Tag Archive | pine grosbeak

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 7 – Weaselhead Natural Area

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beginning of the second half of our Winter Birding course, the weather once again made for a beautiful day to be out in Calgary’s parks. It certainly felt like spring was in the air, or at least well on its way, with the bird activity high, many of them singing their little hearts out, and others calling out on their territory that they’ll soon begin nesting and breeding on.

Weaselhead Natural Area
Weaselhead Natural Area

Weaselhead Natural Area

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the largest flock of Blue Jays we’ve seen in all of our walks so far. A total of six individuals came to investigate us newcomers right as the walk began, giving us what might have been the closest and best views I’ve ever personally had, and the closest photo opportunities as well. It was quite a treat to start off the day.

I've never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

I’ve never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

As we headed down into the river valley, we had flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings fly overhead. Both into, and out of the valley floor they flew by the hundreds, their high trills being the only warning before a small black cloud of them would dart overhead. At both sets of feeders there were good numbers of Common Redpoll, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a pair of Pine Grosbeaks, but not the American Tree Sparrow or Ruffed Grouse that we often hope for this time of year. At the bottom of the hill, we were able to get some good light and close visits of the Common Redpolls, some of them even posing for us.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Crossing over the Elbow River, we stopped briefly as we had a close flyover of a Blue Jay and what we tentatively identified as a Townsend’s Solitaire, but what really stole the show for the few that got to see it was this Snowshoe Hare. Unfortunately I was lagging behind as the group came upon it, but at least someone did!

Snowshoe Hare.Photo by Paul Turbitt

Snowshoe Hare.
Photo by Paul Turbitt

We headed into the woods with much excitement, as the light was holding steady, the birds were active and patient, and everyone’s spirits were high. In our usual mixed grove of spruce and poplar where we reliably have good sightings of Boreal Chickadees, we were not disappointed. Three of the beautiful little brown birds came in to accept our offering of black oil sunflower seeds, and shortly after, a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets also came to investigate the commotion.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Winding our way through the deer paths and game trails back to the path following the river, we heard the distinct and melodious songs of a number of male House Finches. While they’re a species we usually expect up on the top of the ridge, the sheer number of them down in the valley was quite surprising.

House Finch

male House Finch

Our circuit continued along the usual route, connecting back with the main pathway after a fairly quiet stretch of pathway, interrupted by brief, but clear views of a juvenile Northern Goshawk, and many flyovers both near and far of Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies. Our final highlight was this lone Pine Grosbeak eating quietly at the feeder, completely at ease with both our close examination, along with the many runners, walkers, and other folks enjoying the park on this beautiful day.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Next week we’re off to Beaverdam Flats! Good birding, and see you here next week!

It’s good to be back…

I flew in to Calgary from Houston last Friday night and was greeted by snow on the ground! Something that I haven’t seen since April. Never thought that I would be so excited to see snow. My first day back, Saturday, I took a walk around my neighborhood and was fortunate enough to see most of the locals; no not the neighbors, the birds.

First thing in the morning, I woke to see several Black-billed Magpies jumping and hollering about in the willow. Several Common Ravens flew overhead and 2 pairs of Chickadees visited the feeders. I was very happy to see the Black-capped Chickadees, nothing can compare with this species’ friendliness!

I have been following the reports from Albertabird still and I have seen all the reports of winter finches; I knew what a good year it was for these birds. I just didn’t know how good! In my hour or so walk, I saw more Crossbills then I did all last winter. I must have seen more than 100 crossbills!

Most of the crossbills were White-winged however there were a few Red Crossbills in the mix ( see photo above). I also observed many Pine Siskins that were flocking with the crossbills and feeding on the abundant cones.

My neighborhood, for some reason, never seems to be popular with Common Redpolls, however this year, within my first 24 hours of being back in Calgary, I had already seen 2 in my community. Also, we hosted a Pine Grosbeak, which is unusual for us. At one point, I was privileged to see several crossbills, a redpoll and many siskins on the ground just feet in front of me, licking up some sort of salt or rock from the ground.

Then, later on in the day, I discovered why my feeders were so empty. Three Sharp-shinned Hawks were all together in a tree. When 3 raptors start calling your neighborhood home, there are definitely going to be some songbird declines.

All in all, it’s good to be back!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Walking the Weaselhead


As a Calgary native, I consider it a particularly unfortunate state of affairs that it’s only in the last two years that I began exploring the Weaselhead. Accessed from either North or South Glenmore Park, it is quite likely one of Calgary’s most unique micro-environments, in which three species of hummingbird can be found in the summer, and the Boreal Chickadee can be found in winter. Hearing that it would be the location for our final birding walk of the autumn birding course, I was excited at the opportunity to see some new and exciting species.

It began by walking down the winding trail from the 37th Street parking lot at the western entrance to North Glenmore Park. After stocking one of the feeding stations, we briefly left, but rushed straight back when we noticed a robin-sized bird fly in and land on the ground at the feeder. It was another photo first for me to be able to snap some very close-up shots of a Pine Grosbeak. One of the distinctly beautiful birds both for its song and plumage, with a brutally sharp bite.

Heading down to the bottom feeder stations, we were delighted by the number of Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Common Redpolls taking advantage of the free food available at the feeders.
This Downy Woodpecker also was taking an interest in the feeders, and seemed entirely unfazed at how close we were able to get.
Across the bridge we were treated to the sight of a few more Common Redpolls, followed by Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding at the fence-posts along the pathway.
I think our best bird of the day though was this Pileated Woodpecker who made an appearance and actually sat still long enough for us to get some shots of it.
The feeding station where the Boreal Chickadee pair had been seen all week was productive, but unfortunately the Boreal Chickadees didn’t show up. We did get some nice close views of the Red-breasted Nuthatches again, and the more common Black-capped Chickadees and a single Northern Flicker.
Finally we headed back, only seeing the same species at those feeders on the way back, and nothing in particular that really stole the show from the beautiful Pileated Woodpecker.
And that wrapped up the Autumn Birding course for us. In the new year, Bob Lefebvre will be leading a Sunday walk with the same group until mid to late April, and between now and then are a few important outings on my list, the biggest of which being the Christmas Bird Count, which I’ll post my photos and stories from next week.
Posted by Daniel Arndt.