In the early morning hours of August 4, 2018, eleven travelers from Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama Huntsville boarded a van for Nashville on the first leg of 9-day trip to the Canadian Rockies. In the group were three travelers interested in birds, Jane McBride, Harriett Somerville (author), and Bill McAllister, the dedicated birder among us. After a night in Vancouver and a brief tour of Stanley Park, we boarded the train for the overnight trip to Jasper in the Jasper National Park. Along with beautiful scenes of small towns, fields, and the Fraser and Thompson River Canyons, the route provided numerous sightings of eagles in flight, in trees and at least one below a nest.
The first stop in the Jasper National Park was Pyramid Lake with an island accessible across a footbridge. There perched on a branch was a Canada Jay, a life bird for me. Originally known as the Canada Jay dating from the 1800s, the bird was officially designated the Gray Jay in 1957. The name change back to the Canada Jay was announced by the American Ornithological Society in the July supplement of The Auk. Several people on the tour also saw a woodpecker missed by us. All of us, however, were treated to (almost too close) views of elk, when most of the nursery group of cows and calves chose to take the footbridge in lieu of swimming as a ranger chased them off the island. A trip to Maligne Lake added mergansers, loons and immature cowbirds to the list. We also were treated to more elk, black bears eating berries and bighorn ewes and yearlings grazing along the Icefields Parkway. No recount of the trip would be complete without noting the flowers everywhere.
At Lake Louise I managed to wake up in time for a birding walk at dawn and spotted Steller’s Jays, another life bird. Overall this was the best birding with views of magpies, loons, robins, sparrows and a warbler in addition to Steller’s Jays.
At Banff in the Banff National Park most of our time was free to explore the town and shop. The last full day of the trip included lunch and a tour complete with bison cows and calves, horses and blackbirds at the Boundary Ranch, and a stop at the Calgary Olympic Park, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics. In late afternoon we arrived at our Calgary hotel for the final night of food and fellowship before boarding the flight home.
The combined bird list for the trip includes: Common Loon, Mallard, Rock Dove, Spotted Sandpiper, Woodpecker sp., Barn Swallow, Violet Green Swallow, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Warbler sp., Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Thrush sp. (probably Swainson’s), White-crowned Sparrow, Sparrow sp. (immatures), European Starling, Slate-colored Junco (immature), Common Merganser, Brown-headed Cowbird (immature), Red-winged Blackbird. We had expected to see more birds. Bill, who often used the free time to search for birds, provided the longest list.