Sunday Showcase: Residents, Winter Visitors, and Overwintering Birds

Tony LePrieur photographed these birds on January 30 and 31, 2016.


Pileated Woodpecker (female), a year-round resident of Fish Creek Park.


Downy Woodpecker (male), a resident of Carburn Park.


White-winged Crossbill (female or immature), an annual winter visitor to Queen’s Park Cemetery.


White-winged Crossbill (male), Queen’s Park Cemetery.


White-winged Crossbill (female or immature), Queen’s Park Cemetery.


Varied Thrush (male), an occasionally overwintering bird, Fish Creek Park.


Varied Thrush (male), Fish Creek Park.

Winter Birding at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following the first outing to search for the continuing rare birds at Carburn Park, we headed to Bebo Grove in search of a possible return of the Northern Pygmy-owl from last winter, or maybe a Barred Owl, or a little less charismatic, but nonetheless interesting American Three-toed Woodpeckers. While we didn’t find any of those three species, we did find a few more elusive birds in some of the best upland boreal habitat you can find in the city of Calgary.

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Our morning got off to a relatively slow start, as our search for Bob, the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch turned up empty, as did our search through the picnic area for either American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker

male Pileated Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Even a trip to the edge of Fish Creek itself was quiet and uneventful, until a last minute glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker got our attention. We worked our way around the grove until everyone was able to get a good, unobstructed view of the bird, and as we left it there it was still working away on the same tree.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

::Aperture: ƒ/5.6|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

Across the creek we headed to a feeding station where a pair of Mountain Chickadees had been seen throughout the week. One little surprise, and always welcome, were a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets singing away in the trees. They displayed for a few minutes, and while we were watching and listening, we also heard our first Boreal Chickadee songs from the dense trees.

Around the corner was the Mountain Chickadee location, and this individual looked a little bit rough around the edges. While it was feeding quite vigorously on the provided sunflower seeds, it gave us quite a few good looks out in the open. We may have seen a second individual there, but never two at the same time, so none of us had any certainty about there being two birds.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

As we followed the creek east and north into the park, we nearly missed a trio of White-tailed Deer resting in the snow less than twenty meters off the path, but wide out in the open. It wasn’t until this young deer stood up and poked its head around the edge of the tree that we noticed it and the two older females nearby. These deer are in good numbers in the park this winter, and all appear to be relatively healthy!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

As we crossed Bridge 5 in search of Townsend’s Solitaires, owls, and other birds more common in the more open aspen stands north of the creek, we turned around to spot this young Bald Eagle soaring and circling above us on a thermal. With each circle it gained in elevation quite significantly, until it eventually reached its predetermined cruising altitude and it took off to the south.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/125s|

As we rounded out our morning in a particularly dense stand of spruce, we stopped at a particular feeding station which had been home to a rare overwintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, but try as we might, and wait as long as we did, it didn’t turn up for us to this location. We did have a good number of Black-capped Chickadees, and even had a few Boreal Chickadees turn up for a few minutes as the sun came out to greet them.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

A little later on we stopped to listen as a flock of birds suddenly appeared above the tree-line and perched across the creek from us. A large group of Bohemian Waxwings, our first of the day, perched in the sun high on the side opposite us.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Our last few minutes before we headed back to the parking lot to end the day was a search for some more American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers, and while we had some evidence of fairly recent activity, the best we came up with was this little Red Squirrel chowing down on some spruce cones.

Winter Rarities at Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park (FFCPP) winter birding course began just after the new year, and once again there are many groups going out six days each week to one of Calgary’s parks to learn about the birds. For week #1 we went to Carburn Park, where a few rare (for winter) birds have been seen recently. Our targets included a Pied-billed Grebe, a Red-breasted Merganser, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

Carburn Jan 10 map

Carburn Park route, January 10, 2016.

Dan Arndt was away on the first Sunday of the course (January 10) so I filled in for him as one of the leaders. At the start we went south from the parking lot to the Sue Higgins Bridge. There, as we looked for Killdeer and Barrow’s Goldeneye, members of a Nature Calgary outing pointed out a pair of Snow Geese just downstream.

IMG_3308 (1)

Immature (left) and adult (right) Snow Geese with Canada Geese.

Snow Geese are almost never seen in Calgary in Winter and hadn’t been reported from Carburn Park. However, we did have three, and adult and two immature birds, on the river at the Inglewood Golf Course in late December. Those three birds had been up on that stretch of the river for a while but had not been reported in the new year that I know of. These two geese at Carburn were likely the same ones, minus one immature bird. It may have been elsewhere on the river or perhaps it was predated or died for some other reason.

We did find some Barrow’s Goldeneye near the bridge as well. There are often quite a few in the Carburn Park/Beaverdam Flats section of the river.

IMG_3313 (1)

Male (left) and female (right) Barrow’s Goldeneye, with Canada Geese.

There were also some overwintering Killdeer on the ice at the river’s edge.

IMG_3328 (1)

Killdeer with Canada Goose.

As we walked back to the main park, we spotted this Merlin on a branch overlooking the river.

IMG_3334 (1)


Farther north we found a lone scaup. We debated whether it was a Lesser or a Greater, but not having a scope that day, we weren’t sure. Later, the Nature Calgary leaders told us that they were able to identify it as a Greater using their scopes.

IMG_3352 (2)

Greater Scaup (centre).

We saw a few Common Mergansers while we were watching out for the Red-breasted. Their bright orange-red bills really stood out, especially on the black and white males.

IMG_3363 (2)

Common Merganser (male).

The mergansers spent quite a bit of time looking for fish, which they did by dipping their heads down so that their eyes were below the water as they floated downstream. Occasionally, they would see something worth chasing and make a dive.

IMG_3361 (2)

Male Common Merganser scanning the river bottom for fish.

Towards the north end of the park we found the Pied-billed Grebe by the near shore. These birds almost never overwinter here but this one has been in Carburn for quite a while now.

IMG_3346 (1)

Pied-billed Grebe.

Finally, way at the far side of the river, we found the Red-breasted Merganser. It was quite a bit smaller and darker than nearby female Common Mergansers. Red-breasted Mergansers also have a very thin bill, which, at the distance we saw it from, was difficult to see at all.

IMG_3374 (2)

Red-breasted Merganser (at centre, on the other side of the ice).

Usually these birds are only seen in our area in small numbers on migration. (I didn’t see a single one in 2015.) Fall migrants can pass through as late as November or even early December, but seeing one in January is extremely rare here.

A nice surprise at the end of our walk was a small flock of about eight Cedar Waxwings. A few usually overwinter here every year, where they are overshadowed by vast flocks of Bohemian Waxwings.

IMG_3368 (2)

Cedar Waxwing.

We didn’t see the overwintering cormorant that day, but there were lots of good birds for a mid-winter day!

Dan will be back in this space soon with photos and reports from Bebo Grove and Votier’s Flats.

Uncommon Redpoll

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

One of the classes of pigments that produces colour in bird feathers is the carotenoids. It is responsible for bright yellow, red, or orange feathers. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and birds acquire them by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant. A species that normally has red plumage can sometimes have either orange or yellow instead, depending on what the bird has been eating.

In Calgary, we are used to seeing male House Finches with predominantly red pigments, but it’s not too uncommon to see one with orange or yellow instead of red. However, of the thousands of Common Redpolls I’ve seen, I’ve never noticed one that didn’t have a red cap and (in males) a pinkish wash on the breast.

The bird below was photographed recently by Tony LePrieur. It has yellow where there would normally be red. Has anyone else ever seen a Redpoll like this? I imagine such colour variants must be quite a bit more rare in Redpolls than in House Finches, at least in our part of the country.

Update, February 7, 2016 – this redpoll, or one like it, has been seen again in the Weaselhead area. Another was seen in Lynnwood in SE Calgary. I have heard that redpolls with yellow like this may be older females.

Yellow Redpoll

Common Redpoll. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Have you seen an unusual bird in the Calgary area? Send a photo to us at

Wednesday Wings: Overwintering Robins

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

We get a lot of emails every winter from people who are surprised to see an American Robin in their yard or in a local park. In fact, there are a few robins here every winter. Although the vast majority of Canadian robins winter in the far southern USA or Mexico, most of the continental US is home to small populations of  overwintering robins. These may be birds that bred in the area, or individuals who moved south from their breeding areas in Canada but did not go all the way to the normal wintering areas. Calgary appears to be near the northern limit of this overwintering range (Edmonton also has overwintering robins most years).

IMG_3295 (2)

American Robin, Votier’s Flats, January 1, 2016.

On the recent Calgary Christmas Bird Count we recorded 174 American Robins. Although this was a little high for the count, there are usually over 100 seen. Of course this is not likely to represent all the robins in the city, and it doesn’t include areas outside the count circle like Fish Creek Park. So there are probably a few hundred in the city every winter (not all will survive, especially if we get heavy snow and/or a prolonged cold snap). This may seem like a lot of birds, but in the summer there must be tens of thousands of breeding pairs here. (Does anyone know the total, or have a guess?)

Most overwintering robins are found in the river valleys near open water. They often gather in small flocks and survive mostly by eating berries. They will also come to feeders and heated birdbaths.

The American Robins in these photos were found by the storm-water outflow into Fish Creek just west of Macleod Trail, in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

IMG_3293 (3)

American Robin, Votier’s Flats, January 1, 2016.

There were at least six robins coming to the water there that afternoon, as well as a much rarer overwintering Hermit Thrush.

Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just before Christmas I had to send my long lens (Sigma 150-500mm) in for repair, so am back to using my original birding lens, my Sigma 70-300mm. As such, I can’t get quite as close to the birds as I used to, but it does allow me to have a bit better control over framing more “artsy” shots, but also making do with what I’ve got to use, rather than relying on the reach of the lens to make the image better. I do hope that I managed to do that well with the few photos I was able to take on the Dinosaur Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count, and the annual New Years Day Fish Creek Provincial Park Bird Count.

While it’s a great area to bird in both the summer and winter, the day we headed out there (December 30) was bitterly cold, and it seemed that the birds were nowhere to be found. In previous years, there were a few groups covering the whole area, but this year Nick Bartok and I were the only two out on the count so we had to cover the entire count circle, giving us only enough time to see and hear the birds we could observe from the car. What that meant for us was that we would miss out on a lot of the smaller birds we usually would hear on a walked route, but it did mean we got to cover way more area.

The cold weather made shooting from the vehicle a little tough, with the heat distortion from the vehicle and from the heat radiating off the snow from the bright sunlight, but I managed a few shots.

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/5.6|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of the first good birds of the day was this Great Horned Owl that we stumbled upon while driving down one back road east of Patricia.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

By far, the most numerous birds that we found on the Dinosaur Provincial Park count were Sharp-tailed Grouse. They seemed to be everywhere in the trees and shrubs nibbling on the buds for their breakfast and lunch!

Back in Calgary, the Fish Creek Provincial Park New Years Day Bird Count was a little bit (but not too much!) warmer, but we got a few good birds to start off the year.

Great Horned Owl - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Great Horned Owl – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Brown Creeper - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Brown Creeper – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

At the Ranche, the usual pair of Great Horned Owls were present, along with a great opportunity to see the elusive Brown Creeper as the sun came over the horizon.

Sikome Lake - January 1, 2016

Sikome Lake – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 70mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

The snow covered poplars at Sikome Lake made for a great backdrop to see all these great birds.

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Mallards in flight - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards in flight – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 160|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Bald Eagle - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Bald Eagle – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

The usual accumulations of waterfowl along the Bow River were no exception to the rule, and there were even a couple of great surprises in the water, including an American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and more than a few Common Mergansers. A couple of fly-bys of Bald Eagles flushed many of the birds up briefly, but they soon came back down into the water at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River.

American Robin - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

American Robin – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Hermit Thrush - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

Hermit Thrush – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

At the compilation lunch, Bob and I waited around to hear if there had been any particularly noteworthy observations, and when we heard that a Hermit Thrush and American Robins had been seen at the water outflow at Shaw’s Meadow, we headed over there right away. It took us a while of watching the American Robins and got to see them feeding in the water, and finally got a great look at the Hermit Thrush, but only briefly. Two shots later, it disappeared into the deep brush, but it was more than long enough to get a look at the bird, identify it, and snap a few frames.

While normally this post would be a recap of the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek outings, I was away for that first trip, so keep an eye out for my post next week for the birds from our second week out at Bebo Grove!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Birds of Sundre

Do have photographs of birds from the Calgary area that you’d like to share? Just email them to us at

These pictures show some of the birds coming to feeders at a cabin near Sundre, northwest of Calgary. They were taken on January 2 and 3, 2016 by Tanya Gaydos. These are some of the typical species you might get at feeders in the foothills.

IMG_8323 - Copy

Boreal Chickadee.


Pine Siskins.


Mountain Chickadee.


Blue Jay.

IMG_8355 - Copy

Pine Siskin.


Red-breasted Nuthatch.


Downy Woodpecker.


Hairy Woodpecker.


Birds & Beers, January 2016

The Calgary chapter of Birds & Beers will hold their next event at the usual location, the Horton Road Legion, on Friday January 29 from 6 to 9 pm.

Birds & Beers is an informal social gathering in which you can meet other birders and talk about birding. If you wish, you can have a drink or a meal as well. Prices at the Legion are very reasonable and the food is excellent. Everyone is welcome, including children if accompanied by an adult.

This month, instead of a speaker, the 2015 Calgary Birding Competition will be awarding the prizes to the winners. Come out and show your appreciation for all the competitors.


Golden-crowned Warbler, found and photographed by George Best during the competition.

Royal Canadian Legion, Centennial Calgary Branch #285

9202 Horton Road SW

Friday January 29, 6:00-9:00 pm

This is one block west of Macleod Trail, between Heritage Drive and Southland Drive. See you there!


Birding Competition – Final Results

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

After a year-long effort, the participants in eBird Calgary 2015 have entered their final checklists, and below we have the preliminary final results. I was quite impressed by how many Calgary-area birders made an effort to keep getting out all year long to find new birds. Twenty-six people reported over 200 species within the 80-km count circle during the year! Many of them had their highest total ever for the region.

Most impressive was the 275 species found by the overall winner, Brian Elder. As far as we have been able to determine, this is a new high total for the Calgary count circle, and ten species higher than the winning total in the 2005 competition. It looks like 301 species were reported in all within the circle in 2015. In 2014, there were eight fewer species reported in the circle, and the top individual total was Dan Arndt at 233.

Quite a few of the participants were new to using eBird. Most of them really took to it, finding it to be a valuable birding tool, which helps them to be more aware of the patterns of bird movements through the area, and enables them to quickly find out about sightings of unusual or target species. I sincerely hope that those who began using eBird in 2015 will continue to use it just as much in the future.

The Calgary county led all Alberta counties in species reported on eBird, as it usually does, but where we really stood out in 2015 was the number of checklists submitted:

All Alberta counties 2015

This kind of coverage on eBird really helps to make the data more valuable, so I hope we don’t see a drop in submissions in 2016.

The results below are not official. We will have the final results later this month. The prizes will be presented at the Birds & Beers meeting on Friday January 29th. This will be held at the Horton Road Legion, Centennial Calgary Branch #285, 9202 Horton Road SW. Everyone is welcome to come out and have a meal and a drink, after which we will present the prizes. In addition to prizes for the winners in the categories below, we will also have prizes for Big Day, Bird of the Year, and the Latecomer Challenge. Join us on January 29 for the final results.

Leaders, 80-km circle:

Here are the top competitors listed with their species totals and categories (the “Not Eligible” competitors are on the organizing committee). Also included is the number of complete checklists they have submitted to eBird within the 80-km circle. This total does not include “incidental” sightings.

Using the arrows you can sort the columns to see all the participants in one category listed together, or sort by number of species, or number of checklists. You can also increase or decrease the number of lines shown.

80-km Circle Leaders, December 31, 2015

Overall RankNameSpeciesChecklistsCategory
1Brian Elder275128Experienced
2tBlake Weis257638Experienced
2tRay Woods25782Experienced
4Daniel Arndt254265Not Eligible
5Aidan Vidal24082Youth
6tGeorge Best235232Experienced
6tDan Parliament235187Experienced
6tEthan Denton235180Youth
9Andrew Hart234252Not Eligible
10tJohn Thompson232285Experienced
10tCindy Parliament232143Experienced
10tNeil Denton232176Experienced
13tGraeme Mudd225204Beginner
13tChris Macintosh225103Beginner
13tAphtin Perratt225103Beginner
16tJohn Anderson220477Experienced
16tLorrie Anderson220474Experienced
18tAndrew Slater219158Not Eligible
18tRose Painter219309Not Eligible
20Bob Lefebvre214504Not Eligible
21Nicole Pellerin205164Beginner
22tLinda Vaxvick203272Experienced
22tJudy Swan203227Experienced
24tPhillip Cram20165Experienced
24tChristopher Naugler20174Experienced
26tTrevor Churchill195108Experienced
26tDarlene Shymkiw195137Beginner
28Bernard Tremblay19327Experienced
29John Bargman187131Experienced
30Janet Gill181105Experienced
31Peter Hoyer17573Experienced
32Simone Pellerin-Wood17393Youth
33Anne Belton171110Experienced
34tDave Russum170318Experienced
34tRob Worona17033Experienced
36Jan Roseneder153315Experienced
37Jeremy Quickfall15152Beginner
38Saravana Moorthy13376Beginner
39Joan Walker13114Not Eligible
40Sue Konopnicki12757Experienced
41Bernie Diebolt9424Experienced
42Rachel Mackay9228Beginner
43Michael Rogers7841Experienced
44tTony LePrieur7523Beginner
44tByron Chu7513Experienced
46Hannah Lilles615Youth
47Robin Naugler484Youth
48Brett Lybbert4612Beginner
49David Sim3422Experienced
50Lucianna Lybbert328Youth
51Jarom Lybbert3111Youth
52Katrina Lybbert309Experienced
53Gord Newel278Beginner
54Angela Bell2111Experienced
55Lynn Wilsack2011Beginner
56Reginald Lybbert121Youth
57David Archer112Beginner
58Sylvia Checkley40Beginner
59Jim Donohue10Experienced


Yard Challenge Update

Here are the leaders, showing the number of species identified in or from the competitor’s yards.

Yard Challenge Leaders, December 31

1Phil Ullman88
2John Anderson61
3Lorrie Anderson60
4 - not eligibleBob Lefebvre59
5Judy Swan56
6John Bargman55
7Dave Russum42
8John Thompson41
9Michael Rogers33
10Brian Elder31
11David Sim29
12Linda Vaxvick28
13 - not eligibleRose Painter25
14Rachel Mackay24
15tNicole Pellerin23
15tPhillip Cram23
17Graeme Mudd20
18Peter Hoyer19
19tSimone Pellerin-Wood18
19tDarlene Shymkiw18
21Jan Roseneder15
22t - not eligibleAndrew Hart13
22tLynn Wilsack13
24tBrett Lybbert11
24tJanet Gill11
24tKatrina Lybbert11
27Lucianna Lybbert9
28tAnne Belton7
28tGeorge Best7
30tZoe Keefe6
30tDavid Archer6
32Jarom Lybbert3
33Hannah Lilles1


After the prize presentation I will have one more report on the official winners. We will also be doing a presentation at the April meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group.

Congratulations to everyone who took part! I hope you had fun, met some of your fellow birders, and learned more about the birds!

Christmas Bird Count in Inglewood

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For the Calgary Christmas count on December 20 I was once again part of a group that covered the Inglewood Golf Course, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Zoo, and surrounding neighbourhoods. As usual we started with breakfast at the golf clubhouse, and then split into two groups to cover the river and golf course north and south of there.


Canada Geese and Mallards on the open water.

It’s a challenge to get accurate counts of the thousands of birds on the water, and on this stretch of the river, it’s a challenge to find anything other than Canada Geese and Mallards. But we knew that three Snow Geese had been seen regularly along here, and we soon found them resting on the bank with the other geese. This was the first time that Snow Geese had ever been reported in the 72 years of Calgary Christmas Bird Counts, so it was great to add them to the list.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese – one adult and two immatures, a new species for the Calgary CBC.

There are usually quite a few Bald Eagles on this stretch of the river in winter, and we had nine on the count, seven immatures and two adults.

Bald Eagles

Three of the eight immature Bald Eagles we saw from the golf course.

Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle wondering what I am up to down there.

One of the other waterfowl species we were looking for among the Mallards and Canada Geese was Cackling Goose, a very small relative of the Canadas. It can be very tricky to find these among some of the small subspecies of Canada Goose that overwinter here. I took quite a few photos of some small geese, and we later decided we had seen at least four Cackling Geese. This photo shows one just to the right of the Mallard with its wings up. It is short-necked and stubby-billed, and only about one and a half times the size of a Mallard.

Cackling Geese

Cackling Goose

During Christmas Bird Counts you have to count all the birds you see in your territory, but we are collectively trying to find as many species as we can. Each group in the field is also in a friendly competition with all the other groups to see who can get the most species, and the most unique species, in their territory. So it was good to get Snow Goose, which no one else was likely to find.

While our half of the group went south and found the Snow Geese, the other half was counting birds at the north end of the golf course. One of their targets there was a Harris’s Sparrow, which I had seen there while scouting the area the week before, and which had been seen daily since, usually with or near a mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a Brown Creeper. This was the only Harris’s that we were aware of in the count circle, so it was important to find it in case no others turned up elsewhere during the count. Unfortunately our group wasn’t able to find this shy bird in the morning.

We decided that we would try again for the Harris’s, so three of us went back to that area while the others went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Although we added a couple of other new species, we again failed to find the Harris’s Sparrow.

Next stop, in the early afternoon, was the Calgary Zoo grounds. Quite a number of wild birds are attracted to the grounds due to the cover, open water, and food available there. Four of us explored the zoo while one of our group covered Pearce Estate and another drove the residential areas to check bird feeders. However, while the other two were adding some new species to our list, we found it very quiet at the zoo this year for wild birds. We had a few species but nothing new for the count.

Unidentified Bird

We looked all through our Birds of Alberta field guide but weren’t able to identify this bird we saw at the zoo.

At 3 pm, we decided there was just enough time to take one more trip to the golf course to try to get the Harris’s Sparrow before sunset at about 4:30. The two of us that remained explored the whole north end for the third time that day. Again we found mixed flocks of passerines and lots of crossbills of both species, but no sign of the sparrow.

WW Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill. Both this species and Red Crossbills can be found all over the city this winter.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper, in a mixed winter flock of small foraging birds.

Kinglet 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Briefly playing their song drew three kinglets out to inspect us, where we had only been seeing one.

Kinglet 2Golden-crowned Kinglet in the setting sun.

Kinglet 3

Golden-crowned Kinglet. A male, showing the red in the crown.

As the sun touched the horizon we decided we had better call it a day and started walking back along the river to the parking lot. I saw a robin at the water’s edge and was watching it when I saw a dark shape move just below the bank. Just the top of its head and a bit of its back was showing below a bank of snow, but I waited for a minute of so, and it finally walked slowly into view – the Harris’s Sparrow! It moved up into a bush and I got a photo in the fading light.

Harris's Sparrow

It was 4:18 pm, just 13 minutes before sunset. It had taken us most of the day to get that one bird, and it brought our group’s total to a very respectable 29 species.

Then it was off to the wind-up dinner and compilation of results. We are already looking forward to next year to see if we can crack 30 species!

Here is a better photo of the Harris’s Sparrow, taken in good light by Trevor Churchill on December 13.

Trevor Churchill Harris's Sparrow, IGC

Harris’s Sparrow. Photo by Trevor Churchill, Inglewood Golf Course, December 13, 2015.

The results of the Calgary Christmas Bird Count, and several counts in surrounding areas, will be presented at the meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group on January 6, 2016.