Archives

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course begins again – Week 2

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This fall, Bob Lefebvre and I are running one of the Sunday morning groups this year, and while this is the second week for the group, it’s my first week back from vacation.

 

Lafarge Meadows, one of the locations I always am finding new birds at, was our location for the day, and in our 5.75 km walk up and down the river bank, dodging golf carts and buses, we managed to see a pretty decent number of species. The annotated map shows our general route, as we headed from the Boat Launch, clockwise following the river, then back north along the paved path.

Our Route

On the ponds at the north end, we were given good close looks at a Great Blue Heron, seen here giving a brief lecture to some unruly Mallards that had taken over its roost. It flushed them away, or at least attempted to, before going back to its business of catching its breakfast.

Great Blue Heron giving a lecture

Attempting to frighten off the surly Mallards

Soon the heron realizes the futility of its ways and goes back to fishing.

As we looked over the pond, we were briefly interrupted by a small group of migrants, including Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a few Lincoln’s Sparrows, before we looked back up over the pond to see some familiar faces (or familiar bills, perhaps?) The always entertaining Bufflehead, ever-present Lesser Scaup, and a lone American Wigeon even  made an appearance.

 

Bufflehead

Lesser Scaup

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

As we trekked southward, into the fray with golf carts whizzing by us and the noise of what seemed like hundreds of visitors to some other festivities in the park, we veered off toward the river, where we saw no small number of Double-crested Cormorants, Lesser Yellowlegs, and even at least two Osprey, hunting for fish over the Bow River.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Osprey

Osprey

Even deeper into the brush and further from the trail we happened across a few more warblers in the trees, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a pair of House Wrens angrily chipping away at us.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While we tend to focus on the birds on the blog, we all have a soft spot for butterflies, and this Milberts Tortoiseshell that posed quite nicely for everyone was no exception. It also marked the beginning of our trek back to the north, with the sun at our backs.

Milberts Tortoiseshell

Milberts Tortoiseshell

As we were once again inundated with the golf carts and busy pathway, we kept our heads clear and our goals in sight, checking the ponds and sloughs on each side of the path as we went, and we turned up quite a few nice surprises. Each of them was more striking, with the Pied-billed Grebe surfacing now and again in an algae-choked pond, a pair of juvenile Ruddy Ducks in amongst the American Coots, and another Green-winged Teal flocking in with some more precocious Mallards!

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Finally, as the finish line was in sight and our long walk had ended, we found ourselves staring long and hard at this intrepid Cooper’s Hawk, soaring on the thermals in search of its next meal.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Next week: Mallard Point!

Advertisements

Griffith Woods – New surprises at every turn

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I wrote in my original post about Griffith Woods with the Winter Birding course,  I haven’t had much opportunity to visit this beautiful park on the edge of the city, and Sunday morning was only my second visit. The route we took this week was almost identical to the one we took in March, but the birds we saw were vastly different.

 

Griffith Woods

Griffith Woods – 5km Walking Route

We started by walking east from the parking lot, where we were inundated by a huge number of birds singing. Not only new birds for the year for many of us, but for myself at least one new life bird, and great views of others that I’d only seen in the distance or through foliage. Both White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow species were present and singing, but we also heard and saw a single male Purple Finch.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

 

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

On the river itself, a few Spotted Sandpipers searched for food along the shore, while a pair of Belted Kingfishers patrolled the river in search of small fish.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Further east, on the banks of the large eastern ponds, we had great views of an adult and a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, a House Wren at the entrance of a nest hole, and a Gray Catbird who flew in for a closer inspection as we played back a recorded call.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

House Wren

House Wren

 

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

To top off those great views, we also spotted a pair of what we identified as Least Flycatchers along the edge of the ponds before they disappeared into the deeper brush.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

We left the ponds after searching a bit longer for some other birds that we could hear nearby, but only the briefest glimpses confirmed the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows, and the ever present Clay-colored Sparrows buzzed in the background.

Turning back west, we continued past the parking lot and deeper into the spruce forest of Griffith Woods, which meanders through a number of small tributary channels of the Elbow River, very small ponds and wetland areas, but is dominated by the White Spruce that make up a significant portion of the foliage. The birds were heard more than seen, and while we heard a number of Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbills, Boreal Chickadees, and both Hairy and Downy Woodpecker species, it was hard getting our binoculars on them, let alone the camera lens!

Coming to one of the first bridges, we saw a pair of sandpipers, which initially we thought were also Spotted Sandpipers, as before, but the white breast, greenish legs, and drastically different demeanor identified them as Solitary Sandpipers, which can sometimes nest in trees, as we noticed a few minutes after this shot was taken.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

We meandered for the next half hour with very few birds seen, but heard Chipping Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and what we thought was a flock of Black-capped Chickadees mobbing a predator, but turned out only to be an unusually vocal flock. A moment later, the call of the Audubon’s subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler was heard only a few meters away. Once again, we had great views of it as it was protective of its territory, indicating that it would very likely be breeding in the area if it can find a mate this season.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s subspecies)

Our last really great views were of the male Pileated Woodpecker that we originally saw back in March, once again protecting the nest hole in an abandoned power pole near the condominium complex.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

On our way out, we did get one other new bird on the year in Calgary. High above us soared a juvenile Golden Eagle, with bright white patches under the wings, and that incredible golden brown hue over the rest of its body. While my camera couldn’t quite zoom in far enough to get a decent shot of it, my binoculars gave me good enough views that I’m looking forward to getting back out into the country to see these birds up close again. As for Griffith Woods, I look forward to exploring it once again this summer, and into the fall once the warblers begin heading south once again.

 

Spring has Sprung at Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

It was quite evident by the bird activity last week at Carburn Park that spring would be arriving soon, and it became even more clear by the presence of two pairs of nesting Great Horned Owls at the East end of Fish Creek Provincial Park. One of our longest walks to date, at over 7km, we covered a huge amount of ground and saw some amazing sights.

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Bow Valley Ranch to Lafarge Meadows and back

Meeting at Bow Valley Ranch, we headed along the hillside on the north edge of the lot to attempt to find a Ring-necked Pheasant which had been seen and heard just before my arrival, but to no avail. Heading southward towards the creek, we found the first male Great Horned Owl guarding a nest, and female, that remained undiscovered by our group. A success in the eyes of any parenting owl, but it would be a great find in a month or two once the eggs hatch and babies begin to fledge, and even moreso if someone were there to get some photos! On the other hand, a well hidden nest keeps away those who wouldn’t treat it with the proper respect.

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - Male 1

Great Horned Owl - slightly irritated

As we headed across the road through the park, and further south, we were constantly serenaded by the drumming and calling of the incredibly numerous Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers in the area, both of which numbered at least twenty individuals through the course of our walk.

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - male

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - female

Downy Woodpecker - male

Male Downy Woodpecker digging for a morsel

Northern Flicker - male

One of the many male Northern Flickers seen yesterday.

One of the most common questions of the day was, quite honestly, not surprising. With the incredible numbers of European Starlings coming in, many of those on our walk simply had no idea just how wide the range of Starling vocalizations truly was, and almost every variation of their call drew at least one question of “What bird made that call?”  To which my answer usually was: “This one.”

European Starling

The scourge of those who bird by ear.

We headed toward the south end of the park, and stopped briefly by the river to see if there were any unusual birds on the ice, on the shores, or in the water, but surprisingly, there were very few waterfowl at all on the Bow River. Directly on the river were a few Mallards, and on one pond just to the west, a few more Mallards and a pair of Common Goldeneye.

Mallards

Mallard ducks. (Female on left, male on right)

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (male left, female right)

Turning back towards Sikome Lake, we came across the second pair of Great Horned Owls. The male appeared slightly agitated, and as we approached, actually flew closer to the nest to better guard it. It also appeared that this pair was much better known, as there were quite a few others viewing the pair as well. The female, though well hidden, was barely visible sitting atop the clutch of eggs.

Great Horned Owl - male 2

A slightly more agitated and alert male Great Horned Owl, guarding his mate.

 

Great Horned Owl - male 2

Male Great Horned Owl

 

Female Great Horned Owl

Female Great Horned Owl on nest. Nope, I can't see it either.

Not too far away from this pair was another alert parent guarding his potential offspring. I wonder how many of his offspring will help feed the developing owlets in the coming months.

Canada Goose on nest

Canada Goose on nest

After stopping to watch this Canada Goose for a bit, we headed back north towards the vehicles, but first stopped to see just a few more woodpeckers in action. Both the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers in this part of the part are incredibly tolerant to people walking only a few meters away.

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Male Hairy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

Feeding female Downy Woodpecker

And with that, we headed back to the vehicles, and home. It’s quite an exciting time here during spring migration, and one of the things every birder looks forward to with great anticipation. What will the coming week bring?  I suppose I’ll just have to wait until next Sunday to find out!

 

 

Wintering blackbirds in Texas

Winter leaps upon us in a flash. One minute, it seems, it is a very distant shape looming faintly on the horizon. Suddenly, before we know it, winter has struck, leaving us wondering where the summer went. In Texas, the same seems to happen with wintering birds. One day, only the year-round residents who call Texas home can be seen. The next day, countless wintering birds of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, confusing even the most attentive eye.

Countless blackbirds flock together during the winter

On a recent trip to Brazos Bend State Park here in Texas, about an hour southwest of Houston, we observed some spectacular flocking in action. Literally thousands upon thousands of blackbirds; Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles and European Starlings congregating on some farmer’s fields. They swarmed and swirled, seemingly in perfect coordination, lifting off and landing as a unit. And yet, this is not a sight you can readily behold on these bird wintering grounds. You don’t see flocks of thousands of these species doing this in the summer, so why do they do it in the winter???

These blackbirds have quite a few reasons for doing this in the winter but these flocking habits also have numerous downsides. First of all, on the positive side, foraging is greatly improved by the large flock as opposed to a single bird or a small group. The more eyes you have working together, the easier it is to find food! More eyes can also mean more safety from would-be predators, and trust me, there are a lot of them!

This brings us to one of the downsides of wintering flocks. Predators. Lots of them. Where there is food, there are consumers, waiting to, well, consume the food. Raptors see these blackbirds as one huge buffet just waiting to be sampled. In a small farmer’s field, we counted up to 20 raptors: about 10 Caracaras, many Red-tailed Hawks, several White-tailed Hawks, a Turkey Vulture and a couple of Northern Harriers, all exploring the delightful opportunity of a full stomach all winter long. If these hawks were to stick with the group of blackbirds, they could potentially always find one or two to pick off from the pack. The more birds in a flock, the more noise and commotion they make, rendering them easily visible targets.

Large concentrations of any living thing invariably bring with them two other depreciating factors; disease and competition. Avian diseases can be spread very quickly in such large flocks and may sometimes ravage a great portion of the local species. More birds might find better food sources but if there isn’t enough to go around, there simply isn’t enough. Weaker, slower and sick birds often will be the first to go hungry as they cannot compete with the healthier individuals.

It was definitely a neat sight to behold, especially when a raptor would plunge into the center of the throng, sending up explosions of blackbirds. One of the White-tailed Hawks that we spotted, an immature, had a very full crop (a muscular pouch near the throat used to store food), showing us that it had been eating well recently.

In the end, the advantages of these congregations greatly outweigh the disadvantages and it is a bewildering sight that will continue to captivate many a fortunate observer.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Oct 20

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary? If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, us email us at zoxox@shaw.ca  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

This Bird Albert was recorded on Oct 20, 2011.

OCT 16

GREAT GRAY OWL – Grand Valley Road on the first east-west section of road past the 4-way stop, Ron Kube
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 4 juveniles, yard in Mount Royal, Phil Cram
TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE – on the summit of Sulphur Mtn in Banff NP, Thomas Glen
RUSTY BLACKBIRD – Found again at a slough east of Calgary on Rge Rd 28 just south of Glenmore Trail, RK

OCT 17

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – over 60 seen by Gus Yaki and the FFCPPSoc at Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek PP
RED CROSSBILL – 4 juveniles/females, yard in Mount Royal, PC

OCT 18

RED-THROATED LOON – on Glenmore Reservoir between Yacht Club and Canoe Club, TG
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – 12 in Votier’s Flats of Fish Creek PP, Gus Yaki and the FFCPPSoc
RED CROSSBILL – 3, as above
NORTHERN GOSHAWK – 2, as above
PINE GROSBEAK – 1, as above; also 2 immature/female birds seen by PC in Britannia

OCT 19

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – more than 60 seen by GY and the FFCPPSoc at Votier’s Flats
PACIFIC LOON – 1 seen on Glenmore Reservoir from Heritage Park, Bill Wilson

The next scheduled update of the bird alert is on Mon Oct 24.

Rare Bird Alert Calgary: Sept 23

Have you seen an unusual bird in Calgary? If it is on this Reportable_Birds (PDF), please report it to the Nature Calgary Rare Bird Alert line at 403 221-4519 and leave a message after the beep at the end of the recording. If you would like some help with species identification, us email us at zoxox@shaw.ca  To report injured wildlife call the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society at 403 239-2488, or the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation at 403 946-2361.

This report was prepared on Thursday September 22.

September 18
— BLACK-NECKED STILT (20), Weed Lake, Terry Korolyk

September 21
— COOPER’S HAWK, Hull’s Woods, Fish Creek Provincial Park, TK

–AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, Weed Lake, Ilya Povalyaev

The next scheduled update of the Bird Alert is on Monday September 27.

BIRD STUDY GROUP:

Bird Study Group meets 1st Wednesday of the month, Room 211, BioSciences Building, U of C

October meeting is Wednesday, October 5. Birds of Prey – presented by Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation. Meeting time is 7:30pm.

Bird-brained

Who ever said birds were stupid? They were quite wrong. Many birds are quite intelligent and we get a fine chance to observe this intelligence in the migration of geese.

Everybody can associate geese flying in a ‘V’ formation with fall; the geese head south for the winter and are most often seen flying this way. Down here in Texas, we can often see Cattle Egrets flying this way, demonstrating their often overlooked wisdom. There is actually an intelligent method behind this flight, showing us that birds are smarter than we think.

Birds fly in a ‘V’ to save energy; by traveling this way, they render themselves as a group, more aerodynamic. If these birds were to fly in an unorganized group, flying would be a lot harder. Picture it this way; which car is more aerodynamic, a sports car or a dump truck? The sports car is by far the more aerodynamic of the two, its sleek form enabling it to reduce drag, therefore allowing it to go faster. When the geese and the egrets fly this way, they render themselves more aerodynamic, reducing the wind they have going against themselves and therefore applying less energy into flying. The bird flying at the point of the V though, has all the wind going against him, however this is not permanent. Studies have shown that after flying at the point for some time, upon becoming tired, the lead bird will drop to the back where flying is the easiest, and take a well-deserved break. This just goes to show that birds are a lot smarter than we think.

Posted by Matthew Sim