Tag Archive | nesting birds

Spring arrives at Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Last week took the temperatures well above zero degrees C, and to another of the parks heavily impacted by the flood of 2013. Pearce Estate Park is just upstream from the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which is currently still closed due to the damage it sustained, and likely will be until the summer or fall of 2015. Each year, we usually visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary around this time in search for the first returning gulls of the season, and so we figured that Pearce Estate would also do us a solid and turn up some northward migrants, and we sure weren’t disappointed!

Pearce Estate Park March 16, 2014

Pearce Estate Park
March 16, 2014

Right from the start I knew it was going to be a good day when one of our first bird species seen were a pair of American Robins. It’s likely that they were either local migrants into the city, or overwintering birds dispersing as the temperatures rose. Unless we banded and tracked them, or attached a GPS transmitter to them, it’s hard to say for sure, but they were doing a good job gleaning something to eat from the tall grasses and low brush atop the hill just north of the parking lot.

American Robin

male American Robin

The calls of newly arrived European Starlings filled the park, along with the odd House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, and almost incessant calls of Northern Flickers asserting their dominance and claiming territory. Along the train bridge we ran into this punk rock Common Raven with his freshly stenciled grafitti.

Common Raven

Common Raven

Only a few moments later, we captured a pair of California Gulls, the first of the season for our group, flying by at a fairly low altitude, but fast enough that I only caught them moving away from us.

California Gulls

California Gulls in flight

On the ice down below was a lone Canada Goose, perhaps waiting for a mate to return, or just taking a breather on the iced up gravel bar.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Back on the pathway, this pair of Northern Flickers put on quite a show for us, flying to and fro and displaying at each other in a very long and drawn out territory dispute. I’m still not sure who the winner is!

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

dueling Northern Flickers

It really seemed as if the area near the train bridge was the hub of our activity, as this male House Sparrow had been caught in the act of taking nest material back to one of the support struts for the bridge. Who’d have thought that’s where they’d make their home?

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

And once again back on the bridge we had some great views of the iridescence of the feral Rock Pigeons.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Down on the ice they were feeding on something that had likely spilled from rail cars earlier in the week, and this oddly colored brownish pigeon stood out from the rest.

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

oddly colored Rock Pigeon

We decided that we’d seen enough of the area around the bridge, and were delighted to get some close up looks at the European Starlings that we would have had to have been deaf to miss hearing. This male European Starling posed quite nicely for the group, and proceeded to remove filler from the hole that he and his partner had decided would be their nesting area for the year.

male European Starling

male European Starling

We headed downstream a bit to see if we could see any more gulls, and also to show how badly cut the banks near the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were. The damage was more extensive than I’d even imagined. Along the way we found a couple of Black-billed Magpie nests, and even saw a few of them taking materials to their nests to either build them anew, or to reinforce the structure that’s in place.

Black-billed Magpie at nest

Black-billed Magpie at nest

And so ends another week with the Friends of Fish Creek Winter birding course! Next week, we recap our visit to Lafarge Meadows, where even more migrants have been found!

Have a great week, and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Posted by Dan Arndt

Earlier this year, we were informed of what appeared to be a female Northern Saw-whet Owl sitting on a nest in a Edworthy Park. To make sure the owl successfully nested and fledged its young, we kept the location pretty quiet, and both Bob Lefebvre and myself visited the nest a few times just to check in on her and make sure she was still there. The area where the nest was located was a fairly low-traffic area, so we suspected chances were very good that she would successfully fledge a full nest of owlets. As the weeks progressed, things seemed to be going quite well, until one day she was simply gone. Here are a few photos of her checking me out as I checked her out:

female Northern Saw-whet Owl giving me the evil eye May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl giving me the evil eye
May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl checking me out from inside the nest May 2013

female Northern Saw-whet Owl checking me out from inside the nest
May 2013

Nobody's home. Go away. May 2013

Nobody’s home. Go away.
May 2013

I see you seeing me! May 2013

I see you seeing me!
May 2013

A hummingbird nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last year, I discovered a location in Fish Creek P.P. where I found 2 (and possibly all 3 species of hummingbirds that commonly occur in Calgary) nesting. In June, I had found a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and not long afterwards,  Hank Vanderpol and I discovered what appeared to be a female Calliope hummingbird sitting on a nest. A couple weeks later, a Nature Calgary field trip I led to the area discovered a Rufous hummingbird nest not far away.

This year, I was finally able to get out and search for the hummingbirds last week. It took me about an hour before I finally spotted a hummingbird moving about, but always returning close to me. That’s when I realized that this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (for this is what it was), might have a nest nearby.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sure enough, before very long, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird had flown to her nest which had not been too far away from me the entire time.

At first the nest was tough to spot...

At first the nest was tough to spot…

on nest

It was neat to watch the female as she sat on her nest, presumably incubating eggs. From time to time she would fly off but she was always alert and ready to defend her nest.

RT Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The most interesting part of watching this hummingbird though was the way she defended her nest from anything she perceived to be a threat, including a confused and startled Cedar Waxwing who twice made the mistake of landing too near the hummingbird’s nest. She swiftly drove the waxwing off despite the fact it probably wasn’t a threat; I suppose one can never be too cautious!

action shot

Returning back to her nest

Returning back to her nest

I will do my best to follow this nest in the coming weeks and see what comes of it. Hoping that the female will successfully raise her brood of young!

Spring has Sprung at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

It was quite evident by the bird activity last week at Carburn Park that spring would be arriving soon, and it became even more clear by the presence of two pairs of nesting Great Horned Owls at the East end of Fish Creek Provincial Park. One of our longest walks to date, at over 7km, we covered a huge amount of ground and saw some amazing sights.

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Meeting at Bow Valley Ranch, we headed along the hillside on the north edge of the lot to attempt to find a Ring-necked Pheasant which had been seen and heard just before my arrival, but to no avail. Heading southward towards the creek, we found the first male Great Horned Owl guarding a nest, and female, that remained undiscovered by our group. A success in the eyes of any parenting owl, but it would be a great find in a month or two once the eggs hatch and babies begin to fledge, and even moreso if someone were there to get some photos! On the other hand, a well hidden nest keeps away those who wouldn’t treat it with the proper respect.

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - slightly irritated

As we headed across the road through the park, and further south, we were constantly serenaded by the drumming and calling of the incredibly numerous Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers in the area, both of which numbered at least twenty individuals through the course of our walk.

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - male

Male Downy Woodpecker digging for a morsel

Northern Flicker - male

One of the many male Northern Flickers seen yesterday.

One of the most common questions of the day was, quite honestly, not surprising. With the incredible numbers of European Starlings coming in, many of those on our walk simply had no idea just how wide the range of Starling vocalizations truly was, and almost every variation of their call drew at least one question of “What bird made that call?”  To which my answer usually was: “This one.”

European Starling

The scourge of those who bird by ear.

We headed toward the south end of the park, and stopped briefly by the river to see if there were any unusual birds on the ice, on the shores, or in the water, but surprisingly, there were very few waterfowl at all on the Bow River. Directly on the river were a few Mallards, and on one pond just to the west, a few more Mallards and a pair of Common Goldeneye.

Mallards

Mallard ducks. (Female on left, male on right)

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (male left, female right)

Turning back towards Sikome Lake, we came across the second pair of Great Horned Owls. The male appeared slightly agitated, and as we approached, actually flew closer to the nest to better guard it. It also appeared that this pair was much better known, as there were quite a few others viewing the pair as well. The female, though well hidden, was barely visible sitting atop the clutch of eggs.

Great Horned Owl - male 2

A slightly more agitated and alert male Great Horned Owl, guarding his mate.

 

Great Horned Owl - male 2

Male Great Horned Owl

 

Female Great Horned Owl

Female Great Horned Owl on nest. Nope, I can't see it either.

Not too far away from this pair was another alert parent guarding his potential offspring. I wonder how many of his offspring will help feed the developing owlets in the coming months.

Canada Goose on nest

Canada Goose on nest

After stopping to watch this Canada Goose for a bit, we headed back north towards the vehicles, but first stopped to see just a few more woodpeckers in action. Both the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers in this part of the part are incredibly tolerant to people walking only a few meters away.

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

And with that, we headed back to the vehicles, and home. It’s quite an exciting time here during spring migration, and one of the things every birder looks forward to with great anticipation. What will the coming week bring?  I suppose I’ll just have to wait until next Sunday to find out!

 

 

Monitoring a Flicker nest

Posted by Matthew Sim

As spring approaches once again, I like to reminisce about the previous year and all of its most exciting moments.

For the past several years, flickers have nested in my neighbor’s tree. I had never really observed this nest closely before; however, last year, I did just that.  Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or dying tree trunks or large branches. These nest holes are most often found at 6-15 feet off the ground and will often be reused.  By late May/ early June in Calgary most flickers have laid their 5-8 white eggs. I started to notice that the flickers were more active around the nest in early June and it is my belief that on around the 3rd or 4th of June, “my” pair laid their eggs.

This is the nest hole with the female looking out on June 10. The flickers had been in and out of the hole since late May

    Incubation of the eggs ranges from 14-16 days and I had been closely following all the bird’s actions in attempt to discover when the eggs would hatch. On June 24, I heard the first sounds coming from the hole. The flickers had been born! I think that we can assume that there is a possibility that the young flickers were born a day or two earlier and I had not heard them until then.

If you compare this shot with the photo above, you can see that the leaves around the hole grew a lot as the summer progessed, adding even more security and privacy to the flicker residence.

The first visible evidence of the young flickers was the clean-up crew. As all parents can attest to, there is a lot of cleaning up involved with kids.  The adult flickers, both male (pictured in photo above) and female, had to work constantly to ensure that their young were well-fed, safe from predators and, perhaps most importantly, in a clean home.

July 1st came around and I had still not seen the young flickers, though I had definitely heard them. Each and every day they were getting louder and louder and soon I could hear them from across the alley, in my yard, maybe 35 feet away. The young flickers cry is often described as a hissing noise and is uttered for two weeks, day and night, growing stronger as the birds grow older.  I was not worried about not having seen the flickers yet as their eyes do not open until they are ten days old, so  wouldn’t be seeing them until then. July 3, I was up in Banff, where I happened upon a flicker nest with two young already poking their heads out of their hole. At that point, I couldn’t help but wonder how my flickers were doing.

July 5th, marked a special day for my monitoring project. That day, I got my first glimpse of the young flickers. I took my first photos of the young flickers on July 9th, and they were looking healthy and fit; all 3 of them!

But that’s where it went all wrong. The nest holes of flickers (and often of many other species of birds) are the scenes of very fierce battles. Three young birds with very sharp bills, duking it out for supremacy and the right to remain looking out of the nest hole, therefore receiving the most food. The stronger birds almost invariably end up on top, and maintain their authority by jabbing the others with vicious pecks of their beak. The opening is only big enough for two heads and the third one gets pushed to the bottom. There, the young flicker receives very little food and consequently, it perishes. July 9th, I took the photo above, showing 3 young flickers. By the next day, July 10th, I was only seeing 2 young flickers.

Disappointed though I was, I realized that sometimes, this is the way nature must work. I continued to watch the flickers for several days, amazed at the rate at which they grew. After about 4 weeks, the flickers would fledge and would begin to leave the nest; my flickers started appearing out of the nest around July 16th. The two young birds started hopping about and practicing flying, getting ready for the day when they would leave the nest altogether.

Than one day, I did not see the flickers. Nor did I see them the next day. Or the day after that. It would seem that the two young flickers that I had watched for a nearly a month had successfully fledged. I don’t think I ever saw these two again, though I was seeing flickers in the neighborhood, which might just have been one of the young. From time to time, I did hear the distant call of several Northern Flickers and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the fledgelings, calling away.

 

Beautiful Loons

On a recent camping trip to Kikomun Creek Provincial park in south-eastern British Columbia (near Fernie), I spent hours out on the main lake at the campsite; Surveyor’s Lake, observing and photographing Common Loons. Home to a breeding pair of loons, Surveyor’s lake is a busy lake; hundreds of people crisscross the lake each day in canoes, rafts, paddleboats and kayaks. All these people, however, do not deter the loons and once again, they have nested in the area and have one big young one.

Due to all the traffic on this lake, the loons are not shy and will sometimes even approach people. At one point, I was sitting in my raft photographing these beautiful birds when one of the adults and the young one started to swim towards me. They came closer and closer until I could have touched the young loon with my paddle!

The young loon seemed to be doing an impression of an eel; he would get down low in the water and start swimming about. This last photo shows how close the young loon came; this was taken with my 500mm lens and is uncropped; I had to sit very still, otherwise a sudden motion would have scared the youngster away!

The adult loons were very protective of their young one; when an immature Bald Eagle flew low over the lake, the adult loons had already seen it, were loudly giving their alarm call and both parents were protectively circling around the young loon.

Occasionally, the loons were too fast for me and my camera and would dive right as I would take a photograph.

While I watched this loon family, they consumed a lot of food and I later found out that one pair of loons with two chicks will eat more than 1000 kg of small coarse fish over a breeding season. That is a lot of fish! Hopefully the lake is well stocked!

I immensely enjoyed watching this family; it was amazing to watch their lives as they try to raise the next generation of loons. I also saw hope; despite this species sensitivity to human disturbance, these loons can survive among humans and this adaptability could help keep these magnificent birds off the threatened species list.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Banff: A National Treasure Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

For our final day in Banff, we went to Johnston Canyon, just minutes away from the Johnston Canyon campground. We packed up our trailer under sunny skies and prepared for the hike. As we went along our hike more and more clouds started to roll in…

    Johnston Canyon is one of two places in Alberta where Black Swifts nest and is also home to American Dippers, North America’s only truly aquatic songbirds. We started our hike, looking for Dippers and admiring the rushing water as it raced by us.

We continued on our way until we reached the Lower Falls, where a small tunnel gave us a closer look at the waterfall; spray from the water jumping about.

From the Lower Falls, we hiked up to the Upper Falls, looking for our target birds but failing to see them. We heard some Townsend’s Warblers, a difficult bird to see and we did manage to see a Pacific Wren, a race of the Winter Wren that was recently split and became its own species.

Common Ravens, which are readily seen in the mountains, were seen in several different places along the hike.

By this time, we were almost to the Upper Falls and now a steady drizzle was falling; it became heavier and heavier until it was raining quite hard. We made it to the Upper Falls, enjoyed the view and then beat a hasty retreat to our car, trying not to become wetter than we already were. We made it to our car, wetter than we would have liked before driving down the road several kilometers to the Castle Mountain chalets and stopping in a parking lot for a quick lunch. By this time, the rain had stopped (how convenient) and we stopped to admire a pair of Osprey’s and their nest as well as a Flicker nest right beside the road.

Our trip to Banff was great and I would readily do it again!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Oh What a Canada Day!

Canada Day, last Friday, I rode my bike out to Fish Creek once again to see what I could find. At a storm water pond, I found a total of 9 cute Common Goldeneye ducklings; swimming and diving about.

In Hull’s Wood, I was alerted to a Common Raven and her two young by some loud croaking, the immature birds hungrily calling for food, despite being able to feed themselves.

As I passed by the Bow River, I could hear a Song Sparrow singing and after a quick search, I located this melodious little sparrow.

As I worked my way back to the intersection of Canyon Meadows and Bonaventure Dr. I passed over Bridge #11. As I did so, I could hear a pair of House Wrens scolding me.

I soon found out why I was being scolded. Just beyond the bridge, was a railing, and inside the railing was the Wren’s nest with several young on the inside. The parents flew inside several times to feed the young and it was quite a tight squeeze!

I continued on my way, not wanting to bother the young family. As I came to the last storm water pond between the ranch and the Glennfield area of Fish Creek, I saw an interesting shape in a tree. I stopped my bike, took a closer look, and found the object to be a porcupine! This was great, as I had never seen one before.

Almost out of the park, I saw a perched Osprey near a small path through long grass. I stopped and approached for a closer view… And got absolutely eaten alive by mosquitoes. I added to my bug bite collection by at least 20 in less than 5 minutes!

Oh what a great Canada Day it was!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Hidden in Plain Sight

Canada Geese are abundant in Calgary year-round, and for the last month or so they have been nesting in various spots around the city.  Like all birds, they try to find nesting sites that are secure from predators like coyotes.  They will often nest on top of flat-topped buildings, and one of the best locations a goose can find is the top of a large broken tree.

Another good location is an island in a pond or the river.  I’m always amazed at how difficult it can be to see the nesting goose even if it’s in the open like this…

Above, the male Canada Goose stands watch near the nest and is fairly conspicuous on the left-hand side of the gravel bar, but can you see the female on her nest?

There she is, on the right-hand side.

As seen below, it’s amazing how the colour pattern of a Canada Goose can allow it to blend in to its surroundings so that it is nearly invisible…

There are still plenty of geese on their nests in the city.  I just saw my first goslings on Saturday, May 14, about ten days later than usual.  For the next couple of months we will be treated to scenes like this:

Posted by Bob Lefebvre