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!

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!

California pt. 1: The Family Trip

Once the annual slog of final exams was past at last, I was looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation and quiet birding before really getting into any ‘summer activities.’ I could not have been more wrong. My first two sightings of summer should have warned me that I was in for a exiting time; a rare Cape May Warbler and a lifer Connecticut Warbler on Policeman’s Creek marked two of my best Banff sightings since the Dunlin in March, and it was shortly after these observations that I was to be whisked off to California on a three week birding adventure.

Naturally, the entire trip could not be about birds; my siblings have yet to fall under the spell of ornithology (there’s always hope!), and there are many wonderful things down the West Coast which do not involve avian highlights. For two weeks, we drove down the coast to San Fransisco, frantically trying to combine birding and vacation with watching the World Cup games.

Rest stop birding sufficed for a few days, as our primary goal was to cover as many miles as possible before slowing down. This, however, turned up such highlights as a Rock Wren and Bullock’s Oriole young.

US-CA Trip - ROWR
Rock Wren

Our first life bird came in the shape of a California Scrub-Jay, a bird we would become gradually familiar with over the course of our expedition. These birds’ brilliant blue plumage spotted the Oregon and California sea line in much the same way as that of the Blue Jay fills our more eastern world.

US-CA Trip - CSJA
California Scrub-Jay, the first lifer of the journey.

From that point on,  a steady trickle of life and year birds streamed past our eager eyes. Commencing in Astoria, Oregon (I highly recommend the visitor centre there; their efforts to find a place showing the World Cup semi-final was commendable) with Brown Pelicans, we continued to Leadbitter Point in search of Snowy Plovers. While we bombed on the Snowies, we had a great time there, as the entire beach was covered with thousands of Western Sandpipers, with healthy numbers of Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher mixed in.

US-CA Trip - WESA
Small groups of 30 – 50 Western Sandpipers whistled along the beach, mere inches above the sand.
US-CA Trip - WESA
Western Sandpiper

On the Oregon coast, there is a place called Haystack Rock which is known, in particular, for its breeding Tufted Puffins. When we reached this notable stone outcrop, we were greeted by dozens of Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, and Western Gulls circling the air. It did not take long to find the object of our desire. Half a dozen of the angular black forms hurtled through the sky with all the grace of a fish hurled from an airplane window. These chunky birds carried their massive bills with a Roman dignity, and seldom approached shore save from high above the beach as they circled the rock.

US-CA Trip - TUPU
Tufted Puffin

The final campsite of the first part of the trip was the best by far – we stayed there for three days, and found over thirty species including 3 lifers. The first lifer observed was the daring Black Phoebe, a bird which perched, fearless, on campfire grates, picnic tables and unoccupied tents around the campsite.

US-CA Trip - BLPH
Black Phoebe

The next day brought with it a family of Nuttal’s Woodpeckers, California Towhees, and a Green Heron!

US-CA Trip - NUWO
A young Nuttal’s Woodpecker

The Green Heron was flighty, but allowed some photos if you crept up behind some bushes.

US-CA Trip - GRHE
Green Heron

The next day, we moved into a hotel in Half-Moon Bay to rest up for the biggest day of the trip – a pelagic tour! The adventures of the long awaited pelagic deserve their own post, however, so you’ll just have to wait for the next post to find out what happened.

The Strangest Birdathon Yet

The Great Canadian Birdathon is complete, and what a birdathon it was! With a final species count of over 115 birds, we beat last year’s total in a shorter time. Somewhat encumbered by my persistent illness, we set off in Water Valley at 5:30am and completed the count at Lac Des Arcs by 9:30pm.

One of our first birds of the day was the Least Flycatcher, a species which, along with the ubiquitous Clay-coloured Sparrow, turned up at almost every location we visited.

LEFL
Least Flycatcher

We headed out to a bridge whch we knew was quite good, and picked up over 30 species there, including a singing Blackburnian Warbler and my FOY Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

A few kilometers NW, at a marsh where we hoped to pick up Swamp Sparrow, Ovenbird and an early Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, we were greeted by a very obliging pair of Sandhill Cranes, which flew overhead, echoing their guttural calls for all to hear.

SACR
Sandhill Crane

Unfortunately, we dipped on the Ovenbird and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, but we did find Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltrimore Oriole and a few Northern Waterthrushes to bring the day’s count up to 45.

Two days previous, Miles Tindal and I had located a breeding Cape May Warbler on the Horse Creek Road, so we pulled over there on the way to Horse Creek Road Marshes and not only found the male warbler, but heard a Cassin’s Vireo to boot!

At the marshes, we found very little, but did manage to identify a single Le Conte’s Sparrow amid the Savannahs.

LCSP
Le Conte’s Sparrow

Since we were still lacking the Swamp Sparrow, we made a little detour to Winchell Lake where we successfully relocated one of these pretty little birds. Now came the strange part of the day. Having little hope of a great birdathon in terms of numbers (we were planning to end early, remember), we headed out on a wild goose chase to find a Green Heron which had been seen at an undisclosed location, and we were guessing where it could have been, thanks to the wealth of knowledge belonging to Dan Arndt of Calgary, who knew an area which resembled the photos of the bird.

Needless to say, we missed the heron, but the journey out to the spot was quite fruitful, turning up Baird’s, Pectoral and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, and other shorebirds including many Wilson’s Phalaropes.

WIPH
Wilson’s Phalarope

Proceeding now towards Frank Lake, we chanced upon a Least Sandpiper, some Black Terns and best of all, a Long-billed Curlew!

Frank Lake was excellent as usual, though not at its brilliant best (there was a Little Blue Heron seen there today!). Barn Swallows offered good photography options, while White-faced Ibises and Forster’s Terns patrolled the skies. Eared Grebe and Ruddy Ducks ruled the water, and mixed in we found Red-necked Phalaropes, Western Grebes and a Marsh Wren in – surprisingly enough – the marsh.

BARS
Barn Swallow

A stop in High River yielded European Collared-Dove and Pine Siskin, and we were almost at Bragg Creek when the text came in. A bird has been seen at Langdon, a bird which almost never makes it as far North as Calgary. A Snowy Egret.

SNEG
Snowy Egret

After originally hesitating due to the distance it was, we had no r-egrets  about making the move to find it.

SNEG
Snowy Egret, Langdon

As we observed this special bird, an anxious Willet circled above, screaming out a distinctive”Will-et! Will-et!”

WILL
Willet

We concluded the day with a desperate stop at Lac Des Arcs to find, oddly enough, our first Common Goldeneye of the day. That rounded off our 2018 Great Canadian Birdathon – with no owls, eagles or falcons, and only three of a possible 7 thrushes, a strange one indeed. For any who want to see the full list of 117 species, click here.

Please consider donating to this important cause! The birdathon is not only a great birding experience for participants, but it is also a crucial part of the fundraising efforts to protect our avian life, both in their breeding grounds in North America, and in their wintering territories farther south. To support our valiant volunteers in their vital work, make a donation to my fundraising page here.