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Birding Locations: Marsland Basin

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A little-known gem of a birding location near Calgary is Marsland Basin, a Ducks Unlimited wetland on a private farm about halfway between Eagle Lake and Namaka Lake, southeast of Strathmore. A 75-acre lake with mud flats and cattail marshes can be viewed from the edge of a wooded farmyard.

The homeowners have created a great natural environment for all kinds of birds here, and they invite any interested birders to come by at any time. There are chairs set up at the viewing area, and you can walk around the farmyard as well. Sign the guest book.

Marsland Basin

To get to Marsland Basin, take Twp Road 232 one mile east from the village of Namaka, then go north a half mile on RR 242. This road dead-ends by the yard. Just drive right up into the yard.

Birders are encouraged to enter their sightings on eBird. Use the Marsland Basin HotSpot. Having a lot of public reports of both nesting birds and migrants is a good way to ensure that the importance of a wetland is recognized, and it is more likely to be protected and preserved.

There is an upcoming Nature Calgary field trip to this location on Sunday July 26. Meet at the parking lot at Carburn Park at 8 am to carpool.

Passing the Torch

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I think that most birders would love to live in a world with stable and prospering bird populations so that we could study and enjoy birds merely as a pleasurable hobby. Unfortunately that is not the case, as birds and other animals face serious threats almost everywhere on the planet. Many birders now spend much of their time and energy trying to combat habitat loss and other threats to the birds.

Traditionally, a typical birder is middle-aged or older. It is often a hobby taken up seriously by adults after their children have left home. When we get together for meetings and field trips, the majority of us are over 50 years old.

The percentage of the population that is interested in birds and birding is quite large – birding is second only to gardening as a hobby in North America. But only a small percentage of those backyard birders do it seriously. Consequently, our political voice is not as strong as it could be, or as it needs to be to effect positive changes for our natural world.

Most children have an innate fascination with nature and truly enjoy seeing birds and animals, and learning about the natural history of the earth. Unfortunately this eagerness to appreciate nature is often not fostered, resulting in a waning interest in nature and a lack of awareness of environmental issues. We need to raise a new generation that can be a strong voice for conservation.

Paul PGPhoto by Paul Gee. Many of us have seen a look of  delight like this when sharing our birding experiences with children, or with adults who are new to birding.

One of the most important things we can do as birders, as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, is to teach the children in our lives to respect and understand nature, and to be a force for conserving and restoring our natural heritage. This is one of the main motivations for many of us who do things like writing for bird blogs, leading field trips, running bird counts, and organizing birding competitions.

There are many opportunities to get and keep kids interested and involved. Nature Calgary offers many field trips of all kinds, which are free and open to everyone. Children can attend as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Similarly, the Friends of Fish Creek birding course welcomes any paid adult participant to bring children along, for which they are charged only a nominal $5 fee per child for the entire course.

One of our goals in organizing the eBird Calgary 2015 Big Year birding competition was to try to encourage more children (and adults who are novice birders) to get involved in the local birding community. As of today we have 23 beginners, and 13 youths under 17 registered. We would love to have more, and the deadline to enter is Tuesday, March 31.

If you can’t get out with your kids, there is still a lot you can do. I know of one parent in Calgary who takes his three kids on a nature walk to a new location every Saturday – just to get out and enjoy the birds, mammals, flowers, and trees. You could do this in your own yard or local park. You can also make a point of regularly watching nature shows on TV with them, and encouraging them to read about nature.

I ran into one of the youths in the competition early this year, and talked to his mother about his interest in birds. She regularly drives him to various parks and other locations to look for birds, and told me that birding has changed their lives. The following is an excerpt from an email she sent me:

In an age where kids are connecting more with social media and video games, I am very grateful that my son is growing up connecting to the natural world by his own choice. I have not yet bought him a cell phone because I want him to be in his world first, thinking and aware, without electronic distraction. Birding really requires that one is fully present…and it is clear he is learning to use his senses to hear and see birds. Through birding, he is excited to sleuth out (this is a phrase he has used with me) new species; happy to spot birds that he’s only seen in his books or posted by others.

I really should write the producers and actors of the movie “The Big Year” to thank them….that movie lit the fire for my son’s interest in birding. His next steps were birding sites like Nature Calgary and then eBird. Although he still likes a few video games, a good deal of the time he is on eBird, reading his new Sibley’s, looking at his photos…or now setting up his Flickr account.

Birding HAS changed our lives. We were pretty stuck inside, lots of screen time (computer and TV) and it seemed like I was always instructing him on something or asking him to stop the video games on the computer. Ours days were often not as positive as I would have liked. It is delightful to have birding where he is on point rather than me – both for technical content and motivation. I view this as a natural progression of independence for him and it’s wonderful for me to relax and just be with him. When he found the Northern Saw-whet Owl the other day we were both jumping up and down and high-fiving it in the frigid weather :) He was thrilled to find it (our second trip looking) and it’s great to see him so happy. Those are golden moments for me…both to be included in the find and to celebrate with him. Our birding trips are some of our happiest times together. He researches and plans, I drive, the world slows, we look and listen…and companionably walk together. Wow, that’s really what I want in life right now….for both of us!

I am acutely aware that my time with my son is limited; soon (4-1/2 years) he will be off to University. Birding has refocused our priorities and energy towards something rewarding and enjoyable and it’s getting us out and moving. I really believe that birding is drawing us closer while providing him with a pursuit he can call his own his whole life. It’s the best of what we like – books, travel, a worthwhile quest… and beautiful birds. My son said it himself the other day: “Birding really helps you appreciate things.”

What a gift it is, for both the child and our world, to be able to instill that sense of wonder and belonging. I welcome you to share this post, and to please share with us your stories of how connecting with nature has affected your lives.

birdscalgary@gmail.com

Boreal Birds Need Half

By Dr. Jeff Wells, Boreal Songbird Initiative

One of the world’s greatest migrations is happening now.  Billions of migratory birds are heading from the U.S., Central and South America to what’s been dubbed “North America’s bird nursery” —the sprawling billion-plus-acre boreal forest that spans the continent from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland and Labrador—to nest and produce next year’s generation of birds.

However, as abundant as they are, boreal birds face myriad challenges and threats to their habitat. Some of the most iconic species have suffered dramatic declines in recent decades.

Boreal C Dan Arndt

Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Dan Arndt

A new science report – Boreal Birds Need Half: Maintaining North America’s Bird Nursery and Why it Matters – released May 5 , recommends protecting at least 50 percent of the boreal forest from industrial development. That level of conservation is vital to provide birds the best chance of maintaining healthy populations for hundreds of species of birds that rely on the boreal forest for nesting and migratory stopover..

The report, produced by Ducks Unlimited and the Boreal Songbird Initiative, offers scientific support for expansive, landscape-scale habitat conservation in large, interconnected protected areas that are necessary to help ensure the diversity of species . It also showcases significant areas across Canada where birds, landscapes and biodiversity are extraordinarily special.

The report also reveals often unappreciated roles boreal birds play in providing ecosystem services—pollinating plants, redistributing nutrients, and controlling pests, for example—and the value they add (more than $100 billion to economies in the U.S. and Canada). It also emphasizes the integral role birds play in the culture of Aboriginal Peoples throughout the boreal.

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Sunday Showcase – Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Rusty Blackbird used to be a common sight in Alberta, ranging from the prairies to the boreal forest, and often a nice splash of color in a mixed flock of migrating blackbirds both in spring and fall. Over the past 50 years, their population has declined between 85 and as much as 99% by some estimates, and is a particularly vulnerable species at risk, not only in Alberta, but all over North America. It is with great pleasure that I note that eBird.org has organized yet another citizen science project in order to better understand the ecology, migration hotspots, and to develop some strategies to better accommodate this highly vulnerable species.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz opened March 1, 2014 all over North America, and the usual target dates for spotting them in our area are between April 1 and mid-May. The goal is to get as many birders to go out, as they usually would anyway, and report the observations to eBird under the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz survey type.

Read more about this project here: International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, and enjoy the one and only photo of this species that I have to date, taken at Eagle Lake in the fall of 2012.

female Rusty Blackbird Eagle Lake October 12, 2012

female Rusty Blackbird
Eagle Lake
October 12, 2012

Whooping Crane Birth

A whooping crane egg has hatched at the Calgary Zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre near Dewinton. Although every year fertile eggs are sent to recovery partners in the U.S., this is the first chick to hatch at the zoo’s breeding facility in the last three years.

whooping crane chick

whooping crane chick

Photos courtesy of The Calgary Zoo

“The whooping crane chick is doing extremely well,” said area curator, Colleen Baird. “It is strong and showing signs of healthy development.”

This chick hatched from a total of six fertile eggs that the whooping cranes laid this year at the Centre. Five eggs will be sent to other facilities in North America to continue to supplement wild whooping crane populations. There are seven breeding pairs of whooping cranes at the Centre and one non-breeding pair on display at the zoo.

As the chick matures, the zoo’s animal care team will determine if it will be part of the ongoing whooping crane breeding program at the Centre or if it will be relocated to be a part of other breeding programs.

Whooping cranes are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and are one of three bird species in Canada in that category. Through the efforts of the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, the Calgary Zoo is helping to ensure the long term survival of the species through participating in the conservation breeding program and species reintroduction efforts.

whooping crane

Adult whooping crane at the DCRC. Photo P Bumstead

Frank Lake Ibis Colony Destroyed?

Guest Post by Greg Wagner

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt

Ducks Unlimited developed the Frank Lake project under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan which is a tripartite initiative between Canada, the United States and Mexico aimed at conserving migratory birds across the continent. The Plan’s goal is to return waterfowl populations to 1970s levels through the protection of upland and wetland habitat.

This has certainly been achieved at Frank Lake where upland habitats have been secured and are managed for nesting waterfowl and other birds, and where wetland habitat has been created and protected through the establishment of dams and the addition of tertiary treated effluent from the Town of High River and Cargill. It is also one of the few large wetlands with large cattail and/or bulrush beds in southern Alberta and attracts a number of breeding bird species that are dependent on these habitats including White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Franklin’s Gull, Forester’s Tern, Western Grebe and Eared Grebe. Many of these species are listed as sensitive under the General Status of Alberta Wildlife Species, largely because of the scarcity of large wetlands with emergent vegetation.

Because of its conservation importance, Frank Lake has also been identified as an Important Bird Area  and as an Environmentally Significant Area within the Municipal District of Foothills.

Frank Lake is also a popular area for hunting, birding, wildlife photography, dog walking and hunting dog trials. Ducks Unlimited has also established an educational program at the lake, which had initially been offered to students in Calgary schools, but which is now being offered to rural schools in the area. It truly is the goose that laid the golden egg.  If people show some respect for the area and following a few basic rules (eg., dogs on leash during the nesting period from 1 April to 1 July) it should remain as an area that can serve as a significant wildlife conservation area, and at the same time be enjoyed by a number of different user groups.

The best known and most heavily used site on the lake is the observation blind on Basin 1 in the northwest corner of the lake. It is located within an extensive bulrush marsh and provides excellent viewing opportunities of Eared Grebe, Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens. Looking out to the east you can count dozens if not hundreds of White-faced Ibis. During the spring, the calls of Franklin’s Gulls are deafening. This reed bed supports the largest breeding population of emergent dependent birds on the lake, and in the province.

In the past photographers have been observed wading through the reed bed near the blind and trying to get close to the reed bed and nesting area of White-faced Ibis on a crudely constructed raft. These individuals cause untold damage to the birds nesting in these areas, in violation of the federal Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. I few weeks back I raised my concerns with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Making a hasty retreat.

Making a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, last weekend I encountered two individuals (a man with graying hair and a women with long blonde hair) marching through the reed beds north of the blind, cameras and long lenses in hand and pulling an inner tube with camouflage material wrapped around it. They were right in the area where the Ibis and Night Herons nest. About 25 Black-crowned Night Herons were flying around the reeds at the time.

I yelled at them to get out of there and that they were destroying nests in violation of the Alberta Wildlife Act. I also phoned Report a Poacher 1-800-642-3800 and ended up speaking with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer I had met with a few weeks back. I indicated what these two people were doing and that they were disturbing nesting birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. He asked me to record their license plate number. I also took some photos of them in the reeds.

After about twenty minutes they came out ashore and had the pleasure of some lively conversation and in your face time with yours truly. They indicated that they were long-time birders and were doing nothing to disturb the birds. I have left the matter in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Officer. But I wonder, do these two pick up a couple of six packs of mice from their local pet store anytime the go out looking for owls?

Last spring, I watched the Franklin’s Gull return to Frank Lake and begin nesting over most of May. Unfortunately, I was away for most of June. When I got back, I visited another large reed bed marsh supporting a large Franklin’s Gull breeding colony. The place was deafening with adult birds circling overhead, and recently fledged young everywhere.

Their vehicle

Their vehicle

Frank Lake was much different. I only saw a flock of 20 birds heading to the lake from nearby fields. No adult birds circling over the reed beds and no recently fledged young. There was zero nest success. I wondered at the time what had happen, and probably will never know. I thought it was probably something environmental, a quick increase in lake levels following a major rainfall event. But now, I wonder if it may simply have been caused by photographers traipsing through the bulrushes.

Frank Lake has become widely known as being the home to White-faced Ibis. I fear the breeding colony, or at least the major colony of the lake, has been destroyed. So if someone is out at Frank Lake and wants to know why there aren’t so many Franklin’s Gulls around the blind, or where all the Ibis have gone. maybe this post provides an answer.

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Posted by Pat Bumstead:

We know Frank Lake is a very popular birding destination for many of our readers. Put the Report A Poacher number 1-800-642-3800 in your cellphone. If you see idiot photographers endangering the birds for the sake of a picture, make note of the following and give them a call:

  • Date, time and location of offense
  • License plate number of vehicle
  • Vehicle description, including any identifying features, dents, stickers, etc.
  • Description of person(s) involved
  • Description of evidence at the scene, or evidence of the crime that the violators took with them
  • Details of the violation

Most of our Canadian bird species are in serious trouble throughout their ranges. Bird watchers are the ones out in the field, and can cover far more territory than Fish & Wildlife officers. If you see someone wading through nest sites, baiting owls, stealing eggs from a nest or anything else that threatens the birds, speak up for them! If we don’t, there might not be any birds to watch.

Alberta Headwaters Petition

(Link to the Petition here.)

In about two months the Alberta government will be releasing its draft of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. This will have a huge impact on the future of the wildlife, plants, and water resources of the headwaters. Naturalist, writer, and former superintendent of Banff National Park Kevin Van Tighem has started an online petition asking the government to “Treat our Alberta Headwaters like the treasures they are.”

Kevin says, “Those responsible for finalizing the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan are under a lot of pressure to protect the status quo for industrial-scale logging in the headwaters, and are being lobbied very aggressively by off-road vehicle users who want no restrictions on their activities.  I believe we have a good Minister; I also believe she’s under a lot of pressure.”

Kevin adds, “Most of us likely remember – I certainly do – when the foothills and Front Ranges were like paradise — before they were brought down to their current state by multiple-abuse.   The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan will have quasi-regulatory status and is meant to be a strategic roadmap to our next fifty years.   It’s really important that those who believe we can do better for our headwaters – the forests, creeks, meadows, trout, grizzlies and wild places that yield all the water that comes down the rivers to where we all live – make themselves heard.”

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Here is the text of the petition:

A century of clear cut logging, oil and gas development and out-of-control off-road vehicle abuse has left the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River fragmented and scarred. Natural river flows are 12% lower than in the mid twentieth century. Climate change will only make things worse.
Alberta is about to release a South Saskatchewan regional land use plan that was prepared with wide citizen consultation. But special interest groups with a stake in business-as-usual want to ensure it contains no limits on off-road abuse, increases clear cut logging, and promotes more development.
Those who care about healthy landscapes, clean rivers and future water security need a chance to inform the government that they support a plan that keeps the mountains and foothills green and healthy by establishing new parks, restricting off-road vehicles to official trails, replacing clear cutting with restoration logging, and repairing landscapes damaged by past industrial and motorized abuse.
Healthy intact headwaters don’t just produce more and better water – they yield better fishing and hunting, more secure and productive habitat for elk, grizzlies and native trout, and the aesthetic and ecological qualities that yield the finest of recreational environments.

If you would like to support this cause and sign this petition, go to the petition website,  and share this with friends and family.

Help Needed For Snow Goose Counts

Nature Calgary has been contacted by a biologist from Washington State tracking migrating snow geese. One of their collared geese has unexpectedly shown up east of Calgary. The biologist is hoping for snow goose sightings and flock counts from birders in the Calgary area. His complete email of April 18 2013 follows:
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Hello- I am a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in Washington State. We recently implanted snow geese from the Skagit/Fraser valleys with satellite transmitters to document migration. These geese are thought to nest on Wrangel Island, Russia. The migration recently commenced and we have a very interesting migrant that is near Calgary. This route is not expected, as it is thought that the majority of this breeding population travels along the Pacific Coast.

Could you let anyone who might be interested know about this event, and what I am most looking for, is someone who might be interested in having a look at the flocks to get flock counts. In addition, we have roughly 500 neck collars out on snow geese, and it would be an opportunity to get collar sightings.

The most recent location of the snow goose near Calgary is from 04/18/2013 15:36 (UTC): Lat 51.029, Long -112.504. If you know of anyone who might be interested please put them in contact with me and I can provide location updates as they occur. We also have the marked birds on a tracking web site.

Thank You, -Joe

Joe Evenson Waterfowl Survey & Sea Duck Specialist,

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

7801 Phillips Rd. SW Lakewood, WA 98498 360-790-8691

Email joseph.evenson@dfw.wa.gov
http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/staff/evenson_joe.html

Great Backyard Bird Count Goes Global

GBBCBanner_600px

For the first time, anyone anywhere in the world with Internet access can participate in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) February 15-18, 2013. Participants simply watch birds at any location for at least 15 minutes, tally the numbers of each species they see, and report their tallies online. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

This year, anyone visiting the GBBC website will be able to see bird observations pouring in from around the world and contribute their own tallies. Global participation will be made possible thanks to eBird, a real-time online checklist program that the Cornell Lab and Audubon are integrating into the GBBC for the first time this year. The GBBC is open to anyone of any skill level and welcomes bird observations from any location, including backyards, national parks, gardens, wetlands, and urban landscapes. The four-day count typically receives sightings from tens of thousands of people reporting more than 600 bird species in the United States and Canada alone.

“We’re eager to see how many of the world’s 10,240 bird species will be reported during the count this year,” said Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick. “We’re looking forward to this historic snapshot of birds that that will be reported from around the world. We need as many people as possible to help build the wealth of data that scientists need to track the health of bird populations through time.”

Participants will be able to view what others are seeing on interactive maps and contribute their tallies for ongoing bird research and conservation efforts. For the first time, participants will also be able to upload their counts from the field using the eBird BirdLog app for Apple or Android smartphones. To celebrate the new global reach of the count, developers of the eBird BirdLog app are offering regional versions of the app for just 99 cents through February 18. Learn more.

common redpollJust how big is this year’s irruption of northern finches and other species such as the Red-breasted Nuthatch? GBBC reports will help define the answer.

“This count is so much fun because anyone can take part, whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher,” said Gary Langham, Audubon’s Chief Scientist. “Invite new birders to join and share the experience. Once you get involved, you can continue with eBird year round.”

“The popularity of the Great Backyard Bird Count grows each year,” said Dick Cannings, Senior Projects Officer at Bird Studies Canada, “and with the new features, participation will be even more exciting.”

Participating is easy. To learn more about how to join the count, get bird ID tips, plus downloadable instructions, web buttons, and flyers, visit www.BirdCount.ca. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize for participants who enter at least one bird checklist online. You can also read a summary of the 2012 GBBC. Portions of the GBBC site are now available in Spanish at www.ContandoAves.org.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Posted by Pat Bumstead

The Calgary Zoo, a birder’s refuge on a cold winter day

Posted by Dan Arndt

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the second week of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course as I was out of town on personal business, but I knew that I’d hate to leave the regular Monday readers high and dry. As such, here is a post I’ve been sitting on for a while, and since the coldest days of winter are still ahead of us, and some folks just can’t handle the cold for long periods of time, here’s a suggestion of somewhere to go to brush up on your exotic bird identification skills!

While birding even in the coldest days can bring out some incredible surprises, there are much warmer places with incredibly gorgeous birds all year round. The Calgary Zoo houses a wide variety of bird species, from native Canadian species such as the Burrowing Owl, Whooping Crane, and Bald Eagle, to exotic birds from all over the world,  the ugly-pretty Vulturine Guineafowl from Central Africa, the ever-popular and charismatic Rockhopper Penguin, and the beautiful and majestic Andean Condor, from South America.

While none of these birds would count on any list (except maybe a “Seen in Captivity” list), they’re great subjects to photograph, and familiarity gained with these birds here at home would aid significantly in identifying them if you ever end up in their native habitat looking for their wild cousins. On top of that, the public education and awareness of wildlife that the Calgary Zoo engenders with their live collections, public outreach, and captive breeding programs go much further to increase the popularity and appreciation of all animals, not just the charismatic megafauna that they have on display.

I hope you enjoy the photos of a variety of birds I’ve taken at the Calgary Zoo in the past few years!

Vulturine Guineafowl - Africa

Vulturine Guineafowl – Africa

Northern Rockhopper Penguin - Southern Atlantic islands and Southern Indian islands

Northern Rockhopper Penguin – Southern Atlantic islands and Southern Indian islands

American or Carribean Flamingo - North and Central America and the Carribean islands

American or Carribean Flamingo – North and Central America and the Carribean islands

Burrowing Owl - North, Central, and South America

Burrowing Owl – North, Central, and South America

Andean Condor - South America

Andean Condor – South America

Bald Eagle - North America

Bald Eagle – North America

Van der Decken's Hornbill - Africa

Van der Decken’s Hornbill – Africa

Whooping Crane - North America

Whooping Crane – North America