Pileated Woodpecker

Few times I went to watch the Pileated Woodpecker's nest, it was first used last year. There was some work done on the nest before woodpeckers started using it this year. I would be challenged by the mosquitos whenever I went to take pictures of the family. Each time I would wait for a short while for the adults to get the food and feed the nestlings. It will be interesting to see if the nest gets used next year.

Pileated Woodpecker 180730 Amar Athwal.jpg

Canada Goose

 have been saving this picture for a while, it was my first sighting this season of the goslings, there were two sets of family hanging out near each other. I stayed in the middle and kept taking pictures as opportunities presented themselves. It was during  the morning and the sun was quickly rising, couple of town staff cleaning up the area were the only other people in the area. We all decided it was a good way to start the day, seeing  little balls of golden yellow running around their parents. I had to make minor adjustment to my location, I wanted the sunlight to be hitting them from the back, also kept making minor adjustments to the camera setting to get some details in the goslings. After spending about twenty minutes, I was happy with what I got and continued my bird walk.

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Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Ducks are normally found in fast moving water, but on the day the picture was taken two pairs were hanging out in calm water not far from the fast moving river. They were diving, searching for food, the like of fish, marine invertebrates and insects.  The colourful males leave the breeding area and head for coastal waters after the females begin to incubate, where the males will begin their annual moult. The nesting females stay behind looking after the family before joining the males. I was just hoping to get a few good pictures of the ducks, but got an added bonus of evening sun lit trees being reflected onto the water. 

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Bald Eagle

Before they started nesting, these two mating Bald Eagles were hanging out. They were perched along side the Bow River, calling out every now and then while watching other birds below them. The eagles mate for life, they will keep nesting in the same area at the same nest. They will protect their nest territory from other eagles when needed. Few weeks after they were on their nest.

Bald Eagle 180617 Amar Athwal.jpg

Common Nighthawk

Since mid April I have been getting out at 6am, birding.  I was doing the same few mornings back, hoping to hear and or see something interesting. The birds were singing all around me off all sizes. Yellow,  Tennessee and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Willow Flycatchers, Clay-coloured, White-crowned and Song Sparrow to name a few. I even got surprised with not one, but two Gray Catbirds, one of them was singing while the other looked for food. There was one bird song I did not recognise. It was too far for me to get a close look, as I  listened to its calls in the distance, out of the grass next to the trail flew out a bird. It was moving too fast for me to get a picture of, so instead I watched it and tried to ID it. To my surprise, it landed middle of the trail just ten meters from me. It was my first sighting of a Common Nighthawk. A threatened species as of 2010, due to habitat loss and agricultural development. This nocturnal bird was most likely roosting in the grass and by chance I got too close, as soon as I took the pictures, it flew off into the bushes.

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Wood Duck

Depending on where you go birding, there are common birds in that area, they're not so common birds and then there are the most rare. Wood Ducks fall somewhere in the middle in Banff. Every year I try to get one good picture of the Wood Duck, Particularly of the male. Why the male, well if you have seen it's colouring in the sunlight, you would know why. It's as if has gone through a Photoshop wash. I was coming from my walk when a male Wood Duck flew in the opposite direction over the Bow River, landing  about 200 meters from where I was. I back tracked part of that distance and watched it coming in my direction along river. I picked a spot where I hope it would reach to get the picture I wanted. Using the willow shrubs as a blind, I then followed the bird through the camera. Keeping it in focus and waiting for it to reach the spot where  the sun was  shining. It was within a body length of the spot, it stopped , realising I was near and deciding what to do. Watching the male through the camera and lens, making it 12 times closer, it was lit up as it started moving away, I took the picture. 

Wood Duck 180518 Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern-pygmy Owl

For many, this last winter was tough, same for wildlife. Number of owls did not survive the winter, high level of snow and the snow staying on the ground for a  longer period of time were the main factors. The smaller and the larger owls were not able to find the food they needed to survive, some were spotted around urban centres starving. Even those who were taken to wildlife centres, help was too late But one thing wildlife is good at, is bouncing back, as long as they have a place to call home they will do the rest.

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Tundra Swan

We just passed the first day of spring, birds are making their way back or passing their way through as they head north. A few days back I spent several hours birding, the highlight was coming across about three hundred waterfowls. which included 21 swans. There beautiful large birds only pass through the park during spring and during the fall. Often they are too far away to get good pictures of, but this spring luck was on my side.

Tundra Swan 180321 Amar Athwal.jpg

Black-capped Chickadee

Out here we normally see three types of chickadees, boreal, mountain and the one in the picture, the Black-capped Chickadees. We see them year around, even during the cold Rockies winters. How can this tiny 10 gram birds survive during a period when many of us humans complain. They start getting ready during the fall, storing much of the seeds they come across in various locations, to come back to during the cold winter days. To remember all these location, their brains grow when it's time to store food, increasing the volume by as much as 30% and when the winter comes to a close, their brains shrink. These birds are more than just a pretty little things.

Black-capped Chickadee 180316 Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern Pygmy Owl

I was looking around with my camera in hand, when I heard an alert call by a chickadee. I turned around and looked up, the chickadee flew away and on the top of a branch of a dead Douglas fir was a Northern Pygmy Owl. It was perched right over my head, I quickly grabbed a few pictures before it flew away, but it had no intention of doing that. It had been a clear, cold night, the Sun brought warmth as the owl preened itself in the sunlight. I moved back and watched it while looking for other photographic opportunities. A good start to the day.

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Great Gray Owl

It's always a special moment when an owl is spotted. Which is hard since they blend in so nicely with their surroundings and most are not active during the day. I have been fortunate enough to come across in Banff, Great Horned Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Barred Owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and number of times have seen the  Great Gray Owl. Still hoping to see the owls that only pass through Banff, Long-eared Owl, with more luck to see Short-eared Owl and keeping all my fingers and toes crossed to see the beautiful Snowy Owl. There are lot of places outside  the mountains where these owls are spotted more often, but I enjoy the challenge of finding them in Banff National Park. 

Great Gray Owl 180209f Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owls are found throughout the mountains and good for all of us who look for them, they are active during the day. It was late morning when I came across this one, perched high on a branch of a dead Douglas fir tree. Stayed in that spot for near an hour, grooming itself under the Sun before flying off to look for food.

Northern Pygmy Owl 180207f Amar Athwal.jpg

Bohemian Waxwing

On a cold morning, about 100 Bohemian Waxwings were busy eating juniper berries. With cold temperatures they need to consume extra calories to maintain weight but also to have energy to stay warm and as well to survive the cold nights when they don't eat. Between consuming berries they were taking water breaks.

Bohemian Waxwing

Common Redpoll

I'm always amazed with birds, how they are able to survive in pretty harsh conditions. Take this small bird the Common Redpoll, during the winter it's found in the northern parts of Canada and we get to enjoy it in the mountains during the winter.

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Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl can consume several voles per day, to do that they have a great ability to hear and locate the voles in thick grass and in the winter under the cover of snow. The facial disc helps the owl direct sounds to its ears. They have asymmetrical ear openings, the left ear opening is higher than the right ear opening. Which enables the owl more accurately decide where the prey is before attempting to ponce on it. If that was not amazing enough, it has been reported that one Great Gray Owl broke through the snow crust that could hold a 170 pound human. All that work for a tasty vole. 

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Pine Grosbeak

It's challenging trying to take pictures of the birds in the winter in the mountains, but its worth it. When they are not top of the trees singing, Pine Grosbeaks come down looking for food. And when they do, that's my time to take their pictures. The females have the yellow colour and the males the red. I know they have moved in when I start hearing them in later part of the fall and that's when I start spending some time taking their pictures.

Pine Grosbeak 171227 Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern Pygmy Owl

Another Christmas Bird Count is behind us, many of us were out listening and looking for birds. The day started out cold, but it got warmer as the sun got higher. Same for coming across birds for the team I was part of, we kept seeing ravens but not much else until we got closer to the afternoon. Birding in the mountains in the winter will keep you humble. It's not uncommon to count 50, 60 or on a very lucky day even 70 different species while birding during spring and early summer. In the winter we are thrilled to come across 10 or more species in the area our team covered. Today we topped 10 and the bonus was coming across this beautiful Northern Pygmy Owl.

Northern Pygmy Owl 171216 Amar Athwal.jpg

Common Raven

It's December and the Christmas Bird Counts are around the corner. The one in Bow Valley will be taking place on Saturday Dec. 16. Pop over to the site "bowvalleynaturalist.org" if you like to play a role with the count. If you live elsewhere, check the web for the organization playing a role near your home. It's a fun way to spend time enjoying nature with others while counting the various species of birds coming across our way. When all the counts are gathered, analysed and compared to previous years, we get an idea how our feathered friends are making out.

Common Raven