It’s New Years Day, and with a bright new year dawning, I felt it was time to look back at 2017 – events, experiences, but mainly my favourite birds and photos from the year. I hope you enjoy this collection – a bit long, but I couldn’t leave any out!
Policeman’s Creek Trail:
Western Tanager male
Trip of a Lifetime (Southern Alberta)
Sharp-tailed Grouse males face off
As for my favourite birding experiences? Well, the first of the year was a trip to Waterton area, followed by an amazing time with some Sharp-tailed Grouse in April. The Great Canadian Birdathon (part one and part two) was great as usual, and the “Trip of a Lifetime” (parts one and two) lived up to its name. Ontario was fun if not particularly productive, and this year’s Canmore Christmas Bird Count was miles above that of 2016. All in all, 2017 was a stunning year, but with hopeful thoughts of Long Point, Southern Alberta (again!), and maybe even California, 2018 promises to excite. Here’s to the New Year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 2 of each, but the turnstone
Can you find all the birds?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Four years ago, we set out on the trip that I have the clearest memories of. A visit to the Vancouver Island. This doesen’t sound amazing, but for a young birder only a few years into his birding career, it was paradise. I added 40 species to my life list on that trip, including the spectacular Flammulated Owl and Black-headed Grosbeak.
And now, we are set to repeat that trip, heading out on Saturday and arriving on the island on Sunday. Now, this is where it gets interesting. My Dad has been out there twice without me, and consiquently has a good many more birds than I do. I will have to catch up on about 15 species including Anna’s Hummingbird and Common Murre.
Common Murre (obviously my Dad’s photo)
There are, in adition to the ones he has seen, some that are on my target list.
Red-throated Loon, Golden-crowned Sparrow and Tufted Puffin being of high priority.
I will post soon about what I have seen and experienced on my second trip to the West Coast.
So… I haven’t posted about it for a while, but does anybody remember the 2015 Calgary Challenge? Yeah, Ok, I’ll explain it, just to be sure. The competition does three things: It raises birders knowledge through guided tours and simple practice, it riles birders competitive nature, and, most importantly, it increases the amount of eBird users. Basically, you need to find as many bird species as you can inside a 80 km circle starting in down town Calgary. Oh, and it would be a good idea to report them to eBird, because if you don’t, it doesn’t count.
Anyway, there was a Big Day planned for June 20th, which seemed like it was going to be postponed because of weather, but eventually we went ahead with it. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful. The group consisted of me, my dad, and 8 other birders. Starting at 5:00 am in Water Valley, we continued to an end place of Frank Lake at around 9:30 pm. It was going to be a very special day, because if I got one life bird, I would have cracked 300 species.
Only a few weeks ago, the first confirmed sighting ever of an Eastern-wood Pewee in Alberta was reported to eBird (my Dad and I recorded the second on the 13, near Lethbridge). Well, you can guess where we started. In just under an hour, we recorded 33 species, but no Pewee. On a desperate last effort, some of the group fought their way off of the path to play the recording once more, and, in the distance, it replied. A total of 3 people heard it!
A little ways off, a Eastern Phoebe became the target. With our sparkling 100 % average, we fully expected the Phoebe. Fifteen minutes later, we left with 13 non-phoebe species. Ok, maybe we missed the Phoebe, but it was still a good day.
Driving along, we came to a field out on the left. Though the routine scan of the field proved nothing, something was perched on one of the over looking posts. A huge grey head swung round. “Great-grey Owl” I breathed. It was only the second that I had ever seen.
Great Grey Owl
At the marsh, the birds started to flood in. Sora and Wilson’s Snipe lurked in the bottom reaches of the wetland shrubbery, while the middle was occupied by Yellow-throats, Yellow Warblers, Chipping, Song, White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows. A solitary Solitary Sandpiper whistled over us.
In the woods, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Tennessee Warblers sang out from the top of the trees, but my attention was held by the high-pitched “Teacha-teacha-teacha-teacha” coming from the forest floor along with the song of the Swainson’s Thrush – yes, it was an Ovenbird! #300 on my life list! Suddenly, a new bird was seen out on the marsh, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher – another life bird!
On the way to William Bagnall Recreation Area, a medium sized grey blob flew across the road just ahead of our car. As it passed over the car in front of us, I distinctly saw a dash of colour on the head. It was a Spruce Grouse – another lifer! 20 minutes later, we stopped. The leader of the group had heard an Olive-sided Flycatcher. “Where is it?” asked my Dad. “Somewhere high up in the back of that group of trees” was the answer. As I stepped to the side to begin looking, I caught sight of a large flycatcher, which turned out to be the Olive-sided.
The first thing that we saw at William Bagnall Recreation Area was 3 White-winged Crossbills, birds I figured that I wouldn’t see ’till this coming winter. As we progressed through the area, we picked up a Pileated Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Alder Flycatcher (lifer), and Pacific-slope Flycatcher, also a lifer!
Pacific-slope Flycatcher, also.
Our next stop was at Winchell Lake, which we reached at 9:30 am. around 15 species of smallish songbirds were flitting around the bushes on the side of the road. At one point, a small woodpecker swept into on of these small trees immediately, both me and my dad put it down as a downy woodpecker, but further inspection proved us wrong. It was a Red-naped Sapsucker! A long stretch of marsh and lake lay down a slight slope from the road, and it was here that we recorded the first, and only Sandhill Cranes that day. It was also the first time that I used my spotting scope on the 20th. The pictures are not very good, because they are taken from a distance of about 500 meters, and the zoom on this camera is very good, but when used to full extent, the pictures are not usually very good.
Sandhill Crane pair
Horse Creek Road had quite a few marshes, but there was one main section we wanted to stop at. Wilson’s Snipe were perched on fence poles alongside Red-winged Blackbirds and 3 kinds of swallow. Most unusual observations there were Leconte’s Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, and, most uncommon, agitated behaviour from an adult Wilson’s Phalarope. Presumably there was a nest somewhere around, but we did not find it.
At Brown-Lowery Provincial Park, we met what were really the first mosquitoes of the day. And they sure made up for any that we had previously missed! The first birds there were 8 Evening Grosbeaks, birds that I had not expected to see again until the winter. We moved on to find a Pacific Wren, 2 American Three-toed Woodpeckers, and, unexpectedly, 8 Cape May Warblers, among 9 other species there.
Recently, a few Bobolinks have been seen, around the area, and some of the people in our group wanted to go see them, so we drove out to where they had been hanging out. Indeed, we saw them. Such striking birds, are Bobolinks.
Searching for Black-headed Grosbeaks, we drove to a place where we saw everything but Black-headed Grosbeaks. A Calliope Hummingbird, a Pileated Woodpecker, young Bluebirds, a Warbling Vireo, but no Black-headed Grosbeaks. Pity, I really wanted to see them again.
By this Windy Point, we were carpooling. It was there that I saw heard my first Rock Wren. I couldn’t stop looking for it, but I never saw it. Luckily, I saw one not that long ago at Barrier Lake. Other birds we saw there included Lazuli Bunting, Dusky Flycatcher, a Townsend’s Warbler (also heard), a Grey Jay, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks.
Indian Oils gave us our first Townsend’s Solitaire for the count circle, but not too much else.
Warbling Vireo (western)
Half an hour at High Wood Camp-ground found us 2 Rufous Hummingbirds, 3 species of Flycatcher, some of the ever-present Swainson’s Thrushes, Lincoln’s, Clay-coloured, and White-crowned Sparrows, and a couple of other species.
We stopped at the Rio Alto Ranch to see if we could see a Golden Eagle. We did see one, but it was getting difficult, because of the distracting noises of an angry bull behind us. We managed to clear out pretty fast, so we have no photos. 🙂
We were losing light at a decent pace, so we drove straight to Frank Lake. At the North Parking lot, we found 65 American White Pelicans, a Vesper Sparrow, and the lifer, Sprague’s Pipit!
Always ones for synchronised flying!
The last place we birded was at the North-West lookout of Frank Lake. There, we increased our Pelican numbers to 135, and picked up Western Grebes, Black-crowned Night Herons, Marsh Wrens, Ruddy Ducks, and, mixed among the 100 odd Canada Geese, there was a Cackling Goose! Thanks to my Viper Vortex, and the two leaders of the group for confirming my identification!
Now I know that this has been a long post, and if you simply skimmed over it, I completely understand, as it had 1328 words and 18 photos! Thank you for your time, those who read the entire thing!
The next day, we hit the road to the last stop before Denver. For the first few hours, we saw very little that we hadn’t already seen. And then, just before lunch, my Dad pulled over to photograph a smallish, black bird. At the time, I didn’t think to much of it – it was probably just a Brewer’s or a Grackle. Nine days and many photo examinations later had me thinking differently. It was a Lark Bunting!
The Lark Bunting was far away and required our new super-zoom camera, a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, to get this shot.
Nothing more happened for awhile, but when things did happen, they brought numbers! Birds filled the landscape, darting in and out from shrubs, perching on wires and generally making it clear that they were there. There was no apparent flock, but the birds were obviously all the same species. Speckled breasts, yellow eyes with black pupils and down-curving bills all amounted up to Sage Thrasher.
The thrasher domination lasted almost until the little lake that we had scheduled a stop at. Saratoga Wetlands was a huge bird attraction in the parched scrubland that surrounded it. There were Barn Swallows, Redheads, Marsh Wrens and many others among them. In the little shelter over looking the area, a Barn Swallow’s nest had fallen, killing two out of the four fledgelings in it. The living two were huddled by the wall, obviously older than their dead siblings.
High above us, American Pelicans circled in perfect formation.
American White Pelicans
Our campsite that night was supposed to be a flat one, and my mother didn’t want to be cold again, so we stayed in a motel. Wednesday was the day that we departed. Stopping at Laramie for lunch, I noticed that a small creek ran by, just through the large, leafy trees. Determined to find an entrance, I scanned the row of trees and soon found an opening. The creek was bigger than I had first thought, with a whole load of Common Grackles and Cliff Swallows around. Two Western Wood-Pewees called out and some American Robins flew through the afore-mentioned trees.
We had tickets for a show at Red-rocks Ampitheatre that night, so I wasn’t expecting to see anything other than, maybe, House Sparrows – wrong again! As everybody was taking their seats, I noticed some large, swallow-like birds flying around the cliffs. Further examination proved that they were White-throated Swifts.
This is the chunk of rock that the swifts were flying around. See if you can spot one!