Return of the Warblers and Shorebirds – Late Summer Birding in Southern Alberta

Late summer in southern Alberta is a fun time as it means the return of many species, passing through on their southward migration.

First off, the shorebirds…

Usually around the August long weekend I will head east of Calgary to check large, shallow wetlands in the hopes of seeing big flocks of sandpipers and other shorebirds. So, when I come across a scene like this I get pretty excited:

While sandpipers and other shorebirds do pass through the Calgary area on their spring migration north, I only see relatively few compared to the fall, so pretty much a year has passed since my last decent opportunity to see shorebirds.

I don’t have any ‘go to’ shorebirds spots as the numbers and variety of birds seem heavily dependent upon the seasonal conditions in any given year. Some locations have been great one year, then devoid of birds the next – either because the water was too high, or conversely completely dried up. And 2017 has seen a particularly hot and dry and summer, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, I was happy to visit a couple of decent water bodies with good numbers of birds, such as:

The Greater Yellowlegs – one of the more common birds, and always happy to yap at you if you come to close: Stilt Sandpiper:

Spotted Sandpiper – most often seen flying away :):Baird’s Sandpiper:

Pectoral Sandpiper:Semi-palmated Sandpiper:

And last and ‘least’, the Least Sandpiper – the world’s smallest shorebird:

Aside from the ‘peeps’, I also came across two types of phalarope, including the Red-necked Phalarope (whose name makes sense in spring plumage, but much less so in fall plumage as seen here):And Wilson’s Phalarope (having a good stretch):

Along with the always interesting American Avocets who are starting to lose their rufous head plumage:

And the curious-looking Short-billed Dowitcher: One particular shorebird that I see more often than not west of Calgary, the Solitary Sandpiper, tends to favour ponds in wooded areas:

The other big group of southward-bound migrants are the songbirds, warblers in particular. While my sightings of warblers in 2017 were not high in volume (relative to the past 2 years), I was still very pleased as I did get some of my best-ever looks at a couple of species which had eluded me to date! I will always take quality over quantity when it come to bird photography.

Foremost amongst these was shy and skulking Ovenbird:

Fleeting glimpses of solitary, ultra-wary individuals summed up my previous experiences with Ovenbirds…up until a camping trip to Little Bow Provincial Park in mid August when I came across no less than 4 of them all in a small area…and for some reason this particular one was a lot less shy than his peers:

A couple of other personal highlights included a Canada Warbler (only my 3rd in Alberta):

And my first Chestnut-sided Warbler in Alberta:

As well as some of my best views yet of a Townsend’s Warbler:

Other warblers included the always-skittish Wilson’s Warbler:

The Yellow-rumped Warbler:

The Tennessee Warbler:

And here is a close-up of one picking off tiny insects off a leaf:

The Yellow Warbler:

And vying for the skulker gold-medal, the MacGillivray’s Warbler:

And a young Common Yellowthroat:

Some other songbirds of note were an Alder Flycatcher:

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet:

Along with two types of vireo, the Warbling Vireo:

And the Red-eyed Vireo:

A couple of other nice birds from the prairie included this female Merlin that spent a few sunrise moments surveying its territory at Kinbrook Island:And this Common Nighthawk, along with a dozen others, that wheeled and banked low in the late afternoon sky above our campground. I suspect there must have been some sort of mass flying ant hatch as they were joined by 100+ gulls in the feeding frenzy:And finally, to end this month’s post, a little story of how a birding trip led to a chance encounter with an enchanting non-avian creature:

One Aug weekend morning, I went out hoping to find some flycatchers to video, but after only a minute some agitated wrens caught my attention. As I set up to shoot the wrens, a flash of rufous caught my eye and the source of the wrens’ scolding was revealed – this gorgeous weasel!

This was my first time seeing one in their summer coat…quite a difference from the almost all-white coat of winter :). The lightning speed with which these weasels move is astonishing and my still images don’t do them justice. I was quite impressed by the weasel’s ability to get up small trees in search of nestlings…it must have been several meters up at certain times. Despite the speed of the weasel and the long grass and vegetation that largely hid it from plain sight, the entourage of scolding birds (wrens, chickadees, sparrows, robins, etc) that accompanied it allowed me to track the weasel as it went hunting and get several pleasing images.  A real little character & quite inquisitive – made for a great morning out!

For more of my wildlife photography, please visit my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/timjhopwood/

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