Thursday, 25 October 2012

Farewell to Haida Gwaii

Sunday October 21 – Rain, Rain, Rain

Showers were in the forecast and we awoke to the sound of rain hitting the roof. We soon convinced ourselves to linger over breakfast and take the 10:00 AM ferry across to Sandspit. At the ferry line-up we met Peter, Margo and Martin, who had driven down from Masset, undeterred by the weather. On the other side, we had a good view of a Black Bear as we drove to Sandspit. With no signs of the rain easing we made straight for Brady’s Bistro at the airport. As a walk along the shoreline would be better after lunch, on a rising tide, Peter suggested we check out the golf course first.

Emerging from the warmth of the terminal, Martin spotted and pointed out a “Black” Merlin (subspecies suckleyi) for us. Few passerines were in evidence as we trudged in the rain around the Willows golf course, but we did flush up three Wilson’s Snipe and a small flock of Green-winged Teal. The best was at the end, as a wet and very dark Northern Goshawk (subspecies laingi) perched above us.
Northern Goshawk (ssp. laingi)
With no let-up in the rain, Peter and Margo took us to the Moresby Island Guesthouse, where hostess Rae kindly invited us in for coffee and fresh baked goods. The afternoon continued blustery and rainy, and yet we had a very enjoyable time, walking the perimter of the airport, checking out the shoreline as we went. In advance of the one scheduled flight of the day, a pick-up drove up and down the runway to scare off the Canada and Cackling Geese. A good variety of raptors were aloft: Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and two more “Black” Merlins. The highlight was definitely two Short-eared Owls hunting around the fringes of the airport.
A Short-eared Owl Observes the Team
 Seven Snow Buntings and a dozen Lapland Longspurs foraged beside the runway, and two Varied Thrushes inhabited the trees where we’d seen the Bramblings on Friday. All the usual species of shorebirds were in evidence, including dozens of Black Turnstones, at least 14 Rock Sandpipers and a lone Pacific Golden-Plover, found for us by Margo.

Pacific Golden-Plover
 On our way back to the ferry, Peter made a stop to take a look at a hundred or so gulls on a gravel bar. He was excited to see over 30 Bonaparte’s Gulls among them, a rare sight for Haida Gwaii apparently. Still, we dragged ourselves away, said hurried goodbyes and thanks, and Brian sped us to the ferry terminal, where we arrived with seconds to spare before the departure of the 5:30 PM ferry. Earlier Brian had seen the carlottae subspecies of Steller’s Jay, endemic to Haida Gwaii, and was able to point one out for the rest of us as we eased into the village of Queen Charlotte, marking the conclusion of three great days of birding on Haida Gwaii.
The village of Queen Charlotte (aka Queen Charlotte City), pop. 1045
 Monday October 22 – Shearwater Delight

Mike needed to fly to Vancouver from Sandspit later today, so he said his goodbyes to the rest of us as we set off for the ferry from Skidegate back to Prince Rupert. It was a bright sunny morning, with snow much in evidence on the surrounding peaks, but fortunately not down to sea level. As with the outbound voyage, we were lucky to make the crossing of Hecate Strait in calm conditions.

Skidegate Inlet
Peter and Margo have made the ferry crossing many times and had explained to us that the real seabird action would not start until about 2 ½ hours into the voyage, as the ferry turns north-east across the strait. Before then we looked in vain for Yellow-billed Loon and Ancient Murrelet, and had to be content with large flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and many Common Murres.

Today it would be 3 ½ hours before the first shearwater sighting. Once they came on the scene, in ones and twos and never more than four together, we devoted our attention to them, as we hoped to see Short-tailed Shearwaters and, more importantly, distinguish them from Sooty Shearwaters. An excellent reference is “Field Separation of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters” by Greg Gillson in the ABA journal “Birding” and would that we had read it before the trip! Only about 60 shearwaters were in evidence from the ferry, and none came as close as one would like. But, based on our observation of the two distinctive flight styles, and a review of Brian’s pictures in the evening, we are confident we saw both species, with the Short-tailed being no. 503 for us.

Short-tailed Shearwater, juvenile

A disappointment on the westbound ferry crossing was the lack of sea mammals. On the return, apart from brief sightings of Harbour Porpoise and Humpback Whale, we saw none at all. Indeed, once the shearwater show was over, there was little of interest to keep us motivated to stay on deck, and we succumbed to the comforts of the seats in the lounge, monitoring the seas through the windows.

We flew out of Prince Rupert on Tuesday, thus ending the final planned team excursion of the year. We will fit in some local outings, hoping to find a mammal or two, and will update the blog if we are able to add to our total. We will also make some posts reflecting on various aspects of Fur and Feathers 500, a most memorable year in our lives, so if you’ve been following us along, please stay tuned!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Haida Gwaii

Friday, Oct. 19

Having arrived in the dark last night, today we get our first looks at Haida Gwai.  Our destination is Sandspit (on Moresby Island) to search for a Rock Sandpiper.  The forecast was for 40% chance of showers and a high near 8 … we were to find out that 40% chance meant that it would only rain 40% of the time!  We had already learned that showers on the north coast of BC were different than showers in Calgary … here, showers appears to mean heavy rain that doesn’t last too long as opposed to a light rain. 
View from our motel in Queen Charlotte City

After a hearty breakfast at the Ocean View Restaurant, we took the ferry from Graham Island to Moresby Island.  On the way to Sandspit, we stopped midway to scan the waters … lots of Common Loons but no Yellow-billed Loons.  We were pleased to see many Black Scoters as well as some other sea ducks.

Around 11 a.m., we arrived at the end of the road at the entrance to the Sandspit airport.  After scanning the beach and finding nothing, we decided to walk to the point.  Ray and Phil took the grassy path just outside the airport fence and Mike and I walked the beach.  The paths ran parallel for a while but diverged just as we reach some isolated trees.  We were about 200 metres apart when Mike and I heard a call that we didn’t recognize.  We saw two birds in flight and were delighted when they landed nearby – BRAMBLING! 
Rather than shouting (and perhaps scaring the birds), I used the phone to contact Ray and Phil.  It turns out, they were just about to call us with news of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper!  Ray spotted this bird and Phil was looking for it when we called.  Phil saw the bird for team #500 and then it flew off.  While searching for the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Phil found a Rock Sandpiper for #501!  Amazing, 3 new team birds within 5 minutes!

We didn’t have any time to celebrate as we had to try to get all four of us on the three birds.  Fortunately, the two Bramblings were more cooperative and hung around for all of us to get good looks.  The two sandpipers were not so cooperative.
After lunch at the only spot in town – a bistro at the airport – we ventured out along Copper Bay Road.  Not too far along, we found hundreds of shorebirds – mostly Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plovers and Black Turnstones – which included two Rock Sandpipers that we all saw.
Rock Sandpiper

We went back to the spit where the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers had been seen but the spit had disappeared under the rising tide and all of the birds had gone to points unknown.  We headed back towards the ferry terminal, checking a few sites along the way but didn’t find anything of interest.
In anticipation of reaching 500, Phil and Ray had purchased some champagne in Prince Rupert – Veuve Clicquot which they claimed was the best available (not that I would notice any difference!) – and we had a celebration back at the motel.  We also toasted our wives, acknowledging the tremendous support they have given us this year.  We are planning a proper celebration with them later this year once we are all back in Calgary.
A toast to 500!

Today, we were heading for Masset on the north end of Graham Island (about 100 km away).  We were surprised to find a thick coating of ice on the windshield and the passenger door frozen.
Scraping ice of the windows using credit cards!
The road was also quite icy so Ray drove slower than usual (I won’t specify what “usual” means!) and we headed north.  We had been in contact with some well-known local birders – Margo Hearne and Peter Hamel – and they suggested that we stop at Misty Meadows in Naikoon Provincial Park. 

The heavy frost persisted as we walked out onto the beach.  Here there were many shorebirds but of the same species we had seen the day before.  The views however were quite dramatic.
Frosty beach
Storm clouds looming offshore
At Masset, we tracked down Margo and Peter and they were keen to show us some of the local birding spots.  Along with their birding friend, Martin Williams (who is a Haida argillite carver) we went to Entry Point to scan for Yellow-billed Loons.  We saw many birds on the water but no Yellow-billed Loons.  The bird that attracted the most attention for our new friends was a Red-breasted Nuthatch which is unusual for the area.
Peter, Margo and Martin
As we were about to leave, Margo spotted a flock of juncos near the cemetery and we stopped to scan the flock.  We were to learn later that day of the importance of scanning junco flocks.  After a pleasant lunch in town, we went to the north coast to continue our loon search. 
Northern Flicker on cemetery totem

Peter seems to have a photographic memory of all the rare birds seen on Haida Gwaii and the dates that they were seen.  As we were about to walk down to the beach, we were informed that they had seen a Rustic Bunting on this trail … we said, “Great, show us one!”

While the group walked along the beach, Margo lagged behind as she walked along the edge of the grass.  As we were scoping some shorebirds, someone looked back to see Margo waving her hands trying to catch our attention.  She had spotted a different looking bird in with a flock of juncos.  The group converged on the flock and soon re-found the bird feeding in the grass.  Peter immediately called out RUSTIC BUNTING and we all strove to get a good view of this rare bird.  Fortunately, it was very cooperative and occasionally perched on small trees on the meadow.
Rustic Bunting
During the year, many people have asked us, “What is the rarest bird you have seen?” and we really didn’t have a clear cut answer.  Now we do as the Rustic Bunting (an Asian bird) has been recorded less than 10 times in Canada.

We said our good-byes to Martin and made arrangements to meet up with Peter and Margo at Sandspit on Sunday, weather permitting.  As I write this on Sunday morning, it is cold, windy and wet but the forecast is for sunshine this afternoon.  Who knows what good birds might be waiting for us?  
Note: our lists won’t be updated for a few days as the internet connection is a bit slow here in Queen Charlotte City.


Friday, 19 October 2012

Calgary to Haida Gwaii

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.

Townsend's Chipmunk

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.

Western Scrub-Jay

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.

Bald Eagle

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

Common Loon

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!

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!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Whooping it up in Saskatchewan

Fall in Saskatchewan:  this one has been on our schedule since our first discussion of the “Year”, and we have three target species. Whooping Crane (of course), American Badger and Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. None is guaranteed; we could find them all or strike out.

CrossIron Mills mall is a convenient place to meet for eastern (or northern) outings, and we assemble there early on October 4. Phil drives us toward the provincial border through intermittent ground fog and a wintry zero temperature, and we manage to pick out several “Alberta” Sandhill Cranes along the way. On the Saskatchewan side we continue through Kindersley and Rosetown to Saskatoon where we meet local birder Ron Jensen. He tells us the good news: Whooping Cranes are being seen. Ron and his friend Ray lead us on an hour’s drive and we are treated to a marvelous view of a large group of these endangered birds. Also in the area we find many Sandhills, plus thousands of Snow, “Blue”, Greater White-fronted, Cackling and Canada Geese. The sights and sounds as the flocks take off and land, always with “greetings” to one another, make for a truly a magnificent waterfowl spectacle.
View of the cranes (those white specks!) from the car
Dancing Whooping Cranes with Sandhill Cranes looking on (with telephoto lens)

Ron and Ray expertly guide us to a Saskatoon pub where we toast our good fortune with fine locally-brewed refreshments.
from left to right: Ron, Mike, Ray, Phil, Brian, Ray
Next day: it’s a relief to vacate our too-warm motel rooms. Following breakfast Phil skillfully negotiates a series of detours and we head south for Gardiner Dam. Once again we’re impressed by the sheer numbers of geese and many Tundra Swans. Ross’s Goose is new for the trip and we note an unexpected high count of “Blue” Geese.
Snow Geese
Lake Diefenbaker, which is formed by Gardiner Dam, appears devoid of birdlife. We pass on south to Luck Lake and find yet another mass of geese, old stuff by now. As we drive the track across the lake causeway the front-seat guys spot a mammal trotting ahead. I say “porcupine” but am swiftly corrected. “It’s a badger!”, we whoop as we watch mammal #73, our most-hunted (and most-missed) four-legged critter.
American Badger running away from us
On our way west to Leader a lovely Red Fox poses for photos, but we’ve another mammal in mind. After supper and checking into our mercifully cool rooms we head south and enter the Great Sand Hills Ecological Reserve to search for Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, a small nocturnal rodent. We had missed this one in June, patrolling prairie tracks at midnight near the Empress cemetery on the Alberta – Saskatchewan border.
Red Fox
It’s about 9pm, dark and moonless. In the reserve Ray turns the car into a small parking area where several months ago we spotted a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. A tail-up kangaroo rat darts across in the headlights – seen by all – and a moment later another scurries by.

No one expected to hit the trifecta, but it happened. Any or all – crane, badger, rat – could easily have been missed. The drive home the following day is cushioned by memories of our successful prairie visit, and we wonder what lies ahead at Haida Gwaii.
- Mike -