Posted by Dan Arndt
After a week of unseasonal sun and warmth, the mercury dipped down below zero again this morning, and with a bit of a north wind, made for a chilly trek through the park. Bob and I arrived a bit early to try to find signs of either the Northern Pygmy Owl or the American Three-toed Woodpecker that have been seen in the area but unfortunately came up empty handed, but were able to scout and find some signs of a few other species that we found with the larger group later on. We headed west from the parking lot, while Gus took his group south to look for some Pine Grosbeaks that had been seen earlier, only meeting up at the very end, despite following almost the exact same route.
On our scouting trip, Bob and I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers working a series of dead poplar and spruce trees, and when we returned there with the group, they were joined by a third Pileated Woodpecker, which was quite an unexpected sight. There must have been some good eatin’ under the bark of those trees!
After incredible views of the Pileated Woodpeckers, along with a few Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, we headed down the trail along Fish Creek in search of Townsend’s Solitaire’s which had been seen there the day before. We weren’t disappointed, as we spotted not one, but two individuals. This one, up above our heads, appeared to be displaying. As it flew off, the second one, not six feet away from us at waist level, followed it across the creek over into some low scrub.
As these two flew off, we soldiered on, exploring the edge of the creek a little further west. One of our sharp-eyed attendees spotted a Northern Goshawk that flushed up from the creek bank, and we weren’t the only ones that spotted it. As it lighted on the far side of the river, it was almost immediately mobbed by a large contingent of Common Redpolls and House Finches.
As we continued on in search of our target species, we explored the next couple of bridges, and entered a large stand of old, tall spruce, which is where the American Three-toed Woodpecker was seen earlier this year. Sadly, we missed out on both that bird, as well as the Northern Pygmy Owl, so this posing Red-breasted Nuthatch will have to make up for that.
On our trip back to the parking lot, our luck seemed to wane. The birds we saw were either in the distance, in the shade, or simply a little too out of the way to view properly, let alone photograph. As we neared the parking lot, a small herd of Mule Deer grazed along the hillside quite content to stare back at all the folks pointing their binoculars at them.
Once we got back to the parking lot, we thought it might be a good idea to go searching for those Pine Grosbeaks that were mentioned earlier. While we didn’t manage to find them, we did spot a couple of other woodpecker species that had eluded us earlier; the Hairy Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker, both working away at constructing nesting holes in the same dead tree.
In our futile search, and as we neared the end of our walk, I heard the telltale wheezy “chick-dee” of the always welcome Boreal Chickadee. After playing a couple of recorded calls, a trio of them swooped in, investigated us for a few minutes, and then just as quickly flew off.
Next week we’ll be heading to the deep south of Lafarge Meadows, in the south east corner of Fish Creek Provincial Park in search of even more new species. See you then!