Vancouver Island ~ With LIMOSA HOLIDAYS

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

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Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Vancouver Island, BC. Sep, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Thayer’s Gull. Clover Point, Victoria, BC. Sept 14, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Golden-crowned Sparrows. Ogden Point, Victoria, BC. Sept 15, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

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Black Turnstone. Ogden Point, Victoria, BC. Sept 15, 2016. Chris Charlesworth

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

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American Dipper. Goldstream Prov. Pk, BC. Sep 16, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Red-breasted Sapsucker. Goldstream Prov. Pk, BC. Sep 16, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Amphitrite Point, Ucluelet, BC. Sep 17, 2016. Chris Charlesworth

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

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Black Bear. Tofino, BC. Sep 18, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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,

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Common Murre. Tofino, BC. Sep 18, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

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Gray Whale, spouting. Tofino, BC. Sep 18, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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,

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Glaucous-winged Gull. Tofino, BC. Sep 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Northern Flicker. Nanaimo, BC. Sep 21, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

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One of three Merlins seen today. Nanaimo, BC. Sep 21, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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The group enjoyed some great shorebirding today. Vancouver, BC. Sep 22, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Iona Island, Richmond, BC. Sep 22, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

Chris Charlesworth, Limosa Holidays

 

Southern California with Avocet Tours ~ Part 3

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

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Common Dolphins. Santa Barbara Channel. Sept 7, 2016. Photo Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Island Scrub-Jay. Santa Cruz Is, CA. Sept 6, 2016. Photo

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.

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Endemic ‘Island Fox’ on Santa Cruz Is, CA. Sept 6, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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

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Black-vented Shearwaters. Santa Barbara Channel, CA. Sept 6, 2016. Photo Chris Charlesworth.

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.

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Humpback Whale ‘kelping’ in Santa Barbara Channel, CA. Sept 7, 2016. Photo Chris Charlesworth
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Huge group of California Sea-Lions in Santa Barbara Channel, CA. Sept 7, 2016. Photo Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Yellow-billed Magpie. Alisal Canyon, CA. Sep 8, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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.

Southern California with Avocet Tours ~ Part 2

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

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Crissal Thrasher. Salton Sea, CA. Sep 2, 2016. Photo Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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

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Oak Titmouse. San Jacinto Mountains, California. Sept 2, 2016. Chris Charlesworth

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,

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Greater Roadrunner. Twentynine Palms, CA. Sep 3, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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,cawr

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

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Summer Tanager. Big Morongo, CA. Sep 3, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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.

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Joshua Tree NP. Sept 3, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Bell’s Sparrow. Mojave, CA. Sept 4, 2016. Photo Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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

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Le Conte’s Thrasher. Mojave, CA. Sept 4, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

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

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Black Tern. Silver Saddle Resort, California. Sept 4, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Nashville Warbler. Silver Saddle Resort, CA. Sept 4, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

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Great Horned Owl roosting at the Silver Saddle Resort, CA. Sept 4, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

 

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

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Band-tailed Pigeon. San Gabriel Mountains, CA. Sept 5, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Northern Pygmy-Owl. San Gabriel Mtns, CA. Sept 5, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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,

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White-headed Woodpecker. San Gabriel Mtns, CA. Sept 5, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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

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Green-tailed Towhee. San Gabriel Mtns, CA. Sep 5, 2016. Photo by Kathy Nuszdorfer.

of Carpinteria, which is situated along the coast and will be our home base for the next three nights.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

 

 

Southern California with Avocet Tours ~ Part 1

August 29 – Early this afternoon, at LAX,  I met up with my group, 6 ladies from various places in B.C. and Alberta, and we made the journey of about 1.5 hours to Santa Ana. As we followed the massive I-405 freeway south from L.A. and we saw nothing but common birds along the way; European Starling, American Crow, Mourning Dove and a group of unidentified parakeets zipping by. We headed out to do a little birding before the day was over, at the San Joaquin Sanctuary.

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Cassin’s Kingbird. Santa Ana, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth

The birding was splendid, and in about an hour and a half we had amassed a list of close to 50 species. One of the first birds we noted was a male Northern Orange Bishop that was displaying in some long grass, as one or two comparatively drab females watched. Another ‘exotic’ species seen quite well was Scaly-breasted Munia. There were about a dozen of them playing hide and seek in the long grasses, but eventually we all had good looks at them. Several Cassin’s Kingbirds showed quite well, and we saw a couple of obliging Black Phoebes as well. Forster’s Terns plunge dived into the water, as did a single Brown Pelican. Nimali spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron just in time before it disappeared into the vegetation along the edge of the pond. A Snowy Egret bravely landed only a few feet from us before it realized what it had done and flew

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Black Skimmer. Santa Ana, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth

off. Pied-billed, Western and Clark’s grebes were tallied, as were Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans and dozens of bizarre Black Skimmers. Waterfowl noted included Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and Ruddy Duck. A single Common Gallinule was a pleasant surprise as it strutted along the shore near several Killdeer, the only shorebird species we identified here this afternoon. In the brushy habitat along the edges of the ponds we found Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, a lovely male Allen’s Hummingbird, an Anna’s Hummingbird, House Finches, and a pair of very territorial California Towhees, the latter of which was a lifer for most. Up in the air we scanned through a number of Turkey

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Red-shouldered Hawk. Santa Ana, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Vultures as they teetered back and forth on upward tilted wings. In among the vultures we were rewarded with sightings of Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk and an immature Red-shouldered Hawk, the latter of which lazily circled above us offering up excellent views. Feeling as though we had done very well at San Joaquin we made our way back to the hotel before venturing out for dinner.

August 30 – As we made our way to the coast this morning the skies were overcast due to the marine layer. This was welcome as it kept the temperatures cool for much of the morning. We began in the trendy neighborhood of Laguna Beach with a stop at Heisler Park. We scanned the offshore rocks for shorebirds and found a few Surfbirds and Black Turnstones,

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Willet. Laguna Beach, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth

as well as Willets and a Whimbrel. Out on the rather calm ocean there were quite a number of Black-vented Shearwaters, mostly resting on the water. Heermann’s, Western and California gulls were noted as were a few Brown Pelicans and Brandt’s Cormorants. Our next stop was at Crescent Bay where again we scanned the ocean and the offshore rocks for birds. New for the list was a single Black Oystercatcher resting on the rocks below and a Common Loon flying by over the horizon. The rather attractive flowers here attracted both Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds. We saw an adult and 2 juvenile Northern Mockingbirds here, along with Orange-crowned Warbler, Song Sparrow and two lovely little male Scaly-breasted Munias, a species formerly known as the Nutmeg Mannikin. Over the past few

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Scaly-breasted Munia. Laguna Beach, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

years the munia have become very well established in southern California. By now the marine layer was beginning to burn off and the temperatures were warming up a bit. We picked up lunch and took it with us to the Reef Point Unit of Crystal Cove State Park, where amongst the chaparral habitat we found several sought-after bird species. Upon arrival it seemed very quiet here, but with a bit of patience the birds showed themselves. At least two and possibly three California Gnatcatchers appeared out of nowhere and showed well as they foraged in the scrub in front of us. Next up we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of

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California Gnatcatcher. Laguna Beach, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Wrentits, another target bird at this location. We headed to the van and ate our lunch, but we were interrupted by the appearance of a very bold California Thrasher that charged out of the chaparral and came straight for the van in search of scraps. This seemed like a bit of an easy ‘tick’ for us and it was a lifer for most people present. From Crystal Cove we made our way to Upper Newport Bay where I was a bit unhappy to find the road had been temporarily closed to vehicle traffic. Would this affect our plan to find the newly split Ridgeway’s Rail? Luck was on our side and we did find two rails in the reeds near the edge of the road. Fantastic! Shorebirds were plentiful on the mudflats here and we tallied Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Western and Least

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California Thrasher. Crystal Cove Park, Laguna Beach, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

sandpipers, Black-bellied Plover and Killdeer. Wading birds included Great and Snowy egrets and Great Blue Herons. We were lucky to have good views of a juvenile ‘Belding’s’ Savannah Sparrow before we left as well. To finish off what had already been a spectacular day of birding we returned to San Joaquin Sanctuary for one last look. We took a peek in the little gift shop here and just as some were in the shop buying their souvenirs an immature Swainson’s Hawk sailed overhead. As we strolled down the path towards the ponds we again saw the stunning male Northern Orange Bishop doing his thing. An

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American Avocets. San Joaquin Sanctuary, Irvine, CA. Aug 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

American Kestrel sailed by and perched on top of a tree. Pat was fortunate enough to spot a Greater Roadrunner briefly, and Nimali was also lucky to see a Say’s Phoebe. On one particular shallow pond we had some shorebirds including our first Semipalmated Plovers, several Long-billed Dowitchers and a number of winter plumage American Avocets. An immature Green Heron did a fly by, but unfortunately didn’t perched for better views. It was pretty hot and we were a little exhausted from a long day of birding so we headed back to our hotel and had a little rest before dinner.

August 31 – This morning we battled through the rush hour traffic as we made our way south from Orange County towards San Diego along the I-405. We then turned east and followed Hwy 78 inland towards Escondido where we picked up lunch and grabbed a coffee to go. The coastal marine layer melted away as we entered the mountains near Escondido and the temperatures got progressively warmer throughout the day. Our first birding stop was at the Inaja Memorial Park in Cleveland National Forest. Here we were treated to views of a noisy flock of California Scrub-Jays, a recent split from the Western Scrub-Jay. Also here we had great views of a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker and some people saw Acorn Woodpeckers as well. A little group of Lesser Goldfinches busily fed in the bushes here too.

We then entered the desert wonderland of Anza-Borrego, making our first stop at Tamarisk Grove Campground where we had lunch. After lunch we scurried from shady patch to shady patch and saw a few birds including Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin and a Warbling Vireo. Desert vegetation was impressive here with Ocotillo, Barrel Cactus, Chollo Cactus, Prickly Pear and Creosote dominating the rocky landscape. We then made our way to the visitor’s center which was closed, but we did some birding in the area nonetheless.

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Black-throated Sparrow. Chris Charlesworth.

A tiny little pond with a big palm tree next to it produced some good sightings including Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, Costa’s Hummingbird and White-winged Dove! New for the mammal list here was a Black-tailed Jackrabbit. Before we left the Borrego Springs area we had an ice cream treat and then drove around the Roadrunner Club Resort where we hoped to find roadrunners. Roadrunner luck wasn’t on our side, but we saw other species anyhow; Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Costa’s Hummingbird, Common Raven, Mallard, Cooper’s Hawk, Verdin, Yellow Warbler, and several Common Ground-Doves were tallied. The drive to Brawley took us through some very barren habitat, but once we were alongside the Salton Sea, we saw green irrigated fields full of White-faced Ibis and Cattle Egrets. We checked in to our hotel and later went for a delicious dinner. As we headed for dinner we saw a couple of Lesser Nighthawks sailing overhead. As it turned out we birdwatchers had arrived in Brawley on the opening day of dove hunting season so the town was full of activity, with middle aged men in camouflage all over the place.

September 1 – We left our hotel early this morning and made our way towards the southeast corner of the Salton Sea. Along the way we paused to look at fields teeming with thousands of White-faced Ibis and Cattle Egrets! As we made our way towards the sea we began counting Burrowing Owls and by the end of the day we had tallied 28 of the little

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Burrowing Owl. Salton Sea, California. Sep 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

beauties. They were present in little family groups and in singles all along the dyke alongside the road. Flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds along with a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds were tallied in the fields, and a Western Meadowlark was singing in the distance. At a wetland area near the east shore of the sea we were happy to see an American Bittern flying past, as well as Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great and Snowy egrets and Great Blue Herons. There were Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Least and Western sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets here as well. A Ridgway’s Rail of the ‘Yuma’ race was nice to add here, as was only our second sighting of a Common Gallinule. As we retraced our route we added another iconic bird of the desert, a Greater Roadrunner, as it quickly trotted across an open field towards the cover of the bushes.

Our next stop was at the Red Hill Marina, where because of receding water line we never actually did make it to the shore of the sea. All was not lost however, because we found a

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Lesser Nighthawk. Red Hill Marina. Salton Sea, California. Sep 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

roosting Lesser Nighthawk here in a mesquite tree. In the same tree were a few other migrants including Western Tanager, Yellow Warbler and a resident Verdin. We found a local rarity here as well in the form of an Eastern Kingbird. Our record appears to be one of just a few for the Salton Sea area. It was hanging out on the telephone wires next to a Western Kingbird for comparison. We checked a large wetland area near Red Hill Marina and here we added several birds to the day list including Ruddy Duck, both Western and Clark’s grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Cinnamon Teal and Eared Grebe. Heard but not seen were Ridgway’s Rail,

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Eastern Kingbird. Red Hill Marina, Salton Sea, California. Sep 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Sora and Marsh Wren. Our next stop was at Obsidian Butte, where we finally reached the edge of the Salton Sea. Shorebirds were numerous here and we saw Willet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, Red-necked Phalarope, Least and Western sandpipers and Killdeer. In addition to the shorebirds were flocks of American White and Brown pelicans, the usual herons and egrets and an assortment of gulls which included common species like Ring-billed and California, as well as the sought-after Yellow-footed Gull. We must have seen 15-20 Yellow-footed Gulls today of various ages.

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Yellow-footed Gull. Obsidian Butte. Salton Sea, California. Sep 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Also nice to see here were Laughing Gulls since this is the only location at which this species is regularly seen in California. We scanned through groups of Double-crested Cormorants and were eventually rewarded with the sighting of a single Neotropic Cormorant among them. Feeling as though we had done quite well at the sea we made our way to the Refuge Headquarters where a sprinkler had been left on creating a nice drip for the birds. This drip attracted quite a selection including Yellow, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned and Nashville warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles, House Sparrow, Verdin, Lazuli Bunting, Abert’s Towhee and a single Green-tailed Towhee, the latter of which is not expected here. Numbers of Common

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Greater Roadrunner. Salton Sea, CA. Sep 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Ground-Doves foraged on the grass here, and a Greater Roadrunner also made a surprise appearance! By now the temperatures had reached over 40 degrees Celsius so we made our way back to Brawley where we grabbed some lunch and then enjoyed a little siesta.

At 4:30 PM we gathered once again and made our way to Cattle Call Park in Brawley. Here, we spent over an hour doing some leisurely birding during which time we found several interesting species such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, MacGillivray’s Warbler and our real target for this location, Gila Woodpeckers. We had at least three Gilas here, including a male. At the end of the day we had seen over 80 species of birds.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

Birding the Central Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Aug 1, 2016

Birders,

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.

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Red-necked Phalarope. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Aug 1, 2016.

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.

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Stilt Sandpiper. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Aug 1, 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

South Okanagan Birding, July 27, 2016

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

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Western Screech-Owl. Okanagan Valley, BC. July 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

, 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-

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Northern Harrier juvenile. Venner Meadows, BC. July 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

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.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

Okanagan Valley Day Tour, July 21 & 22

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

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Turkey Vulture. Photo by Mike Jackson. July 2016.

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,

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Greater Yellowlegs. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. July 2016. Photo by: Mike Jackson.

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!

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Virginia Rail. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. July 2016. Photo by: Mike Jackson.

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

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Pygmy Nuthatch. Peachland, BC. July 2016. Mike Jackson.

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

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Canyon Wren. Vaseux Lake, BC. July 2016. Photo: Mike Jackson.

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

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Eastern Kingbirds about to leave the nest at Vaseux Lake, BC. July 2016. Photo: Mike Jackson.

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.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours