Tag Archive | irrigation canal

Exploring the Irrigation Canal with the Friends of Fish Creek

Posted By Bob Lefebvre

The fall session of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding course began in early September. In the first week of October, the groups birded along the irrigation canal in SE Calgary, from Gosling Way to 50 Avenue. The canal is drained each year at the end of September, and the first couple of weeks of October are excellent for waterfowl and other birds feeding there.

On October 8, 2017, Max Ortiz Aguilar went with his Sunday morning group and took some excellent photographs. (All photos taken by Max Ortiz Aguilar, Irrigation Canal, Calgary, October 8, 2017.)

One of the star birds here in the fall is the Hooded Merganser. There are usually quite a few in the canal, and you can get good close looks.

Hooded Merganser (male).

Two male and four female-type (female or immature) Hooded Mergansers. The right-hand bird looks like a young male.

The most common shorebird in the fall is the Greater Yellowlegs. Lessers are also seen, but in low numbers. Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers are usually around, and sometimes you find Dowitchers and even American Golden-Plovers.

Greater Yellowlegs.

Greater Yellowlegs group.

The most common waterfowl here, as on the Bow River, are Canada Geese and Mallards. You can usually see a few hundred on this stretch of the canal. You can also find Northern Shovelers, Redheads, Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and Double-crested Cormorants feeding in the canal. There are also huge numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, plus Franklin’s Gulls and sometimes uncommon migrant gull species.

Canada Geese and Mallards.

Canada Goose in flight.

American Wigeons are often seen. By this time the adult males are transitioning to breeding plumage, or have already done so.

American Wigeons (females).

You can find quite a few songbird species in the treed areas (especially along the golf course). The chickadees are rather tame.

Black-capped Chickadee.

Owls aren’t usually seen right along the canal but the group got lucky this day.

Great Horned Owl.

Mule Deer can be seen occasionally anywhere along this stretch of the river. You may also see Eastern Gray Squirrels, Coyotes, Red Foxes, Beavers, Muskrats, and American Mink.

Mule Deer.

Finally, the canal is a good place to find the scarce Rusty Blackbird in the fall. You can see them turning over leaves at the water’s edge.

Rusty Blackbird.

To see more of Max’s photos, go to his Flickr page.

If you are interested in joining the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses, see this page. The Winter session begins on January 8, 2018, and they are now taking registrations.

 

Bird the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Western Irrigation District canal in SE Calgary has had the water supply from the Bow River shut off and the water level is falling. The next few weeks until freeze-up are a great time to go birding along the canal as there is a lot of food concentrated in the remaining pools and on the mudflats. The best birding is from the Max Bell arena to 50 Avenue SE, with the most productive stretch being the 500 m or so south of the Gosling Way bridge, on the entrance road to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.

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Birds on the canal, October 2011.

Trout Unlimited Canada normally does a fish rescue when the water is shut off, but due to funding cuts they were unable to do it this year. There will be some big fish left in the water and it will be interesting to see if this keeps the Herons and Kingfishers around for a while longer.

The canal is a great place for bird photography as the waterfowl and shorebirds are often quite close to you. Walk along the east side in the morning and along the west side in the evening to keep the sun behind you, and you can get some great views!

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October 2011, looking back towards the Gosling Way bridge. Throughout October the water level gradually falls, concentrating the waterfowl into smaller pools.

Here are links to a few of the posts that Dan Arndt did about birding the canal with the Friends of Fish Creek in the past three years, with photos of many of the birds you can find there.

October 2015

October 2014

October 2013

 

Early October on the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Earlier this month I was able to take part in two walks with the Friends of Fish Creek out to the Irrigation Canal that runs parallel to the Bow River through south-east Calgary. Each day had its highlights and the overall experience was really quite incredible. While there’s not quite as much activity this late in the month, the week following the initial drainage of the canal can be quite productive for a wide variety of birds. From shorebirds to gulls to songbirds, the whole walk tends to be non-stop flying, foraging and feeding on everything living in the trees along the canal and the mud within it.

Irrigation Canal - October 6th and 8th, 2015

Irrigation Canal – October 6th and 8th, 2015

Two of the most common birds we often find along this walk are the two most easy to overlook, the American Robin and the European Starling. Their colors and contrasts really stand out on a bright clear fall day, especially with the right background!

IMGP1669American Robin – ::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

The Ring-billed Gulls are also one of the most numerous birds we find along the canal, aside from waterfowl, and until recent years, we’ve almost always had Bonaparte’s Gulls. We’re always on the look out for something a little more unusual, but so far we’ve failed to turn up anything less common.

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Ring-billed Gull – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

The main draw along the canal are the ever-present Hooded Mergansers. It’s not unusual to find at least a few males and at least a couple females cruising around feeding on the small invertebrates and fish in the main channel of the canal.

IMGP1743male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 400mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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female Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

This late in the season we also get a good number of Greater Yellowlegs (and very rarely an occasional Lesser Yellowlegs). Even more interesting are the occasional falcons and raptors hunting them, like this female Merlin that took a dive at a large group of yellowlegs, flushing the majority of them!

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

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female Merlin – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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female Merlin in flight – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

In addition to the Merlins we saw on both days at the canal, on the 8th we had a couple of interesting fly-overs. A Rough-legged Hawk and an immature Golden Eagle soared over on some high thermals, offering a few opportunities for us to identify them from below. Golden Eagles aren’t particularly common within the city limits, so my first thought was that it was an immature Bald Eagle. After reviewing the photos though, it was most certainly a Golden, which was quite an exciting find! Those broad, squared off wings, golden nape, and white patches in the middle of the underwing are really good features to look for on an immature Golden Eagle.

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Rough-legged Hawk – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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Golden Eagle – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

New for me this year was a bit of variety in the makeup of shorebirds, with a fair number of Long-billed Dowitchers making an appearance, which we identified by their flight calls, and a lone American Golden-Plover, which is yet another relatively rare bird in the area, especially within the city limits!

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Long-billed Dowitchers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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American Golden-Plover and Greater Yellowlegs – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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

Our last bird of the day, and maybe the last members of this species of the season, were a small number of Double-crested Cormorants. While these birds are fairly uncommon around the city, they’re not quite as loathed here as they are in eastern Canada, so most of us still enjoy seeing them from time to time along the Bow River.

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

While there aren’t usually too many mammals along this route, we did find a lone Muskrat on both of our outings, in almost exactly the same spot north of the Gosling Way bridge over the canal. He (or she) was foraging and collecting grasses and stems to store away for the winter.

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Muskrat – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

And that’s it for another week here on the blog. Have a great one, and good birding!

Birds of the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week’s outing was a visit to the recently drained Irrigation Canal, which runs parallel to the Bow River, and is an absolutely wonderful place to go birding in early October, while the canal is still draining. The weather was amazing, and so I decided that I was going to go out with both the Saturday and Sunday groups, and boy was I happy I did!

Western Irrigation Canal October 11-12, 2014

Western Irrigation Canal
October 11-12, 2014

Both days provided excellent light, great photographic opportunities, and a wide variety of birds, most of which were congregating around one of the main drainage outflows. The real highlight though was the interplay of light, fall colours, and beautiful birds up and down the canal on both days!

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

All it takes is a combination of the right setting, the right speed, and the right background to turn a normally dull and overlooked bird into a great subject in flight. And then sometimes it’s just a Ring-billed Gull.

Green-winged Teal in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Green-winged Teal in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

The low, slow moving water tends to attract a number of small pond ducks, and in some cases, some of the stragglers that haven’t fled south for the winter. Green-winged Teals don’t always leave Calgary in the fall, and quite often there are a pair or two in warm isolated backwaters somewhere around the city, but they’re always great to see in flight with their bright green speculum and erratic and hard to track flight patterns.

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

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

We also managed some good looks at a lone male American Wigeon on our Sunday walk, finally coming back into the green and white head patterning of his breeding plumage.

American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

All along the sides of the canal are dozens of mountain ash trees, and everywhere we walked we could hear American Robins rustling in the bushes, on the ground, and amongst the foliage searching for berries to fatten up before many of them also fly south for the winter.

Hooded Mergansers Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hooded Mergansers
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

male Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

female Hooded Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

female Hooded Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2500

Hooded Mergansers taking off Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

Hooded Mergansers taking off
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 2000

One of the best birds of the trip was this group of Hooded Mergansers, loafing about in the shallow water and maintaining a healthy distance from our group. Three males and one female had been seen most of the week, but by Sunday, the female had disappeared. Perhaps one of the many we saw at Elliston Park on the 19th?

I had taken a few minutes to let the group get ahead of me, and get myself down closer to the water to take the photos above, when an off-leash dog decided it was time to run into the water and chase the ducks! At least I was able to get a photo of these beautiful mergansers in flight as they took off in a flash!

 

Greater Yellowlegs in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Another of the highly abundant birds along the irrigation canal each autumn are the Greater Yellowlegs. Both Saturday and Sunday we counted more than 30 of these large shorebirds up and down the canal, most of them quite calm, but a few high-strung individuals would fly in and sound the alarm every once in a while, flushing a dozen or so at a time wherever they decided was just a little bit safer than where they just took off from.

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This trio was an odd grouping. Two female Blue-winged Teal and a female Northern Shoveler were dabbling in the shallow water and offering us quite close looks at them without a care in the world.

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

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

Arguably the best bird of the Sunday walk was this female Rusty Blackbird, who only stuck around for a few short minutes while we watched. She quickly tired of us and our intrusion though, and flew downstream and out of sight. These birds are highly threatened, having lost 99% of their numbers in the last 30 years, and it’s rather unclear what the reasons are behind this decline. As such, it’s always a great treat to see them on their migration, or even up in their breeding habitat in the boreal forest.

That’s it for this week! Have a great one, and good birding!

Canal Closed to Water, Open for Birding!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The irrigation canal that begins by the Max Bell arena and runs through SE calgary had the water diversion shut off yesterday. As the water slowly recedes over the next week or so, a number of species of waterfowl and shorebirds will converge there to feed in the shallow pools left behind, and on the exposed weed beds and mud flats. Expect to see large numbers of common species like Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, but you might also see quite a few Greater Yellowlegs, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.

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The canal near Gosling Way, October 2011.

I have also seen Killdeer, Double-crested Cormorants, Long-billed Dowitchers, and the occasional Pied-billed Grebe and even some Rusty Blackbirds here. You can also see migrating sparrows and late Warblers in the trees and bushes along the canal.

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Birds on the canal between Gosling Way and 50 Avenue SE, October 2011.

Here is a link to a post by Dan Arndt from one of our FFCPP outings last fall, which includes a map of the area. I have found that the section from Gosling Way (the road to the Inglewood Golf Club) to 50 Avenue SE is the most productive, but you might also try going north from there towards the Canoe Club at 17 Avenue SE, or Park at the Max Bell Arena and walk south. There is a paved path all along the canal so it is also a good area to explore by bike.

Here is another old post about birding the canal.

A fine fall day for birding at the Western Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the highlights of the fall season is the exploration of the Western Irrigation Canal pathway, and this year’s visit was no exception. With warmer temperatures than we’d had the past week, clear skies, and a good variety of birds, it was a hit with the relatively small group we had.

Western Irrigation Canal

Western Irrigation Canal

To my eyes, the most persistent bird through the trip was the Greater Yellowlegs, though as we began the walk, the light didn’t particularly give us good opportunities to get them at their best, so it took a while before the shutter clicks and long, lingering looks at potentially the last shorebirds of the season really began in earnest. While earlier in the week there had been a good variety of waterfowl, our diversity was relatively minimal, with these Green-winged Teal showing off their namesake, and their vibrant colors.

teal

female Green-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another of the surprisingly attractive birds was this young European Starling, showing off a little iridescence in the early morning light. While they’re also on their way out of the area, they’ve really come into their beautiful, bright, and striking colors. It’s been said that if these birds were rare, people would come from miles around just to get a look at them!

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

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

As we entered the wooded area near the south end of the canal pathway, we heard the chip notes of a few sparrows, juncos, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler or three, and were greeted with one distinct sparrow, and one bird that remained a mystery for a good five minutes while we considered the possibilities. The first was a beautiful American Tree Sparrow, with its distinct red cap, bi-colored bill, and gray face skulked about in the shade, and flew off after only a minute or so.

 

tree sparrow

American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

The American Tree Sparrow was intermingling with a pair of these slightly smaller, and a little more plain birds, which we eventually came to the conclusion were immature Chipping Sparrows, which hadn’t quite fully entered breeding plumage.

Chipping

Chipping Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

It wasn’t too much further up the path that we initially saw this Black-billed Magpie, picking off some thorny buffalo-berries from this tree. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos that I noticed why it was foraging on the bushes. It appears that this magpie has suffered a fairly severe series of injuries. Its upper mandible has been torn away almost entirely, leaving only a centimeter or so, and there also appears to be some significant loss of feathers around the neck area, though this may be an artifact of the molt pattern typical of corvids. It sat there for a few minutes, nabbing berry after berry, tipping its head back to swallow them, and then continuing up the branch.

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better
Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we reached the end of the pathway, we turned back to return the way we had come, and as the sun edged over the trees a little more, it really brought out the amazing colors on some of the most common of our winter birds. When you see the iridescence of the head, the bright yellow of the bill, and the contrasting deep orange of the feet of the male Mallard it really is quite the sight.

male Mallard Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

male Mallard
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

On our return, all the birds disturbed by our first pass had returned, and seemingly, brought along some of their friends as well. This Greater Yellowlegs flushed up soon after we turned back, I suspect moments after it had just become comfortable again after our initial intrusion.

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

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

It’s also quite nice to see the Common Mergansers return in the fall. They’re quite a common bird here in the fall, winter, and spring, but they can be a challenge to find in the summer at the height of breeding season.

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female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And finally, the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls both young and old were our constant companions on the walk. Soon though, they’ll be heading south for the winter, and strange as it may sound, their presence will be yearned for by February and March, along with hopes of warmer weather to come!

adult RBGU

adult Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

juv RBGU

immature Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Nothing But Shoreline

The irrigation canal in southeast Calgary is drained in late September, and as the water level drops, it exposes lush shorelines with plenty for the birds to eat.  From mid-September to freeze-up is the time to get out to look for waterfowl, gulls, and late migrating shorebirds.

Fall colours reflected in the remaining water

I usually explore the sections from the canal headworks near the Max Bell Arena to south of 50 Avenue SE.  There are four parking areas, and you can go up and down a portion of the canal from each one.  It’s a long walk to do it all at once, but a fairly short bike ride.

Click to enlarge the map.

Max Bell Arena:  Access from Barlow Trail SE, just south of Memorial Drive.  There is a large parking lot north of the arena, and you can walk down to the canal headworks from there, and walk along the east bank.  If you want to get to the west bank, you have to cross over at the 17 Avenue SE bridge.

Bow Waters Canoe Club:   Access is off 26 Street SE, just south of 17 Avenue.  Cross the bridge to get to the paths on the west side.  The path on the east side between here and Gosling Way has some steep, difficult terrain, and it is almost impassable by bike.  This lot is fairly secluded and I don’t like to leave my vehicle there.  I prefer Max Bell or Gosling Way.

Gosling Way:  Go west off 26 Street SE at 34 Avenue.  This is the road that goes to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.  The parking lot, used by off-leash dog walkers, is just west of the bridge over Deerfoot trail, on the south side of Gosling Way.  It only holds about ten vehicles.  From this lot, walk down to the bridge over the canal and take the paths from there.  In the winter, you can also park at the golf and curling club, but it is a bit of a walk back to the canal.

50 Avenue SE:  It is difficult to park here.  There are only two small spots, each with room for two cars,  at the east end of the bridge over the canal.  It can also be a very busy road, so I avoid parking here as well, and usually just walk from Gosling Way.

The canal has a paved path on one side (sometimes on the east, sometimes on the west) and a dirt or gravel path of sorts on the other side.  I like to go on the east side in the mornings and on the west side in the afternoons, to keep the sun behind me.  This late in the year, the water is usually frozen in the mornings, so there are few birds around.  But on warm afternoons the ice melts, and the birds arrive.

Muskrat and female Hooded Merganser

Detail of Gosling Way Parking.  Click to enlarge.

Looking south from Gosling Way.

Looking north to the bridge on Gosling Way.

Pat and I have each posted about birding the canal before.  You can see Pat’s post here, and my post here.

Lately I’ve seen quite a few Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, and a few Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Greater Yellowlegs.  In past years I’ve seen Redheads, Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Rusty Blackbirds all feeding along the shorelines.

Mallards and an assortment of Yellowlegs.

Muskrat and Mallard sharing the Muskrat’s lodge.  Background by Monet.

A Black-billed Magpie looks for food on the old canal bottom.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre