TRIP REPORT – SASKATOON CUSTOM BIRD TOURS: CYPRESS HILLS – GRASSLANDS BIRDING TOUR
JUNE 12 – 17, 2022
CYPRESS HILLS TRIP REPORT
TOTAL: 130 Species
Leader: Stan Shadick
Participants: Terry McIntyre, Eleanor Zurbrigg, Avron Kulak, Terri Kulak
Day 1: Saskatoon – Maple Creek
We made our first stop at a prairie slough SW of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan which had a rich variety of waterfowl and other water birds. Our 38 species here included Canada Geese, 11 duck species, Pied-billed, Horned and Eared Grebes, Sora, our first Upland Sandpiper, 3 Marbled Godwit, 3 Black-billed Magpies, 1 Marsh Wren our first Vesper and Savannah Sparrows plus 10 Yellow-headed Blackbirds and 2 singing Western Meadowlarks.
At another nearby slough, we heard our first Nelson’s Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat and watched a Loggerhead Shrike, which is classified as a threatened species in Canada. We also added a half-dozen Wilson’s Phalaropes swimming in the wetland.
A post lunch stop at Kindersley Regional Park added Warbling Vireo, Purple Martin, Cedar Waxwing, Clay-colored Sparrow and Baltimore Oriole.
Kindersley’s sewage ponds added a Snow Goose, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 15 Franklin’s and about 200 California Gulls.
After hearing a Yellow-breasted Chat at a ferry crossing over the South Saskatchewan River, we visited Saskatchewan’s famous Great Sand Hills. These spectacular open dunes are surrounded by rich grassland and shrub habitat. Here we watched 1 of 4 Common Nighthawks calling loudly from a low horizontal tree branch. Other new species for the trip included 2 Lark Sparrows and 4 Western Kingbirds.
During our late afternoon drive to Maple Creek, we added Long-billed Curlew, Ferruginous Hawks and a Gray Partridge. We also spotted a group of 3 Upland Sandpipers.
Day 2: Maple Creek – Consul
In the morning, several Eurasian Collared-Doves were calling from poles near our motel in Maple Creek.
We visited the ponds near Junction reservoir where we found about 100 Cliff Swallows, Swainson’s Hawk, Cinnamon Teal, 1 Bufflehead, 1 Black-crowned Night Heron, 1 American White Pelican, 6 Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Blue Heron.
Later while driving over extensive grasslands, we stopped to hear the song of a Sprague’s Pipit singing overhead.
Our first stop in the highway switchbacks leading into the west block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park found an unexpected Sharp-shinned Hawk plus Warbling Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Veery and American Robin.
At a second switchback, additional species included a rare Pileated Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewees, Least Flycatcher, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
During a brief walk near the entrance to Fort Walsh Historic Park, we heard the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse and found a singing White-crowned Sparrow.
During a 2 km walk past the fort to the nearby Battle Creek, we added a Bald Eagle, Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Violet-green Swallow, Hermit Thrush, Red Crossbill, Dark-eyed Junco and 2 Baltimore Orioles. A pair of Mountain Bluebirds were carrying nesting material to their nest within the fort.
Later in the afternoon, we walked to a special location where Canada’s only well-documented Cordilleran Flycatchers are known to breed. Other new bird species found here included Common Merganser, Dusky Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, MacGillivray’s Warbler. As we left the hills, we added a Turkey Vulture.
In the evening, a visit to a wetland near Consul added an unexpected Sandhill Crane plus a Black-necked Stilt.
Days 3 and 4. Consul – Cypress Hills Resort
A morning drive west of Consul added a close view of a Golden Eagle and a possible sighting of a rare Burrowing Owl.
As we approached the Alberta border, we found at least 6 Chestnut-collared Longspur and 2 Thick-billed Longspurs (formerly known as McCown’s Longspur).
As we drove north of Senate, we observed several Ferruginous Hawks.
We made 3 stops at the west, south and east sides of Cypress Lake where we found numerous Eared Grebes plus more ducks, Sora, godwits and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Other additions included Red-necked Grebe, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. An Osprey was a welcome addition at the lake’s recreation site. The courtship flight and songs of 2 male Bobolinks entertained us near the east dam of this lake.
Along the numerous hiking trails within Cypress Hills park, we found more Red-naped Sapsuckers, Dusky Flycatchers and Red Crossbills plus added a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Pine Siskin and couple of singing Swainson’s Thrushes.
Day 5 Cypress Hills – Val Marie
In the morning we hiked the scenic Highlands Nature Trail where we found 28 bird species including Ruffed Grouse, Wilson’s Snipe, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Flicker, Raven, chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Gray Catbird, 3 Veery, 1 Swainson’s Thrush, 2 Cedar Waxwings, 1 Pine Siskin, 5 goldfinch, 1 White-crowned and 4 Song Sparrows, 1 Baltimore Oriole, 3 Common Yellowthroat, 1 MacGillivray’s Warbler, 6 American Redstarts and 7 Yellow Warblers.
Later on the Whispering Pines Trail we observed a mating pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers.
After leaving the park, we observed 2 young Ferruginous Hawks at a nest on an artificial platform constructed by Nature Saskatchewan
Additional stops added great views of a Golden Eagle and a flyover of a rare Prairie Falcon. While stopped to view the falcon, we discovered an American Badger sunning itself at the entrance to its burrow.
The spectacular views of the Frenchman River valley from the top of Jones Peak are some of the most scenic locations in Canada. Here we added 2 Rock Wrens plus observed 2 pair of Mountain Bluebirds and couple of Tree Swallows.
Later in the afternoon, we stopped near the Shaunavon sewage lagoons where we had great views of 3 American Avocets and 3 Black-necked Stilts.
After checking in to our inn at Val Marie, we drove in to Grasslands National Park for the evening. Here we observed 1 Burrowing Owl, 1 Chestnut-collared Longspur and listened to the beautiful song of a Baird’s Sparrow singing in the grasslands. We also observed a Long-billed Curlew feeding at the edge of a Black-tailed Prairie Dog colony.
Day 6 Val Marie – Saskatoon
After exploring more of Grasslands National Park including Otter Basin in the morning we returned home with stops at Reed and Chaplin Lakes where Common Terns, Sanderlings and other shorebirds were observed.
For information about future Saskatoon Custom Bird Tours trips to Cypress Hills and Grasslands Park, visit https://livingskywildliferehabilitation.org/birding-tours/cypress-hills/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org