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Birds of the Foothills, Spring 2017

Michael Kim, a thirteen-year-old birder and photographer from Canmore, has sent us some photos of spring birds in the foothills west of Calgary.

Trumpeter Swans, Exshaw, April 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Trumpeter Swans, Exshaw, April 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Canmore, March 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Northern Flicker (male), Canmore, April 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Great Gray and Short-eared Owls

On a good day in the Calgary area you can see four or five species of owls (seven on a great day). Here are two that are not seen within the city limits too often, but can be found by making a short drive east or south (for Short-eared Owls) or west (for Great Gray Owls). We usually don’t reveal exact locations of owls so you’ll have to do a little searching for them. Photos by Tony LePrieur.

Short-eared Owl, east of Calgary, March 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Short-eared Owl, east of Calgary, March 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Great Gray Owl, west of Calgary, April 9, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Great Gray Owl, west of Calgary, April 9, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

To see more of Tony’s photos, visit his Flickr page.

Bird’s-Eye View of Local Nesting Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s always fun during breeding season to watch live video of nesting birds from nest cameras around the world. There are some local ones that we provide links to each spring. The links given below are always also visible on our right-hand sidebar.

Calgary Zoo Osprey Nest Cam: This camera has been operating for many years. This year, the nest platform and camera were moved a bit downstream from its usual location, but the Ospreys are back and refurbishing the nest right now.

An April 18th still from the nest camera. From the Twitter feed of boooneill (@ koniell57).

Gray Jay Nest at Ellis Bird Farm: This was the first ever live view of a Gray Jay nest, so this one, operated by the Ellis Bird Farm north of Red Deer, attracted a lot of attention. Unfortunately the nest recently failed. There are still some videos at the link. If the birds re-nest this year and it can be located, new video may be available. The nest was located about 100 km north of Calgary. Information about this and other cameras operated by the Ellis Bird Farm can be found on their website here.

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Please note the following correction to the three italicized paragraphs below, about the Peregrine Falcons at the University of Calgary (added May 10, 2017):

According to Drew Scherban, the Acting Manager of Media Relations for the U of C, the removal of the web pages was a resources issue, not a budget one. Libraries and Cultural Resources  are now working with Alberta Conservation Association and Biological Sciences (UCalgary) to partner and take over the project. The historical observations of the Peregrine Falcons have been permanently archived and are available on this page, which we will also link to on our right-hand sidebar.

Unfortunately, there is not a live stream of the nest site right now, because the falcons did not return this year. Staff will continue to monitor the camera feed and if the birds appear they will put it up on this page.

Since the birds usually arrive back here in late March or early April, I think it’s safe to say they will not be returning to the U of C this year. One or more of the adults may have died, or they have found another spot to nest.

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Here are the original three paragraphs at the end of this post:

Normally we have a link to the popular University of Calgary Peregrine Falcon nest camera, but this year, the camera is no longer online. In addition, the recent pages with all of the observations from 2010 on have been removed. All that is left online are the historical observations from 1995-2009, so we have a link to that.

I have tried to find out more about this, but haven’t heard back from anyone about who operated the camera or if the link will ever be restored. But the web page was maintained through the U of C’s library and and cultural resources, and they have decided to remove that support as part of their 2017-2018 budget cuts.

The university prides itself on its community outreach, so it’s a shame that they decided to cut this. Perhaps if they got feedback from people who valued the project they would reconsider; if not this year, then next. You can contact the Community Engagement Team on this page, or Thomas Hickerson, Vice-Provost (Libraries) here.

Please leave a comment here if you have any information about this camera or any others in the Calgary area. In 2016 there was a nesting box installed at the top of the Foothills Hospital in the hopes of attracting more Peregrines, but again, I haven’t been able to find out if there is a nest camera or website this year, or if any birds are nesting there.

Battling Bluebirds

Tony LePrieur photographed these two male Mountain Bluebirds having a bit of a tussle near Priddis, SW of Calgary, on April 8.

Mountain Bluebirds (males), near Priddis, April 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The birds may have been battling over a good territory. Many bluebirds are back in the area now, but some of the females have not yet returned. Primarily an insect-eater, Mountain Bluebirds can get into real trouble when we get heavy snowfalls (like we’re having tonight), especially if it stays cold for an extended period. They will also eat berries.

One bluebird gets the upper hand!

The victorious male. Both birds were OK, but only one gets the territory.

Protecting the Greater Sage-Grouse

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Photo credit: Jeannie Stafford/USFWS. A greater sage-grouse male struts at a lek (dancing or mating ground) near Bridgeport, CA to attract a mate. March 1, 2010. (From Wikimedia Commons.)

The Greater Sage-Grouse is the rarest nesting bird in Alberta. We are at the northern and western limits of their range, so they only occur in the SE corner of the province. Historically, the range was much larger, but the species experienced a 98% decline in population in the 25-year span from 1988 to 2012. By 2012, they were extirpated from British Columbia and left with only remnant populations in Alberta with 40 to 60 adult birds, and in Saskatchewan with only 55 to 80 adult birds. By 2013, they were also extirpated from five U.S. states. (See this Wikipedia entry for more information on range and population numbers.)

Conservation organizations have launched a number of legal actions to try to save the birds in Alberta, and protections are now in place. It is important the birders understand these laws and respect the need for the birds to remain undisturbed, particularly when the grouse are on their mating leks.

Recently Greg Wagner was contacted by a birder friend who had gone to view a lek in SE Alberta. He was approached by a conservation officer who told him that the birding party could be charged under the Alberta Public Lands Act. If they had been there a day later, on April 1, they could also have been charged under the provisions of the Emergency Protection Order which was issued in 2013.

All birders should be aware that under existing laws birders could be charged for being near leks and should be aware of the law before they go to view leks. Under no circumstances should people give the location of leks to others, particularly on social media.

Greater Sage Grouse, male, from rear. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters – Uploaded by Dolovis, Public Domain. (From Wikimedia Commons.)

Greg Wagner has written the following very interesting and informative account of the Greater Sage-Grouse and the struggle to protect it in Alberta.

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By Greg Wagner.

The following information pertains to laws aimed at protecting Greater Sage-Grouse in southeastern Alberta. People should have a clear understanding of  these laws before going to view a lek. Charges could be laid under a variety of statutes.

Throughout their range in western North America, declining Sage-Grouse populations have been associated with increased road densities and traffic volumes. Genetic and population modelling as well as habitat modelling in southeastern Alberta indicate that the significant Sage Grouse population declines over the past two decades are related to increased road densities, traffic volumes and human activity.

Because of population declines in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Ecojustice on behalf of the Alberta Wilderness Association, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Grassland Naturalists, Nature Saskatchewan and the Western Canadian Wilderness Association filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal Recovery Strategy for Greater Sage-Grouse neglected to identify critical habitat for Sage-Grouse despite having ample scientific evidence to do so. It is important to note that naturalists launched this lawsuit. Further information about the lawsuit can be found here. A host of legal and management actions have occurred since then.

On September 17, 2013 conservation groups welcomed the federal government’s announcement that it intended to introduce an emergency protection order for Canada’s endangered Greater Sage-Grouse, but they also cautioned that the devil will be in the details. The federal government’s announcement did not include specific language around one of the key threats to the Sage-Grouse’s recovery and survival: oil and gas development in its critical habitat.

On September 25, 2013, on-the-ground action priorities were identified for the management of Greater Sage-Grouse including access restrictions.

On December 4, 2013, the federal government published its long-awaited Emergency Protection Order for Greater Sage-Grouse. The order came into effect on February 18, 2014. The goal of the Emergency Order was to “achieve the best protection for the Greater Sage-Grouse, while minimizing impacts on landowners and agricultural producers.” The prohibitions contained in the order only apply to habitat on federal and provincial crown lands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Conservation groups welcomed the long-awaited Emergency Protection Order, but were concerned whether it would provide sufficient protection for the species.. The emergency order can be viewed here. Among other things, the Order contains the following provision “A person must not operate a facility, motor vehicle or machine that produces a noise that exceeds 45 dB(A) at any given time between 1.5 hours before sunset to 1.5 hours after sunrise during the period beginning on April 1 and ending on May 30 of any given year” on identified federal and provincial lands.

In 2003, the Alberta Government clarified the rules for recreational and exploration access on agricultural dispositions issued under the Public Lands Act, including grazing leases and farm development leases. On most provincial public lands in southeastern Alberta, access permits are required to access public lands. More information about public land access can be found here.

There are also sections of the provincial Wildlife Act that pertain to harassment of wildlife. If actions of people are deemed to be detrimental to the birds, these types of charges could be pursued. However, such actions would have to be blatant, but could include a photographer who was harassing birds at close range.

More information about the plight of the Greater Sage-Grouse can be found in the Alberta Status Report, the federal status report, the provincial recovery plan and the federal recovery plan).

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It is also of interest that in 2014, a ten-year captive breeding program for greater sage-grouse was initiated at the Calgary Zoo. In 2016, the zoo opened a new breeding facility for the grouse.

The Greater Sage-Grouse habitat is not too close to Calgary, but local birders should also be aware of similar protections in place for Sharp-tailed Grouse. This species was formerly common in the area, and even had a lek on Nose Hill, which is now within the city limits. Like the Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tails are sensitive to disturbance, and their numbers have been in decline in recent years and their range has been reduced. They are seldom seen near the city any more, but there are leks within a 90-minute drive of Calgary.

Sharp-tailed Grouse on a Lek, SW of Calgary, March 31, 2017. Photo by Dan Arndt.

According to the law, you must stay at least one-half  kilometer away from an active Sharp-tail lek. The only way to see one up close is to be hidden in a blind before the birds arrive in the morning, and stay hidden until after they depart the lek. If they are disturbed on the lek, they may abandon it, and this could impact their breeding success.

Finally, a reminder that nesting season is underway in Calgary (Great Horned Owl chicks have already hatched), so be aware that it is illegal to disturb most nesting birds. Do not share the location of nests of sensitive species such as owls.

Chris Fisher has prepared the following notice regarding nests and regulations:

Download the PDF file .

By all means get out and go birding, but respect the birds and the law!

Rare & Notable Birds of Alberta, Fall 2016

Here is the Alberta report of rare and notable birds for the fall of 2016, written by James Fox for the American Birding Association’s publication North American Birds. There are many photographs of rare and unusual birds. Use the scrollbar at the right edge of the document to see all fourteen pages. (Note: The scrollbar may not work on all devices. It works on a desktop with Chrome and Firefox, but not on an iPhone.)

Download the PDF file .

Late Winter Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s spring on the calendar and new migrants are arriving daily. Some of our winter birds have departed, and some of our resident birds are beginning to nest. Here are some photos of birds of late winter in Calgary. All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Bohemian Waxwing, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwings are only here in the winter. Since mid-March only small flocks have been reported. Most have departed to the north and to higher elevations. By the end of April they all will be gone.

Mountain Chickadee, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Mountain Chickadees are only occasionally seen inside the city, and most often in the west end where the boreal forest creeps in. This winter there were several seen in the Weaselhead and in Fish Creek Park. They are usually absent in the summer, as they breed west of the city.

Pine Grosbeak (female), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak are one of our winter finches and they were here in low numbers this winter. They move to higher elevations and to the north in the summer.

Downy Woodpecker, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Downys are one of our resident woodpeckers and they have been paired up for at least a month, and are now beginning to nest.

Northern Flicker (male intergrade Yellow-shafted/Red-shafted), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Northern Flickers are also woodpeckers, but are migratory. However, many overwinter here, which may include local birds or ones from farther north. They are currently pairing up for nesting, and it is common to hear their calls and drumming (they often drum on metal chimneys or street lights).

Most of the local flickers are intergrades of the two subspecies (Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted) and they often show mixed field marks, as this bird does.

American Robin, Fish Creek Park, Calgary, March  4, 2017.

Robins are of course migratory, but there are always some (a few dozen to a couple hundred) that overwinter in the city. This bird, seen on March 4 with seven others, probably overwintered since it was a little too early for the migrants to return. Unusually, this looks like a female – most overwintering birds are males, trying to get an advantage in getting to breeding grounds earlier. Now, in early April, there are many migrating robins back, but they are almost all males, either passing through or claiming territories here. The females arrive later.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies), Calgary, March 4, 2017.

These native sparrows overwinter here in good numbers, and for a few weeks more there will be many migrants passing through. They breed here in the boreal forest and are far more common west of the city and farther north in the summer.

Pine Siskin, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

Siskins usually breed in coniferous forests (including in parts of Calgary), but when not breeding they move erratically around the continent in search of food. They are sometimes here in large numbers in the summer, and sometimes completely absent.

Black-capped Chickadee, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

A resident bird, they are paired up and beginning to nest now.

Finally, here are three shots of the immature Northern Goshawk from Queen’s Park Cemetery.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Goshawks are not common in Calgary but can be seen year-round. However, they breed in high-canopied mixed forests so adults are usually found at higher elevations and farther north in the summer. They are more commonly seen here in the winter.

Pheasants, Grouse, and Partridges of Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here are a few of the Gallinaceous or game birds of Calgary and area. There are three species that are regularly seen within the city limits, two of them introduced: Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Gray Partridge. Ring-necked pheasants were introduced from east Asia. They are well-established in the wild in North America, but more are raised and released in Alberta every year as game birds. Gray Partridge are native to Europe and are also well-established here. Ruffed Grouse are the only native game bird that you can regularly find in Calgary.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, March 4, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, October 18, 2015. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Listen for the harsh, usually two-note crowing of the males in Fish Creek Park, especially along the river.

Ring-necked Pheasant (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasants (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ruffed Grouse, Turner Valley area, January 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

In Calgary, Ruffed Grouse can be found in the boreal forest where it creeps into the west end of the city. The Weaselhead is probably the most reliable location. In the spring, listen for the drumming of the males.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge are usually found near open grassy fields, and are often seen in residential areas. In the spring you may see pairs but since they have large broods, by summer they are often in family groups of up to 20 birds.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, south of Calgary, April 2016. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Sharp-tailed Grouse are almost never seen in the city (or even near it) any more, although they historically had a breeding ground (lek) on Nose Hill and used to be seen regularly there. You can still find them on the prairies, especially south and southeast of town. (See this post for more of Dan’s photos from a lek.)

Chukar, West Springs, SW Calgary, July 2012. Photo by Tom Amerongen.

I should also mention the Chukar, another introduced Eurasian game bird that is established in some parts of western North America. It has never established successful breeding populations in the Calgary area. Nevertheless, people do see them in town almost every year. They can be bought to be raised privately and apparently are often used to train hunting dogs, and inevitably some escape into the wild. In the last two years there have been sightings from Egerts Park in the NW, Radisson Heights and Dover in the SE, and Strathcona in the SW. If you see one of these birds, send us an email. I’ve never seen one, and would like to, even though as an escaped captive bird it doesn’t count on my eBird list.

If you venture out of town you can also see Spruce Grouse and Dusky Grouse in the foothills, and White-tailed Ptarmigan in the mountains. Wild Turkeys can be found SW of town, in the Millarville area.

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

Spring Birding Course 2017

Mountain Chickadee seen by the birding course participants at Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park. Photographed February 14, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

The popular Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins its 12-week spring session on April 3, 2017.

Go out on field trips with experienced leaders once or twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn about the birds of Calgary. You can expect to see over 150 species of birds.

Field trips are held in several parts of Fish Creek Park, in Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Bowmont Park, Elliston Lake, Griffith Woods Park, and possibly other locations.

It is still only $5 for children (accompanied by a registered adult) for the whole twelve-week course! See this page for details on how to register.

Here are just a few more of the many birds seen on the winter course this year.

Bald Eagle (adult), Mallard Point, Fish Creek Park, February 8, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Black-capped Chickadee (note the unusual brownish cap), Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Wood Duck (female, centre back) with Mallards, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven and Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Dipper at Elbow Falls

It’s always fun to watch American Dippers as they walk on the bottoms of fast-flowing streams to look for food, and it’s amazing to see them do this in winter when the water is near freezing. Tony LePrieur photographed this one at Elbow Falls, west of Bragg Creek. There have been some sightings right in the city this winter, but you always have better luck finding them on fast-flowing mountain streams.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.