I was standing at the edge of a small grassy patch by Lake Beaumaris. All around me there were a large number of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and House Finches fluttering about in the shrubbery surround the lawn and on the lawn itself. None of the species were new, yet there was handful of odd looking individuals mixed in among all the usual suspects. They had the overall shape and color of a sparrow, except they were at least twice the size of any sparrow I know. Their beak, however, was decidedly non-sparrow-like. It had the distinct triangular shape of a blackbird…, yet there was not a speck of black on these individuals. I had my suspicions, but I was not sure and when I left I was still very much on the fence regarding the identification of these birds. I had lots of picture of them, so once I got home the research begun. After extensive online research and carefully study of Sibley I can only conclude that my suspicion was correct. These were female Red-winged Blackbirds. It is and odd phenomenon, male Red-winged Blackbirds are not only one of the easiest birds to identify both by look and sound, but also one of the most abundant species around ponds, wetland and marshes, yet paradoxically female Red-winged Blackbirds are nowhere to be seen. I had not put much thought into it previously, tacitly assuming that the females probably looked the same as a the male. I was, however wrong. While the females have a similar overall shape as the males, and their beak is certainly the same shape and size, not much else is similar. It is quite peculiar that while the male Red-winged Blackbirds were one of the first spring migrants I observed many months ago, and since then I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of them, it is only now that I came across the females. At this point I do not have the faintest idea of why the males are so abundant while the females are so rare. This will definatelly require more thinking and research to figure out what is going on.
It was a typical family scene that probably happens in bird families around the world every morning. While mom was looking after the kids, dad was busy looking for breakfast. The Red-necked Grebe family had two chicks, one of which was snoozing snug and cosy on mom’s back while the other one was floating nearby, also snoozing. Dad was nowhere to be seen. After about five minutes dad appears out of nowhere with a small fish in his beak. When realizing breakfast was incoming the chick floating on the water stirred, shook the sleep out of its eyes and raced towards the dad. The chick was rewarded with the fish. Dad took off right away and the chick swam back to mom and fell asleep again. This scene repeated itself several times over the next ten to fifteen minutes. The fish catching abilities of the dad were quite impressive. He returned with a new fish every few minutes. Most of the time the fish was small enough for the chick to eat it, but a few times he came back with impressively large fish that even he had trouble swallowing. He ended up having to let go of some of the fish as they were simply to large.
It was an overcast Friday morning. It had been raining non-stop all week and the last time I was able to go for birding was a week ago. Luck was, however, on my side this morning. As I was heading out to work there was a break in the rain and next thing I knew the morning meeting I was heading to was rescheduled. All of a sudden I had one hour of rain-free unscheduled time at my disposal. Without further ado I ran back in, grabbed my camera binoculars and set my heading dead north. I was heading to Beaumaris Lake, a birding location I have heard lots of excited birders rave about but not had an opportunity to visit yet. Beaumaris Lake is a 2.7 km loop around a lake that is situated in the neighbourhood of, you guessed it, Beaumaris in North Edmonton. Despite its location in the midst of the subdivision, surrounded by houses on all sides, the lake is a birding hotspot with 158 species recorded on eBird. I spend the next 45 minutes strolling around the lake (I did not make it all the way around, so I have a good reasons to come back to explore the rest of the lake). The Red-necked Grebes were out in full force with their chicks hanging out with mom while dad was busy catching fish. While the Red-necked Grebe family were the highlight of the day, I also got a nice close up look at a bunch of Common Grackles. While it was overcast and grey when I arrived, once I started photographing the birds a well-timed break in the cloud cover let the sun through. The Common Grackles suddenly went from looking black to stunning dark blue purple iridescent. My time was soon up and I had to head to work. It was a wonderful start to the day and I will definitely be back to spend some more quality time at the lake getting to know its feathery inhabitants.