Sunday, 17 June 2012

It's All About Birdsong

This weekend's Friends of Fish Creek Park outing headed to South Glenmore Park, where our focus was on songbirds.  We were particularly interested in locating a hybrid Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak that had been sighted in the area.  The clouds cleared by the end of our morning and we spent about three hours traipsing through the forest in the near constant company of Least Flycatchers, Yellow Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos loudly marking out their territories.
View FFCPP Birding South Glenmore Park in a larger map
On my way to meet the group, I stopped by the sailing club on the south edge of the reservoir.  The water level is still very low as the city prepares for forecasted high river levels.  There were hundreds of gulls, predominantly Franklin's Gulls, along with Ring-billed, feeding on the mud as well as Great Blue Herons and the usual selection of waterfowl.  I snapped this terrible digiscoped image to give you a sense of what this all looked like - imagine another 3 frames of the same stitched on the left hand side of the image:
Once we started walking, a Least Flycatcher was among the first birds to give good views to all participants.  I think it was somewhat frustrating for some novice birders to locate such a drab bird in the dark understory but once we were all on the little flycatcher he put on a good show feeding and calling loudly.
Least Flycatcher, Empidonax minimus, photo from Brooks, May 2012, not on this trip
We walked on through the forest and heard Veery singing from the bushes.  A new species for me but definitely on the "BVD" (better view desired!) list.  Here's a recording of the song from xeno-canto.  Our leaders for the outing gave two descriptions of the call which seemed to me a very accurate characterization - the song sounds like the bird is "winding down" and "singing from the bottom of a rain barrel".  You can actually see the winding down part in the sonogram.
Eventually we reached an overlook with well stocked bird feeders.  These attracted Pine Siskins, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Brown-headed Cowbird, Clay-coloured Sparrow, and another visitor which you will see below.  Here are a few photos taken at the feeders before we returned by the same route.
Female Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
Enjoying some niger seed, a Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus (isn't that a fantastic latin name)
Clay-coloured Sparrow, Spizella pallida
At one point there were three of these Red Squirrels, along with a Least Chipmunk, enjoying the sunflower seeds on and under the railing.
But what about that Grosbeak?  We had seen nothing and heard little by the time we made it back to the parking lot but two of the group had taken a slight detour and found the bird singing right beside the main bike pathway.  Once I heard this I went back by myself and soon heard the bird in the spot they had described.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks sound like "Robins in a hurry":
However, in a moment of classic birding frustration, despite the continuous singing within 30 feet of my face, I could not see the source of this distinctive song.  So, in conclusion, did we find the elusive hybrid?  Fourteen birders did not, two saw the bird as clear as day, and one (I) heard a Grosbeak right in front of me, grudgingly checked it off my list, and want to return for another look soon.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Hummingbird Hunt

The last couple of weeks have been a little hectic.  My grandfather in England passed away peacefully at the age of 91.  I went over for the funeral and that had the roll on effect of putting me behind at school, just as report cards are coming due.  Nonetheless, I'm really glad I was able to go over and, as this is a nature blog, I should mention that there was some good birding in the UK.  I will post more on Granddad and the British birds at a later date.

In the here and now, it was nice to rejoin the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park birding group after a two week absence.  Last weekend we looked around Bowmont Park and this week we went back to the Weaselhead Natural Area to look for Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds.  These smallest of birds once again proved to be great ambassadors for birding and the session was very well attended despite the recent heavy rains and muddy trails.  Here are a few photos from the day:

Strictly an ID photo!  This profile view shows the purple and white throat streaks characteristic of a male Calliope Hummingbird, Stellula calliope.  This is the smallest bird species in North America, north of Mexico.

A somewhat clearer image of a Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorous rufus, showing its buffy red flanks and shimmering orange-red gorget (throat feathers).
In the same bushy riverside area where we found the Rufous Hummingbirds there were lots of very approachable Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum.  These ones had pulled a flower from a caragana bush and...
...were passing it back and forth between them, an activity that helps to strengthen bonds between mates and within flocks.  Both of these images also show the red waxy droplets on the wings, from which we derived their name.
The Eastern Phoebe we had seen back in April was now a pair with a nest under the bridge.  This individual waited for us to move on before delivering the package in its beak to the waiting young.
If you are interested in looking for these hummingbirds yourself, check out this excellent post over on "Birds Calgary" which has detailed directions and maps.