For the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park (FFCPP) Society’s spring birding course, the groups birded the Weaselhead from the north parking lot down to the other side of the bridge over the Elbow River, and North Glenmore Park, including the stormwater ponds opposite the canoe club. The goal was to look for some spring migrants such as American Tree Sparrows in the Weaselhead and for Swans on Glenmore reservoir, and possibly Snowy Owls on the remaining ice.
Trumpeter Swans, Glenmore Reservoir, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|
Max Ortiz Aguilar went with the Sunday morning group on April 9th and took photos of some of the birds and mammals they saw, including the Trumpeter Swans shown above. Glenmore Reservoir is a good place to find migrating swans in spring once the ice begins to go out. (All photos taken with a Canon 6D and a Tamron SP 150-600mm.)
In the Weaselhead, the group spotted American Tree Sparrows.
American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 5000|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
Tree Sparrows are arctic nesters and an early migrant in the spring. Sometimes a few will overwinter here. Note the reddish streak behind the eye, the two-toned bill (black above, yellow below) and the dark central breast spot. These features distinguish it from the similarly rusty-capped Chipping Sparrow, a species which is common here in the summer but which doesn’t arrive back until early May.
The Weaselhead is a great place to find mammals too. Snowshoe Hares are common, and are now mostly in their brown summer coats.
Snowshoe Hare, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
Red Squirrels and Least Chipmunks often are seen at the bird feeders by the path through the Weaselhead.
Red Squirrel, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 552mm|ISO: 2500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
Coyote, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|
Finally, here is Max’s black-and-white shot of a Mallard on a rock in the reflecting waters of the Glenmore Reservoir.
Mallard, Glenmore Reservoir, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|
To see more of Max Ortiz Aguilar’s photos, see his website, Photos by MOA.
Birds & Beers is an informal social get-together for any interested birders. The Calgary Chapter, organized by Dan Arndt and a few other local birders, usually meets once a month. The next meeting will be this Friday, April 28th. Details here.
Sandhill Cranes, east of Red Deer, April 4, 2017. Photo by Dan Arndt.
There is no cost or registration for Birds & Beers; just show up and have a drink or a meal if you want, and chat about birds. Of course, there are lots of new birds to talk about at this time of year. Children are welcome if accompanied by an adult. So drop by any time after 6 pm and join us.
Max Ortiz Aguilar is a local photographer who has recently taken up bird photography. Today we’ll post a few of his late winter photos. Max will be attending the outings for the Spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, so we will post more of his photos from the course throughout the spring.
To see more of his photographs, see his website, Photos by MOA. There will also be a link to the site on our right-hand sidebar under “Bird Photos.”
All these images were taken with a Canon 6D and a Tamron SP 150-600mm. All photos by Max Ortiz Aguilar.
Wood Duck Female, Bow River, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 04, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
Black-capped Chickadee, Weaselhead Natural Area, February 25, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 450mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/400s|
Pine Grosbeak Male, Weaselhead Natural Area, February 25, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
Common Redpoll Female, Weaselhead Natural Area, February 25, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/640s|
Downy Woodpecker Male, Weaselhead Natural Area, February 25, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 428mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|
Downy Woodpecker Female, Weaselhead Natural Area, February 25, 2017.
::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/500s|
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 he 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.
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.
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.
Spring migration is bringing new birds to our yards every day now, so you may want to learn more about backyard bird feeding. Golden Acre Home & Garden in Calgary is hosting a seminar this weekend on backyard birding and on beekeeping.
A Northern Flicker feeding on nuts in a Calgary yard.
Alex Taylor of Sun Country Farms will do a presentation on feeding birds, including what types of feed to use at different times of year. This will be followed by another talk on beekeeping. There is also a sale on bird seed this weekend.
To sign up to attend this free seminar on either Saturday or Sunday, and for more information, see this page.
Golden Acres Home & Garden is located just off McKnight Blvd. and Edmonton Trail, at 620 Goddard Avenue NE. It is well-known as a garden centre, but they have just revamped their birding supplies department and will be offering waste-free seeds and nuts from a Canadian supplier that uses sustainable practices. They even have some seeds that are processed in a allergy-aware facility, so that any child can safely begin to feed birds. Proper bird-feeding is important, so this is a welcome addition for local backyard birders.
Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park, located near Waterton in SW Alberta, were recently created by the Provincial government to protect this sensitive and valuable bit of wilderness. The government is asking Albertans to provide feedback on the draft management plan for the parks.
The deadline for this is tomorrow, April 19. Please take some time to read the information on this page and complete the survey there. If you had completed the survey for the previous management plan, you can still respond now to the new plan.
One of the main issues at stake is whether off-highway motorized vehicles (OHV’s) will be allowed in the parks. There is an extensive network of trails in the parks, and the OHV community is lobbying to allow OHV use in the parks to continue. Researchers say that the proposed parks are already so heavily used that it will require a lot of restoration before they can really be valuable wildlife refuges. There are so many roads and trails in the parks right now that many species have been negatively impacted.
As birders and conservationists, we should lend our voices to this debate.
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.
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.
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.
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:
By all means get out and go birding, but respect the birds and the law!