Foam Lake Birding No. 164

No. 164
            This week I had a call from a fellow birder asking me if I had been involved in observing and identifying  an Hepatic Tanager this past summer near Prince Albert.  This particular tanager is an uncommon summer resident of the pine forests in the mountains of Arizona and adjacent areas let alone Canada.  This sighting near Prince Albert is only the second in Canada and the first in Saskatchewan.  I informed my friend that I had not seen the Saskatchewan bird but that I had seen an Hepatic Tanager in the Madeira Mountains of southern Arizona. 
            Meanwhile reports have come to my attention of other rare or uncommon bird sightings in our area.  A Black Headed Grosbeak was seen in the Yorkton area this past summer.  I have seen quite a few of them in the US but my most memorable sighting was of a spring male singing away in the poplar tree in our backyard.  Its song is a mellow version of the Robin's.  Another bird sighting of interest was of a pair of Barred Owls in the Madge Lake Area.  These eastern forest owls have slowly spread westward along the Boreal Forest and similarly treed areas farther south.  The last of the rare birds that has been brought to my attention is the Rosy Finch.  The sparrow-sized Rosy Finch is a bird of the Rocky Mountains where it lives and breeds along the snow line in the summer.  Occasionally during extremely harsh winters they will spread out over the plains usually in close proximity to the US/Canada border.  In Saskatchewan they are most commonly seen in the Cypress Hills region but, recently one was seen in the Yorkton area.  I have been fortunate enough to see them in both Banff and Jasper National Parks but not locally.  A word of caution when identifying rare birds.  Make sure that you have a good quality bird book, a knowledgeable witness and, if possible, good quality pictures.  Wishing to see a rarity often creates an exotic bird out of a common one. 
            Recently, I have had several local people tell me that they never realized that nuthatches lived around here and that they did not know what nuthatches looked like.  There are two species of nuthatches around here, the Red Breasted and the White Breasted.  Both birds have the unique habit of feeding upside down as it were.  Their feet are designed to allow the nuthatch to climb down trees head first and when they come to feeders they tend do the same.  The more common one is the Red Breasted.  We have a pair regularly at our feeders and I am sure that other yards with feeders have them too.  Although common in towns in the winter they disperse into rural areas during the summer for breeding. 
            Both birds somewhat resemble chickadees with the Red Breasted a little more so and an inexperienced birder would probably identify it as a chickadee.  The easiest way to identify nuthatches is by their unique feeding habits.  A second characteristic is the flight pattern.  Most birds fly directly from one point to another but not the nuthatch.  It often takes off in one direction only to change direction several times in mid flight.  It reminds me of the flight pattern of a butterfly.  As far as field marks go it is the easiest to consult a bird book.  In size the Red Breasted compares to a chickadee while the White Breasted compares to a sparrow. 
            This week I have included pictures of both nuthatches.  The picture of a Red Breasted Nuthatch sitting in a tree was taken two weeks ago while the picture of a White Breasted Nuthatch feeding was taken two years ago.  Both were taken in our backyard.