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May Species Count 2015 – Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on May 31 was to the Weaselhead Natural Area as part of the May Species Count, and we went back there on June 14 as well, so I’m going to roll those out in a single post next week. Instead, I’ll be posting some photos of our outing on May 30 to the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park between Hull’s Wood and Lafarge Meadows, an area I’ve covered for the past few years.

Hull's Wood to Lafarge Meadows - May Species Count, May 30, 2015

Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows – May Species Count, May 30, 2015

I was accompanied by Rose Painter, my co-leader for our regular Sunday morning outings for this spring, and we both found a lot of good birds that morning. While the weather was gloomy and grey, it was still quite warm, and we thankfully didn’t get rained out.

I think the rainy/gloomy weather had put down a few birds overnight, because we had an abnormally high number of Baltimore Orioles singing throughout the day: eighteen males singing and a lone female that we spotted as well, compared to the usual number in this area being about half a dozen or so. It was really nice to have these guys so actively singing, despite the gloom.

Baltimore Oriole Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Baltimore Oriole
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We also had our usual numbers of Spotted Sandpipers, along the river, retaining ponds, and right on Fish Creek itself. While they weren’t actively displaying, there were a few that we were pretty sure were sitting on nests.

Spotted Sandpiper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Spotted Sandpiper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It was also really great to see a good number of Killdeer along this stretch. In 2013, I had ten nesting pairs, while in 2014 I was entirely shut out of this species, as many of the gravel bars had shifted and some had even totally lost their gravel patches and were mainly boulder strewn. This female was trying to lure us away from her nest right on one of the newer, much more extensive gravel bars along the Bow River.

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

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

We also had our first really good looks at Cedar Waxwings for the year, which had also returned overnight in some pretty good numbers. They were actively feeding low in the bushes along the river, where the insects were most active.

Cedar Waxwing Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Cedar Waxwing
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along this stretch of the Bow River, I’ve had a pair of Willow Flycatchers breeding and nesting for the past three years. Each year they move the exact site of the nest, but they’re always within about two hundred meters of the spot where I first found them. They’re a little unusual to find within the city, but their calls and songs are distinctive. This photo also shows that even using the eye-ring as a field mark can be somewhat tricky, because this little gal has quite a prominent one.

Willow Flycatcher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Willow Flycatcher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

This gravel bar is also where I get my usual Brewer’s Blackbirds, and rarely get them anywhere else on this route. One of the perks of doing a route like this year after year is finding all the usual spots to find great birds. I do think it would be fun to switch it up every once in a while, but I do like seeing these guys in the same spots every year.

Brewer's Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Brewer’s Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We followed the edge of the river all the way down to the boat launch, finding some Franklin’s Gulls, but not much else along the far side of the river. We also found a nice male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying close to us. They really are quite interesting birds to look at, no matter how you feel about their particular breeding habits.

Brown-headed Cowbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Brown-headed Cowbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

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

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

One of the other nice things with days like this, similar to last year, is that this is still during the main thrust of northward warbler migration. Last year, I had my first Blackpoll Warbler of the year, and this year I turned up this young male American Redstart, singing away along the creek just off of Sikome Lake.

American Redstart Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2500

American Redstart
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2500

Once we crossed under the Highway 22x bridge, things slowed down a little, but we did get some good looks at some waterfowl along the stormwater ponds, including this Cinnamon Teal that we surprised with a brief look at, and a few families of Canada Geese with their babies.

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

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

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

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

Further south along the river bank, we had some good looks at Eastern Kingbirds, but unfortunately in the years that I’ve done this route, we’ve never found Western Kingbirds in the poplar stand south of the bridge, where I’ve been told was one of the few places in the city they were known to breed, until recently. I suspect the heavy development on both the east and west side of the park there has made it a little less accessible and appropriate for them to nest.

Eastern Kingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Eastern Kingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

One of the perks of the flood in 2013 was the generation of habitat for a number of species. The large piles of debris in the parks make good homes for House Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, while the cut banks of the Bow River and Elbow River created large expanses of open banks, perfect for both Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows to nest in, which they have done along the south edge of my route. It’s always nice to see these guys, and even better to get them up close and personal like this.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Bank Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

The last really notable sighting of the day was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who was hammering away at this bit of excrement near Sikome Lake. Here he his proudly displaying his prize, which I assume he’s taking home to feed to his young. Nature isn’t always pretty!

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

In all, we covered just over 16 kilometers (10 miles!) in eight hours, and broke my previous record number of species by 1, finding 76 species in this area. It was a great morning (and early afternoon), and I think maybe one of the more under-appreciated areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

 

Good birding, and have a great week!

The Beautiful Birds of Bowmont

Posted by Dan Arndt

Two weeks ago our group visited Bowmont Park, one of the few parks we often visit in the northwest quadrant of Calgary with the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses. It’s a bit of a special park, as it borders on the Bow River, but also a gravel quarry which is home to a pair of Osprey in the summer, a few small ponds, and a south facing slope allowing for a wide variety of songbirds.

Bowmont Park - May 24, 2015

Bowmont Park – May 24, 2015

This was the first week of outings where Yellow Warblers were the most visible. All spring and summer long, these little yellow fireballs will be singing all over the place until they manage to find a mate and raise their young. They’re really quite fun little guys to watch, and it’s always nice when they’re so easy to photograph, like they were that morning!

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

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

I mentioned the Osprey nest earlier, and this is one area where Enmax has set up an Osprey platform to prevent the Osprey from nesting inside the gravel quarry on the power lines. When we rounded the corner to check out the nest, we were greeted to this sight:

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

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

The platform had been taken over by a family of Canada Geese, but thankfully the Osprey had found another location to nest nearby. We walked over to the river a little before coming out underneath the Osprey nest, and found this Tree Swallow picking up nesting material right off the pathway.

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

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

On our way out to the main pathway, we spotted this Clay-colored Sparrow finishing up his shift at the gravel quarry and heading out for the day. They’re such industrious little workers! This was just after 8:00 in the morning and already he’d put in a full day of work.

Clay-colored Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Clay-colored Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Speaking of hard workers, this Osprey was taking trips to and from the new nest all morning, each time taking more and more branches in to build up the nest to an appropriate size, wedging them into the nest each time.

Osprey Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Osprey
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The pond at the back of the quarry which is usually unbelievably productive turned up next to nothing for us. It seemed rather unusual, so we headed further up the north slope, and found this perched Swainson’s Hawk waiting for us up there.

Swainson's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/10.0, ISO 800

Swainson’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/10.0, ISO 800

While we had some good looks at a few birds on the northwest hill, we had much better looks at them a bit later on, but thankfully we did manage to get a nice close look at a Northern Rough-winged Swallow on the river near the pathway on our way back. These birds can be somewhat hard to find around the city, but often along the Bow River.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/10.0, ISO 1600

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/10.0, ISO 1600

We gave the pond a second chance to redeem itself, but sadly it was just as empty as it had been on our first visit, so we walked along the back end of the quarry and were treated to another great view of a male Yellow Warbler singing his heart out.

Yellow Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Yellow Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Our last good bird of the day was a lone Gray Catbird, of which we had seen a few earlier in the day but at a bit further distance. This beautifully drab bird was singing his heart out over and over again from the aspens and willows nearby. The cinnamon undertail and jet black cap are the only real splashes of color on these birds, but their song is unmistakable.

Gray Catbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Gray Catbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

And that was another great week of birding. Have yourself a wonderful week, and good birding!

A “fallout” of thrushes from Bankside to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last Sunday was a great day for birding along the Bow River. The weather had been a little iffy for a couple days before, and overnight had cleared up enough to allow a whole lot of birds to begin moving through, and boy did we see and hear a lot of migrants!

Bankside to Mallard Point - May 17, 2015

Bankside to Mallard Point – May 17, 2015

We walked around at Mallard Point for a bit early on, and found a whole lot of Swainson’s Thrushes in the underbrush (say that five times fast) and hearing a number of Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers singing in the bushes. From there, we drove down to the ponds at Burnsmead to look for the Wood Ducks we had there earlier in the year, but dipped on those. We did hear a couple of Western Tanagers in the saplings on the north side of the road, one of which posed nicely for us.

Western Tanager Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Western Tanager
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

From there we headed over to Bankside, in search of sapsuckers and maybe a few other warblers, but aside from hearing a couple here and there, none of them popped up into view. We headed north along the river and one of our keen-eyed participants noticed this Say’s Phoebe across the river, which was quickly harassed and scared off by a newly arrived Eastern Kingbird, but eventually the two of them worked out their differences.

Say's Phoebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Say’s Phoebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Moments after we spotted this fellow, a pair of American White Pelicans gave us a very close flyover, enough to tell this male by the large crest present on the bill.

American White Pelican Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

American White Pelican
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The morning continued with us finding Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and Swainson’s Thrushes absolutely everywhere, but none of them really allowed us to get too close, and despite our efforts, we couldn’t quite pick out a Hermit Thrush or a Veery from the pack. We did hear a few of these beautiful male Baltimore Orioles singing in the poplar trees across the river!

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

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

Upstream in a section of the bank that had been carved out in the 2013 flood we found a colony of Bank Swallows setting up shop. It’s always fun to watch them dip and weave over the river and in and out of their tiny homes.

Bank Swallows Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

Bank Swallows
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

We continued upstream to find a grove where we’ve found nesting American Kestrels in one of the large hollowed out trees, but unfortunately came up empty in the trees. On the river though, we found a lifer for most of our group, great looks at a usually hard to spot warbler, and yet another great look at one of the Swainson’s Thrushes along our path.

Northern Waterthrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Northern Waterthrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We noticed this Northern Waterthrush darting along the bottom of the logs and accumulated debris, but popped out a couple of times for us to take photos. We also had some of our best looks at a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes bobbing up and down along the brush pile.

Swainson's Thrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Swainson’s Thrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Our best bird of the day, and arguably of the entire course so far, was this Gray-cheeked Thrush. They’re a rare migrant in southern Alberta, and it seems that a few of them might have been included in the overnight thrush fallout, as they also banded 5 of them at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary bird banding station that morning.

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

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

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

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

We spent some time with the thrushes before heading back upstream, to find our first goslings of the season, and remarked at just how big they were already!

Canada Goose goslings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose goslings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we wrapped up for the day at Mallard Point, we heard the Least Flycatchers calling from the bushes again and I decided I had to at least try to get a picture. All I was able to snap was this record shot before it flew off. I’m sure I’ll get better ones later on this year!

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

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

 

 

Sparrows, waterfowl, and warblers at South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on May 3 took us to South Glenmore Park. Following our second week at Carburn Park, I headed over to the Glenmore Reservoir to try to find some water birds, and was able to get a couple photos of a distant female Red-breasted Merganser and White-winged Scoter, spurring on the visits for the following week. While we didn’t get either of them on our official outing, we did get a whole bunch of other great spring migrants, and had an amazing time finding all the new birds.

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

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

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

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

South Glenmore Park May 3, 2015

South Glenmore Park
May 3, 2015

For the past few years, a family of Common Ravens has nested right near the parking lot. Apparently this adult Raven has decided that peanut butter is a perfect breakfast treat. I like his thinking.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

As we walked around the point, we found Red-necked, Western, and Horned Grebes but sadly we couldn’t pick out a single Clark’s among over 75 Western Grebes. At least we had a couple Horned Grebes that were willing to let us get close.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

The view from the top of the hill above the main pathway allowed us to get even better looks at some of the Western Grebes out on the reservoir.

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

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

In the trees along the ridge there were Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking for insects above the canopy, but the most numerous songbird of the day was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Along this stretch, there must have been at least 20 of them!

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

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

Another new bird of the season was the Savannah Sparrow. This one seems to have a little less yellow in the lores than I’m used to, but his song was unmistakable!

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

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

We then circled out to the west through the boreal and aspen parkland areas on the west end of the park, but came up with very little. We didn’t even see a single Common Loon on the entire reservoir that day, I think mostly because of how open the water was, and how many water bodies outside of the city were open after such a mild winter.

On our way back to the parking lot, we did have a close fly-by of this Swainson’s Hawk, one of our first ones of the season for the Sunday morning group!

Swainson's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 500

Swainson’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 500

As we returned to the parking lot, I decided that we hadn’t really had much luck with the sparrows on the pond, so sat in the grass and waited for them to pop out. I was welcomed very shortly after by both a White-crowned Sparrow as well as a Lincoln’s Sparrow. Well worth the effort!

Lincoln's Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Lincoln’s Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-crowned Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

White-crowned Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Have a great week, and good birding!

Carburn Park Part 2: Bow river gravel bars and the north ponds

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our second week at Carburn Park took us to the north end, usually a good spot for us to find migrating swallows, blackbirds, and usually warblers. This week was no exception though the usual numbers that we expect were a little low, I suspect because of the rather warm spring we’ve had and the significant amount of open water elsewhere in the foothills. 

Carburn Park - April 26, 2015

Carburn Park – April 26, 2015

From the parking lot, we again headed south to the bridge, where we heard the ongoing and always happy sounding song of Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This happy little fellow and his kin are always hard to get out in the open, but today we managed a few moments with him out at the edge of a bush, and with his ruby crown raised too!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We followed the edge of the Bow River in search of the usual swallows and warblers, and while we didn’t manage to get very good or long looks at many of them, we did spot a number of Tree Swallows and a lone Violet-green Swallow in among them. Even better was this rather handsome male Common Merganser, his iridescence shining in the sunlight as he floated past.

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

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

As we headed up-river, we heard many migrating Song Sparrows on the near and far banks, and even had a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler in the dense shrubs west of the second pond, though none of us managed to see it, his song was heard loud and clear. And while we didn’t find the Wood Ducks again that week, we did get really good looks at a pair of American Wigeon sunning themselves on the far shore.

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

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

Further and further north we headed, passing what was obviously a few nesting Black-capped Chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch gathering food to take back to its own nest, and of course there was this Canada Goose nesting in one of the oldest trees in the park.

Canada Goose nesting in her tree Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Canada Goose nesting in her tree
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

At the furthest point north in the park we did find a solitary American White Pelican, resting on the furthest north point of a large gravel bar, totally oblivious to the dozens of Franklin’s Gulls swirling around him.

American White Pelican Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

American White Pelican
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

On our way back south, we heard, and saw a pair of Cooper’s Hawks, I suspect ones that were either courting, or at least actively paired up and searching for a suitable place to nest in the area. We got many good looks at them both perched and in flight.

Cooper's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Cooper’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Cooper's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Cooper’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Cooper's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Cooper’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Cooper's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Cooper’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Along the way back south we also saw a lone Western Alpine butterfly. Probably not the first one of them I’ve ever seen, but the first one I’ve managed to actually figure out and identify on my own, so that was a treat!

Western Alpine Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Western Alpine
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Another of the birds that others were seeing all week was this Northern Flicker working on a nest cavity. Looks ready to move right in!

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

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

Just as I was packing up and getting ready to head home, this Red-tailed Hawk that we’d been seeing all morning began being harassed by a few American Crows, flying right over head. I’m always amazed that they don’t just bank around and snatch the harassers out of the air for a quick meal.

Red-tailed Hawk and American Crow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Red-tailed Hawk and American Crow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Have a great week, and good birding!

Carburn Park, Part 1 – South of the Sue Higgins Bridge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk last week took us to Carburn Park once again. We actually headed there this week as well, so I’ll cover the birds we found on the south end of the park this week, and the north end in next week’s post.

 

Carburn Park - April 19, 2015

Carburn Park – April 19, 2015

The Sue Higgins Bridge south of the parking lot in Carburn Park is a regular roost (and nesting location) for any number of Rock Pigeons, and you can usually find at least a few here. It was really nice to find this rather beautifully colored bird, and in great light to show off some of the iridescence on the neck.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the gravel bar just south of the bridge were over a hundred Franklin’s Gulls, and also a few Ring-billed Gulls flying by eating the freshly hatched insects flying up from the river. One of the advantages of being out so early is that the insects aren’t too high up, and neither are the gulls and swallows yet either.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Did I say swallows? Yes indeed, the Tree Swallows have really started showing up in big numbers too, and we had flocks overhead almost the whole time, wheeling and darting around and getting their fill of hatching mayflies and midges.

Tree Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Tree Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We followed the river edge south and came across some interesting sights, as well as the real first returning migrant Song Sparrows. We also found lots of American Robins foraging about, posing, and searching for nesting materials in preparation of the coming breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

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

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

One of the most amazing finds last week was a group of four Wood Ducks perched high up in a tree, set exactly at the wrong angle for our approach. By the time I got around to have the light in at least a little bit of a helpful angle, three of them had moved into hiding, but at least I got this lone female! Yes, Wood Ducks are tree nesting ducks. How crazy is that? They’re one of the few ducks that have strong feet and claws capable of gripping branches and bark.

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

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

At the far south end of our walk we found another large group of Franklin’s Gulls, many showing quite a bit of pink in the breast and bright red bills typical of fresh breeding plumage. Their raucous cacophony followed us all throughout the park these past two weeks, often drowning out some of the more subtle songs and chip notes of other returning birds, but it is really great to have these birds back!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

On our way back we came across a couple of active nests as well, one containing a pair of Northern Flickers (and presumably their eggs), as well as a Black-billed Magpie nest, with either mom or dad standing guard and keeping a sharp eye on us.

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

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

So that was another week with the Friends of Fish Creek. Next week we’ll see how the north end of the park treated us!

Have a great week, and good birding!

2015 Peregrine and Osprey Nest Cams

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Ospreys are now back in the city, and Peregrine Falcons have been back for a few weeks. The regular nesting Peregrines returned to the University of Calgary a month ago, and as of yesterday, four eggs were in the nest. That should be it for egg-laying, so now you can watch until they hatch and the young fledge.

Watch live here, and there is a link where you can view the nest on YouTube, and comment on what you see.

Meanwhile, both the male and female Osprey were back at the Calgary Zoo nesting platform by April 16. You can watch live here.

Links to both cameras will be at the top of our right-hand sidebar until the birds have left, so you can always come to Birds Calgary for a quick link to the nest cams.

We have now removed the Snowy Owl sightings link for the season. You can check eBird for all this year’s Snowy sightings here.

Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding begins at the HQ, Sikome, and Burnsmead

Posted by Dan Arndt

I did say spring, right? Where did all the snow come from? While our last outing to South Glenmore Park was relatively cool, there wasn’t too much snow left, but in the week since we got a fresh dump of snow which is typical of our usual Calgary spring weather. Certainly the birds and mammals we saw on our walk showed at least a little displeasure at the situation!

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds - April 5, 2015

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds – April 5, 2015

We had three stops on our initial outing last week, with a visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters area, then down to Sikome Lake, and finally ended up at the Burnsmead ponds to check out some puddle ducks that one of our leaders, Rose Painter, had spotted before the beginning of our walk. We’ve also begun our walks at 8 AM for the spring course, so we’re getting out a little bit earlier and closer to sunrise to maximize the bird activity for the duration of our outing.

White-tailed Jackrabbit Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-tailed Jackrabbit
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We spotted this little jackrabbit under a spruce tree, taking refuge from the snow. You can see she’s been hanging out in the same spot for at least a while, and possibly even a few hours given that there’s a completely cleared area right under her. It’s not easy for these rabbits at this time of year, as their camouflage can be almost entirely useless in the snow now that their coats have changed colour!

The main reason we stopped in this area though was to check on a couple of Great Horned Owls in the area, which we were able to find without too much trouble.

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

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

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Here’s mom with a very chilly looking little owlet. Dad is nearby keeping a sharp eye on things though, and it looks like everyone’s happy and healthy, albeit a little cold and snowy!

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

We headed down to the Boat Launch and the area around Sikome Lake in search of some more owls, but also got some good looks at a few other birds as well, including this Herring Gull, part of a flock of about thirty of them on one of the larger gravel bars just north of the launch area!

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

This was probably the best sighting of the day. The stormwater ponds are open and entirely ice-free! Soon we’ll have Cinnamon Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and tons of other puddle ducks and shorebirds surrounding these ponds, and hopefully the Forster’s Terns will return and breed on their west ends as well again this year!

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

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

Maybe the second best sighting I’ve had all year was this young Red-winged Blackbird. My first of the year, and in many ways, the true “spring” bird. While I suspect that this little guy got lost in a flock of European Starlings that were heading north earlier than the rest of the blackbirds, they are starting to show up at more and more wetlands in and around Calgary!

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

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

This male American Robin was at the furthest south extent of our walk, searching among the rocks for a nice juicy arthropod or worm in the water below. There were a few of them along this stretch of rocks near a water outflow, picking their way up and down the little stream.

After that, we headed up to the ponds at Burnsmead in search of the Wood Ducks, Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers that Rose had seen earlier in the morning, and sure enough, we found them all! Wood Ducks are sometimes pretty hard to find, but we had a pair of males at these ponds last Sunday and there have been a few more that have shown up around the city this week as well.

Wood Ducks in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Wood Ducks in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!

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

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

While Gadwall are relatively nondescript, they sure do show some stark contrasts in flight, and while they’re often quite hard to spot, this male (and his mate) were fairly accommodating as long as I was quiet, moved slow, and there wasn’t too much activity around the pond.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

All the activity on the ponds drew the attention of this Red-tailed Hawk, who made a fly-by at a bit of a distance to check out what all the fuss was about before flying off to the north.

Looking forward to the next outing and most definitely excited for all the new spring birds coming to Calgary over the next few months!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

More spring migrants at South Glenmore Park!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our last outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course on March 29 was to South Glenmore Park in hopes of seeing some migrant swans, some early sparrows, and who knows what else! We did have a few good sightings, and it rounded out the course perfectly in my opinion!

South Glenmore Park - March 29, 2015

South Glenmore Park – March 29, 2015

 

It seems like not a week goes by where we haven’t been seeing at least one Northern Shrike on our walks, and soon after we started, we heard a commotion in the spruce trees above us and spotted not one, but two of them up there! One appeared to be an adult, while the second, which I was able to get a photo of, looked a little duller, which would indicate that it’s likely an immature bird.

Northern Shrike Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Northern Shrike
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We had a good number of Trumpeter Swans fly by us heading to the open water on the west end of the Glenmore Reservoir, but it was nice to have a pair fly by a bit closer to us, trumpeting away as they flew!

Trumpeter Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Trumpeter Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

While the rest of the reservoir was still frozen over, we didn’t really get too much of a look at the birds on the far west end, so we headed up onto another parallel pathway to feed some birds, and we did also hear the beautiful song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first I’d heard since January. There seemed to be far fewer of them around this year than in past years, so it was nice to see them again up close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We also put some seeds out for the chickadees and nuthatches, and had a few Black-capped Chickadees and at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches come in to stock up their supplies.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

So after a relatively quiet morning with very few birds up close to us, it was nice to almost literally stumble over this Snowshoe Hare. Unlike the one we found a few weeks earlier, this one was beginning the transition out of its winter coat and into the more typical brown summer coloration. Even still, it was still difficult for many of our group to see unless it was directly pointed out to them.

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

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

In addition to the newly arrived kinglets, swans, and gulls of the past few weeks, we also found a number of aspen budding out in their fresh catkins, better known of course as pussy willows. One of the signs of spring that’s almost as reliable as the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Red-tailed Hawks!

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

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

Our very last sighting was a trio of Blue Jays, right in the exact same spot where a few other groups had seen them earlier in the week. It’s quite possible that there’s a nest down below the ridge at this point, but with how dense the willow and aspens are in that area, it’d be nearly impossible to find it.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

And with that, our winter birding course comes to an end. In fact, yesterday, April 4 was our first outing for the spring course, so get ready for migration to ramp up over the next few weeks and the colors to really start to brighten up!

Have a great week, and good birding.

A Sunny Sunday at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Sorry for the late update everyone! We’ll be back to regular weekly posts tomorrow morning, so consider this a double-shot to finish off the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course with a bang!

Our outing on March 22 took us to Carburn Park on a bright, sunny, but slightly chilly morning. We had hopes of possibly finding some more early sparrows in the feeders near the park, or a new gull species or two, or even some early arriving hawks, but things did seem to slow down a bit after the initial spring migration rush from the previous couple of weeks!

Carburn Park - March 22

Carburn Park – March 22

We started off heading south into the sun so we could continue the majority of our walk with the sun at our backs and upon reaching the bridge and nearby gazebo we found a bit of activity. While there were a few indicators that while spring was officially here, winter, as always in Calgary, was still holding on strong. This Canada Goose was sporting a jacket of frost and was a little reluctant to begin the day until we walked across the bridge above it.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Nearby, the House Sparrows were hard at work foraging in the gazebo and preparing their nests in the eaves. This female stopped briefly to allow a few photos before continuing on to work on her nest building.

female House Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

female House Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Quite often the gravel bars here at Carburn Park are full of gulls in the morning, and we always take a few minutes to pick through them to see if we can identify some locally uncommon species, but on this morning we didn’t have too many gulls as the fishermen had an earlier start than we did, and had flushed most of them before we really had a chance to take any good long looks at them. We did get up close and personal with this Ring-billed Gull though, so hopefully that’s a decent consolation picture!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We headed over to the larger ponds in the middle of the park and while they weren’t open and the couple beaver and muskrat channels had closed up a bit as well, but we did hear this little Brown Creeper in the trees nearby, and managed a few half-decent shots of this normally quite reclusive bird!

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

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

One nice surprise of the morning were a few photos I took of what we often consider a “trash” bird. I’ve always said though that if these birds weren’t so common around here, they’d be something that people would drive for hours just to see one and all the beautiful colors they can show off in good light. This Black-billed Magpie was trying to snap off a few twigs to take back to its nest nearby when we came across it and disturbed its hard work.

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

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

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

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

We ended off our walk by following the east edge of the ponds, and had a close encounter with some White-tailed Deer, a few Eastern Grey Squirrels, and this rather healthy looking Coyote that burst out of the trees well behind our group and ran across the pond. Much braver than any of us would have been, given the warm weather we’ve had all winter!

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

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

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We ended off our walk looking for the Great Horned Owls who had nested right beside the parking lot the past two years, and we did manage to find this male keeping watch over the well hidden nest. Looks like he didn’t really appreciate us discovering him!

male Great Horned Owl  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Watch this space tomorrow for our final update on the Winter Birding course!

Good birding.