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.