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A “fallout” of thrushes from Bankside to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last Sunday was a great day for birding along the Bow River. The weather had been a little iffy for a couple days before, and overnight had cleared up enough to allow a whole lot of birds to begin moving through, and boy did we see and hear a lot of migrants!

Bankside to Mallard Point - May 17, 2015

Bankside to Mallard Point – May 17, 2015

We walked around at Mallard Point for a bit early on, and found a whole lot of Swainson’s Thrushes in the underbrush (say that five times fast) and hearing a number of Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers singing in the bushes. From there, we drove down to the ponds at Burnsmead to look for the Wood Ducks we had there earlier in the year, but dipped on those. We did hear a couple of Western Tanagers in the saplings on the north side of the road, one of which posed nicely for us.

Western Tanager Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Western Tanager
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

From there we headed over to Bankside, in search of sapsuckers and maybe a few other warblers, but aside from hearing a couple here and there, none of them popped up into view. We headed north along the river and one of our keen-eyed participants noticed this Say’s Phoebe across the river, which was quickly harassed and scared off by a newly arrived Eastern Kingbird, but eventually the two of them worked out their differences.

Say's Phoebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Say’s Phoebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Moments after we spotted this fellow, a pair of American White Pelicans gave us a very close flyover, enough to tell this male by the large crest present on the bill.

American White Pelican Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

American White Pelican
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The morning continued with us finding Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and Swainson’s Thrushes absolutely everywhere, but none of them really allowed us to get too close, and despite our efforts, we couldn’t quite pick out a Hermit Thrush or a Veery from the pack. We did hear a few of these beautiful male Baltimore Orioles singing in the poplar trees across the river!

Baltimore Oriole Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Baltimore Oriole
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Upstream in a section of the bank that had been carved out in the 2013 flood we found a colony of Bank Swallows setting up shop. It’s always fun to watch them dip and weave over the river and in and out of their tiny homes.

Bank Swallows Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

Bank Swallows
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

We continued upstream to find a grove where we’ve found nesting American Kestrels in one of the large hollowed out trees, but unfortunately came up empty in the trees. On the river though, we found a lifer for most of our group, great looks at a usually hard to spot warbler, and yet another great look at one of the Swainson’s Thrushes along our path.

Northern Waterthrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Northern Waterthrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

We noticed this Northern Waterthrush darting along the bottom of the logs and accumulated debris, but popped out a couple of times for us to take photos. We also had some of our best looks at a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes bobbing up and down along the brush pile.

Swainson's Thrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Swainson’s Thrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Our best bird of the day, and arguably of the entire course so far, was this Gray-cheeked Thrush. They’re a rare migrant in southern Alberta, and it seems that a few of them might have been included in the overnight thrush fallout, as they also banded 5 of them at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary bird banding station that morning.

Gray-cheeked Thrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Gray-cheeked Thrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Gray-cheeked Thrush Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Gray-cheeked Thrush
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

We spent some time with the thrushes before heading back upstream, to find our first goslings of the season, and remarked at just how big they were already!

Canada Goose goslings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose goslings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we wrapped up for the day at Mallard Point, we heard the Least Flycatchers calling from the bushes again and I decided I had to at least try to get a picture. All I was able to snap was this record shot before it flew off. I’m sure I’ll get better ones later on this year!

Least Flycatcher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Least Flycatcher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

 

 

Sparrows, waterfowl, and warblers at South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on May 3 took us to South Glenmore Park. Following our second week at Carburn Park, I headed over to the Glenmore Reservoir to try to find some water birds, and was able to get a couple photos of a distant female Red-breasted Merganser and White-winged Scoter, spurring on the visits for the following week. While we didn’t get either of them on our official outing, we did get a whole bunch of other great spring migrants, and had an amazing time finding all the new birds.

Red-breasted Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Red-breasted Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

White-winged Scoter Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

White-winged Scoter
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

South Glenmore Park May 3, 2015

South Glenmore Park
May 3, 2015

For the past few years, a family of Common Ravens has nested right near the parking lot. Apparently this adult Raven has decided that peanut butter is a perfect breakfast treat. I like his thinking.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

As we walked around the point, we found Red-necked, Western, and Horned Grebes but sadly we couldn’t pick out a single Clark’s among over 75 Western Grebes. At least we had a couple Horned Grebes that were willing to let us get close.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

The view from the top of the hill above the main pathway allowed us to get even better looks at some of the Western Grebes out on the reservoir.

Western Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Western Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

In the trees along the ridge there were Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking for insects above the canopy, but the most numerous songbird of the day was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Along this stretch, there must have been at least 20 of them!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Another new bird of the season was the Savannah Sparrow. This one seems to have a little less yellow in the lores than I’m used to, but his song was unmistakable!

Savannah Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Savannah Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

We then circled out to the west through the boreal and aspen parkland areas on the west end of the park, but came up with very little. We didn’t even see a single Common Loon on the entire reservoir that day, I think mostly because of how open the water was, and how many water bodies outside of the city were open after such a mild winter.

On our way back to the parking lot, we did have a close fly-by of this Swainson’s Hawk, one of our first ones of the season for the Sunday morning group!

Swainson's Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 500

Swainson’s Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 500

As we returned to the parking lot, I decided that we hadn’t really had much luck with the sparrows on the pond, so sat in the grass and waited for them to pop out. I was welcomed very shortly after by both a White-crowned Sparrow as well as a Lincoln’s Sparrow. Well worth the effort!

Lincoln's Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Lincoln’s Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-crowned Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

White-crowned Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Have a great week, and good birding!

Carburn Park, Part 1 – South of the Sue Higgins Bridge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk last week took us to Carburn Park once again. We actually headed there this week as well, so I’ll cover the birds we found on the south end of the park this week, and the north end in next week’s post.

 

Carburn Park - April 19, 2015

Carburn Park – April 19, 2015

The Sue Higgins Bridge south of the parking lot in Carburn Park is a regular roost (and nesting location) for any number of Rock Pigeons, and you can usually find at least a few here. It was really nice to find this rather beautifully colored bird, and in great light to show off some of the iridescence on the neck.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the gravel bar just south of the bridge were over a hundred Franklin’s Gulls, and also a few Ring-billed Gulls flying by eating the freshly hatched insects flying up from the river. One of the advantages of being out so early is that the insects aren’t too high up, and neither are the gulls and swallows yet either.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Did I say swallows? Yes indeed, the Tree Swallows have really started showing up in big numbers too, and we had flocks overhead almost the whole time, wheeling and darting around and getting their fill of hatching mayflies and midges.

Tree Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Tree Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We followed the river edge south and came across some interesting sights, as well as the real first returning migrant Song Sparrows. We also found lots of American Robins foraging about, posing, and searching for nesting materials in preparation of the coming breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

One of the most amazing finds last week was a group of four Wood Ducks perched high up in a tree, set exactly at the wrong angle for our approach. By the time I got around to have the light in at least a little bit of a helpful angle, three of them had moved into hiding, but at least I got this lone female! Yes, Wood Ducks are tree nesting ducks. How crazy is that? They’re one of the few ducks that have strong feet and claws capable of gripping branches and bark.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Wood Duck
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

At the far south end of our walk we found another large group of Franklin’s Gulls, many showing quite a bit of pink in the breast and bright red bills typical of fresh breeding plumage. Their raucous cacophony followed us all throughout the park these past two weeks, often drowning out some of the more subtle songs and chip notes of other returning birds, but it is really great to have these birds back!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

On our way back we came across a couple of active nests as well, one containing a pair of Northern Flickers (and presumably their eggs), as well as a Black-billed Magpie nest, with either mom or dad standing guard and keeping a sharp eye on us.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

So that was another week with the Friends of Fish Creek. Next week we’ll see how the north end of the park treated us!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding begins at the HQ, Sikome, and Burnsmead

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!

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds - April 5, 2015

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds – April 5, 2015

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.

White-tailed Jackrabbit Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-tailed Jackrabbit
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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.

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

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!

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

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!

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

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!

Red-winged Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Red-winged Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

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!

male American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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.

Wood Ducks in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Wood Ducks in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!

male Gadwall in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Gadwall in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

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.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

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!

 

More spring migrants at South Glenmore Park!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our last outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course on March 29 was to South Glenmore Park in hopes of seeing some migrant swans, some early sparrows, and who knows what else! We did have a few good sightings, and it rounded out the course perfectly in my opinion!

South Glenmore Park - March 29, 2015

South Glenmore Park – March 29, 2015

 

It seems like not a week goes by where we haven’t been seeing at least one Northern Shrike on our walks, and soon after we started, we heard a commotion in the spruce trees above us and spotted not one, but two of them up there! One appeared to be an adult, while the second, which I was able to get a photo of, looked a little duller, which would indicate that it’s likely an immature bird.

Northern Shrike Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Northern Shrike
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We had a good number of Trumpeter Swans fly by us heading to the open water on the west end of the Glenmore Reservoir, but it was nice to have a pair fly by a bit closer to us, trumpeting away as they flew!

Trumpeter Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Trumpeter Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

While the rest of the reservoir was still frozen over, we didn’t really get too much of a look at the birds on the far west end, so we headed up onto another parallel pathway to feed some birds, and we did also hear the beautiful song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first I’d heard since January. There seemed to be far fewer of them around this year than in past years, so it was nice to see them again up close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We also put some seeds out for the chickadees and nuthatches, and had a few Black-capped Chickadees and at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches come in to stock up their supplies.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

So after a relatively quiet morning with very few birds up close to us, it was nice to almost literally stumble over this Snowshoe Hare. Unlike the one we found a few weeks earlier, this one was beginning the transition out of its winter coat and into the more typical brown summer coloration. Even still, it was still difficult for many of our group to see unless it was directly pointed out to them.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

In addition to the newly arrived kinglets, swans, and gulls of the past few weeks, we also found a number of aspen budding out in their fresh catkins, better known of course as pussy willows. One of the signs of spring that’s almost as reliable as the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Red-tailed Hawks!

Pussy willows Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Pussy willows
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Our very last sighting was a trio of Blue Jays, right in the exact same spot where a few other groups had seen them earlier in the week. It’s quite possible that there’s a nest down below the ridge at this point, but with how dense the willow and aspens are in that area, it’d be nearly impossible to find it.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

And with that, our winter birding course comes to an end. In fact, yesterday, April 4 was our first outing for the spring course, so get ready for migration to ramp up over the next few weeks and the colors to really start to brighten up!

Have a great week, and good birding.

Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on March 15, 2015 was a bit chillier than we’ve been accustomed to the past few weeks, but it didn’t dampen our spirits on the slightest. In fact, we had quite a few new spring arrivals to keep us busy in the park, and to keep our eyes and ears attentive all morning long!

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes just the right light and the right conditions to make a relatively normal and common bird stand out. It was no different with the Mallards we saw occasionally at their namesake area in Fish Creek Provincial Park. With their bright green iridescent heads, bright yellow bills and curly tail feathers, they do take on a character of their own in the spring!

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were also greeted along our walk by quite a number of American Robins feeding in the nearby trees. Some on some Mountain Ash, some on local crab apple trees, and a few just sitting pretty and singing away. It’s really nice to see these guys back again! Pretty much all of the American Robins we found were males, which is exactly what we’d expect this time of year as they return from their overwintering grounds and establish territories. It’s usually the first early birds on the block that get the most coveted territories, so for them it pays to stay as close to ones own breeding grounds as possible. While many non-birders consider them the true harbinger of spring, it’s a well documented fact that there are quite a few of them that spend the winter right here in Calgary!

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for us to have any gulls stick around over winter. They usually depart in mid- to late- November and return in early March. The two species that tend to show up the soonest are both the Ring-billed and the California Gull, both of which were present on the Bow River on our walk that Sunday morning.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

California Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

California Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were delighted to find a couple of surprises on our walk though as well, the first being a lone Song Sparrow, giving chip calls and high pitched “seep” calls while it foraged under the overhanging sections of the river bank, and in a small willow nearby. While it didn’t sing, it did respond to both pishing and a quick call playback by popping up into view allowing a few of us to get both good looks, and a few good close pictures of it!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The second was a White-throated Sparrow hanging around a yard full of typical feeder birds, both House Sparrows and House Finches. Once again it was the diagnostic chip notes that made its presence known to us, and it did take a little while to pick it out from the underbrush. Once we had it found though, a little playback of chip notes and a bit of pishing brought it out into the open as well!

White-throated Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the last leg of our journey one of our group drew our attention to a hawk-shaped outline in the trees bordering on the edge of the park. Its large size and relatively identifiable coloration pointed out the species to us right away, it’s just unfortunate that a couple of walkers passed right underneath it and flushed it from its perch just as we were getting into the open. Hopefully you can make the ID on this bird as well as we were able to!

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It seems like every week more and more birds are arriving back in our beautiful city, and soon the leaves will be out on the trees and the warblers, vireos, and flycatchers of summer will be nesting, laying eggs, and raising their young!

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

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!

Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

female Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Wednesday Wings: World Shorebirds Day (and other days!) at Weed Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Shorebirds are my thing. I love watching flocks of them wheel and turn in flocks of tens, hundreds, and even thousands at a time, so when I heard about the initiative of World Shorebirds Day, I immediately signed up for a few sites at one of my favourite shorebirding locations just outside the city. Leading up to it, there had been some great sightings of somewhat uncommon birds, and between July 29th and September 6th, I probably spent at least one day a week visiting it for at least a few minutes.

Killdeer Weed Lake July 29, 2014

Killdeer
Weed Lake
July 29, 2014

Early on, the usual shorebirds that breed in and around Calgary were abundant and relatively easy to find. Killdeer, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Spotted Sandpipers were everywhere, but as migration ramped up into mid-August, the shorebirding really began heating up.  The first Black-bellied Plovers were seen in early August, and by August 10th, just about every species of shorebird we can expect to move through the Calgary area was there to be counted!

Lesser Yellowlegs Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Semipalmated Plover
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds! Weed Lake August 10, 2014

So many shorebirds!
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

Baird's Sandpipers Weed Lake August 10, 2014

Baird’s Sandpipers
Weed Lake
August 10, 2014

A trio of Ruddy Turnstones showed up at the lake in late August, and on my scouting weekend they turned up and I had a chance to get relatively close looks at them. One of the more colorful shorebirds that we get around here, I think!

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Ruddy Turnstones
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

Willet Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Willet
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And if you ever need some sense of scale for some of these small but powerful fliers, my current phone is roughly the same size as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I’m not quite sure what caused the demise of this little fellow, but in the wild there are so many more things to be worried about than just predators. Disease, untreated injuries, or even simple medical anomalies can bring natural selection into play.

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper Weed Lake August 30, 2014

Unfortunate Semipalmated Sandpiper
Weed Lake
August 30, 2014

And finally, after months of anticipation, the magical day arrived. Sadly the big numbers of shorebirds were nowhere to be found, though I did still get some good finds on the day!

American Avocet clearing its throat Weed Lake September 6, 2014

American Avocet clearing its throat
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers taking off
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Stilt Sandpipers and California Gull
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Oh yeah, and I mentioned predators before, didn’t I? A pair of beautiful Peregrine Falcons were doing a great job of scattering the shorebirds that had stuck around. One of them even managed to snag a distant Lesser Yellowlegs while we watched on, and its mate gave us some good fly-bys as well!

Peregrine Falcon Weed Lake September 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon
Weed Lake
September 6, 2014

Thanks for reading, and good birding!

August in Carburn Park

The last few weeks, Tony LePrieur has been sending us some outstanding photos of birds at Carburn Park. We had some technical difficulties with the blog and have been unable to post, but we’re back to full speed now. Here is Tony’s great collection of photos from the last three weekends in Carburn.

This is a good year for wood warblers, and there should be several species around until Sept 20 or so. Carburn Park has been a great place to see them, or anywhere along the river. Confederation Park is another warbler hot spot in the city.

Some of these fall birds can be tricky to ID, so please comment if you think we’ve got any wrong. There are two we weren’t at all sure about, the recently fledged one and the orange one, both captioned “???” – give us your thoughts on those!

Carburn1.1

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.9

Canada Warbler

Carburn3.8

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Carburn3.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn3.6

female Tennessee Warbler

Carburn3.5

Wilson’s Warbler

Carburn3.4

Warbling Vireo

Carburn3.3

Magnolia Warbler

Carburn3.2

American Redstart

Carburn3.1

Townsend’s Warbler

Carburn2.8

Warbling Vireo

Carburn2.7

Red-eyed Vireo

Carburn2.6

Northern Waterthrush

Carburn1.8

Canada Warbler

Carburn1.7

female/immature Tennessee Warbler

Carburn1.3

Orange-crowned Warbler

Carburn1.2

???

Carburn1.5

immature Baltimore Oriole

Carburn1.4

House Wren

Carburn1.9

Sora

Carburn1.10

???

Carburn2.4

Solitary Sandpiper

Carburn2.5

Eastern Kingbird

Carburn2.9

American Goldfinch