Weaselhead Bridge – Ring Road Petition

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Most Calgary birders are aware by now that the ring road construction adjacent to the Weaselhead Nature Area in SW Calgary is well under way. A huge area has been cleared in preparation for building a bridge over the Elbow River.

This project has been discussed for decades, and birders have been very concerned about building a bridge and highway through such an environmentally sensitive area. I think it has long been assumed that when the time came, if it did, the builders would be sure to follow best environmental practices to minimize the impact on this area. In particular, it was hoped that a clear span bridge like the Stoney Trail bridge over the Bow River would be built. Instead, the plan is to build an earthern berm or cut-and-fill bridge, which will fill in the valley up to the road level for most of the span, essentially forming a dam across the floodplain. This design will have many negative consequences for the birds and other wildlife in the valley, and create a great many problems during flood events.

Aerial photograph taken June 3, 2017, Courtesy of the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society and John Mader. The Weaselhead Nature Area is on the right, and the ring road construction showing the diversion of the Elbow River on the left. As you can see, there has already been a stunning amount of disturbance, cutting off the Weaselhead from the ecologically diverse Elbow Valley to the west. Photo from the website http://www.yyccares.ca/recent_pictures.

A concerned group of local citizens is petitioning the Alberta Government to build a better bridge over the Elbow. Please visit their web page YYC Cares. There is a great deal of information on their site, and you can sign the petition there.

Birdboy Birdathon

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In May, Ethan Denton completed his 2017 Great Canadian Birdathon to raise money for bird research and conservation. He was part of a team with Gavin McKinnon, called the Saw-it Owls. Here are just a few photos of birds the team saw on their birdathon.

Harlequin Duck (male), Lake Minnewanka, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Harlequin Ducks (female on left, male right), Lake Minnewanka, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Common Loons, Vermillion Lakes, May 20, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male) on lek, southern Alberta, May 14, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (male) on lek, southern Alberta, May 14, 2017. Photo by Ethan Denton.

You can read about Day One of their birdathon on Ethan’s blog, Bird Boy.

The Great Canadian Birdathon (formerly called the Baille Birdathon) is a program of Bird Studies Canada. Participants are sponsored to count as many birds as they can every May. You can contribute to Ethan’s personal donation page here. Gavin McKinnon’s page is here. Please help them to reach their fundraising goals!

South Glenmore Park

Here are some photos of birds taken in South Glenmore Park on a Friends of Fish Creek birding course walk on April 29, 2017. All Photos by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Red-necked Grebe.

Red-breasted Merganser (male).

Red-breasted Merganser (female).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle subspecies).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Intergrade of Audubon’s and Myrtle subspecies).

Cooper’s Hawk.

Downy Woodpecker (male).

Bufflehead (male).

Horned Grebe.


Song Sparrow.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Sandhill Crane.

Swainson’s Hawk.

Boreal Chorus Frog singing.

To see more of Max’s photos, see his website, Photos by MOA.

Furry Friday: Rodents of Carburn Park

Here are a couple of the largest rodents you can see in Carburn Park in SE Calgary.

Muskrat, Carburn Park, May 23, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Beaver, Carburn Park, May 23, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

These two species can sometimes be confused for each other, especially when they are swimming. Of course the Beaver is much larger but sometimes size is hard to judge in the field. Beavers have big flat tails but they are not always visible. Muskrats have long tails without fur. These photos show some of the differences that help with identification when the other traits aren’t clear: the big wide head with large nose and prominent ears of the Beaver, and the small face and often hidden ears of the muskrat. Fur colour can vary but around here muskrats seem to usually be reddish like this one.

Calendar – June 2017

Events & Lectures of interest to Calgary birders.

Hooded Mergansers, Exshaw, May 2, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Nature Calgary Field Trips: Various dates and times. See this page. Some trips require registering in advance.

Thursday June 8, 7 pm. Alberta Wilderness Association. Living With Wildlife Town Hall.

Saturday June 24, 6 am to 11:30 pm. Canada 150 BioBlitz in the Weaselhead. Volunteers needed for birding walks at 6 am and 8:30 am. Events continue through the day.

Nature Calgary’s Big Week of Birding

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For many years Nature Calgary has held a Big Day on the Victoria Day holiday – an attempt to find as many species as possible in one day, in this case all of them inside the Calgary city limits (we had 116 species this year). During the 2015 Calgary Birding Competition we decided to add a Big Day in the Calgary Region–the 80-km diameter circle centred in Calgary. We did the trip again last year. In both cases we saw lots of good birds (151 species in 2015, and 132 in 2016) but it is a long day with quite a few dead stretches of driving.

Great Gray Owl, one of two seen on our 80-km Circle Big Day in 2016. Horse Creek Road, June 18, 2016. Photo by Saravana Moorthy.

For this year, we decided to try something new: A Big Week instead of a Big Day in the 80-km circle. There will be a series of field trips offered from June 4 to 10, and we will try to reach a cumulative total of 175 species on these trips.

Most of the trips will be led by myself, Andrew Hart, and Rose Painter. We will kick it off with a day-long trip to the northwest corner of the circle, around Water Valley, on Sunday June 4. The final day will feature another long trip to the south and southwest. Both of these trips require registration because car-pooling will be required and spaces will be limited.

There will also be several field trips offered during the week, including trips inside the city to the Weaselhead and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. A couple of other trips will be Twitch ‘n’ Tours, our term for for a field trip with a known starting point but for which the destinations are not decided until the last minute, so that we can chase rare birds or ones we have not been able to find so far.

If you want to see how many species you can find in the Calgary region in one week in June, join us for some or all of these outings. See the Nature Calgary field trip page for details and to register.

Birds of Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Some birds photographed at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary by Navroz Sunderji. Navroz used a Canon SX50HS camera.

Common Merganser (male), Inglewood Birds Sanctuary, May 20, 2017. Photo by Navroz Sunderji.

Tree Swallow, Inglewood Birds Sanctuary, May 20, 2017. Photo by Navroz Sunderji.

Tree Swallow, Inglewood Birds Sanctuary, May 20, 2017. Photo by Navroz Sunderji.

European Starling, Inglewood Birds Sanctuary, May 20, 2017. Photo by Navroz Sunderji.


Migrant Sparrows: White-throated and Chipping

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

More birds from my backyard. The White-throated Sparrows were around for just a couple of days in the first week of May (although I heard one singing in the neighbourhood this morning, possibly a late migrant grounded by the strong winds and rain we had yesterday). Chipping Sparrows passed through last week, and I counted up to thirty in my yard one day, along with a few of the closely-related Clay-colored Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The above photo shows the sharply contrasting white throat patch and the yellow lores that are keys to identifying this species. Some White-throated Sparrows have tan and black rather than white and black head stripes, but they should always show the white throat and a least a little yellow on the lores.

The tan and black variation is a colour morph which some White-throated Sparrows have throughout their lives. It is not a juvenile characteristic, like the tan and gray head stripes of the White-crowned Sparrow. All White-crowns have tan stripes as juveniles, and white stripes as adults. Here is an old photo of an adult White-crowned Sparrow. Besides the lack of a white throat and yellow lores, note the clean gray breast and spotted back feathers which are quite different from the White-throated Sparrow. The pale bill (pink or yellow) also stands out.

White-crowned Sparrow, Calgary, May 10, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Below are a few of the Chipping Sparrows that were in my yard. There were thousands in yards all over the city that week.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Both of these species breed in the city. White-throated Sparrows are common in the Weaselhead, the west end of Fish Creek Park, and other parts of the city where the boreal forest intrudes. You can hear their beautiful song there right now. Chipping Sparrows breed throughout the city, even in suburbs in low numbers. Their song is a long, dry, steady trill, which is sometimes mistaken for an insect sound.

Other birds I’ve had pass through my yard recently on migration include White-crowned Sparrows (in pretty low numbers this year) around the end of April and first week of May, Ruby-crowned Kinglet at about the same time, and a Baltimore Oriole briefly on May 21.

Birds & Beers, May 2017

Birds & Beers is an informal social get-together for any interested birders. The Calgary Chapter, organized by Dan Arndt and a few other local birders, usually meets once a month. The next meeting will be this Friday, May 26th.

Yellow Warbler. Photo by Dan Arndt.

There is no cost or registration for Birds & Beers; just show up and have a drink or a meal if you want, and chat about birds. Of course, there are lots of new birds to talk about at this time of year. Children are welcome if accompanied by an adult. So drop by any time after 6 pm and join us.

Birds & Beers

Royal Canadian Legion

9202 Horton Road SW, Calgary

Friday May 26, 2017

6-9 PM.

The Calgary May Species Count takes place over the weekend of May 27-28, so come and find out where people are going and what they hope to see.

Birds of Bowmont Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Lorraine Glass photographed these birds in Bowmont Park in Calgary on May 18.

Killdeer, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

The Killdeer may have been nesting right by a busy pathway. They lay their eggs right on the gravel, but the eggs are very hard to see, and the parents are really good at not giving away the nest location, and at distracting predators.

Osprey,  Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

The Osprey is carrying material to line the nest, even though they probably have already laid their eggs. Ospreys will often add to the nest throughout the summer.

Black-capped Chickadee, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

This appears to be a recently fledged chickadee, begging for food.

House Wren, Bowmont Park, May 18, 2017. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

House Wrens are back in the city in their usual huge numbers. You can hear them singing all along the river valleys and in many residential neighbourhoods too. They have a big voice for such a tiny bird.