Category Archives: Birding Trips

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2017 (Day One)

Ten days ago today,  the team Saw-it Owls was kicking off their Great Canadian Birdathon. Starting at a Purple Martin colony in Chestermere, we headed to Weed Lake, then down to Carburn Park. We were starting at the Martin colony because, for the first time in my memory, the Peregrine Falcons were not nesting at the University. With two scopes, three cameras and four pair of binoculars, we set out. Purple Martins are not hard to find at their homes, and we were not disappointed, with nine individuals showing for us.

Purple Martin

Male Purple Martin

Weed Lake is usually a very good place for shorebirds, but the water levels are high this spring, and we only identified the disappointing tally of 3 shorebirds not seen anywhere else. Black-bellied Plovers were the highlights, but a Black-crowned Night-Heron flyover was a nice accompaniment to a conservative estimate of 5000 Franklin’s Gulls, among which rested a single Bonaparte’s Gull.

Franklin's Gull

Franklin’s Gulls

Carburn Park was a good stop, throwing up a California Gull, American White Pelican and House Wrens. We also saw Western Wood-Pewees, a Belted Kingfisher and three Bank Swallows. It was a good thing too, as South Glenmore Park was barren of birds, excepting some out on the reservoir.

American White Pelicans

Preening session!

Heading out of the city, we took a short stop where someone had seen a Golden-crowned Sparrow recently. We missed the sparrow, but there was a lucky Western Tanager and a Tennessee Warbler.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

We dined in Cochrane, then headed out to Horse Creek Road Marshes. Sometimes tough to find, these marshes are a brilliantly consistent place for Yellow Rails, of which we heard 3. Nelson’s Sparrows were absent, but the buzzy call of a Le Conte’s Sparrow rang out three times. We of course, were 12 hours too early for the Sedge Wren reported there the next day.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe are a common sight at HCR marshes.

That pretty much ended the first half of the 24 hours, as we saw little on the return drive via Sibbald Creek Trail. That is also the end of this post, but stay tuned for the second half from Saturday in the Bow Valley! There is still time to donate to this important cause, so please click this link to see my Birdathon page. Thank you!

Feathers on Friday – Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse males face off

A few photos for this Feathers on Friday. Sharp-tailed Grouse from the lek! They were very tolerant of the blind, coming within ten feet of us, so though the day was overcast, I managed to extract some nice photos. The males would hold their wings out, turn in a circle and stamp their feet very quickly while popping their purple air sacs.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse male

I’d seen Sharp-tailed Grouse once before, but that was distant, and of course, the males weren’t displaying, so this was quite an experiance. We had to be settled in the blind an hour beforee sunrise, which meant a 3:30 start from our hotel (it would have been 1:00 AM from home).

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed Grouse male

The females were in short supply, and were constantly being chased around by hopeful males.

Sharp-tailed Grouse female

There were only three or four females compared to the 30 odd males.

All in all, a brilliant way to spend Mothers Day!

And Let Birds Fill The Sky – If The Wind Isn’t Too Strong

We had puzzled over where to go during the spring break, as the suite that our friends owned in Kimberly had been sold. I wanted birds, my Mom needed ttranquillity and my Dad didn’t want to drive too far. The kids didn’t care – as long as there were rocks, trees, or snow to play on, they were fine. Flip-flopping between Edmonton and Waterton National Park, we eventually settled on the latter (though I now wish we had gone to south eastern Hanna – there was an Alberta first Common Crane there!).

During the four hour long drive, I observed many dabbling ducks and hawks, but little else. Briefly stopping over at Frank Lake, we found that it is bursting into Spring, supporting Greater and Lesser Scaups, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck and four Red-breasted Mergansers. I think that the male Red-breasted Merganser is probably the most beautiful bird I’ve seen – which means something. Unfortunately, they were half a kilometre out, and we obtained no good photos.

Continuing to Waterton, we identified meadowlarks hawking from roadside poles and hawks hovering over the rolling meadows. When we eventually reached the diminutive hamlet of Waterton, I was surprised at the exact measure of solitude – there was only one shop open in the whole area! I do not believe that we saw more than 10 people the entire time.

Moose

A Moose we saw.

Waterton is very windy, with winter winds whistling through at an average 100 km per hour. Not enough to blow you over, but it can make it tough to hold your camera steady. Despite this, we manged to pick up quite a few species at the Hay Barnes Trail, an excellent short walk for anyone in the area. There is a theory that the first five minutes after you get somewhere are the best, and this was hardly disputed when an adult Prairie Falcon skimmed the long, waving grasses within a minute of our arrival. It alighted on a tall aspen and surveyed the surrounding fields. It took off a second later, joining a high-flying Red-tailed Hawk. However, as is often the case in these things, the fragile peace between the two raptors was broken when a Common Raven came hurtling out of the sky at the Hawk. The falcon joined in, and soon all three had disappeared over the hilly horizon.

A distant shot of the three birds – Raven on top, Red-tail below, and Prairie Falcon to the left.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall – click to see whole photo.

Upon our return to Waterton, we found three American Dippers broadcasting their songs by bouncing them off the stony cliffs by the waterfall. The other treasures occurred during the 50 km drive between Waterton and Pincher Creek, which we completed three or four times. Great-horned Owls, Northern Harriers and Golden Eagles supplemented the Red-tailed Hawks, while countless Mountain Bluebirds sang from the fence line. Every once in a while, we saw some Sandhill Cranes or Red-winged Blackbirds.

Northern Harrier – male

Naturally, when we returned, we learned of the Western Bluebird, the Cassin’s Finch, and that blasted bird, my nemesis, the Short-eared Owl that had been seen. Why oh why must those annoying owls insist on avoiding me? Oh well.

That’s all from me, but I’ll post more as migration continues. In the mean time, please consider donating to my Great Canadian Birdathon if you haven’t already. Thank you to all who have!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2017 – A Five Year Anniversary

BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2013BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2014BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2015BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2016

As I mentioned in my last post (Springing into Spring), the Great Canadian Birdathon is happening again this year, and it is a special one for me, as it will be my fifth time participating. Those of you who have been with me the whole time will remember that some of my first ever posts involved the 2013 Birdathon, back when it was called the Baillie Birdathon.
I have included links to all of the previous Birdathon posts at the bottom of this one.

Great Canadian Birdathon Shirt 2017

The new shirt design

The Birdathon has taken me many places and given my many exiting experiences. I am trying a new approach this year, which is to captain a team. This team will include Canadian Birder, and hopefully we will see some new birds – perhaps even that Short-eared Owl that has been evading me for so long.

James L. Baillie was an Assistant Curator in the Department of Ornithology at the Royal Ontario Museum for roughly half a century, and both the Baillie Birdathon and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund were set up in his honor. The birdathon’s name was changed in 2015, but the memory continues in the memorial fund, which receives part of the funds raised every year from the Birdathon.

Thank you everyone who has donated already, and if you haven’t, consider joining the cool crowd by following this link: Birdathon, and donating to keep our backyard beauties in fine feather!

 

Photos from Previous Years:

Great Canadian Birdathon 2013:

Raven eating pigeon

Common Raven

Ethan Baillie Birdwatching

Great Canadian Birdathon 2014:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Great Canadian Birdathon 2015:

American Avocet

Brown Thrasher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Great Canadian Birdathon 2016:

Marbled Godwit

Great Horned Owl

Eastern Phoebe

Links to posts:

2013                             2014                             2014#2                             2015

2016                             2016#2

Christmas Bird Count For Kids Results

I held the first ever CBC4Kids in the Bow Valley today, December 10th. As it was the first time, cold, (-17), and snowing, we did not expect many kids, or birds. However, four children came out for a nice hour, and enjoyed excellent views of Mallards, Ravens and a Bald Eagle fly-by.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

We also saw 6 Common Redpolls, some Magpies and, of course, Rock Doves. Even thought the Redpolls were the stars for me, three young kids sat down on the ice and watched for a while as 70 Mallards swam around in front of them.

Kids Enjoying the Mallards

Kids Enjoying the Mallards

We kept it short, only an hour, then headed back to Elevation Place for cookies and hot chocolate, graciously provided by local places Le Chocolatier and JK Bakery. Outside Elevation Place, two white rabbits crouched in the snow.

White Rabbit

A very cold looking rabbit.

All in all, it went well, with a species list of 7 and an individual count of 115 birds. Although it has started small, the CBC for Kids in the Bow Valley promises to grow, and I hope that it will become a regular, respectable event.

The West Coast Trip (Week Two)

First of all, a correction – I had, in the last post, made an error in my identification of photo number six – it is a Savannah Sparrow, not a Golden-crowned.

I’m sorry this comes out late; despite being one of the best things ever to happen to me, homeschooling rhythms have yet to fully settle in.

We started the second week with high hopes – it all revolved around the pelagic tour that we hoped to do in Tofino. Long Beach and Englishman River Estuary also looked promising.

Monday we visited Long Beach, where both of my siblings had a lot of fun jumping over waves.
I, on the other hand, scoped the ocean hoping for murrlets and Pacific Loons.
After about ten minutes of searching, something other than a Pigeon Guillemot or Surf Scoter brought excitement.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Through the fog, I could see something that could possibly be a Pacific Loon!
Nope, false alarm. It was a Red-necked Grebe. Though still interesting, it was not what I had hoped for. A few minutes more, and this time I had found a loon. In fact, there were about 6 of them, but unfortunately too far away for photos.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The only bird other than a gull to turn up actually on the beach, a Least Sandpiper.

That afternoon, we headed into Tofino, and found three Bald Eagles circling behind a sea-side restaurant, which was throwing out it’s fish guts.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Tuesday was the day planned for the pelagic trip. Sooty Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklets and many others awaited. We walked in to the tour office, and the co-owner radioed a captain who was out near where we would go. Apparently,  there was still fog out near the island, and the waters were getting “tricky.” In short, we could not go. That hit us hard. The entire trip had hinged on this outing!

We drove back across the island (meaning Vancouver Island) and once on the other side, met up with some friends who had recently moved there. At least, the others did. My Dad and I went to Englishman River Estuary for a couple hours.

Killdeer were the first  things we saw, and we went on to count 35 of them along with the Western and Least Sandpipers, and a few Sanderlings. A bunch of Common Mergansers and a late Western Gull added to a total of 21 species.

Killdeer

Killdeer

The next day, we had a long stop at Rathtrevor Beach, where there were oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls galore. There was also a quickly approaching tide, so some wet feet were involved.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

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In Victoria, we did a short whaling trip during which I did as much birding as possible, drawing out Surfbirds from a photo of an island. At the time, I was unsure of their ID, but now there is no doubt, though the photos are bad. An aqua-phobic just can’t take photos from a boat.

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher – 2 of each, but the turnstone

Can you find all the birds?

Rhinocerous Auklet

My Dad’s shot – Rhinocerous Auklet

That evening, we headed out to Clover Point, where we (eventually) found the much-hoped-for Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gull

Heerman’s Gull

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Back on the mainland, a quick stop-over at the fabled Reifle Bird Sanctuary turned up 35 Herons, 10 Sandhill Cranes and a Virginia Rail among others. This Leucistic Mallard is banded, but unfortunately I was unable to get the band information.

Leucistic Mallard

Leucistic Mallard

And that’s it from my West Cost Trip #2! Thank you everyone for reading, and stick around to hear about the Canmore Christmas Bird Count.

The West Coast (Week One)

I recently returned from a two-week camping trip to Vancouver Island, as many of you know. We left on Saturday the 6th of August, and stopped over night at our friends’ place in Summerland.

My Dad and I woke early on the Sunday and explored the neighbourhood. A Killdeer calling from the top of a tree attracted attention, but it was merely an imitating Starling. There were some Stellar’s Jays around, but we were more interested in the California Quail, a bird that we do not have at home.

California Quail

California Quail

As the 6:00 ferry was full that evening, we had to wait for the 7:00, which left plenty of time for us to bird the hotspot. Common Loons, Great Blue Herons, and Glaucous-winged Gulls were plentiful, but the Highlight was a Peregrine Falcon that swooped in at about 6:30, and stayed until we left.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

That night, we set up camp at Goldstream Provincial Park, where we would stay for the following week.

On Monday the 8th we birded Whiffin Spit. Halfway down the path we were watching some White-crowned Sparrows when a twittering Anna’s Hummingbird zoomed over our heads. Lifer!

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper, another lifer from Whiffin Spit

Tuesday we went out to Cowichan Bay, where we identified Purple Martins,  but the real Highlight was Esquimalt Lagoon, 2 swan species, and many ducks, gulls and guillemots.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Immature Glaucous-winged Gull

We spent much of our third day at the Victoria Museum. but when we left we found a few Anna’s Hummingbirds and 3 Purple Finches.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

On Thursday we headed to Botanical Beach, where the first thing that we encountered was a Black Bear. After it had left, I found some Western Sandpipers and Harlequin Ducks, but the treat was an immature Golden-crowned Sparrow. In the woods nearby, a lone Yellow-bellied Flycatcher called.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck, engulfed by the surf

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our final full day based in Goldstream, we took a ferry across to Saltspring Island and Maxwell Mountain, where we saw 2 Baldies, 2 Peregrines and 6 Turkey Vultures in the space of five minutes.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

We packed up camp fairly early the next morning, and went to Cattle Point to look for Black Turnstones. just as we were turning back, we saw them, a long distance away, but it counted.

That evening, we hit Swan Lake  were we found Bushtits, Anna’s Hummingbirds and the Best view of a Bewick’s Wren so far.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

Bushtit

Bushtit

That concluded the first week, but we had high hopes for the second. A pelagic tour from Tofino, more lifers, and the famous Reifel Bird Sanctuary all awaited. So far, I had a lifer count of 7 for seven days. Could I keep it up?

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

North-western Crows

North-western Crows

Mallard

Mallard