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Posts Tagged ‘American Avocet’

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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The Rookery at Smith Oaks at High Island

The Rookery at Smith Oaks at High Island

“You should have been here yesterday.”  That’s how my trip in April started out.  Two friends and I drove from North Carolina to Dauphin Island, Alabama, and High Island, Texas, before meeting the rest of our group near San Antonio.  I learned that hot spots aren’t hot every day, even at the right time of the year.

Common Loon - a surprising find at Dauphin Island

Common Loon – a surprising find at Dauphin Island

I don’t have much to say about Dauphin Island except that it did provide my best view ever of a very beautiful Kentucky Warbler.  We also saw so many Prothonotary Warblers that they almost became trash birds.  And, take your own food!  Perhaps being there Easter weekend didn’t contribute to the availability of dining options, but it was so bad that the last night we voted for the hamburgers at the gas station as our best bet for dinner.

At High Island, the bird story was similar to Dauphin Island; we missed the big days before and after our visit.  But High Island did give me my first life bird of the trip, a very cooperative Swainson’s Warbler.  On our first morning at Boy Scout Woods, I asked about finding the warbler and headed in the direction where one had been seen the day before.  After searching a short time, I noticed two men intently peering into the thick underbrush.  I knew that they were looking at a Swainson’s Warbler.  I slowly walked over to the men; they warmly greeted me and then showed me where the warbler was turning over leaves on the ground.  Over the next 20 minutes, a crowd of 10 or so slowly gathered and our local expert did not leave until he was sure that every person there had seen the Swainson’s Warbler.

A rookery is an amazing place with hundreds of birds packed in so tightly that they almost step on each other.  I took the photo at the top of this post at The Rookery at Smith Oaks in High Island.  At the time of our visit, nesting birds were predominately Roseate Spoonbills and Neotropic Cormorants with a few Great and Snowy Egrets.  The Roseate Spoonbills were dazzling with their deep pink shoulders, orange tail, and tuft of pink feathers in the center of their breasts.

Do you remember Dreamsicles?  My friend Susan describes the color of American Avocets in breeding plumage as deamsicle.  The thousand plus Avocets we discovered at Bollivar Flats looked like a colorful sea of dreamsicle, black and white.  What an awesome moment it was to soak in all that beauty and see one of our favorite birds doing so well that they could congregate in groups of thousands.  I have since learned that the American Avocet does indeed have a NatureServe conservation status of G5 (secure) and an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status of Least Concern.  The global population is estimated at 450,000 adults.

Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge provided a wonderful break on our drive to meet the rest of our group.  We had only a couple of hours to spare, but could easily have spent an entire day there.  Everything was wonderful – the habitat, birds, butterflies, flowers, visitor’s center.  During our short visit, we were pleased to see the only White-tailed Hawk of the trip, a close-up Crested Caracara, Loggerhead Shrike and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along with ducks, waders, and meadowlarks.  We all noted Attwater NWR as a place we would like to visit again as we headed west to continue our Texas adventure.

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