Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane has been a really good place to find Great Gray Owls. Logan Gibson photographed this one while it was snowing on February 25:
On March 2, Brett Mahura found three different Great Grays on Grand Valley Road:
Posted by Matthew Sim
We’ve done posts here on this blog about leucism before, which is when a bird has reduced pigmentation, meaning it has more white in it’s feathers than normal for the species. We’ve had some examples before, including a leucistic House Finch, American Robin, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and others. For the past few months, Calgary has had a very neat leucistic bird in the area. This Rough-legged Hawk frequents the area around Highway 40, just west of Calgary.
Now compare this with a more normal Rough-legged Hawk.
On January 1rst, I found this leucistic hawk on Highway 40 near its intersection with Range Road 40.
Posted by Matthew Sim
While currently back in Houston, Texas, I spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks in Calgary over Christmas. Despite the cold (!), I got out a couple times, including an afternoon walk in the Weaselhead Natural area, taking photos of the local bird life as I walked.
It was quite a nice walk and good to see so many waxwings.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
One way to spice up your winter birding is to keep a list of species seen in the winter months of December, January, and February. It’s fun do do this for yourself, but you can also help contribute to the provincial winter list.
For the past eleven years, Richard Klauke has kept track of all bird species seen by anyone anywhere in the province of Alberta between December 1 and the end of February. It is an excellent resource for anyone birding here in the winter.
See the Alberta Winter Bird List here.
The list has three categories of birds:
The total number of species reported in the last eleven years has varied from a low of 126 (in 2010/2011) to a high of 153 (in 2002/2003). The average is 140. Last winter was a good one, with a total of 148.
House Finch – one of the core winter species
The most productive periods for the winter bird list are the the first two weeks of December, when there are still some lingering migrants, and the last two weeks of February, when some early spring birds begin to arrive. Richard compiles the list from reports on the Albertabird listserv. Starting today, post your sightings on Albertabird and help build the list. For example, if you happen to be in the Votier’s Flats area and see the Song Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe that have been reported there recently, please post them again to Albertabird. These are core species but may not be around much longer.
As the list builds, check back to Richard’s page periodically, and if you see something that hasn’t yet been reported, post it to Albertabird.
Harris’s Sparrow – a more elusive core winter species (photo by Daniel Arndt)
Some new birders may not belong to Albertabird yet, so if you see something good you could let us know at the blog and we’ll pass it on (include details of date and location). But I encourage all serious birders to join and follow Albertabird. That is where important sightings should be reported so that other Alberta birders know what is being seen and where, and can have a chance to find the birds themselves.
Richard’s page also includes links to winter lists for the other nine provinces, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and the Ottawa region. So if you are travelling you can see what to expect.
Update: Already this morning, an Eastern Bluebird has been seen near Medicine Hat! This is the first winter report of this species in the twelve years the list has been kept.
Pat Bumstead still has her three Mourning Doves in her yard too.
Posted by Matthew Sim
It was a bright, sunny winter afternoon in Calgary, nearly two years ago to the day. I had just retreated from a chilly walk around my neighborhood and was warming up when I happened to glance out the upstairs window. Upon doing so, I noticed a strange shape down on the snow. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I realized what I was looking at, the story began to come together piece by piece. See what you come up with.
When you looked at this shot, you might have said that you see a bird’s impression in the snow. You would have been right. Now, you might have been a little more specific and described seeing a raptor’s impression. If you got this far, you did great. It’s not very easy to deduce much else. However, some may have gone even further, observing the shape of the raptor, comparing with descriptions in field guides and creating a list of possible suspects based on the fact that this was taken in Calgary, during the winter. If you came up with a few possible suspects, great work. But did you go any further?
If you did, you might have come up with a Sharp-shinned Hawk. You would be right. The wings are too rounded for Merlin or any other falcon, shape too small and body shape not to the right proportions of a buteo such as a Rough-legged or Red-tailed Hawk and the shape is once again far too small for either an eagle or a goshawk. Therefore it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. My neighborhood in Calgary has a healthy population of 4-6 Sharp-shinned Hawks so this make sense. From here, we can piece together a story,
Imagine a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying maybe 30-40 feet high, perhaps a little lower, circling at times. From its vantage, the raptor notices a small movement in the fresh snow below. Diving down, it attempts to nab a vole caught out in the open, plunging deep into the unmarked snow. Then what? Tough to say, and it will be a great mystery; we can only speculate at the final result but here is a breakdown of the photo.
I still wonder about the impression in the top right; what happened? Did the vole escape the hawk’s clutches the first time only to succumb to the second attempt? Did the hawk attempt to lift off without getting enough momentum the first go? Or was the impression in the corner caused by snow falling off a tree limb?
It was quite interesting to see all the same, regardless of what the result was.
As always there are many Christmas Bird Counts coming up in the Calgary Region (and throughout North America). There are lots of dates and locations to choose from, so get out and participate in as many as you can. This citizen science project is in its 113th year!
Sat Dec 15: Banff/Canmore. Contact Mike McIvor, mdmcivor(at)shaw.ca 403-762-4160.
Sun Dec 16: City of Calgary. Contact Phil Cram, crampj(at)telusplanet.net 403-228-4142. To count birds at your feeders in your yard, contact Jean Moore, jmmoore(at)ucalgary.ca 403-282-4162.
Tue Dec 18: High River. Contact Greg Wagner, greg.wagner(at)athene.ca 403-601-3893.
Sat Dec 22: Horseshoe Canyon. Contact Mike Harrison, tringa(at)telus.net 403-236-4700.
Sat Dec 22: Pincher Creek. Contact Sam Miller, sammiller(at)telus.net 403-627-3275. Offering free overnight accommodation if needed.
Thu Dec 27: Town of Cochrane. Contact Frank Hennessey, frankhennessey(at)gmail.com 403-932-4986.
Fri Dec 28: Cochrane Wildlife Res. Contact Jamey Podlubny, svisser(at)ucalgary.ca 403-288-0658.
Sat Dec. 29: Sheep River/Turner Valley. Contact Doug Collister, collistr(at)gmail.com 403-540-4573.
Sun Dec 30: Nanton. Contact Mike Truch, mike_truch(at)shaw.ca 403-829-6986.
Mon Dec 31: Snake’s Head, Sundre. Contact Doug Collister, collistr(at)gmail.com 403-540-4573.
Fri Jan 04: Dinosaur Prov. Park. Contact Yousif Attia, ysattia(at)gmail.com 403-585-1125.
Sat Jan 05: BowKan (Exshaw). Contact Cliff Hansen, cehansen(at)telusplanet.net 403-673-2422.
Counts are all day but you may quit early. Everyone, regardless of skill level is invited to participate. Compilers ask that you register your intention to participate as soon as possible to facilitate planning, and to avoid going out when count is postponed due to weather, etc.
In addition, there is the half-day Fish Creek Park count, which is not an official Christmas Count but is in its 20th year:
2013. Tue Jan 1, 9am; 20th Fish Creek Prov. Park Bird Count (morning only). Contact Jim Washbrook, jwashbrook(at)prairiesky.ab.ca 403-613-9216.