it would be all right to drive in a few hundred metres. I searched for the Dunlin but couldn’t see one, though there were lots of Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Shovelers, two Northern Harriers, American Avocets, and other ducks and geese. The weather was deteriorating, so after 10 minutes I abandoned the search for the Dunlin.

At Francis Viewpoint I found a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and more Northern Harriers, but no Fox Sparrow. I was skunked on the two birds I was hoping to see, but other than that it was a really lovely day.

A banded female Mountain Bluebird at Francis Point,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

An unbanded male bluebird,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/640, ISO 640, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

Tofield Snow Goose Chase

The 17th annual Tofield Snow Goose Chase hosted by the Edmonton Nature Club is coming up very soon, on Saturday, April 23rd and Sunday, April 24th, at the Tofield Community Hall on Main Street from 9:30 am until 12 noon, followed by bus rides into the countryside to see the Snow Geese and other arrivals.

In the morning, stop in at the Town Hall to see the displays and exhibits from the Edmonton Valley Zoo, the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, and meet John Acorn (aka “The Nature Nut”), and Pete Heule (“The Bug Guy”) from the Royal Alberta Museum.

I’ll also be there at the Young Naturalists’ Corner, so please stop by and say hello! I’ll have a display of nature-related books, and might even be giving away a few prizes!

Here are my two blog posts about the 2012 and 2013, and also my page on Snow Goose Chase Resources.

I hope to see you there!

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Alberta Birding and Nature Festivals

Festivals are a terrific way to connect with other birders, learn about birding hotspots, hear new speakers, and learn from experts on guided tours. They are also great for outings with family and friends.

Alberta offers some fantastic bird and nature festivals, so I decided to compile this year’s listing as a handy reference. If you know of an event to add to the list, please let me know in the comments below so I can make the changes.

— April 23-24, 2016: This year marks the 17th annual Tofield Snow Goose Chase organized by the Edmonton Nature Club and the town of Tofield. In the morning, stop in at the town hall to see the displays and exhibits from the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Beaverhill Bird Observatory, John Acorn “The Nature Nut“, and Pete Heule from the Royal Alberta Museum. I’ll be there too with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. There will be an owl banding talk and public bus trips for viewing the Snow Geese, swans, and other spring migrants.

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—  April 23-24, 2016: The Friends of Saskatoon Island along with Alberta Parks celebrate the return of Trumpeter Swans to the Peace Country by holding the Saskatoon Island Swan Festival, features guided tours, presentations, and activities for families.

—  May 28-29, 2016: The Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory holds a Songbird Festival in Slave Lake, Alberta. The event kicks off on Saturday with a pancake breakfast followed by guided birding hikes, workshops, and tours of the migration monitoring station.

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— Saturday, June 18, 2016: The Camrose Purple Martin Festival will be celebrating its seventh annual festival this year with keynote speakers, bus and walking tours to Purple Martin colonies, activities for kids, and tips and techniques for making a wildlife-friendly yard.  

— June 19-23, 2016: The Waterton Wildflower Festival celebrates Waterton as the wildflower Capital of Canada. The festival features guided walks on plant identification and park ecosystems, family programs, and photographic presentations. Last year the festival offered birding sessions with experienced guides, so they might be available this year too.

— July 1st, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm Bluebird Festival near Lacombe, Alberta, focuses on the Mountain Bluebirds that nest around the farm. Come to the farm for free crafts for children, a talk on Purple Martin and Mountain Bluebird migration research, and a Neighbour’s Market.

— July 23rd, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm BioBlitz will feature biologists on site to share their expertise on all the wildlife at the farm, as well as site tours.

— August 6, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm’s Bug Jamboree opens with a performance by John Acorn, “The Nature Nut”, and a butterfly count. Garden tours and children’s crafts are also part of the event.

— September (date to be announced): Waterton also hosts a wildlife festival in September, celebrating the park as one of the best places in the Rocky Mountains to view wildlife, especially mammals. Bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bears, and foxes, more than 200 species of birds, six species of amphibians, four species of reptiles, and 24 species of fish have been found in the Park. Workshops, presenters, and guided walks are some of the activities at the festival.
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— October (date to be announced): Canmore celebrates the migration of Golden Eagles over the Alberta Rockies with a Festival of the Eagles. The weekend celebration includes guided hikes, bird walks, interpretive displays, and guest speakers. Spotting scopes are set up at Canmore Collegiate High School to view the migrating eagles.

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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Mark Cullen and the Baillie Birdathon

As you might already know, Canadian gardening expert Mark Cullen is this year’s celebrity guest birder for the Baillie Birdathon. And today is the day he’s doing his Birdathon, at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto — more information on this below.

So I was very excited back in February or March when I found that Mr. Cullen was going to be the special guest speaker for our local Spring house and garden show — I thought it would be great to meet him and talk to him. And then I found out that it was going to be on the same day as the Snow Goose Chase (Saturday, April 27th), so I wouldn’t even be around!

My mother helped me brainstorm, and I ended up writing to Mr. Cullen to see if I could meet him a bit earlier, maybe the evening before, and interview him for my blog. As it happened, he was going to do another event for our town the day before, and so we planned to meet on Friday at 5 pm. But then in mid-April I got the bad news that the Friday event was cancelled and Mr. Cullen wasn’t sure what time on Friday he would be arriving. And we had to leave home around 8 am on Saturday morning to get to Tofield in time. Drat!

Mr. Cullen was so wonderful and accommodating, agreeing to meet me at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday, and we had a nice talk; my parents were there too. He gave me some bookmarks to hand out at the Snow Goose Chase, and gave my mother some vegetable seeds for the garden! I followed up by sending him my interview questions by email. Of course, this is his very busy speaking and gardening season, but I will have that interview on my blog as soon as he’s able to send his reply.

Here we are on the deck of Lakeland College’s Alumni House, holding my Baillie Birdathon 2013 t-shirt*,Charlotte&MarkCullen

I did get a chance to ask Mr. Cullen how he came to be this year’s Baillie Birdathon guest birder, and he said he was convinced by his friend, David Love, who is executive director of the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto and is on the board of Bird Studies Canada. He also said he is more of a gardener who appreciates birds, than a hardcore birder, which I completely understand because that’s what my mother is too. (And it was my mother’s idea to put up bird feeders in the garden, and all the goldfinches they attracted, that started me on my path to birding several years ago.) As Mr. Cullen says on his Baillie Birdathon page,

As a third-generation career gardener, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a hobby gardener in this country who does not consider themselves an amateur birder too. Merely observing the activity around my 12 garden feeders convinces me that birds are as essential to the outdoor human experience as trees, water, and fresh air. And as you know, the presence of diverse and abundant birdlife is one of the most visible signs of a healthy environment.

Mr. Cullen is doing his Birdathon today, May 14th, at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, which was selected as a globally Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International in 2001. He’ll be birding with Mr. Love and my friend Jody Allair from BSC, whom I got to know last year at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop (Jody is a huge supporter of the Baillie Birdathon and also contributed to my own Birdathon — thank you again, Jody!). So far Mr. Cullen has raised $3,055 and the first $5,000 raised will be matched by a generous anonymous donor. Here is his recent blog post on the Birdathon.

And here’s a link to his great recent Toronto Star article, Citizen Scientists and the Birds We Watch, and an excerpt:

As I write this column from my home office, I am keenly aware of dozens of visitors in my backyard. My nine bird feeding stations are in clear view and they are very popular today. Juncos, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, a European grackle, and a mom and dad cardinal are all gorging themselves like they have not seen food all winter. From time to time, a blue jay arrives to scoop up an unshelled peanut, cawing an announcement to his buddies that there is a feast to be had at the Cullens’ place this morning.

There is barely a hobby gardener in this country who does not consider themselves an amateur birder, too. That is not to say that all gardeners feed the birds intentionally, but we do have an inherent appreciation for the qualities that they bring to the outdoor experience.

Birds find the work of the gardener helpful even when that is not our primary intent. Plants provide protection, nesting areas, and, of course, natural sources of food for native birds. A garden pond provides a drink, a bath, and for some bird species, another source of food.

Condo and apartment dwellers should not feel left out. A balcony garden can provide all the aforementioned benefits regardless of how high up you reside.

Mr. Cullen encourages readers to “consider raising funds for BSC by participating in the Birdathon yourself. By doing so, you will not only benefit Canada’s native bird population, but you will no doubt learn a few things about birds that will illuminate your outdoor experience.”

And that’s really what it’s all about — making sure we preserve Canada’s birds to illuminate our outdoor experience. Thank you, Mr. Cullen!

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* The artwork for this year’s Baillie Birdathon t-shirt was created by artist and naturalist Barry Kent MacKay, who is Bird Studies Canada’s artist of the year for 2013. From Barry’s website, where you can see more of his wonderful art:

Barry’s interest in wildlife dates to his earliest memories.   His late mother was a pioneer in wildlife rehabilitation, and Barry grew up in a house that was filled with wildlife. He also assisted his mother and other adults in banding many thousands of birds, and learned to become a skilled preparator of preserved bird specimens of value to science and necessary in much of his artwork, since art was of equal interest and importance to him, also for as long as he can remember. He devoted his life and career to the study of natural history, and the protection of birds and other wildlife. …

Barry has participated in numerous activities related to bird and nature study and conservation. As a fast sketch artist he promoted interest in wildlife during 16 years of appearances on a nationally syndicated children’s television show. He did field work for the Royal Ontario Museum and for the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Costa Rica; illustrated the reptiles and amphibians of the Toronto Zoo; illustrates various scientific covers and papers in various technical journals. He was well known and respected for his Nature Trail column, published weekly in The Toronto Star for a period of 25 years.  His writings and articles have appeared in numerous magazines such as Birds of the Wild; Defenders; BirdWatchers’ Digest; Seasons; Mainstream; and Animal Issues;and as feature articles in The Toronto Star and various other publications, large and small.  …

He has also illustrated several books such as Wrens, Mockingbirds and Dippers of the World (by A. D. Brewer, Pica Press, U.K., 2001), A Field Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos (by M.P. Harris, Collins, 1974) and Songbirds: Celebrating Nature’s Voices (by Ronald I. Orenstein, Key Porter, 1997) …

Snow Goose Chase 2013


Last year was my first time to attend the Tofield Snow Goose Chase, organized by the Edmonton Nature Club, and I had a wonderful time! Not too long after the Chase I had an email from Mr. Parsons, the ENC’s  Special Events Co-ordinator, who had invited me to the Chase in the first place, and who does so much of its organization. He had an idea for this year, to include a Young Naturalists’ Corner, and asked if I could help with the organization beforehand, and then working at the table. I thought it was a wonderful idea and started planning for the table last May.

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At this year’s Snow Goose Chase — this past Saturday, April 27th — there were some terrific displays at the Tofield Community Centre, including four live raptors from the Edmonton Valley Zoo; Alberta’s own John Acorn, the celebrated naturalist and entomologist whose enthusiasm on Saturday was infectious; a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; an incredible variety of touchable animal pelts from trapper Bill Abercrombie of Alberta Trapline Adventures; Royal Alberta Museum ornithology curator Jocelyn Hudon with the always fascinating mounted bird specimens (including a beautiful Scarlet Ibis); a table from the Beaverhill Bird Observatory; a display of various live and preserved reptiles and amphibians (including some of the preserved ones in water for the kids to touch), and a display of bird and animal carvings from the Boag Lake Carving Studio.

Considering it was our first year, the Young Naturalists’ Corner seemed to be very popular with all the kids and their families. In fact, there were nine buses of kids and their families, so it was almost overwhelming at times with so many people. Bob arranged for Andrea, a student, to help out, and our mothers were there as well, and also Petra Rowell, the executive director of Nature Alberta, with whom we shared the space.

We had some great door prizes to give away including two new children’s birding and nature books:  Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013) and The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, and illustrated by Rachel Riordan. Annette donated three autographed copies of Look Up!, which was an amazing gift for the Corner, and Ken sent along some promotional bookmarks for The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book — thank you Annette and Ken. Both titles were among the stars of the Young Naturalists’ Corner, with kids reading through the books and hoping to win them, and parents and grandparents writing down the titles and authors. Petra and Nature Alberta donated a number of things too, including several toy/plush Ord’s Kangaroo Rats!

We all answered questions from kids and their parents, about how to start your own local nature club for the summer, where to find nature in the city, joining Nature Alberta’s “Young Naturalist Club” program, for kids ages 5-13. They loved guessing what animal had shed the antlers (White-tail Deer) and holding them up on top of their heads. Lots of the kids asked, “What are these books for?” or “Where can we get them?” So we told them that the books, which you can find at the library or a bookstore, are great for learning more about the animals they would see, and experiences they would have, at the Chase.

Bob did a wonderful job organizing everything and also taking time to help me with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. Thank you again, Bob, for everything — especially for asking to me to be part of such a wonderful day. It’s an honor to be asked to join everyone who works so hard to put on such an amazing experience.

I saw two first-of-season species while my parents and I were driving around Tofield: a large flock of Sandhill Cranes and five Canvasbacks. I also saw one male Mountain Bluebird as we were approaching Tofield in the morning, also 10 Red-tailed Hawks, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls.

Below are some pictures my mother and I took last Saturday:

The Young Naturalists’ Corner’s banner, especially made for this year’s Chase,

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Here I am with John Acorn and Andrea who was helping me at the YNC,

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Mounted waterbirds from the ornithology collection at Royal Alberta Museum,

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Here is part of our table with all the prizes and pamphlets from Bird Studies Canada and Nature Alberta, and some of the books I’ve written about in the past few weeks,

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A deer skull and a pair of antlers (both from White-tail Deer) we brought from home for the table (sorry for the blurry photo, my mom didn’t have her reading glasses on at the time!),

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A beautiful carved Green-winged Teal from the Boag Lake Carving Studio,

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Kids admiring the carvings at the Boag Lake Carving display,

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The Cows, Fish, Cattledogs, and Kids display,

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An Alberta crawfish (Orconectes virilis) in the pond life display,

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A young Peregrine Falcon,

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Even though we see thousands of Snow Geese in the slough across the road from our house, what would be a Snow Goose Chase without going to see some Snow Geese around Tofield?! Because of our late Spring the geese were a little harder to find, but we saw some very large flocks and I got some very good views, thanks to my scope!

Some digiscoped photos of the geese,

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Look Up!

Look what just flew in, in time for the Snow Goose Chase giveaways: autographed copies of Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard (Candlewick, March 2013), straight from author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate in Massachusetts!

Thank you so very, very much, Annette for sending such a wonderful parcel!

(Annette also included some surprises, including a couple of the field guides she used in writing Look Up!)

We leave for the Snow Goose Chase tomorrow just after 7…

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