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.
At 6:30 AM, I met Trevor, from the U.K. at the Air BnB he was staying at in Lake Country. We headed directly for Beaver Lake Road where we would spend the majority of our morning. Though we had planned to spend a full day out in the field, forecast temperatures for today were to reach 40 degrees Celsius, so we decided to do just a half day instead. Some of the first birds we found along lower Beaver Lake Road included comical California Quail, as well as Lazuli Buntings, Vesper Sparrows, Western
Meadowlarks, Say’s Phoebe, and both Western and Eastern kingbirds. A distant hummingbird feeder produced our only Calliope Hummingbird for the morning, and we also had good looks at a Black-chinned Hummingbird this morning. In one particular patch of scrubby deciduous habitat we encountered a nice number of birds including Willow Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Spotted Towhee, Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, House Wren, Western Tanager, Bullock’s Oriole, Warbling Vireo and a nice Northern Waterthrush. The grassland areas also produced nice views of American Kestrel, as well as Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk. A mixed flock of blackbirds we found included Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds as well as a quite a few juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. After a little bit of searching we found a pair of Western Bluebirds that were feeding a late brood in the boxes along the fence line. Nearby was a spotted juvenile Western Bluebird, perhaps from the same pair’s previous brood.
Once we entered the mixed forests of upper Beaver Lake Road, we began to encounter birds of a different type. At most stops were Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Siskins. Warblers were present in nice
numbers and we saw Nashville, Orange-crowned and Townsend’s warblers, as well as Cassin’s Vireos, Cassin’s Finch and a fly-over Evening Grosbeak. Varied Thrush was heard, but remained hidden, while we had views of both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets together in the same pine tree. Amongst all the Red-breasted Nuthatches, I was somewhat surprised to see two White-breasted Nuthatches this morning. Five Red-naped Sapsuckers were also nice to see, all together in one aspen snag. One was an adult and the rest of them appeared to be juveniles. Both Steller’s Jays and Gray Jays were found near Beaver Lake Lodge, and we also saw Common Loons and Osprey at the lake.
To finish off our half day, we headed for Kelowna’s Robert Lake. Birding, as usual was excellent here and we tallied 40 species at this location. Shorebirds included Red-necked Phalarope, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper.
Waterfowl were abundant with highlights including Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Redhead and more. There were Pied-billed and Eared grebes, and a good number of Ring-billed and California gulls here today. We had nice views of Sora in the Marsh, and though I had a couple of views of Virginia Rail, Trevor had to settle just for hearing them. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were common, along with Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds and loads of European Starlings. As we drove back towards Lake Country, Trevor spotted a Swainson’s Hawk soaring to the east of Glenmore Road. At the end of the ‘morning’ we had seen over a hundred species, including 37 new ones for Trevor!
At 6:30 AM I met up with three clients, Mark, Don and Jen, near the west end of the Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. Mark is from Peru and is an active birder, while Dave and Jen are more casual birders from Kelowna.
Our first stop was at Munson Pond, where from a viewing platform, we had nice views of
a number of Wood Ducks. We had our only Great Blue Heron of the day, perched in a tree on the far side of the pond. A little ‘island’ in the middle of the pond had Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and our only Least Sandpiper for the day. Eastern Kingbirds sallied out to catch bugs from cottonwoods along the lake’s edge and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks sat on nearby snags.
The next stop was at Sutherland Hills Park. Here, we wandered through the Ponderosa Pine forest, exploring a small pond, ringed with berry bushes. Highlights here were a Hairy Woodpecker, some Black-capped Chickadees, Cedar Waxwings, more Eastern Kingbirds and American Robins. Perhaps the birds were hiding, we thought, due to a steady rain that fell on us at this location. To cheer us up, I spotted a roosting Western Screech-Owl that stared at us from his hiding spot.
At Robert Lake, in Kelowna, there was plenty to look at, including an impressive array of waterfowl. There were hundreds of Ruddy Ducks about, and lesser numbers of Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Redheads, Mallards, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal and also Pied-billed and Eared grebes. Raptors included Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk, and we had views of Virginia Rail and Sora. Shorebirds were mostly hidden behind the reeds, but we did add Wilson’s Snipe, and Lesser and Greater yellowlegs. Every swallow species found in the Okanagan was seen here, and in the reeds we had both Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds. With 34 species seen here in a short time, Robert Lake is always a highlight.
We made our way north along Glenmore Road, adding a Swainson’s Hawk to the list, along the way. The journey up Beaver Lake Road produced upwards of 60 species today.
We were lucky that the temperatures were not smoking hot and the bird activity was quite good throughout the afternoon. In the grassland areas of lower Beaver Lake Road, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk made appearances, along with several American Kestrels and a Merlin. Western Meadowlarks, Western and Eastern kingbirds, Say’s Phoebe, Vesper Sparrows, and a Western Bluebird were all nice to see along the fences at the edge of the road. Lazuli Buntings were quite numerous, and we saw some House Wrens as well. In a patch of berry bushes we had nice views of Nashville Warblers, a Black-headed Grosbeak, a with Gray Catbird, Spotted Towhee as well as Bullock’s Oriole and Western Tanager.
We entered the forested areas of Beaver Lake Road at around km 8, and began to encounter different species at each stop such as Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Western Wood-Pewee. A group of 6-7 young Ruffed Grouse flushed from the edge of one trail, and at the same time a Barred Owl hooted in the distance. Red-naped Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker, all woodpecker species, were great to see this afternoon.
We had lunch at Beaver Lake, where Common Loons, Osprey and both Barn and Tree swallows were tallied, and then we took a stroll through the woods to the south of Beaver Lake Lodge. We didn’t see too much, other than some Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flicker, but we did have excellent views of a female Spruce Grouse! The bird lived up to its name as ‘foolhen’ as we strolled right past it about 8 feet away. She eventually flew up into a spruce and watched us pass by.
Along Dee Lake Road, at our first stop, we were treated to stunning views of a Northern Pygmy-Owl! The owl was being mobbed by quite the number of birds like American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mountain Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We had nice looks at a Townsend’s Warbler here today.
At Dee Lake itself, a stroll along a path following the lakeshore, was quite enjoyable. There were Steller’s Jays about, and hummingbird feeders attracted both Rufous and
Calliope hummingbirds. Up to four Northern Waterthrushes came in to investigate some ‘pishing’, and they were joined by Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler and Song Sparrows. A Lincoln’s Sparrow, our only for the day, paused to check us out at one point. It was now getting late in the afternoon and we had encountered just over a hundred species (104 to be exact), so we headed back through Kelowna and across the Bennett Bridge where I dropped Mark, Dave and Jen off after a very enjoyable late summer’s day of birding.
On Saturday, July 28, I had the opportunity to guide Neil Davidson from Scotland around the South Okanagan. Neil has visited many places around the world, but this trip was his first real taste of North American birding. We met at the south campground at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park near Summerland at 6 AM. We headed south, making our first stop along White Lake Road where we saw a couple of Burrowing Owls, birds from the reintroduction program underway in southern BC’s interior. Sparrows and other small passerines were everywhere in the sagebrush with good numbers of Vesper Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, a Lark Sparrow, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, a male Lazuli Bunting and a male Bullock’s Oriole. Our first of several Red-tailed Hawks was noted here, and close to White Lk itself we saw two Sage Thrashers. The lake, which is full of water this summer, had quite a nice assortment of waterfowl with Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard and female type Hooded Merganser present. Shorebirds included Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper and Killdeer. Our only Western Meadowlarks of the day were spotted at White Lake as well.
We made a short stop in the pine forest near Mahoney Lake. Here we saw Pygmy Nuthatch, heard White-breasted Nuthatch, and saw other pine forest birds too like Cassin’s Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, Spotted Towhee and the like. As we drove along today we saw dozens and dozens of California Quail about, including many little ones toting along behind the adults. A roadside stop produced two Black-headed Grosbeaks, including a gorgeous male. We had a quick look for American Dippers at Okanagan Falls, but none were to be seen.
Next up, we headed up into the mountains east of Okanagan Falls, via Shuttleworth Creek Road. Our first stop was at a prominent viewpoint where we had excellent views of two Lewis’s Woodpeckers, an adult and a juvenile. The adult was still feeding young in a nest cavity in an old dead Ponderosa Pine. Also here were some nice Western Bluebirds, a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, and soaring Turkey Vultures in the distance. In the tall spruce woods along Dutton Creek we encountered one of our highlights for the day, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The owl called incessantly as we watched, and a number of birds came in to mob it including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Warbling Vireo and more. Up to 10 Common Nighthawks passed overhead, and we caught a glimpse of Hammond’s Flycatcher as well.
From Dutton Creek we headed up to the Venner Larches. It was pretty quiet here, with no sign of Williamson’s Sapsuckers unfortunately. Of note were several Gray Jays and a Brown Creeper. A stop at Venner Meadows was also productive. We had a nice Townsend’s Solitaire here, as well as views of a scruffy Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a White-crowned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Solitary Sandpiper foraging in a pond. We descended back into the valley bottom and checked out the towering cliffs at Vaseux Lake. The temperatures were well over 30 degrees Celsius at this point, which didn’t particularly help with respect to finding birds, however we managed to get a nice view of a Rock Wren and we heard several Canyon Wrens up higher on the rocks.
After a quick pit-stop in Osoyoos to pick up some refreshments we headed up into the lower Richter Pass in search of a Canadian rarity, Lesser Goldfinch. We staked out our location on Kruger Mountain Road and we waited, watched and listened. No Lesser Goldfinch was to be found here, but we did get some other nice birds including Black-chinned, Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds at a feeder. Also about were both Western and Mountain bluebirds, as well as American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing and House Wren. As we began driving away I had my window down and I heard the plaintive calls of a Lesser Goldfinch so we hopped out and quickly got a male in the scope as he sat on the telephone wires above. Score! Then, while driving along Old Richter Pass Road, close to Hwy 3, I heard another Lesser Goldfinch calling. Perhaps there is a little population of this species ‘invading’ the hills around the border town of Osoyoos.
We drove through the bustling resort town of Osoyoos, and then climbed up into the mountains on the east side of town. Along the way we saw an adult Swainson’s Hawk soaring over a bit of grassland. The views would have been spectacular if it wasn’t for the rather thick smoke from local wildfires. Our target bird was Great Gray Owl and after a little searching in a patch of larch, spruce and fir, we were rewarded with the sighting of a majestic adult Great Gray roosting quite low to the ground. This made Neil’s day, as it was his 37th owl species and it was also a very nice birthday bird for him.
We traveled back down to Osoyoos and had a short stop at Road 22. There is a nice muddy patch on the south side of Road 22 where there were Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, several unidentified peeps, a Wilson’s Snipe and best of all an alternate plumage Black-bellied Plover. A Wood Duck was a nice catch in one of the oxbows close to Road 22. Neil spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant in a field, a species I don’t see too often these days. We returned to Okanagan Lake Park and had one last look for one more bird, a Western Screech-Owl. We didn’t find it, however we saw Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler and a lovely Common Loon, a nice ending to a fantastic day trip in the South Okanagan. Today we saw 103 species and counting heard birds we had 120 species. Mammals noted today included White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Mountain Goat, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Yellow Pine Chipmunk, American Red Squirrel and Columbian Ground-Squirrel. It was really a very enjoyable day to be out in the field, despite the sizzling heat.
Day 1, June 18 – At the arrivals hall of the Calgary Airport, I met 5 of the participants of this the 2nd Rockies Tour, of 2018. We traveled a short distance to the hotel, where we met the other two folks on the tour, Paul and Angie. Some people were tired and headed straight to bed, and a few of the group met in the lounge for a quick meal and a drink.
Day 2, June 19 – This morning was very pleasant in the Calgary area, with sunny skies and mild temperatures. We set out from our hotel, headed south to Frank Lake, along with the Calgary morning rush hour traffic. It didn’t take long for the traffic to thin out and we sailed along Hwy 2 to High River, along the way spotting our first Red-winged
Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Swainson’s Hawk. From High River we drove along Hwy 23 east towards Frank Lake, stopping at various ponds and puddles along the way where we saw a nice assortment of waterfowl. There were Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck and one or two Northern Pintail noted. A few waders such as Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Killdeer and Wilson’s Phalarope were also observed. The first of many Savannah Sparrows we saw today, popped up on fence posts. Once at Frank Lake we stopped just north of the lake to look for Black Terns, which we did find. Turns out later we’d see several Black Terns near the hide at close range. Western Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird and a Gray Partridge were all new additions as well. We walked along the lakeshore,
admiring all the different species at quite close range. There were Forster’s Terns hunting in the shallows, California Gulls loafing on a grassy island, Spotted Sandpiper creeping along the shore, and best of all, a Sora, spotted by Linda, as it crept along a muddy shore right out in the open for an extended period of time! More waterfowl, including Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead made their way onto the day list, as did singing Marsh Wrens, obliging Marbled Godwits, and several Willets. We were entertained by a number of Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels today, and at one point several youngsters popped their heads out from a hole. As we walked towards the hide, I was a little worried when a school bus full of children beat us there. They were there to learn about nature, so we decided, even
though the hide was a bit busier than usual, the kids were there for a good cause. Turns out not long after we arrived, the kids hurried off to have lunch anyhow. A first year Bonaparte’s Gull was a nice catch in the shallows near the hide, as were more good views of Marbled Godwits, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Willets and Wilson’s Phalaropes. A couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons flew past, and were most likely the only ones we are going to encounter on the tour. I left the group in the hide, as they admired the up close and personal views of Ruddy Ducks, American Coots and Eared Grebes, and I went and brought the van up a bit closer. In the distance, a couple of groups of American White Pelicans soared in the sky when I returned to the hide. I had heard a Nelson’s Sparrow, a rather elusive species that hides in the long grass, so we went to try our luck at finding it. Luck was on our side, as the sparrow sat on the grass for scope views!
By now, it was time for lunch, so we headed back into High River where we ate at Smitty’s. While we sat in the restaurant some of us were lucky enough to see a Merlin briefly perch atop a cottonwood. After lunch we poked around a pond near the parking lot where we found some Common Grackles and on the pond itself were two female type Common Goldeneye. We spent the next hour or so exploring a side road that ran through the countryside. The habitat was agricultural with windbreaks of cottonwood trees interrupting the monotony. Perhaps the bird of the day were two Great Horned Owls that were roosting in one such windbreak. There was a fluffy fledged chick, and as spotted by Dave, a roosting adult that was quite camouflaged nearby. Swainson’s Hawk was also nesting here, with one bird on a nest, and the partner screaming relentlessly at us from above. On fence posts we had our first Brewer’s Blackbird, Western Kingbird and Vesper Sparrow of the tour. A White-tailed Jackrabbit was noted as it slowly hopped through a grassy field. We then
followed dusty roads around Frank Lake, where we had excellent views of a pair of Horned Larks at the edge of a field. We walked through a grassy field, hoping to find Le Conte’s Sparrow, and we did, though the bird remained mostly hidden in the reeds. Cliff Swallows were flying around their nesting area beneath a bridge, and before we reconnected with Hwy 23 we saw our first Northern Harrier of the trip, a female, sailing above the long grass. The drive back to Calgary took about an hour, and we saw several groups of American White Pelicans resting on a lake and in islands along a river. Our first Osprey was seen by some as it ate a fish on top of a lamp post. All in all, with close to 70 species seen today, it was a very productive start to the trip.
Day 3, June 20 – After a lovely breakfast in Calgary, we headed west, following the Trans Canada Highway, towards Banff. We spent the day exploring the foothills north of Cochrane, and it was a fantastic day with sunny skies and warm temperatures. After a quick pit stop in Cochrane, we made our way west to Grand Valley. Driving along the quiet country road produced our first sightings of some stunning Mountain Bluebirds feeding young in a nest box. At an open meadow there were several male Bobolinks singing and displaying in flight as we watched in the scope. The usual Savannah Sparrows were joined by Clay-colored Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows today. Our first Dark-eye Junco (a hybrid ‘Oregon X Slate-colored’ bird) was seen very well as it sang from the pine trees nearby. It was joined by other coniferous forest birds like Mountain Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch. A Yellow-rumped Warbler appeared, and it turned out to be a hybrid ‘Audubon’s X Myrtle’ bird. At the next stop, a large open pasture with plenty of fence posts for birds to sit on, we had some excellent sightings. On a little pond near the road we saw a Blue-winged Teal male and two lovely drake Buffleheads. We caught a glimpse of a Warbling Vireo, and while we were looking for
the vireo a Great Gray Owl flew across the road a hundred meters or so away. We walked briskly down the road and found ourselves face to face with a majestic Great Gray Owl. It spent the entire 30 minutes of so that we watched it, sitting on a fence post, staring into the grass intently, and readjusting his feathers in the late morning sun. ‘It was going to be hard to beat this sighting today’, said one of the participants. ‘Could be tough to beat this sighting for the whole trip’, chimed another. While we watched the Great Gray Owl, an adult Red-tailed Hawk soaring over the trees across the meadow caught our attention. The hawk, and several others we saw today, were being mobbed by angry Red-winged Blackbirds. We then headed over to Horse Creek Road where we spent the rest of morning in search of eastern forest species. We did quite well too. A male Cape May Warbler put on a great performance for us as he foraged close by at eye level in the trees. A little more frenetic was a male Tennessee Warbler dangling from the branches overhead. We had stunning
views of a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker here and got great looks at both Golden-crowned Kinglet and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A female Purple Finch sat atop a dead tree and let us view at length through the scope. White-throated Sparrow was seen. The folks from the UK always comment on just how many nice sparrows we have in North America, and they’re right. It was about time to head for lunch so we returned to Cochrane and ate at Smitty’s. After lunch, we headed back to Horse Creek, checking a marshy area for Le Conte’s Sparrows. I could hear the Le Conte’s singing somewhat far away, and with a little patience one came into view and allowed scope looks. Later we’d see another Le Conte’s Sparrow that sat in a bush quite close to us, for excellent scope views. Yet another new sparrow species was in store for us today, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, in fact several of them, all appearing to have food in their bills for young. The usual Clay-colored Sparrows constantly were popping into view once again. A bright splash of yellow in the top of a willow turned out to be a male Yellow Warbler, in all his glory. Wilson’s Snipes leapt up and down in the tall sedge grasses, and a single Wilson’s Phalarope rose up into the air out of the marsh. A female Green-winged Teal was our first of that species for the tour, and she was joined soon thereafter by 5 fluffy little ducklings. Farther down the road we visited bog with stunted spruce trees. This area is often good for Alder Flycatcher and it proved to be so again today. We had one Alder Flycatcher posing for scopes for a few moments, and then something bright orange flew overhead and almost caused mayhem. It was a male Baltimore Oriole. The oriole showed well, but didn’t hang about for long, so it left us wanting more of this handsome bird. At our last birding spot of the day, an aspen forest, we added several more species to the already bulging trip list. A male Downy Woodpecker was a nice catch amongst the aspens. Two Western Wood-Pewees chased one another around, pausing now and then
to let us obtain good views. A tiny Least Flycatcher was frustratingly flitty, never sitting for long on the same branch. A pair of Clay-colored Sparrows were trying to fend off a marauding female Brown-headed Cowbird as she looked for a nest in which to dump her egg. A House Wren, a rather small, and drab bird, makes up for all it lacks in plumage with its cheery character. To finish off this last birding session of the day, a male Baltimore Oriole arrived on the scene and let us look at him as much as we wanted, satisfying our previous craving to see more. We began the journey to Banff, which took us about an hour, arriving just in time to have a shower, a little rest and a chance to enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery surrounding us, before heading to El Toro for a tasty meal.
Day 4, June 21 – At 6 AM we met for a pre-breakfast outing to Vermilion Lakes, a great place for birds that just happens to be quite scenic as well. It was a lovely sunny morning, and it stayed that way until lunch time. Some of the highlights noted at Vermilion Lakes included a pair of Common Loons, a Pileated Woodpecker, our first Cedar Waxwings, Swainson’s Thrush, ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow, Common Yellowthroats and a pair of Mountain Chickadees tending to a nest. Dave said, ‘I think we saw a Northern Flicker in this tree several years ago’, and within about 5 seconds, a male
Northern Flicker came flying in and headed into a nest hole. Columbian Ground-Squirrels, and a couple of Red Squirrels were about the only mammals we saw this morning. Once Martin had finished giving a crash course in photography to a young lady from Atlanta, we returned to Banff and had breakfast.
Post breakfast we headed for the Bow Valley Parkway, making our first stop at Muleshoe Picnic area. Here, next to the parking lot, we watched two different woodpecker nests about 150 feet apart. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tended to one nest, while our first Red-naped Sapsuckers tended to the other nest.
As we made our way to Johnston Canyon, a Mule Deer was noted next to the road, and upon arrival at the canyon, we added another mammal to the list, a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. As we hiked up the canyon we were entertained by several of these
ground squirrels, and they were constantly on the lookout for some scraps to nibble on. A lovely little Pacific Wren sang its heart out for us, a species that was split from Troglodytes troglodytes not too long ago. An American Dipper whizzed up the fast flowing creek a couple of times, and once we reached the lower falls we had a good look at the bird creeping up the rocky slope next to the waterfall. Our first Cassin’s Vireo of the trip was also added in Johnston Canyon. We had lunch in the café and just as we were settling up the bill, Dave spotted a Gray Jay out the window. We rushed out to find there were 3 Gray Jays here, and they were being mobbed by two Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
On our way to Lake Louise we stopped at a roadside pullout to look at an Osprey nest high up on a pylon. Angie had spotted the big nest, and it contained an adult bird, while the other adult sailed overhead. As a bonus we added two new warbler species here, Orange-crowned Warbler and a Wilson’s Warbler. At Lake Louise, it was heaving with people, but the stunning view was still breathtaking nonetheless. Cliff Swallows were nesting on the Chateau Lake Louise and we saw our first Violet-green Swallows flying over the parking area. To finish off the day we visited Moraine Lake, a very picturesque place. A flock of ten or so Clark’s Nutcrackers were a big hit with the group, as were two Harlequin Ducks, a male and a female. Thunder began to echo through the mountains and the sky turned black so we decided it was a good time to pack it in for the day. The drive back to Banff was a wet one!
Day 5, June 22 – We left our hotel after breakfast and headed for Cave and Basin. It was a cool and gray morning, but the sun poked through now and again and it was better than what had been forecast, so we were happy. At Cave and Basin we watched from the hide as a Virginia Rail trotted across a muddy spot, while Soras called in the background. A male Blackpoll Warbler foraged in eye level spruce trees right next to the boardwalk for several minutes. A Swainson’s Thrush lurked in the trees while Willow Flycatchers sang their sneezy songs, fittingly from the tops of willow bushes. Out on the water were
Ring-necked Ducks and Green-winged Teal. We left Cave and Basin and stopped next for a ‘comfort break.’ Poor Trevor, the name given to the step stool, was almost abandoned here, but luckily Dave spotted him looking all lonely on the sidewalk and brought him back to the van. We then had a short visit to the Fenlands Trail, where I followed directions given to me by a friend, Richard, to exactly where an American Three-toed Woodpecker pair were feeding noisy young in a nest cavity. We spent the better part of half an hour watching the male and female come in to bring food to the very vocal nestlings. It wouldn’t be many days until these little woodpeckers would be fledglings.
As we got comfortable for a bit of a drive for lunch in Golden, the skies opened up and it rained steadily for the entire journey. After lunch we set our clocks back one hour as we entered the Pacific Standard Time Zone, and then we explored a bit in Beaver Valley. It was still raining, though fairly lightly, as we birded here. A Magnolia Warbler played hide and seek but most people managed at least a short view of this rather attractive species. Overhead, Black Swifts sailed by, some of them at quite a low altitude, alongside
smaller Vaux’s Swifts. Northern Waterthrush was also quite a nice catch in the Beaver Valley. We continued our trek west, stopping in next at the Skunk Cabbage Trail. Rains were again light, and at times nonexistent. Birds were quite active here, and soon after arrival we were looking at our first male Rufous Hummingbird, sitting atop a dead tree. Next, a Red-eyed Vireo showed quite well in the trees above us, and an immature male American Redstart showed off nicely. A Gray Catbird, our first for the tour, skulked in the underbrush, with a beak full of food for its nestlings, and a Veery was ‘veery’ nice to see and a lifer for most people in the group. High atop a tree, a male Varied Thrush sang his ethereal song.
As we neared Salmon Arm, the rain became torrential, which doesn’t happen often in the southern interior of British Columbia. We checked in at our hotel and then went out for dinner at Boston Pizza.
Day 6, June 23 – After the previous day’s rains, it was a lovely fresh morning today. We headed down to the wharf in Salmon Arm before breakfast, spending about two hours there enjoying the Western Grebes, Great Blue Herons, Ring-billed Gulls, Black Swifts, Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Wood Ducks that are found here. Walking the end of the wharf gave us a good chance to see the grebes and Ospreys up close and personal. Swallows of all sorts darted by, including Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree and stunning Violet-green Swallows. While we were watching a Northern Flicker hopping about on the rocks near the shore, a commotion started amongst the swallows and an immature Cooper’s Hawk arrived on the scene. This bird had significance because it was Dave and Linda’s 1000th bird! Congratulations on reaching the milestone.
After we had breakfast at the hotel, we made a quick stop to pick up ‘supplies’ at Shopper’s Drug Mart, and then carried on the Christmas Island Trail. It was a lovely walk along the trail with much activity from the birds. Common species included Song Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallows, and Common Yellowthroats. Other birds noted included a Sora, a Gray Catbird, Marsh Wren, Yellow-
headed Blackbird, Red-eyed Vireo and two new shorebirds for the trip list, Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. An obliging Spotted Sandpiper was also a treat to see. I scanned through dozens of Western Grebes, eventually picking out our one and only Clark’s Grebe for the tour. Amongst the masses of Ring-billed Gulls, I pointed out a subadult Mew Gull, and we had several Herring Gulls here as well. Dave spotted a female Belted Kingfisher sitting on a post near the lake. We watched as she hovered, plunged into the water and emerged with a large fish (relatively speaking) that she struggled with for several minutes, before flying away with it dangling from her bill. Some drama played out on the waters of Shuswap Lake this morning as well, as two immature Bald Eagles teamed up to prey on a female Mallard and her tiny ducklings. The eagles swooped in dozens of times, forcing the ducks to dive underwater to avoid being caught. The ducks appeared to succeed and eventually the eagles gave up, much to our happiness. Moments later, an Osprey dove in and caught a small fish, and immediately up to 4 Bald Eagles were in hot pursuit of the Osprey, eventually making it drop its fish. All the while, Red-winged Blackbirds were dive bombing the eagles, making for quite the spectacle.
We headed for lunch at the Sandbar where we sat on the patio and enjoyed the sunshine, food, and the presence of Western Tiger Swallowtails. Then, we visited Peter Jannink Nature Park where the highlight was watching a number of Western Grebes at close range, with a couple of birds doing their mating dance, running side-by-side on the water. Among the swallows, I found a Bank Swallow, our first, and we had our first looks at House Finches here as well. Dave and Linda saw a Water Vole, but it would not reappear once the rest of us came to look. It was time to head for Kamloops so we followed Hwy 1 west to Chase, where we made a quick pit-stop, and then made it to Kamloops just before 6 PM. We had a very nice dinner this evening at Earl’s.
Day 7, June 24 – Our first stop this morning was at Safeway where we picked up lunch to go. We then headed N.W. of town to the Lac du Bois Grasslands where we spent the day, and it was a glorious sunny day to boot. Our first target of the morning was Burrowing Owl and we saw two adults and three youngsters near their burrow amongst the sagebrush which was a very nice way to start the day. Various sparrows were about including Clay-colored, Vesper and Chipping sparrows, as well as lovely Western Meadowlarks and a Mountain Bluebird or two. We passed by several little ponds this morning, each one with a different selection of ducks and grebes. There were Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks on most ponds, and on some were Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, and a couple of female Barrow’s
Goldeneye. One pond had two gorgeous Eared Grebes, that were most likely nesting nearby. On Lac du Bois itself (Wood Lake), were several Red-necked Grebes, some of which had tiny chicks alongside. Also in the Lac du Bois area, we enjoyed scope views of a tiny male Calliope Hummingbird atop the bushes. Cedar Waxwings, Willow Flycatchers, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Marsh Wren were also in attendance. At a patch of aspen trees we spent some time admiring the local avifauna, which included a Red-naped Sapsucker, a House Wren, Dusky Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Mountain Bluebird and American Goldfinch! A Swainson’s Hawk sailed overhead, followed by a mobbing Tree Swallow.
We had a picnic lunch at Isobel Lake, which was very enjoyable. After lunch we took a stroll around the little campground, finding Chipping Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warblers, our first Hammond’s Flycatcher, a
female Western Tanager, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The highlight, however, was a Northern Pygmy-Owl that we watched for nearly half an hour as it called from the low branches of a fir tree. It was hot and we were ‘knackered’ so we made our way back to Kamloops a little early today, and then later headed out for a delicious meal at an Indian buffet.
Day 8, June 25 – From Kamloops we followed the rather scenic Hwy 5A towards Merritt, past lakes, ponds, grasslands and rolling hills. Our first stop was at Separation Lake, a place Martin was especially fond of. I agree, the area is beautiful and very photogenic. It was cool and breezy here this morning, as it often is, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the birds. There were Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebird, Wilson’s Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Ducks and Vesper Sparrows, amongst others. A Marsh Wren was watched at close range as it built its nest in the reeds. Raptors were fairly numerous including Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, American Kestrel and Bald Eagles. As we continued along, I spotted a white tern flying over the south end of Shumway Lake. We pulled off and upon
inspection it was an Arctic Tern, quite a rare species for this part of the world. The tern put on a nice show as it fed in the strong wind over the lake. Next, at Stump Lake we scoped an assortment of nesting birds including Red-necked Grebes and Pied-billed Grebes most notably. There were also Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead on the lake. Overhead, Black Swifts darted by, aided by the strong winds. Our next stop, along Planet Mine Road, was quite productive as we found two active nests of Lewis’s Woodpeckers. These lovely, pink, gray and green woodpeckers, put on a great show as they foraged for food for their young. We stopped for a short time at Beaver Ranch Flats where the usual waterfowl and grebes were present. What was interesting here, was a Common Raven that was raiding nests and carrying eggs out into the grassland where it would eat them. The eggs were most likely those of American Coots. At Quilchena we had a short stop to use the facilities at the general store, and then we found a picnic table on the shores of Nicola Lake to have lunch.
After filling up with gas in Merritt, we headed across the Okanagan Connector and pulled up into my driveway about an hour and a half later. Cindy, my wife, and my son Carsen were waiting for us at the door. Cindy had coffee and tea ready for us, and Carsen was excited to see all the new people. We spent quite some time here, enjoying the birds
that were coming in to my feeders. Most interesting perhaps were the hummingbirds. There were several of each Rufous, Calliope and one or two male Black-chinned Hummingbirds that came in to feed. At the seed feeders, Cassin’s Finches and Pine Siskins were busy, along the odd Brown-headed Cowbird, and Chipping Sparrow. At the suet, both Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches came in to feed. Overhead, an Osprey, just the second I’d ever seen in the yard, circled with a small fish in its talons. A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers made an appearance, and were new for our trip list. Our first and best view of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and a Spotted Towhee were also had in my garden. It had been a successful visit! We carried on across the W.G. Bennett Bridge into Kelowna where we spent the next two nights. We had a carnivorous dinner at Montana’s Rib House and we were joined by Cindy and Carsen.
Day 9, June 26 – Before breakfast we visited Sutherland Hills Park, along Mission Creek, not far from our hotel in Kelowna. We’d hoped to find a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but the bird was not in its usual roost. The visit was still quite successful as we saw a number of new species for the tour here this morning. We saw our first California Quail,
a bird sitting in a cottonwood tree, calling. We also added Pygmy Nuthatch to our list, a bird that can be found in Canada only in the Okanagan Valley and adjacent valleys in the southern interior of B.C. The park seemed full of Gray Catbirds, and we also saw quite a few Cedar Waxwings. Again, the male Calliope Hummingbird, or one of his descendants, that has been hanging out atop a cherry tree was there. We caught a rather brief glimpse of our first Black-headed Grosbeak here this morning, but we wanted more! We enjoyed nice views of Red-eyed Vireo, Spotted Towhee, and Nashville Warbler to name a few more species.
At Robert Lake, I was surprised not to find an American Avocet. We did however see Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope and the usual Killdeer this morning. Ducks were about in good numbers, with Redheads, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Cinnamon Teal and Ring-necked Ducks, amongst others. At one point, a Virginia Rail wandered right out into the open for us for a moment. Swallows of all the local species were identified at Robert Lake this morning, and another highlight was watching our first Western Bluebirds foraging from fence posts and telephone wires.
After picking up lunch we made our way up Hwy 33, east of Kelowna, and we got stopped for 15 minutes or so by some road work, but we were soon birding along Goudie Road. In a little patch of tall cottonwood trees we watched our first Bullock’s Oriole of the tour for several minutes. Also seen briefly along Goudie Road were Nashville and MacGillivray’s warblers. We pushed on to Sun Valley Road, stopping to call for a Barred Owl. The Barred Owl answered from the forest, but did not venture out to investigate us. As a consolation prize we had our first male Lazuli Bunting of the tour here, as well as Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow and a Cooper’s Hawk came in to check out what was going on.
We had lunch along McCulloch Road at the Nordic Cross Country Ski area. It was cool
and breezy in the shade, but quite warm out in the sun. A Red-naped Sapsucker kept us entertained as we ate lunch. The sapsucker was feeding young in an aspen near the picnic table. Once lunch was over we checked in on a little wetland area where we had our only Olive-sided Flycatcher of the tour. Other birds here included Wilson’s Warbler, Willow Flycatcher and a surprise visit from about 8 Common Nighthawks that sailed low the shrubbery as they caught insects.
A stop in the boreal forest near Big White Ski Village was quite productive. We saw a pair of Boreal Chickadees here, which is an uncommon and sought-after species of the high elevation and northern forests. A Varied Thrush pair hopped back and forth across the road, both with food in their bills. We saw our first Hermit Thrushes of the tour here, and a ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow was great to see. Wilson’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Dark-eyed Junco were also in attendance. Up at Big White Village itself we visited a chalet that has bird feeders and this is where we saw our first Steller’s Jays of the tour. Also visiting the area were Mountain Chickadees and several Yellow
Pine Chipmunks. We paused to take in the lovely distant view of the Monashee Mountains before beginning our descent of the mountain and returning to Kelowna for dinner at Olympia Greek Restaurant.
Day 10, June 27 – Leaving Kelowna after breakfast, and again crossing over the 100 km long Okanagan Lake on the Bennett Bridge, we drove south, stopping first at a park near Summerland. After a lot of searching, Keith and Cathy spotted a roosting Western Screech-Owl in a cottonwood next to the lake. Our fifth owl species, and the screech-owl being one that in Canada can only be found in British Columbia. Another quick stop along Hwy 97 next to some cliffs gave us the opportunity to watch over a dozen Mountain Goats through the scope. A Peregrine Falcon appeared, chased some swallows and then perched on the cliffs. A quick drive past the SS. Sicamous Paddle Wheel boat yielded cries of ‘stop!’ as some members of the group wanted a photo of the historic boat which use to carry passengers across Okanagan Lake before the bridge opened. Out on the lake were Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe, two nice birds for the day list. We picked up lunch at Safeway and carried on south to White Lake Road, stopping in the sagebrush near the lake to look for some specialty birds. Along the way we saw California Quail very well, and I had to maneuver the van just right so people could open the door next to the quail and get a photo of the bird on a
fence post. At White Lake the usual Western Meadowlarks and Brewer’s Blackbirds were common. It didn’t take long to spot a Sage Thrasher, one of the area’s most sought after species. The thrasher was singing his sweet song from the top of the sagebrush all the while as we watched through the scope. On the lake itself were a few ducks including Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and two male Barrow’s Goldeneye. We scoped a pair of Burrowing Owls down on some flats before carrying on our journey.
After our productive visit to White Lake we passed through Okanagan Falls and bounced up the Shuttleworth Creek Forest Service Road. We headed for a heavily wooded gully where we ate our lunch. After lunch we investigated two groups of loudly begging baby woodpeckers. The first noisy beggers led us right to the nest of Red-naped Sapsuckers, and the second turned out to be American Three-toed Woodpeckers, with both adults
feeding the young. Continuing the nest theme, we next added Williamson’s Sapsucker to the list, as a pair were busily feeding young in a cavity I had located with the first Rockies group three weeks earlier. I tried my Barred Owl call, once again. This time, a bunch of angry robins alerted be to the chance there could be an owl in the area. I spotted the owl up in the larch trees and called the group to come closer. The Barred Owl, the third largest and our sixth species of owl for the tour, let out an impressive series of hoots as we watched. This sighting, for some, would rival the Great Gray Owl sighting, for the bird of the trip. On our way down the road, we stopped at a scenic viewpoint up the valley towards Skaha Lake to the north. A Lewis’s Woodpecker and a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting kept us entertained here, as did one or two Yellow-bellied Marmots. We drove south to Osoyoos, through miles of vineyards, and tonight we headed out to dine at the Wildfire Grill.
After dinner we gathered once again, this time for some nocturnal birding. Almost as soon as we crossed the cattleguard onto Kilpoola Lake Road, I spotted a Long-eared Owl sitting in a snag. Next, I stopped where the first group had found a group of young Northern Saw-whet Owls. I could hear a Common Poorwill calling nearby, one of our target species for the evening. We saw the poorwill on the gravel road and approached it with our flashlight trained on it. The poorwill allowed us to get within 5 feet of it, having amazing views and photo-ops. We soon left the poorwill to be and I could hear the hissing of fledgling Northern Saw-whet Owls. It took some effort through mud, branches and mosquitos, but several of us did see a chocolate brown baby saw-whet owl sitting in the underbrush. Our eighth species of owl! We were not finished yet, as farther up the road we stopped to listen for the low pitched hooting of the rare and elusive Flammulated Owl. The owl called and after some searching we had views of it on a branch in a Ponderosa Pine and we watched the small owl fly from tree to tree in the spotlight. This was our 9th and final species of owl for the tour. We returned to Osoyoos rather tired, but excited nonetheless.
Day 11, June 28 – It was a sunny morning as we emerged from the hotel. We found Martin, who had been down at the lake this morning taking some photos. He said he’d found an owl and wanted us to check it out. He showed me the back of his camera and there it was, a plastic owl sitting on top of a pylon at the marina. Our first stop this morning was at the cliffs at Vaseux Lake. Here, we had lovely views of a Rock Wren as it bounced from boulder to boulder at the base of the towering cliffs. A Lewis’s Woodpecker also provided entertainment here, as did a Lazuli Bunting. One or two Bighorn Sheep peered at us from the top of the cliff, a new mammal for our list. Down on Vaseux Lake we scoped 15 American White Pelicans on a sandbar at the north end, and then they flew in formation to the south.
We then tried some more cliffs on Allendale Road with high hopes of finding Canyon Wren. Unfortunately the Canyon Wren had other plans, though we did get great views of low flying White-throated Swifts here, as well as a pair of Western Bluebirds feeding young in a box. Yellow-bellied Marmots provided some great entertainment here as well, and the catch-phrase ‘what a nice bottom’ was created here as one marmot welcomed another. Before we left we added one more sparrow to our list, and an attractive one at that, the Lark Sparrow.
At Inkaneep Provincial Park we spent about half an hour during which time we had
scope views of a singing Yellow-breasted Chat and we had our best views yet of a Black-headed Grosbeak male. Our only Bewick’s Wrens of the tour, two of them, appeared here with a spider in one bird’s bill. A male Black-chinned Hummingbird sat atop a cottonwood sapling here as well and was just the second one we’d seen on the tour.
We had lunch in Oliver and then made our way up McKinney Road to an area of pine trees where Gray Flycatcher can be found. There was a flurry of activity here this afternoon, and we did get great views of the Gray Flycatcher in addition to several other species including White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Tanager, Western Wood-Pewee, Vesper Sparrow and Nashville Warbler to name a few species. Still needing Canyon Wren we
made for ‘The Throne’ a cliff at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. A hike through the ‘desert’ ended at the cliffs where we did eventually see a couple of Canyon Wrens entering a nest cavity in the cliffs with food. Also seen here was another Rock Wren, an adult Peregrine Falcon up on the cliffs and more low-flying White-throated Swifts.
To finish off what had already been a ‘birdy’ day, we stopped at Road 22 to scan the marshes and hayfields, adding several species to our day list. There were several Bobolinks frolicking over the fields, and in the wetlands were Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks and more. American Goldfinch posed to have their photos taken here, and a Wilson’s Snipe briefly leapt up out of the marsh. Yellow-headed Blackbird was added to the day list and a Bald Eagle sat near its nest in a tall cottonwood. We had dinner this evening at Campo Marina, and as usual, it was scrumptious.
Day 12, June 29 – Heading west from Osoyoos, our first stop this morning was at the Nighthawk Border Crossing. Here, in the sagebrush we had nice views of several Brewer’s Sparrows, new for the list, as well as Lark Sparrow. One Grasshopper Sparrow,
quite rare in British Columbia these days, was a nice addition to the trip list. Our travels took us through Keremeos, where we had a quick pit-stop and then on to Princeton where we picked up lunch. From Princeton we headed into Manning Provincial Park and stopped in at the ‘Beaver Pond’. A short walk here provided us with sightings of Yellow Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Common Yellowthroat, as well as a nice variety of dragonflies. We then visited the Manning Park Lodge where we had lunch while Clark’s Nutcrackers swooped about looking for scraps. Also mooching were Brown-headed Cowbirds and several furry little Columbian Ground-Squirrels. We took a drive up the Alpine Meadows Road, where I hoped we just might have a chance at finding a Sooty Grouse. At our first stop, as soon as I opened the door of the van, I could hear the deep resonating hoot of a Sooty Grouse. It took some bushwacking and some patience but I found the Sooty Grouse, a male, hooting from inside a large coniferous tree. All of the
tour participants clambered up the hill and eventually we all saw the grouse. Other birds noted at the same place included Hermit Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Dark-eyed Junco. We turned around at a scenic viewpoint where we added yet another squirrel to our large list, the Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. On our way back down towards the highway, I spotted a female Sooty Grouse in the grass with a few tiny babies, so now we had all seen a male and a female Sooty Grouse quite well. Trying to find a Red-breasted Sapsucker or Chestnut-backed Chickadee, I took the group along the Gibson Pass Road, where we found a sapsucker, except it was a male Red-naped Sapsucker. Steller’s Jay was also present here. The day was getting on so we had to leave Manning Park and continue west. We followed the maze of freeways and highways ending up finally in Richmond at our hotel. We had dinner at Stanley’s Grill in the ice hockey rink.
Day 13, June 10 – This morning was about the only time on the tour that the rain affected us. We donned our rain jackets and waterproofs for a walk in Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. Birds were a little less active than usual, most likely due to the damp start to the day. We had great views of a Pacific Wren that blasted out its song from the top of a tree stump. Swainson’s Thrushes sang their ethereal songs from the rainforest, while Black-capped Chickadees, Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees and a Black-headed Grosbeak all made appearances for the day list. Down at the lighthouse we had a couple of Anna’s Hummingbirds, our fourth and final hummingbird species of the tour, come in to feeders alongside Rufous Hummingbirds. Bald Eagles patrolled the shore and we saw one or two Pelagic Cormorants fly past. Our final addition to the squirrel list came in the
form of a Douglas’s Squirrel high in the firs above us.
We picked up lunch and took it down to the beach at Ambleside Park where we ate lunch outside, despite a light rain. We were entertained by Glaucous-winged Gulls and Northwestern Crows that were searching for scraps, and they found some. Out on the water here were more Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants. A Great Blue Heron fed along the shore, allowing Martin to creep closer and get good photos. Harlequin Ducks showed nicely as they fed in the water and just to make the ‘Brits’ feel at home, I showed them two Mute Swans on the little pond nearby.
Since we still needed a Red-breasted Sapsucker, we headed up to the cross country ski area at Cypress Mountain where we suddenly found ourselves amidst a rather thick fog. We started off on the trail and soon I could hear the loud begging of young woodpeckers. We followed the noise which led us right to the nest cavity of a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers that were busily feeding the chicks.
Our last stop of the day was at Maplewood Flats, where we searched for Black-throated Gray Warbler to no avail. We did, however, see other species here including Downy Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Osprey and a young Hooded Merganser. We headed back to our hotel in Richmond and headed out for dinner at the Keg, for our final evening meal together as a group.
Day 14, June 11 – It was our final morning in Vancouver and it started out cool and breezy at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, our first stop this morning. Several new species were counted here including Black Oystercatchers, Caspian Tern, Greater Scaup, and Surf Scoters. We had excellent views of Harlequin Ducks as they loafed and fed close to shore. Hundreds of Great Blue Herons congregated on the flats as the tide began to go
back out. After a short pit stop in Tsawwassen we headed for the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island in Ladner. We stopped, along the way, to check out an old barn where I had heard they may be a Barn Owl. We spent quite a bit of time scrutinizing the rafters high and low, but never did find a Barn Owl today. At Reifel, we were bombarded by the usual mass of Mallards, Canada Geese, House Sparrows and (Feral) Rock Pigeons that sit and wait by the entrance. Farther into the park we began to encounter other species such as Wood Ducks, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall. We came around a corner and saw several large lenses pointed in one direction. I knew it must be the local Sandhill Cranes, and sure enough there were two adults and two chicks wandering around in the grass. We sat in an old hide for a little bit, enjoying watching Tree Swallows coming in to feed young in boxes. A couple of Purple Martins, new for the trip, also made an appearance here. For a second,
a female Anna’s Hummingbird fed at a flower in front of the hide, and some Cedar Waxwings posed nicely as well. Out in the marshes we found Marsh Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds and the like. Greater and Lesser yellowlegs posed side by side for comparison and one adult Long-billed Dowitcher, the only for the trip was found. A flock of Western Sandpipers made several passes around the ponds, but never did land unfortunately. Two Bushtits, also the only ones we’d see on this trip, we nice to find along the trail past the outer ponds. A lingering Trumpeter Swan was a nice surprise to see, and one I had not expected to add at this location. Our trip list had now reached a high of 224 species!
We headed for lunch at Moxie’s and then made one last stop before the trip was over, at the Iona Sewage Treatment Plant. We added some day birds here, but we didn’t add anything else to the trip list. We headed for the airport in the late afternoon, said our goodbyes and that was the end of a very productive and enjoyable trip from Calgary to Vancouver.
Day 1, May 28 – The British Airways flight bound for Calgary was about 20 minutes late arriving, but it wasn’t long before I met 5 out of the 7 folks from the U.K. who made up this years’ Rockies Tour group. The other two people I had already met at the hotel. It was good to see old friends and equally good to see new faces. It was just getting dark as we drove from the airport to our hotel, about 10 minutes away. Upon arrival at the hotel, Dave called out, ‘Black-billed Magpie’ and that was the first bird of the tour.
Day 2, May 29 – Breakfast at the hotel was delicious. We set off by 7: 45 and began the drive south to the town of High River. Along the way a light rain fell on the windshield. Yesterday had been a sunny and hot day, but this morning we awoke to cloudy skies and a chilly prairie breeze. In High River we grabbed a coffee to go at Tim Horton’s before making the last little jaunt over to Frank Lake. The drive from High River to Frank Lake would take about 5 minutes for any normal person, but not for birders. We spent probably 45 minutes stopping at the little prairie potholes, amassing quite a nice list of waterfowl. There were Redheads, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and the list goes on. We had fantastic views of Eared Grebes from the blind, and scope views of several Western Grebes this morning. In addition to the ducks there were American Avocets, Killdeers and our first of many Wilson’s Phalaropes. Savannah Sparrows popped up along the fence lines, as did Clay-colored Sparrows. Yellow-headed Blackbirds began appearing in numbers, as did their Red-winged cousins. I announced that the female Red-winged Blackbird is the most often misidentified bird in North America. A few seconds later someone piped up, ‘What is this brown stripy sparrow?’ To which, ‘Red-winged Blackbird’, I replied. Our first Northern Harrier, a female, or ‘ringtail’ as those from the U.K. call them, appeared on the scene. Two Gray Partridge scurried across the road and leapt through a fence with ease, disappearing into the grass. Swallows were buzzing around everywhere and we saw most of the species here in good numbers, with Cliff, Barn, Bank and Tree swallows represented. Out over the marshes of Frank Lake were Forster’s and snazzy looking Black Terns. Franklin’s Gulls were rather abundant, and we also saw a few first year Bonaparte’s Gulls here, a nice addition to the list. As we walked
along the grassy shore of Frank Lake, we were often accompanied by Killdeer as they tried to distract us from nesting areas by feigning injury and calling loudly. White-faced Ibis offered up nice scope views and we had several Black-necked Stilts. Both Eared and Western grebes were noted out on the lake, the latter of which we observed as a pair did their ‘walking on water’ mating dance. As we viewed the lake from the NW blind, the views of things like Ruddy Duck, Yellow-headed Blackbird and others were spectacular. A Muskrat was busily swimming around underneath and parallel to the hide, and earlier on we’d seen a Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel as well. Overhead, a Black-crowned Night-Heron flapped by, and calling Soras kept us peering into the marsh, though we could only hear them. This was all before lunch!
We returned to High River and had a good hearty lunch at Smitty’s, where a warm bowl of soup was welcomed by many. As we waited for our meals, I spotted a new bird for us outside near the parking lot, several Common Grackles. ‘If you don’t find your Common Grackle in High River on this itinerary, you’re probably not going to get one anywhere on the tour’, I said, and this piqued everyone’s interest. After lunch we headed over to where the grackles had been and two were still there and showed off to us quite nicely. A Merlin ripped through the air overhead, emitting warning calls from other birds in the area. It disappeared before most people could get much of a look at it. With Common Grackle in the bag, we headed back out towards Frank Lake. This time, we took a quiet country road that runs north from the lake. Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds were feeding on the green grass beneath the cattle. The odd Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel popped up out of the grass as well. I spotted an odd shape amongst the trees in a copse of trees to the left of the road. I backed up the van and was very happy to see that the blob was a Great Horned Owl. The bird, which was of a pale prairie race, was roosting about 6 feet up off the ground in the afternoon sunshine. We all enjoyed scope views and snapped photos of the owl. A little farther down the road we
stopped at a Swainson’s Hawk’s nest. There was an adult on the nice, but it wouldn’t show us more than the top quarter of an inch of its head. High overhead, however, the mate was screaming and eventually it descended and landed on a telephone pole nearby. Out came the scopes. The scopes came in useful when a Vesper Sparrow landed on a fence post next to the road, and this was soon followed up by a bubbly little House Wren. A Tennessee Warbler that seemed a little out of place, sang but remained hidden in a clump of trees surrounding a farm house. An American Robin, our first for the trip, appeared frustratingly briefly on a fence post next to the road. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll see a lot of them’, I said. Western Meadowlarks were quite evident today, sitting on fence posts and posing nicely. We then turned down another dirt track where immediately after turning we spotted an adult Snow Goose in with a little group of Canada Goose. This was a late migrant, as most of the others of his species will have gone through at least a month ago. Another added bonus in a flooded field here were two Great Blue Herons and a Wilson’s Snipe, the latter of which was well hidden in the grass. Another flooded bit of field held our target species for this basin 3 area of Frank Lake, a Marbled Godwit. In the distance we could see two white blobs on a bit of water. We drove closer, and walked closer and when they pulled their necks out of the water we could see they were Trumpeter Swans. High overhead, 6 American White Pelicans lazily flapped their way south. It had been a great day with close to 80 species tallied. We returned to Calgary, fighting our way through the rush hour, but safely making it back to our hotel, where we had dinner, most of us opting for the salmon and it was pretty good.
Day 3, May 30 – We bid sprawling Calgary farewell and headed west via the Trans Canada Hwy towards Cochrane and the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Today the weather was quite variable with cool, breezy and cloudy periods and in the afternoon some warmer sunny patches. We managed to avoid the rain, as it only fell hard once as we drove between locations. Our first stop was at a large pond along Grand Valley Road. We got the scope out to investigate a swan and it was a lovely adult Trumpeter Swan, showing much better than the two we had seen at distance the previous day. There was also a pair of Red-necked Grebes on this pond, as well as a few different ducks, a couple
of Double-crested Cormorants and two Ring-billed Gulls. As we carried on our journey, we saw our first dazzling Mountain Bluebirds, as a pair of them frolicked along a fence line next to the van. They were busily feeding on grubs this cool morning, and possibly had a nest nearby in a box. All along our travels today we saw Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks soaring, and sitting on fence posts and telephone poles. I had my window down a skiff as I was driving along and I heard the high pitch song of a Cape May Warbler, so we stopped, piled out of the van, and within a few moments we were staring at this little gem of a warbler as it sang from the spruce trees. Suddenly Ann got all excited, but the words just wouldn’t come out of her mouth. I turned around and saw what she saw, a Great Gray Owl sitting on a fence post next to the road. There isn’t a moment that is much more exciting than discovering a Great Gray Owl. We watched the magnificent bird hunt from the fence posts at the edge of a large field for about 20 minutes before turning our backs to it and heading off to seek other birds. It was going to
be hard to top that, but we did find a number of other great birds in that same general vicinity. There was a male Bobolink singing from a pine at the edge of the field. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak sang incessantly from a roadside aspen, while Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Chipping Sparrow, ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a lovely White-throated Sparrow were also additions to the list.
We then headed to Horse Creek Road where we spent some time around an old community hall called the Dartique Lodge. An Eastern Phoebe called several times and I saw him briefly atop the chimney of the lodge, but he disappeared never to return again. Nonetheless, the area was teeming with bird life. We saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo and Tennessee Warbler, as well as a pair of Boreal Chickadees, Least Flycatcher and a Lincoln’s Sparrow. An adult female Cooper’s Hawk glided over a nearby
ridge, being harassed all the way by perhaps an Eastern Kingbird. We strolled up a little dirt path and were quite excited to find a second Great Gray Owl, this one flying slowly across the road and out of view into the forest, all the while carrying some prey in its bill. We were all tired out and hungry from all the excitement so we headed in to Cochrane and had lunch at Smitty’s.
After lunch we returned to the Horse Creek Road area, checking first a spruce bog where we found our target species, Alder Flycatcher. Other ‘bonus’ birds found here included a Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finch, American Kestrel, Pine Siskin, Yellow Warbler and a group of Cedar Waxwings. Overhead an immature Bald Eagle glided against the blue sky and it was soon followed by a Red-tailed Hawk and an immature Broad-winged Hawk. At a marshy area along the road we made our final birding stop of the day, and though I could hear my two target species here, Nelson’s Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow, neither would come in to view as the wind had picked up a little and was presumably keeping them down. This place lived up to its local name as Snipe Alley as we probably had about 10 Wilson’s Snipe in the area. An American Goldfinch sat long enough for everyone to get nice scope views of it, and in the marsh a Sedge Wren sang, but remained hidden.
Not only did we have a wide variety of birds today, but we also had some mammals including 2 Coyotes, several Mule Deer, a White-tailed Deer, a Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel and an American Red Squirrel. We drove on to Banff where we are to spend the next two nights. Dinner at El Toro was quite delicious!
Day 4, May 31 – This morning we headed out before breakfast, to Vermillion Lakes. The weather throughout the day, though cloudy and pretty cool, was better than the forecast rain and possible snow. Vermillion Lakes were scenic as ever, with the clouds and mist
covering much of the mountains. We encountered some nice warblers this morning including Magnolia Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Waterthrush. Willow Flycatcher was seen as was our first ‘Oregon’ Dark-eyed Junco. On the lakes, a pair of Common Loons in full breeding plumage were a treat to see, as were two Green-winged Teal and a lovely male Hooded Merganser. An adult Bald Eagle sat atop a lakeside tree and appeared not to move all day, as he was still sat there when we drove by at 5 PM. Osprey was seen hovering over the pond as well. The big highlight here however, came in the form of a fairly large Black Bear. As we rounded a corner, the bear was feeding on grass at the edge of the road.
When he saw us he crept slightly off the road and lied down at the base of a pine tree where he appeared to have a nice long snooze.
It was time for breakfast, and even more importantly coffee, so we headed for Coyotes and as usual, most of us ate too much. We then popped next door into an art gallery to have a look at my father’s art show and it was quite impressive. Leaving the bustle of the town of Banff, we headed for the Bow Valley Parkway, making our first stop at Mule Shoe Picnic Area. From the edge of the parking lot we were treated to views of nesting Red-naped Sapsuckers and a female Pileated Woodpecker, both of which had cavities in the aspen trees. Our first good looks at Columbian Ground-Squirrels were obtained here as
well. On a pond here, two male Ring-necked Ducks and a male and female Barrow’s Goldeneyes were a treat to see.
Next, at Johnston Canyon, we took a walk up the raging creek with hopes of seeing an American Dipper. The scenery, no matter what, was magnificent. Our first Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels scurried about on the canyon walls here. New birds included a female Varied Thrush, a Golden-crowned Kinglet, two Swainson’s Thrushes and a Townsend’s Solitaire, the latter of which had built a neat nest in a cavity in the canyon wall at eye level. Stuart shouted, ‘American Dipper’, and sure enough there was a dipper actively feeding along the river. We made it to the Lower Falls, which were quite impressive, and several of the group peeped their heads through a little tunnel to view the falls. There were treated to a nice cool spray (not really needed on this chilly day), as well as another view of the dipper. Lady Slipper Orchids, recently opened up, were nice to see along our walk. We had lunch in the café at Johnston Canyon and just before we left we saw a Least Chipmunk, our only one on the trip.
At Lake Louise, unfortunately the clouds were a bit low and we could not see the glaciers. Still, the scenery was great, and we stared in awe for a while amongst throngs of tourists. On our way back down to the van, two White-crowned Sparrows almost came and sat in our laps. The drive back to Banff produced the hardest rain of the day so we were thankful it had held off until this point. A quick drive around the Banff Springs Golf Course yielded 15 or so American Elk grazing in the grass. We stopped for a quick photo opp at Bow Falls and then returned to our hotel for a little rest before dinner at El Toro.
Day 5, June 1 – We loaded up the van and left Banff this morning, but not before visiting Cave and Basin Trail. The hour or so we spent here was quite productive this morning. The scenery was lovely with bits of blue sky here and there, and towering mountain
peaks peering out from behind the clouds and mist. Before we even left the parking area we had great views of our one and only Blackpoll Warbler of the trip, a singing male. We followed the babbling, steaming odorous waters of the hot springs down to the lake. In the clear waters we could see several species of tropical fish that live here in the warm waters of the spring. Great Blue Heron was seen lurking in the shallows, no doubt cashing in on the population of fish. A few ducks were about including Ring-necked Duck and the very attractive Hooded Merganser. Sora was calling from the marsh, but as usual, remained hidden. The woods of Cave and Basin were alive with birds. A young male American Redstart sang and danced about on branches nearby. A male Tennessee Warbler sang his snappy song from a pond side tree. Common Yellowthroats played hide and seek in the cattails. It was a brief sighting, but several saw an adult Northern Goshawk fly by carrying prey. Almost before I could even spit the word goshawk out of my mouth, the bird was gone. Before we left the parking lot we had one more stop, adding our only Swamp Sparrows of the tour. A pair of Elk with radio collars wandered across the road as if to bid us farewell.
We left Banff, heading west along Hwy 1, stopping again at Moraine Lake. The clouds cleared just enough to show off the magnificent mountains surrounding the calm, turquoise waters of Moraine Lake. The scenery here this morning was spectacular to say the least. Not many birds were about, though we did have our first Clark’s Nutcracker of the tour here, and on the lake were two Common Loons and a pristine male Common Merganser. A short walk through the spruce forest took us through a few little piles of snow, and we found few birds. We did see a male Varied Thrush atop a spruce tree, singing his ethereal song.
From Moraine Lake, we crossed the Great Divide and headed into British Columbia. ‘The best place on earth’ the welcome to B.C. sign said, and I rather agree with this statement, though I may be a bit biased. In the Kicking Horse Pass there was some roadwork, and we got stopped, though this turned out to be a bonus, since we saw a group of over a dozen Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep on a grassy slope. Two of the sheep were smashing their heads together. I mused that the two could be young rams, play fighting with each other. We had lunch at Subway in Golden before leaving the Rocky Mountains and heading into the Purcell Mountain range. We stopped in at Rogers Pass to take photos of the breathtaking mountain scenery. Again, we drove through several little rain showers today, but managed to stay dry ourselves.
Today we passed through several parks; Banff, Yoho, Glacier and finished off at Revelstoke National Park where we walked the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. The birds were active here this afternoon, and we were quite happy as well since the temperatures had warmed up to 20 degrees Celsius as we left the high mountains. A male American
Redstart flashed by, acting a bit like a movie star posing for the paparazzi. A Veery, our first, was quite a treat to see, as was our first Rufous Hummingbird, a male. Overhead, Vaux’s Swifts were noted, another new species for the tour list, which had now neared 140 species. The Skunk Cabbages were quite impressive with their large leaves covering the forest floor. A lovely butterfly, a Common (or Old World Swallowtail) sunned itself on leaves near the boardwalk. We headed from Skunk Cabbage Trail on to Salmon Arm, arriving before 6 PM. We had dinner at Setter’s Pub, where the food was nice, but the portions were rather large.
Day 6, June 2 – We started at 6 AM down at the pier in Salmon Arm. It was a lovely, sunny morning, with a few clouds drifting about. Western Grebes were numerous, calling and interacting with each other right near the pier. In with a flock of Canada Geese was a single Snow Goose, a bird that should have migrated up to the tundra weeks ago. Ospreys also were very entertaining this morning, with one or two birds perched
quite near the pier, excellent for the photographers in the group. Overhead, up to 20 Black Swifts were seen, and this was quite exciting, since this is a species that is often quite elusive. An adult Franklin’s Gull sailed over, a rather rare find for southern B.C.
We returned to our hotel for breakfast and then loaded up our stuff and returned to the waterfront of Salmon Arm for some more exploration. A walk along the Christmas Island Trail started off with the sighting of a lovely male Wood Duck. A Great Blue Heron hunted for fish along the shore here as well, and Tree Swallows poked their heads out of holes in nest boxes. Along the trail, the common species included Willow Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat and Red-winged Blackbird. We found an adult Black-capped Chickadee that was feeding two fledglings. A couple of Cedar Waxwings were great to see, especially for Janet, who has a ‘thing’ for waxwings. Soras called, but remained hidden in the marsh, as
usual, however we did luck out and have nice views of a Virginia Rail! Our first good views of a Gray Catbird were enjoyed, through the scope, along the railway tracks, between the rather frequent trains. Briefly, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, our first for the tour, flew overhead, followed by a harassing blackbird. Another unusual find for the southern interior of B.C. was an adult Double-crested Cormorant that sailed overhead for a few moments. We had scope views of a singing Red-eyed Vireo in the deciduous forests along the path, and just before where the trail was flooded, another local rarity, this time a singing male Blackpoll Warbler, was a great catch. Christmas Island, due to flooding, was not an island at all, but there were still a few Ring-billed Gulls perched on trees, shrubs and a partially submerged fence. With the Ring-billed Gulls was a single first year Mew Gull. A few folks on the tour caught a glimpse of two mammals; Water Vole and a Meadow Vole! A few butterflies were flying this morning, in the warm sunshine. There were Old World Swallowtails, Western Tiger Swallowtails and a beautiful Lorquin’s Admiral.
We had lunch on a patio overlooking the waterfront, while Ospreys fished and Western Grebes called in the distance, which was quite pleasant. After lunch we headed for Peter Jannink Nature Park where we spent about an hour. Up to 20 Western Grebes were frolicking in the water just off the park, but no Clark’s Grebe could be found. The drive to Kamloops took just over an hour and was very pleasant. The dense forests of the Columbia – Shuswap gave way to the dry, arid hillsides of the Thompson Region. Bald
Eagles were seen several times during the drive, along with a few Ospreys. In Kamloops we checked out the Rattlesnake Bluffs where we added our first Say’s Phoebe of the tour. The sagebrush habitat was a rather welcome change. At Tranquille, it was rather quiet, but we did see 3 Common Loons, and an adult Bald Eagle, the latter of which had an excellent viewpoint on a fence post atop a hill. Our first Yellow-bellied Marmots were a nice addition to the mammal list this afternoon. We headed for our hotel, situated on the hill on the south side of town, overlooking the city and the Thompson River. Dinner at Boston Pizza was enjoyable.
Day 7, June 3 – It was a nice morning in Kamloops, though overcast. After picking up lunch at the supermarket we made our way to the Lac du Bois Grasslands, on the north side of town. There was quite extensive sagebrush habitat here, and we took a short stroll through it, searching in particular for a Burrowing Owl. We did see two of them sitting atop posts amongst the sage and we agreed that this was a great way to start off the day. Other species noted in the same area included Western Meadowlarks, Vesper
Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow. Continuing along Lac du Bois Road we came to many little lakes and ponds, most of which had a selection of waterfowl on them. There were Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon, Blue-winged and Green-winged teal, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Bufflehead. The usual Red-winged Blackbirds, a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds and several Marsh Wrens were also nice to see in the wetlands. The male Marsh Wrens were singing persistently while trying to attract females to the multiple nests they had made. We explored an area of grassland and aspen and were rewarded with a nice list of western forest species such as a male Lazuli Bunting, immature male Bullock’s Orioles, a lovely male Western Tanager, Dusky Flycatchers and a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers. Cedar Waxwings, Warbling Vireo, Northern Flicker, American Goldfinch and House Wren were also tallied here for the day. Some nice flowers covered the hillsides here, such as Thompson’s
Paintbrush, Larkspur, milk vetch, balsam root, and arnica. At Lac du Bois we stopped to look at North America’s tiniest bird, a Calliope Hummingbird. The hummer was a male and had staked out his territory in a patch of bushes close the road. Every so often when he turned his head the right way we caught a flash of brilliant pink on his gorget. On the lake below were Buffleheads, Common Loons, Lesser Scaup and an attractive Red-necked Grebe. Mammals up on Lac du Bois today were rather scarce, though we did see a White-tailed Deer.
We had lunch at Isobel Lake, where we were joined by the pesky mosquito brigade. This didn’t dampen our spirits, and we enjoyed our lunch even though we were serenaded by the high pitched buzzing of the little insects. After we’d eaten, I tried out my Northern Pygmy-Owl call, and a nice bunch of birds came in to ‘mob’ the owl. There were Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, our first Hammond’s Flycatchers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the little group of mobsters. Then I heard the toot of a pygmy owl so I scanned the trees, instead finding a Gray Jay, our first for the tour, that was sitting atop a conifer nearby. Gray Jays can do a great imitation of pygmy-owl. As we were watching the jay, the pygmy-owl call started up
again, this time right next to us. It was a real deal Northern Pygmy-Owl! We enjoyed lengthy views of the owl as it moved from perch to perch, followed by a stream of mobbing songbirds. After we’d seen the owl, a light rain began to fall, and we made one more stop in hopes of finding a MacGillivray’s Warbler. We did find one, though we didn’t have great looks at it. The rain then picked up so we slowly made our way back to Kamloops and stopped in for an afternoon coffee before returning to our hotel for the evening. Dinner was delicious at an Indian buffet with a view over Kamloops.
Day 8, June 4 – We left Kamloops ‘in the dust’ this morning and headed S.W along Hwy 5A, stopping first in the grasslands along Rose Hill Road. Excellent views of Horned Lark was had here, as one sat on a little rock outcropping near the road and sang. Overhead Swainson’s Hawks soared, while the usual American Kestrel, Western Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow were all recorded.
At Separation Lake, a rather intimidating Rottweiler kept us on our toes, and it was quite breezy and cool here as well. There were still a few birds about including Yellow-headed Blackbird, Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Killdeer, and a selection of swallows. The next stretch of our drive along Hwy 5A was noteworthy for the sheer number of Bald Eagles we saw. We estimated between 70 – 80 Bald Eagles were along about a 10 km stretch of the hwy. Some were bathing in a stream, while others sat on fence posts, fallen trees, snags and hillsides. A short stop at Stump Lake provided us with nice views of several
nesting pairs of Red-necked Grebes, along with Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks and American Coots.
Our next stop, along Planet Mine Road, took us into an open grassland scattered with large live and dead Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs. This is the preferred habitat of the Lewis’s Woodpecker and once we were in place it didn’t take long for Anne to spot a Lewis’s on a fence post behind us. We watched the bird flycatch in typical Lewis’s Woodpecker fashion, before flying off and disappearing into the trees. Everyone agreed that the Lewis’s is one cool woodpecker. At Guichon Flats there were plenty of Eared Grebes about, as well as Redhead, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. A couple of Wilson’s Phalarope on a tiny roadside pond were a welcome addition to the day’s list.
We drove alongside the shores of Nicola Lake to Quilchena where we had lunch near the old historic hotel. As we ate, Vaux’s Swifts twittered overhead and our only Belted Kingfisher of the entire tour flew overhead. Brewer’s Blackbirds were busy feeding their young in the shrubs nearby as well. After a quick visit to the ‘General Store’ we
continued on our route, through Merritt and up and over Hwy 97C, the Okanagan Connector. We stopped at my house along Trepanier Creek in Peachland to check out what birds were visiting my feeders. My other half, Cindy and our two year old, Carsen, greeted us at the door. It was great to see them over the next couple of days while we were in Kelowna. Cindy had stocked up the feeders before our arrival and there were a few nice birds to see such as Pine Siskins, Cassin’s Finches, Chipping Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch and best of all the show of hummingbirds. There were over a dozen individuals visiting the feeders of three species; Rufous, Calliope and Black-chinned. We enjoyed coffee and tea as we watched the feeders for a while. Before we left, a male Western Tanager descended out of the fir trees and showed off nicely for the group. On the ground beneath the feeders we added a new mammal to the trip list; Yellow Pine Chipmunk. We said goodbye to Cindy and Carsen, though they met us for dinner later on.
Once we arrived in Kelowna we had one more stop at Sutherland Hills Park along Mission Creek, to look for a roosting Western Screech-Owl. Unfortunately the owl wasn’t home, but we did add one more species to our trip list, a Pygmy Nuthatch. We checked in at our hotel and then went for dinner later on at Olympia Greek Restaurant. We were joined by Cindy and Carsen and my two brothers, Cory and Connor.
Day 9, June 5 – As we gathered in the lobby of our hotel this morning, we were met by my good friend Mike Force. Mike’s a seabird observer on research vessels and he was enjoying a little time at home before trips. It was nice to have him along today to help us out. We started back at Sutherland Hills Park with one more try for the screech-owl. Again, the little fluffball wasn’t there! Again, we did not come up empty handed since we saw our first Nashville Warblers and Spotted Towhee of the tour.
At Robert Lake, one of Kelowna’s best birding spots, we scanned flooded fields, finding several stunning American Avocets, along with Wilson’s Phalaropes, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer, the latter of which had tiny precocious chicks running about. Out on the
lake was a nice variety of waterfowl including Bufflehead, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Cinnamon, and Blue-winged teal, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler. As we left Robert Lake we paused to look at Western Bluebirds and we counted up to 8 of them in the fields.
We stopped to pick up our lunch at Safeway before heading into the mountains east of Kelowna. Our first stop was along Hwy 33 where we had nice views of a pair of Western Kingbirds which were nesting on a telephone pole. Also seen here was a lovely Western Meadowlark. We then drove up to the McCulloch Rd Nordic Cross Country Ski area where we had our lunch. Again, as was often the theme, it was cool and breezy, but at least this kept the mosquitos away. In the trees around our picnic table was a Red-naped Sapsucker, along with Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Once we finished lunch we stopped to check a little wetland area along McCulloch Road, adding Olive-sided Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush and Wilson’s Warbler to the day list. We began heading up to Big White Ski Village, stopping along the way to explore the boreal forest along a little side road. In the spruce trees we located some stunning Varied Thrushes, one of which sang from the treetops as we watched in the scope. We had several nice looks at Hermit
Thrush here, a new species for the trip list. Other goodies added included Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two female Pine Grosbeaks, Townsend’s Warbler and more. Up at the ski village we checked a feeder out and were happy to see some Steller’s Jays here, new for the trip list as well. As the day was getting on, we decided to start heading back to Kelowna, via McCulloch Road. The descent of McCulloch Road was pleasant, with a few birds here and there as well as great views of Gallagher’s Canyon and Layercake Mountain. At dinner time we visited an Asian buffet and were joined by Cindy and my helper for the day, Mike.
Day 10, June 6 – We left Kelowna on a lovely sunny morning, crossing back over Okanagan Lake on the Bennett Bridge, and stopping in at Okanagan Lake Park to look for a roosting screech-owl. The screech-owl was fast becoming my nemesis for the tour! We enjoyed lovely views of Okanagan Lake with Wildhorse Canyon in the background. In Penticton we paused briefly to grab a coffee before continuing on to White Lake Road. We visited a friend’s place, who has a lovely log cabin in the forest. I checked the nest boxes that are placed on large fir and pine trees around her yard. ‘Western Screech-Owl’,
I exclaimed, as a youngster stuck his head out of one of the boxes. This sighting would go down as the bird of the day for many. Also here were Red-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, a very cooperative Townsend’s Solitaire and Mountain Chickadee. Farther along White Lake Road we explored the extensive areas of sagebrush that surround the lake. The scenery was stunning today, throughout our journey. Western Meadowlarks were abundant and their songs could be heard ringing throughout the valley at White Lake. Vesper Sparrows were the only sparrow that cooperated for us here today, with a distinct lack of Brewer’s Sparrows noted. We did, however, have one of the rarest breeding birds in Canada here, a singing male Sage Thrasher. Western Bluebirds were seen, as were Eastern Kingbird and American Kestrel.
Next, we headed up into the mountains east of Okanagan Falls. We checked in at a heavily wooded gully where I’d hoped to find a Barred Owl. Unfortunately the Barred Owls were not cooperating on this trip though. Eunice spotted a Ruffed Grouse here, however, and that was the only grouse we saw on the entire tour. Up at Venner Meadows we were quite pleased to find a Williamson’s Sapsucker nest in a large larch tree. We watched as the male and female made several visits to the cavity to feed young. At the actual meadows there was quite a lot of avian activity. Willow Flycatcher called and sallied out for insects. We had good scope views here also of a Northern Waterthrush. As the afternoon was getting on, we began the drive to Osoyoos, where we would be staying for the next two nights. Before we finished up on Shuttleworth Rd, we stopped to take in the spectacular view of Skaha Lake in the distance and we were treated to another great look at a Lewis’s Woodpecker. This evening we had dinner at Campo Marina in Osoyoos, and it was as usual, very tasty.
Day 11, June 7 – First thing this morning we took a spin along Road 22, admiring the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Killdeers along the way. Our first official stop was at the Vaseux Cliffs, a very pleasant place to be this morning. It didn’t take us long to find most of our target species, two Canyon Wrens and a Rock Wren were added, along with good views of White-throated Swifts, a Lazuli Bunting and an Osprey that was devouring a fish. Again, we saw Lewis’s Woodpeckers, a welcome sight at any time. Down on Vaseux Lake below was a single American White Pelican on a sandbar. As we watched, the pelican lifted into the air, and flew south. Also on the lake were Redheads and a pair of Canvasback, only the second time we’d encountered this species on the tour.
We explored some riparian forest along the Okanagan River, in hopes of finding a few more birds that had managed to elude us thus far. On the list was Black-headed Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat, and by the time we left, we’d seen both very well. Also nice to see were more Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Butterflies about included the ubiquitous Western Tiger Swallowtail and a Lorquin’s Admiral.
We headed up McKinney Road in Oliver, where I hoped we might find Gray Flycatchers, another of the Okanagan specialty birds. Upon arrival to the sight, I was happy to hear a Northern Pygmy-Owl tooting. We tracked down the owl and found that a number of
songbirds were mobbing it, including a couple of Gray Flycatchers! Pygmy Nuthatches were involved, and Anne spotted our first White-breasted Nuthatch of the tour. Overhead, Common Nighthawks called as they glided by, and Calliope Hummingbird even took to mobbing the owl. We had lunch in Oliver and then we drove over Anarchist Mountain to Rock Creek, where we explored the provincial park campground area for woodpeckers in a burn. There were supposed to be Black-backed Woodpeckers here, though we did not find them today. We did, however, find a couple of soot-stained Hairy Woodpeckers. Other species found here included Eastern Kingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, House Wren, Western Bluebird, Clark’s Nutcracker, and perhaps the most confiding MacGillivray’s Warbler ever, that sat for several seconds on a fence post right in front of us.
Back in Osoyoos we had diner again at Campo Marina and then we ventured up into the hills on the west side of town in the Richter Pass. As we were driving up the dirt road, I heard the distinct hissing notes of juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls. It took a bit of effort, crashing around in the dark through the brush, but eventually we all had looks at the tiny, chocolate brown owls, as they begged from the underbrush. Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills called, the latter of which I had a brief view of, but it disappeared before the rest of the group could find it.
Day 12, June 8 – We left Osoyoos this morning, stopping along the road to the Nighthawk Border Crossing. Amongst the sage here, we found several Brewer’s Sparrows as well as nicely patterned Lark Sparrows, both new species for the trip. The sweet song a Sage Thrasher echoed through the hills here, and we enjoyed watching this rare songster sing from the top of a Saskatoon. We headed for a towering cliff where I hoped we’d finally
see a Golden Eagle. As soon as we arrived, I spotted a giant stick nest up on the cliff and sure enough, an adult and a chick were sitting on the nest. We put up the scopes and had a view, while the adult soared overhead. Only problem here, were some persistent mosquitos, but the sighting of the Golden Eagles made it all worthwhile.
We stopped in at Princeton to pick up our lunch for the day and we carried on along Hwy 3 towards Hope. Suddenly traffic came to a standstill. There was an accident ahead and we were stuck for perhaps an hour and 15 minutes. We ate our lunch, and as Anne noted, we bonded as a group as we sat there waiting for the road to open. Once the cars started moving again we headed for Manning Park and Strawberry Flats. It was cold and breezy here, and there was still snow in the forest. It was nice to get out and have a little walk however, and we did see some nice birds like Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Varied Thrush, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but best of all, a flock of Gray Jays that
decided they wanted to steal almonds from us! We heard, but didn’t see, a Sooty Grouse hooting from a wooded hillside.
The drive into Vancouver took quite a while, as it was a Friday evening. Once we finally made it to our hotel in Richmond, we headed out for dinner at Stanley’s Grill.
Day 13, June 9 – It was supposed to be a cool, rainy morning, according to the forecast, so we were quite surprised when we emerged from our hotel, to find sunny skies. We certainly were not going to complain about it anyhow. We drove through the center of downtown Vancouver this morning, and across the impressive Lions Gate Bridge, to West Vancouver. Our destination was Lighthouse Park. We spent a couple of hours here, exploring the trails and taking in the splendour of the pacific coastal temperate rainforest. The trees were impressive in their own right towering far up into the sky and spanning many feet in diameter. These were old growth trees, and they were Western Red Cedars, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Douglas Maple, some of them 6 or 700 years old. The only problem with this forest being that many of the birds were about 100 feet up in the treetops and quite hard to spot. With a little patience many of the birds did come down to a good viewing level and we added a few that were new for the trip list. Our first Pacific Wrens were finally seen, as was our first Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Hutton’s Vireos came down from
the treetops, and we had another great view of a MacGillivray’s Warbler. At the Lighthouse we had our first good views of the Pacific, with Vancouver Island visible in the distance. A hummingbird feeder here produced our fourth species of hummingbird for the tour, Anna’s Hummingbird. A male Pileated Woodpecker put on a brilliant show here, landing on a telephone pole for several minutes. Some folks caught a glimpse of a new trip mammal species here, Douglas’s Squirrel, though it was gone before I could even get the word ‘squirrel’ out of my mouth.
We picked up lunch and took it down to Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. It seemed like literally everyone and their dog was out for a walk today. We had our first good views of Glaucous-winged Gulls here, and we studied the Northwestern Crows that came in to look for scraps around our picnic table. After we ate, we took the scopes to the beach to look for birds. We were rewarded with seven Harlequin Ducks foraging offshore, and both Double-crested and Pelagic cormorants.
Working on a tip from a friend, I took the group up to the parking area at the Cypress Bowl Ski Area this afternoon, where my friend said, ‘You can’t miss the Red-breasted Sapsucker.’ Turns out she was right. After a short hike into the trees we found a couple of lovely Red-breasted Sapsuckers gathering food for young. On our way back down the mountain, we paused to take in the breathtaking view of Vancouver below. As a bonus, three Band-tailed Pigeons flew past, the only ones we saw on the tour.
Our final stop of the day was at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver. After a bit of searching we found our target species here, a singing male Black-throated Gray Warbler. We had decent views of the warbler, though he stayed fairly high in the leaves, moving about as he sang. We returned to our hotel in Richmond and went out for our last dinner as a group to the Old Spaghetti Factory.
Day 14, June 10 – Our last morning in Vancouver and the final morning of the tour, we began at Queen Elizabeth Park, where we searched through the cedar trees, looking for roosting Barred Owls. We had no luck on the owl unfortunately, but it was worth a try. We then headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, where it was a bit breezy and cool, but sunny nonetheless. It didn’t take long for us to spot Black Oystercatchers here, a new
bird for the trip. Soon thereafter a Caspian Tern flew by, another new bird, and this was followed up by the sighting of some Greater Scaup, so that made three new species at this location. The numbers of Great Blue Herons here were impressive, as there is a nesting colony nearby and the birds come down to the tidal mudflats at low tide to feed. We had another look at Harlequin Ducks here, with about 15 sighted.
We then headed off to the Reifel Refuge, but not before a quick stop for coffee in Ladner. Once at Reifel, we stopped along the entrance road where we saw our first and only Bewick’s Wren of the trip. Once at Reifel we were immediately inundated by the hordes of ducks, geese, pigeons and sparrows that hang around the entrance of the refuge. A nice highlight though, was to see several Wood Ducks at close range. We made our way to an area of the reserve where Sandhill Cranes were said to be nesting and just as we came around a corner, one of the cranes was standing on the path. A little farther along the trail we found its mate sitting on a nest. Marsh Wrens chattered noisily from the reeds, a few of them pausing long enough for us to view them through the scope. Overhead, our first Purple Martins sailed by, along with Cliff Swallows, Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows. Eventually we encountered a little flock of Bushtits as they moved through the vegetation. Anne likened them to Long-tailed Tits, a species with similar habits from the U.K. A male Purple Finch sat atop a dead tree and allowed us to view through the scope, which was great since we’d only had fleeting glimpse of this species up until that point. We made our way to the outer ponds where I hoped we might find a lingering shorebird or two, and I was not disappointed. There was a single breeding plumage adult Western Sandpiper here, along with a Long-billed Dowitcher and several Greater Yellowlegs, all new species for the trip list.
It was mid-afternoon now so we headed off in search of a place to have lunch, ending up at the White Spot. After lunch we had about 45 minutes to visit the Iona Water Treatment Ponds, though there wasn’t too much about this afternoon. There were ducks there, including Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Cinnamon Teal. Rod stayed back as we went a bit farther to look for a Barn Owl, which we didn’t find. As we were coming back to meet Rod, our one and only Raccoon of the tour popped out of the bushes on the trail in front of us. Once we found Rod, he opened up his camera and showed us excellent photos of the Raccoon as he had also seen it. As we drove to the airport, our final sighting was a nice one, a Northern Harrier was sailing above the long grasses. I said farewell to the group, and thanked them all for the good company during the trip. We had seen 222 species of birds during our trip, and 19 species of mammals, a success in my books. The first group had set the bar high for the second Rockies Tour group, arriving in Calgary on June 17,
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours