Tag Archive | great-horned owl

Another season over, another Christmas Bird Count season begins!

Posted by Dan Arndt

My last week leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings on Sunday, November 30 for the Fall Birding course was a cold one. So cold, in fact, that there were really only two attendees, plus myself and the other leader. While the cold weather kept our numbers down, it really did bring the numbers and variety of birds up quite a bit!

Carburn Park November 30, 2014

Carburn Park
November 30, 2014

As we usually do at this time of year at Carburn Park, we spent most of the time along the river bank checking for waterfowl and raptors, with a little bit of time walking through the wooded areas in search of owls, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Along the first stretch of the river, we found a very large flock of Mallards taking shelter in the undercut banks of the Bow River, and thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our group, this male Lesser Scaup popped out for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the deeper fog rising from the river.

Ring-necked Duck (r) and female Mallard (l) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

Lesser Scaup (r) and female Mallard (l)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600

As we walked a little further, hundreds and hundreds of Mallards flew up from their shelter, but as we rounded the first corner, the Canada Geese came into view. From edge to edge of the gravel bars they began to shake off the frost and moving away from us as we approached.

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

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

As we walked along scanning the throngs of Canada Geese, we came across one little warm back channel where some ground water was flowing into the river, and harbored a pair of Killdeer. While they were flushed up, we caught sight of a few more Tundra Swans that were resting on the river. On our initial scan, we saw the adult Tundra Swan, but while reviewing my photos for this post, I noticed that we also had an immature Tundra Swan resting beside the adult.

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

Tundra Swan and Canada Geese – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

Adult (l) and immature (r) Tundra Swans – Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We made our way through the wooded area alongside the river, we stopped to feed some Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers in an area that I had just commented had been fairly devoid of much activity on my last few visits to the park. A very nice surprise indeed!

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

There are some situations where you just have to roll with the punches when it comes to photographing in poor weather, but sometimes it can have pretty interesting results. I shot this group of Bufflehead as they emerged from a fog bank near the north end of Carburn Park, just as we came back into view of the river.

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

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

When we got to the far north point of our walk, we watched an immature Bald Eagle eating something that it has plucked out of the river, and when I got my binoculars up to look at it, this Red-tailed Hawk looked to be scavenging whatever the eagle was eating, and then flew off to rest a little further away.

Red-tailed Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We had made it most of the way through the park before we stumbled across the local herd of White-tailed Deer who came rather close to us in search of some food. This young deer was particularly curious about us and followed us down the path for quite a ways before some other park-goers scared it back into the woods.

young White-tailed Deer Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

young White-tailed Deer
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A fitting end to the season was this brief sighting of one of the Great Horned Owls in Carburn Park, very likely one of the pair that have nested in the park for a number of years, but most recently right at the edge of the parking lot. It’s always good to see them still hanging around the area, and seemingly doing quite well for themselves.

Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Celebrity Swans and Weasels at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week we headed down to Sikome Lake in search of the beginnings of the massive waterfowl flocks that we find along the Bow River each winter. We were not at all disappointed as there seemed to be no end of Mallards and Canada Geese flying overhead, but on top of that, we had a few pleasant surprises throughout this area of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Sikome Lake - November 23, 2014

Sikome Lake – November 23, 2014

Underneath the paired bridges over the Bow River, we found this immature Tundra Swan, which seemed to have made friends with a few Mallards. While it was a little out of place among the many smaller waterfowl, it didn’t seem too disoriented, and not visibly injured, so we took some photos, had a bit of a chat about why this particular juvenile was a Tundra Swan and not a Trumpeter Swan, and then headed on our way. Hopefully this young bird will head south before the weather turns again!

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

immature Tundra Swan Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

immature Tundra Swan
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

We headed over to the area where, for many years, a family of Great Horned Owls has nested, and while we were in the area, we stumbled across another local celebrity. A Long-tailed Weasel in winter plumage was actively hunting and caching food away for the winter, relentlessly picking off every Meadow Vole it can find, as evidenced by the fact that even with our minimal encounter with it, it hunted one down and headed back to its cache again. The entire encounter lasted about five minutes, and left all of us happy and quite satisfied with our looks at this beautiful, and often quite shy creature.

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Long-tailed Weasel
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Nearby, we found the adult Great Horned Owl pair in their usual haunt, followed quickly by a pair of Merlins fighting over a meal of relatively unknown identity, which gave us a little bit of concern for the safety of the Long-tailed Weasel, since it would make a fine meal for either of these predatory birds, but with all of the small birds and many voles around, it’s likely much safer than we gave it credit for.

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

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

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

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

We actually watched the Merlins chase each other over, around, and through a patch of poplar trees for a few solid minutes, and when it was all over, each of them had a smaller piece of the original prey item that had been caught by the individual above. The aerobatics and speed of the two birds was absolutely stunning to experience.

We headed back north to follow the river’s edge back down to the parking lot at the Boat Launch, and as we were scanning the large flock of waterfowl on the opposite shore, something startled a nearby Killdeer, one of the few that’s still sticking around despite the cold. Moments later, it was gone, flying upstream with its distinctive flight call and drawing our attention to the skies.

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

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

As its flight call moved into the distance, our attention was drawn to not one, but two Bald Eagles in a nearby tree, watching over the waterfowl on the river, trying to identify any of them that might be injured or otherwise unable to escape the talons of these large, powerful raptors.

female Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

female (left) and male (right) Bald Eagles
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@340mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Soon enough, the two Bald Eagles flew off in search of their next meal, flushing up hundreds of ducks in all directions, and making a perfect end to another eventful and exciting morning in Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Have a great week, and good birding!

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