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Furry Friday: Flying Squirrels

Update: For the first time, the group (45 people) did not get to see the Flying Squirrels on March 20, and we didn’t hear any Saw-whet Owls either. It was a very humid, misty, foggy night with the temperature near freezing, so that may have had something to do with it.

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Posted by Bob Lefebvre, all photos by Dan Arndt

Next Friday, March 20, Dan Arndt and I will lead the annual Nature Calgary outing to the Weaselhead to see Northern Flying Squirrels. This is a popular outing, likely because people don’t often get an opportunity to see these animals. It can also be challenging, because we often have to wait for over an hour in the cold and dark before the squirrels make an appearance. But if you are patient there is a very good chance you will see these elusive creatures. In over a dozen trips to see them, I think we have only missed them twice. We generally get to see them glide, and we see them up close at a particular bird feeder which they apparently visit each night, looking for seeds that the birds have overlooked (we re-stock the feeder just before the field trip so that they will stay and feed for a while).

For birders, we often hear Northern Saw-whet Owls and sometimes other species.

If you want to join us, we meet at the north Weaselhead parking lot, 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, at 8 pm, Friday March 20. Here is the information about the field trip on the Nature Calgary site.

Many people are not even aware that we have flying squirrels in Calgary (I wasn’t until we saw one at this location in 2008), but they are in fact common throughout the boreal forest, and probably in the city as well. Because they are nocturnal they aren’t often seen.

Most of the photos below were taken last spring on one of our scouting trips. We set up in the bush within ten feet of the feeder, and were able to get great looks. All photos by Dan Arndt, March 26, 2014, except as indicated.

Below is a Northern Flying Squirrel approaching the feeder after landing higher in the tree. You can see the wide flattened tail which acts as a rudder and as an additional gliding surface. (This photo taken March 23, 2012, by Dan Arndt.)

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The next shot shows the large eyes and the furred flap of skin with a dark edge between the wrist and ankle. This is called the patagium, and it forms the main gliding surface when the legs are extended. (This photo was taken by Dan Arndt on March 17, 2012.)

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Below, a Northern Flying Squirrel at the feeder:

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Below, Feeding. Note the patagium extending from the forward part of the wrist. There is a cartilaginous rod several centimeters long (inside the patagium) jutting out from the wrist, which helps to support the skin.

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The remaining photos were actually taken before the 2014 flash photos above. We use a red light to locate the squirrels. Apparently they can’t see these wavelengths, so it doesn’t disturb them, and we can see them approach. Once they are feeding they settle in and are more tolerant, and do not usually leave even when you use flash photography or approach them more closely.

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Here is another post that Dan wrote after our 2012 field trip: Barred Owls and Flying Squirrels.

More facts about the Northern Flying Squirrel:

  • occurs throughout the forested regions of Canada, except Vancouver Island and the island of Newfoundland
  • absent from the treeless arctic and great plains
  • the similar Southern Flying Squirrel occupies the eastern US and parts of southern Ontario and Quebec
  • the Southern species is rapidly expanding northwards, and is hybridizing with the Northern
  • since Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal and shy, they are often thought to be scarce, but are in fact well distributed and common
  • with a population density of 0.1 to 3.5 squirrels per hectare, they likely have the highest total population of any squirrel species in Canada. This is a minimum of 260 squirrels per square mile in the poorest parts of its range, up to over 900 per square mile in food-rich areas
  • they are active all year, and breed from March to June
  • usually nest in tree cavities (abandoned nests of other squirrels or birds), but may construct a drey in summer
  • are clumsy walkers
  • can glide up to 65 metres, dropping about 1 metre for each 2 metres of glide length
  • are very maneuverable, able to make a 90-degree turn in flight, or even to corkscrew around a tree and land on the same tree at a lower point
  • after landing on a tree, they immediately scurry around to the other side, in case they are being pursued or watched by a predator
  • are preyed upon by owls, hawks, weasels, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, lynx, wolves, foxes, cougars, and domestic cats
  • are especially vulnerable to large nocturnal owls like Great Horned and Barred Owls
  • in Oregon, Northern Flying Squirrels make up about 50-60% of the diet of the endangered Spotted Owl, which consumes an average of 260 squirrels per owl per year
  • Northern Flying Squirrels eat mainly fungi (especially truffles) and lichen, along with seeds and nuts of trees. They supplement this with fruit, tree sap, buds, insects, small birds and eggs, small mammals, and carrion
  • they are a keystone species, vital to their environment due to their feeding activities which disperse tree seeds and the spores of symbiotic fungi throughout the forest

Join us next Friday for a chance to see these amazing animals!

My main source for information on Northern Flying Squirrels was the excellent book The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton.

Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

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

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

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

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

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

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

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

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

female Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Update – Fall Birds in Carburn and Fish Creek Parks

We don’t often re-post material but we don’t often make two identification mistakes in the same post (I hope). Reid Barclay has pointed out that the bird I labelled “Swainson’s Thrush” is actually an Ovenbird, and Ron Kube says that the “Swainson’s Hawk” is a Broad-winged Hawk. I think they are both correct. In each case, I didn’t consider these less-common migrants here, and tried to fit the photos to my expectations. Sorry for the errors. We always welcome comments from our readers. – Bob Lefebvre

Tony LePrieur has another set of beautiful bird and mammal photos, taken on September 14, 2014. He says it is getting harder to find the birds, but there is still a good variety of species around.

From Carburn Park:

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Orange-crowned Warbler.

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Orange-crowned Warbler, actually showing the seldom-seen orange crown.

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Red-eyed Vireo.

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American Goldfinch.

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Cedar Waxwing (juvenile).

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Ovenbird.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Tennessee Warbler.

From Fish Creek Park:

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Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile).

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Belted Kingfisher (female).

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American Mink.

Winter in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For the second week in a row, the weather cooperated with this past Sunday’s walk, giving us great light, good clear skies, and warm temperatures.

It’s always nice when we get chinooks here in Calgary, and today was no exception. Fewer layers make for a much more comfortable morning, and while we didn’t have the largest species count of the week, we arguably had the nicest day!

 

The Weaselhead - November 24, 2013

The Weaselhead – November 24, 2013

As you can probably tell from the map, the sightings were really concentrated between two areas of the Weaselhead. Near the parking lot at both the start and finish of our walk, and deep in the heart of the Weaselhead, concentrated primarily around a couple of special feeding stations.

I arrived about five minutes late for the Sunday walk, but it did allow me to capture a pair of species that didn’t really provide much in the way of good looks later on, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as this female House Finch inspected me as I was getting out of my vehicle, and just a short walk down the path while I was hoping to catch up with the group a Black-billed Magpie caught the light just perfectly to accentuate the iridescence normally hidden in its black feathers.

female House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

female House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

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

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

It didn’t take me long to catch up with the group, and we stopped at the usual spots along the pathway leading down into the valley, but the sound of this male Downy Woodpecker tap-tap-tapping on the trunk of this small willow caught our attention. I just love how the backlight of the early morning sun accentuates the red on the back of his head.

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

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

After watching a bit of a feeding frenzy by Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches at one of the first feeders, the birds quieted down quite a bit on our walk. A Blue Jay gave us a flyover near the first bridge, doing one heck of a job impersonating a Bald Eagle’s screams, and a few flights of Bohemian Waxwings had us looking at the tree tops to spot them alighted, but sadly we would have to wait.

One particularly eagle-eyed observer did happen to spot this male Northern Flicker sitting stock still in a poplar. I still have no idea how she spotted it. Can you?

male Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

male Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

Once we re-entered the thick woods though, we were once again greeted by the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees and more than a few Red Squirrels came for a bite to eat as well.

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

Red Squirrel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Red Squirrel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

While we waited at this spot for a good ten minutes trying to lure in a Boreal Chickadee, they were feeling rather shy today, with a pair of them coming in for a look at our group, make a few calls, and fly off again, despite my playing a few calls for them in an attempt to offer our group a half-decent look. For all our effort, only three or four of us got brief glimpses of them.

As we turned to leave the little grove, we stopped to check out a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings that flew in just as we were on our way out.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we packed in our search for our target species and began the trek back to the parking lot, I couldn’t resist taking yet another photo of our enthusiastic group, as well as the habitat of the Weaselhead as well. These photos were taken in an area that six months previously had been the home to a good number of Calliope Hummingbirds, who are now enjoying the warm weather of Mexico and Central America.

The Adventurers Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Adventurers
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

As we reached the top of the hill on our trek back, we finally had our first raptor sighting, with this 3rd year Bald Eagle flying high over the Glenmore Reservoir and into the distance. I particularly like the fact that it decided to wheel around to the southwest of us, giving a very nice background to shoot as well. For those earth science nerds out there like me (or those inclined to mountain climbing), those peaks are Mt. Cornwall on the left, and Mt. Glasgow on the right.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

It was also nice to get an overflight of Bohemian Waxwings (maybe even the same group I had shot earlier) as I was packing up my gear and putting it away in the jeep for the trip home.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Birds and Mammals of Fish Creek Park

All of the photos below were taken by Tony LePrieur in Fish Creek Park on November 3, 9, and 11.

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Furry Friday: More Mangled Moose

When Rob English saw Dan’s recent Furry Friday post about the Moose with an unusual antler, he realized that he had photographed the same animal earlier this year. His photos were taken on July 20, 2013 in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, on the Smith-Dorrien Road at the Black Prince hiking trail. It’s interesting to compare these shots with Dan’s from October.

Rob English Moose 2

 

Rob English Moose 1 (1280x853)

 

Furry Friday: A Mangled Moose

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Earlier this month I was invited out to find some wildlife with my friend Ignacio Yufera. We decided to try for an early visit to Highwood Pass in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan, and while we dipped on finding our target species, we did end up having a fairly successful day overall. This male Moose came into view quite a way down the road, and slowly walked by Ignacio’s vehicle, allowing us very good looks at it. What really stood out was its right antler, which was damaged and drooping down the side of his face. We initially thought of it as a simple damaged antler, which had broken off in a fight, but after taking a second look, it appears the antler was simply mal-formed, as it looks like it’s growing naturally that way.

Any thoughts on what may have caused it? Leave your comments below!

Snack time!

Oh, hello there.

What are you looking at? 

Look at how intimidating I am! 

Don’t judge me. It’s my special antler.

Furry Friday: Foxes are Fun!

Posted by Dan Arndt

I have to thank Glenn Alexon for sharing the location of this pair of beautiful foxes with me near Calgary.

 

Enjoy!

fox 1

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

fox 2

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

fox 3

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

fox 5

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

fox 6

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

fox 7

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

fox 8

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

fox 9

Red Fox near Calgary – August 1, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 @ 500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Thanks for reading, and good birding (or mammaling)!

Furry Friday: White-tailed Deer Buck

Paul Turbitt first saw this magnificent ten-point White-tailed Deer buck in Fish Creek Provincial Park last December. He photographed it, and its young companion, in late December and early January.

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121230 Tenner

121230 Littlee buck

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For more of Paul’s photos, see his blog, Turbo’s Track and Tour.

Furry Friday: Porcupine

This North American Porcupine was spotted feeding on a Water Birch on the Inglewood Golf Course during the Calgary Christmas Bird Count on December 16, 2012.

Troy Porcupine 1

Photo by Troy Bourque

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Photo by Ian Neilson

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Photo by Ian Neilson

Troy Porcupine 2

Photo by Troy Bourque