Tag Archive | Blue Jay

Winter Birds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many local birders have been heading down to the Weaselhead Nature Area recently to see several owl species, notable a Barred Owl, which is a species not often seen in the city.

Barred Owl, Weaselhead (South Glenmore Park), January 24, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

Barred Owl, Weaselhead (South Glenmore Park), January 24, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

The Barred Owl is usually seen on the north-facing slope of South Glenmore Park just above the Weaselhead. In the Weaselhead proper there have been sightings of a Northern Pygmy Owl, Great Horned Owls, and a Northern Saw-whet Owl this month.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, west Weaselhead, January 25, 2017. Photo by David Mitchell

The Weaselhead is a great place for winter birds as it attracts the visiting winter finches as well as many of our resident birds, and it has a variety of mammals as well. Below are some birds and mammals of the Weaselhead photographed by Tony LePrieur.

Pine Grosbeak, male, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak, female/immature, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak, male, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Pine Grosbeaks are here in small numbers this winter and the Weaselhead is probably the best place to find them. They readily come to the feeding stations along the main path.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwing, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwings roost overnight in the Weaselhead in huge numbers but might be found there at any time of the day in winter.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Common Redpoll, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Another of our visiting winter finches, redpolls (common and Hoary) are here in small numbers this winter. They are easy to find in the Weaselhead as they also go to the feeders.

Black-capped Chickadee, Weaselhead, January 8, 2017.

Black-capped Chickadees are one of the most common songbirds in the Weaselhead year-round. You can also find Boreal Chickadees and occasionally Mountain Chickadees there.

Downy Woodpecker, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Hairy Woodpecker, male, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Other resident woodpeckers are the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker (Flickers are migratory but we have some here year-round). In winter you can sometimes find Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers as well.

Blue Jay, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon subspecies), Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

These sparrows are more commonly seen in the winter, and it is far more common to see the Slate-colored subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.

Pine Siskin, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Siskins are erratic in their movements and there are very few in the city right now. When there are big flocks around you will find them in the Weaselhead.

White-throated Sparrow, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

White-throated Sparrows are common breeders in the Weaselhead and you can hear them singing loudly there in the spring. Usually a few overwinter in Calgary, but I haven’t heard of any in the Weaselhead this winter.

American Tree Sparrow, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Tree Sparrows pass through on migration but we often have some overwinter here. They will come to seeds under the feeders in the Weaselhead. Again, I haven’t heard of any this winter.

And now for a few mammals.

Coyote, Weaselhead, January 21, 2017.

Coyote, Weaselhead, December 6, 2015.

Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 28, 2016.

Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, January 28, 2017.

I seem to see more Meadow Voles in the Weaselhead than anywhere else. In the winter look for them scurrying under feeders to quickly grab a seed. They are the preferred prey for Northern Pygmy-Owls.

Bobcat, Weaselhead, December 13, 2015.

Bobcats are seen more often in the Weaselhead than anywhere else in the city. To see more photos of this one and the rest of its family, see this post.

The Weaselhead is also one of the best places in the city to see Snowshoe Hares and, in the summer, Least Chipmunks. Red Squirrels are also common, and it is one of the few places in the city where you can reliably find Northern Flying Squirrels.

Ron Pittaway’s 2016-2017 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

With another summer season coming to an end, and many of our fall migrants beginning to trail off, thoughts turn to what the winter may bring to us in southern Alberta.

You can find the original article here: Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast 2016-2017. If you’ve read it already, you might notice there’s a fairly strong emphasis on eastern Canada and the U.S., and some mentions of “Western Canada”. Without further ado, here’s a species by species breakdown of what I think we’re likely to expect here in the Calgary region.

 

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

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

Ron’s “General Forecast” describes cone crops as: “good to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska”. Also, due to the drought conditions in much of the east this year, the cone crops in that region are poor, so the birds that would regularly winter there will be moving east, west, or south to find food.

Pine Grosbeak:

Mountain Ash berries are their preferred food, and as those crops are good throughout the boreal region, chances of seeing many of them this winter are low. They are often found at high elevation in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary during the breeding season. Mountain Ash is a decorative tree throughout much of the Calgary area, which will likely draw some down from the mountains.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Purple Finch:

As the cone crops are in good shape here this year we should expect to see Purple Finches rarely. They’re never really in the Calgary area in large numbers, but if you’re looking to attract them, black-oil sunflower is your best bet.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Red Crossbill:

While it’s unlikely for us to get a Red Crossbill irruption quite as good as what we had last year, it’ll still be a fairly good year for them throughout the pine and spruce in southern Alberta. The west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park is always a good place to find them, and Griffith Woods is another good spot.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

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

White-winged Crossbill:

As with the Red Crossbills, this species has moved west to the abundant cone crops out here, so we stand to have another good year of White-winged Crossbills throughout southern Alberta. They’re another common feeder bird, and as with most, they tend to prefer black-oil sunflower seeds.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

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

Common Redpoll:

As the general trend of crop failure continues in the east, these birds will be found on birch and willow in the west where the cone crops have been much more robust. Nyjer seed will be the feed of choice to attract these to your yard in the Calgary area.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

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

Hoary Redpoll:

Whenever you find a flock of Common Redpoll, there’s a chance that you might find the occasional Hoary Redpoll in the mix. They’re really not that easy to pick out, but if you spend the time looking over a flock you might just luck out and find one that looks just a little paler with a tiny little bill. When it comes right down to it, it’s a numbers game… at least until they lump them back in with Common Redpolls!

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Pine Siskin:

Pine Siskins have already been appearing in southern Alberta, and like the Pine Grosbeaks, they do breed in the area, so it will be interesting to see just how many of them show up this winter from elsewhere.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Evening Grosbeak:

These beautiful finches are so incredibly striking, and they seem to be doing well all across Canada, with their numbers again on the rise. We’ve even been seeing them within the city limits of Calgary on the Friends of Fish Creek outings to Bebo Grove and Marshall Springs, which is a good sign for seeing them in bigger numbers as the colder weather sets in!

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

Blue Jay:

While these guys aren’t finches, they can be irruptive as they also feed on the same seeds that winter finches utilize. Their numbers have also been on the rise in the Calgary area as well, so it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll be seeing these all throughout the area and even in some back yards this winter.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 440mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Another species that we’ve been seeing in larger numbers already this fall, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a charismatic little critter. More often than not you can find them foraging in spruce stands calling from the tops of trees and flitting about in mixed flocks with chickadees and kinglets.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Bohemian Waxwing:

Of all the species, these are the ones that seem to be around every winter in decent numbers. While we do have irruptive years where we have tens of thousands in the Calgary area alone, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of hundreds. They are most often found foraging on silverberry, mountain ash, or even spruce trees on whatever they can find in the boughs.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

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

So, where can you go to see finches this winter? Within the city of Calgary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Griffith Woods, and the west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park are great places to look. In the north, Queen’s Park Cemetery and Confederation Park can provide some good views of these birds as well. As well, the front ranges and foothills of the Rocky Mountains are productive because of the huge numbers of spruce lining the slopes. Don’t rule out some of the prairie wetlands either! Pine Siskins and both redpoll species will feed on cattails and spilled grain wherever they can be found!
Good luck out there, and let’s hope the cold weather holds off for just a little bit longer!

Bebo Grove and the arrival of winter birds

Posted by Dan Arndt

It certainly didn’t feel anything like fall on our last few outings with the Friends of Fish Creek. Aside from a little bit of snow sticking around, and a bit of a brisk start, we’ve had incredible luck with our fall weather here in Calgary, or at least on our Sunday walks!

Bebo Grove is one of our most anticipated outings in the fall for a number of reasons, all of which are owls. Northern Pygmy-Owls were the star last fall and winter, and there’s always the chance of finding Great Gray Owls, Barred Owls, and of course Great Horned Owls. It is also relatively dense spruce forest, which draws in both species of crossbill, Pine Grosbeaks, and even Common and Hoary Redpolls.

While we didn’t have much luck in the redpoll department, we did have a good variety of everything else, and even had a couple bonus raptors show up!

Bebo Grove - November 1, 2015

Bebo Grove – November 1, 2015

For the third (maybe fourth?) year in a row, the star of our show was Bob. Bob is a Red-breasted Nuthatch with a fairly prominent patch of leucism (read: white feathers) on his head. He’s the dominant bird in his little mixed flock of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers, which is noticeable immediately when he is being fed. He flies in, right to the food, flushing every other bird nearby, and coming back time and time again to gather more for his numerous caches.

 

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

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

We searched for American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and even Pileated Woodpeckers in the area surrounding the picnic tables, but came up almost entirely empty. We did find a Hairy Woodpecker a little bit to the west, but once we entered the next stand of spruce between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, things really started getting busy!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

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

We stopped shortly after to investigate the tops of the nearby spruce trees, as cones began raining down onto the pathway in front of us. Nearly a hundred White-winged Crossbills were filling the trees above us, calling, feeding, and flying about in a frenzy.

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

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

As we were walking through the dense spruce, we heard some agitated chattering of chickadees and nuthatches, as if they were harassing a predator of some sort. We searched around and as we came into a clearing to get close enough to investigate, a young Great Horned Owl flushed up from a spruce across the clearing, flying west and away. It definitely pays to check these things out, even if its only a rare occasion where you actually do stumble upon a prize like that! As we scanned the trees north of the clearing for where the owl went, we did spot this distant Sharp-shinned Hawk. It’s just too bad it didn’t stick around when we got just a little bit closer later on.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

A little further to the west, we found yet another mixed flock, and had a few Boreal Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, Brown Creepers and still more Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding heavily in the trees, and a few even posing nicely for us.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Coming into the next clearing, we had a bit of a close encounter with a big Mule Deer buck. We actually found him first having a bit of a sparring match with a willow shrub, but as we walked by, he took notice of us and just had to show off his antlers.

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 160mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 150mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

We headed towards the barn at Shannon Terrace before turning back. It was a little more quiet to the west than we usually have it, but it wasn’t too much further along that we found out exactly why. This female Merlin was keeping a sharp eye on the ground below, especially one of the feeding stations, and looked quite interested in any little movement nearby.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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

So with that, we headed back to take a second look for Northern Pygmy-Owls, Barred Owls, and American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, but came up (mostly) empty, so we followed the edge of the wetland back to where we had found Bob earlier in the day, but were alerted to the presence of yet another Great Horned Owl by the chattering and squawking of a pair of Blue Jays. 

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

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

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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

It didn’t take too long for the Blue Jays to lose interest and fly off, leaving this big, beautiful owl to snooze the rest of the day away.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great week and good birding!

More spring migrants at South Glenmore Park!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our last outing with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course on March 29 was to South Glenmore Park in hopes of seeing some migrant swans, some early sparrows, and who knows what else! We did have a few good sightings, and it rounded out the course perfectly in my opinion!

South Glenmore Park - March 29, 2015

South Glenmore Park – March 29, 2015

 

It seems like not a week goes by where we haven’t been seeing at least one Northern Shrike on our walks, and soon after we started, we heard a commotion in the spruce trees above us and spotted not one, but two of them up there! One appeared to be an adult, while the second, which I was able to get a photo of, looked a little duller, which would indicate that it’s likely an immature bird.

Northern Shrike Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Northern Shrike
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We had a good number of Trumpeter Swans fly by us heading to the open water on the west end of the Glenmore Reservoir, but it was nice to have a pair fly by a bit closer to us, trumpeting away as they flew!

Trumpeter Swans Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Trumpeter Swans
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

While the rest of the reservoir was still frozen over, we didn’t really get too much of a look at the birds on the far west end, so we headed up onto another parallel pathway to feed some birds, and we did also hear the beautiful song of the Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first I’d heard since January. There seemed to be far fewer of them around this year than in past years, so it was nice to see them again up close!

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We also put some seeds out for the chickadees and nuthatches, and had a few Black-capped Chickadees and at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches come in to stock up their supplies.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

So after a relatively quiet morning with very few birds up close to us, it was nice to almost literally stumble over this Snowshoe Hare. Unlike the one we found a few weeks earlier, this one was beginning the transition out of its winter coat and into the more typical brown summer coloration. Even still, it was still difficult for many of our group to see unless it was directly pointed out to them.

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

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

In addition to the newly arrived kinglets, swans, and gulls of the past few weeks, we also found a number of aspen budding out in their fresh catkins, better known of course as pussy willows. One of the signs of spring that’s almost as reliable as the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Red-tailed Hawks!

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

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

Our very last sighting was a trio of Blue Jays, right in the exact same spot where a few other groups had seen them earlier in the week. It’s quite possible that there’s a nest down below the ridge at this point, but with how dense the willow and aspens are in that area, it’d be nearly impossible to find it.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

And with that, our winter birding course comes to an end. In fact, yesterday, April 4 was our first outing for the spring course, so get ready for migration to ramp up over the next few weeks and the colors to really start to brighten up!

Have a great week, and good birding.

Reliable stand-by boreal birds at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our trip last week took us to Bebo Grove in search of some recently found twitches that I was all too excited to search for. American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and even a Barred Owl were regular sightings, but sadly not by our group on Sunday morning! We did have a good, long walk through both Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, and had a few special sightings of our own, but the great finds were the most reliable ones. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, a few Red Squirrels, Blue Jays(!) and a good number of Pine Grosbeaks, counter to my interpretation of the Winter Finch Forecast which I posted about a few weeks ago.

Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace - October 26, 2014

Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace – October 26, 2014

An initial pass through the picnic area just down the stairs from the parking lot at Bebo Grove turned up none of the three target birds for the week, despite our constant scanning of every trunk and every branch that could potentially harbor them. After nearly half an hour in that area, we headed west towards Shannon Terrace, where things really started to pick up. The chatter of an angry Golden-crowned Kinglet alerted us to a mixed flock of chickadees and nuthatches, so we sat and watched them for a while, many of the photographers in our group (myself included) snapping away dozens of shots to make up for our dip earlier in the morning.

female White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We moved on shortly after, and passed into a deeper, quieter section of the park between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, and were pleased to find a few Boreal Chickadees and even spotted some Pine Grosbeaks quite high up in the trees, giving their easily identified calls.

Boreal Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Boreal Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Over at the west end of the park, just outside the Learning Center at Shannon Terrace, this adorable little Red Squirrel decided to ham it up for our group, sitting pretty while chewing away on one of the many spruce cones available from the trees in the area.

Red Squirrel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Red Squirrel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

It seems like Blue Jays are just about everywhere this fall. We’ve seen and heard many in just about every park we’ve been this year, and yet another one posed nicely for me while calling rather insistently at something out of our line of sight. Either that, or it just liked the sound of its own voice.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Around the corner from here we heard a flock of Pine Grosbeaks fly in, and flew down to the creek to take a drink. While I wasn’t quite close enough to snap the action, I did get a shot of this young male transitioning from juvenile (yellow) to adult (red) plumage, hence the ochre coloring.

Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

So we headed back to the east end of the park and another pass through the picnic area in search of our targets. Sadly, we dipped on them again, but we did find a very photogenic male White-breasted Nuthatch in the middle of a meal!

male White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Fantastic Fall Colours at Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beautiful weather we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it was incredible to get yet another warm and amazing Sunday morning outing last weekend. While the clouds were thin and the light muted, there were still enough moments where the sun peeked through and really showed off some beautiful colors on both the birds, and on the trees surrounding Calgary’s second largest water body.

Elliston Park - October 19, 2014

Elliston Park – October 19, 2014

With two groups meeting at the same time, my group headed clockwise around the lake, while the other group led by Tony Timmons, headed counter-clockwise. Each group reaped some benefits from that, as some of the birds moved away from us and toward them, and vice versa. There were hundreds of ducks on the lake itself, and hundreds more flying over and flying south for the season. There were a good number of Lesser Scaup, both male and female plumaged birds, which are always nice to see on migration.

male Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Lesser Scaup – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Circling the edges of the lake were dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These black-headed gulls (during breeding season) are found further north, breeding in the upper branches of large spruce and pine trees, unlike Alberta’s other black-headed gull species, the Franklin’s Gull, which are colonial nesters throughout the prairies. In their non-breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls are striking in their pale whites and grays, with their signature black “ear” spots.

Bonaparte's Gull - non-breeding plumage Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Bonaparte’s Gull – non-breeding plumage
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

While there were over thirty Hooded Mergansers on the lake, there were also quite a few female Common Mergansers in amongst them. This particular girl was a little bit shy from one of the many off-leash dogs running the shores of the lake that day.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

We did benefit from the other group pushing this non-breeding plumaged grebe towards us, just when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. While I believe this is a Horned Grebe, I’m really quite terrible at distinguishing between Horned and Eared Grebes in their non-breeding plumages.

Horned Grebe Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Horned Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Over on the west end of the park, the parking lot was undergoing some significant construction, and we spotted a few Blue Jays flying over, and a couple of Black-billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons here and there. It was quite fun to watch a few Northern Flickers picking their way across the ground in search of ants or other insects just under the grass.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along the north edge of the lake the light became a little more tricky to shoot against, as the sun peeked out for longer periods, but the low angle made getting good looks at anything on the water a bit of a challenge. The angle of the light and the purely serendipitous placement of this pair of grebes made for a perfect teaching moment (or at least I’m pretty sure!) showing off the differences between Eared and Horned Grebes in their non-breeding plumage.

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Horned (rear) and Eared (fore) Grebes
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Well we neared the end of our three hour tour, once again the combination of accommodating birds and good angles of light made it impossible for me to bypass this pair of incredibly common Mallards and attempt a couple of portrait photos. I was quite pleased with the results.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

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

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

And so our walk came to an end, but not before a pair of Blue Jays decided to come in and loudly announce their presence. I’ve never had much luck with these guys, but I’m pleased that I was able to catch one a little off guard and in the open while foraging under a spruce tree just meters away from my vehicle.

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Thanks as always for reading, and good birding!

Another no owl day at Griffith Woods Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk this week returned to Griffith Woods, in search once again of the Great Gray Owl that had been a regular visitor there for well over a month now, as well as the Great Horned Owls and even a Northern Pygmy Owl that had been seen and heard there recently. The week got off to a good start, with Monday’s group having no trouble finding the Great Gray Owl, and the Tuesday group only missed it by a less than an hour before it flew off deeper into the dense spruce forest that are the hallmark of Griffith Woods.

Griffith Woods February 16, 2014

Griffith Woods
February 16, 2014

The story throughout the day was that of distant birds and minimal photo opportunities, but I was very pleased that I was able to snap the shots that I did. When I downloaded my camera card at home, I found that I had only taken 31 shots in the course of the outing, so to have  a 25% “keep” rate I think is pretty good!

The first real opportunity came when we spotted a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings high up in a spruce tree, and I was able to capture a pair of them breaking off from the group showing their rufous undertail coverts and the bright lemon yellow on the tip of the tail feathers.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

We hunted along the trail under the power lines for any sign of the Great Gray Owl that was our quarry, but the only evidence we were able to find of it was this hunting impression in the deep snow, showing the impression of the head and wings as the owl hunted one of many unfortunate voles that had become its dinner.

Great Gray Owl hunting impression Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Great Gray Owl hunting impression
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Never let it be said that I know everything there is to know about all of the parks we visit. This week’s surprise was the discovery of another small pond on the north-west end of Griffith Woods Park. All it really would have taken was for me to look at one of the many maps that I’ve published even here on this website to actually notice its presence, but thankfully Gus Yaki came to the rescue again and showed us where all the Canada Geese we had seen all morning were flying to. Also on this pond was a lone Common Goldeneye, and much to our surprise and delight was a solitary, and very uncharacteristically quiet, Blue Jay along the hedgerow behind one of the nearby houses.

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

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

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

Another nice surprise was a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding underneath a spruce on the way back into the park after we had finished exploring the pond.

Dark-eyed Junco Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And then the wind picked up, and everything got quiet. While we retreated deeper into the wooded trails, the birds came fewer and further between, and only stayed in sight for mere moments at a time. Even our last species of the day, this Rough-legged Hawk, disappeared a few seconds after I spotted it soaring high above the nearby homes, but enough to positively identify it with its distinct dark wrist patches.

Rough-legged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Rough-legged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

And so wraps up another week of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding course. Next week we head back to Bebo Grove in search of last week’s quarry, the American Three-toed Woodpecker, along with another Great Gray Owl, a Barred Owl or three, and hopefully a Northern Saw-whet Owl!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 7 – Weaselhead Natural Area

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beginning of the second half of our Winter Birding course, the weather once again made for a beautiful day to be out in Calgary’s parks. It certainly felt like spring was in the air, or at least well on its way, with the bird activity high, many of them singing their little hearts out, and others calling out on their territory that they’ll soon begin nesting and breeding on.

Weaselhead Natural Area
Weaselhead Natural Area

Weaselhead Natural Area

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the largest flock of Blue Jays we’ve seen in all of our walks so far. A total of six individuals came to investigate us newcomers right as the walk began, giving us what might have been the closest and best views I’ve ever personally had, and the closest photo opportunities as well. It was quite a treat to start off the day.

I've never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

I’ve never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

As we headed down into the river valley, we had flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings fly overhead. Both into, and out of the valley floor they flew by the hundreds, their high trills being the only warning before a small black cloud of them would dart overhead. At both sets of feeders there were good numbers of Common Redpoll, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a pair of Pine Grosbeaks, but not the American Tree Sparrow or Ruffed Grouse that we often hope for this time of year. At the bottom of the hill, we were able to get some good light and close visits of the Common Redpolls, some of them even posing for us.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Crossing over the Elbow River, we stopped briefly as we had a close flyover of a Blue Jay and what we tentatively identified as a Townsend’s Solitaire, but what really stole the show for the few that got to see it was this Snowshoe Hare. Unfortunately I was lagging behind as the group came upon it, but at least someone did!

Snowshoe Hare.Photo by Paul Turbitt

Snowshoe Hare.
Photo by Paul Turbitt

We headed into the woods with much excitement, as the light was holding steady, the birds were active and patient, and everyone’s spirits were high. In our usual mixed grove of spruce and poplar where we reliably have good sightings of Boreal Chickadees, we were not disappointed. Three of the beautiful little brown birds came in to accept our offering of black oil sunflower seeds, and shortly after, a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets also came to investigate the commotion.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Winding our way through the deer paths and game trails back to the path following the river, we heard the distinct and melodious songs of a number of male House Finches. While they’re a species we usually expect up on the top of the ridge, the sheer number of them down in the valley was quite surprising.

House Finch

male House Finch

Our circuit continued along the usual route, connecting back with the main pathway after a fairly quiet stretch of pathway, interrupted by brief, but clear views of a juvenile Northern Goshawk, and many flyovers both near and far of Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies. Our final highlight was this lone Pine Grosbeak eating quietly at the feeder, completely at ease with both our close examination, along with the many runners, walkers, and other folks enjoying the park on this beautiful day.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Next week we’re off to Beaverdam Flats! Good birding, and see you here next week!

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