Tag Archive | FCPP Birding

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 4 – Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

A week after our visit to Griffith Woods and the weather in Calgary has taken a turn for the better. We were greeted this morning by blue skies, above-zero temperatures, and a mild winter’s day with plenty of birds, which was a nice change from last week!

We took our usual route, heading south from the parking lot to the bridge crossing to the Southland Dog Park, continuing a bit further south to get a good look at some of the waterfowl in the clear morning sunlight.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Our first birds of the morning were a group of White-winged Crossbills hanging out in the trees near the parking lot, quite likely the same ones that Tim Hopwood was able to get some gorgeous photos of recently.

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

As we reached the bridge, it seemed that iridescence would be the word of the day. With the low angle of the sun, and the weather giving us a hint of the warmer spring soon to come, it seemed like every bird was showing off its brightest colors, including this normally drab Rock Pigeon.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

The real prize of the day were these Buffleheads, showing off their iridescence that we so rarely get to see in our dull grey winters. It certainly was a beautiful sight to see!

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

We headed south from the bridge after pausing to investigate some birds near the gazebo at the east side of the river. We spotted a Barrow’s Goldeneye at the far south end, and quite a number of Common Goldeneye as well. This female was kind enough to allow some decent flight shots, and the huge number of Canada Geese and Mallards on the river banks was too good to pass up.

female Common Goldeneye

female Common Goldeneye

mixed Waterfowl

Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few other waterfowl

We headed back north and followed the river around the bend, stopping a few times to watch some distant Bald Eagles on the far side of the river, but were also treated to some rather unusual activity from a group of Northern Flickers foraging around in the gravel at the edge of the river.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Another great bird to find in Calgary in the winter are the American Crows, which have been overwintering in Carburn Park for a number of years now, in ever-increasing numbers. Our group saw no less than 20 individuals during our exploration of the banks of the Bow River today.

American Crow

American Crow

With that said, waterfowl watching is not for everyone, but we did manage to spot a few unusual winter ducks in our excursion. This pair of Redheads gave us quite the views, and we were also treated to a pair of either Lesser or Greater Scaup a bit later on, though the ID is still up in the air on those ones.

Redheads

Redheads

A little more common around here, but still a welcome sight, are the Common Mergansers. This group of four males appeared to be trying to woo this lone female, who would have nothing of it, by all appearances.

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

It was clear that spring was getting just that much closer as we saw many birds beginning their preparation for the new breeding season. Northern Flickers were drilling out nest holes, Black-billed Magpies were displaying and pursuing each other, and this pair of male Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about, displaying and attacking each other in a fight for territory.

male Downy Woodpeckers

male Downy Woodpeckers

Next week we head back to Votier’s Flats in search of American Dippers, Wilson’s Snipe, and American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Good birding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Course begins again – Week 2

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This fall, Bob Lefebvre and I are running one of the Sunday morning groups this year, and while this is the second week for the group, it’s my first week back from vacation.

 

Lafarge Meadows, one of the locations I always am finding new birds at, was our location for the day, and in our 5.75 km walk up and down the river bank, dodging golf carts and buses, we managed to see a pretty decent number of species. The annotated map shows our general route, as we headed from the Boat Launch, clockwise following the river, then back north along the paved path.

Our Route

On the ponds at the north end, we were given good close looks at a Great Blue Heron, seen here giving a brief lecture to some unruly Mallards that had taken over its roost. It flushed them away, or at least attempted to, before going back to its business of catching its breakfast.

Great Blue Heron giving a lecture

Attempting to frighten off the surly Mallards

Soon the heron realizes the futility of its ways and goes back to fishing.

As we looked over the pond, we were briefly interrupted by a small group of migrants, including Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a few Lincoln’s Sparrows, before we looked back up over the pond to see some familiar faces (or familiar bills, perhaps?) The always entertaining Bufflehead, ever-present Lesser Scaup, and a lone American Wigeon even  made an appearance.

 

Bufflehead

Lesser Scaup

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

As we trekked southward, into the fray with golf carts whizzing by us and the noise of what seemed like hundreds of visitors to some other festivities in the park, we veered off toward the river, where we saw no small number of Double-crested Cormorants, Lesser Yellowlegs, and even at least two Osprey, hunting for fish over the Bow River.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Osprey

Osprey

Even deeper into the brush and further from the trail we happened across a few more warblers in the trees, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a pair of House Wrens angrily chipping away at us.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While we tend to focus on the birds on the blog, we all have a soft spot for butterflies, and this Milberts Tortoiseshell that posed quite nicely for everyone was no exception. It also marked the beginning of our trek back to the north, with the sun at our backs.

Milberts Tortoiseshell

Milberts Tortoiseshell

As we were once again inundated with the golf carts and busy pathway, we kept our heads clear and our goals in sight, checking the ponds and sloughs on each side of the path as we went, and we turned up quite a few nice surprises. Each of them was more striking, with the Pied-billed Grebe surfacing now and again in an algae-choked pond, a pair of juvenile Ruddy Ducks in amongst the American Coots, and another Green-winged Teal flocking in with some more precocious Mallards!

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Finally, as the finish line was in sight and our long walk had ended, we found ourselves staring long and hard at this intrepid Cooper’s Hawk, soaring on the thermals in search of its next meal.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Next week: Mallard Point!

Spring Birding in Carburn Park – What a difference a month makes!

Posted by Dan Arndt

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course visited Carburn Park. While it has been a little over a month, the differences are astounding. The ice on the river has almost completely cleared up, and all three ponds are completely ice-free and full of waterfowl and gulls of all kinds.

After a couple of weekends away, it was nice to get back into the city and back to a place that is always full of surprises, and Carburn Park was just what the doctor ordered.

With a few fresh faces, and plenty of old familiar ones from the Winter Course, we started out bright and early at 7:30AM and got off to a great start.

We decided our best course of action would be to head south to the bridge, then follow a trail as far south as we could before turning back north and following the river with the sun at our backs, both for the best photos, but also for the best light to view the birds at.

Carburn Park - April 22, 2012

One major difference that stands out to my mind between winter and spring birding, at least before the leaves come out and change the game entirely, is that the birds that overwinter here in Calgary are fairly large-bodied overall. Sure, we get Common Redpolls, various finch species, and even a few odd sparrows here and there, but for the most part the overwintering birds are roughly robin-sized or larger. Geese, ducks, a few killdeer here and there, as well as the hawks, owls, and woodpeckers make up the bulk of the birding biomass in the winter. Spring, on the other hand, is when the smaller birds make Calgary home. Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, along with Warblers, Vireos, and Pipits of all kinds make getting just the right light and just the right angles vitally important for a positive visual identification, since these birds are relatively tiny, generally between 10 and 20cm from tip of the bill to the tip of the tail.

The first couple sightings of the day were well known to us already, with a Red-breasted Nuthatch working away at a nest hole, and a Northern Flicker calling out to proclaim his territory.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

After spending some time on the bridge, Bob Lefebvre and I discussed the best route to take, to which I suggested the south leg of the walk, and then returning with the sun at our backs. I even suggested we might get lucky and find a Savannah Sparrow in the grassy area just east of the river, or maybe a Ring-necked Pheasant. It was a mere moments later that this beautiful little Savannah Sparrow popped out into the open to give me the my first sightings of the year for this species.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Along the trail to the south we heard a number of Song Sparrows and possible Lincoln’s Sparrows calling from an island in the center of the Bow River, but over the din of the Canada Geese, Franklin’s Gulls, and American Robins, it was hard to make out any that we could completely confirm. We did manage to get some good views of some Bufflehead on the Bow River, and this Red-tailed Hawk that decided to keep itself a healthy distance away from the group.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Heading back north along the river seemed a lot quieter than the last few times, but as the river opens up and the ice melts off, the concentration of birds on the river is much more dispersed. Add to that the increased number of people fishing both in, and on, the river tends to flush any large groups of birds, even at 7:30 in the morning.

We cut over to the get a couple of looks at the ponds before cutting back to the river when we noticed a few pair of Redheads on the furthest south pond, along with an industrious beaver taking a break on the north shore.

Redheads

Redheads

Heading back over to the river, we heard our first clear Lincoln’s Sparrow song of the day, and shortly after that, our first Tree Swallows flitting about overhead. A few Franklin’s Gulls decided it was a good morning for a bath, and allowed great views of their bright red bills and white eye-ring that are great markers for the species’ breeding plumage.

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

Franklin's Gulls having a bath

A little further north gave us a couple of great views of a Song Sparrow, singing high up in a tree, and hopping from branch to branch before flying off once we’d all gotten near.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A search of the dense woods by the river for the Northern Saw-whet Owl came up empty, but not before this pair of patient and camera-savvy Common Mergansers hammed it up and posed nicely for us.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Another nice surprise was this pair of Canada Geese perched in Calgary’s oldest Water Birch. This legacy tree is massive, and at over 100 years old, is home to a number of nest holes for Mergansers, Flickers, and likely many more in the higher boughs that aren’t easily seen from the ground.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

We continued heading north to the last pond, but not before stopping to check across the river for a Bald Eagle pair that has regularly nested, and were given a few glimpses of the female sitting on the nest, poking her head up, but at such a distance that my lens didn’t show much more than a spot in the distance. I tried to make up for it with a nice close-up shot of this American Robin with a mouth full of… sludge? I guess what they say about one person’s trash being another’s treasure is true even for birds! I’d imagine he’s taking this back for nesting material.

Sludge! Delicious sludge!

American Robin

At the third pond we had a couple of good views of a Common Loon, had a low flyover of a Northern Goshawk, and saw what must have been a flock of 150 or more Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls both on the lake and above it, chasing down a flurry of freshly hatched insects. It was quite the feeding frenzy!