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Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

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

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

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

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

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

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

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

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

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

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

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

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Birds of the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing was a visit to the recently drained Irrigation Canal, which runs parallel to the Bow River, and is an absolutely wonderful place to go birding in early October, while the canal is still draining. The weather was amazing, and so I decided that I was going to go out with both the Saturday and Sunday groups, and boy was I happy I did!

Western Irrigation Canal October 11-12, 2014

Western Irrigation Canal
October 11-12, 2014

Both days provided excellent light, great photographic opportunities, and a wide variety of birds, most of which were congregating around one of the main drainage outflows. The real highlight though was the interplay of light, fall colours, and beautiful birds up and down the canal on both days!

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

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

All it takes is a combination of the right setting, the right speed, and the right background to turn a normally dull and overlooked bird into a great subject in flight. And then sometimes it’s just a Ring-billed Gull.

Green-winged Teal in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Green-winged Teal in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The low, slow moving water tends to attract a number of small pond ducks, and in some cases, some of the stragglers that haven’t fled south for the winter. Green-winged Teals don’t always leave Calgary in the fall, and quite often there are a pair or two in warm isolated backwaters somewhere around the city, but they’re always great to see in flight with their bright green speculum and erratic and hard to track flight patterns.

American Wigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Wigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

We also managed some good looks at a lone male American Wigeon on our Sunday walk, finally coming back into the green and white head patterning of his breeding plumage.

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

All along the sides of the canal are dozens of mountain ash trees, and everywhere we walked we could hear American Robins rustling in the bushes, on the ground, and amongst the foliage searching for berries to fatten up before many of them also fly south for the winter.

Hooded Mergansers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hooded Mergansers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

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

female Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Hooded Mergansers taking off Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Hooded Mergansers taking off
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

One of the best birds of the trip was this group of Hooded Mergansers, loafing about in the shallow water and maintaining a healthy distance from our group. Three males and one female had been seen most of the week, but by Sunday, the female had disappeared. Perhaps one of the many we saw at Elliston Park on the 19th?

I had taken a few minutes to let the group get ahead of me, and get myself down closer to the water to take the photos above, when an off-leash dog decided it was time to run into the water and chase the ducks! At least I was able to get a photo of these beautiful mergansers in flight as they took off in a flash!

 

Greater Yellowlegs in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Another of the highly abundant birds along the irrigation canal each autumn are the Greater Yellowlegs. Both Saturday and Sunday we counted more than 30 of these large shorebirds up and down the canal, most of them quite calm, but a few high-strung individuals would fly in and sound the alarm every once in a while, flushing a dozen or so at a time wherever they decided was just a little bit safer than where they just took off from.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This trio was an odd grouping. Two female Blue-winged Teal and a female Northern Shoveler were dabbling in the shallow water and offering us quite close looks at them without a care in the world.

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

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

Arguably the best bird of the Sunday walk was this female Rusty Blackbird, who only stuck around for a few short minutes while we watched. She quickly tired of us and our intrusion though, and flew downstream and out of sight. These birds are highly threatened, having lost 99% of their numbers in the last 30 years, and it’s rather unclear what the reasons are behind this decline. As such, it’s always a great treat to see them on their migration, or even up in their breeding habitat in the boreal forest.

That’s it for this week! Have a great one, and good birding!

Wednesday Wings: World Shorebirds Day (and other days!) at Weed Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Shorebirds are my thing. I love watching flocks of them wheel and turn in flocks of tens, hundreds, and even thousands at a time, so when I heard about the initiative of World Shorebirds Day, I immediately signed up for a few sites at one of my favourite shorebirding locations just outside the city. Leading up to it, there had been some great sightings of somewhat uncommon birds, and between July 29th and September 6th, I probably spent at least one day a week visiting it for at least a few minutes.

Killdeer Weed Lake July 29, 2014

Killdeer
Weed Lake
July 29, 2014

Early on, the usual shorebirds that breed in and around Calgary were abundant and relatively easy to find. Killdeer, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Spotted Sandpipers were everywhere, but as migration ramped up into mid-August, the shorebirding really began heating up.  The first Black-bellied Plovers were seen in early August, and by August 10th, just about every species of shorebird we can expect to move through the Calgary area was there to be counted!

Lesser Yellowlegs Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds! Weed Lake August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds!
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Baird's Sandpipers Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Baird’s Sandpipers
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones showed up at the lake in late August, and on my scouting weekend they turned up and I had a chance to get relatively close looks at them. One of the more colorful shorebirds that we get around here, I think!

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Willet Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Willet
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And if you ever need some sense of scale for some of these small but powerful fliers, my current phone is roughly the same size as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I’m not quite sure what caused the demise of this little fellow, but in the wild there are so many more things to be worried about than just predators. Disease, untreated injuries, or even simple medical anomalies can bring natural selection into play.

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And finally, after months of anticipation, the magical day arrived. Sadly the big numbers of shorebirds were nowhere to be found, though I did still get some good finds on the day!

American Avocet clearing its throat Weed Lake September 6, 2014

American Avocet clearing its throat
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Oh yeah, and I mentioned predators before, didn’t I? A pair of beautiful Peregrine Falcons were doing a great job of scattering the shorebirds that had stuck around. One of them even managed to snag a distant Lesser Yellowlegs while we watched on, and its mate gave us some good fly-bys as well!

Peregrine Falcon Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Thanks for reading, and good birding!

Canal Closed to Water, Open for Birding!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The irrigation canal that begins by the Max Bell arena and runs through SE calgary had the water diversion shut off yesterday. As the water slowly recedes over the next week or so, a number of species of waterfowl and shorebirds will converge there to feed in the shallow pools left behind, and on the exposed weed beds and mud flats. Expect to see large numbers of common species like Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, but you might also see quite a few Greater Yellowlegs, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.

IMG_0472

The canal near Gosling Way, October 2011.

I have also seen Killdeer, Double-crested Cormorants, Long-billed Dowitchers, and the occasional Pied-billed Grebe and even some Rusty Blackbirds here. You can also see migrating sparrows and late Warblers in the trees and bushes along the canal.

IMG_0473

Birds on the canal between Gosling Way and 50 Avenue SE, October 2011.

Here is a link to a post by Dan Arndt from one of our FFCPP outings last fall, which includes a map of the area. I have found that the section from Gosling Way (the road to the Inglewood Golf Club) to 50 Avenue SE is the most productive, but you might also try going north from there towards the Canoe Club at 17 Avenue SE, or Park at the Max Bell Arena and walk south. There is a paved path all along the canal so it is also a good area to explore by bike.

Here is another old post about birding the canal.

Ron Pittaway’s 2014-2015 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

The moment many birders wait for each fall has arrived. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has been publishing the Winter Finch Forecast since the fall of 1999, and his record has been relatively spot on. He relies on input from citizen scientists, environmental scientists, and enthusiasts throughout Canada’s northern region to determine the abundance of the cone crop of trees in the boreal forest and across the Canadian Shield. Though the majority of his data come from Ontario, these forecasts have been pretty reliable even out west here in Alberta since I was made aware of his reports in 2011.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

You can find the original report by clicking here, but I’ll give you the distilled version for Alberta below:

Across northern Alberta, spruce cone crops range from poor (MB-SK) to average (southern Yukon). Based on what I saw up north earlier this summer, I’d say it’s closer to poor in the areas I surveyed. Birch seed crops are poor to average, while Mountain-ash berry crops have had a bumper year here in the west.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

What does this mean? Well, we will likely not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings (no, these aren’t finches) given the abundance of food further north and west. We can look forward to seeing both Common and Hoary Redpolls, given the state of birch cones further north, and Pine Siskins have already been seen in and around Calgary already this summer. Red-breasted Nuthatches (also not finches) are also expected to make their way south this winter.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

 

Why is this important? Well, all of these winter finches are regular visitors to bird feeders, and will readily feed on nyjer seed (for finches), peanuts, and black-oil sunflower seeds (for non-finches), so if you’re a regular bird feeder, it’s quite likely you’ll find some, or if you’re really lucky, all of these birds at your feeders this coming winter!

Good birding!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Sunday Showcase: More from Carburn Park

It’s been a really good fall for warblers in Calgary. Here are some warblers and other birds that Tony LePrieur captured in Carburn Park on the weekend of August 29-30.

image

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

image_1

Least Flycatcher

image_2

Tennessee Warbler

image_3

Warbling Vireo

image_4

Townsend’s Warbler

image_5

Gray Catbird

image_6

American Redstart

image_7

Wilson’s Warbler

image_8

Solitary Sandpiper

Do you have some bird photographs from the Calgary area that you’d like to share here? Send them to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com and we may post them on our Sunday Showcase.

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!