Encouraging the appreciation, observation, study, conservation and protection of all components of the natural world.

Report on the 2017 Grassland Tour

by Nature Calgary in Nature Calgary.

By Bob Parsons

Another very enthusiastic Grassland Tour again this year. There was great attendance at both counts with the customary representation from Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Edmonton, Red Deer, Raymond and of course Calgary. Many seasoned counters returned again this year but there were also a few “newbie” participants who played a great team spirit role! Many thanks must go to our returning sponsor TransCanada Pipelines – we could not do this event without your terrific support.

Brooks/Lake Newall – May Species Count (May 20 and 21)

Tillebrook PP was again count HQ and we enjoyed the hospitality of the Brooks Royal Canadian Legion for our usual evening get together. We had over 30 participants again this year and the customary ten zones. As usual, the zones were well scouted out prior to the long weekend and most roads were in very good shape with dry weather leading up to the weekend. Last year some areas were not accessible – Kinivie Marsh, Circle E, Tide Lake West and the Medicine Wheel Project west of Bow City. No such problems this year and a final bird tally of 156 was just below the average figure for this count. Weather conditions were good overall and we did not experience any rain or excessive winds. Many oilfield sites were well maintained, access to them was good and I managed to find a few uncommon butterfly species in the native prairie grasslands.

Most of the reservoirs were well topped up but there were a few sloughs that were dried out and so we had to search hard for the “peeps” and especially the ever expanding range of Black-necked Stilts. Eared Grebes were hard to find this year due to the poor slough conditions and it was the same story down in Milk River the week after Brooks. Varying water conditions, lack of suitable habitat play an important role in the final numbers I guess.

Highlights include the first recorded Cackling Goose, a lone Trumpeter Swan, 3 Burrowing Owls, 86 Western Grebes, 7 Grasshopper Sparrows, 203 Red Knots. Low numbers included McCowans Longspurs (too early?), Ring-necked Pheasant, Whimbrel (2) and quite a few warbler species. Missing species included Prairie Falcon, Pectoral Sandpiper, Towhee, Scooters and Black-capped Chickadee! Zone 8 around Rolling Hills again was the top zone (100) and the local golf course there had a nice varied selection of fruit pies!

So all-in-all a very good count and all enjoyed the various stories told. The social aspect of this count is very special and I have to thank Donna Wieckowski who made me feel very comfortable in the new fifth-wheel they had just purchased. Nice wines flowed, great BBQing and as usual Arthur was up early and ready to beat his Shoveler count from previous years! Not saying that I rigged the zones but I again managed to have the highest total. See you all there in 2018. Final results will be posted on the various club websites.

Milk River/Writing On Stone – May Species Count (May 27 and 28)

Another great count right on the Montana border with great views of the Sweetgrass Mountains. I love this count and would not miss it for the world! 11 participants and close to 130 species again this year which is average for this annual count. Varying habitats include coulees, native grasslands, protected natural areas, sagebrush areas,  large lakes, sloughs, well maintained woodlots/acreages. Various Hutterite colonies and big corporate farming companies have transformed the landscape..so just keep driving to the next  count area ahead..recording Vesper Sparrows, Horned Larks along the way!

Weather conditions were good, roads in great shape but some wetland areas dried out. Coulees in great shape and Pakowki Lake water level very high which is not always a good thing..lack of suitable nesting habitat. Ken Orich from Lethbridge again did an amazing scout for us as well as counting the various coulees (Crow Indian, Etzicom etc) as well as the wetland area close to the Hutterite colony just to the west of Pakowki. Highlight here was the first ever recorded Glossy Ibis in our western area. Ken kept us well-informed with text messages whilst his good friend Earle Couvert did a fine job counting around Coutts and the Milk River townsite. I do not think Earle needs a map, seem to know his way around so well.

As usual, I counted the Verdigris, Bonapartes Lake area in the north west section.  A keen westerly wind did not hamper my efforts and at the later lake I counted high numbers of Avocet, Sanderling and Marbled Godwit/Willet. Some peeps were spotted but too far away even with my scope. Love those sand bars and mudflats! This area is also good for Canvasback, Redhead and Ring-billed Duck. Whilst in the area, I came across an abandoned oilfield area which I thought was a disgrace so on return to Edmonton I called various govt. agencies and found the right person to talk too. I await developments eagerly.

Highlights include the Ibis as well as 2 Semi-palm Plovers, 10 Eagles, 9 Towhee, 1304 Sanderling, 61 N Harrier (a record), 3 Yellow-breasted Chats. Low numbers included Ruddy Duck, Eared Grebe, Coot, Stilt Sandpiper, Marsh Wren. Missing species include Bitterne, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe and a few others as a result of the varying water levels.

On the Sunday, I made my way across country to Pakowki Lake in search of the elusive Song Sparrow. Missed out this year, Arthur told me he heard/saw 3! I did see good numbers of Ferruginous Hawks however..seems like they had a good breeding season this year by all accounts. Every year I visit one of the local Hutterite colonies, meeting up with Joe who likes my present of a  bottle of red wine wrapped in a newspaper. My arrival in a dirty dusty 4×4 always creates a lot of interest and it is a fun 30 minutes..never seem to leave without some sausage!

Thanks again to TransCanada Pipelines and all of the keen participants. See you all in 2018!

Bob Parsons

October 2017