Archives

Eagles, Owls and Others

The photos below were taken by Josh OBrien. He uses a Nikon D600+Sigma 150-500mm. To see more of his photos, check his Facebook page here.

600_9036-001

Great Horned Owls

600_9051-002

Great Horned Owls

600_0049

Juvenile Bald Eagles

600_0159

Juvenile Bald Eagle

600_0146

Juvenile Bald Eagle stretching

600_0018-001

Great Gray Owl

DSC_9980

Great Gray Owl

600_0326

American Robin

600_8947

Downy Woodpecker

600_9645

Common Raven

600_9097

Great Horned Owl

600_9676

Great Horned Owl

DSC_9332

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Spring Arrivals at Fish Creek Park

Tony LePrieur saw some new birds for the year in Fish Creek Park on April 5, 2014, as well as some favourite residents.

image

Northern Shoveler, male.

image_6

European Starling.

image_9

Red-winged Blackbird, male. This bird is arriving right on time, but all the ponds there were still mostly frozen over on this date. 

image_2

Golden-crowned Kinglet, male. Likely a winter bird that will soon move on.

image_1

Blue Jay, a year-round resident species.

image_7

Snowshoe Hare. Transitioning to summer colours far faster than the surroundings are!

image_8

Muskrat.

image_3

Finally, some close-ups of one of the resident Great Horned Owls. Check the talons in the third photo.

image_4

 

image_5

 

Wednesday Wings: Weaselhead and More

Tony LePrieur took the photos below on March 1, 2014.

image_2

Horned Lark, from outside the city.

image_1

Gray Partridge, from outside the city.

image_3

A very cold Common Goldeneye from Fish Creek Park.

image_4

Brown Creeper, Weaselhead.

image_6

Pileated Woodpecker female, Weaselhead.

image_7

House Finch male, Weaselhead.

image_8

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

image_9

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

image_10

Coyote, Weaselhead.

image

Finally, an ID challenge: At first glance I assumed this bird was a Merlin, but something didn’t quite look right. If not a Merlin, what do you think it is, and why?

Sunday Showcase: Late Winter Birds

Spring is here and the new migrants are showing up daily, but here is another look at some of the winter birds seen in Fish Creek Park and the Weaselhead Nature Area in Calgary. All photographs by Tony LePrieur.

The photos below were taken in Fish Creek Park on February 17, 2014.

image

Great Gray Owl, Bebo Grove.

image_1

image_2

image_3

image_4

Boreal Chickadee.

image_5

Black-capped Chickadee.

image_6

Golden-crowned Kinglet.

These shots of the Three-toed Woodpecker in Bebo Grove were taken on February 23, 2014.

image

image_1

The remaining photos below were taken on February 23, 2014 in the Weaselhead.

image_1

Great Horned Owl.

image_2

Boreal Chickadee.

image_3

American Tree Sparrow.

image_4

Dark-eyed Junco.

image_5

Golden-crowned Kinglet.

image_6

House Finch.

Furry Friday: Roadside Lynx

It’s a rare day that you see a Canada Lynx, so when Bill and Sharon Thompson spotted this one on a roadside while driving between Calgary and Prince George in 2002, they stopped to get a photograph. The Lynx had crossed the highway but then stopped in the ditch rather than disappearing into the bush.

Lynxmom

Canada Lynx. Photo by Bill Thompson

For a few minutes the Lynx stayed still and was vocalizing. When Bill and Sharon looked back on the other side of the road, they saw the reason for this unusual behavior.

Lynxkittens

Canada Lynx kittens (cubs). Photo by Bill Thompson

A Monday Two-fer: Bebo Grove (again!) and Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

The depths of the bitterly cold winter have finally subsided, and so I think it’s about time I get caught up on our last two outings.

Two weeks ago we headed to Bebo Grove in search of the Great Gray Owl, Barred Owl, and American Three-toed Woodpecker that had been seen there once again through the winter. We explored some of the back trails which I had never been on, but now that I know these areas exist, I’ll definitely be back, especially come summer!

Bebo Grove -

Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014

After a search where the Three-toed Woodpecker had been seen before, we moved deeper into Bebo Grove. As we crossed Fish Creek, this nearly adult Bald Eagle flew into the trees nearby, and was promptly mobbed by Black-capped Chickadees and a few Downy Woodpeckers before flying off once again.

Bald Eagle Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Bald Eagle
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

It was cold. Bitterly cold. The birds seemed distant, and few and far between, but sometimes the lack of birds will draw attention to some of the other features worth photographing. These grasses were poking up through the water of one tributary stream to Fish Creek, and had accumulated a good coating of frost on them.

Frost on Fish Creek Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Frost on Fish Creek
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

As we passed the area where the Great Gray Owl had been seen, we heard a single White-breasted Nuthatch singing away, and a little later, one of three Pileated Woodpeckers for the day flew by, and if we hadn’t turned at just the right time, we would have completely missed the fly-by.

Pileated Woodpecker Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Pileated Woodpecker
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

White-breasted Nuthatch Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

White-breasted Nuthatch
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

As we walked through another area I’d never explored before in search of the Barred Owl, we came up empty once again, but of course I did find something to shoot. There’s no point spending three hours in -30 degree weather unless you get some images to take home with you! This stand of aspen looked like a black and white photo as it was, and I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I never get tired of seeing row after row of them.

Aspen  Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/640sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 320

Aspen
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/640sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 320

From that point onward, things started getting busier and louder. Another pan through the grove where the Three-toed Woodpecker had turned up for others only turned up a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a few of both White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and our only Hairy Woodpecker we found that day.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hairy Woodpecker Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Hairy Woodpecker
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The following week, we visited Carburn Park. This was the first time since the floods last year that I’d really spent any appreciable time in Carburn Park, so it was really quite striking to see the damage that had been done.

Carburn Park March 2, 2014

Carburn Park
March 2, 2014

Two weeks earlier, a Hermit Thrush had been seen here, but once again sub -30 temperatures kept the park quiet, and none of our attendees even came out, so Gus, Bob and I walked the park in a little over two hours.

The Bow River was full of life, much of which had only recently begun moving for the day. The Buffleheads were by far the most active of any of the birds on the river, diving again and again in search of food.

female Buffleheads Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female Buffleheads
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

As before in Bebo Grove, when things slowed down in terms of wildlife activity, nature provided. Shooting across the river at the opposite bank, hoarfrost coated the willows and smaller bushes beautifully.

Hoarfrost Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 160

Hoarfrost
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 160

Very few birds were present as we headed away from the river, but this Northern Flicker posed, um, interestingly, showing us what it really thought of the bitter cold. I do like the detail and color in the shafts of the flight feathers and the wispy body feathers.

Northern Flicker Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Flicker
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We even had to double-take when we began hallucinating and seeing mythical creatures, like this (very cold) unicorn Canada Goose.

female Buffleheads Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Unicorn (Canada Goose)
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

One thing that really stood out all along the floodplain in Carburn Park was the height of the flood debris, once again completely covered in hoarfrost, at waist level, looking for all the world like little frozen bird nests.

Frosted flood debris Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 200

Frosted flood debris
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 200

And as we finished up our walk, we did find one of the local celebrities here in Carburn Park in the form of a small herd of White-tailed Deer. Not only were there a few very docile females, but there was also a pair of males, one with a well established rack of antlers, while the younger looked like a sad impersonation attempt.

femaleWhite-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

femaleWhite-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

adult male White-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

adult male White-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

young male White-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/125sec., ƒ/18, ISO 1600

young male White-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/125sec., ƒ/18, ISO 1600

Thanks for reading folks, and good birding! I’m very, very happy that the weather here in Calgary has made a significant turn for the better, and look forward to many migrants arriving in the coming weeks!

Travel Tuesday: Southern Alberta’s Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013-2014

Posted by Dan Arndt

There have been many articles published this year about the incredible, record-setting irruption of Snowy Owls in Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States. For example, over the span of one weekend in late 2013, over 300 individual birds were counted in Newfoundland. In a similar fashion to a story from last winter of a Snowy Owl being seen in Hawai’i (where it was unfortunately shot by USDA’s Wildlife Division), this year one was seen as far south as Bermuda!

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 2013

You can tell just from eBird that there are Snowy Owls all across Canada and the northern U.S., but relatively few make it further west into British Columbia.

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States
Sightings range from October 1, 2013 to February 10, 2014

Here in the Calgary area, we’ve been rather lucky as well, as this is the third winter in a row where we’ve been on the receiving end of a fairly large irruption. While I haven’t been out as much this year to search for them as I was last, I’ve still had some fairly good luck, netting four owls in a single day in November in the Beiseker area in mid-December, two owls at once in a single day around Frank Lake in late January, and six owls in a single day in the Blackie area in early February. Some local die-hards have even reported finding as many as fifteen (yes, 15) in a single, all-day trip southeast of Calgary.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

This map from eBird shows pretty much what one would expect given those numbers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to consider this the furthest westerly extent of the same population of Snowy Owls responsible for the massive numbers out east.

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past two weeks, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta in the winter of 2013-2014
Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past 30 days, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

One interesting thing discovered by Project SNOWstorm is that many of these Snowy Owls are in very good health, which goes against the common belief that these irruptions are the fallout from a crash in the lemming population on the tundra, leading starving owls to search further afield for suitable food to survive the winter. There are some others that suggest that this common belief may be completely erroneous, based on the research of Norman Smith, Tom McDonald, and other researchers in the U.S. and Canada.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

Of course, not all the Snowy Owls that make their way down here in the early winter will return north. Even those in great health that simply are unable to adapt to the food supply further south, those that have close encounters with power lines, vehicles, or other man-made hazards will simply be unable to return north due to injury or death.

Snowy Owl Frank Lake January 25, 2014

Snowy Owl
Frank Lake
January 25, 2014

You might have noticed as well that I tend not to label my Snowy Owl photos as male or female. Based on data collected from Scott Weidensaul and Norman Smith indicate that the usual conclusions of all-white individuals being older males, and heavily barred/marked individuals being young females may be much more complex than previously thought.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

One thing that is indisputable by any birder, photographer, or even someone who simply enjoys nature and all of its beauty, is that Snowy Owls are absolutely marvelous creatures, and always a treat to find, whether it’s the first one you’ve ever seen in your entire life, or the twentieth one you’ve seen that day. I’ll never get tired of photographing them, especially when they pose in front of such a nice backdrop!

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

Have a wonderful week, and good birding!

Expecting the unexpected in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

My first visit back to the Weaselhead Nature Area since the Christmas Bird Count in mid-December turned up a much different array of birds. I always seem to find that birding in the Weaselhead, no matter the time of year, comes in fits and starts. In the winter, this is even more pronounced, as there were times where we’d walked for twenty minutes between running into any birds whatsoever, let alone anything less common than a Black-capped Chickadee.

Weaselhead Nature Area February 2, 2014

Weaselhead Nature Area
February 2, 2014

Maybe it’s the abundance of birds at the start and at the end of this walk that sets the tone for the outings here. The first set of feeders were being visited by the usual Black-capped Chickadees, but with them were a trio of Downy Woodpeckers, a male and female Hairy Woodpecker, and half a dozen amorous House Finches, feeding and singing up a storm.

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

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It was quite a sight to watch the female Hairy Woodpecker pick out a seed from the feeder…

Hairy Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

… and then climb up the tree a short way, place the sunflower seed into the hole, and crack it open with a few rapid taps.

Hairy Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

On our first pass of the feeders at the bottom of the hill, our only real bird of note was this White-breasted Nuthatch, “hank, hank, hank”ing away for no apparent reason, until a second male came into view before the two of them flew off in a scuffle.

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

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

While we headed from there to our usual Boreal Chickadee grove, flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead, and we even had a pair of chance sightings of a Bald Eagle, and then a few minutes later, a Rough-legged Hawk, which bulked up our species count just a bit more for the day.

Upon arriving at the grove, Bob stopped the group abruptly to point out a single Brown Creeper feeding at the base of one of the larger spruce trees and I snapped off a couple of photos of this elusive species. I suppose like most of the other birds we found today, these birds simply don’t care what a groundhog says about the season, they know that it’s time to breed soon, and they need to collect their energy before things get into full swing!

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

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

We did also find a lone Boreal Chickadee after a few minutes of patience, but unfortunately it didn’t stick around long enough to pose for a photo. Shame!

And so began a long, quiet stretch of our walk. While we did have a few flocks of Black-capped Chickadees with the odd White- or Red-breasted Nuthatch thrown in, we observed no Northern Goshawks, no Merlins, no Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the largest Bohemian Waxwing flock we found deeper into the Weaselhead was a whopping four (yes, 4) birds.

It all paid off though once we began our trip back. While I was bringing up the rear of the group, the lead observers spotted a female Pileated Woodpecker, which we had seen earlier on in the walk, but this time she was much closer. She flew back into some deadfall, out of sight, and while the rest of the group trudged on, I thought I’d try my luck photographing her.

What do you think?

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And closer still.

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

By the time I reached the feeders again, the group was well ahead of me, and I wouldn’t catch up to them until we reached the end of our walk, but in the time since they had passed the lowermost feeders, a few surprises had moved in, in the form of a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos, a lone American Tree Sparrow, and a surprising first-winter White-throated Sparrow, picking through the seeds on the ground.

WT Sparrow

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

I didn’t tarry too long, but thought I’d pause for a moment at another of the lower feeders, as this male Downy Woodpecker obliged me with a few shots while he finished his brunch.

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

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

All in all, another very successful day, and while the light was flat and gray, the birds were accommodating, vocal, and up to no end of entertaining antics! Next week, we head into Bebo Grove in search of the American Three-toed Woodpecker!

Have a great day, and good birding!

 

Sunday Showcase: Superb Owl Sunday!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Have a safe and happy Superb Owl Sunday, folks. Here are some of the superb owls that live in and around our amazing city.

Long-eared Owl North Calgary, 2013

Long-eared Owl
North Calgary, 2013

Great Gray Owl Grand Valley Road March 2013

Great Gray Owl
Grand Valley Road
March 2013

Short-eared Owl Frank Lake March 2013

Short-eared Owl
Frank Lake
March 2013

Northern Hawk Owl November 2012 Exshaw

Northern Hawk Owl
November 2012
Exshaw

Northern Saw-whet Owl Carburn Park January 2012

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Carburn Park
January 2012

Northern Pygmy Owl Winchell Lake July 2013

Northern Pygmy Owl
Winchell Lake
July 2013

Burrowing Owl west of Brooks August 2012

Burrowing Owl
west of Brooks
August 2012

Barred Owl South Glenmore Park March 2012

Barred Owl
South Glenmore Park
March 2012

Great Horned Owl north of Blackie February 1, 2014

Great Horned Owl
north of Blackie
February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl north of Blackie February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
north of Blackie
February 1, 2014

 

Sunday Showcase: Goshawk Feeding

Karen and Roger Bolton had the unusual experience of seeing a Northern Goshawk eat a Blue Jay in their yard in Glamorgan, SW Calgary, on December 7, 2013. These powerful raptors are scarce in winter in the Calgary area. They feed on game birds like pheasants and partridge; rabbits, and rodents, as well as songbirds. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

DSC00155

DSC00156

DSC00157

DSC00158