Let’s Go Birding in Drayton Valley

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Trending and Good for your Health!

Birding, the act of observing birds in their natural habitats, has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years. Birding is guaranteed to get you outside so you can build connections to the natural world. Birding involves walking and that’s good too!

Perhaps you picture the typical birder as a middle aged man, dressed in khaki, sporting a great big zoom lens and binoculars dangling around his neck and you think, “Ya, right, birding is for old folks.” You may be surprised to know that the birding scene has morphed into a global trend for all age groups, abilities and cultures across the planet. One in five Canadians now lists birding as one of their outdoor pastimes. Birding can be as intense or laid back as the birder. There are those birders who are obsessed with keeping bird lists and going on birding vacations, while other birders are content to watch the birds at their backyard feeders. One thing all birders have in common is a love of nature and the outdoors!

How do I Start?

Start in your own backyard or neighbourhood – get a good bird field guide for your area to help you identify and learn about the birds you might find there. Dress for the outdoors, with appropriate footwear and clothing, bring a snack and a thermos of tea or a bottle of water and make a day of it. Borrow or buy a decent pair of binoculars (may we suggest 8×42 magnification). Bring a note book to record your sightings. If you find that you’re really enjoying it, you may wish to use a birding app and I highly recommend the eBird app, which is used by over 700,000 birders world wide. The eBird app has good instructions on birding etiquette and details on how to record your sightings. If you want a good bird i.d. app, try Merlin Bird ID app.

Location, Location, Location.

Drayton Valley is perched above the North Saskatchewan River and boasts around 150 species of birds during the spring to fall seasons. Our two provincial parks (Eagle Point Provincial Park and Blue Rapids Provincial Recreation Area), in addition to crown land west of Drayton Valley, provide plenty of mature mixed woodlands and a forest covered river valley. That equals great habitat for resident woodland species such as Blue Jays, Canada Jays, owls, various woodpecker species and Black Capped Chickadees. The small farms and acreages surrounding the community create welcoming open habitat for migrating warblers, swallows, sparrows, hawks and falcons.

Birding Etiquette

Before we give away our favourite birding spots, we want to remind birders to practice good birding etiquette. Be respectful of the birds you observe and do not approach them, chase them, harass them or lure them with food. Remember to pack out your trash. If you photograph birds, never share the exact location on social media.

Now Let’s Go Birding!

If you only have time to explore Drayton Valley townsite trails, I recommend the trails by Lions West Valley Park, where it is common to see Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings and nesting Black Billed Magpies in spring and early summer. From Lions West Valley Park, you can continue on the paved trails to Ivan-To ponds and you may spot Solitary Sandpipers, Green Winged Teals, Mallards, Canada Geese and other waterfowl.

Solitary Sandpiper at Ivan-To Park, Drayton Valley

Just east of town, you can go birding on the Rotary-Pembina Nordic Trails next to the cemetery for good spring birding (May) to hunt for Black and White Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Least Flycatchers, Chipping Sparrows, Nuthatches (both Red-Breasted and White-Breasted) and many others.

Least Flycatcher, by KRSchwengler

Kick it up a notch at Hilltop Trail Map in spring for Warbling Vireos, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, White Throated Sparrows, Red-Eyed Vireos and Western Tanagers. From Hilltop Trails, you can continue down to the river via Hillside Trails (expect some steeper sections here) and walk to Willey West Campground’s boat launch to see nesting Peregrine Falcons and Bank Swallows on the cliffs across the river. This is also a good place to spot Bald Eagles soaring above the river. If you stay at the boat launch long enough, you may be lucky enough to see a Peregrine take down a gull in flight! While at Willey West, take the Nature Trail near the main gate to the Troll’s bridge to look for the several resident (year round) woodpecker species that nest and forage here, including Downy, Hairy, Pileated and Black Backed Woodpeckers.

Pileated woodpeckers can be found on the trails at Lions West Valley Park and on Willey West Campground’s trails.

The Pembina Nordic Ski Trails, north of Drayton Valley, are known for Rose Breasted Grosbeak and American Redstart sightings in spring and summer, as well as Cedar Waxwings and Three Toed Woodpeckers.

From Drayton Valley, you can do a short road trip to the Brazeau Reservoir. This area is listed as a “HotSpot” on eBird – 121 species have been sighted here at various times of the year including rare sightings like the Red-Throated Loon and Pacific Loon. Brazeau Reservoir is a good place to spot Common Loons, Belted Kingfishers, several species of grebes, ducks, Canada Geese and Osprey. On your way back to Drayton Valley, explore the lease roads around the hamlet of Lodgepole where you may spot a spruce grouse or a barred owl.

If you’re interested in hawks, I recommend heading from Drayton Valley to Buck Creek along RR 71. Several hawk species have been spotted where farmland meets the pavement in this area, including the Red Tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier.

Continue on from Buck Creek to Buck Lake Provincial Recreation Area to discover more waterfowl, including Tundra and Trumpeter swans who visit in April on their way north. Buck Lake is a good place to see Barn Swallows,Tree Swallows, Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Osprey, American White Pelicans and even rare sightings like Turkey Vultures!

American White Pelicans and Ring Billed Gulls near the shore at Buck Lake Prov. Rec. Area. Photo by KRSchwengler

We hope we’ve inspired you to take up this fulfilling and fun outdoor hobby! Be warned that it is addictive!

If you have questions about birding or would like to try birding with Eagle Point staff, email Kathy at outreach@epbparkscouncil.org.

Happy Birding from the staff at Eagle Point-Blue Rapids Parks Council!