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Christmas Bird Count in Inglewood

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For the Calgary Christmas count on December 20 I was once again part of a group that covered the Inglewood Golf Course, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Zoo, and surrounding neighbourhoods. As usual we started with breakfast at the golf clubhouse, and then split into two groups to cover the river and golf course north and south of there.

Waterfowl

Canada Geese and Mallards on the open water.

It’s a challenge to get accurate counts of the thousands of birds on the water, and on this stretch of the river, it’s a challenge to find anything other than Canada Geese and Mallards. But we knew that three Snow Geese had been seen regularly along here, and we soon found them resting on the bank with the other geese. This was the first time that Snow Geese had ever been reported in the 72 years of Calgary Christmas Bird Counts, so it was great to add them to the list.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese – one adult and two immatures, a new species for the Calgary CBC.

There are usually quite a few Bald Eagles on this stretch of the river in winter, and we had nine on the count, seven immatures and two adults.

Bald Eagles

Three of the eight immature Bald Eagles we saw from the golf course.

Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle wondering what I am up to down there.

One of the other waterfowl species we were looking for among the Mallards and Canada Geese was Cackling Goose, a very small relative of the Canadas. It can be very tricky to find these among some of the small subspecies of Canada Goose that overwinter here. I took quite a few photos of some small geese, and we later decided we had seen at least four Cackling Geese. This photo shows one just to the right of the Mallard with its wings up. It is short-necked and stubby-billed, and only about one and a half times the size of a Mallard.

Cackling Geese

Cackling Goose

During Christmas Bird Counts you have to count all the birds you see in your territory, but we are collectively trying to find as many species as we can. Each group in the field is also in a friendly competition with all the other groups to see who can get the most species, and the most unique species, in their territory. So it was good to get Snow Goose, which no one else was likely to find.

While our half of the group went south and found the Snow Geese, the other half was counting birds at the north end of the golf course. One of their targets there was a Harris’s Sparrow, which I had seen there while scouting the area the week before, and which had been seen daily since, usually with or near a mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a Brown Creeper. This was the only Harris’s that we were aware of in the count circle, so it was important to find it in case no others turned up elsewhere during the count. Unfortunately our group wasn’t able to find this shy bird in the morning.

We decided that we would try again for the Harris’s, so three of us went back to that area while the others went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Although we added a couple of other new species, we again failed to find the Harris’s Sparrow.

Next stop, in the early afternoon, was the Calgary Zoo grounds. Quite a number of wild birds are attracted to the grounds due to the cover, open water, and food available there. Four of us explored the zoo while one of our group covered Pearce Estate and another drove the residential areas to check bird feeders. However, while the other two were adding some new species to our list, we found it very quiet at the zoo this year for wild birds. We had a few species but nothing new for the count.

Unidentified Bird

We looked all through our Birds of Alberta field guide but weren’t able to identify this bird we saw at the zoo.

At 3 pm, we decided there was just enough time to take one more trip to the golf course to try to get the Harris’s Sparrow before sunset at about 4:30. The two of us that remained explored the whole north end for the third time that day. Again we found mixed flocks of passerines and lots of crossbills of both species, but no sign of the sparrow.

WW Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill. Both this species and Red Crossbills can be found all over the city this winter.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper, in a mixed winter flock of small foraging birds.

Kinglet 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Briefly playing their song drew three kinglets out to inspect us, where we had only been seeing one.

Kinglet 2Golden-crowned Kinglet in the setting sun.

Kinglet 3

Golden-crowned Kinglet. A male, showing the red in the crown.

As the sun touched the horizon we decided we had better call it a day and started walking back along the river to the parking lot. I saw a robin at the water’s edge and was watching it when I saw a dark shape move just below the bank. Just the top of its head and a bit of its back was showing below a bank of snow, but I waited for a minute of so, and it finally walked slowly into view – the Harris’s Sparrow! It moved up into a bush and I got a photo in the fading light.

Harris's Sparrow

It was 4:18 pm, just 13 minutes before sunset. It had taken us most of the day to get that one bird, and it brought our group’s total to a very respectable 29 species.

Then it was off to the wind-up dinner and compilation of results. We are already looking forward to next year to see if we can crack 30 species!

Here is a better photo of the Harris’s Sparrow, taken in good light by Trevor Churchill on December 13.

Trevor Churchill Harris's Sparrow, IGC

Harris’s Sparrow. Photo by Trevor Churchill, Inglewood Golf Course, December 13, 2015.

The results of the Calgary Christmas Bird Count, and several counts in surrounding areas, will be presented at the meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group on January 6, 2016.

Sunday Showcase: Winter Birds of the Weaselhead

Photos from the Weaselhead area of SW Calgary, taken November 28 to December 23.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

2

White-throated Sparrow

1

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon subspecies)

3

Bohemian Waxwing

6

Pine Grosbeak (female or immature)

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Pine Grosbeak (male)

4

Blue Jay

9

Common Redpoll

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American Goldfinch (male in winter plumage)

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!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following our great excursion to Pearce Estate Park, we headed down to the Weaselhead as our first real cold snap started to descend upon Calgary. We did get a bit of a break in the weather by Sunday, and there were a good number of birds out enjoying the sunny day!

Weaselhead - November 22, 2015

Weaselhead – November 22, 2015

The Weaselhead has always been a good location to find the many winter finches that come south from the boreal forest to gorge themselves on the spruce and willow seeds in years when the cone crop up north is in a low cycle, and the crop here is at a peak. In non-finch years, we still will get the usual winter birds, including four species of woodpecker, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as great stand-bys.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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The older trees down in the Weaselhead are great places for the woodpeckers to forage, as they have plenty of nooks and crannies for insects to huddle up for the winter, and plenty of holes and crevices for the birds to spend their cold winter nights out of the elements as well. It’s a great give and take relationship that many of these birds have with their environment.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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The other side of the coin is that for years, there have been many different individuals who have put up feeders on many of the trees along the main pathway, which have become hotspots for finding the expected winter species, but the occasional overwintering rarity as well, such as American Goldfinches and White-throated Sparrows.

female House Finch

female House Finch

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While checking out the feeders, this female House Finch flew up and allowed all of us good views of her, which should have been a hint at what we were in for later on in the day! I rarely get good looks at House Finches, either males or females, as they always seem to be actively foraging, flying, or singing high up in the trees with lots of branches in the way.

American Robin

American Robin

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The warm weather had also allowed for some larger flocks of some of the American Robins that choose to spend the winter here in Calgary. We had fifteen (yes, 15!) of these typical “spring” birds here that day, but that’s not unusual at all. During the Christmas Bird Count each year, we usually record double digits of American Robins throughout the city, usually in some of the warmer microclimates around small creeks, springs, and outflows around the city.

male House Finch

male House Finch

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female House Finch

female House Finch

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Down at the bridge that crosses the small channel that feeds into the Elbow River, our day got a lot more exciting. Not only did we get great looks at another female House Finch, but we spotted this male that looks to have quite the Flames themed dye job in his facial markings. These male House Finches that show a little more orange, and sometimes even yellow in their normally red coloration tell us a bit about what they’re eating. The red pigments that House Finches normally show have found their way into the finch by what it’s been eating. Those that are a bit more yellow or orange simply aren’t eating as much of that red pigment in their food, and so look just slightly different to us. The other finches really don’t seem to take notice of the difference either way though.

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak and male House Finch

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male Pine Grosbeak

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Along with the House Finches, a fairly large flock of Pine Grosbeaks were in attendance at the bridge, hopping above, below, and all around both sides of the bridge. You can really see just how much bigger the grosbeaks are than their smaller cousins in that first image.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

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Unfortunately, once we headed a little further west from the bridge, everything seemed to quiet down and disappear. It wasn’t really that birdy, but there were at least a few Red Squirrels hanging about to pose for the camera.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

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We also found quite a few Bohemian Waxwings on that outing. These birds tend to trickle into the Calgary area as the fall and winter progress, until all of a sudden there are thousands of them all over town!

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immature or female Pine Grosbeaks

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male Pine Grosbeak

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On our way back at the bridge and finishing up our day, we found a few more Pine Grosbeaks perched high up in the spruce trees, almost displaying their deep, vibrant colours. I just can never resist taking photos of these guys and gals. They’re one of the best winter birds we get here, and so many birders consider them the iconic “Christmas bird”.

And that was another week out with the Friends of Fish Creek!

Just a couple more weeks of blog updates until the New Year and a whole new Winter Birding Course!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Mid-November in Pearce Estate Park – But I LOVE identifying gulls!

Posted by Dan Arndt

… said no one ever. I kid, I kid. There are a few die-hard larophiles (from the Latin larus, meaning gull, and the Greek philos, meaning to have a strong affinity for, to love, AKA people with WAY too much time on their hands) out there who spend dozens of hours each year picking through flocks of Ring-billed and California Gulls to pick out a rarity, but I certainly don’t have the patience for that. Some people draw the line at flycatchers, others at shorebirds, specifically peeps, but me, I draw mine at gulls.

Don’t get me wrong. Gulls are wonderful in their own way, but spending hours picking through hundreds of them for something a slightly lighter or darker shade of grey is not my idea of a fun time.

November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

As fall begins to cool and the ponds and creeks begins to ice over, there are a number of large gravel bars along the Bow River where gulls begin to accumulate in numbers. Our reason for visiting this park were specifically because a couple of uncommon gulls had been reported here resting among the dozens of Ring-billed Gulls. The three species we were here to find were the Thayer’s Gull, Mew Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. We did come up with the first two, but our Sunday group was a few days too late, as the Lesser Black-backed Gull hadn’t been seen since Wednesday.

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

This photo was taken through my Vortex Viper spotting scope using a PhoneSkope adapter and my Samsung Galaxy S5 built in camera. Can you spot the Mew Gull? I couldn’t for a good half hour. I’ve seen many Mew Gulls in British Columbia, usually associating with California Gulls but never among Ring-billed Gulls. I was expecting to find a gull with a bit of a lighter mantle, rather than darker. The Mew Gull is just a little bit to the left of center, resting with its bill hidden.

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Here’s a shot of the bird zoomed in a bit closer with its bill out. It’s now obvious that the bird is a shade or two darker than the Ring-billed Gulls on the mantle, and has a tiny, unmarked yellow bill. Again, the Mew Gull is the one just a little bit left of center with the round head and dark eye. A tough spot, to be sure!

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

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immature Herring Gull

immature Herring Gull

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We did get a good look at many of the other gulls, including this immature Herring Gull sitting on the remains of the old weir. It was particularly noticeable due to its large size, pink legs, and overall dark plumage, but that bill shape was also a good indicator!

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

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And of course, here are a couple of the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls on the water. The low angle sunlight and the perfectly clear morning sky made it a bit tough to expose correctly, but it’ll be one of the last shots I would get of any gulls until late February or early March next year. It’s surprising every year how they just seem to totally disappear around the end of November and by the time the Christmas Bird Count rolls around, they’re almost a distant memory!

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

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Another great sighting that day was this immature Double-crested Cormorant, who gave us a fly-by and perched in a tree across the river shortly after. This would be the latest sighting of this bird I’ve ever had, and from other reports, it is apparently sticking around a bit further downstream!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

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We headed a little west where earlier groups in the week had found a some Bald Eagles, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. At first, the immature eagle flew in to check us out, and a few minutes later the adult flew in and flushed the younger bird off. When I had visited the park earlier in the week, I noted that the gulls seemed to have a sixth sense for approaching eagles, flushing easily a full minute before they came into view from my angle. When you’re a gull you have to be on alert for predators, especially ones that can so easily take you out like a Bald Eagle can!

male Merlin

male Merlin

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While we were watching the Bald Eagles, we spotted this male Merlin as he flew in with what appears to be a House Sparrow in his talons. Because this part of the park is adjacent to a large residential area, it wasn’t too surprising to hear and see the House Sparrows, it was a bit of a surprise to see this guy!

female Merlin

female Merlin

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We walked all the way back to the east end of the park where we watched this girl fly in and perch above us. I suspect she was watching the ground for voles, as she sat there staring at the ground for quite some time while we watched.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

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As we watched the Merlin, a couple of Black-billed Magpies flew in and began foraging on the ground, but also keeping a sharp eye on her. They spent a good amount of time keeping an eye on us as well.

Around this time, the traffic on the pathway started to pick up due to a running race, so we headed back in to the inside of the park.

distant Common Redpoll

distant Common Redpoll

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One of the birds we had heard flitting about overhead for most of the morning was a single Common Redpoll. Towards the end of our walk that morning it popped up into this shrub and perched for a few minutes, giving everyone good (but distant) looks at it. While this season is a pretty good one for these birds, I still haven’t had a chance to see one up close and personal.

male Mallard

male Mallard

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On our way out of the park, we walked past a couple Mallards in the floating fen ponds near the entrance, showing off once again their bright green breeding plumage, curly black tail feathers, and complex browns and grays. It’s nice to see them back in full colors after a few months of seeing them in eclipse plumage!

And that’s it for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!

Making friends with the birds at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

The week following our outing to Bebo Grove, we headed a little bit east to Votier’s Flats in search of overwintering birds. Occasionally there are American Dippers, Wilson’s Snipe, and even the occasional sparrow.

November 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats – November 8, 2015

After a meeting up at the parking lot, we headed west to look over one arm of the creek where we’ve suspected that American Dippers could be found in the winter, and where we’ve found American Mink and often get good looks at Pine Grosbeaks. Unfortunately we came up short in this area, but we were rewarded down the hill by a mixed flock of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, as well as a few Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Aside from this little flock, we heard a number of other birds flying overhead and feeding in the tree tops. Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, and both White-winged and Red Crossbills were readily apparent all morning long. A little further along the trail we heard a small flock of Dark-eyed Juncos flitting about at the base of the spruce trees. They were a little hard to track closely, but one of them popped up behind us for a brief look before flying off.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

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We headed a little east along the river, following a few small trails finding another mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. We had good looks at one of the White-breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers at this spot, always great birds to find!

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

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We headed from there over to the storm water outflow where we’d found the aforementioned snipe, dipper, and sparrows, but unfortunately again came up empty. Even though the temperature had dropped in the past few days, there was still a lot of open water between Calgary and the Rocky Mountains, and plenty of places for any of these birds to enjoy our slow, warm onset of winter this year.

From there, we headed up the hill to check out some of the bird feeders at the top of the hill, where other groups this week had found a few more Boreal Chickadees, and a good number of other regular visitors to the feeders. We lucked out and had a couple of Boreal Chickadees going to and from one feeder, and I managed to snap off a couple shots of one of them.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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Unfortunately we didn’t have much luck up here, and the birds were up fairly high, but we did manage to see a couple of Northern Flickers and White-winged Crossbills high in the trees.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

As we searched the top of the hill, we came across another small mixed flock of birds, this time a few Golden-crowned Kinglets with a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches mixed in. Kinglets are by far some of the toughest birds to get good looks at, and we had to spend a few minutes to even get a brief glimpse of them out in the open. The Red-breasted Nuthatches, on the other hand, were a little easier to track down!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

With only a couple more weeks in the Autumn Birding course, and upcoming Christmas Bird Counts, there’s plenty more to see and many more birds to find over the coming weeks on the blog. Stay tuned, and good birding!

More spring migrants at South Glenmore Park!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our last outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course on March 29 was to South Glenmore Park in hopes of seeing some migrant swans, some early sparrows, and who knows what else! We did have a few good sightings, and it rounded out the course perfectly in my opinion!

South Glenmore Park - March 29, 2015

South Glenmore Park – March 29, 2015

 

It seems like not a week goes by where we haven’t been seeing at least one Northern Shrike on our walks, and soon after we started, we heard a commotion in the spruce trees above us and spotted not one, but two of them up there! One appeared to be an adult, while the second, which I was able to get a photo of, looked a little duller, which would indicate that it’s likely an immature bird.

Northern Shrike Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Northern Shrike
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We had a good number of Trumpeter Swans fly by us heading to the open water on the west end of the Glenmore Reservoir, but it was nice to have a pair fly by a bit closer to us, trumpeting away as they flew!

Trumpeter Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Trumpeter Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

While the rest of the reservoir was still frozen over, we didn’t really get too much of a look at the birds on the far west end, so we headed up onto another parallel pathway to feed some birds, and we did also hear the beautiful song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first I’d heard since January. There seemed to be far fewer of them around this year than in past years, so it was nice to see them again up close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We also put some seeds out for the chickadees and nuthatches, and had a few Black-capped Chickadees and at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches come in to stock up their supplies.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

So after a relatively quiet morning with very few birds up close to us, it was nice to almost literally stumble over this Snowshoe Hare. Unlike the one we found a few weeks earlier, this one was beginning the transition out of its winter coat and into the more typical brown summer coloration. Even still, it was still difficult for many of our group to see unless it was directly pointed out to them.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

In addition to the newly arrived kinglets, swans, and gulls of the past few weeks, we also found a number of aspen budding out in their fresh catkins, better known of course as pussy willows. One of the signs of spring that’s almost as reliable as the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Red-tailed Hawks!

Pussy willows Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Pussy willows
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Our very last sighting was a trio of Blue Jays, right in the exact same spot where a few other groups had seen them earlier in the week. It’s quite possible that there’s a nest down below the ridge at this point, but with how dense the willow and aspens are in that area, it’d be nearly impossible to find it.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

And with that, our winter birding course comes to an end. In fact, yesterday, April 4 was our first outing for the spring course, so get ready for migration to ramp up over the next few weeks and the colors to really start to brighten up!

Have a great week, and good birding.

Some Spring Sparrows at Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on March 15, 2015 was a bit chillier than we’ve been accustomed to the past few weeks, but it didn’t dampen our spirits on the slightest. In fact, we had quite a few new spring arrivals to keep us busy in the park, and to keep our eyes and ears attentive all morning long!

Mallard Point - 3-15-2015

Mallard Point – March 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes just the right light and the right conditions to make a relatively normal and common bird stand out. It was no different with the Mallards we saw occasionally at their namesake area in Fish Creek Provincial Park. With their bright green iridescent heads, bright yellow bills and curly tail feathers, they do take on a character of their own in the spring!

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were also greeted along our walk by quite a number of American Robins feeding in the nearby trees. Some on some Mountain Ash, some on local crab apple trees, and a few just sitting pretty and singing away. It’s really nice to see these guys back again! Pretty much all of the American Robins we found were males, which is exactly what we’d expect this time of year as they return from their overwintering grounds and establish territories. It’s usually the first early birds on the block that get the most coveted territories, so for them it pays to stay as close to ones own breeding grounds as possible. While many non-birders consider them the true harbinger of spring, it’s a well documented fact that there are quite a few of them that spend the winter right here in Calgary!

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for us to have any gulls stick around over winter. They usually depart in mid- to late- November and return in early March. The two species that tend to show up the soonest are both the Ring-billed and the California Gull, both of which were present on the Bow River on our walk that Sunday morning.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

California Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

California Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We were delighted to find a couple of surprises on our walk though as well, the first being a lone Song Sparrow, giving chip calls and high pitched “seep” calls while it foraged under the overhanging sections of the river bank, and in a small willow nearby. While it didn’t sing, it did respond to both pishing and a quick call playback by popping up into view allowing a few of us to get both good looks, and a few good close pictures of it!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The second was a White-throated Sparrow hanging around a yard full of typical feeder birds, both House Sparrows and House Finches. Once again it was the diagnostic chip notes that made its presence known to us, and it did take a little while to pick it out from the underbrush. Once we had it found though, a little playback of chip notes and a bit of pishing brought it out into the open as well!

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

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

On the last leg of our journey one of our group drew our attention to a hawk-shaped outline in the trees bordering on the edge of the park. Its large size and relatively identifiable coloration pointed out the species to us right away, it’s just unfortunate that a couple of walkers passed right underneath it and flushed it from its perch just as we were getting into the open. Hopefully you can make the ID on this bird as well as we were able to!

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It seems like every week more and more birds are arriving back in our beautiful city, and soon the leaves will be out on the trees and the warblers, vireos, and flycatchers of summer will be nesting, laying eggs, and raising their young!

Have a good week, and good birding!

 

Mammals abound at Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing at Votier’s Flats was rather incredible. With extremely warm, spring-like temperatures, it seemed that things were really going to start picking up. Mammals were all active and out of their winter slumber (or at least their winter shyness), and a few birds even looked like they were preparing to begin their preparations for nesting!

Votier's Flats March 8, 2015

Votier’s Flats
March 8, 2015

Early on, I got separated from our group and took a little detour, only to find one of the White-tailed Deer that are resident to this area of the park stopped right in the middle of the pathway in front of me. I probably should have taken this as a cue that a group of fifteen people hadn’t just walked by this way, but what can I say? Daylight Saving Time had just occurred the night before, and maybe I was a little bit tired from losing an hour’s sleep. Either way, this deer didn’t really even seem to mind my presence this close to her, so I took the opportunity to take a portrait.

White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

After a few missed directions and a bit of miscommunication, I did finally find our group just as this little American Mink came out of hiding and scampered across the ice in front of us.

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

American Mink
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

The morning was still quite good for birds though, but it seemed that being out and about so early in the day made the mammal observations come rapid fire. Around the corner and a little west from where we spotted the mink, we found this Snowshoe Hare, entirely frozen in place as we walked by, only to run off as soon as the last of our group passed by it.

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Snowshoe Hare
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we came out of the woods and into a small clearing, we had some great views of a Townsend’s Solitaire, who responded quite readily to a recorded call, giving us some of the best views any of us had ever had of this beautifully grey bird.

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/7.1, ISO 800

Townsend's Solitaire Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Townsend’s Solitaire
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

We walked for a while in the mixed woods of this part of Fish Creek Provincial Park seeing or hearing the occasional distant woodpecker, raven, or flyover of geese, but we did stop for a few minutes below Raven Rocks to observe a few Canada Geese who appeared to be picking out nest spots right on the edge of the sandstone outcrops of the Porcupine Hills formation.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Canada Goose on the rocks
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

As we reached the westernmost part of our walk before turning and heading to finish out our day, we scanned the trees for Northern Pygmy Owls, Northern Goshawks, or any of the other typical birds we find in that area, and sure enough we found an immature Northern Goshawk flying far above us, circling a nearby neighborhood.

Northern Goshawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Northern Goshawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!