Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Problem with Hummingbirds

The problem with hummingbirds is that they look different in different light.  Sometimes that makes them more interesting, but sometimes it just makes identification more difficult.

While in Costa Rica we saw many hummingbirds.  A few were easy to identify, many were not.  At the time it was easy because we had Steve our guide there telling us that this is a Scintillant and that is a Volcano.  I snapped photos happily and never dreamed that when I looked at them later I would have no idea which was which and no memory of which one we saw at 8:36 and which was at 10:24.

I mentioned those two because they are the ones that are causing the most trouble. I found a website that showed photos of males and females of both which one would think would make identification easier.  One would think.  But then we are back to the problem of lighting.  None of my photos showed a bright purple or orange throat.  And my birds did not cooperate like the ones on the website and sit side by side on a branch--still--and pointing in the same direction.  So I compared photos with Dianne who was there in Costa Rica taking pictures of the same birds.  And everything I called a Scintillant she called a Volcano.

So here, for your amusement, are photos of a new hybrd discovered by Dianne and me last December:  Scintillant-Volcano Hummingbirds.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit.  I labelled the first three pictures Scintillant and the next two Volcano.  I'd like to name the last one a Volcano as well, but I'm too confused to commit myself.

If you would like to weigh in on this (please do) here is the link to the Neotropical page that shows what these birds can look like under great lighting. I'd love to know for sure which is which.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Winter Birds from my Office Chair

I have seen birds since my last post, more than four hundred species in fact, most of them while in Costa Rica in December.  I plan to post a few photos of those, but today I am posting the birds that I saw while I should have been doing useful things with numbers.

The bird we see in our yard in winter the most is the House Sparrow.  There are dozens of them, more than we have in the summer.

Blue Jays vary in our yard, some winters we don't see any, in other years the Jays are here intermittently.  This year we seem to have about 4 or 5 on an ongoing basis.  There were more in the fall, but I think some moved on.

(In the interest of full disclosure, the photos of the Blue Jays were taken from my kitchen window, not the office window, but the same birds have been seen from the office, I just liked these photos better.)

One of my favourite winter birds, the Common Redpoll, like the Blue Jays, are not here every year.  This year I've seen maybe three or four at a time, but I am quite sure there are more around.  One of the things about a farm is that there are many food choices, showing up at the feeders by the house is not required in order to be fed.

We have a Red-breasted Nuthatch this winter.  I may have seem one in our yard occasionally in the past, but this little guy is a regular at our feeders.  Very exciting for me.

And then there is the summer bird that shouldn't be here but is.  This American Goldfinch startled me when I saw him a few days ago.  I have no idea where he has been since all his buddies few south, but he is here eating my niger seed this week.
And occasionally the sunflower seeds too.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nelson's Sparrow

Found several of these small prairie birds in a seeded hay field close to our home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

June Birds

The most exciting bird experience in June was seeing a bird that I searched for all last summer and a few weeks this spring.  Early on June 5 I saw it for the first time.  I also saw it sing, so I knew it really was the bird I've been hearing all over our yard.  The Warbling Vireo.

 #2 on the excitement scale was learning that both Bobolinks and Lark Buntings had taken up summer residences near our home (near as within several miles) so we've seen them much more than usual.

Here are a few of my favourite photos of the less rare birds we saw in June.

A Northern Shoveller who strayed from the usual duck behavior and didn't fly away when I approached him.

A Baltimore Oriole in our yard.
Eastern Kingbirds, also in our yard.
Horned Grebes on our stock-watering dam.
A Red-eyed Vireo on her nest in Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba.
Not a bird, but an elk. An animal that I've never seen in our part of Saskatchewan before.  But then I hadn't seen a moose either, twenty years ago.  And now they are all over.  And other people have seen cougars and bears.  Guess I may have to become a mammal watcher, too.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Birding in our pasture

June 26 Ray and I spent several hours walking around in mostly native areas of our pasture in the Rock Point area of Saskatchewan near Marcrorie.

The wild flowers were out in profusion, among them many, many Western Red Lilies.
Roses were blooming on plants much too small to be called bushes.
The most common bird we saw or heard was the Savannah Sparrow.

But the most exciting was my first ever LeConte's Sparrow.  It was sitting on a crossbar by the gate where we had stopped. Ray saw it before we got out which was great as we didn't scare it away.  He had to take all the photos because he was on the right side of the vehicle with his window open.  I really wanted to get out where I could see the bird without the windshield in the way, but being sure it would fly, I stayed put.  And so did the bird.  For more than 3 minutes.
We were also privileged to see three species of grebes, most with babies, a family of Northern Flickers and several Killdeer. 
Including the birds we identified on the drive to and from the pasture, we counted 44 species.  Not too bad for a Sunday afternoon close to home.

Here's one of the Lark Buntings that have taken up residence a few miles north of our farm.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

May Birding

May is an excellent month for birding in Saskatchewan.

The shorebirds are coming through on their way to their nesting grounds, including this Solitary Sandpiper.
Our part of Saskatchewan, the West Central grasslands, can also be a good place to see birds like this Whimbrel
and this Sharp-tailed Grouse.  We've seen a lot of Sharp-tailed Grouse this spring and wonder if our easy winter made a difference in their numbers.
Though we live in the prairies, we are fortunate to get some forest birds when they migrate through twice a year.  I especially appreciate the ones that sing during migration, like the White-throated Sparrow.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks didn't sing much, but they looked beautiful.
This year the Pine Siskins outdid every other migrant in numbers. The birds are almost invisible in this photo, but there were dozens of Pine Siskins on our patio May 24, and close to 40 of them were in this picture.

We gained a couple of lifers this month. One was this Ovenbird.  We first saw it under a bush and thought we were chasing a thrush, but when we got a better look here was this lovely little warbler.
There were lots of thrushes around, too, of course, just for a couple of weeks. When you look at this Swainson's, you see the similarities.
I can't post photos of all one hundred or so birds we saw this May so I'll end with a couple of our regular yard birds.  Here I was being eyed by a Least Flycatcher.
 And the Baltimore Oriole who never wants to eat the fruit or jelly I have for him, but sings throughout the day from the poplars around the yard.  (and sometimes from this oak)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Loggerhead Shrikes

May 8 was memorable for seeing 7 Loggerhead Shrikes at five different sites.  I'm not sure if seeing seven in one day was the most surprising, or seeing three in one location.  Previous to this, I've never seen more than 2 together except families after the babies fledged.

Our first was along the highway as we drove.

The second was in the South West Quadrant of Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. (An hour or so later we saw a Shrike in the same quadrant a half mile or so away so we decided it was likely the same bird and did not include it in the seven.)
Shortly after this we saw our third Loggerhead Shrike on the shore of the river close to the bridge in the North West Quadrant.
From there we went to the South East Quadrant. I was just writing the number 2 on the Sask Landing list when Ray saw our fourth Loggerhead Shrike of the day. 
Two posts down was number five and across a grass strip was number six.

Two hours later and half a mile from our house we saw our seventh Loggerhead Shrike of the day.

That ended the day where we had a year's worth of shrike viewing in less than eight hours.