Tag Archive | calgary birding locations

Birding Locations: Alberta Children’s Hospital Pond

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I thought I’d do a series of posts on some of the smaller ponds and birding locations in Calgary that many birders may not have visited. I’ll start with a fairly new pond that was constructed just south of the new Alberta Children’s Hospital.

This location, which is not far from the Bow River, lies just west of the University Heights neighbourhood in NW Calgary, and alongside West Campus Blvd. There are several paved paths into the area. To access the area by car, park on Utah Drive and take the short path to the pond.

Map - Children's Hospital Pond (2)

The main feature here is the large body of water which is almost bisected by a long thin peninsula. The pond attracts waterfowl, a few shorebirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others. There is also a large open field north of the pond which attracts hawks. A pair of Swainson’s Hawks has nested just SE of the pond for the last few years. I have seen up to six Swainson’s Hawks over the field at once. A Rough-legged Hawk staked out its territory here last winter.

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Looking across the pond from the northeast corner.

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A closer look from the northeast, with Edworthy Park across the river in the backgound.

Three views from the south side, looking towards the Children’s Hospital:

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A few closer looks which feature some of the birds found here:

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Mallards and Canada Geese nest here.

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Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the cat-tails around the pond.

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A Mallard, Northern Shoveler, two American Wigeons, and four Cinnamon Teal on the peninsula.

This location will only get better as the trees and shrubs around the pond mature. So if you live nearby, or are passing through this area, it is worth a visit.

For more information on where to go birding, see the Nature Calgary Birding Locations Page. It has an excellent and comprehensive guide to many locations in the city and the surrounding region.

Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Muskrat

Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!

A Big Day in Fish Creek

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Friday, I did a Big Day in Fish Creek. For those of you who do not know what this is, a Big Day is when you try to see and hear as many species as possible within a 24 hour day. For my Big Day, I spent more than 10 hours in Fish Creek, doing the entire day by bike, riding about 74 kilometers (46 miles) throughout the park and recording 93 species of birds, falling short of my goal of 100. Temperatures ranged from 6-15 degrees Celsius and there were a few showers. I started at about 5am and took a 2 hour weather break at lunch time, hoping for some of the rain to blow over, before returning at 2 and counting for another 3 hours. A full list and a more detailed report of the day can be seen here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Albertabird/message/20841

Here are some photos from the day:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-necked Grebes

Blue-winged Teal

Tennessee Warbler

Ruddy Ducks

Male Common Yellowthroat

Carburn and Southland Park Christmas Bird Count

This year, I also did the Christmas Bird Count; I was assigned the S1 route, encompassing both Carburn and Southland Park. We started the morning birding from the Eric Harvie bridge in Southland, right beside the dog park, before splitting up, 2 groups going south along the river (one on each side) and 2 groups going north along the river. The day was off to a good start as we observed 2 adult eagles and 2 immature eagles flying low overhead; the rising sun was beautiful, adding to the good beginning and silhouetting the many ducks and geese on the Bow River.

We observed thousands of Mallards, Common Goldeneyes and Canada Geese throughout the day with several hundred Buffleheads as well. There were also several Barrow’s Goldeneyes in these waterfowl flocks.

The Common Goldeneyes weren’t quite as numerous as the Mallards however they were still present in large numbers.

We continued to walk further down the river, spotting Redpolls, plenty of waterfowl, Killdeer, magpies and… RUSTY BLACKBIRD!!! As we were hiking along the river, we flushed up a brownish-black bird about the size of a Robin from the bank. It landed nearby at the top of a poplar where we all got good looks at it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my photographs of this species! This blackbird, is an unusual bird in Calgary, explaining, perhaps, my excitement at the sighting (also, this was only my second time seeing this species).

We headed back to the meeting spot, the Eric Harvie Bridge, where we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and discovered that another group had found an American Wigeon. We then headed to our next stop, Tim Hortons! After warming up and getting refreshments at Tim Hortons, we headed out near the Glenmore bridge, where at a pullout, we walked out and did some more birding, turning up a Killdeer and a Hairy Woodpecker.

The next and final stop for our group was Carburn Park. Our goal at Carburn, was to find an American Pipit  that had been reported here a little while earlier. Though we couldn’t agree to the location where this bird had been seen, we did manage to find it. This happens to be the first pipit recorded on the Calgary CBC since its beginning, 59 years ago.

Also in Carburn, we found a pair of Great Horned Owls, that were extremely well camouflaged against the tree branches they were perched on, several more Barrow’s Goldeneyes and another juvenile eagle. I decided to head home early and only found out later that the rest of the group had also found a Northern Pintail and a Wood Duck in Carburn. I birded around my neighborhood, which was inside our count circle, and managed to add both species of crossbills, a robin and a Merlin to our list, among other species.

The pipit and the Rusty Blackbird were definitely the highlights of the day for me, however they were only two of the 33 species and 7924 individuals recorded by 10 counters in this particular area. Here are the complete results:

Canada Goose, 1500; Wood Duck, 1; American Wigeon, 1; Mallard, 3000; Northern Pintail, 1; Bufflehead, 150; Common Goldeneye, 2800; Barrow’s Goldeneye, 20; Common Merganser, 20; Bald Eagle, 5; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Merlin, 1; Killdeer, 5; Rock Pigeon, 25; Great Horned Owl, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 5; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 3; Black-billed Magpie, 125; American Crow, 3; Common Raven, 12; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 3; American Robin, 1; Dark-eyed Junco, 1; Rusty Blackbird, 1; House Finch, 4; Red Crossbill, 12; White-winged Crossbill, 26; Common Redpoll, 25; House Sparrow, 110; American Pipit, 1.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Nothing But Shoreline

The irrigation canal in southeast Calgary is drained in late September, and as the water level drops, it exposes lush shorelines with plenty for the birds to eat.  From mid-September to freeze-up is the time to get out to look for waterfowl, gulls, and late migrating shorebirds.

Fall colours reflected in the remaining water

I usually explore the sections from the canal headworks near the Max Bell Arena to south of 50 Avenue SE.  There are four parking areas, and you can go up and down a portion of the canal from each one.  It’s a long walk to do it all at once, but a fairly short bike ride.

Click to enlarge the map.

Max Bell Arena:  Access from Barlow Trail SE, just south of Memorial Drive.  There is a large parking lot north of the arena, and you can walk down to the canal headworks from there, and walk along the east bank.  If you want to get to the west bank, you have to cross over at the 17 Avenue SE bridge.

Bow Waters Canoe Club:   Access is off 26 Street SE, just south of 17 Avenue.  Cross the bridge to get to the paths on the west side.  The path on the east side between here and Gosling Way has some steep, difficult terrain, and it is almost impassable by bike.  This lot is fairly secluded and I don’t like to leave my vehicle there.  I prefer Max Bell or Gosling Way.

Gosling Way:  Go west off 26 Street SE at 34 Avenue.  This is the road that goes to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.  The parking lot, used by off-leash dog walkers, is just west of the bridge over Deerfoot trail, on the south side of Gosling Way.  It only holds about ten vehicles.  From this lot, walk down to the bridge over the canal and take the paths from there.  In the winter, you can also park at the golf and curling club, but it is a bit of a walk back to the canal.

50 Avenue SE:  It is difficult to park here.  There are only two small spots, each with room for two cars,  at the east end of the bridge over the canal.  It can also be a very busy road, so I avoid parking here as well, and usually just walk from Gosling Way.

The canal has a paved path on one side (sometimes on the east, sometimes on the west) and a dirt or gravel path of sorts on the other side.  I like to go on the east side in the mornings and on the west side in the afternoons, to keep the sun behind me.  This late in the year, the water is usually frozen in the mornings, so there are few birds around.  But on warm afternoons the ice melts, and the birds arrive.

Muskrat and female Hooded Merganser

Detail of Gosling Way Parking.  Click to enlarge.

Looking south from Gosling Way.

Looking north to the bridge on Gosling Way.

Pat and I have each posted about birding the canal before.  You can see Pat’s post here, and my post here.

Lately I’ve seen quite a few Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, and a few Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Greater Yellowlegs.  In past years I’ve seen Redheads, Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Rusty Blackbirds all feeding along the shorelines.

Mallards and an assortment of Yellowlegs.

Muskrat and Mallard sharing the Muskrat’s lodge.  Background by Monet.

A Black-billed Magpie looks for food on the old canal bottom.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Woodpecker Tree

While on my latest bike ride into Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across one very special tree. I have started calling it: The Woodpecker Tree. Standing proud and tall on the banks of the creek, this poplar tree seemed to be a gathering place for woodpecker food. I abruptly stopped on the dirt path I was riding on because I had heard a Hairy Woodpecker calling. I approached the tree for closer inspection and I was surprised to see 2 Downy Woodpeckers and a large female Hairy Woodpecker. Much to my surprise I heard another Downy Woodpecker calling high up in the tree and I looked up to see a male Downy Woodpecker and a White-breasted Nuthatch. I then heard a tapping coming from the opposite side of the tree and found it to be a male Hairy Woodpecker tapping away. Eventually, my final count of woodpeckers came up to 3 Hairy Woodpeckers, 4 Downy Woodpeckers and the lone White-breasted Nuthatch.

This tree obviously fulfilled the nourishment needs for 7 woodpeckers and a nuthatch. As I continued to watch all these birds, I saw them eating insects, tapping at fungal growths on the tree and investigating sap.

After a dozen of  minutes or so, the woodpeckers started to spread out into the surrounding area to hunt down more food. Yet some of the birds, stayed on the woodpecker tree, clearly enjoying the abundance of good food.

Now, I can’t help but wonder if this is a regular occurrence at this tree, or was it a one-time event?

Posted by Matthew Sim

Oh What a Canada Day!

Canada Day, last Friday, I rode my bike out to Fish Creek once again to see what I could find. At a storm water pond, I found a total of 9 cute Common Goldeneye ducklings; swimming and diving about.

In Hull’s Wood, I was alerted to a Common Raven and her two young by some loud croaking, the immature birds hungrily calling for food, despite being able to feed themselves.

As I passed by the Bow River, I could hear a Song Sparrow singing and after a quick search, I located this melodious little sparrow.

As I worked my way back to the intersection of Canyon Meadows and Bonaventure Dr. I passed over Bridge #11. As I did so, I could hear a pair of House Wrens scolding me.

I soon found out why I was being scolded. Just beyond the bridge, was a railing, and inside the railing was the Wren’s nest with several young on the inside. The parents flew inside several times to feed the young and it was quite a tight squeeze!

I continued on my way, not wanting to bother the young family. As I came to the last storm water pond between the ranch and the Glennfield area of Fish Creek, I saw an interesting shape in a tree. I stopped my bike, took a closer look, and found the object to be a porcupine! This was great, as I had never seen one before.

Almost out of the park, I saw a perched Osprey near a small path through long grass. I stopped and approached for a closer view… And got absolutely eaten alive by mosquitoes. I added to my bug bite collection by at least 20 in less than 5 minutes!

Oh what a great Canada Day it was!

Posted by Matthew Sim

5 Must-see birds: July

July is another great month to go birdwatching in the Calgary region. By now, most birds are in the process of raising hungry families while others, such as hummingbirds and certain shorebirds, start their southward migration in late July. Our must-see birds for July are as follows:

1. Western Grebe

Featured before in one of our previous posts (Grebes, Grebes, Grebes), the Western Grebe is a gregarious grebe that is easily recognized thanks to its contrasting black and white plumage, thin green-yellow bill and slender neck. Colonial nesters, the Western Grebe is usually found on medium to large lakes such as Frank Lake ( Glenmore reservoir during migration) where they mainly consume small fish.

A pair of Western Grebes, front, on a crowded Frank lake.

2. Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a beautiful black-and-white songbird with a rosy red breast, lives up to its name. The female is a brownish-streaked bird with yellow wing linings. Emitting a robin-like song, only richer, more energetic and more rapidly delivered, both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak sing.  This bird may be seen in the Glenmore and the Weaselhead area or at Griffith Woods along the banks of the Elbow River in southwest Calgary.

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding a juvenile.

3. Canvasback

The largest diving duck found in the province, I find Canvasbacks to be very beautiful.  The male is resplendent with a canvas coloured back and a chestnut head and neck.  This species prefers lakes and ponds with emergent vegetation and vegetated margins. Weed lake is a good place to observe these ducks. The Canvasback uses its long sloping bill to strain seeds from the mud on the bottom of ponds.

4. Wilson’s Phalarope

The only shorebirds that normally swim,  the sex roles are reversed in phalaropes, the female being larger and more colorful than the male; a black stripe going down from the eye, down the side of the neck and then merging into chestnut. Favouring sloughs and shallow lakes where wet meadows and grassy marshes are present, the Wilson’s Phalarope may be seen on most southeast sloughs and lakes.

5. Cinnamon Teal

Our final bird for the month of July is the Cinnamon Teal, a conspicuous cinnamon red duck that is striking in the right light. This teal prefers shallow lake margins, marshes and ponds; on larger bodies of water, it is never found very far from shore. Look for Cinnamon Teal in early July, before they molt, in the southeast sloughs, Frank Lake, or in Fish Creek at Burnsmead, among other spots.

Let us know which of these birds you saw this month! Happy Canada Day!

Posted by Matthew Sim

The Lookout

In South Glenmore Park, just where the trail drops down into the Weaselhead, there is a path leading through the bush to a spot with two benches.

Not only does it provide a great view of the pond and Weaselhead, but someone has turned it into a feeding station for the birds.  I have been there a few times, and there is always birdseed on the rails and ground, and oranges in the trees.  If you sit still and are patient, you get great close-up views of the birds.  These pictures were taken on June 17, and we saw 23 species from the lookout that day.  Here are some of them.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Downy Woodpecker:

Hairy Woodpecker:

Clay-colored Sparrow:

Black-capped Chickadee:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

Brown-headed Cowbird:

Some small mammals got in on the action as well.  Red Squirrel:

Least Chipmunk:

A Pine Siskin and a Red-breasted Nuthatch squabble over a good feeding spot:

Pine Siskin:

Red-breasted Nuthatch:

White-breasted Nuthatch:

Finally, this little Red Squirrel rested his head on his hands while he patiently waited his turn at the feeder:

Posted by Bob Lefebvre