Join Project FeederWatch! Starting November 1st.

Observe your backyard birds and contribute to science by joining Project FeederWatch. Running from November to April, Project FeederWatch is an important tool for tracking over 100 bird species that winter in North America. All you need to participate is some free time to watch, and an area where birds like to congregate. Participation is completely voluntary, with no set hours required. Any data you get is useful, whether you watch for twenty minutes or two weeks. More Information or Join Now

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Clear Skies - A Meteor Shower and the Bright Planets

 Happy New Year


Quadrantid meteor shower

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower peaks the night of January 3-4 (late Tuesday).  These meteors are from particles off an asteroid  which crossed Earth’s orbit.  Some of those particles are large enough to provide spectacular fireballs - although unpredictable, they are wonderful if you catch one.  The meteors originate just off the handle of the Big Dipper, and they are called Quadrantids from an older constellation name.

The peak lasts just a few hours, and unfortunately there will be a bright Moon in the sky, making it hard to see the fainter meteors.

Remember to dress warmly as it always feels about 10 degrees cooler than the actual temperature when you aren’t active.

Mars

Mars is now shining brightly in the south throughout the evening – easy to see with its slightly reddish glow.  If you are reading this on Monday night, you will find Mars just to the right of the Moon.

Jupiter 

Jupiter is much further west in the sky, but it is the brightest “star” in that area.  With binoculars, you should be able to pick out its brightest moons and see their movement from night to night.

Venus

Venus is brightening in the western evening sky, and over the next while it will brighten even more as it also climbs further away from the setting Sun.

Astronomical trivia


Earth is in a very slightly elliptic – egg-shaped – orbit, meaning its distance from the Sun varies over the course of the year.  Midday Wednesday we will be at our closest to the Sun – just over 147 million km versus Earth’s average of 149 million.

Clear skies.

David

Saturday, 17 December 2022

Can I Feed the Birds Yet?

Avian Flu Update for December 2022

As of December 2022, the avian flu is still very low risk for transmission to songbirds.

Our research from reputable sources such as Bird Studies Canada, the Cornell Lab of OrnithologyEnvironment and Climate Change Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency concludes that there is currently still very little to no risk of songbirds catching avian flu.

It is safe to continue feeding your backyard birds as long as you do not have poultry, or waterfowl  visiting your feeders. Just be sure to keep the area clean and disinfect feeders once a week with a 10% bleach solution, or a 50% cleaning vinegar solution (industrial white vinegar found in hardware stores, different from cooking vinegar) and remove any old bird seed on the ground. If you do have backyard chickens but keep them at a distance from your wild bird feeding area, you can continue feeding but we recommend you be careful to keep your chickens and backyard birds well away from each other.

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Keeping Your Hummingbird Feeder from Freezing

Hummingbird feeders are an important supplementary energy source for hummingbirds, especially in the current weather conditions. With the low temperatures, it can be hard to keep your nectar solution from freezing. 

One simple option is to install a Hummer Hearth Hummingbird Feeder Heater. The heater is an attachment for existing hummingbird feeders and consists of a red cup with a lightbulb inside, three adjustable elastic clips to hold it firmly against your feeder, and a 6ft cord to plug in to an extension cord or outlet. 


The Hummer Hearth is best suited to feeders with a flat base, to limit the potential for heat loss if it gets windy, but can be adjusted to work with almost any feeder. Check out this link to see if your feeder will work. When using the heater with any bottle style feeder, we recommend adding insulation to the bottle to help keep the heat in. If you are using a heater, you do have to change the nectar solution more often (2-3 times a week instead of 1-2) as the heat acts like the sun during summer and speeds up the fermenting process.

Other options to keep nectar from freezing include 
  • Switching between two feeders as one starts to freeze. It's effective as long as someone is around to do the switching. 

  • Pulling the feeder in at night and putting it out right before sunrise. Hummingbirds go into a torpor state (similar to hibernation but for much shorter periods of time) at night and wake up a little before dawn, immediately searching out nectar for the energy they need to survive the day. 

  • Incandescent Christmas lights wrapped around the bottle. Incandescent lights give off heat, and can help slow down or halt freezing in bottle style feeders. To make it even more affective, wrap the light-covered feeder in a layer of insulation. 

  • Insulating the feeder with bubble, wrap, woolen socks, or other insulation. Most effective at slowing down freezing, or helping to freeze at a slightly lower temperature than bottles without insulation. 

  • Hanging 40watt incandescent lightbulb directly above or below. Incandescent lights give off heat, and can help slow down or halt freezing in bottle style feeders. Can also put a dome above the light to help radiate heat down. 

  • Bringing it in closer to the house to soak up residual heat from your home. The closer the better, though it is a stopgap method and likely will just make the nectar take slightly longer to freeze and not stop it from freezing.
Warm but not hot nectar can be very helpful to hummingbirds when they are just waking up out of their torpor state. If the nectar is too cold, sometimes it can shock them back into the torpor, which is when you may go outside to find a hummingbird hanging by it's feet off your feeder. 
Questions? Give us a call at 250-390-3669 or email us at thebackyard@shaw.ca

Monday, 5 December 2022

Clear Skies - The Moon Covers Mars


On Wednesday evening, Dec. 7, Canada will be treated to a very interesting event – the Moon will move in front of Mars, which is technically called an occultation. 

This is a vivid example of the Moon’s movement across the sky.  Although we usually only notice the movement of the Moon from night to night, it is constantly in orbit around Earth, at an average speed of almost 3,700 km/hour!  On that evening, we can watch Mars disappear as the Moon moves in front of it, and then watch Mars re-emerge sometime later.

The Moon will be a Full Moon, and will be very bright, however Mars is also very bright so will be easily seen.

Where you are in Canada affects what you will see.  The Moon is much closer to Earth than Mars.  From very high in the arctic, the Moon will appear lower in the sky, so Mars will be above its path visually, and there won’t be an occultation.  Likewise, the American eastern seaboard will miss the occultation because visually Mars will be below the path of the Moon.

That also means that where Mars is relative to the Moon from your vantage point will affect how long Mars is hidden.  If Mars appears near the centre line of the Moon, the Moon will have to travel its entire width before Mars comes out the other side.  However, if Mars is very low (or high) relative to the path of the Moon, the narrower width of that part of the Moon will cover Mars for a shorter period.

For western Canada, Mars will be hidden the longest – close to an hour, however for eastern Canada, you will be able to watch Mars disappear and reappear in less than half an hour! 

Likewise, because Mars is a disc, visually, and not just a point in the sky like a star, it will take a wee bit of time for the Moon to fully cover it.  Interestingly, the further east your are, the longer it will take for Mars to completely disappear behind the edge of the Moon and reappear on the other side.  That is similar to how long it takes the Sun to set in winter as it disappears at a shallow angle behind the horizon, rather than quickly as some of you might have seen with a sunset near the equator.


The following are the times of Mars’ disappearance and reappearance for representative cites across Canada.  Depending on your location relative to them, the times will be very close.


Halifax:  12:15 a.m. (that is just after midnight on Wednesday) to 12:33 a.m.

Toronto:  10:29 p.m. to 11:17 p.m.

Winnipeg:  9:05 p.m. to 10:16 p.m.

Saskatoon: 9:03 p.m. to 10:10 p.m.

Edmonton:  8:04 p.m. to 9:06 p.m.

Vancouver:  6:55 p.m. to 7:52 p.m.


The very southern edge of Nova Scotia will have a real treat for anyone with binoculars or a telescope.
  Because Mars will just skirt the very bottom of the Moon, some viewers will be able to see Mars blink in and out as it passes behind the mountains on the limb of the Moon – something called a grazing occultation.  That is a treat I’ve experienced with a bright star grazing the Moon.

Let us hope for…

Clear skies.

David

Thursday, 24 November 2022

 

The Backyard Wildbird and Nature Store

Nanaimo Bird Report

November 24, 2022

“EXPLORE NATURE” --- GO BIRDING:
To report your sightings phone the Store at 250-390-3669 or e-mail us at thebackyard@shaw.ca. Please remember, when reporting a sighting to leave your name and phone number along with the date the species was seen and location of your sighting.
*********************************************************


American Wigeon (R. Hocken)

Tuesday November 22, 2022:

The Tuesday Bird Walk was going to go to Columbia Beach but with the weather the walk was canceled. Four birders did show up and braved the weather of strong winds, rain, but the temperatures were mild at 7C.

4 birders saw and heard the following 30 bird species between Columbia Beach, French Creek Estuary and Morningstar Ponds:

Canada Goose

Gadwall

American Wigeon

Mallard

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Harlequin Duck

Bufflehead

Common Goldeneye

Pacific Loon

Double-crested Cormorant

Bald Eagle

American Coot

Black-bellied Plover

Black Oystercatcher

Dunlin

Short-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

California Gull

Iceland Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Anna’s Hummingbird

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

American Crow

Common Raven

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

American Robin

Song Sparrow


Ruby-crowned Kinglet (R. Hocken)

Sunday November 20, 2022:

The Sunday Bird Walk went to Neck Point Park. The weather was cloudy and cool at 5C, with a light cool breeze. A few highlights from our walk were, Trumpeter Swans, a Sharp-shinned Hawk that we were alerted to by group of Red-breasted Nuthatches and a few Varied Thrush.

14 birders saw and heard the following 34 bird species:

Trumpeter Swan

Mallard

American Wigeon

Harlequin Duck

Common Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Bufflehead

Common Goldeneye

Pacific Loon

Common Loon

Double-crested Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Bald Eagle

Black Oystercatcher

Iceland Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Anna’s Hummingbird

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Common Raven

American Crow

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Bewick’s Wren

Pacific Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

American Robin

Varied Thrush

Spotted Towhee

Song Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Saturday November 19, 2022:

A Barred Owl was seen at the Buttertubs Marsh along with 3 Northern Shovelers. 


Barred Owl (J. Morrison)

If you have any birds to report or need help identifying, just email or call the store, thebackyard@shaw.ca or 250-390-3669, toll-free 1-888-808-BIRD (2473).

The Backyard Bird Walks

Our bird walks go out Sunday mornings in Nanaimo and Tuesday mornings in Parksville and Qualicum Beach area, are easy walks that go for two to three hours (back for lunch is the plan). Bring binoculars and a field guide. The walks are weather pending.

Please check our blog (www.thebirdstore.blogspot.com) for any cancelations.

Winter Break

With the winter weather arriving and being that busy time of year, we are going to take a winter break from the Sunday and Tuesday Bird Walks until late January 2023.

I would like to thank everyone for coming out on the bird walks and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year! See you all in 2023.

Good birding! Colin Bartlett