Tag Archive | waterfowl

Bankside to Mallard Point – The migration has arrived.

Posted by Dan Arndt

It was an incredible morning. The sounds of Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, European Starlings, American Robins filling the air, along with the smells of spring. While it wasn’t the sunniest day, that was a blessing in disguise, as it helped keep it cool and helped to keep the birds calling well into the morning.

Bankside to Mallard Point

Bankside to Mallard Point

Upon our official start at Bankside, the presence of Savannah Sparrows was made readily apparent. Their calls serenaded us all through the day, but down near the riverbank we also heard a few Song Sparrows, both of which posed readily for the camera.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

As we came back from the river to begin our walk in earnest, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew up from building a nest hole to the edge of a building and began drumming on the siding, making quite the racket, but certainly announcing his territory to every female around.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

We followed the river, and had a few great sightings. A pair of Swainson’s Hawks on a nest, a Wood Duck on a gravel bar, a pair of Common Mergansers sitting up on a log with a perfect reflection in the still water, and many American Robins collecting nesting material and preparing to raise their young. We also were lucky enough to observe this Red-tailed Hawk dodging a pair of American Crows that were harassing it continuously.

Just leave me alone!

Just leave me alone!

Begin evasive maneuvers!

Begin evasive maneuvers!

Don't make me use the claws...

Don’t make me use the claws…

They're dangerous weapons...

They’re dangerous weapons!

A little further up the river we paused for a few minutes to watch some Northern Shovelers, and our first Gadwall and Green-winged Teal of the year. A pair of each found this little section of river just perfect to spend their Sunday morning.

Gadwall Pair

Gadwall Pair

Gadwall

Gadwall

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Our best birds of the day though, by far, were this pair of American Kestrels. A trio of Black-billed Magpies and a lone, and seemingly out of place Blue Jay, spent a good twenty minutes harassing them, before we moved on to leave them in peace.

male (l) and female (r) American Kestrels

male (l) and female (r) American Kestrels

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

male American Kestrel

As we neared the end of our walk, we finally came close enough to get a good look at one of the many Ring-necked Pheasants we had heard all morning, crowing away and searching for a mate. This beautiful brave male walked along the opposite shore while we stayed quite still and took in the view.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant

Another good sighting was a small flock of Common Grackles along the near shore, and even in the poor light they were quite striking to look at in their fresh iridescent plumage.

male Common Grackle

male Common Grackle

As we headed to the vehicles to car-pool back to the Bankside parking lot to finish the day, a pair of Merlins in the back yard of a nearby house began calling, and apparently were being harassed by a few Tree Swallows, House Finches, and Black-capped Chickadees. I guess they didn’t want these two setting up their nest near their well-stocked feeders!

Merlin

Merlin

Along the road on our way back to the vehicles, in one of the stormwater ponds that has recently been set up in Fish Creek Park, we found an amazing Great Blue Heron, but also found another new species for the year, these Blue-winged Teal!

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Next week we’re off to Lafarge Meadows, and I’m hoping that we get a bit better light, but either way, the real push of migration has begun, and we are guaranteed to have a great day, rain or shine!

Good birding, and see you next week!

Good fishing on a beautiful sunny Sunday at South Glenmore Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

It is nice to finally get a little bit of sun on our walks, and along with the sun came a whole lot of spring migrants through our fair city. It was another great day for waterfowl, and despite the size of the Glenmore Reservoir, we were afforded really great views of just about everything we saw today. While I’m breaking my vow to not repeat species and focus on the new ones we see each week, strangely we didn’t get very close to anything new this week. Sure, there were some Eared and Horned Grebes very far out on the reservoir, and sure our binoculars and views through the scope were excellent, but I’ve come to the realization that digiscoping is best done solo, and not while trying to lead an enthusiastic group of birders on to their next sighting. That said, we did get some excellent views of some of the more elusive mammals we’ve seen in previous weeks, so that’s new too. Oh, and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks showed up. No big deal. They’re just a few thousand kilometers out of range for spring migration, and uncommon even in the fall, but we got them too. Clearly there must be some good fishing on the reservoir this spring, as the grebes, the loons, and many of the other species seen today prey almost entirely on fish. Perhaps that’s why there were so many fishermen out on the reservoir as well?

South Glenmore Park

South Glenmore Park

Our walk started and ended with Common Ravens. Sure, it makes perfect sense, especially considering that they’ve decided to put up a nest not fifty meters from the parking lot, but for most of us, it was really interesting to see. Last year there were a few Common Raven nests along this stretch of parkland, but none quite so exposed. We counted five young ones on this nest this morning, but didn’t really get good looks at them until much later on.

Here’s one of the adults in the “golden hour” light, showing off its nictating membrane.

Common Raven

Common Raven

We headed east along the reservoir from the sailing club, hoping that we might spy some new waterfowl, grebes, or maybe even a few sparrows down along the water’s edge. While other groups this week had reported ten, fifteen, even twenty Common Loons, we were still not prepared for the sheer number out there. There were more loons than I had ever seen in one place, maybe even more total loons than I’d seen individually since I started birding! One of the first new birds we had here this morning was a small raft of Horned Grebes, which were being flushed back and forth along the reservoir by kayakers out for a morning row.

Horned Grebes

Horned Grebes

Further out, there were a much smaller group of Eared Grebes, a handful of Western Grebes, and many Red-necked Grebes scattered throughout in ones and twos. While we were scanning the far edges of the reservoir, we nearly missed the birds (and mammals) right at out feet, like this Least Chipmunk, who was quite content to just nibble away on sunflower seeds while we snapped away.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

It was just a little further on where we saw what I would say was our highlight of the day, if not for the entire course to date: the Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks

As we watched both them, the close in loons, and the various other birds that caught our eye, the time finally came for us to turn back to our starting point, and along the way back we once again nearly stumbled upon another unwary mammal, a pair of Snowshoe Hare, who had nearly completely lost their winter coat and taken on their typical summer browns.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

And while some locals might think that Black-billed Magpies are a nuisance, annoying, or otherwise “trash” birds, there’s no denying that they are quite striking in just the right light.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

A brief stop at the vehicles to drop a layer of clothing as the morning warmed up significantly allowed us a moment to stop and check in on the Common Raven family. It looks like one of the adults had just brought in some food, as the young were silently begging for a piece.

Common Ravens

Common Ravens

After such a good start, we expected that our fortunes would continue, giving us sparrows, warblers, and maybe even some Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the dense spruce on the west side of our route, but sadly, no such luck. On the bright side, we did get even closer looks at Red-necked Grebes, Common Loons, and a pair of American Wigeon in just the right light to show off all their field marks.

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

American Wigeon: female (l) and male (r)

Common Loons

Common Loons

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Upon our return, and at the end of our great, warm sunny day, it appeared that the young Common Ravens had not quite had their fill, as they were still begging for food as we left the park for another week.

We're so hungry!

We’re so hungry!

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!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 9 – Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

After last week’s debacle, I won’t be complaining about flat light, poor light, or a little cold weather every now and then. This week’s walk was in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and while the skies were overcast, the weather was above freezing and there were plenty of new migrants in abundance on the Bow River. The Northern Flickers were displaying and staking out new territory, Ring-billed and California Gulls were back on the river, and we even spotted a surprise American Wigeon amongst the thousands of waterfowl along the banks of the river! Spring is on the way!

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

 

These next few weeks are both incredibly sad, but also incredibly exciting for birders in Canada. With the temperatures warming, it means not only more hours of sunlight to allow greater opportunities to see more birds, but it also means the arrival of all the species that have been gone since September, October, or as late as November for some. It also means, sadly, the departure of our winter guests. Snowy Owls, Common and Hoary Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows, Rough-legged Hawks, and usually, the White-winged Crossbills back to either more northerly latitudes, or to higher elevations, until fall returns. One of the best places around town to find new arrivals in the spring, summer, fall and winter, is at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. For various reasons, it has just the right combination of trees, bushes, and prey species that make it the perfect habitat for many of our summer residents.

 

On our walk this week, we were greeted at the beginning of our route by a lone Mule Deer. Some years, there are between six and twelve Mule Deer that call this place home, much to the disappointment of many ground nesting birds, as the deer are known to be completely oblivious of nests and in many cases walk right over them.

Muley

Mule Deer

Another species in abundance on our walk were the Common Ravens. At times there were four or five of them grouped together calling back and forth and generally causing a ruckus. These birds typically don’t nest in the sanctuary, so either they were drawn to something along the river, or just choosing this place to air their grievances with each other.

CORA

Common Raven

The original administration and maintenance building of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is the Colonel Walker House. Originally built in 1910, and home to Colonel James Walker of the Northwest Mounted Police. You can read more about the house and Colonel Walker here.

Colonel Walker House

Colonel Walker House

Walker House 2

Colonel Walker House

Just outside the Walker House, we were treated to the sight of some recently emerging Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. The first to awaken in the spring are the males, looking to build up their fat stores in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season, to better fight for and defend a mate in the coming months.

Still looks a little sleepy.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

These weren’t the only animals looking to make the upcoming breeding season a productive one. We could hardly walk for a few minutes without hearing the calls of one of the many Northern Flickers announcing their territory with their distinct vocalizations, or raucous drumming.

NOFL

Northern Flicker

Even the Black-capped Chickadees were calling, defending their territory, and were a little bit less forward with us than they have been in the past few months, their attention also on other matters.

BCCH

Black-capped Chickadee

As we reached the southernmost point of our walk and turned back up the river, we were treated to the sight of over ten thousand waterfowl in the course of our walk, split between the Mallards and Canada Geese, with a few Common Goldeneye thrown in, and a pair of female American Wigeon for good measure.

MALL

Mallard

CAGO

Canada Geese

AMWI

American Wigeon (center) surrounded by Mallards

The real treat for those of us who’d been reading the reports all week was the return of the gulls. California Gulls had been reported all week. On Tuesday, only one was seen, but those numbers had swelled to over 30 individuals by today, and a trio of Ring-billed Gulls were also present.

CAGU

California Gull

CAGU2

California Gull

As we tore our eyes away from the river and began the final leg of our walk back to the start, a few of us straggled behind and were treated to the sight of a pair of Northern Flickers calling, challenging, and displaying at each other by fanning out their tail feathers and trying to simply look bigger than their rival.

NOFL2

Northern Flickers fighting over territory

On our way back out, we also found a second Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, this one a bit bigger and a bit more vibrant, also gathering food and preparing his own part of the sanctuary for his future mate and offspring!

Be very very quiet...

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel trying to hide. Completely unsuccessfully, I might add.

Here’s hoping your birding week is as successful as ours was! See you next week!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 6 – Lafarge Meadows

Posted by Dan Arndt

Some weeks are diamonds, and other weeks are coal. Or maybe just cold. And windy. After another week of warm, beautiful temperatures, it was about time for Old Man Winter to come charging through to assert his dominion over Calgary. Our visit to Lafarge Meadows was a cold one, and cut a little short due to the wind, keeping the bird activity to a relative minimum.

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

 

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Lafarge Meadows, Fish Creek Provincial Park

Starting at the Boat Launch parking lot, we were treated to quite the show of four adult Bald Eagles flying over the river to the north, flushing up Mallards, Goldeneye, and even Canada Geese by the hundreds. All the while, the ducks and geese along the river near to us stayed put and granted us one gift of a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

We headed south under the bridges, and were once again treated to close flybys of an immature Bald Eagle, flushing up a few Mallards here, but nowhere near as many as the show the adults were putting on to the north.

immature Bald Eagle

immature Bald Eagle

One of our target birds was a lone male Northern Pintail, which had been seen in the company of Mallards just south of the bridges all week. While we didn’t get good views of it on our way south, a couple of us were given some very good looks on the way back north. Another immature Bald Eagle made a pass over the Mallards and Northern Pintail as our group passed them by, but after a few minutes, they all settled back down near the gravel bar to return to their rest. Unfortunately, many of our group opted to head for the shelter of the wooded areas around Sikome Lake to get out of the biting wind, but for those that missed it, here ‘s the Northern Pintail we saw today.

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

immature Bald Eagle buzzes the Mallards and Northern Pintail

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Just a few of the thousands of Mallards seen on, or flying over, the river today

Wait a minute... those aren't all Mallards!

Wait a minute… those aren’t all Mallards!

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

And here is the standout Northern Pintail after preening and settling back down to rest. (Look at that bold bronze speculum!)

We still had another bird we were hoping to find. A pair of Killdeer had been seen just about every day this week along the south stretch of the river, and we trekked on, despite the cold, but in the end, and after a good kilometer of searching and scanning the gravel bars and the far shore in vain, we admitted defeat. While I didn’t get a photo of it, we did get an incredible addition to our list, but our views were all to brief. A Prairie Falcon made a quick dart over the eastern valley wall, scanned the environs below, and after only a minute or two, headed back to the east.

As we began our trip back into the protection of the woods, a few of our old favourites made their appearances. The ever-present Black-capped Chickadees, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a lone female Downy Woodpecker came to visit as we finished up our time with the Northern Pintail. I suspect she may have been waiting for the right time to photobomb the waterfowl!

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

See you again next week!



Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 4 – Carburn Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

A week after our visit to Griffith Woods and the weather in Calgary has taken a turn for the better. We were greeted this morning by blue skies, above-zero temperatures, and a mild winter’s day with plenty of birds, which was a nice change from last week!

We took our usual route, heading south from the parking lot to the bridge crossing to the Southland Dog Park, continuing a bit further south to get a good look at some of the waterfowl in the clear morning sunlight.

Carburn Park

Carburn Park

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Our first birds of the morning were a group of White-winged Crossbills hanging out in the trees near the parking lot, quite likely the same ones that Tim Hopwood was able to get some gorgeous photos of recently.

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

female or juvenile White-winged Crossbill

As we reached the bridge, it seemed that iridescence would be the word of the day. With the low angle of the sun, and the weather giving us a hint of the warmer spring soon to come, it seemed like every bird was showing off its brightest colors, including this normally drab Rock Pigeon.

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

The real prize of the day were these Buffleheads, showing off their iridescence that we so rarely get to see in our dull grey winters. It certainly was a beautiful sight to see!

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

Male Buffleheads in the morning sun

We headed south from the bridge after pausing to investigate some birds near the gazebo at the east side of the river. We spotted a Barrow’s Goldeneye at the far south end, and quite a number of Common Goldeneye as well. This female was kind enough to allow some decent flight shots, and the huge number of Canada Geese and Mallards on the river banks was too good to pass up.

female Common Goldeneye

female Common Goldeneye

mixed Waterfowl

Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few other waterfowl

We headed back north and followed the river around the bend, stopping a few times to watch some distant Bald Eagles on the far side of the river, but were also treated to some rather unusual activity from a group of Northern Flickers foraging around in the gravel at the edge of the river.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Another great bird to find in Calgary in the winter are the American Crows, which have been overwintering in Carburn Park for a number of years now, in ever-increasing numbers. Our group saw no less than 20 individuals during our exploration of the banks of the Bow River today.

American Crow

American Crow

With that said, waterfowl watching is not for everyone, but we did manage to spot a few unusual winter ducks in our excursion. This pair of Redheads gave us quite the views, and we were also treated to a pair of either Lesser or Greater Scaup a bit later on, though the ID is still up in the air on those ones.

Redheads

Redheads

A little more common around here, but still a welcome sight, are the Common Mergansers. This group of four males appeared to be trying to woo this lone female, who would have nothing of it, by all appearances.

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

Common Mergansers fighting for a female

It was clear that spring was getting just that much closer as we saw many birds beginning their preparation for the new breeding season. Northern Flickers were drilling out nest holes, Black-billed Magpies were displaying and pursuing each other, and this pair of male Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about, displaying and attacking each other in a fight for territory.

male Downy Woodpeckers

male Downy Woodpeckers

Next week we head back to Votier’s Flats in search of American Dippers, Wilson’s Snipe, and American Three-toed or Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Good birding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!