The start of spring in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our spring birding sessions started off on a bit of a cooler note than the end of our winter course had been, but even though it was a bit duller and colder, the birds did not disappoint. We repeated our previous outing to the Weaselhead almost exactly, with a visit to North Glenmore Park to scope the reservoir and check on the Great Horned Owls we’d found there in late March.

Weaselhead - 4-3-2016

Weaselhead – April 3, 2016

The feeders seemed a little emptier that week, with most of the Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins having departed, but we did find one lone siskin feeding not at the feeders, but on the budding catkins on the trees bracketing the pathway.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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All the way down the hill and onto the bridge we were hard pressed to see anything nearby, with little rhyme or reason. The usual deluge of dog walkers, runners, and cyclists down into the Weaselhead was much diminished due to the weather, and yet the birds were still strangely absent. We crossed over the bridge and off to the deeper parts of the park when we quite nearly stumbled across this little Snowshoe Hare in the shrubs beside the path.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

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We watched it for a little while while it foraged, seeming not too shy of our presence, but attempting to at least stay a little bit hidden from our direct view. We soon headed off to our usual spot to listen for Boreal Chickadees when we were stopped dead in our tracks by the distant sound of a Ruffed Grouse drumming.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

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I’d been searching for this particular bird for quite a while, as I had found a few drumming logs that he had been displaying on recently on my last solo trip down here. Drumming logs can generally be identified by numerous piles of grouse scat on them, often around an area on the log where the bark has been stripped away. We caught sight of him about a forty meters away, and paused to let him get comfortable with our presence. Sure enough, when he was calm enough, he began his display once again.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

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Ruffed Grouse displaying

Ruffed Grouse displaying

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Ruffed Grouse drumming

Ruffed Grouse drumming

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Once we were satisfied that we’d all had a good view of his displays, we moved on and let him get back to wooing his grousettes (I’m sure that’s the technical term for it… or maybe it’s hens? I’ll stick with grousettes.) Again, the trees were quiet, and the activity was at a bit of a lull, but as birding often goes, sometimes its those quiet days that give the best experiences!

We did manage to catch a flock of Trumpeter Swans flying west off the Glenmore Reservoir just as we entered a clearing. Lucky for us!

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

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Back to the bridge we went again, and sure enough, our little Snowshoe Hare friend was feeding on the edge of the creek, this time a little bit bolder!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

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Since we had a few things to check out up at the top of the hill, we decided to bee-line it back to the parking lot to check out the ponds at North Glenmore Park. Along the way though, we did find a couple little highlights to the day.

This Red Squirrel was caught red-pawed at the exact same feeder we had seen a Least Chipmunk feeding from just a few weeks prior. It seems this bird feeder is the preferred site for rodent sightings!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

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Near the top of the hill, we also came across this American Robin singing away from near the top of a budding aspen.

American Robin

American Robin

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Back at North Glenmore Park, we found the proud papa Great Horned Owl resting peacefully with his mate nearby. No babies were visible yet, but soon enough those eggs would hatch and become some of the most adorable little fluff balls you’d ever see!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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And finally we took a few minutes to scan the Glenmore Reservoir, and boy was I glad we did! Far out on the reservoir one of the common perches for gulls and swallows were four species of gulls, and one of those was our first of the year. Lined up nicely were a California Gull (far left), a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, a Franklin’s Gull, and on the far right was a Herring Gull. It’s too bad these guys were so far off, because they sure were a nice sight to see after our slow day!

Gulls on a log

Gulls on a log

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Have a great week, and good birding!

Bonus Sunday Showcase: More Spring Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

More photos by Tony LePrieur of spring birds of the Calgary area, taken on the weekend of May 14-15, 2016. Great Blue Heron from Fish Creek Park, Swainson’s Hawk just south of Calgary, and the rest at Frank Lake.

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Great Blue Heron

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Tree Swallows

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White-faced Ibis

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Western Meadowlark

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Franklin’s Gull

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Common Tern

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Savannah Sparrow

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Northern Shoveler (male)

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Blue-winged Teal (male)

Do you have photos of birds from the Calgary region that you’d like to share? Send them to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them.

Sunday Showcase: Spring Birds of Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

These photos were taken on the weekend of May 7-8, 2016 by Tony LePrieur, in Calgary and at Frank Lake.

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Western Meadowlark

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Killdeer

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American Avocet

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Sora

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Red-necked Grebe on nest

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Cinnamon Teal pair

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Wilson’s Snipe

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Willet

Do you have photos of birds from the Calgary region that you’d like to share? Send them to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them.

 

Wee Little Nuthatch Nest Camera

Posted by Bob Lefebvre. Photos copyright by themorningsideoflife.ca.

An avid birdlover in Calgary has set up a nest box camera in her yard, affording great views of a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches that are trying to nest there. I say “trying” because after they brought in loads of nesting material, a pair of Black-capped Chickadees, working together very quickly,  moved in and cleaned it all out again. Then the nuthatches recaptured the box and are bringing in more grass and wood shavings to line their nest. (The chickadees settled into a different nest box in the yard.)

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One of the Nuthatches in the nest box, no doubt keeping a watch for Chickadees.

The nest box can be watched live on Ustream at this link. There are also many saved video clips that you can play to see what has happened up to now. The live camera is not always online, but it usually is during the daytime, and when it’s on you can comment on what you see using your Facebook or Twitter account. The nuthatches are most active at the nest from 6 to 10 am.

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The female nuthatch, named Lucy, at the nest box.

It will be extremely interesting to watch if they they do successfully have young. The vocalizations and behaviors recorded up to now are fascinating to see and hear. It’s a view of Red-breasted Nuthatches that we don’t usually get!

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The male nuthatch, named Ricky (of course), ready to drive off chickadees.

The camera link will be on on our right-hand sidebar throughout the nesting season, along with the Osprey and Peregrine Falcon camera links. The camera link can also be found at the camera owner’s blog, The Morning Side Of Life. Check it out for great bird photos. You can also find a link to her blog on our sidebar with the other blog links.

You might want to also check out a new Facebook group called Alberta Backyard Birds (& Feeder Watch) for more photos and discussion of yard birds.

Furry Friday: Tony’s Mammals

A selection of mammals seen in and around Calgary in the last few months.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

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Coyote pair, Weaselhead, October 18, 2015.

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Porcupine, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 25, 2015.

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White-tailed Deer, Carburn Park, January 31, 2016.

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White-tailed Deer, Carburn Park, January 31, 2016.

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White-tailed Jackrabbit, Queen’s Park Cemetery, January 31, 2016.

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Coyote, Weaselhead, January 31, 2016.

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Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 27, 2016.

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Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 7, 2016.

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American Mink, Fish Creek Park, November 16, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 15, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 15, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 16, 2015.

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And finally, a Feral Rabbit at Frank Lake, April 10, 2016.

Calgary Nest Cameras

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Peregrine Falcons have been back at the University of Calgary for a while now, and the female has laid four eggs. At the Calgary Zoo, the Ospreys are nesting on the platform there and have one egg laid. We have been lucky enough to be able to watch these birds raise their young via nest cameras for several years.

To see the Peregrines, go to this page and click the YouTube link.

The Zoo Osprey camera can be found at this page.

We will have a link to these sites on our right-hand sidebar throughout the breeding season.

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Osprey on the hunt. Photo by Dan Arndt.

If you want to see Ospreys in person, they can be found hunting almost anywhere along the river. There are many pairs nesting Calgary.

The Peregrines at the U of C can sometimes be seen perched on tall buildings on campus.

Hummingbirds are Back! Put out Your Feeders!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Yesterday Marion Smolinski decided to put up her Hummingbird feeders in her yard in SW Calgary. This morning, a Rufous Hummingbird was at the feeder. It is really early but Marion thought she would put out her feeders early due to the mild spring we’ve had.

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Rufous Hummingbird from a previous year. Photo by Dan Arndt

In Calgary the hummingbirds (Rufous, Caliope, and Ruby-throated) usually arrive back on about May 10. The way to remember when to put your feeders up is to do it on Mother’s Day.  Maybe if you have a feeder you should put it up now.

Of course we can still have hard frosts for quite a while yet so you may have to bring your feeder inside overnight if frost is forecast.

Due to their fast metabolism (the fastest of any animal that maintains a constant temperature), Hummingbirds are always just a few hours from death if they don’t have a food source. To conserve energy they enter a state of torpor when food is scarce and at night when not actively feeding, slowing their metabolism to 1/15 of its normal rate and dropping their body temperature to 18 degrees C from 40 degrees.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed much farther north than the other species and are able to tolerate overnight freezing temperatures. If the birds are here, they have likely followed the blooming of flowering plants and the availability of insects, and unless we get a prolonged cold spell with daytime temperatures below freezing, they will be able to survive. Putting a feeder out is mostly for the enjoyment of humans and is not necessary for the bird’s survival.

If you do have a feeder out, it is important to remove any perches so that the birds have to feed while hovering. I know it is nice to see them perched but it poses a danger this early in the year. When a bird comes out of its nighttime torpor and goes to a feeder, if it rests on a perch its metabolism may drop again, and since it can be much colder at an exposed feeder than at their nighttime roost, they can die of hypothermia.

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Anna’s Hummingbird at a feeder. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The bird in the above photo is perched on a ring on the feeder. I have one of these and have cut off the perching ring. Hummingbirds don’t need perches to feed.

The solution you put in your feeder should be made by boiling water and mixing one part white sugar (never brown sugar or honey) to four parts water, and then cooling it. It is not necessary to colour the liquid and that may actually be harmful. You don’t have to buy commercially available Hummingbird food, which is usually coloured red and can have nutrients added. Hummingbirds get all their nutrients from eating insects.

Good luck!

Volunteer for the WildResearch Nightjar Survey!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, southern Alberta - Photo by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, southern Alberta – Photo by Dan Arndt

WildResearch is seeking volunteers to survey for Common Poorwills and Common Nighthawks across Alberta. Due to their nocturnal habits, little is known about nightjars in Canada, and there is concern that their populations are in decline. Common Nighthawks are listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. Common Poorwills have been assessed as Data Deficient by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species (COSEWIC). Sign up for a survey route to help us learn more and conserve these unique species!

torpid Common Poorwill in the Okanagan - Photo by Mark Brigham

Torpid Common Poorwill in the Okanagan – Photo by Mark Brigham

Anyone with a vehicle and good hearing is capable of conducting a WildResearch Nightjar Survey! Signing up for a WildResearch Nightjar Survey route will require approximately two to three hours of surveying and one hour of data entry. Each route is a series of 12 road-side stops and needs to be surveyed at dusk once per year between June 15 and July 15. Routes are located along existing Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), and we would love to have help from existing BBS volunteers! Surveys will follow a new standardized national nightjar survey protocol. Data will be made publicly available on Bird Studies Canada’s NatureCounts portal.

Common Nighthawk nestling - Photo by Elly Knight

Common Nighthawk nestling – Photo by Elly Knight

To sign up for a survey route, check out the available routes in your area at www.nightjar.ca. Learn more about the program and find the survey protocol at http://wildresearch.ca/programs/nightjar-survey/. Email Elly Knight at nightjars.ab@wildresearch.ca for more information.

Common Nighthawk, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, August 2010 - Photo by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, August 2010 – Photo by Dan Arndt

Birds & Beers, April 2016

The next Birds & Beers social get-together will be held next Friday, April 29, at the Horton Road Legion. Come out for food, drinks, and informal chats about birds. Everyone welcome!

Royal Canadian Legion, Centennial Calgary Branch #285

9202 Horton Road SW

Friday April 30, 2016, 6:00-9:00 pm

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Spring is here! Sharp-tailed Grouse on a lek. Photo by Dan Arndt.

See the Calgary Chapter of Birds & Beers on Facebook at this link.

The end of Winter in the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

For our last outing for our Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding group, we headed to the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park to see what winter birds remained, and if any spring migrants had shown up around the Glenmore Reservoir and in the Weaselhead itself. While many of our winter birds had already left, a few die-hards were still around in good numbers, and we definitely were not disappointed with the numbers of spring birds we found all around the park.

Weaselhead - March 20, 2016

Weaselhead – March 20, 2016

We headed down into the Weaselhead first thing, checking the feeders along the way. I had headed down before our group to fill some of the feeders, and managed to spot an overwintering American Goldfinch, but when the rest of our group headed down as a whole all of the feeders were completely devoid of activity. Part of the reason for the vacancy is that now that the weather has turned, the birds were not quite as reliant on the feeders as insects had begun to hatch, and caches stored during the winter would provide plenty of food. We did have one little fellow who turned up, as always, at the tail end of the winter session.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

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Fresh from his winter hibernation, this Least Chipmunk seemed completely oblivious to our presence as he stuffed his face full of black-oil sunflower, peanuts, and various other seeds I’d placed at the feeder earlier in the morning. I just love how much character these little mammals have, and how single-minded they can be when they first wake up.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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While she wasn’t right at the feeder, this Hairy Woodpecker was hanging out nearby, hammering a hole in the side of this tree to pick out a tasty meal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

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A little further down the path and across the bridge we found this male House Sparrow and his mate picking out some twigs, grass and leaves to make their nest for the coming season. Given where they were loafing about, they may have even been considering setting up shop in one of the Cliff Swallow nests on the bridge!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Before we turned around to head back up the hill, we stopped and checked the logs and information signs that have been used all winter as a feeding station, and sure enough we found some American Tree Sparrows singing away in the brush, and coming out to feed. These little sparrows have an amazing song, and are just as striking to look at.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

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We headed back up the hill and off to the east end of the Glenmore Reservoir to find our returning migrants, and were not disappointed on the first pond. A pair of American Wigeon were floating along the back end of the pond, well away from the Canada Geese and Mallards who were clearly set up on their nesting territories closer in.

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

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While we were scanning the ponds for waterfowl, sparrows, and anything else we could find, we heard a flock of late White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees to the north, picking through the few remaining cones that had made it through the winter. Both males and females were in fine form, with the majority of the birds being immature, and as always, seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence.

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

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These Canada Geese seemed to have their feathers ruffled by the Mallards (in the shade of the rock on the left). It wasn’t until the Mallards had simply had enough and moved on that the geese left them alone. Seeing these inter-species interactions is always a treat, and late winter and early spring can lead to some great opportunities for this behaviour.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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Our best surprise of the day was coming across this male Great Horned Owl high up in a spruce trying to have a nap… until we disturbed him. He wasn’t pleased to see us. At all.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye (and a very confused Mallard) were still trying to display for the few remaining single females, though most others of their kind we’d found this late in the winter/spring season. Despite that, at least two of them seemed to making a positive impression!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

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One of our last birds of the day, and a great one at that, was this Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies that sang a bit for us, but also perched high up in the nearby bushes and allowed everyone very good looks.

The spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek is now well under way, so expect some new posts in the next few weeks from our more recent outings. Have a great week, and good birding!