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Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on March 15, 2015 was a bit chillier than we’ve been accustomed to the past few weeks, but it didn’t dampen our spirits on the slightest. In fact, we had quite a few new spring arrivals to keep us busy in the park, and to keep our eyes and ears attentive all morning long!

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes just the right light and the right conditions to make a relatively normal and common bird stand out. It was no different with the Mallards we saw occasionally at their namesake area in Fish Creek Provincial Park. With their bright green iridescent heads, bright yellow bills and curly tail feathers, they do take on a character of their own in the spring!

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were also greeted along our walk by quite a number of American Robins feeding in the nearby trees. Some on some Mountain Ash, some on local crab apple trees, and a few just sitting pretty and singing away. It’s really nice to see these guys back again! Pretty much all of the American Robins we found were males, which is exactly what we’d expect this time of year as they return from their overwintering grounds and establish territories. It’s usually the first early birds on the block that get the most coveted territories, so for them it pays to stay as close to ones own breeding grounds as possible. While many non-birders consider them the true harbinger of spring, it’s a well documented fact that there are quite a few of them that spend the winter right here in Calgary!

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for us to have any gulls stick around over winter. They usually depart in mid- to late- November and return in early March. The two species that tend to show up the soonest are both the Ring-billed and the California Gull, both of which were present on the Bow River on our walk that Sunday morning.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

California Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

California Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were delighted to find a couple of surprises on our walk though as well, the first being a lone Song Sparrow, giving chip calls and high pitched “seep” calls while it foraged under the overhanging sections of the river bank, and in a small willow nearby. While it didn’t sing, it did respond to both pishing and a quick call playback by popping up into view allowing a few of us to get both good looks, and a few good close pictures of it!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The second was a White-throated Sparrow hanging around a yard full of typical feeder birds, both House Sparrows and House Finches. Once again it was the diagnostic chip notes that made its presence known to us, and it did take a little while to pick it out from the underbrush. Once we had it found though, a little playback of chip notes and a bit of pishing brought it out into the open as well!

White-throated Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the last leg of our journey one of our group drew our attention to a hawk-shaped outline in the trees bordering on the edge of the park. Its large size and relatively identifiable coloration pointed out the species to us right away, it’s just unfortunate that a couple of walkers passed right underneath it and flushed it from its perch just as we were getting into the open. Hopefully you can make the ID on this bird as well as we were able to!

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It seems like every week more and more birds are arriving back in our beautiful city, and soon the leaves will be out on the trees and the warblers, vireos, and flycatchers of summer will be nesting, laying eggs, and raising their young!

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

Mammals abound at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing at Votier’s Flats was rather incredible. With extremely warm, spring-like temperatures, it seemed that things were really going to start picking up. Mammals were all active and out of their winter slumber (or at least their winter shyness), and a few birds even looked like they were preparing to begin their preparations for nesting!

Votier's Flats March 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats
March 8, 2015

Early on, I got separated from our group and took a little detour, only to find one of the White-tailed Deer that are resident to this area of the park stopped right in the middle of the pathway in front of me. I probably should have taken this as a cue that a group of fifteen people hadn’t just walked by this way, but what can I say? Daylight Saving Time had just occurred the night before, and maybe I was a little bit tired from losing an hour’s sleep. Either way, this deer didn’t really even seem to mind my presence this close to her, so I took the opportunity to take a portrait.

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

After a few missed directions and a bit of miscommunication, I did finally find our group just as this little American Mink came out of hiding and scampered across the ice in front of us.

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The morning was still quite good for birds though, but it seemed that being out and about so early in the day made the mammal observations come rapid fire. Around the corner and a little west from where we spotted the mink, we found this Snowshoe Hare, entirely frozen in place as we walked by, only to run off as soon as the last of our group passed by it.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we came out of the woods and into a small clearing, we had some great views of a Townsend’s Solitaire, who responded quite readily to a recorded call, giving us some of the best views any of us had ever had of this beautifully grey bird.

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

We walked for a while in the mixed woods of this part of Fish Creek Provincial Park seeing or hearing the occasional distant woodpecker, raven, or flyover of geese, but we did stop for a few minutes below Raven Rocks to observe a few Canada Geese who appeared to be picking out nest spots right on the edge of the sandstone outcrops of the Porcupine Hills formation.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose on the rocks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we reached the westernmost part of our walk before turning and heading to finish out our day, we scanned the trees for Northern Pygmy Owls, Northern Goshawks, or any of the other typical birds we find in that area, and sure enough we found an immature Northern Goshawk flying far above us, circling a nearby neighborhood.

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

The many and varied signs of spring at Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week in Fish Creek and the signs of spring were all around us. While the morning was the coldest one of the week, topping out at -2 Celcius, the starlings were practicing their imitation calls, the Great Horned Owls were comfortably hunkered down in their nests, and the waterfowl were courting in preparation for the breeding season to come.

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

Our goals were to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls in the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, hopefully see some other waterfowl and early migrants along the river, and whatever else we might find in our travels.

We found one of our first targets less than fifteen minutes after our walk started. After checking out the waterfowl near the boat launch, we headed west into the grove of trees near Sikome Lake, where for the last five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have successfully fledged two or three owlets each year. While mom was well hidden, we did find dad out on one of his regular roosts a few dozen meters away from the usual nest site with a good view of the surrounding area. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t see him, and kept peeking one eye open from time to time as we walked by.

Great Horned Owl (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We did a loop around the east edge of the lake looking for a shrike, woodpecker, or nuthatches, but found relatively few small birds in their usual spots that morning, and it wasn’t until we got down to the bridges over the Bow River that we finally found something worth shooting. The Rock Pigeons nest under this bridge every year, and it’s one of the most reliable places in the park to find this urban species. They are quite often overlooked as “trash birds”, but they still have some rather amazing coloration on their breast feathers.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

As has been fairly regular this winter, we did get a flyover of a few Bald Eagles along our walk. As these eagles would fly over, the reaction from the waterfowl on the river would be quite varied. In some cases, only a couple would flush up off the water, but when a hungry eagle would pass over, the river would be almost entirely devoid of birds a few moments later. It’s amazing that they can tell whether the eagle is actively hunting, or just passing through at that distance. Does this Bald Eagle look like a hungry one, or a sated one to you?

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We also found a pair of Common Ravens putting together a nest in the same tree where they had nested the last few years. Whether these are the same pair as before, one of their offspring, or just another pair nesting in a particularly enviable nesting location, it was great seeing them going through the motions of preparing their nest for the year.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Coming back under the bridge, we also spotted the male Common Goldeneyes displaying for the few females that may still be unpaired, and among a small group of Common Goldeneye, a single immature Barrow’s Goldeneye stood out from the rest.

Common Goldeneyes displaying Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneyes displaying
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow's (middle) Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow’s (middle) Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Once we were done our loop at the south-east end of the park, we headed up toward the Headquarters building to find a second pair of Great Horned Owls, and to see if we could find any of the early arriving waterfowl that we missed out on a few weeks ago.

We did (barely!) find the Great Horned Owls in this area as well, though the female was very well hidden!

Great Horned Owl (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We walked over to the river after coming up with our second owl pair of the morning, and as we came over the rise, this is what we saw.

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Can you spot the pair of Lesser Scaup? We also spotted the male Northern Pintail that has been hanging around this area for what might have been all winter long. A handsome male in full breeding plumage disappeared on us a few times as we worked on finding it and re-finding it for the time we were there scanning the group!

Northern Pintail (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Northern Pintail (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

And that’s another week down before the real spring migration blitz comes our way! Have a great week, and good birding!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Spring Birding Course 2015

The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.

Spring Birding Course 2

Birds of the Boreal in Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.

Shannon Terrace - February 8, 2015

Shannon Terrace – February 8, 2015

We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.

male Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.

There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.

Northern Goshawk pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.

Pine Grosbeaks Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Pine Grosbeaks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and good birding!

Calgary Birding Podcast

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A welcome addition to the Calgary birding community is the Wild Bird Watcher site. This blog, by Brian “Hurricane” Smith, is dedicated to birding in Calgary. The blog consists mostly of interviews with local birders, and occasionally with experts from out-of-province. The interviews are in the form of podcasts (short audio files) that you can listen to right on the site, or download to your computer.

Wild Bird Watcher logo 343 pix by 124 png

Recently there was an interview with Nature Calgary president Andrew Hart, and there is a new interview with our own Dan Arndt. Be sure to go to the home page and go through the archives and listen to previous interviews as well. The blog was started in September 2014, and there are nine podcasts so far. You can also subscribe to the blog so you get email notifications of all new posts.

Brian Smith is a long-time professional in audio and video production, broadcasting, and voice work, and this shows in the high quality of the podcasts.

The podcasts are sponsored by the Wild Bird Store, Calgary’s only store dedicated solely to wild birds.

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.

cold and frosty Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

cold and frosty Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.

frosty Bow River landscape Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

frosty Bow River landscape
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.

Common Goldeneye display Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Goldeneye display
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.

Common Raven in hoarfrost Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Common Raven in hoarfrost
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

male House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

male Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

male Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

Baltimor Oriole nest Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Baltimor Oriole nest
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

male Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

Common Goldeneye in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

A relatively quiet morning at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our visit to Bebo Grove last Sunday was rather quiet for much of the morning, with a flurry activity for the last hour or so. Early on, we heard the odd Black-capped Chickadee here and there, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an occasional Downy Woodpecker. The light was good, and the weather was relatively clear, which made for an enjoyable trip through the park, but it would have been nice if we’d had better luck with any of the birds we were there to see!

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We walked through the picnic area a couple of times, at one point flushing what we were certain was a Great Grey Owl, crossed the river to search through the dense spruce in the south side of Fish Creek, and came up entirely empty except for the same bird species we’d heard earlier. We crossed back over the river and that’s when things really started to take off. We found a small mixed flock of birds spread out throughout the picnic area, including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches (including a partially leucistic male), a perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, and a handful of Boreal Chickadees mixed with the Black-capped Chickadees.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

As we searched through the east end of the picnic area, we found a very friendly little female Red-breasted Nuthatch chowing down on some seeds we’d left out for it.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Of course as we rounded out the day, I decided to stop by the local celebrity owl to snap a few photos for the blog. On any given day, this bird is relatively easy to spot since there’s usually a dozen or more people surrounding it trying to get the perfect photo. While I’m no expert on stress indicators in owls, I can’t help but think that the constant attention is having some negative impacts on it, so I decided to just snap a couple of photos from a couple of angles and move on, and boy am I glad I did!

Northern Pygmy-owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Northern Pygmy-owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Walking back towards Bridge 3 with Paul Turbitt and atop a small spruce on the other side of the river I spotted this little tuft of feathers. Sure enough, it was a second Northern Pygmy-Owl!

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

This was one of those 1 in a thousand situations when you raise your binoculars to check out that a spot on top of a tree which turns out to be a little branch, or clump of spruce cones, or cluster of leaves. It pays to keep looking up!

This little owl flew in close to us as we spotted it and set up in a tree right above us.

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We sat and observed it for a few minutes before some Black-capped Chickadees took note of it and decided to try to chase it off. Within moments, this cute little ball of feathers went from this:

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

To this:

Northern Pygmy-owl in "Tall Thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in “Tall Thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in "tall thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Pygmy-owl in “tall thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Moments later, it flew off deeper into the woods as the chickadees gave chase. It was really quite an incredible encounter, and it’s one of the reasons to get out and explore the great parks in this city!

Have a great week, and good birding!