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Trip Report – June 2019

Comments: This was a self-guided tour with 12 very specific targets. We used ebird to locate the targets and we got all but one! I have only mentioned our targets birds in the following trip report. Having said that it was a great route and we certainly saw a number of other things along the way. I should mention for anyone hiring a car that we could not find a car rental company that would rent to us in Canada and allow us to leave the car in Denver which is why we started out flying to Great Falls, Montana.

Nelson’s Sparrow

Day 1: We had flown into Great Falls the night before and collected our rental car so we started out early on our way to Val Marie, Saskatchewan. Our main stop on the way was for our first 2 targets – Nelson’s and Baird’s Sparrows. We located these in a fantastic place – Bowdoin National Refuge. It was packed with breeding birds and really worth a stop even if you have no specific species in mind. There is a helpful information center that pointed us to the exact spots in the park for our 2 species. Drove on across the boarder to our guesthouse – Crossings (the best spot in town!!).

Day 2: This was the first of 2 days we had scheduled for Grasslands National Park – although there is an information center in town they didn’t know much about the birds so ebird will be better for locating targets.  We accessed from the Eco Tour route from the north and on the plateau before entering the park we got one of our targets – Chestnut-collared Longspur.

Chestnut-collared Longspur

We then spent a fair amount of time around the Prairie Dog Colony on the right shortly after entering the park but only got a very brief distant view of Sharp-tailed Grouse that we couldn’t count. It was getting to be late morning by now so withdrew for lunch. Decided to drive right through the park and enjoy the scenery while keeping an eye out for Sprague’s Pipit and Sharp-tailed Grouse. Didn’t get either but it was a beautiful park with a number of great stops for other species. Finished with a lovely walk at Two-Trees. Night at Crossings guest house. (Note food and lodging is VERY limited in Val Marie – as are groceries so good idea to come prepared.)

Day 3: Decided to go very early and stake out another Sharp-tailed Grouse lek that we had heard of which is right at #5 on the Scenic Tour map. It was a beautiful, cold, misty morning and the sun wasn’t quite up when we arrived so we pointed the car in the right direction and sipped coffee until we could see better. To our amazement there were about 12 grouse right in front of the car! Watched for quite a while before going back into town ( the book shop) for some breakfast. Stopped several times on the plateau where we had had the Longspur and finally managed Sprague’s Pipit. Good morning! The afternoon was once again more about enjoying the park – we were hoping for Lark Bunting but no luck there. Did discover a wonderful hiking spot at the 70 mile drive entrance. Night at Crossings.

Lark Bunting

Day 4: Time to head south into Montana – we wanted to get to Billings and didn’t have any specific birding spots picked out but the plan was to keep an eye out for Lark Bunting. We were about 1.5 hours into our drive when we started to pick them out on the power lines. At our first stop we had several males and a female so our work was done for today. Night at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Billings.

Day 5: Our first target today was Black Rosyfinch so it was into the mountains. We went drove passed Red Lodge and up to about 10,000 feet where several had been seen along the road. We didn’t have any luck but we picked up a number of other species and enjoyed the stunning scenery – it was snowing even though it was June! After lunch we decided to try a single spot that had listed Pinyon Jay on ebird. It was really in the middle of nowhere and we weren’t hopeful so we did use playback when we stopped and within a few minutes in flew a Pinyon Jay – one of those great birding moments. Night in Cody.

Pinyon Jay

Day 6: Today was about Yellowstone – we had planned a big hike but there was so much snow on the ground that is turned into a little hike.  We were quite disappointed with the eastern side of Yellowstone, busy and not nearly as pretty as the western side – in fact, the best part was actually Shoshone National  forest on the way into the park. Night at the ivy inn in Cody again.

Day 7: We decided to make the drive to Fort Collins, Denver in one go because there were no targets for us along the way. This meant it was quite a long day of driving but the scenery was stunning at every step of the way so we enjoyed it nevertheless. Doubletree Inn, Greely.

Day 8: The morning was spent in Pawnee National Park. We were hoping for Mountain Plover and Cassin’s Sparrow. Toured round a number of spots where the plovers had been seen but no luck. As we were giving up, we made a final stop and found the Cassin’s Sparrow which gave us some great views and we enjoyed watching for a while. This is another ‘birdy’ spot and worth a visit. Second night at the Doubletree.

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Day 9: Drove up to Estes Park and then further up into the mountains for our last 2 targets – Brown-capped Rosyfinch and White-tailed Ptarmigan. The first site that we stopped where ebird listed the rosyfinch was a very busy tourist spot and we didn’t hold up much hope but after about 10 minutes one landed quite literally at our feet and, oblivious to the people around, remained for 20 minutes or so. Feeling lucky we kept going up the mountain for White-tailed Ptarmigan but the weather was changing (starting to snow quite heavily!!) so we called it a day and drove back to Estes Park. Night at Estes Park Resort.

Day 10: Drove straight back up the mountain to a small pull out just passed the Alpine Info Centre. There was a path that we wandered down and when we reached the end there were some patches of snow on the ground. To our amazement we found 2 White-tailed Ptarmigan there – one we nearly tripped over! We couldn’t have had better views and to top it of a Mountain Plover walked into our binocular view as we were scanning. A great end to our brief trip to the area which had included great birding, easy travel and good accommodation. Last night at Estes Park resort before flying out from Denver.


The Crossings – Val Marie
Homewood Suites by Hilton – Billings
Ivy Inn – Cody
Doubletree– Greely
Estes Park Resort – Estes Park

Guides & Resources

We didn’t use guides but relied on ebird for species locations.

Field Guide: Sibley’s app of course!!

Bird List