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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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?