Tag Archive | bufflehead

Waterfowl of the Foothills

Here are some photos of waterfowl taken by Michael Kim in the Canmore area this spring.

Hooded Merganser, Exshaw, May 1, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Hooded Mergansers, Exshaw, May 2, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, May 6, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Great Blue Heron, Lac des Arcs, May 6, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Ruddy Duck, Exshaw, May 1, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Red-necked Grebe, Exshaw, May 1, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

 Bufflehead, Exshaw, May 3, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Northern Shoveler, Lac des Arcs, May 22, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

 Horned Grebe, Exshaw, April 1, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Canmore, April 2, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

Barrow’s Goldeneye, Canmore, April 4, 2017. Photo by Michael Kim.

South Glenmore Park

Here are some photos of birds taken in South Glenmore Park on a Friends of Fish Creek birding course walk on April 29, 2017. All Photos by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Red-necked Grebe.

Red-breasted Merganser (male).

Red-breasted Merganser (female).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle subspecies).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Intergrade of Audubon’s and Myrtle subspecies).

Cooper’s Hawk.

Downy Woodpecker (male).

Bufflehead (male).

Horned Grebe.

Osprey.

Song Sparrow.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Sandhill Crane.

Swainson’s Hawk.

Boreal Chorus Frog singing.

To see more of Max’s photos, see his website, Photos by MOA.

Terry’s Travels: The Hills Are Alive With Birds

By Terry Korolyk

Living in the south end of Calgary since 1993, I have had much cause to bird and explore the area which I call the “Hills” which is directly south of Calgary. For birding purposes, it offers a fairly widespread type of habitat. We could probably define the area as south of Spruce Meadows Trail and bounded on the west by Highway 22; on the east by Highway 2A, and, on the south by Highway 549.

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Starting in the southwest corner of the Highways 2A-Spruce Meadows Trail junction is a fairly well-birded and well known slough known to some as Sheriff King Slough, because it is actually on Sheriff King Street accessed from Spruce Meadows Trail. In the days of some of Calgary’s older birders in the 1970s and 1980s, it was known as the Priddis Radio Towers Slough. The past few years have seen the slough attain fairly-high water levels due in large part to the City’s Water Management practices because of the 2007 and 2013 floods. Prior to 2007, the slough held low water levels. Then, it was probably one of the best shorebirding sloughs in our area attracting all the basic migrating shorebird species such as Semipalmated,  Baird’s, Least, and, Pectoral Sandpipers, and, both, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Uncommon species found there included Western Sandpiper (more than once), Red-Knot, and, White-rumped Sandpiper. It also held most of the common Duck species.

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Adult Red-necked Grebe. Common Summer resident on Sheriff King Slough. April 28, 2016.

These days the slough is now almost the complete reverse of what it used to be. Water levels are now too high to hold migrating shorebirds and it is almost completely devoted to waterfowl. Eared Grebes have been communal nesters here in recent years, and, both Red-necked and Pied-billed Grebes really took to the slough in 2015 and 2016. Ospreys are resident around the slough and Double-crested Cormorant, a species that is rapidly-expanding its range in the Calgary area, can be found here. Almost all the basic Duck species and Canada Goose are resident. Great Blue Heron should be somewhere around, and, recently Black-crowned Night Heron, has been expanding its range and has slowly crept into some waterbodies along the eastern perimeter of the area. Breeding has not been confirmed yet at Sheriff King Slough.

South of Sheriff King Slough lies agricultural land and the Pine Creek valley. Directly south of the Pine Creek valley; hilly, forested land is inaccessible, but, on this area’s west flank lies the Sirocco Golf Course. Remainder of the area of the Hills in the east is predominantly agricultural land, marsh, and, some woodland. Being near Spruce Meadows, naturally, there are many Stables and other such businesses devoted to Equestrian activities. Westward from Spruce Meadows lies Lloyd Lake formerly known as Red Deer Lake. Lloyd Lake is an outstanding location for seeing marsh and other water-loving birds and in recent years has held huge colonies of Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes, and,  American Coots. Public access, however, is no longer allowed at Lloyd Park, and, one must pay to gain access.

Between Spruce Meadows and Lloyd Lake, Highway 773 runs southward through the Hills bisecting the area as far as Highway 549 which continues westward to Highway 22. The central and western parts of the block offer some of the most stunning scenery in the Calgary area. The further westward you travel, the more you climb in altitude. As well, from the central section westward, there are some densely forested tracts and a variety of sloughs  and other habitats. Near the western border, 192 Street  bears directly northward from Highway 549 taking you through open grassland in to increasingly more forested terrain, then more grassland, ending up with mixed forest and Coniferous growth near Spruce Meadows Trail.

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Male Bufflehead photographed on a small marshy pond in the west end of the Hills. April 23, 2013.

Considering much of the Hills is open hilly territory, birds encountered in this type of habitat include Savannah, Clay-coloured, and Vesper Sparrow. There are many Bluebird Trails along the roads that wind their way through the hills meaning, of course Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds. Black-billed Magpies are year round residents and breeding season sees them joined by American Crows. Common Ravens are a daily sight, many of them riding the ridgetops and valleys as they come and go from the Landfills or other attractions to the east.

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Male House Wren. Found in large numbers in the Hills. May 18, 2013.

Common birds of the deciduous woodlands are American Robin, Yellow Warbler, Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and, House Wren. In fact, the Hills could very well be the House Wren capitol of Alberta. Brewer’s Blackbirds line the roadsides south of Sheriff King while Red-winged Blackbirds are common marsh dwellers with large colonies at Lloyd Lake and at the large marsh on Spruce Meadows Way. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are not as common. Sora Rails are also common marsh dwellers.

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Male Cinnamon Teal. One of the common teals found in one of the shallow ponds in Dewinton area and in the west end of the Hills. June 6, 2013.

All of Green-winged, Blue-winged, and, Cinnamon Teal are the common ducks of shallow, muddy pools, particularly on the east side of the block. This holds true on the same waterbodies of the west end. Deeper, larger waterbodies in the west end can hold Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Coot, Ruddy Duck and others. The serene woodland marsh and pond at the south end of 160 Street may be the only waterbody in the area that annually hosts Canvasback. Sloughs in this extreme more pristine west end may also host Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Horned Grebe.

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Gray Catbird with Dragonfly. August 3, 2013.

Some songbirds that can be found in this wilder west end include Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler,  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker,  and, Tennessee Warbler which seems to be ever expanding its range eastward from the foothills. Cedar Waxwing can be seen flycatching  around almost any waterbody in the west end, and, Alder Flycatcher can be found in the Willows around the marsh at the south end of 160 Street. Both HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher have been seen in migration in the willows on the east side of this slough while another sighting of interest here was a flock of more than 30 Eastern Kingbirds flycatching at this slough one day in the Fall of 2015.

Some other interesting songbird sightings in the hills include Crossbills along the north stretch of 192 Street; a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE at the Springwell Farms Ponds at 64 Street and 242 Avenue S.W.; Sprague’s Pipits some years in the open grasslands; a BREWER’S SPARROW one year in June on the high south-facing slope on 1119 Drive starting the descent down to 192 Street; PURPLE MARTINS at an acreage off 160 Street on the south descent; a Western Kingbird just west of Springwell Farms; Say’s Phoebes; a Provincial record late Fall Eastern Phoebe(Sept. 25, 2008) at a small pond in the southeast corner of the 1119 Drive-192 Street intersection, and, a reported VAUX’S SWIFT at an acreage south of Spruce Meadows.

To be watched for is BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. This species, which used to be found only in the extreme southwest corner of the province, seems to have been slowly pushing northward through the foothills, being reported now almost annually somewhere southwest or northwest of Calgary. In the Summer of 2016, a bird was clearly heard singing across the road from a marsh on 192 Street just south of 242 avenue. At a marsh further south of that location, a bird that sounded like a SUMMER TANAGER sang in June of 2013.

There have also been many interesting non-Songbird records in the Hills. For instance one cool November morning I was driving to a nearby Shopping Centre when I noticed a Loon flying above the car off to the left. It was not that high off the ground, but, I was unable to get a clear look at it, but was able to see that in the direction it was going it had a very good chance of coming down in Sheriff King Slough which was only a couple of miles further southward. I dropped my wife off to shop and went over to check, and, sure enough, there was the Loon alright, but even better, it was a RED-THROATED LOON, the most uncommon Loon in the Calgary area other than Yellow-billed.

On March 27, 2016, I was birding in the Hills. One of my regular stops was a large dugout with an island on the north side of 242 Avenue just west of Springwell Farms. At this dugout there is a fairly large contingent of resident Canada Geese who have been inhabiting the site for the past few years. They are incredibly faithful to the site and have returned year after year to raise their young. However, For some reason, this site has proved attractive to 2 species of Cackling Geese in Spring migration. One of them is the Minima subspecies which is the smallest of the 4 basic Cackling Gull morphs and is from western Alaska. The other is from even farther away, the Aleutian Islands. I know of only 1 prior record of this species in Alberta that being in the Fall of 2007 in Calgary. Latin name for the ALEUTIAN GOOSE is Branta Hutchinsonii Leucoparaiea. But, we won’t stop with those 2 subspecies, the dugout has also played host to the common Hutchinson’s Canada Geese which breeds in the Canadian Arctic and migrates through the prairie east of the Front Ranges in large numbers in some years. Here is a picture of the ALEUTIAN GOOSE.

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Aleutian Goose (Branta Hutchinsii Leucoparaiea). March 27, 2016.

Another sighting of interest occurred in the summer of 2009. I came across what looked like a juvenile RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 160 Street pond. This would have been amazingly unusual in the months of June and July. I could recall only one record previously of a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER here in the summer months and that was a bird on Railway Slough in the Irricana Sloughs. If I recall correctly that would have been in the 1990s.

Yet another unusual sighting amongst the non-Songbirds occurred during a Calgary area May Species Count. I believe it was early in the new millennium. It was drizzling rain all day and at the time I was on Sheriff King Street. I could see some California Gulls in a fallow field off to the west. A different bird from them was in the same field perhaps a hundred metres or so to the north. It had a black cap and was about Gull size and was watching the California Gulls. Through the rain I could see that the bird was a PARASITIC JAEGER! Well, one couldn’t ask for a better bird than that on a May Species Count.

Other sightings of interest include a ROSS’S GOOSE and a Greater White-fronted Goose on Sheriff King Slough and an immature Snow Goose in with Canada Geese foraging in a stubble field on Sheriff King Street. In the 1990s, an adult GREAT EGRET was found in a wetland at the junction of Highway 2A and 194 Avenue in south Calgary. After a couple of days, the bird left the wetland and flew westward into the Hills and was seen flying parallel to 226 Avenue at the Highway 773 junction.

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Female Rough-legged Hawk.

In the Fall of 2015, we were returning home from a trip through the Hills along Highway 773. I was almost completely stunned to see an adult Ferruginous Hawk perched on a fencepost at the 4-Way Stop. This was the first time I had seen that species south of Calgary. This leads us to another class of birds to deal with; the Raptors. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks are the 2 common Buteos of the area. You should see Ospreys at Sheriff King Slough and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can often be seen in migration soaring over the hilltops. Northern Harriers are not common, but are there. Northern Goshawk is resident in the west end of the area, and, occasionally, some birds venture further east in to the open hills in search of prey. Rough-legged Hawks can be found in the Hills from Fall to Spring, but, numbers vary from year to year. Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in the block. Peregrine Falcons have been seen passing through and one can have a chance to find a Gyrfalcon somewhere in the area. Areas where Gyrs have been seen most often are along the open fields off Sheriff King Street and along the valley along 226 Avenue and along the east-west section of Highway  773.

On Red-tailed Hawks, the mature Balsam Poplars lining 210 Avenue west of Sheriff King Street were the first location in southern Alberta where dark morph Red-tailed Hawks were confirmed as breeding. That was in 2007. Since that time a mixed pair of Red-tails, one bird dark and the other light, were seen in 2 successive years, 2013 and 2014, over heavily-forested terrain off 192 Street. In the Summer of 2013, a dark morph Red-tail, probably the bird from the mentioned pair was seen over the 160 Street pond. In the Summer of 2016, an intergrade light morph-dark morph bird was seen perched in a remote Aspen on a road through the Cross Conservancy. Considering the fact that there have been other such mixed pairings breeding within the Calgary area within the past few years, it is now possible to see an assortment of differently-plumaged Red-tails in the Hills even in breeding season. In migration, the Hills is an excellent site to see migrating Red-tails in many different plumages. Rarely, a dark morph bird may overwinter in the area.

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Adult Bald Eagle at Sheriff King Slough in late Fall. Dec. 8, 2012.

Bald Eagles are not resident in the Hills, but, they can be seen in the Spring hunting Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, and, in late Fall, they can be seen hunting waterfowl at fast freezing waterbodies, usually Sheriff King Slough. But this activity is not confined to Bald Eagles. One year  I watched a pair of immature Northern Harriers set up shop at Sheriff King with only a few openings left in the ice holding lingering waterfowl. Waterfowl remains were many on the surrounding ice.

One family of birds that could probably do with more study in the Hills is the Owl family. Great Horneds are resident, and, Northern Hawk Owls are sometimes spotted in the semi-open areas of the west end.

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Trumpeter Swans on one of the Springwell Farms ponds. March 25, 2016.

One final point I think that would interest birders is the fact that some of the waterbodies in the area are favoured amongst migrating Trumpeter Swans. One very reliable site to watch these snow white birds are the ponds at Springwell Farms. The ponds have also held Snow Geese.

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Wilson’s Snipe. Many of these were brought out in the open by winter weather on October 8. April 20, 2015.

Fall Migration, 2016–

The most important bird that has come to light since the most recent Terry’s Travels was the discovery of a Hummingbird that was coming to a home southwest of Longview, Alberta. I noticed the photograph of the bird on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, and, investigating further, the bird most resembled an immature male Costa’s Hummingbird, which would be the Province’s only 3rd. record ever. The bird had been coming to this home for 2-3 weeks, but now has not been since Tuesday, October 4.

Four hundred Loons must have been quite a sight at Barrier Lake on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country on Thursday, October 6. This came following our first blast of somewhat wintry weather. Three of the birds were Pacific Loon. To top it off, there were also 9 Surf Scoters there, and, an additional 30 at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. A lone Pacific Loon has been at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary since October 6 and both Surf and White-winged Scoters have been there almost daily. A female or immature BLACK SCOTER there on October 6 was a major find, but, unfortunately appears as though it was seen by only the person who found it.

Northern Gulls are finally starting to appear in our area. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a 1st. year KUMLIEN’S ICELAND GULL; a 1st. year Herring Gull-Glaucous GULL hybrid, and, 5 1st. year Thayer’s Gulls at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on October 8. Another KUMLIEN’S GULL, this time an adult, was seen on the Bow River adjacent to the Inglewood Golf Course on Thanksgiving Day. An adult Mew Gull has attracted many observers to the Irrigation Canal opposite the Inglewood Golf Course for the past few days while 1 or 2 others were reported on Thanksgiving Day, one on the river by the Inglewood Golf Course, and, the other at Elliston Park in southeast Calgary.

According to reports, a large white Falcon in the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek PP on Sunday, October 2 may have been a white morph GYRFALCON which I know of only 5 previous reports in the Calgary area since 1987.

Rusty Blackbirds  are starting to show up in our area. A nice flock of 25 was discovered in an Irrigation Canal on Range Road  262 south of Township Road  270 southeast of Irricana on October 8.

A Harris’s Sparrow is being a big draw in an Edmonton park, while one was found in Bowmont Park in northwest Calgary on Thanksgiving Day.

The recent blast of Winter has had Wilson’s Snipe and Western Meadowlarks out in the open. A Nature Calgary Field Trip found a total of 32 Snipe and 8 Meadowlarks east of Calgary on October 8, while others also filed reports finding both Snipe and Meadowlarks.

Common Redpolls are new winter visitors here, while late-migrating shorebirds included a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at McElroy Slough on Inverlake Road just northeast of Chestermere Lake on October 8, and, a Solitary Sandpiper, also at McElroy Slough, on October 5.

Until next time………………                                                 Terry Korolyk

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

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You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

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It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

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A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

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With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

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Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great 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!

Another season over, another Christmas Bird Count season begins!

Posted by Dan Arndt

My last week leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings on Sunday, November 30 for the Fall Birding course was a cold one. So cold, in fact, that there were really only two attendees, plus myself and the other leader. While the cold weather kept our numbers down, it really did bring the numbers and variety of birds up quite a bit!

Carburn Park November 30, 2014

Carburn Park
November 30, 2014

As we usually do at this time of year at Carburn Park, we spent most of the time along the river bank checking for waterfowl and raptors, with a little bit of time walking through the wooded areas in search of owls, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Along the first stretch of the river, we found a very large flock of Mallards taking shelter in the undercut banks of the Bow River, and thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our group, this male Lesser Scaup popped out for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the deeper fog rising from the river.

Ring-necked Duck (r) and female Mallard (l) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Lesser Scaup (r) and female Mallard (l)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

As we walked a little further, hundreds and hundreds of Mallards flew up from their shelter, but as we rounded the first corner, the Canada Geese came into view. From edge to edge of the gravel bars they began to shake off the frost and moving away from us as we approached.

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

As we walked along scanning the throngs of Canada Geese, we came across one little warm back channel where some ground water was flowing into the river, and harbored a pair of Killdeer. While they were flushed up, we caught sight of a few more Tundra Swans that were resting on the river. On our initial scan, we saw the adult Tundra Swan, but while reviewing my photos for this post, I noticed that we also had an immature Tundra Swan resting beside the adult.

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

Tundra Swan and Canada Geese – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Adult (l) and immature (r) Tundra Swans – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We made our way through the wooded area alongside the river, we stopped to feed some Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers in an area that I had just commented had been fairly devoid of much activity on my last few visits to the park. A very nice surprise indeed!

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

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

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

There are some situations where you just have to roll with the punches when it comes to photographing in poor weather, but sometimes it can have pretty interesting results. I shot this group of Bufflehead as they emerged from a fog bank near the north end of Carburn Park, just as we came back into view of the river.

Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

When we got to the far north point of our walk, we watched an immature Bald Eagle eating something that it has plucked out of the river, and when I got my binoculars up to look at it, this Red-tailed Hawk looked to be scavenging whatever the eagle was eating, and then flew off to rest a little further away.

Red-tailed Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We had made it most of the way through the park before we stumbled across the local herd of White-tailed Deer who came rather close to us in search of some food. This young deer was particularly curious about us and followed us down the path for quite a ways before some other park-goers scared it back into the woods.

young White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

young White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A fitting end to the season was this brief sighting of one of the Great Horned Owls in Carburn Park, very likely one of the pair that have nested in the park for a number of years, but most recently right at the edge of the parking lot. It’s always good to see them still hanging around the area, and seemingly doing quite well for themselves.

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

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

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats – An Eagle’s Paradise

Posted by Dan Arndt

Well… maybe paradise is overselling it a bit, but we did a good show from a few Bald Eagles on our outing this past Sunday! Three days this week the outings had been cancelled due to extreme weather and extreme cold. Unheard of for the hardiest of our leaders, but everyone has their limits! Unfortunately, the weather early this morning kept most of our participants away, so we headed off with three leaders and one hardy participant into the cold and the wind.

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

Refinery Park and Lower Beaverdam Flats

What started off as a cold, blustery and grey day turned into some amazing blue skies, much warmer weather than we’ve seen all week, and some great opportunities to get some action shots. Needless to say though, it took a little bit for everyone to get going, including some of the first groups of birds we saw. This backwater along the Bow River was completely full of mostly Canada Geese and a few Mallards for good measure.

Canada Geese in the backwater Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Canada Geese in the backwater
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Even the Bald Eagles looked completely unimpressed in the cold and the wind. The expressions of utter contempt for both us, and the hundred or so waterfowl just below them in the water, have led me to nickname these two as Hekyll and Jekyll.

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hekyll and Jekyll (immature Bald Eagles) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

As we turned back to follow the river bank southward, things started to pick up. The sun was making a serious attempt to break through the meager cloud cover to the south and east, and some of the birds began to show a few more signs of life. A third immature Bald Eagle was being chased (but not quite harassed) by the Common Raven keeping a keen eye on it from below.

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

immature Bald Eagle and Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As the wind picked up a little, it caused the birds to begin to fly up-river, allowing some half-decent flight shots. Along with the wind picking up, the sun finally began to break through, and provided some great light for the remainder of our walk. First up, a male and female Common Goldeneye, flying by within a few minutes of each other.

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

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

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

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

A moment later, a female Barrow’s Goldeneye flew by, and a male of the same species broke away from the Canada Geese at the far shore and made his way into the middle of the river shortly after.

female Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

This group of Buffleheads touched down in the water about halfway into the river, showing off their bubble-gum pink legs. That’s one lucky male Bufflehead getting the pick of mates this winter!

male and female Buffleheads Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

male and female Buffleheads
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

And last but not least, this male Common Merganser flew by quite close, showing off his bright red bill and a hint of green in the head as the sun began to shine.

male Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

male Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We continued south along the river without seeing too much else of note, but shortly after we turned back on one of the inner pathways, this subadult Bald Eagle flew by behind us and alighted in a tree, closely tailed by a flock of scavenging Common Ravens, looking for whatever scraps they could manage to steal from the wary bird of prey.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a harassing Common Raven)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

A couple of Black-billed Magpies even came in for a piece of the action. Or maybe just a piece of the Mallard.

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch (plus a few scavengers)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 500

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

subadult Bald Eagle with Mallard for brunch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

If there’s one thing I love most about winter birding in Calgary, I’d have to say that above the Snowy Owls, above the winter finches, and even above the odd vagrants we’re gifted with every couple of years, I certainly love seeing the influx of Bald Eagles the most. One of the groups this week in Beaverdam Flats recorded no less than ten (yes, 10) Bald Eagles in a single outing. While it’s not quite the same as the incredible numbers seen on both east and west coasts in the height of the season, it’s still an incredible treat to us landlocked city-slickers to have such unrestricted access to these regal and immensely powerful raptors.

That brings us to the end of our Autumn Birding Course for 2013. We’ll be picking back up in January again, but between now and then I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the Christmas Bird Counts I’m taking part in, as well as the various travels that I happen to find myself on this holiday season!

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 4 – Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

A week after our visit to Griffith Woods and the weather in Calgary has taken a turn for the better. We were greeted this morning by blue skies, above-zero temperatures, and a mild winter’s day with plenty of birds, which was a nice change from last week!

We took our usual route, heading south from the parking lot to the bridge crossing to the Southland Dog Park, continuing a bit further south to get a good look at some of the waterfowl in the clear morning sunlight.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Our first birds of the morning were a group of White-winged Crossbills hanging out in the trees near the parking lot, quite likely the same ones that Tim Hopwood was able to get some gorgeous photos of recently.

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

As we reached the bridge, it seemed that iridescence would be the word of the day. With the low angle of the sun, and the weather giving us a hint of the warmer spring soon to come, it seemed like every bird was showing off its brightest colors, including this normally drab Rock Pigeon.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

The real prize of the day were these Buffleheads, showing off their iridescence that we so rarely get to see in our dull grey winters. It certainly was a beautiful sight to see!

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

We headed south from the bridge after pausing to investigate some birds near the gazebo at the east side of the river. We spotted a Barrow’s Goldeneye at the far south end, and quite a number of Common Goldeneye as well. This female was kind enough to allow some decent flight shots, and the huge number of Canada Geese and Mallards on the river banks was too good to pass up.

female Common Goldeneye

female Common Goldeneye

mixed Waterfowl

Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few other waterfowl

We headed back north and followed the river around the bend, stopping a few times to watch some distant Bald Eagles on the far side of the river, but were also treated to some rather unusual activity from a group of Northern Flickers foraging around in the gravel at the edge of the river.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Another great bird to find in Calgary in the winter are the American Crows, which have been overwintering in Carburn Park for a number of years now, in ever-increasing numbers. Our group saw no less than 20 individuals during our exploration of the banks of the Bow River today.

American Crow

American Crow

With that said, waterfowl watching is not for everyone, but we did manage to spot a few unusual winter ducks in our excursion. This pair of Redheads gave us quite the views, and we were also treated to a pair of either Lesser or Greater Scaup a bit later on, though the ID is still up in the air on those ones.

Redheads

Redheads

A little more common around here, but still a welcome sight, are the Common Mergansers. This group of four males appeared to be trying to woo this lone female, who would have nothing of it, by all appearances.

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

It was clear that spring was getting just that much closer as we saw many birds beginning their preparation for the new breeding season. Northern Flickers were drilling out nest holes, Black-billed Magpies were displaying and pursuing each other, and this pair of male Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about, displaying and attacking each other in a fight for territory.

male Downy Woodpeckers

male Downy Woodpeckers

Next week we head back to Votier’s Flats in search of American Dippers, Wilson’s Snipe, and American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Good birding!