Showing posts with label Wading Birds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wading Birds. Show all posts

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Hunt

This is the third and final part in a series of posts on my recent Gulf Islands sailing trip.  You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


An important part of the science instruction on our Grade 9 sailing trips is intertidal explorations.  We always have fun wading around in the shallows looking at all of the squishy invertebrates and learning about their unique niches in the ecosystem.  At Montague Harbour we were not alone in our prowling through the shallows.  This Great Blue Heron, with all its breeding season plumes, was also hard at work stalking fish.  It seemed completely unfazed by our group and allowed us to watch it at distances of less than 50 metres until it was time to get back on our boat.
Patient and motionless
The strike
Success!
That's close enough folks!
Landing on the other side of the bay



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

Monday, 23 May 2011

Kinbrook Island Provincial Park

We've just returned from a great long weekend camping trip to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park near Brooks, which is about 200km south-east of Calgary.  The park is on the east shore of a large reservoir,  Newell Lake, and the campground is basically an island covered in poplar trees and surrounded by marsh.  The existence of these three habitats together in the middle of vast prairie grassland is, as you can see below, a real bird magnet.

In the campground there were several species of flycatcher ranging from the easily identified and bold to the tricky and hyperactive.  (As usual all photos in the post are click to enlarge!)
Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis

Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus

Least Flycatcher, Empidonax minimus - OK, I heard several Least Flycatchers, this bird was close by, and it looks like a Least Flycatcher but those empids are tricky!
A birding highlight of the weekend came while I was washing breakfast dishes.  There was a flurry of activity in the understory.  A group of 4 male Brown-headed Cowbirds chasing one female were displaying to each other on branches and, ultimately, on the grass about ten yards in front of me.
Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater

Brown-headed CowbirdMolothrus ater
There are nice walks (if you aren't freaked out by bugs like our 3 year old!) around the marshes, including an interpretive trail around the northeast area that was a little long for our crew of preschoolers.  The dominant species in this area is Red-winged Blackbirds, but spaced out among these territorial birds were Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a large number of Marsh Wrens.
Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

Yellow-headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
During one of these walks we bumped into a group of birders doing the 13th Annual Brooks Species Count.  They commented on the lack of shorebirds, an observation supported throughout the weekend and the drive back to Calgary (one yellowlegs, one snipe, and three large shorebirds on a far off muddy field was all I saw).  I was generally surprised by the lack of birds on the main bodies of water in the park but along with the usually half dozen species of duck we did see Red-necked Grebes, Forster's Tern, and some American White Pelican.
American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, displaying breeding season "horn"
This relative lack of species on the open water was entirely compensated for by the continual displays of flycatchers, Tree Swallows, Yellow Warblers, blackbirds, sparrows, and ever-friendly American Robins around the campsite.  I would highly recommend this campsite as a destination for the birding-inclined camper or any family looking for a prairie getaway.

In total, 48 species were seen on the weekend getaway and a birder working the area in a more focused way would have no trouble finding many more.  For those interested here's the list of species seen either at Kinbrook or in the immediate Brooks area:


Canada Goose Branta canadensis
American Wigeon Anas americana
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Redhead Aythya americana
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni (on nest)
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
American Coot Fulica americana
Yellowlegs sp. Tringa sp.
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus (adult with two fledglings)
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus
Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Common Raven Corvus corax
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor (on nest - tree cavity)
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
American Robin Turdus migratorius (on nest)
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Monday, 28 March 2011

West Coast Sailing 5: The List

There were many great bird sightings on this trip with even the more “ordinary” birds showing amazing beauty
Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
… and some remarkable behaviours, like a Belted Kingfisher, which was following a Harbour Seal around the bay at Musgrave Landing on Saltspring Island.  The seal was chasing a small shoal of fish around the shallow water along the shore and the kingfisher was dashing in to grab fish as they leapt out of the water ahead of the seal.  This is the best shot I managed to get of a kingfisher on the trip but it does capture a certain essence of what it’s like to see one of these birds hunting.
Belted Kingfisher, Ceryle alcyon
Anyway, that about wraps it up for the West Coast Sailing trip.  Here's a list of species seen, in chronological order with life birds in bold:
  1. American Wigeon
  2. Common Merganser
  3. Glaucous-winged Gull
  4. Bufflehead
  5. Belted Kingfisher
  6. Great Blue Heron
  7. Common Goldeneye
  8. Pelagic Cormorant
  9. Double-crested Cormorant
  10. Pigeon Guillemot
  11. Canada Goose
  12. Brandt's Cormorant
  13. Hooded Merganser
  14. American Robin
  15. Dark-eyed Junco
  16. Winter Wren
  17. Herring Gull
  18. Trumpeter Swan
  19. Turkey Vulture
  20. Barrow's Goldeneye
  21. Anna's Hummingbird
  22. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  23. Harlequin Duck
  24. Northwestern Crow
  25. Bald Eagle
  26. Brant
  27. Red-breasted Merganser
  28. Rhinoceros Auklet
  29. Common Murre
  30. Song Sparrow?
  31. Rock Pigeon
  32. Mew Gull

Passing Cloud, Fine Madness, and Duen in Poet's Cove, South Pender Island