Tag Archive | Weaselhead

Sunday Showcase: Autumn in Calgary’s Parks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Catching up with some great autumn photos of Calgary Birds and Mammals, taken by Tony LePrieur from September 25 to October 16, 2016. The locations were the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Carburn Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the Weaselhead Nature Area.

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Boreal Chickadee, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. The bird has no tail. Birds don’t molt all their tail feathers at once, so this indicates it probably survived an attack of some kind.

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Great Horned Owl, Bebo Grove, FCPP, September 25, 2016. These resident owls are fairly common it the city. Pairs will be spending the days resting on their winter roosts now, and by February (or sometimes even January) they will be on their nests, incubating eggs.

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Great Blue Heron, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 16, 2016. The herons have usually all migrated by mid-October, but a few may stay later.

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Harris’s Sparrow, seen at the south end of the big bridge over the Elbow River in the Weaselhead on October 16, 2016. The bird was seen for at least a week, from October 16 to October 25. These Sparrows mostly migrate well east of Calgary and are a bit of a rarity here. They sometimes overwinter, so it is worth looking for.

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American Tree Sparrow. These arctic breeders are passing through here now and some overwinter here.

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Dark-eyed Junco. These sparrows are pretty common here in the winter and can be seen in residential areas right now, often feeding on the ground under bird feeders.

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American Robin bathing.

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American Robin. They passed through here on migration in huge numbers a few weeks ago, but there are always quite a few that overwinter here, mostly in the river valleys.

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Northern Flicker (male). A migratory woodpecker, but again there are always lots in Calgary in the winter – either some local breeders that overwinter, or birds that bred farther north and migrated this far. They will readily come to suet and nut feeders.

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Downy Woodpecker (male). A year-round resident that also will come to feeders.

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Coyote.

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Black-backed Woodpecker. A bit of a rarity in the city, they are occasionally seen in the west end of Fish Creek Park, from Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace. This one was photographed there on October 23, 2016.

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Pileated Woodpecker (male). Another resident woodpecker.

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Rough-legged Hawk. This is the common buteo in our region in the winter. They have arrived in good numbers from their northern breeding grounds. Most commonly seen outside the city, especially west of the city.

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Black-capped Chickadee. Year-round resident.

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Muskrat. They are active all winter in open water.

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Mule Deer buck.

See more of Tony’s Photos on his Flickr page.

Share your bird photos from the Calgary area. Just email them to birdscalgary@gmail.com.

The start of spring in the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our spring birding sessions started off on a bit of a cooler note than the end of our winter course had been, but even though it was a bit duller and colder, the birds did not disappoint. We repeated our previous outing to the Weaselhead almost exactly, with a visit to North Glenmore Park to scope the reservoir and check on the Great Horned Owls we’d found there in late March.

Weaselhead - 4-3-2016

Weaselhead – April 3, 2016

The feeders seemed a little emptier that week, with most of the Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins having departed, but we did find one lone siskin feeding not at the feeders, but on the budding catkins on the trees bracketing the pathway.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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All the way down the hill and onto the bridge we were hard pressed to see anything nearby, with little rhyme or reason. The usual deluge of dog walkers, runners, and cyclists down into the Weaselhead was much diminished due to the weather, and yet the birds were still strangely absent. We crossed over the bridge and off to the deeper parts of the park when we quite nearly stumbled across this little Snowshoe Hare in the shrubs beside the path.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

 ::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

We watched it for a little while while it foraged, seeming not too shy of our presence, but attempting to at least stay a little bit hidden from our direct view. We soon headed off to our usual spot to listen for Boreal Chickadees when we were stopped dead in our tracks by the distant sound of a Ruffed Grouse drumming.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 230mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

I’d been searching for this particular bird for quite a while, as I had found a few drumming logs that he had been displaying on recently on my last solo trip down here. Drumming logs can generally be identified by numerous piles of grouse scat on them, often around an area on the log where the bark has been stripped away. We caught sight of him about a forty meters away, and paused to let him get comfortable with our presence. Sure enough, when he was calm enough, he began his display once again.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

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Ruffed Grouse displaying

Ruffed Grouse displaying

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Ruffed Grouse drumming

Ruffed Grouse drumming

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Once we were satisfied that we’d all had a good view of his displays, we moved on and let him get back to wooing his grousettes (I’m sure that’s the technical term for it… or maybe it’s hens? I’ll stick with grousettes.) Again, the trees were quiet, and the activity was at a bit of a lull, but as birding often goes, sometimes its those quiet days that give the best experiences!

We did manage to catch a flock of Trumpeter Swans flying west off the Glenmore Reservoir just as we entered a clearing. Lucky for us!

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Back to the bridge we went again, and sure enough, our little Snowshoe Hare friend was feeding on the edge of the creek, this time a little bit bolder!

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Since we had a few things to check out up at the top of the hill, we decided to bee-line it back to the parking lot to check out the ponds at North Glenmore Park. Along the way though, we did find a couple little highlights to the day.

This Red Squirrel was caught red-pawed at the exact same feeder we had seen a Least Chipmunk feeding from just a few weeks prior. It seems this bird feeder is the preferred site for rodent sightings!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Near the top of the hill, we also came across this American Robin singing away from near the top of a budding aspen.

American Robin

American Robin

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Back at North Glenmore Park, we found the proud papa Great Horned Owl resting peacefully with his mate nearby. No babies were visible yet, but soon enough those eggs would hatch and become some of the most adorable little fluff balls you’d ever see!

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

And finally we took a few minutes to scan the Glenmore Reservoir, and boy was I glad we did! Far out on the reservoir one of the common perches for gulls and swallows were four species of gulls, and one of those was our first of the year. Lined up nicely were a California Gull (far left), a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, a Franklin’s Gull, and on the far right was a Herring Gull. It’s too bad these guys were so far off, because they sure were a nice sight to see after our slow day!

Gulls on a log

Gulls on a log

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Have a great week, and good birding!

Furry Friday: Tony’s Mammals

A selection of mammals seen in and around Calgary in the last few months.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

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Coyote pair, Weaselhead, October 18, 2015.

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Porcupine, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, October 25, 2015.

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White-tailed Deer, Carburn Park, January 31, 2016.

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White-tailed Deer, Carburn Park, January 31, 2016.

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White-tailed Jackrabbit, Queen’s Park Cemetery, January 31, 2016.

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Coyote, Weaselhead, January 31, 2016.

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Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 27, 2016.

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Meadow Vole, Weaselhead, February 7, 2016.

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American Mink, Fish Creek Park, November 16, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 15, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 15, 2015.

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Long-tailed Weasel, Fish Creek Park, November 16, 2015.

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And finally, a Feral Rabbit at Frank Lake, April 10, 2016.

The end of Winter in the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

For our last outing for our Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding group, we headed to the Weaselhead and North Glenmore Park to see what winter birds remained, and if any spring migrants had shown up around the Glenmore Reservoir and in the Weaselhead itself. While many of our winter birds had already left, a few die-hards were still around in good numbers, and we definitely were not disappointed with the numbers of spring birds we found all around the park.

Weaselhead - March 20, 2016

Weaselhead – March 20, 2016

We headed down into the Weaselhead first thing, checking the feeders along the way. I had headed down before our group to fill some of the feeders, and managed to spot an overwintering American Goldfinch, but when the rest of our group headed down as a whole all of the feeders were completely devoid of activity. Part of the reason for the vacancy is that now that the weather has turned, the birds were not quite as reliant on the feeders as insects had begun to hatch, and caches stored during the winter would provide plenty of food. We did have one little fellow who turned up, as always, at the tail end of the winter session.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Fresh from his winter hibernation, this Least Chipmunk seemed completely oblivious to our presence as he stuffed his face full of black-oil sunflower, peanuts, and various other seeds I’d placed at the feeder earlier in the morning. I just love how much character these little mammals have, and how single-minded they can be when they first wake up.

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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

While she wasn’t right at the feeder, this Hairy Woodpecker was hanging out nearby, hammering a hole in the side of this tree to pick out a tasty meal.

male House Sparrow

male House Sparrow

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

A little further down the path and across the bridge we found this male House Sparrow and his mate picking out some twigs, grass and leaves to make their nest for the coming season. Given where they were loafing about, they may have even been considering setting up shop in one of the Cliff Swallow nests on the bridge!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Before we turned around to head back up the hill, we stopped and checked the logs and information signs that have been used all winter as a feeding station, and sure enough we found some American Tree Sparrows singing away in the brush, and coming out to feed. These little sparrows have an amazing song, and are just as striking to look at.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/800s|

We headed back up the hill and off to the east end of the Glenmore Reservoir to find our returning migrants, and were not disappointed on the first pond. A pair of American Wigeon were floating along the back end of the pond, well away from the Canada Geese and Mallards who were clearly set up on their nesting territories closer in.

White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature White-winged Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill

immature male White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

While we were scanning the ponds for waterfowl, sparrows, and anything else we could find, we heard a flock of late White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees to the north, picking through the few remaining cones that had made it through the winter. Both males and females were in fine form, with the majority of the birds being immature, and as always, seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence.

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

Canada Geese harassing some Mallards

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 100|Shutter speed: 1/250s|

These Canada Geese seemed to have their feathers ruffled by the Mallards (in the shade of the rock on the left). It wasn’t until the Mallards had simply had enough and moved on that the geese left them alone. Seeing these inter-species interactions is always a treat, and late winter and early spring can lead to some great opportunities for this behaviour.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

Our best surprise of the day was coming across this male Great Horned Owl high up in a spruce trying to have a nap… until we disturbed him. He wasn’t pleased to see us. At all.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 400|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

These Common Goldeneye (and a very confused Mallard) were still trying to display for the few remaining single females, though most others of their kind we’d found this late in the winter/spring season. Despite that, at least two of them seemed to making a positive impression!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

::Aperture: ƒ/8|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 2000|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

One of our last birds of the day, and a great one at that, was this Dark-eyed Junco of the Oregon subspecies that sang a bit for us, but also perched high up in the nearby bushes and allowed everyone very good looks.

The spring course with the Friends of Fish Creek is now well under way, so expect some new posts in the next few weeks from our more recent outings. Have a great week, and good birding!

 

Sunday Showcase: Winter Birds of the Weaselhead

Photos from the Weaselhead area of SW Calgary, taken November 28 to December 23.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

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White-throated Sparrow

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Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon subspecies)

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Bohemian Waxwing

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Pine Grosbeak (female or immature)

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Pine Grosbeak (male)

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Blue Jay

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Common Redpoll

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American Goldfinch (male in winter plumage)

Furry Friday: Bobcat

Here’s a special Christmas Day gift to our Birds Calgary readers!

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Bobcats have reported many times in the past few years in SW Calgary, especially in the Weaselhead, South Glenmore Park, North Glenmore Park, and adjacent residential neighbourhoods. On December 13, Tony LePrieur was taking photos in the Weaselhead, and was lucky enough to see three of these beautiful wild cats together. There were four in the group, according to other observers that day. It appears to be an adult female and three young.

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As Tony lay down on the ground to try to get a photo of one of the cats through the bushes, one of the young ones walked right up to him to a distance of about four feet. I think you’ll agree that he got some outstanding photographs!

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Season’s Greetings from Pat, Bob and Dan!!

Birds of the Weaselhead – May 31 and June 14

Posted by Dan Arndt

Wow, hard to believe it’s July already! The rush of spring birding is over, but there are still some birding outings to recap from the Friends of Fish Creek Spring course. We headed to the Weaselhead for the May Species Count on May 31, and headed back there again on June 14, and most of the same species were found each time, but we did have a couple unique finds on each trip. Because this is my first time trying to overlay two different walks into one post, I’ve color coded our outings in the attached map.

Weaselhead - May 31 and June 14 2015

Weaselhead – May 31 and June 14 2015

Our outing on May 31 is in red in the above image, while our trip on June 14 is in blue. We also had significantly different weather each morning, with the weather on May 31 being absolutely incredible, clear, and bright, while June 14 was a bit gloomy, dark, and overcast with occasional rain here and there.

We had a couple great birds on our first outing at the top of the hill, with both a Spotted Towhee and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird right at the top.

Spotted Towhee Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Spotted Towhee
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/800sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

At the feeders a bit further down the hill, we found a couple of Tree Swallows guarding their nests early in the day, catching some sun and warming up for the busy day ahead.

Tree Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

Tree Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 320

We almost missed out on the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on June 14th, except for a brief glance up the hill caught this little guy hanging out in the gloom.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/200sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 80

The Rufous Hummingbirds are absolutely amazing and can always be found in the same place every year. I’ve yet to see a female on this slope, but I suspect that if it wasn’t a good area for the males to find a mate, they wouldn’t be here year after year! Forgive me for sharing as many photos as possible of these beautiful little fireballs.

Rufous Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Rufous Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

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

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

Rufous Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Rufous Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

Rufous Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

Rufous Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/320sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 100

We headed back to the area south of the Elbow River and found the usual Eastern Phoebes at their regular spot as well, this one having caught some fresh breakfast!

Eastern Phoebe with diving beetle Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Eastern Phoebe with diving beetle
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

As we headed towards the silverberry meadow, we heard the typical buzzing of the Calliope Hummingbirds in this area, but none of them really cooperated with the us and the sunlight, but I’m still pretty happy with the results!

Calliope Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 640

Calliope Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/9.0, ISO 640

Calliope Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/4000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

Calliope Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/4000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 2000

Calliope Hummingbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Calliope Hummingbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

We did hear a relatively uncommon bird back beyond the dense spruce where we have Boreal Chickadees each winter, and it turned out to be an Ovenbird singing on territory. Sadly, he had moved on by mid-June, but it was really quite a treat to hear and see one of these guys right our back yard!

Ovenbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Ovenbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Down at the far end of the Weaselhead, we had another Calliope Hummingbird in a spot I’d never seen one before, but at the far south end were a number of Grey Catbirds flitting around in the aspens, mewing away and singing their odd, disjointed songs.

Grey Catbird Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Grey Catbird
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 3200

Another nice treat were a few Ring-necked Ducks which have been at these south ponds for a few weeks. It seems like there’s a lot more of these around this year, as they just keep turning up all over the city, but maybe it’s just a matter of getting out into the places they like to hang around a little bit more.

Ring-necked Duck Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

Ring-necked Duck
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1250

On our walk back to the start we had our share of great birds as well, like this American Goldfinch singing from high in the trees, or the usual Cliff Swallows under the bridge over the Elbow River.

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

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

Cliff Swallow Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Cliff Swallow
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/2000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1000

Have a great week, and good birding! Watch for the Monday supplemental post covering what we found at our visits to North Glenmore Park on these two outings!

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 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.

image

Calliope Hummingbird – our smallest bird species.

image_1

Rufous Hummingbird.

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

Other birds of the Weaselhead:

image_2

American Goldfinch.

image_4

Swainson’s Hawk.

image_3

Yellow Warbler.

image_6

Cliff Swallow at nest.

image_5

Cliff Swallows. They collect mud for their nests.

image_7

American Wigeon.