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

Inside my 5MR

Inside my 5MR there’s a lot going on. First off, spring is finally here!

It is the best of times. Although extra rainy lately, there were a few sunny moments when the flowers were blooming and the hummers were humming. There’s a lot of 5MR babies happening.

Step 1. Make nest
Step 2. Make babies
Step 3. Baby

This little Anna’s Hummingbird in the nest by my work has already fledged! The flowers haven’t even finished blooming, but I saw the little chubster buzzing around the few open petals. Last year’s brood took way longer to fledge, I’m guessing because there were two babies. And speaking of two babies, here’s two owlets that were born this spring at Whitaker Ponds.

Yep, there’s two in there.

Whitaker Ponds has been really good to me with a few recent 5MR additions including Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Pileated Woodpecker (the best surprise and a tough 5MR bird for me), and my FOY (and first I’ve seen at Whitaker) lovely lady Rufous Hummingbird!

The other booming hotspot is Broughton Beach. There’s a limitless stream of off-leash dogs and new birds to look at. I finally caught up with the Red-throated Loon that’s still being seen regularly.

And thanks to my friend Eric’s help, I added a distant Common Loon to the club.

So distant.

5MR time is the best time to get excited about Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Even better Cliff Swallows, Savannah Sparrows, and our same Rough-legged Hawk that visited last year! This is the best hawk.

Another day I left work early to beat the traffic to the Clark’s Grebe hanging out at Hayden Island.

Best identified with Westerns nearby

I stopped by Fazio Way (where the Palm Warbler hung out) after to see if there might be a Horned Lark or Red-shouldered Hawk, there wasn’t, but I did find my FOY Common Yellowthroat!

Welcome back buddy!

While looking at the yellowthroat the craziest thing happened. Colby texted to tell me he’d found another Vesper Sparrow, this time at Broughton Beach. A 5MR/county Vesper Sparrow?! What luck that I was only ten minutes away, I hurried over fast as I could and it worked!

Another thanks to Colby.

Colby had to leave, but he’d mentioned he’d had a Dunlin fly-by so I made sure to check the shore. He left, then wait, WTH is that?!

Definitely not a Dunlin

An American Avocet flew in!!! It nonchalantly strolled the beach while my mind melted. I hadn’t even finished admiring the Vesper Sparrow, but now I had to regroup, and call Colby back immediately. I was the only one there, until the dog walkers showed up who thankfully cooperated when I pleaded with them to keep their dogs on the opposite side of the beach so some friends of mine could see this bird. I’m sure I sounded totally sane.

Please stay.

It was a tense set of minutes. I put the word out on OBOL and luckily, a few people were able to come out and see it, including Duke Tufty, Nick Mrvelj, and Colby. And Eric who biked his heart out and got the Vesper’s and Avocet in under 30 seconds. The best kind of birding that never happens! There have only been three other Avocet sightings at Broughton beach and all of them in the fall. It was such a lucky sighting.

Wishing every day could be birding days like this.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Michigan- Parks

When not visiting family, Tomas and I spent our mornings at nearby local parks. His family lives in Grand Blanc, MI a suburb of Detroit, just south of Flint. There were lots of places to choose from. Michigan is flat and it reminded me a little of Florida, lots of lakes and thick woodsy forests making for challenging birding conditions. I did my best.

We pulled up to the entrance of Holly Recreation Area and I immediately hopped out of the minivan. There was a flurry of bird activity, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, a thrush calling later identified as Veery, and my lifer Eastern Towhee!

Looks just like spotted, minus the spots! Then I noticed a small warbler.

Oh shit! Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Two life-birds and we hadn’t even made it past the front gate. I would have been happy just hanging out there, but more cars pulled up and we eventually had to go in. Tomas went for a barefoot run on the trails, while I spent my time exploring the dense forest.

The birdsong sounded exotic and I was pulled in all directions. Where to begin? Eventually I focused on (less exotic) robins alarming in the distance that led me to a Barred Owl deep in the forest that flew before I could get pictures. Still a cool experience.

I followed more singing that finally led me to another life bird, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak!

That guy doesn’t know how happy I was to see him. It was incredible. There were lots of other birds, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, House Wren. And just before we left, I heard an intriguing song that I chased down to find yet another life-bird, an Indigo Bunting!

Hey-o. Birding was new again, mysteries galore and new treasures around every corner. And it wasn’t even a birding trip. We spent more time meeting friends and family, and dining on delicious arepas and Columbian spaghetti. Then Tomas and I made time to visit another park called Indian Springs Metro Park. We got a late start on this morning and it was blazing hot by the time we arrived.

I had a particular sparrow in mind at this location, a Henslow’s Sparrow. There had been one sighted the day prior. I read that they are “solitary and secretive” and prefer “damp grassy meadows with matted vegetation, weeds, and ground cover.” The park is huge and I didn’t know where to look. That plus a time crunch didn’t get me a Henslow’s Sparrow, but I did manage to find another fun sparrow that sounds like a bouncing ball.

A Field Sparrow! Nice consolation sparrow. I also saw Eastern Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, a Green Heron in a tree, and many many Gray Catbirds, almost as frequent as robins.

It was late afternoon by then, but we decided to stop at Holly Recreation Area on the way back and I’m so glad we did.

I hiked the trail through the forest down to the lake and noticed a Bushtit-sized bird flitting in the bushes.

I saw a hint of yellow and couldn’t believe it, a female American Redstart! Another lifer. This one had a beakful of insects that it took to a nest hidden in the bushes closer to the lake. I could hear the babies begging.

It took a little while longer, but I eventually saw a male too.

Fanning his tail as they do to scare up insects.

They move so fast in the foilage it was hard to keep up. This was the last day I had to explore Michigan’s parks and I was making the most of it. Orioles, cardinals, redstarts, I was going to miss these birds. Luckily, there was one last surprise in store.

At some point I heard a warbler singing way up in the trees. Their songs sound so similar to me, especially when I’m hot, tired, or hungry and in a time crunch. But this time I stuck to it and it paid off big time.

A freaking Hooded Warbler!!! My mind was blown. I tried to keep up as it moved fast through the dim forest.

I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off.  Who knew Michigan was so thrilling?

Out of this world.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey