Day 1: An early start and a long drive but it produced at least 4 Northern Hawk Owl and only a VERY distant glimpse of Great Gray that Brian couldn’t count. We also had great photo opportunities of Pine and Evening grosbeaks, Hoary and Common redpoll, Pileated
Woodpecker, Snow Bunting and others. It was also a great mammal day with a Canada Lynx and a Least Weasel.
Day 2: An even earlier departure to find Great Gray Owl produced some nice new birds such as Sharp-tailed Grouse but the Great Grey Owl was still missing in action until late morning, when I gave up on the best areas and went to Plan C… Not long after we started searching a new area we had a stroke of luck by spotting a Great Gray Owl hunting behind some abandoned sheds. We even got to wa
tch this owl plunge and catch a Meadow Vole. After this, Brian decided it was time to switch from boreal forest to open country birding so we raced back to the Winnipeg area and found six Snowy Owls and some other targets including Gray Partridge and some bonus mammals including White-tailed Jackrabbit.
DAY 1 – I met 6 participants at the arrivals hall at Houston International Airport at about 3 PM this afternoon. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon as we drove through the sprawling city of Houston to our first port of call, Rosenberg. After checking in to the hotel we went out to Chili’s for dinner and then the group, who were understandably,
pretty tired, headed off for a night’s rest.
DAY 2 – We left our hotel shortly after 7 AM and made our way to Brazos Bend State Park, south of Rosenberg. As we drove along the entrance road, flocks and flocks of American Robins were noted as they lifted off the fields. We enjoyed a nice walk around 40 Acre Lake this morning, tallying over 60 species of birds, despite cool, cloudy and drizzly conditions. In the woodlands surrounding the lake were many more American Robins, as well as Cedar Waxwings, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, Orange-crowned, Palm and ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped warblers, American Goldfinches and more. Woodpeckers showed nicely as we saw Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and best of all a Pileated Woodpecker, the latter of which was drumming away loudly on a tree stump as we watched in the scope. Carrying on around the lake we encountered Eastern Phoebe, a
male Vermilion Flycatcher, White-eyed and Blue-headed vireos, Swamp and White-throated sparrows, Common Yellowthroat and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Waterfowl noted included Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks and some lovely Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot and Common Gallinule were also scattered across the lake. Skimming the surface of the water were hirundines including Cave, Tree, N. Rough-winged and Barn swallows. Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret were seen along the lake’s edge, along with White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron and some Roseate Spoonbills. Anhingas showed very nicely here today and we were fortunate enough to have incredible views of some American Bitterns this morning. On our way out of the park, the robins in the fields had been replaced by a flock of Killdeer. Just as we turned out of the park, I mentioned to watch out for Sandhill Cranes, and barely before I could get the sentence out of my mouth, a group of 20 or so were seen quite close to the road.
The drive from Brazos Bend to Bay City provided views, from the moving van, of American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracara and Northern Harrier. We had lunch at Subway in Bay City and then carried on to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. As we drove along the entrance road, I spotted a star mammal for the day, a Bobcat, as it crossed the road and then crept through the thickets, occasionally popping into view.
Other mammals seen today included White-tailed Deer and Eastern Fox Squirrels.
At Aransas we explored the Big Tree Trail which wound through the live oaks for a few hundred meters before ending in the saltmarsh along the shore. Out on the sea were Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead and a Red-breasted Merganser, and both Brown and American White Pelicans put in appearances. Forster’s Terns foraged in the channels nearby one, with one or two of them plunging headfirst in to the water for tiny fish. On the shore, Kath pointed out our first Willet of the trip and shortly thereafter it was joined by our first Greater Yellowlegs. Way off in the distance we spotted two large white birds that, once the scope had been trained onto them, turned into Whooping Cranes! Feeling we had done pretty well, we left the refuge and headed for Rockport where we checked into our hotel, and then went for a delicious meal at Charlotte Plumber’s restaurant. As we sat inside, we saw Great Blue Heron and a Black-crowned Night-Heron beneath the bright lights of the marina. We had seen close to 80 species of birds today, which was fantastic given the cool, dreary weather.
DAY 3 – After breakfast we loaded up our luggage and headed down to the local supermarket where we picked up our lunch. We then made our way to Fulton Harbor where we boarded the MV Skimmer, with Captain Jay at the helm. Captain Jay is an enthusiastic chap, with a strong Texan accent, and a real passion for showing people the birds of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It was a misty morning and the fog remained with us throughout the boat trip. It was cool as we steamed out across the sea towards the refuge. As we left the harbor we spotted a few species such as Laughing Gull, Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Martin, Brown Pelican and Neotropic and Double-crested
cormorants. Jay slowed the boat down as we entered the protected waters of the refuge. It didn’t take us long to spot our first group of Whooping Cranes in the distance. There were two adults and a rusty immature bird foraging a few hundred meters away. The giant birds began striding towards us and then to our delight, they took to the air and flew right towards the boat, landing nice and close to us at the edge of the water. We watched a Reddish Egret as it staggered about like a ‘drunken sailor’, scaring up little fish in the shallows. Other wading birds included Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Heron, Snowy and Great egrets and Great Blue Herons. A few terns, including Caspian, Royal and Forster’s terns foraged around the boat. Waterfowl included Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler, and we saw a Savannah Sparrow. We had a few quick glimpses of Bottlenose Dolphins as they surfaced near the boat. We arrived back on shore around 12:30 PM and we all agreed the trip was a great success.
We drove towards Corpus Christi, stopping in at Sunset Lake and Indian Point Park to search for waders. Unfortunately, many of the waders were in an area we could only see from the freeway, where we could not stop and get out to search. Nonetheless, we did see Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt and American Oystercatcher. As we cruised through the neighborhood near Sunset Lake, we saw our first Inca Doves and White-winged Doves. A Mottled Duck was viewed through the scope and we enjoyed watching a large group of
Black Skimmers here. At one point, an Osprey flew by and scared up the flock of skimmers into their sky. Martin and I had a fleeting glimpse of a Clapper Rail as it disappeared into the reeds. We had a good drive ahead of us yet, as Harlingen was our destination. Along the freeway we saw many raptors including Crested Caracara, Red-tailed Hawks, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture and American Kestrel. A Greater Roadrunner was seen by one or two of the group as it flew out as if to cross the road, and then, thinking better of it, turned around and headed back into the thickets. A little break at the Sarita Rest Stop provided us with a chance to stretch out legs and we added three species to the list here; Brewer’s Blackbird, the rather gaudy Green Jay and, voted by several folks the best ‘songbird’ of the day, some Black-crested Titmice. As we entered Harlingen and drove towards our hotel, thousands of Great-tailed Grackles lined the telephone wires as they came in to roost for the evening. This evening, we headed out for a delicious meal of Mexican food at Los Asados.
DAY 4 – Our day began at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, not too far from our hotel. ‘This could be a one hour stop’, I said, to everyone. Three hours later we were tearing ourselves away from this lovely park along Arroyo Colorado. We walked less than a mile in 3 hours and spotted close to 50 species of birds, most of them new for the trip. The feeding station was full of activity with everything from Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays,
White-tipped Doves and Indigo Buntings to Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Black-crested Titmouse visiting. Along the trails we ran into goodies like Long-billed Thrashers and Curve-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Oriole and Tropical Kingbird. We chanced upon a gorgeous pair of Green Kingfishers that were hanging about along a small stream where we saw one of the birds enter a cavity in the clay bank. We saw a lovely mammal here, the Desert Cottontail, as it quietly fed alongside a pathway, and we also saw a cracking butterfly, the Mexican Bluewing, as it fed on nectar dripping from a hummingbird feeder.
After picking up lunch we made our way towards Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, pausing along the way to check out a pond alongside the road. Blue-winged Teal and American Wigeon were here as well as Black-necked Stilt and Greater Yellowlegs. As we traveled towards the refuge we saw raptors such as Red-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk,
American Kestrel and Crested Caracara. Once at the refuge we had just sat down to have lunch when a brilliant Altamira Oriole appeared at a nearby feeder. We took a stroll along the Kiskadee Trail, which at first seemed rather quiet. Soon, we found a little flock of birds that included several Blue-headed Vireos, White-eyed Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler and a lovely male Tropical Parula, the latter of which is fairly rare. A little time in one of the hides was very productive as we watched Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jays, White-tipped Doves, Black-crested Titmouse and Plain Chachalaca come in to drink and feed.
A short drive down to the Osprey Overlook was very productive and the lake was absolutely covered in birds. Most were American Coots and we didn’t know where to begin estimating how many were on the lake. Some said 7,000. Others said 50,000, but the lake was covered in coots nonetheless. Mixed in were some Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks and Redheads. Along the shore were Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret and more. We took a little stroll down to the Alligator Pond, spotting little along the way. Once at the pond we spotted one of the largest alligators I have ever seen. It must
have been a good 15 feet long! Heading back down the road, I just happened to be looking at the right place at the right time and spotted a Nine-banded Armadillo foraging in the roadside thickets. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped to see some Eastern Meadowlarks. To the surprise of some, the meadowlark was a gorgeous bird with bright yellow on the breast, interrupted by a black ‘v’. A drive up and down another road did not yield an Aplomado Falcon, unfortunately, but we did see several Harris’s Hawks. As we returned to our hotel we stopped to watch as 100 or more Green Parakeets lined the telephone wires prior to heading to their evening roost. We had dinner this evening at La Playa and then headed back to get some much needed rest.
DAY 5 – It was a rather nice morning, with cool temperatures and partly sunny skies as we drove from Harlingen towards South Padre Island. We paused along the way, to check out the shorebirds at the Zapata Memorial Rest Stop, and we were handsomely rewarded with a great variety of birds. Most common were Long-billed Dowitchers, along with Least Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plover. Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Curlew, and Semipalmated Plovers were also seen, and we were very happy to spot just one single Piping Plover here. Stilt Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone and a nice flock of Marbled Godwits were also fantastic to tally here. In addition to shorebirds were wading birds such as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Reddish Egret and Tricolored Heron. Hundreds of Laughing Gulls were resting on the shore, alongside lesser numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Royal, Caspian,
Forster’s and a Gull-billed tern.
We crossed the bridge to South Padre Island and headed straight for the Birding Center and boardwalk. Birds were numerous here, and they were also quite obliging to the photographers in the group. We had fantastic looks at waterfowl including Redhead, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Duck. Herons and egrets were well represented with highlights being a little Green Heron fishing in a pond next to the parking lot and some lovely Roseate Spoonbills that posed for photos. This boardwalk, which runs through both brackish marsh and freshwater marsh, is fantastic for rails and we were not disappointed, having excellent views of both Sora and Clapper Rail. One of the real highlights here, a male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher few right over us, showing off his magnificent streaming tail and brilliant pink underwings. Two Wilson’s Snipe were
new for the trip list, and everyone finally had a nice look at Stilt Sandpiper here as well. Before leaving South Padre Island we had lunch at Subway.
We headed west to the town of Weslaco and the Valley Nature Center where a very rare bird for North America, a Golden-crowned Warbler, had been wintering. With the help of a sharp-eyed staff member, we were all able to obtain good views of this Mexican and Central American stray as it foraged in the thick vegetation. Other nice birds noted at the nature center included a Clay-colored Thrush, some Black-crested Titmice, Orange-crowned Warbler, Inca Dove and Great Kiskadee. A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was spotted as it roosted high in the trees, looking rather out of place with no water to be seen. This evening, on our way to dinner, we took in the spectacle as tens of thousands of Great-tailed Grackles came in to roost on telephone wires at dusk. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meal at the Texas Roadhouse.
DAY 6 – We left Harlingen this morning and made our way to Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. Upon arrival I could hear the telltale loud raucous calls of parrots in some nearby trees, so we went to investigate. There were perhaps 50 Red-crowned Parrots clambering about, squawking and flying around at the edge of a golf course. This species is one of a few species of parrots / parakeets that are officially countable in North America. We explored the ‘Tropical Zone’ first, where the usual Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadees, Northern Mockingbirds, Black-crested Titmouse and
Green Jays were noted. We ran into a very informative fellow who showed us where an Eastern Screech-Owl was roosting in an extremely hidden spot in a palm tree. He also pointed out a roosting Common Pauraque, so thanks to the man from Wisconsin, we added two really nice nocturnal birds to our list. At some feeders we saw our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird and some saw a Buff-bellied Hummingbird as well.
We did a nice loop walk in Estero Llano Grande Park that took us from the visitor’s center to a levee that overlooked a water filled ditch, and then back to the center via the ‘Alligator Pond’. At the visitor’s center we scanned the ponds finding good numbers of Green-winged Teal, along with Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks, Least Sandpipers, and an assortment of herons. Once at the levee we had nice looks at several American
Avocets, as well as Black-necked Stilts, Stilt Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, and a lovely White-tailed Kite. At the ‘Alligator Pond’ we had nice looks at roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons and several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Best of all, we saw another roosting Pauraque, right next to the path.
We picked up lunch at the supermarket and headed for Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. As soon as we arrived, a stunning Altamira Oriole caused some excitement. Once we finished lunch, we headed off to explore Willows Lake. Being mid afternoon, birds were a little quiet but once we arrived at the lake, things picked up. Waterfowl included several gorgeous Cinnamon Teal, and a Sora was seen as well. A Coypu, or Nutria, was seen munching on grasses in the pond. We climbed to the top of the impressive viewing tower where we enjoyed a nice view, though saw few birds. We did see a distant Peregrine Falcon perched on a water tower however, the first for the trip. Before leaving
the area we drove through some farm field, hoping to find a Burrowing Owl.
Unfortunately, no owls were seen today, most likely because the areas where they had previously been seen had been disturbed. We drove on to McAllen, where we checked in to our hotel. Dinner tonight was Italian, and was at the Olive Garden.
DAY 7 – We started off at a lovely park called Quinta Mazatlan, just a few short miles from our hotel in McAllen. The object of our visit was a bird called a Crimson-collared Grosbeak, a species that only rarely appears north of the Mexican border. We checked in at the historic adobe house, apparently the oldest adobe house in Texas, and then made our way over to the feeders at the amphitheater. We sat for about an hour watching the feeders, which were busy with the likes of Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and Plain Chachalaca, but no grosbeak appeared. A light
rain began to fall so we headed back to the visitor’s center and enjoyed a cup of coffee until the precipitation let up. We then went for a walk to another set of feeders where the grosbeak had been seen previously. Here we added Inca Dove, Olive Sparrow, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Parakeet and more to our list of birds. New butterflies included Mourning Duskywing and Empress Leila. As we were leaving Quinta Mazatlan, with no grosbeak sighting, we spotted an immature Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the open in the top of a tree. Perhaps this accipiter had kept the rare grosbeak from emerging this morning.
We picked up lunch and then headed to an area known as the ‘Border Patrol Corral area, near Bentsen State Park. This area is where there had been a spate of recent sightings of the rare Hook-billed Kite. Raptors were certainly active in the area and we saw Gray Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and just our second Red-shouldered Hawk of the tour, but no
Hook-billed Kite today. A Green Kingfisher was a nice sighting along the canal here, and we saw our first Black Phoebes of the tour, so all in all, it was a productive stop.
Next up, at Bentsen State Park, we had lunch and then took a stroll in to the park to see what we could find. Temperatures had climbed quite high this afternoon and the sun was shining down on us as we scurried from shady patch to shady patch. We watched some feeders where a volunteer from Iowa pointed out Altamira Oriole, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca and more, and then we took a walk to the ‘Kingfisher Overlook’, with high hopes of finding our first Ringed Kingfisher. We did not find any kingfishers here, but we did find a single Pine Siskin in with a flock of American Goldfinches. The best species, in my opinion, that we found at
Bentsen was Northern Bobwhite, as 5 of the elusive little quails foraged in the grass right next to the parking lot!
It had been a hot afternoon, so I offered folks the chance to do more birding or take a siesta back at our hotel. Most opted for the siesta, but Nigel and I returned to Quinta Mazatlan for one hour, during which time we still did not find the grosbeak. We did add two species to the trip list however, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a lovely male Black-and-white Warbler.
DAY 8 – After checking out of our hotel we returned to the Border Patrol Corral area this morning, with hopes of finding the elusive Hook-billed Kite. Though we didn’t find the kite, birding was quite good here this morning, with the highlight, no doubt, being the sighting of our first Ringed Kingfisher. Another nice bird added to the list was a Black-throated Green Warbler, though this flitty little character left us all wanting a better view.
Next stop was at Anzalduas County Park. We took a stroll through the somewhat manicured park, finding a surprising number of nice birds such as Lark Sparrows and a
lovely male Eastern Bluebird. Overhead, a raptor appeared, and it had distinct slow and deep wingbeats, and ‘paddle-shaped’ wings. ‘Hook-billed Kite’, I yelled out and we all watched as the bird flapped away and out of sight. This was a nice bird indeed, but we all wanted a better look. A little later the kite reappeared and sailed overhead, giving us all a good view, as luck would have it. Another highlight was a male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that entertained us for a few minutes before disappearing. Though this species can be rather common in Texas in the spring, it is decidedly uncommon during the winter months. Other flycatchers noted here included Black Phoebe, Tropical Kingbird, Couch’s Kingbird and the brilliant Vermillion Flycatcher. We had our first views of the Rio Grande here at Anzalduas, and we noted several species on the Mexican side of the river, including Muscovy Duck, Snowy Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot and Spotted Sandpiper to name a few. Several Killdeer put on a nice show here and we found Cattle Egrets for only the second time on the tour. Two Mexican Ducks flew downstream, though were not seen by all in the group before they had disappeared. Before we left the area, we walked a grassy field where we hoped to flush a Sprague’s Pipit. Unfortunately, a couple of guys had been flying their model airplanes over the field, so our chances for finding the pipits were low. We did see some Western Meadowlarks, though no pipits.
After lunch we carried on to Rio Grande City and checked into our accommodations. We
then reassembled and continued west to Salineno where we watched the feeders for half an hour or so. As soon as the volunteers had put out some seed and peanut butter, a flurry of activity ensued. Suddenly there were hungry Great Kiskadees, White-tipped Doves, Long-billed Thrasher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse and many others swarming the feeders. No Audubon’s Oriole though, which is the ‘signature’ bird of this particular feeding station. We headed down to the Rio Grande and scanned up and down for Red-billed Pigeons and Morelet’s Seedeater. No luck this afternoon with those species, though we did enjoy watching Ospreys along the river and a number of songbirds in the thorn-scrub such as Verdin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and the usual crop of Lincoln’s Sparrows. On our way out of Salineno, I heard a Pyrrhuloxia singing near to the road so we stopped and enjoyed fantastic views
of the cardinal / parrotbill cross as it sang from a flowering bush. Back in Rio Grande City we enjoyed dinner at Casa Adobe before heading to bed for some rest.
DAY 9 – An early morning return to Salineno was very productive. We stationed ourselves along the banks of the Rio Grande, hoping for a glimpse of the rather rare and local Red-billed Pigeon. An Audubon’s Oriole sang several times and flew overhead, but that wasn’t enough to warrant adding it to our list. Then, two large, dark pigeons flew up the river and landed in some tall trees on an island. They were Red-billed Pigeons. Through the scope we could make these birds out quite nicely, though it was still difficult to see the namesake red bills. Our second Ringed Kingfisher of the tour flew downstream. A short stroll through the scrub produced our first sighting of
the impressive Cactus Wren. Back at the feeding station we didn’t have to wait long for the local pair of Audubon’s Orioles to come in and nibble on some peanut butter. The local birders have named one of the pair ‘Baldy’ since he has a bald patch on his head.
A drive along ‘Dump Road’ turned out to be a very good idea, as two Greater Roadrunners crossed the road right in front of our van! Everybody had really wanted to see this species, especially Marie, and I had feared we had missed our chance, so a great sight of relief exhaled by myself. Another ‘trip tick’ along this road was a Cassin’s Sparrow that obligingly sang from its perch quite close to the van. At Falcon State Park we had a few more birds to find. Black-throated Sparrows showed nicely, and we all agreed that they are one attractive sparrow. Ash-throated Flycatcher was new to the trip list as well. We finally caught up with a little group of Collared Peccary, or ‘Javelina’, a type of wild pig.
Carrying on to Zapata, the point farthest west on this tour, we picked up lunch and took it down to the local county park. This is a good area to find the uncommon and elusive Morelet’s Seedeater, though we could not locate any today. We did, however find two new warblers for the trip, a Black-throated Gray Warbler and an ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler. Limosa Holidays uses the IOC taxonomy so Audubon’s Warbler counts as a species for the trip, while in North America, we simply just think of it as a race of Yellow-rumped Warbler. Before we left Zapata we had one more surprise sighting right in the town. A pair of House Finches showed quite nicely, and the male sported a nice rosy crown. The group joked that the name House Finch was far too boring for such an exotic looking bird and I agree!
We had a long drive ahead of us this morning. I was on the lookout for one more bird however as I drove along the straight highways. I checked every raptor as we drove by,
spotting Red-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracaras, Harris’s Hawks and finally, the one I wanted, a White-tailed Hawk. The bird was on a telephone pole and we all enjoyed great views of it, noting all the pertinent field marks, including its white tail. The rest of the drive back to Rockport was rather uneventful, other than rain showers here and there. We enjoyed another great meal at Charlotte Plumber’s, and it was in fact, the final dinner of the tour. These trips seem to go so quickly!
DAY 10 – It was our last morning in Texas and we headed to Goose Island State Park. It was cool and gray out this morning, a common theme for us on this trip when we were near the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival to the park we enjoyed watching a group of American White Pelicans feeding near a boat launch. I was hoping to add one or two
more sparrows to the trip list here and was rewarded with the sighting of at least two Nelson’s Sparrows. Marsh Wren was another addition to the tour list. We scanned a mudflat with several species of shorebirds, picking out Piping Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Greater Yellowlegs. A single Roseate Spoonbill fed in a puddle and a group of a dozen or so Sandhill Cranes flew by. Scanning through groups of female Great-tailed Grackles, some of us eventually found one female Boat-tailed Grackle mixed in. We drove around an area of open fields and were rewarded with the sighting of several more Whooping Cranes this morning, as well as more Sandhills. White-faced Ibis in immature plumage was another trip tick here, and we saw old friends like Wilson’s Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs. Just as we were about to begin the drive back to Houston, we stopped to check out some sparrows on the ground beneath the oak trees. They were Chipping Sparrows, a species we had not encountered on the tour yet, and mixed in was a single Pine Warbler, though it disappeared before all could see it. A male Brown-headed Cowbird sang from the top of an oak tree.
We carried on back to Houston, stopping in for lunch at Wharton. In the grass next to the parking area at the restaurant there were several American Pipits foraging. The final species added to the trip list was a Bald Eagle, though it was seen only by myself and ‘co-pilot’ for the day, Marie, as it flew directly over the van. We attempted to check an area for Monk Parakeets in south Houston, but we aborted the mission due to heavy traffic. It had been a great tour, with some fantastic birds and a very nice group. We said our goodbyes and I tallied up the trip list to find we had seen 200 species of birds.
Jan 4 – For those who do not know, the Okanagan Valley is a beautiful place, with fantastic birding opportunities, located in the southern interior of British Columbia. We began our day in Kelowna, meeting up with the 5 tour participants at the Apple Bowl at 8 AM. Our first stop was at Mission Creek where I took the group to a known roost site for
Western Screech-Owl. The owl is not always there, but today we were lucky and found it snuggled up to the trunk of a cedar tree. Success with our first target species! Other highlights here included watching a flock of nearly 500 Bohemian Waxwings in the cottonwoods along the creek. An American Dipper was a nice find by Michelle, and was first detected by its soft and gurgling song. We had Black-capped Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, American Robin and Red-tailed Hawk here as well.
Our nest stop was along Walburn Road near Belgo Pond. A Northern Mockingbird was discovered here by my friends Kyle Fitzpatrick and Matthias Deter on the Kelowna Christmas Bird Count on December 15, and it was still there. We saw the mockingbird quite well as it nibbled on a few tiny berries from its favorite bush, and then flew up into a tall Ponderosa Pine in the sunshine. The weather today was fantastic with temperatures reaching 7 degrees Celsius and sunny skies. Other highlights in the Belgo
area included an adult Peregrine Falcon that sailed by and our first California Quail of the trip. A Coyote ran across the field, probably spooked by us hopping out of the vehicle. Other than Red Squirrel, this was the only other mammal species we saw today.
As we made our way north towards Vernon, we spotted a few birds along the way. There were two Bald Eagles at the south end of Wood Lake, and an American Kestrel dashed across the highway, risking its life, as we entered Vernon. After a short pit stop for coffee, we headed up Silver Star Road, stopping at Sovereign Lakes. Since it was a sunny day, it was busy up here and we took a stroll along the road, but found it too busy with traffic. We then explored the parking lot which is surrounded by forest and were happy to see 25 or so White-winged Crossbills here, many of which were singing. Into the village we headed, checking an area where feeders were present. A friendly fellow shoveling a driveway invited us into his backyard to check out his feeder. We saw a male and female
Pine Grosbeak here, a female Cassin’s Finch, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and several Canada Jays, so it was a success. I got a message from my friend Chris Siddle to say he’d found some rosy-finches on Purcell Road so off we headed. We couldn’t find the finches, but 5 Boreal Chickadees were certainly a nice consolation prize. On our way down towards town, Michelle spotted a Downy Woodpecker.
Back in the valley bottom at the south end of Swan Lake, we walked the grasslands loop trail. Northern Harriers were coursing low over the field, and we saw Rough-legged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk here as well. An American Tree Sparrow hopped up on a fence post and a Belted Kingfisher was a nice addition to the year list along a little stream. As it got darker, our target species for this location, Short-eared Owls, began appearing. We had many good views of the owls and we decided in the end we’d seen 3
of them in total. At one point, we watched a Short-eared Owl with a small rodent in its talons as another Short-eared Owl and a Northern Harrier harassed the bird until it dropped its prey. The harrier came out on top, as it plucked the falling rodent right out of mid air. Flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were coming in to roost in the marsh and we saw a Great Blue Heron fly past the parking lot. The parking lot itself, was full of birders watching the owls from a distance. A Song Sparrow scratched about on the ground here, and was surprisingly our only one for the day.
We headed back to Kelowna and had an enjoyable dinner at White Spot, then headed
our separate ways, looking forward to what tomorrow may bring. We tallied our lists and we had seen 43 species for the day.
Jan 5 – Our morning began at the Apple Bowl, again at 8 AM. We headed over to Mount Royal Drive where an Anna’s Hummingbird has been visiting a feeder. As we waited for the hummingbird, a few other birds were about in the neighborhood. There were American Robins, California Quail, and a lovely little Golden-crowned Kinglet. Eventually, a female Anna’s Hummingbird showed up, and made several brief visits to the feeder.
Next, we stopped in at Thompson Brook Marsh in Kelowna, where we quickly found up to 4 Harris’s Sparrows, our target species for this location. Northern Harrier was another nice species to tally at this location.
We carried on to Okanagan Mountain Park, following up on a lead from Lesley, as she had several Northern Pygmy-Owls in the park on the Peachland Christmas Bird Count. As
soon as the vehicles came to a stop and folks got out, Michelle spotted the pygmy owl. It was sitting on a branch with a nice breakfast, some sort of small rodent. Compared to the owl, the rodent actually looked rather large. Other interesting birds noted included an immature Northern Shrike, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Bald Eagle, and three Western Bluebirds.
As we headed towards the Bennett Bridge, we made a short stop at Rotary Beach where we saw some Trumpeter Swans, along with our first Gadwall, Horned Grebe and Common Loon of the trip. Flocks of Bohemian Waxwings continuously flew overhead, and we ‘guestimated’ there were about 400 of them.
We crossed Okanagan Lake and made our way to Green Bay in West Kelowna. Upon arrival I was a little concerned to see a Cooper’s Hawk terrorizing the birds over the marsh. We were hoping to find a Swamp Sparrow here. I ‘pished’ and squeaked and coaxed Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows out of the marsh, but the Swamp Sparrow only let out a few call notes, remaining hidden.
In Summerland we checked out a grove of trees where Long-eared Owls have been known to roost, though we couldn’t find any today, so we carried on into Penticton where we checked the beach for gulls. There were a few hundred gulls present this morning, and most of them were California Gulls. A few Herring Gulls, Glaucous-winged Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls were mixed in, along with an adult Iceland Gull.
Our next stop was at the Esplanade Trails and yacht club in Penticton. It was rather quiet
here, though we still had a nice variety of species. Highlights included up to 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, including a ‘Myrtle’ race bird, a male Spotted Towhee, a Varied Thrush and two White-throated Sparrows! A flock of Redhead circled around the marina several times before landing on the water. We scanned through them, finding Hooded Merganser and Lesser scaup amongst them. American Coots were also numerous and we had a few Pied-billed Grebes and a female type Barrow’s Goldeneye here.
A short stop along the Okanagan River channel did not produce the hoped for Harlequin Duck, though we did see more Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Barrow’s Goldeneye
here. A Great Blue Heron flew overhead just as dusk was beginning to settle in.
We drove to our accommodation in Oliver, the Lakeside Resort, checked in and had a little rest, and then went out for dinner at the ‘Best of India’ restaurant. It was a lovely meal, and we were joined by George’s wife for dinner. After dinner we went out to try our luck at owling at Road 22 near Osoyoos. We parked, got out of the car, and I put my spotlight on the old barn and I was surprised to see a Great Horned Owl perched atop the old structure. ‘Hey, at least we’re not skunked’, I exclaimed. I shined my flashlight over a field of long grasses and weeds and got another shock as I spotted a Barn Owl coursing low over the vegetation. The Barn Owl made about 3 flights over the field and we were all able to enjoy watching this rather rare owl as it hunted. We tried a couple of locations for a Northern Saw-whet Owl with no luck, but as a consolation prize we had excellent views of a calling Western Screech-Owl along the dyke.
Jan 6 – After two days of lovely weather it was a little shocking to wake up this morning to winds and cooler temperatures. The wind did not persist long, and in the end it turned out to be quite a nice day once again. We took a short walk around the grounds of the Lakeside Resort in Oliver, where we are staying. Tucelnuit Lake was open so we had a nice assortment of waterfowl here including Canada Geese, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and our first Ring-necked Duck of the trip. Two subadult Bald Eagles were attempting to hunt some of the waterfowl on the lake, with no luck. Several Eastern Fox Squirrels were seen this morning. This eastern North American species was introduced into Washington State and has since spread into the Okanagan Valley about as far north as Okanagan Falls.
We made our way to Road 22, via a short stop to pick up coffee, and began our birding in the same weedy field we had seen the Barn Owl hunting over the night before. By day, the field was full of sparrows. We had many White-crowned Sparrows, as well as several American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows and a calling Swamp Sparrow here. Northern Harriers, all immatures, were about as well as other raptors including Red-tailed Hawks
and a pair of Bald Eagles at their nest, pointed out by Adam. A particularly attractive adult Peregrine Falcon was perched on a fence post next to a field full of ducks and geese. The birding along the S.E. dyke was quiet this morning, and we put it down to the light, but persistent wind that was blowing in from the south. A flock of Black-capped Chickadees entertained us along the way, and we heard but could not see, two Bewick’s Wrens. Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinch, House Finch and Red-winged Blackbird were also noted here.
Not far from Road 22, on Deadman Lake, we saw some waterfowl including Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Bufflehead, and our first American Wigeon of the tour. In a yard opposite the lake we counted up to 75 American Robins in a tree and three Yellow-rumped Warblers joined them! Another nearby small pond had a Trumpeter Swan resting on it.
Next we headed up into the Richter Pass to have a look for a few species of interest. Unfortunately we missed out on all three; Lesser Goldfinch, Gray Partridge, Chukar. We did still see some cool birds nonetheless. Up old Richter Pass Rd where we were looking for Lesser Goldfinches we did see a nice Rough-legged Hawk sailing over a ridge. We had nice views of Red-tailed Hawk here as well, and a hundred or so ravens filled the sky at
once. An adult Northern Shrike was seen on a couple of occasions and both times, allowed us very nice views. A flock of a hundred or so Pine Siskins wheeled against a hillside, but try as we might, we could not find the rare goldfinches.
At the Elkink Ranch we were a little bummed out when we arrived to see the rancher tearing around in his atv right where we were hoping to see Chukar. Needless to say we didn’t see any Chukar, but as a nice consolation prize, an adult Golden Eagle sailed over a ridge against the blue sky.
A visit to the Nighthawk Border Crossing produced barely any birds at all, other than House Finches and perhaps Black-billed Magpie. We chatted with the Canadian border guards and they said the partridge and chukar were often hiding in the trees right next
to their building, but not today. Here, we found out it was Maggie’s birthday, so we all wished her a happy birthday.
The afternoon was getting on, so we began our journey north. We stopped at the Vaseux Cliffs where we heard the call notes of a Canyon Wren up on the rocks. Sharp-eyed Michelle spotted the wren as it danced across the rock face. Several California Bighorn Sheep peered at us from the ledges above, while Mule Deer munched on grasses on the hillside.
We decided to have one more look for Long-eared Owls in Summerland, but the light was fading and by the time we got there it was a little bit hard to see into the tangles. We did not succeed in finding the Long-eared, but since we had found 5 species of owl on the tour, we were still very happy. The trip list for the tour this year was 86 bird species.
September 29 to Oct 2 – I arrived ahead of the group of September 29, flying into Saskatoon and picking up a rental vehicle, then driving north to Prince Albert for the night. I spent September 30 exploring Prince Albert National Park, beginning with a little exploration of the lovely little town of Waskesiu. It was cold, breezy and there was a skiff of snow on the ground. As I pulled up to the shore of Waskesiu Lake, I immediately
noticed a bunch of birds on the ground foraging. There were sparrows, including ‘Red’ Fox Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Harris’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow here. Hermit Thrush also hopped about on the ground, along with a number of ‘Slate-colored’ Dark-eyed Juncos. In the trees around the town, the wheezy calls of Boreal Chickadees were heard often, along with the mechanical ‘beeping’ of Red-breasted Nuthatches. I went to photograph some elk on a lawn, when I heard a strange call note. I tracked it down and it was a Palm Warbler, along with a few ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. A Black-backed Woodpecker was a nice surprise this morning, right near the playground on the shore of the lake. Huddled on the beach were a few Ring-billed, California and Bonaparte’s gulls.
I explored down the road to the Narrows, encountering about the world’s tamest Red Fox along the way. Obviously people had been feeding this animal. Down at the Narrows I saw a group of three River Otters on a sandbar, and today I saw many Red Squirrels and
several Mule and White-tailed deer as well. A Winter Wren called several times and appeared briefly. A short walk along the Treebeard Trail produced more Boreal Chickadees, another Winter Wren, some White-winged Crossbills and a late Orange-crowned Warbler.
Before I left the park I took a walk along the Boundary Bog Boardwalk. The highlight here for me was a stunning male Spruce Grouse that was sitting right in the middle of the trail. More Boreal Chickadees, my first Canada Jays, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and the calls of American Three-toed Woodpeckers were also found here. I drove back down to Saskatoon where I spent the night.
The next morning I headed out towards Viscount, east of Saskatoon, where ebird showed a few reports of Whooping Cranes. Today, a light snow fell for much of the day. Birds were numerous though. I found the area where a couple thousand Sandhill Cranes were
foraging on a distant hillside. Suddenly some white shapes appeared from behind a hill and they were Whooping Cranes, 9 of them.
Ponds and lakes in the Viscount area were full of the usual waterfowl, and fields had quite a few American Golden-Plovers today. Rusty Blackbirds were fairly common, at the edges of ponds and puddles. I searched through hundreds of Lapland Longspurs, looking for Smith’s Longspur with no luck. There were some Horned Larks mixed in however.
From Viscount I headed to Muskiki Lake and on a small puddle a few km from the lake, I found three more Whooping Cranes resting. One particular field had 70 or so American Golden-Plovers. Harris’s Sparrows were noted at various places today. Feeling I had successfully ‘scouted’ this area for the tour, I headed back to Saskatoon.
On my final morning of scouting, I was joined by Nancy, Liz and Cathy, from Prince
George. We returned to the Viscount area where again we found several Whooping Cranes at the same place I had seen them the day before. Liz spotted an American Goldfinch, and several Harris’s Sparrows along a muddy track. A single Rusty Blackbird flew overhead, calling.
Before we finished up for the day, I spotted an immature Sabine’s Gull, locally a rare bird, as it foraged on a lake alongside Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls. Near Crawford Lake we enjoyed watching a massive flock of geese, with mostly Snow Geese involved, as they flew and landed several times on the fields.
The group was supposed to all arrive this afternoon and evening, but mother nature had other plans. There was quite a significant early season snow fall in Calgary, and this delayed several people. Those of us that were present went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown Saskatoon.
Oct 3 – We awoke to a nicer day, with mixed sun and cloud as we explored trails along the South Saskatchewan River at ‘the weir’. A few lingering migrants were about including Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers, Lincoln’s, Swamp, Fox and
White-throated sparrows, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the like. Down on the river we spotted an adult Red-throated Loon, a local rarity that had been present for several days. Cathy spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron resting in the trees and it flushed and headed straight past much of the rest of the group. Blue Jays called, but mostly remained hidden in the trees. Downy and Hairy woodpeckers were noted here. By the time we were finished here, we’d tallied close to 40 species.
After a coffee stop, we returned to the airport area to pick up Dave and Julia, from California. They were supposed to arrive the previous evening, but the Calgary snowstorm had delayed them until lunch time today. Once they had joined us we headed east of Saskatoon to Colonsay where we had a delicious lunch at the Tin Shack Restaurant, home of the soon to be famous Meatloaf Grilled Cheese sandwich. After lunch we made our way to Viscount to find Whooping Cranes for the group. It took a bit
of searching, but eventually we found a group of Whooping Cranes in a field. We counted several times and eventually came up with 26 birds in the group, a great start to our crane and goose tour! In addition to the Whooping Cranes, there were many Sandhill Cranes in the area as well. We encountered a huge flock of Snow Geese this morning, and I got the scope out and showed the group one Ross’s Goose mixed in. Raptors were quite prevalent as well, with a lot of Red-tailed Hawks seen most days on tour. We had a couple of Bald Eagles this afternoon, as well as Northern Harrier and a Rough-legged Hawk. We returned to Saskatoon in the evening as the sun set. Back at the hotel we were met by Dave from Calgary, the final delayed participant to arrive! Finally, we were a full group, including 10 participants, myself and co-leader Melissa Hafting. We went for dinner at a local favorite restaurant, the Granary.
Oct 4 – This morning we headed S.E. of Saskatoon towards Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Refuge, apparently the oldest of its kind in North America. A locally rare Bay-breasted Warbler had been spotted along the S. Saskatchewan River at Kinsmen Park, so we checked here first. We couldn’t find the warbler, but we did see some other interesting species such as ‘Red’ Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. On the river we spotted the Red-throated Loon again, this time farther away, but nonetheless, a chance for those people who had not yet arrived when we saw the loon the first time, to see it as well themselves. We picked up lunch at Subway and then headed south. As we drove along Hwy 11, we spotted an unusual raptor sitting on a fence post next to the highway, so we pulled over, got out the scopes, and after walking a short distance closer, we determined it to be a light morph immature Rough-legged Hawk. Flocks of Snow Geese, Canada Geese, Cackling Geese, and a few Sandhill Cranes were scattered across the horizon.
The bumpy road towards the refuge produced a few flocks of geese, Northern Harrier,
and a number of Red-tailed Hawks. Melissa radioed to me that there were Gray Partridge up ahead so my van sped off to have a look. Luckily we arrived just in time and watched the covey of partridge wander across an open field and disappear into a stand of aspens. We took the ‘scenic route’ around Last Mountain Lake, due to the fact that on our main route in, there was a full on cattle drive in operation. The cowgirl, named ‘Cheryl’ apparently, kindly told us they’d be 20 min to a half hour until the cows were off the road, so we tried a different route. We didn’t end up at the headquarters on our first try, but rather at the Last Mountain Lake Regional Park, where a quick scan of the lake produced Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Bonaparte’s Gulls and more. In a nearby field we paused to look through a flock of mixed Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks. Our second try was successful and we ended up
at the refuge headquarters. Here, we utilized their facilities, and then embarked on the short walking look through the grasslands. It was cool and breezy out there, and we were all bundled up. Birds were few and far between as we walked through the mixed prairie grasses. Birding on the ponds and lakes, however, was very productive. We pulled up to the shore of the lake, got out our scopes and began scanning, new birds being called out from every which direction. ‘Great Blue Heron’, somebody said, and another person called out ‘American White Pelican’. There were American Avocets, Pectoral Sandpipers, Tundra Swans, Redheads, Canvasbacks. American Coots and many other species present here today. Raptors were also fairly numerous today, with several sightings of Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk and Merlin. Melissa’s participants saw our only Swainson’s Thrush of the tour, a bird perched on a fence post next to the road. Western
Meadowlarks were seen nicely as they skulked through the short grasses. All in all it was a fantastic day. We had dinner at a Greek place, that really wasn’t very Greek at all. We’ll all take a round of double moussakas!
Oct 5 – We loaded up our luggage today, as we would be traveling on to Prince Albert at the end of the day today. Once we picked up sandwiches at Subway from perhaps the most friendly Subway employee ever, we headed east to Viscount. Dave A, the most delayed of all the folks from Calgary’s weather fiasco, still hadn’t see Whooping Cranes, so we returned to the same area we had seen them two days earlier. It didn’t take long to spot the large white figures out in the field and within no time we were enjoying fantastic views of 26 Whooping Cranes through the scope! A short look in a patch of brush before we left added a Great Horned Owl to our trip list. We saw several American Tree Sparrows, and a White-breasted Nuthatch flew
right over our heads. New for the mammal list this morning were two Striped Skunks that were frolicking about at the edge of the road, and a Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrel seen by Melissa and her passengers.
We explored a road along the east side of Muskiki Lake next, and one of the first interesting species we saw was a Ruffed Grouse right on the side of the road. As we pulled up close to the grouse, a flock of Gray Partridge flew from one patch of trees to another. Where we had lunch it was pretty quiet, though Monica did hear a calling Blue Jay. Down on a pond closer to the lake were a couple hundred Cackling Geese. We paused to take some photos of a rather scenic red grain elevator, a real iconic Canadian scene, out on the prairie. I took the group to a pond north of Muskiki Lake where I had seen 3 Whooping Cranes earlier in the week. To my surprise there were 5 there today! Cathy almost flushed 2 American Golden-Plovers from the prairie right beneath her feet, but the birds scurried a short distance and we were able to view them through the scopes.
Making a last minute decision we altered our itinerary and headed for the town of Marcelin, about an hour away. There had been ebird reports of large numbers of Whooping Cranes in the area. We checked the ebird location, but found nothing but empty fields being worked over by harvesters. Next, we tried another spot that I had heard about, in some fields in the opposite direction. As we drove closer, I spotted a field dotted in large white birds. They were Whooping Cranes. We hopped out of the van and began counting. Our counts came up with a high of 126 Whooping Cranes, all in one flock! This made our day total of Whoopers, 157, not far off %30 of the wild world population of these beautiful birds. We all left feeling emotional and in awe that we had seen so many Whooping Cranes today.
Once in Prince Albert we went out for dinner at Amy’s Restaurant, which was very nice. After dinner we headed into the outskirts of Prince Albert, in the dark, ending up in front of the house of my friend’s Harold and Shelly Fisher, a father and daughter, who operate an owl banding station here. Technically, first we ended up in somebody else’s driveway, but that’s not important. Upon arrival we were greeted by Harold, and Shelly and her other half, Dale. They were holding two species of owl, one a Northern Saw-whet Owl and the other a Long-eared Owl. All 15 of us trudged into Harold’s kitchen where we
admired the owls and watched as the bird received its new piece of jewelry, a leg band with an identifying number on it. The owls were studied for plumage molt, and thus could be determined their age. By weighing the owls we determined the owl’s sex, as females are heavier than males. Liz got to release the lovely Long-eared Owl, whose name had now been coined as Hooper. Many others got to release Northern Saw-whet Owls, as we banded several of them tonight. A Barred Owl called from the woods here too. The night sky was wonderful, and we said goodbye to the banders and returned to Prince Albert for some much needed rest.
Oct 6 – After picking up lunch to go at Tim Horton’s, we left Prince Albert and drove north for about an hour, to Prince Albert National Park. Along the way, we paused to photograph a male Pileated Woodpecker that was working away on a telephone pole. Cathy thought she saw a Great Gray Owl, which got our excitement levels up, but upon
return the bird was no longer there. Once in the park, a few stray snowflakes were falling. We headed for the Boundary Bog trail and boardwalk. The first interesting birds we found were Golden-crowned Kinglets and several Boreal Chickadees. Farther along the path, several people caught a glimpse of a female Spruce Grouse in the bog. We all saw a female and then a male Spruce Grouse a little further down the path, where both were sitting at the edge of the trail. ‘Male American Redstart’, Nancy said, and we quickly scrambled to get the best viewing place of this little gem of a warbler as it foraged on, and close to the ground. It was moving about with one or two ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. Eventually everyone had a lovely look at the bird, which, though rather common as a breeding species, should be much farther south at this point in the migration.
We pulled into a parking spot in Waskesiu and I hopped out and exclaimed ‘Harris’s Sparrows’, as two of these rather uncommon, and sought-after sparrows, foraged on a grassy hillside. ‘Woodpecker’ called Monica, and once the scope was on the bird, it was revealed to be a female American Three-toed Woodpecker. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Dark-eyed Juncos were rather numerous, and there were a few Yellow-rumped Warbler
around, but Melissa found another nice rarity this morning, a male Cape May Warbler. This bird also got people scrambling, for good views and to grab their cameras. Out on a little rocky point there were Ring-billed, California and two Herring gulls, the latter species, the only for the tour of its kind. Another woodpecker flew over and Melissa and I discussed that we thought it was a Black-backed Woodpecker. It did not ever reappear however, so we will never know for sure.
We headed down the Narrows Road, pulling in at South Bay to have lunch. It was cold, and windy and everybody except me stayed in the vehicle to eat. By the time I had finished my sandwich, the lettuce poking out the far end had frozen! We flushed a male Snow Bunting from the side of the road as we headed towards the Narrows. We saw a few Canada Jays, as they gave off their alarm calls and slinked off into the boreal forest. A displaying male Ruffed Grouse was another great highlight this morning, as he pranced about at the side of the road with his black ruff fully flared out. At the Narrows there were a few Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Common Loon, and a Belted
Kingfisher. I let out my best Barred Owl imitation, and it must have been ok, since several of the birders in my group emerged from the woods to see where the owl was. It did attract a couple of Blue Jays and a Hairy Woodpecker at least. We had a quick look along the bottom reaches of the Treebeard Trail, but again did not find much. An American Three-toed Woodpecker was heard and my Barred Owl call entertained the group. As we drove back towards Waskesiu, Melissa radioed, ‘Snow Bunting’, so we stopped and sure enough there was another Snow Bunting, this one a female type, foraging in the leaflitter in the ditch. We returned to Waskeskiu via the golf course, where several Elk were resting and feeding on the greens. In town, some people went to look one more time for the Black-backed Woodpecker, but all they found was a Cooper’s Hawk and not much else. Others had a coffee and a snack in the deli before we began the journey of just over two hours back to Saskatoon. This evening we went out
for dinner at Station Place, an old railway car converted into a restaurant.
Oct 7 – Our final morning of birding in Saskatchewan began at 7 AM. We headed south of town to Blackstrap Reservoir where we spent much of the morning. Upon arrival we saw a whole group of Double-crested Cormorants, one of which was really harassing a Ring-billed Gull to give up its food. Dave A, and several others came back from a walk along the shore boasting they had seen a Yellow-headed Blackbird so we all went and took a look. Sure enough, a Yellow-headed Blackbird, a male, was foraging in the grasses right at the edge of the road. A female Belted Kingfisher sat in a bush next to the lake, surveying the situation, while on the water were Bufflehead, Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Lesser Scaup and more. A single American White Pelican was good to see, since some of the folks found a dead one on the beach as well. An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron, only our second for the trip, flew across the water. Overhead were skeins of Snow Geese and I picked out a Ross’s Goose, but couldn’t get anyone else onto it before they had disappeared. Four Harris’s Sparrows sat together on a fence next to the road at one point, and finally we had pretty good views of Blue Jays here. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were moving through the lakeside vegetation, and we saw a Hairy Woodpecker and a ‘Yellow-shafted’ Northern Flicker too. Our list of species for this location was nearly 40 species!
We headed back towards Saskatoon, stopping in at Gabriel Dumont Park. There had been a couple of uncommon warblers reported here the day before, but we couldn’t find them. Melissa and I did hear the ‘tshat’ call note of a Common Yellowthroat here though. Two Swamp Sparrows performed nicely for everyone, allowing scope views and Black-capped Chickadees were numerous. Our final official birding stop of the tour was at Heritage Park where there had been a Magnolia Warbler reported. It didn’t take too long for Melissa to find it and eventually most of us had enjoyed pretty good views. While searching for the Magnolia, I spotted a Nashville Warbler, and it was seen by at least one other tour participant. Both of these warbler species should be long gone from the Saskatoon area by this point in the fall migration. Another addition to the trip list here, finally, was Common Grackle. We saw White-breasted Nuthatch for just the second time on the tour, and Nancy pointed out a ‘Red’ Fox Sparrow here. We scurried off, as our bellies were telling us it was time for lunch. Our final meal of the tour was a good one at the Saskatoon landmark ‘The Berry Barn’. After lunch we returned to the airport area, said our goodbyes and hoped for smooth travels for everyone on their return trips home. Our trip list total was 107 bird species.
Day 1 I met three members of the group at the arrivals hall of Vancouver International Airport this evening. We made the short journey to our hotel in Richmond, where we met Tony and Eva, who had already been exploring Vancouver for about a week.
Day 2 At 8 AM we left our hotel and headed to Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, where we made our first official birding stop of the tour. It was quite a productive stop in fact, and we
had some great birds like Black Oystercatcher, Caspian Tern, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Northern Pintail, Pelagic Cormorant and several other species. We boarded the BC Ferry vessel at Tsawwassen and we departed for Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island at 10 AM. It was quite a nice day to be out on the Salish Sea, with calm waters, no rain and relatively little wind. There were few birds though. Some of the highlights included Glaucous-winged Gulls, California Gulls, Pelagic Cormorants, Surf Scoters, and a distant adult Parasitic Jaeger chasing after some gulls. Cyndy spotted some Black Turnstones that disappeared into the rocks before anyone else could see them. On the crossing we saw three mammals, Harbour Porpoise and Harbour Seal, and a buck Mule Deer on the shore of Galiano Island as we passed by.
We arrived on Vancouver Island at 11:45 AM sharp, and headed over to the Victoria
International Airport, at the end of Canora Road, to look for some open country species. In the hedges at the little cemetery there we saw several White-crowned Sparrows, with both adult and immature birds present. A Lincoln’s Sparrow sat atop the hedge for a moment before flying off, and a Bewick’s Wren showed quite well. Star of the show perhaps was a male Anna’s Hummingbird who put on a nice show for us. Overhead, we spotted some Turkey Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk and an American Kestrel, as well as a somewhat distant Peregrine Falcon. Cyndy spotted some Eurasian Skylarks here, a species found in North America only on southern Vancouver Island in the Victoria area.
We had lunch at Smitty’s in Sidney and then carried on south to Swan Lake Nature Reserve. At this point in the day it was quite pleasant with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Down at Swan Lake we scoped the slimy waters and found a nice selection of birds including Pied-billed Grebe, a stripy headed juvenile, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and American Wigeon. A group of half a dozen Pectoral Sandpipers flew about the shore as though they were looking for
somewhere to land. Unfortunately for them, there was no shore to land on. In the rather lush vegetation surrounding the lake we had some very nice birds this afternoon, and most of them we obtained good views of. There were a couple of male Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest woodpeckers on the continent, foraging amongst the Garry Oak trees. Chestnut-backed Chickadees, the only chickadee species found on Vancouver Island, were foraging as well and we saw a couple of tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets. Another Lincoln’s Sparrow popped up just long enough for a quite view, and more Bewick’s Wrens kept popping out of the bushes. Anna’s Hummingbirds were very numerous here as well, and we tallied over a dozen of them at Swan Lake. A Pacific-slope Flycatcher hopped about giving most of us at least reasonable views of it. Attractive Spotted Towhees lurked in the bushes, occasionally coming out to show themselves off, as they should! It was also very nice to get a view of a Marsh Wren as it poked about in a bundle of cattail fluff. New for the mammal list here was the invasive Eastern Gray Squirrel, perhaps not the most loved of North American exports to the U.K.
The day was getting on so we headed for Victoria where we checked into our hotel along the harbour. We had a very good dinner on the harbour at Belleville’s.
Day 3 Our first stop this morning was at Clover Point, a rocky headland that juts out into the Salish Sea at the south end of Vancouver Island. It was overcast, breezy and cool this morning, and we found ourselves suddenly looking for warm hats and jackets. A
lovely assortment of Black Oystercatchers and Harlequin Ducks greeted us along the shore at Clover Point. Also there, several gull species including the rather attractive Heermann’s Gull. We also had nice views of some of the more common species of gull here such as California Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull. Scanning out to sea we had somewhat distant views of Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemot, as well as Pelagic Cormorants, Mew Gulls, and Surf Scoters. One or two Savannah Sparrows briefly appeared on the rocky shore as well.
We headed for the somewhat sheltered portions of Beacon Hill Park. At first it appeared rather quiet in the park with just a few Mallards on one pond and a few Eastern Gray Squirrels hopping about on the grass. Things suddenly began looking up however, when we encountered a nice little flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees in the trees. Mixed in with them were Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and quite few Orange-crowned Warblers. A Pacific-slope Flycatcher appeared briefly, and we had nice views of a female Downy Woodpecker. A large, lanky Great Blue Heron
looked a bit out of place high up in a fir tree next to the pond. A couple of Dark-eyed Juncos made their cameo appearances, along with Song Sparrow, Anna’s Hummingbird and Bewick’s Wren. On the ponds we sorted through the Mallards and found American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal.
A much needed coffee break was taken before we walked out to the end of the Ogden Point Breakwater. Thankfully it was a little warmer now, and we when there were no birds to look at, there were two massive cruise ships pulled up nearby for our viewing entertainment. Best of all along the breakwater was a group of 20 or so Black Turnstones that were foraging on the rocks below us.
We had lunch in the Breakwater Café before heading west to Esquimalt Lagoon, via the Trans Canada Hwy. Along the way, we saw an Osprey flying over the water, presumably looking for its next meal. At the lagoon there were many gulls that included Glaucous-
winged, California, Mew and Heermann’s Gulls. A few shorebirds were present, including over a dozen Black Oystercatchers, 15 or so Western Sandpipers and 2 Least Sandpipers. Perhaps the best bird here, was a lovely adult Trumpeter Swan, with this particular bird having been present throughout the summer. Along the shoreline we saw a nice group of Brewer’s Blackbirds and they were joined by two juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. Out on the sea, we scanned with the scope, finding quite a few birds including Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklets, Horned and Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoter and Double-crested Cormorant. We returned to Victoria and had a very nice dinner at Jonathan’s Restaurant.
Day 4 Today we traveled from Victoria to Tofino, a journey of over 300 km. Before we left the hotel, our first American Robin was tallied in a berry tree next to the van. The trek to the west side of the island was broken up by a few stops, the first of which was at
Goldstream Provincial Park. Soon after we arrived and disembarked from the van, we spotted an immature American Dipper frolicking in the stream. We strolled along the stream which meanders through a nice patch of old growth coastal rainforest with towering Western Red Cedars, Douglas Firs and Douglas Maples. It was quite a nice morning, with a mix of sun and cloud, so we made the best of it. Birds were quite active and some of the highlights here included a stunning Red-breasted Sapsucker, as well as a female Pileated Woodpecker, North America’s largest living woodpecker species. Our first ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrows of the trip emerged from the vegetation as did a rather skulky little Pacific Wren. Diana and I had a short but good look at a male Black-throated Gray Warbler as it foraged in trees near the trail. Steller’s Jays, British Columbia’s official provincial bird, were quite evident here. One of the jays was giving a perfect Red-tailed Hawk imitation as it sat atop a tree stump. On the top of a distant conifer, a female Red Crossbill sat, and yet another highlight moment occurred when a female Belted Kingfisher came in and landed nearby for good scope views.
Our next stop was for coffee in Mill Bay, and then we had another very productive session of birding at Somenos Marsh in Duncan. We saw quite a few female Purple Finches here, and one nice rosy colored male. Common Yellowthroats played ‘peekaboo’ from within the grasses along the boardwalk and a Marsh Wren paused long enough for
scope views. Overhead, the sky seemed to be full of Violet-green Swallows and a few Barn Swallows. A Golden-crowned Sparrow sat atop a shrub, our first for the tour, while a Yellow Warbler hopped up into the sunlight at the top of a tree. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were seen, and a Northern Flicker was heard. Some of us caught a glimpse of a Willow Flycatcher in the vegetation and overhead several flocks of Cedar Waxwings flew by, but refused to land. One immature bird did show in the scope at a distance briefly, so we put them on the list for the day.
As we made our way to Coombs, where we had lunch, the rain began to fall, and was quite heavy at times. We had lunch at the ‘Goats on the Roof’ market in Coombs and it was pretty good. After lunch we made a short pit stop in Port Alberni to fuel up the thirsty van, and then as we left town, I spotted an adult Bald Eagle sitting in a tall cedar tree along the river. The rest of the drive to Tofino was rather wet, but once we arrived at our accommodations on McKenzie Beach, we settled in and headed to the restaurant for a nice dinner.
Day 5 After a nice breakfast at our hotel, we spotted a few birds hopping about in the trees near the parking lot, including Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped. Yellow and Townsend’s warblers, and Warbling Vireos. At our first stop, the Tofino Mudflats behind
Jamie’s Inn, we enjoyed seeing a group of a dozen Greater White-fronted Geese along with one lone Cackling Goose, the latter of which was a new species for everyone on the trip, except me. Around 30 Common Mergansers were seen at fairly close range as we arrived, but they quickly swam offshore and flew off. A group of Western Sandpipers flew past several times, but there were no other shorebirds to be seen here. This could be due to the fact that a Peregrine Falcon made a pass over the flats. Two Ospreys were a treat to see, and one of them had a fish in its grasp.
We checked the mudflats from the lookout at the end of Sharp Road next. We saw some Black-bellied Plovers, Great Blue Herons and a Belted Kingfisher here, as well as two rather obliging Hutton’s Vireos in the cedar overhead. The showstopper here though, was a rather large Black Bear that we watched through the scope for half an hour or so as it rambled through the grass along the shore. Occasionally the bear would flip a rather
large boulder over and eat whatever it found underneath. It would be hard to top this sighting today!
Next, we visited the area at the south end of the Tofino Airport. The open, scrubby habitat here produced a number of sparrows such as Golden-crowned, White-crowned, ‘Sooty’ Fox, Song, Lincoln’s and Savannah sparrows! Certainly a highlight here were the Cedar Waxwings, as many of them were foraging in the trees not far from the road. We had our first tantalizing view of Northern Flicker, a bird the group really wants to see. Another group of geese flew overhead, this time containing 14 Greater White-fronted Geese and two Cackling Geese. A number of tiny Vaux’s Swifts, looking more like bats that birds as Cyndy noted, allowed us great views as the flew down low over the shrubs. We even saw two of the larger Black Swifts up in the sky this morning as well.
Wickaninnish Beach was our most productive area today. We scanned out over the Pacific from the viewing deck, spotting such gems as Red-throated and Pacific loons, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Brandt’s Cormorant, Surf Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, and quite a few distant Sooty Shearwaters. Folks were quite excited to see Common Loons in their rather stunning breeding plumage here today as well. On the beach, there were perhaps a couple of hundred silvery Sanderlings running about at the edge of the waves. Mixed in amongst them were a few Western Sandpipers.
Next on the agenda was lunch and we had that in Ucluelet at the Gray Whale Deli. When we walked out of the door of the restaurant I mentioned to watch for Bald Eagles. ‘Like
that one’, said Cyndy, as she pointed to an adult Bald Eagle perched on top of a cedar! We then headed for the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. It was very scenic here, with the rugged west coast at its finest. Birds were few on the water, though there were scoters and cormorants flying by offshore. In the trees along the trails here we had some Golden-crowned Kinglets and a very inquisitive Hutton’s Vireo.
In Ucluelet, we visited the harbour, checking the area near a fish processing plant. A few fisherman were cleaning their catch, a nice looking halibut, and they threw some of the skin and bones into the water. A large Steller’s Sea-Lion was feasting on the scraps, as was a smaller Harbour Seal. Out on the rock jetty were a few dapper Black Turnstones, and we studied and interesting gull that was most likely a Herring X Glaucous-winged gull hybrid. Our second Bald Eagle of the day, another adult flew right overhead, and the cameras clicked.
We made another stop at Wickaninnish Beach, this time heading south from the visitor’s center towards what’s known as South Beach. A gentle rain fell, but stopped shortly after. A sign at the beginning of the trail warned of a bear in the area. We saw several large piles of scat as well. At South Beach, which is pebbly and covered in seaweed and driftwood, there were several Spotted Sandpipers, which, at this time of the year, have no spots. Also there were Least Sandpipers and a number of Savannah Sparrows foraging on the beach. Scanning the ocean one more time, produced more views of the same seabirds, though a nice group of Sooty Shearwaters came in fairly close. In the fir trees beside the parking lot, a group of Red Crossbills, with male, female and two immatures, were feeding in the cones. Just as we returned to Tofino the rain began to fall
and continued, quite heavy into the night. We had a very nice meal in town at Schooner’s this evening.
Day 6 We had planned on going birding before breakfast this morning, but the weather did not permit it. After we had breakfast we took a stroll down to Mackenzie Beach to see what was about, and by then the rain had stopped and there was blue sky on the horizon. In the bushes before we got to the beach were Savannah Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows. We found a locally rare Clay-colored Sparrow hopping about in the gardens of our hotel as well. Offshore rocks down at the beach had Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants and an adult Greater White-fronted Goose. Bobbing on the ocean were Surf Scoter, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe and a few Heermann’s Gulls.
We made our way to the dock to catch our 11 AM boat trip to see bears. The trip was full, with not a seat left and nearly everyone on board was from the U.K.! Eva and I and the two staff on the boat were the only Canadians. We steamed up into the inlet at a good pace, spotting a Bald Eagle on the way. Once we were in the area where the bears frequent, the skipper brought down the speed of the boat and the excitement was increasing amongst the passengers. A Black Bear was spotted and we headed towards
him. He was quite large with a healthy, shiny black coat, and we was turning over large boulders with the mere swat of his paws. These bears are some of the largest in North America and that is because they are well fed on seafood. The skipper came down and asked if we’d be keen on chasing some Orcas that had been spotted nearby. Nobody complained about this and were no sooner speeding off, past salmon farms, around lushly vegetated islets and into the upper reaches of the inlet when we spotted the first spout. There were two Killer Whales here, a female and an old male, and these were of the rather fierce transient variety, famous for eating salmon, seal and sea lions. Soon, the whale took a deeper dive and we sat for a while wondering where it would pop up. With a sudden ‘whoosh’ of air, the large bull surfaced right next
to our boat and did so several times! What an amazing and unforgettable sight. We then turned our attention back to Black Bears, finding a couple more large individuals foraging along the beaches. We headed back towards Tofino, again spotting a majestic adult Bald Eagle watching over the harbour from its perch high in a massive cedar tree.
Back on dry land we visited the shop at Jamie’s and then headed for some lunch at the Rhino Café. After lunch we visited the local grocery store and then returned to our hotel and had a little time to explore the beach this lovely afternoon. We enjoyed dinner at our hotel and then hurried off for some much needed rest.
Day 7 Once again we met at the dock at Jamie’s, this time at 8 AM for a whale watching trip. A bit of early morning fog quickly burned off and it ended up being a very nice day today. As we entered the lot at Jamie’s, two Raccoons sauntered across the road to the
edge of some blackberry bushes, looking as though they were up to no good. Once on the boat, the Chinook Princess we steamed around Vargas Island and back to Tofino. The journey took about 3 hours as we slowed down to view various types of wildlife along the way. There were Harbor Seals hauled up on the rocks, each one with a somewhat different pattern on its fur. Another rocky island was covered with Steller’s Sea-Lions, and a bull sat on an elevated perch and watched over his rather large harem. Cyndy and Diana spotted a Harbor Porpoise and the show stoppers were the Sea Otters. Several of these fluffy little balls of cuteness laid on their backs, wrapped in seaweed, and stared at us. In the bird department there were a lot of Pigeon Guillemots seen today, along with Rhinoceros Auklet, Common Murre and a couple of Marbled Murrelets. Surf Scoters were quite common, but we only saw one or two White-winged Scoters out there this morning. A few Red-necked Phalaropes fluttered past the boat, and we also saw some Black
Oystercatchers on the rocky islets. Up to three Bald Eagles were noted on the trip, with two adults and a darker immature bird tallied. Heermann’s Gulls showed themselves nicely and Tony and I saw an adult Western Gull sat next to a Glaucous-winged Gull for comparison. We had seen no whales today, but we were quite happy with what we had seen.
After lunch at Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, we checked out the mudflats quickly. There was not much action here as the tide was quite far out, though we did see Great Blue Herons and Greater White-fronted Geese. In the bushes next to the boardwalk were Common Yellowthroat, and Orange-crowned and Yellow warblers. Down at the Tofino Airport it was much quieter today than it had been a few days earlier. There were just a few Fox, Song, and White-crowned sparrows about today, as well as just one Cedar Waxwing. Two Northern Flickers showed quite well here however which was nice, and an American Kestrel flew overhead. At Long Beach the highlights were several Red
Crossbills feeding on cones next to the parking lot, and a Merlin spotted soaring overhead by Cyndy.
Our final birding stop of the day was at Radar Hill. Here, we took in the stunning views of Clayoquot Sound and read the information at the Kap Yong War Memorial. Birds were few up here, though we did see a Townsend’s Warbler, a Hutton’s Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglets, American Robin, Fox Sparrow and a nice Golden-crowned Sparrow. Common Raven flew by, croaking as it went along. This evening we had a very nice meal in Tofino at the Shelter.
Day 8 After breakfast we said farewell to Tofino and traveled south towards Ucluelet. Along the way we stopped in a Wickaninnish Beach to try one more time for the sought-after Wandering Tattler. We searched the rocks offshore and the pebble beach for the tattler, but he was hiding very well. Just as we were about to leave I spotted a tattler resting on some barnacle covered rocks. Farther out on the rocks were a couple of Black Turnstones and a Black Oystercatcher. A quick scan from the Kwisitis Visitor’s Center viewing deck was productive as we saw 4 Marbled Murrelets in a little group, as well as a group of Red-throated Loons bobbing up and down on the sea.
In Ucluelet, we made a short stop for coffee and then headed down to the community dock. We searched for Surfbird, which had been reported here, but couldn’t find it. We did, however, see our first Iceland Gulls of the tour. Steller’s Sea-Lion also played in the harbour this morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day for our drive across island, and we timed it just right to miss a section of road construction where the road would be closed for an hour. Phew!
In Port Alberni we had lunch and then made our way to Cathedral Grove. The towering trees here were very impressive. The Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars and Western Hemlocks here can be over 800 years old. We didn’t see too many birds, other than Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Pacific Wrens, but that didn’t matter. We were here to see what a real old growth temperate rainforest is like.
Once at French Creek we visited the marina. There had been a special bird reported here, a Yellow-billed Loon. A bit of scanning turned up some Common Loons, Pacific Loons and eventually the Yellow-billed Loon as well. Four Greater Yellowlegs, the first of
their type we’d spotted, rested and fed on a sandbar at the estuary of French Creek. Also here were a few Killdeer. A Belted Kingfisher sat on a tree stump, that is until the cameras were aimed at it, and it was off like a shot. A Rhinoceros Auklet popped up right in front of us and a Pelagic Cormorant fed in the protected waters of the marina. A few Black Turnstones sat on the rocks at the edge of the breakwater.
Not far away, at the mouth of Englishman River, we scanned out to sea, spotting a nice surprise, an immature Ancient Murrelet. A flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls out over the sea were being chased by a Parasitic Jaeger, and then shortly thereafter by a Peregrine Falcon. Harlequin Ducks seen here, along with some nice Pacific Loons, Horned Grebes and Red-necked Grebes. Little was at the estuary, being it was high tide, though we did see some Green-winged Teal.
Soon we found ourselves in Nanaimo where we checked into our hotel, overlooking the harbour, and then we had a nice dinner, complete with a taste of Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake (for some).
Day 9 Our last morning on Vancouver Island was a beautiful one. It was sunny and warm as we walked along the west side of Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. I say the west side, because we saw so many birds we never made it more than a quarter around the marsh loop. We were almost immediately inundated with ‘Audubon’s’, and ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers, some Orange-crowned Warblers, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bewick’s Wrens, White-crowned Sparrows and Spotted Towhees. We had our first Ruby-
crowned Kinglet flitting about here in the trees, and we also saw our first American Goldfinches, a flock of them, all in winter plumage. Downy Woodpeckers foraged on the limbs of the trees and some Purple Finches were a nice treat as well. A Virginia Rail called several times from the marsh but remained hidden in the reeds. On the lake were Ring-necked Ducks and Wood Duck, both new for the trip list, as well as Pied-billed Grebe which we had only seen once thus far, much earlier on in the trip. Our best find today was an immature Broad-winged Hawk that was sitting above us in the dead top of a tree next to the marsh. This species primarily migrates to the east of the Rocky Mountains and is quite rare on Vancouver Island, with most sightings being of birds migrating overhead.
We made our way to Duke Point where we caught the ferry at 12:45 PM to Tsawwassen. We saw little in the way of birds during the crossing, and there was a brief Orca sighting, as the captain of the ship announced its presence. It was a nice crossing anyhow, and we enjoyed lunch in the cafeteria.
Once back on the mainland we headed for Boundary Bay at 104th St. The tide was just reaching its highest point as we arrived and there was a large flock of 200 or so Black-bellied Plovers resting out on the tufts of grass. An American Golden-Plover was a good bird to pick up amongst the Black-bellieds. Down towards the pilings we saw quite a few Pectoral Sandpipers and some very nice Baird’s Sandpipers. Seen flying past us were Long-billed Dowitchers and a Semipalmated Plover. A single Greater Yellowlegs let out
its call, a wild, plaintive ‘killy killy killy’ that rang out over the mudflats. This was just our second time on tour so far to see Ring-billed Gull, as several sat on grassy islets. Up to 200 Northern Pintail gathered on the mudflats as the tide was retreating. The bushes next to the dike were alive with White-crowned, Lincoln’s and Song sparrows, as well as our first Black-capped Chickadees and House Finch of the tour. American Pipits foraged along the shore, allowing scope views. The afternoon was getting on so we returned to the van and drove to our hotel in Richmond. Dinner at Boston Pizza was enjoyable.
Day 10 At 8 AM we left the hotel and made our way to the Iona Sewage Ponds, next door to Vancouver International Airport. Our first Northern Harrier of the tour, a nice female, flew past low over the mudflats on approach to Iona. We spent some time checking out the four inner ponds and one outer pond that make up the Iona Sewage
Ponds. Shorebirds were not numerous but we did find our first Lesser Yellowlegs here, along with Spotted Sandpiper, a Long-billed Dowitcher, several Pectoral Sandpipers and a tame Least Sandpiper. Cyndy photographed a Greater Yellowlegs, our only one for the day. A Wilson’s Snipe was flushed from the shore, and gave its short raspy call as it flew off. Waterfowl on the pond included Northern Pintail, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler and our first Gadwall of the tour. Quite a few sparrows were lurking in the bushes and along the side of the path. There were Song, Savannah, Lincoln’s, White-crowned and Golden-crowned sparrows here, as well as Spotted Towhees, House Finches, Common Yellowthroat and female Red-winged Blackbird. At one point, two Peregrine Falcons sailed in and progressed to hunt together, disappearing over the mudflats. On the outer pond we finally caught up with American Coots, and we saw more waterfowl including Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Mallards. The real highlight here was watching a pair of River Otters foraging at the edge of the reeds for several minutes.
Our next stop was at Queen Elizabeth Park, inside the city limits of Vancouver proper. We checked the big cedar trees for roosting owls with no luck, though we did find a few lingering migrants such as Wilson’s Warbler and Hermit Thrush. Another Gadwall, an attractive male, was on a small pond here amongst dozens of Mallards. We got our daily dose of Eastern Gray Squirrel here, as one of the black individuals bounded across the lawn.
We had lunch in Steveston at the Cimona Café and it was very nice. As we ate, a light rain began to fall outside. We checked more big cedar trees for owls at the Alaksen
Wildlife Refuge headquarters and then checked an old barn for Barn Owls, with no luck at either spot. As a nice consolation prize we were entertained by 15 Sandhill Cranes in a field not far from the road. We opened the door of the van, and even though it was raining, we enjoying watching cranes in comfort. As we crossed over the Westham Island Bridge we saw two Mute Swans paddling along in a little canal, our only for the tour. Other birds seen on Westham Island included Eurasian Collared-Dove and Cooper’s Hawk.
As the tide was rising we were positioned along the dike at Boundary Bay at the foot of 96th Street and then we checked the foot of 88th St as well. There were many shorebirds here today, including upwards of 700 Black-bellied Plovers, an American Golden-Plover, over a hundred Sanderling, a hundred plus Western Sandpipers, dozens of Pectoral Sandpipers, 4 Killdeer, 4 Baird’s Sandpipers, a Dunlin, 4-5 Red Knot, and two lovely Marbled Godwits. Raptors were numerous around Boundary Bay this afternoon. There were Northern Harriers and Peregrine Falcons terrorizing the birds on the mudflats, as
well as an adult Bald Eagle perched on a telegraph pole right overhead. At one stop, near the railway tracks, we had a ‘raptorfest’ as Cyndy called it. First, a Bald Eagle was seen in a tall tree and we then spotted a Merlin in the next tree over. A moment later a Red-tailed Hawk came in and chased the Merlin off, which flew a short distance to a fencepost. On a fencepost behind the Merlin we spotted a lovely juvenile Northern Harrier. It was all very exciting and cameras clicked wildly from all corners of the van. My camera was in the back of course. Another of the better birds of the day, an American White Pelican was seen through the scope on the mudflats, and this is a fairly rare species for the Lower Mainland. Next to an old barn with some old farm equipment we found several birds scratching about on the ground, such as House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and Lincoln’s Sparrows. It began to rain harder as we returned to our hotel. We enjoyed our final dinner at a local steakhouse.
Day 11 It was our last morning of the tour and we began with breakfast at Cora. It had rained a lot overnight, but the showers cleared for us today, leaving just cloudy skies and
cool temperatures. We visited the famous George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner today, exploring trails, hides and the gift shop at the refuge headquarters. We bought a small package of bird seed as well to feed the birds. As we walked the trails folks held seed in the palm of their hands and cute little Black-capped Chickadees came in to feed in droves. Soon thereafter, a group of Red-winged Blackbirds arrived and decided they were going to feed from the hand as well. Some of the brave blackbirds even sat on the tour participant’s heads! Waterfowl were plentiful at Reifel and we saw stunning male Wood Ducks here, along with Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, Green-winged Teal and a lone Trumpeter Swan! Several American Coots were seen, and Diana pointed out a pair of coot feet, with nothing else attached, atop the viewing tower. Obviously some sort of raptor had enjoyed a coot meal. Along the pathways there were many sparrows that included the regular species like Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Fox, Song and Lincoln’s sparrows. Feeding on the wing were several species of swallows including Barn Swallow and Violet-green Swallow which we had already seen on the tour, and Purple Martin, Cliff Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow, all of which were new for us. From the viewing tower we scanned the delta of the Fraser River, and I spotted one lonely Snow Goose out there. Northern Harriers sailed about the marsh, and a single Bald Eagle sat on a distant pole. Some
shorebirds were noted here today including both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs and good numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers. We encountered a group of 30 or more Bushtits that were foraging in the weeds and long grasses along the edge of the trail. Diana spotted a Mink running on the trail in front of us, the second one we’d seen on the tour. Our final new bird species for the list was an adult Black-crowned Night Heron that was snoozing in the trees near a pond.
Before we left Westham Island we checked out the trees at the entrance to the Alaksen Wildlife Refuge once more for owls. Unfortunately, the owls were not cooperating on this tour. We headed towards the airport and had a late lunch at Denny’s before I said goodbye to the group and wished them safe travels back to the U.K. We had tallied 149 species, a respectable total indeed.
Aug 17 – Our International Ornithological Congress birding tour of the south Okanagan Valley began bright and early on Friday, August 17th, 2018. We met in downtown Vancouver at 6 a.m. and drove east up the Fraser Valley to find a good breakfast place and a quiet spot for some introductory birding. There were six participants, and four of them were from outside North America, so even the common species were exciting on the first day. A couple of stops in the eastern Fraser Valley got us started with Eurasian Collared Dove, Northern Flicker, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Siskin, and Orange-crowned Warbler.
At Hope we began the climb into the North Cascades; birds were quiet in the coastal rain forests on this western slope and the smoke from interior forest fires began to noticeably
thicken. At Manning Park we drove up into the subalpine meadows, where the air was clearer and birding was good. We saw Steller’s Jays, Canada Jays, Red-tailed Hawks, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets and Townsend’s Warblers in the spruce-fir forests.
After lunch we got back on the highway and continued east into the dry Interior forests around Princeton. At August Lake we had our first taste of waterbirds, adding Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot, along with Western Wood-Pewee and Brewer’s Blackbird.
Driving east, the smoke became somewhat apocalyptic around Keremeos, so we just stopped to load up on peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries (and California Quail) at a local fruit stand and continued on to the hotel in Osoyoos.
August 18 – The next morning, some of the group set out for some early morning birding west of Osoyoos, and the area was very birdy despite very thick smoke and dark conditions. We added Mourning Dove, Eastern Kingbird, Western Bluebird, Gray Catbird,
Cassin’s Finch, Spotted Towhee, Western Tanager, and Lazuli Bunting in a flurry of birding.
After breakfast we all travelled to the north end of Osoyoos Lake. A stop at the highway bridge over the lake netted Red-necked Grebe, Ring-billed and California Gulls and an Osprey. At the north end of the lake, the meadows were full of American Goldfinch and Red-winged Blackbirds, and the marshy ponds had Virginia Rail, Sora, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, an immature Bald Eagle and a Yellow-headed Blackbird. A Belted Kingfisher was a bonus along the Okanagan River.
Next was a stop at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, where bird numbers are monitored each fall through censuses and mist-netting. We were fortunate to find an Olive-sided Flycatcher in one of the nets, a species which breeds at higher elevations or further north.
We then drove west to the sagebrush grasslands of White Lake, where we had good views of Western Meadowlark and Vesper Sparrow. On the lake itself we added Baird’s Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher and an assortment of waterfowl.
After a short siesta at the hotel, we drove up Anarchist Mountain east of Osoyoos. The pine forests there had Mountain Chickadee and Pygmy Nuthatch, and the hummingbird feeders at our restaurant hosted Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds. After supper we spotted a Great Horned Owl silhouetted on a roadside powerline at dusk.
August 19 – Sunday morning dawned very smoky as well, so we headed back to the Kruger Mountain Road area after breakfast, where the birding was very good in the open, shrubby forest. A big flock of Violet-green Swallows lined the power lines, and in the shrubs we saw a good variety of species including Downy Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Cassin’s Vireo, House Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskins, Northern Waterthrush, and Black-headed Grosbeak. At some local feeders
we added an Anna’s Hummingbird.
Then it was back on the highway for the return trip to Vancouver. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Lightning Lakes in Manning Park, attracting a flock of Canada Jays to our table and Chestnut-backed Chickadees in the forest close by. An afternoon walk at Strawberry Flats was quiet except for Dark-eyed Juncos, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a single White-winged Crossbill.
We arrived back in Vancouver tired and smoky, but we’d seen or heard 120 species of birds.
Great Blue Heron
Least Sandpiper (leader only)
Western Kingbird (leader only)
Nor. Rough-winged Swallow
Wilson’s Warbler (leader only)
Savannah Sparrow (leader only)
The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) pre-conference tour from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley was attended by 9 people, and two guides. We split up into two groups, one led by myself and three scientists from Beijing, China, and the other with Dick Cannings as guide and 6 folks from various places. Dick’s write-up will follow this one, so be sure to read both to find out how many species each group saw.
August 17 – I met the three clients in West Vancouver, bright and early on August 17 at 6 AM. We drove east through the Fraser Valley, spotting our first species, Northwestern Crows, alongside the Trans-Canada Hwy. Smoke from widespread forest fires would accompany us for most of our tour unfortunately, and we could see the forest above Hope burning in the high country. After a short stop in Hope to pick up lunch, we headed to Sumallo Grove in Manning Park. Amongst the towering hemlock, cedar and fir trees we saw a few birds of interest including Yellow Warbler, Pacific Wren, Song Sparrow and some lovely Golden-crowned Kinglets. I spotted an American Dipper, but it flew away just as I pointed it out to the others.
Next, we explored the Alpine Meadows Road, climbing up to nearly 2000 meters elevation at the top. A few stops along the way up the road produced Mountain
Chickadees, Canada Jays, Steller’s Jays, Common Raven and Yellow-rumped Warblers to name a few species. At the top parking lot we were treated to up close views of a male Sooty Grouse as he fed amongst the grasses. On a short walk up to the radio tower I heard the wheezy calls of Boreal Chickadee, but the birds would not appear for us. Another leader only bird, a Black Swift sailed overhead, but disappeared behind the trees before the pax could see it. We did enjoy several comical Columbian Ground-Squirrels as they called loudly in protest of our presence. Down at the viewpoint we had several Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels as well, and our first Yellow Pine Chipmunk.
A walk at ‘the Beaver Pond’ was quite nice, though birds were somewhat quiet. We did have good looks at a female type Barrow’s Goldeneye that was actively feeding in the water. A Merlin sailed by and landed on a distant snag, thanks to Dick Cannings for point it out to us.
The skies turned a dark red as we approached Keremeos, where even more large fires were burning in the mountaintops. A roadside stop was very productive, adding our first of many Ospreys of the tour, and our only adult Bald Eagle of the trip. The Ospreys, included a juvenile on a nest, which was joined by and adult. For Lei, this bird was very special as it was one she had always wanted to see.
At Nighthawk Road, we found a nice little group of migrant sparrows that included Chipping, Brewer’s, Vesper and Lark sparrows. We flushed a group of nearly 20 Gray Partridge from the roadside weeds at one point as well. Nearby, we stopped to check out Frank Lake, and were rewarded with quite a few new species such as Great Blue Heron, American Coot, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and a number of Pied-billed Grebes. We checked into our hotel in Osoyoos and then went out for a delicious evening meal at a nearby Italian restaurant.
August 18 – Taking advantage of early morning bird activity, we met at 6 AM and went out for a couple of hours before we had breakfast. We explored the Road 22 area, which was very ‘birdy’ this morning. Raptors were a main highlight however, and we saw an adult Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, a couple of immature Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and many Ospreys. Western Wood-Pewees were flycatching from a fence line and were briefly joined by one or two Willow Flycatchers. Our first Red-winged Blackbirds posed nicely and we found two juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds being fed by a relatively small female Common Yellowthroat. Our first groups of California Quail caused excitement amongst the people in my vehicle, as it was the first time they had
ever seen these comical and attractive game birds. In a muddy patch in a distance field we scoped some shorebirds that included both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Killdeer and a number of unidentified ‘peeps’. A Solitary Sandpiper flew over and called, showing us its distinctive tail pattern. Weedy patches were full of American Goldfinches, some House Finches, some Savannah Sparrows and overhead, I spotted a leader only Bobolink. Overhead, a couple of small groups of Northern Pintail flew by, adding another tick to our day list. One of the highlights this morning was a Belted Kingfisher that sat on a fence very close to us, allowing incredible views. We headed back into Osoyoos, but not before a short stop at another muddy patch at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. Dick had spotted a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher here, locally quite rare, and we were quite happy to find it was still there when we arrived. The Short-billed was next to an adult Long-billed Dowitcher, and also nearby were over half a dozen Wilson’s Snipe, a Lesser Yellowlegs and Killdeer. As we drove across the bridge on Hwy 3 in Osoyoos we saw an attractive adult Red-necked Grebe, and Qingshan said that the stripy headed juveniles were even more attractive.
After breakfast we traveled east of Osoyoos, to Anarchist Mountain. In a grassland area we saw our first Swainson’s Hawks, three of them. A group of noisy Steller’s Jays caught my attention as we hiked through a nice patch of mixed forest on Anarchist Mountain. Their raucous calls led me right to a roosting Great Horned Owl. Upon spotting me, the owl flew a short distance and was joined by a second bird. ‘It’s always a good day when
you see an owl’, I commented. Other species seen on our walk included White-breasted and Red-breasted nuthatches, House Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Clark’s Nutcracker, Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture. An American Red Squirrel, which was at least partially seen by the participants, was our only for the weekend.
Back down in the valley, upon request, we headed for a winery for lunch, visiting the idyllic location of Covert Farms near Oliver. We enjoyed lunch and a sip of wine before heading back out into the field. Around the winery we saw Western Bluebirds, Western Tanager, American Robins, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Brewer’s Blackbirds and more. Carrying on, we explored White Lake, where a few shorebirds were foraging along the muddy fringe of the lake. There were Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe and Killdeer here, as well as two Red-necked Phalaropes out on the water. Ducks included all three local species of teal (Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon), as well as Gadwall and Mallard. Near White Lk, we scoped a pair of re-introduced Burrowing Owls near the burrow. At Three Gates Farm we had a quick visit, spotting our first Pine Siskin and Spotted Towhee of the tour.
Before returning to Osoyoos, we headed up Irrigation Creek Road, near Vaseux Lake. In a
patch of elderberries along a little stream, we counted close to 15 Lewis’s Woodpeckers. A Hairy Woodpecker was here as well, but it was not see by the others unfortunately. A Canyon Wren emerged from the cliff and called for several minutes while we watched through the scope. Our first Pygmy Nuthatch sat on a pine snag for scope views, our third and all three species of nuthatch in Canada seen in one day. As we drove down by the cliffs, a flock of 75 Black-billed Magpies crossed the road. Say’s Phoebe sat on a fence post here as well.
Back in Osoyoos we had dinner before heading out to search for nocturnal birds in the Richter Pass area. It was not our night, however, and we heard no owls and saw no poorwills. We did see some very small bats feeding over a calm pond however, which was interesting.
August 20 – Before leaving Osoyoos, we were sure to see some of the common urban birds, such as House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Ring-billed Gull and California Gull, boosting up our trip list. Back at the north end of Osoyoos Lake, we caught up with a couple more species this morning, such as a Virginia Rail and a Sora, both seen quite well. Also found was a Northern Waterthrush, a Lazuli Bunting and a leader only Marsh Wren. The birding on Old Richter Pass Road was very good this morning as we encountered a couple of large mixed migrant flocks. We had done poorly on warblers up until this point, but here we added Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Nashville and a leader only MacGillivray’s Warbler to the list. A nice bright Cassin’s Vireo came in to investigate us along with some shy Gray Catbirds, several Black-headed Grosbeaks and colorful Western Tanagers. A male Downy Woodpecker appeared on the scene, again another treat for my clients who were fond of woodpeckers. Mule Deer came out of the woods to check us out, and having seen White-tailed Deer earlier in the trip, made or a nice comparison. Farther down the road in an open area there were dozens of American Goldfinches. Mixed in were also Savannah Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch and more. A Red-naped Sapsucker sat on a post long enough for good scope views. We also saw several Northern Flickers, including a male integrade ‘Red-shafted / Yellow-shafted’ bird. On the wires were dozens of Violet-green Swallows, providing us the first good views of this species for the trip. An immature Cooper’s Hawk ripped through the flock, but seemed to miss its intended catch. Along Kruger Mountain Road we were excited to find two of the continuing Lesser Goldfinches in the area. There was a male and a female bird here, next to a small vineyard. Also noted were Red Crossbill, Western Tanager, and our first Cedar Waxwings. After we narrowly missed being eaten by two giant growling Rottweilers, we headed over to a friend’s house to search for hummingbirds. We were not disappointed as we saw an immature male Anna’s Hummingbird, a Calliope Hummingbird and a Rufous Hummingbird here.
As the morning was now getting on, it was time for us to begin traveling. On the way to Princeton, I came to a fast stop when I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers on a roadside telephone pole. By the time I backed up, the birds were unfortunately gone. We had lunch in Princeton and returned to Vancouver, adding a Glaucous-winged Gull as the final species on our tour. I really enjoyed birding with Yiqi, Lei and Qingshan, and hope to make their acquaintance again someday! Our final species total was 115 for the group plus 17 species seen or heard by the leader only.
Our trip list:
Hooded Merganser (leader only)
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Common Nighthawk (leader only)
Black Swift (leader only)
Hairy Woodpecker (leader only)
Pileated Woodpecker (leader only)
Hammond’s Flycatcher (leader only)
Warbling Vireo (leader only)
Tree Swallow (leader only)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow (leader only)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (leader only)
Boreal Chickadee (leader only)
Brown Creeper (leader only)
Marsh Wren (leader only)
American Dipper (leader only)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (leader only)
Swainson’s Thrush (leader only)
MacGillivray’s Warbler (leader only)
Townsend’s Warbler (leader only)
Dark-eyed Junco (leader only)
Bobolink (leader only)
132 species, counting leader only. 115 species for group.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours