Thursday, December 24, 2009

Single sighting - Prairie Falcon

I hope you'll forgive me this one - this bird, as well as the Cooper's Hawk, were actually found in Saskatchewan.  We had some great birding on that trip, which has been my only birding trip out of Manitoba.  The Cooper's (?) Hawk and this Prairie Falcon were both found in the Moose Mountain area during an overcast day.

Some people have great stories about finding birds, I'm afraid this isn't one of them!  We were driving along the road, I saw something in a tree, and stopped for photos!  When processing the photos when we got home, I initially assumed this was a Merlin.  Left the images in a folder for Hawks with no ID.  Then I saw a Merlin, at home.  And looked at a few photos. Prairie Falcons aren't very common in Manitoba, so this was a lucky sighting!

Why is this a Prairie Falcon, and not a Merlin?  The mustache mark is much more pronounced than on a Merlin.  The streaking is much finer, especially along the belly, which, along with the underside of the tail, is much whiter - almost unmarked.  This bird was also larger than a Merlin, with different proportions (longer body and tail)

Why is this not a Peregrine Falcon?  The mustache mark is much *less* pronounced than on a Peregrine.  This bird is very much brown-and-white, and the breast is streaked, not barred.  The breast of a juvenile Peregrine may be streaked, but it is usually dark brown on tan, not brown on white.

Here are some excellent Peregrine Falcon photos

Here are some great Prairie Falcon photos

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That bird is a partial albino!

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Um, no it's not. 

The wild bird sphere utilizes some odd terminology.  A bird that is more white (or just lighter) than usual used to be called albino, or partially albino.  More recently, the term "leucistic" has sprung up.  None of these are particularly useful, or even correct.

Why the insistence on using such generic terminology?  Am I missing something?  Why has the knowledge of color genetics gained through other research on other animals (including birds) not gained regular usage amongst birders?   

I spent a lot of time researching color genetics in horses, and in Peach-Faced Lovebirds, with minor forays into the color genetics of dogs, cats, other parrots, and chickens.  I have gotten started on a degree in genetics (just some first and second year courses under my belt). 

Albinism is a particular condition, a complete absence of pigmentation.  No, you can't have a partially albino individual.  They either are albino, or they aren't.  Partially albino is a useless, antiquated term.  In addition, if the bird is completely white, with dark legs and eyes, it is NOT an albino.

Within domestic bird populations (and occasionally wild birds), the first color mutations to occur are usually reduced pigment (dilution genes) and random de-pigmentation (spotting genes).

Small genetic mutations allow for different colors.  These mutations do occur in wild populations (Budgerigars, in Australia, for example - blue birds are occasionally seen in the wild) but these individuals do not usually live long enough to pass on their genetics.

The actual mutations of the genes involved do not occur more often in captivity than in the wild (as far as I know however, this hasn't been studied).  The difference is that they are usually disadvantageous in wild individuals (again, leading to a lessened chance for survival), but are almost always selected FOR in captivity.  Why do these small mutations occur then, if they don't translate to an advantage in wild animals?  That's that little "evolution" thing, you know, small changes in genetic code, some of 'em work, some of 'em don't. 

Most "off-color" or "aberrant" wild birds are not diluted - they have white patches in their plumage, which is otherwise normally colored.  Sometimes, this can be caused by injury - say a small bird is hit by a hawk but escapes.  It may acquire scar tissue, leading to some white-colored feathers.  However, most of these aberrant wild birds have much more white coloring than we would expect from an injury, such as an all-white head, or the Pigeon at the top of this post.  These individuals have a spotting gene.  Just like pinto horses, and Border Collies.  :)

I would very much like to see a better term applied to these birds, "leucistic" being much too general.  Click here for a  very brief overview of the word.  The most important point is that it is a VERY general description of a phenotype, indicating *nothing* of the genotype.  If the phenotype is visible enough to make enough of a distinction to label the bird as "leucistic", it's likely visible enough to say whether the individual is diluted, or spotted. 

Here's an example.  Pictured below are, left to right, a bay, a buckskin, and a bay pinto.


The buckskin is a bay horse with a dilution gene.  The pinto is a bay horse with a spotting gene.  But both could, technically, be considered "leucistic bays", even though the two phenotypes are so totally different, and caused by completely unrelated genes.  How silly it would be to lump them together.

So why do we lump it all together with birds?  Even at a distance, a spotted Pigeon is clearly distinct from a diluted (think "Fawn-colored") Pigeon.  Aren't we as birders scientifically sophisticated enough to make this basic distinction?

 If you made it all the way to the end, I thank you for your time, and apologize for my long-windedness!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cooper's Hawk

Thinking that "pretty sure" isn't a good statement for what would be a new bird on the life list.  So here's the photo (click to enlarge), and my reasoning. 

Points for Sharp Shinned:  head looks small, possible white stripe above eye, body is wider towards the top (not tubular).

Points for Cooper's:  widest part of body is lower down (bird appears more barrel-shaped than narrow-waisted, although angle is awkward), tail appears more rounded than straight, white band on tip of tail is apparent, perching on fence post in the open, size (bird was definitely larger than a blue jay), eye is closer to beak (doesn't appear to be in the middle of the head)

Can't judge the legs or breast streaking, and since it appears to be a juvenile, can't use the nape color either.

These are the pages I used:

Identifying Cooper's And Sharp-shinned Hawks
Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks

Inspecting this photo has made me question a yard bird we had a couple of years ago, which I thought at the time was a Sharp-Shinned, however it was also quite large.  I have no photos though, and my memory is sketchy!  So that bird will remain a "don't know".

Monday, December 21, 2009

Numbers, numbers, numbers...

Still obsessing with the numbering of my life list...  Am currently studying sandpiper photos, trying to decipher my poor blurry photos, most taken four years ago.  Feeding style?  I figure I'm doing well to remember where I took the dang photo!!  But I wonder about the numbering.  Would they go onto my list according to the date that I took the picture, or the date that I finally figured out what they were?  Sigh...  I think I've got the hawks figured out, anyways...  Got a bonus - had a photo where I couldn't decide,  had it in a folder for "no ID" but am pretty sure it's a Cooper's Hawk - one I hadn't added to my life list, so yay!

Friday, December 11, 2009

So many sightings, so few species

I'm almost finished reading "To See Every Bird On Earth", a story about birding, and a birder who has seen over 7000 species.  I also re-read "Birding:  Tales Of A Tribe".  Interesting to compare the two, the former is written by a non-birder who has been on many birding trips, and the second by a very keen birder. 

I don't see myself wanting to see that many birds...  I like birds, and taking bird trips, but that's extreme.  Whoa. 

It did make me curious for one thing - I wanted to have a chronological life list.  I want to be able to say what my 100th bird was.  I had a life checklist, but wasn't sure where it was.  Found most of my bird books and entered all the info I could find into a database.  Ended up with 2605 records.  For a piddly life list of 183.  Figured it would be at least 200.  Sigh.  I could increase it without birding if I could get some of my bad blurry photos recognized - my pics aren't good enough to say which peeps I've seen, so I didn't count any.  But that won't make it 200. 

It ends up being especially bad considering that my yard list is 75! 

Oh well, more excuse to go birding!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Global Warming is a Hoax!

Apologies for the heading - this is NOT my opinion.  This "movement" of people who do choose to believe that global warming is a "hoax" baffles me completely.  And what is with the "evolution is still just a theory" crowd???  Good grief...  Don't start a discussion with somebody like this - it heads REAL quickly into "I believe".  Folks, that's not a rebuttal, that's a childish "you can't make me" retort.

Believe in whatever you want to believe.  But don't expect to be taken seriously if you've got nothing to back it up with.

The Wall Street Journal has a new article out, summarizing (and rebutting) most of the claims of the "I don't believe in Global Warming" crowd.  Just a synopsis, but handy.

Click Here for the Story

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Implications of feeding birds

This is a topic that always interests me - what effect do we have on wild birds when we put out bird feeders?  I worry almost constantly that I'm only helping the invasive House Sparrows and European Starlings when I put out bird food.

There's an article on BBC News (found on Birdchick) detailing the evolutionary changes underway within the Blackcap.

There's an interesting lack of opinion as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing... Must nosh on these thoughts...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

November Tanager - part 4

The Tanager was back again today (Friday)!  A very quick sighting, from the tall tree in the west-side neighbors yard, to the fence, then along the creeper vine for a minute or two.  No good photos, settle for one bad one?

Other birds:  Black Capped Chickadees (at least three), a White-Breasted Nuthatch, female Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.  

Friday, November 27, 2009

Brief interruption...

The following is from another blog I had, that I plan to delete.  Didn't put much info on it, but don't want the info to disappear!  A few sightings from earlier in the year.  Purpose was so that I could record my sightings from work or from home!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When: 14 Apr 2009 (755 am)
What: Gray Partridge (1), Church Ave, btw McPhilips & Fife (at front yard feeder)


When: 3 Apr 2009 (750 am)
What: Gray Partridge (1), Church Ave, btw McPhillips & Fife

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


When: 24 Mar 2009 (745 am)
What: Common Raven (heard) answered by American Crow (heard)

When: 24 Mar 2009 (100 pm)
What: Seven Canada Geese flying overhead (at Inkster&McPhillips intersection)


When: 23 Mar 2009 (800 am)
What: Two Gray Partridges, along Church Ave (btw McPhillips and Fife) running lawn-to-lawn.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


When: March 12, 2009 (740 am)
What: One Common Raven, in front of house. Heard croak, then saw bird flying off


When: March 11, 2009 (800 am)
What: One Gray Partridge on Church Ave, btw McPhillips and Fife, boulevard, south side of the street. Standing lookout? First sighting on the south side of the street.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


When: March 10, 2009 (755 am)
What: About five Gray Partridges on the boulevard on Church Ave (sheltering in a depression in the snow around a tree trunk)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

November Tanager - part 3

No picture, but our Tanager was around yesterday, and today as well.  The berries in the yard are getting near to gone, not sure what s/he is going to do next.  Put out oranges in case it helps.  Hope the call of the south gets through soon!  It was a good birdy day in general - had four (possibly five) chickadees in the yard at once, a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches, and female Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  And a Raven, gronking his way over the houses.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November Tanager, day two!

Our Tanager came back! "Our". How funny, to be so possessive over a teeny wild animal! I'll blame E. - he's the one who saw it first. "Your bird's back!"

He went to the grapes first, then the Chokeberry. Spent a fair bit of time on top of the fence (scoping the area?) then climbed down for some Virginia Creeper berries. Then checked out the pond, sat in the elder for another minute, then took off to the top of the big tree at the back of the neighbors house.

November Tanager!

This has probably been the best birding year yet!  Today we added a new yard bird.  It's the *ninth* new yard bird this year - haven't had that many new ones since the first year we had feeders up!  A very exciting bird, a Summer Tanager.  It was a funny moment, all four of us were sitting at the kitchen table (a rare event).  E. noticed it first.  "What's that?"  The two words guaranteed to get a reaction out of me when sitting next to the watching window!  "Never mind, it was a leaf."  Uh, ok..  Then I. chimed in.  He'd seen it to, and went to the back door to check.  "It's on the grapes!"  Then we all saw it fly from the grapes onto the cherry tree.  Grabbed for the binocs, but it was behind branches!  Agh!  Get the camera, get the camera, GET the CAMERA!  Managed to get a couple of bad photographs.

But what *is* it?  Looks like a tanager...  Can't be!  Maybe an oriole?  Or an Indigo Bunting?  It then flew onto the top of the fence on the other side of the yard, but still couldn't manage a good photo!

It then climbed down for some virginia creeper berries.  Got a couple of other photographs.  Not an oriole, that's for sure!

What an accommodating bird, it then flew onto one of the branches on the now-leafless elderberry, and stayed for a good five minutes or so.  Lots of pictures!  Quite sure it's a tanager, but which one?  None of us have ever seen any tanagers.  Took pictures of it until it flew away.  Figures that today is cloudy, after being sunny the whole week!  So photos aren't the greatest.  NOT that I'm complaining!

Photos online helped out, after a bit of dithering, I was pretty sure ours was a Summer (rather than Scarlet) Tanager.  I'd already eliminated Western Tanager - no white on the wings.  Summer Tanagers seemed to be a brighter color, and more of the same color overall (Scarlets seem to tend to having darker wings) and a bigger BEAK!  An email to the ManitobaBirds email list confirmed our Summer Tanager - probably a first year.  


A great day!  A new yard bird, a rarity, and PHOTOS of it!  And so late in the year! Still riding high...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trip Report: Snowy, Snowy, Snowy, Snowy

When the forecast called for a bright and sunny weekend, we made plans to get out of town. When the forecast changed to rain, the plans got shelved, but the midafternoon sun made it too tempting!

Plan: Drive out of Winnipeg!

Destinations: Oak Hammock Marsh, Teulon

Weather Forecast: Clearing

March 21, 2009: Left town going north on McPhillips, turned west onto Hwy 67, then north on PR 220 to head for the interpretive center. Encountered about 6 Canada Geese on PR 220, feeding in the stubble. I'm not sure if this exaggerated pose was for our benefit, or his (?) mate!

Canada Goose, Oak Hammock Marsh, March 21, 2009

Hoping for a Meadowlark sighting, but no such luck. Just before the turnoff, saw in the distance (around the Artesian Well?) a group of flying birds. Possibly the Mallards everyone had been talking about? Only a short debate was necessary over the possibility of heading that way - the Volvo is a trooper, but the possibility of getting stuck was too great... Turned into the interpretive center and drove up to the sightings board. Our footwear was inadequate for the amount of water and snow, so we didn't attempt the trails. Headed back down PR 220. Saw another group of geese hanging out on the ice just south of the Interpretive Center's parking lot.

Canada Geese, Oak Hammock Marsh, March 21, 2009

Turned west on Hwy 67 and saw a Snowy Owl on a road sign! He wasn't feeling charitable however, and flew off on our approach. Disappointing, but this breaks a five year dry spell on Snowy Owls for me! Very glad for the sighting!

Headed north on Hwy 7. Saw several crows and one Red-Tailed Hawk, but no photos. Drove around Teulon briefly, then went back down Hwy 7, before turning East, back onto Hwy 67 for another run past Oak Hammock.

Grain Elevator, Teulon, March 21, 2009

Major excitement - our Snowy Owl is still there! Perched on the opposite side of the road, picture-taking opportunities are limited to shooting through the windshield. I couldn't see any black spots on him at all! He gave us a few shots, then took off into the nearby field. I'm assuming this was the same individual we saw previously, as the two road signs were almost directly across the road from each other.

Snowy Owl, Hwy 67, March 21, 2009

Continued driving west, almost at the turn to Oak Hammock Marsh. "Wait, what's that over in that tree?" "What tree?" It always helps to have a birding partner with great eyesight! I don't know how he saw this one! The photo below was taken with a 48x zoom.

Snowy Owl, Hwy 67, March 21, 2009

Turned south of PR 220 to return to Winnipeg. Hadn't gone a hundred yards before having to stop! Another Snowy!! This one let me get one photo, then flew to the next pole. We continued, slowly, driving in what was hopefully a very non-threatening manner. Stopped under that pole, and got a few more photos, before the owl swooped down and landed in the field. I LOVE that crown of black feathers!

Snowy Owl, PR220, March 21, 2009

"What's it got?" "What do you mean?" Our owl hadn't left because of us - she'd found a meal!

Snowy Owl and Meal, PR220, March 21, 2009

While Owl #3 didn't seem particularly nervous about us, it looked like she ate quickly, then stayed in place, scoping the area. We got many photos, but the distance was too great for really detailed pics. Then... "What's that in the distance?" "Where?" Would ya look at that - Owl #4 is sighted, in the same field. Very far away, only just barely close enough for ID. No photos of Owl #4, sorry!

Snowy Owl, PR220, March 21, 2009

Continuing along the road (am I the only one who has trouble leaving a cooperative bird?), we saw another Red-Tailed Hawk, several more Crows, and two pairs of Gray Partridges, about a mile apart. Also saw a white bucket overturned on a post. We tried our best, but couldn't turn it into Snowy Owl #5.

Gray Partridge, PR220, March 21, 2009

Species Tally:

Snowy Owl (4)

Red Tailed Hawk (2)

American Crow (~10)

Gray Partridge (4)

Canada Geese (~12)

Monday, March 2, 2009

White Rabbit

A White-Tailed Jackrabbit crossed the road in front of my car on the way back to work today! Industrial parks are strange areas, they support a lot of animals you may not expect to see in the middle of a big city! There was a delivery truck heading in the opposite direction, he must have seen him/her too, judging by the bug-eyed look he gave me... I must have had the same look on my face!! Sorry, I have no photos of any manner of rabbit to share... Sigh...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Trip Report - Thanksgiving 2008

Our most recent birding trip. We don't often take trips during winter, so figured this would be the last one for a while. Sightings are light, partly because of the time of year, and weather during the weekend, partly because I'm relying on memory here!

Plan: Drive around Westman.

Destinations: Oak Lake, Virden, Whitewater Lake

Weather forecast: Cloudy and/or rainy

Day 1 (October 10) Winnipeg to Brandon: Didn't leave Winnipeg til mid afternoon. Took the road north of Assiniboia Downs to get out of town. Some nice fall color to be seen. Weather remains cloudy, but patches of blue sky are seen, so optimism is high! Surely it wouldn't be cloudy for three whole days!

Farmland, north of Headingley, October 10, 2008

Clouds and farmland along Number 1 Highway, October 10, 2008

Oops! Rather than heading right back out on the roads after getting to Brandon, shopping and supper took up the rest of the daylight. Hoping for greater motivation tomorrow!

Day two (Brandon to Souris to Oak Lake to Souris): Oops! Slept in (way in!) and didn't leave town til mid afternoon again. Headed for Oak Lake, conditions still cloudy. Still some fall color to be seen around here as well.

Trees, Oak Lake, October 11, 2008

Distracted by a small group of horses - thought this was one was the prettiest!

Horse in pasture, Oak Lake, October 11, 2008

Not many birds to be seen, and evening approaching quickly. Got to the first marsh along PR254. Lots of birds in the water, but too dark for ID. White bird-shaped blobs, pelicans? Snow Geese? Swans? Made it to the resort and took some photos of the lake. Better luck tomorrow?

Oak Lake, October 11, 2008

Day Three (Souris to Oak Lake to Virden to Coulter to Whitewater Lake to Souris): Weather has changed. No longer cloudy. Now rainy. Determination remains high, however! Goal: head back to Oak Lake to identify our white bird-shaped blobs. First, town security watched us leave.

Wild Turkeys in Souris, October 12, 2008

Daylight (of a sort) showed us some of the color we missed the night before.

Farmland, Oak Lake, October 12, 2008

A mammal sighting! We usually see many more birds than mammals on these trips, this one has been close to an exception! (Pardon the barbed wire)

Coyote, Oak Lake, October 12, 2008

Made it to the marsh! Our birds are swans! Rain increasing, visibility decreasing, but non-goose like necks are apparent, even in long-distance, no-light, blurry-as-all-get-out photos.

Tundra Swans and unidentified ducks, Oak Lake, October 12, 2008

Flocks of Snow Geese were seen on the way out from Oak Lake, most uncharacteristically not concerned with our presence.

Snow Geese, Oak Lake, October 12, 2008

Leaving Virden produced more flocks of Snow Geese (Click on photo to enlarge)

Snow Geese, Virden, October 12, 2008

And some other birds. "What are those?" "Canada Geese." "No, they're not..."

Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, Virden, October 12, 2008

I'd only seen Sandhill Cranes a few other times, with the greatest number at once being around six. This was amazing! (Click on photo to enlarge)

Sandhill Cranes, Virden, October 12, 2008

Photos aren't the clearest, but for these shots, I kind of like the misty, dreamy effect.

Travelled to Coulter, Sourisford and Waskada. Animal sightings were short, but lots to see, including grain elevators and burial mounds. We did add Horned Lark and Ring-Necked Pheasant. On to Deloraine and Whitewater Lake!

Distracted by a misty cow...

Cow on pasture, Deloraine, October 12, 2008

And some misty horses...

Horses at pasture, Deloraine, October 12, 2008

The road was A-W-F-U-L. It had been raining all day, and the car was struggling! The roads to Whitewater Lake are often difficult, but on this day, they were impassable for our poor little Volvo. Shortly after this photo, we turned around and almost got stuck. This was taken as a sign that it was time to head back!

The Snow Geese around Whitewater Lake are much more suspicious of people and cars.

Snow Geese, Deloraine, October 12, 2008

Final bird tally not available (no list created at time of trip, and memory prone to failure). A good time was had by all!


The warm weather had made a trip to Oak Hammock Marsh tempting, but now the snow is blowing... Seems as good a time as any to write! My name is Nic, and I go birding - the object being to locate and identify wild birds. This can be as easy (think bird feeder near the window) or as difficult (think safari) as the birder chooses. It can involve lists and cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes, field guides and sketchbooks.

Two limiting factors in my own birding is time (as in, not enough) and money (same concern). We (myself and Ed) live in Winnipeg and have birded almost exclusively in Manitoba, for the above two reasons. However, an unexpected result of this limitation is a more intimate understanding of our location, and the discovery of some great "hot spots" not frequented by others. This is where the (possibly dubious) claim to "Intrepid" comes in. The "Manitoban" part is much easier to justify!

Sunset along Highway 44, August 16, 2008

Did I mention I'm a sucker for sunsets?