Wednesday, July 13, 2016

British Columbia Birding Trip, June 2016

In June 2016 I added a week-long vacation to a work trip to Calgary, Alberta (AB) to work on both my Alberta and British Columbia (BC) province lists.  I had never been to AB before, so I would be starting from scratch on my AB province list.  And although I have birded in BC, all my birding has been in Vancouver and nearby coastal areas, and my list was just 144.  That meant I had some significant potential to add inland birds to my BC list as well.  This post details the BC portion of the trip, starting on Day 6.  The previous 2 posts summarized the entire trip, and detailed Days 1-5 in AB.

For the BC portion of the trip I made a long list of 110 possible target birds that would be reasonably likely in southeastern BC.  Then I purchased copies of “Birdfinding in British Columbia” and “The Okanagan Valley Birding Trail” to research some of the best locations to maximize my hit rate on my targets.  The Birdfinding book seemed to be rather general and a bit dated even though it was from 2013.  The Okanagan Valley book looked to be much more helpful, but I was only planning to bird in a very small portion of the area covered by this guide.  Then I went to eBird to supplement information in the books, but found that there were few summer reports from most of the areas I hoped to bird (even though there were numerous spring reports from these sites), and few hotspots in some of the better birding areas.  But I did my best to cobble together an itinerary starting with a day in the mountains at Yoho National Park, a day in the foothills in the Golden area, and a couple days to the west in areas like Revelstoke, Vernon, Salmon Arm, and Kelowna.  With this itinerary I hoped for at least 50 new BC species, and crossed my fingers that BC could be my first province with over 200 species.  However, despite many hours of planning, I was still uneasy about my planned itinerary as I embarked on the BC part of my trip, wondering if I had planned too much birding time in areas of similar habitats. 

Day 6

My plan was to spend my first day of BC birding in Yoho National Park, starting at dawn with a hike around Emerald Lake.  When I arrived at the parking lot the woods were alive with song featuring the ever-present Tennessee Warblers and Swainson’s Thrushes.  With a short walk I was afforded this nice lake-side view, despite the low overcast and drizzly conditions, and was serenaded by a nearby Northern Waterthrush. 

I embarked on the 5 km loop around the lake starting on the west side, and despite superb habitat, the woods were very quiet.  I emerged from the woodlands into a wetlands at the inlet to the lake and picked up Lincoln’s Sparrow, but landbirding was still pretty slow.  The lake featured two pairs of Common Loons and one young chick, and a flyover Common Merganser.  Birding picked up when I reached the eastern side of the lake, including one high-pitched song that initially I couldn’t identify.  It almost sounded like the high-pitched trill of a hummingbird’s wings.  Then I softly played tape of several warbler options and eventually found one song of a “very fast-pulsed” Blackpoll Warbler in AK which was a perfect match – an unexpected species not on my original target list though apparently regular in this habitat.

As I continued to walk along the path I would see numerous trees with bark flaked off - the characteristic sign of Three-toed Woodpecker activity.  I had searched for this species in excellent habitat in the AB portion of this trip, including around trees with flaked-off bark, but with no success.  Then I heard the drumming of a woodpecker a short distance from the trail.  I wanted to chase it down but the brush was impenetrable.  So I frustratingly put it down as woodpecker, sp.  But not more than 100 m down the trail I heard another woodpecker tapping.  This one I was able to spot and it indeed was a Three-toed.  And a short distance farther down the trail I had another Three-toed actively foraging – bits of bark were raining down below it.  After I finished my hike I decided to make a few stops along the road to Emerald Lake, adding Hammond’s and Olive-sided Flycatchers, and a pair of Gray Jays.  That gave me 12 new birds for my BC list in this first visit to boreal habitat in the province.

Next I headed to the Kicking Horse Campground where one recent eBird post included a number of my targets.  But I have a feeling that that post was from a camper who had spent many hours in the campground, as I came up empty in my 2-hour visit, though a pair of Pileateds was nice.  And this view of the Kicking Hose River was a nice consolation.

Some limited eBird data indicated that there could be some targets along Yoho Valley Road, so I started the drive up the valley making stops wherever pulloffs were available at suitable habitat.  One of my first stops was at a brushy slope that looked inviting, and I soon heard multiple Lazuli Buntings and a couple singing Fox Sparrows.  Later I would pick up a calling Boreal Chickadee as I drove along – my only one in BC.  And in my last stop I added several cooperative Mountain Chickadees.  Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed a larger bird perched atop one of the spruces.  I was thinking it was just going to be a Robin, but with a quick glimpse it turned out to be my only Pine Grosbeak of the trip.

I continued up the valley to the end of the road, and although there were no new bird species, I was rewarded with spectacular views of Takakkaw Falls.

It was now early afternoon, and after a quick stop at Wapta Lake that yielded a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes, my next planned visit was at Hoodoo Campground based on a good summary in the birdfinding guide.  But when I arrived the campground was not only closed, but it had been closed for a number of years based on the size of the trees growing up in what was supposed to be a grassy entrance.  Undeterred, I birded the entrance area for a while and picked up my first Dusky Flycatcher and Cassin’s Vireo, and my only Nashville Warbler for the trip.

Although it was just mid-afternoon, instead of additional birding in the park I decided to make the short trip down to Golden and spend the extra time prepping for the next day’s birding.  As I walked to the door of the hotel I heard a singing Clay-colored Sparrow at the edge of the parking lot as if to welcome me to the foothills habitat.

As it turned out it was a great decision to do research instead of additional late afternoon birding.  I was planning to spend much of Day 7 a short distance north of Golden in Blaeberry where numerous eBird reports from three hotspots had many of my targets.  When I dug into the details it turned out that virtually all of posts were from one birder – Douglas Leighton – including comments about seeing birds around his house.  Earlier I noticed a phone book in the hotel room, and quickly found a listing for Doug and decided to give him a call to ask for some local advice.  We spent an hour on the phone and he gave me excellent advice for many of my targets, as well as advice on other species I needed that I didn’t even realize were in the area.  I continued to coordinate with Doug as my trip continued, gaining invaluable advice for all of my upcoming stops.

One of Doug’s suggestions was to bird that evening at Reflection Lake less than 10 minutes south of my hotel.  Doug’s recommendations were spot on – the lake was full of nesting waterfowl where I added Eared Grebe and Redhead.  And several Bank Swallows flew overhead from their nearby nesting banks.  The marshes harbored several Virginia Rails and a Sora, and a Redstart and Red-eyed Vireo sang from a small grove of adjacent cottonwoods.  Along with my earlier stops in the mountains that gave me 27 new species for the day, and a BC list of 171.

Day 7

My original plans were to bird in the Blaeberry region in the morning, then head to Revelstoke in the afternoon.  But after going through my list with Doug, I realized that most of my targets reported from Revelstoke would actually be feasible in Blaeberry.  Instead Doug gave me suggestions for several stops south of Golden toward Parson, and to the north in Donald.  Plus he gave me great advice for my targets in and around Blaeberry.

I started at dawn on Holmes-Deakin Road in Blaeberry and quickly added the first of several singing White-throated Sparrows and the first of many Red-naped Sapsuckers (they were everywhere!).  And once again scenery was outstanding! 

An extended stop at a wetlands along the road produced several Willow Flycatchers but no hoped-for Alders.  Then a bit farther down the road I heard a high-pitched song that sounded like a perfect Black-and-white Warbler (I’m very familiar with the song of this common nesting warbler back home).  But since I had heard a number of birds on this trip singing unexpected songs, I wasn’t going to ID this rarity based on song alone.  So luckily the bird continued to sing and I was eventually able to track it down, getting close range visuals of a male Black-and-white Warbler, a nice rarity typically only expected east of the mountains.  The only other new target I found along this road was a Kestrel in the fields at the end of the road, just as predicted by Doug.

Next I was off to nearby Golden Donald Upper Road which Doug recommended for Magnolia Warblers.  This road had more excellent habitat consisting of mixed hardwood and softwood forests.  Here I heard a couple Magnolias mixed in with the other resident warblers like Redstarts and Tennessees, and several Cassin’s Vireos.  Having heard my key target I was just about to turn around when I heard some commotion coming from a flock of Robins.  I stopped to give it a look, hoping that they had found an owl.  But instead they chased a small Buteo from the trees which cooperatively perched in the open for a while– a Broad-winged Hawk.  Not a super rarity but still rare as a summering bird west of the mountains, and part of a small group that Doug has found breeding in the area.

The last set of stops in the area was along Kettleston Road.  There was once again quite a commotion at one stop, and then a nice Cooper’s Hawk flew by.  The next stop was at the Kettleston Pond which yielded a distant Eastern Kingbird and a few more waterfowl.  I spent quite a bit of time at this location scanning the valley for Black Swifts as suggested by Doug, but to no avail.  So I turned around to head back and then noticed a pair of small swallow-like birds flying overhead – my target Black Swifts.  I’ve only seen this species twice before – in CA and NM.  I left the area in mid-morning very happy to have seen most all of my likely targets. 

Next I started to head south down Route 95 toward Parson which parallels the Columbia River.  Doug had suggested that I take my time heading south making stops to bird along the numerous lakes and wetlands visible from the road.  Each of the lakes had a mix of waterfowl, some with dabblers and others with divers including my first Common Goldeneyes.  And the marshes were full of blackbirds and an occasional calling Sora.  At one stop I picked up my only Kingfisher for BC.  At the next location I scanned the wetlands and open water and didn’t see any waterfowl.  That is until I noticed something pale mostly obscured back in the reeds.  I put the scope on it and after a few seconds a Trumpeter Swan swam out of the vegetation, followed by another, along with 6 small cygnets.  I then scanned to the left and noticed another family with 4 babies. 

The riparian areas between the road and the wetlands were teeming with birdlife at most every location.  I figured one stop looked like a particularly nice spot for Catbird – I played just a couple seconds of tape and a Catbird instantly appeared.  At that same spot I noticed small brushy trees at the edge of the wetlands that looked good for Alder Flycatchers.  Again I played just a short snippet of tape and a “Traill’s” came right into me.  Although it was silent, I figured it had to be an Alder given its rapid response.  Other notable birds along the road were my first Magpie for the province, and numerous Ospreys occupying the multiple nesting platforms right along the road. 

My next planned stop was the general store in Parson which Doug recommended for my target Black-chinned Hummingbirds coming to their feeder.  Upon arriving I didn’t see a feeder at the store, but noticed one with lots of activity next door.  I was given permission by the homeowner to watch his feeder, and set up my scope at the store parking lot to watch the hummingbird activity.  Soon I had both male and female Black-chins as well as male and female Rufous coming to the feeder.  

But then came some real excitement – I next noticed a hummer land on the feeder giving a view of its back and side which I thought it was an adult male Black-chinned.  The key field marks were - green back and crown, grayish-green flanks, and what appeared to be a black gorget.  Then the bird flew to another port of the feeder so that the bird was roughly facing me, thus changing the sun angle.  As it perched and fed the gorget was now bright red.  It fed at this latter location for at least 15 seconds and during most of that time the gorget was bright red in that sun angle, though at times it would move its head and the gorget again appeared black.  This is very much like the Ruby-throats I have at my feeder in spring and summer - the gorgets of the males will frequently look like they are black, but with a turn of their head the gorgets will be bright red.  I had just found a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird!

I remained at the feeder for at least another hour watching for the bird to return and to try to get a photo.  During that time there were numerous visits of male Archilochus hummers.  All appeared to have black gorgets.  However, none of them perched on that other side of the feeder where the Ruby-throat had perched earlier providing a sun angle making the gorget appear red.  As for tail pumping behavior - some Archilochus pumped their tail while hovering, on at least a couple visits a male Archilochus did not pump its tail while hovering, and sometimes a bird just sat on the feeder. The field guides say Black-chins pump their tail while hovering, but I don’t know if that is definitive to ID Black-chins vs. Ruby-throats.  In other words, the Ruby-throat may well have re-visited the feeder but I wouldn't have known it based just on gorget color of these very similar species.

Below are two phone-scoped photos I took of perched Archilochus hummers I saw after seeing the Ruby-throat.  Both appear to have black gorgets, but both birds are perched in the same sun angle where even the Ruby-throat initially looked to have a black gorget.  When the Ruby-throat showed a red gorget the bird was on the opposite side of the feeder.

The last stop in the area was a short distance south of Parson where Doug had recently seen a Mountain Bluebird.  And with just a bit of searching I found one perched on telephone lines along the road.  As I sat there in the car to figure out the route to my next set of stops I heard a Lazuli Bunting calling nearby.  But then I realized that the song sounded very much like an Indigo, which to me sounds clearer and less buzzy than the Lazulis.  So I decided to track it down and it turned out to be an Indigo x Lazuli hybrid – all blue above and perhaps a bit darker blue than Lazuli, no wing bars, blue chest with no orange color, and white belly.  A nice surprise and only my second Indigo x Lazuli hybrid (the other was in western SD).

The next stop was north of Golden at a small crossroads called Donald to look for Say’s Phoebes that Doug had found in the area.  I was able to find a Say’s, but it was leucistic instead of a normal plumaged bird, with creamy feathering and the slightest hint of reddish color on the belly.  I got this photo holding my iPhone up to my binocs.

A short distance away I looked for nesting Western Kingbirds that Doug had located.  I found the nest but there were no Kingbirds in site.  But I wasn’t too disappointed since there should be other Western Kingbirds in the upcoming days. 

Before leaving the area I called Doug to report on the rarities I had found and try to strategize some more for my upcoming spots.  I mentioned I still needed Veery, and he suggested the Skunk Cabbage Trail at Mount Revelstoke National Park which was right along my route.  Once again his advice was perfect – I had a singing bird there within the first 100 m of the trail.

I had originally planned to bird the evening in Revelstoke and start the morning of Day 8 at Salmon Arm Bay before heading to Vernon.  That plan was flawed from the start since that would mean “wasting” an early morning on waterbirds instead of in good landbird habitat.  But as I drove toward Revelstoke I realized I had at most just a couple remaining targets there.  If I could bird at Salmon Arm Bay yet that evening instead of Revelstoke I would be able to start Day 9 searching for landbirds at dawn farther south in Vernon.  This new plan was not only better for dawn the next morning, but would also put me ahead of schedule giving me time to bird other locations in upcoming days. 

So I changed my hotel to one in Salmon Arm, and headed to Salmon Arm Bay for a bit of evening birding.  There are 8,000 eBird checklists from this area, but over 7,800 of them are tied to one hotspot listed as “Salmon Arm Bay (general)” – not too helpful when it comes to finding specific locations of birds.  The birdfinding guide mentioned the public wharf and Peter Jannick Nature Park as suggested locations, so I concentrated my efforts there.  And key targets as described in the guide were a small number of Clark’s Grebes mixed in with Westerns, and White Pelicans.  The general eBird reports also included a few sightings of Terns and several Gull species, along with numerous California Quail and Pheasant sightings.  My targets were set.

Scoping from the wharf yielded a large number of Western Grebe and dabbler families, along with many Ring-billed Gulls nesting on a nearby island.  Then I noticed a paler Grebe in the distance; and with some work I turned it into a Clark’s after finally seeing the more extensive white face and pale sides.  I couldn’t find any other possible targets, including the Pelicans, so I asked a couple photographers on the wharf if they had seen the Pelicans.  They pointed to distant mudflats to the west, and sure enough there were 4 White Pelicans quite far away – good thing they are large white birds.

I still needed to find the Quail and Pheasants reported on most every eBird report, and of course they wouldn’t be on the wharf, so I decided to try Jannick Park.  This small urban park had a short trail through the woods and brush, and provided additional views of the lake and wetlands where I had several calling Soras.  But no dice on the gallinaceous birds (little did I know that they would be easy farther south).  Though I did find a pair of cooperative Calliope Hummingbirds new for my list.

I ended the day with 105 species – 32 of which were new for my BC list which now stood at 193.  And of course the highlights were the rarities I found – Black-and-white Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, along with the Indigo x Lazuli Bunting hybrid and leucistic Say’s Phoebe.

Day 8

My new revised plan for the day was to bird around Vernon in the morning and then head to Kelowna for the afternoon.  I would start at dawn at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, specifically the Coosen’s Bay trail, where the Birding Trail guide and a few eBird reports listed a number of key targets.  In route to the park I found the first of several Mourning Doves – until this time I had seen quite a number of Eurasian Collared Doves but no Mourning Doves.  And I also saw many California Quail scampering along the suburban streets.  I guess there was no reason to fret about missing them the previous evening.

I spent the morning making a big loop first along a trail through very nice Ponderosa Pine habitat at the base of cliffs (in the background of this picture), and then back through grasslands.

This was my first time in Ponderosa Pine habitat in BC, so my first opportunity to look for Pygmy Nuthatch well-known to prefer pines.  And not more than 100 m down the trail, in the very first Ponderosa Pine I came to, there was a small flock of Pygmy Nuthatches – that was easy!  Farther down the trail there were quite a number of singing Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles, Red-eyed Vireos, and Dusky Flycatchers, along with my first Canyon Wrens singing from up above.  A bit farther along I had my first Townsend’s Solitaire singing its finch-like song.  And then my first Turkey Vultures feeding on the ground a short distance off the trail (I didn’t investigate what their food source might have been).  I also added my first of many Western Kingbirds (defending a nest site from a family of Ravens), and a pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers that flew in from the mountains to the east.  On the way back there were several calling Pheasants and singing Vesper Sparrows, both new for my BC list, along with numerous singing Lazuli Buntings.

I was tempted to head to another trail in the park, but I had already picked up most of my targets, so instead I drove to my next spot - the Vernon Commonage.  This is a large area of mostly grasslands on a ridge between Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes.  Although known for hawkwatching in the fall, eBird reports had a number of mid-summer targets to look for as well.  The first addition to my list was several Swainson’s Hawk including one nice dark morph bird.  Later while driving along I thought I spotted a small swift overhead – I still needed Vaux’s for BC.  Eventually I found a place to pull over and walked back to where I might have had the swift.  At first I saw no birds in the air at all, but eventually found a small group of Tree Swallows foraging overhead.  Then I finally spotted the Vaux’s Swift in with the Swallows.  A later stop included my only Western Bluebirds of the trip – a pair of recently fledged juveniles and an adult female.

It was now midday and I headed to the south end of Swan Lake where an eBird report from a month earlier reported a likely nesting pair of Long-billed Curlews.  I arrived at this spot to find a broad expanse of very nice tall grasses.  Although certainly a possible spot for Curlews, it was a huge area and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend much time searching through it in the midday heat.  Plus I had already added most of the targets reported at the lake proper.  As I sat in my car trying to decide what to do next, I spotted several soaring raptors over the ridge to the west.  It included a couple Vultures, several Swainson’s Hawks, and one distant large Accipiter.  Although it was very far away, I got extended views of this bird in the scope, and kept seeing large tufts of white feathering at the undertail coverts.  Along with the large size, I concluded this was an immature Goshawk – my only one of the trip.

With that somewhat unexpected bird under my belt, I decided to leave the Vernon area and head south into Kelowna.  There were several landbird targets that were possible in that area, though I thought given the hot midday conditions it would be best to try for them in the evening.  Instead I went to birder-friendly Glenmore Landfill where ponds held summering (breeding?) Stilts, Avocets, and Wilson’s Phalaropes.  Plus an eBird report from just a couple days earlier included target Baird’s Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, and White-throated Swifts.  So I was looking forward to checking off quite a number of birds at this spot.  After checking in at the landfill office I parked at the designated birder parking area and quickly spotted a pair of Stilts.  But despite lots of searching in the multiple ponds I never found any of the other targets, even the Avocets and Phalaropes that had been reported on virtually every trip.  But on a much more positive note I found a Marbled Godwit in one of the ponds, which is quite a rarity for BC.

Since I missed the expected Avocets and Phalaropes at the landfill I then went to Robert Lake which is just a mile to the south “as the shorebird flies”.  eBird reports from this spot frequently included both Avocets and Phalaropes, so I thought perhaps the birds passed between the landfill ponds and the lake.  Luckily I did find 6 Wilson’s Phalaropes here, but still no Avocets.  I would even go back to Robert Lake that evening hoping the Avocets might return but with no luck.  [The last Avocets reported at either location were seen a couple of days before my visit there even though they had been reported all spring and summer.]

Once the temps had dropped that evening I first headed to a suburban neighborhood in Kelowna where White-throated Swifts had been reported numerous times.  After a few minutes I was able to get passable views of the Swifts as they flew around the adjacent cliffs.  Plus a flyover Nighthawk was new for my BC list.  I then planned to go to a local park to try for Rock Wren and Poorwill at dusk.  But an impending thunderstorm forced me to cancel my plans.  Though I did get this nice scenery shot as the storm rolled in.

I ended the day with 91 species, 19 of which were new for my BC list, which was now at 212.

Day 9

I was now quite a bit ahead of schedule and my target list was getting shorter.  I had earlier traded e-mails with Doug Leighton to get his advice and he suggested I go even farther south than I had originally planned, travelling beyond Penticton.  Specifically he suggested the sagebrush habitat in the White Lake area, the Vaseux Cliffs, and Road 22 in Osoyoos.  With some quick research I found there were indeed a lot of targets possible in those areas, although this southern extension to the trip would result in a longer drive to head back to Calgary to fly home.  After weighing the options I decided to bird these additional areas in the morning, even though it meant taking much of the rest of the day to drive back to my hotel that night in Radium Hot Springs. 

I started at dawn at the bottom of White Lake Road, climbing through nice Ponderosa Pines in the uplands and deciduous riparian areas along the creek paralleling the road.  I added numerous Cassin’s Finches in the pines along with a number of the “regulars”.  But my key targets were up ahead in the sage brush, a habitat that is found in only a couple locations anywhere in Canada. 

On my first stop I came to this sign indicating that I was certainly in the right location for one of my key targets – Sage Thrasher.

There was quite a bit of song in the area including several Vesper Sparrows and my first Lark Sparrows.  Then not a minute later I saw a Sage Thrasher fly up into a nearby bush.  I was able to point it out to another birder who was there also looking for this species as his key target.  Later I found 3 other Thrashers singing from exposed perches, including this cooperative bird.

I continued in the sage habitat by turning left onto Fairfield Road where I got this nice view of White Lake. 

And here I heard the first of two singing Brewer’s Sparrows.  That gave me all of my sage targets except for Grasshopper Sparrow, which I listened for unsuccessfully at each appropriate location – perhaps they were already done singing for the year.  On a more positive note I was surprised to find quite a number of Bullock’s Orioles in the sage habitat. 

One other target on this loop was Yellow-breasted Chat, reported on a number of eBird lists.  But it wasn’t until I had turned onto Green Lake Rd. that I started to find the Chat’s favored riparian thickets.  And at my first stop I had the first of 4 singing birds.  

My last stop in the area was at Green Lake where I spent a bit of time struggling to ID a group of fledgling diving ducks.  Eventually I decided they were just Redheads.  But I was glad I spent some time with them because I was able to spot a Sharp-shinned Hawk which flew by while I entertained duck options– my only Sharpie for the trip.

Next I was on to Vaseux Cliffs – an impressive rock formation with talus slopes below, and a handful of Ponderosa pines.  All habitats would play important roles in finding my key targets recently reported in this area – Golden Eagle, Chukar, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Rock Wren.

One of the first birds I spotted was a flyover Golden Eagle soaring on the up-drafts generated by the cliffs.  This part of the cliffs had a couple singing Canyon Wrens and numerous calling White-throated Swifts.  The swifts were so loud that I worried they were drowning out my other targets, so I drove a bit farther along past the swift flock (though tough to complain about White-throated Swifts).  When I got out of the car to scan this area I realized there were a couple dead pines at the base of the cliff – an important feature since one eBird report mentioned the Lewis’s were in dead pines.  And sure enough seconds later I spotted the first of 2 Lewis’s apparently fly-catching, flying from a perch in a dead tree and returning back to that perch a few seconds later.  Seemed like an odd activity for a woodpecker, until I noticed one bird fly to another dead tree and disappear into a cavity – they were feeding young.  I watched this activity for a couple minutes, until I noticed some movement from the edge of the road nearby.  I quickly put my binocs on a covey of 8 juvenile and 1 adult Chukars just before they disappeared into the grasses.  That left me with just Rock Wren as my last remaining target.  I had been in suitable Rock Wren habitat at several locations the previous day and that morning, but could only find the occasional Canyon Wren.  But here I finally heard a Rock Wren calling from the talus slope below the cliffs.  A sweep of my targets!

Next I was on to Road 22 in Osoyoos, which is well-known locally for a small Bobolink colony.  Another car pulled into Road 22 in front of me, and interestingly they were birders as well – local folks also looking for the Bobolinks.  They pointed out the proper field for the birds, and after a short delay we had several birds likely still nesting in the taller uncut portion of the meadow.  I asked the local birders about the possibility of Grasshopper Sparrows and they too hadn’t heard them recently.  So I guess I didn’t feel too bad about missing them on my White Lake loop.

The last reasonably likely target I had in the area was Red-necked Grebe.  They had been reported from several locations in the region, and one spot I picked out to try was Haynes Point Provincial Park a short distance to the south.  Although the key attraction of the park is a long peninsula sticking out into large Osoyoos Lake, I figured the Grebes might be nesting in a marshy area also within the park.  When I arrived I quickly found a trail back into the marsh, but views into the wetlands were very limited.  On my way back out I decided to stop at a bridge that gave a view onto the open water and surprisingly there was an adult and small juvenile Red-necked Grebe swimming in the cove.  Nice!

The park can be seen on the right side of this photo of Osoyoos Lake and surrounding valley, taken a few miles to the east from an overlook.

It was now about Noon and I had picked up 12 new birds for my BC list – several of which were not even on my initial target list since I was not planning to head this far south in BC.  And speaking of heading south, I was now just a few miles north of the US-Canada border.  That meant I was just minutes from WA, ID, and MT.  I quickly checked my lists and I realized that quite a number of the species I had seen the last couple days in BC would be new for those state lists.  For a few minutes I thought about making a quick stop into the northern edge of ID, but with a nearly 7-hour drive to the northeast still ahead of me that day, I decided birding the northern portions of those states would have to wait for a future trip.  It was the right decision as I was pretty tired when I finally arrived at the hotel, having made short but unsuccessful stops along the way for a recently reported Canvasback and Long-billed Curlew.  But during that long (but very pretty) drive back I couldn’t help but think that with better planning on my part I could have made a day of it in the northeast corner of WA, northern edge of ID, and northwestern corner of MT.  Oh well – a reason to go back, and of course, I should give those areas a lot more time than just a quick stop anyway.

Day 10 – Morning at Kootenay National Park

I had set up my flight home (out of Calgary) for the mid-afternoon on Day 10 to give me time that morning to fill any last gaps in either my AB or BC lists.  But since my Day 9 birding was so far west in BC, my early morning birding on Day 10 would have to be limited to BC.  Though that certainly wasn’t a hardship since that would give me time to bird in beautiful Kootenay National Park.  My morning started with these Bighorn Sheep right in town in Radium Hot Springs. 

My plan was to take an extended hike on the Floes Creek trail through an area of a large forest fire in 2003 that killed virtually all the vegetation in the area.  With many dead standing trees, Black-backed Woodpeckers had been frequenting the area, and Hawk-owls were apparently easier to spot perched atop the dead trees.  It was amazing walking through the area, not only seeing the extensive devastation, but also seeing all the young conifers and other vegetation sprouting up forming a blanket under the dead trees.

Although I didn’t see any woodpeckers or owls along my 5 km walk, it was still a fun walk having the opportunity to experience the marvel of successional growth and the birdlife associated with this changing landscape.  For instance there were numerous Wilson’s Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows singing from the undergrowth of young trees – both likely were not present just 13 years earlier in the thick woodlands that existed here before the fire.  I also spotted a Kestrel perched on top of one of the dead trees.  Both the perch and its more open hunting ground didn’t exist before the fire.  And amazingly there were several Hammond’s Flycatchers still singing as they almost always do from the tops of conifers.  Though now their perches were on top of dead conifers.  There were also several Audubon’s Warblers along the trail – a species that is quite adaptive and likely doing well here both before and after the fire.  But I’m saving the best for last.  I was nearly back to the parking lot when I stopped because I thought I heard a woodpecker tapping.  While standing very still listening unsuccessfully for additional woodpecker noises, I thought I heard a low, soft “hoot” sound.  Then I heard it several more times – it was a booming Dusky Grouse.  Not only was I excited because it was only my second ever Dusky Grouse, but also because I almost never hear those low grouse notes.  It was a great ending to the trip!

BC Trip Summary

I had 166 species for the BC portion of my trip, 81 of which were new for my province list, way over my goal of at least 50 species.  I ended up finding 75 of my original list of 110 targets, plus 3 not expected due to birding locations I hadn’t originally planned to cover, and 3 additional rarities (Black-and-white Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Marbled Godwit).  Not to mention finding a rare Indigo x Lazuli Bunting hybrid.  In all of this birding I covered 28.5 miles on foot according to my Fitbit.  And although my BC list is now at 225 (my first province over 200), that’s still 27 shy of the old ABA reportable threshold. 

Early in my post I mentioned that I wasn’t comfortable with my planned BC itinerary.  In hindsight I should have spent less time in some locations such as in Vernon and Kelowna, giving me more time to bird additional habitats, and maybe even time to head into northern WA/ID/MT.  Though with that extra time I was able to just run into a few species that I didn’t see elsewhere, and for which I had no stake out locations, like Goshawk, Vaux’s Swift, and Western Bluebird.

Finally, a great big thank you goes to Doug Leighton who was a big help not only with finding birds in his immediate area, but also giving great advice in all the others areas I birded in BC.

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