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Rare Backyard Bird: Lesser Goldfinch

Posted By Bob Lefebvre

On May 15, 2016, Linda Vick photographed this bird in her yard in Cochrane. It is a Lesser Goldfinch, a very rare bird for Alberta. This is only the second record ever of this species in Alberta, the first being two years ago.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

If I saw this bird in my yard and didn’t look too closely I might think it was an American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinches breed in  the SW United States, so I’m sure many of you, like me, are unfamiliar with it. Keep an eye out!

Lesser Goldfinch males have a black cap but can be distinguished from American Goldfinches by the greenish back (sometimes black, but unlike the yellow back of an American Goldfinch), the white at the base of the primaries, and the grey rather than pinkish bill colour. The pictured bird looks like a young male, developing its black cap.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

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Lesser Goldfinch, Cochrane, May 15, 2016. Photo by Linda Vick.

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Here are American Goldfinches for comparison:

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American Goldfinch (breeding male). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

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American Goldfinch (female). Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The end of another season in Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our final outing of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek took us to Carburn Park, in southeast Calgary. This is always a great part of the Bow River to find an abundance of waterfowl and occasionally some rare and unusual birds, and this year has been no exception.

Carburn Park - December 13, 2015

Carburn Park – December 13, 2015

I attended both the Thursday and the Sunday walks that week, because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the birds that had been seen, but also because I needed to know where they were being seen when I let the group on Sunday!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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Since I knew the area, I knew we’d be able to do a little detour to the south, and I was sure glad I did. At the bridge we spotted this young Bald Eagle flying upstream on the hunt, flushing many of the Mallards and Common Goldeneye before heading further north and out of sight.

male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

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female Red Crossbill

female Red Crossbill

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male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

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Down on the south end of the park, we came across a small flock of Red Crossbills, which can often be a hard bird to get close to, and we had plenty of time to get good looks at both the males and females of this species!

Killdeer

Killdeer

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Killdeer on the rocks

Killdeer on the rocks

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Given the warm autumn weather we’ve been having this year, we have had a fairly large number of Killdeer attempting to overwinter along the Bow River. Our high count was on Sunday though, when we counted 13 Killdeer on various parts of the river. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many of them together at this time of year, but if you look carefully, you can see why that might be. The first image above contains three of the little white, black and brown shorebirds, while the second image contains four. Can you spot them?

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

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For most of the week, the groups had seen at least one male Hooded Merganser, which we unfortunately missed on Thursday, but on Sunday there were two! While they were a bit far off, we also saw a female Hooded Merganser a bit later in the day. They are one of the most attractive waterfowl species that we have here in Calgary, and it’s nice seeing them all winter long.

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

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Another bird that we don’t always have here in big numbers through the depths of the winter, but have a good number of during the late fall and early spring are Cackling Geese. The smaller, daintier cousins of Canada Geese are often overlooked, but when you know what you’re looking for, they jump right out from the pack at you. On the left side of the photo, between two groups of larger Canada Geese, is a lone Cackling Goose. The smaller individuals are about the size of a Mallard, with a small, stubby bill and short neck, while the larger members of the species are still noticeably smaller than a Canada Goose, but drawing that distinction can be particularly tough.

White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

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White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

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This White-tailed Deer seemed quite comfortable with us walking within a few feet of where he was resting, and I really liked how the frost and the grass accented his natural camouflage.

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

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It’s not every day that you get to see both male and female Common Mergansers in such fine form, but when you have an opportunity like this you just can’t help but take it. The low angle light and natural beauty of these two were just impossible to resist.

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

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A very late Double-crested Cormorant

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

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As awesome as the rest of the morning was, these two birds are the reasons we were visiting the park. Usually, Pied-billed Grebes have flown south for the winter by mid-November at the latest. Double-crested Cormorants, on the other hand, are usually gone around the same time, and that one we had found a few weeks earlier at Pearce Estate Park was the latest I’d ever seen them sticking around here. It wouldn’t even surprise me if this was the same bird!

Barrow's and Common Goldeneye

Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye

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Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

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Of course when you find all of these great waterfowl species, you have an even better chance of finding some of the seasonally expected birds that we get along the Bow. Barrow’s Goldeneye can be identified by their half-moon shaped spot behind the bill, and that series of white spots along the wing.

And that’s the end of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek. I’ll be posting an update on the Calgary and Canmore Christmas Bird Counts early next week, but have a Merry Christmas and we’ll be back to regular outings in the New Year!

Rare Bird: Golden-winged Warbler

Posted by Bob Lefebvre. All photos by George Best.

Last Sunday morning, July 26, 2015, local birder and photographer George Best went down to Griffith Woods Park in SW Calgary to see what he could find. He had headed out in the morning to go to the Weaselhead, but was unable to park there due to a triathlon.

At Griffith Woods George was not looking for any particular bird species, and was not doing a long walk through the park. He decided to do something that often is very rewarding in terms of birds found and opportunities to photograph wildlife – he just went to a good birdy location, and more or less stayed put and let the birds come to him.

He chose a wooded area near the Elbow River, south of the big pond at the east end of the park. He spent about twenty minutes there, and was able to get a few photographs of a Swainson’s Thrush and a chipmunk. Then he moved to a new location nearby, where he knew Yellow Warblers could be found. After twenty minutes there, this bird appeared:

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When he finally got a good look at the whole bird with binoculars, George realized that it was a species he had never seen before (and he knows the local birds very well). The bird just sat and preened for about three to five minutes. George put the long lens on his camera and snapped the photos shown here.

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Eventually the bird left, probably flying across the river. George looked through his Ibird Pro app and realized he had seen a Golden-winged Warbler. But a look at the range map showed that it was a bird of eastern North America, whose normal range extends to Manitoba, but no farther west. After sending a few texts to some other local birders with a photo of the bird, it was soon confirmed that it did appear to be a Golden-winged.

George did a search on the eBird site and discovered that this species had never before been reported on eBird in Alberta. I looked on the Royal Alberta Museum site for the Official List of the Birds of Alberta. This is a list of all species for which there is at least one sighting that has been accepted and verified by a panel of experts. Golden-winged Warbler is listed as Accidental, with a “Need to Document” code that indicated that there had been less than eight verified sightings in Alberta. This meant that this new sighting needed to be properly documented (the form can be downloaded from the Museum site) and the photographic evidence supplied as well.

In corresponding with Jocelyn Hudon, chair of the Alberta Bird Record Committee, I found out that there had only been two previous reports of this species in Alberta, in 1985 from Medicine Hat, and in 1994 from the Porcupine Hills. Neither of those sightings had photographic evidence. George’s was a very special sighting indeed!

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If the sighting is accepted by the ABRC, it will be only the third ever for Alberta, and the first supported by photographic evidence. The museum site gives this bird a “Findability Index” of  5, which means:

“These species have been seen in the province on fewer than 10 occasions and some may never be seen in the province again. These birds are finds of a lifetime and the probability of finding these in the province is extremely low to next to nil.”

Imagine going out to see what birds come to you, and having the “find of a lifetime!”

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Although word of the sighting got out very quickly, no one has yet been able to re-find this bird. I guess we’ll have to get out and try to find our own rarities.