Birdwatching

In recent years, bird watching has become a popular pastime for many people who enjoy spotting the many species of birds which we have in Alberta. These people become quite excited when they see a bird. that is on the endangered list or one that is not commonly seen. Myself, I have always been a lover of birds and can well understand why so many enjoy this hobby.

My first real interest. in birdwatching goes back to 1937 when Elmer Rushfeldt and I visited a rocky island in Frog Lake. As we neared this island we spotted over a hundred White Pelicans, some in flight and others sitting on nests. Upon landing our boat we also observed many gulls, cormorants and different species of ducks also nesting. We couldn’t stay oft this island for any length of time because of the horrible fish smell. These birds all depended on a fish diet and they didn't go to any trouble of getting rid of the fish remains.

Years later, Bob Quinn and I were fortunate to see and study three Whooping Cranes which landed near a slough west of Elk Point. At that time there were only about 42 known Whooping Cranes in the world. We were able to study these rare birds with a strong pair of binoculars and also managed to take a few photographs. These birds stood about three and a half feet high, were white in plumage except for some black showing on the tips of' their wings  they also had some russet markings on both sides of their heads. One Whooping Crane always acted as  a sentry while the other two were feeding. Later he was relieved by one of the other birds so that he could also feed and rest. Spotting a Whooping Crane.is a once in a lifetime experience and Bob and I certainly enjoyed the opportunity of being able to view these three rare birds.

Another interesting day of bird watching took place about thirty years ago when Bill Milholland and I visited a large timber island on Frog Lake. While approaching the island we spotted a loon nesting -the floating nest contained one large dark brown egg. Shortly later we discovered a Golden Eagle's nest under a large fallen tree. Later in the day we discovered a large colony of Blue Herons, all nesting in tall trees. Each nest was about the size of a large wash tub and was built near the top of the tree.

During the 1950s Jim Ramsbottom and I floated down the North Saskatchewan River by boat to the Lea Park Bridge. On this day we spotted nine turkey vultures (also known as buzzards) along the river shore. They were in three different groupings and were all feeding on something dead. These birds had heads resembling a turkey, were brownish-black in color and had a body similar to a medium sized goose. Vultures are known as scavengers d they do not make their own kill but depend on the remains of dead animals found along the river shore.

Once I visited Muriel Lake with two bird watchers from Edmonton. During this trip they spotted a Sabien's Gull, a species rarely seen this far south of the Arctic regions. This sighting really made their day. On their return to Edmonton, they planned on reporting this spotting to the Edmonton Bird Club and had me sign a verification form witnessing this sighting.

During many years of bird watching I once spotted a rare Pileated Woodpecker leaving its nest in a hole in a tree. This is the largest species of the Woodpecker family and is fast becoming a rare bird. It had a large red head and its body was about the size of a crow and black in coloration. Another interesting bird I once spotted was a Brown Thrasher, a large songbird seldom seen this far north, also an Arctic Three Toed Woodpecker, a Great Grey Owl that is fast approaching extinction, as well as many Snowy Owls. Many years ago our district was often visited by the Ptarmigan, a northern bird which resembled a partridge. The plumage of this bird was white during the winter and brown during the summer. For some unknown reason these birds are no longer seen this far south. A common bird in our district many years ago was the meadowlark. You could always hear one singing in a nearby pasture. They have since vanished, no doubt killed off by the many chemicals used on farms.

In many cases we take birds for granted, and at times pay little attention to them, not realizing that ­they are responsible for the balance of nature - without birds- our world would be overrun with mice, insects and worms. The growing of crops would be impossible because of the damage done by these pests. We can all learn much from the study of birds and no doubt, man has - there is little doubt that the study of birds in flight led to the invention of the airplane as well as other inventions pertaining to air night.