Feast and Famine

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.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler, 2016

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.

Lapland Longspur
American Kestrel, another good bird for the Valley

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!

First-year Greater White-fronted Goose
First-year Greater White-fronted Goose

All in all, a slow season with just enough to be memorable. Hopefully there’s more to come as waterfowl migration really gets underway!

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

Ducks on the Move!

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.

Lesser Scaup, Spring Creek, Spring 2018

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.

American Wigeon on Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
One of ten Northern Shovelers on Policeman’s Creek in April 2018
NSHO
Northern Shoveler, close-up

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.

Home male
A pair of Hooded Mergansers turned up – Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
Home female
Female Hooded Merganser
Canada Goose
Canada Geese overwinter in Calgary, but the Canmore ones head south for the winter.

Before long, the Mallards begin their mating rituals. A riveting contest ensues, as males battles to win mating privileges with the best females.

MALL
The sparring Mallards are a great spring sight – Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018

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.

HADU
Harlequin Ducks resplendent on Policeman’s Creek, Spring 2018
Harlequin Ducks
Harlequins, Spring 2017, Lake Minnewanka

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.

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.

Canmore Spring Bird Walks – May 27th Trip Report

The third edition of Canmore Spring Bird Walks began quietly, oddly lacking the usual morning chorus. This would be the theme of the first half of the walk, in which we saw and heard little apart from American Robins, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds. Once we got to the backside of the creek, however, that changed.

A slow paced musical trill reverberated across the marsh, as participants got serenaded by a relative rarity, the charismatic Swamp Sparrow. The Harlequin Ducks have departed for faster mountain streams in which to breed, but a female Northern Pintail made a fly-by appearance.

HADU
The Harlequins had stayed over a week, but vanished just when we needed them!

Strolling back via the boardwalk, we were treated to excellent views of Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrows and this male Common Yellowthroat.

COYE
Common Yellowthroat

Towards the conclusion of the walk, we relocated the Swamp Sparrow, along with Song Sparrow and juvenile Mallards. The really special birds didn’t come until the final fleeting moments of the walk, though. As the group began to dissipate, a Calliope Hummingbird hovered mere feet from the Big Head statue, and a female Yellow-headed Blackbird perched on the Main Street bridge.

YHBL
Female Yellow-headed Blackbird

This is the first time a Yellow-headed Blackbird has been reported to eBird here, but I know that I saw one many years back, on Policeman’s Creek. If anyone wants to see the full list for the day, click here for my checklist. I hope to see everybody out next time, on June 10th. By then, most of our birds should have arrived, and we’ll be looking for birds like last year’s vagrant Bullock’s Oriole. On Policeman’s Creek, there’s always a good chance for unusual individuals!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks 2018 – May 13th Trip Report

Eight people made their way to the walk on this fine spring morning in Canmore. We started early, heading down the boardwalk and then back via the Mallard Pond overlook, catching a total of 27 species. Yellow Warblers are still yet to arrive, but the first Sora of the year whinnied from the reeds, and a plethora of sparrows buzzed and whistled across the marsh.

MALL
Mallards shone in their breeding plumage.

The real highlights, however, were the many blackbirds. Brown-headed Cowbirds fluted their notes above, while the “Ko-kaaachunk!” of the Red-winged Blackbird reverberated around the creek. Also present were Brewer’s Blackbirds setting up their territories, and a lone Common Grackle flew over towards the end of the walk.

BRBL
A male Brewer’s Blackbird lays claim to its home patch.

For those who want to see the full list, click here. I hope to see you all out for our next walk, on May 27th at 7:15! By then, we can expect a good many more species, including the likes of Yellow Warbler and American Redstarts.