Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just before Christmas I had to send my long lens (Sigma 150-500mm) in for repair, so am back to using my original birding lens, my Sigma 70-300mm. As such, I can’t get quite as close to the birds as I used to, but it does allow me to have a bit better control over framing more “artsy” shots, but also making do with what I’ve got to use, rather than relying on the reach of the lens to make the image better. I do hope that I managed to do that well with the few photos I was able to take on the Dinosaur Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count, and the annual New Years Day Fish Creek Provincial Park Bird Count.

While it’s a great area to bird in both the summer and winter, the day we headed out there (December 30) was bitterly cold, and it seemed that the birds were nowhere to be found. In previous years, there were a few groups covering the whole area, but this year Nick Bartok and I were the only two out on the count so we had to cover the entire count circle, giving us only enough time to see and hear the birds we could observe from the car. What that meant for us was that we would miss out on a lot of the smaller birds we usually would hear on a walked route, but it did mean we got to cover way more area.

The cold weather made shooting from the vehicle a little tough, with the heat distortion from the vehicle and from the heat radiating off the snow from the bright sunlight, but I managed a few shots.

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/5.6|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of the first good birds of the day was this Great Horned Owl that we stumbled upon while driving down one back road east of Patricia.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

By far, the most numerous birds that we found on the Dinosaur Provincial Park count were Sharp-tailed Grouse. They seemed to be everywhere in the trees and shrubs nibbling on the buds for their breakfast and lunch!

Back in Calgary, the Fish Creek Provincial Park New Years Day Bird Count was a little bit (but not too much!) warmer, but we got a few good birds to start off the year.

Great Horned Owl - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Great Horned Owl – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Brown Creeper - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Brown Creeper – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

At the Ranche, the usual pair of Great Horned Owls were present, along with a great opportunity to see the elusive Brown Creeper as the sun came over the horizon.

Sikome Lake - January 1, 2016

Sikome Lake – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 70mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

The snow covered poplars at Sikome Lake made for a great backdrop to see all these great birds.

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Mallards in flight - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards in flight – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 160|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Bald Eagle - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Bald Eagle – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

The usual accumulations of waterfowl along the Bow River were no exception to the rule, and there were even a couple of great surprises in the water, including an American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and more than a few Common Mergansers. A couple of fly-bys of Bald Eagles flushed many of the birds up briefly, but they soon came back down into the water at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River.

American Robin - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

American Robin – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Hermit Thrush - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

Hermit Thrush – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

At the compilation lunch, Bob and I waited around to hear if there had been any particularly noteworthy observations, and when we heard that a Hermit Thrush and American Robins had been seen at the water outflow at Shaw’s Meadow, we headed over there right away. It took us a while of watching the American Robins and got to see them feeding in the water, and finally got a great look at the Hermit Thrush, but only briefly. Two shots later, it disappeared into the deep brush, but it was more than long enough to get a look at the bird, identify it, and snap a few frames.

While normally this post would be a recap of the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek outings, I was away for that first trip, so keep an eye out for my post next week for the birds from our second week out at Bebo Grove!

Have a great week, and good birding!

3 thoughts on “Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

  1. Dan, I don’t care what kind of lens you use, your pictures are always beautiful! I love the picture sent today of the Robin, the colors are outstanding.
    Thanks for always posting, these pics make my day!
    Val

  2. We were recently in Calgary looking for great horned owls but did not find any . I did see some great horned owls near lake Sikome in Fish Creek provincial park several years ago Are they still there? I did not see any when I was there over Christmas? Is there a better place to see them when we return to Calgary?
    Thanks David B

    • The ones that were at Sikome are no longer roosting there in the winter. But the pair by the park headquarters at Bow Valley Ranch can be found in the double row of spruces by the parking lot there. In about two weeks they will begin nesting and they will move to their nesting location.

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