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Wednesday Wings: Merlin with Rock Pigeon

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I have often seen Merlins chasing Rock Pigeons, but it seems to be a very hard bird to catch. On April 10, 2015, near 19 Street NE and the Trans-Canada Highway, Chris Johnson got this excellent shot a Merlin with its Rock Pigeon prey.

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Merlin with Rock Pigeon. Photo by Chris Johnson.

Taken with a Canon 6D 70-200 2.8 lens. At 200mm, f/4.5 1/400 and ISO 100.

Sunday Showcase: Hawk versus Kingfisher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding course field trips last fall, we were treated to an amazing chase in the Weaselhead Nature Area. We were in the woods just past the bridge over the Elbow River when I heard the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. We hurried back to the river to try to see this bird, which, given the late date (November 8) was likely attempting to overwinter in Calgary, as they sometimes do.

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Belted Kingfisher (male) perched bedside the Elbow River, Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

Suddenly the Kingfisher took flight, and a small hawk appeared and gave chase. We later identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. In all, it tried five times to catch the Kingfisher out of the air, with a short break between attempts three and four, during which both birds rested on nearby perches. The Kingfisher actually moved to a perch closer to the Hawk, apparently to keep a better eye on its movements.

The amazing part of this chase was the the Kingfisher escaped each time the Hawk got really close by splashing down in the river! Then the Hawk would pass by, and the Kingfisher would emerge form the water, calling loudly. Of course, Kingfishers hunt in this way, diving into the water after small fish, but Sharpies are used to catching their prey in the air. The Hawk didn’t want to get its feet wet, and never managed to get its meal.

A couple of the people on our walk got a few photos of this encounter.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk (above) and Belted Kingfisher (below). Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Kingfisher splashdown! Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Resting for the next attack. Photo by Tamas Szabo

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Another try. Photo by Tamas Szabo

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Photo by Tamas Szabo

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Photo by Tamas Szabo

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Photo by Tamas Szabo

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Photo by Tamas Szabo

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A hungry and frustrated Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Trevor Churchill

The 12-week Spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins on March 30, 2015. See this post for more information.

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

Show Us Your Butts: Contest Finalists!

Posted by Dan Arndt

It’s been quite a challenge this week narrowing down and picking our favourite for this contest, and now it’s your turn!

Take a look at our selected Top 11, and vote on your favourite bird butt!

Rufous Hummingbird Butt

Rufous Hummingbird Butt

Swan Butts

Swan Butts

Mallard Butts

Mallard Butts

Killdeer Butt

Killdeer Butt

Osprey Butt

Osprey Butt

Starling Butts

European Starling Butts

Canada Warbler Butt

Canada Warbler Butt

Green Jay Butt (taken in the US)

Green Jay Butt (taken in the US)

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch Butts

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch Butts

Osprey Butt in action

Osprey Butt in action

American Dipper Butt

American Dipper Butt

 

 

And while we did receive a few mammalian submissions for this Bird Butt contest, I would like to give a pre-emptive honorable mention to Rob English, who provided us with this great photo of a Red Fox butt!

Red Fox Butt

Red Fox Butt

Thanks for reading, voting, and have a great birding week!

 

 

 

Quite the act

Posted by Matthew Sim
Recently down here in Texas, the local Killdeer have started nesting and their nests can be found in many open spots, such as open lots and around athletic fields. Down at my high school, there were at least 2 nests around the track, which was quite surprising considering the amount of disturbance this location gets daily. While out for a walk last weekend, I found another nest near a local pond. I chanced upon this nest when the female Killdeer incubating her eggs scurried off her nest and proceeded to preform the Killdeer’s broken wing act to try and lure me away from her nest.

Killdeer

On the alert!

When Killdeer see a potential predator approaching their nests, they try to distract the predators from the nest by dragging one of their wings on the ground as though it were broken. They scamper away, stopping from time to time to make sure the predator is still following and then, when they feel a safe distance away from their nests, they fly off, returning to their eggs to continue incubating. It really is quite the trick!

Quite the convincing act!

Quite the convincing act!

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I let myself be led away by this act but before I left I did make a brief attempt to find the Killdeer’s eggs, which I did, snapping a photo from a good distance away so as to ensure I didn’t disturb the Killdeer again before I left.

Killdeer eggs

Nooks and crannies; the process of saving seeds

Posted by Matthew Sim

I maintain bird feeders in my yard in Calgary all the time when I am around. Suet feeders, a tray feeder for millet, a peanut feeder, a niger feeder for siskins and goldfinches, a feeder for sunflower seeds; you name it. I enjoy watching the regular species of birds (and squirrels!) come in to eat and the occasional unusual species. When I watch “my” birds, I often notice intriguing behavior; the way that the Red-breasted Nuthatches stored food is particularly interesting. The nuthatches take a seed from the feeder, head to my fence and hide the seed there in a nook or cranny. Later, whether it be days, weeks or months, they would eventually come back looking for the seeds, providing some entertainment as we observe their antics.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, searching for a sunflower seed hidden somewhere along the fence

Is it down here, perhaps?

Maybe if I come at it from this angle…

Certainly is amazing what you can see from your backyard!

Handy Drumming Posts

By Pat Bumstead

My non-bird watching friends seem to be picking up the habit by osmosis. The more I talk about birds (hardly ever), the more questions I get from people who are just starting to notice them. One such friend phoned me one day in high dudgeon, almost demanding to know what that bird was that woke him up so early. I managed to talk him into doing a short blog post for us, and he even had video to go with it.  He lives in Midnapore, but this activity can be seen throughout Calgary, particularly at this time of year. Here’s what he had to say.

What’s that infernal racket so early in the morning? The metallic hammering emanating from the furnace sounded like it was having a meltdown.

I raced downstairs and started pulling covers off left and right to find the relay that was suffering an acute attack of St. Vitus’ dance.  It quickly became obvious that the racket was now above me and emanating from the furnace chimney pipe. What was in there?

Running outside to fetch a ladder, the source of the problem quickly became obvious. A male woodpecker (Northern Flicker) was hammering on the roof’s flat chimney cap, the better to inveigle any nearby female Flickers into viewing his roof etchings.  Unlike size, in the avian world, apparently volume does matter and what better way to announce your augmented virility than by drilling on a resonating metallic roof cap? What better location too, than where the owners of a garden and messaging roof have two enormous poplar trees. Our poplars are home to many delicious insects and they also support regularly replenished hanging bird feeders.

Clearly this was Flicker Shangri-la and if woodpeckers were up and about, so should everyone else be.

Movie Time: Billing & Cooing

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Yes friends, my overwintering Mourning Doves are still hanging around the yard. Judging by this affectionate display, I can soon look forward to having even more of them to feed! Last year they nested in my neighbor’s spruce tree, so I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on that location in the coming months.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7N4A3vfnIg“&rel=0”

Thousands of Snow Buntings

Snow buntings are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they’re always in motion. Duane Starr was lucky to run into thousands & thousands of them and managed to get a series of wonderful pictures of these hyperactive little birds. He says when the flock was in the air they were everywhere and when they were on the ground they were everywhere. Click here to view his snow buntings on the fence, in the air, on the ground…