Tag Archive | Big Day

Nature Calgary’s Big Week of Birding

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Big Day, May 13, 2017

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Tomorrow, Saturday May 13, is the third annual Global Big Day, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The hope is that birders all over the world will go out that day and report as many species as they can.

Can you find a Long-eared Owl on the Global Big Day? Fish Creek Park, November 7, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

In 2016, 15,953 birders in 145 countries contributed 43,848 checklists, and recorded a total of 6,263 bird species. Your individual contribution this Saturday is important in preserving a record of our local bird life. Here’s how to make your sightings count.

There will also be a random draw from everyone who submits at least three complete checklists on May 13, with the winner getting Zeiss Conquest HD 8X42 binoculars.

The results are already coming in from the Eastern Hemisphere, and you can watch the worldwide results as they come in here.

The Cornell Lab’s team of birders is raising money by trying to find 300 species of birds in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in twenty-four hours. You can sponsor the Cornell Big Day team here.

Locally, many birders are making a special effort to get out and put in their three checklists. Dan Arndt and a few others are actually doing a Calgary Region Big Day, trying to see as many species as they can within the local 80-km radius birding circle. You can follow Dan’s progress and see how many species they have (and perhaps learn where some really good birds are located) by following him on his Twitter account. Dan’s handle is @ubermoogle, so follow him, or go to his page on Twitter to see what he posts.

Join Us For a Calgary Region Big Day

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Next Saturday, June 18, Andrew Hart, Rose Painter and I will lead the 2nd annual Calgary Region Big Day field trip for Nature Calgary. This is an all-day trip to find as many species as possible within the 80-km-radius circle centered on Calgary. Our modest goal is 125 species.

As you can see from the map below the area is huge, and we can’t visit all good habitats in a single day. We will be focusing on a few good spots and trying to keep the pace fast to give us flexibility towards the end of the day.

80km circle - Google Earth

The Calgary Region 80-km Circle.

We will begin our day at 5:30 am in NW Calgary. This is kind of a late start for a Big Day at this time of year, so we need people to arrive on time or a little early. Note that registration is required – please call one of the leaders to let them know you are coming, so we know when everyone has arrived and can plan the car-pooling. The trip details and phone numbers are on the Nature Calgary website here.

Our destinations will include Horse Creek Road, several stops in the Water Valley area, Plumber’s Road and Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, Windy Point west of Turner Valley, and Frank Lake. There may be more stops after that if there is time. We plan to be back at the starting point by no later than 8 pm. If anyone cannot stay for the whole day we will try to arrange the car-pooling to accommodate that.


Bobolink – one of our target birds for the Big Day. Photo by Dan Arndt.

Nature Calgary field trips are free and open to everyone; you don’t have to be a member of Nature Calgary to attend. We hope that some birders will have their biggest day ever, and there is always a chance to see some birds that are new to you, and to learn about some new birding locations in the Calgary area.

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

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


Part 1: Lead-up to the Big Day

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


Part 2: The trip begins

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3: The Big Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron Lake on Instagram.

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

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

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

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


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







A Big Day in Fish Creek

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Friday, I did a Big Day in Fish Creek. For those of you who do not know what this is, a Big Day is when you try to see and hear as many species as possible within a 24 hour day. For my Big Day, I spent more than 10 hours in Fish Creek, doing the entire day by bike, riding about 74 kilometers (46 miles) throughout the park and recording 93 species of birds, falling short of my goal of 100. Temperatures ranged from 6-15 degrees Celsius and there were a few showers. I started at about 5am and took a 2 hour weather break at lunch time, hoping for some of the rain to blow over, before returning at 2 and counting for another 3 hours. A full list and a more detailed report of the day can be seen here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Albertabird/message/20841

Here are some photos from the day:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-necked Grebes

Blue-winged Teal

Tennessee Warbler

Ruddy Ducks

Male Common Yellowthroat

Nature Calgary’s Big Day

Update:  Results of the Big Day

The day started off well, but the weather gradually deteriorated, and by 4:30 in the afternoon, with cold driving rain, and after eleven hours of birding, we decided to stop.  The total for the group was 93 species.  I saw or heard 88 of them, so I’ll have to try another time to reach 100 species in a day.  Due to the weather we missed almost all shorebirds and warblers.

We went to the following locations:  Votier’s Flats, Bow Valley Ranch and Sikome, all in Fish Creek Park; Inglewood Bird Sanctuary; Elliston Park; Ponds one mile west of Shepard; Shepard; Shepard Slough (east of Shepard); a series of ponds south of highway 22X in the far SE; a pond just east of Spruce Meadows; the South shore of Glenmore Reservoir.  We didn’t go into the Weaselhead as planned.

Click here for the report, with a list of the species seen or heard, from Albertabird.


How many species of birds do you think you could find within the city of Calgary in a single day?  The answer at this time of year is over 100.  This weekend there will be a great opportunity to see if you can do it.

Birders call this a “Big Day” – an attempt to identify as many species as possible in a twenty-four hour period.  This is often done as a competitive or fundraising activity, usually with teams of birders all trying to get the highest total.

For the past few years, Nature Calgary has offered a guided Big Day field trip every Victoria Day holiday.  It can be a long, hard day, especially in bad weather, but it is a great chance to see most of the bird species present in Calgary in the spring.  This year the trip is on Monday, May 23.  We will meet at Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Park (at the south end of Elbow Drive SW) at 5:30 am.  From there, the leader, Tony Timmons, will guide us to several different habitats within the city over the course of the day.  Bring a  lunch, and be prepared for whatever weather we might get.

Last year, the group managed to find 111 species!  The highlight of the day was a Virginia Rail calling at a slough in SE Calgary.

Virginia Rail. Photo by Mike Baird, from Wikimedia Commons.

In 2009, in very cold, wet conditions, the total was 108 species.  The birds are out there, so come out on Monday and help us find them!  If you need more information, call the leader, Tony Timmons, at 403-256-0754.  Like all Nature Calgary field trips, it is free and open to all members of the public.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre