Tag Archive | bird blog calgary

Spring Birding at Sikome Lake, a variety of surprises!

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be switching things up a bit for spring and fall, in regards to some of the content. I hope you like the new format, meant to highlight really the new arrivals (or long past due photos of said arrivals), rather than a laundry list of everything from Mallards and Chickadees to the uncommon or rare birds like Brown Thrasher and Sandhill Cranes. It shouldn’t look that different, but I do think it’s time I changed things up a bit. Given the feedback I’ve had in regards to the maps I’ve included for the past year, I’ll definitely be keeping those. It helps others who are going out in search of the birds days later, but also helps our attendees with a reminder of what we saw and where we saw it.

Sikome Lake is always a great place to visit any time of year. In winter, it’s a haven for the Black-capped Chickadee, both species of Nuthatch that are present here, and both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. One of the birds that are a welcome sight are the Great Horned Owls, which I wrote about for Bird Canada over here. Today was no exception, providing us with quite a few new birds for the year, more than a few of which were surprises even to us!

Sikome Lake, Hull's Wood, and boat launch area

Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and boat launch area

Our first new bird of the day was heard long before it was seen, and if there was a single bird one could say that was present all morning long, it would have been the Ring-necked Pheasant. Their calls echoed throughout the park from when we arrived at 8 AM, until I finally left at 1:15 PM. While they were heard all over the park, we only ended up spotting a single male sitting across the river from the boat launch when we arrived.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

We surveyed a large flock of gulls one one of the gravel bars, picking out a Glaucous Gull amongst the various Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls, but the distance and the sleet simply would not allow for a photo.

Once we’d had our fill of gulls, we headed south to the large pond that borders Highway 22x, where we found this lone (and very early arriving) Cinnamon Teal, and were given nice comparison views of a Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal and Canada Goose

Barrow's Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

Barrow’s Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

As we were leaving, I stopped for a moment as I heard a familiar, but quiet call of a Savannah Sparrow, though we couldn’t track down where the bird was calling from within the cattails on the bank of the pond.

We stopped for a few minutes to check out some Great Horned Owls on a nest, and both mom and dad were present and visible from our vantage point.

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

If you’ve ever birded Sikome Lake, you know that near the parking lot the Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers simply will not allow you to pass without paying the toll of black-oil sunflower seeds, or other assorted nuts as your park tax. Today was the exact opposite. Only a handful of birds were even present, and this lone White-breasted Nuthatch sat quietly while those of us with cameras took photo after photo.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Emerging from the area surrounding the lake, we headed back for the bank of the Bow River to search for more. The male Common Mergansers were in full display, fighting for the right to mate with the few females on the river, who were outnumbered by at least five to one.

male Common Merganser

male Common Merganser

While the river in previous months had been packed with Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Goldeneye, time time around it was a study in gull identification. Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls all circled and wheeled about, a few even taking a break on the near shore as we approached.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

One surprise for us was a pair of Killdeer, possibly ones that had overwintered on this stretch of river, or possibly recent arrivals, either way they were nice to see, as they had eluded our group all throughout the winter course.

Killdeer

Killdeer

As we had nearly completed our walk and spent a moment chatting with Gus, his keen eyes and quick identification skills spotted this lone bird, our first bird of the year for any of the groups for this species. Can you tell what it is?

Of course you won't get a hint this way.

Mystery Bird

And with that, our group had a few great new sightings for the year, despite the terrible weather, constant snow and sleet, and uncomfortably cold winds. Of course, me being a sucker for punishment, I decided I needed a better shot of the Cinnamon Teal, so I headed back to the ponds. I didn’t get a better shot of that bird, but I did find this pair of Greater Yellowlegs in the area we saw him before, which was a really nice bonus bird for the day!

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

And with that, I decided to call it a day and leave the park to the afternoon session, who were arriving just as I headed out.

 

Have a great week, and good birding!

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Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 12 – Return to the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

And so another birding course comes to a close, but not without a few nice additions to sound out the closing bell. Our return to the Weaselhead was somewhat out of necessity, as our original plan was to look out over the Glenmore Reservoir, which has typically thawed quite a bit more than this year. Unfortunately, due to the persistent cold in Calgary this winter, and also due to a few weeks of well below freezing temperatures, the reservoir, proper remained frozen, while at least two of the channels of the Elbow River that feed into it were at least somewhat open, allowing for some, but not all, of the expected migrants to return. After a brief foray into the river valley south of the river, and with a few surprises down there as well, we returned to the trails of North Glenmore Park to look out over the reservoir and spot a few other new arrivals.

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

We started our Easter Sunday off with a sermon. Gus began with a speech detailing, in extreme Coles Notes format, how a series of steps brought both us, and Swans, to be here on Earth today, and how our ancestry is shared all the way back to the very first life, some 3.6 billion years ago. It was a great sentiment, and an awesome start to the day. It almost seemed like the speech drew in our main target species for the day, who flew in from the west as we reached the viewpoint, and over to the reservoir.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Heading down to the first feeders, we were greeted with yet another sign of spring with a pair of Least Chipmunks foraging under one of the feeders, while Common Redpolls munched away on the seeds above.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

With the sounds of American Robins and Northern Flickers calling, we continued on our way, stopping at the feeding stations at the bottom of the hill in search of American Tree Sparrows, which we did manage to find (but were far too quick for me to photograph), but we did spot this immature male Pine Grosbeak singing from the treetops, along with a Hoary Redpoll in a small flock of Common Redpolls!

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

As we reached the bridge, we were welcomed by the calls of a number of Blue Jays, and in the distance we saw a pair of male Hooded Mergansers on the river.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On our walk in around the lower paths in the Weaselhead, we found a good number of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but the Bohemian Waxwings were almost entirely absent, with this sole representative flying about here and there, almost in search of his fellows.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

As our group pushed on, a few of us held back at a slightly unfamiliar call, which we quickly narrowed down as the call of a Dark-eyed Junco. A few of them were calling from the nearby spruce trees, well below the lone Bohemian Waxwing.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest of our walk was almost entirely absent of photos, both due to the absence of photo opportunities with the birds we saw and heard, but also due to the distances involved. Hopefully this week I’ll receive our loaner Swarovski ATX 85mm Spotting Scope that Swarovski Optik has graciously allowed me to review for them over the next little while. I’ve seen some of the results from this scope when mounted on a Pentax K-5, and I know it will come in handy for those long distance shots. But I digress…

We did happen upon a male Ruffed Grouse drumming near the river bank, and a few of us stayed behind to track it down, spotting it briefly on the log that it was drumming on before it flushed. As we headed back up the hill to look out over the reservoir, we happened upon a larger flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the trees, a few Boreal Chickadees, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. From the observation points on the ridge, we found a pair of Lesser Scaup, a male and female Hooded Merganser, and even an extremely early male Ruddy Duck in one of the channels.

Next week marks the beginning of our Spring course, and maybe a little bit of a different approach to these blog posts… stay tuned!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 11 – Elbow River Bird Walk

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This week we had a great forecast, great weather, and incredible birds. The bird of the day, if one had to pick, would be the Bohemian Waxwing. Thousands of these beautiful birds swarmed the skies overhead, and there was barely five minutes in the entire walk where one wouldn’t have been able to see at least a small flock somewhere nearby. The area we covered this week was right in the heart of Calgary, following the Elbow River, and weaving our way through the surrounding community. It was a day rife with new migrants. Pine Siskins, American Robins, and Dark-eyed Juncos were new year birds for most of us, making us even more certain that spring is finally here, and migration is in full swing.

Elbow River Bird Walk

Elbow River Bird Walk

Our day got started with a pair of Brown Creepers chasing each other around the poplars. This one seemed completely fearless of our group and allowed me my best Brown Creeper photos to date.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

As we headed over to the bank of the Elbow River, we spotted this lone Bald Eagle across the river, and as some of our group closed the distance to our side of the river bank, an adult Northern Goshawk was flushed by our presence and flew upstream. Sadly I didn’t get a shot of that one, but I did manage a few of the Bald Eagle as a consolation.

Adult Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle

Looks like he's noticed us.

Looks like he’s noticed us.

Following the river bank north, we saw flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings, hundreds and hundreds filled the sky. There were also many Canada Geese flying over and heading to the northeast, but the sheer constant numbers of Bohemian Waxwings stole the show. Here’s just one example of how many there were, and this was with my lens pulled all the way back to 150mm.

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

A bit further up the river we stopped to observe a pair of White-winged Crossbills on the ground, but this little Red-breasted Nuthatch was working away excavating a nest hole over our heads.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Away from the river now, we managed to see a few American Robins. We had heard them across the river on our walk up to this point, but hadn’t really seen any. Once we found the food supply for the waxwings, we also found the American Robins taking advantage of the mountain-ash berries for their dinner.

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin in mountain-ash berry tree

American Robin

American Robin

And of course, a few closer looks at the ever present Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

Shortly after Gus had explained that they had been treated to views of small flocks of the waxwings being chased down by a Merlin, this little beauty popped up above us.

Merlin

Merlin

With the first quarter of our walk behind us, we continued to be regaled with the flight calls of the waxwings, a number of American Robins, House Finches, and even a few Northern Flickers here and there. We did have a lucky find with a very small group of Bohemian Waxwings down low to the ground, again allowing us better photos and closer views.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Our last new bird of the year, and also of the day, was a trio of Wood Ducks under the edge of this bridge, a smaller number than have been seen here in the past that overwintered along this stretch of the Elbow River, but still a good number of these birds for this time of year.

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Wood Ducks and Mallard (far left)

Next week will bring our winter walks to a close, but that just means the start of a new spring birding course the week after. I can’t wait to see what we find this time around!

Have a great week, and good birding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oddly Overwintering Avians in Alberta

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

For those of us who feed (and water) birds, every once in a while we get a special treat in the form of a new bird species at our feeder or bird bath. Even less common though, are those that decide to stick around and make your yard a semi-permanent home away from home, and become regular visitors. But the most special of all are the rare and wonderful hardy little birds that have decided to make you responsible to making sure it survives the winter, by deciding to overwinter, sometimes thousands of kilometers away from their regular wintering grounds, right in your yard. While those aren’t the only birds that overwinter in Calgary and Southern Alberta, they are sometimes the most visible.

 

Take, for instance, this Yellow-rumped Warbler that’s spent this winter in the SW Calgary in the yard of Joanne Nemeth, one of the regular attendees of the FFCPP Birding Courses.

Yellow-rumped Warbler foraging

Yellow-rumped Warbler foraging (Photo by Joanne Nemeth)

Yellow-rumped Warbler showing off it's namesake (Photo by Joanne Nemeth)

Yellow-rumped Warbler showing off it’s namesake (Photo by Joanne Nemeth)

After showing up for the first time in December, it’s made regular appearances and seems to be surviving quite well!

Yellow-rumped Warbler at the bird bath

Yellow-rumped Warbler at the bird bath (Photo by Joanne Nemeth)

Of course we can’t forget the Mourning Doves that our fearless leader Pat Bumstead has had regularly in her yard.

Mourning Dove in February, 2013

Mourning Dove in February, 2013

Mourning Doves in November, 2012

Mourning Doves in November, 2012

One odd pairing was a small flock of five Eurasian Collared Doves, along with a pair of American Robins in the southeast community of Parkland in January, which have also managed to tough out the winter.

Eurasian Collared Dove, January 14, 2013

Eurasian Collared Dove, January 14, 2013

American Robin, January 14, 2013

American Robin, January 14, 2013

A little less exotic, and one of a fairly large flock that has overwintered successfully in Calgary for a number of years, is this American Crow. Even still, it does make one think twice when identifying Common Ravens in Calgary in the winter.

American Crow, February 3, 2013, Carburn Park

American Crow, February 3, 2013, Carburn Park

Outside the city limits, but only a short drive away, are the now famous (infamous?) Weed Lake Five. This incredibly odd assemblage of a male Lesser Scaup, female Mallard, female Green-winged Teal, female Gadwall, and female Northern Shoveler have so far successfully overwintered in a patch of water no larger than 25 meters across at the widest point. The fact that not a single one fell prey to coyotes, raptors, or even the harsh cold snaps we’ve had on such a small patch of water is astounding.

The Weed Lake Five, February 2, 2013

The Weed Lake Five, February 2, 2013

Not all overwintering bird stories have happy endings though. This Song Sparrow in Votier’s Flats, Fish Creek Provincial Park, made a good attempt at overwintering at a storm water outflow on Fish Creek. While it was regularly seen up until the beginning of February, it hasn’t been seen since. While I still hold out hope that it’s managed to survive, it’s hard to say for sure.

Song Sparrow, November 25, 2012, Votier's Flats

Song Sparrow, November 25, 2012, Votier’s Flats

Oh, and of course, who could forget the birds that inspired this post, the pair of Killdeer that we found in Griffith Woods Park today.

Killdeer pair, March 17, 2013, Griffith Woods Park

Killdeer pair, March 17, 2013, Griffith Woods Park

Killdeer, March 17, 2013, Griffith Woods Park (image uncropped)

Killdeer, March 17, 2013, Griffith Woods Park (image uncropped)

Have you spotted any unusual overwintering birds this year? Let us know!

Good birding!

 

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 10 – Snowed out… again!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

For the second week in the last three, our Sunday walk seems to have drawn the short straw when it comes to the weather. With high winds and blowing snow, getting to our location was near impossible, and Gus sent out an email informing everyone that it was cancelled. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that email until it was too late, so Bob and I headed out to Griffith Woods a bit later than usual to try to add at least one new species to our year count. We did manage to find a pair of Killdeer that have successfully overwintered, and that particular find spurred on an idea for a make-up post, which will be posting shortly!

Stay warm! Only one more week until it’s officially spring!

 

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 9 – Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s debacle, I won’t be complaining about flat light, poor light, or a little cold weather every now and then. This week’s walk was in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and while the skies were overcast, the weather was above freezing and there were plenty of new migrants in abundance on the Bow River. The Northern Flickers were displaying and staking out new territory, Ring-billed and California Gulls were back on the river, and we even spotted a surprise American Wigeon amongst the thousands of waterfowl along the banks of the river! Spring is on the way!

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

 

These next few weeks are both incredibly sad, but also incredibly exciting for birders in Canada. With the temperatures warming, it means not only more hours of sunlight to allow greater opportunities to see more birds, but it also means the arrival of all the species that have been gone since September, October, or as late as November for some. It also means, sadly, the departure of our winter guests. Snowy Owls, Common and Hoary Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows, Rough-legged Hawks, and usually, the White-winged Crossbills back to either more northerly latitudes, or to higher elevations, until fall returns. One of the best places around town to find new arrivals in the spring, summer, fall and winter, is at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. For various reasons, it has just the right combination of trees, bushes, and prey species that make it the perfect habitat for many of our summer residents.

 

On our walk this week, we were greeted at the beginning of our route by a lone Mule Deer. Some years, there are between six and twelve Mule Deer that call this place home, much to the disappointment of many ground nesting birds, as the deer are known to be completely oblivious of nests and in many cases walk right over them.

Muley

Mule Deer

Another species in abundance on our walk were the Common Ravens. At times there were four or five of them grouped together calling back and forth and generally causing a ruckus. These birds typically don’t nest in the sanctuary, so either they were drawn to something along the river, or just choosing this place to air their grievances with each other.

CORA

Common Raven

The original administration and maintenance building of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is the Colonel Walker House. Originally built in 1910, and home to Colonel James Walker of the Northwest Mounted Police. You can read more about the house and Colonel Walker here.

Colonel Walker House

Colonel Walker House

Walker House 2

Colonel Walker House

Just outside the Walker House, we were treated to the sight of some recently emerging Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. The first to awaken in the spring are the males, looking to build up their fat stores in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season, to better fight for and defend a mate in the coming months.

Still looks a little sleepy.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

These weren’t the only animals looking to make the upcoming breeding season a productive one. We could hardly walk for a few minutes without hearing the calls of one of the many Northern Flickers announcing their territory with their distinct vocalizations, or raucous drumming.

NOFL

Northern Flicker

Even the Black-capped Chickadees were calling, defending their territory, and were a little bit less forward with us than they have been in the past few months, their attention also on other matters.

BCCH

Black-capped Chickadee

As we reached the southernmost point of our walk and turned back up the river, we were treated to the sight of over ten thousand waterfowl in the course of our walk, split between the Mallards and Canada Geese, with a few Common Goldeneye thrown in, and a pair of female American Wigeon for good measure.

MALL

Mallard

CAGO

Canada Geese

AMWI

American Wigeon (center) surrounded by Mallards

The real treat for those of us who’d been reading the reports all week was the return of the gulls. California Gulls had been reported all week. On Tuesday, only one was seen, but those numbers had swelled to over 30 individuals by today, and a trio of Ring-billed Gulls were also present.

CAGU

California Gull

CAGU2

California Gull

As we tore our eyes away from the river and began the final leg of our walk back to the start, a few of us straggled behind and were treated to the sight of a pair of Northern Flickers calling, challenging, and displaying at each other by fanning out their tail feathers and trying to simply look bigger than their rival.

NOFL2

Northern Flickers fighting over territory

On our way back out, we also found a second Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, this one a bit bigger and a bit more vibrant, also gathering food and preparing his own part of the sanctuary for his future mate and offspring!

Be very very quiet...

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel trying to hide. Completely unsuccessfully, I might add.

Here’s hoping your birding week is as successful as ours was! See you next week!

Furry Friday: Porcupine

This North American Porcupine was spotted feeding on a Water Birch on the Inglewood Golf Course during the Calgary Christmas Bird Count on December 16, 2012.

Troy Porcupine 1

Photo by Troy Bourque

_96B2562 - Version 2 (1024x909)

Photo by Ian Neilson

_96B2625 - Version 2 (1024x830)

Photo by Ian Neilson

Troy Porcupine 2

Photo by Troy Bourque