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  • Kevin
    Jan 1, 2012
      I spent New Year's Eve at the Crossing in Grasslands National Park so my last bird/mammal sightings of 2011 were magpie in Val Maire and a beautiful coyote sauntering across a meadow not far from the Crossing. BTW at least half the snow that was on the ground at the CBC only last week is gone. All next week is +4-5 so I suspect much more to follow. Even more open water on the river.

      I went out at 11:30 pm into the park by the Crossings just to physically be in the park as the year turned and I was hoping to hear a Great Horned Owl that had been around - one breeds usually in the trees at the Crossing. Nada. Frigging cold though. Temperature wasn't bad but the wind was high.

      So this morning I slept in a bit, watched the sunrise on a completely windless day, said my goodbyes and heading off into the park. I drove 15 minute or more, albeit a little slow before I saw my first bird: A male snowy owl on a power pole. 15 poles down the highway was a Golden Eagle. I only saw 9 bird species today in the park and on the way home. In order:

      Snowy Owl - 5 in total
      Golden Eagle - 1
      House Sparrows - 50-100 in total
      Snow Bunting - 1 for most of the day but then 20-30 near end of day
      Magpie - 10-12 in total
      Ring necked Pheasant - 2 males
      Northern Shrike - 3. One in Frenchman's Valley near where you park to walk into the hibernaculum; one on the paved road back to Val Marie and one in Cadillac's Cemetary
      Merlin - on just on edge of park
      Redpoll - about 25

      I have another bird whose call was fairly distinct but I've forgot to check to see if I can id it from call.

      Interesting that in the whole day I never saw one pigeon or raven although on the way down on the 31st I saw lots of both. But by the time I got back to Swift Current it was almost dark. Darted into the Research Centre but too dark then hoped I might see if there were any Collared Doves on Railway but didn't see any there. Also interesting that on the CBC last week I saw over 40 sharp tailed grouse but none today. I think it shows the value of snow cover for seeing galinaceous birds.

      Saw 7 mammal species today but not sure which one I should call my first sighting. Here's why...

      First mammal I saw were some of the bison. The first time I've seen bison in the park. But I personally wouldn't count then as they are corralled and managed in the park. If I can count them then could I count self-producing herds of zebras on large ranches in Texas?

      Then I went for a 2 hour walk across the main prairie dog town hoping for recent black footed ferret tracks/tunneling. Heard lots of coyotes at one time so I guess that should be my first mammal. Didn't see any for about 15 minutes and then saw about 10 more throughout the day.

      However as the coyotes were calling, a prairie dog came out of a burrow. I know they can be active in winter even though they normally aren't. And the parks folks saw fresh tracks on the CBC. So this should be the first mammal I actually saw.

      However when I got home tonight I downloaded some photos I took including some of the valley below the Crossing as the sunlight spread across it. In looking at my photos I see in one there are 2 mule deer that I didn't notice. Since I took the photo and they were in it then I guess technically I saw mule deer first even if I didn't realize it. :-) I did see many mule deer over the course of the day.

      Also saw a badger in a field about half way between Cadillac and Swift Current and then some white tailed deer in the Research Centre. Finally a Jack Rabbit in Moose Jaw when I stopped at Tim's for a coffee on the way home.

      So while numbers weren't high I'm glad I started the year off with the snowy owl since I missed them throughout the entire winter of 2011 and only added them to my 2011 list in Oct. Same with the Northern Shrike which I only added to my 2011 list during the Saskatoon CBC. The Golden eagle was a great bird to see as well this time of year. Glad I saw the badger although I'm finding they are not as difficult to see as I remember them to be - maybe I'm just getting out more. The Prairie Dog was an odd sighting but I'll see 1000's before the year is through.

      Kevin in Lumsden
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