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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!

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!

Wednesday Wings: Red-necked Grebes

Posted by Dan Arndt

Red-necked Grebes are in my opinion the most photogenic of their family, and in the right conditions of light, cover, and opportunity, I have been able to get quite close to them a few times lately.

These photos were taken this past weekend on the Glenmore Reservoir this past week, and at Frank Lake, Carburn Park, and Bridlewood Wetlands the week before.

Enjoy.

Red-necked Grebe at Bridlewood Wetlands - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Bridlewood Wetlands – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake - 500mm, F6.3, 1/500sec, 800ISO Pentax K-5

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake – 500mm, F6.3, 1/500sec, 800ISO Pentax K-5

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Frank Lake – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Carburn Park - digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe at Carburn Park – digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85

Red-necked Grebe on Glenmore Reservoir - 1/800, F6.3, ISO640, 500mm, Pentax K-5 + Tamron 1.4x TC

Red-necked Grebe on Glenmore Reservoir – 1/800, F6.3, ISO640, 500mm, Pentax K-5 + Tamron 1.4x TC

Good fishing on a beautiful sunny Sunday at South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

It is nice to finally get a little bit of sun on our walks, and along with the sun came a whole lot of spring migrants through our fair city. It was another great day for waterfowl, and despite the size of the Glenmore Reservoir, we were afforded really great views of just about everything we saw today. While I’m breaking my vow to not repeat species and focus on the new ones we see each week, strangely we didn’t get very close to anything new this week. Sure, there were some Eared and Horned Grebes very far out on the reservoir, and sure our binoculars and views through the scope were excellent, but I’ve come to the realization that digiscoping is best done solo, and not while trying to lead an enthusiastic group of birders on to their next sighting. That said, we did get some excellent views of some of the more elusive mammals we’ve seen in previous weeks, so that’s new too. Oh, and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks showed up. No big deal. They’re just a few thousand kilometers out of range for spring migration, and uncommon even in the fall, but we got them too. Clearly there must be some good fishing on the reservoir this spring, as the grebes, the loons, and many of the other species seen today prey almost entirely on fish. Perhaps that’s why there were so many fishermen out on the reservoir as well?

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

Our walk started and ended with Common Ravens. Sure, it makes perfect sense, especially considering that they’ve decided to put up a nest not fifty meters from the parking lot, but for most of us, it was really interesting to see. Last year there were a few Common Raven nests along this stretch of parkland, but none quite so exposed. We counted five young ones on this nest this morning, but didn’t really get good looks at them until much later on.

Here’s one of the adults in the “golden hour” light, showing off its nictating membrane.

Common Raven

Common Raven

We headed east along the reservoir from the sailing club, hoping that we might spy some new waterfowl, grebes, or maybe even a few sparrows down along the water’s edge. While other groups this week had reported ten, fifteen, even twenty Common Loons, we were still not prepared for the sheer number out there. There were more loons than I had ever seen in one place, maybe even more total loons than I’d seen individually since I started birding! One of the first new birds we had here this morning was a small raft of Horned Grebes, which were being flushed back and forth along the reservoir by kayakers out for a morning row.

Horned Grebes

Horned Grebes

Further out, there were a much smaller group of Eared Grebes, a handful of Western Grebes, and many Red-necked Grebes scattered throughout in ones and twos. While we were scanning the far edges of the reservoir, we nearly missed the birds (and mammals) right at out feet, like this Least Chipmunk, who was quite content to just nibble away on sunflower seeds while we snapped away.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

It was just a little further on where we saw what I would say was our highlight of the day, if not for the entire course to date: the Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks

As we watched both them, the close in loons, and the various other birds that caught our eye, the time finally came for us to turn back to our starting point, and along the way back we once again nearly stumbled upon another unwary mammal, a pair of Snowshoe Hare, who had nearly completely lost their winter coat and taken on their typical summer browns.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

And while some locals might think that Black-billed Magpies are a nuisance, annoying, or otherwise “trash” birds, there’s no denying that they are quite striking in just the right light.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

A brief stop at the vehicles to drop a layer of clothing as the morning warmed up significantly allowed us a moment to stop and check in on the Common Raven family. It looks like one of the adults had just brought in some food, as the young were silently begging for a piece.

Common Ravens

Common Ravens

After such a good start, we expected that our fortunes would continue, giving us sparrows, warblers, and maybe even some Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the dense spruce on the west side of our route, but sadly, no such luck. On the bright side, we did get even closer looks at Red-necked Grebes, Common Loons, and a pair of American Wigeon in just the right light to show off all their field marks.

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

Common Loons

Common Loons

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Upon our return, and at the end of our great, warm sunny day, it appeared that the young Common Ravens had not quite had their fill, as they were still begging for food as we left the park for another week.

We're so hungry!

We’re so hungry!