Tag Archive | winter birding

Griffith Woods – New to me!

Posted by Dan Arndt

 

This week, the Friends of Fish Creek Birding course ventured out to Griffith Woods Park, on the southwest corner of the city. This was a new location for me, as my birding prior to September was limited to a handful of well traveled patches near the center of the city. After spending a few hours here last Sunday, I know that I’d be terribly remiss to not get out there again in the spring and summer.

It was, unfortunately, a relatively grey day, which lately has also meant fairly quiet in terms of both species and populations of birds, but we still got a couple new ones for our little group. As usual, I’ve posted the route we took on our little walk below, with the highlights noted in the captions.

Griffith Woods

Griffith Woods

Of course, the regulars were in attendance for the walk. The Canada Geese, which I’ve almost started to take for granted, were paddling up and down the Elbow River.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Common Redpolls were seen at the far east end of our walk, right at the beginning, along with an incredibly distant Blue Jay, which also alerted us to the presence of a Belted Kingfisher, which flew just a little too fast for me to get my camera up before it was gone.

Common Redpolls

Common Redpolls

About mid-way through our walk, Bob Lefebvre pointed out this beautiful little nest of one of the hummingbird species found in the Calgary area. Thankfully, nobody was home. (Special thanks to hand model Wayne Walker for presenting his world-famous hands for scale.)

Hummingbird Nest

Hummingbird Nest

On the far west end, while moving through a stand of very large white spruce, I was alerted to the sound of the Golden-crowned Kinglet. Not one, not two, but a flock of six(!) of them flitted amongst the trees while I wheeled and turned to get my lens on just one of them. Sadly, this was the best I got…

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

On our trip back, following the power lines that, for some reason were slated to cut directly through the center of the park, we heard the call of this male Pileated Woodpecker, who treated us to a wonderful series of aerial displays and a drumming serenade.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

And that seemed like the end of the day for us… I was a little disappointed in the number of usable shots I was able to get on the walk, and the light was opening up just a touch, so I convinced Bob to walk back to try for another shot or two of the Belted Kingfisher. Sadly, though we heard it call at least twice, the only thing we were able to find were a whole bunch of rocks.

Nothing here but us rocks

Nothing here but us rocks

Wait… what’s that in the middle of the frame? When the Belted Kingfisher called for the last time before we left, we happened to spot two smaller birds with white on the underside of its primary flight feathers, which we thought might just have sounded like Killdeer.

Turns out, much to our surprise, we were right. Not one, but two Killdeer on the Elbow River at Griffith Woods. Hardy survivors of a relatively mild winter here in Calgary.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Killdeer

Killdeer

Definitely the highlight of the day was seeing this pair. It is unfortunate that the attendees of our walk didn’t get a chance to see them, but there will definitely be more of these little shorebirds around very soon!

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you soon!

Birding at Bow Valley Ranch and Sikome Lake

This week marked the first of thirteen weeks of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding course. Since its inception in the mid 2000s, it has swelled from a course run twice a week, to six times a week;  Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and twice on Sunday. This marks my first attempt at leading one of these courses, with Bob Lefebvre and I leading the Sunday morning group. Unfortunately, Bob wasn’t able to make it out this week, and so Gus Yaki led the group on Saturday, as usual, and I tagged along to be an extra pair of eyes and ears to assist him, and Gus also led on Sunday, breaking in the new Sunday attendees with his expert wit, grace, and knowledge.

On both days, we began at Bow Valley Ranch, and then proceeded southward to Sikome Lake and Hull’s Wood. There we stopped briefly near the parking lot before heading first the site of a Great Horned Owl nest that’s been used regularly for a dozen or so years, then to the Bow River, before turning back and returning to the vehicles, then home. Once again, I logged the route taken and have mapped it in Google Earth, in case anyone would like to re-create the walk again in the future.

Bow Valley Ranch

Bow Valley Ranch

Sikome

Sikome Lake

At Bow Valley Ranch on Saturday, we spent about 45 minutes walking along the pathways, first stopping to find a pair of Great Horned Owls that were regular residents of the area.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl 2

Great Horned Owl 2

We then stopped for a few minutes to watch for the Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches that are all too familiar with what humans may have to offer them, and as such, came in nice and close for some very good views.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Just as we were about to head down to Sikome Lake, I heard the distinctive trill of White-winged Crossbills in flight, and so we spent some time trying to track them down. Unfortunately, they were on a mission, and continued on in short order, allowing only the briefest of views.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

Sunday, on the other hand, was a much colder experience. We spent a little time trying to coax out the chickadees and nuthatches again, but they would have none of it. Instead, we searched around until once again, that old faithful pair of Great Horned Owls was found, and then headed southward shortly after.

Great horned Owl 05

Great Horned Owl

Saturday was a great day on the Bow River. At the Sikome Lake parking lot, we were greeted by Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees, once again looking for a handout. Sunday was similar, but once again, in smaller numbers.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Another pair of Great Horned Owls are commonly found down here, and both Saturday and Sunday they did not disappoint. Saturday found them just east of their usual roost, atop a spruce tree near the main building at Sikome Lake, and Sunday found only one at that same building.

Great horned Owl 03

Great Horned Owl

Great horned Owl 04

Great Horned Owl

Great horned Owl 06

Great Horned Owl

East to the Bow River we trekked. On Saturday, our travels were interspersed with a view of some Northern Flicker, as well as a single Killdeer, before reaching the Bow River, flush with Canada Geese, Mallards, Common Mergansers, Buffleheads and Common Goldeneye. After viewing them for a while in vain search of a Cinnamon Teal that had been sighted earlier in the week, we packed up and headed home.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Buffleheads

Buffleheads

Sunday though, we were trudging our way through the fresh snow only to be stopped by the gurgling trill of a nearby Bald Eagle. In fact, two of them were perched above a bend in the Bow River, though as our travels brought us closer, they flushed and headed northward.

Bald Eagle and Black-billed Magpies

Bald Eagle and Black-billed Magpies

Bufflehead in Flight

Bufflehead in Flight

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Sunday also treated us to a view of an anomalous bird that had been spotted the previous day. A lone Lesser Scaup among the Canada Geese and Mallards near the Boat Launch at Hull’s Woods. After pausing to take a few photos and get a positive ID, we headed back to the vehicles.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup in flight

Lesser Scaup in flight

I am definitely looking forward to assisting in this course, as many of our Sunday birders are eager to learn as much as we can teach them about the birds of Calgary and area, and I also look forward to watching the seasons change back to spring and experiencing the full extent of spring migration here in the frozen north of Calgary!

I hope you enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them, and look forward to a new year of learning about these incredible animals with you all!

Posted by Dan Arndt

Christmas Bird Count

As a follow-up to Bob’s post on the Christmas Bird Count this year, I am posting from my experiences last year.

For the 2010 Big Year birding here in Calgary, I decided to participate in my first Christmas Bird Count. I had heard great stories about this annual winter event and I was not disappointed. I was scheduled to a very productive route on the Bow River, with Southland Park and Carburn Park our main birding spots. We had a very good turnout for species, recording about 29, if I remember correctly. Some of the highlights on our route, were Killdeer, a Northern Shrike, a Rough-legged Hawk, a pair of Great Horned Owls and two immature Trumpeter Swans. These swans were seen continually in January of 2011 and were identified as one immature Tundra Swan and one immature Trumpeter Swan.

A fellow bird-counter participating in the 2010 Calgary CBC

Overall, almost 200 people took part in the 2010 count, with 102 feeder-watchers and 92 birders in the field. Temperatures ranged from -15 to -13 degrees Celsius with some light snow falling in the morning. Birders in the field put in a combined
205 party-hours total, 230 km  on foot and 881 km by car. These stats were compiled by Phil Cram, Donna and Arthur Wieckowski, Bob Lefebvre and John McFaul and can be more extensively viewed  by following this link:

https://birdscalgary.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/59th-calgary-christmas-bird-count-results/

Bald Eagles are usually seen on the Bow River

My group divided ourselves up into small parties in the morning, scanning the Bow River on either sides in and around Southland Park. Once we had spent several hours scouring the snow-swept landscape for birds, we headed to the nearest Tim Hortons for some warmth, where we traded stories and identification tips over refreshments. We headed back out, this time to Carburn Park, where we added Bohemian Waxwings, the shrike and some Barrow’s Goldeneyes. We ate lunch in our heated cars at Carburn and spent the afternoon searching our range for any missing species. That evening, all CBC participants from all over the city flocked to the Flynn’s house where we were served delicious chili and shared our tales from the day.

Birds are not the only wildlife seen on the Christmas Bird Count

The 2010 Christmas Bird Count was very enjoyable; if you have never done it before I highly recommend it. Calgary is historically a very high count in North American for number of participants; last year we had a total of 194 participants which was the 7th highest count in the US and Canada (Edmonton was 1st in North America with 439 participants!!!). Calgary also had the most species of birds recorded on the CBC in Alberta with a grand total of 64.

I will be back in Calgary for the holidays and I hope to see you there!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Notes on Winter Birding

This, of course, is the coldest season of the year. Birding demands that you often stop and wait for the birds to show themselves. When standing still, you are not burning calories, therefore not generating heat. On stepping outside in the morning, some folks, thinking that it is relatively mild, decide to wear only a light jacket. After an hour they are chilled to the bone.

To fully enjoy this activity, you must wear enough clothing to keep comfortably warm. It is best to put on lots of layers. Wear a warm cap/hat/toque, for without a head covering you will lose a lot of heat. Be sure to wear warm footwear. If your hands and feet are still cold, it’s because you are losing vital body warmth. If you are cold, you just won’t be able to concentrate — and won’t enjoy the activity. Remember, the birds don’t care what you look like.

Some folks will want to bring a bird book, although the leader usually always has one with him/her.

If you are a note-taker, you may want to bring a notebook and pen(cil). Upon returning home, it is always a good idea to review the bird seen. After each field trip, we’ll also send you (by email), a listing of the species and the approximate numbers of individuals sighted.

 

Rough-legged Hawk by Anne Elliott

A few rules for these or other birding outings

The purpose of these outing is to see birds. Birds are often best located by hearing them first. Try to limit your socializing to the parking lot. If you are busy chatting, the birds may not be heard. When they are found, some folks cannot even be made aware of their presence because of an ongoing conversation, so will miss out on seeing them altogether.

Unless you are the leader, do not walk ahead of the group. The leader often knows of the presence of a certain bird, but if you go ahead, you may flush it so that no one gets to see it.

Keep together! If the group is strung out, by the time the stragglers catch up, the bird may have flown. Also, if the leader wants to inform you of certain details he/she may tell those at hand and then repeat it when the stragglers arrive, or by then, other observations may distract, so the stragglers miss out entirely. Of course, the leader can wait until everyone is present, but that is wasted time for those who do politely stay together.

Shorter people out front! If you are tall, back off. Don’t block the view it’s hard to see through you unless someone blasts an opening.

About binoculars

Binoculars are a great aid in seeing the beauty of a bird. Once you are used to them, you’ll never leave home without them! I usually have a spare pair in case you forget yours.

Today, there are many kinds of binoculars, ranging in price from $29.00 to $2900.00.

Generally, beginning birders can get by with inexpensive ones. Once you’ve had some experience, you’ll have a better idea of your needs if you want to upgrade.

Binoculars come in many types. Basically they will be marked as 7 X 35, 7 X 42, 8 X 40 or 10 X 50. The first number is the magnification; in other words, they make the object appear to be 7, 8 or 10 times larger or nearer than that registered by your eyes.

The second number is the diameter in millimetres of the large or objective lens of the binoculars. The larger the number, the more light it admits. This may not be significant on a sunny day, but it will be very important on a dull overcast day, or at dawn and dusk.

Generally 7 or 8 power binoculars are ideal for most people. You will get stronger magnification from a 10 power but they usually are heavier. If you cannot hold them steady for long, you have to contend with a greater distortion due to hand vibration.

There are many small opera-type glasses available, such as 7 X 26. Some of these are extremely lightweight and can easily be held by children with small hands. However, as pointed out above, they are not very suitable in low-light conditions. A lens that is only 26mm across lets in only about 25% of the light admitted by a 50mm lens.

Binoculars are made so that one size fits all. However, since we are not all the same, they usually require three settings to match your personal measurements. You need to make these adjustments before using them. Normally you will never have to do so again (unless altered, as when you lend them to others, etc.).

1. Most binoculars have rubber or retractable eyecups. If you wear eyeglasses, fold down the rubber cups or retract the hoods. This will allow your eyes to get nearer to the lens, thus giving you a greater field of view.

2. The distance between people’s eyes vary. The two binocular barrels are hinged so that they can be pushed or pulled apart, to compensate for this difference. When using the binoculars, the barrels should be spaced so that the pupils of your eyes look precisely through the centre of the small lenses. When properly adjusted, your view should be through that of a perfect circle, rather than two overlapping ones. [Note that the top of the hinge has a calibrated dial showing the angle of adjustment. If you recall that setting, you can quickly reset them if someone else uses your binoculars].

3. On most binoculars the right eyepiece (in some models, it is the left one), is adjustable, slightly rotating, to accommodate any differences in your eyes. To adjust for your vision, close or block your right eye while looking through the left eyepiece. It is best to look at a sign, license plate or other flat image about 30 meters away. Between the two barrels there is a centre focusing-wheel or rocker arm. Slowly adjust the centre focusing until you have as sharp an image as possible. Once satisfied that it is perfectly clear, bring your binoculars down for about 30 seconds, to let your eyes rest. Next, looking at the same scene, using only your right eye, rotate the adjustable eyepiece until that image is sharp, too. Again, bring the glasses down. After 30 seconds, now looking through both eyes at the same time, you should have a perfectly sharp image. If not, repeat the above steps until satisfied. [Note that the right eye-piece has a + and – symbol, usually with a few dots between them. On the barrel below, there is usually a white dot. Remember these settings]. [Note, if the adjustable eyepiece is on the left, reverse the order of eye use above].

Once the above steps have been completed, merely rotating the centre wheel will quickly bring any object, near of far, into sharp focus.

After birding for some time, some observers find they are unable to obtain a sharp image. The adjustable eyepiece may have been altered accidentally, perhaps by rubbing against your clothing, etc. An elastic band over the eyepiece and the upper part of the barrel will prevent it from moving.

It could also be that your eye(s) are getting tired. By again following the above steps, you can readjust to sharpen the image.

Your next challenge will be to learn how to aim the binoculars at the correct angle so that you can quickly find the bird in the tree, etc. This takes some practice — but will come naturally with repeated use. Try locating different objects while at home.

While raising your binoculars, keep your eyes on the object. Don’t look down at the glasses while lifting them. Try to memorize the location of the bird by noting how the branches cross, etc. Once you are looking through the binoculars, in the approximate location, quickly focus them (by rotating the centre-wheel) and then search the area where you last saw the bird.

Most binoculars are supplied only with a narrow neck strap. The weight of the binoculars may give some folks a headache. There are a number of harnesses or wider straps that aid in relieving that condition.

If you have further questions, do not hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, I look forward to showing and sharing the birds with you on this upcoming activity.

Gustave J. Yaki, Phone 403-243-2248 or email gyaki@calcna.ab.ca.