Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

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

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

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

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

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

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Birds of the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing was a visit to the recently drained Irrigation Canal, which runs parallel to the Bow River, and is an absolutely wonderful place to go birding in early October, while the canal is still draining. The weather was amazing, and so I decided that I was going to go out with both the Saturday and Sunday groups, and boy was I happy I did!

Western Irrigation Canal October 11-12, 2014

Western Irrigation Canal
October 11-12, 2014

Both days provided excellent light, great photographic opportunities, and a wide variety of birds, most of which were congregating around one of the main drainage outflows. The real highlight though was the interplay of light, fall colours, and beautiful birds up and down the canal on both days!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

All it takes is a combination of the right setting, the right speed, and the right background to turn a normally dull and overlooked bird into a great subject in flight. And then sometimes it’s just a Ring-billed Gull.

Green-winged Teal in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Green-winged Teal in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The low, slow moving water tends to attract a number of small pond ducks, and in some cases, some of the stragglers that haven’t fled south for the winter. Green-winged Teals don’t always leave Calgary in the fall, and quite often there are a pair or two in warm isolated backwaters somewhere around the city, but they’re always great to see in flight with their bright green speculum and erratic and hard to track flight patterns.

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

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

We also managed some good looks at a lone male American Wigeon on our Sunday walk, finally coming back into the green and white head patterning of his breeding plumage.

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

All along the sides of the canal are dozens of mountain ash trees, and everywhere we walked we could hear American Robins rustling in the bushes, on the ground, and amongst the foliage searching for berries to fatten up before many of them also fly south for the winter.

Hooded Mergansers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hooded Mergansers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Hooded Mergansers taking off Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Hooded Mergansers taking off
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

One of the best birds of the trip was this group of Hooded Mergansers, loafing about in the shallow water and maintaining a healthy distance from our group. Three males and one female had been seen most of the week, but by Sunday, the female had disappeared. Perhaps one of the many we saw at Elliston Park on the 19th?

I had taken a few minutes to let the group get ahead of me, and get myself down closer to the water to take the photos above, when an off-leash dog decided it was time to run into the water and chase the ducks! At least I was able to get a photo of these beautiful mergansers in flight as they took off in a flash!

 

Greater Yellowlegs in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Another of the highly abundant birds along the irrigation canal each autumn are the Greater Yellowlegs. Both Saturday and Sunday we counted more than 30 of these large shorebirds up and down the canal, most of them quite calm, but a few high-strung individuals would fly in and sound the alarm every once in a while, flushing a dozen or so at a time wherever they decided was just a little bit safer than where they just took off from.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This trio was an odd grouping. Two female Blue-winged Teal and a female Northern Shoveler were dabbling in the shallow water and offering us quite close looks at them without a care in the world.

Rusty Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Rusty Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Arguably the best bird of the Sunday walk was this female Rusty Blackbird, who only stuck around for a few short minutes while we watched. She quickly tired of us and our intrusion though, and flew downstream and out of sight. These birds are highly threatened, having lost 99% of their numbers in the last 30 years, and it’s rather unclear what the reasons are behind this decline. As such, it’s always a great treat to see them on their migration, or even up in their breeding habitat in the boreal forest.

That’s it for this week! Have a great one, and good birding!

The Latest From Fish Creek Park

Tony LePrieur photographed a nice variety of wildlife in the park on October 5.

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Pileated Woodpecker.

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Greater Yellowlegs.

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American Three-toed Woodpecker (male).

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Boreal Chickadee.

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White-breasted Nuthatch.

image8

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

image9

Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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American Robin (immature).

image11

Downy Woodpecker.

image13

Muskrat.

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White-tailed Deer.

Wednesday Wings: World Shorebirds Day (and other days!) at Weed Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Shorebirds are my thing. I love watching flocks of them wheel and turn in flocks of tens, hundreds, and even thousands at a time, so when I heard about the initiative of World Shorebirds Day, I immediately signed up for a few sites at one of my favourite shorebirding locations just outside the city. Leading up to it, there had been some great sightings of somewhat uncommon birds, and between July 29th and September 6th, I probably spent at least one day a week visiting it for at least a few minutes.

Killdeer Weed Lake July 29, 2014

Killdeer
Weed Lake
July 29, 2014

Early on, the usual shorebirds that breed in and around Calgary were abundant and relatively easy to find. Killdeer, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Spotted Sandpipers were everywhere, but as migration ramped up into mid-August, the shorebirding really began heating up.  The first Black-bellied Plovers were seen in early August, and by August 10th, just about every species of shorebird we can expect to move through the Calgary area was there to be counted!

Lesser Yellowlegs Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds! Weed Lake August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds!
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Baird's Sandpipers Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Baird’s Sandpipers
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones showed up at the lake in late August, and on my scouting weekend they turned up and I had a chance to get relatively close looks at them. One of the more colorful shorebirds that we get around here, I think!

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Willet Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Willet
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And if you ever need some sense of scale for some of these small but powerful fliers, my current phone is roughly the same size as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I’m not quite sure what caused the demise of this little fellow, but in the wild there are so many more things to be worried about than just predators. Disease, untreated injuries, or even simple medical anomalies can bring natural selection into play.

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And finally, after months of anticipation, the magical day arrived. Sadly the big numbers of shorebirds were nowhere to be found, though I did still get some good finds on the day!

American Avocet clearing its throat Weed Lake September 6, 2014

American Avocet clearing its throat
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Oh yeah, and I mentioned predators before, didn’t I? A pair of beautiful Peregrine Falcons were doing a great job of scattering the shorebirds that had stuck around. One of them even managed to snag a distant Lesser Yellowlegs while we watched on, and its mate gave us some good fly-bys as well!

Peregrine Falcon Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Thanks for reading, and good birding!

South Glenmore Reservoir with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

While we had some great finds yesterday many of them were off in the distance, or low in the brush, meaning that our ability to actually document many of them were few and far between. Sadly, I didn’t get more than a handful of photos from our outing, none of them worthy for me to post. As such, I’ll be making a supplemental tomorrow to review my outing to Weed Lake on World Shorebirds Day on September 6, and maybe a few bonus photos from there from earlier in the season.

Stay tuned!

Canal Closed to Water, Open for Birding!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The irrigation canal that begins by the Max Bell arena and runs through SE calgary had the water diversion shut off yesterday. As the water slowly recedes over the next week or so, a number of species of waterfowl and shorebirds will converge there to feed in the shallow pools left behind, and on the exposed weed beds and mud flats. Expect to see large numbers of common species like Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, but you might also see quite a few Greater Yellowlegs, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.

IMG_0472

The canal near Gosling Way, October 2011.

I have also seen Killdeer, Double-crested Cormorants, Long-billed Dowitchers, and the occasional Pied-billed Grebe and even some Rusty Blackbirds here. You can also see migrating sparrows and late Warblers in the trees and bushes along the canal.

IMG_0473

Birds on the canal between Gosling Way and 50 Avenue SE, October 2011.

Here is a link to a post by Dan Arndt from one of our FFCPP outings last fall, which includes a map of the area. I have found that the section from Gosling Way (the road to the Inglewood Golf Club) to 50 Avenue SE is the most productive, but you might also try going north from there towards the Canoe Club at 17 Avenue SE, or Park at the Max Bell Arena and walk south. There is a paved path all along the canal so it is also a good area to explore by bike.

Here is another old post about birding the canal.

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!

YouTube Preview Image

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.

image_2

Red-eyed Vireo.

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American Goldfinch.

image_4

Cedar Waxwing (juvenile).

image_5

Ovenbird.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

image_7

Tennessee Warbler.

From Fish Creek Park:

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Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile).

image_10

Belted Kingfisher (female).

image_8

American Mink.