Tag Archive | warblers

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!

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

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!