Tag Archive | Weaselhead

Furry Friday: Flying Squirrels

Update: For the first time, the group (45 people) did not get to see the Flying Squirrels on March 20, and we didn’t hear any Saw-whet Owls either. It was a very humid, misty, foggy night with the temperature near freezing, so that may have had something to do with it.

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Posted by Bob Lefebvre, all photos by Dan Arndt

Next Friday, March 20, Dan Arndt and I will lead the annual Nature Calgary outing to the Weaselhead to see Northern Flying Squirrels. This is a popular outing, likely because people don’t often get an opportunity to see these animals. It can also be challenging, because we often have to wait for over an hour in the cold and dark before the squirrels make an appearance. But if you are patient there is a very good chance you will see these elusive creatures. In over a dozen trips to see them, I think we have only missed them twice. We generally get to see them glide, and we see them up close at a particular bird feeder which they apparently visit each night, looking for seeds that the birds have overlooked (we re-stock the feeder just before the field trip so that they will stay and feed for a while).

For birders, we often hear Northern Saw-whet Owls and sometimes other species.

If you want to join us, we meet at the north Weaselhead parking lot, 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, at 8 pm, Friday March 20. Here is the information about the field trip on the Nature Calgary site.

Many people are not even aware that we have flying squirrels in Calgary (I wasn’t until we saw one at this location in 2008), but they are in fact common throughout the boreal forest, and probably in the city as well. Because they are nocturnal they aren’t often seen.

Most of the photos below were taken last spring on one of our scouting trips. We set up in the bush within ten feet of the feeder, and were able to get great looks. All photos by Dan Arndt, March 26, 2014, except as indicated.

Below is a Northern Flying Squirrel approaching the feeder after landing higher in the tree. You can see the wide flattened tail which acts as a rudder and as an additional gliding surface. (This photo taken March 23, 2012, by Dan Arndt.)

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The next shot shows the large eyes and the furred flap of skin with a dark edge between the wrist and ankle. This is called the patagium, and it forms the main gliding surface when the legs are extended. (This photo was taken by Dan Arndt on March 17, 2012.)

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Below, a Northern Flying Squirrel at the feeder:

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Below, Feeding. Note the patagium extending from the forward part of the wrist. There is a cartilaginous rod several centimeters long (inside the patagium) jutting out from the wrist, which helps to support the skin.

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The remaining photos were actually taken before the 2014 flash photos above. We use a red light to locate the squirrels. Apparently they can’t see these wavelengths, so it doesn’t disturb them, and we can see them approach. Once they are feeding they settle in and are more tolerant, and do not usually leave even when you use flash photography or approach them more closely.

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Here is another post that Dan wrote after our 2012 field trip: Barred Owls and Flying Squirrels.

More facts about the Northern Flying Squirrel:

  • occurs throughout the forested regions of Canada, except Vancouver Island and the island of Newfoundland
  • absent from the treeless arctic and great plains
  • the similar Southern Flying Squirrel occupies the eastern US and parts of southern Ontario and Quebec
  • the Southern species is rapidly expanding northwards, and is hybridizing with the Northern
  • since Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal and shy, they are often thought to be scarce, but are in fact well distributed and and common
  • with a population density of 0.1 to 3.5 squirrels per hectare, they likely have the highest total population of any squirrel species in Canada. This is a minimum of 260 squirrels per square mile in the poorest parts of its range, up to over 900 per square mile in food-rich areas
  • they are active all year, and breed from March to June
  • usually nest in tree cavities (abandoned nests of other squirrels or birds), but may construct a drey in summer
  • are clumsy walkers
  • can glide up to 65 metres, dropping about 1 metre for each 2 metres of glide length
  • are very maneuverable, able to make a 90-degree turn in flight, or even to corkscrew around a tree and land on the same tree at a lower point
  • after landing on a tree, they immediately scurry around to the other side, in case they are being pursued or watched by a predator
  • are preyed upon by owls, hawks, weasels, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, lynx, wolves, foxes, cougars, and domestic cats
  • are especially vulnerable to large nocturnal owls like Great Horned and Barred Owls
  • in Oregon, Northern Flying Squirrels make up about 50-60% of the diet of the endangered Spotted Owl, which consumes an average of 260 squirrels per owl per year
  • Northern Flying Squirrels eat mainly fungi (especially truffles) and lichen, along with seeds and nuts of trees. They supplement this with fruit, tree sap, buds, insects, small birds and eggs, small mammals, and carrion
  • they are a keystone species, vital to their environment due to their feeding activities which disperse tree seeds and the spores of symbiotic fungi throughout the forest

Join us next Friday for a chance to see these amazing animals!

My main source for information on Northern Flying Squirrels was the excellent book The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton.

Winter Finches in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For a few weeks leading up to our outing on February 22, visitors to the Weaselhead had been reporting a wide variety of winter finches here that we simply weren’t seeing elsewhere in the city on our weekly walks. Both species of redpolls, both Common and Hoary, were in attendance, and even more interesting were the arrivals of American Tree Sparrows and a lone American Goldfinch for much of the week. Add to that the numerous possibilities for Ruffed Grouse, both Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks and the numerous Bohemian Waxwings, and it turned out to be a great place to visit last week.

Weaselhead - February 22, 2015

Weaselhead – February 22, 2015

One of the highlights of any visit to the Weaselhead are the well maintained feeders along the north slope. This is where we often find any number of birds throughout the winter, but they are especially helpful for finding those rare overwintering or early arriving birds that depend on this ready food source.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the locals don’t take serious advantage of a free lunch as well, like this male Downy Woodpecker having breakfast at one of the stocked fence posts.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

The next row of fence posts played host to a small flock of twenty or so redpolls, so named for the bright red cap or “poll” atop their head. A little unusual though were what appeared to be one, and maybe a second Hoary Redpoll in among the small flock of Common Redpolls.

male Common Redpoll Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

male Common Redpoll
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1250

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #1
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Hoary Redpoll candidate #2
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Of course no trip to the Weaselhead would be complete without a visit from our obnoxiously loud Blue Jays, but unlike most visits, this guy decided to come down and investigate our group quite closely, and even allowed many of us to get good looks at him out in the open.

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

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

Down across the bridge we stopped at a log where there had been a number of birds seen earlier in the week, including American Tree Sparrows, both redpoll species, as well as Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The juncos did seem to steal the show, and while we stopped to watch for them, we heard the tell-tale upward trill of Pine Siskins above our heads off and on. Yet another winter finch species for the year!

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase?) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon color phase)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

At the bridge across the creek we found another flock of finches, this time Pine Grosbeaks, drinking from the creek and foraging under the bridge for seeds, insects, or some other food source that we couldn’t readily see. This juvenile shows off the distinct ochre coloration signifying his transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

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

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

Further along the pathway this flock of Bohemian Waxwings paid us a visit. It’s always nice to get a good, close look at them as many times they’re simply flying overhead, or off in the distance, but their rusty vents, yellow tips to their tail feathers and bright red wingtips are always striking in contrast to the typical dull winter colors we’re used to here in Calgary.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200

As we walked deeper into the Weaselhead, we heard what must have been at least another half dozen juncos in the brush around us, more Pine Siskins overhead, and of course the usual Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. This male came down to inspect one of the feeding areas, and may have even gotten a little too close for comfort!

male Red-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

male Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

After an unsuccessful visit to the Boreal Chickadee grove, we did have one more nice addition to our outing with this immature Bald Eagle (likely 2nd/3rd year), calling from the distant tree top, but also giving us a wary eye as we walked northward along a parallel path.

immature Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

immature Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We did, in fact, get our eyes on the American Tree Sparrow, albeit briefly at the feeding station, and the extra bonus was another all too brief encounter with the male American Goldfinch at the midway point up the north slope. While I didn’t manage to get photos of either one, I would say that they were both welcome signs of warming weather and the spring to come!

As always, have a great week, and good birding!

Weaselhead Hummingbirds

The most reliable place to find hummingbirds in the city is the Weaselhead Nature Area in the SW. Tony LePrieur photographed both Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds there, as well as other birds, on May 31, 2014.

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Calliope Hummingbird – our smallest bird species.

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Rufous Hummingbird.

Here’s a link to a previous post that shows where these birds nest.

Other birds of the Weaselhead:

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American Goldfinch.

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Swainson’s Hawk.

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Yellow Warbler.

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Cliff Swallow at nest.

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Cliff Swallows. They collect mud for their nests.

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American Wigeon.

North Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Since January 2012 Dan Arndt and I have led the Sunday morning group in the Friends of Fish Creek birding course, at 9 am in the Fall and Winter session, and at 7:30 am in the Spring. As the course has gained popularity, more and more groups have been added. There are now over 200 people registered for the Spring session, so there are eighteen different groups that go on the field trips each week. As more groups have been added there is a need for more leaders, so although Dan will continue to lead at 7:30 on Sundays, I have moved to the 9 am group.

Dan will continue to report here about what they see on his outings, with a one-week delay (see last week’s post Spring Begins at Sikome Lake). But on April 13 he was away, so I have arranged to use the photos taken that day by George Best on our group’s outing, and keep you up to date on what’s happening with the birds of Calgary.

We met at the Weaselhead parking lot and carpooled to the westernmost lot in the adjacent North Glenmore Park, to scope out the reservoir for migrants.  For such a late date, there was still a lot of ice on the reservoir, with the only open water being on the Elbow River and the extreme west end of the lake where the river enters it. There were quite a few species of waterfowl present, and this pair of Canada Geese stood out right away due to the contrast in their colours.

Canada Goose - occidentalis

Canada Geese. All photos by George Best

Among the numerous Mallards and Common Goldeneyes we spotted a pair of Redheads.

Redheads

Redheads and Mallards.

As we scanned the water from the high ridge in North Glenmore Park, we were treated to the sight of four Trumpeter Swans which suddenly appeared and flew silently in a line right in front of us at close range. They were so close and it happened so fast that George could not get a photo with his big lens. Instead, here is a shot of Mallards in flight. A more common sight in these parts but still a beautiful bird.

mallard

Mallards.

We had a few other notable birds on the reservoir, including Canvasbacks, Hooded Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, and the first two Greater Yellowlegs of the season.

Next we headed to the east end of the reservoir near the Canoe Club to check out the stormwater ponds there. Several House Finches gave us good looks right by the parking lot.

House Finch

House Finch, male.

On the way to the ponds we spotted this White-tailed Jackrabbit, and George got a great shot as he stood to size us up. Down in the Weaselhead we sometimes see Snowshoe Hares but up in South Glenmore Park it is more common to see these.

Jack Rabbit

White-tailed Jackrabbit.

There wasn’t much on the ponds but the birds are closer so they make good subjects.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead, male.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye, male.

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Killdeer.

Finally, we headed down into the Weaselhead proper. At the beginning of the walk we added two more mammals, Richardson’s Ground Squirrel and Least Chipmunk. For most of the participants it was the first ground squirrel of the year. For George, who is from the U.K., it was a life mammal, so he made sure to get some close-ups

Richardsons Ground Squirrel

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel.

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Richardson’s Ground Squirrel close-up.

Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk.

The only birds on the Elbow River were these two sleeping Common Mergansers.

Sleeping Mergansers

We saw one Dark-eyed Junco and a few American Tree Sparrows, but these were too flighty to stay for photos. One problem we have with our Sunday walks is that the parks are very busy with bikers, runners, dog-walkers, etc. We stood still to try to get good looks at the Tree Sparrows and Juncos as they fed, but all the traffic on the path kept flushing them. It is a lot quieter on some of the weekday morning walks.

We had heard Blue Jays calling many times and finally caught up with one by the feeders.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay.

Also at a tin-can feeder was this male Hairy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker, male.

We didn’t have time to go too far into the Weaselhead, but we’ll be back when the Hummingbirds are here to see it again.

Dan will report on the Easter Sunday outing on Monday. Until then, Good Birding!

Wednesday Wings: Weaselhead and More

Tony LePrieur took the photos below on March 1, 2014.

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Horned Lark, from outside the city.

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Gray Partridge, from outside the city.

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A very cold Common Goldeneye from Fish Creek Park.

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Brown Creeper, Weaselhead.

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Pileated Woodpecker female, Weaselhead.

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House Finch male, Weaselhead.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet, Weaselhead.

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Coyote, Weaselhead.

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Finally, an ID challenge: At first glance I assumed this bird was a Merlin, but something didn’t quite look right. If not a Merlin, what do you think it is, and why?

Sunday Showcase: Late Winter Birds

Spring is here and the new migrants are showing up daily, but here is another look at some of the winter birds seen in Fish Creek Park and the Weaselhead Nature Area in Calgary. All photographs by Tony LePrieur.

The photos below were taken in Fish Creek Park on February 17, 2014.

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Great Gray Owl, Bebo Grove.

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Boreal Chickadee.

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Black-capped Chickadee.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

These shots of the Three-toed Woodpecker in Bebo Grove were taken on February 23, 2014.

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The remaining photos below were taken on February 23, 2014 in the Weaselhead.

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Great Horned Owl.

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Boreal Chickadee.

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American Tree Sparrow.

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Dark-eyed Junco.

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Golden-crowned Kinglet.

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House Finch.

Expecting the unexpected in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

My first visit back to the Weaselhead Nature Area since the Christmas Bird Count in mid-December turned up a much different array of birds. I always seem to find that birding in the Weaselhead, no matter the time of year, comes in fits and starts. In the winter, this is even more pronounced, as there were times where we’d walked for twenty minutes between running into any birds whatsoever, let alone anything less common than a Black-capped Chickadee.

Weaselhead Nature Area February 2, 2014

Weaselhead Nature Area
February 2, 2014

Maybe it’s the abundance of birds at the start and at the end of this walk that sets the tone for the outings here. The first set of feeders were being visited by the usual Black-capped Chickadees, but with them were a trio of Downy Woodpeckers, a male and female Hairy Woodpecker, and half a dozen amorous House Finches, feeding and singing up a storm.

House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

House Finch (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It was quite a sight to watch the female Hairy Woodpecker pick out a seed from the feeder…

Hairy Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

… and then climb up the tree a short way, place the sunflower seed into the hole, and crack it open with a few rapid taps.

Hairy Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Hairy Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

On our first pass of the feeders at the bottom of the hill, our only real bird of note was this White-breasted Nuthatch, “hank, hank, hank”ing away for no apparent reason, until a second male came into view before the two of them flew off in a scuffle.

White-breasted Nuthatch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

White-breasted Nuthatch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

While we headed from there to our usual Boreal Chickadee grove, flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead, and we even had a pair of chance sightings of a Bald Eagle, and then a few minutes later, a Rough-legged Hawk, which bulked up our species count just a bit more for the day.

Upon arriving at the grove, Bob stopped the group abruptly to point out a single Brown Creeper feeding at the base of one of the larger spruce trees and I snapped off a couple of photos of this elusive species. I suppose like most of the other birds we found today, these birds simply don’t care what a groundhog says about the season, they know that it’s time to breed soon, and they need to collect their energy before things get into full swing!

Brown Creeper Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Brown Creeper
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

We did also find a lone Boreal Chickadee after a few minutes of patience, but unfortunately it didn’t stick around long enough to pose for a photo. Shame!

And so began a long, quiet stretch of our walk. While we did have a few flocks of Black-capped Chickadees with the odd White- or Red-breasted Nuthatch thrown in, we observed no Northern Goshawks, no Merlins, no Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawks, and the largest Bohemian Waxwing flock we found deeper into the Weaselhead was a whopping four (yes, 4) birds.

It all paid off though once we began our trip back. While I was bringing up the rear of the group, the lead observers spotted a female Pileated Woodpecker, which we had seen earlier on in the walk, but this time she was much closer. She flew back into some deadfall, out of sight, and while the rest of the group trudged on, I thought I’d try my luck photographing her.

What do you think?

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And closer still.

Pileated Woodpecker (female) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Pileated Woodpecker (female)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

By the time I reached the feeders again, the group was well ahead of me, and I wouldn’t catch up to them until we reached the end of our walk, but in the time since they had passed the lowermost feeders, a few surprises had moved in, in the form of a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos, a lone American Tree Sparrow, and a surprising first-winter White-throated Sparrow, picking through the seeds on the ground.

WT Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

I didn’t tarry too long, but thought I’d pause for a moment at another of the lower feeders, as this male Downy Woodpecker obliged me with a few shots while he finished his brunch.

Downy Woodpecker (male) Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Downy Woodpecker (male)
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

All in all, another very successful day, and while the light was flat and gray, the birds were accommodating, vocal, and up to no end of entertaining antics! Next week, we head into Bebo Grove in search of the American Three-toed Woodpecker!

Have a great day, and good birding!

 

Sunday Showcase: Pileated Woodpecker

Bernard Tremblay got these amazing close-up photos of a male Pileated Woodpecker feeding on a fallen log yesterday, November 30, 2013, in the Weaselhead Nature Area in SW Calgary. After a few minutes the woodpecker was scared off by a Merlin.

The camera used was a Nikon 7000 + AF-S Nikkor 300 mm lens + Nikon AF-S teleconverter TC -14E 1.4 x. The camera settings were: 420 mm 1/1600 sec f5.6 ISO 2000.

Pïleated Woodpecker 1

Male Pileated Woodpecker. The red crest extends all the way to the base of the bill; on the female the red doesn’t reach the bill. There is also a red mark from the bill to the throat, which is black on female birds.

Pileated Woodpecker 2

Here you can see the long tongue which it uses to extract carpenter ants from trees.

Pileated Woodpecker 3

 

Pileated Woodpecker 4

 

Pileated Woodpecker 5

 

Winter in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

For the second week in a row, the weather cooperated with this past Sunday’s walk, giving us great light, good clear skies, and warm temperatures.

It’s always nice when we get chinooks here in Calgary, and today was no exception. Fewer layers make for a much more comfortable morning, and while we didn’t have the largest species count of the week, we arguably had the nicest day!

 

The Weaselhead - November 24, 2013

The Weaselhead – November 24, 2013

As you can probably tell from the map, the sightings were really concentrated between two areas of the Weaselhead. Near the parking lot at both the start and finish of our walk, and deep in the heart of the Weaselhead, concentrated primarily around a couple of special feeding stations.

I arrived about five minutes late for the Sunday walk, but it did allow me to capture a pair of species that didn’t really provide much in the way of good looks later on, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as this female House Finch inspected me as I was getting out of my vehicle, and just a short walk down the path while I was hoping to catch up with the group a Black-billed Magpie caught the light just perfectly to accentuate the iridescence normally hidden in its black feathers.

female House Finch Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

female House Finch
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It didn’t take me long to catch up with the group, and we stopped at the usual spots along the pathway leading down into the valley, but the sound of this male Downy Woodpecker tap-tap-tapping on the trunk of this small willow caught our attention. I just love how the backlight of the early morning sun accentuates the red on the back of his head.

male Downy Woodpecker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

male Downy Woodpecker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

After watching a bit of a feeding frenzy by Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches at one of the first feeders, the birds quieted down quite a bit on our walk. A Blue Jay gave us a flyover near the first bridge, doing one heck of a job impersonating a Bald Eagle’s screams, and a few flights of Bohemian Waxwings had us looking at the tree tops to spot them alighted, but sadly we would have to wait.

One particularly eagle-eyed observer did happen to spot this male Northern Flicker sitting stock still in a poplar. I still have no idea how she spotted it. Can you?

male Northern Flicker Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

male Northern Flicker
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 320

Once we re-entered the thick woods though, we were once again greeted by the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees and more than a few Red Squirrels came for a bite to eat as well.

Black-capped Chickadee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

Black-capped Chickadee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400

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

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

While we waited at this spot for a good ten minutes trying to lure in a Boreal Chickadee, they were feeling rather shy today, with a pair of them coming in for a look at our group, make a few calls, and fly off again, despite my playing a few calls for them in an attempt to offer our group a half-decent look. For all our effort, only three or four of us got brief glimpses of them.

As we turned to leave the little grove, we stopped to check out a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings that flew in just as we were on our way out.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

As we packed in our search for our target species and began the trek back to the parking lot, I couldn’t resist taking yet another photo of our enthusiastic group, as well as the habitat of the Weaselhead as well. These photos were taken in an area that six months previously had been the home to a good number of Calliope Hummingbirds, who are now enjoying the warm weather of Mexico and Central America.

The Adventurers Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Adventurers
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

The Weaselhead
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/100sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400

As we reached the top of the hill on our trek back, we finally had our first raptor sighting, with this 3rd year Bald Eagle flying high over the Glenmore Reservoir and into the distance. I particularly like the fact that it decided to wheel around to the southwest of us, giving a very nice background to shoot as well. For those earth science nerds out there like me (or those inclined to mountain climbing), those peaks are Mt. Cornwall on the left, and Mt. Glasgow on the right.

Bald Eagle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Bald Eagle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

It was also nice to get an overflight of Bohemian Waxwings (maybe even the same group I had shot earlier) as I was packing up my gear and putting it away in the jeep for the trip home.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 125

Thanks again for reading, and good birding!

More surprises and new discoveries in the Weaselhead

While it has only been two weeks since our last visit to the Weaselhead, and only a week since my last post on it, that amount of time can lead to a huge difference in the birds one will see and hear in such a dynamic habitat. In addition to some of the birds we only heard on our last visit, a bunch of new arrivals made for an eventful day. I was thankful for that, because by the time I started with our group at 7:30, I’d already been out in the Weaselhead for almost 4 hours with the Dawn Chorus, listening for birds in the pre-dawn light, and had already accumulated a list of close to 60 species for the day!

Return to the Weaselhead

Return to the Weaselhead

A small contingent of six of us decided to visit the Weaselhead again, and while we didn’t expect too much in the way of new birds, we were very pleased with what we did find! One of our first new finds though was a pair of Least Chipmunks rummaging around in the freshly stocked feeders. This one actually sat inside while we watched him snacking on the sunflower seeds.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

Looking out over the Elbow River towards the area where the Rufous Hummingbirds are, we spotted this little fellow much closer still, and snapped a few shots. When we confirmed the ID as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, we edged closer and were able to get some very nice views and photos.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Showing off his gorget

Showing off his gorget

Down the hill we went, checking on the Rufous Hummingbirds, but not before finding a couple of the birds we’d heard well the past few weeks but hadn’t seen. Both the Cedar Waxwings and Gray Catbirds seemed much more comfortable sitting out in the open this week, and both allowed nice photo opportunities.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

 

 

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The old faithful pair of Eastern Phoebes under the wooden bridges in the Weaselhead were both present, but we got our first good looks at the male under the north bridge. After looking the wrong way for him for a few minutes, thought I’d look down over the edge, and sure enough, less than five feet away from me, there he was! Once he knew that I’d seen him though, he flew under the bridge and away from us to continue his hunting for the morning.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

As we walked through the meadow where the Calliope Hummingbirds nest, we heard two separate Ruffed Grouses drumming, and as we neared our usual Boreal Chickadee grove, this male was drumming so close to us that I could actually hear the wind whistling through his flight feathers.

 

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Onward and westward we went, staying away from the main pathway as much as possible, as apparently there was a race going on along the main central path… though we didn’t see or hear much in the way of runners. As we neared the pathway though, we did hear this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker calling and tapping on this dead snag… at least when he wasn’t preening himself.

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

A visit to the south ponds netted the calls of a Sora, a few American Wigeon on the ponds, more Least Flycatchers than one could count, and at least two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks calling from the treetops. This male allowed us a few minutes of viewing before flying off once again.

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

One notably absent species were the Cliff Swallows. Their nests were empty, and we weren’t the only ones who noticed. This Merlin was sitting near the bridge staring intently down at the nest colony, in hopes of snagging some lunch. He sat there until long after we left, waiting for his lunch “on the wing” to be delivered.

 

Merlin

Merlin

Our last new species of the day was actually one that is generally more evasive than the most secretive birds, but for some reason, this young Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel was sitting on the ground nibbling away on grass and seeds when we nearly stumbled over it. We could have sat there all morning taking hundreds of photos of it, but this little ground squirrel was completely fearless!

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

 

Next week I’ll be away, but I will share some highlights from the May Species Count with you, along with some really great sightings we had at the annual Livingstone Ranch Golf Course bird count! Have a good week, and good birding!