Tag Archive | bald eagle

Spring Birding Course 2017

Mountain Chickadee seen by the birding course participants at Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park. Photographed February 14, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

The popular Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins its 12-week spring session on April 3, 2017.

Go out on field trips with experienced leaders once or twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn about the birds of Calgary. You can expect to see over 150 species of birds.

Field trips are held in several parts of Fish Creek Park, in Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Bowmont Park, Elliston Lake, Griffith Woods Park, and possibly other locations.

It is still only $5 for children (accompanied by a registered adult) for the whole twelve-week course! See this page for details on how to register.

Here are just a few more of the many birds seen on the winter course this year.

Bald Eagle (adult), Mallard Point, Fish Creek Park, February 8, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Black-capped Chickadee (note the unusual brownish cap), Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Ruffed Grouse, Weaselhead Nature Area, February 22, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell.

Wood Duck (female, centre back) with Mallards, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, March 4, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Common Raven and Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Great Horned Owl, Beaverdam Flats, March 6, 2017. Photo by Ken Pride.

Sunday Showcase: Bow Valley Birds

Michael Kim is a 13-year-old photographer from Canmore. He has been taking photos of wildlife in the Bow Valley, and here are some of his pictures from last summer and fall.

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Belted Kingfisher, Canmore, September 8, 2016.

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Great Horned Owl, Canmore, October 2016.

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Bald Eagle, Lac des Arcs, August 1, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 1, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 2, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 3, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 4, 2016.

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Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, August 5, 2016.

Terry’s Travels: The Hills Are Alive With Birds

By Terry Korolyk

Living in the south end of Calgary since 1993, I have had much cause to bird and explore the area which I call the “Hills” which is directly south of Calgary. For birding purposes, it offers a fairly widespread type of habitat. We could probably define the area as south of Spruce Meadows Trail and bounded on the west by Highway 22; on the east by Highway 2A, and, on the south by Highway 549.

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Starting in the southwest corner of the Highways 2A-Spruce Meadows Trail junction is a fairly well-birded and well known slough known to some as Sheriff King Slough, because it is actually on Sheriff King Street accessed from Spruce Meadows Trail. In the days of some of Calgary’s older birders in the 1970s and 1980s, it was known as the Priddis Radio Towers Slough. The past few years have seen the slough attain fairly-high water levels due in large part to the City’s Water Management practices because of the 2007 and 2013 floods. Prior to 2007, the slough held low water levels. Then, it was probably one of the best shorebirding sloughs in our area attracting all the basic migrating shorebird species such as Semipalmated,  Baird’s, Least, and, Pectoral Sandpipers, and, both, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Uncommon species found there included Western Sandpiper (more than once), Red-Knot, and, White-rumped Sandpiper. It also held most of the common Duck species.

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Adult Red-necked Grebe. Common Summer resident on Sheriff King Slough. April 28, 2016.

These days the slough is now almost the complete reverse of what it used to be. Water levels are now too high to hold migrating shorebirds and it is almost completely devoted to waterfowl. Eared Grebes have been communal nesters here in recent years, and, both Red-necked and Pied-billed Grebes really took to the slough in 2015 and 2016. Ospreys are resident around the slough and Double-crested Cormorant, a species that is rapidly-expanding its range in the Calgary area, can be found here. Almost all the basic Duck species and Canada Goose are resident. Great Blue Heron should be somewhere around, and, recently Black-crowned Night Heron, has been expanding its range and has slowly crept into some waterbodies along the eastern perimeter of the area. Breeding has not been confirmed yet at Sheriff King Slough.

South of Sheriff King Slough lies agricultural land and the Pine Creek valley. Directly south of the Pine Creek valley; hilly, forested land is inaccessible, but, on this area’s west flank lies the Sirocco Golf Course. Remainder of the area of the Hills in the east is predominantly agricultural land, marsh, and, some woodland. Being near Spruce Meadows, naturally, there are many Stables and other such businesses devoted to Equestrian activities. Westward from Spruce Meadows lies Lloyd Lake formerly known as Red Deer Lake. Lloyd Lake is an outstanding location for seeing marsh and other water-loving birds and in recent years has held huge colonies of Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes, and,  American Coots. Public access, however, is no longer allowed at Lloyd Park, and, one must pay to gain access.

Between Spruce Meadows and Lloyd Lake, Highway 773 runs southward through the Hills bisecting the area as far as Highway 549 which continues westward to Highway 22. The central and western parts of the block offer some of the most stunning scenery in the Calgary area. The further westward you travel, the more you climb in altitude. As well, from the central section westward, there are some densely forested tracts and a variety of sloughs  and other habitats. Near the western border, 192 Street  bears directly northward from Highway 549 taking you through open grassland in to increasingly more forested terrain, then more grassland, ending up with mixed forest and Coniferous growth near Spruce Meadows Trail.

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Male Bufflehead photographed on a small marshy pond in the west end of the Hills. April 23, 2013.

Considering much of the Hills is open hilly territory, birds encountered in this type of habitat include Savannah, Clay-coloured, and Vesper Sparrow. There are many Bluebird Trails along the roads that wind their way through the hills meaning, of course Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds. Black-billed Magpies are year round residents and breeding season sees them joined by American Crows. Common Ravens are a daily sight, many of them riding the ridgetops and valleys as they come and go from the Landfills or other attractions to the east.

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Male House Wren. Found in large numbers in the Hills. May 18, 2013.

Common birds of the deciduous woodlands are American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and, House Wren. In fact, the Hills could very well be the House Wren capitol of Alberta. Brewer’s Blackbirds line the roadsides south of Sheriff King while Red-winged Blackbirds are common marsh dwellers with large colonies at Lloyd Lake and at the large marsh on Spruce Meadows Way. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are not as common. Sora Rails are also common marsh dwellers.

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Male Cinnamon Teal. One of the common teals found in one of the shallow ponds in Dewinton area and in the west end of the Hills. June 6, 2013.

All of Green-winged, Blue-winged, and, Cinnamon Teal are the common ducks of shallow, muddy pools, particularly on the east side of the block. This holds true on the same waterbodies of the west end. Deeper, larger waterbodies in the west end can hold Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Coot, Ruddy Duck and others. The serene woodland marsh and pond at the south end of 160 Street may be the only waterbody in the area that annually hosts Canvasback. Sloughs in this extreme more pristine west end may also host Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe.

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Gray Catbird with Dragonfly. August 3, 2013.

Some songbirds that can be found in this wilder west end include Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler,  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker,  and, Tennessee Warbler which seems to be ever expanding its range eastward from the foothills. Cedar Waxwing can be seen flycatching  around almost any waterbody in the west end, and, Alder Flycatcher can be found in the Willows around the marsh at the south end of 160 Street. Both HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher have been seen in migration in the willows on the east side of this slough while another sighting of interest here was a flock of more than 30 Eastern Kingbirds flycatching at this slough one day in the Fall of 2015.

Some other interesting songbird sightings in the hills include Crossbills along the north stretch of 192 Street; a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE at the Springwell Farms Ponds at 64 Street and 242 Avenue S.W.; Sprague’s Pipits some years in the open grasslands; a BREWER’S SPARROW one year in June on the high south-facing slope on 1119 Drive starting the descent down to 192 Street; PURPLE MARTINS at an acreage off 160 Street on the south descent; a Western Kingbird just west of Springwell Farms; Say’s Phoebes; a Provincial record late Fall Eastern Phoebe(Sept. 25, 2008) at a small pond in the southeast corner of the 1119 Drive-192 Street intersection, and, a reported VAUX’S SWIFT at an acreage south of Spruce Meadows.

To be watched for is BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. This species, which used to be found only in the extreme southwest corner of the province, seems to have been slowly pushing northward through the foothills, being reported now almost annually somewhere southwest or northwest of Calgary. In the Summer of 2016, a bird was clearly heard singing across the road from a marsh on 192 Street just south of 242 avenue. At a marsh further south of that location, a bird that sounded like a SUMMER TANAGER sang in June of 2013.

There have also been many interesting non-Songbird records in the Hills. For instance one cool November morning I was driving to a nearby Shopping Centre when I noticed a Loon flying above the car off to the left. It was not that high off the ground, but, I was unable to get a clear look at it, but was able to see that in the direction it was going it had a very good chance of coming down in Sheriff King Slough which was only a couple of miles further southward. I dropped my wife off to shop and went over to check, and, sure enough, there was the Loon alright, but even better, it was a RED-THROATED LOON, the most uncommon Loon in the Calgary area other than Yellow-billed.

On March 27, 2016, I was birding in the Hills. One of my regular stops was a large dugout with an island on the north side of 242 Avenue just west of Springwell Farms. At this dugout there is a fairly large contingent of resident Canada Geese who have been inhabiting the site for the past few years. They are incredibly faithful to the site and have returned year after year to raise their young. However, For some reason, this site has proved attractive to 2 species of Cackling Geese in Spring migration. One of them is the Minima subspecies which is the smallest of the 4 basic Cackling Gull morphs and is from western Alaska. The other is from even farther away, the Aleutian Islands. I know of only 1 prior record of this species in Alberta that being in the Fall of 2007 in Calgary. Latin name for the ALEUTIAN GOOSE is Branta Hutchinsonii Leucoparaiea. But, we won’t stop with those 2 subspecies, the dugout has also played host to the common Hutchinson’s Canada Geese which breeds in the Canadian Arctic and migrates through the prairie east of the Front Ranges in large numbers in some years. Here is a picture of the ALEUTIAN GOOSE.

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Aleutian Goose (Branta Hutchinsii Leucoparaiea). March 27, 2016.

Another sighting of interest occurred in the summer of 2009. I came across what looked like a juvenile RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 160 Street pond. This would have been amazingly unusual in the months of June and July. I could recall only one record previously of a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER here in the summer months and that was a bird on Railway Slough in the Irricana Sloughs. If I recall correctly that would have been in the 1990s.

Yet another unusual sighting amongst the non-Songbirds occurred during a Calgary area May Species Count. I believe it was early in the new millennium. It was drizzling rain all day and at the time I was on Sheriff King Street. I could see some California Gulls in a fallow field off to the west. A different bird from them was in the same field perhaps a hundred metres or so to the north. It had a black cap and was about Gull size and was watching the California Gulls. Through the rain I could see that the bird was a PARASITIC JAEGER! Well, one couldn’t ask for a better bird than that on a May Species Count.

Other sightings of interest include a ROSS’S GOOSE and a Greater White-fronted Goose on Sheriff King Slough and an immature Snow Goose in with Canada Geese foraging in a stubble field on Sheriff King Street. In the 1990s, an adult GREAT EGRET was found in a wetland at the junction of Highway 2A and 194 Avenue in south Calgary. After a couple of days, the bird left the wetland and flew westward into the Hills and was seen flying parallel to 226 Avenue at the Highway 773 junction.

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Female Rough-legged Hawk.

In the Fall of 2015, we were returning home from a trip through the Hills along Highway 773. I was almost completely stunned to see an adult Ferruginous Hawk perched on a fencepost at the 4-Way Stop. This was the first time I had seen that species south of Calgary. This leads us to another class of birds to deal with; the Raptors. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks are the 2 common Buteos of the area. You should see Ospreys at Sheriff King Slough and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can often be seen in migration soaring over the hilltops. Northern Harriers are not common, but are there. Northern Goshawk is resident in the west end of the area, and, occasionally, some birds venture further east in to the open hills in search of prey. Rough-legged Hawks can be found in the Hills from Fall to Spring, but, numbers vary from year to year. Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in the block. Peregrine Falcons have been seen passing through and one can have a chance to find a Gyrfalcon somewhere in the area. Areas where Gyrs have been seen most often are along the open fields off Sheriff King Street and along the valley along 226 Avenue and along the east-west section of Highway  773.

On Red-tailed Hawks, the mature Balsam Poplars lining 210 Avenue west of Sheriff King Street were the first location in southern Alberta where dark morph Red-tailed Hawks were confirmed as breeding. That was in 2007. Since that time a mixed pair of Red-tails, one bird dark and the other light, were seen in 2 successive years, 2013 and 2014, over heavily-forested terrain off 192 Street. In the Summer of 2013, a dark morph Red-tail, probably the bird from the mentioned pair was seen over the 160 Street pond. In the Summer of 2016, an intergrade light morph-dark morph bird was seen perched in a remote Aspen on a road through the Cross Conservancy. Considering the fact that there have been other such mixed pairings breeding within the Calgary area within the past few years, it is now possible to see an assortment of differently-plumaged Red-tails in the Hills even in breeding season. In migration, the Hills is an excellent site to see migrating Red-tails in many different plumages. Rarely, a dark morph bird may overwinter in the area.

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Adult Bald Eagle at Sheriff King Slough in late Fall. Dec. 8, 2012.

Bald Eagles are not resident in the Hills, but, they can be seen in the Spring hunting Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, and, in late Fall, they can be seen hunting waterfowl at fast freezing waterbodies, usually Sheriff King Slough. But this activity is not confined to Bald Eagles. One year  I watched a pair of immature Northern Harriers set up shop at Sheriff King with only a few openings left in the ice holding lingering waterfowl. Waterfowl remains were many on the surrounding ice.

One family of birds that could probably do with more study in the Hills is the Owl family. Great Horneds are resident, and, Northern Hawk Owls are sometimes spotted in the semi-open areas of the west end.

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Trumpeter Swans on one of the Springwell Farms ponds. March 25, 2016.

One final point I think that would interest birders is the fact that some of the waterbodies in the area are favoured amongst migrating Trumpeter Swans. One very reliable site to watch these snow white birds are the ponds at Springwell Farms. The ponds have also held Snow Geese.

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Wilson’s Snipe. Many of these were brought out in the open by winter weather on October 8. April 20, 2015.

Fall Migration, 2016–

The most important bird that has come to light since the most recent Terry’s Travels was the discovery of a Hummingbird that was coming to a home southwest of Longview, Alberta. I noticed the photograph of the bird on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, and, investigating further, the bird most resembled an immature male Costa’s Hummingbird, which would be the Province’s only 3rd. record ever. The bird had been coming to this home for 2-3 weeks, but now has not been since Tuesday, October 4.

Four hundred Loons must have been quite a sight at Barrier Lake on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country on Thursday, October 6. This came following our first blast of somewhat wintry weather. Three of the birds were Pacific Loon. To top it off, there were also 9 Surf Scoters there, and, an additional 30 at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. A lone Pacific Loon has been at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary since October 6 and both Surf and White-winged Scoters have been there almost daily. A female or immature BLACK SCOTER there on October 6 was a major find, but, unfortunately appears as though it was seen by only the person who found it.

Northern Gulls are finally starting to appear in our area. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a 1st. year KUMLIEN’S ICELAND GULL; a 1st. year Herring Gull-Glaucous GULL hybrid, and, 5 1st. year Thayer’s Gulls at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on October 8. Another KUMLIEN’S GULL, this time an adult, was seen on the Bow River adjacent to the Inglewood Golf Course on Thanksgiving Day. An adult Mew Gull has attracted many observers to the Irrigation Canal opposite the Inglewood Golf Course for the past few days while 1 or 2 others were reported on Thanksgiving Day, one on the river by the Inglewood Golf Course, and, the other at Elliston Park in southeast Calgary.

According to reports, a large white Falcon in the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek PP on Sunday, October 2 may have been a white morph GYRFALCON which I know of only 5 previous reports in the Calgary area since 1987.

Rusty Blackbirds  are starting to show up in our area. A nice flock of 25 was discovered in an Irrigation Canal on Range Road  262 south of Township Road  270 southeast of Irricana on October 8.

A Harris’s Sparrow is being a big draw in an Edmonton park, while one was found in Bowmont Park in northwest Calgary on Thanksgiving Day.

The recent blast of Winter has had Wilson’s Snipe and Western Meadowlarks out in the open. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a total of 32 Snipe and 8 Meadowlarks east of Calgary on October 8, while others also filed reports finding both Snipe and Meadowlarks.

Common Redpolls are new winter visitors here, while late-migrating shorebirds included a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at McElroy Slough on Inverlake Road just northeast of Chestermere Lake on October 8, and, a Solitary Sandpiper, also at McElroy Slough, on October 5.

Until next time………………                                                 Terry Korolyk

Winter Surprises at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

There are few parks in town that I have such a love/hate relationship with more than Beaverdam Flats. While it’s great for getting good, close looks at Bald Eagles, and also seeing a huge number of them, there really tends not to be too much here that you can’t get better looks at, or see greater abundance in some of the other parts of town. Waterfowl are generally more diverse at Carburn Park, or along the Bow River in the eastern parts of Fish Creek Park. Songbirds are usually more abundant at Votier’s Flats and Bebo Grove, and the rare chances of seeing Great Horned Owls here are more regularly seen at Sikome Lake or at the Bow Valley Ranche. This time around was not too much different, but right at the end we had a couple very nice surprises that made the quiet morning a little more worthwhile.

Beaverdam Flats - January 17, 2016

Beaverdam Flats – January 24, 2016

While our usual route is picked so that we can have the sun at our backs for the majority of the walk, that morning was, as was typical of much of January, gloomy, overcast, and a little windy. We weren’t really expecting too much in the way of snow or bad weather though, so our luck has held fairly solid this season so far. Our first couple birds of the day aside from a few distant Bald Eagles were some Common Redpolls down along the creek, which turned out to have a Hoary Redpoll among them after I’d looked at my photos afterward!

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

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Along the river, as is usual for this time of year, were hundreds of Canada Geese. By this time of the morning, many had already begun to fly off to the fields surrounding Calgary to feed, but there were still a good number right on the water, and many more travelling up and down the river bed.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

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During the first half hour of our walk, again, quite typical of the expected birds at Beaverdam Flats, we observed half a dozen different Bald Eagles, some adult, some immature of varying ages. Almost at random it seemed, the flyovers of some would cause the waterfowl to flush off the water, while others simply got a casual eye turned up at them. One reason seems to be that the waterfowl are able to tell how full the crop of these raptors is, so they can tell whether the eagles are actively hunting or simply checking the menu.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

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In addition to the numerous Canada Geese and Mallards on the river, Common Goldeneye were abundant, though those three species were pretty much the only ones out that day. Many years we’ll have numerous Common Mergansers, Barrow’s Goldeneye, even Hooded Mergansers and occasionally American Wigeon as this stretch of river is downstream from a water treatment plant.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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Sadly, once we turned back to head along the north stretch of our walk, things got very, very quiet. We heard a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a small number of Downy Woodpeckers fighting over territory, but it seems the flood damage in the interior part of the park is still keeping the usual songbird numbers low, at least in the winter.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

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The northern section of this park is currently closed and under remediation by the City of Calgary due to flood damage, and more details about this repair can be found here: City of Calgary – Beaverdam Flats

We turned around at the fenced off area and had a quiet walk back to the base of the hill below where we had parked, and it seemed like that’s when things really started to get busy for us! A few juvenile Bald Eagles soared by low overhead and gave some great photo opportunities, especially this guy who was maybe 50 feet overhead.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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While we were watching this young eagle, there was some faint tweeting and rustling in the shrubs behind us. This is a usual spot for us to find Townsend’s Solitaires, Rusty Blackbirds, and American Robins in the winter, though the number of juniper bushes along this hill has seemingly disappeared in the years since the 2013 flood. There were a pair of American Robins bustling about in the berry shrubs on the far edge of the shrubline, making it hard to get a really good look at them, but there were a few openings here and there.

American Robin

American Robin

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It wasn’t until we got close enough to get these shots of the robins through the shrubs that we heard the tell-tale trill of waxwings feeding low in the bush. When they popped out into the open, it was clear that these weren’t Bohemian Waxwings, and that there were more than a handful of these birds down there. In all, five Cedar Waxwings were present in the bushes, with one little one appearing to only be a few months old, likely a late hatching immature bird from last September or early October.

adult Cedar Waxwing

adult Cedar Waxwing

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immature Cedar Waxwing

immature Cedar Waxwing

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It always makes it worthwhile to get out there, no matter how uncertain the weather or how typically dull one park or another can be, and it’s these random finds that you’d never even think to look for that turn up at the most unusual places.

Have a good week, and good birding!

Winter Birding at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following the first outing to search for the continuing rare birds at Carburn Park, we headed to Bebo Grove in search of a possible return of the Northern Pygmy-owl from last winter, or maybe a Barred Owl, or a little less charismatic, but nonetheless interesting American Three-toed Woodpeckers. While we didn’t find any of those three species, we did find a few more elusive birds in some of the best upland boreal habitat you can find in the city of Calgary.

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Our morning got off to a relatively slow start, as our search for Bob, the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch turned up empty, as did our search through the picnic area for either American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker

male Pileated Woodpecker

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Even a trip to the edge of Fish Creek itself was quiet and uneventful, until a last minute glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker got our attention. We worked our way around the grove until everyone was able to get a good, unobstructed view of the bird, and as we left it there it was still working away on the same tree.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

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Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

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Across the creek we headed to a feeding station where a pair of Mountain Chickadees had been seen throughout the week. One little surprise, and always welcome, were a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets singing away in the trees. They displayed for a few minutes, and while we were watching and listening, we also heard our first Boreal Chickadee songs from the dense trees.

Around the corner was the Mountain Chickadee location, and this individual looked a little bit rough around the edges. While it was feeding quite vigorously on the provided sunflower seeds, it gave us quite a few good looks out in the open. We may have seen a second individual there, but never two at the same time, so none of us had any certainty about there being two birds.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

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As we followed the creek east and north into the park, we nearly missed a trio of White-tailed Deer resting in the snow less than twenty meters off the path, but wide out in the open. It wasn’t until this young deer stood up and poked its head around the edge of the tree that we noticed it and the two older females nearby. These deer are in good numbers in the park this winter, and all appear to be relatively healthy!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

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As we crossed Bridge 5 in search of Townsend’s Solitaires, owls, and other birds more common in the more open aspen stands north of the creek, we turned around to spot this young Bald Eagle soaring and circling above us on a thermal. With each circle it gained in elevation quite significantly, until it eventually reached its predetermined cruising altitude and it took off to the south.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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As we rounded out our morning in a particularly dense stand of spruce, we stopped at a particular feeding station which had been home to a rare overwintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, but try as we might, and wait as long as we did, it didn’t turn up for us to this location. We did have a good number of Black-capped Chickadees, and even had a few Boreal Chickadees turn up for a few minutes as the sun came out to greet them.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

A little later on we stopped to listen as a flock of birds suddenly appeared above the tree-line and perched across the creek from us. A large group of Bohemian Waxwings, our first of the day, perched in the sun high on the side opposite us.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Our last few minutes before we headed back to the parking lot to end the day was a search for some more American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers, and while we had some evidence of fairly recent activity, the best we came up with was this little Red Squirrel chowing down on some spruce cones.

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

female Red Crossbill

female Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Killdeer on the rocks

Killdeer on the rocks

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 310mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 340mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 200mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

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

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

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

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

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

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!

Autumn Migrants at Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

My first week back leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings after being away at work for most of the month of September turned out to be quite the adventure, with a few really great finds.

Lafarge Meadows - October 4, 2015

Lafarge Meadows – October 4, 2015

The light was a bit dim early on, but it seemed as though the day would be productive as the first really impressive birds we found were a couple of Green-winged Teal, back in their striking breeding plumage. The poor light didn’t do them justice though.

IMGP1283

Green-winged Teal – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Not too far from him was a young Pied-billed Grebe, one of the seven we would see throughout the day.

IMGP1310

Pied-billed Grebe – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We followed the bank of the Bow River north at the beginning of our outing, turning up a Bald Eagle perched across the river in a tree. A couple of us remarked how this might have even been the same bird in the same tree as we had seen earlier this year in the winter course.

IMGP1345

Bald Eagle – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We were a little surprised a few minutes later when we were passed by a lone American White Pelican, which we would see nine more of later in the day. I think this might be the latest I have seen these massive white birds within the city.

IMGP1387

American White Pelican – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While he was flying by, we also heard a chip note of a nearby Yellow-rumped Warbler, another migrant that was foraging in the low trees and shrubs. IMGP1356

Yellow-rumped Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Things got a lot quieter for the next half hour or so, as we crossed the tributary stream and walked along the banks of the river that had been hardest hit by the flood two years ago. We were almost ready to turn around and head back to the south ponds when things began to chatter and chirp all around us. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were the first ones to draw our attention.

IMGP1393

female Downy Woodpecker – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching her, we heard the chip notes of some sparrows in the nearby shrubs, and on investigation, we found a couple of Song Sparrows (and a Lincoln’s sparrow that we heard, but could not track down for the life of us!)

IMGP1397

Song Sparrow – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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Song Sparrow – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

The best sighting of the day (and maybe of the year?) was found while I was crouched down taking some photos of this dragonfly who was all but immobilized due to the cold, and hanging under a blade of grass.

IMGP1424

Dragonfly sp. – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

IMGP1435

Dragonfly sp. – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

While I was carefully focusing on the detail of this beautiful little insect, the call of “HOODED WARBLER!” from Bob Lefebvre came about fifty meters south, as much of the group had continued on and were carefully scanning a group of songbirds foraging in the low brush. After a good half hour, I did manage to capture a few images of this quick little skulking bird, though I was more than happy to just see it!

IMGP1443

Hooded Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|
IMGP1448

Hooded Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

It was an incredible find, and we all left quite satisfied with how the day had turned out. We headed back to end our walk and stopped briefly to enjoy the antics of the American Coots and American Wigeon fighting over the vegetation they were picking up from the bottom of the south pond.

IMGP1459

American Wigeon and American Coots – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

So all in all, I’d say that my first outing back was a rousing success!

I did manage a few outings during the next week to the Bow River Irrigation Canal, so keep an eye here for that next Tuesday!

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!

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.

cold and frosty Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

cold and frosty Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.

frosty Bow River landscape Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

frosty Bow River landscape
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.

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

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

We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.

Common Raven in hoarfrost Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Common Raven in hoarfrost
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.

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

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

Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.

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

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

With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!

Have a great week, and good birding!

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!