Category Archives: Lifers

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

Feathers on Friday

Dusky Grouse

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.

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!

California pt. 3 – The Final Journey

We set out early from our hotel the day after the pelagic tour, hoping to reach Big Sur by noon. This well-known Condor hotspot would serve as the turn around point for our almost month long vacation. Fools that we were, we thought it would be a simple task – reach the area,  find a walking trail with some life birds reported on it recently, and watch the skies. In fact, we never even made it to Big Sur.

The plan was derailed before we even hit the freeway, as a silhouette atop a lamppost piqued our curiosity. Trailing the bird as it dropped from the pole and alighted in the parking lot of the hotel, the white wing flashes of a Northern Mockingbird became apparent. Lifer! Hopping out of the car to fire off a few shots of the bird, I noticed a yellow form swoop up into a nearby palm tree. It soon shifted to a leafless alder, and we confirmed it as our second lifer of the day – Hooded Oriole! With two life birds to our name before we had even departed for the day, things were looking good.

US-Trip - HOOR

Hooded Oriole

Our next stop was a speciality stop. For many years, a solitary Northern Gannet has been stuck on the west coast – theories run that it came over the continent, through the arctic sea, and no longer knows how to return whence it came. Word was that the bird was currently located at a spot known as the Devil’s Slide Trail, on Egg Rock. After a short, easy walk into the area, we happened across a man who informed us that the Gannet was currently perched atop a rocky island with thousands of Common Murres.

NOGA

Northern Gannet

Yep, it’s there! Can you see it among the murres (Gannet circled in red)? Fortunately, I had my scope and we were thus afforded some excellent views of this extreme rarity.

By now, we were running hours behind schedule, so we stopped for lunch in a small Santa Clara town. Birding the ponds nearby, we found Purple Finch, Bushtit and two species of Towhee. The highlight slipped into a small tree unobserved, but when we found it, it was observed with gusto! A lone Lesser Goldfinch made our fourth lifer of the day.

US-CA Trip - SPTO

Spotted Towhee

California Condors being our main target that day, we rushed down to maybe twenty miles north of Big Sur, before slowing down and gluing our eyes to the sky. As every Turkey Vulture came into sight, it was rapidly assessed before being dismissed as too small. Eventually, one bird seemed larger, soaring close to the ground to the right of the road. Pulling over to check, we confirmed the sad news yet again; not a Condor.

Yet even as I swung my legs into the car, I saw something appear over the hill on the opposite side of the road. Surely this could not be a bird, it was too large. It had to be! But there was no doubt about it, as we watched a fully fledged California Condor materialise from the heavens, swiftly followed up by three more – a family group!

US-CA - Trip - CACO

California Condors!

The majestic raptors soared high overhead, barely moving a wing as they floated over the car towards the sea. Mission accomplished!

From there, we swung the car around and began the long trek north, resting that night roughly thirty miles south of our starting point that morning.

Our first stop of the second day was at a hotspot known as “Arroyo Del Valle” – a place suggested by a friendly young couple on the pelagic for potential Yellow-billed Magpies. Though we found none of the endemic counterparts to our own magpies, we enjoyed an overwhelmingly successful time there, with Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker and Broad-tailed Hummingbird welcoming us to a lush habitat where we found four life birds in under two hours.

US-CA-Trip - ACWO

Acorn Woodpecker

Exploring the area, we added California Thrasher and more Lesser Goldfinches to the list, before finding a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers right at the end. Turkey Vultures were also very much in evidence, with over 20 observed.

US-CA-Trip - TUVU

Turkey Vulture

Only three major stops that day – Arroyo Del Valle, Hayward Regional Shoreline and the Yolo Bypass. We visited the shoreline second, searching for Least Terns and Snowy Plovers. Having missed out on the plovers at Leadbitter Point, we were eager to find this threatened species before we drove ourselves out of range once more.

Before long, we had located a plover – more than one, in fact. Six adults shepherded three young ones, being careful to never approach the path; they stayed so distant that it was difficult to get a shot of these diminutive shorebirds.

US-CA-Trip - SNPL

Snowy Plover

Yolo Bypass (our final spot of the day) was steaming hot, and while we only found one life bird in the form of the Great-tailed Grackle, we came away with many species of sandpiper and waders. Snowy and Great Egrets mixed with Dowitchers, Western and Least Sandpipers to form a patch buzzing with life in the sweltering heat.

US-CA-Trip - SNEG

Snowy Egret

Late that night, we snagged the long-awaited Yellow-billed Magpie.

The last two days were about driving more than birding, though we still saw some exciting species. Breaking through the Oregon border, we picked up our only Black-throated Grey Warbler of the trip along with two Nashville Warblers before reaching Eagle Ridge in Klamath. Though we spent little time here, we managed to pick up five Williamson’s Sapsuckers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher and even a Sooty Grouse. Farther north, we found a lake brimming with Western and Clark’s Grebes.

US-CA-Trip - WEGR

Western Grebe

At last, the penultimate day of the trip arrived. We had but one regret, one which we intended to fix before leaving for good. Time after time, we had missed out on one of my top priority target birds, the White-headed Woodpecker. With only one more chance to get it, things were looking grim. Our last hope lay in the mountain town of Sisters. Here, we hoped to find the AWOL woodpecker, with maybe even a Pinyon Jay thrown in.

After over an hour, we had heard Pinyon Jays, but found no woodpeckers. Giving up, we returned to the car, when I spotted a flash of white at a birdbath. At last, the White-headed Woodpecker had decided to make an appearance. Like the Snowy Plovers, the White-heads proved incredibly difficult to photograph, rarely venturing out into the open, and mostly staying in the dark, out of sight.

US-CA-Trip - WHWO

White-headed Woodpecker

On that note, we left Oregon and blazed through Washington back to BC, and from there home to Alberta. We left the trip with an amazing 37 lifers, and 188 total species across 75+ checklists and almost 5000 photos.

Thanks for reading!

WBNU

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sisters.

Read the other posts here:

Pt. One

Pt. Two

California pt. 2: The Pelagic

The Albatross has long been considered an ill omen among sailors. Ironically, it is in the pursuit of these very same creatures that I come up against my own metaphorical “Albatross.” Despite multiple attempts, a pelagic trip (an oceanic birding tour) has eluded me throughout the years. Blocked by fog in Tofino, closure in Victoria, and lack of transportation on the east coast, I have somehow managed to reach my ninth year of birding without experiencing one of these trips. This, however, would all change on July 14, when we would sail out of Half-Moon Bay, California.

Up at five-thirty to drive out to the pier, where we met Alvaro Jarmarillo and the rest of the group at 6:30 AM. Filing aboard the New Captain Pete, we were met by the pleasant news that the boat was stocked with fresh coffee, biscuits and some excellent fresh strawberries. Departing the harbour in a cloud of fog, we identified the usual mix of Brown Pelicans, Heerman’s and Western Gulls. Two Marbled Murrelets – only the second time we had seen these unusual birds – floated half a mile offshore.  Murrelets oddly nest in deep forest groves, miles from the ocean, where they return to spend the majority of their lives.

HEER

Heerman’s Gull

The first life bird of the day came surprisingly early, and would be a common sight over the course  of the trip – Northern Fulmar! These funny little tubenoses  were never boring, coming close to the boat for photos in their array of colours, from mottled grey to chocolate brown to a pure, glistening white.

Alvaro's Adventures - NOFU

A stark white Northern Fulmar rides the ocean current

As we neared our primary destination, a pod of whales surrounded the boat – Hump-backs, Fin Whales and a small unidentified whale swam further out, but close to ten Great Blue Whales breached nearest our vessel, granting many close views of their broad backs and explosion of mist that was their breath. Having the two largest mammals in the world (Fin Whale being the other) surrounding us was an amazing experience, if a little nerve-wracking.

GBW

Great Blue Whale

Approaching the islands, we were treated to our first ever views of Cassin’s Auklet. Impossible to photograph, the tiny alcids would bounce from wave to wave in increasing speed as the boat came near, before finally gaining the momentum to lift off. Eventually, however, one accepted our presence long enough for us to catch a few shots before vanishing beneath the waves.

Alvaro's Adventures - CAAU

Cassin’s Auklet

Sooty Shearwaters skimmed the sea, and, though relatively common, rarely approached the ship.

Alvaro's Adventures - SOSH

A Sooty Shearwater springs from the water

Our day was spotted with Puffin observations, each of which was punctuated by a scream of “Puffin!” which resounded from end to end of the boat, alerting all the passengers of the nearby alcid. Once, we were lucky enough to have one fly only a few feet above the boat, and another time a pair rested contentedly as we floated within 100 metres of them. All in all, we were very fortunate with the Puffins.

Alvaro's Adventures - HOPU

Horned Puffins!

My highlight came as we coasted along the continental shelf, in a heavy patch of fog.
I gazed into the distance, not expecting much, when a massive shape loomed out of the fog. It drifted towards us on silent wings, bigger than any bird I had seen before, and there was no doubting what it was. An Albatross.

The bird passed, shrouded in mist, but we would see another. Nine more, in fact. Black-footed Albatrosses were the undeniable high point of the day, and while we saw no Laysans, I was more than content with the obliging birds.

Alvaro's Adventures - BFAB

Albatross!

And I’d include another photo of the goliaths had it not been for another lifer, the Pink-footed Shearwater. A duo of the avians paused next to a young Albatross, presumably for a patch of food, though we observed none. As we neared their location, a Shearwater flew up, and banked past us offering excellent views of its white underwings and wide wingspan.

Alvaro's Adventures - PFSH

Pink-footed Shearwater

Returning to shore, we saw few birds other than the murres, which had shown up in their tens of thousands that day. Eventually, a pair of dark birds were spotted on the horizon, which we could only assume were gulls signifying the proximity of land. Fortunately, we were wrong. Two immature Long-tailed Jaegers zoomed away over the sea, leaving us with an adult Sabine’s Gull as the only gull we saw at any distance from shore.

On reentry unto the harbour, we identified Surfbirds and Black Turnstones, in addition to an extremely distant pair of Elegant Terns as our fourteenth, and last lifers of the pelagic trip.

Alvaro's Adventures - BRPE

Brown Pelican

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the final post of the trip!