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Posts Tagged ‘Saskatchewan’

Well, friends, I knew it would happen some time.  I just accidentally hit an unknown shortcut key and published a post with only one sentence.  I apologize for any confusion.  So, back to my story…  I left The Crossing at Grasslands in Val Marie late in the morning on Thursday, May 24.  It could have been a short 2-1/2 hour drive to Cypress Hills, but I detoured to Eastend to look for Prairie Falcon, which would be a sure thing at Jones Peak (yeah, right).  It was another of those long dirt and gravel roads, but it did lead up and up to a spectacular view of the valley below.  I believe that Prairie Falcons do breed there, but I should have known by the zero photos in eBird for that location that not many people get a really good look.  It was so windy that I could barely keep myself upright.  I did not set up the scope because I knew it would blow over.  So, I did not add Prairie Falcon to my life list, but I did see some pretty Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds.

Mountain Bluebird

I arrived at The Resort at Cypress Hills that afternoon and walked around the lake before settling in for the night.  The park is beautiful and the trees are a lovely change from the prairie.  However, I headed out to the prairie again the next morning.  On Friday, I drove over 1-1/2 hours towards Wild Horse, Alberta, to look for McCown’s Longspur again.  I loved the first 11 miles of the gravel road and did not encounter another vehicle.  Nor did I encounter any McCown’s Longspurs.  I did, however, see a few American Avocets in breeding plumage, the color of dreamsicles, a friend used to say.

American Avocet

The next 10 miles were pretty good, too, and I met another birder coming from the opposite direction.  He greeted me with “What do you need?”  I replied, “McCown’s Longspur.”  “I just pushed three of them your way.  Just wait here five minutes and they will be here.”  Well, we talked 10 or 15 minutes and another truck came by.  Birds don’t always keep hopping straight down the road, either, so I missed them.  I continued on down the road and was at the border station before I realized that my target road had ended.  It was good fortune, though, because they have rest rooms at the border station (travel tip).  Plus, I found the most cooperative Upland Sandpiper just before the end of the road.  I think this bird would have let me look at him all day.

Upland Sandpiper

I could have made a loop back to Cypress Hills, but I liked the first 11 miles of the road I was on so much that I decided to return the same way.  I don’t know what changed, other than my luck, but I found EIGHT adult male McCown’s Longspurs on the way back!  My mediocre photos make me happy, proof that I finally found these little beauties.

McCown’s Longspur

Yesterday’s mammal of the day is Richardson’s ground squirrel.

Richardson’s ground squirrel

Today’s highlight happened when I went out to get in my car.  Yesterday, I had discovered a woodpecker nest on the edge of the parking lot and got a photo of a nestling poking his head out of the hole.  I suspected it was a Three-toed Woodpecker, but I wasn’t sure.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Today, I saw Papa Three-toe leave the nest and fly to a close tree, where he preened for five minutes.  It was such a privilege to watch these birds, a species that I have not seen often.

American Three-toed Woodpecker (adult male)

I drove to the West Block of the park, over the roughest gravel roads yet.  I did not see a lot of birds there, but did enjoy the scenery and had a nice walk.  I finally saw the first significant prairie flowers of the trip.

Update:  One of the two Shooting Stars native to Saskatchewan, genus Dodecatheon, but I did not measure the leaves or petals, so cannot determine which species.

Update: One of the two Shooting Stars native to Saskatchewan, genus Dodecatheon, but I did not measure the leaves or petals, so cannot determine which species.

On the way back, I stopped on the side of the road to watch a Golden Eagle.  Another raptor was attacking it, so I started taking photos.  When I looked at them, I realized that the eagle had stolen the Swainson’s Hawk’s lunch.  There is nothing like a little raptor drama to liven up the day.

Golden Eagle and Swainson’s Hawk

Today’s mammal was this red squirrel who did not want me to take his picture. He didn’t even want me in his woods.

Red Squirrel

Tomorrow, I’m on the road again, heading to Waterton Lake National Park.

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Grasslands National Park is one of the quietest places in North America.  The peace and beauty of this place for the past three and a half days has been wonderful.  I am staying at The Crossing at Grasslands, which is adjacent to the park.  Here is the view from my balcony.  The other direction overlooks a little pond with ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes.

My most important target bird here was Baird’s Sparrow, so I looked up the locations within the park where it had been reported in eBird.  On Monday morning, I headed to the closest of those locations, the road to Two Trees.  I heard it singing as I slowly drove the road, so I got a recording, but I wanted to see the little sparrow.  However, I felt intimidated by the huge grassy area with no landmarks and even with my scope, I could not find the bird.  Plus, I was distracted by the mosquitoes that swarmed all around.  I figured it might just have to join Black Rail on my life list as a heard-only bird. I continued with my day and the ecotour drive.

The next morning, I was more determined and confident about finding the Baird’s Sparrow.  I decided that it made the most sense to go back to where I had heard it.  It had to be there and it was close to where I was staying.  I went back to the road before breakfast to look for the sparrow.  Again, I heard it.  And, then I saw it.  I got a good look with the scope and then slowly walked into the field a few feet at a time.  The sparrow flitted from one bunch of grass to another, but I was able to keep track of him.  Finding my own Baird’s Sparrow was one of the highlights of my birding life and I will never forget that beautiful morning on the prairie.

Baird’s Sparrow

The rest of my time here is a jumble of birds and other wildlife, quiet and solitude, peace, and gorgeous scenery.  I was frequently alone on hikes or at stops along the roads.  But, when I have met others, everyone has been exceptionally friendly.  If birding can be a vacation, this is it.

I certainly was getting practice with common sparrows, like Vesper.  They were so numerous in spots that I worried I would hit one with the car.  Like the pretty little Horned Larks, they like to hop down the road in front of the car, staying just a few feet ahead.

Vesper Sparrow

Black-tailed prairie dogs were fun to see and I counted at least 30 at the dog town.  While their conservation is secure in the U.S., they are threatened in Canada and the government is taking steps to protect them.

Black-tailed prairie dog

I was also pleased to see a couple of beautiful Chestnut-collared Longspurs on the ecotour drive.

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Eastern Kingbirds are everywhere; they are much more abundant here than at home.  This morning, I even had a pair on my windowsill.  A Western Kingbird was the first bird that I saw after I crossed the border, but I have seen very few since then.

Eastern Kingbird

Swainson’s Hawks are fairly common here, too, and surprisingly they do not always flush from fence posts when I stop.

Swainson’s Hawk

And, a flight shot.

Swainson’s Hawk

Sharp-tailed Grouse seem to be easy to find. Here is the second or third that I’ve seen so far on this trip.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (female)

It has been wonderful to have a few days to relax and be a little lazy after pushing so hard at the start of the trip.  I had hoped to find Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur here, too, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The longspur doesn’t appear to be as common as I’d hoped and I think that the pipit could turn into a nemesis bird for me.  The combination of my poor vision and hearing and desire to actually SEE the bird, field marks and all, before counting it makes it challenging.  However, I have more opportunities for both still on this trip.

Tomorrow I head to another Canada park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

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