Tag Archive | Weaselhead

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 12 – Return to the Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

And so another birding course comes to a close, but not without a few nice additions to sound out the closing bell. Our return to the Weaselhead was somewhat out of necessity, as our original plan was to look out over the Glenmore Reservoir, which has typically thawed quite a bit more than this year. Unfortunately, due to the persistent cold in Calgary this winter, and also due to a few weeks of well below freezing temperatures, the reservoir, proper remained frozen, while at least two of the channels of the Elbow River that feed into it were at least somewhat open, allowing for some, but not all, of the expected migrants to return. After a brief foray into the river valley south of the river, and with a few surprises down there as well, we returned to the trails of North Glenmore Park to look out over the reservoir and spot a few other new arrivals.

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

Glenmore Reservoir and The Weaselhead

We started our Easter Sunday off with a sermon. Gus began with a speech detailing, in extreme Coles Notes format, how a series of steps brought both us, and Swans, to be here on Earth today, and how our ancestry is shared all the way back to the very first life, some 3.6 billion years ago. It was a great sentiment, and an awesome start to the day. It almost seemed like the speech drew in our main target species for the day, who flew in from the west as we reached the viewpoint, and over to the reservoir.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Heading down to the first feeders, we were greeted with yet another sign of spring with a pair of Least Chipmunks foraging under one of the feeders, while Common Redpolls munched away on the seeds above.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

With the sounds of American Robins and Northern Flickers calling, we continued on our way, stopping at the feeding stations at the bottom of the hill in search of American Tree Sparrows, which we did manage to find (but were far too quick for me to photograph), but we did spot this immature male Pine Grosbeak singing from the treetops, along with a Hoary Redpoll in a small flock of Common Redpolls!

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Immature male Pine Grosbeak

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

As we reached the bridge, we were welcomed by the calls of a number of Blue Jays, and in the distance we saw a pair of male Hooded Mergansers on the river.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On our walk in around the lower paths in the Weaselhead, we found a good number of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but the Bohemian Waxwings were almost entirely absent, with this sole representative flying about here and there, almost in search of his fellows.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

As our group pushed on, a few of us held back at a slightly unfamiliar call, which we quickly narrowed down as the call of a Dark-eyed Junco. A few of them were calling from the nearby spruce trees, well below the lone Bohemian Waxwing.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

The rest of our walk was almost entirely absent of photos, both due to the absence of photo opportunities with the birds we saw and heard, but also due to the distances involved. Hopefully this week I’ll receive our loaner Swarovski ATX 85mm Spotting Scope that Swarovski Optik has graciously allowed me to review for them over the next little while. I’ve seen some of the results from this scope when mounted on a Pentax K-5, and I know it will come in handy for those long distance shots. But I digress…

We did happen upon a male Ruffed Grouse drumming near the river bank, and a few of us stayed behind to track it down, spotting it briefly on the log that it was drumming on before it flushed. As we headed back up the hill to look out over the reservoir, we happened upon a larger flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the trees, a few Boreal Chickadees, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. From the observation points on the ridge, we found a pair of Lesser Scaup, a male and female Hooded Merganser, and even an extremely early male Ruddy Duck in one of the channels.

Next week marks the beginning of our Spring course, and maybe a little bit of a different approach to these blog posts… stay tuned!

Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding, Week 7 – Weaselhead Natural Area

Posted by Dan Arndt

With the beginning of the second half of our Winter Birding course, the weather once again made for a beautiful day to be out in Calgary’s parks. It certainly felt like spring was in the air, or at least well on its way, with the bird activity high, many of them singing their little hearts out, and others calling out on their territory that they’ll soon begin nesting and breeding on.

Weaselhead Natural Area
Weaselhead Natural Area

Weaselhead Natural Area

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the largest flock of Blue Jays we’ve seen in all of our walks so far. A total of six individuals came to investigate us newcomers right as the walk began, giving us what might have been the closest and best views I’ve ever personally had, and the closest photo opportunities as well. It was quite a treat to start off the day.

I've never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

I’ve never noticed before just how many different shades and hues of blue are in the patterns on their back.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

They sure love to dive bomb each other.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

As we headed down into the river valley, we had flock after flock of Bohemian Waxwings fly overhead. Both into, and out of the valley floor they flew by the hundreds, their high trills being the only warning before a small black cloud of them would dart overhead. At both sets of feeders there were good numbers of Common Redpoll, Black-capped Chickadees, and even a pair of Pine Grosbeaks, but not the American Tree Sparrow or Ruffed Grouse that we often hope for this time of year. At the bottom of the hill, we were able to get some good light and close visits of the Common Redpolls, some of them even posing for us.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Crossing over the Elbow River, we stopped briefly as we had a close flyover of a Blue Jay and what we tentatively identified as a Townsend’s Solitaire, but what really stole the show for the few that got to see it was this Snowshoe Hare. Unfortunately I was lagging behind as the group came upon it, but at least someone did!

Snowshoe Hare.Photo by Paul Turbitt

Snowshoe Hare.
Photo by Paul Turbitt

We headed into the woods with much excitement, as the light was holding steady, the birds were active and patient, and everyone’s spirits were high. In our usual mixed grove of spruce and poplar where we reliably have good sightings of Boreal Chickadees, we were not disappointed. Three of the beautiful little brown birds came in to accept our offering of black oil sunflower seeds, and shortly after, a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets also came to investigate the commotion.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Winding our way through the deer paths and game trails back to the path following the river, we heard the distinct and melodious songs of a number of male House Finches. While they’re a species we usually expect up on the top of the ridge, the sheer number of them down in the valley was quite surprising.

House Finch

male House Finch

Our circuit continued along the usual route, connecting back with the main pathway after a fairly quiet stretch of pathway, interrupted by brief, but clear views of a juvenile Northern Goshawk, and many flyovers both near and far of Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies. Our final highlight was this lone Pine Grosbeak eating quietly at the feeder, completely at ease with both our close examination, along with the many runners, walkers, and other folks enjoying the park on this beautiful day.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak, completely at ease.

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak chowing down on some seeds

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

I think this is the Grosbeak equivalent of the raspberry.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Next week we’re off to Beaverdam Flats! Good birding, and see you here next week!

A walk in the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

While currently back in Houston, Texas, I spent a very enjoyable 2 weeks in Calgary over Christmas. Despite the cold (!), I got out a couple times, including an afternoon walk in the Weaselhead Natural area, taking photos of the local bird life as I walked.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

A couple of Ravens announced their presence with distinctive loud croaks; as well as some more unfamiliar vocalizations.

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Redpolls were abundant at the feeders

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

Waxwings ended up stealing the show though through sheer numbers

A small fraction of the waxwings.

A small fraction of the waxwings.

It was quite a nice walk and good to see so many waxwings.

 

 

Calgary Christmas Bird Count – Weaselhead

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

It may seem a bit repetitive, but a week following our last Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding course, my Christmas Bird Count area was also down in the Weaselhead. Our route took a bit longer though, and covered a huge amount of area, and took the better part of the day. We had some really great helpers this time around, as we usually do, and had some awesome birds, a few fewer species than our usual number, and a few different species than we had turn up last year, but all in all, it was a beautifully warm day, and a good time was had by everyone involved. Hope you enjoy these photos I took while we were out!

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin coming in for a landing

Merlin coming in for a landing

This Merlin gave us quite a show, hunting while we watched from the bridge over the Elbow River. I believe that it was hunting one of the many Bohemian Waxwings we saw that day.

American Robin

American Robin

A nice surprise for us was the often spoken-of and quite legendary American Robin. We do have a few that end up trying to spend their winters here in Calgary, and just a week prior, one of Gus Yaki’s groups had a flock of fifty of them. I was happy just to see one!

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

This male Pileated Woodpecker gave us a few flybys throughout the day, but in the grove we usually find Boreal Chickadees he flew in for a closer look. We played a few calls which he came to investigate even closer, allowing us a bit better vantage.

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

We headed back towards the South Glenmore Park side of the park and stopped for lunch, and it seemed this little Boreal Chickadee wanted some lunch as well.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Another gorgeous little Golden-crowned Kinglet, the first one we saw that day, was spotted just before lunch. After lunch we heard another dozen or so in the dense spruce on the south slope of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

And of course, what day in the Weaselhead would be complete without a few adorable Red Squirrels hamming it up for the camera.

 

 

Friends of Fish Creek Autumn Birding – Week 14 – Weaselhead Natural Area

Posted by Dan Arndt

The Weaselhead Natural Area is located west of the Glenmore Reservoir, in the Elbow River Valley between North and South Glenmore Parks. It seems like only yesterday we started out this Autumn Birding Course at times, but at others, it seems like it’s been almost a lifetime since we were exploring the late summer environs of Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Mallard Point. With Christmas Bird Counts quickly approaching and the lure of longer days ahead as we move into January, it’s the days like today that are a harsh reminder of the realities of winter.

Weaselhead

Weaselhead

As we headed out from the parking lot into the cold, wintry morning, the sky was partially clear, but the beauty of the sunrise was deceptive. At -19 degrees Celsius, with the added wind, it felt like it was -27 degrees Celsius, reminding all of us of the reality of the season, and that we had been incredibly lucky so far!

From the top of the hill we stopped to look for coyotes, white-tailed or mule deer, as well as a Pileated Woodpecker that had been seen at the top of the hill earlier this week, but sadly came up short. At least it was a great view!

Glenmore Reservoir

Glenmore Reservoir

Into The Weaselhead

Into The Weaselhead

Unlike last year, the Pine Grosbeaks have been a little bit less active so far this winter, and the Common and Hoary Redpolls haven’t shown up in as large numbers as we saw last year either, but at least we saw a few of them at the feeders mid-way down the hill. No Pine Grosbeaks or Hoary Redpolls in this batch today though!

Common Redpolls

Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Just a little further down the hill, this male Downy Woodpecker seemed completely fearless of our group, flying off only when a group of joggers ran by. The red on his head was so vibrant and bright, it looked orange in the early morning light.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

As we headed down the hill and past the nearly empty feeders at the bottom of the hill, the distinctive upward trilling flight call of Bohemian Waxwings. While this flock was impressive in size, it was nowhere near the size of others we’ve seen here in the past!

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

Crossing the meadow that is home to nesting Calliope Hummingbirds in the summer, we stopped to take a look at a Northern Goshawk off to the north of us. While I stopped to snap a photo of it, a group of birders behind us in the lead drew my attention to the “first” Northern Goshawk that all three of us “experienced” birders walked right by!

second Northern Goshawk

second Northern Goshawk

Turning back to take a look at the first one our group actually spotted, it took quite an interest in us, and in the sounds of my camera clicking away.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk giving me the evil eye

Northern Goshawk giving me the evil eye

Northern Goshawk preparing to fly

Northern Goshawk preparing to fly

We took a brief detour into a small grove of spruce trees where we found Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and even a Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper stopped by just as we were preparing to leave. Unfortunately, the Boreal Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper were a bit too elusive for me, staying high up in the dark overhanging spruce trees.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

After coming out from the grove, we headed straight west, then north along the far western pathway. The trails were incredibly quiet, with only a pair of Common Ravens and a handful of Black-billed Magpies flying overhead, and the usual swarms of Black-capped Chickadees following us for an easy handout. It wasn’t until we came nearer to the river again where we found that flock of Bohemian Waxwings again, but this time from a better angle.

Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings

We did end up finally adding two more species to the list as we headed back to the vehicles, but only one that I got a photo of. It was surprisingly similar to the last bird we added to our list last week, both in composition and in timing, this Hairy Woodpecker popped up near the feeders on the way back up the hill!

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

While this was the last course for our Autumn Birders, I suspect many of them have already signed on again for the Winter birding courses, and I’ll make sure to post some updates in the following weeks about the Christmas Bird Counts I’m taking part in this Holiday Season, and of course I’ll post some photos of the birds I manage to add to my life list while I’m down in Mexico while the rest of you freeze up here in the frigid north… err, I mean, while you’re all enjoying time with your families and friends back here in Canada.

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!

 

 

Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!