I had the pleasure of guiding Andrew and Cynthia from the U.K. around the Central Okanagan Valley today. We started off early and began with a nice adult dark morph Swainson’s Hawk along Glenmore Road in north Kelowna. We spent the rest of the morning exploring Beaver Lake Road near Lake Country. It was a warm, and sunny day, with comfortable temperatures in the low 20’s while we were in the mountains. As we made our way up through the grasslands we tallied a pretty nice list of birds; Eastern Kingbirds, Western Meadowlark, a Clay-colored Sparrow and a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting were all highlights. Juvenile Western Bluebirds, two of them, were the only ones we saw today, though we did tally several Mountain Bluebirds. American Kestrels continue to be numerous along the Beaver Lake Rd grassland areas, as do Vesper Sparrows, Calif0rnia Quail and Black-billed Magpies, all interesting species for visitors from other continents.
Areas of Choke Cherry were very rich in bird life. There were Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee and more Lazuli Buntings eating the cherries which are really covering the bushes at the moment. A female Hairy Woodpecker showed well for us as did several juvenile Red-naped Sapsuckers. We watched Western Wood-Pewees flycatch from the large Ponderosa Pines, where we also enjoyed watching a group of about half a dozen Pygmy Nuthatches dangling from the branches. As soon as we entered the mixed coniferous forest we began to add other birds; Evening Grosbeak, Calliope Hummingbird, Swainson’s Thrush, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin to name a few species. A few mammal species noted this morning along Beaver Lake Road included a howling Coyote and several Mule Deer, as well as adorable Yellow Pine Chipmunks.
At the Beaver Lake Lodge we took a stroll along a spruce lined path where we found an extremely tame female Pine Grosbeak. She came right down to within a few inches of us. I suspect she must have had a nest nearby. Also seen here were a few each of Gray Jay and Steller’s Jay, and a pair of singing White-winged Crossbills. We lunch on the patio of the Beaver Lake Lodge and were entertained by watching several Common Loons on the lake. Osprey and Bald Eagle also appeared, as did Tree and Barn swallows. We noticed a tiny head poking up out of a robins nest built on the lodge itself and discovered it was an adult Pacific-slope Flycatcher that had taken over the nest and appeared to incubating.
On Beaver Lake Road we tallied about 60 species, but we needed some wetland birds to compliment our list so we returned to the valley bottom and visited the Kelowna Landfill. Gulls were numerous and about 90 percent of them were California Gulls. The next most common species were Ring-billed Gulls, followed by 2 adult Glaucous-winged Gulls, a couple of adult Herring Gulls and a lone adult Mew Gull, the latter rather rare in the summer. Shorebird numbers were low but we did still see some; Lesser and Greater yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and Red-necked Phalarope were seen here. Waterfowl also were present with Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, Ruddy Duck and Northern Shoveler all tallied.
Our final stop of the day was at Robert Lake where almost as soon as we pulled into the parking area I spotted our bird of the day, a juvenile Stilt Sandpiper. Rare but nearly annual in the Okanagan, Stilt Sandpipers normally use a migration route that takes them through the prairies. Alongside the Stilt Sandpiper were up close Semipalmated and Least sandpipers as well. A molting female Red-necked Phalarope was here also. More ducks were added with Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead and Redhead noted. In the reeds were both Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds. At the end of the day our list was over 90 species! Not a bad start to August.
I spent the day with Mike and Jan from Portland, Oregon and we enjoyed warm and sunny temperatures throughout our travels in the South Okanagan. We left West Kelowna at the crack of dawn and made our first stop along the trail at Hardy Falls in Peachland. I’ve tried several times at this location to find American Dippers and have been unsuccessful for about the past 4 tries, including today. We had some other species here however, so all was not lost. We saw a pair of Red-eyed Vireos along the babbling stream
, as well as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, some Western Wood-Pewees, Gray Catbirds, Black-headed Grosbeak, Steller’s Jay, Cassin’s Finch, Spotted Towhee and a Rufous Hummingbird here. Not a bad start! We then carried on to Okanagan Lake Provincial Campground where we lucked into an adult and juvenile Western Screech-Owl roosting. Mike spotted a Red-naped Sapsucker that didn’t hang about for long. Clark’s Nutcracker was calling here, but remained hidden. After a short pit-stop in Penticton we carried on south to White Lake where a bit of searching turned up a male Lazuli Bunting, an Eastern Kingbird, several Western Meadowlarks, a Hairy Woodpecker, Vesper Sparrows and one Sage Thrasher. An American Kestrel was seen as it harassed a Cooper’s Hawk. There was little on the lake itself, other than one Killdeer. A little roadside wetland just south of White Lake had a single Wilson’s Phalarope, as well as Mallard and Green-winged Teal.
Next on the agenda was to explore some of the upper elevation forests, east of Okanagan Falls so we bumped up the Shuttleworth Road, pausing along the way to enjoy excellent scope views of a Lewis’s Woodpecker in an old Ponderosa Pine. We were enjoying views of the woodpecker, when suddenly a male Mountain Bluebird popped into view and stole the show for a moment. We spent the next hour or so exploring Dutton Creek Road where the birding seemed very slow. Nonetheless, we did have Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Juncos, a Towsend’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, an elusive MacGillivray’s Warbler and several Pine Siskins. A search of the Venner Larches produced very little, but we did see two Gray Jays gliding through the conifers here. Venner Meadows was quite birdy and we had nice scope views of both Olive-sided Flycatcher and Willow Flycatcher here. In the willow thickets were Northern Water-
thrush, Common Yellowthroat, calling Orange-crowned and Nashville warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrow and immature White-crowned Sparrows. Up to 4 Red-naped Sapsuckers showed nicely here, but perhaps the real highlight was watching two juvenile Northern Harriers that looked fairly freshly fledged, frolicking about the meadows. To finish off the day we headed up to Rabbit Lake for some boreal forest birding, but again, probably due to the heat, it was rather quiet. We saw both Hermit and Swainson’s thrushes here, and we enjoyed watching a territorial Spotted Sandpiper on the gravel road in front of us. The bird was acting as though it was trying to lead us away from its nest. On Rabbit Lake was a female Barrow’s Goldeneye with 7 large ducklings. At the end of our day we had tallied approximately 80 species of birds, which was pretty good, especially since it was such a hot, sunny day.
July 21 – I met up with a couple from Santa Cruz, California this morning and guided them along Beaver Lake Road for much of the day, finishing off with a productive visit to Robert Lake. Beaver Lake Road was great this morning and in the grasslands we had many sparrows, a good number of which were immature type birds. Most abundant were Chipping Sparrows, followed up by Vesper Sparrows and a pair of Clay-colored Sparrows, one of which was a juvenile. Other birds noted in the grasslands included a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, several Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlarks, American Kestrels and Bullock’s Oriole to name a few. Berry bushes all through the grassland areas of the road were alive with birds; Western Tanagers, House Wrens, Lazuli Buntings, Eastern Kingbird, Gray Catbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch and Evening Grosbeak to name a few species. The aspen groves around km 4 were productive, offering us views of several juvenile Red-naped Sapsuckers, along with Western Wood-Pewees, Cedar Waxwings, Spotted Towhees, Hairy Woodpecker and Swainson’s Thrush. Once we entered
the coniferous forest the new birds just kept coming; Cassin’s Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Mountain Chickadee, Pine Siskin and more. Near the second cattleguard we walked along a trail catching glimpses of Golden-crowned Kinglet and Townsend’s Warbler. There was a carcass here that had attracted many Common Ravens and a few Turkey Vultures, while a Cooper’s Hawk soared overhead. Near Beaver Lake itself got several Gray Jays, along with Steller’s Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Northern Waterthrush, Dark-eyed Junco and a very nice little Pacific Wren. Several Common Loons were on the lake and one bird called a few times, while at least 4 Ospreys hunted over the water. After a nice lunch beside the lake we began our descent back to the rather hot valley bottom. Temperatures today reached 30 degrees celsius.
Our second and final destination for the day was Robert Lake in Kelowna’s Glenmore area. Here, we added some shorebirds to the tally; Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper,
Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe and a pair of Black-necked Stilts. A great variety of ducks were counted here as well; Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and a Hooded Merganser were found. Both Eared and Pied-billed grebes were here, but perhaps the highlight was stunning views of a young Sora and even more stunning views of an adult Virginia Rail right beside us. In the vicinity were Yellow-headed, Red-winged and Brewer’s blackbirds, Savannah and Song sparrows, Eurasian Collared-Doves, Say’s Phoebe, N. Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow and American Goldfinches. The total for species seen and heard at the end of the day was 101!
July 22 -Dave and Julie picked me up this morning at 6:30 and we drove south across the Bennett Bridge to Peachland where we stopped in at Hardy Falls. Much of the day we were shaded from the blazing sun by a blanket of cloud. This was not only comfortable for us, but it also made sure the bird activity remained strong throughout the day. Along the trail
at Hardy Falls we never did find an American Dipper, but that was OK because we did find several other interesting birds. There seemed to be Veery all over the place, many of which were feasting on dogwood berries. Yellow Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and a very tame Pygmy Nuthatch were found here as well.
Our next stop was at a coffee shop in Penticton where we paused briefly before visiting the Esplanade and yacht club on Okanagan Lake. Highlights here included an adult breeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull, as well as a couple of Western Grebes. We visited Three Gates Farm near Kaleden and at feeders we were treated to views of several male and female Black-chinned Hummingbirds, along with a single immature male Rufous Hummingbird and a very brief sighting of a female type Calliope Hummingbird. Other birds noted here included Cassin’s and House finches, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Spotted Towhee and a pair of Red Crossbills. At White Lake the sagebrush habitat was fairly quiet with nothing more than a few Western Meadowlarks, and several American Kestrels tallied, though we did also see a single Sage Thrasher carrying food for young. On White Lk itself were a few Greater Yellowlegs and a Wilson’s Phalarope. A surprise sighting at White Lake, a Rattlesnake slithered off the road, rattling briefly as it disappeared in to the sage. Mahoney Lake was very productive and new for our list here was Gray Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker and Barrow’s Goldeneye.
We had lunch at the south end of Skaha Lake in OK Falls, where Red-necked Grebes and a group of mixed California and Ring-billed gulls kept us entertained. A breeding plumage Common Loon was a nice sighting here as well. After lunch we made our way to the Vaseux Lake area where we began on Irrigation Creek Road at the Vaseux Cliffs. Highlights here were many. Up to half a dozen Lewis’s Woodpeckers were a delight to see, alongside
several Clark’s Nutcrackers. Elderberries in the area attracted a nice selection of birds as well with Black-headed Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Kingbirds putting on a nice show. After a bit of searching a Canyon Wren finally popped into view and it was only feet away from us, posing on a tree stump. Rock Wren was also seen very well, through the scope, and we were delighted to find a pair of noisy Chukar clambering around on the cliffs. A herd of 20 or more California Bighorn Sheep were grazing here, with females and a few youngsters present. A walk through the riparian habitat at the Vaseux Lake Boardwalk was also worthwhile. The areas was bustling with birds; Bullock’s Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Gray Catbirds, Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Yellow Warbler and much more were found here. We watched at least 3 Eastern Kingbird chicks in their nest atop the snapped off top of a
dead tree. One of the three birds appeared to fledge as we watched, while the adult kingbird sat nearby calling frantically. Yellow-breasted Chat sang, but remained hidden in the brush. Our final stop was at Ok Falls where we searched again, without luck, for a dipper. We did have an exceptional view of an Osprey here as it watched for fish in the river below. A female California Quail with several recently hatched chicks scurried about in the brush alongside the road. We said goodbye this afternoon after having enjoyed two exceptional days of birding in the Okanagan Valley.
On July 18, I had the pleasure of taking a couple from Denver, Colorado through one of my favorite birding areas on earth; the Southern Okanagan Valley. We began bright and early at the Vaseux Cliffs where Canyon Wrens sang loudly, but remained a bit hard to see, but Rock Wrens showed nicely. Male Lazuli Buntings were a treat to see, as were a couple of California Bighorn Sheep. Above the ranch house on Irrigation Creek Road we had a nice Lewis’s Woodpecker, and we got fantastic views of Canyon Wren here as well. In the open habitat we had the typical species of this region; Western Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Say’s Phoebe and Black-billed Magpie. In the pines were Pygmy Nuthatches, Cassin’s Finches, Western Wood-Pewee, Spotted Towhee and a Western Tanager singing.
Next, we stopped at Inkaneep Provincial Park and enjoyed some riparian, valley bottom birding. We were not disappointed and we saw several goodies here including a Yellow-breasted Chat, carrying food, a singing Bewick’s Wren, several Red-eyed Vireos and Swainson’s Thrush. One or two Black-chinned Hummingibirds zipped by. We then made our way towards White Lake, with a stop at Mahoney Lake along the way. The area of Ponderosa Pine just east of the lake was excellent for birds, producing two Gray Flycatchers, Red Crossbills, Townsend’s Solitaires, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadees and Western Tanager. At the lake itself were the usual Mallards along with several Barrow’s Goldeneye and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers. Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks sailed overhead. A short stop near Okanagan Falls Campground produced they only views of Black-headed Grosbeaks for the day. We then checked out Vaseux Lake itself and had loads of Mallards along with a few Gadwall, Redhead, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, California Gulls and Pied-billed and Red-necked grebes. One more quick look at the Vaseux Cliffs was worthwhile as we had our only views of White-throated Swifts here. We then made our way up the Shuttleworth Rd to Dutton Creek Road where we spent the last hour and a half of the day exploring a heavily wooded area of spruce and fir. Quite a variety of new species were added here with the likes of Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Pacific Wren and last but not least a calling Barred Owl, all highlights. At the end of the day we had seen and heard up to 110 species of birds!
Day 1 – I met up with my group of 7 Limosa Holidays customers today at Seatac and we did a little afternoon birding in the Green River Natural Resource area. It was mid-afternoon, sunny and warm, and the birds were a bit quiet, but we saw a few things nonetheless. We had several
good views of Common Yellowthroat here, as well as Willow Flycatcher, American Goldfinch, Savannah Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Great Blue Herons and Marsh Wren. We watched Tree and Violet-green swallows swarming over the long grasses where presumably they were catching insects. After about an hour and a half here, we headed to our hotel and went for a very enjoyable dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 2 – Our first morning in Washington didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped as we had to deal with a van issue. Once we finally got off the ground, so to speak, we headed for Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. Views here were fantastic with The Narrows being the significant body of water in front of us, along with the accompanying Narrows Bridge. Pigeon Guillemot was seen for the first time and we caught up with our first California and Glaucous-winged gulls, species we would see many times again before the trip was over. In the towering coastal rainforest we had some nice passerines including Wilson’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Red-breasted
Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hutton’s Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Dark-eyed Junco to name a few. An immature Cooper’s Hawk showed off for us as it responded to my Barred Owl imitation. Raccoons were seen all along the road through the park, trying their best to look cute and get some edible donations.
Our route took us north across the Hood Canal Bridge and through the town of Sequim. We arrived at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge in the late afternoon and we were quite happy to have a leg stretch so we went off down the trail to the spit. Along the way we had a couple of nice birds, most notably a Pacific Wren that sang vociferously from atop a tree stump. A Pine Siskin posed briefly for scope views before taking off. Views of the Pacific were great here again, especially with the long sand spit and snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. Birds were a bit distant but we saw more Pigeon Guillemots as well as our first Rhinoceros Auklets. We arrived at our hotel in Port Angeles and enjoyed dinner at a local seafood and steak restaurant. Despite the slow start, the day turned out quite nicely.
Day 3 – This morning we headed for Ediz Hook in Port Angeles before breakfast and enjoyed some lovely birding. The weather was great this morning with mixed sun and cloud and views of Mount Angeles in the distance. We had brilliant views of Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots and small numbers of Marbled Murrelets here. Pelagic Cormorants were seen well and we were treated to views of several Harlequin Ducks. A
female Belted Kingfisher posed on a telephone wire for scope views as did White-crowned Sparrow. Gulls were numerous and amongst the abundant Glaucous-winged Gulls and their various hybrids, we had smaller numbers of Heermann’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and California Gull. Distant scope views of Surf Scoter, Common Loon and Common Murre were obtained. In addition to Harbor Seals, we saw also a few Harbor Porpoises at Ediz Hook this morning.
After breakfast we began the journey to Cape Flattery, along a long and winding road that takes much of the day to complete. Along the way we made several stops and the scenery was breathtaking. We paused at Tongue Point where in the wooded campground we saw birds like Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler and
Dark-eyed Junco. We walked down to the rocky beach and soaked in the views of the Salish Sea. We are getting spoiled with great views of Harlequin Ducks along the coast, and here we saw several Bald Eagles of various ages frolicking about. As we returned to the van a Townsend’s Chipmunk and a Douglas Squirrel appeared briefly, both new for the mammal list.
Our next stop was a lunch stop at Sekiu, where we sat at the edge of the water and had a picnic while more Bald Eagles and several Common Mergansers entertained us. Pam spotted a Western Kingbird, locally quite uncommon, along a fence line. It was seen by all through the scope and then it flew right over us. A stop at Seal Rocks was very worthwhile as I spotted a Sea Otter floating on its back as it fed. The otter entertained us for quite a while as we admired through the scope. Sitting with a group of Pelagic Cormorants was a single Brandt’s Cormorant, and on the shore of the island were hundreds of Harlequin Ducks. Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre were fairly numerous here and in some berry bushes beside the road we had a good view of a Swainson’s Thrush and Orange-crowned Warbler.
We drove through the village of Neah Bay and onwards to the Cape Flattery Trail. As we walked the trail there was a very light rain that the Brits may ‘mizzle’, but it was not bad at all. The walk was worth the while because from the viewpoint we were able to watch several Tufted Puffins through the scope. In addition to the puffins there were thousands of Common Murres on the water and many Pigeon Guillemots as well. Pelagic Cormorants were nesting in caves below the viewpoints, offering a unique eagle’s eye view from above.
Several nests with eggs were spotted. The scenery at Cape Flattery is fantastic as well. Every stop today produced Bald Eagles, adults, second year and third year birds. We drove on to La Push in the later afternoon as a steady rain fell. Upon arrival it didn’t take us long to cozy up to our rooms overlooking the steely gray Pacific. As we had dinner in a local restaurant we watched up to 5 Bald Eagles right outside of the establishment. Note to self, take binoculars to dinner tomorrow night.
Day 4 – It was a bit dull and dreary this morning with a light rain that accompanied us as we explored the area around our resort in La Push. We scanned the ocean from the beach
and spotted several White-winged Scoters and a pair of Surf Scoters. Bald Eagles greeted us once again this morning. It began to drizzle half way through our walk but that didn’t stop us from adding Downy Woodpecker and Steller’s Jay to the trip list.
We had breakfast in La Push and counted up to 20 Bald Eagles from the restaurant windows! Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Northwestern Crows and Song Sparrow all poked around piles of crab traps. On our way to the Hoh Rain Forest we stopped in Forks to pick up lunch. We then explored a little side road in to the forest but once we heard logging trucks in the distance we retreated. Before we left we found Black-throated Gray and Wilson’s warblers, Warbling and Hutton’s vireos and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.
We then drove the road into the Hoh Valley, following the Hoh River for its length. At a bridge over a little rushing creek we paused and found an American Dipper. A little farther
along a female Varied Thrush was seen from the van. A wetland area near the end of the road had several Mallards with chicks and two female Wood Ducks with chicks of their own. Two male Belted Kingfishers battled each other and in the reeds we saw a few Red-winged Blackbirds here as well. We enjoyed watching Vaux’s Swifts on a couple of occasions today with our first sighting being the best as the birds swooped down to the surface of a pond. Once at the visitor’s center we had lunch, inside the van I might add, because of the light rain. We then walked the Spruce Trail, a lovely walk through old growth rainforest with massive specimens of Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce and Broad-leafed Maple, all draped in moss. Birds we
encountered included a group of Gray Jays, a lovely male Western Tanager, an adult and immature Hairy Woodpecker, several Pacific Wrens, and a Brown Creeper that looked truly diminutive against the trunk of a massive spruce. We didn’t see many mammals today but we did have a look at a Douglas Squirrel as it sat in a tree next to the road. We returned to our resort in the late afternoon and enjoyed a lovely sunny break in the weather.
Day 5 – The .7 mile walk to Second Beach made for a nice pre-breakfast outing this morning. As we strolled through the rainforest on the way to the beach we heard singing Pacific Wrens, Wilson’s Warblers and Swainson’s Thrush. Once at the beach we scanned the offshore rocks and had a number of Tufted Puffins, along with hundreds of Common Murres and a few Pigeon Guillemots, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters and a Black Oystercatcher. New for the trip list was a singing ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow.
After a lovely breakfast at the River’s Edge Restaurant we reluctantly left the La Push area and made our way to Forks where we picked up lunch. As we followed Hwy 101 south from Forks we stopped at Ruby Beach where we scanned the beach and ocean below, spotting most notably a couple of Sea Otters. Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and White-crowned Sparrow all appeared for scope views here. Our next stop was at Fourth Beach where we did a short walk down to the beach along a trail through the rainforest. In the distance we saw two Pacific Loons flying by, but little else that was new. Groups of Rhinoceros Auklets worked their way across the horizon. On the tidal rocks we saw sea stars and sea anemones.
Our next stop was at the Quinault Lake Lodge where feeders attracted a selection of birds including up to a dozen Rufous Hummingbirds and a number of stunning Evening Grosbeaks. A couple of Purple Finches were seen briefly and we finally had a good look at a Warbling Vireo. A short stop at Merriman Falls was enjoyable as this was a very scenic location. To finish off the day we drove on to Ocean Shores, picked up breakfast and lunch food for our pelagic trip the next day, and checked into our hotel.
Day 6 – We left our hotel in the darkness and drove to Westport where we boarded the
Monte Carlo for a pelagic trip out to Gray’s Canyon, 35-40 nautical miles offshore. A nice selection of seabirds were counted with today with highlights including Sooty and Pink-footed shearwaters, Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, South Polar Skuas, Red-necked Phalarope, Tufted Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Cassin’s Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, and the giant Black-footed Albatross.
The showing of mammals was also rather impressive with Humpback Whales, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Right Whale Dolphins, Dall’s Porpoise, Harbor Porpoise and, Northern Fur Seal and Steller’s Sea-Lion all seen. A Mola Mola, or sunfish was also spotted by the trip leaders. As we came back in to the docks in the late afternoon a number of Brown Pelicans foraged around the boat.
Day 7 – A fog hugged the immediate coast at our hotel in Ocean Shores as we departed this morning, but it didn’t take long for it to burn off and we enjoyed lovely sunshine for the day. Our first stop was at Midway Beach, where we never actually reached the beach, but we did find a little marshy area where we had views of Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, Greater Yellowlegs, Cliff Swallow and several other species. At Grayland Beach we were lucky to find three Snowy Plovers, a locally endangered species that reaches the northern limits of its western North American range here on the sandy beaches of southern Washington state. At North
Beach we scanned through a flock of roosting gulls and had Heermann’s, Western and California gulls as well as Caspian Tern. The Tokeland Marina offered up good views of several pairs of Purple Martins, the only time we encountered this species on the tour.
After picking up lunch in Aberdeen we headed to part 2 of the birding session today, the Capitol Forest. Here, amongst the mixed woods of hemlock, cedar, alder, maple and fir, we had a nice selection of birds including the newly split California Scrub-Jay, Western Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and a stunning Red-breasted Sapsucker. One final stop just before we were about to leave the forest proved most rewarding as we had a Northern Pygmy-Owl here, as well as our first MacGillivray’s Warbler of the tour. We drove on along the Columbia River to our hotel in Hood River, Oregon, a very scenic place we all agreed, and dinner tonight was exceptional.
Day 8 – After a great breakfast we reluctantly left Hood River and traveled back across a bridge into Washington State. We visited a small pond in an industrial area and we were surprised by the variety of bird life here. There were Mallards, American Wigeon, Gadwall and Blue-winged Teal here, along with American Coot and Great Blue Herons. Several Western Scrub-Jays were noted around the pond, as were House Finches, Bewick’s Wren, Violet-green Swallow, Killdeer, American Goldfinch and more. Bald Eagle and Osprey were also noted over the Columbia River.
We picked up lunch in Bingen and made another stop at a place called Coyote Ridge where steep cliffs of basalt provided us habitat to look for Canyon Wren, which we did find. A number of Turkey Vultures teetered on tilted wings, and Violet-green Swallows zipped about at a rapid pace. We continued up Courtney Rd, through the lovely oak dotted grasslands where we found a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers that posed nicely for us. In the oak groves we were treated to a nice selection of birds such as Red-breasted and
White-breasted nuthatches, Cassin’s Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Western Wood-Pewee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, and several Lesser Goldfinches. We had lunch in a mixed forest where Western Tanager, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Finch were tallied after we finished eating. New for the butterfly list at the lunch stop was a Great Basin Wood-Nymph. California Ground Squirrels were common today and were new to the trip list.
A stop at the Lyle Cemetery, amongst the oaks, produced several gorgeous Western Bluebirds and a very attractive Lark Sparrow. We made a short pit-stop in Lyle before driving east along the Columbia to Maryhill where we headed north and climbed up and over the 3000 foot Satus Pass. A final stop of the day was made at the Toppenish NWR. In a small grove of cottonwoods we had a family group of Western Kingbirds and a pair of Bullock’s Orioles feeding young in a nest. Two Eastern Kingbirds hid in the shade of a telephone pole, as temperatures today reached over 30 degrees Celsius. The drive into Ellensburg this afternoon was quite enjoyable, and we had a wonderful dinner at the Yellow Church Café tonight.
Day 9 – As we emerged from our hotel just after 7 AM the temperature was comfortably cool, but as the day wore on it heated up to mid-thirty degrees. Our journey today took us west from Ellensburg into the foothills of the Cascades at Wenas Creek. Along the way we paused along Umptanum Rd where a nice variety of new trip birds were tallied including Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebirds and Common
Nighthawk. Farther along the road we encountered a pair of lovely Lewis’s Woodpeckers in an open area dotted with large pine trees. Along Wenas Creek in the deciduous vegetation we had views of our first House Wrens, Yellow Warbler and several Red-naped Sapsuckers. Another Lewis’s Woodpecker was spotted atop a tall dead cottonwood. A brilliant blue male Lazuli Bunting put on a nice show for us today perching atop bushes next to the road. Once we were at Wenas Campground we went for a little stroll through the pine trees spotting a few goodies including Cassin’s Finch, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Mountain Chickadee. Highlight before lunch, however, was a female White-headed Woodpecker foraging on a pine tree at eye level. What a great bird. We had lunch in the shade of the pines and then went for another walk. Gray Flycatchers were noted on several locations and we got our first Mountain Chickadee of the trip. I did my best screech-owl imitation and low and behold one answered from the thickets in
front of us. After an intense search of the area I finally located the bird, a Western Screech-Owl, as it sat on branches at eye level, 20 feet away. Everyone in the group got a great view of his intense little yellow eyes peering back at them. New for the mammal list today was a Yellow Pine Chipmunk, but we saw decidedly little in the way of furry creatures. We returned to Ellensburg and had a short stop at a gas station for cold drinks and convenience, then we headed east along the Vantage Hwy. At Wanapum Lake we had an Eared Grebe, a Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelicans and Caspian Terns. A family of Rock Wrens bounced around on the rocks along the roadside, showing nicely. We visited Getty’s Cove where a Belted Kingfisher was found, along with a Lark Sparrow and a juvenile Golden Eagle. Our trip then took us east to Moses Lake where we spent the night. Dinner at Michael’s on the Lake was most enjoyable.
Day 10 – In Moses Lake this morning we briefly visited Blue Heron Park, but found the lighting difficult to deal with, so we headed down towards the Potholes region, spotting a Swainson’s Hawk or two along the way. Our first stop was to view a male California Quail, as he sat in the open atop a tree stump in the morning sun. At Lind Coulee we had good looks at about half a dozen Clark’s Grebes, as well as Great Egret, Cinnamon Teal, and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. A drive through the Columbia NWR provided stunning scenery, along with a few birds, with the highlight being a Prairie Falcon that sailed right overhead. On ponds at the reserve we saw Spotted Sandpipers, new for the trip list, as well as an early migrant Greater Yellowlegs and a Killdeer.
We paid the Potholes State Park a visit and here on Potholes Reservoir we had several Western Grebes. Paul spotted a Forster’s Tern, our first for the tour. In trees surrounding the lake we had Bald Eagle as well. A young fellow that was cutting the grass pointed out a fledgling Cedar Waxwing here, and soon thereafter we found another one, accompanied by a watchful adult.
Next, we followed Dodson Road north, but the extremely hot temperatures of about 35 degrees kept many of the birds in hiding. We did see several Sage Thrashers, but couldn’t find any Sagebrush Sparrows unfortunately. Great Egrets were noted here, along with a little flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Some of us caught a glimpse of a Sage Lizard in an old hide. We drove through continuous crops today and yesterday in the Moses Lake and Omak areas. A short pause at Soap Lake, where the locals were wading out into the shallow waters, produced 5 American Avocets on the south shore. At Lake Lenore the scenery was spectacular and we added Red-necked Grebe to the trip list with two pairs visible. Caspian Terns were about in good numbers at Lake Lenore and we saw a Rock Wren and heard a Canyon Wren.
At Dry Falls we stood in awe of the scenery, taking into account the geological forces that took place here during the last ice age. Violet-green and Cliff swallows soared about the cliffs and distant White-throated Swifts made us squint to see them. I spotted an adult Peregrine Falcon, but nobody else was around to see it. After a quick ice cream break and a peek inside the air conditioned visitor’s center, we carried on northwards into the Okanogan Valley. This valley is just south of my home and I know the habitats and the birds of the area well. Osprey seemed to be on every pole that had a platform. We drove on into the town of Omak on the Okanogan River, checked into our hotel and went for dinner in a funky little café in the downtown district.
Day 11 – Our last full day in Washington was again hot and sunny and we enjoyed a lovely day in the Okanogan Highlands. We drove from Omak to Tonasket and then followed the Havillah Rd up through some hayfields where we had a good number of male Bobolinks. Excellent start to the day! As we carried on up the road we began to see numbers of
Western and Mountain bluebirds, as well as Western and Eastern kingbirds. A couple of stops in the Ponderosa Pine forests produced a nice selection of birds with highlights being Pygmy Nuthatches, Calliope Hummingbirds and a few Lewis’s Woodpeckers. A visit to the mixed Douglas Fir / Western Larch forest at the Highland Sno Park was most rewarding. Here we saw up to three male Williamson’s Sapsuckers, as well as some other nice birds including our first Dusky Flycatcher and first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the trip. Other species were also noted along our walk here such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Western Tanager, Mountain Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Northern Flicker. Our first and only American Red Squirrels of the tour were noted in the forest this morning. We paused on the way to Teal Lake to have a look at our one and only Grasshopper Sparrow of the tour, and once we arrived at the lake more new birds appeared. There were several Ring-necked Ducks, along with Ruddy Ducks and Bufflehead here. At least 5 Soras were calling here, but only one was briefly seen by Pam as it scurried across a little patch of marsh. At Molson Lakes we enjoyed a nice variety of waterfowl, many of which were new for the tour; Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Barrow’s Goldeneye most notably. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were numerous in the marsh here, as were American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes. Just before we had lunch an adult Peregrine Falcon sped through and took a swipe at a duck, missing it by only a few inches. As we ate our lunch in the sun we watched a couple of White-tailed Deer on a distant hillside, our first for the trip. Before leaving Molson we had a wander around the old abandoned mining town. Before we returned to the valley bottom we made a couple more stops and added a couple more birds; Lincoln’s Sparrow and Black Tern. Once in Oroville we checked Osoyoos Lake State Park, where we could see Canada in the distance. Out on the water were Common Loon, Western Grebe and Red-necked Grebe. Overhead the first Osprey of the day sailed by and we spotted Eastern Kingbird and Western Wood-Pewees, both sitting on nests. It had been a most enjoyable day and we tallied an extensive list of bird species on our travels.
Day 12 – Before we left Omak this morning we tried to find a Horned Lark in an open area near our hotel since I had heard one singing here the previous evening. It didn’t take long for us to find the bird and this made for our 200th species on the tour. We had quite a journey today that took us south along Hwy 97 to Wenatchee, where we stopped to stretch our legs. We then headed up over Snoqualmie Pass and the Cascade Mountains, via I-90. We stopped at the summit and did a little birding at the Gold Creek Campground where two more birds were added to the trip list; Hammond’s Flycatcher and Townsend’s Warbler. We had lunch at a café at the summit before carrying on to Seatac Airport where I said goodbye to the group and wished them a safe journey home.
June 1 ~ This afternoon I met up with the group of 6, of which two live in Alberta, and the rest are from the U.K. This is a joint Limosa / Traveling Naturalists trip. After dinner we disappeared into our rooms for some rest, but anyone looking out their bedroom windows would have noted one of the most memorable things about Alberta, the sunsets.
June 2 ~ After a delicious breakfast we made our way an hour south of Calgary to Frank Lake, a very productive wetland habitat near the town of High River. As we made our way to the lake, we paused at several ponds and ditches along the way where a nice selection of waterfowl was collected. Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal, Mallard, Lesser Scaup and Redhead were included here, alongside shorebirds like American Avocet, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. Along the
dusty road to Frank Lake we were constantly entertained by roaming flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, with lesser numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds mixed in. Tree Swallows poked their heads out of nest boxes while Savannah Sparrows seemed to occupy a number of fence posts. We also saw Clay-colored Sparrows here as well and had brief encounters with Nelson’s Sparrow. A pair of Gray Partridge was a nice find this morning as well.
We walked through the long grass down to the edge of the lake where we set up scopes and began tallying a dizzying array of birds. Eared, Western and Pied-billed grebes, Osprey, American White Pelicans, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Forster’s Terns, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead and Black-necked Stilt were all called out by our group, as well as a number of others. A school group of about 40 children
invaded the place and we patiently waited for them to vacate so we could carry on birding. Not before pausing for lunch in High River, however. Behind the restaurant in town we saw several Common Grackles foraging around a little reservoir. Back out to the Frank Lake area and we first explored a country road on the north side of the lake. Swainson’s Hawks were rather obliging along this road, with one bird even found sitting on a nest in a little fir next to the road. Red-tailed Hawk was also spotted, though at a bit of a distance. Our first butterfly of the tour, a Common Alpine, emerged from the grasses when the sun poked out. Along fence lines both Western and Eastern kingbirds posed, while Western Meadowlark and Vesper Sparrow also showed. On our way back down to the hide we dodged Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, which are particularly common around Frank Lake. From the hide we had great views of Western and Eared grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, White-faced Ibis, Canvasback and more. A Sora made a brief appearance in the marsh, though it left most of us wanting more. We returned to Calgary in the late afternoon as the wind picked up considerably and some storm cells began to accumulate. At the end of the day we had tallied about 70 species.
June 3 – Our day was spent in the foothills near Cochrane, west of Calgary. We enjoyed fantastic weather today with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. As we followed the Trans-Canada Hwy west from Calgary we caught a glimpse of a White-tailed Jackrabbit. After a short ‘pit-stop’ in Cochrane we made our way to Horse Creek Road where we explored a marshy area that proved to be very productive this morning. Sparrows were numerous here and along with the usual Clay-colored and Savannah sparrows we had several other species new for the trip list such as Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and the elusive Le Conte’s Sparrow. Local birders call this road ‘Snipe Alley’ and we could see why as there were several Wilson’s Snipe on fence posts and in watery ditches. All the while we could hear winnowing, or drumming snipe overhead as well.
Three Wilson’s Phalaropes fed on a small pond in front of us, with one brightly colored female and two somewhat drab males. Sora called several times, but remained hidden in the marsh. Some caught a brief glimpse of a Least Flycatcher this morning, but it disappeared before everyone could get a look. A little farther down the road we saw both male and female Mountain Bluebirds on wires alongside the van.
Our next stop was at a little log house / community center where I hoped to see Eastern Phoebe. We did see the phoebe eventually, as well as a number of other interesting species such as White-throated and Chipping sparrows, Tennessee Warbler and a gorgeous male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. With the warm weather several butterfly species were about today including our first Northern Crescent and several tiny unidentified blues. Some cattle ranchers were herding cows here, and one little fellow was trying to escape so we attempted to help them out. The little calf managed to sneak past Colin, not for lack of effort. Before heading into town for lunch we made one last stop at a small bog. More new birds were added to the list here including a very nice Alder Flycatcher, a couple of American Goldfinches and a Solitary Sandpiper that was perched atop a tree. Overhead a Red-tailed Hawk was being pestered by Red-winged Blackbirds. An Old World Swallowtail, a rather large and bright yellow and black butterfly, sailed slowly by.
After lunch in Cochrane we did a little exploring along Grand Valley Road. In spruce / pine forests here we had another batch of new species with Townsend’s Solitaire, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Ruby-crowned Kinglets tallied. Then, our second experience with cattle of the day occurred, as a cattle drive was taking place right in front of us. Once all the cows had passed we carried on our route a bit farther and found some more goodies including a couple of Boreal Chickadees, a male ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Dark-eyed Junco. Our first Red Squirrel was noted here as well as it munched on a cone at the forest edge. We returned to Calgary via a slightly different route and Hwy 1A and had a little r & r before dinner.
June 4 – We left Calgary this morning, and enjoyed lovely weather again all day long, much like yesterday, though a few degrees warmer. As we traversed across very straight prairie roads we saw a few ducks at various roadside ponds including Canvasback, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail.
We entered the rather stunning Red Deer Valley and paused in Drumheller to pick up lunch before making our way east towards Hand Hills Lake. Our first Pronghorn Antelope, a rather distant individual, was spotted, so we stopped the van and got out for scope views. Even better than the distant pronghorn was a Long-billed Curlew that was strutting about on the grass nearby. More birds were noted as we stopped at some little groves of aspens along the way; Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler and House Wren were seen quite well. At a little wetland along the road we enjoyed some stunning breeding plumage Horned Grebes. We got to Hand Hills Lake and there was a rodeo / stampede taking place this weekend so there were hundreds upon hundreds of people there. Plan B it was, so off we went to Little Fish Lake Provincial Park, which turned out to be a lovely little gem of a spot. We had a picnic while we were entertained by several Cedar Waxwings. We saw Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel here, a rather attractive little rodent that apparently has 13 lines on its back, though we didn’t count. Once finished lunch we scanned the lake which had quite a variety of birds on it. There were many Western Grebes, along with one or two Red-necked Grebes, as well as American White Pelicans,
Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls and several Black Terns here. Among the more usual waterfowl species we saw a couple of pairs of Hooded Mergansers on the lake. In the aspens near the lake we saw a lovely male Baltimore Oriole and we also saw a Brown Thrasher skulking in the lakeside vegetation. This was my first visit to Little Fish Lake and it won’t be my last.
The group spent the last bit of the afternoon exploring the world famous Tyrell Museum of Paleontology and it sounded like they had really enjoyed themselves. Before leaving the museum Colin and Jenny pointed out several attractive dragonflies over a pond; a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, a Four Spotted Skimmer and a tiny bright blue damselfly. We headed for our hotel and a little down time before heading out for dinner.
June 5 – Shortly after 7 AM we left Drumheller and began our journey towards Dinosaur Provincial Park, about 1.5 hours away. Along the drive we paused to view several wetland areas along Hwy 56 south of Drumheller. As usual the ponds held many ducks, as well as shorebirds including Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. Along a fence line I spotted an Upland Sandpiper and we had great views
of this bird. Another exciting find this morning was a male Lark Bunting, decked out in black and white, along the same fence line as the Upland Sand. We were off to a cracking start!
Once at Dinosaur Provincial Park we headed for the campground and the tall cottonwoods along the Red Deer River. The area was alive with birds and the more common species included Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Common Grackle and Cedar Waxwings. Several Brown Thrashers were noted and we saw our first Gray Catbirds and Western Wood-Pewee of the tour. Common Nighthawks could be heard calling and after a bit of searching we finally saw a couple flying over the treetops. We had a picnic lunch then did a little exploring in the badlands. We saw our first Rock Wrens and Lark Sparrows here, and we saw Prickly Pear and Pincushion cacti along our walk, as well as stunning scenery. We took a stroll through Cottonwood Flats and as we entered the trail a couple of people told us to be on the lookout for a Moose they had seen. Shortly thereafter we found the Moose, a young male, galloping out of sight across a meadow. We added several new species of birds here; Northern Flicker, Spotted Towhee, Red-eyed Vireo, American Kestrel and Yellow-breasted Chat.
After an ice cream at the cafe we headed for a viewpoint and upon arrival we were greeted by a Prairie Rattlesnake right next to the parking lot! The view of the badlands was breathtaking and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we spotted a Prairie Falcon soaring around the cliffs below. Feeling quite content we drove on to Brooks where we spent the night.
June 6 – The weather today was rather spectacular with sunny skies, a warm breeze and hot temperatures. We began on the prairie south of Brooks where Sprague’s Pipits were seen doing their elaborate flight song high overhead. Yet another sparrow was added to our bulging list for that family; Brewer’s Sparrow. The highlight for me was finding a Ferruginous Hawk nest in a cottonwood here with four fluffy chicks inside. Overhead a breeding plumage Common Loon flew past, which made for a somewhat unusual sighting out in the grasslands.
At Kinbrook Island Park we explored a wetland that was teeming with birds. The nice selection of waterfowl included Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Canvasback, Redhead and Lesser Scaup. Yellow-headed and Red-winged blackbirds were numerous and we could hear Sora in the marsh but they remained unseen as usual. A pair of Red-necked Grebes were tending to young, with one adult giving piggy back rides to
young. Overhead, an immature Broad-winged Hawk sailed by, a bit of a surprise sighting. In the campground / picnic area, we strolled about and found a few more goodies, the best of which was a first year male American Redstart singing away. Out on Lake Newell we saw a few Western Grebes, but aside from that and a bustling colony of nesting gulls in the distance, the lake was pretty quiet. A squadron of 30 American White Pelicans were flying in formation just to the north of the lake.
We picked up lunch in Brooks and took it to Tillebrook Provincial Park where we had a picnic. Among the cottonwoods here we picked up a few more species; Downy Woodpecker (male and female), and a rather shy male Black-and-white Warbler that was somewhat unexpected. We found the pellets of Great Horned Owls, but couldn’t find any owls unfortunately. Before leaving the Brooks area we had a quick visit to the historic Brooks Aqueduct.
East of Tilley and just south of the Trans Canada Hwy we stopped in the prairie and enjoyed views of several Chestnut-collared Longspurs as they played in the wind. An adult
and juvenile Horned Lark also were added to the trip list here. A Coyote was briefly seen alongside the hwy this afternoon. We paused to stretch our legs in Medicine Hat at the ‘World’s Tallest Teepee’ before turning south on Hwy 41 to Cypress Hills and Elkwater where we are to spend the next three nights.
June 7 – Before breakfast we assembled outside our hotel and went for a walk along the shore of Elkwater Lake. It was a bit breezy, but the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Red-necked Grebes were noisily going about building nests and doing courtship displays. Two pairs of White-winged Scoters were quite nice to see and were the first for our tour. In the reeds were the usual Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds, along with Common Yellowthroats, Common Grackles and Song Sparrows. Gray Catbird sang vociferously but remained hidden in the bushes. We had views of rather sharp looking male American Redstarts this morning and we saw our first Red-naped Sapsucker, quite a good looking individual as well. Red-eyed Vireo showed well as it sang in the aspens, and
several Pine Siskins posed for scope views. Over a distant ridge our first Turkey Vultures teetered about on the rising thermals. A few mammals seen this morning included the ever present Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, as well as both Mule and White-tailed deer.
After a lovely breakfast at a little local cafe we headed off to do more exploring of Cypress Hills. As we drove through open country at the top of the plateau we saw several Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows along a fence line. At Spruce Coulee we paused in mixed forest and had good views of our first Dusky Flycatcher, a species that reaches the eastern limits of its Canadian range in Cypress Hills. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak also showed himself here. We followed instructions from other birders who said they had Three-toed
Woodpeckers up a trail, and though we never found this species, we did find Hairy Woodpecker and had great views of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. An Ovenbird sang several times but only showed himself very briefly which was a bit frustrating. We continued along Reesor Lake Road pausing to search for MacGillivray’s Warbler. This proved rather difficult as a male of that species was skulking in the bushes offering up no more than bits and pieces of his plumage at a time. Tennessee Warbler was noted here again however, and we had another view of a lovely male Red-naped Sapsucker. At a nice viewpoint we scanned the grasslands below and spotted a couple of American Elk in the distance, new for the growing mammal list.
We had lunch in the rather hot sun at Reesor Lake and then carried on along Battle Creek Road, making a brief excursion into Saskatchewan. We saw several good birds in Saskatchewan including a Ruffed Grouse that was sitting in the middle of the gravel road, and a lovely male Western Tanager. Other species we noted on the Sask side of the border included Ovenbird, American Redstart, Warbling Vireo, Dusky Flycatcher, White-crowned Sparrow and a Cooper’s Hawk sailing overhead.
Back in Alberta we made one last stop at a bridge over Battle Creek. We didn’t have too much here, but I looked up in the sky and spotted an adult Golden Eagle sailing overhead which was unexpected. As we drove back to Elkwater we saw a healthy looking Coyote trotting off into the sagebrush. We were a bit relieved to be back in the air conditioning for a little break before dinner.
June 8 – Our final full day in southeastern Alberta began at the Fire Rock Campground where, before breakfast, we did a little birding. We had several highlights including a noisy male Wild Turkey that was all puffed up and displaying and a female Barrow’s Goldeneye, both species new for the trip list. We visited Colton Prins, a young friend of mine that was banding birds along the shore of Elkwater Lake this morning. He was a busy chap when we arrived with Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Least Flycatcher and Downy Woodpecker to be banded. As we arrived back at our hotel, I spotted a male Merlin sitting in a tree across the road so we set up the scope and had a good look.
After breakfast we drove south from Cypress Hills to Wild Horse, a remote border crossing between Alberta and Montana. We stopped just short of the border and had great views of a Grasshopper Sparrow as it sang from a barb wire fence. In the same area were several male Lark Buntings, Horned Larks and a Chestnut-collared Longspur. A Common
Nighthawk sailed over as well. We spent much of the day exploring Range Road 20, a well known road for birding, that cuts across some great prairie habitat. A Say’s Phoebe was seen near some hay bails where we figured it must be nesting. A male Bobolink made a brief appearance, but unfortunately didn’t stick around long. We saw a couple of nice Ferruginous Hawks in the area today, including a dark-morph adult, which is rather uncommon. Northern Harriers were also fairly common today. Bird of the day for me anyhow was a Burrowing Owl, my first in Alberta, that sat atop a sagebrush while we watched through the scope. We had lunch in the van, since it was very hot and there is no shade whatsoever in this area. After lunch we carried on our way and continued to find goodies. We searched in a field of longer grass for Baird’s
Sparrow and eventually had great extended views of one. We then searched for McKown’s Longspur and heard one singing in the sky above but couldn’t spot it. Some young redneck ranchers pulled up on their atv and questioned us about what we were doing. We said we were looking for birds but they just looked at us dumbfounded and figured we must be up to disturbing cattle or something. After they let us be we continued along the dusty road and as luck would have it a pair of McKown’s Longspurs sat right in the middle of the road for us to see. Though we saw no new mammal species today we did see several Pronghorn, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, the ubiquitous Richardson’s Ground Squirrel and a Coyote. We arrived back at Elkwater feeling like we’d had a great day and after a little rest we headed for dinner. This evening a thunderstorm rolled in and entertained us as we fell asleep.
June 9 -Big news hit the tour this morning when I announced I had become a daddy overnight as my son Carsen was born just before midnight on June 8. There was an air of excitement all day today due to the big news.
After some overnight thunderstorms we emerged from our hotel in Elkwater to find lovely sunshine once again, though temperatures a little cooler. We drove to Medicine Hat and had breakfast at Perkins, then picked up lunch and made our way to Writing On Stone Provincial Park. The drive was broken up with a short stop at Vernon Lake where we added a number of species to our daily tally; Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Pintail, Yellow-headed Blackbird and numerous Cliff Swallows were highlights here. We carried on our drive, spotting a nice light immature Ferruginous Hawk on a fence post next to the road. Northern Harriers were seen several times again today, as were Swainson’s Hawks. Horned Larks were abundant all along the roadways. Once at Writing On Stone we immediately struck by the beauty of the place with the winding Milk River, along with stunning coulees, towering cottonwood trees and the Sweet Grass Hills in Montana in the distance, this place is truly gorgeous. At a viewpoint we made our first stop to take photos and take in the scenery. We walked around the campground, finding a nice variety of birds here with Least Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Northern Flicker and dozens of American Robins seen. At a scenic vista overlooking the Milk River we enjoyed stunning looks at a Rock Wren as he sang from a coulee in front of us. The short walk down to The Battle Scene rock art area
was well worth the effort to see some of the parks’ namesake stone writings. Along this walk we saw a Lark Sparrow quite well and Mary pointed out a female Common Merganser with several tiny chicks floating down the river. We had distant views of a Prairie Falcon over a ridge across the river and we watched a pair of Cooper’s Hawks engaged in a display flight as well. From yet another stunning viewpoint we viewed the old Mounted Police outpost in a meadow below. A female Northern Harrier flew in and landed along the bank of the river and proceeded to have a drink. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a harrier drink before. There’s a first for everything. After a little visit to the wonderful visitors center we were on our way to Lethbridge, a drive that took us through Milk River and Stirling to our hotel at the south end of this city of 90,000.
June 10 – From Lethbridge we made our way to Waterton Park, a journey of about 1.5 hours. Once in Waterton we visited Maskinonge, a wetland area excellent for birds. In the marsh we viewed our first Sandhill Crane through the scope, while Osprey also posed for scope views. Over the wetlands several Black Terns swooped to and fro as they caught insects. A pair of Common Loons were a treat for us to see, since the only loon we had seen thus far had been in flight over the prairie. We paused to view a lake just north of our hotel, the Prince of Wales. Here we spotted up to 4 Trumpeter Swans snoozing on a sand bar and a pair of Bald Eagles perched some cottonwoods. Next, we visited Cameron Falls, an impressive waterfall situated close to the Waterton townsite. Here we enjoyed watching a pair of American Dippers feeding young in a nest behind the falls. Also here we had our only Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel of the tour.
We explored the first half of the Red Rocks Parkway this afternoon as well. Our first stops produced one of the most stunning birds of the tour, Lazuli Buntings. Also new for our bulging trip list was Calliope Hummingbird, a male that sat atop a dead tree alongside the road. We enjoyed several unusually great views of MacGillivray’s Warbler today along the Red Rocks Parkway. New for the mammals list was a Black Bear, spotted by Richard, as it foraged on a grassy hillside above the road. Columbian Ground Squirrels have replaced Richardson’s Ground Squirrels here in the mountains and we saw a number of them today. Our last stop was in a campground where we looked at some very interesting flowers that we eventually identified as Bear Grass. Also here we saw our only Wilson’s Warbler of the tour. We headed for our hotel, situated atop a hill overlooking the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery.
June 11 – Before breakfast we returned to Maskinonge, and though the wind was blowing rather hard, we managed to see some good birds. A Belted Kingfisher, our only for the tour, was noted here, and we enjoyed great views of other birds like Lincoln’s Sparrow, Black Tern and Red-naped Sapsucker. We visited the Hay Barn area where we had views of Northern Waterthrush, Veery, American Redstart, and a flyby Wood Duck.
We returned to our hotel for breakfast and then made our way back out to continue exploring Waterton Park. Along the Red Rocks Parkway we stopped at a beaver pond and though we didn’t see a beaver, we did see Alder Flycatcher, Calliope Hummingbird and heard a Virginia Rail, among others. Farther along we paused to take in the view and the sighting of our first Mountain Chickadee was an added bonus. We paused at another roadside stop along a small creek and were rewarded with great views of a male Rufous Hummingbird. Each time the bird turned his head the gorget shined brilliant red and gold. Overhead today we saw up to three adult Golden Eagles. Other highlights this morning included a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, briefly visiting their nest hole, and our one and only Willow Flycatcher, a bird that was being harassed by a bold male Calliope Hummingbird. We strolled along the path at Red Rocks Canyon where we watched an adult American Dipper tend to a fledgling. Our first Townsend’s Warblers appeared here and were stunning as ever. We enjoyed views of Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and our one and only Pacific-slope Flycatcher of the trip. The wild flowers were quite impressive in this area today.
Before we called it a day we paid the Bison Paddock a visit. We drove the road through the rolling grassy hills here, eventually spotting the herd of Bison as they enjoyed a lazy afternoon. As far as birds were concerned we saw our daily Mountain Bluebirds, along with Vesper Sparrows and several species of ducks on the little ponds. We returned our hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner, the last we would have together on this tour.
June 12 – This morning as we had breakfast at our hotel on a hill overlooking Waterton Lake, the wind blew very strong. Some of us could feel the building rocking on the top floor this morning due to the strong winds. We were on the road by about 8:30 AM and made the drive of about 1.5 hours to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. Along the way we enjoyed views of a herd of American Elk. Some of the final birds noted this morning included the omnipresent Swainson’s Hawk as well as abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and the resident colony of Cliff Swallows.
Once at the buffalo jump we made our way inside to escape the winds and we were greeted by a Peigan tribe first nations fellow named Little Leaf who gave us a great lesson on the ways of the local tribes in the days of the buffalo jump and on their ways today. We watched a short and informative video on the buffalo jump and then explored the museum which everyone agreed is done up very well. After lunch in the cafeteria where some of us tried some bison chili and bison burgers, we drove to Calgary. Once in Calgary we stopped off at a local hotel and said goodbye to Ray, Minnie and Jenny. Next stop was at the airport where I bid my farewells to Colin and to Richard and Mary. It had been a great trip and we had found 175 species of birds and a respectable list of mammals as well. I arrived home in Kelowna at 8:45 PM and after meeting Carsen for the first time, life would never be the same again.
I met up with Jon Carter and Stuart, who’s last name I cannot remember, at 8 PM in Kelowna this evening. Stuart and Jon were leading a group of 6 birders from the U.K. on a two week Canadian adventure, and they hired me to help them out for their Okanagan birding. We headed to Beaver Lake Road and did a little owling this evening. On the way up through the grasslands a few birds were still active in the twilight, including Western Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow and Western Bluebird. We walked along a trail through the coniferous forest just as it was nearing dark and found an adult and a fledgling Barred Owl as they called to one another. This was our only ‘owly’ experience we had this evening. N. Saw-whet and Boreal owls did not want to cooperate this evening.
I met the group in Penticton this morning and we enjoyed a spectacular day of birding in the South Okanagan. Our first stop was at Three Gates Farm on White Lk Rd. We watched hummingbird feeders, tallying Rufous, Calliope and a nice male Black-chinned hummingbird here. We walked up a path through the Ponderosa Pines and found another of the many highlights of the day, a Black Bear! This bear was of the ‘blond’ variety and was probably only a year or two old. Birds up this track included Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Townsend’s Solitaire and Pygmy Nuthatch.
At White Lake itself we were treated to views of three singing male Sage Thrashers. This species is quite rare and found at only one or two spots traditionally in the South Okanagan where they are extremely scarce breeders in sage habitats. Heard, but not seen, was another locally rare bird, Grasshopper Sparrow. We saw several Brewer’s Sparrows here, as well as a nice Lark Sparrow. Also on the heard list was Clay-colored Sparrow, rounding out a nice list of sparrows. On White Lk itself were Red-necked Phalaropes, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler, along with the usual Mallards.
At Mahoney Lk we tried unsuccessfully for Gray Flycatcher, but we did see a few other species nonetheless, including an adult Peregrine Falcon soaring overhead. Red Crossbills, Cassin’s Finches and Pine Siskins were all seen here.
We had lunch in the pine forest at the top of Irrigation Ck Road in OK Falls, only about 300 meters from Shuttleworth Rd. Both Gray and Dusky flycatchers showed off nicely here for the group, as did White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Spotted Towhee. Up at Venner Meadows we searched for an eventually found a lovely male Williamson’s Sapsucker in the larches. Also here, a Red-naped Sapsucker, was new for the group’s list. We watched several Western Tanagers chase one another around here, while calling in the woods were Nashville Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet and noisy Red-breasted Nuthatches. At Venner Meadows the birding was very good and Jon picked out a male American Three-toed Woodpecker working on a Lodgepole Pine right out in the open. Nice score! Singing in the willow meadows were Wilson’s, Yellow and Yellow-rumped warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Hermit Thrush, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a single Willow Flycatcher. We watched an Olive-sided Flycatcher here as it called and foraged near the meadows. Before vacating the Shuttleworth area we tried briefly at Rabbit Lake for upper elevation species. Unfortunately as soon as we arrived a rainstorm hit and we had to retreat, but not before we saw an adult male Northern Goshawk!
In the evening I took the group up to Max Lk to look for nocturnal species. We had great views of a pair of Common Poorwills right on the dirt road, so this was great. A Veery called as we drove up past the riparian habitat in the canyon. After dark we heard a Flammulated Owl and several of us saw if fly overhead twice, so all in all, it was a pretty productive night. I really enjoyed taking Jon and Stuart and their group around and I think they were pretty happy with the superb birds we saw during our 24 hour period together.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours.
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours