Tag Archive | bird calgary blog

Migration at Hull’s Wood

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last week I rode my bike down to Hull’s Wood in Fish Creek P.P. twice to see how migration was coming along; I was not disappointed! As I rode through the woods both times, the chips of warblers and sparrows emanated from the trees and shrubs along the river. The woods were full of Yellow Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Least Flycatchers and Warbling Vireos (not all of these were migrants) while several American Redstarts, Tennessee Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes and Baltimore Orioles were also present. There was also a single male Wilson’s Warbler, a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a single Connecticut Warbler.

Least Flycatcher

Connecticut Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

This was all quite exciting but by 10:30 a.m. both days things quieted down for warblers so I went to Lafarge Meadows to check out shorebirds. Both days I found 6 species of shorebirds in Lafarge Meadows along the Bow River; Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Migration is coming along well, so if you have the opportunity, get out there! There are lots of great spots in and around Calgary for migrating birds whether it be Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Confederation Park, Weed Lake, Fish Creek P.P. or your own yard, find your favorite spot for migration and sit back and enjoy the show!

Something old, something new

Posted by Matthew Sim

For the third straight year, on a camping trip to southeastern British Columbia, I watched a family of Common Loons as they went about their lives despite living on a very busy lake and getting quite a bit of disturbance from vacationing families. As we watched the parents (something old as I have seen them before) tending to their young (something new) I couldn’t quite help but be amazed at how they can continue call the lake home despite the popularity of the lake among campers.

This year, there were two young loons. You may remember from last year’s post that there was only one chick last year (last year’s post can be seen here). It was quite remarkable to watch how the adult loons worked together this year with two chicks instead of one; sometimes each parent would take care of one of the chicks while at other times, one parent would give the other a break and watch over both chicks for a while before the parents eventually switched.

Though loons can be very sensitive to disturbance, these loons seem to have adapted well to human presence. Also, there is no motorized boat traffic on their lake, so maybe they are fine with kayakers, canoes and swimmers.

Off to feed its young

Common Loons nest on small islands, muskrat lodges and sometimes on the shores of their lake if these shores are forested and undisturbed. They lay one or two (sometimes three) eggs and take turns incubating these eggs for 28-30 days before the black, downy chicks are hatched.  These chicks can swim  immediately and they leave the nest with their parents within 24 hours of hatching. Though they can swim, for the first 2 weeks they will often ride on their parents backs perhaps to stay warm and avoid predators. Within six to eight weeks the young will be the size of the adults but until about eight weeks, they will continue to be fed by their parents. I noticed that of the 2 chicks, one seemed to be very independent already while the other one stayed close to at least one adult. Perhaps they had hatched several days apart?

The more dependent of the two chicks being fed; or maybe it just enjoyed free food?!

By three months, mountain lakes such as this one start to get colder and eventually the loons will have to leave; by three months the young can fly. During the 4 days that I was there,  the young loons attempted flying a few times, though judging by all the splashing and flopping around, they still need some more practice.

Learning to fly

I found it quite interesting to observe the loons. Often, when I would watch them from a distance, patience would pay off and they would eventually swim quite close to me, within a few feet. The young ones seemed to be especially curious and would often linger around my raft. I had a great time watching the loons and spent many hours with them up close, learning different aspects of their lives. I got plenty of photos and as these seem to tell a story better than words I will leave it at that.

The Scientific names of Birds

Recently, some birding friends and I were in the mountains listening to the strange song of the Varied Thrush. While its song may not always be described as beautiful, its plumage is definitely gorgeous and we thought its name did not do justice to its beauty. One topic brought us onto the next and soon we were discussing Latin names. While many birders tend to overlook the scientific names of birds, these titles can be quite interesting though I know I certainly had trouble digesting all the taxonomy and etymology! If you enjoy wrapping your heads around this, read on! If you’re like me though, it may seem simply too much!

I was looking in the Federation of Alberta Naturalists ‘Field Guide to Alberta Birds’ (1998) when I noticed that the authors had the etymology (study of the origin of names) of the birds scientific names translated. However, before we get to etymology, let’s look at taxonomy (the classification of species).

All birds are in the Animal Kingdom (Animalia), the Chordata Phylum (with a backbone), and the Class Aves (birds). This is where the similarities stop though and the birds separate into their respective Orders such as Falconiformes (hawks and eagles) and Passeriformes (Passerines). Then, species are divided down into Families for example Parulidae (Wood-Warblers.) After the Families come the subdivisions of Genus and Species. These last two are used in the bird’s scientific name as binomial nomenclature, which describes the species of living organism.  For example, a Red-breasted Nuthatch is Sitta canadensis. The word ‘Sitta‘ is the nuthatches genus and ‘candensis’ is the name that specifically describes the Red-breasted Nuthatch. With the name Sitta canadensis, scientists everywhere know that you are talking about the Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is where the classification of species ends and we can look at the origin of the species’ binomial nomenclature and the etymology of the name.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch’s scientific name is Sitta candensis

Etymology, the origin of words can be fascinating. I found that some of the scientific names of birds were quite interesting, for example the Red-necked Grebe. This grebe’s genus name is Podiceps which is Latin and means “rump foot”, referring to the posterior position of the grebe’s feet. Its species name, grisegena, is also Latin and can be translated to “gray cheek”. Thus when we look at the whole scientific name and try to make sense of it, we might come out with something like “gray-cheeked rump foot”, which in itself, can be quite descriptive of the Red-necked Grebe.

Yep, the Red-necked Grebe definitely has a gray cheek!

Here are a few more bird names and their meanings.

Black-crowned Night Heron- Nycticorax nycticorax nyctos: “night” and corax: “a crow”. Basically, a night crow!

Gadwall- Anas streperaAnas: “a duck” and strepera: “noisy”.  A noisy duck? Names like this really make me look at the species again as I never really thought of the Gadwall as a noisy duck.

Barrow’s Goldeneye- Bucephala islandica Bous: “bull”, kephale: “head” and islandica: “of Iceland”. Giving us… “Bull-head of Iceland”. Interesting.

Bald Eagle- Haliaeetus leucocephalushalos: “the sea”, aetos: “eagle”, leucocephalus- leukos: “white” and cephalus: “head”. White-headed Sea Eagle sounds descriptive!

Least Sandpiper- Calidris minutilla Calidris: ” a gray speckled sandpiper”, minutilla: “very small”. Very small gray speckled sandpiper is right- these guys only weigh 24 grams.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- Empidonax flaviventris Empidonax: “King of the gnats”, flaviventris: “yellow-bellied”. What a name! Yellow-bellied King of the gnats!

Tennessee Warbler- Vermivora peregrinaVermivora- vermis: “worm”, voro: “eater”, peregrina: “to wander”. Wandering worm-eater perhaps?

Lark Sparrow- Chondestes grammacus Chondestes: “grain eater”, grammacus: “striped”. Striped grain eater.

Lots of cool names in this book to look at though I must admit that some don’t seem to make much sense. I also find that I learn a lot about species when I know their Latin names as then it might tell me more, for example how Gadwall’s Latin name means noisy duck. Then you’ve got the neat names such as Empidonax meaning ‘King of the gnats’! Very interesting and worthwhile to know the scientific names!

Sunday Showcase: Spotless Spotted Sandpiper

Posted by Matthew Sim

Okay, try saying that 10 times fast. Spotted Sandpipers, while spotted in their breeding plumage, do not have spots in winter or when they are juveniles.  Juveniles can be separated from winter plumaged birds by the scaling and barring on their upperparts, which nonbreeding adults do not have. Right around now, we start to see juveniles so look out for them; I recently found this juvenile in Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park.

 

 

Clash of the herons

Posted by Matthew Sim

On a recent bike ride of mine to Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek P.P. I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron in a storm water pond so I got myself into a good position to photograph it. I sat watching and photographing the heron for some time when suddenly, an adult Great Blue flew in.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

A rather impressive landing…

The adult heron seemed to “own” the ponds and did not take kindly to the young heron fishing in his waters. The adult proceeded to hunch himself up in a bid to frighten the juvenile.

All hunched up, the adult Great Blue proceeded to hurriedly chase the juvenile around the pond until finally the young heron took a running start and flew off.

Taking off with a running start.

Far from being content however, the adult flew after the young one and the two of them disappeared over the hills. I didn’t move from my position however, because I had a feeling that at least one of the herons would be returning. Sure, enough, several minutes later, the adult returned finally content at having chased the young upstart off of his territory.

Finally able to relax and scratch his head.

A trip to Waterton

Posted by Matthew Sim

Recently, the Fur & Feathers 500 team ( a group of 4 birders/ naturalists from Calgary attempting to see 500 species of birds and mammals in Canada in 2012) visited Waterton Lakes N.P. in the hopes of adding several species of birds and mammals to their year totals and they kindly invited me along. We left the afternoon of Wednesday July 18th and came back the next evening after a great trip. You can see the full story on the Fur & Feathers 500 blog here.

Cameron Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

Barn Swallow; en route at Frank Lake near High River

Birding the Lafarge Meadows ponds

Posted by Matthew Sim

In the last few weeks, I have made several trips on my own down to the sloughs at Lafarge Meadows. There is always action there; be it coots feeding young ones, Pied-billed Grebes fishing, Ruddy Ducks courting, Red-necked Grebe diving or Yellow-headed Blackbirds chasing every other bird.

One of my favorite parts about the Lafarge Meadows sloughs are the Red-necked Grebes. I have counted as many as 4 pairs at a time on the ponds and have also enjoyed watching them court side by side.

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe is not the only grebe that can be seen at the ponds. The smaller Pied-billed Grebe also calls the sloughs home.

Pied-billed Grebe

So far, I haven’t seen any young Red-necked Grebes but I have seen several families of Pied-billed Grebes.

There are also several other families on the ponds, including Mallards and Common Goldeneyes.

Common Goldeneye family

And while I was enjoying these great sights; I couldn’t forget the birds that truly make a southern Albertan slough like the Ruddy Duck, the American Coot, the Yellow-headed Blackbird- and of course, on the mammal side of things, the Muskrat.

A Ruddy Duck- attempting to fly like an eagle?

Baby American Coot, looking nothing like an adult.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Muskrat

Father’s Day at Frank Lake

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last Sunday, my family decided to spend some time at Frank Lake for Father’s Day.  This birding hotspot has featured in many of our posts before but even so, one can never tire of visiting the lake. During every season, something of interest can be seen there and Father’s Day was no exception. As we parked the car and headed down to the blind, we were astonished by the multitude of winged creatures around us; Common Terns, American Coots, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes were among the birds we saw.

Forster’s Terns appeared to be nesting in the reeds near the blind and many were fishing in the waters all around us.

Forster’s Tern

While walking along the boardwalk, we stopped to admire this Muskrat munching on a reed just feet away from us.

We thought we were seeing some great things, which we were, but when we got to the blind, we saw something that was truly amazing.

Nature’s taxi

There were several families of Eared Grebes hanging out around the blind; the mothers playing taxi to their young chicks while the fathers dove and swam about, gathering food for the young.

Occasionally, the mothers would shake the chicks off their backs; either tired of carrying their young charges or attempting to get them practicing swimming.

While we were watching the grebes, activity went on as always with the other birds and there were many White-faced Ibises flying by us.

Eventually, we had to leave, though it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the blind. Good birds were still to be seen on the way out though as we spotted a singing LeConte’s Sparrow by the parking area near the blind, the Trumpeter Swan near the sewage outfall who has been there for some time, at least 3 pairs of American Avocets by the sewage outfall and a singing Western Meadowlark perched on a fencepost.

Western Meadowlark

If you can, I would really recommend getting out to Frank Lake soon as the birds are simply amazing right now.