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The Friends of Fish Creek bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Western Headworks Canal (known to many of us simply as the Calgary Irrigation Canal, or Bow River Irrigation Canal) is an amazing area to bird any time from early spring all the way through to the beginning of autumn. The canal itself provides foraging and feeding opportunities to all varieties of dabbling ducks throughout the breeding season, while the established trees and shrubs along the edge of the canal are home to no end of songbird species throughout the year.

There is a very special time of year though, just after the first of October, when the Western Irrigation District stops drawing water from the Bow River and allows the canal to drain for the winter. It is at this time that the canal becomes prime feeding habitat for a few more exotic species. Unusual and rare gull species are often found among the flocking Ring-billed Gulls, late migrating shorebirds feed along the extensive mudflats, and the tail end of songbird migration can often bring exciting birds such as Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Harris’ Sparrow along the edges of the canal. All of this excitement is over far too quickly for some as the water levels rapidly deplete over the course of the first two weeks following the drainage.

According to the Western Irrigation District website, “the Western Irrigation District provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities through 1,200 km of canals and pipelines.  Like other irrigation districts in Alberta, the WID operates under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act.  The WID is headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, which is approximately 40 kilometers east of Calgary.”

On October 4th, I joined the Friends of Fish Creek to walk the canal a few days after it had begun draining. For one reason or another, this year seemed to have fewer birds than I remember in the past, and the water seemed much lower this early on than previously. That said, the walk started off on a high note while I watched this Northern Flicker feeding on berries in a shrub while I waited for the group.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Almost immediately upon reaching the edge of the canal, we began seeing some of the diverse assemblage of waterfowl that feed along the canal. The most common of course was the Mallard, with almost all of the males having returned to their brilliant green-headed breeding plumage.

Mallard

Mallard

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A lone female American Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water, barely lifting her head to check us out as we walked by.

female American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

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A little further on, a pair of female Northern Shoveler floated by, followed closely by a pair of female Green-winged Teal.

female Northern Shovelers

female Northern Shovelers

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Green-winged Teal

female Green-winged Teal

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The highlight of the waterfowl though are always the Wood Ducks. A fair number of them were found feeding along the canal early in the walk. As we continued down the canal, something spooked them and they flew up the canal and our of sight. These birds are likely from the same stock found at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where they are known to breed each year.

male Wood Duck

male Wood Duck

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male and female Wood Ducks

male and female Wood Ducks

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It’s always a bit of a surprise to see what shorebirds we can find down along the canal. It’s one of the best places to get good, close looks at Greater Yellowlegs, often in large numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

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Less often though do we get Wilson’s Snipe. This year there seemed to be more than a few feeding along the canal.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

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It was a little later on that we got a good look at what may have flushed the Wood Ducks earlier in the day. This female Merlin swooped in and perched in the trees right above us for a few moments before flying on and continuing her hunt.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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There is one major benefit to the large numbers of Rock Pigeons that take residence in our urban centers here in southern Alberta, but it’s never a pretty sight to see. They make a great meal for any number of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Every once in a while though, one of these raptors gets chased off a fresh kill by a family of corvids. It is quite possible that this was a kill stolen from our female Merlin above, or from the Sharp-shinned Hawk that as giving us continuous fly-bys all morning.

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

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While we kept our ears and eyes sharply focused on the shrubs nearby, and our alertness really paid off. We heard a handful of American Tree Sparrows, saw few Dark-eyed Juncos, and caught decent looks at what are likely to be our last Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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It always pays off to check out the gulls down on the canal though. As we walked the canal, we found hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the shallow water.

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

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One of our sharp-eyed participants pointed out this little Mew Gull all by itself. They feed a little bit differently than Ring-billed Gulls tend to, but the real differences are the major field marks. You might note the plain yellow bill, smaller, rounded head, and overall “softer” features than the Ring-billed Gulls above.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

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Terry’s Travels: The Hills Are Alive With Birds

By Terry Korolyk

Living in the south end of Calgary since 1993, I have had much cause to bird and explore the area which I call the “Hills” which is directly south of Calgary. For birding purposes, it offers a fairly widespread type of habitat. We could probably define the area as south of Spruce Meadows Trail and bounded on the west by Highway 22; on the east by Highway 2A, and, on the south by Highway 549.

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Starting in the southwest corner of the Highways 2A-Spruce Meadows Trail junction is a fairly well-birded and well known slough known to some as Sheriff King Slough, because it is actually on Sheriff King Street accessed from Spruce Meadows Trail. In the days of some of Calgary’s older birders in the 1970s and 1980s, it was known as the Priddis Radio Towers Slough. The past few years have seen the slough attain fairly-high water levels due in large part to the City’s Water Management practices because of the 2007 and 2013 floods. Prior to 2007, the slough held low water levels. Then, it was probably one of the best shorebirding sloughs in our area attracting all the basic migrating shorebird species such as Semipalmated,  Baird’s, Least, and, Pectoral Sandpipers, and, both, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Uncommon species found there included Western Sandpiper (more than once), Red-Knot, and, White-rumped Sandpiper. It also held most of the common Duck species.

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Adult Red-necked Grebe. Common Summer resident on Sheriff King Slough. April 28, 2016.

These days the slough is now almost the complete reverse of what it used to be. Water levels are now too high to hold migrating shorebirds and it is almost completely devoted to waterfowl. Eared Grebes have been communal nesters here in recent years, and, both Red-necked and Pied-billed Grebes really took to the slough in 2015 and 2016. Ospreys are resident around the slough and Double-crested Cormorant, a species that is rapidly-expanding its range in the Calgary area, can be found here. Almost all the basic Duck species and Canada Goose are resident. Great Blue Heron should be somewhere around, and, recently Black-crowned Night Heron, has been expanding its range and has slowly crept into some waterbodies along the eastern perimeter of the area. Breeding has not been confirmed yet at Sheriff King Slough.

South of Sheriff King Slough lies agricultural land and the Pine Creek valley. Directly south of the Pine Creek valley; hilly, forested land is inaccessible, but, on this area’s west flank lies the Sirocco Golf Course. Remainder of the area of the Hills in the east is predominantly agricultural land, marsh, and, some woodland. Being near Spruce Meadows, naturally, there are many Stables and other such businesses devoted to Equestrian activities. Westward from Spruce Meadows lies Lloyd Lake formerly known as Red Deer Lake. Lloyd Lake is an outstanding location for seeing marsh and other water-loving birds and in recent years has held huge colonies of Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes, and,  American Coots. Public access, however, is no longer allowed at Lloyd Park, and, one must pay to gain access.

Between Spruce Meadows and Lloyd Lake, Highway 773 runs southward through the Hills bisecting the area as far as Highway 549 which continues westward to Highway 22. The central and western parts of the block offer some of the most stunning scenery in the Calgary area. The further westward you travel, the more you climb in altitude. As well, from the central section westward, there are some densely forested tracts and a variety of sloughs  and other habitats. Near the western border, 192 Street  bears directly northward from Highway 549 taking you through open grassland in to increasingly more forested terrain, then more grassland, ending up with mixed forest and Coniferous growth near Spruce Meadows Trail.

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Male Bufflehead photographed on a small marshy pond in the west end of the Hills. April 23, 2013.

Considering much of the Hills is open hilly territory, birds encountered in this type of habitat include Savannah, Clay-coloured, and Vesper Sparrow. There are many Bluebird Trails along the roads that wind their way through the hills meaning, of course Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds. Black-billed Magpies are year round residents and breeding season sees them joined by American Crows. Common Ravens are a daily sight, many of them riding the ridgetops and valleys as they come and go from the Landfills or other attractions to the east.

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Male House Wren. Found in large numbers in the Hills. May 18, 2013.

Common birds of the deciduous woodlands are American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and, House Wren. In fact, the Hills could very well be the House Wren capitol of Alberta. Brewer’s Blackbirds line the roadsides south of Sheriff King while Red-winged Blackbirds are common marsh dwellers with large colonies at Lloyd Lake and at the large marsh on Spruce Meadows Way. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are not as common. Sora Rails are also common marsh dwellers.

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Male Cinnamon Teal. One of the common teals found in one of the shallow ponds in Dewinton area and in the west end of the Hills. June 6, 2013.

All of Green-winged, Blue-winged, and, Cinnamon Teal are the common ducks of shallow, muddy pools, particularly on the east side of the block. This holds true on the same waterbodies of the west end. Deeper, larger waterbodies in the west end can hold Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Coot, Ruddy Duck and others. The serene woodland marsh and pond at the south end of 160 Street may be the only waterbody in the area that annually hosts Canvasback. Sloughs in this extreme more pristine west end may also host Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe.

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Gray Catbird with Dragonfly. August 3, 2013.

Some songbirds that can be found in this wilder west end include Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler,  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker,  and, Tennessee Warbler which seems to be ever expanding its range eastward from the foothills. Cedar Waxwing can be seen flycatching  around almost any waterbody in the west end, and, Alder Flycatcher can be found in the Willows around the marsh at the south end of 160 Street. Both HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher have been seen in migration in the willows on the east side of this slough while another sighting of interest here was a flock of more than 30 Eastern Kingbirds flycatching at this slough one day in the Fall of 2015.

Some other interesting songbird sightings in the hills include Crossbills along the north stretch of 192 Street; a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE at the Springwell Farms Ponds at 64 Street and 242 Avenue S.W.; Sprague’s Pipits some years in the open grasslands; a BREWER’S SPARROW one year in June on the high south-facing slope on 1119 Drive starting the descent down to 192 Street; PURPLE MARTINS at an acreage off 160 Street on the south descent; a Western Kingbird just west of Springwell Farms; Say’s Phoebes; a Provincial record late Fall Eastern Phoebe(Sept. 25, 2008) at a small pond in the southeast corner of the 1119 Drive-192 Street intersection, and, a reported VAUX’S SWIFT at an acreage south of Spruce Meadows.

To be watched for is BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. This species, which used to be found only in the extreme southwest corner of the province, seems to have been slowly pushing northward through the foothills, being reported now almost annually somewhere southwest or northwest of Calgary. In the Summer of 2016, a bird was clearly heard singing across the road from a marsh on 192 Street just south of 242 avenue. At a marsh further south of that location, a bird that sounded like a SUMMER TANAGER sang in June of 2013.

There have also been many interesting non-Songbird records in the Hills. For instance one cool November morning I was driving to a nearby Shopping Centre when I noticed a Loon flying above the car off to the left. It was not that high off the ground, but, I was unable to get a clear look at it, but was able to see that in the direction it was going it had a very good chance of coming down in Sheriff King Slough which was only a couple of miles further southward. I dropped my wife off to shop and went over to check, and, sure enough, there was the Loon alright, but even better, it was a RED-THROATED LOON, the most uncommon Loon in the Calgary area other than Yellow-billed.

On March 27, 2016, I was birding in the Hills. One of my regular stops was a large dugout with an island on the north side of 242 Avenue just west of Springwell Farms. At this dugout there is a fairly large contingent of resident Canada Geese who have been inhabiting the site for the past few years. They are incredibly faithful to the site and have returned year after year to raise their young. However, For some reason, this site has proved attractive to 2 species of Cackling Geese in Spring migration. One of them is the Minima subspecies which is the smallest of the 4 basic Cackling Gull morphs and is from western Alaska. The other is from even farther away, the Aleutian Islands. I know of only 1 prior record of this species in Alberta that being in the Fall of 2007 in Calgary. Latin name for the ALEUTIAN GOOSE is Branta Hutchinsonii Leucoparaiea. But, we won’t stop with those 2 subspecies, the dugout has also played host to the common Hutchinson’s Canada Geese which breeds in the Canadian Arctic and migrates through the prairie east of the Front Ranges in large numbers in some years. Here is a picture of the ALEUTIAN GOOSE.

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Aleutian Goose (Branta Hutchinsii Leucoparaiea). March 27, 2016.

Another sighting of interest occurred in the summer of 2009. I came across what looked like a juvenile RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 160 Street pond. This would have been amazingly unusual in the months of June and July. I could recall only one record previously of a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER here in the summer months and that was a bird on Railway Slough in the Irricana Sloughs. If I recall correctly that would have been in the 1990s.

Yet another unusual sighting amongst the non-Songbirds occurred during a Calgary area May Species Count. I believe it was early in the new millennium. It was drizzling rain all day and at the time I was on Sheriff King Street. I could see some California Gulls in a fallow field off to the west. A different bird from them was in the same field perhaps a hundred metres or so to the north. It had a black cap and was about Gull size and was watching the California Gulls. Through the rain I could see that the bird was a PARASITIC JAEGER! Well, one couldn’t ask for a better bird than that on a May Species Count.

Other sightings of interest include a ROSS’S GOOSE and a Greater White-fronted Goose on Sheriff King Slough and an immature Snow Goose in with Canada Geese foraging in a stubble field on Sheriff King Street. In the 1990s, an adult GREAT EGRET was found in a wetland at the junction of Highway 2A and 194 Avenue in south Calgary. After a couple of days, the bird left the wetland and flew westward into the Hills and was seen flying parallel to 226 Avenue at the Highway 773 junction.

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Female Rough-legged Hawk.

In the Fall of 2015, we were returning home from a trip through the Hills along Highway 773. I was almost completely stunned to see an adult Ferruginous Hawk perched on a fencepost at the 4-Way Stop. This was the first time I had seen that species south of Calgary. This leads us to another class of birds to deal with; the Raptors. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks are the 2 common Buteos of the area. You should see Ospreys at Sheriff King Slough and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can often be seen in migration soaring over the hilltops. Northern Harriers are not common, but are there. Northern Goshawk is resident in the west end of the area, and, occasionally, some birds venture further east in to the open hills in search of prey. Rough-legged Hawks can be found in the Hills from Fall to Spring, but, numbers vary from year to year. Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in the block. Peregrine Falcons have been seen passing through and one can have a chance to find a Gyrfalcon somewhere in the area. Areas where Gyrs have been seen most often are along the open fields off Sheriff King Street and along the valley along 226 Avenue and along the east-west section of Highway  773.

On Red-tailed Hawks, the mature Balsam Poplars lining 210 Avenue west of Sheriff King Street were the first location in southern Alberta where dark morph Red-tailed Hawks were confirmed as breeding. That was in 2007. Since that time a mixed pair of Red-tails, one bird dark and the other light, were seen in 2 successive years, 2013 and 2014, over heavily-forested terrain off 192 Street. In the Summer of 2013, a dark morph Red-tail, probably the bird from the mentioned pair was seen over the 160 Street pond. In the Summer of 2016, an intergrade light morph-dark morph bird was seen perched in a remote Aspen on a road through the Cross Conservancy. Considering the fact that there have been other such mixed pairings breeding within the Calgary area within the past few years, it is now possible to see an assortment of differently-plumaged Red-tails in the Hills even in breeding season. In migration, the Hills is an excellent site to see migrating Red-tails in many different plumages. Rarely, a dark morph bird may overwinter in the area.

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Adult Bald Eagle at Sheriff King Slough in late Fall. Dec. 8, 2012.

Bald Eagles are not resident in the Hills, but, they can be seen in the Spring hunting Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, and, in late Fall, they can be seen hunting waterfowl at fast freezing waterbodies, usually Sheriff King Slough. But this activity is not confined to Bald Eagles. One year  I watched a pair of immature Northern Harriers set up shop at Sheriff King with only a few openings left in the ice holding lingering waterfowl. Waterfowl remains were many on the surrounding ice.

One family of birds that could probably do with more study in the Hills is the Owl family. Great Horneds are resident, and, Northern Hawk Owls are sometimes spotted in the semi-open areas of the west end.

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Trumpeter Swans on one of the Springwell Farms ponds. March 25, 2016.

One final point I think that would interest birders is the fact that some of the waterbodies in the area are favoured amongst migrating Trumpeter Swans. One very reliable site to watch these snow white birds are the ponds at Springwell Farms. The ponds have also held Snow Geese.

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Wilson’s Snipe. Many of these were brought out in the open by winter weather on October 8. April 20, 2015.

Fall Migration, 2016–

The most important bird that has come to light since the most recent Terry’s Travels was the discovery of a Hummingbird that was coming to a home southwest of Longview, Alberta. I noticed the photograph of the bird on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, and, investigating further, the bird most resembled an immature male Costa’s Hummingbird, which would be the Province’s only 3rd. record ever. The bird had been coming to this home for 2-3 weeks, but now has not been since Tuesday, October 4.

Four hundred Loons must have been quite a sight at Barrier Lake on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country on Thursday, October 6. This came following our first blast of somewhat wintry weather. Three of the birds were Pacific Loon. To top it off, there were also 9 Surf Scoters there, and, an additional 30 at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. A lone Pacific Loon has been at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary since October 6 and both Surf and White-winged Scoters have been there almost daily. A female or immature BLACK SCOTER there on October 6 was a major find, but, unfortunately appears as though it was seen by only the person who found it.

Northern Gulls are finally starting to appear in our area. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a 1st. year KUMLIEN’S ICELAND GULL; a 1st. year Herring Gull-Glaucous GULL hybrid, and, 5 1st. year Thayer’s Gulls at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on October 8. Another KUMLIEN’S GULL, this time an adult, was seen on the Bow River adjacent to the Inglewood Golf Course on Thanksgiving Day. An adult Mew Gull has attracted many observers to the Irrigation Canal opposite the Inglewood Golf Course for the past few days while 1 or 2 others were reported on Thanksgiving Day, one on the river by the Inglewood Golf Course, and, the other at Elliston Park in southeast Calgary.

According to reports, a large white Falcon in the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek PP on Sunday, October 2 may have been a white morph GYRFALCON which I know of only 5 previous reports in the Calgary area since 1987.

Rusty Blackbirds  are starting to show up in our area. A nice flock of 25 was discovered in an Irrigation Canal on Range Road  262 south of Township Road  270 southeast of Irricana on October 8.

A Harris’s Sparrow is being a big draw in an Edmonton park, while one was found in Bowmont Park in northwest Calgary on Thanksgiving Day.

The recent blast of Winter has had Wilson’s Snipe and Western Meadowlarks out in the open. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a total of 32 Snipe and 8 Meadowlarks east of Calgary on October 8, while others also filed reports finding both Snipe and Meadowlarks.

Common Redpolls are new winter visitors here, while late-migrating shorebirds included a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at McElroy Slough on Inverlake Road just northeast of Chestermere Lake on October 8, and, a Solitary Sandpiper, also at McElroy Slough, on October 5.

Until next time………………                                                 Terry Korolyk

Autumn Birds of Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

It feels great to be back leading the Friends of Fish Creek walks on my days off here in Calgary! Our trip the last week of September took us to Bebo Grove in Fish Creek Provincial Park. This visit is a little earlier in the season than usual, but we were in search of a Long-eared Owl that had recently been seen there. While the owl didn’t make an appearance for any of us, we did see a whole lot of other great birds to make up for it!

Our route was a little bit different than our normal trips here, taking us along a small stream channel we’ve visited often for American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers later in the season, and have had some luck with other owls many times in the past. We did find both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers working away on trees, pecking away to their hearts content.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

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Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

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We stopped in for a visit to Bob, the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch that has been resident in this patch for a number of years now. During our brief visit we also heard the calls of a good number of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a couple of Brown Creepers, and even the odd Boreal Chickadee in the mixed flock before heading over across the creek.

A quick stop to look and listen for some birds produced this handsome Cooper’s Hawk, which immediately caused a commotion among the songbirds nearby as it dove down into the brush and out of sight within moments.

backlit Cooper's Hawk

backlit Cooper’s Hawk

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From here, we headed deeper into the park and ultimately emerged near the Marshall Springs runoff ponds. The tell-tale chip notes of Savannah, Lincoln’s, Song, and a Clay-colored Sparrow were heard readily, but we spent over half an hour just trying for the briefest of looks at these skulky, cautious fall migrants. Thankfully these Ring-necked Ducks were not anywhere near as shy, and posed for us out in the warm, bright sunlight.

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks

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These ponds turned out to be some of our best spots to see any of the birds we were to see, as we had another good view of a Cooper’s Hawk flying towards the east, quite possibly the same individual we saw earlier.

Cooper's Hawk in flight

Cooper’s Hawk in flight

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Cooper's Hawk in flight

Cooper’s Hawk in flight

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In addition to the hawk, we had brief flybys of a late season Belted Kingfisher, and got distant looks at a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the easternmost pond. These beautiful waterfowl are always such a treat to see!

male Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

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With the excitement of the ponds behind us, we headed back down towards the starting point and had a fairly quiet trip back. We did get a few more looks at another Boreal Chickadee foraging up in the spruce trees lining the pathway.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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All in all, it was a beautiful autumn day. The birds were as cooperative as one could expect this late in the year, and I’m looking forward to the next outing already!

Good birding!

Terry’s Travels: The Irricana Sloughs

By Terry Korolyk 

On Saturday, September 17, I decided to go birding to the area between Strathmore and Irricana as my wife was otherwise occupied. This included an area known as the Irricana Sloughs, a once well-known birding destination for many birders in the 1980s, 1990s, and, early in the new millennium. Today, it is still visited by some birders, but, these days more areas have been explored and opened up for birders, so, the choices are greater.

Nonetheless, I set out on this beautiful Fall day. I had chosen the large slough at the Cattleland Feedlots at the north end of Highway 817 north of Strathmore as my starting point. On the way out there, I passed a few migrating Swainson’s Hawks some of them following farmers on their machines who were busy cutting their crops, then, driving north of Conrich, as I approached Highway 564, a congregation of Black-billed Magpies and Ravens were gathered along the roadside. I slowed down hoping to see what the reason might be for this gathering, but, could see nothing.

When I arrived at Cattleland, I was hoping to see Greater White-fronted Geese as over 300 of the birds had recently been reported there. This site had become known as the one that almost always had the first birds of that species to arrive in our area in Fall migration usually in late August. The same had held true this year. This location and Namaka and Eagle Lakes southeast of Strathmore were the best White-fronted Geese sites near Calgary.

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Islands at Cattleland Reservoir. Photo Sept. 17, 2016

But, none were there on this day. The water level was high, but, it had been that kind of Summer. The slough has 3 islands which, with the now high water, were not that far above the surface of the water. Birds tend to congregate on them, and, in breeding season, Terns, both Common and Forster’s, and, once, even a pair of Arctic Terns raised their young on them along with other species such as Canada Goose, American Avocet, and, Black-necked Stilt. This nesting of Arctic Terns in the interior of the continent was not a first; it had happened previously in Montana.

In any event, so far this Fall, the islands were being used primarily by Gulls, including all of Ring-billed, California, and Franklin’s, and, Double-crested Cormorant. Today, there wasn’t that much there to interest a birder. A flock of 13 Baird’s Sandpipers was a highlight and flocks of Icterids there such as Brewer’s, Red-winged, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and, Brown-headed Cowbirds had dwindled in numbers. Large numbers are attracted by the Feedlot following breeding season. By the way, those birding the site must be aware that sometimes a repugnant odour may waft over from the feedlot so, be warned.

I moved on from Cattleland driving eastward on Highway 564. A few kilometres on, I turned northward driving past the few residences composing Nightingale. As I turned, a male Common Grackle flew past the car. I kept on northward a few kilometres turning westward on to Township Road 262. Drive a short stretch and a very large wetland appears on the north side. I was in luck today; over 600 Greater White-fronted Geese were at the wetland. Amongst other large numbers of waterfowl were 10 Taverner’s Cackling Geese, and an adult Bald Eagle, and, a juvenile Barrow’s Goldeneye.

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Greater White-fronted Geese at Range Road 245-Township Road 262 wetland, Sept. 12, 2016.

Whenever I visit this area, I try to visit this location for another reason, that being it is an excellent site for birding for passerines with nearby woodland; a willow swale, and shrub-lined and treed north-south orientation irrigation ditch running under the road to a wooded area. Large numbers of birds can move along the ditch to the woodland and birds found here have included large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers with other Warblers being all the common ones plus Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Townsend’s, Palm, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, and, Ovenbird. I have found both Hermit and Swainson’s Thrush here along with Rusty Blackbird. Once in November, I found a Swamp Sparrow along the irrigation ditch, and, I have found Long-eared Owl in the woodland.

Driving westward from here, you enter the realm of the Irricana Sloughs starting with Long Lake just west of Range Road 253. Continuing westward will take you to Bruce Lake east of Keoma. One can head into “the Sloughs” from Twp. Rd. 262 going northward on Range Road 253 or by going north on Range Road 261. The heart of “the Sloughs” is generally acknowledged to be the waterbodies from the Range Road 261 junction eastward, and, also north from Township Road 270 north on Range Road 254.

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Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorants at Railway Slough.

The Irricana Sloughs offers a variety of birds. In recent years, some of the water bodies have become very popular with Grebes. Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes both nest in substantial numbers on the large slough on Township Road 270 immediately west of Range Road 261 and on the slough on the east side of Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. Immediately east of the slough on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261 is a slough called Railway Slough which, next to Namaka and Frank Lakes, is the most convenient place in the Calgary area to find Western Grebe during breeding season. If one continues eastward on Township Road 270, one may find Horned Grebe at some of the smaller marshier sloughs.

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Bittern at marsh on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261, June 4, 2016.                 

Another specialty of the area is the American Bittern most often found in marshy areas at the slough west of Railway Slough and at the marshy slough on the west side of Range Road 261 directly north of Township Road 270. Upland Sandpiper has often been found in grassland along the roads in the area, and, in the past, “the Sloughs” were a fairly reliable location for finding Baird’s Sparrow, an uncommon species in our area. However, there have not been many reports in recent years, but, the area is not birded as thoroughly as it once was. Both Nelson’s and Leconte’s Sparrows have, in the past, been fairly noticeable by call in some of the wetter, grassier areas. Sprague’s Pipit and Long-billed Curlew is often found in the grassland areas, and, Marsh Wren can be found in Cattail marshes.

The Irricana Sloughs used to be one of the most reliable and nearest sites in our area for watching Loggerhead Shrikes. The species has expanded its range somewhat closer to Calgary, but, Loggerheads are still found in the area. Also, if visiting the Irricana Sloughs watch for the Krider’s subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk which used to be fairly regularly seen. Western Kingbird is also a specialty of the area, but, Eastern Kingbird is also resident. Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican can be found on Railway Slough and all the other larger sloughs.

The series of ponds and sloughs on Range Road 254 just south of Township Road 273 are probably the best shorebirding locations in the area being at the north end of the area and with lots of shoreline. All the regular species have been there with rarer species including Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red-necked Phalarope. One of the first occurrences of breeding in the area during the rise of the Black-necked Stilt in southern Alberta in the late 1980s and early 1990s was in this area.

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Nesting Black-necked Stilt.

The Irricana Sloughs have for quite a number of years now hosted small numbers of non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls during breeding season, mostly on Railway Slough or the slough directly west of Railway Slough. Large numbers of Swans, mostly Tundra, stop off here in migration and the Siberian counterpart to the Tundra Swan, the Bewick’s Swan has been seen here. An adult Whooper Swan paired with an adult Tundra Swan found on April 6, 2000 in “the Sloughs” was seen by many until April 11, but, its provenance was questioned by the Alberta Bird Records Committee. Was it a wild bird or an escapee? To me, the ABRC has shown itself to shy away from making tough decisions. Wild Whoopers have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, but, they are also held in captivity.

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Adult Whooper Swan with adult Tundra Swan on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 253 southeast of Irricana; April 6, 2000.

Other sloughs included in the area lie on Township Road 264 west of Range Road 261 and on Range Road 264 south of Township Road 264. The slough on Twp. Rd. 264 is a marshy slough which is one of few water bodies east of Calgary which regularly hosts Common Loon during breeding season. One of the leucistic Great Horned Owls was found in the woodland in the northwest corner of the lake as you drive westward past it. A Tennessee Warbler, a species native to the foothills and mountains in the western part of the province, was heard singing in this woodland one Summer. As you continue westward, you would turn southward on Range Road 264. The large water body on your right is called Spoonbill Slough for a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Siberian species of shorebird, that was twice reported there. Alberta’s only Baikal Teal was found here and Greater White-fronted Geese stop off here. This water body usually hosts a good variety of species. Nelson’s Sparrow have been regular in the wet grasses at the south end.

Two other sites included in the sloughs are a marsh and woodland a couple of kilometres north of Township Road 270 on Range Road 252 and Range Road 255 running south from the Range Road 254-Township Road 270 junction. The Range Roads both these locations are situated on supply North-South orientation and, thus, provide excellent movements of migrating passerines. All the basic small songbird migrating species have been found on Range Road 252 with others being Philadelphia Vireo and, also, Broad-winged Hawk. A leucistic Great Horned Owl was found there on  a Field Trip. The same can be said for Range Road 255 with Palm Warblers particularly having favoured this road. One Fall day I found several Palm Warblers in migration along the road, but, this also included 3 birds that were so brightly-coloured, I thought they may have been of the Eastern subspecies, the Yellow Palm Warbler.

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Leucistic Great Horned Owl on Twp. Rd. 264 west of Range Road 264.

Probably the final water body that should be included in the Irricana Sloughs region is Bruce Lake which is on Township Road 262 a short distance west of Range Road 261. The road makes a big bend around the north end of the lake, then continues westward to Keoma with Highway  9 beyond. Black-crowned Night Herons and California Gulls used to be common along the stream at the north end and rarities found include Snowy Egret, Black-legged Kittiwake, and, Pacific Loon. Both White-winged and Surf Scoters have been seen on the lake in the Fall season. The woodlands at the north end of the lake can be good for migrating songbirds with Long-eared Owl also being found there. In the winter, Northern Goshawk has been found there, and, Ring-necked Pheasant may be found in the cattails and other marsh grasses.

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Adult Little Gull with adult Bonaparte’s Gull on east side of Range Road 261 just south of Twp. Rd. 270; May 5, 2002.

Other rarities found in the Irricana Sloughs include Cattle and Great Egret, Little Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Red Phalarope, Sage Thrasher, and Yellow-billed Loon. Sandhill Crane, Townsend’s Solitaire, both Surf and White-winged Scoter, and, Turkey Vulture have all stopped off in “the Sloughs.” One rarity I was astonished to see was a THREE-TOED WOODPECKER flying from tree to tree one Fall day along Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. This, of course, is a species native to the CONIFEROUS forests of the foothills and mountains!

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Gyrfalcon, Oct. 19, 2013.

Great Horned Owl is resident. Winter sees Snowy Owls and all of Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, and, Rough-legged Hawk found in the area while weedy fields and ditches attract both Common and Hoary Redpolls, while, windswept fields and roads attract both Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. Some winters you may even find a Northern Goshawk out on the prairie there.

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Fall Migration, 2016——

Sabine’s Gull, always a much sought after bird in the Fall, was a bit late showing up this year. The birds are usually here by the first week of September, but, this year September 16 was the first date of report with an adult and an immature bird at Calgary’s Glenmore Reservoir. Since then, a single Sabine’s was seen at Tofield and 3 birds were at Frank Lake east of High River. The 2 Glenmore Reservoir birds were joined by a single bird on September 17.

Major highlights so far include an adult hybrid CALIFORNIA GULL-RING-BILLED GULL at the Shepard Landfill at the east end of McIvor Boulevard in southeast Calgary on September 22, and, a juvenile LITTLE GULL at the Chestermere Lake Dam on September 26. Five first-cycle Thayer’s Gulls were at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on September 22.

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Juvenile Little Gull at the Chestermere Lake Dam September 26, 2016.

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Adult California Gull-Ring-billed Gull hybrid at the Shepard Landfill, September 22, 2016.

A male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was photographed in a yard in Canmore on September 23. While still a vagrant in the province, the species is fairly regular with most reports coming in the Fall in frosty or near frosty weather.

Scoters are starting to hit the Calgary area as of this writing with 5 Surf Scoters at Glenmore Reservoir and another 5 were with a White-winged Scoter at Eagle Lake, all of these birds being seen on September 23. No northern Loons as yet.

There have been more Swamp Sparrow reports than usual in the Calgary area this Fall, and, also a couple of wandering Varied Thrushes. A Harlequin Duck was reported via  E-bird at Wyndham-Carseland PP on September 18.

Snow Geese are slow to arrive this year, but dark and unusual morph Red-tailed Hawks are seen almost daily now in the Calgary area. There are still some Swainson’s Hawks around, while there have been only a couple of Rusty Blackbird reports so far. From Ken Orich, young Barn Swallows fledged from a nest at Tillebrook PP at Brooks on the amazing date of September 19!

Until next time.                                                                      Terry Korolyk

Bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Western Irrigation District canal in SE Calgary has had the water supply from the Bow River shut off and the water level is falling. The next few weeks until freeze-up are a great time to go birding along the canal as there is a lot of food concentrated in the remaining pools and on the mudflats. The best birding is from the Max Bell arena to 50 Avenue SE, with the most productive stretch being the 500 m or so south of the Gosling Way bridge, on the entrance road to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.

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Birds on the canal, October 2011.

Trout Unlimited Canada normally does a fish rescue when the water is shut off, but due to funding cuts they were unable to do it this year. There will be some big fish left in the water and it will be interesting to see if this keeps the Herons and Kingfishers around for a while longer.

The canal is a great place for bird photography as the waterfowl and shorebirds are often quite close to you. Walk along the east side in the morning and along the west side in the evening to keep the sun behind you, and you can get some great views!

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October 2011, looking back towards the Gosling Way bridge. Throughout October the water level gradually falls, concentrating the waterfowl into smaller pools.

Here are links to a few of the posts that Dan Arndt did about birding the canal with the Friends of Fish Creek in the past three years, with photos of many of the birds you can find there.

October 2015

October 2014

October 2013

 

Terry’s Travels: High River to Chain Lakes to Pine Coulee Reservoir.

By Terry Korolyk.

Monday, August 15, Terry traveled southward with the ultimate destination being Chain Lakes PP west of Nanton and Pine Coulee Reservoir. I started at the large wetland in the southwest corner of the Spruce Meadows Trail and Highway 2A in the extreme south end of Calgary. Formerly known as the Priddis Radio Towers slough; now known to some as Sheriff King Slough as it is on Sheriff King Street. Upon arriving, I almost immediately found a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron in the northeast corner of the slough.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sheriff King Slough, August 15, 2016. All photos by Terry Korolyk.

Perched on a telephone wire in the same corner was a juvenile male Belted Kingfisher. This slough was a popular site this year for nesting Grebes including all 3 of Eared, Red-necked, and, Pied-billed Grebe. Eared are the most abundant, but, on this morning there were 22 Red-necked Grebes, many of them juveniles, or, birds-of-the-year.

Sheriff King Slough was, only a few years ago, an excellent shorebirding location with extensive mudflats. Excellent numbers of the basic migrating species such as Baird’s, Semipalmated, Pectoral, and, Least Sandpipers were attracted by its location and habitat with rarities found there being Western Sandpiper (more than once); White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red Knot. Non-shorebird rarities found there included Sabine’s Gull, Snow Goose, and, Ross’s Goose.

I left the slough driving south on Sheriff King Street, then, turning westward on to 210 Avenue. A pleasant surprise was a pair of SAY’S PHOEBES along 210 Avenue, just east of 64 Street. Photographs taken.

I continued southward getting a nice surprise at a marsh on 48 Street south of 274 Avenue. The marsh has a nice bit of woodland  with it which is liked by local resident songbirds such as Black-capped Chickadees which were in evidence this morning. Best of all though was a somewhat miffed NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ; the first time I had found this species at this slough. Birding at this location can actually be quite good. Forty-eighth Street is tree-lined for much of its length southward to Highway 549 and during migration, an excellent variety of songbirds can be found along it. Birds found along there today included a Hairy Woodpecker which made a bit of an unexpected addition to the day’s list.

From Highway 549, I drove south on Highway 552 to Okotoks. A Great Blue Heron was along Spring Creek just outside of Okotoks.

I drove straight through Okotoks emerging at the south end where I crossed Highway 7 and moved on towards High River on Highway 783. I stopped on the way, however, to check the Okotoks Regional Landfill which included an assortment of California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Ravens, American Crows, and, European Starlings.

High River can have excellent birding. Drive westward on the road running along the town’s southern boundary and follow the roadways southward, then westward, then, southward, and, then another time, and, you find a good variety of birds. The roads travel through open woodland; past farms and acreages with little traffic. Today, Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, both adults and juveniles. Mourning Doves were common. Prize bird today though was an immature PHILADELPHIA VIREO with very yellow underparts.

Just south of the town, a large dugout can make for some good birding. Amongst various waterfowl here today were a few Baird’s Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. From here, I made my way westward to Meridian Street which strikes straight southward through primarily agricultural land. I used to see Western Kingbirds along here, but, didn’t see any today. A pair of Mourning Doves were perched on a telephone wire seemingly in the middle of nowhere. On the west side of Meridian Street just before you descend to a bridge over Mosquito Creek, there is an acreage with feeders and well-landscaped grounds, and, better yet: birds! I stopped to watch for a few minutes. To my surprise, 6 Gray Partridge scurried out of some grasses by a pond. To me, this was a good sighting as this was the was the furthest west I had seen Gray Partridge since one occasion a few years go when I saw some just west of Nanton.

Once you cross Mosquito Creek, you are in a large willow swale. I stopped for lunch by the creek and was greeted by a pair of Belted Kingfishers.

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Belted Kingfisher.

I believe, they may have been nesting there, but, they didn’t hang around. A short distance on was the Williams Coulee Road junction.

I turned right on to Williams Coulee Road and headed westward. I have driven this road many times and always like to see what birds are breeding there, particularly the waterfowl. Not too far from the junction, I came across the first slough, a fairly large one straddling both sides of the road. Waterfowl numbers were strong with many juveniles of our basic prairie dabbling Duck species such as Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, and, both Blue and Green-winged Teal.

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Female Blue-winged Teal with young.

But, there were shorebirds there as well including Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, and, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and, Lesser Yellowlegs. There were also 5 Solitary Sandpipers.

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Solitary Sandpiper, photo taken August 6, 2016.

Many times, I had found shorebirds along this road during the Fall season. Remainder of the sloughs and ponds along the road held no waterfowl as far as Highway 22.  A lone Great Blue Heron stood motionless on one shoreline.

I reached the north end of Chain Lakes shortly after. I could see only one bird, a Common Loon on the water. I moved on to the south end of the Lakes where there were 3 Loons. The 3 of them were in breeding plumage. Two of the birds had sloped foreheads without prominent foreheads, more like that of Yellow-billed, or, Red-throated Loon rather than Common Loon. However, the bills of all three had the heft of Common Loon bills. Was it because the feathers on their heads were slicked down from diving? A puzzling trio; I took photos to study later.

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Loon with sloping forehead. August 15, 2016.

I drove down to the creek below the Dam and found an American Dipper there. I only saw the one bird, so, I don’t know if there was breeding there or not. Large numbers of Clay-coloured Sparrows were flying from the trees along the creek over to the woodlands by the Dam. I counted at least 120 in only a few seconds so who knows how many birds flew over through the course of the day.

I left Chain Lakes for Pine Coulee Reservoir by crossing Highway 22 to Highway 533, then driving Highway 533 to the Flying E Road junction. This road passes through rolling hills and grassland along Willow Creek to Pine Coulee Reservoir. On this particular day, it proved to be a bonanza of American Kestrels as I found 5 of them hunting in the grasslands.

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American Kestrel, August 15, 2016.

At the Willow Springs Arena bridge not far from Highway 533, I got my third Belted Kingfisher of the day, a male, and just past the bridge, I photographed a possible adult light-phase Calurus-subspecies (Mountain race) Red-tailed Hawk.There was some buffiness on the upper breast. Its call was even different from that of an Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, the common Red-tail in the Calgary area.

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Red-tailed Hawk, August 15, 2016.

Pine Coulee Reservoir was being used mainly as a staging area for Franklin’s Gulls on this day. On the entire Reservoir for the day, I estimated about 3000. I counted most of them out, but, then rounded off the number at 3000 for parts of the Reservoir I couldn’t see. Other than one large raft of Franklin’s offshore from the Dam, other birds there were floating rafts of Grebes, both Red-necked and Horned. Eared Grebes were spotted about on the surface of the water.

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Franklin’s Gulls, June 15, 2016.

Water level at the Reservoir was the lowest I had ever seen it. Being created primarily for irrigation purposes, I thought that because of the mild late Winter and early Spring we had had that that’s why the Reservoir was so low. This seemed good and bad, but, the good was the excellent shorebird conditions created at the north end of the Reservoir.

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Stilt Sandpipers; an Avocet, some Peeps, and Short-billed Dowitchers.

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Shorebirds, August 15.

Large numbers of shorebirds were there including all of Baird’s, Semipalmated, Least, Pectoral, and, Stilt Sandpipers. Lesser Yellowlegs were in the largest numbers there, and, Short-billed Dowitchers were also represented.

It was then time to head for home ending today’s trip.

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Birders are reminded that the this week and next week, Fall songbird migration will be at its peak. The past couple of years, migration has started in late June. Observer coverage has been very good this year. In the period running from August 12 to August 22, Philadelphia Vireos, for instance, a species usually not very common in the Calgary area has come in with 8 reports. In the same period, Blue-headed Vireos have come in with 5 birds being reported in 4 reports. American Redstarts have showed up in good numbers so far, while, Magnolia Warblers have come in in expected numbers. Bay-breasted Warblers, one of the rarer northern Alberta Warblers in the Calgary area,  have been reported 3 times already. Canada Warbler has been reported twice, both times at Wyndham-Carseland PP. Townsend’s and Cape May Warblers have arrived in normal numbers. There have been 2 Nashville Warbler reports, while, there have been more Black-and-White Warbler reports than usual with 6.

Other recent reports include 2 Pacific-Slope Flycatcher reports in the Calgary area. Janet Gill reported a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on Monday, August 22, while, a Dusky Flycatcher was slightly off course at Policeman’s Flats just southeast of Calgary on Friday, August 12 when it was seen by Terry Korolyk.

A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was reported at the Boat Launch in east Fish Creek PP on Sunday, August 21, and, a possible mega-rarity, a juvenile NORTHERN WHEATEAR was reported just northeast of High River on Wednesday, August 17. The bird could not be found in an intensive search for it the same day. To this point, the only documented bird of this species in the province was a bird on Nose Hill in Calgary on November 22, 1989. A complete shock was a Canada Goose with some seemingly completely albinistic parts, and, the remainder leucistic seen at the slough at Township  Road 250 and Highway 817 north of Strathmore on Tuesday, August 16.

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Albinistic Canada Goose, north of Strathmore, August 16, 2016.

Join Us For a Calgary Region Big Day

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Next Saturday, June 18, Andrew Hart, Rose Painter and I will lead the 2nd annual Calgary Region Big Day field trip for Nature Calgary. This is an all-day trip to find as many species as possible within the 80-km-radius circle centered on Calgary. Our modest goal is 125 species.

As you can see from the map below the area is huge, and we can’t visit all good habitats in a single day. We will be focusing on a few good spots and trying to keep the pace fast to give us flexibility towards the end of the day.

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The Calgary Region 80-km Circle.

We will begin our day at 5:30 am in NW Calgary. This is kind of a late start for a Big Day at this time of year, so we need people to arrive on time or a little early. Note that registration is required – please call one of the leaders to let them know you are coming, so we know when everyone has arrived and can plan the car-pooling. The trip details and phone numbers are on the Nature Calgary website here.

Our destinations will include Horse Creek Road, several stops in the Water Valley area, Plumber’s Road and Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, Windy Point west of Turner Valley, and Frank Lake. There may be more stops after that if there is time. We plan to be back at the starting point by no later than 8 pm. If anyone cannot stay for the whole day we will try to arrange the car-pooling to accommodate that.

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Bobolink – one of our target birds for the Big Day. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Nature Calgary field trips are free and open to everyone; you don’t have to be a member of Nature Calgary to attend. We hope that some birders will have their biggest day ever, and there is always a chance to see some birds that are new to you, and to learn about some new birding locations in the Calgary area.

The start of spring in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our spring birding sessions started off on a bit of a cooler note than the end of our winter course had been, but even though it was a bit duller and colder, the birds did not disappoint. We repeated our previous outing to the Weaselhead almost exactly, with a visit to North Glenmore Park to scope the reservoir and check on the Great Horned Owls we’d found there in late March.

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Weaselhead – April 3, 2016

The feeders seemed a little emptier that week, with most of the Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins having departed, but we did find one lone siskin feeding not at the feeders, but on the budding catkins on the trees bracketing the pathway.

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Pine Siskin

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All the way down the hill and onto the bridge we were hard pressed to see anything nearby, with little rhyme or reason. The usual deluge of dog walkers, runners, and cyclists down into the Weaselhead was much diminished due to the weather, and yet the birds were still strangely absent. We crossed over the bridge and off to the deeper parts of the park when we quite nearly stumbled across this little Snowshoe Hare in the shrubs beside the path.

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Snowshoe Hare

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We watched it for a little while while it foraged, seeming not too shy of our presence, but attempting to at least stay a little bit hidden from our direct view. We soon headed off to our usual spot to listen for Boreal Chickadees when we were stopped dead in our tracks by the distant sound of a Ruffed Grouse drumming.

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Ruffed Grouse

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I’d been searching for this particular bird for quite a while, as I had found a few drumming logs that he had been displaying on recently on my last solo trip down here. Drumming logs can generally be identified by numerous piles of grouse scat on them, often around an area on the log where the bark has been stripped away. We caught sight of him about a forty meters away, and paused to let him get comfortable with our presence. Sure enough, when he was calm enough, he began his display once again.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

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Ruffed Grouse displaying

Ruffed Grouse displaying

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Ruffed Grouse drumming

Ruffed Grouse drumming

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Once we were satisfied that we’d all had a good view of his displays, we moved on and let him get back to wooing his grousettes (I’m sure that’s the technical term for it… or maybe it’s hens? I’ll stick with grousettes.) Again, the trees were quiet, and the activity was at a bit of a lull, but as birding often goes, sometimes its those quiet days that give the best experiences!

We did manage to catch a flock of Trumpeter Swans flying west off the Glenmore Reservoir just as we entered a clearing. Lucky for us!

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

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Back to the bridge we went again, and sure enough, our little Snowshoe Hare friend was feeding on the edge of the creek, this time a little bit bolder!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

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Since we had a few things to check out up at the top of the hill, we decided to bee-line it back to the parking lot to check out the ponds at North Glenmore Park. Along the way though, we did find a couple little highlights to the day.

This Red Squirrel was caught red-pawed at the exact same feeder we had seen a Least Chipmunk feeding from just a few weeks prior. It seems this bird feeder is the preferred site for rodent sightings!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Near the top of the hill, we also came across this American Robin singing away from near the top of a budding aspen.

American Robin

American Robin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Back at North Glenmore Park, we found the proud papa Great Horned Owl resting peacefully with his mate nearby. No babies were visible yet, but soon enough those eggs would hatch and become some of the most adorable little fluff balls you’d ever see!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

And finally we took a few minutes to scan the Glenmore Reservoir, and boy was I glad we did! Far out on the reservoir one of the common perches for gulls and swallows were four species of gulls, and one of those was our first of the year. Lined up nicely were a California Gull (far left), a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, a Franklin’s Gull, and on the far right was a Herring Gull. It’s too bad these guys were so far off, because they sure were a nice sight to see after our slow day!

Gulls on a log

Gulls on a log

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Have a great week, and good birding!

The end of Winter in the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

For our last outing for our Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding group, we headed to the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park to see what winter birds remained, and if any spring migrants had shown up around the Glenmore Reservoir and in the Weaselhead itself. While many of our winter birds had already left, a few die-hards were still around in good numbers, and we definitely were not disappointed with the numbers of spring birds we found all around the park.

Weaselhead - March 20, 2016

Weaselhead – March 20, 2016

We headed down into the Weaselhead first thing, checking the feeders along the way. I had headed down before our group to fill some of the feeders, and managed to spot an overwintering American Goldfinch, but when the rest of our group headed down as a whole all of the feeders were completely devoid of activity. Part of the reason for the vacancy is that now that the weather has turned, the birds were not quite as reliant on the feeders as insects had begun to hatch, and caches stored during the winter would provide plenty of food. We did have one little fellow who turned up, as always, at the tail end of the winter session.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Fresh from his winter hibernation, this Least Chipmunk seemed completely oblivious to our presence as he stuffed his face full of black-oil sunflower, peanuts, and various other seeds I’d placed at the feeder earlier in the morning. I just love how much character these little mammals have, and how single-minded they can be when they first wake up.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

While she wasn’t right at the feeder, this Hairy Woodpecker was hanging out nearby, hammering a hole in the side of this tree to pick out a tasty meal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

A little further down the path and across the bridge we found this male House Sparrow and his mate picking out some twigs, grass and leaves to make their nest for the coming season. Given where they were loafing about, they may have even been considering setting up shop in one of the Cliff Swallow nests on the bridge!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Before we turned around to head back up the hill, we stopped and checked the logs and information signs that have been used all winter as a feeding station, and sure enough we found some American Tree Sparrows singing away in the brush, and coming out to feed. These little sparrows have an amazing song, and are just as striking to look at.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We headed back up the hill and off to the east end of the Glenmore Reservoir to find our returning migrants, and were not disappointed on the first pond. A pair of American Wigeon were floating along the back end of the pond, well away from the Canada Geese and Mallards who were clearly set up on their nesting territories closer in.

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

 

White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

While we were scanning the ponds for waterfowl, sparrows, and anything else we could find, we heard a flock of late White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees to the north, picking through the few remaining cones that had made it through the winter. Both males and females were in fine form, with the majority of the birds being immature, and as always, seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence.

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

These Canada Geese seemed to have their feathers ruffled by the Mallards (in the shade of the rock on the left). It wasn’t until the Mallards had simply had enough and moved on that the geese left them alone. Seeing these inter-species interactions is always a treat, and late winter and early spring can lead to some great opportunities for this behaviour.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Our best surprise of the day was coming across this male Great Horned Owl high up in a spruce trying to have a nap… until we disturbed him. He wasn’t pleased to see us. At all.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

These Common Goldeneye (and a very confused Mallard) were still trying to display for the few remaining single females, though most others of their kind we’d found this late in the winter/spring season. Despite that, at least two of them seemed to making a positive impression!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of our last birds of the day, and a great one at that, was this Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies that sang a bit for us, but also perched high up in the nearby bushes and allowed everyone very good looks.

The spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek is now well under way, so expect some new posts in the next few weeks from our more recent outings. Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Gulls return to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing to Mallard Point on March 6th was really geared to look for the first arriving gulls. With the exceptionally warm winter, and with many sightings around the city the for the week leading up to it, it seemed certain that we would find at least a few of them on the extensive gravel bars there. We did manage to spot one, and had a few other nice birds, but the haze, rain(!) and low gloomy clouds made it tough to keep motivated through the morning!

Mallard Point - March 6, 2016

Mallard Point – March 6, 2016

The day was dark, dingy, drizzly and dreary. More typical of a morning in early April rather than March, but the early spring birds were beginning to return, and some overwintering birds were still around. I wasn’t particularly well dressed for the weather, and so we moved as fast as we could to try to stay warm. Here’s a tip: If you’re birding and the calendar says it’s still winter, it’s not t-shirt weather. Don’t try. You’ll freeze.

California Gull

California Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Our first gull of the season, and our only one of the whole day, was a solo flyby of a single California Gull. This is usually the first species that shows up in late February or early March, sometimes in small single digits, and very quickly joined by dozens of others over the following few weeks. Mallard Point is a great spot to find them most years, but in colder years when the Bow River is frozen up a little more, it is one of the few open gravel bars in the south end of the city. This year though, the entire river has been open for pretty much the entire winter, so they haven’t been found in any significant numbers within the city.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

This young Bald Eagle was perched off in the distance when we arrived, took a few flights up and down the river, then came right back to this spot. Another observation of the mild winter, these eagles have been able to spread out all along the length of the Bow River through Calgary, while in colder years we tend to find them grouped up in areas downstream of water treatment facilities, such as Beaverdam Flats, Carburn Park, and downstream of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Some years we see as many as twenty in a single morning outing!

White-throated Sparriw

White-throated Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Chirping away under the feeders at the houses on the east edge of Mallard Point was this White-throated Sparrow. Last spring around this time we found another member of this species less than a hundred meters away from here. I often wonder when we have sightings like this if it’s the same bird coming back winter after winter to the same spot. I guess there are a few ways one could research it though!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

There were quite a number of Northern Flickers calling, drumming and displaying throughout the morning, so many that there was a “high count” trigger on eBird when we went to submit the list! It’s always fun to watch them fly from tree to tree displaying and chattering at each other at this time of year, but not necessarily as much fun if they’re doing it outside your bedroom window first thing in the morning, or on the heating vent on the roof!

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

This beautiful pair of Common Mergansers was further down the river, the male in his full bright white and iridescent dark green breeding plumage, and the female showing off her fancy head crest. Soon, she’ll be swimming along with a dozen or more young in tow, trying to keep them safe from the many predators both above and below the water.

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Our last bird for the day was this beautiful male Downy Woodpecker, who perched nearby and began drumming away while we watched. While he didn’t call in a female while we were there, his energy and persistence was rather obvious, and I’m certain he’s paired up by now and building a nest somewhere nearby.

Have a great week, and good birding!