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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!

The many and varied signs of spring at Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week in Fish Creek and the signs of spring were all around us. While the morning was the coldest one of the week, topping out at -2 Celcius, the starlings were practicing their imitation calls, the Great Horned Owls were comfortably hunkered down in their nests, and the waterfowl were courting in preparation for the breeding season to come.

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

Our goals were to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls in the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, hopefully see some other waterfowl and early migrants along the river, and whatever else we might find in our travels.

We found one of our first targets less than fifteen minutes after our walk started. After checking out the waterfowl near the boat launch, we headed west into the grove of trees near Sikome Lake, where for the last five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have successfully fledged two or three owlets each year. While mom was well hidden, we did find dad out on one of his regular roosts a few dozen meters away from the usual nest site with a good view of the surrounding area. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t see him, and kept peeking one eye open from time to time as we walked by.

Great Horned Owl (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We did a loop around the east edge of the lake looking for a shrike, woodpecker, or nuthatches, but found relatively few small birds in their usual spots that morning, and it wasn’t until we got down to the bridges over the Bow River that we finally found something worth shooting. The Rock Pigeons nest under this bridge every year, and it’s one of the most reliable places in the park to find this urban species. They are quite often overlooked as “trash birds”, but they still have some rather amazing coloration on their breast feathers.

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

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

As has been fairly regular this winter, we did get a flyover of a few Bald Eagles along our walk. As these eagles would fly over, the reaction from the waterfowl on the river would be quite varied. In some cases, only a couple would flush up off the water, but when a hungry eagle would pass over, the river would be almost entirely devoid of birds a few moments later. It’s amazing that they can tell whether the eagle is actively hunting, or just passing through at that distance. Does this Bald Eagle look like a hungry one, or a sated one to you?

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We also found a pair of Common Ravens putting together a nest in the same tree where they had nested the last few years. Whether these are the same pair as before, one of their offspring, or just another pair nesting in a particularly enviable nesting location, it was great seeing them going through the motions of preparing their nest for the year.

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

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Coming back under the bridge, we also spotted the male Common Goldeneyes displaying for the few females that may still be unpaired, and among a small group of Common Goldeneye, a single immature Barrow’s Goldeneye stood out from the rest.

Common Goldeneyes displaying Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneyes displaying
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow's (middle) Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow’s (middle) Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Once we were done our loop at the south-east end of the park, we headed up toward the Headquarters building to find a second pair of Great Horned Owls, and to see if we could find any of the early arriving waterfowl that we missed out on a few weeks ago.

We did (barely!) find the Great Horned Owls in this area as well, though the female was very well hidden!

Great Horned Owl (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We walked over to the river after coming up with our second owl pair of the morning, and as we came over the rise, this is what we saw.

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Can you spot the pair of Lesser Scaup? We also spotted the male Northern Pintail that has been hanging around this area for what might have been all winter long. A handsome male in full breeding plumage disappeared on us a few times as we worked on finding it and re-finding it for the time we were there scanning the group!

Northern Pintail (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Northern Pintail (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

And that’s another week down before the real spring migration blitz comes our way! Have a great week, and good birding!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Winter Birding Targets

By Brian Elder, posted by Bob Lefebvre

At the December 3, 2014 meeting of Nature Calgary’s Bird Studies Group, Brian Elder presented Calgary Competition: Winter Birding Targets. Brian gives great advice on how to get a good start in the competition, by targeting birds that are only here in the winter, rare birds, and birds that may be around all year but are easier to find in the winter. He includes many of his outstanding photos.

There is still plenty of winter left this year, and if you can’t get out and find these birds in February and early March you can always try again in November and December. Scroll through the PDF file of the presentation below.

Note: The file might not show on the blog in all web browsers or on mobile devices. If you click this link it should open in a new page:

Calgary competition – winter birding

 

Download the PDF file .

 

A relatively quiet morning at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our visit to Bebo Grove last Sunday was rather quiet for much of the morning, with a flurry activity for the last hour or so. Early on, we heard the odd Black-capped Chickadee here and there, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and an occasional Downy Woodpecker. The light was good, and the weather was relatively clear, which made for an enjoyable trip through the park, but it would have been nice if we’d had better luck with any of the birds we were there to see!

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We walked through the picnic area a couple of times, at one point flushing what we were certain was a Great Grey Owl, crossed the river to search through the dense spruce in the south side of Fish Creek, and came up entirely empty except for the same bird species we’d heard earlier. We crossed back over the river and that’s when things really started to take off. We found a small mixed flock of birds spread out throughout the picnic area, including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches (including a partially leucistic male), a perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, and a handful of Boreal Chickadees mixed with the Black-capped Chickadees.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

leucistic male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

As we searched through the east end of the picnic area, we found a very friendly little female Red-breasted Nuthatch chowing down on some seeds we’d left out for it.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Of course as we rounded out the day, I decided to stop by the local celebrity owl to snap a few photos for the blog. On any given day, this bird is relatively easy to spot since there’s usually a dozen or more people surrounding it trying to get the perfect photo. While I’m no expert on stress indicators in owls, I can’t help but think that the constant attention is having some negative impacts on it, so I decided to just snap a couple of photos from a couple of angles and move on, and boy am I glad I did!

Northern Pygmy-owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Northern Pygmy-owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Walking back towards Bridge 3 with Paul Turbitt and atop a small spruce on the other side of the river I spotted this little tuft of feathers. Sure enough, it was a second Northern Pygmy-Owl!

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

This was one of those 1 in a thousand situations when you raise your binoculars to check out that a spot on top of a tree which turns out to be a little branch, or clump of spruce cones, or cluster of leaves. It pays to keep looking up!

This little owl flew in close to us as we spotted it and set up in a tree right above us.

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We sat and observed it for a few minutes before some Black-capped Chickadees took note of it and decided to try to chase it off. Within moments, this cute little ball of feathers went from this:

Northern Pygmy-owl #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Pygmy-owl #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

To this:

Northern Pygmy-owl in "Tall Thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in “Tall Thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-owl in "tall thin" pose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Pygmy-owl in “tall thin” pose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Moments later, it flew off deeper into the woods as the chickadees gave chase. It was really quite an incredible encounter, and it’s one of the reasons to get out and explore the great parks in this city!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Christmas Bird Counting

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This year I participated in a few Christmas Bird Counts, and while I wasn’t able to get too many photos from some of them, I did manage a few here and there.

Calgary Christmas Bird Count:

As per usual, my area this year was the Weaselhead, and I managed a few photos of some good birds while down there. While we did miss out on some expected birds in that area, we didn’t have too bad a day overall. Of course the most reliable birds here are the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Ruffed Grouse. One of the pleasant surprises in our area was a small flock of Common Redpolls, which quickly flew in, landed for a minute or two, and flew off as quickly as they arrived.

male Ruffed Grouse Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Ruffed Grouse
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canmore Christmas Bird Count:

Most years, the Canmore Christmas Bird Count is one of the first ones I participate in, as it’s on a Saturday, and Calgary’s count is on a Sunday. This year, the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count window fell on a Sunday, and so the Canmore count was scheduled for the following Saturday. Because I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush to get home and get prepared for the Calgary count the next day, I had some time to actually spend a bit of time with the subjects, and explore a bit of a different range of habitats. My extra time paid off and I was able to find a couple more species in this area that I hadn’t found before!

American Three-toed Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Mountain Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Mountain Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

male Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Fish Creek Christmas Bird Count (and bonus bird):

The unofficial Fish Creek Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count is always conducted on New Year’s Day, which also gives me a great opportunity to get a solid start on my bird list for the year. For the past couple of years I’ve joined Phil Cram and the group that searches along the south-east corner of the park, including Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and the area around the boat launch, so we tend to get a pretty good variety of birds. Following the morning count, I did manage a trip over to Bebo Grove to search for the elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl that had been seen here recently, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint, but not before I was heading back to the car to head home. Sure enough, just as I was preparing to leave, he had already been found by another photographer who pointed him out to me at the parking lot!

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Northern Pygmy-Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

This week marks the beginning of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, so check back here next Monday to find out what we saw on our first Sunday outing!

Sunday Showcase: Winter Woodpeckers

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Fish Creek Park is a great place to find woodpeckers. In the winter, there are up to six species that can be found there: Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and Black-backed Woodpecker. Flickers are migratory but there are always some around in the winter here. Downy, Hairy, and Pileated are resident species. Three-toed and Black-backed are generally only seen here in the winter, and not every winter. This winter they have both been seen in Fish Creek Park, and in fact it appears that there are at least six Three-toes and three Black-backed in the park, which is an unusually high number for them.

Over the past couple of months Tony Leprieur has managed to get photos of all six of these species inside Fish Creek Park. All photos by Tony Leprieur.

Pileated Woodpecker:

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Northern Flicker:

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Downy Woodpecker:

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Hairy Woodpecker:

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American Three-toed Woodpecker:

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Black-backed Woodpecker:

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The Magic of Winter Birding

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

A recent article in the Calgary Herald’s Swerve magazine celebrates getting out to go birding in the winter in Calgary. The author, Tyee Bridge, has done an excellent job of capturing the magic of winter birding. The article includes 24 great photos by local photographers. Here is a link to the online version:

Birdwatching Isn’t Just For the Experts by Tyee Bridge

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Great Gray Owl. Photo by Logan Gibson

This article has already received a lot of praise from many birders. As Gus Yaki has pointed out, if you like the article and would like to see more like this in the future, you should send your comments to the publishers and let them know.

You can post a comment to the online article, but an email to Swerve might be more effective (or do both, as I have). Send to swerve(at)calgaryherald.com.

Snowy Owls of the Calgary Area

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Don Whittaker Feb 2014

Photo by Don Whittaker, February 2014.

We used to have a page on the blog in the winter months which gave details of every Snowy Owl sighting that we heard about that was within about 80 km of Calgary. Although that page was by far the most popular thing we’ve ever done, we stopped doing it for a few reasons. First, it was a lot of work every day to track down all reports of Snowy Owl sightings on Albertabird, the Alberta Birds Facebook Group, eBird, and any other source we could find. Second, there were some allegations that a few unethical birders or photographers had been baiting the owls, and we didn’t want to make it too easy for these people to find the birds.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owl Blackie, AB February 1, 2014

Photo by Dan Arndt, February 2014.

However, I think that most birders and photographers in the Calgary area already know the best places to find the owls – generally speaking, east and northeast of the city. It is not hard to find that basic information on eBird, or on any birding or bird photography site. In this age of social media, all we can do is keep trying to educate people and encourage ethical birding and photography practices.

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Photo by Philip Kanwischer, December 2014

Recently Dan Arndt created an eBird site that shows all the eBird reports of Snowy Owls from October through December. Here is a snapshot of that page as of December 13. It gives a good idea of where the owls are being seen. (I’m sure there are Snowy Owls out on the prairies farther east and north of Calgary, but the reports reflect the large number of birders who live in Calgary and only travel as far as needed to find some owls.)

eBird Map Dec. 13

To view this eBird page with sightings up to the minute, click this link. The link will be available on our right-hand sidebar until the end of the Snowy Owl season in April 2015. Once you click the link to go to the eBird page, you can then zoom in to the Calgary area, and when the teardrop shaped markers appear, click on any of them to see when the owl was seen, who reported it, and, if you wish, their complete checklist and the map of the location.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

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Photo by Rob English, February 2013.

Snowy Owls will sometimes sit on the ground, where they can be difficult to find against the snow, but most often they are on an elevated perch like a telephone pole, road sign, gas pipe, or tree. A little exploring on the backroads on the prairies will usually turn up at least a few this winter. Some birders have reported as many as fifteen owls in one trip. If you do go out looking, please keep a respectful distance and try not to to force the owls to fly.

Here are some more Snowy Owl photos that our readers have sent to us during the past year. All of the photos were taken in the Calgary area.

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Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

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Photo by Tony King, November 2014.

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Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

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Photo by Sharif Galal, March 2014.

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

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

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A very dark owl in flight. Photo by Tony Leprieur, November 2014.

Finally, here is a sequence showing a Snowy Owl coughing up a pellet, from December 2013. All photos below by Moe Zaleschuk.

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Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

Killdeer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Killdeer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

female Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!