Some summer birds and mammals from Calgary, taken in late June 2015. All photos by Tony LePrieur.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre. All photos by George Best.
Last Sunday morning, July 26, 2015, local birder and photographer George Best went down to Griffith Woods Park in SW Calgary to see what he could find. He had headed out in the morning to go to the Weaselhead, but was unable to park there due to a triathlon.
At Griffith Woods George was not looking for any particular bird species, and was not doing a long walk through the park. He decided to do something that often is very rewarding in terms of birds found and opportunities to photograph wildlife – he just went to a good birdy location, and more or less stayed put and let the birds come to him.
He chose a wooded area near the Elbow River, south of the big pond at the east end of the park. He spent about twenty minutes there, and was able to get a few photographs of a Swainson’s Thrush and a chipmunk. Then he moved to a new location nearby, where he knew Yellow Warblers could be found. After twenty minutes there, this bird appeared:
When he finally got a good look at the whole bird with binoculars, George realized that it was a species he had never seen before (and he knows the local birds very well). The bird just sat and preened for about three to five minutes. George put the long lens on his camera and snapped the photos shown here.
Eventually the bird left, probably flying across the river. George looked through his Ibird Pro app and realized he had seen a Golden-winged Warbler. But a look at the range map showed that it was a bird of eastern North America, whose normal range extends to Manitoba, but no farther west. After sending a few texts to some other local birders with a photo of the bird, it was soon confirmed that it did appear to be a Golden-winged.
George did a search on the eBird site and discovered that this species had never before been reported on eBird in Alberta. I looked on the Royal Alberta Museum site for the Official List of the Birds of Alberta. This is a list of all species for which there is at least one sighting that has been accepted and verified by a panel of experts. Golden-winged Warbler is listed as Accidental, with a “Need to Document” code that indicated that there had been less than eight verified sightings in Alberta. This meant that this new sighting needed to be properly documented (the form can be downloaded from the Museum site) and the photographic evidence supplied as well.
In corresponding with Jocelyn Hudon, chair of the Alberta Bird Record Committee, I found out that there had only been two previous reports of this species in Alberta, in 1985 from Medicine Hat, and in 1994 from the Porcupine Hills. Neither of those sightings had photographic evidence. George’s was a very special sighting indeed!
If the sighting is accepted by the ABRC, it will be only the third ever for Alberta, and the first supported by photographic evidence. The museum site gives this bird a “Findability Index” of 5, which means:
“These species have been seen in the province on fewer than 10 occasions and some may never be seen in the province again. These birds are finds of a lifetime and the probability of finding these in the province is extremely low to next to nil.”
Imagine going out to see what birds come to you, and having the “find of a lifetime!”
Although word of the sighting got out very quickly, no one has yet been able to re-find this bird. I guess we’ll have to get out and try to find our own rarities.
Re-posted with permission from the Bird Boy blog. Originally posted July 19, 2015. See the Bird Boy blog at this link. It is based in Canmore, so Calgary-area birders may want to subscribe to it.
“Owls are fascinating to us because they are simultaneously foreign and familiar.” So states Dr. James R. Duncan on page 6 of his book The Complete Book of North American Owls. He goes on to explain the biology and unusual features of North American Owls. Further into the book, he has a complete profile of every known species of Owl in North America. The result is an all round excellent guide which is essential to any Owling expedition, whether diurnal or nocturnal.
The introduction is informative, but manages to convey its large amount of information in an interesting way. Mainly on the biology and ‘special adaptations’ of owls, this document starts off with captivating sentences that show the relationships between owls and humans. On page 6, he states it well and plainly. “When owls and humans meet, it is sometimes hard to know which is more fascinated, startled, and sometimes even frightened.” Once he has the reader in his grasp, he progresses to the more scientific parts. He explains the intricate mysteries of owls and their amazing arsenal of survival skills. This entirety is built upon the excellent images that are not simply pictures of owls, but relevant and comprehension-aiding parts of the book.
This brings me to my next point: photography.
The photos are all clear, and have the proper photo credits. The more common species have multiple photos, at least one of both adult and immature, while the lesser known species may have only one or two. The photo choices and placement fits and does not get in the way, but helps with understanding the species. I did, however, notice one slight error: the front page photos from the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Mountain Pygmy Owl had been swapped! Apart from this, everything was exceptional for all the pictures.
Most owl species in the book have 1 to 4 pages of detailed descriptions and photos. On each owl’s front page, the Owl’s common and Latin names are top of the sheet, precise range maps and a general physical summarization lie beside the text. In the writing itself, the primary information is the song, range, food, and nesting. Behaviour and nesting habits are also mentioned. I found that the author tried to insert some interesting little pieces of info that may not help with identification, but are interesting nonetheless, including quotes such as this: “It [the Northern Hawk Owl] roosts within forested stands at night, and has been seen flying for such cover from open areas when Great-horned Owls emerge at dusk to start hunting.” (page 128).
The book is well organised, a 25cm tall, 19cm wide, 2cm thick volume, the font is easy to read and a reasonable size. It is not so much a field guide as a home guide, in my opinion, meaning that I would keep it at home and read it there rather than take it into the field (although if you’re going owling, take it when you can, it would be very useful).
To conclude, the pictures are good, the writing is very informative, and you can tell that the author has made an effort to keep it interesting. All in all, Dr. James R. Duncan has succeeded in making one of the best and most influential owl guides that I have ever read.
The Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course will be starting up on August 31. You now have the option of signing up for either one outing a week or two. Youths accompanied by a registered adult can attend the whole 15-week course (over 40 hours in the field) for only $5. These outings are a lot of fun and are great for beginners, and for anyone wanting to explore Calgary’s natural areas.
Go to the Friends of Fish Creek site to register.
The next Calgary Birds & Beers social get-together will be held from 6 to 9 pm on Friday July 24, at the Royal Canadian Legion, 9202 Horton Road SW Calgary. Everyone is welcome to join us to have a friendly chat with their fellow birders.
We have scheduled a few more of these events for the fall. Mark your calendars! Same time and location.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Friday, October 30, 2015
Friday, November 13, 2015
Posted by Dan Arndt
Wow, hard to believe it’s July already! The rush of spring birding is over, but there are still some birding outings to recap from the Friends of Fish Creek Spring course. We headed to the Weaselhead for the May Species Count on May 31, and headed back there again on June 14, and most of the same species were found each time, but we did have a couple unique finds on each trip. Because this is my first time trying to overlay two different walks into one post, I’ve color coded our outings in the attached map.
Our outing on May 31 is in red in the above image, while our trip on June 14 is in blue. We also had significantly different weather each morning, with the weather on May 31 being absolutely incredible, clear, and bright, while June 14 was a bit gloomy, dark, and overcast with occasional rain here and there.
We had a couple great birds on our first outing at the top of the hill, with both a Spotted Towhee and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird right at the top.
At the feeders a bit further down the hill, we found a couple of Tree Swallows guarding their nests early in the day, catching some sun and warming up for the busy day ahead.
We almost missed out on the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on June 14th, except for a brief glance up the hill caught this little guy hanging out in the gloom.
The Rufous Hummingbirds are absolutely amazing and can always be found in the same place every year. I’ve yet to see a female on this slope, but I suspect that if it wasn’t a good area for the males to find a mate, they wouldn’t be here year after year! Forgive me for sharing as many photos as possible of these beautiful little fireballs.
We headed back to the area south of the Elbow River and found the usual Eastern Phoebes at their regular spot as well, this one having caught some fresh breakfast!
As we headed towards the silverberry meadow, we heard the typical buzzing of the Calliope Hummingbirds in this area, but none of them really cooperated with the us and the sunlight, but I’m still pretty happy with the results!
We did hear a relatively uncommon bird back beyond the dense spruce where we have Boreal Chickadees each winter, and it turned out to be an Ovenbird singing on territory. Sadly, he had moved on by mid-June, but it was really quite a treat to hear and see one of these guys right our back yard!
Down at the far end of the Weaselhead, we had another Calliope Hummingbird in a spot I’d never seen one before, but at the far south end were a number of Grey Catbirds flitting around in the aspens, mewing away and singing their odd, disjointed songs.
Another nice treat were a few Ring-necked Ducks which have been at these south ponds for a few weeks. It seems like there’s a lot more of these around this year, as they just keep turning up all over the city, but maybe it’s just a matter of getting out into the places they like to hang around a little bit more.
On our walk back to the start we had our share of great birds as well, like this American Goldfinch singing from high in the trees, or the usual Cliff Swallows under the bridge over the Elbow River.
Have a great week, and good birding! Watch for the Monday supplemental post covering what we found at our visits to North Glenmore Park on these two outings!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
A little-known gem of a birding location near Calgary is Marsland Basin, a Ducks Unlimited wetland on a private farm about halfway between Eagle Lake and Namaka Lake, southeast of Strathmore. A 75-acre lake with mud flats and cattail marshes can be viewed from the edge of a wooded farmyard.
The homeowners have created a great natural environment for all kinds of birds here, and they invite any interested birders to come by at any time. There are chairs set up at the viewing area, and you can walk around the farmyard as well. Sign the guest book.
To get to Marsland Basin, take Twp Road 232 one mile east from the village of Namaka, then go north a half mile on RR 242. This road dead-ends by the yard. Just drive right up into the yard.
Birders are encouraged to enter their sightings on eBird. Use the Marsland Basin HotSpot. Having a lot of public reports of both nesting birds and migrants is a good way to ensure that the importance of a wetland is recognized, and it is more likely to be protected and preserved.
There is an upcoming Nature Calgary field trip to this location on Sunday July 26. Meet at the parking lot at Carburn Park at 8 am to carpool.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
We have reached the halfway point in the eBird Calgary 2015 competition. May and June is the busiest time of the year for birding, and offers the best chance to add new species to your list. Some of the species totals that competition participants have recorded are very impressive. The Calgary area also continues to stand out for the number of eBird checklists submitted and the the number of different species reported.
The overall leader of the competition is Brian Elder, with 252 species within the competition circle so far in 2015. This is a really good total for July 1, and I think Brian has a good chance to beat the 2005 winning total of 265. Here is a link to Brian’s complete list as of June 24. He has since added Brewer’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren.
Here are the current standings (as of July 1) in the competition categories (top five shown).
Brian Elder 252
Ray Woods 230
Blake Weis 223
John Thompson 213
George Best 205
(Daniel Arndt-236 and Andrew Hart-211 are not eligible for prizes.)
Nicole Pellerin 206
Graeme Mudd 187
Aphtin Perratt 185
Christopher Naugler 183
Darlene Shymkiw 181
Birdboy Canada (Ethan Denton) 174
Simone Pellerin-Wood 172
Aidan Vidal 148
Robin Naugler 48
Lucianna Lybbert 30
Phil Ulmann 68
John Anderson 43
Laurie Anderson 43
John Bargman 39
Judy Swan 34
(Bob Lefebvre-41 not eligible for prizes.)
The increase in eBird usage in the Calgary area is very impressive. So far in 2015, 18,984 checklists have been submitted to eBird in Alberta. Calgary county, which makes up the bulk of our competition circle (but is a very small part of the entire province) accounts for 8,372 of those, or 44%. A total of 314 species have been reported in Alberta on eBird this year, and the total for Calgary county is 281.
You’ll notice that even Brian’s impressive total of 252 is well short of the total number of species reported here so far, so there are always new birds to be found!
If you are not among the competition leaders, remember that there is plenty of time to catch up. It will be more difficult for the top birders to add new species as the year goes on, but if you missed a lot of species on spring migration, you can get them on the fall migration. If you haven’t been out birding much in the first half of the year, you can start start now to get out and build your list. The fall shorebird migration is already under way, and the warblers will start moving south through the area on about August 10th.
Dan Arndt, Rose Painter and I have led quite a few field trips for Nature Calgary in the last couple of months and found lots of great birds. We will continue to lead trips so please join us, or go on any of the other Nature Calgary birding outings. You can also join the Friends of Fish Creek Fall birding course, which begins August 31.
Even if you don’t have designs on finishing in the prizes, you can still set some personal goals for birding in 2015. At the start of the year I had two goals. From the time I started using eBird on January 1, 2012 until the end of 2014, I had recorded 230 species in the Calgary count circle, and my first goal was to reach that total just for 2015. (I’m at 202 so I have a chance!)
Secondly, I decided to submit at least one eBird checklist each day, as long as I was here in the count circle. So far so good on that one, as I have only missed three days in April when I was in Montana (I did several lists from there though!), and I have submitted a total of 363 eBird checklists in 2015. Does anyone else want to take up the challenge of submitting a checklist every day for the rest of the year?
I also hoped to add several life birds to my list and I have six so far.
So set some birding goals for the second half of the year and get out and see some birds!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Our outing on May 31 was to the Weaselhead Natural Area as part of the May Species Count, and we went back there on June 14 as well, so I’m going to roll those out in a single post next week. Instead, I’ll be posting some photos of our outing on May 30 to the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park between Hull’s Wood and Lafarge Meadows, an area I’ve covered for the past few years.
I was accompanied by Rose Painter, my co-leader for our regular Sunday morning outings for this spring, and we both found a lot of good birds that morning. While the weather was gloomy and grey, it was still quite warm, and we thankfully didn’t get rained out.
I think the rainy/gloomy weather had put down a few birds overnight, because we had an abnormally high number of Baltimore Orioles singing throughout the day: eighteen males singing and a lone female that we spotted as well, compared to the usual number in this area being about half a dozen or so. It was really nice to have these guys so actively singing, despite the gloom.
We also had our usual numbers of Spotted Sandpipers, along the river, retaining ponds, and right on Fish Creek itself. While they weren’t actively displaying, there were a few that we were pretty sure were sitting on nests.
It was also really great to see a good number of Killdeer along this stretch. In 2013, I had ten nesting pairs, while in 2014 I was entirely shut out of this species, as many of the gravel bars had shifted and some had even totally lost their gravel patches and were mainly boulder strewn. This female was trying to lure us away from her nest right on one of the newer, much more extensive gravel bars along the Bow River.
We also had our first really good looks at Cedar Waxwings for the year, which had also returned overnight in some pretty good numbers. They were actively feeding low in the bushes along the river, where the insects were most active.
Along this stretch of the Bow River, I’ve had a pair of Willow Flycatchers breeding and nesting for the past three years. Each year they move the exact site of the nest, but they’re always within about two hundred meters of the spot where I first found them. They’re a little unusual to find within the city, but their calls and songs are distinctive. This photo also shows that even using the eye-ring as a field mark can be somewhat tricky, because this little gal has quite a prominent one.
This gravel bar is also where I get my usual Brewer’s Blackbirds, and rarely get them anywhere else on this route. One of the perks of doing a route like this year after year is finding all the usual spots to find great birds. I do think it would be fun to switch it up every once in a while, but I do like seeing these guys in the same spots every year.
We followed the edge of the river all the way down to the boat launch, finding some Franklin’s Gulls, but not much else along the far side of the river. We also found a nice male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying close to us. They really are quite interesting birds to look at, no matter how you feel about their particular breeding habits.
One of the other nice things with days like this, similar to last year, is that this is still during the main thrust of northward warbler migration. Last year, I had my first Blackpoll Warbler of the year, and this year I turned up this young male American Redstart, singing away along the creek just off of Sikome Lake.
Once we crossed under the Highway 22x bridge, things slowed down a little, but we did get some good looks at some waterfowl along the stormwater ponds, including this Cinnamon Teal that we surprised with a brief look at, and a few families of Canada Geese with their babies.
Further south along the river bank, we had some good looks at Eastern Kingbirds, but unfortunately in the years that I’ve done this route, we’ve never found Western Kingbirds in the poplar stand south of the bridge, where I’ve been told was one of the few places in the city they were known to breed, until recently. I suspect the heavy development on both the east and west side of the park there has made it a little less accessible and appropriate for them to nest.
One of the perks of the flood in 2013 was the generation of habitat for a number of species. The large piles of debris in the parks make good homes for House Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, while the cut banks of the Bow River and Elbow River created large expanses of open banks, perfect for both Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows to nest in, which they have done along the south edge of my route. It’s always nice to see these guys, and even better to get them up close and personal like this.
The last really notable sighting of the day was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who was hammering away at this bit of excrement near Sikome Lake. Here he his proudly displaying his prize, which I assume he’s taking home to feed to his young. Nature isn’t always pretty!
In all, we covered just over 16 kilometers (10 miles!) in eight hours, and broke my previous record number of species by 1, finding 76 species in this area. It was a great morning (and early afternoon), and I think maybe one of the more under-appreciated areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.
Good birding, and have a great week!