Some summer birds and mammals from Calgary, taken in late June 2015. All photos by Tony LePrieur.
Posted by Dan Arndt
On our visits to the Weaselhead on both May 31 and June 14, we visited parts of North Glenmore Park in search of shorebirds, Brown Thrashers, and whatever else might turn up.
We found a couple of great birds on both days, with a Nelson’s Sparrow and a Brown Thrasher as their usual spots on May 31, and on June 14 we found a Caspian Tern and a beautifully lit Cedar Waxwing during a brief moment of pale sunshine.
This Brown Thrasher has been a regular visitor to the park during the May Species Count, usually found just below Parking Lot “C”, but we also heard two others singing in the Weaselhead that morning, which is a good sign that they’re actually increasing in numbers around here. Their random, rambling, repeating song is distinctive, and usually how we find them first, long before we ever see them. This guy decided to pop up into the aspens and sing for us as we watched.
On the north end of the park are a series of small ponds for stormwater runoff. Thankfully, on May 31, it was fairly calm and clear, so we did get a chance to walk out onto one of the small spits of land where I was hearing a Nelson’s Sparrow singing, and again, he decided to pop out into the open for us to get a few looks at him.
On June 14, I was notified of a Caspian Tern on the Glenmore Reservoir, so after our morning walk a few of us headed over to take a look for it. Thankfully we found it right where it had been seen all morning, at first resting, and then a few times lifting its head to display that bright red bill and gape at some of the low flying swallows. Perhaps it was simply tired of being buzzed by their nearby flights!
We went over to look for the Brown Thrasher again, but sadly we only caught a brief glimpse of it. We did find this Cedar Waxwing sitting nice and pretty in the same tree that the Brown Thrasher was singing from two weeks prior.
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Wow, hard to believe it’s July already! The rush of spring birding is over, but there are still some birding outings to recap from the Friends of Fish Creek Spring course. We headed to the Weaselhead for the May Species Count on May 31, and headed back there again on June 14, and most of the same species were found each time, but we did have a couple unique finds on each trip. Because this is my first time trying to overlay two different walks into one post, I’ve color coded our outings in the attached map.
Our outing on May 31 is in red in the above image, while our trip on June 14 is in blue. We also had significantly different weather each morning, with the weather on May 31 being absolutely incredible, clear, and bright, while June 14 was a bit gloomy, dark, and overcast with occasional rain here and there.
We had a couple great birds on our first outing at the top of the hill, with both a Spotted Towhee and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird right at the top.
At the feeders a bit further down the hill, we found a couple of Tree Swallows guarding their nests early in the day, catching some sun and warming up for the busy day ahead.
We almost missed out on the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on June 14th, except for a brief glance up the hill caught this little guy hanging out in the gloom.
The Rufous Hummingbirds are absolutely amazing and can always be found in the same place every year. I’ve yet to see a female on this slope, but I suspect that if it wasn’t a good area for the males to find a mate, they wouldn’t be here year after year! Forgive me for sharing as many photos as possible of these beautiful little fireballs.
We headed back to the area south of the Elbow River and found the usual Eastern Phoebes at their regular spot as well, this one having caught some fresh breakfast!
As we headed towards the silverberry meadow, we heard the typical buzzing of the Calliope Hummingbirds in this area, but none of them really cooperated with the us and the sunlight, but I’m still pretty happy with the results!
We did hear a relatively uncommon bird back beyond the dense spruce where we have Boreal Chickadees each winter, and it turned out to be an Ovenbird singing on territory. Sadly, he had moved on by mid-June, but it was really quite a treat to hear and see one of these guys right our back yard!
Down at the far end of the Weaselhead, we had another Calliope Hummingbird in a spot I’d never seen one before, but at the far south end were a number of Grey Catbirds flitting around in the aspens, mewing away and singing their odd, disjointed songs.
Another nice treat were a few Ring-necked Ducks which have been at these south ponds for a few weeks. It seems like there’s a lot more of these around this year, as they just keep turning up all over the city, but maybe it’s just a matter of getting out into the places they like to hang around a little bit more.
On our walk back to the start we had our share of great birds as well, like this American Goldfinch singing from high in the trees, or the usual Cliff Swallows under the bridge over the Elbow River.
Have a great week, and good birding! Watch for the Monday supplemental post covering what we found at our visits to North Glenmore Park on these two outings!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
A little-known gem of a birding location near Calgary is Marsland Basin, a Ducks Unlimited wetland on a private farm about halfway between Eagle Lake and Namaka Lake, southeast of Strathmore. A 75-acre lake with mud flats and cattail marshes can be viewed from the edge of a wooded farmyard.
The homeowners have created a great natural environment for all kinds of birds here, and they invite any interested birders to come by at any time. There are chairs set up at the viewing area, and you can walk around the farmyard as well. Sign the guest book.
To get to Marsland Basin, take Twp Road 232 one mile east from the village of Namaka, then go north a half mile on RR 242. This road dead-ends by the yard. Just drive right up into the yard.
Birders are encouraged to enter their sightings on eBird. Use the Marsland Basin HotSpot. Having a lot of public reports of both nesting birds and migrants is a good way to ensure that the importance of a wetland is recognized, and it is more likely to be protected and preserved.
There is an upcoming Nature Calgary field trip to this location on Sunday July 26. Meet at the parking lot at Carburn Park at 8 am to carpool.
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our outing on May 31 was to the Weaselhead Natural Area as part of the May Species Count, and we went back there on June 14 as well, so I’m going to roll those out in a single post next week. Instead, I’ll be posting some photos of our outing on May 30 to the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park between Hull’s Wood and Lafarge Meadows, an area I’ve covered for the past few years.
I was accompanied by Rose Painter, my co-leader for our regular Sunday morning outings for this spring, and we both found a lot of good birds that morning. While the weather was gloomy and grey, it was still quite warm, and we thankfully didn’t get rained out.
I think the rainy/gloomy weather had put down a few birds overnight, because we had an abnormally high number of Baltimore Orioles singing throughout the day: eighteen males singing and a lone female that we spotted as well, compared to the usual number in this area being about half a dozen or so. It was really nice to have these guys so actively singing, despite the gloom.
We also had our usual numbers of Spotted Sandpipers, along the river, retaining ponds, and right on Fish Creek itself. While they weren’t actively displaying, there were a few that we were pretty sure were sitting on nests.
It was also really great to see a good number of Killdeer along this stretch. In 2013, I had ten nesting pairs, while in 2014 I was entirely shut out of this species, as many of the gravel bars had shifted and some had even totally lost their gravel patches and were mainly boulder strewn. This female was trying to lure us away from her nest right on one of the newer, much more extensive gravel bars along the Bow River.
We also had our first really good looks at Cedar Waxwings for the year, which had also returned overnight in some pretty good numbers. They were actively feeding low in the bushes along the river, where the insects were most active.
Along this stretch of the Bow River, I’ve had a pair of Willow Flycatchers breeding and nesting for the past three years. Each year they move the exact site of the nest, but they’re always within about two hundred meters of the spot where I first found them. They’re a little unusual to find within the city, but their calls and songs are distinctive. This photo also shows that even using the eye-ring as a field mark can be somewhat tricky, because this little gal has quite a prominent one.
This gravel bar is also where I get my usual Brewer’s Blackbirds, and rarely get them anywhere else on this route. One of the perks of doing a route like this year after year is finding all the usual spots to find great birds. I do think it would be fun to switch it up every once in a while, but I do like seeing these guys in the same spots every year.
We followed the edge of the river all the way down to the boat launch, finding some Franklin’s Gulls, but not much else along the far side of the river. We also found a nice male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying close to us. They really are quite interesting birds to look at, no matter how you feel about their particular breeding habits.
One of the other nice things with days like this, similar to last year, is that this is still during the main thrust of northward warbler migration. Last year, I had my first Blackpoll Warbler of the year, and this year I turned up this young male American Redstart, singing away along the creek just off of Sikome Lake.
Once we crossed under the Highway 22x bridge, things slowed down a little, but we did get some good looks at some waterfowl along the stormwater ponds, including this Cinnamon Teal that we surprised with a brief look at, and a few families of Canada Geese with their babies.
Further south along the river bank, we had some good looks at Eastern Kingbirds, but unfortunately in the years that I’ve done this route, we’ve never found Western Kingbirds in the poplar stand south of the bridge, where I’ve been told was one of the few places in the city they were known to breed, until recently. I suspect the heavy development on both the east and west side of the park there has made it a little less accessible and appropriate for them to nest.
One of the perks of the flood in 2013 was the generation of habitat for a number of species. The large piles of debris in the parks make good homes for House Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, while the cut banks of the Bow River and Elbow River created large expanses of open banks, perfect for both Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows to nest in, which they have done along the south edge of my route. It’s always nice to see these guys, and even better to get them up close and personal like this.
The last really notable sighting of the day was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who was hammering away at this bit of excrement near Sikome Lake. Here he his proudly displaying his prize, which I assume he’s taking home to feed to his young. Nature isn’t always pretty!
In all, we covered just over 16 kilometers (10 miles!) in eight hours, and broke my previous record number of species by 1, finding 76 species in this area. It was a great morning (and early afternoon), and I think maybe one of the more under-appreciated areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.
Good birding, and have a great week!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Two weeks ago our group visited Bowmont Park, one of the few parks we often visit in the northwest quadrant of Calgary with the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses. It’s a bit of a special park, as it borders on the Bow River, but also a gravel quarry which is home to a pair of Osprey in the summer, a few small ponds, and a south facing slope allowing for a wide variety of songbirds.
This was the first week of outings where Yellow Warblers were the most visible. All spring and summer long, these little yellow fireballs will be singing all over the place until they manage to find a mate and raise their young. They’re really quite fun little guys to watch, and it’s always nice when they’re so easy to photograph, like they were that morning!
I mentioned the Osprey nest earlier, and this is one area where Enmax has set up an Osprey platform to prevent the Osprey from nesting inside the gravel quarry on the power lines. When we rounded the corner to check out the nest, we were greeted to this sight:
The platform had been taken over by a family of Canada Geese, but thankfully the Osprey had found another location to nest nearby. We walked over to the river a little before coming out underneath the Osprey nest, and found this Tree Swallow picking up nesting material right off the pathway.
On our way out to the main pathway, we spotted this Clay-colored Sparrow finishing up his shift at the gravel quarry and heading out for the day. They’re such industrious little workers! This was just after 8:00 in the morning and already he’d put in a full day of work.
Speaking of hard workers, this Osprey was taking trips to and from the new nest all morning, each time taking more and more branches in to build up the nest to an appropriate size, wedging them into the nest each time.
The pond at the back of the quarry which is usually unbelievably productive turned up next to nothing for us. It seemed rather unusual, so we headed further up the north slope, and found this perched Swainson’s Hawk waiting for us up there.
While we had some good looks at a few birds on the northwest hill, we had much better looks at them a bit later on, but thankfully we did manage to get a nice close look at a Northern Rough-winged Swallow on the river near the pathway on our way back. These birds can be somewhat hard to find around the city, but often along the Bow River.
We gave the pond a second chance to redeem itself, but sadly it was just as empty as it had been on our first visit, so we walked along the back end of the quarry and were treated to another great view of a male Yellow Warbler singing his heart out.
Our last good bird of the day was a lone Gray Catbird, of which we had seen a few earlier in the day but at a bit further distance. This beautifully drab bird was singing his heart out over and over again from the aspens and willows nearby. The cinnamon undertail and jet black cap are the only real splashes of color on these birds, but their song is unmistakable.
And that was another great week of birding. Have yourself a wonderful week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Last Sunday was a great day for birding along the Bow River. The weather had been a little iffy for a couple days before, and overnight had cleared up enough to allow a whole lot of birds to begin moving through, and boy did we see and hear a lot of migrants!
We walked around at Mallard Point for a bit early on, and found a whole lot of Swainson’s Thrushes in the underbrush (say that five times fast) and hearing a number of Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers singing in the bushes. From there, we drove down to the ponds at Burnsmead to look for the Wood Ducks we had there earlier in the year, but dipped on those. We did hear a couple of Western Tanagers in the saplings on the north side of the road, one of which posed nicely for us.
From there we headed over to Bankside, in search of sapsuckers and maybe a few other warblers, but aside from hearing a couple here and there, none of them popped up into view. We headed north along the river and one of our keen-eyed participants noticed this Say’s Phoebe across the river, which was quickly harassed and scared off by a newly arrived Eastern Kingbird, but eventually the two of them worked out their differences.
Moments after we spotted this fellow, a pair of American White Pelicans gave us a very close flyover, enough to tell this male by the large crest present on the bill.
The morning continued with us finding Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and Swainson’s Thrushes absolutely everywhere, but none of them really allowed us to get too close, and despite our efforts, we couldn’t quite pick out a Hermit Thrush or a Veery from the pack. We did hear a few of these beautiful male Baltimore Orioles singing in the poplar trees across the river!
Upstream in a section of the bank that had been carved out in the 2013 flood we found a colony of Bank Swallows setting up shop. It’s always fun to watch them dip and weave over the river and in and out of their tiny homes.
We continued upstream to find a grove where we’ve found nesting American Kestrels in one of the large hollowed out trees, but unfortunately came up empty in the trees. On the river though, we found a lifer for most of our group, great looks at a usually hard to spot warbler, and yet another great look at one of the Swainson’s Thrushes along our path.
We noticed this Northern Waterthrush darting along the bottom of the logs and accumulated debris, but popped out a couple of times for us to take photos. We also had some of our best looks at a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes bobbing up and down along the brush pile.
Our best bird of the day, and arguably of the entire course so far, was this Gray-cheeked Thrush. They’re a rare migrant in southern Alberta, and it seems that a few of them might have been included in the overnight thrush fallout, as they also banded 5 of them at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary bird banding station that morning.
We spent some time with the thrushes before heading back upstream, to find our first goslings of the season, and remarked at just how big they were already!
As we wrapped up for the day at Mallard Point, we heard the Least Flycatchers calling from the bushes again and I decided I had to at least try to get a picture. All I was able to snap was this record shot before it flew off. I’m sure I’ll get better ones later on this year!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our outing on May 3 took us to South Glenmore Park. Following our second week at Carburn Park, I headed over to the Glenmore Reservoir to try to find some water birds, and was able to get a couple photos of a distant female Red-breasted Merganser and White-winged Scoter, spurring on the visits for the following week. While we didn’t get either of them on our official outing, we did get a whole bunch of other great spring migrants, and had an amazing time finding all the new birds.
For the past few years, a family of Common Ravens has nested right near the parking lot. Apparently this adult Raven has decided that peanut butter is a perfect breakfast treat. I like his thinking.
As we walked around the point, we found Red-necked, Western, and Horned Grebes but sadly we couldn’t pick out a single Clark’s among over 75 Western Grebes. At least we had a couple Horned Grebes that were willing to let us get close.
The view from the top of the hill above the main pathway allowed us to get even better looks at some of the Western Grebes out on the reservoir.
In the trees along the ridge there were Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking for insects above the canopy, but the most numerous songbird of the day was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Along this stretch, there must have been at least 20 of them!
Another new bird of the season was the Savannah Sparrow. This one seems to have a little less yellow in the lores than I’m used to, but his song was unmistakable!
We then circled out to the west through the boreal and aspen parkland areas on the west end of the park, but came up with very little. We didn’t even see a single Common Loon on the entire reservoir that day, I think mostly because of how open the water was, and how many water bodies outside of the city were open after such a mild winter.
On our way back to the parking lot, we did have a close fly-by of this Swainson’s Hawk, one of our first ones of the season for the Sunday morning group!
As we returned to the parking lot, I decided that we hadn’t really had much luck with the sparrows on the pond, so sat in the grass and waited for them to pop out. I was welcomed very shortly after by both a White-crowned Sparrow as well as a Lincoln’s Sparrow. Well worth the effort!
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our second week at Carburn Park took us to the north end, usually a good spot for us to find migrating swallows, blackbirds, and usually warblers. This week was no exception though the usual numbers that we expect were a little low, I suspect because of the rather warm spring we’ve had and the significant amount of open water elsewhere in the foothills.
From the parking lot, we again headed south to the bridge, where we heard the ongoing and always happy sounding song of Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This happy little fellow and his kin are always hard to get out in the open, but today we managed a few moments with him out at the edge of a bush, and with his ruby crown raised too!
We followed the edge of the Bow River in search of the usual swallows and warblers, and while we didn’t manage to get very good or long looks at many of them, we did spot a number of Tree Swallows and a lone Violet-green Swallow in among them. Even better was this rather handsome male Common Merganser, his iridescence shining in the sunlight as he floated past.
As we headed up-river, we heard many migrating Song Sparrows on the near and far banks, and even had a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler in the dense shrubs west of the second pond, though none of us managed to see it, his song was heard loud and clear. And while we didn’t find the Wood Ducks again that week, we did get really good looks at a pair of American Wigeon sunning themselves on the far shore.
Further and further north we headed, passing what was obviously a few nesting Black-capped Chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch gathering food to take back to its own nest, and of course there was this Canada Goose nesting in one of the oldest trees in the park.
At the furthest point north in the park we did find a solitary American White Pelican, resting on the furthest north point of a large gravel bar, totally oblivious to the dozens of Franklin’s Gulls swirling around him.
On our way back south, we heard, and saw a pair of Cooper’s Hawks, I suspect ones that were either courting, or at least actively paired up and searching for a suitable place to nest in the area. We got many good looks at them both perched and in flight.
Along the way back south we also saw a lone Western Alpine butterfly. Probably not the first one of them I’ve ever seen, but the first one I’ve managed to actually figure out and identify on my own, so that was a treat!
Another of the birds that others were seeing all week was this Northern Flicker working on a nest cavity. Looks ready to move right in!
Just as I was packing up and getting ready to head home, this Red-tailed Hawk that we’d been seeing all morning began being harassed by a few American Crows, flying right over head. I’m always amazed that they don’t just bank around and snatch the harassers out of the air for a quick meal.
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our walk last week took us to Carburn Park once again. We actually headed there this week as well, so I’ll cover the birds we found on the south end of the park this week, and the north end in next week’s post.
The Sue Higgins Bridge south of the parking lot in Carburn Park is a regular roost (and nesting location) for any number of Rock Pigeons, and you can usually find at least a few here. It was really nice to find this rather beautifully colored bird, and in great light to show off some of the iridescence on the neck.
On the gravel bar just south of the bridge were over a hundred Franklin’s Gulls, and also a few Ring-billed Gulls flying by eating the freshly hatched insects flying up from the river. One of the advantages of being out so early is that the insects aren’t too high up, and neither are the gulls and swallows yet either.
Did I say swallows? Yes indeed, the Tree Swallows have really started showing up in big numbers too, and we had flocks overhead almost the whole time, wheeling and darting around and getting their fill of hatching mayflies and midges.
We followed the river edge south and came across some interesting sights, as well as the real first returning migrant Song Sparrows. We also found lots of American Robins foraging about, posing, and searching for nesting materials in preparation of the coming breeding season.
One of the most amazing finds last week was a group of four Wood Ducks perched high up in a tree, set exactly at the wrong angle for our approach. By the time I got around to have the light in at least a little bit of a helpful angle, three of them had moved into hiding, but at least I got this lone female! Yes, Wood Ducks are tree nesting ducks. How crazy is that? They’re one of the few ducks that have strong feet and claws capable of gripping branches and bark.
At the far south end of our walk we found another large group of Franklin’s Gulls, many showing quite a bit of pink in the breast and bright red bills typical of fresh breeding plumage. Their raucous cacophony followed us all throughout the park these past two weeks, often drowning out some of the more subtle songs and chip notes of other returning birds, but it is really great to have these birds back!
On our way back we came across a couple of active nests as well, one containing a pair of Northern Flickers (and presumably their eggs), as well as a Black-billed Magpie nest, with either mom or dad standing guard and keeping a sharp eye on us.
So that was another week with the Friends of Fish Creek. Next week we’ll see how the north end of the park treated us!
Have a great week, and good birding!