At 6:30 AM, I met Trevor, from the U.K. at the Air BnB he was staying at in Lake Country. We headed directly for Beaver Lake Road where we would spend the majority of our morning. Though we had planned to spend a full day out in the field, forecast temperatures for today were to reach 40 degrees Celsius, so we decided to do just a half day instead. Some of the first birds we found along lower Beaver Lake Road included comical California Quail, as well as Lazuli Buntings, Vesper Sparrows, Western
Meadowlarks, Say’s Phoebe, and both Western and Eastern kingbirds. A distant hummingbird feeder produced our only Calliope Hummingbird for the morning, and we also had good looks at a Black-chinned Hummingbird this morning. In one particular patch of scrubby deciduous habitat we encountered a nice number of birds including Willow Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Spotted Towhee, Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, House Wren, Western Tanager, Bullock’s Oriole, Warbling Vireo and a nice Northern Waterthrush. The grassland areas also produced nice views of American Kestrel, as well as Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk. A mixed flock of blackbirds we found included Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds as well as a quite a few juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. After a little bit of searching we found a pair of Western Bluebirds that were feeding a late brood in the boxes along the fence line. Nearby was a spotted juvenile Western Bluebird, perhaps from the same pair’s previous brood.
Once we entered the mixed forests of upper Beaver Lake Road, we began to encounter birds of a different type. At most stops were Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Siskins. Warblers were present in nice
numbers and we saw Nashville, Orange-crowned and Townsend’s warblers, as well as Cassin’s Vireos, Cassin’s Finch and a fly-over Evening Grosbeak. Varied Thrush was heard, but remained hidden, while we had views of both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets together in the same pine tree. Amongst all the Red-breasted Nuthatches, I was somewhat surprised to see two White-breasted Nuthatches this morning. Five Red-naped Sapsuckers were also nice to see, all together in one aspen snag. One was an adult and the rest of them appeared to be juveniles. Both Steller’s Jays and Gray Jays were found near Beaver Lake Lodge, and we also saw Common Loons and Osprey at the lake.
To finish off our half day, we headed for Kelowna’s Robert Lake. Birding, as usual was excellent here and we tallied 40 species at this location. Shorebirds included Red-necked Phalarope, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper.
Waterfowl were abundant with highlights including Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Redhead and more. There were Pied-billed and Eared grebes, and a good number of Ring-billed and California gulls here today. We had nice views of Sora in the Marsh, and though I had a couple of views of Virginia Rail, Trevor had to settle just for hearing them. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were common, along with Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds and loads of European Starlings. As we drove back towards Lake Country, Trevor spotted a Swainson’s Hawk soaring to the east of Glenmore Road. At the end of the ‘morning’ we had seen over a hundred species, including 37 new ones for Trevor!
At 6:30 AM I met up with three clients, Mark, Don and Jen, near the west end of the Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. Mark is from Peru and is an active birder, while Dave and Jen are more casual birders from Kelowna.
Our first stop was at Munson Pond, where from a viewing platform, we had nice views of
a number of Wood Ducks. We had our only Great Blue Heron of the day, perched in a tree on the far side of the pond. A little ‘island’ in the middle of the pond had Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and our only Least Sandpiper for the day. Eastern Kingbirds sallied out to catch bugs from cottonwoods along the lake’s edge and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks sat on nearby snags.
The next stop was at Sutherland Hills Park. Here, we wandered through the Ponderosa Pine forest, exploring a small pond, ringed with berry bushes. Highlights here were a Hairy Woodpecker, some Black-capped Chickadees, Cedar Waxwings, more Eastern Kingbirds and American Robins. Perhaps the birds were hiding, we thought, due to a steady rain that fell on us at this location. To cheer us up, I spotted a roosting Western Screech-Owl that stared at us from his hiding spot.
At Robert Lake, in Kelowna, there was plenty to look at, including an impressive array of waterfowl. There were hundreds of Ruddy Ducks about, and lesser numbers of Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Redheads, Mallards, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal and also Pied-billed and Eared grebes. Raptors included Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk, and we had views of Virginia Rail and Sora. Shorebirds were mostly hidden behind the reeds, but we did add Wilson’s Snipe, and Lesser and Greater yellowlegs. Every swallow species found in the Okanagan was seen here, and in the reeds we had both Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds. With 34 species seen here in a short time, Robert Lake is always a highlight.
We made our way north along Glenmore Road, adding a Swainson’s Hawk to the list, along the way. The journey up Beaver Lake Road produced upwards of 60 species today.
We were lucky that the temperatures were not smoking hot and the bird activity was quite good throughout the afternoon. In the grassland areas of lower Beaver Lake Road, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk made appearances, along with several American Kestrels and a Merlin. Western Meadowlarks, Western and Eastern kingbirds, Say’s Phoebe, Vesper Sparrows, and a Western Bluebird were all nice to see along the fences at the edge of the road. Lazuli Buntings were quite numerous, and we saw some House Wrens as well. In a patch of berry bushes we had nice views of Nashville Warblers, a Black-headed Grosbeak, a with Gray Catbird, Spotted Towhee as well as Bullock’s Oriole and Western Tanager.
We entered the forested areas of Beaver Lake Road at around km 8, and began to encounter different species at each stop such as Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Western Wood-Pewee. A group of 6-7 young Ruffed Grouse flushed from the edge of one trail, and at the same time a Barred Owl hooted in the distance. Red-naped Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker, all woodpecker species, were great to see this afternoon.
We had lunch at Beaver Lake, where Common Loons, Osprey and both Barn and Tree swallows were tallied, and then we took a stroll through the woods to the south of Beaver Lake Lodge. We didn’t see too much, other than some Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flicker, but we did have excellent views of a female Spruce Grouse! The bird lived up to its name as ‘foolhen’ as we strolled right past it about 8 feet away. She eventually flew up into a spruce and watched us pass by.
Along Dee Lake Road, at our first stop, we were treated to stunning views of a Northern Pygmy-Owl! The owl was being mobbed by quite the number of birds like American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mountain Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We had nice looks at a Townsend’s Warbler here today.
At Dee Lake itself, a stroll along a path following the lakeshore, was quite enjoyable. There were Steller’s Jays about, and hummingbird feeders attracted both Rufous and
Calliope hummingbirds. Up to four Northern Waterthrushes came in to investigate some ‘pishing’, and they were joined by Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler and Song Sparrows. A Lincoln’s Sparrow, our only for the day, paused to check us out at one point. It was now getting late in the afternoon and we had encountered just over a hundred species (104 to be exact), so we headed back through Kelowna and across the Bennett Bridge where I dropped Mark, Dave and Jen off after a very enjoyable late summer’s day of birding.
On Saturday, July 28, I had the opportunity to guide Neil Davidson from Scotland around the South Okanagan. Neil has visited many places around the world, but this trip was his first real taste of North American birding. We met at the south campground at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park near Summerland at 6 AM. We headed south, making our first stop along White Lake Road where we saw a couple of Burrowing Owls, birds from the reintroduction program underway in southern BC’s interior. Sparrows and other small passerines were everywhere in the sagebrush with good numbers of Vesper Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, a Lark Sparrow, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, a male Lazuli Bunting and a male Bullock’s Oriole. Our first of several Red-tailed Hawks was noted here, and close to White Lk itself we saw two Sage Thrashers. The lake, which is full of water this summer, had quite a nice assortment of waterfowl with Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard and female type Hooded Merganser present. Shorebirds included Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper and Killdeer. Our only Western Meadowlarks of the day were spotted at White Lake as well.
We made a short stop in the pine forest near Mahoney Lake. Here we saw Pygmy Nuthatch, heard White-breasted Nuthatch, and saw other pine forest birds too like Cassin’s Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, Spotted Towhee and the like. As we drove along today we saw dozens and dozens of California Quail about, including many little ones toting along behind the adults. A roadside stop produced two Black-headed Grosbeaks, including a gorgeous male. We had a quick look for American Dippers at Okanagan Falls, but none were to be seen.
Next up, we headed up into the mountains east of Okanagan Falls, via Shuttleworth Creek Road. Our first stop was at a prominent viewpoint where we had excellent views of two Lewis’s Woodpeckers, an adult and a juvenile. The adult was still feeding young in a nest cavity in an old dead Ponderosa Pine. Also here were some nice Western Bluebirds, a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, and soaring Turkey Vultures in the distance. In the tall spruce woods along Dutton Creek we encountered one of our highlights for the day, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The owl called incessantly as we watched, and a number of birds came in to mob it including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Warbling Vireo and more. Up to 10 Common Nighthawks passed overhead, and we caught a glimpse of Hammond’s Flycatcher as well.
From Dutton Creek we headed up to the Venner Larches. It was pretty quiet here, with no sign of Williamson’s Sapsuckers unfortunately. Of note were several Gray Jays and a Brown Creeper. A stop at Venner Meadows was also productive. We had a nice Townsend’s Solitaire here, as well as views of a scruffy Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a White-crowned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Solitary Sandpiper foraging in a pond. We descended back into the valley bottom and checked out the towering cliffs at Vaseux Lake. The temperatures were well over 30 degrees Celsius at this point, which didn’t particularly help with respect to finding birds, however we managed to get a nice view of a Rock Wren and we heard several Canyon Wrens up higher on the rocks.
After a quick pit-stop in Osoyoos to pick up some refreshments we headed up into the lower Richter Pass in search of a Canadian rarity, Lesser Goldfinch. We staked out our location on Kruger Mountain Road and we waited, watched and listened. No Lesser Goldfinch was to be found here, but we did get some other nice birds including Black-chinned, Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds at a feeder. Also about were both Western and Mountain bluebirds, as well as American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing and House Wren. As we began driving away I had my window down and I heard the plaintive calls of a Lesser Goldfinch so we hopped out and quickly got a male in the scope as he sat on the telephone wires above. Score! Then, while driving along Old Richter Pass Road, close to Hwy 3, I heard another Lesser Goldfinch calling. Perhaps there is a little population of this species ‘invading’ the hills around the border town of Osoyoos.
We drove through the bustling resort town of Osoyoos, and then climbed up into the mountains on the east side of town. Along the way we saw an adult Swainson’s Hawk soaring over a bit of grassland. The views would have been spectacular if it wasn’t for the rather thick smoke from local wildfires. Our target bird was Great Gray Owl and after a little searching in a patch of larch, spruce and fir, we were rewarded with the sighting of a majestic adult Great Gray roosting quite low to the ground. This made Neil’s day, as it was his 37th owl species and it was also a very nice birthday bird for him.
We traveled back down to Osoyoos and had a short stop at Road 22. There is a nice muddy patch on the south side of Road 22 where there were Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, several unidentified peeps, a Wilson’s Snipe and best of all an alternate plumage Black-bellied Plover. A Wood Duck was a nice catch in one of the oxbows close to Road 22. Neil spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant in a field, a species I don’t see too often these days. We returned to Okanagan Lake Park and had one last look for one more bird, a Western Screech-Owl. We didn’t find it, however we saw Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler and a lovely Common Loon, a nice ending to a fantastic day trip in the South Okanagan. Today we saw 103 species and counting heard birds we had 120 species. Mammals noted today included White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Mountain Goat, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Yellow Pine Chipmunk, American Red Squirrel and Columbian Ground-Squirrel. It was really a very enjoyable day to be out in the field, despite the sizzling heat.
Day 1, June 18 – At the arrivals hall of the Calgary Airport, I met 5 of the participants of this the 2nd Rockies Tour, of 2018. We traveled a short distance to the hotel, where we met the other two folks on the tour, Paul and Angie. Some people were tired and headed straight to bed, and a few of the group met in the lounge for a quick meal and a drink.
Day 2, June 19 – This morning was very pleasant in the Calgary area, with sunny skies and mild temperatures. We set out from our hotel, headed south to Frank Lake, along with the Calgary morning rush hour traffic. It didn’t take long for the traffic to thin out and we sailed along Hwy 2 to High River, along the way spotting our first Red-winged
Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Swainson’s Hawk. From High River we drove along Hwy 23 east towards Frank Lake, stopping at various ponds and puddles along the way where we saw a nice assortment of waterfowl. There were Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck and one or two Northern Pintail noted. A few waders such as Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Killdeer and Wilson’s Phalarope were also observed. The first of many Savannah Sparrows we saw today, popped up on fence posts. Once at Frank Lake we stopped just north of the lake to look for Black Terns, which we did find. Turns out later we’d see several Black Terns near the hide at close range. Western Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird and a Gray Partridge were all new additions as well. We walked along the lakeshore,
admiring all the different species at quite close range. There were Forster’s Terns hunting in the shallows, California Gulls loafing on a grassy island, Spotted Sandpiper creeping along the shore, and best of all, a Sora, spotted by Linda, as it crept along a muddy shore right out in the open for an extended period of time! More waterfowl, including Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead made their way onto the day list, as did singing Marsh Wrens, obliging Marbled Godwits, and several Willets. We were entertained by a number of Richardson’s Ground-Squirrels today, and at one point several youngsters popped their heads out from a hole. As we walked towards the hide, I was a little worried when a school bus full of children beat us there. They were there to learn about nature, so we decided, even
though the hide was a bit busier than usual, the kids were there for a good cause. Turns out not long after we arrived, the kids hurried off to have lunch anyhow. A first year Bonaparte’s Gull was a nice catch in the shallows near the hide, as were more good views of Marbled Godwits, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Willets and Wilson’s Phalaropes. A couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons flew past, and were most likely the only ones we are going to encounter on the tour. I left the group in the hide, as they admired the up close and personal views of Ruddy Ducks, American Coots and Eared Grebes, and I went and brought the van up a bit closer. In the distance, a couple of groups of American White Pelicans soared in the sky when I returned to the hide. I had heard a Nelson’s Sparrow, a rather elusive species that hides in the long grass, so we went to try our luck at finding it. Luck was on our side, as the sparrow sat on the grass for scope views!
By now, it was time for lunch, so we headed back into High River where we ate at Smitty’s. While we sat in the restaurant some of us were lucky enough to see a Merlin briefly perch atop a cottonwood. After lunch we poked around a pond near the parking lot where we found some Common Grackles and on the pond itself were two female type Common Goldeneye. We spent the next hour or so exploring a side road that ran through the countryside. The habitat was agricultural with windbreaks of cottonwood trees interrupting the monotony. Perhaps the bird of the day were two Great Horned Owls that were roosting in one such windbreak. There was a fluffy fledged chick, and as spotted by Dave, a roosting adult that was quite camouflaged nearby. Swainson’s Hawk was also nesting here, with one bird on a nest, and the partner screaming relentlessly at us from above. On fence posts we had our first Brewer’s Blackbird, Western Kingbird and Vesper Sparrow of the tour. A White-tailed Jackrabbit was noted as it slowly hopped through a grassy field. We then
followed dusty roads around Frank Lake, where we had excellent views of a pair of Horned Larks at the edge of a field. We walked through a grassy field, hoping to find Le Conte’s Sparrow, and we did, though the bird remained mostly hidden in the reeds. Cliff Swallows were flying around their nesting area beneath a bridge, and before we reconnected with Hwy 23 we saw our first Northern Harrier of the trip, a female, sailing above the long grass. The drive back to Calgary took about an hour, and we saw several groups of American White Pelicans resting on a lake and in islands along a river. Our first Osprey was seen by some as it ate a fish on top of a lamp post. All in all, with close to 70 species seen today, it was a very productive start to the trip.
Day 3, June 20 – After a lovely breakfast in Calgary, we headed west, following the Trans Canada Highway, towards Banff. We spent the day exploring the foothills north of Cochrane, and it was a fantastic day with sunny skies and warm temperatures. After a quick pit stop in Cochrane, we made our way west to Grand Valley. Driving along the quiet country road produced our first sightings of some stunning Mountain Bluebirds feeding young in a nest box. At an open meadow there were several male Bobolinks singing and displaying in flight as we watched in the scope. The usual Savannah Sparrows were joined by Clay-colored Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows today. Our first Dark-eye Junco (a hybrid ‘Oregon X Slate-colored’ bird) was seen very well as it sang from the pine trees nearby. It was joined by other coniferous forest birds like Mountain Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch. A Yellow-rumped Warbler appeared, and it turned out to be a hybrid ‘Audubon’s X Myrtle’ bird. At the next stop, a large open pasture with plenty of fence posts for birds to sit on, we had some excellent sightings. On a little pond near the road we saw a Blue-winged Teal male and two lovely drake Buffleheads. We caught a glimpse of a Warbling Vireo, and while we were looking for
the vireo a Great Gray Owl flew across the road a hundred meters or so away. We walked briskly down the road and found ourselves face to face with a majestic Great Gray Owl. It spent the entire 30 minutes of so that we watched it, sitting on a fence post, staring into the grass intently, and readjusting his feathers in the late morning sun. ‘It was going to be hard to beat this sighting today’, said one of the participants. ‘Could be tough to beat this sighting for the whole trip’, chimed another. While we watched the Great Gray Owl, an adult Red-tailed Hawk soaring over the trees across the meadow caught our attention. The hawk, and several others we saw today, were being mobbed by angry Red-winged Blackbirds. We then headed over to Horse Creek Road where we spent the rest of morning in search of eastern forest species. We did quite well too. A male Cape May Warbler put on a great performance for us as he foraged close by at eye level in the trees. A little more frenetic was a male Tennessee Warbler dangling from the branches overhead. We had stunning
views of a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker here and got great looks at both Golden-crowned Kinglet and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A female Purple Finch sat atop a dead tree and let us view at length through the scope. White-throated Sparrow was seen. The folks from the UK always comment on just how many nice sparrows we have in North America, and they’re right. It was about time to head for lunch so we returned to Cochrane and ate at Smitty’s. After lunch, we headed back to Horse Creek, checking a marshy area for Le Conte’s Sparrows. I could hear the Le Conte’s singing somewhat far away, and with a little patience one came into view and allowed scope looks. Later we’d see another Le Conte’s Sparrow that sat in a bush quite close to us, for excellent scope views. Yet another new sparrow species was in store for us today, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, in fact several of them, all appearing to have food in their bills for young. The usual Clay-colored Sparrows constantly were popping into view once again. A bright splash of yellow in the top of a willow turned out to be a male Yellow Warbler, in all his glory. Wilson’s Snipes leapt up and down in the tall sedge grasses, and a single Wilson’s Phalarope rose up into the air out of the marsh. A female Green-winged Teal was our first of that species for the tour, and she was joined soon thereafter by 5 fluffy little ducklings. Farther down the road we visited bog with stunted spruce trees. This area is often good for Alder Flycatcher and it proved to be so again today. We had one Alder Flycatcher posing for scopes for a few moments, and then something bright orange flew overhead and almost caused mayhem. It was a male Baltimore Oriole. The oriole showed well, but didn’t hang about for long, so it left us wanting more of this handsome bird. At our last birding spot of the day, an aspen forest, we added several more species to the already bulging trip list. A male Downy Woodpecker was a nice catch amongst the aspens. Two Western Wood-Pewees chased one another around, pausing now and then
to let us obtain good views. A tiny Least Flycatcher was frustratingly flitty, never sitting for long on the same branch. A pair of Clay-colored Sparrows were trying to fend off a marauding female Brown-headed Cowbird as she looked for a nest in which to dump her egg. A House Wren, a rather small, and drab bird, makes up for all it lacks in plumage with its cheery character. To finish off this last birding session of the day, a male Baltimore Oriole arrived on the scene and let us look at him as much as we wanted, satisfying our previous craving to see more. We began the journey to Banff, which took us about an hour, arriving just in time to have a shower, a little rest and a chance to enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery surrounding us, before heading to El Toro for a tasty meal.
Day 4, June 21 – At 6 AM we met for a pre-breakfast outing to Vermilion Lakes, a great place for birds that just happens to be quite scenic as well. It was a lovely sunny morning, and it stayed that way until lunch time. Some of the highlights noted at Vermilion Lakes included a pair of Common Loons, a Pileated Woodpecker, our first Cedar Waxwings, Swainson’s Thrush, ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow, Common Yellowthroats and a pair of Mountain Chickadees tending to a nest. Dave said, ‘I think we saw a Northern Flicker in this tree several years ago’, and within about 5 seconds, a male
Northern Flicker came flying in and headed into a nest hole. Columbian Ground-Squirrels, and a couple of Red Squirrels were about the only mammals we saw this morning. Once Martin had finished giving a crash course in photography to a young lady from Atlanta, we returned to Banff and had breakfast.
Post breakfast we headed for the Bow Valley Parkway, making our first stop at Muleshoe Picnic area. Here, next to the parking lot, we watched two different woodpecker nests about 150 feet apart. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tended to one nest, while our first Red-naped Sapsuckers tended to the other nest.
As we made our way to Johnston Canyon, a Mule Deer was noted next to the road, and upon arrival at the canyon, we added another mammal to the list, a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. As we hiked up the canyon we were entertained by several of these
ground squirrels, and they were constantly on the lookout for some scraps to nibble on. A lovely little Pacific Wren sang its heart out for us, a species that was split from Troglodytes troglodytes not too long ago. An American Dipper whizzed up the fast flowing creek a couple of times, and once we reached the lower falls we had a good look at the bird creeping up the rocky slope next to the waterfall. Our first Cassin’s Vireo of the trip was also added in Johnston Canyon. We had lunch in the café and just as we were settling up the bill, Dave spotted a Gray Jay out the window. We rushed out to find there were 3 Gray Jays here, and they were being mobbed by two Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
On our way to Lake Louise we stopped at a roadside pullout to look at an Osprey nest high up on a pylon. Angie had spotted the big nest, and it contained an adult bird, while the other adult sailed overhead. As a bonus we added two new warbler species here, Orange-crowned Warbler and a Wilson’s Warbler. At Lake Louise, it was heaving with people, but the stunning view was still breathtaking nonetheless. Cliff Swallows were nesting on the Chateau Lake Louise and we saw our first Violet-green Swallows flying over the parking area. To finish off the day we visited Moraine Lake, a very picturesque place. A flock of ten or so Clark’s Nutcrackers were a big hit with the group, as were two Harlequin Ducks, a male and a female. Thunder began to echo through the mountains and the sky turned black so we decided it was a good time to pack it in for the day. The drive back to Banff was a wet one!
Day 5, June 22 – We left our hotel after breakfast and headed for Cave and Basin. It was a cool and gray morning, but the sun poked through now and again and it was better than what had been forecast, so we were happy. At Cave and Basin we watched from the hide as a Virginia Rail trotted across a muddy spot, while Soras called in the background. A male Blackpoll Warbler foraged in eye level spruce trees right next to the boardwalk for several minutes. A Swainson’s Thrush lurked in the trees while Willow Flycatchers sang their sneezy songs, fittingly from the tops of willow bushes. Out on the water were
Ring-necked Ducks and Green-winged Teal. We left Cave and Basin and stopped next for a ‘comfort break.’ Poor Trevor, the name given to the step stool, was almost abandoned here, but luckily Dave spotted him looking all lonely on the sidewalk and brought him back to the van. We then had a short visit to the Fenlands Trail, where I followed directions given to me by a friend, Richard, to exactly where an American Three-toed Woodpecker pair were feeding noisy young in a nest cavity. We spent the better part of half an hour watching the male and female come in to bring food to the very vocal nestlings. It wouldn’t be many days until these little woodpeckers would be fledglings.
As we got comfortable for a bit of a drive for lunch in Golden, the skies opened up and it rained steadily for the entire journey. After lunch we set our clocks back one hour as we entered the Pacific Standard Time Zone, and then we explored a bit in Beaver Valley. It was still raining, though fairly lightly, as we birded here. A Magnolia Warbler played hide and seek but most people managed at least a short view of this rather attractive species. Overhead, Black Swifts sailed by, some of them at quite a low altitude, alongside
smaller Vaux’s Swifts. Northern Waterthrush was also quite a nice catch in the Beaver Valley. We continued our trek west, stopping in next at the Skunk Cabbage Trail. Rains were again light, and at times nonexistent. Birds were quite active here, and soon after arrival we were looking at our first male Rufous Hummingbird, sitting atop a dead tree. Next, a Red-eyed Vireo showed quite well in the trees above us, and an immature male American Redstart showed off nicely. A Gray Catbird, our first for the tour, skulked in the underbrush, with a beak full of food for its nestlings, and a Veery was ‘veery’ nice to see and a lifer for most people in the group. High atop a tree, a male Varied Thrush sang his ethereal song.
As we neared Salmon Arm, the rain became torrential, which doesn’t happen often in the southern interior of British Columbia. We checked in at our hotel and then went out for dinner at Boston Pizza.
Day 6, June 23 – After the previous day’s rains, it was a lovely fresh morning today. We headed down to the wharf in Salmon Arm before breakfast, spending about two hours there enjoying the Western Grebes, Great Blue Herons, Ring-billed Gulls, Black Swifts, Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Wood Ducks that are found here. Walking the end of the wharf gave us a good chance to see the grebes and Ospreys up close and personal. Swallows of all sorts darted by, including Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree and stunning Violet-green Swallows. While we were watching a Northern Flicker hopping about on the rocks near the shore, a commotion started amongst the swallows and an immature Cooper’s Hawk arrived on the scene. This bird had significance because it was Dave and Linda’s 1000th bird! Congratulations on reaching the milestone.
After we had breakfast at the hotel, we made a quick stop to pick up ‘supplies’ at Shopper’s Drug Mart, and then carried on the Christmas Island Trail. It was a lovely walk along the trail with much activity from the birds. Common species included Song Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallows, and Common Yellowthroats. Other birds noted included a Sora, a Gray Catbird, Marsh Wren, Yellow-
headed Blackbird, Red-eyed Vireo and two new shorebirds for the trip list, Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. An obliging Spotted Sandpiper was also a treat to see. I scanned through dozens of Western Grebes, eventually picking out our one and only Clark’s Grebe for the tour. Amongst the masses of Ring-billed Gulls, I pointed out a subadult Mew Gull, and we had several Herring Gulls here as well. Dave spotted a female Belted Kingfisher sitting on a post near the lake. We watched as she hovered, plunged into the water and emerged with a large fish (relatively speaking) that she struggled with for several minutes, before flying away with it dangling from her bill. Some drama played out on the waters of Shuswap Lake this morning as well, as two immature Bald Eagles teamed up to prey on a female Mallard and her tiny ducklings. The eagles swooped in dozens of times, forcing the ducks to dive underwater to avoid being caught. The ducks appeared to succeed and eventually the eagles gave up, much to our happiness. Moments later, an Osprey dove in and caught a small fish, and immediately up to 4 Bald Eagles were in hot pursuit of the Osprey, eventually making it drop its fish. All the while, Red-winged Blackbirds were dive bombing the eagles, making for quite the spectacle.
We headed for lunch at the Sandbar where we sat on the patio and enjoyed the sunshine, food, and the presence of Western Tiger Swallowtails. Then, we visited Peter Jannink Nature Park where the highlight was watching a number of Western Grebes at close range, with a couple of birds doing their mating dance, running side-by-side on the water. Among the swallows, I found a Bank Swallow, our first, and we had our first looks at House Finches here as well. Dave and Linda saw a Water Vole, but it would not reappear once the rest of us came to look. It was time to head for Kamloops so we followed Hwy 1 west to Chase, where we made a quick pit-stop, and then made it to Kamloops just before 6 PM. We had a very nice dinner this evening at Earl’s.
Day 7, June 24 – Our first stop this morning was at Safeway where we picked up lunch to go. We then headed N.W. of town to the Lac du Bois Grasslands where we spent the day, and it was a glorious sunny day to boot. Our first target of the morning was Burrowing Owl and we saw two adults and three youngsters near their burrow amongst the sagebrush which was a very nice way to start the day. Various sparrows were about including Clay-colored, Vesper and Chipping sparrows, as well as lovely Western Meadowlarks and a Mountain Bluebird or two. We passed by several little ponds this morning, each one with a different selection of ducks and grebes. There were Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks on most ponds, and on some were Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, and a couple of female Barrow’s
Goldeneye. One pond had two gorgeous Eared Grebes, that were most likely nesting nearby. On Lac du Bois itself (Wood Lake), were several Red-necked Grebes, some of which had tiny chicks alongside. Also in the Lac du Bois area, we enjoyed scope views of a tiny male Calliope Hummingbird atop the bushes. Cedar Waxwings, Willow Flycatchers, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Marsh Wren were also in attendance. At a patch of aspen trees we spent some time admiring the local avifauna, which included a Red-naped Sapsucker, a House Wren, Dusky Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Mountain Bluebird and American Goldfinch! A Swainson’s Hawk sailed overhead, followed by a mobbing Tree Swallow.
We had a picnic lunch at Isobel Lake, which was very enjoyable. After lunch we took a stroll around the little campground, finding Chipping Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warblers, our first Hammond’s Flycatcher, a
female Western Tanager, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The highlight, however, was a Northern Pygmy-Owl that we watched for nearly half an hour as it called from the low branches of a fir tree. It was hot and we were ‘knackered’ so we made our way back to Kamloops a little early today, and then later headed out for a delicious meal at an Indian buffet.
Day 8, June 25 – From Kamloops we followed the rather scenic Hwy 5A towards Merritt, past lakes, ponds, grasslands and rolling hills. Our first stop was at Separation Lake, a place Martin was especially fond of. I agree, the area is beautiful and very photogenic. It was cool and breezy here this morning, as it often is, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the birds. There were Say’s Phoebe, Mountain Bluebird, Wilson’s Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Ducks and Vesper Sparrows, amongst others. A Marsh Wren was watched at close range as it built its nest in the reeds. Raptors were fairly numerous including Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, American Kestrel and Bald Eagles. As we continued along, I spotted a white tern flying over the south end of Shumway Lake. We pulled off and upon
inspection it was an Arctic Tern, quite a rare species for this part of the world. The tern put on a nice show as it fed in the strong wind over the lake. Next, at Stump Lake we scoped an assortment of nesting birds including Red-necked Grebes and Pied-billed Grebes most notably. There were also Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead on the lake. Overhead, Black Swifts darted by, aided by the strong winds. Our next stop, along Planet Mine Road, was quite productive as we found two active nests of Lewis’s Woodpeckers. These lovely, pink, gray and green woodpeckers, put on a great show as they foraged for food for their young. We stopped for a short time at Beaver Ranch Flats where the usual waterfowl and grebes were present. What was interesting here, was a Common Raven that was raiding nests and carrying eggs out into the grassland where it would eat them. The eggs were most likely those of American Coots. At Quilchena we had a short stop to use the facilities at the general store, and then we found a picnic table on the shores of Nicola Lake to have lunch.
After filling up with gas in Merritt, we headed across the Okanagan Connector and pulled up into my driveway about an hour and a half later. Cindy, my wife, and my son Carsen were waiting for us at the door. Cindy had coffee and tea ready for us, and Carsen was excited to see all the new people. We spent quite some time here, enjoying the birds
that were coming in to my feeders. Most interesting perhaps were the hummingbirds. There were several of each Rufous, Calliope and one or two male Black-chinned Hummingbirds that came in to feed. At the seed feeders, Cassin’s Finches and Pine Siskins were busy, along the odd Brown-headed Cowbird, and Chipping Sparrow. At the suet, both Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches came in to feed. Overhead, an Osprey, just the second I’d ever seen in the yard, circled with a small fish in its talons. A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers made an appearance, and were new for our trip list. Our first and best view of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and a Spotted Towhee were also had in my garden. It had been a successful visit! We carried on across the W.G. Bennett Bridge into Kelowna where we spent the next two nights. We had a carnivorous dinner at Montana’s Rib House and we were joined by Cindy and Carsen.
Day 9, June 26 – Before breakfast we visited Sutherland Hills Park, along Mission Creek, not far from our hotel in Kelowna. We’d hoped to find a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but the bird was not in its usual roost. The visit was still quite successful as we saw a number of new species for the tour here this morning. We saw our first California Quail,
a bird sitting in a cottonwood tree, calling. We also added Pygmy Nuthatch to our list, a bird that can be found in Canada only in the Okanagan Valley and adjacent valleys in the southern interior of B.C. The park seemed full of Gray Catbirds, and we also saw quite a few Cedar Waxwings. Again, the male Calliope Hummingbird, or one of his descendants, that has been hanging out atop a cherry tree was there. We caught a rather brief glimpse of our first Black-headed Grosbeak here this morning, but we wanted more! We enjoyed nice views of Red-eyed Vireo, Spotted Towhee, and Nashville Warbler to name a few more species.
At Robert Lake, I was surprised not to find an American Avocet. We did however see Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope and the usual Killdeer this morning. Ducks were about in good numbers, with Redheads, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Cinnamon Teal and Ring-necked Ducks, amongst others. At one point, a Virginia Rail wandered right out into the open for us for a moment. Swallows of all the local species were identified at Robert Lake this morning, and another highlight was watching our first Western Bluebirds foraging from fence posts and telephone wires.
After picking up lunch we made our way up Hwy 33, east of Kelowna, and we got stopped for 15 minutes or so by some road work, but we were soon birding along Goudie Road. In a little patch of tall cottonwood trees we watched our first Bullock’s Oriole of the tour for several minutes. Also seen briefly along Goudie Road were Nashville and MacGillivray’s warblers. We pushed on to Sun Valley Road, stopping to call for a Barred Owl. The Barred Owl answered from the forest, but did not venture out to investigate us. As a consolation prize we had our first male Lazuli Bunting of the tour here, as well as Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow and a Cooper’s Hawk came in to check out what was going on.
We had lunch along McCulloch Road at the Nordic Cross Country Ski area. It was cool
and breezy in the shade, but quite warm out in the sun. A Red-naped Sapsucker kept us entertained as we ate lunch. The sapsucker was feeding young in an aspen near the picnic table. Once lunch was over we checked in on a little wetland area where we had our only Olive-sided Flycatcher of the tour. Other birds here included Wilson’s Warbler, Willow Flycatcher and a surprise visit from about 8 Common Nighthawks that sailed low the shrubbery as they caught insects.
A stop in the boreal forest near Big White Ski Village was quite productive. We saw a pair of Boreal Chickadees here, which is an uncommon and sought-after species of the high elevation and northern forests. A Varied Thrush pair hopped back and forth across the road, both with food in their bills. We saw our first Hermit Thrushes of the tour here, and a ‘Slate-colored’ Fox Sparrow was great to see. Wilson’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Dark-eyed Junco were also in attendance. Up at Big White Village itself we visited a chalet that has bird feeders and this is where we saw our first Steller’s Jays of the tour. Also visiting the area were Mountain Chickadees and several Yellow
Pine Chipmunks. We paused to take in the lovely distant view of the Monashee Mountains before beginning our descent of the mountain and returning to Kelowna for dinner at Olympia Greek Restaurant.
Day 10, June 27 – Leaving Kelowna after breakfast, and again crossing over the 100 km long Okanagan Lake on the Bennett Bridge, we drove south, stopping first at a park near Summerland. After a lot of searching, Keith and Cathy spotted a roosting Western Screech-Owl in a cottonwood next to the lake. Our fifth owl species, and the screech-owl being one that in Canada can only be found in British Columbia. Another quick stop along Hwy 97 next to some cliffs gave us the opportunity to watch over a dozen Mountain Goats through the scope. A Peregrine Falcon appeared, chased some swallows and then perched on the cliffs. A quick drive past the SS. Sicamous Paddle Wheel boat yielded cries of ‘stop!’ as some members of the group wanted a photo of the historic boat which use to carry passengers across Okanagan Lake before the bridge opened. Out on the lake were Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe, two nice birds for the day list. We picked up lunch at Safeway and carried on south to White Lake Road, stopping in the sagebrush near the lake to look for some specialty birds. Along the way we saw California Quail very well, and I had to maneuver the van just right so people could open the door next to the quail and get a photo of the bird on a
fence post. At White Lake the usual Western Meadowlarks and Brewer’s Blackbirds were common. It didn’t take long to spot a Sage Thrasher, one of the area’s most sought after species. The thrasher was singing his sweet song from the top of the sagebrush all the while as we watched through the scope. On the lake itself were a few ducks including Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and two male Barrow’s Goldeneye. We scoped a pair of Burrowing Owls down on some flats before carrying on our journey.
After our productive visit to White Lake we passed through Okanagan Falls and bounced up the Shuttleworth Creek Forest Service Road. We headed for a heavily wooded gully where we ate our lunch. After lunch we investigated two groups of loudly begging baby woodpeckers. The first noisy beggers led us right to the nest of Red-naped Sapsuckers, and the second turned out to be American Three-toed Woodpeckers, with both adults
feeding the young. Continuing the nest theme, we next added Williamson’s Sapsucker to the list, as a pair were busily feeding young in a cavity I had located with the first Rockies group three weeks earlier. I tried my Barred Owl call, once again. This time, a bunch of angry robins alerted be to the chance there could be an owl in the area. I spotted the owl up in the larch trees and called the group to come closer. The Barred Owl, the third largest and our sixth species of owl for the tour, let out an impressive series of hoots as we watched. This sighting, for some, would rival the Great Gray Owl sighting, for the bird of the trip. On our way down the road, we stopped at a scenic viewpoint up the valley towards Skaha Lake to the north. A Lewis’s Woodpecker and a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting kept us entertained here, as did one or two Yellow-bellied Marmots. We drove south to Osoyoos, through miles of vineyards, and tonight we headed out to dine at the Wildfire Grill.
After dinner we gathered once again, this time for some nocturnal birding. Almost as soon as we crossed the cattleguard onto Kilpoola Lake Road, I spotted a Long-eared Owl sitting in a snag. Next, I stopped where the first group had found a group of young Northern Saw-whet Owls. I could hear a Common Poorwill calling nearby, one of our target species for the evening. We saw the poorwill on the gravel road and approached it with our flashlight trained on it. The poorwill allowed us to get within 5 feet of it, having amazing views and photo-ops. We soon left the poorwill to be and I could hear the hissing of fledgling Northern Saw-whet Owls. It took some effort through mud, branches and mosquitos, but several of us did see a chocolate brown baby saw-whet owl sitting in the underbrush. Our eighth species of owl! We were not finished yet, as farther up the road we stopped to listen for the low pitched hooting of the rare and elusive Flammulated Owl. The owl called and after some searching we had views of it on a branch in a Ponderosa Pine and we watched the small owl fly from tree to tree in the spotlight. This was our 9th and final species of owl for the tour. We returned to Osoyoos rather tired, but excited nonetheless.
Day 11, June 28 – It was a sunny morning as we emerged from the hotel. We found Martin, who had been down at the lake this morning taking some photos. He said he’d found an owl and wanted us to check it out. He showed me the back of his camera and there it was, a plastic owl sitting on top of a pylon at the marina. Our first stop this morning was at the cliffs at Vaseux Lake. Here, we had lovely views of a Rock Wren as it bounced from boulder to boulder at the base of the towering cliffs. A Lewis’s Woodpecker also provided entertainment here, as did a Lazuli Bunting. One or two Bighorn Sheep peered at us from the top of the cliff, a new mammal for our list. Down on Vaseux Lake we scoped 15 American White Pelicans on a sandbar at the north end, and then they flew in formation to the south.
We then tried some more cliffs on Allendale Road with high hopes of finding Canyon Wren. Unfortunately the Canyon Wren had other plans, though we did get great views of low flying White-throated Swifts here, as well as a pair of Western Bluebirds feeding young in a box. Yellow-bellied Marmots provided some great entertainment here as well, and the catch-phrase ‘what a nice bottom’ was created here as one marmot welcomed another. Before we left we added one more sparrow to our list, and an attractive one at that, the Lark Sparrow.
At Inkaneep Provincial Park we spent about half an hour during which time we had
scope views of a singing Yellow-breasted Chat and we had our best views yet of a Black-headed Grosbeak male. Our only Bewick’s Wrens of the tour, two of them, appeared here with a spider in one bird’s bill. A male Black-chinned Hummingbird sat atop a cottonwood sapling here as well and was just the second one we’d seen on the tour.
We had lunch in Oliver and then made our way up McKinney Road to an area of pine trees where Gray Flycatcher can be found. There was a flurry of activity here this afternoon, and we did get great views of the Gray Flycatcher in addition to several other species including White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Tanager, Western Wood-Pewee, Vesper Sparrow and Nashville Warbler to name a few species. Still needing Canyon Wren we
made for ‘The Throne’ a cliff at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. A hike through the ‘desert’ ended at the cliffs where we did eventually see a couple of Canyon Wrens entering a nest cavity in the cliffs with food. Also seen here was another Rock Wren, an adult Peregrine Falcon up on the cliffs and more low-flying White-throated Swifts.
To finish off what had already been a ‘birdy’ day, we stopped at Road 22 to scan the marshes and hayfields, adding several species to our day list. There were several Bobolinks frolicking over the fields, and in the wetlands were Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks and more. American Goldfinch posed to have their photos taken here, and a Wilson’s Snipe briefly leapt up out of the marsh. Yellow-headed Blackbird was added to the day list and a Bald Eagle sat near its nest in a tall cottonwood. We had dinner this evening at Campo Marina, and as usual, it was scrumptious.
Day 12, June 29 – Heading west from Osoyoos, our first stop this morning was at the Nighthawk Border Crossing. Here, in the sagebrush we had nice views of several Brewer’s Sparrows, new for the list, as well as Lark Sparrow. One Grasshopper Sparrow,
quite rare in British Columbia these days, was a nice addition to the trip list. Our travels took us through Keremeos, where we had a quick pit-stop and then on to Princeton where we picked up lunch. From Princeton we headed into Manning Provincial Park and stopped in at the ‘Beaver Pond’. A short walk here provided us with sightings of Yellow Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Common Yellowthroat, as well as a nice variety of dragonflies. We then visited the Manning Park Lodge where we had lunch while Clark’s Nutcrackers swooped about looking for scraps. Also mooching were Brown-headed Cowbirds and several furry little Columbian Ground-Squirrels. We took a drive up the Alpine Meadows Road, where I hoped we just might have a chance at finding a Sooty Grouse. At our first stop, as soon as I opened the door of the van, I could hear the deep resonating hoot of a Sooty Grouse. It took some bushwacking and some patience but I found the Sooty Grouse, a male, hooting from inside a large coniferous tree. All of the
tour participants clambered up the hill and eventually we all saw the grouse. Other birds noted at the same place included Hermit Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Dark-eyed Junco. We turned around at a scenic viewpoint where we added yet another squirrel to our large list, the Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. On our way back down towards the highway, I spotted a female Sooty Grouse in the grass with a few tiny babies, so now we had all seen a male and a female Sooty Grouse quite well. Trying to find a Red-breasted Sapsucker or Chestnut-backed Chickadee, I took the group along the Gibson Pass Road, where we found a sapsucker, except it was a male Red-naped Sapsucker. Steller’s Jay was also present here. The day was getting on so we had to leave Manning Park and continue west. We followed the maze of freeways and highways ending up finally in Richmond at our hotel. We had dinner at Stanley’s Grill in the ice hockey rink.
Day 13, June 10 – This morning was about the only time on the tour that the rain affected us. We donned our rain jackets and waterproofs for a walk in Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. Birds were a little less active than usual, most likely due to the damp start to the day. We had great views of a Pacific Wren that blasted out its song from the top of a tree stump. Swainson’s Thrushes sang their ethereal songs from the rainforest, while Black-capped Chickadees, Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees and a Black-headed Grosbeak all made appearances for the day list. Down at the lighthouse we had a couple of Anna’s Hummingbirds, our fourth and final hummingbird species of the tour, come in to feeders alongside Rufous Hummingbirds. Bald Eagles patrolled the shore and we saw one or two Pelagic Cormorants fly past. Our final addition to the squirrel list came in the
form of a Douglas’s Squirrel high in the firs above us.
We picked up lunch and took it down to the beach at Ambleside Park where we ate lunch outside, despite a light rain. We were entertained by Glaucous-winged Gulls and Northwestern Crows that were searching for scraps, and they found some. Out on the water here were more Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants. A Great Blue Heron fed along the shore, allowing Martin to creep closer and get good photos. Harlequin Ducks showed nicely as they fed in the water and just to make the ‘Brits’ feel at home, I showed them two Mute Swans on the little pond nearby.
Since we still needed a Red-breasted Sapsucker, we headed up to the cross country ski area at Cypress Mountain where we suddenly found ourselves amidst a rather thick fog. We started off on the trail and soon I could hear the loud begging of young woodpeckers. We followed the noise which led us right to the nest cavity of a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers that were busily feeding the chicks.
Our last stop of the day was at Maplewood Flats, where we searched for Black-throated Gray Warbler to no avail. We did, however, see other species here including Downy Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Osprey and a young Hooded Merganser. We headed back to our hotel in Richmond and headed out for dinner at the Keg, for our final evening meal together as a group.
Day 14, June 11 – It was our final morning in Vancouver and it started out cool and breezy at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, our first stop this morning. Several new species were counted here including Black Oystercatchers, Caspian Tern, Greater Scaup, and Surf Scoters. We had excellent views of Harlequin Ducks as they loafed and fed close to shore. Hundreds of Great Blue Herons congregated on the flats as the tide began to go
back out. After a short pit stop in Tsawwassen we headed for the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island in Ladner. We stopped, along the way, to check out an old barn where I had heard they may be a Barn Owl. We spent quite a bit of time scrutinizing the rafters high and low, but never did find a Barn Owl today. At Reifel, we were bombarded by the usual mass of Mallards, Canada Geese, House Sparrows and (Feral) Rock Pigeons that sit and wait by the entrance. Farther into the park we began to encounter other species such as Wood Ducks, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall. We came around a corner and saw several large lenses pointed in one direction. I knew it must be the local Sandhill Cranes, and sure enough there were two adults and two chicks wandering around in the grass. We sat in an old hide for a little bit, enjoying watching Tree Swallows coming in to feed young in boxes. A couple of Purple Martins, new for the trip, also made an appearance here. For a second,
a female Anna’s Hummingbird fed at a flower in front of the hide, and some Cedar Waxwings posed nicely as well. Out in the marshes we found Marsh Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds and the like. Greater and Lesser yellowlegs posed side by side for comparison and one adult Long-billed Dowitcher, the only for the trip was found. A flock of Western Sandpipers made several passes around the ponds, but never did land unfortunately. Two Bushtits, also the only ones we’d see on this trip, we nice to find along the trail past the outer ponds. A lingering Trumpeter Swan was a nice surprise to see, and one I had not expected to add at this location. Our trip list had now reached a high of 224 species!
We headed for lunch at Moxie’s and then made one last stop before the trip was over, at the Iona Sewage Treatment Plant. We added some day birds here, but we didn’t add anything else to the trip list. We headed for the airport in the late afternoon, said our goodbyes and that was the end of a very productive and enjoyable trip from Calgary to Vancouver.
Day 1, May 28 – The British Airways flight bound for Calgary was about 20 minutes late arriving, but it wasn’t long before I met 5 out of the 7 folks from the U.K. who made up this years’ Rockies Tour group. The other two people I had already met at the hotel. It was good to see old friends and equally good to see new faces. It was just getting dark as we drove from the airport to our hotel, about 10 minutes away. Upon arrival at the hotel, Dave called out, ‘Black-billed Magpie’ and that was the first bird of the tour.
Day 2, May 29 – Breakfast at the hotel was delicious. We set off by 7: 45 and began the drive south to the town of High River. Along the way a light rain fell on the windshield. Yesterday had been a sunny and hot day, but this morning we awoke to cloudy skies and a chilly prairie breeze. In High River we grabbed a coffee to go at Tim Horton’s before making the last little jaunt over to Frank Lake. The drive from High River to Frank Lake would take about 5 minutes for any normal person, but not for birders. We spent probably 45 minutes stopping at the little prairie potholes, amassing quite a nice list of waterfowl. There were Redheads, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and the list goes on. We had fantastic views of Eared Grebes from the blind, and scope views of several Western Grebes this morning. In addition to the ducks there were American Avocets, Killdeers and our first of many Wilson’s Phalaropes. Savannah Sparrows popped up along the fence lines, as did Clay-colored Sparrows. Yellow-headed Blackbirds began appearing in numbers, as did their Red-winged cousins. I announced that the female Red-winged Blackbird is the most often misidentified bird in North America. A few seconds later someone piped up, ‘What is this brown stripy sparrow?’ To which, ‘Red-winged Blackbird’, I replied. Our first Northern Harrier, a female, or ‘ringtail’ as those from the U.K. call them, appeared on the scene. Two Gray Partridge scurried across the road and leapt through a fence with ease, disappearing into the grass. Swallows were buzzing around everywhere and we saw most of the species here in good numbers, with Cliff, Barn, Bank and Tree swallows represented. Out over the marshes of Frank Lake were Forster’s and snazzy looking Black Terns. Franklin’s Gulls were rather abundant, and we also saw a few first year Bonaparte’s Gulls here, a nice addition to the list. As we walked
along the grassy shore of Frank Lake, we were often accompanied by Killdeer as they tried to distract us from nesting areas by feigning injury and calling loudly. White-faced Ibis offered up nice scope views and we had several Black-necked Stilts. Both Eared and Western grebes were noted out on the lake, the latter of which we observed as a pair did their ‘walking on water’ mating dance. As we viewed the lake from the NW blind, the views of things like Ruddy Duck, Yellow-headed Blackbird and others were spectacular. A Muskrat was busily swimming around underneath and parallel to the hide, and earlier on we’d seen a Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel as well. Overhead, a Black-crowned Night-Heron flapped by, and calling Soras kept us peering into the marsh, though we could only hear them. This was all before lunch!
We returned to High River and had a good hearty lunch at Smitty’s, where a warm bowl of soup was welcomed by many. As we waited for our meals, I spotted a new bird for us outside near the parking lot, several Common Grackles. ‘If you don’t find your Common Grackle in High River on this itinerary, you’re probably not going to get one anywhere on the tour’, I said, and this piqued everyone’s interest. After lunch we headed over to where the grackles had been and two were still there and showed off to us quite nicely. A Merlin ripped through the air overhead, emitting warning calls from other birds in the area. It disappeared before most people could get much of a look at it. With Common Grackle in the bag, we headed back out towards Frank Lake. This time, we took a quiet country road that runs north from the lake. Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds were feeding on the green grass beneath the cattle. The odd Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel popped up out of the grass as well. I spotted an odd shape amongst the trees in a copse of trees to the left of the road. I backed up the van and was very happy to see that the blob was a Great Horned Owl. The bird, which was of a pale prairie race, was roosting about 6 feet up off the ground in the afternoon sunshine. We all enjoyed scope views and snapped photos of the owl. A little farther down the road we
stopped at a Swainson’s Hawk’s nest. There was an adult on the nice, but it wouldn’t show us more than the top quarter of an inch of its head. High overhead, however, the mate was screaming and eventually it descended and landed on a telephone pole nearby. Out came the scopes. The scopes came in useful when a Vesper Sparrow landed on a fence post next to the road, and this was soon followed up by a bubbly little House Wren. A Tennessee Warbler that seemed a little out of place, sang but remained hidden in a clump of trees surrounding a farm house. An American Robin, our first for the trip, appeared frustratingly briefly on a fence post next to the road. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll see a lot of them’, I said. Western Meadowlarks were quite evident today, sitting on fence posts and posing nicely. We then turned down another dirt track where immediately after turning we spotted an adult Snow Goose in with a little group of Canada Goose. This was a late migrant, as most of the others of his species will have gone through at least a month ago. Another added bonus in a flooded field here were two Great Blue Herons and a Wilson’s Snipe, the latter of which was well hidden in the grass. Another flooded bit of field held our target species for this basin 3 area of Frank Lake, a Marbled Godwit. In the distance we could see two white blobs on a bit of water. We drove closer, and walked closer and when they pulled their necks out of the water we could see they were Trumpeter Swans. High overhead, 6 American White Pelicans lazily flapped their way south. It had been a great day with close to 80 species tallied. We returned to Calgary, fighting our way through the rush hour, but safely making it back to our hotel, where we had dinner, most of us opting for the salmon and it was pretty good.
Day 3, May 30 – We bid sprawling Calgary farewell and headed west via the Trans Canada Hwy towards Cochrane and the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Today the weather was quite variable with cool, breezy and cloudy periods and in the afternoon some warmer sunny patches. We managed to avoid the rain, as it only fell hard once as we drove between locations. Our first stop was at a large pond along Grand Valley Road. We got the scope out to investigate a swan and it was a lovely adult Trumpeter Swan, showing much better than the two we had seen at distance the previous day. There was also a pair of Red-necked Grebes on this pond, as well as a few different ducks, a couple
of Double-crested Cormorants and two Ring-billed Gulls. As we carried on our journey, we saw our first dazzling Mountain Bluebirds, as a pair of them frolicked along a fence line next to the van. They were busily feeding on grubs this cool morning, and possibly had a nest nearby in a box. All along our travels today we saw Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks soaring, and sitting on fence posts and telephone poles. I had my window down a skiff as I was driving along and I heard the high pitch song of a Cape May Warbler, so we stopped, piled out of the van, and within a few moments we were staring at this little gem of a warbler as it sang from the spruce trees. Suddenly Ann got all excited, but the words just wouldn’t come out of her mouth. I turned around and saw what she saw, a Great Gray Owl sitting on a fence post next to the road. There isn’t a moment that is much more exciting than discovering a Great Gray Owl. We watched the magnificent bird hunt from the fence posts at the edge of a large field for about 20 minutes before turning our backs to it and heading off to seek other birds. It was going to
be hard to top that, but we did find a number of other great birds in that same general vicinity. There was a male Bobolink singing from a pine at the edge of the field. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak sang incessantly from a roadside aspen, while Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Chipping Sparrow, ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a lovely White-throated Sparrow were also additions to the list.
We then headed to Horse Creek Road where we spent some time around an old community hall called the Dartique Lodge. An Eastern Phoebe called several times and I saw him briefly atop the chimney of the lodge, but he disappeared never to return again. Nonetheless, the area was teeming with bird life. We saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo and Tennessee Warbler, as well as a pair of Boreal Chickadees, Least Flycatcher and a Lincoln’s Sparrow. An adult female Cooper’s Hawk glided over a nearby
ridge, being harassed all the way by perhaps an Eastern Kingbird. We strolled up a little dirt path and were quite excited to find a second Great Gray Owl, this one flying slowly across the road and out of view into the forest, all the while carrying some prey in its bill. We were all tired out and hungry from all the excitement so we headed in to Cochrane and had lunch at Smitty’s.
After lunch we returned to the Horse Creek Road area, checking first a spruce bog where we found our target species, Alder Flycatcher. Other ‘bonus’ birds found here included a Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finch, American Kestrel, Pine Siskin, Yellow Warbler and a group of Cedar Waxwings. Overhead an immature Bald Eagle glided against the blue sky and it was soon followed by a Red-tailed Hawk and an immature Broad-winged Hawk. At a marshy area along the road we made our final birding stop of the day, and though I could hear my two target species here, Nelson’s Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow, neither would come in to view as the wind had picked up a little and was presumably keeping them down. This place lived up to its local name as Snipe Alley as we probably had about 10 Wilson’s Snipe in the area. An American Goldfinch sat long enough for everyone to get nice scope views of it, and in the marsh a Sedge Wren sang, but remained hidden.
Not only did we have a wide variety of birds today, but we also had some mammals including 2 Coyotes, several Mule Deer, a White-tailed Deer, a Richardson’s Ground-Squirrel and an American Red Squirrel. We drove on to Banff where we are to spend the next two nights. Dinner at El Toro was quite delicious!
Day 4, May 31 – This morning we headed out before breakfast, to Vermillion Lakes. The weather throughout the day, though cloudy and pretty cool, was better than the forecast rain and possible snow. Vermillion Lakes were scenic as ever, with the clouds and mist
covering much of the mountains. We encountered some nice warblers this morning including Magnolia Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Waterthrush. Willow Flycatcher was seen as was our first ‘Oregon’ Dark-eyed Junco. On the lakes, a pair of Common Loons in full breeding plumage were a treat to see, as were two Green-winged Teal and a lovely male Hooded Merganser. An adult Bald Eagle sat atop a lakeside tree and appeared not to move all day, as he was still sat there when we drove by at 5 PM. Osprey was seen hovering over the pond as well. The big highlight here however, came in the form of a fairly large Black Bear. As we rounded a corner, the bear was feeding on grass at the edge of the road.
When he saw us he crept slightly off the road and lied down at the base of a pine tree where he appeared to have a nice long snooze.
It was time for breakfast, and even more importantly coffee, so we headed for Coyotes and as usual, most of us ate too much. We then popped next door into an art gallery to have a look at my father’s art show and it was quite impressive. Leaving the bustle of the town of Banff, we headed for the Bow Valley Parkway, making our first stop at Mule Shoe Picnic Area. From the edge of the parking lot we were treated to views of nesting Red-naped Sapsuckers and a female Pileated Woodpecker, both of which had cavities in the aspen trees. Our first good looks at Columbian Ground-Squirrels were obtained here as
well. On a pond here, two male Ring-necked Ducks and a male and female Barrow’s Goldeneyes were a treat to see.
Next, at Johnston Canyon, we took a walk up the raging creek with hopes of seeing an American Dipper. The scenery, no matter what, was magnificent. Our first Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels scurried about on the canyon walls here. New birds included a female Varied Thrush, a Golden-crowned Kinglet, two Swainson’s Thrushes and a Townsend’s Solitaire, the latter of which had built a neat nest in a cavity in the canyon wall at eye level. Stuart shouted, ‘American Dipper’, and sure enough there was a dipper actively feeding along the river. We made it to the Lower Falls, which were quite impressive, and several of the group peeped their heads through a little tunnel to view the falls. There were treated to a nice cool spray (not really needed on this chilly day), as well as another view of the dipper. Lady Slipper Orchids, recently opened up, were nice to see along our walk. We had lunch in the café at Johnston Canyon and just before we left we saw a Least Chipmunk, our only one on the trip.
At Lake Louise, unfortunately the clouds were a bit low and we could not see the glaciers. Still, the scenery was great, and we stared in awe for a while amongst throngs of tourists. On our way back down to the van, two White-crowned Sparrows almost came and sat in our laps. The drive back to Banff produced the hardest rain of the day so we were thankful it had held off until this point. A quick drive around the Banff Springs Golf Course yielded 15 or so American Elk grazing in the grass. We stopped for a quick photo opp at Bow Falls and then returned to our hotel for a little rest before dinner at El Toro.
Day 5, June 1 – We loaded up the van and left Banff this morning, but not before visiting Cave and Basin Trail. The hour or so we spent here was quite productive this morning. The scenery was lovely with bits of blue sky here and there, and towering mountain
peaks peering out from behind the clouds and mist. Before we even left the parking area we had great views of our one and only Blackpoll Warbler of the trip, a singing male. We followed the babbling, steaming odorous waters of the hot springs down to the lake. In the clear waters we could see several species of tropical fish that live here in the warm waters of the spring. Great Blue Heron was seen lurking in the shallows, no doubt cashing in on the population of fish. A few ducks were about including Ring-necked Duck and the very attractive Hooded Merganser. Sora was calling from the marsh, but as usual, remained hidden. The woods of Cave and Basin were alive with birds. A young male American Redstart sang and danced about on branches nearby. A male Tennessee Warbler sang his snappy song from a pond side tree. Common Yellowthroats played hide and seek in the cattails. It was a brief sighting, but several saw an adult Northern Goshawk fly by carrying prey. Almost before I could even spit the word goshawk out of my mouth, the bird was gone. Before we left the parking lot we had one more stop, adding our only Swamp Sparrows of the tour. A pair of Elk with radio collars wandered across the road as if to bid us farewell.
We left Banff, heading west along Hwy 1, stopping again at Moraine Lake. The clouds cleared just enough to show off the magnificent mountains surrounding the calm, turquoise waters of Moraine Lake. The scenery here this morning was spectacular to say the least. Not many birds were about, though we did have our first Clark’s Nutcracker of the tour here, and on the lake were two Common Loons and a pristine male Common Merganser. A short walk through the spruce forest took us through a few little piles of snow, and we found few birds. We did see a male Varied Thrush atop a spruce tree, singing his ethereal song.
From Moraine Lake, we crossed the Great Divide and headed into British Columbia. ‘The best place on earth’ the welcome to B.C. sign said, and I rather agree with this statement, though I may be a bit biased. In the Kicking Horse Pass there was some roadwork, and we got stopped, though this turned out to be a bonus, since we saw a group of over a dozen Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep on a grassy slope. Two of the sheep were smashing their heads together. I mused that the two could be young rams, play fighting with each other. We had lunch at Subway in Golden before leaving the Rocky Mountains and heading into the Purcell Mountain range. We stopped in at Rogers Pass to take photos of the breathtaking mountain scenery. Again, we drove through several little rain showers today, but managed to stay dry ourselves.
Today we passed through several parks; Banff, Yoho, Glacier and finished off at Revelstoke National Park where we walked the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. The birds were active here this afternoon, and we were quite happy as well since the temperatures had warmed up to 20 degrees Celsius as we left the high mountains. A male American
Redstart flashed by, acting a bit like a movie star posing for the paparazzi. A Veery, our first, was quite a treat to see, as was our first Rufous Hummingbird, a male. Overhead, Vaux’s Swifts were noted, another new species for the tour list, which had now neared 140 species. The Skunk Cabbages were quite impressive with their large leaves covering the forest floor. A lovely butterfly, a Common (or Old World Swallowtail) sunned itself on leaves near the boardwalk. We headed from Skunk Cabbage Trail on to Salmon Arm, arriving before 6 PM. We had dinner at Setter’s Pub, where the food was nice, but the portions were rather large.
Day 6, June 2 – We started at 6 AM down at the pier in Salmon Arm. It was a lovely, sunny morning, with a few clouds drifting about. Western Grebes were numerous, calling and interacting with each other right near the pier. In with a flock of Canada Geese was a single Snow Goose, a bird that should have migrated up to the tundra weeks ago. Ospreys also were very entertaining this morning, with one or two birds perched
quite near the pier, excellent for the photographers in the group. Overhead, up to 20 Black Swifts were seen, and this was quite exciting, since this is a species that is often quite elusive. An adult Franklin’s Gull sailed over, a rather rare find for southern B.C.
We returned to our hotel for breakfast and then loaded up our stuff and returned to the waterfront of Salmon Arm for some more exploration. A walk along the Christmas Island Trail started off with the sighting of a lovely male Wood Duck. A Great Blue Heron hunted for fish along the shore here as well, and Tree Swallows poked their heads out of holes in nest boxes. Along the trail, the common species included Willow Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat and Red-winged Blackbird. We found an adult Black-capped Chickadee that was feeding two fledglings. A couple of Cedar Waxwings were great to see, especially for Janet, who has a ‘thing’ for waxwings. Soras called, but remained hidden in the marsh, as
usual, however we did luck out and have nice views of a Virginia Rail! Our first good views of a Gray Catbird were enjoyed, through the scope, along the railway tracks, between the rather frequent trains. Briefly, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, our first for the tour, flew overhead, followed by a harassing blackbird. Another unusual find for the southern interior of B.C. was an adult Double-crested Cormorant that sailed overhead for a few moments. We had scope views of a singing Red-eyed Vireo in the deciduous forests along the path, and just before where the trail was flooded, another local rarity, this time a singing male Blackpoll Warbler, was a great catch. Christmas Island, due to flooding, was not an island at all, but there were still a few Ring-billed Gulls perched on trees, shrubs and a partially submerged fence. With the Ring-billed Gulls was a single first year Mew Gull. A few folks on the tour caught a glimpse of two mammals; Water Vole and a Meadow Vole! A few butterflies were flying this morning, in the warm sunshine. There were Old World Swallowtails, Western Tiger Swallowtails and a beautiful Lorquin’s Admiral.
We had lunch on a patio overlooking the waterfront, while Ospreys fished and Western Grebes called in the distance, which was quite pleasant. After lunch we headed for Peter Jannink Nature Park where we spent about an hour. Up to 20 Western Grebes were frolicking in the water just off the park, but no Clark’s Grebe could be found. The drive to Kamloops took just over an hour and was very pleasant. The dense forests of the Columbia – Shuswap gave way to the dry, arid hillsides of the Thompson Region. Bald
Eagles were seen several times during the drive, along with a few Ospreys. In Kamloops we checked out the Rattlesnake Bluffs where we added our first Say’s Phoebe of the tour. The sagebrush habitat was a rather welcome change. At Tranquille, it was rather quiet, but we did see 3 Common Loons, and an adult Bald Eagle, the latter of which had an excellent viewpoint on a fence post atop a hill. Our first Yellow-bellied Marmots were a nice addition to the mammal list this afternoon. We headed for our hotel, situated on the hill on the south side of town, overlooking the city and the Thompson River. Dinner at Boston Pizza was enjoyable.
Day 7, June 3 – It was a nice morning in Kamloops, though overcast. After picking up lunch at the supermarket we made our way to the Lac du Bois Grasslands, on the north side of town. There was quite extensive sagebrush habitat here, and we took a short stroll through it, searching in particular for a Burrowing Owl. We did see two of them sitting atop posts amongst the sage and we agreed that this was a great way to start off the day. Other species noted in the same area included Western Meadowlarks, Vesper
Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow. Continuing along Lac du Bois Road we came to many little lakes and ponds, most of which had a selection of waterfowl on them. There were Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon, Blue-winged and Green-winged teal, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Bufflehead. The usual Red-winged Blackbirds, a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds and several Marsh Wrens were also nice to see in the wetlands. The male Marsh Wrens were singing persistently while trying to attract females to the multiple nests they had made. We explored an area of grassland and aspen and were rewarded with a nice list of western forest species such as a male Lazuli Bunting, immature male Bullock’s Orioles, a lovely male Western Tanager, Dusky Flycatchers and a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers. Cedar Waxwings, Warbling Vireo, Northern Flicker, American Goldfinch and House Wren were also tallied here for the day. Some nice flowers covered the hillsides here, such as Thompson’s
Paintbrush, Larkspur, milk vetch, balsam root, and arnica. At Lac du Bois we stopped to look at North America’s tiniest bird, a Calliope Hummingbird. The hummer was a male and had staked out his territory in a patch of bushes close the road. Every so often when he turned his head the right way we caught a flash of brilliant pink on his gorget. On the lake below were Buffleheads, Common Loons, Lesser Scaup and an attractive Red-necked Grebe. Mammals up on Lac du Bois today were rather scarce, though we did see a White-tailed Deer.
We had lunch at Isobel Lake, where we were joined by the pesky mosquito brigade. This didn’t dampen our spirits, and we enjoyed our lunch even though we were serenaded by the high pitched buzzing of the little insects. After we’d eaten, I tried out my Northern Pygmy-Owl call, and a nice bunch of birds came in to ‘mob’ the owl. There were Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, our first Hammond’s Flycatchers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the little group of mobsters. Then I heard the toot of a pygmy owl so I scanned the trees, instead finding a Gray Jay, our first for the tour, that was sitting atop a conifer nearby. Gray Jays can do a great imitation of pygmy-owl. As we were watching the jay, the pygmy-owl call started up
again, this time right next to us. It was a real deal Northern Pygmy-Owl! We enjoyed lengthy views of the owl as it moved from perch to perch, followed by a stream of mobbing songbirds. After we’d seen the owl, a light rain began to fall, and we made one more stop in hopes of finding a MacGillivray’s Warbler. We did find one, though we didn’t have great looks at it. The rain then picked up so we slowly made our way back to Kamloops and stopped in for an afternoon coffee before returning to our hotel for the evening. Dinner was delicious at an Indian buffet with a view over Kamloops.
Day 8, June 4 – We left Kamloops ‘in the dust’ this morning and headed S.W along Hwy 5A, stopping first in the grasslands along Rose Hill Road. Excellent views of Horned Lark was had here, as one sat on a little rock outcropping near the road and sang. Overhead Swainson’s Hawks soared, while the usual American Kestrel, Western Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow were all recorded.
At Separation Lake, a rather intimidating Rottweiler kept us on our toes, and it was quite breezy and cool here as well. There were still a few birds about including Yellow-headed Blackbird, Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Killdeer, and a selection of swallows. The next stretch of our drive along Hwy 5A was noteworthy for the sheer number of Bald Eagles we saw. We estimated between 70 – 80 Bald Eagles were along about a 10 km stretch of the hwy. Some were bathing in a stream, while others sat on fence posts, fallen trees, snags and hillsides. A short stop at Stump Lake provided us with nice views of several
nesting pairs of Red-necked Grebes, along with Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks and American Coots.
Our next stop, along Planet Mine Road, took us into an open grassland scattered with large live and dead Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs. This is the preferred habitat of the Lewis’s Woodpecker and once we were in place it didn’t take long for Anne to spot a Lewis’s on a fence post behind us. We watched the bird flycatch in typical Lewis’s Woodpecker fashion, before flying off and disappearing into the trees. Everyone agreed that the Lewis’s is one cool woodpecker. At Guichon Flats there were plenty of Eared Grebes about, as well as Redhead, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. A couple of Wilson’s Phalarope on a tiny roadside pond were a welcome addition to the day’s list.
We drove alongside the shores of Nicola Lake to Quilchena where we had lunch near the old historic hotel. As we ate, Vaux’s Swifts twittered overhead and our only Belted Kingfisher of the entire tour flew overhead. Brewer’s Blackbirds were busy feeding their young in the shrubs nearby as well. After a quick visit to the ‘General Store’ we
continued on our route, through Merritt and up and over Hwy 97C, the Okanagan Connector. We stopped at my house along Trepanier Creek in Peachland to check out what birds were visiting my feeders. My other half, Cindy and our two year old, Carsen, greeted us at the door. It was great to see them over the next couple of days while we were in Kelowna. Cindy had stocked up the feeders before our arrival and there were a few nice birds to see such as Pine Siskins, Cassin’s Finches, Chipping Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch and best of all the show of hummingbirds. There were over a dozen individuals visiting the feeders of three species; Rufous, Calliope and Black-chinned. We enjoyed coffee and tea as we watched the feeders for a while. Before we left, a male Western Tanager descended out of the fir trees and showed off nicely for the group. On the ground beneath the feeders we added a new mammal to the trip list; Yellow Pine Chipmunk. We said goodbye to Cindy and Carsen, though they met us for dinner later on.
Once we arrived in Kelowna we had one more stop at Sutherland Hills Park along Mission Creek, to look for a roosting Western Screech-Owl. Unfortunately the owl wasn’t home, but we did add one more species to our trip list, a Pygmy Nuthatch. We checked in at our hotel and then went for dinner later on at Olympia Greek Restaurant. We were joined by Cindy and Carsen and my two brothers, Cory and Connor.
Day 9, June 5 – As we gathered in the lobby of our hotel this morning, we were met by my good friend Mike Force. Mike’s a seabird observer on research vessels and he was enjoying a little time at home before trips. It was nice to have him along today to help us out. We started back at Sutherland Hills Park with one more try for the screech-owl. Again, the little fluffball wasn’t there! Again, we did not come up empty handed since we saw our first Nashville Warblers and Spotted Towhee of the tour.
At Robert Lake, one of Kelowna’s best birding spots, we scanned flooded fields, finding several stunning American Avocets, along with Wilson’s Phalaropes, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer, the latter of which had tiny precocious chicks running about. Out on the
lake was a nice variety of waterfowl including Bufflehead, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Cinnamon, and Blue-winged teal, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler. As we left Robert Lake we paused to look at Western Bluebirds and we counted up to 8 of them in the fields.
We stopped to pick up our lunch at Safeway before heading into the mountains east of Kelowna. Our first stop was along Hwy 33 where we had nice views of a pair of Western Kingbirds which were nesting on a telephone pole. Also seen here was a lovely Western Meadowlark. We then drove up to the McCulloch Rd Nordic Cross Country Ski area where we had our lunch. Again, as was often the theme, it was cool and breezy, but at least this kept the mosquitos away. In the trees around our picnic table was a Red-naped Sapsucker, along with Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Once we finished lunch we stopped to check a little wetland area along McCulloch Road, adding Olive-sided Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush and Wilson’s Warbler to the day list. We began heading up to Big White Ski Village, stopping along the way to explore the boreal forest along a little side road. In the spruce trees we located some stunning Varied Thrushes, one of which sang from the treetops as we watched in the scope. We had several nice looks at Hermit
Thrush here, a new species for the trip list. Other goodies added included Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two female Pine Grosbeaks, Townsend’s Warbler and more. Up at the ski village we checked a feeder out and were happy to see some Steller’s Jays here, new for the trip list as well. As the day was getting on, we decided to start heading back to Kelowna, via McCulloch Road. The descent of McCulloch Road was pleasant, with a few birds here and there as well as great views of Gallagher’s Canyon and Layercake Mountain. At dinner time we visited an Asian buffet and were joined by Cindy and my helper for the day, Mike.
Day 10, June 6 – We left Kelowna on a lovely sunny morning, crossing back over Okanagan Lake on the Bennett Bridge, and stopping in at Okanagan Lake Park to look for a roosting screech-owl. The screech-owl was fast becoming my nemesis for the tour! We enjoyed lovely views of Okanagan Lake with Wildhorse Canyon in the background. In Penticton we paused briefly to grab a coffee before continuing on to White Lake Road. We visited a friend’s place, who has a lovely log cabin in the forest. I checked the nest boxes that are placed on large fir and pine trees around her yard. ‘Western Screech-Owl’,
I exclaimed, as a youngster stuck his head out of one of the boxes. This sighting would go down as the bird of the day for many. Also here were Red-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, a very cooperative Townsend’s Solitaire and Mountain Chickadee. Farther along White Lake Road we explored the extensive areas of sagebrush that surround the lake. The scenery was stunning today, throughout our journey. Western Meadowlarks were abundant and their songs could be heard ringing throughout the valley at White Lake. Vesper Sparrows were the only sparrow that cooperated for us here today, with a distinct lack of Brewer’s Sparrows noted. We did, however, have one of the rarest breeding birds in Canada here, a singing male Sage Thrasher. Western Bluebirds were seen, as were Eastern Kingbird and American Kestrel.
Next, we headed up into the mountains east of Okanagan Falls. We checked in at a heavily wooded gully where I’d hoped to find a Barred Owl. Unfortunately the Barred Owls were not cooperating on this trip though. Eunice spotted a Ruffed Grouse here, however, and that was the only grouse we saw on the entire tour. Up at Venner Meadows we were quite pleased to find a Williamson’s Sapsucker nest in a large larch tree. We watched as the male and female made several visits to the cavity to feed young. At the actual meadows there was quite a lot of avian activity. Willow Flycatcher called and sallied out for insects. We had good scope views here also of a Northern Waterthrush. As the afternoon was getting on, we began the drive to Osoyoos, where we would be staying for the next two nights. Before we finished up on Shuttleworth Rd, we stopped to take in the spectacular view of Skaha Lake in the distance and we were treated to another great look at a Lewis’s Woodpecker. This evening we had dinner at Campo Marina in Osoyoos, and it was as usual, very tasty.
Day 11, June 7 – First thing this morning we took a spin along Road 22, admiring the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Killdeers along the way. Our first official stop was at the Vaseux Cliffs, a very pleasant place to be this morning. It didn’t take us long to find most of our target species, two Canyon Wrens and a Rock Wren were added, along with good views of White-throated Swifts, a Lazuli Bunting and an Osprey that was devouring a fish. Again, we saw Lewis’s Woodpeckers, a welcome sight at any time. Down on Vaseux Lake below was a single American White Pelican on a sandbar. As we watched, the pelican lifted into the air, and flew south. Also on the lake were Redheads and a pair of Canvasback, only the second time we’d encountered this species on the tour.
We explored some riparian forest along the Okanagan River, in hopes of finding a few more birds that had managed to elude us thus far. On the list was Black-headed Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat, and by the time we left, we’d seen both very well. Also nice to see were more Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Butterflies about included the ubiquitous Western Tiger Swallowtail and a Lorquin’s Admiral.
We headed up McKinney Road in Oliver, where I hoped we might find Gray Flycatchers, another of the Okanagan specialty birds. Upon arrival to the sight, I was happy to hear a Northern Pygmy-Owl tooting. We tracked down the owl and found that a number of
songbirds were mobbing it, including a couple of Gray Flycatchers! Pygmy Nuthatches were involved, and Anne spotted our first White-breasted Nuthatch of the tour. Overhead, Common Nighthawks called as they glided by, and Calliope Hummingbird even took to mobbing the owl. We had lunch in Oliver and then we drove over Anarchist Mountain to Rock Creek, where we explored the provincial park campground area for woodpeckers in a burn. There were supposed to be Black-backed Woodpeckers here, though we did not find them today. We did, however, find a couple of soot-stained Hairy Woodpeckers. Other species found here included Eastern Kingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, House Wren, Western Bluebird, Clark’s Nutcracker, and perhaps the most confiding MacGillivray’s Warbler ever, that sat for several seconds on a fence post right in front of us.
Back in Osoyoos we had diner again at Campo Marina and then we ventured up into the hills on the west side of town in the Richter Pass. As we were driving up the dirt road, I heard the distinct hissing notes of juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls. It took a bit of effort, crashing around in the dark through the brush, but eventually we all had looks at the tiny, chocolate brown owls, as they begged from the underbrush. Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills called, the latter of which I had a brief view of, but it disappeared before the rest of the group could find it.
Day 12, June 8 – We left Osoyoos this morning, stopping along the road to the Nighthawk Border Crossing. Amongst the sage here, we found several Brewer’s Sparrows as well as nicely patterned Lark Sparrows, both new species for the trip. The sweet song a Sage Thrasher echoed through the hills here, and we enjoyed watching this rare songster sing from the top of a Saskatoon. We headed for a towering cliff where I hoped we’d finally
see a Golden Eagle. As soon as we arrived, I spotted a giant stick nest up on the cliff and sure enough, an adult and a chick were sitting on the nest. We put up the scopes and had a view, while the adult soared overhead. Only problem here, were some persistent mosquitos, but the sighting of the Golden Eagles made it all worthwhile.
We stopped in at Princeton to pick up our lunch for the day and we carried on along Hwy 3 towards Hope. Suddenly traffic came to a standstill. There was an accident ahead and we were stuck for perhaps an hour and 15 minutes. We ate our lunch, and as Anne noted, we bonded as a group as we sat there waiting for the road to open. Once the cars started moving again we headed for Manning Park and Strawberry Flats. It was cold and breezy here, and there was still snow in the forest. It was nice to get out and have a little walk however, and we did see some nice birds like Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Varied Thrush, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but best of all, a flock of Gray Jays that
decided they wanted to steal almonds from us! We heard, but didn’t see, a Sooty Grouse hooting from a wooded hillside.
The drive into Vancouver took quite a while, as it was a Friday evening. Once we finally made it to our hotel in Richmond, we headed out for dinner at Stanley’s Grill.
Day 13, June 9 – It was supposed to be a cool, rainy morning, according to the forecast, so we were quite surprised when we emerged from our hotel, to find sunny skies. We certainly were not going to complain about it anyhow. We drove through the center of downtown Vancouver this morning, and across the impressive Lions Gate Bridge, to West Vancouver. Our destination was Lighthouse Park. We spent a couple of hours here, exploring the trails and taking in the splendour of the pacific coastal temperate rainforest. The trees were impressive in their own right towering far up into the sky and spanning many feet in diameter. These were old growth trees, and they were Western Red Cedars, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Douglas Maple, some of them 6 or 700 years old. The only problem with this forest being that many of the birds were about 100 feet up in the treetops and quite hard to spot. With a little patience many of the birds did come down to a good viewing level and we added a few that were new for the trip list. Our first Pacific Wrens were finally seen, as was our first Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Hutton’s Vireos came down from
the treetops, and we had another great view of a MacGillivray’s Warbler. At the Lighthouse we had our first good views of the Pacific, with Vancouver Island visible in the distance. A hummingbird feeder here produced our fourth species of hummingbird for the tour, Anna’s Hummingbird. A male Pileated Woodpecker put on a brilliant show here, landing on a telephone pole for several minutes. Some folks caught a glimpse of a new trip mammal species here, Douglas’s Squirrel, though it was gone before I could even get the word ‘squirrel’ out of my mouth.
We picked up lunch and took it down to Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. It seemed like literally everyone and their dog was out for a walk today. We had our first good views of Glaucous-winged Gulls here, and we studied the Northwestern Crows that came in to look for scraps around our picnic table. After we ate, we took the scopes to the beach to look for birds. We were rewarded with seven Harlequin Ducks foraging offshore, and both Double-crested and Pelagic cormorants.
Working on a tip from a friend, I took the group up to the parking area at the Cypress Bowl Ski Area this afternoon, where my friend said, ‘You can’t miss the Red-breasted Sapsucker.’ Turns out she was right. After a short hike into the trees we found a couple of lovely Red-breasted Sapsuckers gathering food for young. On our way back down the mountain, we paused to take in the breathtaking view of Vancouver below. As a bonus, three Band-tailed Pigeons flew past, the only ones we saw on the tour.
Our final stop of the day was at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver. After a bit of searching we found our target species here, a singing male Black-throated Gray Warbler. We had decent views of the warbler, though he stayed fairly high in the leaves, moving about as he sang. We returned to our hotel in Richmond and went out for our last dinner as a group to the Old Spaghetti Factory.
Day 14, June 10 – Our last morning in Vancouver and the final morning of the tour, we began at Queen Elizabeth Park, where we searched through the cedar trees, looking for roosting Barred Owls. We had no luck on the owl unfortunately, but it was worth a try. We then headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, where it was a bit breezy and cool, but sunny nonetheless. It didn’t take long for us to spot Black Oystercatchers here, a new
bird for the trip. Soon thereafter a Caspian Tern flew by, another new bird, and this was followed up by the sighting of some Greater Scaup, so that made three new species at this location. The numbers of Great Blue Herons here were impressive, as there is a nesting colony nearby and the birds come down to the tidal mudflats at low tide to feed. We had another look at Harlequin Ducks here, with about 15 sighted.
We then headed off to the Reifel Refuge, but not before a quick stop for coffee in Ladner. Once at Reifel, we stopped along the entrance road where we saw our first and only Bewick’s Wren of the trip. Once at Reifel we were immediately inundated by the hordes of ducks, geese, pigeons and sparrows that hang around the entrance of the refuge. A nice highlight though, was to see several Wood Ducks at close range. We made our way to an area of the reserve where Sandhill Cranes were said to be nesting and just as we came around a corner, one of the cranes was standing on the path. A little farther along the trail we found its mate sitting on a nest. Marsh Wrens chattered noisily from the reeds, a few of them pausing long enough for us to view them through the scope. Overhead, our first Purple Martins sailed by, along with Cliff Swallows, Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows. Eventually we encountered a little flock of Bushtits as they moved through the vegetation. Anne likened them to Long-tailed Tits, a species with similar habits from the U.K. A male Purple Finch sat atop a dead tree and allowed us to view through the scope, which was great since we’d only had fleeting glimpse of this species up until that point. We made our way to the outer ponds where I hoped we might find a lingering shorebird or two, and I was not disappointed. There was a single breeding plumage adult Western Sandpiper here, along with a Long-billed Dowitcher and several Greater Yellowlegs, all new species for the trip list.
It was mid-afternoon now so we headed off in search of a place to have lunch, ending up at the White Spot. After lunch we had about 45 minutes to visit the Iona Water Treatment Ponds, though there wasn’t too much about this afternoon. There were ducks there, including Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Cinnamon Teal. Rod stayed back as we went a bit farther to look for a Barn Owl, which we didn’t find. As we were coming back to meet Rod, our one and only Raccoon of the tour popped out of the bushes on the trail in front of us. Once we found Rod, he opened up his camera and showed us excellent photos of the Raccoon as he had also seen it. As we drove to the airport, our final sighting was a nice one, a Northern Harrier was sailing above the long grasses. I said farewell to the group, and thanked them all for the good company during the trip. We had seen 222 species of birds during our trip, and 19 species of mammals, a success in my books. The first group had set the bar high for the second Rockies Tour group, arriving in Calgary on June 17,
Day 1 – I met the group at the arrivals hall of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport shortly after 7 PM. The first bird noted of the tour was a Great-tailed Grackle flying alongside the road at dusk. We made the short transfer back to our hotel and then went for a little bite of dinner before heading to bed to get some sleep.
Day 2 – Just after 7 AM we gathered outside of our hotel. The group saw a few birds as I was loading the van, including Northern Mockingbird and Gila Woodpecker. We headed east to the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert where we spent about 2 hours at this fabulous location. Today was a gorgeous and sunny day with comfortable temperatures, which we
enjoyed very much. Upon arrival we visited a stand of Saguaro cactus where a couple of pairs of Gila Woodpeckers were busy entering nest holes inside the cactus. Curve-billed Thrasher and Gambel’s Quail were seen well near the cactus grove as well and a Mourning Dove fed two hungry youngsters on the ground not far from us. We saw our first of many Black-chinned Hummingbirds here this morning, and we had fair views of the tiny gray and yellow Verdin as they hopped about in the palo verde trees. We caught our first glimpse of the water, a scarce commodity in the desert, and racked up several species including lovely American Avocets, as well as Neotropic Cormorants, Snowy Egrets and an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron. Song Sparrows sang from the trees and eventually we had quite a good view of one of them. Abert’s Towhee also
showed well, scratching about on the ground, while an obliging Olive-sided Flycatcher perched and gave us great scope views. One particular pond was covered in waders, mostly Long-billed Dowitcher, but also a few Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and Black-necked Stilts. A few warblers were about as well, including Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s, Yellow and Common Yellowthroat, however the latter remained hidden in the reeds as it sang. Overhead our first Red-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture and a Peregrine Falcon appeared, the latter chasing Cliff Swallows.
It was time to move forward so we carried on from the outskirts of Phoenix towards the east and stopped in to have lunch in the town of Globe. As I was paying the bill, the group did some birding outside, spotting the first Cactus Wren of the tour. Our next port of call was Aravaipa Canyon, a stunning place with impressive towering cliffs and saguaro studded hillsides. I headed for an area where a Common Black-Hawk has nested for years and while we were looking from the road at the bird sitting on the nest, the
property owner came out and invited us onto his property to have a look. From his yard we had very good scope views of the hawk perched in its nest high up in a sycamore tree along Aravaipa Creek. Other goodies here including eye-popping Vermilion Flycatchers, and comparatively drab Black Phoebes. On a patch of shady grass quite a nice assemblage of birds gathered; Lazuli Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned Sparrow, Inca Dove and more. A Yellow-breasted Chat flew by, leaving us wanting more. We carried on farther along Aravaipa Road, picking up more birds as we went along such as Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Summer Tanager and Broad-billed Hummingbird. Overhead, a
Zone-tailed Hawk soared next to a Red-tailed Hawk. Later, our first Gray Hawk was spotted by Andy, wrapping up a pretty good day for raptors indeed. The afternoon was quickly fading to early evening so we carried on into Tucson, checked into our hotel and went for dinner at Chili’s.
Day 3 – At 6 AM we emerged from the hotel and headed off to Agua Caliente Park for some pre-breakfast birding. It was sunny and beautiful this morning. Once we arrived at the park the birds started rolling in with the likes of Hooded Oriole, Vermilion Flycatcher, Broad-billed Hummingbird and Lucy’s Warbler appearing. Down at the little wetland, a ‘big-bottomed’ Mallard swam past, obviously possessing a few ‘barnyard
quacker’ genes. A few Red-winged Blackbirds flashed their brilliant red epaulettes from the reeds on the far side of the pond. I heard the plaintive whistles of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet nearby so we scurried off in hopes of seeing this uncommon flycatcher. It didn’t take too long and we had the bird in our binoculars. A nest, which I suspect was the tyrannulets nest, hang from the lower branches of a eucalyptus tree. High in a pine tree I spotted a bulky stick nest with the head of a Cooper’s Hawk sticking up above it. This ‘head view’, plus a brief fly-by view were enough for most members of the group to warrant a tick on the list. In an area of Saguaro Cactus we had some nice birds such as a pair of tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, a Cactus Wren, a Curve-billed Thrasher, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and three distant Purple Martins! Not a bad start to the day.
After breakfast we headed out again, ascending the twisting Catalina Highway up the slopes of Mount Lemmon. We began at 3500 feet in Tucson and ended up just over 9000 feet on Mt. Lemmon, traveling through 9 different biogeoclimatic zones on the way up. The change in habitat due to the elevation gain is equivalent to driving from Mexico to the Canadian border. Our first stop was at the Cypress Picnic area. Here, we had some
fantastic birds, such as a very confiding Yellow-eyed Junco, several comical Acorn Woodpeckers, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Mexican Jay and two Spotted Towhees. Two of the better birds seen here as well included a male Arizona Woodpecker and a Grace’s Warbler, the latter of which allowed scope views as it sang from high in a pine tree.
At Bear Wallow we parked the van and walked up the cool, shady draw through towering Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir trees. It didn’t take us long to get right into the thick of bird activity as several Red-faced Warblers appeared and showed off for us amongst the fresh green spring leaves. Other warblers about included ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler and Townsend’s Warbler. A pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks fed on the flowers in a freshly leafed tree, while a male Western Tanager popped with colors nearby. The trumpeting calls of both Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches were
followed by sightings of both species and farther up the draw we saw our third nuthatch of the day, a Pygmy Nuthatch. A Mountain Chickadee appeared, as did a Brown Creeper, and as we were eating lunch a Hermit Thrush hopped about on the ground. The mammalian highlight in Bear Wallow was the sighting of an Abert’s ‘Tassel-eared’ Squirrel, as well as a cute little Cliff Chipmunk.
At the Iron Door Restaurant near the ski hill, we watched the hummingbird feeders for a few minutes which were alive with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. For a few brief moments a Rivoli’s Hummingbird appeared. Steller’s Jays were about, along then a noisy Common Raven and more cheeky Yellow-eyed Juncos. Right at the summit of Mt. Lemmon, a short walk produced three new species for our growing list, a Hairy Woodpecker, a pair of gorgeous Western Bluebirds and two unassuming Chipping Sparrows.
We had some refreshments in the ski village of Summerhaven at the Cookie Cabin, then
took a little stroll along a trickling creek and found three Virginia’s Warblers foraging in the trees. Another Red-faced Warbler appeared, and an American Robin sang incessantly, but would not show his face. On our way back down towards Tucson we stopped at the Windy Point Vista where we took in the stunning view. Down below us in the bushes was our first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Black-throated Gray Warbler. On a ledge nearby and adult Peregrine Falcon sat quietly in the shade. Once back in Tucson we had a little rest and then had dinner at the Black Bear Diner, and that was an experience in American cuisine let me tell you. We did not leave hungry tonight.
Day 4 – With blue skies once again, we made our way back to the foot of the towering Santa Catalina Mountains and we spent our morning at Sabino Canyon. We took a short stroll around before catching the tram, and were engaged by a naturalist who took us to see a ‘Crested Saguaro’ which is a deformed saguaro that grows in an odd shape. She
pointed out quite a few other plants for us and told us not to drink the water out a saguaro unless we were interested in a psychedelic experience! We took her advice. At 9 AM, the ‘tram’ headed up the canyon and we enjoyed the narrated ride up and halfway back down at which point we disembarked and walked a couple of kilometers. It was already pretty hot by the time we arrived, but that didn’t stop us from seeing some nice birds. The common species in Sabino Canyon were White-winged Doves, Lucy’s Warblers, Bell’s Vireos, Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Brown-crested Flycatcher. The star attraction was a Canyon Wren that sat on a ledge for quite some time as we watched him sing through the scope, while White-throated Swifts zipped overhead. A male Costa’s Hummingbird sat briefly atop a dead tree, and Andy and I glimpsed a Green-tailed Towhee in the undergrowth. Yet another Virginia’s Warbler foraged in the palo verde trees.
We had lunch in Tucson, the checked a spot along Ajo Rd where Burrowing Owls can be found. Just as we pulled up to the location, I spotted the owl sitting on a pipe, but he
promptly flew down into the ditch and disappeared into his burrow. After a while we gave up and headed west to the Sonoran Desert Museum. It was hot by now, and the van temperature gage briefly read 108 degrees F. As we arrived, our first Pyrrhuloxia sat nicely for good views. We wandered around the museum spotting some nice birds such as Cactus Wren, Western Tanager, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Black Vulture, Abert’s Towhee and Costa’s Hummingbirds. An adult Cooper’s Hawk came in to drink in a fountain quite close to us, offering incredible views! We gathered back at the café and had some cold drinks before beginning the short drive to Green Valley where we had dinner in the pub at the hotel and then got some sleep.
Day 5 – We left our hotel after breakfast under the normal weather conditions for S.E. Arizona; Sun, blue sky and warm temperatures. We headed for an area of residential Green Valley that has nicely landscaped gardens and quite a few birds. Our main target here was the Gilded Flicker. It didn’t take us too long to find the Gilded Flicker as he sat
atop a large yucca and called in the morning sunlight. This neighborhood provided quite a few other sightings as well such as Gambel’s Quail, Costa’s Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Bullock’s Orioles. A male Bronzed Cowbird was a nice catch here, as was a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher that had built its nest in the safety of a cholla cactus. Our first Black-tailed Jackrabbit of the tour hopped along the roadside, while the smaller Desert Cottontail was also noted.
We picked up our lunch and then headed to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. We headed to the upper parking lot where embarked on a hike into the pine / oak forest, with a couple of target birds in mind, most notably the Painted Redstart and the highly sought-after Elegant Trogon. The first species we encountered were Mexican Jays, Yellow-eyed Junco and a couple of Bridled Titmice. A Hutton’s Vireo sang incessantly and was seen by some in the party. Higher up in the canyon we heard the warbling song of a
Painted Redstart and after some searching we finally had the lovely warbler in our sights. Then, a barking sound came from within the trees along the dry creek bed. It was an Elegant Trogon. After a little searching we finally saw the bird, a male, calling within the depths of an Alligator Juniper. Scopes were set up and cameras clicked as the trogon called away and we descended back down the trail with big smiles on our faces.
We had lunch amongst the oak trees while Mexican Jays waited for us to clear out so they could descend upon the campsite and clean up any scraps. It was already getting quite warm and bird activity was waning, so we headed down the canyon to visit the feeders at the Kubo Cabin. It was nice and shady here and the birds were actively coming in to feed. Acorn Woodpeckers were very evident here, as were Black-headed Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, House Finches and Mexican Jays. Hummingbirds included
Broad-billed, Black-chinned and Rivoli’s. Along the dry creek bed, a Lincoln’s Sparrow hopped about and other treasures included our first American Robin, a Hermit Thrush and our first Western Gray Squirrels of the tour. Down at the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge we again sat for a while enjoying the action as Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinches, Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, a variety of hummingbirds and White-breasted Nuthatch all came in. We heard rumors that another trogon and a pygmy-owl were present down at the Madera Picnic Area so that’s where we headed next. Upon arrival we could hear the trogon barking so we headed in the direction that the bird was calling. We had great views of this trogon as he flew from perch to perch and even investigated a possible nest cavity. Geoff then spotted a Brown-crested Flycatcher nest
next to the creek and as we were looking at the nest a Northern Pygmy-Owl appeared. The owl sat up nicely in a juniper with a tiny lizard in its talons. What a great day it had been in Madera Canyon!
We returned to Green Valley, had an early dinner and then headed back for Madera Canyon for some nocturnal exploring. Us, along with several other birders, waited patiently for an Elf Owl to pop its head out of a cavity in a telephone pole and the owl kept his date with us, appearing promptly at 7 PM. Higher up in the canyon as darkness fell we heard the calls of Mexican Whip-poor-wills, and we had a great view of a Whiskered Screech-Owl to top it all off.
Day 6 – This morning we headed back towards the Santa Rita Mountains, stopping in at Florida Wash. One of the first birds to greet us here was a smashing Black-throated Sparrow that sat right up on top of the mesquite in front of us. After that, a Pyrruloxia popped into view, and a Green-tailed Towhee flitted through the undergrowth. Yellow-breasted Chat sang loudly but remained hidden in the bush. It had been made known to me several times on the trip that Greater Roadrunner was one of the top most wanted birds to be seen. In fact it would be a lifer for all 7 tour participants! I was excited then, when I spotted a roadrunner slinking through the mesquite so I shouted to the group, ‘roadrunner’, and they all came quickly. Not quickly enough, however as the roadrunner gave us the slip and disappeared into the desert, being seen by just myself and briefly by Andy. We had our first nice views of Swainson’s Hawks this morning as they sailed overhead against the cobalt blue sky. In a bit of grassland near Florida Wash we had great views of a Botteri’s Sparrow that sat on a fence.
Our next stop was at Proctor Road in the lowest section of Madera Canyon. Upon arrival, I heard a Crissal Thrasher singing, so we tracked it down, eventually getting good scope views of this ‘scythe-billed’ denizen of the desert. We then staked out an area along the dry creek bed where a pair of rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers had been seen recently. Several times I could hear the soft whining calls of the gnatcatcher so I knew they were in the area, but it took us quite a while to finally catch a glimpse of the female. Several good target birds ‘in the bag’, we began the drive back to Green Valley where we picked up lunch at Safeway.
We took our lunch to a Roy Morriss County Park in Tubac where we ate at some shady picnic tables. It was hot today, with temperatures of 100 degrees F, or slightly above.
After we finished our lunch, a few birds appeared, including our first Cassin’s Kingbird and a nice surprise pair of uncommon Tropical Kingbirds! We had at this point become a little blasé about the Vermilion Flycatchers that seemed to be present at most stops, though it is hard to get tired of seeing such a cracking little bird. After lunch we walked up the Santa Cruz River, hoping to catch a glimpse of another local rarity, the Rose-throated Becard. A pair of becards, normally found in Mexico, have been nesting along the river near Tubac for the last couple of years. We were instructed by a passing birder to look for the orange bucket, which would mean we were in the area of the becard’s nest. After a little searching we found the orange bucket and then we spotted the nest, a large bulky nest, hanging from a cottonwood. We hung around for quite some time, spying other species such as Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bridled
Titmouse, Song Sparrow and Gila Woodpeckers. Jane, who had wandered off a little suddenly asked, ‘Does the becard have a pink throat patch?’ We hurried over to her, but the bird was no longer in the spot she had seen it. It called several times, so I was aware the bird was still in the area. After a while I said we would give the bird ten more minutes to show up and then we’d have to go. Within a few minutes, there was motion near the nest and it was the male Rose-throated Becard. He sat near his nest for 5 minutes or so while we all enjoyed scope views. On our way back to the van we paused to look at several American Bullfrogs that were loafing around in a scummy looking puddle.
We were doing very well today with our target birds, knocking them off one by one. At our next stop, also along the Santa Cruz River, but at Santa Gertrudis Lane, our luck ran out. There had been sightings fairly recently of two Mexican vagrants here, Sinaloa Wren and Rufous-backed Robin. I knew our chances of seeing either of them were slim, so I
wasn’t too disappointed we couldn’t find them. As a consolation prize, a pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds put on a nice show for us and this is a species we normally only see closer to Patagonia. As luck would have it, we couldn’t find them at Patagonia so these Santa Cruz River birds were the only ones we saw on the tour. Of course there were other birds to enjoy along the cottonwood lined stream, such as Yellow-breasted Chat, Common Yellowthroat, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and overhead a Zone-tailed Hawk. We carried on to Nogales, our home base for the next two nights, and were greeted by a male Hooded Oriole having a drink in the water fountain outside the hotel, which was not a bad welcoming party.
Day 7 – At 6 AM we met outside of our hotel and we took a short stroll in some scrubby habitat near our hotel, in search of the elusive Greater Roadrunner. Last year’s group had a roadrunner right at this spot on both mornings. It was not meant to be this morning however. We had a quick look at the bustling Cliff Swallow colony under the eaves of our hotel before boarding the van and making our way to lovely Pena Blanca Lake. The morning light on the desert made for an idyllic setting. We spent about an hour and a half at Pena Blanca Lake, exploring a little trail that took us alongside the calm lake, and then up into a little bit of desert scrub. One
of the first birds we found was a new species for us, a pair of Rufouc-crowned Sparrows. In an open area near the lake we encountered quite a lot of bird activity. There were Say’s Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatchers, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Lark Sparrows, Costa’s Hummingbird and more. On the lake, waterfowl were few and far between, but we did see a pair of ‘Mexican’ Mallards, Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. We climbed up a short stairway away from the lake and saw some migrants there including Wilson’s Warbler, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Tanager and Warbling Vireo. Lucy’s Warblers, the ghostly pale warbler of the desert, sang loudly and a small flock of Bushtits entertained us. As the clock neared 8 AM we began feeling the urge to have breakfast, and even more importantly, some coffee, so we headed back to our hotel.
After breakfast we headed back out into the field, stopping at Patagonia Lake State Park. It was again, already heating up, and today’s temperatures again neared 100 degrees F. We spent an hour and half or so walking the trails of Patagonia Lake Park’s ‘Birding Trail’. Waterbirds were very much of interest to us and we found a nice Green Heron foraging by the first bit of water we encountered. In the scope we compared Neotropic Cormorants with a single Double-crested Cormorant out on a log. White-faced Ibis probed into the mud with their long, decurved bills. Spotted Sandpipers were rather
numerous along the muddy shores of the lake, and we saw a Killdeer as well. A Gadwall was our first for the tour, as was a small flock of Northern Shovelers that flew past, spotted by Andy. In the reeds we enticed a lovely male Common Yellowthroat into view. This warbler species, with its striking black mask, is known as the ‘bandit of the marsh’. Other species noted at Patagonia Lake included Summer Tanager, Cooper’s Hawk, Yellow-breasted Chat, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet to name a few species.
We headed into the town of Patagonia and went for lunch at the Gathering Grounds Café. After lunch we took a short stroll around the town checking out some local galleries and the historic Stage Stop Inn. At the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds we sat in the shade and watched feeders for much of the rest of the afternoon. It was quite enjoyable to relax here and enjoy the birds, which including the local celebrity, Violet-crowned
Hummingbird. Other hummers included our first Anna’s Hummingbird of the tour, as well as Broad-billed, Broad-tailed and Black-chinned hummingbirds. At the oranges, a Yellow-breasted Chat came in to feed several times and at seed feeders were Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinches, Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrows. In the brush piles scattered around the yard were Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee, Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow and Gambel’s Quail. It had been yet another enjoyable day of birding in S.E. Arizona and we headed back to Nogales for a
little rest before heading out for dinner.
Day 8 – From Nogales we headed north a short distance to Rio Rico, where I’d hoped we might get lucky and find the much anticipated Greater Roadrunner. We got up to the spot, a resort that we use to stay at and where I had several encounters with roadrunners of the years. Upon arrival we were greeted by a giant, ‘Closed for renovations’ sign. Darn, I thought, but at just that moment Jane piped up, ‘Right there on the road’, and there it was, a Greater Roadrunner. The bird snuck behind a tree and then came trotting right towards the van. The usual snickering comments that there was no coyote chasing it, ensued. Somebody went ‘beep beep’. The roadrunner climbed up a tree and then walked along a wall, posing for photographs, before trotting off into the mesquite woodland. Finally, a roadrunner in the bag.
At the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop, I explained the importance of the site to North American birders. At the little concrete picnic table tucked away into the trees, a rare bird had been found back in the 1970s, a first for North America, I believe. Other birders
began showing up to look for said rare bird, and in turn they began finding other rarities. ‘The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ was born. Now, unfortunately the effect didn’t bring us any rarities today, but it was nice to see Canyon Wren, White-throated Swifts, Gray Hawk, Canyon Towhee and others here this morning.
We then popped into Patagonia and at the Gathering Grounds we ordered our lunches to go. We had a coffee while we waited and the staff didn’t make us wait long as they were terribly efficient. We were on the road again, stopping at Sonoita to fill up with fuel. I turned around after filling up the tank and realized the entire group had disappeared. They were soon spotted photographing and looking at some old west wagons and buildings.
Back to birding, at Las Cienegas Grasslands, it was quite calm and the birds were active. We had great views of Grasshopper and Brewer’s sparrows here. Kath spotted a Loggerhead Shrike, though it was a fair distance off, we had views through the scope. Andy spotted another distant creature, a Pronghorn Antelope. Again, through the heat haze, we could just make out what it was. Several Chihuahuan Ravens lazily flew by, and Eastern Meadowlarks, of the ‘Lilian’s’ race were singing and perching for good scope views. Swainson’s Hawks soared lazily overhead in the afternoon thermals. Andy, the king of Lark Buntings, spotted a Lark Bunting as it flew off. This would happen twice on the tour!
I turned off the main highway on a road marked to Elgin. In the prairie along this stretch we saw three more Pronghorn Antelope, with one of the males being quite curious about us. We bumped down a long dirt road to the Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research
Ranch where we were greeted by friendly attendant Suzanne. Even before we left the parking lot we’d added the species we’d come here for, Scaled Quail. There were half a dozen or so of them huddled in the shade beneath one of the work trucks. We were surprised to see one lone white quail egg on the ground under the truck where the birds had been. We had our lunch inside ‘the party barn’ which made a nice shelter for us to eat inside. Scaled Quail called loudly from just outside the barn and Say’s Phoebes fluttered around the eaves, possibly nesting. Several of us entered in a raffle to win a wooden carved Montezuma Quail, which if won, would be the only of its kind encountered on this particular trip. As we were leaving the research ranch we saw a couple of Botteri’s Sparrows in the grasses along the road as we entered an area covered by native grassland vegetation. An Olive-sided Flycatcher perched on an agave was an unusual sight, in my opinion, as I’m familiar seeing this species in its northern forest and bog breeding habitats. Eastern Meadowlarks again perched nicely for us as we drove on by. We carried on into Sierra Vista where we went out for dinner at Applebee’s before getting some rest.
Day 9 – We were now accustomed to waking up to blue sky and warm temperatures. Today was no different as we picked up our lunches before heading up into the Huachuca Mountains and Carr Canyon. A stop in lower Carr Canyon did not produce a
Scott’s Oriole, unfortunately, though we did catch a glimpse of an Eastern Bluebird here. Overhead, our only Golden Eagle for the tour was seen, being chased by a seemingly diminutive Common Raven. ‘Well try again for the bluebird later, I said, as we carried on up the bumpy road. I explained that I didn’t like stopping on the way up into Carr Canyon, since I like to keep my momentum going. The road really wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be however, and the views going up and coming down were incredible. Once up at Reef Townsite Campground we got out of the van and strolled around for over an hour. Almost immediately we found one of the target species for the Huachuca Mountains, a Buff-breasted Flycatcher. This, tiniest of the empidonax flycatchers species, is fairly common in the mixed pine / fir forests of the upper elevations of the Huachucas. Our next target was Greater Pewee and one was singing close by so we tracked it down and enjoyed lovely scope views as it sang ‘Jose Maria’. We had great views of Plumbeous Vireos here today, new for the trip list, and we finally caught up with Olive Warblers, as both male and female performed in the pines above us. Other warblers seen included Virginia’s,
Grace’s, Townsend’s, Hermit, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray and Yellow-rumped. All in all it was a very pleasant trip to the 7400 elevation. We had lunch and began bumping our way back down the road, pausing to look at a Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay along the way. Back down near the bottom of the road we did try again for the Eastern Bluebird and this time we had great views of a male of the locally rare ‘fulva’ race.
We then made a return visit to Ash Canyon where we had hoped we might all catch a glimpse of the rare Lucifer Hummingbird this afternoon. One or two of us got lucky, as the male appeared frustratingly briefly and then the female showed up several times at a feeder buried in the leaves. We did get two ‘firsts’ for the trip however, a young male
Calliope Hummingbird appeared at the feeders for Margaret, Richard and I to see. All of us had leisurely views of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak here as well, a species not normally found in Arizona.
We had a return visit to Applebee’s for dinner before some of us ventured back out into the field, hoping to catch a view of a Common Poorwill, a member of the nightjar family. Unfortunately the poorwills didn’t want to show this evening, though we did hear their calls off in the distance while we enjoyed the great show that is the night sky.
Day 10 – We returned to Miller Canyon, the same area where we had tried to find poorwills the evening before, and it all looked very different bathed in sunlight! Today, a bit of a gusty breeze blew here and there, otherwise, sunny and warm as usual. At the Beatty’s Guest Ranch we headed up to a known nest for Northern Goshawk. The goshawk, though we were sure it was hunkered down on the nest, could not be seen from our vantage point. We carried on up the canyon, hoping to spot a roosting Spotted
Owl, but the search couldn’t turn one up. Other nice birds along the babbling creek included Cordilleran Flycatcher, Grace’s Warbler, House Wren, Painted Redstart and Arizona Woodpecker. We ran into another group as they ascended the canyon. They asked about our luck with the Spotted Owl so I told them the bad news. They gave us a tip on a viewing location for the goshawk so we took their advice and climbed the small hill near the nest, attempting to get an eye level view of the incubating adult. It took a long time, peering through the sea of green leaves, but eventually, I spotted the adult sitting atop the nest. Richard and Margaret, who stayed below, ended up seeing the bird sit right up on top of the nest for a moment. The rest of us enjoyed scope views of the bird, which was visible only when the wind blew and the leaves parted enough. We could see the goshawks red eye, it’s hooked bill and occasionally the white supercilium. To finish off our visit at Beatty’s we watched the excellent hummingbird feeder setup for half an hour or so. We had our best views of Rivoli’s Hummingbird here, along with Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, and Black-chinned hummingbirds. A female Calliope Hummingbird fed on flowers near the path, which was nice for everyone who had missed the species on the previous day. On a little pond we saw some Leopard Frogs, and
then after saying goodbye to Tom Beatty Jr, we headed back to Sierra Vista where we had lunch.
After lunch we drove a short distance east to the San Pedro River. Soon after disembarking from the van, two people emerged, a man and a woman, and they exclaimed, ‘Andy and Jane?’ The two were friends that had traveled with Andy and Jane years ago in Africa. Sometimes the world seems like such a small place. The man, I think his name was Simon, pointed out where our target bird, a Western Screech-Owl was roosting in a massive cottonwood tree. I was thankful, since the tree had been pruned since my previous visit and I was having a hard time locating the owls’ roost. Blue Grosbeak was another nice addition here, and we saw only our second or third Common Ground-Doves foraging on the ground. A short visit to the gift shop seemed rather lucrative for the gift shop, as quite a few people emerged with little bags of birding memorabilia.
In Douglas, a dusty border town, we stopped to fuel up before we made our way to Portal, where no fuel can be purchased. It was a lovely drive through the desert to Portal,
which took us onto State Line Road, where the road is the border between Arizona and New Mexico. On the New Mexico side, it was an hour later, and we stopped to check out a barn where I had seen Great Horned Owls in the past. It didn’t take me long to spot the owls again, and this year there was an adult and three fluffy chicks stuffed onto the top of the hay bales. We had great scope views and the owner of the property pulled up in his pickup truck and told us we could go onto his property for an even better view, so we did! We carried on to Portal, checked into the lodge and then had a little down time before dinner. After dinner, I went on a short stroll, bumping into Geoff who was enjoying the night sky. I ran into Richard and Margaret as well. They were listening to a pair of duetting Western Screech-Owls and as I stood with them, a Striped Skunk rustled around in the leaves near the bank of the small creek.
Day 11 – Before breakfast we headed out in the cool morning and made our way back to the New Mexican border to try for Bendire’s Thrasher at Gin Road. We again saw the family of Great Horned Owls camped out inside the hay barn. Cactus Wren, Western Kingbird and Chihuahuan Ravens all appeared, but soon the star of the show arrived, a Bendire’s Thrasher. Now this species is quite similar to the Curve-billed Thrasher but the
Bendire’s sports a shorter, pale based bill. We watched the Bendire’s forage about for a few minutes and then he collected some nesting material and flew off. Soon thereafter, a Curve-billed Thrasher appeared on a fence and we were able to see all the key differences between the two species. A rather brief encounter with a Prairie Falcon was noteworthy today, as we spotted the large, brown falcon, as it flew away across the fields and disappeared.
Leaving New Mexico in the dust, we returned to Portal and then went a few miles up the Paradise Road. Three species were on my radar here this morning, and we managed to find two of them, Scott’s Oriole and Bridled Titmouse, both of them at the Paradise Cemetery. The one we missed, the Black-chinned Sparrow, has apparently been very hard to find this spring.
We returned to Portal and had breakfast. I had my usual, the juevos rancheros with the spicy red sauce. Feeling well prepared for the day, as I’d picked up our bagged lunches, we bumped and bounced our way up into the Chiricahua Mountains, stopping at Rustler
Park at over 8000 feet elevation. We strolled through a forest of towering pines and firs, listening for the soft calls of our target species, the Mexican Chickadee. The Mexican Chickadee is only regularly found in the USA in the Chiricahua Mountains and in one or two mountain ranges in adjacent New Mexico. Since the big forest fire of 2003, it has been somewhat difficult to find the chickadees as their coniferous forest habitat lost a lot of size. We had some nice birds in this woodland such as American Robin, Red-faced Warbler, and Yellow-eyed Junco, but when the Mexican Chickadee arrived, it stole the show.
From Onion Saddle, we headed down the road towards the Chiricahua National Monument, stopping at Pinery Campground to have a look and to eat our lunch. Birds were quite numerous here with Cordilleran Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Townsend’s Warbler, Acorn Woodpecker, and Western Wood-Pewee all distracting us from eating lunch. We’d heard there had been a Spotted Owl in the area, but despite a very good search, we couldn’t find the roosting owl. Farther down in the canyon we stopped to ‘twitch’ a rarity, a Slate-throated Redstart. It was a short and somewhat steep climb up the babbling little brook to where the redstart had been seen. ‘I’ve got it’, I said, and it
was about the first bird I put my binoculars on. The lovely red belly, coupled with a lack of white eye arcs and the lack of any white in the wings, made it the Slate-throated Redstart. The bird fanned its tail, showing the broad white tips to the outer tail feathers, also indicative of Slate-throated Redstart. ‘Does anybody else see it’, I asked, and two members of the group replied, ‘yes’. The bird disappeared after about a ten second look and then the area suddenly filled up with Painted Redstarts. A little pool of water attracted some nice visitors while we sat and watched; Townsend’s Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco and another Mexican Chickadee, most notably. One of the members of my group who had stayed behind near the van came running up and said that my friend John Coombs had just warned them of a nearby forest fire. It was hot and windy, two things that combine to make for extreme fire conditions. We could see the smoke and as we were leaving, a forest ranger appeared to make sure we were on our way out. As we passed by John Coombs and his Field Guides group, I stopped and chatted with him. He said we should get out for a quick look as they were going to check the area for Spotted Owl. It would be a pity if we drove on by and they found the bird. We searched together, as a group of about 15 birders, but couldn’t find the owl.
The drive back to Portal was scenic, especially through parts of the south fork of Cave Creek Canyon. We stopped for half an hour to bird in the canyon, where the sycamores
and oaks nicely shaded us. Birds included Bridled Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black Phoebe, Painted Redstart, Hutton’s Vireo, American Robin and Mexican Jay. Once back in Portal we went for a stroll, with hopes of finding a couple more birds for our trip list. The first target was Blue-throated Hummingbird, the largest of North America’s hummingbird species. I checked in at a feeder where they often visit, but there was no nectar in the feeder. Two houses down, however, the feeder was stocked. We watched for a bit, enjoying Western Tanagers, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, White-crowned Sparrow and Green-tailed Towhee to name a few species. The Blue-throated Hummingbird, a male, flew in and had a quick feed. He then landed on a branch in a
nearby cedar and sat there calling as we watched through the scope. In the trees overhead, flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons were a joy to see. Just as we met for dinner the feeders at the café had some interesting attendees, including Cassin’s Finches and Pyrrhuloxia. Our final dinner together as a group was very nice and it was sad to think it would all be over tomorrow. Margaret and Richard went for another stroll this evening, and guess what? They found another skunk. This one a Hognose Skunk, strolling through Portal.
Day 12 – A few keeners joined me this morning on another stroll through Portal. The morning bird activity was high. The Cassin’s Finches, Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Acorn Woodpeckers, Canyon Towhees and other various bits and bobs were still at the feeder. Singing in the desert at the edge of town were Cactus Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Curve-billed Thrasher and the likes. We had more views of the Blue-throated Hummingbird this morning, and saw again the Band-tailed Pigeons. A Pacific-slope Flycatcher sang several times, but remained hidden in the greenery. After breakfast, on
our way out of Portal, we came across a large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake that was sunning on the road. I pulled off beside the snake and tried to encourage it to move off the road as there were cars coming in both directions. The snake gave a couple of rattles to me as it headed straight under the tire of the van where it curled up in the shade. Rather carefully, I got back in the van and slowly backed up, under the careful guidance of Nigel. The snake sat there all coiled up. At least he was off the road. We drove through barren areas of western New Mexico this morning as we headed back towards Phoenix for late afternoon flights. Our main birding stop for the day was at the Willcox Sewage Pond, or ‘water treatment plant’ as coined by Jane. It was ridiculously windy here, which made spotting shorebirds through the scope a bit of a challenge. There were plenty of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets, as well as Killdeer and some really nice Wilson’s Phalaropes. Several ‘peeps’ were pointed
out to me and after a quick look in the scope, we’d added Least Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper. Distant gun shots kept flushing the waterfowl, but in the end we added quite a few species here such as Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon. Horned Larks ‘hung on for dear life’ in the wind as they foraged at the edge of the pond. The drive back to Phoenix was broken up by a lunch stop in the city of Benson. We tallied up the list as we drove and figured we’d seen 207 species. In my memory, this is the highest list I’ve tallied on an Arizona trip.
May 21, 2018 – I met up with Alan and Shirley from Inverness, Scotland, at Mission Creek this morning. It was a great day, weather-wise, with warm temperatures, little wind and blue skies. We walked over the bridge across raging Mission Creek into Sutherland Hills Park where we found the mosquitos were quite hungry. Despite a good search, we could not find a Western Screech-Owl roosting in his regular haunts. To make up for the loss
we headed into an area of Ponderosa Pines where we looked for Pygmy Nuthatch, and we found one, a very confiding one at that. Other goodies found in Sutherland Hills Park included Nashville Warbler and Spotted Towhee.
Our next stop was Munson Pond, which is always a bird-filled location and it was no different today. As we drove along the entrance road we had our first views of the comical California Quail, a lifer for Alan and Shirley. In fact, most birds were lifers for them as this was their first birding outing in North America. A stunning male Bullock’s Oriole made for some nice eye-candy, followed up by a Western Kingbird. On the pond were some ducks including two male Blue-winged Teal, two male Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Duck, a lingering Greater Scaup and a family of baby Wood Ducks. We strolled back to an area of willow trees where I hoped we might find a roosting Great Horned Owl, but the owl was roosting elsewhere today.
We crossed the Bennett Bridge to West Kelowna, popping in at my place on Trepanier Creek in Peachland. Our timing was great as the birds were pretty active at the feeders. While Alan and Shirley had coffee, they added several species to their life lists such as Black-chinned Hummingbird, Evening Grosbeaks, Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch and Vaux’s Swift. A Merlin briefly perched on a tree in the backyard and once it took flight it was chased by the Vaux’s Swift. ‘That was the best coffee break ever’, said Alan. At Seclusion Bay we had lovely views of a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and we enjoyed
sweeping views of Okanagan Lake. Next, we checked the area between Peachland and Summerland for the sought-after Lewis’s Woodpecker. This species, only 20 years ago, was quite easy to find in the Kelowna area. Now, their numbers have been reduced greatly and only a handful of sites remain in the Central Okanagan. After a bit of searching, we had scope views of one in the fir / pine forest above Hwy 97. In Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, I was able to locate the first owl of the day, a Western Screech-Owl, and the clients were ecstatic! So was I. A quick stop at the bottom of N. Beach Road near Summerland provided us with our only views of House Wren for the day, as a pair of birds were nesting in dead tree next to the road. Another first for the day was an Eastern Kingbird. We saw more Bullock’s Orioles down here as well. The oriole is a bird one never tires of seeing.
Having reached the southernmost point in our journey today, we turned north, heading up to a little wetland near West Kelowna’s Crystal Mountain Ski Area. Our target was Barred Owl, which we didn’t find, however two more lifers were added to Alan and Shirley’s lists, Lincoln’s Sparrow and two curious Gray Jays. Continuing on, we again crossed the Bennett Bridge into bustling downtown Kelowna, full of tourists on this glorious long-weekend Monday. ‘Swifts are one of my favorite groups of birds’, Alan exclaimed on the drive, so I thought we’d better make a stop at Dilworth Mountain where White-throated Swifts can be found. After a few minutes of searching Alan and I were watching White-throated Swifts rip through the air, alongside Violet-green Swallows.
After a quick pit stop in Rutland we headed up Hwy 33, stopping next at Philpott Road. Two days ago I had located a pair of Northern Pygmy-Owls here, so I tooted in hopes of attracting one. After a while I gave up, though I had managed to attract some songbirds that came to mob ‘the owl’. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-capped Chickadee and a lovely male Townsend’s Warbler were among the birds that came in to investigate. Suddenly a Northern Pygmy-Owl began calling and in no time we were staring at him. Fierce and cute all at once, the pygmy-owl was joined by a second bird. They called simultaneously, one giving a low pitched toot and the other a higher toot. ‘Male and female’, I said, and then the two owls grasped each other by the talons and tumbled through the trees towards the ground. What a show! To finish off our day we headed for an undisclosed area where Great Gray Owls have been known to reside. No Great Gray was in our future today however, but we were just as pleased to find a Barred Owl in the trees next to the road! A second Barred Owl called deeper in the forest. Before it was all said and done, we had Mountain Chickadee, Red-naped Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker on the list. We began driving north, traveling through some farmland in the hills along the eastern edge of Kelowna. On a telephone pole was a dark morph Swainson’s Hawk. We’d see another Swainson’s, this time a more typical light morph bird, as we neared Enderby. It had been a fantastic day. I dropped the McAskills off where their relatives live in Enderby. We had found about 90 species of birds today!
Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours