Warm weather and signs of spring at Hull’s Wood and Burnsmead

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.

Hull's Wood and Burnsmead - February 15, 2015

Hull’s Wood and Burnsmead – February 15, 2015

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.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/125sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

male Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/125sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

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

European Starling Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

European Starling
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

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.

Displaying Northern Flickers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@400mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Displaying Northern Flickers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@400mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

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!

male Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Ring-necked Pheasant
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

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.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

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!

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

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.

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

And that’s a wrap for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!