Sunday Showcase: Birds of Late Spring

Here are some photos taken by Tony LePrieur in the Calgary region in mid-June. Many young birds have now fledged. The photos were taken in Fish Creek Park and at Frank lake.

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American Avocet.

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American Avocets with chick.

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American Avocet.

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American Avocet chick.

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Great Horned Owl (juvenile).

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White-faced Ibis.

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Swainson’s Hawk with Meadow Vole.

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Eastern Kingbird.

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Western Kingbird.

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Clay-colored Sparrow.

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House Wren.

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Least Flycatcher.

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Cedar Waxwing.

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Warbling Vireo.

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American Coot with chick.

Do you have bird photos you’d like to share? Send them to our email address and we may post them.

Sharp-tailed Grouse at the Lek

Posted by Dan Arndt

Back in April I spent a morning out at a local Sharp-tailed Grouse lek sitting in a blind with some great company. In order to make the minimum disturbance to the birds during their courtship displays, we left Calgary at just after 4:30am, and made it into the blind just as the action was getting started.

In the early light, the males were establishing their territories on the lek and getting ready to defend them, while the females looked around to see who had the best, biggest, or most appealing area on the lek.

male Sharp-tailed Grouse

male Sharp-tailed Grouse

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female Sharp-tailed Grouse

female Sharp-tailed Grouse

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The males would strut around and dance and display, and every time one of the few females would walk by, the males would face off, often the same two in a challenge for who would be the one to get this mate this year.

Sharp-tailed Grouse squaring off

Sharp-tailed Grouse squaring off

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dancing Sharp-tailed Grouse

dancing Sharp-tailed Grouse

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posing Sharp-tailed Grouse

posing Sharp-tailed Grouse

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dancing Sharp-tailed Grouse

dancing Sharp-tailed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

As the displays continued into the morning hours, the number of males seemed to swell, with pairs splitting off to face off for the next few hours, sometimes splitting up briefly, but quickly returning to their chosen rival to test their mettle.

Sharp-tailed Grouse squaring off again

Sharp-tailed Grouse squaring off again

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

The Rivals

The Rivals

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The field of battle

The field of battle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

After a brief respite, this male takes a break to survey his surroundings

After a brief respite, this male takes a break to survey his surroundings

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

The rivals back at it.

A few brave females surveying the battle.

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A close-up of the head ornamentation of a male Sharp-tailed Grouse

A close-up of the head ornamentation of a male Sharp-tailed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

It wasn’t until quite late in the morning (relative to when we woke up!) that things really began to come to blows. Note in a few of these photos, one of the grouse has a mouthful of feathers. It seems quite straight forward that removing the colorful or distinct plumage from another male might reduce his chances of impressing a female.

The dispute begins.

The dispute begins.

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Full contact

Full contact

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First blows.

First blows.

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Not quite a fair fight.

Not quite a fair fight.

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Attack from above...

Attack from above…

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... from the side...

… from the side…

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... and from below.

… and from below.

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As the morning progressed, the battles became fewer and further between, all to the chagrin of one of the females looking on. Some birds are just not easily impressed at all!

Unimpressed female Sharp-tailed Grouse

Unimpressed female Sharp-tailed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 150mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: June Birds

Tony LePrieur got a nice variety of June birds last weekend in the Calgary area. Photos taken June 4-5, 2016 in Bridlewood, the Weaselhead, and at Frank Lake.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes (foreground-female; background-male).

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Pied-billed Grebe.

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Yellow-headed Blackbird (male).

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Cliff Swallows, collecting mud to build their nests.

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American Robin (bebee).

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Black-necked Stilts.

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Yellow Warbler (male).

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Swainson’s Hawk.

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Wilson’s Snipe.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (female).

Join Us For a Calgary Region Big Day

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Next Saturday, June 18, Andrew Hart, Rose Painter and I will lead the 2nd annual Calgary Region Big Day field trip for Nature Calgary. This is an all-day trip to find as many species as possible within the 80-km-radius circle centered on Calgary. Our modest goal is 125 species.

As you can see from the map below the area is huge, and we can’t visit all good habitats in a single day. We will be focusing on a few good spots and trying to keep the pace fast to give us flexibility towards the end of the day.

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The Calgary Region 80-km Circle.

We will begin our day at 5:30 am in NW Calgary. This is kind of a late start for a Big Day at this time of year, so we need people to arrive on time or a little early. Note that registration is required – please call one of the leaders to let them know you are coming, so we know when everyone has arrived and can plan the car-pooling. The trip details and phone numbers are on the Nature Calgary website here.

Our destinations will include Horse Creek Road, several stops in the Water Valley area, Plumber’s Road and Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, Windy Point west of Turner Valley, and Frank Lake. There may be more stops after that if there is time. We plan to be back at the starting point by no later than 8 pm. If anyone cannot stay for the whole day we will try to arrange the car-pooling to accommodate that.

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Bobolink – one of our target birds for the Big Day. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Nature Calgary field trips are free and open to everyone; you don’t have to be a member of Nature Calgary to attend. We hope that some birders will have their biggest day ever, and there is always a chance to see some birds that are new to you, and to learn about some new birding locations in the Calgary area.

Backyard Birds: Baltimore Oriole

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Most birders know that Baltimore Orioles will feed on oranges, but have you ever tried this in your yard? Even if you aren’t near their nesting habitat, you may get one on migration, as I did five years ago.

Below is a re-post of something I posted originally on June 1, 2011. Since then, I haven’t had any more Orioles (and still no Catbirds) in my yard – but I’m still trying!

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Oranges for Orioles – originally posted June 1, 2011, by Bob Lefebvre.

For the last couple of years I have been putting out slices of oranges in my yard in the hopes of attracting Baltimore Orioles or Gray Catbirds.  I place the oranges on my tray feeder and in suet cages.  So far this has attracted only ants.  Last Friday morning, I thought that perhaps the heavy rain might force some migrants down, so I put out two fresh orange halves on a flower planter.  Within a half hour of arriving home in the afternoon, I looked out to see this bird feeding on the orange.

This first-year Baltimore Oriole stayed around the yard for two days, feeding on all the oranges, including the ones in the suet cage that I had placed there about two weeks before.

So if you want to see a Baltimore Oriole in your yard, putting out oranges really does work.  Now I’m just waiting for that Catbird.

Western Grebe Surveys

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here is a bird survey that any birder can participate in, to increase our knowledge of this threatened bird.

Download the PDF file .

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Western Grebe with chick. Photo by Dan Arndt, May 29, 2016.

One of the many hazards these diving birds face is from discarded fishing lines and equipment. In 2014 we found a dead Western Grebe on the shore of the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary. (Something had been feeding on it.)

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Dead Western Grebe, Glenmore Reservoir, Calgary, May 19, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

On inspection, one of its legs was tangled in fishing line as you can see here.

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Here I am holding up the dead Western Grebe, May 19, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Please help to monitor the Western Grebe’s habitat, and please keep their habitat clean!

Pinned Robin

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.

In May 2006, before I was a serious birder (and before I had a digital camera), I saw an American Robin in my yard with an unusual blue spot on its back.

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On closer inspection, the blue spot turned out to be the plastic head of a long metal pin that passed right through the bird’s body.

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If you look closely at the above photos you can see the pin protruding from the robin’s breast. Here is a better look at the front of the bird.

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I called the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, and they said if I could capture it I should bring it in. But I wasn’t able to get close enough to it to capture it. The bird could fly and feed normally, and appeared healthy. I even watched it evade a feral cat once. The robin was in the vicinity of our yard for a week.

It may be a little hard to tell from these photos, but the pin was not just through the feathers but right through the centre of the bird.

I’ve always wondered what this pin was and how it got in the robin. At first I thought it might be a tracking device, but it looks like an ordinary pin. Was it pushed through the bird by someone? Shot at it? Someone speculated that perhaps it was pushed through the egg and the bird grew around it! I haven’t seen a pin quite like it – does anyone recognize this type or have any idea how this could have happened?

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Over the course of the week, the pin gradually worked out the back of the bird so the head was about two inches from its back. Then I never saw it again, or if I did, it was pin-less.

 

Furry Friday: Young Moose

Diane Dahlin photographed these two young Moose west of Calgary on April 30, 2016.

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You can see more of Diane’s photos at I Kiss Horses Photography.

Rare Backyard Bird: Lesser Goldfinch

Posted By Bob Lefebvre

On May 15, 2016, Linda Vick photographed this bird in her yard in Cochrane. It is a Lesser Goldfinch, a very rare bird for Alberta. This is only the second record ever of this species in Alberta, the first being two years ago.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

If I saw this bird in my yard and didn’t look too closely I might think it was an American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinches breed in  the SW United States, so I’m sure many of you, like me, are unfamiliar with it. Keep an eye out!

Lesser Goldfinch males have a black cap but can be distinguished from American Goldfinches by the greenish back (sometimes black, but unlike the yellow back of an American Goldfinch), the white at the base of the primaries, and the grey rather than pinkish bill colour. The pictured bird looks like a young male, developing its black cap.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

::Aperture: ƒ/10|Camera: PENTAX K-5 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Here are American Goldfinches for comparison:

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American Goldfinch (breeding male). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

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American Goldfinch (female). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Wednesday Wings: Nuthatch, Sparrow, Hawk, Falcon, Owls

Here are some recent photos of local birds taken by some of our readers.

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Great Horned Owl adult, taken by Caroline Soles in her backyard in Alderheights, near the Mazeppa gas plant, north of High River, May 22, 2016.

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Caroline Soles also had this Clay-colored Sparrow in her yard. We can get them in our yards in the city on migration too.

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Another shot of the Clay-colored Sparrow by Caroline Soles.

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Cooper’s Hawk, Bowmont Park, NW Calgary, April 2016. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

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A Merlin, also from Bowmont Park, April 2016, by Lorraine Glass.

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A close-up of the Merlin, by Lorraine Glass.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest hole. Photo by Bryan Simpson, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, May 2016.

Tim Reynolds GHOWlets

Finally, here are the two downy Great Horned Owlets from Sikome Lake in Fish Creek Park. Taken May 15, 2016 by Tim Reynolds.

If you have some recent photos of local birds that you’d like to share, send them to us at birdscalgary(at)gmail.com and we may post them. Please include the date and location, and the photographer’s name.