Tag Archive | Friends of Fish Creek

The start of spring in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our spring birding sessions started off on a bit of a cooler note than the end of our winter course had been, but even though it was a bit duller and colder, the birds did not disappoint. We repeated our previous outing to the Weaselhead almost exactly, with a visit to North Glenmore Park to scope the reservoir and check on the Great Horned Owls we’d found there in late March.

Weaselhead - 4-3-2016

Weaselhead – April 3, 2016

The feeders seemed a little emptier that week, with most of the Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins having departed, but we did find one lone siskin feeding not at the feeders, but on the budding catkins on the trees bracketing the pathway.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

[exif id=”15566″]

All the way down the hill and onto the bridge we were hard pressed to see anything nearby, with little rhyme or reason. The usual deluge of dog walkers, runners, and cyclists down into the Weaselhead was much diminished due to the weather, and yet the birds were still strangely absent. We crossed over the bridge and off to the deeper parts of the park when we quite nearly stumbled across this little Snowshoe Hare in the shrubs beside the path.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

 [exif id=”15554″]

We watched it for a little while while it foraged, seeming not too shy of our presence, but attempting to at least stay a little bit hidden from our direct view. We soon headed off to our usual spot to listen for Boreal Chickadees when we were stopped dead in our tracks by the distant sound of a Ruffed Grouse drumming.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

[exif id=”15555″]

I’d been searching for this particular bird for quite a while, as I had found a few drumming logs that he had been displaying on recently on my last solo trip down here. Drumming logs can generally be identified by numerous piles of grouse scat on them, often around an area on the log where the bark has been stripped away. We caught sight of him about a forty meters away, and paused to let him get comfortable with our presence. Sure enough, when he was calm enough, he began his display once again.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

[exif id=”15558″]

Ruffed Grouse displaying

Ruffed Grouse displaying

[exif id=”15557″]

Ruffed Grouse drumming

Ruffed Grouse drumming

[exif id=”15556″]

Once we were satisfied that we’d all had a good view of his displays, we moved on and let him get back to wooing his grousettes (I’m sure that’s the technical term for it… or maybe it’s hens? I’ll stick with grousettes.) Again, the trees were quiet, and the activity was at a bit of a lull, but as birding often goes, sometimes its those quiet days that give the best experiences!

We did manage to catch a flock of Trumpeter Swans flying west off the Glenmore Reservoir just as we entered a clearing. Lucky for us!

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

[exif id=”15560″]

Back to the bridge we went again, and sure enough, our little Snowshoe Hare friend was feeding on the edge of the creek, this time a little bit bolder!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

[exif id=”15568″]

Since we had a few things to check out up at the top of the hill, we decided to bee-line it back to the parking lot to check out the ponds at North Glenmore Park. Along the way though, we did find a couple little highlights to the day.

This Red Squirrel was caught red-pawed at the exact same feeder we had seen a Least Chipmunk feeding from just a few weeks prior. It seems this bird feeder is the preferred site for rodent sightings!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

[exif id=”15562″]

Near the top of the hill, we also came across this American Robin singing away from near the top of a budding aspen.

American Robin

American Robin

[exif id=”15561″]

Back at North Glenmore Park, we found the proud papa Great Horned Owl resting peacefully with his mate nearby. No babies were visible yet, but soon enough those eggs would hatch and become some of the most adorable little fluff balls you’d ever see!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

[exif id=”15563″]

And finally we took a few minutes to scan the Glenmore Reservoir, and boy was I glad we did! Far out on the reservoir one of the common perches for gulls and swallows were four species of gulls, and one of those was our first of the year. Lined up nicely were a California Gull (far left), a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, a Franklin’s Gull, and on the far right was a Herring Gull. It’s too bad these guys were so far off, because they sure were a nice sight to see after our slow day!

Gulls on a log

Gulls on a log

[exif id=”15565″]

Have a great week, and good birding!

Fall Birding With the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted by Bob Lefebvre. All photos by George Best.

Here are some of the photos that George Best has taken on recent walks with the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society fall birding course.

For the week of October 12-18, we went to Elliston Park on the eastern edge of the city. Besides walking around the lake, we also viewed the wetlands immediately to the east.

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

The following week we went to South Glenmore to try to find Scoters and Loons, among other birds. The winter finches were also arriving by then. Here are some photos from October 19 and 25.



Herring Gull

Herring Gull


White-winged Scoters

Common Redpoll close up

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll1

Common Redpolls

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill1

Red Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbills

Finally, here are some photos from October 26 at Bebo Grove in Fish Creek Park.

151026 - Great Horned Owl sleeping

Great Horned Owl

White-winged Crossbills

White-winged Crossbills

Black-capped Chickadee1

Black-capped Chickadee

Tomorrow, Dan Arndt will post a full account of our group’s tour of Bebo Grove on November 1.


Autumn Birding Course 2015

The Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course will be starting up on August 31. You now have the option of signing up for either one outing a week or two. Youths accompanied by a registered adult can attend the whole 15-week course (over 40 hours in the field) for only $5. These outings are a lot of fun and are great for beginners, and for anyone wanting to explore Calgary’s natural areas.

Go to the Friends of Fish Creek site to register.

Fall birding course 2015


Sunday Showcase: Hawk versus Kingfisher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding course field trips last fall, we were treated to an amazing chase in the Weaselhead Nature Area. We were in the woods just past the bridge over the Elbow River when I heard the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. We hurried back to the river to try to see this bird, which, given the late date (November 8) was likely attempting to overwinter in Calgary, as they sometimes do.


Belted Kingfisher (male) perched bedside the Elbow River, Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

Suddenly the Kingfisher took flight, and a small hawk appeared and gave chase. We later identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. In all, it tried five times to catch the Kingfisher out of the air, with a short break between attempts three and four, during which both birds rested on nearby perches. The Kingfisher actually moved to a perch closer to the Hawk, apparently to keep a better eye on its movements.

The amazing part of this chase was the the Kingfisher escaped each time the Hawk got really close by splashing down in the river! Then the Hawk would pass by, and the Kingfisher would emerge form the water, calling loudly. Of course, Kingfishers hunt in this way, diving into the water after small fish, but Sharpies are used to catching their prey in the air. The Hawk didn’t want to get its feet wet, and never managed to get its meal.

A couple of the people on our walk got a few photos of this encounter.


Sharp-shinned Hawk (above) and Belted Kingfisher (below). Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill


Kingfisher splashdown! Photo by Trevor Churchill


Photo by Trevor Churchill


Photo by Trevor Churchill


Resting for the next attack. Photo by Tamas Szabo


Another try. Photo by Tamas Szabo


Photo by Tamas Szabo


Photo by Tamas Szabo


Photo by Tamas Szabo


Photo by Tamas Szabo


A hungry and frustrated Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Trevor Churchill

The 12-week Spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins on March 30, 2015. See this post for more information.

Spring Birding Course 2015

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.

Spring Birding Course 2

A new season of birding begins with the Friends of Fish Creek

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!

Yellow-rumped Warbler Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

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!

Belted Kingfisher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Belted Kingfisher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

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.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

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.

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

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

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.

Double Crested Cormorants Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Double Crested Cormorants
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Great Blue Heron sunning itself Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Great Blue Heron sunning itself
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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!


Last of the Spring Birds

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.

Western Kingbird

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.

Song Sparrow

We saw at least nine Swainson’s Hawks, but the closest views were of Red-tails.

Red Tailed Hawk

A Gray Catbird which emerged from the brush on the river bank:

Gray Catbird

An Eastern Kingbird, one of nine sighted on the day.

Eastern Kingbird

Another just-arrived migrant, and our first of the year – Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole

Finally, we had a close fly-over by a group of five American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

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.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay.

Female Cowbird

Female Brown-headed Cowbird.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird.

House Wren

House Wren.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Yellow Warbler1

Yellow Warbler.

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.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird.

Calliope Hummingbird1

Calliope Hummingbird2

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe1

Eastern Phoebe.

Rufous Hummingbird1

Rufous Hummingbird.

Rufous Hummingbird2

Rufous Hummingbird3

Rufous Hummingbird4

Rufous Hummingbird5

White Throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee.

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 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

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, male.


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

Richardsons Ground Squirrel

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel.

Richardsons Ground Squirrel4.JPG.NEF

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel close-up.


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:


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