Kalyna Country offers birdwatchers and naturalists many excellent opportunities to view a wide variety of birds in every season. A serious birdwatcher might easily see 200 different species over the span of a year. Of course, it helps to know where the best viewing areas can be found, or to be accompanied by a knowledgeable, local guide.
The best-known birdwatching sites in Kalyna Country are Elk Island National Park, and world-famous Beaverhill Lake. Other locations include the Whitford Lake Nature Complex, the North Saskatchewan River, and the myriad natural areas scattered throughout Kalyna Country. Ponds and marshes along rural highways are also great places to stop and see birds, as are the ditches, thickets and wetlands found beside country roads.
During the last week of April, the Snow Goose Festival in Tofield provides residents and visitors alike with an ideal occasion to see thousands of geese and swans on Beaverhill Lake. Designated as a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR site), and part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, the lake is also home to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, the first in Western Canada.
The best time for birding in Kalyna Country is during the spring and fall migrations. After our long, northern winter, there is nothing more inspiring than to step outside and hear the honking of Canada Geese, or the distinctive call of Sandhill Cranes as they fly overhead. Sometimes the geese will arrive before the ice on the ponds has fully melted, and it can be quite entertaining to see them land and glide across the ice. In the last week of March you can start watching for the brilliant, blue flashes of Mountain Bluebirds as they flit and dart about in search of the nesting boxes put out by local landowners. Often they have to yield the boxes to impertinent Tree Swallows, who aggressively lay claim to available shelters.
April and May are perfect times to enjoy Kalyna Country’s songbirds. These include the White-throated Sparrow (whose call sounds like “0 Canada, Canada, Canada”), the cocky American Robin, the noisy House Wren, the Yellow Warbler, the Red-eyed Vireo, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler. The latter are affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts”. Cackling Red-necked Grebes like to serenade canoeists on Astotin Lake at Elk Island National Park. Red-winged Blackbirds are a common sight in marshes, where bright Yellow-headed Blackbirds lurk amid the bullrushes. And audacious Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (members of the woodpecker family) typically announce their presence by constantly drumming on buildings and trees in the early morning hours.
If you are lucky, you might hear a Ruffed Grouse performing a mating ritual, the sound of which resembles someone trying to start an engine without much success. Red-tailed and Swainson hawks can be found in old snags, or majestically soaring on thermals. Occasionally, rare or uncommon birds visit Kalyna Country, usually after they have been blown off course by a severe storm. Sightings have included an Eastern Bluebird near Redwater, a Northern Mockingbird outside of Josephburg, and a Pacific Loon at Elk Island National Park.
Winter can be an equally rewarding time for observing birds, especially those that congregate around feeders. Among these hardy Kalynians you will find Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches. Adding colour to the snowy landscape are bright, yellow and black Evening Grosbeaks, rose-hued Pine Grosbeaks, red-capped Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, as well as large Pileated Woodpeckers. (The latter being the raucous model for the cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker.)
On a midwinter’s drive you might encounter a Snowy Owl on a fencepost, or a flock of silvery Snow Buntings dipping and gliding. Mallards and golden-eye can be found throughout the cold season on open spots on the North Saskatchewan River, while the common Black-billed Magpie can be seen anywhere at any time. Bohemian Waxwings are handsome winter birds that like to feed on local berries, and flocks of them have been observed stripping Kalyna bushes and Mountain Ash trees, seemingly intoxicated by the ripe fruit.
All that it takes to enjoy birdwatching in Kalyna Country is a sense of adventure, a pair of binoculars, appropriate clothing, and a good guide book as well as a notebook to record your sightings. Whether it is seeing a flock of American Pelicans feeding, or a lone Trumpeter Swan swimming quietly on a lake, birdwatching is a relaxing and fascinating way to experience the charm and unique beauty of Kalyna Country.
By Bob and Jan Carroll