Off to Haida Gwaii
As our readers will recall, a visit to Haida Gwaii has been on our itinerary since the beginning of this year. Well its moment has finally come and we’re all quite excited because it’s not only a very special place in Canada but also a place none of us has visited before. We decided on a three part route: drive from Calgary to Vancouver, fly to Prince Rupert and then take the ferry to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. We could have flown from Calgary but we reasoned that a drive through the mountains to Hope might yield some new mammal sightings and some research by Brian identified a location near Hope where we should have a good chance of finding a Townsend’s Chipmunk. As we begin this trip, we are sitting at 496 species, just four short of our target. We have a good chance of reaching 500 by the time we return to Calgary and if we do, we will be celebrating!
October 16th Calgary to Hope
We set off early and drove west all the way to the Sunshine Ski Resort turn-off. We had a lead suggesting Grey Wolves have been seen in this area recently and we would love to add wolf to our mammals list. No luck! Maybe it was the rain! Anyway we continued west from here with very few stops until we reached Salmon Arm where we seemed to be out of the rain at last. The Salmon Arm dock area is a great birding stop and we had good luck there back in our late May trip to BC. Today was a good day for birds too. The highlight was probably a distant juvenile Golden Eagle sitting on what appeared to be a Canada Goose it had taken. We also had knock out views of three Northern River Otters while we were there. From Salmon arm we drove a short distance west to Roderick Haig Brown Provincial Park well known for its salmon run. Apparently the salmon run here can be a real spectacle but, alas, timing is everything – and our timing was a bit out! It seems the salmon run here is every four years and we were there on an off year! On to Hope! We arrived early evening and topped off a pretty good day with a fine meal in a great restaurant we discovered there called “Joe’s” after which we watched a bit of the American Presidential debate before retiring for the night.
October 17th Hope to Vancouver and then to Prince Rupert
Today we edged a little closer to our target! We left Hope bright and early and drove directly to Skagit Provincial Park. This is where Brian’s research suggested we should find Townsend’s Chipmunk. There have been countless occasions this year when our Fur and Feathers team has pursued a good lead not just once but several times and all to no avail. Some species just don’t seem to want to be found! There are however other occasions when things fall nicely into place immediately. Today was such a day. We drove 40 km to this park and then another ten km into the park to a kind of rest area. We decided to park and walk about for a while and within five minutes, Brian had our target chipmunk located and in plain view (species # 497). Amazing! It sat right out in the open for us and urgently chewed its way through some dried up leaves on a fall aspen affording us some great photo opportunities.
An added reward was the drive into and out of this park as the scenery was magnificent.
|Road to Skagit Park|
With this species behind us we drove straight to Vancouver, or more precisely, to New Westminster. There had been several sighting of a Western Scrub Jay in the area recently and we were optimistic about finding this bird before heading for the airport – and find it we did (species #498). We had to walk around the neighborhood for about 20 minutes before it showed up. Mike was the first to pick it out but eventually we all had good looks at it. This is a pretty rare bird in Canada and for Phil and I, a Canada first.
We were delighted to get these two new species on the Calgary to Vancouver leg of our trip. As we relaxed aboard our flight to Prince Rupert later that day, we all realized that reaching 498 species before we even got to Haida Gwaii meant the chance of meeting our 500 species target was now very high indeed! In fact we thought there was a good chance we might reach our target whilst on the ferry to Haida Gwaii the next day.
October 18th Prince Rupert and the Ferry to Haida Gwaii
Our ferry to Haida Gwaii was scheduled to depart at 2:30 pm and we needed to be checked in at 12:30 pm. This meant we had the morning to explore this area a little bit. We drove along the coastline for a couple of hours getting some good views of the local bird life. There were many gulls and we had a good view of a Thayer’s Gull at one point. There were also many Bald Eagles and we were able to get quite close to one of them.
Prince Rupert is a city of just over 12,000 people and it’s located on an island. It has an interesting history which is well described and well-illustrated in a very nice local museum which we visited. But time passed quickly and after a quick fish and chips lunch at Dolly’s (which was outstanding!) we drove to the ferry terminal and by 2:30 pm we were on our way at last!
|Aboard M/V Northern Expedition|
The ferry trip over to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii is quite a big deal. It takes six and a half hours and crosses a long stretch of open water called the Hecate Strait. It can be very rough and at this time of year, storms are not uncommon. We had been monitoring the weather for some days in advance of the journey and were cautiously optimistic that conditions would be manageable for four land lubbers from Calgary! We were in luck! The sea was almost unbelievably calm and the sun even came out for part of the journey!
|Fine Weather and Calm Seas!|
Once underway, we had daylight for about four hours so we stationed ourselves on the stern of the boat and diligently scanned the ocean for seabirds of note. Our target birds were Short-tailed Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Yellow-billed Loon, Horned Puffin, Ancient Murrelet and maybe even a Leach’s Storm-Petrel. All of these are uncommon but possible on this crossing. We saw none of them! We also thought we might see some interesting sea mammals such as Dall’s Porpoise, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Orca and maybe a Fin Whale. No luck here either! Perhaps the penalty for fine weather is poor birding! We did, mind you, see a Humpback Whale early in the trip and then later, a possible Fin Whale (but not definite). We also saw some good birds including many loons (mostly Common Loons), Scoters, Common Murres, Sooty Shearwaters, two Sabine’s Gulls and perhaps best of all, a Northern Fulmar (dark phase).
|Northern Fulmar, Dark Phase|
When we reached the port of Skidegate we remained at 498 species! Two more species still to go but they will have to come during our time exploring Haida Gwaii over the next three days. Or maybe even on the ferry ride back to Prince Rupert next Monday? Read all about it in our next posting!