Tag Archive | ducks

Birds of the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing was a visit to the recently drained Irrigation Canal, which runs parallel to the Bow River, and is an absolutely wonderful place to go birding in early October, while the canal is still draining. The weather was amazing, and so I decided that I was going to go out with both the Saturday and Sunday groups, and boy was I happy I did!

Western Irrigation Canal October 11-12, 2014

Western Irrigation Canal
October 11-12, 2014

Both days provided excellent light, great photographic opportunities, and a wide variety of birds, most of which were congregating around one of the main drainage outflows. The real highlight though was the interplay of light, fall colours, and beautiful birds up and down the canal on both days!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

All it takes is a combination of the right setting, the right speed, and the right background to turn a normally dull and overlooked bird into a great subject in flight. And then sometimes it’s just a Ring-billed Gull.

Green-winged Teal in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Green-winged Teal in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The low, slow moving water tends to attract a number of small pond ducks, and in some cases, some of the stragglers that haven’t fled south for the winter. Green-winged Teals don’t always leave Calgary in the fall, and quite often there are a pair or two in warm isolated backwaters somewhere around the city, but they’re always great to see in flight with their bright green speculum and erratic and hard to track flight patterns.

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

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

We also managed some good looks at a lone male American Wigeon on our Sunday walk, finally coming back into the green and white head patterning of his breeding plumage.

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

All along the sides of the canal are dozens of mountain ash trees, and everywhere we walked we could hear American Robins rustling in the bushes, on the ground, and amongst the foliage searching for berries to fatten up before many of them also fly south for the winter.

Hooded Mergansers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hooded Mergansers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Hooded Mergansers taking off Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Hooded Mergansers taking off
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

One of the best birds of the trip was this group of Hooded Mergansers, loafing about in the shallow water and maintaining a healthy distance from our group. Three males and one female had been seen most of the week, but by Sunday, the female had disappeared. Perhaps one of the many we saw at Elliston Park on the 19th?

I had taken a few minutes to let the group get ahead of me, and get myself down closer to the water to take the photos above, when an off-leash dog decided it was time to run into the water and chase the ducks! At least I was able to get a photo of these beautiful mergansers in flight as they took off in a flash!

 

Greater Yellowlegs in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Another of the highly abundant birds along the irrigation canal each autumn are the Greater Yellowlegs. Both Saturday and Sunday we counted more than 30 of these large shorebirds up and down the canal, most of them quite calm, but a few high-strung individuals would fly in and sound the alarm every once in a while, flushing a dozen or so at a time wherever they decided was just a little bit safer than where they just took off from.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This trio was an odd grouping. Two female Blue-winged Teal and a female Northern Shoveler were dabbling in the shallow water and offering us quite close looks at them without a care in the world.

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

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

Arguably the best bird of the Sunday walk was this female Rusty Blackbird, who only stuck around for a few short minutes while we watched. She quickly tired of us and our intrusion though, and flew downstream and out of sight. These birds are highly threatened, having lost 99% of their numbers in the last 30 years, and it’s rather unclear what the reasons are behind this decline. As such, it’s always a great treat to see them on their migration, or even up in their breeding habitat in the boreal forest.

That’s it for this week! Have a great one, and good birding!

Another Snowy Sunday in Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I wish today’s headline was in reference to us finding a Snowy Owl, rather than the dreary weather we seem to be afflicted with on our Sunday walks this year, but sadly, that is not to be. We awoke once again to fresh, fluffy snow, moderate winds, and a dreadfully overcast sky.There are very few advantages to this type of lighting, and at the very least, the direct light along with the reflected light from the snow leads to much more even light hitting the subjects… but I digress, this is a birding blog!

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters - just a taste of Sunday's weather Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters – just a taste of Sunday’s weather
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800

The route we took today is one I don’t believe I’ve ever taken with this group. Starting at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters, we headed west to the Bow River into the Burnsmeade area, and walked all the way over to the now defunct footbridge that connects to the neighborhood of McKenzie Lake.

Sunday's route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

Sunday’s route from the HQ to Burnsmeade

We searched around the headquarters building in each and every spruce tree nearby for the resident Great Horned Owls, but sadly came up empty. With the wind still whipping and snow still falling, it was a challenge just to find the few Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees that we did, but in the end we gave up the effort and headed over to the Bow River.

View from the Ranche Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

View from the Ranche
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/13, ISO 125

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

On the walk over to the river it was clear that winter has really hit home. The flocks of waterfowl were constantly overhead, and throughout the day, with final numbers at nearly ten thousand ducks and geese in the course of the day. One of the reasons they seemed a little flighty was because of this beauty.

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

A couple surprises were found among the nearby ducks on the river in the form of a pair of male Barrow’s Goldeneye, and a small group of Lesser Scaup, always nice to see this early in the winter.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Barrow’s Goldeneye and Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Lesser Scaup, Canada Goose and Mallards
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A few of the birds seen earlier in the week had moved on as the snow came in hard, such as a Western Grebe and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe near the water treatment outfall, but in our search for them there, we spotted this Common Raven with an unusual object in its mouth. I’m still not quite sure what it is that’s being carried in its bill, perhaps some fish bones?

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

On the river a little further down, some movement in a low bush along the bank caught our attention, which ended up being this lone American Tree Sparrow, who hammed it up for the camera while chomping down on grass seeds still abundant on this section of riverbank.

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

American Tree Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

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

Interrupting my intimate photo session with this little fellow was an always rare sight within city limits, this Prairie Falcon, who came bombing in not once, but twice high overhead, giving us excellent, albeit brief, views of its diagnostic characteristics in the form of the clean malar (or moustachial) stripe, dark wing/arm pits, and fine barring on the underwing, aside from the overall shape and flight pattern typical of all falcons.

Prairie Falcon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Prairie Falcon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

 

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

We did have a number of very close fly-bys of many Canada Geese, but none that had quite the impression of this little flock. Doesn’t that bottom right goose look just that much smaller and shorter-necked than the rest of the birds in this flock? Canada Geese, as well as Cackling Geese, have a number of subspecies, and just in this flock it’s possible that there may be three subspecies, though that’s never been my forte. Give me a few years and maybe I’ll pick it up though, once I’ve mastered gulls and warblers!

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Speaking of gulls, there was no shortage of Ring-billed Gulls on the river, and while they do tend to stick around well into late November, these may be the last ones we get to see on our walks this year, depending on the weather. While the Ring-billed Gulls were the most common, Herring Gulls gave a good showing as well, and I’m not used to seeing them fly, let alone fly this low to the ground and at just the right angle. I do believe this is my first decent flight shot of a Herring Gull. Odd, for such a common bird in these parts, but that’s why birding is a new adventure every time.

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

This photo was taken at the far end of our walk, just before we turned to head back. Along this final stretch we discussed a little bit about the damage that the flood had done to the area, and just how high the water level had been during the height of it. At times, our tallest participant, at 6’4″, would have still been at least a foot under water, and there were trees and bushes exhibiting layer upon layer of trapped debris in their upper boughs.

 

Bridge over troubled waters Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Bridge over troubled waters
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100

Damage from the flood - note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

Damage from the flood – note the strings of debris in the branches of nearly every tree in this frame
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

As our morning neared its end, we did manage another two species to add to our list. First, this female Hairy Woodpecker flew in over our heads to peck away at this damaged tree.

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

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

Lastly, this very late season Bonaparte’s Gull was readily gleaning insects and other food particles from the surface of the water. Our first pass took us right by him with barely a glance, and it wasn’t until our second pass that most of us really were able to see it up close and person,

Bonaparte's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bonaparte’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And that’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, and good birding!

Pine Creek Water Treatment Facility to Lafarge Meadows – The road less travelled.

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I attempted a trip earlier this year to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant on the south end of Calgary, and very nearly reached the facility just as my time was running short and I was forced to head back. At the time, a pair of Northern Saw-whet Owls was reported down on the river on the island adjacent to the plant, but I dipped on finding them. This time, the trip to the facility was successful, but sadly, no Northern Saw-Whet Owls were found. Even so, the number of species we saw and heard was astounding, and we even managed to observe not one, but two mating rituals in the few hours it took us to walk from the south end of our route, back to our vehicles at the entrance to the Inland Concrete Site at the east end of 194th Avenue SE, on what would turn out to be one of the warmest and nicest days of the year so far.

Pine Creek Walk

Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to 194th Avenue SE

 

The rogues gallery of usual suspects was generally present on the route, with the usual Mallards, Canada Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Flickers and even Red-breasted Nuthatches. What I was not prepared for was the sheer number of new species on and around the river! The highlight of the day I think would have been the three Spotted Sandpipers that we saw throughout the day. I’m sure I have better shots than this from previous outings, but this was the closest I was able to get to any of these three.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

Two other old faithful birds that I have somehow missed so far this year are the Green-winged Teal and Gadwall, both of which were viewed down along one of the back-channels of the Bow River, in the shallow, slow waters in the gravel laden meanders behind the main series of islands. The Gadwall were one of the species we were able to observe “The Beast With Two Backs”… or in other words, the mating of the ducks. It really is quite an unceremonious event for birds in general. I think the whole encounter lasted less than a minute.

 

Green-winged Teal (m)

Green-winged Teal (m)

Male (top) and female (bottom) Gadwall

Male (top) and female (bottom) Gadwall

I’m always happy when an outing includes good views of Killdeer. One of our first sightings was across the back-channel, in the shade, with the Killdeer disappearing among the rocks, but near the end of our walk, we also caught this species in the act of attempting to procreate. I wish these future parents good luck! At least the male didn’t attempt to drown the female during the copulation!

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

Male (top) and female (bottom) Killdeer

Male (top) and female (bottom) Killdeer mating

One of the biggest surprises that I should have been prepared for, but always takes me aback every year, is the sheer number of Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows that invade the grasslands and brush-lands on the outskirts of Calgary. By far these two were the most numerous species of the day, and their calls provided the constant background theme music for our outing along the river, interrupted by the odd Song Sparrow, Lincoln Sparrow, and even a distant Vesper Sparrow that we heard, but did not get close enough to see.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

And while I’m on the topic of surprises, these two were great additions to the outing; a small raft of Red-necked Grebes at the pond at the far south end of Lafarge Meadows, and a Great Blue Heron that flew by on at least three separate locations.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

When we had first arrived, we noted a swallow up on one of the nearby powerlines, and while we thought it may be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, we couldn’t be sure due to the bad light. We got lucky though, as the little swallow decided to stick around and wait for us to come back, confirming our original ID. The browns and greys of the Rough-winged Swallow provides stunning contrast to the iridescent blue and bright white Tree Swallows we saw further down the path guarding a nest hole.

Rough-winged Swallow

Rough-winged Swallow

 

Another great week of birding down, and at least 6 more to go before the Spring Birding course wraps up for the year.

 

See you next week!

Lafarge Meadows – Finally!

Posted byDan Arndt

The final Sunday Morning excursion by the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course took us to Lafarge Meadows. After going there for the first time with the Fall course, I was looking forward to getting back there as the spring migrants began to filter through, and what a visit it was!

One of the birds that most non-birders consider a sure sign of spring, is the charismatic and well known American Robin, many of which were present and singing their spring song.

Another of the early migrants we were treated to at the beginning of the walk was the ever beautiful song of the aptly named Song Sparrow.

While the field marks weren’t easy to see from that distance, the song was so distinctive that there was no way you could mistake this bird for any other. Over at the boat launch we had some decent views of Common Mergansers (pictured below) and a pair of Lesser Scaup.

We then turned southward to head into LaFarge Meadows proper, checking a few of the ponds near the bridge where we found a few close-ups of some Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon.

As we edged further south along the river, we took note of the huge numbers of gulls both along the river, and in the ponds along the west side that were still frozen, and were greeted by some nicely posing Herring Gulls on a gravel bar in the Bow River, as well as a small number of another new bird for the year, the Franklin’s Gull.

Finally, as we headed back north toward the beginning of our route, I spotted a small bird atop a nearby tree, thinking it may be another sparrow, or maybe even an early swallow species, but was immediately alerted to its identity by the single sharp note of its call, identifying itself as a Northern Shrike!

As we reached the vehicles, all of us were forlorn at the prospect that this was our last walk of the season with that particular group, but all attendees were looking forward to the next round of courses, starting up immediately the following week! Travel will keep me away for the first two weeks of the course, from which I will post some photos on my regular schedule, and but until then, good birding!

Photo Feathers: Common Goldeneye

Recently, I visited Southland Park in Southeast Calgary where I found this male Common Goldeneye drinking water on the Bow River, providing for some neat shots. The Common Goldeneye is a diving duck with a mostly white body, topped with a head that can be a visible green sheen when seen in the right light.

The white oval in between the male Common Goldeneye’s beak and his eye distinguishes him from the similar Barrow’s Goldeneye; which has a white crescent.

The first step is to lower his head into the water.

And lower…

He then tosses his head back so that the water runs down his throat.

He then swallows, repeating this method until he has quenched his thirst. This is how most birds drink.

 

Posted by Matthew Sim