We had a phenomenal day of birding last week. Every Monday afternoon, the Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) Bird Focus Group meet at noon at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and go birding.
Sometimes we walk, but more often we drive around, looking for birds. This Monday we headed out towards Medicine River Wildlife Centre because a barred owl had been hanging out there. We did manage to find the owl in the trees and we got to watch while he made his distinctive “Who cooks for you all” hooting. Barred owls are the only owls in Alberta with dark eyes. All the others have yellow ones. I always think the barred owl eyes are a bit freaky. In certain lights, it’s almost as if they don’t have eyes at all, just the eye sockets. Yet, seeing this raptor so close up was only one of the highlight of that day.
Probably the greatest highlight of the day happened west of Penhold, near a place where we had seen a golden eagle about a week before. We were driving past the spot where we’d seen it and were talking about it when we saw something dark and big flying. Thinking that it might be the golden again, I turned the car around and went back, parking beside the road. The big, dark bird turned out to be an immature bald eagle and did he ever put on a show for us! He flew into a tree and landed so close to another immature bald eagle that he knocked her out of the tree. I am only making an assumption that the first bird was a male and the second was a female.
They could have been two males or two females, for that matter, but from their antics, I’m presuming there was one of each sex there.
When she flew out of the tree, the male, followed her and caught up to her, flying below her. Still underneath her, he flipped himself over onto his back, still flying forward (and how he was able to accomplish that feat of aerial manoeuvring, I don’t know) and the two birds clasped talons and started to tumble towards the ground. They let go, the upside down one flipped himself back right side up and continued flying underneath her. They repeated this aerial exercise two or three more times before they were out of sight behind us. Wow! What a sight to see! I’ve seen video footage of this sort of behaviour but it was thrilling to see it “in the flesh,” so to speak.
Once the two of them left, we looked ahead of us and saw another bald eagle flying. This one was a mature one with a white head and white tail. So I drove ahead and parked. We kept finding more and more bald eagles flying in that area. There must have been 20 birds flying way up high. We were only able to identify two mature and one immature bald Eagle, one Northern harrier and one common raven. The other ones were just too far away to ID. There could have been some red-tailed hawks or rough-legged hawks mixed into that group too. Obviously we had found a group of birds who were migrating through the area. A few years ago we’d found a migration of bald eagles. There had been about 20 eagles perched in trees. The interesting thing that day was that there were about 30 American robins perched amongst the trees with them. What’s with that?
It really had been a raptor day, this week. Raptors are birds of prey. I was surfing the web the other day and found out that the word “raptor” comes from a Latin word that means “to seize and carry away.” We saw one red-tailed Hawk do just that, or rather, it tried to. The hawk flew off a perch, landed on the ground in a stubble field and lifted up again carrying heavy prey. I’m not sure exactly what the prey was but it was too heavy for the raptor to “carry away.” He only made about two flaps of his wings before he had to land again. So he proceeded to eat whatever it was right there. And that was the third spectacular highlight we saw that day.
A pretty good day of birding, wouldn’t you say? And you know, you don’t have to be a member of RDRN to go out birding with us. Everyone is invited. Just meet at the Nature Centre any Monday between September and May (but not on holidays). Be prepared for the weather and for the fact that we usually stay out till dark or sometimes even later.
Judy Boyd is a member of the Red Deer River Naturalists.