Nothing But Shoreline

The irrigation canal in southeast Calgary is drained in late September, and as the water level drops, it exposes lush shorelines with plenty for the birds to eat.  From mid-September to freeze-up is the time to get out to look for waterfowl, gulls, and late migrating shorebirds.

Fall colours reflected in the remaining water

I usually explore the sections from the canal headworks near the Max Bell Arena to south of 50 Avenue SE.  There are four parking areas, and you can go up and down a portion of the canal from each one.  It’s a long walk to do it all at once, but a fairly short bike ride.

Click to enlarge the map.

Max Bell Arena:  Access from Barlow Trail SE, just south of Memorial Drive.  There is a large parking lot north of the arena, and you can walk down to the canal headworks from there, and walk along the east bank.  If you want to get to the west bank, you have to cross over at the 17 Avenue SE bridge.

Bow Waters Canoe Club:   Access is off 26 Street SE, just south of 17 Avenue.  Cross the bridge to get to the paths on the west side.  The path on the east side between here and Gosling Way has some steep, difficult terrain, and it is almost impassable by bike.  This lot is fairly secluded and I don’t like to leave my vehicle there.  I prefer Max Bell or Gosling Way.

Gosling Way:  Go west off 26 Street SE at 34 Avenue.  This is the road that goes to the Inglewood Golf and Curling Club.  The parking lot, used by off-leash dog walkers, is just west of the bridge over Deerfoot trail, on the south side of Gosling Way.  It only holds about ten vehicles.  From this lot, walk down to the bridge over the canal and take the paths from there.  In the winter, you can also park at the golf and curling club, but it is a bit of a walk back to the canal.

50 Avenue SE:  It is difficult to park here.  There are only two small spots, each with room for two cars,  at the east end of the bridge over the canal.  It can also be a very busy road, so I avoid parking here as well, and usually just walk from Gosling Way.

The canal has a paved path on one side (sometimes on the east, sometimes on the west) and a dirt or gravel path of sorts on the other side.  I like to go on the east side in the mornings and on the west side in the afternoons, to keep the sun behind me.  This late in the year, the water is usually frozen in the mornings, so there are few birds around.  But on warm afternoons the ice melts, and the birds arrive.

Muskrat and female Hooded Merganser

Detail of Gosling Way Parking.  Click to enlarge.

Looking south from Gosling Way.

Looking north to the bridge on Gosling Way.

Pat and I have each posted about birding the canal before.  You can see Pat’s post here, and my post here.

Lately I’ve seen quite a few Canada Geese, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls, and a few Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Greater Yellowlegs.  In past years I’ve seen Redheads, Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Rusty Blackbirds all feeding along the shorelines.

Mallards and an assortment of Yellowlegs.

Muskrat and Mallard sharing the Muskrat’s lodge.  Background by Monet.

A Black-billed Magpie looks for food on the old canal bottom.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre



Digiscoping is the activity of combining a digital camera with a spotting scope to record images through the scope.  Anyone who has ever looked through a good scope knows how impressive they are at turning distant specks that can’t be identified, even with binoculars, into sharply defined birds.  The combination of big lenses and up to 60X magnification really brings faraway objects into close focus.  Scopes are especially useful for waterfowl far out on lakes, and shorebirds on distant shorelines.

Today’s post features some wonderful photographs taken using digiscoping by local birder and photographer Daniel Arndt.

Eared Grebe and juvenile, by Dan Arndt

Digiscoping can be done with any point-and-shoot or SLR camera (or even a camera phone) coupled with any scope or binocular, but it can very tricky to get to good quality pictures by just holding the two together.  Here is a White-crowned Sparrow I photographed in my yard this week, using my camera phone held up to my 8X42 binoculars:

It’s very hard to tell when you have the shot in focus.  It’s even hard to get on the bird!  You get a better shot with just a good camera:

The same bird, from the same distance, taken with an SLR and 400 mm lens.  Note the leg band.

Here is another shot I took (in the winter) of a House Finch, using a point-and-shoot camera held up to my spotting scope.

However, the birds in these examples were only about twenty feet away.  I could identify them with the naked eye.  If you are dealing with distant waterfowl and shorebirds, the thing to do to get good photographs is to get an adapter that fixes your camera to the scope.  Dan Arndt’s outfit, pictured below, consists of :

Pentax K-5 camera with T-mount adapter
Meade ETX-90EC 90mm Matsukov-Cassegrain Telescope
Meade #844 Advanced Field Tripod
Meade Electronic Focuser
Meade MT-64 Camera Adapter
Pentax 39892 Waterproof Remote Shutter Release

Photo by Dan Arndt

Here are some of the amazing photos Dan took this summer at Frank Lake using his digiscoping rig.

White-faced Ibis with juvenile, and American Golden-Plover, by Dan Arndt

Lesser Yellowlegs by Dan Arndt

American Avocet by Dan Arndt

Black Tern by Dan Arndt

Black-crowned Night-Herons by Dan Arndt

American Golden-Plovers by Dan Arndt

You can see all of Dan’s digiscoping pictures on his Flickr page here, and while you’re there, explore all of his other excellent photographs as well.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Willet (or won’t it)

As colder weather begins to descend upon Calgary, it can be nice to reflect a little bit on some birds that we were familiar with during the summer months.

Many species of birds vary greatly from region to region. The Willet is one of these birds that are highly variable with two distinct subspecies, the eastern semipalmata darker, browner and thicker-billed than the western subspecies inornata that we see both in Calgary, and down here on the Gulf Coast.

A western inornata Willet

A large shorebird with a flashy black-and-white wing pattern seen in flight,  the willet was given its name thanks to its territorial call: pill-will-willet. A very vocal bird, the Willet, as biologist William Vogt wrote many years ago, has another call, a ringing kaaaty. When William Vogt studied a breeding pair of Willets back in 1938  he couldn’t help but call them Will and Kate, thanks to their calls.

Another western Willet

Several years ago, before I was a big birder, I traveled out east for vacation. I observed my first Willet out there and now I have the chance to compare photographs of eastern and western Willets.

While the shots of the Western Willets are winter plumaged birds, you can still see the smaller size, darker color and stouter bill in the eastern Willet pictured above.

I always find regional variations in birds intriguing and the Willet is a bird with an easily visible difference, making it a good subject to view and compare from the east to the west.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Shepard Slough Survey

Alberta Environment is conducting an online survey to help determine the future development or preservation of the Shepard Slough and surrounding wetlands, including the new Ralph Klein Park, in SE Calgary. These wetlands are important stopover points for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Shepard Slough is the best shorebird habitat within the city of Calgary, and it is vitally important that we birders make our voices heard if we want to preserve it. Please fill out the survey form and have your say in conserving these valuable resources.

Below is the introductory article from the Alberta Environment site.

Why Study Ecosystem Services

As part of its Ecosystem Services (ES) Program, Alberta Environment has undertaken an ecosystem services approach pilot project on wetlands in the greater Shepard Slough area of east Calgary/Rocky View County. This region provides many recreation and education opportunities to people such as birding, nature walking, and field trips to the region. The Ecosystem Services Pilot project in will provide tool(s) to enhance decision making in order to:

  • Test and determine how the approach can be used to help inform tradeoffs between development and the benefits provided by wetlands;
  • Explore ways to provide a broader suite of social, economic and environmental perspectives to information land-use decision making; and
  • Examine the largely unrecognized but important benefits that society receives from nature.

The study is part of a larger transition to a cumulative effects management system and will help ensure informed and robust decision-making.

Once the pilot is complete, we will have a better understanding of how to use the ecosystem services approach and where the approach could be applied to support Alberta Environment priorities.

To better understand the recreation and education benefits enjoyed in the Shepard Slough area, a survey of recreation participation is being conducted. Through this survey, valuable information will be collected including travel distances, costs of travel, and types of activities preferred by users. Anyone that enjoys visiting wetlands in the Shepard Slough, including Ralph Klein Park, for recreation and education purposes is encouraged to complete the survey.

Information brochures about the study are available at Ralph Klein Park, or via the attached PDF below. The survey can be completed by selecting the survey link below.

Thank you to all participants. Your contribution is greatly appreciated

To go to the site, click here.

To go to the survey, click here.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Alberta Government Selling Off Native Prairie Grasslands

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Alberta Government has absolutely no respect for the people they are supposed to be representing.

Last year, this same government attempted a secretive deal to sell off native grasslands to a private firm to grow potatoes. The resulting ‘Potatogate’ furor from all segments of society negated that sale. The rumor was that the government decided to back off on that one, wait for the dust to settle and people to forget about it, and try again.

Did they not listen to the people the first time? Did they think we were just going to forget about it?

Now they’re at it again, proposing 16,000 acres of native grassland be turned into agricultural areas. Their “logic” is that the money from the sale of the land will allegedly be used to preserve other high-value parcels. They say the money will be put into a fund for conservation easements for non-profits, who must raise matching funds. There is absolutely no guarantee that any non-profit group will ever be able to receive this money.

As they’re not even listening to their own experts, who has judged the value of these ‘high-value’ parcels? Who has determined these parcels are worth more than the grasslands?

Sustainable Resources Minister Mel Knight is from a northern Alberta riding. Send him an email today at and tell him what you think of his complete disregard for the remaining native grasslands in our province. Tell him we haven’t forgotten.

Alberta Wilderness Association Press Release

On August 30, the Alberta government again placed 16,000 acres of Cypress County native grassland up for sale for conversion to intensive irrigation agricultural use. These are all the same lands that were pulled from an impending secretive sale last November after widespread public criticism. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) believes these lands should remain as public native grasslands where well-managed ranching and grassland-dependent wildlife species can co-exist.

“There is overwhelming public support and scientific evidence to keep Alberta’s remaining native grasslands free from intensive uses,” says Carolyn Campbell, AWA conservation specialist. “Many sensitive grassland species have been documented on these specific lands, which our government should be protecting, not actively seeking to destroy.”

Two endangered burrowing owl active nests were recently found on the lands posted for sale. There is also a breeding pair of North America’s largest soaring hawk – the endangered ferruginous hawk – and many pairs of North America’s largest shorebird, the long-billed curlew, a species of special concern. Numerous female pronghorn antelope use these specific lands as a fawning ground, where baby antelope are safely concealed in the native vegetation. All these species depend upon intact grasslands for survival, for the food sources and cover the vegetation provides. Cultivated irrigated land, the primary land use specified in the proposed sale documents, is not adequate habitat for them.

“These lands have been identified for conservation by the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council in the report it submitted to Alberta earlier this year,” says AWA Vice President Cliff Wallis. “By putting these lands up for sale, the Minister is disrespecting their work and should hold off on any land sales in this area at least until government responds to those recommendations.”

Less than 2% of Alberta’s grasslands natural region is protected. Only 30% of Alberta’s grasslands remain, yet they support 70% of the mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian species that are at risk or may be at risk in Alberta.

For more information:
Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist: (403) 283-2025
Cliff Wallis, AWA Vice President: (403) 607-1970

Map of Environmentally Significant Areas classification of the proposed lands for sale Download File

Bird Canada Blog Oct 2010 – Irreplaceable Public Land to be Sold to Make Potato Chips 

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Sunday Showcase: Rare Water Birds

These birds are always a treat for any birdwatcher to find, and David Lily managed to photograph them as well. Thanks for sending these in David!


American Bittern

Friday Fun!

See if you can identify the bird in the photograph below; then let us know what you think by posting a comment.

The bird in this photograph is a large, noisy and conspicuous shorebird typical of the prairie sloughs. Do you know what it is? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

Posted by Matthew Sim