Posted by Dan Arndt
I attempted a trip earlier this year to the Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant on the south end of Calgary, and very nearly reached the facility just as my time was running short and I was forced to head back. At the time, a pair of Northern Saw-whet Owls was reported down on the river on the island adjacent to the plant, but I dipped on finding them. This time, the trip to the facility was successful, but sadly, no Northern Saw-Whet Owls were found. Even so, the number of species we saw and heard was astounding, and we even managed to observe not one, but two mating rituals in the few hours it took us to walk from the south end of our route, back to our vehicles at the entrance to the Inland Concrete Site at the east end of 194th Avenue SE, on what would turn out to be one of the warmest and nicest days of the year so far.
The rogues gallery of usual suspects was generally present on the route, with the usual Mallards, Canada Geese, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Flickers and even Red-breasted Nuthatches. What I was not prepared for was the sheer number of new species on and around the river! The highlight of the day I think would have been the three Spotted Sandpipers that we saw throughout the day. I’m sure I have better shots than this from previous outings, but this was the closest I was able to get to any of these three.
Two other old faithful birds that I have somehow missed so far this year are the Green-winged Teal and Gadwall, both of which were viewed down along one of the back-channels of the Bow River, in the shallow, slow waters in the gravel laden meanders behind the main series of islands. The Gadwall were one of the species we were able to observe “The Beast With Two Backs”… or in other words, the mating of the ducks. It really is quite an unceremonious event for birds in general. I think the whole encounter lasted less than a minute.
I’m always happy when an outing includes good views of Killdeer. One of our first sightings was across the back-channel, in the shade, with the Killdeer disappearing among the rocks, but near the end of our walk, we also caught this species in the act of attempting to procreate. I wish these future parents good luck! At least the male didn’t attempt to drown the female during the copulation!
One of the biggest surprises that I should have been prepared for, but always takes me aback every year, is the sheer number of Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows that invade the grasslands and brush-lands on the outskirts of Calgary. By far these two were the most numerous species of the day, and their calls provided the constant background theme music for our outing along the river, interrupted by the odd Song Sparrow, Lincoln Sparrow, and even a distant Vesper Sparrow that we heard, but did not get close enough to see.
And while I’m on the topic of surprises, these two were great additions to the outing; a small raft of Red-necked Grebes at the pond at the far south end of Lafarge Meadows, and a Great Blue Heron that flew by on at least three separate locations.
When we had first arrived, we noted a swallow up on one of the nearby powerlines, and while we thought it may be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, we couldn’t be sure due to the bad light. We got lucky though, as the little swallow decided to stick around and wait for us to come back, confirming our original ID. The browns and greys of the Rough-winged Swallow provides stunning contrast to the iridescent blue and bright white Tree Swallows we saw further down the path guarding a nest hole.
Another great week of birding down, and at least 6 more to go before the Spring Birding course wraps up for the year.
See you next week!