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Migrant Sparrows: White-throated and Chipping

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

More birds from my backyard. The White-throated Sparrows were around for just a couple of days in the first week of May (although I heard one singing in the neighbourhood this morning, possibly a late migrant grounded by the strong winds and rain we had yesterday). Chipping Sparrows passed through last week, and I counted up to thirty in my yard one day, along with a few of the closely-related Clay-colored Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The above photo shows the sharply contrasting white throat patch and the yellow lores that are keys to identifying this species. Some White-throated Sparrows have tan and black rather than white and black head stripes, but they should always show the white throat and a least a little yellow on the lores.

The tan and black variation is a colour morph which some White-throated Sparrows have throughout their lives. It is not a juvenile characteristic, like the tan and gray head stripes of the White-crowned Sparrow. All White-crowns have tan stripes as juveniles, and white stripes as adults. Here is an old photo of an adult White-crowned Sparrow. Besides the lack of a white throat and yellow lores, note the clean gray breast and spotted back feathers which are quite different from the White-throated Sparrow. The pale bill (pink or yellow) also stands out.

White-crowned Sparrow, Calgary, May 10, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Below are a few of the Chipping Sparrows that were in my yard. There were thousands in yards all over the city that week.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Both of these species breed in the city. White-throated Sparrows are common in the Weaselhead, the west end of Fish Creek Park, and other parts of the city where the boreal forest intrudes. You can hear their beautiful song there right now. Chipping Sparrows breed throughout the city, even in suburbs in low numbers. Their song is a long, dry, steady trill, which is sometimes mistaken for an insect sound.

Other birds I’ve had pass through my yard recently on migration include White-crowned Sparrows (in pretty low numbers this year) around the end of April and first week of May, Ruby-crowned Kinglet at about the same time, and a Baltimore Oriole briefly on May 21.

Goldfinch and Other Backyard Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first American Goldfinch of the year arrived in our yard on Mother’s Day.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Although I occasionally hear goldfinches flying over in the summer, they don’t stay to breed in my neighbourhood and I usually don’t see them in my yard except on spring and fall migration.

There are Northern Flickers here year-round, and there are at least a couple that are still courting, so maybe this is the year that my Flicker nest box finally get used (by Flickers, rather than House Sparrow, Starlings, or squirrels).

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

This year our local pair of Swainson’s Hawks is building a nest just down the block, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot of them. I will post more about these birds as the season goes along.

Swainson’s Hawk, Calgary, April 30, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Birds of Bridlewood and Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Photographs of spring birds, by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s), Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are usually among the first warblers to pass through Calgary on Spring migration, along with Orange-crowned Warblers. Most of the ones we get here are the Myrtle subspecies, the eastern and northern form, which have a white throat and a more prominent black mask. They breed in the boreal forest. The Audubon subspecies, shown here, breeds in the western mountains. This year, quite a few Audubons were reported here. There is talk that the two subspecies will be split again into two separate species, so it is important to note which one you see, especially if you are recording your sightings on eBird.

Common Grackle, Bridlewood Wetland, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The Bridlewood Wetland is located just north of Spruce Meadows, on James McKevitt Road in SW Calgary. It is a small wetland but has a trail around it and a bridge from which to view the birds.

The Bridlewood Wetland in SW Calgary.

The rest of the photos were taken in Carburn Park on the Bow River in SE Calgary.

Common Goldeneye (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Common Merganser (female), Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

On spring migration, we get more Lesser Yellowlegs than Greater Yellowlegs in the city. But we do get both species. The Lesser is slighter, with a smaller head, and the bill is about the length of the head from front to back, as with this bird. The Greater Yellowleg’s bill is about one and a half times the head length, and often slightly curved upwards.

Song Sparrow, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

This Song Sparrow is missing its tail. Birds don’t molt their tail feathers all at once, so a missing tail probably indicates that the bird narrowly survived an attack by a predator.

Beaver, Carburn Park, April 30, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

See more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.

Brown Thrasher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Brown Thrashers are rather late migrants, usually arriving in the Calgary area in mid-May or even late May, as do their Gray Catbird cousins. The bird shown here was one that actually overwintered here this year. It was first noticed before Christmas 2016 in Airdrie by Heinrich Lohmann.

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, January 16, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

The bird was coming to a feeder in Heinrich’s yard and continued to do so into March of this year. The photo below was taken on March 10th, and the bird was last seen on March 11th. It may have moved on to its summer territory then, getting a big jump on its migratory rivals (although if so, it will have a bit of wait for any females to arrive back).

Brown Thrasher, Airdrie, March 10, 2017. Photo by Heinrich Lohmann.

It’s not unheard-of for Brown Thrashers to overwinter in Alberta. One was seen in Calgary in December 2015 and (I believe) one in Canmore later that winter. One was seen north of Edmonton in February 2015. Of course, these birds are at high risk when spending the winter so far north. Their normal winter range is in the SE United States. As I said, a bird that successfully overwinters here will get first choice of breeding territories. But it’s also possible that birds that overwinter are only doing so because they were sick or injured during the migration period, and were unable to head south.

In any case it’s always interesting to see a “summer” bird here in mid-winter.

April Migrants from Carburn Park and the Weaselhead

Redheads (female on left, male right), Carburn Park, April 23, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Song Sparrow, Carburn Park, April 23, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Common Goldeneye, male, mating display, Weaselhead, April 9,2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Common Goldeneye, female, Weaselhead, April 9,2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

American Robin, Carburn Park, April 23, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

To see more of Tony’s photos, see his Flickr page.

Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park in Early April

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park (FFCPP) Society’s spring birding course, the groups birded the Weaselhead from the north parking lot down to the other side of the bridge over the Elbow River, and North Glenmore Park, including the stormwater ponds opposite the canoe club. The goal was to look for some spring migrants such as American Tree Sparrows in the Weaselhead and for Swans on Glenmore reservoir, and possibly Snowy Owls on the remaining ice.

Trumpeter Swans, Glenmore Reservoir, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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Max Ortiz Aguilar went with the Sunday morning group on April 9th and took photos of some of the birds and mammals they saw, including the Trumpeter Swans shown above. Glenmore Reservoir is a good place to find migrating swans in spring once the ice begins to go out. (All photos taken with a Canon 6D and a Tamron SP 150-600mm.)

In the Weaselhead, the group spotted American Tree Sparrows.

American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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Tree Sparrows are arctic nesters and an early migrant in the spring. Sometimes a few will overwinter here. Note the reddish streak behind the eye, the two-toned bill (black above, yellow below) and the dark central breast spot. These features distinguish it from the similarly rusty-capped Chipping Sparrow, a species which is common here in the summer but which doesn’t arrive back until early May.

The Weaselhead is a great place to find mammals too. Snowshoe Hares are common, and are now mostly in their brown summer coats.

Snowshoe Hare, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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Red Squirrels and Least Chipmunks often are seen at the bird feeders by the path through the Weaselhead.

Red Squirrel, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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Coyote, Weaselhead, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

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Finally, here is Max’s black-and-white shot of a Mallard on a rock in the reflecting waters of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Mallard, Glenmore Reservoir, April 9, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

To see more of Max Ortiz Aguilar’s photos, see his website, Photos by MOA.

Sunday Showcase: Migrating Sparrows

Leanne Ross photographed these birds this fall in her yard in Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She reports that the Tree Sparrow only stayed for a day, whereas the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows were around for a week or so, usually accompanied by Dark-eyed Juncos.

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White-throated Sparrow (left) and White-crowned Sparrow (right).

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American Tree Sparrow.

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White-crowned Sparrow.

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Downy Woodpecker (male), a year-round resident.

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Hairy Woodpecker (male), also a resident bird.

If you have good photographs of birds from the Calgary area, email them to us and we may post them.

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

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As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

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young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

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He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

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Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

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Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

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Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

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When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.

Sunday Showcase: Birds of Carburn Park and IBS

Bird and mammal photos taken by Tony LePrieur on September 11, 2016. The Wood Duck and Great Blue Heron were at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and the rest were at Carburn Park.

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Osprey.

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Wood Ducks.

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Great Blue Heron.

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Belted Kingfisher.

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Wilson’s Warbler.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Merlin.

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Eastern Gray Squirrel.

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American Mink.

Do you have some bird photos you’d like to share? Send them to our email address and we may post them on the blog.

 

Sunday Showcase: Carburn Park, September

Photos by Tony LePrieur, taken at Carburn Park in Calgary on September 4-5, 2016.

Can you identify the warblers? Put your ID’s and reasons in the comments.

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House Wren.

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Fall Warbler #1.

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Fall Warbler #2.

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Fall Warbler #3.

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Fall Warbler #4.

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Least Flycatcher.

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Least Flycatchers.

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Great Horned Owl.

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White-tailed Deer.