Tag Archive | gulls

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 at Sikome Lake, a variety of surprises!

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be switching things up a bit for spring and fall, in regards to some of the content. I hope you like the new format, meant to highlight really the new arrivals (or long past due photos of said arrivals), rather than a laundry list of everything from Mallards and Chickadees to the uncommon or rare birds like Brown Thrasher and Sandhill Cranes. It shouldn’t look that different, but I do think it’s time I changed things up a bit. Given the feedback I’ve had in regards to the maps I’ve included for the past year, I’ll definitely be keeping those. It helps others who are going out in search of the birds days later, but also helps our attendees with a reminder of what we saw and where we saw it.

Sikome Lake is always a great place to visit any time of year. In winter, it’s a haven for the Black-capped Chickadee, both species of Nuthatch that are present here, and both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. One of the birds that are a welcome sight are the Great Horned Owls, which I wrote about for Bird Canada over here. Today was no exception, providing us with quite a few new birds for the year, more than a few of which were surprises even to us!

Sikome Lake, Hull's Wood, and boat launch area

Sikome Lake, Hull’s Wood, and boat launch area

Our first new bird of the day was heard long before it was seen, and if there was a single bird one could say that was present all morning long, it would have been the Ring-necked Pheasant. Their calls echoed throughout the park from when we arrived at 8 AM, until I finally left at 1:15 PM. While they were heard all over the park, we only ended up spotting a single male sitting across the river from the boat launch when we arrived.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

We surveyed a large flock of gulls one one of the gravel bars, picking out a Glaucous Gull amongst the various Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls, but the distance and the sleet simply would not allow for a photo.

Once we’d had our fill of gulls, we headed south to the large pond that borders Highway 22x, where we found this lone (and very early arriving) Cinnamon Teal, and were given nice comparison views of a Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal and Canada Goose

Barrow's Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

Barrow’s Goldeneye (rear) and Common Goldeneye (front)

As we were leaving, I stopped for a moment as I heard a familiar, but quiet call of a Savannah Sparrow, though we couldn’t track down where the bird was calling from within the cattails on the bank of the pond.

We stopped for a few minutes to check out some Great Horned Owls on a nest, and both mom and dad were present and visible from our vantage point.

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

Female Great Horned Owl on nest

If you’ve ever birded Sikome Lake, you know that near the parking lot the Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers simply will not allow you to pass without paying the toll of black-oil sunflower seeds, or other assorted nuts as your park tax. Today was the exact opposite. Only a handful of birds were even present, and this lone White-breasted Nuthatch sat quietly while those of us with cameras took photo after photo.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Emerging from the area surrounding the lake, we headed back for the bank of the Bow River to search for more. The male Common Mergansers were in full display, fighting for the right to mate with the few females on the river, who were outnumbered by at least five to one.

male Common Merganser

male Common Merganser

While the river in previous months had been packed with Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Goldeneye, time time around it was a study in gull identification. Ring-billed, California, and Herring Gulls all circled and wheeled about, a few even taking a break on the near shore as we approached.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

One surprise for us was a pair of Killdeer, possibly ones that had overwintered on this stretch of river, or possibly recent arrivals, either way they were nice to see, as they had eluded our group all throughout the winter course.

Killdeer

Killdeer

As we had nearly completed our walk and spent a moment chatting with Gus, his keen eyes and quick identification skills spotted this lone bird, our first bird of the year for any of the groups for this species. Can you tell what it is?

Of course you won't get a hint this way.

Mystery Bird

And with that, our group had a few great new sightings for the year, despite the terrible weather, constant snow and sleet, and uncomfortably cold winds. Of course, me being a sucker for punishment, I decided I needed a better shot of the Cinnamon Teal, so I headed back to the ponds. I didn’t get a better shot of that bird, but I did find this pair of Greater Yellowlegs in the area we saw him before, which was a really nice bonus bird for the day!

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

And with that, I decided to call it a day and leave the park to the afternoon session, who were arriving just as I headed out.

 

Have a great week, and good birding!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 9 – Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s debacle, I won’t be complaining about flat light, poor light, or a little cold weather every now and then. This week’s walk was in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and while the skies were overcast, the weather was above freezing and there were plenty of new migrants in abundance on the Bow River. The Northern Flickers were displaying and staking out new territory, Ring-billed and California Gulls were back on the river, and we even spotted a surprise American Wigeon amongst the thousands of waterfowl along the banks of the river! Spring is on the way!

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

 

These next few weeks are both incredibly sad, but also incredibly exciting for birders in Canada. With the temperatures warming, it means not only more hours of sunlight to allow greater opportunities to see more birds, but it also means the arrival of all the species that have been gone since September, October, or as late as November for some. It also means, sadly, the departure of our winter guests. Snowy Owls, Common and Hoary Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows, Rough-legged Hawks, and usually, the White-winged Crossbills back to either more northerly latitudes, or to higher elevations, until fall returns. One of the best places around town to find new arrivals in the spring, summer, fall and winter, is at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. For various reasons, it has just the right combination of trees, bushes, and prey species that make it the perfect habitat for many of our summer residents.

 

On our walk this week, we were greeted at the beginning of our route by a lone Mule Deer. Some years, there are between six and twelve Mule Deer that call this place home, much to the disappointment of many ground nesting birds, as the deer are known to be completely oblivious of nests and in many cases walk right over them.

Muley

Mule Deer

Another species in abundance on our walk were the Common Ravens. At times there were four or five of them grouped together calling back and forth and generally causing a ruckus. These birds typically don’t nest in the sanctuary, so either they were drawn to something along the river, or just choosing this place to air their grievances with each other.

CORA

Common Raven

The original administration and maintenance building of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is the Colonel Walker House. Originally built in 1910, and home to Colonel James Walker of the Northwest Mounted Police. You can read more about the house and Colonel Walker here.

Colonel Walker House

Colonel Walker House

Walker House 2

Colonel Walker House

Just outside the Walker House, we were treated to the sight of some recently emerging Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. The first to awaken in the spring are the males, looking to build up their fat stores in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season, to better fight for and defend a mate in the coming months.

Still looks a little sleepy.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

These weren’t the only animals looking to make the upcoming breeding season a productive one. We could hardly walk for a few minutes without hearing the calls of one of the many Northern Flickers announcing their territory with their distinct vocalizations, or raucous drumming.

NOFL

Northern Flicker

Even the Black-capped Chickadees were calling, defending their territory, and were a little bit less forward with us than they have been in the past few months, their attention also on other matters.

BCCH

Black-capped Chickadee

As we reached the southernmost point of our walk and turned back up the river, we were treated to the sight of over ten thousand waterfowl in the course of our walk, split between the Mallards and Canada Geese, with a few Common Goldeneye thrown in, and a pair of female American Wigeon for good measure.

MALL

Mallard

CAGO

Canada Geese

AMWI

American Wigeon (center) surrounded by Mallards

The real treat for those of us who’d been reading the reports all week was the return of the gulls. California Gulls had been reported all week. On Tuesday, only one was seen, but those numbers had swelled to over 30 individuals by today, and a trio of Ring-billed Gulls were also present.

CAGU

California Gull

CAGU2

California Gull

As we tore our eyes away from the river and began the final leg of our walk back to the start, a few of us straggled behind and were treated to the sight of a pair of Northern Flickers calling, challenging, and displaying at each other by fanning out their tail feathers and trying to simply look bigger than their rival.

NOFL2

Northern Flickers fighting over territory

On our way back out, we also found a second Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, this one a bit bigger and a bit more vibrant, also gathering food and preparing his own part of the sanctuary for his future mate and offspring!

Be very very quiet...

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel trying to hide. Completely unsuccessfully, I might add.

Here’s hoping your birding week is as successful as ours was! See you next week!

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!

A Downtown Sanctuary in Inglewood

Posted by Dan Arndt

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is quite probably the most well known birding locale within the city limits. As a new birder, it was an old standby for me, and helped me learn more about birds, and photography, in my starting years than any other place in the city. In the summer, barely two weeks would go by between visits, but I never found much to see in the winters. This course with the Friends of Fish Creek has opened my eyes to many more places within the city limits, but this place is one of the best “stand-by” locations I know of in a pinch, and quite often has a wide variety of unusual or first sightings within the city during migration, but also throughout the year.

Last weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday. I joined the Friends of Fish Creek birding course to assist Gus Yaki. Both days I saw new birds for the year, and had some great sights of old favourites.

I’d definitely have to count among the highlights the Snow Goose I saw the first morning out. Though it wasn’t much more than a speck on the horizon, it was a new one for me. Nothing more than a recording shot of the sighting, but I loved it.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose on left, flying far and fast away from me.

The Canada Geese were numerous on the river, but there were many new arrivals that were exciting to see, such as Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, and the first Ring-billed Gulls of the season.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail (top right)

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

Another of the great sights to behold was the beautiful male Harlequin duck, which had successfully overwintered on the open water at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. It seemed that it was very enthusiastic with its mate choices though, as it has been seen chasing a female Mallard or two occasionally.

Harlequin

Harlequin

Harlequin chasing female Mallard

Harlequin chasing female Mallard

A few other old standbys were on hand each day at the sanctuary. The iridescent and beautiful European Starlings, the nest building Red-breasted Nuthatches, the vocal and displaying Northern Flicker, and of course the charismatic and always enjoyable Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, poking their heads out for the first time this year.

European Starling
Richardson's Ground Squirrel

Richardson's Ground Squirrel

 

Sunday added again to the rogues gallery of fauna on display, from the Greater White-fronted Goose on the Bow River north of the Sanctuary, to the much better views of Northern Pintail, along with Herring Gulls, and a juvenile Northern Goshawk making quite a show of it.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose

Northern Pintail on Sunday

Northern Pintail on Sunday

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Herring Gull

Herring Gull (middle rear) among California and Ring-billed Gulls

Another great week of birding! I’ll be back again this week to post the results of our excursion to Mallard Point yesterday, and the wonderful birds we saw there as well!

 

Good birding!