Bird Watching Staycation

Birding as a Staycation Theme

Last spring when the pandemic hit, people searched for ways to enjoy life while dealing with the health authorities’ restrictions. A camping staycation became an extremely popular way to go. This continues to be a great option for many families and adding a theme can enhance your time in the great outdoors. In this post we offer information on our “Five Days of Birdwatching Staycation.”

We offer some basic information and resource here and if you are more experienced feel free to jump ahead to see recommended destinations. We give you the distance to reach the destination with a brief description.

Birdwatching – Where to Begin

Prior to the pandemic, birdwatching had become a more popular activity than gardening. Last March and April at the beginning of covid, the Audubon Society saw a 23 per cent increase in traffic to their website compared to the previous spring which means it’s more popular than ever.

Birdwatching is a wonderful family activity because it appeals to all ages. All you really need to enjoy a day of birding is a pair of binoculars. You can get information on purchasing yours here. We might warn you however that like fishing, your pastime can be expensive if you let it. When you are out and about you with see others with upgraded optics and cameras with telephoto lenses.

birdwatching with binoculars
birds of Alberta field guide

Identifying Birds

You will want to identify what you observe and there are four things to note. First is habitat. In Southern Alberta you will encounter different species depending on whether you are at wetlands, forested area, or along riverbanks for example. Second is size and shape. Third is coloring and finally, behavior. You might consider a guide book to help you. One of our favorites is “Birds of Alberta” by Chris Fisher and John Acorn. Another tools is a smart phone app. You can learn about the Merlin app from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology here. There are also apps that analyses a bird’s call. This can be challenging. Do you have your phone ready and the app launched in time? Are you close enough to record? Are there other birds calling or singing at the same time? Let any of these tools that help you be part of your adventure.

The eBird website is another great resource. Here we have a great example of crowed sourced information on birds. It launched in 2002 by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. People from around the world can store their bird observation, photos and sound recordings. This information is then uploaded to a central database. That information then becomes available to other birders as well as the science community and researchers. As an amateur birder this can be very useful because you can see what others have recently observed at your location. Here is the link to sightings in the Calgary region. For instructions on using their mobile app visit this page.

Destination #1

Riverbend Campground and Okotoks – The campground and the town are on the Sheep River. Within the campground we have our pond on the west side and wetlands on the east side. Spend some time walking our Nature Trails. Our Nature Trails page can be found here. The bird feeders installed and maintained by our long term campers is another factor in attracting birds to the area and keeping them. A list of birds that have been spotted or have nested at Riverbend Campground can be viewed here. You can add to your first day by driving into Okotoks and walking the trails system through Sheep River Park.

Destination#2

Town of High River – 21 km south. The Town is on the Highwood River. There are walking the trails along the river in the Beachwood area and George Lane Park in the center of town is a good spot. On the east side of town you will find Emerson and Sunshine Lakes.

Destination#3

Frank Lake 29.3 km from the campground. Frank Lake consists of prairie wetlands and is a very popular year round destination. There is a blind just a short walk from the parking lot but there are several different areas around the lake and surrounding area.

Destination#4

Towns of Black Diamond and Turner Valley – 24 km west. The Towns are upstream of the campground on the Sheep River. Sheep River Flats in Black Diamond is a good location to start. The E-Bird website lists over 150 species spotted in this area over the course of a year.

Destination #5

Brown-Lowery Provincial Park – 48 km – This is a relatively small day use park but has an impressive 12 kilometers of trails. The property has a long history including logging and energy exploration. It is now protected and has a variety of natural habitat.

Extended Birdwatching Staycation

BONUS DESTINATION – Sheep River Provincial Park – 62 km – If you want to swap out an urban destination or want to extend your birdwatching staycation consider this option. Keep in mind this Provincial Park is in Kananaskis Country so a visit here would require purchasing a Kananaskis Conservation Pass which you can buy online here. Areas with high numbers of reported sightings include Windy Point, Gorge Creek Trail and Foran Grade Trail. The All Trails website rates these trails as “moderate” so be sure you are prepared.

Book your Birdwatching Staycation Now

Be sure to start by booking a week at Riverbend Campground. You can do this online here.