Tag Archive | calgary birdwatching

Active feeding!

While I was in Calgary over the holidays I took some photographs of feeding nuthatches and I thought I would share them with you so as to illustrate some of the effort that these little guys put into this common daily activity!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the way nuthatches feed perfectly, ” an intense ball of energy “, is exactly what they are!

When they start hacking away, usually their legs are the only part of their bodies not moving!

 

Posted by Matthew Sim

 

My not-so-Common Redpolls

This topic has come up a lot this winter; all the wintering finches here this year. I am going to add on to this topic once again.

My yard in southeast Calgary has gathered a fairly respectable list; about 90 species of birds have visited it in the last 10 years. The Common Redpoll is on this list, having been seen in my yard once in 2009 for all of about 10 seconds. For whatever reason, my community is not favored by redpolls. This year, though, they were everywhere, including my yard.

On December 23, I had a redpoll in my yard for almost half an hour. And not only was it in my yard, but it visited my feeders as well.

We have been seeing so many finches this winter likely because it is an irruption year; a year when food sources (such as catkins and cone crops for finches and lemmings for Snowy Owls) are hard come by on these birds’ normal wintering grounds.

It’s neat for me to be able to see birds I don’t usually see in my backyard, such as the not-so-Common ( in my neighborhood) Redpoll.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Winter Killdeer

Last weekend on the Christmas Bird Count, I came across a very photogenic Killdeer. These abundant shorebirds, usually only stay the summer in Calgary, several birds, however, also stay the winter.

Despite our frigid winters, these hardy Killdeer seem to manage all right, we see them throughout the winter which must mean that they are surviving. They are definitely finding food, as can be seen in the photo below.

This Killdeer seemed to be finding enough food

At one point, I even saw this particular bird with a small morsel of food clenched in its beak.

This Killdeer was fearless and approached me; which is quite a nice change as a photographer! It also engaged in the species peculiar method of moving; they run for a few feet, stop, look around, flick their tail up, bob their head up and down a couple times, and then repeat this cycle over again.

Just finished a short run, the Killdeer stops, looks around and...

Bobs it's head out of the photo, leaving the photographer with an unusual result; but a good story!

Each year, Killdeer are seen wintering in Calgary, somewhere on the Bow River. Though it may seem like a daft idea to many of us, this species obviously are doing just fine!

A Merry Christmas to you from all of us here at the blog!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Schoolyard Swainson’s

Last July, right before I moved to Texas, I was treated to an incredible sight: a dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk perched on a fence in a school parking lot. This hawk was incredibly close to the sidewalk and allowed for some great photos, all the while sitting calmly on its perch.

 This hawk didn’t seem to be injured, it just seemed to be very tolerant of people. Supposedly, Swainson’s Hawks are accepting of human activity and tolerate even more in areas where this activity is more frequent. This species will often become accustomed to disturbance from humans, thus the higher level of tolerability. This hawk, however did still seem to be giving me the evil eye!

After a couple minutes, the impressive raptor, slowly turned away (above) and resumed its activities as if I wasn’t even there.

This is not the first time this year that a Swainson’s Hawk has allowed me to get very close to it, back in May, while we bloggers were doing the Big Sit, we observed a Swainson’s that allowed us to watch it from merely several feet away http://birdscalgary.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/swainsons-hawk/.

This was definitely one of the cooler birding parts of the summer!

Posted by Matthew Sim

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

It’s good to be back…

I flew in to Calgary from Houston last Friday night and was greeted by snow on the ground! Something that I haven’t seen since April. Never thought that I would be so excited to see snow. My first day back, Saturday, I took a walk around my neighborhood and was fortunate enough to see most of the locals; no not the neighbors, the birds.

First thing in the morning, I woke to see several Black-billed Magpies jumping and hollering about in the willow. Several Common Ravens flew overhead and 2 pairs of Chickadees visited the feeders. I was very happy to see the Black-capped Chickadees, nothing can compare with this species’ friendliness!

I have been following the reports from Albertabird still and I have seen all the reports of winter finches; I knew what a good year it was for these birds. I just didn’t know how good! In my hour or so walk, I saw more Crossbills then I did all last winter. I must have seen more than 100 crossbills!

Most of the crossbills were White-winged however there were a few Red Crossbills in the mix ( see photo above). I also observed many Pine Siskins that were flocking with the crossbills and feeding on the abundant cones.

My neighborhood, for some reason, never seems to be popular with Common Redpolls, however this year, within my first 24 hours of being back in Calgary, I had already seen 2 in my community. Also, we hosted a Pine Grosbeak, which is unusual for us. At one point, I was privileged to see several crossbills, a redpoll and many siskins on the ground just feet in front of me, licking up some sort of salt or rock from the ground.

Then, later on in the day, I discovered why my feeders were so empty. Three Sharp-shinned Hawks were all together in a tree. When 3 raptors start calling your neighborhood home, there are definitely going to be some songbird declines.

All in all, it’s good to be back!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Tips on Bird Photography

I think it is safe to say that most of us here have an interest in birdwatching. Some of us are also interested in photographing birds, documenting what we see and also enabling others to enjoy these sightings . Bird photography can be very tricky though and doesn’t always come out the way we want it to. Through trial and error as well as tips from other nature photographers, I have slowly learned different tricks of the trade and am still learning. Here is one trick that I have found helps me a lot.

Take a look at the picture above. Probably doesn’t do much for you, right? Just a killdeer photograph, nothing exciting about the shot itself. What could have been done to make this a better photograph? I have found that getting low can often drastically improve the photo. Get down at eye level with the bird, you can often create better eye contact with the bird, bringing the viewer into a connection with the photo. The Killdeer will then seem more interesting, not only because of the lower angle, but because of the  change in the depth of field of the shot.

Depth of field (also known as DOF), is the term for the amount of distance between the closest and farthest objects that appear sharp in the photograph. In the second picture above, a shallower depth of field (meaning a blurry background) makes the photo less distracting and more pleasing to the eye. In the photo pictured below, I took it one step further, instead of simply kneeling, I lay on my stomach, creating a very shallow depth of field and therefore, a picture that is more likely to catch your eye than the first photo.

Changing the depth of field is a remarkably simple technique but incredibly powerful in the way a photo comes out. By getting low, chances are you can improve your bird photography.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Sunday Showcase: Calgary Corvids

Corvids, which are crows and jays, are classified by their harsh voices and their aggressive manner, both of which draw attention to themselves; large and often very gregarious birds. Most corvids have bristles on their nostrils, located on very powerful, all-purpose beaks built specially for handling their varied diet ( berries, fruits, seeds, invertebrates, small mammals and carrion). Here are most of the species that you may see in the Calgary region, the only one missing, is the colorful Steller’s Jay.

American Crow

Blue Jay

Grey Jay

Clark's Nutcracker

Common Ravens

Black-billed Magpie

Posted by Matthew Sim

Bird Profile: Bohemian Waxwing

A rush of wings, followed  instantly by  high-pitched trills break the silence. It is a cold, wintry scene, snow falling slowly from the never-ending sheet of clouds that blanket the sky in a gloomy grey. Standing still, nothing is to be heard; no cars, no people, and, above all, no birds. Just when it seems as though the entire world has gone into a peaceful slumber, the calm is broken by the sound of nature.

When they descend in hundreds, berries don’t last long at all. These birds are highly social and travel tight together, descending en masse on fruit bearing trees, where they proceed to rapidly consume thousands of berries. A very hardy bird, the Bohemian Waxwing toughs out the frigid winters of northern latitudes, enduring harsh conditions.The waxwing is both gregarious and elegant with a slick crest, and soft, silky plumage; it is deemed attractive by many. Named for the red, drop-shaped, waxlike tip on their feathers, this bird has warm grey-brown plumage, a black patch through the eye and a yellow-tipped tail. Bohemian Waxwings are berry aficionados and during winter, survive on the fruit of trees such as mountain ash and juniper, but also eat saskatoon and choke berries. Such a heavy reliance on one source of food can greatly affect a birds population and will cause much fluctuation. If there is a high population one year and a low fruit crop the same year, many waxwings will disperse in winter further south out of their regular mapped range. These years are known as irruptive years and are cherished by southern birders who do not usually get the opportunity to observe these birds.

I love witnessing large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings, it is possible to hear the whir of thousands of wings as they land, the twittering as they communicate endlessly, and the soft thud of berries as the fruit falls into the snow below, dropped by  a careless tug from the beak of a waxwing. Sometimes, after the flock has left, the snow will be littered with bright red berries. Then as cars and people pass over the fruit, the snow will be stained a rose color, evidence of the masses of birds that banqueted there.

Remember next time you are shoveling snow in -30 degree weather; you are privileged in that you can witness this elegant species brightening up the dull grey day. These birds are truly northern and hardly extend into the U.S. They are definitely one of the things I will miss most about Calgary winters.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Saturday Selection: Winter Birds in the Calgary area

Here is a photographic collection of some of the birds you may see in the Calgary region this winter.

Snowy Owl

Common Merganser

Hairy Woodpecker

Mountain Chickadee

Brown Creeper

Red Crossbill

Posted by Matthew Sim