Tag Archive | beaverdam flats

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

immature Cedar Waxwing

immature Cedar Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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!

Sunday Showcase: Eagles of Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The lower Bow River in Calgary, downstream of the weir, is a great spot for winter eagle-watching. There is a plentiful food source, consisting of dead or dying Canada Geese, Mallards, and other waterfowl. Among the tens of thousands of birds on the open parts of the river, there are always some that are sick or injured (some of them wounded by hunters). Bald Eagles will readily scavenge the dead birds.

11281326655_fd22bd9a73_kNear-adult Bald Eagle eating a Mallard, Beaverdam Flats, December 8, 2013. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The Bow River is warmed by runoff from the waste-water treatment plants and other city runoff. Because of this, the Bow below downtown Calgary is often the only large body of open water in the area during cold winters. (This has only been the case since about 1975. Before that, there were no waterfowl here in the winter since there was no open water. There were very few eagles seen here until about 2000, as they recovered from critically low numbers caused mostly by DDT poisoning.) These days, good numbers of eagles, mostly juveniles, are seen on the river in winter at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Inglewood Golf course, Carburn Park, Beaverdam Flats, and all the way down through Fish Creek Park. The largest concentrations seem to be at Carburn and Beaverdam.

When the wind is blowing from the west, as it often is, you can watch the eagles soaring right over your head. Here are some photos taken by John Stegeman on a Friends of Fish Creek outing in January.

Bald Eagle adult 2Adult Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle adult 1Adult Bald Eagle, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Bald Eagle juvenileJuvenile Bald Eagle in flight, Beaverdam Flats, January 24, 2015. Photo by John Stegeman.

Occasionally the eagles will gather in a small area and you see quite a number of them together. Here is a photo taken in January by Ron Friend.

Eagles- Beaver Dam Flats-Jan 21,2015 029Five Bald Eagles and four Common Ravens in one tree, Beaverdam Flats, January 21, 2015. Photo by Ron Friend.

A few years ago I saw fourteen juvenile Bald Eagles in one tree at Carburn Park. I mentioned this to Gus Yaki, and he said he had seen seventeen at once at Beaverdam Flats, and he once met a person from the adjacent Lynnwood neighbourhood who claimed he had a photo of an incredible thirty-one!! (He agreed to send Gus the photo but either couldn’t find it or lost the email address – if you’re out there, please send it to us!)

Thirty-one might be the unofficial Calgary record, but here we have an amazing photo of twenty-six Bald Eagles (and two Common Ravens) taken at Beaverdam in January 2009 by Ron Kube. (Click the photo to enlarge it. It can be hard to spot every last one, but there are indeed 26 eagles. The one that’s really hard to see is just above and to the right of the adult that is at 9 o’clock, a little in from the left edge. The ravens are together at the lower centre of the photo.)

Ron Kube 26 eaglesAdult and juvenile Bald Eagles (26) and Common Ravens (2). Beaverdam Flats, January 3, 2009. Photo by Ron Kube.

Tomorrow, Family Day, will present a good opportunity to look for eagles in Calgary. Dan Arndt and Rose Painter are leading a Nature Calgary field trip to Carburn Park. See the Nature Calgary field trip page here.

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

male House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

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

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

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

Baltimor Oriole nest Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Baltimor Oriole nest
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

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

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

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

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

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

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

Common Goldeneye in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

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

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

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

Watching Waterfowl at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

After a nearly complete washout last week, with only a handful of species and no real photo opportunities, this week was only slightly better. The lack of large numbers of waterfowl on the Bow River at Beaverdam Flats, the dropping temperatures, and the constant wind seemed to keep the birds away. The icy conditions of the main pathways also put a damper on things, and even gave me a bit of a start, leaving me with a broken lens hood and a bit of a sore hip early on in the walk. Not to worry though, my camera, lens, and body are all A-OK!

Beaverdam Flats - January 26, 2014

Beaverdam Flats – January 26, 2014

The morning began with some fairly diffuse light and a bitterly cold wind out of the north, but not bitter or cold enough to keep us from scanning a group of waterfowl at the water treatment plant outfall. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t pick out the Redhead, American Wigeon, or even the domestic or leucistic Mallards that had been seen by other groups this week. Maybe they had decided it was a little too cold for them and stayed home! We did get some good looks at a few Canada Geese in flight, some of which were missing some flight feathers, and others were just showing off.

Canada Geese and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

I had hoped to get some Bald Eagle shots for the blog while we were here, as there were as many as 12 Bald Eagles seen at one time throughout the week, but they too were noticeably absent. We did get more than a few Common Ravens, and I find it interesting how it’s nearly impossible to get the two-toned appearance of the raven’s flight feathers to show up in anything but the most diffuse light. I also found it interesting to note just how worn the feathers of this particular bird are, which I only really took note of after downloading my shots this afternoon.

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

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

As the morning progressed, our luck seemed to improve, and we headed away from the river into the stands of tall poplar and aspens. We did manage to find a pair of Northern Flickers, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a few Downy Woodpeckers, along with an assortment of White-breasted Nuthatches and a few Black-capped Chickadees, but all in all, it was even quieter away from the water.

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

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

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

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

As we returned to the water’s edge, the light was progressively improving, and allowed some higher speed flight shots of the always gorgeous Common Goldeneye.

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

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

While we were able to watch a particularly fun interaction between a 4th-year Bald Eagle and a flock of about seven Common Ravens and a pair of Black-billed Magpies, they were a little too far off and amongst some challenging terrain to get any usable shots. It was quite nice though, to get a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees fluttering about the pathway on our return to the parking lot, posing quite nicely as we snapped away with our cameras.

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Have a great week, keep safe, and good birding!

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats – An Eagle’s Paradise

Posted by Dan Arndt

Well… maybe paradise is overselling it a bit, but we did a good show from a few Bald Eagles on our outing this past Sunday! Three days this week the outings had been cancelled due to extreme weather and extreme cold. Unheard of for the hardiest of our leaders, but everyone has their limits! Unfortunately, the weather early this morning kept most of our participants away, so we headed off with three leaders and one hardy participant into the cold and the wind.

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

What started off as a cold, blustery and grey day turned into some amazing blue skies, much warmer weather than we’ve seen all week, and some great opportunities to get some action shots. Needless to say though, it took a little bit for everyone to get going, including some of the first groups of birds we saw. This backwater along the Bow River was completely full of mostly Canada Geese and a few Mallards for good measure.

Canada Geese in the backwater Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Canada Geese in the backwater
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Even the Bald Eagles looked completely unimpressed in the cold and the wind. The expressions of utter contempt for both us, and the hundred or so waterfowl just below them in the water, have led me to nickname these two as Hekyll and Jekyll.

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

As we turned back to follow the river bank southward, things started to pick up. The sun was making a serious attempt to break through the meager cloud cover to the south and east, and some of the birds began to show a few more signs of life. A third immature Bald Eagle was being chased (but not quite harassed) by the Common Raven keeping a keen eye on it from below.

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As the wind picked up a little, it caused the birds to begin to fly up-river, allowing some half-decent flight shots. Along with the wind picking up, the sun finally began to break through, and provided some great light for the remainder of our walk. First up, a male and female Common Goldeneye, flying by within a few minutes of each other.

male Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

male Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

A moment later, a female Barrow’s Goldeneye flew by, and a male of the same species broke away from the Canada Geese at the far shore and made his way into the middle of the river shortly after.

female Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

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

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

This group of Buffleheads touched down in the water about halfway into the river, showing off their bubble-gum pink legs. That’s one lucky male Bufflehead getting the pick of mates this winter!

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

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

And last but not least, this male Common Merganser flew by quite close, showing off his bright red bill and a hint of green in the head as the sun began to shine.

male Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

male Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We continued south along the river without seeing too much else of note, but shortly after we turned back on one of the inner pathways, this subadult Bald Eagle flew by behind us and alighted in a tree, closely tailed by a flock of scavenging Common Ravens, looking for whatever scraps they could manage to steal from the wary bird of prey.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

A couple of Black-billed Magpies even came in for a piece of the action. Or maybe just a piece of the Mallard.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

If there’s one thing I love most about winter birding in Calgary, I’d have to say that above the Snowy Owls, above the winter finches, and even above the odd vagrants we’re gifted with every couple of years, I certainly love seeing the influx of Bald Eagles the most. One of the groups this week in Beaverdam Flats recorded no less than ten (yes, 10) Bald Eagles in a single outing. While it’s not quite the same as the incredible numbers seen on both east and west coasts in the height of the season, it’s still an incredible treat to us landlocked city-slickers to have such unrestricted access to these regal and immensely powerful raptors.

That brings us to the end of our Autumn Birding Course for 2013. We’ll be picking back up in January again, but between now and then I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the Christmas Bird Counts I’m taking part in, as well as the various travels that I happen to find myself on this holiday season!

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Beaverdam Flats is a breath of fresh air

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our second-to-last adventure for the Autumn Birding Course brings us back to Beaverdam Flats for the first time since the floods of June 2013. With both bridges washed out and still awaiting repair, we were confined to the upper pathway, and a return stroll lower down turned up most of the expected species, though once again we were entirely bereft of the many winter finches that were all too abundant last year. To top it off, the drop in the number of waterfowl from previous years was also astonishing. In the past, it wouldn’t be unheard of to see over twenty-thousand (yes, 20,000) individual birds along this stretch of river, while this year numbers barely crept up to the two-thousand mark.

On the bright side (pun totally intended), it wasn’t too long into our walk that the clouds broke up and allowed for some bright, beautiful blue skies overhead, and some very nice low angle sunlight to show off the brilliant iridescence of some of our more common waterfowl. The Mallards were courting, the Goldeneyes and Buffleheads were beginning to flock together, and even the geese seemed all-too-excited to put on a show.

Beaverdam Flats - Part 1!

Beaverdam Flats – Part 1!

This week we had a much different type of walk than our usual excursions. Only a handful of passerines were about for the most part, and the first real highlight of our morning was this flock of House Finches hanging out well above the bird feeders near the park.

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

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

House Finch pair Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

House Finch pair
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

As we walked along the upper ridge, flock after flock of both Mallards and Canada Geese flew in the distance, some coming in from elsewhere on the river, others flying off to the nearby fields to fill their bellies in preparation for another cold night. Our high vantage point didn’t really allow much in the way of close-ups, and it wasn’t until we descended the hill at the south end that we got right up close to the hundreds of birds on the river.

This male Common Merganser seemed to enjoy our company, as a few times along our walk he would fly in, feed for a bit, and drift downstream, only to fly back parallel to us again a few minutes later.

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

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

male Common Merganser putting on the brakes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Common Merganser putting on the brakes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

And then the clouds broke and the sun began to shine down on the river, showing off the amazing iridescence of the Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, and even our friendly male Common Merganser a little later on!

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

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

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

But that is not to say that there weren’t charismatic female birds close by as well! This female Common Goldeneye was one of a dozen or so that had us pausing and reviewing our field guides, considering what exactly the differences between a female Common and a Barrow’s Goldeneye were…

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

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

As we turned away from the river and headed back up the hill, we were given a great send off by a few large flocks of Canada Geese as a Bald Eagle flew in the distance, flushing them up off the river.

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

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

Canada Geese in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

After we reached the top of the hillside again, we headed north, viewing the park itself, and while there weren’t too many birds to see, we surveyed what the park had suffered from the floods, and saw quite a bit of evidence of both human and animal activity down in the park, which we’ll be investigating in further detail next week. In proper fashion, we had a nice send-off from this Northern Flicker just before we turned to head back to the starting point, and back home for the day.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Have another great week, keep warm, and good birding!

 

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 8 – Beaverdam Flats – Snowed Out!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

The week was beautiful leading up to Sunday’s walk. Much of the snow had melted off, migrating European Starlings and American Crows were arriving regularly, and temperatures were as high as 10 degrees Celsius some days! I was looking forward to a full walk in Beaverdam Flats, though it was predicted to be a snowy, wet day. When I left the house, about 2 centimeters had accumulated, but by the time we arrived at Beaverdam Flats, this is what the scene looked like.

Blizzard in Beaverdam Flats

Blizzard in Beaverdam Flats

In addition to the terrible weather, one of the main roads leading to the park was closed due to a fallen power line, and with both of these contributing factors, our small group of three decided to make a quick trip of it. We pushed through the wind and snow to find a few hardy Bald Eagles, many hundreds of Mallards, and a couple hundred Canada Geese, with a small smattering of smaller birds. Needless to say, none of my photos of the birds turned out in any recognizable way, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a few photos of the regular visitors to my bird feeders this winter.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

male Red-breasted Nuthatch

male Red-breasted Nuthatch

This pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches are regular visitors to my feeders all year long. They roost in the spruce tree in my neighbour’s back yard each night, and forage around sunrise and sunset mostly, but on bad weather days, they’re active all day long.

male Northern Flicker (intergrade)

male Northern Flicker (intergrade)

Northern Flickers absolutely love the suet I put out. I find that they are very skittish and fly at the first sign of danger, but shooting from out of a window they hardly even notice me.

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

This male Downy Woodpecker is one of a pair that have been regular visitors to my feeders since I put them out. This SquirrelBuster nut feeder has been incredibly helpful at keeping the squirrels out. I’ve gone from filling the nut feeder two or thee times a week to maybe once a month!

male Common Redpoll

male Common Redpoll

While Common Redpolls have only started showing up at my feeders in the last month or so, there are half a dozen or so on an average day, and are regular visitors to my feeder with nyjer and black-oil sunflower chips.

 

I hope this makes up for the lack of my usual update today!

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week Ten – Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of having my long lens unavailable for any length of time is the creativity that I’m allowed in the scenic and wide angle shots as opposed to the tight close-ups I’ve grown to prefer in the past year and a bit. I’ve also noticed that it seems like we always go to the same locations when I don’t have my long lens!

This week’s location, Beaverdam Flats, is just one such location.

Beaverdam Flats

Starting at the parking lot, we explored the trees nearby and found our only Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-breasted Nuthatches of the day. Walking down the slope to the river we were greeted by a flyover of a juvenile Bald Eagle, and great views of both the river as a whole, as well as the frost that had accumulated overnight from the freezing fog.

juvenile Bald Eagle

Bow River

Bow River

hoarfrost

Hoarfrost encrusting the bushes, trees and grass along the Bow River.

The sheer number of Canada Geese and Mallards is hard to explain, and we even had a (relatively) small flock of Ring-billed Gulls on the gravel bar as well. Intermixed with the larger waterfowl were no small number of Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a Redhead or two for good measure.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Common Goldeneye in flight

Common Goldeneye in flight

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

We lucked out again and found a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye in amongst the throng, and were even a little more surprised by a lone, late migrating American Coot on the far bank.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye hidden amongst the Mallards.

American Coot

A single, hardy American Coot forages about in the shallow riverbed.

As we followed the bend of the river around to the north side of the park, then trudged through back to the hilltop, we were greeted by our last new species in the park, this pair of Tundra/Trumpeter Swans. I suspect they’re Trumpeter Swans based on their proportions, but I could be wrong.

Swans

Swans

 

As we returned to our vehicles, we decided to go take a look in on Pat Bumstead’s amazing yard list, and specifically, to see the Mourning Doves. These two were found across the street roosting in a tall spruce.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves

Have a great week, and good birding!