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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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.