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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.

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long-eared owl 02

Magpies mobbed the owl.

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

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Great Horned Owl.

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Boreal Chickadee.

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American Tree Sparrow.

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Dark-eyed Junco.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

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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.

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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

Wednesday Wings: Saw-whet Owl

Harris Toth had this little Northern Saw-whet Owl visit his yard in the Parkland neighbourhood of SE Calgary on December 15. The same night, another (or the same one) was seen in Queensland, only about 2 km away. These owls are quite common in the summer and there are always some around here in the winter, but they are strictly nocturnal so they aren’t often seen.

Saw-whet Owl in Parkside

 

Sunday Showcase: Great Grey Owls of Grand Valley Road

Posted by Dan Arndt

In late March of this year, Paul Turbitt and I headed out to Grand Valley Road in search of Great Grey Owls, and I had both my best day in terms of numbers of owls, but also in terms of photos. This individual owl seemed incredibly tolerant of people, and patient enough to make three hunting attempts in the hour that we sat and watched. More than a few times, the owl flew in our direction, seemingly unthreatened by our presence.

Enjoy the photos.

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up...

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up…

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

Oh! What's that?

Oh! What’s that?

Looks like lunch!

Looks like lunch!

Hmm... nope, missed it.

Hmm… nope, missed it.

I blame you, you know.

I blame you, you know.

Ready for takeoff...

Ready for takeoff…

Maybe the hunting's better down here...

Maybe the hunting’s better down here…

Nailed the landing!

Nailed the landing!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can't get enough of these gorgeous owls!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can’t get enough of these gorgeous owls!

Bye for now!

Bye for now!

 

Sunday Showcase: Great Grays of Grand Valley Road

Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane has been a really good place to find Great Gray Owls. Logan Gibson photographed this one while it was snowing on February 25:

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On March 2, Brett Mahura found three different Great Grays on Grand Valley Road:

Brett Mahura GGOW 1

Brett Mahura GGOW 3

Brett Mahura GGOW 2