Tag Archive | bird blog calgary

The many and varied signs of spring at Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week in Fish Creek and the signs of spring were all around us. While the morning was the coldest one of the week, topping out at -2 Celcius, the starlings were practicing their imitation calls, the Great Horned Owls were comfortably hunkered down in their nests, and the waterfowl were courting in preparation for the breeding season to come.

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

Our goals were to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls in the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, hopefully see some other waterfowl and early migrants along the river, and whatever else we might find in our travels.

We found one of our first targets less than fifteen minutes after our walk started. After checking out the waterfowl near the boat launch, we headed west into the grove of trees near Sikome Lake, where for the last five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have successfully fledged two or three owlets each year. While mom was well hidden, we did find dad out on one of his regular roosts a few dozen meters away from the usual nest site with a good view of the surrounding area. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t see him, and kept peeking one eye open from time to time as we walked by.

Great Horned Owl (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We did a loop around the east edge of the lake looking for a shrike, woodpecker, or nuthatches, but found relatively few small birds in their usual spots that morning, and it wasn’t until we got down to the bridges over the Bow River that we finally found something worth shooting. The Rock Pigeons nest under this bridge every year, and it’s one of the most reliable places in the park to find this urban species. They are quite often overlooked as “trash birds”, but they still have some rather amazing coloration on their breast feathers.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

As has been fairly regular this winter, we did get a flyover of a few Bald Eagles along our walk. As these eagles would fly over, the reaction from the waterfowl on the river would be quite varied. In some cases, only a couple would flush up off the water, but when a hungry eagle would pass over, the river would be almost entirely devoid of birds a few moments later. It’s amazing that they can tell whether the eagle is actively hunting, or just passing through at that distance. Does this Bald Eagle look like a hungry one, or a sated one to you?

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

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

We also found a pair of Common Ravens putting together a nest in the same tree where they had nested the last few years. Whether these are the same pair as before, one of their offspring, or just another pair nesting in a particularly enviable nesting location, it was great seeing them going through the motions of preparing their nest for the year.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Coming back under the bridge, we also spotted the male Common Goldeneyes displaying for the few females that may still be unpaired, and among a small group of Common Goldeneye, a single immature Barrow’s Goldeneye stood out from the rest.

Common Goldeneyes displaying Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneyes displaying
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow's (middle) Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow’s (middle) Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Once we were done our loop at the south-east end of the park, we headed up toward the Headquarters building to find a second pair of Great Horned Owls, and to see if we could find any of the early arriving waterfowl that we missed out on a few weeks ago.

We did (barely!) find the Great Horned Owls in this area as well, though the female was very well hidden!

Great Horned Owl (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We walked over to the river after coming up with our second owl pair of the morning, and as we came over the rise, this is what we saw.

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Can you spot the pair of Lesser Scaup? We also spotted the male Northern Pintail that has been hanging around this area for what might have been all winter long. A handsome male in full breeding plumage disappeared on us a few times as we worked on finding it and re-finding it for the time we were there scanning the group!

Northern Pintail (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Northern Pintail (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

And that’s another week down before the real spring migration blitz comes our way! Have a great week, and good birding!

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Christmas Bird Counting

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This year I participated in a few Christmas Bird Counts, and while I wasn’t able to get too many photos from some of them, I did manage a few here and there.

Calgary Christmas Bird Count:

As per usual, my area this year was the Weaselhead, and I managed a few photos of some good birds while down there. While we did miss out on some expected birds in that area, we didn’t have too bad a day overall. Of course the most reliable birds here are the Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Ruffed Grouse. One of the pleasant surprises in our area was a small flock of Common Redpolls, which quickly flew in, landed for a minute or two, and flew off as quickly as they arrived.

male Ruffed Grouse Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Ruffed Grouse
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

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

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

Canmore Christmas Bird Count:

Most years, the Canmore Christmas Bird Count is one of the first ones I participate in, as it’s on a Saturday, and Calgary’s count is on a Sunday. This year, the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count window fell on a Sunday, and so the Canmore count was scheduled for the following Saturday. Because I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush to get home and get prepared for the Calgary count the next day, I had some time to actually spend a bit of time with the subjects, and explore a bit of a different range of habitats. My extra time paid off and I was able to find a couple more species in this area that I hadn’t found before!

American Three-toed Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

American Three-toed Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Mountain Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Mountain Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

male Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

male Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Fish Creek Christmas Bird Count (and bonus bird):

The unofficial Fish Creek Provincial Park Christmas Bird Count is always conducted on New Year’s Day, which also gives me a great opportunity to get a solid start on my bird list for the year. For the past couple of years I’ve joined Phil Cram and the group that searches along the south-east corner of the park, including Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and the area around the boat launch, so we tend to get a pretty good variety of birds. Following the morning count, I did manage a trip over to Bebo Grove to search for the elusive Northern Pygmy-Owl that had been seen here recently, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint, but not before I was heading back to the car to head home. Sure enough, just as I was preparing to leave, he had already been found by another photographer who pointed him out to me at the parking lot!

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

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

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

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

Northern Pygmy-Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

This week marks the beginning of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, so check back here next Monday to find out what we saw on our first Sunday outing!

Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

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

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

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

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

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

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

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

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Birds of the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing was a visit to the recently drained Irrigation Canal, which runs parallel to the Bow River, and is an absolutely wonderful place to go birding in early October, while the canal is still draining. The weather was amazing, and so I decided that I was going to go out with both the Saturday and Sunday groups, and boy was I happy I did!

Western Irrigation Canal October 11-12, 2014

Western Irrigation Canal
October 11-12, 2014

Both days provided excellent light, great photographic opportunities, and a wide variety of birds, most of which were congregating around one of the main drainage outflows. The real highlight though was the interplay of light, fall colours, and beautiful birds up and down the canal on both days!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

All it takes is a combination of the right setting, the right speed, and the right background to turn a normally dull and overlooked bird into a great subject in flight. And then sometimes it’s just a Ring-billed Gull.

Green-winged Teal in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Green-winged Teal in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The low, slow moving water tends to attract a number of small pond ducks, and in some cases, some of the stragglers that haven’t fled south for the winter. Green-winged Teals don’t always leave Calgary in the fall, and quite often there are a pair or two in warm isolated backwaters somewhere around the city, but they’re always great to see in flight with their bright green speculum and erratic and hard to track flight patterns.

American Wigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Wigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

We also managed some good looks at a lone male American Wigeon on our Sunday walk, finally coming back into the green and white head patterning of his breeding plumage.

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

All along the sides of the canal are dozens of mountain ash trees, and everywhere we walked we could hear American Robins rustling in the bushes, on the ground, and amongst the foliage searching for berries to fatten up before many of them also fly south for the winter.

Hooded Mergansers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hooded Mergansers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Hooded Mergansers taking off Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Hooded Mergansers taking off
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

One of the best birds of the trip was this group of Hooded Mergansers, loafing about in the shallow water and maintaining a healthy distance from our group. Three males and one female had been seen most of the week, but by Sunday, the female had disappeared. Perhaps one of the many we saw at Elliston Park on the 19th?

I had taken a few minutes to let the group get ahead of me, and get myself down closer to the water to take the photos above, when an off-leash dog decided it was time to run into the water and chase the ducks! At least I was able to get a photo of these beautiful mergansers in flight as they took off in a flash!

 

Greater Yellowlegs in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Another of the highly abundant birds along the irrigation canal each autumn are the Greater Yellowlegs. Both Saturday and Sunday we counted more than 30 of these large shorebirds up and down the canal, most of them quite calm, but a few high-strung individuals would fly in and sound the alarm every once in a while, flushing a dozen or so at a time wherever they decided was just a little bit safer than where they just took off from.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This trio was an odd grouping. Two female Blue-winged Teal and a female Northern Shoveler were dabbling in the shallow water and offering us quite close looks at them without a care in the world.

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

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

Arguably the best bird of the Sunday walk was this female Rusty Blackbird, who only stuck around for a few short minutes while we watched. She quickly tired of us and our intrusion though, and flew downstream and out of sight. These birds are highly threatened, having lost 99% of their numbers in the last 30 years, and it’s rather unclear what the reasons are behind this decline. As such, it’s always a great treat to see them on their migration, or even up in their breeding habitat in the boreal forest.

That’s it for this week! Have a great one, and good birding!

A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.

While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!

Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.

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

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

We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Great Blue Heron sunning itself Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Great Blue Heron sunning itself
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

 

South Glenmore Park and the last gasp of winter

Posted by Dan Arndt

While I was away for Sunday morning’s walk, I spent some time on the following Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening visiting the reservoir and seeing what I could see. While I didn’t get any trees full of Tree Swallows, or violet-greens full of Violet-green Swallows, I did manage to get up close and personal with a number of beautiful species around the reservoir on both the north side and south side, and also managed to spot a new lifer, and an incredibly rare bird for Alberta! Unfortunately, I don’t have as much of a story to tell, as I was out by myself and spent quite a bit of time just sitting and waiting for the birds to either come to me, or allow me to get just a little closer.

Glenmore Reservoir

Glenmore Reservoir

In anticipation of knowing I wasn’t going to be around for the weekend walk, I did spend a little time at both North and South Glenmore Park, trying to capture some of the birds that I was certain we would see. On May 2, I headed to the ponds at North Glenmore Park for a little bit, where I found a few more Say’s Phoebes who allowed me much better opportunities for photographs, and a pair of Killdeer who were courting.

Killdeer North Glenmore Park May 2, 2014

Killdeer
North Glenmore Park
May 2, 2014

Say's Phoebe North Glenmore Park May 2, 2014

Say’s Phoebe
North Glenmore Park
May 2, 2014

I thought I’d share a photo of how I spent my Saturday night and Sunday morning, just so you know I wasn’t shirking my duties… it was definitely a challenge to stay warm under these conditions!

Shelter made from two tarps with my sleeping bag inside. Brr.

Shelter made from two tarps with my sleeping bag inside. Brr.

So once my Sunday trials were over and done with, I decided that the sudden squall of snow would make for some great birds at South Glenmore Park, where others had posted photos of hundreds of swallows in a single tree online, while others were reporting huge numbers of Western Tanagers at their feeders and at various parks around Calgary. I did get up close and personal with some swallows, but I also found a few obliging grebes, and a nice flyby of a young Herring Gull to boot!

immature Herring Gull South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

immature Herring Gull
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Western Grebe South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Western Grebe
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Horned Grebe South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Horned Grebe
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

And watching these swallows feeding on the surface of the water was mesmerizing. They would fly back about 100-200 meters, and slowly, against the slight wind, work their way back to the point I was sitting on before peeling back and repeating the process over and over and over again. It was really quite the sight!

Tree Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Tree Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow South Glenmore Park May 6, 2014

Violet-green Swallow
South Glenmore Park
May 6, 2014

The next night I got a call from another friend down at the reservoir who had found Alberta’s 5th (or 6th?) record of a Slaty-backed Gull on one of the sand bars. These guys are rarely seen in Calgary, and usually breed up in the high Arctic, so to get one here is really quite an accomplishment!

Slaty-backed Gull amongst Herring and Franklin's Gulls Glenmore Reservoir May 7, 2014

Slaty-backed Gull (larger, dark mantled gull beside Franklin’s Gull left of centre) amongst Herring and Franklin’s Gulls
Glenmore Reservoir
May 7, 2014

 

And with that, that wraps another week of birding in Calgary’s amazing, and surprising, spring migration!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Carburn Park Part 2: The Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the areas of Carburn Park that we visit a little less often are the flats and backwater ponds south of the main parking lot, and even further south of the Eric Harvie bridge all the way down south to the Ivor Strong Bridge where Deerfoot Trail crosses the Bow River (again). Last week’s outing was really quite incredible. Three new species that I’d never seen on the Friends of Fish Creek outings, and two that I’d never seen within the city limits before, which was really quite a treat! Enjoy!

Carburn Park south of the Eric Harvie Bridge April 27, 2014

Carburn Park south of the Eric Harvie Bridge
April 27, 2014

As we started out, we headed over to the spot where we saw the North American Beaver last week, and were greeted by a small flock of hunting Yellow-rumped Warblers, a few of which stopped to pose for some nice photos.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We headed across the Eric Harvie bridge in search of a number of Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, and a few other distant birds, but one of our surprising visitors flew overhead, and in the moment, I correctly, then incorrectly identified it. My gut instinct off the bat was to call this beauty a Ferruginous Hawk, but after a moment I changed my ID to a Red-tailed Hawk. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I was right in the first place after all, but Ferruginous Hawks aren’t really the most common bird in the Calgary area!

Ferruginous Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Ferruginous Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

This immature Red-winged Blackbird was still showing quite a bit of rusty edging on the scapulars and secondary flight feathers, indicating that this is an immature male.

Red-winged Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Red-winged Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

We headed further south along the trails and happened upon the first American White Pelican that our group would see for the year. The crest on the mandible indicates that this is a male, and he seemed content to just snooze away the morning.

American White Pelican Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

American White Pelican
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

In the trees nearby were a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees begging for a meal, a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet going about his business of looking for some food, but in an open expanse to the south an odd shape presented itself. At first, I thought it to be an American Robin, but on closer inspection it was certainly a flycatcher of some sort, and once I got even a little closer, I knew for sure that the yellowish-brown undertones, white wing bars, grayish “vest”, and crest must indicate a Say’s Phoebe, which was a great find for our group!

Say's Phoebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Say’s Phoebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another good look at yet another new spring species was this Song Sparrow that led a few of our photographers on a merry chase before stopping for a quick pose right in front of me in great light!

Song Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Down at the far south end we did find a group of Franklin’s Gulls feeding in some oddly smelling water at the mixture point between the fast-moving river water, and the slower moving back-channel. Whatever it was, they sure seemed to enjoy it!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

My first Osprey pair of the season also showed up in one of their usual spots in the area near the Lafarge gravel pit at their Bow River Aggregates site, just one of at least three pair of Osprey in and around the Carburn Park area!

Osprey having a bite Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Osprey having a bite
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

From here we headed back, and most of my group headed on their way home, but if they had stuck with me for just a few more minutes, they would have been treated to two great sights. The first of which, this Broad-winged Hawk, was my first sighting of this species in the Calgary area. While they do happen through on occasion during spring and fall migration, they had so far eluded me! You can identify this uncommon species by the broad black and white tail bands, and the black fringing on the very edge of the wings, with very light speckling on the belly and underwing.

Broad-winged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Broad-winged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

That encounter I didn’t even realize the weight of until I returned home to review my photos! So off I went, over to the second pond in search of a Common Loon that had been seen there earlier in the week. I even lucked out with a kayaker doing laps around the pond, occasionally pushing the loon just a little closer each time until I got a shot I felt was post-worthy.

Common Loon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Common Loon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Hope you enjoyed reading this post, and as always, we’ll see you next week!

Good birding!

 

Spring Begins at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

As with each of our courses, we began the Spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek down at the Friends of Fish Creek Headquarters building, and then on down to Sikome Lake, once again in search of new spring migrants. From this point on in the season my goal with the blog will be to only post new species (or better/unique photos of species we’ve found before). Since we have such a variety of available birds here during spring migration, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but here goes. Once more into the breach!

Sikome Lake and area April 6, 2014

Sikome Lake and area
April 6, 2014

It really seems like some weeks all the activity is centered around one particular area, and other weeks it’s a steady succession of interesting birds. This week was definitely the former. From the start, it seemed like a slow day. Many of the waterfowl had already been flushed by fishermen and boaters down the river, but this curious American Robin in the long dry grasses made for a nice early subject to shoot.

American Robin Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

American Robin
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Of course we just had to check in on what is likely the most famous pair of Great Horned Owls in Calgary. There were no less than a dozen others already there by the time we arrived. The mother was just poking her head out from the nest, while dad was hidden away.

female Great Horned Owl Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

female Great Horned Owl
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

While we were watching her, and then again on our return down the pathway, we found this pair of White-breasted Nuthatches foraging in some fallen logs. They were certainly a joy to shoot, and not always the most cooperative subjects! Thankfully they were more interested in the food than in staying away from us photographers!

White-breasted Nuthatch April 6, 2014

White-breasted Nuthatch
April 6, 2014

From there we headed south into the north end of Lafarge Meadows. While we did get some waterfowl on the Bow River, the photos weren’t that great, and certainly not quite up to snuff in comparison with everything else I shot that day! We did manage to see some more Lesser Scaup, Redheads, and even scoped out where a family of Common Ravens is nesting. This marks at least the fifth year (that I know of) that they’ve been nesting in the same place within the city limits.

As we returned to the starting area, we decided to take a bit of a stroll up to some well known feeding stations at the edge of Sikome Lake. While those stations didn’t turn up anything whatsoever, along the way we did see an American Tree Sparrow (not photographed) while on the same log, in fact, this Dark-eyed Junco posed quite nicely for myself and a few others.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies) Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies)
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

And who could forget the mammals? As spring comes into bloom (see what I did there? huh? huh?) the mammal activity really heats up. At the very start of our walk last Sunday were a pair of Coyotes near the headquarters building. This was the best shot I managed, as I was on the far side of the field from this one.

Coyote FCPP Headquarters Building April 6, 2014

Coyote
FCPP Headquarters Building
April 6, 2014

Of course no one could forget the typical spring mammal that every Albertan knows to watch out for (especially on the roads!), the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. This fellow sat stock still as soon as we laid eyes on him, allowing us to get in very close and observe him for as long as we could possibly have kept that up. Quite good camouflage at work there!

Richardson's Ground Squirrel Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Have a great week, and good birding!

The end of Winter at Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

Posted by Dan Arndt

I know, I know. With the title of the last two Monday morning blog posts having to do with the beginning of spring, or the end of winter, you’d think it would actually be over by now, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, one last winter storm made our last outing with the Winter session with the Friends of Fish Creek live up to its name. Blowing snow, -12 degrees C temperatures, and a whole lot of ice on the river made it feel like an outing more in line with early January than the last day of March! The quantity of species seen though, did begin to look a bit more like spring. The number of waterfowl species that were laying over on the south end of the Bow River in Calgary certainly showed us that spring, indeed, was finally just around the corner. In fact, there was so much activity on the south end of our trek that I’ve had to blow up the usual map to give proper detail on where each species was seen!

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-out view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-out view
March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-in view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-in view
March 31, 2014

While few and far between, one of the first birds that I picked out on the water last week was one of a few Cackling Geese in amongst the Canada Geese. While superficially similar, they really do stand out when sitting (or standing) near their larger cousins. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Cackling Goose was identified as its own species, with 4 subspecies identified.

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

The presence of a few duck species typically associated with prairie ponds and sloughs spending their time on the river is also another sure sign of a changing of the seasons. Both the Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler were around in good numbers, but not too close. Even a single Tundra Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Tundra Swan March 31, 2014

Tundra Swan
March 31, 2014

 

Northern Pintail March 31, 2014

Northern Pintail
March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers
March 31, 2014

Our first real good looks at the first migrant shorebirds to come through were along this stretch of river. These Killdeer are really quite hardy little birds. It’s no wonder they can be so numerous throughout the Calgary area!

Killdeer March 31, 2014

Killdeer
March 31, 2014

In addition to the migrant waterfowl and shorebird species, there were also a couple of predatory birds around. A Merlin and Northern Goshawk made passes over us almost one right after the other, and we were treated to the disjointed yet beautiful song of this calling Northern Shrike for at least ten minutes before it was flushed by some dog walkers getting a bit too close.

Northern Shrike March 31, 2014

Northern Shrike
March 31, 2014

Our first good looks at Herring Gulls this season were also along this stretch, many of which flew quite close to us, and in some cases, seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of them!

curious Herring Gull  March 31, 2014

curious Herring Gull
March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight
March 31, 2014

I mentioned Killdeer earlier, and we did come across a much larger group of them, but only thanks to the eagle eyes of Gus Yaki, which he had on loan from an eagle who decided to sleep in that day. Can you spot the Killdeer in this picture? (Hint: There are five Killdeer in this image.)

Killdeer camouflage March 31, 2014

Killdeer camouflage
March 31, 2014

My first sighting of the next species of the day happened out on Vancouver Island over Christmas of 2013, and despite many trips out last spring in search of this species, and despite their relative abundance here in the spring migration, this was my first Eurasian Wigeon in Alberta. Again, a nice bird to see at the best of times. He seemed to be having a bit of a spat with his American relatives though…

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

We did also have a nice close look at a Redhead a bit further upstream, before things seemed to get a little bit too far off in the snow to get any good images, and yet, we did seem to have some Common Mergansers stalking us as we headed back up towards the start of our journey.

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Redhead
March 31, 2014

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Canada Goose (left) and Common Mergansers (right)
March 31, 2014

And that was it for our last week of the Winter Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek!

With the start of our Spring course next week, I’ll definitely be trying to not duplicate species that I get photos of each week, much like I tried to last year, with relatively good success.

Have a great week, and until next Monday, Good Birding