Wild West Birding in Arizona – Part 1

After a successful tour in Texas, I flew from Houston to Phoenix on April 20. I think the pilot of the United Airlines flight was either in training or completing his first official landing as it was one of the roughest landings I’ve had in my life. For the next two days as I awaited the arrival of my next group, I lived the hard life, mostly relaxing by the pool in the 30+ degree Celsius weather.

The group arrived from London-Heathrow at around 5 PM on April 22, and I whisked them off the hotel so they could get to bed. It was 4 in the morning U.K. time so they were rightfully tired.

The next morning we left Phoenix and headed slightly east to Gilbert where we spent a couple of hours at the Riparian Preserve at the Water Ranch. Birding here was great as usual, and being that we are a couple of weeks earlier than in previous years, the shorebird migration was in full swing. One doesn’t normally associate shorebirds with Arizona, but at a couple of places the shorebirds, or waders, as the ‘Brits’ call them, were numerous. The pools at Gilbert were alive with over a hundred lovely breeding plumage Long-billed Dowitchers, as well as dozens of Least Sandpipers, some Western Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilts and lovely American Avocets. Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Neotropic Cormorant and a few ducks were also added to the trip list.

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Over a hundred Long-billed Dowitchers were at Gilbert Water Ranch today, April 23, 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

The mesquite trees and Palo Verde trees ringing the ponds had some migrant activity with Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Gray warblers, White-crowned Sparrows and a single White-throated Sparrow pointed out by a local birder. The White-throated Sparrow has apparently spent the winter at this location, and is otherwise a rare winter visitor. In the Saguaro Cactus were nesting Gila Woodpeckers, while Curve-billed Thrasher, Abert’s Towhee and Verdin were tallied as well. First mammals of the trip came in the form of several Desert Cottontails hopping about.

We had a long travel day today as we made our way from Phoenix to Portal, via Interstate 10. We paused in Tucson for some lunch, then  carried on to the town of Willcox with its famous sewage pond. I-10 is obviously not the road to speed on, as I counted 20 people pulled over by the cops between Phoenix and the New Mexico border. At Willcox the lake was covered in birds, again with many Long-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpipers and a big hit with the ‘Brits’, about 100 Wilson’s Phalaropes. Side by side we had two Greater and two Lesser yellowlegs, excellent for comparison.

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American Avocets showed off nicely at Willcox Lake, Arizona. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth

A lone adult White-faced Ibis was a good ‘tick’ for the trip list, and in the waterfowl department we had Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Ruddy Duck, Mallard and Northern Shoveler. Several Horned Larks showed off nicely around the lake. Overhead a Swainson’s Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon competed for our attention, while the shorebirds scattered each time the Peregrine flew by. Say’s Phoebe, Western Kingbird and Barn Swallows by the dozen were in attendance as well. I had to angle the van just right at Willcox because the wind was so strong we had to use the vehicle as a windbreak so the scopes didn’t fly away.

On the way to Portal we saw several Chihuahuan Ravens, one of which showed off its white neck feathers nicely. When I was a kid, the field guides called this species the White-necked Raven, and it was obvious why when we saw this bird with his neck feathers ruffled by the wind. This evening, after dinner we strolled the lone street in Portal, tracking down the soft call of an Elf Owl. We had great views of this, North America’s tiniest owl, sitting in a giant sycamore tree. A great finish to our first day.

April 24 – Our day began at 6 AM as we made our way out to Cave Creek Canyon. It was chilly early in the morning down in the depths of the shady canyon. We decided it was 5 degrees Celsius at most. Birding was a little slow, but we picked up some goodies nonetheless. A pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers squabbled in the mixed oak / pine forest, while a Hermit Thrush sat obligingly for all to see through the scope. A Northern Flicker wailed away from the top of a snag, while little groups of Mexican Jays crossed the road periodically. Now and then a little mixed flock of migrants would move through, and we picked up Black-throated Gray, Yellow-rumped, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned, and a lovely Virginia’s Warbler. Add to the mix Bridled Titmouse, Bushtit and Bewick’s Wren and we had ourselves a pretty decent morning. One fellow, Tony, really expressed he wanted to see American Robin and he was rather ecstatic when he finally saw one. Funny which birds people from overseas really want to see. Best bird of the morning though were two Montezuma Quail, male and female, that crossed the road right in front of us!  On our way back to Portal, a Collared Peccary slowly ambled across the road in front of us!

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Chiricahua Mountain scenery. AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After breakfast we made our way up into the Chiricahua Mountains, stopping first at the Paradise Cemetery. It was getting warm and things were a little quiet here, but we still added a nice Gray Flycatcher here, as well as Black-throated Sparrows.

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Black-throated Sparrow, Portal, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Up at Rustler Park the birding was sensational. Just as we arrived several Hairy Woodpeckers and a female Williamson’s Sapsucker appeared, though the sapsucker didn’t hang around long enough for most of the group to see. There were Grace’s and Olive warblers dancing about in the pines, along with Pygmy Nuthatches, Brown Creepers and numbers of Yellow-eyed Juncos. Steller’s Jays were a bit hit with the crew. I tracked down a calling Northern Pygmy-Owl and we enjoyed extensive scope views of it, while Mexican Chickadees mobbed it.

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Numerous wildflowers seen in the mountains today, with these lovely flowering Pincushion Cactus perhaps the star attraction. Chiricahua Mountains, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth

We bumped our way back down to Portal and spent a couple of hours exploring the one main street in town. We saw a surprising number of birds, including such gems as Pyrrhuloxia, Acorn Woodpecker, Green-tailed Towhee, Lazuli Bunting and Band-tailed Pigeons. We watched hummingbird feeders where Blue-throated, Magnificent, Black-chinned and Broad-billed hummers competed for top spot. At the seed feeders were White-crowned and a single somewhat lost White-throated Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal and Inca Dove. At the drip we had great looks at a male Townsend’s Warbler. A group of Western Scrub-Jays passed through the sycamores, pausing briefly to scold a roosting Great Horned Owl, one of 5 owl species we had today!

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Great Horned Owl, one of 5 owl species we had around Portal, AZ today. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth

After dinner we went back out to an area 5 minutes from Portal where we heard a Western Screech-Owl and had crippling views of a Whiskered Screech-Owl. Elf Owls were calling as well. A fine end to a great day.

Chris Charlesworth

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Texas Birding Bonanza – Part 3

April 16 – It was another rather chilly morning as we left the town of Winnie and made our way east towards the Louisiana border. We paused first, however, amongst the cypress swamps of Taylor Bayou where the birding was sensational. We had stunning views of up to 3 Prothonotary Warblers, as well as lovely views of our first Yellow-throated Warbler of the tour. Several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons hid amongst the ‘fuzzy’ cypress boughs, and we finally nailed down a Red-headed Woodpecker here. A Barred Owl called beside the road and with a little looking we spotted him sitting in the open, ready for scope views. To top it all off, a Red-shouldered Hawk soared leisurely overhead, a Fish Crow called as we watched through the scope, and a trio of American Pipits walked along a gravel driveway.

Continuing east, we spent a couple of hours exploring the marshes of Texas Point, with the state of Louisiana visible in the distance. Seaside Sparrows sang from the marsh, and eventually popped up right in front of us for excellent views. Swamp and Lincoln’s sparrows were also nice additions to the trip list. Other migrants in the tamarisks along the road included Rose-breasted and Blue grosbeaks and Orchard Oriole. Shorebirds put on a nice show with up to half a dozen Wilson’s Plovers running about. Three American Oystercatchers passed by, another tick  off the list. A Clapper Rail dashed in front of the van, and a Sora flew parallel to us for a second or two. All in all, a good visit to Texas Point.

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Several Wilson’s Plovers entertained us at Texas Point today. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After lunch in Sabine Pass, we made our way to Sabine Woods where we encountered some of the best passerine migration yet of the tour. Most common were thrushes with about 15 Wood Thrushes and half a dozen Swainson’s Thrushes seen hopping around on the ground. The odd Brown Thrasher was mixed in as well. The trees were alive with warblers including Blue-winged, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, Palm, Black-and-white and Hooded. It was strange to see many Common Yellowthroats foraging 20 feet up in the tall oak trees. Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart were also all seen well. A Common Nighthawk was seen roosting on a horizontal branch over a slimy green pond. Red-eyed, Yellow-throated and Warbling vireos all showed off nicely for us. It was hard to pull ourselves away from Sabine Woods, but we all left happy with big smiles on our faces.

April 17 – So far, myself and 8 Limosa customers have had an excellent time birding the Upper Texas Coast, despite the less than desirable weather we have encountered. Our trip list is up to about 180 species for 5 days, not too shabby, if you ask me.

This morning we returned to Anahuac NWR, birding the flooded fields along FM Rd 1985 along the way. The big highlight was a male Hudsonian Godwit in one of the flooded fields, but runner up was seeing several Upland Sandpipers very well. Along the fenceline that parallels the road we picked up a few more goodies, such as Dickcissel, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike and loads of Savannah Sparrows.

As soon as we got to Anahuac thunder began to boom overhead and we got stuck in another rainstorm. Luckily we were able to see a few birds before the rain started, such as Least Bittern, American Bittern, Marsh Wren, Purple Gallinule and Swamp Sparrow to name just a few. The rain really only lasted about 20 minutes, so it wasn’t that serious. We had lunch at Skillern Tract while listening to King Rails call. Soras came right out in the open as they fed along the edge of the marsh. We had an exceptional view of a Least Bittern here at Skillern, the bird seemingly unaware of our presence.

At High Island, an hours walk through Boy Scout Woods produced very little, but we did get treated to side by side views of Louisiana and Northern waterthrushes, excellent for comparison. When you see these two together, there’s really no problem telling them apart.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks love to eat Mulberries at High Island, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks love to eat Mulberries at High Island, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth

Smith Oaks, on the other hand was hopping with activity. When we arrived it was quiet, but then a sudden wave of birds drifted through the treetops and continued for about 45 minutes. There were dozens of Orchard Orioles, with Summer and Scarlet tanagers mixed in. Warbler flocks included Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Blue-winged and Northern Parula. Non warbler passerines included Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-eyed, White-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Painted Bunting and more. As fast as the migrant wave arrived, it was gone, but we were pretty happy to have witnessed the event ourselves.

April 18 – With favorable weather this morning, we returned to the Bolivar Peninsula, beginning with Rollover Pass. Birding here was sensational with flocks of gulls, terns, skimmers, shorebirds, herons and egrets present. Perhaps the best of all was a pair of Red Knot coming into breeding plumage. When I began visiting the Texas Coast about 15 years ago, Red Knots could be found in numbers along the Bolivar Peninsula, however, the North American Atlantic population of knots has been severely declining and nowadays we’re lucky to see any.

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Two Red Knot at Rollover Pass, Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

As we carried on towards Bolivar Flats, we stopped to watch two White-tailed Kites hover above a brushy field, new for our trip list. Along the entrance road to the flats we were very lucky to catch a glimpse of a Sedge Wren in the dry marsh. Also here, two Horned Larks showed off nicely, while a pair of Peregrine Falcons chased one another overhead. Shorebird numbers were excellent at Bolivar Flats with Western Sandpiper and Snowy Plover new for our lists. We tallied up to 15 Piping Plovers this morning, a respectable total for this endangered species. I was relieved to see two Reddish Egrets, one of which was performing its drunken sailor dance across the flats. I thought we had missed this bird, and a few of the tour participants had expressed they really wanted to see one.

After lunch we headed back to High Island, where we spent a couple hours wandering around Smith Oaks. There were a few migrants about, mostly Orchard Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers. In the warbler department, we had great views of a male Blackburnian Warbler down nice and low in front of us, as well as Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Hooded, Orange-crowned, Tennessee, and Prothonotary warblers, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula. Todays species list tallied around 100, so we will not complain!

Assorted terns, gulls and Black Skimmers at Rollover Pass, Texas. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Assorted terns, gulls and Black Skimmers at Rollover Pass, Texas. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

April 19 – The final morning of our tour of the Texas Coast! We headed to Sabine Woods, along the Louisiana border for about 2.5 hours of birding before I had to get the crew of 8 ‘Brits’ back to the airport in Houston for their late afternoon flight. The woods were hopping with activity today and we were able to snag 11 species of warblers including a skulky male Kentucky Warbler and a very showy female Cerulean Warbler. Also new for our list was a Blue-headed Vireo and a pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. These woodpeckers are normally a Rio Grande specialty, rarely reaching anywhere near the TX / LA border, but this particular pair has been present for a couple of years now. The trees were alive with Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Orchard Orioles, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and more. The ground was hopping with thrushes, mostly Wood and Swainson’s, but we did see 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes very well. Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers were common today.

After I dropped everyone off at the airport I returned my rental van, making a little side trip to a neighborhood in S.E. Houston where Monk Parakeets are found. After a little searching I found two of these little green and gray parakeets at a bird feeder, only the second time I’ve seen them in my life.

Our official trip total was 200 species!

Chris Charlesworth

Texas Birding Bonanza – Part 2, The Cold Front

Our second full day of birding on the Upper Texas Coast began cloudy, warm and humid. We left our hotel near the Houston Airport at 7 AM and drove to Winnie, which took about 1.5 hours. We then made our way towards the world-famous Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, though it took us a long time to get there due to several excellent flooded rice fields along the access road to the refuge. Shorebird numbers were pretty staggering. There were hundreds of Whimbrel, Willets and Lesser Yellowlegs wading in the fields. Mixed in were more goodies like American Golden Plover, Stilt Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Black-necked Stilts to name a few. Several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were crowd pleasers as they sallied out for insects from powerlines along the road. Loggerhead Shrike, Swainson’s Hawk and our first Eastern Kingbirds were added to the trip tally.

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Black-necked Stilt, one of many shorebird species seen today at Anahuac NWR, Texas. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

At Skillern Tract we were treated to a real ‘rail show’ when a very obliging King Rail wandered out in front of us, followed by a Virginia Rail and a Sora! The wetland here also produced Purple and Common gallinules, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. One of my ‘crew’ photographed a gorgeous Yellow-bellied Water Snake as it crossed the path in front of him. The rest of us missed seeing the snake, but we were happy enough to see an American Alligator swimming across a waterway.

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Sora at Anahuac NWR, Texas. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

We made our way to the Anahuac NWR visitor center and we just arrived in time. The clouds rolled in, dark and gray, and thunder could be heard in the distance. We took refuge in the bran spanking new center while the rain just chucked down outside for an hour or so. When we braved the elements and went outdoors the temperature had dropped an astonishing 10 degrees celsius over the course of the hour and a howling north wind made it feel even colder. The rest of the afternoon was spent birding from inside the van as we drove around Shoveler Pond at Anahuac. Through the water covered windows we could make out Roseate Spoonbills, White-faced Ibis, Neotropic Cormorants, Tricolored Heron, Forster’s and Caspian terns, and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, amongst others. A Least Bittern flew by the van at eye level which was a welcome surprise.

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Pied-billed Grebe in the pouring rain at Anahuac NWR, Texas. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

When an April cold front blows across the Texas Coast the birders begin to twitch and shuffle with excitement of the possibility of a fallout. We will keep our fingers crossed that tomorrow will produce some epic birdwatching at High Island!

April 15 – Alas, the cold front did not produce a mega fallout today. Apparently, the cold front extended into southern Mexico and basically no birds lifted off from the Yucatan yesterday. That said, we still had a good day. When we emerged from our hotel the temperature was a bone chilling 3 degrees celsius! The wind blew for most of the day from the north, making it quite a chilly experience. At High Island’s Boy Scout Woods we started off with a bang, a male Golden-winged Warbler flitted about right near the park entrance. Along the trails we picked up other migrants such as a stunning male Hooded Warbler, some Tennessee Warblers, a Blue-winged Warbler and Northern Parula. Non-warbler migrants included Baltimore and Orchard orioles, Swainson’s Thrush, Brown Thrasher and Indigo Bunting.

Next, we moved on to the Bolivar Peninsula. The wind hampered with us here too, not allowing us to use our scopes. The strong wind basically blew all the water from Rollover Pass off into the bay, and simulated a mega-low tide, making the birds way too far away to see. Still, we picked up some shorebirds at Rollover, such as Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher and Sanderling. Several tern species, including Royal, Least, Forster’s and Sandwich sailed by,  as did Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls.

Long-billed Curlew. Several seen at Yacht Basin Rd on Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Along Yacht Basin Rd we had several very confiding Long-billed Curlews in amongst the marsh. A distant Wilson’s Plover was seen through the shaky scope, and a Least Sandpiper paused briefly. Best bird here though was a Clapper Rail wandering around in a watery channel about 15 feet in front of us….and where was my camera? In the van.

After a coffee stop to warm ourselves up, we carried on to Bolivar Flats. Most of the birding had to be done from inside the van here, because otherwise we would have been ‘sandblasted’. We did get out however, to put a lovely Piping Plover in the scope. Also along the Bolivar Peninsula today we had Crested Caracara and Peregrine Falcon.

To finish off the day we spent a couple of lovely hours at High Island’s Smith Oaks, where the breeze died down a bit and we found ourselves shedding layers. The birds were quite good here, with the highlight being a gorgeous male Painted Bunting feeding on some mulberries. A dozen or so Rose-breasted Grosbeaks paid the mulberries a visit as well, and we had great views of a couple of Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Wood Thrush sang from the understory but remained hidden, and although we could hear warblers chipping away in the trees, the only new one we saw was a female Black-and-white Warbler. Since the passerine migration was a bit slow, I took the group to the heronry, which is always a big hit, especially with any photographers in the group. We watched, at close range, nesting Great and Snowy egrets, Tricolored Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and Neotropic Cormorants. Even though there was no fallout, we had a great day of birding.

Roseate Spoonbills. Heronry at High Island, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.
Roseate Spoonbills. Heronry at High Island, TX. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Chris Charlesworth

 

Texas Birding Bonanza – Part 1

As many of you know, Avocet Tours works in conjunction with British based Limosa Holidays. Basically Limosa rounds up the people, almost always from the U.K., and sends them over to North America, where I meet them and give them a great birding experience. April 11, I left home in Kelowna, BC, and made my way to Houston, Texas, via Calgary. It was quite a bumpy flight, with plenty of turbulence over the foothills in Alberta. Before the plane came to a stop in Houston, I saw a lovely Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sail by my tiny window.

I spent the morning of April 12, doing some scouting at Jesse Jones Nature Park, a lovely forested patch of land in suburban Houston, not far from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The mixed forest here has many different species of deciduous hardwood trees as well as Loblolly and Shortleaf pines. I racked up about 30 species as I strolled the trails, perhaps the best of which was a pair of Prothonotary Warblers.

Female Prothonotary Warbler at Jesse Jones Nature Park in Houston. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth
Female Prothonotary Warbler at Jesse Jones Nature Park in Houston. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth

Other birds I heard and or saw included White-eyed, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed vireos, Northern Parula, Pine Warbler, Red-headed and Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawk, Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Wren to name a few.

My group of 8 arrived at 2:30 PM on a British Airways flight from London, but it took until 4 PM for everybody to clear customs and gather their luggage. First birds of the tour as we made the short transfer to the hotel included Barn Swallow and Rock Pigeon. I had to remind the ‘Brits’ to contain their excitement. We had a look at the little pond behind our hotel and were quite surprised to find a nice variety of shorebirds. There were several each of Lesser and Greater yellowlegs as well as a couple of Solitary Sandpipers and a Killdeer. Also wading along the waters’ edge was a Snowy Egret and a Green Heron.

Our first full day of birding, April 13, was spectacular. Overcast skies and forecast thunderstorms threatened to be a problem, but the worst we encountered was a light drizzle for about 20 minutes. W.G. Jones State Forest, about 30 minutes north of Houston is where we began our birding. The forest here is managed directly for one of the USA’s endemic species (endemic meaning a species found only in one country in the world), the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. These rather quiet and shy woodpeckers depend on forest fire to renew their habitat, so the understory is burned off annually. The species is colonial and nest trees are marked with white or green bands. Unlike other woodpeckers, Red-cockadeds don’t make much noise, and they don’t do much drumming, so finding them can be a challenge. We were lucky today and had fantastic views of 4 or so. Still, in all the times I’ve seen this species, I’ve never actually seen the namesake ‘red cockades’. Other woodpeckers put on a nice show here as well, with nice sightings of Pileated, Red-bellied and Downy woodpeckers. The other real ‘target bird’ of the piney-woods is the Brown-headed Nuthatch. These slightly larger look-a-likes of Pygmy Nuthatches, have a distinctive rubber ducky squeaky call note. We did eventually get very nice looks at them as they dangled amongst the pine cones. Eastern Bluebirds are doing well here also, most likely due to the great number of bluebird boxes scattered throughout the forest. We watched Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow and Ruby-throated Hummingbird come in to feeders. Summer Tanagers were fantastic to see, as usual, glowing brilliant red against the sombre gray sky.

After lunch at…..guess where?? Subway, we visited Jesse Jones Nature Park. Again, we were treated to fantastic scope views of a male Pileated Woodpecker. We tried to turn every Red-bellied Woodpecker we saw into a Red-headed, but no luck today. We did see Pine Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Broad-winged Hawk and several other species here. Along the Cypress Boardwalk a Prothonotary Warbler gave us a frustratingly fast, but good view. A male Northern Parula sang right out in the open for us. Around the visitors center at feeders were Chipping Sparrow, House Finch, Blue Jay and several Eastern Gray Squirrels. I didn’t snap a single picture today unfortunately….will try to get some tomorrow though.

Chris Charlesworth

Avocet Tours ‘Okanagan Spring Birding’ April 4-6, 2014

At 8 AM on Friday, April 4, I met 11 birders at the Parkinson’s Rec Center in Kelowna and we were all ready for 3 days of birding in the South Okanagan.  The weather was lovely this morning with mixed sun and cloud and fairly warm temperatures. Our first stop was at Hardy Falls near Peachland, where we met up with Patricia and Jean from Calgary who also joined our group. Birding along the trail at Hardy Falls was very pleasant and as we made our way up towards the waterfall we were rewarded with lovely views of a Pacific Wren. Once at the waterfall it didn’t take us long to find the American Dipper, our target bird for this location. The dipper was fixing up its nest, adding bits and pieces of grass and moss to the structure that was merely 2 feet away from the raging waters of the waterfall.

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American Dipper gathering nesting material. Hardy Falls, Peachland, BC. April 2014, Photo Clive Keen.

Tour participant Clive Keen, from Prince George, took this lovely picture of the dipper as it gathered nesting material. Our next stop, after a quick stop at Tim Horton’s, was the Penticton waterfront along Okanagan Lake. Near the ‘Big Peach’ we scanned through about 50 gulls. Included were three common species; Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull and California Gull. Also included was an immature Thayer’s Gull, as well as an adult Mew Gull and an immature Glaucous Gull! What an excellent haul, we thought as we made off like bandits with a few good birds in hand.

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Immature Glaucous Gull stretching wings at the beach on Okanagan Lake in Penticton, BC. Apr 2014. Photo Clive Keen.

Another of Clive Keen’s fantastic photos from the tour shows the immature Glaucous Gull, actually a lifer for Clive, stretching its wings in the morning sunlight along the Penticton waterfront.

We then gathered at the Holiday Beach Resort in OK Falls where we checked in to our accommodations and also had a scan of Skaha Lake where both Horned and Red-necked grebes were seen.  At the OK Falls Campground we had lunch and went for a short walk around the property. Overhead a pair of Merlins courted and called rather incessantly. Our first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the trip flitted about in the trees in the park alongside Pygmy Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees.

We wound our way up the Green Lake Road from OK Falls, pausing briefly at Green Lake itself to view the waterfowl. There were plenty of Lesser Scaup, along with a few Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.  The Ponderosa Pine forest near Mahoney Lake produced White-breasted, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches together in one tree, as well as Cassin’s Finch, Mountain Chickadee and Mountain Bluebird. Driving towards White Lake we saw stunning Western Bluebirds and the subtly beautiful Say’s Phoebe.

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Male and female Mountain Bluebirds. White Lake, BC. Mar 2014. Photo Chris Charlesworth

I took this ‘action shot’ of a pair of Mountain Bluebirds along White Lake Road on a scouting trip just prior to the actual tour. The female appears to be telling the male to get off her favorite perch. The lovely White Lake basin itself dotted with sagebrush and rolling hills, was alive with the songs of Western Meadowlarks. Raptors were on the move today and we saw Rough-legged and Red-tailed hawks, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and American Kestrel here.

After a scrumptious dinner we headed out for a little nocturnal outing, starting off at Road 22 with a calling Northern Saw-whet Owl. Despite the fact the bird was calling right in front of us, we never could spot him.  A Muskrat paddled across an oxbow while a pack of Coyotes let out a haunting chorus of howls into the darkness. We made our way north via Black Sage Road and the Fairview-White Lk Rd. Along Black Sage Road a Great Horned Owl was seen by some as it sat on a telephone wire. Along White Lk Rd we tried for Western Screech-Owl near Park Rill. Though we did hear one in the distance, we never caught a glimpse of this elusive forest denizen. A Great Horned Owl was hooting away at Three Gates Farm on White Lk Rd. so we didn’t even try to find a screech-owl there. The showing of stars was rather spectacular tonight. We made our way back to the motel for some much needed rest!

Common in towns and cities of Okanagan. Photo Clive Keen.
Common in towns and cities of Okanagan. Photo Clive Keen.

Saturday, April 5 turned out to be a thrilling day of birding in the South Okanagan. We began at the cliffs at Vaseux Lake where a male Canyon Wren sang his little heart out and let us view him through the scope. We then ventured up into the higher elevations along Shuttleworth Road to search for woodland species. At the usual spots amongst the giant Western Larches along Venner Meadows Road we encountered up to 5 Williamson’s Sapsuckers this morning. Several of these were heard drumming and calling only, but a male and female put on a lovely show for us, even displaying as Lesley Robertson watched through the scope. Other goodies here included an obliging Northern Pygmy-Owl that sat atop a pine and allowed us to watch for a lengthy time through the scope. High-fives to Lou and Edith Davidson, as it was a lifer for them! Though we tried the high elevation forest near Rabbit Lk for birds like Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill, none of the aformentioned birds would appear. There was a brisk breeze here, which may have been keeping the birds in hiding. Clive Keen pointed out another calling Northern Pygmy-Owl and Jane and Dawn from Alberta saw a Gray Jay, so at least we weren’t skunked. On the way back down to OK Falls, a Moose was a pleasant surprise in an old clearcut.

OK Falls, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Moose, OK Falls, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

We had lunch at Christie Memorial Park in OK Falls. The appearance of two Golden Eagles high overhead, and a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees, interrupted our meal, but we weren’t too worried.

For the rest of the afternoon we visited Road 22 north of Osoyoos where we saw quite a number of new birds such as Long-billed Curlew, Osprey and thanks to Pam Laing, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Along the S.E. dyke we were treated to excellent views of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens, while along the S.W. dyke we saw a Marsh Wren as it sang from the reeds. Out in a flooded field at Road 22, with several American Wigeon, were two male Eurasian Wigeon, their red-heads glowing in the afternoon light.

Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Bewick’s Wren. Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

After dinner we headed out for some more ‘owling’, driving back up to Rabbit lake in hopes of finding a Boreal Owl. Unfortunately as we ascended the road, snow began to fall and it was quite heavy by the time we reached Rabbit Lake. On our way back down to OK Falls, we tried unsuccessfully for Barred Owl.

Avocet Tours group birding in south Okanagan. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Avocet Tours group birding in south Okanagan. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

Sunday, April 6 was the final day of this Spring birding blitz of the valley and we began at River Road and Hack’s Pond. On the pond were American Coot, Mallard, Green-winged Teal and a somewhat elusive Pied-billed Grebe, while in the bushes around the pond were Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. A flooded field near the south end of River Road yielded another male Eurasian Wigeon as well as a snoozing Wilson’s Snipe.

Deadman Lake, at Road 21, had plenty of waterfowl on it, though nothing new. Over the ridge to the N.W. of the lake we watched an immature Golden Eagle soaring. In a grassy field south of the lake we saw our one and only Savannah Sparrow of the tour.

After a short break at the Osoyoos Visitors Center we headed up Hwy 3 to the Richter Pass. Our first stop was at Spotted Lake, just so those who were visiting the area for the first time could see the unique pattern of rings. At the Elkink Ranch I eventually spotted a pair of Chukar on the sage covered hillside above the hwy and we got great scope views.

Richter Pass, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Richter Pass, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

On Richter Lk were Ruddy Ducks, new for our list, and a Greater Yellowlegs. At Nighthawk Rd we had our lunch amongst the sweet-smelling sage. Not too many birds were seen here, other than Western Meadowlarks. Our final stop of the tour was at the Red Roost Gift Shop near Kaleden. The feeding station was a bit quiet here, perhaps due to the presence of an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk. We did see Cassin’s Finch, Spotted Towhee, Steller’s Jay and several other species here. Our trip list total was 104 species!

Chris Charlesworth

Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours