Tag Archive | owls

The Long Walk in Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

One of the longest walks with the Friends of Fish Creek birding courses is the Sikome Lake to Lafarge Meadows trip. With a variety of ponds, wooded areas, river access, and open fields, the number of different biological niches that are filled along the route make it hard for me to skip or overlook any one area over another. This is one of the reasons that when I found out it was available for the May Species Count weekend last year, I jumped at the opportunity. Sure it’s a whole lot of walking, and there are some other areas that can be covered by driving, or still others that are smaller and can be completed in a couple of hours, but this week’s walk with the Friends of Fish Creek on Sunday was a great scouting trip, and was absolutely worthwhile.

 

Sikome Lake and Lafarge Meadows, the longest walk.

Sikome Lake and Lafarge Meadows, the longest walk.

Right off the bat there was activity. While we waited for the main gate to be opened for us, we heard our first House Wren and Clay-colored Sparrows for the year, along with at least three Ring-necked Pheasants and many, many Savannah Sparrows. Once we got to the south parking lot though, we the number of new species jumped again. First, a Cooper’s Hawk was waiting for us in the parking lot, a few Black Terns flew overhead, and hundreds of Cliff Swallows swirled about high up in the morning sky.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Black Tern

Black Tern

I had heard that the owlets at Sikome Lake had fledged last week, and when we came upon the two young, we could not have asked for a better scene. We were treated as well to our first good views of a Violet-Green Swallow, standing out distinctly from the many Tree Swallows who had taken up nests in the wooded grove.

Great Horned Owlets

Great Horned Owlets

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

When we finally tore ourselves away from the amazingly adorable owlets, we headed to the first set of ponds and were treated to even more new sights. First, an adult Killdeer performing its broken-wing display, leading us away from a very well hidden nest that no amount of searching would have found. Over the pond, a trio of Forster’s Terns called back and forth, one pair even displaying and finally mating. A female Belted Kingfisher looked on with disdain, hoping they wouldn’t scare off all the fish. As we headed back south, a few Spotted Sandpipers were courting as well, and while this pair wasn’t quite as much interested in exhibitionism, a few we found later on in the day didn’t seem to mind our intrusion one bit.

Killdeer performing broken wing display

Killdeer performing broken wing display

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

female Belted Kingfisher

female Belted Kingfisher

Spotted Sandpipers

Spotted Sandpipers

On the south side of the bridge were more delights. Our first Yellow Warblers were calling from the woods repeatedly, until their calls became the dominant noises surrounding us, but the distinct call of a low flying Swainson’s Hawk was definitely impossible to miss!

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

 

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Our trip to the far south end didn’t turn up any new species, but did turn up better looks at some old ones, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cinnamon Teal, and Red-necked Grebes, with no less than six pairs nesting on the pond this year. We headed back, deciding to call it a day after four hours of walking and birding, but even still we added two more clear sightings. First, this Clay-colored Sparrow singing on the fence on the south side of the bridge, and the clarion call of a Baltimore Oriole on the north side, just as we called it quits.

It was a great day to be birdwatching, despite the gray skies!

Next week we’re off to the Weaselhead for the May Species Count. This promises to be an amazing morning. See you then!

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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!

Sunday Showcase: Great Grey Owls of Grand Valley Road

Posted by Dan Arndt

In late March of this year, Paul Turbitt and I headed out to Grand Valley Road in search of Great Grey Owls, and I had both my best day in terms of numbers of owls, but also in terms of photos. This individual owl seemed incredibly tolerant of people, and patient enough to make three hunting attempts in the hour that we sat and watched. More than a few times, the owl flew in our direction, seemingly unthreatened by our presence.

Enjoy the photos.

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up...

This Great Grey Owl was little wary when we first showed up…

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

But after a little patience and some sun to distract, we were all but forgotten about.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

This owl must have felt a little exposed though, as it kept a keen eye on the skies.

Oh! What's that?

Oh! What’s that?

Looks like lunch!

Looks like lunch!

Hmm... nope, missed it.

Hmm… nope, missed it.

I blame you, you know.

I blame you, you know.

Ready for takeoff...

Ready for takeoff…

Maybe the hunting's better down here...

Maybe the hunting’s better down here…

Nailed the landing!

Nailed the landing!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can't get enough of these gorgeous owls!

And one more wing-spread shot. Can’t get enough of these gorgeous owls!

Bye for now!

Bye for now!

 

Wednesday Wings – Short-eared Owls

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last Saturday evening I made a quick trip to Frank Lake and managed to find a pair of Short-eared Owls displaying and posing in the late day sun.

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl in flight

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl calling in flight

male Short-eared Owl calling in flight

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!

Travel Tuesday – Birthday Birding with Bob

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I have done for a few years now, I decided this year that I would take a day off around my birthday and get a few new life-birds and a few other target species off my list. As the week came closer, the weather looked more and more like it simply was not going to cooperate, and when my birthday arrived, it rained straight through the day. Two days later, the clouds cleared long enough for Bob Lefebvre and I to get out and find some birds. While the wind was more active than I would have liked, the day turned out quite nicely, topping out at 27 degrees C, (or about 81F for our readers south of the border).

We planned our route a few days before to tie in with Bob’s scheduled trip on the Loon survey. We would hit the entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, then go over to Horse Creek Road, up Grand Valley Road, then down through Bragg Creek to the Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, then back up to Leisure Lake to do the loon survey. Finally, we would make a trip down to Frank Lake, to get Bob’s shorebird count up, and finally we would head home from there.

Our list of locations

Birthday Birding Locations

 

With our route planned, we headed out at 5 AM, and got to our first site just as the sun was clearing the horizon.

Bob had heard of a number of Rock Wrens on territory just north of the main entrance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, and when we stopped the car and listened for a few moments, it was immediately apparent that they were still present. With a little help from some call playback, we were able to get some extremely good views of one of the males loudly defending his territory.

 

Shaken, not stirred.

This bird is appropriately named.

Rock Wren

Rock Wren closeup

We headed up Grand Valley Road shortly after, in search of one of the many Great Gray Owls that have been seen there many times this spring and summer, but also historically seems to be the best spot around to find them. We drove for quite some time before Bob’s eagle eyes spotted one flying behind a gravel pile, so we stopped and waited, and moments later, it flew out and onto a nearby fencepost. This reclusive individual only stayed around long enough for us to get a handful of photos, but we did manage a few that turned out.

Great Gray Owl

Watching us very closely.

Great Gray Glare of Death

Great Gray Glare of Death

As we headed down to Horse Creek Road, the wind had picked up quite a bit, and when we stopped to listen for the rails distinctive clicking calls, we could barely hear anything over the wind. No rails were heard or seen on this trip, but we did get some very nice close ups of these Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalarope

After that brief stop, we headed straight down to Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, and got incredibly close views of another life-bird for me, the Cape May Warbler. It seemed that there were quite a number of them in the park, most on nests, along with Wilson’s Warblers, which never quite came out to give us decent views.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Cape May Warbler in the dark

Bob’s annual Loon Survey up at Leisure Lake was part of our trip, and we did manage to circle the lake, find the nest and eggs, and saw both the male and female Common Loon out on the water.

Common Loon

Common Loon

We finished up our day out at Frank Lake, and planned to head down to Basin 2, where we saw a huge number of species, and I was able to add Northern Harrier to my year list finally as well, but as far away as it was, paired with the heat, the photos simply would not suffice. So instead, here’s a Marbled Godwit to distract you.

 

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Here’s Looking at You-Whoo!

As 2011 began, the Northern Saw-whet Owl was right at the top of my list of Birds I Must See.  I had heard them singing in the spring before in both the Weaselhead area and in Bowness, but I had never seen one.  They are very small, about eight inches (20 cm) high, and active at night.  They spend the daytime roosting in tree cavities or dense conifers.  So although they are quite common, they are rarely seen.

…….

On Saturday, March 19, the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society outing was at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where we were looking for returning gulls and waterfowl.  Before starting, the leader, Gus Yaki, mentioned that a Northern Saw-whet Owl had been reported a few days previously at the sanctuary.  We would look for this little bird near the end of our walk, in the row of spruce trees that run north from Walker House. 

…….

However, as we turned north by the lagoon, I noticed a pair of Black-capped Chickadees that seemed quite agitated.  Two of us hung back to investigate as the rest of the group went ahead.  After a couple of minutes a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches arrived, and then a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and another pair of chickadees.  All the birds were noisy, flicking their tails, and making short sweeping flights into the tree.  I have seen birds behave like this before – they are trying to drive away a predator.  Still, despite circling the tree a couple of times, I could see nothing.  Finally, from a spot right under the tree branches, I found the owl:

Then he found me back:

……

…….

These owls sit still when confronted, and this one barely moved, except for batting his eyes, as you can see in the video.

…….

Good Birding!

Bob Lefebvre