Saturday, 30 July 2011

Fish Creek NMT Birding

A nice sunny Thursday led to a great bike ride along the Bow River.  I took the C-train (Calgary's light rail transit) down to Fish Creek Provincial Park in the city's south and then rode home along the river.  It was a great opportunity to increase my NMT list (Non-Motorized Transport), for which I'm allowing myself transit use, as long as I return home under my own power - this seems within the spirit of low impact birding.  Here's my route back from the LRT station.  The distance was actually about 45km but the online map cuts the corners and I didn't want to pinpoint my house on a public google map!

View Fish Creek to Home via Bow River Pathway in a larger map

This route passes through a lot of Calgary's birding hotspots, mostly riverside poplar stands and some open grassland areas.  Here's what I saw along with some photos.

The first birds to pop in to view were Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows, but I soon found a more interesting Brown-Headed Cowbird juvenile which was waiting for food from some unsuspecting host.  A Northern Flicker was nearby and calling to its mate as it circled around a tall snag.  I then headed to the creek, finding friendly Black-capped Chickadees as well as Downy Woodpeckers and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  In the creek itself, this family of Common Mergansers were learning how to find food and navigate the swift water.
"Hey Mom, what are you looking at?"
"Follow me kids!"
Further down the creek I discovered a small colony of Bank Swallows and set up the scope to have a good look from a discreet distance.  I tried to digiscope a couple of shots but met with limited success on the swallows, although a nearby Spotted Sandpiper gave better results.

Is that Bigfoot? A UFO?  The second gunman behind the grassy knoll?  No, it's a Bank Swallow!
The Spotted Sandpiper worked out a lot better!
Continuing east towards the river, I saw an Osprey flying overhead and then a Swainson's Hawk high up over the south edge of the valley.  There were many flycatchers working an open area of meadow surrounded by poplars and Eastern Phoebe and Least Flycatcher were both identifiable, as were small flocks of Cedar Waxwings and a pair of American Goldfinch.  Watching over the whole area from a wire perch was this American Kestrel.
American Kestrel
Arriving at Hull's Wood and the boat launch on the Bow River, the kestrel's cousin the Merlin was high up in a tree, as well as the first American Robin of the day.  Close to the river there were many small songbirds evident such as Yellow Warblers and Clay-coloured Sparrows.   There were also tricky to identify immatures and fleeting glimpses such as the backside of what was probably a vireo.  On the upside there were several House Wrens which were both bold and vocal - my general sense was of a nervous breeding pair with some fairly mature and curious youngsters.
House Wren
Having taken about two and half hours to ride less than ten kilometres, I unfortunately needed to pick up the pace a little and headed up the Bow River.  There was still much to see: a Double Crested Cormorant flew up the river and an American White Pelican was heading in the opposite direction.  There were the usual Mallards and Canada Geese on the river and, just before I left the park, there were two Eastern Kingbirds, perched on the only piece of tall shrubbery in the middle of a huge meadow in Bankside.  A pair of Gray Catbirds were "meowing" to each other on the edge of a shallow pond and more Least Flycatchers were hunting nearby.
Gray Catbird
At Carburn Park, there were Common Goldeneye and Chipping Sparrows to add to the list as I rode through and a Bald Eagle on the far bank of the river - they are always worth stopping for.  Heading up the Western Headworks Canal, more sandpipers prowled the banks while a lone Hooded Merganser was hunting in the water and Cliff Swallows swooped under the bridges.  Rejoining the Bow River at Pearce Estates, another small pond revealed Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows, and the weir improvements had a flock of Ring-billed Gulls.  

That about wrapped up the day except for American Crows and remarkably the first Black-billed Magpies  of the day, which I managed to ride 44.6 of 44.9 km back to my house without seeing!  A surprising end to a relaxed day of birding and exercise.


  1. Great blog! I love the comments under the Bank Swallow photo.

  2. Abu, thanks for the feedback! I like being able to study birds up close and enjoy the short minimal focal distance of good optics but sometimes it's nice to the bins down and just enjoy the scenery.