Tony LePrieur photographed these birds in Fish Creek Park on December 15, 2013.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Next week we’re off to Beaverdam Flats! Good birding, and see you here next week!
These pictures were taken recently by Dan Kingston at Waiparous Village, NW of Calgary. There are two leucistic chickadees coming to the feeders there. They have been seen together, and are likely litter mates. If you have an opinion as to which species they are, let us know in the comments. Also, the feet on one of the birds don’t look normal – any opinions on this?
Posted by Dan Arndt
This week the Friends of Fish Creek course was touring through Bebo Grove, over to Shannon Terrace, then back again. It’s approximately a 5 km route, return, and throughout the week, some great new birds were seen, such as the American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees, and a fairly good number of White-winged Crossbills.
I was most excited for the American Three-toed Woodpecker, since that would be a new bird for me for the year, and probably a more satisfying sighting than my original sighting of it, which ended up being back at my computer scanning through my photos and later realizing that yes, that little black and yellow lump on the trunk of the tree was, in fact, the American Three-toed Woodpecker I’d been looking for.
Here’s that photo, for reference, taken back in August 2010 at Brown-Lowery Provincial Park.
Unfortunately, both Saturday and Sunday groups missed out on good sightings of the woodpecker, but at least on Sunday we got to hear it calling amongst the trees, and a brief flyover allowed at least one confident ID, but certainly no photo opportunities. Flyovers of uncommon birds seemed the rule of the day, as we also had a Grey Jay towards Shannon Terrace, which, to my understanding, hadn’t been seen in the park for a number of years.
The good side is that we did get great views of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, the amazingly adorable Boreal Chickadee, and a few Townsend’s Solitaires.
I was particularly happy with this shot of the Common Raven, which are always hard to shoot against a light sky, which tends to wash out their features. Thankfully, this bird decided to perch in the foliage, allowing much better views of its somewhat iridescent plumage.
Add to that the many great angles we were given of the White-winged Crossbills, such as this one, detailing the presence of the crossed-bill for which it gets its name.
The gender of the Red-breasted Nuthatch can be identified by the color of the crown. The male, seen below, has a jet black crown.
The female, on the other hand, has a grey crown. Even without the two of them together, just a quick comparison of the color of the eye line and the crown can show that telltale difference.
Both the male Downy and Hairy Woodpecker can also be identified by the bright red patch on the back of their heads, while the female lacks the red patch.
I was quite impressed at this little Townsend’s Solitaire on Saturday. While preening, it stretched out its wings again and again, showing off the thick yellow bar in the primary flight feathers of the wing. Unless it’s displaying like this, that yellow bar is almost invisible, and in some individuals, nearly absent.
Thanks for reading, and have a great week! Hope you enjoyed the photos!
Banff National Park is a hotspot for just about anything; birds, mammals, flowers, scenery, recreation, vacations; the list could go on for a long time. Canada Day long weekend, I visited Banff with my family, eager to explore this local gem a little bit more. Saturday, July 2nd, we made our way up to Johnston Canyon campground, in hopes of finding a spot despite the busy weekend. We got lucky and got a spot, set up our trailer in a lot dotted with dandelions and heart-leaved arnicas and then left for a short hike at nearby Silverton Falls.
The Heart-leaved arnica is a pretty yellow flower that can be found in Banff.
Silverton Falls, not as well-known as Johnston Canyon, is a scenic, short hike with a waterfall as a climax. As we did this short hike, we were serenaded by both Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes and we caught glimpses of several Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Then came the falls themselves…
We finished our hike and then headed to Castle Mountain chalets where we stopped to grab some supplies before eating our lunch there. We met a fellow photographer who was looking for some Rufous Hummingbirds; we all saw one brilliant-colored male. After lunch, we headed up to the popular Peyto Lake. On the short walk up to Peyto Lake, we saw some local flora and fauna; Grey Jays and Western Anemones.
Peyto Lake was brilliant and I highly recommend anyone who has not been there to visit this stunning lake (visit in the morning and in the evening, when it is less crowded).
While at Peyto Lake, we observed a young family of Boreal Chickadees foraging in the spruce trees. Our first afternoon was great and we had high hopes for the remainder of our trip.
I will post the rest of our journey highlights after this one.
Posted by Matthew Sim