Tag Archive | alberta birds

Wednesday Wings: Spruce Grouse

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I found this young Spruce Grouse walking the trails at the Peninsula picnic area in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on August 5, 2013. Taken with a Canon Eos 40D with 100-400 mm lens. Spruce Grouse can be very unwary, and it would not move until I got really close to it. On the twisty trails it was often too close to get the whole bird in the shot.

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A hummingbird nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last year, I discovered a location in Fish Creek P.P. where I found 2 (and possibly all 3 species of hummingbirds that commonly occur in Calgary) nesting. In June, I had found a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and not long afterwards,  Hank Vanderpol and I discovered what appeared to be a female Calliope hummingbird sitting on a nest. A couple weeks later, a Nature Calgary field trip I led to the area discovered a Rufous hummingbird nest not far away.

This year, I was finally able to get out and search for the hummingbirds last week. It took me about an hour before I finally spotted a hummingbird moving about, but always returning close to me. That’s when I realized that this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (for this is what it was), might have a nest nearby.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sure enough, before very long, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird had flown to her nest which had not been too far away from me the entire time.

At first the nest was tough to spot...

At first the nest was tough to spot…

on nest

It was neat to watch the female as she sat on her nest, presumably incubating eggs. From time to time she would fly off but she was always alert and ready to defend her nest.

RT Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The most interesting part of watching this hummingbird though was the way she defended her nest from anything she perceived to be a threat, including a confused and startled Cedar Waxwing who twice made the mistake of landing too near the hummingbird’s nest. She swiftly drove the waxwing off despite the fact it probably wasn’t a threat; I suppose one can never be too cautious!

action shot

Returning back to her nest

Returning back to her nest

I will do my best to follow this nest in the coming weeks and see what comes of it. Hoping that the female will successfully raise her brood of young!

Did you know…

Posted by Matthew Sim

 

I am going to try this out as a new weekly post in which I will feature a fact or two about a bird species or birding topic and hopefully with a photo included. So, for this week`s Did you know… we feature the Cedar Waxwing.

 

Did you know…

The Cedar Waxwing is one of the few birds in North America that can live primarily off fruit. Thanks to this eating habit, when young cowbirds are raised in Cedar Waxwing nests the cowbirds usually don`t survive because they can`t live off a diet of fruit. This is a double-edged sword for the waxwings though as sometimes they get quite drunk and can occasionally die when they eat overripe berries that are fermenting and producing alcohol.

Cedar Waxwing

Birds and Bugs of Dinosaur PP: Part 2

Posted by Matthew Sim

When we woke the next morning, we were hoping for fewer bugs but, much to out dismay, neither the numbers nor the ferocity of the mosquitoes had diminshed. Fortunately we had only planned to stay the morning anyways. I decided to brave the bugs and went out birding along the river where nighthawks and swallows seemed to do little to keep the bugs at bay! An Eastern Kingbird did pose for me, as did a preening Northern Flicker.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

This Northern Flicker paused from preening to give me a cautious look

This Northern Flicker paused from preening to give me a cautious look

Robins and Mourning Doves sang continuously and eventually I managed to spot three of the doves.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Robin

One of the highlights of the morning  for me, however was a mammal. I enjoyed close-up views of a pair of Nuttall’s Cottontail, a species pf rabbit we don’t get to see in Calgary.

Nuttall's Cottontail

Nuttall’s Cottontail

The other highlight was watching a group of Common Nighthawks chase down insects in the sky. While I was watching one particular individual, it proceeded to do a mid-air shake, ruffling out its feathers and fanning out its tail; of which I only managed to capture a mediocre image.

Nighthawk

 

After spending an hour or so birding, we finished up our time at Dinosaur Provincial Park on a bus tour throughout the badlands where I got more good looks at Western Meadowlarks and Rock Wrens. I definitely loved the park, but I guess now I have to figure out when is the best time to visit without the bugs! I imagine there would be very few mosquitoes in December…

 

Birds and Bugs of Dinosaur PP: Part 1

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Thursday, some family friends and I went camping for a night in the beautiful badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, several hours east of Calgary. A very neat place to camp with some gorgeous scenery and good birds, we also discovered another attribute of the park; mosquitoes. Mosquitoes apart, we enjoyed the park and some of its avian inhabitants that we can’t see here in Calgary.

Dinosaur PP

No sooner had we parked the car by the river when a Ring-billed Gull began circling over us. Looking for handouts perhaps?!

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

After eating lunch by the Red Deer River, we headed up to the hoodoos for a hike, on where we were serenaded by Lark Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks and Rock Wrens who didn’t want to pose for the camera.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren, doing its best to be as uncooperative as possible

Lark Sparrows on the other hand, were quite willing to sit up for the camera and were fairly common throughout the park.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

As we stopped to admire the view from the top of one particular hoodoo, we were greeted by the song of a Vesper Sparrow and a croaking raven and we caught a glimpse of a Say’s Phoebe as it departed its perch when we arrived.

Raven

Raven

After we had finished our short hike, we went back to our campsite and relaxed by the river as swarms of mosquitoes buzzed around us. The river and its surrounding cottonwood trees held an assortment of birds including Violet-green Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, Least Flycatchers and Eastern Kingbirds.

Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing sitting pretty

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

I attempted to get some shots of the swallows but as is usually the case, they were moving far too fast for me to keep up. As the sun began to set, we decided to climb up into the hoodoos to watch the sunset. We didn’t get too far however, before we were turned around by mosquitoes. On our way up though we did see a Western Kingbird and a photogenic magpie on the hoodoos.

Black-billed Magpie at sunset

Black-billed Magpie at sunset

After beating a hasty retreat from the bugs, we retired for the night by our campfire, watching nighthawks and bats catching bugs above us.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow, stay tuned!

 

Reflections on an Alberta Big Day – Lessons learned and lifers heard

On June 15, 2013, David Pugh of A Calgary Birder and I began our attempt on a Big Day, starting at Cold Lake in the early morning and ending in Waterton National Park as the last light of day faded. There were quite a few things we learned in the attempt, and many more discoveries of good birding locations, new life birds for both of us, and experiences that have left me wanting more opportunities to visit places I rarely get to.

 

Part 1: Lead-up to the Big Day

Quite a bit of planning went into our attempt, with many hours collecting data from eBird and the Albertabird Yahoo Group, and using Google Maps to plan our route to maximize the time we’d have outside of the vehicle to find our target birds at each stop. Our original plan was to start at Cold Lake before dawn, listening for as many warbler and vireo species as we could identify by ear, head to a few other ponds and lakes near Cold Lake, then begin driving down the east edge of the province, stopping briefly at a few spots along the way to pick up other targets that are only found in the boreal and parkland biomes, before hitting up Dinosaur Provincial Park for the badlands and prairie specialists there. From there, we would stop at a few places around Brooks, then make a bee-line down to Waterton to pick up the foothills and mountain species before the light faded entirely. Of course, the oft-misquoted proverb originally penned by German war strategist Helmuth von Moltke: “No plan survives contact with the enemy” was certainly apt for our Big Day attempt.

 

Part 2: The trip begins

We put rubber to the road leaving Calgary on Thursday, June 13. After a brief stop at Slack Slough in Red Deer to stretch our legs, we made a straight shot for Elk Island National Park, just east of Edmonton, and camped the night there. After being serenaded to sleep by the calls of a nearby Nelson’s Sparrow, the distinct “onk-a-chonk” of at least three American Bitterns, and  constant bugling of Red-necked Grebes and Common Loons on Astotin Lake, we arose the next morning bright eyed and bushy-tailed to do some birding around the lake. A quick trip around the boardwalk turned up a few good birds, but nothing exceptional, so we packed up the tent and headed down the road to Tawayik Lake on the south end of the park. Along the road we came across this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing away in the morning light, giving us great photo opportunities.

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 - 1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500mm

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 500

 

Down at Tawayik Lake we had some good finds including LeConte’s Sparrows, Swamp Sparrow, and even a slightly out of place Baird’s Sparrow along the boardwalk. We were lucky to get familiar with the call here though, as it would have made our actual Big Day record a bit harder to suss out. This little House Wren also took interest in us and decided to sit pretty for the camera for as long as we could possibly have asked.

House Wren Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm - 1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 400

House Wren
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec, f/6.3, ISO 400

We headed out from Elk Island with just one more stop planned before our lunch break in Vermilion, that being a regularly reported location for Piping Plover just south of Innisfree. I’d seen one a few weeks before near Hanna, and, as this would be a lifer for David, we decided it would be worth a brief stop. As we scanned the far shore and spotted a very, very distant Piping Plover, we figured that would be fine, and headed back to the van… and that’s when this little bird decided we were endangering its nest and came up to challenge us!

Piping Plover Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm - 1/1250sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

Piping Plover
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

We stopped to visit Charlotte Wasylik at her family farm near Vermilion. Her and her family were incredibly hospitable, and we even had some time to bird at the slough near the farm, where both David and I heard our first ever Sprague’s Pipits! Charlotte writes over at Prairie Birder, and is one of the youngest birders I know, as she’s in Grade 10… giving her at least a 30 year head start on most of the birders I know!

David Pugh, Charlotte Wasylik, and myself with some big Alberta sky in the background - Photo by Charlotte's mom, used with permission -

Left to Right: David Pugh, Charlotte Wasylik, and myself with some big Alberta sky in the background
- Photo by Charlotte’s mom, used with permission -

From there we headed up to scout Cold Lake, get settled in to the campground for the night, have some dinner, and take a bit of a walk… after a few false starts, we ended up back in Cold Lake Provincial Park campground and found this Merlin perched high over the edge of the lake, searching for his next meal.

Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500mm@500mm 1/640sec, ƒ/10, ISO 1600

Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500mm@500mm
1/640sec, ƒ/10, ISO 1600

Part 3: The Big Day

Our list of possible birds for the Big Day was around 267. Our goal was to break 200. While that seemed a bit high for our first attempt, we figured if the weather was good and we stayed on schedule, we’d be able to easily crest 150, and 200 seemed reasonable with the significant distance we were covering and the huge variety of biomes we’d be exploring.

That was the plan… until we woke up at 4:00AM in Cold Lake to a steady downpour. An hour later we decided we’d better at least get on the road, and after a brief jaunt around a couple trails near the lake, and scoping the lake from a few vantage points, we dipped on almost all of the warblers and vireos we’d hoped for, but still managed to spot all three regular white-headed gulls and a few Western Grebes out on the lake, and heard very clearly both Canada Warbler and Ovenbirds calling in the steady rain. One nice find at Cold Lake was a huge number of Purple Martins houses, all full of breeding colonies of Purple Martins, and the rain kept them still enough to get really good, close looks at them.

Purple Martin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@310mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Purple Martin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@310mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And so the day went. Rain and wind plagued us as far south as Hanna, where we finally evaded the precipitation, but ran into just as steady and stronger gusts of wind.

By the time we reached Dinosaur Provincial Park the winds were still wailing, but we managed to catch some good light for at least a few additions to the list.

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

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

Least Flycatcher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Least Flycatcher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Lark Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Lark Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

While those three were expected finds at the park, I did manage a terrible shot of a Baird’s Sparrow, which up until that point I had only heard twice before. It was a nice highlight to a seemingly terrible day so far…

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

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

From there, we headed down to a little known spot near Tilley, known as Kininvie Marsh. It was where we expected to find at least another ten species on our list that we’d so far missed elsewhere. One of the nicest finds in this spot was both McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, both of which were lifers for me!

Chestnut-collared Longspur Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Chestnut-collared Longspur
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

A brief stop at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park turned up a couple new birds as well, and allowed for some decent shots in the late afternoon light.

Western Kingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Western Kingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

With that last stop, we were on the road again for another few hours, stopping for a fuel break and a quick dinner in Lethbridge, then making the final leg of the trek to Waterton. We did a quick loop around the Buffalo paddock, giving us good looks at some Mountain Bluebirds, and a distant look at some Plains Bison as well.

Mountain Bluebird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Mountain Bluebird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We made a brief stop in the Waterton townsite, which once again turned up some great finds, though nowhere near enough to really top out our 200, but we did have a few surprises… one of which was this incredibly curious Black Bear at Cameron Falls.

Black Bear Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black Bear
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And it seemed quite fitting that our Big Day started at one large lake, and ended at another. The drive to Cameron Lake also gave us a couple more species, and quite a stunning view out on the lake.

Cameron Lake on Instagram.

We did make another stop up at Brown-Lowery Provincial Park the next day on our way home, and David managed another technical lifer… while he had seen these in his younger days in Ontario, this was his first look at Evening Grosbeaks since he became a birder. The stop here also added a few more species to our total for the 3 day journey, and it was really great to end the day with just one more lifer added to the tally.

Evening Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Evening Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Our total for the Big Day? 123 species. A far cry from the goal of 200 that we had in mind, and further still from last year’s record of 226, but not bad considering the weather, and even better for our first trip into most of these habitats, and the lack of real shorebird activity due to the lack of any real mudflats. Our three-day total rounded out at 148, most of which being found between Elk Island and Cold Lake on June 14.

 

Thanks again for reading, and good birding! More regular updates will be forthcoming now that things are back to relative normalcy here in Calgary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Showcase: Birds of South Glenmore Park

Last Sunday Tim Hopwood birded South Glenmore Park with the Friends of Fish Creek birding course. He got amazing photos of some of the birds and insects there. (To read about another field trip in South Glenmore park on the same day, see this post.)

American Robin

 American Robin on nest.

Blue-wingedTeal

Blue-winged Teal with young.

Brown-HeadedCowbird(female)

Female Brown-headed Cowbird.

Brown-HeadedCowbird(male)

Male Brown-headed Cowbird.

Butterfly

Butterfly – can someone identify the species in the comments section?

Clay-coloredSparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow.

DownyWP

Male Downy Woodpecker at nest hole.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly species.

EasternPhoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

HouseWren1

House Wren.

HouseWren2

House Wren.

HouseWren3

House Wren.

HouseWren4

House Wren.

LeastFlycatcher1

Least Flycatcher.

LeastFlycatcher2

Least Flycatcher.

Red-eyedVireo1

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo2

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo3

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo4

Red-eyed Vireo.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail Butterfly species.

Another interesting bird that was seen that day was a hybrid Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak that has nested in the area for the last two years. Tim didn’t get a shot of it, but Trevor Churchill did.

Rose-breasted slash Black-headed Grosbeak Trevor Churchill

Hybrid Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak. This bird sounds just like a Rose-breasted, but clearly has features of both species. Photo by Trevor Churchill.

To see more of Tim Hopwood’s photos, go to his web page here.

Sunday Showcase: Birds of Bragg Creek

Kim Selbee sent us these photos of birds taken in the Bragg Creek area. Although Bragg Creek is only about 25 km SW of Calgary (as the crow flies), some of the species coming to their feeders are rarely seen in the city.

Lazuli Bunting

Male Lazuli Bunting.

American Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch.

Common Grackle

Male Common Grackle.

Female Evening Grosbeak

Female Evening Grosbeak.

Male Evening Grosbeak

Male Evening Grosbeak.

Male Red Breasted Grosbeak

Male Red-breasted Grosbeak.

Female Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Purple Finch

Male Purple Finch.

Red Crossbill

Male Red Crossbill.

Red Shafted Flicker

Male Northern Flicker.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Male Red-breasted Grosbeak.

Fish Creek Big Day

Posted by Matthew Sim

So how many species of birds can you find in a single day in Fish Creek P.P.? Last year, I set out to find the answer. I turned up 93 species, 7 short of my goal of 100. This year, I was back out again, trying my luck once more.  Once again though, I fell short, managing to find a total of 89 species for the day.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon were common throughout the park.

I won’t write up too much here or I could have several pages of notes but I will point out some of the highlights, and of course, low points. Surprising this year was the lack of quite a few species that should have been easy to find. Notably, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Ruddy Duck, Tennessee Warbler, Forster’s Tern, Black Tern and Pied-billed Grebe were missing. Some of these were absent due to the (until quite recently), low water levels at the Lafarge Meadows sloughs. I had wondered why there were few birds at the sloughs and Dan helped me out by pointing out the fact that the sloughs had been quite low for the last few weeks, perhaps turning away some species.

Brewer's Blackbird

While I did have some surprising misses, I also found some good species, including the Brewer’s Blackbird above.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Although some of the common species such as Osprey were absent, most, including the Clay-colored Sparrow above and the American Goldfinch below were relatively easy to find.

Goldfinch

Then there were some species that I missed last year but were easy to find this year. I could not find any LeConte’s Sparrows last year but this year I managed to find nearly a dozen. This little guy posed nicely for a few minutes near the Ranch.

LeConte's Sparrow

Perhaps I forgot to mention too that it was an early start? I was at the park just before 5, when the songsters were just getting started.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

One of the many birds to be singing early on was the Red-eyed Vireo. These little birds sing nice and loud but can be very tricky to spot. Luckily for me, this one Red-eyed Vireo below sang right from the top of a poplar. So although he was easy to see, he was still a long way up!

Red-eyed Vireo

It was a good day and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. I guess then it will have become the 3rd Annual Fish Creek Big Day…

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper