The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.
Posted by Dan Arndt
This year I participated in a few Christmas Bird Counts, and while I wasn’t able to get too many photos from some of them, I did manage a few here and there.
Calgary Christmas Bird Count:
As per usual, my area this year was the Weaselhead, and I managed a few photos of some good birds while down there. While we did miss out on some expected birds in that area, we didn’t have too bad a day overall. Of course the most reliable birds here are the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Ruffed Grouse. One of the pleasant surprises in our area was a small flock of Common Redpolls, which quickly flew in, landed for a minute or two, and flew off as quickly as they arrived.
Canmore Christmas Bird Count:
Most years, the Canmore Christmas Bird Count is one of the first ones I participate in, as it’s on a Saturday, and Calgary’s count is on a Sunday. This year, the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count window fell on a Sunday, and so the Canmore count was scheduled for the following Saturday. Because I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush to get home and get prepared for the Calgary count the next day, I had some time to actually spend a bit of time with the subjects, and explore a bit of a different range of habitats. My extra time paid off and I was able to find a couple more species in this area that I hadn’t found before!
Fish Creek Christmas Bird Count (and bonus bird):
The unofficial Fish Creek Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count is always conducted on New Year’s Day, which also gives me a great opportunity to get a solid start on my bird list for the year. For the past couple of years I’ve joined Phil Cram and the group that searches along the south-east corner of the park, including Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and the area around the boat launch, so we tend to get a pretty good variety of birds. Following the morning count, I did manage a trip over to Bebo Grove to search for the elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl that had been seen here recently, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint, but not before I was heading back to the car to head home. Sure enough, just as I was preparing to leave, he had already been found by another photographer who pointed him out to me at the parking lot!
This week marks the beginning of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, so check back here next Monday to find out what we saw on our first Sunday outing!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Before I start this post, I want to mention that this week’s entry is going to include some photos from a visit I took to the park a week ago as well, partly because there was a significant paucity of expected birds here this week, but also to highlight a local rarity that passed through late last week as well. The usual map will also indicate the location of the older photos.
This week’s location was South Glenmore Park, with the goal in mind to see some migrating waterfowl and other associated water birds, and to highlight that with some of the boreal and parkland birds along the north-facing slope of the Glenmore Reservoir. While we did have some incredibly memorable experiences with the latter, the uncannily quiet morning in general led to my decision to include some photos from last week as well.
Our morning started off on a high note, with one species I don’t know if I’ve ever actually posted a photo of to this blog. While House Sparrows are invasive, and by far my most numerous feeder bird at home, they’re more often heard than seen out on our walks, and even then, not one we get more than four or five times a season, since our walks are in more natural areas. I do think they’re quite an attractive bird overall, and one of the few sparrows where one can easily tell the males and females apart.
As we scanned the Glenmore Reservoir a few minutes later, it was clear just how quiet the day was going to be. The only bird on the water was a single Common Loon off in the distance. I mentioned in a previous post that the floods this summer flushed all the vegetation, and as such, all of the aquatic life out of the reservoir, meaning that any birds that touch down on the reservoir overnight typically are gone either before or shortly after dawn, as there’s next to nothing around for them to eat. One exception was a Sabine’s Gull that stuck around for three days last week. A hatch-year bird, by all indications, and as such, was incredibly unwary of people. When I took this photo, a group of workers at the Sailing Club to the left of the frame was moving around a few boats, and at the shop a hundred meters or so away, repairs were well underway with the constant din of saws, hammers, and lathes hard at work.
Early in our walk, the Common Loon was quite far off, but after we scanned the reservoir and began our walk down the slope to the lower pathway, it took off and flew into one of the bays a bit further west, sitting only a few dozen meters off shore.
Along the lower pathway, we heard the brief calls of an American Tree Sparrow, and a few Dark-eyed Juncos, but didn’t get very good looks at them. It also seemed that their numbers were far fewer than they had been the week prior, for one reason or another.
The distant Common Loon flight was quite reminiscent of the Sabine’s Gull of the week prior, flying along an almost identical path. In this photo of the Sabine’s Gull, you can see two very distinct field marks for identifying the species: both the jet black primary flight feathers, and the bold, pure white triangle formed by the secondaries and tertials are great identifying marks for the Sabine’s Gull.
Our first looks at the Common Loon up close were fairly satisfying, but if you look closely in the photo of it in flight above, it appears to have suffered some damage to its flight feathers, which was pronounced when we were able to view it closer as it spread its wings twice to dry them off. Whether the damage is from an injury, or a late molt, one way or another this little bird is in for a rough few weeks.
And then came the quiet. For the next twenty or so minutes we walked along, feeding some Black-capped Chickadees, hearing a Golden-crowned Kinglet or two, but seeing almost nothing close on the reservoir. The most excitement we had was watching a Bald Eagle harass an unseen water bird (likely an American Coot) for a good ten minutes before tiring of the chase and perching nearby, just before we headed up and away from the reservoir.
Walking along the upper pathway was just as eerily quiet. We passed through at least three small flocks of Black-capped Chickadees on the upper trail before hearing the distinct call of a Pileated Woodpecker, a nice surprise on any walk. It appeared that a Cooper’s Hawk was harassing a small family of Pileated Woodpeckers. No less than three of them were flying back and forth along the upper ridge, until a flock of about ten Black-billed Magpies came in and flushed the hawk away. Unfortunately, the Pileated Woodpeckers stayed well away from the trail we were on, allowing very few photo opportunities.
And to add insult to injury, that was our last good sighting of anything for the day. We did have a really nice view of the Calgary skyline from the pathway as we approached the parking lot, and a surprise visit by a Common Raven that flew in close to us as we prepared to leave.
It’s not often you get close looks at Common Loons on the reservoir, so after the group left, I made an attempt to get close to the loon we’d seen earlier, and I was not disappointed. It seemed to not be particularly wary of my approach, and I spent a good 10 minutes with the bird before it swam out away from shore.
Thanks again for reading! Have a good week, and good birding!
Tune in to CBC Radio today, October 1, at 12:30 as local bird expert Sid Andrews will discuss autumn birding in Alberta. If you have an unusual sighting or a question you can call in and ask Sid.
In Calgary, CBC is at 99.1 FM or 1010 AM.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Once again the Friends of Fish Creek will be offering the autumn birding course, starting the first week of September. This twelve-week course consists of weekly field trips to various parks and natural areas in the city. Each week your group of fifteen participants plus two instructors will meet at the designated spot and learn about the birds you see there. Dan Arndt and I will be leading one of the sessions again.
Field trips usually last between two-and-a-half and three hours (although some of the ones Dan and I led last year went up to four-and-a-half hours, when the participants were willing). There are sessions offered at seven different times during the week, and there may be up to fifteen groups all together, so anyone who interested should be able to find a time that suits them. (If you occasionally find that you can’t make it out at the designated time due to another commitment, you have the flexibility to join another group that week so you don’t miss out).
A new wrinkle this fall is that we will be allowing any adult participant to also register one youth (sixteen years old or younger) to accompany them for only $5 for the whole course. We really want to encourage more young people to take up birding. We have had several young participants before but we hope the nominal fee will encourage even more youngsters to join us.
See the poster for details on how to register.
Photos from Marg Matheson and Alan Plumb. Thanks for sending these beautiful shots, folks!
The bills on these Evening Grosbeaks are just starting to turn green. They change from the bone colour of winter to a deciduous-bud green in early spring.
This beautiful gray Gyrfalcon was seen just west of Fort Macleod.
Normally thought of as living only in British Columbia, the range of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee does extend – just barely – into southwestern Alberta.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Once again the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society will be offering a twelve-week Spring Birding Course, beginning April 1. There will be at least twelve different groups going out on various days of the week. Right now many of the sessions have the full complement of 15 participants, but there are still some openings as of today. Contact Chris at the number or email below to see if there is room on the day you want.
Last Spring Dan Arndt and I decided to lead a group at a new time, 7:30 am on Sundays. We hoped that the earlier start would allow us to find more of the early birds as the days got longer. The session had fifteen participants and was very successful. For this spring we offered two 7:30 sessions, on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, with me leading one and Dan leading the other. Up to now there aren’t enough participants registered to justify two groups, but we are still taking registrations. If enough people sign up we will go ahead with two groups. The first 7:30 am sessions are scheduled for April 6 and April 7.
The course consists of weekly field trips to various parks and natural areas in the city, each lasting about three hours. So join us if you want to get out once a week to learn about the birds of Calgary and meet other birders.
Posted by Dan Arndt
A gorgeous week of bird watching, above zero temperatures, and clear skies had me itching to get out to Bebo Grove this week. In past years, Northern Pygmy-Owls were fairly regular occurrences here, along with Grey Jays, and even the occasional Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers.
Sadly, this time around we didn’t get any of those unusual sightings, but we did get some really great close looks at some of the “winter finches”, some crazy squirrel antics, and while the species list was fairly short, the quality of the observations and the closeness of our interactions was without equal.
The day started with high winds, freezing rain, and cloudy skies, which did not diminish our spirits at all. In fact, it seemed that once we started walking into the wooded pathway, everything began to clear up. As we began, we were almost immediately made aware of a circling Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s subspecies), a pair of deer on the trail ahead of us, and one interesting little Red Squirrel raiding a cache of seeds and excavating the hole a little deeper still.
Nearby, we had our first close looks of the day at a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, who are always entertaining, and they even came in to eat out of the hands of some of our participants.
After we’d had our fill of feeding the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees, we continued on until we were stopped in our tracks as we heard the overhead calls of White-winged Crossbills, who briefly touched down at the top of the spruce trees surrounding us. (These photos were taken a little later in the day, but it’s not often these birds are close enough to get good shots of, so I wanted to show them off!)
Onward to the west we headed, transitioning from the spruce stands to the currently barren poplar stands, where we were greeted by the drumming and foraging of this gorgeous little male Downy Woodpecker.
Another resident of the poplar stands was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who we heard long before we saw, and who gave us quite the show of grabbing seeds and wedging them deep into the crevices of the poplar bark with determined taps of the bill.
It was a while before we got good looks at many other birds. Sure we had fleeting glances at a few Blue Jays, Common Ravens, and even stopped to feed some extremely skittish Black-capped Chickadees, but the next really good looks we had at anything was this Blue Jay on the far west end. We heard it, along with two others, calling repeatedly from a spruce stand in an agitated manner. It never was clear why they were so agitated, but they were so cooperative and posing so well!
Almost as exciting was a small group of Pine Grosbeaks a little further along, just outside the Environmental Learning Center at Shannon Terrace, which might just be some of my best Pine Grosbeak photos I’ve taken so far.
And on we continued before stopping on our way back to feed the chickadees again. At least some of these little guys are grateful!
Thanks for reading, and have a great week!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.
When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!
When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.
We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.
As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.
As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.
In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.
As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.
As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!
Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:
Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!
These photos were sent to us from Pam in Cochrane, who noticed an unusual bird at her feeders. This leucistic form of the House Finch is a very beautiful bird that is happily feeding in a flock of the normally coloured finches.