Where are the Snowy Owls now?

Posted by Dan Arndt

It looks like another great year for Snowy Owls in the eastern USA and Canada this year. Take a look at how many have already been seen out east!

Snowy Owls - Eastern USA and Canada - November 14, 2014

Snowy Owls – Eastern USA and Canada – November 14, 2014

We haven’t had a bad year so far either, and despite the early date, we’ve already had quite a few sightings of Snowy Owls in southern Alberta this year so far. The screen capture below is from November 14.

Snowy Owls - November 14, 2014

Snowy Owls – November 14, 2014

And if you want up to the minute information on where Snowy Owls have been seen around the city, click here!


Have a great weekend, and good birding!

What’s Being Seen in Calgary?

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

How do you find out about bird sightings in Calgary? Many trip reports and most rarities and  unusual sightings are posted on the Albertabird Discussion Group. You can subscribe to get emails of the posts, or check it online regularly to see what is being reported. The Alberta Birds Facebook group is another great resource where you can see which species are being photographed in Alberta.

eBird has several search tools which allow you to search for specific birds, or Explore Hotspots or Locations to see what’s been reported there.

But there is also a great tool called BirdTrax that lets you see all checklists and all species for a particular location. I have set up a BirdTrax page for the Calgary region. It will be useful next year for the 2015 Calgary Birding Competition, but anyone can use it now to see what is being reported on eBird in the Calgary area (you don’t have to be an eBird user yourself to access these tools or their database, but I encourage all birders to sign up and submit sightings to eBird.)

Here is a link to the Calgary BirdTrax page. There will be a permanent link on the right-hand sidebar of the blog as well. Try it out!

Here is a screenshot of the page:

Birdtrax jpeg

Here is what the gadget itself looks like (a screenshot from May 7, 2014, with the rarities column shown):

Birdtrax crop

Currently the settings show all eBird reports for the last two weeks, in a 50-kilometre radius from the Centre Street bridge in Calgary. The default setting shows the “Checklists” column so you can see every individual checklist as it comes in. Then you can click on the checklist icon to see the actual trip list, and from there, see the map location. I go on here every morning to see what was reported the previous day.

You can also click on the other column headings to see either a list of rarities reported, or a list of all species reported. In each case you can go to the individual checklists to see who reported the birds and where.

We may add more BirdTrax gadgets to this page later, for other locations. The birding competition will cover an 80-km radius circle, and BirdTrax has a 50-km maximum, so we may need more to better cover the Calgary birding area.

BirdTrax is a free gadget and anyone can set up their own web page with whatever settings they want. So if you live or bird outside Calgary you might want to set one up for another area. Go to the BirdTrax page and learn how. 

Sunday Showcase – Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Rusty Blackbird used to be a common sight in Alberta, ranging from the prairies to the boreal forest, and often a nice splash of color in a mixed flock of migrating blackbirds both in spring and fall. Over the past 50 years, their population has declined between 85 and as much as 99% by some estimates, and is a particularly vulnerable species at risk, not only in Alberta, but all over North America. It is with great pleasure that I note that has organized yet another citizen science project in order to better understand the ecology, migration hotspots, and to develop some strategies to better accommodate this highly vulnerable species.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz opened March 1, 2014 all over North America, and the usual target dates for spotting them in our area are between April 1 and mid-May. The goal is to get as many birders to go out, as they usually would anyway, and report the observations to eBird under the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz survey type.

Read more about this project here: International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, and enjoy the one and only photo of this species that I have to date, taken at Eagle Lake in the fall of 2012.

female Rusty Blackbird Eagle Lake October 12, 2012

female Rusty Blackbird
Eagle Lake
October 12, 2012

Birding Competition: How It Works

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Last Friday’s post announced the upcoming 2015 Calgary Birding Competition. Today I will give details about how it will work and how you can get involved now.


Bohemian Waxwing, photographed by Matthew Sim during the 2010 competition

The main difference between this competition and the previous ones that Nature Calgary has held is that the recording of all bird sightings will be done using eBird, the online bird listing database. Previously birders could submit their sightings on spreadsheets or paper printouts, and the organizers of the competition would compile the results. Using eBird makes this process automatic, and the ongoing status of the competition will be visible to anyone.

There are many other advantages to using eBird, for both the birder and for anyone who wants to learn about the birds of the Calgary area:

  • eBird is a permanent, publicly available record of bird sightings
  • eBird is a searchable database
  • anyone, whether an eBird user or not, can access the database
  • it includes sightings from around the world
  • it includes historical sightings
  • sighting locations are shown on maps
  • birders can request to be alerted by email of rare bird sightings, or sightings of any bird they need for own list

As eBird use has increased, it has become a valuable tool for researchers studying the status and distribution of bird species. We feel that its importance for the birding community will continue to grow over time. The value and accuracy of eBird’s data will also increase as more birders use it.

Therefore, two of the main goals of holding this competition will be:

  1. To train a new generation of birders to use eBird
  2. To encourage veteran birders to begin using eBird, and to enter their bird lists from previous years into the database.

The Calgary area is already among the top three locations in Canada in terms of the number of sightings submitted to eBird, but we would like to see that increase dramatically from 2015 on.

It is quite easy to set up an eBird account and get started. Here is the sign-in page. We will offer help to anyone who needs it; more on that below.

To take part in the 2015 competition, you will need to:

  1. register with us (we will set this up soon)
  2. have an eBird account
  3. set up a Patch list on eBird for the 80-km circle

After that it is just a matter of entering your sightings into eBird as you make them, and making sure that any locations where you recorded birds inside the 80-km circle are included in that patch.

z - nutchatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch, photographed by Ken Johnson during the 2010 competition

Getting Started Now

We hope that many of you will get started using eBird and setting up your competition patch soon, so that we can use 2014 as a trial run to work out any problems. This way you will also be able to familiarize yourself with the process and learn more about using eBird, and see how many species you can find inside the circle this year. I will give details on how to register and how to set up a competition patch in an upcoming post.

If You Need Help

Although eBird is fairly easy to use, if you feel you need help we will offer it to anyone who wants to get started. If you have set up your eBird account but just have a few questions, you can contact us by email. Our email address is ebirdyyc(at)

For those of you who would prefer it, we will be holding in-person training sessions. These will take place in a state-of-the-art computer lab, where you can go through the whole process of setting up an eBird account and entering bird sightings. For anyone who uses other bird-listing software, we will also teach you how to import that data into your eBird account. The first training session is already full (it was advertised in the Nature Calgary newsletter) but we will hold more sessions as needed. If you want to take part in this, please register at birdstudy(at)

Calgary Birding Competition

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Do you enjoy keeping track of the bird species you see? Do you want to find more species and explore new birding locations in the Calgary area? If so, you may want to take part in a birding competition which will be held throughout the year 2015.

This competition will be similar to those that Nature Calgary has sponsored in the past. In the year 2000, a competition was held to see who could identify the most species of birds within the Calgary city limits. In 2005, the area used was the 80-km (radius) circle which is traditionally used for the May Species Count.  In 2010 we again used the city limits as the competition area (you can read all about the 2010 event on the Birds Calgary 2010 blog).


Willet, photographed by Brian Elder during the 2010 competition.

Following this pattern, the 2015 competition will be a year-long event to see who can find the most species inside the 80-km circle centred on the Centre Street Bridge. Many of the details are still to be worked out, but there will be different categories of competitors based on age or experience, with prizes awarded to the winners.

The main goal of having such a competition is to encourage more people, especially youths, to get involved in the Calgary birding community. Participants can also expect to learn a lot about the birds of the Calgary area and the many great locations to go birding here.

If this is of interest to you, follow this blog to see how you can get started this year. We will be setting up a registration process soon.