Tag Archive | great-horned owl

Spring Begins at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

As with each of our courses, we began the Spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek down at the Friends of Fish Creek Headquarters building, and then on down to Sikome Lake, once again in search of new spring migrants. From this point on in the season my goal with the blog will be to only post new species (or better/unique photos of species we’ve found before). Since we have such a variety of available birds here during spring migration, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but here goes. Once more into the breach!

Sikome Lake and area April 6, 2014

Sikome Lake and area
April 6, 2014

It really seems like some weeks all the activity is centered around one particular area, and other weeks it’s a steady succession of interesting birds. This week was definitely the former. From the start, it seemed like a slow day. Many of the waterfowl had already been flushed by fishermen and boaters down the river, but this curious American Robin in the long dry grasses made for a nice early subject to shoot.

American Robin Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

American Robin
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Of course we just had to check in on what is likely the most famous pair of Great Horned Owls in Calgary. There were no less than a dozen others already there by the time we arrived. The mother was just poking her head out from the nest, while dad was hidden away.

female Great Horned Owl Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

female Great Horned Owl
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

While we were watching her, and then again on our return down the pathway, we found this pair of White-breasted Nuthatches foraging in some fallen logs. They were certainly a joy to shoot, and not always the most cooperative subjects! Thankfully they were more interested in the food than in staying away from us photographers!

White-breasted Nuthatch April 6, 2014

White-breasted Nuthatch
April 6, 2014

From there we headed south into the north end of Lafarge Meadows. While we did get some waterfowl on the Bow River, the photos weren’t that great, and certainly not quite up to snuff in comparison with everything else I shot that day! We did manage to see some more Lesser Scaup, Redheads, and even scoped out where a family of Common Ravens is nesting. This marks at least the fifth year (that I know of) that they’ve been nesting in the same place within the city limits.

As we returned to the starting area, we decided to take a bit of a stroll up to some well known feeding stations at the edge of Sikome Lake. While those stations didn’t turn up anything whatsoever, along the way we did see an American Tree Sparrow (not photographed) while on the same log, in fact, this Dark-eyed Junco posed quite nicely for myself and a few others.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies) Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored subspecies)
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

And who could forget the mammals? As spring comes into bloom (see what I did there? huh? huh?) the mammal activity really heats up. At the very start of our walk last Sunday were a pair of Coyotes near the headquarters building. This was the best shot I managed, as I was on the far side of the field from this one.

Coyote FCPP Headquarters Building April 6, 2014

Coyote
FCPP Headquarters Building
April 6, 2014

Of course no one could forget the typical spring mammal that every Albertan knows to watch out for (especially on the roads!), the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. This fellow sat stock still as soon as we laid eyes on him, allowing us to get in very close and observe him for as long as we could possibly have kept that up. Quite good camouflage at work there!

Richardson's Ground Squirrel Sikome Lake April 6, 2014

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel
Sikome Lake
April 6, 2014

Have a great week, and good birding!

Winter Birding Begins anew

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week’s walk begins the 13-week Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course, and as with each course, we begin at the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building, and introduced our attendees to the resident owls. It’s the charisma of these owls that we hope to bring back our students week after week, to hopefully see a number of other owl species, and educate them on the ins and outs of both birding, and avian behaviour. Both the male and female owl were a little bit shy today, but are still great subjects to shoot.

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

The day was all about contrasts. Contrasts between good light and poor, between warm weather and icy pathways, and between similar looking species. The first nice contrast that we got to see were the differences between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The longer bill, larger overall size, and lack of striping on the undertail coverts are a dead giveaway for the Hairy Woodpecker, while the male and female Downy Woodpecker have shorter bills, smaller sizes, and of course the banded undertail coverts.

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hairy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Another wonderful contrast, helped out by the clearing clouds and peeking sunlight as we neared the end of our walk for the day, were the differences between the Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye. While I’ve written about them both many times before, one thing that I have never really captured well is the iridescent quality of their heads in good light. The Common Goldeneye reflects a greenish iridescence from its head feathers, and the Barrow’s flashes a deep purple in the sunlight.

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

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

male Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And as we closed out the day, I felt it would only be appropriate to try to get another look at our first bird of the day, the male Great Horned Owl back at the headquarters. Doesn’t he look happy to see us again?

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Have a great week, and as always, good birding!

May Species Count Highlights – Lafarge Meadows

The May Species Count weekend is always both exciting and exhausting. Early morning wake ups, lots of ground to cover, and lots of birds to find mean there’s little time for anything else. While most participants in Calgary only have one or two areas to cover, between Bob Lefebvre and I, we cover four areas over two days, including the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park on Sunday morning with the Friends of Fish Creek group, and the last two years we’ve gone on to cover Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Pearce Estate Park in the afternoon. That wouldn’t be too bad, but the area I cover on Saturday is all walking, and includes the north end of Hull’s Wood all the way south to the south end of Lafarge Meadows. To give you an idea, I covered 18.2 km in 9 hours of walking, and netted 68 species of birds, down a few species from last year, but a few surprises (and even a new life-bird) more than made up for it.

One thing you get to see when you’re out at first light is behaviour that you rarely ever see. For instance, Tree Swallows do forage on the ground as well!

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Shortly after this sighting was my lifer for the weekend, this Blackpoll Warbler was one of a flock of four birds foraging near the riverbank. Given that the water level had risen quite a bit in the past few days, I suspect there were a lot of insects climbing the trees to get up above the water level.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

For the second year in a row, I’ve come across a fairly uncommon bird within the city limits, and while I only heard it last year, this year I was actually able to observe this Willow Flycatcher building a nest in the same grove I heard it last year. It was nice to get clear looks at it this time around!

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Of course the Song Sparrows were plentiful, and apparently fearless in their search for a mate and announcing their territory. I walked within three feet of this little singer as I left the path near his perch.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

No trip to the Sikome Lake area would be complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls…

adult male Great Horned Owl

adult male Great Horned Owl

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

Forster’s Terns were a regular sight over the ponds near Highway 22X this year, while last year they were nowhere to be found.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

This Spotted Sandpiper took exception to another male sitting on his log, and charged him in their traditional territorial display.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

When you’re out on a long walk like this, eventually you take some of the side trails and start pishing. This Lincoln’s Sparrow reacted quite strongly to my intrusion, and shooed me off.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

A couple of the most touching sightings though were the babies. This female Common Goldeneye with her five young in tow was the first group of young that I’d seen in the park this year.

female Common Goldeneye with young

female Common Goldeneye with young

But the most powerful experience I’ve had so far this year was nearly stumbling over this Killdeer nest, with one baby already hatched…

Killdeer hatchling

Killdeer hatchling

… and another hatching while I stood there in awe.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

The last new bird I was able to add to my list for the day was pair of Least Sandpipers, which are fairly uncommon at this pond at the south end of Lafarge Meadows, but with a lack of mudflats outside the city, they were likely just passing through on their way to better feeding grounds further north.

Least Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers

As the day wore on and the morning turned to afternoon, my feet grew tired and I was about ready to pack it in, but not before finding this female Belted Kingfisher hunting over one of the backwater creeks on the west end of Hull’s Wood. It was a great end to a great day!

female Belted Kingfisher

female Belted Kingfisher

Wednesday Wings: Great Horned Owlets

These wonderful Great Horned Owl photos were sent to us by Rob English – thanks again Rob. (Click images for a larger view).

Family Time For The Birds

I had a day off this last Tuesday so I took the opportunity to go biking and birding in Fish Creek Provincial Park. It was a beautiful morning; the sun was out, the sky was blue, the birds were singing and the weather was warm; finally! I got to Fish Creek at around 8:30 a.m. entering the park just off the intersection of Canyon Meadows drive and Acadia . I was preparing to go down the steep hill into the park only to find that the trail was flooded! Instead I followed the trail around the ridge until I entered the park beside the ranch.I did some random wandering on small paths through Fish Creek, finding a pheasant, a kingfisher, several catbirds and 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, among other birds. I then carried on to bridge number 11, leading to Hull’s Wood. Rounding a bend in the path I was surprised to see a male Pileated Woodpecker, just  meters from the path. Before I could get my camera out of my bag, he had flown further away; apparently he was surprised to see me!

I reached Sikome Lake and rode my bike up the hill, in hopes of finding some Great Horned Owls and their owlets; I was not disappointed! There in their regular tree, was the Great Horned Owl family, two young ones and one adult.

As I continued my circuit, I found some more interesting birds, including some Green-winged Teal.

And the Pelicans! The water is so high in the river that pelicans are everywhere; I was able to count up to 27 pelicans at one time, half in the water, half circling in the sky, their bright white feathers contrasting magnificently with the clear blue sky. Another post on the pelicans will follow this one. However, this day, was truly the day of families. At one secluded spot near the river, I found 4 different nests all within a couple of feet of each other. The first belonged to a Downy Woodpecker, the second to a House Wren and the last two to Tree Swallows.

At the Downy Woodpecker nest, the male would visit the hole every couple of minutes and would be instantly greeted with the call of the hungry young in the inside. He continued his work incessantly, feeding his ever hungry offspring.

The House Wrens hardly ever came in and out of their nest but the male was always nearby, singing very loudly and stopping only for the occasional break.

The Tree Swallows would vigorously defend their nests from potential threats, such as the kestrel that flew over several times. The Kestrel in turn would chase away a Swainson’s Hawk that could have been a potential threat to the Kestrel’s family.

As I was leaving the park in late morning I came across a coyote sitting on a hill, looking very content as well as many Savannah Sparrows singing.

Family time for the birds is a busy time of year; I saw 52 species of birds that morning and I had luck as I got to see  some of them raising their families.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Must-see birds: June

June is another great month to go birdwatching, migrants can still be seen during the early parts of the month and the summer residents have started to settle down.  In June, the first fledglings appear, learning to survive and to fly. Our list for the month of June contains a varied list of species, some beautiful and others simply impressive.

1. Ruddy Duck

A small diving duck, the male Ruddy Duck has a black cap, white cheeks, a reddish body and a bright blue bill, rendering it a colourful duck. The female is dark brown above and lighter below with white cheeks and a gray bill. When disturbed, the Ruddy Duck will be more likely to dive then to fly. The Ruddy Duck may be seen at Frank Lake, which is where I see many Ruddy Ducks.

2. Mountain Bluebird

The male Mountain Bluebird is a beautiful sky-blue passerine from the thrush family. The female is brownish grey above and grey below, with some blue on the wings, rump and tail. A truly brilliant bird, the bluebird made it onto the list with ease. Look for Mountain Bluebirds in the Cochrane area or the Water Valley area in June. You can also visit the Ellis Bird Farm near Red Deer which is dedicated to the conservation of many birds, the Mountain Bluebird being one.

3. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is a widespread owl throughout much of North America but never fails to impress thanks to its large size and regal composure. It has been described as the fiercest,  most aggressive and most impressive owl of North America. The Great Horned Owl is also the official provincial bird of Alberta. There are many different places to see this large owl, there is currently a nest in the Sikome area of Fish Creek.

4.  Spotted Towhee

A member of the sparrow family, the Spotted Towhee is rather inconspicuous, except in the summer when the male can be found singing his distinctive call; one or two short introductory notes followed by a fast trill. The song may sound like the bird is singing, ‘drink your tea’. The best places to see the Spotted Towhee in Calgary are in the Weaselhead and in Votier’s Flats, in Fish Creek.

File:Pipilo maculatus.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

5. Rufous Hummingbird

Our last bird for the month of June is the Rufous Hummingbird, a bird with fiery colors and a fiery temper. The male has rufous coloring on his back, sides, flanks and tail while his crown is glossy green. The male Rufous Hummingbird is very aggressive and territorial and will use many different displays to protect his territory. Look for this hummingbird in  the Weaselhead or on the Many Springs Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park, west of the city.

File:Selasphorus rufus on Saltspring Island.jpg

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Which of these birds can you find? Feel free to send us your photos and stories, they may make it up on the blog!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Great-horned Owl Nest Cam

The Ellis Bird Farm has set up a live stream video of a great-horned owl nest on their property. Once you sit through the annoying commercial at the beginning, you can follow the life of this bird, and be there when the eggs hatch. A warning though – these owl nest cams are completely addictive. As it gets closer to hatching time, you might as well give up trying to do anything but park yourself in front of your computer.

The stream is color during daylight hours, and has gray-scale pallet of near infrared artificial illumination during the night.

Great-horned owls are early nesters, and this poor girl appears to be sitting on eggs while covered with snow today. Yet another reason to need some real spring weather in this province!

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ellis-bird-farm-owl-cam

Good Birding!

Pat Bumstead