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A relatively quiet morning at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our visit to Bebo Grove last Sunday was rather quiet for much of the morning, with a flurry activity for the last hour or so. Early on, we heard the odd Black-capped Chickadee here and there, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an occasional Downy Woodpecker. The light was good, and the weather was relatively clear, which made for an enjoyable trip through the park, but it would have been nice if we’d had better luck with any of the birds we were there to see!

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We walked through the picnic area a couple of times, at one point flushing what we were certain was a Great Grey Owl, crossed the river to search through the dense spruce in the south side of Fish Creek, and came up entirely empty except for the same bird species we’d heard earlier. We crossed back over the river and that’s when things really started to take off. We found a small mixed flock of birds spread out throughout the picnic area, including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches (including a partially leucistic male), a perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, and a handful of Boreal Chickadees mixed with the Black-capped Chickadees.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

As we searched through the east end of the picnic area, we found a very friendly little female Red-breasted Nuthatch chowing down on some seeds we’d left out for it.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Of course as we rounded out the day, I decided to stop by the local celebrity owl to snap a few photos for the blog. On any given day, this bird is relatively easy to spot since there’s usually a dozen or more people surrounding it trying to get the perfect photo. While I’m no expert on stress indicators in owls, I can’t help but think that the constant attention is having some negative impacts on it, so I decided to just snap a couple of photos from a couple of angles and move on, and boy am I glad I did!

Northern Pygmy-owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Northern Pygmy-owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Walking back towards Bridge 3 with Paul Turbitt and atop a small spruce on the other side of the river I spotted this little tuft of feathers. Sure enough, it was a second Northern Pygmy-Owl!

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

This was one of those 1 in a thousand situations when you raise your binoculars to check out that a spot on top of a tree which turns out to be a little branch, or clump of spruce cones, or cluster of leaves. It pays to keep looking up!

This little owl flew in close to us as we spotted it and set up in a tree right above us.

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We sat and observed it for a few minutes before some Black-capped Chickadees took note of it and decided to try to chase it off. Within moments, this cute little ball of feathers went from this:

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

To this:

Northern Pygmy-owl in "Tall Thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in “Tall Thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in "tall thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Pygmy-owl in “tall thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Moments later, it flew off deeper into the woods as the chickadees gave chase. It was really quite an incredible encounter, and it’s one of the reasons to get out and explore the great parks in this city!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Snowy Owls of the Calgary Area

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Don Whittaker Feb 2014

Photo by Don Whittaker, February 2014.

We used to have a page on the blog in the winter months which gave details of every Snowy Owl sighting that we heard about that was within about 80 km of Calgary. Although that page was by far the most popular thing we’ve ever done, we stopped doing it for a few reasons. First, it was a lot of work every day to track down all reports of Snowy Owl sightings on Albertabird, the Alberta Birds Facebook Group, eBird, and any other source we could find. Second, there were some allegations that a few unethical birders or photographers had been baiting the owls, and we didn’t want to make it too easy for these people to find the birds.

IMG_2093

Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Photo by Dan Arndt, February 2014.

However, I think that most birders and photographers in the Calgary area already know the best places to find the owls – generally speaking, east and northeast of the city. It is not hard to find that basic information on eBird, or on any birding or bird photography site. In this age of social media, all we can do is keep trying to educate people and encourage ethical birding and photography practices.

snowy_owl

Photo by Philip Kanwischer, December 2014

Recently Dan Arndt created an eBird site that shows all the eBird reports of Snowy Owls from October through December. Here is a snapshot of that page as of December 13. It gives a good idea of where the owls are being seen. (I’m sure there are Snowy Owls out on the prairies farther east and north of Calgary, but the reports reflect the large number of birders who live in Calgary and only travel as far as needed to find some owls.)

eBird Map Dec. 13

To view this eBird page with sightings up to the minute, click this link. The link will be available on our right-hand sidebar until the end of the Snowy Owl season in April 2015. Once you click the link to go to the eBird page, you can then zoom in to the Calgary area, and when the teardrop shaped markers appear, click on any of them to see when the owl was seen, who reported it, and, if you wish, their complete checklist and the map of the location.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owls will sometimes sit on the ground, where they can be difficult to find against the snow, but most often they are on an elevated perch like a telephone pole, road sign, gas pipe, or tree. A little exploring on the backroads on the prairies will usually turn up at least a few this winter. Some birders have reported as many as fifteen owls in one trip. If you do go out looking, please keep a respectful distance and try not to to force the owls to fly.

Here are some more Snowy Owl photos that our readers have sent to us during the past year. All of the photos were taken in the Calgary area.

secondsnowy

Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

thirdsnowy

Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

snowy owl (9)

Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

snowy owl (10)

Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

March 2014

A light owl on a post. Photo by Tony LePrieur, March 2014.

2014 Tony L

A dark owl on a post. Photo by Tony LePrieur, November 2014.

image3 Tony L

A very dark owl in flight. Photo by Tony Leprieur, November 2014.

Finally, here is a sequence showing a Snowy Owl coughing up a pellet, from December 2013. All photos below by Moe Zaleschuk.

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MOE_8278

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MOE_8280

MOE_8281

MOE_8284

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!

Wednesday Wings: Long-eared Owl

In early April Bruce Brummitt spotted this Long-eared Owl near his home in NW Calgary. These elusive owls are resident in the Calgary area, but this one may have just been passing through. It was seen for a few days but has not been seen since April 4.

The owl was only seen at dusk, in low light. Some of the photos were taken with a flash, so the owl’s iris looks red in those shots. All photos by Bruce Brummitt.

long-eared owl 01

long-eared owl 02

Magpies mobbed the owl.

long-eared owl 03

long-eared owl 04

Shome photos from April 4:

long-eared owl 05

long-eared owl 06

long-eared owl 07

 

Sunday Showcase: Late Winter Birds

Spring is here and the new migrants are showing up daily, but here is another look at some of the winter birds seen in Fish Creek Park and the Weaselhead Nature Area in Calgary. All photographs by Tony LePrieur.

The photos below were taken in Fish Creek Park on February 17, 2014.

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Great Gray Owl, Bebo Grove.

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image_2

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Boreal Chickadee.

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Black-capped Chickadee.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

These shots of the Three-toed Woodpecker in Bebo Grove were taken on February 23, 2014.

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image_1

The remaining photos below were taken on February 23, 2014 in the Weaselhead.

image_1

Great Horned Owl.

image_2

Boreal Chickadee.

image_3

American Tree Sparrow.

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Dark-eyed Junco.

image_5

Golden-crowned Kinglet.

image_6

House Finch.

Backyard Saw-whets

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

There have been quite a few sightings of Northern Saw-whet Owls in and around Calgary this winter. Some of the sightings have been at night in back yards. The owls are probably looking for mice, which sometimes feed on seeds below bird feeders. Here is a link to a post about one seen in SE Calgary in December.

The owl below was photographed by Sarah Louise Lynch in Heritage Pointe, DeWinton, Alberta on February 20, 2014.

IMG_5174 Saw-whet

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Sarah Louise Lynch. Nikon 7000 camera.

The owl below was seen at noon on February 9, 2014 in the St. Andrews Heights neighbourhood in NW Calgary. It was found by Dave and Susan Russum, who were led to investigate by a number of agitated chickadees and nuthatches in a spruce tree.

P1080145
Photo by Dave Russum.

This is probably the same owl I had found in that neighbourhood three days previously. I had told Dave about it since it was only two blocks from his house, so they were on the lookout for it. When I found it, there were twenty-three magpies and seven chickadees mobbing the owl in a spruce tree. Whenever you see that many agitated birds in a mob, it is worth investigating. Sometimes they are mobbing a cat, but most often it is a bird of prey. I have found several owls and other raptors that way.

P1080144
Photo by Dave Russum.

Also of interest: Have you seen the photos of a Saw-whet Owl coughing up a pellet

Travel Tuesday: Southern Alberta’s Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013-2014

Posted by Dan Arndt

There have been many articles published this year about the incredible, record-setting irruption of Snowy Owls in Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States. For example, over the span of one weekend in late 2013, over 300 individual birds were counted in Newfoundland. In a similar fashion to a story from last winter of a Snowy Owl being seen in Hawai’i (where it was unfortunately shot by USDA’s Wildlife Division), this year one was seen as far south as Bermuda!

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 2013

You can tell just from eBird that there are Snowy Owls all across Canada and the northern U.S., but relatively few make it further west into British Columbia.

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States

eBird map showing Snowy Owl sightings across the interior of Canada and the United States
Sightings range from October 1, 2013 to February 10, 2014

Here in the Calgary area, we’ve been rather lucky as well, as this is the third winter in a row where we’ve been on the receiving end of a fairly large irruption. While I haven’t been out as much this year to search for them as I was last, I’ve still had some fairly good luck, netting four owls in a single day in November in the Beiseker area in mid-December, two owls at once in a single day around Frank Lake in late January, and six owls in a single day in the Blackie area in early February. Some local die-hards have even reported finding as many as fifteen (yes, 15) in a single, all-day trip southeast of Calgary.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

This map from eBird shows pretty much what one would expect given those numbers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to consider this the furthest westerly extent of the same population of Snowy Owls responsible for the massive numbers out east.

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past two weeks, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

Snowy Owls in Southern Alberta in the winter of 2013-2014
Note: the red markers indicate owls seen in the past 30 days, while the blue markers indicate older sightings

One interesting thing discovered by Project SNOWstorm is that many of these Snowy Owls are in very good health, which goes against the common belief that these irruptions are the fallout from a crash in the lemming population on the tundra, leading starving owls to search further afield for suitable food to survive the winter. There are some others that suggest that this common belief may be completely erroneous, based on the research of Norman Smith, Tom McDonald, and other researchers in the U.S. and Canada.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

Of course, not all the Snowy Owls that make their way down here in the early winter will return north. Even those in great health that simply are unable to adapt to the food supply further south, those that have close encounters with power lines, vehicles, or other man-made hazards will simply be unable to return north due to injury or death.

Snowy Owl Frank Lake January 25, 2014

Snowy Owl
Frank Lake
January 25, 2014

You might have noticed as well that I tend not to label my Snowy Owl photos as male or female. Based on data collected from Scott Weidensaul and Norman Smith indicate that the usual conclusions of all-white individuals being older males, and heavily barred/marked individuals being young females may be much more complex than previously thought.

Snowy Owl Beiseker, AB December 13, 2013

Snowy Owl
Beiseker, AB
December 13, 2013

One thing that is indisputable by any birder, photographer, or even someone who simply enjoys nature and all of its beauty, is that Snowy Owls are absolutely marvelous creatures, and always a treat to find, whether it’s the first one you’ve ever seen in your entire life, or the twentieth one you’ve seen that day. I’ll never get tired of photographing them, especially when they pose in front of such a nice backdrop!

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
Blackie, AB
February 1, 2014

Have a wonderful week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Superb Owl Sunday!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Have a safe and happy Superb Owl Sunday, folks. Here are some of the superb owls that live in and around our amazing city.

Long-eared Owl North Calgary, 2013

Long-eared Owl
North Calgary, 2013

Great Gray Owl Grand Valley Road March 2013

Great Gray Owl
Grand Valley Road
March 2013

Short-eared Owl Frank Lake March 2013

Short-eared Owl
Frank Lake
March 2013

Northern Hawk Owl November 2012 Exshaw

Northern Hawk Owl
November 2012
Exshaw

Northern Saw-whet Owl Carburn Park January 2012

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Carburn Park
January 2012

Northern Pygmy Owl Winchell Lake July 2013

Northern Pygmy Owl
Winchell Lake
July 2013

Burrowing Owl west of Brooks August 2012

Burrowing Owl
west of Brooks
August 2012

Barred Owl South Glenmore Park March 2012

Barred Owl
South Glenmore Park
March 2012

Great Horned Owl north of Blackie February 1, 2014

Great Horned Owl
north of Blackie
February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl north of Blackie February 1, 2014

Snowy Owl
north of Blackie
February 1, 2014

 

Winter Birding Begins anew

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week’s walk begins the 13-week Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, and as with each course, we begin at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and introduced our attendees to the resident owls. It’s the charisma of these owls that we hope to bring back our students week after week, to hopefully see a number of other owl species, and educate them on the ins and outs of both birding, and avian behaviour. Both the male and female owl were a little bit shy today, but are still great subjects to shoot.

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

The day was all about contrasts. Contrasts between good light and poor, between warm weather and icy pathways, and between similar looking species. The first nice contrast that we got to see were the differences between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The longer bill, larger overall size, and lack of striping on the undertail coverts are a dead giveaway for the Hairy Woodpecker, while the male and female Downy Woodpecker have shorter bills, smaller sizes, and of course the banded undertail coverts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another wonderful contrast, helped out by the clearing clouds and peeking sunlight as we neared the end of our walk for the day, were the differences between the Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye. While I’ve written about them both many times before, one thing that I have never really captured well is the iridescent quality of their heads in good light. The Common Goldeneye reflects a greenish iridescence from its head feathers, and the Barrow’s flashes a deep purple in the sunlight.

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And as we closed out the day, I felt it would only be appropriate to try to get another look at our first bird of the day, the male Great Horned Owl back at the headquarters. Doesn’t he look happy to see us again?

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

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

Have a great week, and as always, good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Posted by Dan Arndt

Earlier this year, we were informed of what appeared to be a female Northern Saw-whet Owl sitting on a nest in a Edworthy Park. To make sure the owl successfully nested and fledged its young, we kept the location pretty quiet, and both Bob Lefebvre and myself visited the nest a few times just to check in on her and make sure she was still there. The area where the nest was located was a fairly low-traffic area, so we suspected chances were very good that she would successfully fledge a full nest of owlets. As the weeks progressed, things seemed to be going quite well, until one day she was simply gone. Here are a few photos of her checking me out as I checked her out:

female Northern Saw-whet Owl giving me the evil eye May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl giving me the evil eye
May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl checking me out from inside the nest May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl checking me out from inside the nest
May 2013

Nobody's home. Go away. May 2013

Nobody’s home. Go away.
May 2013

I see you seeing me! May 2013

I see you seeing me!
May 2013