Tag Archive | Weaselhead

A walk in the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

While currently back in Houston, Texas, I spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks in Calgary over Christmas. Despite the cold (!), I got out a couple times, including an afternoon walk in the Weaselhead Natural area, taking photos of the local bird life as I walked.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

A small fraction of the waxwings.

A small fraction of the waxwings.

It was quite a nice walk and good to see so many waxwings.

 

 

Calgary Christmas Bird Count – Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

It may seem a bit repetitive, but a week following our last Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding course, my Christmas Bird Count area was also down in the Weaselhead. Our route took a bit longer though, and covered a huge amount of area, and took the better part of the day. We had some really great helpers this time around, as we usually do, and had some awesome birds, a few fewer species than our usual number, and a few different species than we had turn up last year, but all in all, it was a beautifully warm day, and a good time was had by everyone involved. Hope you enjoy these photos I took while we were out!

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin coming in for a landing

Merlin coming in for a landing

This Merlin gave us quite a show, hunting while we watched from the bridge over the Elbow River. I believe that it was hunting one of the many Bohemian Waxwings we saw that day.

American Robin

American Robin

A nice surprise for us was the often spoken-of and quite legendary American Robin. We do have a few that end up trying to spend their winters here in Calgary, and just a week prior, one of Gus Yaki’s groups had a flock of fifty of them. I was happy just to see one!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

This male Pileated Woodpecker gave us a few flybys throughout the day, but in the grove we usually find Boreal Chickadees he flew in for a closer look. We played a few calls which he came to investigate even closer, allowing us a bit better vantage.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

We headed back towards the South Glenmore Park side of the park and stopped for lunch, and it seemed this little Boreal Chickadee wanted some lunch as well.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Another gorgeous little Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first one we saw that day, was spotted just before lunch. After lunch we heard another dozen or so in the dense spruce on the south slope of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

And of course, what day in the Weaselhead would be complete without a few adorable Red Squirrels hamming it up for the camera.

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 14 – Weaselhead Natural Area

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Weaselhead Natural Area is located west of the Glenmore Reservoir, in the Elbow River Valley between North and South Glenmore Parks. It seems like only yesterday we started out this Autumn Birding Course at times, but at others, it seems like it’s been almost a lifetime since we were exploring the late summer environs of Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Mallard Point. With Christmas Bird Counts quickly approaching and the lure of longer days ahead as we move into January, it’s the days like today that are a harsh reminder of the realities of winter.

Weaselhead

Weaselhead

As we headed out from the parking lot into the cold, wintry morning, the sky was partially clear, but the beauty of the sunrise was deceptive. At -19 degrees Celsius, with the added wind, it felt like it was -27 degrees Celsius, reminding all of us of the reality of the season, and that we had been incredibly lucky so far!

From the top of the hill we stopped to look for coyotes, white-tailed or mule deer, as well as a Pileated Woodpecker that had been seen at the top of the hill earlier this week, but sadly came up short. At least it was a great view!

Glenmore Reservoir

Glenmore Reservoir

Into The Weaselhead

Into The Weaselhead

Unlike last year, the Pine Grosbeaks have been a little bit less active so far this winter, and the Common and Hoary Redpolls haven’t shown up in as large numbers as we saw last year either, but at least we saw a few of them at the feeders mid-way down the hill. No Pine Grosbeaks or Hoary Redpolls in this batch today though!

Common Redpolls

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Just a little further down the hill, this male Downy Woodpecker seemed completely fearless of our group, flying off only when a group of joggers ran by. The red on his head was so vibrant and bright, it looked orange in the early morning light.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

As we headed down the hill and past the nearly empty feeders at the bottom of the hill, the distinctive upward trilling flight call of Bohemian Waxwings. While this flock was impressive in size, it was nowhere near the size of others we’ve seen here in the past!

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

Crossing the meadow that is home to nesting Calliope Hummingbirds in the summer, we stopped to take a look at a Northern Goshawk off to the north of us. While I stopped to snap a photo of it, a group of birders behind us in the lead drew my attention to the “first” Northern Goshawk that all three of us “experienced” birders walked right by!

second Northern Goshawk

second Northern Goshawk

Turning back to take a look at the first one our group actually spotted, it took quite an interest in us, and in the sounds of my camera clicking away.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk giving me the evil eye

Northern Goshawk giving me the evil eye

Northern Goshawk preparing to fly

Northern Goshawk preparing to fly

We took a brief detour into a small grove of spruce trees where we found Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and even a Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper stopped by just as we were preparing to leave. Unfortunately, the Boreal Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper were a bit too elusive for me, staying high up in the dark overhanging spruce trees.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

After coming out from the grove, we headed straight west, then north along the far western pathway. The trails were incredibly quiet, with only a pair of Common Ravens and a handful of Black-billed Magpies flying overhead, and the usual swarms of Black-capped Chickadees following us for an easy handout. It wasn’t until we came nearer to the river again where we found that flock of Bohemian Waxwings again, but this time from a better angle.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

We did end up finally adding two more species to the list as we headed back to the vehicles, but only one that I got a photo of. It was surprisingly similar to the last bird we added to our list last week, both in composition and in timing, this Hairy Woodpecker popped up near the feeders on the way back up the hill!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

While this was the last course for our Autumn Birders, I suspect many of them have already signed on again for the Winter birding courses, and I’ll make sure to post some updates in the following weeks about the Christmas Bird Counts I’m taking part in this Holiday Season, and of course I’ll post some photos of the birds I manage to add to my life list while I’m down in Mexico while the rest of you freeze up here in the frigid north… err, I mean, while you’re all enjoying time with your families and friends back here in Canada.

Weaselhead Redux – Hummingbirds, Warblers and Thrushes, oh my!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I’ve mentioned time and time again how much I love visiting the Weaselhead Natural Area in Calgary, even though until last year, I had never truly appreciated just how extensive the area is, and the history behind it. After counting birds there with Gus in the Fall Birding Course, with Rob Worona on the Christmas Bird Count, and then numerous times during the Winter and Spring birding course, followed up by not only a whirlwind tour during the Victoria Day Big Day, and then the May Species Count, one would think that I’d be a bit tired of it. Wrong. 

 

We spent the morning of Sunday, June 10th in the Weaselhead once again, this time with a few target species in mind, but also visiting some areas that we didn’t spend a lot of time on during the May Species Count, and also letting the folks who weren’t able to commit to the many hours that morning for whatever reason get a good opportunity to see one of the few places in Calgary that one can see both the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds. On top of that, we got some bonus extra good looks of a few harder species to get close to, like the ever elusive Sora, and the Eastern Phoebe who are generally quite reluctant to allow close, clear views. Add to that this very brave Tennessee Warbler singing away on the main pathway through the park, and the spiralling, haunting song of the Swainson’s Thrushes calling from the south slope of the Elbow Valley, it made for a great day overall. We even got a few bonus birds throughout the day as well!

 

As we descended the slope into river valley, we had our goals well in mind. Hummingbirds, hummingbirds, hummingbirds. Whatever else we would see that day was superfluous, but since the males would be leaving the area soon, they were indeed our main objective. Down the hill and across the bridge, we were stopped for a few moments in awe of the Cliff Swallows under the pedestrian bridge, many still collecting mud for their nests, many others flying about catching insects for themselves or their young. Around the corner we paused to check for the Eastern Phoebes, and we saw not one, but both the male and female about, both gathering food. This one stopped to inspect us from only a few feet away for a good minute before finally retreating under the bridge.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Our first bonus bird of the day, and one of the most stunning ones to see any time of year, was this Pileated Woodpecker, who had left quite a bit of evidence of its presence for the other groups that week, but was drumming away on this trunk in its search for its next meal.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

A few hundred meters more brought us to our first hummingbird location. After scouting around for about five minutes or so, our search paid off as this male Calliope Hummingbird flew in to check us out. First keeping his distance, then coming in closer, and closer, and at one point buzzed within a foot of my head.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

A Closer Inspection...

A Closer Inspection…

The whole experience was absolutely incredible, and I hope to see these hummingbirds again very soon!

 

From here, we headed west and south to the two beaver ponds at the south edge of the Weaselhead,  and upon reaching the ponds, heard the call of the Sora in the western pond. A few of us took up positions in the underbrush on the edge of the pond, and I pulled out my phone to play a Sora call. The calls were answered, first about 50 feet away, then 40, then 30, and then almost immediately the birds popped into view, not one, but two of them coming right toward us! The Sora in the photo below was just beyond the 8′ minimum autofocus distance, but at one point it was right at my feet.

Sora Portrait

Sora Portrait

As we walked up the path behind the pond in search for grosbeaks, thrushes, and any other bird we could find, we were treated to this Common Raven being harassed by a Red-winged Blackbird for what seemed like forever.

Red-winged Blackbird and Raven

Red-winged Blackbird and Raven

Next on our list: the Rufous Hummingbirds nesting in the spruce trees on the north slope of the Elbow Valley. It’s a long trek through the Weaselhead from south to north, and we had a few bonuses along the way. Most impressive was this Tennessee Warbler, very likely on his nesting territory, who came out to challenge us.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Back across the bridge, through the brush, and over the storm-water outflow drain and all of a sudden the buzzing and trilling of this Rufous Hummingbird was all around us. It displayed more than a few times by flying up high, then diving down to within a foot of the ground or bushes it was flying over, then back up to a perch before repeating the process. Unfortunately, with all the brush in the way and the bad light, few of my photos turned out at all, with this being the best of a bad few.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

On the way back out of the Weaselhead, we decided to take a shot at finding the Brown Thrasher that Bob and I had seen a few weeks prior. On the hillside from the north parking lot, about mid-way down, there’s a grove that is known for being one of the few places that Spotted Towhees have been seen breeding in Calgary. Across from that is a small clearing that, for the last dozen or more years, some locals have kept well stocked with food for the birds of the Weaselhead, and all year long is a great place to see some of the rarer ones feeding. No birds were at the spot that day, but this little Least Chipmunk was nibbling on some sunflower seeds.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

Along the northern bank of the Glenmore Reservoir, below North Glenmore Park, a Brown Thrasher (or a few Brown Thrashers) have been seen regularly, and Bob and I had found it two weeks before. Unfortunately, the only close relative of the Brown Thrasher that we found were a couple of Gray Catbirds… but what we didn’t expect to see were not one, but three Spotted Towhees flying back and forth along the lower path. Calling out with their harsh squeaky and annoyed call while foraging for food and staying out of sight. Despite their best efforts though, I did manage a few quick shots!

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Once again, a great day out with great people and amazing birds to see!

Have a wonderful week!

 

 

Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!

Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Thursday, I went out for a walk in the Weaselhead with local nature expert Gus Yaki and a group of other birders. Our target species were the 2 species of hummingbird that call this park home; the Calliope Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Though we saw and heard many great species on our walk, for this post I will concentrate on the hummingbirds.

When we reached the area where Calliope Hummingbirds are usually seen, we scanned around with our binoculars, searching for this tiny bird. The smallest bird in North America at 8cm in length (3.25 inches), this hummingbird can sometimes be passed off as a large bee. After several minutes, somebody found this beautiful male perched at the top of a spruce tree.

Male Calliope Hummingbird

We observed this little guy (the Calliope is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world) as Gus told us many neat facts about the species. For example, the pink streaks on the male’s throat form a V-shaped gorget, and these streaks are rather long, so that when the male turns his head, the streaks will actually reach back over his shoulder. This was my first time seeing the species so I was particularly enthralled with the bird. After some time, we moved on, back closer to the river in search of the Rufous Hummingbird.

We had to walk through some muddy spots to get to the habitat where the male Rufous is likely to be seen but was it ever worth it! When we got there, someone soon spotted the male Rufous and we soon all had our binoculars trained on him as he displayed his gorgeous orange-red gorget.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird was moving around a lot and we got to see him at various spots; perched and in flight.

At one point, he even came to the bushes right behind us and started feeding.  Gus told us that these bushes were actually Siberian Peashrub, more commonly known as Caragana. They are an invasive species that totally dominates the environment, so that no other flowering plants live in the area ( it covers 10-12 acres on the north side of the Elbow river). Male Rufous Hummingbirds  feed on these plants because of the abundant if  only temporarily nectar, however the females, which raise their families alone without the help of the males, realise that there is not enough nectar to raise a family on and head elsewhere, to richer, more natural environments. The males are then at a biological dead-end and do not have the oppurtunity to pass on their genes. This was quite fascinating and I would not have learned this had I not been on the trip with Gus. Thanks Gus!

He showed off his colors beautifully, revealing how he got his name.

We had a great morning watching these hummingbirds and learning lots about them thanks to Gus’ vast wealth of knowledge.

May Species Count – Day 2 – Weaselhead, North Glenmore Park, and Pearce Estate Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

I thought I was prepared for a second long day in a row of birding, but I was nowhere near as prepared as I thought. An early start at the Weaselhead at 5 AM netted us great looks at a couple of Veery, the haunting and somewhat creepy calls of a Swainson’s Thrush, and two mystery calls which completely stumped us. I just wish we’d had the foresight to record them so we could get some expert advice!

We joined up with a small group for our regular Sunday group, with some out of town, others sick, and still others not quite up for the grueling day ahead. 16 km and 6 hours later (map below), we emerged with a whole lot of really great birds, a couple of awesome sightings, and expressions of nothing less than pure joy at some folks’ first close sightings of both Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds in the wild.

Weaselhead Natural Area

Weaselhead Natural Area

The Weaselhead Nature Area encompasses both the mudflats of the Glenmore Reservoir, the boreal forest of the central woods and meadows, the riparian environment lush with warblers, sparrows, finches and the odd duck or three and even a few large ponds stocked with waterfowl and shorebirds. It’s funny that as a native Calgarian of over 30 years, my first visit to the Weaselhead was late last fall. It’s such a beautiful, scenic, and massive natural area that rivals Fish Creek Provincial Park for diversity, and again, right in the heart of the city. Most people, myself included, have a relatively limited experience with it, as the multi-use pathway that runs down the middle of it links North Glenmore Park to South Glenmore Park, but the unpaved path network is simply massive.

Some of the best sightings in the Weaselhead included the Veery, Eastern Phoebe, Calliope Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, a very brave Yellow Warbler that nearly landed, comedy-style, on the binoculars of another birder, and a Northern Waterthrush that was heard long before it was seen.

Over on the Glenmore Reservoir we were given great directions to a resident Brown Thrasher that has been seen there for a few years now, and had great views through the scope of a Common Loon, Western and Clark’s Grebes, and a slightly lost Surf Scoter.

The day wore on, and the visit to Pearce Estate Park loomed on the horizon, but it was far less painful than it could have been. The recently rebuilt park now has a wonderful boardwalk and blinds over the ponds, which allowed us to get very close looks at the often frustratingly cautious Belted Kingfisher. We heard quite a few Warbling Vireo, and I got my first ever looks at juvenile Common Goldeneye, which are even more adorable than any gosling or Mallard chick that I’ve ever seen before.

Veery

Veery

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Clark's (far left) and Western Grebes

Clark’s (far left) and Western Grebes

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Goldeneye and chicks

Goldeneye and chicks

Spring Birding in South Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

April marks the beginning of the spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses.  For this three-month session, Dan Arndt and I decided to lead a group at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays.  This might seem a little early to be going out in April, but by May and June the sun will be high before we get under way, and we hope to see and hear more birds than we would later in the day.

Dan is away for the first two weeks, so I will be reporting on what we saw, with photos provided by two of the course participants, Glenn Alexon and Paul Turbitt.

The first outing, on Easter Sunday, was in North Glenmore Park and the Weaselhead.  We spent about an hour checking the west end of Glenmore Reservoir first.  It is still almost completely frozen, with only a few small areas open in the west end, but there were some waterfowl there, notably some impressive Trumpeter Swans.

 Trumpeter Swans landing on the water.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Common Mergansers:  female (left) and male (right).  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Canada Goose taking off.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Then we headed down in to the Weaselhead.  A highlight there was a Townsend’s Solitaire singing from the top of a very tall spruce.

Townsend’s Solitaire.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Male Downy Woodpecker.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Female Downy Woodpecker.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Black-capped Chickadee.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

These chickadees expect to be fed.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Northern Flicker.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Northern Flicker.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

There were quite a few Red Squirrels around, and a couple of Least Chipmunks were also seen.

Red Squirrel.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

We saw three Red-tailed Hawks overhead, including this dark Harlan’s Hawk.

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

We had hoped to see Pine Grosbeaks and American Tree Sparrows at the feeders.  There were none around when we first went through, but on our last stop on the way back we found a pair of each.

Pine Grosbeak.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Pine Grosbeak.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Pine Grosbeak.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

American Tree Sparrow feeding on the ground.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Back up by the parking lot, an early Richardson’s Ground Squirrel was the last species of the day.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

In all, we saw 28 bird species and four mammals.  The eight groups who went to this area during the first week of the course collectively saw 48 bird species and six mammal species.  The Weaselhead is a great place for spring birding!

To see more of Glenn Alexon’s photos, go to his Flickr page.

To read about one of the Saturday morning course outings, go to David Pugh’s blog.

Boreal Birds of the Weaselhead

Another weekend, another excursion (or three) with the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course. Once again I joined Gus Yaki on his Saturday walk, and returned a little later that day when the  clouds cleared and the light allowed for some better photos. The Sunday morning course was business as usual, but staying behind briefly to catch up with Bernie Diebolt, who would be leading the afternoon group along with Janet Gill, allowed me to tally another bird on my 2012 list, and one that I hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Stay tuned until the end for those photos!

 

Saturday morning stayed fairly cool, at around -15 degrees Celsius, but was considerably nicer than the week leading up to it. Sunday was much warmer, around -5C to -2C towards the end of the walk, but we walked a slightly different route in hopes of seeing a few different birds.

Saturday Route

Saturday Route

Sunday Route

Sunday Route

Saturday began with the sighting of a number of Pine Grosbeaks at the parking lot, and then many more we trekked down the hill into the Elbow River Valley.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeaks

Pine Grosbeaks

Midway down the hill, as the path curves, a number of feeders have been set up and are regularly filled by a few local birdwatchers. This week though, these feeders have been empty each day, due to the cold. Whether that is due to the birds emptying them each day, or that they’re not being refilled currently, we’ve been filling them with some black oil sunflower seeds, much to the delight of the resident Black-capped Chickadees, Common Redpolls, and both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Down at the bottom of the hill are a number of other feeders, and one of the only Hairy Woodpeckers we saw this weekend was down there, tapping away at the birch and poplar trees, looking for a tasty snack, though I’m sure while we weren’t looking, he may have eaten a sunflower seed or two as well.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Across the bridge and through the woods, we were led to a small clearing behind a line of spruce trees where the Boreal Chickadees have been seen all week. At least three came down Saturday morning, and paused to allow for a few photos, though I was determined to come back later in the day once the location was confirmed.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

I thought that nothing could top that, as we sat there for close to half an hour as the Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees ate out of our hands. Through the woods and towards the river we trekked, and I will admit a very bad identification moment, when I spotted this Red-breasted Nuthatch at the peak of a spruce tree, swearing it was something new and that we hadn’t seen all day. I don’t recall seeing these little guys sitting at the top of trees very often, if at all before. Needless to say, almost every birder I know has misidentified a bird from time to time, even the best of us. If we didn’t, there’d be no point in having Field Guides and databases of photos to refer to from time to time.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

At the fork in the path, we headed back towards the vehicles, preparing to end our trip for the day, though we were pleasantly surprised to see this Rough-legged Hawk being harassed by Black-billed Magpies on the north wall of the valley, across the river from our vantage point.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

After that, it was back to the main path, and up to the vehicles, though I was not quite done for the day. After stopping to have some lunch, I headed back to the Weaselhead as the clouds had burned off and the light was much better. In retracing my steps, I happened to get some photos of some more Boreal Chickadees, a very large flock of Bohemian Waxwings, and a Bald Eagle flying about 100 feet overhead.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Sunday morning was similar early on, with the Pine Grosbeaks meeting us at the parking lot.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

The feeding station midway down the hill was occupied as we approached by a number of Common Redpolls, which flushed after a few minutes of observation, but not before everyone had seen them. They really are quite pleasant birds that way!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Over the river we spotted a Rough-legged Hawk being chased down by a number of Common Redpolls before it stopped to rest at the top of this spruce tree.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

After stopping at the Boreal Chickadee location again and only coming up with a very small number of Black-capped Chickadees, we opted to head down the main pathway a little further and loop back again, in hopes that they would arrive later in the day. Though there weren’t too many other species around, we did have a few Black-capped Chickadees on the path, and a Rough-legged Hawk at the far west end on the southern valley slope. As we headed back north, I spotted another Red-breasted Nuthatch once again sitting atop a spruce tree. Two in less than 24 hours doing this same behaviour? Maybe it’s not as uncommon as I previously thought!

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Before we reached the Boreal Chickadee clearing, a flock of 50+ Bohemian Waxwings flew into this spruce tree nearly about a hundred meters away.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

After a brief few minutes of searching the clearing, we were preparing to leave, but as I turned to head home in defeat, a lone Boreal Chickadee flew towards the group. I was very pleased to get to see this beautiful little bird again today.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Calling it a day, we headed back towards the vehicles, and while I chatted with Gus a bit before heading home, I wanted to give Bernie a call to let him know what we saw, and where we saw it. As we talked, I noticed a shape in one of the trees near the parking lot, and just had to put him on hold while I grabbed some photos of it. The last Dark-eyed Juncos I had seen were in Waterton Lakes National Park, back in the summer of 2010, so these were a very pleasant surprise!

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Thanks for reading!

 

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

 

 

Christmas Bird Count in the Weaselhead

This year marks my first ever Christmas Bird Count. As the date approached and the weather forecast flip-flopped from cold and blustery to a warm winter chinook, I was confident that no matter the weather, I’d make the best of it and tough it out. Thankfully, we had a beautiful day. Almost no wind to speak of, and the birds were out in force.

The organizer, Philip Cram, had put me in one of the walking groups by request, with Rob Worona, David Pugh, and Bernie Diebolt, all familiar names to me, but my first time birding with Rob, the group leader, and David, a fellow photographer.

Starting at western-most parking lot at South Glenmore Park, we made our way across the valley wall and westward into the Weaselhead proper. It started out quiet, with the usual suspects making their appearances. The Common Redpoll, the Black-capped Chickadees, and the White-winged Cross-bills we’ve seen so much of lately.

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
As we headed further toward the bridge spanning the Elbow River, we were mobbed by a group of Black-capped Chickadees, and were alerted to the presence of a rarer Chickadee species, the Boreal Chickadee. As the Black-capped Chickadees flocked, the wheezy, higher pitched nasally tones of the boreal species edged closer and closer, until finally it made an appearance. Though not brave enough to hand-feed, it did come close, and finally dropped down to eat some of the black-oil sunflower seed on offer.
Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Continuing down the path we were greeted again by another new sight. Perched high up across one of the smaller tributaries to the Elbow River was this juvenile Northern Goshawk. The bright white eyebrow and the jagged tail-bars were distinct enough for Rob to confidently make the species ID.

Juvenile Northern Goshawk

Juvenile Northern Goshawk

Finally we reached the bridge, and in amongst the Common Redpolls earlier, we thought we may have seen a Hoary Redpoll or two in amongst the flock. We were granted a second, much closer view of one of them, and as we compared it to the others, we became more and more convinced. Another first for me, the Hoary Redpoll:
Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

We stopped for lunch to compile our count numbers and to re-energize, but again were mobbed by hungry birds and a Red Squirrel or two, but as we were finishing up, a couple of very brave Red-breasted Nuthatches flew in for a bite.
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Though it was a fairly warm winter’s day, the sun hadn’t really made much of an appearance, but when it did, these Pine Grosbeaks began singing and for the first time, I heard a soft cooing from the females, almost like that of a Rock Pigeon or Eurasian Collared Dove. I was completely unaware that Pine Grosbeaks made sounds anything like this.
Female Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak

 At this point, we stopped once again for a water, coffee, and snack break while this Common Raven vocalized above us with its unearthly and very unusual croaking call. I’m always amazed at the variety or Raven behaviour and vocal range. I’ll have to follow-up with a post on the variety and uniqueness of corvid behaviour among the birds.
Common Raven

Common Raven

Around a bend and over another tributary channel of the Elbow River and we were back to the base of the southern valley wall. At the crossroads of the trail heading back to the top of the southern wall we stopped at a feeding station to where a number of species were found. The White-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, and Downy Woodpecker:
Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

The last few hundred meters did turn out productive though, granting us a Ruffed Grouse, a few House Finches, a Pine Siskin, and a very good angle at some close Pine Grosbeaks atop the spruce trees bordering the path.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

House Finch

House Finch

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Male (R) and Female (L) Pine Grosbeak

Male (R) and Female (L) Pine Grosbeak

All in all, a great day both for the birds, and for the hardy birders who were out in Calgary yesterday. Once the numbers are tallied up and made public in the New Year, they’ll be posted here, though I suspect we’ve got a banner year for finches with the huge number of Grosbeaks, Redpolls and Crossbills seen in the last few months.

Posted by Dan Arndt