Sunday, 27 May 2012

BC Wrap-up - May trip

On Saturday, we concluded our May BC trip by driving from Penticton back to Calgary.  We were looking to add a new species or two so we chose to take the Chute Lake Road from Naramata to Kelowna.  We were hoping to encounter a Dusky Grouse on the road but we did not.  However, there is a lovely marsh near Chute Lake and a stop there yielded some new trip birds – Northern Waterthrush, Willow Flycatcher, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe.  When we reached Kelowna, we noticed a "Road Closed" sign ... I guess that's why there was no traffic on this scenic but narrow gravel road (there was no similar sign coming from the Chute Lake direction).

View of Okanagan Lake and Kelowna from the Chute Lake Road

North of Vernon, we stopped at Swan Lake to look for Black Swifts but it was the wrong time of day.  Our last stop was at the Salmon Arm harbour.  Dick Cannings mentioned that there were usually Clark’s Grebes in amongst the large number of Western Grebes.  He was right (not that we doubted you, Dick!) and three of us had great looks at a pair of displaying birds.
Clark's Grebes

Phil was a bit under the weather so he had only a brief look and then went back to the car to rest.  We then drove straight through to Calgary as we wanted to get Phil into the loving care of his wife as soon as possible. Our decision to forgo any subsequent stops was made easier as we determined that there were no likely new team species on the rest of the route.

Looking back, we had another great trip.  Though the weather was a little on the wet side on Vancouver Island, we managed to see most our target species while enjoying the rugged beauty of the coastal landscape. 
View from our Tofino area motel

Totem in Pacific Rim N.P.
The culture of the west coast first nations was much in evidence though we didn’t have sufficient time to fully experience it.  Later this year, we will visit the north coast and I hope to show the other team members the birthplace of my grandmother – Lax Kw’alaams (north of Prince Rupert).

We finally made inroads on our mammal count, mostly with marine mammals and rodents.  The highlight was undoubtedly the Vancouver Island Marmot.  Phil obtained good information about the animal’s location but some knowledgeable people gave us little chance of finding it. 
We did a whale watching trip, enjoying close up views of a Gray Whale and Steller’s Sea Lions.  Viewing the Gray Whale was always in parts – first you’d see the spout (though it was more of a fine mist by the time I got the camera on it), then the barnacle encrusted back would come into view and finally the tail flukes just as it dove.
Phil, Brian and Mike on board whale watching boat
Three sections of a Gray Whale - spout, tail and back

Southwest BC has a number of mammals that cannot be found elsewhere in Canada and we had hoped to see at least a couple of them.  It was disappointing not to be able to get to the habitat of Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Townsend’s Chipmunk because of road closures in Manning Park but we did spot the Douglas’s Squirrel a couple of times.
Douglas's Squirrel

On this trip, the focus shifted from migrant to breeding birds.  On the west coast, the birding was more difficult than we were used to – the trees are so tall making the tree-top birds tough to see, the wet stuff falling from the sky blurred the binoculars and the west coast accents of some species confused us at times.  For instance, Townsend’s Warbler sounds much different than here in Alberta.  Still, we managed to get almost all of our non-pelagic targets.  We thought we might see some near-shore pelagics but the whale watching boat headed south instead of the birdier north.

Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with David Routledge, watching Vaux’s Swifts go to roost in a Cumberland chimney was a real treat.  Though we are not chasing rare birds, it is always nice when one shows up when we are in the area.  We were lucky that an Acorn Woodpecker visiting a feeder near Hope stayed around for a few days.
Acorn Woodpecker
The Okanagan valley is the best place in Canada (and in some cases, the only place) for viewing a number of species such as Gray Flycatcher, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Flammulated Owl, White-throated Swift and Common Poorwill.  Beforehand, we gave Dick Cannings a lengthy wish list and he made things easy for us by finding and identifying the birds, usually before we could even get our binoculars on them. 

Birding along the Okanagan River north of Vaseux Lake

On the BC trip we recorded 187 birds and 23 mammals; more importantly, we had 30 new birds and 11 mammals.  Our year’s total now stands at 405 – 360 birds and 45 mammals.    In the next few weeks, we have trips to the Yukon & Northwest Territories and the east coast as well as some Alberta excursions. We think that we our target of 500 is attainable (but won’t be easy) and will have a better idea of where we stand by mid-July.  Getting a few bat species would greatly improve our chances … anyone know of any bat roosts in Alberta or on the east coast?

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