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, December 19, 2016


       Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) had their Christmas bird count on Sun, Dec 18. Many other groups held their bird count on or about the same date.

       We tried to remember how long RDRN has been doing bird counts. We don't know and will have to do some research on old records.

      Sunday  was a rather  gray day with minus 10 C to minus 4 C in the afternoon.

      I have not seen totals but most counters were saying they saw fewer birds and species.

      I saw 8 species and a little of 150 birds in REd Deer in Bower Woods /Kin Kanyon. I saw blue jay. magpie. black capped chickadee, bohemian waxwing, raven, crow, house finch. A friend saw a brown creeper. I also saw birds the looked like pigeons but were not pigeons. I should have seen a few other  species like house sparrows, red breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker as they are in the area.  

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    We had a pot luck in the evening to finish off the count.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


     I love it when the bohemian waxwings make their first major appearance in early winter. If we've had  streak of very cold weather, all of a sudden a large flock of waxwings appear as if by magic.

      This year I've seen  a flock of waxwings several times. They seem to be around for a day and then they're gone for 10 days. I don't know if they go to other areas in the city or go back out into the woods. Or if it's not cold enough for them to hang around city subdivisions.

      Yesterday I was looking out my back window to see if there was any action in the feeder in my backyard. As I was watching I noticed a large flock of waxwings in my yard and the other nearby yards. I think waxwings are beautiful quiet little birds. They have very majestic flight and I'm always in awe when the whole flock takes off at once.

    I was concentrating on the beauty of the flock. All of a sudden a different bird was flying through my yard. It had sharp wings and rapid wingbeats. You know him...the merlin. In an instant the waxwings scattered and left. I didn't see if the merlin made a catch as he flew around some spruce trees and I lost sight of him.

    So there are beautiful birds and there are other beautiful birds. These birds are opposites. I find it fascinating to watch both of them.

    Have you had waxwings in your area this winter?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


    On Dec. 3, 10 Red Deer birders spent a couple of hours at Mackenzie Trails in Red Deer.  At this time of year it's pretty predictable what you are going to see in natural areas in town. You can expect to see black capped chickadees. red breasted nuthatch, magpie , blue jay, raven, and maybe a boreal chickadee or downy woodpecker. Anything else is a bonus.

     We hit the bonus yesterday. All was quiet until we got to the south side of Mackenzie trails. We had seen a hairy woodpecker on the north side. We've been looking for a black backed woodpecker all fall. Yesterday we saw  black backed woodpecker. She was quietly doing what black backs do, sitting still and quietly pecking away the spruce bark to find the larva. We had a good look at her and got some photos. It's hard to get a good photo in the gloomy forest so thanks to Bonnie Mullin.

    We also saw a pileated woodpecker nearby. We stopped at a feeder. There were several downys at the feeder. All of a sudden a pileated was in a tree right beside us. Before people got their cameras lined up the woodpecker took off into the dense bush. a minute later we had another pileated beside us. This happened 4 times. Now was it the  same woodpecker going back and forth or were there several woodpeckers in the area.
Bonnie Mullin caught this guy looking for lunch.

    Most days we don't see a woodpecker but yesterday we saw all 4 species.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


     About 10 days ago I went outside and thought I heard a crow. I listened. Yes. I did distinctly hear a crow in my neighborhood. Before I could go toward the sound to look for the crow, it flew over my house. So on Nov.10 I saw a crow.

     Now the odd crow does over winter. We usually count a crow in the Christmas bird count at Red Deer. 

    Here are three things I can find about oddities in bird migration. 

    1. Some birds seem to just not migrate. Apparently they don't know how to migrate. I guess it's just not in the DNA.

    2. Some birds may be injured. Many of these birds succumb to cold weather or lack of food supply as any bird needing insects.

     3. They also think that some birds just get mixed up.

    Whatever reason a bird doesn't migrate they can end up be a very pathetic critter.

    I have seen the crow here on most of the last ten days. I've had a good look at it. It seems that the left wing droops or sags at times. It's flight appears to be normal.

    Today I found the crow in the Bower Mall parking lot. It had found something good to eat. I thought I'd see how close I could get to it. The crow was bold and let me get about three meters from it before it flew into the top of a spruce tree. 

    I will be watching this crow as long as it hangs out in my area.

Monday, November 7, 2016


     I had heard long ago that there were two groups of Canada geese or two species. I hadn't paid much attention to this before. I knew that there were smaller Canada geese. It's not easy to tell the difference.

    Cackling geese are about 25 in long and have a wing span of about 45 in. Average weight is about 3.5 lb. Canada geese are about 45 in. long , wing span 60 in and weigh about 9.8 lb. As you can see there's a big difference in size. However, it's not easy to see this in the field. Cackling geese have a much shorter neck.

    There are other slight differences in markings and a big difference in sound.

    I was out Nov.5 with a group of birders to Gaetz Lake. There were geese and so we had a good look. They were all the small cackling geese.

    Take a look at these birds. Have you seen these differences before?


Sunday, October 30, 2016


    The Red Deer River Naturalists  (RDRN) have five major speakers per year . Speakers are chosen for their expertise on naturalist topics.

     On Thur Oct. 27 Dr. Gilbert Proulx spoke to us on the payment of bounties for the capture of nuisance wildlife. Many RDRN members are very concerned about payment of bounties.

    Dr. Proulx gave us reasons why bounties don't work.

    With wolves or coyotes, if a large number are killed the remaining population has larger litters so you have just as many animals and they are young and stupid so potentially more of a problem.

     Only a small number of wolves or coyotes are problem animals. You can kill lots of animals and if you don't get the ones causing the problem, you still have your same old problem.

     There are too many opportunities to cheat the bounty system and just make money. In some places money is paid for one foot. Well the animal has 4 feet. Animals are taken in non bounty zones and bounties claimed in bounty paying zones.

    Methods of killing the animals are very cruel. Snares and strychnine cause a very painful death.

    Dr Proulx's talk was humorous, interesting and informative.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


   This week I saw a red breasted nuthatch with only one leg. It was with other nuthatches that were at my feeder. It seemed full of energy and handled the feeder well. However, one has to wonder what the long term survival is for such a handicapped bird. I would think that as winter approaches a bird such as this would gradually weaken and die or become prey for the local merlin.

   In the fall we have many birds hit the windows. Robins seem to be one of the worst window hitters. Sometimes you go out and there's no bird in sight. sometimes you find a very groggy robin that is unable to fly or move. Most of these birds revive and go on their way. And sometimes you go out and find a dead robin under your window.

    So why do birds hit windows. In the fall there are many young birds in migration. The young birds are sometimes confused by reflections of trees in the window. What's the solution? Try to cut down on tree reflections in your windows.

    The two year survival rate for birds is pretty low. They need all the help they can get. So people put out feeders and water. They control cats. They try to make their yards bird friendly.

     So I wish my little red breasted nuthatch well and hope it survives with just one leg.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Don't Bet on the Birds

      I lead a birding group on Saturday afternoons in Red Deer. I like to get the group focused on something so I quite often mention what we might see in an area.

      Saturday we were at Heritage Ranch in Red Deer .Before we started I suggested we might see the usual suspects like chickadees, nuthatches and magpies. I also suggested that there could be possible sightings of kinglets and brown creepers. Kinglets would be in the top of spruce trees so would be almost impossible to see. You might hear a soft tinkly sound. Creepers are well camouflaged and you could miss them if they were right beside you. So off we go with our eyes and ears ready to make sightings.

     We did have a good afternoon but we didn't see any of the birds I suggested we watch.

     We did see a chickadee on the way down to the river. On the river we saw mergansers and I didn't expect them. We also found a few mallards which were no surprise. A km down the river there was a sandbar covered with gulls. Then, there's a hawk like bird sitting high up in an old spruce spar. We had a good look and then it flew off. It turned out to be a sharp shinned hawk.

     Half way up the trail we found a male and female downy and then out of nowhere a piloted woodpecker crashed the party.

    After that one lonely raven flew over.

    So you see my predictions were not even close.

    It would have been a bonus if we'd seen a kinglet or creeper.

    How are your predictions?

    The pileated woodpecker was very close and Jurgen got a great photo.


Sunday, October 2, 2016


      Last week it was forecast that we would have some aurora borealis to watch particularly Wednesday and Thursday. There was heavy cloud here so I don't know if there was anything to see?

      Did anyone see northern lights this week?

      I happen to like northern lights and have been privileged to see many. I was brought up on a farm at Esk, Sask. The country at that  time was dark so there wasn't any light pollution. Most nights we played outside and as a result saw northern lights many times. I've never forgotten them.

     Northern Lights are a natural phenonenom so a natural fit for this blog.

     The photo from the internet shows a spectacular display of northern lights.

Image result for aurora borealis

Sunday, September 25, 2016


     I lead a birding group for the Red Deer River Naturalists. Now I use the term lead very loosely. I like birds. I have some basic bird knowledge, But I can't identify very many species. I know where the birds are . I can find them. I set up a schedule for taking the group out. However , I can't say right away , "that is a marsh wren." I have to check my bird book.

    Now the group I had were very satisfied with what we did. I was very happy with the group. I could see that their experience paid off and they learned much more about birds. I could also see that there were people who were well qualified to lead the group.

    The group also increased in numbers.

    Then a professional biologist joined us. He's a college teacher. This improved our birding experience many times. More species were seen and with each identification a tremendous amount of information about the bird. So the biologist made birding much more worthwhile.

    Now we only had one biologist for about 8 months when another biologist joined us. These two are both teachers and talk the same language. We all benefited some more.

    So my point today is that we have some great expertise the birding experience is much better.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


     Yesterday I went with 7 other birders to the Nova Nature Trail. I had never been to this area and it was a very pleasant surprise. Nova Chemicals has set up a nature trail on 280 acres just north of the plant. Jones Creek runs through the center of the area so there are some very good wetlands.

     As I said the main feature is the creak. Some of the area is reclaimed land. Other parts are pastured areas. There is brush, riparian treed and grassed areas. This makes for great bird and animal habitat.

      They have put in 7 Km of gravel rails. There are many bridges over wetlands so it affords great views to the area.

    I was quite pleased to see that Nova Chemicals had set aside and improved the area so well.

    We saw 19 species of birds that we could identify and a few that we didn't get a good enough look at in order to identify them. We saw:Canada geese, crow, great blue heron, red tailed hawk, mallard, flicker, yellow rumped warbler, American tree sparrow, vesper sparrow, tree swallow, raven, Savannah sparrow, downy woodpecker, black capped chickadee, red necked grebe, coots, American goldfinch, shovellers.

    I highly recommend that you visit this area.

     I will certainly be out next spring to check on breeding birds.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Crazy Robins

      Every fall we get a few days where robins are abundant and tear around as if they've completely lost it.  It's when I get phone calls about all the robins in the yard.

      Today was one of those days with crazy robins. There were many robins in the area. They chase each other and you'd think they are acrobats by their flying. At this time it's common for robins to hit your windows. It is fall migration. They are feeding heavily to fatten up and have spare energy. We will get several rushes of robins. Robins nest on the Arctic coast so we have robins go through from much further north. I would think our local robins have gone south a few weeks ago.

     In spite of all the emphasis on fall migration, we have quite a few robins who stay with us all winter. I've seen robins in every month of the year. We usually get robins counted in the Christmas bird count.

     Now added to the fun today were the black birds. We usually have a day or two with masses of blackbirds. Trees are full of blackbirds and they fly as a flock. I can spend a whole day watching black birds from my windows.

     So I'll be watching for more robins and blackbirds tomorrow.

     Tell me if you have large flocks of birds going through the area.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Origins of Naturalwise.

      Naturalwise is a blog that is under the wings of the Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) .The header very clearly lays out the aims and objectives of the naturalist group. So with the idea of promoting more knowledge about natural history the blog was started in August 2010.

      The idea was a that a good blog could reach a wide audience. There are many good writers who are members of the Red Deer River Naturalists so there should be lots of material to post on a blog. It's very easy to become a writer on Naturalwise but people were reluctant to post. The few people who did post wrote some very interesting articles. They tried it once and for some reason did not continue.

      To have a good blog you need fresh and regular material. Posting everyday gets a larger readership than posting once a week. Keeping fresh material was a struggle and the blog ceased posting in April 2013. Strangely enough the last two posts had a 120 and 93 visits each. We were quite successful for the effort we put in on the blog.

     However, I always kept the blog in mind. I would go back and look at it. Finally, I forgot the password and other information.

     So this year I decided to get the blog going again. I decided to post once a week.

     It's a challenge to attract  again. However, I am hopeful that more people will stop and take a look at Natural wise.

     We also have a face book page which keeps postings very current. there are over 2000 photos on the face book page. I use them for the blog.
    So this is not only an invitation to follow natural wise but to contribute material to the blog. If you've got something you'd like to post let me know. Something very interesting would be just a photo posting. Go for a hike and post it here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

More Conflict

     The other day I was weeding near the huge tree in my yard where I had recently hung a feeder.

      I noticed a magpie and red squirrel in the tree. They were both very quiet which is odd.  This is very different for red squirrels who chatter constantly. Magpies chatter constantly. This caused me to take a second look. The two were eying each other very closely. The squirrel would move a small distance and the magpie would shift. I thought something pretty exciting could happen very quickly.

     Finally the squirrel got behind a large limb and went higher in the tree. The magpie remained. I guess the magpie thought that the silly little beggar would have to come down sooner or later.

     All of a sudden two squirrels were chasing each other. The second squirrel must have been in the upper branches of the tree. Here's were the excitement took place. The two squirrels chased each other around the trunk. They screeched  and yelled at each other. They were trying to keep the trunk in between each other.

    Finally, one squirrel left the tree and ran across the yard. First squirrel said, "Aha, I sure fixed him!" The magpie was still sitting on his perch and probably thought "Well, that was very interesting." I thought it was interesting and exciting too.

    How about you? Have you seen some territorial disputes?

Photo by Angela-Cormier MacLean

Photo by Duke Fraser

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Blue Jay and Robin Conflict

      I have an old sprawly lilac on the east side of my yard. It's a great shrub as it has a very dark lilac blooms and many times birds inhabit this tree.

     A few days ago I looked out to see a blue jay frantically flying around and around in the upper branches. Then I noticed a robin on the ground under the tree. The robin was watching the blue jay and also running back and forth.

     The blue jay made a mistake. He took his eyes off the robin for a second. The robin quickly moved into a dense bed of old irises. The blue jay just a quickly forgot about the robin and took off.

     It seemed as if the blue jay thought, "I sure fixed him." and the robin was breathing a sigh of relief that he had escaped a nuisance.

     I was surprised to see this competition as it's well past nesting season. I have no idea what they were squabbling about, but it was interesting while it lasted

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Squirrel Tussle

This morning I was looking out my front window to check on  feeder. I got more than I bargained for.

    Two squirrels were chasing each other around and around the trunk of a large green ash. They continued this torrid pace for at least two minutes. I was expecting them to quit from exhaustion. I found out that they had a very high level of fitness.

    Now my interest in watching the chase was to see how it ended. Was there going to be  big squirrel dust up? Was one squirrel going to escape? Would it end up in a draw?

    Well it ended in a draw. One squirrel ran into the upper branches and the other squirrel did not pursue. 
     Red squirrels are very territorial. Usually they just chatter at one another. You hear the chattering going on and again you wonder when they will be out of breath. 

     So the territorial squirrels can get very physical in claiming their territory.

     I wish these characters would chase each other far away. They are a nuisance at my bird feeders.

    How about you? Have you seen squirrel fights? How do you control squirrels at you bird feeders?
Photo by Angella Maclean

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Super Birding Day

      I live in Red Deer, Alberta. Today I had one of those odd days where birds seem to think that my place is the one to visit. Today was a day when everybody came at once. 

      I have just recently set up a new feeder in my front yard. Of course, the resident squirrel found the feeder and proceeded to operate it as his own. I was watching the squirrel when a few birds showed up. There were lots of house sparrows and a few others that had to wait for identification until I got my field glasses. They were having a feast under the feeder. More birds arrived and all a sudden there was a feeding frenzy.

     There must have been a half dozen house sparrow families. Then all the house finches from the neighborhood showed up. House finches really dominate the feeder. In all of those birds you look for something different. I found song sparrow, chipping sparrow and Lincoln sparrow. Along with those there was the usual black capped chickadees and red breasted nuthatches. All of a sudden there were robins wheeling around chasing each other. Then blue jays chased each other. As if this wasn't enough, the magpies and crows had to check things out.

    I kept checking my back yard but there wasn't any action there.

    After lunch the back yard was where the action was. I have a jungle of a vegetable garden. That was the place to hang out in the afternoon. There were two  more species to add in the afternoon .a yellow warbler and a family of house wrens.

   That made thirteen species in one day. That's a record for this yard. 

  I was running from the back of the house to the front and forgot about my camera. Some day I will think Camera! It's funny this guy didn't show up.

    Do any of you have days when birds are very active at your place?.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Birding Impressions

       I have the impression that for 2016 there are more birds around the Red Deer Area.

      This spring , each  Saturday morning I led a bird trip in Red Deer. We saw many species and some birds were in large numbers. Yellow Warblers seem to be very abundant. We visited 12 different areas and each site rewarded us with many birds.

      I have more summer birds around my yard. I haven't had young birds around my yard for about 5 years . This year I've had robins, chipping sparrows, red breasted nuthatches, black capped chickadees, downy woodpecker and of course , lots of magpies. There was a crow nest in my block but crows seemed to be flying high all summer which I take it to mean that they are not nesting .

    What about you? Do you think you are seeing more species and numbers of birds.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Birding at Ft.Normandeau

     June 25 saw  the Red deer River Naturalists (RDRN) at Ft. Normandeau. It was a cool windy drizzly morning. So you guessed it not much was moving.

     Ft Normandeau is part of the Waskasoo Park system in Red Deer. Jim Robertson is the Executive director Of the park system and he led us through the property.

    We got to hike through the parts of the park which   are off limit.

    Six of us showed up and enjoyed the 2 hours. The highlight was to find a Philadelphia Vireo.

     This is our last bird outing until September.

    These photos were proudly stolen from Susan Vanderhoek

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Birding at Springbrook.

      Our Saturday morning bird group travelled to springbrook Alberta. On the south side of Springbrook is a 160 acre natural area. About 25 % is wetland and the rest is grass and bush. 

      There were many birds in the area. The trees were full of birds but you know that with all the leaves at this time the little beggars are hard to see. We did see yellow warblers, house wrens, song sparrow, clay colored sparrow, robins and chickadees.

     The wetlands had coots with young ones, There was a pied billed grebe and two duck species.
      There  are about 5 km of gravel trails. this place is a jewel.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Good Birding Morning

     Yesterday we spent 2 hours on the Wishart trail on the west side of the Gaetz Lake Sanctuary in Red Deer Alberta. 

     It was very windy and we thought that we wouldn't see much but we were surprised. We saw and heard a total of 22 species. There were many yellow warblers and alder sided flycatchers. We spent quite a bit of time on a viewing deck watching for water birds. A red necked grebe had a nest about 50 meters away . An osprey put in a couple of appearances and one time was carrying a small fish.

    I'm surprised this year at how few ducks are around. 

    Surprise! Surprise! a couple of yellow warblers sat in the open and gave a good opportunity for photos.

    The yellow lady slippers were in full bloom along with striped coral .

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Curious Canada Geese

     On Sat. May 4 I spent two hours with the Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) at the Michael Obrien Wetlands.

      The Michael Obrien Wetlands are man made and they have become and excellent site as it's made to filter storm sewer water through  series of ponds before being discharged into the Red Deer River. It's also become an excellent habitat for waterfowl and other birds which thrive in a riparian habitat.

      There are many paved and gravel trails though the area and many cyclists, walkers and runners use the trail.

      In my opinion this wetland habitat is a jewel in the city of Red Deer.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Dr. Corey Scobie Presents at the RDRN Meeting.

       The Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) have a monthly speaker. On Feb. 25 we listened to Dr. Corey Scobie give a presentation on Burrowing owls.

      The population of burrowing owls has declined and Dr. Scobie has done research on the influence of human development on their nesting success.

     He found that the owls can use some human development to their advantage but that there is more to learn about their population decline. He's hooked on these owls and will do more research.