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General News · 21st December 2020

Just wanted to offer some tips to those of you who are doing or contemplating a backyard count.

Get yourself a bird feeder! Any small platform with a simple roof to keep the seeds dry will do. Make it a present for your household. Have it out in the open so cats can’t just hide there and chow down. Some people go to great lengths to build rodent-proof feeders. If you want a good giggle, see the award-winning video

Get a bird book. I checked at Marnie’s Bookstore and she has some field guides. If you want a comprehensive one: Sibley’s, National Geographic or Peterson’s are all super. My old friend Dick Cannings has just put out one called Birds of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest with photographs and nice range maps, an excellent buy. You’ll have to order that one. Then get one of our checklists for Cortes and Mitlenatch Islands, available at some stores and at the Museum. Find a pair of binoculars.

Now for some of the birds to look out for:

The bird population flips around from summer to winter. In the summer we have few seabirds: ducks, alcids, grebes etc. and many wood birds. In the winter Cortes’ waterways are filled with thousands of seabirds and the forests are much quieter. So, if you happen to live with a water view, those birds are your “backyard birds” too.

Fox Sparrow. It looks a lot like the common Song Sparrow, which is nice milk chocolate brown with stripes on its chest and head and back, but the Fox Sparrow is 20 percent larger, has no stripes on its head or back and the stripes on its chest are more like blotches in a row. The overall colour is more like dark chocolate! The clincher is…. ta-da! It has a yellow lower mandible (the lower half of its bill).

This time of year, birds move around in mixed flocks, so when seedeaters descend on the feeder look for other species that don’t normally favour seeds like Nuthatches, Kinglets, Creepers.

Lookout for Hermit Thrush, of which we may have 2 on the whole island, but maybe at your place. It looks like our summer resident Swainson’s Thrush, which is like a slim pale brown sparrow with a long beak, but the Hermit has a rufous tail. Secretive.

We’ve never gotten a Bohemian Waxwing on our counts, but this could be "the" year. It resembles our sleek and dashing summer visitor, the Cedar Waxwing BUT has reddish-purple under the tail feathers. It will favour bushes with berries like hawthorn and arbutus.

The elusive, small, Hutton’s Vireo is soft green, with two white wing bars. Very similar to the Ruby-crowned Kinglet but the latter constantly "flick" their wings.

Count all the birds, especially if you happen to have the flock of 20 robins that reside on Cortes over the winter!

Look out for woodpeckers (we never get enough) and hawks screaming past your bird feeder. The more common one is the sharp-shinned hawk – long tail, short, rounded wings and the size of a Steller’s jay. They flap-flap glide…

There are many other birds including rarities to "score", but really, we are just doing this for fun. Get the kids, if you have any, involved – it’s a super game – “What’s THAT at the feeder?”

And if you think you have an oddball – get a picture. Even a cell phone shot will help to verify it!

Now, get the feeder up or throw some seeds on the ground, and get your records into the Museum website! December 27th is "the" count day and 3 days on either side for special birds…and of course, they are ALL SPECIAL!

George Sirk
I’ll be back on the air on CKTZ’s "Nature Boy" in the new year with more tall tails!

And the bird in the picture? Check your NEW field guide! (hint - shares its name with a James Bond film!)