If you’ve been following Dan’s posts about the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course outings and want to join in the fun and learn about Calgary’s birds, now is your chance! Twelve weeks of field trips in a variety of parks in Calgary. Sign up today as many sessions fill up quickly.
Posted by Dan Arndt
Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.
When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!
When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.
We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.
As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.
As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.
In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.
As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.
As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!
Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:
Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
The last 48 hours in Calgary have seen a massive shift in temperature and weather. On Friday the temperature took a dive from 15 degrees Celsius down to -5 C, followed by Saturday being interspersed with heavy snow, high winds, and a steady decline in temperature. On Saturday night the temperature took another drop, and upon waking up on Sunday morning, there was a good 2 centimeters of snow accumulation. I knew right away that the birding was going to be great on the Glenmore Reservoir, and I was not disappointed. Nearly 4000 birds were seen out on the water, many of which came in for good, close views, but the majority of them were too far to get usable photos. Luckily for us, some of the less common ones were close enough to see quite well!
By far the majority of the birds were on the west side of the reservoir, but the Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and lone Double-crested Cormorant were in the better-protected eastern bay, closer to the Bayview neighborhood.
By far the most numerous birds were the American Coots, which had flocked together overnight to number over 1500 individuals in flocks between 20 and 300. We were greeted at the starting point by this Canada Goose who decided that, for once, it would be appropriate to use the boat launch ramp.
We also had a perfect vantage point to watch this Bald Eagle and its mate harass one of the larger flocks of American Coots in hopes of picking off a straggler.
Shortly followed by this Common Raven and its mate flying into the spruce above the Glenmore Canoe Club to harass the Bald Eagles who had set down moments before.
As we scanned the flocks of American Coots, we saw interspersed in their numbers a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons. The main highlight though were the occasional Horned and Eared Grebes that flocked together and seemed to spent as much, if not more time under water diving for vegetation to fuel their migration south.
At the east side of the Canoe Club, we found this lone Pied-billed Grebe taking refuge near the docks, resting up and staying hidden from predators.
As we neared the end of the point, we came up right against the largest raft of American Coots, and we even managed to pick out a few juveniles just coming into their adult plumage. In the photo below are at least two American Coots whose heads are light grey as opposed to the fully matured individuals with the black head plumage.
Moments later a few Trumpeter Swans that we saw on the very far end of the reservoir took off and flew directly toward us. They slowly veered south, but not before getting close enough to allow us to get a few flight shots.
Working our way on to the east, these three Eared Grebes thought it would be a good learning experience to show us what their breeding plumage looks like, as opposed to their usual non-breeding plumage we’d seen so far for the day.
The true highlight of the day though was a group of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters in the east bay. While I’ve seen White-winged Scoters a bit closer this year on the Reservoir, and Surf Scoters much earlier during the May Species Count here in Calgary, and even closer on the Iona Jetty in Vancouver, it was a real treat to be able to show these uncommon migrants to our group attendees. This is the very best part of leading these groups and why I love birding. These teachable moments and exposure to new birds like this are more than worth the slight discomfort of the cold.
Last Saturday I spent some time down on the Glenmore Reservoir and was able to get much closer to a pair of White-winged Scoters, and managed to snag this shot of an adult male in much better light conditions.
And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
The final week of the Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding course once again took us to the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, specifically, to the Boat Launch and south to Lafarge Meadows sloughs, which Matthew Sim has recently posted about. It was a good finish to a great course, and I am looking forward to joining a new group of fresh-faced and enthusiastic birders as fall migration is in full swing by September.
We started off with a new bird for our group (and for myself) for the year. Just north of the boat launch were a trio of American White Pelicans, one of which decided it was a bit too rainy for his liking and flew off before I took this photo. The water level both on the Bow River and in the sloughs adjacent to the pathway were incredibly high, and in some areas of the city, the weekend of June 24th was a time of some minor, or not so minor flooding. It seemed that the pelicans didn’t mind it so much, as they were seen regularly at this point all week long.
As we got looks at these gorgeous white birds, we couldn’t help but notice that a family of Tree Swallows had set up a nest inside one of the horizontal access gate poles. This male stood guard while the female was on the nest deep inside the gate.
Just south of the boat launch, on the west side of the path, there are normally three large sloughs on the north side of 22X. Because of the flooding, they all had merged into one incredibly large slough, and this Black Tern, along with three of its buddies, were making short work of the small fish, arthropods, and worms that were found within.
As we headed underneath the 22X bridge, and emerged on the other side, we stayed close to the river in hopes of spotting another of our target species for the day, the Western Kingbird. While not quite what we were looking for, this Eastern Kingbird was harassing (or being harassed by?) a Black-billed Magpie. Inter-species territorial disputes are always fun to watch.
While having great views of one species of the tyrant flycatchers is always good, not fifty meters away we were greeted by the sound of at least three Western Wood-Pewees harassing a family of Common Ravens, not to far from their likely nest site. Once again, inter-species territory disputes are the rule of the day!
As we headed further south along the river bank, we began heading into a bit more open grasslands and sloughs, and got much closer views of a number of waterfowl and other wetland birds. As we rounded one corner, we saw a Spotted Sandpiper give a bit of a broken wing display before flying up off her nest and, seemingly, abandoning it. We got some very good views of the nest, albeit brief, before moving off to a safe distance. We weren’t twenty meters away before the doting mother was back down on top of her clutch of eggs.
Meanwhile, this female Common Merganser was not about to leave her perch no matter how close we got to her. This is the same female and nest that Paul and I noted on the May species count.
The closer we got to the southernmost sloughs at Lafarge Meadows, the more the landscape changed from woods to grassland. Savannah Sparrows became the norm, compared with the Song Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows back to the north, and we even got a few good looks at a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, clearly indicating that we were in a well developed wetland.
No visit to the wetlands in the spring would be complete without seeing the assorted ducklings, and we got quite a treat on that front! Not only did we see a trio of Common Goldeneye chicks, but also a female Hooded Merganser with her brood in tow!
And last but not least, this Blue-winged Teal was eager to show off his namesake, and sat patiently while not one, not two, but five photographers got good, clear shots of the blue flight feathers that inspired his name.
A great note to end off another great season of birding.
Over the summer, I have a number of various blog posts planned, mostly based around a few road trips and birding trips I have planned here and there. I look forward to sharing my stories and photos with all of you all summer long!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Back in June, the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course took an excursion into the west end of South Glenmore Park. We’d been nearby just weeks beforehand when Bernie Diebolt’s group spotted a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Gus that by that time, both the Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks would be back. While I normally have a map, I didn’t track this walk, so just the photos will have to do.
Starting off at the parking lot at the west end of 90th Avenue SW we walked along the top of the south bank before dipping down onto the hillside. The mosquitos were out in force that early in the morning, and while there were plenty of birds calling, many of us were regretting our lack of bug spray. The American Robins, Warbling Vireos, and various thrushes were calling once again up and down the slope, but one of our first birds of the day was this beautiful hybrid Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak, who flew from tree to tree responding to our recorded Rose-breasted Grosbeak calls.
While this one called to us from nearby, we could hear Rose-breasted Grosbeaks calling from both up and down the slope, and we elected to hunt down the down-slope caller, as it was along the route we were already following. Another lifer for me, though we didn’t get the greatest views…
While we were listening for the calls of this male, we could hear a Red-eyed Vireo calling nearby as well, and upon playing some calls for it, it too flew in to investigate.
Along the rise and down to the east end of the beaver ponds at the southernmost point of the Weaselhead, we were greeted by another Eastern Phoebe nesting under one of the bridges in the area.
A trek back up the hill netted a beautifully serene viewpoint overlooking much of the Weaselhead, sporting a couple of benches, bird feeders, and even quite a few birds (and other visitors) enjoying the treats provided for them. Definitely a place I’ll be back to. We even spotted what we’re pretty sure was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but no one was able to snap a photo in time!
The male and female Brown-headed Cowbirds seemed to not even care that we had intruded upon their feeding station.
While the Pine Siskins hid behind the tube feeders, hoping to guard themselves from prying eyes.
And of course, no feeder in the mixed spruce and deciduous forest is complete without a woodpecker sighting. This Downy Woodpecker was waiting for us, and stuck around for some photo ops before the crowd became too much for it.
Last but not least are the mammalian visitors to the feeders. We had no less than three of these nervous and scurrying Least Chipmunks at our feet at any given time.
Most memorable though, was this Red Squirrel that continuously gave us the Stare of Death™ any time we disturbed its feeding schedule.
While this wasn’t yet our last trip with the Friends of Fish Creek, we were heading into the final weekends… which I will finish up later this week!
Posted by Bob Lefebvre.
Week Two of the Spring session of the birding course with the Friends of Fish Creek saw us exploring Hull’s Wood and the boat launch area, at the east end of Fish Creek Park. It was quite cold at 7:30 a.m., about minus 4 degrees Celsius, with a north wind and light snow, and the conditions didn’t change much over the three hours. Nevertheless, we did manage to see some spring migrants. Once again, the photos were provided by Paul Turbitt and Glenn Alexon.
Franklin’s Gull. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
We saw about 75 of the black-headed Franklin’s Gulls over the river. As you can see in the photo, these gulls often have a pinkish tinge to their breast feathers in the spring. Several gull species show this feature when they arrive on their breeding grounds, and it is thought to be a result of carotenoids in their diet. In the case of Franklin’s Gulls, it is caused by their consumption of shrimp on their wintering grounds off the coast of Venezuela. By fall it often fades away.
Canada Geese are nesting in broken treetops in the area, where they are safe from coyotes and dogs. Here a male stands guard near the nest.
Canada Goose. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
We walked north along the river, and scoured the rocky banks for American Pipits. Up to 80 had been seen in the area earlier in the week. We weren’t able to locate any, but I’ll get back to the pipits later.
We saw two bald eagles along the river: one adult, and one juvenile which put up all the waterfowl as it flew over. There were also at least two Red-tailed Hawks.
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
A White-breasted Nuthatch was busy excavating a nest hole. Here he is removing some wood from the nest.
As we neared the mouth of Fish Creek we watched a flock of over 200 European Starlings repeatedly flying down to the water and back up to the trees. Then we noticed another huge flock of small birds, which turned out to be Tree Swallows, working their way north along the river. I estimated about 100 in the first flock, which was followed immediately by another of the same size, then another, and another. It was really just one huge flock numbering up to 800 birds.
We then turned away from the river, and out of the wind, to check out the two Great Horned Owl nests in the area. The young owlets have been seen in one of the nests, but when we were there we weren’t lucky enough to see them.
Adult male Great Horned Owl standing guard near the nest. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Near the second owl nest we found a pair of Wood Ducks sitting in a tree. These birds nest in tree holes so maybe they will nest in this area.
Male Wood Duck. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Female Wood Duck. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Photo by Glenn Alexon.
We finished up by checking the pond near highway 22X. There wasn’t much there, but we were treated to Red-winged Blackbirds, a first of the year for some of the participants.
Red-winged Blackbird. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Finally, as we arrived back at the boat launch parking lot, we were treated to a Great Blue Heron flyover.
Great Blue Heron. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
That was a great way to finish the day for me and most of the others, but three people went back along the Bow to see if they could scare up some American Pipits. By walking right near the shore, they did manage to find them. These birds can hide quite effectively in the rocks and grass.
American Pipits. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Photo by Glenn Alexon.
When they were watching the pipits, a Mountain Bluebird appeared, then flew across the river.
Mountain Bluebird, from across the Bow River. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
One of the photos that Paul took of the pipits showed a bird that I was sure was not an American Pipit, but couldn’t identify. Gus Yaki has identified it as a Sprague’s Pipit. This is a bird of the prairies which is rarely seen in the city.
Sprague’s Pipit. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
I will be heading back to this area regularly in the next few weeks to watch the development of the Great Horned Owlets.
Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
April marks the beginning of the spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses. For this three-month session, Dan Arndt and I decided to lead a group at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays. This might seem a little early to be going out in April, but by May and June the sun will be high before we get under way, and we hope to see and hear more birds than we would later in the day.
Dan is away for the first two weeks, so I will be reporting on what we saw, with photos provided by two of the course participants, Glenn Alexon and Paul Turbitt.
The first outing, on Easter Sunday, was in North Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead. We spent about an hour checking the west end of Glenmore Reservoir first. It is still almost completely frozen, with only a few small areas open in the west end, but there were some waterfowl there, notably some impressive Trumpeter Swans.
Trumpeter Swans landing on the water. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Common Mergansers: female (left) and male (right). Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Canada Goose taking off. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Then we headed down in to the Weaselhead. A highlight there was a Townsend’s Solitaire singing from the top of a very tall spruce.
Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Male Downy Woodpecker. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Female Downy Woodpecker. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Black-capped Chickadee. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
These chickadees expect to be fed. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Northern Flicker. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Northern Flicker. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
There were quite a few Red Squirrels around, and a couple of Least Chipmunks were also seen.
Red Squirrel. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
We saw three Red-tailed Hawks overhead, including this dark Harlan’s Hawk.
Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
We had hoped to see Pine Grosbeaks and American Tree Sparrows at the feeders. There were none around when we first went through, but on our last stop on the way back we found a pair of each.
Pine Grosbeak. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Pine Grosbeak. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
Pine Grosbeak. Photo by Paul Turbitt.
American Tree Sparrow feeding on the ground. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
Back up by the parking lot, an early Richardson’s Ground Squirrel was the last species of the day.
Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. Photo by Glenn Alexon.
In all, we saw 28 bird species and four mammals. The eight groups who went to this area during the first week of the course collectively saw 48 bird species and six mammal species. The Weaselhead is a great place for spring birding!
To see more of Glenn Alexon’s photos, go to his Flickr page.
To read about one of the Saturday morning course outings, go to David Pugh’s blog.
The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society is once again offering a spring birding course which will run for twelve weeks, from April until late June. The course consists of weekly field trips to many parks and natural areas within Calgary. There are sessions offered on almost every day of the week.
For more information or to register, email email@example.com or phone 403-238-3841.
The best way to learn the birds of Calgary is to get out with other birders and explore the natural areas of the city. Once again, The Friends of Fish Creek Park Society is offering birding courses starting in January 2012 and running through the end of April. For more information or to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 403-238-3841.
The weasel was aware of us, and it would duck behind bushes or into long grass to try to keep out of sight, while keeping an eye on us.
Occasionally he would run, then stop…
…and have another look at us…
There were many Richardson’s Ground Squirrel holes there, and it looked like he was checking the holes for a meal…
One last run and stop…
…then he disappeared through the fence and we didn’t see him again.
See more of Dan Arndt’s photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubermoogle/
Posted by Bob Lefebvre