Friday, March 31, 2017

Over The River

I was up early on my first full day in Lethbridge in order to take advantage of the warm weather and fit in a full day of bird watching.  It took a bit longer than expected as I had to fight my way through a huge line at a Tim Horton's for coffee (one does not simply get up at the crack of dawn on days off without coffee) but it was still only about 8:30am by the time I reached the river and other than a few joggers and deer, I pretty much had the entire place to myself. 


My destination was the other park on the east side of the Oldman that I didn't have time to get to the day before, the oddly named Botterill Bottom Park.  As I made my way toward it I began hearing what sounded like small explosions or firecrackers in the distance and and cursed under my breath thinking it would scare the birds away.  I started thinking gun shots after a few minutes but dismissed this as ridiculous since I was in the middle of a large urban centre and anyway, I knew there was construction going on across the river near the university so I chalked it up to that and carried on.

A few minutes further down the trail I saw a sign confirming my suspicions.  The river lay to my right and a high berm to my left and as I was to discover later, the local police have a firing range and outdoor training area there.  It was a bit odd hearing cries of "Stop! Police!" followed by gun shots as I ambled along, binoculars in hand, trying to pretend that this was just another birding adventure.  I was curious to see what the training entailed but understandably, I wasn't keen on sticking my head up over the berm.


Other than more several Northern Flickers, I didn't see much avian life.


Morning deer in Indian Battle Park...


That viaduct again...


Initially I was going to restrict my birding to the parks on the east bank of the river.  A couple days before I left Fort McMurray, I got extra adventurous and looked up city bus routes I could use to get to the west side and made sure I had the bus fare to do it.  Fortune smiled on me though as I was to discover a pedestrian bridge which paralleled Whoop-Up Drive over the river.  Now I could simply walk.  The next several photos chart my course as I headed west over the bridge to Bull Trail North Park and then the Elizabeth Hall Wetlands.  But first another shot of the Oldman from the middle of the bridge...


Looking back toward Indian Battle Park...


The one new species I saw during my trip was the Ring-necked Pheasant but I seem have an unfortunate habit of flushing them suddenly out of the bush.  I had several sightings but every time my camera was tucked away in side my backpack.  But I caught a nice (if very short view) of a lone male in this small pond just on the other side of the bridge.  


I walked quite awhile without seeing much of anything but the trails were drier than expected and the morning weather was perfect.


Cottonwood trees in the valley.  A great spot for Flickers, Starlings, and Chickadees...


Toward the north end of the park I started to make my way up into the coulees....and some pretty nice views too...





At this point I was almost at the same grade as the viaduct which is about 300 feet high to give you and idea of the height.


Another appropriate sign warning of instant death should you leave the trail...


By the time my I reached the Elizabeth Hall Wetland my legs were pretty tired (in my defence I DO do a lot of walking at work) and the pond, as expected still had quite a bit of ice on it.  I did see my first robin of the season here and while I didn't get a photo, I did get a nice one later on in the day at another location.  Other than a ton of mallards and Canada Geese, I spotted a small group of Common Mergansers in the down by the river bank.


I was able to get my camera out in time as this morning train rumble through over the viaduct as I backtracked back toward Whoop-Up Drive...


Bull Trail South Park is much smaller than Bull Trail North and I saw more great views than birds.  But I was heading up  to the university and a residential area so I was hopeful my luck would change.    This lone pair of Mallards was pretty much all that I saw...


Trail up to the university...


I haven't been to many university campuses outside of Ontario and its been almost 20 years since I"ve even stepped foot on one but I'm fairly confident the University of Lethbridge must have one of the best views of any campus in the country.  My photos don't really do the place justice.






As expected Aperture Lake, the small pond on campus was still ice-covered but the surrounding trees were filled with all sorts of interesting things.......nutchatches and chickadees especially.  I was too busy watching and counting individuals to get any decent photos and the few that I managed turned out way too dark.


Fortunately, my last destination, Nicholas Sheran Park (named after one of Lethbridge's founding fathers) allowed to me to make up somewhat for my lack of bird photos.


I noted 13 species here which was my highest species count for the entire trip.  I was especially pleased since, as I mentioned earlier, I expected that I would have to save this park for a future trip.  And I managed to make up for missing that Robin photo earlier that morning.


Unlike my some of the other locations I went to, this one was sort of backwards in the sense that rather than seeing most of the species I saw in the trees rather than in the water, here, the situation was reversed.  Most of what I saw was swimming around in the pond, including Mallards...


...and a couple of California Gulls...


I only really saw one species in the trees here and that was the Bohemian Waxwing, rather unexpectedly as I hadn't anticipated seeing any all.  I find them notoriously skittish.  Finding a large group that will remain in place long enough for a decent photo feels like herding cats.  I also have always thought of them as forest birds and Lethbridge of course is in wide-open southern Alberta a long way from boreal forest.  But here they were.  Sometimes I don't mind being wrong.


So there you have it.  I figure I did about 18 hours of birding in the 3 or so days I was there.  I managed to see 19 species altogether which was more than expected and probably not too bad considering I was going down there earlier in the season than I initially planned.   My inner history buff did take in a bit of local history and a few things of note but I will save that for a future post.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lethbridge

I spent a few days down in Lethbridge during my last set of days off but didn't get around to posting about it until now.  I also took a ton of photos, so narrowing them down for a post was another reason I'm so late in posting this.  My decision to go was a little last minute which is a bit out of character for me but with the weather slowly warming and wanting to get a jump on some bird-watching I decided to explore some new territory.  Lethbridge has been on my radar for quite some time now and I had plans to go last summer before the forest fire threw a big wrench in to my plans.  I would like to have gone a little later on in the summer in order to see more bird species but but in the end I decided to give it a go.  As it turned out, it was a great trip.  Lethbridge was scenic and I saw more than expected.  

Through a stroke of luck, my bus out of Calgary only had 4 people on it (including the driver) so I had plenty of nice views of the Rockies in the distance.  

                                

I arrived in a very windy (70km/hour winds!) Lethbridge late in the morning and killed a bit of town before checking in to my hotel by doing some birding in a small downtown park.  I didn't see anything all that interesting other than Starlings, which is something I haven't seen since way back when I was a university student in Windsor.  At any rate, other than the wind, it was turning in to a decent day and the park was a nice little warm up for what would come later.

The next few photos are from the river valley.  I will freely admit that I still hold a stereotype of southern Alberta as monotonously flat.  I knew Lethbridge would be scenic but it turned out to be even better than I expected.  Here we have the river valley as seen from the tops of the coulees a short walk from my hotel.


This is Indian Battle Park which turned out to be a gold mine for wildlife.  You can also see the rail viaduct which made an appearance in many of the photos I took.





This trip was also my first experience with coulees.  Great views but rather than backtracking in order to get around the crevasse separating the one I took the above photos from in order to get to the next one, I decided to head down this little trail off the end of the coulee to get the the valley below.  I didn't realize how steep these things were and about halfway down it began to dawn on me that I was making a mistake.  Luckily  the ice and snow was long gone leaving only loose dirt and I gingerly made my way down.  Needless to say, I found an alternative route to get back up.


Viewed from below I couldn't hep but be reminded of the Old West.





Eventually I found myself at the river and spent a couple of hours wandering Indian Battle Park.






 Since I visited a little early I didn't quite see the variety of waterfowl I would have liked.  Canada Geese and Mallards predominated, but I did see a lot of them.  One critter I also saw a lot of were prairie dogs...


...a lot of prairie dogs.


Toward the end of the afternoon I inadvertently spooked a couple of Ring-necked pheasants out of the brush.  My camera was tucked away at that moment (story of my life) but it was nice to be able to make an addition to my Life List. 

This little guy let me approach a lot closer than expected.  No doubt used to seeing humans.


This guy was a bit more wary but as things turned out, I was to see many more deer during my trip.


Mallards and Canada Geese across the river round out the afternoon.



As I mentioned at the beginning, I took quite a lot of photos compared to what I usually take, something approaching 200.  I spent two more days in Lethbridge and was able to see a few places I had not originally expected to on the west side of the river, so I will share all this in the near future.