Tag Archive | Fish Creek Park

A Big Day in Fish Creek

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Friday, I did a Big Day in Fish Creek. For those of you who do not know what this is, a Big Day is when you try to see and hear as many species as possible within a 24 hour day. For my Big Day, I spent more than 10 hours in Fish Creek, doing the entire day by bike, riding about 74 kilometers (46 miles) throughout the park and recording 93 species of birds, falling short of my goal of 100. Temperatures ranged from 6-15 degrees Celsius and there were a few showers. I started at about 5am and took a 2 hour weather break at lunch time, hoping for some of the rain to blow over, before returning at 2 and counting for another 3 hours. A full list and a more detailed report of the day can be seen here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Albertabird/message/20841

Here are some photos from the day:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Red-necked Grebes

Blue-winged Teal

Tennessee Warbler

Ruddy Ducks

Male Common Yellowthroat

A trip to Fish Creek

Posted by Matthew Sim

After arriving back in Calgary from Houston for the summer last Friday, I couldn’t wait to get back out to Fish Creek. Sunday morning found me up bright and early (6:00) and out on my bike, riding down to Fish Creek Provincial Park, one of my favorite birding (and for that matter, one of my favorite natural) locations.

Almost immediately, I was seeing good birds. At the stormwater ponds between the Glennfield area and the Bow Valley Ranch I saw lots of waterfowl, including a pair of Cinnamon Teal and many Common Goldeneye ducklings.

Cinnamon Teal; male on the right, female partially hidden on the left

Goldeneye ducklings

At one pond, a coyote was hunting something in the long grass and remained oblivious to my presence.

After observing the coyote for some time, I continued riding my back towards the Ranch. I crossed bridge #11 and started towards Sikome and the river, but stopped abruptly when I saw the Great Horned Owl family; 5 in all, 3 owlets and their parents.

We as Calgarians are truly lucky to be able to observe owlets up close each year as they are never far off the path in Fish Creek. I marveled at the owls seemingly majestic haughtiness, as they all stared me down. Before long, I was off again, stopping again when I saw a strange sight at the top of a conifer. At the very top was a Brown-headed Cowbird, surrounded by what must have been millions of little bugs.

As I passed through the Sikome area, I observed many Richardson’s Ground Squirrels.

As I finally reached the river and the Hull’s Wood area of the park, I spotted what was probably the most colorful bird of the day; a male Baltimore Oriole.

There was a female with him and they seemed to be paired up, however she was more secretive as she gathered nest material and disappeared high into the poplars to build her hanging nest.

This trip to Fish Creek was excellent, and for me, having moved away, I now fully appreciate what a great park Fish Creek is.

A Cold Morning In Hull’s Wood

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.

Week Two of the Spring session of the birding course with the Friends of Fish Creek saw us exploring Hull’s Wood and the boat launch area, at the east end of Fish Creek Park.  It was quite cold at 7:30 a.m., about minus 4 degrees Celsius, with a north wind and light snow, and the conditions didn’t change much over the three hours.  Nevertheless, we did manage to see some spring migrants.  Once again, the photos were provided by Paul Turbitt and Glenn Alexon.

Franklin’s Gull.  Photo by Paul Turbitt. 

We saw about 75 of the black-headed Franklin’s Gulls over the river.  As you can see in the photo, these gulls often have a pinkish tinge to their breast feathers in the spring.  Several gull species show this feature when they arrive on their breeding grounds, and it is thought to be a result of carotenoids in their diet.  In the case of Franklin’s Gulls, it is caused by their consumption of shrimp on their wintering grounds off the coast of Venezuela.  By fall it often fades away.

Canada Geese are nesting in broken treetops in the area, where they are safe from coyotes and dogs.  Here a male stands guard near the nest.

Canada Goose.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

We walked north along the river, and scoured the rocky banks for American Pipits.  Up to 80 had been seen in the area earlier in the week.  We weren’t able to locate any, but I’ll get back to the pipits later.

We saw two bald eagles along the river:  one adult, and one juvenile which put up all the waterfowl as it flew over.  There were also at least two Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Glenn Alexon.

 A White-breasted Nuthatch was busy excavating a nest hole.  Here he is removing some wood from the nest.

As we neared the mouth of Fish Creek we watched a flock of over 200 European Starlings repeatedly flying down to the water and back up to the trees.  Then we noticed another huge flock of small birds, which turned out to be Tree Swallows, working their way north along the river.  I estimated about 100 in the first flock, which was followed immediately by another of the same size, then another, and another.  It was really just one huge flock numbering up to 800 birds.

We then turned away from the river, and out of the wind, to check out the two Great Horned Owl nests in the area.  The young owlets have been seen in one of the nests, but when we were there we weren’t lucky enough to see them.

Adult male Great Horned Owl standing guard near the nest.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Near the second owl nest we found a pair of Wood Ducks sitting in a tree.   These birds nest in tree holes so maybe they will nest in this area.

Male Wood Duck.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.


Female Wood Duck.   Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Photo by Glenn Alexon.

We finished up by checking the pond near highway 22X.  There wasn’t much there, but we were treated to Red-winged Blackbirds, a first of the year for some of the participants.

Red-winged Blackbird.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Finally, as we arrived back at the boat launch parking lot, we were treated to a Great Blue Heron flyover.

Great Blue Heron.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

That was a great way to finish the day for me and most of the others, but three people went back along the Bow to see if they could scare up some American Pipits.  By walking right near the shore, they did manage to find them.  These birds can hide quite effectively in the rocks and grass.

 American Pipits.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Photo by Glenn Alexon.

When they were watching the pipits, a Mountain Bluebird appeared, then flew across the river.

Mountain Bluebird, from across the Bow River.   Photo by Paul Turbitt.

One of the photos that Paul took of the pipits showed a bird that I was sure was not an American Pipit, but couldn’t identify.  Gus Yaki has identified it as a Sprague’s Pipit.  This is a bird of the prairies which is rarely seen in the city.

Sprague’s Pipit.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

 I will be heading back to this area regularly in the next few weeks to watch the development of the Great Horned Owlets.

Photo by Glenn Alexon. 

Glenn Alexon’s Flickr page.

Paul Turbitt’s Nikonians page. 

Revering a Raptor

From the day that I first laid eyes on the species, gliding on broad wings over a coniferous forest in the Rocky mountains of Alberta, I have always looked with awe at it, astounded by its sheer magnificence. Many people have soft spots for raptors. I have a soft spot for one in particular: the Northern Goshawk.

I first saw a goshawk just over a year ago. It was early October 2010, and I had signed up for the Mount Lorette Golden Eagle field trip with Nature Calgary. I went out on my own to explore the area right around the location of the watch, and, while out on the path, witnessed an adult goshawk rise up from the spruce trees and circle away. From that moment on I was always looking for goshawks; every chance I got, I would go searching for them.

Rising up out of the forest; my first views of a Northern Goshawk

Several days later, on a biking trip to Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across an adult Goshawk perched high up in a poplar, sitting and gazing at the world around him. I stood and watched this magnificent raptor for more than half an hour, pointing the bird out to anybody who came near. Many of these were joggers or were merely walking their dogs. They took little interest in this bird, that is somewhat tricky to spot in the city of Calgary. I was rewarded though by the few who did pause to look up at the goshawk and comment on his size.

“What did you say it was called?”

“A Northern Goshawk”, I would reply eagerly, ” it’s somewhat unusual here in Calgary.”

“Really? Wow! Look at how big he his!” After staring up at him for several more seconds, they would smile and move on. Hopefully the Goshawk had made an impression on them though.

While I watched this large, strong accipter (agile, forest dwelling hawks with short rounded wings and long tails) it scratched its head withs its talon, giving me glimpses of those wicked sharp utensils it uses to tear apart its prey. Eventually, it lifted off and disappeared amongst the trees.

Goshawks are among the largest, strongest and most audacious of the hawks of North America. In November 2010, a little over a month since I first observed this species, I got an excellent opportunity to view this audacity. I was riding my bike home from Fish Creek and was running slightly late. I looked down for a moment as I pulled onto a dirt path going around a storm water pond, and, when I looked up again, there, sitting merely yards away from me in a small tree no taller than 10 feet, was an adult goshawk. They now seemed to be everywhere I went! I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could and screeched to a stop, panting breathlessly. Pulling out my camera, I marveled at how close this bird had let me get. I stood watching him, he stood watching me, this went on for several minutes before he abruptly flew away.

Taken with a 200mm lens and no crop; I could see every detail in the feathers

Instead of leaving altogether though, the goshawk started hovering over a field, pulled up, started hovering again and then pulled up once more. Then, with a sharp turn, he came whizzing right at me and flew by me at a distance of about 4 feet! The raptor was so close that my lens couldn’t focus on it!

These incredibly neat personal experiences combined with an amazingly beautiful species, have come to make me love the Northern Goshawk.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Weasel Wednesday

Sometimes when you go birding you don’t find what you hope to see.  But sometimes you see something unexpected that is just as great.  And sometimes it’s not even a bird.

Last Saturday the Friends of Fish Creek Society birders explored the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek Park.  Our goal was to find a Northern Pygmy-Owl, which is always a treat to see, and which several members of the group had never seen.  The owl has not yet been reported in the park this fall but in the last few years it has first been sighted at about this time.

We didn’t find an owl, but someone spotted a writhing mass at the side of the path that turned out to be a family of Least Weasels – a mother with eight young.

Photo by Dan Arndt

The nine little mammals moved through the undergrowth in a mass, over and under each other, but always in contact.  In his report on Albertabird, Gus Yaki described them as “travelling together so close that they seemed to be a single organism.”  Pat Bumstead says that they probably were making one of their first forays outside their natal den, and were exploring their surroundings.

Photo by Wayne Walker

The mother crossed the trail near us, and the young separated amongst our feet.  They showed no fear of us.  I put my hand down, and briefly had one in my gloved hand.  The shots below show just how small Least Weasels are.  These young are as big as an adult, or nearly so.

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

The juveniles eventually crossed the trail to reunite with their mother.

Photo by Dan Arndt

Although they are impossibly cute, weasels are carnivores, capable of killing animals many times their size.  In these photos they show off their teeth.

Photo  by Wayne Walker

Photo by Anne Elliott

We were very lucky to see such an amazing sight.  If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of looking at these little guys, so below there are some more pictures for you to enjoy.

(To see an additional Birdscalgary post about another species of weasel, click here.)

(To see a YouTube video that uses some of these pictures, with music, click below:)

Here are the rest of the photos:


Photo by Dan Arndt

Photo by Dan Arndt

Photo by Anne Elliott

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Photo by Wayne Walker

Thanks to the three photographers who contributed these great pictures:  Wayne Walker, Dan Arndt, and Anne Elliott.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Finding a Sick Bird

Last week I posted a picture of a bird that was sitting on a dirt path near the Bow River in Fish Creek Park (see post).  The bird didn’t move even as we approached to within a few feet.

It was a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, and clearly there was something wrong with it.  It was either sick or injured.  Gus Yaki, who was leading the outing, picked the gull up to examine it.

The gull hardly reacted.  Needless to say, you would not be able to pick up a healthy bird in this way.  Gus said that there was no obvious injury, but the bird was so thin that he could feel the bones in its breast, where the large flight muscles should have been.  It would not be able to fly.  Clearly it was unable to feed, had been starving for quite a while, and was near death.

Gus took the opportunity to explain the cruel facts of breeding bird biology: for a typical species, only half of all eggs laid will hatch; of the nestlings that do hatch, only half survive the first month; of the remainder, only half will live to one year of age.  On average, a stable population requires that a breeding pair of adults must manage to raise two offspring to breeding age over their entire lifetime, so that the offspring replace the parents.  If the number surviving to breed was usually higher, the population would explode, and if lower, it would crash.  This means that the majority of eggs and young birds fall victim to predators, disease, or other hazards.

Gus returned the bird to the sunny spot on the path where we found it, and we left it to its fate.

No one suggested we try to save the bird, but later I wondered if any of the local wildlife rescue organizations would have taken in a common bird like a Ring-billed Gull, especially one in such poor shape.  I’ll address that in my next post.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

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

The Woodpecker Tree

While on my latest bike ride into Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across one very special tree. I have started calling it: The Woodpecker Tree. Standing proud and tall on the banks of the creek, this poplar tree seemed to be a gathering place for woodpecker food. I abruptly stopped on the dirt path I was riding on because I had heard a Hairy Woodpecker calling. I approached the tree for closer inspection and I was surprised to see 2 Downy Woodpeckers and a large female Hairy Woodpecker. Much to my surprise I heard another Downy Woodpecker calling high up in the tree and I looked up to see a male Downy Woodpecker and a White-breasted Nuthatch. I then heard a tapping coming from the opposite side of the tree and found it to be a male Hairy Woodpecker tapping away. Eventually, my final count of woodpeckers came up to 3 Hairy Woodpeckers, 4 Downy Woodpeckers and the lone White-breasted Nuthatch.

This tree obviously fulfilled the nourishment needs for 7 woodpeckers and a nuthatch. As I continued to watch all these birds, I saw them eating insects, tapping at fungal growths on the tree and investigating sap.

After a dozen of  minutes or so, the woodpeckers started to spread out into the surrounding area to hunt down more food. Yet some of the birds, stayed on the woodpecker tree, clearly enjoying the abundance of good food.

Now, I can’t help but wonder if this is a regular occurrence at this tree, or was it a one-time event?

Posted by Matthew Sim

Perfect Pelicans

Last Tuesday when I was down at the Bow River, I was witness to a great birding spectacle; photogenic pelicans putting on a show of flying, landing and swimming. I was able to count up 27 of these social and gregarious birds at one time, half of them circling in the sky while the other half loafed around on the banks of the river. Among the world’s largest birds and gracing the air with a wingspan of over 2 meters, the American White Pelican can swallow fish up to 30cm (12 inches) long and must eat 2 kg (4 lbs) of fish a day.

Several Pelicans made a show of coming in for a landing.

They came closer and closer…

Until it seemed as though they were right beside me…

Their feathers were absolutely stunning against the blue sky.

This Pelican was demonstrating the mechanics of a good landing…

Before finally putting down the landing gear.

If you look carefully at this last photo, you may just be able to make out a Franklin’s Gull at the far right of the screen. This gull was flying at roughly the same altitude as the pelicans and shows the massive size difference between the two. After Tuesday, Pelicans have become a bird I love to watch.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Family Time For The Birds

I had a day off this last Tuesday so I took the opportunity to go biking and birding in Fish Creek Provincial Park. It was a beautiful morning; the sun was out, the sky was blue, the birds were singing and the weather was warm; finally! I got to Fish Creek at around 8:30 a.m. entering the park just off the intersection of Canyon Meadows drive and Acadia . I was preparing to go down the steep hill into the park only to find that the trail was flooded! Instead I followed the trail around the ridge until I entered the park beside the ranch.I did some random wandering on small paths through Fish Creek, finding a pheasant, a kingfisher, several catbirds and 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, among other birds. I then carried on to bridge number 11, leading to Hull’s Wood. Rounding a bend in the path I was surprised to see a male Pileated Woodpecker, just  meters from the path. Before I could get my camera out of my bag, he had flown further away; apparently he was surprised to see me!

I reached Sikome Lake and rode my bike up the hill, in hopes of finding some Great Horned Owls and their owlets; I was not disappointed! There in their regular tree, was the Great Horned Owl family, two young ones and one adult.

As I continued my circuit, I found some more interesting birds, including some Green-winged Teal.

And the Pelicans! The water is so high in the river that pelicans are everywhere; I was able to count up to 27 pelicans at one time, half in the water, half circling in the sky, their bright white feathers contrasting magnificently with the clear blue sky. Another post on the pelicans will follow this one. However, this day, was truly the day of families. At one secluded spot near the river, I found 4 different nests all within a couple of feet of each other. The first belonged to a Downy Woodpecker, the second to a House Wren and the last two to Tree Swallows.

At the Downy Woodpecker nest, the male would visit the hole every couple of minutes and would be instantly greeted with the call of the hungry young in the inside. He continued his work incessantly, feeding his ever hungry offspring.

The House Wrens hardly ever came in and out of their nest but the male was always nearby, singing very loudly and stopping only for the occasional break.

The Tree Swallows would vigorously defend their nests from potential threats, such as the kestrel that flew over several times. The Kestrel in turn would chase away a Swainson’s Hawk that could have been a potential threat to the Kestrel’s family.

As I was leaving the park in late morning I came across a coyote sitting on a hill, looking very content as well as many Savannah Sparrows singing.

Family time for the birds is a busy time of year; I saw 52 species of birds that morning and I had luck as I got to see  some of them raising their families.

Posted by Matthew Sim