Tag Archive | raptors

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

Wintering blackbirds in Texas

Winter leaps upon us in a flash. One minute, it seems, it is a very distant shape looming faintly on the horizon. Suddenly, before we know it, winter has struck, leaving us wondering where the summer went. In Texas, the same seems to happen with wintering birds. One day, only the year-round residents who call Texas home can be seen. The next day, countless wintering birds of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, confusing even the most attentive eye.

Countless blackbirds flock together during the winter

On a recent trip to Brazos Bend State Park here in Texas, about an hour southwest of Houston, we observed some spectacular flocking in action. Literally thousands upon thousands of blackbirds; Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles and European Starlings congregating on some farmer’s fields. They swarmed and swirled, seemingly in perfect coordination, lifting off and landing as a unit. And yet, this is not a sight you can readily behold on these bird wintering grounds. You don’t see flocks of thousands of these species doing this in the summer, so why do they do it in the winter???

These blackbirds have quite a few reasons for doing this in the winter but these flocking habits also have numerous downsides. First of all, on the positive side, foraging is greatly improved by the large flock as opposed to a single bird or a small group. The more eyes you have working together, the easier it is to find food! More eyes can also mean more safety from would-be predators, and trust me, there are a lot of them!

This brings us to one of the downsides of wintering flocks. Predators. Lots of them. Where there is food, there are consumers, waiting to, well, consume the food. Raptors see these blackbirds as one huge buffet just waiting to be sampled. In a small farmer’s field, we counted up to 20 raptors: about 10 Caracaras, many Red-tailed Hawks, several White-tailed Hawks, a Turkey Vulture and a couple of Northern Harriers, all exploring the delightful opportunity of a full stomach all winter long. If these hawks were to stick with the group of blackbirds, they could potentially always find one or two to pick off from the pack. The more birds in a flock, the more noise and commotion they make, rendering them easily visible targets.

Large concentrations of any living thing invariably bring with them two other depreciating factors; disease and competition. Avian diseases can be spread very quickly in such large flocks and may sometimes ravage a great portion of the local species. More birds might find better food sources but if there isn’t enough to go around, there simply isn’t enough. Weaker, slower and sick birds often will be the first to go hungry as they cannot compete with the healthier individuals.

It was definitely a neat sight to behold, especially when a raptor would plunge into the center of the throng, sending up explosions of blackbirds. One of the White-tailed Hawks that we spotted, an immature, had a very full crop (a muscular pouch near the throat used to store food), showing us that it had been eating well recently.

In the end, the advantages of these congregations greatly outweigh the disadvantages and it is a bewildering sight that will continue to captivate many a fortunate observer.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Revering a Raptor

From the day that I first laid eyes on the species, gliding on broad wings over a coniferous forest in the Rocky mountains of Alberta, I have always looked with awe at it, astounded by its sheer magnificence. Many people have soft spots for raptors. I have a soft spot for one in particular: the Northern Goshawk.

I first saw a goshawk just over a year ago. It was early October 2010, and I had signed up for the Mount Lorette Golden Eagle field trip with Nature Calgary. I went out on my own to explore the area right around the location of the watch, and, while out on the path, witnessed an adult goshawk rise up from the spruce trees and circle away. From that moment on I was always looking for goshawks; every chance I got, I would go searching for them.

Rising up out of the forest; my first views of a Northern Goshawk

Several days later, on a biking trip to Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across an adult Goshawk perched high up in a poplar, sitting and gazing at the world around him. I stood and watched this magnificent raptor for more than half an hour, pointing the bird out to anybody who came near. Many of these were joggers or were merely walking their dogs. They took little interest in this bird, that is somewhat tricky to spot in the city of Calgary. I was rewarded though by the few who did pause to look up at the goshawk and comment on his size.

“What did you say it was called?”

“A Northern Goshawk”, I would reply eagerly, ” it’s somewhat unusual here in Calgary.”

“Really? Wow! Look at how big he his!” After staring up at him for several more seconds, they would smile and move on. Hopefully the Goshawk had made an impression on them though.

While I watched this large, strong accipter (agile, forest dwelling hawks with short rounded wings and long tails) it scratched its head withs its talon, giving me glimpses of those wicked sharp utensils it uses to tear apart its prey. Eventually, it lifted off and disappeared amongst the trees.

Goshawks are among the largest, strongest and most audacious of the hawks of North America. In November 2010, a little over a month since I first observed this species, I got an excellent opportunity to view this audacity. I was riding my bike home from Fish Creek and was running slightly late. I looked down for a moment as I pulled onto a dirt path going around a storm water pond, and, when I looked up again, there, sitting merely yards away from me in a small tree no taller than 10 feet, was an adult goshawk. They now seemed to be everywhere I went! I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could and screeched to a stop, panting breathlessly. Pulling out my camera, I marveled at how close this bird had let me get. I stood watching him, he stood watching me, this went on for several minutes before he abruptly flew away.

Taken with a 200mm lens and no crop; I could see every detail in the feathers

Instead of leaving altogether though, the goshawk started hovering over a field, pulled up, started hovering again and then pulled up once more. Then, with a sharp turn, he came whizzing right at me and flew by me at a distance of about 4 feet! The raptor was so close that my lens couldn’t focus on it!

These incredibly neat personal experiences combined with an amazingly beautiful species, have come to make me love the Northern Goshawk.

Posted by Matthew Sim