Monday, July 18, 2016

Mixed-winged Warblers?

OK, so you probably recognise the Golden-winged Warbler on the right and the Blue-winged Warbler on the left of the photo collage below. You may even recognise the bird in the middle as a hybrid:
A new article in Living Bird magazine discusses a paper in press on the small difference in the genomes of Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler. There are some interesting findings in dominant versus recessive plumage patterns but also the suggestion that perhaps these two should be considered a single species. I am waiting for the article to be published before I come to any conclusion on whether the claims made in the article are warranted but it certainly fodder for thought. Unfortunately this article does not mention the paper's co-authors, which is upsetting, but here is a scan to give you a sense of it:

Monday, July 11, 2016


While scouting for our Important Bird Area (IBA) blitz in the Southwest Mixed-Grass Prairie Important Bird IBA, Tim Poole and I were driving east along road 12N, when I heard a Dickcissel. After breaking a little hard, we backed up and had fantastic looks at a male singing on the power line. Later that evening two males were heard singing in the area. Since we have not had many Dickcissels in Manitoba since the last irruption in 2012 (although there were a few in 2013), and since this is the first report this year that I am aware of I decided to post this photo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three Manitoba birds added to Species At Risk Act

There is a short piece in CBC online today regarding recent additions to the Species At Risk Act (SARA). It also acknowledges our good work in projects such as the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas (, the Important Bird Area program ( and even some shorebirds surveys we did in the north. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the huge role that the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS: plays in determining trend, a critical piece of any designation, and the significant role of Manitoba birders in the BBS. Here is a link to a CBC article on these recent additions:

The photo shows a Horned Grebe. I took this shot recently in Churchill, Manitoba. Thank you to everyone involved in all these important programs!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A family of Eastern Screech-Owls

I put together a small album of photos of a family of Eastern Screech-Owls (Megascops asio). I monitored several nests this season (as best I could with other commitments) but these photos are all of one family unit that had five fledglings. The sequence is as follows: two photos showing the adults on day roosts; two photos showing the adults hunting caterpillars; a photos of all five young huddled together during a storm, then a photo of the remaining four after the first left, then a photo showing three; three photos showing an adult feeding the young (a beetle and caterpillars); a photo showing a young one dispensing with the caterpillar just delivered by a parent; four photos of youngsters out on their own; and finally a shot of one of the parents flying off after feeding. Enjoy!




Monday, May 30, 2016

The Fine Art of Subtlety: Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)

With special thanks to Jody Allair of Bird Studies Canada, I recently enjoyed observing a pair of Acadian Flycatchers on their breeding grounds in the dark Carolinian Forest of southern Ontario. The bird in the first photo is perched in a hemlock, a feature of their habitat selection, at least in this portion of their range. You might be excused for thinking they look just like any other empid (Empidonax flycatcher) but they are quite distinct with their long bill with very pale lower mandible and even partly pale sides to upper mandible; long primary projection; rich green mantle; yellowish tones in eye-ring, underparts and wingbars (less so than Yellow-bellied); “gentle” facial expression (created by the pale lores and malar); and of course their famous “pizza” two-note song. Watching this bird throw their head back and sing was certainly one of the avian highlights of my recent visit to Ontario for various meetings.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Oak Hammock Summer Bird Census

Oak Hammock Marsh is looking for volunteers for the summer bird census, See:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"The Messenger" Trailer

For those interested in joining me on Friday May 13th for the screening of The Messenger at Bandwidth Theatre, here is a trailer:!upcoming-movies/c9qb

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

International Migratory Bird Day + “The Messenger”

International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated here every year on the second Saturday in May and this year there are some great activities to help you celebrate on May 14th!

Join us at Oak Hammock Marsh on May 14th for any of the following:

* 8 - 10 a.m.:       Birding Marshwalk with Christian Artuso and Tim Poole - Birds recorded on the walk will be entered in eBird

* 10 - 11 a.m:      IBA Program and Data Entry – Learn how to record birds in eBird with Tim Poole and Christian Artuso

* 11 a.m. - noon: Manitoba’s Returning Songbirds presentation by Christian Artuso

* 1 - 2 p.m.:         Birding by Ear Workshop with Paula Grieef - Learn some basics for identifying bird songs in this beginner workshop.  $5 plus admission

* 2:30 - 3:30 p.m.:  Buying Binoculars presentation - What to look for when buying binoculars with Paula Grieef and Ricky Ryan from Zeiss. Binoculars will be available for testing. Enter to win a pair of Zeiss binoculars.

During the week of International Migratory Bird Day, the superb documentary “The Messenger”, which chronicles the struggles of songbirds in the face of habitat destruction, climate change and industrialization, will be featured at Winnipeg’s Bandwidth Theatre on May 13 – 19, playing at 7 p.m. daily with 5 p.m. matinées on Saturday and Sunday. On the “auspicious” Friday May 13 I will be there to introduce the screening.

I will also be leading a birding workshop at St Leon on April 30th for any of you in that neck of the woods who might be interested. On the evening of May 12th I will be doing a condensed Birding By Ear Workshop at FortWhyte Alive.

Good birding all; May is just around the corner and such a wondrous time in Manitoba!

Here are two photos of a male Baltimore Oriole I photographed recently in Costa Rica — one of many birds getting ready for the northward trek to brighten our lives up here in the temperate zones!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Comparison of Campephilus and Dryocopus:

The four photos used in this collage are:
Top left: Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis), female, Bahía Drake, Costa Rica.
Top right: Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis), female, Playa de Oro, Colima, Mexico.
Bottom left: Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), male, Río Lagartos, Yucatán, Mexico.
Bottom right: Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), male, Chaparri, Lambayeque, Peru.

I have posted previously about the differences in toe structure and perching posture of woodpeckers (see:; however a recent photo opportunity in Costa Rica reminded me that I now have a chance to comment further on the postural differences between two of the largest woodpecker genera: Campephilus and Dryocopus.

Pale-billed Woodpecker and Lineated Woodpecker are quite similar in appearance and most people look to the facial markings to distinguish them. If the head is turned away or you don’t have a good look at the facial markings there is one quick aspect of GISS (general impression, shape and size) that helps distinguish them and it relates to a major difference between the Campephilus and Dryocopus woodpeckers (and one that helps us understand why such similar looking woodpeckers belong to different genera).

The Campephilus woodpeckers include many of the world’s largest woodpecker species and they have a neat trick to support their weight and large bodies. In addition to gripping with their toes and stiffened tail feathers, they also spread their trasometatarsus wide with the joint resting against the trunk as an extra support. The top two photos of a Pale-billed Woodpecker shows how this works on a vertical trunk (top left) and an angled branch (top right). Notice how the tarsus and “joint” rest against the trunk such that the bird appears to be resting on them (which many of us might think of this joint as a bird’s knee but it is technically the ankle). Even though the Dryocopus woodpeckers are almost as large, they perch in a more “normal” woodpecker fashion, gripping with their toes and using their tail as a brace as these Lineated Woodpeckers show on a vertical trunk (bottom left) and on an angled branch (bottom right). In each case, notice how the joint does not touch the tree and the tarsi are held at more of a 45 degree angle to the body and to the surface they are resting on (as opposed to resting on the surface as in the Pale-billed Woodpecker examples). This difference is visible from a distance and can be a useful identification clue in situations where lighting or distance makes it hard to observe plumage details with clarity.

To give a more complete, broader picture, following IOC taxonomy, there are six Dryocopus species: Black-bodied Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Andaman Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker. There are 11 Campephilus species (all confined to the Americas), with the two largest presumed extinct: Powerful Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Red-necked Woodpecker, Robust Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Cream-backed Woodpecker, Magellanic Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodpecker (presumed extinct) and Imperial Woodpecker (presumed extinct). Note that Helmeted Woodpecker has now been moved to the genus Celeus.
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