In stark contrast to last year, this fall in the Bow Valley has been a slow affair only with one or two high points. Where last autumn there with birds in every tree, this one has been very dead. There have, however been a few high points, including a bird which I hadn’t seen for quite a while – my second Alberta report of a Black-throated Blue Warbler!
It was 2016 when I last found one, a male in my own backyard.
Black-throated Blue Warbler, 2016
On the same day as the female BTBW, we found first-of-season Surf Scoters, a Palm Warbler, and a county-high number of 150 Snow Geese. These exciting birds were all results of an early snow storm, which brought down migrants and contained them in the Bow Valley for a short while. The following day, I birded Policeman’s Creek in search of more birds impeded by the same weather system. Amazingly, I found the second ever Lapland Longspur for the hotspot, on the exact same date as I located the first last year!
A species which habituates the flat prairies east of Calgary, we only get a very few passing through each migration season, and it’s very rare to find them in such a forested area as this.
American Kestrel, another good bird for the Valley
Apart from that weekend, there’s been very little around. One solitary Greater White-fronted Goose turned up on a school ground near my house, and proved to be my 250th species for the county!
First-year Greater White-fronted Goose
First-year Greater White-fronted Goose
All in all, a slow season with just enough to be memorable. Hopefully there’s more to come as waterfowl migration really gets underway!
I’ve just returned from a ten day trip down south to Colorado. While we had little time for birding, it was a successful trip in several respects, as we found four lifers and saw some excellent seconds.
Colorado is very similar to Alberta, with mountains, prairies and coniferous forests supporting much the same type of bird life. This said, it’s southern aspects means that certain species such as Chats, some Warblers, and one or two others can be found which don’t make it up to Alberta.
During the drive down, we were in convoys with relatives from Calgary and so made almost no birding stops, but while driving through Montana and Wyoming, Lark Buntings, Horned Larks and raptors were prominent and easily identifiable.
The raptors were mostly Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, but a few Ferruginous and Golden Eagles showed up.
Once in Denver, we were mostly tied up with family things, but managed to make a lunch time trip to Cherry Creek State Park, where we saw Yellow-breasted Chats and Snowy Egrets among other things.
The next day, we made a trip out to Mt. Evans – a scenic viewpoint I’d suggested, admittedly with an ulterior motive. Mt. Evans is probably the easiest spot in the state to find the elusive Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and it was one of my top targets for the trip. Close to the summit, my wish was granted as a Rosy-Finch flew over, singing. We would later see several more, each as it whizzed by, not stopping and too fast for a photo. What did stick around, and surprisingly tamely, were the American Pipits. When these alpine birds pass through Canmore, they stay on the creek rocks and are quite skittish, but these individuals were much more accepting of viewers.
Returning to Denver from Mt. Evans, we pulled over at a Lodge and found four species of Hummingbirds frequenting the four feeders – Rufous and Calliope we were familiar with, Black-chinned had recently been the subject of a two day trip to Crowsnest Pass, but Broad-tailed was only a second sighting for me.
After that, it was two days before we could get out again, but once we did get out it was an excellent morning doing the DIA Owl loop – though the only owl we saw was a terrible view!
The first stop we made as part of this drive was at Barr Lake State Park, where we spent a fruitful two hours finding second-ever Blue Grosbeak, the farthest North Great-tailed Grackle I’ve ever found, and, eventually, nesting Barn Owls! As I mentioned, however, our views weren’t great. A solitary Owl moving inside the box did not even bother to poke it’s head out as we walked by. We were also treated to Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows, neither of which are regular birds for us and dozens of Cormorants and Pelicans.
Shortly afterwards, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge turned up White-winged Dove (which had been a lifer in April), but not much else, as we bombed on Burrowing Owls for the 5th time in a month.
This was also our last birding excursion before the return drive to Alberta, which was easily the best birding of the entire trip. We began by finding one of the top birds of the year, and lifer number three for the trip, in the form of a family of Mountain Plovers! Contrary to what their name might suggest, Mountain Plovers are not habitually found in mountainous habitat, but in the prairies.
If you look to the right, you can see a baby.
Continuing the drive north, we noted Rock Wren, Golden Eagle and three Sandhill Cranes before over-nighting in Buffalo, Wyoming. The next day found a large flock of early migrants – Wilson’s Phalaropes – mixed in with resident shorebirds at a roadside slough.
That evening, we spent some time at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Reserve, where we found no less than six Short-eared Owls, a young Long-billed Curlew, and baby Black-necked Stilts just recently out of the fuzzball stage.
Young Long-billed Curlew
Male Lark Bunting
One of the Short-eared Owls, amazingly, managed to catch an adult Green-winged Teal! It could not hold on to it’s abnormally large prey, however, and the duck escaped.
On our final day on the road, we stopped at a place in Alberta highly recommended by some birding friends near Brooks, and found it to be quite good despite the mid-day heat. Brown Thrashers, both northern Kingbirds, thrushes and a good number of others bathed – mostly in puddles, though one Brown Thrasher was taking a dust bath.
American Robin bathing
It was also that morning that we finally found some Burrowing Owls. They weren’t close enough to get a worthwhile picture, but we had excellent views of these talismans for prairie birding. Had we failed to find them on this attempt, I think they would have earned the title of my new Nemisis bird, but fortunately, they made an appearance.
Not quite the right owl, but at least I have a post-able photo of this one!
Finally, a few photos which didn’t manage to fit in the rest of the post, but I still quite like.
This past week, two other Canmore birders and I headed down to the Crowsnest Pass in search of two rare birds which were being seen consistently at feeders near the town. We also made a “quick” (3 hour) stop at the Bob Creek Wildland, a hotspot which had a great range of habitat and thus bird species.
The first of our two target species was a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, something which we certainly won’t be getting up in the North of the county, and even in Crowsnest Pass is a rare sighting. We pulled up at the location, and were surprised by the sheer number of hummers flying around, displaying, and coming in to feed on the two feeders.
It didn’t take long for the Black-chinned to show, but she only stopped for a second before vanishing again. We stuck it out for another hour or two before finally being treated to a second, barely longer, appearance.
Black-chinned Hummingbird – note the curved wing shape, rounded tips and grey throat area.
During this time, we were also treated to looks at our second target, the Black-headed Grosbeak, but I failed to get any decent photos.
The next day, we ventured out to Bob Creek, and found it to be one of the best places we’ve birded in Banff County. The eBird hotspot boasted only 86 species (107 by the time we were done with it), but we racked up 56 species on a rainy morning in late June including Banff County rarities such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Willet and Upland Sandpiper!
These extreme rarities for the county were, to all appearances, breeding in this diverse Wildland! My personal Banff county list rose by 7 species over the course of the trip – it’s likely the final time that I’ll have such a productive trip in the county. With the addition of (in chronological order) Franklin’s Gull, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Veery, Black Tern, Willet, and Upland Sandpiper, I’ve risen to 248 species in the county, and 299 for Alberta. Looking forward to the 300th!
It seems that there are still some interesting birds around Canmore – I photographed this Magnolia Warbler as well as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and some American Redstarts on Policemans Creek this week.
As I was unfortunately ill for the May 28th walk, there will be no report on that other than to note that in my absence, they found a Grey Catbird and several other good species on a sunny Sunday morning.
The weather has been quite unusual in the Bow Valley recently, and perhaps because of this, the birds have not really arrived in force like normal. Early wildfires are blazing away up north, pouring tonnes of smoke across the province, and a massive storm cloud held poor conditions over the area for several weeks. This notwithstanding, a couple of exciting birds have made it to Policeman’s Creek, and last Sunday’s bird walk was definitely a success.
Black-and-White Warbler I found a week ago on Policeman’s Creek
We started slowly, but the engaging antics of the Wilson’s Snipe and Red-winged Blackbirds claimed some attention. Once we reached the midway point, participants were treated to a special sight indeed – a pair of Soras picked their way down the bank before turning and swimming across the creek in full view.
I had all but given up on re-finding the Harlequin Ducks I’d seen on Friday, but the pair sped underneath the bridge and alit on their favourite perch for some truly excellent views.
Male Harlequin Duck
Another low species count for this time of year, with only 30 on the checklist, but some great views and interesting birds. Check out the Canmore Spring Bird Walks eBird profile to see any of the lists from this year or past, and see my other posts on these events here.
A couple of days ago, we hiked half way up a nearby mountain to where the Dusky Grouse were breeding. Dusky Grouse has been a species that we never really made the effort for before, and so we’d never seen one until now. They weren’t difficult to find, this bird in particular arrowing straight towards me before changing its mind and turning down the trail.