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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?