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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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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


     About 10 days ago I went outside and thought I heard a crow. I listened. Yes. I did distinctly hear a crow in my neighborhood. Before I could go toward the sound to look for the crow, it flew over my house. So on Nov.10 I saw a crow.

     Now the odd crow does over winter. We usually count a crow in the Christmas bird count at Red Deer. 

    Here are three things I can find about oddities in bird migration. 

    1. Some birds seem to just not migrate. Apparently they don't know how to migrate. I guess it's just not in the DNA.

    2. Some birds may be injured. Many of these birds succumb to cold weather or lack of food supply as any bird needing insects.

     3. They also think that some birds just get mixed up.

    Whatever reason a bird doesn't migrate they can end up be a very pathetic critter.

    I have seen the crow here on most of the last ten days. I've had a good look at it. It seems that the left wing droops or sags at times. It's flight appears to be normal.

    Today I found the crow in the Bower Mall parking lot. It had found something good to eat. I thought I'd see how close I could get to it. The crow was bold and let me get about three meters from it before it flew into the top of a spruce tree. 

    I will be watching this crow as long as it hangs out in my area.

Monday, November 7, 2016


     I had heard long ago that there were two groups of Canada geese or two species. I hadn't paid much attention to this before. I knew that there were smaller Canada geese. It's not easy to tell the difference.

    Cackling geese are about 25 in long and have a wing span of about 45 in. Average weight is about 3.5 lb. Canada geese are about 45 in. long , wing span 60 in and weigh about 9.8 lb. As you can see there's a big difference in size. However, it's not easy to see this in the field. Cackling geese have a much shorter neck.

    There are other slight differences in markings and a big difference in sound.

    I was out Nov.5 with a group of birders to Gaetz Lake. There were geese and so we had a good look. They were all the small cackling geese.

    Take a look at these birds. Have you seen these differences before?


Sunday, October 30, 2016


    The Red Deer River Naturalists  (RDRN) have five major speakers per year . Speakers are chosen for their expertise on naturalist topics.

     On Thur Oct. 27 Dr. Gilbert Proulx spoke to us on the payment of bounties for the capture of nuisance wildlife. Many RDRN members are very concerned about payment of bounties.

    Dr. Proulx gave us reasons why bounties don't work.

    With wolves or coyotes, if a large number are killed the remaining population has larger litters so you have just as many animals and they are young and stupid so potentially more of a problem.

     Only a small number of wolves or coyotes are problem animals. You can kill lots of animals and if you don't get the ones causing the problem, you still have your same old problem.

     There are too many opportunities to cheat the bounty system and just make money. In some places money is paid for one foot. Well the animal has 4 feet. Animals are taken in non bounty zones and bounties claimed in bounty paying zones.

    Methods of killing the animals are very cruel. Snares and strychnine cause a very painful death.

    Dr Proulx's talk was humorous, interesting and informative.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


   This week I saw a red breasted nuthatch with only one leg. It was with other nuthatches that were at my feeder. It seemed full of energy and handled the feeder well. However, one has to wonder what the long term survival is for such a handicapped bird. I would think that as winter approaches a bird such as this would gradually weaken and die or become prey for the local merlin.

   In the fall we have many birds hit the windows. Robins seem to be one of the worst window hitters. Sometimes you go out and there's no bird in sight. sometimes you find a very groggy robin that is unable to fly or move. Most of these birds revive and go on their way. And sometimes you go out and find a dead robin under your window.

    So why do birds hit windows. In the fall there are many young birds in migration. The young birds are sometimes confused by reflections of trees in the window. What's the solution? Try to cut down on tree reflections in your windows.

    The two year survival rate for birds is pretty low. They need all the help they can get. So people put out feeders and water. They control cats. They try to make their yards bird friendly.

     So I wish my little red breasted nuthatch well and hope it survives with just one leg.