Canada: Banff NP

Banff was birdier than Jasper. I found my trails and I found my people. While Tomas explored the city, I spent most of my time between the Fenland Trail and the Cave and Basin Marsh Loop Trail.

Birdsff

Serenading me on the trails were Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Sora, Common Yellowthroat, and I chanced into a couple of local birders who gave me a tip to look (and listen) for a Blackpoll Warbler.

Cave and basin marsh loop trail (watch out for horses).

This was an incredibly hot tip that paid off in one of the most rewarding warbler experiences to date. I heard it first, it sounded like a very high-pitched snake “sisisisisisiSISISIsisisi

OMG. Then it sat on a branch for a moment, before scooting along to another bush.

Where it whacked an unsuspecting caterpillar to death. It was amazing.

My day was made, I’m so grateful to those birders who passed along the information. Other birds on this trail were Lincoln’s Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and a Gray Catbird that darted across the trail carrying nesting material. No photos of that one, but I lucked into a few “mew” recordings as I was already recording a singing Fox Sparrow. Magic upon magic.

Also singing were Willow Flycatchers (“fitz-bew“), and one lifer Alder Flycatcher (“Rrreea“) that I got a single sound clip of that could possibly be this bird. Or not.

Eh?

The Fenland trail system only minutes away was more wooded and gave me at least five singing male American Redstarts.

And I found a busy female redstart nearby building a nest.

It was on this trail where Tomas and I (heard and then) found a family of Great Horned Owls. Owlets on high alert!

While the parent, a very pale adult (perhaps Bubo virginianus subarcticus?), appeared more relaxed.

I shared the sighting with a bike-tourist from Holland, a couple from the U.K., and another birding couple from Florida. United by owls. Farther down the trail I had the chance for another lifebird, and after a while of looking and a Hairy Woodpecker false alarm, I managed to find an American Three-toed Woodpecker!

Yes! Another afternoon Tomas and I took a canoe trip to see a different side of the Fenland trails. We floated along Echo Creek passing nesting Canada Geese.

And we paddled around a pair of Common Loon on Vermilion Lake. I even heard the loons calling! One of my birding bucket list items- check!

So fun. (and I only dropped my paddle once).

The last morning we got up super early to try and beat the crowds at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. It worked for the most part. Moraine Lake was my favorite. Perhaps because we got there first and the rain and snow stopped long enough for us to have some nice quality lake time.

By the time we got to Lake Louise it was already filling up (even on a cold, rainy/snowy Wednesday), we got the last parking spot in the lower lot before the ($6) shuttles geared up. On the way in we got the best look at a Grizzly Bear family (being ushered into the forest by park staff in their vehicle).

It explained why the trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House was closed due to bear activity.

I’ll pass on tea, thanks.

Instead we took in the beauty and serenity of the lake.

It was good times. And we still had the afternoon to explore back in Banff. Tomas checked out museums while I returned to the marsh trail to chase a sparrow. It was an effort that paid off, I was remarkably lucky to refind a reported LeConte’s Sparrow!

What a little heart throb. Similar to a Grasshopper Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrows are secretive and hard to see. I have a territorial Common Yellowthroat to thank for chasing this one out in the open. It was a nice life-bird to add to the trip.

Overall Canada was pretty good to us. We spent 8 days driving hundreds of kilometers through two national parks with the most jaw-dropping scenery. We stayed at 5 different campsites, hiked dozens of trails, mountain-biked, and canoed. I saw 90 bird species (7 lifebirds!), 8 bears, and a herd of mountain goats. We ate a few “beavertails” and way too much poutine.

When in Canada, eh?

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Canada: Jasper NP

It felt good to leave the country. Even if it was just a 2-hour non-stop flight to our northern neighbor, Canada. I had to show someone my passport, so it counts. We flew into Calgary, picked up a Dodge Caravan (which would be our lodging for the week), then pretty much beelined it up to Jasper National Park.

The Rocky Mountains here are so close, so big, and so scenic. The scale is mind-blowing.

Even the Safeway parking lot is scenic.

Despite being surrounded by mountains, it never felt very remote. If I had to do it all over again I would probably fly in on a Sunday, because the first day was also the most stressful. The park was packed, and a normally reservable 800-site campground was closed this year for maintenance, which pushed excess campers into the first-come-first-served sites (the worst system).

Door buttons are magic

We ended up driving 2+ hours passing too many full campgrounds before finding an open site at Kerkeslin Campground. Farther from Jasper than I’d have liked, but it was such a relief to find something we signed up for two nights.

Ranger Raven on patrol

Driving back and forth turned out to be okay though because returning after dinner one evening we pulled over at Athabasca Pass Lookout where I saw my first life bird of the trip, Black Swifts!

Such an unexpected surprise (and the best stress-reliever).

As it turns out, Black Swifts love drama. Later on during the trip on a very crowded hike in Johnston Canyon just around the corner of this waterfall…

I found a nesting Black Swift! Insanity! I made sure to tell everyone on the trail around me how special this bird is.

Better than a bat.

Back in Jasper, Tomas tested his luck mountain biking with bears while I went birding. One of the birds that sparked the trip was a Northern Hawk Owl seen by my friend Kayla on her trip the year prior, but I wasn’t that lucky. I did find one of my other targets pretty easily at a picnic pullout near Medicine Lake, a Tennessee Warbler.

They look kind of like a grayer Orange-crowned Warbler and they have a sharp-trilly song. This area is also where I got my first good looks at Black Bears by the side of the road. Both big ones and little ones.

Other highlights here were nesting Bald Eagles, Clay-colored Sparrows, and multiple singing White-throated Sparrows. Still just as sneaky as when I see them in winter, but hearing them vocalize was pretty cool.

I focused on reports of Boreal Chickadees but I couldn’t find these or much else the rest of the day. It was challenging not knowing the area super well. But that’s part of the fun, right? One of the chickadee reports led me to the Valley of the Five Lakes Trail that was incredibly scenic.

The lake waters were so clear I could see a Common Goldeneye feeding on the bottom.

And she had the cutest little chicks.

Then that evening I went for a walk around the campground and found my first Boreal Chickadee! It was secretive and carrying food which explains why they were so hard to find if they’re nesting.

The next day was bright and beautiful. It was the perfect day to ride the Jasper Sky Tram up to Whistlers mountain top.

If there was a chance to find a White-tailed Ptarmigan in Canada, this was it. We were the first in the tram, and the first to the summit, but sadly there were no ptarmigan to greet us.

The stunning views and best poutine of the trip at the Summit Restaurant made up for any heartbreak.

Drowning my tears in gravy.

And since we’d taken the tram, we had energy for another 9.3 km hike at Wilcox Pass.

Here we saw singing Brewer’s Sparrows, Horned Lark, American Pipit, and a cooperative pair of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

And an amazing view of Athabasca Glacier and valley below from the hike summit.

Tweets and chirps, eh?

Audrey

The best day in 5MR birding

It might be premature to call it, but I might have had my best 5MR birding day. It started early on Mt Tabor Park where I met up with Sarah, Eric, Laura, Dick, and a couple of Dick’s friend’s who were all up for finding some spring migrants. We barely got started when we heard a sharp “pip-pip-pip” that Sarah and Laura identified as Red Crossbills. Sweet, a new 5MR bird already!

We continued walking up the trail when Sarah looked up and said “What the hell is that?” You know it has to be good when that happens – indeed it was! There was a Short-eared Owl circling over Mt Tabor!!!

Unbelievable. The park is much more forest than grassland so this was highly unexpected. Maybe migrating over? It had a meal in its talons and looked like it was looking for a place to land. We never saw it land, but it circled around in the sky for quite some time.

This was not a new 5MR bird (I’d seen one near the airport in February), but it was a new park bird for me and one of the coolest things I’ve seen there. Everyone loves owls and this was a great start. We followed up by checking on the Great Horned Owl nest in the park that has a confirmed set of three (!) owlets! Tomas met up with us and took this great family portrait:

Other highlights were nesting Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Lesser Goldfinch, Bushtits and multiple warblers including Black-throated Gray, Orange-crowned, Townsend’s, and Nashville Warblers. They are the reason for the season.

We missed MacGillivray’s Warbler and Chipping Sparrow. I’d spent about 6 hours and 9 miles the day before birding Tabor hoping to bump into a Chipping Sparrow but no dice. So it was surprising to me when I got home to read someone had found one at the Fire Station near Broughton Beach. Birdmergency! I was tired but able so I went to look and surprisingly Tomas was game to join.

It was so easy. Right along the fence line, past the Killdeer and mixed in with Savannah Sparrows was a bright and appropriately chipper Chipping Sparrow.

Occasionally it hopped up and perched on the fence. I was so relieved (little did I know I’d find one in the park outside my work office a couple of weeks later).

We then got a text from a friend that the Tabor owlets were waking up, flapping and looking around and Tomas had only one more day with his rented 100-400mm lens so since there was still daylight left we returned to Tabor for a sunset with the owlets.

Not even dark yet, a parent brought in a large rat (!). Tomas captured the special moment:

The owlets fed, fat and happy settled down while we chatted with an older couple watching nearby. They asked us if we’d seen the screech owls in the neighborhood and mentioned there were “loads of them.” Outside I said “Oh, no I haven’t, that’s cute” while inside I was “WHAT?! WHERE!?!

Inspired by the day, Tomas and I decided to follow the lead and poke around the nearby neighborhood. One thing led to another and we ended up looking at whitewash under a suspect cedar tree. A couple of older ladies walked by noticing us and asked if we’d seen the owl yet. The lead got hotter. They pointed to a hole in a pergola to pay attention to and we waited.

Just after 8pm I saw an owl fly out of the cedar tree!!! I (silently) lost my mind and motioned to Tomas to look at a branch where it sat perched in an alder tree in someone’s backyard.

No freakin way. Then we heard a “bouncy ball” call and a second owl flew out of the hole!!!

What’s better than one owl? Loads of owls. Tomas took all the screech owl photos.

While I died and went to owl heaven. It has been my (4-year long) dream to find a Western Screech Owl on Tabor (which these owls were not exactly on), but close enough (for now). And it is positively in my 5MR leaving me jumping for joy. I’m so happy they are here.

Tomas and I visited them a second night and witnessed a prey exchange between the two owls leaving me hopeful they’ll raise another generation of adorable murder-muppets. Time will tell, but we’ll be sure to give the owls their space.

It’s the penultimate of 5MR birding! I think I can retire now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey