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New Spring Migrants at Bowmont Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week of spring arrivals and a few surprises at Bowmont Park made for a great outing last week. While most of the pathways near the river had been damaged by the flood, we elected to take the high road (literally!) and walk along the upper ridge of the park before descending down to the always  bountiful ponds before walking back along the base of the hillside, turning up quite a few more great birds. Enjoy!

Bowmont Park May 18, 2014

Bowmont Park
May 18, 2014

While we are always on the lookout for any number of bird species, it’s always really nice to find some flowers in bloom. This group of Prairie Crocus was one of the few we saw on this hillside, and from what others in the group mentioned, they were blooming a little late!

Prairie Crocus Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Prairie Crocus
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

There was another group of Say’s Phoebes at the west end of the upper slope, but something on the horizon caught my eye flying down the Bow River being harassed by a group of American Crows. I had initially thought it was just another Common Raven, like we’d seen before. but as we watched the crows trail off and leave this soaring bird to close on us, we noticed white primaries, a pink head, and that is seemed really intent on simply soaring above either the Bow River, or Highway 1 before spiraling up and out of sight on a thermal. It was an unmistakable bird, but not one I’ve seen often around Calgary, and never before within the city limits. A Turkey Vulture!

Turkey Vulture Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Turkey Vulture
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

This particular hillside was great for our group, as we also spotted this urbanized coyote in the distance, and when we reviewed our photos afterwards, noted that it was tagged and radio-collared, likely as part of this study being put on by the City of Calgary and the University of Calgary.

Coyote Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Coyote
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

We soon descended into the heavily wooded pathways down below and were completely pleased with the next group that popped up that have been seen in huge numbers around the Calgary area this spring, the Western Tanager. Both males and females in equal number, this group of four flitted about above us, and a few of them even came really quite close to provide great looks!

Western Tanager Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Western Tanager
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

So after some good time spent with these beautiful, colorful birds, we headed to the ponds. A kindly Belted Kingfisher flew from perch to perch, giving its signature rattling call while hunting for minnows in this well established pond. Just as we were preparing to leave, a Common Yellowthroat (which we saw here last year as well) decided to make a brief call and pop out to the pond and take a drink!

male Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Common Yellowthroat Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Common Yellowthroat
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Another traipse through the woods near the ponds turned up a few more Western Tanagers, a Cooper’s Hawk sitting quietly on her nest, and this pair of Downy Woodpeckers who are well on their way to starting a family of their own.

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

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

And as a great end to a great walk, we managed to come across our first House Wren of the year as well, singing in the trees nearby, and as we approached, she decided to come out and tell us exactly how she felt about us being nearby!

House Wren

House Wren
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Thanks again for reading, and good birding! Have a great week!

Bankside to Mallard Point – A one-way trip into spring

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s visit to Fish Creek Provincial Park’s northeast corner was a beautiful, sunny, and bird-filled day. We managed to just tick 50 species in a little over three hours, though photos were few and far between, as most of the birds were highly active in their foraging endeavors and didn’t sit still. Despite that, the few I did manage to capture were quite memorable, (and all new species for my blog posts for the course, as I promised earlier!) Enjoy!

Bankside to Mallard Point (plus the Burnsmead Ponds) - May 11, 2014

Bankside to Mallard Point (plus the Burnsmead Ponds) – May 11, 2014

As usual for this route, we met up at the Mallard Point parking lot and car-pooled down to Bankside, giving us some time up near the bushes at the parking lot to tally up 15 species before we even really got “started” on our walk. Blue Jays, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and even a Wilson’s Warbler made for good sightings before the start of our walk. One stop we made as well to add on a few more year-birds for the group were the ponds at Burnsmead, where this Northern Shoveler and his mate were displaying their colors quite proudly, along with about a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds!

Northern Shoveler (male) Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Shoveler (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

As our walk began in earnest at the Bankside parking lot, we headed down towards the river bank and heard our first Ring-necked Pheasant of the day, as well as many Lincoln’s, Song, and Savannah Sparrows, more than a few of which we even had great looks at. We also found both a Red-naped and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker right near the parking lot, but the Yellow-bellied was the only one to stick around for some photos.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The Savannah Sparrows nearly drowned everything else out in the area surrounding the pathways, almost drowning out the calls of a pair of distant White-crowned Sparrows. This little fellow was singing away to his heart’s content just six feet away from the end of my lens.

Savannah Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Savannah Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We walked onward and found a few raptors right after each other, first a Swainson’s Hawk, then a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, and finally a Great Horned Owl in a spot where we hadn’t ever seen one before. Must have been some good eating around this area earlier in the year. He’s likely raising a family somewhere on Poplar Island right now! This was also the area where we got a brief look at a Western Tanager, and a really nice close approach by a Lincoln’s Sparrow pausing for a drink of water.

Lincoln's Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Lincoln’s Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

As our walk neared its end, we finally, after a few solid hours of tacking on species after species, were allowed the briefest of views of one of the male Ring-necked Pheasants that we’d heard calling throughout the morning. Hopefully I can get a better shot later this season, because this one is terrible!

Ring-necked Pheasant Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Ring-necked Pheasant
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Good birding! Just remember, by the time you’re reading this on Monday morning, (Victoria Day here in Canada), I’ll be out with Nature Calgary’s annual field trip to find 100 species in the Calgary city limits… in the rain!

South Glenmore Park and the last gasp of winter

Posted by Dan Arndt

While I was away for Sunday morning’s walk, I spent some time on the following Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening visiting the reservoir and seeing what I could see. While I didn’t get any trees full of Tree Swallows, or violet-greens full of Violet-green Swallows, I did manage to get up close and personal with a number of beautiful species around the reservoir on both the north side and south side, and also managed to spot a new lifer, and an incredibly rare bird for Alberta! Unfortunately, I don’t have as much of a story to tell, as I was out by myself and spent quite a bit of time just sitting and waiting for the birds to either come to me, or allow me to get just a little closer.

Glenmore Reservoir

Glenmore Reservoir

In anticipation of knowing I wasn’t going to be around for the weekend walk, I did spend a little time at both North and South Glenmore Park, trying to capture some of the birds that I was certain we would see. On May 2, I headed to the ponds at North Glenmore Park for a little bit, where I found a few more Say’s Phoebes who allowed me much better opportunities for photographs, and a pair of Killdeer who were courting.

Killdeer North Glenmore Park May 2, 2014

Killdeer
North Glenmore Park
May 2, 2014

Say's Phoebe North Glenmore Park May 2, 2014

Say’s Phoebe
North Glenmore Park
May 2, 2014

I thought I’d share a photo of how I spent my Saturday night and Sunday morning, just so you know I wasn’t shirking my duties… it was definitely a challenge to stay warm under these conditions!

Shelter made from two tarps with my sleeping bag inside. Brr.

Shelter made from two tarps with my sleeping bag inside. Brr.

So once my Sunday trials were over and done with, I decided that the sudden squall of snow would make for some great birds at South Glenmore Park, where others had posted photos of hundreds of swallows in a single tree online, while others were reporting huge numbers of Western Tanagers at their feeders and at various parks around Calgary. I did get up close and personal with some swallows, but I also found a few obliging grebes, and a nice flyby of a young Herring Gull to boot!

immature Herring Gull South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

immature Herring Gull
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Western Grebe South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Western Grebe
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Horned Grebe South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Horned Grebe
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

And watching these swallows feeding on the surface of the water was mesmerizing. They would fly back about 100-200 meters, and slowly, against the slight wind, work their way back to the point I was sitting on before peeling back and repeating the process over and over and over again. It was really quite the sight!

Tree Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

The next night I got a call from another friend down at the reservoir who had found Alberta’s 5th (or 6th?) record of a Slaty-backed Gull on one of the sand bars. These guys are rarely seen in Calgary, and usually breed up in the high Arctic, so to get one here is really quite an accomplishment!

Slaty-backed Gull amongst Herring and Franklin's Gulls Glenmore Reservoir May 7, 2014

Slaty-backed Gull (larger, dark mantled gull beside Franklin’s Gull left of centre) amongst Herring and Franklin’s Gulls
Glenmore Reservoir
May 7, 2014

 

And with that, that wraps another week of birding in Calgary’s amazing, and surprising, spring migration!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Carburn Park Part 2: The Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the areas of Carburn Park that we visit a little less often are the flats and backwater ponds south of the main parking lot, and even further south of the Eric Harvie bridge all the way down south to the Ivor Strong Bridge where Deerfoot Trail crosses the Bow River (again). Last week’s outing was really quite incredible. Three new species that I’d never seen on the Friends of Fish Creek outings, and two that I’d never seen within the city limits before, which was really quite a treat! Enjoy!

Carburn Park south of the Eric Harvie Bridge April 27, 2014

Carburn Park south of the Eric Harvie Bridge
April 27, 2014

As we started out, we headed over to the spot where we saw the North American Beaver last week, and were greeted by a small flock of hunting Yellow-rumped Warblers, a few of which stopped to pose for some nice photos.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We headed across the Eric Harvie bridge in search of a number of Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, and a few other distant birds, but one of our surprising visitors flew overhead, and in the moment, I correctly, then incorrectly identified it. My gut instinct off the bat was to call this beauty a Ferruginous Hawk, but after a moment I changed my ID to a Red-tailed Hawk. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I was right in the first place after all, but Ferruginous Hawks aren’t really the most common bird in the Calgary area!

Ferruginous Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Ferruginous Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

This immature Red-winged Blackbird was still showing quite a bit of rusty edging on the scapulars and secondary flight feathers, indicating that this is an immature male.

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

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

We headed further south along the trails and happened upon the first American White Pelican that our group would see for the year. The crest on the mandible indicates that this is a male, and he seemed content to just snooze away the morning.

American White Pelican Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

American White Pelican
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

In the trees nearby were a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees begging for a meal, a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet going about his business of looking for some food, but in an open expanse to the south an odd shape presented itself. At first, I thought it to be an American Robin, but on closer inspection it was certainly a flycatcher of some sort, and once I got even a little closer, I knew for sure that the yellowish-brown undertones, white wing bars, grayish “vest”, and crest must indicate a Say’s Phoebe, which was a great find for our group!

Say's Phoebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Say’s Phoebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another good look at yet another new spring species was this Song Sparrow that led a few of our photographers on a merry chase before stopping for a quick pose right in front of me in great light!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Down at the far south end we did find a group of Franklin’s Gulls feeding in some oddly smelling water at the mixture point between the fast-moving river water, and the slower moving back-channel. Whatever it was, they sure seemed to enjoy it!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

My first Osprey pair of the season also showed up in one of their usual spots in the area near the Lafarge gravel pit at their Bow River Aggregates site, just one of at least three pair of Osprey in and around the Carburn Park area!

Osprey having a bite Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Osprey having a bite
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

From here we headed back, and most of my group headed on their way home, but if they had stuck with me for just a few more minutes, they would have been treated to two great sights. The first of which, this Broad-winged Hawk, was my first sighting of this species in the Calgary area. While they do happen through on occasion during spring and fall migration, they had so far eluded me! You can identify this uncommon species by the broad black and white tail bands, and the black fringing on the very edge of the wings, with very light speckling on the belly and underwing.

Broad-winged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Broad-winged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

That encounter I didn’t even realize the weight of until I returned home to review my photos! So off I went, over to the second pond in search of a Common Loon that had been seen there earlier in the week. I even lucked out with a kayaker doing laps around the pond, occasionally pushing the loon just a little closer each time until I got a shot I felt was post-worthy.

Common Loon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Common Loon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Hope you enjoyed reading this post, and as always, we’ll see you next week!

Good birding!

 

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 Tundra Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Tundra Swan March 31, 2014

Tundra 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!