Friday, November 14, 2014

A video of "bird atlassing" in the Canadian wilderness (Manitoba)

Friends who would like to know what summer bird surveying is like, or anyone who appreciates Manitoba's awesome wilderness may enjoy this video (click on link above or below) - a fantastic souvenir of atlassing in Manitoba's splendid wilderness made by Janine McManus (one of four surveyors hired by Bird Studies Canada ( in 2013 (shown here) and 2014...

Janine wrote:
The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas ( has completed five years of field work surveying a province where the roads run out and there are more bogs than you can count! Last Friday I celebrated this achievement with some of the amazing volunteers who made it all possible. It inspired me to get this little video of the 2013 crew up and running.

Anyone care to join us? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Identyfying the Golden Eagle in Manitoba

Early spring and late fall is the time to be on the look out for Golden Eagles, a very uncommon species in Manitoba. Of course, you always have to be careful to distinguish immature Bald Eagles from Goldens (probably at least 99 out of every 100 brown-headed eagles you see in Manitoba will be immature Bald Eagles) so I am sharing these four photos of a Golden Eagle (prob. 2nd cycle), two perched from front and back and two in flight showing underparts and upperparts. I photographed this bird on a Nature Conservancy of Canada property south of Riding Mountain National Park in early October (thanx Sandra for the nudge – better late than never, eh!)

Things to look for include in this series of images:
*    golden nape patch of GOEA shows in all plumages but can be hard to see on a soaring bird (always look for this feature)
*    small-headed appearance of GOEA, esp. in flight (BAEA head and bill more elongated and “stick out” more from body)
*    the tail pattern of GOEA is distinctive but be aware of the difference between immature that show a very distinctive white band and adults that show much less white in tail (subtle bands) and compare the extent of white in the various plumages of immature Bald Eagle
*    larger size of GOEA sometimes useful but difficult to judge in field and , as always with raptors, be aware of size difference between the sexes
*    typically darker colouration of GOEA than immature BAEA, although this can be tricky to judge under field conditions

Also worth noting:
*    size compared to Canada Geese in photo (they were passing by – eagle not chasing them)
*    regrowing primaries on this bird that give the wing an odd shape
*    for ageing of this bird, look for the limited white in the underwing and the partially translucent effect at the base of the primaries, along with a relatively limited amount of white in the tail (e.g. note how when viewed from underside no white visible but when fanned and viewed from above a white band is clearly present, even though not quite as extensive nor as defined nor as contrasting as a first year bird) and also more gold in the shoulder than a first year bird
*    the sheer awesomeness of this creature!

All the best to all the best!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Introducing the Fulvous Owl (Strix fulvescens)

The Fulvous Owl (Strix fulvescens) is a close relative of the Barred Owl that is endemic to Central America (from southernmost Mexico south to Honduras). As is often the case when one genus has representatives in the tropic and the temperate zones, this tropical species is smaller (41 – 44 cm) than their northern cousin the Barred Owl Owl (48 – 55 cm). The Fulvous Owl is also darker and richer in colour (the word “fulvous” describing the warm reddish brown tones of this bird) and has a very distinctive 6-note song. The yellow eyelids are also an interesting feature that I have not read about previously. This is a poorly known species that resides in submontane pine-oak and montane cloud forest from approx 1200 m ASL to 3000 m ASL. Despite limited data, it is suspected to be in decline due to habitat loss in its restricted range. La Tigra National Park in Honduras, San Pedro Volcano in Guatemala, and El Triunfo in Mexico are some good sites to try to find this species (also in El Salvador). I took these four photo recently in La Tigra, Honduras.

 This last photo shows the Fulvous Owl singing (notice the throat feathers are extended).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Least Bittern: Shoal Lakes IBA

Special thanks to Donna Martin for sharing her sightings of  Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) in the Shoal Lakes Important Bird Area. I decided to try to photograph them this morning and had enormous success photographing a male and an immature bird (probably hatch year male: note for example the black feathers with fine white tips coming through on the mantle). I was delighted to manage a series of behavioral observations: I loved the way they sneak around like mice and their fishing technique, especially how one wing would open during the back lurch (after the initial forward trust) as a balancing mechanism. I also enjoyed how they would shake their fish after catching them (presumably to kill them before swallowing) and the way they shook their whole body sideways when ingesting larger prey items (presumably to help gravity along!). They were also remarkably dexterous at manipulating prey items with the very tip of the bill. Most amazing of all to watch though, was the incredible flexibility in the legs and feet that enabled them to walk through the reeds clinging to vertical stems with ease! Here is a series of 21 photos that illustrate some of the above points:

Here is the male with his jet black back, fishing on a rock...

In this photo, you can see the bitterns' famous trick of looking forward "under" the bill...

 And here are two more poses of the male fishing...

These next photos are of a different bird with darker markings than the male, although there are black feathers mixed in with the otherwise brown back, which lead me to believe this might be a juvenile male... These first photos show how good at fishing was, catching several fish of different sizes while I watched:

I was impressed by the bittern's ability to handle tiny fry with the very tip of the bill as seen here...

The observations I most enjoyed was watching this Least Bitterns creep through the reeds, especially the amazing legs and huge feet that seemed capable of bending to extreme angles to grip whatever necessary. Watch as the bittern appears through the reeds, bending their body around the narrow gaps between them...

The feet are angled outward to grasp vertical reeds

here are a few photos of the bittern's stride wit hthe amazing reach of those large feet:

In this next shot the bittern had turned 90 degrees - note how the back leg is perpendicular to the body (impressive and graceful!)

A few poses to finish:

A long awaited photo opportunity of this elusive and Threatened (COSEWIC) species!

Friday, August 1, 2014


An amazing finale to the 5th and final field season for the Manitoba was confirmed breeding of Mississippi Kites in a riverside suburb of Winnipeg. You can see me talking about this incredible find on Breakfast Television Winnipeg at:

This species has been expanding northward and has been increasingly taking advantage of well treed suburbs so in some ways their appearance in Winnipeg makes sense; however, none of us foresaw them getting quite this far north quite so quickly. I got back from the field today and had my turn for a brief visit with the city’s illustrious guest and their downy nestling…

Here is the chick on August 6th - growing rapidly! More to follow...

Sunday, July 20, 2014


You can now "hear" this story on CBC Radio at:

Many of you will know how much I have poured my heart and soul into coordinating the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas over the past six years.  Some of you will also know how much emphasis I have placed on point counting (an extremely useful method of surveying birds where one stands still for a fixed period of time and counts all birds seen and heard), having completed approx 2800 for this project. After five years of summer point counts, on July 18, 2014, I prepared to do what I knew would be my last point counts for the atlas. I was feeling a little nostalgic as I headed out at 2:30 am for a 16 km hike across the dimly lit tundra to get into the last reachable square from the cabin we were staying in. I wasn’t quite expecting the grand finale that my last morning counting would turn out to be.  Early on, I got a brief look at a cream coloured wolf and then near the end of one point count I noticed some odd behaviour from a female Black Scoter – calling agitatedly and flying in a circle before disappearing behind a sedge meadow… then I noticed two little fuzz balls swimming quickly in the grassy edges towards the sound of her voice – this was the first confirmed breeding Black Scoter for the project!  As if that wasn’t enough, just seconds after I finished my final point count, put my notebook in my pocket, and reached down for my day pack, I noticed a movement ahead of me… incredibly, I was looking at my lifer WOLVERINE, a mammal I have dreamt of seeing for the better part of my life! I quickly and quietly took out my camera and the wolverine continued moving in my direction, busily searching the edges of the little ponds for food and scaring the phalaropes and other birds. I got a series of photos of the wolverine running and jumping across little water channels including the one below.  I still can’t quite believe it! Not a bird oddly enough but a truly magic moment (more tales and photos from the season to follow when the final field season completely wraps up for good in a few weeks). Here is a series of shots of this incredible animal:

My first view was something like this - light coloured fur moving through the low vegetation

It only took a second to realise I was looking at a Wolverine!

The wolverine was foraging, apparently looking for birds nests by digging and sniffing along the edge of the many pools and streams. Fortunately, the animal looked up and even showed me their tongue.

 Here is a series of the wolverine running and jumping across the streams and around the edge of the ponds and scaring the phalaropes

Eventually the animal kept on going (completely ignored me the whole time) and disappeared, leaving me shaking at the knees!

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