Archives

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!

 

 

 

Spring Birding Course 2015

The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.

Spring Birding Course 2

Sunday Showcase: Eagles of Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The lower Bow River in Calgary, downstream of the weir, is a great spot for winter eagle-watching. There is a plentiful food source, consisting of dead or dying Canada Geese, Mallards, and other waterfowl. Among the tens of thousands of birds on the open parts of the river, there are always some that are sick or injured (some of them wounded by hunters). Bald Eagles will readily scavenge the dead birds.

11281326655_fd22bd9a73_kNear-adult Bald Eagle eating a Mallard, Beaverdam Flats, December 8, 2013. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The Bow River is warmed by runoff from the waste-water treatment plants and other city runoff. Because of this, the Bow below downtown Calgary is often the only large body of open water in the area during cold winters. (This has only been the case since about 1975. Before that, there were no waterfowl here in the winter since there was no open water. There were very few eagles seen here until about 2000, as they recovered from critically low numbers caused mostly by DDT poisoning.) These days, good numbers of eagles, mostly juveniles, are seen on the river in winter at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Inglewood Golf course, Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, and all the way down through Fish Creek Park. The largest concentrations seem to be at Carburn and Beaverdam.

When the wind is blowing from the west, as it often is, you can watch the eagles soaring right over your head. Here are some photos taken by John Stegeman on a Friends of Fish Creek outing in January.

Bald Eagle adult 2Adult Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle adult 1Adult Bald Eagle, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle juvenileJuvenile Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Occasionally the eagles will gather in a small area and you see quite a number of them together. Here is a photo taken in January by Ron Friend.

Eagles- Beaver Dam Flats-Jan 21,2015 029Five Bald Eagles and four Common Ravens in one tree, Beaverdam Flats, January 21, 2015. Photo by Ron Friend.

A few years ago I saw fourteen juvenile Bald Eagles in one tree at Carburn Park. I mentioned this to Gus Yaki, and he said he had seen seventeen at once at Beaverdam Flats, and he once met a person from the adjacent Lynnwood neighbourhood who claimed he had a photo of an incredible thirty-one!! (He agreed to send Gus the photo but either couldn’t find it or lost the email address – if you’re out there, please send it to us!)

Thirty-one might be the unofficial Calgary record, but here we have an amazing photo of twenty-six Bald Eagles (and two Common Ravens) taken at Beaverdam in January 2009 by Ron Kube. (Click the photo to enlarge it. It can be hard to spot every last one, but there are indeed 26 eagles. The one that’s really hard to see is just above and to the right of the adult that is at 9 o’clock, a little in from the left edge. The ravens are together at the lower centre of the photo.)

Ron Kube 26 eaglesAdult and juvenile Bald Eagles (26) and Common Ravens (2). Beaverdam Flats, January 3, 2009. Photo by Ron Kube.

Tomorrow, Family Day, will present a good opportunity to look for eagles in Calgary. Dan Arndt and Rose Painter are leading a Nature Calgary field trip to Carburn Park. See the Nature Calgary field trip page here.

Calgary Birding Podcast

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A welcome addition to the Calgary birding community is the Wild Bird Watcher site. This blog, by Brian “Hurricane” Smith, is dedicated to birding in Calgary. The blog consists mostly of interviews with local birders, and occasionally with experts from out-of-province. The interviews are in the form of podcasts (short audio files) that you can listen to right on the site, or download to your computer.

Wild Bird Watcher logo 343 pix by 124 png

Recently there was an interview with Nature Calgary president Andrew Hart, and there is a new interview with our own Dan Arndt. Be sure to go to the home page and go through the archives and listen to previous interviews as well. The blog was started in September 2014, and there are nine podcasts so far. You can also subscribe to the blog so you get email notifications of all new posts.

Brian Smith is a long-time professional in audio and video production, broadcasting, and voice work, and this shows in the high quality of the podcasts.

The podcasts are sponsored by the Wild Bird Store, Calgary’s only store dedicated solely to wild birds.

Family Day Birds & Beers

The February Birds & Beers get-together will take place on Family Day, Monday February 16. The location is the Royal Canadian Legion #284, 606-38 Avenue NE Calgary. Everyone is welcome, including children. Drop in any time between 3 and 6 pm to talk about birds and birding! (After 6 pm the venue is adults-only.)

See the Facebook page here.

More information on Birds & Beers events can be found here and here.

Fuglsang_Black_BirdPhoto by Jacob Bøtter, via Wikimedia Commons

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 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!

Birds & Beers Update

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Birds & Beers event held last Tuesday at the Horton Road Legion was a great success! About thirty-five people attended. It was nice to meet some people that we’ve only known from internet posts and photos, and to see some old friends. Dan Arndt and I were there representing both the blog and the 2015 birding competition. We were able to answer quite a few questions and discuss many birding issues.

The venue is very good for this sort of get-together. It is quiet enough so that you can carry on a conversation, and good meals and drinks are available at reasonable prices.

There is no end to the number of topics to discuss with a subject as vast and fascinating as birding, so we plan to continue to have Birds & Beers events regularly.

The next Birds & Beers will be held on Family Day, Monday February 16, so save the date! This Legion is closed that day so we are looking for another venue, but it will be all-ages so you can bring your kids. We will announce the time and location soon.

Many thanks to Wayne Walker for setting this up and being there to sign everyone in.

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 .