Tag Archive | Bow river

Winter Surprises at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

There are few parks in town that I have such a love/hate relationship with more than Beaverdam Flats. While it’s great for getting good, close looks at Bald Eagles, and also seeing a huge number of them, there really tends not to be too much here that you can’t get better looks at, or see greater abundance in some of the other parts of town. Waterfowl are generally more diverse at Carburn Park, or along the Bow River in the eastern parts of Fish Creek Park. Songbirds are usually more abundant at Votier’s Flats and Bebo Grove, and the rare chances of seeing Great Horned Owls here are more regularly seen at Sikome Lake or at the Bow Valley Ranche. This time around was not too much different, but right at the end we had a couple very nice surprises that made the quiet morning a little more worthwhile.

Beaverdam Flats - January 17, 2016

Beaverdam Flats – January 24, 2016

While our usual route is picked so that we can have the sun at our backs for the majority of the walk, that morning was, as was typical of much of January, gloomy, overcast, and a little windy. We weren’t really expecting too much in the way of snow or bad weather though, so our luck has held fairly solid this season so far. Our first couple birds of the day aside from a few distant Bald Eagles were some Common Redpolls down along the creek, which turned out to have a Hoary Redpoll among them after I’d looked at my photos afterward!

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

Common (left) and Hoary (right) Redpolls

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Along the river, as is usual for this time of year, were hundreds of Canada Geese. By this time of the morning, many had already begun to fly off to the fields surrounding Calgary to feed, but there were still a good number right on the water, and many more travelling up and down the river bed.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

During the first half hour of our walk, again, quite typical of the expected birds at Beaverdam Flats, we observed half a dozen different Bald Eagles, some adult, some immature of varying ages. Almost at random it seemed, the flyovers of some would cause the waterfowl to flush off the water, while others simply got a casual eye turned up at them. One reason seems to be that the waterfowl are able to tell how full the crop of these raptors is, so they can tell whether the eagles are actively hunting or simply checking the menu.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

In addition to the numerous Canada Geese and Mallards on the river, Common Goldeneye were abundant, though those three species were pretty much the only ones out that day. Many years we’ll have numerous Common Mergansers, Barrow’s Goldeneye, even Hooded Mergansers and occasionally American Wigeon as this stretch of river is downstream from a water treatment plant.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Sadly, once we turned back to head along the north stretch of our walk, things got very, very quiet. We heard a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a small number of Downy Woodpeckers fighting over territory, but it seems the flood damage in the interior part of the park is still keeping the usual songbird numbers low, at least in the winter.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

The northern section of this park is currently closed and under remediation by the City of Calgary due to flood damage, and more details about this repair can be found here: City of Calgary – Beaverdam Flats

We turned around at the fenced off area and had a quiet walk back to the base of the hill below where we had parked, and it seemed like that’s when things really started to get busy for us! A few juvenile Bald Eagles soared by low overhead and gave some great photo opportunities, especially this guy who was maybe 50 feet overhead.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching this young eagle, there was some faint tweeting and rustling in the shrubs behind us. This is a usual spot for us to find Townsend’s Solitaires, Rusty Blackbirds, and American Robins in the winter, though the number of juniper bushes along this hill has seemingly disappeared in the years since the 2013 flood. There were a pair of American Robins bustling about in the berry shrubs on the far edge of the shrubline, making it hard to get a really good look at them, but there were a few openings here and there.

American Robin

American Robin

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

It wasn’t until we got close enough to get these shots of the robins through the shrubs that we heard the tell-tale trill of waxwings feeding low in the bush. When they popped out into the open, it was clear that these weren’t Bohemian Waxwings, and that there were more than a handful of these birds down there. In all, five Cedar Waxwings were present in the bushes, with one little one appearing to only be a few months old, likely a late hatching immature bird from last September or early October.

adult Cedar Waxwing

adult Cedar Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

immature Cedar Waxwing

immature Cedar Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It always makes it worthwhile to get out there, no matter how uncertain the weather or how typically dull one park or another can be, and it’s these random finds that you’d never even think to look for that turn up at the most unusual places.

Have a good week, and good birding!

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

male House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

male Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

male Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

Baltimor Oriole nest Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Baltimor Oriole nest
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

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

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

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

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

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

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

Watching Waterfowl at Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

After a nearly complete washout last week, with only a handful of species and no real photo opportunities, this week was only slightly better. The lack of large numbers of waterfowl on the Bow River at Beaverdam Flats, the dropping temperatures, and the constant wind seemed to keep the birds away. The icy conditions of the main pathways also put a damper on things, and even gave me a bit of a start, leaving me with a broken lens hood and a bit of a sore hip early on in the walk. Not to worry though, my camera, lens, and body are all A-OK!

Beaverdam Flats - January 26, 2014

Beaverdam Flats – January 26, 2014

The morning began with some fairly diffuse light and a bitterly cold wind out of the north, but not bitter or cold enough to keep us from scanning a group of waterfowl at the water treatment plant outfall. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t pick out the Redhead, American Wigeon, or even the domestic or leucistic Mallards that had been seen by other groups this week. Maybe they had decided it was a little too cold for them and stayed home! We did get some good looks at a few Canada Geese in flight, some of which were missing some flight feathers, and others were just showing off.

Canada Geese and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

I had hoped to get some Bald Eagle shots for the blog while we were here, as there were as many as 12 Bald Eagles seen at one time throughout the week, but they too were noticeably absent. We did get more than a few Common Ravens, and I find it interesting how it’s nearly impossible to get the two-toned appearance of the raven’s flight feathers to show up in anything but the most diffuse light. I also found it interesting to note just how worn the feathers of this particular bird are, which I only really took note of after downloading my shots this afternoon.

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

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

As the morning progressed, our luck seemed to improve, and we headed away from the river into the stands of tall poplar and aspens. We did manage to find a pair of Northern Flickers, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a few Downy Woodpeckers, along with an assortment of White-breasted Nuthatches and a few Black-capped Chickadees, but all in all, it was even quieter away from the water.

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

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

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

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

As we returned to the water’s edge, the light was progressively improving, and allowed some higher speed flight shots of the always gorgeous Common Goldeneye.

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

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

While we were able to watch a particularly fun interaction between a 4th-year Bald Eagle and a flock of about seven Common Ravens and a pair of Black-billed Magpies, they were a little too far off and amongst some challenging terrain to get any usable shots. It was quite nice though, to get a small flock of Black-capped Chickadees fluttering about the pathway on our return to the parking lot, posing quite nicely as we snapped away with our cameras.

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

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

Have a great week, keep safe, and good birding!

Perfect Pelicans

Last Tuesday when I was down at the Bow River, I was witness to a great birding spectacle; photogenic pelicans putting on a show of flying, landing and swimming. I was able to count up 27 of these social and gregarious birds at one time, half of them circling in the sky while the other half loafed around on the banks of the river. Among the world’s largest birds and gracing the air with a wingspan of over 2 meters, the American White Pelican can swallow fish up to 30cm (12 inches) long and must eat 2 kg (4 lbs) of fish a day.

Several Pelicans made a show of coming in for a landing.

They came closer and closer…

Until it seemed as though they were right beside me…

Their feathers were absolutely stunning against the blue sky.

This Pelican was demonstrating the mechanics of a good landing…

Before finally putting down the landing gear.

If you look carefully at this last photo, you may just be able to make out a Franklin’s Gull at the far right of the screen. This gull was flying at roughly the same altitude as the pelicans and shows the massive size difference between the two. After Tuesday, Pelicans have become a bird I love to watch.

Posted by Matthew Sim