Christmas Bird Count For Kids, 2017

The second annual CBC For Kids event in Calgary will be held on Saturday December 9th at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. This is a great educational opportunity for kids, so if you have a child, grandchild, niece or nephew that you’d like to introduce to birding, register for this free event.

There will be experts on hand to teach the kids how to find and identify birds, but they could always use some more experienced birders to lead the participants on guided walks. If you’d like to help out, contact Zoe MacDougall, Nature Kids Program Coordinator, at naturekids[at]

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In early October a Golden-crowned Sparrow showed up in the yard of local birder Brian Elder. This species is almost never seen in the city. The bird stayed in the area for a few days, and many local birders were able to see it. Gavin McKinnon photographed it on October 8.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

Golden-crowned Sparrows are normally found in the western mountains of North America. They breed as far north as Alaska, and migrate to the west coast of the continental US to spend the winter (they are also present in winter on the BC coast and southern mainland, and some overwinter on the western Alaskan coast). The occasional one that turns up here is probably on its way to the west coast of the US.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

This species is in the genus Zonotrichia, which also includes Harris’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow (all of which can be seen in Calgary), and the Rufous-collared Sparrow which is native to Mexico, Central and South America. White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows breed here, and many more are seen in Calgary on migration as well. Harris’s Sparrow (the only songbird that breeds exclusively in Canada) migrates mostly through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but a few are seen here every spring and fall.

When the Golden-crowned Sparrow was in Brian’s yard, a Harris’s Sparrow was also present. Gavin photographed this bird too.

Harris’s Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

At one point, both a White-crowned and a White-throated Sparrow were also there, so Brian had all four of the local Zonotrichia species in his yard at the same time – certainly a very rare and possibly unique circumstance for Calgary.

These four species are all large and similar in structure. Here are the other two local Zonotrichia species, photographed in Calgary in earlier years by Dan Arndt.

White-throated Sparrow, February 2, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

White-crowned Sparrow, September 11, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

All of these birds are first-year or immature birds. Adults are more distinctive but are more often seen in the spring.

Here is a photo of the other Zonotrichia species, the Rufous-collared Sparrow. If you see one of these, you are no longer in Calgary.

Rufous-collard Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons. By BERNARDO VALENTIN – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Autumn Birding Course 2017

Registration is open for the popular Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society Autumn Birding Course.

Autumn Birding Course – Registration Now Open

Autumn Birding Course Starts Monday, September 4, 2017

Autumn is one of the best times of year for birding. Between September and December, you can see, hear and learn about more than 150 bird species. As the leaves drop off the trees in the cooler months, many of the smaller migratory birds will be much easier to see. Outings are conducted by Gus Yaki, a lifelong  naturalist who has birded around the world – and other experienced instructors. All birding course sessions are held in the great outdoors – in Fish Creek Provincial Park and other natural areas. Each outing is approx. 2.5 hours. Choose to come 1 or 2 days / week.

Each outing is approx. 2.5 hours. Start times Monday – Thursday: 9:15am
Saturdays: 9:00am, Sundays: 9:00am or 1:15pm Choose to come 1 or 2 days / week

2017-18 Friends of Fish Creek Membership fees: Individual: $35.00, Family: $45.00
Senior (60 or over): $25.00, Senior Family: $30.00. Renew Your Membership or Become a Member

Registration Required. Click here to Register

Photo of Long-eared Owl courtesy of Phil Smith

Copyright © 2017 Friends of Fish Creek, All rights reserved.

Spring Birding Course 2017

Mountain Chickadee seen by the birding course participants at Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park. Photographed February 14, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

The popular Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins its 12-week spring session on April 3, 2017.

Go out on field trips with experienced leaders once or twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn about the birds of Calgary. You can expect to see over 150 species of birds.

Field trips are held in several parts of Fish Creek Park, in Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Bowmont Park, Elliston Lake, Griffith Woods Park, and possibly other locations.

It is still only $5 for children (accompanied by a registered adult) for the whole twelve-week course! See this page for details on how to register.

Here are just a few more of the many birds seen on the winter course this year.

Bald Eagle (adult), Mallard Point, Fish Creek Park, February 8, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Black-capped Chickadee (note the unusual brownish cap), Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Wood Duck (female, centre back) with Mallards, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven and Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Autumn Birding Course Starts August 29!

The Autumn session of the popular Friends of Fish Creek Birding course begins on August 29.

Bald Eagle juvenile

Juvenile Bald Eagle. Photo by John Stegeman, January 24, 2015, Beaverdam Flats.

Autumn is a good time to begin birding. As the leaves drop off the trees, many of the smaller birds, which will be migrating, are much easier to see. All sessions are held in the great outdoors – in Fish Creek Provincial Park and other natural areas in Calgary. Outings are conducted by Gus Yaki, a lifelong naturalist who has birded around the world – and other experienced instructors. Each outing is approx. 2.5 hours, and the 15-week course starts Aug 29 and runs until Dec 11. Registration Required and fees apply. As a fundraiser for the Friends of Fish Creek, these courses will once again be conducted by volunteer instructor and lifelong naturalist Gus Yaki – and other knowledgeable and experienced volunteer instructors.

Fee: Once a week outing, Friends of Fish Creek Members: $60.00, Non-members: $100.00. 

Twice a week outings, Friends of Fish Creek Members: $100.00, Non-members: $150.00

Youth 16 years of age or younger with registered adult: $5.00

Friends of Fish Creek Membership rates are:

$35.00  –  Individual
$45.00  –  Family
$25.00  –  Senior (over 60)
$30.00  –  Senior Family

The membership year runs from October 1 to September 30 of the following year and Friends of Fish Creek members receive free admission to our monthly Speaker Series presentations at the Fish Creek Environmental Learning Centre, discounts on courses, a 10% discount at the Wild Bird Store and Kensington Art Supply, and a subscription to the Friends’ newsletter, Voice of the Friends.

See the registration page for the course here.

Angry Birds! (…actually just Brown-headed Cowbird fledglings)

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Brown-headed Cowbirds are obligate nest parasites, so they do not nest or raise their own young – the female cowbird lays her eggs in a number of nests of other species. If the host birds don’t realize that they are incubating a foreign egg, they will feed the cowbird chick until it fledges and for a while afterwards, until it can forage on its own and rejoin its cowbird cousins.

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Brown-headed Cowbird chick, just out of the nest and begging for food. (All photos taken by Tony LePrieur, July 1, 2016.)

Many of the songbirds that are parasitized in this way are quite a bit smaller than cowbirds, so it makes for a comical sight when the “parents” are feeding their giant “offspring”. It’s no joke for the host parents, though, as this is a great drain on their food-gathering resources, and it has a negative impact on their ability to raise their own biological young.

Tony LePrieur has recently seen a number of young cowbirds being fed by different hosts in the Calgary area. Thanks to Tony for these fantastic photos!


Song Sparrow (left) feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird chick. Sikome Lake, Fish Creek Provincial Park.


Calling for food from the host Song Sparrow.


Another cowbird being fed by a Western Wood-Pewee, not far from the Song Sparrow and chick at Sikome, Fish Creek Park. This could very well be a biological sibling of the bird being fed by the Song Sparrow.


The Western Wood-Pewee adult, probably a little worn out from trying to provide for the cowbird chick.


Two cowbirds were being fed by a pair of Savannah Sparrows at Frank Lake, also on Canada Day.


A close-up taken from the above photo.


Those of you with teen-aged boys will know how this Savannah Sparrow feels 🙁

Cowbirds also often parasitize Clay-colored Sparrows and even smaller birds like Yellow Warblers and House Wrens, so if you see any of those species carrying food, watch to see if they are feeding cowbirds.

Do you have photos of birds taken in the Calgary area? Send them to us and we may post them on the blog!


Rare Backyard Bird: Lesser Goldfinch

Posted By Bob Lefebvre

On May 15, 2016, Linda Vick photographed this bird in her yard in Cochrane. It is a Lesser Goldfinch, a very rare bird for Alberta. This is only the second record ever of this species in Alberta, the first being two years ago.


Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

If I saw this bird in my yard and didn’t look too closely I might think it was an American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinches breed in  the SW United States, so I’m sure many of you, like me, are unfamiliar with it. Keep an eye out!

Lesser Goldfinch males have a black cap but can be distinguished from American Goldfinches by the greenish back (sometimes black, but unlike the yellow back of an American Goldfinch), the white at the base of the primaries, and the grey rather than pinkish bill colour. The pictured bird looks like a young male, developing its black cap.


Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.


Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

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Here are American Goldfinches for comparison:


American Goldfinch (breeding male). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

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American Goldfinch (female). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

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You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

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It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

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A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

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With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.



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Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Spring Birding Course 2016

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society is now taking registrations for its popular Spring Birding Course. This 12-week course starts March 28 and runs until the end of June. You can choose to go out one or two days per week. Field trips, which take place in a variety of parks throughout the city, last 2.5 to 3 hours.


By the time the Spring course starts, Mountain Bluebirds will be passing through Calgary on migration. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Once again there is a very nominal $5 fee for youth 16 or younger accompanied by a registered adult. This is a great opportunity for parents to take their kids birding and learn about nature in our city!

For more information and to register, go to this page.


Great Horned Owls are already nesting in Calgary. Join the FFCPP Spring course to see the owlets hatch and fledge. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Fall Birding Course Begins – Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society Fall birding course began again on August 31, 2015. Many of our readers look forward to Dan Arndt’s posts every Monday with a narrative of the previous week’s outing accompanied by his outstanding photos of some of the birds seen. As usual Dan is scheduled to lead the Sunday morning group, one of the fifteen weekly outings that are needed to accommodate the 196 registered participants. However, work commitments will keep Dan away for many of the fall outings. With the help of Rose Painter and George Best, I will fill in for him when he is away.

I don’t usually carry a camera when helping to lead a group, but George does, and he is an excellent photographer as many of you know. I will try to summarize our walks and illustrate them with George’s photos.

For the first week of the course we went to Carburn Park, which had been a great spot for fall warblers in the weeks leading up to the start of the course. Many of the earlier-migrating species had more or less finished passing through Calgary by the beginning of September, but we hoped to see quite a few Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, and Orange-crowned Warblers on our outing on September 6.

Carburn September 6

Carburn Park walk, 6 September 2015.

We did see about 30 Yellow-rumped and possibly one Yellow Warbler, but none of the other warbler species. However, we did see huge numbers of birds of the river, including the largest concentrations of Common Mergansers and Double-crested Cormorants that many of had ever seen. (All photos by George Best.)


A few Common Mergansers (55 by my count) and two Canada Geese.

Cormorant in tree

A Treeful of Cormorants.

We counted about 100 mergansers and 150 cormorants on the day. Most of them were concentrated at the north end of the park, just south of the Glenmore Trail Bridge over the Bow. This is the area that used to be the northernmost pond in Carburn park, before the flood of 2013 turned it into a major river channel, gravel bars, and an island. It is usually a very birdy part of the river.

Cormorant on Branch

Double-crested Cormorants resting on a partially-submerged tree in what used to be the north pond at Carburn Park. The birds with light breasts are juveniles, hatched this year.


Double-crested Cormorant in flight.

We also saw about 65 American White Pelicans in this area. They no longer go to the old weir in Pearce Estate to feed, and Carburn Park is about as far upriver as the big groups usually go. (The Sunday afternoon FFCPP group counted 106 pelicans that day, and an incredible 225 Common Mergansers!)

Pelican in flight

American White Pelican coming in for a landing.


A Pelican on the Bow River at Carburn Park.

Other highlights in Carburn Park in September are the usually-reliable Wood Ducks, often seen in the quiet channel between the big island and the river shore in the central part of the park, and raptors like Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Swainson’s Hawks. We saw three of each that day, as well as this Merlin:


A Merlin scanning for prey. Merlins and Bald Eagles can be seen in this area year-round; Swainson’s Hawks and Osprey have already departed.

We counted 38 species of birds for the day, and three mammal species: the usual White-tailed Deer and Eastern Gray Squirrels, and a less-commonly-seen American Mink.

Next post: In week two of the course we returned to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary for the first time in over two years.