Tag Archive | rare bird

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In early October a Golden-crowned Sparrow showed up in the yard of local birder Brian Elder. This species is almost never seen in the city. The bird stayed in the area for a few days, and many local birders were able to see it. Gavin McKinnon photographed it on October 8.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

Golden-crowned Sparrows are normally found in the western mountains of North America. They breed as far north as Alaska, and migrate to the west coast of the continental US to spend the winter (they are also present in winter on the BC coast and southern mainland, and some overwinter on the western Alaskan coast). The occasional one that turns up here is probably on its way to the west coast of the US.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

This species is in the genus Zonotrichia, which also includes Harris’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow (all of which can be seen in Calgary), and the Rufous-collared Sparrow which is native to Mexico, Central and South America. White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows breed here, and many more are seen in Calgary on migration as well. Harris’s Sparrow (the only songbird that breeds exclusively in Canada) migrates mostly through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but a few are seen here every spring and fall.

When the Golden-crowned Sparrow was in Brian’s yard, a Harris’s Sparrow was also present. Gavin photographed this bird too.

Harris’s Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

At one point, both a White-crowned and a White-throated Sparrow were also there, so Brian had all four of the local Zonotrichia species in his yard at the same time – certainly a very rare and possibly unique circumstance for Calgary.

These four species are all large and similar in structure. Here are the other two local Zonotrichia species, photographed in Calgary in earlier years by Dan Arndt.

White-throated Sparrow, February 2, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

White-crowned Sparrow, September 11, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

All of these birds are first-year or immature birds. Adults are more distinctive but are more often seen in the spring.

Here is a photo of the other Zonotrichia species, the Rufous-collared Sparrow. If you see one of these, you are no longer in Calgary.

Rufous-collard Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons. By BERNARDO VALENTIN – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51781854


Rare Bird: Golden-winged Warbler

Posted by Bob Lefebvre. All photos by George Best.

Last Sunday morning, July 26, 2015, local birder and photographer George Best went down to Griffith Woods Park in SW Calgary to see what he could find. He had headed out in the morning to go to the Weaselhead, but was unable to park there due to a triathlon.

At Griffith Woods George was not looking for any particular bird species, and was not doing a long walk through the park. He decided to do something that often is very rewarding in terms of birds found and opportunities to photograph wildlife – he just went to a good birdy location, and more or less stayed put and let the birds come to him.

He chose a wooded area near the Elbow River, south of the big pond at the east end of the park. He spent about twenty minutes there, and was able to get a few photographs of a Swainson’s Thrush and a chipmunk. Then he moved to a new location nearby, where he knew Yellow Warblers could be found. After twenty minutes there, this bird appeared:


When he finally got a good look at the whole bird with binoculars, George realized that it was a species he had never seen before (and he knows the local birds very well). The bird just sat and preened for about three to five minutes. George put the long lens on his camera and snapped the photos shown here.




Eventually the bird left, probably flying across the river. George looked through his Ibird Pro app and realized he had seen a Golden-winged Warbler. But a look at the range map showed that it was a bird of eastern North America, whose normal range extends to Manitoba, but no farther west. After sending a few texts to some other local birders with a photo of the bird, it was soon confirmed that it did appear to be a Golden-winged.

George did a search on the eBird site and discovered that this species had never before been reported on eBird in Alberta. I looked on the Royal Alberta Museum site for the Official List of the Birds of Alberta. This is a list of all species for which there is at least one sighting that has been accepted and verified by a panel of experts. Golden-winged Warbler is listed as Accidental, with a “Need to Document” code that indicated that there had been less than eight verified sightings in Alberta. This meant that this new sighting needed to be properly documented (the form can be downloaded from the Museum site) and the photographic evidence supplied as well.

In corresponding with Jocelyn Hudon, chair of the Alberta Bird Record Committee, I found out that there had only been two previous reports of this species in Alberta, in 1985 from Medicine Hat, and in 1994 from the Porcupine Hills. Neither of those sightings had photographic evidence. George’s was a very special sighting indeed!




If the sighting is accepted by the ABRC, it will be only the third ever for Alberta, and the first supported by photographic evidence. The museum site gives this bird a “Findability Index” of  5, which means:

“These species have been seen in the province on fewer than 10 occasions and some may never be seen in the province again. These birds are finds of a lifetime and the probability of finding these in the province is extremely low to next to nil.”

Imagine going out to see what birds come to you, and having the “find of a lifetime!”




Although word of the sighting got out very quickly, no one has yet been able to re-find this bird. I guess we’ll have to get out and try to find our own rarities.

Wednesday Wings: Chasing Rarities – Purple Sandpiper – First Alberta Record

Posted by Dan Arndt

Local photographer Eddy Matoud stumbled across this incredibly rare bird on Thursday, May 9. Once the dust had settled and it had been positively identified as a Purple Sandpiper, I knew I couldn’t miss my chance to see this bird for myself. Late Friday afternoon I headed down to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where Eddy had found it the first time, and spent about an hour photographing it, digiscoping it, and just observing its behaviour. Sadly, it was gone the very next day, disappointing many who had gone out early in the weekend in hopes to see it.

Enjoy the photos!

purple sand16

Purple Sandpiper – a very rare visitor

purple sand15

At least there’s plenty of food around for it.

purple sand14

Splish splash

purple sand13

Drying off the wings

purple sand11

Now that’s a stretch.

purple sand12

Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed!

purple sand10


purple sand9

Fetch, Piper, fetch! Good bird!

purple sand4

Another light snack

purple sand2

Migration is a hungry task.

purple sand6

What are YOU looking at?

purple sand3

Yep, still here.

purple sand7

What do you mean “lost”? I know exactly where I am…

purple sand8

No, that’s not an egg.

purple sand5

K, bye!


Chasing Rarities – Northern Mockingbird in Vulcan, AB

Posted by Dan Arndt


Well, today is a statutory holiday here in Calgary, and as such, my regular post of our Friends of Fish Creek birding courses will be delayed until tomorrow, as I’m spending most of Sunday and Monday with family. Instead, here’s a post about a rare bird sighted within a 90 minute drive from our city that I managed to track down and photograph last weekend, with the help of local birder and excellent nature and wildlife photographer, Jeff Bingham, who first spotted the bird on February 3.


As I was composing my blog post for February 4, on the quiet and peaceful outing we had to Griffith Woods, I was sent a small thumbnail photo of a bird that I knew entirely by reputation and similarity than by having ever seen one before in my life. The photo was of a Northern Mockingbird, which had apparently been taken that day by a local photographer and birder, Jeff Bingham. After confirming the ID, and ensuring that yes, that bird had been seen on that day about an hour and a half outside the city, I was already planning my trip. Thankfully, Jeff agreed to take me down to that same spot the following Saturday in hopes of a repeat performance by the rather unusually occuring bird.

You see, Northern Mockingbirds, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” page on this species, don’t occur in Alberta, except for the very southerly edge of the province. There have been a handful reported here and there throughout the province in the past, most recently one in Nanton, AB, in the winter of 2006, and another in North Glenmore Park here in Calgary in the summer of 2011.

Northern Mockingbird Range Map, by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Northern Mockingbird Range Map, by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

So, as Saturday February 9th rolled in, we were up and on the road by 8 A.M. and hoping for some great light and good opportunities to find this rare bird.

On the way down, we were treated to a nice close look of a Bald Eagle sitting low on a fencepost. It wasn’t until after it was flushed that we realized it was guarding the carcass of a coyote that was thawing out of a snow drift.

Bald Eagle flushed from a carcass

Bald Eagle flushed from a carcass

As we headed east on Highway 23, we came across not one, but two rather tolerant Snowy Owls.

Snowy Owl on a grain silo

Snowy Owl on a grain silo

This particular Snowy Owl let us drive right up beside him and shoot this out the window.

One very brave Snowy Owl who isn't the slightest bit disturbed by cars.

One very brave Snowy Owl who isn’t the slightest bit disturbed by cars.

As we continued on to Vulcan, we had high hopes of the Northern Mockingbird showing up right where it was before. Unfortunately, it made us wait. And wait. And wait. We even decided to drive around town looking for other birds in our frustration.

It wasn’t until we had just about given up and went to get a cup of coffee that it decided to give us a show, and boy did it ever not disappoint! We followed it on its circuit around the area for a good hour and a half, allowing us some pretty close views and photo opportunities. It always makes for a great day when you find not only the bird you’re looking for, but more than a few good shots of the ones that you didn’t even plan for!

This Northern Mockingbird looks very smug

This Northern Mockingbird looks very smug

The typical Northern Mockingbird side profile. Note the heavy white wing bars and tail feathers.

The typical Northern Mockingbird side profile. Note the heavy white wing bars and tail feathers.

This bird was so smug, in fact, he did not hesitate to look down on us.

This bird was so smug, in fact, he did not hesitate to look down on us.

Thanks again for the tip, Jeff, and I look forward to our next outing!