Tag Archive | Double-crested Cormorant

Terry’s Travels: The Irricana Sloughs

By Terry Korolyk 

On Saturday, September 17, I decided to go birding to the area between Strathmore and Irricana as my wife was otherwise occupied. This included an area known as the Irricana Sloughs, a once well-known birding destination for many birders in the 1980s, 1990s, and, early in the new millennium. Today, it is still visited by some birders, but, these days more areas have been explored and opened up for birders, so, the choices are greater.

Nonetheless, I set out on this beautiful Fall day. I had chosen the large slough at the Cattleland Feedlots at the north end of Highway 817 north of Strathmore as my starting point. On the way out there, I passed a few migrating Swainson’s Hawks some of them following farmers on their machines who were busy cutting their crops, then, driving north of Conrich, as I approached Highway 564, a congregation of Black-billed Magpies and Ravens were gathered along the roadside. I slowed down hoping to see what the reason might be for this gathering, but, could see nothing.

When I arrived at Cattleland, I was hoping to see Greater White-fronted Geese as over 300 of the birds had recently been reported there. This site had become known as the one that almost always had the first birds of that species to arrive in our area in Fall migration usually in late August. The same had held true this year. This location and Namaka and Eagle Lakes southeast of Strathmore were the best White-fronted Geese sites near Calgary.


Islands at Cattleland Reservoir. Photo Sept. 17, 2016

But, none were there on this day. The water level was high, but, it had been that kind of Summer. The slough has 3 islands which, with the now high water, were not that far above the surface of the water. Birds tend to congregate on them, and, in breeding season, Terns, both Common and Forster’s, and, once, even a pair of Arctic Terns raised their young on them along with other species such as Canada Goose, American Avocet, and, Black-necked Stilt. This nesting of Arctic Terns in the interior of the continent was not a first; it had happened previously in Montana.

In any event, so far this Fall, the islands were being used primarily by Gulls, including all of Ring-billed, California, and Franklin’s, and, Double-crested Cormorant. Today, there wasn’t that much there to interest a birder. A flock of 13 Baird’s Sandpipers was a highlight and flocks of Icterids there such as Brewer’s, Red-winged, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and, Brown-headed Cowbirds had dwindled in numbers. Large numbers are attracted by the Feedlot following breeding season. By the way, those birding the site must be aware that sometimes a repugnant odour may waft over from the feedlot so, be warned.

I moved on from Cattleland driving eastward on Highway 564. A few kilometres on, I turned northward driving past the few residences composing Nightingale. As I turned, a male Common Grackle flew past the car. I kept on northward a few kilometres turning westward on to Township Road 262. Drive a short stretch and a very large wetland appears on the north side. I was in luck today; over 600 Greater White-fronted Geese were at the wetland. Amongst other large numbers of waterfowl were 10 Taverner’s Cackling Geese, and an adult Bald Eagle, and, a juvenile Barrow’s Goldeneye.


Greater White-fronted Geese at Range Road 245-Township Road 262 wetland, Sept. 12, 2016.

Whenever I visit this area, I try to visit this location for another reason, that being it is an excellent site for birding for passerines with nearby woodland; a willow swale, and shrub-lined and treed north-south orientation irrigation ditch running under the road to a wooded area. Large numbers of birds can move along the ditch to the woodland and birds found here have included large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers with other Warblers being all the common ones plus Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Townsend’s, Palm, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, and, Ovenbird. I have found both Hermit and Swainson’s Thrush here along with Rusty Blackbird. Once in November, I found a Swamp Sparrow along the irrigation ditch, and, I have found Long-eared Owl in the woodland.

Driving westward from here, you enter the realm of the Irricana Sloughs starting with Long Lake just west of Range Road 253. Continuing westward will take you to Bruce Lake east of Keoma. One can head into “the Sloughs” from Twp. Rd. 262 going northward on Range Road 253 or by going north on Range Road 261. The heart of “the Sloughs” is generally acknowledged to be the waterbodies from the Range Road 261 junction eastward, and, also north from Township Road 270 north on Range Road 254.


Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorants at Railway Slough.

The Irricana Sloughs offers a variety of birds. In recent years, some of the water bodies have become very popular with Grebes. Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes both nest in substantial numbers on the large slough on Township Road 270 immediately west of Range Road 261 and on the slough on the east side of Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. Immediately east of the slough on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261 is a slough called Railway Slough which, next to Namaka and Frank Lakes, is the most convenient place in the Calgary area to find Western Grebe during breeding season. If one continues eastward on Township Road 270, one may find Horned Grebe at some of the smaller marshier sloughs.


Bittern at marsh on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 261, June 4, 2016.                 

Another specialty of the area is the American Bittern most often found in marshy areas at the slough west of Railway Slough and at the marshy slough on the west side of Range Road 261 directly north of Township Road 270. Upland Sandpiper has often been found in grassland along the roads in the area, and, in the past, “the Sloughs” were a fairly reliable location for finding Baird’s Sparrow, an uncommon species in our area. However, there have not been many reports in recent years, but, the area is not birded as thoroughly as it once was. Both Nelson’s and Leconte’s Sparrows have, in the past, been fairly noticeable by call in some of the wetter, grassier areas. Sprague’s Pipit and Long-billed Curlew is often found in the grassland areas, and, Marsh Wren can be found in Cattail marshes.

The Irricana Sloughs used to be one of the most reliable and nearest sites in our area for watching Loggerhead Shrikes. The species has expanded its range somewhat closer to Calgary, but, Loggerheads are still found in the area. Also, if visiting the Irricana Sloughs watch for the Krider’s subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk which used to be fairly regularly seen. Western Kingbird is also a specialty of the area, but, Eastern Kingbird is also resident. Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican can be found on Railway Slough and all the other larger sloughs.

The series of ponds and sloughs on Range Road 254 just south of Township Road 273 are probably the best shorebirding locations in the area being at the north end of the area and with lots of shoreline. All the regular species have been there with rarer species including Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red-necked Phalarope. One of the first occurrences of breeding in the area during the rise of the Black-necked Stilt in southern Alberta in the late 1980s and early 1990s was in this area.


Nesting Black-necked Stilt.

The Irricana Sloughs have for quite a number of years now hosted small numbers of non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls during breeding season, mostly on Railway Slough or the slough directly west of Railway Slough. Large numbers of Swans, mostly Tundra, stop off here in migration and the Siberian counterpart to the Tundra Swan, the Bewick’s Swan has been seen here. An adult Whooper Swan paired with an adult Tundra Swan found on April 6, 2000 in “the Sloughs” was seen by many until April 11, but, its provenance was questioned by the Alberta Bird Records Committee. Was it a wild bird or an escapee? To me, the ABRC has shown itself to shy away from making tough decisions. Wild Whoopers have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, but, they are also held in captivity.


Adult Whooper Swan with adult Tundra Swan on Twp. Rd. 270 east of Range Road 253 southeast of Irricana; April 6, 2000.

Other sloughs included in the area lie on Township Road 264 west of Range Road 261 and on Range Road 264 south of Township Road 264. The slough on Twp. Rd. 264 is a marshy slough which is one of few water bodies east of Calgary which regularly hosts Common Loon during breeding season. One of the leucistic Great Horned Owls was found in the woodland in the northwest corner of the lake as you drive westward past it. A Tennessee Warbler, a species native to the foothills and mountains in the western part of the province, was heard singing in this woodland one Summer. As you continue westward, you would turn southward on Range Road 264. The large water body on your right is called Spoonbill Slough for a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Siberian species of shorebird, that was twice reported there. Alberta’s only Baikal Teal was found here and Greater White-fronted Geese stop off here. This water body usually hosts a good variety of species. Nelson’s Sparrow have been regular in the wet grasses at the south end.

Two other sites included in the sloughs are a marsh and woodland a couple of kilometres north of Township Road 270 on Range Road 252 and Range Road 255 running south from the Range Road 254-Township Road 270 junction. The Range Roads both these locations are situated on supply North-South orientation and, thus, provide excellent movements of migrating passerines. All the basic small songbird migrating species have been found on Range Road 252 with others being Philadelphia Vireo and, also, Broad-winged Hawk. A leucistic Great Horned Owl was found there on  a Field Trip. The same can be said for Range Road 255 with Palm Warblers particularly having favoured this road. One Fall day I found several Palm Warblers in migration along the road, but, this also included 3 birds that were so brightly-coloured, I thought they may have been of the Eastern subspecies, the Yellow Palm Warbler.


Leucistic Great Horned Owl on Twp. Rd. 264 west of Range Road 264.

Probably the final water body that should be included in the Irricana Sloughs region is Bruce Lake which is on Township Road 262 a short distance west of Range Road 261. The road makes a big bend around the north end of the lake, then continues westward to Keoma with Highway  9 beyond. Black-crowned Night Herons and California Gulls used to be common along the stream at the north end and rarities found include Snowy Egret, Black-legged Kittiwake, and, Pacific Loon. Both White-winged and Surf Scoters have been seen on the lake in the Fall season. The woodlands at the north end of the lake can be good for migrating songbirds with Long-eared Owl also being found there. In the winter, Northern Goshawk has been found there, and, Ring-necked Pheasant may be found in the cattails and other marsh grasses.


Adult Little Gull with adult Bonaparte’s Gull on east side of Range Road 261 just south of Twp. Rd. 270; May 5, 2002.

Other rarities found in the Irricana Sloughs include Cattle and Great Egret, Little Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Red Phalarope, Sage Thrasher, and Yellow-billed Loon. Sandhill Crane, Townsend’s Solitaire, both Surf and White-winged Scoter, and, Turkey Vulture have all stopped off in “the Sloughs.” One rarity I was astonished to see was a THREE-TOED WOODPECKER flying from tree to tree one Fall day along Range Road 261 just south of Township Road 270. This, of course, is a species native to the CONIFEROUS forests of the foothills and mountains!


Gyrfalcon, Oct. 19, 2013.

Great Horned Owl is resident. Winter sees Snowy Owls and all of Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, and, Rough-legged Hawk found in the area while weedy fields and ditches attract both Common and Hoary Redpolls, while, windswept fields and roads attract both Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. Some winters you may even find a Northern Goshawk out on the prairie there.


Fall Migration, 2016——

Sabine’s Gull, always a much sought after bird in the Fall, was a bit late showing up this year. The birds are usually here by the first week of September, but, this year September 16 was the first date of report with an adult and an immature bird at Calgary’s Glenmore Reservoir. Since then, a single Sabine’s was seen at Tofield and 3 birds were at Frank Lake east of High River. The 2 Glenmore Reservoir birds were joined by a single bird on September 17.

Major highlights so far include an adult hybrid CALIFORNIA GULL-RING-BILLED GULL at the Shepard Landfill at the east end of McIvor Boulevard in southeast Calgary on September 22, and, a juvenile LITTLE GULL at the Chestermere Lake Dam on September 26. Five first-cycle Thayer’s Gulls were at the Peigan Trail Gull Ponds below the City of Calgary Landfill on September 22.


Juvenile Little Gull at the Chestermere Lake Dam September 26, 2016.


Adult California Gull-Ring-billed Gull hybrid at the Shepard Landfill, September 22, 2016.

A male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was photographed in a yard in Canmore on September 23. While still a vagrant in the province, the species is fairly regular with most reports coming in the Fall in frosty or near frosty weather.

Scoters are starting to hit the Calgary area as of this writing with 5 Surf Scoters at Glenmore Reservoir and another 5 were with a White-winged Scoter at Eagle Lake, all of these birds being seen on September 23. No northern Loons as yet.

There have been more Swamp Sparrow reports than usual in the Calgary area this Fall, and, also a couple of wandering Varied Thrushes. A Harlequin Duck was reported via  E-bird at Wyndham-Carseland PP on September 18.

Snow Geese are slow to arrive this year, but dark and unusual morph Red-tailed Hawks are seen almost daily now in the Calgary area. There are still some Swainson’s Hawks around, while there have been only a couple of Rusty Blackbird reports so far. From Ken Orich, young Barn Swallows fledged from a nest at Tillebrook PP at Brooks on the amazing date of September 19!

Until next time.                                                                      Terry Korolyk

The end of another season in Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our final outing of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek took us to Carburn Park, in southeast Calgary. This is always a great part of the Bow River to find an abundance of waterfowl and occasionally some rare and unusual birds, and this year has been no exception.

Carburn Park - December 13, 2015

Carburn Park – December 13, 2015

I attended both the Thursday and the Sunday walks that week, because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the birds that had been seen, but also because I needed to know where they were being seen when I let the group on Sunday!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Since I knew the area, I knew we’d be able to do a little detour to the south, and I was sure glad I did. At the bridge we spotted this young Bald Eagle flying upstream on the hunt, flushing many of the Mallards and Common Goldeneye before heading further north and out of sight.

male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

female Red Crossbill

female Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

male Red Crossbill

male Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Down on the south end of the park, we came across a small flock of Red Crossbills, which can often be a hard bird to get close to, and we had plenty of time to get good looks at both the males and females of this species!



::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Killdeer on the rocks

Killdeer on the rocks

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 310mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Given the warm autumn weather we’ve been having this year, we have had a fairly large number of Killdeer attempting to overwinter along the Bow River. Our high count was on Sunday though, when we counted 13 Killdeer on various parts of the river. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many of them together at this time of year, but if you look carefully, you can see why that might be. The first image above contains three of the little white, black and brown shorebirds, while the second image contains four. Can you spot them?

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

For most of the week, the groups had seen at least one male Hooded Merganser, which we unfortunately missed on Thursday, but on Sunday there were two! While they were a bit far off, we also saw a female Hooded Merganser a bit later in the day. They are one of the most attractive waterfowl species that we have here in Calgary, and it’s nice seeing them all winter long.

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 340mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Another bird that we don’t always have here in big numbers through the depths of the winter, but have a good number of during the late fall and early spring are Cackling Geese. The smaller, daintier cousins of Canada Geese are often overlooked, but when you know what you’re looking for, they jump right out from the pack at you. On the left side of the photo, between two groups of larger Canada Geese, is a lone Cackling Goose. The smaller individuals are about the size of a Mallard, with a small, stubby bill and short neck, while the larger members of the species are still noticeably smaller than a Canada Goose, but drawing that distinction can be particularly tough.

White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

White-tailed Buck

White-tailed Buck

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 200mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

This White-tailed Deer seemed quite comfortable with us walking within a few feet of where he was resting, and I really liked how the frost and the grass accented his natural camouflage.

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

It’s not every day that you get to see both male and female Common Mergansers in such fine form, but when you have an opportunity like this you just can’t help but take it. The low angle light and natural beauty of these two were just impossible to resist.

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

Mallard and Pied-billed Grebe

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

A very late Double-crested Cormorant

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

As awesome as the rest of the morning was, these two birds are the reasons we were visiting the park. Usually, Pied-billed Grebes have flown south for the winter by mid-November at the latest. Double-crested Cormorants, on the other hand, are usually gone around the same time, and that one we had found a few weeks earlier at Pearce Estate Park was the latest I’d ever seen them sticking around here. It wouldn’t even surprise me if this was the same bird!

Barrow's and Common Goldeneye

Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Of course when you find all of these great waterfowl species, you have an even better chance of finding some of the seasonally expected birds that we get along the Bow. Barrow’s Goldeneye can be identified by their half-moon shaped spot behind the bill, and that series of white spots along the wing.

And that’s the end of the Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek. I’ll be posting an update on the Calgary and Canmore Christmas Bird Counts early next week, but have a Merry Christmas and we’ll be back to regular outings in the New Year!

Mid-November in Pearce Estate Park – But I LOVE identifying gulls!

Posted by Dan Arndt

… said no one ever. I kid, I kid. There are a few die-hard larophiles (from the Latin larus, meaning gull, and the Greek philos, meaning to have a strong affinity for, to love, AKA people with WAY too much time on their hands) out there who spend dozens of hours each year picking through flocks of Ring-billed and California Gulls to pick out a rarity, but I certainly don’t have the patience for that. Some people draw the line at flycatchers, others at shorebirds, specifically peeps, but me, I draw mine at gulls.

Don’t get me wrong. Gulls are wonderful in their own way, but spending hours picking through hundreds of them for something a slightly lighter or darker shade of grey is not my idea of a fun time.

November 15, 2015

November 15, 2015

As fall begins to cool and the ponds and creeks begins to ice over, there are a number of large gravel bars along the Bow River where gulls begin to accumulate in numbers. Our reason for visiting this park were specifically because a couple of uncommon gulls had been reported here resting among the dozens of Ring-billed Gulls. The three species we were here to find were the Thayer’s Gull, Mew Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. We did come up with the first two, but our Sunday group was a few days too late, as the Lesser Black-backed Gull hadn’t been seen since Wednesday.

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull among Ring-billed Gulls

This photo was taken through my Vortex Viper spotting scope using a PhoneSkope adapter and my Samsung Galaxy S5 built in camera. Can you spot the Mew Gull? I couldn’t for a good half hour. I’ve seen many Mew Gulls in British Columbia, usually associating with California Gulls but never among Ring-billed Gulls. I was expecting to find a gull with a bit of a lighter mantle, rather than darker. The Mew Gull is just a little bit to the left of center, resting with its bill hidden.

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Mew Gull and Ring-billed Gulls

Here’s a shot of the bird zoomed in a bit closer with its bill out. It’s now obvious that the bird is a shade or two darker than the Ring-billed Gulls on the mantle, and has a tiny, unmarked yellow bill. Again, the Mew Gull is the one just a little bit left of center with the round head and dark eye. A tough spot, to be sure!

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

Ring-billed Gulls on the weir

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

immature Herring Gull

immature Herring Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We did get a good look at many of the other gulls, including this immature Herring Gull sitting on the remains of the old weir. It was particularly noticeable due to its large size, pink legs, and overall dark plumage, but that bill shape was also a good indicator!

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

And of course, here are a couple of the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls on the water. The low angle sunlight and the perfectly clear morning sky made it a bit tough to expose correctly, but it’ll be one of the last shots I would get of any gulls until late February or early March next year. It’s surprising every year how they just seem to totally disappear around the end of November and by the time the Christmas Bird Count rolls around, they’re almost a distant memory!

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Another great sighting that day was this immature Double-crested Cormorant, who gave us a fly-by and perched in a tree across the river shortly after. This would be the latest sighting of this bird I’ve ever had, and from other reports, it is apparently sticking around a bit further downstream!

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We headed a little west where earlier groups in the week had found a some Bald Eagles, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. At first, the immature eagle flew in to check us out, and a few minutes later the adult flew in and flushed the younger bird off. When I had visited the park earlier in the week, I noted that the gulls seemed to have a sixth sense for approaching eagles, flushing easily a full minute before they came into view from my angle. When you’re a gull you have to be on alert for predators, especially ones that can so easily take you out like a Bald Eagle can!

male Merlin

male Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching the Bald Eagles, we spotted this male Merlin as he flew in with what appears to be a House Sparrow in his talons. Because this part of the park is adjacent to a large residential area, it wasn’t too surprising to hear and see the House Sparrows, it was a bit of a surprise to see this guy!

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We walked all the way back to the east end of the park where we watched this girl fly in and perch above us. I suspect she was watching the ground for voles, as she sat there staring at the ground for quite some time while we watched.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

As we watched the Merlin, a couple of Black-billed Magpies flew in and began foraging on the ground, but also keeping a sharp eye on her. They spent a good amount of time keeping an eye on us as well.

Around this time, the traffic on the pathway started to pick up due to a running race, so we headed back in to the inside of the park.

distant Common Redpoll

distant Common Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of the birds we had heard flitting about overhead for most of the morning was a single Common Redpoll. Towards the end of our walk that morning it popped up into this shrub and perched for a few minutes, giving everyone good (but distant) looks at it. While this season is a pretty good one for these birds, I still haven’t had a chance to see one up close and personal.

male Mallard

male Mallard

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

On our way out of the park, we walked past a couple Mallards in the floating fen ponds near the entrance, showing off once again their bright green breeding plumage, curly black tail feathers, and complex browns and grays. It’s nice to see them back in full colors after a few months of seeing them in eclipse plumage!

And that’s it for another week! Have a great week, and good birding!

Fall Birding Course Begins – Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society Fall birding course began again on August 31, 2015. Many of our readers look forward to Dan Arndt’s posts every Monday with a narrative of the previous week’s outing accompanied by his outstanding photos of some of the birds seen. As usual Dan is scheduled to lead the Sunday morning group, one of the fifteen weekly outings that are needed to accommodate the 196 registered participants. However, work commitments will keep Dan away for many of the fall outings. With the help of Rose Painter and George Best, I will fill in for him when he is away.

I don’t usually carry a camera when helping to lead a group, but George does, and he is an excellent photographer as many of you know. I will try to summarize our walks and illustrate them with George’s photos.

For the first week of the course we went to Carburn Park, which had been a great spot for fall warblers in the weeks leading up to the start of the course. Many of the earlier-migrating species had more or less finished passing through Calgary by the beginning of September, but we hoped to see quite a few Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, and Orange-crowned Warblers on our outing on September 6.

Carburn September 6

Carburn Park walk, 6 September 2015.

We did see about 30 Yellow-rumped and possibly one Yellow Warbler, but none of the other warbler species. However, we did see huge numbers of birds of the river, including the largest concentrations of Common Mergansers and Double-crested Cormorants that many of had ever seen. (All photos by George Best.)


A few Common Mergansers (55 by my count) and two Canada Geese.

Cormorant in tree

A Treeful of Cormorants.

We counted about 100 mergansers and 150 cormorants on the day. Most of them were concentrated at the north end of the park, just south of the Glenmore Trail Bridge over the Bow. This is the area that used to be the northernmost pond in Carburn park, before the flood of 2013 turned it into a major river channel, gravel bars, and an island. It is usually a very birdy part of the river.

Cormorant on Branch

Double-crested Cormorants resting on a partially-submerged tree in what used to be the north pond at Carburn Park. The birds with light breasts are juveniles, hatched this year.


Double-crested Cormorant in flight.

We also saw about 65 American White Pelicans in this area. They no longer go to the old weir in Pearce Estate to feed, and Carburn Park is about as far upriver as the big groups usually go. (The Sunday afternoon FFCPP group counted 106 pelicans that day, and an incredible 225 Common Mergansers!)

Pelican in flight

American White Pelican coming in for a landing.


A Pelican on the Bow River at Carburn Park.

Other highlights in Carburn Park in September are the usually-reliable Wood Ducks, often seen in the quiet channel between the big island and the river shore in the central part of the park, and raptors like Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Swainson’s Hawks. We saw three of each that day, as well as this Merlin:


A Merlin scanning for prey. Merlins and Bald Eagles can be seen in this area year-round; Swainson’s Hawks and Osprey have already departed.

We counted 38 species of birds for the day, and three mammal species: the usual White-tailed Deer and Eastern Gray Squirrels, and a less-commonly-seen American Mink.

Next post: In week two of the course we returned to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary for the first time in over two years.

A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Dan Arndt

This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.

While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!

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

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

A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.

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

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

We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

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

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

This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!


Q & A: Odd-looking Birds on the Light Standards

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address without permission.

Here’s a question we received last September, but which is relevant again this year.

Q:  Hi.  There are birds that sit on the light standards on 16th Ave NE over the tracks alongside Deerfoot Trail.  They appear to be sleeping when I drive by at 8 AM, I am curious to know what they are.  There have been 2 or 3 on the westbound side and usually one on the eastbound side.  Thanks.

A: It’s hard to say what they are without some idea of the size, shape, or colour of the birds.  But I’m familiar with the area, and I think you might be referring to the “odd” birds that are sometimes seen there, which look long, slim, long-necked, and black.  If so, those are Double-crested Cormorants.  Their silhouette looks like this (photo taken in Fish Creek Park last week [September 2011]):

In better light they look like this, also taken last week [September 2011]:

Double-crested Cormorants are waterbirds that dive for fish and crustaceans.  They are often seen holding their wings out to dry off after a dive.  There are quite a few in the area of the weir on the Bow River, but they will soon be heading south.

Q: It’s definitely the Cormorants – last year there was just one, but now there are 2 or 3 on the westbound side and one on the eastbound side of 16th. They are always there in the morning but not always on my way home at 4:30. It’s quite high up so I can’t see much details from the car but definitely have the yellow beak and dark feathers.

(Note: In the past three weeks I have been seeing up to 35 cormorants in the area of Harvie Passage (the old weir on the Bow River) often perched in trees or on light standards along Deerfoot Trail.)

Fish Creek Park Birding

I had a very slow birding summer, with a knee problem that kept me out of the field and off my bike for three months.  But now my knee is better and I am back birding with Gus Yaki and the Friends of Fish Creek Society.  I went out twice with this group to the Hull’s Wood/Sikome/Lafarge Meadows area in mid-September.  Here are some pictures from those trips (click on the pictures to enlarge them).

Two Double-crested Cormorants, and on the right, an Osprey, silhouetted against the rising sun.

A cormorant dries its wings.

Double-crested Cormorant, this time with the light on the right side of the bird.

The Osprey perched in a tree.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight.

Northern Flickers.

Greater Yellowlegs, in one of the ponds by highway 22X.

We found a single Wood Duck (centre) hanging out with the Mallards.

Great Blue Heron on its usual rock.

Juvenile Bald Eagle.

This Cedar Waxwing was picking insects out of a spider web high in a tree.

American Kestrel.

Killdeer on the pond.

Killdeer on the river.

Common Raven calling near where they nested in Lafarge Meadows.

Finally, there is this bird, which we found sitting on a path that runs from the Sikome boat launch parking lot to the river.  I’ll tell its story next week.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre