Tag Archive | May Species Count

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

May Species Count – Day 2 – Weaselhead, North Glenmore Park, and Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

I thought I was prepared for a second long day in a row of birding, but I was nowhere near as prepared as I thought. An early start at the Weaselhead at 5 AM netted us great looks at a couple of Veery, the haunting and somewhat creepy calls of a Swainson’s Thrush, and two mystery calls which completely stumped us. I just wish we’d had the foresight to record them so we could get some expert advice!

We joined up with a small group for our regular Sunday group, with some out of town, others sick, and still others not quite up for the grueling day ahead. 16 km and 6 hours later (map below), we emerged with a whole lot of really great birds, a couple of awesome sightings, and expressions of nothing less than pure joy at some folks’ first close sightings of both Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds in the wild.

Weaselhead Natural Area

Weaselhead Natural Area

The Weaselhead Nature Area encompasses both the mudflats of the Glenmore Reservoir, the boreal forest of the central woods and meadows, the riparian environment lush with warblers, sparrows, finches and the odd duck or three and even a few large ponds stocked with waterfowl and shorebirds. It’s funny that as a native Calgarian of over 30 years, my first visit to the Weaselhead was late last fall. It’s such a beautiful, scenic, and massive natural area that rivals Fish Creek Provincial Park for diversity, and again, right in the heart of the city. Most people, myself included, have a relatively limited experience with it, as the multi-use pathway that runs down the middle of it links North Glenmore Park to South Glenmore Park, but the unpaved path network is simply massive.

Some of the best sightings in the Weaselhead included the Veery, Eastern Phoebe, Calliope Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, a very brave Yellow Warbler that nearly landed, comedy-style, on the binoculars of another birder, and a Northern Waterthrush that was heard long before it was seen.

Over on the Glenmore Reservoir we were given great directions to a resident Brown Thrasher that has been seen there for a few years now, and had great views through the scope of a Common Loon, Western and Clark’s Grebes, and a slightly lost Surf Scoter.

The day wore on, and the visit to Pearce Estate Park loomed on the horizon, but it was far less painful than it could have been. The recently rebuilt park now has a wonderful boardwalk and blinds over the ponds, which allowed us to get very close looks at the often frustratingly cautious Belted Kingfisher. We heard quite a few Warbling Vireo, and I got my first ever looks at juvenile Common Goldeneye, which are even more adorable than any gosling or Mallard chick that I’ve ever seen before.

Veery

Veery

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Clark's (far left) and Western Grebes

Clark’s (far left) and Western Grebes

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Goldeneye and chicks

Goldeneye and chicks

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

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the birding events that I have wanted to take part in since learning of it last year was the May Species Count. This is one of the many events that contribute to real science research on behalf of Bird Studies Canada. I was a little worried when taking on an entire area of my own, since I was certain that I’d miss some calls that a more experienced birder would have picked up and identified in seconds, or that I’d misidentify warblers, sparrows, or other shorebirds. Thankfully, I didn’t hear anything that really threw me for a loop (aside from a Western Meadowlark that sounded like it was a little confused) and didn’t see anything that I couldn’t readily identify with a quick reference to my Sibley Guide or Audubon’s Field Guide to Birds app.

Starting at about 5 AM, we hiked from the parking lot at Bow Valley Ranch, meandering south to 194th Avenue, then back north to the Ranch, which I’ve mapped below.

Hull's Wood to Lafarge Meadows - May Species Count Route

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

Paul Turbitt came along both for the photo opportunities as well as to help out with spotting birds, but I always find the viewpoint of an experienced hunter and photographer incredibly valuable in the field. That, and having someone else around to see and hear birds that you might otherwise miss is indispensible. We racked up a total of 70 species, which included 3 new year birds for me, and something like 10-12 for Paul. It’s always great to show people new birds that they’ve never seen before, but also to get better views (and photos) of birds that you’ve seen dozens or hundreds of times before. Below are a few of my favourites from Saturday’s portion of the May Species Count.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Great Horned Owls eating breakfast

Great Horned Owls eating breakfast

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Killdeer

Killdeer

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Red-winged Blackbird and Heron

Red-winged Blackbird and Heron

Great Horned Owl Fledgeling
Great Horned Owl Fledgeling

Sunday’s photos and recount of the May Species Count from the Weaselhead, North Glenmore Park and Reservoir, and Pearce Estate Park to come soon…

May Species Count – Longview Area

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On Saturday May 26, 2012 I surveyed the Longview area for the May Species Count.  This is the fifth straight year I have done this area, and I’m getting to know it pretty well.  I counted 73 species, down two from last year.

A rocky hillside west of Longview.

These large rural count areas take a long time to cover. It is mostly driving, stopping regularly to record birds and to listen.  There are only a few short walks.  I started at 5:30 a.m. and had made a first pass through the area by about 4:30 p.m.  You have to record the numbers of each species of bird and mammal you see, being careful not to over-count, which makes for some tricky record-keeping as you go down a road for the second time.  After going quickly over my checklist, I continued until 8:15, searching for species I missed earlier, and adding to some of the numbers.  It seems there are always a few birds you just can’t find.  Once again, there were few shorebirds in this area, because there just isn’t enough good habitat for them.  But there should be Bald Eagles, and I couldn’t find one.  I was compensated with two Golden Eagles. I never had a Gray Catbird, and spent the last half hour of the day searching dense thickets for one of these birds (unsuccessfully).

Here are a few of the species I photographed.

Female Mountain Bluebird.  There were good numbers of bluebirds.

This Killdeer was doing its “broken-wing” display, and likely had made its nest right on the gravel road.

I don’t get Pied-billed Grebes here every year.  This was the only grebe I saw.

Lincoln’s Sparrows were common.

There were dozens of black birds in mixed flocks in livestock fields.  It was difficult to separate the Brewer’s Blackbirds (above) from all the Brown-headed Cowbirds and European Starlings.

I had two male Northern Harriers, which seems to be a scarce species around Calgary this year.

Wilson’s Snipe.  More often heard than seen, but will sometimes sit on fence posts.

A mixed flock of about 60 Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches settled onto this field, and practically disappeared.  I can see four goldfinches in this photo but there were many more. 

I was quite entertained by this bird, which was trying to collect nesting material.  Unfortunately for the Oriole, the rope was too tough, and it left empty-handed.

Here are a few of the mammals I saw:

I think this is the same Red Fox I saw last year, in almost the same place. (See last year’s post.)

Most of the ground squirrels are Columbian, not Richardson’s as in Calgary.

These Elk kept a close eye on me as I explored a dirt trail where a Nashville Warbler had been heard a few days before.  I didn’t find the warbler.

Can you see the Bighorn Sheep in this photo?  Taken with a 400 mm lens.  I saw one in the same spot three years ago so I was looking for it, but nevertheless was surprised to find one there.

A cropped version of the photo above.

The May Species Count can be gruelling (I started at 5:30 again on Sunday and did another 13 hours in the city) but it is rewarding.  There are lots of interesting birds out there at this time of year.  Stay tuned for Dan’s post about our count in the Weaselhead.

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

May Species Count

Last week, I, along with many other keen birders, did the Calgary and area May Species Count. Two other great birders and I were assigned the south part of the city, our borders were; north to Glenmore Trail, west and south to the Bow river and east to the City limits.  We had a great time, birding for 9 hours on Saturday, driving 139 kilometers and recording 87 birds. We saw many great birds, some of the highlights being 2 Hooded Mergansers, a Western Grebe, a Ferruginous Hawk, a Veery, a Blackpoll Warbler and a Townsend’s Solitaire. The Solitaire was a real surprise as it was far away from its normal habitat and was way too far south.

A Townsend’s Solitaire, way off course.

The Solitaire caught a bug and attempted to swallow it…

But had some difficulty. Eventually, the Solitaire got the bug down the hatch.

Other birds seen included several coots on nests…

Many Red-winged Blackbirds…

And a posing crow.

The May Species Count is held annually and will therefore be held again next year, if you haven’t done it yet, it could be a great time to start.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Help Us With the May Species Count!

The May Species Count is an event held on the last weekend of May each year, in which birders try to find every species of bird in the Calgary area.  Over the two-day period, teams or individuals scour their assigned areas to identify every bird species they see and hear, and also note the total numbers of each species.  This year the count will be on May 28 and 29.

How many Mallards?

The area covered is huge – a circle 160 kilometres in diameter centred on the Centre Street bridge in Calgary.  Organizers have broken the count circle into many smaller territories, and assigned volunteers to each area.  We need a lot of birders to cover all this territory!

          The Count Circle.  The numbers indicate the territories to which birders or teams of birders are assigned.  Click on the map to enlarge it.

There are still some territories that are not covered, so if you want to contribute to a very worthwhile citizen science project, contact the co-ordinator:

Terry Poulton  -  May Species Count, May 28-29, 2011

phone    403-274-7393        email    tpoulton@yahoo.com

Everyone is invited to participate, whether beginner or seasoned pro.  You can do a whole day, a half day, or both days.  Terry will try to assign you to an interesting route, and try to match new-comers with experienced birders, and drivers with riders.  There are a wide variety of environments, from urban to prairie to foothills habitats. Most years, more than 200 bird species are seen in total within the circle.

This is a great opportunity to get involved in Calgary and area birding, and to see as many as one hundred species of birds in a single day.  If you can identify most birds you see, you can survey an area yourself.  If you are a new birder, you will be assigned to a team with other experienced birders where you can help to spot and count birds, and learn about the process.

If you are at all interested in this, please contact Terry to get more information.  It’s one of the funnest birding experiences of the year, at the birdiest time of the year!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre