Tag Archive | birds native to calgary

Sunday Showcase: Spotless Spotted Sandpiper

Posted by Matthew Sim

Okay, try saying that 10 times fast. Spotted Sandpipers, while spotted in their breeding plumage, do not have spots in winter or when they are juveniles.  Juveniles can be separated from winter plumaged birds by the scaling and barring on their upperparts, which nonbreeding adults do not have. Right around now, we start to see juveniles so look out for them; I recently found this juvenile in Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park.

 

 

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

Muskrat

Bird Profile: Tree Swallow

Posted by Matthew Sim

During the summer, Calgary is home to 5 species of swallow; Barn, Cliff, Bank, Northern Rough-winged and Tree Swallows can all be reliably found in the city during the warmer months. The Tree Swallow, perhaps the most common species of swallow here is a favorite bird of mine because of their personality. They always seem to be communicating with one another and I find it humorous to sit back from time to time and watch as a pair on a branch lean back and forth, chattering away to each other.

The Tree Swallow is, of course, a member of the swallow family, (the family is known by the latin name Hirundinidae) small, slender songbirds with small bills and long, pointed wings. A swallow’s sleek form allows it to be an ”adept aerialist”, as described in the National Geographic field guides, and they use this form well as they are always darting and swooping about catching flying insects.

The Tree Swallow is separated from other swallows by its blue-green feathers on its upper parts and white plumage below.

Identified by its blue-green upperparts and white underparts,  the tree swallow can be seen flying around meadows and open fields and in wooded habitat near water, such as down along the river in Fish Creek. In fact, just last week as I was exploring some trails in Fish Creek Provincial Park by the river, I came across a Tree Swallow nesting in a cavity right at eye-level in a poplar tree.

Down in that hole, just out of eyesight, is the Tree Swallow’s nest, which is an open cup of grass lined with plenty of feathers- most will likely be from waterfowl on the river. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says about these guy’s nests; “the Tree Swallow uses many feathers from other birds in its nest. The feathers help keep the nestlings warm so they can grow faster. They help keep levels of ectoparasites, like mites, low too.”

Now, perhaps, you know a little bit more about these beautiful and graceful birds. I know that I learned quite a lot as I did research for this post. And though you probably see plenty of Tree Swallows during the summer here in Calgary, next time you see one, I want you to stop and just observe it for a while; I’m sure you will see that they have lots of character!

A Sharp-shinned in my yard

Posted by Matthew Sim

The other day, I was sitting outside in my yard, soaking up some sunshine when I heard a big commotion coming from the spruce tree in my yard. There were Grackles, Robins, Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making as much noise as they possibly could. The reason? Look at the photo below; do you see anything?

How about now?

Though the Sharp-shinned hawk was rather well hidden, it couldn’t hide from the neighborhood birds who know all too well what will happen if they leave this predator undisturbed.

Here are some more photos of this beautiful bird.

Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Thursday, I went out for a walk in the Weaselhead with local nature expert Gus Yaki and a group of other birders. Our target species were the 2 species of hummingbird that call this park home; the Calliope Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Though we saw and heard many great species on our walk, for this post I will concentrate on the hummingbirds.

When we reached the area where Calliope Hummingbirds are usually seen, we scanned around with our binoculars, searching for this tiny bird. The smallest bird in North America at 8cm in length (3.25 inches), this hummingbird can sometimes be passed off as a large bee. After several minutes, somebody found this beautiful male perched at the top of a spruce tree.

Male Calliope Hummingbird

We observed this little guy (the Calliope is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world) as Gus told us many neat facts about the species. For example, the pink streaks on the male’s throat form a V-shaped gorget, and these streaks are rather long, so that when the male turns his head, the streaks will actually reach back over his shoulder. This was my first time seeing the species so I was particularly enthralled with the bird. After some time, we moved on, back closer to the river in search of the Rufous Hummingbird.

We had to walk through some muddy spots to get to the habitat where the male Rufous is likely to be seen but was it ever worth it! When we got there, someone soon spotted the male Rufous and we soon all had our binoculars trained on him as he displayed his gorgeous orange-red gorget.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird was moving around a lot and we got to see him at various spots; perched and in flight.

At one point, he even came to the bushes right behind us and started feeding.  Gus told us that these bushes were actually Siberian Peashrub, more commonly known as Caragana. They are an invasive species that totally dominates the environment, so that no other flowering plants live in the area ( it covers 10-12 acres on the north side of the Elbow river). Male Rufous Hummingbirds  feed on these plants because of the abundant if  only temporarily nectar, however the females, which raise their families alone without the help of the males, realise that there is not enough nectar to raise a family on and head elsewhere, to richer, more natural environments. The males are then at a biological dead-end and do not have the oppurtunity to pass on their genes. This was quite fascinating and I would not have learned this had I not been on the trip with Gus. Thanks Gus!

He showed off his colors beautifully, revealing how he got his name.

We had a great morning watching these hummingbirds and learning lots about them thanks to Gus’ vast wealth of knowledge.

A trip to Fish Creek

Posted by Matthew Sim

After arriving back in Calgary from Houston for the summer last Friday, I couldn’t wait to get back out to Fish Creek. Sunday morning found me up bright and early (6:00) and out on my bike, riding down to Fish Creek Provincial Park, one of my favorite birding (and for that matter, one of my favorite natural) locations.

Almost immediately, I was seeing good birds. At the stormwater ponds between the Glennfield area and the Bow Valley Ranch I saw lots of waterfowl, including a pair of Cinnamon Teal and many Common Goldeneye ducklings.

Cinnamon Teal; male on the right, female partially hidden on the left

Goldeneye ducklings

At one pond, a coyote was hunting something in the long grass and remained oblivious to my presence.

After observing the coyote for some time, I continued riding my back towards the Ranch. I crossed bridge #11 and started towards Sikome and the river, but stopped abruptly when I saw the Great Horned Owl family; 5 in all, 3 owlets and their parents.

We as Calgarians are truly lucky to be able to observe owlets up close each year as they are never far off the path in Fish Creek. I marveled at the owls seemingly majestic haughtiness, as they all stared me down. Before long, I was off again, stopping again when I saw a strange sight at the top of a conifer. At the very top was a Brown-headed Cowbird, surrounded by what must have been millions of little bugs.

As I passed through the Sikome area, I observed many Richardson’s Ground Squirrels.

As I finally reached the river and the Hull’s Wood area of the park, I spotted what was probably the most colorful bird of the day; a male Baltimore Oriole.

There was a female with him and they seemed to be paired up, however she was more secretive as she gathered nest material and disappeared high into the poplars to build her hanging nest.

This trip to Fish Creek was excellent, and for me, having moved away, I now fully appreciate what a great park Fish Creek is.

Bird Profile: Western Tanager

Posted by Matthew Sim

Each year, spring migration brings something different. The year I first bought my camera, migration brought to me several brilliant male Western Tangers. This was the first time that I was really enthusiastic about birding and, with birds like this in my backyard, it is not difficult to see why.

The Western Tanager has to be, in my honest opinion, one of the top 5 most beautiful species that we can see in Calgary. Its red, yellow and black plumage make it stand out during migration, when the trees are still bare of leaves, but be warned, once the leaves come out, this brilliant songster all but disappears into the forests, becoming rather inconspicuous despite its bright colors.

A bright-red head combined with black wings, back and tail and canary-yellow underparts and neck are what make the male so beautiful. The female, considerably duller, is green olive above and yellow below. Arriving in southern Alberta in early to mid-May (they arrive later in the month in the mountains), the Western Tanager heads to boreal and montane forests to breed. Though the species prefers coniferous and mixed forests for nesting, during migration, it frequents a wider range of forests.

The Western Tanager can be seen in the city in areas such as Bebo Grove in Fish Creek or Edworthy Park during the summer. Outside of the city, they can be seen in the mountains and in the Water Valley area, among other locations. During the month of May,you might even spot one in your own yard- they are most often seen among the higher branches of trees so remember to look up!

Did you know…

The red on the Western Tanager’s face is formed by the pigment rhodoxanthin, a pigment not usually found in birds. The other tanagers (such as the Scarlet Tanager) make the pigments that give them their bright colors however, rhodoxanthin is not manufactured by the Western Tanager  meaning that they must obtain it from the food that they eat (probably insects who in turn gain this pigment from the plants they eat).

Sunday Showcase: Common Calgary Gulls

 Posted by Matthew Sim

Though we see them a lot during the summer, most of us have some difficulty in identifying these guys;  so here’s a breakdown of the common Calgary gulls.

California Gull; identified by rounded head, red and black spot on bill and greenish-yellow legs. Also note completely dark eye.

Franklin's Gull, the easiest gull in Calgary as it is, for the most part, the only one with a black head. Also note the white eye-crescents and the bright red beak.

Ring-billed Gull with its namesake ringed bill is probably the most common gull in Calgary and is often seen in parking lots.I separated from the Herring Gull by its yellow legs. Similar to California Gull, which has a darker eye.

The Herring Gull is nearly identical to the Ring-billed Gull, the one big difference though is the legs. Herring Gulls have pink legs while Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs.

Though identifying gulls can be very difficult, hopefully this helps you next time you see a gull in Calgary.

Monitoring a Flicker nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

As spring approaches once again, I like to reminisce about the previous year and all of its most exciting moments.

For the past several years, flickers have nested in my neighbor’s tree. I had never really observed this nest closely before; however, last year, I did just that.  Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or dying tree trunks or large branches. These nest holes are most often found at 6-15 feet off the ground and will often be reused.  By late May/ early June in Calgary most flickers have laid their 5-8 white eggs. I started to notice that the flickers were more active around the nest in early June and it is my belief that on around the 3rd or 4th of June, “my” pair laid their eggs.

This is the nest hole with the female looking out on June 10. The flickers had been in and out of the hole since late May

    Incubation of the eggs ranges from 14-16 days and I had been closely following all the bird’s actions in attempt to discover when the eggs would hatch. On June 24, I heard the first sounds coming from the hole. The flickers had been born! I think that we can assume that there is a possibility that the young flickers were born a day or two earlier and I had not heard them until then.

If you compare this shot with the photo above, you can see that the leaves around the hole grew a lot as the summer progessed, adding even more security and privacy to the flicker residence.

The first visible evidence of the young flickers was the clean-up crew. As all parents can attest to, there is a lot of cleaning up involved with kids.  The adult flickers, both male (pictured in photo above) and female, had to work constantly to ensure that their young were well-fed, safe from predators and, perhaps most importantly, in a clean home.

July 1st came around and I had still not seen the young flickers, though I had definitely heard them. Each and every day they were getting louder and louder and soon I could hear them from across the alley, in my yard, maybe 35 feet away. The young flickers cry is often described as a hissing noise and is uttered for two weeks, day and night, growing stronger as the birds grow older.  I was not worried about not having seen the flickers yet as their eyes do not open until they are ten days old, so  wouldn’t be seeing them until then. July 3, I was up in Banff, where I happened upon a flicker nest with two young already poking their heads out of their hole. At that point, I couldn’t help but wonder how my flickers were doing.

July 5th, marked a special day for my monitoring project. That day, I got my first glimpse of the young flickers. I took my first photos of the young flickers on July 9th, and they were looking healthy and fit; all 3 of them!

But that’s where it went all wrong. The nest holes of flickers (and often of many other species of birds) are the scenes of very fierce battles. Three young birds with very sharp bills, duking it out for supremacy and the right to remain looking out of the nest hole, therefore receiving the most food. The stronger birds almost invariably end up on top, and maintain their authority by jabbing the others with vicious pecks of their beak. The opening is only big enough for two heads and the third one gets pushed to the bottom. There, the young flicker receives very little food and consequently, it perishes. July 9th, I took the photo above, showing 3 young flickers. By the next day, July 10th, I was only seeing 2 young flickers.

Disappointed though I was, I realized that sometimes, this is the way nature must work. I continued to watch the flickers for several days, amazed at the rate at which they grew. After about 4 weeks, the flickers would fledge and would begin to leave the nest; my flickers started appearing out of the nest around July 16th. The two young birds started hopping about and practicing flying, getting ready for the day when they would leave the nest altogether.

Than one day, I did not see the flickers. Nor did I see them the next day. Or the day after that. It would seem that the two young flickers that I had watched for a nearly a month had successfully fledged. I don’t think I ever saw these two again, though I was seeing flickers in the neighborhood, which might just have been one of the young. From time to time, I did hear the distant call of several Northern Flickers and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the fledgelings, calling away.

 

Active feeding!

While I was in Calgary over the holidays I took some photographs of feeding nuthatches and I thought I would share them with you so as to illustrate some of the effort that these little guys put into this common daily activity!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the way nuthatches feed perfectly, ” an intense ball of energy “, is exactly what they are!

When they start hacking away, usually their legs are the only part of their bodies not moving!

 

Posted by Matthew Sim