Monday 25 May 2015

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

1 comment:

  1. amazing shots of the lark bunting and longspurs! you make me yearn for the prairies!! thank you for posting you must be having the time of your life!! gorgeous sharp-tailed grouse shots!