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Goldfinch and Other Backyard Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first American Goldfinch of the year arrived in our yard on Mother’s Day.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Although I occasionally hear goldfinches flying over in the summer, they don’t stay to breed in my neighbourhood and I usually don’t see them in my yard except on spring and fall migration.

There are Northern Flickers here year-round, and there are at least a couple that are still courting, so maybe this is the year that my Flicker nest box finally get used (by Flickers, rather than House Sparrow, Starlings, or squirrels).

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

This year our local pair of Swainson’s Hawks is building a nest just down the block, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot of them. I will post more about these birds as the season goes along.

Swainson’s Hawk, Calgary, April 30, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Sharp-tailed Grouse Portrait

Gavin McKinnon took this close-up of a male Sharp-tailed Grouse in mating display this spring in southern Alberta. The bird has his yellow eyebrows flared and his purple neck air-sacs exposed.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male), Southern Alberta, spring 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnon.

Follow Gavin’s blog at Canadian Birder.

Western Meadowlark Singing

Gavin McKinnon photographed this Western Meadowlark singing on a fence post at Weed Lake, SE of the city, on April 30.

Western Meadowlark, Weed Lake, April 30, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnon.

Unfortunately, Meadowlarks are hard to find in the city, but a trip a short distance out of town on the prairies will usually produce some of these beautiful singers. Weed Lake is immediately east of Langdon, 26 km east from Stoney Trail on Glenmore Trail.

Like Ethan Denton, Gavin is another accomplished young birder. He has a blog at Canadian Birder. Gavin has teamed up with Ethan to raise money for the Great Canadian Birdathon. You can sponsor him here.

 

Furry Friday: Muskrat Love

Tony LePrieur photographed this pair of muskrats mating in Fish Creek Park on May 7.

Muskrat pair mating, Fish Creek Park, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Muskrat (male) post-mating. Yes, that is a muskrat penis. Fish Creek Park, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Muskrat swimming off, Fish Creek Park, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

 To see more of Tony’s photos, visit his Flickr page here.

Global Big Day, May 13, 2017

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Tomorrow, Saturday May 13, is the third annual Global Big Day, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The hope is that birders all over the world will go out that day and report as many species as they can.

Can you find a Long-eared Owl on the Global Big Day? Fish Creek Park, November 7, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

In 2016, 15,953 birders in 145 countries contributed 43,848 checklists, and recorded a total of 6,263 bird species. Your individual contribution this Saturday is important in preserving a record of our local bird life. Here’s how to make your sightings count.

There will also be a random draw from everyone who submits at least three complete checklists on May 13, with the winner getting Zeiss Conquest HD 8X42 binoculars.

The results are already coming in from the Eastern Hemisphere, and you can watch the worldwide results as they come in here.

The Cornell Lab’s team of birders is raising money by trying to find 300 species of birds in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in twenty-four hours. You can sponsor the Cornell Big Day team here.

Locally, many birders are making a special effort to get out and put in their three checklists. Dan Arndt and a few others are actually doing a Calgary Region Big Day, trying to see as many species as they can within the local 80-km radius birding circle. You can follow Dan’s progress and see how many species they have (and perhaps learn where some really good birds are located) by following him on his Twitter account. Dan’s handle is @ubermoogle, so follow him, or go to his page on Twitter to see what he posts.

Sandhill Crane Migrating Over Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here’s something you don’t see very often: a Sandhill Crane flying over the city.

Sandhill Crane, South Glenmore Park, April 29, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Sandhill Cranes can be seen in huge numbers on their northward migration if you go well east of the city on the prairies. Dan Arndt photographed huge flocks in the Castor area on April 4th. See his Flickr page here. These birds do nest in the Calgary area, near Bragg Creek and in the Water Valley area, so you can see a few in those areas even in mid-summer. But they are not often seen in Calgary.

To see more of Max Ortiz Aguilar’s photos, see his website.

Canmore Bird Walks, and Birds of Banff and Canmore

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Ethan Denton is an accomplished young birder who lives in Canmore, an hour west of Calgary at the entrance to Banff National Park. We have birded together and it has has been a pleasure to get to know him and his family. Ethan has had a blog for a few years already called Bird Boy. Although he is just thirteen years old, he has organized the Canmore Christmas Bird Count for the past two years. He also takes part in the Great Canadian Birdathon, and you can sponsor him at this page.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, April 27, 2017, West Banff Townsite. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Now Ethan has begun to lead birding field trips in Canmore every week. Every second Sunday morning, there will be an informal birding walk along Policeman’s Creek in Canmore. This is one of the best locations in Canmore. Ethan had recorded over 100 species there.

Below is the information poster. Use the scrollbar on the right-hand side to see the whole page.

Download the PDF file .

The next walk is on Sunday May 21. The walks are free and everyone (children included) is welcome. So if you are a Canmore-area birder, or an interested Calgary-area birder, please join Ethan and see some birds like these:

Wood Duck pair, Canmore boardwalk, April 9, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Pileated Woodpecker, Canmore boardwalk, March 18, 2017.  Photo by Ethan Denton.

Hammond’s Flycatcher, Canmore boardwalk, April 27, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Hammond’s Flycatchers are uncommon in Canmore in the summer, so an early spring record is almost unique. This is a bird we don’t see in Calgary.

Cassin’s Finch (female), April 27, 2017, West Banff Townsite. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Cassin’s Finch is only rarely seen in Calgary.

Ethan will post about each walk on his blog afterwards, so check back there to see what they have spotted and to see more of Ethan’s photos.

If you are out in the mountain parks this summer, note that there are also twice-weekly bird walks held at the Cave and Basin in Banff, run by the Bow Valley Naturalists. If you are out there on Saturday or Monday mornings, join them. Information here.

 

Peregrines at the U of C: An Update

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In this recent post about local bird nest cameras, I mentioned that the camera at the Peregrine Falcon nest at the University of Calgary was no longer available online, and that most of the historical data was no longer available either. I have been told by the Media Relations department at the U of C that the decision to remove support was not a budget issue (as I stated), but a resource one. Libraries and Cultural Resources at the U of C are now working with Alberta Conservation Association and Biological Sciences (UCalgary) to partner and take over the project.

The good news is that the historical data about the Peregrines nesting at the U of C has been permanently archived and is available online at this link. We will have a link on our right-hand sidebar under “Calgary Nest Cameras” also.

The bad news is that the Peregrines did not return to nest at the U of C this year. The nest camera continues to be monitored by U of C staff, and if they return the camera link will be restored. (This page would have a link to the camera feed if it was live.) But since the birds are usually back here by the end of March, if they are not here yet, they are not coming. Either something happened to one of the adults, or they are nesting elsewhere.

If you know of any Peregrine Falcons nesting in Calgary, either at the Foothills Hospital, Downtown, or elsewhere, please leave a comment.

Birds of Bridlewood and Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Photographs of spring birds, by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s), Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are usually among the first warblers to pass through Calgary on Spring migration, along with Orange-crowned Warblers. Most of the ones we get here are the Myrtle subspecies, the eastern and northern form, which have a white throat and a more prominent black mask. They breed in the boreal forest. The Audubon subspecies, shown here, breeds in the western mountains. This year, quite a few Audubons were reported here. There is talk that the two subspecies will be split again into two separate species, so it is important to note which one you see, especially if you are recording your sightings on eBird.

Common Grackle, Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The Bridlewood Wetland is located just north of Spruce Meadows, on James McKevitt Road in SW Calgary. It is a small wetland but has a trail around it and a bridge from which to view the birds.

The Bridlewood Wetland in SW Calgary.

The rest of the photos were taken in Carburn Park on the Bow River in SE Calgary.

Common Goldeneye (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Common Merganser (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

On spring migration, we get more Lesser Yellowlegs than Greater Yellowlegs in the city. But we do get both species. The Lesser is slighter, with a smaller head, and the bill is about the length of the head from front to back, as with this bird. The Greater Yellowleg’s bill is about one and a half times the head length, and often slightly curved upwards.

Song Sparrow, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

This Song Sparrow is missing its tail. Birds don’t molt their tail feathers all at once, so a missing tail probably indicates that the bird narrowly survived an attack by a predator.

Beaver, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

See more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.

Brown Thrasher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Brown Thrashers are rather late migrants, usually arriving in the Calgary area in mid-May or even late May, as do their Gray Catbird cousins. The bird shown here was one that actually overwintered here this year. It was first noticed before Christmas 2016 in Airdrie by Heinrich Lohmann.

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, January 16, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

The bird was coming to a feeder in Heinrich’s yard and continued to do so into March of this year. The photo below was taken on March 10th, and the bird was last seen on March 11th. It may have moved on to its summer territory then, getting a big jump on its migratory rivals (although if so, it will have a bit of wait for any females to arrive back).

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, March 10, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

It’s not unheard-of for Brown Thrashers to overwinter in Alberta. One was seen in Calgary in December 2015 and (I believe) one in Canmore later that winter. One was seen north of Edmonton in February 2015. Of course, these birds are at high risk when spending the winter so far north. Their normal winter range is in the SE United States. As I said, a bird that successfully overwinters here will get first choice of breeding territories. But it’s also possible that birds that overwinter are only doing so because they were sick or injured during the migration period, and were unable to head south.

In any case it’s always interesting to see a “summer” bird here in mid-winter.