Oct 7 – I had the pleasure of guiding Ken Thorpe of Montreal around the Central and South Okanagan Valley today. In the morning the weather was threatening, but we managed to dodge the showers. We began at Robert Lake in Kelowna just as day broke. There was an assortment of waterfowl here including Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and Hooded Merganser were noted here, and we heard Marsh Wren and a lingering Common Yellowthroat calling in the reeds.
We fought the morning traffic through Kelowna and crossed the Bennett Bridge, making our next stop at Antlers Beach in Peachland where I spotted an immature Sabine’s Gull flying along the shore, a short distance away. Farther out on the lake were half a dozen or so Bonaparte’s Gulls. Three female type Surf Scoters flew past, uncommon in the Okanagan in the Fall. As we arrived at the SS. Sicamous in Penticton we were surprised to see two American White Pelicans dropping in rest on a rocky breakwater. Gulls were numerous and we studied California, Herring, Ring-billed, Glaucous-winged, Bonaparte’s and a single adult Thayer’s Gull on the beach. Out on the lake was a group of 15 Surf Scoters, all female types.
At the cliffs at Vaseux Lake we searched for half an hour or so before I found a group of half a dozen Chukar clambering up the rocks. This was a lifer for Ken, so we were quite happy to ‘nail down’ the Chukar. We had scope views of a Canyon Wren here, and we found over 50 Bighorn Sheep in a field here. Overhead, two Golden Eagles appeared briefly and then disappeared over the ridge. Farther up Irrigation Creek Rd we encountered White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western and Mountain bluebirds, and White-crowned Sparrow. We had a scan on Vaseux Lake at the north end before leaving, and a good thing since there were two Peregrine Falcons and a Northern Harrier swooping about the sand bar here. Out on the water were thousands of birds, including an immature male Eurasian Wigeon. A lingering Ruddy Duck was rather tricky to see mixed in with the rest of the birds which were mostly American Coots and American Wigeon.
At White Lake, the scenery was spectacular, with sunlight bathing the sage covered hills where we found a couple dozen Western Meadowlarks. We encountered a migrating group of 15 or so Mountain Bluebirds, and we had no trouble finding our target bird for this location, Northern Shrike. We saw two adult Shrikes hanging around the Twin Lake Rd / White Lk Rd junction. Overhead another Golden Eagle soared by, offering fantastic views. We stopped at Three Gates Farm near Kaleden and heard a calling Northern Pygmy-Owl.
In Penticton we made one final stop, this time at the Esplanade Trails. Migrant passerines were numerous here with Yellow-rumped Warblers being the most numerous, followed up by Ruby-crowned Kinglet and American Robin. Sparrows were abundant with the majority being White-crowned and Song sparrows. We managed views of Lincoln’s, and a lovely adult White-throated Sparrow here too. Out on Okanagan Lake were four species of grebes; Red-necked, Western, Horned and Pied-billed. A Sharp-shinned Hawk sailed overhead just as we were about to make our way back to Kelowna. At the end of the day we had tallied 70 species, a respectable total.
Day 1 – Today was mostly a travel day for us, as the seven Avocet Tours clients, and myself, arrived in Prince Rupert from various points across Canada. We had dinner at a nice restaurant on the harbor before retiring for the night. Not many birds were noted today, other than Northwestern Crows and a few Glaucous-winged Gulls in town.
Day 2 – It was a stunning day today, from start to finish, with lovely blue skies and gleaming sunshine. We made our way from our hotel in Prince Rupert to the ferry terminal
where we boarded the ‘Northern Expedition’ at about 8:45 AM. From the boat, as we were waiting to depart, we had several bird species including Pelagic Cormorants, Bald Eagles, a Rhinoceros Auklet, Mew, Glaucous-winged, Thayer’s and California gulls, Northwestern Crows, Steller’s Jay, Red Crossbill and American Robin. We could hear a Fox Sparrow singing on shore, and an adventurous Savannah Sparrow was hopping about on the ferry, perhaps ready to catch a lift across Hecate Strait. A lovely female Belted Kingfisher perched on a rusty bar beside the boat in the morning sun, allowing the photographers in the group to snap pictures to their heart’s content. Once we finally left the dock and began
our 7 hour journey, we were all amazed by the scenery. The birds were pretty nice too, though it was a bit quiet to begin with. Eventually we began bumping into little groups of Surf Scoters, as well as Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets. A few Marbled Murrelets made brief appearances as did several Cassin’s Auklets. Two or three small pods of Harbor Porpoises were a treat to see, as they played hide and seek with the waves. Once we hit the open ocean more birds began to appear; Pacific Loons, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and White-winged Scoters were all seen. Reluctantly we paused for lunch, hoping we didn’t miss too much outside. Back out on the deck after lunch some of us were lucky enough to spot an adult breeding plumage Yellow-billed Loon, and Real and I were treated to views of the only Leach’s Storm Petrel of the trip. Scanning through the Sooty Shearwaters I pointed out one Short-tailed Shearwater, but we probably saw quite a few of them today without being able to identify them. We reached the east coast of Haida Gwaii’s Graham Island and
paralleled it as we traveled south towards Skidegate. I pointed out a Sabine’s Gull flying low over the water, yet another nice bird to add to the trip list. Our fourth loon species of the day, a Red-throated Loon, dove beneath the water as the boat drifted by. Once we got close to land numbers of Common Murres and Rhinocers Auklets were high. Waiting to greet us at the dock were Red-necked Grebes, White-winged Scoter and the usual Common Ravens and Northwestern Crows. I went and retrieved the van from Skidegate Village nearby, then returned to pick everyone up and we made the short drive into Queen Charlotte together. The town was abuzz with activity as tomorrow William and Kate of Royal family fame are visiting the area.
Day 3 – Our first morning on Haida Gwaii began with a hearty breakfast at the Ocean View Restaurant in Queen Charlotte, and then we made our way to the Skidegate Ferry Terminal for the 8:35 AM crossing to Alliford Bay. As we waited for the ferry we saw a few birds including a stately Bald Eagle, and some Song and Fox sparrows. During the short ferry crossing we noted good numbers of Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Pacific Loons and a few Black-legged Kittiwakes. Once on Moresby Island the sunshine came out and we enjoyed a
spectacular day of birding in the Sandspit area. We spent much of the morning walking around the northern perimeter of the airport, starting off with excellent views of several Harlequin Ducks. A group of 20-30 Black Turnstones were a nice addition to the list as they foraged along the pebbly shoreline. Out on the water were Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, and Common Loon, all three scoter species, and some Pigeon Guillemots. Savannah Sparrows were numerous along the grassy edge of the airport, and we repeatedly bumped into a large flock of 100+ Lapland Longspurs here as well. An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk attempted several times to catch a longspur, but appeared to be unsuccessful. Also in the grassy habitat along the edge of the beach were Lincoln’s and Song sparrows. A Northern Flicker, our first for
the tour, perched atop a small fir tree. Just before lunch we added a few more goodies to the list; Pacific Golden Plover, along with a group of a dozen or so Black-bellied Plovers, and a single Dunlin. The rarest sighting of the day today was not a bird. We just happened to have our scopes and binoculars set up as the private jet carrying the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, arrived and stepped off the plane and onto a search and rescue helicopter bound the Queen Charlotte.
We had lunch in a cafe in the Sandspit airport and then headed back out in the field to continue our explorations of the area, this time focusing on the south end of the airfield. A flock of 30 or so ‘Dusky’ Canada Geese were seen along the beach and soon thereafter we found 9 Greater White-fronted Geese and a couple of Cackling Geese in the same area. Two Pectoral Sandpipers dropped into the long grass, briefly causing excitement before their identities had been ascertained. At Mather’s Bight we sat on a log and watched seabirds pass by with Black Scoters putting on a nice show for us. A flock of 40 or so Sanderlings
entertained us here, and we scanned through the Savannah Sparrows finding a single Horned Lark amongst them. Feeling rather tired and quite content with our day we made our way back to the Alliford Ferry Terminal to catch the last boat of the day. We arrived quite early so we had some time for birding in the mixed forest around the terminal. This was very productive and we had Pacific Wren, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, and some lovely Townsend’s Warblers here. Our first Double-crested Cormorant of the tour flew past and we watched several Black Oystercatchers through the scope as well. Once back at Queen Charlotte we returned to our motel and went out for a nice dinner before retiring for the evening.
Day 4 – We found ourselves bathing in sunshine again this morning, our last morning in Queen Charlotte City. What have we done to deserve this amazing weather? A short stop at a little park towards the west end of the village yielded our first Dark-eyed Juncos of the tour, along with distant views of a male Hairy Woodpecker. We then stopped at the Haida
Heritage Center to admire the totem poles that the Haida people are well known for. A male Red Crossbill sat atop a Sitka Spruce for scope views here as well. We strolled the streets of Skidegate, finding a nice selection of birds including a lovely Red-breasted Sapsucker, as well as a ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow, more juncos, Song Sparrows, American Robin, and a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Carrying on our northward journey, we paused at Halibut Bight Rest Area and scanned the sea. Several Harlequin Ducks were admired here, and farther offshore were Black, White-winged and Surf scoters, Red-necked Grebes, Common Loons and a few Pigeon Guillemots. We had lunch at the Crow’s Nest Cafe in Tlell, where the home made food was scrumptious. Sharon pointed out an adult Red-tailed Hawk out of the window of the cafe. After lunch we looked out at the sea where on last year’s tour we had Red-throated Loon. I was quite surprised to see a Red-throated Loon today in exactly the same place. Next, we checked wet meadows near Tlell where we added a few duck species including American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal. A pair of Sandhill Cranes was a nice surprise here and Sharon spotted yet another Red-tailed Hawk here. In trees nearby we found a little feeding flock that included several immature Cedar Waxwings, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and our first Brown Creeper of the tour. We took a little drive along the Tlell River, and saw very few birds, but the scenery was very nice.
After a short pit stop in Port Clements we carried on to Masset and made our way to the Alaska View Lodge B & B, which lived up to its name today as the great weather made it possible to see Prince Of Wales Island in Alaska approx 70 km to the north across Dixon Entrance. Out on the ocean we saw many of the birds we had already seen earlier today, and I pointed out a pair of Parasitic Jaegers as they sailed past. We headed back into town and had dinner at a local Chinese establishment and then returned to our lodge. Once it was dark we headed out to try for a Northern Saw-whet Owl, with no luck tonight. The show of stars were rather spectacular however.
Day 5 – We enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise on the beach in front of our b & b this morning. We could see Alaska in the distance, and the sun rose over Tow Hill. A large mass of gulls on the beach included two adult Western Gulls, the only ones we had on the entire tour. Sanderlings were rather abundant here with several hundred running up and down the beach.
After a hearty breakfast prepared by our host Ben, we headed out birding, stopping first at Agate Beach. Out on the surf were the usual suspects; Red-throated and Pacific loons, Surf, Black and White-winged scoters, Pelagic Cormorants and an assortment of gulls. Two Peregrine Falcons slid through the treetops and out of sight. The weather was spectacular
today, maybe even too spectacular for birds which would have just been migrating overhead given the excellent conditions. I walked in the bushy edge habitat where the sand met the forest and I pished and squeaked but only attracted Song Sparrows, Pacific Wrens, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a couple of Red Crossbills. It was still a lovely walk nonetheless.
We picked up lunch in Massett and made our way to the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary where we had a picnic. The weather began to change and the skies got gray and cloudy quite fast, and the wind picked up. In the slough we had a few interesting birds including our first Greater Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitchers, as well as waterfowl including Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal and a single Blue-winged Teal.
Dinner this evening at a local restaurant called Charters was fantastic, and highly recommended if you are in Massett. We tried, unsuccessfully to find a saw-whet owl tonight, but the stars ended up being quite impressive.
Day 6 – We said goodbye to Ben this morning and made our way to the Dixon Entrance Golf
Course for a quick look in the rainy, breezy weather that had materialized overnight. We saw very little at the golf course, other than a Lapland Longspur and a solitary Greater White-fronted Goose.
A wander around Old Massett was somewhat unproductive, with only a few Song Sparrows and Common Ravens found. We did seem to pique the interest of every dog in the neighborhood. Along the shore of Massett Sound were Herring, Mew, Glaucous-winged and Thayer’s gulls, and out on the water there were the usual Common Loons and Surf Scoters. We began the drive back to Queen Charlotte, stopping off along the way for a comfort break at Port Clements. In Skidegate we visited the Longhouse Gift Shop for some much needed retail therapy and then we waited for the 3:45 PM ferry to Alliford Bay. We killed some time at a little park in Queen Charlotte where a few species including Black Scoter, Western Grebe, Mew Gull, and some gorgeous Harlequin Ducks were added to the day list. The conditions were rough as we crossed the ferry, and Real tried to ‘tough it out’, but was driven in by the wind and rain. We saw a Sabine’s Gull, along with Black-legged Kittiwake and Common Murre. Once we made our way to Sandspit we were dealing with a full on wind storm. Gusts of up to 120 kph were recorded over the course of the evening at the Massett Airport. We checked into our inn and headed for the only restaurant open in town, Dix Wok In. It was a very pleasant little restaurant with good food and friendly owners.
Day 7 – It was our last morning on Haida Gwaii and the overnight wind storm had calmed down which we were quite happy about. Brian and Suzanne were to catch a ferry early this morning, but the boat was delayed due to the weather and rough seas. We had breakfast at the little cafe inside the Sandspit airport and then we walked around the northern perimeter of the property. Ellen and I were lucky enough to ‘bump into’ a Golden-crowned Sparrow, an immature bird, hiding in the shrubs next to the airport. Tide was quite a long way out, but the waterfowl numbers were impressive, especially the Harlequin Duck which numbered into the hundreds. Also present were Surf and White-winged scoters, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose and a nice selection of grebes and loons. On the shore we had several Killdeer and 20 or more Black Turnstones. In the distance several Black Oystercatchers foraged along the rocky shore. The large flock of 150 or so Lapland
Longspurs were again present, and still being chased about by Sharp-shinned Hawk and Peregrine Falcon. 5 Pectoral Sandpipers came in and landed on the edge of the runway allowing good scope views and a Long-billed Dowitcher flew over several times. The best bird of the morning however was a Short-eared Owl that showed itself nicely from all different angles just before lunch. After all was said and done we tallied up our list at lunch and the bird species tally stands at 91 species. It was a pleasure to lead my group around. They were a fun crew and we had some good times together, and saw a lot of great scenery, birds and wildlife in general.
September 14 – Today was our first day together. The group of 7 from the U.K. arrived the previous evening and we transferred to our hotel and got some rest. Bright and early the next morning we had breakfast and then departed our hotel in Richmond, passing through the Massey Tunnel to our destination the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. We had a little time to spare upon arrival for our ferry to Vancouver Island, so we did some birding. The bay was teeming with activity including a number of Great Blue Herons, dozens of Common Loons, Red-necked and Horned grebes, White-winged Scoters and Pelagic Cormorants were tallied. An Osprey on a distant pole was spotted by Rose. A Black Oystercatcher landed on the beach in front of us for scope views. About half a dozen American Pipits called as they flew by us along the north shore of the jetty. Near the terminal an adult Peregrine Falcon was seen on a large radio tower. We got on the ferry and stood on the
upper viewing deck for the duration of the hour and a half ride to Swartz Bay, north of Victoria. Along the way we saw a selection of gulls including Glaucous-winged, California and Mew gulls. Turkey Vultures teetered over the Gulf Islands, and we had a single Bald Ealge, an adult, sitting on a small island in the shade of a light beacon. Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises were seen on the crossing as well. The scenery alone was worth the trip. Once we were back on dry land we drove towards Victoria, pausing along the way to pick up lunch. We then ate our lunch at Swan Lake Nature Center while preschool class had an outdoor session nearby, keeping us entertained with their games. One little girl said she had seen lots of birds on a trail, so we took her advice and headed off to search for birds. We found quite a few with highlights including Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren and more. Overhead a Cooper’s Hawk did a display flight, and we had another Cooper’s Hawk perch in a cottonwood tree where we viewed at leisure through the scope. A Merlin was a nice catch as it hurried off across the lake towards a neighborhood. Seen on a couple of occasions was the rather attractive Spotted Towhee, along with a distant ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler. Anna’s Hummingbirds seemed to be everywhere and we had several excellent views of them as they zipped about. Eastern Gray Squirrel was an addition to the mammal list, though it is a pesky introduced species.
We continued on into downtown Victoria, stopped in at our hotel for a short pit stop, then headed back out into the field for some more birding. After all it was gorgeous sunny day with temperatures reaching about 25 degrees Celsius. We visited Clover Point, a prominent
rocky headland that juts out into the Salish Sea. Through the scope we had good views of Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as up to 4 Harlequin Ducks including a male coming into breeding plumage. Gulls were slathered all across the rocks here and flocks were mostly composed of Glaucous-winged and California gulls with lesser numbers of Mew Gull, Heermann’s Gull and Ring-billed Gull. We enjoyed our evening meal at a quirky diner called John’s Place, where we reminisced about the day as we ticked off the birds on our lists.
September 15 – It was a lovely morning down at Clover Point as we scanned the Salish Sea and the rocks surrounding the point for new and exciting birds. We enjoyed views of several spectacular Harlequin Ducks, including one or two males. Gulls were numerous on the rocks with a few Heermann’s, and Thayer’s gulls again the highlights. Little groups of Rhinoceros Auklets were again noted this morning as were several Common Murres. A group of about 8 Horned Larks flew over the point and nearly landed, as did several little groups of American Pipits. Overhead we scanned through a flock of Barn Swallows and I picked out a Bank Swallow amongst them, which is a locally rare bird.
Our next stop was at the Ogden Point Breakwater and even before we had walked 20 meters down the path we were distracted by birds as a White-crowned Sparrow and a
Golden-crowned Sparrow appeared on the ground beneath some bushes. A fleeting glimpse of a River Otter tantalized us here, and despite our patience it did not reappear. Farther along the breakwater we encountered a group of about half a dozen Black Turnstones picking through the barnacles on the rock wall below us. From the lighthouse at the end of the walk we scanned the sea and found Rhinoceros Auklets and some distant Mute Swans. On our way back, a male Belted Kingfisher entertained us for a while. After this rewarding little walk we indulged in a coffee before venturing off to our next port of call.
We visited Beacon Hill Park next, a lovely place with giant oaks, maples, sequoias, cedars and firs. A Hutton’s Vireo greeted us not long after our arrival, offering up excellent views of this non-migratory species. Farther along we bumped into little groups of mixed feeding flocks with Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bushtits, Yellow Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the ponds we found Hooded Merganser and our first American Wigeons of the tour. A male Belted Kingfisher showed nicely as he sat watching the water below.
After lunch we followed the coastal scenic route around to the Oak Bay Marina where we saw some nice things including our first Brandt’s Cormorant, a dozen or so Greater Yellowlegs, some Killdeer, Black Oystercatchers and some Black-bellied Plovers.
To finish off the day we visited Esquimalt Lagoon. There were many gulls to sift through here, which paid off with the sighting of a single Caspian Tern. Also new for the list was Brewer’s Blackbird, of which there were quite a few along the shores of the lagoon. Yet another Belted Kingfisher, our third of the day, was seen here and Rose pointed out an Osprey perched on a distant fir. Ross spotted a little group of Killdeer on a rocky island, but shorebirds, other than a good number of Black Oystercatchers, were quite thin on the ground. We headed back to our hotel in downtown Victoria and went out for another delicious meal, and this time we were joined by my younger brother Connor.
September 16 – It was a bit of a relief to get out of the hustle and bustle of Victoria as we made our way north along the Trans Canada Hwy. We stopped in at Goldstream Provincial Park, where it didn’t take us long to find a very confiding American Dipper along the
stream. The thickets along the edge of the stream had Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific Wren, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and American Robin. We had excellent views of a Red-breasted Sapsucker here as well, which was a real treat.
Our next stop was at Somenos Marsh in Duncan. It was very pleasant here with the sun shining and quite a few birds about. Both ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ race Yellow-rumped Warblers were about, along with Common Yellowthroat and Orange-crowned Warbler. Sparrows were numerous with Golden-crowned, Song, Lincoln’s and a ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow noted along the path. A female Northern Harrier glided towards the back of a meadow and flew up and over a line of willows. The sky was
seething with Violet-green Swallows, most likely gorging on an insect hatch. We had fleeting glimpses of American Goldfinch, but excellent views of Bewick’s Wrens.
After a coffee stop in Duncan we continued on, pausing next at Cathedral Grove to take in the giant trees. A light rain was falling as we walked around the paths of Cathedral Grove. We admired the towering Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar trees, all covered in moss. Birds seen included a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers, a Pacific Wren and a little group of Golden-crowned Kinglets. We continued the drive on to Ucluelet, through some road work, and arrived around 5 PM. We checked into our resort and we enjoyed the lovely view.
September 17 – Rain fell and the wind blew all night long, and as we emerged for some birding before breakfast we were reluctant to leave the dry and comfort of the resort lobby. We ventured out along the Wild Pacific Trail and scanned the Pacific in search of seabirds. We were rewarded with sightings of several Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots, as well as Common Murres and a single Marbled Murrelet. We had breakfast and rain continued to fall, and we left our headed for the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse feeling rather optimistic. The rains let up in the-morning and the rest of the day was very pleasant, with several
sunny breaks later in the day. At Amphitrite Point we again scanned the sea, finding some more interesting birds. At least two Sooty Shearwaters sailed by offshore, and Ross pointed out a Pacific Loon flying past. Gulls were plentiful and amongst the Glaucous-winged and California we gulls we picked out a few interesting species such as an adult Western Gull, some Heermann’s Gulls and an adult Herring Gull. An adult Peregrine Falcon sailed over and at the edge of the parking lot, our first Steller’s Jays appeared.
We walked into the Tofino Sewage Ponds, a bit surprised to find a new electric fence put up around the ponds. Viewing was less than ideal, but we did manage to find two new species; Northern Pintail and a group of about a dozen Wood Ducks. In the vegetation around the ponds there were about 10 Red-winged Blackbirds, including several molting males. Fox Sparrow and Song Sparrow sat out in the open for views as well.
At Wickaninnish Beach we scanned the toiling Pacific Ocean, again finding Surf Scoters, Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Loons, Horned Grebe and several other species. On offshore rocks we had over a dozen Black Oystercatchers.
After lunch we visited one more location, the Long Beach Airport. In the thickets just south of the airfield we had a good number of Fox Sparrows, with all individuals seen, of the ‘Sooty’ race. There were about a dozen Cedar Waxwings here, and 4 Northern Flickers, along with migrant flocks of American Robins, and a few White-crowned Sparrows. Yellow Warbler was briefly seen. We had a quick look at the airfield itself, which was rather quiet, then we returned to Ucluelet, and spent the rest of the evening at our resort.
September 18 – It was still dark as we drove from Ucluelet to Tofino this morning. We boarded the Stellar Sea, the boat that took us up into the inlets east of Tofino. We followed Browning Passage to Fortune Inlet where we scanned the beaches from the boat, looking
for Black Bears at low tide. By the end of the trip the total number bears seen was 9 individuals, including a female with cubs. Harbor Porpoises were seen, albeit briefly, as they surfaced for air, and we saw a group of Harbor Seals resting on a rock. Not many birds were seen, though we did spy an adult Bald Eagle atop a distant pole. A Northern Pintail flew past the boat, and we noted quite a few Great Blue Herons on our journey. It was quite lovely in the inlets, with interspersed patches of cloud clinging to the tree-clad mountains.
Back on the land we had a coffee stop before heading to the Tofino Mudflats at the end of Sharp Rd. As soon as we arrived we saw an adult Bald Eagle sail in and land on the beach nearby, and we had a Red-tailed Hawk, the first for the tour. To top things off a Peregrine Falcon flew over at treetop level. Out on the flats there were no shorebirds, unfortunately. Gulls were numerous with Mew, California, Glaucous-winged, Western and Herring gulls tallied. Great Blue Herons and Northwestern Crows dotted the mudflats. In the trees along the wooded path to the little viewing area we had Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Pacific Wren, some of the most common species in this part of the world.
A walk along Chesterman’s Beach was quite nice, and at the end of the walk we scanned the churning sea, spotting Surf and White-winged scoters, Red-necked, Horned and Western grebes, Brandt’s Cormorant and some Heermann’s Gulls.
After lunch we returned to Sharp Rd to find the tide had completely come in and there were very few birds present. We headed for the Tofino Airport where we walked along the edge of the airfield finding a flock of American Pipits, and sparrows including Lincoln’s, Song, and Fox. A flock of about 40 Cackling Geese flew over in the mist and we were alerted to their presence by their high pitched ‘cackling’ calls.
Our last stop of the day was in the harbor at Ucluelet where on the rocks we counted about 10 Black Turnstones. A Steller’s Sea-Lion was the real highlight here, and it was a large male with a steeply domed forehead. Our first Eurasian Collared Doves were ‘ticked off’ the list as we made our way back towards the resort through the streets of Ucluelet.
September 19 – Overnight rains did not dampen our spirits as we drove from Ucluelet towards Tofino. We had breakfast at Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, then made a short stop at the Tofino Mudflats, where the tide was way out. On the mud were the usual gulls including Ring-billed, California, Western and Glaucous-winged. Some distant shorebirds, probably Western Sandpipers, tantalized us a bit. The regular suspects were in the rainforest around here, with Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pacific Wren tallied for the day.
We headed for the dock in Tofino and boarded the Lady Selkirk just after 10 AM, then headed out for a few hours of whale watching. The weather was a bit ominous as we set off,
but things improved quite a bit throughout the morning. Rain spitted down on us for the first 20 or so minutes of the voyage, but that didn’t stop us from tallying a few species; Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, a male Canvasback and a flock of Northern Pintail high overhead in formation. Once we got out towards the west end of Vargas Island we encountered our first of about half a dozen Gray Whales! Another spectacular mammal we saw several of today was the Sea-Otter. As we returned to Tofino, a flock of about 40 Cackling Geese flew high overhead in formation. Back at the dock, a group of Black Turnstones were accompanied by about half a dozen Surfbirds, a new species for the tour.
After lunch we briefly visited the north end of the Tofino Airport again. A Merlin sped past, in hot pursuit of a shorebird. Suddenly, a bunch of shorebirds appeared, including Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. They were most likely flushed by the passing Merlin. In the shrubby habitat along the edge of the airstrip there were White-crowned Sparrows and a single Common Yellowthroat. Our next stop, at Long Beach, was rather brief. The beach was lovely, but birds were few and far between here. The final birding stop of the day was at Comber’s Beach where we walked a short distance down the trail through the rainforest. There were Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Steller’s Jay and a distant calling Pileated Woodpecker here. All in all, it was quite an enjoyable day.
September 20 – Just after dawn we made our way to Combers Beach where we walked through the rainforest down to the shore. Along our walk we encountered the usual forest suspects, including Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Steller’s Jay, and we heard,
but couldn’t see, several Varied Thrushes singing in the deep woods. We had scope views of a flock of Red Crossbills feeding on cones up in the canopy of the forest. Once down at the beach I scanned through a flock of gulls finding Glaucous-winged, Mew, California and a couple of adult Herring Gulls. Farther down the beach, we peered through the scope and got another trip bird, this time Sanderlings. There were about 50 scurrying about on the sandy shoreline.
We returned to Ucluelet, had breakfast at the Gray Whale cafe and returned to our hotel to pick up our luggage. The drive to Port Alberni was enjoyable with sunny skies allowing us views of the distant jagged mountain peaks. We stopped at Kennedy Lake for a photo-op, and within seconds, several other cars had screeched to a halt to see what we were looking at. We picked up lunch in Port Alberni and took it with us to Rathtrevor Beach, a lovely spot on the east side of Vancouver Island. As we ate our lunch, Red-breasted Nuthatches flitted in the fir trees above us. A short walk through the pines produced Spotted Towhee, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Flicker and Golden-crowned Sparrow.
Our final stop of the day, at the Englishman River Estuary, was quite good. Along the trail to the estuary we had a few migrants including both ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ races of Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Cedar Waxwings and Purple Finches. Skulking in the underbrush was a Pacific Wren and a Bewick’s Wren. At the estuary waterfowl included Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Common Merganser and American Wigeon. A few Killdeer wandered about on the mud, as did a single Western Sandpiper. We walked out to the beach and had a look out onto the water where Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Duck and Surf Scoter were all see, as well as our first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the tour. On the way back to the van, we had good looks at a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a nice sighting, but the bird of the day was yet to come. Just as we were about to get in the van I heard a Pileated Woodpecker calling in the distance. Within seconds a male Pileated Woodpecker flew in and landed on the trunk of a fir tree for us to admire! Soon thereafter Rose pointed out a second Pileated Woodpecker, this one a female. Feeling very content we headed into Nanaimo, checked into our hotel on the harbor and had a nice meal before retiring for a well deserved night’s rest.
September 21 – After breakfast we left our hotel and made our way to Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. This, our last stop on the island, was perhaps the most productive stop we have
met yet on the entire tour. Over 40 species of birds were noted here on our walk, that took us around the perimeter of the marsh itself. On the water were Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Wood Duck and a male Ring-necked Duck. Up to 7 Pied-billed Grebes were counted here today as well. We enjoyed front row seats as a female Merlin attempted to catch a ‘Red-shafted’ Northern Flicker. The outcome was not in her favor. At one point a large female Cooper’s Hawk sailed over, quickly pursued by the Merlin. Turkey Vultures were fairly numerous in the skies above the marsh. New for the list, and present in large numbers were Band-tailed Pigeons. The marsh habitat produced several rather secretive species including Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat. Bushes and shrubs along the path were alive with birds with the likes of Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, ‘Audubon’s’ and ‘Myrtle’ race Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens and Anna’s Hummingbirds. We completed our walk around the marsh and headed to Duke Point to catch the 12:45 PM sailing to Tsawwassen.
Once on the ferry to Tsawwassen we had lunch and then headed up to the observation deck. Birds on this crossing were few and far between but we did see California and Glaucous-winged gulls, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants, Surf Scoter and best of all an adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger, the latter of which was riding along on a floating log near Tsawwassen. As we disembarked from the ferry I pointed out a group of Black Oystercatchers along the beach.
Our final birding location of the day, after a short stop at our hotel in Richmond, was the Iona Sewage Ponds. As we approached we tallied a list of waterfowl, with Northern Shoveler being new for the trip list. Also present were Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Shorebirds were about in dribs and drabs, including about 20 Pectoral Sandpipers, 15 or so Western Sandpipers, 2 Least Sandpipers, several Killdeer and 30 or more Long-billed Dowitchers. Bushes surrounding the ponds were full of sparrows with Song, Lincoln’s, Golden-crowned and Savannah encountered. We had dinner in a pub at the local ice rink tonight, a good Canadian experience for the 7 participants from various parts of England and Scotland.
September 22 – What a glorious, sunny day it was today, from the start to finish. We began at Beach Grove Park in Tsawwassen, where in the morning sunshine we had a nice assortment of resident and migrant passerines. Black-capped Chickadees were new for our trip list here, as were four White-throated Sparrows, locally an uncommon to rare species. Anna’s Hummingbirds shot past at rocket speed, with one male perching briefly for us to admire his colors. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Purple Finches, Spotted Towhees, Fox Sparrows, ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumps, Bewick’s Wren were all stashed away in the bushes making a racket. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were nice to see here, and a pair of Cooper’s Hawks flew over as well.
Our next stop was at Boundary Bay, where we waited for the high tide at 96th St. The birds, masses of them, waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls, were a fair distance away at first, but soon the tide had pushed many of them within range of allowing identification. Most abundant shorebird today was the Black-bellied Plover, of which we saw 1000 or so of. Also quite common were Western Sandpipers and Sanderling. Present in smaller numbers were Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and a couple of juv. American
Golden Plovers. Masses of ducks were in the bay, but most were too far to identify, though Northern Pintail and American Wigeon were seen. A few raptors noted here included a Cooper’s Hawk, and a Peregrine Falcon, as well as a Northern Harrier spotted in the grass by tour participant Ross. A puddle in a nearby farm yard attracted a great flock of American Pipits, with my estimates being of over 150 birds. The sky was full of Barn Swallows, and Ross picked out a Violet-green Swallow amongst them. Hedges along the path were alive with birds; Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Savannah, Song, Lincoln’s, Golden-crowned and White-crowned sparrows, House Finches and a male Ring-necked Pheasant were found. It, all in all, was a great visit to Boundary Bay.
After lunch we made a brief stop at our hotel before carrying on to Queen Elizabeth Park. The lovely sunny weather and a marauding Peregrine Falcon, could have something to do with why there were so few birds about in the park today. We drank in excellent views of an Orange-crowned Warbler foraging low in a hedge and a little group of Bushtits also moved through the trees. Overhead, Gill pointed out a Peregrine Falcon carrying prey, which was most likely a pigeon. I spotted a Band-tailed Pigeon sitting high in a fir tree and we had good scope views.
Our final stop of the day was another excellent stop, as we returned to the Iona Sewage Ponds. When we arrived we found Mike Tabak there and he told us there had been a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper seen earlier at this location. Excitedly we rushed along to the pond and it didn’t take us long to find the juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a species that breeds
in Russia and is a rare, but regular, stray to the BC coast in the fall. Other shorebirds found included Pectoral and Western sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher and Killdeer. Two Thayer’s Gulls were nice to see as they lifted off the ponds and flew away, showing off their wing patterns. Bushes along the edge of the ponds had the usual suspects; Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned, Savannah, Lincoln’s and Song sparrows and several Red-winged Blackbirds. It was a fantastic final day of birding, and we celebrated with a nice dinner at a local establishment.
September 23 – Our final morning in British Columbia was a rainy and wet one, unfortunately, but that did not stop us from exploring the exquisite Reifel Refuge in Ladner for a few hours. We walked the various trails, exploring ponds, marshes, forests and fields, finding quite a number of good bird species. We paused first at the Canadian Wildlife Service Offices to look for owls, but we only found some pellets and Barn Owl feathers. At least one Brown Creeper was seen here however. At Reifel we made a quick visit to the gift shop before embarking on stroll around the refuge. Waterfowl were plentiful, and the highlight were several stunning breeding plumage Wood Ducks. Peregrine Falcons made several passes at the waterfowl, with one of the falcons actually colliding with a duck mid air, amidst a puff of feathers. The duck escaped relatively unscathed. Other raptors noted at Reifel today included Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harriers. Out over the large marsh at the west end of the refuge we had a couple of American Bitterns fly past, a nice surprise. Our first good looks at American Goldfinch were obtained here as well, and the first southbound flocks of Snow Geese were seen flying in through the mist from the north. Shorebirds on the ponds included Long-billed Dowitchers and some Greater Yellowlegs, and a couple of us were lucky enough to catch a Wilson’s Snipe as it flew overhead. Perhaps the highlight for us today though was a roosting Great Horned Owl, looking a bit wet and miserable, but nonetheless impressive. Virginia Rails called from the marshes in several spots, and Gill was lucky enough to see one run across a muddy channel. Soras called too, but remained unseen. All in all, it was a fantastic visit to Reifel. We made our way to Richmond where we had a late lunch and then I took the group to the airport, wishing them a safe and enjoyable journey back to the U.K.
September 6 – We ventured out to Denny’s for breakfast this morning before making our way to the harbor in Ventura. After checking in for our boat trip we had a look down by the beach for some shorebirds, this after all being world shorebird day. We were rewarded with some great birds including Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Whimbrel, Willet, Marbled Godwit and best of all a Wandering Tattler. We boarded the boat and began our journey out across Santa Barbara Channel towards our destination, Santa Cruz Island. Before we had even left the harbor we had tallied a few goodies including Pelagic Cormorant and Black Oystercatcher. Once out on the open water we saw a few Elegant and Royal terns, as well as a Parasitic Jaeger. We got a bit farther off shore and began seeing shearwaters including loads of Black-vented Shearwaters and lesser numbers of Pink-footed and Sooty shearwaters. Out in the middle of the channel we saw a couple of Pomarine Jaegers. Like little specks on the sea, a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes fluttered past. One of the big highlights today was seeing large groups of Common Dolphins in the channel. Many of the dolphins came right up alongside our boat to ride the bow and check us out. A few
California Sea Lions were also noted. We docked at Prisoner’s Harbor and as soon as we got on solid ground we saw our first Island Scrub-Jay. By the end of the day we had seen about half a dozen of these birds that are endemic to Santa Cruz Island. In addition to the jay, other species including Orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee, Black Phoebe, Bewick’s Wren, Acorn Woodpecker, Song Sparrow and Hutton’s Vireo were found, the
latter of which was a first for our trip. As we ate our lunch on the beach an Island Fox came out to investigate us. Having no predators here on the islands, the fox was basically oblivious to our presence and came right up to our picnic tables to look for scraps. We looked under the pier and found several Leopard Sharks swimming below. About 4 PM we began our journey back to Ventura, stopping along the way to admire another group of Common Dolphins along the way. What a fantastic day, we all agreed.
September 7 – We were back out on a boat in Santa Barbara Channel today, this time for a 5 hour whale watching excursion. It was a nice day on the water aboard the Condor Express
and we saw quite a few interesting birds and marine mammals today. In the bird department, we had many Black-vented Shearwaters along with a good number of Pink-footed Shearwaters as well. Both Pomarine and Parasitic jaegers were again noted, as were many Red-necked Phalaropes. I saw a single Red Phalarope, but couldn’t get anyone else on the bird in time. Mammals were plentiful and we saw a huge congregation of California Sea-Lions not far from the north end of Santa Cruz Island. We encountered many Common Dolphins as well, but the real highlight was the sighting of two Humpback Whales.
Back on the mainland we visited Devereux Slough in Goleta where our day list grew significantly. A few shorebirds were about including Western and Least sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, Spotted Sandpiper and some distant Sanderlings. We saw some terns, including Elegant and Forster’s, and some waterfowl with Northern Shoveler, Mallard and new for our list, some Northern Pintails. Birds in the trees and bushes were abundant and included Bushtits, California Thrasher, California Towhee, many Acorn Woodpeckers, our first Downy Woodpecker, Allen’s Hummingbird and more. Not a bad stop to finish off what had already been an exciting day.
September 8 – Our final morning in California, we left our hotel early and made our way to Denny’s for breakfast. After breakfast we drove north along Hwy 101 to Alisal Canyon
Road, where at a ranch we located several Yellow-billed Magpies. The lovely oak habitat here also produced California Scrub-Jays, California Quail, many Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Bluebirds, Band-tailed Pigeon and more. We took a stroll up to Nojoqui Falls, where there were no falls running at this time of year. There was a little bit of water however, and this perhaps had attracted a nice array of birds including Townsend’s, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray, and Orange-crowned warblers, Hutton’s Vireos, Bewick’s Wren, California Towhee and Dark-eyed Juncos.
We began our journey south back towards L.A. in the mid-morning, making one final stop at Refugio State Beach. On the beach was a group of gulls including Heermann’s, Western and California gulls. Bushes along the edge of a small wetland here attracted some migrants including Bullock’s and Hooded orioles, Western Tanager, Yellow and Orange-crowned warblers, Common Yellowthroat and a Black Phoebe. We returned to L.A. by early afternoon and after a quick lunch we did up our bird list and bid farewell to our fellow travelers. The trip list tentatively stands at 197 species of birds, a very respectable total.
September 2 – After a quick stop to pick up supplies for lunch we left the town of Brawley and made our way north along the east side of the Salton Sea. We stopped along the lake at Ramer Lake briefly with high hopes of finding the rather elusive Crissal Thrasher. The bird
gods were smiling on us and we found a single Crissal Thrasher perched atop a dead tree, offering up scope views for all! This was my first sighting of this species in California and I’ve done over half a dozen trips to the area. Other species noted at Ramer Lake included Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Verdin, Gambel’s Quail, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Western Grebe. A quick stop at Schrimpf Rd produced a Western Meadowlark, and a single Burrowing Owl for the day list. As we drove north along the east side of the sea we spotted a single Osprey sitting atop a telephone pole and we saw our first Coyote of the tour.
Our travels took us through Palm Desert and Indian Wells; very nice neighborhoods indeed. We then began ascending the Pines to Palms Hwy into the San Jacinto Mountains. Our first stop, at the Ramona Trailhead, produced our first Western Bluebirds, as well as Mountain Chickadees, White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, and a couple of Oak Titmice. Next up, at Hurkey Creek Park we, and everyone else in southern California it seemed, spent the next few hours exploring the pine forest. This being the beginning of
the labor day weekend, made for rather busy campgrounds and parks. The birding was good here nonetheless and we added Steller’s Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, American Robin, Hairy Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee and a fleeting pair of Phainopeplas. Acorn Woodpeckers were quite active here as well. We had a picnic lunch before making our way towards Idyllwild where we did a little birding around the School of Arts. Birds seen here included ‘Oregon’ race Dark-eyed Juncos, a Lesser Goldfinch, Cassin’s Vireo, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Spotted Towhees and Mountain Chickadees. We then began our descent of the mountains via a very twisty Hwy 243 to the San Bernardino Valley below. The drive to Twentynine Palms was quite pleasant and we saw our first bizarred Joshua Trees along the way. We had dinner at the Rib Co. in Twentynine Palms this evening, which is always a treat.
September 3 -Even before we left our hotel this morning Mary had spotted a MacGillivray’s Warbler near the parking lot and Kathy E. got it see it as well. Our first official birding stop was at the Mara Oasis Visitor’s Center where we walked through the original grove of 29 palms. A few migrants were about, including a Yellow-breasted Chat,
Yellow Warbler and a couple of Willow Flycatchers. We had exquisite views of a Greater Roadrunner here as it perched in a tree beside the path in the morning sun. Other species tallied here included Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and a Cactus Wren. After a short look in the visitor’s center we made our way into Joshua Tree National Park where we enjoyed the stunning scenery. As we traveled through the park we saw a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes perched atop Joshua Trees, and just as we pulled into the parking lot of the Barker Dam Trail Head,
Canyon Wren. Joshua Tree NP. Sep 3, 2016. Chris Charlesworth
a Le Conte’s Thrasher made a very brief appearance. The walk to the dam was quite enjoyable and we had great views of a Canyon Wren along the way. There was no water to be found at the dam this year so birds were few and far between, other than our first Western Wood-Pewee and a couple of California Scrub-Jays.
We picked up lunch and took it to Covington Park in Morongo Valley where the 4H club was having a big to-do. Luckily the birds didn’t seem to mind the commotion and we had great views of a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, as well as numbers of Lazuli Buntings, Lesser Goldfinches, a Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Bluebirds and an immature male Cooper’s Hawk. We strolled over to the Big Morongo Preserve, finding a couple of Western Kingbirds along the
way. Lazuli Buntings were quite numerous here, though all were in their rather drab fall plumage. We found two lovely male Summer Tanagers here, a species that has a very
restricted breeding range in California. Bushtits also made their first appearance for the group, though it was short and sweet. At feeders near the entrance of the preserve we watched for a half hour or so as four species of hummingbirds came in to feed; Allen’s, Anna’s, Costa’s and Black-chinned. Also coming in to feed were California Towhees, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches and at the water dish were Hooded and Bullock’s orioles and California Scrub-Jay. Not a bad way to finish our birding. We then made the drive through the desert to the rather windy town of Mojave.
September 4 – Mojave is a very windy place and this morning was no exception. As luck would have it the winds were light enough at Jawbone Canyon, our first destination for the day, that we were able to find our target species without too much trouble. As we walked
through the desert we quickly located our first Bell’s Sparrows. All of the birds we saw today appeared to be of the ‘Canescens‘ race which is the expected race in this area. Soon thereafter our second target species appeared, a Le Conte’s Thrasher, the palest of North America’s thrasher species. The bird sat right up on top of a creosote bush, but by the time I raised up my camera and clicked it had jumped into the air. Trees around the rangers station were quite active with birds and we saw Yellow and Orange-crowned warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, California Quail, Black-throated Sparrows and a good number of Bell’s Sparrows. After a good hard search I was finally rewarded with the sighting of a roosting Great Horned Owl here as well. A Loggerhead Shrike showed very nicely at this location as well. Farther up the canyon we found singles of Blue-gray
Gnatcatcher and Rock Wren, the latter of which was a first for the tour.
We picked up lunch in California City and took it with us to the Silver Saddle Resort, a posh resort and spa located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where irrigated lawns and man-made ponds attract a nice variety of birds. As we entered the resort we saw about 30 Horned Larks on the driving range, a nice welcome party indeed. We parked the van and
signed in at the front desk before walking the premises. Flycatchers were common and there were Say’s and Black phoebes, Western Wood-Pewee and Willow Flycatchers everywhere. A Belted Kingfisher was seen several times around the pond and we also saw an immature Great Blue Heron stalking prey. A bit of a surprise was an immature Black Tern that was flying around the pond repeatedly. Not a species I had expected out in the middle of the desert. As we ate our lunch I spotted a group of Chukar at
the edge of the resort and we watched the group of about 10 birds scurry about before disappearing into the desert. A few warblers were noted including Yellow, Orange-crowned, Nashville, a Black-throated Gray Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. A few raptors seen at the resort this afternoon included singles of Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Turkey Vulture. Along the shores of the man-made ponds we saw a couple of Spotted Sandpipers. To top off what had already been a pretty darn good afternoon I spotted a second Great Horned Owl roosting, this time in a pine tree. The bird appeared quite pale, suggestive of desert races of this species. We returned to our hotel and had a little r & r before heading out for dinner.
September 5 – Nimali spotted several Yellow-headed Blackbirds as we loaded up the van at our hotel in Mojave this morning, the first notable sighting of the day. We drove south along Hwy 14, pausing at Apollo Park in Lancaster where we added several geese to the trip list including Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted geese. Not a bad way to start off the morning. We picked up lunch and made our way up into the San Gabriel Mountains. A plume of smoke atop the mountains announced there was a forest fire burning up there, and luckily it didn’t hamper with our plans to explore this wonderful mountain range. Our
first stop was at the Chilao Visitor’s Center where the birding was very good. At the visitor’s center the feeders and water dish attracted quite a nice selection of birds including Oak Titmouse, California Scrub-Jay, Lesser Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn Woodpecker and the star attraction, a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers. We also had numerous White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches here, as well as Mountain Chickadees, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Bluebirds and a male Anna’s Hummingbird. In addition to the birds there were several California Ground Squirrels, as well as Western Gray Squirrels and Cliff Chipmunks, the latter of which was a first for this tour. We stopped along the Angeles Crest Hwy to look for Northern Pygmy-Owl and were rewarded almost immediately with
one that came in to investigate my imitation. No sooner than the owl had landed did a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers arrive and harass the bird. We eventually had excellent scope views of the tiny owl as it called from a fir tree nearby.
We had lunch at Buckhorn Campground amonst the shade of towering conifers. Birding here was fantastic as well and we were inundated with warblers; Black-throated Gray, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Yellow and a lovely MacGillivray’s warbler all showed off nicely. We added our first Brown Creeper of the trip here, as well as the first Red Crossbill,
and great views of Green-tailed Towhee. Mary pointed out a small group of Vaux’s Swifts sailing overhead against the blue sky, and as we were about to leave, a female White-headed Woodpecker landed on a post right next to the van and began to sip water from a faucet!
At the Cloudburst Summit, the peak of elevation at over 7000 feet, we had a short stop and added Clark’s Nutcracker to the trip list as well as more White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees. To finish off the birding we paused at Charlton Flats and here we added yet another bird to the trip list, this time in the form of Bewick’s Wren. Other species noted included Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Anna’s Hummingbird and California Scrub-Jay. We left the mountains and weaved our way through the network of freeways to the town
of Carpinteria, which is situated along the coast and will be our home base for the next three nights.
August 29 – Early this afternoon, at LAX, I met up with my group, 6 ladies from various places in B.C. and Alberta, and we made the journey of about 1.5 hours to Santa Ana. As we followed the massive I-405 freeway south from L.A. and we saw nothing but common birds along the way; European Starling, American Crow, Mourning Dove and a group of unidentified parakeets zipping by. We headed out to do a little birding before the day was over, at the San Joaquin Sanctuary.
The birding was splendid, and in about an hour and a half we had amassed a list of close to 50 species. One of the first birds we noted was a male Northern Orange Bishop that was displaying in some long grass, as one or two comparatively drab females watched. Another ‘exotic’ species seen quite well was Scaly-breasted Munia. There were about a dozen of them playing hide and seek in the long grasses, but eventually we all had good looks at them. Several Cassin’s Kingbirds showed quite well, and we saw a couple of obliging Black Phoebes as well. Forster’s Terns plunge dived into the water, as did a single Brown Pelican. Nimali spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron just in time before it disappeared into the vegetation along the edge of the pond. A Snowy Egret bravely landed only a few feet from us before it realized what it had done and flew
off. Pied-billed, Western and Clark’s grebes were tallied, as were Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans and dozens of bizarre Black Skimmers. Waterfowl noted included Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and Ruddy Duck. A single Common Gallinule was a pleasant surprise as it strutted along the shore near several Killdeer, the only shorebird species we identified here this afternoon. In the brushy habitat along the edges of the ponds we found Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, a lovely male Allen’s Hummingbird, an Anna’s Hummingbird, House Finches, and a pair of very territorial California Towhees, the latter of which was a lifer for most. Up in the air we scanned through a number of Turkey
Vultures as they teetered back and forth on upward tilted wings. In among the vultures we were rewarded with sightings of Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk and an immature Red-shouldered Hawk, the latter of which lazily circled above us offering up excellent views. Feeling as though we had done very well at San Joaquin we made our way back to the hotel before venturing out for dinner.
August 30 – As we made our way to the coast this morning the skies were overcast due to the marine layer. This was welcome as it kept the temperatures cool for much of the morning. We began in the trendy neighborhood of Laguna Beach with a stop at Heisler Park. We scanned the offshore rocks for shorebirds and found a few Surfbirds and Black Turnstones,
as well as Willets and a Whimbrel. Out on the rather calm ocean there were quite a number of Black-vented Shearwaters, mostly resting on the water. Heermann’s, Western and California gulls were noted as were a few Brown Pelicans and Brandt’s Cormorants. Our next stop was at Crescent Bay where again we scanned the ocean and the offshore rocks for birds. New for the list was a single Black Oystercatcher resting on the rocks below and a Common Loon flying by over the horizon. The rather attractive flowers here attracted both Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds. We saw an adult and 2 juvenile Northern Mockingbirds here, along with Orange-crowned Warbler, Song Sparrow and two lovely little male Scaly-breasted Munias, a species formerly known as the Nutmeg Mannikin. Over the past few
years the munia have become very well established in southern California. By now the marine layer was beginning to burn off and the temperatures were warming up a bit. We picked up lunch and took it with us to the Reef Point Unit of Crystal Cove State Park, where amongst the chaparral habitat we found several sought-after bird species. Upon arrival it seemed very quiet here, but with a bit of patience the birds showed themselves. At least two and possibly three California Gnatcatchers appeared out of nowhere and showed well as they foraged in the scrub in front of us. Next up we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of
Wrentits, another target bird at this location. We headed to the van and ate our lunch, but we were interrupted by the appearance of a very bold California Thrasher that charged out of the chaparral and came straight for the van in search of scraps. This seemed like a bit of an easy ‘tick’ for us and it was a lifer for most people present. From Crystal Cove we made our way to Upper Newport Bay where I was a bit unhappy to find the road had been temporarily closed to vehicle traffic. Would this affect our plan to find the newly split Ridgeway’s Rail? Luck was on our side and we did find two rails in the reeds near the edge of the road. Fantastic! Shorebirds were plentiful on the mudflats here and we tallied Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Western and Least
sandpipers, Black-bellied Plover and Killdeer. Wading birds included Great and Snowy egrets and Great Blue Herons. We were lucky to have good views of a juvenile ‘Belding’s’ Savannah Sparrow before we left as well. To finish off what had already been a spectacular day of birding we returned to San Joaquin Sanctuary for one last look. We took a peek in the little gift shop here and just as some were in the shop buying their souvenirs an immature Swainson’s Hawk sailed overhead. As we strolled down the path towards the ponds we again saw the stunning male Northern Orange Bishop doing his thing. An
American Kestrel sailed by and perched on top of a tree. Pat was fortunate enough to spot a Greater Roadrunner briefly, and Nimali was also lucky to see a Say’s Phoebe. On one particular shallow pond we had some shorebirds including our first Semipalmated Plovers, several Long-billed Dowitchers and a number of winter plumage American Avocets. An immature Green Heron did a fly by, but unfortunately didn’t perched for better views. It was pretty hot and we were a little exhausted from a long day of birding so we headed back to our hotel and had a little rest before dinner.
August 31 – This morning we battled through the rush hour traffic as we made our way south from Orange County towards San Diego along the I-405. We then turned east and followed Hwy 78 inland towards Escondido where we picked up lunch and grabbed a coffee to go. The coastal marine layer melted away as we entered the mountains near Escondido and the temperatures got progressively warmer throughout the day. Our first birding stop was at the Inaja Memorial Park in Cleveland National Forest. Here we were treated to views of a noisy flock of California Scrub-Jays, a recent split from the Western Scrub-Jay. Also here we had great views of a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker and some people saw Acorn Woodpeckers as well. A little group of Lesser Goldfinches busily fed in the bushes here too.
We then entered the desert wonderland of Anza-Borrego, making our first stop at Tamarisk Grove Campground where we had lunch. After lunch we scurried from shady patch to shady patch and saw a few birds including Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin and a Warbling Vireo. Desert vegetation was impressive here with Ocotillo, Barrel Cactus, Chollo Cactus, Prickly Pear and Creosote dominating the rocky landscape. We then made our way to the visitor’s center which was closed, but we did some birding in the area nonetheless.
A tiny little pond with a big palm tree next to it produced some good sightings including Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, Costa’s Hummingbird and White-winged Dove! New for the mammal list here was a Black-tailed Jackrabbit. Before we left the Borrego Springs area we had an ice cream treat and then drove around the Roadrunner Club Resort where we hoped to find roadrunners. Roadrunner luck wasn’t on our side, but we saw other species anyhow; Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Costa’s Hummingbird, Common Raven, Mallard, Cooper’s Hawk, Verdin, Yellow Warbler, and several Common Ground-Doves were tallied. The drive to Brawley took us through some very barren habitat, but once we were alongside the Salton Sea, we saw green irrigated fields full of White-faced Ibis and Cattle Egrets. We checked in to our hotel and later went for a delicious dinner. As we headed for dinner we saw a couple of Lesser Nighthawks sailing overhead. As it turned out we birdwatchers had arrived in Brawley on the opening day of dove hunting season so the town was full of activity, with middle aged men in camouflage all over the place.
September 1 – We left our hotel early this morning and made our way towards the southeast corner of the Salton Sea. Along the way we paused to look at fields teeming with thousands of White-faced Ibis and Cattle Egrets! As we made our way towards the sea we began counting Burrowing Owls and by the end of the day we had tallied 28 of the little
beauties. They were present in little family groups and in singles all along the dyke alongside the road. Flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds along with a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds were tallied in the fields, and a Western Meadowlark was singing in the distance. At a wetland area near the east shore of the sea we were happy to see an American Bittern flying past, as well as Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great and Snowy egrets and Great Blue Herons. There were Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Least and Western sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets here as well. A Ridgway’s Rail of the ‘Yuma’ race was nice to add here, as was only our second sighting of a Common Gallinule. As we retraced our route we added another iconic bird of the desert, a Greater Roadrunner, as it quickly trotted across an open field towards the cover of the bushes.
Our next stop was at the Red Hill Marina, where because of receding water line we never actually did make it to the shore of the sea. All was not lost however, because we found a
roosting Lesser Nighthawk here in a mesquite tree. In the same tree were a few other migrants including Western Tanager, Yellow Warbler and a resident Verdin. We found a local rarity here as well in the form of an Eastern Kingbird. Our record appears to be one of just a few for the Salton Sea area. It was hanging out on the telephone wires next to a Western Kingbird for comparison. We checked a large wetland area near Red Hill Marina and here we added several birds to the day list including Ruddy Duck, both Western and Clark’s grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Cinnamon Teal and Eared Grebe. Heard but not seen were Ridgway’s Rail,
Sora and Marsh Wren. Our next stop was at Obsidian Butte, where we finally reached the edge of the Salton Sea. Shorebirds were numerous here and we saw Willet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, Red-necked Phalarope, Least and Western sandpipers and Killdeer. In addition to the shorebirds were flocks of American White and Brown pelicans, the usual herons and egrets and an assortment of gulls which included common species like Ring-billed and California, as well as the sought-after Yellow-footed Gull. We must have seen 15-20 Yellow-footed Gulls today of various ages.
Also nice to see here were Laughing Gulls since this is the only location at which this species is regularly seen in California. We scanned through groups of Double-crested Cormorants and were eventually rewarded with the sighting of a single Neotropic Cormorant among them. Feeling as though we had done quite well at the sea we made our way to the Refuge Headquarters where a sprinkler had been left on creating a nice drip for the birds. This drip attracted quite a selection including Yellow, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned and Nashville warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles, House Sparrow, Verdin, Lazuli Bunting, Abert’s Towhee and a single Green-tailed Towhee, the latter of which is not expected here. Numbers of Common
Ground-Doves foraged on the grass here, and a Greater Roadrunner also made a surprise appearance! By now the temperatures had reached over 40 degrees Celsius so we made our way back to Brawley where we grabbed some lunch and then enjoyed a little siesta.
At 4:30 PM we gathered once again and made our way to Cattle Call Park in Brawley. Here, we spent over an hour doing some leisurely birding during which time we found several interesting species such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, MacGillivray’s Warbler and our real target for this location, Gila Woodpeckers. We had at least three Gilas here, including a male. At the end of the day we had seen over 80 species of birds.
I had the pleasure of guiding Andrew and Cynthia from the U.K. around the Central Okanagan Valley today. We started off early and began with a nice adult dark morph Swainson’s Hawk along Glenmore Road in north Kelowna. We spent the rest of the morning exploring Beaver Lake Road near Lake Country. It was a warm, and sunny day, with comfortable temperatures in the low 20’s while we were in the mountains. As we made our way up through the grasslands we tallied a pretty nice list of birds; Eastern Kingbirds, Western Meadowlark, a Clay-colored Sparrow and a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting were all highlights. Juvenile Western Bluebirds, two of them, were the only ones we saw today, though we did tally several Mountain Bluebirds. American Kestrels continue to be numerous along the Beaver Lake Rd grassland areas, as do Vesper Sparrows, Calif0rnia Quail and Black-billed Magpies, all interesting species for visitors from other continents.
Areas of Choke Cherry were very rich in bird life. There were Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee and more Lazuli Buntings eating the cherries which are really covering the bushes at the moment. A female Hairy Woodpecker showed well for us as did several juvenile Red-naped Sapsuckers. We watched Western Wood-Pewees flycatch from the large Ponderosa Pines, where we also enjoyed watching a group of about half a dozen Pygmy Nuthatches dangling from the branches. As soon as we entered the mixed coniferous forest we began to add other birds; Evening Grosbeak, Calliope Hummingbird, Swainson’s Thrush, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin to name a few species. A few mammal species noted this morning along Beaver Lake Road included a howling Coyote and several Mule Deer, as well as adorable Yellow Pine Chipmunks.
At the Beaver Lake Lodge we took a stroll along a spruce lined path where we found an extremely tame female Pine Grosbeak. She came right down to within a few inches of us. I suspect she must have had a nest nearby. Also seen here were a few each of Gray Jay and Steller’s Jay, and a pair of singing White-winged Crossbills. We lunch on the patio of the Beaver Lake Lodge and were entertained by watching several Common Loons on the lake. Osprey and Bald Eagle also appeared, as did Tree and Barn swallows. We noticed a tiny head poking up out of a robins nest built on the lodge itself and discovered it was an adult Pacific-slope Flycatcher that had taken over the nest and appeared to incubating.
On Beaver Lake Road we tallied about 60 species, but we needed some wetland birds to compliment our list so we returned to the valley bottom and visited the Kelowna Landfill. Gulls were numerous and about 90 percent of them were California Gulls. The next most common species were Ring-billed Gulls, followed by 2 adult Glaucous-winged Gulls, a couple of adult Herring Gulls and a lone adult Mew Gull, the latter rather rare in the summer. Shorebird numbers were low but we did still see some; Lesser and Greater yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and Red-necked Phalarope were seen here. Waterfowl also were present with Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, Ruddy Duck and Northern Shoveler all tallied.
Our final stop of the day was at Robert Lake where almost as soon as we pulled into the parking area I spotted our bird of the day, a juvenile Stilt Sandpiper. Rare but nearly annual in the Okanagan, Stilt Sandpipers normally use a migration route that takes them through the prairies. Alongside the Stilt Sandpiper were up close Semipalmated and Least sandpipers as well. A molting female Red-necked Phalarope was here also. More ducks were added with Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead and Redhead noted. In the reeds were both Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds. At the end of the day our list was over 90 species! Not a bad start to August.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours