Not long ago, our friend Brian Keating (head naturalist at GoingWild) – encouraged us to join him for a visit to an undisclosed forest in Calgary.
Our mission was to see if we could catch a glimpse of a young great horned owl that had just ventured out of its nest.
We weren’t sure what to expect given that we’re not exactly “avid” birders.
But if there’s anyone on the planet who has a gift for revealing the just-plain-awesomeness of nature, Keating’s your guy.
Watching this young owlet – head bobbing, baby feathers blowing in the wind and cartoonishly large eyes staring down at us – was sheer magic.
So as a nod to our newfound feathery friend, we thought we’d share Brian Keating’s top ten Canadian bird-watching destinations.
1. Point Pelee National Park, Ontario – This park hosts an incredible assortment of warblers from the Southern U.S., Central America, and South America. Warblers are very small and can be elusive, hiding high in the trees. But they are profoundly stunning avian jewels. (A good percentage of Canada’s birds are tropical. They come here because we produce good bugs!)
2. Churchill, Manitoba – Here’s a place where you can find cool Arctic birds like nesting Snow Buntings and the very rare Ivory Gull, a true ice specialist. Ivory Gulls are pure white and they have less webbing on their feet (than regular gulls) to reduce heat loss in cold climates. They have a special relationship with polar bears because polar bears leave behind dead things that they like to eat.
3. Southern Alberta – I recommend people go canoeing in a southern Alberta prairie river in the late spring. They should camp nearby, too, just so they can hear the outrageous dawn chorus of various migrating birds. This is exactly the time of year when a huge pulse of warblers comes through Western Canada. You’ll have lots of luck if you’re anywhere near a good, riparian (riverside) forest.
4. Winnipeg, Manitoba – The wetlands to the west of Winnipeg, especially during the fall, are a great place to witness endless flocks of ducks and other waterfowl. You can watch them land at sunset – descending into the marshland which is essentially a duck factory in this part of the world. Why? The wetlands feature potholes left behind from the last ice age which make perfect habitat ponds.
6. George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, B.C. – Here’s a refuge where you can get the best close-ups of some of Canada’s most impressive waterfowl – especially the perfectly beautiful Wood Duck which look as though it’s been painted. The last time I was visiting, I watched a big black mink hunt for duck eggs in the grass.
7. Southern Okanagan Valley, B.C. – Here’s where you can find the very best interior dry-land forest birds – including the Lewis’ Woodpecker and the Flammulated Owl, which is about the size of a Coke can. I’d recommend Vaseux Lake Provincial Park – it’s a birder’s paradise. It’s also home to the rarest snake in Canada – the Night Snake.
8. Creston Valley, B.C. – I started my naturalist career at the Creston Valley Wildlife Interpretation Centre. Book a marsh canoe ride at the centre and go looking for the elusive Sora Rail. (This where I met my wife, years ago. I was good with birds. She was good with wildflowers. So I made every effort to get her into the woods as often as I could…)
9. Ellesmere Island, Nunavut – This is an ideal spot for those of you who want to step out into Canada’s extreme north. Best time to go? Third week in July to mid-August. Organize a kayak trip on the island’s east coast and get ready for some outstanding oceanic and land birding. There’s a remarkable assortment of birds who live on the edge – such as Rock Ptarmigan, Red Knot and Gyrfalcon.
10. Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario – Five major habitat types are found within this park. Broadleafed trees support a host of food sources for a host of different birds. There’s Ruffed Grouse, Piliated Woodpeckers and warblers. The wolves are howling. There are lots of moose. And there’s nothing like hearing a loon’s call echo across a lake. It just doesn’t get more Canadian than that.