One of Fort McMurray's gems definitely has to be the Birchwood Trail system. Tucked away in a valley between Thickwood and Timberlea, it is a large area that fortunately escaped the destruction that other areas suffered from last year's wildfire. I recall hearing rumours during the evacuation that the fire had entered this area, (which likely would have led to even more devastation to the west side of the river) and also a profound sense of relief when I found out definitively that the area had been saved. I remain forever grateful to those who fought to keep the Beast out of this treasured area. The area is used by the local ski club during the winter months as well as by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and the odd birder like myself. It is part of the fabric that makes up Fort McMurray.
Because it emerged pretty much unscathed, it seems to have become a magnet for birds, or at least it seems so very much to me. I'm not sure if it's solely due to the fire or my improving identification skills and familiarity with the area (perhaps its a bit of both) but I have been noticing a lot more bird life here than in past years. I've certainly been spending more time here so far this year. And my new camera is light year's ahead of what I used to use.
Here is just a small peak of what I saw on a recent outing a couple days ago. I noted 17 species in total over the course of a couple hours. By way of comparison, 17 species is also the highest number I saw at any single birding location during my recent trip to Banff.
White-throated Sparrow. My first sighting here was actually in my backyard the year I bought the house.....and then I didn't see them again for three or four years. Needless to say, I'm delighted to have them back on my year list. And I am seeing a lot of them and not just in the Birchwood Trails. On the rare occasion when they did make a bird list it was just one or two specimens but recently that figure has been more like five of six. They tend to stay well-hidden on the forest floor and move fast but I finally got lucky with this little guy.
Like the white-throat, the Gray Jay is another one don't see as often as I'd like. I saw a grand total of one all of last year and that was outside of Fort McMurray but so far this year luck seems to be on my side. I literally rounded a bend in the trail and this fellow was right in front of my eyes. I was really paranoid that he might take off on me before I was ready but I managed to get within about a dozen feet and he didn't seem to mind my presence at all......much to my benefit.
Northern Flicker. Admittedly, this isn't the greatest shot but I had to move quickly. I saw a LOT of them when I was down in Lethbridge this spring. They were on almost every bird list I did and I've become quite adept at identifying them by their call.
Blue Jay. Normally I get one or two in my backyard over the course of the winter. Many a morning coffee was interrupted due to "arguments" between a Jay and a squirrel. It was nice to see a handful of Blue Jays on this particular morning in a location other than just my backyard.