Monday, 2 January 2012

Birding Banff in the New Year

2012 found us waking up in Canmore so there was a good chance that the all important first bird of the year would be something more interesting than last year’s House Sparrow.  Sure enough as I drove over to Banff for some morning birding a pair of Common Ravens flew over the Highway, the first of many for the day.
A rooftop Raven, Corvus corax, in Banff
Driving through Banff, which was relatively deserted except for groups of skiers waiting for shuttle buses, I picked up Black-billed Magpie on my way to Cave Avenue.  More excitingly, as soon as I stepped out of the car, there was a group of Mountain Chickadees making trips between a large pine tree and a feeder - a target bird both for the day and for the year.  I had great views, although with the sun still not up above the mountains my efforts at photography were, umm, impressionistic!
Oddly enough, given the terrible photo, this shows the critical field mark for Mountain Chickadee,  Poecile gambeli - it looked better through binoculars!
I took a walk down the Cave and Basin boardwalk where there were Red-breasted Nuthatches and a flock of White-winged Crossbills dropping cones on to the path.  The crossbills were so quiet and diligent in their feeding that I first thought I was being targeted by a squirrel with a sense of humour.  Suddenly the tree erupted with a flock of a dozen birds which settled into a tree that afforded better views.  Down at the hot springs I was hoping for dippers but found only a small group of Mallards paddling around in the steaming water. 
Click to enlarge and see how many White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, you can spot
After this walk I headed over to Vermillion Lakes Drive, a flock of Rock Pigeons flying overhead.  Alongside the road at Vermillion Lakes there are several patches of water kept ice-free by underground springs.  In one I found a muskrat keeping company with a rather forlorn female Bufflehead.  A Townsend’s Solitaire perched overhead – the second year I've found this bird on my first day of birding.  More surprisingly was a group of Green-winged Teal at the limit of their winter range.  They were huddled together in a tiny open stretch of water and I wonder how they will make out when we finally have a real cold snap.
Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca, Alberta's smallest duck on the smallest remaining part of Vermillion Lakes 
On my way back to Canmore I stopped at Exshaw hoping for Gray-crowned Rosy-finch but found only Black-capped Chickadee and House Sparrow to add to my list.  As a footnote to this trip report, I should add that we skied in to Boom Lake today where Gray Jay’s made their usual begging appearance.  All in all a good start to the year’s birding.
A convenient perch for a hopeful Gray Jay, Perisoreus canadensis


  1. Good luck on your 2012 list David. This might be the year I see a Gray Jay.

  2. Gray Jay, Mountain Chickadee and crossbills=all birds I'd love to see down here. We do get a few crossblls in CT but not the others. Nice photos too! Hope you see lots of good birds this year.