Tag Archive | Eared Grebe

Fall Migration on the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

Before the 2013 flood, the Glenmore Reservoir was always a great place to see hundreds of migrating autumn waterfowl and waders. In 2013 and 2014 though, the birds did not return in large numbers. One of the primary contributing factors to this was that with the sheer volume of water pulsing through the reservoir in late June of 2013, the bottom of the reservoir would have been either completely scoured of vegetation, or covered with silty and sandy sediment, killing the vegetation and invertebrate life that would otherwise thrive there. By the fall of 2015 though, the birds began to return in fairly decent numbers, and this fall was once again extremely productive. In the wake of any natural disaster, eventually things return to some level of stability and normalcy, and it was great to be back birding in South Glenmore Park and along the edges of the reservoir.

As per usual, we headed over to the ridge overlooking the reservoir to see what we could find out there. While we did see a few hundred American Coots at the far west edge of the reservoir, and a few Eared, Horned, and Western Grebes in close, there wasn’t anything close enough to really get good looks at without a scope. Thankfully we heard the tell-tale chipping of some American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding below the spruce trees nearby.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

We had a pretty good-sized turnout that morning, and so we split up, with my group taking the top pathway up away from the reservoir first. Given the slight chill in the air, we were all thankful to be off the water’s edge until it warmed up later in the day!

Roosting near its usual nesting spot, and after having a decent discussion about the ways to best distinguish between a Common Raven and American Crow, we found this fellow sitting atop a favored perch. It gave a few calls of different types as we watched it, and then finally flew off to join another Common Raven as it flew into the nearby neighborhood.

Common Raven

Common Raven

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

As we explored the park, we heard the wheezy, raspy call of a Boreal Chickadee, which seemed quite out of place this far from the Weaselhead and the dense spruce cover of the slopes of the reservoir. Upon our investigation though, we found it stashing plenty of seeds in a small cavity near one of the homes with bird feeders set out.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We also stumbled across a pair of young Mule Deer bucks, foraging in the low willows that were numerous throughout the upper slope of the park. Both looked to be only a year or two old, with only brow antler tines. They didn’t seem particularly disturbed by us walking nearby, which allowed us to notice one particular… anomaly.

young Mule Deer buck

young Mule Deer buck

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 200mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

young Mule Deer buck with growth

young Mule Deer buck with growth

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 290mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

He didn’t appear to be in any discomfort or distress, but this fairly well “endowed” deer did seem quite unusual. I welcome any suggestions or explanations on what might have caused this particular anomaly to this young deer. My suspicions are that it’s some type of tumor or cyst that’s caused the swelling.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Just as we were meeting up with our compatriots, we managed another good few minutes of looking at a couple of American Tree Sparrows feeding right alongside the pathway. These guys tend to be a lot more shy, so it was a bit surprising seeing them hold still with walkers, joggers and going by fairly regularly.

fish jaw and clavicle

fish jaw and clavicle

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 150mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Another mystery that we have yet to solve was this jaw and clavicle that we found on the edge of the reservoir. Again, I have my suspicions of its provenance, but would appreciate any comments and suggestions about what species was predated here on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. For scale, the clavicle was about 6-7 cm across, and the jaws were about 5-6 cm from back to front.

One of the birds that I had the hardest time identifying for the first few years of fall birding were the fall plumage Eared and Horned Grebes. I can’t tell you the number of times I would misidentify one or the other, and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I finally became comfortable telling them apart.

I’m going to leave these photos unlabelled for now, and I invite comments on what the putative IDs are on each of the birds below.

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

Fall Plumage Grebe 1

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

Fall Plumage Grebe 2

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

Fall Plumage Grebe 1 and 2 together

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

When I look at a fall plumage grebe now, I look for four main features. First, I look at the head shape. Eared Grebes have a head that has a high crest at the front of the head, and slopes downward towards the back. Horned Grebes have a head that is more peaked at the back, and slopes up to that peak from the base of the bill. The second feature to look for is the shape of the bill. Eared Grebes have a pointed, dagger-shaped bill, that is ever so slightly curved upwards. Horned Grebes, on the other hand, have a thicker, more bullet-shaped bill, tipped with a very tiny white point.

Next I look at the plumage on the neck, back, and sides. An Eared Grebe has a much darker neck and face, with less distinct transition between white and black, and a more graduated blending between the back and the sides. The Horned Grebe, once again, is very sharply divided white and black on the face, neck, and usually on the back and sides. Lastly, the Eared Grebe has a light orange iris, and the Horned Grebe has a blood-red iris.

Travel Tuesday – Bobolinks, babies and more south of Calgary

Posted by Dan Arndt

While work has kept me rather busy and out of town for the majority of the past 6 weeks, on my brief trips back to Calgary I’ve been making a serious effort to get out and find some local birds. One of the most tantalizing of these birds was a lifer that’s eluded me for a few years in the Calgary region, a Bobolink. Their song is reminiscent of a robot, crossed with a blackbird, and is actually produced by two separate parts of their vocal cords singing entirely different songs. This particular pair of males was found near Priddis.

Pair of Bobolinks Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

Pair of Bobolinks
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

Bobolink Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

Bobolink
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

On one of my trips down to this area, I managed to find some adorable little baby American Coots still being fed by their mothers.

 

American Coot and chick Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick Plummer's Road, south of Calgary July 2, 2014

American Coot and chick
Plummer’s Road, south of Calgary
July 2, 2014

On another morning I took a visit to Frank Lake, and found a few different babies of different species, including a baby Willet, baby Ruffed Grouse, immature Western Meadowlarks, and baby Eared Grebes, all staying safe and close to their parents. With the breeding season being so short in this area of the world, one could almost blink and miss the whole thing!

Eared Grebe chick Frank Lake June 27, 2014

Eared Grebe chick
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

Willet Chick Frank Lake June 27, 2014

Willet Chick
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

baby Ruffed Grouse south of Turner Valley June 27, 2014

baby Ruffed Grouse
south of Turner Valley
June 27, 2014

baby Western Meadowlark Frank Lake June 27, 2014

baby Western Meadowlark
Frank Lake
June 27, 2014

And last but not least, thanks to a very special friend on the Facebook group Alberta Birds, I was able to find this adorable trio. An adult and two immature Black Terns, northeast of Calgary, just last week. Amazing, huh?

Baby Black Terns NE of Calgary July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns
NE of Calgary
July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns and mom NE of Calgary July 15, 2014

Baby Black Terns and mom
NE of Calgary
July 15, 2014

 

Digiscoping

Digiscoping is the activity of combining a digital camera with a spotting scope to record images through the scope.  Anyone who has ever looked through a good scope knows how impressive they are at turning distant specks that can’t be identified, even with binoculars, into sharply defined birds.  The combination of big lenses and up to 60X magnification really brings faraway objects into close focus.  Scopes are especially useful for waterfowl far out on lakes, and shorebirds on distant shorelines.

Today’s post features some wonderful photographs taken using digiscoping by local birder and photographer Daniel Arndt.

Eared Grebe and juvenile, by Dan Arndt

Digiscoping can be done with any point-and-shoot or SLR camera (or even a camera phone) coupled with any scope or binocular, but it can very tricky to get to good quality pictures by just holding the two together.  Here is a White-crowned Sparrow I photographed in my yard this week, using my camera phone held up to my 8X42 binoculars:

It’s very hard to tell when you have the shot in focus.  It’s even hard to get on the bird!  You get a better shot with just a good camera:

The same bird, from the same distance, taken with an SLR and 400 mm lens.  Note the leg band.

Here is another shot I took (in the winter) of a House Finch, using a point-and-shoot camera held up to my spotting scope.

However, the birds in these examples were only about twenty feet away.  I could identify them with the naked eye.  If you are dealing with distant waterfowl and shorebirds, the thing to do to get good photographs is to get an adapter that fixes your camera to the scope.  Dan Arndt’s outfit, pictured below, consists of :

Pentax K-5 camera with T-mount adapter
Meade ETX-90EC 90mm Matsukov-Cassegrain Telescope
Meade #844 Advanced Field Tripod
Meade Electronic Focuser
Meade MT-64 Camera Adapter
Pentax 39892 Waterproof Remote Shutter Release

Photo by Dan Arndt

Here are some of the amazing photos Dan took this summer at Frank Lake using his digiscoping rig.

White-faced Ibis with juvenile, and American Golden-Plover, by Dan Arndt

Lesser Yellowlegs by Dan Arndt

American Avocet by Dan Arndt

Black Tern by Dan Arndt

Black-crowned Night-Herons by Dan Arndt

American Golden-Plovers by Dan Arndt

You can see all of Dan’s digiscoping pictures on his Flickr page here, and while you’re there, explore all of his other excellent photographs as well.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Bountiful Birding at Frank Lake

Last week I took the short drive out to Frank Lake, east of High River (see the directions under the “Birding Resources” tab above).  I was hoping to see some of the many Short-eared Owls that are often seen there at dusk, and I had about two hours before that to scope out the lake for waterfowl and other birds.  This is a very productive wetland, and I managed to see 24 species of birds, 13 of which were new ones for the year for me.

The water level is very high this year.  As you can see, the path to the observation blind was flooded.  There was also still quite a bit of ice on the lake, but much of Basin 1 was open.

By far the most common bird there was the Franklin’s Gull.  Frank Lake is home to perhaps the largest breeding colony of these gulls in the world, with up to 55,000 pairs.  They build floating nests in the cattails, and if the water levels remain this high they may not be able to breed here successfully.

There were other gulls as well.  This one, which I believe is a California Gull, was having eggs for dinner.

The gull took the egg onto the roof of the blind, and although it almost rolled off at one point, he finally did manage to eat it.

I had good views of Eared Grebes and Ring-necked Ducks…

But the highlight was when a flock of four White-faced Ibises flew in.  I had never seen this large, beautiful bird before.  It has dark, glossy, chestnut and bronze colouration, a long decurved bill, and of course a white face.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

The four flew on, but a little later another flock of twelve Ibises arrived…

They landed on the island…

And virtually disappeared in the grass…

(Cinnamon Teal in the foreground.)

At dusk, I started to drive back out on the dirt access road, but I didn’t get far, since I brake for Short-eared Owls…

This owl was right next to the road, so it flew before I could get very close.  However,  I saw another one hunting a little farther down the road…

All in all, a great evening of birding topped off by a fine southern Alberta sunset.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre