The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.
Posted by Dan Arndt
For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.
One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.
The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.
Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.
Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!
At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.
Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.
As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!
After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.
We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!
As always, have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
While this winter here in Calgary has been relatively mild, the week leading up to our last outing on February 15 was particularly warm. It seemed that signs of spring were abundant, from the mating displays of not one but two species of woodpecker, the crowing of male Ring-necked Pheasants to announce their territories, to the sudden appearance of European Starlings, it truly seemed that the prediction by Balzac Billy of an early spring on Groundhog Day was holding true.
Most of the activity was along the Bow River, and so we headed over to scan the waterfowl on the gravel bars, where a few unusual ducks had been found earlier in the week, including a Redhead, Northern Pintail, and possibly the same Ring-necked Duck that had been seen earlier in the winter. While none of those much rarer ducks were around, we did manage to find a pair of male Lesser Scaup who were in the process of transitioning into their breeding plumage.
After spending some time looking for those other odd ducks, we headed east into the aspen stands along the banks of the Bow River at the south end of Burnsmead, and were delighted to watch as a trio of Downy Woodpeckers chased each other around the back of the stand. We watched the shenanigans for a little while before moving on, but stopped rather abruptly after hearing the call of a Killdeer, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk, then a Western Meadowlark, and sure enough above our heads was a small flock of European Starlings doing their full repertoire of imitation songs while investigating a number of potential nest holes. The light was absolutely perfect to show off the bright, iridescent colors of their breeding plumage, and the males were even starting to show a little bit of blue at the base of their bills
To add to the din of activity, this group of five Northern Flickers (four males and one female) were calling, flying and displaying for each other, showing off their bright salmon colored feather shafts.
We walked over to the recently repaired bridge, and as we approached, we saw a beautiful male Ring-necked Pheasant sitting pretty for us, and as we continued on, we heard a second male crowing to the east. While these two announced their territories on each side of the bridge, a third called from across the river just to make his presence known as well!
I’m always blown away by the variety of colors on these beautiful birds. Every color of the rainbow and more reflecting off of those head and breast feathers!
While there wasn’t too much on the river near the bridge, we headed back through the cacophony of starlings, woodpeckers and pheasants to find this young Bald Eagle sitting high in a tree right along the route we had just walked, only to be disturbed as a dog walker caught his attention and flushed him from his perch.
We headed from here to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and even further west in search of a Purple Finch that had been seen at some feeding stations in a poplar stand, but sadly came up empty. This area of the park though between the headquarters and Glennfield is always good for White-tailed Deer and today was no exception!
Just as we were wrapping up our walk, and preparing to head to our vehicles, this little Brown Creeper popped into view, called a few times, and disappeared into a dense spruce tree to finish off our day.
And that’s a wrap for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.
We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.
Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.
There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.
Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.
We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.
As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
The lower Bow River in Calgary, downstream of the weir, is a great spot for winter eagle-watching. There is a plentiful food source, consisting of dead or dying Canada Geese, Mallards, and other waterfowl. Among the tens of thousands of birds on the open parts of the river, there are always some that are sick or injured (some of them wounded by hunters). Bald Eagles will readily scavenge the dead birds.
The Bow River is warmed by runoff from the waste-water treatment plants and other city runoff. Because of this, the Bow below downtown Calgary is often the only large body of open water in the area during cold winters. (This has only been the case since about 1975. Before that, there were no waterfowl here in the winter since there was no open water. There were very few eagles seen here until about 2000, as they recovered from critically low numbers caused mostly by DDT poisoning.) These days, good numbers of eagles, mostly juveniles, are seen on the river in winter at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Inglewood Golf course, Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, and all the way down through Fish Creek Park. The largest concentrations seem to be at Carburn and Beaverdam.
When the wind is blowing from the west, as it often is, you can watch the eagles soaring right over your head. Here are some photos taken by John Stegeman on a Friends of Fish Creek outing in January.
Occasionally the eagles will gather in a small area and you see quite a number of them together. Here is a photo taken in January by Ron Friend.
A few years ago I saw fourteen juvenile Bald Eagles in one tree at Carburn Park. I mentioned this to Gus Yaki, and he said he had seen seventeen at once at Beaverdam Flats, and he once met a person from the adjacent Lynnwood neighbourhood who claimed he had a photo of an incredible thirty-one!! (He agreed to send Gus the photo but either couldn’t find it or lost the email address – if you’re out there, please send it to us!)
Thirty-one might be the unofficial Calgary record, but here we have an amazing photo of twenty-six Bald Eagles (and two Common Ravens) taken at Beaverdam in January 2009 by Ron Kube. (Click the photo to enlarge it. It can be hard to spot every last one, but there are indeed 26 eagles. The one that’s really hard to see is just above and to the right of the adult that is at 9 o’clock, a little in from the left edge. The ravens are together at the lower centre of the photo.)
Tomorrow, Family Day, will present a good opportunity to look for eagles in Calgary. Dan Arndt and Rose Painter are leading a Nature Calgary field trip to Carburn Park. See the Nature Calgary field trip page here.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
A welcome addition to the Calgary birding community is the Wild Bird Watcher site. This blog, by Brian “Hurricane” Smith, is dedicated to birding in Calgary. The blog consists mostly of interviews with local birders, and occasionally with experts from out-of-province. The interviews are in the form of podcasts (short audio files) that you can listen to right on the site, or download to your computer.
Recently there was an interview with Nature Calgary president Andrew Hart, and there is a new interview with our own Dan Arndt. Be sure to go to the home page and go through the archives and listen to previous interviews as well. The blog was started in September 2014, and there are nine podcasts so far. You can also subscribe to the blog so you get email notifications of all new posts.
Brian Smith is a long-time professional in audio and video production, broadcasting, and voice work, and this shows in the high quality of the podcasts.
The podcasts are sponsored by the Wild Bird Store, Calgary’s only store dedicated solely to wild birds.
The February Birds & Beers get-together will take place on Family Day, Monday February 16. The location is the Royal Canadian Legion #284, 606-38 Avenue NE Calgary. Everyone is welcome, including children. Drop in any time between 3 and 6 pm to talk about birds and birding! (After 6 pm the venue is adults-only.)
See the Facebook page here.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
The eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition is off to a good start. We had some very mild weather in January, so most of the participants were able to get out and get their lists started. We also had some very good birds in the area, and many Calgary-area birders were able to see Wild Turkeys, a Steller’s Jay, and even a Cassin’s Finch.
Wild Turkey, Millarville area, January 9, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.
As of today there are 87 people registered in the competition, 74 adults and 13 youths. We will still take registrations up until March 31, and we hope to eventually have over 100 participants.
One of our goals is to increase the use of eBird in the Calgary area, so that there will be a more complete record of the local bird populations and movements. In 2014, there were only twenty-five birders who submitted more than 52 eBird checklists in Calgary county (an average of one checklist a week), so we should be able to get that number way up.
In January there were 1,244 eBird checklists submitted in Calgary county, compared to 579 in January 2014. (This year’s number includes all eBirders, not just those in the competition. The entire competition circle includes parts of three other counties as well. But these numbers give you an idea of the increased usage of eBird.) Calgary county was the #2 county in all of Canada for the number of eBird checklists submitted in January, behind only Metro Vancouver. During 2014, Calgary rarely cracked the top 25. That result may be partly due to the mild weather we had here in January, so we’ll have to see if we keep up our high standing. So far in February, Calgary is #5.
Here are the top three birders in the competition in each category for January:
Adults – Experienced
- Brian Elder 69 species
- Phil Cram 58
- Blake Weis 57
Adults – Beginner
- Darlene Shymkiw 40
- Aphtin Perratt 36
- Graeme Mudd 26
- Rachel MacKay 16
- Aidan Vidal 40
- Ethan Denton 36
We have announced the first of our short challenges for the year – Winter Bird List. Prizes will be awarded in each of the categories above for the most species recorded from January 1 to March 31. So don’t wait for spring to get out birding!
Steller’s Jay, Bowness neighbourhood, January 2, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.
These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.
The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.
Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.
While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.
We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.
One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.
Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.
With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.
From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!
As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.
Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.
As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!
Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.
We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.
A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.
We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!
And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.
Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!