Tag Archive | Friends of Fish Creek

North Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead

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 Goose - occidentalis

Canada Geese. All photos by George Best

Among the numerous Mallards and Common Goldeneyes we spotted a pair of Redheads.

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.

mallard

Mallards.

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

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.

Jack Rabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit.

There wasn’t much on the ponds but the birds are closer so they make good subjects.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead, male.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye, male.

Killdeer1

Killdeer.

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

Richardsons Ground Squirrel

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel.

Richardsons Ground Squirrel4.JPG.NEF

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel close-up.

Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk.

The only birds on the Elbow River were these two sleeping Common Mergansers.

Sleeping 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.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay.

Also at a tin-can feeder was this male Hairy Woodpecker.

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!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course

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!

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

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

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
large flocks.

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

A fine fall day for birding at the Western Irrigation Canal

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.

Western Irrigation Canal

Western Irrigation Canal

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.

teal

female Green-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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!

European Starling Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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

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.

 

tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

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.

Chipping

Chipping Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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.

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better
Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

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.

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

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

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.

come

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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!

adult RBGU

adult Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

juv RBGU

immature Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

A Windy Washout at North Glenmore Park

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!

Gulls, Grebes and Grackles at Elliston Park

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.

Elliston Park - September 22, 2013

Elliston Park – September 22, 2013

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.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

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.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

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.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull

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.

Common Grackles

Common Grackles

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

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!

Eared Grebe in non-breeding plumage

Horned Grebe in non-breeding plumage

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.

immature Ring-billed Gull

immature Ring-billed Gull

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!

 

Fall Migration at Sikome Lake with the Friends of Fish Creek

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!

Sikome Lake September 8, 2013

Sikome Lake
September 8, 2013

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.

Osprey giving us a fly-by Sikome Lake, September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Osprey giving us a fly-by
Sikome Lake, September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Osprey 2

Osprey on a light standard
Sikome Lake, September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

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.

Clay-colored Sparrow Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Clay-colored Sparrow
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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!

Black-capped Chickadee Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@270mm + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 1600

Black-capped Chickadee
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@270mm + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 1600

White-breasted Nuthatch Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-breasted Nuthatch
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

 

Blue-headed Vireo Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Blue-headed Vireo
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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!

Red-eyed Vireo Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Red-eyed Vireo
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

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.

Cooper's Hawk Sikome Lake - September 8, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Cooper’s Hawk
Sikome Lake – September 8, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Thanks for reading, and good birding. See you next week!

Sign Up For the Autumn Birding Course

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.

Fall 2013 Birding Course Poster (1151x882)

 

Sunday Showcase: Birds of South Glenmore Park

Last Sunday Tim Hopwood birded South Glenmore Park with the Friends of Fish Creek birding course. He got amazing photos of some of the birds and insects there. (To read about another field trip in South Glenmore park on the same day, see this post.)

American Robin

 American Robin on nest.

Blue-wingedTeal

Blue-winged Teal with young.

Brown-HeadedCowbird(female)

Female Brown-headed Cowbird.

Brown-HeadedCowbird(male)

Male Brown-headed Cowbird.

Butterfly

Butterfly – can someone identify the species in the comments section?

Clay-coloredSparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow.

DownyWP

Male Downy Woodpecker at nest hole.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly species.

EasternPhoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

HouseWren1

House Wren.

HouseWren2

House Wren.

HouseWren3

House Wren.

HouseWren4

House Wren.

LeastFlycatcher1

Least Flycatcher.

LeastFlycatcher2

Least Flycatcher.

Red-eyedVireo1

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo2

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo3

Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyedVireo4

Red-eyed Vireo.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail Butterfly species.

Another interesting bird that was seen that day was a hybrid Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak that has nested in the area for the last two years. Tim didn’t get a shot of it, but Trevor Churchill did.

Rose-breasted slash Black-headed Grosbeak Trevor Churchill

Hybrid Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak. This bird sounds just like a Rose-breasted, but clearly has features of both species. Photo by Trevor Churchill.

To see more of Tim Hopwood’s photos, go to his web page here.

Flood Birding in South Glenmore Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It was an interesting week in Calgary, to say the least. Massive flooding has caused enormous damage along the Bow and Elbow rivers, and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Dan Arndt, who leads the Friends of Fish Creek birding course group with me on Sunday mornings, and who normally blogs about our walks here, was one of those evacuated. He left the city to spend a few days camping in SE Alberta. Thankfully, his home was not damaged and he was able to return late Sunday.

I wasn’t sure we would be able to proceed with our walk last Sunday, but since South Glenmore Park was not directly affected by the flooding, we did go ahead. (Griffiths Woods Park, where the group birded he previous week, is completely submerged.) We decided to stay on the relatively dry ground of the paved path that runs well above the Glenmore reservoir.

IMG_7087

This was the most water we had to deal with.

We found a pair of Black-capped Chickadees by their nest hole, and this one had found a meal for the young.

IMG_7090

IMG_7097

The chickadee went in the nest hole, and after a minute emerged carrying a fecal sac. The parents will remove these to keep the nest clean while the young are in it.

We saw and heard quite a few Least Flycatchers on the day. This one was sitting quietly.

IMG_7113

Some birds were just getting started on their breeding activities. This pair of Cedar Waxwings were engaged in their mating ritual, in which the female would beg and flutter her wings, then the male would appear to feed her. Cedar Waxwings often pass food back and forth as part of their breeding behavior.

IMG_7115

IMG_7116

IMG_7117

IMG_7118

IMG_7119

IMG_7120

IMG_7121

Another very common bird, singing loudly throughout the park, was the House Wren. They seem to have quite small territories, as you could sometimes hear three birds singing at once.

IMG_7124

We heard about ten Red-eyed Vireos singing. They can be very hard to find in the leaves at the top of the Aspens. We did manage to track one down so our group could get a look, but this is the best photo I could get.

IMG_7134

We arrived at the lookout above the Weaselhead and saw that the the two ponds were almost joined, with only the raised paved path separating them.

IMG_7138

This lookout is a clearing in the woods with two benches. Birders have set up feeders there, and although they were well-stocked, no birds came while we were there. This can be a great spot at times (maybe earlier in the day). See my post The Lookout from June 2011. The only birds we saw were Brown-headed Cowbirds.

IMG_7139

From the lookout we could hear a distant Brown Thrasher, and an Eastern Phoebe down by the pond. We were relieved when we arrived at the pond to see that the high-water mark was below the deck of the wooden bridge where the phoebes nest, so their nest should be OK.

IMG_7146

Eastern Phoebe.

On the walk back we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing, and it turned out to be the hybrid Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak which has been in this area for the last two summers. Although I didn’t get a good photo, we did manage to see it. Since this was the last outing for the Spring birding course, it was a good bird to finish with.

One of our participants, Tim Hopwood, who is an excellent photographer, was out that day with the 9 am group. He managed to get some great shots of some of the birds we saw plus others as well.  I will post his photos here tomorrow.

Spring Blizzarding in Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

While last week was chilly, and a bit overcast, it wasn’t really too much to complain about. This week, the Sunday Curse has struck again. As the weekend approached, the forecast for 10-25 cm of snow by Monday night seemed a bit overzealous, maybe even pessimistic. Sadly, this was one time that the weatherman was right. Sunday morning greeted us with about 10cm of already accumulated snow, and a brisk wind out of the north made for risky driving and for terrible visibility at times, though we were lucky and also had some clear patches. A small, hardy group greeted us at 8 AM, and while some of the walk was abbreviated due to the conditions, we still had a good number of new species (or at least newly photographed species) for the year.

Earlier in the week I had finally received the Swarovski ATX 85 that has been graciously loaned to us, so I’ve included a good number of photos that were taken with the Swarovski TLS APO digiscoping adapter, taken with my Pentax K-30. I have to say, I’ve never been quite so happy that that camera is weather sealed as I was today. As I mentioned to the birding students, this is a scope that after an hour of playing with it at home had me wanting to buy it for myself, and after spending some time with it this afternoon and seeing the results I managed to get in the terrible light and low visibility, that decision has been set in stone. You’ll see what I mean below…

 

Elliston Park

Elliston Park

You might notice first of all that it doesn’t look like we saw much on the southern portion of our walk. That is mostly true. By the time we cleared the eastern edge of the tree cover, the clouds had lowered, the wind picked up, and the snowfall really started coming in sideways, pelting us with wet ice crystals, and some of us were simply not prepared for things to get as bad as they did, so we powered on straight to the parking lot to get out of the wind and sleet.

Despite all that doom and gloom, as I mentioned above, we got a whole pile of new bird sightings! Almost as soon as we started, we heard, then saw, a flock of American Tree Sparrows flitting about, barely pausing long enough for any of us to get good looks until they were quite far away.

American Tree Sparrows

American Tree Sparrows

From our vantage point we could see out onto the water quite well at this point, and with the trees covering us from the wind, we took a few minutes to look out over the lake, and managed to spot the first new species for the group, this American Wigeon. There were about half a dozen of these birds on Elliston Lake, standing out in stark contrast to the other waterfowl present. Additionally, this was where we had good views of the second new species of the day, the Lesser Scaup.

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

Lesser Scaup (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Lesser Scaup
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

While we have seen Townsend’s Solitaires this year, finding this one in the storm was a stroke of luck and good field identification on the part of some of our students! They are always such a pleasure to see! With the wind and snow picking up a bit at this time, we did check out a pair of Northern Flickers waiting out the storm on the leeward side of a low tree. Where they might have been nesting in or around this park is a mystery, as there really aren’t any trees large enough or old enough to provide them a suitable nest area!

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

We turned our attention back to the water, and found this lone American Coot. These aren’t a bird you expect to see all by its lonesome, nor in this kind of weather! An early arrival, and quite the surprise to see here! There were also a good number of Northern Shovelers in the north-east section of lake, though with the snow and wind picking up, good photos were hard to come by.

American Coot

American Coot

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

male Northern Shoveler (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

male Northern Shoveler
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

From here on, we powered through to the end, with a few stops to check out some unusual sounds and sights, and a few nice finds in the sloughs east of Elliston Park, including many more Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, and even a lone male Ruddy Duck, the blowing snow played havoc with my auto focus, and I didn’t make it back around after the walk with the digiscoping setup.

 

I did end up heading back to check out the gulls with the digiscope rig, and while I didn’t find anything particularly uncommon, the practice with both stationary birds and birds in flight was absolutely priceless. While I’ve already had some experience with digiscoping, the ease which I was able to pick up the different skills that this scope requires, as well as the particular idiosyncrasies of the setup were very quick to adapt to, and the learning curve was extremely shallow. I have to say, it’ll be a hard sell to go back to the other gear once June comes around!

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

See you next week, and good birding!