Great Canadian Birdathon 2016 Results

My 2016 Great Canadian Birdathon was Monday, May 23rd. Armed with my scope and phone, I digiscoped all the photos I took during the day, though I wasn’t able to photograph every species I saw.

Tree Swallows were the first species to make the list and just standing outside our front door at 6 am I could hear Sprague’s Pipits, Western Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and an American Robin.

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A digiscoped American Robin

I started off scanning the mudflats at the slough across from our house where I was able to find Killdeer, American Avocets, Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers and a few Baird’s Sandpipers. Another flock of peeps flew in just a few hundred feet away, so getting closer I found a Stilt Sandpiper (FoS) and a Spotted Sandpiper. Along with all the sandpipers, there were Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals, and Buffleheads on the slough.

I walked over to the woods and I added Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat (FoS), Warbling Vireo, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo, European Starling, and Eastern Kingbird (FoS). It started to rain very gently, but the birds didn’t seem to be affected by it.

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American Avocet

I stopped at the house for more breakfast and an opportunity to watch for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that had been frequenting our window feeder for the past few days. The female hummingbird showed up shortly after I sat down at the kitchen table!

I walked south behind the house to Indian Lake to look for loons and other passerines. I hadn’t been at the lake at all this spring for actual birding and I was surprised to see how much water the lake is holding. There is no longer a shoreline and the water has reached into the woods.

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Tree Swallow,

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Other than Buffleheads, Blue-winged Teals, and lots of Eared Grebes, I didn’t find any new species. I did hear some warblers “chipping” in the trees, so I followed the vocalizations away from the lake. In the trees I saw more American Redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, Clay-coloured Sparrows, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow — a new species for the day.

Blue-winged Teal,

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I was just about to leave the woods when I heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing. I had never seen a grosbeak on any of my previous Birdathons before, so it was a really exciting to see not just one, but two!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Red-winged Blackbird

I drove over to our farmyard where I found Brown-headed Cowbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Vesper Sparrows, and Black-billed Magpies. Two male Cinnamon Teals have been feeding in a little slough near our house everyday for weeks, but as I drove to the farm yard they were absent. I did my morning chores and then drove around to the next township road where the slough crosses the road.

There were American Avocets all over the road and my suspicion that there were nests around was correct. There were multiple nests on the road and others on the edge of the slough. More shorebirds landed nearby and there were two new species in the flock, Least Sandpipers and a Red-necked Phalarope.

The nests on the road,

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I was still missing a few species such as Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-pied Grebes but found them at another slough down the road. Lunch time was rolling around and back at the house I decided to try again for the teals and there they were, and a Mountain Bluebird on the barbed wire fence to boot.

After lunch I drove to my grandparents’ yard after lunch where I was expecting to find some particular species. On the drive over, there was a Turkey Vulture soaring over the road, with a Swainson’s Hawk below it on a fence post, and an American Kestrel sitting in a snag.

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This White-tailed Deer has just crossed the river when it started bounding into the tree. I wasn’t quite fast enough to get a good photo, but I was fun to watch it,

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I found Pine Siskins, an Eastern Phoebe, and Yellow-rumped Warblers in my grandparents’ yard. From their yard I birded the Vermilion Provincial Park — a Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, and Purple Martins helped my list grow.

I also found this mass of tent caterpillars on a trembling aspen,

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I continued birding throughout the afternoon picking up new species here and there. It was getting later in the evening, and as I counted the species on my list I realized I was very close to 100 species for the first time ever in my Birdathon. There were still a few species I could try to find and one of those was Common Grackle. We have some land 12 kilometres north of our house where there’s a slough surrounded by lots of mature trees — it gives the impression of a Boreal Forest slough. There was a Common Grackle singing on there other side of the slough and I heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming on a log.

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A male Blue-winged Teal on the slough

There are occasionally some Snow Geese hanging around on the larger sloughs in the area and though I didn’t see any at the first one, after scanning the far shore of the second I did find a lone Snow Goose mixed in with the Canada Geese.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes were MIA all day but I finally found two females a few kilometres west of the large slough. The last species of the day was a Veery at our farm yard which was my last stop for the day.

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Altogether my Birdathon was excellent and I tallied 102 species (I originally tallied 101 species, but noticed when writing this blog post that I had mistakenly omitted Northern Pintail on the list).

My goal for the Birdathon was $1,575, with my funds earmarked for the Calgary Bird Banding Society and Bird Studies CanadaI’ve received great, generous support and generosity from birders across North America, raising $1,205 so far. Thank you very, very much to everyone who has supported my Birdathon this year — I greatly appreciate all of the donations and encouragement.

If you’d like to add more to my total for the worthy cause of bird conservation (as a reminder, donations over $10 are tax deductible), you can visit my team page.

A list of all the species I saw on my Birdathon (in taxonomic order):

Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Gray Partridge, Ruffed Grouse, Yellow Rail, Sora, American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Veery, American Robin, American Pipit, Sprague’s Pipit, European Starling, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

The 2016 Snow Goose Chase

After missing last year’s Snow Goose Chase because of 4-H Selections, I was very happy to be able to attend the Chase this year. My mother came with me and we left at 7:30 am to be in Tofield for 9 am.

The weather was a little dreary — cold and rainy — but as they say, it was good weather for ducks. I saw all three species of geese on the drive, American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, a Horned Grebe, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of ducks, and my FoS Double-crested Cormorant.

The displays at the Tofield hall included taxidermied bird mounts from the Royal Alberta Museum, with curator of ornithology Jocelyn Hudon on hand to talk to people; Pete Heule, the Ram’s Bug Room/Live Culture Supervisor and Natural History Outreach Tech, with live insects and reptiles; the Edmonton Nature Club; the Beaverhill Bird Observatory; Nature Alberta and its Nature Kids program; live raptors from the Edmonton Valley Zoo; a pond life display; various pelts from trappers Bill and Duncan Abercrombie of Alberta Trapline Adventures; amazing bird and animal carvings from the Boag Lake Carving Studio; and a table from the University of Alberta ZooManiacs zoological enthusiasts club.

I was at the Young Naturalists’ Corner table again this year, displaying nature books for kids and teens, Bob’s fascinating butterflies of Alberta display; pamphlets from Bird Studies Canada and Ducks Unlimited; and Urban Bio Kits from the City of Edmonton and the Mennonite Centre for newcomers. The kits are guides to help encourage new Canadians to learn about and explore the City’s natural areas.

I’d like to thank all the Edmonton Nature Club members and Snow Goose Chase volunteers for all the time and effort they put into the Chase. A special thank you to Bob who did yet another amazing job organizing everything, and also helping me with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. Thank you again, Bob, for everything — especially for asking to me to be part of such a wonderful day.

Our display table with a selection of books from my family library, Bob, and the Edmonton Public Library too,

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The new Nature Kids banner from Nature Alberta,IMG_0008

What would the Snow Goose Chase be without some birding after the activities in the hall? A Dunlin had been reported at the Tofield Quarry earlier in the week, and a Fox Sparrow was seen at Francis Viewpoint the morning of the Snow Goose Chase.

My mother and I went first to the quarry since it’s just a few kilometres south of Tofield. You can see the quarry very well from the road, but in order to get a good view of the birds we drove on the well-used path into the field. The gate was open and there were no “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” signs to be seen, so I thought it would be all right to drive in a few hundred metres. I searched for the Dunlin but couldn’t see one, though there were lots of Lesser Yellowlegs, Northern Shovelers, two Northern Harriers, American Avocets, and other ducks and geese. The weather was deteriorating, so after 10 minutes I abandoned the search for the Dunlin.

At Francis Viewpoint I found a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and more Northern Harriers, but no Fox Sparrow. I was skunked on the two birds I was hoping to see, but other than that it was a really lovely day.

A banded female Mountain Bluebird at Francis Point,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

An unbanded male bluebird,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f9, 1/640, ISO 640, Nikkor 50mm, natural light

Tofield Snow Goose Chase

The 17th annual Tofield Snow Goose Chase hosted by the Edmonton Nature Club is coming up very soon, on Saturday, April 23rd and Sunday, April 24th, at the Tofield Community Hall on Main Street from 9:30 am until 12 noon, followed by bus rides into the countryside to see the Snow Geese and other arrivals.

In the morning, stop in at the Town Hall to see the displays and exhibits from the Edmonton Valley Zoo, the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, and meet John Acorn (aka “The Nature Nut”), and Pete Heule (“The Bug Guy”) from the Royal Alberta Museum.

I’ll also be there at the Young Naturalists’ Corner, so please stop by and say hello! I’ll have a display of nature-related books, and might even be giving away a few prizes!

Here are my two blog posts about the 2012 and 2013, and also my page on Snow Goose Chase Resources.

I hope to see you there!

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Alberta Birding and Nature Festivals

Festivals are a terrific way to connect with other birders, learn about birding hotspots, hear new speakers, and learn from experts on guided tours. They are also great for outings with family and friends.

Alberta offers some fantastic bird and nature festivals, so I decided to compile this year’s listing as a handy reference. If you know of an event to add to the list, please let me know in the comments below so I can make the changes.

— April 23-24, 2016: This year marks the 17th annual Tofield Snow Goose Chase organized by the Edmonton Nature Club and the town of Tofield. In the morning, stop in at the town hall to see the displays and exhibits from the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Beaverhill Bird Observatory, John Acorn “The Nature Nut“, and Pete Heule from the Royal Alberta Museum. I’ll be there too with the Young Naturalists’ Corner. There will be an owl banding talk and public bus trips for viewing the Snow Geese, swans, and other spring migrants.

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—  April 23-24, 2016: The Friends of Saskatoon Island along with Alberta Parks celebrate the return of Trumpeter Swans to the Peace Country by holding the Saskatoon Island Swan Festival, features guided tours, presentations, and activities for families.

—  May 28-29, 2016: The Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory holds a Songbird Festival in Slave Lake, Alberta. The event kicks off on Saturday with a pancake breakfast followed by guided birding hikes, workshops, and tours of the migration monitoring station.

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— Saturday, June 18, 2016: The Camrose Purple Martin Festival will be celebrating its seventh annual festival this year with keynote speakers, bus and walking tours to Purple Martin colonies, activities for kids, and tips and techniques for making a wildlife-friendly yard.  

— June 19-23, 2016: The Waterton Wildflower Festival celebrates Waterton as the wildflower Capital of Canada. The festival features guided walks on plant identification and park ecosystems, family programs, and photographic presentations. Last year the festival offered birding sessions with experienced guides, so they might be available this year too.

— July 1st, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm Bluebird Festival near Lacombe, Alberta, focuses on the Mountain Bluebirds that nest around the farm. Come to the farm for free crafts for children, a talk on Purple Martin and Mountain Bluebird migration research, and a Neighbour’s Market.

— July 23rd, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm BioBlitz will feature biologists on site to share their expertise on all the wildlife at the farm, as well as site tours.

— August 6, 2016: The Ellis Bird Farm’s Bug Jamboree opens with a performance by John Acorn, “The Nature Nut”, and a butterfly count. Garden tours and children’s crafts are also part of the event.

— September (date to be announced): Waterton also hosts a wildlife festival in September, celebrating the park as one of the best places in the Rocky Mountains to view wildlife, especially mammals. Bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bears, and foxes, more than 200 species of birds, six species of amphibians, four species of reptiles, and 24 species of fish have been found in the Park. Workshops, presenters, and guided walks are some of the activities at the festival.
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— October (date to be announced): Canmore celebrates the migration of Golden Eagles over the Alberta Rockies with a Festival of the Eagles. The weekend celebration includes guided hikes, bird walks, interpretive displays, and guest speakers. Spotting scopes are set up at Canmore Collegiate High School to view the migrating eagles.

“Backyard Bird Feeding” Book Signing

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I made this poster for the signing and posted them around town.

I’ve been meaning to post about biologist and author Myrna Pearman‘s Vermilion book signing this past December for some time now, but December, January, and February have been so busy between holidays, school, and activities.

Myrna’s new book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guidewas published late last year.  During November and the early part of December, Myrna traveled around Alberta to various Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware Stores for book signings; Peavey Mart is one of the book’s sponsors.

Having corresponded with Myrna about photos for the book, I was looking forward to meeting her and so emailed her to ask if she might be coming to Vermilion for a signing.

The powers that be weren’t sure that there would be enough interest in our small town, so the originally scheduled signing had been cancelled. I told Myrna I would see if I could gauge interest, and in the end there was enough for a book signing not only at Main Street Hardware but also at our local library. As president of the Vermilion River Naturalist Society, I brought up the signings at our November meeting, and members decided to join the other businesses as a sponsor of the signing.

Fortunately, despite the snow the night before the signing, Myrna made the drive from Lacombe safely. I spent the day with Myrna starting with the first signing at 11 am at Main Street Hardware. There wasn’t an idle moment, with many people getting their books signed and talking to Myrna about the birds in their backyard.

With Vermilion Main Street Hardware manager Ebony (standing), and Myrna (seated, at right). MSH provided us with  feeders and bags of birdseed for the display and also offered coffee and doughnuts.

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We moved our table to the library after a quick lunch. During our time there, we had a bit more time to talk and learned that we are related through marriage — it is such a small world!

Two young naturalists got their book signed and told us their bird stories,

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Our adventure continued on into the evening since Myrna had been invited to the Wainwright Wildlife Society’s annual Christmas supper. She gave a presentation about the important work the Ellis Bird Farm does, and a slideshow of her amazing bird and mammal photos.

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With Laurence Hoover, the president of the Wainwright Wildlife Society

Knowing it was going to be a long day with a long ride back to Lacombe, my mother had invited Myrna to spend the night, so we had more time to talk in the evening and then in the morning over breakfast.

After knowing Myrna only through email correspondence, it was very nice to finally meet her in person.

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One of the local papers interviewed Myrna about her book

I’d like to thank Main Street Hardware, the Vermilion Public Library, and everyone who came out for the book signing!

Birding the Fenland Nature Trail

While I was birding the Bow Falls trail on our last day in Banff, I caught up with my parents and went back to our cabin for lunch. After drying my mittens and recharging my camera batteries we drove to the Fenland Nature Trail — the trail is a two-kilometre loop with the river running around it. 

I was dropped off at the north end of the trail on Vermilion Lakes Drive and walked down the path to the bridge that crosses the river. After not being able to find an American Dipper earlier in the day, I was determined to find one before we left. While I saw something fly over the water just as I got to the middle of the bridge, it wasn’t enough for me to ID it as a dipper.

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I continued down the path finding good numbers of Brown Creepers, Mountain Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a Belted Kingfisher perched on a snag along the river.

This nuthatch along with a second one was foraging underneath a spruce tree,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

A group of about 20 Elk were feeding just off the path,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/3,200, ISO 2500, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This female has a radio collar for tracking her movements,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600, ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Completing the two kilometre loop, I was going to try again to find the dipper when — success! An American Dipper was feeding on the far bank and then flew and landed on the close bank on a dead branch. It was fascinating to watch, but when a jogger ran by the bird flew off and I lost sight of it.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Showing its white eyelid,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,250, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back down the path was a male American Three-toed Woodpecker flaking off bark,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/400, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The Fenland Nature Trail is a great birding and mammal spot and the walking is very easy. Here’s my eBird checklist for the walk.

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/500, ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Elk About Town

On our last full day in Banff I decided to go exploring instead of skiing. I left our cabin in the morning shortly after my parents headed out to take my brothers skiing at Lake Louise. Banff is a touristy, nature- and outdoor-centric town, so there are many trails and natural spots in the town. The public transit system — The Roam Bus — makes getting around very easy, and signs are posted everywhere, so it’s very difficult to get lost in and around Banff.

I walked a few blocks from the bus stop to the Bow Falls Trail which borders the Bow River on the south side of Banff. My target birds for the walk — and the trip — were Boreal Chickadees and an American Dipper. 

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Taken with my iPhone 6

I took this photo from the small pedestrian bridge looking west to the Rocky Mountains,

There were Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees. I also saw my lifer Boreal Chickadee in the flock, but all the birds were too hidden in the trees so I didn’t get any photos. I walked along the river’s edge, but it was absent of Dipper life. Here’s my eBird checklist from my walk. I did get some good shots of the mammals on the trails.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,200 ISO 1600, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Just off the path was this big bull Elk. Elk are a very common sight in the town of Banff and throughout the National Park as well. These big ungulates are very habituated to people, but that doesn’t mean people should go near them. They are large wild animals and capable of a lot of damage. If you find yourself around Elk or any other mammals, please give them space.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/,640 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The only camera other than my iPhone that I used on the Banff trip was my Nikon D610 with the 200-500mm lens. Because of the very cold weather at home and not having extra time, this was the first time I’ve been able to use the camera and lens for any appreciable amount of time, and I really enjoyed using both. The lens isn’t appropriate for landscape use because of its close focus, but it’s perfect for close-ups of animals.

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

There was a second bull Elk on the trail, this one was was feeding and raking his antlers on the small spruce trees,

 

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

The ice formations on the river were very interesting,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/1,600 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

This photo was taken with my iPhone,IMG_0012

The American Red Squirrels were constantly scolding me, for what I don’t know. Occasionally one would pose long enough for a few photos,

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

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Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/250 ISO 6400, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Please stay tuned for the afternoon part of my last day in Banff!