Wednesday, 23 January 2013

January Big Day

On Tuesday, Phil Cram and I did a January big day for Alberta in combination with a rare bird chase for a Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

We like doing big days and have been doing them for many years.  The American Birding Association (ABA) keeps track of big day records by province/state by month.  The January record for Alberta was only 27 and we felt confident that we could beat this number.  We can’t compete on the spring big days – factors being birding skill, hearing and stamina – but anyone can do a winter big day as the birds are usually seen rather than heard and the days are a lot shorter.
Here is an edited account of our day that Phil posted on Albertabird (bird names in cap indicate a good winter bird):

Yesterday (January 22) Brian Elder and I did a Big Day in southern Alberta. One of our goals was to see the Chestnut-backed Chickadee in Waterton townsite, found originally by Malcolm and Joan McDonald on December 31. Our second goal was to beat the ABA Big Day record for Alberta in January, which stands at 27 species. We felt sure that this number has been surpassed many times, but evidently not reported to the ABA. With good weather, good roads, a degree of planning and some luck we reckoned we should be able to see 40 species of birds in the day.

Our first sighting was a Great Horned Owl at 8:00 a.m. just outside Pincher Creek, silhouetted against the dawn sky. Black-billed Magpie and Common Raven were seen on the way to Waterton. We could scarcely believe our luck as we watched the feeders on Fern Street in Waterton. Not only did we get great looks at the CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (a new Provincial bird for both of us), we also watched from the comfort of our vehicle: Steller's Jay, Downy Woodpecker, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain Chickadee, SONG SPARROW and Red-breasted Nuthatch. At feeders behind Evergreen Avenue we added EVENING GROSBEAK and Pine Siskin, and heard a PILEATED WOODPECKER, our only “heard-only” of the day. After just over an hour of birding, we left Waterton with 14 species. Despite lots of open water on Upper Waterton Lake and other water bodies, we saw no waterfowl there.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
We drove east to Mountain View, which yielded Bald Eagle, House Sparrow and Common Redpoll. Driving north on Hwy 800, we added Rock Pigeon and, in Hill Spring, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Northern Flicker and House Finch. Further north on Hwy 800, we saw our first Rough-legged Hawk. We turned west on Highway 505 and a couple of minutes later observed an adult grey-phase GYRFALCON, perched on a power pole next to the highway. Then a SHARP-TAILED GROUSE flew in front of the vehicle, and Canada Geese outside Pincher Creek brought us to 25 species by 11:00 a.m.

We made our way north on Hwy 22, with a loop along Riley Road on the edge of the Porcupine Hills. Surprisingly we saw very few birds, and dipped on all expected open-country species. Two AMERICAN DIPPERS in Chain Lakes PP got us back on track, and a GOLDEN EAGLE just south of Longview tied the “record” of 27 species. Longview itself turned up Blue Jay and Pine Grosbeak, and Turner Valley produced White-winged Crossbill, RUFFED GROUSE and our first Black-capped Chickadee of the day. We knew of a good feeder in Millarville, and there we added MOURNING DOVE and White-breasted Nuthatch. Terry Korolyk had reported a NORTHERN HAWK-OWL on January 16 at the intersection of 240th St and Plummers Road, north of Millarville, and it appeared for us on cue at 2:00 PM: our 35th species after six hours.
Ruffed Grouse

It was time to add some waterfowl, and we made our way to Weed Lake, on Glenmore Trail just east of Langdon. Mallard and Common Goldeneye were spotted en route, and at Weed Lake, just where Terry Korolyk has been reporting them, we saw the Fab Five ducks: Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and Lesser Scaup as well as the seen-earlier Mallard.
Mallard, Lesser Scaup and Northern Shoveler
Wending our way back to Calgary we were again disappointed not to encounter any open-country birds. The male Hooded Merganser at Elliston Park eluded us initially, but then emerged from hiding. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew over Peigan Trail. A stop in Willow Park yielded nothing new: this can be a very birdy area but it was after 4:00 p.m and becoming cool and misty.

Our final stop by the Bow River in the Hull’s Wood section of Fish Creek Park added Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Common Mergasnser, bringing our final total to 46 species of birds at 4:30 p.m. after 8 ½ hours of birding. We had also seen four species of mammals during the day: White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Red Squirrel and -- in Waterton townsite -- a Red Fox.
Red Fox

480 km driven while birding, and a temperature range of minus 11 to plus 6o C. Mostly cloudy in the south, and misty in the Calgary area. Winds gusting to 50 km/hr in the morning in Waterton, and becoming light later in the day in Calgary. And a lot of fun.
Thanks for the report Phil.  The birds cooperated nicely for us on the big day and we’re hoping that trend will continue as we search for some of the other winter birds in the next few days.

Good birding and mammaling.


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