Tag Archive | shorebirds

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

World Shorebirds Day September 6

The third annual World Shorebirds Day is September 6, 2016. Birders are encouraged to count shorebirds from September 2-6. You can register a location where you intend to go birding that week, and then make a careful count of the shorebirds (and other birds) you see there and submit the results to eBird or to the official website of World Shorebirds Day.

Long-billed Dowitchers Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400Long-billed Dowitchers, Frank Lake. September 12, 2013. Photo by Dan Arndt

You can read more about this project on the official website.

There are plenty of great shorebird locations in the Calgary area so register your spot and help this citizen science project. Only with better knowledge of the numbers and distributions of these long-distance migrants can we help to conserve them.

Early October on the Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

Earlier this month I was able to take part in two walks with the Friends of Fish Creek out to the Irrigation Canal that runs parallel to the Bow River through south-east Calgary. Each day had its highlights and the overall experience was really quite incredible. While there’s not quite as much activity this late in the month, the week following the initial drainage of the canal can be quite productive for a wide variety of birds. From shorebirds to gulls to songbirds, the whole walk tends to be non-stop flying, foraging and feeding on everything living in the trees along the canal and the mud within it.

Irrigation Canal - October 6th and 8th, 2015

Irrigation Canal – October 6th and 8th, 2015

Two of the most common birds we often find along this walk are the two most easy to overlook, the American Robin and the European Starling. Their colors and contrasts really stand out on a bright clear fall day, especially with the right background!

IMGP1669American Robin – ::Aperture: ƒ/7.1|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

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

The Ring-billed Gulls are also one of the most numerous birds we find along the canal, aside from waterfowl, and until recent years, we’ve almost always had Bonaparte’s Gulls. We’re always on the look out for something a little more unusual, but so far we’ve failed to turn up anything less common.

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Ring-billed Gull – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

The main draw along the canal are the ever-present Hooded Mergansers. It’s not unusual to find at least a few males and at least a couple females cruising around feeding on the small invertebrates and fish in the main channel of the canal.

IMGP1743male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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male Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 400mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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female Hooded Mergansers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

This late in the season we also get a good number of Greater Yellowlegs (and very rarely an occasional Lesser Yellowlegs). Even more interesting are the occasional falcons and raptors hunting them, like this female Merlin that took a dive at a large group of yellowlegs, flushing the majority of them!

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Greater Yellowlegs – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 640|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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female Merlin – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 320|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

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female Merlin in flight – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

In addition to the Merlins we saw on both days at the canal, on the 8th we had a couple of interesting fly-overs. A Rough-legged Hawk and an immature Golden Eagle soared over on some high thermals, offering a few opportunities for us to identify them from below. Golden Eagles aren’t particularly common within the city limits, so my first thought was that it was an immature Bald Eagle. After reviewing the photos though, it was most certainly a Golden, which was quite an exciting find! Those broad, squared off wings, golden nape, and white patches in the middle of the underwing are really good features to look for on an immature Golden Eagle.

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Rough-legged Hawk – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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Golden Eagle – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

New for me this year was a bit of variety in the makeup of shorebirds, with a fair number of Long-billed Dowitchers making an appearance, which we identified by their flight calls, and a lone American Golden-Plover, which is yet another relatively rare bird in the area, especially within the city limits!

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Long-billed Dowitchers – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1250|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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American Golden-Plover and Greater Yellowlegs – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

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American Golden-Plover – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/1000s|

Our last bird of the day, and maybe the last members of this species of the season, were a small number of Double-crested Cormorants. While these birds are fairly uncommon around the city, they’re not quite as loathed here as they are in eastern Canada, so most of us still enjoy seeing them from time to time along the Bow River.

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Double-crested Cormorant – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 800|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

While there aren’t usually too many mammals along this route, we did find a lone Muskrat on both of our outings, in almost exactly the same spot north of the Gosling Way bridge over the canal. He (or she) was foraging and collecting grasses and stems to store away for the winter.

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Muskrat – ::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

And that’s it for another week here on the blog. Have a great one, and good birding!

Canal Closed to Water, Open for Birding!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The irrigation canal that begins by the Max Bell arena and runs through SE calgary had the water diversion shut off yesterday. As the water slowly recedes over the next week or so, a number of species of waterfowl and shorebirds will converge there to feed in the shallow pools left behind, and on the exposed weed beds and mud flats. Expect to see large numbers of common species like Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, but you might also see quite a few Greater Yellowlegs, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.

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The canal near Gosling Way, October 2011.

I have also seen Killdeer, Double-crested Cormorants, Long-billed Dowitchers, and the occasional Pied-billed Grebe and even some Rusty Blackbirds here. You can also see migrating sparrows and late Warblers in the trees and bushes along the canal.

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Birds on the canal between Gosling Way and 50 Avenue SE, October 2011.

Here is a link to a post by Dan Arndt from one of our FFCPP outings last fall, which includes a map of the area. I have found that the section from Gosling Way (the road to the Inglewood Golf Club) to 50 Avenue SE is the most productive, but you might also try going north from there towards the Canoe Club at 17 Avenue SE, or Park at the Max Bell Arena and walk south. There is a paved path all along the canal so it is also a good area to explore by bike.

Here is another old post about birding the canal.

A fine fall day for birding at the Western Irrigation Canal

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the highlights of the fall season is the exploration of the Western Irrigation Canal pathway, and this year’s visit was no exception. With warmer temperatures than we’d had the past week, clear skies, and a good variety of birds, it was a hit with the relatively small group we had.

Western Irrigation Canal

Western Irrigation Canal

To my eyes, the most persistent bird through the trip was the Greater Yellowlegs, though as we began the walk, the light didn’t particularly give us good opportunities to get them at their best, so it took a while before the shutter clicks and long, lingering looks at potentially the last shorebirds of the season really began in earnest. While earlier in the week there had been a good variety of waterfowl, our diversity was relatively minimal, with these Green-winged Teal showing off their namesake, and their vibrant colors.

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female Green-winged Teal
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another of the surprisingly attractive birds was this young European Starling, showing off a little iridescence in the early morning light. While they’re also on their way out of the area, they’ve really come into their beautiful, bright, and striking colors. It’s been said that if these birds were rare, people would come from miles around just to get a look at them!

European Starling Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

European Starling
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we entered the wooded area near the south end of the canal pathway, we heard the chip notes of a few sparrows, juncos, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler or three, and were greeted with one distinct sparrow, and one bird that remained a mystery for a good five minutes while we considered the possibilities. The first was a beautiful American Tree Sparrow, with its distinct red cap, bi-colored bill, and gray face skulked about in the shade, and flew off after only a minute or so.

 

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American Tree Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

The American Tree Sparrow was intermingling with a pair of these slightly smaller, and a little more plain birds, which we eventually came to the conclusion were immature Chipping Sparrows, which hadn’t quite fully entered breeding plumage.

Chipping

Chipping Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

It wasn’t too much further up the path that we initially saw this Black-billed Magpie, picking off some thorny buffalo-berries from this tree. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos that I noticed why it was foraging on the bushes. It appears that this magpie has suffered a fairly severe series of injuries. Its upper mandible has been torn away almost entirely, leaving only a centimeter or so, and there also appears to be some significant loss of feathers around the neck area, though this may be an artifact of the molt pattern typical of corvids. It sat there for a few minutes, nabbing berry after berry, tipping its head back to swallow them, and then continuing up the branch.

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Black-billed Magpie with damaged bill
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

This photo shows the damaged bill a bit better
Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we reached the end of the pathway, we turned back to return the way we had come, and as the sun edged over the trees a little more, it really brought out the amazing colors on some of the most common of our winter birds. When you see the iridescence of the head, the bright yellow of the bill, and the contrasting deep orange of the feet of the male Mallard it really is quite the sight.

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

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

On our return, all the birds disturbed by our first pass had returned, and seemingly, brought along some of their friends as well. This Greater Yellowlegs flushed up soon after we turned back, I suspect moments after it had just become comfortable again after our initial intrusion.

Greater Yellowlegs Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Greater Yellowlegs
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

It’s also quite nice to see the Common Mergansers return in the fall. They’re quite a common bird here in the fall, winter, and spring, but they can be a challenge to find in the summer at the height of breeding season.

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female Common Merganser
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

And finally, the ever-present Ring-billed Gulls both young and old were our constant companions on the walk. Soon though, they’ll be heading south for the winter, and strange as it may sound, their presence will be yearned for by February and March, along with hopes of warmer weather to come!

adult RBGU

adult Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

juv RBGU

immature Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 160

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday: The Road Less Travelled at Frank Lake – Part 1

As you no doubt have realized by now, not only do I love shorebirds, but I also love Frank Lake. Today’s post is here to highlight not only the photos that I’ve taken at Frank Lake already this year, but also some areas that may be a little bit less familiar to the visitors to the Ducks Unlimited Protected Wetland just 50km SE of Calgary.

 

Frank Lake

Frank Lake

Of course everyone knows what great shots you can get just sitting at the established viewing blind, or on the mudflats around the parking loop at the end of the road at the main basin. For instance, Ruddy Ducks, Eared Grebes, and even Western Grebes can be regularly seen within a few meters of the main blind.

Western Grebe and young Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Western Grebe and young
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

eared grebe

Eared Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

female Ruddy

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

There are a couple of other places along the main access road that are good for shorebirds, Common Yellowthroat, White-faced Ibis, and even Black-crowned Night Herons. The first, labelled (1) on the map, is just east of the water inflow canal. The nutrients in the water provide a huge volume of nutrients in suspension to feed insects, plants, algae, and even shorebirds who eat small particulate food. Here are a few of the species that can often be found at this location in the summer.

Long-billed Dowitchers Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Long-billed Dowitchers
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

 

Common Yellowthroat Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Common Yellowthroat
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

American Avocets Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

American Avocets
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

 

Wilson's Snipe Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Wilson’s Snipe
Frank Lake – August 23, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

 

Great Blue Heron Frank Lake - August 23, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Great Blue Heron
Frank Lake – August 23, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

These are just a few of the areas off the beaten path at Frank Lake. With waterfowl hunting season opening on September 8, and the main gate being locked, there are a few other access points at Frank Lake that might be a bit better for drive-up birding. Check in next week for part 2 of this series on Frank Lake!

Spring Birding at Sikome Lake, a variety of surprises!

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be switching things up a bit for spring and fall, in regards to some of the content. I hope you like the new format, meant to highlight really the new arrivals (or long past due photos of said arrivals), rather than a laundry list of everything from Mallards and Chickadees to the uncommon or rare birds like Brown Thrasher and Sandhill Cranes. It shouldn’t look that different, but I do think it’s time I changed things up a bit. Given the feedback I’ve had in regards to the maps I’ve included for the past year, I’ll definitely be keeping those. It helps others who are going out in search of the birds days later, but also helps our attendees with a reminder of what we saw and where we saw it.

Sikome Lake is always a great place to visit any time of year. In winter, it’s a haven for the Black-capped Chickadee, both species of Nuthatch that are present here, and both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. One of the birds that are a welcome sight are the Great Horned Owls, which I wrote about for Bird Canada over here. Today was no exception, providing us with quite a few new birds for the year, more than a few of which were surprises even to us!

Sikome Lake, Hull's Wood, and boat launch area

Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and boat launch area

Our first new bird of the day was heard long before it was seen, and if there was a single bird one could say that was present all morning long, it would have been the Ring-necked Pheasant. Their calls echoed throughout the park from when we arrived at 8 AM, until I finally left at 1:15 PM. While they were heard all over the park, we only ended up spotting a single male sitting across the river from the boat launch when we arrived.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

We surveyed a large flock of gulls one one of the gravel bars, picking out a Glaucous Gull amongst the various Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls, but the distance and the sleet simply would not allow for a photo.

Once we’d had our fill of gulls, we headed south to the large pond that borders Highway 22x, where we found this lone (and very early arriving) Cinnamon Teal, and were given nice comparison views of a Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal and Canada Goose

Barrow's Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

Barrow’s Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

As we were leaving, I stopped for a moment as I heard a familiar, but quiet call of a Savannah Sparrow, though we couldn’t track down where the bird was calling from within the cattails on the bank of the pond.

We stopped for a few minutes to check out some Great Horned Owls on a nest, and both mom and dad were present and visible from our vantage point.

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

If you’ve ever birded Sikome Lake, you know that near the parking lot the Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers simply will not allow you to pass without paying the toll of black-oil sunflower seeds, or other assorted nuts as your park tax. Today was the exact opposite. Only a handful of birds were even present, and this lone White-breasted Nuthatch sat quietly while those of us with cameras took photo after photo.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Emerging from the area surrounding the lake, we headed back for the bank of the Bow River to search for more. The male Common Mergansers were in full display, fighting for the right to mate with the few females on the river, who were outnumbered by at least five to one.

male Common Merganser

male Common Merganser

While the river in previous months had been packed with Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Goldeneye, time time around it was a study in gull identification. Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls all circled and wheeled about, a few even taking a break on the near shore as we approached.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

One surprise for us was a pair of Killdeer, possibly ones that had overwintered on this stretch of river, or possibly recent arrivals, either way they were nice to see, as they had eluded our group all throughout the winter course.

Killdeer

Killdeer

As we had nearly completed our walk and spent a moment chatting with Gus, his keen eyes and quick identification skills spotted this lone bird, our first bird of the year for any of the groups for this species. Can you tell what it is?

Of course you won't get a hint this way.

Mystery Bird

And with that, our group had a few great new sightings for the year, despite the terrible weather, constant snow and sleet, and uncomfortably cold winds. Of course, me being a sucker for punishment, I decided I needed a better shot of the Cinnamon Teal, so I headed back to the ponds. I didn’t get a better shot of that bird, but I did find this pair of Greater Yellowlegs in the area we saw him before, which was a really nice bonus bird for the day!

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

And with that, I decided to call it a day and leave the park to the afternoon session, who were arriving just as I headed out.

 

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course – Week 6 – Western Headworks Pathway

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week, another great week of birding one of the incredible natural areas of Calgary. This time we headed down the Western Headworks Pathway, one of the primary irrigation canals of the Bow River, which extends all the way to Chestermere Lake and provides water to farms even further east and south from Calgary. Our walk took us from just south of 17th Avenue SE all the way to 50th Avenue SE and back again, all the while keeping us incredibly close to the birds and allowing for some decent shots despite the gray, gloomy skies and incredibly poor light all morning long.

One of the best sightings early on were this pair of Yellowlegs, one Greater and one Lesser, showing off the differences in overall body size, bill shape, and bill length.

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly after that we came across a large mixed flock of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and even a lone Northern Pintail was in the mix!

female Northern Shoveler

female Northern Shoveler

A constant reminder of just how close to the Bow River we were was the nearly incessant flocks of gulls, ducks, and even one large flock of nearly forty female and juvenile Common Mergansers.

female Common Mergansers

female Common Mergansers

One raft of Mallards seemed to weave in and out of a flock of American Wigeon and even involved a few Hooded Mergansers, but this lone Pied-billed Grebe nearly escaped our notice hidden amongst some vegetation.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

female Hooded Merganser

female Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

At least two of the male American Wigeon were in full breeding plumage, but instead of the usual white crown on the bird, these Wigeon had yellowish crowns. Very strange.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Another bonus bird that hasn’t been seen on many of our walks for the past year are these Eurasian Collared Doves. While common in residential neighbourhoods, they aren’t often found in the usual spate of parks the Friends of Fish Creek courses will visit.

Eurasian Collared Doves

Eurasian Collared Doves

In contrast, these Rock Pigeons, while posing beautifully on a train bridge, are as common as, well, Rock Pigeons on our walks.

Rock Pigeons

Rock Pigeons

At the far south end of the walk we found our first Killdeer of the day, well hidden amongst the gravel and vegetation on the shore.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Our walk back was essenially better looks at many of the same birds, and as we came up alongside the Hooded Mergansers, something spooked them and flushed them up off the canal.

male Hooded Merganser taking off

male Hooded Merganser taking off

Travel Tuesday – The Many Faces of Frank Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

Frank Lake has been one of my absolute favourite standby birding areas since I started seriously committing myself to the hobby. It’s been a little over a year now, and I must have visited the lake at least twenty times or so, in all seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn, though I’ll admit, I missed out on some great birds down there last fall as I was finishing up my degree, this year will be a very different story!

While shorebirds and waterfowl are the primary draw, sparrows, wrens, falcons, hawks, and even owls are also regularly seen down there.

Frank Lake is located about an hour south of Calgary, and east of High River on Highway 23. 2012 marks the 60th year of activity at Frank Lake by Ducks Unlimited Canada, and is considered one of almost six hundred of Canada’s Important Bird Areas, and you can find a ton of useful information about Frank Lake (and other Ducks Unlimited projects in Alberta) at the Ducks Unlimited website.

The areas most visited by birders are detailed in the map below, with Basin 1 being by far the most popular location, with a blind, driving loop, and water outflow which provides open water even in the coldest winter months.

Frank Lake Map

Frank Lake Map

Winter –

Horned Lark

Horned Lark – March 2012

Trumpeter Swan

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail – March 2012
In late winter/early spring, these Northern Pintail are some of the first migrants back at Frank Lake.

Spring – It’s hard to gauge when winter ends and spring begins out at Frank Lake, as it sometimes seems that the water will thaw completely overnight… but the arrival of some of these favourites is a good indication.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis – May 2012
Probably my absolutely favourite bird at Frank Lake.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe – May 2012
These beautiful little divers can be found at Frank Lake in the hundreds in early spring.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler – May 2012

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk – May 2012
A little more white in this one than usual, another of the predators that patrols the lake.

Summer –

Northern Harrier

One of the more common birds of prey at Frank Lake are the always stunning Red-tailed Hawk.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – July 2012
Less commonly found at Basin 1, almost every summer trip I’ve taken to Basin 3 has turned up at least Black-crowned Night Heron.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope – June 2011
A regularly seen species at Frank Lake, they often nest around the shores of the southern basins.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren – July 2012
My lifer Marsh Wren was found near the blind at Basin 1 of Frank Lake.

Willet

Willet – July 2012
Another of the great summer resident shorebirds at the lake.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew – July 2012
By midsummer, some of the earliest southern migrants begin to make their appearance around the lake.

Autumn –

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover – September 2011
One of the many southbound shorebirds that stop over at Frank Lake on their fall migration.