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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!

 

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: Black-crowned Night-Herons

Rob English took these photos north of the city in mid-August 2012. Black-crowned Night-Herons have arrived back in the Calgary area. Frank Lake is a good location to find them.

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Wednesday Wings: Waterton Park Birds

Photos from Marg Matheson and Alan Plumb. Thanks for sending these beautiful shots, folks!

The bills on these Evening Grosbeaks are just starting to turn green. They change from the bone colour of winter to a deciduous-bud green in early spring.

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This beautiful gray Gyrfalcon was seen just west of Fort Macleod.

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Normally thought of as living only in British Columbia, the range of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee does extend – just barely – into southwestern Alberta.

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Sunday Showcase: Female Rufous Hummingbird

Photos taken by Rob English near Highwood House, SW of Calgary, in June 2012.

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Here are a couple of shots of a male Rufous Hummingbird taken at the same time, to show the difference.  For more of Rob’s photos of a male Rufous, see this post.

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Wednesday Wings: Golden Eagle & Snowy Owls

Mitchell Kranz spotted this juvenile Golden Eagle on January 20 near Lake McGregor, northeast of Vulcan.

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The same day, he also saw no less than 15 Snowy Owls between there and Blackie.

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You can see more of Mitchell’s photos here.

Calgary Christmas Count in Inglewood

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Last Sunday was a great day to be out counting birds. The weather was pleasant for the most part, and the sun came out, allowing for a few good photographs. I was covering the Inglewood Golf Course, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Pearce Estate, and adjacent areas with Ian Neilson and Troy Bourque (both excellent photographers). At the end of the day I checked out the zoo grounds by myself – counting only wild birds.

We started the day walking the golf course and spent about two and a half hours checking the Bow River and looking for passerines. (We had permission from the club to be on their grounds for the count – you don’t need permission to walk the riverbank, but it is a very difficult walk in spots.) There were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards on the river, plus a few Common Goldeneyes, but nothing else.

Troy Mallards

Mallards on the river.  Photo by Troy Bourque

On the golf course itself we did find one mixed flock of several Black-capped Chickadees, three White-breasted Nuthatches, a Golden-crowned Kinglet, and a Brown Creeper. A Rough-legged Hawk made a low flyover – the first RLHA I recall seeing in this part of the city. Across the river we spotted an adult Bald Eagle, which then flew over us, and was joined by its mate. The pair settled in the same tree on the golf course where they have nested for the past few years (they always overwinter and spend a lot of time near this tree).

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Bald Eagle on the Inglewood Golf Course.  Photo by Troy Bourque

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One of the adult eagles. Photo by Ian Neilson

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Eagle on takeoff.  Photo by Ian Neilson

A little farther along we came upon a porcupine perched in a Water Birch at eye level, feeding. The porcupine didn’t mind us at all, so the photographers got some very close shots!

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You don’t see these every day!  Photo by Ian Neilson

Troy Porcupine 1

Don’t you just want to give him a big hug?  Photo by Troy Bourque

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Photo by Ian Neilson

Troy Porcupine 2

Our best mammal of the day.  Photo by Troy Bourque

It was some pretty tough walking through the snow and brush along the river, so we stopped for a rest and a hearty breakfast at the clubhouse. Then we were off to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary across the river.  It was the middle of the day and pretty quiet. The chickadees were aggressively looking for handouts of seeds as usual, but we offered only to take their portraits.

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Can you please hold still for 1/500 of a second?  Photo by Troy Bourque

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Photo by Bob Lefebvre

We had an unusually low number of woodpeckers for the day – no Downies, only one Northern Flicker, and this bird.

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Hairy Woodpecker at IBS.  Photo by Bob Lefebvre

After the sanctuary Ian had to depart, and Troy and I had a quick walk around Pearce Estates, which was even quieter than IBS. Then Troy had to leave, and I rushed over to cover the zoo before it got dark. The zoo grounds attract quite a few wild birds because there is a lot of food scattered around for the zoo animals, and lots of cover. It was a little strange to be rushing past Snow Leopards and Siberian Tigers with hardly a glance, but taking note of every House Sparrow.

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Mallards.  Photo by Bob Lefebvre

Over half of the European Starlings reported on the count were at the zoo – 56 out of 109, which is a fairly low number for starlings on the Calgary count.

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European Starlings in winter plumage.  Photo by Bob Lefebvre

As the light started to fade, I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet in a stand of Spruces, but couldn’t see the bird. I remembered something that Dan Arndt had told me – kinglets will respond strongly to a playback of their call even in winter – so I played the call on my smart phone app. Within a fraction of a second, three aggressive little kinglets materialized right in front of me, flitting about, vocalizing, and flaring their crown feathers.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.  Photo by Bob Lefebvre

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Here you can even see some of the red in the centre of the golden crown.  Photo by Bob Lefebvre

Then it was off to Arthur and Donna Wieckowski’s to compile the data and enjoy a great chili dinner. For a while it looked like we were going to have a low number of species for the count, but as the last few routes reported, we ended up with 65 species, exactly on our average for the last twenty years.

It was a very long day of birding but also very enjoyable, as always!

Furry Friday: More Weasels

You have to be amazingly lucky and very quick with a camera to get a photograph of a wild weasel. Glenn Alexon has managed to snap not one but two excellent portraits of local weasel species.

Here is a Long-tailed Weasel seen by the administration building at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding walks, September 9, 2011.

Long-tailed Weasel

The most widespread weasel in the western hemisphere, Long-tailed Weasels are sleek, long bodied hunters 20-26 cm long, with a tail measuring half to two thirds of their body length. Summer coats vary from rich chocolate to rusty brown, with creamy white to yellowish underparts. Northern populations moult to pure white in winter, but their tail always has a black tip, regardless of coat colour. Southern populations do not change colour in winter.

Living from southern Canada to northwestern Brazil, these animals have the greatest habitat tolerance of any American weasels. They can be found in virtually all habitats, from Arctic-alpine to tropical, and are absent only from true desert and agricultural areas. They are most abundant in open woodland, brushland, and grasses and meadows near water.

Glenn has also managed to photograph a Short-tailed Weasel on the back of Sulphur Mountain in Banff.

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Called Ermine or Stoat in Europe, Short-tailed Weasels measure 17-34 cm.  Their coats are rusty to chocolate brown with white undersides, and the tail has a black tip. Northern populations moult to white in the winter, but retain the black tail tip. In North America, they are smaller than the Long-tailed Weasel with a proportionately shorter tail, and the two species occupy the same geographic areas.

Found throughout the northern hemisphere in North America, Eurasia and Greenland, Short-tailed Weasels occur in a wide range of habitats from Arctic tundra to semi-desert, and sea level to 3,000 m. Unlike the Long-tailed Weasel, the Short-tailed can also be found on farmland and pasture, preying on the abundant rodent population.

To see more wonderful wildlife photos from Glenn, have a look at his Wildlife of Alberta Flickr page, and be sure and see the kissing marmot photo while you’re there!

Did you miss Weasel Wednesday?  See our most popular post ever here!