Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Calgary to Stavely

Mike, Brian and Ray set off from Calgary at 7 A.M. this morning to do some birding south of Calgary. We've been trying hard for Gyrfalcon for some time now and we decided to follow up on a recent sighting in the Frank Lake area and then continue on south for a few other key winter targets, most notably perhaps, a Sharp-tailed Grouse. We were treated to a gorgeous prairie sunrise as we passed south of Okotoks and as we headed in toward Frank Lake we quickly spotted our first Snowy Owl of the day.

Snowy Owl

 Feeling rather good about life, we drove the circuit around Frank Lake but alas, once again we found no gyrfalcon! We did find two more Snowies mind you! By 9:30 we were exploring the area west of Nanton checking out all our favourite places for Sharp-tailed Grouse. By this time, heavy clouds had moved in from the west and the wind was blowing at about 30 km/h. Despite a reasonably favourable forecast, the skies looked very ominous and as we reached the hills southwest of Nanton we were into intermittent snow flurries. Despite the poor visibility, Brian suddenly spotted a Sharp-tailed Grouse on sentry duty atop a large stack of hay bales. We stopped for a closer look and soon saw there were actually seven of them. Almost immediately after we resumed our drive south we came across ten more! We had some great views!

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Our plan at this point was to meander our way west along some quiet country roads in the general direction of Chain Lakes. Somewhat to our embarassment, we suddenly realised we had missed our way and were headed east toward Stavely! Naturally we blamed this on the bad weather. Fate was on our side however because another key target species for today was Golden Eagle and we found one. There may in fact have been two of them but by the time we stopped our vehicle and got out for a look, one of them had drifted away. 

Stavely - Home of Chocolate Chip Muffins

A second happy result of our flawed navigation was that in Stavely one can buy the most delicious chocolate chip muffins at the town's General Store and that's exactly what we did. Sometimes you can find Eurasian Collared-Doves here too but not today!

With our coffee mugs full and one of these huge muffins in hand, we drove east to Clear Lakes. We came across a small number of Horned Larks in the area which was good news for Brian and I because so far this year, only Phil and Mike had seen this species. From here we drove north to Frank Lake and then west into High River. Here we added a number of trip birds for the day but no new year birds. Eurasian Collared-Dove however was another catch-up bird for Brian. No Red-bellied Woodpecker for us today though.

We were well into mid afternoon by this time so we set off for home. The good birding was not yet over however. While driving north on Highway 2 just east of Okotoks we spotted a falcon overhead in hot pursuit of a duck. Mike, who was driving today, screeched to a halt (very safely mind you!) on the shoulder of the highway and we hopped out in time to see the falcon settle on a distant power pole. We think the duck escaped! Very obligingly, the bird stayed there while we dove into the back of Mike's van for a scope. It was a Peregrine Falcon and not only another new team bird for the year but a very good winter bird here in Alberta!

Mule Deer

All in all it was an excellent birding day with three new team birds for the year and a couple of catch up birds for Brian and I. We also saw seven Bald Eagles today, two Rough-legged Hawks and a number of other more common winter birds.Mule Deer were very common today too. We must have seen 60 or more. And of course, it may be winter but sometimes our praire landscapes with a mountain backdrop are simply magnificent!
 But those Gyrfalcons will have to wait for another day....!


  1. Sounds like a great day out! I've not done much birding southwest of the city, and none in the Chain Lakes area - will have to check this out sometime!

  2. What an exciting, fun blog. I'm anxious to follow your adventure. Thanks.