Thursday, 11 October 2012

Between trips

The final trip on our schedule will begin on Oct. 16th – we will drive to Vancouver, fly to Prince Rupert and take the ferry across Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii.  To give you an idea of what goes on when we’re not on the road (and to dispel any rumours that we are just sitting in our rocking chairs!), here are a few "between trips" activities.
Planned route for our Haida Gwaii trip
Right from the beginning of our big year, we decided to travel to Haida Gwaii in the fall.  Haida Gwaii is almost a mythical spot which conjures up visions of old growth forests, the Haida First Nations group and their culture and the possibility of seeing some rare birds for Canada.  We felt that our year would not be complete without a visit to these west coast islands. 

Russ Cannings’ blogs ( were our main source of information – with friends, he visited Haida Gwaii in November, 2010 and October, 2011.  Good birds were seen on both trips but we favoured October with birds of interest including Rock Sandpiper, Yellow-billed Loon, Short-tailed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater and Ancient Murrelet.
With four of us on the team, scheduling is always tricky and we have found it difficult to stay flexible.  Some ferry research by Phil narrowed down our dates as the only daylight sailing from Prince Rupert is on Thursdays and, from Haida Gwaii, on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Thus, we had a choice of Oct. 11 or 18 sailing and we chose the 18th just in case we needed to move our Whooping Crane trip back a week (we didn’t).

From Calgary, Prince Rupert is a leisurely two day drive but as the 4 days of driving did not offer much chance of a new species, we decided instead to drive to Vancouver and fly to Prince Rupert.  We are hoping to find a Townsend’s Chipmunk in SW BC and also have some time to chase down any rarities being reported; perhaps the Western Scrub-Jay that was in New Westminster at the end of Sept. will reappear.
Both Townsend’s and Yellow-pine Chipmunks occur in southwestern BC and we have been searching for a good location for Townsend’s.  While there is lots of info on where to find birds, mammal finding info is rather scarce.  Manning Park is supposed to be good for Townsend’s but, on two occasions, we have just found Yellow-pine.  On this upcoming trip, we will try Skagit Valley Provincial Park (to the southwest of Manning).

Early on in the year, trip planning and organizing duties were distributed among team members.  Ray volunteered to take the lead on our BC trips and thus he researched and made hotel and car rental reservations (this trip is easy, our west coast pelagic trip involved a lot more work for him).  With this trip organized and no other trips planned, we are all working on travel plans with our spouses for beyond the big year.
Apart from studying the birds and mammals and staying abreast of rare bird sightings, the main research tasks are to learn about the area we will be visiting and to prepare a trip checklist.  Rather than just using a provincial or regional checklist, I like to have a good idea of what species we might see and thus do quite a bit of research.  For our most recent trip, I used a Saskatoon Nature Society fall checklist and then adjusted the probability of seeing the birds based on our early October timing.  The projected trip total was 67 birds and we saw 67 … I get lucky once in a while!  For the Haida Gwaii trip, I haven’t found anything online so have compiled a checklist based on ebird reports (mostly by Russ Cannings and his friends).

In the course of learning about our destination, many questions often pop up and Phil is our champion obscure facts researcher.  In case you were wondering (and Phil thought you might be!): Hecate Strait was named by Captain George Henry Richards in 1861 or 1862 after his surveying vessel, the HMS Hecate. This vessel was a 4-gun paddle sloop launched on 30 March 1839 from the Chatham Dockyard. She was assigned to the Mediterranean Station between 1840 and 1843, she participated during the Syrian War of 1840. After a period of be laid in reserve she served as part of the West Africa Squadron off Africa from 1845 until 1858. After being fitted out for survey operations, she was assigned to the Pacific Station in 1860, undertaking surveys along the British Columbia coast. The Hecate Strait, between the British Columbia mainland and the islands of Haida Gwaii, is named for her. Arriving at the Australia Station in 1863, where she undertook survey work in Botany Bay, Moreton Bay, the Brisbane River and Torres Strait before leaving the Australia Station in 1864. She was paid off and sold in 1865.
What about Mike?  Well he is probably the busiest of us all.  His current project is to write up the trip report for a recent trip that he led to Brazil.  He saw more birds there in 2 ½ weeks than the team will see in Canada for the whole year … did we pick the wrong country or what?!

Birder’s Cup
As mentioned a couple of months ago, Ray, Phil and I compete against each other on the golf course for the prestigious Birders Cup and the burgundy jacket that goes to the winner.  Last Tuesday, we played the 3rd (and final) round at Bearspaw.  We started out in +5 C temperatures but it turned out to be a nice day by the time we finished.  Congratulations to Ray who is the champion this year (I’d like to say that he golfed well but the truth is, he just didn't golf as poorly as Phil and I did!).
Birders Cup champion Ray wearing the burgundy jacket flanked by Phil and Brian
Bird records and photos
While on a trip, we do a checklist each evening while waiting for dinner.  Some of us also try to enter our sightings into the computer while on the road; those that don’t have to fit it in once back at home (which isn’t always easy as various household tasks and family obligations invariably mount up while we are away). 

Ray and I also take photos and these can take up all remaining time if you let them.  So far this year, I have taken over 18,000 photos and of which I've deleted 10,000!  As time permits, I probably should delete another 5,000.  The Saskatchewan trip was successful with 3 new species but was not so successful from a photographic perspective – the Whooping Cranes were a long way away and my photos weren’t sharp; the American Badger just showed us his rear end and the Ord’s Kangaroo Rats didn’t stay around long enough for me to get out of the car.  We did go back a little later that evening for another try at Ord’s but a young man and lady had chosen that very location for a romantic encounter!  I did take one interesting photo on the trip … sunrise in Leader.
Sunrise - Leader, Saskatchewan
Technology is always progressing and I recently updated my version of Photoshop.  I tried out some new sharpening techniques on some of the Whooping Crane photos and the results were okay (but perhaps I just need a bigger, better lens … do you hear me Santa?!).
Uncropped photo of juvenile Whooping Crane
cropped and sharpened version of juvenile Whooping Crane photo
A new tool in Photoshop is called “content aware move” which allows you to select something in a photo, move it somewhere else and Photoshop fills in the space where the object was.  This sounded useful for bird photos so I thought I’d give it a try:
Northern Flicker with distracting bird on right
Voila! no distractions after using the "content aware move" tool
Local outings
Usually we get out as a team once or twice between trips.  However, there are no new birds likely for us in Alberta and looking for hard-to-see mammals in cold, windy weather is not much fun so we haven’t been out yet … maybe on the weekend.  That’s not to say we aren’t looking – as I write this, I’m watching my backyard for a Long-tailed Weasel (last year, I saw one quite a few times) which should be changing to its winter coat soon.
Long-tailed Weasel (photo taken in Calgary, Feb. 2009)
Well, unless we find a new mammal locally, the next post will be from somewhere in BC.  Until then, good birding and mammaling!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brian,

    My name is Lauren and I work for an independent newspaper in Truckee, CA. One of our columnists writes a nature column and we would love to have permission to print your photo of the Long-tailed Weasel posted above to go with this month's edition. What a beautiful photo! Of course we would credit you as you request. Let me know if you would be open to being published.

    Thank you for your consideration!