A flock of sandhill cranes during fall migration

A flock of sandhill cranes during fall migration

Fall in the birdtastic Beaver Hills

Fall is the perfect time to go birding in Alberta's Beaver Hills
Yellow-rumped warbler amid a golden aspen in fall

Yellow-rumped warbler amid a golden aspen in fall

One of the great things about birding is it’s a fun, challenging and rewarding activity in any season — and fall is no exception.

Fall offers a great chance to add to a person’s year or life list (records that birders keep of the species they have seen). Particularly earlier in the season, many species are migrating from their breeding grounds in the north to their overwintering habitat in the south. By birding in the fall, there is a brief chance to see species that might much of their time each year far away.

But fall birding presents some challenges, too. Rather than being in their breeding plumage, many birds at this time of year have already moulted into their non-breeding plumage. Birds such as ducks are now quite drab, and can only be identified by more subtle field marks (characteristics used to identify the species, sex or age of a bird). Others, such as some warblers, might still boast some colour, but will look considerably different than they did earlier in the year or on their way to their breeding grounds.

There are many places to go birding in the fall in Alberta. But one place that is hard to beat is the Beaver Hills in the Capital Conservation Region. Located east of Edmonton, Beaver Hills features a mosaic of forests, grasslands and wetlands — habitat adored by many species of birds, resident and migrant alike. It’s simply a birdtastic place.

There are many conservation sites to explore in the region, including several managed wholly or in-part by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). For information about how to access these places visit Connect2Nature.ca.

There are many routes a birder could take to visit different hotspots in the region, but here is a suggested itinerary for a day of fall birding in the Beaver Hills region:

Golden sunrise at Golden Ranches

The first stop on the trip is Golden Ranches, a property located on the shore of Cooking Lake. As the sun starts to rise in the sky (the early birder catches the worm-eating robin), set up your spotting scope to check out what waterfowl might be found on the surface of the lake or what shorebirds are along its edge. According to eBird, the lake is a great place to find some straggling ruddy duck, eared grebe or American avocet before they are gone until next year.

On the watch for warblers

After watching the water, you might need to get moving to warm up a bit. With the sun higher in the sky into the morning, it’s the perfect time to start searching the forests at Golden Ranches for fall warblers and other migratory songbirds. These species are the true essence of fall birding — finding a mixed flock of warblers is an unforgettable thrill that can test even the most experienced birder’s abilities, as they are diverse and can be challenging to identify.

Take a gamble  

There is another NCC site nearby that does not require pre-booking and offers some excellent birding opportunities. The Gambling Lake property features a mix of open terrain and forests, offering some new habitats on the day. The wetlands and shrublands on the property may be an ideal spot to catch some rarer raptors, such as northern harrier, short-eared owl or even a rough-legged hawk newly arrived from the north.

A density of discoveries

These are just some of the options of places to explore in the Beaver Hills. Between other private conservation sites and public-protected areas, there are lots of places to search for birds. If you would like to help NCC protect this birding hot spot, consider lending your support to the Keep the Beaver Hills Wild campaign.

And if you’re wanting to thank your favourite feathered friends for a great season of birding, consider participating in the upcoming nest box cleanout event on September 29 at Gambling Lake.

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