Archives

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!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

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

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

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

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

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

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Spring Birding Course 2015

The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.

Spring Birding Course 2

Birds of the Boreal in Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Shannon Terrace always brings back memories of some of my first days being involved with the Friends of Fish Creek, monitoring the Wandering and Red-sided Garter Snakes at the protected hibernaculum beside the Environmental Learning Center. In the winter, there are often some really great birds in this area, but in most cases not in great numbers, or with significant diversity. This can be a great place to find American Dippers, near Bridge 1, Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls near Bridge 2, as well as Gray Jays and Mountain Chickadees between these two bridges.

Shannon Terrace - February 8, 2015

Shannon Terrace – February 8, 2015

We headed west from the parking lot, and looped around through a few pathways, but just before reaching Bridge 1 we heard a very surprising call, especially given the sub-zero temperatures that day! Belted Kingfishers do often over-winter in Calgary, but always in small numbers, and at this spot we heard a lone male of this species! At the time, we only heard it’s distinctive rattle call a few times before it moved away, but there was no mistaking it! I did head back over to this area at the end of the walk to try to find it, and thankfully was able to get a few photos of it.

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

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

Also in the area was a group of five “wild” dogs that trotted across the pathway in front of us while we looked up and down stream for the kingfisher, but they paid us no mind. Initially we thought it was a group of off-leash dogs, and we waited for the owner to come down the hill… but the dogs continued on and continued west, likely heading underneath 37th St. and onto the Siksika Reserve on the other side.

There was a tree nearby with a few holes from Pileated Woodpeckers, but didn’t appear to be active, so we headed back east along Fish Creek, and spotted a Northern Goshawk on the south side of the creek. It seems that both raptors and falcons really, really hate having their picture taken when I’m around, because I think this is the third species this winter that’s made sure to put itself directly between my angle of observation, and the morning sun. Raptors can be jerks sometimes.

Northern Goshawk pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Heading from here over to Bridge 2, we did find our first active Pileated Woodpecker of the day, spotting this one on the side of a tree working away, while a second called from just north of where we were standing. One of our attendees was particularly hoping to see a Pileated Woodpecker, as she’d never seen one before, and so this male was a welcome sight.

Pileated Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pileated Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We did a loop south of Bridge 2, but saw next to nothing and heard even less, but we did get a stretch of beautiful warm sunlight which we basked in for a few minutes before heading on our last loop of the day, which was in search of a recent Pacific Wren sighting on the east end of Shannon Terrace/west end of Bebo Grove. Along the way we found a small flock of three Pine Grosbeaks, who led us on a very tough chase trying to get a good look at them in a densely packed spruce stand. Thankfully, we got a good look at a male and female pair high up against a bright blue sky.

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

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

As I mentioned before, I did head back to Bridge 1 to look for the Belted Kingfisher, and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working over the holes we’d seen earlier! Whether these are the same pair we saw and heard further east, or a second pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, it’s hard to say, but it was really nice to see them again in better light and seemingly undisturbed by my presence there as the male was hard at work excavating a nest hole.

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

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

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

pair of Pileated Woodpeckers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and good birding!

Calgary Birding Podcast

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A welcome addition to the Calgary birding community is the Wild Bird Watcher site. This blog, by Brian “Hurricane” Smith, is dedicated to birding in Calgary. The blog consists mostly of interviews with local birders, and occasionally with experts from out-of-province. The interviews are in the form of podcasts (short audio files) that you can listen to right on the site, or download to your computer.

Wild Bird Watcher logo 343 pix by 124 png

Recently there was an interview with Nature Calgary president Andrew Hart, and there is a new interview with our own Dan Arndt. Be sure to go to the home page and go through the archives and listen to previous interviews as well. The blog was started in September 2014, and there are nine podcasts so far. You can also subscribe to the blog so you get email notifications of all new posts.

Brian Smith is a long-time professional in audio and video production, broadcasting, and voice work, and this shows in the high quality of the podcasts.

The podcasts are sponsored by the Wild Bird Store, Calgary’s only store dedicated solely to wild birds.