Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.


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Sunday, February 12, 2017


      Two or three times a year I will have mice in my yard. They've usually been around for quite sometime before I notice. Sometimes they get into the shed and the bird seed. They can make a mess.

      With the fresh snow, mouse tracks are obvious and a few days ago I saw tracks. Of course, I lost the tracks. So where's the mouse?

      Today the tracks appeared again and it looks like he/she was heading out of the country.

       When I'm out in the bush in snow I always watch for signs of mice. Mice are an important part of the food chain. How many mice a month does it take to keep an owl from being hungry.

      This fall some crop in Alberta was not harvested. Swaths of grain are perfect places for mice. Then in the spring we discover a large mouse population.

     Are you seeing more mice this winter because of crop left in the field?

Sunday, February 5, 2017


    This morning I shovelled snow just before noon. It was cold and with a bit of a breeze. Being Sunday morning , things were very quiet.

   When I'm out I always watch for birds. I like to see what's in the area and listen for any calls.

    This morning I heard a bird call as I was shovelling. I stopped to listen. I could identify the bird immediately. It was the collared dove. However, I couldn't see the bird. I kept shovelling, listening and watching. I find the collared dove sound hard to pinpoint. I know the general direction but it seems to come from different areas. Sometimes that's because there's more than one bird.

    I finished shovelling and still hadn't seen the bird. I wasn't going to go up the street looking for the bird.

    I hope the bird or birds found what they were looking for. They were probably looking for a suitable feeder.

   Collared doves are recent arrivals here. The first one I saw was three years ago. Many people have not seen them but I'll bet they've heard them. I was asked recently if collared doves were around this winter. Yes, they are. They are around my place every week or so.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017


    Bohemian waxwings are a very common winter bird in this area. (Central Alberta). They appear about the end of November to mid December. They travel in rather large flocks so are very noticeable. The rest of the year they spend in the boreal forest.

    Waxwings are very attractive with the bright red and yellow markings. You can get very close to them when they are feeding on mountain ash berries. When they are resting in the daytime they find a huge tree where as many of them as possible jockey for spaces. They groom and enjoy the sun.

    Last week I wrote about how the waxwings are pursued by merlins. This week I observed the action again. There were many waxwings in the tree in my front yard as they were feeding in my neighbor's mountain ash. I got a few photos and as I was looking for another photo the flock exploded and left. As waxwings do they formed a dense ball and rose . Then I noticed a different bird. You almost think it's a waxwing that didn't here go. But it was the merlin. Again I didn't see him make a kill but I haven't had waxwings all week.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


     Bohemian waxwings give us some fantastic shows in the winter. They are beautiful birds with some bright red and yellow highlights.

     Bohemian waxwings tend to hang out in rather large flocks. They start out smaller in early winter and gradually grow to be huge flocks which are very noticeable. It's amazing to see a large flock of birds take off all at the same instant. What's to communication they have that tells them to begin flight as if they are one bird?

     Flocks become larger as they feast on Mountain ash berries. The snow under roosting trees gets covered with the remains of the red mountain ash berries. And then they have the nerve to poop on cars.

     For me the best part of bohemian waxwings is when they are pursued by a predator. The predator in this area is the merlin. The merlin's method of predation is to get under a flock. The flock rises to get away from the merlin. Sooner or later a weak bird will drop for the flock. The merlin is on the bird like lightening.

     Today a large flock was in my district. And yes the merlin was here too. I saw the merlin chase the flock but I didn't see him make a kill.

     Are you watching the beautiful bohemian waxwings?

Monday, December 19, 2016


       Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) had their Christmas bird count on Sun, Dec 18. Many other groups held their bird count on or about the same date.

       We tried to remember how long RDRN has been doing bird counts. We don't know and will have to do some research on old records.

      Sunday  was a rather  gray day with minus 10 C to minus 4 C in the afternoon.

      I have not seen totals but most counters were saying they saw fewer birds and species.

      I saw 8 species and a little of 150 birds in REd Deer in Bower Woods /Kin Kanyon. I saw blue jay. magpie. black capped chickadee, bohemian waxwing, raven, crow, house finch. A friend saw a brown creeper. I also saw birds the looked like pigeons but were not pigeons. I should have seen a few other  species like house sparrows, red breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker as they are in the area.  

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    We had a pot luck in the evening to finish off the count.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


     I love it when the bohemian waxwings make their first major appearance in early winter. If we've had  streak of very cold weather, all of a sudden a large flock of waxwings appear as if by magic.

      This year I've seen  a flock of waxwings several times. They seem to be around for a day and then they're gone for 10 days. I don't know if they go to other areas in the city or go back out into the woods. Or if it's not cold enough for them to hang around city subdivisions.

      Yesterday I was looking out my back window to see if there was any action in the feeder in my backyard. As I was watching I noticed a large flock of waxwings in my yard and the other nearby yards. I think waxwings are beautiful quiet little birds. They have very majestic flight and I'm always in awe when the whole flock takes off at once.

    I was concentrating on the beauty of the flock. All of a sudden a different bird was flying through my yard. It had sharp wings and rapid wingbeats. You know him...the merlin. In an instant the waxwings scattered and left. I didn't see if the merlin made a catch as he flew around some spruce trees and I lost sight of him.

    So there are beautiful birds and there are other beautiful birds. These birds are opposites. I find it fascinating to watch both of them.

    Have you had waxwings in your area this winter?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


    On Dec. 3, 10 Red Deer birders spent a couple of hours at Mackenzie Trails in Red Deer.  At this time of year it's pretty predictable what you are going to see in natural areas in town. You can expect to see black capped chickadees. red breasted nuthatch, magpie , blue jay, raven, and maybe a boreal chickadee or downy woodpecker. Anything else is a bonus.

     We hit the bonus yesterday. All was quiet until we got to the south side of Mackenzie trails. We had seen a hairy woodpecker on the north side. We've been looking for a black backed woodpecker all fall. Yesterday we saw  black backed woodpecker. She was quietly doing what black backs do, sitting still and quietly pecking away the spruce bark to find the larva. We had a good look at her and got some photos. It's hard to get a good photo in the gloomy forest so thanks to Bonnie Mullin.

    We also saw a pileated woodpecker nearby. We stopped at a feeder. There were several downys at the feeder. All of a sudden a pileated was in a tree right beside us. Before people got their cameras lined up the woodpecker took off into the dense bush. a minute later we had another pileated beside us. This happened 4 times. Now was it the  same woodpecker going back and forth or were there several woodpeckers in the area.
Bonnie Mullin caught this guy looking for lunch.

    Most days we don't see a woodpecker but yesterday we saw all 4 species.