Archives

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 9 – Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.

When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!

Elliston Park

Elliston Park route

 

When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.

 

We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.

View of Elliston Lake

View of Elliston Lake

As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.

Canada Geese taking off

Canada Geese taking off

In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

 

As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.

House Finches

House Finches

 

As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:

Curious Kinglet

This curious Golden-crowned Kinglet was beginning to display the orange streak hidden beneath its bright yellow crest.

Curious Kinglet gets close

And then it came in to investigate even closer. At one point it was less than two feet away from me. What an experience!

Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Week 7 – South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

The last 48 hours in Calgary have seen a massive shift in temperature and weather. On Friday the temperature took a dive from 15 degrees Celsius down to -5 C, followed by Saturday being interspersed with heavy snow, high winds, and a steady decline in temperature. On Saturday night the temperature took another drop, and upon waking up on Sunday morning, there was a good 2 centimeters of snow accumulation. I knew right away that the birding was going to be great on the Glenmore Reservoir, and I was not disappointed. Nearly 4000 birds were seen out on the water, many of which came in for good, close views, but the majority of them were too far to get usable photos. Luckily for us, some of the less common ones were close enough to see quite well!

By far the majority of the birds were on the west side of the reservoir, but the Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and lone Double-crested Cormorant were in the better-protected eastern bay, closer to the Bayview neighborhood.

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

By far the most numerous birds were the American Coots, which had flocked together overnight to number over 1500 individuals in flocks between 20 and 300. We were greeted at the starting point by this Canada Goose who decided that, for once, it would be appropriate to use the boat launch ramp.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

We also had a perfect vantage point to watch this Bald Eagle and its mate harass one of the larger flocks of American Coots in hopes of picking off a straggler.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Shortly followed by this Common Raven and its mate flying into the spruce above the Glenmore Canoe Club to harass the Bald Eagles who had set down moments before.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As we scanned the flocks of American Coots, we saw interspersed in their numbers a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons. The main highlight though were the occasional Horned and Eared Grebes that flocked together and seemed to spent as much, if not more time under water diving for vegetation to fuel their migration south.

Eared Grebe

lone Eared Grebe in non-breeding plumage

At the east side of the Canoe Club, we found this lone Pied-billed Grebe taking refuge near the docks, resting up and staying hidden from predators.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

As we neared the end of the point, we came up right against the largest raft of American Coots, and we even managed to pick out a few juveniles just coming into their adult plumage. In the photo below are at least two American Coots whose heads are light grey as opposed to the fully matured individuals with the black head plumage.

American Coots

American Coots

Moments later a few Trumpeter Swans that we saw on the very far end of the reservoir took off and flew directly toward us. They slowly veered south, but not before getting close enough to allow us to get a few flight shots.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Working our way on to the east, these three Eared Grebes thought it would be a good learning experience to show us what their breeding plumage looks like, as opposed to their usual non-breeding plumage we’d seen so far for the day.

Eared Grebes

Eared Grebes

The true highlight of the day though was a group of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters in the east bay. While I’ve seen White-winged Scoters a bit closer this year on the Reservoir, and Surf Scoters much earlier during the May Species Count here in Calgary, and even closer on the Iona Jetty in Vancouver, it was a real treat to be able to show these uncommon migrants to our group attendees. This is the very best part of leading these groups and why I love birding. These teachable moments and exposure to new birds like this are more than worth the slight discomfort of the cold.

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

Surf Scoters

Surf Scoters

Last Saturday I spent some time down on the Glenmore Reservoir and was able to get much closer to a pair of White-winged Scoters, and managed to snag this shot of an adult male in much better light conditions.

White-winged Scoter - October 13

White-winged Scoter – October 13

And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.

Surf Scoters - Vancouver

Surf Scoters – Vancouver

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course – Week 6 – Western Headworks Pathway

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week, another great week of birding one of the incredible natural areas of Calgary. This time we headed down the Western Headworks Pathway, one of the primary irrigation canals of the Bow River, which extends all the way to Chestermere Lake and provides water to farms even further east and south from Calgary. Our walk took us from just south of 17th Avenue SE all the way to 50th Avenue SE and back again, all the while keeping us incredibly close to the birds and allowing for some decent shots despite the gray, gloomy skies and incredibly poor light all morning long.

One of the best sightings early on were this pair of Yellowlegs, one Greater and one Lesser, showing off the differences in overall body size, bill shape, and bill length.

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly after that we came across a large mixed flock of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and even a lone Northern Pintail was in the mix!

female Northern Shoveler

female Northern Shoveler

A constant reminder of just how close to the Bow River we were was the nearly incessant flocks of gulls, ducks, and even one large flock of nearly forty female and juvenile Common Mergansers.

female Common Mergansers

female Common Mergansers

One raft of Mallards seemed to weave in and out of a flock of American Wigeon and even involved a few Hooded Mergansers, but this lone Pied-billed Grebe nearly escaped our notice hidden amongst some vegetation.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

female Hooded Merganser

female Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

At least two of the male American Wigeon were in full breeding plumage, but instead of the usual white crown on the bird, these Wigeon had yellowish crowns. Very strange.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Another bonus bird that hasn’t been seen on many of our walks for the past year are these Eurasian Collared Doves. While common in residential neighbourhoods, they aren’t often found in the usual spate of parks the Friends of Fish Creek courses will visit.

Eurasian Collared Doves

Eurasian Collared Doves

In contrast, these Rock Pigeons, while posing beautifully on a train bridge, are as common as, well, Rock Pigeons on our walks.

Rock Pigeons

Rock Pigeons

At the far south end of the walk we found our first Killdeer of the day, well hidden amongst the gravel and vegetation on the shore.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Our walk back was essenially better looks at many of the same birds, and as we came up alongside the Hooded Mergansers, something spooked them and flushed them up off the canal.

male Hooded Merganser taking off

male Hooded Merganser taking off

Q & A: Feeding Ducks

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address.

Q: I was wondering if there is anywhere in Calgary that is a good location to go and feed ducks on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

A: There are several good spots to observe ducks at close range in Calgary, but it actually is not a good idea to feed them.  Many people do feed them bread and similar items, but these are like junk food for ducks, with lots of carbohydrates but not enough minerals and protein to provide for proper health and growth.  This sort of artificial diet is especially bad for the ducklings once they hatch. Besides malnutrition, there are other problems associated with feeding them bread products, such as the spread of disease and the loss of natural behaviors.

However, there are healthy products you can feed to ducks.  They do well on grains like cracked corn, wheat, barley, and oats; high-quality birdseed; grapes (cut up); chopped lettuce; and frozen peas and corn.  Any such feeding should be done in moderation and cautiously, with every attempt made not to disturb the birds.

Mallards at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

There are many small ponds in parks in the city where waterfowl can be seen.  Good places include Prince’s Island downtown, Pearce Estate in Inglewood, and Confederation Park between 10 Street and 14 Street NW.  All of these have benches or grassy areas near the water.  There is also a great lagoon at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where you can observe Mallards, Canada Geese (and, in a few weeks, ducklings and goslings), the beautiful Wood Duck, and other ducks at close range, but it is illegal to feed wildlife in the sanctuary (it is also illegal in Fish Creek Park).  In any case I would encourage you to watch the birds but let them feed naturally wherever you go.

Canada Geese with goslings at IBS 

Springtime in Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Once again the Friends of Fish Creek Birding course made its way to Carburn Park, without the lure of the Northern Saw-whet Owl back in January. Since then, the weather has warmed, the birds have begun preparations to nest, and while most have chosen their mates, others are still in the process of defining their territory and competing with their rivals for the few mates still unspoken for. We were gifted with a few wonderful displays of an incredible number of Northern Flickers all throughout the park, as well as the beautifully crimson male House Finch, and huge numbers of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Mallards, and Canada Geese.

Carburn Park Route

Carburn Park Route

This time around, we headed south from the parking lot to the bridge over the Bow River, which is one of the best places in the city to get good views, and good photos, of birds in flight. Both Canada Geese and the juvenile Bald Eagles came low over the bridge, almost posing as they flew by.

View from the bridge at Carburn Park

View from the bridge at Carburn Park

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

From there, we headed further south along the river to get views of the duck species present, and were allowed particularly good views of Buffleheads, Mallards, Common Goldeneye, and even my first female Common Merganser of the year.

Buffleheads & Mallard

Buffleheads & Mallard

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

We headed east about a hundred meters before heading north along the back fences of the community adjacent to the park. Here we were greeted by the melodious sounds of House Finches and Black-capped Chickadees at the feeders.

House Finch

House Finch

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Cutting back over to the river bank, the overcast skies opened up to let the blue shine through, and the light was absolutely incredible for the better part of an hour. Along this stretch of river, we were constantly hearing the drumming and calling of the Northern Flickers, and across the river, a family of Bald Eagles was down on the ice. Overhead, the Canada Geese continued their flyovers before heading eastward to the outlying fields for the day.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

From there, we headed along the shoreline in a clockwise direction. While the light remained good, we came across a curious Black-billed Magpie, and a group of Common Mergansers also swam in close, the males showing off their beautiful green head plumage.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

While the number of ducks and geese was incredibly high, the evidence of their predation by the ever present Bald Eagles was apparent.

Juvenile Bald Eagles

Juvenile Bald Eagles

Mallard Carcass

Mallard Carcass

We continued to trek onwards, and in our search for the Northern Saw-whet Owl seen here in January that came up empty, we almost literally stumbled upon a herd of twenty or so White-tailed Deer, spread out along the trails in the northwest section of the park.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

While the remainder of the walk was a little rushed, it remained relatively relaxing, as the birds had quieted down quite a lot, and none really seemed to pay us any mind as we strolled the interior of the park along the pond, back to our vehicles, and then home.

See you next week!

Sunday Showcase: Goldeneye With Egg

Some unique photos from Rob English, who says “I shot these last June in Carburn Park at the hundred year old tree. It was early in morning so the photos aren’t the best but I thought you might enjoy them anyway. I sent them to Gus Yaki  and he said it was something seldom seen, never mind photographed.

Who knows what she was doing? Cleaning her nest of a cracked egg or raiding the nest site for a takeover as there was a Common Merganser circling the tree.

What she was doing I guess we will never know, but it is interesting to see. After she had done the deed she just sat in the tree cavity”.

Alberta Government Selling Off Native Prairie Grasslands

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Alberta Government has absolutely no respect for the people they are supposed to be representing.

Last year, this same government attempted a secretive deal to sell off native grasslands to a private firm to grow potatoes. The resulting ‘Potatogate’ furor from all segments of society negated that sale. The rumor was that the government decided to back off on that one, wait for the dust to settle and people to forget about it, and try again.

Did they not listen to the people the first time? Did they think we were just going to forget about it?

Now they’re at it again, proposing 16,000 acres of native grassland be turned into agricultural areas. Their “logic” is that the money from the sale of the land will allegedly be used to preserve other high-value parcels. They say the money will be put into a fund for conservation easements for non-profits, who must raise matching funds. There is absolutely no guarantee that any non-profit group will ever be able to receive this money.

As they’re not even listening to their own experts, who has judged the value of these ‘high-value’ parcels? Who has determined these parcels are worth more than the grasslands?

Sustainable Resources Minister Mel Knight is from a northern Alberta riding. Send him an email today at grandeprairie.smoky@assembly.ab.ca and tell him what you think of his complete disregard for the remaining native grasslands in our province. Tell him we haven’t forgotten.

Alberta Wilderness Association Press Release

On August 30, the Alberta government again placed 16,000 acres of Cypress County native grassland up for sale for conversion to intensive irrigation agricultural use. These are all the same lands that were pulled from an impending secretive sale last November after widespread public criticism. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) believes these lands should remain as public native grasslands where well-managed ranching and grassland-dependent wildlife species can co-exist.

“There is overwhelming public support and scientific evidence to keep Alberta’s remaining native grasslands free from intensive uses,” says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist. “Many sensitive grassland species have been documented on these specific lands, which our government should be protecting, not actively seeking to destroy.”

Two endangered burrowing owl active nests were recently found on the lands posted for sale. There is also a breeding pair of North America’s largest soaring hawk – the endangered ferruginous hawk – and many pairs of North America’s largest shorebird, the long-billed curlew, a species of special concern. Numerous female pronghorn antelope use these specific lands as a fawning ground, where baby antelope are safely concealed in the native vegetation. All these species depend upon intact grasslands for survival, for the food sources and cover the vegetation provides. Cultivated irrigated land, the primary land use specified in the proposed sale documents, is not adequate habitat for them.

“These lands have been identified for conservation by the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council in the report it submitted to Alberta earlier this year,” says AWA Vice President Cliff Wallis. “By putting these lands up for sale, the Minister is disrespecting their work and should hold off on any land sales in this area at least until government responds to those recommendations.”

Less than 2% of Alberta’s grasslands natural region is protected. Only 30% of Alberta’s grasslands remain, yet they support 70% of the mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian species that are at risk or may be at risk in Alberta.

For more information:
Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist: (403) 283-2025
Cliff Wallis, AWA Vice President: (403) 607-1970

Map of Environmentally Significant Areas classification of the proposed lands for sale Download File

Bird Canada Blog Oct 2010 – Irreplaceable Public Land to be Sold to Make Potato Chips 

Posted by Pat Bumstead