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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Birds!

One of the best things about a snowy day is that so many more birds come to feed. Most mornings, during 'breakfast hour', there are about 30-35 birds at any one time in our back yard. (I know this because I participate in Project FeederWatch.) But this morning when I got up to re-hang the hummingbird feeder for the pair of Anna's in our neighbourhood, I counted close to 100 birds (including juncos, chickadees, towhees, song sparrows, fox sparrows, varied thrush, northern flickers, house finches, and two Anna's hummers) just in our backyard, and the front yard was busy too. That's what happens, of course, if you provide food and fresh water in the cold of winter when natural sources of food and water are so much scarcer. I couldn't resist putting on my boots and getting out there to take a few pictures of today's "snow birds" to share with you.

Varied Thrush in maple tree

The perfectly-named Song Sparrow
Female Spotted Towhee fluffed up to keep warm

Dark-eyed Junco chewing on a sunflower seed

The smorgasbord is open

I spent much of the day watching the hilarious shenanigans of the birds as they vied for food - although there was, of course, an endless supply. Just when I thought I had determined who was at the top of the inter-species hierarchy, some brave little juncos attacked the Northern Flicker, completely ruining my current theory. But the Fox Sparrow pretty much always managed to get the juncos to scatter.

Fox Sparrow

House Finch at hanging feeder
After several winters of spending too much time refilling pie plates full of water (to prevent them from becoming ice) when temperatures fell well below zero, this year I treated myself to a birdbath heater with a thermostat. Although most birds can get their water needs met by chipping away at ice and drinking snow, this is much more efficient - for them and for me. Because I moved one of our birdbaths onto the back deck in order to plug in the heater, I get a real bird's eye view of all the birds who come for a drink as I sit warm and toasty at our dining room table. I recommend the indulgence.

Song Sparrow at heated birdbath
Varied Thrush at suet feeder
The stunning Varied Thrush don't usually dine at the suet feeders in our yard,
but today, in the snow, they are.

Female Anna's Hummingbird at feeder

This isn't a great shot  but I wanted to include a photo of an Anna's in order to remind everyone to:
  • feed the Anna's hummingbirds 
  • either create some clever system for preventing the nectar from freezing overnight or ...
  • bring it into the house after dark and get it back out there as soon as its light out in the morning 
Most (although not all) birds will survive the winter without us humans intervening but I'm not so sure about the Anna's hummers. Let's not take a chance!

What "snow birds" are you seeing in your back yard? Anything unusual?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Birds and Plastic Don't Mix Either!

Warning! This is powerful and heartbreaking. In spite of that, please watch it. It's less than four minutes long.

Afterward, as an antidote, you might want to view a few of the short videos of the mother and baby albatrosses now at

Finally, think about ways to become part of the solution by checking out .

What ideas do you have for reducing your own plastic consumption? Let's share them!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Birds and Oil Don't Mix!

Please take the time to watch the video below about the Enbridge Pipeline project: 

If you feel moved to do so, please join me in signing the petition below:

Then talk to your families, friends, and neighbours about this travesty. If it is not stopped it will be a tragedy - and eventually a disaster for our environment. Birds included.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Bird Count: Gabriola Results

Approximately twenty-five islanders participated in the 2011 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Dec 28. The day started out cloudy (but not freezing cold, and not wet!) and the sun even peeked out for a while, but rain arrived in early afternoon. Nonetheless, participants counted 3398 individual birds; that’s over one thousand MORE than last year! (That doesn’t necessarily mean there are a thousand more birds on the island, of course, just that we managed to count that many more this year.)

The CBC was started in 1900 by American ornithologist Frank Chapman. That means this year’s count is #111! Today, winter birds in over 2000 locations across North and Central America are counted between December 14 and January 5. This year, in Nanaimo and on Gabriola, count day was December 28. Information gleaned from over a hundred years of Christmas Bird Counts gives scientists invaluable information about how early winter bird populations constantly change in the face of changing climates and for many other reasons. 

On Gabriola, only the north end of the island (up to an imaginary line that runs approximately between Degnen Bay Road on the north side to Garland on the south side) is included in the count. This area is divided into 12 sections, and each section has a Team Leader that reports the findings for their section to the coordinator of the count for Gabriola Island

DRUM ROLL PLEASE! THE TOP TEN GABRIOLA SPECIES FOR 2011 (Number of individuals counted in brackets)

1. Chestnut-backed Chickadee: (292)
2. Dark-eyed Junco: (276) 
3. Barrow’s Goldeneye: (266)
4. Golden-crowned Kinglet: (256) The highest numbers were seen in Area “I” which includes the 707 and Area “G” which includes the Island Trust Fund Nature Reserve.
5. Pine Siskin: (244)
6. Bufflehead: (191)
7. Mallard: (182) Mallards were seen in most areas, even in Area “I”, where we found a pair happily swimming on a very small pond off Barrett Road. That was a nice surprise!
8. Surf Scoters: (111) The majority were seen near Orlebar Point.
9. Dunlin: (110)
10. Spotted Towhee: (106) Towhees were spotted in every area except “A” (Descanso Bay Park southeast to the Village)

AND NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN ... Although not in such large numbers, the following birds common to the island were also counted:
73 House Finch
65 Ravens
61 American Robins
34 Northern Flickers
25 Varied Thrush
22 Red-breasted Nuthatch
18 Steller’s Jays
14 Northwestern Crows
10 Anna’s hummingbirds
9 Purple Finch 
9 Pileated Woodpeckers
5 Downy and 5 Hairy Woodpeckers
2 Trumpeter Swans!

Sometimes what you don’t see is almost as interesting as what you do. This year CBCers saw no Barred Owls - nor any other kind of owl, including the Snowy that has been seen on the island recently. It's quite possible that the lack of sightings (or "hearings"?) was that no one counted at night. And no Band-tailed Pigeons. On the day of the CBC Band-tailed Pigeons were not seen in Nanaimo either.  

ONE OF A KIND, that’s me!  ONE of each of the following birds was counted:
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Merlin (seen on the grounds of The Commons)
Eurasian Wigeon
Pacific Loon
Rock Sandpiper

A big thanks to everyone who participated in this year's Christmas Bird Count and especially to Phyllis for coordinating the count on Gabriola. Happy New Year everyone!