New Birds Calgary Blog Address

Birds Calgary has moved to a new internet address. We have nearly reached the allowable size limit for content on this site, so we are upgrading to a blog format with no size limit. This is thanks in part to all the great contributions of photographs from you, our readers!

Our new URL is:  birdscalgary.com (click this link to go there now).

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Read these recent posts at the new site:

This blog will remain online, but no new content will added to it. The new blog site looks almost identical to this one, and contains all the posts that are on this one. New posts will be added only to the new site, and we will have access to many more features on the new blog.

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Thanks for all the support! We have had over 300,000 page views on this blog in the last two years, and our readership continues to grow. Please check out the new site!

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Frank Lake Ibis Colony Destroyed?

Guest Post by Greg Wagner

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt.

Ducks Unlimited developed the Frank Lake project under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan which is a tripartite initiative between Canada, the United States and Mexico aimed at conserving migratory birds across the continent. The Plan’s goal is to return waterfowl populations to 1970s levels through the protection of upland and wetland habitat.

This has certainly been achieved at Frank Lake where upland habitats have been secured and are managed for nesting waterfowl and other birds, and where wetland habitat has been created and protected through the establishment of dams and the addition of tertiary treated effluent from the Town of High River and Cargill. It is also one of the few large wetlands with large cattail and/or bulrush beds in southern Alberta and attracts a number of breeding bird species that are dependent on these habitats including White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Franklin’s Gull, Forester’s Tern, Western Grebe and Eared Grebe. Many of these species are listed as sensitive under the General Status of Alberta Wildlife Species, largely because of the scarcity of large wetlands with emergent vegetation.

Because of its conservation importance, Frank Lake has also been identified as an Important Bird Area  and as an Environmentally Significant Area within the Municipal District of Foothills.

Frank Lake is also a popular area for hunting, birding, wildlife photography, dog walking and hunting dog trials. Ducks Unlimited has also established an educational program at the lake, which had initially been offered to students in Calgary schools, but which is now being offered to rural schools in the area. It truly is the goose that laid the golden egg.  If people show some respect for the area and following a few basic rules (eg., dogs on leash during the nesting period from 1 April to 1 July) it should remain as an area that can serve as a significant wildlife conservation area, and at the same time be enjoyed by a number of different user groups.

The best known and most heavily used site on the lake is the observation blind on Basin 1 in the northwest corner of the lake. It is located within an extensive bulrush marsh and provides excellent viewing opportunities of Eared Grebe, Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens. Looking out to the east you can count dozens if not hundreds of White-faced Ibis. During the spring, the calls of Franklin’s Gulls are deafening. This reed bed supports the largest breeding population of emergent dependent birds on the lake, and in the province.

In the past photographers have been observed wading through the reed bed near the blind and trying to get close to the reed bed and nesting area of White-faced Ibis on a crudely constructed raft. These individuals cause untold damage to the birds nesting in these areas, in violation of the federal Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. I few weeks back I raised my concerns with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Making a hasty retreat.

Making a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, last weekend I encountered two individuals (a man with graying hair and a women with long blonde hair) marching through the reed beds north of the blind, cameras and long lenses in hand and pulling an inner tube with camouflage material wrapped around it. They were right in the area where the Ibis and Night Herons nest. About 25 Black-crowned Night Herons were flying around the reeds at the time.

I yelled at them to get out of there and that they were destroying nests in violation of the Alberta Wildlife Act. I also phoned Report a Poacher 1-800-642-3800 and ended up speaking with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer I had met with a few weeks back. I indicated what these two people were doing and that they were disturbing nesting birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. He asked me to record their license plate number. I also took some photos of them in the reeds.

After about twenty minutes they came out ashore and had the pleasure of some lively conversation and in your face time with yours truly. They indicated that they were long-time birders and were doing nothing to disturb the birds. I have left the matter in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Officer. But I wonder, do these two pick up a couple of six packs of mice from their local pet store anytime the go out looking for owls?

Last spring, I watched the Franklin’s Gull return to Frank Lake and begin nesting over most of May. Unfortunately, I was away for most of June. When I got back, I visited another large reed bed marsh supporting a large Franklin’s Gull breeding colony. The place was deafening with adult birds circling overhead, and recently fledged young everywhere.

Their vehicle

Their vehicle

Frank Lake was much different. I only saw a flock of 20 birds heading to the lake from nearby fields. No adult birds circling over the reed beds and no recently fledged young. There was zero nest success. I wondered at the time what had happen, and probably will never know. I thought it was probably something environmental, a quick increase in lake levels following a major rainfall event. But now, I wonder if it may simply have been caused by photographers traipsing through the bulrushes.

Frank Lake has become widely known as being the home to White-faced Ibis. I fear the breeding colony, or at least the major colony of the lake, has been destroyed. So if someone is out at Frank Lake and wants to know why there aren’t so many Franklin’s Gulls around the blind, or where all the Ibis have gone. maybe this post provides an answer.

—————————

Posted by Pat Bumstead:

We know Frank Lake is a very popular birding destination for many of our readers. Put the Report A Poacher number 1-800-642-3800 in your cellphone. If you see idiot photographers endangering the birds for the sake of a picture, make note of the following and give them a call:

  • Date, time and location of offense
  • License plate number of vehicle
  • Vehicle description, including any identifying features, dents, stickers, etc.
  • Description of person(s) involved
  • Description of evidence at the scene, or evidence of the crime that the violators took with them
  • Details of the violation

Most of our Canadian bird species are in serious trouble throughout their ranges. Bird watchers are the ones out in the field, and can cover far more territory than Fish & Wildlife officers. If you see someone wading through nest sites, baiting owls, stealing eggs from a nest or anything else that threatens the birds, speak up for them! If we don’t, there might not be any birds to watch.

The Long Walk in Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of the longest walks with the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses is the Sikome Lake to Lafarge Meadows trip. With a variety of ponds, wooded areas, river access, and open fields, the number of different biological niches that are filled along the route make it hard for me to skip or overlook any one area over another. This is one of the reasons that when I found out it was available for the May Species Count weekend last year, I jumped at the opportunity. Sure it’s a whole lot of walking, and there are some other areas that can be covered by driving, or still others that are smaller and can be completed in a couple of hours, but this week’s walk with the Friends of Fish Creek on Sunday was a great scouting trip, and was absolutely worthwhile.

 

Sikome Lake and Lafarge Meadows, the longest walk.

Sikome Lake and Lafarge Meadows, the longest walk.

Right off the bat there was activity. While we waited for the main gate to be opened for us, we heard our first House Wren and Clay-colored Sparrows for the year, along with at least three Ring-necked Pheasants and many, many Savannah Sparrows. Once we got to the south parking lot though, we the number of new species jumped again. First, a Cooper’s Hawk was waiting for us in the parking lot, a few Black Terns flew overhead, and hundreds of Cliff Swallows swirled about high up in the morning sky.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Black Tern

Black Tern

I had heard that the owlets at Sikome Lake had fledged last week, and when we came upon the two young, we could not have asked for a better scene. We were treated as well to our first good views of a Violet-Green Swallow, standing out distinctly from the many Tree Swallows who had taken up nests in the wooded grove.

Great Horned Owlets

Great Horned Owlets

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

When we finally tore ourselves away from the amazingly adorable owlets, we headed to the first set of ponds and were treated to even more new sights. First, an adult Killdeer performing its broken-wing display, leading us away from a very well hidden nest that no amount of searching would have found. Over the pond, a trio of Forster’s Terns called back and forth, one pair even displaying and finally mating. A female Belted Kingfisher looked on with disdain, hoping they wouldn’t scare off all the fish. As we headed back south, a few Spotted Sandpipers were courting as well, and while this pair wasn’t quite as much interested in exhibitionism, a few we found later on in the day didn’t seem to mind our intrusion one bit.

Killdeer performing broken wing display

Killdeer performing broken wing display

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

female Belted Kingfisher

female Belted Kingfisher

Spotted Sandpipers

Spotted Sandpipers

On the south side of the bridge were more delights. Our first Yellow Warblers were calling from the woods repeatedly, until their calls became the dominant noises surrounding us, but the distinct call of a low flying Swainson’s Hawk was definitely impossible to miss!

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

 

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Our trip to the far south end didn’t turn up any new species, but did turn up better looks at some old ones, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cinnamon Teal, and Red-necked Grebes, with no less than six pairs nesting on the pond this year. We headed back, deciding to call it a day after four hours of walking and birding, but even still we added two more clear sightings. First, this Clay-colored Sparrow singing on the fence on the south side of the bridge, and the clarion call of a Baltimore Oriole on the north side, just as we called it quits.

It was a great day to be birdwatching, despite the gray skies!

Next week we’re off to the Weaselhead for the May Species Count. This promises to be an amazing morning. See you then!

Postcards from Texas: Smith Oaks

Posted by Matthew Sim

As soon as we arrived at Smith Oaks I knew the birding was going to be good; before we had even entered the gates a Red-eyed Vireo jumped into the bushes in front of us. Then, in the first tree we passed, there was a male Golden-winged Warbler, a male Black-and-White Warbler and a male Blackburnian Warbler.

Black-and-White warbler

Black-and-White warbler

Just like that migrants were in every tree and bush. Blue-headed Vireo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Magnolia Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. How about another Yellow-throated Vireo? More Black-and-white Warblers over here! Had enough Scarlet Tanagers yet? With each bird the woods seemed to become a immeasurable buffet with numerous gorgeous migrants on which to feast the eye.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

I looked up and spotted an Anhinga, a sign that we were approaching the famous rookery and its rowdy inhabitants.

Anhinga

As we walked further and further the birding only got better and better. There were literally migrants in every bush and tree. Bay-breasted, Yellow, Blue-winged, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-and White and Tennessee Warblers were adorning every branch as were Northern Parulas, Common Yellowthroats, Philadelphia Vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewees, American Redstarts and Scarlet Tanagers. Even a beautiful Cerulean Warbler made a very brief appearance!

Bay-breasted Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Birding didn’t get any slower at the rookery as egrets, spoonbills and herons went about raising their families.

Rookery

Rookery

Young Spoonbill

The excitement didn’t even stop there as we got distant looks at a pair of beautiful Purple Gallinule. And one final highlight came as we were heading back to our car; a pair of Armadillo! It certainly was a great trip!

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

 

Postcards from Texas: Boy Scout Woods

Posted by Matthew Sim

Spring migration is starting to wind down here in Texas and I had still not been to the coast, thanks to a very busy schedule. This was made very painful a little over 2 weeks ago, when on Thursday, April 26th, a cold front grounded migrants and created a massive fallout of birds at coastal hotspots; what many locals were calling the best birding to be had in over 15 years. And I was stuck at school. Friday, there were still migrants everywhere. People were being told to try to avoid stepping on tired migrants that collapsed exhausted by the dozens on paths and lawns. And I was still stuck in school. Well surely I could get out on the weekend? Nope, weekend was already chock full of chores and commitments.

Finally though, on the Sunday I had the day off and I convinced my mom to chauffeur me down to High Island. She agreed (after a little while!) and we set off; though the weather forecast wasn’t going to create a fallout, I was still hoping for some good birds.

We arrived at Boy Scout Woods, a sanctuary run by the Houston Audubon at around 10:30 in the morning. The day got off to a great start when a very tame male Kentucky Warbler put on a show at one of the many small ponds and drips.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Things were looking good and as I walked through the woods I soon found my first Scarlet Tanagers and Black-and-white Warblers of the day.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

I carried on through the woods, seeing more thrushes, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, grosbeaks, orioles and warblers, including a Worm-eating Warbler which scurried about in the undergrowth, giving me only fleeting glimpses. Things started to quiet down apart from dozens of catbirds and a very vocal Eastern Kingbird.

Eastern Kingbird

Yellow throated Vireos were common throughout the woods.

Yellow throated Vireos were common throughout the woods.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

After an hour and a half, with fewer and fewer birds showing up, we decided to head over to another Houston Audubon run sanctuary, Smith Oaks, famous for its heron rookery. Before we left though, we stopped by at a house across from Boy Scout Woods whose front yard was covered in bottle brush and attracted many birds including Baltimore and Orchard Orioles; Tennessee, Chestnut-sided and Canada Warblers and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Female Orchard Oriole

Female Orchard Oriole

As we left this property, we spotted a Common Nighthawk perched on the street, content to just sit quietly. From there it was on to Smith Oaks! The trip to Smith Oaks will be posted tomorrow, stay tuned.

Wednesday Wings: Chasing Rarities – Purple Sandpiper – First Alberta Record

Posted by Dan Arndt

Local photographer Eddy Matoud stumbled across this incredibly rare bird on Thursday, May 9. Once the dust had settled and it had been positively identified as a Purple Sandpiper, I knew I couldn’t miss my chance to see this bird for myself. Late Friday afternoon I headed down to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where Eddy had found it the first time, and spent about an hour photographing it, digiscoping it, and just observing its behaviour. Sadly, it was gone the very next day, disappointing many who had gone out early in the weekend in hopes to see it.

Enjoy the photos!

purple sand16

Purple Sandpiper – a very rare visitor

purple sand15

At least there’s plenty of food around for it.

purple sand14

Splish splash

purple sand13

Drying off the wings

purple sand11

Now that’s a stretch.

purple sand12

Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed!

purple sand10

Streeeeetch!

purple sand9

Fetch, Piper, fetch! Good bird!

purple sand4

Another light snack

purple sand2

Migration is a hungry task.

purple sand6

What are YOU looking at?

purple sand3

Yep, still here.

purple sand7

What do you mean “lost”? I know exactly where I am…

purple sand8

No, that’s not an egg.

purple sand5

K, bye!

 

Bankside to Mallard Point – The migration has arrived.

Posted by Dan Arndt

It was an incredible morning. The sounds of Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, European Starlings, American Robins filling the air, along with the smells of spring. While it wasn’t the sunniest day, that was a blessing in disguise, as it helped keep it cool and helped to keep the birds calling well into the morning.

Bankside to Mallard Point

Bankside to Mallard Point

Upon our official start at Bankside, the presence of Savannah Sparrows was made readily apparent. Their calls serenaded us all through the day, but down near the riverbank we also heard a few Song Sparrows, both of which posed readily for the camera.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

As we came back from the river to begin our walk in earnest, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew up from building a nest hole to the edge of a building and began drumming on the siding, making quite the racket, but certainly announcing his territory to every female around.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

We followed the river, and had a few great sightings. A pair of Swainson’s Hawks on a nest, a Wood Duck on a gravel bar, a pair of Common Mergansers sitting up on a log with a perfect reflection in the still water, and many American Robins collecting nesting material and preparing to raise their young. We also were lucky enough to observe this Red-tailed Hawk dodging a pair of American Crows that were harassing it continuously.

Just leave me alone!

Just leave me alone!

Begin evasive maneuvers!

Begin evasive maneuvers!

Don't make me use the claws...

Don’t make me use the claws…

They're dangerous weapons...

They’re dangerous weapons!

A little further up the river we paused for a few minutes to watch some Northern Shovelers, and our first Gadwall and Green-winged Teal of the year. A pair of each found this little section of river just perfect to spend their Sunday morning.

Gadwall Pair

Gadwall Pair

Gadwall

Gadwall

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Our best birds of the day though, by far, were this pair of American Kestrels. A trio of Black-billed Magpies and a lone, and seemingly out of place Blue Jay, spent a good twenty minutes harassing them, before we moved on to leave them in peace.

male (l) and female (r) American Kestrels

male (l) and female (r) American Kestrels

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

As we neared the end of our walk, we finally came close enough to get a good look at one of the many Ring-necked Pheasants we had heard all morning, crowing away and searching for a mate. This beautiful brave male walked along the opposite shore while we stayed quite still and took in the view.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

Another good sighting was a small flock of Common Grackles along the near shore, and even in the poor light they were quite striking to look at in their fresh iridescent plumage.

male Common Grackle

male Common Grackle

As we headed to the vehicles to car-pool back to the Bankside parking lot to finish the day, a pair of Merlins in the back yard of a nearby house began calling, and apparently were being harassed by a few Tree Swallows, House Finches, and Black-capped Chickadees. I guess they didn’t want these two setting up their nest near their well-stocked feeders!

Merlin

Merlin

Along the road on our way back to the vehicles, in one of the stormwater ponds that has recently been set up in Fish Creek Park, we found an amazing Great Blue Heron, but also found another new species for the year, these Blue-winged Teal!

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Next week we’re off to Lafarge Meadows, and I’m hoping that we get a bit better light, but either way, the real push of migration has begun, and we are guaranteed to have a great day, rain or shine!

Good birding, and see you next week!