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Western Meadowlark Singing

Gavin McKinnon photographed this Western Meadowlark singing on a fence post at Weed Lake, SE of the city, on April 30.

Western Meadowlark, Weed Lake, April 30, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnon.

Unfortunately, Meadowlarks are hard to find in the city, but a trip a short distance out of town on the prairies will usually produce some of these beautiful singers. Weed Lake is immediately east of Langdon, 26 km east from Stoney Trail on Glenmore Trail.

Like Ethan Denton, Gavin is another accomplished young birder. He has a blog at Canadian Birder. Gavin has teamed up with Ethan to raise money for the Great Canadian Birdathon. You can sponsor him here.

 

Global Big Day, May 13, 2017

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Tomorrow, Saturday May 13, is the third annual Global Big Day, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The hope is that birders all over the world will go out that day and report as many species as they can.

Can you find a Long-eared Owl on the Global Big Day? Fish Creek Park, November 7, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

In 2016, 15,953 birders in 145 countries contributed 43,848 checklists, and recorded a total of 6,263 bird species. Your individual contribution this Saturday is important in preserving a record of our local bird life. Here’s how to make your sightings count.

There will also be a random draw from everyone who submits at least three complete checklists on May 13, with the winner getting Zeiss Conquest HD 8X42 binoculars.

The results are already coming in from the Eastern Hemisphere, and you can watch the worldwide results as they come in here.

The Cornell Lab’s team of birders is raising money by trying to find 300 species of birds in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in twenty-four hours. You can sponsor the Cornell Big Day team here.

Locally, many birders are making a special effort to get out and put in their three checklists. Dan Arndt and a few others are actually doing a Calgary Region Big Day, trying to see as many species as they can within the local 80-km radius birding circle. You can follow Dan’s progress and see how many species they have (and perhaps learn where some really good birds are located) by following him on his Twitter account. Dan’s handle is @ubermoogle, so follow him, or go to his page on Twitter to see what he posts.

Sandhill Crane Migrating Over Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here’s something you don’t see very often: a Sandhill Crane flying over the city.

Sandhill Crane, South Glenmore Park, April 29, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Sandhill Cranes can be seen in huge numbers on their northward migration if you go well east of the city on the prairies. Dan Arndt photographed huge flocks in the Castor area on April 4th. See his Flickr page here. These birds do nest in the Calgary area, near Bragg Creek and in the Water Valley area, so you can see a few in those areas even in mid-summer. But they are not often seen in Calgary.

To see more of Max Ortiz Aguilar’s photos, see his website.

Brown Thrasher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Brown Thrashers are rather late migrants, usually arriving in the Calgary area in mid-May or even late May, as do their Gray Catbird cousins. The bird shown here was one that actually overwintered here this year. It was first noticed before Christmas 2016 in Airdrie by Heinrich Lohmann.

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, January 16, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

The bird was coming to a feeder in Heinrich’s yard and continued to do so into March of this year. The photo below was taken on March 10th, and the bird was last seen on March 11th. It may have moved on to its summer territory then, getting a big jump on its migratory rivals (although if so, it will have a bit of wait for any females to arrive back).

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, March 10, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

It’s not unheard-of for Brown Thrashers to overwinter in Alberta. One was seen in Calgary in December 2015 and (I believe) one in Canmore later that winter. One was seen north of Edmonton in February 2015. Of course, these birds are at high risk when spending the winter so far north. Their normal winter range is in the SE United States. As I said, a bird that successfully overwinters here will get first choice of breeding territories. But it’s also possible that birds that overwinter are only doing so because they were sick or injured during the migration period, and were unable to head south.

In any case it’s always interesting to see a “summer” bird here in mid-winter.

Summer Birding in Western Canada

Mike Resch, a birder from Massachusetts, visited Alberta and British Columbia last summer, and wrote about the trip on his blog. It is a very enjoyable read with lots of good photos, so I thought that local birders would enjoy reading about his trip, and maybe be inspired to visit some of the locations that Mike explored last year.

Rufous Hummingbird, Highwood House, June 2016. Photo by Mike Resch.

There are three posts on Mike’s blog, State Birding. First there is a summary of the whole trip, on Western Canada Birding Trip, June 2016. Then there are detailed posts about the Alberta portion, Alberta Birding Trip, and the BC portion, British Columbia Birding Trip.

I hope you enjoy reading about Mike’s travels here, and look forward to summer so you can go to some of these places yourself.

Note: Mike’s ten-day trip was from June 20-29, 2016. So on his blog June 20 is Day 1, June 21 is day 2, etc.

Twelve Birds of Christmas

Bohemian Waxwing by Dan Arndt.

Black-capped Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Dan Arndt.

White-winged Crossbill by Tony LePrieur.

 Pileated Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Pine Grosbeak by Tony LePrieur.

Golden-crowned Kinglet by Tony LePrieur.

Boreal Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Downy Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Dark-eyed Junco by Dan Arndt.

Brown Creeper by Dan Arndt.

Common Redpoll by Dan Arndt.

Sunday Showcase: Bow Valley Birds

Michael Kim is a 13-year-old photographer from Canmore. He has been taking photos of wildlife in the Bow Valley, and here are some of his pictures from last summer and fall.

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Belted Kingfisher, Canmore, September 8, 2016.

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Great Horned Owl, Canmore, October 2016.

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Bald Eagle, Lac des Arcs, August 1, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 1, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 2, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 3, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 4, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 5, 2016.

Sunday Showcase: Ruffed Grouse; Pileated Woodpecker

Tony LePrieur got this close-up photograph of a Ruffed Grouse west of Calgary, and this Pileated Woodpecker in the city, both on the weekend of October 30, 2016.

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Ruffed Grouse.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male).

 

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 440mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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!