It's a Great Day to Bird

Month: June 2017

Final Trip Blog

29 May 2017

Before heading into Canada, we spent about 1.5 hours in the morning birding Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area again.  They have an auto tour route we did not take the day before.

A good morning.  We saw about 30 different species, and ‘top of the morning’ — two Short-eared Owls.  We later saw an additional two Short-eared Owls – flying low over the farm fields in search of breakfast.  These are my favorite North American Owl species.  So glad to see them doing well in northern Montana.

At the Wetland Management Area, we saw and heard a number of Marsh Wrens.  They were busy gathering nest material among the cattails.  Fun to listen to their chatter and see them with their tails raised.  The other two species we saw today, but didn’t see yesterday were the Common Tern and the Western Grebe.

We made it to the Canadian Border around 1:00 pm.  No hassles getting into Canada.  They asked how long we planned to spend in Canada and we said seven days.  I hope it is less.  No offense to Canada – it is a beautiful country, although we’ve only seen the western Provinces and Territories.  Someday we hope to get back east, especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  We like the wild areas and those areas with few people.  But we’ve been on the western Canada roads numerous times in the past 10 years and it’s a long slog home, once you make the decision to go home – sort of anti-climatic.

We stayed the night at Chain Lakes Provincial Park.  The cost of an electrical site was $30 Canadian.   Seemed expensive.  The bathrooms were vault toilets, and the water was centrally located, and no showers that we could find.

We experienced an exciting thunderstorm that passed through right after we finished eating.  Timed that right.  But the skies cleared and we had a peaceful (no thunder or rain) night.

White-crowned Sparrow …

… singing its heart out

30 May 2017

We decided to briefly visit Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.  There is a noticeable difference between the two parks.  Banff is much more developed.  They have fencing to keep the wildlife off the roads, and overpasses so the wildlidfe can get from one side to the other.  Not so in Jasper.  Jasper also has fewer pull-outs.  The park just seems more wild than Banff.   And not as many visitors, although there were still a lot of vehicles on the road.

We made a few stops within the parks, but since we had been here in 2014, we decided to just enjoy the scenic landscape beauty as we drove through.  We did spend the night at the Wapati campground just south of Jasper.  We got here early and just enjoyed the afternoon – warm temperatures and sunny skies.  Can’t beat that.

Wildlife Crossings – got to keep those animals off the road. Don’t want any wildlife suicides.  These are in Banff National Park.

However, in Jasper National Park (where there is much less traffic), animals roam freely on the roads, including these Rocky Mountain sheep.

This one eating something from a divet in the road

31 May 2017

Got up early and spent most of the day driving Highway 16 from Jasper towards the Cassier Highway.  We stopped about 22 miles short of the Cassier Highway, spending the night at Seeley Lake Provincial Park.  At 7:44 pm, we are the only campers in this 20 campsite park.  We are okay with that.  Beautiful area, with the lake outside our back door.  The only downside is that the campground is RIGHT off the highway.  You can hear all the traffic, and there are a lot of large semi-trucks traveling this highway.  The diesel pickup trucks don’t help either.  But the beauty does outweigh the traffic noise.

We got to the park right after it rained.  The birds came out in droves to finish feeding for the day.  The highlight of the 14 species we noted, was a pair of Western Tanagers.  I wasn’t sure we would get to see this species so was very happy we did.

Western Tanager

Seeley Lake

Seeley Lake

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Seeley Lake Provincial Park:

  • Western Tanager
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Northern Flicker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

Before reaching the park we did stop for an early dinner at Tandoori Bristo in Smithers.  The food was GREAT.  I would highly recommend this place to anyone traveling through Smithers who loves Indian cuisine.  Not to be missed.

1 June 2017

Left our campsite at 6:00 am and headed west to meet up with the Cassier Highway.  Our intent is to drive 433 miles of the 450-mile road.  There is a series of small lakes (Blue Lakes) that we love and they have a campsite at one of the lakes.  That is our goal for the day.

This drive is a favorite of ours.  Fewer cars than on the Alaska Highway and prettier scenery, at least I think so.  We had intermittent rain throughout the drive and stopped numerous times to stretch our and Doodlebug’s legs.  At one stop I heard a bird singing nearby.  I didn’t recognize the song, but I followed the sounds to the tree it was coming from.  There in the tree was a MacGuilvary’s Warbler.  This warbler looks very similar to the Mourning and Canada Warblers.  The difference?  This warbler has a broken eye ring or eye arcs as it says in my Sibley’s Guide (field guide book).  I haven’t seen this species in over ten years, so was happy to see the bird again.

We had planned to stop for lunch at the world famous Tatooga Restaurant, but when we got there no one was around.  Jack went to see if they were open and there was a sign on the door stating they were temporarily closed due to a work-related accident.  I hope whoever was injured was not injured badly.  They were planning to reopen at 12:30, but we decided not to wait a half hour and proceeded to Dease Lake and the Tin Rooster Deli for lunch — a ‘deli’ within a grocery store.  Lots of fried food if that is what you like.  I was hoping for a nice chicken breast sandwich, but I was out of luck.  Had chicken fried strips instead.  I wonder what we missed at the Tatooga Restaurant?

Well when we got to Blue Lakes we decided to continue onward because hordes of mosquitoes were angrily swarming around the car looking for blood, and we haven’t even gotten to Alaska yet.  Yesterday, Doodlebug was bitten numerous times on her belly, which is bare because she was shaved for her ultrasound about two weeks ago.  No belly hair to protect her.  Poor gal.  We didn’t want a repeat performance of that, nor did we want to provide blood for future generations of mosquitoes.  Instead we decided to spend the night at the Big Creek Campground in the Yukon Territory.  We’ve stayed here before and our favorite campsite was vacant.  Hooray!!!

Tomorrow we hope to make another 500 miles.  This is nothing compared to what some people travel in a day.  Someday we are going to vacation in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.  It’s on my bucket travel list.

Common Loon

One of the “Blue” Lakes

2 June 2017

Another early start, although this time we slept in an hour and didn’t leave until around 7:45 am.  We continued our journey along the Alaska Highway, stopping occasionally for birds (e.g., a Northern Hawk Owl – haven’t seen one of those in several years), vistas, food, restrooms, stretching.

We camped tonight at Lake Creek Campground, near the Canada/Alaska border.  I think on this drive on the Alaska Highway my favorite area is around Haines, Junction.  I just love the snow capped mountains.  So majestic.   I was surprised at how low Kluane Lake is this year; much lower than when we came through about a year ago.  Climate change?  I think so.  If this large lake (largest in the Yukon Territory) is shrinking, imaging what the many area wetlands are doing.  Many birds and other wildlife depend upon these water features.

Tomorrow we venture into our home state of Alaska.  We won’t make it home (Homer) tomorrow – it is a large state – but it will be nice to know we are almost there.  Besides, we have a number of errands to run in Anchorage before making the final 200+ miles back home.

Northern Hawk Owl

Kluane Lake – the lake is really drawn down

This mountain generally has sheep, which we did see

Kluane Lake

3 June 2017

Another long day of driving.  Today we went from Lake Creek Campground in the Yukon to Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site along the Glenn Highway, about 100 miles east of Anchorage.  And it was along a lot of rough road.  Good thing our shocks were in working order.  Lots of frost heaves have made for a roller coast ride.  No fast driving today.

What was really surprising on today’s drive was the number of small wetland ponds that were dry – no visible water and it is spring when you would expect more water from snow melt.  Last year at this same time these ponds had water in them.  Not much, but at least their was some water.  There are also a number of ponds where there is very little water.  These wetlands are so important for wildlife.  Birds need them for feeding, roosting, and raising their young.  And even though it was raining throughout the day, what rain they get isn’t enough to keep these ponds full.  They need snow melt.  The fire danger in the Yukon was rated ‘Very High’, and after we got to Tok it changed to ‘High’.  Still not good so early in the season – it isn’t even summer yet.  Despite the naysayers, our climate is changing and changing rapidly.

I did mention to Jack we are getting back just as the days are reaching their longest in terms of the amount of sunlight.  Shortly after June 21nd the days will start getting shorter again.  Doesn’t seem right.  Shouldn’t the longest day of the year be mid summer?  Oh well, I just hope we have a warm (70s), dry summer.  Just because it is nice in Homer, doesn’t mean it can rain elsewhere though – like eastern interior Alaska and the Yukon – where it is so dry.

Tomorrow we drive into Anchorage and will spend the night.  It will be good to be home, but I also will miss being out on the road bird watching, visiting new and old favorite refuges and friends, and seeing our great country.  Regardless of all the promises to “Make America Great Again”, I already think its pretty great.

4 June 2017

We arrived in Anchorage early, did some errands, visited with family, and just relaxed before heading home tomorrow.

5 June 2017

After a few more errands around Anchorage – can’t forget to stop at Costco to stock up for the summer, we drove five hours to reach home.  I was surprised at how much snow was still present in the mountains around Turnagain Pass.

It was good to be home, and having arrived early (around 4:00 pm), we were able to get most things put away before calling it a night.

All in all, we had a GREAT trip.   I will be making periodic posts throughout the summer on birds, activities around Homer, and other fun, interesting stuff.    But before I go, here are a few statistics about our trip:


Miles Driven:  25,000 (estimated) – need to think about carbon offset

Number of Days:  253

Number of Bird Species Seen (9/26/2016 to 6/5/2017):  ~390

Number of Birds Species Seen (1/1/2017 to 6/5/17): 379

Number of Life Birds:  8

  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Connecticut Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • American Woodcock

Number of States (I) Visited:  23 (not counting Alaska)

Number of Canadian Provinces/Territories:  3

Number of Campgrounds:  91

Number of National Wildlife Refuges:  61 (at least one in each state visited except Kentucky)

Number of “New” National Wildlife Refuges visited: 27

Number of National Park/Recreation Areas/Nature Preserves Visited: 8



And Bird On ….


Montana Big Sky Birding

25 May 2017

After leaving North Dakota we traveled over 200 miles to get to Lewiston, Montana for the evening.  This was essentially a travel day, although we did occasionally stop to check out birds along the way.

26 May 2017

Today is essentially our last chance to see a Grasshopper Sparrow as we move out of its range.

Sprague’s Pipit …

… these birds aren’t easy to find and to see.  We lucked out.  We actually saw about six different ones..

Vesper Sparrow

Savanah Sparrow

Long-billed Curlew – this one a male.  His bill isn’t as long as the female’s bill.

Western Meadowlark with lunch


McCown’s Longspur

Chestnut-collard Longspur

Horned Lark

Killdeer Chick – soooooooo cute

One of the parents

Red-tailed Hawk nest

Lark Bunting …

… these birds are continually chased off by Brown-headed Cowbirds.  Not good.

Bird Species Seen or Observed along Snow Mountain Road:

  • Lark Bunting
  • Horned Lark
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • McCown’s Longspur
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Common Raven
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Killdeer
  • Northern Harrier
  • Barn Swallow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Golden Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Gadwall
  • Mourning Dove

27 May 2017

Visited with family today in Helena.  Was nice to sit back, relax, and visit the local Farmer’s Market.  Tomorrow we plan to visit a national wildlife refuge and a favorite birding area called Freezeout Lake.  If this site hasn’t been designated an “Important Bird Area”, it should be so designated.

28 May 2017

Left Helena and made our way to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Great Falls, Montana.  This 12,459 acre refuge contains short-grass prairie habitat in addition to several shallow lakes.  We visited this refuge during our 2013-2014 trip and the lake levels were much lower than today, so we saw a greater abundance of American Avocets back then.   In addition to six different species of shorebirds seen today, we had 13 different species of waterfowl.  I think the only waterfowl species that breeds at the refuge that we didn’t see was the Green-winged Teal.  Haven’t seen that bird in the recent past.

The mosquitoes were out in full force today so it was difficult to have one’s window down even a little.  They smelled blood…   But it was great to see the shorebirds: Wilsons’ Phalarope, Willet, Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, and Black-necked Stilt.  And there was an abundance of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

As we were leaving the refuge I told Jack, “Well guess I won’t get a Grasshopper Sparrow this trip”.  Not ten seconds later I noticed a small bird on top of some vegetation.  I yelled “Stop” and checked out the bird.  Sure enough it was a Grasshopper Sparrow.  The bird was even singing so I knew for sure, even without seeing the bird in detail, that a Grasshopper Sparrow was present in the short-grass prairie.  I was a very happy birder.

This refuge is pretty flat – a few “gentle” rolling hills

A few areas with shrubs … otherwise all short prairie grass

The southern edge of the prairie pothole region

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel – cute little buggers

Female Yellow-headed Blackbird …

… with ruffled feathers

Wilson’s Phalarope – fun to watch them move in circles, stirring up their food for easy access

Eared Grebes in breeding plumage

Wilson’s Phalarope grooming itself

A very wet Willet – also grooming (preening) itself

Marbled Godwit – these birds breed on the refuge

Yellow-bellied Marmot enjoying the sunny (albeit, windy) day

Willet feeding along the lake shoreline

There was actually a Black-crowned Night Heron hiding in the vegetation on that island

Black-necked Stilt on a nest

Cinnamon Teal

Marbled Godwit

American Avocet

Northern Pintail pair

Swainson’s Hawk – this bird was near its nest

Western Meadowlark singing its heart out

Yes, finally my Grasshopper Sparrow …

… upclose

Upland Sandpiper – with ruffled feathers. Looks very plump …

… but not so much when feathers are back in place – we call it the fence post bird.

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Western Meadowlark
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Common Grackle
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Horned Lark
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Swainson’s Hawk (nesting pair found)
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Tree Sparrow
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Wigeon
  • Canada Goose
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • American Coot
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Eared Grebe
  • Northern Pintail
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Willet
  • American Avocet
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Redhead
  • Bufflehead
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Canvasback
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Barn Swallow
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Black-billed Magpie

We actually had two places in mind to visit today: Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area (WMA).  After visiting the refuge, we took some back road to get to the WMA.   Along the way we spotted two Short-eared Owls.   Woohoo!!!  This species of owl is my favorite.  I was elated to see not one, but two of them.  One was flying in search of its evening meal and the other was sitting on a fence post just off the road.  These owls are diurnal and hunt for the food in the early morning and later afternoon.  What great views of both birds.

Camping is one of the permitted activities at Freezeout Lake.  Yes!!!  We found the camping area and then took a drive around the WMA.  Once again we saw Short-eared Owls – three this time.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many Short-eared Owls in one day (five in all).  Haven’t even seen that many in any given year.  We felt very fortunate.  As Jack likes to say, “Timing is everything”.

I saw a small bird that looks like a sparrow, but I can’t identify it.  Doesn’t look like any sparrow in my bird book.  Maybe I should check out the sparrows found in the Eastern U.S.  Maybe this bird took a wrong turn somewhere.

Cottontail Rabbit

Vesper Sparrow – generally accommodating for photographers

Western Meadowlark

Short-eared Owl

This bird can really turn it’s head

Another Short-eared Owl we saw the next morning

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Freezeout Lake Wetland Management Area:

  • Yellow-headed Cowbird
  • Canada Goose
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Avocet
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Willet
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Tundra Swan
  • American White Pelican
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Common Grackle
  • Killdeer
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Tern sp (either Common or Forester’s)
  • Mystery Bird

We got through the wildlife drive when a strong storm came through – lightening, Thunder (not much), rain, and wind.   Would like to have another day to spend here (will have to come back), but we need to move on and head home.  We will leave the United States tomorrow and make our long way across Canada.  Most of our time there will be spent driving, so this will be my second to last blog for the trip.  The final blog will provide some statistics of what we saw, where we went, with some photos of our trip through Canada.  Until then …




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