The weekend before last, I had a chance to head out early for some late winter mountain birding. My main target was a shot at White-tailed Ptarmigan at a drive-able location at Bow Lake in Banff National Park. During winter the ptarmigan come down from higher elevations to feed on willow buds and take shelter. After a snowfall is the best time to find them because you can concentrate your efforts around fresh tracks. Not being properly equipped with snowshoes I knew I would be limited to scanning and scoping if I wanted a chance at finding this well camouflaged species. Eventually I did locate a couple and saw many more tracks. Can you spot the WTPT?
Long Distance Birding, Alberta
I made a brief stop at Harvie Heights near Canmore and the town of Exshaw on the return ride. There were a couple Clark’s Nutcrackers and Pine Grosbeaks as well as all three chickadees at Harvie and Exshaw was quiet with only 4 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, one of which was a “Hepburn’s”. I also stopped at a known wintering location of a Northern Hawk Owl but after driving the roads where it was recently observed I turned up blanks. I decided to spend a little extra time scanning the tree tops and eventually found a suspicious blob a long distance away. The following is an un-cropped image of the blob with a 400mm f/5.6 which after scoping/zooming in you can turn into the silhouette of a Northern Hawk Owl.
The last notable bird of the day was a distant dark blob on top of a post just west of Cochrane. It somehow seemed a little larger than a Common Raven so I pulled over and scoped it. Turns out it was a good idea. Golden Eagle!
Although sometimes it takes a little more effort, scanning can really pay off. I often find it is surprising how far a bird can be and still be identifiable.