Tag Archive | red-tailed hawk

South Glenmore Park

Here are some photos of birds taken in South Glenmore Park on a Friends of Fish Creek birding course walk on April 29, 2017. All Photos by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

Red-necked Grebe.

Red-breasted Merganser (male).

Red-breasted Merganser (female).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle subspecies).

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Intergrade of Audubon’s and Myrtle subspecies).

Cooper’s Hawk.

Downy Woodpecker (male).

Bufflehead (male).

Horned Grebe.


Song Sparrow.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Sandhill Crane.

Swainson’s Hawk.

Boreal Chorus Frog singing.

To see more of Max’s photos, see his website, Photos by MOA.

Terry’s Travels: Red-tailed Hawks, Part 2

By Terry Korolyk  

In Terry’s Travels on September 11 in the Birds Calgary Blog, I dealt with how the traditional light-phase Red-tailed Hawks of our area started to change in the new millennium  because Rufous morph and Dark morph Red-tails somehow made their way in to the local breeding stock paving the way for others of the same morph. But, not only that, the result of the breeding of mixed pairs produced intergrade Rufous or Dark morph birds with light phase birds further complicating issues by giving the defined colour morphs another outlet to push back the boundaries of local Red-tailed Hawk plumage variation.

Part 2 will deal with Dark morph Red-tailed Hawks and some unusual plumages.

Every Fall, southern Alberta is visited by northern Dark morph races of Red-tailed Hawks, and, of course, every Spring, these birds return northward. As is the case with local light phase Eastern Red-tailed Hawks being influenced by darker morph birds, northerly Dark morph birds have been intergrading more with other colour morphs including northerly light phase birds.

It seems that up to the new millenium, things were very straightforward. The darkest morph Red-tailed Hawk to come down was the Harlan’s Hawk with his blackish plumage; white-streaked breast and throat, and, mottled grayish-white tail with the dusky tip. The next basic dark morph was the Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk with his dark brown uniform plumage with reddish tail with narrow black bars and a wider black band on the tail tip. The final basic morph was the Rufous-morph Red-tail with dark brown plumage but with a rufous-tinged breast and throat contrasting fairly sharply with the dark brown plumage. It seemed to me that variations from these basic plumages were rare at this time.

Now these morphs are not so rare, and, in the same manner that the local light-phase birds have been changing, so, have these northern races been changing. It seems that finding a pure Dark, or, Rufous morph, or, even a Harlan’s Hawk is becoming more and more difficult with each successive migration. Harlan’s Hawks in our area within the past few years seem to be showing increasingly more amounts of white with either more extensive white streaking on the underparts (or even the upperparts) and on the face. I seldom see anymore a Harlan’s Hawk with the old basic grayish-white mottled tail with the dusky tip. I can recall reading an issue of the American Birding Association’s “Birding” a few years ago that had an excellent article on Harlan’s Hawks. One page was devoted to showing the many different types of patterns Harlan’s Hawks’ tails have. Many I see in our area now seem to have some amount of red on the tail, usually in a wash on the outer half of the tail, but, with some duskiness on the tip as on this bird photographed near Longview on April 6, 2012.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, April 6, 2012.

This bird, photographed in the hills south of Spruce Meadows Trail on October 9, 2015 is an excellent example of a recent Harlan’s Hawk with white on the face and extensive white streaking on the belly.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, Oct. 9, 2015.

Another variation of a Harlan’s Hawk was this bird photographed on Highway 549 a few kilometres east of Highway 22 southwest of Calgary on April 6, 2012. Note the blackish plumage, but, also note the extensive unbroken white throat and breast. The tail on this bird was mottled white and had a pale reddish wash on the outer third of the tail, but, in this reddish wash was a moderately wide black subterminal band with 2 narrow wavy black bars above it.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk,  April 6, 2012.

These features made me wonder at first if, the bird might be a Harlan’s-light phase intergrade, but, there were no other redeeming features, so, I felt in the end that the bird was another variation of a Harlan’s Hawk. And, of course, there is your old basic Harlan’s Hawk with black plumage and white streaked breast such as this bird photographed on Dunbow Road just east of Highway 2 just outside Calgary City Limits on April 12, 2015.


Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk, April 12, 2015.

As mentioned, your basic Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk as we used to know it was a uniform dark brown. In recent years, some Dark morph birds have been labelled “vinaceous”by some birders in the United States. This term obviously implies colouration in the shade of wine referring to the colour of the breast and throat hinting at a slight contrast with the darker overall body colour. This seems reasonable to me implying a slight variation in your basic Dark morph plumage. A good example of a possible pure dark morph bird was this one photographed near Shepard near the eastern outskirts of Calgary on September 26, 2015. Although the breast can’t clearly be seen, it was definitely that of a dark morph bird; honest!


Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk, Sept, 26, 2015.

Your basic immature dark morphs had variable amounts of white streaking on the underparts. Your immature Harlan’s Hawk would have more extensive white streaking, but would also show varying amounts of brown on the body. Your immature dark morph bird should show white streaking on the breast and throat and will also have a grayish-white tail with many narrow black bands. A good example of a dark morph immature bird is this one photographed south of Longview a few years ago.


Immature Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, April 12, 2015.

Immature Rufous morph birds are similar to dark morphs, but, show more extensive streaking on the underparts covering not only the breast, but also the belly and undertail coverts. Birds of recent years seem to be showing variable amounts of white spotting on the upperparts as well. This bird photographed on 1119 Drive south of Calgary on October 13, 2012 shows the characteristics of being an immature Rufous morph Redtail. The tail is the same as on the dark morph, but, the underwings are not as heavily marked as on a dark morph bird.


Immature Rufous morph Red-tailed Hawk, October 13, 2012.

Many of the dark morph birds that come down are intergrades, most of them seeming to be between Harlan’s and Dark, rather than Rufous. This bird, photographed during a light snowfall south of Priddis on April 7, 2013, shows much brown plumage indicating dark morph parentage. However, the expansive white breast must surely indicate Harlan’s rather than light phase parentage as there doesn’t seem to much else there that would suggest light-phase. The Ground Squirrel, of course, isn’t fussy about who the bird’s parents were.


Dark morph/Harlan’s intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, April 7, 2013.

This is a photograph of a bird that appears to be a Harlan’s-Dark morph intergrade photographed on October 3 2014.


Harlan’s/Dark morph intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, October 3, 2014.

A bird that I had a lot of trouble getting an identification on was a bird I photographed south of Priddis on March 20, 2013. The bird appeared to have sort of a charcoal-coloured plumage looking blackish or dusky with some brownish suffusions. There were no markings on the chest and breast, they were plain charcoal. Given those features, I thought the bird might be a candidate for Dark-morph/Harlan’s intergradation because of the mixing of the black and the brown and, the almost wholly white tail( which can be seen in the photograph) which has few indistinct blurry streaks on it. Because of the large amount of frosty edges on many of the feathers visible in the photograph and because of the white tail, I also considered the bird possibly a candidate for leucism, but, I don’t see any other supporting evidence, and, so in the end, I feel that integradation between the two is probably right. By the way, the foothills in the Priddis-Millarville-Turner Valley-Black Diamond areas are traditionally one of our best areas for seeing Raptors in migration in our area. Here is the photograph.


Harlan’s/Dark morph intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, March 20, 2013.

Rarely, one comes across leucistic Red-tailed Hawks. I am referring to light-phase Red-tails specifically that have very few streaks on the belly and other features. I had never seen a Red-tail like that until just a few years ago. Actually, it was April 17 and 18, 2012 to be exact. On April 17, I was in the Shaw’s Meadow of Fish Creek PP in Calgary. I saw a large Hawk perched on top of a White Spruce tree on the steep south escarpment of Fish Creek. I tried to get a look at it, but couldn’t, so decided to try and take a couple of photos hoping I could identify it from the photos. I did get a couple of shots, but, it wasn’t clear what the bird was as it had its head turned and I couldn’t see the underparts.

The next day, I was in the Glennfield area of the park which is just across the road from Shaw’s Meadow. I was in luck. The bird was there, and, it was perched in the open where I could see it and get a look at it. I took three good photos of it. There were only a few barely noticeable streaks across the belly. The bird flew and I got a good look at the tail; it was white with the outer third pale red, and,  in the pale red were three black subterminal bands, the outermost one slightly wider than the other two. Since then, I have seen two other similar birds in our area, but, the three are the only ones of this ilk that I have seen since starting birding in 1987. Here is one of the Glennfield Hawk photos.


Leucistic Light-phase Red-tailed Hawk,  April 18, 2012.

On September 27, 2015, I was birding in the hills south of Calgary. It was a beautiful Fall day, sunny and calm. I chanced upon a large Hawk that didn’t look quite right as the plumage and markings didn’t look familiar. The bird was at the 2237 Drive – 1119 Drive junction. I took a frontal shot of the bird and then one from the rear showing the tail. It was juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, but, rather than having your basic brown upperparts, they looked sort of grayish. The tail was your basic juvenile Red-tail banded tail. The frontal shot showed only a few black streaks across the belly. Here are the two shots of the bird. Considering the overall paleness of the bird, I thought it perhaps a light-phase Red-tail/Krider’s Hawk intergrade. My only other possibility would be just a variation of your light-phase Red-tailed Hawk.



Both photos: Possible Krider’s/Light phase Red-tailed Hawk, or Light phase Red-tailed Hawk, Sept. 27, 2015.

The final bird in our account of dark-morph Red-tails and other plumages is a bird I found at Shepard on September 30, 2015. I really had never seen anything like it before as the underparts of white and black  were sort of a crazy patchwork quilt. One of the other odd things about the bird was that it had a very long scar down one side of its underbody, not unlike that of a Great Horned Owl in the August 7 story I did on those birds in the Blog. Considering the blackness of the plumage and the face of the bird, I am guessing that perhaps the bird was an immature Harlan’s Hawk, but, it flew before I could get a look at the backside of the bird. Here is the shot of that bird.


Possible immature Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk,  Sept. 30, 2015.


Fall Migration; 2016

As of this date, Fall migration is really starting to ramp up in the Calgary area, Alberta’s 2nd. ever BLUE-WINGED WARBLER was reported at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on September 6. The 1st. record, also at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, was some years ago now. A bird that may have been a JAEGER was reported to have spooked some Gulls off their roost on the shoals on the Bow River at IBS on September 6, while rare Gulls reported to this point in Calgary include an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on the Bow River in the vicinity of the Crowchild Trail Bridge on the days of September 5th. and 6th., and, a MEW GULL, also at IBS, on September 6.

The 1st. Rough-legged Hawk of the season was reported at Two Hills on September 16, while another first, an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER; a juvenile; was on the west side of Pine Coulee Reservoir west of Stavely on September 11. Birders are in luck. A HARLEQUIN DUCK has been seen at IBS already this Fall; they don’t usually show up until later in the season. A juvenile, or female, was on the river at the south end of the Sanctuary on September 12. Last year, up to 4 HARLEQUINS made it as far east as Weed Lake at Langdon in the Fall.

There have been many, many reports of BROAD-WINGED HAWKS in the Calgary area this Fall due probably, in part, to the birds appearing in areas which have intense coverage by birders. A juvenile has been seen by many birders in the Hull’s Wood and Boat Launch areas of east Fish Creek PP for about the past week. A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk has been hanging out in the same area for about the same length of time. Hunting must be good. Other recent Raptor reports include DARK MORPH Red-tailed Hawks, one at McElroy Slough just northeast of Chestermere Lake on September 14, then, an adult RUFOUS MORPH Red-tailed Hawk seen the next day on 64 Street south of Spruce Meadows. That makes three DARK MORPH Red-tails in our area so far this Fall season.

Up to two Peregrine Falcons have been appearing at the Marsland Basin southeast of Strathmore. The Basin is our best local hotspot for shorebirds recently with most species being reported including a recent WESTERN SANDPIPER. The Basin welcomes all birders. Go north on Range Road 242 from the Namaka Lake road and drive right in and park. There is a guest book if you wish to check in.

Bonaparte’s Gulls are starting to arrive at Chestermere Lake; this site attracts large numbers of this species in the Fall. The first SABINE’S GULLS of the Fall season were reported today, September 16. An adult and an immature bird were seen on Glenmore Reservoir by Bill Wilson. The birds are slightly late; the first arrivals usually show up by the first week in September.

There have been two recent reports of Barn Swallows still feeding young in the nest in southern Alberta. One report comes from Cooking Lake southeast of Edmonton on September 5.  Always a good indication that Fall is coming, there have been seven TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRES reported recently in the Calgary area with Phil Quinn seeing four at the Marsland Basin on September 8. Terry Korolyk observed at least 341 American Robins move from the Millrise subdivision of Calgary to nearby Fish Creek PP, also on September 8. The day was a day with fallout conditions prevailing following a night of rainy, overcast, cool weather. Lastly for this report, a FOX SPARROW was seen at Confederation Park in northwest Calgary on September 7.

Until next time.                                                                              ——-Terry Korolyk

Terry’s Travels: Red-tailed Hawks, Part 1

By Terry Korolyk

Since starting birding in the Calgary area in 1987, I have seen many, many Red-tailed Hawks, and, have had the good fortune to be able observe the changes in the species to this point in time, 2016; 29 years. In those days, it was very straightforward; all the light-phase birds in the area were your basic Eastern Red-tail with rich rufous tails without narrow, wavy bars. Markings were fairly heavy and uniform across the belly and on the underwings. Upperparts were dark brown. The thighs were pretty well an unmarked white and the bird had the clear white throat, one of the differentiating features between Eastern Red-tails and the B.C counterpart of our bird, Buteo Jamaicensis Calurus. The patagial mark was normal and blackish. In those days, some pairs returned regularly to the same nest year after year in the Irricana Sloughs. One pair nested for many years in succession in a small grove of trees on the east side of Range Road 261 a short distance north of Township Road 262. That grove of trees is no longer there. Generally, in this area, early April saw many of the residents on territory.


Perched Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, August 6, 2016.


Flying Eastern Red-tail, August 6, 2016.

In the hills south of Calgary, the Eastern Red-tail ruled as well. The birds were quite common then and widespread. These days, I don’t think they are quite as common as they were then, although, they are certainly not in danger.

I moved to a new home in a different part of Calgary and I was not able to keep monitoring the Red-tails of the Irricana Sloughs as I once did. Living in the south end of the city now, however, I was able to keep track of the birds in the hills south of the city and on the prairie to the east and southeast, and, in the foothills south and southwest of the city.

On July 14, 2007, things started to change. I discovered a Dark or Rufous morph Red-tail in attendance at a nest just south of Calgary on 210 Avenue in a long east-west shelterbreak of Balsam Poplars just east of Sheriff King Street. The nest had 2 young. The bird was upset at my presence, of course, and flew around somewhat.


Adult female Dark Morph Red-tailed Hawk, Sept.6, 2016.

I looked for the mate nearby, but, didn’t find it. Because the dark bird was the only one there and she was agitated, I guessed she was the female.

I took photographs of her and of the fledglings in the nest and one of them perched on a branch. I sent in reports to the appropriate authorities.


Fledgling intergrade Red-tailed Hawk on branch, July 5, 2013.

I did not see that bird there the next year, but, in the year 2011, I believe it was 2011, I discovered a mixed pair, a female Rufous morph and a male light-phase bird, in Votier’s Flats in west Fish Creek PP. The birds were nesting, but, I did not see the results of that nesting. The next year, 2012, they were there again and when I went for a walk in late Summer, in 2 different locations, I could hear  large birds squawking somewhere in the underbrush as I walked  westward from the Parking Lot. I was sure those birds were probably birds fledging from the nest, although I never did see either one of them.

In 2013, the birds were there again, and, I had the good fortune to be able to get photographs of one the juveniles as it was perched on the undercarriage of a transmission tower.


Juvenile intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, August 31, 2013.

The markings looked intermediate between those of the 2 different morphs. The male parent attended to it and brought it food as it complained, but, the Rufous morph female was nowhere to be seen.

In 2014, the pair returned, but, I didn’t have enough time to check on them that year, so, results of them being there that summer are unknown. In 2015, again, I did not have enough time to follow their progress, or, if they were even there. I think I might have glimpsed the adult female once, but, I couldn’t say for sure. In 2016, I was completely unable to see if the birds had even returned. Hopefully, 2017, I may get a chance to see if they are there.

Meanwhile, in the year, 2014, I found another mixed adult female Rufous-morph bird paired with a light-phase male Eastern Red-tail near Chestermere Lake. I was able to get photographs of the adult female.


Adult female Rufous Morph Red-tailed Hawk, April 27, 2013.

I returned in the late Summer to see if I could see any of the young fledging. I didn’t see any, but, I did see some very unusual looking Red-tails near Weed Lake at Langdon, which is not that from Chestermere, in the Fall. Markings weren’t normal and looked like there might have been some intergradation, and, there was 1 adult Rufous morph bird on the west side of Weed Lake.

I didn’t see the birds there next year, but, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there as I was only able to check a couple of times. As a matter of fact, the birds were there again the next year, 2016, so, given that fact, I would guess the birds probably were there in 2015, they just weren’t seen. I was leading a Nature Calgary Field Trip in April this year and all the participants were able to see the birds. I wasn’t able to check to see if there were any young later in the Summer, but, we shall see if the birds return next year.


Mixed pair of Red-tailed Hawks, April 16, 2016.

In the year 2014, I found what appeared to be a 3rd. mixed Rufous-morph–light phase pair in the hills south of Calgary southeast of Priddis. I saw both birds clearly and they were clearly a pair. I made several trips to the area through the Summer and did see the birds occasionally again. I have a good idea where the nest was located, but, did not go looking for it as, of course, they shouldn’t be disturbed. The pair were there again in 2015, but, I did not see them in 2016. However, I did come across an adult intergrade bird by itself perched in a lone tree near the Cross Conservancy south of Calgary, so, we could guess that, perhaps, the bird was a product of that relationship


Adult intergrade Red-tailed Hawk, July 10, 2016.

The result of all this is the fact that you are seeing much more variety now in the plumage of Red-tailed Hawks in our area. You are liable to see Dark and light-phase intergrades around here now even during breeding season. To complicate things further, one must consider intergradation between Krider’s subspecies Red-tails and now, not only the Eastern Red-tail, but, also Dark morph–light phase intergrades and, even pure Rufous or Dark morph birds. So as can be seen, It is getting extremely  difficult determining exactly what sort of Red-tailed Hawk you are looking at. The Krider’s Subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk, by the way, is a whiter edition of the Eastern Red-tailed Hawk. They are more sparsely marked and the tail varies in the amount of red in the tail to some where the tail is only slightly whitish, to some where the tail shows only a faint distal blush of red.


Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk, August 27, 2016.

To complicate things even further yet, it appears, the Mountain race of the light-phase Red-tailed Hawk , Buteo Jamaicensis Calurus, may be present in the southwest corner of the province in small numbers. The Mountain race has darker plumage, has little if any white in the throat; has black wavy bars on the red tail and has some buffiness on the upper breast and on the underwings. I have seen photographs of some birds that were in the Water Valley area northwest of Calgary , and, have encountered the bird many times in the foothills south and southwest of Calgary. I have seen photographs of some birds that were probably intergrades between itself and either Eastern Red-tail or something else, and, some of these photographs were of birds in the Irricana area and on the prairie southeast of Calgary. One must also consider a new recent classification of Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo Jamaicensis Borealis. This is a race of light-phase Red-tail that is like the Eastern Red-tail, but has fewer markings. This race is essentially a bird of the north, hence the Latin name Borealis.

Still more on  the identification of Red-tailed Hawks in our area now, the basic juvenile Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, still has a grayish tail with several narrow, wavy blackish bars. Remainder of the markings on the birds vary with some having heavier markings than others. The belly may be sparsely streaked or it may be heavily streaked. The head may be almost completely white, or it may be quite dark. One can use that information as a barometer or measuring stick. Given all the above information, perhaps, one would be able to subsequently identify any unusally-looking juvenile Red-tailed Hawks.


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, May 26, 2015.

Final item to be dealt with in regard to pale morph Red-tailed Hawks are the albinos. Albinistic birds are occasionally dealt with in our area. I have  yet to see or hear of a complete albino. These birds vary in the degree of albinism or leucism; some are almost wholly white or pale; some show only small amounts. These days almost all birds show varying amounts of white on the scapulars and other feathers. Albinism, or leucism, occurs when the amount of white or paleness present has gone out of control.


Albino Red-tailed Hawk, July 5, 2013.


Coming soon–Part 2 of Red-tailed Hawks in the Calgary area. Dark morphs, intergrades, and unusual plumages.


Fall migration 2016—-

We are currently in peak period for migrating Songbirds in the Calgary area. Thus far, observer coverage has been very intensive especially at Confederation Park in northwest Calgary, and in the east side of Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary, particularly Mallard Point and the Boat Launch area in Hull’s Wood. The main wave of migrating Warblers and Vireos and some other Songbirds from further north has passed and now within the next couple of weeks, numbers of the second wave including American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and, Orange-crowned Warblers traditionally increases. Watch for those potential fallout conditions; overcast, cool weather, perhaps even spitting rain for large numbers and variety of birds. I live on the top floor of a Condo block in Calgary, but, we had ideal conditions the morning of Sunday, September 4 as in the ornamental trees and Trembling Aspens along the street below where we live, the trees were dripping with birds, mostly American Robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but, others included Red-breasted Nuthatch and I was able to get good shots of an immature Tennessee Warbler in a crab-apple tree below our balcony, and, was also able to get excellent looks at a juvenile Orange-crowned Warbler in a May Tree below our bedroom window. Palm Warblers, usually one of our later Warblers, have shown up early so far, and, a male Blackburnian Warbler has been a big draw at Confederation park starting on September 2 and was still being seen today, Labour Day, Monday, September 5.

Shorebird migration has been somewhat disappointing thus far this Fall as the July and early August rains resulted in high water levels at many waterbodies in the area. Basic early shorebird migrants like Semipalmated, Baird’s, and, Least Sandpipers should start dwindling in numbers now to the end of September. Lesser Yellowleg numbers should hold up in to October, while Greater Yellowlegs’ numbers can hold up in to early November. October is the month to watch for Black-bellied and American Golden Plovers. Pectoral Sandpipers are somewhat unpredictable. Sometimes, they are amongst the latest Fall migrants in early November.

The first rare Gull of the Fall season has been found. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was on the Bow River just upstream from 29 St. N.W. today, September 5. This report comes courtesy of eBird.

The first dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk of the season was just east of the Leighton Arts Centre in the hills south of Calgary on Saturday, September 3. The bird was an adult, but was a barred tail variant. I was hoping for a shot of it flying, but, 3 Swainson’s Hawks made him feel uncomfortable, and, he drifted off southward. Until next time.

Terry’s Travels: High River to Chain Lakes to Pine Coulee Reservoir.

By Terry Korolyk.

Monday, August 15, Terry traveled southward with the ultimate destination being Chain Lakes PP west of Nanton and Pine Coulee Reservoir. I started at the large wetland in the southwest corner of the Spruce Meadows Trail and Highway 2A in the extreme south end of Calgary. Formerly known as the Priddis Radio Towers slough; now known to some as Sheriff King Slough as it is on Sheriff King Street. Upon arriving, I almost immediately found a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron in the northeast corner of the slough.


Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sheriff King Slough, August 15, 2016. All photos by Terry Korolyk.

Perched on a telephone wire in the same corner was a juvenile male Belted Kingfisher. This slough was a popular site this year for nesting Grebes including all 3 of Eared, Red-necked, and, Pied-billed Grebe. Eared are the most abundant, but, on this morning there were 22 Red-necked Grebes, many of them juveniles, or, birds-of-the-year.

Sheriff King Slough was, only a few years ago, an excellent shorebirding location with extensive mudflats. Excellent numbers of the basic migrating species such as Baird’s, Semipalmated, Pectoral, and, Least Sandpipers were attracted by its location and habitat with rarities found there being Western Sandpiper (more than once); White-rumped Sandpiper, and, Red Knot. Non-shorebird rarities found there included Sabine’s Gull, Snow Goose, and, Ross’s Goose.

I left the slough driving south on Sheriff King Street, then, turning westward on to 210 Avenue. A pleasant surprise was a pair of SAY’S PHOEBES along 210 Avenue, just east of 64 Street. Photographs taken.

I continued southward getting a nice surprise at a marsh on 48 Street south of 274 Avenue. The marsh has a nice bit of woodland  with it which is liked by local resident songbirds such as Black-capped Chickadees which were in evidence this morning. Best of all though was a somewhat miffed NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ; the first time I had found this species at this slough. Birding at this location can actually be quite good. Forty-eighth Street is tree-lined for much of its length southward to Highway 549 and during migration, an excellent variety of songbirds can be found along it. Birds found along there today included a Hairy Woodpecker which made a bit of an unexpected addition to the day’s list.

From Highway 549, I drove south on Highway 552 to Okotoks. A Great Blue Heron was along Spring Creek just outside of Okotoks.

I drove straight through Okotoks emerging at the south end where I crossed Highway 7 and moved on towards High River on Highway 783. I stopped on the way, however, to check the Okotoks Regional Landfill which included an assortment of California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Ravens, American Crows, and, European Starlings.

High River can have excellent birding. Drive westward on the road running along the town’s southern boundary and follow the roadways southward, then westward, then, southward, and, then another time, and, you find a good variety of birds. The roads travel through open woodland; past farms and acreages with little traffic. Today, Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, both adults and juveniles. Mourning Doves were common. Prize bird today though was an immature PHILADELPHIA VIREO with very yellow underparts.

Just south of the town, a large dugout can make for some good birding. Amongst various waterfowl here today were a few Baird’s Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. From here, I made my way westward to Meridian Street which strikes straight southward through primarily agricultural land. I used to see Western Kingbirds along here, but, didn’t see any today. A pair of Mourning Doves were perched on a telephone wire seemingly in the middle of nowhere. On the west side of Meridian Street just before you descend to a bridge over Mosquito Creek, there is an acreage with feeders and well-landscaped grounds, and, better yet: birds! I stopped to watch for a few minutes. To my surprise, 6 Gray Partridge scurried out of some grasses by a pond. To me, this was a good sighting as this was the was the furthest west I had seen Gray Partridge since one occasion a few years go when I saw some just west of Nanton.

Once you cross Mosquito Creek, you are in a large willow swale. I stopped for lunch by the creek and was greeted by a pair of Belted Kingfishers.


Belted Kingfisher.

I believe, they may have been nesting there, but, they didn’t hang around. A short distance on was the Williams Coulee Road junction.

I turned right on to Williams Coulee Road and headed westward. I have driven this road many times and always like to see what birds are breeding there, particularly the waterfowl. Not too far from the junction, I came across the first slough, a fairly large one straddling both sides of the road. Waterfowl numbers were strong with many juveniles of our basic prairie dabbling Duck species such as Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, and, both Blue and Green-winged Teal.


Female Blue-winged Teal with young.

But, there were shorebirds there as well including Baird’s, Least, Pectoral, and, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and, Lesser Yellowlegs. There were also 5 Solitary Sandpipers.

IMG_8250 (2)

Solitary Sandpiper, photo taken August 6, 2016.

Many times, I had found shorebirds along this road during the Fall season. Remainder of the sloughs and ponds along the road held no waterfowl as far as Highway 22.  A lone Great Blue Heron stood motionless on one shoreline.

I reached the north end of Chain Lakes shortly after. I could see only one bird, a Common Loon on the water. I moved on to the south end of the Lakes where there were 3 Loons. The 3 of them were in breeding plumage. Two of the birds had sloped foreheads without prominent foreheads, more like that of Yellow-billed, or, Red-throated Loon rather than Common Loon. However, the bills of all three had the heft of Common Loon bills. Was it because the feathers on their heads were slicked down from diving? A puzzling trio; I took photos to study later.


Loon with sloping forehead. August 15, 2016.

I drove down to the creek below the Dam and found an American Dipper there. I only saw the one bird, so, I don’t know if there was breeding there or not. Large numbers of Clay-coloured Sparrows were flying from the trees along the creek over to the woodlands by the Dam. I counted at least 120 in only a few seconds so who knows how many birds flew over through the course of the day.

I left Chain Lakes for Pine Coulee Reservoir by crossing Highway 22 to Highway 533, then driving Highway 533 to the Flying E Road junction. This road passes through rolling hills and grassland along Willow Creek to Pine Coulee Reservoir. On this particular day, it proved to be a bonanza of American Kestrels as I found 5 of them hunting in the grasslands.


American Kestrel, August 15, 2016.

At the Willow Springs Arena bridge not far from Highway 533, I got my third Belted Kingfisher of the day, a male, and just past the bridge, I photographed a possible adult light-phase Calurus-subspecies (Mountain race) Red-tailed Hawk.There was some buffiness on the upper breast. Its call was even different from that of an Eastern Red-tailed Hawk, the common Red-tail in the Calgary area.


Red-tailed Hawk, August 15, 2016.

Pine Coulee Reservoir was being used mainly as a staging area for Franklin’s Gulls on this day. On the entire Reservoir for the day, I estimated about 3000. I counted most of them out, but, then rounded off the number at 3000 for parts of the Reservoir I couldn’t see. Other than one large raft of Franklin’s offshore from the Dam, other birds there were floating rafts of Grebes, both Red-necked and Horned. Eared Grebes were spotted about on the surface of the water.

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Franklin’s Gulls, June 15, 2016.

Water level at the Reservoir was the lowest I had ever seen it. Being created primarily for irrigation purposes, I thought that because of the mild late Winter and early Spring we had had that that’s why the Reservoir was so low. This seemed good and bad, but, the good was the excellent shorebird conditions created at the north end of the Reservoir.

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Stilt Sandpipers; an Avocet, some Peeps, and Short-billed Dowitchers.


Shorebirds, August 15.

Large numbers of shorebirds were there including all of Baird’s, Semipalmated, Least, Pectoral, and, Stilt Sandpipers. Lesser Yellowlegs were in the largest numbers there, and, Short-billed Dowitchers were also represented.

It was then time to head for home ending today’s trip.


Birders are reminded that the this week and next week, Fall songbird migration will be at its peak. The past couple of years, migration has started in late June. Observer coverage has been very good this year. In the period running from August 12 to August 22, Philadelphia Vireos, for instance, a species usually not very common in the Calgary area has come in with 8 reports. In the same period, Blue-headed Vireos have come in with 5 birds being reported in 4 reports. American Redstarts have showed up in good numbers so far, while, Magnolia Warblers have come in in expected numbers. Bay-breasted Warblers, one of the rarer northern Alberta Warblers in the Calgary area,  have been reported 3 times already. Canada Warbler has been reported twice, both times at Wyndham-Carseland PP. Townsend’s and Cape May Warblers have arrived in normal numbers. There have been 2 Nashville Warbler reports, while, there have been more Black-and-White Warbler reports than usual with 6.

Other recent reports include 2 Pacific-Slope Flycatcher reports in the Calgary area. Janet Gill reported a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on Monday, August 22, while, a Dusky Flycatcher was slightly off course at Policeman’s Flats just southeast of Calgary on Friday, August 12 when it was seen by Terry Korolyk.

A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was reported at the Boat Launch in east Fish Creek PP on Sunday, August 21, and, a possible mega-rarity, a juvenile NORTHERN WHEATEAR was reported just northeast of High River on Wednesday, August 17. The bird could not be found in an intensive search for it the same day. To this point, the only documented bird of this species in the province was a bird on Nose Hill in Calgary on November 22, 1989. A complete shock was a Canada Goose with some seemingly completely albinistic parts, and, the remainder leucistic seen at the slough at Township  Road 250 and Highway 817 north of Strathmore on Tuesday, August 16.


Albinistic Canada Goose, north of Strathmore, August 16, 2016.

Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding begins at the HQ, Sikome, and Burnsmead

Posted by Dan Arndt

I did say spring, right? Where did all the snow come from? While our last outing to South Glenmore Park was relatively cool, there wasn’t too much snow left, but in the week since we got a fresh dump of snow which is typical of our usual Calgary spring weather. Certainly the birds and mammals we saw on our walk showed at least a little displeasure at the situation!

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds - April 5, 2015

Headquarters area, Sikome Lake and Burnsmead ponds – April 5, 2015

We had three stops on our initial outing last week, with a visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters area, then down to Sikome Lake, and finally ended up at the Burnsmead ponds to check out some puddle ducks that one of our leaders, Rose Painter, had spotted before the beginning of our walk. We’ve also begun our walks at 8 AM for the spring course, so we’re getting out a little bit earlier and closer to sunrise to maximize the bird activity for the duration of our outing.

White-tailed Jackrabbit Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-tailed Jackrabbit
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@230mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We spotted this little jackrabbit under a spruce tree, taking refuge from the snow. You can see she’s been hanging out in the same spot for at least a while, and possibly even a few hours given that there’s a completely cleared area right under her. It’s not easy for these rabbits at this time of year, as their camouflage can be almost entirely useless in the snow now that their coats have changed colour!

The main reason we stopped in this area though was to check on a couple of Great Horned Owls in the area, which we were able to find without too much trouble.

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Great Horned Owl and owlet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Here’s mom with a very chilly looking little owlet. Dad is nearby keeping a sharp eye on things though, and it looks like everyone’s happy and healthy, albeit a little cold and snowy!

Herring Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

Herring Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 400

We headed down to the Boat Launch and the area around Sikome Lake in search of some more owls, but also got some good looks at a few other birds as well, including this Herring Gull, part of a flock of about thirty of them on one of the larger gravel bars just north of the launch area!

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Canada Goose on stormwater ponds
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

This was probably the best sighting of the day. The stormwater ponds are open and entirely ice-free! Soon we’ll have Cinnamon Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and tons of other puddle ducks and shorebirds surrounding these ponds, and hopefully the Forster’s Terns will return and breed on their west ends as well again this year!

Red-winged Blackbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Red-winged Blackbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Maybe the second best sighting I’ve had all year was this young Red-winged Blackbird. My first of the year, and in many ways, the true “spring” bird. While I suspect that this little guy got lost in a flock of European Starlings that were heading north earlier than the rest of the blackbirds, they are starting to show up at more and more wetlands in and around Calgary!

male American Robin Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

This male American Robin was at the furthest south extent of our walk, searching among the rocks for a nice juicy arthropod or worm in the water below. There were a few of them along this stretch of rocks near a water outflow, picking their way up and down the little stream.

After that, we headed up to the ponds at Burnsmead in search of the Wood Ducks, Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers that Rose had seen earlier in the morning, and sure enough, we found them all! Wood Ducks are sometimes pretty hard to find, but we had a pair of males at these ponds last Sunday and there have been a few more that have shown up around the city this week as well.

Wood Ducks in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Wood Ducks in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

With all those colors, it’s easy to believe that these are the most photographed waterfowl in North America!

male Gadwall in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

male Gadwall in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

While Gadwall are relatively nondescript, they sure do show some stark contrasts in flight, and while they’re often quite hard to spot, this male (and his mate) were fairly accommodating as long as I was quiet, moved slow, and there wasn’t too much activity around the pond.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

Red-tailed Hawk in flight
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 200

All the activity on the ponds drew the attention of this Red-tailed Hawk, who made a fly-by at a bit of a distance to check out what all the fuss was about before flying off to the north.

Looking forward to the next outing and most definitely excited for all the new spring birds coming to Calgary over the next few months!

Have a great week, and good birding!


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.

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

Fish Creek Park Birding

I had a very slow birding summer, with a knee problem that kept me out of the field and off my bike for three months.  But now my knee is better and I am back birding with Gus Yaki and the Friends of Fish Creek Society.  I went out twice with this group to the Hull’s Wood/Sikome/Lafarge Meadows area in mid-September.  Here are some pictures from those trips (click on the pictures to enlarge them).

Two Double-crested Cormorants, and on the right, an Osprey, silhouetted against the rising sun.

A cormorant dries its wings.

Double-crested Cormorant, this time with the light on the right side of the bird.

The Osprey perched in a tree.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight.

Northern Flickers.

Greater Yellowlegs, in one of the ponds by highway 22X.

We found a single Wood Duck (centre) hanging out with the Mallards.

Great Blue Heron on its usual rock.

Juvenile Bald Eagle.

This Cedar Waxwing was picking insects out of a spider web high in a tree.

American Kestrel.

Killdeer on the pond.

Killdeer on the river.

Common Raven calling near where they nested in Lafarge Meadows.

Finally, there is this bird, which we found sitting on a path that runs from the Sikome boat launch parking lot to the river.  I’ll tell its story next week.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Bird Profile: Red-tailed Hawk

Chances are you have seen this species before; this large hawk is one of the most widely distributed, numerous and commonly observed raptors in Canada. With a wingspan of up to 1.4m (58”) the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable buteo; soaring hawks that have wide tails and long, broad wings. Circling high up in the air, the Red-tailed Hawk can see mice scurrying about on the ground from 30 m (100ft) up .

This particular hawk in the photo appears to have done just that; he saw a mouse and then caught it, bringing the unfortunate rodent away to eat it, flying right over my head in the process of carrying off the mouse.

As mentioned before, the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable hawk with at least 14 recognized subspecies; ranging from the dark ‘Harlan’s Hawk’ to the ‘Krider’s Hawk’, a very pale subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks love woodlands near open country; therefore, their habitat is diverse and they can be seen almost anywhere in Calgary. In summer, we tend to see light-colored morphs of the Western calurus the most and in migration and winter, we usually see dark morph ‘Harlan’s Hawks’. Also, in the southern part of Alberta, we have some krider’s Red-tailed Hawks. However, no matter what subspecies you see, they are still very impressive, especially when you get a good look at those talons!

Posted by Matthew Sim