By late April and early May, spring migration was clearly on in earnest here in Calgary as each new week heralded newly arrived species in the urban parks around the city, notably song birds such as the aptly-named Song Sparrow:
Warblers began to appear as well and their song was music to my ears as I head their calls for the first time in a year, most notably from flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers of both the Myrtle, Audubon and hybrid varieties:
Down by the Bow River, gull numbers had also increased significantly and I was happy to get the opportunity to photograph Franklin’s Gulls as they patrolled up and down the river for emerging insects:
While it may be spring in Calgary, this definitely does not mean the end of the snow and we had two quite wintry weekends that must have caused some misery for all the migrating birds. Indeed, the warblers seemed quite puzzled by the all the ‘white stuff’:
Perhaps the most interesting and exciting moment during this snowy spring weather came one morning when I was walking the shoreline of Glenmore Reservoir. I had been to photograph American Pipits and I was able to find a few flitting about the partially snow-covered pebbles at the water’s edge. However, getting anywhere near them for a close shot was nigh impossible as they were more than particularly flighty and long-range shots were all I could manage:
Northern Rough-winged Swallows:
After about 20 minutes of looking pretty much only through my lens, I raised my eye from the view finder, peered around and – lo and behold – to my great delight, found I was surrounded by at least a dozen pipits foraging away, many only a few feet away!
Finally, on my way back to the car, I spied a Common Loon relatively close to the shore. While the light was poor for photographing waterfowl, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and decided to shoot in high-key. I just love the patterns on loons:
It’s the Spring That Never Was.
The snow has melted, yes (mostly: there are still some thick patches in the woods) but it’s still COLD here in Manitouwadge, ON. Today, May 19th, we have a daytime high of only 6C when it should be well into the high teens C by now. Migration up here is quite slow this year because of the weather. I haven’t seen a single Warbler yet … not even a Yellow Rumped which usually show up here in April!
On the plus side, I did have a really good, if short, showing of Rusty Blackbirds earlier this month. They are my favourite Blackbird. My rough estimate tells me we had at least 300 of them for a couple of weeks. This photo shows barely a quarter of the flock that was coming around.
Below are some photos of other migrants that have been around lately:
We recently went on a week-long trip through southern Ontario, covering from the London area over nearly to Ottawa, then back up north to Kirkland Lake & home. It wasn’t a bird watching trip but we still did okay thanks to a lovely lady who owns a country/gardening shop in London. She invited us to her house on a super rainy Thursday to see the Orioles, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers & Indigo Bunting she had visiting her feeders. It was incredible!!
Other sightings on our trip included:
Here at home now, my feeders are overrun with Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. Sparrows are few & far between but there have been some. I’ve only seen 1 Goldfinch here so far. Definitely a very late & quiet spring.
The other night, we went for a drive to do an American Woodcock Survey. We got skunked on the Woodcocks but we did come across this handsome fellow during a courtship display for a female that we could hear moving around but not see.
I’ll end this month with a funny little sighting. I looked out my kitchen window the other evening just in time to see a female MALLARD DUCK fly by! A friend had called the day before to tell me she one in her yard eating cracked corn (just a few houses down the street from me) and my next door neighbour told my husband he had seen one at the end of the street chasing a Crow away. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she has a nest nearby! 🙂
That’s it for this month. Now: could someone please turn the heat up???
Hello! Welcome back to our slice of nature here in our Toronto backyard.
It’s been a slow moving spring but the birds assure us that the weather is changing and slowly getting warmer. First sign weeks ago was this Chipping Sparrow who spent a few days with us.
I was finally able to put some of the baths out again, not having to worry about freezing. This American Robin was happy about that.
A few days later we got a new backyard bird species being this Pine Warbler who stopped in for a drink. Water sources are vital to any backyard birds.
Then there was a lull. We had a week plus long cold and wet spell. It’s still not seasonal but we are getting there. The Baltimore Orioles arrived in the first week of May.
We don’t spend as much on bird seed through the summer but grape jelly and oranges are weekly purchases.
Another species of Oriole arrived this week, Orchard Oriole, and they are backyard bird species #73. One of two males that has been coming in.
A female has been present too!
We hope they decide to spend the summer with us.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks paid us a visit as well. Two males and one female. Most spring migrations we get a brief visit from this bird species.
The female. She may not be as flashy but she’s still pretty.
Our first Hummingbird arrived this week. No photos yet.
We are also enjoying a handful of both White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows singing much of the day away in the yard.
Spring migration is an exciting time. Birds are seemingly everywhere.
Black-throated Green Warblers are singing as they stop in the area.
Yellow Warblers are finally back.
Great Egrets too.
Nice to see the Wood Ducks again.
Early May has had some oddities as northern Owl species, Saw-whet and Long-eareds are still being seen in some parks. Enjoy them while they are here, but from a respectable distance of course. May 2018 we were still seeing a Snowy Owl.
Screech Owls are residents of Toronto and if you listen to the other birds angry calls, you might just spot one.
It’s been a few months since we last posted. We hope you haven’t forgotten about us. See you in June!
Living up to their name, one of the most abundant ducks is the Common Goldeneye and this time of year I typically see lone females surrounded by two or more drakes vying for her attention as they flip their heads back in the courtship display:
Other waterfowl are beginning to pair up as well, such as the Common Merganser:
As in previous springs, I always hope to find some Hooded Mergansers and this year I was very happy to find a couple of pairs, including one drake that swam by briefly for some close up looks at that fantastic head plumage:
Many thanks to Kevin Biskaborn for sending us this wonderful footage.
As warmer spring weather melts the snow in Canada, an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) ventures out of hibernation only to be immediately hunted by a barred owl (Strix varia).
Three chase sequences shown in order as they happened. The actual duration of the hunt, from initial discovery to the successful catch, was over an hour. In the majority of that time, the owl patiently waited on a nearby tree while the chipmunk squeaked from its hiding spot. As soon as the chipmunk got the courage to emerge and make a run for it, the owl would pounce again.
I stumbled across this pursuit in progress and began filming. Both the owl and the chipmunk are wild and were not baited. The owl was not disturbed by the presence of myself or the camera and continued hunting. Some of the footage is blurry shots as it was taken from a distance. Filmed at an undisclosed location in Ontario, Canada.
Please note: I always maintain my distance while photographing wildlife and never bait any animal. I started filming this owl and chipmunk from a respectful distance. During two of the sequences, the animals unpredictably and rapidly approached my position at which point I quickly backed off.
For more of Kevin’s nature photography check out: http://www.instagram.com/kevinbiskaborn
Well, here in Ontario spring is taking its time, and March went out like a lion with a surprise snowfall on the last day of the month. Toronto got off lightly, and it all melted by the next day, but it was quite the almost-April Fool’s prank.
Despite the weather’s ups and downs, the birds are arriving! As I mentioned in my last post, the Red-winged Blackbirds had just started showing up at the end of February, and for the last few weeks we’re getting a raucous wake-up call out back every morning.
Along with the Red-wings come the other blackbirds – Common Grackles, European Starlings, and a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I do enjoy all the racket and activity after a pretty quiet winter.
The pond is slowly melting, and I’ve seen a few Mallards in the open water. We’re also being honoured by a few Canada Geese who’ve decided that this is a great spot to do some courting and territorial battling. So their honking is almost constant on some days, even too much for me!
The Starlings are definitely taking over all the nesting spots in my tree out back. The House Sparrows are putting up a valiant effort, but I think it’s a losing battle. Now that the Starlings are back in numbers, there’s been a flurry of activity and housecleaning. Sorry for the quality of photos, these were shot through the glass, and branches got in the way!
The holes seem to interest many of the birds that come by, even if it’s just a fleeting look. Toronto is famous for its housing shortage!
Maybe this male House Sparrow thought there would be a good nesting spot on my balcony. I think my cat would be thrilled.
Birds that have been brightening our days for a few weeks, with song and colour, are the Northern Cardinals. This one has come to this same branch a couple of times, it seems to be a good perch for belting out its song. It’s great to hear and see it up close.
Down the street, on my route to High Park, I have often seen Northern Mockingbirds, although not as often this year. One day on my walk, I was happy to see two! I like to assume they’re a mating pair, but they were squabbling and chasing each other as if fighting over territory. Two males, or a couple having a bad day? I’ll have to keep an eye and ear out – love their songs!
Activity hasn’t picked up too much yet in High Park, although the nesting Great Horned Owls have two babies. I haven’t been able to get a good look or photograph of them, as the nest is very high and the days I’ve been there have been cloudy and dim. But hopefully I’ll have some chances to see the fuzzy owlets as they begin to fledge. There were a number of Mourning Doves in the park one day. I’m always taken by their subtle beauty.
The weather in March, typically, is all over the place – rain, sun, snow, repeat! This Cooper’s Hawk had been caught in the rain without an umbrella, and was trying to dry off.
One of the highlights of the month was finally seeing a small flock of Common Redpolls at Humber Bay park. There had been reports of the odd one or two through the winter at different parks, and I searched every time I went out. This time, with a tip from friends, I tracked them down! They’re real acrobats, hanging upside down as they dig seeds out of the cones of Alder trees.
Another winter bird that I’ve been lucky to see a couple of times is a Long-eared Owl, one of several that have been spending the winter in one of my parks. Although we all want to keep the owls safe and free from harassment, once they’re sighted the secret gets out. If they are roosting in a fairly open spot, unfortunately many photographers will come too close or stay too long. This one was in a tree very near the parking lot in the park, and had a constant stream of viewers. I was one of them, I admit, but I stopped only briefly, and did stay far away, using my long lens to get an imperfect but, for me, totally fine shot. There were unfortunately people taking photos with their cell phones, which meant they had to get very close up. You can see that the bird is looking alert, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention.
I took a walk along the lakeshore earlier in March, when there was still a lot of ice in the Humber Bay West Marina. In the small open water areas, the usual winter ducks included Buffleheads, Scaup, Gadwall and loads of Mallards, of course.
Several Trumpeter Swans spend time at the western lakeshore parks. One gorgeous day there were three flying back and forth overhead, as if trying to find the best place to come down. They were ‘trumpeting’ as they flew, what a great sight and sound.
I’ve been saying goodbye to the wintering ducks that are going to be heading north, and hello to other ducks that are arriving. This one was taking a brief moment in the sun, and I was lucky to capture it without flushing it!
Common Goldeneye have been with us through the winter. They’re usually pretty far out offshore. There was a pair in the filtration pools at Humber Bay East the other day. No doubt where they get their name!
New arrivals over the last couple of weeks have been the Red-necked Grebes. They’re out in full force, pair-bonding and checking out nesting platforms. We’ll have several breeding pairs again this year, if we’re lucky and if the Double Crested Cormorants don’t take over their platforms. This pair was at Humber Bay east, definitely expressing interest. One of my favourite sounds is their whinnying calls that echo around the parks.
There were three Horned Grebes in Humber Bay as well, out in the open water. Another sign of spring, as they stop over on their way to breed in north-western Canada. Male and female have the same plumage, so in this group of three, two were in non-breeding plumage.
Not at all rare, the Song Sparrow is still one of the best sights and sounds of the spring. I love hearing their varied songs – they have a repertoire of several different songs, but generally with the same basic structure. There were loads at Humber Bay on one of the last days of the month, mostly busy feeding on the ground which was finally snow-free.
Spring isn’t spring without American Robins. Even though we see our over-wintering birds all season, it’s a big thrill the first time they start singing, joining the increasing dawn chorus that greets us now. This Robin was still enjoying the sumach berries, waiting for the snow to melt and real food, i.e. worms, to be available again.
I’ll finish with a lovely sighting on March 30. Again at Humber Bay park, I’d been watching the grebes and the ducks, and just wandering in the sun. A high pitched ‘tsee tsee’ sounded interesting, and then a flash of movement in the bushes. A first of the year Golden-crowned Kinglet that must have just arrived was fiercely feeding and flitting from branch to branch. I got many fuzzy shots, a few of empty branches, and this one, which shows the bright gold crown, glowing like a harbinger of all the other colourful birds that will soon be arriving.
So, after a very mixed variety of birds and weather, March has finally gone out and April in all it’s colourful glory stretches ahead. The anticipation of new arrivals is buzzing through the birding community. Funny how seeing birds that we’ve seen year after year can still be so exciting and satisfying. I’m not questioning this, just glad that it’s so. Thanks for reading, and good birding!
It’s the last official day of Winter! I’m so excited! Unfortunately, it also means that it’s treacherous around my parts of my yard right now, with a thick layer of ice hiding under thin layers of snow, after a day of heavy rain last week. Skates, anyone??
We are still completely buried in snow here. The melt has barely begun. The snow is finally starting to compact some so the banks have gone down a foot or so in the past week. Long ways to go yet before we see grass again! Looking at these shots from the webcam, you can see how much snow we still have. The fence back there is 6 feet tall.
The resident pair of Crows have returned to my yard this week. Crows used to migrate every winter but they don’t anymore. This winter is the first they’ve migrated in at least 5 years. They obviously knew something about the season that we didn’t: we were hitting wind chills of nearly -60 at one point …. good time for them to be gone! They have a major liking for the peanuts I put out and clean them off the platform feeder in a matter of minutes.
Redpoll numbers have finally approached normal in the past couple of months. They were quite late arriving this year, I think because the first half of winter was so calm and easy. Once late January came around with the Polar Vortex & heavy amounts of snow, they really discovered the nyjer feeders. I am now about the scrape the bottom of my 50 lb bag of nyjer seed!
And now, a few photos of other visitors to the yard lately.
Pine Grosbeak numbers have already started to drop in my yard. They weren’t very high this winter to begin with. I had a high count of about 25 at one point but now, I’m lucky to see 3 or 4 in a day. Seems early for that to be happening.
Evening Grosbeak numbers have been really hit or miss this winter. Some days I’ll have 15 or so, other days I won’t see them at all. How I miss the days when I would have 50 or 60 or more all winter long!
Ruffed Grouse visits have been really sporadic this winter. I’m pretty sure there have been at least 2 of them coming around, judging from slight differences in size & colouration, but I haven’t seen them together at all to be certain.
Canada Jays have not been around in a couple of weeks so I think we can safely say they are nesting now. They are the earliest nesting birds in the region. Blue Jay numbers have dropped off some too since the Crows arrived. I did have at least 4 Blue Jays in the yard yesterday though.
Woodpeckers have returned to my yard after being absent most of the winter. I now have a pair of Downies & a pair of Hairies visiting almost daily, taking advantage of the peanut butter log. Really hoping to see babies this year.
And that’s it for this month. Hopefully but the time I post again, a few more migrants will have returned so I have something else to talk about. 😉 In the meantime …..
After a very mild start to winter, Calgary paid for it in spades during February and early March with temps consistently in the -20C range. With that and general family activities, I haven’t got up to much birding locally, but nonetheless got to enjoy some birds that seem to be more conspicuous in the winter such as the cute Golden-crowned Kinglet:
With the release of 66 greater sage-grouse into the wild, the Calgary Zoo, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Parks Canada, has significantly boosted one of Canada’s most endangered birds at a time when fewer than 250 remain in their habitat.
This milestone release is the result of a five-year program with funding support from the Governments of Canada and Alberta.
“These are early days in the urgent effort to save this precious species, but what we have been able to accomplish so far has been truly remarkable,” says Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Director Conservation and Science, Calgary Zoo. “With the help of many partners, we have built an innovative, multi-year breeding and reintroduction program, which we hope will ensure this iconic prairie bird can flourish for generations to come.”
Once common across the western prairie, an estimated 80 per cent of the greater sage-grouse population has disappeared over the past 30 years. Today fewer than 250 wild birds remain in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. The birds were designated as endangered in Canada in 1998 under the Species at Risk Act. The loss, fragmentation and degradation of native grassland habitats are key reasons why the bird is endangered. Other factors are predation and the West Nile virus. Populations are limited to sagebrush grasslands.
Greater sage-grouse recovery project
In 2014, the federal and provincial governments pledged funding to help protect greater sage-grouse, enabling the zoo to begin a dedicated conservation breeding and reintroduction program. The plan was based on recommendations from the international multi-stakeholder Population and Habitat Viability Assessment Workshop for the greater sage-grouse in Canada.
In 2016, the zoo announced the creation of Canada’s first-ever greater sage-grouse breeding facility. Since then the zoo has established a healthy population of 54 grouse that make up the conservation breeding flock.
In the fall of 2018, the Calgary Zoo released 66 birds at two protected locations. One of the sites, provided by Parks Canada, is in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. The other is on NCC conservation lands in southeast Alberta. NCC purchased this grassland property last year to provide a suitable environment in which to release sage-grouse. For the further protection of the birds, the exact release locations are not being identified.
Conservation organizations working together to protect species at risk
The property acquired by NCC is located southwest of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. It is 60 hectares (150 acres) and situated between areas in which sage-grouse congregate in the spring, called leks. Here, males display courtship dances for females. The property is also near overwintering sites that have been used by wild greater sage-grouse populations in recent years.
The project site is surrounded by intact Crown lands, with additional NCC conservation sites nearby.
The purchase of this conservation property was funded in part by the Government of Canada, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, a program delivered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Canada’s network of protected areas plays an important role in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk. In recent years, Parks Canada has undertaken a number of initiatives to manage and restore sage-grouse habitat, including sagebrush planting and seeding, beneficial cattle grazing initiatives, fence removal and fence marking, as well as population monitoring and research. In combination with these efforts, this release of sage-grouse into Grasslands National Park will help the park prevent the local extinction of sage-grouse and move toward recovery for this iconic species.
Cabin fever, anyone? This February has been pretty dismal, with lots of gray days, ice on all the park paths, and a couple of major snow storms. But despite all that, there’s a sense of change in the air. Maybe it’s because the Northern Cardinals are starting to sing their spring song. Maybe it’s because the days are a bit longer every day. Whatever the reason, breathe a sigh of relief and get outside!
Birding was painfully slow this month, so apologies for the short post. I did go on a trip out of town for a day, but didn’t venture out too often to my parks. The balcony action was very uneventful, until the end of the month, when the House Sparrows and other birds started checking out some nesting options. More about that later.
I did go to High Park a couple of times, and found one of the faithful Red-tailed Hawks sitting on a branch right over a path. I watched it for a while. Interesting that it seems so oblivious to people walking below, but whenever there was a dog, it definitely paid attention.
Most of Grenadier Pond has been frozen all winter, but at the north end there’s a creek that feeds into the pond and there’s almost always some open water. Great numbers of Mallards hang out there, and it’s fun to stop and watch them. On this day I saw what seems to be a resident duck, a Mallard/American Black Duck hybrid. I’ve seen it here on and off for a couple of years. It generally keeps pretty much to itself.
My second trip to High Park was on a warmish day. We’d had some rain earlier, and this Red-tailed Hawk had clearly been caught in it. It was all fanned out trying to get dry, but unfortunately there wasn’t much sun to help.
I haven’t seen too many Dark-eyed Juncos this winter, and was pleased to see two hopping around up on a nest, probably finding some insects. They generally feed on the ground, so it was a surprise to see them way up there.
Finally, a few balcony birds from the last day of February, a sunny morning that brought out some of the regulars. This tree branch has featured in earlier posts and I expect it will be a hotspot through the year again. There are at least two holes, one at the top, where this House Sparrow couple is investigating.
And one a little to the right, on the bottom. These holes have been explored by lots of birds, but I think the House Sparrows will take them over again this year.
Also checking out both holes today was this female Hairy Woodpecker.
A male Hairy Woodpecker wasn’t interested in the branch – finding food was more important.
There were actually three woodpeckers on one tree at the same time, and the two males seemed to be challenging each other, with their ‘wikka wikka’ calls. Another sign of spring! They chased each other around and finally all took off.
So ends my birding story for February. I did see other birds of course, the usual winter suspects. But there just weren’t a lot of days that lent themselves to getting out with the camera. I know March will bring many new and exciting surprises. Spoiler alert – I saw and heard Red-winged Blackbirds for the first time today, March 1. A sign of good things to come!
As always, thanks for reading, and good birding!