Please feel free to comment, correct me if I am wrong, or provide helpful tips of any kind

Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Aug 25, 2011

Alberta Birds: Peregrine Falcon

I have seen the Peregrine Falcon here in the city a couple of times, once when I was on business downtown and once perched on a new highrise in my old neighborhood.  Both times this magnificent falcon was too distant to appreciate the sight fully.  This time however, I had the chance to observe one for more than ten minutes on my visit to the river valley.

Peregrine Falcon at edge of sandbank
I was alerted to his presence by the panicked flight of a flock of seagulls, which is something I naturally had to investigate because it was so unusual.  When I spotted the Peregrine just standing in the water on the sandbank in the river, I couldn't believe my luck.  In order to get these photos, though I needed to find a better position from which to take them.  So I took a risk and moved quickly along the trail seeking a spot that was both closer to the bird, and more suited to taking photos, the whole time willing the bird to stay where he was until I found one.  As it turned out I had no reason to worry that he might fly off, since the reason for the panic of the seagulls, was that he had just brought down some prey.

Peregrine Falcons need lots of open space in which to hunt, so they will be seen most often near marshes and valleys, as well as rivers and sea shores.  They need this space because they rely on both height and speed to capture their prey.   The Peregrine is reputed to be the fasted animal on the planet, because it's hunting stoop has been clocked at 325 kilometers an hour, which is truly amazing.

Peregrine plucking it's prey
When hunting, this falcon typically flies very high.  Once prey has been spotted, the falcon stoops, taking full advantage of it's speed and strikes it's prey by making a fist of it's long talons, then  turns to catch it midair.  This particular Peregrine was in the process of drowning it's prey, which is something they do occasionally if their prey hasn't been killed instantly when it was struck midair.

Peregrine falcons consume mainly medium sized birds, bats and occasionally small rodents and insects.  They are known residents on every continent, and in most countries all over the world.  In fact the name Peregrine means wandering falcon.  Peregrines have recently begun residing in cities and nesting on highrises.  We have had a pair nesting on one of the building in downtown Edmonton for some years now.   Peregrines who dwell in cities are known for the unusual act of hunting at night, usually during migration.  Many birds migrate at night, so if you hear a falcon's scream at night, you are definitely not hearing things.

Peregrine swiveling his head for better sight of me
I saw this particular Peregrine three times during my trek through the river valley.  Once he took flight from the sandbank, I did not expect to see him again and decided to head home, thinking there was nothing that could top this sighting and so I turned back.  But he surprised me, by reappearing very quickly in flight just ahead of me on the trail I was following.   Which is when I turned my camera back on, just in case.   He surprised me yet again, when I spotted him perched in a clear spot above the trail at the top of a  tree.

Peregrine a close-up
I am so glad I turned that camera back on, otherwise I would have missed the opportunity to take these last few photos.


Aug 18, 2011

Two things you can do to help birds survive fall migration

Bird migration is a long, and exhausting process for birds.  They face many dangers along their migration routes which can include foul weather and a shortage of food in many instances.  Predators always represent the largest portion of threat of course.  However, there are two things that you can do the help birds survive their migration.
Cat watching a bird

First and foremost, please keep your cats indoors:

Cat populations have soared in the last fifty to a hundred years.  Many people keep cats as pets, including myself.  Who can resist after all.  However cats, no matter how delightful their company, are predatory and hunt birds instinctively.  So even the healthiest, most well fed cats will hunt and kill birds.   They cannot resist the rustle in the bushes, nor the quick movements of birds as they move from branch to branch.   Cats have quick reflexes and do not just hunt on the ground.

Kitty can't resist

They will climb trees, jump up on fences to reach the rooftops of sheds, where a tree or bush might be more accessible.  Cats will also sit patiently and watch as inexperienced birds come within reach of a quick pounce and it's claws.  Sad as it is, cats are responsible for a large portion of the declining numbers of some of the different bird species. 

Kitty stalking birds

The second thing you can do is to feed the birds:

If you know what species of birds are likely to frequent your feeders, fill it with the appropriate seed and keep it full.  If you are unsure of the species, or of the type of seed a species might eat, then more than one bird feeder is good to have on hand, with different seed types in each feeder.  Keep in mind that flycatchers need protein which suet provides.  Suet feeders are easy to hang and maintain.  They can also be kept up year round to feed local birds.  You'll be both surprised and delighted by the number of bird species attracted to these types of feeders.
Chipping sparrow feeding on the ground

If Hummingbirds are known to reside in, or migrate through your area, please remember more than one feeder is required, spaced well apart.  Preferably out of visual range of each other.   Hummingbirds, one of the first bird species to migrate, need to feed every two hours and they will need food most urgently at first light.  Also keep in mind that Hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned once a week, when they should be refilled with fresh food. 

Downy woodpecker at the feeder

There are many kinds of bird feeders to choose from and they come in a variety of shapes and colors.  Hummingbirds, as I'm sure you know are attracted to the color red.  When buying your bird feeders, keep in mind that some birds like to perch when they eat, some prefer getting their seed from the ground underneath the feeder,while others are quite comfortable clinging to the side of a more cage like feeder.  Some birds will attend a feeder while other birds are feeding and some will not.

Bird feeders should be hung from five to eight feet off the ground, in a sheltered area, or placed a short distance from sheltering bushes and trees.  A convenient water supply nearby, such as a bird bath would also be helpful.  In fact many birds prefer to be near water, or are attracted to the sound of water.

Clinging to the suet feeder

While the most important reason for doing these two things is to help birds survive migration, there is a marvelous bonus attached to the doing for you.  This is the fact that you will get many hours of enjoyment watching the birds which attend the feeders in and around your yard or garden.  You might actually see a species of bird you have never seen before, which is always a delight, and if you are really fortunate these birds will return to your feeders in the spring and every migration to come.


Aug 11, 2011

Western Tanager

Male Tanager perched at the top
Despite near constant rain and the fact that I never left my neighborhood, I had a couple of excellent bird watch outings this week.  The birds are on the move, so I have been keeping an eye on the little forest just down the street.   I was delighted when I discovered just lately, that it is occupied with more than the usual number of birds.  However, many of these birds are just visiting.  Whereas the little forest was occupied with Yellow Warblers one day, the next day one or two totally different species took their place.  One of these species is the Western Tanager.

Western Tanager Male

The Western Tanager prefers the very tops of the trees to forage and nest in.   This means they are not always seen.  I was lucky that this one decided to come down to the lower levels for me to notice and photograph.

The Western Tanager has striking marking of red, yellow and black.  The red covers the head and face of the male. The yellow graces their nape, underparts, shoulders, and rump.  His wings are black with two very bright wing bars.

This is a bird of coniferous or mixed forest, ranging from the Mexican US border, through Canada, and all the way to southern Alaska.  They winter from central Mexico to Costa Rica, and sometimes southern California.  When they migrate it is either on their own, or in groups of about thirty individuals.

Tanager Male foraging
Western Tanager Female

The Western Tanager eats primarily insects, that apparently feed on plant matter which gives this bird it's red coloring.  They forage mostly in the canopy of the forests that they occupy.  Although they will, on occasion, feed on fruit in the lower levels.


Aug 4, 2011

Photos: Four new bird species this week

This has been a very fortunate week for bird watching for me so far.  Not only was the weather very cooperative, but I also had the time.  So I was able to go to a few of my favorite places.  The result was that I could add four new species of birds to my photography list.

Lark Sparrow in song

Lark sparrow crowning the flowers
The Lark Sparrow above insisted on gaining my attention and was not at all alarmed by my presence.  He sang almost the whole time that I was taking his pictures.

Hairy Woodpecker

The Hairy woodpecker flew into some photos I was taking of a Red Tailed Hawk.  The picture is a crop and somewhat blurred, but you can still tell exactly what species he is.

Gray Catbird in hiding

When this Gray Catbird started meowing like a cat, I naturally had to look for him.  Unfortunately he refused to come out into the open, so he is mostly in silhouette.  I plan to go back and try again to get a clear portrait of this beauty.

Savannah sparrow Swinging in the wind
Savannah Sparrow posing

The Savannah sparrow seemed to take great joy in swinging in the wind on the top of the plant he occupying.  In fact he seemed to prefer that particular plant over  all the others available, since he flew from one to another periodically.