The next morning dawned bright and sunny with a brisk, cool wind blowing from the east. Knowing how cold it can be at the tip first thing in the morning, I put on my winter coat and hat and tossed my spring jacket into the back seat of the car. We were out the door reasonably early – but not early enough to see the Laughing Gull that was found at the tip by the first group of birders arriving in the park. After checking out the sightings board at the Visitor Center to find out where the birds were being seen, we headed outside to wait for the tram. A White-crowned Sparrow hopping along the ground was a year bird for me, and we were entertained by two male Orchard Orioles chasing each other in one of the trees next to the tram stop. The Orchard Oriole was a life bird for Deb; we don’t have them in Ottawa, though I wish we did!
The weather has warmed up over the past week and the migrants have been pouring in. Since my last blog post on April 21st I’ve added nine new species to my year list, and seen my first butterflies and amphibians of the year.
I spent two lunch hours at Hurdman last week, and found some amazing birds each time. On Monday, a couple of American Tree Sparrows were feeding in the grass near the entrance to the woods; these are the first ones I’ve seen there this year, and were probably just stopping in on their way north to their breeding grounds. Also new for the year were a pair of Hooded Mergansers sleeping in a quiet bay along the river and at least three Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing energetically. In the woods, several Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were singing as they foraged in the leaf litter.
Although the snow has been melting rapidly over the past couple of weeks, the temperature has still been below seasonal and it seems as though we’ve been poised on the threshold of spring for some time now. Winter has been slow to leave, migration has been slow to get under way, and I’ve still needed my winter coat and hat for the mornings when it has only been 0°C.
Despite the winter storm today that has coated everything with a new layer of ice and snow, the past week has given me hope that we have finally turned the corner. American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles have been back in large numbers for a couple of weeks now, and I see many of each species on my 1.2 km walk to the bus stop each morning. Since April 4th I’ve managed to add five new species to my year list: Song Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Fox Sparrow.
The next morning was mostly sunny and clear, so Doran and I decided to take the Jasper Tramway up to the top of Whistler’s Mountain. The Jasper Tramway is the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada and takes visitors from an altitude of 1304 metres (4279 ft) above sea level to 2277 metres (7472 ft) above sea level in about seven minutes. On a clear day a 360° view of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca river, the Jasper town-site, and Mount Robson in nearby British Columbia is possible. It costs $30.95 per adult, or $35.00 with breakfast included, so we paid the extra money to have breakfast at the Treeline Restaurant in the upper station.
After our trip to Hinton we spent a quiet afternoon at our cabin. I spent an hour or so trying to identify the bugs I photographed in Hinton but wasn’t making much progress, so I decided to walk around the Pine Bungalows property to see if I could get some better photos of the Mountain Chickadees. However, when I heard a couple of Black-billed Magpies calling from somewhere nearby, I went looking for these birds instead as they are not as common in Jasper as they are in Sherwood Park. I knew they had been hanging out somewhere along the road beyond the laundry, and it didn’t take me long to find four of them, perhaps a family group, foraging on the ground beneath the trees.
Later in the afternoon Doran and I visited the Maligne Canyon, said to be one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies. This gorge is about 1.2 km long and 55 metres at its deepest point, with the glacier-fed Maligne River running through it. The water of the Maligne River is a unique green colour, which is caused by an abundance of fine clay particles and rock powder suspended in the water. Although some photos I’ve seen show the river as a clear, emerald green colour, the water was a frothy, milky green when we visited.
We started our hike at the parking lot near the Fifth Bridge. A total of six bridges cross the river along the trail, allowing hikers to look directly down into the gorge. The sixth bridge is downriver, while the other four bridges are all upstream. The trail starts on the other side of the suspension bridge, which swayed a bit as we crossed it.
After leaving Astotin Lake, April and I drove over to the Amisk Wuche Trail. We chose this one as it is only 2.5 km long and has a diversity of habitats, including floating boardwalks crossing small beaver ponds, and aspen, birch and spruce stands. Amisk Wuche is the Cree Indian name for Beaver Hills.
We had barely gotten out of the car when I spotted a large blue darner flying about the parking lot. He was circling the area between the car and the washrooms quite low to the ground, apparently hunting bluets. At one point I thought he was going to land on the roof of the rest room building, but instead he attempted to perch on a blade of grass. Darners perch by hanging vertically from a twig or other vertical surface; he was so heavy he caused the blade of grass to bend.
The following day Chris, Bob, Mike and I met up again to go dragon-hunting at Petrie Island. We had two goals: Unicorn Clubtail, a species first discovered in the Ottawa area last year by yours truly (at Petrie Island); and Hackberry Emperor, a beautiful butterfly which is rare in our area and is only found near stands of mature Hackberry trees. It was hot, and at first our quest for dragons was unproductive. We found a few Eastern Forktails and a couple of Swamp Spreadwings at the edges of the marsh, but the large number of Blue Dashers, Common Pondhawks, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, and Slaty Skimmers I remembered from previous outings were missing.
On June 16th I visited Petrie Island to look for birds and bugs. While the birds were my primary focus this outing, I was curious as to whether any Blue Dashers were present. I was hoping that last year’s colony had successfully reproduced, and given that my Algonquin field guide indicates they fly in June, this seemed as good a time as any to check.
On Sunday Deb and I met up to do some west end birding. It was supposed to be a gorgeous sunny day, but when I got up I was dismayed to see gray clouds overhead and a thick fog obscuring my neighbourhood. If the sun was shining above, I sure couldn’t see it! Still, I met Deb in our usual spot and was encouraged to hear that the sun was shining in the east end where she lives. We discussed our route for the morning, and as I loaded my gear into her car I noticed that one of the gulls in the parking lot was much bigger than the others. It was a Herring Gull, a sub-adult from the plumage; I snapped a few pictures, but as it was standing alone I wasn’t able to include any of the Ring-billed Gulls for size comparison.