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Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

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

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

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

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!

 

 

 

Birds of the Boreal in Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.

Shannon Terrace - February 8, 2015

Shannon Terrace – February 8, 2015

We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.

male Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.

There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.

Northern Goshawk pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.

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

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

As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and good birding!

Birding Competition Update

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The eBird Calgary 2015 birding competition is off to a good start. We had some very mild weather in January, so most of the participants were able to get out and get their lists started. We also had some very good birds in the area, and many Calgary-area birders were able to see Wild Turkeys, a Steller’s Jay, and even a Cassin’s Finch.

16242913675_d323cbc8a0_k

Wild Turkey, Millarville area, January 9, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

As of today there are 87 people registered in the competition, 74 adults and 13 youths. We will still take registrations up until March 31, and we hope to eventually have over 100 participants.

One of our goals is to increase the use of eBird in the Calgary area, so that there will be a more complete record of the local bird populations and movements. In 2014, there were only twenty-five birders who submitted more than 52 eBird checklists in Calgary county (an average of one checklist a week), so we should be able to get that number way up.

In January there were 1,244 eBird checklists submitted in Calgary county, compared to 579 in January 2014. (This year’s number includes all eBirders, not just those in the competition. The entire competition circle includes parts of three other counties as well. But these numbers give you an idea of the increased usage of eBird.) Calgary county was the #2 county in all of Canada for the number of eBird checklists submitted in January, behind only Metro Vancouver. During 2014, Calgary rarely cracked the top 25. That result may be partly due to the mild weather we had here in January, so we’ll have to see if we keep up our high standing. So far in February, Calgary is #5.

Here are the top three birders in the competition in each category for January:

Adults – Experienced

  1. Brian Elder            69 species
  2. Phil Cram              58
  3. Blake Weis            57

Adults – Beginner

  1. Darlene Shymkiw     40
  2. Aphtin Perratt          36
  3. Graeme Mudd          26
  4. Rachel MacKay         16

Youth

  1. Aidan Vidal          40
  2. Ethan Denton       36

We have announced the first of our short challenges for the year – Winter Bird List. Prizes will be awarded in each of the categories above for the most species recorded from January 1 to March 31. So don’t wait for spring to get out birding!

15580036484_34369876b1_k

Steller’s Jay, Bowness neighbourhood, January 2, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

 

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.

cold and frosty Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

cold and frosty Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.

frosty Bow River landscape Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

frosty Bow River landscape
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.

Common Goldeneye display Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Goldeneye display
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.

Common Raven in hoarfrost Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Common Raven in hoarfrost
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

male House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

male Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

male Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

Baltimor Oriole nest Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Baltimor Oriole nest
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

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

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

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

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

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

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

Common Goldeneye in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

Winter Birding Targets

By Brian Elder, posted by Bob Lefebvre

At the December 3, 2014 meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group, Brian Elder presented Calgary Competition: Winter Birding Targets. Brian gives great advice on how to get a good start in the competition, by targeting birds that are only here in the winter, rare birds, and birds that may be around all year but are easier to find in the winter. He includes many of his outstanding photos.

There is still plenty of winter left this year, and if you can’t get out and find these birds in February and early March you can always try again in November and December. Scroll through the PDF file of the presentation below.

Note: The file might not show on the blog in all web browsers or on mobile devices. If you click this link it should open in a new page:

Calgary competition – winter birding

 

Download the PDF file .

 

A relatively quiet morning at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our visit to Bebo Grove last Sunday was rather quiet for much of the morning, with a flurry activity for the last hour or so. Early on, we heard the odd Black-capped Chickadee here and there, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an occasional Downy Woodpecker. The light was good, and the weather was relatively clear, which made for an enjoyable trip through the park, but it would have been nice if we’d had better luck with any of the birds we were there to see!

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We walked through the picnic area a couple of times, at one point flushing what we were certain was a Great Grey Owl, crossed the river to search through the dense spruce in the south side of Fish Creek, and came up entirely empty except for the same bird species we’d heard earlier. We crossed back over the river and that’s when things really started to take off. We found a small mixed flock of birds spread out throughout the picnic area, including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches (including a partially leucistic male), a perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, and a handful of Boreal Chickadees mixed with the Black-capped Chickadees.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

As we searched through the east end of the picnic area, we found a very friendly little female Red-breasted Nuthatch chowing down on some seeds we’d left out for it.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Of course as we rounded out the day, I decided to stop by the local celebrity owl to snap a few photos for the blog. On any given day, this bird is relatively easy to spot since there’s usually a dozen or more people surrounding it trying to get the perfect photo. While I’m no expert on stress indicators in owls, I can’t help but think that the constant attention is having some negative impacts on it, so I decided to just snap a couple of photos from a couple of angles and move on, and boy am I glad I did!

Northern Pygmy-owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Northern Pygmy-owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Walking back towards Bridge 3 with Paul Turbitt and atop a small spruce on the other side of the river I spotted this little tuft of feathers. Sure enough, it was a second Northern Pygmy-Owl!

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

This was one of those 1 in a thousand situations when you raise your binoculars to check out that a spot on top of a tree which turns out to be a little branch, or clump of spruce cones, or cluster of leaves. It pays to keep looking up!

This little owl flew in close to us as we spotted it and set up in a tree right above us.

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We sat and observed it for a few minutes before some Black-capped Chickadees took note of it and decided to try to chase it off. Within moments, this cute little ball of feathers went from this:

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

To this:

Northern Pygmy-owl in "Tall Thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in “Tall Thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in "tall thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Pygmy-owl in “tall thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Moments later, it flew off deeper into the woods as the chickadees gave chase. It was really quite an incredible encounter, and it’s one of the reasons to get out and explore the great parks in this city!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Christmas Bird Counting

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This year I participated in a few Christmas Bird Counts, and while I wasn’t able to get too many photos from some of them, I did manage a few here and there.

Calgary Christmas Bird Count:

As per usual, my area this year was the Weaselhead, and I managed a few photos of some good birds while down there. While we did miss out on some expected birds in that area, we didn’t have too bad a day overall. Of course the most reliable birds here are the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Ruffed Grouse. One of the pleasant surprises in our area was a small flock of Common Redpolls, which quickly flew in, landed for a minute or two, and flew off as quickly as they arrived.

male Ruffed Grouse Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Ruffed Grouse
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

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

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

Canmore Christmas Bird Count:

Most years, the Canmore Christmas Bird Count is one of the first ones I participate in, as it’s on a Saturday, and Calgary’s count is on a Sunday. This year, the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count window fell on a Sunday, and so the Canmore count was scheduled for the following Saturday. Because I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush to get home and get prepared for the Calgary count the next day, I had some time to actually spend a bit of time with the subjects, and explore a bit of a different range of habitats. My extra time paid off and I was able to find a couple more species in this area that I hadn’t found before!

American Three-toed Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Mountain Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Mountain Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

male Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Fish Creek Christmas Bird Count (and bonus bird):

The unofficial Fish Creek Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count is always conducted on New Year’s Day, which also gives me a great opportunity to get a solid start on my bird list for the year. For the past couple of years I’ve joined Phil Cram and the group that searches along the south-east corner of the park, including Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and the area around the boat launch, so we tend to get a pretty good variety of birds. Following the morning count, I did manage a trip over to Bebo Grove to search for the elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl that had been seen here recently, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint, but not before I was heading back to the car to head home. Sure enough, just as I was preparing to leave, he had already been found by another photographer who pointed him out to me at the parking lot!

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

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

Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

This week marks the beginning of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, so check back here next Monday to find out what we saw on our first Sunday outing!

Sunday Showcase: Winter Woodpeckers

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Fish Creek Park is a great place to find woodpeckers. In the winter, there are up to six species that can be found there: Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and Black-backed Woodpecker. Flickers are migratory but there are always some around in the winter here. Downy, Hairy, and Pileated are resident species. Three-toed and Black-backed are generally only seen here in the winter, and not every winter. This winter they have both been seen in Fish Creek Park, and in fact it appears that there are at least six Three-toes and three Black-backed in the park, which is an unusually high number for them.

Over the past couple of months Tony Leprieur has managed to get photos of all six of these species inside Fish Creek Park. All photos by Tony Leprieur.

Pileated Woodpecker:

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Northern Flicker:

image5

 

Downy Woodpecker:

image7

 

Hairy Woodpecker:

image6

 

American Three-toed Woodpecker:

image4

image5

image6

 

Black-backed Woodpecker:

image8

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image1

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