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OWLBERTA: Alberta's Owls & More
A short tour targeting owls and other winter specialties in the boreal forests, prairies, and foothills of the Canadian province of Alberta.

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With winter weather settling in, and temperatures dropping below the freezing mark, things are starting to heat up in Alberta. Yes, you read that correctly, even if it sounds contradictory. Alberta's temperatures aren't what I'm talking about, they're still chilly, but the winter birding in the province looks to be hot, hot, hot! I just had a chat with Calgarian Dan Arndt, who will be co-leading this winter's "Owlberta" tour, and he informed me that it's shaping up to be a good owl winter this year, with the big three all being reported regularly in the province already: Snowy Owls showed up early this winter, and are being seen in good numbers; numerous Great Gray Owl reports are coming through from the two main areas we visit on our tour; and even those pesky Northern Hawk Owls, which eluded us on the 2019 tour, seem to be more reliable so far this winter. One bird has apparently even set up shop within the Calgary city limits! Short-eared Owls are also being seen in several locations, and of course, there are always Great Horned Owls around; they are the provincial bird after all. Of the regulars, only Northern Pygmy-Owl seems to be a little scarcer than usual, but with some effort, we should still be able to find one or two of them, too.

After a couple of tough owl winters out west (during which we still found all the above species, other than the hawk owl in 2019), it's looking like early 2020 could be the kind of owl winter we've been hoping for since we started offering this tour. Best of all, there are still some spaces left on the upcoming tour as of this writing, so if you're hoping to ogle some owls this winter, grab one of those final spaces before they're all gone! --Jay

Who says you need to head south to the tropics for an exciting winter birding getaway? A little trip to the north can be just as enticing, with Alberta being a particularly excellent winter birding region. Specialties like Great Gray, Snowy, and Northern Hawk owls, irruptive in many parts of their winter ranges, are regulars here. It would be an unusual winter that didn't see at least a few of each of these owls present in the province, and some winters they can be around in good numbers.

Our tour kicks off in Edmonton, the provincial capital and a great base for exploring the vast boreal forests to the north. At nearby sites we stand our best chance of finding Northern Hawk Owls and Great Grays, and we'll make a careful search of the areas they favor in hopes of seeing these magnificent creatures. As we scour the region for owls, we may very well encounter other winter visitors and boreal specialties such as Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, Canada Jay, and Evening Grosbeak. Most winters the Edmonton region also hosts large numbers of Bohemian Waxwings that gather to feed in Mountain Ash trees, and there are plenty of other possibilities as well, perhaps including Gyrfalcon or Northern Saw-whet Owl, if any are about.

From Edmonton we'll head south to Calgary, sandwiched between the magnificent Rocky Mountains and the broad, open prairies to the east. Most winters see those prairies hosting good numbers of Snowy Owls, with Prairie Falcons, Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, and Short-eared Owls all usually present in varying numbers. In Calgary's parks and at sites west towards the mountains, a different suite of species is present, with possibilities that may include Barrow's Goldeneye, Clark's Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill and, in some winters, even Northern Pygmy-Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, or Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

Every winter is different, but there's always something exciting to go after. This year, don't just tolerate winter, embrace it, and enjoy some of the wonderful birds the season has to offer!

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2020 Departures
Feb 15-21 ($2475)

2021 Departures
Feb 19-25

2022 Departures
Feb 18-24



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Guides for our tours
Jay VanderGaast

What to Expect
Good accommodations, easy walking (mainly roadside birding), cold winter climate.

Our staff travel agents can assist you with tour information, flight reservations and tour bookings. Contact us at (800) 728-4953
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