Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.


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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sharp Shinned Hawk Visits Feeder

A sharp-shined hawk visited my feeders last week. I suspect it has been noting the chickadees, finches and nuthatches that come every day. I have to assume he figured that a feeder is a feeder and he can have a bit of bird for breakfast. It stayed long enough for a photo, but I didn't see it catch anything. The books say that this species like to hangout in low bushes and small trees waiting for a meal.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Bird Count

Written by Judy Boyd

    Doesn't all this recent snow, make you think of Christmas? And Christmas makes me think of the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year it will take place on Sunday, December 18.  It used to be that in order to count the birds you had to shoot them first and then count them. Needless to say, we don't do that anymore. 
    In 1900 a fellow named Frank Chapman started up the non-shooting variety of a Count. The importance of these Counts is to keep track to trends in the bird world.  When we look at the numbers over a number of years we can see that certain species are declining in number or that others are holding their own. 
     The thing about the CBC is that it is FUN! Anyone can do it. You don't have to be an expert birder. It’s actually a very simple process. Starting at 9 a.m. you start counting all the birds you see in a specific area. You can either count at a feeder, or do what we call “bush beating” or you could do a combination of both.  The only tricky thing about feeder counting is to not count the same bird twice. That’s a bit difficult but not impossible. What you do is look at your feeder and you see six Chickadees so you mark six Chickadees down on the tally sheet. The next time you look at the feeder, you see seven chickadees. Instead of adding the seven to the previous six, you would scratch the six out and just put seven because odds are that some, if not all of the chickadees you are now seeing are the same ones as you just saw.  Then, say, the next time you look at the feeder you see only four chickadees, you still wouldn’t add that to your count of seven, unless there was a particular chickadee that you know with absolute certainty that you hadn’t counted before. This could be a chickadee that has perhaps lost his tail feathers and you know that he wasn’t in the two bunches that you saw before. Easy, right?
    Bush beaters go to an area and walk around the area counting whatever birds are there. You don't have to walk. You could ski, drive, or whatever kind of locomotion you want to use. We've had snowmobilers, snowshoers, horseback riders in the past. The tricky part about bush beating is if you find a large flock of something, like Bohemian Waxwings.  When you’ve been doing this for awhile you can just look at the flock and make a rough estimate of, say, 350 birds. We don’t expect you to count every individual bird. What I will often do is count a certaingroup of birds and consider that an “eye-full” and then figure out how many eye-fulls there are in the flocks. That will then give me a total estimate for the flock.
    Our Central Alberta CBC is a bit different that a lot of the other counts in that we have 27 different circles that people can count in. A circle is 15 kilometres in diameter. People either do part or all of a circle. We try not to have counters in the same area. That's why it's important for me (I have the official title of Christmas Bird Count Compiler) to know if you are counting and where. That way I will know that if someone is already counting at Maskepatoon Park here in Red Deer and someone else calls me and says they want to do that same park, I will either put the two people in touch with each other so they can do the Count together or I'll get one or the other person to choose a different location.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dr Robert Longair Talk on the Elephant Wasp

      On Nov. 24 Dr Robert Longair gave a thought provoking presentation on the African Elephant Wasp to the Red Deer River Naturalists.

      Dr. Longair teaches  at the University of Calgary in the area of biodiversity . Dr. Longair's interest in insects began as a youngster.

      Dr. Longair started out telling us of the description of the Elephant wasp which was from 1912. He then went on to give a history of the region and it's many political struggles. It has been difficult to enter this region to make any studies to hunt for the wasp. The original description only described the wasp and did not say where or in what habitat so the search had very few clues to go on. 

      So at this date Dr. Longair is still searching for the elusive Elephant Wasp not knowing if it is still present or if the one that was first identified was  hybrid or other adaptation.

      The presentation was interesting in that the beginning and end of the story included a detailed history of the area and how that influenced the search for the wasp.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pine Grosbeaks Make an Appearance

   One of the first birds that I learned how to identify was a Pine Grosbeak. Every weekend I would go out and photograph birds. I'd come into the Kerry Wood Nature Centre with my photographs and get a birder who volunteered there to identify the birds in my pictures for me. He was very patient with me. One week he'd tell me that this was a Pine Grosbeak. The next weekend, I'd hear, "It's a Pine Grosbeak, Judy." The following week, with a bit of a hitch in his voice, "Don't you remember, Judy? This is a Pine Grosbeak." I got it after that. That is, until I saw a female. She had yellow on her, not the red of a male. Boy, how to confuse a novice birder. It just wasn't fair. But with a lot of perseverance, I now know a Pine Grosbeak when I see one. They are a robin-sized bird with a notched tail. The males have pinkish-red head, breast, back and rump with dark wings that have 2 white wing bars. The female have a yellowish olive head and rump.

      When I first started birding in the 90's, the Pine Grosbeaks were everywhere, and then they seemed to...just not be there anymore. Oh, I'd see a few here and there but nothing like what I used to see; however, they seem to be back right now. I keep finding Pine Grosbeaks all over the place.

     I've done a bit of research. All of the books tell me that Pine Grosbeaks are very secretive when they are nesting and are very hard to find during this time, but in the winter time, they tend to flock together to feed. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta says, "It [Pine Grosbeaks] wanders irregularly and erratically during winter, but is commonly observed in central and southern parts of the province," and also says that they can be seen in towns and cities during migration and in winter at fruit/berry trees, like Mountain Ash. This is exactly where I've been seeing them lately.

     I also looked at all the past records from the Christmas Bird Counts. Starting in 1986, there were three years of low numbers of these birds (28-71), followed by three years of higher numbers (219-418). Then came two more years of low numbers (69-85), followed by 5 years of higher numbers (183-572). And it goes on like that, so erratic is definitely the word for it. My view on this is that they are taking advantage of food sources. It would appear that they are around when there is food and elsewhere when the food isn't here. Makes sense, doesn't it?

    While researching these birds, I found out something really neat about them. Both the males and females feed their young. In order to do this, they develop sacs in their mouths so they can carry more food back to the nests. It never ceases to amaze me what birds can come up with to cope with the trials and tribulations of their lives.

    When you're out and about in the next little while, make sure you keep your eyes open for these and other beautiful birds. Happy birding.

 Author Judy Boyd

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jack Rabbit Accepts Carrots for Food.

       I was not aware that jack rabbits ate carrots. I thought it was only Peter Rabbit or Bugs Bunny who ate carrots! I have had jack rabbits clean up some of my garden and perennials .
REmains of carrot in snow beside jack rabbit tracks

       This year I had many carrots that were damaged by slugs. I put them in my front yard and wondered if the jack rabbits would eat them. Sure enough! In a few days the carrots I put out had disappeared. I didn't see any jack rabbits eat the carrots but there are many of them in my neighborhood. Jack rabbits cross my yard every other day and probably more often than that as the are active at night.

Jack rabbit under cover
      So for all those damaged carrots there is a good way to dispose of them. Put them out for the jack rabbits.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dr. Wayne Nelson Presents on Turkey Vulture

      On November 24 Dr. Wayne Nelson gave a presentation the the Red Deer River Naturalists(RDRN) in the turkey vulture. Dr. Nelson has been interested in birds all his life and his professional life involved birds.
photo by Stuart Little

     Towards the end of his career Dr. Nelson became interested in turkey vultures. Turkey vultures had learned to use the upstairs and attics of abandoned farm houses on the prairie. Traditionally these birds occupied territory further east and south.

     Dr. Nelson has been finding ,observing and documenting nests since his retirement. They have started putting wing tags on the young turkey vultures with the hope of learning more about these birds. The birds have some nasty gross habits such as regurgitating food and pooping on their legs to keep them cool. These birds have an amazing sense of smell and can find carcasses over a wide area.

      Dr. Nelson showed many pictures of turkey vultures in their nesting sites in old houses. he described attempts to try and set up cameras which would catch the birds in their activities.

    Dr. Nelson's presentation was very informative and humorous to boot.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Myrna Pearman Receives RDRN Owl Award

        Each year the Red Deer River Naturalists(RDRN)  presents the Owl Award to someone who has made a significant contribution to the organization . This year RDRN chose Myrna Pearman to receive the Owl Award.
Judy Boyd, Myrna Pearman, Keith Kline
Photo by Stuart Little

       Myrna has been active with RDRN for a long time . She has contributed in many different ways. She has served on the board, been president , done the news letter on several stints, wrote "Nature Scape Alberta" as well as selling many of the books.

      For the last few years Myrna has done the RDRN newsletter. It has become more than just a news letter. Some excellent articles and information are now in the newsletter. The Newsletter design has dramatically improved. Now we have an attractive logo that we use for all RDRN productions and great color.
      Myrna has also been doing the recruiting of speakers for our general meetings. She gets excellent speakers and both members and public benefit from and enjoy the speakers.

Myrna with her award.     
Photo by Stuart Little
     RDRN had benefited from Myrna's efforts over a long period of time. We appreciate her contributions.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Chukar Sighting

        Tonight about 7:00 PM I saw another chukar across from the Bower subdivision in Red Deer. I have seen chukars in this area for three summers. Usually I make only one or two sightings a summer. This is the second sighting this summer.

        A few weeks ago I stopped on the Bower trail and got talking to some people. The lady told me how that she had a chukar nest in her yard in the summer of 2009. Ten eggs hatched. The little guys seemed to disappear quickly so she thought than none of them fledged. She sees a chukar in her yard regularly and it feeds from her ground feeders in the winter. Other people have had chukars feed at their feeders in the winter. I suspect that there is more than one bird.

        Since I've written about chukars before I am interested in feed back. Tell me if you have seen chukars in your area.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Friendly Coyote

         This summer a litter of coyotes was raised on a quarter section which is within the city limits of Red Deer. This quarter is farmed and presently half of it is used for grazing and the other half for hay production. The west side of the quarter has the Waskasoo creek running through it so there is a pleasant wooded ravine.
photo by Bertha Ford

        This quarter section is less than one km from a major city mall so I'm sure that the coyotes visited the mall each night and had a feast. I'm sure that much food each day is just dropped in the parking lot. So the coyotes were well fed and they didn't have to work very hard for a living.

         Most years there are a number of coyotes on this property and probably there were regular litters of coyotes raised. This summer a bike path was completed on the south side of the property so all of a sudden the secluded coyote den became rather public. Morning cyclists and walkers reported seeing the coyotes. The same thing occurred in the evening. People were thrilled to see coyote pups within 200 m. There was a chain link fence between the people and the coyotes. The coyotes became used to the fans.

       Less than one km away is the Sunny Brook Farm Museum. Most summers the museum will add chickens or other small livestock to make their displays more attractive. This year they had a number of goats. A number of goats went missing. It doesn't take much of a guess to decide what happened to the goats. So the cute little coyotes were a nuisance and pest just a short distance away. Pretty intelligent animals.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Pelican: a Thing of Beauty

        This morning at 10:15 A. M. I spotted three pelicans rising on a thermal over Sunnybrook in Red Deer. They made a few turns and were rising. Then I guess the thermal petered out and they coasted down and around so that they came right over my house at about 100 m elevation.

Photo by Bill Heinsen

       Now I am fascinated with pelicans as the soar using the thermals on a sunny day. The brilliant white contrasts with some black under the wings. They gracefully ride the thermals and once in a while take a few powerful wing beats to move around in the thermal.

      Most days you can spot pelicans around Red Deer as they summer up and down the red Deer river using the islands for safe loafing grounds.

     My favorite time watching Pelicans in flight was a time they were flying down the Red Deer River. I happened to be standing on a high bank at River Bend. The pelicans flew at eye level with me as they cruised down the river.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Chukar Sightings in Red Deer

          Last year I posted on a chukar sighting I made in Red Deer and asked people to let me know if they saw any chukars. The chukars I saw were on the east side of the Bower subdivision along a strip of green and along Piper Creek. Later I had reports from 30th Ave north of Save On foods. Then I had a report from Oriole park which is in the north west section of Red Deer. Then I had a report of a sighting from the Pines which is north of the Parkland Mall.

      About this time I was riding my bike along the green strip west of the Bower subdivision and there in the wide open was a chukar. The bird just sat about 15 meters from me and did not move. This was about June 1.  I was surprised to find a chukar in the same spot as last year as I assumed that with reports of sightings in other areas that the birds had moved. Or have the birds come back? Whatever is going on it would appear that there are a number of chukars in Red Deer and that they have survived a couple of winters. Nests have been found and young have been observed but we don't know if the young have survived.

      So once again if you see chukars in Red Deer, let me know or phone the Kerry Wood Nature Center 403-347-2010. If people observe chukars in any area let me know. It would be interesting to see what these birds are doing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fish Spawning in Piper Creek

         For 41 years I have lived less than a kilometer from Piper Creek. Piper Creek flows from drainage south east of Red Deer. Much of this land is agricultural and has cattle pastured along the unarable land beside the creek. Where I live the creek flows through a heavily wooded coulee. The water in Piper Creek is not high quality as agricultural run off and city runoff enters the creek at various places.

       Nevertheless, I have spent some time watching for evidence of fish in the creek. I know that historically fish spawned in this creek. There were no beaver dams to block swimming upstream until recent times. About 25 years ago a kid told me that he caught a jack fish in the creek in the Bower Woods area opposite Sunnybrook.

       This year I hit pay dirt. I spent a few minutes watching for fish on May 16. . I saw a sucker swim by. I was disappointed that I only saw one fish as they usually are in  fairly large groups. A few minutes later I saw four fish that I could not identify. They were not suckers or jack fish. These four fish were from 7- 11in long and were narrow in width. They swam by very quickly so I only had a brief glimpse of them. Someone else had reported seeing fish in this same area and reported their sighting to the Kerry Wood Nature Center.

      The location in the creek where I saw the fish is important as these fish have come up the river escarpment so they have not only swum upstream but have gained altitude.

     I was happy to see the fish as I was rewarded for looking for so many years. It is important to report these sightings as it confirms the creek to be a body of water for fish and thus fall under specific regulations and these can be used when  development threatens the creek as a proposed road crossing.

      I would be interested in hearing from others who have seen fish in Piper Creek.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Looking for a Home

      My neighbor, Duane,  was surprised a few days ago to find a couple of mallards in his yard. They were in the small back yard as well as the open front yard. We live in an urban area which has some urban parkland, but we are almost one km away from a creek and natural area.

      It is becoming more common to find wildlife in urban areas. These areas provide suitable habitat for some species but I must admit that for ducks it's a bit out of the range. We have a fairly good population of jackrabbits as there's suitable food and cover. We have deer that wonder through on a regular basis. Coyotes and foxes are probably more common than we think as they prowl around at night. I have had moose in my yard several times. Dogs these days are very closely controlled so they do not chase deer. And of course birds do fairly well in the numerous trees planted in yards and along streets and in closes.

       Now for several years I have seen mallards near Duane's house. They have certainly been in his neighbor's yards and out in the close. Last year the mallards were in the close for such a long time that I suspicioned that they were nesting. I searched but did not find a nest. So this year Duane will have to watch his yard and let us know if he has any ducklings. I think that as time goes by we will see more wildlife inhabiting our neighborhoods.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wilson Snipe

There seem to be many Wilson Snipe this spring. On a recent trip to Brooks, Alberta, we saw them sitting on fence posts and posing for the cameras. They are handsome birds with a lond straight bill and brownish markings on the feathers.
Several males were doing a "winnowing" flight to attract a mate. The sound is produced when the bird dives in flight. The air rushing past the outer tail feathers makes an errie sound.
Snipes like areas where there is standing water. You can see them walking along the mudflats or in shallow water as they scrounge for insects and worms. Sometimes earthworms form part of their diet.
The nest is on the ground. The nest is built by the female and is lined with grass, leaves, or moss.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Large Flocks of Robins at Red Deer

       The past two days I have seen unusually large flocks of robins in my neighborhood. It's been cold and snowing for a week. Yesterday there were twenty robins in one tree, twelve in another and seven in another. This was seen from my yard. Who knows if I'd had time to walk through my neighborhood maybe I would have found a mother lode?

Photo by Judy Boyd
       I am used to seeing large flocks of robins in the fall as they are on they're way south. I don't ever remember seeing a large group like this in the spring. In the spring they usually come through as individuals. I am starting to wonder if they are held up here because of the snowy weather. On the other hand maybe I'm going to have lots of robin nests in my neighborhood this summer if summer ever gets here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The RDRN bird focus group was treated to a flock of Hoary Redpoll on a farm near Caroline. While not as common as their cousins, the Common Redpoll, they do show up in mixed flocks. These were coming to a feeder provided by the landowner.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Good Talk on Boreal Birds

        Red Deer River Naturalists(RDRN) are featuring Dr. Erin Bayne on the topic of boreal birds Thursday, April 28 @7:30 pm.

       Dr. Bayne has done many years of research on boreal birds and has some interesting ideas. He has conducted research on behavioral, population and community responses of various wildlife species to landscape alteration.

     Find out what's happening to our boreal birds.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In the Nestbox: A Film by Phil French

       The Red Deer River Naturalists(RDRN) have a monthly general meeting where we present a speaker. Last night we presented a film produced by Phil French who is the vice president of RDRN.
        Phil started his presentation with a short talk before the film. Phil covered his life and how he became interested in nature and filming and how this lead to his film. It was amusing that in his younger days he became interested in bow hunting and the camouflage which goes with bow hunting. This part of his life wasn't too successful;l as far as hunting was concerned but it taught him about perception and viewing and that camouflage was important. The ultimate thing he learned was that you become part of nature.

      After the hunting part of his life he accidentally discovered video. This immediately meshed with his love of nature so with some experience and practice he began to put films together. His first large project was to film the Red Deer River from start to finish. He has showed this film many times. His reflection on his life went well with his film.

      His latest film covered his intense interest in birds and an encounter with Jim Potter who is an expert in nest boxes with ducks and owls. They were able to set up web cams in nest boxes and together with Potter explaining the structure of nest boxes and then monitoring nest boxes a fine film was produced. It was amazing to see ducklings climb out of the nest box and find the mother and follow her to the water.

      We were treated to a very excellent film and even a seasoned birder saw a whole new world.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crows Arrive in Red Deer

       Yesterday, Mar. 19, I distinctly heard crows from my house. I was busy doing my income tax and you know, right in one of those places that I couldn't stop so I didn't go out to look for the crows. Seeing the first crow in spring indicates that spring is on it's way.  It's always pleasant to hear the first crow caw after we haven't heard them for so long.

       Over night we had 5 cm of snow. At 7 AM I looked out and a block from my house in a large poplar tree were twenty crows just sitting motionless waiting for the day to start. They looked rather uncomfortable in the fog, snow and the gloom. However, crows are hardy birds and I'm sure they can cope well with a spring snow storm.

       Now some people may have seen crows before Mar. 19 in the Red Deer area. If you did see crows before Mar. 19 , please leave some comments.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ellis Bird Farm Web Cam Established

        I have included a link to the Ellis Bird farm web cam which was setup on a great horned owl nest. his owl has nested in this location for several years. I hope you enjoy watching this site.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Sneaky Merlin Story

       We have a foot bridge which crosses the Red Deer River at the River Bend Golf Course. There are two large cement girders which support the bridge. The bridge is about 150 meters long.

       In the summer there are hundreds of cliff swallow nests on the girders. The birds find it easy to attach their nests to the cement girder. Since the bridge obviously crosses the river there is a tremendous insect population. This makes it ideal habitat for the swallows. There is also a bank swallow colony on the river bank at one end of the bridge. So in July there are hundreds of birds around this bridge.

       Now I get to the merlin. I found a merlin sitting on the bridge railing one evening. I also noticed that the swallows where swarming overhead and making an awful racket. One hunting tactic that merlins use is to get under a flock of birds . The birds try to fly up and away from the merlin. All the merlin is waiting for is for one bird to drop out of the flock and then the merlin  dives and catches the bird. Birds that are old , sick or young will become exhausted and drop down to find a perch. This merlin didn't bother to fly and keep the birds rising. He just sat on the bridge rail waiting for a meal to drop out of the sky for him. Very smart birds!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Opportunistic Merlin Hunters

       Merlins are extremely interesting to watch as they quite often show you something new. Merlins  hunt other birds for their food. Their prey is taken during flight. They have a variety of attacks, but I like the stealth that they are capable of using.

      Merlins are excellent fliers. They fly rapidly using quick wing flaps. They are extremely agile. What they are admired for most is their dive.

     Recently I saw a really sneaky method of hunting used by a merlin. Earlier this winter the Bohemian waxwings were using a huge poplar tree near my house for  perching between feedings. We've all seen this were hundreds of waxwings land in one tree for a few minutes. They rest, preen and socialize for a few minutes. It's an awesome sight to see so many birds in one location. There is usually much milling about as individual birds look for a good spot to perch. One time I looked out my window to see how the waxwings were doing and there were no birds present which is normal as they rotate around the neighborhood. Then something caught my eye. There was a single bird in the tree . It was a merlin! So the crafty beggar was waiting in the tree hoping all the waxwings would land in the tree without seeing him. What a sneaky devil. I wasn't patient enough to watch and see if the merlin was successful in his hunt. 

     Has anybody seen a similar tactic used by merlins?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chuck and Lisa Priestley Give Awesome Presentation at RDRN

       The Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) have a regular monthly general meeting where we have a featured speaker on various naturalist topics. This month we were fortunate to have two speakers share the evening. Chuck and Lisa Priestley came from the BeaverhillBird Observatory.

       Chuck spoke first on Special Birding Areas. He explained how this was organized and why it is valuable. There are nine Special Birding Areas in Alberta. They are chosen for sites were large congregations of birds occur at some time of the year. Avid birders can visit the areas and research can be carried out in the area. Volunteers look after these areas.

       Lisa Priestley spoke on owls. She started by saying that she thought owls were cute. She gave her bias as to the cuteness of owls and then proceeded to give an interesting and informative talk on Alberta owls. Little is known about owls in Alberta. They set up mist nets at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory and were amazed to catch many owls. These owls were banded. Other banding sites were set up in Alberta and Saskatchewan with amazing findings. Some owls don't stay in Alberta for the winter so they have discovered some information on owl migration. This is the tenth year of banding so they are looking forward to being able to analyze ten years of data. It certainly gave my interest in owls a bit of a charge.

       Both of these presentations were well illustrated with excellent photos.

       At the end of their talk Chuck Priestley brought in a barred owl. People were absolutely enthralled with this beautiful bird. It was a real treat.

     We are fortunate to have people like the Priestleys who are enthusiastic and able to give first class presentations on birds.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bird Trivia Night at Kerry Wood Nature Centre

       On  Jan. 19  there will be a bird trivia night at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre at 7:00PM. Come out and have some fun and learn a few things about birds. I guarantee that it will be fun.

     Phone Judy Boyd at 403-342-4150 to confirm your attendance.

Large Flocks of Bohemian Waxwings in the Central Alberta Area

         Since Christmas I have noticed some large flocks of Bohemian waxwings buzzing around the neighborhood. I did not get any waxwings in my Christmas bird count but I had seen them before the count day.

      We have not had the large flocks for several years so it's nice to see them again.

      How many other areas have lots of waxwings this winter.