Category Archives: Bird of the Week

One Snowy Day…

Our annual Snowy Owl hunt is always one of my favourite birding trips of the year, and this year’s hunt was by far the best yet. It’s a laid back, quiet trip, a single day’s drive out from the mountains to the area east of Calgary, and back through the city. This year, I had set the ambitious goal of 18 ‘target’ species – Snowy Owl obviously coming first, with 15 supporting highlights and two stunners which would steal the show.

We (me and my father) set out at 6:45 AM, heading to Millarville for Wild Turkeys (see 2015) at the crack of dawn. Cruising down the road, we reached the lot where the birds roost, only to find the big birds had already fled the scene. This disappointment was somewhat remedied by the appearance of five moose – one a baby!

moose baby

Young Moose

With that, we headed east, towards the land of hawks, eagles and owls. Quickly hitting a duo of Rough-legged Hawks (a year bird for both of us), we held high hopes for the remainder of the day, but as it turned out, these were the only two hawks we were to see that day. A strange place known as the “Eco Ag Facility” produced two hundred Common Ravens, 20 American Crows, and two Bald Eagles, as well as Starlings, Pigeons and Magpies. Why this was, we could not ascertain, as other, similar locations held no such bounty.

Ravens

Common Ravens

High River produced it’s now popular Common Grackle, but the real surprise was a pair of Hot Air Balloons – both observations unusual in January.

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air Balloons

Frank Lake was the obvious next stop, looking for recently reported Prairie Falcon and Hoary Redpolls. Sadly, neither of these species showed, but we did find twenty Grey Partridge and some Horned Larks at Basin Four.

Horned Larks

Horned Larks

G. Partridge

Grey Partridge

No Snowies yet. It wasn’t totally surprising, but we were hoping for a few and there was only one more area to check over. Between Strathmore and Beiseker is historically a very good area for Snowy Owls, so we sped on up north, and before long, We spotted one perched on a distant fence post. It’s a very white owl – a male, with almost none of the female’s black barring.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

This was a pleasing find, midway through the day, but our second owl came very soon afterwards – a Great Horned, this time! Near the owl, a flock of 35 Snow Buntings fluttered around – another of the passerines of the target list. The biggest shock, and probably the best bird of the day came only half an hour later.

We had just left the flatlands, and were headed into Calgary, our thoughts turning to the water fowl of Carburn Park when we saw a bird atop a power pole on the entrance to the city. Initially dismissing it for a Raven – its back turned, against the sun – was a nonetheless an unforgivable mistake, for as we passed the bird, another glance was enough to send us screeching to a halt. A streaked raptor, like an immature accipiter, but too big, too bulky. There was only one thing this powerful form could be – a bird recently listed as sensitive by eBird – a bird you could no longer track down via reports. A Gyrfalcon.

Gyrfalcon

GYR!!

I have only seen one other of this most stunning member of the falcon family, and this was the best of views. The bird launched itself off the pole, and whizzed along the fence line, parallel to our car. It was gone in a few seconds, but it left a lasting impression on me, reaffirming the species as my favourite falcon.

Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon fly-by

What can I possibly say about such a wonderful bird? I hadn’t stopped thinking about it by the time we reached Carburn, and even the finding of the over-wintering Red-breasted Merganser didn’t fully awaken me from my dreamlike trance.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser (imm. male)

We found the three Trumpeter Swans I had missed on my last journey to the park, and all of the Redheads, Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Our final birds were the other contenders for Bird of the Day – a species which, up to July, had been my nemesis – two Short-eared Owls! Once again, however, my photos are not great – the fading post-dusk light obscures much detail.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

That wraps up this year’s Snowy Owl hunt, with 39 species across almost 400 kilometres in the day. It was a one Snowy day, with highlights of two other owls and a Gyrfalcon, but unmentioned included a Merlin, Common Redpolls, Sharp-tailed Grouse and a Ring-necked Pheasant among others. It will be hard to top this one.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to next year’s Snowy Owl Hunt!

Feathers on Friday – Back with the Berries

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Sticking to a ‘winter bird’ theme, here’s a Bohemian Waxwing. They are back in town and feeding rapaciously on mountain ash berries. This one was part of a 50+ flock in Canmore, with a hungry Northern Shrike watching on….

Other Feathers on Fridays:

Wolf Song Blog                                         Birds In Your Back Yard

Back Yard Bird Blog

Feathers on Friday

WETA

Female Western Tanager

This week’s Feathers on Friday is a female Western Tanager, part of a twenty-five strong flock found in South Canmore. Migration is truly upon us!

WETA

Western Tanager

Other Feathers on Fridays:

Prairie Birder                                            Back Yard Bird Blog

Wolf Song Blog                                         Birds In Your Back Yard

Canmore Spring Bird Walk June 4th

A surprisingly low number of people came out for the third Canmore Spring Bird Walk, with only seven participants compared to 25 last time. The seven, however were treated to a bird not reported in Banff county for over fourty years, and only three times before that – a first spring Bullock’s Oriole! We started as usual at 7:30, but one end of the Boardwalk was closed, so we walked around to behind the Raman bar to see the back of the creek. There we picked up some Yellow Warblers, a Northern Flicker and European Starlings at nests, and Wilson’s Snipe winnowing.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

We then worked our way around to the area where there stands a telephone pole, poorly disguised as a tree. My Dad had just mentioned that we rarely, if ever see birds in this “tree,” when I spotted a bird in it. Training my binoculars upon it, I was slightly to slow to catch it, as it flew across the field. We relocated it, however, and it proved to be a Bullock’s Oriole. Keeping us at a distance, it winged it’s way across the tracks and perched in a faraway tree. My photo proves the bird, but not much more than that!

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

High water levels had pushed a Sora into view, but it still did a magnificent job of not being seen properly. Soras can pick their way through the marsh without moving a single blade of grass more than a millimeter. We also saw small numbers of Lincoln’s and Song Sparrows, and heard Policeman’s Creek’s first ever Willow Flycatcher.

Sora

Sora

Also, a quick update on the Boardwalk – the eBird hotspot now has 125 species, of which I have seen almost 120. Thanks for coming out last Sunday, and I hope you’ll all be here for the final walk of this spring, on June 18th at 7:30. We’ll still meet at the Big Head. Let me know if you think I should run some walks this fall in the comments, or by emailing me at birdboy.ca@gmail.com. See you next time!

Feathers on Friday – Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse males face off

A few photos for this Feathers on Friday. Sharp-tailed Grouse from the lek! They were very tolerant of the blind, coming within ten feet of us, so though the day was overcast, I managed to extract some nice photos. The males would hold their wings out, turn in a circle and stamp their feet very quickly while popping their purple air sacs.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse male

I’d seen Sharp-tailed Grouse once before, but that was distant, and of course, the males weren’t displaying, so this was quite an experiance. We had to be settled in the blind an hour beforee sunrise, which meant a 3:30 start from our hotel (it would have been 1:00 AM from home).

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse male

The females were in short supply, and were constantly being chased around by hopeful males.

Sharp-tailed Grouse female

There were only three or four females compared to the 30 odd males.

All in all, a brilliant way to spend Mothers Day!

Canada’s National Bird: The Grey Jay!

It may or may not be news to you, but for the past while, Canada has been searching for a national bird. Starting with forty contestants, then narrowing down to 5, it has been an intense period of voting on exactly which species to choose.

The decision to have a national bird is (another) way of celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, which is fast approaching. In the end, the five finalists were voted on by the public, but the winner was decided by a committee with members from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl, second in the voting

At the end of the voting period, the Common Loon had the most votes, followed by the Snowy Owl, and then the Grey Jay. The other two contestants were the Canada Goose, and the Black-capped Chickadee.

Unfortunately for the owl, loon and chickadee, they had all been claimed already as provincial birds. The Snowy Owl in Quebec, the Common Loon in Ontario, and the Black-capped Chickadee in New Brunswick. This, according to the deciding committee, ruled them out.

Common Loons

Common Loons

That left the Canada Goose and the Grey Jay.  The Jay has a lot going for it in that battle.
The Canada Goose is despised in many places, by many people. It is considered a pest; it eats crops, spoils public parks, and, to top that off, has a renowned bad temper. Is this the bird that Canadians want representing them? Frankly, it goes against the current public view of us as a kind, gentle group of people who couldn’t be temperamental if we tried. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it conveys the general idea.

Who, me? Temperamental?

Who, me? Temperamental?

The Grey Jay, on the other hand, is a hardy little songbird, braving the north cold, and storing and remembering vast numbers of caches. It comes across as cute, intelligent and yet still tough, perching on your hand to take a seed while its mate devours a vole, or insect. Oh, and it was called the Canada Jay for over two hundred years.

Grey Jay

Grey Jay

Although I personally would have chosen the Pine Grosbeak, I believe that the Grey Jay, or Whiskey Jack, is the best choice out of the five contestants. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

Black-throated Blue Warbler Update

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The rare warbler I saw on Friday has been hanging around our house recently. It is a
Black-throated Blue Warbler and is really a south-eastern species, having between 15 and 25 official reports in Alberta. A few people have been over to see him, but all these photos are mine.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Here, it’s bending it’s wing over its back to get past a close tree branch as it flies.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler