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The end of Winter at Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

Posted by Dan Arndt

I know, I know. With the title of the last two Monday morning blog posts having to do with the beginning of spring, or the end of winter, you’d think it would actually be over by now, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, one last winter storm made our last outing with the Winter session with the Friends of Fish Creek live up to its name. Blowing snow, -12 degrees C temperatures, and a whole lot of ice on the river made it feel like an outing more in line with early January than the last day of March! The quantity of species seen though, did begin to look a bit more like spring. The number of waterfowl species that were laying over on the south end of the Bow River in Calgary certainly showed us that spring, indeed, was finally just around the corner. In fact, there was so much activity on the south end of our trek that I’ve had to blow up the usual map to give proper detail on where each species was seen!

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-out view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-out view
March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-in view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-in view
March 31, 2014

While few and far between, one of the first birds that I picked out on the water last week was one of a few Cackling Geese in amongst the Canada Geese. While superficially similar, they really do stand out when sitting (or standing) near their larger cousins. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Cackling Goose was identified as its own species, with 4 subspecies identified.

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

The presence of a few duck species typically associated with prairie ponds and sloughs spending their time on the river is also another sure sign of a changing of the seasons. Both the Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler were around in good numbers, but not too close. Even a single Trumpeter Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Trumpeter Swan March 31, 2014

Trumpeter Swan
March 31, 2014

 

Northern Pintail March 31, 2014

Northern Pintail
March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers
March 31, 2014

Our first real good looks at the first migrant shorebirds to come through were along this stretch of river. These Killdeer are really quite hardy little birds. It’s no wonder they can be so numerous throughout the Calgary area!

Killdeer March 31, 2014

Killdeer
March 31, 2014

In addition to the migrant waterfowl and shorebird species, there were also a couple of predatory birds around. A Merlin and Northern Goshawk made passes over us almost one right after the other, and we were treated to the disjointed yet beautiful song of this calling Northern Shrike for at least ten minutes before it was flushed by some dog walkers getting a bit too close.

Northern Shrike March 31, 2014

Northern Shrike
March 31, 2014

Our first good looks at Herring Gulls this season were also along this stretch, many of which flew quite close to us, and in some cases, seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of them!

curious Herring Gull  March 31, 2014

curious Herring Gull
March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight
March 31, 2014

I mentioned Killdeer earlier, and we did come across a much larger group of them, but only thanks to the eagle eyes of Gus Yaki, which he had on loan from an eagle who decided to sleep in that day. Can you spot the Killdeer in this picture? (Hint: There are five Killdeer in this image.)

Killdeer camouflage March 31, 2014

Killdeer camouflage
March 31, 2014

My first sighting of the next species of the day happened out on Vancouver Island over Christmas of 2013, and despite many trips out last spring in search of this species, and despite their relative abundance here in the spring migration, this was my first Eurasian Wigeon in Alberta. Again, a nice bird to see at the best of times. He seemed to be having a bit of a spat with his American relatives though…

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

We did also have a nice close look at a Redhead a bit further upstream, before things seemed to get a little bit too far off in the snow to get any good images, and yet, we did seem to have some Common Mergansers stalking us as we headed back up towards the start of our journey.

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Redhead
March 31, 2014

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Canada Goose (left) and Common Mergansers (right)
March 31, 2014

And that was it for our last week of the Winter Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek!

With the start of our Spring course next week, I’ll definitely be trying to not duplicate species that I get photos of each week, much like I tried to last year, with relatively good success.

Have a great week, and until next Monday, Good Birding

Spring arrives at Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Last week took the temperatures well above zero degrees C, and to another of the parks heavily impacted by the flood of 2013. Pearce Estate Park is just upstream from the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which is currently still closed due to the damage it sustained, and likely will be until the summer or fall of 2015. Each year, we usually visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary around this time in search for the first returning gulls of the season, and so we figured that Pearce Estate would also do us a solid and turn up some northward migrants, and we sure weren’t disappointed!

Pearce Estate Park March 16, 2014

Pearce Estate Park
March 16, 2014

Right from the start I knew it was going to be a good day when one of our first bird species seen were a pair of American Robins. It’s likely that they were either local migrants into the city, or overwintering birds dispersing as the temperatures rose. Unless we banded and tracked them, or attached a GPS transmitter to them, it’s hard to say for sure, but they were doing a good job gleaning something to eat from the tall grasses and low brush atop the hill just north of the parking lot.

American Robin

male American Robin

The calls of newly arrived European Starlings filled the park, along with the odd House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, and almost incessant calls of Northern Flickers asserting their dominance and claiming territory. Along the train bridge we ran into this punk rock Common Raven with his freshly stenciled grafitti.

Common Raven

Common Raven

Only a few moments later, we captured a pair of California Gulls, the first of the season for our group, flying by at a fairly low altitude, but fast enough that I only caught them moving away from us.

California Gulls

California Gulls in flight

On the ice down below was a lone Canada Goose, perhaps waiting for a mate to return, or just taking a breather on the iced up gravel bar.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Back on the pathway, this pair of Northern Flickers put on quite a show for us, flying to and fro and displaying at each other in a very long and drawn out territory dispute. I’m still not sure who the winner is!

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

It really seemed as if the area near the train bridge was the hub of our activity, as this male House Sparrow had been caught in the act of taking nest material back to one of the support struts for the bridge. Who’d have thought that’s where they’d make their home?

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

And once again back on the bridge we had some great views of the iridescence of the feral Rock Pigeons.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Down on the ice they were feeding on something that had likely spilled from rail cars earlier in the week, and this oddly colored brownish pigeon stood out from the rest.

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

We decided that we’d seen enough of the area around the bridge, and were delighted to get some close up looks at the European Starlings that we would have had to have been deaf to miss hearing. This male European Starling posed quite nicely for the group, and proceeded to remove filler from the hole that he and his partner had decided would be their nesting area for the year.

male European Starling

male European Starling

We headed downstream a bit to see if we could see any more gulls, and also to show how badly cut the banks near the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were. The damage was more extensive than I’d even imagined. Along the way we found a couple of Black-billed Magpie nests, and even saw a few of them taking materials to their nests to either build them anew, or to reinforce the structure that’s in place.

Black-billed Magpie at nest

Black-billed Magpie at nest

And so ends another week with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course! Next week, we recap our visit to Lafarge Meadows, where even more migrants have been found!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A Monday Two-fer: Bebo Grove (again!) and Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

The depths of the bitterly cold winter have finally subsided, and so I think it’s about time I get caught up on our last two outings.

Two weeks ago we headed to Bebo Grove in search of the Great Gray Owl, Barred Owl, and American Three-toed Woodpecker that had been seen there once again through the winter. We explored some of the back trails which I had never been on, but now that I know these areas exist, I’ll definitely be back, especially come summer!

Bebo Grove -

Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014

After a search where the Three-toed Woodpecker had been seen before, we moved deeper into Bebo Grove. As we crossed Fish Creek, this nearly adult Bald Eagle flew into the trees nearby, and was promptly mobbed by Black-capped Chickadees and a few Downy Woodpeckers before flying off once again.

Bald Eagle Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Bald Eagle
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

It was cold. Bitterly cold. The birds seemed distant, and few and far between, but sometimes the lack of birds will draw attention to some of the other features worth photographing. These grasses were poking up through the water of one tributary stream to Fish Creek, and had accumulated a good coating of frost on them.

Frost on Fish Creek Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Frost on Fish Creek
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

As we passed the area where the Great Gray Owl had been seen, we heard a single White-breasted Nuthatch singing away, and a little later, one of three Pileated Woodpeckers for the day flew by, and if we hadn’t turned at just the right time, we would have completely missed the fly-by.

Pileated Woodpecker Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Pileated Woodpecker
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

White-breasted Nuthatch Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

White-breasted Nuthatch
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

As we walked through another area I’d never explored before in search of the Barred Owl, we came up empty once again, but of course I did find something to shoot. There’s no point spending three hours in -30 degree weather unless you get some images to take home with you! This stand of aspen looked like a black and white photo as it was, and I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I never get tired of seeing row after row of them.

Aspen  Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/640sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 320

Aspen
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/640sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 320

From that point onward, things started getting busier and louder. Another pan through the grove where the Three-toed Woodpecker had turned up for others only turned up a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a few of both White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and our only Hairy Woodpecker we found that day.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hairy Woodpecker Bebo Grove - February 23, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Hairy Woodpecker
Bebo Grove – February 23, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The following week, we visited Carburn Park. This was the first time since the floods last year that I’d really spent any appreciable time in Carburn Park, so it was really quite striking to see the damage that had been done.

Carburn Park March 2, 2014

Carburn Park
March 2, 2014

Two weeks earlier, a Hermit Thrush had been seen here, but once again sub -30 temperatures kept the park quiet, and none of our attendees even came out, so Gus, Bob and I walked the park in a little over two hours.

The Bow River was full of life, much of which had only recently begun moving for the day. The Buffleheads were by far the most active of any of the birds on the river, diving again and again in search of food.

female Buffleheads Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female Buffleheads
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

As before in Bebo Grove, when things slowed down in terms of wildlife activity, nature provided. Shooting across the river at the opposite bank, hoarfrost coated the willows and smaller bushes beautifully.

Hoarfrost Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 160

Hoarfrost
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 160

Very few birds were present as we headed away from the river, but this Northern Flicker posed, um, interestingly, showing us what it really thought of the bitter cold. I do like the detail and color in the shafts of the flight feathers and the wispy body feathers.

Northern Flicker Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Flicker
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We even had to double-take when we began hallucinating and seeing mythical creatures, like this (very cold) unicorn Canada Goose.

female Buffleheads Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Unicorn (Canada Goose)
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

One thing that really stood out all along the floodplain in Carburn Park was the height of the flood debris, once again completely covered in hoarfrost, at waist level, looking for all the world like little frozen bird nests.

Frosted flood debris Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 200

Frosted flood debris
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 200

And as we finished up our walk, we did find one of the local celebrities here in Carburn Park in the form of a small herd of White-tailed Deer. Not only were there a few very docile females, but there was also a pair of males, one with a well established rack of antlers, while the younger looked like a sad impersonation attempt.

femaleWhite-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

femaleWhite-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

adult male White-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

adult male White-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

young male White-tailed Deer Carburn Park - March 2, 2014 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/125sec., ƒ/18, ISO 1600

young male White-tailed Deer
Carburn Park – March 2, 2014
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/125sec., ƒ/18, ISO 1600

Thanks for reading folks, and good birding! I’m very, very happy that the weather here in Calgary has made a significant turn for the better, and look forward to many migrants arriving in the coming weeks!

Travel Tuesday: Southern Alberta’s Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013-2014

Posted by Dan Arndt

There have been many articles published this year about the incredible, record-setting irruption of Snowy Owls in Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States. For example, over the span of one weekend in late 2013, over 300 individual birds were counted in Newfoundland. In a similar fashion to a story from last winter of a Snowy Owl being seen in Hawai’i (where it was unfortunately shot by USDA’s Wildlife Division), this year one was seen as far south as Bermuda!

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 2013

You can tell just from eBird that there are Snowy Owls all across Canada and the northern U.S., but relatively few make it further west into British Columbia.

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States
Sightings range from October 1, 2013 to February 10, 2014

Here in the Calgary area, we’ve been rather lucky as well, as this is the third winter in a row where we’ve been on the receiving end of a fairly large irruption. While I haven’t been out as much this year to search for them as I was last, I’ve still had some fairly good luck, netting four owls in a single day in November in the Beiseker area in mid-December, two owls at once in a single day around Frank Lake in late January, and six owls in a single day in the Blackie area in early February. Some local die-hards have even reported finding as many as fifteen (yes, 15) in a single, all-day trip southeast of Calgary.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

This map from eBird shows pretty much what one would expect given those numbers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to consider this the furthest westerly extent of the same population of Snowy Owls responsible for the massive numbers out east.

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past two weeks, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta in the winter of 2013-2014
Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past 30 days, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

One interesting thing discovered by Project SNOWstorm is that many of these Snowy Owls are in very good health, which goes against the common belief that these irruptions are the fallout from a crash in the lemming population on the tundra, leading starving owls to search further afield for suitable food to survive the winter. There are some others that suggest that this common belief may be completely erroneous, based on the research of Norman Smith, Tom McDonald, and other researchers in the U.S. and Canada.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

Of course, not all the Snowy Owls that make their way down here in the early winter will return north. Even those in great health that simply are unable to adapt to the food supply further south, those that have close encounters with power lines, vehicles, or other man-made hazards will simply be unable to return north due to injury or death.

Snowy Owl Frank Lake January 25, 2014

Snowy Owl
Frank Lake
January 25, 2014

You might have noticed as well that I tend not to label my Snowy Owl photos as male or female. Based on data collected from Scott Weidensaul and Norman Smith indicate that the usual conclusions of all-white individuals being older males, and heavily barred/marked individuals being young females may be much more complex than previously thought.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

One thing that is indisputable by any birder, photographer, or even someone who simply enjoys nature and all of its beauty, is that Snowy Owls are absolutely marvelous creatures, and always a treat to find, whether it’s the first one you’ve ever seen in your entire life, or the twentieth one you’ve seen that day. I’ll never get tired of photographing them, especially when they pose in front of such a nice backdrop!

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

Have a wonderful week, and good birding!

Expecting the unexpected in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

My first visit back to the Weaselhead Nature Area since the Christmas Bird Count in mid-December turned up a much different array of birds. I always seem to find that birding in the Weaselhead, no matter the time of year, comes in fits and starts. In the winter, this is even more pronounced, as there were times where we’d walked for twenty minutes between running into any birds whatsoever, let alone anything less common than a Black-capped Chickadee.

Weaselhead Nature Area February 2, 2014

Weaselhead Nature Area
February 2, 2014

Maybe it’s the abundance of birds at the start and at the end of this walk that sets the tone for the outings here. The first set of feeders were being visited by the usual Black-capped Chickadees, but with them were a trio of Downy Woodpeckers, a male and female Hairy Woodpecker, and half a dozen amorous House Finches, feeding and singing up a storm.

House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It was quite a sight to watch the female Hairy Woodpecker pick out a seed from the feeder…

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

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

… and then climb up the tree a short way, place the sunflower seed into the hole, and crack it open with a few rapid taps.

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

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

On our first pass of the feeders at the bottom of the hill, our only real bird of note was this White-breasted Nuthatch, “hank, hank, hank”ing away for no apparent reason, until a second male came into view before the two of them flew off in a scuffle.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

While we headed from there to our usual Boreal Chickadee grove, flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead, and we even had a pair of chance sightings of a Bald Eagle, and then a few minutes later, a Rough-legged Hawk, which bulked up our species count just a bit more for the day.

Upon arriving at the grove, Bob stopped the group abruptly to point out a single Brown Creeper feeding at the base of one of the larger spruce trees and I snapped off a couple of photos of this elusive species. I suppose like most of the other birds we found today, these birds simply don’t care what a groundhog says about the season, they know that it’s time to breed soon, and they need to collect their energy before things get into full swing!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We did also find a lone Boreal Chickadee after a few minutes of patience, but unfortunately it didn’t stick around long enough to pose for a photo. Shame!

And so began a long, quiet stretch of our walk. While we did have a few flocks of Black-capped Chickadees with the odd White- or Red-breasted Nuthatch thrown in, we observed no Northern Goshawks, no Merlins, no Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the largest Bohemian Waxwing flock we found deeper into the Weaselhead was a whopping four (yes, 4) birds.

It all paid off though once we began our trip back. While I was bringing up the rear of the group, the lead observers spotted a female Pileated Woodpecker, which we had seen earlier on in the walk, but this time she was much closer. She flew back into some deadfall, out of sight, and while the rest of the group trudged on, I thought I’d try my luck photographing her.

What do you think?

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And closer still.

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

By the time I reached the feeders again, the group was well ahead of me, and I wouldn’t catch up to them until we reached the end of our walk, but in the time since they had passed the lowermost feeders, a few surprises had moved in, in the form of a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos, a lone American Tree Sparrow, and a surprising first-winter White-throated Sparrow, picking through the seeds on the ground.

WT Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

I didn’t tarry too long, but thought I’d pause for a moment at another of the lower feeders, as this male Downy Woodpecker obliged me with a few shots while he finished his brunch.

Downy Woodpecker (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Downy Woodpecker (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

All in all, another very successful day, and while the light was flat and gray, the birds were accommodating, vocal, and up to no end of entertaining antics! Next week, we head into Bebo Grove in search of the American Three-toed Woodpecker!

Have a great day, and good birding!

 

Winter Birding Begins anew

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week’s walk begins the 13-week Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, and as with each course, we begin at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and introduced our attendees to the resident owls. It’s the charisma of these owls that we hope to bring back our students week after week, to hopefully see a number of other owl species, and educate them on the ins and outs of both birding, and avian behaviour. Both the male and female owl were a little bit shy today, but are still great subjects to shoot.

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

The day was all about contrasts. Contrasts between good light and poor, between warm weather and icy pathways, and between similar looking species. The first nice contrast that we got to see were the differences between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The longer bill, larger overall size, and lack of striping on the undertail coverts are a dead giveaway for the Hairy Woodpecker, while the male and female Downy Woodpecker have shorter bills, smaller sizes, and of course the banded undertail coverts.

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Another wonderful contrast, helped out by the clearing clouds and peeking sunlight as we neared the end of our walk for the day, were the differences between the Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye. While I’ve written about them both many times before, one thing that I have never really captured well is the iridescent quality of their heads in good light. The Common Goldeneye reflects a greenish iridescence from its head feathers, and the Barrow’s flashes a deep purple in the sunlight.

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And as we closed out the day, I felt it would only be appropriate to try to get another look at our first bird of the day, the male Great Horned Owl back at the headquarters. Doesn’t he look happy to see us again?

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and as always, good birding!

Christmas Bird Count Week 2013

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Calgary Christmas Bird Count is coming up this Sunday, December 15, and that means that we are now in the Count Week period.  Any species which are seen from December 12 to 18, but missed on the count day itself, are included in the database as Count Week birds.  Sometimes there are very good birds which are known to be around but can’t be found on count day, and sometimes it’s an unexpected bird showing up before or after the count. Even better is to find a good bird on the count day itself.

If you see an unusual or out-of-season bird during count week, and it is inside the Count Circle, make a note of the sighting (please get details about the bird and the time and place of the sighting – a photo also helps!).  If the bird is not reported on count day, pass the information about your sighting to us at Birdscalgary(at)gmail.com.

christmas-bird-count-circle

 Note that the circle doesn’t include the entire city.

There are many other Christmas Bird Counts in the Calgary area (and throughout North America). Check your area for a count and see if you can find an unusual species there.

Calgary-area counts listed here.

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats – An Eagle’s Paradise

Posted by Dan Arndt

Well… maybe paradise is overselling it a bit, but we did a good show from a few Bald Eagles on our outing this past Sunday! Three days this week the outings had been cancelled due to extreme weather and extreme cold. Unheard of for the hardiest of our leaders, but everyone has their limits! Unfortunately, the weather early this morning kept most of our participants away, so we headed off with three leaders and one hardy participant into the cold and the wind.

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

What started off as a cold, blustery and grey day turned into some amazing blue skies, much warmer weather than we’ve seen all week, and some great opportunities to get some action shots. Needless to say though, it took a little bit for everyone to get going, including some of the first groups of birds we saw. This backwater along the Bow River was completely full of mostly Canada Geese and a few Mallards for good measure.

Canada Geese in the backwater Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Canada Geese in the backwater
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Even the Bald Eagles looked completely unimpressed in the cold and the wind. The expressions of utter contempt for both us, and the hundred or so waterfowl just below them in the water, have led me to nickname these two as Hekyll and Jekyll.

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

As we turned back to follow the river bank southward, things started to pick up. The sun was making a serious attempt to break through the meager cloud cover to the south and east, and some of the birds began to show a few more signs of life. A third immature Bald Eagle was being chased (but not quite harassed) by the Common Raven keeping a keen eye on it from below.

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As the wind picked up a little, it caused the birds to begin to fly up-river, allowing some half-decent flight shots. Along with the wind picking up, the sun finally began to break through, and provided some great light for the remainder of our walk. First up, a male and female Common Goldeneye, flying by within a few minutes of each other.

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

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

female Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

female Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

A moment later, a female Barrow’s Goldeneye flew by, and a male of the same species broke away from the Canada Geese at the far shore and made his way into the middle of the river shortly after.

female Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

This group of Buffleheads touched down in the water about halfway into the river, showing off their bubble-gum pink legs. That’s one lucky male Bufflehead getting the pick of mates this winter!

male and female Buffleheads Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

male and female Buffleheads
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

And last but not least, this male Common Merganser flew by quite close, showing off his bright red bill and a hint of green in the head as the sun began to shine.

male Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

male Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We continued south along the river without seeing too much else of note, but shortly after we turned back on one of the inner pathways, this subadult Bald Eagle flew by behind us and alighted in a tree, closely tailed by a flock of scavenging Common Ravens, looking for whatever scraps they could manage to steal from the wary bird of prey.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

A couple of Black-billed Magpies even came in for a piece of the action. Or maybe just a piece of the Mallard.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

If there’s one thing I love most about winter birding in Calgary, I’d have to say that above the Snowy Owls, above the winter finches, and even above the odd vagrants we’re gifted with every couple of years, I certainly love seeing the influx of Bald Eagles the most. One of the groups this week in Beaverdam Flats recorded no less than ten (yes, 10) Bald Eagles in a single outing. While it’s not quite the same as the incredible numbers seen on both east and west coasts in the height of the season, it’s still an incredible treat to us landlocked city-slickers to have such unrestricted access to these regal and immensely powerful raptors.

That brings us to the end of our Autumn Birding Course for 2013. We’ll be picking back up in January again, but between now and then I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the Christmas Bird Counts I’m taking part in, as well as the various travels that I happen to find myself on this holiday season!

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Winter in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For the second week in a row, the weather cooperated with this past Sunday’s walk, giving us great light, good clear skies, and warm temperatures.

It’s always nice when we get chinooks here in Calgary, and today was no exception. Fewer layers make for a much more comfortable morning, and while we didn’t have the largest species count of the week, we arguably had the nicest day!

 

The Weaselhead - November 24, 2013

The Weaselhead – November 24, 2013

As you can probably tell from the map, the sightings were really concentrated between two areas of the Weaselhead. Near the parking lot at both the start and finish of our walk, and deep in the heart of the Weaselhead, concentrated primarily around a couple of special feeding stations.

I arrived about five minutes late for the Sunday walk, but it did allow me to capture a pair of species that didn’t really provide much in the way of good looks later on, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as this female House Finch inspected me as I was getting out of my vehicle, and just a short walk down the path while I was hoping to catch up with the group a Black-billed Magpie caught the light just perfectly to accentuate the iridescence normally hidden in its black feathers.

female House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

female House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It didn’t take me long to catch up with the group, and we stopped at the usual spots along the pathway leading down into the valley, but the sound of this male Downy Woodpecker tap-tap-tapping on the trunk of this small willow caught our attention. I just love how the backlight of the early morning sun accentuates the red on the back of his head.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

After watching a bit of a feeding frenzy by Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches at one of the first feeders, the birds quieted down quite a bit on our walk. A Blue Jay gave us a flyover near the first bridge, doing one heck of a job impersonating a Bald Eagle’s screams, and a few flights of Bohemian Waxwings had us looking at the tree tops to spot them alighted, but sadly we would have to wait.

One particularly eagle-eyed observer did happen to spot this male Northern Flicker sitting stock still in a poplar. I still have no idea how she spotted it. Can you?

male Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

male Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

Once we re-entered the thick woods though, we were once again greeted by the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees and more than a few Red Squirrels came for a bite to eat as well.

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

Red Squirrel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Red Squirrel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

While we waited at this spot for a good ten minutes trying to lure in a Boreal Chickadee, they were feeling rather shy today, with a pair of them coming in for a look at our group, make a few calls, and fly off again, despite my playing a few calls for them in an attempt to offer our group a half-decent look. For all our effort, only three or four of us got brief glimpses of them.

As we turned to leave the little grove, we stopped to check out a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings that flew in just as we were on our way out.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we packed in our search for our target species and began the trek back to the parking lot, I couldn’t resist taking yet another photo of our enthusiastic group, as well as the habitat of the Weaselhead as well. These photos were taken in an area that six months previously had been the home to a good number of Calliope Hummingbirds, who are now enjoying the warm weather of Mexico and Central America.

The Adventurers Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Adventurers
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

As we reached the top of the hill on our trek back, we finally had our first raptor sighting, with this 3rd year Bald Eagle flying high over the Glenmore Reservoir and into the distance. I particularly like the fact that it decided to wheel around to the southwest of us, giving a very nice background to shoot as well. For those earth science nerds out there like me (or those inclined to mountain climbing), those peaks are Mt. Cornwall on the left, and Mt. Glasgow on the right.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

It was also nice to get an overflight of Bohemian Waxwings (maybe even the same group I had shot earlier) as I was packing up my gear and putting it away in the jeep for the trip home.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Birds and Mammals of Fish Creek Park

All of the photos below were taken by Tony LePrieur in Fish Creek Park on November 3, 9, and 11.

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