I enjoyed the company of a couple of lovely ladies from Kelowna today, Joan and Nancy, as we explored the South Okanagan. We left Peachland at 6 AM and our first stop was at White Lake. It turned out to be a gorgeous day with nothing but sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20 degrees Celsius range. The usual cacophony of Western Meadowlarks made it difficult to hear other birds amongst the sagebrush at White Lake. The high-pitched buzzy song of a Grasshopper Sparrow could be heard up a slope nearby
so we walked up towards the song and soon we were looking eye to eye with the sparrow. Next up, we had good looks at a Clay-colored Sparrow, followed up by even better views of a Brewer’s Sparrow. One a fence line, I spotted a Sage Thrasher, another of our target species for the day. The thrasher flew off of the fence and preened in a Saskatoon bush for several minutes before disappearing. The croaky calls of Gray Partridge were heard coming from the sagebrush, but we never did see one. At one point, a single Eastern and a single Western kingbird perched on the same twig.
Our next destination was the mixed larch / spruce forests up in the mountains, east of Okanagan Falls. We were treated to great views of a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers as well as a noisy Pileated Woodpecker. A pair of Williamson’s Sapsuckers, our target species for this area, were seen very well, with the female perching out in the open for a prolonged time. In addition to the woodpeckers, we also had good views of both Dusky
and Hammond’s flycatchers, Townsend’s Warblers, a male Varied Thrush and we heard both Swainson’s and Hermit thrushes here. At Venner Meadows we enjoyed watching a Northern Waterthrush sing his heart out from the top of a short Lodgepole Pine. There were also Wilson’s Warblers, Common Yellowthroats and Lincoln’s Sparrows at the meadows, as well as a ‘chirping’ Wilson’s Snipe. On our way back down the road, we paused at a lookout point where we were treated to views of a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers, as well as a singing Rock Wren. Lazuli Bunting was also a nice species to see this sunny morning. We enjoyed our lunches here as well, all the while taking in the spectacular view up the Okanagan Valley towards Skaha Lake and Penticton.
At Inkaneep Provincial Park we had a nice look at a male Black-chinned Hummingbird. He was sitting atop some dead trees near the entrance to the park. Also in the park, we heard a Yellow-breasted Chat, but it remained hidden in the trees. A late Lincoln’s Sparrow was noted here, as well as a little group of Evening Grosbeaks, the latter of which were high up in a cottonwood tree.
On our way down to Road 22, we had a short stop at the top of Meadowlark Lane, where
we hoped to find a Lark Sparrow. We could see Turkey Vultures sailing over ‘The Throne’ and a pair of White-throated Swifts ventured over our way, screeching away as usual. Finally, at a puddle at the edge of the road, a Lark Sparrow came down for a drink and was joined by a Vesper Sparrow. Down at Road 22 we scanned through the hayfields, eventually having good looks at several Bobolinks. A male Northern Harrier glided back and forth over the fields, while we watched some Cliff Swallows come and go from nests on a bridge. In the scope we watched a Gray Catbird skulking in the bushes, and we also had scope views of a Yellow-breasted Chat singing away out in the open.
Our final stop of the day was at Kruger Mountain Road, west of Osoyoos. This is an area where a small population of Lesser Goldfinches can be found. It didn’t take us too long
and we were face to face with a male Lesser Goldfinch as it sang away on a telephone wire. Other nice birds seen at Kruger Mtn Road included Western Bluebirds, Say’s Phoebe, and Rufous, Black-chinned and Calliope hummingbirds. All in all it was a fantastic day and we saw over 100 species!
Bird species seen: Canada Goose; Cinnamon Teal; Gadwall; Mallard; Ruddy Duck; California Quail; Gray Partridge; Rock Pigeon; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Mourning Dove; White-throated Swift; Black-chinned Hummingbird; Rufous Hummingbird; Calliope Hummingbird; American Coot; Killdeer; Spotted Sandpiper; Wilson’s Snipe; Turkey Vulture; Osprey; Northern Harrier; Bald Eagle; Red-tailed Hawk; Lewis’s Woodpecker; Williamson’s Sapsucker; Red-naped Sapsucker; Northern Flicker; Pileated Woodpecker; American Kestrel; Western Kingbird; Eastern Kingbird; Western Wood-Pewee; Hammond’s Flycatcher; Dusky Flycatcher; Say’s Phoebe; Cassin’s Vireo; Warbling Vireo; Black-billed Magpie; American Crow; Common Raven; Tree Swallow; Violet-green Swallow; N. Rough-winged Swallow; Cliff Swallow; Barn Swallow; Black-capped Chickadee; Mountain Chickadee; Red-breasted Nuthatch; White-breasted Nuthatch; Rock Wren; House Wren; Golden-crowned Kinglet; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Western Bluebird; Townsend’s Solitaire; Swainson’s Thrush; Hermit Thrush; American Robin; Varied Thrush; Gray Catbird; Sage Thrasher; European Starling; House Sparrow; Evening Grosbeak; House Finch; Pine Siskin; Lesser Goldfinch; American Goldfinch; Spotted Towhee; Chipping Sparrow; Clay-colored Sparrow; Brewer’s Sparrow; Vesper Sparrow; Lark Sparrow; Grasshopper Sparrow; Song Sparrow; Lincoln’s Sparrow; Yellow-breasted Chat; Bobolink; Western Meadowlark; 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; Lazuli Bunting.
At shortly after 6 AM, in Peachland, I met up with four Kelowna area birders who I led around the South Okanagan. Our first birding destination was Shuttleworth Creek Road and Venner Meadows Road. Bumping our way up Shuttleworth Road, we paused to photograph some obliging Turkey Vultures. Lewis’s Woodpecker was seen as well. Up at Venner Meadows we searched the larches for woodpeckers and only came up with Red-
naped Sapsucker. We did, however, enjoy seeing a Barred Owl carrying a small rodent in its bill. At Venner Meadows we saw Northern Waterthrush, Wilson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln’s Sparrow and the likes, several of which were first of year (FOY) birds for the group. Down along Dutton Creek Road we heard the slow, syncopated tapping of a male Williamson’s Sapsucker. Swainson’s Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Hammond’s Flycatcher and Cassin’s Vireo were all noted.
At Road 22, we were treated to some nice close up views of male Bobolinks in the fields. Yellow-breasted Chats were singing but remained hidden in the vegetation. We did see our first Gray Catbird of the season, and we had nice looks at a male Black-headed Grosbeak. Bullock’s Orioles called but remained pretty much hidden in the thick vegetation along the oxbows.
Next up, we headed for the Richter Pass. At the Nighthawk Border Crossing we had
excellent views of Brewer’s Sparrows, and a fleeting view of a Lark Sparrow. Say’s Phoebe and Western Kingbird were found, though Eastern Kingbirds eluded us today. At the bottom of Kruger Mountain Road we searched for a Lesser Goldfinch and as luck would have it, we saw a male. A Black-chinned Hummingbird, also a male, was seen, as well as several Calliope Hummingbirds.
Our final stop of the day was at White Lake. Scanning the lake added a few species to the list; Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer. Scanning through the sage, I picked up a Sage Thrasher on a distant fence post. That bird disappeared rather quickly, but soon thereafter I spotted another (or the same) bird, a bit closer, carrying a big juicy black caterpillar in its bill. This time the bird sat still for quite a while and everyone was able to enjoy scope views. Another highlight at White Lake was a singing Clay-colored Sparrow, another bird that sat tight long enough for us to study it well. At the end of the day, we’d found very close to 100 species and we had a very enjoyable day, despite the cool, breezy weather.
Since I was a teenager the Okanagan Big Day, held annually in May, has been a much anticipated event. What is a big day you might ask? It’s an effort to see as many bird species as possible within a 24 hour period. Teams raise money for bird conservation, and our team raised about $200. When I was a teenager, teams could race around in their cars anywhere they wanted to go, as long as they began and ended their day within the Okanagan Valley. Now, to be more ‘green’, or eco-friendly, teams that wish to drive are restricted to a Christmas Bird Count Circle. Other teams cycle and walk as well. This
year, I was joined by my friend James Jansen. Due to the Covid situation, we traveled in separate vehicles and attempted to stay a couple of meters apart during the day. Most years, in recent times, I have been away leading tours during May and have not been able to participate, however this year, due to the cancellation of all travel, and all tours, I was able to do the big day.
Our day began shortly after midnight on Blue Grouse Forest Service Road, which gave us access to some of the best, mid-elevation forest within the count circle. At one of our first stops we heard a hooting Great Horned Owl, followed up shortly thereafter by a tooting Northern Saw-whet Owl. A little further up the road we heard the soft hoots of a Flammulated Owl and the distant calls of a Common Poorwill. Not a bad first hour, we thought, and then the rain began to fall. It wasn’t a soft gentle rain. It was heavy, drenching rain, so we retreated to our respective vehicles and slept for an hour and a half or so, until the sun began to come up. It was still raining at 4:30 when we awoke, but
not as hard, so we were able catch some good dawn chorus here, in the mixed fir/pine/aspen forest. Despite the weather, the birds began to sing. There were Dusky and Hammond’s flycatchers, MacGillivray’s and Townsend’s Warblers, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, Townsend’s Solitaire, Evening Grosbeak, Red-naped Sapsucker and much more. At one stop we called in a lovely little Northern Pygmy-Owl, and at the same location we discovered an active Pileated Woodpecker nest right next to the road. We descended from Blue Grouse Mountain, down to the lower reaches of Bear Creek Main Forest Service Road. At this point the rain was letting up and the misty views across Okanagan Lake towards Kelowna were rather spectacular. On an open slope covered in Ponderosa Pine and Balsam Root, we added some grassland birds like Western Meadowlark, Western Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Say’s Phoebe and American Kestrel. I was again attempting to call in birds with my pygmy owl call, and we were surprised when a Western Screech-Owl answered back, being that it was daylight and all. We were not going to complain however. At the bottom of Bear Lake Road we
listened intently on a large cliff face where we heard a singing Rock Wren and had a White-throated Swift. No Canyon Wren was found though, unfortunately. A short stop in at Trader’s Cove Park yielded Bullock’s Oriole, Rufous Hummingbird, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Steller’s Jay, Belted Kingfisher, Black-headed Grosbeak, etc. A short walk along the bottom of Bear Creek did not produce an American Dipper, but we did see our only Pacific-slope Flycatcher of the day.
We crossed the Bennett Bridge and made our way into Kelowna, stopping in first at the Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary to see what we could find. Most likely due to the overnight rains, there were some nice late migrants about, including a singing Northern Waterthrush, a Least Flycatcher, Vaux’s Swifts, and a Hermit Thrush, as well as several Wilson’s Warblers. Out on the lake were about 800 Western Grebes. Most of them were sleeping, but a quick scan through them produced some Red-necked Grebes, a couple of Ruddy Ducks, and a Barrow’s Goldeneye. We then nipped off to the Mouth of Mission Creek, where we had three immature Bonaparte’s Gulls, along with Herring, Ring-billed and California gulls. On the rare bird alert hotline we got word of a Clark’s Grebe, found by David Bell, amongst the Western Grebes at Maude Roxby, so we zoomed back to Maude Roxby and found David on the boardwalk where he pointed out the Clark’s Grebe to us. This would end up to be our best rarity of the day.
On our way up to Robert Lake, the phone ‘dinged’ again, and this time it was about another local rarity. Michael Force had found a singing Gray Flycatcher atop Dilworth
Mountain. We stopped there and almost immediately heard the song of the flycatcher. Soon thereafter we were enjoying nice, close up views of this bird, which is quite rare in the Central Okanagan. A quick check of the cliffs at Dilworth added no new birds, but we enjoyed great views of a Rock Wren and a Bald Eagle’s nest below, containing two chicks. White-throated Swifts also put on a nice show here.
Once we finally made it to Robert Lake, new birds came fast and furious. Yellow-headed Blackbird, Killdeer, both Wilson’s and a Red-necked phalarope, Black-necked Stilts, a lovely breeding plumage Black-bellied Plover, both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Sora, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Eared Grebe. The list goes on. Next, we attempted to gain access to the landfill, but were turned away by staff because they don’t want birders there due to covid. We set up a scope outside of the landfill and were able to pick out a couple of American Avocets on Akli Lake, as well as our only two Northern Pintail for the day. Nearby, on Bulman Road, we scanned a flooded field and we were rewarded with three Long-billed Dowitchers, a Wilson’s Snipe and a Least Sandpiper.
Now, our list was well over 120 and we were just going from one spot to the next, picking up a few last target species. A drive back through Glenmore produced our only Swainson’s Hawk of the day. At Walroy Pond we couldn’t find the previously reported
Canvasback, but we did add Barn Swallow and Pied-billed Grebe. We spent quite a bit of time at Sutherland Hills Park, but could only come up with one more new species, Gray Catbird. Hwy 33 grasslands didn’t yield a Western Kingbird, but a nice consolation prize was an adult Golden Eagle sailing along the edge of Black Mountain. At Munson Pond we picked up our only Wood Duck for the day, and our final species was at Rose Valley in West Kelowna, where we had a Veery. One final stop, at the mouth of Power’s Creek in West Kelowna, did not produce anything new so we decided we’d put in a good effort and we called it a day. We finished up with 139 species! We traveled 180 km and spent 19 hours out in the field. Thanks to everyone who donated to our cause! See our total list below:
Canada Goose; Wood Duck; Blue-winged Teal; Cinnamon Teal; Northern Shoveler; Gadwall; American Wigeon; Mallard; Northern Pintail; Green-winged Teal; Redhead; Ring-necked Duck; Greater Scaup; Lesser Scaup; Bufflehead; Barrow’s Goldeneye; Common Merganser; Ruddy Duck; California Quail; Ring-necked Pheasant; Pied-billed Grebe; Red-necked Grebe; Eared Grebe; Western Grebe; Clark’s Grebe; Rock Pigeon; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Mourning Dove; Common Poorwill; Vaux’s Swift; White-throated Swift; Rufous Hummingbird; Calliope Hummingbird; Virginia Rail; Sora; American Coot; Black-necked Stilt; American Avocet; Black-bellied Plover; Killdeer; Least Sandpiper; Long-billed Dowitcher; Wilson’s Snipe; Spotted Sandpiper; Lesser Yellowlegs; Greater Yellowlegs; Wilson’s Phalarope; Red-necked Phalarope; Bonaparte’s Gull; Ring-billed Gull; California Gull; Herring Gull; Common Loon; Great Blue Heron; Turkey Vulture; Osprey; Golden Eagle; Bald Eagle; Swainson’s Hawk; Red-tailed Hawk; Flammulated Owl; Western Screech-Owl; Great Horned Owl; Northern Pygmy-Owl; Northern Saw-whet Owl; Belted Kingfisher; Red-naped Sapsucker; Hairy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker; Pileated Woodpecker; American Kestrel; Western Wood-Pewee; Least Flycatcher; Hammond’s Flycatcher; Gray Flycatcher; Dusky Flycatcher; Pacific-slope Flycatcher; Say’s Phoebe; Cassin’s Vireo; Warbling Vireo; Steller’s Jay; Clark’s Nutcracker; Black-billed Magpie; American Crow; Common Raven; Tree Swallow; Violet-green Swallow; Northern Rough-winged Swallow; Bank Swallow; Barn Swallow; Black-capped Chickadee; Mountain Chickadee; Red-breasted Nuthatch; White-breasted Nuthatch; Pygmy Nuthatch; Brown Creeper; Rock Wren; House Wren; Pacific Wren; Marsh Wren; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Western Bluebird; Townsend’s Solitaire; Veery; Swainson’s Thrush; Hermit Thrush; American Robin; Gray Catbird; European Starling; House Sparrow; Evening Grosbeak; House Finch; Cassin’s Finch; American Goldfinch; Spotted Towhee; Chipping Sparrow; Vesper Sparrow; Savannah Sparrow; Song Sparrow; Lincoln’s 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.
Several of us arrived in Trinidad at Port of Spain at 5:15 AM this morning. After clearing customs we made our way to a hotel nearby where we dropped off our luggage and had some breakfast. We were met here by Claire, who had been in the country for a couple of days already, and our guide for the day, Mukesh, as well as a driver. 9 of us took part in this outing today, which took us to a few different sites within Port of Spain. Before we even had left the hotel, our guide was already pointing out some exciting species such as
Red-breasted Meadowlark, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Saffron Finch and Zone-tailed Hawk. A short drive down the road and we hopped out of the van to explore a little wetland area near the Millennium Golf Course. There was quite a flock of Southern Lapwings here, alongside Black-necked Stilts, Spotted Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper and both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs. We got acquainted with some of the common birds of the area here, such as Palm Tanager, Smooth-billed Ani and Tropical Kingbird. A Ringed Kingfisher was a nice sighting here, as was a gorgeous fly-over Savanna Hawk.
Next stop was at a place called the Orange Grove, where some sewage ponds attracted a nice variety of birds including Purple Gallinule, Striated Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Wattled Jacana, loads of White-winged Swallows and some nesting Pied Water-Tyrants. Yellow-hooded Blackbirds were numerous here, and we saw Northern
Waterthrush and an obliging Masked Yellowthroat. A Lineated Woodpecker put on a great show for us, as it foraged on a bamboo stalk. Out in a weedy field, a Blue-black Grassquit was spotted.
We picked up some roti for lunch and headed over to Caroni Swamp where we ate. Then, we hopped onto a boat and enjoyed a tour of the swamp. Little Blue Herons were numerous, as were stunning Scarlet Ibis, the latter of which is Trinidad’s national bird. A bit of a surprise, we were treated to great views of 60+ American Flamingos, apparently a fairly recent arrival to the birdlife of the swamp. Our boat driver, who happened to be an excellent spotter, pointed out to us a
roosting Tropical Screech-Owl. He put a few cookie crumbs on a branch and within a few seconds we were being dazzled by a couple of Masked Cardinals! Other goodies included Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Red-rumped Woodpecker and a lovely American Pygmy Kingfisher. In addition to the amazing birds, we also saw two Silky Anteaters and a Cook’s Tree Boa curled up in a tree. It had been a very rewarding day, and the tour hadn’t even officially started yet!
Day 1 – At 10 AM we met up with Karl and Jen from West Vancouver, and we were finally a complete group. We began the drive, which weaved through the suburbs of Port of Spain and Arima, up into the mountains, where we found ourselves at the Asa Wright Nature Center. We gathered on the famous veranda, where we enjoyed masses of birds
coming in to visit the feeders. Hummingbirds were abundant, with the most common species being the White-necked Jacobin, followed by White-chested Emerald. There were a few Black-throated Mango as well as Blue-chinned Sapphire, Brown Violetear, and Copper-rumped Hummingbird. We spotted a very tiny hummingbird, in fact the second smallest bird in the world, the Tufted Coquette, visiting its favorite flowers, the verbena. Other star attractions from the veranda included Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Bananaquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager and Spectacled Thrush.
We enjoyed ‘tea, coffee and snacks’ at 4 PM and then we were led on a walk along the main entrance road by guide Caleb. More new birds awaited, including some stunners
like Golden-headed Manakin, and White-bearded Manakin, the latter spotted by sharp-eyed Nancy. There were Turquoise Tanagers, Palm Tanagers, and our first Cocoa Thrushes noted along the walk as well. Overhead, a couple of us spied a Common Black-Hawk. Karen pointed out a bird hitching up a trunk, and it turned out to be our first Plain-brown Woodcreeper. A Little Hermit visited some flowers alongside the road, and Caleb pointed out an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher.
Back at the lodge, we enjoyed some rum punch before a delicious dinner. We then took a walk with Caleb after dark, looking for ‘creepy crawly’ things, as he put it. We were not disappointed. We saw a couple of ferocious looking Chevroned Tarantulas, as well as an
imposing scorpion of some sort. There were leaf-bugs, stick-bugs, catydids, and Harvestman spiders, as well as several noisy Gladiator Tree Frogs, one of which we saw quite well. All in all, it was a great first day.
Day 2 – Our morning began again, up on the veranda, where the feeders buzzed with activity as we sipped our morning coffee. Out on top of a distant tree, our first Black-tailed Tityra was seen through the scope. After breakfast we gathered on the veranda again, where we met Dave, who guided us down to an area of the Discovery Trail where highlights included some lekking White-bearded Manakins and some displaying Bearded Bellbirds. Dave was very good with his overall knowledge of the forest in this area, and pointed out many species of plants,
flowers and trees along our walk. We spent quite a bit of time watching a group of Bearded Bellbirds display, with a mix of adult and young birds present. Their calls were almost deafeningly loud, and we were treated to excellent views of the them as they tousled with each other amongst the foliage. Also nice to see here, a Green-backed Trogon showed nicely for all to see. The White-bearded Manakins were hanging about their lek and occasionally we heard the bizarre ‘snapping finger’ sound they make when displaying. We had brief views of Squirrel Cuckoo high in the branches of a tree as we neared the nature center after our walk.
After lunch, more feeder watching ensued, with the highlights, as usual, being the hummingbirds. There were the usual hordes of White-necked Jacobins, as well as plenty of White-chested Emeralds and a few Black-throated Mangos. Single Green Hermit and Blue-chinned Sapphire visited the feeders, as did a Copper-rumped Hummingbird. At
least two Tufted Coquettes buzzed about the verbena flowers again. Purple and Green honeycreepers were also difficult to ignore with their eye-popping colors dominating the fruit feeders, alongside the ubiquitous Bananaquit. A Barred Antshrike popped into view, causing a little rush of guests to one side of the veranda. Down on the ground beneath the feeders we caught glimpses of Spectacled Thrushes and White-necked Thrush, hopping about, picking up bits of fruit.
At 4 PM we loaded into the vans and made our way down out of the mountains, into the lowlands at an old abandoned U.S. forces base known as Waller Field. Here, we were accompanied by our very own security as we were exploring a quieter area of backroads and old runways. We stopped at one spot amongst some mixed forest and Dave called out, ‘Sulphury Flycatcher.’ Sure enough, perhaps 3 of these kingbird like flycatchers, were hanging out in palm trees here, showing themselves nicely. While we were
enthralled with the birds, Dave and his dad (whom I shall call Rudal from here on in. I’m not 100% sure of the spelling), set out our dinner, beginning with a delicious glass of rum punch. It was a true tailgate party, though we did have chairs and all the conveniences. After we’d finished eating, it began swiftly get dark out, so we switched our attention over to finding night birds. It didn’t take us long to locate the first of several Common Pauraques here, as they sat on the pavement, attracted by its warmth. On an old bit of runway, we were treated to several in flight views of White-tailed Nightjars, a lifer for all of us. We headed back to Asa Wright and got some much needed sleep.
Day 3 – Today’s outing lasted most of the day and took us up into Trinidad’s Northern Range, along the Blanchisseuse Road. Along the drive up, we paused to look at a Plumbeous Kite perched on a snag up the hill. A light rain began to fall. Higher up the road, we turned off along a track towards a radio tower. This area has been hosting small numbers of Trinidad Piping-Guan, one of only two species of endemic bird in Trinidad &
Tobago, and the hardest one to find. As we searched, we saw a few other birds, such as Swallow Tanager, and a leader only Golden-crowned Warbler. Suddenly, the rain really began to fall, and just then a Trinidad Piping-Guan moved in the branches overhead! The ‘turkey-like’ bird hopped and flew short distances from one branch to the next, occasionally pausing long enough to let us have excellent views of it, though in the pouring rain. Feeling quite exhilarated, we carried on our adventure, and within a few moments, the rain had stopped. Our next stop was in another area of forest where Dave had heard an interesting bird in the bamboo from his van while driving along. It was a Sooty Grassquit, and we had good views of it. It lived up to its name of looking sooty. A loud ‘whoooop’ could be heard coming from the forest here as well. It was a Trinidad Motmot, and we searched for it, but could not find it here. We did, however, have great views of a Collared Trogon as it held its wings outstretched to dry in the sunshine, after the rain shower. We got back to the van and found one of the tires had gone flat, so Dave and Rudal quickly patched it up, while the rest of us did some more birding along the road. There were White-bearded Manakins, Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Blue-gray
Tanagers, Cocoa Thrush and much more. In amazingly quick time, the van was ready for business once again. We stopped at the top of the hill for a fantastic view down to the Caribbean Sea below. Dave pointed out a Golden-olive Woodpecker peeking out of its nest hole in a palm tree. Jen bought a bundle of tiny bananas from a vender here, and shared them with us. They were extremely delicious and nothing like imported bananas we get back here in North America. Carrying on down the road, we paused again, to look for Trinidad Motmot, and we did find one, finally. Both of Trinidad & Tobago’s endemic bird species done in one day! In addition to the motmot, we also had views of a pair of Great Antshrikes, as well as an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Golden-fronted Greenlet, and a Streaked Xenops. At another stop, we had our first Yellow-rumped Caciques of the tour and we chased about a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls for a long time, only seeing them briefly during flight. A pair of Blue-headed Parrots were found here, and Don pointed out a Yellow Oriole! We had hoped to visit a chocolate factory today, but unfortunately they were not open.
It would be impossible to write this post without mentioning that our trip coincided the global Covid-19 pandemic, and that a number of places we had wanted to visit, we could not visit due to closures. When we began our tour on March 11, the pandemic was just really beginning to impact North America. We had no idea how much would change in the world just during the 11 days we were in Trinidad & Tobago!
We had lunch at the small village of Brasso Seco, some of us popping over to a little roadside bar across the street for a cold, refreshing beer. It was a bit of a toss up, whether people preferred Carib or Stag beer, though I suspect Stag was the winner by the end of the trip. After lunch we continued along the road, down towards another little
town, Morne la Croix. Here, we enjoyed watching our first Rufous-tailed Jacamars of the tour. This delightful little bird seems to be a cross between a hummingbird and a kingfisher. Other birds found in this region included a Tropical Pewee and a Grayish Saltator. We were happy to have great views of a Gray-lined Hawk as it circled overhead at Morne la Croix as well. We needed to return to Asa Wright at this point, so Dave would still have enough time left in the day to go and get his tire repaired, and of course so we would be on the veranda in time for 6 PM rum punch!
Day 4 – After the usual early morning shenanigans on the veranda, we had breakfast and then piled into the vans and headed off a day trip. On our way out of Asa Wright, we had a scary moment, as we left the building and drove around the first corner, a family was shouting for help along the road edge. Turns out one of their family members had fallen down the steep embankment. Luckily, as far as we know it all turned out fine, though I’m sure a few bumps and bruises were incurred. Our first stop was along the Blanchisseuse Road, not far from where Dave and Rudal showed us their homes up on a
hillside. In the trees here we picked out a few species of interest, including a Boat-billed Flycatcher, a brief sighting of a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and our one and only Trinidad Euphonia, in addition to the usual Violaceous Euphonias.
As we drove across island towards the Atlantic, we stopped at a little roadside food truck type place to try some local cuisine, known as Doubles. Doubles, we were told, is a very Trinidadian variety of fast food, consisting of some delicious fried bread, filled with a chickpea / curry filling, coming in various levels of heat. I went to ‘medium’ heat, as did a few others. Doubles were delicious, we all agreed.
Next stop was near Manzanilla, and the Atlantic coast, where Dave picked out a calling Black-crested Antshrike as we drove past. We had great views of the antshrike, and we also enjoyed our first view of one of the more sought-after hummingbirds in Trinidad,
the Ruby Topaz Hummingbird! We also finally had some nice views of Rufous-breasted Wren, a species we seemed to hear everywhere, but have trouble seeing well. We had lunch next to the beach, catching glimpses of Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans foraging out over the surf. Gray-breasted Martins and Carib Grackles kept us entertained as we ate. I went for a short walk, and happened to see two Yellow-and-gold Macaws in flight, though, these beauties had to remain on the ‘leader only’ list.
After lunch we stopped at a little marshy area in the mangroves. Here, we had nice views of both Green Kingfisher and American Pygmy Kingfisher, as well as a hungry little Green-rumped Parrotlet. We then explored some roads through agricultural areas of the Nariva Swamp. We added quite a few birds to the trip list here, with additions including
Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Solitary Sandpiper, Striped Cuckoo, Limpkin, Masked Yellowthroat, a Least Bittern, and perhaps best of all a Pinnated Bittern! One more quick stop on our way back, and Dave and Rudal showed us an immature Rufous Crab Hawk perched in a tree next to the mangroves. It had been an excellent day of birding, and we left the area just in time, as heavier rains arrived. I’m not sure about this being the ‘dry season’.
Day 5 – We started off a bit earlier today, meeting for breakfast at 6 AM, then departing Asa Wright shortly thereafter. We stopped along the road into Asa Wright, where Rudal had found a nesting Gray-throated Leaftosser in a cavity along the edge of the road. An immature and an adult leaftosser were calling in the thick forest, and occasionally one popped into view long enough for a short look. Also new for the trip list were White-shouldered Tanager and Euler’s Flycatcher, the latter of which looks just like most of the
North American empidonax species. A large bird was flushed from the vegetation in a gully below us, where we were watching a couple of Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers. It turned out to be a Spectacled Owl, though we never did get a great look at it. Further down the Blanchisseuse Road we made another stop, and though we could hear a Golden-crowned Warbler, the little bugger wouldn’t come out into view. We did see, however, a Long-billed Gnatwren here, as well as Tropical Pewee, and Northern Waterthrush. Further down the road, near the banks of the Arima River, another stop in the brilliant morning sunshine proved productive. We had Piratic Flycatcher, Black-tailed Tityra, Violaceous Euphonia and the likes here.
Around the open areas of the Aripo Livestock Station, we had excellent views of several Red-breasted Meadowlarks out in the grassy areas. We then directed our attention to an area known as the Aripo Savanna, where one of the first birds we saw was a nesting Pearl Kite! In an area of reeds we saw a lovely little Masked Yellowthroat, quite similar in
appearance to our familiar Common Yellowthroat, from North America. Green-rumped Parrotlets were all around, and some came down to drink rain water from the top of metal fence posts. Blue-black Grassquits sang and jumped into the air while doing so, a good example of why their alternate local name is ‘Johnny Jump-up’. We heard another Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calling here, and, since this bird had been our ‘nemesis’ so far, we tried once again to see it. This time we succeeded, and all of us had good views of the owl as it called incessantly from the bamboo stalks.
Next, we explored an area of lowland rainforest (Aripo Forest) where we hoped to find a White-bellied Antbird. Unfortunately, the antbird wouldn’t show itself, despite the fact that it was singing loudly in the thick understory. As we passed by a stream, we spotted a lovely Ringed Kingfisher as it watched for its lunch in the waters below. Luckily, we didn’t have to work as hard for our lunch! We had lunch in a clearing, and even though
we asked our ‘security’ to come over and eat lunch with us, they would not. The two fellows sat in their truck, with gloves and masks on, visibly uneasy about mingling with tourists during the pandemic. I can’t blame them. During lunch, Dave pointed out a soaring Short-tailed Hawk, our first for the tour. As we made our way back towards Asa Wright, sharp-eyed Rudal found a gorgeous Gray-headed Kite sitting in a tree next to the road. Back at Asa Wright we had a relaxing afternoon, but still we added one more bird to our trip list. As we did the bird list on the veranda at dark, a couple of Short-tailed Nighthawks put on a nice show for us.
Day 6 – This morning several us took a guided walk down from Asa Wright, through the rainforest, to Dunston Cave, in hopes of seeing Oilbirds. As it turned out, no oilbirds were present today, for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of fruit to over-visitation. At any rate, the walk was still very enjoyable, and our guide explained to us in detail the life history of leaf-cutter ants. We caught glimpses of Guinan Trogon, various lizards and
insects. At the end of the walk, some people carried on birding, and some had a siesta. As for me, I headed down to the White-bearded Manakin lek to try and photograph these little beauties. There were about half a dozen of them, including several males, at the lek and they were half-heartedly displaying to females.
We had lunch and then shortly thereafter we departed Asa Wright and headed down to Caroni Swamp for an afternoon boat tour. As we made our way down into the lowlands, patches of heavy rain had us wondering what it might be like out there on the boat. As luck would have it, the conditions were perfect out on the water this afternoon and early evening. We cruised through the mangroves and guides pointed out two amazing Masked Cardinals that were accustomed to being fed. A roosting Tropical Screech-Owl was a treat to see again as well. Little Blue
Herons were numerous and we had nice views of American Pygmy-Kingfisher. A first for the tour, several Bicolored Conebills were noted in the mangroves above the boat. Also seen were Straight-billed Woodcreeper, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush and Black-crested Antshrike. Overhead, some of us saw Short-tailed Swift, and Fork-tailed Palm-Swift. Out on the open flats we were treated to great views of American Flamingos, as well as Tricolored Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Great Blue Heron, Limpkin and Snowy Egret. We moored our little green wooden boat in the perfect spot just before dusk. Dave prepared the rum punch and passed it out. Rudal handed out sweets. What more could you ask for that a delicious rum punch and cake, while watching thousands of Scarlet Ibis come in to roost for the night. It was a spectacle that we will never forget, I am sure.
Day 7 – By this point in the tour, the world had been seriously turned upside down by the pandemic. The Prime Minister had issued warnings that all Canadians abroad should return home immediately. Well, for us, there were no flights available out until our scheduled departure on March 22. There was nothing we could do other than just carry on birding and carry on with our scheduled itinerary. This morning, we had one last
breakfast and one last look off the veranda at Asa Wright. Dave and Rudal loaded us up into the vans and took us down to Piarco International Airport for our flight to Tobago early this afternoon. On another note, we dropped two participants today. Slight colds are common on almost any tour during the winter months I find, so I was not surprised when somebody on the tour came down with the sniffles. They made a decision, for the better of the group, and to guides, that they would skip the Tobago portion of the tour. I’m sure it was a tough decision for them, and I was unhappy they were not able to join us for the last bit of the trip.
So, the 9 of us caught our plane to Tobago at 12:30 or so, where we were met in the arrivals area by our guide Jason. At first impression, Jason was a strapping young fellow, quite articulate, and with just the right personality to be a guide. We got onto our bus, piloted by Anthony, and headed a short distance down the road to one of the last local
restaurants that was allowing clients to eat inside. Virtually all restaurants and bars throughout most of the world closed down during the pandemic, and our trip ended just in time. After a bite, we visited the Bon Accord Sewage Ponds. Here, several birds, new to our trip, were seen, including Barn Swallow, White-cheeked Pintail, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Red-crowned Woodpecker and a Whimbrel (Eurasian race). Green Herons had replaced the Striated Herons of Trinidad, and several Snowy Egrets, alongside Black-crowned Night-Heron and Anghingas were around the edge of the ponds. Jason got quite excited when we found a Southern Rough-winged Swallow, a species apparently uncommon in Tobago. Jason pointed out a tiny, drab bird called the Scrub Greenlet, explaining that it was nearly a Tobago endemic. One
more stop was made at a place called the Tobago Plantation. It was hot, and sunny, and bird activity was low, though we did enjoy watching a couple of young Brown Pelicans sail around the lake.
The drive from one end of Trinidad, where landed at Scarborough, to the far end of the island, Speyside, where we were staying is about 27 miles and takes about an hour. It soon became apparent that tourists were currently a rare species on Tobago, as most had departed home at the requests of their national governments. When we arrived at the check-in at the Blue Waters Inn, we were greeted by friendly staff with hand sanitizer that they squirted on all of our hands. Social distancing became a thing while we were in Tobago as well as excessive hand washing. We enjoyed the view of the ocean, from the
patio of the bar / restaurant, watching Laughing Gulls and Magnificent Frigatebirds out over the ocean, and busy little Ruddy Turnstones foraging among the seaweed on the shore. Tonight we had a buffet style dinner and as darkness fell, a chorus of Rufous-vented Chachalacas started calling up the slope nearby.
Day 8 – We had a nice leisurely morning, taking in the view while having breakfast and slurping coffee. At 10:30 AM we were met on the dock by ‘Zee’, who would take us out to Little Tobago Island aboard his glass-bottomed boat. Conditions were just right. We
chugged out past Goat Island, and on to Little Tobago Island, where Z positioned the boat so we could see a pair of nesting Brown Boobies. Our boat pulled up alongside the dock on Little Tobago Island, where we were greeted by 20 or so Laughing Gulls. Before we left the dock area, Z treated us to views of an Audubon’s Shearwater and its fuzzy chick, in a burrow in the ground. Following Z, we headed on a trail, up and over the island, and we climbed the uphill part, it was warm and humid. Once we reached the highest elevation on the trail, Z pointed out some bats in an old abandoned house. They were Miller’s Long-tongued Bats. Water features for the birds here attracted a few species such as Tropical Mockingbird, Cocoa Thrush, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bananaquit and Black-faced Grassquit. We put in quite a concerted effort to see a Chivi Vireo, and eventually we were rewarded with
sightings of this close relative to the Red-eyed Vireo. We finally reached a viewpoint, where we stood hundreds of feet above the Caribbean below. An epic battle played out with the birds out over the water. Elegant and graceful Red-billed Tropicbirds flew from the sea, back towards their nests on the island. Their flight was quick and labored, and this is because the tropicbirds are under constant attack. Out of nowhere, a massive Magnificent Frigatebird comes diving down on a tropicbird, trying to knock the bird out of the air so it can steal the fish the bird is carrying back to its nestling. Z pointed out a Red-billed Tropicbird on a nest right next to the viewing platform, so we had great views of the adult and one fuzzy chick. Another bird we were elated to see here was Red-footed Booby. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Red-footed Boobies were sailing about in the air, resting on the water, and hanging out
around nests on the island. There were birds of two different morphs here; the attractive white morph, and the equally attractive white-tailed brown morph. It seemed we had the whole island to ourselves, and we did, other than birds of course. We retraced our steps back across the island to the dock, where we hopped back on the boat and headed for the mainland. On the way, we were given a tour of the reef below, through the glass bottom of the boat. The different coral was lovely, as were the stunning fish that were pointed out to us by a young guide. Back on shore, we had a late lunch and then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. Some folks even took a swim in the ocean. Some others went birding to a nearby hummingbird garden. Each night that went by, the number of guests at our resort went down. In retrospect we were quite lucky to have the entire resort nearly to ourselves. According to staff, they were only at 5% capacity for what they are normally at during this time of year. Dinner was delicious though, and because of June’s recommendation, over half of us had a shrimp salad. Good recommendation June!
Day 9 – We met Jason and our driver at 6:30 AM and headed off to explore the Main Ridge Reserve, an area of rainforest in the mountains not far from Roxborough. It was a lovely day once again, and our firs
t stop was filled with birds. There seemed to be Orange-winged Parrots all over the place, feeding on fruits in the trees and squawking continuously. We saw our first of several Trinidad Motmots today, and we also had great views of Rufous-tailed Jacamar and a pair of Barred Antshrikes.
We then headed up to a lovely visitor’s center with a fantastic view, where we had breakfast, al-fresco. After a delicious breakfast, including fruit, boiled eggs, sandwiches and delicious yoghurt and honey, we carried on, exploring both ends of a trail called Gilpin Trace. As soon as we hopped out of the van, Jason pointed out a nesting pair of Streaked Flycatchers. Also along our walk, we had several views of White-tailed Saberwing, the final species of hummingbird we would add on the tour. After a bit of an effort, we finally saw a White-fringed Antwren, and we had tantalizing glimpses of one or two Blue-backed Manakins. Group members saw a Red-tailed Squirrel here, new for the mammal list.
At the other end of the trail, we were greeted by the eerie song of Yellow-legged
Thrushes. At first, the thrushes proved to be elusive, but eventually we all had good looks at them, another new ‘tick’ for the list. Carrying on, Jason pointed out a nest of a Rufous-breasted Hermit, and eventually the hermit came in and hung about, which was great, since this was a species that not everyone had yet seen. Jason pointed out a Fuscous Flycatcher up a slope, but unfortunately, it didn’t hang about long enough for most people to get on to. A couple of very elusive Stripe-breasted Spinetails scurried about on a bank, popping briefly into view for just a few seconds. One bird that was very cooperative was a Cocoa Woodcreeper that whacked away at a trunk right in front of us, wood chips flying everywhere. We finished our walk at a lek of Blue-backed Manakins. Two males came in to the lek and though they didn’t do their displays, we were very happy to see them nonetheless. We made our way back to the Blue Waters, where we said goodbye to Jason, and then we had a late lunch and then
took the afternoon to relax and enjoy.
Day 10 – It was our final morning, and we didn’t do too much birding since we were occupied with eating breakfast, packing bags and meeting our driver at 11 AM. From Tobago, where we seemed to be the absolute last tourists on the island, we caught the short flight back to Trinidad. The tour had come to an end once we landed. Our trip list was an impressive 191 species! We spent a final night at an airport hotel, and then the following morning we caught our flight to Toronto. How we got so lucky that were able to pull our whole entire trip off during the early stages of this pandemic was amazing indeed. As we watched the numbers of infected rise on the television, we felt safe in Trinidad & Tobago, where only a handful of cases of coronavirus popped up while we were there. Back in Canada, we were ordered to go into 14 days of quarantine by customs and border guards. We all had plenty of time, once we got home, to look at and edit photos, that’s for sure. Thank you everyone for coming on this trip. If our trip departure day were just 2 days later, I don’t think we would have even made it out of Canada. As it turned out, our flight was the last flight out of Trinidad and Tobago to Canada before air space was totally shut down.
Day 1 – I met the group of 7 folks from the U.K. at around 4 PM in the arrival hall at Houston Intercontinental Airport, and we began our journey from the N.E. corner of the city, down to Rosenberg, in the S.W. corner. It was a mostly uneventful drive, with plenty of rush hour traffic and a few birds to break up the trip. Before we set off in Houston, some people had a distant look at a House Finch. Along the way we saw plenty of Great-tailed Grackles, Feral Rock Pigeons, a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, some European Starlings, and I heard a rumor that one or two pax saw a Snowy Egret. We arrived at our hotel in Rosenberg and after checking in, we headed out for dinner at Chili’s.
Day 2 – It was a cool, windy and wet morning as we left our hotel in Rosenberg and made our way towards Brazos Bend State Park, about half an hour away. Upon arrival we huddled up for shelter under a covered roof, hoping the rain might stop, or at least slow down. We ticked off our first birds including Eastern Phoebe, Black Vulture, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Cardinal and a little group of Field Sparrows. The rain did slow down, and eventually stopped as we strolled around 40 Acre Lake. On the ground, beneath the Live Oaks, we watched a Hermit Thrush hop about, and shortly thereafter we were treated to great views of a Carolina Wren sitting atop a fallen tree. Continuing on we encountered a little mixed flock of songbirds that included Carolina Chickadee, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and a ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler. On our walk around the lake we saw many wading
birds including Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, American Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant and best of all, a very obliging American Bittern. The bittern caught a crawfish and swiftly gobbled it down the hatch. Waterfowl included Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall and a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Other highlights included a female Red-bellied Woodpecker and a male Downy Woodpecker, some Orange-crowned Warblers, Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats and at least two stunning male Vermilion Flycatchers. One Boat-tailed Grackle was also noted. Raptors put on a nice show, and we saw some lovely Red-shouldered Hawks, as well as Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk and loads of Turkey and Black vultures. Roy spotted a Belted Kingfisher in the distance, our first for the tour. In addition to the birds we saw a mid-sized American Alligator snoozing at the edge of the marsh, and an adult Nutria (Coypu) with a couple of youngsters clinging to it.
Reluctantly we left Brazos Bend, and headed towards Bay City, along the way spying our first Sandhill Cranes of the trip. American Kestrels were also rather numerous on the
drive, and by the end of the day we’d tallied about 30 of them. Just as we neared Bay City, I spotted a pair of White-tailed Hawks, so we stopped to enjoy these very attractive raptors before continuing into town, where we had lunch. As we left the restaurant, Mike spotted our first Loggerhead Shrike of the tour. Carrying on westwards, we encountered a field full of Snow Geese, and upon inspection, there were quite a few Ross’s Geese mixed in, though they were somewhat difficult to pick out.
Our final birding stop of the day was at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We first stopped in at the restrooms. Irene came running back, stating there was a snake in the lady’s room. I reluctantly poked my head inside and sure enough there was a rather small, nicely patterned snake curled up in the corner. With further investigation, we discovered it was a Lowinski’s Corn Snake. After that little surprise, we took a walk along the Heron Flats Trail. The wind, drizzle and cold continued, but we still managed to see some nice birds. The highlight was certainly a pair of endangered Whooping Cranes out
in the marsh. There were a few waders around as well, including Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs and a Long-billed Dowitcher. New for the trip was also a group of Northern Pintails. Out on the choppy waters of the gulf we saw a nice group of Horned Grebes, as well as Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup and several Bufflehead. Brown Pelicans sailed over the sea, and high overhead a formation of American White Pelicans passed over. As we were about to leave, Mike spotted a Virginia Opossum scurrying across a knoll, and then it disappeared into the vegetation. Also, in the mammal department, quite a number of rather small White-tailed Deer frolicked with one another in the refuge. We drove on to Rockport, checked in to our hotel and later went for a scrumptious dinner at my favorite local establishment, Charlotte Plummer’s.
Day 3 – This morning it was nice and sunny for a change, though a chilly north wind kept us bundled up for most of the day. We made a quick stop at the Supermarket to pick up provisions for lunch and then we made another quick stop at Rockport Beach Park. Here, the highlight was a flock of perhaps 50 Black Skimmers that were settled down on the beach. Another highlight was a very obliging Loggerhead Shrike that sat atop a post
merely a few feet away from us. A female Redhead was picked out, our first for the tour.
We headed for the Fulton Harbour, where we boarded the MV Skimmer, led by Captain Tommy and first make Rebecca. We steamed out of the harbour, checking off Ruddy Turnstone, Ring-billed Gull, Common Loon and Double-crested Cormorants along the way, and then we headed out over some bumpy rough water for 15 minutes or so. Once in the more protected waters of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the waves dropped, and the warmth of the sun could be felt. We soon saw our first Whooping Cranes of the day, some of which were very close to the boat. By the end of the trip we’d tallied about 18 of these stately, endangered birds. We added some nice waders to the list while on the boat, including Long-billed Curlew, American Oystercatcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and Lesser Yellowlegs. At one point a Clapper Rail came out in the open and showed nicely for a few moments before disappearing into the marsh. In addition to birds, we saw several White-tailed Deer while out on the boat, as well as a pod of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. All in all, it was a very nice experience out there today.
Our next stop was at Sunset Lake Park in Portland, not far from Corpus Christi. New for the trip list here were Marbled Godwits, as well as Western Sandpipers, a Sanderling and best of all half a dozen Snowy Plovers! A white morph Reddish Egret pranced about in
the shallows here as well, putting on quite the show for us. An Eastern Meadowlark flushed from the grasses several times, occasionally perching up where we could take a look at it. The sun brought out the first butterflies of the tour as well, with several fritillaries and whites sailing about.
As we made our way through Corpus Christi, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon sailing over a radio tower. The drive south along Hwy 77 was peppered with many sightings of Red-tailed Hawks and at least one White-tailed Hawk, as well as the usual American Kestrels. A short stop at a rest area south of Sarita provided a few more new species, including Brewer’s Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, a Bewick’s Wren and a Black-crested Titmouse. We finally arrived at Harlingen, our home base for the next three nights. This evening we enjoyed some tasty Mexican fare at a popular local establishment.
Day 4 – For our first morning in the Rio Grande, we visited Hugh Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen, and we were treated to a couple hours of fantastic birding. Upon arrival, we could barely tear ourselves from the parking lot, where Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Harris’s Hawk, Long-billed Thrasher, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and several other
species were found. Then, we watched the feeders for a while, and a parks and wildlife fellow was there trying to band hummingbirds. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any hummingbirds, but there was plenty more to look at. Plain Chachalaca, Curve-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Common Ground-Dove, and briefly, an Audubon’s Oriole came in. Also, a surprise, an Ovenbird walked about in the open for several minutes. A flock of Green Parakeets sailed overhead as well. Along the trails, we found our first White-eyed Vireo, as well as Verdin, Lesser Goldfinch, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Olive Sparrow and perhaps best of all, a pair of Green Kingfishers were found. Roy had a look at the Audubon’s Oriole, though by the time the rest of us went to look, it had disappeared. A Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was a nice surprise as well, as this can be a difficult bird to find. In addition to birds, new mammals for the trip list were Collared Peccary (javelina), and Desert Cottontail.
After picking up lunch at the supermarket, we made our way to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. As we neared the refuge, I spotted the first of three Greater Roadrunners along the edge of the road. Once at the refuge, we watched feeders where a
dozen or more Green Jays perhaps stole the show, alongside Northern Cardinal, and flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles. Along the Kiskadee Loop Trail we fittingly saw our first Great Kiskadee of the trip. From one hide we saw a couple of Hispid Cotton Rats, and everyone agreed these little rodents were far too cute to be called rats.
We had lunch and then went off to explore Laguna Atascosa Lake itself, from the Osprey Overlook. There was quite a variety of waterfowl on the lake, including Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and American Wigeon. A group of Gull-billed Terns flew past, our first for the holiday. A walk down to the ‘Alligator Pond’, which we soon found out was dry, didn’t produce too much, though it was nice to stretch our legs a bit. One last look back at the visitor’s center didn’t add anything to the day’s tally, so we then carried
on in the van, to look for the tough to find Aplomado Falcon. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the falcon, but raptors were numerous, nonetheless. We did see a Sharp-shinned Hawk, many Harris’s Hawks, some Red-tailed Hawks, a pair of White-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Ospreys, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vulture, however. Back in Harlingen, we went out for a very nice dinner at an Italian restaurant, Colletti’s. Tallying up the list at dinner, we had seen 80 species today!
Day 5 – Our morning began at a park to which I had not visited before, Resaca de las Palmas in Brownsville. We hadn’t even left the parking lot before we’d seen our first of many gorgeous Altamira Orioles. Also strutting about the parking lot were several Wild Turkeys, some of which were males in full display. We headed behind the park headquarters building to a water feature and several blinds, where we waited for the appearance of a locally rare species, a Rose-throated Becard. This member of the flycatcher family rarely visits areas north of the Mexican border, so when Mike spotted the bird sitting atop a tree, we were quite excited. A walk down the Ebony Trail was pretty quiet, though we did see a Lincoln’s Sparrow along the boardwalk, as well as an
Olive Sparrow. Next up, we headed back out in the parking lot to look for another local rarity, a Tropical Parula. It was rather quiet here, and we soon discovered why, as an immature Cooper’s Hawk flew off. Then, the bird activity picked up, first with the appearance of the gorgeous male Tropical Parula. More warblers began to appear, including the usual Orange-crowned Warbler, as well as our first Black-and-white Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Nashville Warbler. If that wasn’t already enough, we found a Blue-headed Vireo mixed in with them, along with the common Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
We arrived at Subway to pick up lunch, but before we went into the shop, I heard a few twitters from a Tropical Kingbird across the street. Soon thereafter we were enjoying nice views of the kingbird on the powerlines at the edge of the parking lot. We headed off to South Padre Island, spotting a couple of Chihuahuan Ravens from the van as we traveled along. Once on this long barrier island, we headed for the birding and nature center, and ate our lunch on the patio. Before embarking on the adventure along the boardwalk we had a quick scan of the mudflats which produced a few shorebirds
including Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Greater Yellowlegs. A Green Heron greeted us at a pond near the entrance and we saw one or two Monarch butterflies as well. Along the boardwalk, common species included American Coots, Common Gallinules, Mottled Ducks, Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. Looking out onto the sea, we had Forster’s, Caspian and Royal terns, Black Skimmers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Redhead, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and our first good Neotropic Cormorant of the tour. Carrying on along the boardwalk into the freshwater area, we saw our first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the trip. Roy spotted a Sora lurking in the reeds below the boardwalk and we also had satisfactory views of a Marsh Wren hopping about in the reeds. Waders on a shallow pond included Stilt Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt. Another Sora appeared at the edge of the marsh and everyone had a view of it, especially Teresa, who happened to have the scope trained on it as it emerged from the reeds. A male and a couple of female Green-winged Teals were our first for the tour. Roseate Spoonbill came flying in but disappeared soon after. All in all, it was a fantastic experience here, with so many great views of the birds.
On our way back towards ‘home base’, we stopped in at the Zapata Memorial Boat Launch, where it seemed all the local residents had come out to fish and enjoy the
afternoon. Still, we saw loads of birds, including flocks of Willets, Long-billed Dowitchers, some American Oystercatchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Stilt Sandpiper, Dunlin and a selection of other waders. Right in front of us, a Snowy Egret sat next to a white phase Reddish Egret, making for a nice comparison. Back in Harlingen we had dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, and after that we tallied up our list for the day, which came to 103 species!
Day 6 – Estero Llano Grande State Park was our first destination after leaving our hotel in Harlingen this morning. We spent the entire morning here, beginning with a walk through the Tropical Zone. One of the first birds we found here was new for the trip, a Couch’s Kingbird. Birding here was very good, and we spent some time in a hide, where a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird came in and was seen by all, but a Buff-bellied Hummingbird was more elusive, and just seen by some of the group. A fellow came by the hide and asked if we’d like to see a Great Horned Owl. ‘Of course’, we said, and off we went following him down the trail. The owl was still there when we arrived, and we all had a good look before it flew off due to all the attention. Back towards the hide, we were greeted by a parks lady who asked if we wanted to see a roosting Common Pauraque,
and yes, we did. The nightjar was roosting on the ground, not far from the path, offering up excellent views. ‘His name is Bernie’, the lady said. As we went back towards the hide once again, another fellow received a text on his phone about a Summer Tanager, so our pace picked up a little and as luck would have it, the male Summer Tanager was still there sitting just outside the hide, though it flew off just before everyone in the group could get it. At the visitor’s center we scanned the pond, where our first Wilson’s Snipe of the tour, one especially wanted by Alec, was found. Also new was an immature White-faced Ibis, and a Black Phoebe. We headed down a path, towards ‘Grebe Marsh’, where we had heard there was a Fulvous Whistling-Duck. Sure enough, the duck was there, as well as several of the pond’s namesake Least Grebes. Also, there were American Wigeon, Mottled Ducks,
Gadwall and a hybrid duck that was part Gadwall and perhaps part Northern Pintail, though the jury is still out on that one. We were pointed towards another roosting pauraque, this one very close to the path in the morning sunlight. There were both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Herons snoozing in the vegetation around another pond, as well as an Anhinga. From up on a levee we scanned the shallow water for waders, finding American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Stilt Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers and our first Pectoral Sandpiper of the trip.
We picked up lunch and took it with us to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we ate before heading off to explore the trails. We followed the Chachalaca Trail to Willow Lakes, where we had a few nice waterbirds, including Pied-billed and Least grebes. There was also Common Yellowthroat, Great Kiskadee, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a few other goodies here, though activity was slow, due to the sun
and afternoon heat. We climbed up the viewing deck and watched for raptors, though we were rewarded with just Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Harris’s and Cooper’s hawks, as well as Turkey Vultures and a single Black Vulture, but no Hook-billed Kite. Back at the visitor’s center we watched feeders for a while, from inside in the air-conditioned building. The usual Green Jay, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse, Long-billed Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Altamira Oriole and the abundant Red-winged Blackbird were found, as well as a single Clay-colored Thrush, though the bird did not show well and disappeared rather quickly.
Before heading to our hotel, we drove along a road through open farm country, and were rewarded with the sighting of a Burrowing Owl peeking over the top of a ridge! Dinner at the Olive Garden was delicious and was a fine ending to another excellent day.
Day 7 – Some light fog was in the air this morning as we headed out shortly after 7 AM, but it burned off quickly and was not a problem when we arrived at our first birding location, the McAllen Nature Center. Here, our target was an Audubon’s Oriole, so after quizzing the staff on where the bird had been seen, we set off on the trails. Feeders attracted the usual assortment, including Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, White-tipped Dove and Buff-bellied Hummingbird. We had good views of several House Finches here, just the second time we’d seen this species on the tour. Purple Martins were hanging out at their nest structures, giving us our first view of this species perched, rather than soaring above in the sky. After some patience we were rewarded with views of the Audubon’s Oriole, an uncommon resident of the Rio Grande. Also new for the trip list was a Yellow-throated Warbler in it’s favored palm tree.
At Quinta Mazatlan, another ‘World Birding Center’, after checking in, we headed for the feeders. It was rather quiet, and soon we discovered why all the birds were in hiding. There was an immature Cooper’s Hawk hiding in the trees nearby. Once the Cooper’s
flew off, birds immediately began coming in. There were Northern Cardinals, Black-crested Titmouse, Great Kiskadee and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. I heard the soft calls of a Clay-colored Thrush nearby, so we all peered deep into the thickets, eventually spotting the thrush. We need not worry though, since eventually the thrush came right out in the open, ate some apples, and hopped about on the ground as cameras clicked. Mike and Roy spotted a Wilson’s Warbler, our first for the trip, flitting about in the bushes behind the feeder.
We then made our way for Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, where upon arrival, we ate our lunch. As we nibbled, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Buff-bellied Hummingbird came in to visit the feeders. We then caught the ‘tram’ out into the park, stopping at the Kingfisher Overlook. We scanned up and down the Resaca, looking for the large Ringed Kingfisher, without success. Mike spotted a Green Kingfisher at the edge of the water, though it didn’t hang about for long. John picked out an immature Grey Hawk on the other side of the Resaca and we viewed it through the scope, while one or two other Grey Hawks called in the distance. A Least Grebe, along with several Pied-
billed Grebes, a Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, two Ospreys and a Sharp-shinned Hawk were added to the day list. A short walk down the road, we spotted another Grey Hawk, this one a lovely adult that soared overhead, showing off its heavily barred black and white tail. We then caught the tram again, and as we rode through the park, the driver pointed out a Greater Roadrunner. Back near the entrance we sat and watched more feeders, visited but the usual patrons; Green Jays, Plain Chachalacas, Altamira Orioles, Northern Cardinals and Long-billed Thrasher. It was quite hot at this point, so we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta.
Later in the afternoon we reconvened and drove off into urban McAllen where we found about 70 Green Parakeets coming into roost on telephone wires, alongside hundreds of Great-tailed Grackles. We then visited another area nearby, known to house roosting
Red-crowned Parrots. With the windows of the van rolled down, it didn’t take us long to hear the loud raucous calls of the parrots. We hopped out and enjoyed lovely views of 50 or so of these exotic birds as they loudly squawked and flew about in the trees above some houses. Something scared them, perhaps an annoyed homeowner, and they all flew off into the sunset.
After dinner back at the Olive Garden, we returned to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, hoping to find an Eastern Screech-Owl. We were promptly stopped by the border patrol who asked what we were doing. We told them we were looking for owls, and they queried us a little, but ultimately, they let us carry on our way. The calls of Pauraque could be heard in the park and soon I heard the low, hollow trills of an Eastern Screech-Owl. Not long after, I had the owl in the beam of the spotlight. This was a fine ending to yet another exquisite day of birding.
Day 8 – Overnight the weather changed, and we were faced with some windy conditions and cool temperatures this morning. We started off at Hidalgo, a community right along the Mexican border, where I hoped we might find some Monk Parakeets. We had no problems finding many large, bulky stick nests on telephone poles that were the parakeet’s dwellings, but we couldn’t find any parakeets. Perhaps they were hiding inside due to the wind.
Next, we explored Anzalduas County Park. The relentless wind made birding a bit tricky, though we still found some good birds here this morning, including our first Lark Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Barn Swallows. We also had our first views of the Rio Grande here as well. The area was a hotbed of border patrol activity, as patrol vehicles cruised around and choppers hovered overhead.
Heading west through the valley, we arrived at Rio Grande City, picked up lunch, checked into our hotel early and had our lunch. Shortly thereafter, we reconvened and went out to Salineno, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. We first visited the feeder setup, which was fantastic. The area was abuzz with birds like Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, White-winged Doves, Black-crested Titmouse, Altamira Orioles and some nice views of Audubon’s Orioles.
We then headed down to the Rio Grande and scanned for kingfishers, without any luck. We did spot our first Mexican Ducks of the trip, however. We walked along the banks of the river, where we heard, but could not see Morelet’s Seedeater. We flushed a small group of Northern Bobwhite, which was a nice surprise. In a brush pile in some open, grassy habitat, we had looks at bits and pieces of a Cassin’s Sparrow. Near the van, an Osprey dined on a fresh fish, and we also saw Grey Hawk again. Back in Rio Grande City, we had a nice dinner at Chili’s before turning in the for the evening.
Day 9 – Our final full day in Texas began with a pre-dawn drive from Rio Grande City to Salineno, along the banks of the Rio Grande. As we arrived, the temperatures were chilly and there was a mist rising from the river. We stood along the edge of the river, watching for Red-billed Pigeons as the sun came up and warmed us up a little bit.
Eventually we did see 2-3 of these large, dark and fast-flying pigeons as they hurried up and down the river. Another great sighting was of an impressive Ringed Kingfisher as it flew right past us in the morning sunlight. Just one target bird remained, the Morelet’s Seedeater, and we could hear it calling on an island in the middle of the river. After a few minutes, I spotted a male seedeater flying across the river to a tree not far from us. We got the little gem in the scope and watched it for several minutes before it flew off. Two more birds, both new for the trip list, were also tallied here. One was an ‘Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler and the other, a rather unexpected Mallard!
We spent a final half our or so watching the feeders at the DeWind’s feeding station, where the activity was fantastic. Our final great views of Green Jays, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadees, Black-crested Titmouse, Plain Chachalaca and Altamira
Orioles were had here. A drive along the Salineno ‘Dump Road’, produced more new species, including the nicely patterned Black-throated Sparrow, and the hard to pronounce Pyrrhuloxia! At Falcon State Park, we spent a couple of hours walking the trails through the somewhat more arid habitats found here. We were treated to two groups of Northern Bobwhite, small, attractive quail, that can be quite secretive. There were more Pyrrhuloxias and Black-throated Sparrows, and we saw Bewick’s Wrens, White-eyed Vireo, Verdin, and more. After a couple of failed attempts to find Cactus Wrens, we began the drive back to Rockport. The drive took about 2.5 hours, and we stopped for lunch in Hebronville, and then had a short restroom break in Kingsville. Once in Rockport, we headed out to Charlotte Plummer’s for a delicious final dinner. As we ate, Brown Pelicans and a Black-crowned Night-Heron entertained us out the window.
Day 10 – Our first destination, on this, our last morning in Texas, was Goose Island State Park, not far from Rockport. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to a wetland area since it was closed due to construction, but we improvised and visited other areas of the park, finding some nice birds, nonetheless. On our way into the park we paused to view a lovely male Eastern Bluebird, our first for the tour. Then, in the campground, along the Lantana Loop, we had our first Grey Catbird of the tour. Other species noted included
Carolina Wren, Chipping Sparrow, and several Pyrrhuloxias. We then headed out to a nearby area of fields, wetlands and coast. Here, we saw four adult Whooping Cranes, as well as nearly 20 Sandhill Cranes. There were also Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Wilson’s Snipe. Another new ‘tick’ for the list came in the form of several Vesper Sparrows.
We then began the 3-hour journey back to Houston, and once we were in the vicinity of the airport, we stopped for lunch. After lunch we had a couple of hours before I had to take everyone to the airport for their flights back to the U.K. We visited Jesse Jones Nature Park, an area of mixed pine / deciduous forest, only a few minutes from the airport. Birding here was good and we added a few more species to the trip list. First, a small group of American Goldfinches appeared in the trees around the feeders. A friendly park employee told us where to look
for some Cedar Waxwings in a berry bush and we were rewarded with great views of several waxwings here. A walk along the Cypress Boardwalk was also quite productive. We had great views of several Tufted Titmice here, which was a nice addition to our tally, as also were some White-throated Sparrows. Woodpeckers were about as well, and we had views of Downy Woodpecker and Red-bellied Woodpeckers for just the second time on the tour. We heard, but couldn’t see, a Pileated Woodpecker calling in the distance. Our time was up, so off we headed to the airport, where we said our goodbyes. After all was said and done, our trip list was a impressive 205 species.
Day 1 – I met the group of 5 intrepid birders this morning in Kelowna at 8 AM. Overnight, we’d had substantial snowfall, but during the day, conditions were perfect. We began in Okanagan Mountain Park, where after a bit of searching we had great views of a Northern Pygmy-Owl sitting up in a dead tree. Other birds noted in the park included Hairy Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk and a distant Red-necked Grebe.
Our next stop was at the Thomson Marshes. Here, raptors were the highlight as we saw 10 or more Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Northern Harriers, an American Kestrel and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Other than raptors, we were quite happy to spot a Marsh Wren in the reeds.
A quick look at Wilson Creek at Bird Place did not produce the hoped for Wood Duck today unfortunately.
After a quick stop for coffee, we headed for the Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary. In Mud Bay, we had several of each Trumpeter and Tundra swans. Gulls on the dock included
Herring, California, Ring-billed, Glaucous-winged and Iceland gulls. Gadwall were rather numerous out on the lake as well and we scoped a distant Common Loon from here. A walk along the boardwalk was mostly uneventful, other than the sighting of a roosting Barred Owl, which was very nice to see.
At Mission Creek, we checked for a roosting Western Screech-Owl and found it nestled up to the trunk of a cedar tree. Sutherland Hills Park produced a Brown Creeper as well. En route, we drove through the Hall Road neighborhood, spotting a group of a couple of hundred Bohemian Waxwings, as well as other regular ‘feeder birds’ like California Quail, Black-capped and Mountain chickadees, House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove and more. On O’reilly Lane we saw a White-throated Sparrow, and John pointed out a White-breasted Nuthatch. Also
along Mission Ck, right at K.L.O Road, was a male Belted Kingfisher, sitting on a telephone wire.
We then took a drive along Spiers Road, where we found an adult Northern Shrike, as well as Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, big flocks of European Starlings and along Gulley Road, more Bohemian Waxwings and a small group of American Robins.
Along Mission Creek near Casorso Bridge, we had good views of both Pacific Wren and Bewick’s Wren, but could not find the Winter Wren that has been in the area. Before we left the area, I headed for an old willow tree, hoping to spot our fourth owl species of the day, a Great Horned Owl. Margaret spotted the owl, tucked into the old willow tree.
To finish off the day, we headed up to Robert Lake where we waited until near dark when a single Short-eared Owl flew overhead, making for 5 owl species on our first day of the tour. At dinner we tallied up our list and finally agreed we had seen 61 species.
Day 2 – This morning we gathered in West Kelowna and then headed down to Okanagan Lake at Gellatly Bay to look for waterbirds. We were not disappointed. A large flock of
diving ducks contained many Redheads and Greater Scaup as well as smaller numbers of Canvasback and Lesser Scaup. Also on the lake were Pied-billed and Horned grebes as well as a local winter rarity, an Eared Grebe. A few hundred Canada Geese gathered in the sheltered bay this morning and included with them was a tiny Cackling Goose. From the little bridge on Gellatly Road we looked up Powers Creek and spotted an American Dipper frolicking in the water. On the beach, we saw another uncommon winter resident in the Okanagan, a Killdeer.
We then visited a patch of woods (I won’t name the exact location), where Long-eared Owl has been seen recently. After a bit of searching we found a Long-eared tucked into the thick brush, making for our 6th species of owl on the tour. Flying south over the lake
were 5 female type Northern Pintails!
At Okanagan Lake in Penticton we scanned through a mass of gulls, mostly composed of California Gulls. Mixed in, however, were the usual Herring, Ring-billed, Glaucous-winged and Iceland gulls. Out on the lake were Red-necked Grebes, Horned Grebes and distant Common Loon. At the Esplanade Trails it was surprisingly quiet. Highlights included a male Spotted Towhees, a group of Western Bluebirds, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
As the sun shined on us, we searched for Canyon Wren on a cliff near Okanagan Falls. It was again very quiet here, but eventually a gorgeous Canyon Wren hopped out on the rocks and put on a nice show for us. Down at Vaseux Lake, we explored the boardwalk and the spectacular view from the viewing deck. There were about 60 swans at the north end of the lake, and most were Trumpeter Swans, though there were several Tundra
Swans present as well. Other ducks on the lake included Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, and perhaps the same 5 female Northern Pintails that flew past us in Summerland. A Golden Eagle briefly appeared soaring over the cliffs, but disappeared rather quickly. Up at the cliffs we had a look for Chukar, but couldn’t find any. Interestingly, we saw a rattlesnake dead on the side of the road and wondered why this species would venture out of its den in January.
We drove on, arriving at our motel in Oliver just before dusk. We had a nice dinner before heading back out into the field in search of nocturnal creatures at Road 22, near Osoyoos. On a telephone wire, we spotted a Great Horned Owl as it watched quietly for
prey. Coyotes were howling in the distance all around us it seemed. I tried to call out a Northern Saw-whet Owl and within minutes we were looking at the cute little owl sitting in a bush in front of us. Owl number 7! It was a real treat to be out tonight since the weather was lovely, with mild temps, calm winds and a nice bright moon.
Day 3 – Our motel in Oliver was situated on the south end of Tucelnuit Lake, which is usually frozen solid in January. Today it was wide open, and we scanned through a large flock of several hundred Canada Geese, but could find nothing different amongst them. There were 4-5 Trumpeter Swans, as well as Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye present. We stopped in Oliver to pick up some coffee and breakfast before making our way back to Road 22. Today there was a slight breeze that made conditions a little cooler than the previous days, but it was still quite pleasant considering it’s early January in Canada. Raptors were numerous, with excellent sightings of many Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles and several Northern Harriers. A few ducks were paddling about on the open water of the oxbows, including
Mallards, Common Goldeneye and some Ring-necked Ducks. From an overlooking viewpoint at the north end of Osoyoos Lake, we scanned the sandbar finding several Ring-billed and Herring gulls that looked uneasy as they sat relatively close to two Bald Eagles.
We then headed up into the Richter Pass, west of Osoyoos. A search for Lesser Goldfinches turned up empty handed, though we still saw a few nice birds up here including a soaring Rough-legged Hawk, several Red-breasted Nuthatches, Steller’s Jays and Mountain Chickadees. Just up the road near the Elkink Ranch we were treated to a real show as a pair of adult Golden Eagles chased a flock of 20 or more Chukar on the slope above. One Chukar sailed from the slope, at a remarkable speed, down into the sagebrush of the valley below, with an eagle hot on its tail. As far as we could tell the eagle came up empty handed, or empty-taloned should we say. At the Nighthawk Border crossing, birds were few and far between. We scanned fields near the border for Gray Partridge without any luck. An immature Cooper’s Hawk sat on a telephone pole for a few moments before slinking off into the sage.
We had lunch at Haynes Point Provincial Park as a light rain began to fall. The rain cut our visit short, but we did see a female Red-breasted Merganser out on the lake, which was a bonus for sure. An Eastern Fox Squirrel ate Russian Olives close to our vehicles in the parking lot here.
At Okanagan Falls, a short stop produced an American Dipper and several Barrow’s Goldeneye. Our final stop of the tour was at Hardy Falls in Peachland. Here, we again saw an obliging American Dipper, as well as a very shy Varied Thrush. In the end, we’d tallied 90 species over the three day trip. Thanks to John, Margaret, Joan, Dave and Frances for joining me on this New Years birding adventure.
Bird list: Cackling Goose; Canada Goose; Trumpeter Swan; Tundra Swan; Gadwall; American Wigeon; Mallard; Northern Pintail; Canvasback; Redhead; Ring-necked Duck; Greater Scaup; Lesser Scaup; Bufflehead; Common Goldeneye; Barrow’s Goldeneye; Hooded Merganser; Common Merganser; Red-breasted Merganser; California Quail; Chukar; Ring-necked Pheasant; Pied-billed Grebe; Horned Grebe; Red-necked Grebe; Eared Grebe; Rock Pigeon; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Mourning Dove; American Coot; Killdeer; Ring-billed Gull; California Gull; Herring Gull; Iceland Gull; Glaucous-winged Gull; Common Loon; Great Blue Heron; Golden Eagle; Northern Harrier; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Cooper’s Hawk; Bald Eagle; Red-tailed Hawk; Rough-legged Hawk; Western Screech-Owl; Great Horned Owl; Northern Pygmy-Owl; Barred Owl; Long-eared Owl; Short-eared Owl; Northern Saw-whet Owl; Belted Kingfisher; Downy Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker; Pileated Woodpecker; American Kestrel; Merlin; Northern Shrike; Steller’s Jay; Black-billed Magpie; American Crow; Common Raven; Black-capped Chickadee; Mountain Chickadee; Red-breasted Nuthatch; White-breasted Nuthatch; Pygmy Nuthatch; Brown Creeper; Canyon Wren; Pacific Wren; Marsh Wren; Bewick’s Wren; American Dipper; Western Bluebird; Townsend’s Solitaire; American Robin; Varied Thrush; European Starling; Bohemian Waxwing; House Sparrow; House Finch; American Goldfinch; Spotted Towhee; Song Sparrow; White-throated Sparrow; White-crowned Sparrow; Dark-eyed Junco; Red-winged Blackbird; Yellow-rumped Warbler.
On January 2, I had the pleasure of taking Paul and Annette Lloyd, from the U.K., out in the Kelowna area for a day of birding. It turned out to be a perfect day for birding, with mild temperatures, some bits of sun here and there, and it was nice and calm. We met in Rutland, as Paul and Annette were staying up at Big White. Our first destination was
Okanagan Mountain Park, south of Kelowna. Not long after I finished mentioning that we should keep our eyes open for Northern Pygmy-Owls, Paul spotted one sitting on dead tree next to our vehicle! After we had enjoyed our fill of pygmy owl, we carried on, exploring the park for more birds. Some of the species we encountered included a Townsend’s Solitaire, a group of 8 Steller’s Jays, a Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglets, some Mountain Chickadees, and a single Pygmy Nuthatch. Singles of Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker were added to the day’s list here. Raptors were numerous today and we saw several Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks out in the park this morning. On the lake were Horned and Red-necked grebes and a Common Loon.
Next up, we visited the Thomson Marshes. Soon after our arrival we were treated to views of a male American Kestrel that was in the process of eating a mouse. Red-tailed Hawks were numerous here and we were treated to views of a couple of Northern Harriers as they hunted over the grassy fields. A Great Blue Heron was seen hunkered down in a water-filled ditch, and waterfowl included Mallards, two Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser. Weedy fields had Song Sparrows, some White-crowned Sparrows and several House Finches. Overall, it was a very productive stop.
A short stop at Wilson Creek at Bird Place produced 4 Wood Ducks, which was our target species there. We had a quick stop for coffee and comfort, and then checked out
Okanagan Lake from the foot of Cedar Avenue. We counted 22 Trumpeter Swans on the lake here! At the nearby Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary we had a nice adult Cooper’s Hawk that sat in the trees for quite a while before silently disappearing. Black-capped Chickadees foraged in the trees along the boardwalk. On a dock were about 50 gulls, including Glaucous-winged, Herring, Ring-billed and 2 Mew gulls.
We ate our lunch along Mission Creek and then took a stroll to look for a roosting Western Screech-Owl. It didn’t take too long for us to find the owl, nestled up to the trunk of a cedar tree, in the afternoon sunlight. In addition to the owl, we saw another Downy Woodpecker here.
A visit to the Chichester Bird Sanctuary in Rutland produced a few birds we had not yet seen today, including American Robins, a Bufflehead, a Eurasian Collared-Dove and Virginia Rail, the latter of which we heard only. My friend Michael Force messaged me and told me that he had a Barred Owl roosting in his neighbor’s tree. Off we went, and about 15 minutes later we were looking at the lovely owl sitting quietly, and in plain sight.
We finished off our day watching for Short-eared Owls over a grassy field in the north end of town, and we were rewarded with seeing two of them at dusk — Chris Charlesworth
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours