Tag Archive | Friends of Fish Creek

Spring Blizzarding in Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

While last week was chilly, and a bit overcast, it wasn’t really too much to complain about. This week, the Sunday Curse has struck again. As the weekend approached, the forecast for 10-25 cm of snow by Monday night seemed a bit overzealous, maybe even pessimistic. Sadly, this was one time that the weatherman was right. Sunday morning greeted us with about 10cm of already accumulated snow, and a brisk wind out of the north made for risky driving and for terrible visibility at times, though we were lucky and also had some clear patches. A small, hardy group greeted us at 8 AM, and while some of the walk was abbreviated due to the conditions, we still had a good number of new species (or at least newly photographed species) for the year.

Earlier in the week I had finally received the Swarovski ATX 85 that has been graciously loaned to us, so I’ve included a good number of photos that were taken with the Swarovski TLS APO digiscoping adapter, taken with my Pentax K-30. I have to say, I’ve never been quite so happy that that camera is weather sealed as I was today. As I mentioned to the birding students, this is a scope that after an hour of playing with it at home had me wanting to buy it for myself, and after spending some time with it this afternoon and seeing the results I managed to get in the terrible light and low visibility, that decision has been set in stone. You’ll see what I mean below…

 

Elliston Park

Elliston Park

You might notice first of all that it doesn’t look like we saw much on the southern portion of our walk. That is mostly true. By the time we cleared the eastern edge of the tree cover, the clouds had lowered, the wind picked up, and the snowfall really started coming in sideways, pelting us with wet ice crystals, and some of us were simply not prepared for things to get as bad as they did, so we powered on straight to the parking lot to get out of the wind and sleet.

Despite all that doom and gloom, as I mentioned above, we got a whole pile of new bird sightings! Almost as soon as we started, we heard, then saw, a flock of American Tree Sparrows flitting about, barely pausing long enough for any of us to get good looks until they were quite far away.

American Tree Sparrows

American Tree Sparrows

From our vantage point we could see out onto the water quite well at this point, and with the trees covering us from the wind, we took a few minutes to look out over the lake, and managed to spot the first new species for the group, this American Wigeon. There were about half a dozen of these birds on Elliston Lake, standing out in stark contrast to the other waterfowl present. Additionally, this was where we had good views of the second new species of the day, the Lesser Scaup.

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

American Wigeon (rear) and Mallards (foreground)

Lesser Scaup (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Lesser Scaup
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

While we have seen Townsend’s Solitaires this year, finding this one in the storm was a stroke of luck and good field identification on the part of some of our students! They are always such a pleasure to see! With the wind and snow picking up a bit at this time, we did check out a pair of Northern Flickers waiting out the storm on the leeward side of a low tree. Where they might have been nesting in or around this park is a mystery, as there really aren’t any trees large enough or old enough to provide them a suitable nest area!

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

Male (above) and female (below) hybrid Northern Flickers

We turned our attention back to the water, and found this lone American Coot. These aren’t a bird you expect to see all by its lonesome, nor in this kind of weather! An early arrival, and quite the surprise to see here! There were also a good number of Northern Shovelers in the north-east section of lake, though with the snow and wind picking up, good photos were hard to come by.

American Coot

American Coot

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

female (left) and male (right) Northern Shovelers

male Northern Shoveler (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

male Northern Shoveler
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

From here on, we powered through to the end, with a few stops to check out some unusual sounds and sights, and a few nice finds in the sloughs east of Elliston Park, including many more Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, and even a lone male Ruddy Duck, the blowing snow played havoc with my auto focus, and I didn’t make it back around after the walk with the digiscoping setup.

 

I did end up heading back to check out the gulls with the digiscope rig, and while I didn’t find anything particularly uncommon, the practice with both stationary birds and birds in flight was absolutely priceless. While I’ve already had some experience with digiscoping, the ease which I was able to pick up the different skills that this scope requires, as well as the particular idiosyncrasies of the setup were very quick to adapt to, and the learning curve was extremely shallow. I have to say, it’ll be a hard sell to go back to the other gear once June comes around!

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring, California, and Ring-billed Gulls
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

California Gull in flight
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm (digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

Herring Gull in flight in the snowstorm
(digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 85 + Pentax K-30)

See you next week, and good birding!

Spring Birding Course 2013

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Once again the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society will be offering a twelve-week Spring Birding Course, beginning April 1. There will be at least twelve different groups going out on various days of the week. Right now many of the sessions have the full complement of 15 participants, but there are still some openings as of today. Contact Chris at the number or email below to see if there is room on the day you want.

Last Spring Dan Arndt and I decided to lead a group at a new time, 7:30 am on Sundays. We hoped that the earlier start would allow us to find more of the early birds as the days got longer. The session had fifteen participants and was very successful. For this spring we offered two 7:30 sessions, on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, with me leading one and Dan leading the other. Up to now there aren’t enough participants registered to justify two groups, but we are still taking registrations. If enough people sign up we will go ahead with two groups. The first 7:30 am sessions are scheduled for April 6 and April 7.

The course consists of weekly field trips to various parks and natural areas in the city, each lasting about  three hours. So join us if you want to get out once a week to learn about the birds of Calgary and meet other birders.

Spring Course 2013 (2)

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 13 – Bow Valley Ranch and Sikome Lake

Posted by Dan Arndt

I will always remember my first visit to the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building in search of birds. It was a cold winter morning, quite similar to yesterday, and we were in search of some Great Horned Owls. We found them, of course, as the owls here are almost as reliable as the sunrise and sunset, before heading off and exploring the area around the Headquarters, and then down to Sikome Lake to look for some more owls and check out what was on the river.

This week was very similar, with maybe a few more surprise species popping up, a couple of near misses on the owls, but all in all, it was another wonderfully successful walk.

Since this walk covers two main areas, I’ve added two maps instead of your usual one for the same low cost as you pay for your current blog subscription! I know with the holiday season in full swing, money is tight, so I’m passing the savings on to you!

We started up at the Headquarters building area known as Bow Valley Ranch, and had quite a bit of success up there after some moderate search efforts. In the end, everyone left satisfied and content with what we had seen so far, with hopes for many more birds to come.

Bow Valley Ranch

Bow Valley Ranch

The pair of Great Horned Owls that have been consistently found here all week, and to my understanding, for well over ten years, were our primary goal here at the east side of the Fish Creek Provincial Park Headquarters building. In our searches, we were mobbed by a fair-sized swarm of Black-capped Chickadees, but as is typical for these mixed flocks in winter, we got a little added bonus of a lone Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Nearby, there was a terribly dedicated Downy Woodpecker drumming at a small stand of low bushes in search of some tasty insect larvae or some other arthropods hidden in the bark.

female Downy Woodpecker

female Downy Woodpecker

We spent a good ten to fifteen minutes looking for the Great Horned Owls, walking to the far east end of the pathway, and on our way back we were greeted by the high-pitched flight calls of some White-winged Crossbills picking at the cones at the peak of the spruce rows.

White-winged Crossbills

White-winged Crossbills

We were about ready to call our search off when one of our keen-eyed birders noticed a small clump of something dark and grey huddled up against the trunk of one of the spruce trees.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

There is an owl in this picture, I swear.

A bit of hand waving and flagging down some of our group to come get better looks wound up with a fairly decent angle in the dull, overcast light, and it was clear that this was one Great Horned Owl that did not want to be disturbed this morning.

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Once we had discovered our quarry and had our fill of its excellent camouflage skills, we headed west towards The Ranche, and out in the fields south of the compound was this White-tail Deer buck, casually browsing in the low bushes and making his way eastward along one of the many deer trails in the park.

White-tail Deer buck

White-tail Deer buck

Our last new bird at Bow Valley Ranch was this lone Red Crossbill, calling and preening and generally looking a bit out-of-place in a flock of White-winged Crossbills.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

We headed back to the vehicles shortly thereafter and headed south to Sikome Lake. There were plenty of waterfowl in the fairly swift waters of the Bow River that morning, and quite a few of them were quite close to shore, allowing good looks, and excellent photo opportunities.

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Sikome Lake and Boat Launch

Once again, it took a bit of searching for the Great Horned Owls before we found one lone lookout.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

This area is also one of the must-visit places within Fish Creek Provincial Park, mostly because of how familiar the birds here are with humans. While there may be some compunctions against feeding wild birds, the Downy Woodpeckers, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and of course the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees are comfortable enough to eat right out of one’s hand.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

male Downy Woodpecker

male Downy Woodpecker

Once we had our fill of hand-feeding the birds, we headed down to the edge of the Bow River to see what waterfowl we might find. The river was full of Canada Geese, Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, and even a few Barrow’s Goldeneye. We also did manage to pick out a subadult male Common Goldeneye just coming into his adult plumage, which was quite interesting to see!

male and female Barrow's Goldeneye

male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow's Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Common Goldeneye (r) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (l) showing their distinctive field marks

Buffleheads in flight

Buffleheads in flight

immature Common Goldeneye

immature Common Goldeneye

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

male Common Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese

 As we headed north along the river bank, we had a fairly low flyover of an adult Bald Eagle which is always a welcome sight… unless you’re a duck.

adult Bald Eagle

adult Bald Eagle

Dropping down into the poplar stands on the inside bank of the Bow River, we stopped for a moment to glance over what appeared to be skunk tracks, and continued north back up the slope in the quiet woods to find this female Hairy Woodpecker doing what they do best.

Skunk Tracks

Skunk Tracks

female Hairy Woodpecker

female Hairy Woodpecker

Topping off our day was this patient juvenile Bald Eagle watching over a flock of Canada Geese as the snow began to come down in heavier flakes and much faster than before.

juvenile Bald Eagle

juvenile Bald Eagle

As we headed back to the parking lot to head home, we did have a close encounter with a Coyote which dropped down into a creek bed and out of sight before popping up right along the trail we had been following not half an hour before, flushing up some of the Canada Geese we had been so close to earlier in the day.

Coyote

Coyote

It has been quite the productive, beautiful, and diverse course so far, and it’s a bit sad to see it end in just one more week, but on the good side, it also means that we’ll be well on the way towards spring migration with the start of the 2013 Winter Birding course starting up on January 7th!

See you here next week!

Winter Birding Course 2013

If you’ve been following Dan’s posts about the Friends of Fish Creek Birding Course outings and want to join in the fun and learn about Calgary’s birds, now is your chance!  Twelve weeks of field trips in a variety of parks in Calgary.  Sign up today as many sessions fill up quickly.

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 9 – Elliston Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Located on the eastern edge of Calgary, Elliston Park boasts the distinction of being the second largest body of water in the city limits, with a 20 hectare storm-water retention pond, stands of poplar, ash, and spruce located around the lake, and in the course of the week, over fifty species of birds were seen on or around the lake.

When I woke up on Sunday morning to head out to the lake, I was greeted by a bright, sunny sky, with great light, above-zero temperatures, and a very good feeling that it would be an incredible walk, and how right I was!

Elliston Park

Elliston Park route

 

When we arrived at the park, it was nearly completely full of geese, ducks, and gulls galore. The western half of the lake had frozen over, and the eastern end was still open, making the area where the ice meets the water the congregation point for the various waterfowl, with the gulls resting just behind them.

 

We headed around the north end of the lake first, into the poplars and aspen that border the fence on 17th Avenue SE, in hope of catching some Common Redpolls, or maybe a finch species or two. We were delighted when we came across this Townsend’s Solitaire that stopped to take a look at us and then flew right by.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire

As we cleared the first stand of trees we got a great view of the rest of the lake, and all the birds out on the water and on the ice.

View of Elliston Lake

View of Elliston Lake

As we neared the east end of the lake, it became clear that we were getting a little too close for comfort for the large numbers of Canada Geese. Either that, or it was just their time to take off and go forage the surrounding fields for breakfast.

Canada Geese taking off

Canada Geese taking off

In the northeast bay of the reservoir we got wonderful looks at a pair of grebes that aren’t often seen together, though both have been seen regularly all summer. These grebes had been seen in this bay all week, and the excellent light and close proximity made even my stand-by 18-250 lens get close enough for some good shots! On top of that, there were quite a few Hooded Mergansers in the lake, and these three also posed nicely to have their photo taken.

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Pied-billed and Red-necked Grebes

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

 

As we rounded the lake, we found this small flock of House Finches, which gave us a bit of trouble with identification. They sure looked like House Finches, but their vocaluizations were very unusual and sounded more like Purple Finches. In fact, one of the males was much deeper red, almost purple, unfortunately none of the photos I snapped of that one turned out, so here’s the other, more normal looking male.

House Finches

House Finches

 

As we continued south and walked along the east shore, we had brief glimpses of a Northern Harrier harassing some gulls on a large pond east of the park, a rather noisy Blue Jay, and many more good looks at a few straggling Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, and even a close overflight of Common Mergansers. The last of the waterfowl we picked out from the crowd was a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye, picked out by the crescent shaped patch behind the bill, the spotted pattern on the back, and lastly by the green, rather than purple iridescence of the head plumage of the Common Goldeneye. Quite a sight to see!

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Our last, and I would say possibly best bird of the day was this lone Golden-crowned Kinglet. I heard its distinctive “seet” calls in the last stand of spruce trees before the parking lot, and decided to pull out my phone and turn on my Sibley Guide app and see if it would come in for a visit. Here are the results:

Curious Kinglet

This curious Golden-crowned Kinglet was beginning to display the orange streak hidden beneath its bright yellow crest.

Curious Kinglet gets close

And then it came in to investigate even closer. At one point it was less than two feet away from me. What an experience!

Thanks once again for reading! Have a great week of winter birding!

 

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding Week 7 – South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

The last 48 hours in Calgary have seen a massive shift in temperature and weather. On Friday the temperature took a dive from 15 degrees Celsius down to -5 C, followed by Saturday being interspersed with heavy snow, high winds, and a steady decline in temperature. On Saturday night the temperature took another drop, and upon waking up on Sunday morning, there was a good 2 centimeters of snow accumulation. I knew right away that the birding was going to be great on the Glenmore Reservoir, and I was not disappointed. Nearly 4000 birds were seen out on the water, many of which came in for good, close views, but the majority of them were too far to get usable photos. Luckily for us, some of the less common ones were close enough to see quite well!

By far the majority of the birds were on the west side of the reservoir, but the Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and lone Double-crested Cormorant were in the better-protected eastern bay, closer to the Bayview neighborhood.

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

By far the most numerous birds were the American Coots, which had flocked together overnight to number over 1500 individuals in flocks between 20 and 300. We were greeted at the starting point by this Canada Goose who decided that, for once, it would be appropriate to use the boat launch ramp.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

We also had a perfect vantage point to watch this Bald Eagle and its mate harass one of the larger flocks of American Coots in hopes of picking off a straggler.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Shortly followed by this Common Raven and its mate flying into the spruce above the Glenmore Canoe Club to harass the Bald Eagles who had set down moments before.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As we scanned the flocks of American Coots, we saw interspersed in their numbers a few Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, and American Wigeons. The main highlight though were the occasional Horned and Eared Grebes that flocked together and seemed to spent as much, if not more time under water diving for vegetation to fuel their migration south.

Eared Grebe

lone Eared Grebe in non-breeding plumage

At the east side of the Canoe Club, we found this lone Pied-billed Grebe taking refuge near the docks, resting up and staying hidden from predators.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

As we neared the end of the point, we came up right against the largest raft of American Coots, and we even managed to pick out a few juveniles just coming into their adult plumage. In the photo below are at least two American Coots whose heads are light grey as opposed to the fully matured individuals with the black head plumage.

American Coots

American Coots

Moments later a few Trumpeter Swans that we saw on the very far end of the reservoir took off and flew directly toward us. They slowly veered south, but not before getting close enough to allow us to get a few flight shots.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Working our way on to the east, these three Eared Grebes thought it would be a good learning experience to show us what their breeding plumage looks like, as opposed to their usual non-breeding plumage we’d seen so far for the day.

Eared Grebes

Eared Grebes

The true highlight of the day though was a group of Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters in the east bay. While I’ve seen White-winged Scoters a bit closer this year on the Reservoir, and Surf Scoters much earlier during the May Species Count here in Calgary, and even closer on the Iona Jetty in Vancouver, it was a real treat to be able to show these uncommon migrants to our group attendees. This is the very best part of leading these groups and why I love birding. These teachable moments and exposure to new birds like this are more than worth the slight discomfort of the cold.

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

Surf Scoters

Surf Scoters

Last Saturday I spent some time down on the Glenmore Reservoir and was able to get much closer to a pair of White-winged Scoters, and managed to snag this shot of an adult male in much better light conditions.

White-winged Scoter - October 13

White-winged Scoter – October 13

And these Surf Scoters are from Iona Jetty in Vancouver, B.C. in early September of this year.

Surf Scoters - Vancouver

Surf Scoters – Vancouver

Have a great week, and good birding!

Lafarge Meadows – Flooding, baby birds, and a tern for the better

Posted by Dan Arndt

The final week of the Friends of Fish Creek Spring Birding course once again took us to the south end of Fish Creek Provincial Park, specifically, to the Boat Launch and south to Lafarge Meadows sloughs, which Matthew Sim has recently posted about. It was a good finish to a great course, and I am looking forward to joining a new group of fresh-faced and enthusiastic birders as fall migration is in full swing by September.

 

We started off with a new bird for our group (and for myself) for the year. Just north of the boat launch were a trio of American White Pelicans, one of which decided it was a bit too rainy for his liking and flew off before I took this photo. The water level both on the Bow River and in the sloughs adjacent to the pathway were incredibly high, and in some areas of the city, the weekend of June 24th was a time of some minor, or not so minor flooding. It seemed that the pelicans didn’t mind it so much, as they were seen regularly at this point all week long.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

As we got looks at these gorgeous white birds, we couldn’t help but notice that a family of Tree Swallows had set up a nest inside one of the horizontal access gate poles. This male stood guard while the female was on the nest deep inside the gate.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Just south of the boat launch, on the west side of the path, there are normally three large sloughs on the north side of 22X. Because of the flooding, they all had merged into one incredibly large slough, and this Black Tern, along with three of its buddies, were making short work of the small fish, arthropods, and worms that were found within.

Black Tern

Black Tern

As we headed underneath the 22X bridge, and emerged on the other side, we stayed close to the river in hopes of spotting another of our target species for the day, the Western Kingbird. While not quite what we were looking for, this Eastern Kingbird was harassing (or being harassed by?) a Black-billed Magpie. Inter-species territorial disputes are always fun to watch.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

While having great views of one species of the tyrant flycatchers is always good, not fifty meters away we were greeted by the sound of at least three Western Wood-Pewees harassing a family of Common Ravens, not to far from their likely nest site. Once again, inter-species territory disputes are the rule of the day!

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

Western Wood-Pewee

As we headed further south along the river bank, we began heading into a bit more open grasslands and sloughs, and got much closer views of a number of waterfowl and other wetland birds. As we rounded one corner, we saw a Spotted Sandpiper give a bit of a broken wing display before flying up off her nest and, seemingly, abandoning it. We got some very good views of the nest, albeit brief, before moving off to a safe distance. We weren’t twenty meters away before the doting mother was back down on top of her clutch of eggs.

Spotted Sandpiper nest

Spotted Sandpiper nest

Meanwhile, this female Common Merganser was not about to leave her perch no matter how close we got to her. This is the same female and nest that Paul and I noted on the May species count.

Common Merganser female

Common Merganser female

The closer we got to the southernmost sloughs at Lafarge Meadows, the more the landscape changed from woods to grassland. Savannah Sparrows became the norm, compared with the Song Sparrows and Clay-colored Sparrows back to the north, and we even got a few good looks at a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, clearly indicating that we were in a well developed wetland.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

No visit to the wetlands in the spring would be complete without seeing the assorted ducklings, and we got quite a treat on that front! Not only did we see a trio of Common Goldeneye chicks, but also a female Hooded Merganser with her brood in tow!

Common Goldeneye chicks

Common Goldeneye chicks

Hooded Merganser chicks

Hooded Merganser chicks

Hooded Merganser (female)

Hooded Merganser (female)

And last but not least, this Blue-winged Teal was eager to show off his namesake, and sat patiently while not one, not two, but five photographers got good, clear shots of the blue flight feathers that inspired his name.

Blue-winged Teal (male)

Blue-winged Teal (male)

A great note to end off another great season of birding.

 

Over the summer, I have a number of various blog posts planned, mostly based around a few road trips and birding trips I have planned here and there. I look forward to sharing my stories and photos with all of you all summer long!

 

Good birding!