Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A gull and a loon

Today Ray and I walked along the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon looking for a Red-throated Loon.  And we found it.

It has a beautiful red spot on its throat which I saw but wasn't quick enough with the camera.  Right after I took this photo the loon dived under the water.  We glimpsed it again about half an hour later but I didn't have another photo opportunity.

We did find a more cooperative bird, however, in this gull. 

I find the hardest birds to identify are small sandpipers and hawks, but gulls are not far behind.  After studying bird guides extensively I've decided this is our most common gull, the Ring-billed, but it is a first year bird, just entering his first winter. I based this on its black bill with pink at the base, its mottled brown and white plumage, and the grey feathers just beginning on its back.  While disappointed that it was not something new and exotic, it is still satisfying to give this guy a name.

It was really cold for October 2 but still beautiful, and the walk was great.

Monday, June 25, 2018

New Bird

Last week I went for a short walk in Estevan, a city five or six hours from our farm but still in Saskatchewan.  I saw a lot of the same birds we see here:  Grey Catbirds, Chipping Sparrows, American Robins...

But then I saw this.

Yellow-throated Vireo is my conclusion, based on the amount and arrangement of yellow and white.  

It decided not to be found when I returned with Ray a while later.  Once again our life lists have diverged.  This is getting complicated.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Drama in the back yard

I never see nests.  Or almost never.  I generally have no trouble seeing them in the winter.  Yesterday, however, I was following the song of a Yellow Warbler when the small yellow bird
 landed on its nest. 

 (A nest made mostly of baler twine which is a problem for which I have no solution.  Why?  Because I have three times found dead birds with their feet caught in twine in the nest. They get caught and can't break free.)

I have birding goals.  My main goal is to learn to recognize birds by their song.  My secondary goal is to be able to find birds that are hiding in the trees.  Therefore following the song of this warbler was aiding me in both goals.  A possible third goal is less possible I fear.  It would be to remove cowbird eggs from nests of much smaller birds.

This male Brown-headed Cowbird perched on the top of one of the highest trees in our yard (a dead poplar, sigh) where I believe it was looking for likely nests for its mate to lay her eggs.  A favourite choice are Yellow Warblers.  (A much tinier bird, sigh). When the much larger cowbird egg hatches, the much larger cowbird baby demands the most food and runs its adopted parents ragged feeding it.  Sometimes the big baby will push the littler babies out of the nest.  I would like to remove these foreign eggs from nests but since I only see nests in the winter it is too late.  Until now.  Except that this nest is many feet over my head and in a lilac bush too insubstantial to lean a ladder against.  And sure as shooting, that cowbird saw the same nest I saw.  Sigh.

One last Yellow Warbler photo because Yellow Warblers are one of the cutest birds God made.
This bird is a male.  The one in the first photo is a female.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Varied Thrush and other interesting migrants

This is a beautiful bird.  Unfortunately I neither saw it nor took the photo, but because the bird was seen about ten feet from my house and the photo was taken with my camera I feel comfortable about posting the picture here.  I just can't add it to my life list.
It is, of course, a Varied Thrush.  A bird that according to our bird book isn't supposed to be any closer to Lucky Lake than the Rocky Mountains.

Birds I did see yesterday include a flock of Lapland Longspurs which are just passing through on their way to their nesting grounds in the Arctic.  Generally Longspurs crouch in the grass and practically disappear from view.  I noticed these because some of them chose to sit on a fence wire.
Others dropped to the ground close to the wire where the ground had been worked.  They were only twenty feet or so from my car so I was able to see them.  Further back they seemed to fade into the background.
The female hides even better with her muted colours.
While I watched, about thirty of the birds flew up into the air at the same time and landed again further away.

This one stayed though, along with a few others.
My other bird of the day were these two American Golden-Plovers.  Or that's what I'll call them till someone tells me differently.
The only thing making me uncertain is the white on the underside of the bird on the right. Here are a couple more photos showing different views of the same birds.

Click on photos to make them larger.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I said I was going to look for a Kittiwake and was asked if I wanted a funeral for a cat. 

We didn't find the Kittiwake, which is sad because it is a really cute bird. The fact that it would be a lifer we are seldom likely to see in our home province of Saskatchewan is secondary, of course.

It was 0 degrees at Gardiner Dam and felt much colder in the wind.

We saw Common Goldeneyes and Mallards in several places. Single adult gulls flew over several times.  We assume they were all Herring Gulls because that was the gull seen the day before by better birders than us.
In a more sheltered spot, four gulls stayed for a few photos. I believe they were all immatures, but I can't say what species. The most likely options are Herring and Glaucous. I do not excel at identifying gulls.

There doesn't seem to be any black on the wings of the three lighter gulls.

I am hoping for help here. The photos will be bigger if you click on them.

Postscript:  I've received the hoped for help from one of the aforementioned better birders.  The two adults were confirmed as Herring Gulls and the two pale gulls on the left of the photo of four are Glaucous. The dark gull is a first cycle Herring Gull and the 2nd from the right is an uncertain because of its stand and position in the photo. Both Herring and Glaucous Gulls are 4 year gulls which means they take 4 years to become adults and, to make birding more difficult, have a different plumage every year.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Flock of Finches

I filled the feeders today after letting them remain empty for a while.  Minutes later a dozen or so House Finches and at least one Common Redpoll showed up.

The males came in several colours from this bright, almost red one
 to this fellow with only a hint of orange. I'm guessing he is a juvenile.
These two weren't sure if they wanted to share the feeder.

 The lilac bushes served as a staging area and alternate food source.
 The Redpoll seemed to feel most comfortable in the lilacs, too.
 Amid so many colourful males
we must not forget that the females have their own quiet appeal.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

April Birds

April is an exciting month for birding.  It is the month migrating birds begin returning to Saskatchewan.  (Okay, I know.  There are a few crazy but hardy birds that return earlier, such as Horned Larks, but April is when the sane birds begin returning.)

Here are some of the birds we saw this past April.

I spent a long time looking at guides to decide what kind of hawk this one is, but finally decided on a Red-tailed, partly based on the underwing patterns in the second photo.

This one I could never have identified from this photo, but we saw it land and so were able to identify it as a Northern Harrier.
 Once again, the underneath view identified this hawk for me.  The squares of dark at the "elbow" of the wing tell me this is a Rough-legged Hawk.
Our part of what is called West-Central Saskatchewan gets huge flocks of geese in the fall but for some reason unknown to me, not as many in the spring.  We had to drive a few hours from home to see this flock of mostly Snow Geese on April 7 of this year.
Common Grackles descend on our yard in large flocks, often with Red-winged or other Blackbirds mixed in.  They swoop between trees and fill the yard with their unending and occasionally musical voices.
 A Bufflehead Duck, like all the male ducks in the spring, bright and beautiful and instantly identifiable, even at 100 kmph.
 A Short-eared Owl.  My first sighting in several years, so I was pleased that he stayed for a while.
 And a Sharp-tailed Grouse.  We appear to have several living close to our farm this year, though I seldom see them.
 Canada Geese on the roof of our house.  It always looks strange to see geese on a roof, but since they fly, they can perch there as easily as any robin or kingbird.
We saw this bird on April 29 which means it is a Loggerhead Shrike.  Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes are so similar that here in southern Saskatchewan we assume that shrikes check the calendar before migrating, and identify them accordingly.

 Not all our birds migrate, of course.  Here's a Great Horned Owl who stays all winter.
and some of the five or six American Goldfinches who were here all through April so I have to assume they didn't migrate. (The goldfinches usually show up on our farm the 2nd week in May.) It was interesting watching their colours change as spring approached.