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Where do the birders go when it is minus 40?

January 29, 2013
Downy on Suet feeder

Hairy on Suet feeder

Weather has been crazy this January!  Big snow falls, a crazy one day warm spell, and the coldest weather since I have been here in Gatineau.  Last week, for several days, Gatineau had temperatures near minus 30 , and one night that was about minus 34 befor wind chill.  Wind chill values have been below minus 40 a few days.   So when it is so cold that the gas meter freezes and the heat goes off for over eight hours, one asks, where do the birders go?   Under the sheets?   To their neighbours?  No!  Those of us with feeders go to the pantry to pull out the bulk bags of sunflower and nyjer, and to the freezer for suet to stock those feeders with lots of food to keep those Redpolls, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Woodpeckers and Nuthatches happy.  We even take pity on House Sparrows here.  I’ve watched them perch on the branches of the Japanese Elms between our kitchen windows and the windows of the apartment building units across from us.  They tuck one foot into their breast feathers, and do their best to hide the one holding the branch in their feathers.  I imagine that branch is about the same temperature as the air – minus 30 and must be cold for their little tootsies.  At the same time, the Redpolls don’t seem fazed.  They eat snow, burrow into the snow, and show up with panache that the sad House Sparrows can only be envious of.

Pileated Woodpecker works tree over across the street in Gatineau Park

Pileated Woodpecker works tree over across the street in Gatineau Park

Well, getting to the details.  January 2 was the launch of BIG YEAR FROM THE BALCONY TWO for me, and BIG PROPERTY YEAR for my friend Al, and perhaps Sean and Rod.  After 3 hours of observing the balcony feeders and checking across the road into Gatineau Park, I was at 13 species, one more then all the month of January 2012!  This was an excellent start by all accounts, with 3 species of woodpecker on the day list!   A few days later, Cris photographed a large flock of redpolls feeding on the balcony floor.  I checked her photo out, and in it  spotted at least one Hoary.  That motivated me to get up early on Saturday morning and carefully check the growing flock of redpolls that seemed to be over 30.  Sure enough I saw one clear Hoary and another likely one.  Hoary and Common Redpolls are very similar, though Mr Sibley does a nice job of describing the differences in his great guide to North American birds.  Nothing new has been added since, so I sit at 14 species, still two more than at this time last year, though those beautiful Bohemian Waxwings and the Ravens have not yet been spotted.  I know they are around!

Al has sent me some good updates on his early efforts.  They seem pretty much similar to last year, and he has jumped out to a significant lead over me . . . not that either of us is considering this some sort of competition:)  His two messages follow:

January 4:

“TED!  I was working away in the classroom (it is 50km/h winds so I am not outside today) and I heard a tap at the window.  I looked up and saw a bird fluttering against it.  Then I saw it turn and fly a bit.  It had white on the outer tail feathers and was looked Blue Jay sized…  so it was a Blue Jay…right?  WRONG.  I heard something hit the window again…  looked up and saw fluttering… then I thought…  SHARPIE (Sharp-shinned hawk)!  Cool!  Run up and out the door to watch the battle…  NOPE!  NORTHERN SHRIKE HAMMERING A FEMALE Dark-eyed Junco!  What a way to start the birding year for me : )  That was quite the show!

So…  can I count the Junco?? “

January 25:

“As we approach the end of January, I thought I would provide an update for the 2013 Property Big Year. I thought I could reach 25 species by the end of January if everything fell into place. Well, yesterday I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk ‘floating’ motionless in the air about 40′ above the farm field adjacent to the property. After me saying ‘Roughie!’out loud to myself, my next thought had something to do with how it could keep its eyes from freezing as it faced into the 30km/h wind with a temp of -23C (wind chill included). My eyes were watering as I watched it, and this darn thing was seeing well enough to hunt! It was a nice 25th species.

Today I had #26, the elusive Mourning Dove! I can’t believe I had to wait 23 days to detect one. Last year I got one on January 13th.

It took me until Feb 3rd to reach that same total last year, but almost all of the 2013 species are to be expected on the property at some point throughout the year – I just detected them earlier on in 2013. Of the 26 this year, only Northern Shrike and Hoary Redpoll were not detected in 2012.

In order to have a complete winter-species list I would still need to find Pine Siskin, Snow Bunting, White-winged Crossbill, Bohemian Waxwing (only records for the property previously), and both Pine and Evening Grosbeak (one record each for the property previously), which are possible with lots of luck.

I imagine my total will not change much between now and the first week or two of March, when Tundra Swans and some of the early migrants begin their return.”

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