Tag Archive | Green-winged Teal

The Friends of Fish Creek bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Western Headworks Canal (known to many of us simply as the Calgary Irrigation Canal, or Bow River Irrigation Canal) is an amazing area to bird any time from early spring all the way through to the beginning of autumn. The canal itself provides foraging and feeding opportunities to all varieties of dabbling ducks throughout the breeding season, while the established trees and shrubs along the edge of the canal are home to no end of songbird species throughout the year.

There is a very special time of year though, just after the first of October, when the Western Irrigation District stops drawing water from the Bow River and allows the canal to drain for the winter. It is at this time that the canal becomes prime feeding habitat for a few more exotic species. Unusual and rare gull species are often found among the flocking Ring-billed Gulls, late migrating shorebirds feed along the extensive mudflats, and the tail end of songbird migration can often bring exciting birds such as Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Harris’ Sparrow along the edges of the canal. All of this excitement is over far too quickly for some as the water levels rapidly deplete over the course of the first two weeks following the drainage.

According to the Western Irrigation District website, “the Western Irrigation District provides irrigation water to over 400 farms and 96,000 acres of land, and supplies municipal water to over 12,000 people in four different communities through 1,200 km of canals and pipelines.  Like other irrigation districts in Alberta, the WID operates under the rules and procedures of the Irrigation Districts Act.  The WID is headquartered in Strathmore, Alberta, which is approximately 40 kilometers east of Calgary.”

On October 4th, I joined the Friends of Fish Creek to walk the canal a few days after it had begun draining. For one reason or another, this year seemed to have fewer birds than I remember in the past, and the water seemed much lower this early on than previously. That said, the walk started off on a high note while I watched this Northern Flicker feeding on berries in a shrub while I waited for the group.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 400mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Almost immediately upon reaching the edge of the canal, we began seeing some of the diverse assemblage of waterfowl that feed along the canal. The most common of course was the Mallard, with almost all of the males having returned to their brilliant green-headed breeding plumage.

Mallard

Mallard

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

A lone female American Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water, barely lifting her head to check us out as we walked by.

female American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

A little further on, a pair of female Northern Shoveler floated by, followed closely by a pair of female Green-winged Teal.

female Northern Shovelers

female Northern Shovelers

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Green-winged Teal

female Green-winged Teal

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

The highlight of the waterfowl though are always the Wood Ducks. A fair number of them were found feeding along the canal early in the walk. As we continued down the canal, something spooked them and they flew up the canal and our of sight. These birds are likely from the same stock found at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where they are known to breed each year.

male Wood Duck

male Wood Duck

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

male and female Wood Ducks

male and female Wood Ducks

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It’s always a bit of a surprise to see what shorebirds we can find down along the canal. It’s one of the best places to get good, close looks at Greater Yellowlegs, often in large numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Less often though do we get Wilson’s Snipe. This year there seemed to be more than a few feeding along the canal.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

It was a little later on that we got a good look at what may have flushed the Wood Ducks earlier in the day. This female Merlin swooped in and perched in the trees right above us for a few moments before flying on and continuing her hunt.

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

There is one major benefit to the large numbers of Rock Pigeons that take residence in our urban centers here in southern Alberta, but it’s never a pretty sight to see. They make a great meal for any number of hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Every once in a while though, one of these raptors gets chased off a fresh kill by a family of corvids. It is quite possible that this was a kill stolen from our female Merlin above, or from the Sharp-shinned Hawk that as giving us continuous fly-bys all morning.

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

Black-billed Magpies scavenging Rock Pigeon remains

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we kept our ears and eyes sharply focused on the shrubs nearby, and our alertness really paid off. We heard a handful of American Tree Sparrows, saw few Dark-eyed Juncos, and caught decent looks at what are likely to be our last Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

It always pays off to check out the gulls down on the canal though. As we walked the canal, we found hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the shallow water.

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

immature (back) and adult (fore) Ring-billed Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of our sharp-eyed participants pointed out this little Mew Gull all by itself. They feed a little bit differently than Ring-billed Gulls tend to, but the real differences are the major field marks. You might note the plain yellow bill, smaller, rounded head, and overall “softer” features than the Ring-billed Gulls above.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-3 II|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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)

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/9|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

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)

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 210mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2500|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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!

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

May Species Count – Longview Area

One of the areas that I surveyed for the May Species Count on Sunday May 29 was the Longview area, an hour SW of Calgary.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get to some of the best birding spots due to the wet weather, but the conditions were pretty good.  There was water flowing across some of the side roads but I did get through.

This creek was very high…

There was still quite a bit of snow at high elevations…

The Bar U Ranch road, looking west to the mountains…

I managed to find 75 species, which is a good total for that territory.  I was quite frustrated near the end of the day by my inability to find a House Sparrow anywhere in the town of Longview!  No House Finches there either.  I also saw about 35 Black Terns in a pond that was just out of my territory, and they refused to come over to a perfectly good pond on my side of the boundary.

But I did have some unexpected birds as well, including two Red-breasted Mergansers.  Here are some other highlights (as usual, you can click on the photos to enlarge them).

Mountain Bluebirds are commonly seen near the bluebird boxes…

Female Mountain Bluebird…

Tree Swallows are nesting in many of the Bluebird boxes…

I got a good look at this Red-eyed Vireo…

Male Red-naped Sapsucker…

Because of the high water, there were few shorebirds other than Spotted Sandpipers and a few of these Wilson’s Snipe…

I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of Harlequin Ducks on the Highwood River at the Green View campground…

I only saw one pair of Green-winged Teal, but this male swam very close to me…

The final surprise of the day was this beautiful Red Fox, which seemed to be completely unconcerned with my presence, and walked right by me…

Posted by Bob Lefebvre