Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Father's Day at Frank Lake

Last Sunday, my family decided to spend some time at Frank Lake for Father's Day. This birding hotspot has featured in many of our posts before but even so, one can never tire of visiting the lake. During every season, something of interest can be seen there and Father's Day was no exception. As we parked the car and headed down to the blind, we were astonished by the multitude of winged creatures around us; Common Terns, American Coots, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Wilson's Phalaropes were among the birds we saw.
Forster's Terns appeared to be nesting in the reeds near the blind and many were fishing in the waters all around us.
 
While walking along the boardwalk, we stopped to admire this Muskrat munching on a reed just feet away from us.
We thought we were seeing some great things, which we were, but when we got to the blind, we saw something that was truly amazing.
 

There were several families of Eared Grebes hanging out around the blind; the mothers playing taxi to their young chicks while the fathers dove and swam about, gathering food for the young.



Occasionally, the mothers would shake the chicks off their backs; either tired of carrying their young charges or attempting to get them practicing swimming.



While we were watching the grebes, activity went on as always with the other birds and there were many White-faced Ibises flying by us.



Eventually, we had to leave, though it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the blind. Good birds were still to be seen on the way out though as we spotted a singing LeConte's Sparrow by the parking area near the blind, the Trumpeter Swan near the sewage outfall who has been there for some time, at least 3 pairs of American Avocets by the sewage outfall and a singing Western Meadowlark perched on a fencepost.
 
If you can, I would really recommend getting out to Frank Lake soon as the birds are simply amazing right now.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lazuli Bunting in Fish Creek Provincial Park

Last week, I checked my email when I noticed a report of a Lazuli Bunting in Fish Creek Provincial Park, a mere 15 minute bike ride from my house. Normally, these colorful birds are seen no further than 2 hours south of me. Also, this was a species I had never seen before. So naturally, what did I do???


After seeing the report at 11:50 a.m., I scrambled about to get my camera, binoculars, insect repellent and bike all ready and by 11:55 I was out the door and riding away, despite dark and gloomy skies and a pessimistic weather forecast. By 12:15 I was in the park and biking away to the precise location (another 15 minutes away) thoughtfully taken down by the assertive finder of this rare bird for the city.


!2:30 came and I was at the spot. No sooner had I leaned my bike up against a tree and taken off my helmet then I heard the bunting. I tracked it down and at precisely 12:33 I saw the bunting for all of about 30 seconds, enough to rattle off a few shots. Then the bunting flew across the creek where it proceeded to sing for the next 20 minutes I was there.

My lifer Lazuli Bunting


Though I would have liked to stay longer, the weather forced me home. It didn't actually start to rain until I was 10 minutes from home but then the heavens opened up and I was absolutely drenched. I think it was worth it though!



Friday, June 15, 2012

There's a Sharp-shinned Hawk in my yard!!!

The other day, I was sitting outside in my yard, soaking up some sunshine when I heard a big commotion coming from the spruce tree in my yard. There were Grackles, Robins, Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making as much noise as they possibly could. The reason? Look at the photo below; do you see anything?
How about now?

Though the Sharp-shinned hawk was rather well hidden, it couldn't hide from the neighborhood birds who now all too well what will happen if they leave this predator undisturbed.
Here are some more photos of this beautiful bird.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Big Day!

This past Friday, I did a Big Day in Fish Creek. For those of you who do not know what this is, a Big Day is when you try to see and hear as many species as possible within a 24 hour day. For my Big Day, I spent more than 10 hours in Fish Creek, doing the entire day by bike, riding about 74 kilometers (46 miles) throughout the park and recording 93 species of birds, falling short of my goal of 100. Temperatures ranged from 6-15 degrees Celsius and there were a few showers. I started at about 5am and took a 2 hour weather break at lunch time, hoping for some of the rain to blow over, before returning at 2 and counting for another 3 hours. A full list and a more detailed report of the day can be seen here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Albertabird/message/20841
Here are some photos from the day:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-necked Grebes
Blue-winged Teal
Tennessee Warbler
Ruddy Ducks
Male Common Yellowthroat

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inching closer to 300

I am currently at 271 species for the year and am inching forward to my next goal of 300. Stay tuned!

Calgary Hummingbirds

This past Thursday, I went out for a walk in the Weaselhead with local nature expert Gus Yaki and a group of other birders. Our target species were the 2 species of hummingbird that call this park home; the Calliope Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Though we saw and heard many great species on our walk, for this post I will concentrate on the hummingbirds.


When we reached the area where Calliope Hummingbirds are usually seen, we scanned around with our binoculars, searching for this tiny bird. The smallest bird in North America at 8cm in length (3.25 inches), this hummingbird can sometimes be passed off as a large bee. After several minutes, somebody found this beautiful male perched at the top of a spruce tree.


We observed this little guy (the Calliope is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world) as Gus told us many neat facts about the species. For example, the pink streaks on the male's throat form a V-shaped gorget, and these streaks are rather long, so that when the male turns his head, the streaks will actually reach back over his shoulder. This was my first time seeing the species so I was particularly enthralled with the bird. After some time, we moved on, back closer to the river in search of the Rufous Hummingbird.


We had to walk through some muddy spots to get to the habitat where the male Rufous is likely to be seen but was it ever worth it! When we got there, someone soon spotted the male Rufous and we soon all had our binoculars trained on him as he displayed his gorgeous orange-red gorget.

The Rufous Hummingbird was moving around a lot and we got to see him at various spots; perched and in flight.





At one point, he even came to the bushes right behind us and started feeding. Gus told us that these bushes were actually Siberian Peashrub, more commonly known as Caragana. They are an invasive species that totally dominates the environment, so that no other flowering plants live in the area ( it covers 10-12 acres on the north side of the Elbow river). Male Rufous Hummingbirds feed on these plants because of the abundant if only temporarily nectar, however the females, which raise their families alone without the help of the males, realise that there is not enough nectar to raise a family on and head elsewhere, to richer, more natural environments. The males are then at a biological dead-end and do not have the oppurtunity to pass on their genes. This was quite fascinating and I would not have learned this had I not been on the trip with Gus. Thanks Gus!





He showed off his colors beautifully, revealing how he got his name.





We had a great morning watching these hummingbirds and learning lots about them thanks to Gus' vast wealth of knowledge.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A visit to Fish Creek Provincial Park

After arriving back in Calgary from Houston for the summer last Friday, I couldn't wait to get back out to Fish Creek. Sunday morning found me up bright and early (6:00) and out on my bike, riding down to Fish Creek Provincial Park, one of my favorite birding (and for that matter, one of my favorite natural) locations.
Almost immediately, I was seeing good birds. At the stormwater ponds between the Glennfield area and the Bow Valley Ranch I saw lots of waterfowl, including a pair of Cinnamon Teal and many Common Goldeneye ducklings.




At one pond, a coyote was hunting something in the long grass and remained oblivious to my presence.


After observing the coyote for some time, I continued riding my back towards the Ranch. I crossed bridge #11 and started towards Sikome and the river, but stopped abruptly when I saw the Great Horned Owl family; 5 in all, 3 owlets and their parents.




We as Calgarians are truly lucky to be able to observe owlets up close each year as they are never far off the path in Fish Creek. I marveled at the owls seemingly majestic haughtiness, as they all stared me down. Before long, I was off again, stopping again when I saw a strange sight at the top of a conifer. At the very top was a Brown-headed Cowbird, surrounded by what must have been millions of little bugs.


As I passed through the Sikome area, I observed many Richardson's Ground Squirrels.




As I finally reached the river and the Hull's Wood area of the park, I spotted what was probably the most colorful bird of the day; a male Baltimore Oriole.


There was a female with him and they seemed to be paired up, however she was more secretive as she gathered nest material and disappeared high into the poplars to build her hanging nest.


This trip to Fish Creek was excellent, and for me, having moved away, I now fully appreciate what a great park Fish Creek is.