Saturday, 11 August 2012

Some cures for the summertime blues

Have those dog days of summer got you down?  Not enough to entertain you between infrequent Fur & Feather posts?  Well, here are some suggestions to make your summer a little more interesting.

While the forests have gone silent, action on the local sloughs and mudflats must surely be heating up.  Here in Alberta, many of the regular migrant shorebirds have been seen on their southward journey as well as a couple of rarer ones.  I missed Hudsonian Godwit in the spring but there have been a few of them passing through this month.
Hudsonian Godwit

Shorebird aficionados take delight in pointing out the various molt stages for the adults and juveniles; me, I’m happy just to identify the birds!  Anyways, this is a good time in Alberta to pick out the less common Short-billed Dowitchers amongst the more common Long-billeds.
Short-billed Dowitchers
A few days ago, Red Phalarope was reported south of Calgary.  We couldn’t get there right away but we did do a team outing last Thursday in search of the bird.  At what is referred to as the Brant slough, there were hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes and we diligently studied each one of them.  Viewing conditions were excellent as many of the birds were within 5 metres. 

We didn’t find a Red Phalarope but we did become very familiar with the various molts of the Red-necked Phalarope. 
Red-necked Phalarope juvenile

This time of year, there are lots of juvenile birds to be seen and heard.  The juvenile plumages of shorebirds are depicted in the field guides but others are often not illustrated.  Here is male Northern Harrier – it is neither in juvenile plumage nor in adult plumage so I assume that this is a one year old bird.
Northern Harrier

Think you know your juvenile plumages?  Well, here is a little quiz for you (answers at end of the post).


Summer can be a quiet time for birds, so you may wish to turn your attention to mammals – uh, scratch that thought based on our recent lack of success! – butterflies and dragonflies.  A few years ago, I had a contest with my brother to get the best dragonfly flight shot.  I lost but am still practicing … does this photo count as a dragonfly flight shot?
Black Tern with dragonfly
Not into insects?  Well you can work on your ATPAT list.  What’s ATPAT you ask?  Google it and you’ll get Army Test Program Advisory Team … obviously not related to birding.  To bird listers, ATPAT refers to All Territories & Provinces Added Together.  That is, you add together the total number of birds seen in each province and territory.  While not an objective of our big year, at least three of us will likely best the record of 1423 (our totals currently range from 1100 to 1355).  Since we haven’t birded much in Alberta, we have been scrambling to add birds to our Alberta list.  You can check out all of the listing records at:

Need a little more excitement and challenge?  Try birgoling!  Birgoling is a combination of birding and golfing on the same day.  The objective is to see more birds than your golf score.  At this time of year, we usually have to use a team best net score to have a chance of birds seen exceeding our score.  Speaking of golf, round 2 of the Birders Cup was held on Friday with Ray jumping into the lead.  I’m close behind and Phil has positioned himself well in his attempt to set a record for the biggest comeback!

Our total is still at 464 and unlikely to change until our Manitoba & Nunavut trip coming up in a week and a half.  Until then, have fun with those juvenile plumages!

Quiz answers:  A)Forster’s Tern, B)Townsend’s Solitaire, C)Dark-eyed Junco, D)Sora

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