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.