Category Archives: Lifers

2018 Calendar Photos

I’ve decided to create a 2018 calendar, filled with my photos. All my photos are Alberta birds (though not all common in Alberta – see the Black-throated Blue Warbler taken in Canmore, AB). The thing is, I don’t know which photos to pick! there are twelve months in the year, plus a cover photo, so I need thirteen picks before the October! Please vote in the comments, with a first pick, second choice, etc. Here are my twenty-four candidates:

NOTE – click on photo to view full screen.

Think I’m missing one that should be in? Feel free to email me at:

Thanks everyone!

The Trip of a Lifetime – Southern Alberta

Sorry for not posting for a while, I’ve been going through the multiple thousand photos from this trip, in addition to keeping up my birding! This may be a long post, so if you skip through it, I totally understand.

My sister was off to Bible Camp for a week, and my Mum and brother were headed to BC with friends. This left me and my Dad with a week alone, and a steady stream of interesting birds being reported from across the province, mainly in the far South-East. McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Lark Sparrows and Buntings to name a few. Combine the two, and you get a four day birding trip around Alberta with few of the usual hindrances – time being the main one. And so it was that we set out on Monday the 18th of July for the trip of a lifetime.

Our first stop (we hoped) was just outside of Calgary for a Black-headed Grosbeak. This didn’t come off, however, so we birded the area for a while before driving off to Lethbridge. The biggest surprise was the number and boldness of young Soras. Almost 20 foraged alongside Wilson’s Snipe and Black Terns in a small streambed.


Two young Soras in the sparse grass at the edge of the gulley.

Red-winged Blackbirds were also in full evidence, feeding their young, and filling the reedbeds with their throaty calls.

Red-winged Blackbird w-food-4307

Red-winged Blackbird with insect

Reaching Lethbridge without trouble, we settled into our motel and fell into a restless sleep (on my part at least). The next day, we rose early and, having filled our go-mugs with the hotel coffee, set out towards Pakowki Lake. Six White-faced Ibis were nice additions on the drive there, but the real highlights came hidden among over 200 Horned Larks – two of the fleeing birds revealed white tails marked by a black triangle – Chestnut-collared Longspurs! Almost at the lake, the cherry on the cake sat 100 metres from a Ferruginous Hawk in the form of a Grasshopper Sparrow. Two lifers already, and it was only ten AM!


Spotting the diminutive Grasshopper Sparrow from the road and having it sit in the open long enough to ID it proved to be tough work.

Pakowki Lake was actually pretty bare, with a handful of Willets, some Marbled Godwits and many pairs of Eared Grebes being the most notable species.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Wandering down a vacant road, we were stopped by an inquisitive rancher who, quite naturally, wanted to know who we were and why we were on his land. As it turned out, we were the second birding car he had met on his way out! We soon caught up to the other vehicle, and had a brief conversation with the owners, who we knew. While we talked, a large flock including Vesper Sparrows, Chestnut-collared Longspurs, and life-birds McCown’s Longspurs engulfed us before continuing their passage down the gravel road.


Male Chestnut-collared Longspur transitioning to non-breeding plumage


Vesper Sparrow

We had just enough time to drive over to Wild Horse (the way border crossing between Alberta and the US) before heading back up to Medicine Hat where we would spend the night. Wild Horse was supposed to be good territory for Lark Buntings, both Longspurs and Baird’s Sparrow. The first thing we saw, however, was a common yet pretty bird with its fledglings. Western Kingbirds!

Western Kingbirds

“Now kids, smile for the camera man”

It didn’t take long to find the Lark Buntings – a large flock, perhaps 75 in number fed among the fields near the crossing. Baird’s Sparrow was found by pure chance – we pulled over to photograph a Lark Bunting, and it popped up from the grass right beside us!


Male Lark Bunting

The day was progressing quickly, and we wanted to sleep in Medicine Hat that night, so the car swung into a more heavily populated road (almost six cars every ten minutes – counts as a well-used motor-way down there). Stopping at an almost empty Cypress Hills Provincial Park, we found a young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but little else. Immediately afterwards, however… A long-winged, pale shaped bird tossed it’s body across a roadside field, fluttering, first one wing up, then the other. It banked, and there was no doubt about it. A Short-eared Owl!

My nemesis bird, the Short-eared Owl has avoided me on many occasions, sometimes by miles, sometimes by hours. I’ve spent countless fruitless trips at dusk among the Alberta prairies, searching for this elusive bird to no avail.  So imagine my surprise when this first amazing discovery was followed by six more – four of them immature!

Short-eared Owlet

We made it to Medicine Hat in total darkness, and scouted around for a place to sleep for a while before finally crashing into bed. From Medicine Hat, we would continue our journey North, almost reaching Edmonton before dipping back down to Canmore on Thursday night. That part of the trip remains to be chronicled, however, so watch for a second post soon!

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2017 – A Five Year Anniversary

BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2013BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2014BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2015BirdBoy Great Canadian Birdathon 2016

As I mentioned in my last post (Springing into Spring), the Great Canadian Birdathon is happening again this year, and it is a special one for me, as it will be my fifth time participating. Those of you who have been with me the whole time will remember that some of my first ever posts involved the 2013 Birdathon, back when it was called the Baillie Birdathon.
I have included links to all of the previous Birdathon posts at the bottom of this one.

Great Canadian Birdathon Shirt 2017

The new shirt design

The Birdathon has taken me many places and given my many exiting experiences. I am trying a new approach this year, which is to captain a team. This team will include Canadian Birder, and hopefully we will see some new birds – perhaps even that Short-eared Owl that has been evading me for so long.

James L. Baillie was an Assistant Curator in the Department of Ornithology at the Royal Ontario Museum for roughly half a century, and both the Baillie Birdathon and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund were set up in his honor. The birdathon’s name was changed in 2015, but the memory continues in the memorial fund, which receives part of the funds raised every year from the Birdathon.

Thank you everyone who has donated already, and if you haven’t, consider joining the cool crowd by following this link: Birdathon, and donating to keep our backyard beauties in fine feather!


Photos from Previous Years:

Great Canadian Birdathon 2013:

Raven eating pigeon

Common Raven

Ethan Baillie Birdwatching

Great Canadian Birdathon 2014:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Great Canadian Birdathon 2015:

American Avocet

Brown Thrasher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Great Canadian Birdathon 2016:

Marbled Godwit

Great Horned Owl

Eastern Phoebe

Links to posts:

2013                             2014                             2014#2                             2015

2016                             2016#2

The West Coast Trip (Week Two)

First of all, a correction – I had, in the last post, made an error in my identification of photo number six – it is a Savannah Sparrow, not a Golden-crowned.

I’m sorry this comes out late; despite being one of the best things ever to happen to me, homeschooling rhythms have yet to fully settle in.

We started the second week with high hopes – it all revolved around the pelagic tour that we hoped to do in Tofino. Long Beach and Englishman River Estuary also looked promising.

Monday we visited Long Beach, where both of my siblings had a lot of fun jumping over waves.
I, on the other hand, scoped the ocean hoping for murrlets and Pacific Loons.
After about ten minutes of searching, something other than a Pigeon Guillemot or Surf Scoter brought excitement.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Through the fog, I could see something that could possibly be a Pacific Loon!
Nope, false alarm. It was a Red-necked Grebe. Though still interesting, it was not what I had hoped for. A few minutes more, and this time I had found a loon. In fact, there were about 6 of them, but unfortunately too far away for photos.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The only bird other than a gull to turn up actually on the beach, a Least Sandpiper.

That afternoon, we headed into Tofino, and found three Bald Eagles circling behind a sea-side restaurant, which was throwing out it’s fish guts.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Tuesday was the day planned for the pelagic trip. Sooty Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklets and many others awaited. We walked in to the tour office, and the co-owner radioed a captain who was out near where we would go. Apparently,  there was still fog out near the island, and the waters were getting “tricky.” In short, we could not go. That hit us hard. The entire trip had hinged on this outing!

We drove back across the island (meaning Vancouver Island) and once on the other side, met up with some friends who had recently moved there. At least, the others did. My Dad and I went to Englishman River Estuary for a couple hours.

Killdeer were the first  things we saw, and we went on to count 35 of them along with the Western and Least Sandpipers, and a few Sanderlings. A bunch of Common Mergansers and a late Western Gull added to a total of 21 species.



The next day, we had a long stop at Rathtrevor Beach, where there were oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls galore. There was also a quickly approaching tide, so some wet feet were involved.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher


In Victoria, we did a short whaling trip during which I did as much birding as possible, drawing out Surfbirds from a photo of an island. At the time, I was unsure of their ID, but now there is no doubt, though the photos are bad. An aqua-phobic just can’t take photos from a boat.

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher

Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher – 2 of each, but the turnstone

Can you find all the birds?

Rhinocerous Auklet

My Dad’s shot – Rhinocerous Auklet

That evening, we headed out to Clover Point, where we (eventually) found the much-hoped-for Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gull

Heerman’s Gull


Back on the mainland, a quick stop-over at the fabled Reifle Bird Sanctuary turned up 35 Herons, 10 Sandhill Cranes and a Virginia Rail among others. This Leucistic Mallard is banded, but unfortunately I was unable to get the band information.

Leucistic Mallard

Leucistic Mallard

And that’s it from my West Cost Trip #2! Thank you everyone for reading, and stick around to hear about the Canmore Christmas Bird Count.

The West Coast (Week One)

I recently returned from a two-week camping trip to Vancouver Island, as many of you know. We left on Saturday the 6th of August, and stopped over night at our friends’ place in Summerland.

My Dad and I woke early on the Sunday and explored the neighbourhood. A Killdeer calling from the top of a tree attracted attention, but it was merely an imitating Starling. There were some Stellar’s Jays around, but we were more interested in the California Quail, a bird that we do not have at home.

California Quail

California Quail

As the 6:00 ferry was full that evening, we had to wait for the 7:00, which left plenty of time for us to bird the hotspot. Common Loons, Great Blue Herons, and Glaucous-winged Gulls were plentiful, but the Highlight was a Peregrine Falcon that swooped in at about 6:30, and stayed until we left.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

That night, we set up camp at Goldstream Provincial Park, where we would stay for the following week.

On Monday the 8th we birded Whiffin Spit. Halfway down the path we were watching some White-crowned Sparrows when a twittering Anna’s Hummingbird zoomed over our heads. Lifer!

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper, another lifer from Whiffin Spit

Tuesday we went out to Cowichan Bay, where we identified Purple Martins,  but the real Highlight was Esquimalt Lagoon, 2 swan species, and many ducks, gulls and guillemots.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Immature Glaucous-winged Gull

We spent much of our third day at the Victoria Museum. but when we left we found a few Anna’s Hummingbirds and 3 Purple Finches.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

On Thursday we headed to Botanical Beach, where the first thing that we encountered was a Black Bear. After it had left, I found some Western Sandpipers and Harlequin Ducks, but the treat was an immature Golden-crowned Sparrow. In the woods nearby, a lone Yellow-bellied Flycatcher called.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck, engulfed by the surf







On our final full day based in Goldstream, we took a ferry across to Saltspring Island and Maxwell Mountain, where we saw 2 Baldies, 2 Peregrines and 6 Turkey Vultures in the space of five minutes.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

We packed up camp fairly early the next morning, and went to Cattle Point to look for Black Turnstones. just as we were turning back, we saw them, a long distance away, but it counted.

That evening, we hit Swan Lake  were we found Bushtits, Anna’s Hummingbirds and the Best view of a Bewick’s Wren so far.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren



That concluded the first week, but we had high hopes for the second. A pelagic tour from Tofino, more lifers, and the famous Reifel Bird Sanctuary all awaited. So far, I had a lifer count of 7 for seven days. Could I keep it up?

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

North-western Crows

North-western Crows




I am sorry to say that the West Coast posts will come out later than expected. My excuse is that I have been Heli-Hiking for the past week. For those of you who don’t know what Heli-Hiking is, it is a form of mountain hiking where you are transported by a helicopter to hard to reach places, where you procced to hike. This came out of the blue last Monday, and we spent a frantic night packing before a 6:00 start on Tuesday. My dad works for Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) and we got a special place amongst the guests.

The Helicopter

The Helicopter

We stayed at the Bugaboo Lodge, which was super nice. This is the best shot I could get of it from the helicopter.

The Bugaboos

The Bugaboos

The birding wasn’t great, but I managed a lifer in Rock Ptarmigan, though I only heard them. Ptarmigan are very difficult to see. There were a family of Willow Ptarmigan that a few people saw but no matter how many times I went out to find them, I missed them.

Photos courtesy of Fiona Laird

Photos courtesy of Fiona Laird

Photos courtesy of Fiona Laird

Photos courtesy of Fiona Laird







I did, however see a Wolverine. Flitting glance though it was, I saw enough to confirm the identification before it cleared a hill and disappeared. Wolverines are very secretive creatures, and I did not get a photo.

That same day, I saw a family of Harlequin Ducks, some Spotted Sandpipers and a group of American Pipits.

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

I also got a good shot of the famous Bugaboo Spire.

The Bugaboos Spire

The Bugaboo Spire

So that is my excuse, please forgive me for getting out the West Coast posts late. 🙂