Tag Archive | Tree Swallow

Carburn Park, Part 1 – South of the Sue Higgins Bridge

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk last week took us to Carburn Park once again. We actually headed there this week as well, so I’ll cover the birds we found on the south end of the park this week, and the north end in next week’s post.


Carburn Park - April 19, 2015

Carburn Park – April 19, 2015

The Sue Higgins Bridge south of the parking lot in Carburn Park is a regular roost (and nesting location) for any number of Rock Pigeons, and you can usually find at least a few here. It was really nice to find this rather beautifully colored bird, and in great light to show off some of the iridescence on the neck.

Rock Pigeon Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Rock Pigeon
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

On the gravel bar just south of the bridge were over a hundred Franklin’s Gulls, and also a few Ring-billed Gulls flying by eating the freshly hatched insects flying up from the river. One of the advantages of being out so early is that the insects aren’t too high up, and neither are the gulls and swallows yet either.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Ring-billed Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 500

Did I say swallows? Yes indeed, the Tree Swallows have really started showing up in big numbers too, and we had flocks overhead almost the whole time, wheeling and darting around and getting their fill of hatching mayflies and midges.

Tree Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Tree Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We followed the river edge south and came across some interesting sights, as well as the real first returning migrant Song Sparrows. We also found lots of American Robins foraging about, posing, and searching for nesting materials in preparation of the coming breeding season.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

American Robin
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Song Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

One of the most amazing finds last week was a group of four Wood Ducks perched high up in a tree, set exactly at the wrong angle for our approach. By the time I got around to have the light in at least a little bit of a helpful angle, three of them had moved into hiding, but at least I got this lone female! Yes, Wood Ducks are tree nesting ducks. How crazy is that? They’re one of the few ducks that have strong feet and claws capable of gripping branches and bark.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Wood Duck
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

At the far south end of our walk we found another large group of Franklin’s Gulls, many showing quite a bit of pink in the breast and bright red bills typical of fresh breeding plumage. Their raucous cacophony followed us all throughout the park these past two weeks, often drowning out some of the more subtle songs and chip notes of other returning birds, but it is really great to have these birds back!

Franklin's Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

Franklin’s Gull
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 400

On our way back we came across a couple of active nests as well, one containing a pair of Northern Flickers (and presumably their eggs), as well as a Black-billed Magpie nest, with either mom or dad standing guard and keeping a sharp eye on us.

Ring-billed Gull Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1600sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

So that was another week with the Friends of Fish Creek. Next week we’ll see how the north end of the park treated us!

Have a great week, and good birding!

May Species Count Highlights – Lafarge Meadows

The May Species Count weekend is always both exciting and exhausting. Early morning wake ups, lots of ground to cover, and lots of birds to find mean there’s little time for anything else. While most participants in Calgary only have one or two areas to cover, between Bob Lefebvre and I, we cover four areas over two days, including the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park on Sunday morning with the Friends of Fish Creek group, and the last two years we’ve gone on to cover Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Pearce Estate Park in the afternoon. That wouldn’t be too bad, but the area I cover on Saturday is all walking, and includes the north end of Hull’s Wood all the way south to the south end of Lafarge Meadows. To give you an idea, I covered 18.2 km in 9 hours of walking, and netted 68 species of birds, down a few species from last year, but a few surprises (and even a new life-bird) more than made up for it.

One thing you get to see when you’re out at first light is behaviour that you rarely ever see. For instance, Tree Swallows do forage on the ground as well!

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Shortly after this sighting was my lifer for the weekend, this Blackpoll Warbler was one of a flock of four birds foraging near the riverbank. Given that the water level had risen quite a bit in the past few days, I suspect there were a lot of insects climbing the trees to get up above the water level.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

For the second year in a row, I’ve come across a fairly uncommon bird within the city limits, and while I only heard it last year, this year I was actually able to observe this Willow Flycatcher building a nest in the same grove I heard it last year. It was nice to get clear looks at it this time around!

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Of course the Song Sparrows were plentiful, and apparently fearless in their search for a mate and announcing their territory. I walked within three feet of this little singer as I left the path near his perch.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

No trip to the Sikome Lake area would be complete without a visit to the resident Great Horned Owls…

adult male Great Horned Owl

adult male Great Horned Owl

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

immature Great Horned Owl testing out the flight apparatus

Forster’s Terns were a regular sight over the ponds near Highway 22X this year, while last year they were nowhere to be found.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

This Spotted Sandpiper took exception to another male sitting on his log, and charged him in their traditional territorial display.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

When you’re out on a long walk like this, eventually you take some of the side trails and start pishing. This Lincoln’s Sparrow reacted quite strongly to my intrusion, and shooed me off.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

A couple of the most touching sightings though were the babies. This female Common Goldeneye with her five young in tow was the first group of young that I’d seen in the park this year.

female Common Goldeneye with young

female Common Goldeneye with young

But the most powerful experience I’ve had so far this year was nearly stumbling over this Killdeer nest, with one baby already hatched…

Killdeer hatchling

Killdeer hatchling

… and another hatching while I stood there in awe.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

You can see the second hatchling pushing its little wings out of the egg.

The last new bird I was able to add to my list for the day was pair of Least Sandpipers, which are fairly uncommon at this pond at the south end of Lafarge Meadows, but with a lack of mudflats outside the city, they were likely just passing through on their way to better feeding grounds further north.

Least Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers

As the day wore on and the morning turned to afternoon, my feet grew tired and I was about ready to pack it in, but not before finding this female Belted Kingfisher hunting over one of the backwater creeks on the west end of Hull’s Wood. It was a great end to a great day!

female Belted Kingfisher

female Belted Kingfisher

Bird Profile: Tree Swallow

Posted by Matthew Sim

During the summer, Calgary is home to 5 species of swallow; Barn, Cliff, Bank, Northern Rough-winged and Tree Swallows can all be reliably found in the city during the warmer months. The Tree Swallow, perhaps the most common species of swallow here is a favorite bird of mine because of their personality. They always seem to be communicating with one another and I find it humorous to sit back from time to time and watch as a pair on a branch lean back and forth, chattering away to each other.

The Tree Swallow is, of course, a member of the swallow family, (the family is known by the latin name Hirundinidae) small, slender songbirds with small bills and long, pointed wings. A swallow’s sleek form allows it to be an “adept aerialist”, as described in the National Geographic field guides, and they use this form well as they are always darting and swooping about catching flying insects.

The Tree Swallow is separated from other swallows by its blue-green feathers on its upper parts and white plumage below.

Identified by its blue-green upperparts and white underparts,  the tree swallow can be seen flying around meadows and open fields and in wooded habitat near water, such as down along the river in Fish Creek. In fact, just last week as I was exploring some trails in Fish Creek Provincial Park by the river, I came across a Tree Swallow nesting in a cavity right at eye-level in a poplar tree.

Down in that hole, just out of eyesight, is the Tree Swallow’s nest, which is an open cup of grass lined with plenty of feathers- most will likely be from waterfowl on the river. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says about these guy’s nests; “the Tree Swallow uses many feathers from other birds in its nest. The feathers help keep the nestlings warm so they can grow faster. They help keep levels of ectoparasites, like mites, low too.”

Now, perhaps, you know a little bit more about these beautiful and graceful birds. I know that I learned quite a lot as I did research for this post. And though you probably see plenty of Tree Swallows during the summer here in Calgary, next time you see one, I want you to stop and just observe it for a while; I’m sure you will see that they have lots of character!

Family Time For The Birds

I had a day off this last Tuesday so I took the opportunity to go biking and birding in Fish Creek Provincial Park. It was a beautiful morning; the sun was out, the sky was blue, the birds were singing and the weather was warm; finally! I got to Fish Creek at around 8:30 a.m. entering the park just off the intersection of Canyon Meadows drive and Acadia . I was preparing to go down the steep hill into the park only to find that the trail was flooded! Instead I followed the trail around the ridge until I entered the park beside the ranch.I did some random wandering on small paths through Fish Creek, finding a pheasant, a kingfisher, several catbirds and 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, among other birds. I then carried on to bridge number 11, leading to Hull’s Wood. Rounding a bend in the path I was surprised to see a male Pileated Woodpecker, just  meters from the path. Before I could get my camera out of my bag, he had flown further away; apparently he was surprised to see me!

I reached Sikome Lake and rode my bike up the hill, in hopes of finding some Great Horned Owls and their owlets; I was not disappointed! There in their regular tree, was the Great Horned Owl family, two young ones and one adult.

As I continued my circuit, I found some more interesting birds, including some Green-winged Teal.

And the Pelicans! The water is so high in the river that pelicans are everywhere; I was able to count up to 27 pelicans at one time, half in the water, half circling in the sky, their bright white feathers contrasting magnificently with the clear blue sky. Another post on the pelicans will follow this one. However, this day, was truly the day of families. At one secluded spot near the river, I found 4 different nests all within a couple of feet of each other. The first belonged to a Downy Woodpecker, the second to a House Wren and the last two to Tree Swallows.

At the Downy Woodpecker nest, the male would visit the hole every couple of minutes and would be instantly greeted with the call of the hungry young in the inside. He continued his work incessantly, feeding his ever hungry offspring.

The House Wrens hardly ever came in and out of their nest but the male was always nearby, singing very loudly and stopping only for the occasional break.

The Tree Swallows would vigorously defend their nests from potential threats, such as the kestrel that flew over several times. The Kestrel in turn would chase away a Swainson’s Hawk that could have been a potential threat to the Kestrel’s family.

As I was leaving the park in late morning I came across a coyote sitting on a hill, looking very content as well as many Savannah Sparrows singing.

Family time for the birds is a busy time of year; I saw 52 species of birds that morning and I had luck as I got to see  some of them raising their families.

Posted by Matthew Sim

May Species Count – Longview Area

One of the areas that I surveyed for the May Species Count on Sunday May 29 was the Longview area, an hour SW of Calgary.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get to some of the best birding spots due to the wet weather, but the conditions were pretty good.  There was water flowing across some of the side roads but I did get through.

This creek was very high…

There was still quite a bit of snow at high elevations…

The Bar U Ranch road, looking west to the mountains…

I managed to find 75 species, which is a good total for that territory.  I was quite frustrated near the end of the day by my inability to find a House Sparrow anywhere in the town of Longview!  No House Finches there either.  I also saw about 35 Black Terns in a pond that was just out of my territory, and they refused to come over to a perfectly good pond on my side of the boundary.

But I did have some unexpected birds as well, including two Red-breasted Mergansers.  Here are some other highlights (as usual, you can click on the photos to enlarge them).

Mountain Bluebirds are commonly seen near the bluebird boxes…

Female Mountain Bluebird…

Tree Swallows are nesting in many of the Bluebird boxes…

I got a good look at this Red-eyed Vireo…

Male Red-naped Sapsucker…

Because of the high water, there were few shorebirds other than Spotted Sandpipers and a few of these Wilson’s Snipe…

I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of Harlequin Ducks on the Highwood River at the Green View campground…

I only saw one pair of Green-winged Teal, but this male swam very close to me…

The final surprise of the day was this beautiful Red Fox, which seemed to be completely unconcerned with my presence, and walked right by me…

Posted by Bob Lefebvre