alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: September 2018

Minnesota-Wisconsin-Michigan

10 September 2018

We left windy North Dakota and headed into Minnesota.  The goal was to spend the night at Ann Lake campground near the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.  We did make it to the campground, but along the way we saw a sign for the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge does not appear on our road atlas, so what a surprise.  Well, since the refuge was only 5 miles off our path, we took the road less traveled, so to speak, and headed for the refuge.  I’m so glad we did.

While this refuge is small – only about 2,000 acres – it borders the Platte River and has a nice riparian area with lots of oak trees.  These trees were filled with migrating warblers, vireos, and resident woodpeckers.  We spent about 2-3 hours birding.  The first hour we didn’t make it further than ¼ mile from the trailhead.  I got seven FOYs (first of years) – Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Parula, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, and Black and White Warbler.  The trees were alive with birds.  Hard to track them all.  And that was just first of years.  We also had Black-capped Chickadee, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Mallard, and Red-bellied Woodpecker (I saw this for the first time today at a rest stop earlier, along with an incessantly chattering Blue Jay).  I’m sure I am missing a bird or two.  I really hated to leave.  The only downside of this refuge is that it is located across the road from a hog farm – STINKY.

Eastern Phoebe – Hatch Year Bird

View of the Platte River

Monarch Butterfly – they truly are one of the most beautiful butterflies in the world

Love the Milkweed when it goes to seed

The Ann Lake campground was okay, nothing special.  Most of the sites weren’t level so luckily we found one that wasn’t too bad.  The area surrounding our site was covered in Poison Ivy so had to be careful where we walked.  We went to bed with temperatures in the 60s.  A little too warm for us.

11 September 2018

A day to remember always (of course I can’t forget this day anyway as it is my parents’ anniversary).

We left the campground, which is less than 10 miles from the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, and headed first for the Blue Hills Trail, located on the refuge.  Thought we should hike/bird before it got too hot.  Temperatures have been in the 80s here lately.  This trail has three loops, and we spent about 2.5 hours walking/birding the first loop only.  Right off the bat, we spotted birds flitting about.  They were mostly American Goldfinches, but fun to watch and observe.  While checking out the birds, I saw movement in a nearby tree.  Up popped a Black-billed Cuckoo.  This is the last bird I expected to see on this trip.  What a great surprise.  Later I saw one of my favorite warblers – an Ovenbird.  This bird kept chasing off an Eastern Phoebe – competition for food???

American Goldfinch – Male

Juvenile Black-billed Cuckoo

Blue Hill Trail

The grass what quite tall

This woman was walking barefoot with her dog . She must have very tough soles.

Trail included a short heavily forested segment – nice, especially since it was hot outside (but I’m not complaining – much)

I really do have a fascination with fungus and lichens

After our hike, we drove the auto tour route – 7. 3 miles.  We probably saw 20 ducks total on the ponds along the drive and there were a LOT of ponds.  And the only reason we saw that many was because a Bald Eagle flew over and flushed the birds.  Surprisingly we saw about 50 or so Trumpeter Swans, of which only two were cygnets (hatch year birds).  The drive was uneventful, although I did get to see several Palm Warblers.  Also spotted on the refuge, including the drive, were several Greater Sandhill Cranes.  This subspecies gets a lot taller than our Lesser Sandhill Cranes of Homer.

Trumpeter Swan with cygnet

This turtle was in the middle of the road.  Thought he could hide from me by pulling his head into his shell.

That was one LARGE Bald Eagle Nest

At a viewing platform they had a mockup of an Eagle’s Nest. Quite inventive. Unfortunately you can’t see the eagle’s nest from the viewing area.

They had several interpretive panels pertaining to the Bald Eagle including “what do Eagles eat?”

Our campground for tonight is the Minneopa State Park near Mankato, Minnesota.  Tomorrow we are having the passenger seat modified so it can swivel (Jack’s idea).  I just hope the seat isn’t too much higher than it already is.  This campground has bison.  They are in an enclosure, which you can drive.  We’ve decided to forego the drive as we’ve seen plenty of bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.   Minnesota State Parks require online or telephone reservations (even for same day reservations).  This isn’t a problem if we have sufficient cell phone coverage – not always the case.

12 September 2018

Today we went to DLM Distribution to have a swivel seat put into the van.  In addition to that, we got our fan hooked up, our lights hooked up to an on/off switch, and an axillary battery and outlet so I can charge my laptop, plug in an electric tea kettle to heat water, or an electric blanket – so long as nothing is over 400 watts.  We didn’t get out of there until after 1:00 pm, and then we had to run around Mankato to find a pharmacy to fill a new prescription for me.  We hadn’t had any food since breakfast so we had a late lunch/early dinner at a mexican restaurant and headed to Whitewater River State Park (Minnesota) near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border.  This is a nice area – a valley without corn or soybeans.  I wish we didn’t have to leave the next day as I would definitely stay here a second night.

13 September 2018

Our mission today is to visit the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge located along the Mississippi River in the state of Wisconsin.  I wanted to visit this refuge during our Big Adventure around the U.S. in 2013-2014, but high waters prevented us from coming as the refuge was closed.  As we were crossing the bridge over the Mississippi River (upper), I commented to Jack that the water levels looked high.  When we got to the refuge we found the road to the refuge headquarters closed.  This is the road you need to access in order to drive the auto tour route.  Lucky for us the Great River Bike Trail which crosses the refuge was open and we walked a portion of that trail (an old dirt road).   We got in a total of 2.4 miles round trip.  The day was sunny, warm, with little or no wind.  My suntan lotion was sitting in the van, along with the bottled water I should have brought with us.  But we did have the essentials – our binoculars, my camera, and the spotting scope.

One of the refuge staff stopped and asked how we were doing.  This is their only access to the office building when the main road is closed.  I mentioned we had tried to come here about four years ago.  She laughed and said a German couple told her the same thing back at the parking lot.  We later ran into the couple, and they lamented to about not being able to see the refuge beyond the trail we were both walking.

I’m glad we stopped.  A Green Heron flew up out of the marsh onto a tree and we got good views of the bird.  I think this is my favorite heron species in the U.S.  We also saw our first Northern Cardinal of the trip.  I hope to be able to come back someday and really see and enjoy this refuge.

Road closure sign

Not sure what bugs these are on the Milkweed

Philadelphia Vireo (I believe)

Pair of juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Our trail

My loving scope sherpa

Next stop – Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  This will be our third visit to this refuge, while today was our first visit to the Trempealeau refuge.  Unfortunately, we got to Necedah in the heat of the day (temperature around 82 degrees F).  We did see some songbirds, but it was pretty quiet.  Except for Crane Meadows NWR, we really haven’t seen many warblers.  And in Minnesota and Wisconsin we really haven’t seen many ducks either.

One thing Necedah NWR is known for are Whooping Cranes and we got to see a pair.  This pair had a young one, but it stayed mostly hidden in the grasses while the parents performed their elaborate dance (think Sandhill Cranes).  And speaking of which, we did see a pair of Greater Sandhill Cranes at the refuge near to where we spotted the Whooping Cranes.

One of the “old” signs

Crane Art at the Refuge Headquarters – are they Whooping or Sandhill or does it matter?

Yikes!!! I’m glad that nest is hanging high up in a tree. It was BIG.

This White-breasted Nuthatch flew into a tree and proceeded to clean its bill  on the tree branch …

Mourning Dove

Rose-breasted Grosbeak – hatch year bird

Goose Pond where we saw the most birds, and the Whooping Crane family – Go Whoopers!!!

Prior to arriving at Necedah NWR, we stopped at the Wegner Grotto Country Park.  This park was started in 1929 after Paul and Matilda Wegner retired.  They worked on the grotto until 1936.   Very impressive.  The property was purchased in 1986 by the Kohler Foundation, Inc., at which time restoration began on the grotto.  In 1987, the restoration was completed and the property was gifted to the county (Monroe) for use as a “historic grassroots art site”.

A small nondenominational church where there were over 40  weddings and one funeral. The funeral was for Paul Wegner.

Replica of Paul and Matilda’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Cake

Tonight we are staying at the Black River Falls State Forest campground.  This is the most expensive campground to date.  When you have to pay the day use fee and camping fees as an “out-of-stater” the prices can add up.  And we didn’t even have an electric site, which costs more.  Tomorrow we head to Land O’ Lakes to visit friends for a couple of days and then head on into Michigan.

14 September 2018

The parking area near the campground loop where the showers and bathrooms were located was hopping with birds this morning – Blue Jays, Black and White Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Clay-colored Sparrows, Yellow-breasted Sapsucker, yellowish warblers I couldn’t identify as they moved too quickly through the trees, and I could hear at least six different Red-breasted Nuthatch (and saw four at one time).  One warbler was following a pine needle that was falling to the ground, and the warbler was trying to catch it as it fell.  Fun to watch.

We drove the back roads to Land O’ Lakes where we plan to visit friends Cass and Norm for a couple of days.  Jack went to college with Cass.  Along the way we saw a lot of the red maples in blazing, flaming reds.  Beautiful.  Such a vivid color of red.  And, the sugar maples coming on strong with their complimentary orange colors.  Land O’ Lakes in on the northern border with Michigan.

There were a lot of motorcyclists on the roads today.  We think we saw several hundred bikes during our 200-mile trip.  We later learned there is a motorcycle event in Tomahawk, Wisconsin that draws over 40,000 motorcyclists and other enthusiasts each year.  The event is a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy.  We saw signs too that read Bikers’ Fall Tavern Tour.  Oh goody, motorcyclists that have been traveling to bars throughout the day.  Hopefully it is to meet each other out in the parking lot, but not to go from bar/tavern to bar/tavern to drink.

Palm Warbler at the playground

Palm Warbler

At Land O’ Lakes we went to a monthly event at the community garden that involved appetizers and BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage).  Met some really nice people, several who have even visited Homer.  We then had dinner at the Redman Restaurant.  Great food.  I had the walleye (fish).  A first for me.  On the way to the restaurant there was a Pileated Woodpecker alongside the road, and it even stayed awhile as we backed up the car to get a better view (and some photos) of the bird.  Hard to miss that big woodpecker.

More Palm Warblers – about five flitting about at our friends’ yard

Pileated Woodpecker

15 September 2018

Today was a lazy day with friends.  We walked the dog (Sonya – golden retriever, 13 years old) and went for a pontoon boat ride on several of the “chain” lakes around Land O’ Lakes.  The town has that name for a reason.  If you looked at a map you would be surprised at just how many lakes there are in the vicinity.  Also, if you play the golf course here you can claim to have played one round of golf in two states – Wisconsin and Michigan. The boat ride was fun and relaxing.  I had a great time.  We saw a number of loons, including several hatch year birds.  Amazing how “gray” they are, despite being almost full size.  And they were still depending upon their parents to feed them – refusing to dive as we boated by.

Interesting moth

Road kill – dead frog

Thousand Lake

Common Loon

Juvenile Common Loon – all gray

One hot Bald Eagle – cooling off

Mallards preening

Maples turning colors – beautiful

We were later joined by friends of friends – Kathy and George.  They live in Idaho and came in their new camping trailer.  That trailer is nice.  We met Kathy and George when they visited our home last summer (2017) with our friends Cass and Norm.  Kathy is a weaver like Cass and will join Cass for a trip to collect mushrooms for use in dying wool – huh?  I am curious as to what mushrooms produce what colors.  We had an enjoyable evening with lots of lively discussion – politics wasn’t even involved.

16 September 2018

Time to say goodbye to our friends, thank them for a wonderful time, and head into Michigan and continue our trek to the northeast coast. The days have been warm and humid.  Not something I am used to and it can really drag one’s energy level down.  After a false start (left Jack’s ditty bag at Land O’ Lakes and had to go back to retrieve it), we finally made our way to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior near Marquette, Michigan.  We stopped at the visitor center to get a map and then had to drive almost 40 miles to our campsite.  We camped for the night at Hurricane River (lower campground loop);  a nice little campground.  And we had ready access to the beach, which was nice.  The breeze off the lake made for a pleasant evening.  Near the bathroom there were flowers full of Monarch Butterflies busily eating away.  They are beginning their migration south to Mexico.  The one’s we saw today won’t actually make it to Mexico, but their offspring will.  To learn more about the life history of the monarch butterfly go to: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Monarch-Butterfly.   It’s quite fascinating.

Our Camper Van – the ‘tin tent’

Monarch Butterflies feeding

Lake Superior – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

North Country Trail (near our campground)

Jack

Selfie – Jack and I

17 September 2018

Today we explored the national lakeshore.  Our first adventure for the day was a walk from our campground to the Au Sable Lighthouse along the North Country Trail – a 4,000+ mile trail from ND to NY.  We hiked only a short segment of the trail – 1.5 miles one way.  Since this is a national park, dogs aren’t allowed on trails, nor can people bring guns.  So you can imagine our surprise when we saw two young men with long rifles and a hound dog each, walking along the trail.  They passed us and went along for a short distance before merging into the woods.  We heard several dogs and believe they probably treed some animal, although we never found out what was going on.  We later did hear a single shot.  I was going to ask at the visitor center when we went later, but then I forgot.  Age-related forgetfulness, I suspect.  Darn, I so wanted to know what was happening.

In addition to the dogs on the trail, we were rewarded with a  Black-throated Green Warbler in breeding plumage, an American Redstart male, and several Palm Warblers.  The Palm Warblers bob their tail so generally easy to identify.   Later when we were on the road that goes through the park, we saw two (lesser) Sandhill Cranes right alongside the road.  I hope they don’t get too close to the cars.

Steps to the beach

This Eastern Chipmunk was within five feet of me

Eastern Chipmunk

Black-throated Green Warbler

Au Sable Lighthouse

After our walk we drove to the Bear Trap restaurant, which is on the way to our other destinations within the lakeshore boundaries.  This restaurant had a sign for homemade pasties.  Pasties are similar to calzone, but they are a Norwegian dish – primarily meat and potatoes in a pastry shell.  They were easy for workers to take to their work site.  We had pasties as a kid – my grandmother was Norwegian.  In the town of Munising, they had sign for beef, chicken, veggie, and jalapeno pasties.  So I thought this popular restaurant would have a variety of pasties as well.  No such luck.  They only had beef pasties and I haven’t had beef (knowingly) since 1984 and I wasn’t going to start just so I could eat pasties.

After lunch we went to Miner’s Caste to check out the “pictured rocks”.  You can see a very small segment of the rock cliff faces, but if you really want to see the “pictured rocks” then take a boat trip out of Munising.  We also visited Miner’s Falls, Munising Falls, and Sand Point Marsh Boardwalk.  Not much happening birdwise at any of these locations, although I did see a Swamp Sparrow (one of my top three favorite sparrow species) along the Sand Point Marsh boardwalk.

Miner’s Castle and Falls

Miner’s Castle rock formation

About the only view of the colorful cliffs we got to see. I think the best views would be from a guided boat trip.

Miner’s Falls trail

Eastern Chipmunk

Steps down to a view of Miner’s Falls

Miner’s Fall

This looked like a face to me

Munising Falls

Sand Point Marsh Boardwalk

Tonight we are staying at the Fox River State Forest campground about five miles northwest of Seney, Michigan.  The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is about nine miles from town, so that will be our destination in the morning.  We are about one-day behind schedule, but that just means one less day in Canada.  We should get there on the 20th of September.

18 September 2018

Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a hop, skip, and a jump from our campground.  We’ve visited this refuge twice in the past and didn’t know there were several campgrounds so close to the refuge.  Let’s just say they aren’t shown on the road atlas we’ve been using.  Pays to get state maps, I guess.  Next time we will know.

We were surprised by the number of cars at the refuge when we arrived around 9:15 am  – at least ten.  At so many refuges there are rarely any visitors.  And later a school bus arrived with kids from a nearby elementary school and lots of parents to help chaperone the kids.  The refuge has a Nature Learning Center – no kids left indoors.

We walked the 1.5-mile nature trail near the visitor center.  Some bird activity, although not much.  We did see five very cooperative Wood Ducks in the pond adjacent to the refuge.  This is the place to visit if you want to see Wood Ducks.  I think between the nature trail and the auto route drive (seven miles long) we must have seen 20 or so Wood Ducks.  Of course some of these could be the same ducks we had seen earlier since we all know birds can fly.  But still, great to see so many out in the open (on the various ponds or “pools” as the refuge likes to call them).

On the auto tour route, we saw at least (bare minimum) 50 Trumpeter Swans.  Surprisingly though we didn’t see any cygnets.  We watched the swans dip into the pools to feed, with their back ends sticking straight up in the air and their feet moving to, I assume, help them balance while partially under water.  When they righted themselves, they then shuffled their feet to help stir up the bed of the pool, again I assume, to loosen vegetation on which to feed.

Like how old signs were repurposed

Great Blue Heron

Beaver activity

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Nature Trail

Trumpeter Swan

Common Loon

Common Loon – hatch year bird

Swainson’s Thrush

Just outside of the refuge the electrical transmission right-of-way consists of railroad ties. Not sure why they are placed  there.

After visiting the refuge, we headed north to visit the Seney NWR Whitefish Point Unit, located aptly at Whitefish Point on Lake Superior.  There is a bird observatory at this location.  We didn’t “observe” a lot of birds here.  The place was busy because adjacent to this small unit (less than 75 acres) is the Whitefish Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum.  So for all you who were alive in mid 70s, Gordon Lightfoot wrote and sung a song called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.  Well there actually was such a shipwreck near Lighthouse Point in 1975.  The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald and its 29 crew members disappeared (the ship sunk) during a severe November gale storm.  No one really knows what caused the sinking.  There have been a number of theories, including – yes aliens.  Well Canadians do reside on the other side of the lake.  Okay I can hear you all groaning.

Boardwalk at Whitefish Point Unit – Seney NWR

Canada Goose

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Black-capped Chickadee – there were a lot of chickadees and some came within five feet or so.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

We are staying the night at the Monocle Lake Campground (U.S. Forest Service).   A nice campground with a lot of level sites (we like level sites), and some of the cleanest campground vault toilet bathrooms I’ve yet to encounter.  I would definitely come back to this campground.

Tomorrow, after we get the oil changed in our vehicle (we’ve now gone 5,00 miles on this trip), we cross over into Canada for about ten days or so.  Our goal is New Brunswick, Prince Edwards Island, and Nova Scotia then on to Maine.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Montana and North Dakota

1 September 2018

At the Canadian border the custom agent (this one actually had a sense of humor) asked us if we had any weed (marijuana).  He was probably hoping if we did he could confiscate it and smoke it.

Chief Mountain

Mid-afternoon, we arrived at our destination – Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA).  I love this place.  I was a little worried that it would be busy with hunters, but waterfowl hunting doesn’t start until later in September.  Woohoo!!!  There is an auto tour route around the lake.  We decided to take it and got lost – look a wrong turn.  However, that turn turned out to be very fortuitous as we stopped near a home with lots of tree and proceeded to stop in the middle of the road and bird (luckily there was no traffic on this country road).  We saw lots of Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, American Robin, American Redstart (Jack only), Western Kingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Great Horned Owl, Mourning Dove, and European Starling.  The bird activity was fabulous.  We probably spend at least 30-45 minutes in this one spot watching the birds.

Wilson’s Warbler

A sparrow ….. Not sure which one.

Vesper Sparrow – Note the bold white eye ring

We retraced our path and found the correct road.  We drove the rest of the way around the WMA, finding 45 different species.  It was truly a great birding, despite not finding the bird we had really hoped to see – a Short-eared Owl.  We saw a Northern Harrier harass a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron and observed over 30 Killdeer roosting alongside the railroad tracks, some on the outside of the tracks, some on the inside.  Crazy birds.

American White Pelicans

Brown Duck Time – We think a Northern Pintail

Killdeer

Killdeer

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Of the 45 different species, 17 of those are First of Year species for me (first time this year I have seen them).  It truly was a great day to bird and really our first day of focused birding.  I can’t wait for more.

2 September 2018

Woke to mostly sunny skies and cool temperatures, but that didn’t last for long.  So nice to have the sun out after all the Canadian rain.  We decided to take the interior auto route through the Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area.  I’m glad we did.  We saw lots and lots of Marsh Wrens (I so love wrens), and a couple of hatch year Common Yellowthroat – another favorite, and we had three American Bittern, one of which was right along side the road.  As we got near, the bittern walked into the adjacent reeds, but luckily it was quite open and photo friendly.  We watched the bittern for several minutes and then it started steadily moving.  We tracked it for a short distance and then lost it.  Amazing how they can conceal themselves so well.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren (Hatch Year bird)

American Bittern

American Bittern trying to hide

Now almost impossible to detect

Common Yellowthroat (Hatch Year Bird)

After completing this auto route, we went to check out Ponds 1 and 2.  These ponds are near the railroad tracks and sure enough, the Killdeer were still alongside and between the rails.  I counted about 28 and I’m sure I missed those Killdeer that were roosting between the rails whose heads weren’t showing above the rails.  And speaking of rails, I heard a Sora and we later spotted another one.  In all, this area had three Soras.

The big surprise was the number of Bonaparte’s Gulls.  I estimate there were AT LEAST 500, if not more.  This is a migration route for them and there must be some good food here right now.

Western Grebe giving its chick a ride

Marbled Godwit

Snake skin that has been shed

Around noon we headed to Helena where we will be staying for the next two nights with my brother Alan.  I got a call from a friend (Lisa H.), who is biking with another friend.  They are in Helena for the next two nights also.  Small world.  Will have dinner with them tonight.  Now, I am just catching up with emails (and unsubscribing to many – I can never keep up while traveling), and going through my photos.  Want to post my first blog (Alaska/Canada) before we leave Helena.

3 September 2018

Lazy day today at my brother’s house in Helena, Montana.  I worked mainly on my blog – it does take a lot of time to write it up, go through my numerous photos and select the best representatives of our trip, and then edit them, if necessary (mainly cropping).   We did go for a short hike at Spring Meadows State Park.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and despite the time of day (siesta time), we did observe 14 different species of birds, including a Gray Catbird (which I didn’t expect to see in Montana) and several Wood Ducks.

Wood Duck

Western Painted Turtles

Wood Duck

4 September 2018

We left Helena and since I wanted to go to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Great Falls, Montana and get there at a decent time, we decided to spend the night at Freezeout Lake again, and then take some back roads to the refuge.

Just Say NO to Meth.

We made it to Freezeout around noon,  took a short nap, and woke to my phone ringing.  My father was calling to let me know my brother Larry had died around 11:00 am Alaska time.  I think I mentioned that he had brain cancer.  He thinks he got it from working for Alyeska Pipeline Company.  There have been two other guys who worked there that came down with brain cancer also.  I don’t know if it was the same type of cancer or not.  Larry lived almost two years after his diagnosis.  So sad – he will be and is missed.

We did ride around the lake again – taking the interior route first, and then driving the exterior route.  At first we thought many of the ducks had moved on, but upon further examination through binoculars and my spotting scope, they had just moved further away from our viewing pleasure.

Anything for a photo

Yellow-rumped Warbler

They don’t call it a butter butt for nothing

Wilson’s Warbler

Horned Lark

Western Meadowlark

Great Blue Heron

Western Meadowlark

The brochure for the Wildlife Management Area calls the period of time when the ducks are molting their feathers – Brown Duck Time.  Well said.  Many of the ducks are unidentifiable or as the brochure states, an ‘identification challenge’!

5 September 2018

We got up around 6:30 a.m. so we could get a head start on getting to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge for the early birds.  I used Google maps to identify the route to take to the refuge.  Silly me.  Sure it took us to the refuge, only it took us to a back entrance with a locked gate.  We then had to spend another hour going around the refuge to the other side in order to access the refuge through the main gate.  We had hoped to be there by 9:00 a.m. but instead didn’t make it until 10:00 a.m..  Best laid plans….

I had wanted to go to the refuge to check out the presence of shorebirds.  The only shorebird we saw was a single Killdeer as the water levels were too high for shorebirds.  We only drove the Prairie Marsh Wildlife Drive, so maybe the other areas of the refuge held all the migrating shorebirds?  There were a lot of American Coots (thousands), and we did get a good look at a Swainson’s Hawk, which was nice.  We don’t see too many of them in our travels.

The roads on the tour route were teeth shattering washboard.  I think the refuge maintenance staff actually learn how to create washboard roads as a way of keeping traffic from going too fast on the refuge roads.  Not that it makes that much of a difference to some drivers – we never understand why many visitors drive the auto routes so fast.

Swainson’s Hawk

Young American Coot

These youngsters seem small for this time of year

Eared Grebe

Since the bird was headless we suspect an owl

We left the refuge and headed east.  Our destination for the night was a Corp of Engineer’s campground (Nelson Creek – and it was free, which means a picnic table, no water, and only a vault toilet) along the Fort Peck Reservoir.  We finally arrived there around 5:30 pm after a long drive through prairie land.  It was quite windy there, but at least it was warm and no rain.  The silence of the place was golden.  Lots of stars at night, and great views of the Milky Way.

Not many trees in this campground. We spent the night near this one.

View from our van

Great Blue Heron

We did see a fair number of raptors enroute to the campground, mainly Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers, but also a Swainson’s Hawk and a Golden Eagle.  The roads were quite narrow so we couldn’t really pull over to check out the raptors on a fence or pole.  Birders do you notice that whenever you are driving and you see a great bird near the road there is no place to pull over and get better views?  Frustrating.

At one place along the highway we did stop to check on a raptor.  Turns out it was a Merlin.  The bird was perched on a post and when we stopped it gave us a look and then flew right towards the van, barely missing hitting it.  The bird flew across the road and landed on a hay bale.  So we pulled onto an adjacent road to get some good photos.  This time we weren’t quite as close to the bird, and it decided we weren’t the enemy; either that or it just decided to stand his ground.

Merlin

Merlin

6 September 2018

Our goal today is to make it to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  Along the way, traffic was light, which was good because at one point we needed to pull over.  Jack saw a something run across the road and in to a ditch.  We pulled off the road and went back to check it out.  What we found was a dog.  The dog, a cattle dog, was lying in the grass.  We didn’t know if it was hurt or not.  I went and got it some water plus a left-over pancake and put some almond butter on it. I don’t know if the dog ate the food or drank the water.  He growled at me when I got too close.  Poor thing.  I hope he survives and he wasn’t dumped off by some idiot.  If you don’t want your dog, take it to an animal shelter or the humane society.  A farm house was nearby so at least the animal has a chance of getting adopted and hopefully doesn’t starve to death or die getting hit by a vehicle.

We got to the campground by noon and found it half full already.  We picked a spot in the outer loop with shade as it is warm today.  We went for a hike on the Little Mo (Missouri) Nature Trail where we saw Spotted Towhee (adult and juvenile).  This is one bird I miss by living in Alaska.  We don’t have this species.  We also observed a Warbling Vireo.  Since I rarely see vireos it took me a moment to realize what I was seeing.  No instant identification.

Li Mo Trail – Handicapped Accessible

Poison Ivy!

‘Rain Pillars’

Do you notice that a lot of times the most birds are observed at or near campgrounds and parking lots?  Well that rule is true for here.  The campground has a lot of American Robins and the day-use area near dusk had at least six Northern Flickers and a Red-headed Woodpecker with two young.  One didn’t seem to want to leave the tree it was on, instead it wanted the parent to feed it.  The other chick had already fledged and was flying to other trees to forage for food.  These young don’t have the red heads yet or the white backs and breasts.  And I was surprised they were found this far west.  They can even be found breeding in Eastern Montana.  Guess you learn something new every day about the fascinating life of birds.

7 September 2018

Today we are exploring the park.  I walked from the campground to the day-use area, where Jack met me.  I was searching for the Red-headed Woodpeckers again.   I didn’t have my camera yesterday when I saw the bird so I thought I would come back this morning to get some good photos.  Naught.   Jack saw the woodpeckers when he arrived, but I missed the adult.  We did have a small flock of Wild Turkeys move through the campground.

Spotted Towhee

Wild Turkey

We hiked 1.6 miles (round trip) to a Prairie Dog town.  These guys are definitely getting ready for winter.  They were fat!  Surprisingly we’ve only seen two raptors while here – a Turkey Vulture (probably looking for a dead or dying hiker – its was hot out today) and what I believe was a Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Dog Town Trail – Pretty easy trail

Say’s Phoebe

Access point to some prairie dog’s home

Prairie Dog

Putting on weight for the long winter months

The one on the right seemed submissive to the dog on the left – after they were seen rubbing noses

We hiked the Coulee Loop Trail (4.1 miles), which takes you up and over and along some of the fascinating rock formations in the park.  This park has beautiful “badlands”.   So what goes up, must come down and our feet surely felt like they had been abused after the hike.  We haven’t gone on a long hike in awhile.  And when I took off my shoes, I had a hole in each sock where my big toe is.  No the socks weren’t Smartwool or Darn Toughs.

They should have a sign “Share the Trail” and then show a Bison.

Yes, that is the hiking trail

After the hikes we drove the road to its end, and along the way saw a fair number of Plains Bison.  Bison were reintroduced to the park in the 1950s by the National Park Service.

Plains Bison – including this young one

I did bird the campground and day use area after dinner.

Red-headed Woodpecker fledgling

Northern Flicker. Can you spot it?

American Robin

Cedar Waxwing – Hatch Year Bird

Another American Robin

I would like to spend more time in the park.  Maybe next visit.  It seems like we are always in a hurry to get somewhere.

8 September 2018

Windy day today – strong winds (15+ miles per hour).  I walked through the large field between the campground and the day use area at the north campground at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This area has a lot of good birds.  In walking  I flushed eight (8) Northern Flickers and counted four more.  I call the area “Flickerville”.  The Red-headed Woodpecker and offspring were back on their favorite (dead) tree.  The siblings were fighting each other – maybe for the best place on the tree with the most bugs?  Fun to watch the hatch year birds chase each other around.

Mountain Bluebird

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Hatch Year Red-headed Woodpecker

Another Northern Flicker

We stopped to check out the Cannonball concretions near the campground.  Fascinating.

Today I wanted to bird the Ilo Lake National and Long Lake National Wildlife Refuges.  Stopping first at Ilo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, we didn’t see a whole lot of bird activity.  This is a small refuge, and most of the songbirds had already left (migrated south).  We did stop so I could take a photo of Barn Swallows (surprised to still find them in this neck of the woods – though they would have migrated south by now), and the swallows started flying around our vehicle apparently hawking insects attracted to the van.  One even tried landing on our radio antenna.  Crazy birds.  I had my window rolled down and Jack was surprised one didn’t fly in the window.  Did they not like our vehicle or just all the bugs that had died and were stuck to the vehicle that they wanted.  Easy pickings for the birds?  Not sure?

Barn Swallow

We made it to Long Lake refuge around 2:00 pm.  A long slog (drive) from Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the refuge.  We always try and take back roads.  Lots of trucks associated with fracking were on the back roads in the morning.  We spent about an hour or two at Long Lake NWR.  At one point we saw an estimated 1000 Double Crested Cormorants.  They kept flying over the dike we were parking on.  Amazing site.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

Franklin’s Gull

Lots of American White Pelicans. I wonder when they begin migrating south?

Milkweed – a plant required of Monarch Butterflies. We’ve seen a fair number of them.

We stayed the night at Beaver Lake State Park, southeast of Long Lake NWR.  This park is a small oasis in the middle of prairie/agricultural lands.

Farmers wrap their hay bales in plastic netting. I wonder if birds get their feet caught in the plastic???

So besides the wind and rain, the only other downside to North Dakota are the flies.  We hate them.  They seem to get into the van and don’t want to leave and, the little monsters aren’t easy to kill, but our zapper finally catches up to them…

9 September 2018

This morning I really needed a walk so I decided to walk the campground loop and part of a trail along Beaver Lake.  Wow!!! The bird activity was amazing.  Earlier in the morning – around 5:30 a.m., I heard two owls hooting.  One of the owls was nearby, while the other one I could hear as it made its way around in a large circle.

Near our campsite was a picnic area where they had a monument to the individuals responsible for establishing the park.  This park is a small oasis in a sea of prairie.  The area around the monument had a lot of bird activity going on – Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Flycatcher sp., Black-capped Chickadee, Swainson’s Thrush (lots of them), Orange-crowned Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and American Robin.  Crazy with birds one moment and then silence the next.  Some predator must have been nearby to silence the birds.  It wasn’t us as we had been there for 20-30 minutes already.  It was probably another 5 minutes before the birds started singing and moving around again.

The really good birding area

This campsite is set up strange.  There is an outerloop for driving.  When you find a campsite you like you move into the inner road – driving on the grass between the Lilac bushes.  The inner loop was a former horse race track.

Outer road on the left, inner road on the right. Grassy area is where you drive to access your campsite.

This is where people park their vehicles

First stop of the day – Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge near Carrington, North Dakota.  I’ve enjoyed this refuge in the past, and today the Warbler Woodlands area was productive.  We had Gray Catbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-crowned Warbler, Least Flycatcher, House Wren, and several sparrow species, including a Song Sparrow (new for the trip).   There were ducks on the lake, but again they were still the “little brown ducks” (Jack calls them lbd’s), and thus hard to identify.  Well the Ruddy Ducks are easy because they have stiff tails that stick up like a rudder.  We also drove the auto tour route, but this route wasn’t very productive bird wise.  We did see two Wood Duck families (always nice), and there were Monarch Butterflies flitting about.

Cute mail box

The birds liked this water feature

Monarch Butterfly

Milkweed – favored by the Monarch Butterfly

Gray Catbird

Leopard Frog

We did have to drive a lot of prairie country to get to the refuge.  And we saw a lot of “prairie potholes” North Dakota is famous for.  I think most of these features are within the central part of the state.

Red-tailed Hawk (Krider)

Our first Cattle Egret – and with a cow

Lots of Swainson’s Hawk – which is good

Our destination for the night was Fort Ransom State Park, but we decided to go to a Corps of Engineer Campground instead.  The only drawback was you have to go online to pay for the campsite and well our AT&T Service in this part of North Dakota is practically useless.  The campground host was supposed to come by and help us but never did.  Need to call in and pay for our accommodations.

Windy again today, although no rain yet.  The sun did try to peak out from behind the clouds on occasion which always brightens the day – literally and figuratively.

Tomorrow we head to Minnesota.  Sometimes these trips seem so rushed.  We have to be in Lake Crystal by 9/12 so we can get a swivel seat installed in the van.  We originally had the work scheduled for 9/14, but since we made good time coming down the Alaska Highway we moved it forward two days.  Now I wish we hadn’t.  Oh well.  Such is life.

Sunrise at our campground

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Have Van Will Travel … Alaska and Canada

August 22, 2018

Jack and I are off on another adventure in our new van (tin tent).  This time we are headed outside and making our way east to see the fall colors in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and wherever else we may land.   When will we return to Homer?  The plan is next April or May (2019).  Luckily we found some friends willing to stay in our home while we are gone.  Nice to have the place occupied.

Before heading out I had to catch up on a few tasks, such as the next seven “Bird of the Month” posts for our local bird group – Kachemak Bay Birders (kachemakbaybirders.org).  For one of the posts – Glaucous-winged Gull (to be posted on the website in March) – I had to go out to the Homer Spit and try and get some decent photos of the gull.  What good is all that information without a few photos to break up the text.  While there I saw several dozen Fork-tailed Storm Petrels feeding in the Homer Boat Harbor and just off Lands End (end of the Homer Spit).  One was nice enough to land on the water so I could get a decent photo.

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel

We are about packed up and ready to go.  The only thing missing is our beloved Doodlebug (dog) who died last April.  We sorely miss her.  She was the most gentle dog we’ve ever had.  Such a sweetheart.

We leave tomorrow and head to Anchorage where we spend a few days with family before heading out.

August 23, 2018

It rained most of the trip from Homer to Anchorage.  Despite the precipitation, we did make several stops along the way: Cannery Road (Kenai), the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Area, and Tern Lake.  The most bird-worthy action was occurring at Cannery Road.  There were a lot of ducklings – you know the ones that all look like female ducks and are always an ID challenge for the waterfowl novice, like me.  There were also several Hudsonian Godwits, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Dowitchers sp. (either Short-billed, Long-billed, or both – another mystery), and at least one small peep that was being pursued by a Merlin.  We watched the drama unfold and the peep zigzagged its way around the pond, finally flying underneath our van.  The Merlin pulled up short of going underneath the van, and instead flew off to the side, just avoiding a collision.  We don’t know if the Merlin was successful or if the shorebird lived to recall its misadventure.  And shortly after that  two young Merlins were chasing each other.  That chase scene didn’t last long with one Merlin flying off and another landing nearby.

Merlin

At the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform there were 8 Green-winged Teals, lots of gulls flying around, but no shorebirds.  At Tern Lake all we saw were the Trumpeter Swan pair with their three cygnets.  Glad to know these cygnets have survived to date.

August 24, 2018

Today was spent running errands and getting last minute food items.  Don’t know what will be available as we drive through Canada.  For instance, we have yet to find Pepper Jack cheese at any of the stores we visited.  What’s with that???  Not that I need cheese.

My brother Dan had this t-shirt which I really liked.

Great Advice

25 August 2018

Had breakfast with my brother Alan and my father before heading down the road.  We were planning to eat at Middle Way Café in midtown Anchorage.  We set a time of 7:30, and got there only to find out they don’t open until 8:00.  Really???  They must lose a lot of business by not being open before 8:00 am, especially in the summer months.  Well they lost my business that day.

After breakfast we headed towards Chicken, Alaska.  Made it as far as the West Fork BLM Campground, about 18 miles south of Chicken.  We were surprised at the number of people using the campground (two loops) – all hunters from what we could tell.  We stayed in the pull-through loop with two other campers.  Not a bad spot -campsite #5 – and it cost us a whole $5.00 with the Golden Age Pass (seniors – Jack – pay half price for a campsite).

The trees near Glennallen, Alaska looked like they have been affected by either Spruce beetle or Spruce aphids.  The needles on the tips of the branches were all brown.

Once again I scanned the spruce trees for a Northern Hawk Owl and once again I got skunked.  And I looked at a LOT OF TREES.

The fireweed at our campground had already gone to seed, although there wasn’t much fall color yet re: willows, aspens, birch, cottonwoods.

26 August 2018

Woke up this morning to cold, cold temperatures.  I have a kestrel instrument (gives temperature and wind speed) and the inside of the van was recorded at about 43 degrees F, and the outside temperature was 32.3 degrees F.  Brrrrrr.  And foggy too.  We ate a quick breakfast and headed toward Eagle, but to get to Eagle one must pass through Chicken (so named because the old miners of the area didn’t know how to spell Ptarmigan).  The hardy citizens of Chicken have no running water (unless you consider wells or the creek), no electricity (unless you consider the sun or a generator), and no septic system (unless you consider the porta potty or outhouses).  Ah, Alaskan bush life…..

Please slow down for the chickens crossing the road

Welcome to Chicken

Once you were above the fog, the scenery was spectacular.

As we were traveling along the Taylor Highway (before the turnoff to Eagle) a car was stopped in the middle of the road coming from the opposite direction.  Two people were outside the car with cameras and binoculars.  I saw a dead bird in the road and raptor in the air.  Turns out the dead bird was a duck and the raptor was a Peregrine Falcon.  Cool.  Also in the vicinity were Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Gray Jays.

Peregrine Falcon

There was more fall color the further north we traveled.  Lots of Common Ravens out and about.  Once we turned onto the road to Eagle, we stopped to watch a flock of American Pipits flying low over the road and towards our vehicle.  We stopped a short distance later (at a pull out) and watched more pipits pass through (around 50 or more) presumably on their way south for the winter.  We also had three Northern Harriers, one Wilson’s Warbler, two Fox Sparrow, two White-winged Crossbill, three Common Raven (which were being hassled by a small raptor that was too far away to id), and two Rough-legged Hawk.

There were a lot of Caribou hunters out and about, and a few tourists.  The road to Eagle is in decent shape but sections are steep and too narrow for my comfort!  We actually passed a large tour bus on our way out from Eagle.  We were happy it occurred at a place where the road wasn’t narrow and steep.  Not much traffic on the road going in; more encountered on the way out.

We later saw a Rough-legged Hawk in a tree – remember I’m still looking for that Northern Hawk Owl.  Do you know how many tops on spruce trees look like they could be birds?  Hundreds.  It was nice to see the hawk, even though it wasn’t a Hawk Owl.

We had never been to Eagle before so thought we would check it out.  It is about 60 miles out of the way (and that is one-way), but we left a little early on this trip so we could do the Klondike Loop (Tetlin Junction to Whitehorse via Dawson City).  Eagle was okay.  I guess I expected more.  Jack liked it, but then he is a history buff.  Eagle is located on the Yukon River and the site of a military fort during the gold rush craze.   We watched a video at the BLM and Yukon-Charlie National Park and Preserve visitor center about the 2009 river ice jam.  The power of water and ice are amazing – major flooding and destruction.  If you ever go to the visitor center and watch the video, have them turn the sound off.  You will be glad they did.

Yukon River as seen from the Yukon-Charlie National Preserve Visitor Centers facility

This plane is a little too small for my comfort

This residence had a lot of bird houses on it

A residence made of tarps

While Jack was checking out the visitor center, the historic buildings, and interpretive panels, I was checking out the American Kestrels flying around the airport (which is right in town).  I haven’t seen many kestrels in Alaska.  Not much bird life here though.  In addition to the Kestrels we had one Orange-crowned Warbler and three Yellow-rumped Warbler.  That was it.  I was also checking out the various mushrooms (and dang I forgot to bring my mushroom id book with us).

Shaggy Mane mushroom

On the drive out, we came across a mother Lynx with two cubs  They were so cute.  No caribou sighting however.  I’m sure they head for the hills, so to speak, when hunting season started.

Mama Lynx

Mama lynx and one of her cubs

I think these mushrooms are starting to rot

We finally made our way to the Canadian border – “Top of the World”.  What views.  Beautiful, despite the rain that started shortly before leaving the Taylor Highway.   We stopped at the Canadian Custom’s Border Office before closing.  So why are Canadian Custom Agents always so serious?  I don’t think any of them smile.  Always so somber.

Our first bird observed in Canada was the Common Raven and that occurred an hour after entering the country.  We stayed the night at the Yukon River- Yukon Provincial Park – $12.00 Canadian.  We selected a nice pull-though site along the Yukon River (site #42).  This park has 94 camp sites.  I would say it was less than 25% occupied.

27 August 2018

Woke up to mostly overcast skies.  It rained until around 3:00 am.  The morning temperatures were much, much warmer than the day before.  We lost an hour (Alaska to Pacific time), when we crossed the Canadian Border, so actually woke up at 8:00 (Pacific Time).  After breakfast we took the ferry across the Yukon River to the historic gold rush era Dawson City – now mining the tourists.  We toured the town for about two hours and then headed south on the Klondike Loop road towards Whitehorse.

On the Yukon Crossing ferry

Keno steamship – out of service

Lots of structures are sinking due to the melting permafrost, old age, and possibly the weight of the sheet metal siding and roofing?

Playhouse

Yes, they even recycle here

Lots of boardwalks

Thought the siding on this building was interesting – flattened barrels

Saw this in the visitor center. Appropriate they would have a bird on the Homer brand

Common Raven

I did check emails at the Dawson City Information Center (or is that Centre).  I wanted to check on the status of my brother Larry who is dying of brain cancer and is in hospice.  No news about Larry, but did learn that John McCain had died.  I didn’t always agree with his politics, but he was a good man (he just made a really bad choice when he picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate) and a hero to the United States (as was anyone serving in Vietnam).  My brother has the same type of cancer as John McCain and Beau Biden.  A terrible disease.

Mine tailings litter the area outside Dawson City

As we drove south I continued the search for the elusive Northern Hawk Owl, but again no luck.  We did see some waterfowl on several lakes and ponds along the way – Canvasback, Wigeons, Ring-necked, Bufflehead and some Trumpeter or Tundra Swans.  We also saw four Mountain Bluebirds flushed from the road.  Haven’t seen a Mountain Bluebird in some time so a pleasant surprise.   Later in the day we observed two American Kestrels in search of food.  Must be dinner time.   Of course black bear eat all day long, and we did see two black bears feeding near the road.  If a vehicle is stopped it’s a good bet there is a black bear (or other wildlife) nearby.

This lake is an important lake during spring and fall migration. We were either too early or too late as there were few birds on the lake.

I tried scratching the trunk to see if something might be residing in the cavity. Nothing emerged.

Black bear

American Kestrel …

… looking at us

Tonight we are staying at the Fox Lake Yukon Provincial Campground.  The fee again is $12.00 Canadian (we paid $10 American).  We are in site #14, although you would think based on the sign that we were in site #15.  If you saw that campsite you would scratch your head and wonder how anyone could camp there.  They would need a small car, motorcycle, or bicycle and a very small tent.  And I think their fire ring is in our campsite because we have two.  This campground is not laid out very well.  If I were to stay here again, I would select sites #37 or #40, if available.

28 August 2018

Woke up to overcast skies and light rain.  Seems to be a reoccurring story – wet.  At times throughout the day it rained like crazy.  I can hardly wait to see the sun.

We stopped for groceries and the internet in Whitehorse.  Got groceries, but was never able to access the internet at McDonald’s.  I wanted to check to see if there was any word on my brother.

At Watson Lake it seems like the “sign forest” has multiplied from when we last saw it – which was at least five years ago, if not longer.  I had thought about leaving a “Kachemak Bay Birder” sticker.

We stopped for the night at Liard’s Hot Springs.  We got the second to the last campsite.  Woohoo!!!  This is one busy place and only 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday (half the campsites are reservable).  Otherwise , we would have had to go to the overflow parking/camping area across the road – a giant parking lot.  We got a good site too – #27.  I would definitely select this site in the future, if available.  Luckily I brought our swimsuits so we were able to partake of the hot springs.  The sign says the hottest parts of the springs is around 36 degrees Celsius.  I think not.  That is way too cool.  There were certain parts of the pool that was so hot even I couldn’t stand the heat and I like it hot.  Lots of people were using the hot springs.

In Canada (British Columbia and Alberta), the US dollar is considered “par” with American.  I think the current exchange rate is $0.75 Canadian for every American dollar, which means they make money off us Americans.  Of course, when we’ve stayed here when the American dollar was worth less than the Canadian the U.S. dollar wasn’t “par” then.  We paid the higher Canadian rate.

Birdwise, not much activity.  Did see some Red-tailed Hawks, a couple of Barn Swallows (which was a surprise), Common Ravens, and some swans.  And, the roadside alert was correct, we did see Wood Bison.

Starting to see some color

Wood Bison

The little bison calf was going to town

Information trailer at Liard’s Hot Springs.

Part of the 700 meter boardwalk to the hot springs

Part of the hot spring natural system

Thought these mushrooms looked interesting. I only eat mushrooms I purchase in a grocery store.

29 August 2018

Guess what???  You guessed it – more rain.  This is so getting old.  We left Liard’s Hot Spring without having a morning dip in the springs.

A short distance from the campground, we saw a large group of Wood Bison alongside the road – around 50 or so, and later saw two Caribou – a mother and her young one.  Then to top it off,  a Black Bear near Fort Nelson.  Not bad wildlife sightings for our trip so far.

Large bison herd

Caribou

Muncho Lake

I decided to count the number of Common Raven spotted during the day – 53.  We also had a number of American Kestrel, a Merlin, several Gray Jay, including one that hit our car window.  Not sure if survived or not.  We also saw four Greater White-fronted Goose standing near the road.  More Red-tailed Hawks were observed, as well.

We stayed the night at Charlie Lake Provincial Park, just west of Fort St. John.  We are now in fracking country.  I think there is one car for every 99 trucks (18 wheelers, and light trucks).  Crazy busy – the roads, not the campground.  Of all the campgrounds we stayed in so far, this is my favorite.  Nice layout, large sites, and you are not within spitting distance of your neighbors. The only downside is the proximity of the park to the highway (it’s adjacent to the highway).

We stayed in site #10.  When we arrived there was a mixed flock of Black-capped Chickadees and warblers (primarily Yellow-rumped, with one Orange-crowned Warbler).  The park has nature trails to the lake.  We decided to get some much needed exercise so we hiked to the lake and back (about 2.4 kilometers).  Along the way, I spotted a White-throated Sparrow.  I didn’t know this bird could be found in western Canada, but I checked their range map and sure enough.  This was a hatch year bird.  A FOY – First of Year,  bird for me.  We did have a deer in the campground.

Trail at Charlie Lake campground

More mushrooms

30 August 2018

Overcast skies and no rain until just before we left.  We got to the entrance gate about 7:45 a.m. and found it locked.  Jack walked to the park residence and found the ranger.  Jack suspects he overslept as he was in sweat pants and very apologetic.

We made our way to Jasper National Park via Dawson Creek – Grande Prairie – Grand Cache.  There were trucks everywhere.  The activity reminds me of northeastern North Dakota, only with trees (at least for now).

I went into a convenience store to buy crap to eat and drink and I paid US$ cash.  Big mistake.  Again they treated the U.S. dollar on “par” with Canadian.  The guy looked at my ten-dollar bill and couldn’t figure out the exchange rate so did ‘on par’.  I should try using a Canadian dollar in Montana and see if they treat it the same as Canadians treat our dollar.  Ha.

We finally made it to Jasper National Park around 5:30 p.m.  We lost an hour as we went from Pacific time to Mountain time.  We decided to stay in the mega campground – Whistler as we haven’t been at that campground before.  We didn’t get to pick our site and the young guy at the fee station must not be familiar with the sites or he wouldn’t have given us this site (15-F) – or maybe he does know and since we didn’t know his friend Danny Beers, a snowboarder from Homer he decided to give us a crappy site.  If you want some privacy, you do not go to a campground with 781 campsites.  Luckily we are only staying the one night.  At the campsite, I heard some Chickadees, a nuthatch, and a warbler so decided to check them out.  I then heard a woodpecker, and followed the tapping and spotted – right next to our campsite – a Three-toed Woodpecker.  So, I guess I should thank the fee station attendant for putting us here.

Three-toed Woodpecker

31 August 2018

Well there was a group of teenagers (gigglers and loud talkers) running through our campground loop until 11:30 pm last night.  I sorry, but I find that just plan rude.  Surprisingly the quiet hours for the park are from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am.  Really!!!  I’m the type of person who likes to go to bed early and get up early.  I also find it hard to go to sleep in campgrounds where there are people talking, giggling, and shouting.  Keep a quiet voice people, I don’t need to hear your conversations.  I know they are just having fun.  But I bet I wasn’t the only person in the campground wishing they would shut up.  Okay, enough of my ranting about rude teenagers.

We actually slept in late, but then I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight.   And cold this morning – brrrr 38 degrees F.  No frosted windows or vegetation, but still cold.  Before we left the campground we did have a few birds flit about – White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Jay.

Well it wasn’t raining this morning, but it was mostly cloudy, some fog, and hazy (from smoke).  Not the best conditions to take photographs of the magnificent scenery.  This is one beautiful national park.  Worth the visit, even with the hoards of people present.  There was fresh snow on the mountain tops – termination dust as we Alaskans like to call it -the termination of summer.

We did make a few stops in the park to see the sights – Athabascan Falls and Sunwapta Falls (Jack likes waterfalls).  At the Athabascan Falls I noticed a drone.  Drones aren’t allowed in the park, but there is always someone who disobeys the laws.  I flipped it off.  That should be nice for the video of the falls.  Oh and the only non-bird wildlife species I saw was a squirrel.  I couldn’t believe it, especially since the Elk were suppose to be rutting within the campground.  Oh well, better for the wildlife not to have to deal with us humans.

Athabascan Falls

Sumwapta Falls

We left the parks (Banff and Jasper) and headed south towards Montana, staying our last night in Canada at Chain Lakes Provincial Park.  This is a really nice campground.  We stayed in loop C (#102), which was near the restrooms, but still somewhat private.  There were a fair number of sites occupied among the three loops, but quiet.  We did go for a short walk (about 2 miles total) and saw thirteen different bird species.  It was nice seeing Osprey again.  We also saw an American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing – both First of Year birds.

It was windy at the campground making it difficult to eat outside, although we did.  So far we’ve haven’t had a day where we could eat comfortably outside – breakfast or dinner.

1 September 2018

Yikes!!! Hard to believe it is September already.  We woke up to strong winds again, but warmer – 45 degrees F, with partly cloudy skies.

Shortly after we left the campground heading south, I saw what looked like either a short-eared owl or a coyote (seriously) – remember we are driving fast.  So Jack slows down, pulls over, turns the car around after all the traffic goes by (and there was a lot for this country road), and drives back to where I saw the “creature”.  I was right.  It was coyote just looking out towards the road.  It was sitting there looking at us, but not for long.  They seem to know that vehicles that stop alongside the road are not a good thing and quickly bounded off.  Beautiful animal.

We did see a number of raptors along the way, including a Swainson’s Hawk.  This is another FOY species for me and a nice surprise.   We also saw several Eastern Kingbirds.  For some reason I didn’t expect to see these birds this far west.  I checked my bird app (iBird Pro) and sure enough, they breed here.  Go figure.

Swainson’s Hawk – hanging out on this hay bale and out of the wind

Eastern Kingbird – Hatch year birds

Savannah Sparrow

We drove through a very small section of the Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) – Beautiful.  Will need to go and explore the area some day.

Stay tuned.  Coming up next Montana and North Dakota.  Until then, remembers it is always …

A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

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