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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.

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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.

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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.

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Small groups of 30 – 50 Western Sandpipers whistled along the beach, mere inches above the sand.

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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.

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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.

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Black Phoebe

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

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A young Nuttal’s Woodpecker

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Recent Arrivals – Warblers!

One of the most popular spring migrants families is the Warblers, with their bright plumage and stunning songs capturing the attention of even non-birders. In the last week, many species of Warbler have returned to Alberta, including even a few Black-throated Green Warblers spread across the province.

One of my personal favourite warblers is the Cape May. Bright yellow, with black streaking and an orange face patch, this small bird tends to stay high up in spruce or deciduous trees. Yesterday, however, we got lucky with one and it came down low for some photographs.

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Male Cape May Warbler

Another warbler which just came in is one which breeds in Banff, but has not been seen in Canmore until I found this individual on Policeman’s Creek: Blackpoll Warbler!

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Male Blackpoll Warbler

Finally, the American Redstart. Three this morning in Flowing Waters was a good count for this time, but these charismatic little fellows will be commonplace in Canmore before long.

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I have yet to photograph a Redstart with my new camera, so here’s a photo from spring last year.

Here’s to the Tennessee, MacGillivary’s and more still to come!

Feathers on Friday

The snow has finally fallen here in Canmore, after two weeks of positive temperatures and sun. In honour of that, here is a Snow Goose (get it?) from Policeman’s Creek.
OK, now for the real photo: a Trumpeter Swan on the Bow River. 

Other Feathers on Fridays:

Wolf Song Blog                                         Birds In Your Back Yard

Back Yard Bird Blog

Feathers on Friday – Feeder Birds

This week, I’ve been spoiled for choice for a FoF photo, due to the extravagance of the birds at my feeders. How to remedy  this? Simply post three. The first is an inquisitive Clark’s Nutcracker, the second a Black-capped Chickadee and the third is a Black-billed Magpie trying to get a grip on a suet cage. Hope you enjoy them!

Other Feathers on Fridays:

Wolf Song Blog                                         Birds In Your Back Yard

Back Yard Bird Blog