Tag Archive | hummingbirds

Weaselhead Redux – Hummingbirds, Warblers and Thrushes, oh my!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

I’ve mentioned time and time again how much I love visiting the Weaselhead Natural Area in Calgary, even though until last year, I had never truly appreciated just how extensive the area is, and the history behind it. After counting birds there with Gus in the Fall Birding Course, with Rob Worona on the Christmas Bird Count, and then numerous times during the Winter and Spring birding course, followed up by not only a whirlwind tour during the Victoria Day Big Day, and then the May Species Count, one would think that I’d be a bit tired of it. Wrong. 

 

We spent the morning of Sunday, June 10th in the Weaselhead once again, this time with a few target species in mind, but also visiting some areas that we didn’t spend a lot of time on during the May Species Count, and also letting the folks who weren’t able to commit to the many hours that morning for whatever reason get a good opportunity to see one of the few places in Calgary that one can see both the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds. On top of that, we got some bonus extra good looks of a few harder species to get close to, like the ever elusive Sora, and the Eastern Phoebe who are generally quite reluctant to allow close, clear views. Add to that this very brave Tennessee Warbler singing away on the main pathway through the park, and the spiralling, haunting song of the Swainson’s Thrushes calling from the south slope of the Elbow Valley, it made for a great day overall. We even got a few bonus birds throughout the day as well!

 

As we descended the slope into river valley, we had our goals well in mind. Hummingbirds, hummingbirds, hummingbirds. Whatever else we would see that day was superfluous, but since the males would be leaving the area soon, they were indeed our main objective. Down the hill and across the bridge, we were stopped for a few moments in awe of the Cliff Swallows under the pedestrian bridge, many still collecting mud for their nests, many others flying about catching insects for themselves or their young. Around the corner we paused to check for the Eastern Phoebes, and we saw not one, but both the male and female about, both gathering food. This one stopped to inspect us from only a few feet away for a good minute before finally retreating under the bridge.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Our first bonus bird of the day, and one of the most stunning ones to see any time of year, was this Pileated Woodpecker, who had left quite a bit of evidence of its presence for the other groups that week, but was drumming away on this trunk in its search for its next meal.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

A few hundred meters more brought us to our first hummingbird location. After scouting around for about five minutes or so, our search paid off as this male Calliope Hummingbird flew in to check us out. First keeping his distance, then coming in closer, and closer, and at one point buzzed within a foot of my head.

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

A Closer Inspection...

A Closer Inspection…

The whole experience was absolutely incredible, and I hope to see these hummingbirds again very soon!

 

From here, we headed west and south to the two beaver ponds at the south edge of the Weaselhead,  and upon reaching the ponds, heard the call of the Sora in the western pond. A few of us took up positions in the underbrush on the edge of the pond, and I pulled out my phone to play a Sora call. The calls were answered, first about 50 feet away, then 40, then 30, and then almost immediately the birds popped into view, not one, but two of them coming right toward us! The Sora in the photo below was just beyond the 8′ minimum autofocus distance, but at one point it was right at my feet.

Sora Portrait

Sora Portrait

As we walked up the path behind the pond in search for grosbeaks, thrushes, and any other bird we could find, we were treated to this Common Raven being harassed by a Red-winged Blackbird for what seemed like forever.

Red-winged Blackbird and Raven

Red-winged Blackbird and Raven

Next on our list: the Rufous Hummingbirds nesting in the spruce trees on the north slope of the Elbow Valley. It’s a long trek through the Weaselhead from south to north, and we had a few bonuses along the way. Most impressive was this Tennessee Warbler, very likely on his nesting territory, who came out to challenge us.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Back across the bridge, through the brush, and over the storm-water outflow drain and all of a sudden the buzzing and trilling of this Rufous Hummingbird was all around us. It displayed more than a few times by flying up high, then diving down to within a foot of the ground or bushes it was flying over, then back up to a perch before repeating the process. Unfortunately, with all the brush in the way and the bad light, few of my photos turned out at all, with this being the best of a bad few.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

On the way back out of the Weaselhead, we decided to take a shot at finding the Brown Thrasher that Bob and I had seen a few weeks prior. On the hillside from the north parking lot, about mid-way down, there’s a grove that is known for being one of the few places that Spotted Towhees have been seen breeding in Calgary. Across from that is a small clearing that, for the last dozen or more years, some locals have kept well stocked with food for the birds of the Weaselhead, and all year long is a great place to see some of the rarer ones feeding. No birds were at the spot that day, but this little Least Chipmunk was nibbling on some sunflower seeds.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

Along the northern bank of the Glenmore Reservoir, below North Glenmore Park, a Brown Thrasher (or a few Brown Thrashers) have been seen regularly, and Bob and I had found it two weeks before. Unfortunately, the only close relative of the Brown Thrasher that we found were a couple of Gray Catbirds… but what we didn’t expect to see were not one, but three Spotted Towhees flying back and forth along the lower path. Calling out with their harsh squeaky and annoyed call while foraging for food and staying out of sight. Despite their best efforts though, I did manage a few quick shots!

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Once again, a great day out with great people and amazing birds to see!

Have a wonderful week!

 

 

Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!