Tag Archive | sharp-shinned hawk

Birding Locations: Queen’s Park Cemetery

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Northern Goshawk, Queen’s Park Cemetery, January 28, 2017. All photos by Tony LePrieur, all taken at Queen’s Park Cemetery..

One of the smaller and perhaps underappreciated birding locations in Calgary is Queen’s Park Cemetery, located just northwest of Confederation Park near 4th Street and 40 Avenue NW.

Queen’s Park Cemetery.

The cemetery contains a great number of spruce trees, so it attracts many of the species that prefer to feed in or on those trees, such as the winter finches. Many other species of birds and mammals can also be found there, due to the presence of a creek which stays open year-round. The creek runs along the north end, and is bordered by the thickest growth of trees in the cemetery, both coniferous and deciduous.

Detail, north end of Queen’s Park Cemetery, showing the trees which border the creek.

Within the cemetery parking is limited, and it is best to park outside and walk in, or pull completely off one of the roads to park while allowing other vehicles room to pass. Stay away from funeral processions and ceremonies, of course.

The best birding tends to be where the trees are thickest, though you can find Black-capped Chickadees and Red-Breasted Nuthatches wherever there are trees. Crossbills also tend to move around the park (and into the surrounding neighbourhoods). In some years, Brown Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets are very common. A stroll along the roads can usually turn up a few of these in the winter.

Brown Creeper, November 15, 2015.

Golden-crowned Kinglet, November 1, 2015.

Black-capped Chickadee, November 1, 2015.

Pine Siskin, October 25, 2015.

The water that flows through the north end draws many birds to drink, feed, and bathe.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, January 15, 2017.

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk (or the same one from ten months before?), March 6, 2016.

Sharp-shinned Hawk, March 6, 2016.

Queen’s Park is one of the best places to find crossbills. This year there are few in the city, but White-winged Crossbills have been reported there recently.

White-winged (left) and Red Crossbills, November 15, 2015.

Also November 15, 2015.

Common Redpoll, October 25, 2015.

 Dark-eyed Junco, October 25, 2015.

Black-billed Magpie and Great Horned Owl, October 25, 2015.

This may be the same young Northern Goshawk as in the first photo, taken a week earlier, January 22, 2017.

Queen’s Park Cemetery is home to several mammal species as well. Coyotes den there, and White-tailed Jackrabbits and Eastern Gray Squirrels are common.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, December 18, 2016.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, January 22, 2017.

Coyote, January 15, 2017.

So far, eighty-two bird species have been reported here on eBird. That is a pretty good total for a park that isn’t on the river. Sightings in the past week include Rough-legged Hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, White-winged Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Get out and add to the total!

Bebo Grove and the arrival of winter birds

Posted by Dan Arndt

It certainly didn’t feel anything like fall on our last few outings with the Friends of Fish Creek. Aside from a little bit of snow sticking around, and a bit of a brisk start, we’ve had incredible luck with our fall weather here in Calgary, or at least on our Sunday walks!

Bebo Grove is one of our most anticipated outings in the fall for a number of reasons, all of which are owls. Northern Pygmy-Owls were the star last fall and winter, and there’s always the chance of finding Great Gray Owls, Barred Owls, and of course Great Horned Owls. It is also relatively dense spruce forest, which draws in both species of crossbill, Pine Grosbeaks, and even Common and Hoary Redpolls.

While we didn’t have much luck in the redpoll department, we did have a good variety of everything else, and even had a couple bonus raptors show up!

Bebo Grove - November 1, 2015

Bebo Grove – November 1, 2015

For the third (maybe fourth?) year in a row, the star of our show was Bob. Bob is a Red-breasted Nuthatch with a fairly prominent patch of leucism (read: white feathers) on his head. He’s the dominant bird in his little mixed flock of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers, which is noticeable immediately when he is being fed. He flies in, right to the food, flushing every other bird nearby, and coming back time and time again to gather more for his numerous caches.

 

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bob the leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We searched for American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and even Pileated Woodpeckers in the area surrounding the picnic tables, but came up almost entirely empty. We did find a Hairy Woodpecker a little bit to the west, but once we entered the next stand of spruce between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace, things really started getting busy!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

We stopped shortly after to investigate the tops of the nearby spruce trees, as cones began raining down onto the pathway in front of us. Nearly a hundred White-winged Crossbills were filling the trees above us, calling, feeding, and flying about in a frenzy.

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

As we were walking through the dense spruce, we heard some agitated chattering of chickadees and nuthatches, as if they were harassing a predator of some sort. We searched around and as we came into a clearing to get close enough to investigate, a young Great Horned Owl flushed up from a spruce across the clearing, flying west and away. It definitely pays to check these things out, even if its only a rare occasion where you actually do stumble upon a prize like that! As we scanned the trees north of the clearing for where the owl went, we did spot this distant Sharp-shinned Hawk. It’s just too bad it didn’t stick around when we got just a little bit closer later on.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

A little further to the west, we found yet another mixed flock, and had a few Boreal Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, Brown Creepers and still more Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding heavily in the trees, and a few even posing nicely for us.

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Red-breasted Nuthatch

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Coming into the next clearing, we had a bit of a close encounter with a big Mule Deer buck. We actually found him first having a bit of a sparring match with a willow shrub, but as we walked by, he took notice of us and just had to show off his antlers.

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 160mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Mule Deer buck

Mule Deer buck

::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 150mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

We headed towards the barn at Shannon Terrace before turning back. It was a little more quiet to the west than we usually have it, but it wasn’t too much further along that we found out exactly why. This female Merlin was keeping a sharp eye on the ground below, especially one of the feeding stations, and looked quite interested in any little movement nearby.

female Merlin

female Merlin

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

So with that, we headed back to take a second look for Northern Pygmy-Owls, Barred Owls, and American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, but came up (mostly) empty, so we followed the edge of the wetland back to where we had found Bob earlier in the day, but were alerted to the presence of yet another Great Horned Owl by the chattering and squawking of a pair of Blue Jays. 

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

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

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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

It didn’t take too long for the Blue Jays to lose interest and fly off, leaving this big, beautiful owl to snooze the rest of the day away.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great week and good birding!

Sunday Showcase: Hawk versus Kingfisher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding course field trips last fall, we were treated to an amazing chase in the Weaselhead Nature Area. We were in the woods just past the bridge over the Elbow River when I heard the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. We hurried back to the river to try to see this bird, which, given the late date (November 8) was likely attempting to overwinter in Calgary, as they sometimes do.

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Belted Kingfisher (male) perched bedside the Elbow River, Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

Suddenly the Kingfisher took flight, and a small hawk appeared and gave chase. We later identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. In all, it tried five times to catch the Kingfisher out of the air, with a short break between attempts three and four, during which both birds rested on nearby perches. The Kingfisher actually moved to a perch closer to the Hawk, apparently to keep a better eye on its movements.

The amazing part of this chase was the the Kingfisher escaped each time the Hawk got really close by splashing down in the river! Then the Hawk would pass by, and the Kingfisher would emerge form the water, calling loudly. Of course, Kingfishers hunt in this way, diving into the water after small fish, but Sharpies are used to catching their prey in the air. The Hawk didn’t want to get its feet wet, and never managed to get its meal.

A couple of the people on our walk got a few photos of this encounter.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk (above) and Belted Kingfisher (below). Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Kingfisher splashdown! Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Photo by Trevor Churchill

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Photo by Trevor Churchill

IMG_3367a

Resting for the next attack. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3316a

Another try. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3319a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3347a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3348a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3351a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

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A hungry and frustrated Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Trevor Churchill

The 12-week Spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins on March 30, 2015. See this post for more information.

The weather warms, and Griffith Woods still provides a challenge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last week, our little group of birders headed out to Griffith Woods park. With stories of Barred Owls, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and many other good birds we headed out for one of our longest walks of the season. I’ve often found that Griffith Woods can be rather boom or bust when it comes to birding, and this day was no exception. Sadly, this day was more on the bust side of the equation, though not a total loss, as we did find quite a few good birds, and enjoyed the warm weather and good company.

Griffith Woods, January 18, 2015

Griffith Woods, January 18, 2015

One of our first birds of the day was quite possibly our most exciting. A Sharp-shinned Hawk took off through the trees as we reached the second intersection on our clockwise loop of the park. Up until then, we’d only heard a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and a Common Raven or two flying high overhead. Sadly the light was completely against me, so this image was all I managed to capture. It is still good enough to get the proper field marks though!

Sharp-shinned Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

As we plodded west through the slushy pathways, we heard Bohemian Waxwings in the distance, a few Pine Grosbeaks here and there, and finally a Downy Woodpecker popped into the open, giving us a few seconds of entertainment and good looks at it after such a long break between birds!

Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

We headed further up and through the park in search of the Barred Owl that had been seen earlier in the week, or a Great Horned Owl, or even a Mountain Chickadee or two, but the rest of the west end of the park was quiet. Even the pond at the top of the hill remained pretty much empty, except for a couple of Canada Geese flying off as a dog walker disturbed them. Even the bird feeders in the back yards of the homes nearby were quiet, and only three House Sparrows popped into view where there had been nearly twenty earlier in the week!

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

We slowly made our way back through the woods towards the parking lot, and we did manage to stumble upon a small flock of Boreal Chickadees near the condo complex that usually harbors at least one Pileated Woodpecker. Around the time that we reached that point, the sun came out for a few more minutes while these little birds fluttered around us in the bushes and trees nearby.

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

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

Boreal Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Boreal Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

It’s days like this that you have to take the opportunity to find the beauty in the every day birds. As we rounded out our walk, a pair of Common Ravens were perched in a nearby tree. The light was hitting this one in just the right way to show off some of the iridescence that you so rarely get to see. I thought that the subject, background, and the deciduous tree it was sitting in gave a nice false black & white effect.

Common Raven Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Common Raven
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

So with that, we left Griffith Woods for another long while, and on to chase down a rare bird at Beaverdam Flats this week, along with many, many waterfowl!

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.

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.

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

The Scourge of the Feeder

I’ve been dabbling in bird feeding since February of this year, and have had my ups and downs, but I’ve chalked it up to experience, and I think I’ve got it mostly figured out. I’ve also got a few ideas for feeders come springtime, such as an oriole feeder, and setting up some hanging baskets and a hummingbird feeder to try to lure some more colorful birds in.

While my yard list is nowhere near as impressive as that of Pat Bumstead, in the last year I’ve managed to lure in House Sparrows, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, a few Northern Flickers, the ever present Black-capped Chickadees, the odd House Finch or three, Black-billed Magpies, and of course, Rock Pigeons, which I’ve come to expect will regularly pick up the castoff seeds that the other birds throw onto the ground.

I live fairly close to downtown, and twice now I’ve been surprised to hear the sparrows, chickadees and magpies harassing something just outside, and the second time I heard it start up, I had my camera handy and was able to get outside and snap some shots.

In my research, I discovered that it’s not entirely uncommon or unheard of to find that a Sharp-shinned Hawk has taken down one of the birds at your feeder, and that in some cases they can stalk a feeder for days or weeks if it tends to be a reliable food source for them. Both times it appeared that it took down one of the House Sparrows, and each time it took nearly a week before my feeders were back to the numbers I’m used to seeing, so the birds probably have a decent memory for this sort of thing.

I often wonder how many other times birds have been taken at my feeders. Not only by these hawks, but by others, maybe Cooper’s Hawks, or even one of the neighborhood cats that I see wandering every once in a while.

The photos below are of one of these events. This Sharp-shinned Hawk took down a House Sparrow in one of the bushes next door, flew across the street with it, and then, as the Black-billed Magpies harassed it, it flew into the walkway between my house and my neighbor’s, allowing me to get close enough to watch it feeding. A warning though: some of these photos are fairly graphic, so if you’re averse to seeing “nature red in tooth and claw”, you may not want to look. Otherwise… enjoy?

Fresh Kill

Fresh kill

I do feel sorry for the little guy

After the initial kill, the Sharp-shinned Hawk flew across the street, where I was able to take these pictures from behind a parked car. The magpies harassed it until it flew back across the street, and into the walkway.

Here is the Sharpie taking a bit of a break before getting back to its meal

Dinner is served

A car pulled up on the street out front, once again disturbing the hawk from its meal. It hopped up on the fence to finish it off, but it wasn’t too long before the Black-billed Magpies found it and started harassing again.

Two Black-billed Magpies harass and scold the Sharp-shinned Hawk

This Magpie was the braver of the two, but seemed to be only a minor annoyance to the Sharpie.

The brave Magpie attempts a second, but ineffective, attack.

No matter. The Sharp-shinned Hawk finished its meal despite the annoyance, and flew off to the east. I wonder if I’ll see him again some time soon?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk finishes the last few bites of its meal.

Appearing quite satisfied with itself and its meal, the Sharp-shinned Hawk pauses for a photo before flying off.

Posted by Dan Arndt

It’s good to be back…

I flew in to Calgary from Houston last Friday night and was greeted by snow on the ground! Something that I haven’t seen since April. Never thought that I would be so excited to see snow. My first day back, Saturday, I took a walk around my neighborhood and was fortunate enough to see most of the locals; no not the neighbors, the birds.

First thing in the morning, I woke to see several Black-billed Magpies jumping and hollering about in the willow. Several Common Ravens flew overhead and 2 pairs of Chickadees visited the feeders. I was very happy to see the Black-capped Chickadees, nothing can compare with this species’ friendliness!

I have been following the reports from Albertabird still and I have seen all the reports of winter finches; I knew what a good year it was for these birds. I just didn’t know how good! In my hour or so walk, I saw more Crossbills then I did all last winter. I must have seen more than 100 crossbills!

Most of the crossbills were White-winged however there were a few Red Crossbills in the mix ( see photo above). I also observed many Pine Siskins that were flocking with the crossbills and feeding on the abundant cones.

My neighborhood, for some reason, never seems to be popular with Common Redpolls, however this year, within my first 24 hours of being back in Calgary, I had already seen 2 in my community. Also, we hosted a Pine Grosbeak, which is unusual for us. At one point, I was privileged to see several crossbills, a redpoll and many siskins on the ground just feet in front of me, licking up some sort of salt or rock from the ground.

Then, later on in the day, I discovered why my feeders were so empty. Three Sharp-shinned Hawks were all together in a tree. When 3 raptors start calling your neighborhood home, there are definitely going to be some songbird declines.

All in all, it’s good to be back!

Posted by Matthew Sim