The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) pre-conference tour from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley was attended by 9 people, and two guides. We split up into two groups, one led by myself and three scientists from Beijing, China, and the other with Dick Cannings as guide and 6 folks from various places. Dick’s write-up will follow this one, so be sure to read both to find out how many species each group saw.
August 17 – I met the three clients in West Vancouver, bright and early on August 17 at 6 AM. We drove east through the Fraser Valley, spotting our first species, Northwestern Crows, alongside the Trans-Canada Hwy. Smoke from widespread forest fires would accompany us for most of our tour unfortunately, and we could see the forest above Hope burning in the high country. After a short stop in Hope to pick up lunch, we headed to Sumallo Grove in Manning Park. Amongst the towering hemlock, cedar and fir trees we saw a few birds of interest including Yellow Warbler, Pacific Wren, Song Sparrow and some lovely Golden-crowned Kinglets. I spotted an American Dipper, but it flew away just as I pointed it out to the others.
Next, we explored the Alpine Meadows Road, climbing up to nearly 2000 meters elevation at the top. A few stops along the way up the road produced Mountain
Chickadees, Canada Jays, Steller’s Jays, Common Raven and Yellow-rumped Warblers to name a few species. At the top parking lot we were treated to up close views of a male Sooty Grouse as he fed amongst the grasses. On a short walk up to the radio tower I heard the wheezy calls of Boreal Chickadee, but the birds would not appear for us. Another leader only bird, a Black Swift sailed overhead, but disappeared behind the trees before the pax could see it. We did enjoy several comical Columbian Ground-Squirrels as they called loudly in protest of our presence. Down at the viewpoint we had several Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels as well, and our first Yellow Pine Chipmunk.
A walk at ‘the Beaver Pond’ was quite nice, though birds were somewhat quiet. We did have good looks at a female type Barrow’s Goldeneye that was actively feeding in the water. A Merlin sailed by and landed on a distant snag, thanks to Dick Cannings for point it out to us.
The skies turned a dark red as we approached Keremeos, where even more large fires were burning in the mountaintops. A roadside stop was very productive, adding our first of many Ospreys of the tour, and our only adult Bald Eagle of the trip. The Ospreys, included a juvenile on a nest, which was joined by and adult. For Lei, this bird was very special as it was one she had always wanted to see.
At Nighthawk Road, we found a nice little group of migrant sparrows that included Chipping, Brewer’s, Vesper and Lark sparrows. We flushed a group of nearly 20 Gray Partridge from the roadside weeds at one point as well. Nearby, we stopped to check out Frank Lake, and were rewarded with quite a few new species such as Great Blue Heron, American Coot, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and a number of Pied-billed Grebes. We checked into our hotel in Osoyoos and then went out for a delicious evening meal at a nearby Italian restaurant.
August 18 – Taking advantage of early morning bird activity, we met at 6 AM and went out for a couple of hours before we had breakfast. We explored the Road 22 area, which was very ‘birdy’ this morning. Raptors were a main highlight however, and we saw an adult Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, a couple of immature Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and many Ospreys. Western Wood-Pewees were flycatching from a fence line and were briefly joined by one or two Willow Flycatchers. Our first Red-winged Blackbirds posed nicely and we found two juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds being fed by a relatively small female Common Yellowthroat. Our first groups of California Quail caused excitement amongst the people in my vehicle, as it was the first time they had
ever seen these comical and attractive game birds. In a muddy patch in a distance field we scoped some shorebirds that included both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Killdeer and a number of unidentified ‘peeps’. A Solitary Sandpiper flew over and called, showing us its distinctive tail pattern. Weedy patches were full of American Goldfinches, some House Finches, some Savannah Sparrows and overhead, I spotted a leader only Bobolink. Overhead, a couple of small groups of Northern Pintail flew by, adding another tick to our day list. One of the highlights this morning was a Belted Kingfisher that sat on a fence very close to us, allowing incredible views. We headed back into Osoyoos, but not before a short stop at another muddy patch at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. Dick had spotted a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher here, locally quite rare, and we were quite happy to find it was still there when we arrived. The Short-billed was next to an adult Long-billed Dowitcher, and also nearby were over half a dozen Wilson’s Snipe, a Lesser Yellowlegs and Killdeer. As we drove across the bridge on Hwy 3 in Osoyoos we saw an attractive adult Red-necked Grebe, and Qingshan said that the stripy headed juveniles were even more attractive.
After breakfast we traveled east of Osoyoos, to Anarchist Mountain. In a grassland area we saw our first Swainson’s Hawks, three of them. A group of noisy Steller’s Jays caught my attention as we hiked through a nice patch of mixed forest on Anarchist Mountain. Their raucous calls led me right to a roosting Great Horned Owl. Upon spotting me, the owl flew a short distance and was joined by a second bird. ‘It’s always a good day when
you see an owl’, I commented. Other species seen on our walk included White-breasted and Red-breasted nuthatches, House Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Clark’s Nutcracker, Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture. An American Red Squirrel, which was at least partially seen by the participants, was our only for the weekend.
Back down in the valley, upon request, we headed for a winery for lunch, visiting the idyllic location of Covert Farms near Oliver. We enjoyed lunch and a sip of wine before heading back out into the field. Around the winery we saw Western Bluebirds, Western Tanager, American Robins, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Brewer’s Blackbirds and more. Carrying on, we explored White Lake, where a few shorebirds were foraging along the muddy fringe of the lake. There were Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe and Killdeer here, as well as two Red-necked Phalaropes out on the water. Ducks included all three local species of teal (Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon), as well as Gadwall and Mallard. Near White Lk, we scoped a pair of re-introduced Burrowing Owls near the burrow. At Three Gates Farm we had a quick visit, spotting our first Pine Siskin and Spotted Towhee of the tour.
Before returning to Osoyoos, we headed up Irrigation Creek Road, near Vaseux Lake. In a
patch of elderberries along a little stream, we counted close to 15 Lewis’s Woodpeckers. A Hairy Woodpecker was here as well, but it was not see by the others unfortunately. A Canyon Wren emerged from the cliff and called for several minutes while we watched through the scope. Our first Pygmy Nuthatch sat on a pine snag for scope views, our third and all three species of nuthatch in Canada seen in one day. As we drove down by the cliffs, a flock of 75 Black-billed Magpies crossed the road. Say’s Phoebe sat on a fence post here as well.
Back in Osoyoos we had dinner before heading out to search for nocturnal birds in the Richter Pass area. It was not our night, however, and we heard no owls and saw no poorwills. We did see some very small bats feeding over a calm pond however, which was interesting.
August 20 – Before leaving Osoyoos, we were sure to see some of the common urban birds, such as House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Ring-billed Gull and California Gull, boosting up our trip list. Back at the north end of Osoyoos Lake, we caught up with a couple more species this morning, such as a Virginia Rail and a Sora, both seen quite well. Also found was a Northern Waterthrush, a Lazuli Bunting and a leader only Marsh Wren. The birding on Old Richter Pass Road was very good this morning as we encountered a couple of large mixed migrant flocks. We had done poorly on warblers up until this point, but here we added Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Nashville and a leader only MacGillivray’s Warbler to the list. A nice bright Cassin’s Vireo came in to investigate us along with some shy Gray Catbirds, several Black-headed Grosbeaks and colorful Western Tanagers. A male Downy Woodpecker appeared on the scene, again another treat for my clients who were fond of woodpeckers. Mule Deer came out of the woods to check us out, and having seen White-tailed Deer earlier in the trip, made or a nice comparison. Farther down the road in an open area there were dozens of American Goldfinches. Mixed in were also Savannah Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch and more. A Red-naped Sapsucker sat on a post long enough for good scope views. We also saw several Northern Flickers, including a male integrade ‘Red-shafted / Yellow-shafted’ bird. On the wires were dozens of Violet-green Swallows, providing us the first good views of this species for the trip. An immature Cooper’s Hawk ripped through the flock, but seemed to miss its intended catch. Along Kruger Mountain Road we were excited to find two of the continuing Lesser Goldfinches in the area. There was a male and a female bird here, next to a small vineyard. Also noted were Red Crossbill, Western Tanager, and our first Cedar Waxwings. After we narrowly missed being eaten by two giant growling Rottweilers, we headed over to a friend’s house to search for hummingbirds. We were not disappointed as we saw an immature male Anna’s Hummingbird, a Calliope Hummingbird and a Rufous Hummingbird here.
As the morning was now getting on, it was time for us to begin traveling. On the way to Princeton, I came to a fast stop when I saw two Pileated Woodpeckers on a roadside telephone pole. By the time I backed up, the birds were unfortunately gone. We had lunch in Princeton and returned to Vancouver, adding a Glaucous-winged Gull as the final species on our tour. I really enjoyed birding with Yiqi, Lei and Qingshan, and hope to make their acquaintance again someday! Our final species total was 115 for the group plus 17 species seen or heard by the leader only.
Our trip list:
Hooded Merganser (leader only)
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Common Nighthawk (leader only)
Black Swift (leader only)
Hairy Woodpecker (leader only)
Pileated Woodpecker (leader only)
Hammond’s Flycatcher (leader only)
Warbling Vireo (leader only)
Tree Swallow (leader only)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow (leader only)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (leader only)
Boreal Chickadee (leader only)
Brown Creeper (leader only)
Marsh Wren (leader only)
American Dipper (leader only)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (leader only)
Swainson’s Thrush (leader only)
MacGillivray’s Warbler (leader only)
Townsend’s Warbler (leader only)
Dark-eyed Junco (leader only)
Bobolink (leader only)
132 species, counting leader only. 115 species for group.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours