9 June – We began on the Charlie Lake beach at Beatton Provincial Park where we spotted a small white tern flying quite buoyantly over the choppy lake. The leaders scrutinized it, deciding it was a first spring Arctic Tern, a not unexpected but still excellent record for the Peace in spring. The woods were full of breeding birds including Least Flycatchers, American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, a Western Wood-Pewee, a Northern Waterthrush, an Ovenbird, Black-and-White Warblers, Swainson’s Thrushes, a Blue-headed Vireo and an American Three-toed Woodpecker that drummed but wouldn’t show himself. A Boreal Chickadee put in a close but very brief appearance.
The south end of Charlie Lake supplied us with a Common Goldeneye female, Common Grackles, and a Sora, as well as a winnowing Wilson’s Snipe.
For lunch we stopped at Kiskatinaw Provincial Park about half way to Dawson Creek on an old section of the Alaska Highway. It’s locally known for the tall, curved wooded bridge that spans the river. On the approach from the north we saw one Townsend’s Solitaire, an uncommon straggler from the Rockies, foraging in roadside shrubs and grasses. Later at the foot of the bridge we saw a pair of solitaires which suggests the possibility that they were breeding nearby. Another good bird in the area was a Blue Jay that gave us all close views.
McQueens Slough just north of Dawson Creek is a gem of a prairie slough preserved through the efforts of the Nature Trust and other conservation organizations. This afternoon we checked the middle section of the slough’s paths, finding Eared, Horned and Pied-billed grebes (these last calling unseen), a few adult male Barrow’s Goldeneyes (the Peace appears to be one of the few areas in North America where males congregate after the pair bond breaks down), Gadwalls, Blue-winged Teals, Lesser Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, a hen Common Goldeneye, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, a single Bufflehead, American Coots, Canada Geese, Marsh Wrens, and our first Alder Flycatcher. Of note was a male Red-winged Blackbird singing a song completely unlike anything any of us had heard before: a loud fast trill – “breep” – with a slightly froglike quality to it. THE bird of our outing to McQueen’s Slough was a Virginia Rail, one of only a few records for the Peace River. This bird was not shy in approaching us. At the end of the trip this feisty little bird was cited by several participants as their favourite bird of the tour..
10 June – Today was the wettest early morning with showers turning Brassey Creek Road and Puggins Road southwest of Dawson Creek into muddy messes. At times we felt like we were walking on wet pancake mix. However, the birds didn’t mind the rain. We found Alder Flycatcher, American Restarts, Swainson’s Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Mourning Warbler, a Black-and-White Warbler, and a Magnolia Warbler without too much trouble. On Puggins Road we located a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, one of the last migrants to arrive in Canada and one of the first to leave its breeding grounds, a fairly obscure and under-appreciated bird. On our way back along Brassey Creek we stopped at a stand of young aspens and immediately heard the loud, rapid “chippy-chuppy” song of a Connecticut Warbler and spotted it perched just below the aspen canopy, staying still for several minutes so that all participants were able to get good scope views. The Connecticut is one of the most difficult of the American Wood Warblers for birders to add to their lists, since it is a late spring migrant, breeds in fairly remote locations almost exclusively in Canada (some in Minnesota and Michigan) and is very secretive on its fall migration.
After lunch in Tumbler Ridge we visited Bullmoose Marsh, a gem of a spot north of town. This proved to be one of the most favourite of locations among the birders, especially Bob and Kathy Loomis. Not only were we able to spot a male Rusty Blackbird and a singing Blackpoll Warbler, as well as a Solitary Sandpiper, an Olive-sided Flycatcher and Cliff Swallows, but 2-3 Black Swifts zoomed overhead. The Black Swift is very rare and local in the Peace River area so this sighting was significant. Rounding out our marsh experience were sightings of both Canadian Tiger and Anise Swallowtail butterflies on some damp earth, as well as a mother moose with her calf. Butterfly identification was confirmed by Val George.
11 June – Today was very special with the tour taking Perry Creek Road off Wolverine Forest Service Road to the base of Mount Spieker where Russell led the participants up a steep climb to an alpine ridge. Mike Woodworth proved to be invaluable at spotting not only the tour’s only Willow Ptarmigan but also locating three White-tailed Ptarmigans. Down at the vehicles sparrows included Chipping, Fox (of the Slate-colored race), Golden-crowned, White-throated, White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows, while feeding on the minerals found in the road’s surface were Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbills, and one Purple Finch. Retired vet Suann Hosie judged the resident Hoary Marmot which climbed up into the undercarriage of the Nissan van to be suffering from a vitamin deficiency which caused the poor animal to act very strangely and to crave certain odd substances like mud, the salt extruding from concrete blocks and possibly our brake linings. The critter was only dissuaded from devouring the van when I drove the vehicle back and forth and honked the horn.
After lunch in Tumbler Ridge we visited Quality Falls, hiking through a forest of White Spruce and Lodgepole Pine. Calypso orchids were fairly common growing from the mossy forest floor. Two American Three-toed Woodpeckers were scaling bark from the conifers. Other birds included a Gray Jay, a Swainson’s Thrush, a Western Wood-Pewee, a Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet , a Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Varied Thrushes. The hike to the falls, which Heather Meier re-named “Pretty Good Falls”, provided Jean Dunn and Patricia Mitchell, friends from Calgary, as well as all the other people who had successfully hiked to the alpine, with an opportunity to loosen up tightening leg muscles.