Alberta Prairie Birds

  1. 2019
    Thursday, May 23, 2019 to Monday, May 27, 2019
    Tour Duration: 
    5 days
    Tour Starts/Ends: 
    Calgary, Alberta
    + 5% GST for Canadians, + 2.5% GST for non-Canadians.
    Number of Persons Limit: 

• Fine selection of Prairie birds and mammals

• Variety of habitat from riparian woodlands to unbroken mixed-grass prairie

• Cypress Hills, an island of boreal forest in a prairie sea



Our birding tour takes in southeast Alberta, a superb area for short-grass prairie and grassland birds, and we visit when breeding is in full swing. The community of prairie birds aptly-named “prairie bells’ will be our main focus; McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs in their musical display flights, Sprague’s Pipits singing overhead, Baird’s and Vesper Sparrows in the taller grass, Grasshopper Sparrows trilling from exposed perches, with Western Meadowlarks and Lark Buntings filling the air with their songs. Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks soar, Prairie Falcons and Merlins dash by, Loggerhead Shrikes perch conspicuously, waterfowl fill the potholes, and shorebirds are numerous – Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Upland Sandpiper and Long-billed Curlew.

Cypress Hills is an impressive island of forest within the prairie, and holds such interesting species as Red-naped Sapsucker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher and the pink-sided race of Dark-eyed Junco, as well as Broad-winged Hawk, White-winged Scoter, Marsh Wren and Sora.


Itinerary View Short Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrival in Calgary

Participants on our Alberta Prairies birding tour will be arriving in Calgary throughout the day. For those arriving early, there are opportunities for birding in and around Calgary. The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary along the Bow River is an excellent area for foothills and riverine species and is easily accessible within the city of Calgary itself. Past visits have turned up several Harlequin Ducks and Wood Ducks, a local rarity. Alternatively, there are some great museums worth visiting in the city. We meet in the evening at our hotel to go for dinner and discuss the upcoming tour. Night in Calgary.

Day 2 - Dinosaur Provincial Park and Suffield Prairie

After breakfast we head east along the TransCanada Highway and onto the open short-grass plains characteristic of southeastern Alberta. We pass several roadside ponds and sloughs which should have many waterfowl, including Cinnamon Teal, and grebes, both Horned and Eared, and Black Terns foraging in and over the water, and shorebirds including American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope and Black-necked Stilt foraging along the shoreline, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds calling from marshes. We stop along the way should we spot one of our targets, such as a Ferruginous or Swainson’s Hawk. Our intended location is Dinosaur Provincial Park, a fine example of eroded badlands along the Red Deer River. Grasslands around the park support Sprague’s Pipits and Upland Sandpipers, the badlands are home to Say’s Phoebes, Rock Wrens, Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows, Prairie Falcons and Mountain Bluebirds, and the cottonwood riparian habitats support Spotted Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Yellow-breasted Chats and other interesting woodland and scrub species. We have a picnic lunch here, in the shades of the cottonwoods.

Next we head further southeast, and drive along the western border of Suffield, a huge 2700 square kilometer military range noted for some of the finest remaining tracts of native prairie left in Canada. Virtually all of the prairie specialties can be located at Suffield - McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Sprague’s Pipit, Grasshopper and Baird's Sparrows and Lark Bunting. Long-billed Curlews and Loggerhead Shrikes are here, and we may be lucky enough to find Sharp-tailed Grouse or Gray Partridge en route, and there should be groups of Pronghorns on the open plains.

We arrive at dinnertime at our lodge in the Cypress Hills Provincial Park at the charming little town of Elkwater, where we spend the next two nights.

Day 3 – Cypress Hills and Wild Horse

The Cypress Hills are an island of boreal forest in a sea of prairie, and have a unique and isolated avifauna. Here we could find Broad-winged Hawk, Red Crossbill, Audubon's Warbler, the pink-sided race of the Dark-eyed Junco, Wild Turkey, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher and Red-naped Sapsucker. White-winged Scoters and Red-necked Grebes nest on lakes and Violet-green Swallows turn up in the flocks of Tree Swallows.

We head down to the diverse prairie region around Wild Horse along the Montana and Saskatchewan border. The dry prairies here support longspurs and pipits, Lark Bunting, Brewer's Sparrow, and several pairs of Ferruginous and Swainson's Hawks. More lush areas have Upland Sandpipers, prairie sloughs have Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Black Terns, and some fields support pairs of the rapidly declining Burrowing Owl. This area is particularly good for Pronghorns, Mule Deer and even Badger. Night in Elkwater.

Day 4 - Cypress Hills and Pakowki Lake

Should we be missing any prairie species, we return to the Wild Horse for a second attempt. We then head west, taking in prairie sloughs, wooded valleys and eroded badlands for waterbirds and Prairie Falcons, possibly Bullock’s Oriole, Spotted Towhee, Brown Thrasher and other riparian inhabitants. At Pakowki Lake, Clark’s Grebes breed and there is a nesting colony of White-faced Ibis, and where we look for grebes, herons, pelicans, waterfowl and migrating shorebirds. We then make our way back to Calgary, stopping at locations in search of species that we may have missed up to this point, perhaps Eurasian Collared Dove. Night in Calgary.

Day 5 - Departure

Our tour ends after breakfast.


Featured Wildlife

“I am thrilled with this trip; my expectations were high because of having been on previous trips with Richard and my expectations were met. Our days were long and intense and I liked that because they were so productive. At all times, expert knowledge, respect for nature and professionalism were demonstrated and shared with us. Yousif is a GEM! A treasure! Eagle-Eye: keep this young man!” - 2016 AB Prairie Birds Participant


“Wonderful trip. Exceptional leaders – masters of the material, cheerful, helpful, resourceful. Splendid diversity of birds. Beautiful country. Small congenial group of people. Good lodging and food.” 2016 AB Prairie Birds Participant