In stark contrast to last year, this fall in the Bow Valley has been a slow affair only with one or two high points. Where last autumn there with birds in every tree, this one has been very dead. There have, however been a few high points, including a bird which I hadn’t seen for quite a while – my second Alberta report of a Black-throated Blue Warbler!
It was 2016 when I last found one, a male in my own backyard.
On the same day as the female BTBW, we found first-of-season Surf Scoters, a Palm Warbler, and a county-high number of 150 Snow Geese. These exciting birds were all results of an early snow storm, which brought down migrants and contained them in the Bow Valley for a short while. The following day, I birded Policeman’s Creek in search of more birds impeded by the same weather system. Amazingly, I found the second ever Lapland Longspur for the hotspot, on the exact same date as I located the first last year!
A species which habituates the flat prairies east of Calgary, we only get a very few passing through each migration season, and it’s very rare to find them in such a forested area as this.
Apart from that weekend, there’s been very little around. One solitary Greater White-fronted Goose turned up on a school ground near my house, and proved to be my 250th species for the county!
All in all, a slow season with just enough to be memorable. Hopefully there’s more to come as waterfowl migration really gets underway!
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.
The raptors were mostly Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, but a few Ferruginous and Golden Eagles showed up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, a few photos which didn’t manage to fit in the rest of the post, but I still quite like.
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.
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.
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!
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!
It seems that there are still some interesting birds around Canmore – I photographed this Magnolia Warbler as well as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and some American Redstarts on Policemans Creek this week.
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.
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!