Some shots from in and around Calgary. Taken June 14 and June 20 in Fish Creek Park and Bridlewood wetlands by Tony LePrieur.
Posted by Dan Arndt
Two weeks ago our group visited Bowmont Park, one of the few parks we often visit in the northwest quadrant of Calgary with the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses. It’s a bit of a special park, as it borders on the Bow River, but also a gravel quarry which is home to a pair of Osprey in the summer, a few small ponds, and a south facing slope allowing for a wide variety of songbirds.
This was the first week of outings where Yellow Warblers were the most visible. All spring and summer long, these little yellow fireballs will be singing all over the place until they manage to find a mate and raise their young. They’re really quite fun little guys to watch, and it’s always nice when they’re so easy to photograph, like they were that morning!
I mentioned the Osprey nest earlier, and this is one area where Enmax has set up an Osprey platform to prevent the Osprey from nesting inside the gravel quarry on the power lines. When we rounded the corner to check out the nest, we were greeted to this sight:
The platform had been taken over by a family of Canada Geese, but thankfully the Osprey had found another location to nest nearby. We walked over to the river a little before coming out underneath the Osprey nest, and found this Tree Swallow picking up nesting material right off the pathway.
On our way out to the main pathway, we spotted this Clay-colored Sparrow finishing up his shift at the gravel quarry and heading out for the day. They’re such industrious little workers! This was just after 8:00 in the morning and already he’d put in a full day of work.
Speaking of hard workers, this Osprey was taking trips to and from the new nest all morning, each time taking more and more branches in to build up the nest to an appropriate size, wedging them into the nest each time.
The pond at the back of the quarry which is usually unbelievably productive turned up next to nothing for us. It seemed rather unusual, so we headed further up the north slope, and found this perched Swainson’s Hawk waiting for us up there.
While we had some good looks at a few birds on the northwest hill, we had much better looks at them a bit later on, but thankfully we did manage to get a nice close look at a Northern Rough-winged Swallow on the river near the pathway on our way back. These birds can be somewhat hard to find around the city, but often along the Bow River.
We gave the pond a second chance to redeem itself, but sadly it was just as empty as it had been on our first visit, so we walked along the back end of the quarry and were treated to another great view of a male Yellow Warbler singing his heart out.
Our last good bird of the day was a lone Gray Catbird, of which we had seen a few earlier in the day but at a bit further distance. This beautifully drab bird was singing his heart out over and over again from the aspens and willows nearby. The cinnamon undertail and jet black cap are the only real splashes of color on these birds, but their song is unmistakable.
And that was another great week of birding. Have yourself a wonderful week, and good birding!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks again for reading, and good birding!
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.
This beautiful gray Gyrfalcon was seen just west of Fort Macleod.
Normally thought of as living only in British Columbia, the range of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee does extend – just barely – into southwestern Alberta.
Photos taken by Rob English near Highwood House, SW of Calgary, in June 2012.
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.
Mitchell Kranz spotted this juvenile Golden Eagle on January 20 near Lake McGregor, northeast of Vulcan.
The same day, he also saw no less than 15 Snowy Owls between there and Blackie.
You can see more of Mitchell’s photos here.