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!

Canmore Spring Bird Walks – June 2nd

As I was unfortunately ill for the May 28th walk, there will be no report on that other than to note that in my absence, they found a Grey Catbird and several other good species on a sunny Sunday morning.

The weather has been quite unusual in the Bow Valley recently, and perhaps because of this, the birds have not really arrived in force like normal. Early wildfires are blazing away up north, pouring tonnes of smoke across the province, and a massive storm cloud held poor conditions over the area for several weeks. This notwithstanding, a couple of exciting birds have made it to Policeman’s Creek, and last Sunday’s bird walk was definitely a success.

Black-and-White Warbler I found a week ago on Policeman’s Creek

We started slowly, but the engaging antics of the Wilson’s Snipe and Red-winged Blackbirds claimed some attention. Once we reached the midway point, participants were treated to a special sight indeed – a pair of Soras picked their way down the bank before turning and swimming across the creek in full view.

Sora

I had all but given up on re-finding the Harlequin Ducks I’d seen on Friday, but the pair sped underneath the bridge and alit on their favourite perch for some truly excellent views.

Male Harlequin Duck

Another low species count for this time of year, with only 30 on the checklist, but some great views and interesting birds. Check out the Canmore Spring Bird Walks eBird profile to see any of the lists from this year or past, and see my other posts on these events here.

Canmore Spring Bird Walks – April 28th & May 12th

April 28th

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.

Canmore-Spring-Bird-Walks 28-04-19 (6 of 7)
Savannah Sparrow

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.

Canmore-Spring-Bird-Walks 28-04-19 (2 of 7)
Yellow-rumped Warbler

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.

May 12th

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.

Red-winged Blackbirds were on of the many species piercing the clear spring air with their breeding calls.

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!

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.

Common Grackle

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.

SOSP-400ml (2 of 2)
Song Sparrow

Canmore Spring Bird Walks 2019

The Canmore Spring Bird Walks are back for another season. When I started this bi-monthly spring event two years ago, I had no idea that there would be the kind of interest that has arisen. It’s great to see everyone getting out – even through the rain, sleet and snow – to experience the many bird species migrating through or residing in Policeman’s Creek.

SPTO
Spotted Towhee

This year, the walks will be held on the following dates, at 7:00 am. We meet at Canmore’s famous Big Head sculpture on Main Street.

April 28:

YRWA
Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

Early passerine migrants will be arriving about now.
We expect around 20-25 species, hopefully including
Yellow-rumped Warblers, Osprey and one or more
shorebird species.

 

May 12:

COYE
Common Yellowthroat

 

Chipping Sparrows, Soras and Red-winged Blackbirds
should be back in full force, and the first of the
flycatchers and Catharus thrushes will be arriving.
Hardy warblers such as the Northern Waterthrush
and Orange-crowned Warbler may also be sighted.

 

May 26:

BPWA`
Blackpoll Warbler

 

Most of the common birds will be back, with American Redstarts, Warbling Vireos and the like being the most recent arrivals. This is one of the best times of the year for rarities passing through – who knows what could turn up!

June 2:

NOFL
Northern Flicker

 

By now, the first of the baby birds will be popping up all across town, and the possibility of late migrants – Brewer’s Sparrow, Connecticut Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak – is still strong. A good checklist on Policeman’s Creek can tally 40+ species.

 

No year is like another, but one thing is consistent: Policeman’s Creek will continue to surprise us. When I started birding it eight years ago, it wasn’t even a hotspot, and now it is tenth in Banff county, with a count of 168 species on eBird. Join us this spring at 7:00 on the above dates to explore Canmore’s best birding location.

RWBL
Red-winged Blackbird

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.

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!