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Wednesday Wings: Waterton Park Birds

Photos from Marg Matheson and Alan Plumb. Thanks for sending these beautiful shots, folks!

The bills on these Evening Grosbeaks are just starting to turn green. They change from the bone colour of winter to a deciduous-bud green in early spring.

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This beautiful gray Gyrfalcon was seen just west of Fort Macleod.

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Normally thought of as living only in British Columbia, the range of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee does extend – just barely – into southwestern Alberta.

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2013-03-16 293

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Spring Birding Course 2013

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Once again the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society will be offering a twelve-week Spring Birding Course, beginning April 1. There will be at least twelve different groups going out on various days of the week. Right now many of the sessions have the full complement of 15 participants, but there are still some openings as of today. Contact Chris at the number or email below to see if there is room on the day you want.

Last Spring Dan Arndt and I decided to lead a group at a new time, 7:30 am on Sundays. We hoped that the earlier start would allow us to find more of the early birds as the days got longer. The session had fifteen participants and was very successful. For this spring we offered two 7:30 sessions, on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, with me leading one and Dan leading the other. Up to now there aren’t enough participants registered to justify two groups, but we are still taking registrations. If enough people sign up we will go ahead with two groups. The first 7:30 am sessions are scheduled for April 6 and April 7.

The course consists of weekly field trips to various parks and natural areas in the city, each lasting about  three hours. So join us if you want to get out once a week to learn about the birds of Calgary and meet other birders.

Spring Course 2013 (2)

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace – Week Eleven

Posted by Dan Arndt

A gorgeous week of bird watching, above zero temperatures, and clear skies had me itching to get out to Bebo Grove this week. In past years, Northern Pygmy-Owls were fairly regular occurrences here, along with Grey Jays, and even the occasional Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers.

Sadly, this time around we didn’t get any of those unusual sightings, but we did get some really great close looks at some of the “winter finches”, some crazy squirrel antics, and while the species list was fairly short, the quality of the observations and the closeness of our interactions was without equal.

Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace
Fish Creek Provincial Park

The day started with high winds, freezing rain, and cloudy skies, which did not diminish our spirits at all. In fact, it seemed that once we started walking into the wooded pathway, everything began to clear up. As we began, we were almost immediately made aware of a circling Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s subspecies), a pair of deer on the trail ahead of us, and one interesting little Red Squirrel raiding a cache of seeds and excavating the hole a little deeper still.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

A near-perfect fit

Nearby, we had our first close looks of the day at a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, who are always entertaining, and they even came in to eat out of the hands of some of our participants.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

After we’d had our fill of feeding the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees, we continued on until we were stopped in our tracks as we heard the overhead calls of White-winged Crossbills, who briefly touched down at the top of the spruce trees surrounding us. (These photos were taken a little later in the day, but it’s not often these birds are close enough to get good shots of, so I wanted to show them off!)

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

These tall spruce stands are typical of the habitat that makes up the majority of the Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Onward to the west we headed, transitioning from the spruce stands to the currently barren poplar stands, where we were greeted by the drumming and foraging of this gorgeous little male Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Another resident of the poplar stands was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who we heard long before we saw, and who gave us quite the show of grabbing seeds and wedging them deep into the crevices of the poplar bark with determined taps of the bill.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

It was a while before we got good looks at many other birds. Sure we had fleeting glances at a few Blue Jays, Common Ravens, and even stopped to feed some extremely skittish Black-capped Chickadees, but the next really good looks we had at anything was this Blue Jay on the far west end. We heard it, along with two others, calling repeatedly from a spruce stand in an agitated manner. It never was clear why they were so agitated, but they were so cooperative and posing so well!

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Almost as exciting was a small group of Pine Grosbeaks a little further along, just outside the Environmental Learning Center at Shannon Terrace, which might just be some of my best Pine Grosbeak photos I’ve taken so far.

male Pine Grosbeak

male Pine Grosbeak

female Pine Grosbeak

female Pine Grosbeak

And on we continued before stopping on our way back to feed the chickadees again. At least some of these little guys are grateful!

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 9 – Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.

When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!

Elliston Park

Elliston Park route

 

When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.

 

We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.

View of Elliston Lake

View of Elliston Lake

As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.

Canada Geese taking off

Canada Geese taking off

In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

 

As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.

House Finches

House Finches

 

As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:

Curious Kinglet

This curious Golden-crowned Kinglet was beginning to display the orange streak hidden beneath its bright yellow crest.

Curious Kinglet gets close

And then it came in to investigate even closer. At one point it was less than two feet away from me. What an experience!

Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!

 

 

 

Wednesday Wings: Leucistic Finch

These photos were sent to us from Pam in Cochrane, who noticed an unusual bird at her feeders. This leucistic form of the House Finch is a very beautiful bird that is happily feeding in a flock of the normally coloured finches.

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park have announced the dates and times of their Autumn birding course. The contact information and details are in the poster below. Each day of walks is led by either Gus Yaki, Rob Worona, Wayne Walker, or any number of other local birders who are incredibly knowledgeable, friendy, and enthusiastically share their love of birds with all in attendance. Bob Lefebvre and I will continue to lead one of the Sunday morning groups, and will be looking forward to seeing some new faces on our Sunday walks! (These photos may look familiar to sharp-eyed readers as well…)

FCPP Autumn Birding Course

FCPP Autumn Birding Course

South Glenmore Park – Grosbeaks and Hybrids

Posted by Dan Arndt

Back in June, the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course took an excursion into the west end of South Glenmore Park. We’d been nearby just weeks beforehand when Bernie Diebolt’s group spotted a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Gus that by that time, both the Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks would be back. While I normally have a map, I didn’t track this walk, so just the photos will have to do.

Starting off at the parking lot at the west end of 90th Avenue SW we walked along the top of the south bank before dipping down onto the hillside. The mosquitos were out in force that early in the morning, and while there were plenty of birds calling, many of us were regretting our lack of bug spray. The American Robins, Warbling Vireos, and various thrushes were calling once again up and down the slope, but one of our first birds of the day was this beautiful hybrid Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak, who flew from tree to tree responding to our recorded Rose-breasted Grosbeak calls.

Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak Hybrid

Black-headed X Rose-breasted Grosbeak Hybrid

While this one called to us from nearby, we could hear Rose-breasted Grosbeaks calling from both up and down the slope, and we elected to hunt down the down-slope caller, as it was along the route we were already following. Another lifer for me, though we didn’t get the greatest views…

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

While we were listening for the calls of this male, we could hear a Red-eyed Vireo calling nearby as well, and upon playing some calls for it, it too flew in to investigate.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Along the rise and down to the east end of the beaver ponds at the southernmost point of the Weaselhead, we were greeted by another Eastern Phoebe nesting under one of the bridges in the area.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

A trek back up the hill netted a beautifully serene viewpoint overlooking much of the Weaselhead, sporting a couple of benches, bird feeders, and even quite a few birds (and other visitors) enjoying the treats provided for them. Definitely a place I’ll be back to. We even spotted what we’re pretty sure was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but no one was able to snap a photo in time!

Male Brown-headed Cowbird

Male Brown-headed Cowbird

The male and female Brown-headed Cowbirds seemed to not even care that we had intruded upon their feeding station.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

Female Brown-headed Cowbird

While the Pine Siskins hid behind the tube feeders, hoping to guard themselves from prying eyes.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

And of course, no feeder in the mixed spruce and deciduous forest is complete without a woodpecker sighting. This Downy Woodpecker was waiting for us, and stuck around for some photo ops before the crowd became too much for it.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Last but not least are the mammalian visitors to the feeders. We had no less than three of these nervous and scurrying Least Chipmunks at our feet at any given time.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

Most memorable though, was this Red Squirrel that continuously gave us the Stare of Death™ any time we disturbed its feeding schedule.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

While this wasn’t yet our last trip with the Friends of Fish Creek, we were heading into the final weekends… which I will finish up later this week!

Good birding!