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!

 

Gulls return to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing to Mallard Point on March 6th was really geared to look for the first arriving gulls. With the exceptionally warm winter, and with many sightings around the city the for the week leading up to it, it seemed certain that we would find at least a few of them on the extensive gravel bars there. We did manage to spot one, and had a few other nice birds, but the haze, rain(!) and low gloomy clouds made it tough to keep motivated through the morning!

Mallard Point - March 6, 2016

Mallard Point – March 6, 2016

The day was dark, dingy, drizzly and dreary. More typical of a morning in early April rather than March, but the early spring birds were beginning to return, and some overwintering birds were still around. I wasn’t particularly well dressed for the weather, and so we moved as fast as we could to try to stay warm. Here’s a tip: If you’re birding and the calendar says it’s still winter, it’s not t-shirt weather. Don’t try. You’ll freeze.

California Gull

California Gull

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Our first gull of the season, and our only one of the whole day, was a solo flyby of a single California Gull. This is usually the first species that shows up in late February or early March, sometimes in small single digits, and very quickly joined by dozens of others over the following few weeks. Mallard Point is a great spot to find them most years, but in colder years when the Bow River is frozen up a little more, it is one of the few open gravel bars in the south end of the city. This year though, the entire river has been open for pretty much the entire winter, so they haven’t been found in any significant numbers within the city.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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This young Bald Eagle was perched off in the distance when we arrived, took a few flights up and down the river, then came right back to this spot. Another observation of the mild winter, these eagles have been able to spread out all along the length of the Bow River through Calgary, while in colder years we tend to find them grouped up in areas downstream of water treatment facilities, such as Beaverdam Flats, Carburn Park, and downstream of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Some years we see as many as twenty in a single morning outing!

White-throated Sparriw

White-throated Sparrow

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White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

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Chirping away under the feeders at the houses on the east edge of Mallard Point was this White-throated Sparrow. Last spring around this time we found another member of this species less than a hundred meters away from here. I often wonder when we have sightings like this if it’s the same bird coming back winter after winter to the same spot. I guess there are a few ways one could research it though!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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There were quite a number of Northern Flickers calling, drumming and displaying throughout the morning, so many that there was a “high count” trigger on eBird when we went to submit the list! It’s always fun to watch them fly from tree to tree displaying and chattering at each other at this time of year, but not necessarily as much fun if they’re doing it outside your bedroom window first thing in the morning, or on the heating vent on the roof!

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

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This beautiful pair of Common Mergansers was further down the river, the male in his full bright white and iridescent dark green breeding plumage, and the female showing off her fancy head crest. Soon, she’ll be swimming along with a dozen or more young in tow, trying to keep them safe from the many predators both above and below the water.

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

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Our last bird for the day was this beautiful male Downy Woodpecker, who perched nearby and began drumming away while we watched. While he didn’t call in a female while we were there, his energy and persistence was rather obvious, and I’m certain he’s paired up by now and building a nest somewhere nearby.

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

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You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

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It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

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A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

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With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

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Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Birds & Beers March 2016

The March Birds & Beers event will be held next Friday, March 18, from 6 to 9 pm. We will meet at the usual location, the Royal Canadian Legion at 9202 Horton Road SW. Everyone is welcome to come out for food, drinks, and discussions about anything relating to birds and birding.

This month, Melanie Senerviratne will speak about the upcoming Calgary May Species Count. If this is something you want to take part in, come out and sign up to count birds on May 28-29!

Calgary Birds & Beers Chapter on Facebook.

Ring-billed Gull

The Gulls are back. Come and discuss other Spring arrivals at Birds & Beers. Photo by George Best.