Tag Archive | finches

Ron Pittaway’s 2016-2017 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

With another summer season coming to an end, and many of our fall migrants beginning to trail off, thoughts turn to what the winter may bring to us in southern Alberta.

You can find the original article here: Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast 2016-2017. If you’ve read it already, you might notice there’s a fairly strong emphasis on eastern Canada and the U.S., and some mentions of “Western Canada”. Without further ado, here’s a species by species breakdown of what I think we’re likely to expect here in the Calgary region.

 

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

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

Ron’s “General Forecast” describes cone crops as: “good to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska”. Also, due to the drought conditions in much of the east this year, the cone crops in that region are poor, so the birds that would regularly winter there will be moving east, west, or south to find food.

Pine Grosbeak:

Mountain Ash berries are their preferred food, and as those crops are good throughout the boreal region, chances of seeing many of them this winter are low. They are often found at high elevation in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary during the breeding season. Mountain Ash is a decorative tree throughout much of the Calgary area, which will likely draw some down from the mountains.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Purple Finch:

As the cone crops are in good shape here this year we should expect to see Purple Finches rarely. They’re never really in the Calgary area in large numbers, but if you’re looking to attract them, black-oil sunflower is your best bet.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Red Crossbill:

While it’s unlikely for us to get a Red Crossbill irruption quite as good as what we had last year, it’ll still be a fairly good year for them throughout the pine and spruce in southern Alberta. The west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park is always a good place to find them, and Griffith Woods is another good spot.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

White-winged Crossbill:

As with the Red Crossbills, this species has moved west to the abundant cone crops out here, so we stand to have another good year of White-winged Crossbills throughout southern Alberta. They’re another common feeder bird, and as with most, they tend to prefer black-oil sunflower seeds.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Common Redpoll:

As the general trend of crop failure continues in the east, these birds will be found on birch and willow in the west where the cone crops have been much more robust. Nyjer seed will be the feed of choice to attract these to your yard in the Calgary area.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

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

Hoary Redpoll:

Whenever you find a flock of Common Redpoll, there’s a chance that you might find the occasional Hoary Redpoll in the mix. They’re really not that easy to pick out, but if you spend the time looking over a flock you might just luck out and find one that looks just a little paler with a tiny little bill. When it comes right down to it, it’s a numbers game… at least until they lump them back in with Common Redpolls!

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Pine Siskin:

Pine Siskins have already been appearing in southern Alberta, and like the Pine Grosbeaks, they do breed in the area, so it will be interesting to see just how many of them show up this winter from elsewhere.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Evening Grosbeak:

These beautiful finches are so incredibly striking, and they seem to be doing well all across Canada, with their numbers again on the rise. We’ve even been seeing them within the city limits of Calgary on the Friends of Fish Creek outings to Bebo Grove and Marshall Springs, which is a good sign for seeing them in bigger numbers as the colder weather sets in!

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

Blue Jay:

While these guys aren’t finches, they can be irruptive as they also feed on the same seeds that winter finches utilize. Their numbers have also been on the rise in the Calgary area as well, so it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll be seeing these all throughout the area and even in some back yards this winter.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 440mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Another species that we’ve been seeing in larger numbers already this fall, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a charismatic little critter. More often than not you can find them foraging in spruce stands calling from the tops of trees and flitting about in mixed flocks with chickadees and kinglets.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Bohemian Waxwing:

Of all the species, these are the ones that seem to be around every winter in decent numbers. While we do have irruptive years where we have tens of thousands in the Calgary area alone, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of hundreds. They are most often found foraging on silverberry, mountain ash, or even spruce trees on whatever they can find in the boughs.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

So, where can you go to see finches this winter? Within the city of Calgary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Griffith Woods, and the west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park are great places to look. In the north, Queen’s Park Cemetery and Confederation Park can provide some good views of these birds as well. As well, the front ranges and foothills of the Rocky Mountains are productive because of the huge numbers of spruce lining the slopes. Don’t rule out some of the prairie wetlands either! Pine Siskins and both redpoll species will feed on cattails and spilled grain wherever they can be found!
Good luck out there, and let’s hope the cold weather holds off for just a little bit longer!

A rare no-show at Beaverdam Flats, but waterfowl galore!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week took us down to Beaverdam Flats, primarily in search of a Cassin’s Finch visiting a feeder at the south end of the park, with the added bonus of seeing a wide variety of waterfowl and a few woodpeckers as well! We also had the great fortune of having beautiful light and incredibly warm weather, making this one of the most pleasant, if not the most productive walk of the season so far.

Beaverdam Flats - January 25, 2015

Beaverdam Flats – January 25, 2015

From the parking lot, we headed immediately downstream for the feeders where Calgary’s first Cassin’s Finch had been recorded for over a week on a near-daily basis. After giving it a good twenty minutes, with no Cassin’s Finch in sight, we headed back north to check out the abundant waterfowl along the Bow River. We did manage to see a few House Finches at the feeder, so it wasn’t a total loss!

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

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

As we headed up the river, we had good looks at the incredible iridescence of both Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, but it was really the Bufflehead that stood out early on.

male Bufflehead Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

male Bufflehead
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Our route did offer us a great view of a bit of a sign of summer, this Baltimore Oriole nest that has been in the trees for a number of years, made out of what appears to be fishing line and maybe a few other bits of plastic. Along this stretch of river in just over three months will be Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out to attract a mate. In fact, it was right across the river from this southern stretch of Beaverdam Flats where I saw one of my first Baltimore Orioles in Calgary.

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

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

As we walked away from the river for a bit, and through the primarily poplar, willow and aspen dominated pathways, and spotted a couple other photographers who had their eyes on this gorgeous male Merlin. After a few minutes, he took off and flew in our direction, allowing me to get some fairly close looks at him, and some rather close photos as well!

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

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

Just a few minutes later, and less than a hundred meters along the pathway was this male Northern Flicker, calling out like he had nothing to worry about from the Merlin so close by. Maybe he could tell that the Merlin had recently eaten, or just wasn’t really that interested in a meal at that time of the morning.

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

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

We continued north along the pathway, with relatively few looks at much of anything, and only heard a handful of Black-capped Chickadees, but a flyover of Common Goldeneyes with their wings whistling in flight and heads reflecting in the bright sun made for a beautiful sight overhead.

Common Goldeneye in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

A brief look at a female Hooded Merganser was my first of the year, but she flew off after only a few seconds of us having our binoculars on her, so as we headed toward the north end of the park, we found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers sharing a few trees searching for food. This male seemed to not be particularly concerned about our distance from him.

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We were about to call it a day when a smaller brown duck caught our attention under the train bridge at the north end of the park. A few seconds later, we had it clearly identified as a female Lesser Scaup, always a great winter bird to find in Calgary!

Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

And with that, we headed back to the parking lot to go off in our own ways. It is nice to see that both bridges in the park and the majority of the pathways are fully restored following the extensive damage that this park received in the flooding we received in 2013.

Thanks again as always for reading, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 12 – Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

As winter seems to be coming and going in bursts, this week’s visit to Votier’s Flats gave us both a few late fall migrants that appeared to be doing quite well in their attempt to muddle through the fairly mild autumn we’ve had so far, and a winter visitor that is once again making itself right at home in the city. On top of all that, we had a surprise sighting of a non-avian critter diving and splashing around in Fish Creek looking for a fishy breakfast! It was a good day, all in all!

Votier's Flats

Votier’s Flats

Our first bird of the morning, while we were waiting for some stragglers to show up, was this male Ring-necked Pheasant. He flew in along the hillside to the north-east before coming to a rest at the road, and started up and across the road as I approached. Thankfully, he stopped just long enough for me to snap a few shots.

male Ring-necked Pheasant

male Ring-necked Pheasant

male Ring-necked Pheasant 2

Looking both ways after crossing the street. Who ever said pheasants were smart?

We walked up the hill to the west overlooking the creek, and stopped briefly to look at a few Pine Grosbeaks, one of which had alerted us to its presence by flying directly above us and singing quite loudly. These two others kept their polite distance and allowed us to take good looks at them.

Pine Grosbeaks

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeaks

We headed down the hill and walked a brief circle, accosted by Black-capped Chickadees and a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, but none that would stop long enough for me to snap their photo. Striking out on any less common birds at the base of the hill, we trekked back up the slope and took a look over the creek bed, and almost all of us were surprised to see this little fellow dipping in and out of the water, searching for something to nibble on.

Mink

Mink on the ice

Following the river, and down through the spruce stands at the bottom of the hill, we saw a few Common Ravens giving us flybys, heard a distant Blue Jay, and many more flocks of Black-capped Chickadees. This Common Raven even paused in a treetop to pose for a photo.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As we passed this guy, it quickly became possible to measure our progress by the number of flocks of Black-capped Chickadees, and three flocks of Chickadees and a single flock of Dark-eyed Juncos later, we heard the very distinct calling of Red Crossbills in the trees above us. Once again these Red Crossbills were very polite, very calm, and content to just sit in the treetops and watch us pass by.

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill showing off its namesake

Heading back to the main path, across the river, and over to the storm water drainage channel to where an American Dipper and Wilson’s Snipe had been seen, we came across a few more flocks of Black-capped Chickadees a couple of very large flocks of Pine Grosbeaks and a few flocks of White-winged Crossbills and Canada Geese flew overhead throughout. When we got to the drainage channel, we were surprised by this little beauty where the American Dipper should have been, and it allowed us very clear, diagnostic views allowing us to identify it as a Song Sparrow!

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow 2

Song Sparrow looking for food on a raft of twigs and branches

Moments later, the American Dipper popped out and began briefly foraging with the Song Sparrow, before giving us quite the demonstration of how it earned its name.

American Dipper

Our first views of the American Dipper

American Dipper

Our American Dipper briefly pausing on a rock before taking a dive

dipping Dipper

American Dipper taking a dip

Success!

And success! Our American Dipper comes up with… something edible I guess?

We walked back the way we came in hopes of glimpsing a Boreal Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker, or maybe even get lucky enough to spot a Pileated Woodpecker, but sadly, no new species came to us on our walk back. As we parted ways and I walked back up the hill to check for the Mink again, I did spot this male Downy Woodpecker that was more than comfortable enough with me to let me get very close. Possibly too close for my camera to focus properly!

Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

Have a great week, and good birding!

Photo Feathers: Pine Siskin

The Pine Siskin is a familiar, tame little finch. They are often very approachable, enough to see their beautiful feathers. They are quite noisy, even while they feast on niger, black oil sunflower seeds and the seeds of pinecones, among other foods. Pine Siskins are common in Calgary and can be seen year round.

The Pine Siskin is a very curious bird; the bird in this photo is curious as to who is bothering him.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Matthew Sim