Tag Archive | birding calgary

Fish Creek Big Day

Posted by Matthew Sim

So how many species of birds can you find in a single day in Fish Creek P.P.? Last year, I set out to find the answer. I turned up 93 species, 7 short of my goal of 100. This year, I was back out again, trying my luck once more.  Once again though, I fell short, managing to find a total of 89 species for the day.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon were common throughout the park.

I won’t write up too much here or I could have several pages of notes but I will point out some of the highlights, and of course, low points. Surprising this year was the lack of quite a few species that should have been easy to find. Notably, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Ruddy Duck, Tennessee Warbler, Forster’s Tern, Black Tern and Pied-billed Grebe were missing. Some of these were absent due to the (until quite recently), low water levels at the Lafarge Meadows sloughs. I had wondered why there were few birds at the sloughs and Dan helped me out by pointing out the fact that the sloughs had been quite low for the last few weeks, perhaps turning away some species.

Brewer's Blackbird

While I did have some surprising misses, I also found some good species, including the Brewer’s Blackbird above.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Although some of the common species such as Osprey were absent, most, including the Clay-colored Sparrow above and the American Goldfinch below were relatively easy to find.


Then there were some species that I missed last year but were easy to find this year. I could not find any LeConte’s Sparrows last year but this year I managed to find nearly a dozen. This little guy posed nicely for a few minutes near the Ranch.

LeConte's Sparrow

Perhaps I forgot to mention too that it was an early start? I was at the park just before 5, when the songsters were just getting started.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

One of the many birds to be singing early on was the Red-eyed Vireo. These little birds sing nice and loud but can be very tricky to spot. Luckily for me, this one Red-eyed Vireo below sang right from the top of a poplar. So although he was easy to see, he was still a long way up!

Red-eyed Vireo

It was a good day and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. I guess then it will have become the 3rd Annual Fish Creek Big Day…

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

A walk in the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

While currently back in Houston, Texas, I spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks in Calgary over Christmas. Despite the cold (!), I got out a couple times, including an afternoon walk in the Weaselhead Natural area, taking photos of the local bird life as I walked.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

A small fraction of the waxwings.

A small fraction of the waxwings.

It was quite a nice walk and good to see so many waxwings.




 Posted by Matthew Sim

It was a bright, sunny winter afternoon in Calgary, nearly two years ago to the day. I had just retreated from a chilly walk around my neighborhood and was warming up when I happened to glance out the upstairs window. Upon doing so, I noticed a strange shape down on the snow. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I realized what I was looking at, the story began to come together piece by piece. See what you come up with.

When you looked at this shot, you might have said that you see a bird’s impression in the snow. You would have been right. Now, you might have been a little more specific and described seeing a raptor’s impression. If you got this far, you did great. It’s not very easy to deduce much else. However, some may have gone even further, observing the shape of the raptor, comparing with descriptions in field guides and creating a list of possible suspects based on the fact that this was taken in Calgary, during the winter. If you came up with a few possible suspects, great work. But did you go any further?

If you did, you might have come up with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. You would be right. The wings are too rounded for Merlin or any other falcon, shape too small and body shape not to the right proportions of a buteo such as a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk and the shape is once again far too small for either an eagle or a goshawk. Therefore it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. My neighborhood in Calgary has a healthy population of 4-6 Sharp-shinned Hawks so this make sense. From here, we can piece together a story,

Imagine a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying maybe 30-40 feet high, perhaps a little lower, circling at times. From its vantage, the raptor notices a small movement in the fresh snow below. Diving down, it attempts to nab a vole caught out in the open, plunging deep into the unmarked snow. Then what? Tough to say, and it will be a great mystery; we can only speculate at the final result but here is a breakdown of the photo.

I still wonder about the impression in the top right; what happened? Did the vole escape the hawk’s clutches the first time only to succumb to the second attempt? Did the hawk attempt to lift off without getting enough momentum the first go? Or was the impression in the corner caused  by snow falling off a tree limb?

It was quite interesting to see all the same, regardless of what the result was.

Nooks and crannies; the process of saving seeds

Posted by Matthew Sim

I maintain bird feeders in my yard in Calgary all the time when I am around. Suet feeders, a tray feeder for millet, a peanut feeder, a niger feeder for siskins and goldfinches, a feeder for sunflower seeds; you name it. I enjoy watching the regular species of birds (and squirrels!) come in to eat and the occasional unusual species. When I watch “my” birds, I often notice intriguing behavior; the way that the Red-breasted Nuthatches stored food is particularly interesting. The nuthatches take a seed from the feeder, head to my fence and hide the seed there in a nook or cranny. Later, whether it be days, weeks or months, they would eventually come back looking for the seeds, providing some entertainment as we observe their antics.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, searching for a sunflower seed hidden somewhere along the fence

Is it down here, perhaps?

Maybe if I come at it from this angle…

Certainly is amazing what you can see from your backyard!

Calgary Herald Bird Photography competition

Posted by Matthew Sim

Interested in entering a local bird photography competition? For those of you who haven’t yet seen the article, the Calgary Herald is having a contest for bird photos seen in and around Calgary with the chance to win a copy of the National Geographic Bird Watcher’s Bible: A Complete Treasury.  There are 4 simple ways to enter:

1. Tweet your photo on Twitter with the hashtag #yycphotovote in the tweet.

2. Submit your photo via Instagram with hashtag #yycphotovote in the caption.

3. Post it to the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page.

4. Email the photo as an attachment to readercontributions@calgaryherald.com.

Swainson’s Hawk

If you haven’t submitted any photos, go ahead and give it a try! The winners will be announced next Sunday on the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page. You can find out more about the competition here.

Good luck!


Bird Profile: Least Sandpiper, the smallest of them all

Last week I went out for a walk in my neighborhood down here in Houston, Texas. As I walked along a storm water retention basin, I noticed 2 very small shorebirds hanging out with the usual Killdeer. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they were Least Sandpipers, a species that shows up several times a year in my neighborhood during migration.

These Least Sandpipers are quite unique and their name might give you a hint as to why; this species is the smallest shorebird in the world at a mere 13-15 cm in length and weighing only 19-30 grams. The pair that I saw provided an interesting look at differences in plumage, while one was a drab adult in winter plumage, the other was a more brightly colored juvenile.

Adult Least Sandpiper in winter plumage

Juvenile Least Sandpiper

The Least Sandpiper is a shorebird known as a peep, a group of small, difficult to identify sandpipers. While many “peeps” can be challenging to identify, the Least Sandpiper is usually fairly easy to name. The number one characteristic that separates the Least from other peeps is its yellow legs, (the others have black legs) though sometimes their legs can appear dark in poor light or when covered with mud. I once read an interesting article from the American Birding Association (ABA) that described how to identify peeps based on posture; the Least Sandpiper, it said, could be separated from the other 4 regularly occurring North American peeps by these habits:

  1. They typically feed from a crouched position with their “knees” (tibia-tarsus joint) almost brushing the ground
  2. The way they plant their feet can often make it seem like they are feeding between their toes though this is not quite as evident in my photos
  3. Least Sandpipers also seem quite nervous, glancing around a lot and freezing at any sudden noise or motion.

Least Sandpiper in breeding plumage

I found this ABA article quite interesting because it adds a whole new dimension to birding, birding by posture, that not everybody may use or be aware of. You can read the full article here.

While the Least Sandpipers I saw this past week were quite timid as always, once I sat down and waited patiently, the juvenile approached me and passed by me within feet, though I had to be careful not to make any sudden motions.

Least Sandpipers have likely all passed through Calgary already on the way back from their arctic breeding grounds to warmer regions in the southern U.S.A., Mexico and South America where they will spend the winter however next May they will be right back again, to complete their long travels once again.

Migration at Hull’s Wood

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last week I rode my bike down to Hull’s Wood in Fish Creek P.P. twice to see how migration was coming along; I was not disappointed! As I rode through the woods both times, the chips of warblers and sparrows emanated from the trees and shrubs along the river. The woods were full of Yellow Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Least Flycatchers and Warbling Vireos (not all of these were migrants) while several American Redstarts, Tennessee Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes and Baltimore Orioles were also present. There was also a single male Wilson’s Warbler, a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a single Connecticut Warbler.

Least Flycatcher

Connecticut Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

This was all quite exciting but by 10:30 a.m. both days things quieted down for warblers so I went to Lafarge Meadows to check out shorebirds. Both days I found 6 species of shorebirds in Lafarge Meadows along the Bow River; Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Migration is coming along well, so if you have the opportunity, get out there! There are lots of great spots in and around Calgary for migrating birds whether it be Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Confederation Park, Weed Lake, Fish Creek P.P. or your own yard, find your favorite spot for migration and sit back and enjoy the show!

Clash of the herons

Posted by Matthew Sim

On a recent bike ride of mine to Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek P.P. I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron in a storm water pond so I got myself into a good position to photograph it. I sat watching and photographing the heron for some time when suddenly, an adult Great Blue flew in.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

A rather impressive landing…

The adult heron seemed to “own” the ponds and did not take kindly to the young heron fishing in his waters. The adult proceeded to hunch himself up in a bid to frighten the juvenile.

All hunched up, the adult Great Blue proceeded to hurriedly chase the juvenile around the pond until finally the young heron took a running start and flew off.

Taking off with a running start.

Far from being content however, the adult flew after the young one and the two of them disappeared over the hills. I didn’t move from my position however, because I had a feeling that at least one of the herons would be returning. Sure, enough, several minutes later, the adult returned finally content at having chased the young upstart off of his territory.

Finally able to relax and scratch his head.

Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird


Father’s Day at Frank Lake

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last Sunday, my family decided to spend some time at Frank Lake for Father’s Day.  This birding hotspot has featured in many of our posts before but even so, one can never tire of visiting the lake. During every season, something of interest can be seen there and Father’s Day was no exception. As we parked the car and headed down to the blind, we were astonished by the multitude of winged creatures around us; Common Terns, American Coots, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes were among the birds we saw.

Forster’s Terns appeared to be nesting in the reeds near the blind and many were fishing in the waters all around us.

Forster’s Tern

While walking along the boardwalk, we stopped to admire this Muskrat munching on a reed just feet away from us.

We thought we were seeing some great things, which we were, but when we got to the blind, we saw something that was truly amazing.

Nature’s taxi

There were several families of Eared Grebes hanging out around the blind; the mothers playing taxi to their young chicks while the fathers dove and swam about, gathering food for the young.

Occasionally, the mothers would shake the chicks off their backs; either tired of carrying their young charges or attempting to get them practicing swimming.

While we were watching the grebes, activity went on as always with the other birds and there were many White-faced Ibises flying by us.

Eventually, we had to leave, though it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the blind. Good birds were still to be seen on the way out though as we spotted a singing LeConte’s Sparrow by the parking area near the blind, the Trumpeter Swan near the sewage outfall who has been there for some time, at least 3 pairs of American Avocets by the sewage outfall and a singing Western Meadowlark perched on a fencepost.

Western Meadowlark

If you can, I would really recommend getting out to Frank Lake soon as the birds are simply amazing right now.