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Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding begins at the HQ, Sikome, and Burnsmead

Posted by Dan Arndt

I did say spring, right? Where did all the snow come from? While our last outing to South Glenmore Park was relatively cool, there wasn’t too much snow left, but in the week since we got a fresh dump of snow which is typical of our usual Calgary spring weather. Certainly the birds and mammals we saw on our walk showed at least a little displeasure at the situation!

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds - April 5, 2015

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds – April 5, 2015

We had three stops on our initial outing last week, with a visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters area, then down to Sikome Lake, and finally ended up at the Burnsmead ponds to check out some puddle ducks that one of our leaders, Rose Painter, had spotted before the beginning of our walk. We’ve also begun our walks at 8 AM for the spring course, so we’re getting out a little bit earlier and closer to sunrise to maximize the bird activity for the duration of our outing.

White-tailed Jackrabbit Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-tailed Jackrabbit
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We spotted this little jackrabbit under a spruce tree, taking refuge from the snow. You can see she’s been hanging out in the same spot for at least a while, and possibly even a few hours given that there’s a completely cleared area right under her. It’s not easy for these rabbits at this time of year, as their camouflage can be almost entirely useless in the snow now that their coats have changed colour!

The main reason we stopped in this area though was to check on a couple of Great Horned Owls in the area, which we were able to find without too much trouble.

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Here’s mom with a very chilly looking little owlet. Dad is nearby keeping a sharp eye on things though, and it looks like everyone’s happy and healthy, albeit a little cold and snowy!

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

We headed down to the Boat Launch and the area around Sikome Lake in search of some more owls, but also got some good looks at a few other birds as well, including this Herring Gull, part of a flock of about thirty of them on one of the larger gravel bars just north of the launch area!

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

This was probably the best sighting of the day. The stormwater ponds are open and entirely ice-free! Soon we’ll have Cinnamon Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and tons of other puddle ducks and shorebirds surrounding these ponds, and hopefully the Forster’s Terns will return and breed on their west ends as well again this year!

Red-winged Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Red-winged Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Maybe the second best sighting I’ve had all year was this young Red-winged Blackbird. My first of the year, and in many ways, the true “spring” bird. While I suspect that this little guy got lost in a flock of European Starlings that were heading north earlier than the rest of the blackbirds, they are starting to show up at more and more wetlands in and around Calgary!

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

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

This male American Robin was at the furthest south extent of our walk, searching among the rocks for a nice juicy arthropod or worm in the water below. There were a few of them along this stretch of rocks near a water outflow, picking their way up and down the little stream.

After that, we headed up to the ponds at Burnsmead in search of the Wood Ducks, Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers that Rose had seen earlier in the morning, and sure enough, we found them all! Wood Ducks are sometimes pretty hard to find, but we had a pair of males at these ponds last Sunday and there have been a few more that have shown up around the city this week as well.

Wood Ducks in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Wood Ducks in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!

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

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

While Gadwall are relatively nondescript, they sure do show some stark contrasts in flight, and while they’re often quite hard to spot, this male (and his mate) were fairly accommodating as long as I was quiet, moved slow, and there wasn’t too much activity around the pond.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

All the activity on the ponds drew the attention of this Red-tailed Hawk, who made a fly-by at a bit of a distance to check out what all the fuss was about before flying off to the north.

Looking forward to the next outing and most definitely excited for all the new spring birds coming to Calgary over the next few months!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

More spring migrants at South Glenmore Park!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our last outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course on March 29 was to South Glenmore Park in hopes of seeing some migrant swans, some early sparrows, and who knows what else! We did have a few good sightings, and it rounded out the course perfectly in my opinion!

South Glenmore Park - March 29, 2015

South Glenmore Park – March 29, 2015

 

It seems like not a week goes by where we haven’t been seeing at least one Northern Shrike on our walks, and soon after we started, we heard a commotion in the spruce trees above us and spotted not one, but two of them up there! One appeared to be an adult, while the second, which I was able to get a photo of, looked a little duller, which would indicate that it’s likely an immature bird.

Northern Shrike Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Northern Shrike
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We had a good number of Trumpeter Swans fly by us heading to the open water on the west end of the Glenmore Reservoir, but it was nice to have a pair fly by a bit closer to us, trumpeting away as they flew!

Trumpeter Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Trumpeter Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

While the rest of the reservoir was still frozen over, we didn’t really get too much of a look at the birds on the far west end, so we headed up onto another parallel pathway to feed some birds, and we did also hear the beautiful song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first I’d heard since January. There seemed to be far fewer of them around this year than in past years, so it was nice to see them again up close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We also put some seeds out for the chickadees and nuthatches, and had a few Black-capped Chickadees and at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches come in to stock up their supplies.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

So after a relatively quiet morning with very few birds up close to us, it was nice to almost literally stumble over this Snowshoe Hare. Unlike the one we found a few weeks earlier, this one was beginning the transition out of its winter coat and into the more typical brown summer coloration. Even still, it was still difficult for many of our group to see unless it was directly pointed out to them.

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

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

In addition to the newly arrived kinglets, swans, and gulls of the past few weeks, we also found a number of aspen budding out in their fresh catkins, better known of course as pussy willows. One of the signs of spring that’s almost as reliable as the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Red-tailed Hawks!

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

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

Our very last sighting was a trio of Blue Jays, right in the exact same spot where a few other groups had seen them earlier in the week. It’s quite possible that there’s a nest down below the ridge at this point, but with how dense the willow and aspens are in that area, it’d be nearly impossible to find it.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

And with that, our winter birding course comes to an end. In fact, yesterday, April 4 was our first outing for the spring course, so get ready for migration to ramp up over the next few weeks and the colors to really start to brighten up!

Have a great week, and good birding.

A Sunny Sunday at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Sorry for the late update everyone! We’ll be back to regular weekly posts tomorrow morning, so consider this a double-shot to finish off the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course with a bang!

Our outing on March 22 took us to Carburn Park on a bright, sunny, but slightly chilly morning. We had hopes of possibly finding some more early sparrows in the feeders near the park, or a new gull species or two, or even some early arriving hawks, but things did seem to slow down a bit after the initial spring migration rush from the previous couple of weeks!

Carburn Park - March 22

Carburn Park – March 22

We started off heading south into the sun so we could continue the majority of our walk with the sun at our backs and upon reaching the bridge and nearby gazebo we found a bit of activity. While there were a few indicators that while spring was officially here, winter, as always in Calgary, was still holding on strong. This Canada Goose was sporting a jacket of frost and was a little reluctant to begin the day until we walked across the bridge above it.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Nearby, the House Sparrows were hard at work foraging in the gazebo and preparing their nests in the eaves. This female stopped briefly to allow a few photos before continuing on to work on her nest building.

female House Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

female House Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Quite often the gravel bars here at Carburn Park are full of gulls in the morning, and we always take a few minutes to pick through them to see if we can identify some locally uncommon species, but on this morning we didn’t have too many gulls as the fishermen had an earlier start than we did, and had flushed most of them before we really had a chance to take any good long looks at them. We did get up close and personal with this Ring-billed Gull though, so hopefully that’s a decent consolation picture!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We headed over to the larger ponds in the middle of the park and while they weren’t open and the couple beaver and muskrat channels had closed up a bit as well, but we did hear this little Brown Creeper in the trees nearby, and managed a few half-decent shots of this normally quite reclusive bird!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

One nice surprise of the morning were a few photos I took of what we often consider a “trash” bird. I’ve always said though that if these birds weren’t so common around here, they’d be something that people would drive for hours just to see one and all the beautiful colors they can show off in good light. This Black-billed Magpie was trying to snap off a few twigs to take back to its nest nearby when we came across it and disturbed its hard work.

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

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

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

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

We ended off our walk by following the east edge of the ponds, and had a close encounter with some White-tailed Deer, a few Eastern Grey Squirrels, and this rather healthy looking Coyote that burst out of the trees well behind our group and ran across the pond. Much braver than any of us would have been, given the warm weather we’ve had all winter!

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

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

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We ended off our walk looking for the Great Horned Owls who had nested right beside the parking lot the past two years, and we did manage to find this male keeping watch over the well hidden nest. Looks like he didn’t really appreciate us discovering him!

male Great Horned Owl  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Watch this space tomorrow for our final update on the Winter Birding course!

Good birding.

 

April Birds & Beers

The next Birds & Beers event in Calgary will be held Friday, April 17 at the Horton Road Legion, 9202 Horton Road SW, from 6 to 9 pm. Everyone is welcome, including kids if they are accompanied by an adult. So come on out any time after six to chat with your fellow birders.

More information and a map can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

The eBird Calgary 2015 competition will be awarding the prizes for the first challenge, and there will also be a door prize. The event is not just for people in the competition but for anyone who wants to socialize with other birders and have a drink and a bite to eat.

image_7

Passing the Torch

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I think that most birders would love to live in a world with stable and prospering bird populations so that we could study and enjoy birds merely as a pleasurable hobby. Unfortunately that is not the case, as birds and other animals face serious threats almost everywhere on the planet. Many birders now spend much of their time and energy trying to combat habitat loss and other threats to the birds.

Traditionally, a typical birder is middle-aged or older. It is often a hobby taken up seriously by adults after their children have left home. When we get together for meetings and field trips, the majority of us are over 50 years old.

The percentage of the population that is interested in birds and birding is quite large – birding is second only to gardening as a hobby in North America. But only a small percentage of those backyard birders do it seriously. Consequently, our political voice is not as strong as it could be, or as it needs to be to effect positive changes for our natural world.

Most children have an innate fascination with nature and truly enjoy seeing birds and animals, and learning about the natural history of the earth. Unfortunately this eagerness to appreciate nature is often not fostered, resulting in a waning interest in nature and a lack of awareness of environmental issues. We need to raise a new generation that can be a strong voice for conservation.

Paul PGPhoto by Paul Gee. Many of us have seen a look of  delight like this when sharing our birding experiences with children, or with adults who are new to birding.

One of the most important things we can do as birders, as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, is to teach the children in our lives to respect and understand nature, and to be a force for conserving and restoring our natural heritage. This is one of the main motivations for many of us who do things like writing for bird blogs, leading field trips, running bird counts, and organizing birding competitions.

There are many opportunities to get and keep kids interested and involved. Nature Calgary offers many field trips of all kinds, which are free and open to everyone. Children can attend as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Similarly, the Friends of Fish Creek birding course welcomes any paid adult participant to bring children along, for which they are charged only a nominal $5 fee per child for the entire course.

One of our goals in organizing the eBird Calgary 2015 Big Year birding competition was to try to encourage more children (and adults who are novice birders) to get involved in the local birding community. As of today we have 23 beginners, and 13 youths under 17 registered. We would love to have more, and the deadline to enter is Tuesday, March 31.

If you can’t get out with your kids, there is still a lot you can do. I know of one parent in Calgary who takes his three kids on a nature walk to a new location every Saturday – just to get out and enjoy the birds, mammals, flowers, and trees. You could do this in your own yard or local park. You can also make a point of regularly watching nature shows on TV with them, and encouraging them to read about nature.

I ran into one of the youths in the competition early this year, and talked to his mother about his interest in birds. She regularly drives him to various parks and other locations to look for birds, and told me that birding has changed their lives. The following is an excerpt from an email she sent me:

In an age where kids are connecting more with social media and video games, I am very grateful that my son is growing up connecting to the natural world by his own choice. I have not yet bought him a cell phone because I want him to be in his world first, thinking and aware, without electronic distraction. Birding really requires that one is fully present…and it is clear he is learning to use his senses to hear and see birds. Through birding, he is excited to sleuth out (this is a phrase he has used with me) new species; happy to spot birds that he’s only seen in his books or posted by others.

I really should write the producers and actors of the movie “The Big Year” to thank them….that movie lit the fire for my son’s interest in birding. His next steps were birding sites like Nature Calgary and then eBird. Although he still likes a few video games, a good deal of the time he is on eBird, reading his new Sibley’s, looking at his photos…or now setting up his Flickr account.

Birding HAS changed our lives. We were pretty stuck inside, lots of screen time (computer and TV) and it seemed like I was always instructing him on something or asking him to stop the video games on the computer. Ours days were often not as positive as I would have liked. It is delightful to have birding where he is on point rather than me – both for technical content and motivation. I view this as a natural progression of independence for him and it’s wonderful for me to relax and just be with him. When he found the Northern Saw-whet Owl the other day we were both jumping up and down and high-fiving it in the frigid weather :) He was thrilled to find it (our second trip looking) and it’s great to see him so happy. Those are golden moments for me…both to be included in the find and to celebrate with him. Our birding trips are some of our happiest times together. He researches and plans, I drive, the world slows, we look and listen…and companionably walk together. Wow, that’s really what I want in life right now….for both of us!

I am acutely aware that my time with my son is limited; soon (4-1/2 years) he will be off to University. Birding has refocused our priorities and energy towards something rewarding and enjoyable and it’s getting us out and moving. I really believe that birding is drawing us closer while providing him with a pursuit he can call his own his whole life. It’s the best of what we like – books, travel, a worthwhile quest… and beautiful birds. My son said it himself the other day: “Birding really helps you appreciate things.”

What a gift it is, for both the child and our world, to be able to instill that sense of wonder and belonging. I welcome you to share this post, and to please share with us your stories of how connecting with nature has affected your lives.

birdscalgary@gmail.com

Birding Competition Update – March

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first of the mini-competitions within the eBird Calgary 2015 Competition was to find the most species within the circle in the first three months of the year. With just a few days to go there are some close races. As more spring migrants arrive every day, there is still time to find more species.

Here are the leaders in the three categories as of March 28. In the Experienced category, note that Daniel Arndt and Andrew Hart are not eligible for prizes – Daniel is a member of the organizing committee, and Andrew is President of Nature Calgary.

Youth

Aidan Vidal                       60 species
Simone Pellerin-Wood        57
Birdboy Canada                 48

Beginner Adult

Aphtin Perratt                   65
Nicole Pellerin                   63
Darlene Shymkiw              62

Experienced Adult

John Thompson                 90
Andrew Hart                      85 (not eligible for prizes)
Daniel Arndt                      84 (not eligible)
Blake Weis                        82
Brian Elder                        77
George Best                      74

Ebird Usage

One of our goals for the competition was to greatly increase the use of eBird by local birders. The number of checklist submissions for the first three months of the year is way up over last year, and we hope to see an even bigger increase in the coming months. Note that the competition area includes all of Calgary county, plus parts of three other counties, so I have compared numbers for Calgary and for all of Alberta to get an idea of the increased usage of eBird.

Number of eBird checklists submitted, January to March:

2014 Alberta – 4,996

2015 Alberta – 6,498

2014 Calgary county – 1,919

2015 Calgary county – 3,484

To a close approximation, the entire increase in eBird usage in Alberta (up 30%) comes from the increase in Calgary county reports.

The number of bird species reported is also way up. This probably is mostly due to the milder conditions and an increase in overwintering birds this year, and perhaps some earlier spring arrivals than last year. Nevertheless, as more birders get out and use eBird, we do get a more complete picture of all the species in our province and local area.

Number of species reported by month:

2014 – Alberta

January    101

February   103

March       128

2015 – Alberta

January    111

February   105

March       140

2014 – Calgary county

January     78

February    78

March       103

2015 – Calgary county

January     91

February   87

March       122

There have been a total of 1,216,532 individual birds reported in Alberta so far in 2015 (752,772 in Calgary county). That’s a lot of data in the eBird database!

As of today we have an even 100 participants in the competition, with a few days still to go until the March 31 deadline (13 Youth, 23 Beginner Adult, 64 Experienced Adult). If you or anyone you know wants to join, email us at ebirdyyc@gmail.com. We’d really like to increase the number of youths and beginners involved. There is no set time commitment, and even if you only get out a few times in the year, it helps to contribute to our knowledge of local birds, and of course it is good for you too! Don’t worry too much if you’ve missed out on the first part of the competition; you can still get all the winter species next November and December.

In the next few days we will announce the April Birds & Beers event, at which we will award the prizes for the first mini-competition. We are planning some regular field trips to target some of the difficult-to-find birds in the circle, and later in the spring, a Big Day field trip to see how many species we can find in the circle in one day. In the meantime there is a full slate of Nature Calgary field trips that you can participate in, and the Friends of Fish Creek are taking registrations for the 12-week Spring Birding Course, which starts on March 30.

Join Us For the Birding Competition!

The deadline to enter the Calgary birding competition is March 31. Join over 100 other birders who are trying to see as many species as they can in the Calgary area in 2015.

IMG_4944Baltimore Oriole. Photo by Bob Lefebvre

Read about the competition here, and go to the Nature Calgary page to register. If you have any questions, email us at ebirdyyc@gmail.com.

Note: If you are registered in the competition, you should have been receiving occasional emails from ebirdyyc@gmail.com – let us know if you haven’t been getting them.

Mammals abound at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing at Votier’s Flats was rather incredible. With extremely warm, spring-like temperatures, it seemed that things were really going to start picking up. Mammals were all active and out of their winter slumber (or at least their winter shyness), and a few birds even looked like they were preparing to begin their preparations for nesting!

Votier's Flats March 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats
March 8, 2015

Early on, I got separated from our group and took a little detour, only to find one of the White-tailed Deer that are resident to this area of the park stopped right in the middle of the pathway in front of me. I probably should have taken this as a cue that a group of fifteen people hadn’t just walked by this way, but what can I say? Daylight Saving Time had just occurred the night before, and maybe I was a little bit tired from losing an hour’s sleep. Either way, this deer didn’t really even seem to mind my presence this close to her, so I took the opportunity to take a portrait.

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

After a few missed directions and a bit of miscommunication, I did finally find our group just as this little American Mink came out of hiding and scampered across the ice in front of us.

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The morning was still quite good for birds though, but it seemed that being out and about so early in the day made the mammal observations come rapid fire. Around the corner and a little west from where we spotted the mink, we found this Snowshoe Hare, entirely frozen in place as we walked by, only to run off as soon as the last of our group passed by it.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we came out of the woods and into a small clearing, we had some great views of a Townsend’s Solitaire, who responded quite readily to a recorded call, giving us some of the best views any of us had ever had of this beautifully grey bird.

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

We walked for a while in the mixed woods of this part of Fish Creek Provincial Park seeing or hearing the occasional distant woodpecker, raven, or flyover of geese, but we did stop for a few minutes below Raven Rocks to observe a few Canada Geese who appeared to be picking out nest spots right on the edge of the sandstone outcrops of the Porcupine Hills formation.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose on the rocks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we reached the westernmost part of our walk before turning and heading to finish out our day, we scanned the trees for Northern Pygmy Owls, Northern Goshawks, or any of the other typical birds we find in that area, and sure enough we found an immature Northern Goshawk flying far above us, circling a nearby neighborhood.

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Furry Friday: Flying Squirrels

Update: For the first time, the group (45 people) did not get to see the Flying Squirrels on March 20, and we didn’t hear any Saw-whet Owls either. It was a very humid, misty, foggy night with the temperature near freezing, so that may have had something to do with it.

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Posted by Bob Lefebvre, all photos by Dan Arndt

Next Friday, March 20, Dan Arndt and I will lead the annual Nature Calgary outing to the Weaselhead to see Northern Flying Squirrels. This is a popular outing, likely because people don’t often get an opportunity to see these animals. It can also be challenging, because we often have to wait for over an hour in the cold and dark before the squirrels make an appearance. But if you are patient there is a very good chance you will see these elusive creatures. In over a dozen trips to see them, I think we have only missed them twice. We generally get to see them glide, and we see them up close at a particular bird feeder which they apparently visit each night, looking for seeds that the birds have overlooked (we re-stock the feeder just before the field trip so that they will stay and feed for a while).

For birders, we often hear Northern Saw-whet Owls and sometimes other species.

If you want to join us, we meet at the north Weaselhead parking lot, 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, at 8 pm, Friday March 20. Here is the information about the field trip on the Nature Calgary site.

Many people are not even aware that we have flying squirrels in Calgary (I wasn’t until we saw one at this location in 2008), but they are in fact common throughout the boreal forest, and probably in the city as well. Because they are nocturnal they aren’t often seen.

Most of the photos below were taken last spring on one of our scouting trips. We set up in the bush within ten feet of the feeder, and were able to get great looks. All photos by Dan Arndt, March 26, 2014, except as indicated.

Below is a Northern Flying Squirrel approaching the feeder after landing higher in the tree. You can see the wide flattened tail which acts as a rudder and as an additional gliding surface. (This photo taken March 23, 2012, by Dan Arndt.)

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The next shot shows the large eyes and the furred flap of skin with a dark edge between the wrist and ankle. This is called the patagium, and it forms the main gliding surface when the legs are extended. (This photo was taken by Dan Arndt on March 17, 2012.)

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Below, a Northern Flying Squirrel at the feeder:

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Below, Feeding. Note the patagium extending from the forward part of the wrist. There is a cartilaginous rod several centimeters long (inside the patagium) jutting out from the wrist, which helps to support the skin.

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The remaining photos were actually taken before the 2014 flash photos above. We use a red light to locate the squirrels. Apparently they can’t see these wavelengths, so it doesn’t disturb them, and we can see them approach. Once they are feeding they settle in and are more tolerant, and do not usually leave even when you use flash photography or approach them more closely.

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Here is another post that Dan wrote after our 2012 field trip: Barred Owls and Flying Squirrels.

More facts about the Northern Flying Squirrel:

  • occurs throughout the forested regions of Canada, except Vancouver Island and the island of Newfoundland
  • absent from the treeless arctic and great plains
  • the similar Southern Flying Squirrel occupies the eastern US and parts of southern Ontario and Quebec
  • the Southern species is rapidly expanding northwards, and is hybridizing with the Northern
  • since Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal and shy, they are often thought to be scarce, but are in fact well distributed and and common
  • with a population density of 0.1 to 3.5 squirrels per hectare, they likely have the highest total population of any squirrel species in Canada. This is a minimum of 260 squirrels per square mile in the poorest parts of its range, up to over 900 per square mile in food-rich areas
  • they are active all year, and breed from March to June
  • usually nest in tree cavities (abandoned nests of other squirrels or birds), but may construct a drey in summer
  • are clumsy walkers
  • can glide up to 65 metres, dropping about 1 metre for each 2 metres of glide length
  • are very maneuverable, able to make a 90-degree turn in flight, or even to corkscrew around a tree and land on the same tree at a lower point
  • after landing on a tree, they immediately scurry around to the other side, in case they are being pursued or watched by a predator
  • are preyed upon by owls, hawks, weasels, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, lynx, wolves, foxes, cougars, and domestic cats
  • are especially vulnerable to large nocturnal owls like Great Horned and Barred Owls
  • in Oregon, Northern Flying Squirrels make up about 50-60% of the diet of the endangered Spotted Owl, which consumes an average of 260 squirrels per owl per year
  • Northern Flying Squirrels eat mainly fungi (especially truffles) and lichen, along with seeds and nuts of trees. They supplement this with fruit, tree sap, buds, insects, small birds and eggs, small mammals, and carrion
  • they are a keystone species, vital to their environment due to their feeding activities which disperse tree seeds and the spores of symbiotic fungi throughout the forest

Join us next Friday for a chance to see these amazing animals!

My main source for information on Northern Flying Squirrels was the excellent book The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton.

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.