Monday, October 3, 2011

Alberta Big Day

I am trying to catch up and post a few things. Last May I went out to Alberta with Tom Hince. Our goal was to do a Big Day of birding and hopefully set a new record for Canada. We had done three previous big days in Alberta and last year we were only one species from tying the Canadian record of 214  species.

After a week of scouting and some great help from local birders we were ready to do our big day on June 1. We had a great start near Cold Lake and the nighttime hours passed quickly. In addition to owls there are lots of birds to look for in the hours before dawn. Our very first stop produced Lincoln's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, LeConte's Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe, Mallard, Yellow Rail, Clay-colored Sparrow, Great Horned Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Sora.  Warblers such as Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird and Connecticut regularly sing at night and we continued to pick up birds through the first hours of the day. By 4:00 am we had 50 species on our list and this grew to over 80 by sunrise. We had already driven over 240 km by this point.  I won't go through the entire day but here are a few photos taken during the trip.

A display of Northern Lights near Cold Lake

Wilson's Snipe

calling Virginia Rail
Cold Lake sunrise at 5 am

Mourning Warbler
Lincoln's Sparrow

At 6:00 am it was -1C and the list was up to 105 species.

scanning Cold Lake

The northern part of the province was very dry this spring withbillowing dust from every passing vehicle.

The south was very wet and many backroads were not passable unless you had a vehicle with good ground clearance.

Not something you want to encounter on a Big Day!

Loggerhead Shrike

Brewer's Sparrow
We reached 200 species at 4:57 pm with the foothills and mountains still to come.

Sofa Mountain.  The wetland in the foreground is a good location for Fox Sparrow. 

Another of the few photos taken during the big day was this Black Bear at Lower Waterton Lake.

Number 218 for the Big Day was a Golden Eagle on its nest in Waterton Lakes National Park. Here I am at the end of the Cameron Lake Road about 10:30 pm., at the end of 1,280 km of travel for the day.  Visit Tom Hince's blog for other photos from the trip.


  1. Wow, impressive numbers! I love the bear photo.

  2. Hi there. Great pictures. I have taken a few pictures of black bears in Ontario, but nothing like your bear pic, well done! I live in Toronto, Ontario, and this past Friday, my wife and I came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at:

    1. There has been a large movement of Saw-whet Owls into southern Ontario this fall. Holiday Beach Migration Observatory has banded over 400 since early October.