Terry’s Travels: The Hills Are Alive With Birds

By Terry Korolyk

Living in the south end of Calgary since 1993, I have had much cause to bird and explore the area which I call the “Hills” which is directly south of Calgary. For birding purposes, it offers a fairly widespread type of habitat. We could probably define the area as south of Spruce Meadows Trail and bounded on the west by Highway 22; on the east by Highway 2A, and, on the south by Highway 549.


Starting in the southwest corner of the Highways 2A-Spruce Meadows Trail junction is a fairly well-birded and well known slough known to some as Sheriff King Slough, because it is actually on Sheriff King Street accessed from Spruce Meadows Trail. In the days of some of Calgary’s older birders in the 1970s and 1980s, it was known as the Priddis Radio Towers Slough. The past few years have seen the slough attain fairly-high water levels due in large part to the City’s Water Management practices because of the 2007 and 2013 floods. Prior to 2007, the slough held low water levels. Then, it was probably one of the best shorebirding sloughs in our area attracting all the basic migrating shorebird species such as Semipalmated,  Baird’s, Least, and, Pectoral Sandpipers, and, both, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Uncommon species found there included Western Sandpiper (more than once), Red-Knot, and, White-rumped Sandpiper. It also held most of the common Duck species.


Adult Red-necked Grebe. Common Summer resident on Sheriff King Slough. April 28, 2016.

These days the slough is now almost the complete reverse of what it used to be. Water levels are now too high to hold migrating shorebirds and it is almost completely devoted to waterfowl. Eared Grebes have been communal nesters here in recent years, and, both Red-necked and Pied-billed Grebes really took to the slough in 2015 and 2016. Ospreys are resident around the slough and Double-crested Cormorant, a species that is rapidly-expanding its range in the Calgary area, can be found here. Almost all the basic Duck species and Canada Goose are resident. Great Blue Heron should be somewhere around, and, recently Black-crowned Night Heron, has been expanding its range and has slowly crept into some waterbodies along the eastern perimeter of the area. Breeding has not been confirmed yet at Sheriff King Slough.

South of Sheriff King Slough lies agricultural land and the Pine Creek valley. Directly south of the Pine Creek valley; hilly, forested land is inaccessible, but, on this area’s west flank lies the Sirocco Golf Course. Remainder of the area of the Hills in the east is predominantly agricultural land, marsh, and, some woodland. Being near Spruce Meadows, naturally, there are many Stables and other such businesses devoted to Equestrian activities. Westward from Spruce Meadows lies Lloyd Lake formerly known as Red Deer Lake. Lloyd Lake is an outstanding location for seeing marsh and other water-loving birds and in recent years has held huge colonies of Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes, and,  American Coots. Public access, however, is no longer allowed at Lloyd Park, and, one must pay to gain access.

Between Spruce Meadows and Lloyd Lake, Highway 773 runs southward through the Hills bisecting the area as far as Highway 549 which continues westward to Highway 22. The central and western parts of the block offer some of the most stunning scenery in the Calgary area. The further westward you travel, the more you climb in altitude. As well, from the central section westward, there are some densely forested tracts and a variety of sloughs  and other habitats. Near the western border, 192 Street  bears directly northward from Highway 549 taking you through open grassland in to increasingly more forested terrain, then more grassland, ending up with mixed forest and Coniferous growth near Spruce Meadows Trail.


Male Bufflehead photographed on a small marshy pond in the west end of the Hills. April 23, 2013.

Considering much of the Hills is open hilly territory, birds encountered in this type of habitat include Savannah, Clay-coloured, and Vesper Sparrow. There are many Bluebird Trails along the roads that wind their way through the hills meaning, of course Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds. Black-billed Magpies are year round residents and breeding season sees them joined by American Crows. Common Ravens are a daily sight, many of them riding the ridgetops and valleys as they come and go from the Landfills or other attractions to the east.


Male House Wren. Found in large numbers in the Hills. May 18, 2013.

Common birds of the deciduous woodlands are American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and, House Wren. In fact, the Hills could very well be the House Wren capitol of Alberta. Brewer’s Blackbirds line the roadsides south of Sheriff King while Red-winged Blackbirds are common marsh dwellers with large colonies at Lloyd Lake and at the large marsh on Spruce Meadows Way. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are not as common. Sora Rails are also common marsh dwellers.


Male Cinnamon Teal. One of the common teals found in one of the shallow ponds in Dewinton area and in the west end of the Hills. June 6, 2013.

All of Green-winged, Blue-winged, and, Cinnamon Teal are the common ducks of shallow, muddy pools, particularly on the east side of the block. This holds true on the same waterbodies of the west end. Deeper, larger waterbodies in the west end can hold Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Coot, Ruddy Duck and others. The serene woodland marsh and pond at the south end of 160 Street may be the only waterbody in the area that annually hosts Canvasback. Sloughs in this extreme more pristine west end may also host Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe.


Gray Catbird with Dragonfly. August 3, 2013.

Some songbirds that can be found in this wilder west end include Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler,  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker,  and, Tennessee Warbler which seems to be ever expanding its range eastward from the foothills. Cedar Waxwing can be seen flycatching  around almost any waterbody in the west end, and, Alder Flycatcher can be found in the Willows around the marsh at the south end of 160 Street. Both HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher have been seen in migration in the willows on the east side of this slough while another sighting of interest here was a flock of more than 30 Eastern Kingbirds flycatching at this slough one day in the Fall of 2015.

Some other interesting songbird sightings in the hills include Crossbills along the north stretch of 192 Street; a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE at the Springwell Farms Ponds at 64 Street and 242 Avenue S.W.; Sprague’s Pipits some years in the open grasslands; a BREWER’S SPARROW one year in June on the high south-facing slope on 1119 Drive starting the descent down to 192 Street; PURPLE MARTINS at an acreage off 160 Street on the south descent; a Western Kingbird just west of Springwell Farms; Say’s Phoebes; a Provincial record late Fall Eastern Phoebe(Sept. 25, 2008) at a small pond in the southeast corner of the 1119 Drive-192 Street intersection, and, a reported VAUX’S SWIFT at an acreage south of Spruce Meadows.

To be watched for is BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. This species, which used to be found only in the extreme southwest corner of the province, seems to have been slowly pushing northward through the foothills, being reported now almost annually somewhere southwest or northwest of Calgary. In the Summer of 2016, a bird was clearly heard singing across the road from a marsh on 192 Street just south of 242 avenue. At a marsh further south of that location, a bird that sounded like a SUMMER TANAGER sang in June of 2013.

There have also been many interesting non-Songbird records in the Hills. For instance one cool November morning I was driving to a nearby Shopping Centre when I noticed a Loon flying above the car off to the left. It was not that high off the ground, but, I was unable to get a clear look at it, but was able to see that in the direction it was going it had a very good chance of coming down in Sheriff King Slough which was only a couple of miles further southward. I dropped my wife off to shop and went over to check, and, sure enough, there was the Loon alright, but even better, it was a RED-THROATED LOON, the most uncommon Loon in the Calgary area other than Yellow-billed.

On March 27, 2016, I was birding in the Hills. One of my regular stops was a large dugout with an island on the north side of 242 Avenue just west of Springwell Farms. At this dugout there is a fairly large contingent of resident Canada Geese who have been inhabiting the site for the past few years. They are incredibly faithful to the site and have returned year after year to raise their young. However, For some reason, this site has proved attractive to 2 species of Cackling Geese in Spring migration. One of them is the Minima subspecies which is the smallest of the 4 basic Cackling Gull morphs and is from western Alaska. The other is from even farther away, the Aleutian Islands. I know of only 1 prior record of this species in Alberta that being in the Fall of 2007 in Calgary. Latin name for the ALEUTIAN GOOSE is Branta Hutchinsonii Leucoparaiea. But, we won’t stop with those 2 subspecies, the dugout has also played host to the common Hutchinson’s Canada Geese which breeds in the Canadian Arctic and migrates through the prairie east of the Front Ranges in large numbers in some years. Here is a picture of the ALEUTIAN GOOSE.


Aleutian Goose (Branta Hutchinsii Leucoparaiea). March 27, 2016.

Another sighting of interest occurred in the summer of 2009. I came across what looked like a juvenile RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 160 Street pond. This would have been amazingly unusual in the months of June and July. I could recall only one record previously of a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER here in the summer months and that was a bird on Railway Slough in the Irricana Sloughs. If I recall correctly that would have been in the 1990s.

Yet another unusual sighting amongst the non-Songbirds occurred during a Calgary area May Species Count. I believe it was early in the new millennium. It was drizzling rain all day and at the time I was on Sheriff King Street. I could see some California Gulls in a fallow field off to the west. A different bird from them was in the same field perhaps a hundred metres or so to the north. It had a black cap and was about Gull size and was watching the California Gulls. Through the rain I could see that the bird was a PARASITIC JAEGER! Well, one couldn’t ask for a better bird than that on a May Species Count.

Other sightings of interest include a ROSS’S GOOSE and a Greater White-fronted Goose on Sheriff King Slough and an immature Snow Goose in with Canada Geese foraging in a stubble field on Sheriff King Street. In the 1990s, an adult GREAT EGRET was found in a wetland at the junction of Highway 2A and 194 Avenue in south Calgary. After a couple of days, the bird left the wetland and flew westward into the Hills and was seen flying parallel to 226 Avenue at the Highway 773 junction.


Female Rough-legged Hawk.

In the Fall of 2015, we were returning home from a trip through the Hills along Highway 773. I was almost completely stunned to see an adult Ferruginous Hawk perched on a fencepost at the 4-Way Stop. This was the first time I had seen that species south of Calgary. This leads us to another class of birds to deal with; the Raptors. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks are the 2 common Buteos of the area. You should see Ospreys at Sheriff King Slough and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can often be seen in migration soaring over the hilltops. Northern Harriers are not common, but are there. Northern Goshawk is resident in the west end of the area, and, occasionally, some birds venture further east in to the open hills in search of prey. Rough-legged Hawks can be found in the Hills from Fall to Spring, but, numbers vary from year to year. Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in the block. Peregrine Falcons have been seen passing through and one can have a chance to find a Gyrfalcon somewhere in the area. Areas where Gyrs have been seen most often are along the open fields off Sheriff King Street and along the valley along 226 Avenue and along the east-west section of Highway  773.

On Red-tailed Hawks, the mature Balsam Poplars lining 210 Avenue west of Sheriff King Street were the first location in southern Alberta where dark morph Red-tailed Hawks were confirmed as breeding. That was in 2007. Since that time a mixed pair of Red-tails, one bird dark and the other light, were seen in 2 successive years, 2013 and 2014, over heavily-forested terrain off 192 Street. In the Summer of 2013, a dark morph Red-tail, probably the bird from the mentioned pair was seen over the 160 Street pond. In the Summer of 2016, an intergrade light morph-dark morph bird was seen perched in a remote Aspen on a road through the Cross Conservancy. Considering the fact that there have been other such mixed pairings breeding within the Calgary area within the past few years, it is now possible to see an assortment of differently-plumaged Red-tails in the Hills even in breeding season. In migration, the Hills is an excellent site to see migrating Red-tails in many different plumages. Rarely, a dark morph bird may overwinter in the area.


Adult Bald Eagle at Sheriff King Slough in late Fall. Dec. 8, 2012.

Bald Eagles are not resident in the Hills, but, they can be seen in the Spring hunting Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, and, in late Fall, they can be seen hunting waterfowl at fast freezing waterbodies, usually Sheriff King Slough. But this activity is not confined to Bald Eagles. One year  I watched a pair of immature Northern Harriers set up shop at Sheriff King with only a few openings left in the ice holding lingering waterfowl. Waterfowl remains were many on the surrounding ice.

One family of birds that could probably do with more study in the Hills is the Owl family. Great Horneds are resident, and, Northern Hawk Owls are sometimes spotted in the semi-open areas of the west end.


Trumpeter Swans on one of the Springwell Farms ponds. March 25, 2016.

One final point I think that would interest birders is the fact that some of the waterbodies in the area are favoured amongst migrating Trumpeter Swans. One very reliable site to watch these snow white birds are the ponds at Springwell Farms. The ponds have also held Snow Geese.



Wilson’s Snipe. Many of these were brought out in the open by winter weather on October 8. April 20, 2015.

Fall Migration, 2016–

The most important bird that has come to light since the most recent Terry’s Travels was the discovery of a Hummingbird that was coming to a home southwest of Longview, Alberta. I noticed the photograph of the bird on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, and, investigating further, the bird most resembled an immature male Costa’s Hummingbird, which would be the Province’s only 3rd. record ever. The bird had been coming to this home for 2-3 weeks, but now has not been since Tuesday, October 4.

Four hundred Loons must have been quite a sight at Barrier Lake on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country on Thursday, October 6. This came following our first blast of somewhat wintry weather. Three of the birds were Pacific Loon. To top it off, there were also 9 Surf Scoters there, and, an additional 30 at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. A lone Pacific Loon has been at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary since October 6 and both Surf and White-winged Scoters have been there almost daily. A female or immature BLACK SCOTER there on October 6 was a major find, but, unfortunately appears as though it was seen by only the person who found it.

Northern Gulls are finally starting to appear in our area. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a 1st. year KUMLIEN’S ICELAND GULL; a 1st. year Herring Gull-Glaucous GULL hybrid, and, 5 1st. year Thayer’s Gulls at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on October 8. Another KUMLIEN’S GULL, this time an adult, was seen on the Bow River adjacent to the Inglewood Golf Course on Thanksgiving Day. An adult Mew Gull has attracted many observers to the Irrigation Canal opposite the Inglewood Golf Course for the past few days while 1 or 2 others were reported on Thanksgiving Day, one on the river by the Inglewood Golf Course, and, the other at Elliston Park in southeast Calgary.

According to reports, a large white Falcon in the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek PP on Sunday, October 2 may have been a white morph GYRFALCON which I know of only 5 previous reports in the Calgary area since 1987.

Rusty Blackbirds  are starting to show up in our area. A nice flock of 25 was discovered in an Irrigation Canal on Range Road  262 south of Township Road  270 southeast of Irricana on October 8.

A Harris’s Sparrow is being a big draw in an Edmonton park, while one was found in Bowmont Park in northwest Calgary on Thanksgiving Day.

The recent blast of Winter has had Wilson’s Snipe and Western Meadowlarks out in the open. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a total of 32 Snipe and 8 Meadowlarks east of Calgary on October 8, while others also filed reports finding both Snipe and Meadowlarks.

Common Redpolls are new winter visitors here, while late-migrating shorebirds included a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at McElroy Slough on Inverlake Road just northeast of Chestermere Lake on October 8, and, a Solitary Sandpiper, also at McElroy Slough, on October 5.

Until next time………………                                                 Terry Korolyk

Terry’s Travels: The Irricana Sloughs

By Terry Korolyk 

On Saturday, September 17, I decided to go birding to the area between Strathmore and Irricana as my wife was otherwise occupied. This included an area known as the Irricana Sloughs, a once well-known birding destination for many birders in the 1980s, 1990s, and, early in the new millennium. Today, it is still visited by some birders, but, these days more areas have been explored and opened up for birders, so, the choices are greater.

Nonetheless, I set out on this beautiful Fall day. I had chosen the large slough at the Cattleland Feedlots at the north end of Highway 817 north of Strathmore as my starting point. On the way out there, I passed a few migrating Swainson’s Hawks some of them following farmers on their machines who were busy cutting their crops, then, driving north of Conrich, as I approached Highway 564, a congregation of Black-billed Magpies and Ravens were gathered along the roadside. I slowed down hoping to see what the reason might be for this gathering, but, could see nothing.

When I arrived at Cattleland, I was hoping to see Greater White-fronted Geese as over 300 of the birds had recently been reported there. This site had become known as the one that almost always had the first birds of that species to arrive in our area in Fall migration usually in late August. The same had held true this year. This location and Namaka and Eagle Lakes southeast of Strathmore were the best White-fronted Geese sites near Calgary.


Islands at Cattleland Reservoir. Photo Sept. 17, 2016

But, none were there on this day. The water level was high, but, it had been that kind of Summer. The slough has 3 islands which, with the now high water, were not that far above the surface of the water. Birds tend to congregate on them, and, in breeding season, Terns, both Common and Forster’s, and, once, even a pair of Arctic Terns raised their young on them along with other species such as Canada Goose, American Avocet, and, Black-necked Stilt. This nesting of Arctic Terns in the interior of the continent was not a first; it had happened previously in Montana.

In any event, so far this Fall, the islands were being used primarily by Gulls, including all of Ring-billed, California, and Franklin’s, and, Double-crested Cormorant. Today, there wasn’t that much there to interest a birder. A flock of 13 Baird’s Sandpipers was a highlight and flocks of Icterids there such as Brewer’s, Red-winged, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and, Brown-headed Cowbirds had dwindled in numbers. Large numbers are attracted by the Feedlot following breeding season. By the way, those birding the site must be aware that sometimes a repugnant odour may waft over from the feedlot so, be warned.

I moved on from Cattleland driving eastward on Highway 564. A few kilometres on, I turned northward driving past the few residences composing Nightingale. As I turned, a male Common Grackle flew past the car. I kept on northward a few kilometres turning westward on to Township Road 262. Drive a short stretch and a very large wetland appears on the north side. I was in luck today; over 600 Greater White-fronted Geese were at the wetland. Amongst other large numbers of waterfowl were 10 Taverner’s Cackling Geese, and an adult Bald Eagle, and, a juvenile Barrow’s Goldeneye.


Greater White-fronted Geese at Range Road 245-Township Road 262 wetland, Sept. 12, 2016.

Whenever I visit this area, I try to visit this location for another reason, that being it is an excellent site for birding for passerines with nearby woodland; a willow swale, and shrub-lined and treed north-south orientation irrigation ditch running under the road to a wooded area. Large numbers of birds can move along the ditch to the woodland and birds found here have included large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers with other Warblers being all the common ones plus Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Townsend’s, Palm, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, and, Ovenbird. I have found both Hermit and Swainson’s Thrush here along with Rusty Blackbird. Once in November, I found a Swamp Sparrow along the irrigation ditch, and, I have found Long-eared Owl in the woodland.

Driving westward from here, you enter the realm of the Irricana Sloughs starting with Long Lake just west of Range Road 253. Continuing westward will take you to Bruce Lake east of Keoma. One can head into “the Sloughs” from Twp. Rd. 262 going northward on Range Road 253 or by going north on Range Road 261. The heart of “the Sloughs” is generally acknowledged to be the waterbodies from the Range Road 261 junction eastward, and, also north from Township Road 270 north on Range Road 254.


Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorants at Railway Slough.

The Irricana Sloughs offers a variety of birds. In recent years, some of the water bodies have become very popular with Grebes. Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes both nest in substantial numbers on the large slough on Township Road 270 immediately west of Range Road 261 and on the slough on the east side of Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. Immediately east of the slough on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261 is a slough called Railway Slough which, next to Namaka and Frank Lakes, is the most convenient place in the Calgary area to find Western Grebe during breeding season. If one continues eastward on Township Road 270, one may find Horned Grebe at some of the smaller marshier sloughs.


Bittern at marsh on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261, June 4, 2016.                 

Another specialty of the area is the American Bittern most often found in marshy areas at the slough west of Railway Slough and at the marshy slough on the west side of Range Road 261 directly north of Township Road 270. Upland Sandpiper has often been found in grassland along the roads in the area, and, in the past, “the Sloughs” were a fairly reliable location for finding Baird’s Sparrow, an uncommon species in our area. However, there have not been many reports in recent years, but, the area is not birded as thoroughly as it once was. Both Nelson’s and Leconte’s Sparrows have, in the past, been fairly noticeable by call in some of the wetter, grassier areas. Sprague’s Pipit and Long-billed Curlew is often found in the grassland areas, and, Marsh Wren can be found in Cattail marshes.

The Irricana Sloughs used to be one of the most reliable and nearest sites in our area for watching Loggerhead Shrikes. The species has expanded its range somewhat closer to Calgary, but, Loggerheads are still found in the area. Also, if visiting the Irricana Sloughs watch for the Krider’s subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk which used to be fairly regularly seen. Western Kingbird is also a specialty of the area, but, Eastern Kingbird is also resident. Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican can be found on Railway Slough and all the other larger sloughs.

The series of ponds and sloughs on Range Road 254 just south of Township Road 273 are probably the best shorebirding locations in the area being at the north end of the area and with lots of shoreline. All the regular species have been there with rarer species including Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red-necked Phalarope. One of the first occurrences of breeding in the area during the rise of the Black-necked Stilt in southern Alberta in the late 1980s and early 1990s was in this area.


Nesting Black-necked Stilt.

The Irricana Sloughs have for quite a number of years now hosted small numbers of non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls during breeding season, mostly on Railway Slough or the slough directly west of Railway Slough. Large numbers of Swans, mostly Tundra, stop off here in migration and the Siberian counterpart to the Tundra Swan, the Bewick’s Swan has been seen here. An adult Whooper Swan paired with an adult Tundra Swan found on April 6, 2000 in “the Sloughs” was seen by many until April 11, but, its provenance was questioned by the Alberta Bird Records Committee. Was it a wild bird or an escapee? To me, the ABRC has shown itself to shy away from making tough decisions. Wild Whoopers have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, but, they are also held in captivity.


Adult Whooper Swan with adult Tundra Swan on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 253 southeast of Irricana; April 6, 2000.

Other sloughs included in the area lie on Township Road 264 west of Range Road 261 and on Range Road 264 south of Township Road 264. The slough on Twp. Rd. 264 is a marshy slough which is one of few water bodies east of Calgary which regularly hosts Common Loon during breeding season. One of the leucistic Great Horned Owls was found in the woodland in the northwest corner of the lake as you drive westward past it. A Tennessee Warbler, a species native to the foothills and mountains in the western part of the province, was heard singing in this woodland one Summer. As you continue westward, you would turn southward on Range Road 264. The large water body on your right is called Spoonbill Slough for a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Siberian species of shorebird, that was twice reported there. Alberta’s only Baikal Teal was found here and Greater White-fronted Geese stop off here. This water body usually hosts a good variety of species. Nelson’s Sparrow have been regular in the wet grasses at the south end.

Two other sites included in the sloughs are a marsh and woodland a couple of kilometres north of Township Road 270 on Range Road 252 and Range Road 255 running south from the Range Road 254-Township Road 270 junction. The Range Roads both these locations are situated on supply North-South orientation and, thus, provide excellent movements of migrating passerines. All the basic small songbird migrating species have been found on Range Road 252 with others being Philadelphia Vireo and, also, Broad-winged Hawk. A leucistic Great Horned Owl was found there on  a Field Trip. The same can be said for Range Road 255 with Palm Warblers particularly having favoured this road. One Fall day I found several Palm Warblers in migration along the road, but, this also included 3 birds that were so brightly-coloured, I thought they may have been of the Eastern subspecies, the Yellow Palm Warbler.


Leucistic Great Horned Owl on Twp. Rd. 264 west of Range Road 264.

Probably the final water body that should be included in the Irricana Sloughs region is Bruce Lake which is on Township Road 262 a short distance west of Range Road 261. The road makes a big bend around the north end of the lake, then continues westward to Keoma with Highway  9 beyond. Black-crowned Night Herons and California Gulls used to be common along the stream at the north end and rarities found include Snowy Egret, Black-legged Kittiwake, and, Pacific Loon. Both White-winged and Surf Scoters have been seen on the lake in the Fall season. The woodlands at the north end of the lake can be good for migrating songbirds with Long-eared Owl also being found there. In the winter, Northern Goshawk has been found there, and, Ring-necked Pheasant may be found in the cattails and other marsh grasses.


Adult Little Gull with adult Bonaparte’s Gull on east side of Range Road 261 just south of Twp. Rd. 270; May 5, 2002.

Other rarities found in the Irricana Sloughs include Cattle and Great Egret, Little Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Red Phalarope, Sage Thrasher, and Yellow-billed Loon. Sandhill Crane, Townsend’s Solitaire, both Surf and White-winged Scoter, and, Turkey Vulture have all stopped off in “the Sloughs.” One rarity I was astonished to see was a THREE-TOED WOODPECKER flying from tree to tree one Fall day along Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. This, of course, is a species native to the CONIFEROUS forests of the foothills and mountains!


Gyrfalcon, Oct. 19, 2013.

Great Horned Owl is resident. Winter sees Snowy Owls and all of Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, and, Rough-legged Hawk found in the area while weedy fields and ditches attract both Common and Hoary Redpolls, while, windswept fields and roads attract both Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. Some winters you may even find a Northern Goshawk out on the prairie there.


Fall Migration, 2016——

Sabine’s Gull, always a much sought after bird in the Fall, was a bit late showing up this year. The birds are usually here by the first week of September, but, this year September 16 was the first date of report with an adult and an immature bird at Calgary’s Glenmore Reservoir. Since then, a single Sabine’s was seen at Tofield and 3 birds were at Frank Lake east of High River. The 2 Glenmore Reservoir birds were joined by a single bird on September 17.

Major highlights so far include an adult hybrid CALIFORNIA GULL-RING-BILLED GULL at the Shepard Landfill at the east end of McIvor Boulevard in southeast Calgary on September 22, and, a juvenile LITTLE GULL at the Chestermere Lake Dam on September 26. Five first-cycle Thayer’s Gulls were at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on September 22.


Juvenile Little Gull at the Chestermere Lake Dam September 26, 2016.


Adult California Gull-Ring-billed Gull hybrid at the Shepard Landfill, September 22, 2016.

A male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was photographed in a yard in Canmore on September 23. While still a vagrant in the province, the species is fairly regular with most reports coming in the Fall in frosty or near frosty weather.

Scoters are starting to hit the Calgary area as of this writing with 5 Surf Scoters at Glenmore Reservoir and another 5 were with a White-winged Scoter at Eagle Lake, all of these birds being seen on September 23. No northern Loons as yet.

There have been more Swamp Sparrow reports than usual in the Calgary area this Fall, and, also a couple of wandering Varied Thrushes. A Harlequin Duck was reported via  E-bird at Wyndham-Carseland PP on September 18.

Snow Geese are slow to arrive this year, but dark and unusual morph Red-tailed Hawks are seen almost daily now in the Calgary area. There are still some Swainson’s Hawks around, while there have been only a couple of Rusty Blackbird reports so far. From Ken Orich, young Barn Swallows fledged from a nest at Tillebrook PP at Brooks on the amazing date of September 19!

Until next time.                                                                      Terry Korolyk

Terry’s Travels: Red-tailed Hawks, Part 2

By Terry Korolyk  

In Terry’s Travels on September 11 in the Birds Calgary Blog, I dealt with how the traditional light-phase Red-tailed Hawks of our area started to change in the new millennium  because Rufous morph and Dark morph Red-tails somehow made their way in to the local breeding stock paving the way for others of the same morph. But, not only that, the result of the breeding of mixed pairs produced intergrade Rufous or Dark morph birds with light phase birds further complicating issues by giving the defined colour morphs another outlet to push back the boundaries of local Red-tailed Hawk plumage variation.

Part 2 will deal with Dark morph Red-tailed Hawks and some unusual plumages.

Every Fall, southern Alberta is visited by northern Dark morph races of Red-tailed Hawks, and, of course, every Spring, these birds return northward. As is the case with local light phase Eastern Red-tailed Hawks being influenced by darker morph birds, northerly Dark morph birds have been intergrading more with other colour morphs including northerly light phase birds.

It seems that up to the new millenium, things were very straightforward. The darkest morph Red-tailed Hawk to come down was the Harlan’s Hawk with his blackish plumage; white-streaked breast and throat, and, mottled grayish-white tail with the dusky tip. The next basic dark morph was the Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk with his dark brown uniform plumage with reddish tail with narrow black bars and a wider black band on the tail tip. The final basic morph was the Rufous-morph Red-tail with dark brown plumage but with a rufous-tinged breast and throat contrasting fairly sharply with the dark brown plumage. It seemed to me that variations from these basic plumages were rare at this time.

Now these morphs are not so rare, and, in the same manner that the local light-phase birds have been changing, so, have these northern races been changing. It seems that finding a pure Dark, or, Rufous morph, or, even a Harlan’s Hawk is becoming more and more difficult with each successive migration. Harlan’s Hawks in our area within the past few years seem to be showing increasingly more amounts of white with either more extensive white streaking on the underparts (or even the upperparts) and on the face. I seldom see anymore a Harlan’s Hawk with the old basic grayish-white mottled tail with the dusky tip. I can recall reading an issue of the American Birding Association’s “Birding” a few years ago that had an excellent article on Harlan’s Hawks. One page was devoted to showing the many different types of patterns Harlan’s Hawks’ tails have. Many I see in our area now seem to have some amount of red on the tail, usually in a wash on the outer half of the tail, but, with some duskiness on the tip as on this bird photographed near Longview on April 6, 2012.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, April 6, 2012.

This bird, photographed in the hills south of Spruce Meadows Trail on October 9, 2015 is an excellent example of a recent Harlan’s Hawk with white on the face and extensive white streaking on the belly.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, Oct. 9, 2015.

Another variation of a Harlan’s Hawk was this bird photographed on Highway 549 a few kilometres east of Highway 22 southwest of Calgary on April 6, 2012. Note the blackish plumage, but, also note the extensive unbroken white throat and breast. The tail on this bird was mottled white and had a pale reddish wash on the outer third of the tail, but, in this reddish wash was a moderately wide black subterminal band with 2 narrow wavy black bars above it.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk,  April 6, 2012.

These features made me wonder at first if, the bird might be a Harlan’s-light phase intergrade, but, there were no other redeeming features, so, I felt in the end that the bird was another variation of a Harlan’s Hawk. And, of course, there is your old basic Harlan’s Hawk with black plumage and white streaked breast such as this bird photographed on Dunbow Road just east of Highway 2 just outside Calgary City Limits on April 12, 2015.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, April 12, 2015.

As mentioned, your basic Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk as we used to know it was a uniform dark brown. In recent years, some Dark morph birds have been labelled “vinaceous”by some birders in the United States. This term obviously implies colouration in the shade of wine referring to the colour of the breast and throat hinting at a slight contrast with the darker overall body colour. This seems reasonable to me implying a slight variation in your basic Dark morph plumage. A good example of a possible pure dark morph bird was this one photographed near Shepard near the eastern outskirts of Calgary on September 26, 2015. Although the breast can’t clearly be seen, it was definitely that of a dark morph bird; honest!


Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, Sept, 26, 2015.

Your basic immature dark morphs had variable amounts of white streaking on the underparts. Your immature Harlan’s Hawk would have more extensive white streaking, but would also show varying amounts of brown on the body. Your immature dark morph bird should show white streaking on the breast and throat and will also have a grayish-white tail with many narrow black bands. A good example of a dark morph immature bird is this one photographed south of Longview a few years ago.


Immature Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, April 12, 2015.

Immature Rufous morph birds are similar to dark morphs, but, show more extensive streaking on the underparts covering not only the breast, but also the belly and undertail coverts. Birds of recent years seem to be showing variable amounts of white spotting on the upperparts as well. This bird photographed on 1119 Drive south of Calgary on October 13, 2012 shows the characteristics of being an immature Rufous morph Redtail. The tail is the same as on the dark morph, but, the underwings are not as heavily marked as on a dark morph bird.


Immature Rufous morph Red-tailed Hawk, October 13, 2012.

Many of the dark morph birds that come down are intergrades, most of them seeming to be between Harlan’s and Dark, rather than Rufous. This bird, photographed during a light snowfall south of Priddis on April 7, 2013, shows much brown plumage indicating dark morph parentage. However, the expansive white breast must surely indicate Harlan’s rather than light phase parentage as there doesn’t seem to much else there that would suggest light-phase. The Ground Squirrel, of course, isn’t fussy about who the bird’s parents were.


Dark morph/Harlan’s intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, April 7, 2013.

This is a photograph of a bird that appears to be a Harlan’s-Dark morph intergrade photographed on October 3 2014.


Harlan’s/Dark morph intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, October 3, 2014.

A bird that I had a lot of trouble getting an identification on was a bird I photographed south of Priddis on March 20, 2013. The bird appeared to have sort of a charcoal-coloured plumage looking blackish or dusky with some brownish suffusions. There were no markings on the chest and breast, they were plain charcoal. Given those features, I thought the bird might be a candidate for Dark-morph/Harlan’s intergradation because of the mixing of the black and the brown and, the almost wholly white tail( which can be seen in the photograph) which has few indistinct blurry streaks on it. Because of the large amount of frosty edges on many of the feathers visible in the photograph and because of the white tail, I also considered the bird possibly a candidate for leucism, but, I don’t see any other supporting evidence, and, so in the end, I feel that integradation between the two is probably right. By the way, the foothills in the Priddis-Millarville-Turner Valley-Black Diamond areas are traditionally one of our best areas for seeing Raptors in migration in our area. Here is the photograph.


Harlan’s/Dark morph intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, March 20, 2013.

Rarely, one comes across leucistic Red-tailed Hawks. I am referring to light-phase Red-tails specifically that have very few streaks on the belly and other features. I had never seen a Red-tail like that until just a few years ago. Actually, it was April 17 and 18, 2012 to be exact. On April 17, I was in the Shaw’s Meadow of Fish Creek PP in Calgary. I saw a large Hawk perched on top of a White Spruce tree on the steep south escarpment of Fish Creek. I tried to get a look at it, but couldn’t, so decided to try and take a couple of photos hoping I could identify it from the photos. I did get a couple of shots, but, it wasn’t clear what the bird was as it had its head turned and I couldn’t see the underparts.

The next day, I was in the Glennfield area of the park which is just across the road from Shaw’s Meadow. I was in luck. The bird was there, and, it was perched in the open where I could see it and get a look at it. I took three good photos of it. There were only a few barely noticeable streaks across the belly. The bird flew and I got a good look at the tail; it was white with the outer third pale red, and,  in the pale red were three black subterminal bands, the outermost one slightly wider than the other two. Since then, I have seen two other similar birds in our area, but, the three are the only ones of this ilk that I have seen since starting birding in 1987. Here is one of the Glennfield Hawk photos.


Leucistic Light-phase Red-tailed Hawk,  April 18, 2012.

On September 27, 2015, I was birding in the hills south of Calgary. It was a beautiful Fall day, sunny and calm. I chanced upon a large Hawk that didn’t look quite right as the plumage and markings didn’t look familiar. The bird was at the 2237 Drive – 1119 Drive junction. I took a frontal shot of the bird and then one from the rear showing the tail. It was juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, but, rather than having your basic brown upperparts, they looked sort of grayish. The tail was your basic juvenile Red-tail banded tail. The frontal shot showed only a few black streaks across the belly. Here are the two shots of the bird. Considering the overall paleness of the bird, I thought it perhaps a light-phase Red-tail/Krider’s Hawk intergrade. My only other possibility would be just a variation of your light-phase Red-tailed Hawk.



Both photos: Possible Krider’s/Light phase Red-tailed Hawk, or Light phase Red-tailed Hawk, Sept. 27, 2015.

The final bird in our account of dark-morph Red-tails and other plumages is a bird I found at Shepard on September 30, 2015. I really had never seen anything like it before as the underparts of white and black  were sort of a crazy patchwork quilt. One of the other odd things about the bird was that it had a very long scar down one side of its underbody, not unlike that of a Great Horned Owl in the August 7 story I did on those birds in the Blog. Considering the blackness of the plumage and the face of the bird, I am guessing that perhaps the bird was an immature Harlan’s Hawk, but, it flew before I could get a look at the backside of the bird. Here is the shot of that bird.


Possible immature Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk,  Sept. 30, 2015.


Fall Migration; 2016

As of this date, Fall migration is really starting to ramp up in the Calgary area, Alberta’s 2nd. ever BLUE-WINGED WARBLER was reported at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on September 6. The 1st. record, also at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, was some years ago now. A bird that may have been a JAEGER was reported to have spooked some Gulls off their roost on the shoals on the Bow River at IBS on September 6, while rare Gulls reported to this point in Calgary include an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on the Bow River in the vicinity of the Crowchild Trail Bridge on the days of September 5th. and 6th., and, a MEW GULL, also at IBS, on September 6.

The 1st. Rough-legged Hawk of the season was reported at Two Hills on September 16, while another first, an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER; a juvenile; was on the west side of Pine Coulee Reservoir west of Stavely on September 11. Birders are in luck. A HARLEQUIN DUCK has been seen at IBS already this Fall; they don’t usually show up until later in the season. A juvenile, or female, was on the river at the south end of the Sanctuary on September 12. Last year, up to 4 HARLEQUINS made it as far east as Weed Lake at Langdon in the Fall.

There have been many, many reports of BROAD-WINGED HAWKS in the Calgary area this Fall due probably, in part, to the birds appearing in areas which have intense coverage by birders. A juvenile has been seen by many birders in the Hull’s Wood and Boat Launch areas of east Fish Creek PP for about the past week. A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk has been hanging out in the same area for about the same length of time. Hunting must be good. Other recent Raptor reports include DARK MORPH Red-tailed Hawks, one at McElroy Slough just northeast of Chestermere Lake on September 14, then, an adult RUFOUS MORPH Red-tailed Hawk seen the next day on 64 Street south of Spruce Meadows. That makes three DARK MORPH Red-tails in our area so far this Fall season.

Up to two Peregrine Falcons have been appearing at the Marsland Basin southeast of Strathmore. The Basin is our best local hotspot for shorebirds recently with most species being reported including a recent WESTERN SANDPIPER. The Basin welcomes all birders. Go north on Range Road 242 from the Namaka Lake road and drive right in and park. There is a guest book if you wish to check in.

Bonaparte’s Gulls are starting to arrive at Chestermere Lake; this site attracts large numbers of this species in the Fall. The first SABINE’S GULLS of the Fall season were reported today, September 16. An adult and an immature bird were seen on Glenmore Reservoir by Bill Wilson. The birds are slightly late; the first arrivals usually show up by the first week in September.

There have been two recent reports of Barn Swallows still feeding young in the nest in southern Alberta. One report comes from Cooking Lake southeast of Edmonton on September 5.  Always a good indication that Fall is coming, there have been seven TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRES reported recently in the Calgary area with Phil Quinn seeing four at the Marsland Basin on September 8. Terry Korolyk observed at least 341 American Robins move from the Millrise subdivision of Calgary to nearby Fish Creek PP, also on September 8. The day was a day with fallout conditions prevailing following a night of rainy, overcast, cool weather. Lastly for this report, a FOX SPARROW was seen at Confederation Park in northwest Calgary on September 7.

Until next time.                                                                              ——-Terry Korolyk

Terry’s Travels: Red-tailed Hawks, Part 1

By Terry Korolyk

Since starting birding in the Calgary area in 1987, I have seen many, many Red-tailed Hawks, and, have had the good fortune to be able observe the changes in the species to this point in time, 2016; 29 years. In those days, it was very straightforward; all the light-phase birds in the area were your basic Eastern Red-tail with rich rufous tails without narrow, wavy bars. Markings were fairly heavy and uniform across the belly and on the underwings. Upperparts were dark brown. The thighs were pretty well an unmarked white and the bird had the clear white throat, one of the differentiating features between Eastern Red-tails and the B.C counterpart of our bird, Buteo Jamaicensis Calurus. The patagial mark was normal and blackish. In those days, some pairs returned regularly to the same nest year after year in the Irricana Sloughs. One pair nested for many years in succession in a small grove of trees on the east side of Range Road 261 a short distance north of Township Road 262. That grove of trees is no longer there. Generally, in this area, early April saw many of the residents on territory.


Perched Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, August 6, 2016.


Flying Eastern Red-tail, August 6, 2016.

In the hills south of Calgary, the Eastern Red-tail ruled as well. The birds were quite common then and widespread. These days, I don’t think they are quite as common as they were then, although, they are certainly not in danger.

I moved to a new home in a different part of Calgary and I was not able to keep monitoring the Red-tails of the Irricana Sloughs as I once did. Living in the south end of the city now, however, I was able to keep track of the birds in the hills south of the city and on the prairie to the east and southeast, and, in the foothills south and southwest of the city.

On July 14, 2007, things started to change. I discovered a Dark or Rufous morph Red-tail in attendance at a nest just south of Calgary on 210 Avenue in a long east-west shelterbreak of Balsam Poplars just east of Sheriff King Street. The nest had 2 young. The bird was upset at my presence, of course, and flew around somewhat.


Adult female Dark Morph Red-tailed Hawk, Sept.6, 2016.

I looked for the mate nearby, but, didn’t find it. Because the dark bird was the only one there and she was agitated, I guessed she was the female.

I took photographs of her and of the fledglings in the nest and one of them perched on a branch. I sent in reports to the appropriate authorities.


Fledgling intergrade Red-tailed Hawk on branch, July 5, 2013.

I did not see that bird there the next year, but, in the year 2011, I believe it was 2011, I discovered a mixed pair, a female Rufous morph and a male light-phase bird, in Votier’s Flats in west Fish Creek PP. The birds were nesting, but, I did not see the results of that nesting. The next year, 2012, they were there again and when I went for a walk in late Summer, in 2 different locations, I could hear  large birds squawking somewhere in the underbrush as I walked  westward from the Parking Lot. I was sure those birds were probably birds fledging from the nest, although I never did see either one of them.

In 2013, the birds were there again, and, I had the good fortune to be able to get photographs of one the juveniles as it was perched on the undercarriage of a transmission tower.


Juvenile intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, August 31, 2013.

The markings looked intermediate between those of the 2 different morphs. The male parent attended to it and brought it food as it complained, but, the Rufous morph female was nowhere to be seen.

In 2014, the pair returned, but, I didn’t have enough time to check on them that year, so, results of them being there that summer are unknown. In 2015, again, I did not have enough time to follow their progress, or, if they were even there. I think I might have glimpsed the adult female once, but, I couldn’t say for sure. In 2016, I was completely unable to see if the birds had even returned. Hopefully, 2017, I may get a chance to see if they are there.

Meanwhile, in the year, 2014, I found another mixed adult female Rufous-morph bird paired with a light-phase male Eastern Red-tail near Chestermere Lake. I was able to get photographs of the adult female.


Adult female Rufous Morph Red-tailed Hawk, April 27, 2013.

I returned in the late Summer to see if I could see any of the young fledging. I didn’t see any, but, I did see some very unusual looking Red-tails near Weed Lake at Langdon, which is not that from Chestermere, in the Fall. Markings weren’t normal and looked like there might have been some intergradation, and, there was 1 adult Rufous morph bird on the west side of Weed Lake.

I didn’t see the birds there next year, but, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there as I was only able to check a couple of times. As a matter of fact, the birds were there again the next year, 2016, so, given that fact, I would guess the birds probably were there in 2015, they just weren’t seen. I was leading a Nature Calgary Field Trip in April this year and all the participants were able to see the birds. I wasn’t able to check to see if there were any young later in the Summer, but, we shall see if the birds return next year.


Mixed pair of Red-tailed Hawks, April 16, 2016.

In the year 2014, I found what appeared to be a 3rd. mixed Rufous-morph–light phase pair in the hills south of Calgary southeast of Priddis. I saw both birds clearly and they were clearly a pair. I made several trips to the area through the Summer and did see the birds occasionally again. I have a good idea where the nest was located, but, did not go looking for it as, of course, they shouldn’t be disturbed. The pair were there again in 2015, but, I did not see them in 2016. However, I did come across an adult intergrade bird by itself perched in a lone tree near the Cross Conservancy south of Calgary, so, we could guess that, perhaps, the bird was a product of that relationship


Adult intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, July 10, 2016.

The result of all this is the fact that you are seeing much more variety now in the plumage of Red-tailed Hawks in our area. You are liable to see Dark and light-phase intergrades around here now even during breeding season. To complicate things further, one must consider intergradation between Krider’s subspecies Red-tails and now, not only the Eastern Red-tail, but, also Dark morph–light phase intergrades and, even pure Rufous or Dark morph birds. So as can be seen, It is getting extremely  difficult determining exactly what sort of Red-tailed Hawk you are looking at. The Krider’s Subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, by the way, is a whiter edition of the Eastern Red-tailed Hawk. They are more sparsely marked and the tail varies in the amount of red in the tail to some where the tail is only slightly whitish, to some where the tail shows only a faint distal blush of red.


Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk, August 27, 2016.

To complicate things even further yet, it appears, the Mountain race of the light-phase Red-tailed Hawk , Buteo Jamaicensis Calurus, may be present in the southwest corner of the province in small numbers. The Mountain race has darker plumage, has little if any white in the throat; has black wavy bars on the red tail and has some buffiness on the upper breast and on the underwings. I have seen photographs of some birds that were in the Water Valley area northwest of Calgary , and, have encountered the bird many times in the foothills south and southwest of Calgary. I have seen photographs of some birds that were probably intergrades between itself and either Eastern Red-tail or something else, and, some of these photographs were of birds in the Irricana area and on the prairie southeast of Calgary. One must also consider a new recent classification of Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo Jamaicensis Borealis. This is a race of light-phase Red-tail that is like the Eastern Red-tail, but has fewer markings. This race is essentially a bird of the north, hence the Latin name Borealis.

Still more on  the identification of Red-tailed Hawks in our area now, the basic juvenile Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, still has a grayish tail with several narrow, wavy blackish bars. Remainder of the markings on the birds vary with some having heavier markings than others. The belly may be sparsely streaked or it may be heavily streaked. The head may be almost completely white, or it may be quite dark. One can use that information as a barometer or measuring stick. Given all the above information, perhaps, one would be able to subsequently identify any unusally-looking juvenile Red-tailed Hawks.


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, May 26, 2015.

Final item to be dealt with in regard to pale morph Red-tailed Hawks are the albinos. Albinistic birds are occasionally dealt with in our area. I have  yet to see or hear of a complete albino. These birds vary in the degree of albinism or leucism; some are almost wholly white or pale; some show only small amounts. These days almost all birds show varying amounts of white on the scapulars and other feathers. Albinism, or leucism, occurs when the amount of white or paleness present has gone out of control.


Albino Red-tailed Hawk, July 5, 2013.


Coming soon–Part 2 of Red-tailed Hawks in the Calgary area. Dark morphs, intergrades, and unusual plumages.


Fall migration 2016—-

We are currently in peak period for migrating Songbirds in the Calgary area. Thus far, observer coverage has been very intensive especially at Confederation Park in northwest Calgary, and in the east side of Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary, particularly Mallard Point and the Boat Launch area in Hull’s Wood. The main wave of migrating Warblers and Vireos and some other Songbirds from further north has passed and now within the next couple of weeks, numbers of the second wave including American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and, Orange-crowned Warblers traditionally increases. Watch for those potential fallout conditions; overcast, cool weather, perhaps even spitting rain for large numbers and variety of birds. I live on the top floor of a Condo block in Calgary, but, we had ideal conditions the morning of Sunday, September 4 as in the ornamental trees and Trembling Aspens along the street below where we live, the trees were dripping with birds, mostly American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but, others included Red-breasted Nuthatch and I was able to get good shots of an immature Tennessee Warbler in a crab-apple tree below our balcony, and, was also able to get excellent looks at a juvenile Orange-crowned Warbler in a May Tree below our bedroom window. Palm Warblers, usually one of our later Warblers, have shown up early so far, and, a male Blackburnian Warbler has been a big draw at Confederation park starting on September 2 and was still being seen today, Labour Day, Monday, September 5.

Shorebird migration has been somewhat disappointing thus far this Fall as the July and early August rains resulted in high water levels at many waterbodies in the area. Basic early shorebird migrants like Semipalmated, Baird’s, and, Least Sandpipers should start dwindling in numbers now to the end of September. Lesser Yellowleg numbers should hold up in to October, while Greater Yellowlegs’ numbers can hold up in to early November. October is the month to watch for Black-bellied and American Golden Plovers. Pectoral Sandpipers are somewhat unpredictable. Sometimes, they are amongst the latest Fall migrants in early November.

The first rare Gull of the Fall season has been found. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was on the Bow River just upstream from 29 St. N.W. today, September 5. This report comes courtesy of eBird.

The first dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk of the season was just east of the Leighton Arts Centre in the hills south of Calgary on Saturday, September 3. The bird was an adult, but was a barred tail variant. I was hoping for a shot of it flying, but, 3 Swainson’s Hawks made him feel uncomfortable, and, he drifted off southward. Until next time.

Terry’s Travels: High River to Chain Lakes to Pine Coulee Reservoir.

By Terry Korolyk.

Monday, August 15, Terry traveled southward with the ultimate destination being Chain Lakes PP west of Nanton and Pine Coulee Reservoir. I started at the large wetland in the southwest corner of the Spruce Meadows Trail and Highway 2A in the extreme south end of Calgary. Formerly known as the Priddis Radio Towers slough; now known to some as Sheriff King Slough as it is on Sheriff King Street. Upon arriving, I almost immediately found a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron in the northeast corner of the slough.


Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sheriff King Slough, August 15, 2016. All photos by Terry Korolyk.

Perched on a telephone wire in the same corner was a juvenile male Belted Kingfisher. This slough was a popular site this year for nesting Grebes including all 3 of Eared, Red-necked, and, Pied-billed Grebe. Eared are the most abundant, but, on this morning there were 22 Red-necked Grebes, many of them juveniles, or, birds-of-the-year.

Sheriff King Slough was, only a few years ago, an excellent shorebirding location with extensive mudflats. Excellent numbers of the basic migrating species such as Baird’s, Semipalmated, Pectoral, and, Least Sandpipers were attracted by its location and habitat with rarities found there being Western Sandpiper (more than once); White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red Knot. Non-shorebird rarities found there included Sabine’s Gull, Snow Goose, and, Ross’s Goose.

I left the slough driving south on Sheriff King Street, then, turning westward on to 210 Avenue. A pleasant surprise was a pair of SAY’S PHOEBES along 210 Avenue, just east of 64 Street. Photographs taken.

I continued southward getting a nice surprise at a marsh on 48 Street south of 274 Avenue. The marsh has a nice bit of woodland  with it which is liked by local resident songbirds such as Black-capped Chickadees which were in evidence this morning. Best of all though was a somewhat miffed NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ; the first time I had found this species at this slough. Birding at this location can actually be quite good. Forty-eighth Street is tree-lined for much of its length southward to Highway 549 and during migration, an excellent variety of songbirds can be found along it. Birds found along there today included a Hairy Woodpecker which made a bit of an unexpected addition to the day’s list.

From Highway 549, I drove south on Highway 552 to Okotoks. A Great Blue Heron was along Spring Creek just outside of Okotoks.

I drove straight through Okotoks emerging at the south end where I crossed Highway 7 and moved on towards High River on Highway 783. I stopped on the way, however, to check the Okotoks Regional Landfill which included an assortment of California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Ravens, American Crows, and, European Starlings.

High River can have excellent birding. Drive westward on the road running along the town’s southern boundary and follow the roadways southward, then westward, then, southward, and, then another time, and, you find a good variety of birds. The roads travel through open woodland; past farms and acreages with little traffic. Today, Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, both adults and juveniles. Mourning Doves were common. Prize bird today though was an immature PHILADELPHIA VIREO with very yellow underparts.

Just south of the town, a large dugout can make for some good birding. Amongst various waterfowl here today were a few Baird’s Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. From here, I made my way westward to Meridian Street which strikes straight southward through primarily agricultural land. I used to see Western Kingbirds along here, but, didn’t see any today. A pair of Mourning Doves were perched on a telephone wire seemingly in the middle of nowhere. On the west side of Meridian Street just before you descend to a bridge over Mosquito Creek, there is an acreage with feeders and well-landscaped grounds, and, better yet: birds! I stopped to watch for a few minutes. To my surprise, 6 Gray Partridge scurried out of some grasses by a pond. To me, this was a good sighting as this was the was the furthest west I had seen Gray Partridge since one occasion a few years go when I saw some just west of Nanton.

Once you cross Mosquito Creek, you are in a large willow swale. I stopped for lunch by the creek and was greeted by a pair of Belted Kingfishers.


Belted Kingfisher.

I believe, they may have been nesting there, but, they didn’t hang around. A short distance on was the Williams Coulee Road junction.

I turned right on to Williams Coulee Road and headed westward. I have driven this road many times and always like to see what birds are breeding there, particularly the waterfowl. Not too far from the junction, I came across the first slough, a fairly large one straddling both sides of the road. Waterfowl numbers were strong with many juveniles of our basic prairie dabbling Duck species such as Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, and, both Blue and Green-winged Teal.


Female Blue-winged Teal with young.

But, there were shorebirds there as well including Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, and, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and, Lesser Yellowlegs. There were also 5 Solitary Sandpipers.

IMG_8250 (2)

Solitary Sandpiper, photo taken August 6, 2016.

Many times, I had found shorebirds along this road during the Fall season. Remainder of the sloughs and ponds along the road held no waterfowl as far as Highway 22.  A lone Great Blue Heron stood motionless on one shoreline.

I reached the north end of Chain Lakes shortly after. I could see only one bird, a Common Loon on the water. I moved on to the south end of the Lakes where there were 3 Loons. The 3 of them were in breeding plumage. Two of the birds had sloped foreheads without prominent foreheads, more like that of Yellow-billed, or, Red-throated Loon rather than Common Loon. However, the bills of all three had the heft of Common Loon bills. Was it because the feathers on their heads were slicked down from diving? A puzzling trio; I took photos to study later.


Loon with sloping forehead. August 15, 2016.

I drove down to the creek below the Dam and found an American Dipper there. I only saw the one bird, so, I don’t know if there was breeding there or not. Large numbers of Clay-coloured Sparrows were flying from the trees along the creek over to the woodlands by the Dam. I counted at least 120 in only a few seconds so who knows how many birds flew over through the course of the day.

I left Chain Lakes for Pine Coulee Reservoir by crossing Highway 22 to Highway 533, then driving Highway 533 to the Flying E Road junction. This road passes through rolling hills and grassland along Willow Creek to Pine Coulee Reservoir. On this particular day, it proved to be a bonanza of American Kestrels as I found 5 of them hunting in the grasslands.


American Kestrel, August 15, 2016.

At the Willow Springs Arena bridge not far from Highway 533, I got my third Belted Kingfisher of the day, a male, and just past the bridge, I photographed a possible adult light-phase Calurus-subspecies (Mountain race) Red-tailed Hawk.There was some buffiness on the upper breast. Its call was even different from that of an Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, the common Red-tail in the Calgary area.


Red-tailed Hawk, August 15, 2016.

Pine Coulee Reservoir was being used mainly as a staging area for Franklin’s Gulls on this day. On the entire Reservoir for the day, I estimated about 3000. I counted most of them out, but, then rounded off the number at 3000 for parts of the Reservoir I couldn’t see. Other than one large raft of Franklin’s offshore from the Dam, other birds there were floating rafts of Grebes, both Red-necked and Horned. Eared Grebes were spotted about on the surface of the water.

IMG_7711 (1)

Franklin’s Gulls, June 15, 2016.

Water level at the Reservoir was the lowest I had ever seen it. Being created primarily for irrigation purposes, I thought that because of the mild late Winter and early Spring we had had that that’s why the Reservoir was so low. This seemed good and bad, but, the good was the excellent shorebird conditions created at the north end of the Reservoir.

IMG_7895 (1)

Stilt Sandpipers; an Avocet, some Peeps, and Short-billed Dowitchers.


Shorebirds, August 15.

Large numbers of shorebirds were there including all of Baird’s, Semipalmated, Least, Pectoral, and, Stilt Sandpipers. Lesser Yellowlegs were in the largest numbers there, and, Short-billed Dowitchers were also represented.

It was then time to head for home ending today’s trip.


Birders are reminded that the this week and next week, Fall songbird migration will be at its peak. The past couple of years, migration has started in late June. Observer coverage has been very good this year. In the period running from August 12 to August 22, Philadelphia Vireos, for instance, a species usually not very common in the Calgary area has come in with 8 reports. In the same period, Blue-headed Vireos have come in with 5 birds being reported in 4 reports. American Redstarts have showed up in good numbers so far, while, Magnolia Warblers have come in in expected numbers. Bay-breasted Warblers, one of the rarer northern Alberta Warblers in the Calgary area,  have been reported 3 times already. Canada Warbler has been reported twice, both times at Wyndham-Carseland PP. Townsend’s and Cape May Warblers have arrived in normal numbers. There have been 2 Nashville Warbler reports, while, there have been more Black-and-White Warbler reports than usual with 6.

Other recent reports include 2 Pacific-Slope Flycatcher reports in the Calgary area. Janet Gill reported a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on Monday, August 22, while, a Dusky Flycatcher was slightly off course at Policeman’s Flats just southeast of Calgary on Friday, August 12 when it was seen by Terry Korolyk.

A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was reported at the Boat Launch in east Fish Creek PP on Sunday, August 21, and, a possible mega-rarity, a juvenile NORTHERN WHEATEAR was reported just northeast of High River on Wednesday, August 17. The bird could not be found in an intensive search for it the same day. To this point, the only documented bird of this species in the province was a bird on Nose Hill in Calgary on November 22, 1989. A complete shock was a Canada Goose with some seemingly completely albinistic parts, and, the remainder leucistic seen at the slough at Township  Road 250 and Highway 817 north of Strathmore on Tuesday, August 16.


Albinistic Canada Goose, north of Strathmore, August 16, 2016.

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

By Terry Korolyk


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.


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.


This partnership will soon lead to nesting –


– 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 –


– 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:


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:


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:


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

IMG_6179 (2)

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:




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.


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.

Terry’s Travels: Birding the Stavely Area

Hello; allow me to introduce myself. My name is Terry Korolyk. I have been, among other things, the Compiler of the City of Calgary and Nature Calgary Bird Alert since 1994 and have  also been  the Compiler for Alberta for the Prairie Provinces Region of North American Birds, a quarterly publication of the American Birding Association, for approximately 16 years.

Currently, I am working on 2 birding books with one being “The Birds of the Calgary Area and Southern Alberta”, and, the other being the “The Birds of Fish Creek PP”. I am sure most of you are well aware of how well known Fish Creek PP is in our area as the Park is often featured on Birds Calgary.

I will be contributing on a regular basis to the Blog with my first venture focusing on a trip I led for Nature Calgary Saturday, July 16 down to the Stavely area to bird concentrating on the huge Pine Coulee Reservoir west of Stavely and Clear Lake on the prairie 15 km east of Stavely on Township Roads 140 and 142. From the main parking lot in the Glennfield area on the east side of Fish Creek PP, we cruised down Highway 2 as far as Nanton turning off and following the road behind the Esso (Regular Unleaded is almost always 2 cents more than the other Gas Stations in the town at the Esso) directly to the south end of Nanton. This road is usually quite birdy and is almost always a sure bet for one, if not more, EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES.

Sure enough, we did see one perched on a telephone line.

Once at the south end of town, we crossed the highway and set out for Pine Coulee Reservoir. This road is paved much of the way, but, just as the pavement ends, a fairly large slough appears from just over a hump. Usually, this is a good birding stop on the way, but, given the recent rains we’ve had, the slough was flooded and not one bird was present. We pushed on. Following a few kilometres of gravel, we reached Township Road 150 and made the turn left to descend down the switchback to the reservoir. To this point, the drive from Nanton was very birdy with lots of Buteos (mostly Swainson’s Hawks, but, in a different variety of plumages. Vesper and Savannah Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks, all singing, had lined our route.

The mudflats were extensive on the south of Township Road 150 where it crossed the north end of the reservoir. Large numbers of shorebirds from the North prodded and poked about in the muck. A few minutes birding there produced 250+ Lesser Yellowlegs; 60 Baird’s Sandpipers, and, 1 Stilt Sandpiper amongst many Killdeer. Female Ducks of different species led their broods of tiny Ducklings almost everywhere on the water on both sides of the road. Flocks of Tree and Bank Swallows and 2 resident Cliff Swallows swiveled back and forth the over the water in search of flying insects. There were many juveniles as it had become fledging time for them.


Juvenile Bank Swallow.


Adult Bank Swallows.

We carried on soon ending up at the Dam, which, in Fall is a great landfall for migrant waterfowl and other birds heading to their wintering grounds. At this time of year, there was an assortment of Diving Ducks and other birds which included 1 immature Double-crested Cormorant, and, 3 juvenile BARROW’S GOLDENEYE.


Western Kingbird.

Leaving the Dam on Township Road 140, we found more waterfowl and both Western and Eastern Kingbirds started to show themselves. Mourning Doves also started to appear. We turned right on Range Road 281–more Mourning Doves; 7 of them.


Mourning Doves.

Almost immediately after, one of the prizes of the day, a pair of COMMON NIGHTHAWKS, a male and a female, bounced around in the air against a backdrop of billowing white Cumulus clouds, and…………at the same time!……….a FERRUGINOUS HAWK soared against the clouds. We then stopped for lunch a few hundred metres along at a slough that, in past years, was an excellent location to observe American Wigeon during breeding season. Spring migration periods at this slough produced large numbers of Wigeons usually including one or more EURASIAN WIGEONS and EURASIAN-AMERICAN males. I could recall one particularly spectacular looking individual of this hybrid. This year, however, Eared Grebes, colonial birds, were nesting there, and you could see their many vegetation nests jutting above the water’s surface. Flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and, European Starlings horded along the water’s edge and in in the nearby crop fields. We headed back to Township Road 140 and then headed east to Clear Lake.


Swainson’s Hawk.

There were more Mourning Doves then, and, both Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks on the drive to Clear Lake, then  after we crossed Highway 2, Horned Larks started to appear along with the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. The Campground at Clear Lake gave us great chances to observe both Western and Eastern Kingbirds again. On the lake, Eared Grebes and Franklin’s Gulls loafed and hunted respectively, but…………amongst all the Franklin’s Gulls swam 1 breeding-plumaged BONAPARTE’S GULL, a nice surprise and a chance to watch a bird we don’t see much of here at this time of year.

Heading north on Range Road 261 up the west flank of the lake we found an adult FERRUGINOUS HAWK perched on a fencepost. Birds seen at the north end of Clear Lake included 10 breeding-plumaged SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS while a Mammal sighting there included one very large White-tailed Deer doe crossing the lake.


Ferruginous Hawk.

We headed north on Range Road 260 to start the return trip to Calgary. We had time for 2 very good stops—-one at Township Road 152 and Range Road 265 where we watched many fledging and adult Tree, Bank, and, Cliff Swallows, and, the other on the west side of Range Road 270 just south of Highway 533  where we found 19 migrating RED-NECKED PHALAROPES in breeding plumage swimming on the water along with 3 more SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS along the shoreline. Amongst the duck species there was 1 hybrid female GADWALL-NORTHERN PINTAIL! Our final bird of the day was a bird I think is one of our showiest and most flamboyant on Range Road 272 south of Highway 23:


Loggerhead Shrike.

We reached Highway 23; turned north on Highway 799 and followed that and Highway 552 and Dunbow Road back to Calgary.

For those of you who do not know what Bird Alerts do (they are also known as RBAs, or, Rare Bird Alerts ), they are a phone service used to report sightings of rare and unusual birds. In our case here in Alberta, the city of Calgary RBA number is 403-221-4519. If you have found a rare or unusual bird, or, have noticed some unusual interesting bird behaviour, or, have noticed an unusually large number of individuals of a particular species of bird, or, have noticed a bird in the province here out of season; by all means, report it. Anything you think relevant to any of the already mentioned requirements, go ahead and report it to us.

If you phone to report anything, I will have compiled a message which you can listen to, or, if you just want to leave your information, you may do so after the beep. Information should consist of the bird(s); location of the sighting (be as specific as possible using Route numbers; distances from prominent landmarks, etc.); date, including time if possible, and, a telephone number where you can be reached. I collect all the messages and record a new RBA every Monday and Thursday evening with all the information that has been deposited and the process repeats itself.

Nature Calgary field trips are free and open to anyone. See the list of upcoming trips here.