We first explored Alberta’s boreal forest in 2000, when we found 20 warbler species—with males aggressively defending territories in their full breeding colors—and we knew we had stumbled on something spectacular. Watching these gorgeous songbirds exhibiting breeding behavior in their breeding habitats gave us a special connection to these northern forests of North America. Since then, Alberta has become one of our favorite destinations anywhere, partly because of the warblers, and partly because of all the other natural treasures we’ve discovered. Now, we combine the boreal forest with Jasper’s magnificent northern Rockies, timed for the peak of nesting season, for a world-class birding vacation that will take your breath away.
-Your host and guide,Stephen Shunk
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Northern Alberta hosts one of the most diverse arrays of nesting birds in North America, and we will begin our journey with one full day among some of Alberta’s northernmost grassland habitats. Special species we hope to see include Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, Mountain Bluebird, and Northern Waterthrush. Our tour then takes us into a transitional patch of land known as the parklands. At Elk Lake National Park, we will bird our first aquatic habitats, with numerous lakes, ponds, and marshes that invite an abundance of waterbirds and passerines. Common sights will include the floating nests of Red-necked Grebes, families of Common Loons, and many active beaver lodges. The surrounding chorus will include the songs of Tennessee Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, as well as a chance for our first Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Leaving the parklands, we head into Alberta’s largest natural region, the boreal forest.
We will visit three major birding areas here, from Cold Lake on the Saskatchewan border east to Lesser Slave Lake. A number of warblers reach their western extremes here, including Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Chestnut-sided warblers. Black-throated Green, Canada, and Magnolia warblers will be widespread in the region, as will Ovenbird and American Redstart. We will also visit specialized habitats in search of Palm, Cape May, and Connecticut warblers. Other key birds may include White-winged Scoter, Broad-winged Hawk, Boreal Chickadee, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
This trip ends with a bang, among the glacial valleys and towering peaks of Alberta’s northern Rockies. From our base in Jasper, we will explore a wide range of mountain habitats in search of some especially charismatic birds. Cascading rivers host Harlequin Duck and American Dipper, while Black Swifts forage overhead. Mountain marshes showcase Alder and Willow Flycatchers singing side-by-side, as well as Le Conte’s Sparrow and Northern Waterthrush. Above the forests we will search for “Timberline” Brewer’s Sparrow, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and White-tailed Ptarmigan, and folks on our 2007 tour enjoyed a stunning Northern Hawk-Owl in the flats below.
While we explore all of the above habitats, we will keep watch for dozens of additional nesting species. Around the wetlands we could see Common Loon, Bonaparte’s Gull, Common Tern, Solitary Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marbled Godwit, and both species of yellowlegs. Raptors may include Swainson’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Osprey and Merlin. From the chorus of songbirds, we will sort out Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird and Western Wood-Pewee; Swainson’s Thrush, Veery and Townsend’s Solitaire; Red-eyed, Blue-headed, and Philadelphia vireos; Swamp, Lincoln’s, Vesper, Clay-colored, and White-throated sparrows; plus Yellow-headed Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finch and White-winged Crossbill. A host of big mammals will keep us pleasantly distracted from the bird life, including bison, bighorn, bear, elk, moose and mountain goat, many with babies, and all at home in their favored habitats.
Extensive birding experience is not required for this grand adventure, although birders with more advanced skills may be more successful at finding and identifying the anticipated species. This tour may even be fine for some beginners, but they should be prepared for the pace, the abundance of new information, and the length of the high-latitude summer days. Your guides are patient, professional educators, with many years of combined birding experience. We will work diligently to help each participant learn bird songs and visual identification, as well as local conservation issues and general natural history and cultural nuances of the region.
This tour is for moderately active people in good health. Both guides are certified first aid providers, but we will often be several hours from any medical facilities. Every day will involve considerable walking, and we may hike up to three or four miles per day. Most individual walks will be short and at a “birdwatcher’s pace,” but a few routes may take us up steep hills or over rough terrain. Prior to heading out on a more strenuous hike, we will give you the option of staying back with one of the guides for a less demanding stroll.
Throughout the tour, we will bird mostly on foot, with very little of our birding to be conducted from the vehicle. To take advantage of the northern summer’s long days, we will start birding early each morning and will often bird until sunset. However, we will usually break up the day with an extended lunch or travel between sites. The group will travel in two large sport-utility vehicles, giving us room for a maximum of ten guests and two guides, with everyone getting their own window.
Relatively mild temperatures and moderate humidity predominate in Northern Alberta, but the daily weather can be quite changeable. We may experience thunderstorms, light rain, and extended periods of sun, and Jasper’s higher elevations may even receive snow in mid-summer. You should be prepared to be outside, away from the vehicle or other shelter, for a few hours at a time. Please pack conservatively to allow room for all our gear, but do not compromise your ability to be comfortable in a wide variety of conditions.
You should bring your own binoculars and favorite field guide on the tour, and you also may bring a spotting scope, although we will have two spotting scopes available for the group. We will bring extra binoculars for your personal use, should you wish to test the latest optics, and we carry an extensive birding and natural history library for reference and learning.
Biting insects occur in some areas along our route, and we recommend that you take the proper precautions. Very few of our stops host enough mosquitoes to hinder the birding experience, but when we reach those that do, you will need repellent or bug resistant clothing in order to enjoy the birds. You also should be prepared to protect yourself from the sun, as we will spend many hours outdoors on most days, with a couple of days in the thinner atmosphere around 8,000 feet (2,440 m) elevation.
We will spend each night in comfortable motels, and we will stay in each motel a minimum of three consecutive nights. If you are traveling independently and do not designate a roommate,
we will match you with another participant of the same gender. If we are not able to pair you with a roommate due to the gender balance of the group, you will be required to pay the single tour fee. If you wish to have a private room, we should be able to arrange this for you at most locations, also at the single rate.
Your tour fee includes all meals from dinner on June 24, through lunch on July 5. We will eat most meals in restaurants that appeal to participants with a wide variety of food preferences, but it may be difficult to accommodate the most restrictive diets. If you maintain such a diet, remember that appropriate foods may not be available at restaurants or even in local grocery stores. To prepare for these contingencies you may wish to bring a limited amount of the foods that will meet your needs.
Most breakfasts will be held early to allow us an early start to our birding day. Some will be continental-style while others will be complete meals. Regardless of the breakfast meal served, we will ensure that coffee and tea are available for the earliest risers. We will eat some lunches in restaurants and some in the field. Restaurant lunches may be followed by a break at our motel or by a period of driving between birding sites. Dinners will usually be eaten together at casual local eateries; they will either be held at dusk, which may be later than most of you are used to eating, or early enough to allow us some birding time before sunset. Our mid-day meal will often be the largest meal of the day.
In addition to restaurant meals, we will provide foods and beverages for snacks and a few meals in the field. We will also provide personal water bottles for you to use during the trip. One
of our goals is to keep you pleasantly fueled and hydrated so that you make the most of the long birding days without getting exhausted. The survey included in your registration materials asks your dietary restrictions and preferences. While we cannot honor every food and drink request, the more detailed your response, the better we can serve you on the road.
June 24 (Wed)—Afternoon arrivals and night in Edmonton.
June 25-27 (Thu-Sat)—Birding Elk Island Nat’l Park, and Cold Lake Provincial Park; 3 nights in Cold Lake.
June 28-30 (Sun-Tue)—Birding Lac la Biche and Slave Lake Prov. Parks; 3 nights in Slave Lake.
July 1-4 (Wed-Sat)—Birding Swan Hills and Jasper National Park;
4 nights in Jasper.
July 5 (Sun)—Morning birding in Jasper, return to Edmonton.If you live in the U.S., remember that you are traveling into a foreign country and will be passing through both Canadian and U.S. customs on either end of the journey. For this, you are required to carry a current U.S. Passport.
Your tour fee includes all meals, snacks and beverages; 11 nights lodging; transportation from Edmonton; park entry and activity fees; service-related gratuities; and the instruction and leadership of your guides. The fee does not include guides’ gratuities, which are never expected but always appreciated based on your satisfaction with our service.
TOUR FEE FOR 2015:
$5,160 single/$4,250 double
We are pleased to accept checks, money orders, or credit cards. A non-refundable $95 U.S. deposit is required to hold your space.
To pre-register for the tour, please complete the registration forms and return them with your non-refundable $95 deposit. If you are registering less than 60 days prior to the tour date, please submit the entire balance.
Tour Refund Policy:
If you cancel this international tour reservation more than 90 days prior to the tour, you will be refunded any payments above your deposit. If you cancel between 90 and 60 days prior to the tour you will receive a 50% refund of fees paid over the deposit. If you cancel less than 60 days prior, you forfeit your entire tour fee, unless you can fill your space with another birder. If you cancel at any time, your deposit is transferrable to any Paradise Birding tour at any time in the future. If we cancel the trip for any reason, all payments will be refunded.
Tour Confirmation/Cancellations: tours are confirmed at least 60 days before departure (90 days for international). If a tour does not reach its minimum number of participants, we reserve the right to cancel the tour and in that case all payments will be refunded.
Risk and liability: We require all participants to fill out a liability release form. This is included in your registration form.