Tag Archive | waterfowl

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 13 – Bow Valley Ranch and Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

I will always remember my first visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building in search of birds. It was a cold winter morning, quite similar to yesterday, and we were in search of some Great Horned Owls. We found them, of course, as the owls here are almost as reliable as the sunrise and sunset, before heading off and exploring the area around the Headquarters, and then down to Sikome Lake to look for some more owls and check out what was on the river.

This week was very similar, with maybe a few more surprise species popping up, a couple of near misses on the owls, but all in all, it was another wonderfully successful walk.

Since this walk covers two main areas, I’ve added two maps instead of your usual one for the same low cost as you pay for your current blog subscription! I know with the holiday season in full swing, money is tight, so I’m passing the savings on to you!

We started up at the Headquarters building area known as Bow Valley Ranch, and had quite a bit of success up there after some moderate search efforts. In the end, everyone left satisfied and content with what we had seen so far, with hopes for many more birds to come.

Bow Valley Ranch

Bow Valley Ranch

The pair of Great Horned Owls that have been consistently found here all week, and to my understanding, for well over ten years, were our primary goal here at the east side of the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building. In our searches, we were mobbed by a fair-sized swarm of Black-capped Chickadees, but as is typical for these mixed flocks in winter, we got a little added bonus of a lone Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Nearby, there was a terribly dedicated Downy Woodpecker drumming at a small stand of low bushes in search of some tasty insect larvae or some other arthropods hidden in the bark.

female Downy Woodpecker

female Downy Woodpecker

We spent a good ten to fifteen minutes looking for the Great Horned Owls, walking to the far east end of the pathway, and on our way back we were greeted by the high-pitched flight calls of some White-winged Crossbills picking at the cones at the peak of the spruce rows.

White-winged Crossbills

White-winged Crossbills

We were about ready to call our search off when one of our keen-eyed birders noticed a small clump of something dark and grey huddled up against the trunk of one of the spruce trees.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

A bit of hand waving and flagging down some of our group to come get better looks wound up with a fairly decent angle in the dull, overcast light, and it was clear that this was one Great Horned Owl that did not want to be disturbed this morning.

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Once we had discovered our quarry and had our fill of its excellent camouflage skills, we headed west towards The Ranche, and out in the fields south of the compound was this White-tail Deer buck, casually browsing in the low bushes and making his way eastward along one of the many deer trails in the park.

White-tail Deer buck

White-tail Deer buck

Our last new bird at Bow Valley Ranch was this lone Red Crossbill, calling and preening and generally looking a bit out-of-place in a flock of White-winged Crossbills.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

We headed back to the vehicles shortly thereafter and headed south to Sikome Lake. There were plenty of waterfowl in the fairly swift waters of the Bow River that morning, and quite a few of them were quite close to shore, allowing good looks, and excellent photo opportunities.

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Once again, it took a bit of searching for the Great Horned Owls before we found one lone lookout.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

This area is also one of the must-visit places within Fish Creek Provincial Park, mostly because of how familiar the birds here are with humans. While there may be some compunctions against feeding wild birds, the Downy Woodpeckers, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and of course the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees are comfortable enough to eat right out of one’s hand.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

Once we had our fill of hand-feeding the birds, we headed down to the edge of the Bow River to see what waterfowl we might find. The river was full of Canada Geese, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a few Barrow’s Goldeneye. We also did manage to pick out a subadult male Common Goldeneye just coming into his adult plumage, which was quite interesting to see!

male and female Barrow's Goldeneye

male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow's Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Buffleheads in flight

Buffleheads in flight

immature Common Goldeneye

immature Common Goldeneye

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

 As we headed north along the river bank, we had a fairly low flyover of an adult Bald Eagle which is always a welcome sight… unless you’re a duck.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

Dropping down into the poplar stands on the inside bank of the Bow River, we stopped for a moment to glance over what appeared to be skunk tracks, and continued north back up the slope in the quiet woods to find this female Hairy Woodpecker doing what they do best.

Skunk Tracks

Skunk Tracks

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

Topping off our day was this patient juvenile Bald Eagle watching over a flock of Canada Geese as the snow began to come down in heavier flakes and much faster than before.

juvenile Bald Eagle

juvenile Bald Eagle

As we headed back to the parking lot to head home, we did have a close encounter with a Coyote which dropped down into a creek bed and out of sight before popping up right along the trail we had been following not half an hour before, flushing up some of the Canada Geese we had been so close to earlier in the day.

Coyote

Coyote

It has been quite the productive, beautiful, and diverse course so far, and it’s a bit sad to see it end in just one more week, but on the good side, it also means that we’ll be well on the way towards spring migration with the start of the 2013 Winter Birding course starting up on January 7th!

See you here next week!

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week Ten – Beaverdam Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of having my long lens unavailable for any length of time is the creativity that I’m allowed in the scenic and wide angle shots as opposed to the tight close-ups I’ve grown to prefer in the past year and a bit. I’ve also noticed that it seems like we always go to the same locations when I don’t have my long lens!

This week’s location, Beaverdam Flats, is just one such location.

Beaverdam Flats

Starting at the parking lot, we explored the trees nearby and found our only Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-breasted Nuthatches of the day. Walking down the slope to the river we were greeted by a flyover of a juvenile Bald Eagle, and great views of both the river as a whole, as well as the frost that had accumulated overnight from the freezing fog.

juvenile Bald Eagle

Bow River

Bow River

hoarfrost

Hoarfrost encrusting the bushes, trees and grass along the Bow River.

The sheer number of Canada Geese and Mallards is hard to explain, and we even had a (relatively) small flock of Ring-billed Gulls on the gravel bar as well. Intermixed with the larger waterfowl were no small number of Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a Redhead or two for good measure.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Common Goldeneye in flight

Common Goldeneye in flight

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

We lucked out again and found a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye in amongst the throng, and were even a little more surprised by a lone, late migrating American Coot on the far bank.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye hidden amongst the Mallards.

American Coot

A single, hardy American Coot forages about in the shallow riverbed.

As we followed the bend of the river around to the north side of the park, then trudged through back to the hilltop, we were greeted by our last new species in the park, this pair of Tundra/Trumpeter Swans. I suspect they’re Trumpeter Swans based on their proportions, but I could be wrong.

Swans

Swans

 

As we returned to our vehicles, we decided to go take a look in on Pat Bumstead’s amazing yard list, and specifically, to see the Mourning Doves. These two were found across the street roosting in a tall spruce.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 9 – Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.

When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!

Elliston Park

Elliston Park route

 

When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.

 

We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.

View of Elliston Lake

View of Elliston Lake

As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.

Canada Geese taking off

Canada Geese taking off

In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

 

As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.

House Finches

House Finches

 

As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:

Curious Kinglet

This curious Golden-crowned Kinglet was beginning to display the orange streak hidden beneath its bright yellow crest.

Curious Kinglet gets close

And then it came in to investigate even closer. At one point it was less than two feet away from me. What an experience!

Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Week 7 – South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

The last 48 hours in Calgary have seen a massive shift in temperature and weather. On Friday the temperature took a dive from 15 degrees Celsius down to -5 C, followed by Saturday being interspersed with heavy snow, high winds, and a steady decline in temperature. On Saturday night the temperature took another drop, and upon waking up on Sunday morning, there was a good 2 centimeters of snow accumulation. I knew right away that the birding was going to be great on the Glenmore Reservoir, and I was not disappointed. Nearly 4000 birds were seen out on the water, many of which came in for good, close views, but the majority of them were too far to get usable photos. Luckily for us, some of the less common ones were close enough to see quite well!

By far the majority of the birds were on the west side of the reservoir, but the Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and lone Double-crested Cormorant were in the better-protected eastern bay, closer to the Bayview neighborhood.

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

By far the most numerous birds were the American Coots, which had flocked together overnight to number over 1500 individuals in flocks between 20 and 300. We were greeted at the starting point by this Canada Goose who decided that, for once, it would be appropriate to use the boat launch ramp.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

We also had a perfect vantage point to watch this Bald Eagle and its mate harass one of the larger flocks of American Coots in hopes of picking off a straggler.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Shortly followed by this Common Raven and its mate flying into the spruce above the Glenmore Canoe Club to harass the Bald Eagles who had set down moments before.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As we scanned the flocks of American Coots, we saw interspersed in their numbers a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons. The main highlight though were the occasional Horned and Eared Grebes that flocked together and seemed to spent as much, if not more time under water diving for vegetation to fuel their migration south.

Eared Grebe

lone Eared Grebe in non-breeding plumage

At the east side of the Canoe Club, we found this lone Pied-billed Grebe taking refuge near the docks, resting up and staying hidden from predators.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

As we neared the end of the point, we came up right against the largest raft of American Coots, and we even managed to pick out a few juveniles just coming into their adult plumage. In the photo below are at least two American Coots whose heads are light grey as opposed to the fully matured individuals with the black head plumage.

American Coots

American Coots

Moments later a few Trumpeter Swans that we saw on the very far end of the reservoir took off and flew directly toward us. They slowly veered south, but not before getting close enough to allow us to get a few flight shots.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Working our way on to the east, these three Eared Grebes thought it would be a good learning experience to show us what their breeding plumage looks like, as opposed to their usual non-breeding plumage we’d seen so far for the day.

Eared Grebes

Eared Grebes

The true highlight of the day though was a group of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters in the east bay. While I’ve seen White-winged Scoters a bit closer this year on the Reservoir, and Surf Scoters much earlier during the May Species Count here in Calgary, and even closer on the Iona Jetty in Vancouver, it was a real treat to be able to show these uncommon migrants to our group attendees. This is the very best part of leading these groups and why I love birding. These teachable moments and exposure to new birds like this are more than worth the slight discomfort of the cold.

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

Surf Scoters

Surf Scoters

Last Saturday I spent some time down on the Glenmore Reservoir and was able to get much closer to a pair of White-winged Scoters, and managed to snag this shot of an adult male in much better light conditions.

White-winged Scoter - October 13

White-winged Scoter – October 13

And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.

Surf Scoters - Vancouver

Surf Scoters – Vancouver

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

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course begins again – Week 2

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This fall, Bob Lefebvre and I are running one of the Sunday morning groups this year, and while this is the second week for the group, it’s my first week back from vacation.

 

Lafarge Meadows, one of the locations I always am finding new birds at, was our location for the day, and in our 5.75 km walk up and down the river bank, dodging golf carts and buses, we managed to see a pretty decent number of species. The annotated map shows our general route, as we headed from the Boat Launch, clockwise following the river, then back north along the paved path.

Our Route

On the ponds at the north end, we were given good close looks at a Great Blue Heron, seen here giving a brief lecture to some unruly Mallards that had taken over its roost. It flushed them away, or at least attempted to, before going back to its business of catching its breakfast.

Great Blue Heron giving a lecture

Attempting to frighten off the surly Mallards

Soon the heron realizes the futility of its ways and goes back to fishing.

As we looked over the pond, we were briefly interrupted by a small group of migrants, including Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a few Lincoln’s Sparrows, before we looked back up over the pond to see some familiar faces (or familiar bills, perhaps?) The always entertaining Bufflehead, ever-present Lesser Scaup, and a lone American Wigeon even  made an appearance.

 

Bufflehead

Lesser Scaup

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

As we trekked southward, into the fray with golf carts whizzing by us and the noise of what seemed like hundreds of visitors to some other festivities in the park, we veered off toward the river, where we saw no small number of Double-crested Cormorants, Lesser Yellowlegs, and even at least two Osprey, hunting for fish over the Bow River.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Osprey

Osprey

Even deeper into the brush and further from the trail we happened across a few more warblers in the trees, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a pair of House Wrens angrily chipping away at us.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While we tend to focus on the birds on the blog, we all have a soft spot for butterflies, and this Milberts Tortoiseshell that posed quite nicely for everyone was no exception. It also marked the beginning of our trek back to the north, with the sun at our backs.

Milberts Tortoiseshell

Milberts Tortoiseshell

As we were once again inundated with the golf carts and busy pathway, we kept our heads clear and our goals in sight, checking the ponds and sloughs on each side of the path as we went, and we turned up quite a few nice surprises. Each of them was more striking, with the Pied-billed Grebe surfacing now and again in an algae-choked pond, a pair of juvenile Ruddy Ducks in amongst the American Coots, and another Green-winged Teal flocking in with some more precocious Mallards!

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Finally, as the finish line was in sight and our long walk had ended, we found ourselves staring long and hard at this intrepid Cooper’s Hawk, soaring on the thermals in search of its next meal.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Next week: Mallard Point!

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.

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:

 

 

 

Spring Birding in Carburn Park – What a difference a month makes!

Posted by Dan Arndt

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course visited Carburn Park. While it has been a little over a month, the differences are astounding. The ice on the river has almost completely cleared up, and all three ponds are completely ice-free and full of waterfowl and gulls of all kinds.

After a couple of weekends away, it was nice to get back into the city and back to a place that is always full of surprises, and Carburn Park was just what the doctor ordered.

With a few fresh faces, and plenty of old familiar ones from the Winter Course, we started out bright and early at 7:30AM and got off to a great start.

We decided our best course of action would be to head south to the bridge, then follow a trail as far south as we could before turning back north and following the river with the sun at our backs, both for the best photos, but also for the best light to view the birds at.

Carburn Park - April 22, 2012

One major difference that stands out to my mind between winter and spring birding, at least before the leaves come out and change the game entirely, is that the birds that overwinter here in Calgary are fairly large-bodied overall. Sure, we get Common Redpolls, various finch species, and even a few odd sparrows here and there, but for the most part the overwintering birds are roughly robin-sized or larger. Geese, ducks, a few killdeer here and there, as well as the hawks, owls, and woodpeckers make up the bulk of the birding biomass in the winter. Spring, on the other hand, is when the smaller birds make Calgary home. Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, along with Warblers, Vireos, and Pipits of all kinds make getting just the right light and just the right angles vitally important for a positive visual identification, since these birds are relatively tiny, generally between 10 and 20cm from tip of the bill to the tip of the tail.

The first couple sightings of the day were well known to us already, with a Red-breasted Nuthatch working away at a nest hole, and a Northern Flicker calling out to proclaim his territory.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

After spending some time on the bridge, Bob Lefebvre and I discussed the best route to take, to which I suggested the south leg of the walk, and then returning with the sun at our backs. I even suggested we might get lucky and find a Savannah Sparrow in the grassy area just east of the river, or maybe a Ring-necked Pheasant. It was a mere moments later that this beautiful little Savannah Sparrow popped out into the open to give me the my first sightings of the year for this species.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Along the trail to the south we heard a number of Song Sparrows and possible Lincoln’s Sparrows calling from an island in the center of the Bow River, but over the din of the Canada Geese, Franklin’s Gulls, and American Robins, it was hard to make out any that we could completely confirm. We did manage to get some good views of some Bufflehead on the Bow River, and this Red-tailed Hawk that decided to keep itself a healthy distance away from the group.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Heading back north along the river seemed a lot quieter than the last few times, but as the river opens up and the ice melts off, the concentration of birds on the river is much more dispersed. Add to that the increased number of people fishing both in, and on, the river tends to flush any large groups of birds, even at 7:30 in the morning.

We cut over to the get a couple of looks at the ponds before cutting back to the river when we noticed a few pair of Redheads on the furthest south pond, along with an industrious beaver taking a break on the north shore.

Redheads

Redheads

Heading back over to the river, we heard our first clear Lincoln’s Sparrow song of the day, and shortly after that, our first Tree Swallows flitting about overhead. A few Franklin’s Gulls decided it was a good morning for a bath, and allowed great views of their bright red bills and white eye-ring that are great markers for the species’ breeding plumage.

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

A little further north gave us a couple of great views of a Song Sparrow, singing high up in a tree, and hopping from branch to branch before flying off once we’d all gotten near.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A search of the dense woods by the river for the Northern Saw-whet Owl came up empty, but not before this pair of patient and camera-savvy Common Mergansers hammed it up and posed nicely for us.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Another nice surprise was this pair of Canada Geese perched in Calgary’s oldest Water Birch. This legacy tree is massive, and at over 100 years old, is home to a number of nest holes for Mergansers, Flickers, and likely many more in the higher boughs that aren’t easily seen from the ground.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

We continued heading north to the last pond, but not before stopping to check across the river for a Bald Eagle pair that has regularly nested, and were given a few glimpses of the female sitting on the nest, poking her head up, but at such a distance that my lens didn’t show much more than a spot in the distance. I tried to make up for it with a nice close-up shot of this American Robin with a mouth full of… sludge? I guess what they say about one person’s trash being another’s treasure is true even for birds! I’d imagine he’s taking this back for nesting material.

Sludge! Delicious sludge!

American Robin

At the third pond we had a couple of good views of a Common Loon, had a low flyover of a Northern Goshawk, and saw what must have been a flock of 150 or more Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls both on the lake and above it, chasing down a flurry of freshly hatched insects. It was quite the feeding frenzy!

Lafarge Meadows – Finally!

Posted byDan Arndt

The final Sunday Morning excursion by the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding Course took us to Lafarge Meadows. After going there for the first time with the Fall course, I was looking forward to getting back there as the spring migrants began to filter through, and what a visit it was!

One of the birds that most non-birders consider a sure sign of spring, is the charismatic and well known American Robin, many of which were present and singing their spring song.

Another of the early migrants we were treated to at the beginning of the walk was the ever beautiful song of the aptly named Song Sparrow.

While the field marks weren’t easy to see from that distance, the song was so distinctive that there was no way you could mistake this bird for any other. Over at the boat launch we had some decent views of Common Mergansers (pictured below) and a pair of Lesser Scaup.

We then turned southward to head into LaFarge Meadows proper, checking a few of the ponds near the bridge where we found a few close-ups of some Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon.

As we edged further south along the river, we took note of the huge numbers of gulls both along the river, and in the ponds along the west side that were still frozen, and were greeted by some nicely posing Herring Gulls on a gravel bar in the Bow River, as well as a small number of another new bird for the year, the Franklin’s Gull.

Finally, as we headed back north toward the beginning of our route, I spotted a small bird atop a nearby tree, thinking it may be another sparrow, or maybe even an early swallow species, but was immediately alerted to its identity by the single sharp note of its call, identifying itself as a Northern Shrike!

As we reached the vehicles, all of us were forlorn at the prospect that this was our last walk of the season with that particular group, but all attendees were looking forward to the next round of courses, starting up immediately the following week! Travel will keep me away for the first two weeks of the course, from which I will post some photos on my regular schedule, and but until then, good birding!