Posted by Dan Arndt
Well, today is a statutory holiday here in Calgary, and as such, my regular post of our Friends of Fish Creek birding courses will be delayed until tomorrow, as I’m spending most of Sunday and Monday with family. Instead, here’s a post about a rare bird sighted within a 90 minute drive from our city that I managed to track down and photograph last weekend, with the help of local birder and excellent nature and wildlife photographer, Jeff Bingham, who first spotted the bird on February 3.
As I was composing my blog post for February 4, on the quiet and peaceful outing we had to Griffith Woods, I was sent a small thumbnail photo of a bird that I knew entirely by reputation and similarity than by having ever seen one before in my life. The photo was of a Northern Mockingbird, which had apparently been taken that day by a local photographer and birder, Jeff Bingham. After confirming the ID, and ensuring that yes, that bird had been seen on that day about an hour and a half outside the city, I was already planning my trip. Thankfully, Jeff agreed to take me down to that same spot the following Saturday in hopes of a repeat performance by the rather unusually occuring bird.
You see, Northern Mockingbirds, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” page on this species, don’t occur in Alberta, except for the very southerly edge of the province. There have been a handful reported here and there throughout the province in the past, most recently one in Nanton, AB, in the winter of 2006, and another in North Glenmore Park here in Calgary in the summer of 2011.
Northern Mockingbird Range Map, by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
So, as Saturday February 9th rolled in, we were up and on the road by 8 A.M. and hoping for some great light and good opportunities to find this rare bird.
On the way down, we were treated to a nice close look of a Bald Eagle sitting low on a fencepost. It wasn’t until after it was flushed that we realized it was guarding the carcass of a coyote that was thawing out of a snow drift.
Bald Eagle flushed from a carcass
As we headed east on Highway 23, we came across not one, but two rather tolerant Snowy Owls.
Snowy Owl on a grain silo
This particular Snowy Owl let us drive right up beside him and shoot this out the window.
One very brave Snowy Owl who isn’t the slightest bit disturbed by cars.
As we continued on to Vulcan, we had high hopes of the Northern Mockingbird showing up right where it was before. Unfortunately, it made us wait. And wait. And wait. We even decided to drive around town looking for other birds in our frustration.
It wasn’t until we had just about given up and went to get a cup of coffee that it decided to give us a show, and boy did it ever not disappoint! We followed it on its circuit around the area for a good hour and a half, allowing us some pretty close views and photo opportunities. It always makes for a great day when you find not only the bird you’re looking for, but more than a few good shots of the ones that you didn’t even plan for!
This Northern Mockingbird looks very smug
The typical Northern Mockingbird side profile. Note the heavy white wing bars and tail feathers.
This bird was so smug, in fact, he did not hesitate to look down on us.
Thanks again for the tip, Jeff, and I look forward to our next outing!