A Cold Morning In Hull’s Wood

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.

Week Two of the Spring session of the birding course with the Friends of Fish Creek saw us exploring Hull’s Wood and the boat launch area, at the east end of Fish Creek Park.  It was quite cold at 7:30 a.m., about minus 4 degrees Celsius, with a north wind and light snow, and the conditions didn’t change much over the three hours.  Nevertheless, we did manage to see some spring migrants.  Once again, the photos were provided by Paul Turbitt and Glenn Alexon.

Franklin’s Gull.  Photo by Paul Turbitt. 

We saw about 75 of the black-headed Franklin’s Gulls over the river.  As you can see in the photo, these gulls often have a pinkish tinge to their breast feathers in the spring.  Several gull species show this feature when they arrive on their breeding grounds, and it is thought to be a result of carotenoids in their diet.  In the case of Franklin’s Gulls, it is caused by their consumption of shrimp on their wintering grounds off the coast of Venezuela.  By fall it often fades away.

Canada Geese are nesting in broken treetops in the area, where they are safe from coyotes and dogs.  Here a male stands guard near the nest.

Canada Goose.  Photo by Glenn Alexon.

We walked north along the river, and scoured the rocky banks for American Pipits.  Up to 80 had been seen in the area earlier in the week.  We weren’t able to locate any, but I’ll get back to the pipits later.

We saw two bald eagles along the river:  one adult, and one juvenile which put up all the waterfowl as it flew over.  There were also at least two Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Glenn Alexon.

 A White-breasted Nuthatch was busy excavating a nest hole.  Here he is removing some wood from the nest.

As we neared the mouth of Fish Creek we watched a flock of over 200 European Starlings repeatedly flying down to the water and back up to the trees.  Then we noticed another huge flock of small birds, which turned out to be Tree Swallows, working their way north along the river.  I estimated about 100 in the first flock, which was followed immediately by another of the same size, then another, and another.  It was really just one huge flock numbering up to 800 birds.

We then turned away from the river, and out of the wind, to check out the two Great Horned Owl nests in the area.  The young owlets have been seen in one of the nests, but when we were there we weren’t lucky enough to see them.

Adult male Great Horned Owl standing guard near the nest.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Near the second owl nest we found a pair of Wood Ducks sitting in a tree.   These birds nest in tree holes so maybe they will nest in this area.

Male Wood Duck.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.


Female Wood Duck.   Photo by Glenn Alexon.

Photo by Glenn Alexon.

We finished up by checking the pond near highway 22X.  There wasn’t much there, but we were treated to Red-winged Blackbirds, a first of the year for some of the participants.

Red-winged Blackbird.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Finally, as we arrived back at the boat launch parking lot, we were treated to a Great Blue Heron flyover.

Great Blue Heron.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

That was a great way to finish the day for me and most of the others, but three people went back along the Bow to see if they could scare up some American Pipits.  By walking right near the shore, they did manage to find them.  These birds can hide quite effectively in the rocks and grass.

 American Pipits.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

Photo by Glenn Alexon.

When they were watching the pipits, a Mountain Bluebird appeared, then flew across the river.

Mountain Bluebird, from across the Bow River.   Photo by Paul Turbitt.

One of the photos that Paul took of the pipits showed a bird that I was sure was not an American Pipit, but couldn’t identify.  Gus Yaki has identified it as a Sprague’s Pipit.  This is a bird of the prairies which is rarely seen in the city.

Sprague’s Pipit.  Photo by Paul Turbitt.

 I will be heading back to this area regularly in the next few weeks to watch the development of the Great Horned Owlets.

Photo by Glenn Alexon. 

Glenn Alexon’s Flickr page.

Paul Turbitt’s Nikonians page. 

2 thoughts on “A Cold Morning In Hull’s Wood

  1. Sprague’s Pipit is very interesting. There is a young birder (~14-15 yrs old) in the Saturday morning group. When we found the pipits that morning he said that he thought that one had a streaky back and, pointing to the illustration in his Acorn “Birds of Alberta” book, asked if it was a Sprague’s. The more experienced birders in the group (myself included) had a very cursory glance over but basically dismissed him out of hand – the Sprague’s was too early and too far out of regular range. Definitely a lesson to be learned there. Oh, and that would have been a lifer for me – I deserve the dip on that one!

  2. I’ve had two birders tell me that this looks more like an American Pipit than a Sprague’s. The back pattern is like American, but the shape, large eye, lack of buffy area over the eye, and bill size and colour all look more like Sprague’s to me. I’d be interested to hear any other thoughts on this bird.
    Bob Lefebvre

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