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).

Troy Eagle 1

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


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.

Troy me

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.


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.


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


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.


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!

Wednesday Wings: Leucistic Rough-legged Hawk

There have been quite a few reports of a white hawk on the western side of the city lately. Driving Highway 8 from Bragg Creek into the city last week, photographer Gerry Ambury was lucky enough to spot this leucistic Rough-legged Hawk.







Sunday Showcase: Spotless Spotted Sandpiper

Posted by Matthew Sim

Okay, try saying that 10 times fast. Spotted Sandpipers, while spotted in their breeding plumage, do not have spots in winter or when they are juveniles.  Juveniles can be separated from winter plumaged birds by the scaling and barring on their upperparts, which nonbreeding adults do not have. Right around now, we start to see juveniles so look out for them; I recently found this juvenile in Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park.



South Glenmore Park – Grosbeaks and Hybrids

Posted by Dan Arndt

Back in June, the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course took an excursion into the west end of South Glenmore Park. We’d been nearby just weeks beforehand when Bernie Diebolt’s group spotted a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Gus that by that time, both the Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks would be back. While I normally have a map, I didn’t track this walk, so just the photos will have to do.

Starting off at the parking lot at the west end of 90th Avenue SW we walked along the top of the south bank before dipping down onto the hillside. The mosquitos were out in force that early in the morning, and while there were plenty of birds calling, many of us were regretting our lack of bug spray. The American Robins, Warbling Vireos, and various thrushes were calling once again up and down the slope, but one of our first birds of the day was this beautiful hybrid Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak, who flew from tree to tree responding to our recorded Rose-breasted Grosbeak calls.

Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak Hybrid

Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak Hybrid

While this one called to us from nearby, we could hear Rose-breasted Grosbeaks calling from both up and down the slope, and we elected to hunt down the down-slope caller, as it was along the route we were already following. Another lifer for me, though we didn’t get the greatest views…

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

While we were listening for the calls of this male, we could hear a Red-eyed Vireo calling nearby as well, and upon playing some calls for it, it too flew in to investigate.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Along the rise and down to the east end of the beaver ponds at the southernmost point of the Weaselhead, we were greeted by another Eastern Phoebe nesting under one of the bridges in the area.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

A trek back up the hill netted a beautifully serene viewpoint overlooking much of the Weaselhead, sporting a couple of benches, bird feeders, and even quite a few birds (and other visitors) enjoying the treats provided for them. Definitely a place I’ll be back to. We even spotted what we’re pretty sure was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but no one was able to snap a photo in time!

Male Brown-headed Cowbird

Male Brown-headed Cowbird

The male and female Brown-headed Cowbirds seemed to not even care that we had intruded upon their feeding station.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

While the Pine Siskins hid behind the tube feeders, hoping to guard themselves from prying eyes.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

And of course, no feeder in the mixed spruce and deciduous forest is complete without a woodpecker sighting. This Downy Woodpecker was waiting for us, and stuck around for some photo ops before the crowd became too much for it.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Last but not least are the mammalian visitors to the feeders. We had no less than three of these nervous and scurrying Least Chipmunks at our feet at any given time.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

Most memorable though, was this Red Squirrel that continuously gave us the Stare of Death™ any time we disturbed its feeding schedule.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

While this wasn’t yet our last trip with the Friends of Fish Creek, we were heading into the final weekends… which I will finish up later this week!

Good birding!