Two of the resident male Wood Ducks at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Photos taken in summer 2012 by Laurie Rutter.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
The last 48 hours in Calgary have seen a massive shift in temperature and weather. On Friday the temperature took a dive from 15 degrees Celsius down to -5 C, followed by Saturday being interspersed with heavy snow, high winds, and a steady decline in temperature. On Saturday night the temperature took another drop, and upon waking up on Sunday morning, there was a good 2 centimeters of snow accumulation. I knew right away that the birding was going to be great on the Glenmore Reservoir, and I was not disappointed. Nearly 4000 birds were seen out on the water, many of which came in for good, close views, but the majority of them were too far to get usable photos. Luckily for us, some of the less common ones were close enough to see quite well!
By far the majority of the birds were on the west side of the reservoir, but the Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and lone Double-crested Cormorant were in the better-protected eastern bay, closer to the Bayview neighborhood.
By far the most numerous birds were the American Coots, which had flocked together overnight to number over 1500 individuals in flocks between 20 and 300. We were greeted at the starting point by this Canada Goose who decided that, for once, it would be appropriate to use the boat launch ramp.
We also had a perfect vantage point to watch this Bald Eagle and its mate harass one of the larger flocks of American Coots in hopes of picking off a straggler.
Shortly followed by this Common Raven and its mate flying into the spruce above the Glenmore Canoe Club to harass the Bald Eagles who had set down moments before.
As we scanned the flocks of American Coots, we saw interspersed in their numbers a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons. The main highlight though were the occasional Horned and Eared Grebes that flocked together and seemed to spent as much, if not more time under water diving for vegetation to fuel their migration south.
At the east side of the Canoe Club, we found this lone Pied-billed Grebe taking refuge near the docks, resting up and staying hidden from predators.
As we neared the end of the point, we came up right against the largest raft of American Coots, and we even managed to pick out a few juveniles just coming into their adult plumage. In the photo below are at least two American Coots whose heads are light grey as opposed to the fully matured individuals with the black head plumage.
Moments later a few Trumpeter Swans that we saw on the very far end of the reservoir took off and flew directly toward us. They slowly veered south, but not before getting close enough to allow us to get a few flight shots.
Working our way on to the east, these three Eared Grebes thought it would be a good learning experience to show us what their breeding plumage looks like, as opposed to their usual non-breeding plumage we’d seen so far for the day.
The true highlight of the day though was a group of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters in the east bay. While I’ve seen White-winged Scoters a bit closer this year on the Reservoir, and Surf Scoters much earlier during the May Species Count here in Calgary, and even closer on the Iona Jetty in Vancouver, it was a real treat to be able to show these uncommon migrants to our group attendees. This is the very best part of leading these groups and why I love birding. These teachable moments and exposure to new birds like this are more than worth the slight discomfort of the cold.
Last Saturday I spent some time down on the Glenmore Reservoir and was able to get much closer to a pair of White-winged Scoters, and managed to snag this shot of an adult male in much better light conditions.
And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.
Have a great week, and good birding!
Posted by Dan Arndt
Another week, another great week of birding one of the incredible natural areas of Calgary. This time we headed down the Western Headworks Pathway, one of the primary irrigation canals of the Bow River, which extends all the way to Chestermere Lake and provides water to farms even further east and south from Calgary. Our walk took us from just south of 17th Avenue SE all the way to 50th Avenue SE and back again, all the while keeping us incredibly close to the birds and allowing for some decent shots despite the gray, gloomy skies and incredibly poor light all morning long.
One of the best sightings early on were this pair of Yellowlegs, one Greater and one Lesser, showing off the differences in overall body size, bill shape, and bill length.
Shortly after that we came across a large mixed flock of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and even a lone Northern Pintail was in the mix!
A constant reminder of just how close to the Bow River we were was the nearly incessant flocks of gulls, ducks, and even one large flock of nearly forty female and juvenile Common Mergansers.
One raft of Mallards seemed to weave in and out of a flock of American Wigeon and even involved a few Hooded Mergansers, but this lone Pied-billed Grebe nearly escaped our notice hidden amongst some vegetation.
At least two of the male American Wigeon were in full breeding plumage, but instead of the usual white crown on the bird, these Wigeon had yellowish crowns. Very strange.
Another bonus bird that hasn’t been seen on many of our walks for the past year are these Eurasian Collared Doves. While common in residential neighbourhoods, they aren’t often found in the usual spate of parks the Friends of Fish Creek courses will visit.
In contrast, these Rock Pigeons, while posing beautifully on a train bridge, are as common as, well, Rock Pigeons on our walks.
At the far south end of the walk we found our first Killdeer of the day, well hidden amongst the gravel and vegetation on the shore.
Our walk back was essenially better looks at many of the same birds, and as we came up alongside the Hooded Mergansers, something spooked them and flushed them up off the canal.
By Bob Lefebvre
Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge.
If you have a question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may post your question and our answer. We won’t print your name or email address.
Q: I was wondering if there is anywhere in Calgary that is a good location to go and feed ducks on a lazy Sunday afternoon?
A: There are several good spots to observe ducks at close range in Calgary, but it actually is not a good idea to feed them. Many people do feed them bread and similar items, but these are like junk food for ducks, with lots of carbohydrates but not enough minerals and protein to provide for proper health and growth. This sort of artificial diet is especially bad for the ducklings once they hatch. Besides malnutrition, there are other problems associated with feeding them bread products, such as the spread of disease and the loss of natural behaviors.
However, there are healthy products you can feed to ducks. They do well on grains like cracked corn, wheat, barley, and oats; high-quality birdseed; grapes (cut up); chopped lettuce; and frozen peas and corn. Any such feeding should be done in moderation and cautiously, with every attempt made not to disturb the birds.
Mallards at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary
There are many small ponds in parks in the city where waterfowl can be seen. Good places include Prince’s Island downtown, Pearce Estate in Inglewood, and Confederation Park between 10 Street and 14 Street NW. All of these have benches or grassy areas near the water. There is also a great lagoon at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where you can observe Mallards, Canada Geese (and, in a few weeks, ducklings and goslings), the beautiful Wood Duck, and other ducks at close range, but it is illegal to feed wildlife in the sanctuary (it is also illegal in Fish Creek Park). In any case I would encourage you to watch the birds but let them feed naturally wherever you go.
Canada Geese with goslings at IBS
Posted by Dan Arndt
Once again the Friends of Fish Creek Birding course made its way to Carburn Park, without the lure of the Northern Saw-whet Owl back in January. Since then, the weather has warmed, the birds have begun preparations to nest, and while most have chosen their mates, others are still in the process of defining their territory and competing with their rivals for the few mates still unspoken for. We were gifted with a few wonderful displays of an incredible number of Northern Flickers all throughout the park, as well as the beautifully crimson male House Finch, and huge numbers of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Mallards, and Canada Geese.
This time around, we headed south from the parking lot to the bridge over the Bow River, which is one of the best places in the city to get good views, and good photos, of birds in flight. Both Canada Geese and the juvenile Bald Eagles came low over the bridge, almost posing as they flew by.
From there, we headed further south along the river to get views of the duck species present, and were allowed particularly good views of Buffleheads, Mallards, Common Goldeneye, and even my first female Common Merganser of the year.
We headed east about a hundred meters before heading north along the back fences of the community adjacent to the park. Here we were greeted by the melodious sounds of House Finches and Black-capped Chickadees at the feeders.
Cutting back over to the river bank, the overcast skies opened up to let the blue shine through, and the light was absolutely incredible for the better part of an hour. Along this stretch of river, we were constantly hearing the drumming and calling of the Northern Flickers, and across the river, a family of Bald Eagles was down on the ice. Overhead, the Canada Geese continued their flyovers before heading eastward to the outlying fields for the day.
From there, we headed along the shoreline in a clockwise direction. While the light remained good, we came across a curious Black-billed Magpie, and a group of Common Mergansers also swam in close, the males showing off their beautiful green head plumage.
While the number of ducks and geese was incredibly high, the evidence of their predation by the ever present Bald Eagles was apparent.
We continued to trek onwards, and in our search for the Northern Saw-whet Owl seen here in January that came up empty, we almost literally stumbled upon a herd of twenty or so White-tailed Deer, spread out along the trails in the northwest section of the park.
While the remainder of the walk was a little rushed, it remained relatively relaxing, as the birds had quieted down quite a lot, and none really seemed to pay us any mind as we strolled the interior of the park along the pond, back to our vehicles, and then home.
See you next week!
Some unique photos from Rob English, who says “I shot these last June in Carburn Park at the hundred year old tree. It was early in morning so the photos aren’t the best but I thought you might enjoy them anyway. I sent them to Gus Yaki and he said it was something seldom seen, never mind photographed.
Who knows what she was doing? Cleaning her nest of a cracked egg or raiding the nest site for a takeover as there was a Common Merganser circling the tree.
What she was doing I guess we will never know, but it is interesting to see. After she had done the deed she just sat in the tree cavity”.