Spring Begins at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

As with each of our courses, we began the Spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek down at the Friends of Fish Creek Headquarters building, and then on down to Sikome Lake, once again in search of new spring migrants. From this point on in the season my goal with the blog will be to only post new species (or better/unique photos of species we’ve found before). Since we have such a variety of available birds here during spring migration, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but here goes. Once more into the breach!

Sikome Lake and area April 6, 2014

Sikome Lake and area
April 6, 2014

It really seems like some weeks all the activity is centered around one particular area, and other weeks it’s a steady succession of interesting birds. This week was definitely the former. From the start, it seemed like a slow day. Many of the waterfowl had already been flushed by fishermen and boaters down the river, but this curious American Robin in the long dry grasses made for a nice early subject to shoot.

American Robin Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

American Robin
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Of course we just had to check in on what is likely the most famous pair of Great Horned Owls in Calgary. There were no less than a dozen others already there by the time we arrived. The mother was just poking her head out from the nest, while dad was hidden away.

female Great Horned Owl Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

female Great Horned Owl
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

While we were watching her, and then again on our return down the pathway, we found this pair of White-breasted Nuthatches foraging in some fallen logs. They were certainly a joy to shoot, and not always the most cooperative subjects! Thankfully they were more interested in the food than in staying away from us photographers!

White-breasted Nuthatch April 6, 2014

White-breasted Nuthatch
April 6, 2014

From there we headed south into the north end of Lafarge Meadows. While we did get some waterfowl on the Bow River, the photos weren’t that great, and certainly not quite up to snuff in comparison with everything else I shot that day! We did manage to see some more Lesser Scaup, Redheads, and even scoped out where a family of Common Ravens is nesting. This marks at least the fifth year (that I know of) that they’ve been nesting in the same place within the city limits.

As we returned to the starting area, we decided to take a bit of a stroll up to some well known feeding stations at the edge of Sikome Lake. While those stations didn’t turn up anything whatsoever, along the way we did see an American Tree Sparrow (not photographed) while on the same log, in fact, this Dark-eyed Junco posed quite nicely for myself and a few others.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies) Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies)
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

And who could forget the mammals? As spring comes into bloom (see what I did there? huh? huh?) the mammal activity really heats up. At the very start of our walk last Sunday were a pair of Coyotes near the headquarters building. This was the best shot I managed, as I was on the far side of the field from this one.

Coyote FCPP Headquarters Building April 6, 2014

Coyote
FCPP Headquarters Building
April 6, 2014

Of course no one could forget the typical spring mammal that every Albertan knows to watch out for (especially on the roads!), the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. This fellow sat stock still as soon as we laid eyes on him, allowing us to get in very close and observe him for as long as we could possibly have kept that up. Quite good camouflage at work there!

Richardson's Ground Squirrel Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Have a great week, and good birding!

Spring Arrivals at Fish Creek Park

Tony LePrieur saw some new birds for the year in Fish Creek Park on April 5, 2014, as well as some favourite residents.

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Northern Shoveler, male.

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European Starling.

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Red-winged Blackbird, male. This bird is arriving right on time, but all the ponds there were still mostly frozen over on this date. 

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Golden-crowned Kinglet, male. Likely a winter bird that will soon move on.

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Blue Jay, a year-round resident species.

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Snowshoe Hare. Transitioning to summer colours far faster than the surroundings are!

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Muskrat.

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Finally, some close-ups of one of the resident Great Horned Owls. Check the talons in the third photo.

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The end of Winter at Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

Posted by Dan Arndt

I know, I know. With the title of the last two Monday morning blog posts having to do with the beginning of spring, or the end of winter, you’d think it would actually be over by now, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, one last winter storm made our last outing with the Winter session with the Friends of Fish Creek live up to its name. Blowing snow, -12 degrees C temperatures, and a whole lot of ice on the river made it feel like an outing more in line with early January than the last day of March! The quantity of species seen though, did begin to look a bit more like spring. The number of waterfowl species that were laying over on the south end of the Bow River in Calgary certainly showed us that spring, indeed, was finally just around the corner. In fact, there was so much activity on the south end of our trek that I’ve had to blow up the usual map to give proper detail on where each species was seen!

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-out view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-out view
March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-in view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-in view
March 31, 2014

While few and far between, one of the first birds that I picked out on the water last week was one of a few Cackling Geese in amongst the Canada Geese. While superficially similar, they really do stand out when sitting (or standing) near their larger cousins. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Cackling Goose was identified as its own species, with 4 subspecies identified.

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

The presence of a few duck species typically associated with prairie ponds and sloughs spending their time on the river is also another sure sign of a changing of the seasons. Both the Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler were around in good numbers, but not too close. Even a single Trumpeter Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Trumpeter Swan March 31, 2014

Trumpeter Swan
March 31, 2014

 

Northern Pintail March 31, 2014

Northern Pintail
March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers
March 31, 2014

Our first real good looks at the first migrant shorebirds to come through were along this stretch of river. These Killdeer are really quite hardy little birds. It’s no wonder they can be so numerous throughout the Calgary area!

Killdeer March 31, 2014

Killdeer
March 31, 2014

In addition to the migrant waterfowl and shorebird species, there were also a couple of predatory birds around. A Merlin and Northern Goshawk made passes over us almost one right after the other, and we were treated to the disjointed yet beautiful song of this calling Northern Shrike for at least ten minutes before it was flushed by some dog walkers getting a bit too close.

Northern Shrike March 31, 2014

Northern Shrike
March 31, 2014

Our first good looks at Herring Gulls this season were also along this stretch, many of which flew quite close to us, and in some cases, seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of them!

curious Herring Gull  March 31, 2014

curious Herring Gull
March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight
March 31, 2014

I mentioned Killdeer earlier, and we did come across a much larger group of them, but only thanks to the eagle eyes of Gus Yaki, which he had on loan from an eagle who decided to sleep in that day. Can you spot the Killdeer in this picture? (Hint: There are five Killdeer in this image.)

Killdeer camouflage March 31, 2014

Killdeer camouflage
March 31, 2014

My first sighting of the next species of the day happened out on Vancouver Island over Christmas of 2013, and despite many trips out last spring in search of this species, and despite their relative abundance here in the spring migration, this was my first Eurasian Wigeon in Alberta. Again, a nice bird to see at the best of times. He seemed to be having a bit of a spat with his American relatives though…

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

We did also have a nice close look at a Redhead a bit further upstream, before things seemed to get a little bit too far off in the snow to get any good images, and yet, we did seem to have some Common Mergansers stalking us as we headed back up towards the start of our journey.

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Redhead
March 31, 2014

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Canada Goose (left) and Common Mergansers (right)
March 31, 2014

And that was it for our last week of the Winter Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek!

With the start of our Spring course next week, I’ll definitely be trying to not duplicate species that I get photos of each week, much like I tried to last year, with relatively good success.

Have a great week, and until next Monday, Good Birding

Sunday Showcase – Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Rusty Blackbird used to be a common sight in Alberta, ranging from the prairies to the boreal forest, and often a nice splash of color in a mixed flock of migrating blackbirds both in spring and fall. Over the past 50 years, their population has declined between 85 and as much as 99% by some estimates, and is a particularly vulnerable species at risk, not only in Alberta, but all over North America. It is with great pleasure that I note that eBird.org has organized yet another citizen science project in order to better understand the ecology, migration hotspots, and to develop some strategies to better accommodate this highly vulnerable species.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz opened March 1, 2014 all over North America, and the usual target dates for spotting them in our area are between April 1 and mid-May. The goal is to get as many birders to go out, as they usually would anyway, and report the observations to eBird under the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz survey type.

Read more about this project here: International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, and enjoy the one and only photo of this species that I have to date, taken at Eagle Lake in the fall of 2012.

female Rusty Blackbird Eagle Lake October 12, 2012

female Rusty Blackbird
Eagle Lake
October 12, 2012

Lafarge Meadows – Spring has arrived!…?

Posted by Dan Arndt

March 20th, 2014 was the first day of spring. The Google Earth image that I’m using for this week’s map was from March 28, 2004, and seems to show much more open water on the Bow River, a bit of open water on both ponds at the park on the east side of the Bow River. It just goes to show how much colder, snowier, and icier this year has been (and continues to be!) than last.

Lafarge Meadows  March 23, 2014

Lafarge Meadows
March 23, 2014

Of course no visit to Lafarge Meadows and Sikome Lake is ever complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls. With Dad on watch and Mom on the nest, it looks like they’re off to another good start this year. In fact, it won’t be too long now until the young start to poke their heads up and explore their new environment!

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

After a few weeks of them being more or less absent on the river, the Canada Goose numbers were back up as migrants began their trip north to their breeding grounds once again. This particular stretch of river is rather good for finding birds staging before their trek further north, or to disperse around the countryside near Calgary.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Geese in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Geese in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We were even lucky enough to see a (seemingly) early Mountain Bluebird along the river. While we only saw it at a distance, it was more than enough to be certain of the ID. Chances are good that this bird is finding enough to eat along the edge of the river with the various insects that are still present in the water, as well as egg sacs, larvae, and various other food sources near the banks of the river.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We ventured quite far south at Lafarge Meadows in hopes of finding some other birds a little bit closer to the water’s edge, but didn’t get anything much more interesting than the Mountain Bluebird until we headed back the other way. It all seemed to come fast and busy, with this adult Bald Eagle landing very close by to start, followed quickly by the sighting of some American Wigeon across the river, and then finding our first Killdeer of the season in amongst them!

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

American Wigeon and Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

American Wigeon and Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Our last “new” birds of the day was a fly-by of a fairly sizeable flock of California Gulls, two of which flew by quite low, allowing for a much better view (and photos) than we had the previous week at Pearce Estate Park!

California Gulls Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

California Gulls
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

While I didn’t get too many good shots last week, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ones I was able to capture this week. See you next Monday, and until then, good birding!

Wednesday Wings: Weaselhead and More

Tony LePrieur took the photos below on March 1, 2014.

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Horned Lark, from outside the city.

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Gray Partridge, from outside the city.

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A very cold Common Goldeneye from Fish Creek Park.

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Brown Creeper, Weaselhead.

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Pileated Woodpecker female, Weaselhead.

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House Finch male, Weaselhead.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

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Coyote, Weaselhead.

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Finally, an ID challenge: At first glance I assumed this bird was a Merlin, but something didn’t quite look right. If not a Merlin, what do you think it is, and why?

Spring arrives at Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Last week took the temperatures well above zero degrees C, and to another of the parks heavily impacted by the flood of 2013. Pearce Estate Park is just upstream from the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which is currently still closed due to the damage it sustained, and likely will be until the summer or fall of 2015. Each year, we usually visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary around this time in search for the first returning gulls of the season, and so we figured that Pearce Estate would also do us a solid and turn up some northward migrants, and we sure weren’t disappointed!

Pearce Estate Park March 16, 2014

Pearce Estate Park
March 16, 2014

Right from the start I knew it was going to be a good day when one of our first bird species seen were a pair of American Robins. It’s likely that they were either local migrants into the city, or overwintering birds dispersing as the temperatures rose. Unless we banded and tracked them, or attached a GPS transmitter to them, it’s hard to say for sure, but they were doing a good job gleaning something to eat from the tall grasses and low brush atop the hill just north of the parking lot.

American Robin

male American Robin

The calls of newly arrived European Starlings filled the park, along with the odd House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, and almost incessant calls of Northern Flickers asserting their dominance and claiming territory. Along the train bridge we ran into this punk rock Common Raven with his freshly stenciled grafitti.

Common Raven

Common Raven

Only a few moments later, we captured a pair of California Gulls, the first of the season for our group, flying by at a fairly low altitude, but fast enough that I only caught them moving away from us.

California Gulls

California Gulls in flight

On the ice down below was a lone Canada Goose, perhaps waiting for a mate to return, or just taking a breather on the iced up gravel bar.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Back on the pathway, this pair of Northern Flickers put on quite a show for us, flying to and fro and displaying at each other in a very long and drawn out territory dispute. I’m still not sure who the winner is!

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

It really seemed as if the area near the train bridge was the hub of our activity, as this male House Sparrow had been caught in the act of taking nest material back to one of the support struts for the bridge. Who’d have thought that’s where they’d make their home?

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

And once again back on the bridge we had some great views of the iridescence of the feral Rock Pigeons.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Down on the ice they were feeding on something that had likely spilled from rail cars earlier in the week, and this oddly colored brownish pigeon stood out from the rest.

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

We decided that we’d seen enough of the area around the bridge, and were delighted to get some close up looks at the European Starlings that we would have had to have been deaf to miss hearing. This male European Starling posed quite nicely for the group, and proceeded to remove filler from the hole that he and his partner had decided would be their nesting area for the year.

male European Starling

male European Starling

We headed downstream a bit to see if we could see any more gulls, and also to show how badly cut the banks near the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were. The damage was more extensive than I’d even imagined. Along the way we found a couple of Black-billed Magpie nests, and even saw a few of them taking materials to their nests to either build them anew, or to reinforce the structure that’s in place.

Black-billed Magpie at nest

Black-billed Magpie at nest

And so ends another week with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course! Next week, we recap our visit to Lafarge Meadows, where even more migrants have been found!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Late Winter Birds

Spring is here and the new migrants are showing up daily, but here is another look at some of the winter birds seen in Fish Creek Park and the Weaselhead Nature Area in Calgary. All photographs by Tony LePrieur.

The photos below were taken in Fish Creek Park on February 17, 2014.

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Great Gray Owl, Bebo Grove.

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Boreal Chickadee.

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Black-capped Chickadee.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

These shots of the Three-toed Woodpecker in Bebo Grove were taken on February 23, 2014.

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The remaining photos below were taken on February 23, 2014 in the Weaselhead.

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Great Horned Owl.

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Boreal Chickadee.

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American Tree Sparrow.

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Dark-eyed Junco.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

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House Finch.

Happy World Sparrow Day!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Happy World Sparrow day, everyone!

 

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

According to Wikipedia, World Sparrow Day is designated to raise awareness of the plight of the House Sparrow (which is in decline in their native habitat in Europe), and other birds common to urban environments and the threats to their populations. It is observed on March 20 each year.

If you’re interested, there’s even a website dedicated to World Sparrow Day!

 

male House Sparrow in a parking lot

male House Sparrow in a parking lot