Up at 06:00 leave Guesthouse 71 bright sunny but 7C; soon warms up to 13C calm with lots of insects and first butterflies. Drive back to Elkwater to check the migrant trap again..
Leaving the Guesthouse a Mourning Dove perches in an old implement but a Wilson’s Snipeon a fence post in the morning sun is a real belter photo op. From the road down to Elkwater a male Northern Harrier hunting the road verge is in perfect light but the constraints of being on the wrong side of the car mean it gets away. A Bobolinkis on a fence line but the star bird is a Sharp-tailed Grouseon the road verge that allows us to drive past turn round and drive back to a photographable position. First bird at Elkwater Lake is a nice Merlin flashing by with the two Caspian Ternsand six White-winged Scoterstill present along with 20 Lesser Scaup, Common Loon and the drake Bufflehead. The Red-necked Grebes are on the lake and a Virginia Railcalls from the marsh. Two Ring-billed Gulls are the first of the trip and a Red-tailed Hawk soars over. The flock of Chipping and Clay-coloured Sparrows are still foraging in the grass and along the lake edge with Song Sparrow and Yellow Warbler on territory. Migrants include male Baltimore Oriole, 3+ Blackpoll Warblers including a singing male, 4 Cedar Waxwingswith a pair courtship feeding, Swainson’s Thrushand a confiding Veery, Warbling Vireo at least 10 Myrtle Warblers and a diminutive Least Chipmunk. We then drive out of the park and turn east along Highway 514 a site recommended in the local guide for Mountain Bluebirds. We soon find fence line nest boxes with attendant pairs of Tree Swallows then the first pair of Mountain Bluebirdsmy first since California in 1997. Eventually see at least 7 birds along with Savannah Sparrows, three Northern Harriers and a Red-shafted Flicker.
Avoiding the gas station cafe, we return to Medicine Hat for lunch at Rick’s All Day Grill. By afternoon its getting hotter at 23C. Set off for Lethbridge calling at another area of prairie west of Manyberries where we walk the conservancy grassland. En route pass a Loggerhead Shrikeon the wires along with a Western Kingbird, several Swainson’s Hawks and 10+ Northern Harriers. The conservancy grassland is rather disappointing but overhead somewhere is a singing Sprague’s Pipitmy 4thlifer. Either this or a second bird then comes down and does a neat fly-by before dropping into the grass with another bird singing in the distance. Several Vesper and savannah Sparrows are present and a nice Anise Swallowtail butterfly but its time to head off for the 2 hour drive to Lethbridge for overnight stay at Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites. Least recommended of our accommodations, clean and tidy but in a bit of dodgy area with a lot of druggies around though we walked down to the edge of town after dinner at Sisters Pub and Grill with no problems. The overlook over the valley at the end of the road produced a Swainson’s hawk along with two notable trip ticks, Collared Dove and Grey Partridge!
Some of the first butterflies, Anise Swallowtail and Clouded Sulphur; Baltimore Oriole gleaning insects along the boardwalk, Blackpoll Warbler male and female, Caspian tern and Cedar Waxwings, Clay-coloured Sparrow, Common Grackle and Least Chipmunk; Highway 514 with its bluebird nest boxes and the prairie at Manyberries