Birds & Beers – Change of Date

The Birds & Beers meeting that was scheduled for Friday November 18 has been changed to Friday December 9. This one promises to be a special event so please join us!

Royal Canadian Legion, Centennial Calgary Branch #285

9202 Horton Road SW

Friday December 9, 6:00-9:00 pm

This is one block west of Macleod Trail, between Heritage Drive and Southland Drive. See the Event’s Facebook page for a map and more information.

We meet in the back room at the Legion, so once you get here proceed to the back, past the food counter. It’s fine to come late if you can’t make it at 6 pm; these are very informal get-togethers. Bring your friends!

Furry Friday: Muskrat

Tony LePrieur photographed this Muskrat in the Weaselhead Nature Area on November 20, 2016. Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents related to voles and lemmings. They feed mostly on aquatic vegetation such as cattails. They are active all year and can be found in the winter in Calgary along the rivers, and around lakes and ponds. They are well adapted for the cold and for swimming under the ice.

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You can see more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.

Do you have photos of Mammals from the Calgary area that you’d like to share? Send them to birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them for Furry Friday!

Sunday Showcase: Swan and Woodpecker

Photographs by Tony LePrieur.

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Young Tundra Swan at Carburn Park, November 13, 2016.

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The same swan at Carburn Park, November 13, 2016.

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American Three-toed Woodpecker photographed at Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Provincial Park, November 13, 2016.

Event – Nature Calgary Speaker Series

Nature Calgary Speaker Series, Tuesday November 15, 7:30 pm.

Cardel Theatre, 180 Quarry Park Blvd. SE

Chris Fisher will speak on “The Wildlife of Great Explorers.” Learn about the travels of the great explorers of Alberta and some of the birds, plants, and mammals named for them.

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Franklin’s Gull, named for Sir John Franklin. Photo by Dan Arndt, Carburn Park, April 2015.

See the complete description of the talk, and directions to the location, on the Nature Calgary website.

Free parking. Please bring a donation for the Food Bank.

 

Sunday Showcase: Ruffed Grouse; Pileated Woodpecker

Tony LePrieur got this close-up photograph of a Ruffed Grouse west of Calgary, and this Pileated Woodpecker in the city, both on the weekend of October 30, 2016.

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Ruffed Grouse.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male).

 

Sunday Showcase: Migrating Sparrows

Leanne Ross photographed these birds this fall in her yard in Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She reports that the Tree Sparrow only stayed for a day, whereas the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows were around for a week or so, usually accompanied by Dark-eyed Juncos.

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White-throated Sparrow (left) and White-crowned Sparrow (right).

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American Tree Sparrow.

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White-crowned Sparrow.

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Downy Woodpecker (male), a year-round resident.

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Hairy Woodpecker (male), also a resident bird.

If you have good photographs of birds from the Calgary area, email them to us and we may post them.

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

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As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

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young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

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He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

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Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

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Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

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Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

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When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.

Sunday Showcase: Autumn in Calgary’s Parks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Catching up with some great autumn photos of Calgary Birds and Mammals, taken by Tony LePrieur from September 25 to October 16, 2016. The locations were the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Carburn Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the Weaselhead Nature Area.

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Boreal Chickadee, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. The bird has no tail. Birds don’t molt all their tail feathers at once, so this indicates it probably survived an attack of some kind.

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Great Horned Owl, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. These resident owls are fairly common it the city. Pairs will be spending the days resting on their winter roosts now, and by February (or sometimes even January) they will be on their nests, incubating eggs.

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Great Blue Heron, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 16, 2016. The herons have usually all migrated by mid-October, but a few may stay later.

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Harris’s Sparrow, seen at the south end of the big bridge over the Elbow River in the Weaselhead on October 16, 2016. The bird was seen for at least a week, from October 16 to October 25. These Sparrows mostly migrate well east of Calgary and are a bit of a rarity here. They sometimes overwinter, so it is worth looking for.

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American Tree Sparrow. These arctic breeders are passing through here now and some overwinter here.

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Dark-eyed Junco. These sparrows are pretty common here in the winter and can be seen in residential areas right now, often feeding on the ground under bird feeders.

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American Robin bathing.

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American Robin. They passed through here on migration in huge numbers a few weeks ago, but there are always quite a few that overwinter here, mostly in the river valleys.

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Northern Flicker (male). A migratory woodpecker, but again there are always lots in Calgary in the winter – either some local breeders that overwinter, or birds that bred farther north and migrated this far. They will readily come to suet and nut feeders.

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Downy Woodpecker (male). A year-round resident that also will come to feeders.

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Coyote.

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Black-backed Woodpecker. A bit of a rarity in the city, they are occasionally seen in the west end of Fish Creek Park, from Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace. This one was photographed there on October 23, 2016.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male). Another resident woodpecker.

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Rough-legged Hawk. This is the common buteo in our region in the winter. They have arrived in good numbers from their northern breeding grounds. Most commonly seen outside the city, especially west of the city.

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Black-capped Chickadee. Year-round resident.

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Muskrat. They are active all winter in open water.

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Mule Deer buck.

See more of Tony’s Photos on his Flickr page.

Share your bird photos from the Calgary area. Just email them to birdscalgary@gmail.com.

The Friends of Fish Creek bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Western Headworks Canal (known to many of us simply as the Calgary Irrigation Canal, or Bow River Irrigation Canal) is an amazing area to bird any time from early spring all the way through to the beginning of autumn. The canal itself provides foraging and feeding opportunities to all varieties of dabbling ducks throughout the breeding season, while the established trees and shrubs along the edge of the canal are home to no end of songbird species throughout the year.

There is a very special time of year though, just after the first of October, when the Western Irrigation District stops drawing water from the Bow River and allows the canal to drain for the winter. It is at this time that the canal becomes prime feeding habitat for a few more exotic species. Unusual and rare gull species are often found among the flocking Ring-billed Gulls, late migrating shorebirds feed along the extensive mudflats, and the tail end of songbird migration can often bring exciting birds such as Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Harris’ Sparrow along the edges of the canal. All of this excitement is over far too quickly for some as the water levels rapidly deplete over the course of the first two weeks following the drainage.

According to the Western Irrigation District website, “the Western Irrigation District provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities through 1,200 km of canals and pipelines.  Like other irrigation districts in Alberta, the WID operates under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act.  The WID is headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, which is approximately 40 kilometers east of Calgary.”

On October 4th, I joined the Friends of Fish Creek to walk the canal a few days after it had begun draining. For one reason or another, this year seemed to have fewer birds than I remember in the past, and the water seemed much lower this early on than previously. That said, the walk started off on a high note while I watched this Northern Flicker feeding on berries in a shrub while I waited for the group.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Almost immediately upon reaching the edge of the canal, we began seeing some of the diverse assemblage of waterfowl that feed along the canal. The most common of course was the Mallard, with almost all of the males having returned to their brilliant green-headed breeding plumage.

Mallard

Mallard

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A lone female American Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water, barely lifting her head to check us out as we walked by.

female American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

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A little further on, a pair of female Northern Shoveler floated by, followed closely by a pair of female Green-winged Teal.

female Northern Shovelers

female Northern Shovelers

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Green-winged Teal

female Green-winged Teal

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The highlight of the waterfowl though are always the Wood Ducks. A fair number of them were found feeding along the canal early in the walk. As we continued down the canal, something spooked them and they flew up the canal and our of sight. These birds are likely from the same stock found at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where they are known to breed each year.

male Wood Duck

male Wood Duck

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male and female Wood Ducks

male and female Wood Ducks

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It’s always a bit of a surprise to see what shorebirds we can find down along the canal. It’s one of the best places to get good, close looks at Greater Yellowlegs, often in large numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

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Less often though do we get Wilson’s Snipe. This year there seemed to be more than a few feeding along the canal.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

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It was a little later on that we got a good look at what may have flushed the Wood Ducks earlier in the day. This female Merlin swooped in and perched in the trees right above us for a few moments before flying on and continuing her hunt.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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There is one major benefit to the large numbers of Rock Pigeons that take residence in our urban centers here in southern Alberta, but it’s never a pretty sight to see. They make a great meal for any number of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Every once in a while though, one of these raptors gets chased off a fresh kill by a family of corvids. It is quite possible that this was a kill stolen from our female Merlin above, or from the Sharp-shinned Hawk that as giving us continuous fly-bys all morning.

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

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While we kept our ears and eyes sharply focused on the shrubs nearby, and our alertness really paid off. We heard a handful of American Tree Sparrows, saw few Dark-eyed Juncos, and caught decent looks at what are likely to be our last Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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It always pays off to check out the gulls down on the canal though. As we walked the canal, we found hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the shallow water.

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

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One of our sharp-eyed participants pointed out this little Mew Gull all by itself. They feed a little bit differently than Ring-billed Gulls tend to, but the real differences are the major field marks. You might note the plain yellow bill, smaller, rounded head, and overall “softer” features than the Ring-billed Gulls above.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

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