The Elbow River Bird Survey

When I began to bird seriously, I found that the fastest way to learn was to go on field trips offered by Nature Calgary (also known as the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society).  The best way to see a lot of bird species and learn to identify them is to go out in the company of experienced birders.
One of my favourite field trips is the Elbow River Bird Survey.  This is a walk along the Elbow from Stanley Park to the Glenmore Dam.  It has been led on the first day of each month for over fifteen years by Gus Yaki and his wife, Aileen Pelzer.  The walk starts shortly after dawn and takes about three and a half hours.
IMG_1826 adj

Wood Ducks perched beside the river, March 1, 2008.


A Common Merganser on the River near Stanley Park, November 1, 2009.

Gus is a lifelong naturalist and is very informative about birds, plants, and other natural history.  He keeps track of all the bird and mammal species seen, and the numbers of each.  He is gathering valuable data on the changes in bird populations along the river.

IMG_0970 trimmed

Gus Yaki (pointing) leading a walk on the Elbow River pathway, November 1, 2009.

The walk is mostly flat and easy, with one small hill between Sandy Beach and the Glenmore dam.  There are a variety of habitats on the walk.  You can see waterfowl on the river and the reservoir, songbirds in the parks and along the tree-lined urban streets and backyards, woodpeckers in the stand of old poplars in Riverdale Park, and the occasional raptor almost anywhere.  In recent years Gus has been posting the list of species seen each month on the Albertabird Listserv.  You always see something interesting.
Goshawk - Elbow River trimmed

This Northern Goshawk had just knocked a Common Goldeneye down onto the ice on the river. It flew off without pursuing the attack. February 1, 2009.

Like all of Nature Calgary’s field trips, this walk is free and open to everyone.  You do not have to be a member of Nature Calgary to participate.  If you plan to attend, since this is a one-way walk, call Gus and Aileen ahead of time, so they can arrange to carpool us back to the starting point.  The starting time changes throughout the year so check the field trip list on the Nature Calgary website or on the Calgary Rare Bird Alert (RBA) on Albertabird.
The next survey is Saturday, May 1, 2010.  Meet in the parking lot at Stanley Park on 42 Avenue SW,  just west of Macleod Trail at 7:00 am.  If you would like to join us, call Gus or Aileen at 403-243-2248.

The Elbow River with the Glenmore Dam in the Backgound.

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The Elbow River between Glenmore Dam and Sandy Beach.

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Downstream from Sandy Beach.

Some Recent Results of the Elbow River Bird Survey:   

Wednesday March 31, 2010 (for April), Partly cloudy, calm,
0-8C. Ice at Reservoir Dam still frozen.

1.. Canada Goose-16
2.. Mallard-20
3.. Common Merganser-2
4.. Ring-billed Gull-12
5.. Rock Pigeon-6
6.. Downy Woodpecker-8
7.. Northern Flicker-6
8.. Blue Jay-1
9.. Black-billed Magpie-16
10.. American Crow-4
11.. Common Raven-8
12.. Black-capped Chickadee-12
13.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-5
14.. American Robin-36
15.. European Starling-6
16.. House Finch-10
17.. Pine Siskin-1
18.. House Sparrow-6
Eastern Gray Squirrel-2

Monday March 1, 2010, 8:00-12:30. Sunny, calm, -4 to 9C.

  1. Canada Goose-140
  2. Wood Duck-1 pr.
  3. Mallard-60
  4. Common Goldeneye-1 m.
  5. Common Merganser-4
  6. Merlin-1 carrying prey.
  7. Rock Pigeon-5
  8. Great Horned Owl-2
  9. Downy Woodpecker-8
  10. Hairy Woodpecker-5
  11. Northern Flicker-6+
  12. Blue Jay-1+ heard.
  13. Black-billed Magpier-30
  14. Common Raven-3
  15. Black-capped Chickadee-22
  16. Red-breasted Nuthatch-5
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch-3
  18. Brown Creeper-2
  19. European Starling-5
  20. House Finch-6+
  21. Pine Siskin-2+
  22. House Sparrow-16

Eastern Gray Squirrel-6


Monday, February 1, 2010, 0815-1145. Sunny, Calm, -6 to -2C. 
1.. Canada Goose-190
2.. Mallard-160
3.. Common Goldeneye-2
4.. Common Merganser-2
5.. Bald Eagle-1 ad.
6.. Rock Pigeon-4
7.. Downy Woodpecker-4
8.. Hairy Woodpecker-1
9.. Northern Flicker-2
10.. Black-billed Magpie-45
11.. Common Raven-9
12.. Black-capped Chickadee-62, counted by Tony T.
13.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
14.. White-breasted Nuthatch-1
15.. European Starling-8
16.. Bohemian Waxwing-350
17.. House Finch-6
18.. House Sparrow-24
Eastern Gray Squirrel-4

Saturday January 3, 2010: 8:30-12noon, Sunny, calm, -12C. 7 participants

1.. Canada Goose-450
2.. Mallard 500
3.. Common Goldeneye-8
4.. Common Merganser-2
5.. Downy Woodpecker-7
6.. Hairy Woodpecker-2
7.. Black-billed Magpie-60
8.. Common Raven-14
9.. Black-capped Chickadee-32
10.. Red-breasted Nuthatch-7
11.. White-breasted Nuthatch-1
12.. Bohemian Waxwing-200
13.. House Finch-1
14.. Common Redpoll?-5
15.. House Sparrow-35
a.. Eastern Gray Squirrel-7
b.. White-tailed Jackrabbit-tracks.
c.. Coyote tracks

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

4 thoughts on “The Elbow River Bird Survey

  1. Now that the weather is moving into freeze zone. What changes in bird/duck population do you notice when snow/winter arrives? Do certain species migrate, while other species stay or get introduced into Calgary?

    Overall, is winter still a good varied duck/birding season? Just not as good as spring/summer/fall? Do you have some well known photographers in your group documenting all these various birds/ducks, plants/trees/landscapes?

  2. Typically individuals of about 100 species are found within Calgary between 01 Dec and 28 Feb, which is considered the local winter birding season. In fact, the biomass of all birds within Calgary is many times greater during the winter than during the summer months. Typically, 20,000 Canada Geese and a similar number of Mallards account for most of that.

    Many species, for example, Canada Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Blue Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee and House Sparrows, etc., stay year-round in Calgary. These are a few examples of permanent residents.

    The majority of species that are only seen during the spring, summer and autumn seasons are neotropical migrants. They migrate to southern USA, Mexico, Central and northern South America and the Caribbean. Most are insect eaters, and migrate south to be assured of finding a food supply – in the process, helping to keep their wintering grounds healthy.

    A few hardy individuals of these species, such as Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Crow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, forego the migration, toughing it out here during our coldest months.

    There are also some species which spend their summers in the far north, or at higher elevations that we only see in the winter, for example Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Snow Bunting, and in some years, Snowy Owls and Common Redpolls. There is more information about this on the “Birding by Month” link at the top of this page.

    To learn more about the birds, we invite you to join us on any scheduled birding outing, organized by Nature Calgary/Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society. Additional outings will be conducted for the Birds Calgary 2010 participants in the New Year. All outings are free.

    There are many very good photographers in the Calgary Birding community. They will be posting photographs on the Birds Calgary 2010 Listserv, as well as in our photo gallery.

    If you are in the competition and haven’t joined the Listserv yet, please do so.

    Gus Yaki / Bob Lefebvre

  3. What’s the usual protocol when group is hiking, and someone wants to photograph a bird or a landscape?

    Does the group wait, or does photographer catch up with group later on?

    What snacks/drinks/clothing are favorites or is suggested to take on these hikes?

    Have there ever been wildlife attacks on members when hiking?

  4. The groups usually move pretty slowly so there is plenty of time to take photographs, and it is easy to catch up if you fall behind.

    Depending on the season, the weather, and the length of the hike, some people bring water or snacks like granola bars or fruit and vegetable bars. Some of the out-of-town trips can last several hours, and then you will be advised in the field trip listing to pack a lunch. I sometimes carry a backpack for food, water, a camera, and extra clothing. It is important to dress for the weather – in the winter you can get cold since you aren’t moving too fast.

    I have never heard of a wildlife attack during a field trip, other than perhaps a bird defending its nest or young. I think we are pretty safe when we are inside the city limits.

    Bob Lefebvre

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