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Nature Calgary’s Big Week of Birding

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For many years Nature Calgary has held a Big Day on the Victoria Day holiday – an attempt to find as many species as possible in one day, in this case all of them inside the Calgary city limits (we had 116 species this year). During the 2015 Calgary Birding Competition we decided to add a Big Day in the Calgary Region–the 80-km diameter circle centred in Calgary. We did the trip again last year. In both cases we saw lots of good birds (151 species in 2015, and 132 in 2016) but it is a long day with quite a few dead stretches of driving.

Great Gray Owl, one of two seen on our 80-km Circle Big Day in 2016. Horse Creek Road, June 18, 2016. Photo by Saravana Moorthy.

For this year, we decided to try something new: A Big Week instead of a Big Day in the 80-km circle. There will be a series of field trips offered from June 4 to 10, and we will try to reach a cumulative total of 175 species on these trips.

Most of the trips will be led by myself, Andrew Hart, and Rose Painter. We will kick it off with a day-long trip to the northwest corner of the circle, around Water Valley, on Sunday June 4. The final day will feature another long trip to the south and southwest. Both of these trips require registration because car-pooling will be required and spaces will be limited.

There will also be several field trips offered during the week, including trips inside the city to the Weaselhead and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. A couple of other trips will be Twitch ‘n’ Tours, our term for for a field trip with a known starting point but for which the destinations are not decided until the last minute, so that we can chase rare birds or ones we have not been able to find so far.

If you want to see how many species you can find in the Calgary region in one week in June, join us for some or all of these outings. See the Nature Calgary field trip page for details and to register.

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.

Summer Birding in Western Canada

Mike Resch, a birder from Massachusetts, visited Alberta and British Columbia last summer, and wrote about the trip on his blog. It is a very enjoyable read with lots of good photos, so I thought that local birders would enjoy reading about his trip, and maybe be inspired to visit some of the locations that Mike explored last year.

Rufous Hummingbird, Highwood House, June 2016. Photo by Mike Resch.

There are three posts on Mike’s blog, State Birding. First there is a summary of the whole trip, on Western Canada Birding Trip, June 2016. Then there are detailed posts about the Alberta portion, Alberta Birding Trip, and the BC portion, British Columbia Birding Trip.

I hope you enjoy reading about Mike’s travels here, and look forward to summer so you can go to some of these places yourself.

Note: Mike’s ten-day trip was from June 20-29, 2016. So on his blog June 20 is Day 1, June 21 is day 2, etc.

eBird Counties of Southern Alberta

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

If you are a birder in the Calgary area who uses eBird, you may be confused about where the boundaries for the eBird Counties are. As you enter sightings from various locations in the region, you will see that some are assigned to Calgary County, and some to Drumheller, Banff, Lethbridge, or others. It is not clear at first what these counties represent. Even when we were doing the 2015 eBird Competition we were not sure what to make of the eBird Counties.

It turns out that the boundaries for eBird Counties in Canada follow the federal government’s Census Geographic Units. This is not a well-known political or geographic entity, and the boundaries are not marked anywhere as you travel around. (In the United States, where eBird started, the eBird Counties are the same as the political Counties, which are well-known and have well-marked boundaries.)

However, it is possible to see a map of our County boundaries by going on Google Earth. If you don’t have Google Earth you should download it. It is free, and very useful for birders. You can see satellite maps of the entire world down to a very fine level.

When you are on Google Earth, zoom into the region you want to see, and turn off all the layers except “Borders.” The fine green lines on the map are the county boundaries. (Thanks to Dan Arndt for finding out what the counties are, and how to see the boundaries.)

Southern Alberta, showing eBird County boundaries in green.

Southern Alberta, with eBird County names in yellow and boundaries in green.

Feel free to copy this map as a reference, but I do recommend downloading Google Earth, so you can zoom in to see the boundaries at a finer scale. You can also turn on other layers such as “Places ” and “Roads” so you can see where the towns and highways are.

Below are four detail maps of the north, east, south, and west edges of Calgary county.

The north end of Calgary County.

The east side of Calgary County, along the Trans-Canada Highway. Drumheller County begins immediately east of Weed Lake, and actually includes part of Dalemead Reservoir.

The south end of Calgary County.

The west side of Calgary county.

The eBird Counties do not correspond well to any particular geographic birding region. Many of you may keep track of sightings within the 80-km circle centered on the Centre Street Bridge in Calgary, which is used for the annual May Species Count (and for both the 2005 and 2015 birding competitions). Here is the relevant map for that:

The 80-km circle of the Calgary birding region (red), with eBird Counties in green.

If anyone would like to be able to draw the 80-km circle on Google Earth on their own computer, just email me at birdscalgary@gmail.com and I will give you instructions.

Tonight, Wednesday February 8, 2017, Mike Harrison will speak at the Bird Study Group of Nature Calgary on The Ins and Outs of eBird. If you are an eBird user or want to learn about it, please come out. See this page for details.

Christmas Bird Count Results, 2016-2017

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Another Christmas Bird Count season has come and gone, and tonight at the Nature Calgary Bird Study Group meeting you can get details about all the sightings on six of the counts in our area, plus the Fish Creek Park New Year’s Day count. You can get all the details on the meeting here.

Only 32 Common Redpolls were recorded on the Calgary count. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

This year we had our first ever Christmas Bird Count For Kids in Calgary, and they have added another one to be held this Saturday, January 14, from noon to 2 pm at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. This is a great way to get children interested in birding. For all the information and to register, see this page.

On the main Calgary Count, which was held on December 18th, 61 species were recorded, and about 39,000 individual birds. This is below our twenty-year average of 65 species and 50,000 birds, a result that was mostly attributed to the high winds we experienced that day.

There is always a bit of a friendly competition between Calgary and Edmonton in everything we do, and we like to come out ahead in the number of species found on our CBC’s. We usually do (they had 47 this year), but you can only find the species that are actually there, and it just happens to be the case that Calgary has a little more diversity in birds in the winter than Edmonton does. A better comparison between these two similar-sized cities would be participation in the counts. In that respect, I’m afraid to say, Edmonton always beats us, and it isn’t very close. We had 139 birders go out in the field this year, and they had 170. We had 107 Feeder-watchers report on their yard sightings, and they had 286!

Now is a good time, while it’s fresh in your mind and you’re not busy with Christmas preparations, to express your interest in taking part in next year’s count, to be held on Sunday, December 17, 2017. If you think you might like to go out with one of the groups please contact the organizer, Phil Cram, at crampj[at]telusplanet.net.

The territory that I am leader for, which includes the Inglewood Golf Course, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Calgary Zoo, Pearce Estate, and some adjacent areas, is far too large for us to cover with the six or seven people we usually get out. If you’d like to join my group, email the blog and I’ll add you to my list of contacts.

I would particularly like to see more people involved in the Feeder-watcher program. If you think you might have a few minutes to count the birds in your yard that day, and if you live within the count circle shown below, please contact Donna Wieckowski at astolat[at]shaw.ca. We have a long way to go to catch up to Edmonton in Feeder-watchers! Don’t think that the birds you see in your yard aren’t important – they are an integral part of the bird fauna in the city. Often our only reports of birds like White-throated Sparrows, Harris’s Sparrows, and Varied Thrushes come from Feeder-watchers.

Expressing an interest now does not mean you are committed (it’s hard to plan for an event that is eleven months away) but it will at least get you on the list to get all the information when the time comes.

The Calgary Christmas Bird Count Circle.

Christmas Bird Counts, 2016-2017

The Calgary Christmas Bird Count (CBC), organized annually by Nature Calgary, will be held next Sunday, December 18. If you would like to participate, either by joining a group of birders in the field or by counting birds at your feeders, please see this Nature Calgary page for details.

There are many CBCs in the Calgary region. For a complete list, with contact emails for the organizers, see this page.

How many Pine Grosbeaks can you find in your CBC territory? Photo by Tony LePrieur, Weaselhead Nature Area, December 11, 2016.

This year, for the first time, there will be a CBC for Kids in Calgary. It will be held at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on Saturday, December 17. There will be an indoor introduction to birding before the count. You must accompany your child for this activity.

The first CBC for Kids was held in California in 2007, and they are now common across North America.

If you can take your child, grandchild, niece or nephew out for a couple of hours next Saturday it will be a great way to introduce them to birding! Register by emailing naturekids(at)naturealbetrta.ca.

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Join Us For a Calgary Region Big Day

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Next Saturday, June 18, Andrew Hart, Rose Painter and I will lead the 2nd annual Calgary Region Big Day field trip for Nature Calgary. This is an all-day trip to find as many species as possible within the 80-km-radius circle centered on Calgary. Our modest goal is 125 species.

As you can see from the map below the area is huge, and we can’t visit all good habitats in a single day. We will be focusing on a few good spots and trying to keep the pace fast to give us flexibility towards the end of the day.

80km circle - Google Earth

The Calgary Region 80-km Circle.

We will begin our day at 5:30 am in NW Calgary. This is kind of a late start for a Big Day at this time of year, so we need people to arrive on time or a little early. Note that registration is required – please call one of the leaders to let them know you are coming, so we know when everyone has arrived and can plan the car-pooling. The trip details and phone numbers are on the Nature Calgary website here.

Our destinations will include Horse Creek Road, several stops in the Water Valley area, Plumber’s Road and Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, Windy Point west of Turner Valley, and Frank Lake. There may be more stops after that if there is time. We plan to be back at the starting point by no later than 8 pm. If anyone cannot stay for the whole day we will try to arrange the car-pooling to accommodate that.

Bobolink

Bobolink – one of our target birds for the Big Day. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Nature Calgary field trips are free and open to everyone; you don’t have to be a member of Nature Calgary to attend. We hope that some birders will have their biggest day ever, and there is always a chance to see some birds that are new to you, and to learn about some new birding locations in the Calgary area.

Gulls return to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing to Mallard Point on March 6th was really geared to look for the first arriving gulls. With the exceptionally warm winter, and with many sightings around the city the for the week leading up to it, it seemed certain that we would find at least a few of them on the extensive gravel bars there. We did manage to spot one, and had a few other nice birds, but the haze, rain(!) and low gloomy clouds made it tough to keep motivated through the morning!

Mallard Point - March 6, 2016

Mallard Point – March 6, 2016

The day was dark, dingy, drizzly and dreary. More typical of a morning in early April rather than March, but the early spring birds were beginning to return, and some overwintering birds were still around. I wasn’t particularly well dressed for the weather, and so we moved as fast as we could to try to stay warm. Here’s a tip: If you’re birding and the calendar says it’s still winter, it’s not t-shirt weather. Don’t try. You’ll freeze.

California Gull

California Gull

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Our first gull of the season, and our only one of the whole day, was a solo flyby of a single California Gull. This is usually the first species that shows up in late February or early March, sometimes in small single digits, and very quickly joined by dozens of others over the following few weeks. Mallard Point is a great spot to find them most years, but in colder years when the Bow River is frozen up a little more, it is one of the few open gravel bars in the south end of the city. This year though, the entire river has been open for pretty much the entire winter, so they haven’t been found in any significant numbers within the city.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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This young Bald Eagle was perched off in the distance when we arrived, took a few flights up and down the river, then came right back to this spot. Another observation of the mild winter, these eagles have been able to spread out all along the length of the Bow River through Calgary, while in colder years we tend to find them grouped up in areas downstream of water treatment facilities, such as Beaverdam Flats, Carburn Park, and downstream of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Some years we see as many as twenty in a single morning outing!

White-throated Sparriw

White-throated Sparrow

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White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

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Chirping away under the feeders at the houses on the east edge of Mallard Point was this White-throated Sparrow. Last spring around this time we found another member of this species less than a hundred meters away from here. I often wonder when we have sightings like this if it’s the same bird coming back winter after winter to the same spot. I guess there are a few ways one could research it though!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

There were quite a number of Northern Flickers calling, drumming and displaying throughout the morning, so many that there was a “high count” trigger on eBird when we went to submit the list! It’s always fun to watch them fly from tree to tree displaying and chattering at each other at this time of year, but not necessarily as much fun if they’re doing it outside your bedroom window first thing in the morning, or on the heating vent on the roof!

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

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This beautiful pair of Common Mergansers was further down the river, the male in his full bright white and iridescent dark green breeding plumage, and the female showing off her fancy head crest. Soon, she’ll be swimming along with a dozen or more young in tow, trying to keep them safe from the many predators both above and below the water.

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Our last bird for the day was this beautiful male Downy Woodpecker, who perched nearby and began drumming away while we watched. While he didn’t call in a female while we were there, his energy and persistence was rather obvious, and I’m certain he’s paired up by now and building a nest somewhere nearby.

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Birding Competition: Down to the Wire!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

We are down to the last week of the 2015 Calgary Birding Competition, so this will be the final update before we begin to collect the results. We still have some pretty close races, and there are some good birds around that competitors may still be able to add to their year lists. Gyrfalcons, Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, and Short-eared Owls have been seen in the rural areas, and Northern Cardinal, Harris’s Sparrow, Purple Finch, and Brown Thrasher (which is easy to miss in the summer) were recorded (so far) during the Christmas Bird Count week in Calgary.

Trevor Churchill Harris's Sparrow, IGC

Harris’s Sparrow, photographed at the Inglewood Golf Course, Dec. 13, 2015, by Trevor Churchill.

Leaders, 80-km circle:

Here are the top competitors listed with their species totals and categories (the “Not Eligible” competitors are on the organizing committee). Also included is the number of complete checklists they have submitted to eBird within the 80-km circle. This total does not include “incidental” sightings.

Using the arrows you can sort the columns to see all the participants in one category listed together, or sort by number of species, or number of checklists. You can also increase or decrease the number of lines shown.

80-km Circle Leaders, December 23, 2015

Overall RankNameSpeciesChecklistsCategory
1Brian Elder275128Experienced
2Ray Woods25779Experienced
3Blake Weis256628Experienced
4Dan Arndt254264Not Eligible
5Aidan Vidal24081Youth
6 tieGeorge Best235223Experienced
6 tDan Parliament235187Experienced
6 tBirdboy Canada235180Youth
9Andrew Hart234249Not Eligible
10 tJohn Thompson232282Experienced
10 tN Denton232176Experienced
12Cindy Parliament230141Experienced
13Trevor Churchill225108Experienced
14Graeme Mudd224202Beginner
15 tAphtin Perratt222101Beginner
15 tChris Macintosh222101Beginner
17Andrew Slater219156Not Eligible
18R Painter219309Not Eligible
19 tJohn Anderson217466Experienced
19 tLorrie Anderson217463Experienced
21Bob Lefebvre214503Not Eligible
22Nicole Pellerin205164Beginner
23 tLinda Vaxvick203259Experienced
23 tJudy Swan203222Experienced
25 tPhil Cram20165Experienced
25 tChristopher Naugler20174Experienced
27Darlene Shimkiw195137Beginner
28John Bargman187130Experienced
29Janet Gill181104Experienced
30Peter Hoyer17573Experienced
31Simone Pellerin-Wood17393Youth
32 tDave Russum170317Experienced
32 tRob Worona17033Experienced
34Anne Belton16999Experienced
35Jan Roseneder153315Experienced
36Jeremy Quickfall15151Beginner
37Saravana Moorthy13375Beginner
38Joan Walker13114Not Eligible
39Sue Konopnicki12757Experienced
40Bernard Tremblay9526Experienced
41Bernie Diebolt9424Experienced
42Rachel Mackay9228Beginner
43Michael Rogers7841Experienced
44 tTony LePrieur7523Beginner
44 tByron Chu7513Experienced
46Hannah Lilles615Youth
47Robin Naugler484Youth
48Brett Lybbert4612Beginner
49David Sim3422Experienced
50Lucianna Lybbert328Youth
51Jarom Lybbert3111Youth
52Katrina Lybbert309Experienced
53Gord Newel278Beginner
54Angela Bell2111Experienced
55Lynn Wilsack2011Beginner
56Reginald Lybbert121Youth
57David Archer112Beginner
58Sylvia Checkley40Beginner
59Jim Donohue10Experienced

 

So far this year, 290 species have been reported on eBird in the Calgary county alone.

Yard Challenge Update

Here are the leaders, showing the number of species identified in or from the competitor’s yards.

Yard Challenge Leaders, December 23

RankNameSpecies
1Phil Ullman88
2 tieJohn Anderson59
2tLorrie Anderson59
4 - Not EligibleBob Lefebvre59
5 tJudy Swan55
5 tJohn Bargman55
7Dave Russum42
8Michael Rogers33
9Brian Elder31
10David Sim29
11Linda Vaxvick27
12 - Not EligibleR Painter25
13Rachel Mackay24
14 tNicole Pellerin23
14 tPhil Cram23
16Graeme Mudd20
17Peter Hoyer19
18 tSimone Pellerin-Wood18
18 tDarlene Shymkiw18
20Jan Roseneder15
21Lynn Wilsack13
22 - Not EligibleAndrew Hart12
23 tBrett Lybbert11
23 tJanet Gill11
23 tKatrina Lybbert11
26 tLucianna Lybbert9
26 tSaravana Moorthy9
28George Best7
29 tZoe Keefe6
29 tDavid Archer6
31Anne Belton4
32Jarome Lybbert3
33 tHannah Lilles1
33 tClaude Benoit1

 

We will have the preliminary final results of the competition early in the new year, and will give an update at the Nature Calgary Bird Studies Group meeting on Wednesday, January 6. The prizes will be awarded at the January Birds & Beers get-together on Friday, January 29, 2016.

Donate to the competition

Thank you to all who have generously donated money to be put towards prizes for the competitors. If you would like to support the goals of our competition, please go to Nature Calgary’s Competition page.There are instructions about how to make a contribution using their “Donate” page, and how to specify that your gift is for the competition. Nature Calgary is a registered charity. 100% of all gifts will be used to purchase prizes for participants.

 

Competition Update, October 31

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

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Rusty Blackbird, a hard-to-find autumn bird. Photo by Dan Arndt, October 25, 2015 at Lower Kananaskis Lake (outside the competition circle). ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Leaders, 80-km circle:

Here are the top competitors listed with their species totals and categories (the “Not Eligible” competitors are on the organizing committee). Also included is the number of complete checklists they have submitted to eBird within the 80-km circle. This total does not include “incidental” sightings.

Using the arrows you can sort the columns to see all the participants in one category listed together, or sort by number of species, or number of checklists. You can also increase or decrease the number of lines shown.

80-km Circle, October 31
NameSpeciesChecklistsCategory
Brian Elder272126Experienced
Blake Weis 251534Experienced
Daniel Arndt250228Not Eligible
Ray Woods24971Experienced
Andrew Hart233241Not Eligible
Dan Parliament231165Experienced
George Best230198Experienced
John Thompson230248Experienced
Cindy Parliament 229137Experienced
BirdBoy Canada219151Youth
N Denton 217147Experienced
Andrew Slater216127Not Eligible
Aidan Vidal21663Youth
R Painter215282Not Eligible
Lorrie Anderson214392Experienced
John Anderson214397Experienced
Graeme Mudd214172Beginner
Aphtin Perratt21394Beginner
Bob Lefebvre211441Not Eligible
Chris Macintosh21192Beginner
Nicole Pellerin205165Beginner
Christopher Naugler20174Experienced
Phillip Cram20167Experienced
Linda Vaxvick199222Experienced
Judy Swan195161Experienced
Darlene Shymkiw193128Beginner
Trevor Churchill18781Experienced
John Bargman187124Experienced
Janet Gill17490Experienced
Simone Pellerin-Wood17393Youth
Peter Hoyer17267Experienced
Rob Worona17032Experienced
Anne Belton169100Experienced
Dave Russum167283Experienced
Jan Roseneder148262Experienced
Jeremy Quickfall14749Beginner
Joan Walker13114Experienced
Saravana Moorthy13071Beginner
Sue Konopnicki12754Experienced

 

If you are an eBird user you can view the current standings at any time. Go to eBird Canada and click the “Explore Data” tab. Click on “Patch Totals” and change the region to Alberta. Below your patches (if you have any) you will see a list of all patches in Alberta, which you can sort by day, month, or year. The competition competitors use the patch name “2015 Calgary Patch Challenge, CA-AB.”

Brian Elder’s Patch total of 272 species is the top patch in all of Canada. Eight of the to 20 patches in Canada belong to birders in the competition.

eBird Usage:

We continue to be among the leading regions in Canada in eBird submissions. Here are the top counties in Canada in number of checklists submitted for October 2015. (Calgary county is entirely within the competition circle, but the circle also includes parts of three other counties.)

eBird submissions by county, October 2015
Metro Vancouver6275
Camrose-Lloydminister3550
Ottawa1989
Capital1723
Cowichan Valley1517
Calgary878
Peterborough847
Toronto750
Nipissing684
Yukon679
Fraser-Fort George660
Montreal654
Essex619
Wellington612
Laval599
Halifax579
Avalon Peninsula - St. John's550
Hamilton520
Bruce493

 

With the winter birding season upon us, now is the time to get out and find the winter birds you missed in January and February. It’s a great chance to add new species for the those trying to win the Latecomer Challenge (most new species added after August 1). There are lots of winter finches around already so it promises to be a great end to the year.

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White-winged Crossbill. Photo by Tony LePrieur, Fish Creek Park, October 31. ::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Donate to the competition

Thank you to all who have generously donated money to be put towards prizes for the competitors. If you would like to support the goals of our competition, please go to Nature Calgary’s Competition page. There are instructions about how to make a contribution using their “Donate” page, and how to specify that your gift is for the competition. Nature Calgary is a registered charity. 100% of all gifts will be used to purchase prizes for participants.