Category Archives: Passerines

Colorado Birding

I’ve just returned from a ten day trip down south to Colorado. While we had little time for birding, it was a successful trip in several respects, as we found four lifers and saw some excellent seconds.

Colorado is very similar to Alberta, with mountains, prairies and coniferous forests supporting much the same type of bird life. This said, it’s southern aspects means that certain species such as Chats, some Warblers, and one or two others can be found which don’t make it up to Alberta.

During the drive down, we were in convoys with relatives from Calgary and so made almost no birding stops, but while driving through Montana and Wyoming, Lark Buntings, Horned Larks and raptors were prominent and easily identifiable.

HOLA

Horned Lark

The raptors were mostly Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, but a few Ferruginous and Golden Eagles showed up.

FEHA

Ferruginous Hawk

Once in Denver, we were mostly tied up with family things, but managed to make a lunch time trip to Cherry Creek State Park, where we saw Yellow-breasted Chats and Snowy Egrets among other things.

The next day, we made a trip out to Mt. Evans – a scenic viewpoint I’d suggested, admittedly with an ulterior motive. Mt. Evans is probably the easiest spot in the state to find the elusive Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and it was one of my top targets for the trip. Close to the summit, my wish was granted as a Rosy-Finch flew over, singing. We would later see several more, each as it whizzed by, not stopping and too fast for a photo. What did stick around, and surprisingly tamely, were the American Pipits. When these alpine birds pass through Canmore, they stay on the creek rocks and are quite skittish, but these individuals were much more accepting of viewers.

AMPI

American Pipit

AMPI

American Pipit

Returning to Denver from Mt. Evans, we pulled over at a Lodge and found four species of Hummingbirds frequenting the four feeders – Rufous and Calliope we were familiar with, Black-chinned had recently been the subject of a two day trip to Crowsnest Pass, but Broad-tailed was only a second sighting for me.

BTHU

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

BTHU

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

BTHU

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

After that, it was two days before we could get out again, but once we did get out it was an excellent morning doing the DIA Owl loop – though the only owl we saw was a terrible view!

The first stop we made as part of this drive was at Barr Lake State Park, where we spent a fruitful two hours finding second-ever Blue Grosbeak, the farthest North Great-tailed Grackle I’ve ever found, and, eventually, nesting Barn Owls! As I mentioned, however, our views weren’t great. A solitary Owl moving inside the box did not even bother to poke it’s head out as we walked by. We were also treated to Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows, neither of which are regular birds for us and dozens of Cormorants and Pelicans.

DCCO

Double-crested Cormorant

Shortly afterwards, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge turned up White-winged Dove (which had been a lifer in April), but not much else, as we bombed on Burrowing Owls for the 5th time in a month.

This was also our last birding excursion before the return drive to Alberta, which was easily the best birding of the entire trip. We began by finding one of the top birds of the year, and lifer number three for the trip, in the form of a family of Mountain Plovers! Contrary to what their name might suggest, Mountain Plovers are not habitually found in mountainous habitat, but in the prairies.

MOPL

If you look to the right, you can see a baby.

Continuing the drive north, we noted Rock Wren, Golden Eagle and three Sandhill Cranes before over-nighting in Buffalo, Wyoming. The next day found a large flock of early migrants – Wilson’s Phalaropes – mixed in with resident shorebirds at a roadside slough.

WIPH

Wilson’s Phalarope

That evening, we spent some time at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Reserve, where we found no less than six Short-eared Owls, a young Long-billed Curlew, and baby Black-necked Stilts just recently out of the fuzzball stage.

BNST

Black-necked Stilt

LBCU

Young Long-billed Curlew

LABU

Male Lark Bunting

One of the Short-eared Owls, amazingly, managed to catch an adult Green-winged Teal! It could not hold on to it’s abnormally large prey, however, and the duck escaped.

On our final day on the road, we stopped at a place in Alberta highly recommended by some birding friends near Brooks, and found it to be quite good despite the mid-day heat. Brown Thrashers, both northern Kingbirds, thrushes and a good number of others bathed – mostly in puddles, though one Brown Thrasher was taking a dust bath.

AMRO

American Robin bathing

WEKI

Western Kingbird

It was also that morning that we finally found some Burrowing Owls. They weren’t close enough to get a worthwhile picture, but we had excellent views of these talismans for prairie birding. Had we failed to find them on this attempt, I think they would have earned the title of my new Nemisis bird, but fortunately, they made an appearance.

SEOW

Not quite the right owl, but at least I have a post-able photo of this one!

Finally, a few photos which didn’t manage to fit in the rest of the post, but I still quite like.

WEKI

Western Kingbird

LABU

Female Lark Bunting

HOLA

Horned Lark

CONI

Common Nighthawk

Crowsnest Pass and the Bob Creek Wildland

This past week, two other Canmore birders and I headed down to the Crowsnest Pass in search of two rare birds which were being seen consistently at feeders near the town. We also made a “quick” (3 hour) stop at the Bob Creek Wildland, a hotspot which had a great range of habitat and thus bird species.

The first of our two target species was a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, something which we certainly won’t be getting up in the North of the county, and even in Crowsnest Pass is a rare sighting. We pulled up at the location, and were surprised by the sheer number of hummers flying around, displaying, and coming in to feed on the two feeders.

Calliope Hummingbird

It didn’t take long for the Black-chinned to show, but she only stopped for a second before vanishing again. We stuck it out for another hour or two before finally being treated to a second, barely longer, appearance.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – note the curved wing shape, rounded tips and grey throat area.

Rufous Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

During this time, we were also treated to looks at our second target, the Black-headed Grosbeak, but I failed to get any decent photos.

The next day, we ventured out to Bob Creek, and found it to be one of the best places we’ve birded in Banff County. The eBird hotspot boasted only 86 species (107 by the time we were done with it), but we racked up 56 species on a rainy morning in late June including Banff County rarities such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Willet and Upland Sandpiper!

Upland Sandpiper

Willet

These extreme rarities for the county were, to all appearances, breeding in this diverse Wildland! My personal Banff county list rose by 7 species over the course of the trip – it’s likely the final time that I’ll have such a productive trip in the county. With the addition of (in chronological order) Franklin’s Gull, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Veery, Black Tern, Willet, and Upland Sandpiper, I’ve risen to 248 species in the county, and 299 for Alberta. Looking forward to the 300th!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks – April 28th & May 12th

April 28th

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.

Canmore-Spring-Bird-Walks 28-04-19 (6 of 7)

Savannah Sparrow

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.

Canmore-Spring-Bird-Walks 28-04-19 (2 of 7)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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.

May 12th

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.

Red-winged Blackbirds were on of the many species piercing the clear spring air with their breeding calls.

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!

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.

Common Grackle

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.

SOSP-400ml (2 of 2)

Song Sparrow

Spring Migration in Texas

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.

Day One:

Roseate Spoonbill

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 Heron

Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons and Reddish Egret were all present, and Terns swept across the reeds.

Common Tern

Day Two:

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.

Anhinga

Anhinga

 

Purple Gallinule

It was here that we finally picked up a long-term nemesis, the American Bittern.

American Bittern

It lurked in the marsh alongside a White Ibis, Little Blue Heron and American Alligator.

Little Blue Heron

Day Three:

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.

White-eyed Vireo

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Northern Parula

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.

Sandwich Tern

Royal Tern

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.

Semipalmated Plover

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.

Days 5/6

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.

Black-necked Stilt

Common Gallinule

Chuck-will’s-Widow

Green Anole

Inca Dove

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage many photos of the southern specialities, particularly the Least Grebe, Green Kingfisher, Bronzed Cowbird and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

White-winged Dove

Great Egret

Day Seven

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.

Green Heron

Orchard Oriole

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.

Reddish Egret

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Green Heron

Day Eight

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.

Northern Mockingbird

Royal Tern

Loggerhead Shrike

Great-tailed Grackle

Northern Mockingbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Summary of a Crazy Fall

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!

MAGW

Magnolia 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.

pawa3

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:

UNREPORTED 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Nashville Warblers:

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.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

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!

August Birding

The Bow Valley has been lit up by a flood of migrating passerines throughout August, and while I’m hoping to find more during September, I thought I’d post a collection of some of my favourite birds.

Say’s Pheobe

This Canada Warbler was only the third eBird record ever in Banff County.

CAWA

Canada Warbler

Magnolia Warblers are fairly unusual here too.

MAGW

Magnolia Warbler

Something about Ravens has always attracted me, and when I found this one at Vermillion Lakes, I couldn’t resist photographing it. Not really a fall bird, but it can take the place of the two Stilt Sandpipers, which I failed to get good pictures of.

CORA

Common Raven

Warbling Vireos are all over the place. (click to enlarge)

EAKI

Eastern Kingbird

Kingbirds are turning up too, amongst the flocks of robins.

AMRO

American Robin

And there’s still a few youngsters scattered throughout, like this immature Yellowthroat.

COYE

Common Yellowthroat

And finally, the Yellow Warblers are all but departed, but I did manage to get this female a week or two back.

Yellow Warbler

Here’s hoping for more fall rarities as we progress into September, and with it, shorebird season!