Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stumbling on Young Prairie Merlins - Saskatchewan

I'm happy to be heading out of town in a few days — to a great degree because of the birds and flowers I know I'll find. Last July, at this retreat, I stumbled over (or, to be more precise, under, with a little help from a fellow birder) a pair of young Prairie Merlins.

Prairie Merlin, loudly asserting its right to be above me.... ©SB

Prairie Merlin   ©SB

Our variety of these small, fierce falcons is lighter than other Merlins — All About Birds has some pix for comparison... Ours, the Prairie subspecies of Merlins, has white and pale brown markings.

And, for the record, these young Merlins (or maybe there's only one, photographed on different days) were okay flyers, although they preferred to sit on their branches and squawk at me.

What are these?  Merlins (Prairie subspecies).
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: July 22 and 17, 2014. 


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Young Eared Grebes on mother's back: near Herbert, SK

The Eared Grebe floats through the reeds at Francis Lake, near Herbert, Saskatchewan, and we count the young grebes on her back... Two, we think, until someone later looks at the images and says, "Three!" And yes, there are three tiny bird faces, three sets of dark eyes, and three red-striped beaks. She swam with the baby birds for a while, then wriggled her wings, and when that didn't move them, finally dove to set them free.

Eared Grebe with three young on her back. (The third is nestled low.) © SB

This shallow lake, a broad water-filled dip in the fields, is home to many of these oh-so-decorative birds, the "most abundant Grebe in the world." (All About Birds.) It also hosts a wide range of ducks, geese and other water-loving birds. 

A road leads straight across this lake — #612, over my map's unnamed blue that birders call Francis. We drove slowly and waited out the pick-up trucks and grain trucks that barrelled by. Our windows rolled up until dust dissipated, we watched the birds. (It was a great side trip from the TransCanada Highway.)

Eared Grebe rushes across the pond to feed its young birds. ©SB
Feeding time for the Eared Grebe.  ©SB

What are these?  Eared Grebes.
Location: Francis Lake, north of Herbert, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: June 25, 2015. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Pair of Mourning Doves Arrive to Feed: Regina SK

Male Mourning Dove, with blue-gray head and nape
and rosy iridescence on his neck.
Regina,  SK, backyard.  ©SB
Home after a two-week visit, I've been hoping for new backyard, Regina, SK, birds — and today I was delighted to see a pair of Mourning Doves pecking at seeds below the bird feeders.

These Mourning Doves appeared to be mates — banding studies suggest they mate for life, however long that may be — and they had slightly different markings.

The male (as indicated by notes in Stokeshad a more pinkish chest and blueish-gray feathers on its crown and nape. He also had bright patches of rosy iridescence on either side of his neck.

The female was a softer tan overall.

Male Mourning Dove, with more rosy/apricot chest shading, neck iridescence and blue head feathers. 
(love those red legs and feet!) ©SB

Pair of Mourning Doves below my Regina, SK, birdfeeder. (Female in front, male at back.) ©SB

This is the second time I've seen these large (compared to most others in spring) graceful birds in our yard.

The first was a Mourning Dove that stopped by in Fall 2013, perhaps on her migration south. She found a spot near the trellis, close to seeds, spent the morning resting, then flew away. (She, I'm guessing, because of her tan-coloured chest and lack of blueish head feathers — but I'm just as likely wrong.)

Visiting Mourning Dove  ©SB

What are these?  Mourning Doves 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: Top three images: May 17, 2015; lower image: September 29, 2013.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Regina Backyard Birds: Finches, Sparrows, Siskins - April 2015

Purple Finch on backyard feeder.  ©SB
I've counted more than 15 species around our backyard Regina, Saskatchewan, bird feeders in spring: Purple Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Lincoln's Sparrows, Pine Siskins, American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Common Grackles, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, American Crows, American RobinsHouse FinchesHouse Sparrows, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, A Downy Woodpecker also dropped by our front yard for a while. 

Yes, late April is a wonderful time for backyard bird watching. Some of the early migrating songbirds are still here, and new birds are arriving every day. 

However, at a quick glance, all but the large Robins and Grackles (and huge Crows) look like little brown birds, well camouflaged by the grass, dirt and seeds in the feeder. Difficult to tell apart.

But read on, and then look closer. With a longer camera lens or a steady, patient gaze, the differences will become clearer. (And, if you'd like to see more Regina Backyard Birds, check the link at right, to Birds in Regina, SK: backyard feeder. That will open all related posts as one list.)  And, if I've identified any incorrectly, please let me know. 

First, our most common bird — the House Sparrow. Their population is apparently declining in Europe, but not in my backyard where at times dozens squawk, feed, fight and fly away. House Sparrows are easy to recognize. House Sparrows over-winter in Regina, so are highly visible all year. The males are larger than most other little brown birds, and have distinctive facial markings, while the female House Sparrows are notable (to me) for their overall brownness. 

Male House Sparrow. I think these birds look fierce! ©SB

Female House Sparrow. Much more gentle looking. ©SB

House Finches also common, and those that visit us have tinges of colour ranging from pale yellow through bright scarlet. The males, that is. The females are plainer — but easy to tell from the female House Sparrows because of the blurry streaks on their bellies. We've had House Finches all winter in the past, but this year, they disappeared for a few weeks, then came back in March.   

Male House Finch, with typical brown streaking   ©SB

Male House and Purple Finches.  ©SB

Purple Finches are new at our feeders this year. They look a bit larger than the House Finch, and the males are a soft wash of deep raspberry (no brown streaks on chest or belly), while the females have strong white and brown facial markings. I don't know if we'll be lucky enough to have them stay, or if they're already on their way north. 

Male Purple Finch ©SB
Female or immature Purple Finch  ©SB

Pine Siskins are a little like the finches — streaky brown, but far tinier, with pointy, delicate beaks. You can also identify them by the flashes of yellow on their wings, especially if you're lucky enough to catch them in full feather-opened flight! The one pictured below dropped in to visit before strong daylight, then vanished, but I have shots of Pine Siskins from a few years back, wings dramatically yellow.

Pine Siskin -- if you look closely, you can see the flash of yellow
along its wing. Check my recent Pine Siskin page for more dramatic pix 

taken at the same time as the one below. ©SB
Why I love Pine Siskins... They look calm and boring -- but
catch them with wings and tail wide, and they are so lovely! ©SB

Dark-eyed Juncos were our first spring arrival and are still hanging around our yard — but not likely for long. We see them in fall, too, when they migrate back south. These songbirds have strong gray and white markings, with pink beaks, and are easy to identify in flight by their flashing white tail feathers. The males' colouring is bolder than the female — a darker gray, for stronger contrast — while the females have a greater ranger of grays and browns in their upper feathers. (This is easier to see when both a male and a female Dark-eyed Junco are nearby...) 

Dark-eyed Junco  ©SB 
And, another Dark-eyed Junco.  ©SB

So far, the only migratory sparrows that have reached our backyard are the White-crowned Sparrow, the White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and the American Tree Sparrow. Of these, the White-crowned and White-throated are the most distinctive. 

White-crowned Sparrows have bright white stripes on the top of their heads, with pale gray neck, chest and belly feathers. 

White-crowned Sparrow ©SB

White-throated Sparrows may also have white crown feathers, but in addition have a white throat patch that to me looks like a beard, along with a yellow lore (spot between the bill and eye.)  Some White-throated Sparrows are tan-striped, with light brown crown markings — but these, too, have the distinctive white throat and yellow lore. 

White-throated Sparrow  ©SB

Tan-striped White Throated Sparrow ©SB 

Lincoln's Sparrow really does look like a little brown bird. Tough to see sometimes, unless I watch closely for movement in the dirt! It's small and lighter coloured than a female House Finch. Look for its crisp stripes and a crown that's often peaked. 

Lincoln's Sparrow ©SB

American Tree Sparrows resemble House Sparrows, to me — but only at first glance. Look closer, and you'll see their red heads and eye stripes, paler buffy breasts, and reddish wing feathers.  

American Tree Sparrow  ©SB

As for the Black-capped Chickadees, American Crows, American Robins, Common Grackles, Blue Jays and Red-breasted Nuthatches, I'll let their pictures tell their stories.   

Black-capped Chickadee waiting above the feeder.  ©SB
American Robin  ©SB
American Robin pulling up a worm  ©SB
American Crow ©SB
Downy Woodpecker - yes this pic has been here
before... a few of these are from past years. ©SB
Red-breasted Nuthatch  ©SB
Blue Jay eating peanuts in the backyard.  ©SB
Female (or immature?) Common Grackle  ©SB

Male Common Grackle  ©SB

Regina has a surprising number of micro-climates/bird zones — surprising to me, at least, when I see lists of birds that people from other parts of the city observe, compared to birds that land in my backyard. If you live near the lake or creek, you'll likely have an even greater variety than I do.

And most of these pictures were taken in April, 2015 — but birds don't always cooperate and pose well in great lighting! So some are pulled from my photo files to illustrate the birds we've seen this month. 

What are these?  April backyard birds: American Crow, American Robin, House Finch, Purple Finch, House Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Common Grackles and Red-breasted Nuthatch,
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: House Finch, April 25, 2015;  House Finch with Purple Finch: April 22, 2015; Male Purple Finches: April 22, 2015; Female (or immature) Purple Finch, April 27 2015; Pine Siskin, April 27, 2015, and May 2013; Dark-eyed Junco: April 10, 2015; White-crowned Sparrow, April 25, 2015; White-throated Sparrow, April 26, 2015; Tan-striped White-throated Sparrow, April 28, 2015; American Tree Sparrow, April 25, 2015; Black-capped Chickadee, Sept. 9, 2013; American Robin: April 17, 2015; American Crow: April 22, 2015; Downy Woodpecker, Dec. 2, 2014; Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sept. 9, 2013; Blue Jay, Oct. 20, 2013; Grackles: Female, April 25, 2015, male, Sept. 29. 2015. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

Pine Siskin Arrives: A new bird in my Regina, SK, backyard

This morning before the sun rose high enough to fully light our backyard, a Pine Siskin arrived at the feeder. Its size first caught my attention. It was feeding beside a female Purple Finch, and by contrast, the Pine Siskin looked very tiny.

First Pine Siskin of 2015 in my Regina, SK, backyard.
aka early morning bird -- just another little brown bird at the feeder...
Until you note the yellow flash along the edge of its wing. ©SB

I'm hoping that the Pine Siskin will be back with the rest of the flock. I even drove up to the store to find fresh oily nyjer seeds to fill the conical feeder. That's what drew them here a few years ago. And oh, so lovely they were! And fierce, in their displays and fights for the seeds!

Pine Siskin in flight - and good light. Oh, so lovely!  ©SB

Nyjer feeder full of Pine Siskins, with yellow feathers
both hidden and visible  ©SB

Close-up of Pine Siskins disputing their territory on my feeder - and displaying their soft yellows.  ©SB
Beautiful wing displays of the Pine Siskin. ©SB

What are these? Pine Siskins, stopping during their migration north.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   

Photo dates: Dull top photo: April 27, 2015; more vibrant pictures: May 17-24, 2013.   


Sunday, April 26, 2015

White-throated Sparrows Arrive for Spring in Regina

White-throated Sparrows sing and peck for seeds in my Regina, SK, backyard today. Another cheer for Spring! These oh-sweet-Canada! songbirds are such a delight to listen to!

Here's looking at you, White-throated Sparrow! ©SB
What a handsome bird! White-throated Sparrow in the new backyard grass.  ©SB

What are these? White-throated Sparrow, stopping during its migration north.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: April 25, 2015  


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lincoln's Sparrows: Regina's April Backyard Birds

Lincoln's Sparrow stopping by for a snack.  ©SB
Lincoln's Sparrows are visiting my Regina, SK, backyard today.

Yeah for migration!

These little "drab but handsome" birds usually stop here in April through early May on their way to their more northern summer breeding grounds.

I enjoy watching Lincoln's Sparrows' perky bobbing movements through the grass and seeds under our feeders.

And I can understand why the Cornell Lab of Ornithology/All About Birds calls them drab but handsome... At a quick glance, I usually can't even see them — even when I know they're there! These dainty little birds blend very well with dirt, dried grass and seeds.

But look closer and they are truly beautiful, with dark, light, gray and coppery feathers.

Lincoln's Sparrow in our Regina, SK, backyard today.  ©SB
Lincoln's Sparrow  ©SB

What are these? Lincoln's Sparrows 
Location: Backyard, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 25, 2015 and (image at top) May 20, 2014.


Friday, April 24, 2015

American Pelicans back above the Weir in Saskatoon, SK

Spring, and the Pelicans are back in Saskatchewan. On the weekend, we saw a group of American Pelicans huddled in shallow water above the weir on the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. 

Sunning themselves, or waiting to fish? American Pelicans in the South Saskatchewan River  ©SB

What are these? American Pelicans 
Location: Above the weir, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 19, 2015.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

American Tree Sparrow Flying Through at Dusk

Waiting for migratory sparrows to arrive in my backyard, I remembered that one has already visited — an American Tree Sparrow that flew through at dusk a few weeks ago. It checked out the scattered bird seed on the grass in our Regina, SK, backyard in the late light of the day, but by morning, our early visitor — notable for its bright rusty crown and eye streak — was gone.

American Tree Sparrow  © SB
American Tree Sparrow    ©SB

What is this? American Tree Sparrow.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 9, 2015.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Purple Finches vs Red House Finches in Regina, SK

After waiting and hoping for a Purple Finch to join the House Finches in my Regina, SK, backyard, I was lucky and caught some great pix of a stunning pink male Purple Finch this morning.

I'll confess: My red House Finches are so red that I kept hoping maybe they were really Purple Finches, just because that sounded more glamourous... But every time I wondered, searches online — and in my bird books — would soon dissuade me. And once you see both, they are clearly different, and the Purple Finches are stunners!

First, the male Purple Finch: The raspberry pink colour is very noticeable, even when he's hiding behind our lilac branches. At closer range, the pink wash across its wing and back feathers becomes evident, as do the sometimes-slightly-erect head feathers and the raspberry pink — but not brown — streaks on its chest.

Male Purple Finch, washed in pink.  © SB
Male Purple Finch - strong reddish pink colour
on back  and wings ©SB

The male House Finch, on the other hand, though equally delightfully bright, has a more limited area of reddish colouring: Its head, chest and lower back. And, House Finches all seem to have strong brown speckling across their chests. For most in our backyard, the red is more of a scarlet shade, although we've also had some that are yellow, and a few, orange.    

The back of the House Finch is much more brown
- as is the back of its head. ©SB
Lots of scarlet on this House Finch,
though its head and belly are brown. ©SB
The female Purple Finch also has very distinctive facial markings, with clear whitish stripes on its face.  

Lovely female Purple Finch with white facial stripes  ©SB

The female House Finch, in comparison, has a softer-toned, all-over brownish face, with delicate brown chest streaks. (Personally, I love the female House Finches; they're one of those birds that looks drab at first, but whose subtle contrast can be quite delightful.) 

Pretty -- and subltely marked -- female House Finch © SB

What are these? Purple and House Finches 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: Male Purple Finch, April 15, 2015; female Purple Finch, April 10, 2015. Male House Finch, April 7 & 15, 2014; female House Finch, April 15, 2015.  


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