Tag Archive | common loon

Birding at South Glenmore Park never fails to impress

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before I start this post, I want to mention that this week’s entry is going to include some photos from a visit I took to the park a week ago as well, partly because there was a significant paucity of expected birds here this week, but also to highlight a local rarity that passed through late last week as well. The usual map will also indicate the location of the older photos.

This week’s location was South Glenmore Park, with the goal in mind to see some migrating waterfowl and other associated water birds, and to highlight that with some of the boreal and parkland birds along the north-facing slope of the Glenmore Reservoir. While we did have some incredibly memorable experiences with the latter, the uncannily quiet morning in general led to my decision to include some photos from last week as well.

South Glenmore Park and Glenmore Reservoir

South Glenmore Park and Glenmore Reservoir

Our morning started off on a high note, with one species I don’t know if I’ve ever actually posted a photo of to this blog. While House Sparrows are invasive, and by far my most numerous feeder bird at home, they’re more often heard than seen out on our walks, and even then, not one we get more than four or five times a season, since our walks are in more natural areas. I do think they’re quite an attractive bird overall, and one of the few sparrows where one can easily tell the males and females apart.

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

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

As we scanned the Glenmore Reservoir a few minutes later, it was clear just how quiet the day was going to be. The only bird on the water was a single Common Loon off in the distance. I mentioned in a previous post that the floods this summer flushed all the vegetation, and as such, all of the aquatic life out of the reservoir, meaning that any birds that touch down on the reservoir overnight typically are gone either before or shortly after dawn, as there’s next to nothing around for them to eat. One exception was a Sabine’s Gull that stuck around for three days last week. A hatch-year bird, by all indications, and as such, was incredibly unwary of people. When I took this photo, a group of workers at the Sailing Club to the left of the frame was moving around a few boats, and at the shop a hundred meters or so away, repairs were well underway with the constant din of saws, hammers, and lathes hard at work.

Sabine's Gull - October 10, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Sabine’s Gull – October 10, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Early in our walk, the Common Loon was quite far off, but after we scanned the reservoir and began our walk down the slope to the lower pathway, it took off and flew into one of the bays a bit further west, sitting only a few dozen meters off shore.

Common Loon in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Common Loon in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along the lower pathway, we heard the brief calls of an American Tree Sparrow, and a few Dark-eyed Juncos, but didn’t get very good looks at them. It also seemed that their numbers were far fewer than they had been the week prior, for one reason or another.


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

American Tree Sparrow – October 10, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco - October 10, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Dark-eyed Junco – October 10, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

American Tree Sparrow - October 10, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

American Tree Sparrow – October 10, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

The distant Common Loon flight was quite reminiscent of the Sabine’s Gull of the week prior, flying along an almost identical path. In this photo of the Sabine’s Gull, you can see two very distinct field marks for identifying the species: both the jet black primary flight feathers, and the bold, pure white triangle formed by the secondaries and tertials are great identifying marks for the Sabine’s Gull.

Sabine's Gull in flight - October 10, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Sabine’s Gull in flight – October 10, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Our first looks at the Common Loon up close were fairly satisfying, but if you look closely in the photo of it in flight above, it appears to have suffered some damage to its flight feathers, which was pronounced when we were able to view it closer as it spread its wings twice to dry them off. Whether the damage is from an injury, or a late molt, one way or another this little bird is in for a rough few weeks.

Common Loon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

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

And then came the quiet. For the next twenty or so minutes we walked along, feeding some Black-capped Chickadees, hearing a Golden-crowned Kinglet or two, but seeing almost nothing close on the reservoir. The most excitement we had was watching a Bald Eagle harass an unseen water bird (likely an American Coot) for a good ten minutes before tiring of the chase and perching nearby, just before we headed up and away from the reservoir.

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

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

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

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

Walking along the upper pathway was just as eerily quiet. We passed through at least three small flocks of Black-capped Chickadees on the upper trail before hearing the distinct call of a Pileated Woodpecker, a nice surprise on any walk. It appeared that a Cooper’s Hawk was harassing a small family of Pileated Woodpeckers. No less than three of them were flying back and forth along the upper ridge, until a flock of about ten Black-billed Magpies came in and flushed the hawk away. Unfortunately, the Pileated Woodpeckers stayed well away from the trail we were on, allowing very few photo opportunities.

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

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

And to add insult to injury, that was our last good sighting of anything for the day. We did have a really nice view of the Calgary skyline from the pathway as we approached the parking lot, and a surprise visit by a Common Raven that flew in close to us as we prepared to leave.

Calgary skyline Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/320sec., ƒ/13, ISO 640

Calgary skyline
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/320sec., ƒ/13, ISO 640

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

It’s not often you get close looks at Common Loons on the reservoir, so after the group left, I made an attempt to get close to the loon we’d seen earlier, and I was not disappointed. It seemed to not be particularly wary of my approach, and I spent a good 10 minutes with the bird before it swam out away from shore.

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

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


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

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

Thanks again for reading! Have a good week, and good birding!

Saturday’s Shots; a look through the archives

Posted by Matthew Sim

I haven’t been able to get out to much birding or photography lately and while this is generally quite disappointing for me, it does hold one positive factor; a chance to look through my archives of bird photos. As I went through my archives this past week, I noticed two photos of loons I had taken at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park this August that had somehow escaped my notice. Here they are, hope you enjoy.

adult common loon


Something old, something new

Posted by Matthew Sim

For the third straight year, on a camping trip to southeastern British Columbia, I watched a family of Common Loons as they went about their lives despite living on a very busy lake and getting quite a bit of disturbance from vacationing families. As we watched the parents (something old as I have seen them before) tending to their young (something new) I couldn’t quite help but be amazed at how they can continue call the lake home despite the popularity of the lake among campers.

This year, there were two young loons. You may remember from last year’s post that there was only one chick last year (last year’s post can be seen here). It was quite remarkable to watch how the adult loons worked together this year with two chicks instead of one; sometimes each parent would take care of one of the chicks while at other times, one parent would give the other a break and watch over both chicks for a while before the parents eventually switched.

Though loons can be very sensitive to disturbance, these loons seem to have adapted well to human presence. Also, there is no motorized boat traffic on their lake, so maybe they are fine with kayakers, canoes and swimmers.

Off to feed its young

Common Loons nest on small islands, muskrat lodges and sometimes on the shores of their lake if these shores are forested and undisturbed. They lay one or two (sometimes three) eggs and take turns incubating these eggs for 28-30 days before the black, downy chicks are hatched.  These chicks can swim  immediately and they leave the nest with their parents within 24 hours of hatching. Though they can swim, for the first 2 weeks they will often ride on their parents backs perhaps to stay warm and avoid predators. Within six to eight weeks the young will be the size of the adults but until about eight weeks, they will continue to be fed by their parents. I noticed that of the 2 chicks, one seemed to be very independent already while the other one stayed close to at least one adult. Perhaps they had hatched several days apart?

The more dependent of the two chicks being fed; or maybe it just enjoyed free food?!

By three months, mountain lakes such as this one start to get colder and eventually the loons will have to leave; by three months the young can fly. During the 4 days that I was there,  the young loons attempted flying a few times, though judging by all the splashing and flopping around, they still need some more practice.

Learning to fly

I found it quite interesting to observe the loons. Often, when I would watch them from a distance, patience would pay off and they would eventually swim quite close to me, within a few feet. The young ones seemed to be especially curious and would often linger around my raft. I had a great time watching the loons and spent many hours with them up close, learning different aspects of their lives. I got plenty of photos and as these seem to tell a story better than words I will leave it at that.

Loon Survey, Part Three

It’s high time I updated the Loon Survey I did for Bird Studies Canada this past summer. You can read about the survey, and see pictures of the eggs, fledglings, and adult loons, on my previous posts: Loon Survey, Part One, and Loon Survey, Part Two.

In late August I returned to Leisure Lake, near Bragg Creek, to check on the Common Loon family.  The purpose of the third visit, late in the season, is to see if the young loons have survived.  Like all birds, loons have a high rate of mortality among fledglings.

I was happy to find that the two young, still in their brown plumage, were doing well.  They were starting to look like adults. (Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

  Juvenile Common Loon, about two months old.

The two juveniles with an adult.

However, despite making a long slow circuit of the entire lake, I only saw one of the parent loons.  I thought that perhaps one of the adults was hiding on shore somewhere, but I’ve been told that loons are so ungainly on land that they only go ashore to incubate their eggs.  It’s possible that it was in the reeds somewhere and I missed it, but that seems unlikely.  Perhaps one of the adults departed for the wintering grounds earlier than the other adult and the young.  I don’t know if they normally do that or if they all leave together.  The other possibility is that the missing adult succumbed to disease or a predator.  It will be interesting to see what happens there next spring.

If you want to participate in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, there are plenty of unmonitored lakes with loons on them.  Contact Bird Studies Canada for more information.  Here is a link to the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey page.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Loon Survey, Part Two

Last month I reported on my trip to Leisure Lake, southwest of Calgary, to monitor the breeding Common Loons there (see the blog post, Loon Survey, Part One).  On June 14 there was a breeding pair of loons, with two eggs in the nest.  I returned to the lake on July 10 to see if the young loons had fledged.

Leisure Lake, in the Bragg Creek/Priddis area, southwest of Calgary.

I soon saw the loons, the two young birds following their parents around the lake.  The newly fledged loons were already quite large, and seemed to be doing well.

Two young loons following their parents.

One of the young loons in its brownish plumage.

The next step in the loon survey was to return to check on the loons in August, to see if the young have survived their first few weeks of life.  I’ll report on that in Part 3.

 Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Beautiful Loons

On a recent camping trip to Kikomun Creek Provincial park in south-eastern British Columbia (near Fernie), I spent hours out on the main lake at the campsite; Surveyor’s Lake, observing and photographing Common Loons. Home to a breeding pair of loons, Surveyor’s lake is a busy lake; hundreds of people crisscross the lake each day in canoes, rafts, paddleboats and kayaks. All these people, however, do not deter the loons and once again, they have nested in the area and have one big young one.

Due to all the traffic on this lake, the loons are not shy and will sometimes even approach people. At one point, I was sitting in my raft photographing these beautiful birds when one of the adults and the young one started to swim towards me. They came closer and closer until I could have touched the young loon with my paddle!

The young loon seemed to be doing an impression of an eel; he would get down low in the water and start swimming about. This last photo shows how close the young loon came; this was taken with my 500mm lens and is uncropped; I had to sit very still, otherwise a sudden motion would have scared the youngster away!

The adult loons were very protective of their young one; when an immature Bald Eagle flew low over the lake, the adult loons had already seen it, were loudly giving their alarm call and both parents were protectively circling around the young loon.

Occasionally, the loons were too fast for me and my camera and would dive right as I would take a photograph.

While I watched this loon family, they consumed a lot of food and I later found out that one pair of loons with two chicks will eat more than 1000 kg of small coarse fish over a breeding season. That is a lot of fish! Hopefully the lake is well stocked!

I immensely enjoyed watching this family; it was amazing to watch their lives as they try to raise the next generation of loons. I also saw hope; despite this species sensitivity to human disturbance, these loons can survive among humans and this adaptability could help keep these magnificent birds off the threatened species list.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Must-see Birds: August

August means migration for many birds here in Calgary while others are having a second brood of young ones or are concentrating on raising their first brood. This month’s birds are:

1. Common Loon

Best known for its lonely echoing calls that are considered by most people to be heard in unspoiled wilderness. The Common Loon has a seemingly star-studded back, a white necklace and a bright red eye that stands out in the right light. The Common Loon can stay underwater for long periods, up to a minute while feeding and longer if the bird is escaping from danger. Common Loons inhabit clear, open lakes where there are few people and plenty of fish. They can be seen in the mountains, foothills, parkland and boreal forest but are few in the grasslands.

2. Western Meadowlark

A stocky bird with a grayish brown back and a yellow breast with a black V on the bib, the male Western Meadowlark delivers a rich melodious song from posts in the grasslands. The Meadowlark breeds where there is a thick growth of weeds and grasses, laying 3-7 white eggs. The male bird is beautiful and defends his territory with various displays. Look for the Meadowlark in grasslands around Calgary.

File:Western Meadowlark.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

 3. Yellow-headed Blackbird

Our third bird is the loud and noisy Yellow-headed Blackbird. The male is easily recognized by his bright yellow head and neck, black eye patch and white wing patch. the female is brown and mottled with a faint yellow head. The Yellow-headed Blackbird nests in the same marshes as Red-winged Blackbird and will displace the smaller Red-winged Blackbird from the prime nesting spots. The yellow-headed Blackbird is easy to see at Frank lake.


4. Black-crowned Night-Heron

A small stocky heron that at times appears to have no neck, the Black-crowned Night-Heron has a greenish black crown and long slender white head plumes. Most active at night, the Black-crowned Night-Heron was not observed in Alberta until 1958; it is now a local breeder. these herons colonize large bodies of water with dense emergent vegetation; I have seen them at Frank lake every time I have gone there during the spring and summer.

5.  Peregrine Falcon

Our final bird this month is the speedy Peregrine falcon.One of the swiftest birds in the world when diving at prey, it can attain speeds of over 300km/h when diving. The adults are blue-grey above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. One of the most widespread birds in the world, the name peregrine means ‘wanderer’ and the Peregrine falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Look for this fast falcon nesting on the U of C campus and at shorebird concentration spots like Weed lake, where a Peregrine will hunt the migrating shorebirds.

File:Falco peregrinus nest USFWS.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

These are our 5 birds for August, see which ones you can find! We will have our final must-see birds post on September 1.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Loon Survey, Part One

This year I decided to take part in another Citizen Science project, the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, conducted by Bird Studies Canada.  The basic requirements are quite simple:  visit the lake once in each of June, July, and August to see if there is a breeding pair of Loons present, if they fledge young, and if the young survive.  Each visit should be at least two hours, but of course you can spend more time and may visit the lake more often if you like.  You also keep track of other birds associated with the body of water.  I knew of a small lake southwest of Calgary in the Bragg Creek area that has been occupied by loons for a few years, so I checked with BSC to see if it was being monitored.  It hadn’t, so I registered to monitor the lake.

We arrived at the lake in the afternoon and soon spotted a lone Loon.

There are two islands in the lake, and I knew that the loons had built a nest on the south island in each of the past three years.  We climbed into the local rowboat which is always on the shore, and headed out into the water.

We tried to keep clear of the south island so as not to get too close to a nest if there was one, although I did want to see how many eggs were present if possible.  We went between the two islands, keeping close to the north one, and checking the south one through binoculars for a nest.  There had also been a cow moose who calves on the south island every year, and if she was there, we didn’t want to disturb her either.  To our delight ,we soon saw the Moose and her calf through the dense foliage. I got a quick picture of the cow, but not the calf, and didn’t linger near the island – Moose can swim very well!

We soon noticed that there were in fact two Loons on the lake, a breeding pair.

The Loons were acting strangely, diving and then surfacing very close to the boat, and diving again with a noisy splash, only to come up again on the other side.

We were getting some great close-up views, but then I realized why the Loons were so agitated:  their nest was on the north island, and we were only a few feet away from it.

There were two eggs on the nest!  We quickly retreated, and were relieved to see one of the Loons take its position on the nest.  They are probably quite used to people being around – there were the remains of a campfire on their island – but we certainly hadn’t intended on disturbing them.

When we returned in the evening for another look at the Loons, we came across the cow Moose which was feeding on the path to the lake.  Luckily, since the calf was still on the island, she was not aggressive.

YouTube Preview Image

Doing the survey is a great opportunity to contribute to our knowledge of Common Loons, and you get to witness scenes like this:

I will post Part Two of the Loon Survey later, after I return to the lake in late July and see if the chicks have successfully fledged.

If you are interested in taking part in the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, contact Bird Studies Canada. Here is a link to their website .  You can also contact Kathy Jones at volunteer@birdscanada.org or by phone at 1-888-448-2473 ext. 124, or register online. The CLLS is a self-supporting program, so you must hold an active BSC membership to participate. For more information, select this link to view the program brochure, or to view a map of available Canadian lakes and their most recent survey year, select this link.  (Above information taken from the Nature Calgary website )

Posted by Bob Lefebvre