Tag Archive | bird blog calgary

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

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young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 290mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 150mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

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Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

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Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.

Gulls return to Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing to Mallard Point on March 6th was really geared to look for the first arriving gulls. With the exceptionally warm winter, and with many sightings around the city the for the week leading up to it, it seemed certain that we would find at least a few of them on the extensive gravel bars there. We did manage to spot one, and had a few other nice birds, but the haze, rain(!) and low gloomy clouds made it tough to keep motivated through the morning!

Mallard Point - March 6, 2016

Mallard Point – March 6, 2016

The day was dark, dingy, drizzly and dreary. More typical of a morning in early April rather than March, but the early spring birds were beginning to return, and some overwintering birds were still around. I wasn’t particularly well dressed for the weather, and so we moved as fast as we could to try to stay warm. Here’s a tip: If you’re birding and the calendar says it’s still winter, it’s not t-shirt weather. Don’t try. You’ll freeze.

California Gull

California Gull

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Our first gull of the season, and our only one of the whole day, was a solo flyby of a single California Gull. This is usually the first species that shows up in late February or early March, sometimes in small single digits, and very quickly joined by dozens of others over the following few weeks. Mallard Point is a great spot to find them most years, but in colder years when the Bow River is frozen up a little more, it is one of the few open gravel bars in the south end of the city. This year though, the entire river has been open for pretty much the entire winter, so they haven’t been found in any significant numbers within the city.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

This young Bald Eagle was perched off in the distance when we arrived, took a few flights up and down the river, then came right back to this spot. Another observation of the mild winter, these eagles have been able to spread out all along the length of the Bow River through Calgary, while in colder years we tend to find them grouped up in areas downstream of water treatment facilities, such as Beaverdam Flats, Carburn Park, and downstream of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Some years we see as many as twenty in a single morning outing!

White-throated Sparriw

White-throated Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Chirping away under the feeders at the houses on the east edge of Mallard Point was this White-throated Sparrow. Last spring around this time we found another member of this species less than a hundred meters away from here. I often wonder when we have sightings like this if it’s the same bird coming back winter after winter to the same spot. I guess there are a few ways one could research it though!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

There were quite a number of Northern Flickers calling, drumming and displaying throughout the morning, so many that there was a “high count” trigger on eBird when we went to submit the list! It’s always fun to watch them fly from tree to tree displaying and chattering at each other at this time of year, but not necessarily as much fun if they’re doing it outside your bedroom window first thing in the morning, or on the heating vent on the roof!

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

This beautiful pair of Common Mergansers was further down the river, the male in his full bright white and iridescent dark green breeding plumage, and the female showing off her fancy head crest. Soon, she’ll be swimming along with a dozen or more young in tow, trying to keep them safe from the many predators both above and below the water.

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Our last bird for the day was this beautiful male Downy Woodpecker, who perched nearby and began drumming away while we watched. While he didn’t call in a female while we were there, his energy and persistence was rather obvious, and I’m certain he’s paired up by now and building a nest somewhere nearby.

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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

Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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

Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 210mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Back to Bebo for a Beautiful Bird

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our second visit to Bebo Grove this winter was in search of a well-documented Varied Thrush that had been seen there for a few weeks, and thankfully it decided to stay in almost the exact same spot for our Sunday morning outing. We also got some of the regular boreal birds that we’ve come to expect at Bebo Grove, and while the morning was fairly quiet in terms of numbers of individual birds, we did have some nice close encounters that highlighted the morning overall.

Bebo Grove - February 21, 2016

Bebo Grove – February 21, 2016

While the highlight of the morning was the Varied Thrush, a bird we found early on and spent a good amount of time with, I’m going to save those images for the very end, since there are a few of them in different poses, and really it’s always good practice to save the best for last!

Our morning was, as I mentioned in the intro, quiet overall in terms of bird sightings, but there wasn’t a moment while travelling through the trees that we didn’t have at least forty or fifty Pine Siskins in the trees above us, trilling and chattering away. We even had a brief sighting of a Merlin, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a few other birds that I we haven’t seen as a group since the late fall.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

It’s almost like clockwork the areas in Bebo Grove where we find mixed flocks of Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, and where the bird activity picks up bit by bit to a startling cacophony of sound and being dive-bombed by chickadees, nuthatches, and the odd kinglet or creeper. There were a few more Boreal Chickadees here than the last time we visited this little grove, and they had a very well established pecking order, with one larger bird coming in first, then the next two coming in almost as soon as it had left.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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We even had a few close encounters with some Pine Siskins once again, coming down into the lower boughs of the spruce trees to feed on hatching insects as well as on the fallen cones.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

One of the bird species that seems to be diminishing in numbers in southern Alberta right now are the Pine Grosbeaks. While there are a few places to still reliably find them in the city limits, I suspect that they’re heading north and west as our early spring has really ramped up over the last few weeks. Similarly, both White-winged and Red Crossbills, as well as Bohemian Waxwings seem to have all but withdrawn from southern Alberta a few weeks earlier than they normally would, despite there still being an abundance of food for them.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Another species we found picking through the lower branches in search of freshly hatched insects (in February, at that! The wonders of these long-lasting el Nino chinooks!) were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. These birds were unusually unaware of our presence once again, and so we had really good looks at them while they fluttered about almost like hummingbirds feeding from the tips of the branches and all the way along each small branch and twig.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

Of course the real highlight was this male Varied Thrush. I’ve been seeing quite a few of these birds in Revelstoke, British Columbia in my trips there all winter, but these are certainly a great bird to find in Alberta, especially one returning to the same area for such a long period of time in the winter!

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

We even got to hear him singing away for a few minutes, while a second male a little further off in the distance sung counter to him. If you’ve never really heard these birds before, their song is a long, high pitched piercing note, much like the sound of the brakes of a train squealing to a stop.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We must have spent a good half hour with this bird, watching him from all angles while he posed, sung, posed again, and eventually moved just a little higher in the trees as the sun came around to illuminate him a little bit. It was probably the best look at a Varied Thrush some members of our group had ever had, as these birds can be quite flighty, even where they are abundant.

Have a great week, and good “spring” birding!

Mid-winter birding in Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

As any birder knows, it’s nearly impossible to predict what your success will be like on any given day out in the field. Some days, you can go out and find a huge variety of species in the gloomiest and most terrible weather, while on a perfect weather day the birds all seem to disappear. My last few outings have been a lot quieter than usual, but with the above-seasonal weather we’ve had since late January it’s not entirely unusual. Our visit to Votier’s Flats on January 31 was one of those rather quiet days, but we still managed to see some good birds on the two outings I attended that week.

Votier's Flats - January 31, 2016

Votier’s Flats – January 31, 2016

While I attended one walk earlier in the week, and my regular Sunday outing, I only tracked the walk on Sunday, so one of our better sightings isn’t mapped here.

We had a fairly typical array of winter birds at Votier’s Flats, with Pine Siskins, White-winged and Red Crossbills, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, and of course the ever present Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens were readily apparent. As we entered the woods, we were hailed by the calls of a White-breasted Nuthatch high up in the trees, claiming this particularly good territory for itself and announcing its presence to any female that might be paying attention.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Mid-week, we had found a recently killed White-tailed Deer carcass, likely taken down by coyotes in the park, but that didn’t deter the rest of the White-tailed Deer from roaming around seemingly without a care in the world. This deer was photographed less than 30 meters from where we had found the kill.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

One of the things we’ve been observing recently is Pine Siskins feeding a bit lower in the trees than usual, allowing us much better looks at much closer distances that we have for much of the winter so far. They yellow tones in the flight feathers and underwing are really starting to pop now too, making them a little nicer to photograph than your typical Little Brown Jobs.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

After we cleared the wooded area made up mostly of spruce trees, things got really, really quiet. We headed up the hill to the area that borders on the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, where a number of homes have bird feeders set up, and even up there it was incredibly quiet. The only bird to be found when we checked on our first pass was this lone sickly looking Black-capped Chickadee. You can see in this photo that the feathers surrounding the eyes are all missing, and that the eyes themselves also appear a bit puffy. I have no idea what might be the cause of this, but suspect it could be ticks or some illness caused by these feeders not being cleaned regularly. It’s vitally important if you put out bird feeders to ensure that they’re cleaned regularly. The rule of thumb that I always use is that every two times I fill a feeder, I run it through the dishwasher for a good, thorough wash.

Black-capped Chickadee

sick Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We did a quick loop up top, but aside from a few magpies flying by overhead, and a few other small finches flying overhead, the only bird we were able to get close to was yet another (healthy this time) Black-capped Chickadee.

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

We headed back down the hill and through the wooded area a second time, but following Fish Creek itself in hopes of finding some birds along the creek bed. Unfortunately for us, our only additional sighting was this near-perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, with its high-pitched trills and even a brief little attempt at a song!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

On the earlier outing that week, we had headed over towards Raven Rocks to search for Townsend’s Solitaires, and sure enough we found two singing high on the slope, and one even popped down to check us out for a few minutes before my camera decided to stop working for the day!

 

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

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Following our outing on January 31, I headed out of town for the next two weeks, and so our next week’s update should bring us up to our outing on February 21 where we returned to Bebo Grove!

Have a good week, and good birding!

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

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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

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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

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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.

Christmas Bird Counts – Part II

Posted by Dan Arndt

Just before Christmas I had to send my long lens (Sigma 150-500mm) in for repair, so am back to using my original birding lens, my Sigma 70-300mm. As such, I can’t get quite as close to the birds as I used to, but it does allow me to have a bit better control over framing more “artsy” shots, but also making do with what I’ve got to use, rather than relying on the reach of the lens to make the image better. I do hope that I managed to do that well with the few photos I was able to take on the Dinosaur Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count, and the annual New Years Day Fish Creek Provincial Park Bird Count.

While it’s a great area to bird in both the summer and winter, the day we headed out there (December 30) was bitterly cold, and it seemed that the birds were nowhere to be found. In previous years, there were a few groups covering the whole area, but this year Nick Bartok and I were the only two out on the count so we had to cover the entire count circle, giving us only enough time to see and hear the birds we could observe from the car. What that meant for us was that we would miss out on a lot of the smaller birds we usually would hear on a walked route, but it did mean we got to cover way more area.

The cold weather made shooting from the vehicle a little tough, with the heat distortion from the vehicle and from the heat radiating off the snow from the bright sunlight, but I managed a few shots.

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Great Horned Owl, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

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One of the first good birds of the day was this Great Horned Owl that we stumbled upon while driving down one back road east of Patricia.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Patricia – December 30, 2015

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Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville - December 30, 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse, east of Steveville – December 30, 2015

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By far, the most numerous birds that we found on the Dinosaur Provincial Park count were Sharp-tailed Grouse. They seemed to be everywhere in the trees and shrubs nibbling on the buds for their breakfast and lunch!

Back in Calgary, the Fish Creek Provincial Park New Years Day Bird Count was a little bit (but not too much!) warmer, but we got a few good birds to start off the year.

Great Horned Owl - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Great Horned Owl – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

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Brown Creeper - Fish Creek Provincial Park - January 1, 2016

Brown Creeper – Fish Creek Provincial Park – January 1, 2016

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At the Ranche, the usual pair of Great Horned Owls were present, along with a great opportunity to see the elusive Brown Creeper as the sun came over the horizon.

Sikome Lake - January 1, 2016

Sikome Lake – January 1, 2016

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The snow covered poplars at Sikome Lake made for a great backdrop to see all these great birds.

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards, Geese, and a Wigeon – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

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Mallards in flight - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Mallards in flight – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

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Bald Eagle - Hull's Wood - January 1, 2016

Bald Eagle – Hull’s Wood – January 1, 2016

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The usual accumulations of waterfowl along the Bow River were no exception to the rule, and there were even a couple of great surprises in the water, including an American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and more than a few Common Mergansers. A couple of fly-bys of Bald Eagles flushed many of the birds up briefly, but they soon came back down into the water at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River.

American Robin - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

American Robin – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

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Hermit Thrush - Shaw's Meadow - January 1, 2016

Hermit Thrush – Shaw’s Meadow – January 1, 2016

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At the compilation lunch, Bob and I waited around to hear if there had been any particularly noteworthy observations, and when we heard that a Hermit Thrush and American Robins had been seen at the water outflow at Shaw’s Meadow, we headed over there right away. It took us a while of watching the American Robins and got to see them feeding in the water, and finally got a great look at the Hermit Thrush, but only briefly. Two shots later, it disappeared into the deep brush, but it was more than long enough to get a look at the bird, identify it, and snap a few frames.

While normally this post would be a recap of the first week of the Friends of Fish Creek outings, I was away for that first trip, so keep an eye out for my post next week for the birds from our second week out at Bebo Grove!

Have a great week, and good birding!

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

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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

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female Red Crossbill

female Red Crossbill

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male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

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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

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Killdeer on the rocks

Killdeer on the rocks

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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

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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

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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

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White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

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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

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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

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A very late Double-crested Cormorant

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

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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

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Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

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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!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following our great excursion to Pearce Estate Park, we headed down to the Weaselhead as our first real cold snap started to descend upon Calgary. We did get a bit of a break in the weather by Sunday, and there were a good number of birds out enjoying the sunny day!

Weaselhead - November 22, 2015

Weaselhead – November 22, 2015

The Weaselhead has always been a good location to find the many winter finches that come south from the boreal forest to gorge themselves on the spruce and willow seeds in years when the cone crop up north is in a low cycle, and the crop here is at a peak. In non-finch years, we still will get the usual winter birds, including four species of woodpecker, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as great stand-bys.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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The older trees down in the Weaselhead are great places for the woodpeckers to forage, as they have plenty of nooks and crannies for insects to huddle up for the winter, and plenty of holes and crevices for the birds to spend their cold winter nights out of the elements as well. It’s a great give and take relationship that many of these birds have with their environment.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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The other side of the coin is that for years, there have been many different individuals who have put up feeders on many of the trees along the main pathway, which have become hotspots for finding the expected winter species, but the occasional overwintering rarity as well, such as American Goldfinches and White-throated Sparrows.

female House Finch

female House Finch

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While checking out the feeders, this female House Finch flew up and allowed all of us good views of her, which should have been a hint at what we were in for later on in the day! I rarely get good looks at House Finches, either males or females, as they always seem to be actively foraging, flying, or singing high up in the trees with lots of branches in the way.

American Robin

American Robin

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The warm weather had also allowed for some larger flocks of some of the American Robins that choose to spend the winter here in Calgary. We had fifteen (yes, 15!) of these typical “spring” birds here that day, but that’s not unusual at all. During the Christmas Bird Count each year, we usually record double digits of American Robins throughout the city, usually in some of the warmer microclimates around small creeks, springs, and outflows around the city.

male House Finch

male House Finch

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female House Finch

female House Finch

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

Down at the bridge that crosses the small channel that feeds into the Elbow River, our day got a lot more exciting. Not only did we get great looks at another female House Finch, but we spotted this male that looks to have quite the Flames themed dye job in his facial markings. These male House Finches that show a little more orange, and sometimes even yellow in their normally red coloration tell us a bit about what they’re eating. The red pigments that House Finches normally show have found their way into the finch by what it’s been eating. Those that are a bit more yellow or orange simply aren’t eating as much of that red pigment in their food, and so look just slightly different to us. The other finches really don’t seem to take notice of the difference either way though.

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak and male House Finch

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male Pine Grosbeak

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Along with the House Finches, a fairly large flock of Pine Grosbeaks were in attendance at the bridge, hopping above, below, and all around both sides of the bridge. You can really see just how much bigger the grosbeaks are than their smaller cousins in that first image.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

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Unfortunately, once we headed a little further west from the bridge, everything seemed to quiet down and disappear. It wasn’t really that birdy, but there were at least a few Red Squirrels hanging about to pose for the camera.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

 ::Aperture: ƒ/11|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We also found quite a few Bohemian Waxwings on that outing. These birds tend to trickle into the Calgary area as the fall and winter progress, until all of a sudden there are thousands of them all over town!

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immature or female Pine Grosbeaks

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

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male Pine Grosbeak

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

On our way back at the bridge and finishing up our day, we found a few more Pine Grosbeaks perched high up in the spruce trees, almost displaying their deep, vibrant colours. I just can never resist taking photos of these guys and gals. They’re one of the best winter birds we get here, and so many birders consider them the iconic “Christmas bird”.

And that was another week out with the Friends of Fish Creek!

Just a couple more weeks of blog updates until the New Year and a whole new Winter Birding Course!

Have a great week, and good birding!