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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

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Cooper's Hawk in flight

Cooper’s Hawk in flight

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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!

Barred Owl Baby

Here is a juvenile Barred Owl photographed by Kim Selbee near Bragg Creek, SW of Calgary, on September 13, 2016.

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Below is an adult Barred Owl Kim photographed two years ago in the Alder Park Loop, near Bragg Creek Provincial park, a short distance from where the juvenile was.

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Sunday Showcase: Birds of Carburn Park and IBS

Bird and mammal photos taken by Tony LePrieur on September 11, 2016. The Wood Duck and Great Blue Heron were at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and the rest were at Carburn Park.

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Osprey.

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Wood Ducks.

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Great Blue Heron.

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Belted Kingfisher.

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Wilson’s Warbler.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Merlin.

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Eastern Gray Squirrel.

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American Mink.

Do you have some bird photos you’d like to share? Send them to our email address and we may post them on the blog.

 

August Birds of Calgary and Frank Lake

Here are the last of Tony LePrieur’s summer photos from the Calgary area for this year.

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Great Horned Owls, Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile), Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

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American Beaver, Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

The remainder of the photos below were taken on the weekend of August 28, 2016, in Carburn Park and at Frank Lake.

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Cedar Waxwings (juveniles).

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Cedar Waxwings (juveniles).

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Downy Woodpecker.

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Western Grebes.

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Western Grebe.

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Solitary Sandpiper.

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Baird’s Sandpiper.

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American Avocet.

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Lesser Yellowlegs.

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

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

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

White-throated Sparriw

White-throated Sparrow

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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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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)

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 210mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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!

Mid-November in Pearce Estate Park – But I LOVE identifying gulls!

Posted by Dan Arndt

… said no one ever. I kid, I kid. There are a few die-hard larophiles (from the Latin larus, meaning gull, and the Greek philos, meaning to have a strong affinity for, to love, AKA people with WAY too much time on their hands) out there who spend dozens of hours each year picking through flocks of Ring-billed and California Gulls to pick out a rarity, but I certainly don’t have the patience for that. Some people draw the line at flycatchers, others at shorebirds, specifically peeps, but me, I draw mine at gulls.

Don’t get me wrong. Gulls are wonderful in their own way, but spending hours picking through hundreds of them for something a slightly lighter or darker shade of grey is not my idea of a fun time.

November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

As fall begins to cool and the ponds and creeks begins to ice over, there are a number of large gravel bars along the Bow River where gulls begin to accumulate in numbers. Our reason for visiting this park were specifically because a couple of uncommon gulls had been reported here resting among the dozens of Ring-billed Gulls. The three species we were here to find were the Thayer’s Gull, Mew Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. We did come up with the first two, but our Sunday group was a few days too late, as the Lesser Black-backed Gull hadn’t been seen since Wednesday.

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

This photo was taken through my Vortex Viper spotting scope using a PhoneSkope adapter and my Samsung Galaxy S5 built in camera. Can you spot the Mew Gull? I couldn’t for a good half hour. I’ve seen many Mew Gulls in British Columbia, usually associating with California Gulls but never among Ring-billed Gulls. I was expecting to find a gull with a bit of a lighter mantle, rather than darker. The Mew Gull is just a little bit to the left of center, resting with its bill hidden.

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Here’s a shot of the bird zoomed in a bit closer with its bill out. It’s now obvious that the bird is a shade or two darker than the Ring-billed Gulls on the mantle, and has a tiny, unmarked yellow bill. Again, the Mew Gull is the one just a little bit left of center with the round head and dark eye. A tough spot, to be sure!

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

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immature Herring Gull

immature Herring Gull

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We did get a good look at many of the other gulls, including this immature Herring Gull sitting on the remains of the old weir. It was particularly noticeable due to its large size, pink legs, and overall dark plumage, but that bill shape was also a good indicator!

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

And of course, here are a couple of the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls on the water. The low angle sunlight and the perfectly clear morning sky made it a bit tough to expose correctly, but it’ll be one of the last shots I would get of any gulls until late February or early March next year. It’s surprising every year how they just seem to totally disappear around the end of November and by the time the Christmas Bird Count rolls around, they’re almost a distant memory!

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

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Another great sighting that day was this immature Double-crested Cormorant, who gave us a fly-by and perched in a tree across the river shortly after. This would be the latest sighting of this bird I’ve ever had, and from other reports, it is apparently sticking around a bit further downstream!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

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

We headed a little west where earlier groups in the week had found a some Bald Eagles, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. At first, the immature eagle flew in to check us out, and a few minutes later the adult flew in and flushed the younger bird off. When I had visited the park earlier in the week, I noted that the gulls seemed to have a sixth sense for approaching eagles, flushing easily a full minute before they came into view from my angle. When you’re a gull you have to be on alert for predators, especially ones that can so easily take you out like a Bald Eagle can!

male Merlin

male Merlin

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

While we were watching the Bald Eagles, we spotted this male Merlin as he flew in with what appears to be a House Sparrow in his talons. Because this part of the park is adjacent to a large residential area, it wasn’t too surprising to hear and see the House Sparrows, it was a bit of a surprise to see this guy!

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We walked all the way back to the east end of the park where we watched this girl fly in and perch above us. I suspect she was watching the ground for voles, as she sat there staring at the ground for quite some time while we watched.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

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As we watched the Merlin, a couple of Black-billed Magpies flew in and began foraging on the ground, but also keeping a sharp eye on her. They spent a good amount of time keeping an eye on us as well.

Around this time, the traffic on the pathway started to pick up due to a running race, so we headed back in to the inside of the park.

distant Common Redpoll

distant Common Redpoll

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One of the birds we had heard flitting about overhead for most of the morning was a single Common Redpoll. Towards the end of our walk that morning it popped up into this shrub and perched for a few minutes, giving everyone good (but distant) looks at it. While this season is a pretty good one for these birds, I still haven’t had a chance to see one up close and personal.

male Mallard

male Mallard

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

On our way out of the park, we walked past a couple Mallards in the floating fen ponds near the entrance, showing off once again their bright green breeding plumage, curly black tail feathers, and complex browns and grays. It’s nice to see them back in full colors after a few months of seeing them in eclipse plumage!

And that’s it for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!