Tag Archive | great-horned owl

August Birds of Calgary and Frank Lake

Here are the last of Tony LePrieur’s summer photos from the Calgary area for this year.

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Great Horned Owls, Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile), Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

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American Beaver, Fish Creek Park, August 12, 2016.

The remainder of the photos below were taken on the weekend of August 28, 2016, in Carburn Park and at Frank Lake.

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Cedar Waxwings (juveniles).

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Cedar Waxwings (juveniles).

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Downy Woodpecker.

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Western Grebes.

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Western Grebe.

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Solitary Sandpiper.

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Baird’s Sandpiper.

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American Avocet.

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Lesser Yellowlegs.

Terry’s Travels: It’s Great Seeing Great Horned Owls!

By Terry Korolyk

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Since starting birding in the Calgary area in 1987, I have had the good fortune to be able to see many Great Horned Owls in my travels. As most people know, the Great Horned Owl is our provincial bird. It is widespread, but, local; common in some areas but not others. I get the impression the species is not as common as it used to be, but, we must remember, it is local. A check of this year’s Calgary area May Species Count data held annually the last weekend in May revealed that of a total of 31 Owls recorded, 18 were recorded in only 6 city territories. Leading the way was the Burnsmead east Fish Creek PP territory which had 6. Mallard Point Fish Creek PP, also along the Bow River, had 3. Baker Park in northwest Calgary had 4. These numbers mean that all the rural territories totaled only 13 birds with South of Strathmore leading with 4, and, the Carbon-Acme areas having 3 birds. That’s a total of 7 birds meaning all the other rural territories totaled only 6. Maybe it isn’t me and the species is not as common as it used to be, at least in rural areas. To be fair, numbers would have to compared against past years.

In the 1990s, and, even in the early stages of the new millennium, you could pretty well expect to drive out on the prairie east or southeast of Calgary and expect to see more than one Great Horned Owl perched on the top of a telephone pole, or, on the crossbars of a telephone pole in the fading light of the afternoon as they were preparing to launch themselves off to begin another night on the hunt. One such bird from those days was this bird I photographed along a road in the Blackie area.

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This particular bird, quite dark brown, appears to be somewhat of a battle-scarred veteran with stubby eartufts, one of them flopped over, and a long scar stretching  from one of the bird’s shoulders down one side of its breast. We can only speculate as to how the bird got that scar. These days, I have much more trouble just chancing upon a Horned Owl than I did in those days. I can recall one afternoon in that area when I observed 3 birds not all that far apart enacting that very scenario.

However, we must remember that the species is local. For instance, there was at least one pair that every winter roosted in the White Spruce trees against the back of the building on the north side of Sikome Lake in east Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary. Many people knew about them, and, the birds may have been amongst the world’s most photographed Great Horned Owls. At least  1 pair of the birds nests in the vicinity every year, sometimes in a tree cavity. Just down the road from Sikome Lake, one can walk the pathway between the Coniferous trees at the Fish Creek Park’s Visitor’s Centre, and also have a good chance of seeing at least one, if not more birds there. Long-eared Owls have also been found in these trees. Carburn Park on the other side of the Bow River from Fish Creek PP used to be a reliable site for finding Great Horned Owls, but, this year’s MSC numbers showed only 1 bird there. Refer to the opening paragraph for areas where the birds are most common, at least in May of this year.

In Great Horned Owls, as in all other Raptors, the female is larger than the male as is nicely illustrated by this pair photographed near Lake McGregor at Milo.

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This partnership will soon lead to nesting –

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– as indicated by one of a pair perched beside the nest, which in this case, was along 146 Avenue near a farm in southeast Calgary before it became the Copperfield and New Brighton subdivisions. Nesting eventually leads to the production of young –

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– such as this particular bird which was fledging from a nest near the creek in the Votier’s Flats area of Fish Creek PP. Mummy was down on a rock in the creek at the time hunting in the daytime to feed her youngsters. Once the young have fledged, they are officially Great Horned Owls.

In the immediate Calgary area, Great Horned Owls seem, in my experience, to be predominantly grayish birds such as this particular bird:

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However, no 2 things in a species are perfectly alike, so, the degree of grayness and the arrangement of the bars, streaks, and other markings and colours produces no 2 identical individuals. Note the attractive contrast on this Owl between the white tail and the rest of the bird:

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While some birds in the Calgary area can be somewhat darker or lighter; birds, in the foothills seem to be, in my experience, to be somewhat darker gray such as this individual:

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Remembering that no 2 snowflakes are exactly alike, look at this darker gray individual, but, look at the unusual blackish face.

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The city of Calgary sort of lies on the fringe area and some of the birds you see in the area may not be gray and white, but, may have some small degrees of brown, or, reddish-brown tinged feathers. Generally, the further east and south one goes from Calgary, the more liable one is to see birds with brownish, or, reddish-brown tinged feathers and, also, the browner the feathers may be. Look at the scarred veteran of the opening paragraphs and look at these 3 individuals, all photographed at sites east of Calgary:

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All these birds show varying degrees of brown and reddish-brown feathers.

But, it doesn’t end there. Aberrant plumages do occur. I photographed a leucistic Horned Owl once while guiding for a birder from Virginia in the United States, and, I have seen at least 2 individuals that were probably Subarcticus, or West Taiga subspecies birds being very, very pale gray and showing a lot of white. One bird was on the Calgary Christmas Bird Count along railroad tracks in open grassland on the eastern edge of the city, while the other was at a marsh in the hills south of Calgary during wintertime.

The moral is—- be on the lookout for a variety of Great Horned Owl plumages in our area.

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On the local birding scene, Fall shorebird migration thus far has been rather unspectacular, but it is early, with the “best” bird being a Ruddy Turnstone on a muddy spit seen from the viewing area at the south end of Weed Lake at Langdon. Lesser Yellowlegs have shown up so far in strong numbers. Migrating passerines detected on the move already include Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee and Wilson’s Warblers. The report of up to 3 Purple Martins at the south end of Weed Lake recently is unusual as there are rarely reports away from the species’ local stronghold colony at Chestermere Lake. Caspian Terns are being reported with the most recent report coming from the Carseland Weir. Other recent reports have been from the north access of Langdon Reservoir and the south end of Weed Lake. There have been 2 reports of Grasshopper Sparrows from our area in July with one bird being seen south of the Mallard Point parking lot in east Fish Creek PP, and, the other bird photographed carrying food south of Keoma which is on Township Road 262 a short drive east of Highway 9. These birds are north of their range in the province. Recent rarities include a Northern Mockingbird near the Twin Valley Dam east of Parkland on July 13, and, a Great Crested Flycatcher in the Bearspaw region of northwest Calgary on July 12.

The city of Calgary Rare Bird Alert (RBA) number is 403-221-4519. If you have found a rare or unusual bird, noticed some unusual interesting bird behavior, noticed an unusually large number of individuals of a particular species of bird, or have seen a bird in the province out of season, by all means, report it.

Sunday Showcase: Birds of Late Spring

Here are some photos taken by Tony LePrieur in the Calgary region in mid-June. Many young birds have now fledged. The photos were taken in Fish Creek Park and at Frank lake.

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American Avocet.

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American Avocets with chick.

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American Avocet.

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American Avocet chick.

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Great Horned Owl (juvenile).

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White-faced Ibis.

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Swainson’s Hawk with Meadow Vole.

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Eastern Kingbird.

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Western Kingbird.

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Clay-colored Sparrow.

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House Wren.

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Least Flycatcher.

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Cedar Waxwing.

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Warbling Vireo.

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American Coot with chick.

Do you have bird photos you’d like to share? Send them to our email address and we may post them.

Wednesday Wings: Nuthatch, Sparrow, Hawk, Falcon, Owls

Here are some recent photos of local birds taken by some of our readers.

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Great Horned Owl adult, taken by Caroline Soles in her backyard in Alderheights, near the Mazeppa gas plant, north of High River, May 22, 2016.

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Caroline Soles also had this Clay-colored Sparrow in her yard. We can get them in our yards in the city on migration too.

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Another shot of the Clay-colored Sparrow by Caroline Soles.

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Cooper’s Hawk, Bowmont Park, NW Calgary, April 2016. Photo by Lorraine Glass.

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A Merlin, also from Bowmont Park, April 2016, by Lorraine Glass.

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A close-up of the Merlin, by Lorraine Glass.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch at nest hole. Photo by Bryan Simpson, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, May 2016.

Tim Reynolds GHOWlets

Finally, here are the two downy Great Horned Owlets from Sikome Lake in Fish Creek Park. Taken May 15, 2016 by Tim Reynolds.

If you have some recent photos of local birds that you’d like to share, send them to us at birdscalgary(at)gmail.com and we may post them. Please include the date and location, and the photographer’s name.

The end of Winter in the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

For our last outing for our Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding group, we headed to the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park to see what winter birds remained, and if any spring migrants had shown up around the Glenmore Reservoir and in the Weaselhead itself. While many of our winter birds had already left, a few die-hards were still around in good numbers, and we definitely were not disappointed with the numbers of spring birds we found all around the park.

Weaselhead - March 20, 2016

Weaselhead – March 20, 2016

We headed down into the Weaselhead first thing, checking the feeders along the way. I had headed down before our group to fill some of the feeders, and managed to spot an overwintering American Goldfinch, but when the rest of our group headed down as a whole all of the feeders were completely devoid of activity. Part of the reason for the vacancy is that now that the weather has turned, the birds were not quite as reliant on the feeders as insects had begun to hatch, and caches stored during the winter would provide plenty of food. We did have one little fellow who turned up, as always, at the tail end of the winter session.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

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Fresh from his winter hibernation, this Least Chipmunk seemed completely oblivious to our presence as he stuffed his face full of black-oil sunflower, peanuts, and various other seeds I’d placed at the feeder earlier in the morning. I just love how much character these little mammals have, and how single-minded they can be when they first wake up.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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While she wasn’t right at the feeder, this Hairy Woodpecker was hanging out nearby, hammering a hole in the side of this tree to pick out a tasty meal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

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A little further down the path and across the bridge we found this male House Sparrow and his mate picking out some twigs, grass and leaves to make their nest for the coming season. Given where they were loafing about, they may have even been considering setting up shop in one of the Cliff Swallow nests on the bridge!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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Before we turned around to head back up the hill, we stopped and checked the logs and information signs that have been used all winter as a feeding station, and sure enough we found some American Tree Sparrows singing away in the brush, and coming out to feed. These little sparrows have an amazing song, and are just as striking to look at.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

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We headed back up the hill and off to the east end of the Glenmore Reservoir to find our returning migrants, and were not disappointed on the first pond. A pair of American Wigeon were floating along the back end of the pond, well away from the Canada Geese and Mallards who were clearly set up on their nesting territories closer in.

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

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While we were scanning the ponds for waterfowl, sparrows, and anything else we could find, we heard a flock of late White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees to the north, picking through the few remaining cones that had made it through the winter. Both males and females were in fine form, with the majority of the birds being immature, and as always, seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence.

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

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These Canada Geese seemed to have their feathers ruffled by the Mallards (in the shade of the rock on the left). It wasn’t until the Mallards had simply had enough and moved on that the geese left them alone. Seeing these inter-species interactions is always a treat, and late winter and early spring can lead to some great opportunities for this behaviour.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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Our best surprise of the day was coming across this male Great Horned Owl high up in a spruce trying to have a nap… until we disturbed him. He wasn’t pleased to see us. At all.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye (and a very confused Mallard) were still trying to display for the few remaining single females, though most others of their kind we’d found this late in the winter/spring season. Despite that, at least two of them seemed to making a positive impression!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

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One of our last birds of the day, and a great one at that, was this Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies that sang a bit for us, but also perched high up in the nearby bushes and allowed everyone very good looks.

The spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek is now well under way, so expect some new posts in the next few weeks from our more recent outings. Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ and Sikome Lake – Spring on the horizon

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on February 28 took us to the area surrounding Fish Creek Provincial Park’s headquarters and administration building, and then down near Sikome Lake. Our main goal was to find two pairs of resident Great Horned Owls, but also to check some of the ponds and the river for newly arrived waterfowl, and we weren’t disappointed!

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ - February 28, 2016

Fish Creek Provincial Park HQ – February 28, 2016

Great Horned Owl (male)

Great Horned Owl (male)

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Our brief walk around the headquarters led us to flush a male Great Horned Owl from the spruce trees, where he perched right out in the sun on some low willows. This is likely the male from the pair that roost here all winter long, and his mate is certainly somewhere nearby!

White-tailed Jackrabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit

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We headed down the pathway to the west with little to see or hear, and on our return trip we headed over to the brush near where the owl had flushed to only to find a pair of White-tailed Jackrabbits doing their best to stay completely still. They’ve had a rough winter staying camouflaged, with very little snow for much of the season, and now that they’re starting to turn brown, the snow we’ll be getting with our usual spring squalls will be just as difficult on them.

Sikome Lake area

Sikome Lake area – February 28, 2016

After parking near the boat launch and checking the river, we turned up next to nothing nearby. The well above seasonal temperatures had boaters and fishermen up and down the river long before we arrived, so much of the waterfowl had already flown off.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Leave it to the chickadees and nuthatches to brighten up the day! As we crossed the road to take a closer look for another well known pair of owls, we found a small mixed flock of birds foraging in the low brush, and they were more than happy to pose nicely for us all to get a good look at them.

European Starlings

European Starlings

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While there are often a few European Starlings that can be found in this area all winter long, there were nearly thirty of them inspecting cavities, calling, and doing their best impersonations of Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Killdeer, and a number of other birds all morning long.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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We found the new mate of the female Great Horned Owl guarding the nest in a little more open area than her past mate usually sat, but I have no doubt that he’s got just as good an eye on mom and the eggs. Given that this was three weeks ago, it won’t be much more than another week or two before they begin to hatch.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

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You can barely see her in the corner of the nest here, but that’s just their natural camouflage at work!

Canada Geese on nest

Canada Geese on nest

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It wasn’t just the Great Horned Owls who had decided it was time to get on their nest! This pair of Canada Geese were nesting nearby in a hollowed out tree top that these, or other Canada Geese use every year without fail. It’s always weird to see them nesting so high up, but they know what they’ve been doing it for years!

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

Downy Woodpecker with dilute plumage

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A couple of the flight feathers of this female Downy Woodpecker that look brown rather than the usual black. This type of plumage variation is known as “dilute plumage”, which is different from both albinism and leucism in that it’s simply a reduction in the normal amount of melanin that is expressed, rather than an entire lack of it. She had been seen there the entire week leading up to our outing, and it looks like she’ll be breeding nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if her offspring have similar plumage as she does!

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

Cackling (left) and Canada Geese (right)

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With the Canada Geese getting on nests, and actively feeding on the fresh grass shoots all throughout the park, there were huge numbers of them around the edge of Sikome Lake. Whenever there are large numbers of Canada Geese around, it’s always worthwhile to try to scan for Cackling Geese, and we managed to find at least one that day. The bird on the far left has that diagnostic short, triangular bill, very tiny head, short neck, and was much smaller overall than the nearby Canada Geese.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

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These Common Goldeneye were happily paired up in the storm water ponds south of Sikome Lake, and were keeping a sharp eye on us as we watched them. Their numbers have diminished a little bit right along the river, but as more and more small water bodies open up, pairs of them will start showing up at each little pond and slough throughout the province.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

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There were also a pair of male Green-winged Teal who had also showed up on the small ponds and sat quite nicely for us to watch, and we got very good looks at their beautiful greens, browns and grays in their breeding plumage.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

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Our last new birds of the day was this pair of Bufflehead, and it seemed that the female of this pair was chasing around her mate, a bit of a role reversal to the usual situation, but they’re always nice to see in the late winter, as they also disperse throughout the prairie potholes to breed and raise their young.

Next week, we’ll cover our outing on March 6 to Mallard Point, with our first gulls of the new year!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Bebo Grove and the arrival of winter birds

Posted by Dan Arndt

It certainly didn’t feel anything like fall on our last few outings with the Friends of Fish Creek. Aside from a little bit of snow sticking around, and a bit of a brisk start, we’ve had incredible luck with our fall weather here in Calgary, or at least on our Sunday walks!

Bebo Grove is one of our most anticipated outings in the fall for a number of reasons, all of which are owls. Northern Pygmy-Owls were the star last fall and winter, and there’s always the chance of finding Great Gray Owls, Barred Owls, and of course Great Horned Owls. It is also relatively dense spruce forest, which draws in both species of crossbill, Pine Grosbeaks, and even Common and Hoary Redpolls.

While we didn’t have much luck in the redpoll department, we did have a good variety of everything else, and even had a couple bonus raptors show up!

Bebo Grove - November 1, 2015

Bebo Grove – November 1, 2015

For the third (maybe fourth?) year in a row, the star of our show was Bob. Bob is a Red-breasted Nuthatch with a fairly prominent patch of leucism (read: white feathers) on his head. He’s the dominant bird in his little mixed flock of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers, which is noticeable immediately when he is being fed. He flies in, right to the food, flushing every other bird nearby, and coming back time and time again to gather more for his numerous caches.

 

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

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We searched for American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and even Pileated Woodpeckers in the area surrounding the picnic tables, but came up almost entirely empty. We did find a Hairy Woodpecker a little bit to the west, but once we entered the next stand of spruce between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, things really started getting busy!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

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We stopped shortly after to investigate the tops of the nearby spruce trees, as cones began raining down onto the pathway in front of us. Nearly a hundred White-winged Crossbills were filling the trees above us, calling, feeding, and flying about in a frenzy.

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

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As we were walking through the dense spruce, we heard some agitated chattering of chickadees and nuthatches, as if they were harassing a predator of some sort. We searched around and as we came into a clearing to get close enough to investigate, a young Great Horned Owl flushed up from a spruce across the clearing, flying west and away. It definitely pays to check these things out, even if its only a rare occasion where you actually do stumble upon a prize like that! As we scanned the trees north of the clearing for where the owl went, we did spot this distant Sharp-shinned Hawk. It’s just too bad it didn’t stick around when we got just a little bit closer later on.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

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A little further to the west, we found yet another mixed flock, and had a few Boreal Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, Brown Creepers and still more Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding heavily in the trees, and a few even posing nicely for us.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

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Coming into the next clearing, we had a bit of a close encounter with a big Mule Deer buck. We actually found him first having a bit of a sparring match with a willow shrub, but as we walked by, he took notice of us and just had to show off his antlers.

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

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Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

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We headed towards the barn at Shannon Terrace before turning back. It was a little more quiet to the west than we usually have it, but it wasn’t too much further along that we found out exactly why. This female Merlin was keeping a sharp eye on the ground below, especially one of the feeding stations, and looked quite interested in any little movement nearby.

female Merlin

female Merlin

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So with that, we headed back to take a second look for Northern Pygmy-Owls, Barred Owls, and American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, but came up (mostly) empty, so we followed the edge of the wetland back to where we had found Bob earlier in the day, but were alerted to the presence of yet another Great Horned Owl by the chattering and squawking of a pair of Blue Jays. 

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

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Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

It didn’t take too long for the Blue Jays to lose interest and fly off, leaving this big, beautiful owl to snooze the rest of the day away.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great week and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding begins at the HQ, Sikome, and Burnsmead

Posted by Dan Arndt

I did say spring, right? Where did all the snow come from? While our last outing to South Glenmore Park was relatively cool, there wasn’t too much snow left, but in the week since we got a fresh dump of snow which is typical of our usual Calgary spring weather. Certainly the birds and mammals we saw on our walk showed at least a little displeasure at the situation!

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds - April 5, 2015

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds – April 5, 2015

We had three stops on our initial outing last week, with a visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters area, then down to Sikome Lake, and finally ended up at the Burnsmead ponds to check out some puddle ducks that one of our leaders, Rose Painter, had spotted before the beginning of our walk. We’ve also begun our walks at 8 AM for the spring course, so we’re getting out a little bit earlier and closer to sunrise to maximize the bird activity for the duration of our outing.

White-tailed Jackrabbit Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-tailed Jackrabbit
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We spotted this little jackrabbit under a spruce tree, taking refuge from the snow. You can see she’s been hanging out in the same spot for at least a while, and possibly even a few hours given that there’s a completely cleared area right under her. It’s not easy for these rabbits at this time of year, as their camouflage can be almost entirely useless in the snow now that their coats have changed colour!

The main reason we stopped in this area though was to check on a couple of Great Horned Owls in the area, which we were able to find without too much trouble.

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

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

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Here’s mom with a very chilly looking little owlet. Dad is nearby keeping a sharp eye on things though, and it looks like everyone’s happy and healthy, albeit a little cold and snowy!

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

We headed down to the Boat Launch and the area around Sikome Lake in search of some more owls, but also got some good looks at a few other birds as well, including this Herring Gull, part of a flock of about thirty of them on one of the larger gravel bars just north of the launch area!

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

This was probably the best sighting of the day. The stormwater ponds are open and entirely ice-free! Soon we’ll have Cinnamon Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and tons of other puddle ducks and shorebirds surrounding these ponds, and hopefully the Forster’s Terns will return and breed on their west ends as well again this year!

Red-winged Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Red-winged Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Maybe the second best sighting I’ve had all year was this young Red-winged Blackbird. My first of the year, and in many ways, the true “spring” bird. While I suspect that this little guy got lost in a flock of European Starlings that were heading north earlier than the rest of the blackbirds, they are starting to show up at more and more wetlands in and around Calgary!

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

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

This male American Robin was at the furthest south extent of our walk, searching among the rocks for a nice juicy arthropod or worm in the water below. There were a few of them along this stretch of rocks near a water outflow, picking their way up and down the little stream.

After that, we headed up to the ponds at Burnsmead in search of the Wood Ducks, Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers that Rose had seen earlier in the morning, and sure enough, we found them all! Wood Ducks are sometimes pretty hard to find, but we had a pair of males at these ponds last Sunday and there have been a few more that have shown up around the city this week as well.

Wood Ducks in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Wood Ducks in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!

male Gadwall in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Gadwall in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

While Gadwall are relatively nondescript, they sure do show some stark contrasts in flight, and while they’re often quite hard to spot, this male (and his mate) were fairly accommodating as long as I was quiet, moved slow, and there wasn’t too much activity around the pond.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

All the activity on the ponds drew the attention of this Red-tailed Hawk, who made a fly-by at a bit of a distance to check out what all the fuss was about before flying off to the north.

Looking forward to the next outing and most definitely excited for all the new spring birds coming to Calgary over the next few months!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

A Sunny Sunday at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Sorry for the late update everyone! We’ll be back to regular weekly posts tomorrow morning, so consider this a double-shot to finish off the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course with a bang!

Our outing on March 22 took us to Carburn Park on a bright, sunny, but slightly chilly morning. We had hopes of possibly finding some more early sparrows in the feeders near the park, or a new gull species or two, or even some early arriving hawks, but things did seem to slow down a bit after the initial spring migration rush from the previous couple of weeks!

Carburn Park - March 22

Carburn Park – March 22

We started off heading south into the sun so we could continue the majority of our walk with the sun at our backs and upon reaching the bridge and nearby gazebo we found a bit of activity. While there were a few indicators that while spring was officially here, winter, as always in Calgary, was still holding on strong. This Canada Goose was sporting a jacket of frost and was a little reluctant to begin the day until we walked across the bridge above it.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Nearby, the House Sparrows were hard at work foraging in the gazebo and preparing their nests in the eaves. This female stopped briefly to allow a few photos before continuing on to work on her nest building.

female House Sparrow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

female House Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Quite often the gravel bars here at Carburn Park are full of gulls in the morning, and we always take a few minutes to pick through them to see if we can identify some locally uncommon species, but on this morning we didn’t have too many gulls as the fishermen had an earlier start than we did, and had flushed most of them before we really had a chance to take any good long looks at them. We did get up close and personal with this Ring-billed Gull though, so hopefully that’s a decent consolation picture!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We headed over to the larger ponds in the middle of the park and while they weren’t open and the couple beaver and muskrat channels had closed up a bit as well, but we did hear this little Brown Creeper in the trees nearby, and managed a few half-decent shots of this normally quite reclusive bird!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

One nice surprise of the morning were a few photos I took of what we often consider a “trash” bird. I’ve always said though that if these birds weren’t so common around here, they’d be something that people would drive for hours just to see one and all the beautiful colors they can show off in good light. This Black-billed Magpie was trying to snap off a few twigs to take back to its nest nearby when we came across it and disturbed its hard work.

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

We ended off our walk by following the east edge of the ponds, and had a close encounter with some White-tailed Deer, a few Eastern Grey Squirrels, and this rather healthy looking Coyote that burst out of the trees well behind our group and ran across the pond. Much braver than any of us would have been, given the warm weather we’ve had all winter!

Coyote Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Coyote
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Black phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We ended off our walk looking for the Great Horned Owls who had nested right beside the parking lot the past two years, and we did manage to find this male keeping watch over the well hidden nest. Looks like he didn’t really appreciate us discovering him!

male Great Horned Owl  Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Watch this space tomorrow for our final update on the Winter Birding course!

Good birding.

 

The many and varied signs of spring at Fish Creek Provincial Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week in Fish Creek and the signs of spring were all around us. While the morning was the coldest one of the week, topping out at -2 Celcius, the starlings were practicing their imitation calls, the Great Horned Owls were comfortably hunkered down in their nests, and the waterfowl were courting in preparation for the breeding season to come.

Boat Launch and Lafarge

Fish Creek Provincial Park – March 1, 2015

Our goals were to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls in the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, hopefully see some other waterfowl and early migrants along the river, and whatever else we might find in our travels.

We found one of our first targets less than fifteen minutes after our walk started. After checking out the waterfowl near the boat launch, we headed west into the grove of trees near Sikome Lake, where for the last five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have successfully fledged two or three owlets each year. While mom was well hidden, we did find dad out on one of his regular roosts a few dozen meters away from the usual nest site with a good view of the surrounding area. I think he was hoping we wouldn’t see him, and kept peeking one eye open from time to time as we walked by.

Great Horned Owl (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We did a loop around the east edge of the lake looking for a shrike, woodpecker, or nuthatches, but found relatively few small birds in their usual spots that morning, and it wasn’t until we got down to the bridges over the Bow River that we finally found something worth shooting. The Rock Pigeons nest under this bridge every year, and it’s one of the most reliable places in the park to find this urban species. They are quite often overlooked as “trash birds”, but they still have some rather amazing coloration on their breast feathers.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

As has been fairly regular this winter, we did get a flyover of a few Bald Eagles along our walk. As these eagles would fly over, the reaction from the waterfowl on the river would be quite varied. In some cases, only a couple would flush up off the water, but when a hungry eagle would pass over, the river would be almost entirely devoid of birds a few moments later. It’s amazing that they can tell whether the eagle is actively hunting, or just passing through at that distance. Does this Bald Eagle look like a hungry one, or a sated one to you?

adult Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

adult Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We also found a pair of Common Ravens putting together a nest in the same tree where they had nested the last few years. Whether these are the same pair as before, one of their offspring, or just another pair nesting in a particularly enviable nesting location, it was great seeing them going through the motions of preparing their nest for the year.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@250mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Coming back under the bridge, we also spotted the male Common Goldeneyes displaying for the few females that may still be unpaired, and among a small group of Common Goldeneye, a single immature Barrow’s Goldeneye stood out from the rest.

Common Goldeneyes displaying Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common Goldeneyes displaying
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow's (middle) Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Common (left, right) and immature Barrow’s (middle) Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Once we were done our loop at the south-east end of the park, we headed up toward the Headquarters building to find a second pair of Great Horned Owls, and to see if we could find any of the early arriving waterfowl that we missed out on a few weeks ago.

We did (barely!) find the Great Horned Owls in this area as well, though the female was very well hidden!

Great Horned Owl (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We walked over to the river after coming up with our second owl pair of the morning, and as we came over the rise, this is what we saw.

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Mallards, Goldeneye, and a pair of Lesser Scaup
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Can you spot the pair of Lesser Scaup? We also spotted the male Northern Pintail that has been hanging around this area for what might have been all winter long. A handsome male in full breeding plumage disappeared on us a few times as we worked on finding it and re-finding it for the time we were there scanning the group!

Northern Pintail (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Northern Pintail (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

And that’s another week down before the real spring migration blitz comes our way! Have a great week, and good birding!