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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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

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

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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

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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

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Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

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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

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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

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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.

Winter Birding at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following the first outing to search for the continuing rare birds at Carburn Park, we headed to Bebo Grove in search of a possible return of the Northern Pygmy-owl from last winter, or maybe a Barred Owl, or a little less charismatic, but nonetheless interesting American Three-toed Woodpeckers. While we didn’t find any of those three species, we did find a few more elusive birds in some of the best upland boreal habitat you can find in the city of Calgary.

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Our morning got off to a relatively slow start, as our search for Bob, the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch turned up empty, as did our search through the picnic area for either American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker

male Pileated Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Even a trip to the edge of Fish Creek itself was quiet and uneventful, until a last minute glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker got our attention. We worked our way around the grove until everyone was able to get a good, unobstructed view of the bird, and as we left it there it was still working away on the same tree.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

::Aperture: ƒ/5.6|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

Across the creek we headed to a feeding station where a pair of Mountain Chickadees had been seen throughout the week. One little surprise, and always welcome, were a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets singing away in the trees. They displayed for a few minutes, and while we were watching and listening, we also heard our first Boreal Chickadee songs from the dense trees.

Around the corner was the Mountain Chickadee location, and this individual looked a little bit rough around the edges. While it was feeding quite vigorously on the provided sunflower seeds, it gave us quite a few good looks out in the open. We may have seen a second individual there, but never two at the same time, so none of us had any certainty about there being two birds.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

As we followed the creek east and north into the park, we nearly missed a trio of White-tailed Deer resting in the snow less than twenty meters off the path, but wide out in the open. It wasn’t until this young deer stood up and poked its head around the edge of the tree that we noticed it and the two older females nearby. These deer are in good numbers in the park this winter, and all appear to be relatively healthy!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

As we crossed Bridge 5 in search of Townsend’s Solitaires, owls, and other birds more common in the more open aspen stands north of the creek, we turned around to spot this young Bald Eagle soaring and circling above us on a thermal. With each circle it gained in elevation quite significantly, until it eventually reached its predetermined cruising altitude and it took off to the south.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/125s|

As we rounded out our morning in a particularly dense stand of spruce, we stopped at a particular feeding station which had been home to a rare overwintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, but try as we might, and wait as long as we did, it didn’t turn up for us to this location. We did have a good number of Black-capped Chickadees, and even had a few Boreal Chickadees turn up for a few minutes as the sun came out to greet them.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

A little later on we stopped to listen as a flock of birds suddenly appeared above the tree-line and perched across the creek from us. A large group of Bohemian Waxwings, our first of the day, perched in the sun high on the side opposite us.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Our last few minutes before we headed back to the parking lot to end the day was a search for some more American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers, and while we had some evidence of fairly recent activity, the best we came up with was this little Red Squirrel chowing down on some spruce cones.

Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just before Christmas I had to send my long lens (Sigma 150-500mm) in for repair, so am back to using my original birding lens, my Sigma 70-300mm. As such, I can’t get quite as close to the birds as I used to, but it does allow me to have a bit better control over framing more “artsy” shots, but also making do with what I’ve got to use, rather than relying on the reach of the lens to make the image better. I do hope that I managed to do that well with the few photos I was able to take on the Dinosaur Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count, and the annual New Years Day Fish Creek Provincial Park Bird Count.

While it’s a great area to bird in both the summer and winter, the day we headed out there (December 30) was bitterly cold, and it seemed that the birds were nowhere to be found. In previous years, there were a few groups covering the whole area, but this year Nick Bartok and I were the only two out on the count so we had to cover the entire count circle, giving us only enough time to see and hear the birds we could observe from the car. What that meant for us was that we would miss out on a lot of the smaller birds we usually would hear on a walked route, but it did mean we got to cover way more area.

The cold weather made shooting from the vehicle a little tough, with the heat distortion from the vehicle and from the heat radiating off the snow from the bright sunlight, but I managed a few shots.

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/5.6|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of the first good birds of the day was this Great Horned Owl that we stumbled upon while driving down one back road east of Patricia.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

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Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

By far, the most numerous birds that we found on the Dinosaur Provincial Park count were Sharp-tailed Grouse. They seemed to be everywhere in the trees and shrubs nibbling on the buds for their breakfast and lunch!

Back in Calgary, the Fish Creek Provincial Park New Years Day Bird Count was a little bit (but not too much!) warmer, but we got a few good birds to start off the year.

Great Horned Owl - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Great Horned Owl – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Brown Creeper - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Brown Creeper – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

At the Ranche, the usual pair of Great Horned Owls were present, along with a great opportunity to see the elusive Brown Creeper as the sun came over the horizon.

Sikome Lake - January 1, 2016

Sikome Lake – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 70mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

The snow covered poplars at Sikome Lake made for a great backdrop to see all these great birds.

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Mallards in flight - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards in flight – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 160|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

Bald Eagle - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Bald Eagle – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

The usual accumulations of waterfowl along the Bow River were no exception to the rule, and there were even a couple of great surprises in the water, including an American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and more than a few Common Mergansers. A couple of fly-bys of Bald Eagles flushed many of the birds up briefly, but they soon came back down into the water at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River.

American Robin - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

American Robin – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Hermit Thrush - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

Hermit Thrush – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

At the compilation lunch, Bob and I waited around to hear if there had been any particularly noteworthy observations, and when we heard that a Hermit Thrush and American Robins had been seen at the water outflow at Shaw’s Meadow, we headed over there right away. It took us a while of watching the American Robins and got to see them feeding in the water, and finally got a great look at the Hermit Thrush, but only briefly. Two shots later, it disappeared into the deep brush, but it was more than long enough to get a look at the bird, identify it, and snap a few frames.

While normally this post would be a recap of the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek outings, I was away for that first trip, so keep an eye out for my post next week for the birds from our second week out at Bebo Grove!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Christmas Bird Counting Part 1

Posted by Dan Arndt

This year I’ve taken part in a few Christmas Bird Counts so far, and still have two more to take part in this coming week. I’m breaking this post up into two parts mostly because I don’t know if I’ll get too many photos on these next two counts, but also because I’d have far too many to do it all in one post if I do manage to get some this week!

On Tuesday, December 15 I took part in the High River Christmas Bird Count, which was fairly warm, but also turned up some good birds. Our area came up with 22 species in 8 hours, but I didn’t really have the best opportunities to take many photos. The only three that were really any good were a shot of a male House Sparrow, a possible Hoary Redpoll (still needing confirmation of that ID, as this is the only shot I have of the bird, and a hardy little Muskrat that was foraging along the Little Bow River Canal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

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Muskrat

Muskrat

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Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

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That following Saturday I headed out to my usual area for the Canmore Christmas Bird Count, up near the Highline Trail and around Quarry Lake. I expanded some of my search area this year along the base of Ha-ling Peak and around the very edge of the bottom-most series of Spray Lakes reservoir. Sadly we didn’t have quite the number of species (or even the number of birds) as we had last year, and a few reliable species were not to be found either, so it was a little bit of a disappointing turn out until later in the day. A little after noon we found a good number of our birds down in and around the spruce and pine trees in the Rundleview neighborhood.

female Elk

female Elk

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Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

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Clark's Nutcracker

Clark’s Nutcracker

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Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

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Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

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A meandering drive home that afternoon ended up still missing out on a good number of additional species, but it was early to bed and early to rise for the Calgary Christmas Bird Count the following day, where we had a bit better luck. Once again we covered almost exactly 13 kilometers between 9 AM and 4:30 PM, and turned up the usual species, and while we had a couple of bonus bird species, the three we were specifically targeting, Purple Finch, Ruffed Grouse, and Northern Goshawk, were nowhere to be found. We did happen to find the only American Goldfinch found during the count, as well as a couple of definitive Hoary Redpolls, and of course had great looks at the Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and even a Northern Shrike made an appearance early in the day!

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

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Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

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Common Redpolls

Common Redpolls

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male House Finch

male House Finch

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Hoary (top) and Common (bottom) Redpolls

Hoary (top) and Common (bottom) Redpolls

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American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

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I hope your Christmas and New Year are just as happy as mine have been, and I hope to have many more birds to share with you in the New Year!

The end of another season in Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our final outing of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek took us to Carburn Park, in southeast Calgary. This is always a great part of the Bow River to find an abundance of waterfowl and occasionally some rare and unusual birds, and this year has been no exception.

Carburn Park - December 13, 2015

Carburn Park – December 13, 2015

I attended both the Thursday and the Sunday walks that week, because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the birds that had been seen, but also because I needed to know where they were being seen when I let the group on Sunday!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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Since I knew the area, I knew we’d be able to do a little detour to the south, and I was sure glad I did. At the bridge we spotted this young Bald Eagle flying upstream on the hunt, flushing many of the Mallards and Common Goldeneye before heading further north and out of sight.

male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

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female Red Crossbill

female Red Crossbill

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male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

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Down on the south end of the park, we came across a small flock of Red Crossbills, which can often be a hard bird to get close to, and we had plenty of time to get good looks at both the males and females of this species!

Killdeer

Killdeer

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Killdeer on the rocks

Killdeer on the rocks

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Given the warm autumn weather we’ve been having this year, we have had a fairly large number of Killdeer attempting to overwinter along the Bow River. Our high count was on Sunday though, when we counted 13 Killdeer on various parts of the river. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many of them together at this time of year, but if you look carefully, you can see why that might be. The first image above contains three of the little white, black and brown shorebirds, while the second image contains four. Can you spot them?

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

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For most of the week, the groups had seen at least one male Hooded Merganser, which we unfortunately missed on Thursday, but on Sunday there were two! While they were a bit far off, we also saw a female Hooded Merganser a bit later in the day. They are one of the most attractive waterfowl species that we have here in Calgary, and it’s nice seeing them all winter long.

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

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Another bird that we don’t always have here in big numbers through the depths of the winter, but have a good number of during the late fall and early spring are Cackling Geese. The smaller, daintier cousins of Canada Geese are often overlooked, but when you know what you’re looking for, they jump right out from the pack at you. On the left side of the photo, between two groups of larger Canada Geese, is a lone Cackling Goose. The smaller individuals are about the size of a Mallard, with a small, stubby bill and short neck, while the larger members of the species are still noticeably smaller than a Canada Goose, but drawing that distinction can be particularly tough.

White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

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White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

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This White-tailed Deer seemed quite comfortable with us walking within a few feet of where he was resting, and I really liked how the frost and the grass accented his natural camouflage.

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

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It’s not every day that you get to see both male and female Common Mergansers in such fine form, but when you have an opportunity like this you just can’t help but take it. The low angle light and natural beauty of these two were just impossible to resist.

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

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A very late Double-crested Cormorant

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

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As awesome as the rest of the morning was, these two birds are the reasons we were visiting the park. Usually, Pied-billed Grebes have flown south for the winter by mid-November at the latest. Double-crested Cormorants, on the other hand, are usually gone around the same time, and that one we had found a few weeks earlier at Pearce Estate Park was the latest I’d ever seen them sticking around here. It wouldn’t even surprise me if this was the same bird!

Barrow's and Common Goldeneye

Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye

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Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

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Of course when you find all of these great waterfowl species, you have an even better chance of finding some of the seasonally expected birds that we get along the Bow. Barrow’s Goldeneye can be identified by their half-moon shaped spot behind the bill, and that series of white spots along the wing.

And that’s the end of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek. I’ll be posting an update on the Calgary and Canmore Christmas Bird Counts early next week, but have a Merry Christmas and we’ll be back to regular outings in the New Year!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following our great excursion to Pearce Estate Park, we headed down to the Weaselhead as our first real cold snap started to descend upon Calgary. We did get a bit of a break in the weather by Sunday, and there were a good number of birds out enjoying the sunny day!

Weaselhead - November 22, 2015

Weaselhead – November 22, 2015

The Weaselhead has always been a good location to find the many winter finches that come south from the boreal forest to gorge themselves on the spruce and willow seeds in years when the cone crop up north is in a low cycle, and the crop here is at a peak. In non-finch years, we still will get the usual winter birds, including four species of woodpecker, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as great stand-bys.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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The older trees down in the Weaselhead are great places for the woodpeckers to forage, as they have plenty of nooks and crannies for insects to huddle up for the winter, and plenty of holes and crevices for the birds to spend their cold winter nights out of the elements as well. It’s a great give and take relationship that many of these birds have with their environment.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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The other side of the coin is that for years, there have been many different individuals who have put up feeders on many of the trees along the main pathway, which have become hotspots for finding the expected winter species, but the occasional overwintering rarity as well, such as American Goldfinches and White-throated Sparrows.

female House Finch

female House Finch

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While checking out the feeders, this female House Finch flew up and allowed all of us good views of her, which should have been a hint at what we were in for later on in the day! I rarely get good looks at House Finches, either males or females, as they always seem to be actively foraging, flying, or singing high up in the trees with lots of branches in the way.

American Robin

American Robin

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The warm weather had also allowed for some larger flocks of some of the American Robins that choose to spend the winter here in Calgary. We had fifteen (yes, 15!) of these typical “spring” birds here that day, but that’s not unusual at all. During the Christmas Bird Count each year, we usually record double digits of American Robins throughout the city, usually in some of the warmer microclimates around small creeks, springs, and outflows around the city.

male House Finch

male House Finch

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female House Finch

female House Finch

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Down at the bridge that crosses the small channel that feeds into the Elbow River, our day got a lot more exciting. Not only did we get great looks at another female House Finch, but we spotted this male that looks to have quite the Flames themed dye job in his facial markings. These male House Finches that show a little more orange, and sometimes even yellow in their normally red coloration tell us a bit about what they’re eating. The red pigments that House Finches normally show have found their way into the finch by what it’s been eating. Those that are a bit more yellow or orange simply aren’t eating as much of that red pigment in their food, and so look just slightly different to us. The other finches really don’t seem to take notice of the difference either way though.

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak and male House Finch

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male Pine Grosbeak

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Along with the House Finches, a fairly large flock of Pine Grosbeaks were in attendance at the bridge, hopping above, below, and all around both sides of the bridge. You can really see just how much bigger the grosbeaks are than their smaller cousins in that first image.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

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Unfortunately, once we headed a little further west from the bridge, everything seemed to quiet down and disappear. It wasn’t really that birdy, but there were at least a few Red Squirrels hanging about to pose for the camera.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

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We also found quite a few Bohemian Waxwings on that outing. These birds tend to trickle into the Calgary area as the fall and winter progress, until all of a sudden there are thousands of them all over town!

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immature or female Pine Grosbeaks

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male Pine Grosbeak

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On our way back at the bridge and finishing up our day, we found a few more Pine Grosbeaks perched high up in the spruce trees, almost displaying their deep, vibrant colours. I just can never resist taking photos of these guys and gals. They’re one of the best winter birds we get here, and so many birders consider them the iconic “Christmas bird”.

And that was another week out with the Friends of Fish Creek!

Just a couple more weeks of blog updates until the New Year and a whole new Winter Birding Course!

Have a great week, and good birding!