For the Lakeside Leader
It has been a fantastic week out at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory! The migration flood-gates opened and we saw heavy overhead migration every day. The primary migrants were chipping sparrow and clay-coloured sparrow and in one single morning around 5,000 chipping sparrows were seen flying by. Birds were also moving in tremendous diversity. On several mornings we saw over 60 species, including rose-breasted grosbeaks, western tanagers, Baltimore orioles, Tennessee warblers, least flycatchers and American redstarts.
Amidst the heavy migration, we were lucky to see a few of the more uncommon warblers, such as Cape May and blackpoll and even managed to catch a gorgeous adult male bay-breasted warbler. Another banding highlight was capturing a Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s are a member of the accipiter family (short-winged, forest hawks), ranging in size from the small, commonly caught sharp-shinned hawk to the large, uncommon resident species, the northern goshawk. The northern edge of their range is around Edmonton, so they don’t often show up in our area and this Cooper’s was the third captured at the observatory and the first I’ve banded.
As if this week could get more awesome, we also ran our Great Canadian Birdathon on the 22nd and had a phenomenal birding day! If you missed my explanation in a previous article, the GCB is the longest-running fundraiser by Bird Studies Canada. The premise is that birders pick a day in May, get sponsors, then go out and try to find as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. We had picked the 24th, but the forecast called for high winds and rain so we moved it up by two days and we are so glad we did! We started our day at the Observatory (since we still had to work) and managed to see 82 species, including a few really unusual birds: black tern, mourning dove, northern goshawk and barred owl.
After shutting down the nets, we headed out to do some pond hopping (after a brief stop at the Boreal Centre for the eastern phoebe that nests there). The giant pond complex near the Boreal Centre gave us a few expected water species and another really unusual bird for this area – a yellow-headed blackbird. A couple ponds later we had found pretty much every water bird and swallow species and headed out of the park to Nine-Mile Point. There we found three ducks that are very uncommon outside of migration; northern pintail, gadwall, and cinnamon teal. With those three we officially found all the possible ducks for the first time in the nine years we have been doing the Birdathon.
Nine-mile pond also yielded my favourite bird of the Birdathon, my very first American bittern! I’ve been trying to find the bittern since I got into birding. Done with ponds, we headed back to town and found a few more species on the bear trails. The last highlight bird was in Wayne Bowles’ backyard. We waited by his hummingbird feeder for a ruby-throated hummingbird. Didn’t find one, but did see a rufous hummingbird, a species that is supposed to be on the other side of the Rockies.
When everything was tallied at the end of the day we were amazed to see that we had found 125 species of birds! Our previous record was 117 and we never thought we’d ever see it bested. Go team!