Monday, 30 May 2011

Calgary May Species Count

This weekend brought the annual spring species count - a team of birders fanning out to count all the bird species within an 80km radius of Calgary.  My partner and I were assigned an area north of Strathmore - a fairly unremarkable stretch of rolling prairie that was nonetheless filled with birds and we managed to round up 61 species on a lovely sunny day of birding.  The sloughs were filled to the brim from the past week of rainy weather so duck counting was a large part of the day with many Mallards, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shovelers.
Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, looking a little goofy
Last week, when we drove out to Kinbrook Island, we had seen lots of hawks in the area immediately east of Strathmore so I was expecting more good things today.  We saw a total of 14 Swainson's Hawks and 7 Red-tailed Hawks, some at very close distances as they performed aerial courtship displays, and some on or around nests.  Another raptor highlight was a Northern Harrier, easily identified by its trademark low altitude hunting across a field and along a roadside ditch.  For one heart-stopping moment we thought that the hawk was going to be hit by a passing truck but fortunately it continued its leisurely glide to the other side and then circled around to make another close pass behind us.
Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
There were relatively few shorebirds to be found, perhaps due to high water levels, but we did see a number of Marbled Godwits, several Wilson's Snipe, and a huge flock of Wilson's Phalaropes.  We also found a Long-billed Curlew which was very cooperative while we admired the cinnamon belly through the scope and double checked our field guide.
Wilson's Snipe, Gallinago delicata
Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus, Digiscoping skills are slowly improving!
Birding by ear is not an area of strength for me but I had lots of practice and a good teacher on this trip.  We found many sparrows including Savannah, Clay-coloured, Vesper, Lark and Chipping, but the "small bird" highlight for me was a large flock of Cliff Swallows swooping around our heads and under us through a culvert!  Just a short distance down the road from that experience we found three Horned Larks, another new bird for me.
Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris
Another great day out on the prairie and I found once again that participating in a bird count is a wonderful way to hone one's birding skills.  I'll wrap this post up with a map of the route we took through the area and a list of species seen.

1 Canada Goose
2 Gadwall
3 American Wigeon
4 Mallard
5 Blue-winged Teal
6 Cinnamon Teal
7 Northern Shoveler
8 Northern Pintail
9 Canvasback
10 Redhead
11 Lesser Scaup
12 Bufflehead
13 Common Goldeneye
14 Ruddy Duck
15 Ring-necked Pheasant
16 Pied-billed Grebe
17 Horned Grebe
18 Eared Grebe
19 Great Blue Heron
20 Northern Harrier
21 Swainson's Hawk
22 Red-tailed Hawk
23 American Kestrel
24 Merlin
25 American Coot
26 Killdeer
27 American Avocet
28 Willet
29 Spotted Sandpiper
30 Long-billed Curlew
31 Marbled Godwit
32 Wilson's Snipe
33 Wilson's Phalarope
34 Rock Pigeon
35 Mourning Dove
36 Least Flycatcher
37 Western Kingbird
38 Eastern Kingbird
39 Black-billed Magpie
40 American Crow
41 Horned Lark
42 Bank Swallow
43 Cliff Swallow
44 Barn Swallow
45 House Wren
46 Marsh Wren
47 American Robin
48 European Starling
49 Yellow Warbler
50 Chipping Sparrow
51 Clay-colored Sparrow
52 Vesper Sparrow
53 Lark Sparrow
54 Savannah Sparrow
55 Red-winged Blackbird
56 Western Meadowlark
57 Yellow-headed Blackbird
58 Brewer's Blackbird
59 Brown-headed Cowbird
60 American Goldfinch
61 House Sparrow

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