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Sunday Showcase: Mountain Bluebird Fallout

Posted by Dan Arndt

Since the snowstorm on Sunday, April 14, many Mountain Bluebirds have been reported in the city. These migrants were forced down by the weather. Over 100 were reported in Fish Creek Park, about two dozen at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and about 40 in a yard in Maple Ridge. Rob English spotted these bluebirds feeding in the Mountain Ash trees near his home, and sent us these great photos.

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

female Mountain Bluebird

female Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

After hearing about the large flocks all around the city, and that the numbers were quickly dwindling at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, I headed out on Tuesday evening with the Swarovski ATX 85, Pentax K-30, and digiscoping adapter, and spent a good hour watching and photographing a flock of six stragglers. While I had hoped that they would stick around so our Sunday group would get a chance to see them, I couldn’t take that chance, and boy am I glad I did!

You lookin' at me?

You lookin’ at me?

female Mountain Bluebird

female Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebirds

male Mountain Bluebirds

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

male Mountain Bluebird

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 12 – Votier’s Flats

Posted by Dan Arndt

As winter seems to be coming and going in bursts, this week’s visit to Votier’s Flats gave us both a few late fall migrants that appeared to be doing quite well in their attempt to muddle through the fairly mild autumn we’ve had so far, and a winter visitor that is once again making itself right at home in the city. On top of all that, we had a surprise sighting of a non-avian critter diving and splashing around in Fish Creek looking for a fishy breakfast! It was a good day, all in all!

Votier's Flats

Votier’s Flats

Our first bird of the morning, while we were waiting for some stragglers to show up, was this male Ring-necked Pheasant. He flew in along the hillside to the north-east before coming to a rest at the road, and started up and across the road as I approached. Thankfully, he stopped just long enough for me to snap a few shots.

male Ring-necked Pheasant

male Ring-necked Pheasant

male Ring-necked Pheasant 2

Looking both ways after crossing the street. Who ever said pheasants were smart?

We walked up the hill to the west overlooking the creek, and stopped briefly to look at a few Pine Grosbeaks, one of which had alerted us to its presence by flying directly above us and singing quite loudly. These two others kept their polite distance and allowed us to take good looks at them.

Pine Grosbeaks

female or juvenile Pine Grosbeaks

We headed down the hill and walked a brief circle, accosted by Black-capped Chickadees and a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, but none that would stop long enough for me to snap their photo. Striking out on any less common birds at the base of the hill, we trekked back up the slope and took a look over the creek bed, and almost all of us were surprised to see this little fellow dipping in and out of the water, searching for something to nibble on.

Mink

Mink on the ice

Following the river, and down through the spruce stands at the bottom of the hill, we saw a few Common Ravens giving us flybys, heard a distant Blue Jay, and many more flocks of Black-capped Chickadees. This Common Raven even paused in a treetop to pose for a photo.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As we passed this guy, it quickly became possible to measure our progress by the number of flocks of Black-capped Chickadees, and three flocks of Chickadees and a single flock of Dark-eyed Juncos later, we heard the very distinct calling of Red Crossbills in the trees above us. Once again these Red Crossbills were very polite, very calm, and content to just sit in the treetops and watch us pass by.

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill showing off its namesake

Heading back to the main path, across the river, and over to the storm water drainage channel to where an American Dipper and Wilson’s Snipe had been seen, we came across a few more flocks of Black-capped Chickadees a couple of very large flocks of Pine Grosbeaks and a few flocks of White-winged Crossbills and Canada Geese flew overhead throughout. When we got to the drainage channel, we were surprised by this little beauty where the American Dipper should have been, and it allowed us very clear, diagnostic views allowing us to identify it as a Song Sparrow!

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow 2

Song Sparrow looking for food on a raft of twigs and branches

Moments later, the American Dipper popped out and began briefly foraging with the Song Sparrow, before giving us quite the demonstration of how it earned its name.

American Dipper

Our first views of the American Dipper

American Dipper

Our American Dipper briefly pausing on a rock before taking a dive

dipping Dipper

American Dipper taking a dip

Success!

And success! Our American Dipper comes up with… something edible I guess?

We walked back the way we came in hopes of glimpsing a Boreal Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker, or maybe even get lucky enough to spot a Pileated Woodpecker, but sadly, no new species came to us on our walk back. As we parted ways and I walked back up the hill to check for the Mink again, I did spot this male Downy Woodpecker that was more than comfortable enough with me to let me get very close. Possibly too close for my camera to focus properly!

Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

Have a great week, and good birding!

Travel Tuesday – Rare and Random Calgary Birds!

Long-tailed Ducks

Four of the six Long-tailed Ducks seen from the Rowing Club on the Glenmore Reservoir. November 4, 2012

American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker at the Jumpingpound Demonstration Forest. November 3, 2012.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings on Grand Valley Road. November 3, 2012.

Dunlin

Dunlin at Weed Lake. October 26, 2012.

Clark's Grebe

Clark’s Grebe at Carburn Park. October 26, 2012.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier at Chestermere Lake. October 21, 2012.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush at Chestermere Lake. October 21, 2012.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk on Sibbald Creek Trail. October 20, 2012.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl on Grand Valley Road. October 20, 2012.

Greater White-fronted Geese

Greater White-fronted Geese at Lake Namaka. October 14, 2012.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird at Eagle Lake, October 14, 2012.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle at Glenmore Reservoir, October 13, 2012.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird, South Calgary, November 6, 2012.

Thanks for reading!

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!

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 8 – South Glenmore Park Redux, Exploring the West End

Posted by Dan Arndt

Another week, another trip into the wilds of Calgary’s Parks. It was a familiar sight when we assembled at the parking lot at South Glenmore Park, but the difference of a week of sub-zero temperatures turned the open water of the Glenmore Reservoir into a nearly birdless and iced over expanse.

Unfortunately for me, my 150-500mm Sigma lens is once again out for repair, and I didn’t get too many shots of the other birds we had in close proximity to us, so I’ve decided to throw in some photos that I’ve taken elsewhere this year to substitute for the birds we saw on this walk.

We walked from the Boating Club west along the edge of the reservoir, then up into the woods representative of the Boreal Forest biome, then continued west into a finger of Aspen Parkland before returning to the main pathway and returning to our rides.

South Glenmore Park - West End

South Glenmore Park – West End

One of our first sightings from the top of the hill was a Northern Shrike, which appeared to be a juvenile, and quite possibly the same one we saw perched in the exact same spot the week before.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Along the edge of the reservoir we looked out and saw a pair of Bald Eagles attempting to hunt, time and time again. As we neared their roost, we stopped amongst a group of Black-capped Chickadees and happened to spot a Brown Creeper flocking in with them!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

The constant din of honking Canada Geese heavily into their migration and low flyovers allowed us some nice close shots, but even better were the groups of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans that also flew back and forth from the west end of the Reservoir, which still had a good amount of open water.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Trumpeter Swans

We ascended the hill, and stopped for a few minutes to feed the Black-Capped Chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, and enjoyed their calls and antics while they ate their fill.

Feeding the Chickadees
Feeding the Chickadees

We walked through the Boreal Forest biome and as we crossed into the edge of the Aspen Parkland we paused as we heard not only Golden-crowned Kinglets, but also Boreal Chickadees and Brown Creepers. Quite the sight!

Boreal Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet

Our final addition of the day, as we neared the western-most extent of our walk, was a flock of more than sixty Bohemian Waxwings decorating a completely defoliated aspen like so many leaves. It was quite the sight and a definite cap to our great day of winter birding!

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Week 7 – South Glenmore Park

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.

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

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.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

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.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

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.

Common Raven

Common Raven

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.

Eared Grebe

lone Eared Grebe in non-breeding plumage

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.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

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.

American Coots

American Coots

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.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

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.

Eared Grebes

Eared Grebes

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.

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

Surf Scoters

Surf Scoters

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.

White-winged Scoter - October 13

White-winged Scoter – October 13

And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.

Surf Scoters - Vancouver

Surf Scoters – Vancouver

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course – Week 6 – Western Headworks Pathway

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.

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

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!

female Northern Shoveler

female Northern Shoveler

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.

female Common Mergansers

female 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.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

female Hooded Merganser

female Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

male Hooded Merganser

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.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

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.

Eurasian Collared Doves

Eurasian Collared Doves

In contrast, these Rock Pigeons, while posing beautifully on a train bridge, are as common as, well, Rock Pigeons on our walks.

Rock Pigeons

Rock Pigeons

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.

Killdeer

Killdeer

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.

male Hooded Merganser taking off

male Hooded Merganser taking off