A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.

While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!

Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.

Cedar Waxwing Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Cedar Waxwing
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Great Blue Heron sunning itself Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Great Blue Heron sunning itself
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

 

Osprey Fishing

Most of our local Ospreys have now departed, although one was reported here yesterday, still sitting on its nest platform at MacLeod Trail and Hwy 22X. Several pairs (about thirteen) nest in Calgary every summer. People enjoy watching them build the nest, raise their young, and hunt for fish over the river and reservoir. The Calgary Zoo Osprey nest camera is very popular.

Here is an amazing video showing the incredible hunting skill of these birds. Thanks to Dick and Lenora Flynn, and Gus Yaki, for bringing it to our attention. We’re already looking forward to the return of the Ospreys next spring!

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ARKive is a not-for-profit initiative of the charity Wildscreen. Their mission: “With the help of the world’s best wildlife filmmakers and photographers, conservationists and scientists, we are creating an awe-inspiring record of life on Earth. Freely accessible to everyone and preserved for the benefit of future generations, ARKive is a truly invaluable resource for conservation, education and public awareness.”

To see more wildlife photos and videos, go to arkive.org and explore and share. There is detailed information, photos, and video about many of the bird species we have here.

Update – Fall Birds in Carburn and Fish Creek Parks

We don’t often re-post material but we don’t often make two identification mistakes in the same post (I hope). Reid Barclay has pointed out that the bird I labelled “Swainson’s Thrush” is actually an Ovenbird, and Ron Kube says that the “Swainson’s Hawk” is a Broad-winged Hawk. I think they are both correct. In each case, I didn’t consider these less-common migrants here, and tried to fit the photos to my expectations. Sorry for the errors. We always welcome comments from our readers. – Bob Lefebvre

Tony LePrieur has another set of beautiful bird and mammal photos, taken on September 14, 2014. He says it is getting harder to find the birds, but there is still a good variety of species around.

From Carburn Park:

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Orange-crowned Warbler.

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Orange-crowned Warbler, actually showing the seldom-seen orange crown.

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Red-eyed Vireo.

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American Goldfinch.

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Cedar Waxwing (juvenile).

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Ovenbird.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Tennessee Warbler.

From Fish Creek Park:

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Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile).

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Belted Kingfisher (female).

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American Mink.

Ron Pittaway’s 2014-2015 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

The moment many birders wait for each fall has arrived. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has been publishing the Winter Finch Forecast since the fall of 1999, and his record has been relatively spot on. He relies on input from citizen scientists, environmental scientists, and enthusiasts throughout Canada’s northern region to determine the abundance of the cone crop of trees in the boreal forest and across the Canadian Shield. Though the majority of his data come from Ontario, these forecasts have been pretty reliable even out west here in Alberta since I was made aware of his reports in 2011.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

You can find the original report by clicking here, but I’ll give you the distilled version for Alberta below:

Across northern Alberta, spruce cone crops range from poor (MB-SK) to average (southern Yukon). Based on what I saw up north earlier this summer, I’d say it’s closer to poor in the areas I surveyed. Birch seed crops are poor to average, while Mountain-ash berry crops have had a bumper year here in the west.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

What does this mean? Well, we will likely not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings (no, these aren’t finches) given the abundance of food further north and west. We can look forward to seeing both Common and Hoary Redpolls, given the state of birch cones further north, and Pine Siskins have already been seen in and around Calgary already this summer. Red-breasted Nuthatches (also not finches) are also expected to make their way south this winter.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

 

Why is this important? Well, all of these winter finches are regular visitors to bird feeders, and will readily feed on nyjer seed (for finches), peanuts, and black-oil sunflower seeds (for non-finches), so if you’re a regular bird feeder, it’s quite likely you’ll find some, or if you’re really lucky, all of these birds at your feeders this coming winter!

Good birding!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Sunday Showcase: More from Carburn Park

It’s been a really good fall for warblers in Calgary. Here are some warblers and other birds that Tony LePrieur captured in Carburn Park on the weekend of August 29-30.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

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Least Flycatcher

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Tennessee Warbler

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Warbling Vireo

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Gray Catbird

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American Redstart

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Wilson’s Warbler

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Solitary Sandpiper

Do you have some bird photographs from the Calgary area that you’d like to share here? Send them to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them on our Sunday Showcase.

Waxwings, From Egg to Fledgling

This summer Tony LePrieur found a Cedar Waxwing nest in Fish Creek Park, and he managed to capture this amazing sequence of photos showing the young birds from hatching to fledging, over a period of sixteen days.

The nest was about three feet off the ground, in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Tony was careful not to be intrusive, making four very short visits over a period of just over three weeks. Initially there were four eggs in the nest. Photos were taken with a Canon 60d and a 18-135 mm lens.

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As a bonus, I will post a photo of a slightly older juvenile Cedar Waxwing. It was spotted by Cicely Schoen hunkering down under a lawn chair in the Woodlands neighbourhood in SW Calgary during last week’s snowstorm. She calls it “The Original Angry Bird”.

The Original Angry Bird

“The Original Angry Bird” – Juvenile Cedar Waxwing.   Photo by  Cicely Schoen

Nikon 5100 with Nikkor lens 55-200mm.

Hummingbird in Snowstorm

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Last week’s late summer snowstorm in southern Alberta flattened crops and gardens, caused power outages, and damaged or destroyed trees numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It must also have been devastating for many migrating birds. A storm like this, lasting for several days, blanketing the ground with snow throughout the southern half of the province, and accompanied by temperatures as low as -7 degrees Celsius, must surely have caused high mortality among warblers and other neotropical migrants.

Here are some photos taken on September 10 of a hummingbird caught in the snow. I believe this is a Rufous Hummingbird, the last of which usually move through Calgary in early September. Fortunately there are still plenty of flowers around so perhaps it was able to find enough food to continue on its southern migration.

All photos by Debbie Reynolds.

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August in Carburn Park

The last few weeks, Tony LePrieur has been sending us some outstanding photos of birds at Carburn Park. We had some technical difficulties with the blog and have been unable to post, but we’re back to full speed now. Here is Tony’s great collection of photos from the last three weekends in Carburn.

This is a good year for wood warblers, and there should be several species around until Sept 20 or so. Carburn Park has been a great place to see them, or anywhere along the river. Confederation Park is another warbler hot spot in the city.

Some of these fall birds can be tricky to ID, so please comment if you think we’ve got any wrong. There are two we weren’t at all sure about, the recently fledged one and the orange one, both captioned “???” – give us your thoughts on those!

Carburn1.1

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.9

Canada Warbler

Carburn3.8

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn3.6

female Tennessee Warbler

Carburn3.5

Wilson’s Warbler

Carburn3.4

Warbling Vireo

Carburn3.3

Nashville Warbler

Carburn3.2

American Redstart

Carburn3.1

Townsend’s Warbler

Carburn2.8

Warbling Vireo

Carburn2.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn2.6

Northern Waterthrush

Carburn1.8

Canada Warbler

Carburn1.7

female/immature Tennessee Warbler

Carburn1.3

Orange-crowned Warbler

Carburn1.2

???

Carburn1.5

immature Baltimore Oriole

Carburn1.4

House Wren

Carburn1.9

Sora

Carburn1.10

???

Carburn2.4

Solitary Sandpiper

Carburn2.5

Eastern Kingbird

Carburn2.9

American Goldfinch

 

Last of the Spring Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

We’re back! After a busy July away from from blogging, we had technical issues in August which prevented us from posting photos. We could have posted text, but as you know, a birding blog without photos is like a bowling ball without a liquid centre.

Despite the snow on the ground right now, I am going to catch up on some things from late spring. Those of you who follow Dan Arndt’s weekly posts about his Friends of Fish Creek outings will have wondered where the group went birding in June. Dan’s job took him out of town for the entire month, so he was unable to post. I was away for some of June as well, but I arranged for one of my group’s members, George Best, to send some photos from our outings.

Dan’s posts will resume this week and will found here most Mondays.

If you are interested in signing up for the course this fall, there are still a few spots available at the following times: Mondays at 8:30 am, Tuesdays at 8:30 and 9 am, Wednesdays at 9 am, Thursdays at 8:30 am, Saturdays at 8:30 am, and Sundays at 8:30 am, 9 am, 9:30 am and 1:15 pm. We have completed two weeks of the 14-week course so there are still 12 weeks of great birding to go. Go to the Friends of Fish Creek site to sign up.

On June 1 our excursion was to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant area, along the river south of 194 Avenue. For one of Dan’s previous posts from this area, complete with maps of the walk, see this post from April 2014.

Our June 1 walk featured some late-arriving spring migrants. One of the first birds we saw, as we car-pooled from the parking lot at 194 Avenue to the treatment plant, was this Western Kingbird hawking insects from a fence. All photos by George Best.

Western Kingbird

These birds are not common in Calgary, even on migration. I believe the only place within the city limits that they have been known to nest is in the Lafarge Meadows area of Fish Creek Park, about 1.5 km north of our sighting. But no nesting Western Kingbirds were reported there in the last three years, so I was hopeful that this bird might be heading there to nest. I didn’t hear any more reports of this species in that area over the summer, so this was probably just a passing migrant.

We got really good looks at some Song Sparrows and recorded a dozen on the day, several of them singing.

Song Sparrow

We saw at least nine Swainson’s Hawks, but the closest views were of Red-tails.

Red Tailed Hawk

A Gray Catbird which emerged from the brush on the river bank:

Gray Catbird

An Eastern Kingbird, one of nine sighted on the day.

Eastern Kingbird

Another just-arrived migrant, and our first of the year – Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

Finally, we had a close fly-over by a group of five American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

We have only been taking groups to this area for a year or so, and it is a great addition to our repertoire of birding walks.

On June 8 we headed to Griffith Woods Park on the west edge of the city, along the Elbow River. (See this post for a map – one of Dan’s many posts about this park.) We spent a lot of time in the east end of the park, in the mixed woods along the river, before heading to the spruce forest farther west. Here are a few of the 37 species we saw that day.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay.

Female Cowbird

Female Brown-headed Cowbird.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird.

House Wren

House Wren.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Yellow Warbler1

Yellow Warbler.

On June 15 we went to the Weaselhead Natural Area. Our goal was to find two species of hummingbird. We were successful, and had 39 species for the day.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird.

Calliope Hummingbird1

Calliope Hummingbird2

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe1

Eastern Phoebe.

Rufous Hummingbird1

Rufous Hummingbird.

Rufous Hummingbird2

Rufous Hummingbird3

Rufous Hummingbird4

Rufous Hummingbird5

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee.