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Travel Tuesday – Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, Coaldale, AB

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of my favourite trips in the wonderful book “Day Trips from Calgary” by Bill Corbett, is the magical and amazing Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, located in Coaldale, Alberta. The drive itself is wonderful and offers plenty of opportunities for birding the dozens of lakes, sloughs, and fields in the two and a half hour trip into southern Alberta, but the grounds of the visitor centre would turn any non-birder into a confirmed bird lover.

 

You don’t even have to go in to the centre to get your bird fix. Surrounding the visitor centre are a series of ponds and marshes that are home not only to shorebirds, but also to passerines, flycatchers, and even large numbers of waterfowl.

A few of these Common Yellowthroat were seen just outside the visitor centre just before it opened.

Three or four Greater Yellowlegs were picking food out of the water just west of the visitor centre.

“But neither of these are birds of prey!” I hear you shouting. You’re right, they’re not. So, without further ado, on with the show!

Last year, the visitor centre housed a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk, which was penned near the front desk.

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk

This year though, we were greeted by Basil, the Burrowing Owl, who cooed and huffed, but investigated us with as much curiousity as we had about him.

Basil the Burrowing Owl

There is a huge portion of the Birds of Prey Foundation that is devoted to rehabilitation of injured or orphaned birds of prey. Some of the current residents are recovering from their injuries, such as the Broad-winged Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk in their care. Both of these birds are recovering from wing injuries, and will require rehabilitation for quite some time before they can be released back into the wild.

Broad-winged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

A few others birds on display are of unknown affinity, and I wasn’t able to track any of the volunteers down to ask them for clarification, but they’re beautiful birds nonetheless.

Northern Harrier

Long-eared Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Great Gray Owl

Others are permanent residents of the centre, and are part of breeding programs that are incredibly successful. Both the Merlins and Burrowing Owls are successful parents, and have regularly fledged offspring for quite a few years.

Merlin

Burrowing Owl

Arguably just as important as the rehabilitation, breeding, and even the care of these gorgeous raptors are the educational animals that they keep on hand, (and in some cases, in hand!) for public events, or even just for a private moment or two with visitors to the Birds of Prey Foundation visitors centre.

Barn Owl – though not considered “native” to Alberta, they are occasionally reported here.

The Short-eared Owl is quite possibly my favourite owl species.

Spirit, the blind Golden Eagle

Lauren and Alex Jr., one of the Burrowing Owl mascots of the Birds of Prey centre.

 

Don’t we just look SO happy together?

It’s hard to narrow down from the dozens of pictures that I took here to figure out just which ones are the best and which ones to post. Even looking over the post now, I know I’ve missed a few species and quite a few great photos that would represent them, but really, it’s worth going and visiting for yourself. They’re open this season until September 10, 2012, and will reopen to the public early next May. Why are you still reading this? Get down there and visit them for yourself!

Wednesday Wings: Northern Saw-whet Owl

Blog readers Elizabeth Sargent and Greg Earle sent us some absolutely stunning Northern Saw-whet Owl pictures that Greg took in Carburn Park. They visited on March 31, and were lucky enough to find this little guy at breast height in a thicket of bushes near the river. We’ve had a lot of great saw-whet owl photos on the blog in recent months, but these are just spectacular! Click to enlarge.

Sunday Showcase: Great-grey Owl

Rob English was driving west of Water Valley on March 31, and came across a bird he had never seen before  – a Great-grey Owl. These magnificent birds are one of the most sought-after sightings for many birders. Click to enlarge.

Spring has Sprung at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

It was quite evident by the bird activity last week at Carburn Park that spring would be arriving soon, and it became even more clear by the presence of two pairs of nesting Great Horned Owls at the East end of Fish Creek Provincial Park. One of our longest walks to date, at over 7km, we covered a huge amount of ground and saw some amazing sights.

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Meeting at Bow Valley Ranch, we headed along the hillside on the north edge of the lot to attempt to find a Ring-necked Pheasant which had been seen and heard just before my arrival, but to no avail. Heading southward towards the creek, we found the first male Great Horned Owl guarding a nest, and female, that remained undiscovered by our group. A success in the eyes of any parenting owl, but it would be a great find in a month or two once the eggs hatch and babies begin to fledge, and even moreso if someone were there to get some photos! On the other hand, a well hidden nest keeps away those who wouldn’t treat it with the proper respect.

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - slightly irritated

As we headed across the road through the park, and further south, we were constantly serenaded by the drumming and calling of the incredibly numerous Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers in the area, both of which numbered at least twenty individuals through the course of our walk.

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - male

Male Downy Woodpecker digging for a morsel

Northern Flicker - male

One of the many male Northern Flickers seen yesterday.

One of the most common questions of the day was, quite honestly, not surprising. With the incredible numbers of European Starlings coming in, many of those on our walk simply had no idea just how wide the range of Starling vocalizations truly was, and almost every variation of their call drew at least one question of “What bird made that call?”  To which my answer usually was: “This one.”

European Starling

The scourge of those who bird by ear.

We headed toward the south end of the park, and stopped briefly by the river to see if there were any unusual birds on the ice, on the shores, or in the water, but surprisingly, there were very few waterfowl at all on the Bow River. Directly on the river were a few Mallards, and on one pond just to the west, a few more Mallards and a pair of Common Goldeneye.

Mallards

Mallard ducks. (Female on left, male on right)

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (male left, female right)

Turning back towards Sikome Lake, we came across the second pair of Great Horned Owls. The male appeared slightly agitated, and as we approached, actually flew closer to the nest to better guard it. It also appeared that this pair was much better known, as there were quite a few others viewing the pair as well. The female, though well hidden, was barely visible sitting atop the clutch of eggs.

Great Horned Owl - male 2

A slightly more agitated and alert male Great Horned Owl, guarding his mate.

 

Great Horned Owl - male 2

Male Great Horned Owl

 

Female Great Horned Owl

Female Great Horned Owl on nest. Nope, I can't see it either.

Not too far away from this pair was another alert parent guarding his potential offspring. I wonder how many of his offspring will help feed the developing owlets in the coming months.

Canada Goose on nest

Canada Goose on nest

After stopping to watch this Canada Goose for a bit, we headed back north towards the vehicles, but first stopped to see just a few more woodpeckers in action. Both the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers in this part of the part are incredibly tolerant to people walking only a few meters away.

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

And with that, we headed back to the vehicles, and home. It’s quite an exciting time here during spring migration, and one of the things every birder looks forward to with great anticipation. What will the coming week bring?  I suppose I’ll just have to wait until next Sunday to find out!

 

 

Snowy Owl Action Shots

Duane Starr has had some excellent snowy owl luck lately, and sent us a couple of links to his photo galleries.

The first set has some wonderful in-flight and action shots. Click here to view, then click on Slideshow on the right hand side.

His second set of snowy pictures shows the complete sequence of an owl coughing up a pellet, which looks like an extreme amount of hard work! View here.

Saw-whet Owl and Pellet

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

By now most birders in Calgary have heard about the Northern Saw-whet Owl that was found in Carburn Park last Thursday.  Phil Smith was there when it was found, and he captured an amazing sequence of pictures that show the owl coughing up a pellet.

Owls and many other birds regularly regurgitate pellets, which consist of the indigestible parts of the food they eat.  Saw-whet owls eat a lot of Deer Mice, and their pellets contain mostly bones and fur.

Although these owls are thought to produce one pellet per day, it is a rare sight to see, and even rarer to photograph.   The pictures have been assembled into a short video.

.

Below is the complete sequence of photos showing the owl coughing up the pellet.  (Photos by Phil Smith, used by permission.)

To see more of Phil Smith’s photos, see his Flickr Page.

Anne Elliott also captured a photo of the pellet being produced:

To see more of Anne Elliott’s photos, see her Flickr Page.