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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.

 

Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

Mammals abound at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

Votier's Flats March 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats
March 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

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

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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