More wonderful Rob English photos of a Great-horned Owl, Horned Larks and Snow Buntings taken near Blackie, AB the last week of December.
Posted by Matthew Sim
While currently back in Houston, Texas, I spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks in Calgary over Christmas. Despite the cold (!), I got out a couple times, including an afternoon walk in the Weaselhead Natural area, taking photos of the local bird life as I walked.
It was quite a nice walk and good to see so many waxwings.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
One way to spice up your winter birding is to keep a list of species seen in the winter months of December, January, and February. It’s fun do do this for yourself, but you can also help contribute to the provincial winter list.
For the past eleven years, Richard Klauke has kept track of all bird species seen by anyone anywhere in the province of Alberta between December 1 and the end of February. It is an excellent resource for anyone birding here in the winter.
See the Alberta Winter Bird List here.
The list has three categories of birds:
- winter residents and other species that are reported every year (111 species).
- species often reported but not every year (81 species).
- rarities (30 species).
The total number of species reported in the last eleven years has varied from a low of 126 (in 2010/2011) to a high of 153 (in 2002/2003). The average is 140. Last winter was a good one, with a total of 148.
House Finch – one of the core winter species
The most productive periods for the winter bird list are the the first two weeks of December, when there are still some lingering migrants, and the last two weeks of February, when some early spring birds begin to arrive. Richard compiles the list from reports on the Albertabird listserv. Starting today, post your sightings on Albertabird and help build the list. For example, if you happen to be in the Votier’s Flats area and see the Song Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe that have been reported there recently, please post them again to Albertabird. These are core species but may not be around much longer.
As the list builds, check back to Richard’s page periodically, and if you see something that hasn’t yet been reported, post it to Albertabird.
Harris’s Sparrow – a more elusive core winter species (photo by Daniel Arndt)
Some new birders may not belong to Albertabird yet, so if you see something good you could let us know at the blog and we’ll pass it on (include details of date and location). But I encourage all serious birders to join and follow Albertabird. That is where important sightings should be reported so that other Alberta birders know what is being seen and where, and can have a chance to find the birds themselves.
Richard’s page also includes links to winter lists for the other nine provinces, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and the Ottawa region. So if you are travelling you can see what to expect.
Update: Already this morning, an Eastern Bluebird has been seen near Medicine Hat! This is the first winter report of this species in the twelve years the list has been kept.
Pat Bumstead still has her three Mourning Doves in her yard too.
Posted by Matthew Sim
It was a bright, sunny winter afternoon in Calgary, nearly two years ago to the day. I had just retreated from a chilly walk around my neighborhood and was warming up when I happened to glance out the upstairs window. Upon doing so, I noticed a strange shape down on the snow. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I realized what I was looking at, the story began to come together piece by piece. See what you come up with.
When you looked at this shot, you might have said that you see a bird’s impression in the snow. You would have been right. Now, you might have been a little more specific and described seeing a raptor’s impression. If you got this far, you did great. It’s not very easy to deduce much else. However, some may have gone even further, observing the shape of the raptor, comparing with descriptions in field guides and creating a list of possible suspects based on the fact that this was taken in Calgary, during the winter. If you came up with a few possible suspects, great work. But did you go any further?
If you did, you might have come up with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. You would be right. The wings are too rounded for Merlin or any other falcon, shape too small and body shape not to the right proportions of a buteo such as a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk and the shape is once again far too small for either an eagle or a goshawk. Therefore it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. My neighborhood in Calgary has a healthy population of 4-6 Sharp-shinned Hawks so this make sense. From here, we can piece together a story,
Imagine a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying maybe 30-40 feet high, perhaps a little lower, circling at times. From its vantage, the raptor notices a small movement in the fresh snow below. Diving down, it attempts to nab a vole caught out in the open, plunging deep into the unmarked snow. Then what? Tough to say, and it will be a great mystery; we can only speculate at the final result but here is a breakdown of the photo.
I still wonder about the impression in the top right; what happened? Did the vole escape the hawk’s clutches the first time only to succumb to the second attempt? Did the hawk attempt to lift off without getting enough momentum the first go? Or was the impression in the corner caused by snow falling off a tree limb?
It was quite interesting to see all the same, regardless of what the result was.
As always there are many Christmas Bird Counts coming up in the Calgary Region (and throughout North America). There are lots of dates and locations to choose from, so get out and participate in as many as you can. This citizen science project is in its 113th year!
Sat Dec 15: Banff/Canmore. Contact Mike McIvor, mdmcivor(at)shaw.ca 403-762-4160.
Sun Dec 16: City of Calgary. Contact Phil Cram, crampj(at)telusplanet.net 403-228-4142. To count birds at your feeders in your yard, contact Jean Moore, jmmoore(at)ucalgary.ca 403-282-4162.
Tue Dec 18: High River. Contact Greg Wagner, greg.wagner(at)athene.ca 403-601-3893.
Sat Dec 22: Horseshoe Canyon. Contact Mike Harrison, tringa(at)telus.net 403-236-4700.
Sat Dec 22: Pincher Creek. Contact Sam Miller, sammiller(at)telus.net 403-627-3275. Offering free overnight accommodation if needed.
Thu Dec 27: Town of Cochrane. Contact Frank Hennessey, frankhennessey(at)gmail.com 403-932-4986.
Fri Dec 28: Cochrane Wildlife Res. Contact Jamey Podlubny, svisser(at)ucalgary.ca 403-288-0658.
Sat Dec. 29: Sheep River/Turner Valley. Contact Doug Collister, collistr(at)gmail.com 403-540-4573.
Sun Dec 30: Nanton. Contact Mike Truch, mike_truch(at)shaw.ca 403-829-6986.
Mon Dec 31: Snake’s Head, Sundre. Contact Doug Collister, collistr(at)gmail.com 403-540-4573.
Fri Jan 04: Dinosaur Prov. Park. Contact Yousif Attia, ysattia(at)gmail.com 403-585-1125.
Sat Jan 05: BowKan (Exshaw). Contact Cliff Hansen, cehansen(at)telusplanet.net 403-673-2422.
Counts are all day but you may quit early. Everyone, regardless of skill level is invited to participate. Compilers ask that you register your intention to participate as soon as possible to facilitate planning, and to avoid going out when count is postponed due to weather, etc.
In addition, there is the half-day Fish Creek Park count, which is not an official Christmas Count but is in its 20th year:
2013. Tue Jan 1, 9am; 20th Fish Creek Prov. Park Bird Count (morning only). Contact Jim Washbrook, jwashbrook(at)prairiesky.ab.ca 403-613-9216.
Posted by Matthew Sim
This summer while I was up in Calgary, I noticed a lot of starlings as well, especially in Fish Creek P.P. On one of my excursions to the park, I positioned myself beneath a Starling’s nest hole and managed to capture a few shots as the bird descended to feed it’s young.
Posted by Matthew Sim
I maintain bird feeders in my yard in Calgary all the time when I am around. Suet feeders, a tray feeder for millet, a peanut feeder, a niger feeder for siskins and goldfinches, a feeder for sunflower seeds; you name it. I enjoy watching the regular species of birds (and squirrels!) come in to eat and the occasional unusual species. When I watch “my” birds, I often notice intriguing behavior; the way that the Red-breasted Nuthatches stored food is particularly interesting. The nuthatches take a seed from the feeder, head to my fence and hide the seed there in a nook or cranny. Later, whether it be days, weeks or months, they would eventually come back looking for the seeds, providing some entertainment as we observe their antics.
Certainly is amazing what you can see from your backyard!
Posted by Matthew Sim
Interested in entering a local bird photography competition? For those of you who haven’t yet seen the article, the Calgary Herald is having a contest for bird photos seen in and around Calgary with the chance to win a copy of the National Geographic Bird Watcher’s Bible: A Complete Treasury. There are 4 simple ways to enter:
1. Tweet your photo on Twitter with the hashtag #yycphotovote in the tweet.
2. Submit your photo via Instagram with hashtag #yycphotovote in the caption.
3. Post it to the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page.
4. Email the photo as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven’t submitted any photos, go ahead and give it a try! The winners will be announced next Sunday on the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page. You can find out more about the competition here.
Last week I went out for a walk in my neighborhood down here in Houston, Texas. As I walked along a storm water retention basin, I noticed 2 very small shorebirds hanging out with the usual Killdeer. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they were Least Sandpipers, a species that shows up several times a year in my neighborhood during migration.
These Least Sandpipers are quite unique and their name might give you a hint as to why; this species is the smallest shorebird in the world at a mere 13-15 cm in length and weighing only 19-30 grams. The pair that I saw provided an interesting look at differences in plumage, while one was a drab adult in winter plumage, the other was a more brightly colored juvenile.
The Least Sandpiper is a shorebird known as a peep, a group of small, difficult to identify sandpipers. While many “peeps” can be challenging to identify, the Least Sandpiper is usually fairly easy to name. The number one characteristic that separates the Least from other peeps is its yellow legs, (the others have black legs) though sometimes their legs can appear dark in poor light or when covered with mud. I once read an interesting article from the American Birding Association (ABA) that described how to identify peeps based on posture; the Least Sandpiper, it said, could be separated from the other 4 regularly occurring North American peeps by these habits:
- They typically feed from a crouched position with their “knees” (tibia-tarsus joint) almost brushing the ground
- The way they plant their feet can often make it seem like they are feeding between their toes though this is not quite as evident in my photos
- Least Sandpipers also seem quite nervous, glancing around a lot and freezing at any sudden noise or motion.
I found this ABA article quite interesting because it adds a whole new dimension to birding, birding by posture, that not everybody may use or be aware of. You can read the full article here.
While the Least Sandpipers I saw this past week were quite timid as always, once I sat down and waited patiently, the juvenile approached me and passed by me within feet, though I had to be careful not to make any sudden motions.
Least Sandpipers have likely all passed through Calgary already on the way back from their arctic breeding grounds to warmer regions in the southern U.S.A., Mexico and South America where they will spend the winter however next May they will be right back again, to complete their long travels once again.
Posted by Dan Arndt
One of my favourite trips in the wonderful book “Day Trips from Calgary” by Bill Corbett, is the magical and amazing Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, located in Coaldale, Alberta. The drive itself is wonderful and offers plenty of opportunities for birding the dozens of lakes, sloughs, and fields in the two and a half hour trip into southern Alberta, but the grounds of the visitor centre would turn any non-birder into a confirmed bird lover.
You don’t even have to go in to the centre to get your bird fix. Surrounding the visitor centre are a series of ponds and marshes that are home not only to shorebirds, but also to passerines, flycatchers, and even large numbers of waterfowl.
“But neither of these are birds of prey!” I hear you shouting. You’re right, they’re not. So, without further ado, on with the show!
Last year, the visitor centre housed a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk, which was penned near the front desk.
This year though, we were greeted by Basil, the Burrowing Owl, who cooed and huffed, but investigated us with as much curiousity as we had about him.
There is a huge portion of the Birds of Prey Foundation that is devoted to rehabilitation of injured or orphaned birds of prey. Some of the current residents are recovering from their injuries, such as the Broad-winged Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk in their care. Both of these birds are recovering from wing injuries, and will require rehabilitation for quite some time before they can be released back into the wild.
A few others birds on display are of unknown affinity, and I wasn’t able to track any of the volunteers down to ask them for clarification, but they’re beautiful birds nonetheless.
Others are permanent residents of the centre, and are part of breeding programs that are incredibly successful. Both the Merlins and Burrowing Owls are successful parents, and have regularly fledged offspring for quite a few years.
Arguably just as important as the rehabilitation, breeding, and even the care of these gorgeous raptors are the educational animals that they keep on hand, (and in some cases, in hand!) for public events, or even just for a private moment or two with visitors to the Birds of Prey Foundation visitors centre.
It’s hard to narrow down from the dozens of pictures that I took here to figure out just which ones are the best and which ones to post. Even looking over the post now, I know I’ve missed a few species and quite a few great photos that would represent them, but really, it’s worth going and visiting for yourself. They’re open this season until September 10, 2012, and will reopen to the public early next May. Why are you still reading this? Get down there and visit them for yourself!