June 11 – This morning we left Elkwater and the Cypress Hills and made our way west towards Lethbridge. On the way, we paused and spent a few hours at the fantastic Writing On Stone Provincial Park. The stunning scenery here, with coulees and hoodoos and the winding Milk River, is unforgettable.
The birding was pretty good too. Down in the campground area where we had lunch in the shelter as a light rain fell, there were many birds. Just as we finished lunch, the rain stopped! Common Nighthawks were found roosting on horizontal branches of large cottonwood trees. Brown Thrashers were seen very well, along with the ubiquitous Least Flycatcher and Yellow Warblers. We walked a short and rather steep trail to some writing on stone, where the park’s largest scene was viewed, the ‘Battlefield’ scene. Erosion has worn away much of the drawing, but with a little imagination one could make out the scene. As we walked back up the trail, a Rock Wren perched right beside several of us. Mike pointed out some lovely Bitter Root along the trails’ edge. The visitor’s center at the park was also very well received, with members of the group expressing how well laid out the museum is, and how informative, yet simple and nicely presented things were.
As we carried on our drive we encountered a couple of Gray Partridge alongside the hwy. We paused at Vernon Lake to count waterfowl, finding many to add to our day list here. There were also Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Black Tern, and several dozen Cliff Swallows here. We spent the night in Lethbridge and had an enjoyable dinner at the Casino!
June 12 – Leaving Lethbridge early this morning, we headed directly for Waterton. As we arrived, we did some birding, spending the majority of our time along the Red Rock Parkway. We stopped several times along the way racking up new birds for our trip list. There were Hammond’s Flycatchers, a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, and our first Black Bear!
In a campground, which was peppered with bear warning bulletins, we had lunch while watching Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds! Our first Columbian Ground-Squirrels appeared here, a change from the Richardson’s squirrels we had seen in the prairie. A male Lazuli Bunting was seen briefly by Juline and myself, but later on we all had great looks at a male through the scope. More mammals were noted, White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, American Elk. At a pond we watched two Beavers near the lodge! A walk along the trails at Red Rocks Canyon was productive, giving Mike his 14th lifer of the trip, a Boreal Chickadee. Other members of the trip had many lifers, such as Townsend’s Warbler, a male Varied Thrush carrying food, several Gray Jays playing overhead.
It was a great spot. We had good looks at both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets. We stopped and checked all river crossings from bridges where Harlequin Ducks or American Dippers might be found, but we found none! A Golden Eagle sailed over a towering mountain peak not long after we had finished lunch. We made our way to our hotel the Prince of Wales Inn. It was a treat to watch a pair of foxes with their cubs playing outside of our rooms.
June 13 – We went out before breakfast to the marshes near the entrance gate to the park. Here, we saw Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Ring-necked Duck, hundreds of nesting Cliff Swallows and much more. Elk were numerous this morning. We then took a drive along the Red Rock Pkwy one more time, having excellent views this morning of a male Black-headed Grosbeak. A Moose was a great addition to our mammal list here and we watched a Coyote having a drink at a beaver pond. After breakfast we explored Cameron Lake Road. Birds were fairly numerous this morning, though the weather was uncooperative with cold and windy conditions at high elevations. I was happy, therefore, to add a few species to our list such as a lovely male Wilson’s Warbler singing away along a stream, and several Barrow’s Goldeneye of both sexes, on a small lake nearby. More bears were seen on our trip up Cameron Lake Road.
We cruised around the Buffalo Paddock later on in the afternoon, spotting a herd of about half a dozen Bison on a grassy hillside. In the open grassland there were Western Meadowlarks, Mountain Bluebirds and Vesper Sparrows to keep us occupied, while an American Wigeon dabbled in a small pond. To finish off the day we explored the town of Waterton for a bit late this afternoon, before returning to the Prince of Wales for dinner.
June 14 – We left Waterton fairly early this morning and headed north towards Calgary. We stopped at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, however and enjoyed walking through the fantastic museum. Outside we took in the view of the waving grass from the top of the buffalo jump. It was spectacular. There were a few birds around such as Rock Wren, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Chipping Sparrow and singing Brown Thrashers.
The drive to Calgary took about 2 hours, and once we got to the airport, we bid our farewell’s and traveled home, minds full of excellent memories from the Prairies tour of 2014. We tallied over 170 species of birds on our trip, as well as many interesting mammals!