Tag Archive | winter birds

Ron Pittaway’s 2016-2017 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

With another summer season coming to an end, and many of our fall migrants beginning to trail off, thoughts turn to what the winter may bring to us in southern Alberta.

You can find the original article here: Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast 2016-2017. If you’ve read it already, you might notice there’s a fairly strong emphasis on eastern Canada and the U.S., and some mentions of “Western Canada”. Without further ado, here’s a species by species breakdown of what I think we’re likely to expect here in the Calgary region.

 

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

Red Crossbills at a feeder in SE Calgary

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Ron’s “General Forecast” describes cone crops as: “good to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska”. Also, due to the drought conditions in much of the east this year, the cone crops in that region are poor, so the birds that would regularly winter there will be moving east, west, or south to find food.

Pine Grosbeak:

Mountain Ash berries are their preferred food, and as those crops are good throughout the boreal region, chances of seeing many of them this winter are low. They are often found at high elevation in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary during the breeding season. Mountain Ash is a decorative tree throughout much of the Calgary area, which will likely draw some down from the mountains.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

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Purple Finch:

As the cone crops are in good shape here this year we should expect to see Purple Finches rarely. They’re never really in the Calgary area in large numbers, but if you’re looking to attract them, black-oil sunflower is your best bet.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

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Red Crossbill:

While it’s unlikely for us to get a Red Crossbill irruption quite as good as what we had last year, it’ll still be a fairly good year for them throughout the pine and spruce in southern Alberta. The west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park is always a good place to find them, and Griffith Woods is another good spot.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

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White-winged Crossbill:

As with the Red Crossbills, this species has moved west to the abundant cone crops out here, so we stand to have another good year of White-winged Crossbills throughout southern Alberta. They’re another common feeder bird, and as with most, they tend to prefer black-oil sunflower seeds.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/640s|

Common Redpoll:

As the general trend of crop failure continues in the east, these birds will be found on birch and willow in the west where the cone crops have been much more robust. Nyjer seed will be the feed of choice to attract these to your yard in the Calgary area.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

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Hoary Redpoll:

Whenever you find a flock of Common Redpoll, there’s a chance that you might find the occasional Hoary Redpoll in the mix. They’re really not that easy to pick out, but if you spend the time looking over a flock you might just luck out and find one that looks just a little paler with a tiny little bill. When it comes right down to it, it’s a numbers game… at least until they lump them back in with Common Redpolls!

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

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Pine Siskin:

Pine Siskins have already been appearing in southern Alberta, and like the Pine Grosbeaks, they do breed in the area, so it will be interesting to see just how many of them show up this winter from elsewhere.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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Evening Grosbeak:

These beautiful finches are so incredibly striking, and they seem to be doing well all across Canada, with their numbers again on the rise. We’ve even been seeing them within the city limits of Calgary on the Friends of Fish Creek outings to Bebo Grove and Marshall Springs, which is a good sign for seeing them in bigger numbers as the colder weather sets in!

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

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Blue Jay:

While these guys aren’t finches, they can be irruptive as they also feed on the same seeds that winter finches utilize. Their numbers have also been on the rise in the Calgary area as well, so it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll be seeing these all throughout the area and even in some back yards this winter.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Another species that we’ve been seeing in larger numbers already this fall, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a charismatic little critter. More often than not you can find them foraging in spruce stands calling from the tops of trees and flitting about in mixed flocks with chickadees and kinglets.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

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

Bohemian Waxwing:

Of all the species, these are the ones that seem to be around every winter in decent numbers. While we do have irruptive years where we have tens of thousands in the Calgary area alone, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of hundreds. They are most often found foraging on silverberry, mountain ash, or even spruce trees on whatever they can find in the boughs.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

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

So, where can you go to see finches this winter? Within the city of Calgary, the Weaselhead Nature Area, Griffith Woods, and the west end of Fish Creek Provincial Park are great places to look. In the north, Queen’s Park Cemetery and Confederation Park can provide some good views of these birds as well. As well, the front ranges and foothills of the Rocky Mountains are productive because of the huge numbers of spruce lining the slopes. Don’t rule out some of the prairie wetlands either! Pine Siskins and both redpoll species will feed on cattails and spilled grain wherever they can be found!
Good luck out there, and let’s hope the cold weather holds off for just a little bit longer!

Back to Bebo for a Beautiful Bird

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our second visit to Bebo Grove this winter was in search of a well-documented Varied Thrush that had been seen there for a few weeks, and thankfully it decided to stay in almost the exact same spot for our Sunday morning outing. We also got some of the regular boreal birds that we’ve come to expect at Bebo Grove, and while the morning was fairly quiet in terms of numbers of individual birds, we did have some nice close encounters that highlighted the morning overall.

Bebo Grove - February 21, 2016

Bebo Grove – February 21, 2016

While the highlight of the morning was the Varied Thrush, a bird we found early on and spent a good amount of time with, I’m going to save those images for the very end, since there are a few of them in different poses, and really it’s always good practice to save the best for last!

Our morning was, as I mentioned in the intro, quiet overall in terms of bird sightings, but there wasn’t a moment while travelling through the trees that we didn’t have at least forty or fifty Pine Siskins in the trees above us, trilling and chattering away. We even had a brief sighting of a Merlin, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a few other birds that I we haven’t seen as a group since the late fall.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

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It’s almost like clockwork the areas in Bebo Grove where we find mixed flocks of Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, and where the bird activity picks up bit by bit to a startling cacophony of sound and being dive-bombed by chickadees, nuthatches, and the odd kinglet or creeper. There were a few more Boreal Chickadees here than the last time we visited this little grove, and they had a very well established pecking order, with one larger bird coming in first, then the next two coming in almost as soon as it had left.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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We even had a few close encounters with some Pine Siskins once again, coming down into the lower boughs of the spruce trees to feed on hatching insects as well as on the fallen cones.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

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One of the bird species that seems to be diminishing in numbers in southern Alberta right now are the Pine Grosbeaks. While there are a few places to still reliably find them in the city limits, I suspect that they’re heading north and west as our early spring has really ramped up over the last few weeks. Similarly, both White-winged and Red Crossbills, as well as Bohemian Waxwings seem to have all but withdrawn from southern Alberta a few weeks earlier than they normally would, despite there still being an abundance of food for them.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

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Another species we found picking through the lower branches in search of freshly hatched insects (in February, at that! The wonders of these long-lasting el Nino chinooks!) were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. These birds were unusually unaware of our presence once again, and so we had really good looks at them while they fluttered about almost like hummingbirds feeding from the tips of the branches and all the way along each small branch and twig.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

Of course the real highlight was this male Varied Thrush. I’ve been seeing quite a few of these birds in Revelstoke, British Columbia in my trips there all winter, but these are certainly a great bird to find in Alberta, especially one returning to the same area for such a long period of time in the winter!

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

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We even got to hear him singing away for a few minutes, while a second male a little further off in the distance sung counter to him. If you’ve never really heard these birds before, their song is a long, high pitched piercing note, much like the sound of the brakes of a train squealing to a stop.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

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Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 6400|Shutter speed: 1/500s|

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 500mm|ISO: 3200|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We must have spent a good half hour with this bird, watching him from all angles while he posed, sung, posed again, and eventually moved just a little higher in the trees as the sun came around to illuminate him a little bit. It was probably the best look at a Varied Thrush some members of our group had ever had, as these birds can be quite flighty, even where they are abundant.

Have a great week, and good “spring” birding!

Mid-winter birding in Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

As any birder knows, it’s nearly impossible to predict what your success will be like on any given day out in the field. Some days, you can go out and find a huge variety of species in the gloomiest and most terrible weather, while on a perfect weather day the birds all seem to disappear. My last few outings have been a lot quieter than usual, but with the above-seasonal weather we’ve had since late January it’s not entirely unusual. Our visit to Votier’s Flats on January 31 was one of those rather quiet days, but we still managed to see some good birds on the two outings I attended that week.

Votier's Flats - January 31, 2016

Votier’s Flats – January 31, 2016

While I attended one walk earlier in the week, and my regular Sunday outing, I only tracked the walk on Sunday, so one of our better sightings isn’t mapped here.

We had a fairly typical array of winter birds at Votier’s Flats, with Pine Siskins, White-winged and Red Crossbills, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, and of course the ever present Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens were readily apparent. As we entered the woods, we were hailed by the calls of a White-breasted Nuthatch high up in the trees, claiming this particularly good territory for itself and announcing its presence to any female that might be paying attention.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

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Mid-week, we had found a recently killed White-tailed Deer carcass, likely taken down by coyotes in the park, but that didn’t deter the rest of the White-tailed Deer from roaming around seemingly without a care in the world. This deer was photographed less than 30 meters from where we had found the kill.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1600|Shutter speed: 1/400s|

One of the things we’ve been observing recently is Pine Siskins feeding a bit lower in the trees than usual, allowing us much better looks at much closer distances that we have for much of the winter so far. They yellow tones in the flight feathers and underwing are really starting to pop now too, making them a little nicer to photograph than your typical Little Brown Jobs.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

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After we cleared the wooded area made up mostly of spruce trees, things got really, really quiet. We headed up the hill to the area that borders on the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, where a number of homes have bird feeders set up, and even up there it was incredibly quiet. The only bird to be found when we checked on our first pass was this lone sickly looking Black-capped Chickadee. You can see in this photo that the feathers surrounding the eyes are all missing, and that the eyes themselves also appear a bit puffy. I have no idea what might be the cause of this, but suspect it could be ticks or some illness caused by these feeders not being cleaned regularly. It’s vitally important if you put out bird feeders to ensure that they’re cleaned regularly. The rule of thumb that I always use is that every two times I fill a feeder, I run it through the dishwasher for a good, thorough wash.

Black-capped Chickadee

sick Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 1000|Shutter speed: 1/200s|

We did a quick loop up top, but aside from a few magpies flying by overhead, and a few other small finches flying overhead, the only bird we were able to get close to was yet another (healthy this time) Black-capped Chickadee.

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

healthy Black-capped Chickadee

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-30|Focal length: 250mm|ISO: 500|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

We headed back down the hill and through the wooded area a second time, but following Fish Creek itself in hopes of finding some birds along the creek bed. Unfortunately for us, our only additional sighting was this near-perfectly camouflaged Brown Creeper, with its high-pitched trills and even a brief little attempt at a song!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

On the earlier outing that week, we had headed over towards Raven Rocks to search for Townsend’s Solitaires, and sure enough we found two singing high on the slope, and one even popped down to check us out for a few minutes before my camera decided to stop working for the day!

 

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

::Aperture: ƒ/6.3|Camera: PENTAX K-5|Focal length: 300mm|ISO: 200|Shutter speed: 1/320s|

Following our outing on January 31, I headed out of town for the next two weeks, and so our next week’s update should bring us up to our outing on February 21 where we returned to Bebo Grove!

Have a good week, and good birding!

Ron Pittaway’s 2014-2015 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

The moment many birders wait for each fall has arrived. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has been publishing the Winter Finch Forecast since the fall of 1999, and his record has been relatively spot on. He relies on input from citizen scientists, environmental scientists, and enthusiasts throughout Canada’s northern region to determine the abundance of the cone crop of trees in the boreal forest and across the Canadian Shield. Though the majority of his data come from Ontario, these forecasts have been pretty reliable even out west here in Alberta since I was made aware of his reports in 2011.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

You can find the original report by clicking here, but I’ll give you the distilled version for Alberta below:

Across northern Alberta, spruce cone crops range from poor (MB-SK) to average (southern Yukon). Based on what I saw up north earlier this summer, I’d say it’s closer to poor in the areas I surveyed. Birch seed crops are poor to average, while Mountain-ash berry crops have had a bumper year here in the west.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

What does this mean? Well, we will likely not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings (no, these aren’t finches) given the abundance of food further north and west. We can look forward to seeing both Common and Hoary Redpolls, given the state of birch cones further north, and Pine Siskins have already been seen in and around Calgary already this summer. Red-breasted Nuthatches (also not finches) are also expected to make their way south this winter.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

 

Why is this important? Well, all of these winter finches are regular visitors to bird feeders, and will readily feed on nyjer seed (for finches), peanuts, and black-oil sunflower seeds (for non-finches), so if you’re a regular bird feeder, it’s quite likely you’ll find some, or if you’re really lucky, all of these birds at your feeders this coming winter!

Good birding!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

The end of Winter at Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant

Posted by Dan Arndt

I know, I know. With the title of the last two Monday morning blog posts having to do with the beginning of spring, or the end of winter, you’d think it would actually be over by now, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, one last winter storm made our last outing with the Winter session with the Friends of Fish Creek live up to its name. Blowing snow, -12 degrees C temperatures, and a whole lot of ice on the river made it feel like an outing more in line with early January than the last day of March! The quantity of species seen though, did begin to look a bit more like spring. The number of waterfowl species that were laying over on the south end of the Bow River in Calgary certainly showed us that spring, indeed, was finally just around the corner. In fact, there was so much activity on the south end of our trek that I’ve had to blow up the usual map to give proper detail on where each species was seen!

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-out view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-out view
March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area Zoomed-in view March 31, 2014

Pine Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant area
Zoomed-in view
March 31, 2014

While few and far between, one of the first birds that I picked out on the water last week was one of a few Cackling Geese in amongst the Canada Geese. While superficially similar, they really do stand out when sitting (or standing) near their larger cousins. In fact, it wasn’t until 2004 that the Cackling Goose was identified as its own species, with 4 subspecies identified.

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

Canada Geese (left) and Cackling Goose (right)

The presence of a few duck species typically associated with prairie ponds and sloughs spending their time on the river is also another sure sign of a changing of the seasons. Both the Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler were around in good numbers, but not too close. Even a single Tundra Swan flew down onto the river while we watched in awe.

Tundra Swan March 31, 2014

Tundra Swan
March 31, 2014

 

Northern Pintail March 31, 2014

Northern Pintail
March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers March 31, 2014

Northern Shovelers
March 31, 2014

Our first real good looks at the first migrant shorebirds to come through were along this stretch of river. These Killdeer are really quite hardy little birds. It’s no wonder they can be so numerous throughout the Calgary area!

Killdeer March 31, 2014

Killdeer
March 31, 2014

In addition to the migrant waterfowl and shorebird species, there were also a couple of predatory birds around. A Merlin and Northern Goshawk made passes over us almost one right after the other, and we were treated to the disjointed yet beautiful song of this calling Northern Shrike for at least ten minutes before it was flushed by some dog walkers getting a bit too close.

Northern Shrike March 31, 2014

Northern Shrike
March 31, 2014

Our first good looks at Herring Gulls this season were also along this stretch, many of which flew quite close to us, and in some cases, seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of them!

curious Herring Gull  March 31, 2014

curious Herring Gull
March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight March 31, 2014

Herring Gull in flight
March 31, 2014

I mentioned Killdeer earlier, and we did come across a much larger group of them, but only thanks to the eagle eyes of Gus Yaki, which he had on loan from an eagle who decided to sleep in that day. Can you spot the Killdeer in this picture? (Hint: There are five Killdeer in this image.)

Killdeer camouflage March 31, 2014

Killdeer camouflage
March 31, 2014

My first sighting of the next species of the day happened out on Vancouver Island over Christmas of 2013, and despite many trips out last spring in search of this species, and despite their relative abundance here in the spring migration, this was my first Eurasian Wigeon in Alberta. Again, a nice bird to see at the best of times. He seemed to be having a bit of a spat with his American relatives though…

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon March 31, 2014

Eurasian and American Wigeon
March 31, 2014

We did also have a nice close look at a Redhead a bit further upstream, before things seemed to get a little bit too far off in the snow to get any good images, and yet, we did seem to have some Common Mergansers stalking us as we headed back up towards the start of our journey.

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Redhead
March 31, 2014

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Canada Goose (left) and Common Mergansers (right)
March 31, 2014

And that was it for our last week of the Winter Birding Course with the Friends of Fish Creek!

With the start of our Spring course next week, I’ll definitely be trying to not duplicate species that I get photos of each week, much like I tried to last year, with relatively good success.

Have a great week, and until next Monday, Good Birding

Another no owl day at Griffith Woods Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk this week returned to Griffith Woods, in search once again of the Great Gray Owl that had been a regular visitor there for well over a month now, as well as the Great Horned Owls and even a Northern Pygmy Owl that had been seen and heard there recently. The week got off to a good start, with Monday’s group having no trouble finding the Great Gray Owl, and the Tuesday group only missed it by a less than an hour before it flew off deeper into the dense spruce forest that are the hallmark of Griffith Woods.

Griffith Woods February 16, 2014

Griffith Woods
February 16, 2014

The story throughout the day was that of distant birds and minimal photo opportunities, but I was very pleased that I was able to snap the shots that I did. When I downloaded my camera card at home, I found that I had only taken 31 shots in the course of the outing, so to have  a 25% “keep” rate I think is pretty good!

The first real opportunity came when we spotted a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings high up in a spruce tree, and I was able to capture a pair of them breaking off from the group showing their rufous undertail coverts and the bright lemon yellow on the tip of the tail feathers.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

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

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

We hunted along the trail under the power lines for any sign of the Great Gray Owl that was our quarry, but the only evidence we were able to find of it was this hunting impression in the deep snow, showing the impression of the head and wings as the owl hunted one of many unfortunate voles that had become its dinner.

Great Gray Owl hunting impression Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Great Gray Owl hunting impression
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Never let it be said that I know everything there is to know about all of the parks we visit. This week’s surprise was the discovery of another small pond on the north-west end of Griffith Woods Park. All it really would have taken was for me to look at one of the many maps that I’ve published even here on this website to actually notice its presence, but thankfully Gus Yaki came to the rescue again and showed us where all the Canada Geese we had seen all morning were flying to. Also on this pond was a lone Common Goldeneye, and much to our surprise and delight was a solitary, and very uncharacteristically quiet, Blue Jay along the hedgerow behind one of the nearby houses.

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another nice surprise was a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding underneath a spruce on the way back into the park after we had finished exploring the pond.

Dark-eyed Junco Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And then the wind picked up, and everything got quiet. While we retreated deeper into the wooded trails, the birds came fewer and further between, and only stayed in sight for mere moments at a time. Even our last species of the day, this Rough-legged Hawk, disappeared a few seconds after I spotted it soaring high above the nearby homes, but enough to positively identify it with its distinct dark wrist patches.

Rough-legged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Rough-legged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

And so wraps up another week of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding course. Next week we head back to Bebo Grove in search of last week’s quarry, the American Three-toed Woodpecker, along with another Great Gray Owl, a Barred Owl or three, and hopefully a Northern Saw-whet Owl!

Have a great week, and good birding!

A turn in the weather is a turn for the better at Griffith Woods

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Following the blizzard conditions in Calgary on Saturday, it was finally time for our Sunday group to dodge the bad weather bullet. Beautiful blue skies greeted us as we met at the east end of Griffith Woods Park on the west edge of the city, and it was a much earned change, given the past number of weeks of poor weather.

Griffith Woods Park

Griffith Woods Park

Griffith Woods is a prime example of the Boreal Forest biome that is found in northern Alberta, but also winds its way down along the eastern edge of the foothills. With the extreme cold, I suspected we’d still not have much luck with birds, despite the clear skies and calm weather, but we still had good views of birds we’ve been seeing often, and some that we’ve only caught glimpses of so far this fall.

Griffith Woods Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 500

Griffith Woods
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 500

Aside from an early Blue Jay and the sound of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees around us, the first real birds we were able to get a look at were these Canada Geese on one of tributary streams to the Elbow River. You know it’s a cold fall day when the ground water is giving off water vapor first thing in the morning.

Canada Geese in the mist Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Canada Geese in the mist
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 1600

Having very little luck with birds in the early minutes of our walk, I figured I’d take a few more scenery shots, and am I ever glad I did.

Griffith Woods Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 1250

Boreal Forest biome of Griffith Woods
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 1250

While searching for evidence of Three-toed or Black-backed Woopeckers, and listening for kinglets and chickadees, I did notice this series of bark beetle trackways in this spruce trunk, and with the bark stripped away by foraging woodpeckers, the network of tracks really stood out.

Bark Beetle Burrows Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Bark Beetle Burrows
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

It wasn’t until we had reached the end of our walk and began the trip back that our real luck with bird sightings started to turn around.

Elbow River looking east Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 200

Elbow River looking east
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 200

Elbow River looking west Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm 1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

Elbow River looking west
Pentax K-30 + Sigma 18-250@18mm
1/80sec., ƒ/16, ISO 125

Our first good sighting was a Brown Creeper, and while watching it creep up the trees in search of food, we were also alerted to the presence of a nearby Pileated Woodpecker, and a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets. It was really quite a busy place!

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

Golden-crowned Kinglet Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/400sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1000

The Pileated Woodpecker eluded us until we turned back onto the pathway under the power lines that runs from east to west straight through the middle of the park, but after giving a loud call, he flew overhead and gave us quite a show while working his way up a dead tree.

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

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

And that seemed to be it for the day, with the cold keeping most of the birds up high and out of sight for the most part, and even lacking any real chickadee flocks along the way back. On one of our brief listening stops, this Red Squirrel chattered at us to get away, but then went back to its task of nibbling on the spruce buds.

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

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

Of course this particular day ended a little early, considering the minimal activity and cold weather briskly pushing along our pace, but one of the Black-billed Magpies watched over us as we got into our cars and headed back to the warmth of home.

Black-billed Magpie Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Black-billed Magpie
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 250

Once again, good birding, and have a great week!

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 8 – South Glenmore Park Redux, Exploring the West End

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week, another trip into the wilds of Calgary’s Parks. It was a familiar sight when we assembled at the parking lot at South Glenmore Park, but the difference of a week of sub-zero temperatures turned the open water of the Glenmore Reservoir into a nearly birdless and iced over expanse.

Unfortunately for me, my 150-500mm Sigma lens is once again out for repair, and I didn’t get too many shots of the other birds we had in close proximity to us, so I’ve decided to throw in some photos that I’ve taken elsewhere this year to substitute for the birds we saw on this walk.

We walked from the Boating Club west along the edge of the reservoir, then up into the woods representative of the Boreal Forest biome, then continued west into a finger of Aspen Parkland before returning to the main pathway and returning to our rides.

South Glenmore Park - West End

South Glenmore Park – West End

One of our first sightings from the top of the hill was a Northern Shrike, which appeared to be a juvenile, and quite possibly the same one we saw perched in the exact same spot the week before.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Along the edge of the reservoir we looked out and saw a pair of Bald Eagles attempting to hunt, time and time again. As we neared their roost, we stopped amongst a group of Black-capped Chickadees and happened to spot a Brown Creeper flocking in with them!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

The constant din of honking Canada Geese heavily into their migration and low flyovers allowed us some nice close shots, but even better were the groups of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans that also flew back and forth from the west end of the Reservoir, which still had a good amount of open water.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Trumpeter Swans

We ascended the hill, and stopped for a few minutes to feed the Black-Capped Chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, and enjoyed their calls and antics while they ate their fill.

Feeding the Chickadees
Feeding the Chickadees

We walked through the Boreal Forest biome and as we crossed into the edge of the Aspen Parkland we paused as we heard not only Golden-crowned Kinglets, but also Boreal Chickadees and Brown Creepers. Quite the sight!

Boreal Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet

Our final addition of the day, as we neared the western-most extent of our walk, was a flock of more than sixty Bohemian Waxwings decorating a completely defoliated aspen like so many leaves. It was quite the sight and a definite cap to our great day of winter birding!

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

January Target Bird

Male Snowy Owl by Anne Elliott

Our target species for January is the beautiful Snowy Owl. These Arctic owls are currently being seen east of the city, but we’re all anxiously awaiting the first sighting within the city limits.

For more details on Snowy Owls and winter birding, see Birding By Month.

Good birding!

Pat Bumstead