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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Snow Geese!

We were at my sister's house, close to the dyke in Steveston, looking out her front windows watching the rain fall, when the noise began. Birds of North America Online refers to it as "the distant sound of baying hounds". Soon the sky filled with hundreds and hundreds of snow geese. We were awestruck. The geese circled several times before landing across the road in fallow agricultural fields.

Snow Geese. Photo by James Ritchie.

After watching the geese through binoculars until we thought we were sated with the experience, we decided to brave the elements and walk to the coffee shop down the road for lunch. Half way there, the snow geese lifted from the fields. We stood in the rain, looking up, mesmerized by the hundreds (or more - some flocks reach one thousand) of gorgeous white geese with black wing tips circling overhead, just above us. Wow.

It's possible that these geese, having migrated from their arctic breeding grounds, are wintering in the Fraser Valley. A small group do, while others head much farther south. But wherever they are going, I am thrilled they happened to stop here while we were visiting. It was a sight I will never forget.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Birds & Windows: A Dangerous Combination

Have you ever heard the dull thud of a bird flying into one of your windows?
I have, and I hate it.

Pine siskin, stunned after hitting our glass patio door. I put the chairs over top of him
to provide a little shelter and protection while he recovered on his own.

Most sources say that between 100 million and one billion birds die in North America every year in collisions with windows and other human-built structures. Even those that manage to recover and fly away often die later of their injuries or because they’ve become much easier prey.

You can minimize window strikes by reducing the reflectivity and transparency of the glass with a product such as CollidEscape film. Or with decals that adhere to the glass placed very closely together on the outside of the window or strips of tape on the outside of the window or long strips of material hanging in front of the window, on the outside, no more than 10” apart. Or, just in time for Christmas, fake snow!

Here are a few other simple, cost-effective strategies:
  • cover windows with taut netting 2-3” from the glass so that birds bounce off
  • keep blinds or curtains partly closed whenever possible – especially if two windows face each other, creating an apparent ‘flyway’
  • do not place inside plants close to the window
Preventing as many window strikes as possible is, of course, a responsibility of anyone who feeds wild birds. The links below offer more information:

If you have a sure-fire way of minimizing window strikes, something that's worked for you here on Gabriola, plesae tell us about it by leaving a comment below.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bald Eagle rescued; now recuperating in Errington

GROWLS got the call on November 1 just before dusk. An eagle had been spotted hopping along North Road near Bertha dragging a wing. A rescue team was organized.

Our feisty healthy bald eagle. Photo by Carmel B.

Since GROWLS rescuers most often see eagles when they are sick or injured, they were surprised by the feistiness of the big, healthy five year old male with a broken wing. The cause of the injury has not been determined.

Ready for transport. Photo by Carmel B.

After capture he was taken to Twin Cedars Veterinary Clinic for the night before being transported the next day to Island Veterinary Hospital in Nanaimo where he was assessed and surgery was performed. Later the eagle was taken to North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington where he will recuperate in their 42.5 metre long rehabilitative flight cage - which I happened to see last weekend on my first visit to NIWRC.

Check it out here:

During my visit, there were several eagles in the flight cage, a safe environment that gives a recuperating bald eagle the opportunity to regain strength and practice flying until it is healthy again before being returned (usually) to the location where it was found. Our feisty Gabriola eagle is just one of approximately 60 eagles admitted to the Centre each year, mostly with gun shot wounds, lead shot poisoning, injuries from car collisions, or suffering from starvation. He will - if all goes well - be returned to Gabriola in the future for release back to the wild near the spot where he was found.

In addition to the rehab flight cage for eagles, NIWRC runs the Museum of Nature (a fascinating educational museum), the Vancouver Island Black Bear Rehab Program, and a treatment centre. There is also a large public viewing area where non-releasable wildlife are cared for. They also offer a year round education program for schools and community groups and have a lovely Gift Shop where I found some great Christmas presents. 
NIWRC is definitely worth the trip. And if you go soon, please say hello to our eagle and wish him well!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Snowy Owl Sighting!

Two islanders reported seeing a Snowy Owl in the Twin Beaches area today! These unusual owls, which breed in the far North, move south in search of food (rodents, small waterfowl, marine birds) as the temperatures in the Arctic plummet.

Snowy Owl*
The male is almost pure white, with just a little dark flecking. The female, shown here, has dark barring on its upper parts and breast. If your binoculars are strong enough you may be able to make out the owl's yellow eyes and black bill.

Although the Snowy owl is generally quiet on its wintering grounds, you may hear deep hoots or harsh clicking, and sometimes it makes a loud hammering sound. You can listen here:

I'd love to know if you see our rare visitor!

*Creative Commons License Photo

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top Ten 2010

Are you ready? Project FeederWatch begins Saturday. If you haven't already signed up, there's still time to do so on-line through the Bird Studies Canada website.

Why participate? Because it's an enjoyable way to contribute to our growing understanding of the lives of birds, especially as climate change continues to affect populations in both devastating and sometimes surprising ways. The data submitted by feeder-watchers tells the scientists at BSC and Cornell about irruptive migrations, range shifts, invasive species, and population trends. Citizen Science data from the 2010-2011 Project FeederWatch program identified, for example, the "Top Ten Birds" in the Pacific Northwest last year. Care to hazard a guess?

If you guessed, in this order: Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Flicker, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, Pine Siskin, and Steller's Jay - you were right!

Dark-eyed Junco: Numero Uno

Northern Flicker: Number 2

House Finch: Number 4

How does this list compare with your backyard bird population? One difference will certainly be that Black-capped Chickadees, which reside mainly on Vancouver Island and the coast, will be replaced by the Chestnut-backed Chickadees that live here on Gabriola. In our back yard these fearless chattering little bundles of energy are second in number only to Dark-eyed Juncos.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee - common on the Gulf Islands: Number 15!

Speaking of Feeders!
As winter seems to be truly settling in to stay (and many Gabriolans are following the birds that have already migrated to Mexico and other climes south of the border) those of us who are staying put (like the Dark-eyed Juncos and Chestnut-backed Chickadees and even a few Anna's Hummingbirds) need to be vigilant about keeping our feeders CLEAN. Moldy seed and contaminated bird poop can cause disease and death. So clean out the feeders regularly. A solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water will do the job. Just be sure to RINSE well.

Keep your feeders clean!

Happy birding!