Tag Archive | Friends of Fish Creek

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

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.


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 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.


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!