Monday, 3 October 2011

Birding When You Can't Bird

Two weeks of silence on this blog correlates to two weeks of little to no birding for me.  A big flock of Common Grackle's moving through the neighbourhood were a treat (and a new NMT bird) while walking the dog.  A Blue Jay was a colourful and relatively rare sight in urban Calgary.  And a Bald Eagle made a majestic low pass over our raft when I was out with my students on the river on Friday - it was nice to see Grade 8's getting excited about birds.  Anyway, those are slim pickings for migration season but the new school year and some busy goings-on at home have kept the scope in the cupboard and the field guide on the shelf.

All this inactivity has got me thinking about ways we enjoy birds when, for whatever set of reasons, we can't actually go out and "bird".  The first, and for many people only, point of engagement with wild birds are feeders.  My own experience with these in Alberta has been somewhat frustrating.  With memories of vast flocks of American Goldfinch swarming over the niger seed at my Mom and Dad's house in Ontario, when we moved into this house I gamely hung feeders in the front and back yards filled with bags of supermarket bird seed.  This did not go well.  The front yard was largely the domain of House Sparrows, with the occasional brave Black-capped Chickadee and Rock Pigeons picking over the mess underneath.  The backyard was just House Sparrows.

With some help from the experts at The Wild Bird Store, on Macleod Trail , I now have a plan.  With three feeders, all in the backyard, there is one place for the inescapable House Sparrows to fill up on millet (on the plus side, I'm feeding the Merlins too!)  The two feeders closer to the house hold high quality nuthatch and chickadee mix and a finch friendly mix.  As you can see, the results have been positive.
A young House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus
Adult House Finch (on the right) seems prepared to brave the aggressive sparrows...
...but the sparrows don't like that
By far the best views I've had of a Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus, and looking forward to more over the winter
It will be interesting to see what sort of birds I can attract once winter begins.  In any case I will keep the blog updated with any worthwhile photos.

On the topic of photos, I'll have another post in the next few days highlighting another way to bird when you can't bird and showcase a few talented fellow Albertan photographers.