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RMERF counts September 20-23



With notes from the reconnaissance counts at Beaver Mines and Steeples


Introduction This is the 26th consecutive year that RMERF has conducted at least one fall count in the Front Ranges of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. In 1992 an extensive reconnaissance count of 33 days was made at Mount Lorette that produced 2661 migrant raptors of which 2044 were Golden Eagles and demonstrated that the Alberta Front Ranges were a significant flyway for the species. Between 1993 and 2005 full-season counts of 75-101 days were conducted there with the exceptions of 1997 when a full count was conducted at Plateau Mountain about 90 km to the SSE and 2002 when circumstances limited observations at Mount Lorette to only 14 days.

From 2006 to 2009 the principal observation site moved to the Piitaistakis-South Livingstone ridge, which is the southern culmination of the Alberta Front Ranges, near the Crowsnest Pass during which time daily comparative counts of between 40 and 45 days were conducted at Mount Lorette coinciding with the main movement of Golden Eagles. In 2010 Mount Lorette again became the principal observation site with counts conducted over a standard period of September 20 to November 15. This season Cliff Hansen is again organizing the count and if you are interested in visiting the site or volunteering as an assistant (no previous experience needed: just good eyes, enthusiasm and a pair of binoculars) or as an Observer please contact Cliff at 403-673-2422.

Peter Sherrington will also be conducting a count on Vicki Ridge located 4.5 km WNW of the Hamlet of Beaver Mines in SW Alberta, and Vance Mattson will again be watching at his Steeples site which is located on the east side of the Kootenay Valley (Rocky Mountain Trench) 25 km NE of Cranbrook, British Columbia. Information on all the RMERF sites and reports of previous years’ spring and fall counts may be found on our website


Wednesday, September 20 [Day 1] (Joel Duncan) 0800-1900. The starting temperature was 5C, the high 8C at 1700 and it was 7C on departure. Ground winds were generally light S to W that gusted to 20 km/h around 1400, while ridge winds were moderate SW to 1600, after which they were moderate to strong: at 1900 the upper winds appeared to change to NW. Cloud cover was 100% cumulus and altostratus to 1600 when it briefly reduced to 80% before steadily increasing again to 100% by 1900. Apart from three one-hour periods when it was 20% obscured, the eastern route was clear all day; the west, however, was initially 80% obscured then 60% obscured from 0900 to 1400 and 80% to 1600 which then steadily reduced to 20% by 1900. No migrant raptors were seen but a family group of Red-tailed Hawks near Hummingbird Plume Hill comprised light and dark morph adults and a dark morph juvenile. A resident adult Golden Eagle was also seen over the Fisher Range. Other bird species were scarce for the time of year and comprised 1 Belted Kingfisher, 2 Northern Flickers, 2 Grey Jays, 1 Black-billed Magpie, 17 Common Ravens, 4 Mountain Bluebirds, 6 American Robins, 5 American Pipits and 1 Savannah Sparrow.


11 hours TOTAL 0



Vicki Ridge [Day 1] (Peter Sherrington) 0900-1800. Following an exceptionally hot dry summer a wildfire that had been burning west of the Continental Divide in BC for some time moved across the Akamina Pass into Waterton Lakes National Park. On the evening of September 12 hot temperatures, very strong W winds and low humidity led to a rapid expansion of the fire, in excess of 38,000 hectares, into the park and into the grassland to the N of the park, and also into the headwaters of the Castle River in the newly established Castle Wildland Park. Aggressive firefighting and the arrival of cooler weather that brought some rain and snow stopped the spread of the fire, but the whole area, including Vicki Ridge, was shrouded in dense smoke for almost a week. By Monday Morning (September 18), however, the smoke had cleared and the first day of the count was thankfully conducted under smokeless skies. The temperature at 0900 was 4C, reached a high of 7C for most of the afternoon but fell to 5C by the end of observation. Winds were W 30-40 km/h all day with regular gusts of 50-60 km/h. Cloud cover was initially 50% cumulus that thickened and darkened to 70% in the afternoon, but observing conditions were excellent all day. The first migrant of the season was a Sharp-shinned Hawk at 0941 and a total of 38 migrants of 10 species were counted by the time the last bird, also a Sharp-shinned Hawk, flew south at 1720, which was also the only migrant seen after 1600. The flight comprised 2 Bald Eagles (1a, 1sa), 14 adult Sharp-shinned Hawks, 3 Cooper’s Hawks (2a, 1j), 1 adult Northern Goshawk, 1 adult light morph Swainson’s Hawk, 9 Red-tailed Hawks (8 calurus: 6a, 1j and 1 adult light morph harlani, which is a seldom seen morph for the subspecies), 1 adult light morph Ferruginous Hawk, 5 Golden Eagles (3sa, 2j), 1 male American Kestrel and 1 unaged female columbarius Merlin. A resident pair of Golden Eagles was seen throughout the day, and the male displayed briefly at 1219. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for periods of rain and snow which is just what is needed to continue controlling the fire, but does not augur well for raptor movement.


9 hours BAEA 2, SSHA 14, COHA 3, NOGO 1, SWHA 1, RTHA 9, FEHA 1, GOEA 5, AMKE 1, MERL 1 TOTAL 38



Steeples No observation: because of teaching commitments Vance will be unable to observe on Mondays and Wednesdays this season.


Thursday, September 21 (Caroline Lambert) NO OBSERVATION Wet snow and rain fell all day and the mountains were completely obscured by low cloud. Caroline did visit the site a couple of times during the day in the hope that conditions would improve. They didn’t but she did record a number of songbirds including 6 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1 Wilson’s Warbler, 15 Dark-eyed Juncos and 3 Lincoln’s Sparrows.


0 hours (11) TOTAL 0 (0)



Vicki Ridge [Day2] (Peter Sherrington) 0900-1100 The temperature rose from 3C to 4C, it was calm or E 3-5 km/h and cloud cover was 100% stratus that lowered to cover the ridge and brought rain at 1100. Rain and wet snow fell for the rest of the day. The only raptor seen was an adult Cooper’s Hawk at 0905 that unsuccessfully hunted a flock of 50 American Robins and perched for a couple of minutes before gliding off to the SE.


2 hours (10) COHA 1 (4) TOTAL 1 (39)



Steeples (Vance Mattson) NO OBSERVATION. It was heavily overcast that shrouded the ridges all day.



Friday, September 22 [Day 2] (Blake Weis) 0720-2000. The temperature was 1C at 0800, reached a high of 6C between 1600 and 1800 and was 3C at the end of observation. Ground winds were variable and light except for one NW gust of 20 km/h near the end of the day, while ridge winds were light to moderate N-NW to 1500 after which they were moderate. Cloud cover was 100% low stratus that produced light snow to 0900. It reduced to 90% stratus, cumulus and altostratus between 0900 and 1400 after which it steadily diminished to 20% at 1900. All ridges were obscured to 1000 and 90-100% obscured to 1500 after which they cleared fairly quickly and by 2000 all ridges were completely clear. The first migrant raptor of the season was an adult Northern Goshawk at 1419 and by 1812 14 birds had been counted: 1 Osprey, 3u Sharp-shinned Hawks, 1 adult Northern Goshawk, 2 adult light morph calurus Red-tailed Hawks, and 7 Golden Eagles (5a, 1sa, 1j). The first four birds moved on the western route or above the valley, but after 1600 all birds moved above the Fisher Range and towards the north as Mount Lorette retained its cloud cover until late in the day. Non-migratory raptors were a juvenile female Northern Harrier that hunted along the river, a male American Kestrel that hunted over the Hay Meadow as also did a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a female columbarius Merlin that concentrated on a flock of Lapland Longspurs in the meadow during the morning. A red-tailed Hawk flew low to the north and the resident pair of Golden Eagles was present with the male briefly displaying above the Fisher Range in the afternoon. There was also a fine variety of non-raptor species at the site: Canada Goose 12, Killdeer 1, Wilson’s Snipe 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Northern Flicker 2, Pileated Woodpecker 1 that called from across the river, Common Raven 12, Boreal Chickadee 1, American Dipper 1, Golden-crowned Kinglet 2, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11, Mountain Bluebird 24, American Robin 60, American Pipit 7, Lapland Longspur 16, Yellow-rumped Warbler 5, Wilson’s Warbler 1, Lincoln’s Sparrow 1, White-crowned Sparrow 9 (2a of the race gambelii and 7j), Dark-eyed Junco 4 and Pine Siskin 4. Twelve visitors were at the site today, and I forgot to note earlier that there were also 32 visitors on September 20 that included a school group of 26 from Lethbridge.


12.67 hours (23.67) OSPR 1, SSHA 3, NOGO 1, RTHA 2, GOEA 7 TOTAL 14



Vicki Ridge (Peter Sherrington) [Day 3] 1230-1815. Rain and snow with low stratus cloud that obscured the ridges persisted to noon. At 1230 the top of Vicki Ridge was still draped in cloud, but as the general cloud ceiling was lifting I decided to climb to the site that was clear by 1300. Between 1310 and 1340, however, the cloud again descended upon the higher parts of the ridge while wet snow fell, but subsequently the ridge was clear for the rest of the day although snow flurries and light rain showers persisted to 1550. The temperature was 3C at 1300, rose to a high of 4C at 1600 and was 1.5C at 1800. It was calm or E-SE winds 2-4 km/h all day and cloud cover was 100% stratus to 1405 when the first small patch of blue sky appeared. By 1700 it was 80% cumulus for 50 minutes before thickening to 100% stratus again at 1800. The first raptor at 1235 was a very light grey adult female Gyrfalcon that perched on a snag at the southern end of the ridge, from where it flew off, soared high to the E of the ridge before flying high towards the SE. This is the earliest fall record for the species at any RMERF count and was a first September record for this area. Raptor movement was subsequently slow but steady with 12 more migrants moving until 1727. The final count involving 9 species was 1 Osprey, 1 adult Bald Eagle, 1 adult female Northern Harrier, 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks (1a, 1u), 2 juvenile Cooper’s Hawks, 1 adult Northern Goshawk, 2 Golden Eagles (1a, 1j) [plus 1 sighting of a resident adult], 2 American Kestrels (1female, 1male) and 1 light grey morph adult female Gyrfalcon. Soon after the first break in the clouds occurred at 1405 a raven soared high to the east of the ridge that was quickly joined by a Cooper’s Hawk and 3 minutes later a second raven soared high with a Northern Harrier. It was amazing how quickly thermals developed in the still air and showed the importance of looking closely at every soaring bird even it appears at first to be “only” a raven!


5.75 hours (16.75) OSPR 1 (1), BAEA 1 (3), NOHA 1 (1), SSHA 2 (16), COHA 2 (6), NOGO 1 (2), GOEA 2 (7), AMKE 2 (3), GYRF 1 (1) TOTAL 13 (52)



Steeples [Day 1] (Vance Mattson) 1300-1800. The temperature reached 10C, conditions were very calm and cloud cover was 100% altostratus and cumulus that produced a gloomy day. The ridges were initially slightly obscured but by 1400 they were entirely clear. The first migrant of the season was a subadult Golden Eagle at 1340 and subsequent movement was steady with 26 birds of 6 species seen up to 1746 with a maximum hourly count of 11 between 1500 and 1600. Because of the calm conditions flapping flight was the order of the day, and two of the Golden Eagles perched on the ridge for less than 5 minutes each before resuming their flights. The count comprised 2 juvenile Northern Harriers, 12 Sharp-shinned Hawks (5a, 2j, 5u), 1 adult Northern Goshawk, 5 Golden Eagles (3a, 1sa, 2u), 5 American Kestrels (2 females, 2 males, 1u) and 1 juvenile Peregrine Falcon. It was a good start to the year.


5 hours NOHA 2, SSHA 12, NOGO 1, GOEA 5, AMKE 5, PEFA 1 TOTAL 26



Saturday, September 23 [Day 3] (Jim Davis, assisted by Ruth Morrow) 0730-1845. The temperature was 0C at the start but rose to a pleasant 10C at 1700 where it remained for the rest of the day. With the exceptions of 1100 and 1700 when winds reached 10 and 12 km/h respectively it was essentially calm in the valley all day, while ridge winds were light to moderate N. Cloud cover was 80-90% cumulus and stratus all day with the exception of 1100 and 1200 when it reduced to 40%. The eastern ridges were clear all day but the west was 80-40% obscured between 1100 and 1400. A season-high total of 34 migrant raptors of 8 species were counted between 0848 and 1603, 20 of which occurred between 1200 and 1400. The count was 7 Bald Eagles (4a, 3j), 1 juvenile female Northern Harrier, 8 Sharp-shinned Hawks (4a, 2j, 2u), 4 Northern Goshawks (2a, 1j, 1u), 1 small unidentified Accipiter, 3 adult Red-tailed Hawks (2 light calurus and 1 intermediate harlani), 7 Golden Eagles (5a, 1j, 1u), 1 female/juvenile columbarius Merlin and 2 Peregrine Falcons (1j, 1u). Early movement was low above the valley and then on the western route to 1300, after which 13 birds used the eastern route: most birds used flapping flight to move in the calm air. Other bird species included I very late unidentified swallow, 12 Mountain Bluebirds, 35 American Robins, the first Snow Buntings (2) and American Tree Sparrow of the season, 3 Savannah Sparrows, 2 Vesper Sparrows and 10 Dark-eyed Juncos. A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel was observed in the large limestone rip-rap blocks recently installed to stabilize the river bank. It is the first time the species has been seen so low in the valley. A total of 36 visitors came to the site today.


11.25 hours (34.92) BAEA 7 (7), NOHA 1 (1), SSHA 8 (11), NOGO 4 (5), UA 1 (1), RTHA 3 (5), GOEA 7 (14), MERL 1 (1), PEFA 2 (2) TOTAL 34 (48)



Vicki Ridge (Peter Sherrington) [Day 4] 0900-1830. It was the warmest day of the season so far with a high of 10.5C at 1700 from a starting temperature of 3C. Winds were moderate WSW generally 10-15 gusting to 23 km/h, and cloud cover was 100-80% cumulus to 1500 after which it gradually reduced to 10% at 1800 producing mainly sunny conditions. A season-high total of 84 migrant raptors of 12 species moved between 0920 and 1758 comprising 2 Ospreys, 3 Bald Eagles (2a, 1j), 1 juvenile female Northern Harrier, 32 Sharp-shinned Hawks (12as, 6j, 14u), 7 Cooper’s Hawks (4a, 1j, 2u), 5 Northern Goshawks (3a, 1j, 1u), 4 light morph Broad-winged Hawks (1a, 2j, 1u), 16 Red-tailed Hawks (calurus 12 light: 5a, 4j, 3u; harlani 4 dark: 2a, 2j), 8 Golden Eagles (2a, 2sa, 3j, 1u), 4 American Kestrels (2 males, 2u), 1 female columbarius Merlin and 1 adult male Peregrine Falcon which was also the last bird of the day. Movement was steady between 1100 and 1800 with a maximum hourly count of 19 between 1400 and 1500. Other birds seen on the ridge were 3 Northern Flickers, 6 Clark’s Nutcrackers, 35 Common Ravens, 14 Red-breasted Nuthatches, 65 Mountain Bluebirds, 11 Townsend’s Solitaires, 231 American Robins, 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 3 Chipping Sparrows, 30 Grey-crowned Rosy-Finches and 2 Pine Siskins: it was a busy place today!


9.5 hours (26.25) OSPR 2 (3), BAEA 3 (6), NOHA 1 (2), SSHA 32 (48), COHA 7 (13), NOGO 5 (7), BWHA 4 (4), RTHA 16 (25), GOEA 8 (15), AMKE 4 (7), MERL 1 (2), PEFA 1 (1) TOTAL 84 (136)



Steeples [Day 2] (Vance Mattson) 1300-1830. It was a sunny day with the temperature reaching 14C with calm to light-moderate NE and E winds, under an initial 50% cumulus cloud cover that reduced to 30% altocumulus after 1630. The front peak of Bill Nye was obscured to 1500 after which all ridges were clear. The day produced the highest ever September count for the site with 97 raptors of 9 species moving between 1306 and 1815. The count comprised 1 Osprey, 12 Bald Eagles (7a, 5j), 4 Northern Harriers (1a female, 3j), 34 Sharp-shinned Hawks (10a, 3j, 21u), 1juvenile Northern Goshawk, 1a light morph Broad-winged Hawk which was the first ever recorded at the site, 35 Red-tailed Hawks (calurus 30 light: 16a, 5j, 9u, 1a rufous (intermediate) and 1 dark juvenile; 2 adult dark harlani and 1 bird of unknown age, morph or race), 8 Golden Eagles (5a, 3j) and 1 female American Kestrel. Birds moved almost continuously throughout the observation period with a highest hourly count of 23 between 1400 and 1500. There was much soaring flight with kettles of 5 birds forming on 3 occasions. Non-migrant raptors were 1 Turkey Vulture, 2 adult Bald Eagles, 2 adult Sharp-shinned Hawks, 1 juvenile Northern Goshawk and 2 adult Red-tailed Hawks. A Pileated Woodpecker was active near the site at 1345 and a caterwauling Bobcat was heard in the adjacent forest at 1451.


5.5 hours (10.5) OSPR 1 (1), BAEA 12 (12), NOHA 4 (6), SSHA 34 (46), NOGO 1 (2), BWHA 1 (1), RTHA 35 (35), GOEA 8 (13), AMKE 1 (6) TOTAL 97 (123)



MOUNT LORETTE SUMMARY COUNT (September 20 to November 15)



HOURS 34.92








Accipiter sp. (UA) 1






Buteo sp. (UB) 0


Eagle sp. (UE) 0






Falco sp. (UF) 0

Unidentified Raptor (UU) 0