Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on March 15, 2015 was a bit chillier than we’ve been accustomed to the past few weeks, but it didn’t dampen our spirits on the slightest. In fact, we had quite a few new spring arrivals to keep us busy in the park, and to keep our eyes and ears attentive all morning long!

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes just the right light and the right conditions to make a relatively normal and common bird stand out. It was no different with the Mallards we saw occasionally at their namesake area in Fish Creek Provincial Park. With their bright green iridescent heads, bright yellow bills and curly tail feathers, they do take on a character of their own in the spring!

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were also greeted along our walk by quite a number of American Robins feeding in the nearby trees. Some on some Mountain Ash, some on local crab apple trees, and a few just sitting pretty and singing away. It’s really nice to see these guys back again! Pretty much all of the American Robins we found were males, which is exactly what we’d expect this time of year as they return from their overwintering grounds and establish territories. It’s usually the first early birds on the block that get the most coveted territories, so for them it pays to stay as close to ones own breeding grounds as possible. While many non-birders consider them the true harbinger of spring, it’s a well documented fact that there are quite a few of them that spend the winter right here in Calgary!

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for us to have any gulls stick around over winter. They usually depart in mid- to late- November and return in early March. The two species that tend to show up the soonest are both the Ring-billed and the California Gull, both of which were present on the Bow River on our walk that Sunday morning.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

California Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

California Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were delighted to find a couple of surprises on our walk though as well, the first being a lone Song Sparrow, giving chip calls and high pitched “seep” calls while it foraged under the overhanging sections of the river bank, and in a small willow nearby. While it didn’t sing, it did respond to both pishing and a quick call playback by popping up into view allowing a few of us to get both good looks, and a few good close pictures of it!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The second was a White-throated Sparrow hanging around a yard full of typical feeder birds, both House Sparrows and House Finches. Once again it was the diagnostic chip notes that made its presence known to us, and it did take a little while to pick it out from the underbrush. Once we had it found though, a little playback of chip notes and a bit of pishing brought it out into the open as well!

White-throated Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the last leg of our journey one of our group drew our attention to a hawk-shaped outline in the trees bordering on the edge of the park. Its large size and relatively identifiable coloration pointed out the species to us right away, it’s just unfortunate that a couple of walkers passed right underneath it and flushed it from its perch just as we were getting into the open. Hopefully you can make the ID on this bird as well as we were able to!

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It seems like every week more and more birds are arriving back in our beautiful city, and soon the leaves will be out on the trees and the warblers, vireos, and flycatchers of summer will be nesting, laying eggs, and raising their young!

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

Mammals abound at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing at Votier’s Flats was rather incredible. With extremely warm, spring-like temperatures, it seemed that things were really going to start picking up. Mammals were all active and out of their winter slumber (or at least their winter shyness), and a few birds even looked like they were preparing to begin their preparations for nesting!

Votier's Flats March 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats
March 8, 2015

Early on, I got separated from our group and took a little detour, only to find one of the White-tailed Deer that are resident to this area of the park stopped right in the middle of the pathway in front of me. I probably should have taken this as a cue that a group of fifteen people hadn’t just walked by this way, but what can I say? Daylight Saving Time had just occurred the night before, and maybe I was a little bit tired from losing an hour’s sleep. Either way, this deer didn’t really even seem to mind my presence this close to her, so I took the opportunity to take a portrait.

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

After a few missed directions and a bit of miscommunication, I did finally find our group just as this little American Mink came out of hiding and scampered across the ice in front of us.

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The morning was still quite good for birds though, but it seemed that being out and about so early in the day made the mammal observations come rapid fire. Around the corner and a little west from where we spotted the mink, we found this Snowshoe Hare, entirely frozen in place as we walked by, only to run off as soon as the last of our group passed by it.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we came out of the woods and into a small clearing, we had some great views of a Townsend’s Solitaire, who responded quite readily to a recorded call, giving us some of the best views any of us had ever had of this beautifully grey bird.

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

We walked for a while in the mixed woods of this part of Fish Creek Provincial Park seeing or hearing the occasional distant woodpecker, raven, or flyover of geese, but we did stop for a few minutes below Raven Rocks to observe a few Canada Geese who appeared to be picking out nest spots right on the edge of the sandstone outcrops of the Porcupine Hills formation.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose on the rocks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we reached the westernmost part of our walk before turning and heading to finish out our day, we scanned the trees for Northern Pygmy Owls, Northern Goshawks, or any of the other typical birds we find in that area, and sure enough we found an immature Northern Goshawk flying far above us, circling a nearby neighborhood.

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Furry Friday: Flying Squirrels

Update: For the first time, the group (45 people) did not get to see the Flying Squirrels on March 20, and we didn’t hear any Saw-whet Owls either. It was a very humid, misty, foggy night with the temperature near freezing, so that may have had something to do with it.

—————-

Posted by Bob Lefebvre, all photos by Dan Arndt

Next Friday, March 20, Dan Arndt and I will lead the annual Nature Calgary outing to the Weaselhead to see Northern Flying Squirrels. This is a popular outing, likely because people don’t often get an opportunity to see these animals. It can also be challenging, because we often have to wait for over an hour in the cold and dark before the squirrels make an appearance. But if you are patient there is a very good chance you will see these elusive creatures. In over a dozen trips to see them, I think we have only missed them twice. We generally get to see them glide, and we see them up close at a particular bird feeder which they apparently visit each night, looking for seeds that the birds have overlooked (we re-stock the feeder just before the field trip so that they will stay and feed for a while).

For birders, we often hear Northern Saw-whet Owls and sometimes other species.

If you want to join us, we meet at the north Weaselhead parking lot, 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, at 8 pm, Friday March 20. Here is the information about the field trip on the Nature Calgary site.

Many people are not even aware that we have flying squirrels in Calgary (I wasn’t until we saw one at this location in 2008), but they are in fact common throughout the boreal forest, and probably in the city as well. Because they are nocturnal they aren’t often seen.

Most of the photos below were taken last spring on one of our scouting trips. We set up in the bush within ten feet of the feeder, and were able to get great looks. All photos by Dan Arndt, March 26, 2014, except as indicated.

Below is a Northern Flying Squirrel approaching the feeder after landing higher in the tree. You can see the wide flattened tail which acts as a rudder and as an additional gliding surface. (This photo taken March 23, 2012, by Dan Arndt.)

7016668535_a244c914de_k

The next shot shows the large eyes and the furred flap of skin with a dark edge between the wrist and ankle. This is called the patagium, and it forms the main gliding surface when the legs are extended. (This photo was taken by Dan Arndt on March 17, 2012.)

6845804004_1123d30605_k

Below, a Northern Flying Squirrel at the feeder:

13440578834_7aa6b41fba_k

Below, Feeding. Note the patagium extending from the forward part of the wrist. There is a cartilaginous rod several centimeters long (inside the patagium) jutting out from the wrist, which helps to support the skin.

13440577024_1e3b75555a_k

The remaining photos were actually taken before the 2014 flash photos above. We use a red light to locate the squirrels. Apparently they can’t see these wavelengths, so it doesn’t disturb them, and we can see them approach. Once they are feeding they settle in and are more tolerant, and do not usually leave even when you use flash photography or approach them more closely.

13440191495_540eda3a19_k

13440318353_3483f86227_k

13440569014_ef7254c9b3_k

13440573674_af7428fc63_k

13440574974_ff7d7dd524_k

Here is another post that Dan wrote after our 2012 field trip: Barred Owls and Flying Squirrels.

More facts about the Northern Flying Squirrel:

  • occurs throughout the forested regions of Canada, except Vancouver Island and the island of Newfoundland
  • absent from the treeless arctic and great plains
  • the similar Southern Flying Squirrel occupies the eastern US and parts of southern Ontario and Quebec
  • the Southern species is rapidly expanding northwards, and is hybridizing with the Northern
  • since Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal and shy, they are often thought to be scarce, but are in fact well distributed and and common
  • with a population density of 0.1 to 3.5 squirrels per hectare, they likely have the highest total population of any squirrel species in Canada. This is a minimum of 260 squirrels per square mile in the poorest parts of its range, up to over 900 per square mile in food-rich areas
  • they are active all year, and breed from March to June
  • usually nest in tree cavities (abandoned nests of other squirrels or birds), but may construct a drey in summer
  • are clumsy walkers
  • can glide up to 65 metres, dropping about 1 metre for each 2 metres of glide length
  • are very maneuverable, able to make a 90-degree turn in flight, or even to corkscrew around a tree and land on the same tree at a lower point
  • after landing on a tree, they immediately scurry around to the other side, in case they are being pursued or watched by a predator
  • are preyed upon by owls, hawks, weasels, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, lynx, wolves, foxes, cougars, and domestic cats
  • are especially vulnerable to large nocturnal owls like Great Horned and Barred Owls
  • in Oregon, Northern Flying Squirrels make up about 50-60% of the diet of the endangered Spotted Owl, which consumes an average of 260 squirrels per owl per year
  • Northern Flying Squirrels eat mainly fungi (especially truffles) and lichen, along with seeds and nuts of trees. They supplement this with fruit, tree sap, buds, insects, small birds and eggs, small mammals, and carrion
  • they are a keystone species, vital to their environment due to their feeding activities which disperse tree seeds and the spores of symbiotic fungi throughout the forest

Join us next Friday for a chance to see these amazing animals!

My main source for information on Northern Flying Squirrels was the excellent book The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton.

Sunday Showcase: Hawk versus Kingfisher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding course field trips last fall, we were treated to an amazing chase in the Weaselhead Nature Area. We were in the woods just past the bridge over the Elbow River when I heard the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. We hurried back to the river to try to see this bird, which, given the late date (November 8) was likely attempting to overwinter in Calgary, as they sometimes do.

1

Belted Kingfisher (male) perched bedside the Elbow River, Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

Suddenly the Kingfisher took flight, and a small hawk appeared and gave chase. We later identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. In all, it tried five times to catch the Kingfisher out of the air, with a short break between attempts three and four, during which both birds rested on nearby perches. The Kingfisher actually moved to a perch closer to the Hawk, apparently to keep a better eye on its movements.

The amazing part of this chase was the the Kingfisher escaped each time the Hawk got really close by splashing down in the river! Then the Hawk would pass by, and the Kingfisher would emerge form the water, calling loudly. Of course, Kingfishers hunt in this way, diving into the water after small fish, but Sharpies are used to catching their prey in the air. The Hawk didn’t want to get its feet wet, and never managed to get its meal.

A couple of the people on our walk got a few photos of this encounter.

2

Sharp-shinned Hawk (above) and Belted Kingfisher (below). Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

3

Kingfisher splashdown! Photo by Trevor Churchill

6

Photo by Trevor Churchill

5

Photo by Trevor Churchill

IMG_3367a

Resting for the next attack. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3316a

Another try. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3319a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3347a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3348a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3351a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

4

A hungry and frustrated Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Trevor Churchill

The 12-week Spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins on March 30, 2015. See this post for more information.

The many and varied signs of spring at Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week in Fish Creek and the signs of spring were all around us. While the morning was the coldest one of the week, topping out at -2 Celcius, the starlings were practicing their imitation calls, the Great Horned Owls were comfortably hunkered down in their nests, and the waterfowl were courting in preparation for the breeding season to come.

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

Our goals were to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls in the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, hopefully see some other waterfowl and early migrants along the river, and whatever else we might find in our travels.

We found one of our first targets less than fifteen minutes after our walk started. After checking out the waterfowl near the boat launch, we headed west into the grove of trees near Sikome Lake, where for the last five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have successfully fledged two or three owlets each year. While mom was well hidden, we did find dad out on one of his regular roosts a few dozen meters away from the usual nest site with a good view of the surrounding area. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t see him, and kept peeking one eye open from time to time as we walked by.

Great Horned Owl (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We did a loop around the east edge of the lake looking for a shrike, woodpecker, or nuthatches, but found relatively few small birds in their usual spots that morning, and it wasn’t until we got down to the bridges over the Bow River that we finally found something worth shooting. The Rock Pigeons nest under this bridge every year, and it’s one of the most reliable places in the park to find this urban species. They are quite often overlooked as “trash birds”, but they still have some rather amazing coloration on their breast feathers.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

As has been fairly regular this winter, we did get a flyover of a few Bald Eagles along our walk. As these eagles would fly over, the reaction from the waterfowl on the river would be quite varied. In some cases, only a couple would flush up off the water, but when a hungry eagle would pass over, the river would be almost entirely devoid of birds a few moments later. It’s amazing that they can tell whether the eagle is actively hunting, or just passing through at that distance. Does this Bald Eagle look like a hungry one, or a sated one to you?

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We also found a pair of Common Ravens putting together a nest in the same tree where they had nested the last few years. Whether these are the same pair as before, one of their offspring, or just another pair nesting in a particularly enviable nesting location, it was great seeing them going through the motions of preparing their nest for the year.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Coming back under the bridge, we also spotted the male Common Goldeneyes displaying for the few females that may still be unpaired, and among a small group of Common Goldeneye, a single immature Barrow’s Goldeneye stood out from the rest.

Common Goldeneyes displaying Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneyes displaying
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow's (middle) Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow’s (middle) Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Once we were done our loop at the south-east end of the park, we headed up toward the Headquarters building to find a second pair of Great Horned Owls, and to see if we could find any of the early arriving waterfowl that we missed out on a few weeks ago.

We did (barely!) find the Great Horned Owls in this area as well, though the female was very well hidden!

Great Horned Owl (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We walked over to the river after coming up with our second owl pair of the morning, and as we came over the rise, this is what we saw.

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Can you spot the pair of Lesser Scaup? We also spotted the male Northern Pintail that has been hanging around this area for what might have been all winter long. A handsome male in full breeding plumage disappeared on us a few times as we worked on finding it and re-finding it for the time we were there scanning the group!

Northern Pintail (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Northern Pintail (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

And that’s another week down before the real spring migration blitz comes our way! Have a great week, and good birding!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Warm weather and signs of spring at Hull’s Wood and Burnsmead

Posted by Dan Arndt

While this winter here in Calgary has been relatively mild, the week leading up to our last outing on February 15 was particularly warm. It seemed that signs of spring were abundant, from the mating displays of not one but two species of woodpecker, the crowing of male Ring-necked Pheasants to announce their territories, to the sudden appearance of European Starlings, it truly seemed that the prediction by Balzac Billy of an early spring on Groundhog Day was holding true.

Hull's Wood and Burnsmead - February 15, 2015

Hull’s Wood and Burnsmead – February 15, 2015

Most of the activity was along the Bow River, and so we headed over to scan the waterfowl on the gravel bars, where a few unusual ducks had been found earlier in the week, including a Redhead, Northern Pintail, and possibly the same Ring-necked Duck that had been seen earlier in the winter. While none of those much rarer ducks were around, we did manage to find a pair of male Lesser Scaup who were in the process of transitioning into their breeding plumage.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/125sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

male Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/125sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

After spending some time looking for those other odd ducks, we headed east into the aspen stands along the banks of the Bow River at the south end of Burnsmead, and were delighted to watch as a trio of Downy Woodpeckers chased each other around the back of the stand. We watched the shenanigans for a little while before moving on, but stopped rather abruptly after hearing the call of a Killdeer, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk, then a Western Meadowlark, and sure enough above our heads was a small flock of European Starlings doing their full repertoire of imitation songs while investigating a number of potential nest holes. The light was absolutely perfect to show off the bright, iridescent colors of their breeding plumage, and the males were even starting to show a little bit of blue at the base of their bills

European Starling Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

European Starling
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

To add to the din of activity, this group of five Northern Flickers (four males and one female) were calling, flying and displaying for each other, showing off their bright salmon colored feather shafts.

Displaying Northern Flickers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@400mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Displaying Northern Flickers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@400mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

We walked over to the recently repaired bridge, and as we approached, we saw a beautiful male Ring-necked Pheasant sitting pretty for us, and as we continued on, we heard a second male crowing to the east. While these two announced their territories on each side of the bridge, a third called from across the river just to make his presence known as well!

male Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

I’m always blown away by the variety of colors on these beautiful birds. Every color of the rainbow and more reflecting off of those head and breast feathers!

While there wasn’t too much on the river near the bridge, we headed back through the cacophony of starlings, woodpeckers and pheasants to find this young Bald Eagle sitting high in a tree right along the route we had just walked, only to be disturbed as a dog walker caught his attention and flushed him from his perch.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

We headed from here to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and even further west in search of a Purple Finch that had been seen at some feeding stations in a poplar stand, but sadly came up empty. This area of the park though between the headquarters and Glennfield is always good for White-tailed Deer and today was no exception!

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Just as we were wrapping up our walk, and preparing to head to our vehicles, this little Brown Creeper popped into view, called a few times, and disappeared into a dense spruce tree to finish off our day.

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

And that’s a wrap for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!

 

 

 

Spring Birding Course 2015

The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.

Spring Birding Course 2

Birds of the Boreal in Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.

Shannon Terrace - February 8, 2015

Shannon Terrace – February 8, 2015

We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.

male Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.

There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.

Northern Goshawk pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.

Pine Grosbeaks Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Pine Grosbeaks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Eagles of Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The lower Bow River in Calgary, downstream of the weir, is a great spot for winter eagle-watching. There is a plentiful food source, consisting of dead or dying Canada Geese, Mallards, and other waterfowl. Among the tens of thousands of birds on the open parts of the river, there are always some that are sick or injured (some of them wounded by hunters). Bald Eagles will readily scavenge the dead birds.

11281326655_fd22bd9a73_kNear-adult Bald Eagle eating a Mallard, Beaverdam Flats, December 8, 2013. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The Bow River is warmed by runoff from the waste-water treatment plants and other city runoff. Because of this, the Bow below downtown Calgary is often the only large body of open water in the area during cold winters. (This has only been the case since about 1975. Before that, there were no waterfowl here in the winter since there was no open water. There were very few eagles seen here until about 2000, as they recovered from critically low numbers caused mostly by DDT poisoning.) These days, good numbers of eagles, mostly juveniles, are seen on the river in winter at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Inglewood Golf course, Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, and all the way down through Fish Creek Park. The largest concentrations seem to be at Carburn and Beaverdam.

When the wind is blowing from the west, as it often is, you can watch the eagles soaring right over your head. Here are some photos taken by John Stegeman on a Friends of Fish Creek outing in January.

Bald Eagle adult 2Adult Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle adult 1Adult Bald Eagle, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle juvenileJuvenile Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Occasionally the eagles will gather in a small area and you see quite a number of them together. Here is a photo taken in January by Ron Friend.

Eagles- Beaver Dam Flats-Jan 21,2015 029Five Bald Eagles and four Common Ravens in one tree, Beaverdam Flats, January 21, 2015. Photo by Ron Friend.

A few years ago I saw fourteen juvenile Bald Eagles in one tree at Carburn Park. I mentioned this to Gus Yaki, and he said he had seen seventeen at once at Beaverdam Flats, and he once met a person from the adjacent Lynnwood neighbourhood who claimed he had a photo of an incredible thirty-one!! (He agreed to send Gus the photo but either couldn’t find it or lost the email address – if you’re out there, please send it to us!)

Thirty-one might be the unofficial Calgary record, but here we have an amazing photo of twenty-six Bald Eagles (and two Common Ravens) taken at Beaverdam in January 2009 by Ron Kube. (Click the photo to enlarge it. It can be hard to spot every last one, but there are indeed 26 eagles. The one that’s really hard to see is just above and to the right of the adult that is at 9 o’clock, a little in from the left edge. The ravens are together at the lower centre of the photo.)

Ron Kube 26 eaglesAdult and juvenile Bald Eagles (26) and Common Ravens (2). Beaverdam Flats, January 3, 2009. Photo by Ron Kube.

Tomorrow, Family Day, will present a good opportunity to look for eagles in Calgary. Dan Arndt and Rose Painter are leading a Nature Calgary field trip to Carburn Park. See the Nature Calgary field trip page here.