Sunday, 24 June 2012

Prairie Grasslands - eastern Alberta and a bit of Saskatchewan

Friday, June 22

Checking out the attic in the Hesketh schoolhouse
The four of us are promptly away from Inglewood at 6:30, putting miles on Highway 9. Hesketh, about 20 kilometers west of Drumheller, is our first stop. Located in a lovely shallow valley, this tiny community is home to 15 people and a reputed Long-eared Bat population. Assisted by several friendly local folks we search the attics of the ancient town hall and nearby abandoned one-room schoolhouse, to no avail.

We move on, checking the Drumheller area, Wolf Lake and the Emerson campground along the Red Deer River. (A Badger would be nice, we comment 50 times or so.) At Wolf Lake, we find Lark Bunting for our first new team bird.
Lark Bunting
Near Steveville, we check out a site where Brian and Ray had a Grasshopper Sparrow a few years ago and, much to our surprise, we find one.

Grasshopper Sparrow

A short walk in Dinosaur Provincial Park gives us Rock Wren and a Common Nighthawk peents overhead, but we miss a Yellow-breasted Chat.
Overlooking Dinosaur Provincial Park
Approaching Empress Brian steers the car toward the local cemetery, home to the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. As it’s strictly nocturnal we don’t expect a sighting, but need the lay of the land for our after-dark search. The clean, modest Forksview Motel is our overnight and we enjoy a pizza-and-beer supper at the nearby “restaurant”.  Following a too-short nap we head back to the cemetery, which is actually on the Saskatchewan side of the border. Conditions are perfect; however we find no rats – only a Lark Bunting foraging for insects in total darkness.
Empress Cemetery
Saturday, June 23

The only breakfast in Empress is a one-man operation located in the former bank building, and we take our eggs and toast at a table next to the vault door.
Ready to go after breakfast at "That's Empressive"

Back on the road we’re pleased to quickly spot a Burrowing Owl, and a Striped Skunk waddles across the road in front of the car. We’re impressed by the abundance of displaying Lark Buntings in this part of the province.

Burrowing Owl
Near Burstall we enter Saskatchewan and drive into the Great Sand Hills. An inquisitive Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel shows itself at the parking lot, likely hoping for a handout. (Two new mammals today!) There were also a couple of Common Nighthawks flying around and giving us much better looks than yesterday.  We meet our friend Milt Spitzer, exchange sightings and watch a Burrowing Owl pair before heading back across the border.

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel
Common Nighthawk

Continuing south on Highway 41 we turn off near Chappice Lake, where along an unmarked road we find two target species: McCown’s Longspur (catch-up bird for Phil and Mike) and Baird’s Sparrow. Hanging on to our scopes in the stiff wind we see them well.
Longspur and sparrow habitat near Chappice Lake

Baird's Sparrow
An odd sight here are two dung beetles rolling their cow-patty ball down the trail.
Dung Beetle

A quick Dairy Queen stop in Medicine Hat stokes us up for the drive back to Calgary.   It was another enjoyable and successful trip - 5 new team birds and 2 new team mammals.  Next stop - Atlantic Canada.

- Mike -

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