Chairman’s Corner #4

Welcome to the Birds Calgary 2010 “big year” competition Blog. If you have not joined the competition please feel welcome to do so. It is for everyone, not just experts.

Well. Well. Well. Here we are at the end of January and still no Snowy Owl! I arbitrarily selected it as the target bird for January. I didn’t think we would go so long without finding one inside the City limits. For February, I thought it would be fun to keep the owl prowl going by expanding the challenge to include any owl – except the Great Horned.

Looking back at what has been reported I feel the Red Crossbills seen and photographed by 12-year-old Matthew Sim deserve special recognition. Mathew sent his photos to Gus, just be sure. I know I have looked at a lot of White-winged Crossbills, hoping to turn one of them into a Red, but no luck. So hats off to Matthew.

White-breasted nuthatch by Anne Elliott

We have received a donation of $1000 from TERA Environmental Consultants to cover promotion and administrative expenses for the competition. The funds will be given to Nature Calgary to manage. So far we have had almost all services donated. Printing posters would have been our biggest expense; however, most of this has been done for free by Minuteman Press on Macleod Trail. I expect the donation from TERA will cover the entire year and maybe even the wrap-up ceremony next February. We have had lots of prizes donated too, but will still need more. You can see the list of prizes on the page “Donors and Sponsors”.

I have not had any response to my request for people to lead a few field trips. These can be one of Gus’s scheduled outings or a special one to a new area or intended for novices.

We would like some outings that are focused on the competition beyond what is offered by the regular Nature Calgary walks. PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO OFFER A SATURDAY OR SUNDAY MORNING.

For those of you who are not prepared to act as trip coordinator, but would like to have an outing for some special aspect of the competition, please let us know about this too. Maybe some beginning birders would like an introductory program. Or you have a favourite area you would like to share with the rest of us. Maybe someone would like to try an NMT (non-motorized transport) outing.

Be safe out there. Especially when driving. And, respect private property.

Howard Heffler

Chair, Birds Calgary 2010

Chairman’s Corner #3

Welcome to the Birds Calgary 2010 “big year” competition Blog. If you have not joined the competition please feel welcome to do so. It is for everyone, not just experts.

We are three weeks into the competition and the total list of species seen to date stands at 66. But still no Snowy Owl! I arbitrarily selected it as the target bird for January. Maybe it is harder to find than I thought. There must be a Snowy Owl out there somewhere. With only a few days left in the month, let’s get on it!

Hairy Woodpecker male by Anne Elliott

I enjoy exploring the outlying areas. Remember that either you or the bird or both have to be within the City limits. It will be interesting to compare the results from this year with 2000. A lot of good habitat has been lost to development, but a lot of new land has been added. Anyone want to make a prediction? My guess is that we will not surpass the 2000 list. That year the combined total was 248 species. Ten competitors saw over 200. The winner had 224.

A couple of weeks ago I went public with my total-to-date on the Listserv and invited others to do the same. I thought it would bolster the competitive spirit, but no one else seems willing to admit to their total. Maybe that is the best strategy; just keep it secret until the end of the quarter. So this time I will try the opposite approach; if several of you advertize your total-to-date, I will let you see mine.

I want to thank the rest of the organizing committee; Gus Yaki, Pat Bumstead, Bob Lefebvre, Bill Wilson, Ryan Baxter, and Andrew Hart. We met again last Monday evening and are still looking for way to reach a wider audience. If you would like to help, don’t be shy.

I love to see bird photographs. You can follow the directions on the website and send them to Andrew. They do not have to be for the photography competition until you decide which ones to enter.

Please be safe out there. Especially when driving. And, respect private property.

Good luck and enjoy!

Howard Heffler

Chair, Birds Calgary 2010

Notes on Winter Birding

This, of course, is the coldest season of the year. Birding demands that you often stop and wait for the birds to show themselves. When standing still, you are not burning calories, therefore not generating heat. On stepping outside in the morning, some folks, thinking that it is relatively mild, decide to wear only a light jacket. After an hour they are chilled to the bone.

To fully enjoy this activity, you must wear enough clothing to keep comfortably warm. It is best to put on lots of layers. Wear a warm cap/hat/toque, for without a head covering you will lose a lot of heat. Be sure to wear warm footwear. If your hands and feet are still cold, it’s because you are losing vital body warmth. If you are cold, you just won’t be able to concentrate — and won’t enjoy the activity. Remember, the birds don’t care what you look like.

Some folks will want to bring a bird book, although the leader usually always has one with him/her.

If you are a note-taker, you may want to bring a notebook and pen(cil). Upon returning home, it is always a good idea to review the bird seen. After each field trip, we’ll also send you (by email), a listing of the species and the approximate numbers of individuals sighted.


Rough-legged Hawk by Anne Elliott

A few rules for these or other birding outings

The purpose of these outing is to see birds. Birds are often best located by hearing them first. Try to limit your socializing to the parking lot. If you are busy chatting, the birds may not be heard. When they are found, some folks cannot even be made aware of their presence because of an ongoing conversation, so will miss out on seeing them altogether.

Unless you are the leader, do not walk ahead of the group. The leader often knows of the presence of a certain bird, but if you go ahead, you may flush it so that no one gets to see it.

Keep together! If the group is strung out, by the time the stragglers catch up, the bird may have flown. Also, if the leader wants to inform you of certain details he/she may tell those at hand and then repeat it when the stragglers arrive, or by then, other observations may distract, so the stragglers miss out entirely. Of course, the leader can wait until everyone is present, but that is wasted time for those who do politely stay together.

Shorter people out front! If you are tall, back off. Don’t block the view it’s hard to see through you unless someone blasts an opening.

About binoculars

Binoculars are a great aid in seeing the beauty of a bird. Once you are used to them, you’ll never leave home without them! I usually have a spare pair in case you forget yours.

Today, there are many kinds of binoculars, ranging in price from $29.00 to $2900.00.

Generally, beginning birders can get by with inexpensive ones. Once you’ve had some experience, you’ll have a better idea of your needs if you want to upgrade.

Binoculars come in many types. Basically they will be marked as 7 X 35, 7 X 42, 8 X 40 or 10 X 50. The first number is the magnification; in other words, they make the object appear to be 7, 8 or 10 times larger or nearer than that registered by your eyes.

The second number is the diameter in millimetres of the large or objective lens of the binoculars. The larger the number, the more light it admits. This may not be significant on a sunny day, but it will be very important on a dull overcast day, or at dawn and dusk.

Generally 7 or 8 power binoculars are ideal for most people. You will get stronger magnification from a 10 power but they usually are heavier. If you cannot hold them steady for long, you have to contend with a greater distortion due to hand vibration.

There are many small opera-type glasses available, such as 7 X 26. Some of these are extremely lightweight and can easily be held by children with small hands. However, as pointed out above, they are not very suitable in low-light conditions. A lens that is only 26mm across lets in only about 25% of the light admitted by a 50mm lens.

Binoculars are made so that one size fits all. However, since we are not all the same, they usually require three settings to match your personal measurements. You need to make these adjustments before using them. Normally you will never have to do so again (unless altered, as when you lend them to others, etc.).

1. Most binoculars have rubber or retractable eyecups. If you wear eyeglasses, fold down the rubber cups or retract the hoods. This will allow your eyes to get nearer to the lens, thus giving you a greater field of view.

2. The distance between people’s eyes vary. The two binocular barrels are hinged so that they can be pushed or pulled apart, to compensate for this difference. When using the binoculars, the barrels should be spaced so that the pupils of your eyes look precisely through the centre of the small lenses. When properly adjusted, your view should be through that of a perfect circle, rather than two overlapping ones. [Note that the top of the hinge has a calibrated dial showing the angle of adjustment. If you recall that setting, you can quickly reset them if someone else uses your binoculars].

3. On most binoculars the right eyepiece (in some models, it is the left one), is adjustable, slightly rotating, to accommodate any differences in your eyes. To adjust for your vision, close or block your right eye while looking through the left eyepiece. It is best to look at a sign, license plate or other flat image about 30 meters away. Between the two barrels there is a centre focusing-wheel or rocker arm. Slowly adjust the centre focusing until you have as sharp an image as possible. Once satisfied that it is perfectly clear, bring your binoculars down for about 30 seconds, to let your eyes rest. Next, looking at the same scene, using only your right eye, rotate the adjustable eyepiece until that image is sharp, too. Again, bring the glasses down. After 30 seconds, now looking through both eyes at the same time, you should have a perfectly sharp image. If not, repeat the above steps until satisfied. [Note that the right eye-piece has a + and – symbol, usually with a few dots between them. On the barrel below, there is usually a white dot. Remember these settings]. [Note, if the adjustable eyepiece is on the left, reverse the order of eye use above].

Once the above steps have been completed, merely rotating the centre wheel will quickly bring any object, near of far, into sharp focus.

After birding for some time, some observers find they are unable to obtain a sharp image. The adjustable eyepiece may have been altered accidentally, perhaps by rubbing against your clothing, etc. An elastic band over the eyepiece and the upper part of the barrel will prevent it from moving.

It could also be that your eye(s) are getting tired. By again following the above steps, you can readjust to sharpen the image.

Your next challenge will be to learn how to aim the binoculars at the correct angle so that you can quickly find the bird in the tree, etc. This takes some practice — but will come naturally with repeated use. Try locating different objects while at home.

While raising your binoculars, keep your eyes on the object. Don’t look down at the glasses while lifting them. Try to memorize the location of the bird by noting how the branches cross, etc. Once you are looking through the binoculars, in the approximate location, quickly focus them (by rotating the centre-wheel) and then search the area where you last saw the bird.

Most binoculars are supplied only with a narrow neck strap. The weight of the binoculars may give some folks a headache. There are a number of harnesses or wider straps that aid in relieving that condition.

If you have further questions, do not hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, I look forward to showing and sharing the birds with you on this upcoming activity.

Gustave J. Yaki, Phone 403-243-2248 or email

NMT Birding

Birds Calgary 2010 has several categories you can enter when you submit your counts:

  • The Big Year – biggest bird lists for the entire year.
  • Big Quarters – biggest bird lists in each of the four quarters of the year.
  • Big Day – all the birds observed during a single calendar day.
  • Big Sit – all the birds observed during a single calendar day within a 5-metre circle
  • Yard List – all the birds seen or heard from within the residence or yard
  • Best Bird Find of the Year – all participants are eligible to be the finder of the best bird of the year.

Mountain Chickadee by Anne Elliott

One of the categories you may not be familiar with is NMT Birding.

NMT stands for non-motorized transport. One establishes a fixed home base (e.g., one’s house), and all NMT trips have to start from that home base. All NMT birds have to be seen without using motorized transport at any time from home base to when the bird is seen.

There are two versions of the rules for getting back to home base. Some people think of NMT birding primarily as a way of improving fitness, and being green is a nice byproduct. In that case, motorized transport is permitted on the return journey, but the moment one steps onto motorized transport, no further birds are countable NMT until one reaches home base again.

The other interpretation is for the NMT list to be a green list, and getting fit is a nice byproduct. This interpretation usually requires no motorized transport out or back.

Either interpretation is acceptable for the contest.

In my own case, when I’m on my bike I ride out and back, but when I walk I generally take the bus or C-Train back. This doubles the distance I can reach on foot, because a 30-km round trip walk only gets me to Beaverdam Flats, but a 30-km one way trip (& C-Train back) gets me all the way to Hull’s Woods in Fish Creek park.

A year of great NMT birding has come to an end (only to start anew!) Good exercise, good weather (usually), good birds.

  • Totals for 2009 seen (heard): Calgary city, 159 (160); Calgary region, 179 (180).
  • Total cycling: 1008 km. Walking: 375 km.
  • Longest trip cycling: 95 km. Walking: 35 km.
  • Regrets: None.

I’m not sure what qualifies as a best bird, but here are some contenders, in the city unless otherwise specified:

Pacific Loon
Black-crowned Night-heron
White-faced Ibis (region)
Cackling Goose
Broad-winged Hawk
Prairie Falcon (region)
Glaucous Gull
Thayer’s Gull
Sabine’s Gull
Alcid – none (well, at least it was fun looking for them!)
Mountain Chickadee
Magnolia Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Harris’s Sparrow

Bill Wilson

Posted by Pat Bumstead

January Target Bird

Male Snowy Owl by Anne Elliott

Our target species for January is the beautiful Snowy Owl. These Arctic owls are currently being seen east of the city, but we’re all anxiously awaiting the first sighting within the city limits.

For more details on Snowy Owls and winter birding, see Birding By Month.

Good birding!

Pat Bumstead

Early Bird Prize

Preparations are well under way for the Birds Calgary 2010 Event!

We would like to announce we will be awarding an “early bird” prize to one lucky participant. The winner will be selected by a random draw
from among everyone who is registered by midnight of October 31, 2009.

Birds Calgary 2010 is a friendly competition, free and open to all.

Participants keep a list of the bird species they see within the city in 2010, and submit their results quarterly. There are many different categories and some special competitions. The complete rules can be seen on the Nature Calgary website.

One objective of this competition is to encourage new birders and young people to participate. We hope to increase the number of people involved in birding and nature study in Calgary, with the long-term goal of strengthening the voice of the conservation movement in Alberta.

We are offering prizes as incentives, and if we can get a large number of registrants, we will be in a stronger position to solicit local companies for prizes and sponsorship. With that in mind we would like everyone to register as soon as possible, and to encourage others to do so.

Help Us Count!

Northern sawwhet owl by Scott Jubinville

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Nature Calgary is sponsoring a friendly competition to find all the bird species in Calgary during the year 2010.

It’s a fun way to learn new things, meet new people and get to know your city better while enjoying fresh air and exercise.

Register Now – It’s Free!

After you register you’ll receive regular information about the competition and birding in general so you can get the most out of your experience.

There will be several categories from beginners to experts, and youth categories too. Prizes will be awared quarterly.