2022-07-16 Adieu Canada

The following saga spans the final five nights and six days I spent in Canada and focuses on southern Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park. It includes the four photo-safaris I embarked on while I was there. Rather than break up the story into four sections, I’ve bundled them together, and assembled the images into a single gallery. Hence, this episode is more long-winded than my normal stories.

Brewer's Blackbird - Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brewer’s Blackbirds haunted the ranges wherever I visited during my visit to south Canada. I spent five nights at Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan to complete my two-month tour of Canada in the spring of 2022.
Chestnut-Collared Longspur - Calcarius ornatus
I was delighted to meet my first Chestnut-Collared Longspurs during my visit to the park. 

2022-07-11 Monday

When morning rolled around, I continued south from my roadside camp near Saskatchewan Crossing and found breakfast and groceries in the town of Swift Current before resuming my way to Val Marie and the Grasslands National Park Visitor Center. After reaching the Visitor’s Center, I gathered some information from the staff about what lay ahead in the park. I decided to book three nights at the Frenchman Valley Campground. With my time in Canada drawing near the end, I needed to spend down my Canadian cash, so here was a good opportunity to do so.

On my first two days in camp, I did very little birding. Instead, I took a breather from the road and worked on my pictures and untold stories about Lake Wimiwan. My body told me to take it easy, and I listened. But during my departure from the Frenchman Valley Campground on Thursday, I indulged my quest to meet birds and enjoyed one of my best days of birding in Canada.

My exodus from Frenchman Valley was memorable. I met several “lifers” as I drove back to Val Marie. The first meeting was with a Sprague’s Pipit; a bird I’d never met before. After my meeting with the pipit, I found a Wilson’s Snipe, a Killdeer, and a Wilson’s Phalarope in a roadside marsh. A short distance away, I found some fledgling Loggerhead Shrikes in a crèche tree at the roadside. Perhaps a hundred and fifty yards beyond the shrikes, I was hoping the Brown Thrasher I’d seen a few days earlier would appear. The thrasher’s shyness prevented me from getting a photograph, but during my vigil, a Sharp-Tailed Grouse raised its head, periscope-like from the tall grass and weeds a short distance away, and I captured a few marginal images of this, my first meeting with the species. Then I spotted a male Lark Bunting skylarking from a sage perch several hundred feet from the road. After leaving his perch, he’d fly high and sing his songs while floating back to his perch. Later, a male Bobolink showed up with a similar act, but he also maintained his distance. Several miles later, as I was nearing the northern boundary of the park, I got my best bird; a Chestnut-Collared Longspur. This bird gave me quite a show, and I took a ton of photos of him.

When I reached the Visitor Center in Val Marie, I booked two nights at the eastern block of the park, at a camp called Rock Creek. I didn’t realize there was a two-and-a-half hour drive over some dicey Saskatchewan roads to get there, or I might not have made the same decision. But I toughed out the journey and made the best of it. Cell reception, and therefore internet access at the campsite, was non-existent, but I found a place on the ridge above the camp with better reception, and I was able to get more work done on my yarn-spinning.

2022-07-15 Friday

Badlands Parkway - Scenery
The scenery I found in the park was serenely desolate, yet full of life. 

There is a narrow paved road headed south from the Rock Creek Campground called the Badlands Parkway. Only wide enough for a single car to pass, there are small pullouts spaced along the route that provide enough room for oncoming traffic to pass. This seven-mile road follows a ridge and there are six parking lots with view short trails leading to viewpoints where the observer can admire the vastness of the plains and canyons below, while imagining the days when bison and all manner of North American megafauna roamed freely over the prairies.

The time I spent at the Rock Creek Campground on the east block of Grasslands National Park precipitates the following advice; If anyone traveling here is looking to meet birds, you may enjoy your visit to the western block nearer Val Marie. If it is serenity and glorious scenery you seek, the eastern block is hard to beat. 

2022-07-16 Saturday

I left camp at Rock Creek this morning with a plan to cross over the border at Poplar Montana. I got a rude surprise when I reached the border, finding out that the crossing is only open on weekdays. I was down to less than a half a tank of fuel. I’d planned to refuel in Poplar, but now had to divert my journey to another crossing further east. I found there was fuel in a nearby town called Rockglen, about a half hour away. So off I went down the road.

Horned Lark - Eremophila alpestris
Horned Larks were the birds I most regularly saw in southern Saskatchewan. 

I reached Rockglen and refueled, and while I was there, I inquired about where I could cross the border on a Saturday. I was told that Scobey Montana, another half hour’s drive east, was where I needed to go. Once again, off I went, crossing through south Saskatchewan’s farmlands, with wheat, alfalfa, and canola by the mile.

The route took me through a slightly larger town called Coronach. When I spotted a cafe at the roadside, I pulled into Deb’s Country Kitchen and asked if they served breakfast. The response was “Yes, all day!” With that reply, I knew I’d found the place I wanted to spend the next 30-40 minutes. This would be the first sit-down breakfast I’d had since leaving northern Alberta. I’d spent-down my Canadian cash to less than $30. This cafe was the perfect place to dump the last of it. It was perfect!

Just before my exit from Canada, I spotted the elusive Upland Sandpiper as it flew from the roadside and over a nearby field. Typical of most roads I’ve driven in this part of Canada, there was no place to safely pull to the side. So I just kept rolling toward the border crossing. After clearing US Customs, I continued south, until my endurance for the road failed me as afternoon approached. When I reached Lindsey (Montana), I found a place to park near an abandoned grain tower and spent the night.

I may have left Canada, but the fondest memories of my time there will always be with me.

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