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

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

Eastern Oregon – Day 2

The next morning I woke up groggy but excited for the day. The coyotes had howled all night long. They are true party animals.

Another day, another terrible view.

We packed up camp and hadn’t gotten a mile down the road before I got a text from Scott, three baby Great Gray Owls on the ground and the light is beautiful! Scott is the best. I may have found only one owl on my own, but with his help we were going on ten.

One baby was nestled in the grass soaking up the sun.

Another was perched on a branch, muppeting its head around in circles curiously observing the world around.

And the third was feeling brave.

No maybe this side.

Next thing you know, this happened.

Climbing trees is easy!

We watched as the adult male brought in the last meal of the morning.

Then we said our goodbyes as the owls quieted down to sleep the day away until  evening time. But our day was just beginning. We decided to leave the forest and head to Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area outside of La Grande. I thought it might be fun to chase some waterbirds.

We arrived in the heat of the day and were happy to sit, rest, and take a moment under the shaded overlook. It was so peaceful with the Wallowa Mountain view in the background and the loud robotic songs of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Cornell describes the song as “a screeching buzz, rather like a heavy door swinging on a very rusty metal hinge,” kind of like WHIU-HU-EEEEAAAAUUUUHHHHH. Cracked us up every time.

American Coots were also at the refuge and I finally got to see their ugly babies!

I mean cute babies, of course. They stayed mostly hidden in the reeds, but occasionally the little red and black bald babies would paddle out behind quickly following the parent.

We also saw lovely pair of Cinnamon Teal.

On the wires above perched Western Kingbirds.

And soaring high above was a Swainson’s Hawk! The white chin really stood out.

Also in the sky was a Red-tailed Hawk.

Hmmm, what’s it carrying? OH GEEZ. It’s a body-less squirrel! The head dangling from the spine. Sorry, kids. Nature is metal.

Hey look, a cute Barn Swallow!

We stopped to get information from the Cliff Swallow at the booth.

Who told us to go down the gravel road, turn right, take two lefts, and go just past the abandoned building until we find a Great Horned Owl.

There were two fluffballs and one adult hidden within the leaves. So fun. We found most of the birds I’d hoped for. I missed American Avocets, but I did get a bonus Gray Catbird!

Perched out in the open singing loudly for a change. Meow!

From Ladd Marsh we traveled farther east towards Medical Springs Hwy and back into the shaded pine forests. I became fixated on the idea of finding (or even hearing) a Flammulated Owl.

We drove along crazy rutted forest roads that wound up and up until we reached the top.

There were Cassin’s Finch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Bluebirds, and Western Wood-Peewee singing. The view at the top was nice, but we decided to set up camp back where I’d spotted the White-headed Woodpecker.

Almost missed that one. This was also where I’d seen a Pine Siskin.

I was way more excited than I should be to see this bird. Contrary to prior winters when there were gobs of them on our feeders at home, this little one in the woods is the first I’ve seen this year. They didn’t visit the yard this winter but I hope they do next time!

Tomas set up camp as we settled in for the evening.

As the sun set I heard an intriguing sound, “poor-will, poor-will, poor-will,” the lightbulb when off and I remembered that was the sound of the Common Poorwill! Incidental life bird! A rare treat in Oregon these days.

After the long day, I was so sleepy I had to lay down. I told Tomas to wake me up if he hears owls.

G’night owls

He stayed up to take night shots like the one above. After I’d just fallen asleep, he woke me up when he heard hooting in the distance. I wrapped myself in the sleeping bag sprang out of the tent and followed him to the meadow.

We were hoping for a deep-pitched single hoot like the sound of blowing across the top of a bottle. The sound was so far away it could have been that, or it could have been the end note of a Great Horned Owl. Too far to tell so I didn’t count it.

But I did count the stars. And the “Who’s awake me tooo,” of the Great Horned Owl at 3am. That counted too. I hadn’t given up on finding flammies either. We had one more day to look.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey