Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 11 – Elbow River Bird Walk

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This week we had a great forecast, great weather, and incredible birds. The bird of the day, if one had to pick, would be the Bohemian Waxwing. Thousands of these beautiful birds swarmed the skies overhead, and there was barely five minutes in the entire walk where one wouldn’t have been able to see at least a small flock somewhere nearby. The area we covered this week was right in the heart of Calgary, following the Elbow River, and weaving our way through the surrounding community. It was a day rife with new migrants. Pine Siskins, American Robins, and Dark-eyed Juncos were new year birds for most of us, making us even more certain that spring is finally here, and migration is in full swing.

Elbow River Bird Walk

Elbow River Bird Walk

Our day got started with a pair of Brown Creepers chasing each other around the poplars. This one seemed completely fearless of our group and allowed me my best Brown Creeper photos to date.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

As we headed over to the bank of the Elbow River, we spotted this lone Bald Eagle across the river, and as some of our group closed the distance to our side of the river bank, an adult Northern Goshawk was flushed by our presence and flew upstream. Sadly I didn’t get a shot of that one, but I did manage a few of the Bald Eagle as a consolation.

Adult Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle

Looks like he's noticed us.

Looks like he’s noticed us.

Following the river bank north, we saw flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings, hundreds and hundreds filled the sky. There were also many Canada Geese flying over and heading to the northeast, but the sheer constant numbers of Bohemian Waxwings stole the show. Here’s just one example of how many there were, and this was with my lens pulled all the way back to 150mm.

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

A bit further up the river we stopped to observe a pair of White-winged Crossbills on the ground, but this little Red-breasted Nuthatch was working away excavating a nest hole over our heads.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Away from the river now, we managed to see a few American Robins. We had heard them across the river on our walk up to this point, but hadn’t really seen any. Once we found the food supply for the waxwings, we also found the American Robins taking advantage of the mountain-ash berries for their dinner.

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin

American Robin

And of course, a few closer looks at the ever present Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

Shortly after Gus had explained that they had been treated to views of small flocks of the waxwings being chased down by a Merlin, this little beauty popped up above us.

Merlin

Merlin

With the first quarter of our walk behind us, we continued to be regaled with the flight calls of the waxwings, a number of American Robins, House Finches, and even a few Northern Flickers here and there. We did have a lucky find with a very small group of Bohemian Waxwings down low to the ground, again allowing us better photos and closer views.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Our last new bird of the year, and also of the day, was a trio of Wood Ducks under the edge of this bridge, a smaller number than have been seen here in the past that overwintered along this stretch of the Elbow River, but still a good number of these birds for this time of year.

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Next week will bring our winter walks to a close, but that just means the start of a new spring birding course the week after. I can’t wait to see what we find this time around!

Have a great week, and good birding!