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|