Tag Archives: Birds

Help the Birds this Winter

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A recent showing of the award-winning Eco-Documentary, The Messenger in Salmon Arm drew attention to the plight of songbirds. Their numbers are declining sharply from habitat loss, climate change, light pollution, pesticides and cat predation. If you usually have small birds around your property, have you noticed the absence of the melodious ‘dawn chorus’ that used to wake you in spring at 4 AM? Maybe a song sparrow or a robin might show up to herald the new day….but a couple of chirps and whistles can no longer be called a chorus. Spring is far more quiet now because the birds aren’t there. A world without bird music is vastly diminished, in my opinion.

Don’t wait until spring to think of ways you can help these birds survive. While numerous smaller birds migrate to warmer climes during the winter, many stay put. Where I live in the Salmon Arm area, at least 25 species of songbirds have been recorded on the annual Christmas Bird Count. The seed, suet and water we provide winter birds active in daylight hours is their fuel to endure the colder overnight temperatures.

But my part of BC is bear country, and our communities are also home to nocturnal critters like raccoons—I saw their tracks in the fresh snow this morning, in fact. Bird feeders can attract these wild animals and bring them into close contact with people, causing problems. How to balance the need to feed birds with the safety issues—for both humans and animals? I’ve hung my feeder where it is easy to remove at dusk, and store inside overnight. Domestic cats are a serious threat (in all seasons) to songbirds as well, so I keep watch for any that may hang around my feeder. A small dish of water when temperatures are above freezing will help them too.

Chickadees like the one in the photo above will find your feeder quickly. A couple of them have trained my husband by calling for him every morning at breakfast… “Hey, get that feeder out here now!”

Since it appears that human activities are largely responsible for the songbird population decline, it’s the least we can do!

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Merry Christmas!

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Hummers and Echinacea

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Among the flowers that hummingbirds love, Echinacea is high on the list.

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So I’m not sorry my patch of this pinkish, daisy-like blossom has spread a little out of control in the flowerbed. It is easy enough to pull the excess later, when the hummingbirds have begun their southward journey.

Meantime, throughout July, it has been rare to not see at least one bird mining the blooms for nectar. These female rufous have been shopping here for several weeks. They are at it all day long, and into the evening. Why go anywhere else when there is such a wealth of yummy food?

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When the flowers fade in the fall, I leave them to go to seed. They can be loosely tied in clumps to keep them upright so they’ll stay above the first snowfalls. Then it won’t be hummingbirds coming to dine, but chickadees and goldfinches who appreciate the banquet all winter. By spring, there will be nothing left of the seed heads, and they can be cut back to ground level, ready for next summer’s display.

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Birding is a 10!

Birding as a hobby rates a 10, or more. It’s all positive! It’s fun, portable, requires little equipment, lets you enjoy exercise accompanied by bird song in some awe-inspiring habitat, gives you the ‘thrill of the hunt’ while knowing the creatures you are lucky enough to spot will carry on with their lives, undisturbed. The more time you spend out there, the better your identification skills will become. What’s not to love?

Collecting new species can be challenging, especially if you are trying to add to your Life List. That’s an ongoing goal for me: I’m up to 501 now, having recently seen the elusive great grey owl I’d been after for years. Have to travel farther to find new birds these days, though. Meantime, a bonus is getting a decent picture of a familiar bird that shows its distinctive markings.

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This white-crowned sparrow posed along a country lane on Gabriola Island in May. The light highlights its distinctive field marks of bold white and black crown stripes, and shows the bright orange bill of this western population

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It’s not always easy to get a pair of birds in one shot, like these American widgeon in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. The posture of bill angled down, and drops falling from it show their feeding habit, picking plants off the surface of the marbled-looking pond.

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This male hairy woodpecker was on the move up a tree, so tricky to get a clear photograph. His loud sharp voice alerts you to his presence, usually before you see him.

So, go birding! You’ll love it!

Garden Visitors

With plants that will attract birds,  mulch in the soil to encourage worms, and water for drinks and baths, I always get a good selection of regulars returning each spring to my garden.

Everyone's favorite thrush

Everyone’s favorite thrush

Spotted towhee enjoying a splash

Spotted towhee enjoying a splash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It promises to be a dry summer in the BC Interior, so this ‘swimming pool’ might get a lot of use……already, song sparrows, chickadees, robins and towhees show up daily.

A pair of chickadees are nesting nearby

A pair of chickadees are nesting nearby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pileated woodpeckers are frequent visitors

Pileated woodpeckers hunting for bugs

 

 

And here’s one more spectacular bird that comes around quite often looking for a meal in the surrounding shrubs and trees. Their loud call is unmistakable.

 

 

 

Fine Feathers

 

Ruffed grouse in hawthorn

Ruffed grouse in hawthorn

I’ve written about this ruffed grouse before, but now I’m able to get decent photos with a zoom lens. Directly outside my kitchen window, the grouse posed gracefully in a hawthorn tree. I think it was after the berries, or small buds. Even through the window (not yet cleaned for spring), its markings show up well. This bird, and a mate, have hung around all winter, usually coming to the garden in late afternoon.

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Here’s a pine siskin. It’s a finch with yellow wing and tail markings that travels in large flocks. Earlier in the winter, it came to my feeder with common redpolls, another member of the finch family with rosy coloring on the head and breast. Right now, only the siskins remain. They are greedy, emptying the feeder each day by scattering seeds everywhere. I’m sure to have some sunflowers in the garden this summer.

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The Gray Ghost

The Great Gray Owl stands near the top of every serious bird watcher’s most-wanted list.” That’s how Robert W. Nero, Manitoba ornithologist, began the Foreword of his book, The Great Gray Owl: phantom of the northern forest (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980).

I may be more of a hobby birder than a “serious” one, but until yesterday, that owl was right at the top of my wanna-see list. We just completed a jigsaw puzzle of Robert Bateman’s painting, Ghost of the North. I think it was simply the right time to get my prize!

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My interest in birding began in a small way when I lived in PEI, took firmer hold when I lived in Saskatchewan in the 80s and 90s, and has stayed strong ever since. Dr. Nero gave a presentation on his extensive Great Gray Owl studies at a Regina Natural History Society meeting. I was fascinated by his stories of capture that involved a fishing rod and lure (an artificial mouse) for banding to gather biological data. I even used such a scene in a short story once (still unpublished).

I bought Nero’s book (maybe his first of 9), and that’s when the owl went onto my own list. I never had an opportunity to see one when they emerged from the boreal forests into the southern prairies. Nor did I get lucky on subsequent birding trips to likely habitat. So when reports of Great Grays became more frequent around my Shuswap area home recently, the time was right.

Great Gray on the wing

Great Gray on the wing

Late afternoon is prime hunting time for owls which feed on small mammals such as mice. The large Great Gray will often perch low to the ground on a fence post at the edge of an open field, slowly turning its head, aiming its huge facial disk to capture tiny sounds. Super sensitive hearing is the key to success locating mice beneath the snow. This owl also seems to be a creature of habit, so will haunt a particular area repeatedly. And that’s what gives determined birders their chance. The Great Gray is #501 (and the 11th owl species) on my Life List.

Winter Hike to Margaret Falls

I always look forward to the Christmas Bird Count around Salmon Arm, BC. The route I’ve covered for the past 17 years in late December includes Herald Provincial Park on the north side of Shuswap Lake. In my walks through the park roads and campgrounds, I’ve rarely seen or heard many birds—a few golden-crowned kinglets twittering in the evergreens, and usually one Townsend’s Solitaire (but not this year!)—even though it seems like perfect habitat.

However, there is one bird you might be lucky enough to spot, if you can reach its favorite habitat. Across the road from the main park a trail follows Reinecker Creek through a rocky gorge to Margaret Falls. It’s a cool, shady 15 minute walk in summer, but in winter the trail is often slippery with ice—frozen spray from the falls. That means it isn’t always easy to get to the end.

Margaret Falls trail

Margaret Falls trail

But if you do, you can stand directly opposite the base of the falls where a pool forms before the water tumbles its way down the creek to Shuswap Lake. It can be quite a rush of water in the winter, bringing melting snow down from the upper part of the gorge.

It is said that a cave exists behind the falls……..it’s a dark patch in the lower part of this photo.

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The prize bird? An American Dipper. These plump little songbirds love fast-flowing mountain streams where they actually walk on the bottom to feed on aquatic insect larvae. They’re dark gray, with a short tail and get their name from their habit of bobbing (dipping?) up and down as they stand on the creek side logs or rocks.

The dippers of Margaret Falls might be seen anywhere along the rushing creek, but they hang out near the falls frequently. I was not lucky this winter….but in September, I did spot 2 dippers flying around by the falls. See if you can pick one of them out in this picture. It is standing on a clear patch of the mossy log, almost central in the photo.

American Dipper

American Dipper