Tag Archive | lafarge meadows

Autumn Migrants at Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

My first week back leading the Friends of Fish Creek outings after being away at work for most of the month of September turned out to be quite the adventure, with a few really great finds.

Lafarge Meadows - October 4, 2015

Lafarge Meadows – October 4, 2015

The light was a bit dim early on, but it seemed as though the day would be productive as the first really impressive birds we found were a couple of Green-winged Teal, back in their striking breeding plumage. The poor light didn’t do them justice though.

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Green-winged Teal – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Not too far from him was a young Pied-billed Grebe, one of the seven we would see throughout the day.

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Pied-billed Grebe – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We followed the bank of the Bow River north at the beginning of our outing, turning up a Bald Eagle perched across the river in a tree. A couple of us remarked how this might have even been the same bird in the same tree as we had seen earlier this year in the winter course.

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Bald Eagle – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We were a little surprised a few minutes later when we were passed by a lone American White Pelican, which we would see nine more of later in the day. I think this might be the latest I have seen these massive white birds within the city.

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American White Pelican – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While he was flying by, we also heard a chip note of a nearby Yellow-rumped Warbler, another migrant that was foraging in the low trees and shrubs. IMGP1356

Yellow-rumped Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Things got a lot quieter for the next half hour or so, as we crossed the tributary stream and walked along the banks of the river that had been hardest hit by the flood two years ago. We were almost ready to turn around and head back to the south ponds when things began to chatter and chirp all around us. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were the first ones to draw our attention.

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female Downy Woodpecker – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

While we were watching her, we heard the chip notes of some sparrows in the nearby shrubs, and on investigation, we found a couple of Song Sparrows (and a Lincoln’s sparrow that we heard, but could not track down for the life of us!)

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Song Sparrow – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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Song Sparrow – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

The best sighting of the day (and maybe of the year?) was found while I was crouched down taking some photos of this dragonfly who was all but immobilized due to the cold, and hanging under a blade of grass.

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Dragonfly sp. – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

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Dragonfly sp. – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

While I was carefully focusing on the detail of this beautiful little insect, the call of “HOODED WARBLER!” from Bob Lefebvre came about fifty meters south, as much of the group had continued on and were carefully scanning a group of songbirds foraging in the low brush. After a good half hour, I did manage to capture a few images of this quick little skulking bird, though I was more than happy to just see it!

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Hooded Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|
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Hooded Warbler – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

It was an incredible find, and we all left quite satisfied with how the day had turned out. We headed back to end our walk and stopped briefly to enjoy the antics of the American Coots and American Wigeon fighting over the vegetation they were picking up from the bottom of the south pond.

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American Wigeon and American Coots – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Exposure bias: +1.3EV|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

So all in all, I’d say that my first outing back was a rousing success!

I did manage a few outings during the next week to the Bow River Irrigation Canal, so keep an eye here for that next Tuesday!

Have a great week, and good birding!

May Species Count 2015 – Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing on May 31 was to the Weaselhead Natural Area as part of the May Species Count, and we went back there on June 14 as well, so I’m going to roll those out in a single post next week. Instead, I’ll be posting some photos of our outing on May 30 to the east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park between Hull’s Wood and Lafarge Meadows, an area I’ve covered for the past few years.

Hull's Wood to Lafarge Meadows - May Species Count, May 30, 2015

Hull’s Wood to Lafarge Meadows – May Species Count, May 30, 2015

I was accompanied by Rose Painter, my co-leader for our regular Sunday morning outings for this spring, and we both found a lot of good birds that morning. While the weather was gloomy and grey, it was still quite warm, and we thankfully didn’t get rained out.

I think the rainy/gloomy weather had put down a few birds overnight, because we had an abnormally high number of Baltimore Orioles singing throughout the day: eighteen males singing and a lone female that we spotted as well, compared to the usual number in this area being about half a dozen or so. It was really nice to have these guys so actively singing, despite the gloom.

Baltimore Oriole Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Baltimore Oriole
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

We also had our usual numbers of Spotted Sandpipers, along the river, retaining ponds, and right on Fish Creek itself. While they weren’t actively displaying, there were a few that we were pretty sure were sitting on nests.

Spotted Sandpiper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Spotted Sandpiper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

It was also really great to see a good number of Killdeer along this stretch. In 2013, I had ten nesting pairs, while in 2014 I was entirely shut out of this species, as many of the gravel bars had shifted and some had even totally lost their gravel patches and were mainly boulder strewn. This female was trying to lure us away from her nest right on one of the newer, much more extensive gravel bars along the Bow River.

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

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

We also had our first really good looks at Cedar Waxwings for the year, which had also returned overnight in some pretty good numbers. They were actively feeding low in the bushes along the river, where the insects were most active.

Cedar Waxwing Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Cedar Waxwing
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Along this stretch of the Bow River, I’ve had a pair of Willow Flycatchers breeding and nesting for the past three years. Each year they move the exact site of the nest, but they’re always within about two hundred meters of the spot where I first found them. They’re a little unusual to find within the city, but their calls and songs are distinctive. This photo also shows that even using the eye-ring as a field mark can be somewhat tricky, because this little gal has quite a prominent one.

Willow Flycatcher Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

Willow Flycatcher
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 3200

This gravel bar is also where I get my usual Brewer’s Blackbirds, and rarely get them anywhere else on this route. One of the perks of doing a route like this year after year is finding all the usual spots to find great birds. I do think it would be fun to switch it up every once in a while, but I do like seeing these guys in the same spots every year.

Brewer's Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Brewer’s Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We followed the edge of the river all the way down to the boat launch, finding some Franklin’s Gulls, but not much else along the far side of the river. We also found a nice male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying close to us. They really are quite interesting birds to look at, no matter how you feel about their particular breeding habits.

Brown-headed Cowbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Brown-headed Cowbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Brown-headed Cowbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Brown-headed Cowbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

One of the other nice things with days like this, similar to last year, is that this is still during the main thrust of northward warbler migration. Last year, I had my first Blackpoll Warbler of the year, and this year I turned up this young male American Redstart, singing away along the creek just off of Sikome Lake.

American Redstart Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2500

American Redstart
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2500

Once we crossed under the Highway 22x bridge, things slowed down a little, but we did get some good looks at some waterfowl along the stormwater ponds, including this Cinnamon Teal that we surprised with a brief look at, and a few families of Canada Geese with their babies.

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

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

Canada Goose and goslings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose and goslings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Further south along the river bank, we had some good looks at Eastern Kingbirds, but unfortunately in the years that I’ve done this route, we’ve never found Western Kingbirds in the poplar stand south of the bridge, where I’ve been told was one of the few places in the city they were known to breed, until recently. I suspect the heavy development on both the east and west side of the park there has made it a little less accessible and appropriate for them to nest.

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

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

One of the perks of the flood in 2013 was the generation of habitat for a number of species. The large piles of debris in the parks make good homes for House Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, while the cut banks of the Bow River and Elbow River created large expanses of open banks, perfect for both Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows to nest in, which they have done along the south edge of my route. It’s always nice to see these guys, and even better to get them up close and personal like this.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Bank Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

The last really notable sighting of the day was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who was hammering away at this bit of excrement near Sikome Lake. Here he his proudly displaying his prize, which I assume he’s taking home to feed to his young. Nature isn’t always pretty!

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

In all, we covered just over 16 kilometers (10 miles!) in eight hours, and broke my previous record number of species by 1, finding 76 species in this area. It was a great morning (and early afternoon), and I think maybe one of the more under-appreciated areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

 

Good birding, and have a great week!

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!

A cold and frosty morning south of Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our outing last week was a return to the bitter cold we’re more than used to here in Calgary, and walking along the river seemed to accentuate it just that little bit more. Our route from Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to the south end of Lafarge Meadows was initially planned in search of some unusual waterfowl that had been seen there the previous week, like a first year male Long-tailed Duck. Green-winged Teal, and always the nesting Bald Eagles down along this route.

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

first year male Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Pine Creek - Feb 1 2015

These photos were taken the week before, when it was well above zero all morning long, with generally better light conditions as well. Compare, if you will, with what greeted us at the river’s edge as we began our walk last week.

cold and frosty Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

cold and frosty Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

The cold wouldn’t be so bad to deal with, and in fact, in many cases it made for some great atmospheric effects above the river, and amazing opportunities, but because it has been so warm for much of our winter so far, the Bow River has remained mostly open, spreading out the usual waterfowl rather than concentrating them in a few reliable places.

frosty Bow River landscape Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

frosty Bow River landscape
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 160

Clearly, the Bald Eagles were a much less happy about the turn in the weather. This is possibly the grumpiest looking Bald Eagle I’ve ever seen.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 250

While we weren’t the only ones braving the weather, these Common Goldeneye (and a Barrow’s on the left hand side of the image) were making the most of it, giving their odd little honks and quacks while tilting their heads back competing for their right to a mate for this year.

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

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

We also watched in surprise as a Common Raven dove down into the snow and came up with one of the numerous Meadow Voles we’ve seen evidence of along many of our walks this winter. He made short work of the vole, as there’s no sign of it in this photo taken just a couple of minutes later.

Common Raven in hoarfrost Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Common Raven in hoarfrost
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

One of the nice things about the cold and the presence of Common Goldeneye in such numbers along this stretch of river is that inevitably the Barrow’s Goldeneye will begin to be found among them as well. This drake and hen seemed quite comfortable dabbling amongst the rapids and seemed almost oblivious to us walking just a few meters away.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Barrow’s Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Unfortunately, there really weren’t that many birds at all to see along this stretch of the river. The Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks seen the previous week were nowhere to be found. We even got a little excited towards the end of our walk when this female Common Merganser popped into view.

female Common Merganser Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

With this last bird added to our list for the day, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicles with hopes that our next week would be more enjoyable for all!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Lafarge Meadows – Spring has arrived!…?

Posted by Dan Arndt

March 20th, 2014 was the first day of spring. The Google Earth image that I’m using for this week’s map was from March 28, 2004, and seems to show much more open water on the Bow River, a bit of open water on both ponds at the park on the east side of the Bow River. It just goes to show how much colder, snowier, and icier this year has been (and continues to be!) than last.

Lafarge Meadows  March 23, 2014

Lafarge Meadows
March 23, 2014

Of course no visit to Lafarge Meadows and Sikome Lake is ever complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls. With Dad on watch and Mom on the nest, it looks like they’re off to another good start this year. In fact, it won’t be too long now until the young start to poke their heads up and explore their new environment!

male Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

male Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

female Great Horned Owl Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

female Great Horned Owl
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

After a few weeks of them being more or less absent on the river, the Canada Goose numbers were back up as migrants began their trip north to their breeding grounds once again. This particular stretch of river is rather good for finding birds staging before their trek further north, or to disperse around the countryside near Calgary.

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

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

Canada Geese in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Canada Geese in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We were even lucky enough to see a (seemingly) early Mountain Bluebird along the river. While we only saw it at a distance, it was more than enough to be certain of the ID. Chances are good that this bird is finding enough to eat along the edge of the river with the various insects that are still present in the water, as well as egg sacs, larvae, and various other food sources near the banks of the river.

Canada Goose Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Canada Goose
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

We ventured quite far south at Lafarge Meadows in hopes of finding some other birds a little bit closer to the water’s edge, but didn’t get anything much more interesting than the Mountain Bluebird until we headed back the other way. It all seemed to come fast and busy, with this adult Bald Eagle landing very close by to start, followed quickly by the sighting of some American Wigeon across the river, and then finding our first Killdeer of the season in amongst them!

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

Our last “new” birds of the day was a fly-by of a fairly sizeable flock of California Gulls, two of which flew by quite low, allowing for a much better view (and photos) than we had the previous week at Pearce Estate Park!

California Gulls Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

California Gulls
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

While I didn’t get too many good shots last week, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ones I was able to capture this week. See you next Monday, and until then, good birding!

A return to normalcy at Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s almost complete washout for both bird life and weather conditions, it was nice to have relatively minimal wind, warm weather, and a clear transition to our normal autumn faunal assemblage that we’ve grown to expect here in Calgary.

This week we returned to part of my May Species Count territory, Lafarge Meadows. This was my second time back following the flood, and my first time back where there had been any bird life to speak of. I was also quite surprised that much of the cut bank of the river remained intact, rather than being completely eroded away. It seemed for the most part that the water level simply rose too fast to cut away much of the river bank before completely overwhelming it. Parts of our walk showed evidence of being under two meters of water or more, during the peak of the flooding.

That is not to say that the river bank was completely unscathed. A few areas of fresh outcrop were clearly visible, and a number of places where either old deadfall had been stripped away, pathways had been washed out, or the basins of both small and large ponds completely restructured were also quite numerous.

Lafarge Meadows (Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn't reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

Lafarge Meadows
(Note: This Google Earth image is from May 4, 2013, and doesn’t reflect the change in the riverbed we saw on Sunday.)

As we began our walk, it was clear that it was going to be a bit of a noisy day, as the European Starlings serenaded us any time we were near tree cover. The first two ponds gave us decent views of some waterfowl, including Gadwall, American Coots, Northern Shovelers and even a couple of Bufflehead, but the first really nice close looks we had at any new birds this season was this immature Bald Eagle that we first saw in the distance, then a little closer, until a few boaters flushed it off a high perch to give us this fly-by.

BAEA

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Shortly after this fly-by, we scanned a distant gravel bar for some shorebirds, and managed to find a few Killdeer, a Greater Yellowlegs, and this Wilson’s Snipe… can you spot it?

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

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

One of the birds that seems to almost completely disappear in summer that is starting to re-appear in larger numbers are the American Wigeon, which we saw no small number of on our trek. The female American Wigeon has a very distinct rusty color on the breast and flanks, but the underbelly, which is usually only seen in flight, is a pale white.

female American Wigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

female American Wigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

A little further down the pathway, but also giving us nice close looks, was this female Blue-winged Teal. Teals in general show a much smaller profile in the water, and are much smaller than Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and nearly every other duck you might see, and the females are very hard to tell apart from each other. The Blue-winged Teal though, has a white patch near the base of the bill, which is absent in the Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal.

female Blue-winged Teal Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

female Blue-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Another bird that didn’t seem to mind us coming in close to it was this Greater Yellowlegs. Note the slightly upturned bill, and that the bill length is about 1.5 times as long as the head is deep.

Greater Yellowlegs Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Greater Yellowlegs
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Shortly after Gus’ and a few of our other walkers had turned around, we were able to nab another species that they unfortunately had to miss. This little Merlin flew over the large pond, and then passed right in front of us, showing off its unique flight style in perfect form.

Merlin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Merlin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Our trip back seemed much faster than the walk down, even though we saw almost as many birds on our trip back, it’s always important to not double-count the birds. The other vital thing was that this time around, the birds seemed further away and didn’t allow for any photo opportunities whatsoever. That all changed as we came upon a lone young White-crowned Sparrow that was more than willing to pose for the camera.

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

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

And if that weren’t enough, just before we decided to pack it in for the day, we had a very generous Herring Gull fly in nice and low, showing off its pink legs and yellow bill with the small red mark on the lower mandible. How nice of it!

 

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Thanks again for reading, and good birding. Until next week!

May Species Count Highlights – Lafarge Meadows

The May Species Count weekend is always both exciting and exhausting. Early morning wake ups, lots of ground to cover, and lots of birds to find mean there’s little time for anything else. While most participants in Calgary only have one or two areas to cover, between Bob Lefebvre and I, we cover four areas over two days, including the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park on Sunday morning with the Friends of Fish Creek group, and the last two years we’ve gone on to cover Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Pearce Estate Park in the afternoon. That wouldn’t be too bad, but the area I cover on Saturday is all walking, and includes the north end of Hull’s Wood all the way south to the south end of Lafarge Meadows. To give you an idea, I covered 18.2 km in 9 hours of walking, and netted 68 species of birds, down a few species from last year, but a few surprises (and even a new life-bird) more than made up for it.

One thing you get to see when you’re out at first light is behaviour that you rarely ever see. For instance, Tree Swallows do forage on the ground as well!

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Shortly after this sighting was my lifer for the weekend, this Blackpoll Warbler was one of a flock of four birds foraging near the riverbank. Given that the water level had risen quite a bit in the past few days, I suspect there were a lot of insects climbing the trees to get up above the water level.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

For the second year in a row, I’ve come across a fairly uncommon bird within the city limits, and while I only heard it last year, this year I was actually able to observe this Willow Flycatcher building a nest in the same grove I heard it last year. It was nice to get clear looks at it this time around!

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Of course the Song Sparrows were plentiful, and apparently fearless in their search for a mate and announcing their territory. I walked within three feet of this little singer as I left the path near his perch.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

No trip to the Sikome Lake area would be complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls…

adult male Great Horned Owl

adult male Great Horned Owl

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

Forster’s Terns were a regular sight over the ponds near Highway 22X this year, while last year they were nowhere to be found.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

This Spotted Sandpiper took exception to another male sitting on his log, and charged him in their traditional territorial display.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

When you’re out on a long walk like this, eventually you take some of the side trails and start pishing. This Lincoln’s Sparrow reacted quite strongly to my intrusion, and shooed me off.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

A couple of the most touching sightings though were the babies. This female Common Goldeneye with her five young in tow was the first group of young that I’d seen in the park this year.

female Common Goldeneye with young

female Common Goldeneye with young

But the most powerful experience I’ve had so far this year was nearly stumbling over this Killdeer nest, with one baby already hatched…

Killdeer hatchling

Killdeer hatchling

… and another hatching while I stood there in awe.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

The last new bird I was able to add to my list for the day was pair of Least Sandpipers, which are fairly uncommon at this pond at the south end of Lafarge Meadows, but with a lack of mudflats outside the city, they were likely just passing through on their way to better feeding grounds further north.

Least Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers

As the day wore on and the morning turned to afternoon, my feet grew tired and I was about ready to pack it in, but not before finding this female Belted Kingfisher hunting over one of the backwater creeks on the west end of Hull’s Wood. It was a great end to a great day!

female Belted Kingfisher

female Belted Kingfisher

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 6 – Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Some weeks are diamonds, and other weeks are coal. Or maybe just cold. And windy. After another week of warm, beautiful temperatures, it was about time for Old Man Winter to come charging through to assert his dominion over Calgary. Our visit to Lafarge Meadows was a cold one, and cut a little short due to the wind, keeping the bird activity to a relative minimum.

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

 

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Starting at the Boat Launch parking lot, we were treated to quite the show of four adult Bald Eagles flying over the river to the north, flushing up Mallards, Goldeneye, and even Canada Geese by the hundreds. All the while, the ducks and geese along the river near to us stayed put and granted us one gift of a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

We headed south under the bridges, and were once again treated to close flybys of an immature Bald Eagle, flushing up a few Mallards here, but nowhere near as many as the show the adults were putting on to the north.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

One of our target birds was a lone male Northern Pintail, which had been seen in the company of Mallards just south of the bridges all week. While we didn’t get good views of it on our way south, a couple of us were given some very good looks on the way back north. Another immature Bald Eagle made a pass over the Mallards and Northern Pintail as our group passed them by, but after a few minutes, they all settled back down near the gravel bar to return to their rest. Unfortunately, many of our group opted to head for the shelter of the wooded areas around Sikome Lake to get out of the biting wind, but for those that missed it, here ‘s the Northern Pintail we saw today.

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Wait a minute... those aren't all Mallards!

Wait a minute… those aren’t all Mallards!

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

We still had another bird we were hoping to find. A pair of Killdeer had been seen just about every day this week along the south stretch of the river, and we trekked on, despite the cold, but in the end, and after a good kilometer of searching and scanning the gravel bars and the far shore in vain, we admitted defeat. While I didn’t get a photo of it, we did get an incredible addition to our list, but our views were all to brief. A Prairie Falcon made a quick dart over the eastern valley wall, scanned the environs below, and after only a minute or two, headed back to the east.

As we began our trip back into the protection of the woods, a few of our old favourites made their appearances. The ever-present Black-capped Chickadees, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a lone female Downy Woodpecker came to visit as we finished up our time with the Northern Pintail. I suspect she may have been waiting for the right time to photobomb the waterfowl!

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

See you again next week!



Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Muskrat

Lafarge Meadows – Finally!

Posted byDan Arndt

The final Sunday Morning excursion by the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course took us to Lafarge Meadows. After going there for the first time with the Fall course, I was looking forward to getting back there as the spring migrants began to filter through, and what a visit it was!

One of the birds that most non-birders consider a sure sign of spring, is the charismatic and well known American Robin, many of which were present and singing their spring song.

Another of the early migrants we were treated to at the beginning of the walk was the ever beautiful song of the aptly named Song Sparrow.

While the field marks weren’t easy to see from that distance, the song was so distinctive that there was no way you could mistake this bird for any other. Over at the boat launch we had some decent views of Common Mergansers (pictured below) and a pair of Lesser Scaup.

We then turned southward to head into LaFarge Meadows proper, checking a few of the ponds near the bridge where we found a few close-ups of some Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon.

As we edged further south along the river, we took note of the huge numbers of gulls both along the river, and in the ponds along the west side that were still frozen, and were greeted by some nicely posing Herring Gulls on a gravel bar in the Bow River, as well as a small number of another new bird for the year, the Franklin’s Gull.

Finally, as we headed back north toward the beginning of our route, I spotted a small bird atop a nearby tree, thinking it may be another sparrow, or maybe even an early swallow species, but was immediately alerted to its identity by the single sharp note of its call, identifying itself as a Northern Shrike!

As we reached the vehicles, all of us were forlorn at the prospect that this was our last walk of the season with that particular group, but all attendees were looking forward to the next round of courses, starting up immediately the following week! Travel will keep me away for the first two weeks of the course, from which I will post some photos on my regular schedule, and but until then, good birding!