Tag Archive | raptors

Early October on the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

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

Irrigation Canal - October 6th and 8th, 2015

Irrigation Canal – October 6th and 8th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Wings: Merlin with Rock Pigeon

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I have often seen Merlins chasing Rock Pigeons, but it seems to be a very hard bird to catch. On April 10, 2015, near 19 Street NE and the Trans-Canada Highway, Chris Johnson got this excellent shot a Merlin with its Rock Pigeon prey.

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Merlin with Rock Pigeon. Photo by Chris Johnson.

Taken with a Canon 6D 70-200 2.8 lens. At 200mm, f/4.5 1/400 and ISO 100.

Spring Migrants and a warm welcome at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Finally we had a warmer day, and while there was a little wind and the light wasn’t perfect, there were certainly a few moments where everything made it all worth while, even the last few weeks of dreary, snowy misery.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

We started, and finished, with the show-stealers of the day, and it made it difficult to really have anything match the incredible sight.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

Protective male Great Horned Owl

Protective male Great Horned Owl

While Dad was protecting the young, the mother and babies were well guarded and seemed to be completely unfazed by the presence of 14 people checking out the area.

In the first pond at Carburn Park, we saw quite a bit of evidence of beaver activity, and we did manage to spot a pair of them swimming about, with this one getting close enough for me to photograph.

Beaver

Beaver

While we headed south in the earliest start of the season so far, we got lucky with a few birds we hadn’t seen before, like the Song Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow, but neither were in any position for me to get photos. Swarmed by low flybys of literally hundreds of Tree Swallows at a time, our eyes were on the sky much of the time, allowing me to spot this distant Rough-legged Hawk circling above the parking lot, most likely rising on thermals to continue his northward migration.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

As we neared the parking lot again, and scanned along the river to see what we could see, we were gifted with this beautiful flyby of a male American White Pelican. Awesome.

male American White Pelican

male American White Pelican

We headed up along the bank of the river, and while we saw a good number of Franklin’s, Ring-billed, and California Gulls, and even bigger numbers of Tree Swallows, but due to the number of boats on the river, the photo opportunities were slim. That all changed once we turned back onto main pathway and reached the second pond. We got really good looks at Red-necked Grebes and a single Common Loon, and I knew that if they stuck around, I’d be back later on with the Swarovski ATX 85 to take some much closer shots.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Our next good views were on the river, one of which was, I think, one of the most surprising of the day. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird was flocking with a group of European Starlings. For a bird that is almost always seen in cat-tail wetlands, seeing it foraging on the bank of the river was really odd!

Yellow-headed Blackbird and European Starlings

Yellow-headed Blackbird and European Starlings

Another of the awe-inspiring sights was the Tree Swallows banking, diving, and feeding over the Bow River, and I think we had just as much fun watching them.

Tree Swallows on nest box

Tree Swallows on nest box

Tree Swallow in flight

Tree Swallow in flight

Tree Swallows going for a drink

Tree Swallows going for a drink

We headed back, prepared to call it a day, and had our best views of a pair of Osprey in the distance.

Osprey

Osprey

After the rest of the group left, I returned to the bank of the second pond to see what I could see through the scope, and get some better photos of the Red-necked Grebes, Common Loon, and I ended up getting some nice ones of the Great Horned Owls as well!

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Muskrat

Muskrat

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Aren't they just adorable?

Aren’t they just adorable?

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we’re off to South Glenmore Park, to see what we can see on the Glenmore Reservoir, and maybe luck out with some early arriving warblers and a few more sparrows.

 

Good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 11 – Elbow River Bird Walk

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This week we had a great forecast, great weather, and incredible birds. The bird of the day, if one had to pick, would be the Bohemian Waxwing. Thousands of these beautiful birds swarmed the skies overhead, and there was barely five minutes in the entire walk where one wouldn’t have been able to see at least a small flock somewhere nearby. The area we covered this week was right in the heart of Calgary, following the Elbow River, and weaving our way through the surrounding community. It was a day rife with new migrants. Pine Siskins, American Robins, and Dark-eyed Juncos were new year birds for most of us, making us even more certain that spring is finally here, and migration is in full swing.

Elbow River Bird Walk

Elbow River Bird Walk

Our day got started with a pair of Brown Creepers chasing each other around the poplars. This one seemed completely fearless of our group and allowed me my best Brown Creeper photos to date.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

As we headed over to the bank of the Elbow River, we spotted this lone Bald Eagle across the river, and as some of our group closed the distance to our side of the river bank, an adult Northern Goshawk was flushed by our presence and flew upstream. Sadly I didn’t get a shot of that one, but I did manage a few of the Bald Eagle as a consolation.

Adult Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle

Looks like he's noticed us.

Looks like he’s noticed us.

Following the river bank north, we saw flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings, hundreds and hundreds filled the sky. There were also many Canada Geese flying over and heading to the northeast, but the sheer constant numbers of Bohemian Waxwings stole the show. Here’s just one example of how many there were, and this was with my lens pulled all the way back to 150mm.

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

A bit further up the river we stopped to observe a pair of White-winged Crossbills on the ground, but this little Red-breasted Nuthatch was working away excavating a nest hole over our heads.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Away from the river now, we managed to see a few American Robins. We had heard them across the river on our walk up to this point, but hadn’t really seen any. Once we found the food supply for the waxwings, we also found the American Robins taking advantage of the mountain-ash berries for their dinner.

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin

American Robin

And of course, a few closer looks at the ever present Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

Shortly after Gus had explained that they had been treated to views of small flocks of the waxwings being chased down by a Merlin, this little beauty popped up above us.

Merlin

Merlin

With the first quarter of our walk behind us, we continued to be regaled with the flight calls of the waxwings, a number of American Robins, House Finches, and even a few Northern Flickers here and there. We did have a lucky find with a very small group of Bohemian Waxwings down low to the ground, again allowing us better photos and closer views.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Our last new bird of the year, and also of the day, was a trio of Wood Ducks under the edge of this bridge, a smaller number than have been seen here in the past that overwintered along this stretch of the Elbow River, but still a good number of these birds for this time of year.

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Next week will bring our winter walks to a close, but that just means the start of a new spring birding course the week after. I can’t wait to see what we find this time around!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressionism

 Posted by Matthew Sim

It was a bright, sunny winter afternoon in Calgary, nearly two years ago to the day. I had just retreated from a chilly walk around my neighborhood and was warming up when I happened to glance out the upstairs window. Upon doing so, I noticed a strange shape down on the snow. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I realized what I was looking at, the story began to come together piece by piece. See what you come up with.

When you looked at this shot, you might have said that you see a bird’s impression in the snow. You would have been right. Now, you might have been a little more specific and described seeing a raptor’s impression. If you got this far, you did great. It’s not very easy to deduce much else. However, some may have gone even further, observing the shape of the raptor, comparing with descriptions in field guides and creating a list of possible suspects based on the fact that this was taken in Calgary, during the winter. If you came up with a few possible suspects, great work. But did you go any further?

If you did, you might have come up with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. You would be right. The wings are too rounded for Merlin or any other falcon, shape too small and body shape not to the right proportions of a buteo such as a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk and the shape is once again far too small for either an eagle or a goshawk. Therefore it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. My neighborhood in Calgary has a healthy population of 4-6 Sharp-shinned Hawks so this make sense. From here, we can piece together a story,

Imagine a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying maybe 30-40 feet high, perhaps a little lower, circling at times. From its vantage, the raptor notices a small movement in the fresh snow below. Diving down, it attempts to nab a vole caught out in the open, plunging deep into the unmarked snow. Then what? Tough to say, and it will be a great mystery; we can only speculate at the final result but here is a breakdown of the photo.

I still wonder about the impression in the top right; what happened? Did the vole escape the hawk’s clutches the first time only to succumb to the second attempt? Did the hawk attempt to lift off without getting enough momentum the first go? Or was the impression in the corner caused  by snow falling off a tree limb?

It was quite interesting to see all the same, regardless of what the result was.

Travel Tuesday – Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, Coaldale, AB

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of my favourite trips in the wonderful book “Day Trips from Calgary” by Bill Corbett, is the magical and amazing Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, located in Coaldale, Alberta. The drive itself is wonderful and offers plenty of opportunities for birding the dozens of lakes, sloughs, and fields in the two and a half hour trip into southern Alberta, but the grounds of the visitor centre would turn any non-birder into a confirmed bird lover.

 

You don’t even have to go in to the centre to get your bird fix. Surrounding the visitor centre are a series of ponds and marshes that are home not only to shorebirds, but also to passerines, flycatchers, and even large numbers of waterfowl.

A few of these Common Yellowthroat were seen just outside the visitor centre just before it opened.

Three or four Greater Yellowlegs were picking food out of the water just west of the visitor centre.

“But neither of these are birds of prey!” I hear you shouting. You’re right, they’re not. So, without further ado, on with the show!

Last year, the visitor centre housed a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk, which was penned near the front desk.

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk

This year though, we were greeted by Basil, the Burrowing Owl, who cooed and huffed, but investigated us with as much curiousity as we had about him.

Basil the Burrowing Owl

There is a huge portion of the Birds of Prey Foundation that is devoted to rehabilitation of injured or orphaned birds of prey. Some of the current residents are recovering from their injuries, such as the Broad-winged Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk in their care. Both of these birds are recovering from wing injuries, and will require rehabilitation for quite some time before they can be released back into the wild.

Broad-winged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

A few others birds on display are of unknown affinity, and I wasn’t able to track any of the volunteers down to ask them for clarification, but they’re beautiful birds nonetheless.

Northern Harrier

Long-eared Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Great Gray Owl

Others are permanent residents of the centre, and are part of breeding programs that are incredibly successful. Both the Merlins and Burrowing Owls are successful parents, and have regularly fledged offspring for quite a few years.

Merlin

Burrowing Owl

Arguably just as important as the rehabilitation, breeding, and even the care of these gorgeous raptors are the educational animals that they keep on hand, (and in some cases, in hand!) for public events, or even just for a private moment or two with visitors to the Birds of Prey Foundation visitors centre.

Barn Owl – though not considered “native” to Alberta, they are occasionally reported here.

The Short-eared Owl is quite possibly my favourite owl species.

Spirit, the blind Golden Eagle

Lauren and Alex Jr., one of the Burrowing Owl mascots of the Birds of Prey centre.

 

Don’t we just look SO happy together?

It’s hard to narrow down from the dozens of pictures that I took here to figure out just which ones are the best and which ones to post. Even looking over the post now, I know I’ve missed a few species and quite a few great photos that would represent them, but really, it’s worth going and visiting for yourself. They’re open this season until September 10, 2012, and will reopen to the public early next May. Why are you still reading this? Get down there and visit them for yourself!

A Sharp-shinned in my yard

Posted by Matthew Sim

The other day, I was sitting outside in my yard, soaking up some sunshine when I heard a big commotion coming from the spruce tree in my yard. There were Grackles, Robins, Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making as much noise as they possibly could. The reason? Look at the photo below; do you see anything?

How about now?

Though the Sharp-shinned hawk was rather well hidden, it couldn’t hide from the neighborhood birds who know all too well what will happen if they leave this predator undisturbed.

Here are some more photos of this beautiful bird.

Harlan’s / Light Phase Red-tailed Hawk

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Recently Terry Korolyk spotted an interesting hawk on Hwy 549 just west of Hwy 773, south of Calgary.  Terry says it is an intergrade Harlan’s light phase Red-tailed Hawk.

Terry says:

Thought some Birds Calgary viewers might like to see what this bird looked like. The underparts are obviously a mix of both subspecies. The underside of the tail is obviously white with duskiness near the tip. The upperside of the tail was, in reality, white with a reddish subterminal band and 2 narrower wavy reddish bands adjacent to that.

Photographed by Terry Korolyk on April 6, 2012.  Click to enlarge.

To fully appreciate the bird in the photo, look at images of adult Harlan’s Hawks and of adult Eastern Red-tails, then look at my bird again. Rather than blackish underparts with a white streaked throat like a Harlan’s Hawk, or, rather than having white underparts with a strongly streaked belly like an Eastern Red-tail, you have a bird with underparts markings that meet in between. The upperparts are clearly blackish like a Harlan’s Hawk, but they also have that Eastern Red-tail brownish cast. The tail was white like a Harlan’s Hawk, but, rather than having a dusky tip, it had 3 narrow wavy reddish lines there indicating normal light-phase Eastern Red-tail association.

As Terry says, the usual Red-tailed Hawks here are the Eastern subspecies, and “Harlan’s” Hawks are considered to be another subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk.  At one time, Harlan’s Hawk was considered to be a separate species entirely. Intergrades like the one above indicate that they are varieties of one species (many people believe that Harlan’s is a separate species; perhaps genetic testing will settle this question).

The Harlan’s Hawk is very different from all other Red-tailed Hawk subspecies.  In both its dark and light forms it has black and white plumage, lacking the reds and browns of other Red-tails.  The tail, however, can have a wide variety of patterns.  Harlan’s Hawk breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada and winters on the southern great plains.  We see them occasionally in Calgary in the winter months, when most other Red-tailed Hawks are absent.

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk

Recently both Pat and Dan have posted about Sharp-shinned Hawks in their yard.  Now it’s my turn.  Last week we had our first ever accipiter in our SE Calgary yard, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that stopped here briefly.

It took me a while to figure out whether it was a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk, but it actually is almost identical to the one Pat posted about here and here, and which was identified as a juvenile Sharp-shinned.  The bird that Dan saw was an adult, and you can read about it here.

The hawk was followed by about forty Black-billed Magpies, but they didn’t mob it.  While it sat on our fence, they just kept their distance in a nearby poplar.  But when the hawk left, they followed.

About twenty of the magpies that were following the hawk.

Unlike Dan’s hawk, my bird didn’t take any of the hundred or so small birds that were around my feeders at the time.  It just rested on the fence for three or four minutes, then flew off, and I haven’t seen it again.

Gus Yaki saw these pictures and said that he believes he has seen this same individual several times this autumn and winter in Fish Creek Park and along the Bow River.  It is distinctive because of the prominent white tips to the back feathers, which is unusual in this species.

A view of the bird’s back, showing large white areas on the feather tips.

It was certainly exciting to see this bird, even if it was only for a few minutes, and it’s one more species for the yard list.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Schoolyard Swainson’s

Last July, right before I moved to Texas, I was treated to an incredible sight: a dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk perched on a fence in a school parking lot. This hawk was incredibly close to the sidewalk and allowed for some great photos, all the while sitting calmly on its perch.

 This hawk didn’t seem to be injured, it just seemed to be very tolerant of people. Supposedly, Swainson’s Hawks are accepting of human activity and tolerate even more in areas where this activity is more frequent. This species will often become accustomed to disturbance from humans, thus the higher level of tolerability. This hawk, however did still seem to be giving me the evil eye!

After a couple minutes, the impressive raptor, slowly turned away (above) and resumed its activities as if I wasn’t even there.

This is not the first time this year that a Swainson’s Hawk has allowed me to get very close to it, back in May, while we bloggers were doing the Big Sit, we observed a Swainson’s that allowed us to watch it from merely several feet away http://birdscalgary.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/swainsons-hawk/.

This was definitely one of the cooler birding parts of the summer!

Posted by Matthew Sim