Cold Lake and the Boreal Forest

Birding reports from our roving reporter, Lesser Spot Finder, in Alberta, Canada.
Lesser Spot Finder
Posts: 230
Joined: Wed Mar 21, 2007 11:25 am
Location: Farnborough and anywhere between there and Norfolk

Cold Lake and the Boreal Forest

Postby Lesser Spot Finder » Mon Jun 27, 2011 5:41 pm

Friday 24 June 2011

Cold Lake was a revelation – the drive to and back from wasn’t but the area itself was absolutely splendid. It’s on the edge of the Boreal Forest – everything north is wooded until you get beyond the Arctic Circle and the tree line. You could be lost for days and not see anyone; I drove for hours and hardly saw a vehicle – brilliant.

Tim recommended the area and a number of locations in between and he came up trumps. The drive up was uneventful although it was the weekend of the Wainwright Stampede and in Tim Horton’s there I appeared to be the only one (apart from the staff) not wearing a Stetson! Water levels were high at all lakes and ponds visited so wader numbers were low. I did see 12+ Common Nighthawks hawking over Blood Indian Reservoir which was unexpected as were my first Beavers of the trip swimming around just in front of me; I did not have my camera to hand.

Passing through Consort I can see why KD Lang left to become a musician; there is little there, a garage a few hundred rednecks, no radio reception and no pub. It must have been difficult to be the ‘Only Gay in the Village’.

On arrival in Cold Lake I had the obligatory Tim Horton’s and immediately set about birding in all the locations that had been recommended. Bonaparte’s Gull, Swamp Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Western Grebe were quickly picked up but most other birds were singing deep in the woods or next to bows of trees and were impossible to see. At one point it took me nigh on an hour to see the singing Red-eyed Vireo just above me.

I spent the night in the provincial park but did not sleep well. At 0400hrs I was up and out for a walk. Again birds were difficult to see and the only morning additions to my life list were Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren, all seen with a bit of work.

Saturday 25 June 2011

At 0900hrs I met up with Phil and Mado Shore and a bloke called Bill who Tim and arrange for me to meet in Tim Horton’s. A coffee later we were in my hire car and off to visit all the locations I had already recce’d. The day was quiet and sometime rainy but both Phil and Bill were extremely good company and we picked up birds in good numbers. Bill found my first Broad-winged Hawk and we bagged Ovenbird in the garden of one of Phil’s clients. In the afternoon we retreated to Phil’s house to join up with Mado and from his porch we watched Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch and Red-throated Hummingbirds to name but a few. Phil expressed his pleasure at the day’s events and asked if he could accompany me the following morning up the Primrose Road to the range boundary. He did not wish to leave at 0400hrs so we agreed to meet, again at Tim Horton’s at 0800hrs, and I left, much to their amazement to continue birding. I visited some of the spots we’d been to and at 2200hrs shot up to Ethal Fen where to my amazement I heard at least 3 Yellow Rails and saw my sirst Le Conte’s Sparrow. Normally I would not count a first if I had only heard it but given the elusiveness of this species I’ll let that slip this time. I finally nodded off at midnight having been on the ground since 0400hrs. Real Dawn to Dusk Birding.

Sunday 26 June 2011

I slept in until 0500hrs and then continued around Cold Lake quickly picking up Purple Martin, another Swamp Sparrow and then met Phil at the appointed time. Phil is a great Outdoorsman with knowledge of most things, he can call in Moose, knows what you can eat in the woods and spends a great amount of time living and driving show mobiles around the area. We left for Primrose Road, later than I would have liked which possibly explained the paucity of birds. The drive up was great – I’ve always wanted to visit the Boreal Forest in Summer and the landscape was stunning. The only two new species of the drive were a single Solitary Sandpiper and a singing Alder Flycatcher but I had good views of another Le Conte’s Sparrow, an Eastern Phoebe and a Sharp-shinned Hawk carrying a mouse. The final bird in Cold Lake was a stunning adult Bald Eagle – what a finale. Before I knew it it was time to leave and I bidded farewell to my wonderful hosts.

The drive down was full of raptors; Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, 2 American Kestrels, numerous Red-tails and at least 15 Northern Harriers. By the time I arrived in Consort it had not improved so I headed south and quickly picked up my first Long-billed Curlew just outside Youngstown.

At Jenner Campsite I decided to rest for a little and see what was about. I got out of the car, turned on my i-phone and played the call of Bullock’s Oriole only for one to immediately respond. It looked like an area you’d find Bullock’s and I was proved correct. On a high I headed off and 6kms out of camp checked the area I’d seen Chestnut Collared Longspurs, found them and 3 McCown’s Longspurs, birds I’d been desperate to see. I’d worked hard for these birds and boy am I happy.

As type I am drinking Labrador Tea, so loved by Ray Mears, and foraged from the Boreal Forest. Funnily enough it tastes like.......................tea. I’ve had a cracking weekend and am now back in the middle of the Prairie. Thanks go to Tim for selecting the place and for my guests, Bill and the Shores who made my weekend most enjoyable. 77 species in total over the weekend with 19 lifers. I couldn’t have asked for more. I now want more of the Boreal Forest and all it's delights.

Top tip - buy shares in Tim Horton's. The amount of coffee I consumed this weekend has got have boosted their profit margin.
Last edited by Lesser Spot Finder on Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Wandering Tattler
Posts: 134
Joined: Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:57 pm
Location: Beverley, East Yorkshire


Postby Wandering Tattler » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:34 pm

Hard core birding Canadian style! Really pleased that you enjoyed yourself around Cold Lake, caught up with some great birds and experienced the generosity of Canadian birders.

I told you Yellow Rail was hard and your telephone call mentioning that your hosts had not seen one should let me off not getting the WESTERN TANAGER group on to one a little bit.

You did well to get the beautiful Bullock's Oriole, they are uncommon birds in SE Alberta and much of their preferred habitat in the area is often difficult to access. Please let Bob Frew know, the local birders will welcome the news.

Pleased you caught up with the McCown's Longspur and Long-billed Curlew, although that must make getting any more new birds around Suffield difficult until the southern migration of waders starts in a few weeks.

Lastly, glad you made it back safely, that is a long drive back on your own!

roger dickey
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:58 pm
Location: Somerton, Somerset


Postby roger dickey » Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:35 pm

At least there is a consistency regarding the procurement of Yellow Rail. No end of trouble if Rich had seen one!

Like deja vu reading this blog. Keep em coming.

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