Birding in Banff National Park

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Written by Madison Valois posted on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

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Bird Watching in Banff

Bring your binoculars to see the birds of prey in the Canadian Rockies.

Bring your binoculars to see the birds of prey in the Canadian Rockies.

BANFF, Alberta – One vital piece of equipment to bring with you when you vacation at Banff National Park is a pair of binoculars.

Especially if you like birdwatching.

The park features more than 260 varieties of birds. That’s why heartily recommends you hire a local field guide, someone to help you keep who is who straight! If you feel like something new awaits you around every corner … well, that’s because there IS something new awaiting you around every corner.

There are, of course, peak times of the year for feathered entertainment – spring and early summer are particularly bountiful. And there are peak times to aim for – try to be out by an hour before dawn, and you should be treated to a marvelous show up through about 10 a.m.

But whenever you’re able to come, and whatever schedule you like to keep, there will be birds to see when you look around here.

Having said all of that, here’s a quick primer on six good areas to help you get started:

Banff: For the best sights, head to the foot of Tunnel Mountain, or go upstream along the Bow River from Bow River Bridge. These areas, many of them older residential neighborhoods, feature spruce, pine and poplar trees and ornamental gardens. The riding stables below Cave Avenue are resplendent with willow, spruce and marsh – ideal for the birding enthusiast. Best times: late March to mid-July and winter.

Cave and Basin Marsh: Here is an idyllic spot for no-pressure birding. The marsh, located just two kilometers west of the town of Banff, is a large wetland area set apart from the Bow River by a levee. Several paths allow you to wander at will through the area. From late March to early July, the area is rich in birdlife.

Vermilion Lakes: Another location west of Banff; this large wetlands area sports sedge and willow flats and shallow water areas connected by myriad small waterways. Mature white spruce trees surround many of the lakes. It’s an area always worth visiting, but it’s especially rich in April to mid-July, mid-August to November and all of winter.

Johnston’s Canyon: Birdwatching here takes a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it. The trailhead to the canyon is on Highway 1A, 23 kilometers west of Banff. Park there and follow the trail up Johnston Creek for three kilometers to the lower falls, or five kilometers to the upper falls. The trail is lined by spruce and pine forest, and from June to mid-September, it is a wonder to behold.

Bow River: The river runs alongside both the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 1A from Banff to Lake Louise. There are many access points from both highways to the river. From aubalpine willow meadows to lodgepole pine and spruce forests, birdwatching opportunities abound along the river. There’s never a bad time to go, but mid-May to mid-July and all of winter are brilliant.

Bow Summitt: This one is a bit of a drive: it’s 20 kilometers north of the Trans-Canada Highway on the Icefields Parkway. A parking lot on the west side of the highway has a trailhead; the trail, 1.5 kilometers long, leads to you a scenic viewpoint at the timberline. From June to mid-July, the birdlife here is extraordinary.

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  • Manuela Miari

    I have already packed my binoculars and my video camera and my photograhic camera and will be snapping away at all of these wonderful animals of Canada..

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