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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.

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.

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.

Restore the Inglewood Wildlands Pond

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Inglewood Wildlands, a large park immediately west of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, is a great place in the summer to see Savannah Sparrows and soaring Swainson’s Hawks. But it used to be so much more, as there was originally a large wetland in the middle of it, which attracted a wide variety of wildlife. In 2007 the pump that supplied water to the pond broke, and the pond dried up.

The Wildlands used to host many visiting school groups who learned about the wetland and all the species that lived there. As the city has now embarked on the ambitious Bend in the Bow project in the area, now is a good time to encourage them to restore this wetland.

Please go to this page to sign the petition to put water back into the Inglewood Wildland Pond. The Inglewood Wildlands Development Society is trying to get as many signatures as possible. They now have over 500. Help them get to 1,000!

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.

Winter Robins at Queen’s Park Cemetery

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

There is a small creek along the north side of Queen’s Park Cemetery that stays open all winter, so it attracts many of the local birds. In December Tony LePrieur watched three American Robins bathing in the creek and searching for food under the leaf litter at the water’s edge.

American Robin, Queen’s Park Cemetery, December 17, 2016. Photo by Tony LePrieur

American Robin, Queen’s Park Cemetery, December 17, 2016. Photo by Tony LePrieur

Most non-birders and some beginning birders are not aware that robins will overwinter in Calgary (and even in Edmonton). They are not here in big numbers (there were 57 reported on the recent Calgary Christmas Bird Count), and most of them tend to stay near the water and are quite a bit less conspicuous in their habits than they are in the summer. But they will come to your yard and feeders, especially if you have a heated bird bath. I saw one in my yard yesterday.

Queen’s Park Cemetery is a great winter birding location in north Calgary. More to come on this location in a future post.

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

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As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

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young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

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He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

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Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

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Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

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Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

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When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.

Sunday Showcase: Autumn in Calgary’s Parks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Catching up with some great autumn photos of Calgary Birds and Mammals, taken by Tony LePrieur from September 25 to October 16, 2016. The locations were the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Carburn Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the Weaselhead Nature Area.

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Boreal Chickadee, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. The bird has no tail. Birds don’t molt all their tail feathers at once, so this indicates it probably survived an attack of some kind.

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Great Horned Owl, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. These resident owls are fairly common it the city. Pairs will be spending the days resting on their winter roosts now, and by February (or sometimes even January) they will be on their nests, incubating eggs.

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Great Blue Heron, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 16, 2016. The herons have usually all migrated by mid-October, but a few may stay later.

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Harris’s Sparrow, seen at the south end of the big bridge over the Elbow River in the Weaselhead on October 16, 2016. The bird was seen for at least a week, from October 16 to October 25. These Sparrows mostly migrate well east of Calgary and are a bit of a rarity here. They sometimes overwinter, so it is worth looking for.

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American Tree Sparrow. These arctic breeders are passing through here now and some overwinter here.

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Dark-eyed Junco. These sparrows are pretty common here in the winter and can be seen in residential areas right now, often feeding on the ground under bird feeders.

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American Robin bathing.

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American Robin. They passed through here on migration in huge numbers a few weeks ago, but there are always quite a few that overwinter here, mostly in the river valleys.

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Northern Flicker (male). A migratory woodpecker, but again there are always lots in Calgary in the winter – either some local breeders that overwinter, or birds that bred farther north and migrated this far. They will readily come to suet and nut feeders.

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Downy Woodpecker (male). A year-round resident that also will come to feeders.

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Coyote.

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Black-backed Woodpecker. A bit of a rarity in the city, they are occasionally seen in the west end of Fish Creek Park, from Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace. This one was photographed there on October 23, 2016.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male). Another resident woodpecker.

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Rough-legged Hawk. This is the common buteo in our region in the winter. They have arrived in good numbers from their northern breeding grounds. Most commonly seen outside the city, especially west of the city.

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Black-capped Chickadee. Year-round resident.

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Muskrat. They are active all winter in open water.

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Mule Deer buck.

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

Share your bird photos from the Calgary area. Just email them to birdscalgary@gmail.com.