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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.

80km circle - Google Earth

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.

Bobolink

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.

Weaselhead - 4-3-2016

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.

Pine Siskin

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.

Snowshoe Hare

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.

Ruffed Grouse

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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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

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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

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White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

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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

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Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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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

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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

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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!

 

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

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You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

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It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

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A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

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With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

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Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Spring Birding Course 2016

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society is now taking registrations for its popular Spring Birding Course. This 12-week course starts March 28 and runs until the end of June. You can choose to go out one or two days per week. Field trips, which take place in a variety of parks throughout the city, last 2.5 to 3 hours.

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By the time the Spring course starts, Mountain Bluebirds will be passing through Calgary on migration. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Once again there is a very nominal $5 fee for youth 16 or younger accompanied by a registered adult. This is a great opportunity for parents to take their kids birding and learn about nature in our city!

For more information and to register, go to this page.

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Great Horned Owls are already nesting in Calgary. Join the FFCPP Spring course to see the owlets hatch and fledge. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Back to Bebo for a Beautiful Bird

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our second visit to Bebo Grove this winter was in search of a well-documented Varied Thrush that had been seen there for a few weeks, and thankfully it decided to stay in almost the exact same spot for our Sunday morning outing. We also got some of the regular boreal birds that we’ve come to expect at Bebo Grove, and while the morning was fairly quiet in terms of numbers of individual birds, we did have some nice close encounters that highlighted the morning overall.

Bebo Grove - February 21, 2016

Bebo Grove – February 21, 2016

While the highlight of the morning was the Varied Thrush, a bird we found early on and spent a good amount of time with, I’m going to save those images for the very end, since there are a few of them in different poses, and really it’s always good practice to save the best for last!

Our morning was, as I mentioned in the intro, quiet overall in terms of bird sightings, but there wasn’t a moment while travelling through the trees that we didn’t have at least forty or fifty Pine Siskins in the trees above us, trilling and chattering away. We even had a brief sighting of a Merlin, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a few other birds that I we haven’t seen as a group since the late fall.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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It’s almost like clockwork the areas in Bebo Grove where we find mixed flocks of Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, and where the bird activity picks up bit by bit to a startling cacophony of sound and being dive-bombed by chickadees, nuthatches, and the odd kinglet or creeper. There were a few more Boreal Chickadees here than the last time we visited this little grove, and they had a very well established pecking order, with one larger bird coming in first, then the next two coming in almost as soon as it had left.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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We even had a few close encounters with some Pine Siskins once again, coming down into the lower boughs of the spruce trees to feed on hatching insects as well as on the fallen cones.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

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

One of the bird species that seems to be diminishing in numbers in southern Alberta right now are the Pine Grosbeaks. While there are a few places to still reliably find them in the city limits, I suspect that they’re heading north and west as our early spring has really ramped up over the last few weeks. Similarly, both White-winged and Red Crossbills, as well as Bohemian Waxwings seem to have all but withdrawn from southern Alberta a few weeks earlier than they normally would, despite there still being an abundance of food for them.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Another species we found picking through the lower branches in search of freshly hatched insects (in February, at that! The wonders of these long-lasting el Nino chinooks!) were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. These birds were unusually unaware of our presence once again, and so we had really good looks at them while they fluttered about almost like hummingbirds feeding from the tips of the branches and all the way along each small branch and twig.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

Of course the real highlight was this male Varied Thrush. I’ve been seeing quite a few of these birds in Revelstoke, British Columbia in my trips there all winter, but these are certainly a great bird to find in Alberta, especially one returning to the same area for such a long period of time in the winter!

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

We even got to hear him singing away for a few minutes, while a second male a little further off in the distance sung counter to him. If you’ve never really heard these birds before, their song is a long, high pitched piercing note, much like the sound of the brakes of a train squealing to a stop.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We must have spent a good half hour with this bird, watching him from all angles while he posed, sung, posed again, and eventually moved just a little higher in the trees as the sun came around to illuminate him a little bit. It was probably the best look at a Varied Thrush some members of our group had ever had, as these birds can be quite flighty, even where they are abundant.

Have a great week, and good “spring” birding!

Mid-winter birding in Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

As any birder knows, it’s nearly impossible to predict what your success will be like on any given day out in the field. Some days, you can go out and find a huge variety of species in the gloomiest and most terrible weather, while on a perfect weather day the birds all seem to disappear. My last few outings have been a lot quieter than usual, but with the above-seasonal weather we’ve had since late January it’s not entirely unusual. Our visit to Votier’s Flats on January 31 was one of those rather quiet days, but we still managed to see some good birds on the two outings I attended that week.

Votier's Flats - January 31, 2016

Votier’s Flats – January 31, 2016

While I attended one walk earlier in the week, and my regular Sunday outing, I only tracked the walk on Sunday, so one of our better sightings isn’t mapped here.

We had a fairly typical array of winter birds at Votier’s Flats, with Pine Siskins, White-winged and Red Crossbills, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, and of course the ever present Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens were readily apparent. As we entered the woods, we were hailed by the calls of a White-breasted Nuthatch high up in the trees, claiming this particularly good territory for itself and announcing its presence to any female that might be paying attention.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Mid-week, we had found a recently killed White-tailed Deer carcass, likely taken down by coyotes in the park, but that didn’t deter the rest of the White-tailed Deer from roaming around seemingly without a care in the world. This deer was photographed less than 30 meters from where we had found the kill.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

One of the things we’ve been observing recently is Pine Siskins feeding a bit lower in the trees than usual, allowing us much better looks at much closer distances that we have for much of the winter so far. They yellow tones in the flight feathers and underwing are really starting to pop now too, making them a little nicer to photograph than your typical Little Brown Jobs.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

After we cleared the wooded area made up mostly of spruce trees, things got really, really quiet. We headed up the hill to the area that borders on the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, where a number of homes have bird feeders set up, and even up there it was incredibly quiet. The only bird to be found when we checked on our first pass was this lone sickly looking Black-capped Chickadee. You can see in this photo that the feathers surrounding the eyes are all missing, and that the eyes themselves also appear a bit puffy. I have no idea what might be the cause of this, but suspect it could be ticks or some illness caused by these feeders not being cleaned regularly. It’s vitally important if you put out bird feeders to ensure that they’re cleaned regularly. The rule of thumb that I always use is that every two times I fill a feeder, I run it through the dishwasher for a good, thorough wash.

Black-capped Chickadee

sick Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We did a quick loop up top, but aside from a few magpies flying by overhead, and a few other small finches flying overhead, the only bird we were able to get close to was yet another (healthy this time) Black-capped Chickadee.

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

We headed back down the hill and through the wooded area a second time, but following Fish Creek itself in hopes of finding some birds along the creek bed. Unfortunately for us, our only additional sighting was this near-perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, with its high-pitched trills and even a brief little attempt at a song!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

On the earlier outing that week, we had headed over towards Raven Rocks to search for Townsend’s Solitaires, and sure enough we found two singing high on the slope, and one even popped down to check us out for a few minutes before my camera decided to stop working for the day!

 

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Following our outing on January 31, I headed out of town for the next two weeks, and so our next week’s update should bring us up to our outing on February 21 where we returned to Bebo Grove!

Have a good week, and good birding!

Winter Surprises at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

There are few parks in town that I have such a love/hate relationship with more than Beaverdam Flats. While it’s great for getting good, close looks at Bald Eagles, and also seeing a huge number of them, there really tends not to be too much here that you can’t get better looks at, or see greater abundance in some of the other parts of town. Waterfowl are generally more diverse at Carburn Park, or along the Bow River in the eastern parts of Fish Creek Park. Songbirds are usually more abundant at Votier’s Flats and Bebo Grove, and the rare chances of seeing Great Horned Owls here are more regularly seen at Sikome Lake or at the Bow Valley Ranche. This time around was not too much different, but right at the end we had a couple very nice surprises that made the quiet morning a little more worthwhile.

Beaverdam Flats - January 17, 2016

Beaverdam Flats – January 24, 2016

While our usual route is picked so that we can have the sun at our backs for the majority of the walk, that morning was, as was typical of much of January, gloomy, overcast, and a little windy. We weren’t really expecting too much in the way of snow or bad weather though, so our luck has held fairly solid this season so far. Our first couple birds of the day aside from a few distant Bald Eagles were some Common Redpolls down along the creek, which turned out to have a Hoary Redpoll among them after I’d looked at my photos afterward!

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Along the river, as is usual for this time of year, were hundreds of Canada Geese. By this time of the morning, many had already begun to fly off to the fields surrounding Calgary to feed, but there were still a good number right on the water, and many more travelling up and down the river bed.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

During the first half hour of our walk, again, quite typical of the expected birds at Beaverdam Flats, we observed half a dozen different Bald Eagles, some adult, some immature of varying ages. Almost at random it seemed, the flyovers of some would cause the waterfowl to flush off the water, while others simply got a casual eye turned up at them. One reason seems to be that the waterfowl are able to tell how full the crop of these raptors is, so they can tell whether the eagles are actively hunting or simply checking the menu.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

In addition to the numerous Canada Geese and Mallards on the river, Common Goldeneye were abundant, though those three species were pretty much the only ones out that day. Many years we’ll have numerous Common Mergansers, Barrow’s Goldeneye, even Hooded Mergansers and occasionally American Wigeon as this stretch of river is downstream from a water treatment plant.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Sadly, once we turned back to head along the north stretch of our walk, things got very, very quiet. We heard a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a small number of Downy Woodpeckers fighting over territory, but it seems the flood damage in the interior part of the park is still keeping the usual songbird numbers low, at least in the winter.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

The northern section of this park is currently closed and under remediation by the City of Calgary due to flood damage, and more details about this repair can be found here: City of Calgary – Beaverdam Flats

We turned around at the fenced off area and had a quiet walk back to the base of the hill below where we had parked, and it seemed like that’s when things really started to get busy for us! A few juvenile Bald Eagles soared by low overhead and gave some great photo opportunities, especially this guy who was maybe 50 feet overhead.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching this young eagle, there was some faint tweeting and rustling in the shrubs behind us. This is a usual spot for us to find Townsend’s Solitaires, Rusty Blackbirds, and American Robins in the winter, though the number of juniper bushes along this hill has seemingly disappeared in the years since the 2013 flood. There were a pair of American Robins bustling about in the berry shrubs on the far edge of the shrubline, making it hard to get a really good look at them, but there were a few openings here and there.

American Robin

American Robin

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

It wasn’t until we got close enough to get these shots of the robins through the shrubs that we heard the tell-tale trill of waxwings feeding low in the bush. When they popped out into the open, it was clear that these weren’t Bohemian Waxwings, and that there were more than a handful of these birds down there. In all, five Cedar Waxwings were present in the bushes, with one little one appearing to only be a few months old, likely a late hatching immature bird from last September or early October.

adult Cedar Waxwing

adult Cedar Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

immature Cedar Waxwing

immature Cedar Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It always makes it worthwhile to get out there, no matter how uncertain the weather or how typically dull one park or another can be, and it’s these random finds that you’d never even think to look for that turn up at the most unusual places.

Have a good week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Residents, Winter Visitors, and Overwintering Birds

Tony LePrieur photographed these birds on January 30 and 31, 2016.

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Pileated Woodpecker (female), a year-round resident of Fish Creek Park.

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Downy Woodpecker (male), a resident of Carburn Park.

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White-winged Crossbill (female or immature), an annual winter visitor to Queen’s Park Cemetery.

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White-winged Crossbill (male), Queen’s Park Cemetery.

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White-winged Crossbill (female or immature), Queen’s Park Cemetery.

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Varied Thrush (male), an occasionally overwintering bird, Fish Creek Park.

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Varied Thrush (male), Fish Creek Park.