Tag Archive | Red-winged Blackbird

Birds of Burnsmead, Fish Creek Park

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

For the week of April 10-16, the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding course groups explored the Burnsmead area of Fish Creek Park, along the river just east of the park headquarters, near the wastewater treatment plant. There are some ponds in this area, as well as a wooded area and the river itself.

Max Ortiz Aguilar went with the group on April 16 and got these photos of some of the birds there.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male), Burnsmead, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

 Canada Goose, possibly guarding a nest site, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Common Mergansers (female in front, male behind), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Franklin’s Gull, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

This photo and the next shows the pinkish hue these birds have when they arrive here from their wintering grounds off the coast of Venezuela, where they feed on shrimp that contain red pigments. The colour often fades by fall.

Franklin’s Gulls, April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

House Finch (male), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Red-winged Blackbird (male), April 16, 2017. Photo by Max Ortiz Aguilar.

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: Canon EOS 6D|Focal length: 600mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

To see more of Max’s photos, visit his website here.

Country Birds

Tony LePrieur went out of town on a rainy day last week and got some photos in the Priddis area and on Grand Valley Road.

Wilson’s Snipe, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Wilson’s Snipe, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Red-winged Blackbird, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The Priddis area, SW of Calgary, is also a great place to find mammals:

Moose, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

Moose, Priddis area, May 7, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

You can find Great Gray Owls near Priddis too, but this one was NW of Calgary:

Great Gray Owl, with Meadow Vole, Grand Valley Road, May 13, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

And finally, a city bird:

Spotted Sandpiper, Fish Creek Park, May 13, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

See more of Tony’s photos on his Flickr page.

Sunday Showcase: Baby Birds, Summer Adults

Photos taken by Tony LePrieur on the weekend of June 26, 2016, at Fish Creek park and Bridlewood Wetlands in Calgary, at Frank lake, and in the Priddis area. There are lots of juvenile birds being fed out there right now!

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Male Red-winged Blackbird feeding juvenile.

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American Coot babies.

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Yellow-headed Blackbird feeding juvenile.

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Cedar Waxwing.

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Gray Catbird.

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Willet in an unusual spot.

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Eastern Phoebe.

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Mallard with ducklings.

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Hungry Juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.

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Adult Black Terns.

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Female Mountain Bluebird with nesting material – raising a second brood?

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Male Mountain Bluebird.

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!

 

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

Bird Profile: Red-winged Blackbird

Up here in the northern part of the continent, we know when spring is here when the robins arrive. These are not the only harbingers of warmer days however; the Red-winged Blackbird heralds the arrival of spring as well, the males arriving before the females to claim their territory.

One of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, the male is a striking bird; all-black plumage save for his bright red and yellow wing epaulets. The female is a heavily streaked brown bird with a light streak over the crown and above the eye. Males have harems of females living in their marshes, these harems can sometimes number up to 15, but up to one half of the nestlings turn out to be sired by a male other than the territorial bird. During the breeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds are rarely seen far from water and are communal nesters, often nesting alongside other species of blackbirds. Once nesting is over, the Red-winged Blackbird forms flocks and go out to forage over the countryside, returning to marshes to roost at night.

Red-winged blackbirds are a common victim of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird but this does not seem to affect the former`s numbers. The young are mostly fed insects, and this is exactly what the female Red-winged Blackbird pictured above is doing; she is feeding insects to a fledgling hidden in the grass. The male does a remarkable job and helps feed  the fledglings in is territory; there can be quite a few young birds to feed!

Red-winged Blackbirds may be seen at any marsh, lake or pond in Calgary with cattails and bulrushes. Don`t forget to listen; you can always tell if there is a Red-winged Blackbird nearby if you can hear the males distinctive “Conk-la-ree“ song.

Posted by Matthew Sim

May Species Count

Last week, I, along with many other keen birders, did the Calgary and area May Species Count. Two other great birders and I were assigned the south part of the city, our borders were; north to Glenmore Trail, west and south to the Bow river and east to the City limits.  We had a great time, birding for 9 hours on Saturday, driving 139 kilometers and recording 87 birds. We saw many great birds, some of the highlights being 2 Hooded Mergansers, a Western Grebe, a Ferruginous Hawk, a Veery, a Blackpoll Warbler and a Townsend’s Solitaire. The Solitaire was a real surprise as it was far away from its normal habitat and was way too far south.

A Townsend’s Solitaire, way off course.

The Solitaire caught a bug and attempted to swallow it…

But had some difficulty. Eventually, the Solitaire got the bug down the hatch.

Other birds seen included several coots on nests…

Many Red-winged Blackbirds…

And a posing crow.

The May Species Count is held annually and will therefore be held again next year, if you haven’t done it yet, it could be a great time to start.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Stalking the Sora

Two weeks ago I was in Edgemont in NW Calgary, so I stopped at Edgemont Ravines to check out the two ponds there. I didn’t have my camera, which was too bad, because I was able to see the elusive Sora.  Soras are small waterbirds in the rail family, who spend a lot of time hiding in the reeds.

Last week I returned to the ponds, with camera in hand, to try to get a picture of the Sora.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it, but I did find some other interesting birds and mammals.  The pictures below are from that second trip.

Park on the east side of Edgebrook Boulevard NW.

The easternmost pond.

On my first visit I walked around both ponds, and saw an American Coot, several Mallards, and lots of male Red-winged Blackbirds.  Suddenly, a strange bird popped up onto a cattail…

Every time the first of these comes into view in the spring, I briefly believe that I have discovered a bird unknown to science.  This, of course, is a female Red-winged Blackbird.  They look so unlike the males that at first it seems to be a different species altogether.

It turned out that there were many Red-winged Blackbirds, both male and female, and they were engaged in courtship behaviour and nest-building.

As I finished up the circuit, I heard the hair-raising whinny of a Sora coming from a corner of the pond.  This Sora specialty is one of my favourites, because it sounds like demented laughter.

Sounds courtesy Xeno-canto .

Soras are very elusive birds, who skulk around the margins of ponds, rarely showing themselves.  You hear them far more often than you see them.

I slowly moved towards the spot where the Sora was hidden: step, wait; step, wait; until I was finally rewarded with a shoe-ful of water.  Drat.  I was too close to the pond.

Luckily, back on shore, there was a convenient “surveillance bush” right near the spot where the Sora was concealed.

I lurked behind the bush for ten minutes or so, trying to hold still while mosquitoes treated my neck like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Finally, there  was some movement in the grass, and there was the Sora!  The bird came almost out into the open.  I regretted not having that camera.  Naturally, when I returned the following week with camera, there was no sign of the bird.  The shot below remains the best picture I’ve got of a Sora, taken at Valleyview Park pond in southeast Calgary in 2008.

Soras almost always seem to keep some vegetation between themselves and the camera.

Despite missing out on the Sora, I continued to the second pond, where last year I had found a Pied-billed Grebe.  Wouldn’t you know it; this time there were no grebes, but there was a pair of scaup.

Lesser or Greater Scaup?

A breeding American Coot didn’t like them around and repeatedly emerged from the rushes to chase them off.

Determined Coot chug-chug-chugging towards his foes!

On my way back to the parking lot, I noticed a small plump rodent scurry into the bushes.  Eventually, I got some pictures.  It was a Vole, probably a Meadow Vole.

So although you don’t always find what you’re looking for, you usually see something interesting, even at the smallest ponds.  All in all, a rewarding outing.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre