I encourage my son’s innate love of nature by getting out into it as much as possible. Now that he’s a little older, we’ve graduated from the backyard bird feeder and local duck pond. Happily for us, Alberta is heaven for birdwatchers as it’s the only location in North America where prairie, boreal forest and mountain ecosystems coexist. Which means opportunities to see more than 400 species of indigenous and migratory birds.
Our recent wild bird adventures have grown my son’s respect for nature, shown him the meaning of conservation and have been a whole lot of feathery fun.
Nestle in at the Nest
About two and a half hours northwest of Edmonton in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, you’ll find the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation and Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory. The location is magical for both researchers and recreational birders alike because of the 100+ migratory species that fly over it in order to avoid crossing the expansive lake and tall ridge of nearby Marten Mountain. You can camp at Marten River Campground, but we decided to nestle in at the cozy onsite hostel aptly named The Nest. We played around in the centre, hiked in the forest and kicked back with some visiting researchers on hostel’s big forest-side deck for a colourful sunset and a chorus of a thousand wild bird songs. Visit during the observatory’s Songbird Festival in June for observatory tours, guided hikes, kid’s activities and a yummy pancake breakfast.
Start with the Basics
As we wandered the riverside walking trail at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in southeast Calgary, we heard the tap-tap-tappa of a woodpecker, got a great photo of a yellow-beaked pelican and stopped to marvel at the deep blue and white pattern of the harlequin ducks on the river. It was a great place for us new birders to start our lists, but with more than 270 species sighted to date, even veteran birders are likely to spot a lifer.
Meet a Prairie Falcon Face to Face
At the Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, just east of Lethbridge, we fed the ducks, got our picture taken with a specially trained owl – super cool souvenir – and watched a lightning fast falcon swoop right over our heads. Meet the resident turkey vulture and find out what movie he starred in. Get up close to golden and bald eagles and all kinds of owls – burrowing, barn and snowy. Learn their stories of rescue and rehabilitation.
While exploring the winding bluebird trail and beautiful gardens at the Ellis Bird Farm, we spotted mountain bluebirds, tree swallows, hummingbirds and even the farm’s resident great horned owls, Ellie, Wilma and Windy, hanging out by the beaver pond. The picturesque working farm and conservation site in Lacombe, near Red Deer, also has the most amazing little Tea House. Homemade soups, fresh garden salads with handmade dressing and decadent desserts had me singing like a songbird.