Thursday, 30 May 2013

Alberta in the merry month of May

After a seven week hiatus, I return to the world of blogging.  Here in Alberta, May really marks the beginning of spring and the return of the migratory birds.  As always, we try to urge the birds northward before they are ready and then, in the blink of an eye, migration is over.

The month began with a visit from my friends, Alistair and Sveta.  Alistair is a photographer who is becoming a birder and I had hoped to show him many new birds.  They had seen the movie “The Big Year” and their only target bird was a Great Gray Owl and I’m happy to report that we saw two of them. 
We birded in the Calgary region for a few days and it seemed like I was forever saying “normally there the birds should be back” or “there will be lots of birds here in a couple of weeks”.  We did find a few interesting birds such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and had a Moose wander across the road.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
The weekend of May 4th & 5th, my wife and I drove our guests up to Jasper National Park.  I didn’t expect to see many birds (and we didn’t) but had high expectations of seeing many interesting mammals.  “Normally there should be …” but mammals were few and far between.  We did see a distant Mountain Goat but no bears – there bears were just coming out of hibernation and there were only scattered reports of sightings.  However, the wonderful scenery kept us captivated and no one was too disappointed with the lack of wildlife.  At the roadside viewpoints, we also enjoyed close views of inquisitive Common Ravens and Clark's Nutcrackers.
Mountain Goat
Atop Whistlers Mountain near Jasper
Typical scenery along the Banff-Jasper Highway
Common Raven
Clark's Nutcracker
You can view Alistair's photos of his trip to Alberta at:
The second week in May usually marks the beginning of the shorebird migration and I had ideas of doing a blog just on shorebirds.  A Purple Sandpiper was found – an Alberta first record - by Eddie Matoud and it stayed around long enough for most local birders to see it.
Purple Sandpiper in early morning light
There was lots of suitable habitat for the shorebirds and we had a brief but decent migration.  Of course, for an acceptable photo, the birds need to be close enough and in the right light.  The rarer species such as White-rumped Sandpiper weren’t so cooperative but some of the common species such as Stilt Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit were more obliging.
Stilt Sandpiper
Marbled Godwit
About a week ago, the weather turned nasty – cold, wet and windy – but that’s not enough to keep one at home.  While searching unsuccessfully for a vagrant Tri-colored Heron that had been seen a couple of days earlier, I came across these Cliff Swallows huddled together.
Cliff Swallows trying to stay warm
The last weekend in May is the date for Alberta’s annual May Species Count.  Ray Woods and I were assigned an area in the far northwest of the Calgary area region (a 50 mile radius circle centered in central Calgary), an area we had done a few times before.  On Saturday, the weather was still pretty bad as evidenced by this soggy Great Horned Owl.
Great Horned Owl
Over the two day count period, we had 102 species which is a little below normal.  The only real highlight was an Arctic Tern (a new Alberta bird for me) but it was so distant that we only confirmed identification afterwards by studying our photos.  Of course, it is always nice to see a breeding plumaged Sandhill Crane.
Sandhill Crane
With May coming to a close, Phil Cram and I tried to re-find the Arctic Tern last Tuesday.  No luck but we did enjoy nice views of some returning summer residents such as Le Conte’s Sparrow and Western Tanager.
Le Conte's Sparrow
Western Tanager
June will be a busy month with trips to the Cold Lake area for birding and to B.C. to visit friends and family. 
With all of the inclement weather in recent weeks, I made good progress compiling my world mammal list.  My total is 300 mammals which, combined with 3826 birds, puts me at 4126 fur & feathers … only 874 to go!

Good birding,


1 comment:

  1. As always an entertaining read, Brian, and great photos to match. Good luck with your upcoming trips and looking forward to some outings later in June.