Killing a little time right now because it is snowing here in Cold Lake (gee, how appropriate!). Here are two images from southern Alberta that I took a few days ago.

First a RED FOX from the campground in Waterton Lakes National Park. It allowed us to approach within about 150 feet possibly because there was a fast flowing river between us.

The next image is of a RUFFED GROUSE. Incredibly this was the third grouse species we got good images of in Waterton (also Dusky and Spruce Grouse - see pics in earlier posts). The grouse was crossing the road in the rain on the Red Rock Canyon road.


Yesterday we bumped into some local birders who invited us to a gathering at Carol and Fred Hummerstones' property. This is the spring bird count weekend for the Cold Lake naturalists group. We enjoyed some great local hospitality, a fine BBQ, and met some new friends. Many thanks to the local naturalists and particularly the Hummerstones for a wonderful evening!

We also volunteered to help out with the count this weekend. On Saturday morning again we got up early and headed to the west side of Cold Lake. Today the name really did fit! The songbird action was good early in the morning, but soon slowed down as the east winds picked up. The temp never got much over 6 C (about 42 F) for the morning and it was overcast and windy. Fortunately the rain held off until around 3 in the afternoon and the SNOW until about 5:30 pm!!!

Despite the tough conditions, we had some incredible birds. No doubt the highlight of the day for us was scoping Cold Lake along the west side. The cold front grounded some Arctic bound breeders. We estimated no fewer than 200 SABINE'S GULLS, plus 3 JAEGERS (1 definite PARASITIC), and 5 PACIFIC LOONS!!! The birds were too far for binocs but with our scopes we got good views. Fortunately we were able to contact Ted Hindmarch, the count compiler so he could join us and add SABINE'S GULL to his life list.

The best photo opp of the day was provided by a male THREE-TOED WOODPECKER that we watched feeding for about twenty minutes. It was unconcerned by our presence. Below are a single photo and a video clip of the woodpecker.


Well yesterday was a complete wash out... literally. Indeed we left southern Alberta where the temps were hovering around 4 C and heavy rain with strong winds, and headed north to warmer conditions. This seemed like a better move than heading into Banff which had been our original plan. Why the change? Well Banff got hit with five inches of snow!

We arrived in Bonnyville in central eastern Alberta late on the 27th. We got up at 4 am on the 28th, and this was the sight from our hotel parking lot. As it turned out, 'red sky at dawn, sailor be warned' was not accurate - for today at least.

While we didn't get any rain or snow today, it was chilly, windy and gray for much of the day. That didn't stop us from racking up a good list of songbirds. Most of those were not suitable for photography but we did have fun with a pond with loads of waterfowl including several pairs of RUDDY DUCKS. The males would their squeaky emphatic calls, bobbing their heads and then rushing any other male that presented a potential threat. This male was particularly aggressive!

Here is another male part way through the head dipping display. The snap their head down rapidly as they call. It is quite an amusing sight.



Spring is late here in Waterton and the BIGHORN SHEEP are still hanging around the valley. We came across four groups in the town totaling about forty sheep. It was fascinating to watch the BLACK-BILLED MAPGIES landing on the sheep and pulling out their winter coats to search for ticks!

The image below shows a tuft of old hair in the beak of the magpie. We saw several of these clumps pulled with one or two juicy looking ticks on them.

One of the key targets for us here was DUSKY GROUSE. The males do their hooting display at this time of year, and since this population was split from SOOTY GROUSE (together formerly BLUE GROUSE), we wanted to make sure we had it on our Alberta lists. We were thrilled when Paul spotted a male right by the side of the road just above the townsite in late evening.

It got even better when the male began hooting and displaying when he was only about ten feet away from us - a truly amazing experience!


From Waterton townsite, the main access to higher altitude forest is via Cameron Lake Road. It ascends through a series of switchbacks and then into a steep sided valley that eventually reaches Cameron Lake. We drove the 15 km long road and saw only two other cars. Right along the roadside we bumped into a female SPRUCE GROUSE. As is typical with this species, she was remarkably tame (hence the nickname FOOL HEN). At one point the grouse walked directly towards me and within two feet (much too close to focus with my 100-400 lens!!).

Although it was late May, Waterton had several large late spring snow storms this year. So the forest was still full of snow, with large drifts along the roadside.

When we arrived at Cameron "Lake" we were surprised to find that there was virtually no open water at all. We walked over four or five foot high snow drifts to get this image. There was a tiny sliver of open water with a pair of BARROW'S GOLDENEYE.

Waterton N P is contiguous with Glacier N P in the US. In fact, the south end of this lake and the mountain behind me are actually IN THE US! Here is a close up of the mountain slope.


Paul Pratt and I arrived in Alberta on May 25th and began scouting out sites for my upcoming Alberta and Saskatchewan tours. It took most of the morning to get out of the airport, get our rental car and clear the city. By early afternoon we were heading south towards Waterton National Park. En route Paul spotted a male MERLIN sitting on a roadside post eating something. I quickly turned the car around and returned to the bird which was incredibly tame - allowing us to approach within about twenty five feet as it ate.

We arrived in Waterton in late afternoon. This national park is stunningly beautiful. Here is an image of the lake and backdrop on the entrance drive.

In the townsite itself there were numerous COLUMBIAN GROUND SQUIRRELS, which scolded repeatedly at the slightest threat. I managed to catch this one as it was screaming at Paul and I - a really cute little critter.


PELEE - MAY 13th

This morning I did chores and then headed down to the park in early afternoon to take a quick look for a reported Western Grebe. No luck with that but while scanning at Northwest Beach I was surprised to spot an adult light phase PARASITIC JAEGER!

I continued down to the visitor center and there I heard that the photo opps in Tildens were good. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon there.

One of the lowest and easiest birds to see was this TENNESSEE WARBLER. This is a bird that is quite hard to photograph as it normally stays way up in the canopy.

At first I had trouble with trying to get the right set up for photographing in these overcast conditions. Fortunately I ran into professional photographer and good friend Chris Dodds. He set me straight on the best setting and compensation and right away my results improved. This was a good thing because there were lots of great birds like this ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK to capture. Thanks Chris!

There were at least fifteen warbler species in Tilden's but I only managed to get decent images of about four species, including this BLACK-THROATED GREEN (a female).

PELEE - MAY 12th

After yesterdays complete wash out, I headed down to the park with another full group of visitors. It turned out to be the best day of the spring migration by far. We tallied 25 species of warblers, all 6 regular vireos, both cuckoos, a perched LEAST BITTERN, and many other great birds. The number of BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS was particularly impressive. I estimated that we spotted between 150 and 250 of these gorgeous songbirds. We also had huge numbers of NASHVILLE and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS as well.


After yesterday's horrendous conditions Kathi and I got an early start and enjoyed a good breakfast at Paula's Fish Place just north of the park gate. As we were leaving Paula pointed out a group of swallows sunning on the sheltered side of the restaurant. There were at least fifty lethargic individuals trying to get warm.

CLIFF SWALLOW is a scarce breeder in Essex County. However there were at least fifteen perched on the eavestrough of the restaurant this morning including this co-operative individual.


I had Thursday May 6th 'off' so I spent the morning photographing. It was a bit challenging with all the big guns running around and many whose behavior bordered on down right ignorant. I wont be politically incorrect, but suffice it to say they come from one particular region of Canada! I waited patiently for this WHITE-EYED VIREO to show and should have nailed it. However two different groups attacked the bird from off trail and it spooked.

I spent a fair bit of time taking pics of people this morning because there were relatively few songbirds. However, the large group of COMMON TERNS on the tip put on a great show and took flight and wheeled overhead several times.

It was fun watching the TERNS and some of them were even courting. This individual is carrying a small fish (likely a smelt) - a common behavior during courtship.


PELEE - May 4th

I spent the morning taking photos around Point Pelee. The weather was good for photography but unlike the last two days, there were very few migrants. I decided to focus on other subjects and there was no shortage of those! The early morning was spent photographing MayApple and other plants, most of which had a nice coating of dew or water droplets.

The birds were not flying but with the sunny mild conditions, it was a good day for butterfly activity. Among the species seen were my first MONARCH of the year. This AMERICAN PAINTED LADY was one of several dozen seen. Most were feeding on flowering GARLIC MUSTARD.

When the opportunities popped up, I did manage to get some images common breeders. Although the background is a bit busy, I liked this image of a co-operative male AMERICAN ROBIN.


PELEE - May 3rd

It was another GREAT day at Pelee with numbers still low but diversity and quality both superb. After overnight rain, it cleared and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny and warm day. We started at the Tip with the highlight certainly being no fewer than a dozen RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS! It was like the good old days when this bird was seen frequently at the tip. At one point we had SIX RED-HEADED and SIX RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS in the same tree!! Other tip highlights included perfect close low views of WHITE-EYED VIREO and a text book study of CLAY-COLORED SPARROW feeding in the open with two FIELD SPARROWS.

Our next stop was the Woodland Nature Trail. The northeast corner produced again today with top honours going to a close male HOODED WARBLER, a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (distant but clear views), two or three BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS (including one with yellow wing bars), and a really co-operative OVENBIRD. The big warbler highlight of the day was a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER found by my good friend Bruce DiLabio near the park entrance. We had several decent views of the rare southerner. Rounding out good warblers were the same male PRAIRIE WARBLER at our picnic lunch stop at the Dunes (along with a wide open YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO).



Today was the first day of my Pelee bird hikes and we had a GREAT day. There weren't huge numbers of birds but we had really great views and good diversity and quality. Among the 15 warbler species we observed were a male WORM-EATING WARBLER (stunning close views, we finally walked away from the bird!), a male HOODED WARBLER (scope views of a preening male!), PRAIRIE WARBLER (a great view of a close male at fifteen feet), BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (at least 8 singing males studied at length), NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (incredible leisurely studies of at least six different individuals), a low close male CAPE MAY WARBLER, and a single male BAY-BREASTED WARBLER. Incredibly, we had only ONE Yellow-rumped Warbler all day. I am sure this is certainly the first time in 39 years of birding at the park that I have seen 8x more Blue-winged Warblers than Yellow-rumped Warblers in a day!!! Tomorrow the forecast looks good for more great birding. Can't wait.