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Baby Owls of Burnsmead

This spring a family of Great Horned Owls nested in the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Max Ortiz Aguilar got these photos of the family after the young had hatched and were almost ready to start branching.

Great Horned Owls – mother with two downy young. Burnsmead, April 16, 2017.

Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Great Horned Owl, male standing guard by the nest, Burnsmead, April 16, 2017.

Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

To see more of Max’s wildlife photos, go to his site, Photos by MOA.

Great Gray Owl with Pocket Gopher

Correction: The unfortunate rodent is a Northern Pocket Gopher, not a Meadow Vole. Pocket Gophers are the ones that make mounds of  loose soil above their underground burrows. The soil mounds are commonly seen, but the animals themselves rarely venture above ground. When they do, it is usually at night and they don’t go more than a few feet from the mound. Hence they are rarely seen – this is the first photo of one from the Calgary area that I’ve seen. – Bob Lefebvre

Tony LePrieur got this great shot of a Great Gray Owl with a captured Northern Pocket Gopher recently near Calgary.

Great Gray Owl, Turner Valley area SW of Calgary, July 3, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Great Gray and Short-eared Owls

On a good day in the Calgary area you can see four or five species of owls (seven on a great day). Here are two that are not seen within the city limits too often, but can be found by making a short drive east or south (for Short-eared Owls) or west (for Great Gray Owls). We usually don’t reveal exact locations of owls so you’ll have to do a little searching for them. Photos by Tony LePrieur.

Short-eared Owl, east of Calgary, March 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Short-eared Owl, east of Calgary, March 12, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Great Gray Owl, west of Calgary, April 9, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Great Gray Owl, west of Calgary, April 9, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

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

Barred Owl Baby

Here is a juvenile Barred Owl photographed by Kim Selbee near Bragg Creek, SW of Calgary, on September 13, 2016.

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Below is an adult Barred Owl Kim photographed two years ago in the Alder Park Loop, near Bragg Creek Provincial park, a short distance from where the juvenile was.

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Sunday Showcase: Long-eared Owls

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

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Adult Long-eared Owl. Photo by Tony LePrieur, Calgary, June 26, 2016.

Long-eared Owls are fairly common in the Calgary area and breed in and around the city, but they are nocturnal and so secretive that many birders go years between sightings. In early summer I was told of a Long-eared Owl nest in the city with young in the nest. Here are some photos of this family taken by several local birders.

(Note: The birds are secretive since they are vulnerable to predation from Great Horned Owls, magpies, ravens, crows, porcupines, and hawks. It is very important when observing them to not give away the location of the nest. This nest was very close to a public pathway.  Although the young have fledged long ago now, the owls may nest in the same area again next year, so I won’t reveal the location. I did share it with Dan Arndt, Andrew Hart, and a couple of young birders who had never seen this species before, but we didn’t want to put undue stress on the birds or draw attention to the location by having too many people go to see them.)

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Adult Long-eared Owl, Calgary, June 9, 2016. Photo by Dan Arndt.

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June 9, 2016, Calgary. Four young were in the nest. Photo by Dan Arndt.

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June 11, 2016. Only one young remained in the nest. We were concerned that they had been predated, so stopped visiting for a while. But later on we saw two fledged young together near the nest, so they may just have fledged at slightly different times. Photo by Dan Arndt.

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Another adult on June 9. They are about 14 inches (36 cm) tall. Photo by Dan Arndt.

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A close-up of one of the young in the nest, June 9, 2016. Photo by Dan Arndt.

On June 26 Andrew Hart and I went to see if the last of the owls had fledged. The nest was empty, but we found two very vocal and active young owls nearby.

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Recently fledged Long-eared Owl, Calgary, June 23, 2016. Photo by Andrew Hart.

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Photo by Andrew Hart.

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Vocalizing fledgling. Photo by Andrew Hart.

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Photo by Andrew Hart.

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Photo by Andrew Hart.

Tony LePrieur had found this same nest independently and visited it a couple of times.

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Long-eared Owl, Calgary, June 26, 2016. This looks like a younger owl than the ones Andrew and I saw three days previously. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

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Vocalizing adult Long-eared Owl, Calgary, June 26, 2016. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Terry’s Travels: It’s Great Seeing Great Horned Owls!

By Terry Korolyk

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Since starting birding in the Calgary area in 1987, I have had the good fortune to be able to see many Great Horned Owls in my travels. As most people know, the Great Horned Owl is our provincial bird. It is widespread, but, local; common in some areas but not others. I get the impression the species is not as common as it used to be, but, we must remember, it is local. A check of this year’s Calgary area May Species Count data held annually the last weekend in May revealed that of a total of 31 Owls recorded, 18 were recorded in only 6 city territories. Leading the way was the Burnsmead east Fish Creek PP territory which had 6. Mallard Point Fish Creek PP, also along the Bow River, had 3. Baker Park in northwest Calgary had 4. These numbers mean that all the rural territories totaled only 13 birds with South of Strathmore leading with 4, and, the Carbon-Acme areas having 3 birds. That’s a total of 7 birds meaning all the other rural territories totaled only 6. Maybe it isn’t me and the species is not as common as it used to be, at least in rural areas. To be fair, numbers would have to compared against past years.

In the 1990s, and, even in the early stages of the new millennium, you could pretty well expect to drive out on the prairie east or southeast of Calgary and expect to see more than one Great Horned Owl perched on the top of a telephone pole, or, on the crossbars of a telephone pole in the fading light of the afternoon as they were preparing to launch themselves off to begin another night on the hunt. One such bird from those days was this bird I photographed along a road in the Blackie area.

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This particular bird, quite dark brown, appears to be somewhat of a battle-scarred veteran with stubby eartufts, one of them flopped over, and a long scar stretching  from one of the bird’s shoulders down one side of its breast. We can only speculate as to how the bird got that scar. These days, I have much more trouble just chancing upon a Horned Owl than I did in those days. I can recall one afternoon in that area when I observed 3 birds not all that far apart enacting that very scenario.

However, we must remember that the species is local. For instance, there was at least one pair that every winter roosted in the White Spruce trees against the back of the building on the north side of Sikome Lake in east Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary. Many people knew about them, and, the birds may have been amongst the world’s most photographed Great Horned Owls. At least  1 pair of the birds nests in the vicinity every year, sometimes in a tree cavity. Just down the road from Sikome Lake, one can walk the pathway between the Coniferous trees at the Fish Creek Park’s Visitor’s Centre, and also have a good chance of seeing at least one, if not more birds there. Long-eared Owls have also been found in these trees. Carburn Park on the other side of the Bow River from Fish Creek PP used to be a reliable site for finding Great Horned Owls, but, this year’s MSC numbers showed only 1 bird there. Refer to the opening paragraph for areas where the birds are most common, at least in May of this year.

In Great Horned Owls, as in all other Raptors, the female is larger than the male as is nicely illustrated by this pair photographed near Lake McGregor at Milo.

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This partnership will soon lead to nesting –

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– as indicated by one of a pair perched beside the nest, which in this case, was along 146 Avenue near a farm in southeast Calgary before it became the Copperfield and New Brighton subdivisions. Nesting eventually leads to the production of young –

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– such as this particular bird which was fledging from a nest near the creek in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek PP. Mummy was down on a rock in the creek at the time hunting in the daytime to feed her youngsters. Once the young have fledged, they are officially Great Horned Owls.

In the immediate Calgary area, Great Horned Owls seem, in my experience, to be predominantly grayish birds such as this particular bird:

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However, no 2 things in a species are perfectly alike, so, the degree of grayness and the arrangement of the bars, streaks, and other markings and colours produces no 2 identical individuals. Note the attractive contrast on this Owl between the white tail and the rest of the bird:

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While some birds in the Calgary area can be somewhat darker or lighter; birds, in the foothills seem to be, in my experience, to be somewhat darker gray such as this individual:

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Remembering that no 2 snowflakes are exactly alike, look at this darker gray individual, but, look at the unusual blackish face.

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The city of Calgary sort of lies on the fringe area and some of the birds you see in the area may not be gray and white, but, may have some small degrees of brown, or, reddish-brown tinged feathers. Generally, the further east and south one goes from Calgary, the more liable one is to see birds with brownish, or, reddish-brown tinged feathers and, also, the browner the feathers may be. Look at the scarred veteran of the opening paragraphs and look at these 3 individuals, all photographed at sites east of Calgary:

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All these birds show varying degrees of brown and reddish-brown feathers.

But, it doesn’t end there. Aberrant plumages do occur. I photographed a leucistic Horned Owl once while guiding for a birder from Virginia in the United States, and, I have seen at least 2 individuals that were probably Subarcticus, or West Taiga subspecies birds being very, very pale gray and showing a lot of white. One bird was on the Calgary Christmas Bird Count along railroad tracks in open grassland on the eastern edge of the city, while the other was at a marsh in the hills south of Calgary during wintertime.

The moral is—- be on the lookout for a variety of Great Horned Owl plumages in our area.

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On the local birding scene, Fall shorebird migration thus far has been rather unspectacular, but it is early, with the “best” bird being a Ruddy Turnstone on a muddy spit seen from the viewing area at the south end of Weed Lake at Langdon. Lesser Yellowlegs have shown up so far in strong numbers. Migrating passerines detected on the move already include Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee and Wilson’s Warblers. The report of up to 3 Purple Martins at the south end of Weed Lake recently is unusual as there are rarely reports away from the species’ local stronghold colony at Chestermere Lake. Caspian Terns are being reported with the most recent report coming from the Carseland Weir. Other recent reports have been from the north access of Langdon Reservoir and the south end of Weed Lake. There have been 2 reports of Grasshopper Sparrows from our area in July with one bird being seen south of the Mallard Point parking lot in east Fish Creek PP, and, the other bird photographed carrying food south of Keoma which is on Township Road 262 a short drive east of Highway 9. These birds are north of their range in the province. Recent rarities include a Northern Mockingbird near the Twin Valley Dam east of Parkland on July 13, and, a Great Crested Flycatcher in the Bearspaw region of northwest Calgary on July 12.

The city of Calgary Rare Bird Alert (RBA) number is 403-221-4519. If you have found a rare or unusual bird, noticed some unusual interesting bird behavior, noticed an unusually large number of individuals of a particular species of bird, or have seen a bird in the province out of season, by all means, report it.

The end of Winter in the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

For our last outing for our Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding group, we headed to the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park to see what winter birds remained, and if any spring migrants had shown up around the Glenmore Reservoir and in the Weaselhead itself. While many of our winter birds had already left, a few die-hards were still around in good numbers, and we definitely were not disappointed with the numbers of spring birds we found all around the park.

Weaselhead - March 20, 2016

Weaselhead – March 20, 2016

We headed down into the Weaselhead first thing, checking the feeders along the way. I had headed down before our group to fill some of the feeders, and managed to spot an overwintering American Goldfinch, but when the rest of our group headed down as a whole all of the feeders were completely devoid of activity. Part of the reason for the vacancy is that now that the weather has turned, the birds were not quite as reliant on the feeders as insects had begun to hatch, and caches stored during the winter would provide plenty of food. We did have one little fellow who turned up, as always, at the tail end of the winter session.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

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Fresh from his winter hibernation, this Least Chipmunk seemed completely oblivious to our presence as he stuffed his face full of black-oil sunflower, peanuts, and various other seeds I’d placed at the feeder earlier in the morning. I just love how much character these little mammals have, and how single-minded they can be when they first wake up.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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While she wasn’t right at the feeder, this Hairy Woodpecker was hanging out nearby, hammering a hole in the side of this tree to pick out a tasty meal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

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A little further down the path and across the bridge we found this male House Sparrow and his mate picking out some twigs, grass and leaves to make their nest for the coming season. Given where they were loafing about, they may have even been considering setting up shop in one of the Cliff Swallow nests on the bridge!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Before we turned around to head back up the hill, we stopped and checked the logs and information signs that have been used all winter as a feeding station, and sure enough we found some American Tree Sparrows singing away in the brush, and coming out to feed. These little sparrows have an amazing song, and are just as striking to look at.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

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We headed back up the hill and off to the east end of the Glenmore Reservoir to find our returning migrants, and were not disappointed on the first pond. A pair of American Wigeon were floating along the back end of the pond, well away from the Canada Geese and Mallards who were clearly set up on their nesting territories closer in.

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

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While we were scanning the ponds for waterfowl, sparrows, and anything else we could find, we heard a flock of late White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees to the north, picking through the few remaining cones that had made it through the winter. Both males and females were in fine form, with the majority of the birds being immature, and as always, seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence.

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

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These Canada Geese seemed to have their feathers ruffled by the Mallards (in the shade of the rock on the left). It wasn’t until the Mallards had simply had enough and moved on that the geese left them alone. Seeing these inter-species interactions is always a treat, and late winter and early spring can lead to some great opportunities for this behaviour.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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Our best surprise of the day was coming across this male Great Horned Owl high up in a spruce trying to have a nap… until we disturbed him. He wasn’t pleased to see us. At all.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye (and a very confused Mallard) were still trying to display for the few remaining single females, though most others of their kind we’d found this late in the winter/spring season. Despite that, at least two of them seemed to making a positive impression!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

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One of our last birds of the day, and a great one at that, was this Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies that sang a bit for us, but also perched high up in the nearby bushes and allowed everyone very good looks.

The spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek is now well under way, so expect some new posts in the next few weeks from our more recent outings. Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Bebo Grove and the arrival of winter birds

Posted by Dan Arndt

It certainly didn’t feel anything like fall on our last few outings with the Friends of Fish Creek. Aside from a little bit of snow sticking around, and a bit of a brisk start, we’ve had incredible luck with our fall weather here in Calgary, or at least on our Sunday walks!

Bebo Grove is one of our most anticipated outings in the fall for a number of reasons, all of which are owls. Northern Pygmy-Owls were the star last fall and winter, and there’s always the chance of finding Great Gray Owls, Barred Owls, and of course Great Horned Owls. It is also relatively dense spruce forest, which draws in both species of crossbill, Pine Grosbeaks, and even Common and Hoary Redpolls.

While we didn’t have much luck in the redpoll department, we did have a good variety of everything else, and even had a couple bonus raptors show up!

Bebo Grove - November 1, 2015

Bebo Grove – November 1, 2015

For the third (maybe fourth?) year in a row, the star of our show was Bob. Bob is a Red-breasted Nuthatch with a fairly prominent patch of leucism (read: white feathers) on his head. He’s the dominant bird in his little mixed flock of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers, which is noticeable immediately when he is being fed. He flies in, right to the food, flushing every other bird nearby, and coming back time and time again to gather more for his numerous caches.

 

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

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We searched for American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and even Pileated Woodpeckers in the area surrounding the picnic tables, but came up almost entirely empty. We did find a Hairy Woodpecker a little bit to the west, but once we entered the next stand of spruce between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, things really started getting busy!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

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We stopped shortly after to investigate the tops of the nearby spruce trees, as cones began raining down onto the pathway in front of us. Nearly a hundred White-winged Crossbills were filling the trees above us, calling, feeding, and flying about in a frenzy.

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

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As we were walking through the dense spruce, we heard some agitated chattering of chickadees and nuthatches, as if they were harassing a predator of some sort. We searched around and as we came into a clearing to get close enough to investigate, a young Great Horned Owl flushed up from a spruce across the clearing, flying west and away. It definitely pays to check these things out, even if its only a rare occasion where you actually do stumble upon a prize like that! As we scanned the trees north of the clearing for where the owl went, we did spot this distant Sharp-shinned Hawk. It’s just too bad it didn’t stick around when we got just a little bit closer later on.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

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A little further to the west, we found yet another mixed flock, and had a few Boreal Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, Brown Creepers and still more Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding heavily in the trees, and a few even posing nicely for us.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

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Coming into the next clearing, we had a bit of a close encounter with a big Mule Deer buck. We actually found him first having a bit of a sparring match with a willow shrub, but as we walked by, he took notice of us and just had to show off his antlers.

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

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Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

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We headed towards the barn at Shannon Terrace before turning back. It was a little more quiet to the west than we usually have it, but it wasn’t too much further along that we found out exactly why. This female Merlin was keeping a sharp eye on the ground below, especially one of the feeding stations, and looked quite interested in any little movement nearby.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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So with that, we headed back to take a second look for Northern Pygmy-Owls, Barred Owls, and American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, but came up (mostly) empty, so we followed the edge of the wetland back to where we had found Bob earlier in the day, but were alerted to the presence of yet another Great Horned Owl by the chattering and squawking of a pair of Blue Jays. 

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

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Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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It didn’t take too long for the Blue Jays to lose interest and fly off, leaving this big, beautiful owl to snooze the rest of the day away.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great week and good birding!