TEXAS ~ Rio Grande with Limosa Holidays. Feb 21 to Mar 2, 2018

DAY 1 – By about 3 PM the first tour participants emerged from the arrivals hall at Houston International Airport, and soon, all 7 of us were on our way to Rosenberg. It was an overcast and periodically rainy afternoon, and there was a lot of rush hour traffic so the journey from Houston Airport to Rosenberg took about an hour and a half, which is to be expected. Along the way we saw a few birds such as Great-tailed Grackles, Great Egret, a Cooper’s Hawk, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and the usual Feral Rock Pigeons and European Starlings. We checked into our hotel and then went for dinner at Chilis.

DAY 2 – It was cool and overcast this morning as we left our hotel in Rosenberg and made our way towards Brazos Bend State Park. Upon arrival at the park we were greeted by a small group of American Robins foraging on the ground beneath a live oak tree. We spent a couple of hours circumnavigating 40 acre Lake, racking up a nice list of birds along the way. The first order of business was to scope the lake and since this was our first morning of birding, almost everything was new. There were Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Common Gallinules, Gadwall, a Ring-necked Duck, Black-bellied

American Bittern. Brazos Bend S.P., Texas. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Whistling-Ducks and some lovely American Anhingas found here. An adult Little Blue Heron crept through the aquatic vegetation looking for morsels and White Ibis, Snowy and Great egrets, Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorant were also in attendance. The path took us alongside some woodland where Red-bellied Woodpecker was briefly seen, and Downy Woodpeckers showed quite nicely. There were quite a few ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers along with a few Orange-crowned Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets bopping about in the trees. American Goldfinches were quite numerous. We had exquisite views of several American Bitterns this morning, which was a real treat, since this species is often hidden away in the thick marsh vegetation. A stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher appeared alongside the path and caught our attention for several minutes. American Pipits were also seen, as were Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse. Skimming over the lake were Tree Swallows, and singles of Cave Swallow and Barn Swallow. A couple of American Alligators were noted, one of which was quite large. A short rain shower produced enough rain for us to dig out our umbrellas and jackets, but it stopped just in time for us to have very good views of a Sedge Wren.


By about 10:30 AM we were on the road, weaving through the countryside on our way towards Rockport. There were many American Kestrels noted on the power lines along the road today and we probably saw at least 30 of these miniature falcons. Also, a few Loggerhead Shrikes were seen from the van as we drove along. We stopped to ogle at some very close Sandhill Cranes, and by the end of the drive we had tallied over 100 of these majestic birds. Our next stop was at the highway 35 causeway near Port Lavaca

American Oystercatcher. Texas. Photo: Chris Charlesworth


where a Purple Sandpiper, a Texan rarity, had been thrilling birders for the past few days. Rain was dribbling down periodically while we searched, but we only found Ruddy Turnstones, Spotted Sandpipers, Willet, and some nice American Oystercatchers. There were some Least Sandpipers foraging in a muddy puddle. Farther out on the water were up to half a dozen Common Loons, and a Red-breasted Merganser. We ate our lunch here and then turned around and started to drive back to the highway. As we drove along we saw a little group of Ruddy Turnstones fly up from the water’s edge, along with one slightly smaller darker shorebird. Guess what? It was the Purple Sandpiper. We, and several other Texan birders, had great views of the bird and we left with smiling faces.


The next stop on the agenda was at Lions / Shelly Park in Refugio. We had hoped to find Green Kingfisher here, but you can’t win them all. We were rewarded with great views of our first Golden-fronted Woodpecker here however. Other goodies included Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler. We were almost in Rockport when we spotted a lot of shorebirds on some flats, and we just couldn’t drive by them without stopping. There was quite a nice variety here including Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-

Black-necked Stilt. Texas. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

necked Stilt, American Avocet, Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret and more. We finally made it to Rockport, after having tallied up an impressive list of 100 bird species. Dinner at Charlotte Plummer’s was quite nice.


DAY 3 – It was an overcast morning, with a bit of patchy fog as we found ourselves at the Fulton Harbor, ready to board the MV Skimmer, led by Captain Tommy, to see one of North America’s rarest birds, Whooping Cranes. Before we even left the harbor we had added a new bird to our list as an adult Franklin’s Gull accompanied the more common Laughing Gulls, offering an excellent comparison of the two somewhat similar species. We left the harbor and as captain Tommy gave us instructions on what to do in the unlikely event we needed to use life jackets, we began picking up birds through the window of the skimmer. There were Common Loons, as well as a few Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead. Brown Pelicans and both Double-crested and Neotropic cormorants were here. Once we got into the protected waters of Aransas, we began to see large white birds on the horizon that eventually took the shape

whooping crane
Whooping Cranes. Aransas NWR, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

of Whooping Cranes. The first group of three, two adults and a rusty plumaged immature, fed in the marsh not more than 50 yards in front of the boat. An amazing success story, Captain Tommy explained that only about a dozen of these majestic birds remained in the wild in the 1940s, though today their numbers are over 500. We saw 39 Whooping Cranes today, a fairly large percentage of the world population. In addition to the cranes there were many other birds to enjoy. Roseate Spoonbill, Clapper Rail, Osprey, Royal Tern, Reddish Egret, and many other species were tallied. We were thrilled to see Bottlenose Dolphins around our boat, with one individual sporting a green tracking tag on its dorsal fin. It had been a very enjoyable morning we

Dolphins (web)
Bottlenose Dolphins. Aransas NWR, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Nigel Turnbull.

all agreed, as we returned to Rockport, where we picked up lunch and had it at a picnic area next to the gulf. It was now quite sunny and warm and the breeze had picked up considerably. We had a fair journey to make this afternoon, all the way from Rockport down to the LRG (Lower Rio Grande) and Harlingen where we would be staying for the coming three nights.


We paused to look for more shorebirds at Sunset Lake near Corpus Christi, and we were rewarded with half a dozen species of plover including our first Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover and endangered Piping Plover, as well as Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and Black-bellied Plovers. Close to 200 American Avocets were estimated to be here today, with one or two beginning to show the pink head feathers of breeding plumage.

As we continued south along Hwy 77, the vegetation changed to thorn forest, characterised by mesquite trees. We stopped at a rest stop, just south of Sarita, a regular stop for birders since it gives them their first opportunity to see some Rio Grande species. We were rewarded with lovely views of Green Jays, our first Black-crested Titmouse, and the only Brewer’s Blackbirds we saw on the entire tour. Nigel spotted a female Rufous Hummingbird visiting some flowers, and this was the only one of that species we encountered on the tour. As we made our way closer to Harlingen, sightings of Crested Caracaras and a couple of White-tailed Hawks interrupted the drive. Once in Harlingen we checked in at our hotel and then went for a scrumptious Mexican dinner at a local establishment called Los Asados.

DAY 4 – I took the group to the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen first thing this morning. I ‘sold’ the idea of visiting this park to the group as ‘just a place we’ll kill an hour before the sandwich shop opens up’. It turned out the hour and a half or so we spent here was the most productive birding we had today! A feeder station set up near the parking area produced sightings of such goodies as a male Buff-bellied Hummingbird, White-tipped Doves, Great Kiskadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Altamira Oriole, Green Jay and Northern Cardinal. Walking the trails, we happened upon a single

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Green Jay. Texas. 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Least Grebe on a little pond covered in green sludge. A Lincoln’s Sparrow sat on a branch long enough for lengthy scope views, and a White-eyed Vireo posed nicely for great views in the morning sunshine as well. One and possibly two Olive Sparrows, another species found in the USA only in south Texas, were nice to add to the list this morning. Up to three Long-billed Thrashers put on a lovely show. A Gray Catbird skulked in the underbrush and our first Harris’s Hawk of the tour sailed overhead. Not everyone saw it, but a Collared Peccary dashed through the brush and disappeared into the thickets. Not a bad start to the day!


We picked up lunch and then headed out towards Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Upon arrival we were led to an area where there was supposed to be a roosting Common Pauraque was meant to be, but he wasn’t there unfortunately. Around the headquarters feeders are peppered about and we visited the various stations, where hundreds of Great-tailed Grackles caused a great noise. Green Jays were surprisingly common, and there were many Red-winged Blackbirds as well. From the visitor’s center we took a stroll along the first half a kilometer of the Bayside Loop, and it was pretty quiet. A few butterflies were about however, and Nigel managed to identify Mimosa Skipper and White Peacock. We had lunch at Osprey Overlook, where the wind was howling, as per usual. A few birds were feeding along the muddy edge including

Greater Roadrunner. Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Nigel Turnbull.

some nice Roseate Spoonbills, a Reddish Egret and a number of ducks including our first American Wigeon of the tour. John D headed off towards the bushes and came back exclaiming that he had seen a roadrunner. We dashed off to look for ourselves, but there was no sign of the bird anywhere. Some of us, however, did have a brief look at a Verdin here. We headed back to the van and piled in, but Nigel was nowhere to be seen. Just as we were about to head out and look for him, he came up and said he had seen the roadrunner so out we got once again. This time we saw the bird, a Greater Roadrunner, sitting still in the shade beneath the mesquite trees. We headed back to the visitor’s center for one more look before leaving the refuge. This time we were lucky to see a little group of Plain Chachalacas, some of which were feeding at the station.


We departed the refuge and headed south, hoping to see an Aplomado Falcon. We were not disappointed, as a large, very long winged, long tailed falcon soared in front of the van and over the field. Soon thereafter we stopped to search for a Tropical Kingbird, and were rewarded with one, as well as a lovely male Vermilion Flycatcher. We carried on to the coast at Laguna Vista where we scanned the water, adding Redhead to our trip list. Other species present included Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, and the usual Brown Pelicans, White Ibis, Snowy and Great egrets and Laughing Gulls. The day was getting on so we returned to our hotel before heading out for a very tasty meal at the Texas Road House.

DAY 5 – From Harlingen we made our way to a lovely place called The Inn at Chachalaca Bend, near Los Fresnos. On the way we added a few birds to our list such as Lesser Scaup on a resaca and a White-tailed Kite next to the road. Once at the Inn, we mulled around the office area hoping to catch a glimpse of a local rarity, a Rose-throated Becard. Unfortunately today, luck was not on our side. There were a number of other nice birds about however, including Buff-bellied Hummingbird, a number of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a Blue-headed Vireo, Black-crested Titmouse, and Long-billed Thrasher.

Feeling a little defeated by the becard, we left Chachalaca Bend and headed for Brownsville and the Sabal Palms Sanctuary. It was cloudy and dark skies threatened to rain on us, though for the most part it was dry. We headed first for a hide next to a pond. All the ponds and waterways here were rather dry, a sign of less rain than in past

black-crested titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse. Texas, 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

seasons. There was just enough water to attract some birds and there were several Least Grebes here as well as Pied-billed Grebe, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal and the ubiquitous American Coot. On the far side of the pond, a Couch’s Kingbird sat atop a tree and sang, our first for the trip. Wandering more trails we caught up with Ladder-backed Woodpecker and the whiny-voiced Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. We had lunch next to feeders where Green Jays, Northern Cardinal, Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, and best of all a Clay-colored Thrush, came in to feed.


From Brownsville we headed east, crossed over a long causeway and found ourselves on South Padre Island, a long, thin barrier island covered in hotels, resorts and sandy beaches. One area remains a gem for birds, however, the boardwalk at the ‘World Birding Center’. We spent some time exploring the mudflats, Black Mangrove groves and

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Clapper Rail. S. Padre Island, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

marshes along the boardwalk, tallying close to 70 species of birds on our visit! Herons and egrets of all sorts were here, including Reddish Egrets and our first Green Heron of the tour. Waterfowl were in good numbers with Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Mottled Duck, Green-winged and Blue-winged teal, and more. Some shorebirds foraged on the mudflats, including Long-billed Curlew, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe and Black-bellied Plover. At one point a Clapper Rail came right out in front of us and wandered around in the open, in a most un-rail-like fashion. Ospreys seemed to be everywhere and another professional fish catcher, the Belted Kingfisher was also noted here. Our one and only Gull-billed Tern of the tour flew over here, and a couple of us caught a glimpse of a speeding Peregrine Falcon. A few Alligators were observed, and one, though only its snout could be seen beneath the boardwalk under us, appeared to be very large. All in all, it was a very

Great Blue Heron. S. Padre Island. TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

pleasant afternoon on South Padre Island. We returned to Harlingen for the night and enjoyed some Chinese food at the China Star.


DAY 6 – It was a misty morning as we made our way back to the Inn at Chachalaca Bend for one more try for the sought-after Rose-throated Becard. On our way into the property, a pair of Great Horned Owls were spotted as they roosted in a large tree outside the gate. We had decent, although foggy views, of them just before they flew off to hide in a more concealed location. Wandering around the property we found much of the same as we had found the previous day, but perhaps the highlight was the opportunity to study five species of swallows all lined up on a wire side by side. There were N. Rough-winged, Cliff, Cave, Barn and Tree swallows present.

Next, we made our way to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge where we headed for Willow / Cattail Lakes before lunch. On the lakes there was a nice variety of waterfowl including some lovely Cinnamon Teal. In fact, on one log, there were Cinnamon, Green-winged and Blue-winged teal all lined up side by side. Brief views of Black-and-white Warbler and Nashville Warbler were obtained here by some people, though most of the

great kiskadee
Great Kiskadee. Texas, 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

warbler types we encountered were ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers and Orange-crowned Warblers. We had lunch while watching the usual Green Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds and Altamira Orioles visit feeders, and then we headed out for one more try on the trail, this time to Pintail Lakes. John D spotted the highlight bird here, a lovely little female Green Kingfisher sitting on a stump next to the lake. White-faced Ibis came in and allowed us to study their features through the scope, and we flushed several Wilson’s Snipe from the grassy shore. Hovering over the horizon were White-tailed Kite and Harris’s Hawks, and a Gray Hawk called, but remained hidden. As we made our way back towards the visitors center I glimpsed a Bobcat as it leapt into the roadside vegetation. We crept forward slowly, but couldn’t see the cat, and we were then distracted by a calling Gray Hawk so we carried on hoping to see the hawk. Nigel lingered and was rewarded with a view of the Bobcat as it disappeared into the thorns. We headed for McAllen, checked into our hotel and then after a short while we went searching for parrots at dusk.


Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots are two parrot species that are ‘tickable’ in North America, so we headed out to known roosts for both species in hopes of seeing them. We arrived at the Green Parakeet roost, which consisted of a busy intersection, a large grocery store parking lot and overhead telephone wires. Small groups of Green

red-crowned parrots
Red-crowned Parrots. McAllen, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Parakeets soon began arriving and we tallied over 70 of them before I exclaimed we should head off to look for the Red-crowned Parrots before it got dark. We made our way to a residential neighborhood with lots of trees and it didn’t take too long to find a tree full of large amazon type parrots. We tallied 76 of them, and 74 were Red-crowned Parrots! The other two, a Yellow-headed Parrot and a Red-lored Parrot, but nice to see, but not officially countable in North America…yet. We headed for dinner at the Olive Garden and then retired for the evening.


DAY 7 – This morning we made our way to a park called Quinta Mazatlan, another of the Rio Grande’s ‘World Birding Centers’. This lovely park, with trails, feeders and a historical adobe mansion, was a pleasure to explore, and we began at the stone amphitheater since there had been a Mexican rarity seen here recently, an immature male Blue Bunting. One of the park staff came out with food, and placed orange halves on trees, smeared peanut butter on branches and sprinkled seed about. As soon as he

blue bunting
Blue Bunting. Quinta Mazatlán, McAllen, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

left, the first bird appeared at the feeders and wouldn’t you know it, it was the Blue Bunting! We enjoyed great views of this Mexican vagrant, as it gobbled down seed alongside Great Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Green Jays and hordes of Red-winged Blackbirds. We were happy to see several little groups of Cedar Waxwings come in to feed in the treetops, and we saw our first Inca Doves of the tour here at feeders as well.


We tried, along a dirt road through agricultural fields, to find Burrowing Owl this morning, with no luck. Christine did spot our first Black Phoebe of the tour, however, and we had the opportunity to study a group of Western Meadowlarks as they foraged in the fields. Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier and American Kestrel patrolled the fields, while Red-tailed Hawk surveyed the horizon from its perch on a telephone pole.

Our next stop was at Estero Llano Grande State Park, where we spent a couple of hours, beginning with devouring our lunches on the deck of the visitors center. I ran into a good friend from back home who gave me valuable intel on where to find a roosting Pauraque, so as soon as we had finished eating lunch off we went, and we had crippling views of a Common Pauraque as it spent its day on the ground. We then braved the very strong winds atop a dyke as we scanned the lake below for a Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Common Pauraque roosting at Estero Llano Grande S.P., Weslaco, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Nigel Turnbull.

that had been reported with some Northern Shoveler. I found the shovelers easily, and there was the whistling duck in with them. Because of the strong winds, the scope wobbled a lot, but we all got decent views of the duck at least, and there was a pair of White-tailed Kites sitting in a tree next to the lake. Bonus! Before we left Estero Llano, we explored the ‘Tropical Region’ where a few trailer park snowbirds put out feeders. We hoped, in particular, for a locally rare species, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, that had been seen earlier in the day. We never did see the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, but we did have our one and only encounter with Black-chinned Hummingbird of the tour, as a male and a female came in to feed. Buff-bellied Hummingbird was also here. Lesser Goldfinches paused long enough in a tree top for me to get them in the scope and offer people their first look at the ‘black-backed’ race of this species found in the Rio Grande. As we left, Nigel informed us on the list of butterflies he had racked up, which was quite impressive. After one more unsuccessful try for the Burrowing Owl, we headed back to McAllen, and went for dinner at Applebee’s. After dinner, we visited Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, in hopes of finding some night creatures. Shortly after parking the van, we

Brown Tarantula, McAllen, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

discovered a Brown Tarantula in the middle of the road, which was quite spectacular to see. Farther along, we began hearing the calls of Common Pauraques. I shone my flashlight towards some feeders and we saw a Northern Raccoon just as it decided to ‘head for the hills’, and just as we were about to leave, a Coyote appeared. To top things off, two Pauraques flew up from the roadside and fluttered about in my spotlight for several seconds. It had been an enjoyable evening, all except for the constant annoyance of the US border helicopter hovering above.


DAY 8 – Anzalduas County Park was our first stop this morning and here, we enjoyed our first views of the Rio Grande and Mexico. One of the first birds we found at the dam was a Muscovy, a the only ‘tickable’ USA population of this species. Cave Swallows swarmed near their nests built on the dam itself. Straddling the river between Mexico and Texas were groups of Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks. Ospreys and Caspian Terns sailed up and down the river, entering the USA and then Mexico, no passports needed. A Couch’s Kingbird and a young male Vermilion Flycatcher were spotted here, but the best was yet to come. We fanned out and walked through a field of short grass, eventually flushing about 4 Sprague’s Pipits. The looks weren’t great, and were just of pipits flushing from the grass and giving distinctive call noted. I explained to the group that this was the best look one would normally get of a Sprague’s Pipit. At that moment we found another Sprague’s, but this one did not flush it sat long enough for scope views. Another bonus!

At Bentsen Rio Grande State Park we took the ‘tram’ to an area with feeders. This was the location that an Audubon’s Oriole had been visiting. We waited for perhaps an hour with no sign of the oriole. There were Altamira Orioles, Green Jays, Plain Chachalaca, White-

giant swallowtail
Giant Swallowtail. McAllen, TX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

tipped Dove, Olive Sparrow and dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds about however, and all the activity had attracted a Bobcat. We had a rather quick glimpse of the Bobcat as it ambled across an opening beneath the feeder. Nigel racked up several new butterfly species here as well, with the likes of Teleus Longtail, Texan Crescent, White Peacock, and Dusky Blue Groundstreak being just some of the highlights.


Our westward migration continued and we soon found ourselves in Rio Grande City, a somewhat less urbanized area than Harlingen and McAllen. We checked in at our hotel and had lunch before emerging once again into the afternoon heat for a visit to Salineno. The drive to Salineno was about half an hour and took us through the historic towns of Rio Grande City and Roma. Once at Salineno, we headed for the feeders, which are cared

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Altamira Oriole. Salineno, TX. Mar 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

for and filled multiple times each day by a friendly fellow from Iowa. This feeder set up is perhaps the best and most reliable place in the USA to see Audubon’s Oriole, though we didn’t see one this afternoon. We were treated to several great views of Altamira Orioles though, as well as Great Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Jay, Northern Cardinal and Black-crested Titmouse. A Sharp-shinned Hawk, our one and only for the tour, harassed the birds at the feeder occasionally. We followed a trail upstream along the river, through mesquite woods and open fields. We were rewarded with the sighting of a Cassin’s Sparrow giving a flight song. Also new for the list here today were Chipping Sparrows and a pair of Bewick’s Wrens. Back in Rio Grande City, we had dinner this evening at Chili’s.


DAY 9 – We left our hotel in Rio Grande City shortly after 7 AM and returned to Salineno where we hoped to find a few of our final target species. Ringed Kingfisher just wouldn’t cooperate, so unfortunately we missed this species, and Red-billed Pigeons were not flying up and down the river as they often do. We put it down to the fact that there was a gale force wind blowing through the valley this morning. We were however, quite happy to have a great scope view of an adult Gray Hawk in a riverside tree. ‘Mexican’ Mallards were found along the river here too, though

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Salineno, TX. Mar 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

they didn’t evoke the same excitement as the Gray Hawk did. Up at the feeders we spent close to an hour waiting and watching the same species that had come in the evening prior. Just as I was beginning to get nervous that we might miss the Audubon’s Oriole, a pair of these beautiful orioles came in for a leisurely feeding.


Next, we explored Falcon State Park, where the habitat had become decidedly more arid. As we drove in I spotted a Pyrrhuloxia foraging on the ground next to the road, and this was the only individual of this species that we found. We followed a trail through the scrub, finding species like Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a very dapper Black-throated Sparrow! Before we left, we were treated to views of a several Collared Peccary as they fed in grassy areas at the edge of a campground.

Lunch was picked up in Zapata and we had a picnic at the local city park. After lunch we had a quick try for one of the area’s more sought-after species, White-collared Seedeater. A tiny ‘peep’ call note announced the presence of a seedeater and it didn’t take too long to locate the tiny bird, a female, in the grasses nearby. It was time for us to begin the drive to Rockport, a journey of 3.5 hours.

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Audubon’s Oriole. Salineno, TX. Mar 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Driving Texas roads is an exercise in stamina. The roads are long and straight with no bends. The countryside is flat with no scenery to look at. This describes the particular area of Texas we were in. If one were to travel north to San Antonio, the rolling oak-covered hills of Hill Country are lovely, and to the west the mountains of Big Bend are scenic as well. I broke the drive up with the occasional ‘pit-stop’ and by about 5:45 PM we arrived at our hotel in Rockport. We had dinner at Charlotte Plummer’s and it was the opening night of Oysterfest so we were treated to a very impressive show of fireworks!


DAY 10 – It was our last morning in Texas and we made the best of it. We headed for Goose Island State Park, which, it was good to see, was still standing after Hurricane Harvey. Upon arrival we checked some mudflats where Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin and our first Western Sandpipers of the tour were noted. Waterfowl included Buffhelead, Common Goldeneye and Redhead, and the usual herons and egrets were about. We headed for another area known as ‘the Big Tree’. This area had open fields and a wetland, as well as a very large and impressive live oak tree. We got

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Whooping Cranes. Goose Island S.P. Rockport, TX. Mar 2018. Photo: Nigel Turnbull.

reacquainted with Whooping Cranes here, as perhaps up to ten of them were seen in the general area. A flock of meadowlarks played hide and seek with us and we were eventually able to see that at least some of the birds in the flock were Eastern Meadowlarks, a first for the tour.


It was still about 3 hours to Houston so we started the journey, stopping at Wharton for lunch at Denny’s. On the grass outside of Denny’s I counted 50 American Pipits wandering about, mostly hiding in shady spots. In S.E. Houston we stopped in at the Sims Bayou Nature Center, where Monk Parakeets can often be found. The parakeets were nowhere to be seen today, but we did add Blue Jay to the trip list and we had some great views of Cedar Waxwings. I knew an Eastern Screech-Owl liked to roost in a box down along the bayou so I peered through the trees looking for the best angle. Once I found the box, I was happy to see a little ‘red’ morph Eastern Screech-Owl peering out of the box. Everyone else was happy as well, and it was a lifer for several.

Once we were in the vicinity of the airport we made a short stop at Jesse Jones Nature Park to check the feeders. There were Chipping Sparrows at the feeders but little else. It was nice to see Red-bellied Woodpeckers once again, and we heard a Pine Warbler singing. We headed for the hotel at which I would be staying for one more night and everyone packed their telescopes, binoculars and got ready for the flight. Before we left though, we squeezed out one more final species, number 195, a House Finch.


Birding Baja California Sur, Mexico February 2018

I recently had the pleasure of running a birding trip to West Mexico. After the tour was all over on February 1, I flew from Puerto Vallarta to San Jose del Cabo, via Mexico City. I met up with Cindy and my son Carsen at the airport and our Baja adventure began. We stayed in San Jose del Cabo at the Holiday Inn Resort. This resort is right next to the San

cactus wren
Cactus Wren. Baja California Sur, MX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Jose Estuary so it is perhaps the best place to stay in the area if you’re a birder. Just around the resort itself there were plenty of birds to look at. Hooded Orioles seemed to be very common in this part of Mexico. Gila Woodpeckers were noisily calling from the cactus garden and Cactus Wrens chugged away nonstop. Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most common warbler at the resort, followed by Yellow and Orange-crowned. House Sparrows and California Gulls were the clean-up crews around the eating establishments.


On February 2, I took a walk over to the estuary to see what I could find. Immediately I could see there were hundreds of birds covering the flats of the estuary. While these birds were of interest to me, I was most interested in finding the first of three endemic species that I had hoped to find in Baja, the Belding’s Yellowthroat. In the little remnant patches of reeds there were yellowthroats and they popped up quite readily to a little

belding's yellowthroat
Belding’s Yellowthroat, a Baja California endemic. Baja California Sur. Feb 2018. Chris Charlesworth

pishing. Most of them turned out to be Common Yellowthroats. After a bit of searching, a male Belding’s Yellowthroat popped into view. He was larger and longer billed than the Common Yellowthroat and over the top of his black mask, it was bordered by yellow. Then, a female Belding’s appeared and she looked much like a female Common Yellowthroat but was larger, longer billed and the yellow areas seemed more intense in color. Success in finding the first of three endemics!


On February 5, I spent the morning birding in a desert wash just north of the San Jose Airport. There was quite a bit of vegetation in the form of thorn forest and cactus. Steve Howell’s ‘A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico’ suggests trying this wash to find the endemic Gray Thrasher. I took on the challenge. It was quite birdy in this area, with common species including Ash-throated Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Scott’s Oriole, Black-headed

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Gray Thrasher, a Baja Endemic. Baja California Sur, MX. Feb 2018. Chris Charlesworth

Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Costa’s Hummingbird and Bell’s Vireo to name a few species. California Scrub-Jays occasionally paused atop trees long enough to let out a few alarm calls. I had spent over an hour walking through the wash and the temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t like the idea of giving up the thrasher hunt empty handed, so I pushed on just a little farther and I was rewarded. I saw at least 2 Gray Thrashers eventually. I checked every hummingbird today, hoping it would be the Xantus’ Hummingbird, but all I could find were Costa’s Hummingbirds. Another highlight for me this morning was finding a ‘Cape’ Northern Pygmy-Owl, a subspecies found only in the Baja and perhaps a bird that will one day warrant full species status.


February 6, Cindy, Carsen and I went on a little adventure, driving from our resort in San Jose del Cabo to the Sea of Cortez at Los Barriles. Along the way, I had one request. I needed to find a Xantus’ Hummingbird! I checked ebird and found that birders had been reporting them in the little town of Caduano. We drove around the village, getting all sorts of confused looks from the locals as I peered into their yards looking for flowers that might attract hummingbirds. There were some nice birds in the town such as

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Xantus’ Hummingbird. Caduano, Baja California Sur, MX. Feb 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, California Towhee, Gilded Flicker and Thick-billed Kingbird, but all I could find were Costa’s Hummingbirds. On our way out of town, I screeched to a halt to check one last hummingbird that was sitting up atop a tree. It was a male Xantus’ Hummingbird, the third endemic bird I had hoped to find while in Baja. Success!


The last thing I wanted to accomplish before we left the area was to return to the estuary with my scope. I did this on February 7. The flats were covered in birds, including shorebirds such as hundreds of Least Sandpipers, and a few Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Spotted Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Long-billed Dowitchers and Willets. A single Marbled Godwit appeared on the flats at one point. Waterfowl were in good numbers with both Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal noted, Northern Pintail, Gadwall and American Wigeon all present and accounted for. Pied-billed Grebes were on the fresh water of the estuary, and a single Eared Grebe was out on the ocean. Herons were numerous and I tallied up to 10 Reddish Egrets dancing in the shallows here. Around the edge of the pond were several Crested Caracaras and on the sandy beach was a Wilson’s Plover. At the end of my walk today I had tallied 66 species, not too bad.

West Mexico Endemics ~ Jan 22 to Feb 1, 2018. Part 2

Day 5 – January 26
Due a stomach bug, I missed out on this day’s birding, however Luis and group went out to an area called Chacalilla where they had breakfast in the field. Some of the highlight

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Whimbrel. San Blas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

birds noted from this morning’s excursion include Elegant Quail (heard), American Avocet, Willow Flycatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Lucy’s Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blue-black Grassquit and Lazuli Bunting. The group returned to San Blas for lunch and then later headed down to the beach to look for shorebirds. They found some, including Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel and Willet.

Day 6 – January 27
We awoke to a beautiful sunny day this morning and we decided to go and enjoy some pre-breakfast birding. We headed up to an historic area atop a hill, called Ruinas de la Contraduria. The birding here was very good. Almost as soon as we arrived, the group happened to split into two, with half of the folks following Luis and the other half with

Squirrel Cuckoo. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

me. I found a nice big tree that was quite birdy and several of us picked out birds in this tree including Summer Tanager, Happy Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo and the strange Squirrel Cuckoo. Both groups simultaneously got onto a noisy flock of Mexican Parrotlets, an endemic, as they fluttered about in some trees. Luis then called us over to see Black-vented Orioles, which we did see. It was time to head back to our hotel and have some breakfast.

After breakfast the real fun started as we loaded up the vehicles and were just about to set off on our 4 hour drive to San Sebastian del Oeste. I went to start the jeep, and there was nothing, not even any chugging. Luis and Andy and I headed into town in the van and found a mechanic who came back with us to the jeep and jump started it. The only catch is I wasn’t to turn it off until we got to our lunch stop a couple of hours away. I filled it up with gas, while it was running, which may or may not have been a good idea, but we survived. We got to our lunch stop a little restaurant in Bucerias where a friend

Chris directing traffic. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

of Luis’ cooked us up some good grub. We were entertained by large Green Iguanas in the trees above the restaurant and every so often a loud thud would penetrate the air, as one of the iguanas dropped onto the metal roof. A male Wilson’s Warbler also kept us occupied as he foraged through the potted flowers around the table. After lunch, the replacement jeep arrived and we were back on track, making our way high into the mountains. On our way up the twisty mountain road, we encountered another problem. The transmission in Luis’ van died. This was not our day obviously. The van broke down on a curve where there were only two lanes, so at various points several of us took turns directing traffic like professionals. Luis flagged down a taxi and he went down the mountain to find cell phone coverage. Luckily he got a hold of the rental company a mere 5 minutes before they were closing down the office for the day. Luis returned to us about half an hour later and gave us the good news that another van was on its way. In

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Cinnamon Hummingbird. MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

the meantime he had summoned three additional taxis to take everyone up to San Sebastian. Despite all this craziness, we saw some birds while we were stuck there on the mountain. Everyone saw the flocks of Lilac-crowned Parrots coming in to roost in the canyon at dusk. Some people had a great look as their taxi driver paused and let them see the spectacle. At one point an adult Peregrine Falcon arrived and sat in a tree next to the broken down van. Just as it was getting dark, Luis pointed out two Crested Guans to us as they glided down across the highway from the hill above. The replacement van arrived and off we went, up the winding highway, to San Sebastian where we found our group all eagerly awaiting our arrival. We had a much deserved dinner in a nice little restaurant with a room just big enough for our group. As was the case through most of the trip, the food was good.


Day 7 – Jan 28
This morning we departed early and began the climb up towards Cerro La Bufa, a mountain reaching approximately 2100 meters. The road was narrow, winding and bumpy, but the views were quite something. We stopped once or twice on the way up and found nothing much, though Barbara spotted a Red-faced Warbler, our only one for the tour. At a nice landing we stopped and had a picnic breakfast just as the sun was coming up over the trees. Bird activity was quite good here, and we saw one great bird after the other. One of the first birds of interest was an empidonax flycatcher, you know, the bird family that birders have frequent nightmares about. Luckily this bird gave a few

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Red Warbler. Cerro La Bufa, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

calls that solidified its identity as a Pine Flycatcher. Then, a gorgeous Slate-throated Redstart burst into view and flared its gaudy tail at us. In a pine tree nearby I spotted a gorgeous Red Warbler, and the bird flitted about amongst the needles while we studied it. Another nice warbler, this time in the form of a neotropical migrant, a male Hermit Warbler appeared. The odd Olive Warbler, a species that is in a family all of its own, also appeared in the form of a male staring at us from in a pine tree above. The cascading songs of Brown-backed Solitaires rang through the air this morning and we had a couple of great looks at this species. We had a brief encounter with a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer and an equally brief view of a pair of Black-headed Siskins this morning.

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Blue Mockingbird. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

After our lovely outdoor breakfast we began a stroll that took us up towards the top of La Bufa. Along the way, we saw a nice variety of birds, including some little gems of hummingbirds like Bumblebee Hummingbird, Rivoli’s Hummingbird and White-eared Hummingbird. Mixed flocks of passerines included Hutton’s and Cassin’s vireos, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Gray warblers, Grayish Saltators and Black-headed Grosbeaks. It probably took about 45 minutes of searching, but I was determined to find the Mountain Trogon that was calling from the thick brush up a wooded hillside. I finally spotted the trogon nestled up to a large tree trunk and got the bird in the scope so the rest of the people who were with me could see the bird. Another excellent sighting today was of a Transvolcanic Jay that Barbara spotted. We enjoyed lengthy scope views of this fairly newly named Mexican endemic species.

Closer to San Sebastian, we made another stop to check out some birds high atop a roadside tree. They turned out to be Gray Silky Flycatchers, our first for the tour. Stopping here turned out to be a great idea since the area was aflutter with avian

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Hooded Oriole. MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

activity. Blue Mockingbird hopped into view briefly to steal a piece of pear from a tree. Both Smoky-brown and Ladder-backed woodpeckers lurched up the thin pine trunks. Tufted Flycatchers snagged flies from roadside telephone wires. Two Grace’s Warblers showed off nicely as well, and overhead 45 Vaux’s Swifts passed by.


Day 8 – January 29
Under mixed skies and breezy conditions we headed from San Sebastian for some early morning birding. Unfortunately the area we wanted to visit was closed because of the filming of a Netflix movie, but Luis found us a good alternative area to visit called the Capilla de San Judas. Along the road here we found some nice new birds for the trip, including a male Flame-colored Tanager, a lovely Berylline Hummingbird and Golden-

DSC_3381 Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow
Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow. San Sebastian, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

crowned Emerald, for some. Green Jays finally made visual appearances rather than being heard. We had some fantastic looks at a West Mexican endemic this morning, a little group of 2 or 3 Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows perched for scope views. Also, it was nice to finally catch up with male Varied Buntings today, in with a mixed flock of Blue Buntings, and White-collared Seedeaters. A Spotted Wren remained hidden but uttered its loud song.

We had breakfast in San Sebastian before leaving town, en route to El Tuito. The drive took us from the mountains back into Puerto Vallarta and we headed south along the coast, before heading inland to El Tuito. We had lunch in a nice little restaurant here where an Orange-fronted Parakeet was being held captive in a cage. The food was nice, though we did not support the parrot being held in this manner either. We made our way to Rancho Primavera, nestled in a lovely setting where forest and ponds, as well as well stocked feeders, attract a wide array of bold and beautiful birds. Upon arrival today

Yellow Grosbeak. Rancho Primavera, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

we caught our first glimpses of species like Yellow Grosbeak, Plain-capped Starthroat and Russet-crowned Motmot. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was incessantly calling next to the main house shortly after we arrived. We walked down to the pond and watched birds for a while racking up an impressive list including Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Least Grebe, Wood Stork and Vermilion Flycatcher.


Day 9 – January 30
After breakfast we headed off up towards an area known locally as ‘the macaw preserve’. Along the way, the birding was excellent and we encountered a couple of mixed species flocks that were quite impressive. Birds mixed in with the flocks included

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Colima Pygmy-Owl. El Tuito, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Squirrel Cuckoo, San Blas Jay, an endemic, the Gray-crowned Woodpecker, along with Masked Tityra, Citreoline Trogon, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Rose-throated Becard and Brown-backed Solitaire. The discovery of a Colima Pygmy-Owl provided one of the most memorable moments of the tour. The owl just sat there while all of its admirers gabbed away and snapped photos. We then began searching for the Military Macaws. We could hear them in the distance throughout the morning with their loud, raucous calls that carry long distances. It didn’t take us long to see our first Military Macaws and we enjoyed some great scope views of the birds. Other details withheld to protect the birds.



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Military Macaw swoops from its nest cavity near El Tuito, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo Chris Charlesworth


Next, we visited the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Upon arrival I spotted a Hook-billed Kite soaring over a ridge, and this was our only sighting of the tour. We had lunch on the patio and while we waited for our food we watched the birds feasting below us. Fruit feeders were attracting many birds such as San Blas Jays, Yellow-winged Caciques,

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San Blas Jay. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Grayish Saltators, Yellow Grosbeaks, White-throated Thrushes, Rufous-backed Robins, Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers and ridiculously colored Green Jays. Flocks of Vaux’s Swifts suddenly filled the air and were gone just as quickly. The gardens here were quite good for hummingbirds and some of us caught a glimpse of the endemic Mexican Hermit as it fed from cactus flowers. Cinnamon Hummingbirds were quite common and several Plain-capped Starthroats visited feeders. Foraging down below the patio were both Sinaloa and Happy wrens for comparison. Some people saw Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow here as well. Before we left, we saw a female type Chestnut-sided Warbler, our one and only for the trip.


Back at Rancho Primavera, we headed down to the lake again for sunset. On the way, a Hooded Merganser on another pond halted our progress. This is apparently quite an

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Golden-cheeked Woodpecker. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

uncommon sighting in this area, so Luis was quite happy. It was beginning to get dark, but we still saw a nice variety here including Neotropic Cormorant, Green Heron, Green Kingfisher, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, and Summer Tanager. Suddenly we could hear the high pitched buzzing of mosquitoes so we hurried off back to have dinner.


Day 10 – January 31
A little morning birding at Rancho Primavera bulked up our day’s list with the likes of Black-throated Magpie-Jay, San Blas Jays, Blue Mockingbird, Stripe-headed Sparrows, Cinnamon Hummingbird and more. After breakfast we headed off to a nearby roadside pond where after about 45 minutes of birding we had tallied close to 45 species. Some of the highlights included both adult and immature Gray Hawks, our only

Gray Hawk. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the tour, a young male, and our one and only Nutting’s Flycatcher. Several of us saw a White-throated Flycatcher, another of the empidonax species. Other firsts appeared such as Greenish Elaenia, Lesser Goldfinch and Acorn Woodpeckers. Not a bad start! We carried on to the Bioto Road where we made many stops throughout the morning. The first few stops for Elegant Trogon did not yield the target species, but we did get nice views of Lilac-crowned Parrot. We encountered a couple of nice mixed species flocks that included birds like Golden Vireo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Citreoline Trogon, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Happy Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat, Varied and Blue buntings and a Scrub Euphonia! Chris S and Chris C enjoyed watching a White Morpho, a large tropical butterfly that the locals call the ‘flying napkin’. Up to three different Colima Pygmy-Owls were seen / and heard today. Just a few of us were lucky enough to catch a look at the White-throated Magpie-Jays, but unfortunately by the time the folks from the van got back to the location, the jays had disappeared. We turned around and made our way back to El Tuito, where we had lunch

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Citreoline Trogon. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

and then some of us went to a local gallery, and others made one or two more stops on the way back to Rancho Primavera. Those that carried on birding had a quick glimpse of a Black-capped Vireo along the access road to Rancho. This afternoon we had a couple of hours of free time before dinner.


Day 11 – February 1
This morning we had one last look at the feeders at Rancho Primavera, where the usual Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Yellow Grosbeaks, Streak-backed Orioles and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers put on a show. We then loaded ourselves and started the 1.5 hour journey back to Puerto Vallarta where the tour would end late this morning. Thank you to everyone for coming along!



West Mexico Endemics ~ January 22 to February 1, 2018. Part 1.

Day 1 – Jan 22

This afternoon Luis and I met up with the 9 participants, all from different parts of Canada, at the Puerto Vallarta Airport. We made the roughly hour long drive north from

Magnificent Frigatebird. San Pancho, Nayarit. Jan 2018. Chris Charlesworth.

P.V. north to San Pancho, a small fishing / tourist village, also known as San Francisco. As we traveled we saw a few birds, such as the usual Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, Great-tailed Grackles and a few Magnificent Frigatebirds sailing close to the coast. Upon arrival in San Pancho we checked into our accommodations and then met again in the evening for dinner at a local establishment called Maria’s.

Day 2 – Jan 23

Our first full day of birding began with a visit to the San Pancho Estuary. The sky was somewhat overcast for the day, which made it easier on the eyes for viewing and kept temperatures at a comfortable level. At the estuary some of the residents included Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Neotropic Cormorant, a variety of herons and egrets, Northern Jacana and American Coot. Groups of fast flying Sinaloa Crows shot across the sky, while noisy Great Kiskadees, Social Flycatchers and

DSC_1565 Northern Jacana
Northern Jacana. San Pancho Estuary, Nayarit. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

Tropical Kingbirds were on the lookout for insects. Yellow-winged Cacique and Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, both endemics of West Mexico, made their first appearances for the group here. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl called but remained out of sight near the estuary, while flocks of White-collared Seedeaters appeared in grassy areas. Out over the Pacific were low flying groups of Brown Pelicans, Heermann’s Gulls and our first Blue-footed Boobies. All said and done, we tallied close to 40 species at the estuary and beach this morning, not a bad start at all.

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Rufous-backed Robin. Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. PPhoto: Chris Charlesworth.

Next, we made our way to the nearby Polo Grounds, a large property including polo fields and extensive natural second growth subtropical forest.  On the way to the fields, Luis stopped to point out a pair of Bat Falcons on a radio tower next to the road. The size difference between the male and the female was quite impressive. Once at the polo fields, we had a bite of breakfast and some coffee and tea before heading out onto the trails. We spent a couple of hours exploring here before lunch and we racked up an

Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. Jalisco, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

impressive list of over 70 species during that time. Some of the highlights included more endemics such as Rufous-bellied Chachalacas, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Sinaloa Wren and Blue Mockingbird. Our first Gray Hawks soared overhead with the vultures. We encountered one or two mixed flocks with treasures such as Painted Bunting, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Plumbeous Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, Grayish Saltator, Stripe-headed Sparrow and more mixed in. Nimali caught a glimpse of a Black-capped Vireo here, one of only two seen on the tour. It was then lunchtime and we headed for a covered area where cooks were busily preparing our meal. Fruit feeders kept us occupied while we waited for lunch as patrons such as Yellow-winged Cacique, Rufous-backed Robin and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers came in to feast. Our lunch was also quite delicious. After lunch we returned to San Pancho for a little siesta before heading out for some birding in the late afternoon. We walked up a creek at a location called Arroyo El Ahuacatal / Las Calabazas, and found some nice birds here. Perhaps the best sighting of all was of a Collared Forest-Falcon perched in some shrubbery next to the creek. Other goodies included Thick-billed Kingbird, an impressive Pale-billed Woodpecker, MacGillivray’s and Black-throated Gray warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Summer Tanager and a nice Streak-backed Oriole. This evening we had dinner at an authentic Mexican taco joint, and it was very good. We

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Spider Lily. Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

were joined by Luis’s wife and three children.

Day 3 – January 24

This morning we began our adventures in the dark as we drove from San Pancho to Punta de Mita, where we followed a trail for about a kilometer through the mangroves to an area called La Lancha. Our first sightings along the trail included three Rufous-bellied Chachalacas and a noisy group of San Blas Jays, another endemic species. As we made our way along the pathway, other species appeared, such as Broad-billed and Cinnamon hummingbirds, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Bell’s Vireo, Northern Waterthrush and Tropical Parula. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl called continuously and eventually was spotted up in the mangroves. Overhead, an adult Snail Kite made several appearances. Once we reached the beach we saw Brown Pelicans, Blue-footed Boobies, Royal Tern and Heermann’s Gulls. On mudflats at the estuary were Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet and a variety of herons and egrets. A couple of American River Crocodiles skulked in the water, no doubt hoping for an opportunistic

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Humpback Whale. Punta de Mita, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

meal. Speaking of opportunistic meals, we ate empenadas on the beach this morning for breakfast.

We then made our way to Punta de Mita where we boarded two boats and headed out to the Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas). The crossing took about half an hour, but we took our time, enjoying up to a dozen Humpback Whales that were putting on quite the show, breaching, tail-slapping, and just being entertaining. A few people also saw Bottlenose Dolphins as we neared the islands. Once we reached the islands we circumnavigated them, and we were treated to great views of many Blue-footed Boobies, along with a few Brown Boobies. Another big highlight was the sighting of a Wandering Tattler in a sea cave. Up to three Peregrine Falcons were noted in the sky, and one boat group saw a

Wandering Tattler. Islas Marietas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

Zone-tailed Hawk while the other group saw Common Black-Hawk.

On our way back to dock, Chris Siddle and I shared the front seat of one of the panga boats. It was to our initial happiness, and later dismay, that a Brown Booby had decided to ‘ride the bow’ of the boat and fly just over eye level, about 5 feet away from us. I looked at Chris and said, ‘I think it’s going to poop on one of us’, as the bird swayed from Chris’ side to my side of the boat. Then, it pooped, and luckily for me, it was on Chris S.

Back on dry land we had lunch at the Surf Bar in Higuera Blanca. After lunch we did a little birding in the area, spotting some raptors from the patio, including Zone-tailed Hawk and Gray Hawk. In a brushy field next to the parking lot we had a nice mixed group of birds with the likes of Nashville Warbler, Varied Bunting, Bell’s Vireo and Streak-backed Oriole. Barbara spotted one of the best birds of the day, a Citreoline Trogon, in a tree next to the parking lot. We carried on exploring down a dirt road where more interesting species finally gave themselves up. A Masked Tityra popped into view, as did Brown-crested Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Sinaloa Wren and a female Rose-throated Becard. Our last evening in San Pancho, we headed down to the beach for one more look at the estuary before dinner. Amongst the usual species, we picked out an Anhinga in the mangroves as well as some nice Orchard Orioles heading to roost in the vegetation.

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Blue-footed Booby. Islas Marietas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Chris Charlesworth

Day 3 – January 25

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast, not so much by choice, but just because that’s what happens in Mexico. Breakfast was advertised as being served from 8-11 AM, and we decided that was very true; breakfast took from 8 to 11 to be served and finished. It wasn’t actually that bad, and we were loaded up and on the road towards San Blas by

Tropical Kingbird was abundant on this tour. Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

mid-morning. The road took us through some farmland where, from the vehicles, we saw species such as Northern Mockingbird, American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Kite, Great-tailed Grackles and more. Tropical Kingbirds and Great Kiskadees were regularly sighted on telephone wires along our route. The road took us through some interesting countryside, and occasionally the farmland gave way to cobblestone streets and street meat vendors. The road swung towards the coast and we then saw species like Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigatebirds, the latter of which lined the telephone wires through one town. The birds were all evenly spaces about 1.5 feet apart from each other. As we neared San Blas a mudflat just before the San Cristobal River, caught our eye. We couldn’t resist stopping. There were probably over a thousand birds here and we’d hit things at just the right tide. We pulled onto the roadside and set up the scopes. Various people began calling out bird names; Neotropic Cormorant, Long-billed Dowitcher,

Wood Stork. San Blas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

Common Yellowthroat, Northern Shoveler. Looking closer at the shorebirds we began to pick out species such as Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper. Semipalmated Plovers were fairly numerous on the flats, as were Black-necked Stilts. On the far shore of the flats, Luis called out ‘Rufous-necked Wood-Rail’, and there it was. It was rather difficult to see however, as it skulked through the mangroves along the shore. If you happened to be looking in the right place at the right time, or were looking through the scope when the bird appeared, you got a pretty good look. The same thing happened with a Sora that appeared long enough for most to get scope views. Wading birds were strongly represented with Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron and White Ibis all accounted for. A large, black raptor flew in and landed on a nearby power pole. It was a Great Black Hawk, a first for many people on the tour.

We carried on into the port city of San Blas where we bumped our way down a few backroads to a lunch restaurant. After filling ourselves of up enchiladas, tacos andsnail kite quesadillas, we headed to our next accommodations, the Hotel Garza Canela. Garza Canela is the Mexican name for Boat-billed Heron, a bird we hoped to see this evening on a boat trip through the mangroves at La Tovara. At around 4 PM we met out boat man, Chencho. Now Chencho is the boat man that all the birders request as he has great ability at his trade. He glides the panga boat slowly through the mangroves with as little sound as possible. The boat slithers its way into little back creeks and channels where Chencho points out birds. A Snail Kite was a nice sighting in the mangroves along the river, shortly after we set off. Little groups of Mangrove Swallows skimmed lover over the river, offering us decent views of their white rump patches. We then approached a muddy shore where we hoped another

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Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. San Blas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Bill Bowman.

wood-rail would appear, but it didn’t. There were a few birds there however, such as Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper and Northern Waterthrush. American Redstarts were common during our boat ride and it was a treat to frequently see their tails flashing red or yellow in the mangroves. Other warblers noted included Tropical Parula, Wilson’s Warbler and the mangrove race of the Yellow Warbler. Tropical Kingbirds were abundant here this afternoon and they really came to life at dusk when dozens sallied out for one last bug of the day. One of the real highlights of the day was the discovery of a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron along the shore that we had jaw-dropping

Green Kingfisher. San Blas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Siddle.

looks at. Kingfishers were also quite numerous and we saw several Green Kingfishers as well as many Belted Kingfishers and one Ringed Kingfisher. Just as it was getting dark, three Lesser Nighthawks, the only ones of the tour, came flying right overhead. At the half way point of the boat trip we got off at a little dock where there was a bathroom and some other facilities. Chris Siddle and I heard a Spotted Rail calling in the dark. At least that’s what Chencho said, and we both decided this guy knows his stuff. After a little snack, some juice and some much needed leg stretching we began the return trip. On our ride back, it was dark, and Chencho waved around a powerful spotlight, looking for birds. It didn’t take him long to spot the red eye shine of a Northern Potoo atop a tree. We sailed right under the potoo and got fantastic looks at this bizarre species. Chencho spotted at least two more potoos on the way back as well. We had our only Limpkin of the tour as it tried to sleep on a branch above our boat. Anhingas were also seen on several occasions, both before and after dark. We returned to the hotel and went for dinner.

Happy boaters at Islas Marietas, Nayarit, MX. Jan 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth



Okanagan Winter Weekend ~ January 5-7, 2018

January 5 – This morning 11 of us assembled in Kelowna at the Apple Bowl Stadium, where we were not preparing to run laps around the oval, but rather we were heading off birding. While getting organized we tallied the first official birds of the tour, and they were exciting ones such as Mallard, European Starling, Rock Pigeon and Black-billed Magpie. A Bald Eagle soaring over distant houses was a higher level sighting in my opinion.

I developed this short tour to give folks a jump start on their year lists. For those who aren’t listers, the tour is a great opportunity to see some exciting winter bird species. We began along Mission Creek where we searched for, but could not find, a roosting Western Screech-Owl. Along the creek, however, was an ambitious American Dipper, braving the

Northern Pygmy-Owl. Joe Rich, BC. Jan 5, 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

frigid icy waters. We ventured into Sutherland Hills Park where more highlights popped up, with such species as Pygmy Nuthatches, Downy Woodpecker and best of all a Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Next stop was up Hwy 33 along Old Joe Rich Road. I spotted a Townsend’s Solitaire here, and we counted over 50 Mourning Doves sitting in the trees. One of the tour participants lives here and we scoped their feeder, spotting Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches and American Goldfinches, as well as a single Song Sparrow. A couple of Red-tailed Hawks sat on the posts, watching us as we passed by. Our first good views of Bohemian Waxwings were here, as about 30 of them sat in spruce trees, a lifer for Al! Our only Clark’s Nutcracker of the tour was sitting atop a conifer near Hwy 33.

At Pyman Road there were no interesting finch species such as rosy-finches or Snow Buntings, but we did enjoy great views of two Rough-legged Hawks, one a light morph

Rough-legged Hawk. Kelowna, BC. Jan 5, 2018. Photo: Kalin Ocana.

and the other a dark morph bird that has returned to this area several years in a row. On a snag along the lower reaches of Black Mountain I spotted a Golden Eagle.

Along Philpott Road we were treated to great views of another Northern Pygmy-Owl, along with our first Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Golden-crowned Kinglets. A Brown Creeper was heard, but not seen.

We ate our lunch along Greystokes Road in the community of Joe Rich. Feeders in the area attracted a nice list of species including a couple of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Hairy Woodpecker and Gray and Steller’s jays. Wouldn’t you know it, another Northern Pygmy-Owl was located here.

We then headed up to Big White Ski Village, and as we neared the mountain, the snow began to fall. Nothing terribly exciting was here, unfortunately, though we did have some nice looks at Common Redpolls at a feeder. Before calling it a day, we took a drive along McCulloch Road where a Great Gray Owl has frequented over the years, and we didn’t see it. We drove back down to Kelowna, and I spotted our fourth Northern Pygmy-Owl of the day atop a tree next to the hwy.  We had a little break before going for dinner together. We did up our list for the day and we had tallied 37 species, which is not too bad considering much of the day was at high elevation in the forest. After dinner, between snow / rain showers, we listened for owls at Sutherland Hills Park. It was a lovely night, but the owls were feeling a bit shy.

January 6 – We gathered again at the Apple Bowl and this time headed for Scenic Canyon, along Mission Creek. Along the way some of us saw a Merlin, as well as some Eurasian Collared-Doves. At Scenic Canyon it was surprisingly easy to find the long-staying Winter Wren, a tiny wren species normally found east of the Rocky Mountains. The bird emitted its distinctive call and popped up into view several times. The Winter Wren’s western counterpart, the Pacific Wren, was also heard and briefly seen here. Along the creek an American Dipper gave out several spurts of song and we heard and eventually had brief looks at a White-throated Sparrow as well.

Western Screech-Owl. Summerland, BC. Jan 6, 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

With a nice list of birds already under our belts for the day, we drove south out of Kelowna across Okanagan Lake, making a stop in Summerland. We found two nice owl species in the area, though I won’t disclose the location, a Western Screech-Owl and a Long-eared Owl. Both birds were quietly roosting and we left them alone peacefully. In an orchard at Trout Creek some of us spotted a male Wood Duck. We stopped to look at a nice flock of Bohemian Waxwings and Michelle shouted ‘Fox Sparrow’, which definitely got our attention. The Fox Sparrow was foraging in the middle of the road, and then popped up in a bush beside us for great views.

In Penticton, we had a pit-stop at Timmy’s and then checked out the beach on Okanagan

Fox Sparrow. Summerland, BC. Jan 6, 2018. Photo: Kalin Ocana.

Lake where a nice gathering of gulls beefed up our trip list; 2 adult Mew Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, 2 adult California Gulls, Herring Gulls, Glaucous-winged Gulls and adult and first year Iceland (Thayer’s) Gulls were found here. A few waterfowl bobbed up and down on the lake such as Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Trumpeter Swans, Common Merganser, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes and two American Wigeon. At the dam was an American Dipper and several Common Goldeneye. We had lunch at the Yacht Club, and just as we pulled up to the area in our cars, a water filled ditch exploded with life. There were about 15 Western Bluebirds drinking and bathing in the ditch, as well as Song and White-crowned Sparrows. American Goldfinches fluttered down to the water as did an (Audubon’s) Yellow-rumped Warbler. American Robin

Cedar Waxwing. Penticton, BC. Jan 6, 2018. Photo: Kalin Ocana.

appeared and then 5 Cedar Waxwings landed in a tree nearby. After lunch we walked the Esplanade Trails, adding some more goodies to the list. Our first Ring-necked Pheasant was found here, and we had a couple of Spotted Towhees. In the waterfowl department there were 3 Trumpeter Swans here, as well as our first Bufflehead. Right before our eyes a Merlin killed a small bird in mid-air with a puff of feathers. We speculated it was an unfortunate House Finch. ‘Why couldn’t the falcon have killed one of the thousand plus European Starlings that were dashing about in murmurations overhead’, I heard one tour participant say.

From Penticton we followed the Okanagan River Channel, spotting our first Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwall of the tour, and we then stopped at Okanagan Falls. Here, we easily found our target species, Barrow’s Goldeneye, as about 30 of the birds flocked together on the rapids. Another American Dipper was a nice score here also.

Long-eared Owl. Summerland, BC. Jan 6, 2018. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

At the north end of Vaseux Lake we walked in along the boardwalk and enjoyed the view from the new viewing tower. Kalin counted 29 Trumpeter Swans here, and we couldn’t spot a single Tundra. Other waterfowl here included a male Green-winged Teal, and several Lesser Scaup. On a distant hillside we scoped a Golden Eagle sitting on a snag and ten Western Bluebirds came down to the edge of the lake several times, perhaps to drink.

We made our way to our accommodations, and then after a little ‘siesta’ went for dinner. After dinner, we visited Road 22, and in my flashlight I was able to show everyone a very nice Great Horned Owl. Not a bad end to the day.

January 7 – This morning we awoke to a light snow, but it didn’t last long and had virtually stopped by the time we arrived at Road 22. One of the first species we saw was a Rough-legged Hawk on a fence post out in an open field. I never tire of seeing this species. At the north end of Osoyoos Lake, where the Okanagan River enters the lake, we found close to 30 species this morning. Highlights included a male Red-breasted Merganser, our first Common Loon, Trumpeter Swan, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Great Blue Heron, a low flying Golden Eagle, our first Northern Harriers, and a large flock of perhaps 450 Common Redpolls.

Back along the dykes at Road 22 we enjoyed great views of a pair of American Tree Sparrows that were feeding in the weeds along the path. Several of us heard a Killdeer calling from the oxbows and we were surprised to find a pair of Northern Shovelers here. Downy Woodpecker, Ring-necked Pheasant and 12 Western Bluebirds boosted the

The group, minus a few, at ‘The Throne’ near Osoyoos, BC. Jan 7, 2018. Photo: Dave Palsat.

days tally. Up at ‘The Throne’ we walked for about an hour in a pretty brisk wind. At the cliffs it was somewhat more calm, but we soon forgot all about the wind when a Canyon Wren hopped out onto the rocks in front of us. Soon thereafter, up to 25 Chukar flushed from the antelope brush. Michelle and Joan headed downhill and were rewarded with a Northern Shrike. Joan found 8 Gray Partridge, but unfortunately, the couldn’t be relocated. Several members of the group found what they thought were cougar tracks, but the animal, of course, was nowhere to be seen.

Our final official stop of the tour was at Inkaneep Provincial Park where we hoped to

Great Horned Owl. Oliver, BC. Jan 7, 2018. Photo: Donna Heard.

find a Bewick’s Wren. The wren was in hiding today. Instead we were happy to enjoy stunning views of a roosting Great Horned Owl here. Our final count was 89 species, a very good total for three days of birding the Okanagan in January. Not only were the birds enjoyable, but the people who joined me also made for excellent company. Hope to see you again next year!


Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, California Quail, Chukar, Gray Partridge, Ring-necked Pheasant, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, American Coot, Killdeer, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Long-eared Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Shrike, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Canyon Wren, Pacific Wren, Winter Wren, American Dipper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, American Robin, European Starling, Bohemian Waxwing, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow.


Saskatchewan ~ Cranes & Geese

September 30 to Oct 3 – I left the Okanagan Valley on Sept 29 and flew to Saskatoon several days prior to my tour so that I could scout out the birds of the area. This is the first time time I had done this particular trip as a tour and my group of 6 from Canada were my guinea pigs. In the four days prior to their arrival I drove well over a thousand km and put in many hours of scouting. I think it all paid off.

September 30 was my first day out in the field and it was a lovely day with sunny skies and temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius. I headed east of Saskatoon, spending the first couple of hours of the day exploring an area around Cheviot and Crawford lakes. Geese and waterfowl were abundant, as were flocks of migrant Lapland Longspurs, American

Sandhill Cranes and one Whooping Crane near Saskatoon, SK. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Pipits and Horned Larks. My goal today was to locate a Whooping Crane and eventually, near the town of Meacham, I did. In with a large flock of Sandhills, a single Whooping Crane flew in and landed in the stubble field with them. Now, this crane had better stick around for 4 more days I told myself! All the cranes flew into the air with a great accompanying noise, and all the cranes returned to the field, except the Whooping Crane. I watched him fly off to the east until it disappeared.

In the late afternoon I had a nice stroll along the South Saskatchewan River at Cosmopolitan Park. In this nice little strip of native habitat I found some good birds, such as Clay-colored, Lincoln’s and Harris’s sparrows, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped warblers, Common Grackle, Blue Jay and Downy Woodpecker. To finish off the day, I

Sandhill Cranes come in to roost along the S. Saskatchewan River. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

made an hours drive south to Outlook to see the cranes coming in to roost along the South Saskatchewan River. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, the cranes began to come in flock, after flock, until about 4000 covered the sandbars along the river.

October 1, I spent the day down in the Last Mountain Lake area, where again massive numbers of geese, waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes were mind-blowing. I popped into the village of Govan, passing by the town mascot, Walter the Whooping Crane, on the way into town. I had lunch in the old Govan Cafe, an experience in itself. An American hunter, decked out in camo, and cleaning his guns, sat in a corner of the cafe and bragged on the phone about how many Sandhill Cranes he’d shot earlier this morning. I cringed as I listened to the conversation. Why would you want to shoot a crane! Geese, I can see, but cranes, makes no sense to me. For the drive back to Saskatoon I traveled through the Allan Hills, an area of crops dotted with bluffs and wetlands. At one particular wetland there were literally tens of thousands of geese about, in addition to flocks of noisy Sandhill Cranes. I spotted a Great Horned Owl sitting on a fence post here, and enjoyed scope views of a Harris’s Sparrow. Wetlands in the area were teeming with Blue-winged Teal and I saw a few Wilson’s Snipe.

October 2 the weather changed and there was a very strong wind accompanied by occasional rain showers. I headed up towards Radisson Lake, north of Saskatoon today. I found nothing out of the ordinary here, and decided I wasn’t going to bring my group up this way anyhow.

October 3 was the day the group arrived, but I headed out to do some more scouting south of Saskatoon, stopping first at Pike Lake Provincial Park. Due to the inclement weather, there were a lot of migrants around, such as Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, various sparrows, Hermit Thrush and more. Two Wood Ducks flew past, my only ones during the 9 days I spent here. In the evening I met up with my group, and we had dinner and discussed the plans for the following day.

October 4 – The first morning of the trip and we returned to that area east of Saskatoon where I had found a crane several days earlier. Weather was fantastic today with sunshine and comfortable temperatures. We made our way first up towards Muskiki Lake, pausing along the way to view our first massive flocks of geese. Snow Geese make

Flock of mixed geese, with mostly Snow Geese. Saskatchewan. Oct 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

up the bulk of these sky-darkening flocks, and a high percentage of the birds are ‘Blue’ phase geese. Among the Snow Geese a few smaller Ross’s Geese could be picked out, and other species such as Cackling, Canada and Greater White-fronted geese also were peppered in with the large flocks. We made it to the west side of Muskiki Lake and I spotted something white in the distance. I aimed the scope on the white shape and sure enough it was our first Whooping Crane! Excitement rippled through the group as we took turns looking through the scope at one of the world’s rarest birds. Suddenly, we noticed three more Whooping Cranes nearby, for a total of 5 and then three more flew in and landed in a hollow where we couldn’t see them. We were unsure if we had 8 or 10

Whooping Cranes near Crawford Lake, SK. Oct 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

birds here, but either way, it was a great sighting. We headed for Colonsay where we had lunch at the Tin Shack Cafe, which had great food, and was literally a tin shack. As we were leaving the town after lunch, I spotted a group of Cedar Waxwings and some American Robins feasting on some mountain ash berries.

We then explored the area around Crawford Lake, which began similarly to our experience at Muskiki Lake. Soon after turning onto our desired road, I spotted something white in a field, so we stopped and up went the scope. Whooping Cranes! Three of them. A juvenile and two adults. With a possible 13 Whoopers on our first day, we were feeling pretty jazzed. Waterfowl of all sorts was noted along the route around Crawford Lake. Numbers of Tundra Swans rested on the shore of the lake, and ducks of all types were tallied. I think it was Josh who pointed out a raptor flying low to the ground, and I had just a good enough look at the bird to identify it as an immature Northern Goshawk, our only for the tour. At one pond we had a nice Black-bellied Plover,

Black-bellied Plover. Crawford Lake, SK. Oct 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

our only for the tour, and a flock of about 75 American Golden-Plovers flew past, though I had to convince the members of the group that that is what they were. Along another pond, we got several Rusty Blackbirds in the scope. All in all, it was an excellent first day of birding for the group.

October 5 – We stopped in at Subway to pick up lunch this morning and were greeted with a very friendly, smiling young lady behind the counter and, you know, sometimes that just starts your day off in the right direction. With lunches in hand we began the journey south along Hwy 11 and then east along Hwy 15 towards Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area. This park was the first national wildlife area established in North America, back in 1887. Once we turned onto Hwy 15, which is a rather bumpy road, with many wetlands begging for our attention along the way. Raptors were particularly numerous and we saw Northern Harriers, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk and dozens of Red-tailed Hawks along this route today. A Northern Shrike was seen briefly at the top of a roadside shrub, but disappeared quickly. Wetlands were stuffed full of birds, with

American Pipit. Saskatchewan. Oct 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

waterfowl of all sorts tallied; Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup and more were included. As we neared Last Mountain, we paused to scan through a field where we finally got decent looks at Lapland Longspur and Horned Larks. These two species, as well as American Pipit, were often seen in flocks as they sped by, but seeing the birds well is a much harder feat. In the same area were 30 or so American Golden-Plovers, resting on a pond. Waves of geese, with Snow, Ross’s, Canada and Cackling darkened the skies and their calls rang out across the prairie. As we neared the park headquarters, I spotted a couple of ground-squirrels out in a field and after consulting some references, I decided they were most likely Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels, out enjoying one last warm day for 2017. At the park headquarters we strolled through the shelter trees and

Downy Woodpecker. Last Mtn Lake, SK. Oct 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

found a few nice birds such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker and an American Tree Sparrow. We had lunch at the picnic tables here and were serenaded by the bugling calls of hundreds of Sandhill Cranes as they sailed overhead. After lunch we did the short driving loop, which took us past several arms of the lake where we added some new species to our trip list; Great Blue Heron, American White Pelican, Western Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Redhead and more. A Sharp-tailed Grouse appeared at the roadside in front of our van and paused briefly before flying off into the sea of grass. A stop at the regional park on the east side of the lake produced a couple of immature Harris’s Sparrows, a species I’d had here when I was scouting, and was very pleased they were still there. We carried on, pausing in the village of Govan where we had coffee in the local cafe / hotel. At the entrance to Govan we acknowledged Walter the Whooping Crane, of course. From Govan we began the trek back to Saskatoon, which took us up

Harris’s Sparrow. Blackstrap Prov Pk. Saskatchewan. Oct 6, 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Hwy 2 to Hwy 16 and then west to town. This evening we had a delicious meal at a local Chinese establishment, though we did end up ordering way too much food.

October 6 – From Saskatoon, under sunny skies, once again, we made our way south toward the Blackstrap Reservoir, beginning at the provincial park. On the lake were several species of duck, with the most common being Bufflehead. Red-necked Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, Common Goldeneye, and 3 female type Surf Scoters were also seen here on the water. In the deciduous woodlands of the park we located some good birds such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, a lovely Blue Jay and finally had good looks at White-throated Sparrows. Up to 4 Harris’s Sparrows, all immatures, showed very well here at Blackstrap today. Once we had explored the park we then headed for the south end of the reservoir and from the dam we had good views of a group of American White Pelicans. We then explored the dirt roads surrounding Indi Lake, with hopes of finding some more big goose flocks. We did find one or two very large clouds of geese, but they were a bit far away. The best sighting we made on this road was a couple of Moose in an aspen bluff. The Moose were grazing the leaves off of the Red Osier Dogwoods. Another

Moose. Indi Lk, Saskatchewan. Oct 6, 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

interesting sighting was that of the pale ‘prairie’ race of Merlin. This particular individual was on a fence post and it was eating the last few bites of a small bird it had caught. Other interesting raptors here included our first Rough-legged Hawk of the tour, a bird that was hovering effortlessly over the prairie. At the north end of the reservoir we scanned a nearby pond that had big numbers of Redheads, Lesser Scaup and quite a few Canvasbacks. On the reservoir, we added our only Eared Grebes of the tour, as several bobbed up and down on the small waves. We made our way back towards Saskatoon in order to cross the river and head down to the Berry Barn where we had a reservation for lunch. We watched as the other patrons of this popular restaurant piled whip cream and saskatoon berries and maple syrup a mile high atop their waffles. We had more modest food for our lunch, but I would be lying if I said we all didn’t have something for dessert, because we did. Everything was smothered in delicious Saskatoon berries!

Merlin at Indi Lake, SK. Oct 6, 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

After lunch we headed for Pike Lake Provincial Park, a nice spot on an oxbow lake of the S. Saskatchewan River. Since I had visited the previous week doing some scouting, things had really changed. The leaves, which were colorful and blowing in the breeze on my first visit, had now nearly all fallen off. Along with the leaves, it seems a bunch of the migrant songbirds have also left the area. We had a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees, a White-crowned Sparrow and American Robins here, but not much else. Out on the lake in a protected marshy bay was a massive flock of Canada and Cackling geese and they all leapt into the air when a Bald Eagle sailed overhead. A Northern Harrier patrolled the marsh as well and as usual it was a pleasure to watch one of the most graceful birds of prey in its element. On our way back to Saskatoon we stopped at the edge of a large field to watch as hundreds of Sandhill Cranes came in to feed. In all there were probably about 2000 cranes in the field and the sight and sound of them was very memorable indeed. This evening we ventured out to an Indian restaurant, and I think everyone will agree it was delicious!

American White Pelicans at Blackstrap Reservoir, SK. Oct 6, 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

October 7 – Our last morning of birding in Saskatchewan and we decided we’d like to head back out the east of Saskatoon in hopes of finding more Whooping Cranes. It was another sunny morning, though there had been some rain overnight and the wind was cool today. We traveled east on Hwy 5, and then north of Hwy 2 to Muskiki Lake. We went back down to the exact same spot where we had first seen the cranes several days ago, and there they were again, 8 of them.  We watched for some time, before heading off towards Meacham to the south. Following a tip from a friend I turned down a road and we bumped along the gravel surface for a couple of kilometers before I spotted three

Happy birders! Just missing Lin. The ‘Whooping Crane Selfie’.

Whooping Cranes flying to the south of us. It was a juvenile bird and two adults, and easily could have been the same three Whooping Cranes we’d had near Crawford Lake a few days earlier. Feeling quite happy about having seen 11 Whooping Cranes today, we made our way back towards Saskatoon to go and visit the Forestry Farm Park. This park was historically a forestry farm and there are all sorts of trees and shrubs planted that attract migrant birds. The first new species we tallied for the trip was a Hermit Thrush, followed quickly by Orange-crowned Warbler. As I scanned through the Yellow-rumped Warblers I spotted a fall plumage Blackpoll Warbler and most of us managed pretty good looks at this tardy southbound migrant. We had one more lunch together as a group before heading back to the airport area and saying our goodbyes. It was a fantastic trip and I thank those who came along for making it so enjoyable for me to show you around Saskatchewan. Our final tally appears to be 90 species, and I’ll update this posting if the numbers change one way or the other.

Chris Charlesworth


Vancouver Island, with Limosa – Sep 12 to 22, 2017.

Day 1, September 12 – I met up with the group of 3 ladies from various locations in the U.K. at the arrivals hall of the Vancouver Airport this evening. We drove from the airport to our first hotel and headed off for some rest.

Day 2, September 13 – After breakfast we loaded up the Suburban and headed for the difficult to pronounce Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty. Since we ended up there a few minutes early we took the opportunity to do some birding. It’s always exciting on the first morning of a tour, since all the birds, even the common ones, are new. We had good views of both Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants here, as well as Surf Scoters, Black Oystercatchers and a line of Great Blue Herons. About a dozen Caspian Terns loafed on the beach, and an assortment of gulls including Glaucous-winged, Ring-billed and California were studied. We boarded the ferry, which was to depart for Vancouver Island

Scenery in the Gulf Islands from BC Ferry. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

at 9 AM. Though we didn’t see a lot of birds, the scenery as we made our way through the Gulf Islands, was quite spectacular. We did see some birds though, including Bonaparte’s Gulls, Turkey Vulture and more cormorants. Once on Vancouver Island we stopped briefly at the Victoria Airport where our first Anna’s Hummingbird put on a nice show, and we picked up our first of many Savannah Sparrows as well as a single immature White-crowned Sparrow. Though this is a good place, and the only place in North America, to see Eurasian Sky Lark, we did not find any today.

At Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary we had lunch, which was interrupted by the sighting of a nearby immature Red-tailed Hawk. Migrant passerines were moving through the area today, with several Orange-crowned Warblers, a Yellow Warbler, some Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and Western Tanagers all found in the bushes. We located a little group of Chestnut-backed

Chestnut-backed Chickadee. British Columbia. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Chickadees, the only chickadee species found on Vancouver Island, and in with them was a lovely Brown Creeper. Our first Bewick’s Wren of the tour hopped into view showing off its bright white supercilium. Out on the water were some distant Pied-billed Grebes as well as Mallard, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal. A female Downy Woodpecker showed very nicely, as did a male Northern Flicker. A small garter snake slithered across the path in front of me, but disappeared before members of the group could see it.

We then drove through the heart of Victoria and headed for Clover Point, one of a number of rocky headlands that jut out into the Salish Sea in Victoria. Upon arrival we immediately focused our attention on some gorgeous Harlequin Ducks, including one or two males that were nearly in full plumage. It was hard to go from Harlequins to gulls, but we did, and we were rewarded with quite a nice gull, the Heermann’s Gull. We spent

Heermann’s Gull. Victoria, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

the rest of the time trying to avoid a man that was feeding about 200 Rock Pigeons! Next stop at Kitty Island was also productive and produced some distant sightings of Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots. We had good views of Black Turnstone here, as well as single Greater Yellowlegs and single Western Sandpiper. An Osprey flew overhead and with that we headed back into town where we had a short drive around the harbor to see the parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel, before heading to our hotel for the evening.

Day 3, September 14 – Prior to breakfast we headed down to Clover Point where we watched the sunrise. Being that we had arrived before many of the locals who come to this place to enjoy the beach, there were quite a few birds around. New species this morning included a single Least Sandpiper, as well as a very good view of an American Pipit on the rocks below us. A few Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers foraged

Harlequin Ducks. Victoria, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

along the rocky shoreline, and otherwise we saw the usual assortment of gulls and Harlequin Ducks.

After a delicious breakfast, where one or two waffles with maple syrup may have been devoured, we headed back out into the field, stopping in at the Ogden Point Breakwater. The gorgeous sunny and warm weather brought out the locals and the tourists alike and quite a few folks were out walking along the jetty. We located 20 or so Black Turnstones foraging along the shore and in with them were 3 Surfbirds, always a nice find. Louise pointed out a Harbour Seal that was gliding through the clear water down below us. We then had a good cup of coffee before venturing off to Beacon Hill Park. This lovely park is dotted with giant trees and small

Surfbird. Victoria, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

ponds, quite attractive to birds. The ponds had Mallards, American Wigeon and one sleepy female Blue-winged Teal. Sunning themselves on the logs were Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders. I entered one particular grove of large cedar trees, hoping to spot a roosting Barred Owl, and as luck would have it, I found two of them! Then, it seemed like everyone in the park came in to see what we were staring up at. One lady, who seemed to know the owls on a first name basis, gave us the entire story of their lives. Other goodies found in the park included Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Downy Woodpecker and more. Several Eastern Gray Squirrels appeared, some of them gray and others very much black.

We picked up lunch and took it with us to Oak Bay where we had a lovely picnic next to the marina. A few shorebirds, including Black Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs were loafing on the islands just offshore. A Belted Kingfisher was desperately trying to attack its own reflection in the window of a building here, calling loudly the whole time. In the distance we could see the snow capped peak of

Black Oystercatcher. Victoria, BC. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Mount Baker in Washington State.

After lunch, we headed for Esquimalt Lagoon, and on the way I said to the group that we had to find at least 3 new species for the trip list here. We did succeed in this matter, adding some ‘icterids’ to the list including Brown-headed Cowbird, Brewer’s Blackbird and a locally rare Yellow-headed Blackbird. There were many gulls and a few Black Oystercatchers here, and in a dead tree across the lagoon I pointed out an Osprey. Feeling as though we had accomplished our goal, we returned to our hotel in Victoria.

Day 4, September 15 – Reluctantly we left the beautiful city of Victoria this morning, and headed north on the Trans Canada Hwy, stopping in at Goldstream Provincial Park along the way. It was yet another lovely morning with beautiful sunny skies. At first, the mixed

American Dipper. Victoria, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

forest here seemed very quiet, but eventually the bird activity picked up. It took us a while, but we did finally find three American Dippers frolicking in the stream, one of the birds even singing his beautiful song. A flurry of activity alerted us to a dead tree where Louise picked out a little ball of fluff up in the branches, a Northern Pygmy-Owl! The pygmy owl put on a nice show for us as he was constantly mobbed by other birds. Several Anna’s Hummingbirds dive bombed at the owl, while Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hutton’s Vireo, Steller’s Jays and Fox Sparrows all were very agitated by its presence. Woodpeckers, such as Hairy and

pygmy owl
N. Pygmy-Owl. Victoria, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Louise Rowlands.

Downy, as well as Red-breasted Sapsuckers were seen well. Louise spotted a Belted Kingfisher on a snag in the distance, proving to us she does have very good eye sight. On the way back to the Suburban, we had very close encounters with a couple of Pacific Wrens in the mossy understory.

Up and over the Malahat Hwy we went, and then we stopped in Duncan at Second Street where a Northern Mockingbird had spent much of the year. Just as we pulled up to the spot, the mockingbird was seen atop a tree beside the road. We hopped out and watched as this local rarity hopped from the fence down to the grass and then flew off behind the houses. ‘This was about the easiest ‘twitch’ I’d ever done’, said one tour participant. Next up we took a stroll at the boardwalk at Somenos Marsh. We spent about half an hour here, and saw quite a few species such as a Purple Finch and both ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. Our first Golden-crowned Sparrow, an immature with no gold in the crown, appeared at the edge of a bush here, and three Band-tailed Pigeons flew by.

Northern Mockingbird. Duncan, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

We traveled on to Coombs and visited the Goats on the Roof Market where we had lunch. We paused outside as we left and photographed the goats as they nibbled on the grassy roof. Our next stop was at Cathedral Grove, an area of old growth rainforest at the west end of Cameron Lake. The giant Western Red Cedars, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Douglas Maple trees were very impressive. Birds were few and far between here, but we

‘Chicken of the Woods’. Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

did see another Red-breasted Sapsucker. Perhaps the highlight was finding a nice specimen of the fungus Chicken of the Woods, or Sulphur Shelf. Another highlight came in the form of the tiny Douglas’s Squirrel, our first for the trip. The scenery was spectacular as we carried on across the island, through the city of Port Alberni and along the shores of Sproat Lake and Kennedy Lake. Once at our hotel on Mackenzie Beach near Tofino I think we all admired the idyllic and picturesque setting.

Day 5, September 16 – After breakfast we emerged into the soupy morning fog that often cloaks the Clayoquot Sound area. We headed for the Long Beach Airport where a little ‘pishing and tooting’ as I call it, brought in quite a few birds. ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrows popped up from nearly every direction. A Hutton’s Vireo showed quite nicely, as did Pacific Wren. A Gray Catbird, found by my friend Ian, was another nice addition to our trip list, as this is a species not often seen on Vancouver Island. Suddenly a Northern Pygmy-Owl appeared and we had fantastic views, counting ourselves as lucky for having found a pygmy-owl two days in a row. At the actual airport, up to three American Kestrels were present, and at one point a Merlin appeared and chased one of the Kestrels away.

Gray Catbird. Long Beach Airport, Tofino, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

A short stop at Long Beach provided us with our first views of the open Pacific Ocean and the big waves rolling in. Surfers hung about on the water waiting for the perfect waves. Birds were not common, but at one puddle we did have nice views of Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. The next stop was at Wickanninish Beach where, again beach goers and surfers were enjoying the sunshine. We carried on towards Ucluelet where we visited the harbor, in hopes of finding an interesting gull or mammal. We succeeded in both actually, adding an adult Western Gull to the list and we spotted two new mammals, River Otters and Steller’s Sea-Lions. The otters were playing about on the dock, putting on a fantastic show for us. The sea lion flapped his flipper against the water, showed us its large domed head and then disappeared.

River Otter. Ucluelet, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Lunch was enjoyed at the Gray Whale Cafe, and then we visited the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and the Wild Pacific Trail. Views of the rugged coast were spectacular here, and perhaps overshadowed the birds, though we did have some goodies such as three Red-necked Phalaropes swimming on the ocean beyond a kelp bed, and a Peregrine Falcon zooming overhead.

Closer back to Tofino we visited the mudflats at the end of Sharp Road. Frustratingly a very large flock of several hundred sandpipers were whirling over the flats, but would never come close enough to identify, though the general consensus was they were mostly Western Sandpipers. Other birds waded about on the  mudflats including several Great Blue Herons and amongst the other regular gulls, a few locally uncommon Ring-billed Gulls.

Day 6, September 17 – Our luck with the good weather decided to end this morning. We boarded a boat for some whale watching out of Tofino, and though the boat was covered, it rained and it poured. Before we left the dock we noted two Bald Eagles in the trees on the small islands nearby. Those who wanted to be outside felt the elements, but we were rewarded for our efforts with sightings of 3 Gray Whales, two adults and a youngster. As an added bonus we were fortunate to see as many as 7 Sea Otters in the channel as we made our way back to dock. Birds were not numerous, though we did see Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants, Red-necked Grebes and an assortment of gulls. Back on dry land we had hot drinks in the office before returning our hotel to dry ourselves out for a while.

We gathered once again to go for lunch, after which we visited a lovely place called Chesterman Beach. It was quite breezy as we strolled along the sandy beach, but the sun had finally come out and it was pleasant. Pools on the beach had shorebirds such as Western and Least sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Greater Yellowlegs and best of all a Marbled Godwit. We watched an Osprey fishing in the bay for about 10

Marbled Godwit. Tofino, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

minutes, and eventually he caught himself a fish and disappeared into the hills to eat his breakfast in peace. A stroll back through the heavily treed neighborhood on Chesterman Beach Road added a few passerines to our list; ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Pacific Wren, all species we regularly ran into on the island during our visit. Leaving the beach behind, we stopped again at the Tofino Airport, finding it rather more quiet than it was the previous day. An American Kestrel sat on the runway, and a few White-crowned, Savannah and Song sparrows skulked in the brush. On the golf course a group of American Robins foraged on the short green grass. At the airport we met up with my friend Ian Cruickshank, who has been working in the Tofino area this summer. Ian took us to Grice Bay, where not many birds were present this afternoon and then we went to the mudflats behind Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, where we again watched shimmering flocks of Western Sandpipers over the flats. A distant Black-bellied Plover was pointed out by Ian, who also showed us some Ring-billed Gulls. New for our trip list were two species of waterfowl, Common Merganser and Greater Scaup. In a distant tree, a Bald Eagle sat watching the bay.

Day 7, September 18 – It was still pitch black outside when we arrived at the dock in Tofino this morning. Blackness ensued as we boarded the boat and anxiously awaited the departure of the vessel.  To continue on the black theme, we were out searching for Black Bears roaming the shores of remote beaches at low tide, in search of crabs, clams and other delights. Again this morning it was raining pretty hard, and continued to do so as we steamed our way out of the harbor in the slowly emerging dawn light. As we navigated up narrow passage ways and past tree clad islets we caught quick glimpses of the elusive Harbor Porpoises as they surfaced for air. I spotted a Black Bear foraging on a beach in front of the boat and we were soon thereafter staring a at a good sized adult Black Bear turning over boulders in search of food. We watched this bear for 20 minutes

Black Bears near Tofino, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Louise Rowlands.

or so before continuing on to another beach where a second, even larger Black Bear was seen. This bear however, didn’t feel like preforming, and he quickly retreated into the forest. On to another beach, and our best bruin sighting of the day was a large mother with a cub feeding by her side. Four bears in one morning goes down as a success in my books.

Back at our hotel we had breakfast before venturing out once again, as the weather had cleared up somewhat. We headed for the mudflats at Sharp Road to find the tide was too high to be of much use there. We then did a lovely walk through the rainforest at Comber’s Beach. Large rolling waves were coming in today as the wind was quite strong. At the local sewage lagoons we had an assortment of waterfowl including some beautiful Wood Ducks, and a group of Green-winged Teal with one Blue-winged Teal mixed in with them.

At the ‘Kwisitis’ visitor’s center’s viewing platform, we were greeted by a large group of Sanderlings that were chasing waves on the high tide below us. A couple of dozen Western Sandpipers were also in with the Sanderlings, and one of the Western Sands was a very interesting individual. The bird had all the structural features of a Western Sandpiper, but the legs were bright orange and the bill was bright orange. The cap of the bright was bright white, as were all of the wing feathers on both wings. The tail was extensively white as well, though the scapular and mantle feathers matched a Western Sandpiper. It was a very interesting bird indeed, and its white coloration most likely makes it a target for predators. Out on the sea were the usual Surf Scoters, Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants and Common Loons. New for the trip list were Horned Grebes, White-winged Scoter and Marbled Murrelet. Ian had told me about a pebbly beach nearby that could have Wandering Tattler so we wandered in that general direction ourselves. We first found a group of three ‘unspotted’ Spotted Sandpipers, and then I spotted a Wandering Tattler snoozing on the rocks. We approached for a closer look and viola, another Wandering Tattler appeared, and this one foraged about on the beach not far from us. Yet another, making for three Wandering Tattlers, was found as it sat on the shore not far away. Add into the mix a Least Sandpiper and a Black Turnstone and we had four species of shorebirds feeding right in front of us on the beach. It began to rain once again so we headed back in the direction of Tofino, stopping in for the second time today, at the mudflats on Sharp Road, just to realize that the water was too high. Coffee at the Common Loaf was enjoyable and the caffeine helped us head back out into the elements for a couple of more stops. At mudflats we stopped first at Jamie’s where the tide was heading out. Some Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails were noted on the flats, as were various gulls. Sanderlings, Least Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper whizzed past as they headed out to the mud to feed. Overhead, a Peregrine Falcon sailed by, and sharp-eyed Louise spotted a Merlin in a tree above us. Playing hide and seek with us, a Pacific-slope Flycatcher was seen by just myself and Sue before it got swallowed up by the vegetation. Our final birding stop of the day was back at Sharp Road one more time. A single Bonaparte’s Gull foraged on the mudflats with Glaucous-winged, Mew, California and Ring-billed gulls. A group of male Greater Scaup posed for scope views, and Belted Kingfisher rattled off its noisy call. We had dinner at Jamie’s where the waitress confessed to us she was a closet birder.

Day 8, September 19 – It wasn’t easy to leave Tofino and the Pacific Rim this morning, but we did just that, though we made a few stops prior to heading east across island. We visited Radar Hill where the sweeping views were breathtaking. A Northern Pygmy-Owl,

Pacific Wren. Vancouver Island, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

our third for the tour, was here, calling repeatedly and being constantly mobbed by American Robins. A few Varied Thrushes were here as well, but were very secretive, unlike a Hermit Thrush which popped up and sat in the open for a few seconds. We returned one last time to the airport, where again we quickly found the local rarity, a Gray Catbird. In addition to the catbird were a few migrant passerines such as Yellow and Orange-crowned warblers, American Pipits, and various sparrows. A Varied Thrush finally posed long enough for distant, backlit scope views, and Red-breasted Sapsucker made a cameo appearance. A Merlin sat perched atop a conifer, where it surveyed the airfield below.

In Ucluelet we paid one last visit to Amphitrite Point where the surf was quite impressive. Out on the ocean were Rhinoceros Auklet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Harlequin Ducks, Pelagic Cormorants and Surf Scoters. A male Varied Thrush popped up in a pine tree, allowing excellent scope views of this classic west coast specialty. On our way into town Judy spotted a Black-tailed Deer munching on grass in somebodies garden. Also in town, a Bald Eagle sat in a giant cedar next to the road and we had our closest

Hutton’s Vireo. Vancouver Island, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

view of this majestic species yet. We had lunch at Zoe’s Cafe in Ucluelet, before making the drive across island to Parksville, where we made another stop at the Englishman River Estuary. It was almost immediately evident that there was a higher diversity of birds on the east side of the island as compared to the west side. The bushes along the path to the estuary were filled with birds including Cassin’s Vireo and Willow Flycatcher, both new species for the tour. We had excellent views of male and female Purple Finches here, along with American Goldfinches and a flyover flock of Pine Siskins. Sparrows were numerous with White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song, Fox, Lincoln’s and Savannah all noted here. On the flats were a few shorebirds including Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers and our first Wilson’s Snipe of the trip. Waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mallard and Common Merganser were noted. A look at the straight from a beach access provided some distant Pacific Loons, as well as Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes. An Anna’s Hummingbird visited a feeder in someone’s front garden. Black clouds threatened so we began our return trip to the vehicle, arriving just in time as the skies opened up and rain came down a few moments later. We carried on into Nanaimo where our hotel is situated on the harbour.

Day 9, September 20 – From the harbour we headed for Buttertubs Marsh this morning, and the weather cooperated for the most part, other than a brief shower. We walked the entire pathway around the marsh, and in the process we saw close to 50 species of birds. As soon as we began the walk we were surprised to encounter a covey of California Quail. Several males and a group of females, both sexes sporting comical topknots on their heads, scurried about on the path. Sparrows were particularly numerous along the

California Quail. Nanaimo, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

brushy edges of the trail, with Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Song, Savannah, Fox and Lincoln’s all accounted for. Out on the water were several Ring-necked Ducks, as well as Wood Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged teal, American Wigeon and our first Hooded Merganser of the tour. A single American Coot was our first for the trip as well. Raptors showed off nicely, as Turkey Vultures kettled in thermals, Red-tailed Hawks sailed by, we saw our first Northern Harrier and two Cooper’s Hawks chased each other to and fro.  In the warbler department, we had the usual suspects with Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped and Yellow warblers, as well as Common Yellowthroat. Groups of Band-tailed Pigeons steamed by at top speed above the treetops, but wouldn’t settle for scope views. Another highlight along the trail here, a Brown Creeper landed on a trunk mere feet away from us, offering up about the best view possible of this species.

We enjoyed a cup of coffee at Duke Point, south of Nanaimo, as we waited for our ferry to arrive. Once on board we had lunch and then headed out to watch the sea for birds and animals. This particular crossing did not produce much in the way of bird sightings, but it did produce sightings of a pod of Orcas! Thanks to the captain of the boat for pointing the pod out to all the passengers. We arrived at Tsawwassen at 2:45 and were then on our way to Boundary Bay to watch birds on the flats on the rising tide. We stood watch at the foot of 96th St, and watched as the water came closer and closer to shore. There were not huge numbers of shorebirds present this evening, but there were still quite a few. The best sighting of all was that of a Willet, a locally rare shorebird that rarely strays north into British Columbia. Other highlights included our first Baird’s Sandpipers of the tour, four juveniles that were busily feeding in close to shore. Small numbers of Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Pectoral Sandpipers were also noted foraging on the flats. Numbers of waterfowl were impressive with masses of American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Raptors also showed nicely as several Northern Harriers were noted, including a young male that sat in the grasses not far from us for quite some time. An American Kestrel was a nice sighting and locally uncommon in the Vancouver area. We had been commenting on the lack of swallows throughout the trip, but today we caught up with some as dozens of Barn Swallows appeared, including a single Bank Swallow mixed in with them. We had dinner tonight in the ice rink at the local pub while we watched a hockey team practice, which impressed the ladies from the U.K.

Day 10, September 21 – It was a lovely morning, with bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures in Vancouver. We began at Iona Beach and the Iona Sewage Ponds, where a couple of hours of exploration was most enjoyable. The tide was quite high and we scanned from the beach, spotting our first Western Grebes of the tour. A flock of beautiful Snow Geese suddenly appeared, with a single Greater White-fronted Goose thrown in for good measure! The geese circled around for a moment and then settled on the beach, offering up scope views. We encountered many Great Blue Herons today, at pretty much all the locations we visited. At the sewage ponds there were assorted shorebirds including Long-billed Dowitchers, Killdeer, Pectoral and Baird’s sandpipers, Least and Western sandpipers and Wilson’s Snipe. Sparrows were abundant around the edge of the ponds with scattering groups of Song, White-crowned, Savannah, Lincoln’s, Fox and Golden-crowned sparrows all throughout the walk. Our first Black-capped Chickadees of the tour were found this morning as well.

Next on the agenda was Queen Elizabeth Park, a lovely park situated on a hill overlooking the city. The views of Vancouver, North Vancouver and surrounding areas are rather spectacular here. The park is covered in gardens and forest, providing good habitat for migrant birds. We staked out an area with holly berries and found quite a nice variety of species in the area; Hutton’s Vireo, Hermit Thrushes, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and best of all two White-throated Sparrows. I scanned the tops of the cedar trees nearby and counted a total of 6 Anna’s Hummingbirds sitting atop the trees. A Red-breasted Sapsucker sat out in the open in the sunshine and all this while three noisy Cooper’s Hawks were terrorizing the peace in the woods nearby.

We picked up lunch and took it with us to Terra Nova, an area along the Fraser River near the Vancouver Airport. A White-winged Dove had been present here several days earlier, so we took a look for it, but our search came up empty handed. The site made for an excellent picnic area however. We drove to Surrey, with hopes of finding a couple of

American Avocet. Surrey, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

uncommon shorebirds that had been in the area recently, first stopping at Elgin Park. I followed some directions to a site where an American Avocet had been seen, and there it was just as advertised. Next up was Blackie Spit, where a Long-billed Curlew often can be found. After a bit of searching I did spot the curlew and he was snoozing. I trained the scope on him and he began to awaken, lifting his wings into the air and doing a bit of preening. The other highlight here was seeing 3 Lapland Longspurs feeding nearby along the beach, while another flew overhead and called. Common Loons were noted in impressive numbers, with 15-20 estimated on the waters off Blackie Spit.

Lapland Longspur. Blackie Spit, Surrey, BC. Sep 2017. Photo: Louise Rowlands.

To finish off the day we returned to 96th St on Boundary Bay for one more crack at the rising tide. There were significantly more birds present tonight as compared to the previous night. Several hundred Black-bellied Plovers trotted ahead of the tide, and we saw two juvenile American Golden-Plovers as well. Pectoral Sandpipers were about in numbers, as were juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers. Three Marbled Godwits were found, though the recently sighted Hudsonian and Bar-tailed godwits did not come out. The same as the night before, waterfowl were abundant and the raptors, in particular the Northern Harriers put on a nice show. We headed back to our hotel and then went out for the last dinner of the tour, and it was very enjoyable.

Day 11, September 22 – Our final morning in Canada…..well not mine, but for the four ladies it was their final morning in the country. We began at the famous Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner. As we crossed the Fraser River, Sue spotted two Mute Swans resting on a dock below the bridge. These particular Mute Swans are some of the only individuals in British Columbia that can officially be counted ones list. We had a quick look in some coniferous trees near the Canadian Wildlife Service Office and could not find any owls, though we did find some Barn Owl feathers. At Reifel we were inundated with the usual mobs of Canada Geese, Mallards, Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows, all searching for food. The pond at the entrance to the reserve had a nice variety of birds on

Western Sandpiper. Iona Island, Richmond, BC. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

it including dozens of Long-billed Dowitchers and a single Short-billed Dowitcher, our only for the tour. Also here, our only Lesser Yellowlegs of the trip, alongside quite a few Greater Yellowlegs. On the outer ponds were more Long-billed Dowitchers and Greater Yellowlegs, along with a pair of juvenile Stilt Sandpipers! Waterfowl were plentiful with most dabbling duck species represented; Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Wood Duck, and Mallard. Following us along the paths were little groups of Black-capped Chickadees, all searching for sunflower seed handouts, and there were sparrows all over the paths; Fox Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Other migrant passerines included Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo and some overhead Violet-green Swallows. We were treated to views of a Virginia Rail as it flew across a pond and disappeared into the cattails. Several Northern Harriers patrolled the skies over the refuge, as did a clever Peregrine Falcon, an adult Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk and Merlin.

It was early afternoon by this point and we were in need of some sustenance so we popped into Denny’s for lunch. After lunch we made one more birding stop, a return visit to the Iona Sewage Ponds and Iona Beach. The sewage ponds again were excellent for shorebirds with good numbers of Pectoral Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers present. A short walk down to the beach provided us with one final new species for the tour, 4 Western Meadowlarks! This was the 148th species we recorded on the tour, which is a great total. We headed to Vancouver International where I said goodbye to the ladies and wished them safe travels back to London and points beyond.

Chris Charlesworth



Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours