Tag Archive | shorebirds

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.

teal

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.

 

tree sparrow

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.

come

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.

Travel Tuesday – Birthday Birding with Bob

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I have done for a few years now, I decided this year that I would take a day off around my birthday and get a few new life-birds and a few other target species off my list. As the week came closer, the weather looked more and more like it simply was not going to cooperate, and when my birthday arrived, it rained straight through the day. Two days later, the clouds cleared long enough for Bob Lefebvre and I to get out and find some birds. While the wind was more active than I would have liked, the day turned out quite nicely, topping out at 27 degrees C, (or about 81F for our readers south of the border).

We planned our route a few days before to tie in with Bob’s scheduled trip on the Loon survey. We would hit the entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, then go over to Horse Creek Road, up Grand Valley Road, then down through Bragg Creek to the Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, then back up to Leisure Lake to do the loon survey. Finally, we would make a trip down to Frank Lake, to get Bob’s shorebird count up, and finally we would head home from there.

Our list of locations

Birthday Birding Locations

 

With our route planned, we headed out at 5 AM, and got to our first site just as the sun was clearing the horizon.

Bob had heard of a number of Rock Wrens on territory just north of the main entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, and when we stopped the car and listened for a few moments, it was immediately apparent that they were still present. With a little help from some call playback, we were able to get some extremely good views of one of the males loudly defending his territory.

 

Shaken, not stirred.

This bird is appropriately named.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren closeup

We headed up Grand Valley Road shortly after, in search of one of the many Great Gray Owls that have been seen there many times this spring and summer, but also historically seems to be the best spot around to find them. We drove for quite some time before Bob’s eagle eyes spotted one flying behind a gravel pile, so we stopped and waited, and moments later, it flew out and onto a nearby fencepost. This reclusive individual only stayed around long enough for us to get a handful of photos, but we did manage a few that turned out.

Great Gray Owl

Watching us very closely.

Great Gray Glare of Death

Great Gray Glare of Death

As we headed down to Horse Creek Road, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and when we stopped to listen for the rails distinctive clicking calls, we could barely hear anything over the wind. No rails were heard or seen on this trip, but we did get some very nice close ups of these Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

After that brief stop, we headed straight down to Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, and got incredibly close views of another life-bird for me, the Cape May Warbler. It seemed that there were quite a number of them in the park, most on nests, along with Wilson’s Warblers, which never quite came out to give us decent views.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Bob’s annual Loon Survey up at Leisure Lake was part of our trip, and we did manage to circle the lake, find the nest and eggs, and saw both the male and female Common Loon out on the water.

Common Loon

Common Loon

We finished up our day out at Frank Lake, and planned to head down to Basin 2, where we saw a huge number of species, and I was able to add Northern Harrier to my year list finally as well, but as far away as it was, paired with the heat, the photos simply would not suffice. So instead, here’s a Marbled Godwit to distract you.

 

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Pine Creek Water Treatment Facility to Lafarge Meadows – The road less travelled.

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I attempted a trip earlier this year to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant on the south end of Calgary, and very nearly reached the facility just as my time was running short and I was forced to head back. At the time, a pair of Northern Saw-whet Owls was reported down on the river on the island adjacent to the plant, but I dipped on finding them. This time, the trip to the facility was successful, but sadly, no Northern Saw-Whet Owls were found. Even so, the number of species we saw and heard was astounding, and we even managed to observe not one, but two mating rituals in the few hours it took us to walk from the south end of our route, back to our vehicles at the entrance to the Inland Concrete Site at the east end of 194th Avenue SE, on what would turn out to be one of the warmest and nicest days of the year so far.

Pine Creek Walk

Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant to 194th Avenue SE

 

The rogues gallery of usual suspects was generally present on the route, with the usual Mallards, Canada Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Flickers and even Red-breasted Nuthatches. What I was not prepared for was the sheer number of new species on and around the river! The highlight of the day I think would have been the three Spotted Sandpipers that we saw throughout the day. I’m sure I have better shots than this from previous outings, but this was the closest I was able to get to any of these three.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

Two other old faithful birds that I have somehow missed so far this year are the Green-winged Teal and Gadwall, both of which were viewed down along one of the back-channels of the Bow River, in the shallow, slow waters in the gravel laden meanders behind the main series of islands. The Gadwall were one of the species we were able to observe “The Beast With Two Backs”… or in other words, the mating of the ducks. It really is quite an unceremonious event for birds in general. I think the whole encounter lasted less than a minute.

 

Green-winged Teal (m)

Green-winged Teal (m)

Male (top) and female (bottom) Gadwall

Male (top) and female (bottom) Gadwall

I’m always happy when an outing includes good views of Killdeer. One of our first sightings was across the back-channel, in the shade, with the Killdeer disappearing among the rocks, but near the end of our walk, we also caught this species in the act of attempting to procreate. I wish these future parents good luck! At least the male didn’t attempt to drown the female during the copulation!

 

Killdeer

Killdeer

Male (top) and female (bottom) Killdeer

Male (top) and female (bottom) Killdeer mating

One of the biggest surprises that I should have been prepared for, but always takes me aback every year, is the sheer number of Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows that invade the grasslands and brush-lands on the outskirts of Calgary. By far these two were the most numerous species of the day, and their calls provided the constant background theme music for our outing along the river, interrupted by the odd Song Sparrow, Lincoln Sparrow, and even a distant Vesper Sparrow that we heard, but did not get close enough to see.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

And while I’m on the topic of surprises, these two were great additions to the outing; a small raft of Red-necked Grebes at the pond at the far south end of Lafarge Meadows, and a Great Blue Heron that flew by on at least three separate locations.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

When we had first arrived, we noted a swallow up on one of the nearby powerlines, and while we thought it may be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, we couldn’t be sure due to the bad light. We got lucky though, as the little swallow decided to stick around and wait for us to come back, confirming our original ID. The browns and greys of the Rough-winged Swallow provides stunning contrast to the iridescent blue and bright white Tree Swallows we saw further down the path guarding a nest hole.

Rough-winged Swallow

Rough-winged Swallow

 

Another great week of birding down, and at least 6 more to go before the Spring Birding course wraps up for the year.

 

See you next week!

South Glenmore Park – Birding the Glenmore Reservoir

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of the places that I enjoyed watching birds doing what birds do has always been the Glenmore Reservoir. Even before I made the transition from photographer, to nature photographer, to serious birder, it was always somewhere that I could find something interesting and inspiring to shoot. This week was certainly no different.

 

Starting at the parking lot, we headed east along the bank of the reservior to the point, then headed west along the banks before heading up the hill into the woods and returning via a trail that runs parallel to the bank about half way up the hillside, then up to the multi-use pathway before returning to the parking lot and dispersing for the day.

South Glenmore Park - April 29 Route

South Glenmore Park - April 29 Route

A huge number of species had been reported all week, and I was itching to get out there and get some new birds for the year, and get some new species photographed for the blog. While I didn’t see all the ones I had hoped for, we did get some fairly close looks at quite a few great birds.

 

The stretch between the parking lot and the point turned out to be one of the most productive of the morning, giving us looks at at least one Red-necked Grebe, our only Ruddy Duck of the day, and four Common Loons, along with the usual Mallards, American Wigeon, and Lesser Scaup which have been regular sightings for the spring course so far. Out beyond the range of my camera lens were dozens of Franklin’s Gulls, Bufflehead, and even more Lesser Scaup, in impressive numbers, with a few Common Goldeneye mixed in. After reaching the point, we took a look around and spotted a few American Coots near shore, which was another new bird for our group this year.

If you're a black-capped diving duck with a rusty colored neck, you might be a Red-neck...ed Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe

Ruddy Duck (far left) with Mallards

Ruddy Duck (far left) with Mallards

Common Loon

Common Loon

After we passed the the canoe club, we were greeted by a small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, another new year-bird for me!

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Further along the path we decided to pause and take stock of the birds across the shore from our position before we turned and headed into the forested area. Along with a dozen or so Trumpeter Swans, we spotted a half dozen Northern Shoveler, a pair of Greater Yellowlegs, and a huge number of Franklin’s Gulls, as well as getting is fairly close to a contingent of Horned Grebes which posed very nicely for the paparazzi.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

A few moments later, this Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead carrying something in its claws while being pursued by a trio of American Crows.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

From there, we headed into the woods, where we got a few familiar species onto our list, the Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee, but the trail was extremely quiet. We elected to head up to the main multi-use pathway, and we were glad we did! A Savannah Sparrow, Tree Swallows, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow were added to the day list thanks to some of our more keen-eyed and eared attendees! Another heard a lone Boreal Chorus Frog in a nearby water hole, but we couldn’t get very close to it, and it wasn’t until we were once again near the parking lot before we heard them again and decided to investigate. These little frogs are incredibly loud for their size, and here are a few scenes I managed to capture.

Boreal Chorus Frog

Boreal Chorus Frog

And here’s what they sound like:

 

 

 

Willet (or won’t it)

As colder weather begins to descend upon Calgary, it can be nice to reflect a little bit on some birds that we were familiar with during the summer months.

Many species of birds vary greatly from region to region. The Willet is one of these birds that are highly variable with two distinct subspecies, the eastern semipalmata darker, browner and thicker-billed than the western subspecies inornata that we see both in Calgary, and down here on the Gulf Coast.

A western inornata Willet

A large shorebird with a flashy black-and-white wing pattern seen in flight,  the willet was given its name thanks to its territorial call: pill-will-willet. A very vocal bird, the Willet, as biologist William Vogt wrote many years ago, has another call, a ringing kaaaty. When William Vogt studied a breeding pair of Willets back in 1938  he couldn’t help but call them Will and Kate, thanks to their calls.

Another western Willet

Several years ago, before I was a big birder, I traveled out east for vacation. I observed my first Willet out there and now I have the chance to compare photographs of eastern and western Willets.

While the shots of the Western Willets are winter plumaged birds, you can still see the smaller size, darker color and stouter bill in the eastern Willet pictured above.

I always find regional variations in birds intriguing and the Willet is a bird with an easily visible difference, making it a good subject to view and compare from the east to the west.

Posted by Matthew Sim