The Friends of Fish Creek are now taking registrations for the very popular Spring Birding Course. New for this spring is the option to go out twice a week rather than just once. These courses are a great value for all the time you get to spend to spend in the field, and the rate for youths sixteen and under is still only $5 (with a registered adult) for the entire twelve-week course! Register online here.
Posted by Dan Arndt
This post recounts our first Sunday outing of the season with the Friends of Fish Creek, Autumn Birding course on September 7, 2014.
While it’s been a few weeks since our first outing, it’s still great to be back birding in Calgary’s incredible parks. Our first week back was a visit to Carburn Park, where Gus Yaki had led a few late summer birding trips in search of fall warblers, turning up a wide variety of great birds. By the time we got there in early September though, most of them had moved on, though a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were still to be found here and there!
Along the river was our best and most productive area throughout the walk though. Early on, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across the river and right over our heads, not too common a sight!
A bit further down the river, a young Bald Eagle flew overhead and gave some great flybys. It’s likely that this is one of the young from a nearby nest across the river from Carburn Park. This is one of the best places to view Bald Eagles in the late fall and through the winter as the river freezes over and the waterfowl congregate in the open water.
Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, picking mosquitos and other small insects out of the air by the dozen, while much higher overhead the Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls did the same with recent hatches of flying ants.
We did have some great looks at some Double-crested Cormorants at the furthest north “pond”, or what used to be a pond, anyhow. The flood of 2013 stripped away the banks and trees at the north end, turning what used to be a large, deep pond into the primary river channel, and good habitat for the Double-crested Cormorants and even one Great Blue Heron to sun themselves and hunt for fish.
This young heron took the opportunity to open up its wings and absorb the sun, like some of the cormorants were doing further up on the debris. Soon, both of these species will be headed south to warmer climes while the mercury dips close to the freezing point and below through the course of our walks this fall.
Thanks again for reading, and good birding!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
We’re back! After a busy July away from from blogging, we had technical issues in August which prevented us from posting photos. We could have posted text, but as you know, a birding blog without photos is like a bowling ball without a liquid centre.
Despite the snow on the ground right now, I am going to catch up on some things from late spring. Those of you who follow Dan Arndt’s weekly posts about his Friends of Fish Creek outings will have wondered where the group went birding in June. Dan’s job took him out of town for the entire month, so he was unable to post. I was away for some of June as well, but I arranged for one of my group’s members, George Best, to send some photos from our outings.
Dan’s posts will resume this week and will found here most Mondays.
If you are interested in signing up for the course this fall, there are still a few spots available at the following times: Mondays at 8:30 am, Tuesdays at 8:30 and 9 am, Wednesdays at 9 am, Thursdays at 8:30 am, Saturdays at 8:30 am, and Sundays at 8:30 am, 9 am, 9:30 am and 1:15 pm. We have completed two weeks of the 14-week course so there are still 12 weeks of great birding to go. Go to the Friends of Fish Creek site to sign up.
On June 1 our excursion was to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant area, along the river south of 194 Avenue. For one of Dan’s previous posts from this area, complete with maps of the walk, see this post from April 2014.
Our June 1 walk featured some late-arriving spring migrants. One of the first birds we saw, as we car-pooled from the parking lot at 194 Avenue to the treatment plant, was this Western Kingbird hawking insects from a fence. All photos by George Best.
These birds are not common in Calgary, even on migration. I believe the only place within the city limits that they have been known to nest is in the Lafarge Meadows area of Fish Creek Park, about 1.5 km north of our sighting. But no nesting Western Kingbirds were reported there in the last three years, so I was hopeful that this bird might be heading there to nest. I didn’t hear any more reports of this species in that area over the summer, so this was probably just a passing migrant.
We got really good looks at some Song Sparrows and recorded a dozen on the day, several of them singing.
We saw at least nine Swainson’s Hawks, but the closest views were of Red-tails.
A Gray Catbird which emerged from the brush on the river bank:
An Eastern Kingbird, one of nine sighted on the day.
Another just-arrived migrant, and our first of the year – Baltimore Oriole.
Finally, we had a close fly-over by a group of five American White Pelicans.
We have only been taking groups to this area for a year or so, and it is a great addition to our repertoire of birding walks.
On June 8 we headed to Griffith Woods Park on the west edge of the city, along the Elbow River. (See this post for a map – one of Dan’s many posts about this park.) We spent a lot of time in the east end of the park, in the mixed woods along the river, before heading to the spruce forest farther west. Here are a few of the 37 species we saw that day.
Female Brown-headed Cowbird.
On June 15 we went to the Weaselhead Natural Area. Our goal was to find two species of hummingbird. We were successful, and had 39 species for the day.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Since January 2012 Dan Arndt and I have led the Sunday morning group in the Friends of Fish Creek birding course, at 9 am in the Fall and Winter session, and at 7:30 am in the Spring. As the course has gained popularity, more and more groups have been added. There are now over 200 people registered for the Spring session, so there are eighteen different groups that go on the field trips each week. As more groups have been added there is a need for more leaders, so although Dan will continue to lead at 7:30 on Sundays, I have moved to the 9 am group.
Dan will continue to report here about what they see on his outings, with a one-week delay (see last week’s post Spring Begins at Sikome Lake). But on April 13 he was away, so I have arranged to use the photos taken that day by George Best on our group’s outing, and keep you up to date on what’s happening with the birds of Calgary.
We met at the Weaselhead parking lot and carpooled to the westernmost lot in the adjacent North Glenmore Park, to scope out the reservoir for migrants. For such a late date, there was still a lot of ice on the reservoir, with the only open water being on the Elbow River and the extreme west end of the lake where the river enters it. There were quite a few species of waterfowl present, and this pair of Canada Geese stood out right away due to the contrast in their colours.
Canada Geese. All photos by George Best
Among the numerous Mallards and Common Goldeneyes we spotted a pair of Redheads.
Redheads and Mallards.
As we scanned the water from the high ridge in North Glenmore Park, we were treated to the sight of four Trumpeter Swans which suddenly appeared and flew silently in a line right in front of us at close range. They were so close and it happened so fast that George could not get a photo with his big lens. Instead, here is a shot of Mallards in flight. A more common sight in these parts but still a beautiful bird.
We had a few other notable birds on the reservoir, including Canvasbacks, Hooded Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, and the first two Greater Yellowlegs of the season.
Next we headed to the east end of the reservoir near the Canoe Club to check out the stormwater ponds there. Several House Finches gave us good looks right by the parking lot.
House Finch, male.
On the way to the ponds we spotted this White-tailed Jackrabbit, and George got a great shot as he stood to size us up. Down in the Weaselhead we sometimes see Snowshoe Hares but up in South Glenmore Park it is more common to see these.
There wasn’t much on the ponds but the birds are closer so they make good subjects.
Common Goldeneye, male.
Finally, we headed down into the Weaselhead proper. At the beginning of the walk we added two more mammals, Richardson’s Ground Squirrel and Least Chipmunk. For most of the participants it was the first ground squirrel of the year. For George, who is from the U.K., it was a life mammal, so he made sure to get some close-ups
Richardson’s Ground Squirrel.
Richardson’s Ground Squirrel close-up.
The only birds on the Elbow River were these two sleeping Common Mergansers.
We saw one Dark-eyed Junco and a few American Tree Sparrows, but these were too flighty to stay for photos. One problem we have with our Sunday walks is that the parks are very busy with bikers, runners, dog-walkers, etc. We stood still to try to get good looks at the Tree Sparrows and Juncos as they fed, but all the traffic on the path kept flushing them. It is a lot quieter on some of the weekday morning walks.
We had heard Blue Jays calling many times and finally caught up with one by the feeders.
Also at a tin-can feeder was this male Hairy Woodpecker.
Hairy Woodpecker, male.
We didn’t have time to go too far into the Weaselhead, but we’ll be back when the Hummingbirds are here to see it again.
Dan will report on the Easter Sunday outing on Monday. Until then, Good Birding!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Many of you have been enjoying Dan Arndt’s weekly posts about our outings with the Friends of Fish Creek birding course. Dan and I have really enjoyed leading our group year-round, in all weather, for the last two years. Birding in the winter has its challenges in terms of the weather, and the number of species seen is lower than in spring or fall, but you can get some great winter birds and fantastic scenery.
The next session begins in January so it’s time to register. This is a twelve-week series of field trips to many of Calgary’s natural areas. There are groups scheduled for every morning of the week except Friday, and in the afternoons on the weekend as well.
To encourage all those young birders out there to attend, there is a special rate for youths sixteen years of age or under: each registered adult is able to sign up one young person to accompany them for only $5 for the whole course!
Photo by Dan Arndt, November 3, 2013
Here is the course information from the Friends of Fish Creek:
BIRDING BASICS – WINTER BIRDING COURSE
Winter is a great time of the year for young people to connect with nature. They can do this by
learning about the variety of bird species in Fish Creek Provincial Park and other natural areas
in Calgary through the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course. Birds are now easier to
see as the trees have shed their leaves, there are fewer species present and they often occur in
Sign up with your child, grandchild, niece, nephew or any young person who enjoys experiencing nature and wildlife, and who would benefit from this valuable learning opportunity. Allow them to enrich their life enjoying the great outdoors during morning or afternoon weekend sessions. The fee for youth 16 years of age and under is only $5.00 with one registered adult.
As a fundraiser for the Friends of Fish Creek, these outings will be conducted by lifelong birder and naturalist Gus Yaki and other experienced birding instructors.
12-week course starts Monday, January 6, 2014. Choose to come on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays at 9:15am, Saturdays at 9:00am or 1:15pm, or Sundays at 9:00am or 1:15pm. Reserve early as each group size is limited to 15 participants.
Fee for 12 outings: Adult Friends of Fish Creek Members: $60.00, Adult Non-Members: $100.00. Youth 16 years of age or younger with registered adult: $5.00
To Register visit friendsoffishcreek.org/programs/birding-course
email info(at)friendsoffishcreek.org or call 403-238-3841
Posted by Dan Arndt
One of the highlights of the fall season is the exploration of the Western Irrigation Canal pathway, and this year’s visit was no exception. With warmer temperatures than we’d had the past week, clear skies, and a good variety of birds, it was a hit with the relatively small group we had.
To my eyes, the most persistent bird through the trip was the Greater Yellowlegs, though as we began the walk, the light didn’t particularly give us good opportunities to get them at their best, so it took a while before the shutter clicks and long, lingering looks at potentially the last shorebirds of the season really began in earnest. While earlier in the week there had been a good variety of waterfowl, our diversity was relatively minimal, with these Green-winged Teal showing off their namesake, and their vibrant colors.
Another of the surprisingly attractive birds was this young European Starling, showing off a little iridescence in the early morning light. While they’re also on their way out of the area, they’ve really come into their beautiful, bright, and striking colors. It’s been said that if these birds were rare, people would come from miles around just to get a look at them!
As we entered the wooded area near the south end of the canal pathway, we heard the chip notes of a few sparrows, juncos, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler or three, and were greeted with one distinct sparrow, and one bird that remained a mystery for a good five minutes while we considered the possibilities. The first was a beautiful American Tree Sparrow, with its distinct red cap, bi-colored bill, and gray face skulked about in the shade, and flew off after only a minute or so.
The American Tree Sparrow was intermingling with a pair of these slightly smaller, and a little more plain birds, which we eventually came to the conclusion were immature Chipping Sparrows, which hadn’t quite fully entered breeding plumage.
It wasn’t too much further up the path that we initially saw this Black-billed Magpie, picking off some thorny buffalo-berries from this tree. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos that I noticed why it was foraging on the bushes. It appears that this magpie has suffered a fairly severe series of injuries. Its upper mandible has been torn away almost entirely, leaving only a centimeter or so, and there also appears to be some significant loss of feathers around the neck area, though this may be an artifact of the molt pattern typical of corvids. It sat there for a few minutes, nabbing berry after berry, tipping its head back to swallow them, and then continuing up the branch.
As we reached the end of the pathway, we turned back to return the way we had come, and as the sun edged over the trees a little more, it really brought out the amazing colors on some of the most common of our winter birds. When you see the iridescence of the head, the bright yellow of the bill, and the contrasting deep orange of the feet of the male Mallard it really is quite the sight.
On our return, all the birds disturbed by our first pass had returned, and seemingly, brought along some of their friends as well. This Greater Yellowlegs flushed up soon after we turned back, I suspect moments after it had just become comfortable again after our initial intrusion.
It’s also quite nice to see the Common Mergansers return in the fall. They’re quite a common bird here in the fall, winter, and spring, but they can be a challenge to find in the summer at the height of breeding season.
And finally, the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls both young and old were our constant companions on the walk. Soon though, they’ll be heading south for the winter, and strange as it may sound, their presence will be yearned for by February and March, along with hopes of warmer weather to come!
Thanks again for reading, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later but a confluence of conditions this week led to a major lack of bird activity and a significant lack of photographs. Not only did we have fairly strong wind gusts for the course of our walk, but the damage done to the Glenmore Reservoir in terms of flushing out a majority of the aquatic vegetation, fish and insects made the bird life on and around the reservoir the least diverse I, and many others in our group, have ever seen it.
There will be a full length follow-up post tomorrow to make up for it though, which I’m sure everyone will appreciate, and the announcement of the winner in our Bird Butts contest will be made later on today!
Posted by Dan Arndt
After being away in Ucluelet, B.C. last week to take part in Wild Research’s annual pelagic birding trip, which I posted about over at Bird Canada, this week I’m back home and enjoying the first full day of fall with the Friends of Fish Creek.
Almost immediately after I arrived, we headed west from the parking lot, as Bob had seen a good number of warblers working their way around a small pond and trees at the very edge of the park, which none of us had ever really noticed before. After spending a good half hour and turning up a small flock of Wilson’s Snipe and nearly fifty Yellow-rumped Warblers, a pair of White-throated Sparrows, and a lone Orange-crowned and Palm Warbler, we headed back to the lake proper to attend to our usual route.
Just down from the parking lot we had a couple of other great finds, with a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, and a good number of Double-crested Cormorants, and this young one gave us a close fly-by.
As we slowly circled the lake, it quickly became clear to us that, in an unusual turn of events, there were actually more Bonaparte’s Gulls around the lake than Franklin’s. The Bonaparte’s Gulls were flying at eye level around the edge of the lake, and feeding off the surface of the lake. While we were stopped, we took a few minutes to scan the center of the lake, and happened to find a small group of Hooded Mergansers quite a ways out, but the male Hooded Mergansers are so distinct that they were easy to pick out. We did have some fairly distant views of both Eared and Horned Grebes as well as a few Ruddy Ducks, but nothing close enough to get a half decent photo.
A little further around the lake we found our fourth grebe species, as we got nice and close to a Red-necked Grebe as it surfaced nice and close to us, and while we watched it dive a few times, the clear chattery calls of a flock of twenty-five or so Common Grackles flew overhead, and a few of them paused atop a poplar to pose for a photo.
Further to the south, at the far southeast corner of the lake, a pair of Horned Grebes allowed us to get in nice and close. I find them really quite a challenge in their non-breeding plumage. and get the IDs wrong at least 75% of the time!
Our last really good looks at any of the birds on the lake was this immature Ring-billed Gull, which we suspect was injured, as it swam close to shore while we all got the closest views of this bird we’ve had all year.
All in all, it was a great morning out, and a bit of a different time of year to visit Elliston Park than our usual timing in the fall course, but it was worth the change in schedule!
Next week we’re off to South Glenmore Park, and hopefully we find some unusual species on the reservoir, or at least see a few more fall migrants on their way through.
Good birding, and have a great week!
Posted by Dan Arndt
The Autumn Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek began this week at one of the better places relatively untouched by the floods: Sikome Lake. We had quite a variety of birds on our walk, tallying up 38 species in just over two hours, and even netting another new year bird for my own personal list, which was a great bonus!
We began our walk by heading south of 22X in search of waterfowl and shorebirds in either of the two ponds on the south end of Sikome Lake, but sadly didn’t get very good results. Thankfully, one of the Osprey gave us a few close fly-bys, and even perched up on one of the light standards to allow us all to get a good look at it.
While we were looking at the Osprey, both Bob Lefebvre and I heard a quiet chip-note in the bushes behind us, which turned out to be a pair of Clay-colored Sparrows. This little bird decided to fluff up its feathers and sit quite still while we all snapped away with our cameras and stared at it in full view.
Unfortunately even the pond on the south side of 22X had very little activity as well, so we headed back towards the wooded area north of the two ponds, and boy did we get some great results! At first, we got some good close looks at two birds we can expect to see reliably over the next fourteen weeks. Both the Black-capped Chickadee and White-breasted Nuthatch were really hamming it up for us, but as we were preparing to move on, we had a surprise visit by a Blue-headed Vireo!
We headed up to a spot that is well known as the “Feeding Station”, a series of short posts that Gus Yaki has placed black-oil sunflower seeds on on each visit. It’s a great place to find chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches each time we visit, but this time around we were also treated to a wide variety of warblers, vireos, and even a good number of House Wrens. The only bird that managed to stay still long enough for me to get a shot of it was this Red-eyed Vireo, but I was happy with that!
Before our walk had even started though, I did get a chance encounter with a pair of Cooper’s Hawks chasing each other through the treetops. This particular hawk seems like he’d had enough chasing for the time being, and was taking a break in the same tree our Great Horned Owl family was roosting in back in May.
Thanks for reading, and good birding. See you next week!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
Once again the Friends of Fish Creek will be offering the autumn birding course, starting the first week of September. This twelve-week course consists of weekly field trips to various parks and natural areas in the city. Each week your group of fifteen participants plus two instructors will meet at the designated spot and learn about the birds you see there. Dan Arndt and I will be leading one of the sessions again.
Field trips usually last between two-and-a-half and three hours (although some of the ones Dan and I led last year went up to four-and-a-half hours, when the participants were willing). There are sessions offered at seven different times during the week, and there may be up to fifteen groups all together, so anyone who interested should be able to find a time that suits them. (If you occasionally find that you can’t make it out at the designated time due to another commitment, you have the flexibility to join another group that week so you don’t miss out).
A new wrinkle this fall is that we will be allowing any adult participant to also register one youth (sixteen years old or younger) to accompany them for only $5 for the whole course. We really want to encourage more young people to take up birding. We have had several young participants before but we hope the nominal fee will encourage even more youngsters to join us.
See the poster for details on how to register.