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.
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 – Long-billed Curlew!
Almost immediately afterwards, a herd of Prong-horn Antelope was spotted.
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.
After seeing the Thrasher, we set off for Great Falls, Montana. At Great Falls, we had lunch near a windswept river where the birds – other than a few Cliff Swallows and California Gulls – chose 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 – 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.
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.
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.
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!