Travel Tuesday – Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, Coaldale, AB

Posted by Dan Arndt


One of my favourite trips in the wonderful book “Day Trips from Calgary” by Bill Corbett, is the magical and amazing Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, located in Coaldale, Alberta. The drive itself is wonderful and offers plenty of opportunities for birding the dozens of lakes, sloughs, and fields in the two and a half hour trip into southern Alberta, but the grounds of the visitor centre would turn any non-birder into a confirmed bird lover.


You don’t even have to go in to the centre to get your bird fix. Surrounding the visitor centre are a series of ponds and marshes that are home not only to shorebirds, but also to passerines, flycatchers, and even large numbers of waterfowl.

A few of these Common Yellowthroat were seen just outside the visitor centre just before it opened.

Three or four Greater Yellowlegs were picking food out of the water just west of the visitor centre.

“But neither of these are birds of prey!” I hear you shouting. You’re right, they’re not. So, without further ado, on with the show!

Last year, the visitor centre housed a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk, which was penned near the front desk.

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk

This year though, we were greeted by Basil, the Burrowing Owl, who cooed and huffed, but investigated us with as much curiousity as we had about him.

Basil the Burrowing Owl

There is a huge portion of the Birds of Prey Foundation that is devoted to rehabilitation of injured or orphaned birds of prey. Some of the current residents are recovering from their injuries, such as the Broad-winged Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk in their care. Both of these birds are recovering from wing injuries, and will require rehabilitation for quite some time before they can be released back into the wild.

Broad-winged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

A few others birds on display are of unknown affinity, and I wasn’t able to track any of the volunteers down to ask them for clarification, but they’re beautiful birds nonetheless.

Northern Harrier

Long-eared Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Great Gray Owl

Others are permanent residents of the centre, and are part of breeding programs that are incredibly successful. Both the Merlins and Burrowing Owls are successful parents, and have regularly fledged offspring for quite a few years.


Burrowing Owl

Arguably just as important as the rehabilitation, breeding, and even the care of these gorgeous raptors are the educational animals that they keep on hand, (and in some cases, in hand!) for public events, or even just for a private moment or two with visitors to the Birds of Prey Foundation visitors centre.

Barn Owl – though not considered “native” to Alberta, they are occasionally reported here.

The Short-eared Owl is quite possibly my favourite owl species.

Spirit, the blind Golden Eagle

Lauren and Alex Jr., one of the Burrowing Owl mascots of the Birds of Prey centre.


Don’t we just look SO happy together?

It’s hard to narrow down from the dozens of pictures that I took here to figure out just which ones are the best and which ones to post. Even looking over the post now, I know I’ve missed a few species and quite a few great photos that would represent them, but really, it’s worth going and visiting for yourself. They’re open this season until September 10, 2012, and will reopen to the public early next May. Why are you still reading this? Get down there and visit them for yourself!

Travel Tuesday – The Many Faces of Frank Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

Frank Lake has been one of my absolute favourite standby birding areas since I started seriously committing myself to the hobby. It’s been a little over a year now, and I must have visited the lake at least twenty times or so, in all seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn, though I’ll admit, I missed out on some great birds down there last fall as I was finishing up my degree, this year will be a very different story!

While shorebirds and waterfowl are the primary draw, sparrows, wrens, falcons, hawks, and even owls are also regularly seen down there.

Frank Lake is located about an hour south of Calgary, and east of High River on Highway 23. 2012 marks the 60th year of activity at Frank Lake by Ducks Unlimited Canada, and is considered one of almost six hundred of Canada’s Important Bird Areas, and you can find a ton of useful information about Frank Lake (and other Ducks Unlimited projects in Alberta) at the Ducks Unlimited website.

The areas most visited by birders are detailed in the map below, with Basin 1 being by far the most popular location, with a blind, driving loop, and water outflow which provides open water even in the coldest winter months.

Frank Lake Map

Frank Lake Map

Winter –

Horned Lark

Horned Lark – March 2012

Trumpeter Swan

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail – March 2012
In late winter/early spring, these Northern Pintail are some of the first migrants back at Frank Lake.

Spring – It’s hard to gauge when winter ends and spring begins out at Frank Lake, as it sometimes seems that the water will thaw completely overnight… but the arrival of some of these favourites is a good indication.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis – May 2012
Probably my absolutely favourite bird at Frank Lake.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe – May 2012
These beautiful little divers can be found at Frank Lake in the hundreds in early spring.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler – May 2012

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – May 2012
A little more white in this one than usual, another of the predators that patrols the lake.

Summer –

Northern Harrier

One of the more common birds of prey at Frank Lake are the always stunning Red-tailed Hawk.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – July 2012
Less commonly found at Basin 1, almost every summer trip I’ve taken to Basin 3 has turned up at least Black-crowned Night Heron.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope – June 2011
A regularly seen species at Frank Lake, they often nest around the shores of the southern basins.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren – July 2012
My lifer Marsh Wren was found near the blind at Basin 1 of Frank Lake.


Willet – July 2012
Another of the great summer resident shorebirds at the lake.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew – July 2012
By midsummer, some of the earliest southern migrants begin to make their appearance around the lake.

Autumn –

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover – September 2011
One of the many southbound shorebirds that stop over at Frank Lake on their fall migration.

State of Canada’s Birds

Canada’s bird populations have been heavily influenced by human activity, in ways that have helped some species, and hindered others, according to a first-of-its-kind national report on the state of Canada’s birds.

The State of Canada’s Birds report draws on 40 years of data – from professionals and citizen scientists – to present an overview of how Canada’s birds are faring. It summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight biomes, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic and oceans. The report provides a scientific tool to help public agencies and conservation groups identify the most significant conservation opportunities to ensure healthy ecosystems.

The report finds that there are fewer birds now than in the seventies – overall populations have declined by 12%, but changes vary among species. Some species groups are doing well, while others are declining. Overall, more species are decreasing (44%) than increasing (33%). Declines have been particularly severe for grassland birds, migratory shorebirds and aerial insectivores (birds that catch insects in flight) all of which have declined, on average, more than 40%.

However, other species populations have expanded, illustrating that direct conservation efforts can have a positive impact. The ban on pesticides in the 1970s has helped raptors like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey and Bald Eagle recover. Effective management of wetlands and hunting has aided waterfowl like ducks and geese.

Birds are a crucial indicator of ecosystem health. Healthy bird habitat provides vital environmental services, including food and fuel, clean air and water, fertile soil, pest and disease control, pollination of plants, and a stable, moderate climate.

The State of Canada’s Birds
 report is a collaborative effort of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative in Canada (NABCI-Canada), whose members include federal, territorial and provincial governments, conservation NGOs, and private sector organizations.

The State of Canada’s Birds is available online at .

Report Findings

The report highlights several changes in Canadian bird populations since 1970. These include:

• On average, Canadian breeding bird populations have decreased 12% since 1970, the year effective monitoring began for most species.
• Of all bird species, 44% have declined, 33% have increased and 23% have remained stable.
• Grassland birds, including longspurs, meadowlarks, Sprague’s pipit, Greater Sage-Grouse and others, are in decline due largely to a loss of habitat.
• Aerial insectivores – birds that catch insects in flight – are declining more steeply than any other group of birds, but the causes of the decline are unknown.
• Overall, shorebirds have declined by almost half, while Arctic shorebirds in particular, including the endangered Red Knot, have declined by 60%.
• Increasing raptor populations, such as the peregrine falcon, point to the success of direct intervention.
• Waterfowl populations have increased in part due to successful management of hunting and wetlands.
• Conserving Canada’s birds requires concerted efforts by all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, non-government organizations and governments, both in Canada and internationally.
• Ongoing efforts and resources are needed to maintain the successes in groups such as waterfowl, and to ensure effective conservation of all the other bird species in Canada.

Nature Canada Press Release

Canadian Lakes Loon Survey

Common Loons have returned to Canadian lakes for another nesting season. Hundreds of volunteers for Bird Studies Canada’s Canadian Lakes Loon Survey are also returning to their lakes – to monitor Common Loons, and to educate lake users on loon and lake conservation.

With more than 80% of the world’s Common Loon population breeding in our country, Canadians have a critical role to play in conserving and monitoring loons. Each summer, volunteers participate in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey ( Surveyors monitor loons’ breeding success, and undertake conservation activities to help protect wildlife, waterbirds, and especially loons (which build their nests very close to the water’s edge) on Canadian lakes.

Photo by Bob Lefebvre

Bird Studies Canada is extremely grateful to all loon surveyors for their outstanding work. BSC staff are currently analyzing the 30+ years of loon survey data for an upcoming report. The results are impressive: more than 4500 lakes have been surveyed for at least one year, with an average of over 500 lakes surveyed each year, between 1981 and 2011. This translates into information for nearly 19,000 breeding attempts by pairs, enabling scientists to detect trends in the numbers of chicks produced over time. This large and extremely useful dataset would not exist without the valued help of Canadian Lakes Loon Survey participants. Bird Studies Canada is eager to share the report later this year, and to say a big “Thank You!” to all the volunteers who have helped support loon conservation over the last three decades.

Survey Participants Needed

Even with more than 600 participants nationwide annually, there are still many undersurveyed lakes. The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey is a great opportunity for volunteers to help lake conservation and loon research while enjoying their favourite lakes. To participate, first visit the lake map at  Note that there is only one lake in the Calgary area currently being surveyed.  There are many other lakes near the city that have breeding loons on them (if you know of one, please comment on this post to share that information).  Choose a lake that you regularly spend time on, or are able to visit three times each summer (June, July, and August).  Then register as a participating member online at For more information, contact Kathy Jones at or 1-888-448-2473 ext. 124, or visit  It’s not too late to start this year, but if you can’t begin yet, please keep this survey in mind for next summer.

Help Protect Lakes and Loons

At the lakeside, you can help breeding loons and other waterbirds by following these tips: avoid adult loons, chicks, and nests; when boating, steer clear of shoreline areas that show evidence of loon activity; keep pets leashed; and dispose of garbage properly (to prevent ingestion by loons, and to avoid feeding nest predators such as gulls and raccoons).

The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey is a self-supporting program, so participants need to purchase a Bird Studies Canada membership. Membership fees cover the costs of materials, data processing and management, and program administration. Additional costs, such as special reports, educational materials, and program outreach are covered by other funding sources. Special thanks to TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation for supporting 2012 outreach and educational activities and the 2012 report.

Bird Studies Canada ( administers regional, national, and international research and monitoring programs that advance the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats. We are Canada’s national body for bird conservation and science, and we are a non-governmental charitable organization.

For further information contact:

Kathy Jones, Canadian Lakes Loon Survey Volunteer Coordinator

Bird Studies Canada

519-586-3531 ext. 124

Birds Calgary blogger Bob Lefebvre is a participant in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey. You can read his posts from last year at Loon Survey #1, Loon Survey #2 and Loon Survey #3. 

So you think you can dance?

Spring appears to be arriving a little early in Alberta this year, and as the snow begins to melt (well I guess the snow never really came this year, did it?), prairie birders will begin to head out in the early mornings with the hope of witnessing the impressive courtship dances of our prairie grouse. The charismatic Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus ) is recognized among naturalists for many reasons, but is perhaps best known for the spectacular courtship displays that occur on mating grounds (lek sites) each spring.

Male Greater sage-grouse. Photo: C.Olson

The greater sage-grouse is the largest of all North American grouse, and both males and females camouflage well in prairie grasses thanks to finely marked brown, black, and white feathers. Male sage-grouse can be distinguished by the presence of an arched yellow comb above the eye, long feathers behind the back of the neck, and a large white breast patch within which two large air sacs are concealed. The survival of the sage-grouse is intrinsically reliant upon the presence and abundance of silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana) flats, found in the Dry Mixedgrass subregion of the Grasslands natural region. This succulent shrub provides the bird’s food, shelter and cover from predators.

Each year, usually beginning in late March, hopeful male sage-grouse head to traditional lek sites where they may spend up to several weeks displaying for female hens. During this lively and intricate performance, males inflate and compress their air sacs producing loud popping sounds. This auditory experience, combined with the stunning visual of raised tail feathers and majestic strutting is indeed one to remember- or so I hear that is. And unfortunately, hearing tales and watching videos may be as close as many Albertans ever get to experiencing sage-grouse mating displays first hand.

Throughout the last decade, the reputation of the sage-grouse has grown for reasons besides being the Casanova of Alberta’s grasslands; the greater sage-grouse is also the most endangered species in Alberta. The sage-grouse was designated an At Risk species in Alberta in 1996 (downgraded to Endangered in 2000), and was recognized by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as a federally Endangered species in 1998. Yet, it is now 2012 and neither provincial nor federal governments have taken any meaningful action to protect the sage-grouse or the habitat upon which its survival depends. Last spring, only 13 male sage-grouse were recorded on leks in Alberta. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, the only other Canadian province in which sage-grouse exist, populations are only slightly higher. These dismal counts represent an almost 90 percent population decline in Canada between 1988 and 2006.

It is clear that, like with most threatened and endangered species worldwide, this rapid decline can be attributed to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Degradation of native grasslands in southern Alberta due to urban expansion, cultivation, livestock grazing, and oil and gas exploration have left only approximately 43% of our grasslands remaining. Although 70% of the species at risk in the province reside in the grasslands, less than 1% is currently protected. In Alberta, sage-grouse can now be found only in the extreme southeast corner of the province, primarily surrounding the town of Manyberries, Alberta.

Sage-grouse are notoriously sensitive to disturbance, and studies have shown that, when confronted with oil and gas development, sage-grouse will abandon or avoid leks essential to their survival. Extensive energy development in southern Alberta has essentially impacted all remaining sage-grouse habitat.

Oil and gas development in sage-grouse habitat. Photo: C. Olson

Oil and gas development in sage-grouse habitat. Photo: C. Olson

Currently provincial species at risk are, sloppily, handled under the Alberta Wildlife Act. This piece of legislation does not require any mandatory actions to protect species at risk, besides the production of a provincial recovery plan. Since the Alberta Greater Sage-Grouse Recovery Plan was produced in 2005, populations have only continued to plummet. In light of this, we are relying upon provisions within the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) that state the federal Environment Minister has a mandatory duty to make recommendations to protect a species facing imminent threat of extinction. The environmental law group Ecojustice is currently representing Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), and several other conservation groups as we pursue legal action against Environment Minister Peter Kent over his continued failure to protect Canada’s endangered greater sage-grouse. In order to prevent the imminent extinction of this prairie icon, the critical habitat necessary to sage-grouse survival and recovery must be protected through legislation. Sage-grouse require a buffer of at least 1.9 km around all nesting, brood-rearing and winter habitat, and a 6.4 km buffer around all lek sites. Within this buffer zone all industrial activity must be prohibited, and existing industrial infrastructure must be removed.

Female greater sage-grouse. Photo: C. Wallis

Perhaps the single most frustrating, but also encouraging, piece of the sage-grouse puzzle is that the bird’s ecology and habitat requirements are well-understood. If we want to recover healthy sage-grouse populations in Alberta, it is entirely possible. But what we are obviously still missing is the desire and the political will to take the necessary steps before it is too late.

So I hope to leave you not with a bleak perspective on the state of species at risk in Alberta, but with an awareness of a truly remarkable species, and the desire to seek action from both federal and provincial levels of government to ensure the native grasslands of southern Alberta have not witnessed the sage-grouse’s last dance. For more information on what you can do to help protect sage-grouse, please visit

-Madeline Wilson, AWA conservation specialist

Lost Forever?

Posted by Matthew Sim

Back in November, the Calgary Herald ran an article on the Sage Grouse, a large and impressive grouse that faces a bleak and dismal future. For me, this was a depressing article; it opened my eyes to a species I never knew even lived in Alberta, only to present very pessimistic prospects for the bird here.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

A scarce permanent resident with a very limited distribution in our province, the sage grouse needs large stands of sagebrush as well as wet meadows, river bottoms or green areas for foraging. This habitat is crucial for the bird and without it, the grouse cannot survive. It is for exactly this reason that population levels have decreased in Alberta since the 1960’s, in fact, the sage grouse population in Alberta is down to just 13 males. Many experts have already given up any hope of saving Alberta’s prairie sage grouse, however, led by the Alberta Wilderness Association, 12 environmental groups are acting to save the species. These groups have asked that the federal government enact an emergency protection order, which would force Environment Canada to do whatever it can to save this species’ habitat. Though it may be too late, let this species plight be a lesson to all of us, and let us ensure that this never happens again.

To read the Herald’s article, follow the link below:

Iconic prairie Sage Grouse facing local extinction

Christmas Bird Count

As a follow-up to Bob’s post on the Christmas Bird Count this year, I am posting from my experiences last year.

For the 2010 Big Year birding here in Calgary, I decided to participate in my first Christmas Bird Count. I had heard great stories about this annual winter event and I was not disappointed. I was scheduled to a very productive route on the Bow River, with Southland Park and Carburn Park our main birding spots. We had a very good turnout for species, recording about 29, if I remember correctly. Some of the highlights on our route, were Killdeer, a Northern Shrike, a Rough-legged Hawk, a pair of Great Horned Owls and two immature Trumpeter Swans. These swans were seen continually in January of 2011 and were identified as one immature Tundra Swan and one immature Trumpeter Swan.

A fellow bird-counter participating in the 2010 Calgary CBC

Overall, almost 200 people took part in the 2010 count, with 102 feeder-watchers and 92 birders in the field. Temperatures ranged from -15 to -13 degrees Celsius with some light snow falling in the morning. Birders in the field put in a combined
205 party-hours total, 230 km  on foot and 881 km by car. These stats were compiled by Phil Cram, Donna and Arthur Wieckowski, Bob Lefebvre and John McFaul and can be more extensively viewed  by following this link:

Bald Eagles are usually seen on the Bow River

My group divided ourselves up into small parties in the morning, scanning the Bow River on either sides in and around Southland Park. Once we had spent several hours scouring the snow-swept landscape for birds, we headed to the nearest Tim Hortons for some warmth, where we traded stories and identification tips over refreshments. We headed back out, this time to Carburn Park, where we added Bohemian Waxwings, the shrike and some Barrow’s Goldeneyes. We ate lunch in our heated cars at Carburn and spent the afternoon searching our range for any missing species. That evening, all CBC participants from all over the city flocked to the Flynn’s house where we were served delicious chili and shared our tales from the day.

Birds are not the only wildlife seen on the Christmas Bird Count

The 2010 Christmas Bird Count was very enjoyable; if you have never done it before I highly recommend it. Calgary is historically a very high count in North American for number of participants; last year we had a total of 194 participants which was the 7th highest count in the US and Canada (Edmonton was 1st in North America with 439 participants!!!). Calgary also had the most species of birds recorded on the CBC in Alberta with a grand total of 64.

I will be back in Calgary for the holidays and I hope to see you there!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Join Project Feeder Watch

Backyard birdwatchers across Canada are invited to take part in the 25th season of Project FeederWatch, from November 12 through April 6. With each season, FeederWatch increases in importance as a unique and indispensable monitoring tool for more than 100 bird species that winter in North America. Last year, over 2,500 Canadians and 11,000 Americans counted backyard birds; their observations help scientists better understand the health and behavior of birds – an important indicator species for the well being of our planet.

White-breasted nuthatch at the suet feeder

Each checklist submitted by ‘FeederWatchers’ helps scientists at Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology learn more about where birds are, how they are doing, and how to protect them. Participating in Project FeederWatch is a great way for families and friends to connect with nature, have fun, and help birds. You do not have to be an expert to participate – they’ll send you a poster of common birds, and help is just a phone call or email away.

Participants choose how much time they want to dedicate to the project. They are asked to select their own two-day count period once every two weeks, and then count for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they like) on one or both of those days. Sightings are entered online at or reported on paper data forms and mailed in at the end of the season.

Data from FeederWatchers have helped scientists learn about changes in the distribution and abundance of feeder birds over time, expansions and contractions in their winter ranges, the spread of disease in bird populations, and the kinds of habitats and foods that attract birds.

Sign up for Project FeederWatch here

Source: Bird Studies Canada  

Posted by Pat Bumstead


“Global tools for birders, critical data science”.

This one line sums up eBird perfectly. eBird is an online checklist program for birders that has changed the way we submit and access data for the better. This program enables you to easily view data submitted from across the globe by birdwatchers.

Well how does it work? eBird gets many thousands of birders engaged in contributing to a huge online database. You simply fill in a checklist on your birding trip; the who, what, when and where of the outing and then submit the form. eBird stores the data and allows you to view your own lists of what you have seen for the month, for the year, for a certain location and so on. Rare birds get flagged by the data quality filters and are then reviewed by local experts. Once a rare bird has been confirmed it is accessible for all to see via rare bird alerts, allowing others to share in the discovery. Your checklist goes to the database to help scientists accumulate information on birds and helps them to determine species ranges, bird distribution and other such data which can help save endangered birds. As they explain on the website: “any contribution made to eBird increases our understanding of the distribution, richness, and uniqueness of the biodiversity of our planet.” I look forward to seeing many observations submitted to eBird from you!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Whooping Cranes at the Zoo Ranch

Whooping Cranes are so rare that most of us have never seen one in the wild.  But there is an opportunity to see captive ones right here in Calgary.  The Calgary Zoo maintains a Whooping Crane breeding program at their Zoo Ranch facility just south of the city.  On Saturday October 8, there will be a field trip to see these magnificent birds, as well as other rare birds and animals.  Crane Keeper Dwight Knapik will guide the group on a tour of the facility and explain their breeding programs.

Whooping Crane pair.  All photos from 2008.

There will be a limit of 25 participants accepted for this free trip, so if you have never been to the Zoo Ranch, you should take this opportunity.  Call Gus Yaki at 403-243-2248 to register (the best time to reach him is between 6 and 7 pm).  In the past this trip has always been fully booked.

Up close and personal with a Whooping Crane!

The group will meet at the Anderson LRT Station next to McLeod Trail, 109 Ave SW, south of the pedestrian overpass, at 1:30 pm to carpool to the site.  (If it is raining the date may be changed to Sunday October 9.)

Are you looking at me?

Desmoiselle Cranes

Sandhill Crane

Przewalski’s Horse

Grevy’s Zebra.  Unfortunately this animal has since passed away.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre