January 6 – This morning our group of 5 intrepid birders, plus guide Chris Charlesworth, gathered in Kelowna. It was cloudy and cold (-11 degrees Celsius) when we started, but after all this is a ‘Winter Tour’, so what else would one expect? Dressed up like a group of ‘snowmen’ covered in layers of clothing, we waddled down the path at our first stop of the trip along Mission Creek in Kelowna. We searched for a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but
the bird had unfortunately chosen an alternate roost site on this day. All was not lost however and we did see some nice birds, the best of which were a male Pileated Woodpecker whacking away on a large cottonwood tree and an American Dipper plunging into the frigid waters of the creek. Several Common Goldeneye also foraged in the creek, and near the parking area a group of 300 or so Bohemian Waxwings made quite a racket.
We then began the journey up Highway 33, pausing along old Joe Rich Road where highlights included the first of many Rough-legged Hawks for the tour, as well as an obliging Townsend’s Solitaire. A group of 22 Mourning Doves were tallied as they snoozed in trees at the edge of an old gravel pit. Next stop was at Pyman Road, where open grasslands provided quite a nice assortment of raptors. Several more Rough-legged Hawks were found here including an adult dark-morph individual. Two adult Golden Eagles, and several Bald Eagles sat on a hillside
as we watched them through the scope. Our best find here at Pyman Road however was a flock of a dozen Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, including 11 coastal ‘Hepburn’s’ race birds and a single interior race bird.
We traded the grasslands in for the coniferous forests in the Goudie Road / Sun Valley Road areas, east of Kelowna. Here, we found a flock of mixed Mountain and Black-capped chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, Steller’s Jays and a single Gray Jay.
Along nearby Philpott Road we had good views of a Brown Creeper, our only one for the tour, and along Three Forks Road we enjoyed watching a male Varied Thrush as he foraged
on a patch of open ground beneath the trees. Our final stop in the Joe Rich area was at Foolhen Road where Michelle found a group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, with about 5 birds present.
With high hopes of finding our 4th species of chickadee for the day we headed for Big White Ski Village where Boreal Chickadees can sometimes be found. We spent most of our time watching a feeder at Big White where 10 or so Mountain Chickadees were coming in, but no Boreals could be found. All was not lost, as we had looks at a lovely pair of Pine Grosbeaks here, our only for the tour. On our way up another highlight, a Marten dashed across the road in front of us. We returned to Kelowna and made a final stop at Scenic Canyon where we were serenaded by a pair of hooting Great Horned Owls, a fine ending to the day. We enjoyed dinner at White Spot and after running through the species list we had seen about 35 species this day.
January 7 – Our first stop this frigid morning was at the Kelowna Yacht Club on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Quite an assortment of species greeted us here, including a variety of waterfowl; Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Gadwall and Bufflehead to be exact. Pied-billed and Horned grebes were seen, but best of all a single Western grebe was noted here. Gulls were numerous, and amongst the usual Ring-billed, Herring and Glaucous-winged gulls we had a second year Thayer’s Gull.
We crossed Okanagan Lake, via the Bennett Bridge, and stopped next at Gellatly Bay in West Kelowna where we beefed up the waterfowl list even more. A flock of diving ducks added a hundred of more Redheads and 3 Canvasbacks to our list, and through the scope we spotted a Common Loon in the distance. Hundreds of Canada Geese appeared frozen solid as they huddled together against the shore with frost on their backs this morning.
American Coots paddled by in numbers as well, while Bald Eagles patrolled the skies above. Bald Eagles, in fact, were seen in great numbers throughout our tour. A highlight for the mammal list here was a River Otter frolicking in the waters at the mouth of the creek. A short stop along Power’s Creek produced our only views of Pygmy Nuthatches, as a group of 8 or so foraged in the cottonwoods along the creek.
Next on the agenda was a visit to my house, along Trepanier Creek in Peachland, and along the way up we found the number one target species I had hoped for in my neighborhood, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The ferocious little predator was spotted sitting along a telephone wire near Paradise Valley
and we had great views, while the photographers on board snapped photos. We were
greeted at the door by my better half Cindy and my 7 month old son Carsen, and we had some coffee, tea and goodies while warming up inside. We watched feeders outside, where Red-breasted Nuthatches gobbled suet, but the resident White-breasted Nuthatch failed to appear.
On our way south we stopped in at Trout Creek in Summerland. We watched a feeder where a Harris’s Sparrow had been frequenting and it didn’t take long for the bird, an immature, to appear on the ground beneath the feeder. Other feeder attendants included Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, House Finch and American Goldfinch. A flock of over 500 Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead in a frenzy before descending on a cottonwood down the street. At Pyramid
Provincial Park we had a group of 4 Western Bluebirds that unfortunately flew off before we could get a good view. A Varied Thrush was a nice consolation prize here, as was an adult Golden Eagle soaring over the bluffs nearby. On the lake we had our only Red-necked Grebe of the tour here as well.
Once in Penticton we were quite amazed by the extent of the ice at the south end of Okanagan Lake. A few gulls rested on the ice including an adult Mew Gull, and a couple of adult Thayer’s Gulls. At the Esplanade and Yacht Club we had our lunch in the warmth of our vehicles before exploring the trails here. Quite a nice variety of species were added to our list here including several Cedar Waxwings amongst the Bohemian Waxwings, and at least two hardy ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. Eight or more Western Bluebirds landed on top of a clay bank above the trails, and we saw at least two more Varied
Thrushes here among the many American Robins. Heard but not seen was a Spotted Towhee and a Pine Siskin. A Ring-necked Pheasant skulked in the brush, its call alerting us to its presence, and a Belted Kingfisher, our only for the tour, flew by. All the bird life had attracted several predators to the area including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk and our first Cooper’s Hawk of the tour, an adult. We left the Esplanade and carried on south towards Ok Falls, pausing along the way for a coffee stop at Tim Horton’s. What Canadian winter birding tour would be complete without a visit to Tim Horton’s after all.
In Okanagan Falls we paused to scan the rapids along the river where at least 8 American Dippers were tallied. Also here were about 20 Barrow’s Goldeneyes busily feeding in the frigid waters. As we made our way towards Vaseux Lake we briefly saw our only Northern
Shrike of the tour atop a tree next to Hwy 97. Vaseux Lake was completely frozen over, other than a tiny patch of open water at the north end where 3 Trumpeter Swans swam back and forth nervously before flying south, hopefully to somewhere warmer. Two Coyotes trotted out on the ice here, and near the cliffs we enjoyed watching a large herd of Bighorn Sheep. Despite our best efforts no Canyon Wrens could be heard here, though we were rewarded with the sighting of a dozen Chukar.
We headed for our accommodations in Oliver, had a rest and then went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. After dinner we made our way to Road 22 where 2 Great Horned Owls were found. One was heard hooting in the distance and we saw another on the telephone wires along the
January 8 – The frigid temperatures were supposed to warm up a little today, and perhaps they did a little bit, but we all agreed it was still quite cold. We started off with a walk along the Okanagan River at Road 18 near Oliver. There were a lot of birds about with flocks of American Robins, European Starlings, Bohemian Waxwings and the likes dominating the scene. This section of the river remained ice free and there were a few ducks about including Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Bufflehead and a Pied-billed Grebe. Michelle spotted an American Dipper down the river, but it disappeared before most of us could see it. New for our trip list were Sharp-shinned Hawk and two or three Downy Woodpeckers.
We took a drive along Black Sage Road, turning around at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. One small patch of open water at the mouth of the river provided a resting spot for dozens of Canada Geese as well as several Trumpeter Swans. On a tiny patch of open water out on the lake we saw a heartbreaking scene as 2-3 Common Loons were trapped and did not have enough open water to take off. Let’s hope the warmer weather forecast the next couple of days helped to
open enough water for them to get out of there. Two to three American Tree Sparrows were picked out of a group of 75 or so Dark-eyed Juncos. California Quail scurried about alongside the road, and a bunch of 7 female Ring-necked Pheasants were noted. Fred found one of the best birds of the trip here, a Western Meadowlark that was foraging among the sage and antelope brush. We enjoyed great views of both Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks along Black Sage Road as well. What a trip this was for raptors.
At Road 22 the raptor theme continued with several Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, a Northern Harrier and a ‘Harlan’s’ Red-tailed Hawk being highlights. A single Western Bluebird sat out in an icy field atop an irrigation wheel, looking most unhappy. Most of the river channel was frozen, but a bit of open water provided habitat for some waterfowl. Some more American Tree Sparrows were noted along the channel, but it was fairly quiet here. We did see a couple of Muskrats however.
After a ‘pit-stop’ in Osoyoos we headed up into the Richter Pass, stopping to look a Northern Pygmy-Owl atop a fir tree along the way. We found a group of 20 or so Chukar near a ranch, where dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos were also picking up grit at a gravel pile. At the Chopaka / Nighthawk border crossing we had our lunch while we watched another group of Chukar feeding near some hay bales while 8 or so Gray Partridge slept together in a tight group in the snow. Nice way to finish off our tour indeed!
Day 1 – This was the first day of a two and a half week birding and natural history tour in Australia, concentrating on areas in south east Queensland. Our first day was a non-birding day and I met my fellow birders, Richard and Moya Stokes at their friends’ fine house and property near Maleny in the sunshine coast hinterland. To introduce ourselves and to discuss the tour we travelled to the nearby town of Maleny where we had pre dinner drinks at the Maleny Hotel before having dinner at an Indian restaurant in the main street. Day 2 – Our first day on tour was cool and overcast; for south east Queensland at least it was jumper weather! After picking up Richard and Moya we travelled together, first to a dairy farm near Maleny, to experience some of the commoner species. Masked Lapwing, Willie Wagtail, Australian Magpie [Magpie], Laughing Kookaburra [Kookaburra] were quickly added to our list. As was a less common species – Magpie Geese. This strange goose has been increasing in numbers over the last decade in south east Queensland but is still uncommon and local. The farm also provided views of Purple Swamphen [Swamphen] and, among the cattle, Cattle Egrets. A Spangled Drongo also did a flyby.
Soon we were entering our first ‘real’ birding destination – Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. This Sunshine Coast hinterland park protects a small area of upland rainforest. Here in the forest we immediately started seeing some quality birds. A Noisy Pitta quietly hopped by and luckily Moya pointed it out. This rainforest gem was later voted Bird of the Day! We saw expected species such as Yellow-throated, Large-billed and White-browed scrubwrens, Gray and Rufous Fantails, Lewin’s Honeyeater and the wonderful Megapode, the Brush Turkey. Another highlight was to enjoy watching the huge fruit doves – the Wompoos – belting out their name across the forest. Southern Logrunners, a shy forest floor specialist were seen well as were Red-legged Pademelons – a small rainforest kangaroo species. Green Catbirds were heard before they were seen as usual and Crimson Rosellas, a fantastically bright red and blue parrot, were seen well. Two Flying Foxes – Black and Grey-headed – were seen and smelled – in their noisy camp within the rainforest reserve.
After quickly enjoying the view of the Glasshouse Mountains; a series of large volcanic plugs that rise spectacularly from the flood plain, we were on the road east to the village of Toorbul. This small village overlooks the Pumicestone Passage, a small channel of water separating Bribie Island from the mainland, and is an excellent birding location. As is basic birding procedure we stopped at a small lagoon enroute however there was little save Australian Pipits and Cattle Egrets. We also made a quick stop near mangroves where we enjoyed a soaring White-bellied Sea-Eagle. The stop allowed us to search nearby, where an Azure Kingfisher was found perched and fishing. Above us a Dollarbird did a display flight showing us clearly the ‘silver dollars’ in its wings which its name salutes. Toorbul is best known as a wader roost; however, visiting birders must first give notice to the resident Eastern Grey Kangaroos. The wader roost supplied a good mix of waders; both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, many Whimbrel and Far Eastern Curlew, both Red and Great Knots, Curlew Sandpiper and Greenshanks. Other shorebirds – Egrets, Black-winged Stilts – were seen as was a good flock of Black Swans in the passage. Whistling Kites and Osprey soared above us while we enjoyed some three Kingfisher species – Collared [also known here in Australia as Mangrove], Forest and Sacred. Mangrove Gerygone, a small warbler, was seen and then, soon after, we saw a Striped Honeyeater, definitely an uncommon bird in south east Queensland. Lunch was soon called for and it was Australian burgers all round – proper made burgers with beetroot!
We left for a nearby Beach – Godwin Beach – sadly, perhaps because of the strong breeze that had sprung up the tide hadn’t fallen far so there were few waders however there was a nice flock of Royal Spoonbills. Another White- bellied Sea Eagle flew past and there was a good group of parrots – Little Corellas, Galahs and Rainbow Lorikeets to keep us entertained. With the wind strengthening and becoming cold we called it a day at about 4-30pm and then traveled to the Stokes’ accommodation – The Avocado B&B at the hinterland village of Flaxton.
Day 3 – Our third birding day on our Avocet tour had us visit a wide variety of sites in and around the Mapleton and Nambour area on the Sunshine Coast. We began the day at Mapleton National Park, specifically the Mapleton Falls section. This, happily, is a short walk from my house and is an area that I know quite well. Lewin’s, White-naped Honeyeaters were seen as were Bell Miners – another species of honeyeater whose continuous bell like call is heard continuously around ‘my forest’. Other passerine species recorded here included the beautiful Spectacled Monarch, Leaden Flycatcher, Grey Shrike-thrush and the intimidating Pied Currawong. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos flew past as did a Peregrine Falcon.
Soon we returned to my place where I shared some of the fauna of my house and yard. Sadly I have a few Eastern Horseshoe bats inhabiting a storage area down stairs – I guess it is reasonable that they consider it a cave. Also in the cave was a stunning Pink-tonged Skink – a large lizard nearly a foot long. Nearby in my hot water cabinet resides a Robust Velvet Gecko. In the yard we saw a yet another reptile – the Common Goanna or Lace Monitor. Pale-headed Rosellas and Satin Bowerbirds were a couple of the birds seen. The iconic Kookaburra was also seen well.
Nearby in the Mapleton Lilyponds, a local park, we found some nesting birds. High in a eucalypt was a mud nest, made and occupied by a Magpie Lark. Out in the ponds, also on nest, was an Australasian Grebe. A pair of Restless Flycatchers was calling together as if nesting may have been on their mind as well. These black and white birds [Why are so many of Australia’s common birds black and white?] are easy to confuse with the abundant Willie Wagtail however their throat is white while the Willie’s is black.
Nearby we visited a significant site of ornithological interest where a male Satin Bowerbird had established his bower. This is not a nest but a special ‘love-shack’ which he constructs and decorates, in the case of the Satin Bowerbird with mostly blue bits, for the purpose of wooing a female. If all goes well they mate and she flies off and meets all of the responsibility of nest building and raising their brood while he remains to decorate, mate and dance – although not necessarily in that order.
Wappa Dam was next on the list and in the floating vegetation we found more than a few Comb-crested Jacanas. Highlights on the water proper included Australasian Darter as well as several Great-crested Grebes. Scarlet and Brown Honeyeaters were busily feeding in some Bottle brush trees near the water’s edge.
Driving from Yandina to Bli Bli we made a stop near long grass and were rewarded with good views of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, Fairy Martins and a soaring Black Kite.
Upon arriving in Bli Bli we checked out a residential park area in a suburb named Park Lakes. This area remains a good birding site however it was until recently an excellent one. Sadly the owners of the estate had the lakes and wetlands drained. I’m hopeful the area will be returned to a good state again soon. The first critter of note was a Common Tree Snake. This is a beautiful and harmless species, much to the Stokes’ relief! A few good birds showed well at Park Lakes – White-breasted Woodswallow and Black-fronted Dotterel among them.
Dinner was at my place tonight and we had Kangaroo steak [which I sadly over cooked] and Snapper – which Moya claimed was good. To make up for my culinary inadequacy I took Rick and Moya spotlighting and we scored Marbled Frogmouth – a rare nocturnal bird of the rainforest. A Common Ringtail Possum was seen as were a few frogs. After dropping the Stokes back to their B&B, as luck would have it, I got a good sighting of a Tawny Frogmouth on my drive home.
Day 4 – An early morning pickup from the Avocado B&B saw us drive down to the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, specifically the sea-side town of Caloundra. The plan was to work our way from the southern end of the coast to the northern end at No
osa via several sites enroute. In Caloundra we started at a wave cut platform and even though it was still quite early the sun was shining through a cloudless sky and it was getting hot quickly. From the platform we saw passing Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and Pied Cormorants. On the platform itself we got quite reasonable views of a Wandering Tattler. A blue phase Eastern Reef Heron also appeared for us. Above the platform an Osprey nest held a couple of the birds. Unbelievably perhaps for a birding trip some time was spent watching [mere] invertebrates; crabs and a fine nudibranch that had to rescued and returned to a deeper pool.
Maroochy Sewerage Ponds yielded a few duck species including many Chestnut Teal. We got great views of Mistltoebird in the adjacent trees and there was a good view also of a nesting Noisy Friarbird. Fairy Martins were seen hawking over the ponds. Nearby on the Maroochy River a few waterbirds – White-faced Heron and Little Egret – and a few interesting crabs – Fiddlers and Soldiers – were observed.
Next stop was a well-known Sunshine Coast site, Finland Road. This is an area with a
range of habitats, rank grass, old cane fields, wetlands, remnant Melaleuca Forest and consequentially a reasonable range of birds. Rainbow Bee-eaters were seen well on powerlines as were both Sacred and Forest Kingfishers. In the grass were Tawny Grassbird and Golden headed Cisticola. Great views of three Latham’s Snipe were had at the water’s edge where Comb crested Jacanas.
Lunch today was an Aussie classic to Rick’s approval – pies and a sausage roll!
Traveling north along the coast we stopped for a quick walk in and around Noosa National Park. The views, as usual, were stunning however the forest was a little quiet. Still we got good views of Spectacled Monarch, Figbirds, Grey Butcherbirds, Brush Turkeys and White-browed Scrub-wrens.
Next on the agenda was a stakeout for a seriously uncommon and spectacular bird, the Glossy Black Cockatoo. This was successful as we saw several birds fly in to a small creek for their evening drink. Dinner was had at a small Asian café on the Noosa strip.
Day 5 – Today was mild and overcast and as such a reasonable day to go birding a little inland. The plan was to visit two main sites; Sheep Station Creek Reserve near Caboolture and then a variety of sites in the grater Stanmore and Kilcoy region. Sheep Station Creek is a remnant area of dry eucalypt woodland that offers refuge for an interesting variety of species that are difficult to find elsewhere in south east Queensland. Galahs and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were easy to hear and then spot in the woodland and it was quite clear that the Cockatoos were establishing nesting sites in the hollows. Olive-backed Orioles were also found and then seen. And next White-bellied Cuckoo Shrikes, both light and dark phase birds – were seen. Fuscous Honeyeaters were then quite quickly found here. These birds are drab little honeyeaters distinguished by a yellow stripe boarded by black on
the side of the neck. A juvenile Brown Goshawk circled above us as we made our way out of the reserve. We had a quick stop at Centennial Lakes in Caboolture and added Coot to our growing list but we could not ignore the large flock of Little Corellas. Again a Brown Goshawk was seen. Lunch today was a picnic at the little village of Peachester and we were kept company buy both Noisy Miners and Pied Butcherbirds who were a little too keen to share the lunch.
At Stanmore we saw some raptors – Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle and Whistling Kite. Channel-billed Cuckoos, a recently arrived migrant flew past. Common grassland species like Tawny Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola, Red-backed Fairy-wren and Brown Quail were added. Both martins – Tree and Fairy – were seen on our drive. The highlight for me was the large number of Cotton Pygmy Goose observed in a series of farm dams. Good numbers of bushland birds – Whistlers, Pardalotes and honeyeaters were seen. We also saw some Ostrich but I assured Rick and Moya that these should not be counted.
Dams around Kilcoy were pretty dry and thus free of birds but the dammed water in the area of Villeneuve had plenty of cormorants of all four species plus the common duck species and many Australian Reed Warblers. A Peregrine Falcon did a fly by. On the way back we scored a good view of a Pheasant Coucal perched atop a fence post. This bird proved to be the bird of the day.
As the sun was setting we arrived back into Maleny. We did a quick search for Platypus. I saw one but by this time it was getting quite dark and I could not get anyone else to see it.
Day 6 – Today we were west of the Sunshine Coast, through the Mary Valley, via the town of Kenilworth to explore the forests of the Conondale Ranges. Just out of Kenilworth we had a brief stop, forced by road work. Here we got excellent views of White-headed Pigeons, a large fruit eating species, Noisy Friarbird and the ever-present Lorikeets. An Australian Hobby did a fly by. Enroute to Booloumba Creek we paused to view our first Red-necked Wallabies grazing near a farm house. We also stopped just past our first creek crossing for a suite of species; Variegated Fairy Wrens, both Satin and Regent Bowerbirds [although sadly only female birds of the latter species], King Parrot and Pheasant Coucal.
Stopping at the first camp ground we enjoyed some very game Willie Wagtails taking on Kookaburras, chiming and charming Bell Miners, Golden Whistlers, Yellow-throated and White-browed Scrub-wrens, and Russet-tailed Thrush. Down by the creek we scored good
views of an Azure Kingfisher and, returning to the campsite, two Fan-tailed Cuckoos. We drove away up into the hills, through drier Eucalypt forest until finally a left hand forest track led through some wet sclerophyll forest. Here we saw our only Crested Shrike-tits. Keeping them company were Eastern Spinebill, Spotted Pardalote, Lewins and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Yellow Robin and Brown Gerygones.
After our picnic lunch we moved a few kilometres to another campground area – Charlie Moreland. Here we saw strong evidence of Black-breasted Button Quails. There were platelets, many of them fresh. The bird stands in the leaf litter and begins scratching. It then spins a steady 360 degrees leaving a round bare patch of dirt – a platelet. Sadly we failed to see the birds themselves. A Paradise Riflebird, one of Australia’s four species of
Bird of Paradise and the only one possible on a tour of south east Queensland, started calling. I was scanning the canopy, straining to see the bird. Rick found a fully plumaged male Riflebird though perched under the canopy in the mid story on a horizontal branch. It sat there forever, calling occasionally, allowing truly excellent views of this difficult to see species. Rufous Fantail and Spectacled Monarch were also seen well here.
Kenilworth Sewage ponds were next on the agenda however the forest adjacent to them was the chief attraction. Varied Sitellas worked the trunks and branches of the gums while Red-backed and Variegated Fairy-wrens hopped around the open forest floor. Red-browed Finches, Grey Shrike-thrush, Leaden Flycatcher, Striated Pardalote, Rainbow Bee-eater and a good range of honeyeaters – New Holland, Brown, Yellow-faced, Lewins plus Noisy and Bell Miners were seen. The ponds themselves had Grey Teal and Australasian Grebe plus some Macquarie River Turtles.
After our dinner at the Kenilworth Pub we did a little spotlighting. The weather had turned windy though and no nocturnal birds were heard, let alone seen. We did see Common Brushtail Possum and Red-necked Pademelon and we did hear a calling Koala.
Day 7 -Today was fine and cool and I picked up the Stokes from Avocado B&B and brought them to my place to pack the car. Today we were leaving the Sunshine Coast to travel north to Tin Can Bay. First stop though was a return trip to Finland Road. Success was immediate with a beautiful Spotted Harrier flying through over the grassland. This species is perhaps Australia’s most beautiful raptor. A less spectacular Brown Falcon was also seen hunting over Cane Farms and an Osprey was also working over wetlands. Australian Pipits were seen well by the roadside and the wetlands held Royal spoonbill, Jacana and both Sacred and Forest Kingfishers. White-breasted Wood Swallows and Tree Martins flew overhead.
Next stop was a true highlight. I had received some information about a nesting Tawny Frogmouth near Mount Coolum and, as promised, it was easy to find. We got great photos and footage and had a few chats with some local walkers and bikers about the birds.
Enroute to Tin Can Bay we stopped at a farm dam which held Comb-crested Jacana in addition to common ducks but had some interesting birds flying around it – Pacific Baza, White-breasted Sea Eagle and Brown Goshawk.
Lunch was a picnic of Zucchini slice and Salad [Thanks Megan!] at a picnic area within Tin Can Bay. Common species were in attendance; Noisy Miner and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, a small flock of Little Corellas and on the sand flats in the bay Whimbrel, Far Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits and Gull-billed Terns.
After checking in to our hotel we departed for the nearby Golf Course to look for birdies. One target species was in mind though and that was the Bush Thick-knee which is also known as the Bush Stone-Curlew. After a brief search I found a pair of the birds and we had decent scoped views.
The afternoon took us out to the Cooloola Plains. This is a huge area of coastal heath vegetation which is home to the vulnerable Ground Parrot. It is also home to species that we could actually see such as White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Little Wattlebirds, Noisy Friarbird, Red-backed Wrens, Red-browed Finch and Brown Falcon. Needless to say the Ground Parrot didn’t show but the scene was beautiful as the sun set and we enjoyed watching Rainbow Bee-eaters flying around hawking.
Day 8 -Our day began in Tin Can Bay and in keeping with a theme the sun was shining as we made our way the short distance to the nearby point. Here we quickly found Mangrove Honeyeaters, Little Friarbirds, Whistling Kites, Pelicans and a range of Cormorants. We had come here though mainly for a mammal rather than a bird – Australian Humpback Dolphin. As a few of these animals do daily they had gathered for a morning’s feeding. Great views are easily obtained of this threatened animal because of the Dolphin feeding. Apparently, the stories go that Aborigines had been co-operating with this species for generations. The dolphins would herd fish towards the men’s nets and receive a percentage share of the catch. Now they are fed with no strings attached however some have worked out that if they bring in litter, cans or bottles from the estuary sea floor they will receive a fish as a reward. The Canadians were quick to get wet and take advantage of the opportunity to hand feed these animals. In fact in a controversial decision the Australian Humpback Dolphin was declared Bird of the Day!
Next stop was a placed named Snapper Creek. Here we got good views of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mistletoebird, Koel and, again, Mangrove Honeyeater. Carlos Blow was definitely worth a visit as we entered Rainbow Beach. Great views of the ocean and Double Island Point are available when you look east and the view west looks back over the Tin Can Bay area. The huge expanse of sand is awesome, to use a Canadian expression, and you soon realise that you can see it from miles around.
From Carlos Blow to Carlos Point where we saw a range of wader and mangrove species; Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew, Bar tailed Godwit, Collared and Sacred kingfisher, Leaden Flycatcher, Brown and Mangrove Honeyeater.
Inskipp Point, the last part of the mainland that you visit before sailing on the ferry to the nearby Fraser Island, is a great site for birds. It is best known for Black-breasted Button Quails but home to a range of other species as well. Sadly the Button quails remained invisible. In fact there were very few fresh platelets observable in the normal places.
Perhaps they have moved to other areas nearby. A few waders were observed – Red necked Stint, Red capped Plover and, most impressively, Beach stone Thicknee. A few bush birds, among them the new Little Shrike thrush and the expected honeyeaters, whistlers and wrens, were seen among the beach scrub. Some Terns flew past; Caspian, Common and Crested. We sighted what must have been an Australian Humpback Dolphin in the channel between Inskipp and Fraser Island. Another cool sighting was that of a rather confident Sand Goanna.
We had dinner at a small café at Rainbow Beach and then decided to try a little spotlighting back at Carlos Point. On the way there we saw Bush Thicknee and at the point itself, after a little walking around and listening, a rare bird for south east Queensland – Large-tailed Nightjar. A great way to finish a great day.
Day 9 -Today was mainly a travel day but we still had plenty of time for birding as well. After a little lie in we met for breakfast again at the Dolphin Feeding Centre but were soon on the road north to Hervey Bay.
Our first stop was at a coastal village named Boonooroo. Like many sea side Australian towns it had the normal range of common species plus a mob of roos lazing under gum trees. Also lazing was a male Bearded Dragon trying for all the world to make the world think it was dead, even to the point of allowing many ants to traffic along its body. It froze while we took photos of it. We had seen another earlier in the day by the roadside but that one had sprinted as we stopped the car nearby. From the Dragon we looked into a small wetland seeing good numbers of Pelicans and Royal Spoonbills. The tide was high at Boonooroo and we found a good high tide roost with large numbers of birds present. There were large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Far Eastern Curlews and Whimbrels. Grey Plovers [or some would say Black-bellied] were present in a variety of plumages as birds moulted from their full breeding attire. The birds were seen flying and their black axillaries were clearly noted. A single Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was located and both Knots were present. The identification of some of the juvenile knots caused some debate – differences between the juveniles shown differently in the variety of field guides we had with us. An aggressive red capped plover, minute against the other birds, attacked Oystercatchers and terns. Of the latter Gull-billed and Caspian were present. Nearby we had the drama of a Hobby mobbing a White-breasted Sea Eagle – another fight characterised by a huge mismatch of size and both Whistling and Brahminy Kites were present.
Maroom, another coastal village with a cool name, had waders in good numbers. There were clearly a few Black-tailed among the Bar tailed Godwits. Knots were present too. However the beginning of a shower prevented greater exploration and study! Besides it was time for lunch. Eventually we found a place in Maryborough for lunch overlooking the Mary River.
After checking on to our hotel in Hervey Bay we went, as one does, for a stroll along the pier in the suburb of Urangan. The walk out along the pier yielded good views of four or five Brown Boobies. Crested Terns, Silver Gulls, Brahminy Kites, Osprey and Pelican were also seen well. There were a few common wader species out on the sand flats.
Last site for the day was the Arkarra Lagoons. This was a good site with heaps of potential and produced a range of water and bush birds. Notable was god views of Long-billed Corella. This is an Australian species that has a few established feral populations along the southern Queensland coast. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the species is becoming more common. Returning to our hotel two Brolgas flew over the road in front of us – an unexpected new bird for our trip! We enjoyed a Thai dinner on the esplanade before calling it a day.
Day 10 -Today produced a small number of species but it was a case of quality rather than quantity. We had our Lady Elliot Island day trip. “Grand day out,” as Rick put it. And it was a fantastic day! Lady Elliot is a very small coral cay in the extreme southern parts of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and it has the attractions of Coral, Reef fish and seabirds in abundance. Getting there was half of the fun! The flight in a twenty seat plane was an adventure that had us flying up the western coast of Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island and now largely protected by both National Park and World Heritage status. The
flight allowed great aerial views of Humpback Whales and their calves. The pilot, upon seeing the whales, banked the aircraft into a turn to allow all an attempt to see these cetaceans. Even Sea Turtles, presumably Green, could be seen from the air. After arriving at Lady Elliot we received a quick orientation. It could be quick as the island is very small, perhaps a few hundred metres in diameter. It was difficult to concentrate on what was being said as there were birds everywhere and no matter which way you turned your head there was a bird flying through your line of sight. The most abundant bird [common is not really the right term] is the Black Noddy. These birds are everywhere, perched on every possible place, and when that fails arranged in small flocks on the ground. From Wikipedia – “The nests of these birds consist of a level platform, often created in the branches of trees by a series of dried leaves covered with bird droppings. One egg is laid each season,
and nests are re-used in subsequent years. The trees used for this purpose are various but the Pisonia is most often used, and in large trees, there are often several nests.” Bridled Terns were also very common and were the first competitors for our photographic attention. On the sand there were a handful of other species running around, Ruddy Turnstones, Golden Plovers and Buff banded Rails. The latter birds have forgotten some of the golden rules about being rails – the ones that involve being timid and shy and retiring. These birds are like the worst of domestic hens
and think that they have a right to all food going. So we were warned at the orientation and so it proved when we had our lunch; the rails determinedly kept hopping on our table and marching towards our plates. It was only violence and not merely the threat of it that dissuaded them. While Rick and Moya re-familiarized themselves with snorkeling in the resort pool I quickly sped around to find my lifer – the Red tailed Tropicbird. Near the cabins there was a small group of birds and their chicks under the shade of trees. Unmissable and unmistakable.
Fresh from the quick snorkeling lesson we entered a glass bottom boat with Simmo as the skipper. He was, as we might say in Australia, a character and he boasted to be in the top 20 sexiest skippers in the Pacific with a mullet hairdo. No-one could seriously debate him. He did do a much better job than the other skipper in getting the boat off the beach and out into the waves, in what were choppy and windy conditions. The snorkeling was great! Muchos marine fish of too many species to count, darting in and around the reef. It was impossible not to plan my return to this island as I was diving in and around the reef. Rick and Moya needed a little coaxing into the water however I’m sure that they were happy that they did. From the boat we saw several Green Turtles and a tremendous Manta Ray pass; typically we were not in the water sadly. From the boat the birds continued to whiz pass. Both Black and Brown Noddies [the latter being larger, browner with a more subdued white cap], Brown Boobies and a pair of White-naped terns flew by. Sadly these birds remained unseen for the rest of the day and as a result did not make our trip list.
Enroute to our lunch and the fight with the Buff-banded Rails we got good views of Silvereyes. The birds here were distinctly larger than the mainland birds and were of the capricornia sub species. After lunch and the battle with the Buff-banded we all strolled around to the Red-tailed Tropics and after went for a walk around some of the circumference of the island. The first new bird seen was the Eastern Reef Heron; both colour phases of white and blue. A large flock of Crested Terns all neat in their breeding
plumage were a contrast to the messier non breeding and juvenile terns seen earlier in the trip. Of some interest were the Roseate Terns. These birds clearly had the pink tones to the otherwise pale plumage, which allowed them to be so-named. Sooty Oystercatchers, until now invisible inhabitants of rocky headlands, showed themselves and their chick, as did their cousins the Pied Oystercatchers. There was a large flock of frigatebirds hanging above the island like kites and upon closer inspection both species – Greater and Lesser – were present. Additional passerines were seen, specifically the Tawny Grassbird and a familiar bird, House Sparrow. We flew back to Hervey Bay via Bundaberg and for the last leg I was given the opportunity to sit up the front of the plane as co-pilot. I was given strict instructions though not to touch any of the controls. Even when my pilot was texting and then filling out forms I was under no pressure to take to the controls. A good end to a truly grand day out.
Day 11 -After two nights at Hervey Bay we now had a drive to do today however there was time for birding at the nearby Gatakers Bay where there was a good mix of species; galahs, cockatoos, lorikeets and honeyeaters. Whimbrel, Wandering Tattler, Pied Cormorant, Silver Gull and Crested Terns were nearby on rock platforms. There was variety of birds within the coastal scrub including White throated , Mangrove, Brown and Lewins Honeyeaters, Varied Triller, Cicadabird, Black-faced Monarch and Leaden Flycatcher, Silvereye, Little Friarbird, both Scaly and Rainbow Lorikeets, Brown Thornbill, White-browed Scrubwren, Dollarbird and Rainbow Bee-eater. Eastern Grey Kangaroos, three mothers with pouched young bounded on through near where we were birding.
Breakfast was enjoyed at a little café on the esplanade before we decided to revisit the Arkarra Lagoons. Here we added some good trip birds such as Little Shrike thrush and surprisingly, Grey crowned Babblers. Usually these birds are found in drier areas however the habitat here, as the name suggests was lagoons, wetlands and paperbark swamp. Fairy Gerygone was heard but sadly not seen. Reluctantly we headed westward from Hervey Bay. After some time we stopped at a country town named Woolooga. Here was good noisy mix of birds; lorikeets, cockatoos, friarbirds, reed warblers and even Willie Wagtails getting in on the act. We stopped at the Wetlands at Wooroolin. Sadly, like many places the waterbirds had largely disappeared. My theory is that recent large scale rain events in western Queensland, South Australia and Victoria had ‘sucked’ the birds out to these places. Fairly common wetland species had disappeared such as White-necked Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wandering and Plumed Whistling Ducks, Australian Shoveler, Hardhead, Straw-necked Ibis, Yellow-billed Spoonbill were either not seen on tour or only seen once. How do they know that rain is falling, in some cases over 1000 kilometres distant?
As stated there was little on the water however the bush birding was excellent, adding many new species to our list. White-throated Gerygone, Striped and, more impressively, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Double-barred Finch, Red-winged Parrot were all seen well. Restless Flycatchers were nesting as were the ubiquitous Willie Wagtails. To Rick’s delight we found both Red-backed and Variegated Wrens.
A visit to the nearby Gordonbrook Dam continued the story of the disappearing waterfowl. Common species remained – Pacific Black and Maned Ducks, Grey Teal, Black Swan,
Cotton Pygmy Geese, both Great Crested and Australasian Grebes and Comb-crested Jacana. A pair of Peregrines was seen here, roosting in some dead trees across the dam’s waters. A new bird was added; a pair of Red-rumped Parrots. Brown Quail flushed as we made our way around the mowed paths of Gordonbrook and then, to complete the trifecta of Fairy wrens, we found Superb. Despite the many Little Friarbirds flying in and out of the Bottlebrush Rick could only concentrate on the dazzling blue of the male Superb Blue Wren. Tawny Grassbirds and White breasted Woodswallows added to our daily totals.
We also scored reasonable views of a flock of Apostlebirds on the way between Gordonbrook Dam and Kingaroy.
Day 12 – Today we left Kingaroy to travel to the agricultural town of Dalby. We traveled there via the beautiful Bunya Mountains. Before rising to the relative cool of the mountains we traveled across some plain country dominated by both cropping and grazing. We stopped upon seeing a small flock of Cockatiels. These are pretty birds and well known to many as they are popular cage and aviary birds. While looking for them we also encountered some attractive Golden-headed Cisticolas in breeding plumage. Double barred Finches were also seen to the relief of Moya who had missed them the previous day.
Like most days we saw Eastern Grey Kangaroos and soon we began to see the macropod that are abundant in the Bunyas; Red necked Wallabies.
In the Bunyas we hiked a beautiful four kilometer circuit track and encountered a wide variety of rainforest species such as Satin Bowerbird, Russet-tailed Thrush, Crimson
Rosella, King Parrot, Brush Turkey, Pied Currawong, Brown Gerygone, Brown Thornbill, Green Catbird, Grey and Rufous Fantails, White-throated Treecreeper and Topknot Pigeon. We also got some nice views of Noisy Pitta. A too brief view of a male Regent Bowerbird flitting across a gap in the canopy above us was as pleasing as it was teasing. Near our picnic lunch we saw a well laid out bower of a Satin Bowerbird and the male was in attendance practicing his dancing skills.
A brief discussion in the accommodation office allowed us access to a key to go… Behind the gate! It was useful access to have as the majority of the Red-necked Wallabies graze in their hundreds within the accommodation compound as did another more secretive macropod specie; the Black-stripe Wallaby. This is a darker animal but needs a second glance to separate it from the abundant Red-necked. Birding here allowed us views of more Satin Bowerbirds
and Superb Blue Wrens and our first clear views of Australian Raven. Here, too, we got good views, albeit short, of a beautiful Rose Robin.
Leaving the Bunyas we descended towards Dalby and as we did our nature list was extended first by a view of a Dingo, our version of a wolf that has been part of the Australian fauna for the last five thousand years, and then an Eastern Brown Snake, one of the most venomous snakes in the world. We decided to stay in the car. Passing through a small town there was a single dead tree that held several pair of Red-rumped Parrots, a single kestrel and an avalanche of feral species; Common Myna, Rock Dove and Eurasian Starling.
Day 13 -Today we had a good half a day planned, specifically a trip to the nearby Lake Broadwater area. This area is a lake not too far from Dalby however it is the variety of vegetation and the birds therein that were the attraction. As usual it was impossible to get to our destination without being interrupted by the sight or sounds of birds. So we stopped enroute on the main road to Lake Broadwater once we left the Moonie Highway.
Apostlebirds attracted my attention so we stopped to get a better view of these birds. Once they stopped calling Striated Pardalotes and a singing Weebill called to be noticed. The Weebill is a small thornbill type and the smallest bird in Australia. A Red-winged Parrot did a fly-by as did a pair of Red-rumped Parrots. Olive-backed Orioles allowed a good view and, as usual, we had the full suite of Cockatoos and Corella.
We stopped by a farm gate when I heard another familiar call. It was the postman’s whistle of a Singing Honeyeater. This was a bird I had not really expected but here it was nesting by the farmer’s fence line. Striped Honeyeaters were also seen here and another new bird for our trip list; Yellow-rumped Thornbills. Between the farm and the Lake we encountered another new species for our tour – a group of White-winged Choughs. These birds appear, at first, like long tailed crows but as they fly their name finally makes sense.
Adjacent to the Lake, in a bush camping area, we wandered about seeing a range of bush birds. More thornbills, this time Inland and Yellow, were seen. Speckled Warblers also allowed great views. Other species included some, by now, old friends, Eastern Yellow Robin, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Rainbow Bee-eater, Striped Honeyeater, Little Friarbird and Rufous Whistler. By the Lake there was little apart from Noisy Miner, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Bee-eaters, Noisy Friarbird, while on the water itself Black Duck, Grey Teal and Pelican. A large mob of grey kangaroos occupied the shade of the woodland. We completed the circuit drive and saw Spiny cheeked Honeyeater, Inland, Yellow, and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Speckled Warbler and a host of common passerines.
When we left the lake we re-visited the farm thanks to the invitation of the farmer’s wife. Here we saw Zebra Finches for the first time and got brief views of Yellow-throated Miner as it mobbed a goanna up a gum tree! The goanna was, going from its size, most likely a Yellow spotted Monitor. This species is similar to but much larger than the Sand Goanna that we had seen previously. While on the farm we got better views of the Yellow rumped Thornbills. As we arrived back at our hotel in Dalby a rain storm hit which made our afternoon off seem more valid.
Day 14 -Another travel day today took us away from Dalby to the granite country near the border of Queensland and New South Wales, specifically the town of Stanthorpe. We took a route that avoided, for the most part, the most major roads. After arriving in Stanthorpe we spent the latter part of the day in the Storm King Dam area. Following the rain period yesterday I took the opportunity, once the rain had finished, to do a little scouting this afternoon. In driving around I discovered a Yellow-throated Miner by a roadside. Not long after I discovered its nest. As this was a specie that we had not seen well yet the nest became the first of the day’s targets. The Yellow-throated looks very similar to its sibling specie – the Noisy Miner but it is clear that they overlap and do not interbreed. Indeed the common bird around the streets of Dalby is the Noisy Miner. While checking out the miner Scaly-breasted Lorikeets were feeding in a close by Bottlebrush.
Leaving Dalby we soon found our way on to the Cecil Plains road and it was not far down this road when we were distracted by a flock of Cockatiels. This proved to be a fortuitous stop as soon after stopping a pair of Blue Bonnets, a specie of parrots landed in the same
tree as the Cockatiels. This was not a specie that I expected on this itinerary; so a real bonus sighting. Another bonus was a pair of Plumed whistling Ducks adjacent to a farm dam directly over the main road. Yellow-throated Miners uncommon a few minutes back were common at this site. The drive continued and we called out the birds. “Cockatoos. Corellas. Galah. Raven. Cockatoos. Corellas. Galah, Magpie, Crested Pig, Myna. Cockatoos. Corellas. Galahs. Butcherbird. Cockatoos. Corellas. Galah, Crested Pig, Starling.” And so it would go.
The main idea when traveling long distances in outback Australia is to think a little like a bird and thus stop for water and blossom. So we did make a few quick stops at creek crossings. The first yielded both friarbirds, Brown and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Striated Pardalote, Superb Blue Wrens and Double barred Finch. The second after a drink stop was
perhaps more successful with good views of a couple of new species – nesting Dusky Woodswallow and White-plumed Honeyeaters. White bellied Cuckoo shrikes, again of both colour phases, allowed good looks. Again Superb Wrens were seen. In between times I rescued an Eastern long necked turtle whose slow road crossing could have easily ended in tears. We made the sizeable town of Warwick for lunch and as we entered the town we stopped at a dam for a good variety of waterfowl. From here we got pretty good views of our first Musk Lorikeets feeding, again on bottlebrush.
A subway lunch in a riverside Warwick park yielded more views of the Musks, and a few fly-bys of Little Lorikeets. After arriving in Stanthorpe a visit to Storm King Dam was in order. Sadly the waterbird narrative continued here. We did get one juvenile Hardhead that proved to be the only sighting of this normally common specie all trip. Bush birding was better as we got good views of Dusky Woodswallow, both White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, both Tree and Fairy Martins, Eastern and Crimson rosellas, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and Red Wattlebird. Our first Little Eagle flew overhead and we also got Black-shouldered Kite and a Brown Goshawk. An Indian Dinner after a long wait in a very busy restaurant!
Day 15 -It was raining before we woke up. And as we walked out towards the car it was overcast and threatening. Soon it would rain a little and then it would rain a lot. And then it would rain some more. And it would keep raining all day long. Despite the atrocious weather we did get some good birding in for a couple of hours at least of the morning. The drive down to Giraween National Park is quite beautiful especially after you leave the main highway and the road winds between small farms and the granite boulders that dominate the countryside. In the farms Eastern Grey Kangaroos are seen grazing to constantly remind you that you are still in Australia. Once in the park the rain continued to fall but we took refuge under a shelter while we viewed a variety of honeyeaters in a flowering Eucalypt tree. Most were Yellow-faced with the occasional Eastern Spinebill. The Yellow-faced were there in numbers and they were occasionally driven out by angry Red Wattlebirds. The beautiful Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters were also seen well. To complete the scene Crimson Rosellas were ground feeding nearby. A stroll around the campground revealed Buff-rumped Thornbill and another Thornbill new for our list – Striated. Spotted Pardalote, usually invisibly calling from the canopy, descended in its search for nesting
material and showed very well. A walk along the creek, linking the campground with the day use area revealed, among other things, Rick’s favourite, the Superb Blue Wren. The Day use area showed good views of White-throated Gerygone; another bird usually heard rather than seen. Pied Currawongs mobbed an escaping Brown Goshawk. Soon though we left the park and, despite the rain we stopped for White-winged Choughs. A Hot Chocolate was then called for. Nearby a pair of Pacific Baza was a highlight.
We had one more birding stop before calling it a day. A good mix of bush birds with Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and Fan-tailed Cuckoo showing well. Lunch at the Ballandean Tavern and then the afternoon catching up on whatever.
Day 16 -The bad weather had cleared this morning and it was cold – 6 degrees Celsius. To make matters worse we had to dine at the Stanthorpe McDonalds for the second morning in a row…. Still, at least it wasn’t raining as we drove again to Giraween National Park.
Before entering the park we encountered a new mammal for our trip – Common Wallaroos. These are sturdy marsupials; stouter than the abundant Eastern Greys and variable in appearance. This small mob was copybook – the animals ranging from blacks to greys to reds. A few birds also slowed our trip to the park, most notable Pacific Bazas and Pheasant Coucals.
After entering the park we decided to do the Junction Trail – a 4 km return walk. The walk was quite quiet with the main target specie – Chestnut-rumped Heathwren remaining invisible. There were quite a few other species present though including Brown, Striated and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Eastern Yellow Robin, Dusky Woodswallow, Yellow-faced and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes, Grey Shrike-thrushes and to Rick’s constant pleasure – Superb Blue Wrens. After the walk we enjoyed a picnic in the park while Red Wattlebirds flew around.
Following our picnic we left for a drive down the old Wallangara Road. Here we got a swag of typical bushland birds. We would drive a bit and then walk a bit and then drive a little more and then go for a stroll. Using this method we slowly added species to both our tour list and our day list. Brown Treecreeper and Jacky Winter were new birds that were seen
well. Brown-headed Honeyeater was also seen well and added to White-naped, Yellow- faced, White-plumed, Fuscous, White eared, Yellow-tufted, Noisy Miner, Red Wattlebird and Eastern Spinebill for our day’s list of honeyeaters. Good views of Little Eagle were also gained. At the end of the road, before Wallangara, we had a quick visit to the Sewerage Ponds. They were excellent. Many Australian Reed Warblers were singing and showing nicely before the first pond revealed Coot. The next pond – Australasian Grebe and a few Grey Teal. The next – Black Ducks. And the next pond – the Bird of the Day – Pink-eared Ducks!
Reluctantly, [is there any other way to leave Sewerage Ponds?] we left the ponds to drive south into New South Wales, specifically to the town of Glen Innes. Enroute we saw a fine Brown Falcon, while Rick also saw a Red Fox. A quick detour around the streets of Tenterfield scored us a new trip bird – Eurasian Blackbird. Upon arriving in Glen Innes, as light was still available, we did a quick trip east of the town to the Beardy Dam. The dam was high in water and low in ducks. However it did have four Musk Ducks. We spent time scoping a constantly diving male bird. Also on the lake of note was Pelican, Black Swan and a range of Cormorants and Darter. For me at least a highlight was good views of a swimming Water Rat. Now it is not quite a Beaver nor a Capybara as Rick pointed out but it is a bloody big rat and it can swim! And it is the biggest rat in Australia and certainly bigger than anything in New Zealand! So it is impressive. After rejoicing over the rat and the Musk Ducks we booked into our hotel and went for a meal at a nearby Steakhouse.
Day 17 -We awoke early in Glen Innes to another chilly morning, had the simple breakfast of wheetbix and toast offered by the hotel, filled the car with fuel, grabbed a Mc Coffee from you-know-where and headed east. We didn’t get very far as we stopped again at Beard Dam. Sadly there was no water rat however the Musk Ducks again showed reasonably well. It was, as I said, chilly but the sun was shining and the day was glorious. A silvereye flew in and landed in a bush quite close. All of the birds recorded yesterday afternoon were seen again this morning. Driving further east we stopped in to the Beardy Woodlands. Here the usual suspects were calling; Superb Blue Wren, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red Wattlebird, Rufous Whistler; however there was another call…Rising and plaintive. Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoo! It took some finding but when we did it posed for quite a while allowing some photos to be taken. Another new bird appeared briefly that Moya identified as a Goldfinch of the European variety. Overhead a Little Eagle was being mobbed. Wedge-tailed Eagle was soon added while driving as was Australian Pipit and more-than-a-few Kestrels.
Next stop, some seventy kilometres east, was the Raspberry Lookout within the Gibraltar Range National Park. A few birds were seen, most noticeably Black-faced Monarch.
Washpool National Park was the next destination, deep into a northern valley, away from the highway and the escarpment. Here there was one major target – the Superb Lyrebird. And it is fair to say we saw it well. Both times we walked along the well named Lyrebird Track we saw birds scratching, with seemingly little concern of us. We watched and photographed and filmed and watched. The birds scratched. Annoyingly the birds’ constant movement and industry, added to the lack of light created by the tight canopy made for many blurry photos. The other star attraction in this area was the Bassian Thrush. First impressions were of a Thrush with constant colour down the back onto the
rump and the rump feathers quite strongly bordered with black, suggesting Bassian. Closer examination of the photos taken seemed to confirm the Bassian ID. Many other typical birds of the rainforests of south east Queensland were noted; Golden Whistler, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Satin Bowerbird, Rufous Fantail etc etc. We also got reasonable views of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos as they noisily ripped a part some branches searching for wood grubs.
After our picnic lunch at Washpool we backtracked west a wee way to head into Mulligan’s Flat – a camping and Day use area within the Gibraltar Range National Park. Here we had a bit of an explore and saw Leaden’s Flycatcher, both Fantails, both Whistlers, White-throated Treecreeper, Black-faced Monarch and Brown and Striated Thornbills. Water Skink was seen sunning itself in between the creek’s boulders.
Soon we needed to leave for a rendezvous at the Maclean Hotel. A few interesting species were seen enroute. Chief among them was the sight of three Emu making their way across a recently harvested Sugar cane field. Black Kites were also in attendance. We met a birder mate of mine, Steve McBride, at the Maclean Hotel. The plan was that Steve would join us for a day’s birding around Broome’s Head and Ballina, his home town. After dinner we traveled the 20 kilometres to Broome’s Head on the coast where we had booked a couple of units near the beach.
Day 18 -We awoke this morning at Broome’s head where we could hear the crash of surf against the nearby headland. We also could hear the calls of Grey Shrike-thrush, Brown and White-cheeked Honeyeaters. It was dawn and breakfast could wait as we had a cunning plan to visit the nearby heath of Yuraygir National Park for some birding.
We passed a large pole which had been purposefully placed for the nest of Ospreys and indeed an Osprey was perched atop. We didn’t stop. We saw a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring around. So we stopped for a little while… We were interested in a trifecta of species. 1. Southern Emu-wren 2. Tawny-crowned Honeyeater 3. Ground Parrot
The first bird seen was the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. This is a species whose most northern distribution is Broome’s Head. We found a nest being constructed and got good views of the bird who was occupying itself in nest construction. Later in the day we would see several of these birds and hear their strange song.
The second bird was not seen but heard. The Ground Parrot is a very difficult bird to see as it is crepuscular, a camouflaging green colour and has the habits of a quail. We decided to use a call on an app to illicit a response however we didn’t get a chance as the bird started calling before we had the chance. We had a walk through the heath nearby but the bird remained well hidden.
As we were walking through the heathland Steve spied our last target – Southern Emu wren. This is a skulking species found in small groups in the heath and is never easy to see well. This first little flock allowed our group to see some individual birds. While searching for the wrens I heard a Pallid Cuckoo – a rare species on the coast and one that we had not yet encountered on our travels. Despite it calling loudly we failed to locate it and eventually it shut up and was not seen nor heard again. Sadly this situation played out again – this time with a Brush Cuckoo. While viewing our second flock of Southern Emu-wrens it started calling. We could not get onto it. This was the first bird I had heard call this season. Having successfully got two out of our three targets we had a quick visit to the lookout from the Broome’s Head headland. Enroute we stopped for a quick view of the rock platform; Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and a single Red-necked Stint competed for attention with Sooty Oystercatcher, Pelicans, and Silver Gulls and mating Crested Terns. From the headland we saw Skuas; sadly the birds were too distant to identify with confidence. We also saw the Australian species of Gannet. And, also a few cetaceans – both Humpback Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins. Further, I am convinced I saw a young fur-seal jump clear of the water but the animal was not seen again.
Breakfast followed and then a quick trip through Yulaygir NP down to the north shore of the river where we saw a few good species. Beach Stone Curlew literally came running towards us as we arrived on the sandy beach adjacent to the river. A few waders were about but all birds we had seen previously. A Striated Heron was seen briefly, another new bird for our tour. A few marine turtles in the estuary also attracted our attention for a while.
After a quick scenic drive around another part of the heathland just north of Broome’s Head that offered great views of this long sweep of coast [see what I did there? Broom. Sweep!?] we started our drive north towards Ballina. The drive west back towards Maclean yielded raptors – Brown Goshawk, Brown Falcon and Australian Hobby. Most impressively we got a good group of Coastal Emu – a rare population of this specie. In Maclean we had a quick stop to check out a huge flying fox colony that had two species; Black and Grey-headed.
Lunch, to Rick’s delight involved pies eaten near the river at the little township of Woodburn. A wetland near Ballina was our first stop and we got good views of a pair of Brolga grazing nearby. A quartering Swamp Harrier was also seen – our first for the trip. The wetland held ducks [mostly Black but a few Chestnut Teal], Swamphen and Moorhen and a few waders [Greenshank and a solitary Grey-tailed Tattler]. Flat Rock is a famous
birding site near Ballina and despite the tide being quite high and the surf roaring in swamping much of it the ‘rock’ displayed its potential. Little Terns hovering and fishing above the breakers were the first seen. Closer examination revealed that the Little Terns were a mix of non-breeding birds from Asia and a few local birds coloured up for breeding. Crested and Common Terns, Silver Gulls and waders [Red-necked Stint, a single Sanderling and a few Ruddy Turnstone] completed the set. Finally before we said farewell to Steve he showed us a special bird which necessitated a quick crossing of the highway to see. A single Black-necked Stork, a young bird who was exploring a wetland solo was well seen through a scope. Birding day done we drove through to the hinterland town of Canungra from where we would have a day trip to Lamington National Park.
Day 19 -Canungra, at the base of the road that leads to the O’Reilly section of Lamington National Park, is where we awoke. And the sun was shining brightly as we made our way to a nearby café for breakfast at 6-30am. The plan was to have the day at Lamington as our final full day’s birding. Before we could start the day trip however we had a birding tragedy. Walking back from the café I saw a bird fly into a fruiting fig just outside our hotel. I advised the Stokes that birding would now begin under this tree as soon as possible. I raced upstairs, grabbed the bins and hurried downstairs to get good views of Barred Cuckoo Shrike – an uncommon species and what would have been a first for the trip. Needless to say that before Richard and Moya could join me the bird flew off! Drat, etc… Driving up to Lamington we did score a new mammal – Whiptail Wallaby. This wallaby is also known as Pretty faced Wallaby and it is an attractive macropod. We saw several. After arriving at Lamington we quickly started seeing good birds. Near the car park there was a couple of brightly flowering bottlebrush with both Lewin’s Honeyeaters and Eastern Spinebill in attendance.
We walked the boardwalk down to the treetop walk and were amazed at how confiding many of the birds were. White-browed and Yellow-throated Scrubwrens, Eastern Yellow Robins, even Whipbirds allowed close contact. Southern Logrunners were easy to see and perhaps the highlight was a young male Rose Robin singing. The Treetop walk allowed good views into the canopy and the epiphyte gardens there and we had the soundtrack of Golden Whistler and Green Catbird to keep us company. We walked along the birder track for about an hour and then turned around and returned to the O’Reilly’s area. We saw
many of the usual rainforest species and annoyingly only heard Riflebird. Pittas, too, were heard often but kept their distance. We got reasonable views of Bassian Thrush and Satin Bowerbird. We returned to the picnic area and when we did we realised that none of the birds had read the ‘No Feeding’ signs and our tables were attacked by Crimson Rosellas, flocks of the difficult to see Regent Bowerbird, including the gorgeously coloured males, King Parrots and several Brush Turkeys also enquired into the possibility of getting a meal.
In the afternoon we re-walked the 1 ½ kilometre loop, including the board walk and re-saw many of the same rainforest species. We also got good views of Red-legged Pademelon.
A quick walk down part of Duck Creek Road yielded a few new day birds and again a few calling Riflebirds. We had a few brief stops on the way back to Canungra; the highlight being an impressive perched Wedge-tailed Eagle. We also saw an impressive buck Whiptail Wallaby. For our last night we enjoyed a meal in the Beer Garden at the Canungra Hotel.
Day 20 -Finally the final day and to celebrate a lie in! With little in the way of birding planned, a relaxed speed with breakfast and leaving the hotel was planned. We drove from Canungra to the Brisbane suburb of Daisy Hill to visit the Daisy Hill Koala centre. This is an educational display featuring captive and/or rehabilitated animals that have survived accidents such that residents and visitors can learn about koalas, their natural history and the different elements that threaten their survival. It is a small centre but quite well done and few could complain about the price of an entry ticket which is free. The centre is located within a protected estate of prime Koala habitat, mixed eucalypt forest, home to an estimated population of some 40 – 50 animals. The birding was limited to common species however we did see a female Cicadabird on a nest. Prior to this we had only seen males – a very different plumage type. Sadly we failed to find a legitimate wild Koala but we did put in a reasonable amount of time at each car park within the reserve scanning the tree tops for their presence.
The tour officially ended at the airport as Richard and Moya were traveling on to Sydney.
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.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours