Sunday, July 10, 2016

Western Canada Birding Trip, June 2016

I’ve never been to Alberta (AB) before, so needless to say when a mid-June business trip to Calgary came up I was most excited to have an opportunity to start my AB province list.  One option would be to squeeze in a bit of birding time before and after work each day as time permitted.  But that would only allow for limited birding time, and especially limit the birding sites to those in the greater Calgary area.  So given the potential for a significant number of new province birds, I decided to add a couple vacation days to the trip to do some more extensive AB birding. 

And then a couple days later I looked at the maps and realized that Calgary was only a couple hours driving time from the British Columbia (BC) border - with a little extra driving I could work on my BC list as well.  Although I have birded in BC, all my birding has been in Vancouver and nearby coastal areas, and my list was just 144, meaning I had some significant potential to add inland birds to my BC list as well.  As a result I decided to make it into an even bigger western Canada birding trip, with at least 3 birding days in each province – spending time in the mountains, in the foothills, and in the prairies.  Plus I could still bird in AB before or after work each day during my business trip. 

Now it was time for research.  In AB I concentrated on locating birding spots in the greatest variety of habitats as possible, using site guides provided on the Nature Calgary website.  I also tried to find locations with good summer reports on eBird, though mid-summer data were limited at most locations.  All this was fine-tuned with some excellent advice from local Calgary birder Bob Lefebvre.  And although I had a similar approach for BC, I also made a long list of possible target species there and spent time focusing on the best locations to find specific species.  I put together a tentative itinerary for AB that featured short trips around Calgary for my 3 work days, and a full day in the prairie and another full day in the Rockies.  And then came up with a big loop in BC starting with one day in the Rockies, another in the foothills, and two to the west in prairie/riparian areas.  I hoped a successful trip would yield 150 birds for AB and 50 new species for my BC list, though reaching 200 in BC would be nice. 

This post provides a brief summary of the entire trip.  The next two posts detail Days 1-5 in AB, and Days 6-10 in BC, along with a number of photos of the amazing scenery, as well as a few phonescoped bird photos.

AB Birding – Days 1-5

The AB portion of the trip included three days of limited birding before and/or after work, and two full vacation days of birding.  Birding sites I covered can be grouped into three key habitat types –

  • Foothills –
    • Weaselhead Natural Area in Calgary with a diverse variety of riparian and upland habitats.  The key find here was a Wood Thrush as an extreme rarity for BC.
    • Water Valley northwest of Calgary with excellent wetland and mixed conifer habitat including “eastern” birds like Cape May Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak near the western limit of their range, and my only Evening Grosbeaks of the trip
    • Highwood Valley southwest of Calgary including my only Dipper of the trip, and a hike above treeline where I found Gray-crowned Rosy-finch and American Pipit.
  • Prairies –
    • Frank Lake with 8 species of waterfowl and 6 species of shorebirds (many including broods of baby birds), along with Forster’s and Common Terns and nesting Ring-billed and California Gulls.  And in the surrounding prairies I found nesting LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sparrows, and a flyover Short-eared Owl.
    • Native prairie southeast of Brook featuring breeding Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Brewer’s Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, Sprague’s Pipits, and Bobolinks.
    • Dinosaur National Park with Rock Wrens, Prairie Falcons, and Lark Sparrows in badland habitat, and riparian habitat featuring Chats, Baltimore Orioles, and Brown Thrashers.  Not to mention Loggerhead Shrike and Eurasian Collared Dove a short distance from the park.
    • Kinbrook Provincial Park wetlands with a pair of White-winged Scoters and breeding Red-necked Grebes.
    • Rolling Hills Sloughs with rare Barrow’s Goldeneye and Black-bellied Plovers, plus my only Long-billed Curlew of the trip mixed in with a large flock of Marbled Godwits.
  • Mountains –
    • Banff National Park with stops at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake featuring boreal species such as Varied Thrush, Pacific Wren, Fox Sparrow, Townsend’s Warbler, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.
    • Smith-Dorrien Trail stops adding Bald Eagle and Common Loon, and a pair of nearby Black Bears thankfully seen from the safety of my car.

I ended the AB half of my trip with 172 species – certainly much better than my hoped for 150 species. 

BC Birding – Days 6-10

I spent 3 full days and two partial days birding in BC, covering a wide array of habitats.  With the a lot of excellent advice from Blaeberry birder Douglas Leighton, I made stops in the following areas -

  • Mountains –
    • Yoho National Park where boreal birding featured Barrow’s Goldeneye, 3 different Three-toed Woodpeckers, an unexpected Blackpoll Warbler, Fox Sparrows, and the only Pine Grosbeak of the trip.  And in lower elevations I found Dusky Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo and the only Nashville Warbler of the trip.
    • Kootenay National Park where a short visit on the Floes Creek trail yielded a booming Dusky Grouse.
  • Foothills –
    • Blaeberry where a morning of birding in excellent diverse habitats yielded local specialties like Magnolia Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Broad-winged Hawk, and Black Swifts, and a rare Black-and-white Warbler.
    • Parson hummingbird watching netted the expected Black-chinned along with a very rare Ruby-throated.
    • Stops near Parson yielded a broad mix of birds like two families of Trumpeter Swans, Kingfisher, Alder Flycatchers, and Catbirds in and adjacent to extensive wetlands.  And upland birds featured Mountain Bluebird and a rare Indigo x Lazuli Bunting hybrid.
    • Two quick stops in Donald yielded an expected Say’s Phoebe.  What was unexpected was that it was an extremely pale leucistic bird.
  • Valley to the West –
    • Salmon Arm Bay with a lone Clark’s Grebe mixed in with many Westerns, and 4 White Pelicans.
    • Kalamalka Provincial Park with numerous Pygmy Nuthatches, a pair of Nutcrackers, and a singing Solitaire in the pines, and Pheasants and Vesper Sparrows in the grasslands.  Not to mention Mourning Doves and lots of California Quail in the neighboring suburban streets.
    • Vernon Commonage grasslands featuring Swainson’s Hawks along with my only Goshawk, Vaux’s Swift, and Western Bluebirds of the trip.
    • Glenmore Landfill and adjacent Robert Lake where I added Black-necked Stilt and Wilson’s Phalarope, along with a very rare Marbled Godwit.  Though I missed the expected Avocets.
    • White/Green Lake Loop in sagebrush country with key target Sage Thrashers along with Lark Sparrows, and Brewer’s Sparrows.  And I added Cassin’s Finches in nearby pines and Chats in riparian brush.
    • Vaseux Cliffs where I added a Golden Eagle, a covey of Chukars, nesting Lewis’s Woodpeckers, and a Rock Wren.
    • Osoyoos Road 22 where a quick stop yielded Bobolinks at perhaps their most regular breeding site in the province.
    • Haynes Point Provincial Park where I added breeding Red-necked Grebe with a targeted short stop.
I had 166 species for the BC portion of my trip, 81 of which were new for my province list - way over my goal of at least 50 species.  That gives me 225 for my BC list – my first province with more than 200.

Trip Summary by the Numbers

  • 210 species for the entire trip, including –
    • 6 species of grebes
    • 21 species of waterfowl
    • 13 raptors species
    • 12 species of nesting shorebirds
    • 8 gull species
    • 10 species of flycatchers
    • 16 species of warblers – with a nice mix of “eastern” species mostly east of the mountains in AB and “western” species mostly west of the mountains in BC, and
    • 16 sparrow species
  • 47 new species for Canada.  My Canada list is now at 356 - the old ABA reportable threshold for Canada was 350
  • 1,147 ticks in Canada exceeding the old threshold of 1,000
  • Plus I got total tick #14,000 on the trip

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