A short but sweet trip to Alberta

I had to go to Alberta for some business so figured I would take a couple of days to see the birds we don’t get in BC.I did one day in the south near Brooks and one day in the north near Cold Lake and Lac La Biche.

I started out in the south and went to Tilley where I surprisingly quickly found gorgeous Chestnut-collared Longspurs. Such a contrast to my long hours of searching in Colorado. This one even popped up for some photos for me.  The fields I walked in were provincial publicly accessible land.

Male Chestnut-collared Longspur in Tilley, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The McCowan’s Longspurs I found nearby were casually feeding in the middle of the dirt road and this one male let me crawl right up to him! Such stunning birds I have never photographed well. If you see my Colorado photo of this species it is a vast improvement!!!

Male McCowan's Longspur in Tilley, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Next,I walked into a field and found some beautiful Marbled Godwits and nearby to them were some cool Sprague’s Pipits doing flight displays!. It took a lot of photos and patience to have them land on the ground and get a decent record shot!. They kept flying high above my head!. These are my favorite of the pipits and always a pleasure to see. I was happy to finally have a satisfactory photo of these guys. 

Sprague's Pipits in Tilley, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Marbled Godwits in Tilley, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Lucky for me 2 Baird’s Sparrows were calling nearby and I was able to get my first decent photos of these guys!. I haven't seen them in so long!! They have a unique lovely song too.

Baird's Sparrow in Tilley, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Swainson’s Hawks were flying overhead with Franklin’s Gulls. I looked around Brooks and Tilley for Lark Buntings but came up empty. I did see a Lark Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper,Vespers and Savannahs, many Black Terns and Wilson’s Phalaropes though. There was some Brewer’s Sparrows, Says' Phoebes, Loggerhead Shrikes here as well with Western kingbirds, which was cool to see. This particular Swainson's was beautiful and accommodating.

Light morph Swainson's Hawk in Tilley, AB

On the road to Hanna from Brooks I saw a gorgeous pale morph Ferruginous Hawk that circled closely once and then headed off before I could get my camera out. Seeing them is always special they are so beautiful. There were quite a few Long-billed Curlews in the fields and American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Willets, Blue-winged Teals, breeding Horned Grebes and Ruddy Ducks in the little ponds. 

Horned Grebe near Hanna, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I didn’t have time to go look at the nearby Piping Plovers at Pearl Lake this trip sadly. I headed on to Prairie Oasis Park. At the park there were many Common Terns flying around and American White Pelicans. There were lots of Common Grackles, Eastern Kingbirds, Double-crested Cormorants and Bank Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows sitting side by side giving a good photo-op!.

Bank and Northern Rough-winged Swallow near Hanna, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bank Swallows near Hanna, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Northern Rough-winged Swallows near Hanna, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After leaving there I drove the nearby roads and saw a single Sharp-tailed Grouse that flushes in front of the car and a single Gray Partridge that seemed stunned. I walked right up to it to see if it was injured but then it took off in flight. Too bad I didn't take a photo before it flew off but was sure it was dead lol.

Sharp-tailed Grouse peeking out from the grass near Hanna, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next day I went to Cold Lake Provincial Park. The boreal forest there was alive with warblers and birds. Early in the morning there was Ovenbirds, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Black-and-White Warblers, Tennessee, American Redstarts (displaying by fanning their tails), Black-throated Geeen, Canada Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided just to name a few. I also got to see and hear many Alder Flycatchers which was a treat since we only get Willows at home. 

Alder Flycatcher in Cold Lake, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

There were many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Blue Jays, Least Flycatchers, Blue-headed, Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos, Eastern Phoebe and a couple Baltimore Orioles singing their hearts out. I went down Primrose Lake Rd and with some effort found a couple Mourning and Connecticut Warblers.

Nearby a Ruffed Grouse was drumming his head off but never came into view. After this I did a few road side stops near Ethel Lake and found a Sedge Wren, Clay-coloured, LeConte’s Sparrows and Soras. I looked here and some other spots for Yellow Rail but came up empty. I really love the insect like call of the LeConte’s Sparrow and how pretty they are. There was a young male Moose nearby in the swamp as well, which was cool to see.

LeConte's Sparrow in Cold Lake, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Moose in Cold Lake, AB - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the way to Lac La Biche a Broad-winged Hawk flew over. I also found an American Three-toed Woodpecker taping. At another road side stop near Marguerite Lake near LaCorey I found some singing beautifully plumaged Cape-May Warblers and Boreal Chickadees. I didn’t get any pics of Mourning and Connecticut Warblers on Primrose Lake Rd so I had driven to LaCorey. Here the birds were more cooperative. Every Warbler in the book plus Least Flycatchers, Western Wood-Pewees, Vireos and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were singing their heads off. The diversity of warblers here was incredible. They were active and gave great views I ever had a mixed flock of the Eastern Warblers which was cool!. Lots of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were present to. It took only a few mins to find a Mourning Warbler. He wasn’t singing but stayed high and I got a few record shots but great looks. 

Mourning Warbler near LaCorey, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The Connecticut Warbler I found here was much more confiding and came down low to show off its signature eye ring. I got my best ever photo of this species here!. Connecticut and Mourning were two I really wanted photos of and to see, so I was thrilled. 

Connecticut Warbler in LaCorey, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

It really is something special to see all these Warblers in their spring finery and hear how alive the forest is. That’s why it’s so important that we protect the boreal forest and it’s wetlands for all these breeding birds. I saw many signs for Grizzlies but only saw a Moose, Coyote and Deer. In southern Alberta I saw White-tailed Jack Rabbits, Prairie Dogs and hundreds of Richardson’s Ground Squirrels that seemed to unfortunately get hit by many cars :(.

At Sir Winston Churchill Park in Lac La Biche I saw some Forster’s Terns on the lake and in the forest saw a gorgeous male Bay-breasted Warbler. I love their unique colouring! I was happy to get a photograph of him as well. 
There was a Boreal Chickadee here and 2 White-winged Crossbills, a Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and some Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Male Bay-breasted Warbler in Lac La Biche, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

On my way home to the Edmonton airport  I stopped at little roadside ponds to admire the Eared and Horned Grebes, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Teals and the like. However, the best birds I liked to photograph at these little ponds were the Black Terns. Since Black Terns no longer nest at Stump Lake and Beaver Ranch Flats in Quilchena I really miss them!. They are my fave tern so I was happy to get some decent shots of them. Every pond had winnowing snipe either sitting on a wire or on a post.

Handsome Black Terns near Lac La Biche, AB - Photos: Melissa Hafting

It was a great but short and sweet trip to beautiful Alberta. During this trip I realized how much I missed seeing the grassland birds. I also found it a bit strange that I didn't encounter a single birder during my entire trip!. Being so close to BC with so many different Eastern birds than we get in Southern BC, it's definitely a place I recommend other birders to explore.


  1. Mel: Great trip, great birds, great Pics. I think a lot of birders think they are going to get their best chance for these birds south of the 49th parallel. Boy, does your report ever prove that theory wrong.

    1. thanks so much thor!! yes that certainly has wrung true for me especially with the longspurs lol

  2. Beautiful pictures love the black tern!

    1. thank you i love them too, very common there but my favorite thing i photographed!

  3. Mel -- I think these may be my favorite photos among the MANY fabulous photos of yours. Every one is superb and these are wonderful species, I had heard of the wonders of Alberta and you captured them all!!!

    1. thank you so much for your kind words much appreciated!

  4. Wow, you saw some amazing birds and got so many awesome shots for such a short trip! Fantastic work!

    1. thanks liron i was really lucky to clean up in 2 days!

  5. What can I say Mel other than I think it's time to pack it in after seeing your superb collection of fabulous captures from your trip! Always feel you have "horseshoes" but I know that in fact it is a combination of research, perseverance and dedication that nets you these great results! Very much enjoy the blog format as it enlightens us with a more complete picture of your experience, making it feel much more intimate! Thanks!

    1. dear ian i am so touched by your kind words thanks so much my friend :). have a great weekend.

  6. Wow, so many interesting birds, and the photos are amazing. Very impressive for just a two day trip. Well done!


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