Hello from my backyard!
It’s been quite a long time since I posted from here (since March ’21!) … sorry about that. I wasn’t feeding the birds much this past summer because of bears in the area. Then, in late summer, my yard was hit with a Trichomoniasis outbreak for the first time ever and I had to put all feeders and birdbaths away for nearly a month. I just put the feeders back out about a week or so ago and the birdbath just went back out a couple of days ago. I will be watching closely for sick birds again as freeze-up nears.
This post will be a sort of catch-up for the summer & fall with photos.
We’ll start with this little cutie. This Groundhog visited my backyard for a few weeks over mid summer. It had a feast in my neighbour’s garden (!!!) and took a major liking to the petunias & nasturtiums I had growing in pots around the yard. I didn’t mind having it around one bit but my neighbours weren’t thrilled.
It was a very good season for nesting birds near my yard. Lots of youngsters later in the summer!
I had lots of Hummingbird activity in the yard the whole summer.
A Sandhill Crane family wandered all over town in mid to late summer, adopting our old high school track field to feed every day for a few weeks.
I had a very good number of Goldfinches around the yard for much of the summer. Not much sounds cuter than the call of a Goldfinch!
I was so excited one day when not just one but TWO Black Throated Green Warblers discovered the fruit in my Mountain Ash tree this summer! I’ve never had this species in my yard before, that I know of.
I hardly saw any Woodpeckers this summer at all since I had to keep my peanut feeder put away most of the time. This one returned last week, shortly after the peanut tube went back out.
Some very exciting visits to my yard this summer were Vireos …… a TRIFECTA of Vireos, actually! Vireos are most certainly some of THE prettiest birds in the region. It’s an exceptional year when I see a few Red Eyed Vireos. It’s truly amazing when all 3 of these Vireos show up in my yard AT THE SAME TIME!
And now that we are well into fall, the White Crowned Sparrows have moved into the yard with many Dark Eyed Juncos.
Once again, it’s a good season when I get to see American Pipits. I only ever see them during fall migration but I don’t get to see them every year. Last week, a flock of about 20 moved through my neighbourhood and lawn.
Another migrant I seldom get to see is the Harris’s Sparrow. This handsome young fella has been in & out of my yard for a few days now. He is certainly one of the more striking Sparrows!
I’ll end this month with a report that Cornell’s webcam in my backyard will be coming back online soon to stream worldwide for the upcoming Project FeederWatch season, running from mid November ’21 to the end of next April. Watch on social media for announcements when we go live in the next couple of weeks!
Thanks so much for reading and viewing. Until next time ……
Barb Castell is a birder who lives on an acreage SW of Calgary, Alberta, near the community of Priddis. The location is in the foothills, a transition zone between the prairies to the east and the mountains to the west. It is a great place to see birds, including some uncommon species, that come to her feeders and bird baths. It’s one of the most reliable places in the area to see Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, and even Black-headed Grosbeaks – species that are rarely seen in the city, the outskirts of which lie only 15 km away.
Evening Grosbeak (male). Common in Calgary sixty years ago, but rarely seen there now.
Of course this is private property with restricted access, but there is a YouTube Channel which has a daily live stream from three cameras set up on the property. You can watch the birds live, and participate in the chat about what is being seen. There are also many archived past live streams, and clips of highlights on the site. Here is the YouTube page: Foothills Birds. They also have a web page with more information and a link to the YouTube site: foothillsbirds.com Below is one of the clips from YouTube, featuring some brave Blue Jays.
During the recent fall migration as many as twenty-six species were seen in a day, including migrating hummingbirds and warblers. Late migrants continue to pass through. On October 1st, twenty-one species were seen, including the first report of a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the Calgary area this fall.
Golden-crowned Sparrow. A mainly Pacific-coast bird, it does have a breeding population along the nearby eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.
Archived streams feature birds like Northern Goshawks, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Ruffed Grouse, and Mammals like Red Squirrels, Northern Flying Squirrels, and Bats. It is very entertaining and educational to watch! Below is a nighttime video of a Northern Flying Squirrel (in the left-hand feeder) being chased by a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
I’d like to urge you to go to YouTube and subscribe to this channel. It’s as simple as clicking on the “Subscribe” button if you are a regular YouTube user. If not, to get your free subscription,
1. Go to: https://www.youtube.com/foothillsbirds
2. Log into your Google Account, if you aren’t already logged in, top right corner.
3. Click on the red SUBSCRIBE button on the right side.
4. It should change from red to gray and say UNSUBSCRIBE.
Being subscribed to a channel is not obtrusive. For you, it just means that the site appears in your feed as a suggestion from time to time when you are already on the YouTube site. Any new clips that they add will appear in your suggestions. It will also be easy for you to re-find the site since there will be a link to it under your subscriptions. But it is very important for Foothills Birds to get more subscribers! Even if you do not plan to visit the site much, please subscribe so that it will be suggested to more and more YouTube users and seen by more people. There are currently about 515 subscribers, and if they get to 1000, it will allow them to get more advanced features from YouTube and allow them to do more to support the birds. Some photos of birds seen at the feeders, from the web site:
A male Varied Thrush.
Male Pileated Woodpecker.
The best time to view the birds is when they are hungry early in the morning. The camera is usually on from from dawn to dusk. This location is now an eBird HotSpot, so you can go on eBird and see what has been reported there every day. There have been 109 species observed at the location this year, and 141 species all-time! If you are on Twitter, follow them @FoothillsBirds. They regularly post photos of birds that are at the feeders and in the area, as well as lists of species seen at the feeders. You can also follow Foothills Birds on Facebook and Instagram. So visit the site, watch some clips and live streams, and subscribe. Check the site from time to time, and follow it throughout the spring migration in 2022. Let’s help them reach their goal of 1000 subscribers!
Hello again from Manitouwadge!
First off on a good note, the Western Meadowlark is still here, still visiting my yard almost daily & looks perfectly healthy. Such a beautiful bird!
BUT!! I recently found out that this beautiful bird has a dark side: one day last week, it killed a Common Redpoll in my yard! I never expected that from a bird that is a seed & insect eater but research after the fact showed that these things do indeed happen. I have photos of the whole scenario … they are a bit distant but those that are squeamish may wish to scroll past.
So, in all of that excitement, did anyone even notice the Starling that was on the platform feeder in those photos?! 🙂
And now, another black bird, this time the majestic Raven. I love when they visit my feeders. This one had its work cut out for him/her. I had a suet cake on the platform feeder (went through 4 of them this season) and the Canada Jays loved it. So did the Chickadees ….. but so did the Raven. He would try to pick up the cake to fly away with it but the cake was much too heavy when full size. Twice, the Raven picked it up only to immediately drop it on the ground below the platform. Twice I picked it up & put it back so the smalled birds could eat a bit more. The third time the Raven dropped it, he put a big crack in it. I knew it wouldn’t be there much longer. Sure enough, the next day, the Raven returned, wedged his top beak into the crack & picked up the suet cake!
So here are some photos of other recent visitors to my yard & feeders.
I’m happy to say that we still have a pair of Red Foxes coming around. Their denning time is quickly approaching so I doubt we’ll be seeing both of them much longer but in the meantime, I finally caught a couple of snapshots of BOTH of them with the webcam recently. 🙂
So that’s it for now. You can still view my feeders over the webcam as Project FeederWatch has been extended (possibly permanently?) to the end of April so the cam will stream until then. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/ontario-feederwatch/
Hello again & Happy New Year!
I’m hoping the series of photos I’m going to post here can help bring you some smiles during these difficult times of pandemic, lockdowns and mid winter blues.
I certainly don’t have large numbers of individual birds coming to my yard but I do have a fairly good assortment coming around, including two winter/seasonal rarities for me: a Western Meadowlark and a White Throated Sparrow. The sparrow isn’t TOO far out of the norm here ….. it’s always possible to see sparrows of some kind here in winter ….. but the Meadowlark is a WHOLE other story. I’ve never seen one even in spring or summer, let alone all winter!
Earlier in the fall, the Meadowlark wasn’t getting along with or tolerating ANYone out there, especially the Blue Jays. But, as winter moved in & got a solid grip on the region, the battles outside mostly stopped. Feeding had to take priority.
I was happy to see the Meadowlark come back up to the platform feeder today, after feeding solely on the ground the past couple of weeks.
Now, here is where things get really odd. The Meadowlark and the White Throated Sparrow appear to have befriended each other! I have nicknamed them the Odd Couple! 🙂 They feed together on the ground every day. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or not but it seems to me that the Sparrow purposefully seeks out the Meadowlark. I see them feeding like this a few times per day! The Sparrow is still living under my back deck where he is very well protected and able to stay out of the weather. I’m not absolutely sure but I think the Meadowlark may now be going under there too. How smart is that!
The fluffed up White Throated Sparrow on my deck steps.
In other backyard news, it’s been another exceptionally quiet season for the webcam. Virtually NO Grosbeaks, whether Pines or Evenings. I hear them in the neighbourhood sometimes or I’ll see them way up in the tree tops but they are seldom coming to feeders. Today, I finally had 2 beautiful male Pine Grosbeaks come down to the platform feeder. They look almost neon in the early morning light.
The past week or so, I’ve also finally had some Redpolls coming to the yard! They still have not discovered the nyjer feeder yet though. I’m not really sure they will this season. They will feed on the ground & sometimes, the platform feeder but boy, they don’t stay long. After 2 or 3 minutes, they usually fly off.
I’m happy to have a regular flock of Blue Jays that come to the yard every day. I’ve never been able to figure out where they go in summer but I never see them from May to October, then I get anywhere from 6 to 10 of them all winter long.
My beloved Canada Jays come around daily now too, usually two of them but on rare occasions, a third one will show up. It causes a ruckus out there because the regular two are a mated pair. The third one could very well be there offspring from last season for all I know.
I like this next photo. There are actually two Canada Jays here: one having a drink from the birdbath, the other on the platform feeder behind.
The only photo I’ve managed to get so far this winter, of all three Canada Jays together! The Pair Plus One!
I’m finding that Woodpecker visits are down this winter too. I normally have both Downy & Hairy woodpeckers here almost daily all winter but this year, I go weeks at a time without seeing any of them. I sometimes hear them calling or hammering from the woods behind my backyard though.
Female Hairy Woodpecker
Ruffed Grouse visits have been few & far between, as well. I may see it 3 days in a row on the platform feeder, then go two weeks without seeing it at all. Being the Rock Star of the webcam, though, it sure causes excitement when it does come around! 🙂
In this photo, the Grouse is illuminated by Christmas lights from a nearby shrub.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen ‘my’ Flying Squirrels in over a month now but there is a reason why: we have two Red Foxes coming around most nights …. and some days! They have cleaned up all the mice that were coming in at night under the snow to feed under the feeders. I watched on the webcam twice as they successfully caught two on two different nights. They also will eat peanuts & sunflower seeds left over from the day.
One morning a couple of weeks ago, I opened my front blinds to see these two playing & frolicking in the snow, chasing each other around my neighbour’s shrub across the street, chasing each other up and over the snowbanks. I’m thinking now that they are a mated pair courting for the upcoming breeding season. 🙂
They can be so playful!
I have an interesting story for you, to end with this month. A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a drive out to our camp an hour into the woods from here, to clean the driveway after a big snowstorm. We came around a corner on the road in the middle of the trip and interrupted a hunt: a WOLF had almost caught a FOX! The photo is horribly blurry as we were still moving when I snapped it. We accidentally distracted the wolf … just enough for the fox to turn & bound away over the snowbank! The wolf, missing out on its lunch, then proceeded to run up the road ahead of us for a good 5 miles. We weren’t chasing it, and I felt so bad that it missed its lunch even though I was happy for the fox! … it just wouldn’t get off the road until then, no matter how slow we were going behind it. I’ve never seen anything like this and it never once occurred to me before that a wolf would hunt a fox but I know coyotes will so why not a wolf, right?
I’m always watching for owls on the trip to camp and back and that day, I got lucky. We came across a Northern Hawk Owl sitting on the very tip of a dead tree. The lighting was horrible so please forgive the graininess but it sure was awesome to see. It’s probably been a good 5 years since I’ve seen a Hawk Owl.
That’s it (and enough, I think!) for this month. I sincerely hope everyone is doing well & staying safe. Until next time!
Hello, hello, hello!
Wow, it has been a good long while since I’ve posted here but this has been an UNREAL year for me, as I’m sure it has been for many of you. After my last post in February, my best friend got very ill in late March (not Covid). She was in the hospital battling a severe illness for 2 weeks before she lost the fight. This was a nearly-40 year long extremely close friendship. To say I was devastated just doesn’t cover it. I lost my drive, my enjoyment in life … I avoided so many things I used to love for so long … birds, photography, writing. When fall came around, I finally had the urge to pick up the camera again. What I’m going to show you in this post is mostly just one photo from each month, of a bird or birds that visited my yard. Let’s go back to the beginning of the year, shall we?
The super handsome Canada Jay. Sometimes there is only one, sometimes there can be 2 or 3. The sweetest birds EVER!
The Ruffed Grouse – also known as the Rock Star of Cornell’s Ontario Webcam 🙂
The Crow – at one point in early spring, I had 22 Crows in my backyard. Not sure what my neighbours thought of that. 🙂
At the end of last winter, my backyard was taken over by my favourite Blackbird: the Rusty. I had likely over 200 of them a day, at one point. A single Mourning Dove showed up in April too.
I was thrilled to see a pair of Mallard Ducks fly into my backyard one day in May! It was a long cold spring & luckily, I had some cracked corn left from winter feeding to put out for them. They came around almost daily for a few weeks.
One morning, I looked out my livingroom window and saw this adorable little Eastern Bluebird sitting on my retaining wall post. It was a chilly morning, hence it being so fluffed up. They nest around here in summer but have yet to win the battle over my birdhouse with the Tree Swallows.
Considering how long & cold spring was, summer was beautiful here. I grew lots of marigolds & nasturtiums from seed. Combined with everything else blooming in the yard, it was a haven for Ruby Throated Hummingbirds like the young male in the photo. They were the best distraction for me over the season.
I’ve never had so many Purple Finches (like the male in this photo) in my yard (50+ at a time!) as I did all last winter & spring. In summer, many of them moved off for nesting time. I never saw that many again the rest of the year and this winter now, I haven’t seen a single one. Odd seasons!
Watching Sparrows in the fall is always a joy. This year, I had a bumper crop of White Crowned Sparrows. As in this photo, I had entire families of them for late August, September and October.
I didn’t see the normal number of different Sparrow species in my yard this fall as I normally do. This lovely Fox Sparrow (plus one other) was a treat to have around for a few weeks. I would hear them when I stepped outside but only saw them when I came back in the house. They are our largest Sparrow.
As usual, November brought me a few surprises to my yard. A few late migrants visited my yard including a Red Winged Blackbird and this White Throated Sparrow. The biggest surprise this year though, is a Western Meadowlark! (on the right in this photo). These last two are still here, the week before Christmas. The Sparrow is living under my back deck & it comes out to feed a few times per day. The Meadowlark showed up in my yard at the end of November, after a friend had told me it had been under her feeders for a week before that.
The White Throated Sparrow seems to be doing quite well. It’s living under my back deck but once in a while, like the other day, I’ll see it sitting in my pine trees or having a snack under my feeders. I can sometimes track it down by following its quiet little cheeps.
This handsome Western Meadowlark is my big surprise of this fall migration season. If I’m going to see something fairly spectacular duing migration, it will likely be in Novenber! I don’t know how it ended up here but I will do my best to help it survive the winter that is knocking on our doorstep. It will sometimes disappear for 3 or 4 days & I’ll think I’ve seen the last of it but then one morning, it will be out there again, under the feeders or right up on the platform feeder, giving my webcam viewers a huge thrill! It has already survived a couple of days of low -20’s C temperatures and there is more of that coming over Christmas next week. Wish him/her luck!
As I’ve mentioned, Cornell’s Project FeederWatch webcam in my backyard is back up and streaming for the winter season. Check it out if you have a moment. It’s not always very busy but you never know who might show up on cam. 🙂 https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/ontario-feederwatch/
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. May we all have peace, happiness & good health in 2021.
Hard to believe 6 months have passed since my last post. Guess I’ll put that down to a combination of the general craziness of 2020, plus the expected laziness of the summer! I thought it might be nice to publish a few photo albums from April to now, so this one covers early spring when the first migrant species began to return here in Calgary.
As always, many of the new arrivals are waterfowl, with greater and greater numbers showing up as the amount of available open/unfrozen water rises. Foremost among the early arrivals are the Common Goldeneyes (although some do over-winter as well), with the drakes intent on impressing any hen they can find with their entertaining backward head flips:
However, for a keen photographer like myself, what stands out about these little ducks is the dramatic iridescent head plumage that seems to show off every colour of the rainbow when the light hits at the right angle:
My first time witnessing the courtship dance of the Red-necked Grebe was definitely a personal highlight this year. Seeing a pair of these grebes calling to each other from the far side of small lake before paddling closer and closer to each other, calling all the time:
To produce a spring album and leave out the American Robin – locally considered to be the harbingers of this season – would be a serious omission, so here’s a few snaps of some robins I found along the Bow River.
Having found some spare time over the past week or so, I’ve managed to go back through this winter’s image files and process my highlights from the last few months. First and foremost among the highlights, and a recent encounter, was this drop-dead gorgeous male Varied Thrush:
He was as skittish as he was handsome and I was only able to get a very few shots that I was happy with, but one is enough!
A day-long road trip though the foothills west of Calgary in late December yielded disappointingly very little wildlife, nevertheless it was pleasing to see a few of the local characters such as several Canada Jays watching some ice fishers in hopes of a morsel coming their way:
This owl seemed content to watch us in the distance as we used our long zoom lenses and extenders and we left it as we found a few minutes later. For me, any owl day is typically a good day and this was no exception!
Or during the golden hour before sunset:Plugra, Unsalted European-Style Butter Bar, 8 oz
And now while most of our lives are being, and will continue to be for some time, changed by the onset of Covid19, I take great comfort from the fact that birding is still an activity that I can continue to take great pleasure from, and we still have all the excitement of the spring arrivals just around the corner!
Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 4 months since I released a blog post. I sincerely apologize for that but I do have a reason. Believe it or not, most of this winter has been absolutely dead quiet in my yard & I’ve really had nothing to talk about. If you’ve watched the webcam here at all, you know what I mean. Until into January, there was virtually nothing to see here. I have NEVER seen a winter like this in all the years I’ve been feeding the birds. I have had a high count of only 5 Pine Grosbeaks and a high count of only a dozen Common Redpolls where I would normally expect 100+. It would appear that there are good numbers of these birds in the woods …. they are just not coming to feeders this season. What I’ve been able to gather is that there is above average amounts of natural food available. Birds will always take natural sources over feeders at every opportunity.
I was so excited to see this one lone male Common Redpoll come into the yard for a few minutes the other day.
As I said, I have not seen many Pine Grosbeaks (these ones are with a female Purple Finch) around but I did see one that I thought was quite interesting … the one on the right in this photo. I believe that one was a hatch year bird from last year. Notice the colour of the rump. He has not completely developed his adult colouring yet.
I have different birds coming to my feeders now and activity has really (finally!) picked up in the last couple of weeks. Some of these birds, I do not normally have at my feeders in winter, including:
I have barely seen any Evening Grosbeaks all winter until just recently. Now, I have a flock of about 25 that come around most mornings.
I have 3 or 4 woodpeckers coming around daily. There is a pair of Hairies who are JUST beginning to tolerate each other for the season. This male Downy comes around a few times per week and sometimes a female Downy will come around but not too much just yet.
Corvid time. 🙂 I have an entire family of Crows here daily. There is a regular family of 5 (with 3 young that hatched behind my back fence last year) but there have been up to 8 Crows here at once.
The Rock Star of the webcam, the Ruffed Grouse, has not visited much this season until late January. There has only been the one Grouse that I know of and its visits have been very sporadic.
One day a couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover a special pair of visitors at my feeders: White Winged Crossbills! They were here for most of one day and that was all. They are being seen in the woods this winter in excellent numbers so I’m hoping to have return visits in the spring.
I have another wonderful visitor this winter but this one is at night: a Northern Flying Squirrel! In fact, a couple of times, we’ve had 2 of them come in for a nighttime feed. I have one Flying Squirrel here most nights & it is SO entertaining to watch!
Aside from the two Flying Squirrels, we’ve also had a rabbit & a red fox visit the feeder zone at night.
On another note, we’ve had some issues with our server this season but I’m really hoping we are on top of things now & the webcam will be stabilized for the rest of the season. Fingers crossed. If you have not visited the Ontario FeederWatch Webcam in my yard, feel free to check it out!
Guess I had enough to talk about after all. Thanks for viewing & reading …. see you next time. 🙂
Show the wild birds some love by taking part in the 23rd Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This year’s count begins on Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, and continues through Monday, February 17. Volunteers from around the world count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, and then enter their checklists at birdcount.org.
There is no better time to get involved because we are facing a bird emergency. In a study published by the journal Science last fall, scientists revealed a decline of more than one in four birds in the United States and Canada since 1970—3 billion birds gone. In addition to these steep declines, Audubon scientists projected a grim future for birds in Survival By Degrees, a report showing nearly two-thirds of North America’s bird species could disappear due to climate change. Birds from around the world are facing similar challenges and declines. Counting birds for science is one simple action that individuals can take to protect birds and the places where they live.
“In order to understand where birds are and how their numbers are changing, we need everybody’s help,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program which collects the GBBC data. “Without this information, scientists will not have enough data to show where birds are declining.”
With more than 10,000 species in the world, it means all hands on deck to monitor birds found in backyards and neighborhoods as well as in suburban parks, wild areas, and cities.
“Birds are important because they’re excellent indicators of the health of our ecosystems. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the easiest and best ways to help scientists understand how our changing climate may be affecting the world’s birdlife,” says Chad Wilsey, interim Chief Scientist for National Audubon Society. “All over the world people are paying more attention to our environment and how it’s changing. There’s a lot of bad news out there, but in just 15 minutes you can be part of a global solution to the crises birds and people are facing.”
During the 2019 GBBC, bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted more than 210,000 bird checklists reporting a record 6,850 species–more than half the known bird species in the world. Bird count data become more and more valuable over time because they highlight trends over many years, apart from the normal short-term fluctuations in bird populations.
“At times, we can feel like there’s little we can do on environmental issues,” says Steven Price, president of Birds Canada. “The Great Backyard Bird Count gives all bird enthusiasts a chance to help, as well as a great opportunity to include family and friends of all skill levels in a common conservation effort. Go out, have fun, and take heart that you are helping birds and nature!”
To learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit birdcount.org.
As brief as Calgary’s autumn is, the gorgeous leaf colours that this season brings help make up for its brevity. However, as I work during the week, I can only get some shooting in on the weekends and I just have to hope that the colours are peaking on those days & that a frosty cold snap – which will make the leaves drop en masse almost overnight – doesn’t occur during the week. Well, I wasn’t so lucky on both fronts this year, but still managed to capture some images I was happy with.
Then continued off on its run along the bank!
As I returned to my vehicle I came across a flock of magpies:Aluminum Folding Picnic Table - Adjustable Height Lightweight Po
My last ‘autumn’ outing (i.e. before the first snow hit Calgary) was to another local park where I hadn’t gone 30 metres from my car when I spied a beautiful pale Great Horned Owl blending in superbly with its environment:
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