Monday, 10 September 2012

Third Trip to British Columbia

Thursday September 6 – Starting the Final Stretch


We need 25 species to achieve our goal of 500 bird and mammal species, and our trip to the west coast is critical to success. On the eve of our departure from Calgary, Brian and Phil head into the Weaselhead natural area to look for Northern Flying Squirrel and Northern Pocket Gopher.

It is a fine evening and when we arrive 20 minutes before sunset the trail is packed with walkers, cyclists and skateboarders as well as a small troop of Boy Scouts. Fresh mounds of soil thrown up by Northern Pocket Gophers are in evidence beside the paved trail, but we see no signs of activity this evening. Among the songbirds near the Elbow River, we hear Veery and White-throated Sparrow.  Eventually the other folks enjoying the evening head for home and we wait for the Northern Flying Squirrel near some unofficial feeders. It is an hour after sunset when one finally glides across the path to one of the feeders, but it leaves the scene pretty quickly upon discovering the feeder empty. No matter, we both see it and it is #476 on our list.


Friday September 7 – Back to the Okanagan


Brian and Phil set off for the long drive to the south Okanagan. There is little to stop for along the way and we reach Penticton in the late afternoon. Before heading to our overnight stop at Osoyoos, we drive some of the roads which were productive earlier in the year, but by now many birds have migrated. A stop at Vaseux Cliffs is Phil’s last cha-chance to see a Chu-Chukar, which was seen by the team in March; we are encouraged by a recent report of a hen with 12 chicks at this location but alas we are out of luck.

Saturday September 8 -- Squirrel Chase

The main reason for taking the southern route across BC to the coast is to look for a ground-squirrel and a chipmunk in Manning Provincial Park. On our way out of Osoyoos, we make a short detour to the US border to look for Sage Thrasher, but there are none to be found. Indeed, there seems to be very little bird life of any kind.  On arrival in Manning Park, we head up a road to Cascade Lookout which had not been open when we came in May due to lingering snow.
View from Cascade Lookout, Manning Provincial Park
We are the only car on the road and upon arrival at the parking area at the lookout we are pleased to see several Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels scampering around [species #477].
Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
On our way back down the twisty road we encounter three small family groups of Dusky and/or Sooty Grouse – hard to say which they were, but having seen both this year we are not too perturbed.

The next few hours are taken up with a search for Townsend’s Chipmunk. We check out various trailheads, camping and picnic areas, during which time we see three chipmunks which we take to be Yellow-Pine. (However, the two species are not strikingly different and we plan further review of Brian’s photos before ruling out the possibility that we actually did see Townsend’s.)
Yellow-pine Chipmunk
Another Yellow-pine Chipmunk .. or is it a Townsend's Chipmunk?

 By the time we reach the coast, there is little time to look for shorebirds at Boundary Bay, and in any event the tide is way out. The ferry ride from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay is uneventful, and after checking into our motel in Sidney we meet up for dinner with Ray, who flew in a couple of hours earlier.

Sunday September 9 – Sidney Island

Sidney Island is reached by a short ferry ride from Sidney Pier – in the summer. As the ferry has shut down for the season, we travel to the island at 7:00 AM in comfort by water taxi. Our target on the island is Fallow Deer, a species introduced from Europe which has adapted so well that a culling program began three years ago. This year’s cull won’t be until November so we are optimistic in finding the deer.

Shortly after running across a female Black-tailed Deer (a sub-species of Mule Deer) with two fawns, we encounter a group of students who are on a weekend field trip to the island. Their leader gives us some very helpful directions on where to look for the Fallow Deer, which they had seen from their campground at around 6:00 AM but had then dispersed. After walking another 1 km, we spot a herd of three young males, which look at us warily for a few seconds before running off [Species # 478]. 
Fallow Deer
Although an introduced population of Townsend’s Chipmunks may still remain on the island, we are unable to find any, despite an encouraging report from the fellow who had helped us find the Fallow Deer. 

On the trip back on the water taxi, our driver stops to let us have good looks at Heermann’s Gulls, one of the most striking of Canada’s gulls [Species #479].
Heermann's Gull
Ray has lined up a whale-watching tour for the afternoon, but we discover that although the tour expects to find Orca Whales, they are in U.S waters which will not suit our needs. Instead we head to Clover Point, where we encounter a small flock of Western Sandpipers, a catch-up bird for Phil, and a lot more Heermann’s Gulls.  
Western Sandpiper at Clover Point, Victoria
A young man comes up to us and introduces himself as Jeremy Gatten, who’ll be joining us on our pelagic tour out of Tofino on Wednesday. We check out some other shoreline areas before returning to Sidney for an enjoyable pizza meal at Ray’s condo.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Phil, Glad you're back out there.... I found a very interesting article a while back on Chipmunk ID which is rather better than found in most books. Looking at the picture of Townsend's there, I think both the shots are of Yellow Pine, though obviously a different race to the ones I've seen further south. If you want to check the article it is at:

    Cheers, Steve.