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Bird Watching in Banff National Park, Canadian Rockies

by K Gordon Schultz

Top 6 Bird Watching Sites in Banff National Park

A colorful assortment of bird species makes for great bird watching in Banff National Park. Over 260 species of birds have been recorded in Banff. Just bring along a pair of binoculars and set yourself up with a good field guide to help you identify the different bird varieties.

Spring and early summer are by far the best seasons for bird watching in Banff National Park. The best time is between an hour before sunrise to 9 or 10 in the morning. The mountain and wetland habitats of the lower Bow Valley has the greatest abundance of birds.

1) Bird Watching in Banff Townsite

For the best bird watching in Banff townsite, head to the older residential areas at the foot of Tunnel Mountain, the Bow River upstream from the Bow River Bridge, and the area around the riding stables below Cave Avenue. The residential areas have many old spruce, pine and poplar trees and ornamental gardens, and the riding stables area houses willow, spruce and marsh.

When to Go Birding in Banff: Late-March to mid-July and Winter

2) Bird Watching in Cave and Basin Marsh

The Cave and Basin Marsh is located 2 km. west of Banff townsite on the south side of the Bow River from Cave Avenue. Several footpaths lead through the forest to the marsh and marsh boardwalk. The Cave and Basin marsh is a large wetland area separated from the Bow River by a levee. Flora include tall willows that grow in dense tangles throughout the marsh and spruce and pine forest that line the edges.

When to Go Birding in Cave and Basin Marsh: Late March to early May, late May to mid-July

3) Bird Watching in Vermilion Lakes

Vermilion Lakes Drive begins west of Banff townsite 100 metres south of the Norquay Interchange with the TransCanada Highway and runs parallel to the TransCanada for 4 km. The Vermilion Lakes are a large wetland area of sedge and willow flats and shallow water bodies connected by many small channels. Mature white spruce surround parts of the lakes.

When to Go Birding in Vermilion Lakes: April to mid July, Mid August to November, Winter:

4) Bird Watching in Johnston’s Canyon

To enjoy bird watching in Johnston Canyon, located on Highway 1A 23 km. west of Banff (just west of Castle Junction), park at the trailhead and follow the trail up Johnston Creek 3 km. to the lower falls or 5 km. to the upper falls. A narrow, shady canyon, kept moist and cool from spray, is lined by a mixed spruce and pine forest.

When to Go Birding in Johnston’s Canyon: June to mid September

5) Bird Watching on Bow River – Banff to Lake Louise

The Bow River parallels both the TransCanada and Highway 1A from Banff townsite to Lake Louise. There are many access points to the river from both highways. The small Bow River is frozen much of the winter and runs brown from glacial silt from the spring thaw to mid-July. It flows and meanders through sub-alpine and mountain willow meadows and lodgepole pine and spruce forests

When to Go Birding in Bow River – Banff to Lake Louise: Mid May to mid July, Winter

6) Bird Watching in Bow Summit

Bow Summit is located 20 km. north of the TransCanada Highway on Highway 93N or the Icefields Parkway. A parking lot is on the west side of the highway and has a trail that leads 1.5 km. through the alpine to a scenic viewpoint at timberline. Open subalpine forest with Subalpine Fir and Englemann Spruce gives way to stunted fir with heath and herb meadows at higher elevations.

When to Go Birding in Bow Summit: June to mid July

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