Today we encountered a small pond with baby AVOCETS! The parents put on an amazing display flying about us and doing the broken wing act just like KILLDEER. They were incredibly aggressive in defense of their babies. We could only see one little one but no doubt there were a number in the grass nearby. Just one more thing that makes that this trip a true spectacle!

The Arctic bound shorebirds have now departed for their breeding sites. However, the combination of prairies and boreal makes seeing no fewer than FOURTEEN breeding shorebirds a good possibility.

ALBERTA - govenlock hilites

Just a catch up post on the first groups day in Govenlock in southwest Saskatchewan. I was surprised we had not run into GREAT HORNED OWL on this trip, and on our final full day we lucked upon two adults and these two babies. They were sitting within fifty feet of the main highway near Consul.

One of the critters I really wanted to see down here was SWIFT FOX. We asked several locals in Consul at the hotel where we might find one. They suggested down near the Govenlock intersection. Incredibly as we arrived at that intersection there was a SWIFT FOX crossing the road with a RICHARDSONS GROUND SQUIRREL in its mouth!!!! We followed the fox for about five minutes as it attracted the attention of hundreds of ground squirrels screaming from their burrows!.


ALBERTA - more great mammals

One of the main targets of our mountain extension was to see bears. We managed to get great views of 6 BLACK BEARS including a mother with two cubs. But everyone wanted to see a GRIZZLY BEAR. On our second last afternoon we came across a beautiful blond GRIZZLY working a hillside across a creek. We had good binocular views and spectacular scope views for at least twenty minutes. Here is a digiscoped picture of the GRIZZLY.

Compare the colour of this bear to the dark GRIZZLY that Paul and I had seen about a week earlier on the same stretch of Banff National Park.

The good luck with mammals continued as we started our second boreal and prairie adventure. We added RED FOX and heard TIMBER WOLVES at close range near Cold Lake. In addition we have encountered dozens of COYOTES over the last several weeks. This one was one of the most co-operative I have ever seen as most turn tail as soon as the car stops. This one stood his ground and I got some fine images.


Kathi joined me for the mountain extension in Jasper and Banff National Parks for four days with my group. One of the highlights of the trip was taking the gondola car up to Whistlers to search for the elusive WHITE TAILED PTARMIGAN. It was a bitter morning and we had layers and layers of clothing but still were bitterly cold. All that changed though when a male WHITE TAILED PTARMIGAN turned up putting on a tremendous show calling away from the top of a rock and strutting his stuff. It was an amazing experience.

This picture Kathi took gives you an idea of how incredibly close we got to the bird. In fact the male seemed curious about me, walking towards me on several occasions to within a few feet.

So here is what the image looks like from my end of the lens! It was one of those times when the cold just didnt seem to matter and the bird was all that we could see or feel... wonderful memories!

ALBERTA trip 1 wrap up

Just one last post from my first prairies and boreal trip and this one is a shot from the Cypress Hills I couldnt resist. We had a great morning with some of the local specialties and this male WESTERN TANAGER was a real hit!



This morning we left at 4:30 am to view a prairie dog town in Grasslands National Park. This was a fabulous morning with lots of LARK BUNTINGS displaying, scope views of BAIRDS SPARROWS, MCCOWNS LONGSPURS, CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS, LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, and at least 4 BURROWING OWLS. However it was mammals that stole the show on this gorgeous song filled prairie morning....

We saw many BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOGS, at least two BADGERS, a couple of COYOTES and many MULE DEER, and RICHARDSONS GROUND SQUIRRELS. However one mammal was a true standout. For me it was a life mammal and one that I figured I would never see. Almost certainly still part of a release program but still seeing a BLACK FOOTED FERRET in the wild was awesome. At one point we watched it face off with a BURROWING OWL at a distance of only a few feet! This pic is fuzzy as it was digiscoped but no doubt about what it was!



My group spent two days birding the Cold Lake area to begin out trip (June 7th and 8th). Among the many highlights were a male THREE-TOED WOODPECKER which responded well to an imitation of Barred Owl. It was on the north end of Primrose Lake Road along with two YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS, at least six NASHVILLE WARBLERS, an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, a family of GRAY JAYS, displaying SOLITARY SANDPIPER, and a BOREAL CHICKADEE that stayed still long enough for everyone to enjoy scope views!

We had a great selection of warblers (including great views of CONNECTICUT, MOURNING and CANADA), plus scope views of LECONTE'S and NELSON'S SHARP-TAILED SPARROWS, and SEDGE WRENS. One of the most fun sightings for the group was a family of RUFFED GROUSE which included at least six tiny chicks. The adults vigorously defended the brood making some amazing noises while doing a broken wing act. These two images were captured as the adults tried to lure us away from their brood.

Carol and Fred Hummerstone, and members of the Beaver River Naturalists (including president Ted Hindmarch) hosted our group for a barbecue on the evening of the 7th. This was a wonderful time and we look forward to coming back again for some fine birding and hospitality!


Paul and I spent June 4th doing a mad dash from Canmore to Jasper and back to search for bears. Well I say bears, but our real target was not Black Bear, but Grizzly Bear - a much more difficult critter to see.

We had a great day and the weather was much better than predicted. We had pretty good luck with Black Bears finding six during the day. Here are images of two different individuals, both of which were grazing on grass!

One of the best wildlife finding techniques here is to simply watch for the jams of cars that occur when a bear or other critter appear along the roadside. We lucked onto a GRIZZLY BEAR this way. However it was on the move and quite distant. Soon the mob of cars disappeared as the bear moved out of sight. We tried to predict where the bear might turn up and to our amazement it did exactly as we expected. We tracked it down to where it had to walk along a narrow edge of the road and I was able to get this image by the edge of a lake.

It soon decided to cross the road right behind us and I managed to get some images as it climbed the bank at the side of the road. What a thrill to see this incredible animal at such close range! Look at the size of those claws on the front paws!!!


Today we left Rosetown, Saskatchewan around 9 am and headed south to one of my favourite birding sites in the province - Luck Lake. We hoped to catch some lingering Arctic bound migrant shorebirds here, but I knew even if there were none present that the breeding shorebirds and waterfowl would still keep us busy. We entered the lake from the north side along a causeway which runs roughly north south and crosses the western third of the lake. In addition to the numerous AMERICAN AVOCETS, MARBLED GODWITS, WILLETS and WILSON'S PHALAROPES, we managed to find a smattering of migrants such as BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (10), SANDERLING (20), SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (40), WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (12).
At our second stop about 500 metres from the north end of the lake, I was stunned to see a strange GODWIT feeding next to two Marbled Godwits. It was bright orange on the neck and chest fading to white on the underparts. The feeding style was also much different, as the bird stayed with a low flat profile to the back and appeared smaller and quite short legged. It also appeared that the tail was barred when viewed from the side. I had a strong suspicion what the bird was but checked Sibley and it was unequivocal that this was a BAR-TAILED GODWIT coming into alternate plumage!!!!! My group of eight spent the next half hour watching the bird, including twice when it took flight allowing us to get some diagnostic views of the tail and wing pattern.

In the first image below you will note the short legged appearance of the bird and the orange neck and breast fading to white underparts.

In this image, taken as the bird landed, the "bar-tail" is clearly visible.

In this final image (my favourite!!), you can see the underwing pattern (important in godwits), tail pattern, and breast pattern.

I didnt have any contact information for Sask birders outside an email address for my friend Bob Luterbach (sorry Bob I lost your cell when my phone crashed and I lost all my addresses this spring). However a quick call to Ontarian Paul Pratt, helped to put the word out on Saskbirds. It looks like a number of birders were able to head out there today. I really hope the bird stuck around for them. I am not sure, but I would guess this is the first record for the province as there are very few records for this species for inland North America. This was my first for Canada and a great bird for the whole group.