Tag Archive | hoary redpoll

Ron Pittaway’s 2016-2017 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

With another summer season coming to an end, and many of our fall migrants beginning to trail off, thoughts turn to what the winter may bring to us in southern Alberta.

You can find the original article here: Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast 2016-2017. If you’ve read it already, you might notice there’s a fairly strong emphasis on eastern Canada and the U.S., and some mentions of “Western Canada”. Without further ado, here’s a species by species breakdown of what I think we’re likely to expect here in the Calgary region.

 

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Ron’s “General Forecast” describes cone crops as: “good to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska”. Also, due to the drought conditions in much of the east this year, the cone crops in that region are poor, so the birds that would regularly winter there will be moving east, west, or south to find food.

Pine Grosbeak:

Mountain Ash berries are their preferred food, and as those crops are good throughout the boreal region, chances of seeing many of them this winter are low. They are often found at high elevation in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary during the breeding season. Mountain Ash is a decorative tree throughout much of the Calgary area, which will likely draw some down from the mountains.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Purple Finch:

As the cone crops are in good shape here this year we should expect to see Purple Finches rarely. They’re never really in the Calgary area in large numbers, but if you’re looking to attract them, black-oil sunflower is your best bet.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Red Crossbill:

While it’s unlikely for us to get a Red Crossbill irruption quite as good as what we had last year, it’ll still be a fairly good year for them throughout the pine and spruce in southern Alberta. The west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park is always a good place to find them, and Griffith Woods is another good spot.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

White-winged Crossbill:

As with the Red Crossbills, this species has moved west to the abundant cone crops out here, so we stand to have another good year of White-winged Crossbills throughout southern Alberta. They’re another common feeder bird, and as with most, they tend to prefer black-oil sunflower seeds.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Common Redpoll:

As the general trend of crop failure continues in the east, these birds will be found on birch and willow in the west where the cone crops have been much more robust. Nyjer seed will be the feed of choice to attract these to your yard in the Calgary area.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Hoary Redpoll:

Whenever you find a flock of Common Redpoll, there’s a chance that you might find the occasional Hoary Redpoll in the mix. They’re really not that easy to pick out, but if you spend the time looking over a flock you might just luck out and find one that looks just a little paler with a tiny little bill. When it comes right down to it, it’s a numbers game… at least until they lump them back in with Common Redpolls!

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

Pine Siskin:

Pine Siskins have already been appearing in southern Alberta, and like the Pine Grosbeaks, they do breed in the area, so it will be interesting to see just how many of them show up this winter from elsewhere.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Evening Grosbeak:

These beautiful finches are so incredibly striking, and they seem to be doing well all across Canada, with their numbers again on the rise. We’ve even been seeing them within the city limits of Calgary on the Friends of Fish Creek outings to Bebo Grove and Marshall Springs, which is a good sign for seeing them in bigger numbers as the colder weather sets in!

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/1250s|

Blue Jay:

While these guys aren’t finches, they can be irruptive as they also feed on the same seeds that winter finches utilize. Their numbers have also been on the rise in the Calgary area as well, so it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll be seeing these all throughout the area and even in some back yards this winter.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 440mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Another species that we’ve been seeing in larger numbers already this fall, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a charismatic little critter. More often than not you can find them foraging in spruce stands calling from the tops of trees and flitting about in mixed flocks with chickadees and kinglets.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Bohemian Waxwing:

Of all the species, these are the ones that seem to be around every winter in decent numbers. While we do have irruptive years where we have tens of thousands in the Calgary area alone, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of hundreds. They are most often found foraging on silverberry, mountain ash, or even spruce trees on whatever they can find in the boughs.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

So, where can you go to see finches this winter? Within the city of Calgary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Griffith Woods, and the west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park are great places to look. In the north, Queen’s Park Cemetery and Confederation Park can provide some good views of these birds as well. As well, the front ranges and foothills of the Rocky Mountains are productive because of the huge numbers of spruce lining the slopes. Don’t rule out some of the prairie wetlands either! Pine Siskins and both redpoll species will feed on cattails and spilled grain wherever they can be found!
Good luck out there, and let’s hope the cold weather holds off for just a little bit longer!

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

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

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

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

juvenile Pine Grosbeak Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

juvenile Pine Grosbeak
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 12 – Return to the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

And so another birding course comes to a close, but not without a few nice additions to sound out the closing bell. Our return to the Weaselhead was somewhat out of necessity, as our original plan was to look out over the Glenmore Reservoir, which has typically thawed quite a bit more than this year. Unfortunately, due to the persistent cold in Calgary this winter, and also due to a few weeks of well below freezing temperatures, the reservoir, proper remained frozen, while at least two of the channels of the Elbow River that feed into it were at least somewhat open, allowing for some, but not all, of the expected migrants to return. After a brief foray into the river valley south of the river, and with a few surprises down there as well, we returned to the trails of North Glenmore Park to look out over the reservoir and spot a few other new arrivals.

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

We started our Easter Sunday off with a sermon. Gus began with a speech detailing, in extreme Coles Notes format, how a series of steps brought both us, and Swans, to be here on Earth today, and how our ancestry is shared all the way back to the very first life, some 3.6 billion years ago. It was a great sentiment, and an awesome start to the day. It almost seemed like the speech drew in our main target species for the day, who flew in from the west as we reached the viewpoint, and over to the reservoir.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Heading down to the first feeders, we were greeted with yet another sign of spring with a pair of Least Chipmunks foraging under one of the feeders, while Common Redpolls munched away on the seeds above.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

With the sounds of American Robins and Northern Flickers calling, we continued on our way, stopping at the feeding stations at the bottom of the hill in search of American Tree Sparrows, which we did manage to find (but were far too quick for me to photograph), but we did spot this immature male Pine Grosbeak singing from the treetops, along with a Hoary Redpoll in a small flock of Common Redpolls!

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

As we reached the bridge, we were welcomed by the calls of a number of Blue Jays, and in the distance we saw a pair of male Hooded Mergansers on the river.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On our walk in around the lower paths in the Weaselhead, we found a good number of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but the Bohemian Waxwings were almost entirely absent, with this sole representative flying about here and there, almost in search of his fellows.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

As our group pushed on, a few of us held back at a slightly unfamiliar call, which we quickly narrowed down as the call of a Dark-eyed Junco. A few of them were calling from the nearby spruce trees, well below the lone Bohemian Waxwing.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest of our walk was almost entirely absent of photos, both due to the absence of photo opportunities with the birds we saw and heard, but also due to the distances involved. Hopefully this week I’ll receive our loaner Swarovski ATX 85mm Spotting Scope that Swarovski Optik has graciously allowed me to review for them over the next little while. I’ve seen some of the results from this scope when mounted on a Pentax K-5, and I know it will come in handy for those long distance shots. But I digress…

We did happen upon a male Ruffed Grouse drumming near the river bank, and a few of us stayed behind to track it down, spotting it briefly on the log that it was drumming on before it flushed. As we headed back up the hill to look out over the reservoir, we happened upon a larger flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the trees, a few Boreal Chickadees, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. From the observation points on the ridge, we found a pair of Lesser Scaup, a male and female Hooded Merganser, and even an extremely early male Ruddy Duck in one of the channels.

Next week marks the beginning of our Spring course, and maybe a little bit of a different approach to these blog posts… stay tuned!