Tag Archive | bohemian waxwing

Late Winter Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s spring on the calendar and new migrants are arriving daily. Some of our winter birds have departed, and some of our resident birds are beginning to nest. Here are some photos of birds of late winter in Calgary. All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Bohemian Waxwing, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Bohemian Waxwings are only here in the winter. Since mid-March only small flocks have been reported. Most have departed to the north and to higher elevations. By the end of April they all will be gone.

Mountain Chickadee, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Mountain Chickadees are only occasionally seen inside the city, and most often in the west end where the boreal forest creeps in. This winter there were several seen in the Weaselhead and in Fish Creek Park. They are usually absent in the summer, as they breed west of the city.

Pine Grosbeak (female), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Pine Grosbeak are one of our winter finches and they were here in low numbers this winter. They move to higher elevations and to the north in the summer.

Downy Woodpecker, Weaselhead, Calgary, March 12, 2017.

Downys are one of our resident woodpeckers and they have been paired up for at least a month, and are now beginning to nest.

Northern Flicker (male intergrade Yellow-shafted/Red-shafted), Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Northern Flickers are also woodpeckers, but are migratory. However, many overwinter here, which may include local birds or ones from farther north. They are currently pairing up for nesting, and it is common to hear their calls and drumming (they often drum on metal chimneys or street lights).

Most of the local flickers are intergrades of the two subspecies (Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted) and they often show mixed field marks, as this bird does.

American Robin, Fish Creek Park, Calgary, March  4, 2017.

Robins are of course migratory, but there are always some (a few dozen to a couple hundred) that overwinter in the city. This bird, seen on March 4 with seven others, probably overwintered since it was a little too early for the migrants to return. Unusually, this looks like a female – most overwintering birds are males, trying to get an advantage in getting to breeding grounds earlier. Now, in early April, there are many migrating robins back, but they are almost all males, either passing through or claiming territories here. The females arrive later.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies), Calgary, March 4, 2017.

These native sparrows overwinter here in good numbers, and for a few weeks more there will be many migrants passing through. They breed here in the boreal forest and are far more common west of the city and farther north in the summer.

Pine Siskin, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

Siskins usually breed in coniferous forests (including in parts of Calgary), but when not breeding they move erratically around the continent in search of food. They are sometimes here in large numbers in the summer, and sometimes completely absent.

Black-capped Chickadee, Calgary, March 4, 2017.

A resident bird, they are paired up and beginning to nest now.

Finally, here are three shots of the immature Northern Goshawk from Queen’s Park Cemetery.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 12, 2017.

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, Calgary, February 19, 2017.

Goshawks are not common in Calgary but can be seen year-round. However, they breed in high-canopied mixed forests so adults are usually found at higher elevations and farther north in the summer. They are more commonly seen here in the winter.

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.

Twelve Birds of Christmas

Bohemian Waxwing by Dan Arndt.

Black-capped Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Dan Arndt.

White-winged Crossbill by Tony LePrieur.

 Pileated Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Pine Grosbeak by Tony LePrieur.

Golden-crowned Kinglet by Tony LePrieur.

Boreal Chickadee by Tony LePrieur.

Downy Woodpecker by Tony LePrieur.

Dark-eyed Junco by Dan Arndt.

Brown Creeper by Dan Arndt.

Common Redpoll by Dan Arndt.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

Winter Birding at Bebo Grove

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following the first outing to search for the continuing rare birds at Carburn Park, we headed to Bebo Grove in search of a possible return of the Northern Pygmy-owl from last winter, or maybe a Barred Owl, or a little less charismatic, but nonetheless interesting American Three-toed Woodpeckers. While we didn’t find any of those three species, we did find a few more elusive birds in some of the best upland boreal habitat you can find in the city of Calgary.

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Bebo Grove, January 17, 2016

Our morning got off to a relatively slow start, as our search for Bob, the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch turned up empty, as did our search through the picnic area for either American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker

male Pileated Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Even a trip to the edge of Fish Creek itself was quiet and uneventful, until a last minute glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker got our attention. We worked our way around the grove until everyone was able to get a good, unobstructed view of the bird, and as we left it there it was still working away on the same tree.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

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Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/160s|

Across the creek we headed to a feeding station where a pair of Mountain Chickadees had been seen throughout the week. One little surprise, and always welcome, were a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets singing away in the trees. They displayed for a few minutes, and while we were watching and listening, we also heard our first Boreal Chickadee songs from the dense trees.

Around the corner was the Mountain Chickadee location, and this individual looked a little bit rough around the edges. While it was feeding quite vigorously on the provided sunflower seeds, it gave us quite a few good looks out in the open. We may have seen a second individual there, but never two at the same time, so none of us had any certainty about there being two birds.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

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As we followed the creek east and north into the park, we nearly missed a trio of White-tailed Deer resting in the snow less than twenty meters off the path, but wide out in the open. It wasn’t until this young deer stood up and poked its head around the edge of the tree that we noticed it and the two older females nearby. These deer are in good numbers in the park this winter, and all appear to be relatively healthy!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

As we crossed Bridge 5 in search of Townsend’s Solitaires, owls, and other birds more common in the more open aspen stands north of the creek, we turned around to spot this young Bald Eagle soaring and circling above us on a thermal. With each circle it gained in elevation quite significantly, until it eventually reached its predetermined cruising altitude and it took off to the south.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/125s|

As we rounded out our morning in a particularly dense stand of spruce, we stopped at a particular feeding station which had been home to a rare overwintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, but try as we might, and wait as long as we did, it didn’t turn up for us to this location. We did have a good number of Black-capped Chickadees, and even had a few Boreal Chickadees turn up for a few minutes as the sun came out to greet them.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 80|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

A little later on we stopped to listen as a flock of birds suddenly appeared above the tree-line and perched across the creek from us. A large group of Bohemian Waxwings, our first of the day, perched in the sun high on the side opposite us.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

Our last few minutes before we headed back to the parking lot to end the day was a search for some more American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers, and while we had some evidence of fairly recent activity, the best we came up with was this little Red Squirrel chowing down on some spruce cones.

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Following our great excursion to Pearce Estate Park, we headed down to the Weaselhead as our first real cold snap started to descend upon Calgary. We did get a bit of a break in the weather by Sunday, and there were a good number of birds out enjoying the sunny day!

Weaselhead - November 22, 2015

Weaselhead – November 22, 2015

The Weaselhead has always been a good location to find the many winter finches that come south from the boreal forest to gorge themselves on the spruce and willow seeds in years when the cone crop up north is in a low cycle, and the crop here is at a peak. In non-finch years, we still will get the usual winter birds, including four species of woodpecker, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as great stand-bys.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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The older trees down in the Weaselhead are great places for the woodpeckers to forage, as they have plenty of nooks and crannies for insects to huddle up for the winter, and plenty of holes and crevices for the birds to spend their cold winter nights out of the elements as well. It’s a great give and take relationship that many of these birds have with their environment.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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The other side of the coin is that for years, there have been many different individuals who have put up feeders on many of the trees along the main pathway, which have become hotspots for finding the expected winter species, but the occasional overwintering rarity as well, such as American Goldfinches and White-throated Sparrows.

female House Finch

female House Finch

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

While checking out the feeders, this female House Finch flew up and allowed all of us good views of her, which should have been a hint at what we were in for later on in the day! I rarely get good looks at House Finches, either males or females, as they always seem to be actively foraging, flying, or singing high up in the trees with lots of branches in the way.

American Robin

American Robin

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

The warm weather had also allowed for some larger flocks of some of the American Robins that choose to spend the winter here in Calgary. We had fifteen (yes, 15!) of these typical “spring” birds here that day, but that’s not unusual at all. During the Christmas Bird Count each year, we usually record double digits of American Robins throughout the city, usually in some of the warmer microclimates around small creeks, springs, and outflows around the city.

male House Finch

male House Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

female House Finch

female House Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Down at the bridge that crosses the small channel that feeds into the Elbow River, our day got a lot more exciting. Not only did we get great looks at another female House Finch, but we spotted this male that looks to have quite the Flames themed dye job in his facial markings. These male House Finches that show a little more orange, and sometimes even yellow in their normally red coloration tell us a bit about what they’re eating. The red pigments that House Finches normally show have found their way into the finch by what it’s been eating. Those that are a bit more yellow or orange simply aren’t eating as much of that red pigment in their food, and so look just slightly different to us. The other finches really don’t seem to take notice of the difference either way though.

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeak and male House Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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male Pine Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Along with the House Finches, a fairly large flock of Pine Grosbeaks were in attendance at the bridge, hopping above, below, and all around both sides of the bridge. You can really see just how much bigger the grosbeaks are than their smaller cousins in that first image.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

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Unfortunately, once we headed a little further west from the bridge, everything seemed to quiet down and disappear. It wasn’t really that birdy, but there were at least a few Red Squirrels hanging about to pose for the camera.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

 ::Aperture: ƒ/11|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We also found quite a few Bohemian Waxwings on that outing. These birds tend to trickle into the Calgary area as the fall and winter progress, until all of a sudden there are thousands of them all over town!

22605944933_e7ec8dcc90_o

immature or female Pine Grosbeaks

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

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male Pine Grosbeak

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

On our way back at the bridge and finishing up our day, we found a few more Pine Grosbeaks perched high up in the spruce trees, almost displaying their deep, vibrant colours. I just can never resist taking photos of these guys and gals. They’re one of the best winter birds we get here, and so many birders consider them the iconic “Christmas bird”.

And that was another week out with the Friends of Fish Creek!

Just a couple more weeks of blog updates until the New Year and a whole new Winter Birding Course!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Exploring new trails at Shannon Terrace

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s walk took us to Shannon Terrace in search of a Mountain Chickadee that had been seen there the week prior. The main trail between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace was washed out in the floods last summer, and so instead of doing the usual route walking between the two areas of the park and back again, we explored a few trails that are part of the Fish Creek Provincial Park Single Track bike way, much of which I haven’t explored by foot or by bike.

Shannon Terrace March 9, 2014

Shannon Terrace
March 9, 2014

One of the most shocking things this time around was just how docile and downright tame the Boreal Chickadees were. Feeding from the tree stump feeding trays, from our hands a number of times, and flying out into the open. It may have had something to do with the temperatures being well above zero that kept them so actively feeding!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

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

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

Aside from that though, things were about as one would expect on the west side of Fish Creek Park. We ran into a pair of Brown Creepers on one stretch of single-track but unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap any usable images of them. Moments later, we were nearly run into by some cyclists getting some of the intended use out of the single track, bombing down on us at full tilt. Can’t really blame them though. These particular trails were built for them!

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

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

We crossed the bridge and found a couple of Red Squirrels feeding on the left over seeds at one feeding station, and this particular fellow decided to pose nicely for us. Along this loop of trail we found a few more Boreal Chickadees, a few more Black-capped Chickadees, and not much else.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

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

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

It wasn’t until we nearly reached the end of our walk when we had another flurry of activity nearby. A few Red-breasted Nuthatches were actively feeding on another feeding station log, while this male Downy Woodpecker tapped away on some nearby aspen.

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

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

At the western extent of our walk, just before turning back to head to the parking lot, a small flock of 75 Bohemian Waxwings flew by, chirping, cooing and calling in the air above us, giving us some of the better views our particular group has had of them so far this year!

Next week: Pearce Estate Park  and Prince’s Island Park, just outside of Calgary’s downtown core. Stay tuned, 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!

Sunday Showcase: Winter Waxwings, Kinglet, and Chickadee

Tony LePrieur photographed these birds in Fish Creek Park on December 15, 2013.

Bohemian Waxwings:

imageimage_1image_2image_3

Golden-crowned Kinglet:

image_5image_4

Boreal Chickadee:

image_7image_6

 

 

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