June 8 – We birded around Brooks this morning, beginning at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park. The wetlands along the entrance road into the park were very productive with a good variety of waterfowl, and some lovely breeding plumage Red-necked Grebes. Our first Song Sparrow was seen along the pathway here, and Marsh Wrens chattered from the reeds. Overhead, a Common Loon flew past, our first glimpse of the tour. Later, on Lake Newell we saw several Common Loons in breeding plumage. This is always a real treat for the ‘Brits’ who most often seen ‘Great Northern Divers’ in Scotland in winter plumage. Also out on the lake were several American White Pelicans. A stroll through the cottonwoods in the park produced a list of birds like Western Wood-Pewee, Western and Eastern kingbirds, Baltimore Oriole, Common Grackle, Least Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler to name a few species.
At Tillebrook Provincial Park, where we had lunch, then walked through the park, we saw our first House Finches, male and female. I am surprised we hadn’t seen one up until now. ‘Eastern’ Warbling Vireos sang incessantly, while Yellow Warblers seemed to be all over as well. We had fantastic looks at a female Downy Woodpecker here, just after we had finished our picnic lunch. The drive to Medicine Hat was broken up with a stop along a dirt road near the town of Tilley. Here, we finally had excellent views of our first Chestnut-collared Longspurs of the tour. Sprague’s Pipit called from high in the sky as well. After just a quick stop in Medicine Hat, we turned south just before entering the province of Saskatchewan and drove south towards the Cypress Hills and the town of Elkwater at which we will stay for the next 3 nights. Upon arrival, folks immediately fall in love with the place. It’s quiet, and there are hardly any tourists around right now. As we made our way back from dinner tonight, a Merlin flew across the road in front of us.
June 9 – The entire day was spent enjoying the birds of Cypress Hills Provincial Park, in S.E. Alberta. We began before breakfast with a stroll along the boardwalk and trails along Elkwater Lake. Some birds we noted this morning included Dusky Flycatcher, Veery, White-crowned Sparrow and numerous White-winged Scoters. Our first American Red Squirrel was encountered this morning, as he nibbled on a pine cone while chattering away at us.
After breakfast we took off along Reesor Lake Road birding for the rest of the day. We did very well in the woodland sections finding Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, American Redstart, Red-naped Sapsucker, ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Ovenbird, Alder Flycatcher and more. One of the best sightings of the day was a male MacGillivray’s Warbler that popped up and showed nicely for a few minutes. On the grassy top of the plateau were good numbers of Mountain Bluebirds, seen all along fence lines where nest boxes had been put up. We encountered our first American Elk here, with a large cow watching us from a distance as we watched her through the scope. An adult Broad-winged Hawk sailed by at one point, disappearing all to fast deep into the forest. We had lunch at Reesor Lake where a dozen or more American White Pelicans had decided to hang out for the day. Several fisherman were bringing in small trout along the edge of the lake, so there must be plenty of food for the birds here. Two Caspian Terns circled the lake as well. Some members of the group discovered a Barn Swallow was nesting under the eaves of the rustic bathrooms. As we made our way back to Elkwater a good old Alberta thunderstorm hit us, with large hail stones and a lot of electricity. It was exciting. Elk were dashing across the road, as were White-tailed Deer. We made it safely back to our hotel and all agreed we had enjoyed a very nice day.
June 10 -Today was an epic day of birding as we explored the dry grasslands of the Wild Horse area, near the Montana border. One of our first target birds that we found was a singing male Baird’s Sparrow. This bird sang to us for 15 minutes from perches close to the road!
It was just a good day for sparrows in general, with the grasslands producing Brewer’s, Clay-colored, Vesper, Baird’s and Savannah sparrows. Both Chestnut-collared and McCown’s longspurs were noted along our driving route. Lark Buntings were numerous, with many showy black and white males ‘larking’ in the air as they slowly drifted back down towards the ground. We had brief looks at a male Bobolink in the morning, so decided to return for one last look in the late afternoon. We were rewarded with excellent views of a male, nice and close, just before a storm appeared. Overhead, we tallied up to 5 Ferruginous Hawks today! What a regal bird they are, as reflected in their latin name ‘Buteo regalis‘.
Other raptors today included Red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks, Northern Harrier and a pair of adult Short-eared Owls with one fluffy fledgling in the grasslands on the way home!