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.
Tucked away behind the visitors centre by the bison paddock at Elk Island National Park there is a large steel structure holding up a metal roof. It looks like it is being used for protecting materials and machines stored outdoors from rain and snow. On Google Maps one can see the large roof here. During a recent visit at the paddock I was walking around looking for bison. I barely noticed the structure until I came closer to it and all of a sudden a swarm of swallow-like birds emerged out of nowhere. The swallows seemed agitated and were swarming around me. It was reminiscent of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The reason for the commotion was soon obvious. The steel girders holding up the roof were covered in swallow nests. Most of them had swallows darting in and out and many were still under construction. There was quite a commotion with swallows peeking out of the nests, while others brought in the mud. I assume that these were breeding pairs that were building the nest together. It was quite a sight seeing these engineers of the bird world building their homes. In the picture one can see the darker wet mud that was recently added to the nest surrounded by the lighter dry mud. As I stood there admiring the swallows I completely forgot about the bison and it was not until I was about to leave that I realized that I had not yet identified the species. The only swallows I have seen to date in Canada are tree swallows and barn swallows and the bison paddock swallows seem to have features from both of these species, a white chest like a tree swallow and a bunch of rufous color on their head like a barn swallow. The white patch on their forehead, however, gave them away as Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, Lifer: #150, AB Big Year: #110).
For the Global Big Day of Birding on May 4 we joined the Edmonton Nature Club tour of central Alberta, an all day marathon of birding. There is an excellent field trip report written up by field trip leader and I doubt I would do a better job at summarizing the day. I particularly like how she refers to the participants as “citizen scientists”. As it turns out, bird observations checklists submitted to eBird are being used in research and conservation efforts providing information about species range, timing of migration and estimation of population sizes and trends. So there you have it. It all started with trying to get out into nature more, then it morphed into birdwatching, birding and photography and now I am contributing to science. Who knows where this adventure will end up taking me.
A Big Day field trip is all about quantity and big numbers. We ended up driving almost 600 km and managed to see 80 different species of birds, of which 40 were lifers. For beginner birders like us this is an incredible learning opportunity. Yes, you are thrown in at the deep end and sometimes you sink. For example when seemingly everyone is awestruck by a bird in their binoculars while we cannot even find what they are looking at (happened several times). Yet others times you can say you saw a lifer, but you know that you would never be able to find it on your own, never mind identify it again. But you get to count it. On a Big Day everything happens at a hectic pace compared to the regular slow meandering nature walks I am used to. You do not get to spend much time with any of the birds or taking photographs because time watching one bird, is time lost scoring another bird. For us, it was about learning to identify new species, learning from the pros and scouting new birding locations for future field trips. We had lots of fun and we will definately be returning to many of the locations we visited during this tour de force of central Alberta.
Our planed itinerary was jam packed with lots of car birding and with the occasional short walk.
The Lyseng Reservoir was tucked in among stubble fields and Hutterite colonies and had an impressive diversity of water fowl and shore birds. Many of our lifers were found here.
One of the highlights were definitely the Sandhills Cranes. We encountered several large flocks grazing in the stubble fields. It was difficult to photograph them however as they very quite skittish. As soon as we stopped and got out of the car they started walking away from us although we were still quite a distance away.
All in all it was a fun day, with lots of Birding action and supere productive in terms of seeing new species. I did not get an opportunity to photograph much as things just happened too fast and we never spend much time in one location before moving on.
Today’s post, #61, marks the completion of 1/6th of my Project 366. While it is far to premature to celebrate I am in a bit of disbelieve that I actually have managed to post every single day for the past two months. The biggest surprise has been that the writing and posting is not the main challenge but rather getting out into nature enough to have fresh pictures to accompany the posts. Now back to regular business…
During an early morning visit to Elk Island I came across an American Robin that had build its nest in a hollow tree stump. I was surprised that it had chosen such an exposed nesting location. The nest was about shoulder high right along a hiking trail and there really was no way one could miss it. While stayed on the opposite side of the trail from the nest the robin did not seem particularly phased. It sat completely still and the fact that it insisted on staying put rather than flying off could mean that there were eggs or young in the nest. This was one of those times were I was particularly appreciative of the extra long zoom capabilities of the P1000.
The alarm clock went off at 5am. Fifteen minutes later I was heading East on a quiet and empty Yellowhead Highway, into the sunrise and towards Elk Island. Nature walks at dawn is a meditative experience. The dawn of a new day, the absence of humans and human made noises washes away stress, sleepiness and rejuvenates the mind. The absence of human-made sounds is made up for by a cacophony of natural sounds, primarily birds. Dawn is the time of day that birds are by far the most active and vocal. As I was approaching the park thick impenetrable fog shrouded the landscape forcing me to, at times, slow down to walking speed on the highway. I have not seen fog this thick in many years. It was the proverbial pea soup with visibility diminished to only a few meters. Once I arrived at Elk Island heavy fog banks covered the open fields and ponds. Not ideal for viewing or photographing wildlife, but magical nevertheless and quite inducing for landscape photography. After a quick scan of the fog covered Bison Loop I settled in at the Mud Lake parking lot to brew myself a cup of coffee and wait for the fog to lift. I spend the next few hours hiking along ponds and wetlands around Tawayik Lake seeing lots of waterfowl and industrious beavers.
I was at the Emerald Pond in Sherwood Park looking for charismatic birds such as pelicans. The pelicans were a no show, but there was plenty of Canada geese in the tall grass surrounding the pond. I did not pay much attention to the geese and as I was walking along the shore they kept a close eye on me and slowly, almost reluctantly, moved out of my way as I was approaching. As I approached one goose that appeared alone I noticed something else moving around in the grass right beside the goose. They were goslings and this would explain the slighly odd behaviour of the adult geese. The adult was herding the goslings towards the water’s edge while keeping its head high and its gaze fixed on me. As I started to scrutinize the other geese around the pond, now that I knew what to look for, I saw they all had little ones. The yellow goslings were remarkable well-camouflaged in the tall grass and obediently followed their moms and dads into the water. Once in the water the families quickly crossed the pond and got out of the water on the other side. I imagine the goslings might be safer in the tall grass as they would be easy prey for an opportunistic raptor in the open water.