Saturday 25 May 2013

Long Weekend in Southern Alberta

Guest Post by Mira Furgoch

Last weekend I went on a four day long birding trip from Edmonton, AB to Brooks, AB with some friends from the Edmonton Nature Club.

Friday - Driving South

We ventured out of the city around 9am with our sights set on a small pond in Holden where a five species goose flock (Snow, Ross's, Canada, Cackling and Greater White-fronted) had been hanging out last weekend. To our pleasure the geese were still there!

Snow, Ross's, Canada, Cackling and Greater White-fronted Geese the weekend before this trip (May 12, 2013)

(Please excuse the photo quality, and the giant dust spot on my lens. Luckily for us all I travelled with some other great photographers.)

From Holden we birded our way south, stopping at Big Knife Provincial Park for lunch. As we continued our dive south we got our first few looks at Long-billed Curlew's as they flew across the road to land in a field on the other side.

Long-billed Curlew by Dawne Colwell
We also started seeing lots of Western Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, which we would soon get used to seeing as we searched all the longspurs for a, rarer, McCown's Longspur amongst them...

Chestnut-collared Longspur by Dawne Colwell

Swainson's Hawks were abundant and quite tame, allowing us to sneak up right beside them for fantastic looks.

Swainson's Hawk by Janice Hurlburt

And we finally arrived in Brooks, about an hour later than we were expected, but it had been worth it.

Saturday - Count Day!

We were split up into groups for the 15th Annual Brooks May Species Count. I joined a team of Edmonton birders covering the Majorville Medicine Wheel region of the count area west of the Bow River.

Looking down upon the Bow River near Brooks
This area had a lot of natural grassland and duck ponds full of waterfowl and shorebirds. Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Wilson`s Phalaropes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Vesper Sparrows were most abundant, but it was also great to see a fair number of American Avocets, Marbled Godwits and Cinnamon Teal.

American Avocets by Janice Hurlburt
Marbled Godwit by Dawne Colwell

Cinnamon Teal by Dawne Colwell

We also got some great looks at a fluffed up Barn Swallow and some American White Pelican with large knobs on their beaks, which both males and females display in nesting season before eggs are laid.

Barn Swallow by Colleen Raymond
American White Pelicans

Eventually, under threat of rain we reached the end of the road, and climbed one of the highest hills in the area to the Medicine Wheel where we each left an offering.

Majorville Medicine Wheel
On our way back we made a stop near some agricultural fields and were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Two Ferruginous Hawks, a dark morph and a light morph on a nest, one of three Great Horned Owl nests we saw over the weekend and one of two Harris`s Sparrows we saw over the weekend. All within about 100m of each other!

Ferruginous Hawk by Janice Hurlburt

Great Horned Owl chicks by Janice Hurlburt

Another long but exciting day came to an end with 97 species seen.

Sunday - Provincial Parks and Fields

We started the day at Tillebrook Provincial park, where we saw many migrants including seven species of warbler, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, many Swainson`s Thrush and the second Harris`s Sparrow.

Harris`s Sparrow by Janice Hurlburt

Our next stop of the morning was Dinosaur Provincial Park (one of the coolest places I have ever been!) to look for Say`s Phoebe, Rock Wren, Lark Sparrows and Spotted Towhee.

Dinosaur Provincial Park
After a couple of us got a little lost (due to the distraction caused by a close up Red-naped Sapsucker) we ventured through the rugged terrain and found all of our target birds!

Red-naped Sapsucker by Janice Hurlburt
The Rock Wren was putting on a real show singing from the top of a rocky hill.

Rock Wren by Janice Hurlburt
Lark Sparrow by Janice Hurlburt

Later in the afternoon we ventured out around the countryside continuously checking all the longspurs to try and find a McCown`s until finally we found a small flock with two creeping through the grass!

McCown`s Longspur by Janice Hurlburt
All weekend I had been hoping to see a Prairie Falcon, so it was just my luck that when the car ahead spotted one on the fence post and pointed out the window to the right, that I started scanning the field and totally missed the falcon flying across the road and over the field on the left... Might this become my nemesis bird?

All was not lost however because after about 30 minutes waiting in the rain Sunday afternoon (watching Ferruginous Hawks hunting baby hares) we saw the bird that probably made my weekend...

Burrowing Owl by Janice Hurlburt

Monday - Back North-West

On our drive back we hit up some popular birding locations towards Calgary, Frank Lake and Weed Lake. The lakes had a variety of waterfowl and (especially Weed Lake) shorebirds. We got some great looks at a White-faced Ibis which flew into our area.

White-faced Ibis by Janice Hurlburt

There was a large number of Black-necked Stilts nesting in the area.

Black-necked Stilt by Janice Hurlburt

All in all it was an amazing trip, I had a fantastic time exploring southern Alberta!

Many thanks to the wonderful ladies I travelled with for sharing their experience and photos with me! Thank you Colleen, Janice, Dawne and Heather.

Weed Lake