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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Love, Death, and A Chickadee

This lovely story was posted on the Nanaimo/Gabriola Birding FaceBook page this morning. Warning: get Kleenex out now - you'll need it for your tears if not your laughter ...

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Ravishing Red-Winged Blackbird

To read my new column in The Flying Shingle about Red-Winged Blackbirds (and to see lovely photo of one by Gabriolan Garry Davey), click


Gabriola Christmas Bird Count Dec 30

This year the Christmas Bird Count takes place on Sunday December 30 on Gabriola. And, for the first time, it’s FREE to participate!

The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Frank Chapman of the fledgling Audobon Society suggested a new tradition – rather than hunting birds over the Christmas season, why not do a census of them? Such a good idea! Today more than 2000 communities across North and South America participate in this annual tradition, the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world.
If getting up early to head out in the cold (maybe even snow?) to count birds doesn’t appeal to you ...

Fox sparrow - add him to your list!

consider the benefits for the birds. Researchers and conservation biologists use the collected data to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across the continent. In combination with other Citizen Science surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey and The Beached Bird Survey, the data provides an up-to-date picture of the continent's bird populations, and the results help guide conservation practices and policies.

If you’d like to join us, please call Phyllis Fafard, the local organizer of the count, at 250-247-9956.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Citrine Wagtail in Comox!

It's a once in a lifetime event for most birders - a VERY rare bird was seen and photographed by Jeremy Gatten on November 14 in Comox. And it was still there yesterday afternoon. See the bird and read all about it on Jeremy's blog post here:  Russell Canning also weighs in on his Rare Bird Alert site:

The sighting of the wagtail has been posted on the American Birding Association blog ( along with directions for how to get to the Comox location. I suspect some American birders will be making the trek. It's a rare opportunity (for those who do this) to add this species to their Life List without travelling abroad.  

According to The Backyard Bird and Nature Store in Nanaimo, "The Citrine Wagtail is a small songbird that breeds in north central Asia and winters in South and Southeast Asia. Until now there have been no confirmed sightings of the bird in Canada and only one other in North America, when it was spotted in Mississippi in 1992."

Pretty exciting news ... but I can't help but wonder what it's doing here?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Freud visits Brickyard Beach

During my Brickyard Beach survey in October (see Beached Birds at Brickyard post) I didn't find any dead birds. That's the way I like it! But I did take some photos of this wild and wooly beach, including one of a bird!

Brickyard Beach

Black Oystercatcher 

Just for Fun: images of stone
Here are some non-bird photos from Brickyard that might remind you of a bird - or a person or an animal or who knows what? So in the spirit of a Rorschach test, "tell me what you see" (said in the voice of a certain noted dead German psychiatrist) ...




So ... what do you see?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nanaimo/Gabriola Birding on FB!

Myliss Johnson has started a FaceBook page for people to share photos and messages about birds on Gabriola and in Nanaimo. I am, obviously, delighted! Thank you for making this brilliant idea happen, Myliss. If you have a FaceBook account, you can participate by joining at!/groups/NanaimoandGabriolaBirding/

I look forward to sharing photos and enjoying yours!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Two Great Blue Herons of Gabriola

Great Blue Heron Dies
On October 22, in the Sounder, I read about the three raccoons found dead and the Great Blue Heron found shot with a BB gun or pellet gun on the north end of the island. The heron was still alive but died of its injuries a day later at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington. The GROWLS volunteer that took it to Errington suspected it was near starvation after being unable to hunt for two or three weeks.

Great Blue Heron found in islander's back yard.
Photo by Barry Boettger.

Great Blue Heron Lives!
Then, October 23, GROWLS volunteers and friends gathered to release a different Great Blue Heron that had been rescued by GROWLS volunteers some time ago and taken to North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington. There, the heron was treated and recovered nicely. On the 23rd it was returned to Gabriola to be released close to where it was found, near Sandwell Beach.  

Great Blue Heron being released from cage.
Photo by Tawny Maclachlan Capon.

Freeddom once again!
Photo by Tawny Maclachlan Capon.

Into the wild blue yonder. Blessings to you.
Photo by Tawny Maclachlan Capon.
So, while many people on the island actively honour and care for our wildlife, others - or at least one other - is killing them. So sad.
Thank you to GROWLS and North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beached Birds at Brickyard?

Once a month I walk the shore of Brickyard Beach checking for dead birds. No, I don't have some kind of avian vampire streak that raises its head with the new moon. I do the monthly beach walk as a volunteer participant in The BC Beached Bird Survey, a research project of Bird Studies Canada.

What's a Beached Bird Survey?
The BC Beached Bird Survey collects baseline information on the causes and rates of seabird mortality. Volunteers do monthly beach walks along selected beaches (such as Brickyard) looking for seabird carcasses that have washed up.

Dennis walking the wrack line at Brickyard Beach

Causes of Seabird Mortality
Seabird can die from oil spills, entanglement in fishing gear, predation and because of habitat loss and climate change. Good indicators of marine ecosystem health, they can serve as an early detection system for changes in ocean conditions and oil spills. You can read more about the program here:

Sometimes Dennis accompanies me on the walk. I was glad he did last month because we found a dead female mallard just at the shoreline. (It's very helpful to have two people on the survey when you find a dead bird; one person does the measurements and photos and one records the data.)

Dead female mallard

After taking measurements and photos we tagged the bird's wing. The tag tells us that this particular bird has already been identified so we don't count it again next time, skewing the data. If we do encounter the same bird again, we submit data on the rate of deterioration and scavenging to Bird Studies Canada.

Tagged mallard

If you happen to see a dead bird at Brickyard Beach with a tag attached to it, you'll know it's been identified and is being tracked by the BC Beached Bird Survey. If you have any questions feel free to comment below. And for more information about the Beached Bird Survey in general, please email or call 1-877-349-2473.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Bevy of Bathing Birds

This morning as I sat in the living room eating my Granola and looking out the window, a flurry of activity erupted at the bird bath in the front yard. I got up, went to the window, tried to make out what all the commotion was. Good grief! Two flickers, seven starlings, and several robins -- all fighting for space in one bird bath! I grabbed my camera and tried to take some photos from inside the house. (I didn't want to scare them off opening the door.) But I was so astounded I could barely focus. The pics didn't turn out well because of the distance and lack of light but the one below will at least (hopefully) give you an idea of the scene ...

If you look closely (and especially if you have one of those devices that lets you enlarge
the image indefintely!) you'll see five starlings IN the birdbath, one on the ground, one robin waiting in line and another robin standing slightly back of the bath, watching. Two flickers had just left. 

Until today I don't remember seeing more than 2 or 3 small songbirds or a robin in the bath at once. So this was pretty extraordinary. There hadn't been any starlings around the yard for over a month so I suppose these young guys were on their way somewhere, saw the birdbath, and decided to fly in for a quick visit because it's been so dry lately.

Certainly both our birdbaths have been well-used, much more so than usual, over the past couple of weeks. So I'm refilling them every morning with the water we collect in a bucket as the shower water warms up. I kind of like the idea that I'm passing on my shower water to the birds for their shower during this October dry spell.

Now for a few other birdbath photos from around the yard:
Young robin in the backyard bird bath this spring

Dark-eyed junco mid-bath - not a very flattering shot
Three finches drinking

If you have a bird bath, please remember to keep it full and clean right now.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wondrous Woodpeckers

For some reason (that I have yet to figure out) I associate the beginning of autumn with woodpeckers. So, since the season is almost upon us, I thought I'd share some photos of woodpeckers I took in our yard over the last year or two.

First, the Colaptes auratus, better known as
Northern Flicker, lovers of ants and suet:
Such a big stretch - I hope it's worth it!
Female Northern Flicker at suet feeder, the easier way

On watch at twilight

Who's that hiding behind the branches? See the red shaft on the tail?
That's why he's known as the "red-shafted" Northern Flicker. 

Male (note the red moustache) Northern Flicker on suet feeder

A Northern Flicker and Steller's Jay vie for the suet. The flicker won.
(His beak is longer and much sharper!)

From the Piocides genus

A pair of Piocides villosus aka Hairy Woodpeckers. Note the the male's red cap.

Mama feeds suet to baby. So sweet to watch.
In contrast to the Hairys above, 
this Downy woodpecker (Piocides pubescens) has a short stubby bill
perfect for poking into tiny crevices. 

Sharing is always good.

The Dryocopus pileatus - in a class all its own
(on Gabriola, at any rate)

The Pileated woodpecker is the sixth largest woodpecker in the world. When they
start hammering on trees looking for carpenter ants, the chips fly!
Sometimes a little suet is nice too.  

Hanging onto the homemade suet ball

The striking silhouette of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers from a distance. 
The lovely Sphyrapicus ruber!

This beautiful Red-breasted sapsucker is unmistakable whether you can see it or just hear it.
If the woodpecker is in sight, the all-red head is unmistakeable.
But even if you can't see it (but can hear it) its unique irregular drumming pattern is a giveaway.  
Thanks for tuning in. ... That all (for now), folks! 


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome Back Western Bluebirds!

Western bluebird
Photo by Dave Menke courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife

My August Just for the Birds column in The Flying Shingle is about Western bluebirds and the efforts of The Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team to reestablish them on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Read all about it here:

If you should see this rare beauty, please record the location and, if possible, note the colours on its leg band. Then email GOERT at or call 250-383-3427 to report the sighting.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Birds and Oil Tankers: A Deadly Mix

In spite of the fact that at least some of Enbridge's oil tanks are decorated with illustrations of Canada Geese in flight, oil tankers and birds are a deadly combination.

Almost all the largest oil companies are currently mining and drilling in the Boreal forest and wetlands where more than half of the birds of North America nest. According to the National Resources Defence Council's December 2008 report, Danger in the Nursery: Impact on Birds of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal Forest, over the next 30 to 50 years between 6 million and 166 million birds will be lost as a result of tar sands development.

The report highlights the following six concerns:
  • when birds land in tar sands tailing ponds, they become covered in oil, suffocate, and die
  • oil sands drilling = loss of bird habitat that could harm up to 14.5 million breeding birds
  • fragmentation of bird habitat could result in the loss of as many as 76 million birds
  • water withdrawal to support tar sands projects could negatively impact hundreds of thousands of birds dependent on the wetland habitats
  • tar sands air and water pollution, which causes the accumulation of toxins in tissues, can lead to weakened birds, problems with reproduction, and, ultimately, death
  • global warming (the tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions) affects migratory birds that may arrive too late to find food because insects emerge earlier in the spring. And birds that hoard food to get through the winter so they can start feeding their young in the spring may find that the food spoils before the first freeze.
I will be writing more about the relationship between bird mortality and the oil sands in August's Just for the Birds column in The Flying Shingle. In the meantime ...

It's easy – just add your name to the Dogwood Initiative's NO TANKERS petition

Dogwood has mounted a massive campaign to stop oil tankers in BC waters.
Every name on the petition will help.

Thank you. Please tell your friends too!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Golden-crowned Sparrows: such majestic visitors

If you live on Gabriola Island you already know that I write a monthly column called Just for the Birds for The Flying Shingle, our local newspaper. But I've discovered that, thanks to the world wide web, many people from much farther afield often read this blog. (What can I say? Birders are everywhere!) So I'm going to post a link to my column each month, starting today. This month's article is about a flock of "goldies" that came to visit our yard for several days in early May.

To read it just go to then click on Columns and scroll down to the heading Just for the Birds.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow, front view

I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June Birds and their babies!

The yard is alive with families of birds right now including chickadees, spotted towhees, woodpeckers, and robins. It's hard to get any work done - so much fun watching them ... 

Baby chestnut-backed chickadee waiting to be fed

It's been so entertaining watching the baby chickadees, who peep peep peep like crazy, practicing their flying from one tree to another. I'm pretty sure I hear the parents cheering them on! (By the way, chickadees eat caterpillars!)

Baby Spotted Towhee on back deck

Several baby towhees fledged about 10 days ago. I haven't seen the nest although it must have been somewhere well-hidden in the back garden since they always retreat there.

Mama towhee feeding baby

 Sorry about the poor quality of the above photo - I took it through the window.

Mama Hairy WP feeding baby

The baby's feathers are so fluffed out, it almost looks bigger than the parents!

More June Yard Birds

Female Black-headed Grosbeak

Her mate

A Pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing suet

American Goldfinch

The goldfinches are here now and some will stay to breed. They use thistle down to line their nests (their mating season coincides with its blooming) so if you want to encourage them to make a nest close by, be sure to leave some thistle plants in your yard or garden. One less thing to weed!

Red-breasted Nuthatch

These guys often hang upside down to feed. And they eat caterpillars too!

That's all for today. I hope you're enjoying the abundance of birds around now!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Inside Birding

The Sapsucker Woods team from the Cornell Lab have created a FREE 5-video YouTube series on bird identification skills. It's called Inside Birding and it's GREAT! It covers the 4 key elements of bird identification: Shape & Size, Behaviour, Colour Pattern, and Habitat. There's also a final video specifically about warblers.

Walkway sign at Sapsucker Woods
(taken during our trip there in 2008)

I'm sure all but the most experienced birders (and ornithologists) will learn something. If not, you'll at least get to see a lot of different birds up close & personal!

Enjoy! Here's the link:

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's an Olive-sided Flycatcher!

Earlier tonight I was pulling weeds when I first heard the song - an unfamiliar but very distinctive three-note tune coming from high up in the trees behind our house. Needless to say, all weeding stopped. I scanned the trees with my binoculars - no luck. The song kept playing intermittently, fuelling my curiosity - which was quickly becoming a minor obsession. At one point I thought I saw a bird WAY UP in a distant tree but it was too far away to even know for sure that it was a bird, so I went in and got my scope. With that I could see the outline of the bird but it was too far away to make out the colouring or shape. But I noticed that it behaved like the flycatchers I had watched in Mexico, sallying out from the top of a tree to catch flying insects and returning to the same perch. Could it be a flycatcher? Here, on Gabriola?

Olive-sided Flycatcher
Photo by Dominic Sherony - CC License

I went in, got out my BC Bird Songs CD, and played all the tracks of flycatcher songs until - yes, that's it!! - an olive sided flycatcher! (It was kind of like finally being able to scratch a serious itch!) The song is described as sounding like "quick three beers" - with the emphasis on the 'three'.  You can listen to the song at

At Cornell's All About Birds site I discovered that the olive-sided flycatcher, which comes to BC from South America to breed in the summer, is rated Near-Threatened by the IUCN.

If you live on the north end of the island, I hope that this post will save you the angst of trying to identify the unusual birdsong coming from the forest. Of course, it's possible there are olive-sided flycatchers on the south end too - has anyone heard or seen one??

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Birds and The Bear

There have been several reports of bear sightings in the Berry Point area over the last couple of days. The Conservation Officer (CO) has confirmed that the scat does indeed look like that of a bear.

Picture of bear scat provided by GROWLS

If you see the bear, please call the RAPP line at 1-877 -952-7277. The CO would like to keep track of the bear just to make sure no problems arise.

Note that bears like birdseed! So if you are concerned about having him in your yard it might be a good idea to take down any bird feeders.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Baby Bird Tips

Thank you to GROWLS for providing the following suggestions
about what to do if you find a baby bird.   

GROWLS Pager: 250-714-7101

If a nestling is out of its nest
If the bird is cold to the touch, warm it by gently holding in hands. When warm, replace in nest. DO NOT FEED!

If both the nestling and nest are ‘down’
Tie nest back in tree in about the same place, if possible. Use heavy twine because bird can get entangled in thin string. If the nest is torn apart, make a new one out of a margarine tub lined with dryer ling, DRY leaves, or shredded paper towel. Do not use grass, mud, or cotton. Place drainage holes in the bottom of the tub. Tie nest back in tree using heavy twine. Watch from a distance. If parent birds have not returned in two hours, call GROWLS.

If you see a fledgling (feathered but cannot yet fly) on the ground without its parent
Birds often fledge, or jump from the nest, a few days before they can fly. The parents will continue to care for them on the ground until the babies can fly. Leave the fledgling alone unless it appears to be injured or sick. Keep children and animals away. If someone has already picked up the fledgling, put it in a bush or low branch of a tree near where it was found. If the parents are not back in 4-6 hours, call GROWLS.

Fledged white-crowned Sparrow at Folklife Village last summer.
Not to worry, mother was close by - see next photo.  

Mother keeping close watch

If you see an orphaned or precocial baby with no parent nearby
If the bird is running around the yard, leave it alone. Keep children and animals away. The parent is likely nearby. If the baby has wandered into a building and is separated from its parents, put it outside and watch from a distance for the parents to come. If the baby appears weak or sick, call GROWLS.

GROWLS Pager: 250-714-7101