Thursday, May 31, 2012

Black-headed Grosbeak!

I am always delighted when one, or sometimes a pair, of these birds shows up in our neighbourhood in Spring.  They are a western North American species.  My area is about as far east as they come.

By the way, for those of you who have wondered why I have stayed around Estevan these past few years.....this is one of the reasons, along with the Yellow-throated Vireos I saw at Roche Percee Park on Monday.  The vireo mentioned is an eastern species; same situation as with the BH Grosbeak - not found too much farther west or north than here.  Estevan is in that neat corridor where western and eastern species overlap.  Plus, having open water at Boundary during the winter....birding is pretty good around here. 

Anyway, yesterday afternoon my cousin Larry, who lives across the alley from me, and who has a most peaceful, pleasant yard, dropped by to say he had seen an orange/yellow and black bird; not a Baltimore flew into his maple tree.

Well, it turned out to be a handsome male Black-headed Grosbeak  (Pheucticus melanocephalus), decked out in his breeding plumage.  He probably just arrived.  He flew down to have a drink a few times over the next while.  Then, after I managed to get these few pix, he flew up into the top of my front yard elm and sang his beautiful song...over and over.  (All About Birds describes the song as sounding like a 'tipsy robin'.)

A few fun facts about Black-headed Grosbeaks from All About Birds:

- Despite his showy plumage, the male Black-headed Grosbeak shares about equally with the female in incubating eggs and feeding young.  (I like this - equality!)

- Both male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks are loud songsters.  The female's song is generally a simplified version of the male song.  Occasionally, the female sings a full 'male' song, possibly to deceive its mate about the presence of intruders and get him to spend more time at the nest.  (sneaky girl.) 

- The Black-headed Grosbeak's scientific names are both well-suited. Its species name, melanocephalus, means "black-headed.” And its genus name, Pheucticus, refers either to the Greek pheuticus for "shy" or phycticus meaning "painted with cosmetics," fitting for a showy bird that forages in dense foliage.

One last 'cool fact'
In central Mexico, where monarch butterflies and Black-headed Grosbeaks both spend the winter, the grosbeaks are one of the butterflies' few predators. Toxins in the monarch make them poisonous to most birds, but Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few others can eat them. They feed on monarchs in roughly 8-day cycles, apparently to give themselves time to eliminate the toxins.
We have a fair number of Monarch butterflies coming into the area now.  It looks like these grosbeaks migrate along with their occasional food source.

No, the photos aren't exactly clear...when are my photos ever really good?  Ahem, I am a birder not a photographer!!!  That's fairly obvious. 

I particularly like this photo.  I makes me laugh.  Finding birds in huge leafy trees with binoculars is not easy; finding that bird again with a camera and getting a decent photo of that bird, when found, is even tougher.  But I do have some lovely, clear shots of branches and leaves, with bird subject artfully out of focus in the background. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Great Horned Owlets

I wonder how these two Great Horned Owlets managed this long weekend.  They are in a nest located between campsites and at the edge of a road at a very popular Provincial Park that opened for the summer camping season this past Friday.

Great Horned Owls are very protective parents and will attack intruders. The young owls leave the nest when they are between one and two months old and can fly when they are nine to ten weeks old

The park was not officially open (electricity on, but no other facilities) last week, when I camped.  During the night I heard a Great Horned Owl  (Bulo viginianus) hooting close-by.  Next morning I went for a walk, easily spotted the nest, watched the mother owl fly around the area, no doubt watching my every move.   Later, as I was leaving, I very briefly stopped to snap a couple of photos.

Owls have such wonderful faces.

More info at:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Long-billed Curlew

A couple days ago, during a RV birding trip, I went to the Riverhurst Ferry crossing east of Lucky Lake (Saskatchewan) to see Long-billed Curlews (Numenius americanus).  Several years ago I was in the area - mostly to take the ferry across Diefenbaker Lake - and happened to notice the three LBCUs grazing the pasture land near the ferry landing.  I've gone back most years since, and yes, there has always been at least one bird present.

This is the 2012 result....sorry, I was digiscoping (taking a photo through the lens of my spotting scope).  I'm not good at it.  In my defense, there was a breeze shaking the scope and my little pocket camera is so old it doesn't have the anti-shake business.

But, here are my photos

This is the largest North American member of the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae).  Obviously the long bill is used for probing into mud for various crustaceans and other such goodies....that's in their winter homes along the coasts of the southern US and marshy inland areas of Mexico.  They come north to the west-central prairies to breed.  Up here they poke around in the ground finding earthworms, fly larvae, adult insects and heading over to the shores of the local water bodies to graze the muddy shorelines.

The females are larger than the males (similar to other curlews); the males claim and defend a territory; the nest is a scrape on the ground; both partners will incubate the eggs.  The female may up and leave once the little ones are hatched, leaving dad to protect and pass on his bits of wisdom. 

According to Wikipedia, this bird is also called 'sicklebird' and 'candlestick bird'.

Candlestick Point in San Francisco was named after this indigenous bird, and subsequently Candlestick Park stadium inherited the name (and incidentally - the home of the 49ers, as in where Joe Montana, the greatest QB ever, played...just sayin'). 

Wiki goes on to say that the bird species had dramatically declined in the area by the early 20th century, being practically extinct in San Mateo County in 1916.  By the time the stadium was constructed in the 1950s, the last remnants of the flocks of 'candlestick birds" - which formerly numbered in the thousands - were being shot by hunters until, at least temporarily, none were left.

Wikipedia also has some great photos of the bird - link here

Also go to All About Birds. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild Turkeys

I forgot about the Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) I saw in North Dakota a couple weeks ago.  I didn't get stopped and camera grabbed soon enough to get a photo of a male all puffed out in the ole Thanksgiving Turkey display.  Too bad, he was gorgeous.

I heard him gobble, though.

A cool fact from AllAboutBirds:

A native of North America, the turkey is one of only two domesticated birds originating in the New World. The Muscovy Duck is the other.

I'm hungry (just kidding....but who doesn't love a good roast turkey dinner?)

Go here to listen to gobbles:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring Birding

I had a fantastic day yesterday driving around my area, checking out the sloughs - the old sloughs are filled with reeds and cattails.  Always great for wading birds.  We had so much rain last year (flooding) that all low-lying areas in cultivated fields are also filled with water...and these shallow water bodies with muddy shores are prime for shorebirds.

Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos ) below are fairly numerous at the moment. 

 Of course, there are plenty of muskrats busily swimming back and forth in their particular water spaces.  I think they are so cute.

 A rear view of a pair of Northern Shovelers (Anas Clypeata).  Cool Facts from AllAboutBirds:

The bill of the Northern Shoveler is about 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) long. The bill has has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water

Northern Shoveler pairs are monogamous, and remain together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species. 

When flushed off the nest, a female Northern Shoveler often defecates on its eggs, apparently to deter predators.

 This is a favourite slough.  The shoreline is usually filled with resting ducks, squabbling Canada Geese, long-legged American Avocets and every other species of shorebird that happens to be around.  But not yesterday morning when I came by.  Mr. or Mrs. Coyote had got there first.

 And here's a Willet (Tringa semipalmata).  Willets are just one of those birds that is here all summer.  Nondescript really, except when flying.  A distinctive call that anyone who has spent time in the prairies in summer will recognize.  No Big Deal.   Yet, a couple years ago, I was birding at a fairly well-known area.  Some other birders were present (from the East) and were so over-joyed to be seeing Willets.

And this is probably why (from AllAboutBirds):

Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In 1871, John James Audubon wrote that the eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.

Another Willet fact:  Although both parents incubate the eggs, only the male Willet spends the night on the nest.

There are two distinct subspecies of Willets.  The Western  (T.s. inornata) and the Eastern  (T.s. semiplamata)

For more info, go to: 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Yesterday, one of my favourite birds showed up in my yard and stayed around the feeders in the apples trees pretty well all day.

This is a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus); females of the species are not very colourful, tending towards dull browns, beige and white.  They have a prominent eyebrow, or supercilium, and look quite like female Purple Finches, except bigger.  There were no lady grosbeaks around.

That's too bad, because this is one handsome dude.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are members of the Cardinal Family (Cardinalidae). 

For more information:

Monday, May 7, 2012

White-throated Sparrow

This little fellow slammed into a bedroom window early this morning.  The bird was completely stunned, so I held him for awhile in cupped hands; its eyes were alert and bright.

I set it on a seed-catcher tray to recover.

We Canadians love the return of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) in the Spring .... as we interpret their song as  "O Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada"

Little one sat in the tray for about 20 minutes.

Later, when I went out to check, it hopped down to the ground to hide in some shrubs.

I have to paint or tape some stripes on that window.  There's an apple tree just a few feet away and the glass reflects the foliage. 

For info about White-throated Sparrows, go to:


Saturday, May 5, 2012

At Sakakawea State Park

I went on my Spring shake-down rving trip this week.  Ended up at Sakakawea State Park (at the west end of Garrison Dam) in North Dakota.  

A light rain shower one evening presented a couple of beautiful photo ops.

The lake was glassy calm, perfect for mirroring a little rainbow on the Rivercity side.

 Two White-tailed Deer stopped for a moment on their trek down to the water