Rob English photographed this leucistic Mallard in Beaverdam Flats in mid-February. This might be the same duck seen in the same area last winter.
Posted by Dan Arndt
Some weeks are diamonds, and other weeks are coal. Or maybe just cold. And windy. After another week of warm, beautiful temperatures, it was about time for Old Man Winter to come charging through to assert his dominion over Calgary. Our visit to Lafarge Meadows was a cold one, and cut a little short due to the wind, keeping the bird activity to a relative minimum.
Starting at the Boat Launch parking lot, we were treated to quite the show of four adult Bald Eagles flying over the river to the north, flushing up Mallards, Goldeneye, and even Canada Geese by the hundreds. All the while, the ducks and geese along the river near to us stayed put and granted us one gift of a Barrow’s Goldeneye.
We headed south under the bridges, and were once again treated to close flybys of an immature Bald Eagle, flushing up a few Mallards here, but nowhere near as many as the show the adults were putting on to the north.
One of our target birds was a lone male Northern Pintail, which had been seen in the company of Mallards just south of the bridges all week. While we didn’t get good views of it on our way south, a couple of us were given some very good looks on the way back north. Another immature Bald Eagle made a pass over the Mallards and Northern Pintail as our group passed them by, but after a few minutes, they all settled back down near the gravel bar to return to their rest. Unfortunately, many of our group opted to head for the shelter of the wooded areas around Sikome Lake to get out of the biting wind, but for those that missed it, here ‘s the Northern Pintail we saw today.
We still had another bird we were hoping to find. A pair of Killdeer had been seen just about every day this week along the south stretch of the river, and we trekked on, despite the cold, but in the end, and after a good kilometer of searching and scanning the gravel bars and the far shore in vain, we admitted defeat. While I didn’t get a photo of it, we did get an incredible addition to our list, but our views were all to brief. A Prairie Falcon made a quick dart over the eastern valley wall, scanned the environs below, and after only a minute or two, headed back to the east.
As we began our trip back into the protection of the woods, a few of our old favourites made their appearances. The ever-present Black-capped Chickadees, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a lone female Downy Woodpecker came to visit as we finished up our time with the Northern Pintail. I suspect she may have been waiting for the right time to photobomb the waterfowl!
See you again next week!
Posted by Dan Arndt
A week after our visit to Griffith Woods and the weather in Calgary has taken a turn for the better. We were greeted this morning by blue skies, above-zero temperatures, and a mild winter’s day with plenty of birds, which was a nice change from last week!
We took our usual route, heading south from the parking lot to the bridge crossing to the Southland Dog Park, continuing a bit further south to get a good look at some of the waterfowl in the clear morning sunlight.
Our first birds of the morning were a group of White-winged Crossbills hanging out in the trees near the parking lot, quite likely the same ones that Tim Hopwood was able to get some gorgeous photos of recently.
As we reached the bridge, it seemed that iridescence would be the word of the day. With the low angle of the sun, and the weather giving us a hint of the warmer spring soon to come, it seemed like every bird was showing off its brightest colors, including this normally drab Rock Pigeon.
The real prize of the day were these Buffleheads, showing off their iridescence that we so rarely get to see in our dull grey winters. It certainly was a beautiful sight to see!
We headed south from the bridge after pausing to investigate some birds near the gazebo at the east side of the river. We spotted a Barrow’s Goldeneye at the far south end, and quite a number of Common Goldeneye as well. This female was kind enough to allow some decent flight shots, and the huge number of Canada Geese and Mallards on the river banks was too good to pass up.
We headed back north and followed the river around the bend, stopping a few times to watch some distant Bald Eagles on the far side of the river, but were also treated to some rather unusual activity from a group of Northern Flickers foraging around in the gravel at the edge of the river.
Another great bird to find in Calgary in the winter are the American Crows, which have been overwintering in Carburn Park for a number of years now, in ever-increasing numbers. Our group saw no less than 20 individuals during our exploration of the banks of the Bow River today.
With that said, waterfowl watching is not for everyone, but we did manage to spot a few unusual winter ducks in our excursion. This pair of Redheads gave us quite the views, and we were also treated to a pair of either Lesser or Greater Scaup a bit later on, though the ID is still up in the air on those ones.
A little more common around here, but still a welcome sight, are the Common Mergansers. This group of four males appeared to be trying to woo this lone female, who would have nothing of it, by all appearances.
It was clear that spring was getting just that much closer as we saw many birds beginning their preparation for the new breeding season. Northern Flickers were drilling out nest holes, Black-billed Magpies were displaying and pursuing each other, and this pair of male Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about, displaying and attacking each other in a fight for territory.
Next week we head back to Votier’s Flats in search of American Dippers, Wilson’s Snipe, and American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.
Posted by Dan Arndt
I will always remember my first visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building in search of birds. It was a cold winter morning, quite similar to yesterday, and we were in search of some Great Horned Owls. We found them, of course, as the owls here are almost as reliable as the sunrise and sunset, before heading off and exploring the area around the Headquarters, and then down to Sikome Lake to look for some more owls and check out what was on the river.
This week was very similar, with maybe a few more surprise species popping up, a couple of near misses on the owls, but all in all, it was another wonderfully successful walk.
Since this walk covers two main areas, I’ve added two maps instead of your usual one for the same low cost as you pay for your current blog subscription! I know with the holiday season in full swing, money is tight, so I’m passing the savings on to you!
We started up at the Headquarters building area known as Bow Valley Ranch, and had quite a bit of success up there after some moderate search efforts. In the end, everyone left satisfied and content with what we had seen so far, with hopes for many more birds to come.
The pair of Great Horned Owls that have been consistently found here all week, and to my understanding, for well over ten years, were our primary goal here at the east side of the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building. In our searches, we were mobbed by a fair-sized swarm of Black-capped Chickadees, but as is typical for these mixed flocks in winter, we got a little added bonus of a lone Brown Creeper.
Nearby, there was a terribly dedicated Downy Woodpecker drumming at a small stand of low bushes in search of some tasty insect larvae or some other arthropods hidden in the bark.
We spent a good ten to fifteen minutes looking for the Great Horned Owls, walking to the far east end of the pathway, and on our way back we were greeted by the high-pitched flight calls of some White-winged Crossbills picking at the cones at the peak of the spruce rows.
We were about ready to call our search off when one of our keen-eyed birders noticed a small clump of something dark and grey huddled up against the trunk of one of the spruce trees.
A bit of hand waving and flagging down some of our group to come get better looks wound up with a fairly decent angle in the dull, overcast light, and it was clear that this was one Great Horned Owl that did not want to be disturbed this morning.
Once we had discovered our quarry and had our fill of its excellent camouflage skills, we headed west towards The Ranche, and out in the fields south of the compound was this White-tail Deer buck, casually browsing in the low bushes and making his way eastward along one of the many deer trails in the park.
Our last new bird at Bow Valley Ranch was this lone Red Crossbill, calling and preening and generally looking a bit out-of-place in a flock of White-winged Crossbills.
We headed back to the vehicles shortly thereafter and headed south to Sikome Lake. There were plenty of waterfowl in the fairly swift waters of the Bow River that morning, and quite a few of them were quite close to shore, allowing good looks, and excellent photo opportunities.
Once again, it took a bit of searching for the Great Horned Owls before we found one lone lookout.
This area is also one of the must-visit places within Fish Creek Provincial Park, mostly because of how familiar the birds here are with humans. While there may be some compunctions against feeding wild birds, the Downy Woodpeckers, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and of course the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees are comfortable enough to eat right out of one’s hand.
Once we had our fill of hand-feeding the birds, we headed down to the edge of the Bow River to see what waterfowl we might find. The river was full of Canada Geese, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a few Barrow’s Goldeneye. We also did manage to pick out a subadult male Common Goldeneye just coming into his adult plumage, which was quite interesting to see!
As we headed north along the river bank, we had a fairly low flyover of an adult Bald Eagle which is always a welcome sight… unless you’re a duck.
Dropping down into the poplar stands on the inside bank of the Bow River, we stopped for a moment to glance over what appeared to be skunk tracks, and continued north back up the slope in the quiet woods to find this female Hairy Woodpecker doing what they do best.
Topping off our day was this patient juvenile Bald Eagle watching over a flock of Canada Geese as the snow began to come down in heavier flakes and much faster than before.
As we headed back to the parking lot to head home, we did have a close encounter with a Coyote which dropped down into a creek bed and out of sight before popping up right along the trail we had been following not half an hour before, flushing up some of the Canada Geese we had been so close to earlier in the day.
It has been quite the productive, beautiful, and diverse course so far, and it’s a bit sad to see it end in just one more week, but on the good side, it also means that we’ll be well on the way towards spring migration with the start of the 2013 Winter Birding course starting up on January 7th!
See you here next week!
Posted by Dan Arndt
One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of having my long lens unavailable for any length of time is the creativity that I’m allowed in the scenic and wide angle shots as opposed to the tight close-ups I’ve grown to prefer in the past year and a bit. I’ve also noticed that it seems like we always go to the same locations when I don’t have my long lens!
This week’s location, Beaverdam Flats, is just one such location.
Starting at the parking lot, we explored the trees nearby and found our only Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-breasted Nuthatches of the day. Walking down the slope to the river we were greeted by a flyover of a juvenile Bald Eagle, and great views of both the river as a whole, as well as the frost that had accumulated overnight from the freezing fog.
The sheer number of Canada Geese and Mallards is hard to explain, and we even had a (relatively) small flock of Ring-billed Gulls on the gravel bar as well. Intermixed with the larger waterfowl were no small number of Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a Redhead or two for good measure.
We lucked out again and found a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye in amongst the throng, and were even a little more surprised by a lone, late migrating American Coot on the far bank.
As we followed the bend of the river around to the north side of the park, then trudged through back to the hilltop, we were greeted by our last new species in the park, this pair of Tundra/Trumpeter Swans. I suspect they’re Trumpeter Swans based on their proportions, but I could be wrong.
As we returned to our vehicles, we decided to go take a look in on Pat Bumstead’s amazing yard list, and specifically, to see the Mourning Doves. These two were found across the street roosting in a tall spruce.
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 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 without permission.
Here’s a question we received last September, but which is relevant again this year.
Q: Hi. There are birds that sit on the light standards on 16th Ave NE over the tracks alongside Deerfoot Trail. They appear to be sleeping when I drive by at 8 AM, I am curious to know what they are. There have been 2 or 3 on the westbound side and usually one on the eastbound side. Thanks.
A: It’s hard to say what they are without some idea of the size, shape, or colour of the birds. But I’m familiar with the area, and I think you might be referring to the “odd” birds that are sometimes seen there, which look long, slim, long-necked, and black. If so, those are Double-crested Cormorants. Their silhouette looks like this (photo taken in Fish Creek Park last week [September 2011]):
In better light they look like this, also taken last week [September 2011]:
Double-crested Cormorants are waterbirds that dive for fish and crustaceans. They are often seen holding their wings out to dry off after a dive. There are quite a few in the area of the weir on the Bow River, but they will soon be heading south.
Q: It’s definitely the Cormorants – last year there was just one, but now there are 2 or 3 on the westbound side and one on the eastbound side of 16th. They are always there in the morning but not always on my way home at 4:30. It’s quite high up so I can’t see much details from the car but definitely have the yellow beak and dark feathers.
(Note: In the past three weeks I have been seeing up to 35 cormorants in the area of Harvie Passage (the old weir on the Bow River) often perched in trees or on light standards along Deerfoot Trail.)