Posted by Dan Arndt
Our second visit to Bebo Grove this winter was in search of a well-documented Varied Thrush that had been seen there for a few weeks, and thankfully it decided to stay in almost the exact same spot for our Sunday morning outing. We also got some of the regular boreal birds that we’ve come to expect at Bebo Grove, and while the morning was fairly quiet in terms of numbers of individual birds, we did have some nice close encounters that highlighted the morning overall.
While the highlight of the morning was the Varied Thrush, a bird we found early on and spent a good amount of time with, I’m going to save those images for the very end, since there are a few of them in different poses, and really it’s always good practice to save the best for last!
Our morning was, as I mentioned in the intro, quiet overall in terms of bird sightings, but there wasn’t a moment while travelling through the trees that we didn’t have at least forty or fifty Pine Siskins in the trees above us, trilling and chattering away. We even had a brief sighting of a Merlin, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a few other birds that I we haven’t seen as a group since the late fall.
It’s almost like clockwork the areas in Bebo Grove where we find mixed flocks of Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, and where the bird activity picks up bit by bit to a startling cacophony of sound and being dive-bombed by chickadees, nuthatches, and the odd kinglet or creeper. There were a few more Boreal Chickadees here than the last time we visited this little grove, and they had a very well established pecking order, with one larger bird coming in first, then the next two coming in almost as soon as it had left.
We even had a few close encounters with some Pine Siskins once again, coming down into the lower boughs of the spruce trees to feed on hatching insects as well as on the fallen cones.
One of the bird species that seems to be diminishing in numbers in southern Alberta right now are the Pine Grosbeaks. While there are a few places to still reliably find them in the city limits, I suspect that they’re heading north and west as our early spring has really ramped up over the last few weeks. Similarly, both White-winged and Red Crossbills, as well as Bohemian Waxwings seem to have all but withdrawn from southern Alberta a few weeks earlier than they normally would, despite there still being an abundance of food for them.
Another species we found picking through the lower branches in search of freshly hatched insects (in February, at that! The wonders of these long-lasting el Nino chinooks!) were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. These birds were unusually unaware of our presence once again, and so we had really good looks at them while they fluttered about almost like hummingbirds feeding from the tips of the branches and all the way along each small branch and twig.
Of course the real highlight was this male Varied Thrush. I’ve been seeing quite a few of these birds in Revelstoke, British Columbia in my trips there all winter, but these are certainly a great bird to find in Alberta, especially one returning to the same area for such a long period of time in the winter!
We even got to hear him singing away for a few minutes, while a second male a little further off in the distance sung counter to him. If you’ve never really heard these birds before, their song is a long, high pitched piercing note, much like the sound of the brakes of a train squealing to a stop.
We must have spent a good half hour with this bird, watching him from all angles while he posed, sung, posed again, and eventually moved just a little higher in the trees as the sun came around to illuminate him a little bit. It was probably the best look at a Varied Thrush some members of our group had ever had, as these birds can be quite flighty, even where they are abundant.
Have a great week, and good “spring” birding!