Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Loggerhead Shrike on the Radio

I caught an interesting interview on CBC Radio's "As It Happens" this evening, discussing the Loggerhead Shrike with Rebecca Magnus of Nature Saskatchewan.  There was a good description of the bird's interesting life history, focusing of course on the habit of impaling prey on barbed wire and thorns.  There was also discussion of the threats to the species and the decline in the Alberta and Saskatchewan populations.

To listen to the interview follow this link, click on "Listen to Part 2", then fast forward to about 17:20.  More information on the Shrike monitoring program can be found at Nature Saskatchewan.  Lastly, here's a photo of the bird in question, taken by the interviewee - click on the image to link through to their Flickr account:
Loggerhead Shrike

Monday, 27 June 2011

Life Bird #200 - Father's Day Outing Part 1

The past week has been filled with report cards, exams and other end of term activities.  There has been little time for birding and therefore zero time for blogging (putting blogging about birding before actual birding would be kind of silly!).

Last weekend was Father's Day and we took a day trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.  After touring the museum we drove back by a scenic route, spotting various birds along the way, including some lovely Mountain Bluebirds in the ghost town of Wayne.  With more time to explore I suspect this stretch of road is a fantastic spot for songbirds of all types, with a mix of prairie and riparian habitat.

The real highlight was in a slough on Hwy 56 just north of Hussar.  We found at least 10 nesting pairs of American Coot, some of them right by the road's edge.

We also spotted a pair of black birds flitting back and forth across the marsh, picking insects from the surface.  Eventually we figured out that they were Black Terns, a lifer for me.  These birds are graceful in flight with a slightly notched tail and slender wings.  They migrate out of Alberta in September, wintering as far south as Central America.  Sadly their populations have been declining, due to habitat loss, over the last few decades.

Despite dodging rainstorms all day it was a pleasant prairie drive and I discovered a number of spots that I will try to return to in the summer.  There was also an opportunity to go out exploring in the evening, more of which in my next post.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Black Bird Down

The Black-billed Magpies nesting in the spruce tree in front of our house were unusually noisy the other day - every time we went in or out of the door they were positively screaming at us from the eavestrough.  In the evening, I had a few minutes to poke around in the rain to figure out what the fuss was all about and under our neighbour's hedge this little fledgling was hiding.
Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia, fledgling
Given the number of outdoor cats in our neighbourhood I didn't feel optimistic about this young bird's chances, although Mom and Dad were clearly going to be pretty serious about defending it.  There was no sign of the fledgling the next day and the parents had settled down.  I've read that fledglings are much more capable of flight and/or self-defense than we generally assume so perhaps it made it through after all?
What's going on down there?
No pictures please!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back in the saddle...

Literally!  After a family emergency and a persistent out-of-season cold I managed to get out again for the first time since the May species count day.  As usual it was a short after-work bike ride that did the trick and I headed down to Edworthy Park, then back along the south side of the river, through Lawrey Gardens.  There is a decent size colony of Cliff Swallows under the pedestrian bridge at Edworthy.  It was fun to stand on the bridge and have them swoop just a few meters away, although the best views of the nests were to be had from the riverbank (or what's left of it during this peak meltwater time).
Under the bridge - nests visible through the upper circle and at the top of the frame
Zooming in - Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, in centre
and zooming in again (a bad digital crop)
There were more swallows to be found further along the trail, in this case Tree Swallows perching and presumably nesting in the dead trees along the river bank.  The Cedar Waxwings are back in force now too - I saw 5 individuals today and heard a few more, although neither the numbers nor the noise matched up with the flock in our yard and alley on the weekend.  Yellow Warblers were also vocal and numerous but the real treat of the day came, as is so often the case, just when it was time to head home.

As I was biking along a few hundred metres west of Crowchild Trail there was flash of gray across the trail and, as I screeched to a stop, a Gray Catbird alit on branch by the trail and then disappeared into the undergrowth.  It turned out to be a pair and a likely nest.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their proximity to the busy bike path, they were quite relaxed and cooperative and I had great views and managed to get a couple of decent shots in the shady undergrowth.
Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis 
All in all a nice hour or so of weekday birding and great to be out enjoying the birds on a sunny day again.