Well, it’s that time of year again. Canmore residents are gradually trickling back from Mexico, Hawaii and Idaho (yes, Idaho – apparently the biking there is great), and so are our favourite birds. First to arrive are the waterfowl – Wigeon, Pintail, Scaup and everything else commonly found on Alberta’s countless prairie potholes throughout the short months of summer.
Lesser Scaup, Spring Creek, Spring 2018
Last year was a bumper year for ducks on Policeman’s Creek, and hopefully this year will be equally good. Here are a couple photos to encourage everyone to get out there and find the first real wave of migration as it hits the valley.
American Wigeon on Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
One of ten Northern Shovelers on Policeman’s Creek in April 2018
Northern Shoveler, close-up
And it’s not just ducks, either. Mergansers, Geese, Loons and others slip through in these first weeks of the rush, and they aren’t to be overlooked.
A pair of Hooded Mergansers turned up – Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
Female Hooded Merganser
Canada Geese overwinter in Calgary, but the Canmore ones head south for the winter.
Before long, the Mallards begin their mating rituals. A riveting contest ensues, as males battles to win mating privileges with the best females.
The sparring Mallards are a great spring sight – Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
Last to arrive are the Harlequin Ducks, their plumage brilliant in the strong May sun as the journey upstream to find a suitable nesting place.
Harlequin Ducks resplendent on Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
Harlequins, Spring 2017, Lake Minnewanka
I hope you enjoyed the photos, and I encourage anyone with the time to spend a few hours in the field, as the weather warms up and the waterfowl pour in. If you are interested in sharing or seeing sightings from the Bow Valley, the Bow Valley Birding Facebook group is the place to go, and Alberta Birds is a wonderful sight for the rest of the province.
Following a lengthy absence from my blog, caused primarily by an increased workload at school, I am finally able to post an update on the stunning fall we have had here in the mountains. Not only did we find Alberta’s second (maybe third) Prothonotary Warbler ever on Policeman’s Creek, but numbers of warblers were through the roof across the board, and several other exiting visitors dropped in for a visit.
It all started in late August, when my then near-daily walks along Policeman’s Creek began turning up unheard of numbers or strange species for the location. By the first of September, I’d found three falcon species, a Magnolia Warbler, 3+ MacGillivary’s Warblers, Evening Grosbeaks and, spectacularly, a lifer Canada Warbler!
Even with these (and other) exiting spots in August, there’s no doubt that September was the best month of the fall. Species that once would have been the best finds of the month were going unremarked – record numbers of Blackpoll Warblers, Fox Sparrows, Grey Catbirds and Nashville Warblers showed up, only to be ignored in favour of the simply stunning Prothonotary Warbler. 15 Swamp Sparrows came and went, and previously unreported Palm Warblers became the staple of anybody’s stroll down the creek.
To add perspective to these statements, I’ve added some tables showing the reports of a particular bird species in 2018 compared to all the reports of this bird before 2018. Both numbers represent birds reported in Canmore only.
Palm Warblers 1900-2017, Canmore
Palm Warbler Reports 2018
A pretty staggering comparison, but it’s not just Palm Warblers. Blackpoll Warblers and Nashville Warblers saw a massive increase this year as well.
Blackpoll Warbler reports in Canmore 1900-2017: In 2018:
Nashville Warbler reports 2018 in Canmore
Nashville Warbler reports 1900-2017 in Canmore
These remarkable changes were seen in many other species as well, but numbers were not the most interesting thing this year. As I mentioned above, we had a Prothonotary Warbler on the creek, and several other quite rare birds as well. Highlights included an out of place, out of habitat Lapland Longspur, a Pectoral Sandpiper probing the mud, and another lifer – immature Golden-crowned Sparrow!
Cedar Waxwings flitted about, and dozens of late Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes flooded through the valley. Red-eyed Vireos made a few appearances, a Say’s Pheobe popped by one day, and I saw all three accipiters, Merlin, Kestrel and Prairie and Peregrine Falcons.
This young Cedar Waxwing caught my eye, and eventually made it into my 2018 North American Birds Calendar. Maybe not such a huge haul in one of Calgary’s Warbler hotspots, but a ridiculous wealth of birds for Canmore. I will almost certainly be able to post more as spring migrants pour in after a long, slow winter, so subscribe if you aren’t already to get all of my latest posts! Thanks for reading!
It was spring of 2017, and in a rare moment of quiet solitude, I was thinking. Thinking about my hotspot, Policeman’s Creek (see the eBird hotspot here for species and details) and how it was so little birded by anyone but me. Then it struck me – an idea that has prospered in Banff, something that a friend and I had halfheartedly tried in Canmore once – guided walks! It had failed on the first attempt in Canmore, but undaunted I began preparations for that year. And what a success it was! For a new event in Canmore, the participant numbers were great, and we detected almost fifty species across four walks – including a bird not reported in the county for over forty years (Bullock’s Oriole)!
Due to such accomplishment then, I am once again leading these walks on Policeman’s Creek. Commencing at 7:00 AM at Canmore’s well known Big Head sculpture on Main Street, the walks will be held on April 29th, May 13th and 27th and June 10th. Already I have seen unusual numbers of waterfowl passing through the creek, and the spring promises to be a good one.
Northern Shoveler, male
I hope to see you all out on April 29th for the first walk! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
With spring migration hitting, Alberta birders are getting out more and more, looking for returning waterfowl, gulls, and raptors. One early migrant found me last week, a bird I had never seen before, only heard – Northern Saw-whet Owl!
Northern Saw-whet Owl
This was followed up by a big owling trip on Saturday – my Dad, two friends and I set out at 3pm to find 8 or even 9 species of owls, four of which were strictly nocturnal, four diurnal and one crepuscular (dawn/dusk). We started birding east of Calgary, where it didn’t take long to find many Grey Partridge, and a distant lump hunched on a pole which turned out to be a Gyrfalcon! Shortly thereafter, we happened across our goal for that area – one of only a few remaining Snowy Owls. Most of these majestic raptors have already began the short flight north, but there are always some that stay behind for longer.
From there, we aimed for the Water Valley area, hoping for Great Grey Owls and Northern Pygmy Owls. It didn’t take long! In the rapidly falling light, we found three of North America’s largest owls.
Great Grey Owl
A short detour to Winchell Lake area gave us the Pygmy we were looking for.
Northern Pygmy Owl – not the same individual as seen at Winchell Lake
Hitting a road where we had all seen our fifth target, the Short-eared Owl, we happened across another Great Grey, and not one, not two, not even three, but four Short-ears!
One of the owls took off and began flying along the valley
Lamentably, these proved our final owls of the day, as none of the nocturnal birds graced us with a call at any of our numerous stops – where we knew there were owls! Ah well, the owl is a fickle bird, and will turn up only when it wants to – all we pitiful human observers can do is watch and wait for them.
Sticking to a ‘winter bird’ theme, here’s a Bohemian Waxwing. They are back in town and feeding rapaciously on mountain ash berries. This one was part of a 50+ flock in Canmore, with a hungry Northern Shrike watching on….
It was perhaps the most uneventful trip to Ontario to date, in terms of birds. Previous visits have resulted in sights such as breeding Prothonotary Warbler, Green Heron and Bobolink. This time, however, we were not headed anywhere like Long Point, or even as far as Toronto. While this did not prevent us from seeing some good birds, it did mean that we wouldn’t be watching Blue-winged Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers.
Bobolink (May 2015)
We arrived in Ottawa airport at 11:00 PM eastern time, sleeping at last at around two AM. This late night arrival gave my Dad and I the opportunity to slip out to a nature preserve while the others slept in the following morning. The South access was barren, with naught but a Turkey Vulture seen, but the North was more productive – 25 species in a couple of hours. Standout performers included four Blue-headed Vireos, an Eastern Towhee, some Eastern Pheobes and a Rusty Blackbird.
The next few days were spent in Maitland and Brockville. Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls remained prominent throughout, but species such as Grey Catbird and Lincoln’s Sparrow mixed among Northern Cardinals and ubiquitous Blue Jays to exhibit a dazzling spectrum of colours. Hooded and Common Mergansers swam with the Mallards in the river, while Turkey Vultures wheeled above.
There was, all in all, a good variety of birds. While the weather did not co-operate, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees were all quite cheerful, presenting themselves in numbers throughout the trip.
One of the biggest highlights of the time in Ontario was a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. The first bird ended up being the best – a mature Great Black-backed Gull! Not a lifer, but a Canada first and a very nice bird to see.
Great Black-backed Gull with Ring-billed and Herring Gulls
Over the course of the trip, we would see three more of these impressive birds, but the above photo is by far the best view we had of one. Thousands of Double-crested Cormorants swarmed the rocks, buoys, islands and houses while Mallards and Canada Geese littered the blue waters. I spotted a few American Black Ducks, Common Loons and Common Mergansers, but the best waterfowl of the day was a small group of six Red-breasted Mergansers flying past the ship.
The cormorants made it look like bare trees were covered with leaves, from a distance.
Returning in the evening light, a flock of maybe fifty Ring-billed Gulls accompanied the boat, floating on the air thrown up, effortlessly keeping pace with us almost all the way back to the docks. Naturally, I took some photos, as they were keeping beside and slightly above us, providing many excellent opportunities. My favourite shot, however, comes from when one dipped down to the second level, and I took one from above it.
A mug shot – Ring-billed Gull
Later in the evening, they became much more bold, and even landed on the moving watercraft just a few yards away from people.
An immature Ring-billed attempts to land on the ship’s light
Two days later, we drove out to Arnprior, to visit a friend who’d moved from Canmore; incidentally the very same who began this site for me! On the way, we breezed by Wild Turkeys, wild Turkey Vultures, and even possible Eastern Meadowlarks – what would have been lifers, if we had stopped to confirm them. Once there, a walk around the town centre turned out the first Dark-eyed Junco of the trip, more Herring and Ring-billed Gulls and some European Starlings – dazzling birds in the right light.
Friday morning, back in Brockville, we headed out on a non-birding expedition which nonetheless proved fruitful – so much so that we went back to the same place two days later. On both journeys, the abundance of White-throated Sparrows and icterids (blackbirds) surprised us, with over 40 individual sparrows identified. The second time, a Mourning Warbler shone out, partnering with another Blue-headed Vireo as the stars of the show.
On our last day in Ontario, we visited Brockville’s most famous sight – the Brockville Railway Tunnel – an older tunnel that has been transformed to a tourist attraction – complete with loud, trashy music, no less. Still, the sight was cool, and they had excellent lighting features.
Brockville Railway Tunnel
And that concluded our trip to Ontario! We boarded the plane that night, and left the land of warmth and warblers for the snow and cold of a Bow Valley October. Thanks for reading!