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Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace – Week Eleven

Posted by Dan Arndt

A gorgeous week of bird watching, above zero temperatures, and clear skies had me itching to get out to Bebo Grove this week. In past years, Northern Pygmy-Owls were fairly regular occurrences here, along with Grey Jays, and even the occasional Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers.

Sadly, this time around we didn’t get any of those unusual sightings, but we did get some really great close looks at some of the “winter finches”, some crazy squirrel antics, and while the species list was fairly short, the quality of the observations and the closeness of our interactions was without equal.

Bebo Grove to Shannon Terrace
Fish Creek Provincial Park

The day started with high winds, freezing rain, and cloudy skies, which did not diminish our spirits at all. In fact, it seemed that once we started walking into the wooded pathway, everything began to clear up. As we began, we were almost immediately made aware of a circling Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s subspecies), a pair of deer on the trail ahead of us, and one interesting little Red Squirrel raiding a cache of seeds and excavating the hole a little deeper still.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

A near-perfect fit

Nearby, we had our first close looks of the day at a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, who are always entertaining, and they even came in to eat out of the hands of some of our participants.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

After we’d had our fill of feeding the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees, we continued on until we were stopped in our tracks as we heard the overhead calls of White-winged Crossbills, who briefly touched down at the top of the spruce trees surrounding us. (These photos were taken a little later in the day, but it’s not often these birds are close enough to get good shots of, so I wanted to show them off!)

male White-winged Crossbill

male White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

These tall spruce stands are typical of the habitat that makes up the majority of the Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace areas of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Onward to the west we headed, transitioning from the spruce stands to the currently barren poplar stands, where we were greeted by the drumming and foraging of this gorgeous little male Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Another resident of the poplar stands was this White-breasted Nuthatch, who we heard long before we saw, and who gave us quite the show of grabbing seeds and wedging them deep into the crevices of the poplar bark with determined taps of the bill.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

It was a while before we got good looks at many other birds. Sure we had fleeting glances at a few Blue Jays, Common Ravens, and even stopped to feed some extremely skittish Black-capped Chickadees, but the next really good looks we had at anything was this Blue Jay on the far west end. We heard it, along with two others, calling repeatedly from a spruce stand in an agitated manner. It never was clear why they were so agitated, but they were so cooperative and posing so well!

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Almost as exciting was a small group of Pine Grosbeaks a little further along, just outside the Environmental Learning Center at Shannon Terrace, which might just be some of my best Pine Grosbeak photos I’ve taken so far.

male Pine Grosbeak

male Pine Grosbeak

female Pine Grosbeak

female Pine Grosbeak

And on we continued before stopping on our way back to feed the chickadees again. At least some of these little guys are grateful!

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

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Friends of Fish Creek – Autumn Birding Course – Week 3, Mallard Point

Posted by Dan Arndt

This week, the Friends of Fish Creek course set out for Mallard Point. Located at the far east end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, it abuts the largest island on the Bow River in Calgary, Poplar Island, which is off-limits to the public, but is viewable from the pathways on both sides of the Bow River. We started at the Mallard Point parking lot, walked north along the river, crossed over the bridge, and to the south-east, parallel to Poplar Island. In total, we discovered 36 species in our three hours along the river, all of which gave us incredible looks at them and were amazing to see, as always, and remember, if you want to see a bigger version of the photos in the blog, just click for a full-sized version!

Mallard Point Map

Mallard Point

As we all collected at the parking lot, the consistent racket of a group of 12 Greater Yellowlegs just over the ridge in the flood channel of the Bow River that separates Poplar Island from the rest of Fish Creek Park, and these four decided to ham it up for the photographers of the group, posing close in and making sure everyone got a satisfying look at them.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

We headed up to the river to see what birds we could see on the Bow, or flying over it, but the star of the show was this small Northern Pike, who seemed just as interested in staring at us as we were in staring at it.

She Ain't Pretty (she just looks that way)

Northern Pike

After crossing the bridge and exploring a bit of the east side of the river, we set our eyes on the small pond that originates from a storm water outflow from the Douglasdale community, and found a fairly large group of American Wigeon joined by a solo female Northern Shoveler.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

While I’m not an expert on gulls, I enjoyed the plethora of plumages visible on the gravel bar just south of the second storm-water outflow into the Bow. We saw adult versions of the three most common species of white-headed gulls out there, those being Ring-billed Gulls, California Gulls, and Herring Gulls. I believe we saw juvenile versions of all three of those gulls as well, though I could always be mistaken!

juvenile Ring-billed Gull

juvenile Ring-billed Gull

juvenile Herring Gull

juvenile Herring Gull

juvenile California Gull

juvenile California Gull

We continued on south-east, and saw one of the harbingers of the change of seasons; a breeding plumaged male Downy Woodpecker. It seems all spring and summer that these guys simply went into hiding, but the last few weeks they’ve reappeared like magic!

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

One of the highlights of my day at least was seeing this beautiful Orange-crowned Warbler, who, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray Catbird, and about ten Yellow-rumped Warblers were found near the southern-most extent of our walk in the brush, chipping and whistling away while we strained our eyes to find just who was calling in the bushes.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Onward we trekked, and as we neared the furthest point of our walk, we were greeted by another gorgeous sight of a group of Mallard ducks, one of which being a male just coming back into his breeding plumage and showing off the broad violet speculum on his wing while stretching his legs, and in amongst the Mallards was another female Northern Shoveler.

male Mallard duck

male Mallard duck

male Mallard (bottom left) and female Northern Shoveler (top right)

male Mallard (bottom left) and female Northern Shoveler (top right)

It seemed a fitting end to the walk as we began to head back that many of our other friends from the summer would see us off. There were no small number of Meadowhawk dragonfly species flitting about as the sun warmed them up, and a handful of damselflies as well, but most noticeable was that their numbers were significantly less than last week, and far less than earlier in the summer. I do hope they hold on a while longer, as I always enjoy seeing and hearing them flit about, but it’s just a matter of time before the temperatures drop and the last of them dies out for another year.

Black Meadowhawk dragonfly

Black Meadowhawk dragonfly

As we neared the bridge, and our walk was nearly at an end, we were gifted with just one more species as this Osprey flew overhead. I sure hope he didn’t see our Northern Pike from earlier in the day!

Osprey

Osprey

That’s all for now. Next week, Carburn Park!

Griffith Woods – New surprises at every turn

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I wrote in my original post about Griffith Woods with the Winter Birding course,  I haven’t had much opportunity to visit this beautiful park on the edge of the city, and Sunday morning was only my second visit. The route we took this week was almost identical to the one we took in March, but the birds we saw were vastly different.

 

Griffith Woods

Griffith Woods – 5km Walking Route

We started by walking east from the parking lot, where we were inundated by a huge number of birds singing. Not only new birds for the year for many of us, but for myself at least one new life bird, and great views of others that I’d only seen in the distance or through foliage. Both White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow species were present and singing, but we also heard and saw a single male Purple Finch.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

 

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

On the river itself, a few Spotted Sandpipers searched for food along the shore, while a pair of Belted Kingfishers patrolled the river in search of small fish.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Further east, on the banks of the large eastern ponds, we had great views of an adult and a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, a House Wren at the entrance of a nest hole, and a Gray Catbird who flew in for a closer inspection as we played back a recorded call.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

House Wren

House Wren

 

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

To top off those great views, we also spotted a pair of what we identified as Least Flycatchers along the edge of the ponds before they disappeared into the deeper brush.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

We left the ponds after searching a bit longer for some other birds that we could hear nearby, but only the briefest glimpses confirmed the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows, and the ever present Clay-colored Sparrows buzzed in the background.

Turning back west, we continued past the parking lot and deeper into the spruce forest of Griffith Woods, which meanders through a number of small tributary channels of the Elbow River, very small ponds and wetland areas, but is dominated by the White Spruce that make up a significant portion of the foliage. The birds were heard more than seen, and while we heard a number of Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbills, Boreal Chickadees, and both Hairy and Downy Woodpecker species, it was hard getting our binoculars on them, let alone the camera lens!

Coming to one of the first bridges, we saw a pair of sandpipers, which initially we thought were also Spotted Sandpipers, as before, but the white breast, greenish legs, and drastically different demeanor identified them as Solitary Sandpipers, which can sometimes nest in trees, as we noticed a few minutes after this shot was taken.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

We meandered for the next half hour with very few birds seen, but heard Chipping Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and what we thought was a flock of Black-capped Chickadees mobbing a predator, but turned out only to be an unusually vocal flock. A moment later, the call of the Audubon’s subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler was heard only a few meters away. Once again, we had great views of it as it was protective of its territory, indicating that it would very likely be breeding in the area if it can find a mate this season.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s subspecies)

Our last really great views were of the male Pileated Woodpecker that we originally saw back in March, once again protecting the nest hole in an abandoned power pole near the condominium complex.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

On our way out, we did get one other new bird on the year in Calgary. High above us soared a juvenile Golden Eagle, with bright white patches under the wings, and that incredible golden brown hue over the rest of its body. While my camera couldn’t quite zoom in far enough to get a decent shot of it, my binoculars gave me good enough views that I’m looking forward to getting back out into the country to see these birds up close again. As for Griffith Woods, I look forward to exploring it once again this summer, and into the fall once the warblers begin heading south once again.