Long-time birder and ASCCA volunteer Chris Mills shares his experiences
Chris Mills has been volunteering with the ASCCA since 2015. He is part of a dedicated group of volunteers with the knowledge and experience required to hike off-trail to do a detailed nature survey of the area’s wildlife. Chris is passionate about birding and has written the following account of what he’s experienced birding on the ASCCA.
I was sitting just below the Fescue Trail hoping that the volunteers with whom I was hiking would decide to come back down the hill and save me having to climb up to join them. It was spring and down below me there was a pair of bluebirds scouting out nest boxes.
Across the coulee, a Northern Harrier was coursing along the fence line hoping for a foolish vole to show himself. I was thinking that the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area really is a great place to bird. Apart from being a fine example of the Foothills region of Alberta, uncluttered with acreages and noisy mechanical devices, it embraces some very different ecosystems that harbour a range of bird species.
The ASCCA’s fescue grassland is perfect habitat for Savannah and Clay-Coloured Sparrows and even the occasional Vesper. Fencing through the area has been decorated with birdhouses. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows compete for the most desirable spots. As I have already mentioned, the Northern Harrier loves hunting for voles along grassy slopes using updrafts to save unnecessary flapping.
From up above, you can see Red-Tailed Hawks and ravens and even the occasional eagle. If you are lucky you may catch sight of a Great Grey Owl sitting like a statue up in a spruce tree. The ASCCA is sparrow country with song, Lincoln, White Throated and White Crowned all contributing to a cacophony of song. There are wrens and chickadees in the willow bushes and back in the trees are warblers and flycatchers.
In spring if you are lucky you will see the mating flight of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird above the willows along the creek. As you move up the hill away from the valley you get into dry aspen woodland. Many of the birds along the valley will spend time in the aspen but you will also see some species that prefer the drier areas. Orioles and Red Breasted Grosbeaks flit in the upper branches. In the early morning you may hear the haunting song of a Swainson’s Thrush along with the drumbeat of an amorous Ruffed Grouse.
Back in 2016 the aspen forests suffered an outbreak of tortrix moth caterpillars and for weeks the aspen woodlands were full of insect eating birds – wrens, orioles, grosbeaks and flycatchers. The last ecosystem is the wetlands of which the ASCCA has a limited amount, however it is increasing as beavers have been reintroduced to the area. The area includes the headwaters of Pine Creek and has a lot of wet wooded valleys with habitat that varies from mixed meadows right through to groves of old spruce. Its wetlands hold a range of ducks including Mallard, Green Winged, Blue Winged and even the occasional Cinnamon Teal. Waders are moving back onto the ASCCA as the wetlands grow including snipes, sora, sandpipers and others.
When you have a spare hour, grab your binoculars and your hiking boots and come out and enjoy the birds of the ASCCA. The best way to enjoy birding is to find a spot with reasonable vision and just sit and look and listen.