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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.

Sunday Showcase: Autumn in Calgary’s Parks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Catching up with some great autumn photos of Calgary Birds and Mammals, taken by Tony LePrieur from September 25 to October 16, 2016. The locations were the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Carburn Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the Weaselhead Nature Area.

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Boreal Chickadee, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. The bird has no tail. Birds don’t molt all their tail feathers at once, so this indicates it probably survived an attack of some kind.

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Great Horned Owl, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. These resident owls are fairly common it the city. Pairs will be spending the days resting on their winter roosts now, and by February (or sometimes even January) they will be on their nests, incubating eggs.

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Great Blue Heron, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 16, 2016. The herons have usually all migrated by mid-October, but a few may stay later.

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Harris’s Sparrow, seen at the south end of the big bridge over the Elbow River in the Weaselhead on October 16, 2016. The bird was seen for at least a week, from October 16 to October 25. These Sparrows mostly migrate well east of Calgary and are a bit of a rarity here. They sometimes overwinter, so it is worth looking for.

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American Tree Sparrow. These arctic breeders are passing through here now and some overwinter here.

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Dark-eyed Junco. These sparrows are pretty common here in the winter and can be seen in residential areas right now, often feeding on the ground under bird feeders.

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American Robin bathing.

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American Robin. They passed through here on migration in huge numbers a few weeks ago, but there are always quite a few that overwinter here, mostly in the river valleys.

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Northern Flicker (male). A migratory woodpecker, but again there are always lots in Calgary in the winter – either some local breeders that overwinter, or birds that bred farther north and migrated this far. They will readily come to suet and nut feeders.

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Downy Woodpecker (male). A year-round resident that also will come to feeders.

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Coyote.

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Black-backed Woodpecker. A bit of a rarity in the city, they are occasionally seen in the west end of Fish Creek Park, from Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace. This one was photographed there on October 23, 2016.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male). Another resident woodpecker.

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Rough-legged Hawk. This is the common buteo in our region in the winter. They have arrived in good numbers from their northern breeding grounds. Most commonly seen outside the city, especially west of the city.

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Black-capped Chickadee. Year-round resident.

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Muskrat. They are active all winter in open water.

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Mule Deer buck.

See more of Tony’s Photos on his Flickr page.

Share your bird photos from the Calgary area. Just email them to birdscalgary@gmail.com.

The Friends of Fish Creek bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Western Headworks Canal (known to many of us simply as the Calgary Irrigation Canal, or Bow River Irrigation Canal) is an amazing area to bird any time from early spring all the way through to the beginning of autumn. The canal itself provides foraging and feeding opportunities to all varieties of dabbling ducks throughout the breeding season, while the established trees and shrubs along the edge of the canal are home to no end of songbird species throughout the year.

There is a very special time of year though, just after the first of October, when the Western Irrigation District stops drawing water from the Bow River and allows the canal to drain for the winter. It is at this time that the canal becomes prime feeding habitat for a few more exotic species. Unusual and rare gull species are often found among the flocking Ring-billed Gulls, late migrating shorebirds feed along the extensive mudflats, and the tail end of songbird migration can often bring exciting birds such as Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Harris’ Sparrow along the edges of the canal. All of this excitement is over far too quickly for some as the water levels rapidly deplete over the course of the first two weeks following the drainage.

According to the Western Irrigation District website, “the Western Irrigation District provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities through 1,200 km of canals and pipelines.  Like other irrigation districts in Alberta, the WID operates under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act.  The WID is headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, which is approximately 40 kilometers east of Calgary.”

On October 4th, I joined the Friends of Fish Creek to walk the canal a few days after it had begun draining. For one reason or another, this year seemed to have fewer birds than I remember in the past, and the water seemed much lower this early on than previously. That said, the walk started off on a high note while I watched this Northern Flicker feeding on berries in a shrub while I waited for the group.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Almost immediately upon reaching the edge of the canal, we began seeing some of the diverse assemblage of waterfowl that feed along the canal. The most common of course was the Mallard, with almost all of the males having returned to their brilliant green-headed breeding plumage.

Mallard

Mallard

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A lone female American Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water, barely lifting her head to check us out as we walked by.

female American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

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A little further on, a pair of female Northern Shoveler floated by, followed closely by a pair of female Green-winged Teal.

female Northern Shovelers

female Northern Shovelers

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Green-winged Teal

female Green-winged Teal

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The highlight of the waterfowl though are always the Wood Ducks. A fair number of them were found feeding along the canal early in the walk. As we continued down the canal, something spooked them and they flew up the canal and our of sight. These birds are likely from the same stock found at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where they are known to breed each year.

male Wood Duck

male Wood Duck

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male and female Wood Ducks

male and female Wood Ducks

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It’s always a bit of a surprise to see what shorebirds we can find down along the canal. It’s one of the best places to get good, close looks at Greater Yellowlegs, often in large numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

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Less often though do we get Wilson’s Snipe. This year there seemed to be more than a few feeding along the canal.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

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It was a little later on that we got a good look at what may have flushed the Wood Ducks earlier in the day. This female Merlin swooped in and perched in the trees right above us for a few moments before flying on and continuing her hunt.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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There is one major benefit to the large numbers of Rock Pigeons that take residence in our urban centers here in southern Alberta, but it’s never a pretty sight to see. They make a great meal for any number of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Every once in a while though, one of these raptors gets chased off a fresh kill by a family of corvids. It is quite possible that this was a kill stolen from our female Merlin above, or from the Sharp-shinned Hawk that as giving us continuous fly-bys all morning.

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

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While we kept our ears and eyes sharply focused on the shrubs nearby, and our alertness really paid off. We heard a handful of American Tree Sparrows, saw few Dark-eyed Juncos, and caught decent looks at what are likely to be our last Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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It always pays off to check out the gulls down on the canal though. As we walked the canal, we found hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the shallow water.

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

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One of our sharp-eyed participants pointed out this little Mew Gull all by itself. They feed a little bit differently than Ring-billed Gulls tend to, but the real differences are the major field marks. You might note the plain yellow bill, smaller, rounded head, and overall “softer” features than the Ring-billed Gulls above.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

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Sunday Showcase: Birds of Carburn Park and IBS

Bird and mammal photos taken by Tony LePrieur on September 11, 2016. The Wood Duck and Great Blue Heron were at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and the rest were at Carburn Park.

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Osprey.

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Wood Ducks.

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Great Blue Heron.

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Belted Kingfisher.

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Wilson’s Warbler.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Merlin.

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Eastern Gray Squirrel.

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American Mink.

Do you have some bird photos you’d like to share? Send them to our email address and we may post them on the blog.

 

Bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Western Irrigation District canal in SE Calgary has had the water supply from the Bow River shut off and the water level is falling. The next few weeks until freeze-up are a great time to go birding along the canal as there is a lot of food concentrated in the remaining pools and on the mudflats. The best birding is from the Max Bell arena to 50 Avenue SE, with the most productive stretch being the 500 m or so south of the Gosling Way bridge, on the entrance road to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.

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Birds on the canal, October 2011.

Trout Unlimited Canada normally does a fish rescue when the water is shut off, but due to funding cuts they were unable to do it this year. There will be some big fish left in the water and it will be interesting to see if this keeps the Herons and Kingfishers around for a while longer.

The canal is a great place for bird photography as the waterfowl and shorebirds are often quite close to you. Walk along the east side in the morning and along the west side in the evening to keep the sun behind you, and you can get some great views!

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October 2011, looking back towards the Gosling Way bridge. Throughout October the water level gradually falls, concentrating the waterfowl into smaller pools.

Here are links to a few of the posts that Dan Arndt did about birding the canal with the Friends of Fish Creek in the past three years, with photos of many of the birds you can find there.

October 2015

October 2014

October 2013