The Great Bird Count – and you can join in the fun

Friday, 12 February kicks off four days of bird counting. It does not matter where in the world you live. My readers come from every continent and I know that you will want to take part. So, what’s up and how can you join in the fun.

It’s free. Anyone can participate. You can count the birds in your garden, at the park, at the beach, or on a walk. And because of the frigid weather, you don’t even have to go outside. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t. You can look out of your window. You will need a pad of paper and something to write with. And you will need to log in to submit your observations. What if you don’t know what bird it is – well, the organizors have you covered. You have free access to Cornell’s Birds of the World to help you. And for anyone who submits sightings longer than 15 minutes or through the Merlin app on their phone, they will be entered to win a pair of Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 24 binoculars. Fantastic. So here is how to do.

I want you to go to: https://www.birdcount.org/participate/

I cannot get the link to embed in this posting, so please cut and paste.

Once you get to link, you will see the text and the images at the right (in the picture above). Please select the device that you will use to submit your count. You do this by clicking on one of three links in green. (If you are a group, like a school classroom, you click on Group Counting).

You will need to sign up for an account. It is free and once you have joined, spend some time at the Cornell site. There are free courses, bird identification postings, and you can find the links to all of the streaming cameras that Cornell Ornithology Lab helps to sponsor. Once you are signed up or signed in, you will need to determine what kind of a device you will be using to upload your counts. I will be using my laptop computer. During the day I will note the time I started watching my garden and what birds I saw during that period. In our garden it is particularly busy around 12 noon when we fill the feeders. I will start my bird count then. For four days I will count the birds that come to the garden. Don’t worry if you think you haven’t seen enough birds to bother. Every bird counts! And I really mean that.

Several years ago I noticed the Sharp-Shinned hawk and I went in and listed in on e-Bird. I had an e-mail that afternoon telling me that I could not have a Sharp-shinned hawk in my garden in Canada in January. But I did and I had a picture of it. Do not underestimate the importance of this count.

There will be another one in May. You can join in then or maybe you will want to count the birds more often and submit them to e-Bird. Taking a walk becomes fun. Just take a small notebook and pencil or your phone. Keep a list and submit it when you get home.

If you can’t count birds every day of the four days – no problem! Just submit when you can. You will be able to see the live count around the world. To see the live tracking go to birdcount.org

Have some fun. Get your friends to join in and compare the birds that you saw.

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One of the things that I am most interested in is bird behaviour. When Daisy the Duck had her nest in the centre of the old Ironbark Tree, where the White Bellied Sea Eagles raise their eaglets, will remember the reaction of the various birds to Daisy being in the nest. In the case of the Bald Eagles, I have noticed the behaviour of the adult male, M15, at the SWFL Eagle nest in Fort Myers since the twins returned from being at the clinic. M15 has gotten at least one gold star and last night, after sunset, he got another.

In the clinic it was noticed that E17 was extremely aggressive to E18. In fact, the behaviour got so bad that the clinic staff literally separated them at meal time. E17 got time out.

So it was with great interest that I watched a feeding on the nest just as dusk was falling tonight, 11 February. The events at this feeding are quite telling. Let me show you.

  1. At the onset, E17 is asleep. E 18 is sitting up and is awake. There is an old catfish by E18 (left) and fish to the right of the sleeping sib.

Harriet begins to feed E18 the old catfish. M15 has arrived on the nest to the right. E17 remains asleep.

Harriet is still feeding E18. E17 raises its head, opens its eyes and notices that its sibling is being fed. M15 is eating fish.

In the image below, E17 has sat up and bonked E18 who lies in the submission pose. Harriet has moved the old catfish around to feed E17.

Harriet continues to feed E17 but E18 is raising its head. M15 is now raising his head from eating. He is noticing what is happening. Eagles have amazing vision. His line of sight lets him know that E18 is not being fed any longer.

M15 leans over E17 to feed E18. Harriet does the same thing. E18 has not turned around to eat because he is afraid of E17 bonking him.

M15 actually feeds Harriet so she can feed E18. M15 hovers directly over E17 so it cannot cause any trouble.

Harriet continues to feed E18. E17 has gone to sleep. M15 is leaving the nest. Whew! I hope you can keep all of that straight.

Harriet and the eaglets are trying to sleep despite the mosquitoes which seem to be quite bad at both this eagle nest and the one near St. Augustive, NEFL.

It turned out that E18 has a very nice late dinner. He had some of the old catfish while E17 was sleeping and then when M15 stepped in, he had some of the new fish after E17 was asleep again.

And a quick check in this morning. I did not know that there are still eagles in Minnesota that did not migrate. They are apparently having great difficulty in this cold finding prey.

Down in Florida, it is a different story. E17 and 18 are already panting it is so hot.

And all is well in NEFL at St Augustine. Lots of fresh fish on deck and the little one just waiting for a nice bite.

And remember that beautiful picturesque Big Bear? Look what is happening to Jackie and Shadow today? The winds are horrific! And snow is coming down like hard pellets. Not the soft dancing flakes we have.

Poor Jackie. She has her head hunkered down. She is now into hard incubation as she did lay that second egg late last night! I hope Shadow can find you some nice prey in this horrific weather!

It looks like the only nice weather for our eagles is down in Florida right now.

That is our morning check in. Please remember to take part in the Great Bird Count if you can – and, of course, if you want to.

Will be back this evening with an update on the Eagles and how they are holding out in this weather. Take care everyone. Stay safe.

Thank you to the streaming cams at SWFL and D. Pritchett Real Estate, at NEFL, and at Big Bear. I get my screen shots form these cams.

And for the life of me I cannot get rid of this block. I had tried to post a link to you about the bird count – so ignore it!

Books, bird count, bunnies, and beak bites (yes, a shark bit an eagle)!

The pandemic and the onset of winter and, now, the Polar Vortex, mean that more often than not, my friends are tucked up under an old quilt or duvet, sipping hot tea, and reading. It is a favourite pastime of Canadians in the winter! And a lovely one at that. It is so nice to find articles in the strangest of places remarking on how we have all come to love books in the past year and have supported small book sellers. Many of my friends order an armful of books each week. Sadly, our libraries have been closed. It has encouraged me to seek out small publishers and second hand shops.

A nice surprise arrived in the post today. It is a book I ordered several weeks ago from an on line shop that specializes in used book. The book is called On the Wing. To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. I haven’t finished my last book but I was tempted to peek inside. Gosh. That first page got me really excited. Let me quote some of the lines: “With no companion, guided only by the ancestral memory she carried within, our little hawk was staking her life. Nothing like the abstract idea of migration that I’d imagined, it was humbling even to be a spectator to the mortal intensity of what the tiny, determined speck below was doing”. “No one would ever know what she thought, but it was clear as we watched, something had swirled to life within this falcon, becoming the driving force of her entire being”. Tennant was in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2000 ft in the air, following a female peregrine falcon, with a tracker glued to her tail feathers, from Padre Island to the Arctic. Oh, I can’t wait to join him on this journey!

And, speaking of migration, before it happens, there is the Great Bird Count from 12-15 of February. And everyone can take part from toddlers to seniors, experts to backyard birders. It is fun and it is free. You just need your eyes (OK, mine aren’t so good because of glaucoma but I can still spot those feathered creatures luring around), a good memory or a note pad and pencil, and a computer to submit your findings.

Just imagine everyone around the world looking out their windows from Friday to Monday counting the birds that they see. You can spend from fifteen minutes each day to as long as you wish. Everyone goes to birdcount.org and reports their counts. Then researchers at places like the Audubon Society, the Cornell Ornithology Lab, etc will create a giant map of where all the birds are. Bird counts happen several times a year. All those counts reveal how recent weather patterns impact the birds and their movements. I hope you will join in the fun!

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And now for some updates on some of our favourite birds.

First up is the NorthEast Florida Eagle cam nest near St. Augustine. E24 is filling itself up with nice big bites of fish for such a little one. Samson brought in several nice big fish today and stocked up the pantry. No worries for Gabby if she is hungry or E24. Not a worry in the world. One of the things I love is seeing the dad fill that fridge up good. It looks like armadillo could be on the menu tomorrow. If only Gabby had a fridge and some non-harmful insecticide spray. There are so many mosquitoes there.

Look at that little one, so fluffy and round.

Well, the second wee one has a problem. A half of the shell from the first hatch did not get out of the nest fast enough and it slipped itself right over the other egg. So, it is making it much more difficult for E25 to hatch. That is why it looked like the chick had pecked all the way around the middle. It was an illusion. Gabby is looking down at a new hole the one inside is making as she tucks E24 in for a nap.

This happens often. Sometimes it takes so long for the little one to hatch that the first born is just so much older and bigger and the second born doesn’t survive. The older one totally dominates everything.

You can see how the shell got slipped over. It looks like the little one inside cracked this egg all around but it didn’t. Look carefully. There is a pip on the left end toward the bottom corner of the picture. Let’s hope it works and gets out of there soon.

I wonder if it is hotter in Fort Myers where E17 and E18 are growing up. The eagles in NEFL just don’t seem to be panting as much today as Harriet, M15 and the twins are.

Just look. You would think they are the best of buddies sharing a joke. Born within two hours of one another, they are twins. But that doesn’t mean, as we all know, that there isn’t fierce competition when it comes to food.

They both had a great big breakfast this morning. Just look at that crop. E17, the oldest, can’t even see its feet.

And here’s E18, just as stuffed. Sometimes I just want to poke one of those crops to see how they feel.

As the day progressed and the temperature rose, the little eaglets searched for any shade they could find around the nest.

It wasn’t long until Mom Harriet flew in and rescued her babies from the scorching Florida sun. She is like a ‘mumbrella’.

Right around tea time, Dad comes in with a snack for the youngsters.

In the book I am reading, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss, the author Margaret Renkl says: “The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten. Bluebirds eat insects; snakes eat bluebirds; hawks eat snakes; owls eat hawks. That’s how wilderness works, and I know it. I was heartbroken anyway”. Renkl was referring to the wrens eating the bluebird eggs in the nest box on her porch. But today, for a snack, M15 found a fluffy little bunny. My friend, Michelle, always tells me that the bunny will become an eagle. It still makes me sad. The hawk that comes to our garden and I have an agreement. He can’t touch the rabbit that lives there or the little Downy Woodpecker. Sparrows are fair game.

M15 has once again made sure that the eaglets are too full for E17 to cause any mischief to her little brother, E18.

But the day is not over. It is 6pm on the nest and the twins are getting fed the rest of the rabbit. E18 has watched and learned well. He is now the master of what we call ‘snatch and grab’. I have seen him do this several times today. Pretends he is not interested, parent offers, he rushes and grabs. It turns out the eat far faster but, hey, whatever works. It is hard to see but both have huge crops and will sleep like babies the rest of the night. Great work Harriet and M15. Gotta’ love this family. If only every eaglet were as lucky (or every child) to have such great parents.

I have not checked into the Captiva Nest on Sanibel Island for several days. The last time there was an intruder and after reading about Romeo and Juliet or the Trio, I just couldn’t stand another heart break. I call the Captiva nest “the sadness”. It has not always been this way, just this year. This is where Peace and Hope, the beautiful eaglets of Connie and Joe died from rodenticide poisoning. You will remember how remorseful the parents were. And then there was an intruder. But, things happen in an instant on these nests and to my shock, when I clicked on the camera for the Captiva Nest today, there was Connie wrestling with a small shark! Seriously, a shark. It actually bit her beak. You can see the blood. (Just a note, it wasn’t blood from the shark). She fought with that thing and didn’t let it get the best of her. And for all the bother, she had a massive lunch. That shark is now an eagle – a fish with feathers. The bleeding was reported to CROW and the vets watched the footage and noted that the blood had stopped. No need for an intervention. Yeah. A quiet little yeah. I honestly don’t know how you would try and help a full grown eagle if it didn’t want to be helped.

Connie must have been very proud of herself. You can see the water in the distance and that shark was alive when she landed on the nest with it. These female eagles really do impress me!

Joe came in to check and see if everything was alright. And Connie allowed him to share her fish when she was finished – but not before!!!!!!!!!!

You can see the blood on her beak form when the shark bit Connie.

This is an image from the other camera monitoring this nest. Looks like a small shark to me.

Over in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the Eagles at Duke Farm are experiencing very different weather from Florida. It is currently 1 degree C. or 34 degrees F. at the nest. Over the next couple of days the temperature will rise to 2 or 3 C and that snow should melt. And then, wham. Just about the time you think it is over for this nest, the snow comes back heavy on Saturday and Sunday.

I promised an update. It is nearing 9:30 pm on 9 February. Across North America the birds are trying to sleep. In Australia, they have been awake for a few hours.

Tomorrow we will check on the Royal Albatross and see if Gabby has one eaglet or two.

Sleep well everyone. Take care of yourselves and don’t get out in this extreme weather unless it is absolutely essential. Check out the site to put in the birds you count in a few days – just so you know where to go. It is such a joy to share my love of these beautiful creatures with you.

Thank you to the NEFL eagle cam, the SWFL cam and D. Pritchett Farms and Real Estate, Captiva eagle cam, and Duke Farms eagle cam for their streaming cameras. This is where I get my screen shots for you.