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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??