Tag Archive | ffcpp winter birding

Winter Rarities at Carburn Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park (FFCPP) winter birding course began just after the new year, and once again there are many groups going out six days each week to one of Calgary’s parks to learn about the birds. For week #1 we went to Carburn Park, where a few rare (for winter) birds have been seen recently. Our targets included a Pied-billed Grebe, a Red-breasted Merganser, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

Carburn Jan 10 map

Carburn Park route, January 10, 2016.

Dan Arndt was away on the first Sunday of the course (January 10) so I filled in for him as one of the leaders. At the start we went south from the parking lot to the Sue Higgins Bridge. There, as we looked for Killdeer and Barrow’s Goldeneye, members of a Nature Calgary outing pointed out a pair of Snow Geese just downstream.

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Immature (left) and adult (right) Snow Geese with Canada Geese.

Snow Geese are almost never seen in Calgary in Winter and hadn’t been reported from Carburn Park. However, we did have three, and adult and two immature birds, on the river at the Inglewood Golf Course in late December. Those three birds had been up on that stretch of the river for a while but had not been reported in the new year that I know of. These two geese at Carburn were likely the same ones, minus one immature bird. It may have been elsewhere on the river or perhaps it was predated or died for some other reason.

We did find some Barrow’s Goldeneye near the bridge as well. There are often quite a few in the Carburn Park/Beaverdam Flats section of the river.

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Male (left) and female (right) Barrow’s Goldeneye, with Canada Geese.

There were also some overwintering Killdeer on the ice at the river’s edge.

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Killdeer with Canada Goose.

As we walked back to the main park, we spotted this Merlin on a branch overlooking the river.

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Farther north we found a lone scaup. We debated whether it was a Lesser or a Greater, but not having a scope that day, we weren’t sure. Later, the Nature Calgary leaders told us that they were able to identify it as a Greater using their scopes.

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Greater Scaup (centre).

We saw a few Common Mergansers while we were watching out for the Red-breasted. Their bright orange-red bills really stood out, especially on the black and white males.

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Common Merganser (male).

The mergansers spent quite a bit of time looking for fish, which they did by dipping their heads down so that their eyes were below the water as they floated downstream. Occasionally, they would see something worth chasing and make a dive.

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Male Common Merganser scanning the river bottom for fish.

Towards the north end of the park we found the Pied-billed Grebe by the near shore. These birds almost never overwinter here but this one has been in Carburn for quite a while now.

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Pied-billed Grebe.

Finally, way at the far side of the river, we found the Red-breasted Merganser. It was quite a bit smaller and darker than nearby female Common Mergansers. Red-breasted Mergansers also have a very thin bill, which, at the distance we saw it from, was difficult to see at all.

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Red-breasted Merganser (at centre, on the other side of the ice).

Usually these birds are only seen in our area in small numbers on migration. (I didn’t see a single one in 2015.) Fall migrants can pass through as late as November or even early December, but seeing one in January is extremely rare here.

A nice surprise at the end of our walk was a small flock of about eight Cedar Waxwings. A few usually overwinter here every year, where they are overshadowed by vast flocks of Bohemian Waxwings.

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Cedar Waxwing.

We didn’t see the overwintering cormorant that day, but there were lots of good birds for a mid-winter day!

Dan will be back in this space soon with photos and reports from Bebo Grove and Votier’s Flats.

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 12 – Return to the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

And so another birding course comes to a close, but not without a few nice additions to sound out the closing bell. Our return to the Weaselhead was somewhat out of necessity, as our original plan was to look out over the Glenmore Reservoir, which has typically thawed quite a bit more than this year. Unfortunately, due to the persistent cold in Calgary this winter, and also due to a few weeks of well below freezing temperatures, the reservoir, proper remained frozen, while at least two of the channels of the Elbow River that feed into it were at least somewhat open, allowing for some, but not all, of the expected migrants to return. After a brief foray into the river valley south of the river, and with a few surprises down there as well, we returned to the trails of North Glenmore Park to look out over the reservoir and spot a few other new arrivals.

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

We started our Easter Sunday off with a sermon. Gus began with a speech detailing, in extreme Coles Notes format, how a series of steps brought both us, and Swans, to be here on Earth today, and how our ancestry is shared all the way back to the very first life, some 3.6 billion years ago. It was a great sentiment, and an awesome start to the day. It almost seemed like the speech drew in our main target species for the day, who flew in from the west as we reached the viewpoint, and over to the reservoir.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Heading down to the first feeders, we were greeted with yet another sign of spring with a pair of Least Chipmunks foraging under one of the feeders, while Common Redpolls munched away on the seeds above.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

With the sounds of American Robins and Northern Flickers calling, we continued on our way, stopping at the feeding stations at the bottom of the hill in search of American Tree Sparrows, which we did manage to find (but were far too quick for me to photograph), but we did spot this immature male Pine Grosbeak singing from the treetops, along with a Hoary Redpoll in a small flock of Common Redpolls!

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

As we reached the bridge, we were welcomed by the calls of a number of Blue Jays, and in the distance we saw a pair of male Hooded Mergansers on the river.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On our walk in around the lower paths in the Weaselhead, we found a good number of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but the Bohemian Waxwings were almost entirely absent, with this sole representative flying about here and there, almost in search of his fellows.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

As our group pushed on, a few of us held back at a slightly unfamiliar call, which we quickly narrowed down as the call of a Dark-eyed Junco. A few of them were calling from the nearby spruce trees, well below the lone Bohemian Waxwing.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest of our walk was almost entirely absent of photos, both due to the absence of photo opportunities with the birds we saw and heard, but also due to the distances involved. Hopefully this week I’ll receive our loaner Swarovski ATX 85mm Spotting Scope that Swarovski Optik has graciously allowed me to review for them over the next little while. I’ve seen some of the results from this scope when mounted on a Pentax K-5, and I know it will come in handy for those long distance shots. But I digress…

We did happen upon a male Ruffed Grouse drumming near the river bank, and a few of us stayed behind to track it down, spotting it briefly on the log that it was drumming on before it flushed. As we headed back up the hill to look out over the reservoir, we happened upon a larger flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the trees, a few Boreal Chickadees, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. From the observation points on the ridge, we found a pair of Lesser Scaup, a male and female Hooded Merganser, and even an extremely early male Ruddy Duck in one of the channels.

Next week marks the beginning of our Spring course, and maybe a little bit of a different approach to these blog posts… stay tuned!