Tag Archive | birds

Sunday Showcase: Great Grey Owls of Grand Valley Road

Posted by Dan Arndt

In late March of this year, Paul Turbitt and I headed out to Grand Valley Road in search of Great Grey Owls, and I had both my best day in terms of numbers of owls, but also in terms of photos. This individual owl seemed incredibly tolerant of people, and patient enough to make three hunting attempts in the hour that we sat and watched. More than a few times, the owl flew in our direction, seemingly unthreatened by our presence.

Enjoy the photos.

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up...

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up…

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

Oh! What's that?

Oh! What’s that?

Looks like lunch!

Looks like lunch!

Hmm... nope, missed it.

Hmm… nope, missed it.

I blame you, you know.

I blame you, you know.

Ready for takeoff...

Ready for takeoff…

Maybe the hunting's better down here...

Maybe the hunting’s better down here…

Nailed the landing!

Nailed the landing!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can't get enough of these gorgeous owls!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can’t get enough of these gorgeous owls!

Bye for now!

Bye for now!

 

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Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 5 – Elbow River Bird Survey

Posted by Dan Arndt

The epitome of “backyard birding”, can be experienced with the monthly Elbow River Bird Survey that Gus Yaki has been doing on the first of the month for nearly twenty years. Starting at Stanley Park, the walk meanders along the Elbow River through the neighborhoods of Parkhill/Stanley Park, Elbow Park, and Altadore before reaching its terminus at the Glenmore Reservoir at the Glenmore Dam.

 

The day started with a huge number of Black-billed Magpies, American Robins, and American Crows. This crow was taking a bath when we spotted it, and definitely looked like it was enjoying itself!

American Crow

American Crow

A little further down the river we came across some Wood Ducks. This stretch of the Elbow River has historically been good for the Wood Duck population as there have been families along the river that regularly fed them. According to Gus, one winter there were nearly forty of them along a 100-meter stretch.

juvenile Wood Duck

juvenile Wood Duck

male Wood Ducks

male Wood Ducks

Another of the common backyard birds we saw in incredibly high numbers were the Red-breasted Nuthatches, which seemed to be a constant chorus of calls every time we stopped.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

To add to the chorus were the Pine Siskins, seen in the hundreds on Sunday’s walk. They’re a nomadic species that can be found wherever there is a good pine or spruce cone crop, and will likely be a regular addition to our lists as the autumn progresses into winter.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

As we got to Riverdale Park, nearly at the west end of this walks extent, the number of European Starlings seemed to balloon into massive proportions. They were sporting their Sunday best, too, with fresh autumn plumage and beautiful iridescent greens, purples, and yellows shining in the sunlight.

European Starling

European Starling

This Black-billed Magpie was one of a fairly high number as well, also in bright, iridescent colors.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

As our walk neared its end, we managed to get some very good, close looks at a number of Northern Flickers, and while they’re not the most uncommon bird, they did seem to make themselves very well known by the end of the day. After the one in this photo took off, it flew within 10 feet of my head and was quickly followed by its mate.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Our walk finally came to a close, we were cursed with bad luck over the reservoir, seeing only a very small number of Rock Pigeons and Ring-billed Gulls flying over the dam, and sadly, none of the more charismatic of the waterfowl and/or gulls one might hope to see on such a large body of water.

 

Have a great week, and see you back here next Monday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course – Week 4 – Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

One of the regular parks attended by the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses is Carburn Park. Located just off Deerfoot Trail, it is an oasis of mixed deciduous and coniferous forest in the middle of the urban landscape, and is adjacent to Beaverdam Flats to the north, and the Southland Dog Park to the west. The route we took this week took us from the parking lot, south to a small grove of trees containing a special surprise for us, exploring some bird feeders just off the main trail, then back up along the river before returning to our vehicles by way of the east bank of the middle pond.

 

For some reason, I was pretty gung-ho about taking photos for the first half of the walk, but once we got near the ponds there weren’t a lot of opportunities given the general shyness of the birds, the close foliage, and shooting into the light, I didn’t really get many good opportunities.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

Our first stop of the morning was at the bridge that crosses the Bow River, and but unfortunately there weren’t too many birds on, or over the water. What we did get was this (relatively) gorgeous Rock Pigeon posing gracefully on this dead tree limb.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

Heading south along the river, we had hopes of flushing a Ring-necked Pheasant, or seeing something interesting on the river, or at the very least, getting some interesting birds at the bird feeders, but as they hadn’t been seen on any of the walks this week, we were quite surprised at a trio of Great-Horned Owls at the southern-most point of our walk!

Great-horned Owl

Great-horned Owl

Great-horned Owl

Great-horned Owl

This one thought that he could hide from the shutterbugs clicking away with their cameras…

Great-Horned Owl

Great-Horned Owl

Moving over to the feeders and allowing these owls their space, we came upon a large mixed flock of sparrows and warblers in a large Russian Olive tree. Orange-crowned Warblers, Yell0w-rumped Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and even a pair of American Tree Sparrows!

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Our walk continued with a few other nice sightings. Common Mergansers fishing alongside large flocks of Ring-billed Gulls resting on the gravel bars, and even a small flock of Green-winged Teals flushed up by one of the many fishing rafts on the river. One of the Ring-billed Gulls had managed to pluck a small fish from the river, causing all the other gulls around to fly at it in an attempt to steal away an easy meal. Sadly, I don’t think any of them ended up with lunch in all the commotion!

Along the river was also a stretch of about 10 meters that was highly productive, with many Black-capped Chickadees, a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, another pair of Orange-crowned Warblers, Belted Kingfishers, Northern Flickers and a Downy Woodpecker to top off the list. Around the corner from there was another gravel bar populated entirely by Ring-billed Gulls, and this juvenile posed nicely for us. It wasn’t until it began walking away that we noticed that it was injured, with its tail-feathers skewed off to the side making it seemingly unable to fly.

juvenile Ring-billed Gull

juvenile Ring-billed Gull

We trudged through the woods getting very good, close looks at a lone Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Red-necked Grebe on the middle pond, and a few Buffleheads on the far north pond. On our way back along the east side of the middle pond, we were assaulted by another small flock of Black-capped Chickadees in search of a handout.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

As we rounded the bend and neared the parking lot, a few of us were reflecting that we hadn’t seen a Muskrat in any of the ponds. Sure enough, within a few moments, this little guy swam over to the far bank and hung around just long enough for us to get some shots of him.

Looks like we’ll be touring the Elbow River, from Stanley Park through to the Glenmore Dam.

Good birding!

 

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

The Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park have announced the dates and times of their Autumn birding course. The contact information and details are in the poster below. Each day of walks is led by either Gus Yaki, Rob Worona, Wayne Walker, or any number of other local birders who are incredibly knowledgeable, friendy, and enthusiastically share their love of birds with all in attendance. Bob Lefebvre and I will continue to lead one of the Sunday morning groups, and will be looking forward to seeing some new faces on our Sunday walks! (These photos may look familiar to sharp-eyed readers as well…)

FCPP Autumn Birding Course

FCPP Autumn Birding Course

Travel Tuesday – Birthday Birding with Bob

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I have done for a few years now, I decided this year that I would take a day off around my birthday and get a few new life-birds and a few other target species off my list. As the week came closer, the weather looked more and more like it simply was not going to cooperate, and when my birthday arrived, it rained straight through the day. Two days later, the clouds cleared long enough for Bob Lefebvre and I to get out and find some birds. While the wind was more active than I would have liked, the day turned out quite nicely, topping out at 27 degrees C, (or about 81F for our readers south of the border).

We planned our route a few days before to tie in with Bob’s scheduled trip on the Loon survey. We would hit the entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, then go over to Horse Creek Road, up Grand Valley Road, then down through Bragg Creek to the Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, then back up to Leisure Lake to do the loon survey. Finally, we would make a trip down to Frank Lake, to get Bob’s shorebird count up, and finally we would head home from there.

Our list of locations

Birthday Birding Locations

 

With our route planned, we headed out at 5 AM, and got to our first site just as the sun was clearing the horizon.

Bob had heard of a number of Rock Wrens on territory just north of the main entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, and when we stopped the car and listened for a few moments, it was immediately apparent that they were still present. With a little help from some call playback, we were able to get some extremely good views of one of the males loudly defending his territory.

 

Shaken, not stirred.

This bird is appropriately named.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren closeup

We headed up Grand Valley Road shortly after, in search of one of the many Great Gray Owls that have been seen there many times this spring and summer, but also historically seems to be the best spot around to find them. We drove for quite some time before Bob’s eagle eyes spotted one flying behind a gravel pile, so we stopped and waited, and moments later, it flew out and onto a nearby fencepost. This reclusive individual only stayed around long enough for us to get a handful of photos, but we did manage a few that turned out.

Great Gray Owl

Watching us very closely.

Great Gray Glare of Death

Great Gray Glare of Death

As we headed down to Horse Creek Road, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and when we stopped to listen for the rails distinctive clicking calls, we could barely hear anything over the wind. No rails were heard or seen on this trip, but we did get some very nice close ups of these Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

After that brief stop, we headed straight down to Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, and got incredibly close views of another life-bird for me, the Cape May Warbler. It seemed that there were quite a number of them in the park, most on nests, along with Wilson’s Warblers, which never quite came out to give us decent views.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Bob’s annual Loon Survey up at Leisure Lake was part of our trip, and we did manage to circle the lake, find the nest and eggs, and saw both the male and female Common Loon out on the water.

Common Loon

Common Loon

We finished up our day out at Frank Lake, and planned to head down to Basin 2, where we saw a huge number of species, and I was able to add Northern Harrier to my year list finally as well, but as far away as it was, paired with the heat, the photos simply would not suffice. So instead, here’s a Marbled Godwit to distract you.

 

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

19th Annual Fish Creek Park New Years Day Bird Count

Last week I was asked by Bob Lefebvre if I would be interested in participating in the Christmas Bird Count for Fish Creek Provincial Park, and I immediately jumped at the chance. I always look forward to the walks in Fish Creek Provincial Park, and I was very glad to be grouped once again with Gus Yaki, Bob Lefebvre, along with 11 other participants to do the count in the Marshall Springs area of Fish Creek.

If you’re not familiar with the area, Marshall Springs is located between Bebo Grove and Votier’s Flats, on the west side of Fish Creek Park, just south of the Bow River. I started up the GPS on my phone and mapped out our walking route, to explain a bit more graphically the route we took. I’ll be experimenting with this format in future posts, so let me know how you like it!

Walking route taken through Marshall Springs

Starting at the parking lot to Bebo Grove, we trekked south through the woods, then crossed the river into the Marsall Springs area proper. On the whole, I didn’t end up taking as many photos as I would have liked to, mostly due to the relatively quiet morning we had in terms of both species present, and population. One of the first birds seen all morning was this Pine Grosbeak, along with one other, in the trees just north of the base of hill at the southern boundary of the park.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

If there was any bird that I felt best described the walk though, I would have to say it was the Downy Woodpecker, the first of which we spotted shortly after the Pine Grosbeak, tap-tap-tapping away at the trees for some food.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Followed shortly by our first sighting of a Hairy Woodpecker, also searching for food under the bark of the poplars and birch.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

I don’t know whether it was the company, the conversation, or the lack of birds present, but most likely a combination of all three that found my next photos taken near the end of the walk, when this Pine Grosbeak called from a nearby treetop, and across the banks of Fish Creek this White-Tailed Deer grazed on the edge of the slope.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

White-tailed Deer

Mule Deer

We convened later with the larger group near the main office of Fish Creek Provincial Park to collaborate data and share any interesting finds. Our group though had a fairly small number of species and individuals, and aside from a large overflight of Bohemian Waxwings, we had less than 100 individual birds among 12 species in our count area, detailed below:

11 Downy Woodpecker

1 Hairy Woodpecker

45 Black-capped Chickadee

4 Red-breasted Nuthatch

1 White-breasted Nuthatch

2 Common Redpoll

2 White-winged Crossbill

100 Bohemian Waxwing

11 Common Raven

8 Black-billed Magpie

1 Brown Creeper

8 Pine Grosbeak

One bird did stand out from the crowd at the reporting though, which Bob and I  went in search of shortly after. I leave you with a (relatively bad) photo of a rare Winter Red-tailed Hawk, seen on the east end of Fish Creek Park.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Posted by Dan Arndt

Wintering blackbirds in Texas

Winter leaps upon us in a flash. One minute, it seems, it is a very distant shape looming faintly on the horizon. Suddenly, before we know it, winter has struck, leaving us wondering where the summer went. In Texas, the same seems to happen with wintering birds. One day, only the year-round residents who call Texas home can be seen. The next day, countless wintering birds of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, confusing even the most attentive eye.

Countless blackbirds flock together during the winter

On a recent trip to Brazos Bend State Park here in Texas, about an hour southwest of Houston, we observed some spectacular flocking in action. Literally thousands upon thousands of blackbirds; Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles and European Starlings congregating on some farmer’s fields. They swarmed and swirled, seemingly in perfect coordination, lifting off and landing as a unit. And yet, this is not a sight you can readily behold on these bird wintering grounds. You don’t see flocks of thousands of these species doing this in the summer, so why do they do it in the winter???

These blackbirds have quite a few reasons for doing this in the winter but these flocking habits also have numerous downsides. First of all, on the positive side, foraging is greatly improved by the large flock as opposed to a single bird or a small group. The more eyes you have working together, the easier it is to find food! More eyes can also mean more safety from would-be predators, and trust me, there are a lot of them!

This brings us to one of the downsides of wintering flocks. Predators. Lots of them. Where there is food, there are consumers, waiting to, well, consume the food. Raptors see these blackbirds as one huge buffet just waiting to be sampled. In a small farmer’s field, we counted up to 20 raptors: about 10 Caracaras, many Red-tailed Hawks, several White-tailed Hawks, a Turkey Vulture and a couple of Northern Harriers, all exploring the delightful opportunity of a full stomach all winter long. If these hawks were to stick with the group of blackbirds, they could potentially always find one or two to pick off from the pack. The more birds in a flock, the more noise and commotion they make, rendering them easily visible targets.

Large concentrations of any living thing invariably bring with them two other depreciating factors; disease and competition. Avian diseases can be spread very quickly in such large flocks and may sometimes ravage a great portion of the local species. More birds might find better food sources but if there isn’t enough to go around, there simply isn’t enough. Weaker, slower and sick birds often will be the first to go hungry as they cannot compete with the healthier individuals.

It was definitely a neat sight to behold, especially when a raptor would plunge into the center of the throng, sending up explosions of blackbirds. One of the White-tailed Hawks that we spotted, an immature, had a very full crop (a muscular pouch near the throat used to store food), showing us that it had been eating well recently.

In the end, the advantages of these congregations greatly outweigh the disadvantages and it is a bewildering sight that will continue to captivate many a fortunate observer.

Posted by Matthew Sim