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Numbers of the nomadic Bohemian Waxwing can vary a lot from year to year, but our 2019 tour had good numbers. Participant Sarah Lane captured this image of a lovely group of them in the top of a spruce tree.
On our first night in Edmonton, I greeted the group with the following words: "Welcome to Alberta. I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that the extreme cold advisory the region has been under for the past couple of weeks has just been lifted. The bad news is that -21C is not considered extreme cold up here!" Yes, it was brutally cold to start the tour, and overall this was the coldest of the Owlberta tours to date, but we adjusted to the temperatures, planned out our excursions based on weather forecasts, and by doing so, we actually had a pretty successful run. In fact, we actually tallied a couple more species than we've done on past outings. If nothing else, this tour certainly gave us an appreciation of how hardy these northern birds really are!
Obviously the main goal of this tour is to see some winter owls, and we definitely did that, though results were a little different than on previous tours. Despite lots of effort and a real promising lead this year, we were unable to find a hawk-owl on the tour for the first time. And Great Gray Owl was also more difficult than usual, though we did ultimately find one bird hunting at dusk on a snowy evening west of Calgary. On the plus side, this was a bumper year for Snowy Owls, and we saw far more than usual, without even a fraction of the effort we usually have to put in. Short-eared Owls were also in good supply, though, as usual, they were all concentrated in a single area. That makes it fun though, as who doesn't enjoy seeing close to a dozen owls all in one spot! A handsome subarcticus Great Horned Owl and a Northern Pygmy-Owl glaring at us from the apex of a nearby spruce rounded out our owl sightings on the tour.
In addition to the owls, we also tracked down a good selection of other northern specialties that were high on people's target lists. The biggest highlight among these was undoubtedly that magnificent Gyrfalcon we found east of Calgary on our final morning. Though a regular winter visitor to Alberta, this is always a tricky species to locate, so we were really thrilled with this sighting. And the scope views of it devouring an unfortunate bird it had just caught were simply outstanding. Other stars of the tour included a good variety of species. Striking male Barrow's Goldeneyes and a Harlequin Duck (also a male) stood out among the many waterfowl along the Bow River in Calgary. A Golden Eagle perched atop an electrical pole on a sunny afternoon NW of the city was a good find. A female American Three-toed Woodpecker persistently probing the lower section of a nearby tree at Brown-Lowery PP was a standout on our beautiful walk through the forest there. Northern Shrike, Canada Jay, Bohemian Waxwing, and Boreal Chickadee were also much appreciated northern species to put in appearances, and this year's finch crop wasn't too bad either. Both Pine and Evening grosbeaks showed up at some feeders northeast of Edmonton, White-winged Crossbills were plentiful, and decent numbers of Common Redpolls were also seen at a number of locations.
While the weather and road conditions (not to mention the police!) certainly made this a challenging tour at times, I was very pleased to find that all of you were up to the challenge. Dan and I were impressed that you all dealt with the cold and snow in good spirits and with good humor. Thanks for being such a wonderful group of traveling companions; you sure made our jobs enjoyable! Hope to meet you all on another trip someday soon. Happy spring migration everyone!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Owls are the primary targets for our tour, and we got some memorable views of some of the iconic wintering species of the north. Short-eared Owls put on a good show east of Calgary. Photo by participant Sarah Lane.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
We had half a dozen Clark's Nutcrackers on our last afternoon when we visited the feeders at Waiparous Village. Photo by guide Jay VanderGaast.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
RUFFED GROUSE (Bonasa umbellus)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN GOSHAWK (Accipiter gentilis)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
A lone female Three-toed Woodpecker gave us a great look in Brown-Lowery Provincial Park. Photo by guide Jay VanderGaast.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)
SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)
NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium gnoma)
GREAT GRAY OWL (Strix nebulosa)
SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (Picoides dorsalis)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)
NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
This Evening Grosbeak was one of a small flock that we watched at a feeder near Halfmoon Lake. Photo by participant Sarah Lane.
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia) [N]
CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
Trumpeter Swans are usually long-gone from the area in February, but we found a single individual hanging out with the geese in Carburn Park. Photo by participant Sarah Lane.
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Loxia leucoptera)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
WHITE-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus townsendi)
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) [I]
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
We did well with mammals this year, in addition to some great owls and other birds! This Moose was one of a number of these large deer that we found during the tour. Photo by participant Sarah Lane.
AMERICAN MINK (Mustela vison)
MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
AMERICAN BISON (Bison bison)
Totals for the tour: 57 bird taxa and 9 mammal taxa