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Migrant Sparrows: White-throated and Chipping

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

More birds from my backyard. The White-throated Sparrows were around for just a couple of days in the first week of May (although I heard one singing in the neighbourhood this morning, possibly a late migrant grounded by the strong winds and rain we had yesterday). Chipping Sparrows passed through last week, and I counted up to thirty in my yard one day, along with a few of the closely-related Clay-colored Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The above photo shows the sharply contrasting white throat patch and the yellow lores that are keys to identifying this species. Some White-throated Sparrows have tan and black rather than white and black head stripes, but they should always show the white throat and a least a little yellow on the lores.

The tan and black variation is a colour morph which some White-throated Sparrows have throughout their lives. It is not a juvenile characteristic, like the tan and gray head stripes of the White-crowned Sparrow. All White-crowns have tan stripes as juveniles, and white stripes as adults. Here is an old photo of an adult White-crowned Sparrow. Besides the lack of a white throat and yellow lores, note the clean gray breast and spotted back feathers which are quite different from the White-throated Sparrow. The pale bill (pink or yellow) also stands out.

White-crowned Sparrow, Calgary, May 10, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Below are a few of the Chipping Sparrows that were in my yard. There were thousands in yards all over the city that week.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Both of these species breed in the city. White-throated Sparrows are common in the Weaselhead, the west end of Fish Creek Park, and other parts of the city where the boreal forest intrudes. You can hear their beautiful song there right now. Chipping Sparrows breed throughout the city, even in suburbs in low numbers. Their song is a long, dry, steady trill, which is sometimes mistaken for an insect sound.

Other birds I’ve had pass through my yard recently on migration include White-crowned Sparrows (in pretty low numbers this year) around the end of April and first week of May, Ruby-crowned Kinglet at about the same time, and a Baltimore Oriole briefly on May 21.

Birds of Bowmont Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Lorraine Glass photographed these birds in Bowmont Park in Calgary on May 18.

Killdeer, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

The Killdeer may have been nesting right by a busy pathway. They lay their eggs right on the gravel, but the eggs are very hard to see, and the parents are really good at not giving away the nest location, and at distracting predators.

Osprey,  Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

The Osprey is carrying material to line the nest, even though they probably have already laid their eggs. Ospreys will often add to the nest throughout the summer.

Black-capped Chickadee, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

This appears to be a recently fledged chickadee, begging for food.

House Wren, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

House Wrens are back in the city in their usual huge numbers. You can hear them singing all along the river valleys and in many residential neighbourhoods too. They have a big voice for such a tiny bird.

Birds of Burnsmead, Fish Creek Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For the week of April 10-16, the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding course groups explored the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek Park, along the river just east of the park headquarters, near the wastewater treatment plant. There are some ponds in this area, as well as a wooded area and the river itself.

Max Ortiz Aguilar went with the group on April 16 and got these photos of some of the birds there.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Burnsmead, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

 Canada Goose, possibly guarding a nest site, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Common Mergansers (female in front, male behind), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Franklin’s Gull, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

This photo and the next shows the pinkish hue these birds have when they arrive here from their wintering grounds off the coast of Venezuela, where they feed on shrimp that contain red pigments. The colour often fades by fall.

Franklin’s Gulls, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

House Finch (male), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Red-winged Blackbird (male), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

To see more of Max’s photos, visit his website here.

Country Birds

Tony LePrieur went out of town on a rainy day last week and got some photos in the Priddis area and on Grand Valley Road.

Wilson’s Snipe, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Wilson’s Snipe, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Red-winged Blackbird, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The Priddis area, SW of Calgary, is also a great place to find mammals:

Moose, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Moose, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

You can find Great Gray Owls near Priddis too, but this one was NW of Calgary:

Great Gray Owl, with Meadow Vole, Grand Valley Road, May 13, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

And finally, a city bird:

Spotted Sandpiper, Fish Creek Park, May 13, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

See more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.

Goldfinch and Other Backyard Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first American Goldfinch of the year arrived in our yard on Mother’s Day.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Although I occasionally hear goldfinches flying over in the summer, they don’t stay to breed in my neighbourhood and I usually don’t see them in my yard except on spring and fall migration.

There are Northern Flickers here year-round, and there are at least a couple that are still courting, so maybe this is the year that my Flicker nest box finally get used (by Flickers, rather than House Sparrow, Starlings, or squirrels).

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

This year our local pair of Swainson’s Hawks is building a nest just down the block, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot of them. I will post more about these birds as the season goes along.

Swainson’s Hawk, Calgary, April 30, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Sharp-tailed Grouse Portrait

Gavin McKinnon took this close-up of a male Sharp-tailed Grouse in mating display this spring in southern Alberta. The bird has his yellow eyebrows flared and his purple neck air-sacs exposed.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male), Southern Alberta, spring 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnon.

Follow Gavin’s blog at Canadian Birder.

Western Meadowlark Singing

Gavin McKinnon photographed this Western Meadowlark singing on a fence post at Weed Lake, SE of the city, on April 30.

Western Meadowlark, Weed Lake, April 30, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnon.

Unfortunately, Meadowlarks are hard to find in the city, but a trip a short distance out of town on the prairies will usually produce some of these beautiful singers. Weed Lake is immediately east of Langdon, 26 km east from Stoney Trail on Glenmore Trail.

Like Ethan Denton, Gavin is another accomplished young birder. He has a blog at Canadian Birder. Gavin has teamed up with Ethan to raise money for the Great Canadian Birdathon. You can sponsor him here.

 

Sandhill Crane Migrating Over Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here’s something you don’t see very often: a Sandhill Crane flying over the city.

Sandhill Crane, South Glenmore Park, April 29, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Sandhill Cranes can be seen in huge numbers on their northward migration if you go well east of the city on the prairies. Dan Arndt photographed huge flocks in the Castor area on April 4th. See his Flickr page here. These birds do nest in the Calgary area, near Bragg Creek and in the Water Valley area, so you can see a few in those areas even in mid-summer. But they are not often seen in Calgary.

To see more of Max Ortiz Aguilar’s photos, see his website.

Canmore Bird Walks, and Birds of Banff and Canmore

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Ethan Denton is an accomplished young birder who lives in Canmore, an hour west of Calgary at the entrance to Banff National Park. We have birded together and it has has been a pleasure to get to know him and his family. Ethan has had a blog for a few years already called Bird Boy. Although he is just thirteen years old, he has organized the Canmore Christmas Bird Count for the past two years. He also takes part in the Great Canadian Birdathon, and you can sponsor him at this page.

Lincoln’s Sparrow, April 27, 2017, West Banff Townsite. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Now Ethan has begun to lead birding field trips in Canmore every week. Every second Sunday morning, there will be an informal birding walk along Policeman’s Creek in Canmore. This is one of the best locations in Canmore. Ethan had recorded over 100 species there.

Below is the information poster. Use the scrollbar on the right-hand side to see the whole page.

Download the PDF file .

The next walk is on Sunday May 21. The walks are free and everyone (children included) is welcome. So if you are a Canmore-area birder, or an interested Calgary-area birder, please join Ethan and see some birds like these:

Wood Duck pair, Canmore boardwalk, April 9, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Pileated Woodpecker, Canmore boardwalk, March 18, 2017.  Photo by Ethan Denton.

Hammond’s Flycatcher, Canmore boardwalk, April 27, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Hammond’s Flycatchers are uncommon in Canmore in the summer, so an early spring record is almost unique. This is a bird we don’t see in Calgary.

Cassin’s Finch (female), April 27, 2017, West Banff Townsite. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Cassin’s Finch is only rarely seen in Calgary.

Ethan will post about each walk on his blog afterwards, so check back there to see what they have spotted and to see more of Ethan’s photos.

If you are out in the mountain parks this summer, note that there are also twice-weekly bird walks held at the Cave and Basin in Banff, run by the Bow Valley Naturalists. If you are out there on Saturday or Monday mornings, join them. Information here.

 

Birds of Bridlewood and Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Photographs of spring birds, by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s), Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are usually among the first warblers to pass through Calgary on Spring migration, along with Orange-crowned Warblers. Most of the ones we get here are the Myrtle subspecies, the eastern and northern form, which have a white throat and a more prominent black mask. They breed in the boreal forest. The Audubon subspecies, shown here, breeds in the western mountains. This year, quite a few Audubons were reported here. There is talk that the two subspecies will be split again into two separate species, so it is important to note which one you see, especially if you are recording your sightings on eBird.

Common Grackle, Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The Bridlewood Wetland is located just north of Spruce Meadows, on James McKevitt Road in SW Calgary. It is a small wetland but has a trail around it and a bridge from which to view the birds.

The Bridlewood Wetland in SW Calgary.

The rest of the photos were taken in Carburn Park on the Bow River in SE Calgary.

Common Goldeneye (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Common Merganser (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

On spring migration, we get more Lesser Yellowlegs than Greater Yellowlegs in the city. But we do get both species. The Lesser is slighter, with a smaller head, and the bill is about the length of the head from front to back, as with this bird. The Greater Yellowleg’s bill is about one and a half times the head length, and often slightly curved upwards.

Song Sparrow, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

This Song Sparrow is missing its tail. Birds don’t molt their tail feathers all at once, so a missing tail probably indicates that the bird narrowly survived an attack by a predator.

Beaver, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

See more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.