Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sparrows of South Calgary with Friends of Fish Creek

For this week's birding course our group met in the extreme south of the city.  Here the suburbs are quickly consuming the prairie along the Bow River and the landscape is rapidly changing.  A state-of-the-art water treatment plant has just been completed next to the new freeway bridge.  Two housing developments are being expanded, one on each side of the river, and a new golf course abuts the provincial park boundary.  We explored a strip of land that is being preserved against the river, where there are some decent sized islands providing refuges of habitat for various species.  Here's a map of our route:

View Pine Creek FFCPP Birding in a larger map

We enjoyed observing Ospreys and Bald Eagles nesting and feeding along the river but the highlight was probably the sparrows.  There were four species observed by the group and we had great practice identifying them by sight and sound.  I've included a photo of each along with an embedded sound file from the Xeno-Canto public archive.
The Clay-coloured Sparrow is often tricky to see and is easily identified by its call - a series of insect-like buzzes.  The unstreaked breast, grey nape, and buffy feathers behind and below the eye are good field marks visible in this photo.

There were lots of Savannah Sparrows, which are more visible than the other species often singing from the tops of fence posts or grass stalks.  Their song, a mixture of chirps and buzzing sounds tells us to "take, take it EAAAZZZY"!

This Song Sparrow popped into view close to the Clay-coloured pictured above.  Why isn't this another Savannah Sparrow? The lack of the yellow spot above the eye, the longer tail and the larger bill are all reasonable field marks but again what is distinctive is its voice.  These birds start with 2-4 distinct tones and then sings a lazy trill of notes.
The Vesper Sparrow was our last sparrow of the morning.  I heard one singing far off in the distance and eventually another member of the group picked out a bird several hundred metres away on top of a rock.  After setting up the scope we were able to confirm Vesper Sparrow with a similarly fuzzy image to the one above (which was actually taken near Strathmore on last year's May species count).  The song of the Vesper Sparrow often starts with one or two pairs of clear even-toned notes followed by a fast musical trill.Larkwire rather charmingly translates this as "oh, oh, my, my, it's-such-a-beautiful-day"

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