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.
With typically frosty weather, a low number of participants ventured out for the first bird walk of the year. Those who braved the snow, however, were well rewarded with migrants forced down by the precipitation. American Pipits and Savannah Sparrows galore, with a couple other new arrivals mixed in – Wilson’s Snipe and White-crowned Sparrow for some.
A male Bufflehead, Bald Eagle and Merlin all made an appearance, while Yellow-rumped Warblers gradually warmed into movement with each advance of the sun.
First-of-year Lincoln’s and American Tree Sparrows mixed with the resident Song and House Sparrows. All in all, 26 species on a chilly April day is a good return, and promises more to come on the next walks.
As a beautiful morning dawned in the Rockies, ten birders met for the second Bird Walk of the year, hoping to find new migrants just arrived from down south, and overwintering birds setting up territories and nests.
Birds were slow to wake up, but we eventually heard a first-of-year Sora, glimpsed the quick-moving Orange-crowned Warblers, and had excellent views of another new-ish migrant to the valley – Lincoln’s Sparrow!
As the final few participants gathered at the conclusion of the day, a Common Grackle alit upon a tree across the pond. These feisty birds are not a common sight in Canmore, and those who stayed to the end were fortunate to see it.
Thanks to those who were with us for these two walks, and I hope that those who couldn’t make it this time will be able to make it in two weeks time! For anyone who is interested, the eBird lists can be found here: April 28th and May 12th. The next two walks are May 26th and June 2nd respectively, starting at 7:00am at Canmore’s Big Head.
Back from Texas, and after two weeks, I’ve finally gone through all 8,000 photos to pick out a few of my favourites. This is more of a photo post, as it would be too extensive to try to describe each place we went and bird we saw, but I will add a few notable locations.
Thanks to the gracious generosity of some Canmore friends who own a house in Houston and were willing to share, we were able to book this trip for a week during spring migration. For any who haven’t yet been, Texas is a wonderful place, and it should definitely be on your agenda for the future. With that said, let’s dive in.
You can see why it’s called a Spoonbill! These colourful birds we first found at a Marsh on the Texas coast near Hitchcock. The marsh was filled with birds, and we picked up quite a number of lifers there.
Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons and Reddish Egret were all present, and Terns swept across the reeds.
The second day was mostly concentrated between two excellent sites, Brazos Bend State Park and Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. A lot of driving for two locations, but the four hours at Brazos Bend were especially rewarding.
It was here that we finally picked up a long-term nemesis, the American Bittern.
It lurked in the marsh alongside a White Ibis, Little Blue Heron and American Alligator.
Starting early at Laffite’s Cove, we moved on to Bolivar Peninsula and eventually ended up in High Island, a salt dome known for its birding hotspots.
The songbirds at Laffite’s Cove were quite good, though not as good as it sometimes can be. We picked up another nemesis here, the Black-throated Green Warbler. Now it seems that we don’t have one! Bolivar Peninsula turned up thousands of Terns – Common, Royal, Sandwich and Least.
We also found several plovers, including (distant) Wilson’s, Snowy and Piping. Naturally the only one which came close enough for a photo was the Semipalmated, but still a great bird to see.
At High Island, we found lifer Wood Thrushes, and after an unsuccessful chase for an ABA rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher, we located a late pair of Whooping Cranes.
We took a quick trip south to Corpus Christi, an interesting geographical place in terms of bird species. Many species’ ranges come up from South America and end there, just shy of where we were located in Houston, so it was a superb little outing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage many photos of the southern specialities, particularly the Least Grebe, Green Kingfisher, Bronzed Cowbird and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.
We discovered a plentiful supply of passerines at Anahuac National Wildlife Reserve. Notable Highlights: a male Painted Bunting, Cave Swallow, many Orchard Orioles, Palm Warblers, and a Worm-eating Warbler.
Later that day, a return trip to High Island brought up Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Warbler and Swallow-tailed Kite before we found Eastern Wood-Pewee, Prothonotary Warbler (See our amazing find in Canmore) and a lurking Green Heron at the rookery of hundreds of egrets, spoonbills and herons.
For the final half-day before returning to Canada, we spent some time in a Houston sanctuary, hitting Swainson’s Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler and Barred Owl before an extremely kind woman offered to show us a nesting Eastern Screech Owl in her backyard. I’m going to insert a couple of my favourite photos that I hadn’t had a chance to add previously here.
The Canmore Spring Bird Walks are back for another season. When I started this bi-monthly spring event two years ago, I had no idea that there would be the kind of interest that has arisen. It’s great to see everyone getting out – even through the rain, sleet and snow – to experience the many bird species migrating through or residing in Policeman’s Creek.
This year, the walks will be held on the following dates, at 7:00 am. We meet at Canmore’s famous Big Head sculpture on Main Street.
Early passerine migrants will be arriving about now.
We expect around 20-25 species, hopefully including
Yellow-rumped Warblers, Osprey and one or more
Chipping Sparrows, Soras and Red-winged Blackbirds
should be back in full force, and the first of the
flycatchers and Catharus thrushes will be arriving.
Hardy warblers such as the Northern Waterthrush
and Orange-crowned Warbler may also be sighted.
Most of the common birds will be back, with American Redstarts, Warbling Vireos and the like being the most recent arrivals. This is one of the best times of the year for rarities passing through – who knows what could turn up!
By now, the first of the baby birds will be popping up all across town, and the possibility of late migrants – Brewer’s Sparrow, Connecticut Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak – is still strong. A good checklist on Policeman’s Creek can tally 40+ species.
No year is like another, but one thing is consistent: Policeman’s Creek will continue to surprise us. When I started birding it eight years ago, it wasn’t even a hotspot, and now it is tenth in Banff county, with a count of 168 species on eBird. Join us this spring at 7:00 on the above dates to explore Canmore’s best birding location.
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.
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.
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.
Before long, the Mallards begin their mating rituals. A riveting contest ensues, as males battles to win mating privileges with the best females.
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.
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.
A couple photos from a recent trip eat of Calgary – we got a GGOW, 5 Snowies, 10 Shorties and a Long-eared!
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.
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:
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!