Join Us For 2015 Competition!

eBird Calgary 2015 Birding Competition

We are now taking registrations for the eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition. Registration is free for Nature Calgary members until the end of December.

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary . Photo by Bob Lefebvre

This is a year-long effort in which participants try to see or hear as many species as possible within 80 km of Calgary. The competition is sponsored by Nature Calgary, and you can register now at this page.

All the details about the competition can be found at the 2015 Competition page on this blog (click the link or see the tab at the top of the page). There is also information on this Nature Calgary page.

Join us to meet new people, find new places to go birding, and see new birds!

Birding Call-in Show Today

Today, Friday December 19, CBC Radio 1’s Alberta@Noon show will feature local bird expert Sid Andrews taking calls from listeners about their bird sightings. The show starts just after the 12:30 news.

In Calgary, CBC is at 99.1 FM or 1010 AM.

Tundra Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Tundra Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Tundra Swans with Canada Geese by the Bow River. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The Magic of Winter Birding

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A recent article in the Calgary Herald’s Swerve magazine celebrates getting out to go birding in the winter in Calgary. The author, Tyee Bridge, has done an excellent job of capturing the magic of winter birding. The article includes 24 great photos by local photographers. Here is a link to the online version:

Birdwatching Isn’t Just For the Experts by Tyee Bridge

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Great Gray Owl. Photo by Logan Gibson

This article has already received a lot of praise from many birders. As Gus Yaki has pointed out, if you like the article and would like to see more like this in the future, you should send your comments to the publishers and let them know.

You can post a comment to the online article, but an email to Swerve might be more effective (or do both, as I have). Send to swerve(at)calgaryherald.com.

Snowy Owls of the Calgary Area

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Don Whittaker Feb 2014

Photo by Don Whittaker, February 2014.

We used to have a page on the blog in the winter months which gave details of every Snowy Owl sighting that we heard about that was within about 80 km of Calgary. Although that page was by far the most popular thing we’ve ever done, we stopped doing it for a few reasons. First, it was a lot of work every day to track down all reports of Snowy Owl sightings on Albertabird, the Alberta Birds Facebook Group, eBird, and any other source we could find. Second, there were some allegations that a few unethical birders or photographers had been baiting the owls, and we didn’t want to make it too easy for these people to find the birds.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Photo by Dan Arndt, February 2014.

However, I think that most birders and photographers in the Calgary area already know the best places to find the owls – generally speaking, east and northeast of the city. It is not hard to find that basic information on eBird, or on any birding or bird photography site. In this age of social media, all we can do is keep trying to educate people and encourage ethical birding and photography practices.

snowy_owl

Photo by Philip Kanwischer, December 2014

Recently Dan Arndt created an eBird site that shows all the eBird reports of Snowy Owls from October through December. Here is a snapshot of that page as of December 13. It gives a good idea of where the owls are being seen. (I’m sure there are Snowy Owls out on the prairies farther east and north of Calgary, but the reports reflect the large number of birders who live in Calgary and only travel as far as needed to find some owls.)

eBird Map Dec. 13

To view this eBird page with sightings up to the minute, click this link. The link will be available on our right-hand sidebar until the end of the Snowy Owl season in April 2015.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owls will sometimes sit on the ground, where they can be difficult to find against the snow, but most often they are on an elevated perch like a telephone pole, road sign, gas pipe, or tree. A little exploring on the backroads on the prairies will usually turn up at least a few this winter. Some birders have reported as many as fifteen owls in one trip. If you do go out looking, please keep a respectful distance and try not to to force the owls to fly.

Here are some more Snowy Owl photos that our readers have sent to us during the past year. All of the photos were taken in the Calgary area.

secondsnowy

Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

thirdsnowy

Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

snowy owl (9)

Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

snowy owl (10)

Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

March 2014

A light owl on a post. Photo by Tony LePrieur, March 2014.

2014 Tony L

A dark owl on a post. Photo by Tony LePrieur, November 2014.

image3 Tony L

A very dark owl in flight. Photo by Tony Leprieur, November 2014.

Finally, here is a sequence showing a Snowy Owl coughing up a pellet, from December 2013. All photos below by Moe Zaleschuk.

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MOE_8278

MOE_8279

MOE_8280

MOE_8281

MOE_8284

Winter Birding Course 2015

The Fall session of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding course has now wrapped up for another year, and once the Christmas Bird Count season ends, the Winter course will begin. This is a chance to get out to a local birding hotspot once a week with a group led by knowledgeable birders. Learn how to identify the winter birds of Calgary and, if you’re lucky, spot some rarities too.

Here is a link to all the information you need to join these outings: FFCPP Winter Birding Course

Winter is an ideal time for beginners to learn about the birds. There are no leaves on the trees, and fewer species around than in summer. Some of the winter birds occur in large flocks. Towards the end of the session, many of the spring migrants will be arriving.

 15916808891_d487030258_kGreat Horned Owl. Photo by Dan Arndt

Many of the leaders on these outings can also inform the participants about the history and the geology of our local parks, and can identify many of the plants, mammals, and mammal tracks that we encounter. In warmer weather, we also try to teach about the butterflies and other insects we see.

In the Fall course we collectively saw over 140 species of birds and 15 species of mammals, including Moose and Bobcat, all within the city limits. We hope to find these species and more in the Winter course.

 15492526437_4a233f2f0c_kBoreal Chickadee. Photo by Dan Arndt

Gus Yaki and the Friends of Fish Creek are hoping that more young people will get involved and begin to learn to appreciate nature. If you have a child, grandchild, niece or nephew who you would like to bring with you, they can register for only $5 for the whole session.

If you have any questions about the course please contact Chris at the Friends of Fish Creek, 403-238-3841 or email:  chris(at)friendsoffishcreek.org

Another season over, another Christmas Bird Count season begins!

Posted by Dan Arndt

My last week leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings on Sunday, November 30 for the Fall Birding course was a cold one. So cold, in fact, that there were really only two attendees, plus myself and the other leader. While the cold weather kept our numbers down, it really did bring the numbers and variety of birds up quite a bit!

Carburn Park November 30, 2014

Carburn Park
November 30, 2014

As we usually do at this time of year at Carburn Park, we spent most of the time along the river bank checking for waterfowl and raptors, with a little bit of time walking through the wooded areas in search of owls, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Along the first stretch of the river, we found a very large flock of Mallards taking shelter in the undercut banks of the Bow River, and thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our group, this male Ring-necked Duck popped out for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the deeper fog rising from the river.

Ring-necked Duck (r) and female Mallard (l) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Ring-necked Duck (r) and female Mallard (l)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

As we walked a little further, hundreds and hundreds of Mallards flew up from their shelter, but as we rounded the first corner, the Canada Geese came into view. From edge to edge of the gravel bars they began to shake off the frost and moving away from us as we approached.

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

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

As we walked along scanning the throngs of Canada Geese, we came across one little warm back channel where some ground water was flowing into the river, and harbored a pair of Killdeer. While they were flushed up, we caught sight of a few more Tundra Swans that were resting on the river. On our initial scan, we saw the adult Tundra Swan, but while reviewing my photos for this post, I noticed that we also had an immature Tundra Swan resting beside the adult.

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

Tundra Swan and Canada Geese – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Adult (l) and immature (r) Tundra Swans – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We made our way through the wooded area alongside the river, we stopped to feed some Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers in an area that I had just commented had been fairly devoid of much activity on my last few visits to the park. A very nice surprise indeed!

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

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

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

There are some situations where you just have to roll with the punches when it comes to photographing in poor weather, but sometimes it can have pretty interesting results. I shot this group of Bufflehead as they emerged from a fog bank near the north end of Carburn Park, just as we came back into view of the river.

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

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

When we got to the far north point of our walk, we watched an immature Bald Eagle eating something that it has plucked out of the river, and when I got my binoculars up to look at it, this Red-tailed Hawk looked to be scavenging whatever the eagle was eating, and then flew off to rest a little further away.

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

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

We had made it most of the way through the park before we stumbled across the local herd of White-tailed Deer who came rather close to us in search of some food. This young deer was particularly curious about us and followed us down the path for quite a ways before some other park-goers scared it back into the woods.

young White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

young White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A fitting end to the season was this brief sighting of one of the Great Horned Owls in Carburn Park, very likely one of the pair that have nested in the park for a number of years, but most recently right at the edge of the parking lot. It’s always good to see them still hanging around the area, and seemingly doing quite well for themselves.

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

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

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Christmas Bird Counts 2014

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Barred Owl in Fish Creek Park, Calgary, December 7, 2014. Photo by Tony LePrieur

The 115th annual Christmas Bird Count season runs from December 14, 2014 to January 5, 2015. There are many one-day counts taking place in the Calgary region. New participants are always welcome, and in many cases there are opportunities to contribute by watching birds at your feeder as well as by going out in the field. If you are interested in taking part, contact the count compiler.

There are over 2,600 Christmas Bird counts taking place this season. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding one near you on a date that you are available.

CBC circles

Just a few of the 2,600+ circles where counts are taking place this year. Calgary is near the centre of this screen shot, Edmonton near the top.

Here are details of a few of the nearby counts. You can find information on all of the Canadian counts on the Bird Studies Canada site, and more information on the Audubon site. If anyone can help fill in the blanks below or has updated information, please let us know at birdscalgary at gmail.com.

Location

Date

Compiler

Phone

Email

Calgary

Sun Dec 14

Phil Cram

403-228-4142

crampj at telus.net

Calgary Feeder Watchers

Sun Dec 14

Donna Wieckowski

403-276-7799

astolat at shaw.ca

High River

Tues Dec 16

Greg Wagner

403-333-1200

greg.wagner at athene.ca

Banff/Canmore

Sat Dec 20

Heather Dempsey

403-762-3056

hjdempsey at shaw.ca

Nanton

Sun Dec 21

Mike Truch

403-829-6986

mike_truch at shaw.ca

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Mon Dec 22

Yousif Attia

403-585-1125

ysattia at gmail.com

Horseshoe Canyon/Drumheller

Tues Dec 23

Mike Harrison

403-236-4700

tringa at telus.net

Cochrane

Sat Dec 27

Frank Hennessey

403-932-4986

Frankhennessey at gmail .com

Cochrane Wildlife Preserve

Sun Dec 28

Jamey Podlubny

svisser at ucalgary.ca

Sheep River/Turner Valley

Tues Dec 30

Doug Collister

403-637-2922

collistr at gmail.com

Fish Creek Park (1/2 day)

Thurs Jan 1

Jim Washbrook

403-613-9216

jwashbrook at prairiesky.ab.ca

Sundre (Snake’s Head)

Sat Jan 3

Doug Collister

403-637-2922

collistr at gmail.com

Exshaw

Sat Jan 3

Birding Competition Presentation

If you’d like to learn more about eBird Calgary 2015, the competition sponsored by Nature Calgary, please attend the Bird Study Group Speaker Series on Wednesday, December 3. The competition committee will present information about eBird, and the rules of the event. You will also be able to register in person to participate in this year-long activity.

In addition, Brian Elder will speak about how to get a good start on your winter birds list. This will be of interest to every local birder, whether you will be in the competition or not.

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Great Gray Owl. Find out where to go to look for these birds in the winter. Photo by Logan Gibson

Bird Study Group meetings are free and open to anyone. The doors open at 7:00 pm and the meeting starts at 7:30. It is held in Room 211 of the Biological Sciences Building at the University of Calgary.

Here is the Nature Calgary page which gives details of the location. Our Bird Study Group blog page also has information about the meetings.

Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

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

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

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

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

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

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

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

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

female Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Better late than never, right? After another washout at the Weaselhead last Sunday morning with minimal visibility, high winds, and few birds anywhere to be found, I figured I’d be better off saving these birds until today!

Brown-Lowery Provincial Park is about half an hour south-west of Calgary, just west of Priddis, and south of Bragg Creek. There are a number of great trails through the park, though some of the hills are not for the faint of heart. Old growth white spruce, lodgepole pine, and a few rather boggy areas gave me some memories of my trips this past summer to the boreal forests of Northern Alberta, but also provide absolutely perfect habitat for two of the rarer woodpeckers in the Calgary area, both the American Three-toed and the Black-backed Woodpecker, as well as a good number of Ruffed Grouse that were scared up by our intrusions!

Enjoy the pictures, and good birding!

male American Three-toed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male American Three-toed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

female American Three-toed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

female American Three-toed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male Black-backed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male Black-backed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Ruffed Grouse Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Ruffed Grouse
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park