Inspired by Pat’s recent post about birding the irrigation canal in Calgary, I headed down last week to check it out. I started at the bridge on Gosling Way by the Inglewood Golf Course in southeast Calgary and headed south. I often bird this area in the summer, but I’ve never been there in the fall after the water flow is stopped in September. Trout Unlimited did their annual Fish rescue near the Max Bell arena on September 30. They remove a lot of the larger fish, which would die in the winter, but there are many small fish left in the canal. There is still quite a bit of standing water, and some mudflats and exposed mats of vegetation.
There was one Merlin in the trees on the west side of the canal, which took a run at a squirrel and then chased off a harassing magpie. Bald Eagles nest on the golf course and have overwintered here for the past few years, but I didn’t see them that day. As I walked south (still only about 100 metres from the bridge), I came across a group of eight Common Mergansers and two groups of Hooded Mergansers, twelve in all, including five adult males.
On the way back, some new birds had arrived. There were three Long-billed Dowitchers feeding in the canal (very late migrants), and then a group of six Rusty Blackbirds on the mudflats. These birds are not very common, and these were the first ones I’ve ever seen.
I returned to the canal on the weekend to get some photos and see what was new. Most of the same bird species were there, plus one male Redhead.
I also walked north from the bridge to the source of the canal north of the Max Bell arena. There were Mallards, Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, and a muskrat building a lodge in the middle of the canal. I’m not sure how he’ll make out when it gets colder – he’ll probably have to move to the open water on the river.
The canal is a great place for fall birds, and seems to get some late migrants. Lately it has been freezing over at night, and there are birds there only on warm afternoons.
The canal stretches east for many miles, so there is a lot to explore. It is also a good location to do Non-Motorized Transport birding, since there is a paved pathway running alongside it. In the summer I have ridden my bike all the way to Lake Chestermere (25 kms) and back, birding all the way.