Birds and Beers reminder – August 28

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just a reminder to all those interested that the next instalment of Birds and Beers is this coming Tuesday, August 28, at Pat Bumstead’s. Her back yard is host to, as counted at the June B&B, Mourning Doves, House Finches, American Robins, and a number of other birds flitting in and out to the feeders while we engaged in some lengthy conversations and a few drinks. To RSVP, email us at for directions!

Hope to see you folks out there!



“Global tools for birders, critical data science”.

This one line sums up eBird perfectly. eBird is an online checklist program for birders that has changed the way we submit and access data for the better. This program enables you to easily view data submitted from across the globe by birdwatchers.

Well how does it work? eBird gets many thousands of birders engaged in contributing to a huge online database. You simply fill in a checklist on your birding trip; the who, what, when and where of the outing and then submit the form. eBird stores the data and allows you to view your own lists of what you have seen for the month, for the year, for a certain location and so on. Rare birds get flagged by the data quality filters and are then reviewed by local experts. Once a rare bird has been confirmed it is accessible for all to see via rare bird alerts, allowing others to share in the discovery. Your checklist goes to the database to help scientists accumulate information on birds and helps them to determine species ranges, bird distribution and other such data which can help save endangered birds. As they explain on the website: “any contribution made to eBird increases our understanding of the distribution, richness, and uniqueness of the biodiversity of our planet.” I look forward to seeing many observations submitted to eBird from you!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Famous birders

There are many famous birders, some renowned for their birding accomplishments, others simply because of their non-birding accomplishments. Todays famous birder is Phoebe Snetsinger, a birder who had a remarkable story; and a strong will.

Phoebe Snetsinger was born June 9, 1931 in Lake Zurich, Illinois. One of three children of Naomi Geddes and the powerful advertising baron, Leo Burnett, she inherited a small fortune, thanks to her father. Upon seeing a Blackburnian Warbler in 1965 at her home in Webster Groves, Missouri, Phoebe was inspired to start birding. Birding remained a hobby for Phoebe until the moment in 1981 that would reshape her life; a doctor diagnosed her with terminal melanoma and told her she didn’t have long to live.


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

This news motivated Phoebe to observe birds; as many species as she could. It all started with one trip to Alaska. Phoebe returned home after the trip to Alaska and from then on, traveled the world seeing as many species as she could. Phoebe lived much longer than doctors thought she would and, in 1999, 18 years after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Phoebe was still going strong. Unfortunately, Phoebe’s travels were brought to an abrupt end. While in Madagascar looking for a Red-shouldered Vanga, a species discovered by science only two years earlier, the van Phoebe and her group were traveling in, overturned on the decrepit roads, killing Phoebe instantly.

This remarkable woman was very dedicated and persevering in her travels and still has one of the biggest life lists ever recorded. Phoebe’s last lifer on a list that totaled more than 8,400 species of birds, was the Red-shouldered Vanga.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Banff: A National Treasure Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

For our final day in Banff, we went to Johnston Canyon, just minutes away from the Johnston Canyon campground. We packed up our trailer under sunny skies and prepared for the hike. As we went along our hike more and more clouds started to roll in…

    Johnston Canyon is one of two places in Alberta where Black Swifts nest and is also home to American Dippers, North America’s only truly aquatic songbirds. We started our hike, looking for Dippers and admiring the rushing water as it raced by us.

We continued on our way until we reached the Lower Falls, where a small tunnel gave us a closer look at the waterfall; spray from the water jumping about.

From the Lower Falls, we hiked up to the Upper Falls, looking for our target birds but failing to see them. We heard some Townsend’s Warblers, a difficult bird to see and we did manage to see a Pacific Wren, a race of the Winter Wren that was recently split and became its own species.

Common Ravens, which are readily seen in the mountains, were seen in several different places along the hike.

By this time, we were almost to the Upper Falls and now a steady drizzle was falling; it became heavier and heavier until it was raining quite hard. We made it to the Upper Falls, enjoyed the view and then beat a hasty retreat to our car, trying not to become wetter than we already were. We made it to our car, wetter than we would have liked before driving down the road several kilometers to the Castle Mountain chalets and stopping in a parking lot for a quick lunch. By this time, the rain had stopped (how convenient) and we stopped to admire a pair of Osprey’s and their nest as well as a Flicker nest right beside the road.

Our trip to Banff was great and I would readily do it again!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Banff: A National Treasure Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

After visiting Peyto Lake, we headed to magnificent Bow Lake, which has views of two glaciers; Bow Glacier and Crowfoot Glacier as well as views of Wapta Icefield, Bow Peak, Mount Thompson and Crowfoot Mountain.

We were at Peyto Lake in search of a small, cute mammal at home on rocky slopes: the Pika. Giving high-pitched alarm calls when they spot danger, the Pika, also known as the ‘rock rabbit’ or the ‘whistling hare’, is always alert. After waiting a dozen minutes or so and getting eaten alive in the process, we found Pika on the scree slopes at Bow Lake.  The sight of these short-limbed creatures was well worth the bites though.

As we walked around the lake, we also saw a family of Barn Swallows and a group of Clark’s Nutcrackers.

The best bird sight however, was a White-crowned Sparrow drinking water from the lake’s edge right next to us.

By the time we had finished our walk, it was early evening and we headed back to Johnston Canyon Campground. On the way back, along the Bow Valley Parkway, we spotted a family of black bears; a mother with two young by the side of the road. The bears were contentedly munching on grass and gave us only the occasional glance. It was definitely a beautiful sight to behold.

We arrived back at the campground and I did a short walk beside Johnston Creek as the sun began to set and the thrushes began to sing with renewed vigour before the night closed in.

The third and final part will come on Thursday.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Banff: A National Treasure Part 1

Banff National Park is a hotspot for just about anything; birds, mammals, flowers, scenery, recreation, vacations; the list could go on for a long time. Canada Day long weekend, I visited Banff with my family, eager to explore this local gem a little bit more. Saturday, July 2nd, we made our way up to Johnston Canyon campground, in hopes of finding a spot despite the busy weekend. We got lucky and got a spot, set up our trailer in a lot dotted with dandelions and heart-leaved arnicas and then left for a short hike at nearby Silverton Falls.

The Heart-leaved arnica is a pretty yellow flower that can be found in Banff.

Silverton Falls, not as well-known as Johnston Canyon, is a scenic, short hike with a waterfall as a climax. As we did this short hike, we were serenaded by both Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes and we caught glimpses of several Yellow-rumped Warblers.

 The scenery was great at Silverton Falls and we ascended a trail littered with Indian’s Paintbrush and offering a scenic view of the mountains in the distance.

 Indian’s Paintbrush

Then came the falls themselves…

We finished our hike and then headed to Castle Mountain chalets where we stopped to grab some supplies before eating our lunch there. We met a fellow photographer who was looking for some Rufous Hummingbirds; we all saw one brilliant-colored male. After lunch, we headed up to the popular Peyto Lake. On the short walk up to Peyto Lake, we saw  some local flora and fauna; Grey Jays and Western Anemones.

Peyto Lake was brilliant and I highly recommend anyone who has not been there to visit this stunning lake (visit in the morning and in the evening, when it is less crowded).

While at Peyto Lake, we observed a young family of Boreal Chickadees foraging in the spruce trees. Our first afternoon was great and we had high hopes for the remainder of our trip.

I will post the rest of our journey highlights after this one.

Posted by Matthew Sim

The Elbow River Bird Survey

When I began to bird seriously, I found that the fastest way to learn was to go on field trips offered by Nature Calgary (also known as the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society).  The best way to see a lot of bird species and learn to identify them is to go out in the company of experienced birders.
One of my favourite field trips is the Elbow River Bird Survey.  This is a walk along the Elbow from Stanley Park to the Glenmore Dam.  It has been led on the first day of each month for over fifteen years by Gus Yaki and his wife, Aileen Pelzer.  The walk starts shortly after dawn and takes about three and a half hours.
IMG_1826 adj

Wood Ducks perched beside the river, March 1, 2008.


A Common Merganser on the River near Stanley Park, November 1, 2009.

Gus is a lifelong naturalist and is very informative about birds, plants, and other natural history.  He keeps track of all the bird and mammal species seen, and the numbers of each.  He is gathering valuable data on the changes in bird populations along the river.

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Gus Yaki (pointing) leading a walk on the Elbow River pathway, November 1, 2009.

The walk is mostly flat and easy, with one small hill between Sandy Beach and the Glenmore dam.  There are a variety of habitats on the walk.  You can see waterfowl on the river and the reservoir, songbirds in the parks and along the tree-lined urban streets and backyards, woodpeckers in the stand of old poplars in Riverdale Park, and the occasional raptor almost anywhere.  In recent years Gus has been posting the list of species seen each month on the Albertabird Listserv.  You always see something interesting.
Goshawk - Elbow River trimmed

This Northern Goshawk had just knocked a Common Goldeneye down onto the ice on the river. It flew off without pursuing the attack. February 1, 2009.

Like all of Nature Calgary’s field trips, this walk is free and open to everyone.  You do not have to be a member of Nature Calgary to participate.  If you plan to attend, since this is a one-way walk, call Gus and Aileen ahead of time, so they can arrange to carpool us back to the starting point.  The starting time changes throughout the year so check the field trip list on the Nature Calgary website or on the Calgary Rare Bird Alert (RBA) on Albertabird.
The next survey is Saturday, May 1, 2010.  Meet in the parking lot at Stanley Park on 42 Avenue SW,  just west of Macleod Trail at 7:00 am.  If you would like to join us, call Gus or Aileen at 403-243-2248.

The Elbow River with the Glenmore Dam in the Backgound.

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The Elbow River between Glenmore Dam and Sandy Beach.

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Downstream from Sandy Beach.

Some Recent Results of the Elbow River Bird Survey:   

Wednesday March 31, 2010 (for April), Partly cloudy, calm,
0-8C. Ice at Reservoir Dam still frozen.

1.. Canada Goose-16
2.. Mallard-20
3.. Common Merganser-2
4.. Ring-billed Gull-12
5.. Rock Pigeon-6
6.. Downy Woodpecker-8
7.. Northern Flicker-6
8.. Blue Jay-1
9.. Black-billed Magpie-16
10.. American Crow-4
11.. Common Raven-8
12.. Black-capped Chickadee-12
13.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-5
14.. American Robin-36
15.. European Starling-6
16.. House Finch-10
17.. Pine Siskin-1
18.. House Sparrow-6
Eastern Gray Squirrel-2

Monday March 1, 2010, 8:00-12:30. Sunny, calm, -4 to 9C.

  1. Canada Goose-140
  2. Wood Duck-1 pr.
  3. Mallard-60
  4. Common Goldeneye-1 m.
  5. Common Merganser-4
  6. Merlin-1 carrying prey.
  7. Rock Pigeon-5
  8. Great Horned Owl-2
  9. Downy Woodpecker-8
  10. Hairy Woodpecker-5
  11. Northern Flicker-6+
  12. Blue Jay-1+ heard.
  13. Black-billed Magpier-30
  14. Common Raven-3
  15. Black-capped Chickadee-22
  16. Red-breasted Nuthatch-5
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch-3
  18. Brown Creeper-2
  19. European Starling-5
  20. House Finch-6+
  21. Pine Siskin-2+
  22. House Sparrow-16

Eastern Gray Squirrel-6


Monday, February 1, 2010, 0815-1145. Sunny, Calm, -6 to -2C. 
1.. Canada Goose-190
2.. Mallard-160
3.. Common Goldeneye-2
4.. Common Merganser-2
5.. Bald Eagle-1 ad.
6.. Rock Pigeon-4
7.. Downy Woodpecker-4
8.. Hairy Woodpecker-1
9.. Northern Flicker-2
10.. Black-billed Magpie-45
11.. Common Raven-9
12.. Black-capped Chickadee-62, counted by Tony T.
13.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
14.. White-breasted Nuthatch-1
15.. European Starling-8
16.. Bohemian Waxwing-350
17.. House Finch-6
18.. House Sparrow-24
Eastern Gray Squirrel-4

Saturday January 3, 2010: 8:30-12noon, Sunny, calm, -12C. 7 participants

1.. Canada Goose-450
2.. Mallard 500
3.. Common Goldeneye-8
4.. Common Merganser-2
5.. Downy Woodpecker-7
6.. Hairy Woodpecker-2
7.. Black-billed Magpie-60
8.. Common Raven-14
9.. Black-capped Chickadee-32
10.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-7
11.. White-breasted Nuthatch-1
12.. Bohemian Waxwing-200
13.. House Finch-1
14.. Common Redpoll?-5
15.. House Sparrow-35
a.. Eastern Gray Squirrel-7
b.. White-tailed Jackrabbit-tracks.
c.. Coyote tracks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Posting from the field

Just in time for the summer birding season, we can now post directly to our blog from a cell phone or Blackberry. Talk about instant reporting!

Don’t expect long posts – wearing out the thumbs isn’t nearly as exciting as bird watching! But we’ll surely be the first to post any rare bird sightings in the city.

Stay tuned!
Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

Nest Watchers

Do you have any feathered friends nesting in your yard? If so, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology would like to hear from you.

They have established a Nest Watch program to help gather breeding bird information across the North American continent.

Nest watchers are invited to register their nest box (or boxes) at  the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Register Your Nestbox program. It’s free and yields valuable information about breeding birds and how their natural rhythms may be changing.

Everything you need to register your nest box and get started is available online, including directions on how you can monitor nest boxes without disturbing the birds.

Popular NestCams are back in action! Peek into nests and nest boxes via live cameras focused on Eastern Bluebirds, Barred Owls, Wood Ducks, Barn Owls and more.