Archives

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

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

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

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

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

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

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

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

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

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

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

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

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Birds of the Boreal in Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.

Shannon Terrace - February 8, 2015

Shannon Terrace – February 8, 2015

We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.

male Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.

There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.

Northern Goshawk pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.

Pine Grosbeaks Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Pine Grosbeaks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and good birding!

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.

cold and frosty Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

cold and frosty Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.

frosty Bow River landscape Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

frosty Bow River landscape
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.

Common Goldeneye display Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Goldeneye display
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.

Common Raven in hoarfrost Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Common Raven in hoarfrost
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

male House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

male Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

male Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

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

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

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

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

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

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

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

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

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

Common Goldeneye in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

The weather warms, and Griffith Woods still provides a challenge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week, our little group of birders headed out to Griffith Woods park. With stories of Barred Owls, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and many other good birds we headed out for one of our longest walks of the season. I’ve often found that Griffith Woods can be rather boom or bust when it comes to birding, and this day was no exception. Sadly, this day was more on the bust side of the equation, though not a total loss, as we did find quite a few good birds, and enjoyed the warm weather and good company.

Griffith Woods, January 18, 2015

Griffith Woods, January 18, 2015

One of our first birds of the day was quite possibly our most exciting. A Sharp-shinned Hawk took off through the trees as we reached the second intersection on our clockwise loop of the park. Up until then, we’d only heard a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and a Common Raven or two flying high overhead. Sadly the light was completely against me, so this image was all I managed to capture. It is still good enough to get the proper field marks though!

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

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

As we plodded west through the slushy pathways, we heard Bohemian Waxwings in the distance, a few Pine Grosbeaks here and there, and finally a Downy Woodpecker popped into the open, giving us a few seconds of entertainment and good looks at it after such a long break between birds!

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

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

We headed further up and through the park in search of the Barred Owl that had been seen earlier in the week, or a Great Horned Owl, or even a Mountain Chickadee or two, but the rest of the west end of the park was quiet. Even the pond at the top of the hill remained pretty much empty, except for a couple of Canada Geese flying off as a dog walker disturbed them. Even the bird feeders in the back yards of the homes nearby were quiet, and only three House Sparrows popped into view where there had been nearly twenty earlier in the week!

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We slowly made our way back through the woods towards the parking lot, and we did manage to stumble upon a small flock of Boreal Chickadees near the condo complex that usually harbors at least one Pileated Woodpecker. Around the time that we reached that point, the sun came out for a few more minutes while these little birds fluttered around us in the bushes and trees nearby.

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

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

Boreal Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Boreal Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

It’s days like this that you have to take the opportunity to find the beauty in the every day birds. As we rounded out our walk, a pair of Common Ravens were perched in a nearby tree. The light was hitting this one in just the right way to show off some of the iridescence that you so rarely get to see. I thought that the subject, background, and the deciduous tree it was sitting in gave a nice false black & white effect.

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

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

So with that, we left Griffith Woods for another long while, and on to chase down a rare bird at Beaverdam Flats this week, along with many, many waterfowl!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

 

A relatively quiet morning at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our visit to Bebo Grove last Sunday was rather quiet for much of the morning, with a flurry activity for the last hour or so. Early on, we heard the odd Black-capped Chickadee here and there, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an occasional Downy Woodpecker. The light was good, and the weather was relatively clear, which made for an enjoyable trip through the park, but it would have been nice if we’d had better luck with any of the birds we were there to see!

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We walked through the picnic area a couple of times, at one point flushing what we were certain was a Great Grey Owl, crossed the river to search through the dense spruce in the south side of Fish Creek, and came up entirely empty except for the same bird species we’d heard earlier. We crossed back over the river and that’s when things really started to take off. We found a small mixed flock of birds spread out throughout the picnic area, including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches (including a partially leucistic male), a perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, and a handful of Boreal Chickadees mixed with the Black-capped Chickadees.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

As we searched through the east end of the picnic area, we found a very friendly little female Red-breasted Nuthatch chowing down on some seeds we’d left out for it.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Of course as we rounded out the day, I decided to stop by the local celebrity owl to snap a few photos for the blog. On any given day, this bird is relatively easy to spot since there’s usually a dozen or more people surrounding it trying to get the perfect photo. While I’m no expert on stress indicators in owls, I can’t help but think that the constant attention is having some negative impacts on it, so I decided to just snap a couple of photos from a couple of angles and move on, and boy am I glad I did!

Northern Pygmy-owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Northern Pygmy-owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Walking back towards Bridge 3 with Paul Turbitt and atop a small spruce on the other side of the river I spotted this little tuft of feathers. Sure enough, it was a second Northern Pygmy-Owl!

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

This was one of those 1 in a thousand situations when you raise your binoculars to check out that a spot on top of a tree which turns out to be a little branch, or clump of spruce cones, or cluster of leaves. It pays to keep looking up!

This little owl flew in close to us as we spotted it and set up in a tree right above us.

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We sat and observed it for a few minutes before some Black-capped Chickadees took note of it and decided to try to chase it off. Within moments, this cute little ball of feathers went from this:

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

To this:

Northern Pygmy-owl in "Tall Thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in “Tall Thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in "tall thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Pygmy-owl in “tall thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Moments later, it flew off deeper into the woods as the chickadees gave chase. It was really quite an incredible encounter, and it’s one of the reasons to get out and explore the great parks in this city!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Christmas Bird Counting

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This year I participated in a few Christmas Bird Counts, and while I wasn’t able to get too many photos from some of them, I did manage a few here and there.

Calgary Christmas Bird Count:

As per usual, my area this year was the Weaselhead, and I managed a few photos of some good birds while down there. While we did miss out on some expected birds in that area, we didn’t have too bad a day overall. Of course the most reliable birds here are the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Ruffed Grouse. One of the pleasant surprises in our area was a small flock of Common Redpolls, which quickly flew in, landed for a minute or two, and flew off as quickly as they arrived.

male Ruffed Grouse Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Ruffed Grouse
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

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

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

Canmore Christmas Bird Count:

Most years, the Canmore Christmas Bird Count is one of the first ones I participate in, as it’s on a Saturday, and Calgary’s count is on a Sunday. This year, the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count window fell on a Sunday, and so the Canmore count was scheduled for the following Saturday. Because I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush to get home and get prepared for the Calgary count the next day, I had some time to actually spend a bit of time with the subjects, and explore a bit of a different range of habitats. My extra time paid off and I was able to find a couple more species in this area that I hadn’t found before!

American Three-toed Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Mountain Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Mountain Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

male Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Fish Creek Christmas Bird Count (and bonus bird):

The unofficial Fish Creek Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count is always conducted on New Year’s Day, which also gives me a great opportunity to get a solid start on my bird list for the year. For the past couple of years I’ve joined Phil Cram and the group that searches along the south-east corner of the park, including Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and the area around the boat launch, so we tend to get a pretty good variety of birds. Following the morning count, I did manage a trip over to Bebo Grove to search for the elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl that had been seen here recently, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint, but not before I was heading back to the car to head home. Sure enough, just as I was preparing to leave, he had already been found by another photographer who pointed him out to me at the parking lot!

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

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

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

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

Northern Pygmy-Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

This week marks the beginning of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, so check back here next Monday to find out what we saw on our first Sunday outing!

Another season over, another Christmas Bird Count season begins!

Posted by Dan Arndt

My last week leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings on Sunday, November 30 for the Fall Birding course was a cold one. So cold, in fact, that there were really only two attendees, plus myself and the other leader. While the cold weather kept our numbers down, it really did bring the numbers and variety of birds up quite a bit!

Carburn Park November 30, 2014

Carburn Park
November 30, 2014

As we usually do at this time of year at Carburn Park, we spent most of the time along the river bank checking for waterfowl and raptors, with a little bit of time walking through the wooded areas in search of owls, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Along the first stretch of the river, we found a very large flock of Mallards taking shelter in the undercut banks of the Bow River, and thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our group, this male Lesser Scaup popped out for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the deeper fog rising from the river.

Ring-necked Duck (r) and female Mallard (l) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Lesser Scaup (r) and female Mallard (l)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

As we walked a little further, hundreds and hundreds of Mallards flew up from their shelter, but as we rounded the first corner, the Canada Geese came into view. From edge to edge of the gravel bars they began to shake off the frost and moving away from us as we approached.

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

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

As we walked along scanning the throngs of Canada Geese, we came across one little warm back channel where some ground water was flowing into the river, and harbored a pair of Killdeer. While they were flushed up, we caught sight of a few more Tundra Swans that were resting on the river. On our initial scan, we saw the adult Tundra Swan, but while reviewing my photos for this post, I noticed that we also had an immature Tundra Swan resting beside the adult.

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

Tundra Swan and Canada Geese – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Adult (l) and immature (r) Tundra Swans – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We made our way through the wooded area alongside the river, we stopped to feed some Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers in an area that I had just commented had been fairly devoid of much activity on my last few visits to the park. A very nice surprise indeed!

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

There are some situations where you just have to roll with the punches when it comes to photographing in poor weather, but sometimes it can have pretty interesting results. I shot this group of Bufflehead as they emerged from a fog bank near the north end of Carburn Park, just as we came back into view of the river.

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

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

When we got to the far north point of our walk, we watched an immature Bald Eagle eating something that it has plucked out of the river, and when I got my binoculars up to look at it, this Red-tailed Hawk looked to be scavenging whatever the eagle was eating, and then flew off to rest a little further away.

Red-tailed Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We had made it most of the way through the park before we stumbled across the local herd of White-tailed Deer who came rather close to us in search of some food. This young deer was particularly curious about us and followed us down the path for quite a ways before some other park-goers scared it back into the woods.

young White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

young White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A fitting end to the season was this brief sighting of one of the Great Horned Owls in Carburn Park, very likely one of the pair that have nested in the park for a number of years, but most recently right at the edge of the parking lot. It’s always good to see them still hanging around the area, and seemingly doing quite well for themselves.

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

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

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

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

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

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

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

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

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

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

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Better late than never, right? After another washout at the Weaselhead last Sunday morning with minimal visibility, high winds, and few birds anywhere to be found, I figured I’d be better off saving these birds until today!

Brown-Lowery Provincial Park is about half an hour south-west of Calgary, just west of Priddis, and south of Bragg Creek. There are a number of great trails through the park, though some of the hills are not for the faint of heart. Old growth white spruce, lodgepole pine, and a few rather boggy areas gave me some memories of my trips this past summer to the boreal forests of Northern Alberta, but also provide absolutely perfect habitat for two of the rarer woodpeckers in the Calgary area, both the American Three-toed and the Black-backed Woodpecker, as well as a good number of Ruffed Grouse that were scared up by our intrusions!

Enjoy the pictures, and good birding!

male American Three-toed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male American Three-toed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

female American Three-toed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

female American Three-toed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male Black-backed Woodpecker Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

male Black-backed Woodpecker
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Ruffed Grouse Brown-Lowery Provincial Park

Ruffed Grouse
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park