Tag Archive | birds of calgary

Walking the Weaselhead

As a Calgary native, I consider it a particularly unfortunate state of affairs that it’s only in the last two years that I began exploring the Weaselhead. Accessed from either North or South Glenmore Park, it is quite likely one of Calgary’s most unique micro-environments, in which three species of hummingbird can be found in the summer, and the Boreal Chickadee can be found in winter. Hearing that it would be the location for our final birding walk of the autumn birding course, I was excited at the opportunity to see some new and exciting species.

It began by walking down the winding trail from the 37th Street parking lot at the western entrance to North Glenmore Park. After stocking one of the feeding stations, we briefly left, but rushed straight back when we noticed a robin-sized bird fly in and land on the ground at the feeder. It was another photo first for me to be able to snap some very close-up shots of a Pine Grosbeak. One of the distinctly beautiful birds both for its song and plumage, with a brutally sharp bite.

Heading down to the bottom feeder stations, we were delighted by the number of Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Common Redpolls taking advantage of the free food available at the feeders.
This Downy Woodpecker also was taking an interest in the feeders, and seemed entirely unfazed at how close we were able to get.
Across the bridge we were treated to the sight of a few more Common Redpolls, followed by Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding at the fence-posts along the pathway.
I think our best bird of the day though was this Pileated Woodpecker who made an appearance and actually sat still long enough for us to get some shots of it.
The feeding station where the Boreal Chickadee pair had been seen all week was productive, but unfortunately the Boreal Chickadees didn’t show up. We did get some nice close views of the Red-breasted Nuthatches again, and the more common Black-capped Chickadees and a single Northern Flicker.
Finally we headed back, only seeing the same species at those feeders on the way back, and nothing in particular that really stole the show from the beautiful Pileated Woodpecker.
And that wrapped up the Autumn Birding course for us. In the new year, Bob Lefebvre will be leading a Sunday walk with the same group until mid to late April, and between now and then are a few important outings on my list, the biggest of which being the Christmas Bird Count, which I’ll post my photos and stories from next week.
Posted by Daniel Arndt.

Tips on Bird Photography

I think it is safe to say that most of us here have an interest in birdwatching. Some of us are also interested in photographing birds, documenting what we see and also enabling others to enjoy these sightings . Bird photography can be very tricky though and doesn’t always come out the way we want it to. Through trial and error as well as tips from other nature photographers, I have slowly learned different tricks of the trade and am still learning. Here is one trick that I have found helps me a lot.

Take a look at the picture above. Probably doesn’t do much for you, right? Just a killdeer photograph, nothing exciting about the shot itself. What could have been done to make this a better photograph? I have found that getting low can often drastically improve the photo. Get down at eye level with the bird, you can often create better eye contact with the bird, bringing the viewer into a connection with the photo. The Killdeer will then seem more interesting, not only because of the lower angle, but because of the  change in the depth of field of the shot.

Depth of field (also known as DOF), is the term for the amount of distance between the closest and farthest objects that appear sharp in the photograph. In the second picture above, a shallower depth of field (meaning a blurry background) makes the photo less distracting and more pleasing to the eye. In the photo pictured below, I took it one step further, instead of simply kneeling, I lay on my stomach, creating a very shallow depth of field and therefore, a picture that is more likely to catch your eye than the first photo.

Changing the depth of field is a remarkably simple technique but incredibly powerful in the way a photo comes out. By getting low, chances are you can improve your bird photography.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Sunday Showcase: Calgary Corvids

Corvids, which are crows and jays, are classified by their harsh voices and their aggressive manner, both of which draw attention to themselves; large and often very gregarious birds. Most corvids have bristles on their nostrils, located on very powerful, all-purpose beaks built specially for handling their varied diet ( berries, fruits, seeds, invertebrates, small mammals and carrion). Here are most of the species that you may see in the Calgary region, the only one missing, is the colorful Steller’s Jay.

American Crow

Blue Jay

Grey Jay

Clark's Nutcracker

Common Ravens

Black-billed Magpie

Posted by Matthew Sim

Christmas Bird Count 2011 – Here’s Your Chance to Volunteer!

House Finch

The 60th annual Calgary Christmas Bird Count will take place this year on Sunday, December 18th.  There are two ways to get involved – as a birder in the field, or as a feeder-watcher in your yard.

There are over thirty territories in the count circle, so we need to get a lot of birders out in the field to identify and count all the birds.  In recent years the number of field volunteers has dropped below 100, and we’d like to get it back up over that number for this 60th count.

The Count Circle (click to enlarge).

If you’d like to help with this, please consider volunteering.  You don’t have to be an expert birder – there will be at least one experienced birder in each territory, so you will be assigned to help them out.  Most groups will be going out for the full day, but you can participate for a half-day if you wish.

Contact Phil Cram at crampj@telusplanet.net to volunteer, or for more information.  

American Wigeons


If you are unable to get out birding with us on December 18, you can still participate by spending some time counting the birds in your yard.  You needn’t spend all day at this, but should try to record the maximum numbers of each species in your yard, and the time spent watching.

To participate as a feeder-watcher, you must register to take part, and live within the above 24-km-diametre count circle.  If you are outside the circle, perhaps you have friends who feed birds and live within it – you could persuade them to take part, and assist them with their counting.

Contact Jean Moore at jmmoore@ucalgary.ca or phone 403-282-4162 for more information on the feeder-watch program, or to volunteer.

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

There are several other Christmas Counts in the Calgary region every year.  Keep an eye on our “Free Nature Walks” tab at the top of this page for updates on these, or see the Bird Studies Canada page to find a list of all counts in Canada.

(Previous blog posts on this topic: 2009 Christmas Count2010 Christmas Count.)

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.  All photos by myself unless otherwise indicated.  Click on pictures to see a larger version.

Bird Profile: Bohemian Waxwing

A rush of wings, followed  instantly by  high-pitched trills break the silence. It is a cold, wintry scene, snow falling slowly from the never-ending sheet of clouds that blanket the sky in a gloomy grey. Standing still, nothing is to be heard; no cars, no people, and, above all, no birds. Just when it seems as though the entire world has gone into a peaceful slumber, the calm is broken by the sound of nature.

When they descend in hundreds, berries don’t last long at all. These birds are highly social and travel tight together, descending en masse on fruit bearing trees, where they proceed to rapidly consume thousands of berries. A very hardy bird, the Bohemian Waxwing toughs out the frigid winters of northern latitudes, enduring harsh conditions.The waxwing is both gregarious and elegant with a slick crest, and soft, silky plumage; it is deemed attractive by many. Named for the red, drop-shaped, waxlike tip on their feathers, this bird has warm grey-brown plumage, a black patch through the eye and a yellow-tipped tail. Bohemian Waxwings are berry aficionados and during winter, survive on the fruit of trees such as mountain ash and juniper, but also eat saskatoon and choke berries. Such a heavy reliance on one source of food can greatly affect a birds population and will cause much fluctuation. If there is a high population one year and a low fruit crop the same year, many waxwings will disperse in winter further south out of their regular mapped range. These years are known as irruptive years and are cherished by southern birders who do not usually get the opportunity to observe these birds.

I love witnessing large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings, it is possible to hear the whir of thousands of wings as they land, the twittering as they communicate endlessly, and the soft thud of berries as the fruit falls into the snow below, dropped by  a careless tug from the beak of a waxwing. Sometimes, after the flock has left, the snow will be littered with bright red berries. Then as cars and people pass over the fruit, the snow will be stained a rose color, evidence of the masses of birds that banqueted there.

Remember next time you are shoveling snow in -30 degree weather; you are privileged in that you can witness this elegant species brightening up the dull grey day. These birds are truly northern and hardly extend into the U.S. They are definitely one of the things I will miss most about Calgary winters.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Nov 3

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary? If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, us email us at zoxox@shaw.ca  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

This Bird Alert was recorded on Thursday Nov 3.

Bird Sightings:

–LONG-TAILED DUCK (1) – Glenmore Reservoir by Andrew Slater
–SURF SCOTER (2) – location as above by AS
–LOON sp (1) – unidentified loon in flight, Glenmore Resevoir by AS
–RUSTY BLACKBIRD (4) – east shore of Chestermere Lake by Terry Korolyk

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (1m) – observed by Keith Logan and another birder on an acreage S of Water Valley, along Dogpound Creek just W of Horse Creek Road (NW of Cochrane). The identification of the bird was confirmed by photographs and is the first Alberta record for the species. The bird has not been reported since. For more
info call Terry Korolyk at 403-254-1828 or 403-801-8501
–THAYER’S GULL (3 juv) – on the Bow River in east Fish Creek PP, east side of the river north of Hwy 22X bridge by TK

The next scheduled update of the Bird Alert is on Monday November 7.

Saturday Selection: Winter Birds in the Calgary area

Here is a photographic collection of some of the birds you may see in the Calgary region this winter.

Snowy Owl

Common Merganser

Hairy Woodpecker

Mountain Chickadee

Brown Creeper

Red Crossbill

Posted by Matthew Sim

Revering a Raptor

From the day that I first laid eyes on the species, gliding on broad wings over a coniferous forest in the Rocky mountains of Alberta, I have always looked with awe at it, astounded by its sheer magnificence. Many people have soft spots for raptors. I have a soft spot for one in particular: the Northern Goshawk.

I first saw a goshawk just over a year ago. It was early October 2010, and I had signed up for the Mount Lorette Golden Eagle field trip with Nature Calgary. I went out on my own to explore the area right around the location of the watch, and, while out on the path, witnessed an adult goshawk rise up from the spruce trees and circle away. From that moment on I was always looking for goshawks; every chance I got, I would go searching for them.

Rising up out of the forest; my first views of a Northern Goshawk

Several days later, on a biking trip to Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across an adult Goshawk perched high up in a poplar, sitting and gazing at the world around him. I stood and watched this magnificent raptor for more than half an hour, pointing the bird out to anybody who came near. Many of these were joggers or were merely walking their dogs. They took little interest in this bird, that is somewhat tricky to spot in the city of Calgary. I was rewarded though by the few who did pause to look up at the goshawk and comment on his size.

“What did you say it was called?”

“A Northern Goshawk”, I would reply eagerly, ” it’s somewhat unusual here in Calgary.”

“Really? Wow! Look at how big he his!” After staring up at him for several more seconds, they would smile and move on. Hopefully the Goshawk had made an impression on them though.

While I watched this large, strong accipter (agile, forest dwelling hawks with short rounded wings and long tails) it scratched its head withs its talon, giving me glimpses of those wicked sharp utensils it uses to tear apart its prey. Eventually, it lifted off and disappeared amongst the trees.

Goshawks are among the largest, strongest and most audacious of the hawks of North America. In November 2010, a little over a month since I first observed this species, I got an excellent opportunity to view this audacity. I was riding my bike home from Fish Creek and was running slightly late. I looked down for a moment as I pulled onto a dirt path going around a storm water pond, and, when I looked up again, there, sitting merely yards away from me in a small tree no taller than 10 feet, was an adult goshawk. They now seemed to be everywhere I went! I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could and screeched to a stop, panting breathlessly. Pulling out my camera, I marveled at how close this bird had let me get. I stood watching him, he stood watching me, this went on for several minutes before he abruptly flew away.

Taken with a 200mm lens and no crop; I could see every detail in the feathers

Instead of leaving altogether though, the goshawk started hovering over a field, pulled up, started hovering again and then pulled up once more. Then, with a sharp turn, he came whizzing right at me and flew by me at a distance of about 4 feet! The raptor was so close that my lens couldn’t focus on it!

These incredibly neat personal experiences combined with an amazingly beautiful species, have come to make me love the Northern Goshawk.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Oct 20

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary? If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, us email us at zoxox@shaw.ca  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

This Bird Albert was recorded on Oct 20, 2011.

OCT 16

GREAT GRAY OWL – Grand Valley Road on the first east-west section of road past the 4-way stop, Ron Kube
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 4 juveniles, yard in Mount Royal, Phil Cram
TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE – on the summit of Sulphur Mtn in Banff NP, Thomas Glen
RUSTY BLACKBIRD – Found again at a slough east of Calgary on Rge Rd 28 just south of Glenmore Trail, RK

OCT 17

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – over 60 seen by Gus Yaki and the FFCPPSoc at Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek PP
RED CROSSBILL – 4 juveniles/females, yard in Mount Royal, PC

OCT 18

RED-THROATED LOON – on Glenmore Reservoir between Yacht Club and Canoe Club, TG
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 12 in Votier’s Flats of Fish Creek PP, Gus Yaki and the FFCPPSoc
RED CROSSBILL – 3, as above
NORTHERN GOSHAWK – 2, as above
PINE GROSBEAK – 1, as above; also 2 immature/female birds seen by PC in Britannia

OCT 19

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – more than 60 seen by GY and the FFCPPSoc at Votier’s Flats
PACIFIC LOON – 1 seen on Glenmore Reservoir from Heritage Park, Bill Wilson

The next scheduled update of the bird alert is on Mon Oct 24.