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Spring Begins at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

As with each of our courses, we began the Spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek down at the Friends of Fish Creek Headquarters building, and then on down to Sikome Lake, once again in search of new spring migrants. From this point on in the season my goal with the blog will be to only post new species (or better/unique photos of species we’ve found before). Since we have such a variety of available birds here during spring migration, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but here goes. Once more into the breach!

Sikome Lake and area April 6, 2014

Sikome Lake and area
April 6, 2014

It really seems like some weeks all the activity is centered around one particular area, and other weeks it’s a steady succession of interesting birds. This week was definitely the former. From the start, it seemed like a slow day. Many of the waterfowl had already been flushed by fishermen and boaters down the river, but this curious American Robin in the long dry grasses made for a nice early subject to shoot.

American Robin Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

American Robin
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Of course we just had to check in on what is likely the most famous pair of Great Horned Owls in Calgary. There were no less than a dozen others already there by the time we arrived. The mother was just poking her head out from the nest, while dad was hidden away.

female Great Horned Owl Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

female Great Horned Owl
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

While we were watching her, and then again on our return down the pathway, we found this pair of White-breasted Nuthatches foraging in some fallen logs. They were certainly a joy to shoot, and not always the most cooperative subjects! Thankfully they were more interested in the food than in staying away from us photographers!

White-breasted Nuthatch April 6, 2014

White-breasted Nuthatch
April 6, 2014

From there we headed south into the north end of Lafarge Meadows. While we did get some waterfowl on the Bow River, the photos weren’t that great, and certainly not quite up to snuff in comparison with everything else I shot that day! We did manage to see some more Lesser Scaup, Redheads, and even scoped out where a family of Common Ravens is nesting. This marks at least the fifth year (that I know of) that they’ve been nesting in the same place within the city limits.

As we returned to the starting area, we decided to take a bit of a stroll up to some well known feeding stations at the edge of Sikome Lake. While those stations didn’t turn up anything whatsoever, along the way we did see an American Tree Sparrow (not photographed) while on the same log, in fact, this Dark-eyed Junco posed quite nicely for myself and a few others.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies) Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies)
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

And who could forget the mammals? As spring comes into bloom (see what I did there? huh? huh?) the mammal activity really heats up. At the very start of our walk last Sunday were a pair of Coyotes near the headquarters building. This was the best shot I managed, as I was on the far side of the field from this one.

Coyote FCPP Headquarters Building April 6, 2014

Coyote
FCPP Headquarters Building
April 6, 2014

Of course no one could forget the typical spring mammal that every Albertan knows to watch out for (especially on the roads!), the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. This fellow sat stock still as soon as we laid eyes on him, allowing us to get in very close and observe him for as long as we could possibly have kept that up. Quite good camouflage at work there!

Richardson's Ground Squirrel Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Have a great week, and good birding!

The end of Winter at Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

Posted by Dan Arndt

I know, I know. With the title of the last two Monday morning blog posts having to do with the beginning of spring, or the end of winter, you’d think it would actually be over by now, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, one last winter storm made our last outing with the Winter session with the Friends of Fish Creek live up to its name. Blowing snow, -12 degrees C temperatures, and a whole lot of ice on the river made it feel like an outing more in line with early January than the last day of March! The quantity of species seen though, did begin to look a bit more like spring. The number of waterfowl species that were laying over on the south end of the Bow River in Calgary certainly showed us that spring, indeed, was finally just around the corner. In fact, there was so much activity on the south end of our trek that I’ve had to blow up the usual map to give proper detail on where each species was seen!

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-out view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-out view
March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-in view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-in view
March 31, 2014

While few and far between, one of the first birds that I picked out on the water last week was one of a few Cackling Geese in amongst the Canada Geese. While superficially similar, they really do stand out when sitting (or standing) near their larger cousins. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Cackling Goose was identified as its own species, with 4 subspecies identified.

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

The presence of a few duck species typically associated with prairie ponds and sloughs spending their time on the river is also another sure sign of a changing of the seasons. Both the Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler were around in good numbers, but not too close. Even a single Trumpeter Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Trumpeter Swan March 31, 2014

Trumpeter Swan
March 31, 2014

 

Northern Pintail March 31, 2014

Northern Pintail
March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers
March 31, 2014

Our first real good looks at the first migrant shorebirds to come through were along this stretch of river. These Killdeer are really quite hardy little birds. It’s no wonder they can be so numerous throughout the Calgary area!

Killdeer March 31, 2014

Killdeer
March 31, 2014

In addition to the migrant waterfowl and shorebird species, there were also a couple of predatory birds around. A Merlin and Northern Goshawk made passes over us almost one right after the other, and we were treated to the disjointed yet beautiful song of this calling Northern Shrike for at least ten minutes before it was flushed by some dog walkers getting a bit too close.

Northern Shrike March 31, 2014

Northern Shrike
March 31, 2014

Our first good looks at Herring Gulls this season were also along this stretch, many of which flew quite close to us, and in some cases, seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of them!

curious Herring Gull  March 31, 2014

curious Herring Gull
March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight
March 31, 2014

I mentioned Killdeer earlier, and we did come across a much larger group of them, but only thanks to the eagle eyes of Gus Yaki, which he had on loan from an eagle who decided to sleep in that day. Can you spot the Killdeer in this picture? (Hint: There are five Killdeer in this image.)

Killdeer camouflage March 31, 2014

Killdeer camouflage
March 31, 2014

My first sighting of the next species of the day happened out on Vancouver Island over Christmas of 2013, and despite many trips out last spring in search of this species, and despite their relative abundance here in the spring migration, this was my first Eurasian Wigeon in Alberta. Again, a nice bird to see at the best of times. He seemed to be having a bit of a spat with his American relatives though…

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

We did also have a nice close look at a Redhead a bit further upstream, before things seemed to get a little bit too far off in the snow to get any good images, and yet, we did seem to have some Common Mergansers stalking us as we headed back up towards the start of our journey.

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Redhead
March 31, 2014

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Canada Goose (left) and Common Mergansers (right)
March 31, 2014

And that was it for our last week of the Winter Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek!

With the start of our Spring course next week, I’ll definitely be trying to not duplicate species that I get photos of each week, much like I tried to last year, with relatively good success.

Have a great week, and until next Monday, Good Birding

Lafarge Meadows – Spring has arrived!…?

Posted by Dan Arndt

March 20th, 2014 was the first day of spring. The Google Earth image that I’m using for this week’s map was from March 28, 2004, and seems to show much more open water on the Bow River, a bit of open water on both ponds at the park on the east side of the Bow River. It just goes to show how much colder, snowier, and icier this year has been (and continues to be!) than last.

Lafarge Meadows  March 23, 2014

Lafarge Meadows
March 23, 2014

Of course no visit to Lafarge Meadows and Sikome Lake is ever complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls. With Dad on watch and Mom on the nest, it looks like they’re off to another good start this year. In fact, it won’t be too long now until the young start to poke their heads up and explore their new environment!

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

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

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

After a few weeks of them being more or less absent on the river, the Canada Goose numbers were back up as migrants began their trip north to their breeding grounds once again. This particular stretch of river is rather good for finding birds staging before their trek further north, or to disperse around the countryside near Calgary.

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

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

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

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

We were even lucky enough to see a (seemingly) early Mountain Bluebird along the river. While we only saw it at a distance, it was more than enough to be certain of the ID. Chances are good that this bird is finding enough to eat along the edge of the river with the various insects that are still present in the water, as well as egg sacs, larvae, and various other food sources near the banks of the river.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We ventured quite far south at Lafarge Meadows in hopes of finding some other birds a little bit closer to the water’s edge, but didn’t get anything much more interesting than the Mountain Bluebird until we headed back the other way. It all seemed to come fast and busy, with this adult Bald Eagle landing very close by to start, followed quickly by the sighting of some American Wigeon across the river, and then finding our first Killdeer of the season in amongst them!

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

American Wigeon and Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

American Wigeon and Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Our last “new” birds of the day was a fly-by of a fairly sizeable flock of California Gulls, two of which flew by quite low, allowing for a much better view (and photos) than we had the previous week at Pearce Estate Park!

California Gulls Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

California Gulls
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

While I didn’t get too many good shots last week, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ones I was able to capture this week. See you next Monday, and until then, good birding!

Spring arrives at Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Last week took the temperatures well above zero degrees C, and to another of the parks heavily impacted by the flood of 2013. Pearce Estate Park is just upstream from the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which is currently still closed due to the damage it sustained, and likely will be until the summer or fall of 2015. Each year, we usually visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary around this time in search for the first returning gulls of the season, and so we figured that Pearce Estate would also do us a solid and turn up some northward migrants, and we sure weren’t disappointed!

Pearce Estate Park March 16, 2014

Pearce Estate Park
March 16, 2014

Right from the start I knew it was going to be a good day when one of our first bird species seen were a pair of American Robins. It’s likely that they were either local migrants into the city, or overwintering birds dispersing as the temperatures rose. Unless we banded and tracked them, or attached a GPS transmitter to them, it’s hard to say for sure, but they were doing a good job gleaning something to eat from the tall grasses and low brush atop the hill just north of the parking lot.

American Robin

male American Robin

The calls of newly arrived European Starlings filled the park, along with the odd House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, and almost incessant calls of Northern Flickers asserting their dominance and claiming territory. Along the train bridge we ran into this punk rock Common Raven with his freshly stenciled grafitti.

Common Raven

Common Raven

Only a few moments later, we captured a pair of California Gulls, the first of the season for our group, flying by at a fairly low altitude, but fast enough that I only caught them moving away from us.

California Gulls

California Gulls in flight

On the ice down below was a lone Canada Goose, perhaps waiting for a mate to return, or just taking a breather on the iced up gravel bar.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Back on the pathway, this pair of Northern Flickers put on quite a show for us, flying to and fro and displaying at each other in a very long and drawn out territory dispute. I’m still not sure who the winner is!

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

It really seemed as if the area near the train bridge was the hub of our activity, as this male House Sparrow had been caught in the act of taking nest material back to one of the support struts for the bridge. Who’d have thought that’s where they’d make their home?

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

And once again back on the bridge we had some great views of the iridescence of the feral Rock Pigeons.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Down on the ice they were feeding on something that had likely spilled from rail cars earlier in the week, and this oddly colored brownish pigeon stood out from the rest.

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

We decided that we’d seen enough of the area around the bridge, and were delighted to get some close up looks at the European Starlings that we would have had to have been deaf to miss hearing. This male European Starling posed quite nicely for the group, and proceeded to remove filler from the hole that he and his partner had decided would be their nesting area for the year.

male European Starling

male European Starling

We headed downstream a bit to see if we could see any more gulls, and also to show how badly cut the banks near the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were. The damage was more extensive than I’d even imagined. Along the way we found a couple of Black-billed Magpie nests, and even saw a few of them taking materials to their nests to either build them anew, or to reinforce the structure that’s in place.

Black-billed Magpie at nest

Black-billed Magpie at nest

And so ends another week with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course! Next week, we recap our visit to Lafarge Meadows, where even more migrants have been found!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Exploring new trails at Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s walk took us to Shannon Terrace in search of a Mountain Chickadee that had been seen there the week prior. The main trail between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace was washed out in the floods last summer, and so instead of doing the usual route walking between the two areas of the park and back again, we explored a few trails that are part of the Fish Creek Provincial Park Single Track bike way, much of which I haven’t explored by foot or by bike.

Shannon Terrace March 9, 2014

Shannon Terrace
March 9, 2014

One of the most shocking things this time around was just how docile and downright tame the Boreal Chickadees were. Feeding from the tree stump feeding trays, from our hands a number of times, and flying out into the open. It may have had something to do with the temperatures being well above zero that kept them so actively feeding!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

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

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

Aside from that though, things were about as one would expect on the west side of Fish Creek Park. We ran into a pair of Brown Creepers on one stretch of single-track but unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap any usable images of them. Moments later, we were nearly run into by some cyclists getting some of the intended use out of the single track, bombing down on us at full tilt. Can’t really blame them though. These particular trails were built for them!

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

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

We crossed the bridge and found a couple of Red Squirrels feeding on the left over seeds at one feeding station, and this particular fellow decided to pose nicely for us. Along this loop of trail we found a few more Boreal Chickadees, a few more Black-capped Chickadees, and not much else.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

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

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

It wasn’t until we nearly reached the end of our walk when we had another flurry of activity nearby. A few Red-breasted Nuthatches were actively feeding on another feeding station log, while this male Downy Woodpecker tapped away on some nearby aspen.

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

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

At the western extent of our walk, just before turning back to head to the parking lot, a small flock of 75 Bohemian Waxwings flew by, chirping, cooing and calling in the air above us, giving us some of the better views our particular group has had of them so far this year!

Next week: Pearce Estate Park  and Prince’s Island Park, just outside of Calgary’s downtown core. Stay tuned, and good birding!

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

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

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

Bebo Grove -

Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carburn Park March 2, 2014

Carburn Park
March 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another no owl day at Griffith Woods Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk this week returned to Griffith Woods, in search once again of the Great Gray Owl that had been a regular visitor there for well over a month now, as well as the Great Horned Owls and even a Northern Pygmy Owl that had been seen and heard there recently. The week got off to a good start, with Monday’s group having no trouble finding the Great Gray Owl, and the Tuesday group only missed it by a less than an hour before it flew off deeper into the dense spruce forest that are the hallmark of Griffith Woods.

Griffith Woods February 16, 2014

Griffith Woods
February 16, 2014

The story throughout the day was that of distant birds and minimal photo opportunities, but I was very pleased that I was able to snap the shots that I did. When I downloaded my camera card at home, I found that I had only taken 31 shots in the course of the outing, so to have  a 25% “keep” rate I think is pretty good!

The first real opportunity came when we spotted a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings high up in a spruce tree, and I was able to capture a pair of them breaking off from the group showing their rufous undertail coverts and the bright lemon yellow on the tip of the tail feathers.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

We hunted along the trail under the power lines for any sign of the Great Gray Owl that was our quarry, but the only evidence we were able to find of it was this hunting impression in the deep snow, showing the impression of the head and wings as the owl hunted one of many unfortunate voles that had become its dinner.

Great Gray Owl hunting impression Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Great Gray Owl hunting impression
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Never let it be said that I know everything there is to know about all of the parks we visit. This week’s surprise was the discovery of another small pond on the north-west end of Griffith Woods Park. All it really would have taken was for me to look at one of the many maps that I’ve published even here on this website to actually notice its presence, but thankfully Gus Yaki came to the rescue again and showed us where all the Canada Geese we had seen all morning were flying to. Also on this pond was a lone Common Goldeneye, and much to our surprise and delight was a solitary, and very uncharacteristically quiet, Blue Jay along the hedgerow behind one of the nearby houses.

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

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

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

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

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

Another nice surprise was a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding underneath a spruce on the way back into the park after we had finished exploring the pond.

Dark-eyed Junco Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And then the wind picked up, and everything got quiet. While we retreated deeper into the wooded trails, the birds came fewer and further between, and only stayed in sight for mere moments at a time. Even our last species of the day, this Rough-legged Hawk, disappeared a few seconds after I spotted it soaring high above the nearby homes, but enough to positively identify it with its distinct dark wrist patches.

Rough-legged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Rough-legged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

And so wraps up another week of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding course. Next week we head back to Bebo Grove in search of last week’s quarry, the American Three-toed Woodpecker, along with another Great Gray Owl, a Barred Owl or three, and hopefully a Northern Saw-whet Owl!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Expecting the unexpected in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

Weaselhead Nature Area February 2, 2014

Weaselhead Nature Area
February 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

And closer still.

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

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

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

WT Sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day, and good birding!

 

Watching Waterfowl at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

After a nearly complete washout last week, with only a handful of species and no real photo opportunities, this week was only slightly better. The lack of large numbers of waterfowl on the Bow River at Beaverdam Flats, the dropping temperatures, and the constant wind seemed to keep the birds away. The icy conditions of the main pathways also put a damper on things, and even gave me a bit of a start, leaving me with a broken lens hood and a bit of a sore hip early on in the walk. Not to worry though, my camera, lens, and body are all A-OK!

Beaverdam Flats - January 26, 2014

Beaverdam Flats – January 26, 2014

The morning began with some fairly diffuse light and a bitterly cold wind out of the north, but not bitter or cold enough to keep us from scanning a group of waterfowl at the water treatment plant outfall. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t pick out the Redhead, American Wigeon, or even the domestic or leucistic Mallards that had been seen by other groups this week. Maybe they had decided it was a little too cold for them and stayed home! We did get some good looks at a few Canada Geese in flight, some of which were missing some flight feathers, and others were just showing off.

Canada Geese and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

I had hoped to get some Bald Eagle shots for the blog while we were here, as there were as many as 12 Bald Eagles seen at one time throughout the week, but they too were noticeably absent. We did get more than a few Common Ravens, and I find it interesting how it’s nearly impossible to get the two-toned appearance of the raven’s flight feathers to show up in anything but the most diffuse light. I also found it interesting to note just how worn the feathers of this particular bird are, which I only really took note of after downloading my shots this afternoon.

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

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

As the morning progressed, our luck seemed to improve, and we headed away from the river into the stands of tall poplar and aspens. We did manage to find a pair of Northern Flickers, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a few Downy Woodpeckers, along with an assortment of White-breasted Nuthatches and a few Black-capped Chickadees, but all in all, it was even quieter away from the water.

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

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

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

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

As we returned to the water’s edge, the light was progressively improving, and allowed some higher speed flight shots of the always gorgeous Common Goldeneye.

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

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

While we were able to watch a particularly fun interaction between a 4th-year Bald Eagle and a flock of about seven Common Ravens and a pair of Black-billed Magpies, they were a little too far off and amongst some challenging terrain to get any usable shots. It was quite nice though, to get a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees fluttering about the pathway on our return to the parking lot, posing quite nicely as we snapped away with our cameras.

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Have a great week, keep safe, and good birding!

Winter Birding Begins anew

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week’s walk begins the 13-week Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, and as with each course, we begin at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and introduced our attendees to the resident owls. It’s the charisma of these owls that we hope to bring back our students week after week, to hopefully see a number of other owl species, and educate them on the ins and outs of both birding, and avian behaviour. Both the male and female owl were a little bit shy today, but are still great subjects to shoot.

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

The day was all about contrasts. Contrasts between good light and poor, between warm weather and icy pathways, and between similar looking species. The first nice contrast that we got to see were the differences between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The longer bill, larger overall size, and lack of striping on the undertail coverts are a dead giveaway for the Hairy Woodpecker, while the male and female Downy Woodpecker have shorter bills, smaller sizes, and of course the banded undertail coverts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another wonderful contrast, helped out by the clearing clouds and peeking sunlight as we neared the end of our walk for the day, were the differences between the Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye. While I’ve written about them both many times before, one thing that I have never really captured well is the iridescent quality of their heads in good light. The Common Goldeneye reflects a greenish iridescence from its head feathers, and the Barrow’s flashes a deep purple in the sunlight.

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And as we closed out the day, I felt it would only be appropriate to try to get another look at our first bird of the day, the male Great Horned Owl back at the headquarters. Doesn’t he look happy to see us again?

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and as always, good birding!