Tag Archive | calgary bird blog

Sunday Showcase: More Starlings

Posted by Matthew Sim

This summer while I was up in Calgary, I noticed a lot of starlings as well, especially in Fish Creek P.P. On one of my excursions to the park, I positioned myself beneath a Starling’s nest hole and managed to capture a few shots as the bird descended to feed it’s young.

Preparing for landing…

Landing; note food in beak

At nest hole; seems to be startled by the ferocity of its two young!



Nooks and crannies; the process of saving seeds

Posted by Matthew Sim

I maintain bird feeders in my yard in Calgary all the time when I am around. Suet feeders, a tray feeder for millet, a peanut feeder, a niger feeder for siskins and goldfinches, a feeder for sunflower seeds; you name it. I enjoy watching the regular species of birds (and squirrels!) come in to eat and the occasional unusual species. When I watch “my” birds, I often notice intriguing behavior; the way that the Red-breasted Nuthatches stored food is particularly interesting. The nuthatches take a seed from the feeder, head to my fence and hide the seed there in a nook or cranny. Later, whether it be days, weeks or months, they would eventually come back looking for the seeds, providing some entertainment as we observe their antics.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, searching for a sunflower seed hidden somewhere along the fence

Is it down here, perhaps?

Maybe if I come at it from this angle…

Certainly is amazing what you can see from your backyard!

European Starling Influx

A large number of blog readers have been emailing photos and leaving comments this week, asking about the large numbers of  ‘black’ birds in their yard. The answer to everyone is that they are European Starlings.

Large flocks of up to 100 birds at a time have been reported from many south east communities, and just outside the city. They are generally mentioned as visiting apple trees, crab apple trees, or in my case, a mountain ash tree loaded with berries. This winter fruit is heavily relied upon by native birds such as Bohemian Waxwings and American Robins that overwinter here, which is one reason many birders do not like to see Starlings in their yard.

First brought to North America by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century, European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. Though they’re sometimes resented for their abundance and aggressiveness, they’re still dazzling birds when you get a good look. Covered in white spots during winter, they turn dark and glossy in summer. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks.

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Oct 22

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary?

If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

Compiled by Terry Korolyk

OCT 18

GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE – 2 north of Country Hills Blvd east of 14 St NW, Isabelle Orr and Susie Sperupt?

OCT 19

RED-THROATED LOON – Glenmore Reservoir, Ray Werschler and Bob Storms, also Al Borgardt
SURF SCOTER – 2 at Chestermere Lake, Hank Vanderpol
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET – yard in Banff, Terry Korolyk
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH – 2 in the Marlborough yard of Dorothy Johnston
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK – 21 in Black Diamond-Millarville-Priddis-Jumping Pound area, Ron Kube
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER – 5 on Chestermere Lake, HV
SNOW GOOSE – 7, as above
CACKLING GOOSE – 3, as above

OCT 20

SURF SCOTER – 2 immature on Glenmore Reservoir through week; a male and 4 imm/fem reported on Glenmore Reservoir by Bill Wilson and Gus Yaki et al ; 5 imm at Chestermere Lake Dam by TK leading a Nature Calgary Field Trip
HOODED MERGANSER – 30 just east of Hwy 817 on Twp Rd 250; TK and Nature Calgary
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER – at Lorette Raptor Watch in K-Country, Jim Davis

OCT 21

SURF SCOTER – 7+ Glenmore Reservoir, Gus Yaki and FFCPP; 1 on Glenmore Reservoir seen by Janet Gill and FFCPP
BOHEMIAN WAXWING – Marlborough yard, Dorothy Johnston

The next scheduled update of the Bird Alert is on Thu Oct 25.


Bird Study Group meets 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:30pm in Room 211
of the BioSciences Building, U of C.

WEDNESDAY, NOV 7, 7:30PM – DANIEL ARNDT AND DAVID PUGH will share their experiences with technology in the world of birding.

Calgary Herald Bird Photography competition

Posted by Matthew Sim

Interested in entering a local bird photography competition? For those of you who haven’t yet seen the article, the Calgary Herald is having a contest for bird photos seen in and around Calgary with the chance to win a copy of the National Geographic Bird Watcher’s Bible: A Complete Treasury.  There are 4 simple ways to enter:

1. Tweet your photo on Twitter with the hashtag #yycphotovote in the tweet.

2. Submit your photo via Instagram with hashtag #yycphotovote in the caption.

3. Post it to the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page.

4. Email the photo as an attachment to readercontributions@calgaryherald.com.

Swainson’s Hawk

If you haven’t submitted any photos, go ahead and give it a try! The winners will be announced next Sunday on the Calgary Herald’s Facebook page. You can find out more about the competition here.

Good luck!


Famous Birders: Gus Yaki

Posted by Matthew Sim

It has been a while since I last did a famous birders post but today, we have a very special expert birder and naturalist who some, if not most of us know personally; Gus Yaki.

Photo by Bob Lefebvre. Gus with an injured Ring-billed Gull.

Gus is a lifelong naturalist who has had a profound effect on numerous Calgarians, Albertans and people from across Canada and many other countries, including me. In November 2009, I was just starting to get seriously into birding and enjoying nature when I went on a Nature Calgary field trip to Fish Creek PP led by Gus; he did such a great job leading the trip that he helped to propel me into the world of birding.  Gus leads many trips throughout the year whether they be birding, botany or anything else dealing with nature, you can see some excursions that he will be leading for Nature Calgary in the near future  here.

Originally from North Battleford Saskatchewan, Gus used to walk 3 miles to school each day and got to learn and enjoy local fauna and flora this way. He started a nature tour service and, in 1983, led a trip around North America, following in the footsteps of Roger Peterson and James Fisher who had gone 30,000 miles around North America 30 years earlier. As Peterson’s and Fisher’s journey was immortalized in the book Wild America, so Gus’ trip was immortalized in the book, Looking for the Wild, written by Lyn Hancock, who was on the trip with Gus. Gus is very active in all conservation, birding and overall nature aspects of Calgary and, for me, is undoubtedly qualified as a famous birder.

Below are some questions I asked Gus about various aspects of his birding and natural life and his responses.

Note: Photos below courtesy of  http://www.stmu.ab.ca/

Image courtesy http://www.stmu.ab.ca

When did you become interested in birds and nature? 
I had nothing to do for nine months before I was born, so I listed all the bird sounds that I heard: as a result, I had a life-list (heard only) of 14 species when I took my first breath.
Seriously though, I don’t ever remember not being interested in birds and nature. One of my first teachers had a little 3 x 6 inch bird booklet. Walking almost three miles to school, I would see a bird on its nest. At school, during recess, I would thumb through this little publication to find a matching description. On the way home, I would confirm that I had correctly identified it.
Later, the CCF government provided a lending library service to those living in Saskatchewan, so I was able to borrow such books as Birds of Canada by P. A. Taverner, with illiustrations by Allan Brooks. Needless to say, I soaked up those illustrations and texts, so that when I saw the real thing, I was able to instantly identify it.
By then, I had realized that birds were only part of nature: they needed the other plant and animal species to provide food, shelter, and reproductive services – as did all other species, so naturally, I expanded my horizon accordingly.
You led birding tours; how many different countries have you visited while birding and what are some of your favorite countries to visit for experiencing nature?
Yes, I started my own nature tour company, “NATURE TRAVEL SERVICE” in 1972, and personally traveled to some 76 political entities. Places such as Antarctica and the Svalbard Islands (Spitzbergen) are not countries – thus entities. I did operate tours to additional destinations, which others led for me.
What were some of my favourites? I have been frequently asked that. I usually reply that it is the place that I am at that time. In terms of the most bang for the buck, I would have to reply that it would be East Africa – particularly Kenya and Tanzania. The masses of mammalian life was outstanding. On one trip, we saw at least 75 species of mammals. One day we recorded 34 species – some of them in the hundreds of thousands, and the total for the day was in excess of a million individuals. To put that into perspective, when I moved to Calgary in 1993, after going afield almost every day, it took me six months to see 34 mammal species – and usually only one of a kind at that.
On one four week trip to Kenya, we saw 618 species of birds – more than all the species ever reported as being seen in Canada.
Other notable destinations would include Australia, which has some 750 species – many belonging to totally different families than we have.
In late March, Israel was also spectacular, observing a million birds of prey and storks, etc., using the Great Rift Valley to migrate out of Africa, and then spreading throughout Asia and Eastern Europe.
South America is known as the Bird Continent, because it hosts over 3,000 species. This diversity is great – but the richest areas are in forests, and that makes it more difficult to see many of those species.
What has been one of your most memorable birding experience?
Apart from seeing the sights in Kenya and Israel, mentioned above, my most memorable sighting was of 17 Whooping Cranes that were migrating south on 20 Aug, 1946. At that time, supposedly there were only about 21 individuals of this species alive in the world. This small population’s nesting ground in Wood Buffalo National Park was then still unknown, not discovered until 1954. Most wintered at Aransas Nat. Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
The day before, 19Aug1946, I had witnessed 100,000+ Sandhill Cranes flying southward over me all day. The next day, the Sandhills again poured over me in similar numbers. Just before noon, a flock of about 20 low-flying Sandhills suddenly appeared immediately above the trees just at the north edge of the field where I was stooking sheaves of grain. Upon reaching the open sun-lit field, the Sandhills encountered a thermal and began to circle and rise up. As I watched them, I noted a flock of white birds, which I first assumed to be gulls, also circling to the NW of me. However, they soon ceased their circling, probably not having an effective thermal, and headed my way, ultimately joining the Sandhill Crane flock above me. The two species joined and circled together, ever gaining altitude – and eventually drifted off in a SSE direction. Both species were similar in same size and shape. The white birds had black primaries – and thus could only have been Whooping Cranes. When you plot a straight line from Wood Buffalo to Aransas, it takes you right over where I was watching these birds, about 35 miles, NNE of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
People questioning me about this sighting have suggested that the white birds might have been American White Pelicans or Snow Geese. The fact that the two species where so similar, with neck outstretched and long trailing legs, totally rules out any species other than Whooping Cranes.
How many birds have you seen in your lifetime?
I have never counted the species, but I would estimate that I may have seen at least half of the currently recognized total of 10,000 species – thus about 5,000 species.
I never set out to observe as many species as I could – instead, I made sure that my participants could see all that was available at each destination. I repeately visited the same countries, etc., but had I made a point of visiting new ones each year, the total obviously would have been much greater.
How have bird populations changed from what you have seen throughout the years, especially those in Calgary?
Sadly, many species have had dramatic declines. I remember Point Pelee National Park in Ontario well. I first visited it one weekend in May1952, when we saw 1000 Wood Thrushes ahead of us on the road as we drove along. By the late 1990s, when I was spending up to three weeks there, we wouldn’t see a single thrush of any species. A similar story involves the wood warblers. I recall seeing 34 species of warblers (and other small birds in a single tree) at one time one day. Today, it might take you a full two weeks, scouring the entire park, to see all of them.
Re: Calgary, some of the raptors, especially Ospreys and Bald Eagles have increased in numbers, with the cessation of the use of DDT in Canada and USA. However, I noticed a big decline in Swainson’s Hawk numbers; initially we regularly saw 50 or more individuals when driving from Calgary to Canmore. About 15 years ago, their numbers dwindled down to five sightings. This was probably attributable to the insecticide used to kill grasshoppers in Argentina, the winter home of Swainson’s. In my early years here, some seven pairs of American Kestrels regularly nested at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Their numbers have now dropped to zero in most years.
Shortly after arriving in Calgary in 1993, I started a monthly walk along the Elbow River, from Stanley Park to the Glenmore Reservoir. Since then, at least 14 species of birds that were relatively regular breeders, such as Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird, Western Wood-Pewee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Baltimore Orioles, etc., have totally disappeared. Other abundant species, such as House Wrens and Yellow Warblers, have also greatly declined.
Where is your favorite location to bird in Calgary?
This varies with the season. In spring and autumn, the Glenmore Reservoir is host to many species of waterfowl. The White Spruce forests in the western end of Fish Creek Prov. Park, Weaselhead and Griffith Woods Park host a number of rarer passerines. The Bow River is a mecca to winter waterfowl, and attract many migrants and breeding species at other times of the year..

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Oct 18

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary?

If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

Compiled by Terry Korolyk


Oct. 6

–COMMON CRANE, seen with Sandhill Cranes at Dead Horse lake just east of Hussar. Photos taken. Not seen since then.


–NORTHERN GOSHAWK(imm), Griffith Woods, by Steve Kassai
–WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, in yard of Carol Coulter, Calgary

Oct. 15

–CHUKAR(2),Signal Hill Drive above Battalion Park,
–WHITE-WINGED SCOTER(2), Glenmore Reservoir, E.side, by Gus Yaki et al.
–SURF SCOTER(2), same as above. Still there on Oct. 18.

Oct. 17

–FORSTER’S TERN (imm),pond N.of MacKenzie Towne Blvd,by J. Gatten.
–OSPREY, Glenmore Res., by GY.
–ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD, coming to a feeder in Bowness. Been coming to the feeder since June. Anyone wishing to see the bird, call Terry at 403-254-1878.

The next scheduled update of the Bird Alert is on Mon. Oct.22 .


Bird Study Group meets 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:30 pm in Room 211 of the BioSciences Building, U of C

WEDNESDAY, NOV 7, 7:30PM – DANIEL ARNDT AND DAVID PUGH will share their experiences with technology in the world of birding.

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Oct 15

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary?

If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

Compiled by Terry Korolyk

OCT 11

GREATER SCAUP – 3 females on Glenmore Reservoir, Bill Wilson

OCT 12

PACIFIC LOON -middle of Glenmore Reservoir, Al Borgardt
LONG-TAILED DUCK – Lake Louise in Banff Nat’l Park, Linda Vaxvick
RUSTY BLACKBIRD – Irrigation Canal south of 17 Ave SE seen by BW; also a flock of 8-10 in Rotary Park by the Hwy 22X bridge by Rick Robb

OCT 13

PACIFIC LOON – Glenmore Reservoir, Bob Storms
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER – 2 at east arm of Glenmore Reservoir, David Pugh and BW
SURF SCOTER – female in east arm of Glenmore Reservoir, BW
RED CROSSBILL – flocks of 4 and 19, Votier’s Flats in west Fish Creek PP, Terry Korolyk

OCT 14

GREATER SCAUP – 4 female or immature at the dam at Chestermere Lake, TK
BARROW’S GOLDENEYE – a flock of 50 as above
SURF SCOTER – immature at Langdon Reservoir on Hwy 22X just east of Hwy 797, TK
RUSTY BLACKBIRD – 7 at south end of Eagle Lake, Dan Arndt
FRANKLIN’S GULL – 3, at southwest corner as above
THAYER’S GULL – Sunset Park at Chestermere Lake, TK

NORTHERN SHRIKE – several reports over the weekend
ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD – still appearing at a home in Bowness, phone Terry Korolyk at 403-254-1878

The next scheduled update of the Bird Alert is on Thu Oct 18.


Bird Study Group meets 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:30pm in Room 211 of the BioSciences Building, U of C.

WEDNESDAY, NOV 7 AT 7:30PM – DANIEL ARNDT AND DAVID PUGH will share their experiences with technology in the world of birding.

Attn Backyard Birdwatchers!

If you feed birds in your yard each winter, why not turn your hobby into research that supports bird conservation? By joining Project FeederWatch and sharing information about which birds visit your feeders between November and April, you can help scientists at Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology track changes in bird numbers and movements.

Project FeederWatch begins on November 10 and runs until early April. Taking part is easy! Just count the numbers and kinds of birds at your feeders, and enter the information on the FeederWatch website (or on printed forms). Last season, 2565 Canadians participated, and another 13,000 people in the United States.

Results from ‘citizen science’ programs like Project FeederWatch help research and conservation organizations monitor long-term population trends and changes. FeederWatch has shown a northward expansion in the ranges of some species like Northern Cardinals and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, probably the result of changing climate and habitats. FeederWatchers have also documented a range-wide decline in Evening Grosbeaks. This species was a common bird at feeders just 25 years ago.

FeederWatch has also tracked the seasonal movements of irruptive species, and recorded the spread of avian illnesses. In 2011-12, Canada experienced a mild winter, with very little snow cover in much of the country. As a result, birds had access to lots of natural foods, which was a factor in fewer birds being seen at feeders.

After 25 years of Project FeederWatch as a North America-wide program, we know the patterns of fluctuations. Many ‘irruptive’ birds such as winter finches (e.g., Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Pine Grosbeaks) tend to move out of their normal ranges at regular intervals. They feed largely on tree seeds. When their food in northern and mountainous areas is in short supply, they move into southern and lowland areas, and descend on feeders.

Join Project FeederWatch

The $35 Project FeederWatch enrollment fee includes a Bird Studies Canada membership and four issues of BirdWatch Canada magazine. You will also receive educational materials, including: a large full-colour poster of common feeder birds; a bird calendar; a comprehensive instruction and data booklet; a useful bird-feeding handbook; the latest FeederWatch results; articles on bird behaviour; answers to your bird questions, and more!

Bird Studies Canada (www.birdscanada.org) is dedicated to advancing the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats. BSC is Canada’s national body for bird research and conservation, and is a non-governmental charitable organization.

There are four ways to register for Project FeederWatch in Canada:

Visit the “Explore Data” section of the FeederWatch website at http://watch.birds.cornell.edu/PFW/ExploreData to find the top 25 birds reported in your region and bird summaries by state or province.

For further information contact Kerrie Wilcox, Bird Studies Canada, (519) 586-3531 ext. 134kwilcox@birdscanada.org

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Postcards from Texas: Hawks and hummingbirds

Posted by Matthew Sim

Here I am, back in Houston, Texas once again for the school year and enjoying the southern birding. Last weekend I was able to make a trip from Houston down to the Gulf coast to several world-reknown birding spots, Smith Point and High Island.

We started out at Smith Point, where a hawk watch is held every year from September through November at the Candy Abashier Wildlife Management Area, counting migrating raptors on their journeys south. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we were treated to good looks at several American Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks passing by upon their migration. Also, several groups of American White Pelicans greeted us. We got onto the 30 foot observation tower next, stopping to watch dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed at the hummingbird feeders set up for them on the platform. While watching the hummingbirds, we noticed one leucisitic female. Leucism is when reduced pigmentation in an animal causes it to be partially white. In this case, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s forehead was white, instead of being the normal green.

After watching the hummingbirds for several minutes we scanned the sky looking for migrating raptors though by this time it was late morning and most of the hawks had already soared upward on the thermals (columns of warm, rising air) and were mere specks in the sky. We did see several small groups of Broad-winged Hawks, a Peregrine Falcon, a Northern harrier and many Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, the latter two which thankfully stayed fairly low, making some nice passes right by the tower. We also spotted several distant Magnificent Frigatebirds.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

We stayed for a while longer, realizing, that the earlier we get out the better birding there will be, though it was a couple hours drive just to get to Smith Point. Eventually, we left the hawk watch and went to another spot on the point, James H. Robbins Park where we saw quite a few shorebirds, including Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, American Oystercatchers and Semipalmated Plovers.

Semipalmated Plover

By now, the temperature was starting to climb so we decided to make just one last stop before heading home, world famous High Island which is well known for its amazing spring migrations, though it can be good in the fall as well. We attempted to get to Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary though we soon discovered that the sanctuary was filled with mosquitoes, who spared no mercy on our exposed arms, legs and necks. After 3 minutes we were done. Dismayed we tried the Boy Scout Woods sanctuary, also in High Island though it was filled with mosquitos as well and a 5 minute stay was all we could manage. The one positive of High Island was I did get to see 2 Inca Doves, a new bird for me at Boy Scout Woods, though the ferocious mosquitoes made sure I did not get to fully enjoy these lifers.

It was a great trip and I did learn some new things about Texas birdwatching:

  • try to get to Smith Point before the hawks soar into the stratosphere!
  • High Island+ fall= lots of mosquitoes!