Monday, 27 February 2012

The dead of winter

For prairie birders, the dead of winter isn’t the coldest days of January but mid-to-late February – most of the wintering birds have been seen and the early migrants have yet to arrive.  Members of our big year team are taking advantage of this lull in bird activity to get some other things done in anticipation of a very busy spring.

We have had some outings over the last few days but with little success.  Last Thursday evening, we went looking for a Northern Flying Squirrel that frequents a feeder after dark in North Glenore Park.  It was a beautiful evening – probably too nice as a couple of kids and their dog were noisily playing nearby.   We waited an hour but no squirrel, our only consolation was a Ruffed Grouse wandering nearby in the darkness. 
Ruffed Grouse
It is a bit early in the season for good owling but we decided to give it a shot west of town … we had clear, calm conditions and the night sky was amazing with Mars, Jupiter and Venus all very bright.  It was perfectly quiet – too quiet for our liking.  Eventually we heard an owl but it was just a Great Horned Owl.  Once again we received some consolation for our efforts as a Snowshoe Hare ran across the road and then posed in the headlights.

On Friday, Mike and Phil picked up the Harlequin Duck at Inglewood – a catch-up bird for them – and then Bob Saunders and I joined them for another falconless drive.  On Saturday, Phil, Bob and I went “quilling” – searching for a Porcupine that Ray had seen earlier in the year.  The habitat north of Calgary was quite extensive and there were many bushes near the road that had been munched on by porcupines.  However, it was like looking for needles in a haystack and we came up empty.  We did see lots of American Tree Sparrows as well many Mule Deer. 
We then went for a walk in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.  There were very few birds but it was a wonderful walk through the forest.  The weather turned nasty – snowing with high winds – but we decided to continue our quilling.  While Phil stopped for gas at a country station, I picked up a couple of coffees.  The cashier asked, “you going a long way today?” to which I replied, “no, I’m birdwatching” and then, to my surprise he responded, “birding, eh … you doing a big year?”!

We made one more pass through porcupine country and saw nothing but a couple of Moose and a pair of Rough-legged Hawks.
Rough-legged Hawk
There are still a few local winter birds that we need but nothing that we shouldn’t get at some time in 2012.  Mammals seem quite scarce and we are seeing very few tracks in the snow.  Has anybody recently seen skunks, weasels, mink or other uncommon mammals in the Calgary area?

We have recorded 125 birds and 12 mammals for a total of 137 species. 


  1. I may have heard a rumor that a certain Lefebvre may have seen skunks in his yard fairly regularly the last couple weeks... Might be worth getting in touch for a late night visit.

    As for weasels, there was certainly large number of what we suspected were Long-tailed Weasel tracks on the FCPP birding course last weekend between Bebo Grove and Shannon Terrace.

  2. I do have skunks in my front yard regularly, but we've never seen them before 1 a.m. Two weeks ago I saw one at 6 a.m., when it was almost light out.
    Gus Yaki saw a mink in the Votier's Flats area of Fish Creek Park on February 2. It was near a bridge but you'll have to ask him which one.

  3. Last Saturday, February 25, Bernie Diebolt saw either a Bobcat or a Lynx in North Glenmore Park, at the east end near the golf course, at about 7:25 a.m. Bernie thought it was a Lynx, and his passenger said Bobcat.
    A Bobcat was photographed in a tree near the Wildwood School on February 1.