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Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

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

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

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

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

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

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

The Latest From Fish Creek Park

Tony LePrieur photographed a nice variety of wildlife in the park on October 5.

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Pileated Woodpecker.

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Greater Yellowlegs.

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American Three-toed Woodpecker (male).

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Boreal Chickadee.

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White-breasted Nuthatch.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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American Robin (immature).

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Downy Woodpecker.

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Muskrat.

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White-tailed Deer.

Wednesday Wings: World Shorebirds Day (and other days!) at Weed Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Shorebirds are my thing. I love watching flocks of them wheel and turn in flocks of tens, hundreds, and even thousands at a time, so when I heard about the initiative of World Shorebirds Day, I immediately signed up for a few sites at one of my favourite shorebirding locations just outside the city. Leading up to it, there had been some great sightings of somewhat uncommon birds, and between July 29th and September 6th, I probably spent at least one day a week visiting it for at least a few minutes.

Killdeer Weed Lake July 29, 2014

Killdeer
Weed Lake
July 29, 2014

Early on, the usual shorebirds that breed in and around Calgary were abundant and relatively easy to find. Killdeer, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Spotted Sandpipers were everywhere, but as migration ramped up into mid-August, the shorebirding really began heating up.  The first Black-bellied Plovers were seen in early August, and by August 10th, just about every species of shorebird we can expect to move through the Calgary area was there to be counted!

Lesser Yellowlegs Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds! Weed Lake August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds!
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Baird's Sandpipers Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Baird’s Sandpipers
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones showed up at the lake in late August, and on my scouting weekend they turned up and I had a chance to get relatively close looks at them. One of the more colorful shorebirds that we get around here, I think!

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Willet Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Willet
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And if you ever need some sense of scale for some of these small but powerful fliers, my current phone is roughly the same size as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I’m not quite sure what caused the demise of this little fellow, but in the wild there are so many more things to be worried about than just predators. Disease, untreated injuries, or even simple medical anomalies can bring natural selection into play.

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And finally, after months of anticipation, the magical day arrived. Sadly the big numbers of shorebirds were nowhere to be found, though I did still get some good finds on the day!

American Avocet clearing its throat Weed Lake September 6, 2014

American Avocet clearing its throat
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Oh yeah, and I mentioned predators before, didn’t I? A pair of beautiful Peregrine Falcons were doing a great job of scattering the shorebirds that had stuck around. One of them even managed to snag a distant Lesser Yellowlegs while we watched on, and its mate gave us some good fly-bys as well!

Peregrine Falcon Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Thanks for reading, and good birding!

A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.

While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!

Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.

Cedar Waxwing Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Cedar Waxwing
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Great Blue Heron sunning itself Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Great Blue Heron sunning itself
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

 

Update – Fall Birds in Carburn and Fish Creek Parks

We don’t often re-post material but we don’t often make two identification mistakes in the same post (I hope). Reid Barclay has pointed out that the bird I labelled “Swainson’s Thrush” is actually an Ovenbird, and Ron Kube says that the “Swainson’s Hawk” is a Broad-winged Hawk. I think they are both correct. In each case, I didn’t consider these less-common migrants here, and tried to fit the photos to my expectations. Sorry for the errors. We always welcome comments from our readers. – Bob Lefebvre

Tony LePrieur has another set of beautiful bird and mammal photos, taken on September 14, 2014. He says it is getting harder to find the birds, but there is still a good variety of species around.

From Carburn Park:

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Orange-crowned Warbler.

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Orange-crowned Warbler, actually showing the seldom-seen orange crown.

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Red-eyed Vireo.

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American Goldfinch.

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Cedar Waxwing (juvenile).

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Ovenbird.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Tennessee Warbler.

From Fish Creek Park:

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Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile).

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Belted Kingfisher (female).

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American Mink.

Sunday Showcase: More from Carburn Park

It’s been a really good fall for warblers in Calgary. Here are some warblers and other birds that Tony LePrieur captured in Carburn Park on the weekend of August 29-30.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

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Least Flycatcher

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Tennessee Warbler

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Warbling Vireo

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Gray Catbird

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American Redstart

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Wilson’s Warbler

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Solitary Sandpiper

Do you have some bird photographs from the Calgary area that you’d like to share here? Send them to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them on our Sunday Showcase.

Waxwings, From Egg to Fledgling

This summer Tony LePrieur found a Cedar Waxwing nest in Fish Creek Park, and he managed to capture this amazing sequence of photos showing the young birds from hatching to fledging, over a period of sixteen days.

The nest was about three feet off the ground, in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Tony was careful not to be intrusive, making four very short visits over a period of just over three weeks. Initially there were four eggs in the nest. Photos were taken with a Canon 60d and a 18-135 mm lens.

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As a bonus, I will post a photo of a slightly older juvenile Cedar Waxwing. It was spotted by Cicely Schoen hunkering down under a lawn chair in the Woodlands neighbourhood in SW Calgary during last week’s snowstorm. She calls it “The Original Angry Bird”.

The Original Angry Bird

“The Original Angry Bird” – Juvenile Cedar Waxwing.   Photo by  Cicely Schoen

Nikon 5100 with Nikkor lens 55-200mm.

Hummingbird in Snowstorm

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Last week’s late summer snowstorm in southern Alberta flattened crops and gardens, caused power outages, and damaged or destroyed trees numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It must also have been devastating for many migrating birds. A storm like this, lasting for several days, blanketing the ground with snow throughout the southern half of the province, and accompanied by temperatures as low as -7 degrees Celsius, must surely have caused high mortality among warblers and other neotropical migrants.

Here are some photos taken on September 10 of a hummingbird caught in the snow. I believe this is a Rufous Hummingbird, the last of which usually move through Calgary in early September. Fortunately there are still plenty of flowers around so perhaps it was able to find enough food to continue on its southern migration.

All photos by Debbie Reynolds.

IMG_5017

IMG_5049

IMG_5105

IMG_4991

IMG_5077

 

August in Carburn Park

The last few weeks, Tony LePrieur has been sending us some outstanding photos of birds at Carburn Park. We had some technical difficulties with the blog and have been unable to post, but we’re back to full speed now. Here is Tony’s great collection of photos from the last three weekends in Carburn.

This is a good year for wood warblers, and there should be several species around until Sept 20 or so. Carburn Park has been a great place to see them, or anywhere along the river. Confederation Park is another warbler hot spot in the city.

Some of these fall birds can be tricky to ID, so please comment if you think we’ve got any wrong. There are two we weren’t at all sure about, the recently fledged one and the orange one, both captioned “???” – give us your thoughts on those!

Carburn1.1

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.9

Canada Warbler

Carburn3.8

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn3.6

female Tennessee Warbler

Carburn3.5

Wilson’s Warbler

Carburn3.4

Warbling Vireo

Carburn3.3

Nashville Warbler

Carburn3.2

American Redstart

Carburn3.1

Townsend’s Warbler

Carburn2.8

Warbling Vireo

Carburn2.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn2.6

Northern Waterthrush

Carburn1.8

Canada Warbler

Carburn1.7

female/immature Tennessee Warbler

Carburn1.3

Orange-crowned Warbler

Carburn1.2

???

Carburn1.5

immature Baltimore Oriole

Carburn1.4

House Wren

Carburn1.9

Sora

Carburn1.10

???

Carburn2.4

Solitary Sandpiper

Carburn2.5

Eastern Kingbird

Carburn2.9

American Goldfinch

 

Travel Tuesday – Bobolinks, babies and more south of Calgary

Posted by Dan Arndt

While work has kept me rather busy and out of town for the majority of the past 6 weeks, on my brief trips back to Calgary I’ve been making a serious effort to get out and find some local birds. One of the most tantalizing of these birds was a lifer that’s eluded me for a few years in the Calgary region, a Bobolink. Their song is reminiscent of a robot, crossed with a blackbird, and is actually produced by two separate parts of their vocal cords singing entirely different songs. This particular pair of males was found near Priddis.

Pair of Bobolinks Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

Pair of Bobolinks
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

Bobolink Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

Bobolink
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

On one of my trips down to this area, I managed to find some adorable little baby American Coots still being fed by their mothers.

 

American Coot and chick Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

On another morning I took a visit to Frank Lake, and found a few different babies of different species, including a baby Willet, baby Ruffed Grouse, immature Western Meadowlarks, and baby Eared Grebes, all staying safe and close to their parents. With the breeding season being so short in this area of the world, one could almost blink and miss the whole thing!

Eared Grebe chick Frank Lake June 27, 2014

Eared Grebe chick
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

Willet Chick Frank Lake June 27, 2014

Willet Chick
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

baby Ruffed Grouse south of Turner Valley June 27, 2014

baby Ruffed Grouse
south of Turner Valley
June 27, 2014

baby Western Meadowlark Frank Lake June 27, 2014

baby Western Meadowlark
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

And last but not least, thanks to a very special friend on the Facebook group Alberta Birds, I was able to find this adorable trio. An adult and two immature Black Terns, northeast of Calgary, just last week. Amazing, huh?

Baby Black Terns NE of Calgary July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns
NE of Calgary
July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns and mom NE of Calgary July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns and mom
NE of Calgary
July 15, 2014