September 8 – I met Julie and Neil, a couple from the U.K. at Canada Place, in downtown Vancouver at 9:30 this morning. It was a wet morning in Vancouver, which is not an uncommon occurrence. We quickly left the city and headed east via the Trans Canada Highway, stopping in at Chilliwack to pick up some food for lunch. The next stop was at Manning Park, where we explored the Alpine Meadows Road. It rained for the entire time we were there, so we mostly birded from the vehicle. We did make a stop at Cascade Lookout, where the rain slowed down for a few moments, allowing us to see some birds. In the spruce trees were some very attractive Red-breasted Nuthatches moving about, alongside a lifer for Julie and Neil, Mountain Chickadees. Down a hill, we could barely make out a Townsend’s Solitaire as it perched atop a tree in some fairly dense fog. We really wanted to see a Sooty Grouse, so we drove up to the top of the road, which must be 1600 meters elevation or so. Just where we had to turn around, a large grouse appeared at the side of the grouse. ‘Sooty Grouse’, I shouted, and we watched for ten minutes or so, as the bird, a male, picked at the vegetation in the rain. On our way back down the road, we found another male Sooty Grouse, this one a younger bird. Success! As an added bonus, the foul weather had brought some migrants down, including White-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers, and a group of 7 Horned Larks! Back down at the Manning Park Lodge, we had lunch in the vehicle, to keep dry. The rain let up enough for us to venture off to use the facilities, and along the way we were rewarded sightings of Steller’s Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker.
From Manning Park we carried on east, following the Similkameen River through the town of Princeton. Between Princeton and Keremeos we paused to see a young Osprey in a nest. The bird appeared large enough it could fish on its own, but that didn’t stop it from begging loudly, presumably to get its parents attention. Also noted in some of the hayfields here were Red-tailed Hawk, Black-billed Magpie and a few little groups of Brewer’s Blackbirds. Certainly the mammal sighting of the day was a Black Bear that was ambling along the shore of the Similkameen River near Keremeos. Eurasian Collared-Doves were seen on the telephone wires as we drove through the Keremeos region, a species that has only arrived in B.C. relatively recently.
We arrived in Osoyoos and checked in at our hotel. Twenty minutes later we were off again, this time for a little late afternoon birding at Haynes Point Provincial Park. As soon as we arrived we were inundated with Yellow-rumped Warblers. Mixed in with the warblers was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a Warbling Vireo. Western Tanager was also a nice migrant to get here. Overhead were many Violet-green Swallows, with the odd Barn Swallow mixed in. American Robins hopped about nearby, and we were quite excited to see a little group of California Quail on the trail ahead. Some light tapping in a tree led us to a lovely little male Downy Woodpecker that was feeding at eye level. We also saw several ‘Red-shafted’ Northern Flickers in the park. Out on the lake were several American Coots, as well as Horned, Red-necked and a group of Western Grebes. We saw an Eastern Fox Squirrel here, a species that was apparently introduced into Washington State and has made its way into the South Okanagan in British Columbia. We got into the vehicle just in time, as it began to rain rather steadily. We enjoyed a nice dinner this evening, at the Wildfire Grill.
September 9 – This morning we headed north of Osoyoos to Road 22, where we enjoyed a couple hours of excellent birding. During the time we spent here we tallied over 60 species, many of which were migrating and present in significant numbers. Perhaps the most numerous migrants this morning, were Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers, followed up by White-crowned Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers and Violet-green Swallows. Amongst the hordes of yellow-rumps, we had some Common Yellowthroats as well as nice male Yellow Warbler. Some of the real highlights here included a great sighting of a Yellow-breasted Chat, somewhat unexpected this late in the season, and a nice view of both Bewick’s Wren and Marsh Wren and a good view of a Red-naped Sapsucker. A Belted Kingfisher uttered its rattle call as it flew past, and overhead, Vaux’s Swifts mingled with the swallows. A Clay-colored Sparrow popped in and out of view at the edge of the road, and we saw several Song Sparrows as well. Gray Catbirds ‘meowed’ from the vegetation and occasionally popped into view. As far as raptors are concerned, we had a nice female Northern Harrier, as well as a Merlin, several Red-tailed Hawks, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and some Ospreys. Neil and Julie’s lifer Hooded Merganser, a female, was on a pond next to the dyke, along with our first American Wigeon of the trip. At the north end of Osoyoos Lake, we spotted Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe and California Gull with the scope. Feeling quite fortunate to have had good weather and superb birding, we headed into Osoyoos to pick up some lunch.
Our next stop was in the Richter Pass, west of Osoyoos at Kruger Mountain Road. Here, we hoped to see some Lesser Goldfinches. They made me work, but the goldfinches were eventually seen, a male and a female, feeding on seed heads next to the road. We also saw several American Goldfinches as well, for comparison. Another highlight at this location was an abundance of Western Bluebirds, many of which were speckled young birds, and several of which were gorgeous adult males. Again, Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere, as were White-crowned Sparrows. Lincoln’s Sparrows were particularly numerous at most locations today as well. Cassin’s Finches appeared on fenceposts on one or two occasions, and we also saw Pine Siskin, more Say’s Phoebes, and some Horned Larks overhead. There were perhaps a few hundred Violet-green Swallows here, lining the telephone wires. We heard a flock of Evening Grosbeaks, but they remained unseen.
We made a short stop at Conifryd Lake, where we added Green-winged Teal and Redhead to the trip list, along with the usual American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallards and American Coots. We then passed by the bizarre Spotted Lake and began the bumpy ride up Mt. Kobau Road. We hoped for some interesting woodpeckers in the burned areas up Mt. Kobau and we did manage to see some Hairy Woodpeckers and a Downy Woodpecker before the rain began to fell. We had another ‘inside the vehicle’ picnic before we began heading back down the road. An American Kestrel, our first for the trip, sat on a snag on a distant hill, and a few Turkey Vultures teetered on the breeze. Along the way Neil coined the term ‘Dairy Bear’, since we saw several black cows that initially were mistaken for Black Bears.
The final stop of the day was at the Nighthawk Border Crossing where open country birds were the target. Sparrows, again, seemed to be everywhere, and we also saw American Pipit, Say’s Phoebe, and some lovely Western Meadowlarks. On our way back towards Osoyoos, I spotted a Lewis’s Woodpecker on a fencepost next to the highway. We turned around and luckily the bird was still there. We watched the woodpecker, which was a young bird, for a few moments through the scope. It then flew across the highway into a tall Ponderosa Pine tree and Julie mentioned there were several birds in that tree. We put the scope on the top of the pine, and there were at least 10 Lewis’s Woodpeckers there, including many pink-bellied adults. It was fine ending to a day upon which we saw close to 80 species. Dinner this evening, at a local Indian restaurant, was delicious!
September 10 – As we emerged from the hotel this morning, it was raining, steadily. Hoping it was not going to be a washout, we drove north towards Vaseux Lake, stopping along the way to pick up some provisions in Oliver. We visited the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, where migrating birds are banded, but due to the rain, the nights had not been opened up yet. Still, we spent 45 minutes or so exploring the area, finding Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and a few other species of migrants hopping about in the trees. An immature Cooper’s Hawk sailed by, over a line of willow trees. Sora was heard calling from a little bit of marsh, and at one point, a Great Blue Heron made a close pass by.
Since the road up to the Vaseux Cliffs was closed for construction, we went up to some rocky outcroppings and cliffs nearby on Allendale Road to look for Canyon Wren, an Okanagan Valley speciality. It didn’t take long, and the wren began answering my whistles, on the cliff face. We spotted the wren, sitting on a ledge, and this was a lifer for Neil and Julie! Also on Allendale Road, we ran into a flock of migrant Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows, Western Bluebirds and a single House Wren.
Next, we paused briefly in Okanagan Falls to use the facilities. Some Ring-billed and California gulls were sitting on the beach at the south end of Skaha Lake. At Okanagan Falls, we had a good scan, but couldn’t find an American Dipper. Our Osprey for the day flew down the river here, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were flitting about against the rocky outcroppings nearby. We then headed up White Lake Road, pausing at Three Gates Farm, where I hoped we might find Pygmy and White-breasted nuthatches. The nuthatch gods had other plans, and instead we had about 3 Red-breasted Nuthatches. Carrying on, near St. Andrews Golf Course, we saw several Mule Deer, including a couple of fawns, run from one side of the road to the other. An adult female Cooper’s Hawks at on a fence post next to the road, allowing for some nice views and photographs. Along Twin Lakes Road, we stopped to look for a Burrowing Owl near its burrow and we were a little disappointed upon arrival, to find no owl there. A few moments later, the owl hopped out of the burrow and sat up on top, in the pouring rain, and we watched through the scope. Back at White Lake, a scan of the lake revealed some nice birds, including our first Barrow’s Goldeneye, some Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, and a couple of Killdeer. Western Meadowlarks were singing from hidden perches within the sagebrush. As we enjoyed the lovely scenery at White Lake, the rains let up and the sun came out for the rest of the day.
At Mahoney Lake, amongst the Ponderosa Pines, we had all three species of nuthatch in one tree! There were single Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches, and quite a group of Pygmy Nuthatches. Heard, but not seen, Red Crossbills called in the distance. New for our rather small list of mammals, was a tiny Yellow Pine Chipmunk.
We dropped down the steep, and winding Green Lake Road, commenting on sanity of the cyclists grinding their way to the top. We had lunch at Vaseux Lake, and then followed the boardwalk out to the relatively newly constructed viewing tower at the edge of the lake. The scenery, with low clouds hanging against the towering cliffs, was spectacular. There was not an abundance of birds, but still, we saw a female and a lovely male Wood Duck, Great Blue Herons, American Coots, Turkey Vultures, and we heard two scolding Bewick’s Wrens.
Along River Road, we were teased by several Virginia Rails that were calling from close by in a marsh, but remained hidden. We headed back to Osoyoos and had a nice afternoon siesta before heading out for dinner.
It was an omen when we ended up at the Owl Pub for dinner. After dinner we headed out to Road 22 as it was getting dark. As we drove slowly along the road with windows open, we could hear a Coyote yelping somewhere not far away. I spied two White-tailed Deer in a field with my spotlight, helping our mammal list to grow by one more. We pulled into a parking lot, where we may have disturbed a couple of lovebirds in their car when I pulled out my spotlight and spotted a Great Horned Owl sitting on a telephone wire nearby. A second Great Horned Owl could be seen sitting on a fence post in the distance. Also, a Barn Owl was briefly seen in the spotlight, as it flew low over a field of long weeds and grasses. It had been a successful day indeed.
September 11 – Our final day of birding, we left Osoyoos and made our way north to Okanagan Falls. We drove up Shuttleworth Road, heading off onto Dutton Creek Road, where in a wooded gully we had two lovely Northern Pygmy-Owls. Mobbing the pygmy owls were passerines including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Dark-eyed Junco. Two Canada Jays made a rather brief appearance, and were the only of their kind seen during out short tour. Other highlights included a Pacific Wren, a Hammond’s Flycatcher and a Cassin’s Vireo, all lifers for Neil and Julie. A very cute Yellow Pine Chipmunk nibbled on a red berry, and we finally saw our first Red Squirrels of the tour.
Up near Rabbit Lake, we searched for some higher elevation species and we succeeded in finding a pair of Boreal Chickadees, in addition to Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush and a ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow. On our descent of the road, we took in the fantastic views of Skaha Lake in the distance.
In Penticton, we picked up lunch and took it with us to the Pyramid Provincial Park, south of Summerland. It would have been a perfect picnic spot today, if not for the wasps. We were entertained by a dozen or so Yellow-rumped Warblers flycatching from the poplars in the park.
The drive from Summerland to Kelowna was very scenic, and once across the Bennett Bridge, we went to the Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary. Here, we looked for warblers and other migrant, since within the two days prior, species like Chestnut-sided Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and American Redstart had been seen here. We didn’t see any of them. Our final stop of the tour was at Robert Lake. We hoped to add some shorebirds to our trip list here, and we managed to find a Long-billed Dowitcher, two Pectoral Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs. Eared Grebes were out on the lake and were also new, and a final lifer for my clients, a Virginia Rail, made a brief appearance from the reeds. I dropped Neil & Julie off, and we said our goodbyes. We had tallied 120 species of bird on the tour, and 8 species of mammals.
Canada Goose; Wood Duck; Northern Shoveler; Gadwall; American Wigeon; Mallard; Green-winged Teal; Redhead; Ring-necked Duck; Bufflehead; Barrow’s Goldeneye; Hooded Merganser; Common Merganser; Ruddy Duck; California Quail; Gray Partridge (L.O). Ring-necked Pheasant; Sooty Grouse; Pied-billed Grebe; Horned Grebe; Red-necked Grebe; Eared Grebe; Western Grebe; Rock Pigeon; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Mourning Dove; Vaux’s Swift; White-throated Swift (L.O); Virginia Rail; Sora (h); American Coot; Sandhill Crane; Killdeer; Pectoral Sandpiper; Long-billed Dowitcher; Spotted Sandpiper (L.O); Solitary Sandpiper; Lesser Yellowlegs; Ring-billed Gull; California Gull; Herring Gull; Glaucous-winged Gull; Common Loon; Turkey Vulture; Osprey; Northern Harrier; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Cooper’s Hawk; Swainson’s Hawk; Red-tailed Hawk; Barn Owl; Great Horned Owl; Northern Pygmy-Owl; Burrowing Owl; Belted Kingfisher; Lewis’s Woodpecker; Red-naped Sapsucker; Downy Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker; American Kestrel; Merlin; Peregrine Falcon; Hammond’s Flycatcher; Say’s Phoebe; Cassin’s Vireo; Warbling Vireo; Canada Jay; Steller’s Jay; Clark’s Nutcracker; Black-billed Magpie; American Crow; Northwestern Crow; Common Raven; Horned Lark; Violet-green Swallow; Bank Swallow (L.O); Barn Swallow; Black-capped Chickadee; Mountain Chickadee; Boreal Chickadee; Red-breasted Nuthatch; White-breasted Nuthatch; Pygmy Nuthatch; Brown Creeper; Canyon Wren; House Wren; Pacific Wren; Marsh Wren; Bewick’s Wren; Golden-crowned Kinglet; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Western Bluebird; Mountain Bluebird; Townsend’s Solitaire; Swainson’s Thrush (L.O); Hermit Thrush; American Robin; Gray Catbird; European Starling; Cedar Waxwing; House Sparrow; American Pipit; Evening Grosbeak (h); House Finch; Cassin’s Finch; Red Crossbill (h); Pine Siskin; Lesser Goldfinch; American Goldfinch; Spotted Towhee; Chipping Sparrow; Clay-colored Sparrow; Vesper Sparrow; Savannah Sparrow; Song Sparrow; Lincoln’s Sparrow; White-crowned Sparrow; Dark-eyed Junco; Yellow-breasted Chat; Western Meadowlark; Red-winged Blackbird; Brewer’s Blackbird; Orange-crowned Warbler; MacGillivray’s Warbler (h); Common Yellowthroat; Yellow Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Wilson’s Warbler (L.O); Western Tanager.
Mammals – Black Bear; Mule Deer; White-tailed Deer; Eastern Fox Squirrel; Eastern Gray Squirrel; Red Squirrel; Yellow Pine Chipmunk; Common Muskrat.
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.
Day 1 – The group of 7 participants on a British Airways flight from London arrived at Calgary International Airport on time, and they came through the arrivals hall, where I met them, quite quickly as well. We made the short transfer back to our first hotel and since everyone was tired, we headed to bed for some rest.
Day 2 – We awoke to sunshine and cool temperatures this morning. Some people found a few goodies right around the hotel grounds this morning, including our first Northern Flicker and a White-tailed Jackrabbit. Along with the rest of Calgary, we joined the rush hour and headed south. After a while the traffic began thinning out and pulled into High River for a quick pit stop before continuing on to Frank Lake. A Mule Deer was sighted, our first ‘big mammal’ of the tour, and we had some of the first sightings of common birds like American Crow, Black-billed Magpie and the likes. We reached the entrance road to Frank Lake, but it still must have taken us close to an hour to get anywhere near
the lake. There were just too many birds about, mostly sitting on fence posts, and we couldn’t resist stopping to see what they were. Many were Tree Swallows, the gorgeous blue males shining in the morning sunlight. There were also Savannah and Clay-colored sparrows, the first of many species of sparrows likely to come on this trip. Brown-headed Cowbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, a fine list of icterids, all appeared as well. We saw quite a few Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels here today, and whatever they lacked in size they made up for with cuteness. Once we finally reached the shores of the lake, we were rather quickly overcome with insects, though we were relieved to find out that they, for the most part, were not of the biting varieties. Waterfowl was one of the main attractions at Frank Lake today we racked up quite an impressive list of ducks indeed. Some of the highlights included Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Northern Pintail. The lake was dotted with Eared
Grebes, along with some Western Grebes as well. Christine spotted a Common Loon, decked out in fabulous breeding plumage. There were loads of Franklin’s Gulls here, and upon closer inspection, we picked out several Bonaparte’s Gulls as well. Christine pointed out one unusual gull and it turned out to be a local rarity, a Sabine’s Gull. Later, I counted at least 45 Sabine’s Gulls on the lake, a very impressive total for a species that typically migrates over the open ocean. Black Terns and Forster’s Terns put on a nice show for us today, with many individuals of both species seen carrying off small fish to their nests. Several White-faced Ibis were seen today, though numbers seemed a bit lower than in previous years. Up to three Great Blue Herons were tallied and a couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons lazily flew past. Shorebirds included some stunners like American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marbled Godwit and Willet. We also had Red-necked Phalaropes but they were quite distant out on the lake. At least two Spotted Sandpipers were spotted, pardon the pun, over the course of the day, along with
several Killdeer. We had incredible views of a Sora that seemingly didn’t know that rails were supposed to hide in the reeds, as it came right out in the open. Another, sometimes hard to see, dweller of the reeds, the Marsh Wren, showed itself nicely a couple of times today.
After lunch in High River, we had a look around a pond for Common Grackles and we found a couple of males foraging along the shore. A drive through some farmland produced a few new species, the most notable of which were 3 Great Horned Owls, two babies and an adult, sleeping the day away in a hedgerow. In the same hedge, a Swainson’s Hawk was sitting on a nest while its mate screamed at us from above. After we’d seen one or two nice Vesper Sparrows we headed back to Frank Lake
for an hour or so before we had to begin the drive back to Calgary, hitting the rush hour once again, going in the opposite direction. We had dinner and tallied up our list which reached around 70 species for the day.
Day 3 – We had breakfast in Calgary and then began driving west towards the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We spent our day in the vicinity of Cochrane, exploring roads to the N.W. of the town where the mixed forests and sedge wetlands attract a surprising variety of both eastern and western bird species. A stop at a roadside pond was quite productive, as we had two lovely male Hooded Mergansers here, along with a pair of Trumpeter Swans. Other species here included Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant. Trotting off across a field was the first of two Coyotes we saw today. Our next stop produced a beautiful pair of Mountain Bluebirds. The males were sky blue throughout, while the female was a study in subtle grays and pale blue colors. Also of interest here, a pair of Yellow-bellied
Sapsuckers clung to the telephone poles as we watched them. As we drove a little further down the road, a Blue Jay quickly flashed across the windscreen so I brought the van to a halt as folks jostled for position to see the jay. It was almost difficult for my mouth to produce the words, but they did come out. ‘Great Gray Owl’, I said, as one of these sought after giant owls of the boreal forest glided low across the road. Thankfully the owl landed, in amongst the pole-straight trunks of Lodgepole Pine and White Spruce, and we were able to watch at length, as it silently hunted. In fact, the owl hung around so long that we eventually turned our backs to it and began ticking off other birds. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers and American Robin were all coming in to inspect the situation.
Before we went for lunch, we explored a boggy area, where I had hoped we might find an Alder Flycatcher. The flycatcher did not cooperate, but as consolation prizes we saw White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow and a House Wren. Male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were nice to see in the trees alongside the road. We headed back to Cochrane for lunch, stopping briefly along the way to view our first Wilson’s Snipe of the
tour, as it sat atop a fence post.
We returned to wooded areas N.W. of Cochrane for the afternoon, first of all, walking through a lovely forest of Trembling Aspen. Birds we found here included Western Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, both Downy and Hairy woodpeckers side by side, Northern (red-shafted) Flicker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Clay-colored Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and overhead, a Red-tailed Hawk. Two White-tailed Deer leapt over a fence without any effort at all and carried off into the woodlands. Around a building, where it no doubt had a nest, our only Eastern Phoebe of the tour was seen. We then walked along a section of road that went through a mostly coniferous forest. New species found here included the sought-after Boreal Chickadee, several Blue-headed Vireos, stunning Western Tanagers, a very confiding Golden-crowned Kinglet and a pair of Cape May Warblers! One final stop at some sedge meadows, where I hoped we might find a Le Conte’s Sparrow, did not produce, though we could hear the ticking calls of a Yellow Rail in the distance. Several
Wilson’s Snipe did aerial displays, and Red-winged Blackbirds chased one another about, but the sparrows were in hiding today, other than a pair of Clay-colored Sparrows that kept popping into view. As we made our way back to the highway, we passed by a grass fire that had obviously started quite recently, and we were surprised at just how large it had become in that short time. Though some smoke from forest fires far to the north in Alberta made the sky a bit hazy today, as we neared the Rocky Mountains, we began to stare, in awe, at the spectacular scenery the area offered. Once in Banff we got comfortable in our hotel rooms before heading out to El Toro’s for dinner.
Day 4 – Our morning began at 6 AM as we headed out to explore an area close to Banff called the Vermillion Lakes. Along the way we saw some Mule Deer nibbling on flowers in the town and a trio of American Elk on the outskirts of town. The sky was mostly cloudy, but the sun did poke through occasionally, illuminating the snow-capped peaks all around us. It was fairly calm today, and on the lakes there was a nice selection of waterfowl. Up to four male Wood Ducks were spectacular to see in their gaudy breeding plumage. Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal were seen, along with Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler! Two Trumpeter Swans flew right over our heads, and of course, we saw the
ubiquitous Canada Goose as well. Kath pointed out a distant adult Bald Eagle sitting atop a coniferous tree across the lake. Through the scope we watched as it flew down towards the edge of the lake and appeared to struggle with some prey for a few moments. Common Loons paddled about, giving their loud, eerie calls that seemed to echo amongst the mountains. A Northern Waterthrush sang from a distant dead tree and we watched through the scope. Also, our first White-crowned Sparrow of the trip posed nicely for views, as did Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and a nice group of mixed male, female and young White-winged Crossbills. A fellow approached us in a truck and showed us a photo of a Black Bear that had crossed the road a few moments earlier. ‘Thanks’, we told the man in the truck, and we quickly loaded up in the van and headed back in the direction of his sighting. Down the slope
and through the trees, we spotted him, a lovely brown colored American Black Bear ambling through the open forest. It was a real treat to see the bear, as this was the first bear several of the tour members had ever seen in wild in their lives.
We had a nice, hearty breakfast at Melissa’s and then we had a visit to the Canada House Art Gallery next door. My father, who is a Canadian Artist named Rod Charlesworth, has several pieces of art displayed in the gallery so we enjoyed some of his incredible work. After a failed attempt at the post office to get some stamps, since the line up was too long, we headed west along the Trans Canada to the Bow Valley Parkway. A stretch of the road was closed for construction, unfortunately, as this meant we couldn’t explore an area that is often quite good for birds. At any rate, we made a stop alongside the road in some mixed willows, that is often quite good for warblers. It lived up to my expectations, as we saw three species of warblers we had yet to see on the trip, including Wilson’s Warbler, American Redstart and Yellow Warbler. A pair of Osprey tended to a nest high up on a radio tower, and several Columbian Ground-Squirrels sat on their haunches as they curiously watched what we were up to. Several other cars stopped to see what we were looking at, automatically assuming it was something big and exciting like a Grizzly Bear. When we told them we were just looking at squirrels and warblers they quickly shuffled back to their cars and drove off.
At Johnston Canyon we enjoyed the hike up to Lower Falls, looking all the while for American Dipper along the fast flowing stream. Only Christine was lucky enough to spot one as it flew downstream. Other birds found in the canyon included Dark-eyed Junco,
Townsend’s Warbler, Boreal Chickadee, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. It seems like nearly all the Yellow-rumped warblers in this area are, to some extent, hybrids with Audubon’s and Myrtle. New for our mammal list was the rather cute and charismatic Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. We several of these stripe-backed ground-squirrels as they clambered about on the rocks and steep slopes in the canyon this morning. We also enjoyed a little path of delicate Lady Slipper orchids beneath the pine and spruce woods.
After lunch we made our way up to Moraine Lake, one of Canada’s most scenic locations. Towering, snow-covered peaks ring the picturesque glacial lake, while glaciers hanging
from mountaintops seem as though they could break free at any moment. The best bird sighting at Moraine Lake was a male Varied Thrush that sang from the tops of the spruce trees while we watched through the scope. Christine spotted some very distant Clark’s Nutcrackers high up on a slope and we strained to see them through the scope. On the lake itself, which was still mostly frozen, we saw three Barrow’s Goldeneyes. All in all, it was a very memorable visit.
Day 5 -After a tasty breakfast at our hotel, we loaded up our luggage and made two last stops in the area. The first was at Cave and Basin, where we enjoyed the morning sunshine. The birds were enjoying the nice weather as well. We saw Townsend’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Warbling Vireo, the latter of which was the first we had seen on the trip.
On the pond were Ring-necked Ducks, Mallard, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and American Coot to name a few species.
Our next stop was at Lake Louise where we joined the throngs of international tourists to take in the spectacular view. While we didn’t see too many birds here, we did see a Golden Eagle high up on a towering mountain.
From Lake Louise we continued west into British Columbia and we made a short ‘pit stop’ at the Visitor’s Center in Field before driving on to Golden where we had lunch. Along the way, we had a glimpse of a very black American Black Bear on the railroad tracks. As we ate lunch outside on the picnic tables, we were entertained by two very nice species. A pair of Western Tanagers foraged down at eye level and two male Lazuli Buntings put on a nice show for us as well. At Beaver Valley, a short stop produced some more nice birds such as our first Vaux’s Swifts and our first Rufous Hummingbird of the trip. Also noted were Northern Waterthrush, Song Sparrows and a pair of Northern
Rough-winged Swallows, the latter of which were perched on a dead tree for scope views. Some lovely paintbrush flowers had recently sprouted up along the roadside here. We crossed back over the river via a rather narrow bridge, and continued west towards Revelstoke.
Our final stop of the day was at the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. Here, the sun was shining and the temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius. Birds were surprisingly active. Upon arrival we swiftly got onto a Veery, and shortly thereafter, two male American Redstarts began chasing one another about in the bushes nearby. Two Gray Catbirds popped up out of the vegetation briefly now and then, but for the most part it they remained well hidden. Perhaps the star of the show here was a male
Rufous Hummingbird. The fiery-colored little gem zoomed from perch to perch, and each time he turned his head his iridescent gorget flashed at us. Song Sparrows seemed to be around every corner, and they were. We watched some Pine Siskins, as they fed on willow catkins alongside the boardwalk. The rather gargantuan Skunk Cabbages were also quite interesting to see, and despite their names, they did not stink.
The drive to Salmon Arm was pleasant, and we came down significantly in elevation. Vegetation changed considerably during our journey today, with tree types varying from pine and spruce at higher elevations, to cedar and cottonwood along valley bottom areas. The Trans Canada Highway seemed to follow the shores of Shuswap Lake forever before we reached Salmon Arm. Dinner tonight was at an Italian Restaurant and it was very nice.
Day 6 – Emerging from our hotel at 6 AM, we headed down to the shore of Shuswap Lake at the Salmon Arm Pier. It was a beautiful morning, with sunshine and calm winds, which made the lake very flat, making it easy to spot birds on it. Western Grebes were numerous but most were quite far away, making it difficult to scan through them in
search of the similar, but much rarer Clark’s Grebe. Some of the Western Grebes did come in fairly close however, and patient observers even saw them doing their courtship dance and they run across the water in sync with each other. A pair of Ospreys put on a great show, as the female sat on a light preening, while her mate sat on the nest and watched. The swallows were also star attractions this morning as several species, including Tree, Violet-green, Cliff and Barn swallows perched in trees for great scope views. Amongst a group of Canada Geese we were rather surprised to see a Cackling Goose as well. This smaller relative to the Canada Goose should have migrated north in March or April, but this bird may have had an injury that prevented it from migrating. Nonetheless, we were pretty pleased as the Cackling Goose was a lifer for almost everyone present. A group of several Green-winged Teal paddled along at the
edge of the reeds, our first ‘good’ view of the tour. There were many Ring-billed Gulls about along with one adult California Gull. Two Caspian Terns were a nice surprise as they gave their raucous calls while flying past at the end of the pier. We explored a short promenade through the wetlands, which gave us views of a pond where several ducks were present. There were Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, and some gorgeous Wood Ducks here. Pied-billed Grebes were seen by one or two lucky observers. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds were all here, and they were none too happy when a Cooper’s Hawk descended into the wetlands where they had their nests. House Finches visited a feeder that was stuck to a large window on a lakeside house. Hesitantly, we raised our binoculars to look at the House Finches, someone saying, ‘I hope they don’t think we’re spying.’ We returned to our hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast we returned to the foreshore, this time exploring the Christmas Island Trail. Shortly after embarking on our walk, we had another first for the trip in the scope, a Willow Flycatcher. The flycatcher sat obligingly in a dead tree, occasionally giving its sneezy ‘fitzbew’ song. Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats kept popping up in the marshes. We came to a pond where a Beaver had been busy at work. Many of the trees
had been gnawed by the wood-loving mammal, and we could see his lodge amongst the reeds, though we never did see the actual Beaver. A walk down a short boardwalk produced our first sighting of Ring-necked Pheasants, as a couple of males sat in a willow tree. A Belted Kingfisher made an all to brief appearance in some willows along the shore before disappearing for good. Once we got to Christmas Island we saw a full breeding plumage Red-necked Grebe, our first of the trip, as well as Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, more Ospreys, and the thriving colony of Ring-billed Gulls. A Red-eyed Vireo flitted to and fro in the branches of a tall cottonwood tree. Another surprise sighting, a Yellow-breasted Chat sang from across the railroad tracks and then popped into view for several nice sightings. This species is not normally found at Salmon Arm, but rather it is most often found in the southern Okanagan Valley, a couple hundred kilometers to the south. We stood atop a rickety viewing deck and after a bit of scanning, I finally picked out a Clark’s Grebe in the distance. On our return walk we saw some nice butterflies, including Lorquin’s Admiral, Common Swallowtail, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell and Mourning Cloak.
It was close to 30 degrees by now so we were quite happy to retreat inside a restaurant with air-conditioning for lunch. We then visited one more location in Salmon Arm, the
Peter Jannink Nature Park, before we went to Kamloops. At the nature park we were treated to views of a pair of Cedar Waxwings as they gathered nesting material in the bills and then flew off together. A male Northern Flicker sat on a shady branch high in a cottonwood and we peered through the scope, trying to decide if there was a red moustache present or not. Presence of the red moustache, which it did have, proved the bird to be a male. One last look out at Shuswap Lake and we saw much of the same; Western Grebes, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Coot and Redhead. We followed the South Thompson River to Kamloops, noting the extent of growth of the invasive Russian Olive tree along its shores. The first stately Ponderosa Pines began appearing along the banks of the river as well, and overall, the hillsides were covered in grasslands, indicative of the area’s drier climate. We checked into our hotel up on the hill to the north of Kamloops and later went for dinner at Earl’s.
Day 7 – After a visit to the supermarket to pick up lunch we crossed over the Thompson River and headed for Lac Du Bois Road on the north shore of Kamloops. It was yet another lovely morning, with sunshine, though throughout the day the skies clouded up. We took a walk through the sagebrush in search of a Burrowing Owl, but we didn’t find any. There were Clay-colored, Chipping, Vesper and Savannah sparrows and Western Meadowlarks however. We bumped into a couple of hikers and they told us they had
seen Burrowing Owl a little ways down the road so we followed their directions. We were slowly driving along when John yelped, ‘There, on the pipe.’ There it was, a Burrowing Owl sitting on a pipe right next to the road. When we drove back down the road hours later, the owl was still sitting there in the same place.
As we continued up the dusty road we paused at several little ponds and wetlands to see what sorts of ducks were about, and there was a nice variety. Included were Ruddy Ducks, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck and Hooded Merganser. American Coot, Eared Grebe and Pied-billed Grebe were also seen. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Marsh Wren, Song Sparrows and the other usual marsh dwellers were noted.
A stop at an aspen grove proved most productive. Upon arrival we had great views of a male Red-naped Sapsucker here, and soon thereafter we watched a male Hairy
Woodpecker feed its young at a nest cavity. Willow and Dusky flycatchers were seen, the latter of which was a first for the trip. As we drove along towards our lunch stop, Cath spotted a large bird in flight and it turned out to be a Sandhill Crane!
We had lunch at Isobel Lake, while watching a pair of loons, one of which was on a nest. After lunch we took a stroll through the mixed Douglas Fir / Engelmann Spruce forest, finding Hammond’s Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and Dark-eyed Junco. We also happened to finally find some mosquitos too! A Pileated Woodpecker flew across Isobel Lake and landed in a tall snag on the other side. We had pretty good views of it in the scope before it disappeared. The little wetland at Isobel Lake provided good views of Marsh Wren and excellent views of a Virginia Rail that was poking along the edge of the reeds. In addition to the birds, we enjoyed a nice showing of wildflowers today, with the
likes of Rosy Pussytoes, Pearly Everlasting, Thompson Paintbrush and Heart-leaved Arnica covering the meadows.
On our way back to Kamloops, we stopped at a wetland where we tried to get views of a Pied-billed Grebe, but he was having none of it, and staying submerged in the slimy water, with nothing visible except for his poking up like a snorkel from time to time. On a distant snag, an Olive-sided Flycatcher sallied out for insects, while on the opposite side of the road, a female Cassin’s Finch adorned the top of a Douglas Fir for a few moments before flying off. Further down the road we had three Turkey Vultures feeding on what appeared to be a dead Black Bear. A stop at Lac du Bois provided us with sensational views of a little male Calliope Hummingbird. He was perched atop a bush and whenever he turned his head, his streaked gorget changed from black to vibrant pink. On Lac du Bois itself were
a couple of Red-necked Grebes. A Mountain Bluebird flew across the road as we passed through an area of sagebrush, and we paid our respects to the Burrowing Owl, still sitting on his perch, as we passed by. This evening we had dinner at an Indian Restaurant where the food was very nice and the view was breathtaking.
Day 8 -After picking up our lunches we made our way to Separation Lake, along Hwy 5A, south of Kamloops. It was sunny but breezy and cool this morning. The lake had a few ducks on it such as Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Ruddy Duck and Gadwall. Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer were present along the shoreline. Lovely rolling grasslands surround the lake, and in them we found Vesper and Savannah sparrows, Western Meadowlarks and a family group of 5 Say’s Phoebes that were hanging out around a log chopping operation. In the skies were several raptor species including Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk and Bald Eagle. A Western Kingbird sat on a fence post in the distance, providing our first view of this species on the trip.
Carrying on south along Hwy 5A, our next stop was along Planet Mine Road, where open grassland with Ponderosa Pines provides habitat for Lewis’s Woodpeckers. We saw at
least three of this gorgeous and unusual woodpeckers here this morning. A pair of the Lewis’s were nesting in a pine snag, along with a Pygmy Nuthatch who has also had a nest in the same tree. In the woods further away Clark’s Nutcrackers gave their raspy calls and an American Kestrel sat atop a dead tree.
We had a quick ‘pit stop’ at Quilchena where we visited the local General Store, built in 1912, next the Quilchena Motel, built in 1908. We then found some picnic tables along the shores of Nicola Lake where we had lunch. It was quite breezy however. We passed through the town of Merritt and traveled up and over the Coquihalla Connector to Peachland. Here, we stopped in at my house where we were greeted by my wife Cindy. We had a cup of coffee or tea and watched the birdbath outside as Cassin’s Finch and House Finch came in to feed and drink. Because of bear problems, my seed feeders had to come so unfortunately there were less birds about that I had hoped. Some people did catch a glimpse of the rather elusive MacGillivray’s Warbler in my backyard, however.
After a quick stop in West Kelowna to pick up some maps, we carried on to Rose Valley where a lovely walk up through the wooded canyon produced some nice birds. There were Nashville Warblers about, our first for the tour, along with Pacific-slope Flycatcher, another new species for us. Male Black-headed Grosbeaks chased one another about,
while Western Tanagers sang from the tops of the fir trees. Veeries cave their ethereal songs from the riparian growth, and a tiny Calliope Hummingbird sat high up on a bush. A Western Screech-Owl was a nice addition to the trip list as well. A Lazuli Bunting sat out for us all to admire his gaudy plumage. All in all, it was a lovely walk.
We arrived at our hotel in Kelowna, after I took the group on a little scenic tour through the downtown area of Kelowna, and then we were joined by Cindy and my son Carsen for dinner at a local Greek establishment.
Day 9 – From Kelowna, we headed east this morning, up Hwy 33 to an area of grasslands where we paused and saw our first lovely Western Bluebirds, a pair, and they were feeding young in a next box. Also here, were Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, and Tree Swallow. A fellow stopped and told us he had nesting owls in his backyard. Despite his instructions we never did find the nest. Another fellow told us a Great Gray was on a fence just up the road. We headed in that direction, but never did find the owl. Some speculated they were just making things up. We will never know. The mixed forests along Sun Valley Road were quite ‘birdy’ with nice sightings of Western Tanager, Dark-
eyed Junco, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and more, as well our first Townsend’s Solitaire and Cassin’s Vireo of the trip. We explored a fairly recent burn on Philpott Road, hoping for at least a sniff at the rare and elusive Black-backed Woodpecker, but we had no luck. A MacGillivray’s Warbler sat nicely in the open for an extended period of time, allowing everyone excellent scope views of this usually rather shy and retiring warbler. Further down the road we encountered a little group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and everyone agreed these were the most attractive of the four chickadee species we had seen on the tour. While I’m partial to the Boreal Chickadee, I’ll admit the Chestnut-backed is indeed more colorful.
We had lunch along the shores of Hydraulic Lake, and it was cool and breezy. A bit of a surprise to me was the presence of a single Greater Yellowlegs here along the shore. A Common Loon sat on its nest on a little grassy island offshore. Along Big White Road, we stopped and explored the subalpine forest at close to 6000 feet elevation. Though birds were not overly numerous, there were high quality species seen this afternoon. Boreal Chickadees were seen very well for the third time on the tour, though this was the first we’d seen of them in British Columbia. Hermit Thrush posed nicely, along with great
views of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Northern Waterthrush, and most surprising to me, a Solitary Sandpiper, the latter of which was on a small pond, excellent breeding habitat for this species. We popped up to the Big White Ski Village, a thriving metropolis of activity in the winter, but a bit like a big white ghost town during the summer. At one chalet with a feeder we watched our first Steller’s Jays of the tour come in to feed. There were about 8 of the jays, along with Mountain Chickadee and White-crowned Sparrow. There were also Red Squirrels and Columbian Ground-Squirrels about as well.
Back in Kelowna we went out for dinner, joined by Cindy and Carsen.
Day 10 – We left Kelowna this morning, stopping in at Hardy Falls in Peachland on our way along Hwy 97, south. It was a glorious walk up through the canyon, with mixed vegetation, providing cover and food for a variety of birds. The creek is also a big attraction here, as the trail meanders over about half a dozen wooden bridges during its 1+ km length up to the falls. Finally we saw American Dippers! There was an adult up
near the falls and a juvenile further down the stream. Other birds here included Nashville Warbler, Veery, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, a singing immature male American Redstart, Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Tanager. Near the parking lot, we enjoyed views of the comical California Quails, as well as a flycatching Say’s Phoebe.
Carrying on south, we stopped in at Penticton, where a large weedy field near the local airport had produced recent sightings of Grasshopper Sparrow. We did indeed see the sparrow, but it was through the scope, and a fair distance away. Other birds here, included Bullock’s Oriole, Western Meadowlark, Gray Catbird, Eastern Kingbird and Ring-necked Pheasant.
Turning onto White Lake Rd, we paused at the entrance to Three Gates Farm where we had our first White-breasted Nuthatches of the tour, along with Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pygmy Nuthatch as well. Mountain Chickadee, Black-headed Grosbeak, and even
Calliope Hummingbird were also seen here amongst the Ponderosa Pines. We had lunch where we could see White Lake, and we scanned the lake with scopes, finding Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal and Mallard. A female Northern Harrier sailed out over the sagebrush on several occasions, while the loud, ringing songs of Western Meadowlarks could be heard continuously. We spied a Mountain Bluebird, as well as Eastern and Western kingbirds, Tree Swallows and an American Kestrel. Sparrows were uncooperative here today and there was no sign of Sage Thrasher, unfortunately.
We descended back down to the valley bottom at Okanagan Falls, and then climbed up once again into the mountains east of town, specifically at Dutton Creek. Here, we had a very nice experience with a Barred Owl and a Northern Pygmy-Owl, as we watched them both, minutes apart. The pygmy owl may have been nesting in the area, and the Barred
Owl is a resident at this location. The Barred sat on a branch in a spruce tree giving his deep, barking, ‘who cooks for you, all’ calls. Each time he hooted, his throat and neck puffed up in a comical display. Before heading back down to the valley, we tried an area of larch trees for Williamson’s Sapsucker, and we succeeded in finding a pair of these rather uncommon and attractive woodpeckers.
Back down in the valley, we had a stop at the cliffs at Vaseux Lake where we enjoyed nice views of a singing Canyon Wren, as well as several White-throated Swifts flying overhead. A flock of 8 or so California Bighorn Sheep were foraging on the cliffs here this afternoon, with several ewes and youngsters following close behind. Before heading to
Osoyoos, we made one more stop, at River Road, where it didn’t take us long to find the bird we had stopped here for, Black-chinned Hummingbird. We went out for Italian tonight in Osoyoos.
Day 11 – Today was an action packed day, and the weather was just right, for most of the day, with mixed sun and cloud and comfortable temperatures. Our morning began along Road 22 where we watched several male Bobolinks perform over the hay fields. We enjoyed seeing a colony of Cliff Swallows tending to nests under a concrete bridge. Also, several Ospreys were seen on nests and through the scope we saw a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a cliff. We had our first encounter with the attractive Lark Sparrow here today.
Next, we picked up lunch and headed for the Richter Pass, west of town. Our first stop was at lower Kruger Mountain Road. Here, we found the birds to be very active. There were Red Crossbills, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Bluebird, Say’s Phoebe, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee, Cassin’s Finch and much more. We had several looks at
Lesser Goldfinches here, with at least two males and a female present. This species is known to occur regularly in Canada at only this location, and they have been present for just under a year, having moved north from Washington State populations. At a pond, we added Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Gadwall to the day list. Bullock’s Orioles were noted here, and while I went and retrieved the van, the group saw another Lark Sparrow.
We headed up Kobau Road into an area of extensively burned forest, with high hopes of finding some woodpeckers. We did manage to find several Hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers, and we spent some time searching for the rather rare Black-backed Woodpecker, with limited success. I say limited success because the bird appeared right next to the road just as everyone else was in the van, except Heather and I who had brief looks at it. Other than woodpeckers, we saw Dusky Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, MacGillivray’s Warbler and Lazuli Bunting. The
views of the valley below were quite good, as was the showing of wildflowers on the mountain, with Scarlet Gilia, Shrubby Penstemon, Heart-leaved Arnica and Arrow-leaved Balsamroot dominating the scene. We pulled up next to a Vesper Sparrow to watch as it sang from the top of a bush, and suddenly Nigel shouted, ‘Bear!’. Sure enough, a young blackish colored Black Bear scrambled up the hillside and out of sight. Another interesting mammal encounter, on the way down we pulled up next to the den of a Yellow-bellied Marmot. The marmot sat right at the entrance to his den and stared right back at us.
We headed back to the hotel where some decided to get take the rest of the afternoon off, while 4 of us headed back out into the field. We went to McKinney Road in Oliver, where,
in the Ponderosa Pines, we found a Gray Flycatcher. Though this flycatcher pretty much looks like all the other empidonax flycatchers, it is grayer overall, with a longer bill and a distinctive way of wagging its tail. The Gray Flycatcher occurs in Canada only in a few locations in the Central and South Okanagan Valley, and the first nesting of the species in Canada wasn’t documented until the late 1980s.
After dinner we headed out to do some nocturnal birding. It was a rather chilly night, which may have kept the Flammulated Owls quiet, as we didn’t see or hear any. We did, however, have a great experience with several Common Poorwills in the hills west of Osoyoos this evening. There were several poorwills calling, along with Common Nighthawks as well, though we never did see the latter species on this tour, which is surely a first in the many trips I’ve done. The poorwills performed well though, sitting on the road for excellent views in the beam of a flashlight.
Day 12 – It was time to leave the Okanagan, so reluctantly we left the vineyards, lakes, orchards and sagebrush of the valley and made our way west, stopping at one last place,
the Nighthawk border crossing. We found several Brewer’s Sparrows here, a rather uncommon and local resident in the Okanagan, alongside Lark Sparrow, and a nesting Western Kingbird. The kingbird had built its nest against an insulator in a power pole. As we continued along Hwy 3 through the Similkameen Valley, we were paused for twenty minutes or so as an accident cleared up. Once traffic started moving again, we took a quick spin down Barcelo Road, and we were rewarded with a great view of an adult Golden Eagle soaring overhead, and then landing on a snag on a hillside.
As we near Princeton, we made a quick stop at Taylor Way where we scanned a rocky hillside, and found a white, shaggy-coated Mountain Goat scampering up the talus slope. We picked up lunch in Princeton and drove on to Manning Park lodge where we braved the rather chilly temperatures and had lunch outside. We were joined by hungry
Columbian Ground-Squirrels, Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Common Raven and Steller’s Jays, as well as our first up close and personal Clark’s Nutcracker of the trip. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving through the Fraser Valley towards Richmond, where we would spend the final two nights of the tour. Along the way, we noted Northwestern Crows, a slightly smaller cousin to the American Crow we had been seeing throughout the trip thus far. Northwestern Crows occur along the Pacific Coast, mainly between Alaska and Washington State. We had dinner at a pub in the local ice rink this evening.
Day 13 – From Richmond we drove across Vancouver and its towering skyscrapers, through Stanley Park and over the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore. We explored Lighthouse Park, descending from the parking area down to the shoreline, via a trail through old-growth temperate rainforest. The trees were impressive, with some Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars and Western Hemlocks over 500 years old. Some of the highlight bird species included a male Black-throated Gray Warbler, several tiny Pacific Wrens singing loudly from moss covered branches, and good looks at both Orange-crowned and MacGillivray’s warblers. Down at the lighthouse itself we saw Anna’s and
Rufous hummingbirds coming in to feed at a feeder. An adult Bald Eagle sat atop a weathervane, while an immature bird, lacking the white head and tail, sailed past at treetop level. Out over the ocean we caught our first glimpses of Pelagic Cormorants as they flew low over the surface of the water. Glaucous-winged Gulls were also seen, another new species for the trip. We added two more mammal species at Lighthouse Park as well, the first, a Douglas Squirrel, the coastal counterpart of the Red Squirrel. The second mammal was a pod of 3-4 Orcas out on the Salish Sea. We watched the spout and saw their large dorsal fins through the scopes.
We picked up lunch and took it down to the beach at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. Here, we had excellent views of Northwestern Crows and Glaucous-winged Gulls as they came in to mooch for scraps. Out on the water, we saw more Pelagic Cormorants, and someone pointed out a breeding plumage Pigeon Guillemot as well, the only one for the tour. Up to 6 Harlequin Ducks were seen feeding along the edge of a gravel bar, and Great Blue Herons also poked about in the shallows. We saw the heads of Harbor Seals poking above the surface of the water as well. On a small pond nearby, we saw Northern Pintail as well as some Mute Swans with little cygnets.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on Cypress Mountain. We hiked around the cross country ski trails and the Hollyburn Lodge and were rewarded with several fantastic views of our fourth and final sapsucker species for the tour, the Red-breasted Sapsucker. In fact, the four sapsuckers we saw on the tour encompass all four sapsucker species found on the planet. We also saw other birds typical of west coast forests like Swainson’s
Thrush, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. At the Hollyburn Lodge we found a little group of adult and immature Canada Jays. The jays, who were very friendly, came and investigated the group, landing on our tripods and one even sat atop Eva’s hat! Heather pointed out the namesake cypress tree of Cypress Mountain, the Yellow Cypress, one of which was the largest known tree in the park and its trunk was massive. On the way down the mountain we stopped at a viewpoint and enjoyed sweeping views of Vancouver below. A few Vaux’s Swifts sailed by and a Band-tailed Pigeon obligingly landed on a treetop providing the best and practically the only views of this species we had for the trip. Back in Richmond, we had our final dinner out as a group this evening.
Day 14 – For most of us, it was our final morning in Canada. Tony and Eva were staying on to visit their son and I, of course, wasn’t leaving the country, but the rest of the group had to catch a flight back to London this evening. We made the best of the day, heading out first to the ferry jetty at Tsawwassen. It didn’t take us long to find our target species here, Black Oystercatchers. As an added bonus, about half a dozen Brant were hanging
out on a sandbar here. Out on the water we saw more Pelagic Cormorants, a Common Loon and we saw several more Bald Eagles in the area. On our way to Tsawwassen we passed by the landfill and we must have seen 40-50 Bald Eagles in a very short time.
A quick stop at an old barn did not produce a Barn Owl, unfortunately, so we carried on to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. On the entrance road we paused to see some Bushtits as they foraged in the bushes near the road. Once at Reifel we headed out on the trails and we were surrounded by Mallard and Canada Geese, along with a few very lovely Wood Ducks. We encountered a pair of Sandhill Cranes, one apparently an adult and the other last years’ young, as they foraged close the edge of the trail. Black-capped Chickadees followed us about on the trails but refused to eat the seeds from our hands. A Brown Creeper crept up the trunk of a fir tree,
and was just the second sighting of this species on the trip. We saw our first and only Bewick’s Wren as it sang loudly from a perch just over the trail. More Bushtits, along with American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees and Marsh Wrens put in appearances as well. We scanned over a large marsh, eventually spotting a couple of Purple Martins sailing overhead. A male Common Yellowthroat, the masked bandit, showed nicely as well. From the observation tower we had a fly-over of both male and female Purple Martins and we saw a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers probing away in the mud. Green-winged, Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal were noted, along with Gadwall, and Northern Pintail. Just before we left the park, we watched some hummingbird feeders where Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds were coming in to feed.
We had lunch at Moxie’s in Richmond before making one final stop at Iona Island and Vancouver’s sewage treatment plant. The highlight here was seeing more Purple Martins
at close range near their nest boxes along the edge of the Fraser River. We had final looks at birds like Cedar Waxwing, Spotted Towhee, Spotted Sandpiper, Bald Eagle and Double-crested Cormorant before I took the group to the airport where we said our goodbyes. It was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed showing these 7 folks everything from the prairies and the Rocky Mountains all the way to the vineyards of the Okanagan and the coastal rainforests and blue waters of the Salish Sea in Vancouver. We had amassed a species list of 211 different birds, as well as many mammals, trees, flowers, butterflies and other natural wonders.
The 2019 Colombia itinerary was designed to complement the previous two tours which had focused on the hotspots in the western and central Andes as well as sites within a few hours drive of Bogota. To that end on this tour we focussed on the north coast with a stop at the north end of the eastern Andes to kick off the tour. After completing the northern circuit we went for something completely different: a flight out to the northern Amazon basin at Puerto Inirida, near the border with Venezuela and just 30km from the mighty Orinoco River! Here we finished the tour with four days of birding the White Sand Forest, a habitat that is localized in the northern Amazon basin but quite common in this area. This unique habitat has many species that are endemic to it that are highly sought after by world birders. In this area we spent a fair bit of time on the river which provided us with an incredible encounter with a pod of Amazon River Dolphins as well as a passing Giant River Otter! The tour was our most diverse Colombia itinerary so far in terms species as we totalled 590 species over the 16 days, of which ~530 were seen by the group.
March 22 – After meeting up in Bogota the evening before the tour started with a mid-morning flight to Bucaramanga from where the group of 8 Canadians plus guide Avery Bartels piled into three pickups for the 3hr journey to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve near San Vicente de Chucuri. After about an hour we stopped at a restaurant overlooking a reservoir where we enjoyed some nice birding from the balcony. While waiting for our food to arrive we found our first Colombian endemic, an obliging Apical Flycatcher. A
Great Black Hawk was perched nearby while a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture soared in the distance. Around the restaurant there was plenty of bird activity and we had our first Spectacled Parrotlets, Crimson-backed Tanagers and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters.
After passing through San Vicente we climbed up the steep dirt track to the lodge. En route we made two stops in the plantations where we picked up a couple more endemics in Colombian Chachalaca and a skulky Niceforo’s Wren. A fine male Yellow-backed Tanager was one of the first birds we saw while a pair of Bar-crested Antshrikes showed up as we were looking for the wren. Forest Elaenia, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet and Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher were among several flycatcher species seen. At the lodge we had time to check out the Hummingbird feeders briefly before dark and pick up our final endemic of the day, the common Indigo-capped Hummingbird.
March 23 – After a lot of rain over night our plans to climb up to the reserve proper were foiled by continuing showers that lasted until around 9am. We decided to stick around the lodge and bird the plantations instead which ended up being a good plan as we had fog and more rain again until around 2:30pm when it finally cleared up. As we waited out the rain under the shelter of the covered balcony post-breakfast we got scope views
on a few occasions of up to four of the endemic Turquoise Dacnises! We also got nice views of Collared Aracari, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Yellow-legged Thrush and Orange-crowned Oriole. The hummingbird and banana feeders also provided us with ample photography. A short walk down the road from the lodge produced a roosting Common Potoo and our first Yellow-tailed Orioles along with a surprise pair of White-fringed Antwrens. A Yellow-browed Shrike-vireo sang once but could not be located.
After lunch we decided to walk a trail behind the lodge that lead up to a new set of hummingbird feeders that the forest guard had recently put out where he had found a Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird. This is one of the hardest endemics in this region and we were fortunate that we got prolonged views of it as it came to the feeder and perched in the tree overhead for over half an hour! Activity around the feeders was good as well and we had many migrants such as Bay-breasted, Canada, Blackburnian, Tennessee and Black-and-white Warblers. As we made our way back to the lodge Avery got a very quick look at a male Golden-winged Warbler that unfortunately disappeared before the group could get on it. Fortunately, a nearby family of Yellow-backed Orioles were more confiding. After dinner we heard a Tropical Screech-owl calling in the
distance though it was too far away to be coaxed in.
March 24 – At 6am we embarked on the 1.5km walk up to the reserve proper. The weather was clear and it was a beautiful, and fairly birdy, hike up. Unfortunately it took a lot longer than anticipated and we did not arrive at the hummingbird/wood-quail feeders at the reserve entrance until 9:30. As we climbed up we enjoyed near constant bird activity including wide-spread open country species such as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Bran-colored Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Flycatcher as well as a couple soaring Aplomado Falcons. There were also a few surprises in store for us as a pair of Apical Flycatcher greeted us at the beginning of the trail and partway up we ran into a confiding Masked Yellowthroat. The most interesting find of the morning though was an Ash-throated Crake calling from the pasture. This species is widespread in Amazonian
lowlands but only rarely wanders to this side of Andes.
At the feeders in the forest we enjoyed prolonged views at the superb Black Incas along with a supporting cast of Andean Emeralds, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Booted Racket-tails and a lone male Long-tailed Sylph. A covey of the endemic Gorgeted Wood-quail responded from nearby to a burst of playback but did not come into the feeder as hoped for. A few hours mid-day along the forest trail was quite quiet but we did come across a couple Collared Trogons, Ornate Flycatcher, and a skulky White-bellied Antpitta that only allowed for the briefest of glimpses. A canopy flock produced Speckled and Golden Tanagers as well as a lone White-winged Tanager for Ken.
Before heading back down to the lodge in the mid-afternoon (after a delicious lunch brought up to us by Douglas, the forest guard) we made another stop in at the feeders. A pair of Chestnut-capped Brushfinches were at the seed and a Moustached Puffbird perched stolidly nearby. This would be our first of 8 species of Puffbird on this trip!
As we made our way back down to the lodge a distant Recurve-billed Bushbird called
from the slopes opposite the trail.
March 25 – After breakfast we piled back into our trucks to make the transfer to Bucaramanga for our late-morning flight to Barranquilla via Bogota. A few stops en route produced a Barred Puffbird, expertly spotted by Joyce as it gave it’s wolf-whistle, Olivaceous Piculet (our first of 5 Piculet species!) and Gray-headed Tanager.
By 3:45 we were at the University grounds on the outskirts of Barranquilla where we enjoyed some nice birds in the dry coastal heat. No sooner had we hopped out of our vehicles than we were looking at a troop of endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalacas
moving about in the tops of the desert scrub. After getting our fill we wandered down to a flowering tree that held another endemic, a gorgeous male Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird who put on a nice show for us, foraging and perching for extended views. This was followed by Whooping Motmot, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow Oriole and another target, the Chestnut Piculet.
March 26 – Heading east of Barranquilla at first light we made our way to the mangroves of Isla Salamanca National Park. Here we spent a very productive 1.5hrs. Bicolored Conebill and Panama Flycatcher foraged in the mangroves themselves along with a migrant Prothonotary Warbler. At the water’s edge we spied a few Pied Water-tyrants and a Yellow-chinned Spinetail along with both Green and Striated
Herons. The best was yet to come though as a stunning female Golden-green Woodpecker posed nicely for us before a flock of nearly 20 Bronzed Cowbirds (of the endemic “Bronzed-brown” form, often split from the widespread form) were spotted perched in the mangrove ahead of us. This endemic bird is severely threatened and this represents the highest number noted in ebird!
After a field breakfast back at the van we backtracked a bit to the Km 4 road, a birding site that passes through fields and wetland habitats with some adjacent scrub. Here we found one of our targets, Stripe-backed Wren, to be common while a flock of 7 Turquoise-winged Parrotlets, another tricky endemic (!), allowed us extended scope views as they preened nearby. Moving on we encountered our first Scaled Doves, Snail Kites and Russet-throated Puffbirds. A Crane Hawk flew over and a few very large Iguanas were spotted. At a small wetland we turned around though not before noting a fine male White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Limpkin and several calling migrant Soras.
Driving east along the Cienega causeway we made a couple stops for waders though the very dry conditions meant that there was nothing like the usual numbers. A lone Gull-billed Tern and a few dozen Royal Terns were present along with a smattering of Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, both Yellowlegs , Least Sandpiper and Black-necked Stilt.
After lunch at the Hotel Minca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
we enjoyed the hummingbird feeders being frequented by White-necked Jacobin, Steely-vented Hummingbird and White-vented Plumeleteer along with singles of Pale-bellied Hermit and Brown Violetear. We then started the extraordinarily bumpy journey up to the El Dorado Lodge. Along the way we made several birding stops seeing roosting Black-and-white Owl, Groove-billed Toucanet, Rufous-and-white Wren and a Rusty Flowerpiercer. The endemics were proving extremely difficult, something we would find to be the case throughout the next two days. Fortunately, a wonderful male Santa Marta Blossomcrown showed for several minutes at the tienda making up for our dip on the Santa Marta Antbird. As dusk set in we finally arrived at our accommodations for the next two nights, the El Dorado Lodge.
At 5am we piled into our pickups and drove up to the San Lorenzo ridge, spotting a Band-winged Nightjar en route. Unfortunately we were denied the spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada at sunrise by haze/cloud that enshrouded the distant peaks but we soon forgot about that as the birding started the minute we stepped out of the vehicles. A tame Santa Marta Brushfinch hopped about at our feet while another group who arrived before us had a pair of shy Santa Marta Warblers lined up in the bamboo at the roadside. We soon added Black-cheeked (aka Santa Marta) Mountain-tanager and a pair of Plushcaps buzzed through as we had our breakfast and waited
for the Santa Marta Parakeets to show up at their favoured Eucalyptus nearby. Alas, the parakeets never showed (only Avery heard one calling very distantly) so we started birding our way up the road where the birds were sparse but we enjoyed nice looks at our first White-tipped Quetzal. Some small flocks eventually materialized and we got to enjoy Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails, the latter nest-building, along with several Yellow-crowned Whitestarts. Paramo Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant, “Santa Marta” Emerald Toucanet and Hermit Wood-wren (a recently split endemic) one by one came into our binocular views though an impromptu-calling Brown-rumped Tapaculo was only seen briefly by Joan. At mid-morning an immature Black-and-chestnut Eagle was spotted before we started descending towards the lodge, en route spending some time birding above the San Lorenzo research station. Here we were after one of the trickiest endemics, the Santa Marta Bush-tyrant which
unfortunately was only heard. Nearby several Tyrian Metaltails were seen foraging on the bromeliads and Gisele spotted a perched White-rumped Hawk that allowed us superb views.
Back at the lodge for lunch and some relaxed birding in the gardens we caught up with the many hummingbirds at the feeders. Blue-naped Chlorophonias and a Band-tailed Guan enjoyed the bananas while Sierra Nevada Brushfinches and the resident Red-tailed Squirrels fed at the grain feeders.
Mid-afternoon saw us off on the Mirador trail to pick up some of the mid-elevation specialties. After noting our first White-lored Warblers near the compost it was predictably quiet as we started off into the forest. Eventually we came across a bit of activity including a pair of Golden-breasted Fruiteaters, spotted high in the trees. A Masked Trogon appeared to be nesting a little further on and on the way back to the lodge we came across several Black-hooded Thrushes and an obliging Gray-throated Leaftosser in a dry streambed.
After dinner we were treated to a couple mammals coming into a canopy banana feeder outside the lodge with both Night Monkeys and a Kinkajou present.
March 28 – With a few higher elevation specialties still missing we decided to drive upslope again for the morning though we didn’t go all the way to the ridge. We started a bit earlier to give ourselves a chance to try for Santa Marta Screech-owl near the research station before first light. However, we didn’t have to wait that long as one flew through the headlights of the front vehicle about 20mins after leaving the lodge. We piled out and spent a frustrating 15 minutes trying to spot it as it called back at us but would not come into view.
After daylight broke we started birding where we had heard the Bush-tyrant the day before but alas, it was not to be as we didn’t even hear it. We enjoyed further views of many of the birds we had seen the day before as we wandered back down towards the research station. Sickle-winged Guan, a migrant Sharp-shinned Hawk and Strong-billed Woodcreeper were new for the trip. At 9am we arrived at the research station to witness the feeding of the Santa Marta Antpitta and it was a
matter of seconds after the worms were put out that we were watching this shy denizen of the Sierra Nevada as it hastily gorged itself before hopping off into the undergrowth.
As we would be departing after lunch for the lower elevation of Minca we spent a couple hours pre-lunch birding in the gardens around the lodge again. This proved productive as we found a Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush and “Bangs’” Grey-breasted Wood-wren on the compost heap and Ken briefly had the Black-fronted Wood-quail at the grain feeder. Our diligence at the hummingbird feeders finally paid off as a male Lazuline Sabrewing and female White-tailed Starfrontlet put in several appearances.
After lunch we began the long haul down the mountainside making several birding
stops en route. These were quite productive and we enjoyed cracking views of Santa Marta Tapaculo and Rusty-breasted Antpitta before we were denied views of a shy Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner calling from the shrubbery below us. A female Coppery Emerald was visiting the flowers at the Ecotienda when we arrived. Further down we again had no luck with the Santa Marta Antbird but did see our first Black-headed Tanager before finishing the drive down to the Hotel Minca.
March 29 – We started the morning below the Hotel Minca at a little side road that passes opposite to some slopes where Military Macaws roost. Sure enough, we could hear them as we walked down to the viewpoint and we were able to scope them for a while before they all flew off to forage. Here we enjoyed great looks at Whooping Motmots, Black-chested Jays, a troop of Keel-billed Toucans and a migrant Yellow-throated Vireo way up at the top of a bare tree. After breakfast back at the hotel we drove above Minca where we birded a couple little side roads. Here we saw a Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Pale-eyed Pygmy-tyrants and both Black-striped and Golden-winged Sparrows in the undergrowth though we could not call in a vocal Rosy Thrush-tanager. An adult King Vulture soared overhead and a little while later
so did a group of four graceful Swallow-tailed Kites.
After an early lunch we packed up and started the drive northeast to the Guajira Desert near Riohacha. Mid-afternoon saw us arriving at the toll booth that more or less marks the beginning of the Guajira. The toll booth itself was so birdy we ended up spending 20 minutes there picking up our first Green-rumped Parrotlets, Glaucous Tanagers and Black-crested Antshrike. At a side road just past the tollbooth we met our local guide, Jhonis of Tocuyo Birding who led us down a birdy path in search of one of the top targets of the region, Tocuyo Sparrow. Although we only caught one brief glimpse of the bird we found many other new birds for the trip such as Rufous-vented
Chachalacas, Buff-breasted Wren and many flyover Bare-eyed Pigeons. A surprise was a very confiding adult Bicolored Hawk that we watched for several minutes as it perched up at the top of a bare tree. Back near the vehicles a flowering tree had at least one Sapphire-throated Hummingbird at it.
As we neared Riohacha and dusk was setting in we stopped at a dry pasture where we saw 20 Double-striped Thick-knees loafing about.
March 30 – Birding the Guajira desert is always a pleasure as activity is usually steady and the dry scrub affords good views of the birds. Today was no exception and we met Jhonis at Camarones from where he took us along a meandering set of trails that culminated at a Wayuu (the local indigenous group) community. As we were eating our field breakfast at the vehicles Johnis picked out our first of several female
Vermilion Cardinals. Shortly after starting our walk we arrived at a watering hole and here we found a nice little pocket of activity including our first Pileated Finches, Black-faced Grassquit, White-whiskered Spinetail and Slender-billed Inezia (Tyrannutet). A Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant was not terribly confiding and only some in the group got on it. A Harris’ Hawk provided a brief distraction before our first Russet-throated Puffbird of the day was spotted. Carrying on we eventually all got on some scurrying Crested Bobwhites. A small flowering bush briefly held a Buffy Hummingbird but a singing Orinocan Saltator immediately tempted us away. Unfortunately we would not end up seeing the Saltator despite hearing it again as well as at our next birding stop. After a couple hours of fine birding several in the group bought hand-made bags in the Wayuu community, of which a beautiful selection were put on display at the makeshift tienda.
Heading west we spent an hour and a half birding the Cari Cari road, alas this back-up spot for Tocuyo Sparrow proved barren but we enjoyed some other nice birds, especially once we arrived at a series of wetlands and ponds. Here we got nice scope views of a Dwarf Cuckoo along with a couple Pearl Kites, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and many waterbirds such as Glossy Ibis, a Great Blue Heron and a few flocks of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
As we had a long drive ahead of us to get to the Perija Mountains for the night we had to depart at 10:30. After lunch en route we finally arrived at the foot of the mountains around 4pm. We had time for one birding stop as we ascended and here we saw a couple leking Lazuline Sabrewings and got our first glimpse at Yellow-breasted (Black-fronted) Brushfinch though not the hoped for Perija Brushfinch. After a long haul up the bumpy road we at last arrived at the lodge at 7:15pm.
March 31 – As dawn arrived at the lodge we enjoyed the multitude of Amethyst-throated Sunangels at the hummingbird feeders as well as a brief Lachrimos Mountain-tanager before driving up to the Paramo. Once above tree line our patience was rewarded with superb views of a couple Perija Thistletails and brief looks at a female Perija Metailtail. Most of the group eventually got on Streak-backed Canastero that was picked out on two separate occasions by Gwen! Driving back
down a little ways those in the second vehicle got looks at a male Perija Metaltail perched beside the road. We then had a frustrating experience trying to spot a furtive Perija Antpitta, which circled around us but only provided fleeting glimpses in the undergrowth. Golden-headed Quetzals and Emerald Toucanets provided a splash of color and a Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant was briefly spotted before we returned to the lodge for lunch.
In the afternoon we walked down the road from the lodge, coaxing a Perija Tapaculo into view along with a rather uncooperative Gray-breasted Wood-wren (of the endemic manastrae subspecies). We eventually got decent looks at Rufous Spinetail, another endemic subspecies and potential future split, as a few were encountered foraging in the bamboo and tangles at the roadside.
Disappointingly, the weather remained overcast and at times misty so we did not have favourable conditions to spot a soaring Andean Condor, this being one of the most reliable spots for this species in Colombia.
A brief owling jaunt below the lodge after dinner bore no fruit though Avery did hear a very distant White-throated Screech-owl as we walked back up to the lodge and a Band-winged Nightjar was heard by some.
April 1 – After breakfast we started the long drive back down the mountain. We made several birding stops en route seeing some excellent bird as we went. On one of our first stops we found a pair of delightful Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatchers, certainly one of the showiest flycatchers. A little further down we ran into a Yellow-throated Toucan, foraging in a fruiting tree. Much to our shock, through an opening
in the canopy a large bird soaring overhead turned into a juvenile Brown Pelican of all things! Not what one expects at over 2000m in the mountains, though as the Pelican flies we were not THAT far from the coast.
Our drivers knew the spots for a couple of the remaining targets and in quick order Luis, who was the most knowledgeable about birds, showed us Perija Burshfinch and a very obliging Klage’s Antbird. While much of the bamboo in the area was seeding the only semi-bamboo specialist we saw were a pair of Dull-colored Grassquits. Unfortunately it was not the season for flowering Guama trees so we dipped on the Rufous-shafted Woodstar that I had seen at a tree by the roadside on my 2015 visit.
As we neared the bottom of the road we made one last stop to try for Golden-winged Sparrow as not everyone had seen it near Minca. We were not disappointed as one posed for us at just a few metres distance, a striking bird to finish our time in the north with!
After a late lunch at the Valledupar airport we flew back to Bogota where we spent the night.
April 2 – Traffic en route to La Florida Park was exceptionally bad, even for Bogota and we did not arrive until 7:15. Fortunately, our abbreviated time here was not a hindrance. Once through the gate we birded our way out to the blind that looks out over the reed beds at one end of the lake. After 15 minutes we were treated to a nice display from a confiding Bogota Rail that walked out in the open and remained there for 30 seconds or so before meandering back into the reeds. As we walked back towards the parking lot a Silvery-throated Spinetail surprised us by calling behind us. In short order we were able to get looks at it perched up near the top of the nearby shrubs. Songbirds seemed unusually scarce though a group of Andean Siskins feeding in the grasses showed well. At the last minute we finally spotted a Spot-flanked Gallinule lurking along the near shore where we had just walked from. Back in the vehicle we transferred to the airport for our flight to Puerto Inirida and the final leg of the tour.
Puerto Inirida is the newest hotspot for birding in Colombia and it did not disappoint! Our local guide, the excellent Daniel Camilo Orjuela met us at the airport and after checking in to our beautiful hotel we had lunch at a local restaurant that, despite its unassuming visage, served up perhaps the best food of the trip. Mid-afternoon saw us at the nearby Caño Culebra trail (about 15 minutes from town)
where we started off with a primate, a single Collared Titi watching us from the forest beside the trail. Activity was light at first in the mid-afternoon heat but several Swallow-winged Puffbirds were perched out atop bare snags and Daniel soon picked out a pair of Red-shouldered Tanagers for us. After a bit of Playback we got excellent views of a Spotted Puffbird that was followed by our first White Sands specialty, a fine male Black Manakin. A migrant Variegated Flycatcher was a nice surprise as were 2 Broad-winged Hawks circling overhead. Daniel picked out a Rufous-crowned Elaenia that posed well in the scope and our only Amazonian Antshrike of the trip soon followed. As it came time to return to the vehicles we spotted a pair of flycatching Brown Jacamars. Back at the vehicles dusk was setting in and we were treated to a few Least Nighthawks hawking insects overhead.
April 3 – Our first full day in Puerto Inirida was much anticipated and it did not disappoint. Our destination for the day was the Sabanitas community, a 20 minute drive from our hotel. In the community itself we caught up with our first Bare-necked Fruitcrow before heading out along the Caño Carbon trail. This area is all excellent White Sands forest and holds many of the specialties of this localized habitat. The trail starts in cleared scrub before passing through a short section of forest, another clearing then more contiguous forest.
At the first forest patch we got nice looks at Orinoco Piculet and a pair of Cherrie’s Antwrens. On the far side of the next clearing we had a fantastic half hour as the specialties came rolling through. A Golden-spangled Piculet kicked things off before Daniel got us on an Azure-naped Jay. This was followed by a sunning Purplish Jacamar and before we could finish properly admiring it he had a Pale-bellied Mourner lined up for us! Scanning a little further back to the distant treetops we were able to scope White-tipped Purpletuft and a very distant male Pompadour Cotinga. To round off this whirlwind of great birds a Tiny Hawk was spotted perched out in the bare branches of a tree 100m or so away. The rest of the trail was well forested and we ran into a couple small canopy flocks were we found our Spot-backed Antwrens along with more widespread birds like Gilded Barbet and Ivory-
billed Aracari and singles of the scarce Yellow-throated Woodpecker and Black-bellied Cuckoo. In the understory we had a showy Imeri Warbling-Antbird as well as a Brown-winged Schiffornis. We had been hoping for the bizarre Capuchinbird along this trail but did not get a whiff of one, the only disappointment on an otherwise superb day. As we walked back to the community for lunch we added Paradise Jacamar, White-crowned Manakin and Daniel’s persistence was rewarded with scope views for the group of a tiny Dwarf-tyrant-manakin to go along with another miniscule creature, the Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant that we had spotted earlier. This
latter is the smallest songbird in the world at only 2.5 inches!
Back in Sabanitas we were treated to a local lunch of fish and several variations of yucca prepared by one of the indigenous women in the community. After relaxing for a bit (some of us took advantage of the hammocks that were strung up for us!) we walked a little ways along the entrance road to a small side trail that led into a patch of very dense low secondary scrub that was flooded once we had advanced 50m or so. This unique habitat is home to the Yapacana Antbird, a species known from just a few isolated locations near the confluence of eastern Colombia, northwest Brazil and southern Venezuela. The habitat was not conducive to getting good looks at anything more than a metre away but we ended up getting on a male of this very rare bird.
The rest of the afternoon was spent along the road where we found several new additions to the trip including Swainson’s Flycatcher and Black Caracara. Parrots were well represented flying over and we had a couple trios of Black-headed Parrot as well as three species of Macaw – Blue-and-Yellow, Scarlet and Red-and-Green.
April 4 – For the first time since arriving in Puerto Inirida we were on the water today, transported down the Inirida River to the Matraca trail, about 15 minutes downstream from town. Daniel had a comfortable boat with cushioned seated and a plastic roof to provide shade lined up for us. In contrast to our birding up to this point, this morning we were in seasonally flooded Varzea forest (dry at this season) which held a different selection of species than the White Sands forest.
A male Amazonian Black Tyrant greeted us as we disembarked but activity was light for the first hour or so. During this time we came across our first Blackish-gray Antshrikes, Black-chinned Antbirds and a pair a Pink-throated Becards building their nest. A singing Cocoa Thrush came in to Daniel’s tape but remained elusive, never perching within sight. Up ahead some soft churring caught Daniel’s attention, “Orinoco Softtail!” he exclaimed. We were soon watching three of these extremely
range restricted furnariids chasing each other about the undergrowth coming within a couple metres of us! Another obliging furnariid was a Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner that entertained us with its head weaving display as it gave its seemingly never-ending trill from an open perch in the understory.
At a small clearing a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-owl attracted in a whole entourage of birds including our first Golden-bellied Euphonias, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and another White-tipped Purpletuft. Several hummingbirds were in attendance, including both White-chinned and the rarer Rufous-throated Sapphires (we would also add Blue-chinned Sapphire at a flowering bush shortly afterwards!). Nearby a White-necked Puffbird and Blue-crowned Trogon showed nicely. Carrying on we got scope views of a pair of Orange-cheeked Parrots feeding quietly in the canopy, a fine Ringed Woodpecker and a female Green-tailed Jacamar perched together on a hanging vine with her young.
Again Daniel picked out a special bird singing behind us so we back-tracked a bit and soon could hear the repeated phrases of a Rose-breasted Chat singing overhead. Unfortunately only Avery got on the bird before it disappeared, not to be heard from again. By now it was late morning and it was time for us to turn around. The birds weren’t finished with us yet though and we were delighted to see a superb Collared Puffbird on a small side trail. Speckled Spinetail, Helmeted Pygmy-tyrant and a flock
of Velvet-fronted Grackles rounded out an excellent morning of birding!
In the afternoon we were back in the boat heading north from town along the Inirida river, then west on the Guaviare to a site called La Rompida. En route we enjoyed waterbirds such as Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, White-winged Swallows and good numbers of herons and egrets. La Rompida is the site for another local specialty. A couple years ago a mystery Antshrike was discovered in the Inirida area, on which genetic work is currently being undertaken to determine if it is a new species or a disjunct population of Chestnut-backed Antshrike (not otherwise known from Colombia). Recently, Daniel found a population at this site, where they apparently are quite common.
We started with a family of Collared Plovers and a lone Pied Plover on the shore followed by a quick jaunt to the grassy margins at the back of the beach where we spotted a couple roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjars along with a Burrowing Owl. Carrying on we soon had the bizarre White-eared Jacamar lined up in the scope and our first Amazonian Umbrellabird in a fruiting tree. After crossing a small stream, either via a precarious bridge or (more sensibly!) in a small dugout canoe, we walked along the margin of it to where Daniel got us on a very obliging male of the mystery Antshrike. In the same area we also enjoyed a pair of Rusty-backed Spinetails, a Little Cuckoo and our 9th, and final, Puffbird species of the trip, the diminutive Chestnut-capped Puffbird. The day concluded with sunset and watermelon on the beach while Black Skimmers and a mixed martin flock that included migrant Purple and Brown-chested Martins commuted along the river.
April 5 – This was a day with long periods spent on the water but we started with a short trip across the river to the El Paujil trail. Like the Matraca trail yesterday, this was an area of Varzea and held many of the same birds as well as several new ones. We started with a pair of Amazonian Streaked-antwrens in the scrub of a nearly dry streambed before a Cream-colored Woodpecker flew in overhead. We then played hide-and-seek with a responsive Varzea Schiffornis that eventually was seen by everyone as it darted about the understory. At a small clearing Daniel got us on a confiding Blue-throated Piping-guan in a nearby tree. Here we also scoped a Long-billed Woodcreeper and eventually got on a calling Cinnamon Attila.
Arriving at a small stream we called in a pair of Dot-backed Antwrens. Daniel then heard a Rose-breasted Chat calling again in the distance so we rushed over to it but it had gone silent and, frustratingly, we were not able to relocate it. We did get some consolation in the form of a Yellow-crowned Elaenia that posed for several minutes
just 5m from us. This species was only recently confirmed to occur in Colombia but seems not uncommon in the area. One of the main reasons for birding this trail was that Wire-tailed Manakins lek nearby and while we did not see any lekking, we did get to enjoy a superb male on a couple occasions. Here we also got quick looks at a foraging Black-throated Hermit.
Mid-morning saw us back in the boat and zipping south down the Inirida River en route to the Cerros de Mavicure, bare granite mountains (after a fashion) that are typical of the Guianan shield. Along the way we saw many Muscovy Ducks and stopped for a Bat Falcon that was perched atop a snag. As we reached the base of the impressive cerros we pulled in to the dock at the indigenous village of El Remanso. Here we enjoyed another nice lunch before boating down a further 5 minutes to a beach with a fine view of the rounded peaks. The cerros result in a narrowing of the river which created some rapids and this in turned provided habitat for Black-
collared Swallows that were nesting in the boulders alongside the beach. A Capped Heron was spotted across the river, our only one of the trip. Daniel has documented nesting of Orange-breasted Falcon on the cerros and sure enough, he spotted one circling way up by the top of one of the cerros.
It was mid-day and the birding was slow so, having enjoyed the impressive landscape, we headed back towards town. As we neared civilization we pulled in to a small side stream called Caño Cunuben where Daniel assured us there would be Hoatzin. Sure enough there was a large group of them in the riverside shrubbery. Lost in the excitement of these prehistoric-looking birds was an Amazonian Tyrannulet that was only seen by Daniel and Avery. Once we had had our fill we turned our attention to an oropendola colony in a tree right over the river. Here we noted a few Olive Oropendolas among the many Crested. We were hoping for Sungrebe but we had to make do with our only Slate-colored Hawk, Red-capped Cardinals and Thrush-like Wrens of the trip.
This evening Daniel had arranged a treat for us, an indigenous dance performance put on by a local professor and three generations of his family! It included several local, hand-crafted instruments and impressive body paint.
April 6 – Our last morning of birding for this tour saw us return to the White Sands forest at the Caño Vitina community. En route we stopped off at a spot where Daniel regularly has White-naped Seedeater. Unfortunately, though it was heard singing in the distance we would dip on this white sands specialty. In the area we did spot several Plain-crested Elaenias as well as both Black-faced and Burnished-buff Tanagers. A couple calling Russet-crowned Crakes prompted us to take on the near-futile task of trying to see one in the dense roadside vegetation (Daniel and Ken got glimpses).
At the Caño Vitina community we were treated to a splendid Green-and-rufous Kingfisher at the bridge right in the village. Shortly afterwards we spied a female Spangled Cotinga in a bare tree. A single Yellow-green Grosbeak and Black-eared Fairy briefly came through while at a small pond we finally all got on a Green-tailed Goldenthroat. A flyover female Pompadour Cotinga prompted us to return to scanning the distant treetops and we eventually all got scope views of a male Pompadour as well as a male Spangled Cotinga. Our last order of business was to try for Yellow-crowned Manakin at a little forest patch, one of the final White Sands specialties we were missing. However, despite hearing one calling from the forest we were not able to locate it and we had to make do with a consolation White-eyed Tody-tyrant. A vocal Yellow-throated Flycatcher perched beside the track as we
arrived at the community was a pleasant finish to a sweltering, though productive morning.
One final treat was awaiting us as we drove back to our hotel – a majestic Maguari Stork at a small wetland beside the road! Back at the hotel we had an early lunch and packed our bags in preparation for the flight back to Bogota. Once in the capital we had our final group dinner though the majority of us would do some post tour birding the following day before our evening flights home.
It was about 11:55 PM. We were standing in the darkness on the side of mountain at the Bald Range, west of Kelowna. A Great Horned Owl called just before midnight, and we waited impatiently, once the clock passed midnight, for the owl to call again. We were beginning our big day, which is one particular day when a group of people try and see and hear as many species of birds as possible. Finally, after only a few minutes, the Great Horned Owl hooted, and the hoot was answered by a nearby youngster. Just as our noble scribe for the day, Ryan Tomlinson, finished writing down the particulars of our sighting, our second species for the day called. This time it was a tiny Flammulated Owl, a species that occurs in Canada, only in the southern interior of B.C. After a short walk, we had brief views of the tiny, cryptically patterned owl, high in a fir tree. On our way back down to Kelowna, we listened for Common Poorwills on a dry hillside, and we heard one calling.
We drove across Kelowna, in the darkness, to our next area of exploration, Beaver Lake and Dee Lake roads. Team members were chomping at the bit to add new species, but our roaring start petered out. Nathan Earley heard a Barred Owl call in the distance so we all listened intently. After a few more minutes, the Barred Owl hooted from nearby trees. We spent the next couple of hours trying to find more owls, but had no luck. Listening to the eerie calls of Common Loons this evening was very enjoyable, however. By the time it was beginning to get light out, 4:15 AM or so, the birds were in full song. The list ticked up with each stop, keeping Ryan busy. Hermit, Swainson’s and Varied thrushes, Wilson’s Warbler, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Canada Jay, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill and a clapping Spruce Grouse were all nice additions to the list. Snowshoe Hares hopped back and forth across the road in front of us. Carrying on down Beaver Lake Road, we added another species of owl to the list, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. Pileated Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Cassin’s Vireo, Nashville Warblers, Red Crossbill and much more were noted in the coniferous forests. Ryan pointed out a Ruffed Grouse sitting on a log in the forest to me. Just then, Jesse Hannebauer called out to me. ‘Hey Chris, Wolf!’ Ryan and I immediately left our drumming grouse and headed out to the road, but unfortunately we had missed seeing
this rather uncommon, at least in the Okanagan, canine. Jesse and Nathan had a photo, however so we got to see it in a digital form. We saw a White-breasted Nuthatch and a lovely male Black-headed Grosbeak at about km 8, and we also had a singing Least Flycatcher here. The Beaver Lake Grasslands were productive as ever, with Western Meadowlarks, Western Kingbirds, Mountain and Western bluebirds, Vesper Sparrows, Say’s Phoebe and Black-billed Magpies making appearances. As we entered civilization we began adding the common urban species to the list; American Crow, House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon.
Our next stop was set to be a good one at Robert Lake. The water levels, unfortunately, were too high this year so there were barely any shorebirds present. We did see some Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalaropes and Wilson’s Snipe, but the usual American Avocets were not present which was a surprise. Our tally of waterfowl grew substantially here though, with Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy
Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal being added. Also, Eared Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sora, Virginia Rail, Bank Swallows, Bald Eagle and Marsh Wren were nice additions.
At Alki Lake, again high water levels meant no shorebirds. A flock of about 100 gulls got us excited, but they turned out to be 99 California Gulls and one Ring-billed Gull. Before leaving the Glenmore Valley, we found a nice intermediate morph Swainson’s Hawk soaring over Glenmore Road.
East of Kelowna, we headed up Hwy 33, stopping quickly in the grasslands where Nathan and Ryan said they had seen a larger dark bird flycatching from a Ponderosa Pine snag. ‘We haven’t had Lewis’s Woodpeckers here in several years, so I bet they were starlings’, I said. Thankfully, I was wrong, and they were Lewis’s Woodpeckers indeed. Two of them, in a large snag on a hillside above Mission Creek. We looked, in vain, for a Great
Gray Owl east of town, but did at least add a Hairy Woodpecker to the list. We spent too much time at a bridge on Three Forks Road, looking for an American Dipper which never showed up. It took us about 4 stops to finally find some Chestnut-backed Chickadees as well, so feeling we had spent too much time working for about 3 species, we headed back down to Kelowna.
At Mission Creek, our search for a Western Screech-Owl didn’t turn one up, but a short walk through Sutherland Hills Park added Calliope Hummingbird, Vaux’s Swift, Yellow Warbler and Pygmy Nuthatch to our lists. Munson Pond, another of Kelowna’s hotspots, was next on our radar. The flooded field along the entrance road, where Black-necked Stilts had been present, sadly, did not yield. Nathan heard a Ring-necked Pheasant crow in the distance, and overhead a Cooper’s Hawk soared. I spotted a female Northern
Pintail on a small pond, our only for the day. No Wood Duck was present at Munson Pond, so we headed for Wilson Creek, a short distance away, where a pair of Wood Ducks graced us with their presence.
The Mouth of Mission Creek has been a hotspot in recent days, especially with the discovery of B.C.s second Great Black-backed Gull here. Unfortunately, the gulls seems to have disappeared so we did not see it on the big day. There were, however, some Glaucous-winged Gulls and several Bonaparte’s Gulls present. Far out on the lake were hundreds of Western Grebes with a few Red-necked Grebes sprinkled in. As I scanned through the grebes with the scope, I picked out four large blackish ducks with distinct white wing patches. ‘White-winged Scoters’, I announced, and this got everybody scrambling for a place at the scope. As we walked back to the car, I pished out a Common Yellowthroat from the bushes, our only one for the day.
The next stop, at John’s Family Regional Park, was another where we spent far too much time and effort and only got one bird, a Rock Wren. We had hoped for Canyon Wren and Chukar here as well, but we didn’t find them. It was still very nice up there, and on our
walk we saw Lazuli Buntings, Dusky Flycatchers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks. One more quick check in at the Mouth of Mission Creek nabbed us just one more species, a Cedar Waxwing.
It was now late afternoon and so we rushed off across the Bennett Bridge to West Kelowna. A quick stop at a pond on the way up to Rose Valley, boosted our list with two more ducks; Common Mergansers and Barrow’s Goldeneye. Jesse suggested we make Rose Valley our final stop of the day, and it was a fantastic suggestion. As we walked up through the mixed riparian and coniferous forest, we added half a dozen more birds to the day list. We had two Western Screech-Owls, a displaying male Black-chinned Hummingbird, several Veery, a singing Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Townsend’s Solitaires and last but not least, Nathan spotted our only White-throated Swifts for the day. The list stood at 145 species for the day, all within the limits of the
Central Okanagan Regional District boundaries.
Bird list for the day: Canada Goose; Wood Duck; Blue-winged Teal; Cinnamon Teal; Northern Shoveler; Gadwall; American Wigeon; Mallard; Northern Pintail; Green-winged Teal; Canvasback; Redhead; Lesser Scaup; White-winged Scoter; Bufflehead; Barrow’s Goldeneye; Common Merganser; Ruddy Duck; California Quail; Ring-necked Pheasant; Ruffed Grouse; Spruce Grouse; Pied-billed Grebe; Red-necked Grebe; Eared Grebe; Western Grebe; Rock Pigeon; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Mourning Dove; Common Poorwill; Vaux’s Swift; White-throated Swift; Black-chinned Hummingbird; Rufous Hummingbird; Calliope Hummingbird; Virginia Rail; Sora; American Coot; Killdeer; Wilson’s Snipe; Spotted Sandpiper; Wilson’s Phalarope; Bonaparte’s Gull; Ring-billed Gull; California Gull; Glaucous-winged Gull; Common Loon; Great Blue Heron; Turkey Vulture; Osprey; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Cooper’s Hawk; Bald Eagle; Swainson’s Hawk; Red-tailed Hawk; Flammulated Owl; Western Screech-Owl; Great Horned Owl; Northern Pygmy-Owl; Barred Owl; Lewis’s Woodpecker; Red-naped Sapsucker; American Three-toed Woodpecker; Downy Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker; Pileated Woodpecker; American Kestrel; Western Kingbird; Western Wood-Pewee; Least Flycatcher; Hammond’s Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher; Pacific-slope Flycatcher; Say’s Phoebe; Cassin’s Vireo; Warbling Vireo; Canada Jay; Steller’s Jay; Black-billed Magpie; American Crow; Common Raven; Tree Swallow; Violet-green Swallow; N. Rough-winged Swallow; Bank Swallow; Barn Swallow; Black-capped Chickadee; Mountain Chickadee; Chestnut-backed Chickadee; Red-breasted Nuthatch; White-breasted Nuthatch; Pygmy Nuthatch; Brown Creeper; Rock Wren; House Wren; Pacific Wren; Marsh Wren; Golden-crowned Kinglet; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Western Bluebird; Mountain Bluebird; Townsend’s Solitaire; Veery; Swainson’s Thrush; Hermit Thrush; American Robin; Varied Thrush; European Starling; Cedar Waxwing; House Sparrow; Evening Grosbeak; Pine Grosbeak; House Finch; Cassin’s Finch; Red Crossbill; White-winged Crossbill; American Goldfinch; Spotted Towhee; Chipping Sparrow; Vesper Sparrow; Savannah Sparrow; Song Sparrow; Lincoln’s Sparrow; White-crowned Sparrow; Dark-eyed Junco; Yellow-headed Blackbird; Western Meadowlark; Bullock’s Oriole; Red-winged Blackbird; Brown-headed Cowbird; Brewer’s Blackbird; Northern Waterthrush; Orange-crowned Warbler; Nashville Warbler; MacGillivray’s Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Yellow Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Townsend’s Warbler; Wilson’s Warbler; Western Tanager; Black-headed Grosbeak; Lazuli Bunting.
Apr 30 – I met the group in the arrivals hall at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and we made the short transfer back to our hotel. After a quick bite and a much-needed cold refreshment we headed off to bed.
May 1 – We left Phoenix shortly after 7 AM and headed east towards the fabulous Gilbert Water Ranch. It was a lovely day with brilliant sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures. Shortly after leaving the parking lot we paused at a stand of Saguaro Cactus where we were entertained by several Gila Woodpeckers entering nest holes and
feeding on the flowers of the cactus. A Curve-billed Thrasher ran about on the ground near the parking lot, and close by was our first Abert’s Towhee. Black-chinned Hummingbirds were numerous, and we saw one male Anna’s Hummingbird eventually as well. Gambel’s Quail put on a nice performance, and we had very nice views of Mourning Doves. On the ponds we had some waterfowl, including Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teal, Mallards, Northern Shoveler and the ubiquitous Canada Goose. American Coots, Neotropic Cormorants and several herons and egrets including Black-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret and Great Blue Heron were all seen as well. Shorebirds included many Long-billed Dowitchers, with smaller numbers of Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilts and some lovely American Avocets. In the trees and bushes along the trail we had Song Sparrow, a Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Inca Dove, and many Great-tailed Grackles, and overhead were Cliff Swallows
and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. In addition to the 40 some species of birds we tallied here, we saw Red-eared Sliders and Desert Cottontails.
After an hour’s drive through some very scenic countryside, we arrived in the town of Globe where we had lunch. The temperatures were a little cooler at slightly higher elevations at Globe. We carried on from Globe down to Aravaipa Canyon. Even though it was hot at this point in the afternoon, the canyon was alive with activity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a Common Black-Hawk, one of the canyon’s specialities, but we were rewarded nonetheless, with sightings of Zone-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawks. Flycatchers were well represented, with sightings of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Brown-crested Flycatcher and the stunning Vermilion Flycatcher. We saw a female Vermilion Flycatcher sitting on a tiny little ragged nest in a mesquite tree right next to the road.
Other goodies encountered in the canyon included an immature male Hooded Oriole, a young male Summer Tanager, a Bell’s Vireo, Bewick’s and Canyon wrens and Verdin. On our way out of the canyon, we had a brief look at a Greater Roadrunner doing just what’s it’s known for, running up the bank at the edge of the road and out of sight. The scenery in Aravaipa Canyon was stunning with towering cliffs, hillsides studded with Saguaro Cactus and large cottonwood trees lining the shores of the creek. Flowers were showing nicely after some recent rains and we enjoyed seeing Saguaro, various forms of cholla cactus and Prickly Pear cactus all in flower. We carried on to Tucson, checked in at our hotel and went out for a nice meal.
May 2 – Our adventures began at Agua Caliente Park. Before we had even left the parking lot, we’d seen a couple of nice birds including a singing Rufous-winged Sparrow and an inquisitive Greater Roadrunner. We meandered through the park ticking off birds one by one under the morning sunshine. Hooded Oriole, Lucy’s Warbler, Warbling
Vireo, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Phainopepla, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher all appeared. A Belted Kingfisher posed briefly for views in a palm tree next to the pond. Back in the parking lot before we left, we found a pair of Cactus Wrens, the state bird of Arizona, perched on a Saguaro Cactus flower, the state flower of Arizona!
On our way to the supermarket to pick up lunch, we pulled off on the roadside to take a look at a Harris’s Hawk soaring overhead. From Tucson, at about 2000 feet above sea level, we traveled to the top of Mount Lemmon at over 9000 feet. The temperature at the bottom was 28 degrees Celsius and once we reached the top it was about 13 degrees Celsius. It is said that driving from Tucson to the top of Mount Lemmon is the equivalent, as far as habitats go, of traveling from Mexico to Canada. The lower reaches of the road are a spectacle of rock formations and towering Saguaro Cactus. Near the top, stately firs, pines and spruce trees cover the landscape. There were even a few patches of snow near the summit. We took a stroll up Bear Wallow, one of my favorite areas to look for forest
birds on Mount Lemmon. Bear Wallow did not disappoint. We had several excellent looks at one of the show-stopping birds here, the Red-faced Warbler. This ended up being top pick for bird of the trip at the end of the tour! Other warblers along the trail included Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Mountain Chickadees showed well, and we were happy to see them since the Catalina Mountains are the only range in S.E. Arizona where one regularly finds this species. We also saw Red-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, Hermit Thrush, House Wren and Yellow-eyed Juncos.
We had lunch at Loma Linda Picnic Site, where Steller’s Jays, Acorn Woodpecker and Yellow-eyed Junco took turns cleaning up the scraps once we were finished. A male Western Bluebird was a nice catch here as well. At the ski valley we had a look at some hummingbird feeders that were abuzz with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and a single,
somewhat wary Rivoli’s Hummingbird. A Yellow-eyed Junco practically walked underneath Alex’s feet! Two Wild Turkeys foraged on one of the grassy ski runs, and suddenly I felt guilty for having a turkey sandwich for lunch. At the summit of the mountain we took another stroll, catching a glimpse of a White-tailed Deer trotting down the slope. Overhead, Violet-green Swallows zipped about, while Spotted Towhees lurked in the shrubbery. Pip spotted our first Greater Pewee of the trip, though it disappeared all to quickly. Our first stripy-backed Cliff Chipmunks were seen here, and down in the ski village of Summerhaven we saw a couple of impressive Tassle-eared Squirrels. Also in Summerhaven, American Robins hopped about, and Steller’s Jays called from the pines. At some feeders at a local real estate agency, we watched Pine Siskins and Black-headed
Grosbeaks gobble up the seeds. Another obliging Red-faced Warbler hopped into the bush in front of us, and several people noted it was too close for photographs! We enjoyed a refreshment at the Cookie Cabin before beginning the descent of Mount Lemmon. On the way down we made a couple of stops to photograph the spectacular rocky scenery before returning to Tucson. We had another lovely meal out and it seemed everyone was quite tired this evening, so a good rest was in order.
May 3 – Another sunny and warm Arizona day greeted us as we started out at Sabino Canyon. The ‘old trams’ were being replaced by new ones, so we rode up into the canyon on a temporary shuttle. We hopped off the shuttle and walked down a portion of the canyon, enjoying the incredible scenery, the birds, butterflies, lizards and cactus. Birds, though not overly abundant, included some dazzling ones such as Northern Cardinals,
Summer Tanager, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and Canyon Wren. Also, some not so dazzling birds like Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler and Verdin were also seen. Perhaps the avian star of the walk, was a stunning Black-throated Sparrow that sat right out in the open and sang for several minutes. Lizards included a colorful Greater Earless Lizard, a Tiger Whiptail, as well as Sonoran Spotted Whiptails. Butterflies were numerous, with the most common species being Empress Leila, Marine Blue, Dainty Sulphur and Red-spotted Purple. If all this wasn’t enough, the steep walls of the canyon, studded with Saguaro Cactus made for some of the best scenery we encountered on the trip. Around the visitor’s center we saw our first Round-tailed Ground Squirrels, small squirrels with large eyes and short, rounded tails.
After we’d consumed our lunches, we drove across to the west side of Tucson where we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Sonoran Desert Museum and grounds.
Today was hot, so birds were somewhat in hiding as we explored this area. Nonetheless, there were plenty of Cactus Wrens, White-winged Doves, Verdin, and Curve-billed Thrasher to see. In the taller trees where water was present, we did find some more interesting things such as Hooded Orioles, Wilson’s Warbler, Brown-crested Flycatcher and an immature Cooper’s Hawk. The hawk was sitting in a cottonwood at close range to us, where it was devouring its prey. We decided the prey was most likely a White-winged Dove. It was enjoyable to wander about inside the hummingbird aviary, where we had up close and personal looks at Costa’s Hummingbirds, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and a male Rufous Hummingbird, though we couldn’t count any of these on our lists. On our way from the museum to our next destination, Green Valley, we paused at a busy Tucson intersection to look for Burrowing Owls. Though we found their burrow and their favorite perch, the owls must have been hiding out from the heat beneath the ground. We carried on to Green Valley, possibly the retirement capital of S.E. Arizona, which was to be our home base for the next two nights.
May 4 – Today was our day to explore the Santa Rita Mountains and the confines of the famous Madera Canyon. We began at the Madera Picnic Area where a walk through the Madrean Pine / Oak forest yielded some nice birds, such as Dusky-capped Flycatcher,
Hepatic Tanager and a brief glimpse of our first stunning Painted Redstart. The highlight, no doubt, was a calling male Elegant Trogon, one of the holy grail birds of any trip to S.E. Arizona. The trogon did not seem to mind being watched and photographed by crowds of people this sunny morning.
At Proctor, another section of Madera Canyon, we searched for the rare Black-capped Gnatcatcher, and though we didn’t find it here, we still saw some very nice stuff. After a bit of a search, we finally had excellent views of a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, the bird whose name is longer than the bird itself. The first Canyon Towhee of the trip presented itself here at Proctor and we gladly watched birds we had already seen such as Summer and Western tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole and Wilson’s Warbler. We had a picnic lunch at the top parking area of the canyon and then spent much of the afternoon watching the feeders. At Kubo Cabins we were entertained by Mexican Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Scott’s Oriole, Rivoli’s Hummingbird and more. Our first Western Wood-Pewee paused long enough for scope views. Another Painted Redstart played hide and seek here, leaving us wanting to see more of this spectacular little warbler.
Next, we sat and watched the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge. Wild Turkeys put on quite a
show here, with several males puffed up and displaying to a batch of onlooking females. Acorn Woodpeckers were numerous and provided constant entertainment, but we had to have patience to see the Arizona Woodpecker here, though we did finally have excellent views of it. Groups of noisy Mexican Jays occasionally came in to raid the feeders, while Bridled Titmice came in quietly and grabbed a few seeds before disappearing. Hummingbirds, including Black-chinned, Rivoli’s and Broad-billed, sipped nectar from feeders right in front of us. Mammals included many Rock Squirrels and a White-nosed Coatimundi, the latter of which was the first one I had seen on all my trips to Arizona.
We returned to Green Valley for a little siesta before dinner, and after that we returned to Madera Canyon, in hopes of seeing some nocturnal species. Just before it got dark, we
had nice views of our first Rufous-crowned Sparrow hopping about and we saw a Canyon Wren singing from a boulder at sunset. Near Santa Rita Lodge we camped out for a bit, waiting for an Elf Owl to emerge from its hole in a telephone pole. Unfortunately, the owl had not received the news that we were coming and didn’t come out. While we waited for the owl, a Mexican Whip-poor-will called in the distance, as did a Whiskered Screech-Owl. Before we left the canyon, we did have excellent views of a Whiskered Screech-Owl, so it was, in the end, a successful night of owling. On our way back to Green Valley we caught a glimpse of our first Black-tailed Jackrabbit of the tour.
May 5 – Our morning began in Green Valley along a lovely road called Paseo del Canto. It was sunny and just the right temperature as we strolled along the street. We ate our breakfast out in the field today and not long after we arrived, we found our target species, a Gilded Flicker. At one point, a pair of Gilded Flickers copulated while atop a Saguaro Cactus. It was a prickly situation indeed. Other typical birds like Costa’s Hummingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Lucy’s Warbler and Brown-crested Flycatcher
were all observed as well. Next, we headed to Box Canyon, where there had been reports of a species of sparrow, normally not found north of the Mexican border, the Five-striped Sparrow. We spent quite a bit of time searching for the sparrow, to no avail, but in the process, we found Rock Wrens, Canyon Wrens, Summer Tanagers, Western Wood-Pewee, Cassin’s Kingbird and Hooded Oriole. A couple of Harris’s Antelope Squirrels found in Box Canyon were the only ones we saw on the entire trip. The flowering Ocotillo was stunning here and at many locations during our visit to Arizona. In addition to the Ocotillo were flowering Prickly Pear Cactus.
We then visited the lower reaches of Florida Canyon. A walk through the desert scrub here eventually yielded exactly what we had come here for, a Black-capped Gnatcatcher. This, the rarest of the North American gnatcatchers. The bird we found was a male and
he stayed quite high up in the canopy, pausing now and then in the open to call. Also, we had our only looks at Blue-gray Gnatcatcher here in Florida Canyon as well.
After a short pause in Madera Canyon where we had a nice picnic lunch, we began the drive towards Tubac and the Santa Cruz River. It was quite hot as we entered the cottonwood forests along the banks of the river, following the Anza Trail. Once we were beneath the shade of the big trees, next to the babbling brook, it was pleasantly cool. Despite the time of the day, the birds were very active. Summer Tanagers, Song Sparrows, Lucy’s Warblers, Northern Cardinal, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Bewick’s Wren were seen in this riparian woodland. As we walked along, I spotted a fledgling Great Horned Owl up high on a branch in the cottonwoods. On our way back, I spotted one of the adult birds, watching out for its youngster(s). The real object of our affection on this particular walk was a Central American species called the Rose-throated Becard. Off and on for several
years now, Rose-throated Becards have been found along the Santa Cruz River and this year, apparently a pair was building a nest there. I followed instructions, looking for a golf course on the right and an orange bucket, and then looked to the west and spotted the large, football sized nest, dangling from the branches. I could hear one of the becards calling overhead, so I knew they were there. What appeared to be the female came in with a beak full of nest material, and shortly thereafter Pip spotted the male. The male continued to be seen off and on as he sang from high in the canopy. We returned to the van, and just as we were leaving, a pair of Lark Sparrows appeared on the grass near the van, our first for the trip.
After a short stop for gas in Rio Rico, we carried on to Patagonia, where we checked in at our motel and enjoyed dinner in the local saloon.
May 6 – At 6 AM most of us met up for a pre-breakfast visit to the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop. Here, sometime in the 1970’s, a Mexican species new to the North American list was found at this location. Subsequent visits by other birders to locate the bird ended up with the discovery of several other rare species. The phenomenon became known as the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect. We didn’t find anything rare here this
morning, other than uncommonly cold temperatures. It took a while for the insects to come out once the sun reached the treetops. Most of us were shivering and reaching for sweaters this morning. The birding was, in the end, worth the trouble. We saw our target species this morning, Thick-billed Kingbirds, though they remained hidden until we were nearly ready to give up. A Black Vulture sat on a rock in the sunshine across the valley, no doubt, enjoying the warmth of the sunrise. Canyon and Rock wrens sang from the rocky hillsides nearby while White-throated Swifts zipped overhead. Down in the streamside riparian growth we found Western Tanagers, Bell’s Vireo, Dusky-capped and Brown-crested flycatchers, Yellow Warblers and more. By this point our appetites were telling us it was time to head back to Patagonia and have breakfast.
Eating at the Gathering Grounds in Patagonia is always a treat and breakfast today was no exception. After breakfast we headed for Patagonia Lake State Park, stopping on the way in a grassland area where we had great looks at a Botteri’s Sparrow. I paid the entrance fee and then as I drove down the hill towards the lake, a rather large Bull Snake (Gopher Snake) appeared at the edge of the road. Some of us hopped out for a better
look. Some stayed in the van. The Bull Snake, though it superficially looks like a rattlesnake, is not venomous and lacks rattles on the end of its tail. We were able to snap some photos of the snake as it slithered off the road and back into the desert. Walking the birding trails at Patagonia Lake produced close to 50 species this morning. We had fantastic views of Yellow-breasted Chats as they chased one another around through the trees. Lincoln’s and Song sparrows hopped about at the edge of the muddy shore, while the usual Bell’s Vireos, Lucy’s Warblers, Yellow Warblers and Summer Tanagers frequented the deciduous trees. We had a great view of a male Common Yellowthroat as he sang from the perch in a tree next to the marsh. American
Coots dabbled about, along with a pair of Mexican Ducks and their gang of ducklings. A male Ruddy Duck was a nice addition to the day list as were a dozen or so Neotropic Cormorants. At least 5 Spotted Sandpipers bobbed away as they foraged along the shoreline. Green Heron was new for the trip list, as this was the only expected species of heron we had missed early on in the trip at the Gilbert Water Ranch. Great Blue Heron and Great Egret were also present. Benches were situated here and there along the trail system and each bench had a bird name on it. At the Common Yellowthroat bench, we did in fact see a Common Yellowthroat. At the woodpecker bench we found Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. The Kinglet bench, however, produced no kinglets. High overhead, an Osprey sailed by; our only one for the tour. A couple of White-tailed Deer were noticed this morning, as they quietly fed in the woods. Of note, one of the deer had a strange white pattern on its face!
Back in Patagonia, we had lunch and then we spent the afternoon at the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds. It was very pleasant watching the birds here, and the hummingbirds
preformed nicely with star appearances by the local celebrity, the Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. Other species present included Anna’s Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rivoli’s Hummingbird and Broad-billed Hummingbird. Yellow-breasted Chats came into feed on orange halves, providing exceptional looks at this elusive species. Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The list went on. Of particular interest, we saw an adult White-throated Sparrow lurking in the brush pile, our only one for the tour, though we did see it again the following morning. White-crowned Sparrows were rather numerous and one or two lucky observers caught a glimpse of a male Indigo Bunting that came in briefly to feed. Dinner at the Wild Horse Saloon was very enjoyable this evening. Richard and Sue had the good fortune to see several Lesser Nighthawks catching insects beneath the streetlights this evening.
May 7 – The early morning contingency met at 6:30 and we headed back over to the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds, this time, hoping to catch a glimpse of an American Goldfinch and the Indigo Bunting. We succeeded in seeing the American Goldfinch, a lovely male, throughout the course of our stay this morning. The Indigo Bunting had
other plans and decided not to make an appearance this morning. As a consolation prize, we enjoyed watching a couple of Cedar Waxwings in the front garden. While we were not surprised to find Abert’s and Canyon towhees here at the Paton’s, I was not expecting a Green-tailed Towhee to appear as it did, and forage about with the White-crowned Sparrows. Several Arizona Gray Squirrels pillaged the feeders this morning. Also, in the mammal department, we saw a Collared Peccary in Patagonia this morning. We got back to our hotel and suddenly noticed that Trevor, the given name of our plastic step stool, was missing. Somebody who was on ‘Trevor duty’
had left him back at the Paton’s. I went back to retrieve Trev and found him looking rather lonely in the parking lot.
Back at the Gathering Grounds for breakfast, we also ordered our lunches and took them with us out into the field. We, rather reluctantly, left Patagonia this morning, and headed east to the Sonoita Grasslands. We spent several hours in the grasslands, which were beautiful this morning, under blue skies and light winds. Connell spotted our first Pronghorn Antelope as we entered the grassland habitat at Las Cienegas. ‘Lilian’s’ Eastern Meadowlarks were seen, and I explained that this unique race may perhaps get split and acquire full species status one day. Sparrows were common in the grasslands with the most abundant being Lark Sparrows. Mixed in with the Lark Sparrows were several Lark Buntings, another nice surprise. A single Brewer’s Sparrow appeared just long enough for scope views, and after some searching, we had excellent looks at Grasshopper Sparrows. Horned Larks strutted about on the ground and Loggerhead Shrike was a first for the tour. Our first definite Chihuahuan Ravens were noted today.
Swainson’s Hawks showed off their features nicely as they soared against the blue sky. The sprinkling of wildflowers out in the grasslands was very nice.
Our next stop was at the Appleton-Whittell Audubon Research Ranch near the town of Elgin. We drove through much of the same grassland habitat to get to the ranch, but it really is gorgeous country out there. Botteri’s Sparrows seemed to be everywhere, jumping up out of the grass and pumping their tails as they flew short distances. A Loggerhead Shrike was seen quite well as were more Eastern Meadowlarks. Once we got to the ranch we were greeted by a friendly young man, one of the researches staying here. He explained they were doing some work there during our visit and that the Scaled Quail, the birds we had come to see, could be hiding due to the increased activity. The wind was also relentless. We had lunch inside a barn, where I thought we might be sheltered from the wind. I was wrong. The barn was like a wind tunnel, and the wind actually blew the lettuce right off Irene’s fork! We were, in the end, fortunate enough to see Scaled Quail. I flushed one up from some long grass next to the parking lot and we saw two more quite nicely as well. Thanking the researches for their hospitality, we carried on our way to Sierra Vista.
We checked in at our hotel and then reassembled for a visit to the edge of the Huachuca Mountains at Ash Canyon. Feeders are strung up all over the garden of Mary Jo at the Ash Canyon B & B. We parked ourselves in front of the hummingbird feeders and tallied
a few species; Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Anna’s. Then, a female hummingbird with buffy underparts and a long, curved bill appeared. It was the bird we’d come here to see, a Lucifer Hummingbird. This Mexican hummingbird species is only found at a few spots in the USA and Ash Canyon is one of them. A lucky few of the group also got a quick view of the male Lucifer Hummingbird as well. Orioles put on a spectacular show here today, with loads of Scott’s and some Bullock’s orioles coming into feed on jam. Ladder-backed, Gila and Acorn woodpeckers joined in on the feast, as did Bridled Titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, Mexican Jays, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Pyrrhuloxia, White-winged Doves and much
more. At one point, a Wild Turkey even crashed on to the scene. We returned to Sierra Vista and had dinner, during which time we discussed what a top knotch day we had had.
May 8 – We picked up lunch this morning and headed for the Huachuca Mountains. The road up to the top of Carr Canyon is an interesting one. It is gravel and bumpy and has some hairpin turns, but the scenery is amazing and once you get to the top, the birding is sensational. We arrived at Reef Townsite Campground and as soon as we got out of the van, we started spotting new birds. Buff-breasted Flycatcher, one of the signature birds of the upper reaches of the Huachuca Mountains, were seen almost immediately, and by the end of our visit, we must have seen close to ten of them. Warblers, including Townsend’s, Virginia’s, Hermit, ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped, Black-
throated Gray, Grace’s and Wilson’s warbler, as well as Painted Redstarts, entertained us throughout our stay. Other woodland birds like Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hutton’s Vireo, and Greater Pewee were also nice to see. Bumping our way back down the mountain, we had a stop to take pictures of the scenery and Pip happened to spot a Peregrine Falcon. Our first Hammond’s Flycatcher was noted here. Down at the bottom of the canyon we had lunch at the Carr Canyon Picnic Site. Not many birds were found here, though the usual cleanup crew of Mexican Jays came in as we were leaving. An open area short distance away, where I often find Eastern Bluebirds again produced the goods today. We watched a pair of ‘Mexican’ or ‘Azure’ Eastern Bluebirds forage amongst the oaks. Several White-tailed Deer also fed on the irrigated
Our next destination was San Pedro House, where feeders and a grove of tall cottonwoods attract some nice birds. Upon arrival, I headed over to check out one particularly large cottonwood tree where I knew of a Western Screech-Owl that lived in a ‘heart-shaped’ cavity. Sure enough, the owl was sleeping away at the entrance to its roost. A male American Kestrel was also hanging out in the same tree, providing us with the best look we got of this attractive species of falcon on this tour. We enjoyed a lovely walk along the San Pedro River this afternoon, and the clouds kept the temperatures quite bearable. At this point it was beginning to get harder to add new species at every stop. We didn’t add any on our walk along the river, but we had excellent birding, nonetheless. A Zone-tailed Hawk sailed overhead several times. Gray Hawks called in the distance. Richard spotted a Great Blue
Heron sitting on a nest high in a cottonwood tree. There were good numbers of Western and Summer tanagers, as well as Bullock’s Oriole, Western Wood-Pewee, Lucy’s and Virginia’s warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Abert’s Towhee, Bewick’s Wren, Brown-crested, Ash-throated and Dusky-capped flycatchers. The list goes on and on. We walked around a pond where Mexican Ducks were preening on logs around the edges, while a pair of Spotted Sandpipers slept away the afternoon nearby. A large Bullfrog was seen here, as well as the usual Red-eared Sliders that are found at most wetlands in this part of the world.
Back at the visitor’s center, some of us had wandered inside to do some retail therapy when Alex happened to photograph a male Blue Grosbeak at the feeders outside.
Unfortunately, by the time the rest of us arrived, the grosbeak had flown off. We waited around for a while, hoping he might return, but he didn’t. We enjoyed watching Common Ground-Doves, White-crowned Sparrows, Curve-billed Thrashers and the like anyway.
We had dinner back in Sierra Vista and then some of us went out to look for night birds in Miller Canyon. Though we heard Common Poorwill in the distance, unfortunately we didn’t see any tonight. We saw quite a few White-tailed Deer and we enjoyed the stunning vistas of the Milky Way.
May 9 – After checking out of our accommodations, we left Sierra Vista and returned to Miller Canyon and the Beatty’s Guest Ranch. We hiked up the canyon about a mile or so, and searched, in vain, for a Spotted Owl. Owl or no owl, we saw some nice birds this
morning, including a Painted Redstart, our first and only Cordilleran Flycatcher of the tour, Hepatic Tanagers, Dusky-capped Flycatchers and more. At the hummingbird feeders Tom Beatty Jr. gave us a running commentary on some of the hummingbirds. There were plenty of Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Anna’s Hummingbird and some rather magnificent Rivoli’s Hummingbirds feasting at the feeders. Richard, Sue and Jane saw our first Blue-throated Hummingbird of the tour. Tom’s pack of ‘coon hounds’ had treed a squirrel earlier and the hounds were noisily trying to fend off any remaining threat the pesky mammal might throw their way.
We visited Sierra Vista one last time, to have lunch before beginning our journey towards Portal. We picked up food and took it back to San Pedro House where we enjoyed a picnic while a Western Screech-Owl watched us from it’s perch, up in the tall
cottonwood. Otherwise, the feeders were quiet, with no sign of yesterday’s Blue Grosbeak. As we continued traveling east, we passed through the mining town of Bisbee, with its old-fashioned town center and deep pit copper mines all around. Scattered here and there was derelict mining machinery. We got fuel in Douglas and then drove on until we found ourselves on State Line Road. The east side of the road is in New Mexico and to the west is Arizona. We briefly found ourselves on the New Mexican side, where we tallied some very nice birds in a short time. There was an adult Great Horned Owl sitting atop a hay bail in an old barn. A Cactus Wren harassed an American Kestrel that had landed on a yucca stem. Showing nicely were a pair of Bendire’s Thrashers, with nearby Curve-billed Thrashers for comparison. Also, on the New Mexico side of the border, were Loggerhead Shrike, Gambel’s Quail and Swainson’s Hawk.
We arrived in Portal around 4 PM and checked into our accommodations. Clouds were gathering and the temperature was on the cool side. We decided to head over to a set of
feeders in a private garden on the edge of town. A sign reading ‘Crissal’ greeted us at the top of the driveway. At this particular set of feeders, Crissal Thrasher was being seen somewhat regularly. We settled in to watch the feeders and were immediately surprised at the diversity of the birds coming into feed. There was quite a covey of Gambel’s Quail running the show on the ground, with a group of tiny, stripy chicks being delinquent as ever. Black-throated Sparrows were another star attraction here, as several often fed very close to where the people sit and watch, and they did today. Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser
Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Canyon Towhee, and several gorgeous Lazuli Buntings also joined in on the feast. At a jam feeder, both Bullock’s Orioles slurped down the sugary substance while White-crowned Sparrows scurried about on the ground beneath the seed feeders. A Curve-billed Thrasher appeared several times, with each appearance evoking a stir amongst the observers, who were keen to see the ‘fabled’ Crissal Thrasher. Suddenly, I spotted a movement in the shadows beneath the mesquite trees. The bird was dark and had an exceptionally long and decurved bill. It was the Crissal Thrasher. I announced the bird’s presence and suddenly everyone was stirring, jostling to get a good look at the elusive thrasher. Though most of us saw the bird, the thrasher remained in the understory for most of the several seconds it was in view, leaving us wanting more!
We returned to Portal and had a lovely dinner at the café before taking a stroll along the main street, and almost the only street, in search of night birds. Almost immediately we had a tiny Elf Owl in the soft beam of the light. This is North America’s smallest owl species, and it is also a migratory species that mostly eats insects. We saw one Elf Owl and heard several more this evening. Farther down the street, I heard the soft, low-pitched, ping pong ball song of a Western Screech-Owl. After a short search, the owl was in the beam of the light, calling on the branch of a conifer. We left the lights on the owls for just a few shorts seconds so as not to cause them as much disturbance.
May 10 – At 6:30 AM we gathered for some birding in the metropolis of Portal. Seeing as there are only about ten buildings in town, it was quite easy to survey what was about. Several gardens have feeders and urge the public to watch. Donation boxes, which I
added to, were situated at most of these feeder areas so folks could donate a little to help to pay for the costs of feeding the birds. As we passed by the post office, we paused to look at a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet that was hanging out near its nest. A couple of ladies pointed out the nest to us high in the trees. We found the nest of a pair of Great Horned Owls in a big sycamore tree. The nest was on a snapped off branch hanging over the road. Two fluffy little Great Horned Owl chicks peered out at us from the top of the snag. Not far down the road we located one of the adults. We sat at one feeder station for a while and we were rewarded with views of a male Blue-throated Hummingbird, the largest of the regularly occurring North American hummingbirds. Also, at their feeders were Western Tanagers, Summer Tanager, Inca Dove, Lazuli Bunting, House Finches, and several tiny Cliff Chipmunks. In the trees overhead, flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons departed, with several hanging around long enough for everyone to get good views through the scope. We tallied just under 50 species on our walk this morning.
After a delicious breakfast at the café we grabbed our sacked lunches and began the drive up into the Chiricahua Mountains. The van screeched to a stop when Irene pointed out something to me at the edge of the road. ‘Gila Monster’, I yelled, and we were quickly out of the bus. This was a ‘Banded’ Gila Monster, showing a specific pattern and colors were more pink than yellow. The venomous lizard was quickly out of sight, but the sighting was documented as several of us got photographs. Our first official stop was at the cemetery at Paradise. We did quite well to get several good views of Juniper Titmouse here and we were also rewarded
with a Townsend’s Solitaire. Other birds we saw included Scott’s Oriole, Bewick’s Wren and a Black-throated Gray Warbler. Carrying on higher up the road, we crossed small creeks several times and once we’d nearly reached the top of the road, the scenery was incredible. My friend Gavin, a fellow Canadian that was leading a group as well, had his van parked on the side of the road. I rolled down my window and listened outside and I heard the ‘double toot’ of a ‘Mountain’ Northern Pygmy-Owl. ‘Ok, out we get’, I said, and we had lovely views of the tiny owl. Thanks Gavin! We stopped at Rustler Park and after using the facilities, we went for a walk in some conifer forest where I hoped we might find Mexican Chickadees. A Hairy Woodpecker appeared, our first for the tour and some inquisitive Steller’s Jays showed up on the scene. A Northern Flicker, of the red-shafted variety, appeared and was finally on our trip list. I could hear the high pitched, buzzy calls of a Mexican Chickadee high in the trees above and soon thereafter, we had them in our binoculars. They were foraging in amongst the needles of the fir trees, alongside a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Pygmy Nuthatches, as well as White-breasted Nuthatches were noted today, giving us the local trifecta of nuthatches. Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, House Wren and Yellow-eyed Junco were also noted. The flowers here were brilliant with many paintbrushes and
lupines stealing the show. Connell suggested we stop and photograph a gorgeous cactus that was growing straight up out of the rocks. I later discovered the name of this red flowering cactus was the Arizona Claretcup.
At Barfoot Park we made one last ditch attempt to find a bird that had been eluding us since the beginning of the tour, the Olive Warbler. We walked down into a nice thick patch of pine and fir and then, I heard it. The soft, ‘pew’ call of an Olive Warbler. The call was coming from high in the trees, a place that Olive Warblers know well, and after quite an extensive search, we finally spotted two of them foraging in a pine tree. We toddled down the bumpy road, watching White-tailed Deer scamper left and right as we descended. Sharp-eyed Connell yelled out ‘Stop! Quail.’ I stopped and there it was. A Montezuma Quail, one of the most elusive and sought-after quail species in North America. A male was sitting out in the open at the edge of the woods near the road. Soon thereafter it was off, followed by at least two more. Fantastic! We enjoyed the scenery as we drove through Cave Creek Canyon back to Portal.
Folks had asked to return to the ‘Crissal Thrasher’ feeders we had been at the afternoon before, so we returned. We spent about an hour and a half watching the feeders, which
again, produced nicely. A Rufous-winged Sparrow hopped out and picked up seeds from beneath the feeders, proving us with one of just a few looks we had of this species on the trip. I spotted a male Blue Grosbeak up in a cottonwood tree. The bird sat there and sang for quite a while, allowing everyone else to see the bird, which up until this point, had been seen by just one member on the tour. ‘Crissal Thrasher’, I yelled out once again, and this time the bird came right out in the open for 10 or 15 seconds and fed on seeds. The cameras clicked at the rate of the paparazzi photographing an A level celebrity. We had done well at this set of feeders indeed. We returned to our lodge and had the final dinner together as a group.
May 11 – We met at 6 AM on this, our final morning in Arizona. We headed back out towards Paradise, in search of a couple more species that had thus far eluded us. The first, a Gray Flycatcher, showed up right on schedule, but the second, the Black-chinned
Sparrow had other plans. We tried several locations for the sparrow with no luck, though we did enjoy the antics of male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds chasing one another amongst the Ocotillos. We also had nice views of Scott’s Orioles up here today. Eventually I heard a Black-chinned Sparrow singing up a hillside. We searched and searched and eventually we saw one, sitting in mesquite tree long enough for almost everyone to get scope views of. Feeling as though we had accomplished our mission, we returned to Portal and had breakfast. Those that hadn’t come on the early morning portion of the birding said that the Great Horned Owls were showing again nicely around their nest.
After breakfast we reluctantly left Portal and began the 4 ½ hour drive back to Phoenix. The drive took us through western New Mexico for about half an hour before we reached Interstate 10 and turned west, back into Arizona. We had enough time today to make a couple of birding stops along the way. The first stop was at the famous Willcox Water Treatment Plant. Here, we added 9 new species to the trip list. These included Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, White-faced Ibis, Eared Grebe, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Ring-billed Gull, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and finally a Tropical Kingbird. There were also plenty of American Avocets around, as well as a few Black-necked Stilts and a single Great Egret. Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shoveler, and Mexican Duck were here. Horned Larks were noted, along with Eastern Meadowlarks, in the grassy areas around the lake. Pip saw a couple of Scaled Quail.
We carried on westward along I-10 to the city of Benson, where we had lunch and then headed to their local sewage works. Rumour had it, there were Canvasback here. If we were to find a Canvasback, that would be the 200th species of bird seen on the tour. We found the Canvasback, two of them. They were both females, and in addition, we found a male Ring-necked Duck, the 200th and final species we saw on this trip. We arrived in Phoenix at Sky Harbor Airport with plenty of time for folks to make their flight. At this point of the trip, when the goodbyes are being said, it always feels a bit rushed. As the group disappeared into the airport, I reminisced on just how great a tour this had been. The group gelled together nicely and enjoyed some fantastic places with amazing scenery and great birding. In addition to the birds, the mammals, butterflies and reptiles and amphibians also dazzled. It had been all-around great trip, and this was echoed by all.
Day 1, April 10 – I met the 5 participants for this year’s Limosa Holidays Upper Texas Coast tour this afternoon. Three had flown in from the U.K, one from Singapore and another from Saskatchewan, Canada. We had dinner and discussed plans for the following morning before heading off for some well deserved rest.
Day 2, April 11 – Shortly after 7 AM we left our hotel and headed north for W.G. Jones State Forest. It was sunny and warm this morning, but as the day wore on, the clouds gathered and we had some rain in the afternoon. We spent a couple of hours exploring the Loblolly Pine woodlands at what I call the ‘experimental forest’. Our main targets
today were woodpeckers and we had very nice views of 5 different species before lunch! The highlight, as far as rarity goes, was seeing several Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, an endangered species exclusive to burned pine forests of the S.E. United States. The highlight as far as ‘wow factor’ goes was the Pileated Woodpecker, North America’s largest living woodpecker, second only to the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker in size. Other species like Red-headed, Red-bellied and Downy woodpecker were also spectacular in their own right. Another species restricted to the pineywoods region, the Brown-headed Nuthatch was seen well also. Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Chickadee, Pine Warbler and Carolina Wren all showed fairly nicely, as well as Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Chipping Sparrow. We spooked a roosting Great Horned Owl twice on our morning walk, and the Blue Jays mobbed it ferociously, though we were not able to see where it had landed in the trees. In addition to birds, we saw some attractive Eastern Fox Squirrels as well as the dreaded Eastern Gray Squirrel. With the morning sunshine we saw a few butterflies including Pipevine Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Carolina Satyr and Painted Lady.
We picked up our lunch and returned to another section of Jones State Forest at Middle Lake. As we ate our lunch we spotted a species new to science along the shore of one of
the ponds, a Balloon Egret (Egretta heliumicus). A Red-shouldered Hawk soared briefly above the pond and appeared to have a small snake in its talons. Our walk along the Middle Lake Trail was interrupted by a few rain showers, but we still managed to see some nice species. Highlights included a gorgeous male Hooded Warbler, as well as White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo and loads of lovely Northern Cardinals.
We headed back towards Houston and visited Jesse Jones County Park beginning with a walk along the Cypress Boardwalk. As we strolled along the path Graham suddenly jumped and pointed down to the path. It was a snake, and a venomous one at that. The gorgeous coppery pattern confirmed it to be a Copperhead, the first I’ve ever seen in about 20 visits to Texas. Once the snake decided to slither off the path, we carried on our way. As soon as we got onto the
boardwalk we spotted a pair of very confiding Prothonotary Warblers. The male belted out his ringing song while his equally attractive mate foraged just over waters’ surface. High in the canopy we saw our first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the trip, as well as a Warbling Vireo. Two Tufted Titmice came in to investigate us and we decided that it was a little bird with character! At the park headquarters we stopped to look for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the feeders and we were rewarded with at least two, a male and a female coming in to feed. Our first White-winged Dove of the trip was noted here as well. A short walk to the ‘Turtle Pond’ produced little and we figured the birds were having their afternoon siesta. It was rather interesting though to watch a Blue Jay pummeling a lizard to death with its bill and then flying off presumably to eat its catch. Back at the hotel Albert spotted a Green Heron on the nearby pond and Graham luckily was a Swallow-tailed Kite overhead! We tallied up our bird list at dinner and we had seen 50 species today, a good start.
Day 3, April 12 – From Houston we headed S.E. towards Winnie, along with the morning rush hour traffic. We made fairly good time and made our first stop along Oak Island Road, west of Winnie. Two Whooping Cranes had been sighted in the fields in the area, so we were on the lookout for gigantic white birds. It didn’t take us too long to spot them
wading through a field of tall grass. The cranes were quite distant, but they were slowly strolling towards us and eventually we had excellent views and even managed some ok photographs. These rare cranes usually spend the winter further south along the Texas Coast and rarely make it to the Upper Coast area. Shorebirds were also in numbers in the flooded fields and we took the opportunity to study Greater and Lesser yellowlegs as they perched side by side, with a Solitary Sandpiper next to them for good measure. Whimbrel called as they flew overhead. A Crested Caracara sat on a fence post and Blue-winged Teal were seen as well.
We stopped in Winnie to pick up lunch and then headed towards Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. It was cloudy, with a few spotty showers and quite a strong easterly wind this afternoon. We drove around Shoveler Pond, amassing a nice list of wetland species in the process. There were loads of Blue-winged Teal, as well as a few Gadwall,
Mottled Ducks, American Wigeon and many Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Only a few Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were tallied, however. Pied-billed Grebes showed nicely, and we saw a couple of Neotropic Cormorants. Herons and egrets were well represented with Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and a couple of brief Least Bitterns seen. Amongst the many White-faced Ibis, we picked out an adult Glossy Ibis, and we also saw White Ibis and a few Roseate Spoonbills. Many shorebirds filled the wetlands with species like Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilts and more being studied. King Rail was heard, but remained hidden, and one or two Soras were briefly seen by some in the group. Though passerines were a bit thin on the ground, we did have some nice views of
Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings and ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. A Northern Parula played hide and seek with us in the trees as did a tail pumping Palm Warbler. Marsh Wrens chattered away in the reeds but remained hidden. Dozens of noisy Boat-tailed Grackles kept us entertained with their antics and we enjoyed great views of Purple Gallinules. In addition to the birds we saw a selection of Alligators ranging in size from quite small to 8 or so feet long. As we were about to leave the refuge, our first amazing Scissor-tailed Flycatchers appeared alongside the rather common but attractive Eastern Kingbird.
We left Anahuac and followed FM 1985 back towards Hwy 124, pausing along the way to watch three Swainson’s Hawks sail over a field. As I drove along, I got a great shock when I spotted a Fork-tailed Flycatcher on a fence line next to the road. Excitedly, I
turned around and scoured the fence for this ultra rare South American flycatcher, a first for me in North America. There it was, sitting on the wire near a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird. We got some photos and watched the bird as it carried on west. Apparently, it was subsequently seen by many observers until late in the afternoon and during the next day.
At High Island we informed the locals of our rare sighting and then we purchased our park passes before staking out a hummingbird feeder where a Buff-bellied Hummingbird had been seen. ‘Every 15 to 20 minutes it comes in, said the homeowner, but this didn’t ring true for us. We were, however, rewarded with the sighting of a few goodies in a nearby brush pile; Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat and a stunning male Painted Bunting. Along the trails we found a few neotropical migrants including Northern Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Brown Thrasher. A Monarch butterfly glided past, our first for the tour, and Swamp Rabbit was new for the mammal list as well. We returned to Winnie, had an enjoyable dinner and tallied up our bird list. We’d seen 90 species today!
Day 4, April 13 – Bracing ourselves for bad weather, which was forecast for today, we made our way from Winnie down to the Bolivar Peninsula. Along the way, we paused to view to falcons along Hwy 124, an American Kestrel and a Peregrine Falcon, both new species for the trip. Our first ‘official’ stop was at Rollover Pass. Birds were in abundance
here and we spent the next hour scanning through flocks of terns, gulls, shorebirds, herons, egrets, pelicans and cormorants. Species new for the trip here included the endangered Piping Plover, along with Spotted, Western and Least sandpipers, Marbled Godwit, loads of American Avocets and a few American Oystercatchers. Reddish Egrets of both the dark and white morphs danced in the shallows and Black Skimmers skimmed over the waters’ surface. Hundreds, maybe thousands of terns, consisted mostly of Royal, Sandwich and Forster’s, with lesser numbers of Common, Least and Black. Amongst the many Laughing Gulls, we picked out a couple of lovely pink-breasted Franklin’s Gulls, as well as a Bonaparte’s Gull, and the usual Herring Gulls
and Ring-billed Gulls.
Next, along Yacht Basin Road, it didn’t take too long to spot our target species here, Clapper Rail. These large and somewhat obliging (for a rail) birds called loudly from the marsh and showed quite nicely. A couple of elusive Nelson’s Sparrows played hide and seek from the marsh, but eventually we all had decent looks at them. Graham pointed out an Osprey, our first, sitting on a post.
After a short ‘pit-stop’ we headed for Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, where the tide was up very high, pushing masses of birds close in to shore. American Avocets were here in the masses and one estimate thrown about was of 5000 individuals. Many other shorebirds were mixed in, such as Red Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, and
Willets. We had excellent views of Piping, Snowy, Semipalmated and Wilson’s plovers here. An Osprey hovered over a pool, making several unsuccessful attempts to catch fish. A Horned Lark hopped about on the beach in front of us.
As soon as we got out of the van for lunch at Jose’s Cantina, I spotted a Loggerhead Shrike on a nearby telephone wire. After lunch we popped in at Gregory Park where a large grassy field produced a few shorebirds, best of which were two American Golden-Plovers. Along N. Tuna Road we had good views of a Seaside Sparrow before it disappeared into the reeds.
At High Island we first visited Boy Scout Woods, where patience did not pay off as we waited a while for the Buff-bellied Hummingbird that had been seen. Nigel did spot a
female Ruby-throated Hummingbird here though. A short walk through along trails at Boy Scout Woods was rather unproductive, other than the sighting of a couple of stunning Scarlet Tanagers, a Wood Thrush, Hooded Warbler and our first Swainson’s Thrush of the trip. Over at Smith Oaks the birding was better. Soon upon arrival we were sent in the direction of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and we found two or three of them rather easily. A small wave of migrants suddenly appeared, producing a few more warblers for our list as Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler and Northern Parula moved through. Albert pointed out Baltimore Oriole overhead, and a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks suddenly appeared. It was a nice little flurry of activity to finish off the day. We saw 114 species today.
Day 5, April 14 – The drive east towards Louisiana was quite pleasant this morning. Our first stop was at Taylor’s Bayou and this area of cypress swamp proved to be quite productive this morning. We encountered a few warblers here such as Orange-crowned Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula and Yellow-throated Warbler. Also, new for the trip list, a pair of Fish Crows solidified their identification with ‘croaky’ frog-like calls. Overhead we had a glimpse of Broad-winged Hawk and a Red-shouldered Hawk flew by quickly as well.
We headed out to a place near Texas Point where the road had deteriorated quite a bit, so after almost disappearing into a puddle, we decided to abort this mission. Instead we headed for Sea Rim State Park, but on the way, we first stopped in at another of the Texas Coast’s famous migrant bird ‘traps.’ Bird activity was slow by the locals standards but we were very happy to see such stunning birds as Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Rose-breasted
Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, Great Crested Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler and a fleeting glimpse of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
We headed then for Sea Rim State Park where we had lunch at the picnic tables in the day use area. We had to use our binoculars and cameras at ‘paperweights’ for our napkins and things as it was quite breezy today. Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds tried to steal scraps from our lunches. Overhead, Cave Swallow flew past, followed by a Cliff Swallow. I could hear the distant call of a Black Rail, though we couldn’t see it. The Black Rail is one of the most difficult birds to see in North America. We drove along the edge of the beach, adding some nice birds to the day list. There were Snowy and Piping plovers, Willets, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin and our first Baird’s Sandpiper of the tour here. Terns were well represented, and we were very surprised to tally upwards of 1000 Franklin’s Gulls on the beach here today.
We returned to Sabine Woods after lunch and continued exploring the trails. A gentleman asked us if we wanted to see a Chuck-Will’s Widow so of course we said yes! It ended up being a Common Nighthawk, which is still a very nice sighting. Later that day man and woman asked us again if we wanted to see a Chuck-Will’s Widow at another location in the woodlot. ‘Yes’, we said, and we followed them off to a far corner of the park. There on a horizontal branch of pine tree was a lovely Common Nighthawk. We decided everyone had Chuck-will’s Widow fever at Sabine Woods today. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, all females, as most of the males have already migrated through, fed on the honeysuckle flowers. Two Downy Woodpeckers entered their nest in a tiny cavity in
a willow. Warbler numbers were low, but we did see Worm-eating, Black-and-white, Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Nashville, Tennessee, Yellow-rumped and Yellow-throated warblers, as well as Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat. Brown Thrashers scratched about in the leaflitter, along with a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes, while Indigo Buntings occasionally showed themselves nicely in the grassy meadows at the edge of the woods. We were pointed out a female type Western Tanager here, a species not often encountered this far east and yet another write-in for our growing list of unusual species. Another bird of the ‘western’ camp, a Western Kingbird, was a nice find as it sat on telephone wires at the entrance to Sabine Woods for the day. We returned to Winnie in the late afternoon for dinner at Al T’s, where the evening ‘people watching entertainment continued.
Day 6, April 15 – We picked up sandwiches at the local shop and headed towards Anahuac NWR, via FM 1985. Along the way we stopped to scan fields for Upland Sandpipers. I noticed a buffy / peach colored bird on a fencepost in the distance. I put the
scope on it and it was a Say’s Phoebe, a rather rare local bird. Also seen here were lovely Eastern Meadowlarks.
Upon our arrival at Anahuac headed for Skillern Tract, where a stroll along the trail was quite enjoyable. Just as we embarked on the trail, a male Painted Bunting gave us tantalizingly quick views, leaving us wanting more. We had a very nice look here at a Yellow-breasted Chat, which is not always an easy endeavor. In the marsh we could hear Sedge Wrens, King Rails, Sora and Least Bittern, but they were all staying hidden. We did add Black-crowned Night-Heron to the trip list here, however.
We checked in to the visitor’s center and then made our way to the Hackberry Trail where Groove-billed Anis had been seen. I told folks to be on the lookout for an all black, grackle sized bird, and almost immediately, Albert chirped in, ‘I’ve got a black, grackle sized bird here’, and it turned out to be a Groove-billed Ani. The ani flew across the path and was followed shortly thereafter by a second ani. Our luck was quite good today with
the difficult marsh species. We had fantastic views of Least Bitterns today and we watched a King Rail at length through the scope. Soras came out to show themselves along with brilliantly colored Purple Gallinules. We had lunch next to a marsh where several Marsh Wrens were singing, my theory, if we spent enough time there, we’d eventually see a Marsh Wren. We did see them as well after a little searching. The usual Alligators were snoozing on the banks of the waterways.
We decided to head over to High Island to check out the rookery and this proved to be a good decision as folks really enjoyed watching the various herons, egrets, spoonbills, and cormorants at their breeding colony. In addition to these birds, we were entertained by a pair of Purple Gallinules on some lily pads below the viewing platform. Graham spotted some scaup out on the lake and asked for the scope. We determined them to be Lesser Scaup, another first for the tour.
A walk around Smith Oaks was nice but birding was somewhat quiet, due to nice weather. There was Summer Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wood Thrush, Hooded Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak amongst others. At Boy Scout Woods it was also quiet. We watched the hummingbird feeder for the reported Buff-bellied Hummingbird once again to no avail. Otherwise, there were Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanager, Gray Catbird and the ubiquitous Northern Cardinals to keep us entertained.
We returned to Winnie, went out for dinner at the local Mexican establishment, and then headed out to Taylor’s Bayou in search of nocturnal creatures. At our first stop we enjoyed the beautiful night sky, pointing out various constellations and stars. Fire flies glowed intermittently and breaking the silence were various bizarre noises being made by frogs. I let out a Barred Owl hoot and soon thereafter, two Barred Owls began duetting right in front of us. Unfortunately, the duet only lasted a few seconds and then stopped so we never did see them. We did attract the attention of the local sheriff who stopped, turned on his lights and questioned us as to what we were doing out there in
the dark. ‘We’ve had some problems out here’, he said, but soon he figured out we were merely birdwatchers looking for owls and he let us go on our way. As we began driving back to Winnie, we crossed over a bridge and on the right side of the road, in the ditch, I caught some movement. It was a large owl and it flew up into a tree next to the road. We got the spotlight on the bird and it was indeed a Barred Owl. We enjoyed lovely views of this dark-eyed owl as it stared back at us for a few moments. We soon let the owl go on its way as we could hear the calls of a fledgling in the distance. A successful night, with the detection of 5 Barred Owls.
Day 7, April 16 – Today we spent the morning in the southern section of the Big Thicket region, an area of extensive pine forest. I had three species in my sights to find for the group this morning and we found all three of them. First off was the elusive Swainson’s Warbler. As I drove along Gore Store Road with my window down, it didn’t take too long to hear the loud, ringing song of the species. We stopped and soon thereafter we were watching a Swainson’s Warbler as he sung his heart out. One target down, two to go. We then explored an area of young, regenerating pine trees and we could hear the buzzy songs of several Prairie Warblers here. After a little searching, we soon were looking at
the attractively patterned warbler as it sang from the tops of the young pines. Two targets down. A little farther down the road I spotted a speck in the sky and it turned out to be a Mississippi Kite. Suddenly there were about 7 Mississippi Kites sailing overhead. Target three down! In addition to these three, we also got a couple of bonus birds, Northern Flickers and finally a Red-eyed Vireo.
It didn’t take long to get to Sabine Pass, where we had a very enjoyable lunch at Tammie’s Diner. Tableside entertainment was provided by a real cowboy, decked out full in cowboy hot and boots, and mud. As we listened in on the conversation, we learned that he’d fallen off his horse into the mud while they were rounding up cattle. Good food and live entertainment. What more can you ask for?
How about a few more birds? Off to Sabine Woods we headed, with the feat of finding more birds being exactly what was on our minds. Over 50 species were tallied here by us this afternoon and these included a few new species such as Veery and a lovely male Chestnut-sided Warbler. Blue Grosbeak numbers had ballooned, and we saw over a dozen of them foraging about in the grass. Lesser numbers of Indigo Buntings were mixed in. A flock of Cedar Waxwings gobbled up mulberries as did small numbers of Scarlet and Summer tanagers. Other highlights here this afternoon included a Kentucky Warbler, a Blue-winged Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It had been a long day, so we made our way back to the hotel in Winnie and then enjoyed our final dinner together as a group.
Day 8, April 17 – Rumor had surfaced that there was a flooded rice paddy a little bit north of Winnie along Hwy 1406. We headed there first thing this morning and we were not disappointed. Numbers of shorebirds and other wading birds were pretty much off the charts. It didn’t take too long to find the target species, Hudsonian Godwit. There
were 8 of them, and one or two were in the breeding finery. Semipalmated Plovers were numerous as were Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers and especially Long-billed Dowitchers. There were also Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Stilt Sandpipers, Western and Semipalmated sandpipers and at least one American Golden Plover. An immature Peregrine Falcon sat on a telephone pole, assessing the shorebirds. Our second new species for the morning appeared in the fields here in the form of several Dickcissels. Also providing entertainment, a crop duster airplane was at work dusting the field next to us.
We headed towards High Island, popping in first at Boy Scout Woods. It was quite slow here, so decided to try out another location that I had not been to before, Hook’s Woods. Passerine movement was quiet here, but we did spot our only Bronzed Cowbird for the tour here. We headed for Smith Oaks, hoping for one or two more new birds for the tally. There were actually quite a few birds at Smith Oaks including Worm-eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Painted Bunting, Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos and Baltimore Orioles, but all species we had previously encountered on the trip.
We returned to Winnie where we had lunch and then said goodbye to Albert, who has heading off to search for some more new birds on his quest to see 5000 species. The group, now dwindling in numbers, returned to Houston, pausing at the Sims Bayou Nature Center to look for Monk Parakeets. The parakeets did not visit during our stay today, but we did add one more bird to the list, a House Finch and a lovely male at that. It was 208th species, and the final one we would add, which made for quite a respectable total. We dropped Brian off at the hotel and then headed to the airport where I wished my three remaining new friends safe travels on their transatlantic flight to London.
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours