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Battling Bluebirds

Tony LePrieur photographed these two male Mountain Bluebirds having a bit of a tussle near Priddis, SW of Calgary, on April 8.

Mountain Bluebirds (males), near Priddis, April 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The birds may have been battling over a good territory. Many bluebirds are back in the area now, but some of the females have not yet returned. Primarily an insect-eater, Mountain Bluebirds can get into real trouble when we get heavy snowfalls (like we’re having tonight), especially if it stays cold for an extended period. They will also eat berries.

One bluebird gets the upper hand!

The victorious male. Both birds were OK, but only one gets the territory.

Late Winter Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s spring on the calendar and new migrants are arriving daily. Some of our winter birds have departed, and some of our resident birds are beginning to nest. Here are some photos of birds of late winter in Calgary. All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Bohemian Waxwing, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwings are only here in the winter. Since mid-March only small flocks have been reported. Most have departed to the north and to higher elevations. By the end of April they all will be gone.

Mountain Chickadee, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Mountain Chickadees are only occasionally seen inside the city, and most often in the west end where the boreal forest creeps in. This winter there were several seen in the Weaselhead and in Fish Creek Park. They are usually absent in the summer, as they breed west of the city.

Pine Grosbeak (female), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak are one of our winter finches and they were here in low numbers this winter. They move to higher elevations and to the north in the summer.

Downy Woodpecker, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Downys are one of our resident woodpeckers and they have been paired up for at least a month, and are now beginning to nest.

Northern Flicker (male intergrade Yellow-shafted/Red-shafted), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Northern Flickers are also woodpeckers, but are migratory. However, many overwinter here, which may include local birds or ones from farther north. They are currently pairing up for nesting, and it is common to hear their calls and drumming (they often drum on metal chimneys or street lights).

Most of the local flickers are intergrades of the two subspecies (Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted) and they often show mixed field marks, as this bird does.

American Robin, Fish Creek Park, Calgary, March  4, 2017.

Robins are of course migratory, but there are always some (a few dozen to a couple hundred) that overwinter in the city. This bird, seen on March 4 with seven others, probably overwintered since it was a little too early for the migrants to return. Unusually, this looks like a female – most overwintering birds are males, trying to get an advantage in getting to breeding grounds earlier. Now, in early April, there are many migrating robins back, but they are almost all males, either passing through or claiming territories here. The females arrive later.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies), Calgary, March 4, 2017.

These native sparrows overwinter here in good numbers, and for a few weeks more there will be many migrants passing through. They breed here in the boreal forest and are far more common west of the city and farther north in the summer.

Pine Siskin, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

Siskins usually breed in coniferous forests (including in parts of Calgary), but when not breeding they move erratically around the continent in search of food. They are sometimes here in large numbers in the summer, and sometimes completely absent.

Black-capped Chickadee, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

A resident bird, they are paired up and beginning to nest now.

Finally, here are three shots of the immature Northern Goshawk from Queen’s Park Cemetery.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Goshawks are not common in Calgary but can be seen year-round. However, they breed in high-canopied mixed forests so adults are usually found at higher elevations and farther north in the summer. They are more commonly seen here in the winter.

Pheasants, Grouse, and Partridges of Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here are a few of the Gallinaceous or game birds of Calgary and area. There are three species that are regularly seen within the city limits, two of them introduced: Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Gray Partridge. Ring-necked pheasants were introduced from east Asia. They are well-established in the wild in North America, but more are raised and released in Alberta every year as game birds. Gray Partridge are native to Europe and are also well-established here. Ruffed Grouse are the only native game bird that you can regularly find in Calgary.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, March 4, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, October 18, 2015. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Listen for the harsh, usually two-note crowing of the males in Fish Creek Park, especially along the river.

Ring-necked Pheasant (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasants (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ruffed Grouse, Turner Valley area, January 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

In Calgary, Ruffed Grouse can be found in the boreal forest where it creeps into the west end of the city. The Weaselhead is probably the most reliable location. In the spring, listen for the drumming of the males.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge are usually found near open grassy fields, and are often seen in residential areas. In the spring you may see pairs but since they have large broods, by summer they are often in family groups of up to 20 birds.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, south of Calgary, April 2016. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Sharp-tailed Grouse are almost never seen in the city (or even near it) any more, although they historically had a breeding ground (lek) on Nose Hill and used to be seen regularly there. You can still find them on the prairies, especially south and southeast of town. (See this post for more of Dan’s photos from a lek.)

Chukar, West Springs, SW Calgary, July 2012. Photo by Tom Amerongen.

I should also mention the Chukar, another introduced Eurasian game bird that is established in some parts of western North America. It has never established successful breeding populations in the Calgary area. Nevertheless, people do see them in town almost every year. They can be bought to be raised privately and apparently are often used to train hunting dogs, and inevitably some escape into the wild. In the last two years there have been sightings from Egerts Park in the NW, Radisson Heights and Dover in the SE, and Strathcona in the SW. If you see one of these birds, send us an email. I’ve never seen one, and would like to, even though as an escaped captive bird it doesn’t count on my eBird list.

If you venture out of town you can also see Spruce Grouse and Dusky Grouse in the foothills, and White-tailed Ptarmigan in the mountains. Wild Turkeys can be found SW of town, in the Millarville area.

Wild Turkey, Millarville area, January 9, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Dipper at Elbow Falls

It’s always fun to watch American Dippers as they walk on the bottoms of fast-flowing streams to look for food, and it’s amazing to see them do this in winter when the water is near freezing. Tony LePrieur photographed this one at Elbow Falls, west of Bragg Creek. There have been some sightings right in the city this winter, but you always have better luck finding them on fast-flowing mountain streams.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Reader’s Bird Photos

Here are a few photos sent in recently by Birds Calgary readers. If you have photos to share, email then to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.

A very light Great Horned Owl, Fish Creek Park, November 23, 2016. Photo by Judi Willis.

Merlin, Bowness Park, February 13, 2017. Photo by Louis Côté.

Hairy Woodpecker (male), Prince’s Island Park, February 10, 2017. Photo by Louis Côté.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Edgemont, NW Calgary, February 15, 2017. Photo by Walter Saponja.

Brown Creeper, Elliston Park, January 23, 2017. Photo by Bree Tucker.

Ten Eurasian Collared-Doves, NW of Airdrie, November 22, 2016. Photo by Tim van Goudoever.

Gyrfalcon, Water Valley area, January 14, 2017. Photo by Jamie B.

Gyrfalcon, Water Valley area, January 14, 2017. Photo by Jamie B.

You can see more of Jamie B’s photos on his Facebook page, Albino Muppet Photography.

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.

Osprey With Goldfish

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here’s a summer shot in the middle of winter which brings up an important conservation issue. This Osprey was photographed on July 2, 2016 by Bert Gregory. He didn’t notice the prey in its talons until later. The location was near the pond by the railway bridge in the very west end of Bowmont Park NW, near Bowness Park.

Osprey with goldfish (Carassius auratus), July 2, 2016, Bowmont Park. Photo by Bert Gregory.

Domestic goldfish, which are native to Asia, are quickly becoming a big problem in Alberta, as they have elsewhere in North America. In the past few years, they have been found to be infesting ponds in Okotoks, Lethbridge, St. Albert, Calgary, and even Fort McMurray. They have been shown to be breeding and overwintering in the wild even in Fort McMurray. Prussian Carp, the wild ancestor of goldfish, have also been found in many Alberta rivers and ponds.

It’s possible that this Osprey caught the goldfish in someone’s backyard pond, but more likely in the pond by the river, or in the river itself, where they are known to breed.

Once unconstrained by a small pond or aquarium these fish can grow very large (over 25 cm in length) and are very prolific. They can devastate native fish habitats by out-competing them for food, and they also eat fish eggs.

The goldfish are thought to have originated here by being dumped into the waterways by pet owners. Prussian Carp may have been deliberately introduced. This is of course illegal; non-native animals and plants can upset the ecosystem and cause enormous problems for our native wildlife. The Alberta government has launched a program called “Don’t Let It Loose” to try to educate the public about the dangers of introducing potentially invasive species into our environment. Efforts are also underway to try to eliminate these fish from our waterways.

UPDATE:

Bernard Tremblay sent in a photo of another Osprey with a goldfish in its talons, taken in Calgary on August 1, 2016:

Nic DeGama-Blanchet, the Executive Director of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society, reports that he has seen goldfish in Fish Creek near bridge 11.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The spectacular crow-sized  Pileated Woodpecker is always a treat to see, and they are not very shy birds, so occasionally you can get great close-up looks at them. They are not common in Calgary. Look for them in three areas: Around the Glenmore Reservoir, including the Weaselhead, and upstream on the Elbow River through Griffith Woods Park; The west end of Fish Creek Park; The east end of Fish Creek Park on the Bow River, and north on the river as far as Carburn Park. They are year-round residents here, so look for them any time you are out in these parks. If you live near these areas you may also get them coming to suet or nut feeders occasionally.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

In the above photo you can see the distinctive rectangular hole that these birds make when feeding. They eat Carpenter Ants, which often infest large trees and deadfall. If you see a fresh hole like this, often near the base of a large tree, you will know you are in a Pileated Woodpecker’s territory.

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

The female above (likely the mate of the male in the first photo) is distinguished from the male by the black stripe from the bill to the throat, which is red in males. In addition, the red crest does not extend all the way to the front of the head on the female as it does on the male.

The nest hole of a Pileated Woodpecker is a large oval, usually high in a dead tree, or occasionally in a power pole (as seen in Griffith Woods Park). The male will make a new nest hole each year.

Below are more of Tony’s photos of Pileated Woodpeckers in Calgary.

Pileated Woodpecker (female), Fish Creek Park, January 31, 2016.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, November 26, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

For more photos of Pileated Woodpeckers see these posts.

You can see more of Tony LePrieur’s photos on his Flickr Page here.

Birding Locations: Queen’s Park Cemetery

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, January 28, 2017. All photos by Tony LePrieur, all taken at Queen’s Park Cemetery..

One of the smaller and perhaps underappreciated birding locations in Calgary is Queen’s Park Cemetery, located just northwest of Confederation Park near 4th Street and 40 Avenue NW.

Queen’s Park Cemetery.

The cemetery contains a great number of spruce trees, so it attracts many of the species that prefer to feed in or on those trees, such as the winter finches. Many other species of birds and mammals can also be found there, due to the presence of a creek which stays open year-round. The creek runs along the north end, and is bordered by the thickest growth of trees in the cemetery, both coniferous and deciduous.

Detail, north end of Queen’s Park Cemetery, showing the trees which border the creek.

Within the cemetery parking is limited, and it is best to park outside and walk in, or pull completely off one of the roads to park while allowing other vehicles room to pass. Stay away from funeral processions and ceremonies, of course.

The best birding tends to be where the trees are thickest, though you can find Black-capped Chickadees and Red-Breasted Nuthatches wherever there are trees. Crossbills also tend to move around the park (and into the surrounding neighbourhoods). In some years, Brown Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets are very common. A stroll along the roads can usually turn up a few of these in the winter.

Brown Creeper, November 15, 2015.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, November 1, 2015.

Black-capped Chickadee, November 1, 2015.

Pine Siskin, October 25, 2015.

The water that flows through the north end draws many birds to drink, feed, and bathe.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk (or the same one from ten months before?), March 6, 2016.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, March 6, 2016.

Queen’s Park is one of the best places to find crossbills. This year there are few in the city, but White-winged Crossbills have been reported there recently.

White-winged (left) and Red Crossbills, November 15, 2015.

Also November 15, 2015.

Common Redpoll, October 25, 2015.

 Dark-eyed Junco, October 25, 2015.

Black-billed Magpie and Great Horned Owl, October 25, 2015.

This may be the same young Northern Goshawk as in the first photo, taken a week earlier, January 22, 2017.

Queen’s Park Cemetery is home to several mammal species as well. Coyotes den there, and White-tailed Jackrabbits and Eastern Gray Squirrels are common.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, December 18, 2016.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, January 22, 2017.

Coyote, January 15, 2017.

So far, eighty-two bird species have been reported here on eBird. That is a pretty good total for a park that isn’t on the river. Sightings in the past week include Rough-legged Hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, White-winged Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Get out and add to the total!

Winter Birds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many local birders have been heading down to the Weaselhead Nature Area recently to see several owl species, notable a Barred Owl, which is a species not often seen in the city.

Barred Owl, Weaselhead (South Glenmore Park), January 24, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

Barred Owl, Weaselhead (South Glenmore Park), January 24, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

The Barred Owl is usually seen on the north-facing slope of South Glenmore Park just above the Weaselhead. In the Weaselhead proper there have been sightings of a Northern Pygmy Owl, Great Horned Owls, and a Northern Saw-whet Owl this month.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, west Weaselhead, January 25, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

The Weaselhead is a great place for winter birds as it attracts the visiting winter finches as well as many of our resident birds, and it has a variety of mammals as well. Below are some birds and mammals of the Weaselhead photographed by Tony LePrieur.

Pine Grosbeak, male, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak, female/immature, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak, male, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Pine Grosbeaks are here in small numbers this winter and the Weaselhead is probably the best place to find them. They readily come to the feeding stations along the main path.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwings roost overnight in the Weaselhead in huge numbers but might be found there at any time of the day in winter.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Another of our visiting winter finches, redpolls (common and Hoary) are here in small numbers this winter. They are easy to find in the Weaselhead as they also go to the feeders.

Black-capped Chickadee, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Black-capped Chickadees are one of the most common songbirds in the Weaselhead year-round. You can also find Boreal Chickadees and occasionally Mountain Chickadees there.

Downy Woodpecker, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Hairy Woodpecker, male, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Other resident woodpeckers are the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker (Flickers are migratory but we have some here year-round). In winter you can sometimes find Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers as well.

Blue Jay, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon subspecies), Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

These sparrows are more commonly seen in the winter, and it is far more common to see the Slate-colored subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.

Pine Siskin, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Siskins are erratic in their movements and there are very few in the city right now. When there are big flocks around you will find them in the Weaselhead.

White-throated Sparrow, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

White-throated Sparrows are common breeders in the Weaselhead and you can hear them singing loudly there in the spring. Usually a few overwinter in Calgary, but I haven’t heard of any in the Weaselhead this winter.

American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Tree Sparrows pass through on migration but we often have some overwinter here. They will come to seeds under the feeders in the Weaselhead. Again, I haven’t heard of any this winter.

And now for a few mammals.

Coyote, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Coyote, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, January 28, 2017.

I seem to see more Meadow Voles in the Weaselhead than anywhere else. In the winter look for them scurrying under feeders to quickly grab a seed. They are the preferred prey for Northern Pygmy-Owls.

Bobcat, Weaselhead, December 13, 2015.

Bobcats are seen more often in the Weaselhead than anywhere else in the city. To see more photos of this one and the rest of its family, see this post.

The Weaselhead is also one of the best places in the city to see Snowshoe Hares and, in the summer, Least Chipmunks. Red Squirrels are also common, and it is one of the few places in the city where you can reliably find Northern Flying Squirrels.