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Pheasants, Grouse, and Partridges of Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here are a few of the Gallinaceous or game birds of Calgary and area. There are three species that are regularly seen within the city limits, two of them introduced: Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Gray Partridge. Ring-necked pheasants were introduced from east Asia. They are well-established in the wild in North America, but more are raised and released in Alberta every year as game birds. Gray Partridge are native to Europe and are also well-established here. Ruffed Grouse are the only native game bird that you can regularly find in Calgary.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, March 4, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, October 18, 2015. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Listen for the harsh, usually two-note crowing of the males in Fish Creek Park, especially along the river.

Ring-necked Pheasant (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ring-necked Pheasants (female), Fish Creek Park, February 20, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Ruffed Grouse, Turner Valley area, January 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

In Calgary, Ruffed Grouse can be found in the boreal forest where it creeps into the west end of the city. The Weaselhead is probably the most reliable location. In the spring, listen for the drumming of the males.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge, Calgary, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Gray Partridge are usually found near open grassy fields, and are often seen in residential areas. In the spring you may see pairs but since they have large broods, by summer they are often in family groups of up to 20 birds.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, south of Calgary, April 2016. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Sharp-tailed Grouse are almost never seen in the city (or even near it) any more, although they historically had a breeding ground (lek) on Nose Hill and used to be seen regularly there. You can still find them on the prairies, especially south and southeast of town. (See this post for more of Dan’s photos from a lek.)

Chukar, West Springs, SW Calgary, July 2012. Photo by Tom Amerongen.

I should also mention the Chukar, another introduced Eurasian game bird that is established in some parts of western North America. It has never established successful breeding populations in the Calgary area. Nevertheless, people do see them in town almost every year. They can be bought to be raised privately and apparently are often used to train hunting dogs, and inevitably some escape into the wild. In the last two years there have been sightings from Egerts Park in the NW, Radisson Heights and Dover in the SE, and Strathcona in the SW. If you see one of these birds, send us an email. I’ve never seen one, and would like to, even though as an escaped captive bird it doesn’t count on my eBird list.

If you venture out of town you can also see Spruce Grouse and Dusky Grouse in the foothills, and White-tailed Ptarmigan in the mountains. Wild Turkeys can be found SW of town, in the Millarville area.

Wild Turkey, Millarville area, January 9, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Spring Birding Course 2017

Mountain Chickadee seen by the birding course participants at Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park. Photographed February 14, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

The popular Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins its 12-week spring session on April 3, 2017.

Go out on field trips with experienced leaders once or twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn about the birds of Calgary. You can expect to see over 150 species of birds.

Field trips are held in several parts of Fish Creek Park, in Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Bowmont Park, Elliston Lake, Griffith Woods Park, and possibly other locations.

It is still only $5 for children (accompanied by a registered adult) for the whole twelve-week course! See this page for details on how to register.

Here are just a few more of the many birds seen on the winter course this year.

Bald Eagle (adult), Mallard Point, Fish Creek Park, February 8, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Black-capped Chickadee (note the unusual brownish cap), Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Wood Duck (female, centre back) with Mallards, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven and Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Dipper at Elbow Falls

It’s always fun to watch American Dippers as they walk on the bottoms of fast-flowing streams to look for food, and it’s amazing to see them do this in winter when the water is near freezing. Tony LePrieur photographed this one at Elbow Falls, west of Bragg Creek. There have been some sightings right in the city this winter, but you always have better luck finding them on fast-flowing mountain streams.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 19, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Dipper, Elbow Falls, February 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Reader’s Bird Photos

Here are a few photos sent in recently by Birds Calgary readers. If you have photos to share, email then to us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.

A very light Great Horned Owl, Fish Creek Park, November 23, 2016. Photo by Judi Willis.

Merlin, Bowness Park, February 13, 2017. Photo by Louis Côté.

Hairy Woodpecker (male), Prince’s Island Park, February 10, 2017. Photo by Louis Côté.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Edgemont, NW Calgary, February 15, 2017. Photo by Walter Saponja.

Brown Creeper, Elliston Park, January 23, 2017. Photo by Bree Tucker.

Ten Eurasian Collared-Doves, NW of Airdrie, November 22, 2016. Photo by Tim van Goudoever.

Gyrfalcon, Water Valley area, January 14, 2017. Photo by Jamie B.

Gyrfalcon, Water Valley area, January 14, 2017. Photo by Jamie B.

You can see more of Jamie B’s photos on his Facebook page, Albino Muppet Photography.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The spectacular crow-sized  Pileated Woodpecker is always a treat to see, and they are not very shy birds, so occasionally you can get great close-up looks at them. They are not common in Calgary. Look for them in three areas: Around the Glenmore Reservoir, including the Weaselhead, and upstream on the Elbow River through Griffith Woods Park; The west end of Fish Creek Park; The east end of Fish Creek Park on the Bow River, and north on the river as far as Carburn Park. They are year-round residents here, so look for them any time you are out in these parks. If you live near these areas you may also get them coming to suet or nut feeders occasionally.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

In the above photo you can see the distinctive rectangular hole that these birds make when feeding. They eat Carpenter Ants, which often infest large trees and deadfall. If you see a fresh hole like this, often near the base of a large tree, you will know you are in a Pileated Woodpecker’s territory.

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

The female above (likely the mate of the male in the first photo) is distinguished from the male by the black stripe from the bill to the throat, which is red in males. In addition, the red crest does not extend all the way to the front of the head on the female as it does on the male.

The nest hole of a Pileated Woodpecker is a large oval, usually high in a dead tree, or occasionally in a power pole (as seen in Griffith Woods Park). The male will make a new nest hole each year.

Below are more of Tony’s photos of Pileated Woodpeckers in Calgary.

Pileated Woodpecker (female), Fish Creek Park, January 31, 2016.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, November 26, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

For more photos of Pileated Woodpeckers see these posts.

You can see more of Tony LePrieur’s photos on his Flickr Page here.

Birding Locations: Queen’s Park Cemetery

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, January 28, 2017. All photos by Tony LePrieur, all taken at Queen’s Park Cemetery..

One of the smaller and perhaps underappreciated birding locations in Calgary is Queen’s Park Cemetery, located just northwest of Confederation Park near 4th Street and 40 Avenue NW.

Queen’s Park Cemetery.

The cemetery contains a great number of spruce trees, so it attracts many of the species that prefer to feed in or on those trees, such as the winter finches. Many other species of birds and mammals can also be found there, due to the presence of a creek which stays open year-round. The creek runs along the north end, and is bordered by the thickest growth of trees in the cemetery, both coniferous and deciduous.

Detail, north end of Queen’s Park Cemetery, showing the trees which border the creek.

Within the cemetery parking is limited, and it is best to park outside and walk in, or pull completely off one of the roads to park while allowing other vehicles room to pass. Stay away from funeral processions and ceremonies, of course.

The best birding tends to be where the trees are thickest, though you can find Black-capped Chickadees and Red-Breasted Nuthatches wherever there are trees. Crossbills also tend to move around the park (and into the surrounding neighbourhoods). In some years, Brown Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets are very common. A stroll along the roads can usually turn up a few of these in the winter.

Brown Creeper, November 15, 2015.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, November 1, 2015.

Black-capped Chickadee, November 1, 2015.

Pine Siskin, October 25, 2015.

The water that flows through the north end draws many birds to drink, feed, and bathe.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk (or the same one from ten months before?), March 6, 2016.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, March 6, 2016.

Queen’s Park is one of the best places to find crossbills. This year there are few in the city, but White-winged Crossbills have been reported there recently.

White-winged (left) and Red Crossbills, November 15, 2015.

Also November 15, 2015.

Common Redpoll, October 25, 2015.

 Dark-eyed Junco, October 25, 2015.

Black-billed Magpie and Great Horned Owl, October 25, 2015.

This may be the same young Northern Goshawk as in the first photo, taken a week earlier, January 22, 2017.

Queen’s Park Cemetery is home to several mammal species as well. Coyotes den there, and White-tailed Jackrabbits and Eastern Gray Squirrels are common.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, December 18, 2016.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, January 22, 2017.

Coyote, January 15, 2017.

So far, eighty-two bird species have been reported here on eBird. That is a pretty good total for a park that isn’t on the river. Sightings in the past week include Rough-legged Hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, White-winged Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Get out and add to the total!

Shoveler Rescue

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For several weeks this fall and winter there was an injured Northern Shoveler in an ever-shrinking bit of open water on a pond in Shawnessy in SW Calgary. Kathleen Moors, who has been a steward at that pond for six years, first saw the duck on December 14. As the ice closed in, she wanted to arrange a rescue, and I directed her to a couple of the local wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

Northern Shoveler on South Fish Creek Pond. Photo by Kathleen Moors

I also put Kathleen in touch with Rodney Nicholson, who had some equipment that would be useful in a rescue attempt. (Rodney had found a distressed Canada Goose on a pond in Airdrie on November 27, and he heroically fed it and re-opened the hole in the ice for it daily, until it was strong enough to fly off, which it did just before Christmas.)

Here is Kathleen’s first blog post about the Shoveler.

That seemed to be the end of the story, but there is much more, as you can read in her second blog post here.

It’s an amazing story of dedication, and Kathleen, Rodney and the others are to be commended for their efforts.

Local birders, who are out in the field a lot, should familiarize themselves with the two organizations below. Keep their phone numbers in your contacts so you can call if you have any questions about an injured animal.

Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society

Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation

Twelve Birds of Christmas

Bohemian Waxwing by Dan Arndt.

Black-capped Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Dan Arndt.

White-winged Crossbill by Tony LePrieur.

 Pileated Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Pine Grosbeak by Tony LePrieur.

Golden-crowned Kinglet by Tony LePrieur.

Boreal Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Downy Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Dark-eyed Junco by Dan Arndt.

Brown Creeper by Dan Arndt.

Common Redpoll by Dan Arndt.

Winter Birding Course 2017

There is still time to register to take part in the Winter 2017 session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course. Go out on field trips with experienced leaders once or twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn about the winter birds of Calgary. You will also see the early-arriving spring migrants.

Field trips are held in several parts of Fish Creek Park, in Carburn Park, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Bowmont Park, and other locations.

It is still only $5 for children (accompanied by a registered adult) for the whole twelve-week course! See this page for details on how to register.

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

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As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

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young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

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He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

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Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

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Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

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Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

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When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.