Sunday 31 May 2015

Assiniboine Park Fallout "Little Big Year" Part 8

May 22/15 Assiniboine Park Winnipeg 20c Sunny

I arrived in Winnipeg and headed for Assiniboine Park. The city is a migrant trap if there're was one and I was in the right place at the right time. Winnipeg is a lush oasis surrounded by farmland. The birds follow the Red River up from the south on their migration. In the city they can find plenty of food in the parks, along the riverside and on the large grassy areas. Add to that avenues of trees in the city and thousands of backyards the birds have a perfect place to stop off and in some cases set up home and breed.
As others move northward to the boreal forest they will continue to follow the Red River up to Lake Winnipeg and beyond. More of that in a later blog.
Due to my travel schedule I will post these pictures whenI can find wi-fi.

American Redstart (female)

American Redstart (male)

Black and White Warbler.

Blue-headed Vireo.

Canada Warbler.

Chipping Sparrow.

Magnolia Warbler.

An Eastern Red Squirrel flexes its muscles as it is surrounded by pesky warblers!

White-breasted Nuthatch.

Yellow Warbler.

All images handheld with the D7100 and the Tamron 150mm-600mm.

A short blog but until next time

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon 


Saturday 30 May 2015

Spruce Woods Provincial Park Manitoba/Spirit Sands Part 7

May 20-21 Spruce Woods Provincial Park Manitoba Sunny 17/3c

In the morning I birded Regina's Rotary Park which is close to the Parliament buildings. The Saskatchewan River runs alongside and was a hive of activity. There was a migration of thrushes including Swainson's and Hermit Thrush. In the willows overhanging the river Blackpoll and Yellow Warblers fed on emerging insects. A Lincoln's Sparrow scratched the ground only to be bossed around by the Swainson's.

It was time to make my way to my next stop. Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba. It had been suggested I take a look and I wasn't disappointed. .

Prior to contact sand hills covered much of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The remnants of a large ocean has today been turned into rich grain bearing farmland, with it went the buffalo and a way of life.
 This map shows what remains in the three western provinces.

The birding was interesting, the scenery stunning and it was really, really hot. This is where the lightweight Tamron lens came in handy as I went on a three hour walk in blistering temperatures. I took some pictures of the signage to go along with my pictures. I used a Nikon P900 for the scenics on this trip. If I was shooting stock I would use a DSLR but I'm not and the P900 is just fine for the presentations I will put together later. I even use my iPhone which is only 5 meg, especially to let family know where I am

Eastern Ground Squirrel

Looking toward the Assiniboine River. A view of the surrounding forests from the sandhills,
This is the land of the Ojibwa, Cree and Assiniboine peoples

  This was a very large flycatcher which I thought might be Easter Wood PeeWee but the beak is all black and no wing bars. Eastern Phoebe but too light. Any thoughts ?

Unique to the area is the Western Hognose Snake and the Northern Prairie Skink Manitoba's only lizard. I saw neither.

Red Squirrel eating Maple tree flowers.

           Below the face of this bandit bird is forlorn as it looks on as a Red Squirrel steals its eggs.
Blue Jay watches as a Red Squirrel raids its nest.

Cliff Swallows near the campground. 

Wild grass at Sunset.

Swindon's Thrush. Thanks for the ID Mel. 
Note: I have already made a few ID errors which readers are quick to pick up. Please let me know if you think a birded is incorrectly labelled although I do try my best to ask local birders their opinion before publishing. Thanks 

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Monday 25 May 2015

Mini Big Year Craven Saskatchewan Part 6

Craven  and Long Lake May 19 2015 Sunny and no mosquitos.

As I sit on the veranda and drink coffee with my brother-in law Terry, a dozen American Pelicans gently land on the calm surface of Long Lake. The Lake is a hundred kms long and three kms wide. The northern end of the lake is called Last Mountain Lake and the location of Rowan's Ravine Provincial Park, Saskatchewan's first bird sanctuary. Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes pass by each during migration. Terry tells me he sees Whooping Cranes among the sandhills most years. The lake teems with fish and in winter is covered in ice fishing huts. He tells me spring has arrived three weeks early and he should know, he spent most of his life on horseback, herding cattle on community farms. Something he says is changing with the weather and it's affecting not only flora and fauna but the geology of the area. Erosion has become a big problem in the Qu'Appelle Valley with landslides happening on a regular basis, some homes are even in danger of slipping into the lake and gas lines and roadways are being damaged. Terry tells me the water table has changed, even a clay bank behind his house which used to have a colony of Bank Swallows has collapsed.


For more about Saskatchewan click to Trevor Herriot's blog on the right hand of this blog.


A Western Kingbird appears out of nowhere and hawks a large dragonfly right in front of our eyes. Below us a pair of Chipping Sparrows busily feed on the edge of the driveway and a White-throated Sparrow peeks out from the shadows of a pine tree. The trees around are alive with birds even though many species have already passed through on their way to the boreal forests, hundreds of kms north of here.
In a Whispering Aspen a pair of very raucous bright red and black male Baltimore Orioles spar, the females who are yet to arrive will turn up when the males have established a territory. A Catbird sings from the highest vantage point and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak suddenly pounces on a juicy grub.
I finish my coffee, grab my camera and go for a walk before it gets too hot, besides it's an off day between travelling.

I hear an unfamiliar buzzing in the grass, I can't make out if it's a cricket or grasshopper when all of a sudden the sounds stop. In a lone bush I spot a sparrow. I hide in the grass and carefully make my way closer and glass the culprit, The sounds are coming from Clay-coloured Sparrows, another bird for my 2015 list and all the time I thought it was crickets...some birder Eh!

Clay-coloured Sparrow

As I carefully check for any wood ticks I may have picked up from the grass or from the trees. I hear a loud chattering and then the silhouette of a large bird that can only be a Brown Thrasher. The sun was in my eyes so I had to get a better angle. I roll up my white socks again over my trousers and stalk the bird in the undergrowth. Thirty minutes and one huge wood tick later I finally win the confidence of the bird long enough for it to sit still long enough to pose for a pleasing portrait.

Brown Thrasher
*It is best to wear light coloured clothes  during tick season so that the icky critters can be seen easily and then dispatched. Some, like deer ticks drop from trees so a a hat is a must, others are found where deer and birders might walk, an occupational hazard I suppose.

Clay-coloured Sparrow

Now it's time to make my way back to the village of Regina Beach where am staying a few days with in-laws. After travelling I was hoping for some creature comforts but alas a water pipe break in the village meant no water. A good time to hit the road for Manitoba and beyond.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Ranchlands and Grasslands 'Little Big Year' Part 5

May15-16 2014
 The Red Coat Trail Hwy 3 to Val Marie and Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

After leaving the Calgary area the plan was to head toward Cypress Hill Inter-Provincial Park and look for warblers. I had visited the area a few years ago and is well known for its Wild Turkeys and Cougars. This time the skies were overcast and apart from a single Osprey and some Vesper Sparrows not a single warbler was to be heard. Eventually I decided to drive south to the Red Coat Trail, a lightly used gravel road. It is here the road splits with the 501 heading west into Alberta and
route 13 East heading toward Saskatchewan and the towns of Eastend and Shaunavon. After that marathon drive it was south on the 37 to Climax and on the Val Marie and into the Grasslands National Park.
It was soon after after turning onto the #13 that I came upon a flock of Longspurs. I thought there was something a little different and when I checked my files later in the day I was surprised and happy to have photographed a McCown's Longspur, my second lifer of the trip. There were so many Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Horned Lark I lost count. I drove another 50-60 kms before seeing habitation.

 McCowans Longspur
Along the way I saw about eight antelope and wondered what it might have felt like to be a Blackfoot warrior surveying the grasslands watching tens of thousands of Buffalo, thousands of Pronghorn Antelope dotting the hillsides. Grizzly and Black Bear, Cougar, Wolverine and many other species made their annual migration through the prairies from Yellowstone in the USA to Edmonton in the north and Winnipeg in the east. Historians say it matched the great African migrations. Today stewards of the land try their best to keep what little is left of the grasslands, a mere 3% remains.
Pronghorn Antelope.

(Below) Many farms like these in Eastend had signs like the ones below.

I camped in the ranch lands, woke up to a glorious sunrise, was serenaded at breakfast by the Western Meadowlark and watched a Horned Lark feeding right in front of me. I can't get much better than that!


Grasslands National Park

I made my through a succession of small towns always with one eye on the gas tank. The distances between towns could be eighty to a hundred kms. I had breakfast in Consul and chatted to the farmers who were in the process of planting. There had been a frost the previous night so they were debating whether to wait until midday to plant. There's not much oil or gas in south-west Saskatchewan so its mostly ranching and grain crops. 

 I took this picture below at the entrance of Grasslands National Park. There were at least least 6 nesting birds in the first 200 metres, outside the park entrance where grain crops were being planted and rocks had been removed there were no longspurs. A grassland ground nester, the longspurs likes  a rock to perch on which is close to their nest from which they can survey the surroundings.
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Passing the Chestnut-collared Longspur colony the next species to show were the Sharp-tailed Grouse. The Sage Grouse never did show up but the Leks and their locations are in areas that are probably sought out on foot and earlier in the season. However there were plenty of other birds and critters to look for.
Female Sharp-tail Grouse

A gust of wind ruffles the feathers showing off the tail feathers on this Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Western Meadowlark

Lark Bunting

Lark Sparrows

American Bittern
Who would have thought that in the grasslands there would be an active marsh with Blue-winge Teal, Sora and Bittern.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog
So the day with a one night stay in the park ($15) was very productive with varied selection of birds and scenery. To be honest the skies were grey, it rained and was very windy but that's just another reason to return soon.

'It's never too late to start birding'
John Gordon
Langley C
BC Canada

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Chaplin Lake Saskatchewan Country Part 4

May 16 2015 Chaplin Lake Saskatchewan Overcast 12C

Saskatchewan's Chaplin Lake is on the TransCanadaHighway between Moose Jaw and Swift Current. On May 29 1997 Chaplin Lake along with nearby Old Wives, Frederick and Reed Lakes gained world-wide recognition as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites.
During the month of May 50,000 Sanderling, 30,000 Baird's Sandpiper. As many as 100.000 shorebirds can be present during migration time.
The lake holds numerous species of waterfowl including the rare and endangered Piping Plover. The  grassland species including Sprague's Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Forster's Tern and Black-crowned Night Heron can be seen from the roadside.
The last time I was at the lake during the Victoria long weekend a few years back I had to take shelter for the afternoon site when a surprise and severe snow storm blanked the countryside.
This time it was heavily overcast as I made my way around the lake. The #58 road crosses the lake and allows close views of many species including Marbled Godwit, Willet and American Avocet. There is always the chance to spot a Piping Plover.
Piping Plover
The Canadian population of Piping Plover is thought to be around 400 pairs. Predation and climate change are the main concerns to the survival of the species.

A Male Gadwal wards off an American Advocet.

Chaplin Lake is a saline lake from which salt is extracted on an industrial scale. The above picture may look like snow but the white shoreline and water teems with brine shrimp which the birds, including ducks relish.

For more about
Marbled Godwit
Common Tern
American Avocet

As I travel across Saskatchewan I am beginning to see more of the new species for my 2015 Year list. Baltimore Orioles, Clay-coloured Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, and nesting Western Kingbirds . Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrows, Wilson's Snipe, Swainson's Hawk and American Pelican
Had I been here two weeks earlier I may have seen Whooping Cranes as they flew past my brother-in laws farm. He tells me the Fall is the best time to see them in the Last Mountain Lake area.He also tells me that spring arrived two weeks earlier and that something is changing with the prairie ecosystem that is worrying to him.

Tomorrow I continue my exploration of Saskatchewan and enter Manitoba to bird the Winnipeg area, something I am looking forward to as there have been large numbers of warblers arriving after a severe snowstorm.

'It's never too late to start birding'
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada

Monday 18 May 2015

Birding Calgary Alberta 'Little Big Year' Part 3

May13 2015 Calgary/Frank Lake and the sloughs south of Calgary.
 Overcast Windy 12c

Black-necked Stilt with Marbled Godwit
This was my first time birding in the Calgary area and with the help of Calgary birder David Lilly
we were able top notch up nearly fifty species including a lifer, the White-faced Ibis. David tells me the ibis started to visit the area only in the past decade and have returned each year since. We photographed them at Frank's Lake but they can also be found in many roadside sloughs, especially on the quieter backroads. There are also numerous places on BC where the ibis can also be photographed, those locations are posted on vanbcbirds and other BC forums.

White-faced Ibis showing iridescent wings at Frank Lake

There were plenty of other species in the area including the Franklin's Gull which I had only ever seen once before at White Rock.

Franklin's Gull. Frank Lake

There was quite a wind all day and many of the birds were in the air going about their business albeit somewhat erratically or so it seemed. The wind kept the mosquitos away, except in one spot out of the wind where within seconds I was bitten.

Long-billed Curlew.


Marbled Godwit.

Swainson's Hawk.
Forster's Tern. Frank Lake
Spotted Sandpiper Roadside Slough.

Marsh Wren Frank Lake

Some of the more interesting birds seen on our day out including 21 new birds for my 2015 year list 

Wilson's Phalarope*
Mourning Dove*
Black-necked stilt*
Marbled Godwit*

Forster's Tern*

Common Tern*
Eared Grebe*
White-Faced Ibis*
Franklin's Gull*
American White Pelican*
Blue-winged Teal*
Ruddy Duck*
American Avocet*
Spotted Sandpiper*
Semi-Palmated Sandpiper*
Swainson's Hawk*
Bank Swallow*
Common Crackle*
Stilt Sandpiper*
Short-billed Dowitcher*

2015 year List (170 Canadian species to date)
* New year birds

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale BC Canada