Tag Archive | fish creek provincial park

A return to normalcy at Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s almost complete washout for both bird life and weather conditions, it was nice to have relatively minimal wind, warm weather, and a clear transition to our normal autumn faunal assemblage that we’ve grown to expect here in Calgary.

This week we returned to part of my May Species Count territory, Lafarge Meadows. This was my second time back following the flood, and my first time back where there had been any bird life to speak of. I was also quite surprised that much of the cut bank of the river remained intact, rather than being completely eroded away. It seemed for the most part that the water level simply rose too fast to cut away much of the river bank before completely overwhelming it. Parts of our walk showed evidence of being under two meters of water or more, during the peak of the flooding.

That is not to say that the river bank was completely unscathed. A few areas of fresh outcrop were clearly visible, and a number of places where either old deadfall had been stripped away, pathways had been washed out, or the basins of both small and large ponds completely restructured were also quite numerous.

Lafarge Meadows (Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn't reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

Lafarge Meadows
(Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn’t reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

As we began our walk, it was clear that it was going to be a bit of a noisy day, as the European Starlings serenaded us any time we were near tree cover. The first two ponds gave us decent views of some waterfowl, including Gadwall, American Coots, Northern Shovelers and even a couple of Bufflehead, but the first really nice close looks we had at any new birds this season was this immature Bald Eagle that we first saw in the distance, then a little closer, until a few boaters flushed it off a high perch to give us this fly-by.

BAEA

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

Shortly after this fly-by, we scanned a distant gravel bar for some shorebirds, and managed to find a few Killdeer, a Greater Yellowlegs, and this Wilson’s Snipe… can you spot it?

Spot the Snipe! Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Spot the Snipe!
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

One of the birds that seems to almost completely disappear in summer that is starting to re-appear in larger numbers are the American Wigeon, which we saw no small number of on our trek. The female American Wigeon has a very distinct rusty color on the breast and flanks, but the underbelly, which is usually only seen in flight, is a pale white.

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

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

A little further down the pathway, but also giving us nice close looks, was this female Blue-winged Teal. Teals in general show a much smaller profile in the water, and are much smaller than Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and nearly every other duck you might see, and the females are very hard to tell apart from each other. The Blue-winged Teal though, has a white patch near the base of the bill, which is absent in the Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal.

female Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Another bird that didn’t seem to mind us coming in close to it was this Greater Yellowlegs. Note the slightly upturned bill, and that the bill length is about 1.5 times as long as the head is deep.

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

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

Shortly after Gus’ and a few of our other walkers had turned around, we were able to nab another species that they unfortunately had to miss. This little Merlin flew over the large pond, and then passed right in front of us, showing off its unique flight style in perfect form.

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

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

Our trip back seemed much faster than the walk down, even though we saw almost as many birds on our trip back, it’s always important to not double-count the birds. The other vital thing was that this time around, the birds seemed further away and didn’t allow for any photo opportunities whatsoever. That all changed as we came upon a lone young White-crowned Sparrow that was more than willing to pose for the camera.

immature White-crowned Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature White-crowned Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And if that weren’t enough, just before we decided to pack it in for the day, we had a very generous Herring Gull fly in nice and low, showing off its pink legs and yellow bill with the small red mark on the lower mandible. How nice of it!

 

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Thanks again for reading, and good birding. Until next week!

Fish Creek Big Day

Posted by Matthew Sim

So how many species of birds can you find in a single day in Fish Creek P.P.? Last year, I set out to find the answer. I turned up 93 species, 7 short of my goal of 100. This year, I was back out again, trying my luck once more.  Once again though, I fell short, managing to find a total of 89 species for the day.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon were common throughout the park.

I won’t write up too much here or I could have several pages of notes but I will point out some of the highlights, and of course, low points. Surprising this year was the lack of quite a few species that should have been easy to find. Notably, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Ruddy Duck, Tennessee Warbler, Forster’s Tern, Black Tern and Pied-billed Grebe were missing. Some of these were absent due to the (until quite recently), low water levels at the Lafarge Meadows sloughs. I had wondered why there were few birds at the sloughs and Dan helped me out by pointing out the fact that the sloughs had been quite low for the last few weeks, perhaps turning away some species.

Brewer's Blackbird

While I did have some surprising misses, I also found some good species, including the Brewer’s Blackbird above.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Although some of the common species such as Osprey were absent, most, including the Clay-colored Sparrow above and the American Goldfinch below were relatively easy to find.

Goldfinch

Then there were some species that I missed last year but were easy to find this year. I could not find any LeConte’s Sparrows last year but this year I managed to find nearly a dozen. This little guy posed nicely for a few minutes near the Ranch.

LeConte's Sparrow

Perhaps I forgot to mention too that it was an early start? I was at the park just before 5, when the songsters were just getting started.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

One of the many birds to be singing early on was the Red-eyed Vireo. These little birds sing nice and loud but can be very tricky to spot. Luckily for me, this one Red-eyed Vireo below sang right from the top of a poplar. So although he was easy to see, he was still a long way up!

Red-eyed Vireo

It was a good day and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. I guess then it will have become the 3rd Annual Fish Creek Big Day…

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 6 – Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Some weeks are diamonds, and other weeks are coal. Or maybe just cold. And windy. After another week of warm, beautiful temperatures, it was about time for Old Man Winter to come charging through to assert his dominion over Calgary. Our visit to Lafarge Meadows was a cold one, and cut a little short due to the wind, keeping the bird activity to a relative minimum.

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

 

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Starting at the Boat Launch parking lot, we were treated to quite the show of four adult Bald Eagles flying over the river to the north, flushing up Mallards, Goldeneye, and even Canada Geese by the hundreds. All the while, the ducks and geese along the river near to us stayed put and granted us one gift of a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

We headed south under the bridges, and were once again treated to close flybys of an immature Bald Eagle, flushing up a few Mallards here, but nowhere near as many as the show the adults were putting on to the north.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

One of our target birds was a lone male Northern Pintail, which had been seen in the company of Mallards just south of the bridges all week. While we didn’t get good views of it on our way south, a couple of us were given some very good looks on the way back north. Another immature Bald Eagle made a pass over the Mallards and Northern Pintail as our group passed them by, but after a few minutes, they all settled back down near the gravel bar to return to their rest. Unfortunately, many of our group opted to head for the shelter of the wooded areas around Sikome Lake to get out of the biting wind, but for those that missed it, here ‘s the Northern Pintail we saw today.

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Wait a minute... those aren't all Mallards!

Wait a minute… those aren’t all Mallards!

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

We still had another bird we were hoping to find. A pair of Killdeer had been seen just about every day this week along the south stretch of the river, and we trekked on, despite the cold, but in the end, and after a good kilometer of searching and scanning the gravel bars and the far shore in vain, we admitted defeat. While I didn’t get a photo of it, we did get an incredible addition to our list, but our views were all to brief. A Prairie Falcon made a quick dart over the eastern valley wall, scanned the environs below, and after only a minute or two, headed back to the east.

As we began our trip back into the protection of the woods, a few of our old favourites made their appearances. The ever-present Black-capped Chickadees, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a lone female Downy Woodpecker came to visit as we finished up our time with the Northern Pintail. I suspect she may have been waiting for the right time to photobomb the waterfowl!

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

See you again next week!



Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 5 – Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

After a week of unseasonal sun and warmth, the mercury dipped down below zero again this morning, and with a bit of a north wind, made for a chilly trek through the park. Bob and I arrived a bit early to try to find signs of either the Northern Pygmy Owl or the American Three-toed Woodpecker that have been seen in the area but unfortunately came up empty handed, but were able to scout and find some signs of a few other species that we found with the larger group later on. We headed west from the parking lot, while Gus took his group south to look for some Pine Grosbeaks that had been seen earlier, only meeting up at the very end, despite following almost the exact same route.

The route through Votier's Flats and Bebo Grove

The route through Votier’s Flats and Bebo Grove

On our scouting trip, Bob and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working a series of dead poplar and spruce trees, and when we returned there with the group, they were joined by a third Pileated Woodpecker, which was quite an unexpected sight. There must have been some good eatin’ under the bark of those trees!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

After incredible views of the Pileated Woodpeckers, along with a few Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, we headed down the trail along Fish Creek in search of Townsend’s Solitaire’s which had been seen there the day before. We weren’t disappointed, as we spotted not one, but two individuals. This one, up above our heads, appeared to be displaying. As it flew off, the second one, not six feet away from us at waist level, followed it across the creek over into some low scrub.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

As these two flew off, we soldiered on, exploring the edge of the creek a little further west. One of our sharp-eyed attendees spotted a Northern Goshawk that flushed up from the creek bank, and we weren’t the only ones that spotted it. As it lighted on the far side of the river, it was almost immediately mobbed by a large contingent of Common Redpolls and House Finches.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

As we continued on in search of our target species, we explored the next couple of bridges, and entered a large stand of old, tall spruce, which is where the American Three-toed Woodpecker was seen earlier this year. Sadly, we missed out on both that bird, as well as the Northern Pygmy Owl, so this posing Red-breasted Nuthatch will have to make up for that.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

On our trip back to the parking lot, our luck seemed to wane. The birds we saw were either in the distance, in the shade, or simply a little too out of the way to view properly, let alone photograph. As we neared the parking lot, a small herd of Mule Deer grazed along the hillside quite content to stare back at all the folks pointing their binoculars at them.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Once we got back to the parking lot, we thought it might be a good idea to go searching for those Pine Grosbeaks that were mentioned earlier. While we didn’t manage to find them, we did spot a couple of other woodpecker species that had eluded us earlier; the Hairy Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker, both working away at constructing nesting holes in the same dead tree.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

In our futile search, and as we neared the end of our walk, I heard the telltale wheezy “chick-dee” of the always welcome Boreal Chickadee. After playing a couple of recorded calls, a trio of them swooped in, investigated us for a few minutes, and then just as quickly flew off.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Next week we’ll be heading to the deep south of Lafarge Meadows, in the south east corner of Fish Creek Provincial Park in search of even more new species. See you then!

Migration at Hull’s Wood

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last week I rode my bike down to Hull’s Wood in Fish Creek P.P. twice to see how migration was coming along; I was not disappointed! As I rode through the woods both times, the chips of warblers and sparrows emanated from the trees and shrubs along the river. The woods were full of Yellow Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Least Flycatchers and Warbling Vireos (not all of these were migrants) while several American Redstarts, Tennessee Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes and Baltimore Orioles were also present. There was also a single male Wilson’s Warbler, a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a single Connecticut Warbler.

Least Flycatcher

Connecticut Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

This was all quite exciting but by 10:30 a.m. both days things quieted down for warblers so I went to Lafarge Meadows to check out shorebirds. Both days I found 6 species of shorebirds in Lafarge Meadows along the Bow River; Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Migration is coming along well, so if you have the opportunity, get out there! There are lots of great spots in and around Calgary for migrating birds whether it be Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Confederation Park, Weed Lake, Fish Creek P.P. or your own yard, find your favorite spot for migration and sit back and enjoy the show!

Clash of the herons

Posted by Matthew Sim

On a recent bike ride of mine to Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek P.P. I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron in a storm water pond so I got myself into a good position to photograph it. I sat watching and photographing the heron for some time when suddenly, an adult Great Blue flew in.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

A rather impressive landing…

The adult heron seemed to “own” the ponds and did not take kindly to the young heron fishing in his waters. The adult proceeded to hunch himself up in a bid to frighten the juvenile.

All hunched up, the adult Great Blue proceeded to hurriedly chase the juvenile around the pond until finally the young heron took a running start and flew off.

Taking off with a running start.

Far from being content however, the adult flew after the young one and the two of them disappeared over the hills. I didn’t move from my position however, because I had a feeling that at least one of the herons would be returning. Sure, enough, several minutes later, the adult returned finally content at having chased the young upstart off of his territory.

Finally able to relax and scratch his head.

Lafarge Meadows – Flooding, baby birds, and a tern for the better

Posted by Dan Arndt

The final week of the Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding course once again took us to the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, specifically, to the Boat Launch and south to Lafarge Meadows sloughs, which Matthew Sim has recently posted about. It was a good finish to a great course, and I am looking forward to joining a new group of fresh-faced and enthusiastic birders as fall migration is in full swing by September.

 

We started off with a new bird for our group (and for myself) for the year. Just north of the boat launch were a trio of American White Pelicans, one of which decided it was a bit too rainy for his liking and flew off before I took this photo. The water level both on the Bow River and in the sloughs adjacent to the pathway were incredibly high, and in some areas of the city, the weekend of June 24th was a time of some minor, or not so minor flooding. It seemed that the pelicans didn’t mind it so much, as they were seen regularly at this point all week long.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

As we got looks at these gorgeous white birds, we couldn’t help but notice that a family of Tree Swallows had set up a nest inside one of the horizontal access gate poles. This male stood guard while the female was on the nest deep inside the gate.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Just south of the boat launch, on the west side of the path, there are normally three large sloughs on the north side of 22X. Because of the flooding, they all had merged into one incredibly large slough, and this Black Tern, along with three of its buddies, were making short work of the small fish, arthropods, and worms that were found within.

Black Tern

Black Tern

As we headed underneath the 22X bridge, and emerged on the other side, we stayed close to the river in hopes of spotting another of our target species for the day, the Western Kingbird. While not quite what we were looking for, this Eastern Kingbird was harassing (or being harassed by?) a Black-billed Magpie. Inter-species territorial disputes are always fun to watch.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

While having great views of one species of the tyrant flycatchers is always good, not fifty meters away we were greeted by the sound of at least three Western Wood-Pewees harassing a family of Common Ravens, not to far from their likely nest site. Once again, inter-species territory disputes are the rule of the day!

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

As we headed further south along the river bank, we began heading into a bit more open grasslands and sloughs, and got much closer views of a number of waterfowl and other wetland birds. As we rounded one corner, we saw a Spotted Sandpiper give a bit of a broken wing display before flying up off her nest and, seemingly, abandoning it. We got some very good views of the nest, albeit brief, before moving off to a safe distance. We weren’t twenty meters away before the doting mother was back down on top of her clutch of eggs.

Spotted Sandpiper nest

Spotted Sandpiper nest

Meanwhile, this female Common Merganser was not about to leave her perch no matter how close we got to her. This is the same female and nest that Paul and I noted on the May species count.

Common Merganser female

Common Merganser female

The closer we got to the southernmost sloughs at Lafarge Meadows, the more the landscape changed from woods to grassland. Savannah Sparrows became the norm, compared with the Song Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows back to the north, and we even got a few good looks at a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, clearly indicating that we were in a well developed wetland.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

No visit to the wetlands in the spring would be complete without seeing the assorted ducklings, and we got quite a treat on that front! Not only did we see a trio of Common Goldeneye chicks, but also a female Hooded Merganser with her brood in tow!

Common Goldeneye chicks

Common Goldeneye chicks

Hooded Merganser chicks

Hooded Merganser chicks

Hooded Merganser (female)

Hooded Merganser (female)

And last but not least, this Blue-winged Teal was eager to show off his namesake, and sat patiently while not one, not two, but five photographers got good, clear shots of the blue flight feathers that inspired his name.

Blue-winged Teal (male)

Blue-winged Teal (male)

A great note to end off another great season of birding.

 

Over the summer, I have a number of various blog posts planned, mostly based around a few road trips and birding trips I have planned here and there. I look forward to sharing my stories and photos with all of you all summer long!

 

Good birding!

Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Muskrat

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

May Species Count – Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows – Highlights

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the birding events that I have wanted to take part in since learning of it last year was the May Species Count. This is one of the many events that contribute to real science research on behalf of Bird Studies Canada. I was a little worried when taking on an entire area of my own, since I was certain that I’d miss some calls that a more experienced birder would have picked up and identified in seconds, or that I’d misidentify warblers, sparrows, or other shorebirds. Thankfully, I didn’t hear anything that really threw me for a loop (aside from a Western Meadowlark that sounded like it was a little confused) and didn’t see anything that I couldn’t readily identify with a quick reference to my Sibley Guide or Audubon’s Field Guide to Birds app.

Starting at about 5 AM, we hiked from the parking lot at Bow Valley Ranch, meandering south to 194th Avenue, then back north to the Ranch, which I’ve mapped below.

Hull's Wood to Lafarge Meadows - May Species Count Route

Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows – May Species Count Route

Paul Turbitt came along both for the photo opportunities as well as to help out with spotting birds, but I always find the viewpoint of an experienced hunter and photographer incredibly valuable in the field. That, and having someone else around to see and hear birds that you might otherwise miss is indispensible. We racked up a total of 70 species, which included 3 new year birds for me, and something like 10-12 for Paul. It’s always great to show people new birds that they’ve never seen before, but also to get better views (and photos) of birds that you’ve seen dozens or hundreds of times before. Below are a few of my favourites from Saturday’s portion of the May Species Count.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Great Horned Owls eating breakfast

Great Horned Owls eating breakfast

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Killdeer

Killdeer

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Red-winged Blackbird and Heron

Red-winged Blackbird and Heron

Great Horned Owl Fledgeling
Great Horned Owl Fledgeling

Sunday’s photos and recount of the May Species Count from the Weaselhead, North Glenmore Park and Reservoir, and Pearce Estate Park to come soon…