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Sunday Showcase: Black-backed Woodpecker

The highlight of the 2013 New Year’s Day Bird Count in Fish Creek Park was the rediscovery of a Black-backed Woodpecker, first reported in the area on December 19, 2012. These birds are seldom seen in the Calgary region – I believe it is at least five years since the last one was seen inside the city. On the afternoon of January 1st, I went to the Marshall Springs area to look for it. Luckily for me, Ursula Krol, who had found it in the morning , had returned and found it again.

Photos by Bob Lefebvre

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Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 13 – Bow Valley Ranch and Sikome Lake

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.

Bow Valley Ranch

Bow Valley Ranch

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.

Brown Creeper

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.

female Downy Woodpecker

female Downy Woodpecker

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.

White-winged Crossbills

White-winged Crossbills

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.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

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.

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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.

White-tail Deer buck

White-tail Deer buck

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.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

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.

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Once again, it took a bit of searching for the Great Horned Owls before we found one lone lookout.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

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!

male and female Barrow's Goldeneye

male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow's Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Buffleheads in flight

Buffleheads in flight

immature Common Goldeneye

immature Common Goldeneye

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

 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.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

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.

Skunk Tracks

Skunk Tracks

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

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.

juvenile Bald Eagle

juvenile Bald Eagle

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.

Coyote

Coyote

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!

Wednesday Wings: Hairy Woodpecker

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

This female Hairy Woodpecker has been coming to my backyard feeders occasionally for the last two weeks.  It looks like the same bird every time – it has a band on its right leg.  This is only the second time I’ve had a Hairy Woodpecker in the yard.

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.

 

Wednesday Wings: The Down in Downy

Posted by Bob Lefebvre.

I have three Downy Woodpeckers that come to my feeders regularly.  They are not shy, and I managed to get some close-up photos that show the prominent nasal tufts of this species.  These help to keep wood chips (and nut chips) out of the bird’s nostrils.  It is sometimes said that Downy Woodpeckers are named for these downy feathers at the base of their bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handy Drumming Posts

By Pat Bumstead

My non-bird watching friends seem to be picking up the habit by osmosis. The more I talk about birds (hardly ever), the more questions I get from people who are just starting to notice them. One such friend phoned me one day in high dudgeon, almost demanding to know what that bird was that woke him up so early. I managed to talk him into doing a short blog post for us, and he even had video to go with it.  He lives in Midnapore, but this activity can be seen throughout Calgary, particularly at this time of year. Here’s what he had to say.

What’s that infernal racket so early in the morning? The metallic hammering emanating from the furnace sounded like it was having a meltdown.

I raced downstairs and started pulling covers off left and right to find the relay that was suffering an acute attack of St. Vitus’ dance.  It quickly became obvious that the racket was now above me and emanating from the furnace chimney pipe. What was in there?

Running outside to fetch a ladder, the source of the problem quickly became obvious. A male woodpecker (Northern Flicker) was hammering on the roof’s flat chimney cap, the better to inveigle any nearby female Flickers into viewing his roof etchings.  Unlike size, in the avian world, apparently volume does matter and what better way to announce your augmented virility than by drilling on a resonating metallic roof cap? What better location too, than where the owners of a garden and messaging roof have two enormous poplar trees. Our poplars are home to many delicious insects and they also support regularly replenished hanging bird feeders.

Clearly this was Flicker Shangri-la and if woodpeckers were up and about, so should everyone else be.

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!