Birdboy Birdathon

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In May, Ethan Denton completed his 2017 Great Canadian Birdathon to raise money for bird research and conservation. He was part of a team with Gavin McKinnon, called the Saw-it Owls. Here are just a few photos of birds the team saw on their birdathon.

Harlequin Duck (male), Lake Minnewanka, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Harlequin Ducks (female on left, male right), Lake Minnewanka, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Common Loons, Vermillion Lakes, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male) on lek, southern Alberta, May 14, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male) on lek, southern Alberta, May 14, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

You can read about Day One of their birdathon on Ethan’s blog, Bird Boy.

The Great Canadian Birdathon (formerly called the Baille Birdathon) is a program of Bird Studies Canada. Participants are sponsored to count as many birds as they can every May. You can contribute to Ethan’s personal donation page here. Gavin McKinnon’s page is here. Please help them to reach their fundraising goals!

Global Big Day, May 13, 2017

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Tomorrow, Saturday May 13, is the third annual Global Big Day, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The hope is that birders all over the world will go out that day and report as many species as they can.

Can you find a Long-eared Owl on the Global Big Day? Fish Creek Park, November 7, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

In 2016, 15,953 birders in 145 countries contributed 43,848 checklists, and recorded a total of 6,263 bird species. Your individual contribution this Saturday is important in preserving a record of our local bird life. Here’s how to make your sightings count.

There will also be a random draw from everyone who submits at least three complete checklists on May 13, with the winner getting Zeiss Conquest HD 8X42 binoculars.

The results are already coming in from the Eastern Hemisphere, and you can watch the worldwide results as they come in here.

The Cornell Lab’s team of birders is raising money by trying to find 300 species of birds in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in twenty-four hours. You can sponsor the Cornell Big Day team here.

Locally, many birders are making a special effort to get out and put in their three checklists. Dan Arndt and a few others are actually doing a Calgary Region Big Day, trying to see as many species as they can within the local 80-km radius birding circle. You can follow Dan’s progress and see how many species they have (and perhaps learn where some really good birds are located) by following him on his Twitter account. Dan’s handle is @ubermoogle, so follow him, or go to his page on Twitter to see what he posts.

eBird Counties of Southern Alberta

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

If you are a birder in the Calgary area who uses eBird, you may be confused about where the boundaries for the eBird Counties are. As you enter sightings from various locations in the region, you will see that some are assigned to Calgary County, and some to Drumheller, Banff, Lethbridge, or others. It is not clear at first what these counties represent. Even when we were doing the 2015 eBird Competition we were not sure what to make of the eBird Counties.

It turns out that the boundaries for eBird Counties in Canada follow the federal government’s Census Geographic Units. This is not a well-known political or geographic entity, and the boundaries are not marked anywhere as you travel around. (In the United States, where eBird started, the eBird Counties are the same as the political Counties, which are well-known and have well-marked boundaries.)

However, it is possible to see a map of our County boundaries by going on Google Earth. If you don’t have Google Earth you should download it. It is free, and very useful for birders. You can see satellite maps of the entire world down to a very fine level.

When you are on Google Earth, zoom into the region you want to see, and turn off all the layers except “Borders.” The fine green lines on the map are the county boundaries. (Thanks to Dan Arndt for finding out what the counties are, and how to see the boundaries.)

Southern Alberta, showing eBird County boundaries in green.

Southern Alberta, with eBird County names in yellow and boundaries in green.

Feel free to copy this map as a reference, but I do recommend downloading Google Earth, so you can zoom in to see the boundaries at a finer scale. You can also turn on other layers such as “Places ” and “Roads” so you can see where the towns and highways are.

Below are four detail maps of the north, east, south, and west edges of Calgary county.

The north end of Calgary County.

The east side of Calgary County, along the Trans-Canada Highway. Drumheller County begins immediately east of Weed Lake, and actually includes part of Dalemead Reservoir.

The south end of Calgary County.

The west side of Calgary county.

The eBird Counties do not correspond well to any particular geographic birding region. Many of you may keep track of sightings within the 80-km circle centered on the Centre Street Bridge in Calgary, which is used for the annual May Species Count (and for both the 2005 and 2015 birding competitions). Here is the relevant map for that:

The 80-km circle of the Calgary birding region (red), with eBird Counties in green.

If anyone would like to be able to draw the 80-km circle on Google Earth on their own computer, just email me at and I will give you instructions.

Tonight, Wednesday February 8, 2017, Mike Harrison will speak at the Bird Study Group of Nature Calgary on The Ins and Outs of eBird. If you are an eBird user or want to learn about it, please come out. See this page for details.

Rare & Notable Bird Records For Alberta

By James Fox

The American Birding Association produces a birding journal titled North American Birds. NAB is a quarterly publication consisting of thirty-four regional reports, organized in taxonomic order and produced by some of North America’s top birders. Alberta is part of the Prairie Provinces Region and we need your help. Recently a few birders, biologists and ornithologists formed a team and have taken on the role of submitting reports to the regional editors on behalf of Alberta. Our goal is to submit reports that cover the entire province and reports comprised of records that have supporting documentation such as photos, audio or video.

If you have any rare or notable bird records, please contact James Fox at fox.james.ed[at] Rare or notable has a few meanings; it can mean an unusual species or exceptionally high numbers or a species out of range for that given time of year. If you have seen any of the birds on this list from the Alberta Bird Record Committee, then for sure it’s a rare bird. If you’ve seen a bird but it’s not on the list and you think it might be rare, contact James.

Purple Sandpiper at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Calgary. A rarity, seen on fewer than eight occasions in Alberta (one occasion in this case). Photo by Dan Arndt.

The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of North America’s birdlife, including outstanding records, range extensions and contractions, population dynamics, and changes in migration patterns or seasonal occurrence. The North American Birds regional network represents the tip of an iceberg whose main mass consists of North America’s largest, widest and best-established networks of field birders. The network extends to regional editors, sub-regional editors and then to many thousands of local field birders. By sending in your records to the Alberta compilers, you’ll be ensuring that Alberta’s data is part of the bigger picture and you’ll be part of the team!

Hooded Warbler, Fish Creek Park, Calgary. Reported less than eight times in Alberta. Photo by Dan Arndt.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact James Fox, NAB Alberta Compiler, fox.james.ed[at], 780.999.0642.

Brown Thrasher. A breeding bird in Alberta, but if seen in the winter it should be reported as a seasonal rarity. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Christmas Bird Counts, 2016-2017

The Calgary Christmas Bird Count (CBC), organized annually by Nature Calgary, will be held next Sunday, December 18. If you would like to participate, either by joining a group of birders in the field or by counting birds at your feeders, please see this Nature Calgary page for details.

There are many CBCs in the Calgary region. For a complete list, with contact emails for the organizers, see this page.

How many Pine Grosbeaks can you find in your CBC territory? Photo by Tony LePrieur, Weaselhead Nature Area, December 11, 2016.

This year, for the first time, there will be a CBC for Kids in Calgary. It will be held at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on Saturday, December 17. There will be an indoor introduction to birding before the count. You must accompany your child for this activity.

The first CBC for Kids was held in California in 2007, and they are now common across North America.

If you can take your child, grandchild, niece or nephew out for a couple of hours next Saturday it will be a great way to introduce them to birding! Register by emailing naturekids(at)


World Shorebirds Day September 6

The third annual World Shorebirds Day is September 6, 2016. Birders are encouraged to count shorebirds from September 2-6. You can register a location where you intend to go birding that week, and then make a careful count of the shorebirds (and other birds) you see there and submit the results to eBird or to the official website of World Shorebirds Day.

Long-billed Dowitchers Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400Long-billed Dowitchers, Frank Lake. September 12, 2013. Photo by Dan Arndt

You can read more about this project on the official website.

There are plenty of great shorebird locations in the Calgary area so register your spot and help this citizen science project. Only with better knowledge of the numbers and distributions of these long-distance migrants can we help to conserve them.

Western Grebe Surveys

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Here is a bird survey that any birder can participate in, to increase our knowledge of this threatened bird.

Download the PDF file .

grebe with chick

Western Grebe with chick. Photo by Dan Arndt, May 29, 2016.

One of the many hazards these diving birds face is from discarded fishing lines and equipment. In 2014 we found a dead Western Grebe on the shore of the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary. (Something had been feeding on it.)

dead grebe

Dead Western Grebe, Glenmore Reservoir, Calgary, May 19, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

On inspection, one of its legs was tangled in fishing line as you can see here.

bob with grebe

Here I am holding up the dead Western Grebe, May 19, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Please help to monitor the Western Grebe’s habitat, and please keep their habitat clean!

Volunteer for the WildResearch Nightjar Survey!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, southern Alberta - Photo by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, southern Alberta – Photo by Dan Arndt

WildResearch is seeking volunteers to survey for Common Poorwills and Common Nighthawks across Alberta. Due to their nocturnal habits, little is known about nightjars in Canada, and there is concern that their populations are in decline. Common Nighthawks are listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. Common Poorwills have been assessed as Data Deficient by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species (COSEWIC). Sign up for a survey route to help us learn more and conserve these unique species!

torpid Common Poorwill in the Okanagan - Photo by Mark Brigham

Torpid Common Poorwill in the Okanagan – Photo by Mark Brigham

Anyone with a vehicle and good hearing is capable of conducting a WildResearch Nightjar Survey! Signing up for a WildResearch Nightjar Survey route will require approximately two to three hours of surveying and one hour of data entry. Each route is a series of 12 road-side stops and needs to be surveyed at dusk once per year between June 15 and July 15. Routes are located along existing Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), and we would love to have help from existing BBS volunteers! Surveys will follow a new standardized national nightjar survey protocol. Data will be made publicly available on Bird Studies Canada’s NatureCounts portal.

Common Nighthawk nestling - Photo by Elly Knight

Common Nighthawk nestling – Photo by Elly Knight

To sign up for a survey route, check out the available routes in your area at Learn more about the program and find the survey protocol at Email Elly Knight at for more information.

Common Nighthawk, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, August 2010 - Photo by Dan Arndt

Common Nighthawk, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, August 2010 – Photo by Dan Arndt

Prize Presentation – eBird Calgary 2015

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The highlight of the January Birds & Beers meeting was the presentation of the prizes for the eBird Calgary 2015 Birding Competition. Almost all of the winners were able to make it, and it was a lot of fun to reward the winners for their accomplishments. (All photos by Wayne Walker except where indicated.)

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Some of the birders at the January Birds & Beers. Fifty-three people attended.


Dan Arndt and I presented the prizes. Preliminary remarks.

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 Ruth and Phil Ullman – 1st place, Yard Challenge, with 88 species.

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Lorrie and John Anderson – 2nd place, Yard Challenge, 61 species.

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Aidan Vidal – 1st place, Youth category, with 241 species, and 3rd place in Latecomer Challenge, with 46 species after August 1st, 2015.

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Ethan Denton, 2nd place, Youth category, 235 species, and 2nd place in the Latecomer Challenge, 49 species.

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Simone Pellerin-Wood, 3rd place, Youth Category, 175 species.

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Graeme Mudd, tied 1st place, Beginner category, 225 species.

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Brian Elder, 1st place, Experienced category, 275 species.

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Blake Weis (left) and Ray Woods (right), tied 2nd place, Experienced category, 257 species.

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Brian Elder also won the Big Day Challenge, with 153 species recorded on May 27, 2015.

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We also recognized Blake Weis’s incredible achievement of 638 complete eBird checklists submitted in 2015.

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George Best won for Bird of the Year. He found the Golden-winged Warbler in Griffith Woods Park.

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Bob, Dan, and the prize winners. Missing were Aphtin Perratt and Chris MacIntosh, who tied with Graeme Mudd for 1st in the Beginner category with 225 species, and Bernard Tremblay, who won the Latecomer Challenge with 52 species added after August 1st.

It was a lot of fun to get together and reward the winners, and to hear them talk about their birding year. Many of the competitors have told us that they really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot, whether discovering new birding locations, where to find particular species, patterns of bird movements, or using eBird as a tool and a resource. I hope we have helped some of the competitors to become better birders and to get involved in the local birding community. The use of eBird increased greatly in our region in 2015 and we hope to see this continue.

Many thanks to our sponsors who donated prizes or money for prizes: Nature Calgary, The Wild Bird Store, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Burrcan Holdings, Phil Evans, Lynne Colborne, Richard Schulze, Lynn Wilsack, Susan Thierman, Phil Cram, and an anonymous donor.

Each winner received a framed photo certificate listing their accomplishment (each with a different photo). Here is a sample (photo by Bob Lefebvre):

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Each 1st-place winner in the Year List categories received a 24″ by 36″ canvas print of a bird photograph of their choice. The winner’s selections were not yet ready for the prize presentation. Four will be awarded: Youth winner Aidan Vidal, Experienced winner Brian Elder, and two for the three people tied as winners of the Beginner category – a shared one for Aphtin Perratt and Chris MacIntosh (a birding couple) and one for Graeme Mudd.

Other prizes awarded included 2016 Bird Photo calendars by Dan Arndt, copies of the book Looking For the Wild by Lyn Hancock (personally signed by Gus Yaki), vouchers good for one season of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course, and gift certificates of various amounts to be used at the Wild Bird Store or Robinson’s Camera.

Here is a list of the winners and their prizes:

CategoryWinnerSpeciesPrize 1Prize 2Prize 3
Latecomer -1Bernard Tremblay52$50 Robinson'sCalendar
Latecomer -2Ethan Denton49$25 Wild Bird Store
Latecomer -3Aidan Vidal46$25 Wild Bird Store
Yard -1Ruth & Phil Ullmann88Bird Feeder$75 Wild Bird StoreCalendar
Yard -2Lorrie & John Anderson61$75 Wild Bird StoreCalendar
Youth -1Aidan Vidal241Canvas PrintBook
Youth -2Ethan Denton235$75 Wild Bird StoreBook
Youth -3Simone Pellerin-Wood175$75 Wild Bird StoreBook
Beginner -1Aphtin Perratt & Chris MacIntosh225Canvas PrintBookFFCPP Course (X2)
Beginner -1Graeme Mudd225Canvas PrintBookFFCPP Course
Experienced -1Brian Elder275Canvas Print$50 Robinson's
Experienced -2Blake Weis257$75 Wild Bird Store
Experienced -2Ray Woods257$75 Wild Bird Store
Big DayBrian Elder153$50 Robinson's
Most ListsBlake Weis638 lists$50 Wild Bird Store
Bird of the YearGeorge BestGolden-winged Warbler$100 Robinson'sBook

At the end of the prize presentation, we all shared a cake supplied by Joan and Wayne Walker!


Many thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the competition a success: Committee members Dan Arndt, Joan Walker, Wayne Walker, Rose Painter, Andrew Slater, Rob Worona, Kris Fernet, David Pugh; plus Andrew Hart, Linda Vaxvick and Sue Konopnicki at Nature Calgary. We also received a lot of feedback on our initial ideas from Yousif Attia, Marcel Gahbauer, and Ilya Povalyaev. Special thanks to Wayne Walker for booking the Horton Road Legion for the prize presentation and for taking the photographs. Joan, Wayne, Rose and Dan made sure we had everything ready for the presentation and arrived early to set it all up.

Thanks again to everyone who participated, who went out on field trips, and who attended Birds & Beers and Nature Calgary events. It made for a memorable birding year!

A final presentation about the competition will be given at the April meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group on Wednesday April 6th, at the U of C.

The next Birds & Beers event is next Friday, February 26, at the Horton Road Legion, 9202 Horton Road SW, starting at 6 pm. Come and join your fellow birders for food, drinks, and conversation!

Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just before Christmas I had to send my long lens (Sigma 150-500mm) in for repair, so am back to using my original birding lens, my Sigma 70-300mm. As such, I can’t get quite as close to the birds as I used to, but it does allow me to have a bit better control over framing more “artsy” shots, but also making do with what I’ve got to use, rather than relying on the reach of the lens to make the image better. I do hope that I managed to do that well with the few photos I was able to take on the Dinosaur Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count, and the annual New Years Day Fish Creek Provincial Park Bird Count.

While it’s a great area to bird in both the summer and winter, the day we headed out there (December 30) was bitterly cold, and it seemed that the birds were nowhere to be found. In previous years, there were a few groups covering the whole area, but this year Nick Bartok and I were the only two out on the count so we had to cover the entire count circle, giving us only enough time to see and hear the birds we could observe from the car. What that meant for us was that we would miss out on a lot of the smaller birds we usually would hear on a walked route, but it did mean we got to cover way more area.

The cold weather made shooting from the vehicle a little tough, with the heat distortion from the vehicle and from the heat radiating off the snow from the bright sunlight, but I managed a few shots.

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

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One of the first good birds of the day was this Great Horned Owl that we stumbled upon while driving down one back road east of Patricia.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

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Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville – December 30, 2015

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

By far, the most numerous birds that we found on the Dinosaur Provincial Park count were Sharp-tailed Grouse. They seemed to be everywhere in the trees and shrubs nibbling on the buds for their breakfast and lunch!

Back in Calgary, the Fish Creek Provincial Park New Years Day Bird Count was a little bit (but not too much!) warmer, but we got a few good birds to start off the year.

Great Horned Owl - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Great Horned Owl – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Brown Creeper - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Brown Creeper – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

At the Ranche, the usual pair of Great Horned Owls were present, along with a great opportunity to see the elusive Brown Creeper as the sun came over the horizon.

Sikome Lake - January 1, 2016

Sikome Lake – January 1, 2016

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The snow covered poplars at Sikome Lake made for a great backdrop to see all these great birds.

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

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Mallards in flight - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards in flight – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

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Bald Eagle - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Bald Eagle – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1600s|

The usual accumulations of waterfowl along the Bow River were no exception to the rule, and there were even a couple of great surprises in the water, including an American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and more than a few Common Mergansers. A couple of fly-bys of Bald Eagles flushed many of the birds up briefly, but they soon came back down into the water at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River.

American Robin - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

American Robin – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

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Hermit Thrush - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

Hermit Thrush – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

At the compilation lunch, Bob and I waited around to hear if there had been any particularly noteworthy observations, and when we heard that a Hermit Thrush and American Robins had been seen at the water outflow at Shaw’s Meadow, we headed over there right away. It took us a while of watching the American Robins and got to see them feeding in the water, and finally got a great look at the Hermit Thrush, but only briefly. Two shots later, it disappeared into the deep brush, but it was more than long enough to get a look at the bird, identify it, and snap a few frames.

While normally this post would be a recap of the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek outings, I was away for that first trip, so keep an eye out for my post next week for the birds from our second week out at Bebo Grove!

Have a great week, and good birding!