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Calgary Birding Competition

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Do you enjoy keeping track of the bird species you see? Do you want to find more species and explore new birding locations in the Calgary area? If so, you may want to take part in a birding competition which will be held throughout the year 2015.

This competition will be similar to those that Nature Calgary has sponsored in the past. In the year 2000, a competition was held to see who could identify the most species of birds within the Calgary city limits. In 2005, the area used was the 80-km (radius) circle which is traditionally used for the May Species Count.  In 2010 we again used the city limits as the competition area (you can read all about the 2010 event on the Birds Calgary 2010 blog).

willet

Willet, photographed by Brian Elder during the 2010 competition.

Following this pattern, the 2015 competition will be a year-long event to see who can find the most species inside the 80-km circle centred on the Centre Street Bridge. Many of the details are still to be worked out, but there will be different categories of competitors based on age or experience, with prizes awarded to the winners.

The main goal of having such a competition is to encourage more people, especially youths, to get involved in the Calgary birding community. Participants can also expect to learn a lot about the birds of the Calgary area and the many great locations to go birding here.

If this is of interest to you, follow this blog to see how you can get started this year. We will be setting up a registration process soon.

Another Snowy Sunday in Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I wish today’s headline was in reference to us finding a Snowy Owl, rather than the dreary weather we seem to be afflicted with on our Sunday walks this year, but sadly, that is not to be. We awoke once again to fresh, fluffy snow, moderate winds, and a dreadfully overcast sky.There are very few advantages to this type of lighting, and at the very least, the direct light along with the reflected light from the snow leads to much more even light hitting the subjects… but I digress, this is a birding blog!

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters - just a taste of Sunday's weather Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters – just a taste of Sunday’s weather
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

The route we took today is one I don’t believe I’ve ever taken with this group. Starting at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters, we headed west to the Bow River into the Burnsmeade area, and walked all the way over to the now defunct footbridge that connects to the neighborhood of McKenzie Lake.

Sunday's route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

Sunday’s route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

We searched around the headquarters building in each and every spruce tree nearby for the resident Great Horned Owls, but sadly came up empty. With the wind still whipping and snow still falling, it was a challenge just to find the few Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees that we did, but in the end we gave up the effort and headed over to the Bow River.

View from the Ranche Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

View from the Ranche
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

On the walk over to the river it was clear that winter has really hit home. The flocks of waterfowl were constantly overhead, and throughout the day, with final numbers at nearly ten thousand ducks and geese in the course of the day. One of the reasons they seemed a little flighty was because of this beauty.

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A couple surprises were found among the nearby ducks on the river in the form of a pair of male Barrow’s Goldeneye, and a small group of Lesser Scaup, always nice to see this early in the winter.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Barrow’s Goldeneye and Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A few of the birds seen earlier in the week had moved on as the snow came in hard, such as a Western Grebe and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe near the water treatment outfall, but in our search for them there, we spotted this Common Raven with an unusual object in its mouth. I’m still not quite sure what it is that’s being carried in its bill, perhaps some fish bones?

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

On the river a little further down, some movement in a low bush along the bank caught our attention, which ended up being this lone American Tree Sparrow, who hammed it up for the camera while chomping down on grass seeds still abundant on this section of riverbank.

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Interrupting my intimate photo session with this little fellow was an always rare sight within city limits, this Prairie Falcon, who came bombing in not once, but twice high overhead, giving us excellent, albeit brief, views of its diagnostic characteristics in the form of the clean malar (or moustachial) stripe, dark wing/arm pits, and fine barring on the underwing, aside from the overall shape and flight pattern typical of all falcons.

Prairie Falcon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Prairie Falcon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

 

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Prairie Falcon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We did have a number of very close fly-bys of many Canada Geese, but none that had quite the impression of this little flock. Doesn’t that bottom right goose look just that much smaller and shorter-necked than the rest of the birds in this flock? Canada Geese, as well as Cackling Geese, have a number of subspecies, and just in this flock it’s possible that there may be three subspecies, though that’s never been my forte. Give me a few years and maybe I’ll pick it up though, once I’ve mastered gulls and warblers!

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Speaking of gulls, there was no shortage of Ring-billed Gulls on the river, and while they do tend to stick around well into late November, these may be the last ones we get to see on our walks this year, depending on the weather. While the Ring-billed Gulls were the most common, Herring Gulls gave a good showing as well, and I’m not used to seeing them fly, let alone fly this low to the ground and at just the right angle. I do believe this is my first decent flight shot of a Herring Gull. Odd, for such a common bird in these parts, but that’s why birding is a new adventure every time.

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

This photo was taken at the far end of our walk, just before we turned to head back. Along this final stretch we discussed a little bit about the damage that the flood had done to the area, and just how high the water level had been during the height of it. At times, our tallest participant, at 6’4″, would have still been at least a foot under water, and there were trees and bushes exhibiting layer upon layer of trapped debris in their upper boughs.

 

Bridge over troubled waters Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Bridge over troubled waters
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Damage from the flood - note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

Damage from the flood – note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

As our morning neared its end, we did manage another two species to add to our list. First, this female Hairy Woodpecker flew in over our heads to peck away at this damaged tree.

Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Lastly, this very late season Bonaparte’s Gull was readily gleaning insects and other food particles from the surface of the water. Our first pass took us right by him with barely a glance, and it wasn’t until our second pass that most of us really were able to see it up close and person,

Bonaparte's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And that’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday: Fall Migration in Confederation Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Now here’s a post that’s a major blast from the past.

I originally started this post over a year ago, with the plan of getting out as often as I could during the height of warbler and vireo migration to the titular hotspot in the Calgary area, or at least, the one I see the largest number of people at the most often. While I didn’t get out nearly as much as I wanted last year, with my current employment situation I had more than enough time on my hands, and was out visiting Confederation Park at least three days a week for four weeks straight. While it was a lot more birding and a lot more challenging than I was prepared for, I was quite happy to nab a handful more life birds and as wide a variety of warblers and vireos as I have ever seen in my life.

Confederation Park is located between 24 Ave. & 14 St. N.W. and 30 Ave. & 10 St. N.W.. and covers over 400 acres. It contains stream channel whose banks are covered with water willow, aspen, and a wide variety of small shrubs which are perfect for insects to roost on in the evening and overnight, and even more perfect for the vireos and warblers to hunt in the early morning light. As the insects warm and begin to fly, so do the warblers, allowing brief, and rarely satisfying views of each and every one of them. Another advantage to the park is that is is a fairly continuous green belt, which is the last major park before the Bow River Valley, and following the expanses of relatively poorly vegetated communities and grassed over parks, perfect for warblers to end a night of nocturnal migration.

The attached map shows the three primary locations where the majority of the warbler activity is localized, but since they’re birds, and they do have the ability to fly, just about anywhere in the park can be a hot spot. That said, about 75-80% of all the warblers, vireos, thrushes and the like that I have seen in this park have all been at one of these three locations.

Confederation Park

Confederation Park

One major advantage to birding this area in the fall, especially during warbler migration, are the huge number of other birders around, some of which are incredibly experienced and know their warbler IDs pretty much spot on every single time. I’ve learned a lot just by tagging along with some of them on some of the more productive days!

One of the most amazing things I noted this year, while keeping track of both my own sightings and those of others, is that it appeared that just about every species that breeds in the boreal forests of Alberta, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon were found on their way through at this magical place.

Here are just a few of the warblers, vireos and sparrows that I’ve managed to find here at Confederation Park in the past few years.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - September 11, 2011 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1250

Yellow-rumped Warbler – September 11, 2011
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1250

 

White-crowned Sparrow - September 15, 2012 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

White-crowned Sparrow – September 15, 2012
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – September 15, 2012
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Lincoln's Sparrow - August 12, 2012 Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/180sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Lincoln’s Sparrow – August 12, 2012
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/180sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Blue-headed Vireo - August 29, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Blue-headed Vireo – August 29, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Black-and-White Warblers - August 29, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-and-White Warblers – August 29, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Waterthrush - August 12, 2012 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Northern Waterthrush – August 12, 2012
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Wilson's Warbler - August 29, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Wilson’s Warbler – August 29, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Warbling Vireo - August 21, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Warbling Vireo – August 21, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Redstart Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

American Redstart
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

 

And of course, anywhere you find small songbirds, there’s always someone looking for a quick meal.

Cooper's Hawk - August 12, 2012 Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

Cooper’s Hawk – August 12, 2012
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/8, ISO 800

 

Reflections on an Alberta Big Day – Lessons learned and lifers heard

On June 15, 2013, David Pugh of A Calgary Birder and I began our attempt on a Big Day, starting at Cold Lake in the early morning and ending in Waterton National Park as the last light of day faded. There were quite a few things we learned in the attempt, and many more discoveries of good birding locations, new life birds for both of us, and experiences that have left me wanting more opportunities to visit places I rarely get to.

 

Part 1: Lead-up to the Big Day

Quite a bit of planning went into our attempt, with many hours collecting data from eBird and the Albertabird Yahoo Group, and using Google Maps to plan our route to maximize the time we’d have outside of the vehicle to find our target birds at each stop. Our original plan was to start at Cold Lake before dawn, listening for as many warbler and vireo species as we could identify by ear, head to a few other ponds and lakes near Cold Lake, then begin driving down the east edge of the province, stopping briefly at a few spots along the way to pick up other targets that are only found in the boreal and parkland biomes, before hitting up Dinosaur Provincial Park for the badlands and prairie specialists there. From there, we would stop at a few places around Brooks, then make a bee-line down to Waterton to pick up the foothills and mountain species before the light faded entirely. Of course, the oft-misquoted proverb originally penned by German war strategist Helmuth von Moltke: “No plan survives contact with the enemy” was certainly apt for our Big Day attempt.

 

Part 2: The trip begins

We put rubber to the road leaving Calgary on Thursday, June 13. After a brief stop at Slack Slough in Red Deer to stretch our legs, we made a straight shot for Elk Island National Park, just east of Edmonton, and camped the night there. After being serenaded to sleep by the calls of a nearby Nelson’s Sparrow, the distinct “onk-a-chonk” of at least three American Bitterns, and  constant bugling of Red-necked Grebes and Common Loons on Astotin Lake, we arose the next morning bright eyed and bushy-tailed to do some birding around the lake. A quick trip around the boardwalk turned up a few good birds, but nothing exceptional, so we packed up the tent and headed down the road to Tawayik Lake on the south end of the park. Along the road we came across this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing away in the morning light, giving us great photo opportunities.

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 - 1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500mm

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 500

 

Down at Tawayik Lake we had some good finds including LeConte’s Sparrows, Swamp Sparrow, and even a slightly out of place Baird’s Sparrow along the boardwalk. We were lucky to get familiar with the call here though, as it would have made our actual Big Day record a bit harder to suss out. This little House Wren also took interest in us and decided to sit pretty for the camera for as long as we could possibly have asked.

House Wren Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm - 1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 400

House Wren
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 400

We headed out from Elk Island with just one more stop planned before our lunch break in Vermilion, that being a regularly reported location for Piping Plover just south of Innisfree. I’d seen one a few weeks before near Hanna, and, as this would be a lifer for David, we decided it would be worth a brief stop. As we scanned the far shore and spotted a very, very distant Piping Plover, we figured that would be fine, and headed back to the van… and that’s when this little bird decided we were endangering its nest and came up to challenge us!

Piping Plover Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm - 1/1250sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

Piping Plover
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

We stopped to visit Charlotte Wasylik at her family farm near Vermilion. Her and her family were incredibly hospitable, and we even had some time to bird at the slough near the farm, where both David and I heard our first ever Sprague’s Pipits! Charlotte writes over at Prairie Birder, and is one of the youngest birders I know, as she’s in Grade 10… giving her at least a 30 year head start on most of the birders I know!

David Pugh, Charlotte Wasylik, and myself with some big Alberta sky in the background - Photo by Charlotte's mom, used with permission -

Left to Right: David Pugh, Charlotte Wasylik, and myself with some big Alberta sky in the background
– Photo by Charlotte’s mom, used with permission –

From there we headed up to scout Cold Lake, get settled in to the campground for the night, have some dinner, and take a bit of a walk… after a few false starts, we ended up back in Cold Lake Provincial Park campground and found this Merlin perched high over the edge of the lake, searching for his next meal.

Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500mm@500mm 1/640sec, ƒ/10, ISO 1600

Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500mm@500mm
1/640sec, ƒ/10, ISO 1600

Part 3: The Big Day

Our list of possible birds for the Big Day was around 267. Our goal was to break 200. While that seemed a bit high for our first attempt, we figured if the weather was good and we stayed on schedule, we’d be able to easily crest 150, and 200 seemed reasonable with the significant distance we were covering and the huge variety of biomes we’d be exploring.

That was the plan… until we woke up at 4:00AM in Cold Lake to a steady downpour. An hour later we decided we’d better at least get on the road, and after a brief jaunt around a couple trails near the lake, and scoping the lake from a few vantage points, we dipped on almost all of the warblers and vireos we’d hoped for, but still managed to spot all three regular white-headed gulls and a few Western Grebes out on the lake, and heard very clearly both Canada Warbler and Ovenbirds calling in the steady rain. One nice find at Cold Lake was a huge number of Purple Martins houses, all full of breeding colonies of Purple Martins, and the rain kept them still enough to get really good, close looks at them.

Purple Martin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@310mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Purple Martin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@310mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And so the day went. Rain and wind plagued us as far south as Hanna, where we finally evaded the precipitation, but ran into just as steady and stronger gusts of wind.

By the time we reached Dinosaur Provincial Park the winds were still wailing, but we managed to catch some good light for at least a few additions to the list.

Rock Wren Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Rock Wren
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Least Flycatcher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Least Flycatcher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Lark Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Lark Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

While those three were expected finds at the park, I did manage a terrible shot of a Baird’s Sparrow, which up until that point I had only heard twice before. It was a nice highlight to a seemingly terrible day so far…

Baird's Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Baird’s Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

From there, we headed down to a little known spot near Tilley, known as Kininvie Marsh. It was where we expected to find at least another ten species on our list that we’d so far missed elsewhere. One of the nicest finds in this spot was both McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, both of which were lifers for me!

Chestnut-collared Longspur Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Chestnut-collared Longspur
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

A brief stop at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park turned up a couple new birds as well, and allowed for some decent shots in the late afternoon light.

Western Kingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Western Kingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

With that last stop, we were on the road again for another few hours, stopping for a fuel break and a quick dinner in Lethbridge, then making the final leg of the trek to Waterton. We did a quick loop around the Buffalo paddock, giving us good looks at some Mountain Bluebirds, and a distant look at some Plains Bison as well.

Mountain Bluebird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Mountain Bluebird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We made a brief stop in the Waterton townsite, which once again turned up some great finds, though nowhere near enough to really top out our 200, but we did have a few surprises… one of which was this incredibly curious Black Bear at Cameron Falls.

Black Bear Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black Bear
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And it seemed quite fitting that our Big Day started at one large lake, and ended at another. The drive to Cameron Lake also gave us a couple more species, and quite a stunning view out on the lake.

Cameron Lake on Instagram.

We did make another stop up at Brown-Lowery Provincial Park the next day on our way home, and David managed another technical lifer… while he had seen these in his younger days in Ontario, this was his first look at Evening Grosbeaks since he became a birder. The stop here also added a few more species to our total for the 3 day journey, and it was really great to end the day with just one more lifer added to the tally.

Evening Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Evening Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Our total for the Big Day? 123 species. A far cry from the goal of 200 that we had in mind, and further still from last year’s record of 226, but not bad considering the weather, and even better for our first trip into most of these habitats, and the lack of real shorebird activity due to the lack of any real mudflats. Our three-day total rounded out at 148, most of which being found between Elk Island and Cold Lake on June 14.

 

Thanks again for reading, and good birding! More regular updates will be forthcoming now that things are back to relative normalcy here in Calgary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fur & Feathers Wrap-Up

I’m sure many of you have followed the Fur & Feathers 500 blog. Four Calgary bird watchers (and mammal watchers) did a bird and mammal Big Year in 2012, trying to see as many species as they could within Canada. They were successful in reaching their goals of seeing 500 combined species as a team, and of visiting each Territory and Province in Canada.

Brian Elder has summarized their efforts in two excellent posts, which highlight some of the most interesting species they saw, and which feature their great photographs too.

A Look Back at the Birds of our Big Year

A Look Back at the Mammals of our Big Year

Now that the Big Year is over, Brian has launched a new blog to document his efforts to reach a life list of 5000 bird and mammal species worldwide. Follow him at:

Fur and Feathers 5000

At Birds Calgary we will be following this with great interest, and we wish him luck!

Reflections on my New Years Resolution

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I mentioned in a previous post, I made a New Year’s Resolution to see 200 species of birds in the Calgary Region. I had no real idea of how difficult a proposition this would be, and if I’d known the lengths I would end up going to to get there, I might have reconsidered it. In the end, it turned out to be an improvised “Big Year” of sorts. While I’m not really sure where the records sit exactly, or what the highest number would be for the traditional 80km May Species Count circle in the Calgary area in the calendar year, I do know that I learned a whole lot about the species that live in my home town, the best places to go to track down certain types of birds, and that there are some places, for one reason or another, that seem like they’d be the perfect habitat for wildlife that seem to be somewhat devoid of birds.

80km circle centred in downtown Calgary

80km circle centred in downtown Calgary


As I write this, my 80km Calgary circle Patch List on eBird sits at 236. I’m happy with that number. It’s a nice, even number, and my original hopes of 200 are long in the past. After finding my Upland Sandpiper, I spent a bit of time searching Confederation Park, Chestermere Lake, and various other places to add a few new birds to my list. It seems that my excursions outside the city ended up being far more fruitful than my quick jaunts just up the hill to the warbler paradise of Confederation Park, as I found #205, Loggerhead Shrike, thanks to fellow blogger Matt Sim coming across this family of 5 just east of Chestermere Lake.

Loggerhead Shrike - species #205

Loggerhead Shrike – species #205

As fall set in, and the cold and dark became more prevalent as the days wore on, I knew the days of adding multiple species to my list were in the past. Fall migration turned out to be a bit disappointing as I had hoped to tack on at least 4 or 5 species of migrating songbirds to my list, but as the Glenmore Reservoir closed up, I, along with many in the Calgary birding community were surprised to find a good number of vagrants showing up. From the three scoter species (White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, and Black Scoter) to the Pacific Loon (which I missed, sadly) and Red-throated Loon (which I managed to find on multiple days) topped off with a fairly large flock of Long-tailed Ducks at the beginning of November.

White-winged Scoter - My 219th species seen this year in Calgary

White-winged Scoter – My 219th species seen this year in Calgary

Dunlin at Weed Lake - Species #224 for the year

Dunlin at Weed Lake – Species #224 for the year

Long-tailed Duck - This group of four seemed to be fairly comfortable getting close to the shore, and many excited birders - #227

Long-tailed Duck – This group of four seemed to be fairly comfortable getting close to the shore, and many excited birders – #227

Add to that an Anna’s Hummingbird a few days later, a few late gulls into mid-November, a few “catch-up” species in a couple of places I hadn’t visited as much earlier in the year, and to top it all off, a rogue Steller’s Jay in mid-December, and here I am at 236. I certainly missed a few species that I expected to find, but ended up with a well-rounded list and far exceeding my original goal!

Anna's Hummingbird - #228

Anna’s Hummingbird – #228

Mew Gull amongst a number of Ring-billed Gulls - #231

Mew Gull amongst a number of Ring-billed Gulls – #231

Steller's Jay - a fairly rare bird in these parts, and my last new tick for the year. - #236!

Steller’s Jay – a fairly rare bird in these parts, and my last new tick for the year. – #236!

So this ends my birding year in Calgary, and I am looking forward to starting all over again in 2013. I know there’s still a week left for me to find some of my nemesis birds, but tomorrow (December 25) I’m heading off to the Mayan Riviera for a couple of weeks, and so my year total will sit comfortably at 236. I plan to do a whole lot of vacationing, a bit of birding here and there, and just taking it easy in the sun, and maybe thinking about another birding resolution for 2013!

The Alberta Winter Bird List

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

One way to spice up your winter birding is to keep a list of species seen in the winter months of December, January, and February.  It’s fun do do this for yourself, but you can also help contribute to the provincial winter list.

For the past eleven years, Richard Klauke has kept track of all bird species seen by anyone anywhere in the province of Alberta between December 1 and the end of February.  It is an excellent resource for anyone birding here in the winter.

See the Alberta Winter Bird List here.

The list has three categories of birds:

  • winter residents and other species that are reported every year (111 species).
  • species often reported but not every year (81 species).
  • rarities (30 species).

The total number of species reported in the last eleven years has varied from a low of 126 (in 2010/2011) to a high of 153 (in 2002/2003).  The average is 140.  Last winter was a good one, with a total of 148.

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House Finch – one of the core winter species

The most productive periods for the winter bird list are the the first two weeks of December, when there are still some lingering migrants, and the last two weeks of February, when some early spring birds begin to arrive.  Richard compiles the list from reports on the Albertabird listserv.  Starting today, post your sightings on Albertabird and help build the list.  For example, if you happen to be in the Votier’s Flats area and see the Song Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe that have been reported there recently, please post them again to Albertabird.  These are core species but may not be around much longer.

As the list builds, check back to Richard’s page periodically, and if you see something that hasn’t yet been reported, post it to Albertabird.

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Harris’s Sparrow – a more elusive core winter species (photo by Daniel Arndt)

Some new birders may not belong to Albertabird yet, so if you see something good you could let us know at the blog and we’ll pass it on (include details of date and location).  But I encourage all serious birders to join and follow Albertabird.  That is where important sightings should be reported so that other Alberta birders know what is being seen and where, and can have a chance to find the birds themselves.

Richard’s page also includes links to winter lists for the other nine provinces, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and the Ottawa region.  So if you are travelling you can see what to expect.

Update: Already this morning, an Eastern Bluebird has been seen near Medicine Hat!  This is the first winter report of this species in the twelve years the list has been kept.

Pat Bumstead still has her three Mourning Doves in her yard too.