My Summer Vacation, a Drive to Denver

Every second year, my summer vacation consists of three months of planning, packing and worrying followed by two weeks of sheer bliss – or sheer birding in my case! This year, we had our eyes set on the States. I was excited, for we would be getting into Western Scrub-Jay territory, among others. We started off by camping on the very edge of Canada, in Writing On Stone Provincial Park. Writing On Stone was not a great distance away, but the wildlife was already strong. Red-tailed hawks soared, and Red-winged Blackbirds piped from the reeds.

Red-winged Blackbird
Female Red-winged Blackbird










We were driving along after a long stretch with not much to offer, when out of the long grasses a small, sandpiper-like head poked.  My dad screeched to a halt and I pulled out my binoculars just in time to see a second one apear. Both birds had long, down-curving bills and white eyerings around black eyes РLong-billed Curlew!

Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew

Almost immediately afterwards, a herd of Prong-horn Antelope was spotted.

Pronghorn Antelope
Male Prong-horn Antelope

The day was almost over, but not before we saw a Spotted Towhee! The next day, we set out early to cross the border, but I managed to squeeze in some time for a walk in the morning. My little sister Lucy tagged along, asking what every single bird was – although she got a Brown-headed Cowbird right! And then, I saw it – a Brown Thrasher! Ordering Lucy to keep an eye on the bird, I tore back to the campsite for my father and a camera. He came willingly, and we got some good pictures of it.

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher

After seeing the Thrasher, we set off for Great Falls, Montana. At Great Falls, we had lunch near a windswept river where the birds Рother than a few Cliff Swallows and California Gulls Рchose to huddle together on a  partially submerged log by the far shore. There were Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese and American Pelicans, but most of all, there were gulls.  There was also a large, furry mammal on the closer bank РGroundhog!

The Groundhog

From that point on, we saw nothing but a few Mountain Bluebirds, it seemed. And so it was that I was absorbed in my book when they appeared: two Ferruginous Hawks shone from a powerline tower on the right. “Ethan! Look!,” my Dad whispered. My head snapped up so hard that my neck screamed with pain.¬† (OK, slight exaggeration…)
“Do you think they’re Ferrugies?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure of it.” he replied.

They weren’t extremely cooperative, but I got this photo.

Half an hour later, we pulled into a lake pull-out to stretch our legs. I swept the lake with my binoculars and found a flock of American Avocets, a few cormorants and a large tern – It remains unidentified, but I’m working on IDing it (I think it’s a Caspian). By the time we reached the campsite, it was almost too late to do anything. We were camped by a lake though, and there were a few grebes on it – Westerns. My Dad got some good photos of one.

Western Grebe, eyeing the water.

We stayed at that place for three nights, although we had to pick up our tent and carry it to the next-door site once! One night, my Dad and I decided to go searching for a possible Boreal Owl I was sure I’d heard the night before. We walked down to a probable place, and the Owl called, seeming to dare us to find it. We followed it around a bend where it stopped and went quiet. We searched fruitlessly for minutes until a deep, ominous growl came from out of the brush on our right – Grizzly Bear. There was nothing else it could be, as foxes, martens, coyotes and all the other smaller predators around could not even get close to anything that deep.

This is not the Grizzly that we had there, as we didn’t pause to take photo of a bear twenty feet away from us, but one that we saw a while ago.

The next day we left for the next place where we saw… – but that’s in the next post. You’ll have to stay here and wait until then!

A Trip to Kimberley #3

When the final day came, I was reluctant to leave. What birder wouldn’t be? However, when my Dad told me that we would be going to Wasa Lake, all my feelings of regret to leave vanished. When we got to the Lake, I immediately scanned the visible section of the lake, only to find nothing. Or so I thought. When my Dad looked, he found¬† the birds I had missed – some white blobs I had thought were buoys turned out to be swans with their heads tucked under their wings, in the classic sleeping position. After awhile, they looked up and eventually left.Trumpeter Swan, Common Merganser

There were also a large number of Mallards, almost 200! Among the Mallards were some American Wigeon. A Bald Eagle flew over head, as we walked down the shore, and a covert of American Coot swam out into the lake. When we moved on from the lake, it was to go to the Wasa Sloughs, where we saw the swans again, along with almost 30 Common Mergansers. On the other side of the road, a Belted Kingfisher called. Belted Kingfisher

I sensed that something great would happen that day. And indeed, we did not drive directly home, but stopped at a place that we had been confidently told there had been a special bird in. It was a snow-scoured landscape, the previous site of a large forest fire that had left the trees bare and branchless. And then we found it. Sitting in a tree about fifteen feet off was a Northern Hawk-Owl – a lifetime first for both me and my Dad, and the first bird I ever wrote about!

Northern Hawk-Owl
Northern Hawk-Owl


And that concludes  A Trip To Kimberley, BC!

A Trip to Kimberley, BC #2

Elizabeth Lake in Cranbrook, which had proved to be a great place the year before turned out to be half-frozen! However, the birds in the open parts were plentiful, and I must say that the Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows were rather loud. As we drove into the parking lot, I thought I saw a pair of ducks sitting on a log. When the car was parked, I leapt out and walked to the place were I’d seen them. There was nothing there, but a ripple declared a presence. Determined to find out what these birds were, I raced back to an open patch where you could see through the bushes, just in time to see a pair of birds swim past – Hooded Mergansers! The next birds turned out to be a couple of Song Sparrows, singing in a nearby tree.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow.

As we began walking down the trail, a Canada Goose flew over our heads, changing a species – it made a Sparrow “duck”!Canada Goose
As we turned a bend, I gasped seeing the path ahead of me. It was flooded out!

Birding was not made impossible though, as we could still see a variety of birds – Tree Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer and a Bald Eagle!

These Swallows didn’t seem to mind perching on a sign about waterfowl!

Near to the end of the trail, a Northern Flicker sat on a sign, drilling its bill into the wooden top.IMG_8445
On the drive back, we complemented our good fortune of seeing two Golden Eagles and one Bald Eagle by staying a while in Cranbrook to explore. Our luck really was coming in bundles that day, because we found a small heronry by a river loaded with Violet-green Swallows. At one point, I saw more than 15 swallows in a square five feet!

IMG_8534 - Heron Flying
One of the 8 Great-blue Herons at the heronry.

The next day, we took the small drive from Kimberley to a campsite we know to be rich in bird life from previous visits. It was closed, but we could go in to the hiking trail by the river. On the way, a once well-known – but now forgotten – call stopped us in our tracks. After a long search, my Dad grinned – they were Golden-crowned Kinglets, right above my head! Further on, we came to the river. Scanning the area, I gasped – they couldn’t be! Black-headed Gulls! Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be Common Merganser males, their black head (it’s green, but if the sun catches it wrong it can appear to be black) on white bodies being all we could see from that distance.

Common Merganser male, with a female above him.








Stay tuned for the final part in “A Trip To Kimberley, BC”!

A Trip To Kimberley, BC

  This week, my family and I took a trip down to Kimberley, BC. As we did this last year and saw a lot of interesting species, I was really excited to get down there. On the drive in, we stopped at a friends house in Radium. Spring was in full stride by the time we got there. I went out by myself, to see what I could see, and found some House Finches, a few Merlins and other birds including Red-winged Blackbirds.

A female House Finch.

Later in the drive, we caught a Coyote pouncing on a mouse or vole underneath the snow.
It was quite fun  to watch it leap and stick its forepaws and head under the snow,
only to come up empty-pawed.

This Coyote didn’t stop trying, so we got as many attempts to catch him as we wanted.

Farther on, we found a Red-tailed Hawk and a Bald Eagle, the only non-falcon raptors so far.

Bald Eagle.

When we got to Kimberley, it was too late to do any birding, but the next day we went to the nearby town of Marysville and took a trail that lead along a stream into the bigger river.

The Moose ran away after a while.

On the drive to Marysville, we stopped a few times, once for this moose:The second time we stopped was because of a flash of red and black: American Robin.

American Robin. There were 5 of them there.

As we identified it, a glint of blue caught our attention. After a while, it turned out to be a Mountain Bluebird – Year-first!

Mountain Bluebird.

When we got back to the condo we were staying in, I stepped out onto the porch in hopes of seeing a Stellar’s Jay – these birds had been numerous the year before. Instead I heard a mixture of Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees and American Robins. As a Hairy Woodpecker landed on a nearby trunk, a clear, melodic sound pierced my ears. Unsure of what it was, my dad, my brother and I walked down to the area I had heard it in. Suddenly, a small brown bird sped over our heads and landed in a tree, calling. The same song. Upon further inspection, it turned out to be a House Finch – more than one!

Male House Finch.

As we started to walk again, a bolt of movement called for attention – a Stellar’s Jay with a nest! It wasn’t extremely cooperative, but we managed to get a few photos. This is a male – you can tell by the blue stripes on its forehead.

Male Stellar’s Jay.

The next day, we started off for Elizabeth Lake, a birding hotspot in Cranbrook. The drive was not a long one, but proved to be a good habitat for Western Meadowlarks.

Western Medowlark, standing like a soldier.

Find out about Elizabeth Lake in the next post of “A Trip To Kimberly, BC”!

Ontario Update

Back from Ontario, with loads of birds seen.

I unfortunately didn’t see either a Chimney Swift or Cerulean Warblers. Some that we did see however, are Red-eyed Vireo and Red-breasted Grosbeak – and others.

As for the cottage, we picked up a good number of new to life and year birds, including Red-eyed Vireos, Pine Warblers and the bonus sight of a Blackburnian Warbler. The bird reserve Island was not very big, quite rocky and barren. The only birds on it were six G.B.H. nests and large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants and Herring Gulls.

A pair of Mute Swans was an unexpected Bonus
Cormorants at the island







Charleston Lake Provincial Park was a great time with many birds like vireos (Red-eyed, Blue-headed and Yellow-throated), which we saw a great many of, Scarlet Tanagers (probably my favorite sighting of the trip) and many others.


Eastern River Otters in the purest of the sewage lagoons


The Bracebridge Sewage Lagoon went well, starting with Song Sparrows and continuing on to Wood Ducks and Ring-billed Gulls. There were some quite interesting things that weren’t birds like the Painted Turtles and a pair of Eastern River Otters. Even so I think the best thing from the Sewage Lagoons was the male Green Heron, a lifer for me.

A nice couple invited us to watch their feeders for a time, and while we were there, we saw our first-of-year Rose-breasted grosbeaks and an Eastern Phoebe!IMG_4576

For a full list of what we saw, look at my Lifelist and Yearlist pages.

Ontario birding

Me trying to feed Canada Geese without the gulls taking everything when I was younger. (Ontario)
California Gull
The gulls are everywhere!

Have you ever wondered about birding in Ontario?
Well, I can tell you first-hand in a month or so.

What kinds of birds can you see there that you couldn’t see at all, or as easily, here in Alberta?
For some examples there are: American Black Duck, Chimney Swift, Black-and-white Warbler, Cerulean Warbler and Northern Cardinal.

I’m hoping to see at least two of the above, Chimney Swift and Cerulean Warbler and some¬† that I didn’t mention there like, Red-eyed Vireo and Red-breasted Grosbeak because where I’m going there’s a good chance of seeing them – and others.

The places we will be going are: Muskoka (Bracebridge); Toronto (Tommy Thompson Park); Charleston Lake Provincial Park, Brockville and possibly Prince Edward County.

Some of our friends have a cabin out on Lake Muskoka, which will get to stay in, and it has a kind of Provincial Island a little ways out. Unfortunately, you can’t set foot on it, but I guess it’s for the best for the birds/animals that live there.

Also, a cousin of our friends has 150 acres of tree full land which he has cut trails through and has said we can use it! (He’d also like to know what kinds of birds live there. My guess would be things ranging from Black-and-white Warblers and Cerulean Warblers to American Kestrels and Ovenbirds!)

It’s been two years since we were last in Ontario, so I can’t wait see what’s out there!¬† Further reports to come when I get back.