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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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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!

A Sunny Sunday at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Sorry for the late update everyone! We’ll be back to regular weekly posts tomorrow morning, so consider this a double-shot to finish off the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course with a bang!

Our outing on March 22 took us to Carburn Park on a bright, sunny, but slightly chilly morning. We had hopes of possibly finding some more early sparrows in the feeders near the park, or a new gull species or two, or even some early arriving hawks, but things did seem to slow down a bit after the initial spring migration rush from the previous couple of weeks!

Carburn Park - March 22

Carburn Park – March 22

We started off heading south into the sun so we could continue the majority of our walk with the sun at our backs and upon reaching the bridge and nearby gazebo we found a bit of activity. While there were a few indicators that while spring was officially here, winter, as always in Calgary, was still holding on strong. This Canada Goose was sporting a jacket of frost and was a little reluctant to begin the day until we walked across the bridge above it.

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

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

Nearby, the House Sparrows were hard at work foraging in the gazebo and preparing their nests in the eaves. This female stopped briefly to allow a few photos before continuing on to work on her nest building.

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

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

Quite often the gravel bars here at Carburn Park are full of gulls in the morning, and we always take a few minutes to pick through them to see if we can identify some locally uncommon species, but on this morning we didn’t have too many gulls as the fishermen had an earlier start than we did, and had flushed most of them before we really had a chance to take any good long looks at them. We did get up close and personal with this Ring-billed Gull though, so hopefully that’s a decent consolation picture!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We headed over to the larger ponds in the middle of the park and while they weren’t open and the couple beaver and muskrat channels had closed up a bit as well, but we did hear this little Brown Creeper in the trees nearby, and managed a few half-decent shots of this normally quite reclusive bird!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

One nice surprise of the morning were a few photos I took of what we often consider a “trash” bird. I’ve always said though that if these birds weren’t so common around here, they’d be something that people would drive for hours just to see one and all the beautiful colors they can show off in good light. This Black-billed Magpie was trying to snap off a few twigs to take back to its nest nearby when we came across it and disturbed its hard work.

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

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

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

We ended off our walk by following the east edge of the ponds, and had a close encounter with some White-tailed Deer, a few Eastern Grey Squirrels, and this rather healthy looking Coyote that burst out of the trees well behind our group and ran across the pond. Much braver than any of us would have been, given the warm weather we’ve had all winter!

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

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

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We ended off our walk looking for the Great Horned Owls who had nested right beside the parking lot the past two years, and we did manage to find this male keeping watch over the well hidden nest. Looks like he didn’t really appreciate us discovering him!

male Great Horned Owl  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Watch this space tomorrow for our final update on the Winter Birding course!

Good birding.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

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Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

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Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

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Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

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

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

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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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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.

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Magpies mobbed the owl.

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Shome photos from April 4:

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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.

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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.

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Photo by Dave Russum.

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