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Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

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

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

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

The Latest From Fish Creek Park

Tony LePrieur photographed a nice variety of wildlife in the park on October 5.

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Pileated Woodpecker.

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Greater Yellowlegs.

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American Three-toed Woodpecker (male).

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Boreal Chickadee.

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White-breasted Nuthatch.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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American Robin (immature).

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Downy Woodpecker.

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Muskrat.

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White-tailed Deer.

Wednesday Wings: World Shorebirds Day (and other days!) at Weed Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Shorebirds are my thing. I love watching flocks of them wheel and turn in flocks of tens, hundreds, and even thousands at a time, so when I heard about the initiative of World Shorebirds Day, I immediately signed up for a few sites at one of my favourite shorebirding locations just outside the city. Leading up to it, there had been some great sightings of somewhat uncommon birds, and between July 29th and September 6th, I probably spent at least one day a week visiting it for at least a few minutes.

Killdeer Weed Lake July 29, 2014

Killdeer
Weed Lake
July 29, 2014

Early on, the usual shorebirds that breed in and around Calgary were abundant and relatively easy to find. Killdeer, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Spotted Sandpipers were everywhere, but as migration ramped up into mid-August, the shorebirding really began heating up.  The first Black-bellied Plovers were seen in early August, and by August 10th, just about every species of shorebird we can expect to move through the Calgary area was there to be counted!

Lesser Yellowlegs Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds! Weed Lake August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds!
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Baird's Sandpipers Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Baird’s Sandpipers
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones showed up at the lake in late August, and on my scouting weekend they turned up and I had a chance to get relatively close looks at them. One of the more colorful shorebirds that we get around here, I think!

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Willet Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Willet
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And if you ever need some sense of scale for some of these small but powerful fliers, my current phone is roughly the same size as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I’m not quite sure what caused the demise of this little fellow, but in the wild there are so many more things to be worried about than just predators. Disease, untreated injuries, or even simple medical anomalies can bring natural selection into play.

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And finally, after months of anticipation, the magical day arrived. Sadly the big numbers of shorebirds were nowhere to be found, though I did still get some good finds on the day!

American Avocet clearing its throat Weed Lake September 6, 2014

American Avocet clearing its throat
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Oh yeah, and I mentioned predators before, didn’t I? A pair of beautiful Peregrine Falcons were doing a great job of scattering the shorebirds that had stuck around. One of them even managed to snag a distant Lesser Yellowlegs while we watched on, and its mate gave us some good fly-bys as well!

Peregrine Falcon Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Thanks for reading, and good birding!

South Glenmore Reservoir with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

While we had some great finds yesterday many of them were off in the distance, or low in the brush, meaning that our ability to actually document many of them were few and far between. Sadly, I didn’t get more than a handful of photos from our outing, none of them worthy for me to post. As such, I’ll be making a supplemental tomorrow to review my outing to Weed Lake on World Shorebirds Day on September 6, and maybe a few bonus photos from there from earlier in the season.

Stay tuned!

A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.

While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!

Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.

Cedar Waxwing Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Cedar Waxwing
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Great Blue Heron sunning itself Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Great Blue Heron sunning itself
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

 

Osprey Fishing

Most of our local Ospreys have now departed, although one was reported here yesterday, still sitting on its nest platform at MacLeod Trail and Hwy 22X. Several pairs (about thirteen) nest in Calgary every summer. People enjoy watching them build the nest, raise their young, and hunt for fish over the river and reservoir. The Calgary Zoo Osprey nest camera is very popular.

Here is an amazing video showing the incredible hunting skill of these birds. Thanks to Dick and Lenora Flynn, and Gus Yaki, for bringing it to our attention. We’re already looking forward to the return of the Ospreys next spring!

YouTube Preview Image

ARKive is a not-for-profit initiative of the charity Wildscreen. Their mission: “With the help of the world’s best wildlife filmmakers and photographers, conservationists and scientists, we are creating an awe-inspiring record of life on Earth. Freely accessible to everyone and preserved for the benefit of future generations, ARKive is a truly invaluable resource for conservation, education and public awareness.”

To see more wildlife photos and videos, go to arkive.org and explore and share. There is detailed information, photos, and video about many of the bird species we have here.

Update – Fall Birds in Carburn and Fish Creek Parks

We don’t often re-post material but we don’t often make two identification mistakes in the same post (I hope). Reid Barclay has pointed out that the bird I labelled “Swainson’s Thrush” is actually an Ovenbird, and Ron Kube says that the “Swainson’s Hawk” is a Broad-winged Hawk. I think they are both correct. In each case, I didn’t consider these less-common migrants here, and tried to fit the photos to my expectations. Sorry for the errors. We always welcome comments from our readers. – Bob Lefebvre

Tony LePrieur has another set of beautiful bird and mammal photos, taken on September 14, 2014. He says it is getting harder to find the birds, but there is still a good variety of species around.

From Carburn Park:

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Orange-crowned Warbler.

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Orange-crowned Warbler, actually showing the seldom-seen orange crown.

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Red-eyed Vireo.

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American Goldfinch.

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Cedar Waxwing (juvenile).

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Ovenbird.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Tennessee Warbler.

From Fish Creek Park:

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Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile).

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Belted Kingfisher (female).

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American Mink.

Ron Pittaway’s 2014-2015 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

The moment many birders wait for each fall has arrived. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has been publishing the Winter Finch Forecast since the fall of 1999, and his record has been relatively spot on. He relies on input from citizen scientists, environmental scientists, and enthusiasts throughout Canada’s northern region to determine the abundance of the cone crop of trees in the boreal forest and across the Canadian Shield. Though the majority of his data come from Ontario, these forecasts have been pretty reliable even out west here in Alberta since I was made aware of his reports in 2011.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

You can find the original report by clicking here, but I’ll give you the distilled version for Alberta below:

Across northern Alberta, spruce cone crops range from poor (MB-SK) to average (southern Yukon). Based on what I saw up north earlier this summer, I’d say it’s closer to poor in the areas I surveyed. Birch seed crops are poor to average, while Mountain-ash berry crops have had a bumper year here in the west.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

What does this mean? Well, we will likely not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings (no, these aren’t finches) given the abundance of food further north and west. We can look forward to seeing both Common and Hoary Redpolls, given the state of birch cones further north, and Pine Siskins have already been seen in and around Calgary already this summer. Red-breasted Nuthatches (also not finches) are also expected to make their way south this winter.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

 

Why is this important? Well, all of these winter finches are regular visitors to bird feeders, and will readily feed on nyjer seed (for finches), peanuts, and black-oil sunflower seeds (for non-finches), so if you’re a regular bird feeder, it’s quite likely you’ll find some, or if you’re really lucky, all of these birds at your feeders this coming winter!

Good birding!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Waxwings, From Egg to Fledgling

This summer Tony LePrieur found a Cedar Waxwing nest in Fish Creek Park, and he managed to capture this amazing sequence of photos showing the young birds from hatching to fledging, over a period of sixteen days.

The nest was about three feet off the ground, in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Tony was careful not to be intrusive, making four very short visits over a period of just over three weeks. Initially there were four eggs in the nest. Photos were taken with a Canon 60d and a 18-135 mm lens.

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As a bonus, I will post a photo of a slightly older juvenile Cedar Waxwing. It was spotted by Cicely Schoen hunkering down under a lawn chair in the Woodlands neighbourhood in SW Calgary during last week’s snowstorm. She calls it “The Original Angry Bird”.

The Original Angry Bird

“The Original Angry Bird” – Juvenile Cedar Waxwing.   Photo by  Cicely Schoen

Nikon 5100 with Nikkor lens 55-200mm.

Last of the Spring Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

We’re back! After a busy July away from from blogging, we had technical issues in August which prevented us from posting photos. We could have posted text, but as you know, a birding blog without photos is like a bowling ball without a liquid centre.

Despite the snow on the ground right now, I am going to catch up on some things from late spring. Those of you who follow Dan Arndt’s weekly posts about his Friends of Fish Creek outings will have wondered where the group went birding in June. Dan’s job took him out of town for the entire month, so he was unable to post. I was away for some of June as well, but I arranged for one of my group’s members, George Best, to send some photos from our outings.

Dan’s posts will resume this week and will found here most Mondays.

If you are interested in signing up for the course this fall, there are still a few spots available at the following times: Mondays at 8:30 am, Tuesdays at 8:30 and 9 am, Wednesdays at 9 am, Thursdays at 8:30 am, Saturdays at 8:30 am, and Sundays at 8:30 am, 9 am, 9:30 am and 1:15 pm. We have completed two weeks of the 14-week course so there are still 12 weeks of great birding to go. Go to the Friends of Fish Creek site to sign up.

On June 1 our excursion was to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant area, along the river south of 194 Avenue. For one of Dan’s previous posts from this area, complete with maps of the walk, see this post from April 2014.

Our June 1 walk featured some late-arriving spring migrants. One of the first birds we saw, as we car-pooled from the parking lot at 194 Avenue to the treatment plant, was this Western Kingbird hawking insects from a fence. All photos by George Best.

Western Kingbird

These birds are not common in Calgary, even on migration. I believe the only place within the city limits that they have been known to nest is in the Lafarge Meadows area of Fish Creek Park, about 1.5 km north of our sighting. But no nesting Western Kingbirds were reported there in the last three years, so I was hopeful that this bird might be heading there to nest. I didn’t hear any more reports of this species in that area over the summer, so this was probably just a passing migrant.

We got really good looks at some Song Sparrows and recorded a dozen on the day, several of them singing.

Song Sparrow

We saw at least nine Swainson’s Hawks, but the closest views were of Red-tails.

Red Tailed Hawk

A Gray Catbird which emerged from the brush on the river bank:

Gray Catbird

An Eastern Kingbird, one of nine sighted on the day.

Eastern Kingbird

Another just-arrived migrant, and our first of the year – Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

Finally, we had a close fly-over by a group of five American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

We have only been taking groups to this area for a year or so, and it is a great addition to our repertoire of birding walks.

On June 8 we headed to Griffith Woods Park on the west edge of the city, along the Elbow River. (See this post for a map – one of Dan’s many posts about this park.) We spent a lot of time in the east end of the park, in the mixed woods along the river, before heading to the spruce forest farther west. Here are a few of the 37 species we saw that day.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay.

Female Cowbird

Female Brown-headed Cowbird.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird.

House Wren

House Wren.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Yellow Warbler1

Yellow Warbler.

On June 15 we went to the Weaselhead Natural Area. Our goal was to find two species of hummingbird. We were successful, and had 39 species for the day.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird.

Calliope Hummingbird1

Calliope Hummingbird2

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe1

Eastern Phoebe.

Rufous Hummingbird1

Rufous Hummingbird.

Rufous Hummingbird2

Rufous Hummingbird3

Rufous Hummingbird4

Rufous Hummingbird5

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee.