Tag Archive | spring birding

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!

Griffith Woods – New surprises at every turn

Posted by Dan Arndt

As I wrote in my original post about Griffith Woods with the Winter Birding course,  I haven’t had much opportunity to visit this beautiful park on the edge of the city, and Sunday morning was only my second visit. The route we took this week was almost identical to the one we took in March, but the birds we saw were vastly different.

 

Griffith Woods

Griffith Woods – 5km Walking Route

We started by walking east from the parking lot, where we were inundated by a huge number of birds singing. Not only new birds for the year for many of us, but for myself at least one new life bird, and great views of others that I’d only seen in the distance or through foliage. Both White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow species were present and singing, but we also heard and saw a single male Purple Finch.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

 

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

On the river itself, a few Spotted Sandpipers searched for food along the shore, while a pair of Belted Kingfishers patrolled the river in search of small fish.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Further east, on the banks of the large eastern ponds, we had great views of an adult and a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, a House Wren at the entrance of a nest hole, and a Gray Catbird who flew in for a closer inspection as we played back a recorded call.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

House Wren

House Wren

 

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

To top off those great views, we also spotted a pair of what we identified as Least Flycatchers along the edge of the ponds before they disappeared into the deeper brush.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

We left the ponds after searching a bit longer for some other birds that we could hear nearby, but only the briefest glimpses confirmed the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows, and the ever present Clay-colored Sparrows buzzed in the background.

Turning back west, we continued past the parking lot and deeper into the spruce forest of Griffith Woods, which meanders through a number of small tributary channels of the Elbow River, very small ponds and wetland areas, but is dominated by the White Spruce that make up a significant portion of the foliage. The birds were heard more than seen, and while we heard a number of Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbills, Boreal Chickadees, and both Hairy and Downy Woodpecker species, it was hard getting our binoculars on them, let alone the camera lens!

Coming to one of the first bridges, we saw a pair of sandpipers, which initially we thought were also Spotted Sandpipers, as before, but the white breast, greenish legs, and drastically different demeanor identified them as Solitary Sandpipers, which can sometimes nest in trees, as we noticed a few minutes after this shot was taken.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

We meandered for the next half hour with very few birds seen, but heard Chipping Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and what we thought was a flock of Black-capped Chickadees mobbing a predator, but turned out only to be an unusually vocal flock. A moment later, the call of the Audubon’s subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler was heard only a few meters away. Once again, we had great views of it as it was protective of its territory, indicating that it would very likely be breeding in the area if it can find a mate this season.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s subspecies)

Our last really great views were of the male Pileated Woodpecker that we originally saw back in March, once again protecting the nest hole in an abandoned power pole near the condominium complex.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

On our way out, we did get one other new bird on the year in Calgary. High above us soared a juvenile Golden Eagle, with bright white patches under the wings, and that incredible golden brown hue over the rest of its body. While my camera couldn’t quite zoom in far enough to get a decent shot of it, my binoculars gave me good enough views that I’m looking forward to getting back out into the country to see these birds up close again. As for Griffith Woods, I look forward to exploring it once again this summer, and into the fall once the warblers begin heading south once again.