Tag Archive | grebes

Good fishing on a beautiful sunny Sunday at South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

It is nice to finally get a little bit of sun on our walks, and along with the sun came a whole lot of spring migrants through our fair city. It was another great day for waterfowl, and despite the size of the Glenmore Reservoir, we were afforded really great views of just about everything we saw today. While I’m breaking my vow to not repeat species and focus on the new ones we see each week, strangely we didn’t get very close to anything new this week. Sure, there were some Eared and Horned Grebes very far out on the reservoir, and sure our binoculars and views through the scope were excellent, but I’ve come to the realization that digiscoping is best done solo, and not while trying to lead an enthusiastic group of birders on to their next sighting. That said, we did get some excellent views of some of the more elusive mammals we’ve seen in previous weeks, so that’s new too. Oh, and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks showed up. No big deal. They’re just a few thousand kilometers out of range for spring migration, and uncommon even in the fall, but we got them too. Clearly there must be some good fishing on the reservoir this spring, as the grebes, the loons, and many of the other species seen today prey almost entirely on fish. Perhaps that’s why there were so many fishermen out on the reservoir as well?

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

Our walk started and ended with Common Ravens. Sure, it makes perfect sense, especially considering that they’ve decided to put up a nest not fifty meters from the parking lot, but for most of us, it was really interesting to see. Last year there were a few Common Raven nests along this stretch of parkland, but none quite so exposed. We counted five young ones on this nest this morning, but didn’t really get good looks at them until much later on.

Here’s one of the adults in the “golden hour” light, showing off its nictating membrane.

Common Raven

Common Raven

We headed east along the reservoir from the sailing club, hoping that we might spy some new waterfowl, grebes, or maybe even a few sparrows down along the water’s edge. While other groups this week had reported ten, fifteen, even twenty Common Loons, we were still not prepared for the sheer number out there. There were more loons than I had ever seen in one place, maybe even more total loons than I’d seen individually since I started birding! One of the first new birds we had here this morning was a small raft of Horned Grebes, which were being flushed back and forth along the reservoir by kayakers out for a morning row.

Horned Grebes

Horned Grebes

Further out, there were a much smaller group of Eared Grebes, a handful of Western Grebes, and many Red-necked Grebes scattered throughout in ones and twos. While we were scanning the far edges of the reservoir, we nearly missed the birds (and mammals) right at out feet, like this Least Chipmunk, who was quite content to just nibble away on sunflower seeds while we snapped away.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

It was just a little further on where we saw what I would say was our highlight of the day, if not for the entire course to date: the Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks

As we watched both them, the close in loons, and the various other birds that caught our eye, the time finally came for us to turn back to our starting point, and along the way back we once again nearly stumbled upon another unwary mammal, a pair of Snowshoe Hare, who had nearly completely lost their winter coat and taken on their typical summer browns.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

And while some locals might think that Black-billed Magpies are a nuisance, annoying, or otherwise “trash” birds, there’s no denying that they are quite striking in just the right light.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

A brief stop at the vehicles to drop a layer of clothing as the morning warmed up significantly allowed us a moment to stop and check in on the Common Raven family. It looks like one of the adults had just brought in some food, as the young were silently begging for a piece.

Common Ravens

Common Ravens

After such a good start, we expected that our fortunes would continue, giving us sparrows, warblers, and maybe even some Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the dense spruce on the west side of our route, but sadly, no such luck. On the bright side, we did get even closer looks at Red-necked Grebes, Common Loons, and a pair of American Wigeon in just the right light to show off all their field marks.

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

Common Loons

Common Loons

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Upon our return, and at the end of our great, warm sunny day, it appeared that the young Common Ravens had not quite had their fill, as they were still begging for food as we left the park for another week.

We're so hungry!

We’re so hungry!

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Spring Migrants and a warm welcome at Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

Finally we had a warmer day, and while there was a little wind and the light wasn’t perfect, there were certainly a few moments where everything made it all worth while, even the last few weeks of dreary, snowy misery.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

We started, and finished, with the show-stealers of the day, and it made it difficult to really have anything match the incredible sight.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

Protective male Great Horned Owl

Protective male Great Horned Owl

While Dad was protecting the young, the mother and babies were well guarded and seemed to be completely unfazed by the presence of 14 people checking out the area.

In the first pond at Carburn Park, we saw quite a bit of evidence of beaver activity, and we did manage to spot a pair of them swimming about, with this one getting close enough for me to photograph.

Beaver

Beaver

While we headed south in the earliest start of the season so far, we got lucky with a few birds we hadn’t seen before, like the Song Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow, but neither were in any position for me to get photos. Swarmed by low flybys of literally hundreds of Tree Swallows at a time, our eyes were on the sky much of the time, allowing me to spot this distant Rough-legged Hawk circling above the parking lot, most likely rising on thermals to continue his northward migration.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

As we neared the parking lot again, and scanned along the river to see what we could see, we were gifted with this beautiful flyby of a male American White Pelican. Awesome.

male American White Pelican

male American White Pelican

We headed up along the bank of the river, and while we saw a good number of Franklin’s, Ring-billed, and California Gulls, and even bigger numbers of Tree Swallows, but due to the number of boats on the river, the photo opportunities were slim. That all changed once we turned back onto main pathway and reached the second pond. We got really good looks at Red-necked Grebes and a single Common Loon, and I knew that if they stuck around, I’d be back later on with the Swarovski ATX 85 to take some much closer shots.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Our next good views were on the river, one of which was, I think, one of the most surprising of the day. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird was flocking with a group of European Starlings. For a bird that is almost always seen in cat-tail wetlands, seeing it foraging on the bank of the river was really odd!

Yellow-headed Blackbird and European Starlings

Yellow-headed Blackbird and European Starlings

Another of the awe-inspiring sights was the Tree Swallows banking, diving, and feeding over the Bow River, and I think we had just as much fun watching them.

Tree Swallows on nest box

Tree Swallows on nest box

Tree Swallow in flight

Tree Swallow in flight

Tree Swallows going for a drink

Tree Swallows going for a drink

We headed back, prepared to call it a day, and had our best views of a pair of Osprey in the distance.

Osprey

Osprey

After the rest of the group left, I returned to the bank of the second pond to see what I could see through the scope, and get some better photos of the Red-necked Grebes, Common Loon, and I ended up getting some nice ones of the Great Horned Owls as well!

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Muskrat

Muskrat

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Aren't they just adorable?

Aren’t they just adorable?

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we’re off to South Glenmore Park, to see what we can see on the Glenmore Reservoir, and maybe luck out with some early arriving warblers and a few more sparrows.

 

Good birding!

Grebes, grebes, grebes

Grebes are a worldwide family of aquatic diving birds with lobed toes, making them strong swimmers. There are 22 species of Grebe found across the world with 6 of those being found here in Alberta. Grebes are very clumsy on land and therefore spend most of their time on the water, staying there to feed, sleep and court. One of the oldest living family of birds, they can dive down 6m below the surface and can remain submerged for up to 30 seconds, where they search for small fish, aquatic insects and crustaceans to eat.

Of the 6 species of Grebes that live in Alberta, 5 of these can be seen in the Calgary region; above is the Horned Grebe, an attractive grebe that may be seen in Calgary on the Mckenzie Towne Ponds, which is where I saw this one last week.

Similar to the Horned Grebe is the Eared Grebe which can be distinguished from its close relative by its yellow feathered “ears” instead of compact “horns”. I find that one of the best places to see Eared Grebes is at Frank Lake, near High River.

The Western Grebe, together with Clark’s Grebe (which is only seen in the far south of Alberta), is a very large grebe. Below, is a procession of birds; from left to right; first is an Eared Grebe, then a Western Grebe, followed by another Eared Grebe and another Western Grebe. After that is a Franklin’s Gull and an Eared Grebe bringing up the rear.

The Pied-billed Grebe is the most common grebe in North America; it is also very intelligent. When apprehensive, the Pied-billed Grebe will sink slowly, expelling air from the body and feathers to lower their gravity, then they will swim with only their head above the water, facilitating an escape if need be. The adult Pied-billed Grebe is similar to the juvenile (juvenile below), except it will have uniformly colored cheeks and a black ring on its beak.

The last Grebe that can be seen in Alberta is the Red-necked Grebe, a large noisy bird with a broad black crown, white cheek patches and chestnut neck.

Grebes are a very varied family of birds and all are beautiful; makes sense when you find out that they are related to loons; a family of birds that amaze many people!

Posted by Matthew Sim