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

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

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