Day 1 – The group assembled in Calgary this evening.
Day 2 – After breakfast we ventured south of Calgary to Frank Lake. The weather was quite variable today, beginning with cool, windy conditions and some light rain, and ending with sunshine and warm temperatures. Along the way we saw the usual things like American Crow, Black-billed Magpie, Double-crested Cormorant and Swainson’s Hawk. Once along the gravel access road to the N.W. corner of the lake, we began to see
some other interesting species such as Clay-colored and Savannah sparrows, Tree and Bank swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Western Meadowlark and more. We explored the area around the blind, or hide, whichever you prefer. It was very active with birds here dozens of Franklin’s Gulls were on a pond, along with a Bonaparte’s Gull, Forster’s Tern and Black Tern. Yellow-headed and Red-winged blackbirds were numerous and both favorites amongst the group, 5 of which were from the U.K. and two from Australia. Wilsons Phalaropes were also about in good numbers. The female Wilson’s Phalarope is the more attractive of the pair, and she does nothing more than lay the eggs and she lets the male do the rest. Other waders found in the vicinity of the hide included several stunning American Avocets, some Willets, a lone Greater Yellowlegs and several Killdeer, the latter of which were doing the ‘broken wing’ act in order to lure us away from nest or youngsters. The showing of waterfowl at Frank Lake was very nice today and some of the more common species included Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser
Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck and Mallard, with small numbers of Barrow’s Goldeneye, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Ring-necked Duck. There were plenty of Eared Grebes about, and we saw them very well from the hide, including some adults with tiny stripe-headed chicks riding on their backs. We also saw a number of Western Grebes, again with tiny chicks riding on their parents. Today was the day of the pelican, and we must have seen at least 150 American White Pelicans in the area of Frank Lake. This was much in contrast with my previous group’s visit on May 28, when we saw just one! Quite a few White-faced Ibis, one of the more sought-after species at Frank Lake, were noted, though mostly in flight. Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons lazily flapped their way over the marshes, while the marshes themselves held American Coots, chattering Marsh Wrens and the ever elusive Sora. I headed back to retrieve the van at one point, and a Sora came out and paraded around for the group in my absence. We found just two species of mammal today, Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels, which were quite numerous and a single Muskrat.
We had lunch at Smitty’s in High River. As we sat inside, a Common Grackle flew by. Once we were finished lunch we checked a small reservoir next to the parking lot where grackles can sometimes be found, but none were cooperative. We did see a female and 4 young Common Goldeneye here though. Back out in the direction of Frank Lake, we
checked a road through open agricultural country where along the fenceposts we saw Eastern Kingbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, Vesper Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow. We stopped at a hedge where a pair of Swainson’s Hawks were nesting. Presumably the female, was sitting on the nest with just her head showing, while the male was screaming at us from above. We were happy to see the hawks, but we were really looking for owls here. Great Horned Owl, to be exact, and after a lengthy search, I spotted one, an adult, roosting in the hedge. We took a drive down to a flooded field where I hoped there might be some Marbled Godwits, and sure enough there were ten or so of them there, along with Willet, American Avocet and the likes. In the distance I could hear calling Upland Sandpipers and singing Horned Larks, but neither made any appearances. We headed back to Calgary, had a nice dinner and then headed off for the night.
Day 3 – We loaded up the van and rode west towards the Rocky Mountains, which were mostly shrouded in clouds. The weather today was the big story. Overnight there had been electrical storms and in the morning it was cold, windy and there were spotty rain showers. These conditions made the birding a little tricky, but we did still manage to see many fantastic birds. Along Grand Valley Road we stopped at a pond where a single Trumpeter Swan was a new bird for many people on the tour. Also here were several species of waterfowl for our daily list, including Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck and Bufflehead. Foraging over the surface of the pond were mixed hirundines, including Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow and our first Northern Rough-winged Swallows of the trip. Double-crested Cormorants loafed on rocks in the middle of the pond as well. All of a sudden the ducks took to the air frantically and a moment later, we spotted the reason for the conundrum. An adult Bald Eagle appeared and flew across the pond, eventually perching on a fence post on a hill nearby. As we carried north along Grand Valley Road, a flash of bright blue on a fence post next to the road alerted us to the presence of a male Mountain Bluebird. Soon
thereafter, we saw two more Mountain Bluebirds, a male and a female, and by the end of the day we had passed several on fence posts. The mixed forest here along Grand Valley Road offered up some good birds, despite the weather. We had Lincoln’s and White-throated sparrows, Black-headed Grosbeak, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Wood-Pewee and more here. Our first large mammal of the trip, White-tailed Deer, were about in ones and twos, and later on in the day we saw a Mule Deer, displaying its enormous ears. Out over a grassy field, a few lucky birders saw a male Bobolink doing flight songs. A Le Conte’s Sparrow gave its thin, wheezy song from the grass, but wouldn’t appear.
We headed back into Cochrane for lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring Horse Creek Road. Winds had kicked up along with rain showers and this is perhaps why we didn’t see a Le Conte’s Sparrow. A great sighting of a Nelson’s Sparrow more than made up for missing the Le Conte’s however. Our first Yellow Warbler popped out of the bushes for a few minutes before disappearing and a Gray Catbird showed for a moment before scooting off across the road. Way out in the marsh we could the ticking calls of a Yellow Rail. We strolled up a dirt road through some aspens, and were rewarded with a
Downy Woodpecker, as well as a Northern Flicker, and a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. In the coniferous woods near the Dartique Lodge, we had some more nice species, such as a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a stunning little Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadees, and a couple of Evening Grosbeaks, making for a three grosbeak day! We began the journey to Banff, enjoying views of the scenic mountaintops peeking out from behind the clouds.
Day 4 – It was supposed to be a cold, rainy day, according to the weather forecast, but overall, the conditions turned out better than we expected. We began before breakfast at Vermilion Lakes, a lovely place nestled amongst the Rocky Mountains near Banff. We hoped to see some wildlife this morning, and we did, although it was a single Least Chipmunk running along a rocky hillside. We saw our first striking Common Yellowthroats, as well as our first, of many, Song Sparrows. Willow Flycatcher, our first member of the difficult ’empidonax’ family, was seen here. On the lakes themselves we watched a gorgeous pair of adult Common Loons come in for a smooth landing and then swim together on the calm waters. Cinnamon Teal, Hooded Merganser, and Ring-necked Duck were also tallied here. We saw an Osprey, and an adult Bald Eagle, and an adult
Peregrine Falcon flew over rather laboriously, with some prey dangling from its talons. We had a short stop in a patch of mixed deciduous / coniferous forest where more new birds appeared, including Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, a female type American Redstart and a rather stunning Townsend’s Warbler.
After a tasty breakfast at Melissa’s, we headed out to explore the Bow Valley Parkway. Our first stop, at the Muleshoe Picnic Area was very good. Right next to the parking area, an impressive male Pileated Woodpecker poked its head out from its nest hole in an aspen. The bird disappeared into the hole, and seconds later flew out. Then, the female stuck her head out of the hole as well. Shortly thereafter we found another woodpecker nest, that of a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers. A Northern Flicker flew past, making this stop a three woodpecker species stop. As we were loading into the van, I spotted a Brown
Creeper in the trees nearby, so everyone hopped back out and we saw the creeper. As far as mammals are concerned, we saw a Columbian Ground-Squirrel at Muleshoe this morning.
We drove along the parkway, stopping now and then to look at birds. Every passing vehicle, it seemed, stopped and asked us what we were doing. Of course, their loud vehicles and yelling voices had scared all the birds away. It was a futile attempt, so we headed for Johnston Canyon where a walk up to the Lower Falls was most enjoyable. Some of the birds we encountered, though there were not too many, included Swainson’s Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Canada Jay, Common Raven and best of all, an American Dipper. We got our cuteness overload here as a couple of Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels posed for photos. We returned to the bottom of the canyon and had lunch in the café.
After lunch we headed for Lake Louise, one of Canada’s most iconic lakes. Even though it was cloudy, we still could see the glaciers hanging high over the crystal blue waters of the lake. Barn, Cliff and our first Violet-green swallows of the tour were seen here, skimming low over the water’s surface. In the bushes next to the lake were Yellow-rumped Warblers of the ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s races, along with various hybrids as well. A lovely male Wilson’s Warbler sat in the bushes right in front of us, which was
much appreciated, since we had just tried to see one in another location. That Wilson’s Warbler led us on a chase, ending up with almost nobody seeing the bird. Leslie spotted a fantastic mammal, a Red-backed Vole, as it nibbled on things beneath a bench. Just before we left, a couple of very cooperative Boreal Chickadees graced us with their presence. I got a Pine Siskin in the scope view. One person looked through the scope and saw the siskin, the next person looked through the scope and saw a Pine Grosbeak! Unfortunately, the grosbeak didn’t hang around long. Varied Thrushes sang from the thick forests, but would never come out to investigate this afternoon.
Taking advantage of the fact that it wasn’t raining, we decided to head up to Moraine Lake this afternoon as well. Again, once we got out of the vehicle, the rather haunting song of the Varied Thrush rang out from the forests, but again, the birds stayed hidden. Canada Jays patrolled the areas around the parking lot. The views at Moraine Lake were spectacular today, as always, with the lake glassy calm and the color of jade. Here, we saw another Pine Grosbeak, this one a male, however it also did not stick around long enough. Back in Banff we had dinner and retired for the evening. The sound of falling rain and the hooting of distant trains could be heard as dusk fell.
Day 5 – On our way out of Banff, we stopped at one more location, the Cave and Basin Boardwalk. It rained fairly steadily as we explored this area, where some of the interesting birds we found included a rather obliging MacGillivray’s Warbler, a White-crowned Sparrow, and a Northern Waterthrush. The rain chased us back to the van and we began the drive to British Columbia. As we traveled west, the weather improved, and by the time we were in Golden it was sunny and warm. Along the way we saw Bighorn Sheep on hillside above the freeway. We finally left the Bow River behind and it was replaced with the Kicking Horse River, which also had a milky blue color, due to glacial silt from runoff.
Before we went for lunch, we had a stroll at Eidelweiss Slough in Golden. Wetlands here held Red-winged Blackbirds, several Common Yellowthroats, Spotted Sandpiper, Willow Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings and much more. A male Black-chinned Hummingbird sat up atop a dead tree, and was a bit of a surprise find for this location. After lunch, we drove on some more, into the Pacific Time Zone, and up and over the Rogers Pass, into the
Selkirk Mountains. We stopped at Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk, where it was a lovely sunny and warm afternoon. The vegetation was lush here, including the giant namesake Skunk Cabbages. There were several good birds here, but a couple of them just mostly played hide and seek with us, including a Veery and a Rufous Hummingbird. We did have nice views of male American Redstarts, as well as Pine Siskin, Cedar Waxwing and a brief flyby Pileated Woodpecker. A couple of us were lucky enough to be looking in the right place at the right time when a Short-tailed Weasel dashed across the path with some prey dangling from its mouth. Just then, a gentleman was coming back from the boardwalk and he stopped to inform us of a bear up ahead on the path. We slowly headed onwards, looking around each corner for the bear, which Chris saw as it disappeared over a log and into the wetland. Moments later we heard people clapping and yelling for help from the direction of where the bear had been. We headed down the path a little more and found four folks, two from Singapore and a couple from Belgium, on the boardwalk and afraid to proceed. We told them to follow us and as a group we headed towards the boardwalk exit. Then, I spotted the Black Bear, feeding on the greenery next to the boardwalk. It was not a large bear, perhaps a 3 year old, and he was so intent on eating the lush plants that he barely moved as we quickly walked by the area he was in. Everyone was very excited that we had seen a bear, though we were not expecting it to be so close up and personal.
We made a short stop at a place along the railway east of Revelstoke, called Greely. Unfortunately the lovely riparian forest and meadows here are slated to be developed. I had found an Alder Flycatcher here, along with Lazuli Buntings several days earlier when I was traveling through the area towards Calgary. It didn’t take us long to find both of these birds, and I think the bunting may have won out in the beauty department,
though I preferred seeing the flycatcher since it is not a bird I see very often. We crossed the Columbia River in Revelstoke and carried on to Salmon Arm. As we drove along the south side of Shuswap Lake, it seemed to go on forever. Today, we had started in the mountains where it was cold and raining, and ended up with sunshine and warm temperatures by the late afternoon.
Day 6 – We were out birding before breakfast, and we began at the pier in Salmon Arm. There was a slight chill in the air this morning, but the sun was out and the birds were active. Several Ospreys, including one on a nest, posed at close range for photos. Swallows, including Violet-green, Tree, Barn, Cliff and Northern Rough-winged were all tallied. Several times, the swallows got all excited, giving alarm calls and then chased and mobbed a male Merlin. Another good raptor sighting this morning was an immature Cooper’s Hawk that flew in and perched in a Russian Olive tree. We scanned through dozens of Western Grebes and I eventually spotted our target species for the morning, a Clark’s Grebe. An Eared Grebe was seen far out on the lake, and a Pied-billed Grebe frustratingly lurked in the vegetation at the edge of the lake, where it was difficult to see. A female Common
Merganser swam across the water at the marina, and she was the first of her species to be seen on the tour. We also saw our first House Finches this morning, as they fed on a feeder that was suction cupped right to somebody’s living room window. High overhead, we spotted at least two or three Black Swifts as they sailed on set wings against the clouds above. Feeling as though we’d earned our breakfast, we returned to the hotel and ate, before packing up the van. We headed back to the waterfront, but this time we walked along the Christmas Island Trail, and the birds were busy. There were plenty of Common Yellowthroats and several Willow Flycatchers to be seen, as well as an inquisitive little family group of Black-capped Chickadees. We had good looks at Wood Ducks, and we enjoyed watching the bustling colony of Ring-billed Gulls, especially when the Bald Eagle flew over and put the whole colony into the air. Another highlight this afternoon was a male Belted Kingfisher that posed nicely for us. We enjoyed scope views of a singing male Yellow-breasted Chat as well, a bird that is not normally found as far north as Salmon Arm in B.C. Some of the group lagged behind and saw a Beaver transporting a horsetail near its lodge.
We had lunch on the patio of a restaurant and watched a dark storm cloud move in our direction. Luckily the rain held off just long enough for us to finish our lunch. We then drove to Kamloops and headed out to Tranquille for one last stop of the day. We saw several glorious Lazuli Buntings, as well as Eastern and Western kingbirds, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warblers, and our first Pacific-slope Flycatcher of the tour. Overhead, Vaux’s Swifts were flying about with the swallows and we saw an adult Peregrine Falcon in the sky as well.
Day 7 – We began in grasslands near Kamloops where one of our first birds was perhaps
the bird of the day for many, a Burrowing Owl. In the same area as the owl, we saw our first Spotted Towhee, a lovely male. As we traveled up through the sagebrush we saw the usual Western Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds and Mountain Bluebird. We spent some time exploring a little grove of aspens where we had our first Dusky Flycatcher of the trip as well as Western Wood-Pewees, Red-naped Sapsucker, Warbling Vireo and Cedar Waxwing. Three Sandhill Cranes were a surprise as they called from a ridge to the north. There were several nice little wetlands along our route today, where we added some waterfowl to the daily tally such as Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Northern
Shoveler and more. An adult Pied-billed Grebe proved rather difficult to see as it surfaced for mere seconds each time before diving back down beneath the surface.
Our next stop, at a small lake, produced lovely sightings of breeding Red-necked Grebes, as well as Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead and nearby, a stunning male Calliope Hummingbird. We heard a Least Flycatcher singing in an aspen copse, so most of us trudged into the forest to look for the bird, however, as soon as a swarm of mosquitos emerged, most people retreated. Hillary and I persisted, and eventually got good views of the flycatcher, the only one for the tour. The next new species to be added, was a gorgeous male Western Tanager in the coniferous forest near McQueen Lake.
Our lunch stop, at Isobel Lake, was very nice. Our picnic table overlooked a little marsh and lake where Common Loons were swimming about and Marsh Wrens were chattering away. We had great views of a Virginia Rail here as well. After it was all said and done, several people on the tour voted today’s picnic spot, the best lunch spot on the trip. I tried to call in a Northern Pygmy-Owl, with no luck, however, a nice assortment of birds, including Orange-crowned Warbler, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Western Tanager, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Lincoln’s Sparrow, came in to investigate.
After lunch we headed back towards Kamloops and then we drove up Hwy 5A, stopping in at Separation Lake. The target species here was Say’s Phoebe, and we saw a pair, although they were a little far away. The phoebe pair were busily feeding their second
brood of the season inside a distant dilapidated barn and we watched through the scope. Our next stop was at Planet Mine Road, where open grasslands, dotted with large pines and firs, are good for Lewis’s Woodpeckers, one of the more sought-after woodpecker species here. It didn’t take us too long to find a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers as they fed young inside a snag. Our first Hairy Woodpecker of the tour was a nice surprise here as well. Another species new for the trip here was Pygmy Nuthatch. Back in Kamloops we had a delicious dinner at a local Indian establishment.
Day 8 – Because of sensitivity issues, I won’t give any specific locations, but this morning we were treated to views of an adult and two ‘brancher’ Great Gray Owls. Upon arrival at the location, I was shocked to see 30 vehicles lining the road and dozens of people with hunting dogs and guns. I was also surprised to see that the owls didn’t seem to mind all
the activity. We viewed them from a distance through the scope before leaving them ‘in peace’. After a short ‘pit-stop’ we tried another road where an American Three-toed Woodpecker had been nesting. Unfortunately, the woodpeckers were not there anymore as the young had most likely fledged. We did, however, add a couple of birds to the trip list here, including White-winged Crossbill and Hermit Thrush.
We paused for lunch in Merritt and then stopped in at my house, along Trepanier Creek in Peachland. Because of bear problems, I had to take most of my feeders down this spring unfortunately, though there was still one hummingbird feeder up. We had good views of Calliope, Rufous and Black-chinned hummingbirds here, all the while enjoying a cup of tea / coffee that my better half Cindy had prepared for us. My son Carsen was pretty excited to see dad again too.
Our next stop was at Rose Valley in West Kelowna. It was quite hot and sunny at this point in the day, but the birds didn’t seem to mind. There were Western Tanagers, Lazuli Bunting, Veery, Dusky Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak and Spotted Towhee here, as well as quite a few other species. Violet-green Swallows were foraging in numbers, skimming inches above the ground all along the trail, making for some good entertainment. The best bird was heard only, a Lesser Goldfinch, calling up a wooded slope. While this species has recently colonized an area near Osoyoos, there have been no records as far north as Kelowna in the Okanagan up until now. Try as we might, we never did see the goldfinch, so we had to put it down as heard only.
We drove on into the bustling city of Kelowna, checked into our hotel and then went out for dinner at a Greek restaurant.
Day 9 – First thing we headed for Mission Creek in Kelowna, to look for a roosting Western Screech-Owl. ‘I get it 50% of the time’, I explained to the group. Unfortunately, today was one of those times when the owl wasn’t present. A little walk through Sutherland Hills Park ensured we saw some nice things anyhow, such as male Calliope Hummingbirds, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing and more.
We returned to the hotel and had breakfast, before heading back out into the field. We enjoyed a sunny morning on Beaver Lake Road, north of Kelowna. In the grassland
habitat we had some nice birds including our first Western Bluebirds of the tour, and our first Lark Sparrow of the trip. Bullock’s Orioles, Lazuli Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, Western Meadowlark and Vesper Sparrow were also noted. We tried, unsuccessfully for a Northern Pygmy-Owl, but we successful in finding a lovely Barred Owl. The owl sat on a branch over the trail for a moment before flying off into the forest.
We picked up lunch at the supermarket and took it down to Mission Creek Park where we enjoyed a picnic while dozens of children played on the nearby playground. A couple of Eastern Gray Squirrels hopped about on the grass here in the park, though I rarely hear anyone from the U.K. say nice things about this rather pesky species. We drove up Hwy 33, east of Kelowna, and we paused to watch two adult Golden Eagles soar next to the highway. Up in the Big White Ski Village, at over 6000 feet elevation, we enjoyed watching our first Steller’s Jays of the tour as they came in to feed at a feeding station,
along with Yellow Pine Chipmunks, Red Squirrels and Columbian Ground-Squirrels. A walk along an old logging road through the boreal forest produced our first Varied Thrush, as well as Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee and most surprising of all, a Solitary Sandpiper calling from high atop a spruce tree.
Along McCulloch Road, it didn’t take us too long to find an Olive-sided Flycatcher, one of just two seen on the trip.
One final stop, along Philpott Road, yielded several Chestnut-backed Chickadees, as well as the usual Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills and a Brown Creeper. Dinner this evening was at an Asian buffet.
Day 10 – Leaving Kelowna, we followed Hwy 97 south, back across Okanagan Lake via the Bennett Bridge. We stopped in Penticton, to check a large field near the airport where a Grasshopper Sparrow had been present. It didn’t take us long to find the sparrow and we enjoyed excellent close-up views of this rather rare and local species.
Our next stop was along White Lake Road at Three Gates Farm. I went and asked Doreen for permission to come into her lovely garden and see the birds. We lined up in front of her log house and watched the hummingbird feeders. We were only there for about 15 minutes, but we had excellent views of several Calliope, Rufous and even Black-chinned hummingbirds. Down a wooded slope, we saw a Great Horned Owl fly into the thick forest, undoubtedly spooked from its roost by us. Next up, we spotted three introduced Gray Partridge as they unsuccessfully tried to blend in with the grasses. In the sagebrush at White Lake we could hear a Sage Thrasher singing in the distance. We climbed over a fence and walked down towards the song, eventually obtaining good views of the thrasher, another rare and local bird in Canada. As we walked back towards the van, I said, ‘I’ll bet there’s a Sage Thrasher next to the van now’, and surprisingly there they were, two Sage Thrashers, in a bush next to the van.
We made a short stop in the pine forest near Mahoney Lake where yet another target species, the Gray Flycatcher, gave itself up quite easily. We enjoyed lunch at the south end of Skaha Lake before beginning the bumpy journey up Shuttleworth Creek Road, east of Okanagan Falls. We followed a little track through the forest along Dutton Creek to a spot where I had found a Northern Pygmy-Owl with my first Rockies tour group a
few weeks prior. Luck was on our side, and the Northern Pygmy-Owl again came in to investigate my whistle. A stop in the larch trees along Venner Meadows Road added the third out of four possible sapsucker species to our list. The male and female Williamson’s Sapsuckers are very different from one another and we saw them side by side, the male decked out in black, white, red and yellow and the female a study in subtle brown and black barring. On our way back down towards the valley, we paused at a nice viewpoint where a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers were busily feeding youngsters in a large Ponderosa Pine snag.
After a short drive we were in Osoyoos, a tourist town situated right on the U.S. border with Washington state just to the south of us. We had a nice dinner at the Wildfire Grill and then we headed out to try some evening birding. We began at Road 22 where Common Nighthawks were numerous at dusk. We also had nice views of a Say’s Phoebe in the fading light. We drove up towards White Lake again, to an area good for Western Screech-Owls, but we couldn’t elicit any response from them. We did see a Great Horned Owl perched atop a power pole, however, and then it began to rain and there was thunder and lightning, so we decided to call it a night.
Day 11 – It was a sunny morning as we explored Road 22, where in the hayfields we had great views of several Bobolinks. We then had a nice hike up to ‘The Throne’, a prominent cliff near the north end of Osoyoos Lake, that, if you use your imagination, is in the shape of a throne. We had several target species to find this morning and most of them cooperated nicely. We had great views of both Canyon Wren and Rock Wren here
this morning, and we were treated to views of a pair of Peregrine Falcons as they chased each other high up against the cliffs. There were White-throated Swifts soaring high overhead as well, another species new for the bulging trip list.
After we picked up lunch in Osoyoos, we headed up Hwy 3 into the Richter Pass area, west of town. At Kruger Mountain Road we were able to see a pair of the rather newly discovered population of Lesser Goldfinch that have been in the area for at least a year now. There were a lot of other birds up in this area as well, such as Say’s Phoebe, Red Crossbill, Black-headed Grosbeak and a House Wren, the latter of which was perched on a cow’s skull that was adorning the gate to a property.
I took the group up another bumpy dirt road, this time to Mount Kobau, where a forest fire devastated the woods a few years earlier. Burned forests are good for woodpeckers and we hoped to perhaps find a Black-backed or Am. Three-toed woodpecker here today.
Not for a lack of trying, we couldn’t find either of those two tricky woodpeckers. We kept bumping into Hairy Woodpeckers, many of them, and some of which had their white underparts stained sooty from rubbing up against the trunks of burned trees. There were still quite a few other birds about as well, including Dusky Flycatchers, Lazuli Buntings, MacGillivray’s Warbler and Red-naped Sapsuckers.
At the Nighthawk Border Crossing we were able to find a Brewer’s Sparrow, new for the trip list, along with others previously seen such as Lark Sparrow, Western Meadowlark and Western Kingbird. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant this evening and then some of us headed out after dark to look for Common Poorwills. We had good looks at a poorwill as it fluttered about above Kilpoola Lake Road, and we heard begging young of two species of owls, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl.
Day 12 – Today was to be mostly a travel day. We left Osoyoos and headed directly to Princeton, making one stop en route, at Taylor Way, to look for Mountain Goat. We spotted a Mountain Goat high on the cliffs, and it had a fluffy little youngster following close behind. A lady came out of her house, walking her dog, and approached us. She told us to be careful as she’d just seen a bear in the neighborhood. Soon thereafter, the bear appeared. It was a brown and rather scruffy looking Black Bear and it crossed the road and proceeded to stroll through the gardens. A doe Mule Deer was not happy with the bear’s presence and we speculated there was a fawn somewhere nearby hidden in
In Princeton we picked up lunch and then we drove on to Manning Park where we walked the Strawberry Flats Trail. Birds were not abundant, but we did see several nice Chestnut-backed Chickadees, along with Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Dark-eyed Juncos. New for the burgeoning list of sparrows we’d seen on the tour was a ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow, and we saw two female Pine Grosbeaks here quite nicely as well.
We had lunch at the Manning Park Lodge where we finally saw our first Clark’s Nutcracker of the trip, along with Steller’s Jays, Common Raven and Columbian Ground-Squirrels, all of which were looking for an easy handout from picnickers. We drove up to the Cascade Lookout and we were inundated with ‘moochers’ once again. There were several Clark’s Nutcrackers here as well, including at least one noisy, begging fledgling. A
well fed Common Raven sat on the edge of the parking lot, waiting for scraps, and a number of Yellow Pine Chipmunks, and Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels pushed the cuteness levels into overdrive. On our way back down towards Hwy 3, Clive spotted a pair of Sooty Grouse at the road’s edge. Surprisingly, these were the only grouse seen on the tour.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the van as we made our way to our hotel in Richmond.
Day 13 – From Richmond we drove straight through Vancouver’s bustling downtown, though it wasn’t too busy this morning as it was Saturday. We crossed over the Lion’s Gate Bridge and made our way to West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park. The walk from the parking lot down to the shore should take about 15 minutes, however, since we were stopping to look at birds and things, it took us much longer. Tiny Pacific Wrens belted out their loud songs from the moss-laden forest, and a male Black-throated Gray Warbler showed nicely, the only one for the tour. A Hutton’s Vireo appeared, though it didn’t hang around for long, another addition to the list. We had seen an impressive array of mammals on the tour, and here at Lighthouse Park we saw the last of many squirrel
species, the Douglas’s Squirrel, which looks quite a bit like an American Red Squirrel, only less red. At the lighthouse itself we were treated to views of a beautiful male Anna’s Hummingbird, the hardiest of Canada’s 5 regular hummingbird species, and the only one that regularly spends the winter on the west coast. Watching out over the sea, we saw our first Pelagic Cormorants fly past, and we saw a few Double-crested Cormorants for comparison, the latter being larger and chunkier of the two.
We picked up lunch and had a picnic at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. The usual Northwestern Crows and Glaucous-winged Gulls watched intently as we ate, waiting for scraps, and they found some. More Pelagic Cormorants were noted here, and we had scope views of our only Pigeon Guillemot of the trip. After some scanning, I finally found a single female type Harlequin Duck sitting on some rocks.
Our next location was Cypress Mountain, and we headed straight up to the cross country ski trails. It didn’t take us long to find some Red-breasted Sapsuckers, the fourth species of sapsucker we had seen on the tour, completing the North American set of sapsuckers. On our way down to Vancouver, we stopped at a viewpoint where we enjoyed great views of the city below. As an added bonus there were several flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons wheeling about over the treetops.
Back in Richmond, we went out for the final dinner of the tour at The Keg.
Day 14 – It was the last morning of the tour and we went out for a nice breakfast before heading down to the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty. Hoping to add a few more species to the trip list today, we searched for, and found, several Black Oystercatchers. Three Caspian Terns flew past, and we saw some distant scoters that were probably Surf Scoters, but we
couldn’t count them as they were just too far away. A Whimbrel was a nice surprise here and perhaps an early southbound migrant. Several Harlequin Ducks were diving for food close to the road, and we had a quick stop to look at them.
We made our way to the famous George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, or known by locals simply as Reifel. Here, a network of ponds and waterways, as well as an extensive marsh complex and riparian bottomland combine to make for a nice variety of habitats and birds. Upon arrival we were inundated by the usual Feral Rock Pigeons, Mallard, Canada Geese and even a pair of Sandhill Cranes. Once we began exploring the trails of Reifel, more interesting birds began to pop up. Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Black-capped Chickadees and Red-winged Blackbirds were all fairly common songbirds. In the wetlands, Marsh Wrens were seen quite well, alongside Common Yellowthroats. We saw our first Purple Martins of the tour, as several males and females sailed through the sky. From the outer ponds there were few shorebirds, unfortunately, but there was a Wilson’s Phalarope and both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs. We spotted three fledgling Great Horned Owls in the large maple trees this morning, and eventually we enjoyed excellent views of our only Bewick’s Wren of the tour. Back at the visitor’s center we saw more Anna’s Hummingbirds at feeders. A short walk down the entrance road produced yet one more west coast songbird, the tiny Bushtit. A female, with her pale yellow eye, was feeding young in a hanging ‘sock’ nest. As we left Reifel, we checked out an old barn where occasionally a Barn Owl can be seen. Unfortunately, there was no owl there today, extending my streak to 0 in about 8 visits.
We had lunch at Moxie’s and then visited Iona Island in Richmond for one last birding stop before the tour’s end. What is a birding trip without a visit to the local sewage ponds
after all? There were not too many birds here though, and shorebirds were particularly lacking in numbers. We saw a Spotted Sandpiper, two Killdeer, a Lesser Yellowlegs and best of all about 20 Least Sandpipers, the 220th species for the tour! At Vancouver International Airport we said our goodbyes and the tour was over. Thanks again for the great company and birding skills brought forth by members of both Rockies tours this summer.