Red-breasted Nuthatches, just like their cousins the White-breasted Nuthatch are common, fleeting and assertive song birds. They know what they want and have no trouble elbowing their way to the food to get their fair share…, only to, moments later, vanish into the shrubbery again. A black stripe across their eyes reminiscent of a bandit mask only makes them appear more like a diminutive feathered vigilante refusing to get intimidated by more boisterous or larger birds.
Today’s picture is of a fuzzy Black-capped Chickadee that is visiting one of the bird feeders in Hermitage Park. Any nature walk in these neck of the woods this time of the year (or any time of the year for that matter) will virtually guarantee the companionship of Black-capped Chickadees. There does not seem to be a temperature low enough to faze these diminutive birds. They always seem to be on the go and always looking for the next meal. This one has struck the mother lode.
Dark-eyed Juncos are discrete little bird that like to “fly under the radar” by staying close to or on the ground. As I was watching the activity at the bird feeders with chickadees, nuthatches, downies and other winter birds quickly flitting in to pickup a morsel and then off again I failed to notice the more subtle activities going on on the ground. It took a while before I noticed the subtle scurrying of small dark colored birds on the ground. A closer look revealed the unmistakable dark hooded birds were Dark-eyed Juncos. Half a dozen or so of the juncos were scurrying around on the snow covered ground munching on all the seeds that had fallen down from the feeders.
So my prediction in yesterday’s post Where to bird in -30 °C? was correct. Offer food and the birds will come. Every winter the city sets up a large number of bird feeders in Hermitage Park and keeps them filled with an assortment of bird treats throughout the winter. The birds are well aware of this and the feeders are always busy. It was a beautiful sunny day today with the temperature hovering around -30 °C this morning. We arrived at the bird feeders around 10:30 am. There were no other people around, quite likely due to the bitter cold, but there was lots of avian action at the feeders. As the feeders are all clustered in a treed groove right off the parking lot we just pulled up the vehicle as close as possible and ended up doing some car birding. I am usually not a big fan of birding from the car, it seems like an oxymoron – you go birding to enjoy nature, yet you never leave the confines of the car. With the bone crushing cold, however, if seemed like a reasonable compromise. All in all we ended up seeing 8 species of birds, all of which were busy gorging themselves on sunflower seeds, nuts and suet.
Edmonton--Hermitage Park Bird Feeders, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Jan 18, 2020 10:45 AM - 11:00 AM
Checklist Comments: A sunny and clear but bitterly cold morning (-30C). No people around but lots of avian activity at the feeders.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 4
Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) 3
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 20
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 3
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 5
As the cold keeps its bitterly grip on all of Alberta I have not been able to do any birding at all for over a week now. Even if I would decide to brave the elements and go birding the question is where would I go. A quick glance at the last few weeks reports on eBird from the Edmonton area shows that the majority of hotpots have no sightings reported (no as in zero). One has to be careful when interpreting. No submitted sightings does not necessarily mean that the birds are not there, it could also mean that the birders are not there seeing the birds. It is likely a combination of both factors that result in the lack of observations. It;s too cold for birders to go birding and the birds, who are undeniably out there, are likely hiding and trying to stay warm. The only thing that might entice birds to be active in these low temperatures might be a food offering. In terms of birding this likely means that the best option to see birds would be at bird feeders. As it turns out the city has bird feeders set up every winter in Hermitage Park. Over the last few weeks 19 species of birds have been observed at the feeders here, a pretty good number for this time of year. We will see if I decide to challenge myself to venture our for some birding at the feeders this weekend.
We have now had Extreme Cold Warnings for all of Alberta issued daily for almost a week…, and counting. An extreme cold warning is issued by Environment Canada to inform the public about cold temperatures in their region that are expected to last for at least two hours. An extreme cold warning is issued based on either the temperature or the wind chill being a certain value for at least two hours. The values range from −30 °C in the south to −55 °C in parts of the Arctic. In Alberta an extreme cold warning issued when the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach -40°C for at least two hours.
As the temperatures continues to stay in well below the seasonal average, right now we are sitting at -31 °C and the the average for this time of year is -7 °C, one starts to wonder how wild animals are able to cope with long periods of these extreme temperatures. Animals such as birds can obviously take shelter in dense foliage or in tree cavities or snow caves to get shelter from wind, but when the temperature reaches the extremes that it has been doing over the last few days, that will only go so far. The answer is in fluffing up the feathers to increase their insulating capacity and by stoking the metabolism by increasing energy intake. For example, Black-capped Chickadees, one of our most common and iconic winter bird consume up to 10% of their body weight during the day and burn it over night. As it turns out the chickadee has another trick up their…, er…, feathery sleeves to cope with the most extreme temperature. Chickadees have the ability to drop their body core temperature allowing them to tolerate lower temperatures by reducing the amount of energy required for generating heat.
As the temperatures continue to be bitterly cold (sitting at a crispy -31 °C as we speak) one can only dream of past warmer birding outings. About a year ago I was road tripping along dusty country roads in Chile and came across a Black-necked Swan bobbing on a salt water lake in Boca Budi. The Black-necked Swan is unmistakable and is just what the name says: a swan with a black neck. Although it is the smallest member in its genus it is the largest waterfowl native to South America.
The bitter cold continues with the temperature reaching -39 °C tonight. Any form out outing, nature walk or birding is out of the question. The forecast is predicting similar temperatures for the rest of the week so there will not be much in terms of new pictures until the temperatures ease up (currently predicted to occur on Sunday). As the situation is now, I’ll be lucky if the car starts tomorrow morning. As I am writing this the temperature hit -40 °C.
You know it is cold when the local ski hills shuts down due to the bitter cold and the weather forecasts start to refer to the temperature as “bitterly cold”. The thermometer on my backyard deck reads about -25 °C, once you factor in the breeze the windchill drops the temperature down to -37 °C. At these temperatures exposed skin can get frostbites in less than 10 minutes. Yesterday I did try to got for a nature walk at the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park in St. Alberta. I lasted for about 30 minutes before I had to call it a day, and that was about 5 °C warmer than today. While I was hoping for milder temperatures today, once I checked the temperature this morning I knew that heading out for a walk and birding was out of the question. So today’s picture will be of my thermometer this morning.