Sunday, January 31, 2010

Count Update: 159

I will post a full list of species seen soon!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another one!

Well after voyaging up to Williams Lake to secure the gorgeous Northern Hawk-Owl, it was a little ironic to find out about one along Naramata Road- my old stomping grounds! Dad and I tried for the bird last night when it was first reported but didn't have any luck in the fading light. So... I was pretty happy to hear from Laure in the morning, and sure enough when I pulled up it was waiting for me!!! My third hawk-owl of the year (keep in mind I got my lifer last summer) and my long-awaited Okanagan-first! Glad to see everyone else (who tried) got it today too!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jan 28: Blue Jay+Virginia Rail+ Black-backed Woodpecker!

Today I had arranged to meet with some UBC-Okanagan staff about putting up a bluebird box trail on campus... so I fit in some birding around Kelowna!

First stop was Trader's Cove on the west side of the lake where I finally tracked down the long-staying BLUE JAY (unfortunately no photos!). Next I stopped in at a few sparrow spots to search in vain (as usual) for Harris's Sparrow. Finally at Acland Pond some luck came through when I pished up an obliging VIRGINIA RAIL.

After the meeting on campus, I headed for the hills hoping that I might find a Black-backed Woodpecker on the Gillard Forest Service Road. 2 years ago on the Kelowna Christmas Bird Count I found 3 up there, but on recent trips it had been very quiet. Typically these burned forests reach their bug/woodpecker peak two or three years after the fire, then become quiet. Well I was worried it was dead since the fire came through in 2003. But, after an hour or so of hiking I finally got onto one! (picture included)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Great Horned Owl (Oliver, BC)

Tanya: "When is the best time to see owls along this road?"

Russell: "Night time, you won't see them out in the open right now"

Tanya: "Oh, there's one!"

Russell: (speechless)

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Here's a look at the bittern zoomed-in. Can you seem him now in the zoomed-out shot?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Red-breasted Sapsucker

This local rarity is probably only the 6th record for the Okanagan. Found by the South Okanagan Naturalists on Thursday. This guy is waaaay up the tree so this is the best photo I could manage. Note how it is peeling away the bark at the base of each branch in this Douglas Fir.

Washington Birding... ooops!

Today I took a little break from plain ol' Canada and headed across the border with Ann Gibson. She wanted Gray-crowned Rosyfinch for her lifelist and apparently there is a feeder in the Molson area where they can be quite regular. When we pulled up to the house I immediately spotted a few ROSYFINCHES perched in a bush nearby but just as Ann was setting up the scope, a Clark's Nutcracker dive-bombed the feeder and they took off and flew way way way far away. Hoping that they would eventually return we staked out the feeder, trying to decide whether it would be better to cruise the roads or just wait. In the end waiting paid off when 50+ GRAY-CROWNED ROSYFINCHES returned to the feeder and Ann and I got stunning views of the birds in the scope (all coastal race birds as far as I could tell). After getting satisfied looks in the scope I tried sneaking around the house for a photograph but before I even came into view they all took off and flew far away once again. Hard to pin down!!! Anyways, I did however get some shots of several groups of SNOW BUNTINGS that were scattered all over the grasslands in the area. This is the first time I have seen an actual flock (at long last!) so what a treat to see as many as 500 in one group!!! Too bad I can't count 'em!
Here are some of my favourites (click on them to enlarge):

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Viewing Photos

Hi all,

Just in case you hadn't discovered this, you can click on any photo to make it bigger.



Count Update: 153

Will post a complete list of species seen and where soon!

Better Gull shots

For those of you hoping for better looks at Kelowna's Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Chris Charlesworth has some great shots in the "Stop Press" gallery.

Hopefully I'll get some shots like this soon! If I get a bit of breathing room between birding, I will probably post some interesting photos of weird gulls that illustrate just how variable individuals can be, and of course how tricky hybridism can make Iding things.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jan 19: Dove and Gull search

The only other birder present at 7:30am was Al McTavish, but eventually all the local keeners (and at least one fellow from the island) came out and we scoured the roads, passing other birders and giving nods of half-hearted hope. After tiring of the "driveway-patrol," Kevin and I headed over to Reifel to see if the bird was hanging out near the feeders. No dove, but we enjoyed the thrills of Reifel nonetheless and had some great birds (from an interior birder's perspective!) including getting super-close to a flock of 10 SANDHILL CRANES (photo posted earlier), picking out a lone AMERICAN BITTERN in the marsh (no idea how I found it, can you find it in the picture?), then flushing another one further along the west dyke. We also spied the same YELLOW-SHAFTED FLICKER and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK that were present last time I visited, and had a good number of raptors including PEREGRINE FALCON, COOPER'S HAWKS, and 15+ BALD EAGLES.

We made a few more passes of the dove spots, but by the early afternoon we figured it was time to move on and check for the reported Slaty-backed Gull near Boundary Bay. We found a large flock of Glaucous-winged Gulls in the field but no dark birds. Time to move on to the next Slaty-backed spot in Chilliwack! We got to the Bailey Landfill in Chilliwack around 3:20pm and followed Rick Toochin's directions to a good look-out spot. Sure enough there were thousands of gulls present, but try as we might, we could not pick out a Slaty-backed Gull. There was a bird easily as dark as a Slaty which got us excited but it turned out to be an apparently pure WESTERN GULL-- still a new one! (very dark back, pink legs, huge orangy bill, clean white head, and bi-coloured underwings seen in flight). From our hilltop perch we counted a few Herring Gulls mixed in, as well as a good variety of weird hybrid birds that varied greatly in mantle tones.

From there it was back to the Okanagan where our only stop before hitting the hay at my parents' place in Penticton was 3-Gates Farms for a quick try for saw-whet and screech owl (both would-be lifers for Kevin). Instead we heard a distant LONG-EARED OWL answer to our whistles! Not a year-bird but another awesome moment to-be-sure!

Jan 18: Part Two - Williams Lake to Coast

After having a great time with the hawk-owl (photos below), we headed back to Williams Lake (and spotted another hawk-owl at location #1). Phil took us to a house where an adult Harris's Sparrow had been spending the winter. Unfortunately for us it appears the warm weather had driven off the juncos and the associating sparrow in recent days so we came way empty-handed. Phil bid us fairwell back at the Timmy's and he thanked him for the fantastic day. He told us about a local who has been reporting a Boreal Owl coming out at dusk near a house west of town. We decided to go follow up on that and we eventually tracked down Tom Arduini who claimed to see it quite frequently around 5pm. Since this small owl (whatever it is) seems to be loyal to such a small area (enough to be seen multiple times a week after dark), I thought it would be a good idea to search the surrounding woods for its roosting spot. Within minutes I found a perch covered in heavy white-wash and on the ground lay a medium-sized pellet. Later we found a very large pellet--no doubt from a Great Horned Owl, and since the first pellet was too large for a saw-whet, perhaps there was indeed a Boreal Owl nearby! We searched and searched in the fading light but alas no luck. I did add another yearbird though: PINE GROSBEAK. Kevin spotted this bird sitting low in an aspen, feeding on the buds.

It was around this time, as Kevin and I waited in the car for a small owl to fly across the road, that Chris Charlesworth and Al McTavish simultaneously called me about the Oriental Turtle-Dove. At first I didn't even consider as a possibility, but when Kevin said he was game for anything, the wheel starting spinning in my head and we started planning for an immediate trip. After waiting a bit longer for the owl and calling for Boreal into the darkness with no joy, we headed back to Kevin's parents' place for one last meal. Chris and Barb Easthope spoiled us with juicy ribs (photo), and Barb prepared a goodie-bag of snacks and bevies for the long road ahead! THANKS SO MUCH GUYS! Having refueled ourselves and the vehicle, we left Williams Lake around 7:10pm and began out trip to the coast via the extremely foggy Fraser Canyon. We crept through that stuff at about 50km/hour in a 90 zone, but finally when we hit Hope things openned up and we enjoyed a traffic-free ride through the Fraser Valley, then down Hwy 10 to Ladner. We arrived at the Reifel/Alaksen Gate around 3am and we pleased to spot a BARN OWL perched on a CWS sign (year-tick!). At the gate itself a WINTER WREN gave its full cascading song and continued to do so through the night and all through the following day. We slept in that car that night and didn't stir until Pete Davidson cruised by on his bike. I chatted with him about the dove and other local birds, and then we dug into the remnants of Kevin's mom's snack bags for breakfast.

Jan 18: Part One - Williams Lake

I had high hopes leaving the Easthopes this morning. Kevin and I had planned to meet Williams Lake birder extraordinaire Phil Ranson at the local Tim Hortons at 10am-- because we were hunting hawk-owls! We piled into Phil's van and headed out on the Horsefly Road where Phil knew about 6 good hawk-owl locations! Before coming up Phil had told me they were pretty much a gimme but we started to worry a bit when the first 2 locations fell through. The wind was fairly strong and we were beginning to worry that the owls would be hunkered down. But not giving up yet, Phil said "on to spot #3" and after a bit of slow cruising with eyes peeled along a back road I spotted an odd-looking lump in the crotch of a snag. "That's a hawk-owl!" Phil exclaimed. Trying to keep my emotions on the inside until we could approach it from a different angle and confirm its identity, it was with great relief that I watched him in the bins as he scanned a snowy farmyard for rodents. Since the bird didn't seem to care much about our presence, I got out of the vehicle and started snapping record shots. The bird apparently spotted movement and flew futher away to a low perch (and once again with his back to us!). Although I was elated at finding this bird I was secretly hoping that he(or she) would at least show us his face! And my wishes came true and more! After changing to a far-off perch, he flew right at us and landed on the wire above the car! I got a series of great pictures as I stood below him and even got a shot of him horking up a pellet (photo included)!!! Then he moved again to a low branch and this time he let me get within 7 feet, apparently not concerned at all with my presence since he never looked directly at me! These and others are certainly some of the best shots I've acheived with this new point n' shoot (autofocus-only) camera so far!!!

Jan 17: Osoyoos to Williams Lake

Today started off with a bang! Despite the dreary weather Sam Brett, Mom, Dad, and I set off for Osoyoos in the 6am blackness. We were following up on Soug Brown's report of 2 Yellow-billed Loons on Osoyoos Lake and since Sam needed to get to the Kelowna airport by 11am we needed to get the bird ASAP so that she could get back to Ontario! Our first couple stops along the northwestern side of the lake turned up a few Common Loons and a possible Pacific but we couldn't spy anything suspiciously yellow-y out there. Then finally we drove down behind the old packinghouse and Sam spotted a bird comnig out from behind some trees (blocking our view of the shoreline)... an immature YELLOW-BILLED LOON!!! Doug had seen his birds on the far side of the lake so we were very pleased to see one so close. I snapped some record shots but unfortunately due to the low light, drizzling rain, and the fact that I didn't grab the camera until it was getting further away, they are not "amazing" photos but at least you can tell it's a yellow-billed loon (note the pale upturned bill, pale face, and brown back with light barring).

Flushed with success, Sam and I headed north to Kelowna. We picked up my friend Kevin Easthope (who was to join me for a little more of a journey than expected) in Rutland, then Kevin and I said our goodbyes to Sam at the airport before continuing north towards the hawk-owls of Williams Lake! Our first stop along the way was at Desert Cove near Vernon where Gray Partridge are known to spend the winter beneath trailors in the commnuity (or so I am told?). We cruised around the community and chatted with locals but no seemed to have any tips on finding the birds. I spotted a brushy area with some old trailors in behind the main complex and thought this would be the best place to search. Sure enough there was a feeder down there covered in birds. No partridge in site but after a few quick pishes out the window, 1,2, then 3 WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS popped up to check us out!!! I've never had more than 2 of these locally rare sparrows at a time in the Okanagan so a great treat! (Photo of one bird included below in my previous post--- can you spot him amongst the branches?)

After a sunny and scenic drive from Vernon to Kamloops, I decided to follow up on some Sharp-tailed Grouse-finding tips from local bird expert Rick Howie. Having never seen these birds outside the Peace River region I was keen to find them down south and before winter leaves so for a couple hours Kevin and I cruised the back roads south of Kamloops (off Hwy 5a). Since it was a sunny Sunday there were a lot of dog-walkers around and we feared that the grouse would be hiding away. Then at the last place we checked, POOOF!, 2 SHARP-TAILED GROUSE flushed out of an aspen grove right over out heads! I let out a triumphant whoop, and we carried on our road trip, arriving in Williams Lake for dinner. There we stayed with Kevin's parents who spoiled us with hearty meals, delicious desserts, warm beds, and a great location: Chimney Valley! Kevin and I tried for owls for a bit that night but only managed to get an leery 'yowl!' out of one of the resident Great Horns.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What a trip!!!

Kevin and I just got back from a whirl-wind road trip that took us from Osoyoos up to Williams Lake, then down the Fraser Canyon to Ladner, BC and back up to the Okanagan this evening! Obviously lots of birds and birders were encountered so when I wake up tomorrow morning I will get to posting some new stories and photos!!!

In the meantime, here's a couple nice shots from the trip: (White-throated Sparrow at Desert Cove/Okanagan Landing, Barn Owl near Reifel at 3am. Sandhill Crane in Reifel Refuge, and another poor shot of the LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (this time he was close BUT sleeping!).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Double twitch coming up!

Heading out early tomorrow morning to search for Doug Brown's YELLOW-BILLED LOONS reported from Osoyoos Lake, followed by a long drive with my good buddy Kevin Easthope to his hometown Williams Lake. What's there? Apparently several NORTHERN HAWK-OWLS! Hopefully we'll track down a few of these stunning creatures and maybe we'll pick up a few other new ticks along the way! Should be a fun trip and after all this spring-like weather we're having it'll be nice to get back into a more wintery climate.

Message to birders on the coast: Find out where that Slaty-backed Gull is sleeping!

(new photos will be posted upon my return from the north!!!)

More Kelowna birding

Hi everyone!

The past few days have been fairly rainy up in Kelowna but today was fabulous! I must admit that I haven't been birding ALL DAY lately but I"m still finding a few nice additions. Time to get back at it right? Anyways, on Wednesday the only addition was WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Sam Brett and I had a flock of around 100 up the Beaver Lake Road). I was hoping for more upper-elevation goodies like Pine Grosbeak and Boreal Chickadee, but unfortunately we had to settle for 5 Three-toed Woodpeckers and a bunch of Gray Jays (already counted, but always neat)! Down in the valley I've been scrounging high and low in the hopes of turning up either a Yellow-billed Loon or a rare gull but no luck! Sam and I also tried for the long-staying Blue Jay in Trader's Cove but unfortunately another strike-out. We did however hone in on a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW in Okanagan Mountain Park (either yesterday or the day before... they're all molding into one now! Will have to check the notes).

Today was a gorgeous day but didn't get out for too long (at least not for "serious" birding). A single RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET was a nice find since none have been reported since early December in the BC interior. I've also been trying to photograph interesting gulls in the area including an adult KUMLIEN'S (iceland) GULL and a bunch of weird hybridy things containing Herring/Western/Glaucous-winged parentage. Perhaps I'll post some of these poor but interesting shots soon.

(photo: Bohemian Waxwings)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kumlien's Gull!

In light of Chris Charlesworth's recent sighting, I figured I had better get back up to Kelowna to check Maude Roxby. Got there around 3:45pm just as the light was fading and was glad to see a large number of gulls. In amongst them was an adult KUMLIEN'S (Iceland) Gull-- very pale mantle in comparison to nearby Thayer's Gulls, dusky eye, pale head, white edging to primaries and ashy coloured tips. A first cycle GLAUCOUS GULL was also neat (my first sub-adult of the winter), and the number of Glaucous-winged Gulls were astounding (60+!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snowy Owl =YES!

After getting word late yesterday afternoon that a Snowy Owl had appeared just north of Princeton on the Separation Lakes Road, I simply could not pass up the chance to see it. Left Penticton at 6am, drive to the general area and WHAMO! spotted the bird on a powerpole and it wasn't even 8am yet!!! I had been preparing for a long day of scanning fields and cruising the farmroads in the area but this bird just wanted to be seen. I sat underneath it for a good 45minutes and it didn't seem to mind at all. At one point it's eye caught something moving on the ground and it flew down and punched through the snow. A miss I think, since it never seemed to eat anything- just sat there in the snow looking kind of nonchalant (check out the mini-horns in the pics!).

After snapping some record shots and soaking in its majestic stare, I continued north up to Osprey Lake- a road I had never taken before which eventually leads to Prairie Valley Road in Summerland. I stopped many times along this road in the spruce and lodgepole pine forest in the hopes of finding some Pine Grosbeaks or some such thing but no luck. I finished the day birding with Leslie Robertson along the Penticton Lakeshore where the male EURASIAN WIGEON and 2 MEW GULLS were easily found, and in behind the yacht club we found a ground-feeding flock of 7 or so YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. My only other year-tick for the day (other than the owl) was a WESTERN BLUEBIRD (heard but not seen at the yacht club).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Birding the South

Ann Gibson and Tanya Seebacher picked me up this morning and we headed to the great South Okanagan for a full day of birding. Our first stop was along the Okanagan Lakeshore in Penticton where a male EURASIAN WIGEON put on a nice show and 4 yes 4 MEW GULLS were together along the beach. This is the first time I've heard of more thatn 2 at a time anywhere anytime in the southern interior of the province (the photo contains 3 Mews... can you find them?).

Next we drove straight south and up the Richter Pass in hopes of finding the rosy-finches and snow buntings reported there a week ago. Not surprisingly these birds have moved on but a great compensation was seeing close to 100 CHUKAR (tick) running all over the road and up the hillside beside the Elkink Ranch's feed pile (poor photo included). Deffinitely the most reliable place to see these birds in the province (in winter anyways)!

From there we retreated back to the valley where a stop in at Haynes Points Provincial Park produced several highlights, namely a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER and a GRAY CATBIRD!!!! Doug Brown found this bird in December but unfortunately no one was able to find it on the Christmas Count or since... but it's still there! My first winter catbird (and year tick), what a treat!

Further north at the Osoyoos Hwy bridge we scoped the lake and spotted 3 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and a dark PACIFIC LOON. I also scoped a familiar face further up the shoreline and on a closer approach sure enough it was Doug Brown himself! He joined up with us for the rest of the day as we scoured Rd. 22 for the likes of Harris's Sparrows and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. No joy unfortunately for those targets but a male RUSTY BLACKBIRD with a flock of Red-wings and Brewer's was nice, and the usual mix of hawks and ducks gave us some things to look at. Doug spotted a WILSON'S SNIPE in the car behind me (missed year tick!)... I'll get that one eventually I'm sure!

A great day, total year list stands at 139!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Count Update: 137

Osoyoos birding tomorrow!

Jan 9: Search for scoters

Today I headed to my old stomping grounds in Kits hoping to find White-winged and Black Scoters. After an hour of getting absolutely drenched in cold rain along windy Locarno Beach it suddenly dawned on me that I was trying waaay to hard to find birds I could easily see elsewhere. I decided to call it a day, and headed back to the dry Okanagan! The only new bird today was SANDERLING (a flock flew by offshore while I scoped through hundreds of Surf Scoters.

So a great coast trip, as I got all of my main targets. I guess I've left a few easy ones behind... something to do next time! Some common birds I'll need to grab on my next visit: 2 scoters, bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadee, band-tailed pigeon, anna's hummingbird, and harlequin duck (too name a few)

Jan 8: Birding the "South Coast"

Today was supposed to be all about gyrfalcons. The scrub-jay and owl had turned out to be a little too easy but I wasn't sure if my luck would hold for my other main coastal target... I was wrong! Wu Lee picked me up in East Van and we headed down to Blackie Spit whilst keeping our eyes on the gray skies. At Blackie I added 9 years birds, mostly easy stuff but it was neat to see several EURASIAN WIGEON so close (check out the photo with both male and female birds). The targets of course were the "screachers" as some call them: a single LONG-BILLED CURLEW hanging out with 6 MARBLED GODWITS. These big waders are often pretty tough birds in winter in BC but these guys seem pretty comfortable! (photos) In addition to the birds we ran into top Canadian lister Al McTavish! It's neat that the top 3 Canadian listers all live in BC... goes to show what a great place this is.

Next we headed to the foot of 96th street on Boundary Bay for out hoped-for Gyr and BINGO!!! There it was perched atop the big radio tower behind the Mansion! A lifer for Wu and my first since 2006! Also on Boundary Bay were my first Brants and amazing numbers of wigeon and pintail, tens of thousands (a lot for my interior standards!).

"Well that was pretty easy," I said. With the gyr in the bag, we decided to head to the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty to see if Mr. Willet was around. He was! Apparently this bird has wintered here for 14 years, glad to see he's still going strong. A few other new birds here like BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, PELAGIC and BRANDT'S CORMORANTS were nice although unfortunately heightened security at the terminal makes turnstone and surfbird searching awkward so no luck with those birds.

Time for Reifel Refuge! More and more rain came down but the sactuary was packed with birds and we had a fantastic time turning up 50 species and finding many goodies. I was very happy to get great looks at 4 BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS (photo of juvenile included) and a PEREGRINE FALCON, but the best birds for the location included an adult GLAUCOUS GULL, an adult male YELLOW-SHAFTED FLICKER (photo- note the black moustache, red nape, and yellow primary shafts), and a lone BOHEMIAN WAXWING (hanging out with Cedars). Other year-birds at Reifel: RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, PURPLE FINCH, SANDHILL CRANE, MARSH WREN, ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW.

What a day (28 year-birds I think)! Still figuring out the new camera obviously son I'll blame the poor shots on low light and pouring rain!

Thanks Wu for the great day!

Jan 7: Drive to the Coast

Today I left the frigid streets of Kelowna with thoughts of new birds further west. The connector was bare and the drive fairly uneventful until I reached Maple Ridge. My only new bird in that time was NORTHWESTERN CROW (Hope). In Maple Ridge I stopped in at Roger Craik's place where he had seen a WESTERN SCRUB-JAY just moment before. This bird has been in the area since last May but I thought better find it just in case it disappears! After chatting with Roger I started walking down the lane and in less than a minute I spotted the bird high in a tree. Knowing that this individual is notoriously secretive I started snapping poor photos against the gray sky. To my surprise he/she flew down to eye-level about 25 meters away before vanishing again (I've posted a couple cropped shots). One of Roger's neighbours told me his cat nearly caught the jay that morning... let's hope it's a little more careful!!! A great relief to find the bird, now it was off for the next big target: GREAT GRAY OWL.

I arrived at Colony Farm around 2:30pm and was pleased to find that the bird was still there. Burnaby birding expert Randy Findlay pointed him out roosting in the thick woods (poor record shot included). I waited around for over an hour to see if it would come out for a hunt but by 3:50pm I decided it was time to head on to Vancouver since I always hate navigating unknown neighbourhoods at night (apparently the owl came out just after I left... urg!). I racked up a few other year birds in the woods nearby including WINTER WREN, FOX SPARROW, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, and HERMIT THRUSH. Staying in East Van with my good brothers Wyatt and Devin!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Awesome trip to the coast

Hi all!

I'm currently on a rusty old computer in the back of a grocery store in East Van, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow night to make a full report and post new photos.

My coast trip went well and all my targets were found!!!

Details to follow soon...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Count Update: 98

In Vancouver tomorrow, should add a bunch!

New photos by Sunday!

Highlights today: I refound the male Rusty Blackbird that has been at the Kelowna landfill since early November. Not a year bird but always nice to see. Years birds today included a nice adult GLAUCOUS GULL, a COMMON LOON, and a female LONG-TAILED DUCK (rare in the Okanagan).

Count Update: 95

Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Penticton Yacht Club, Mew Gull on the beach, and Western Grebes and Wood Duck back up in Kelowna!

New camera, photos soon! (Heading to the Kelowna landfill tomorra)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Count update: 91

Cassin's Finch at the feeder!

Jan 3: Princeton Christmas Bird Count

After two great days in the valley-bottom it was time to hit the forest and what better excuse than that Princeton CBC? My Dad and I were joined by Kirk Safford and Chandra Wong for the day and we were assigned some great forest patches including the Curry Ranch, China Ridge, Swan Lake (frozen obviously), and some small areas up Hwy 5a. The story of the day was certainly the woodpeckers. Princeton boasts a wealth of pine-beetles (I like to look at it in a nice way!) and thus a wealth of beetle-eaters have moved in. In our area alone we counted 35 HAIRY WOODPECKERS, 14 DOWNY WOODPECKERS, 7 PILEATED WOODPECKERS, 8 NORTHERN FLICKERS, and 3 AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS!!! All three species of nuthatches were abundant as well, plus other great pine birds such as RED CROSSBILL, EVENING GROSBEAKS, BROWN CREEPERS, NORTHER PYGMY-OWL (poorly digiscoped), GRAY JAYS, NUTCRACKERS, and loads of RAVENS.

After today, my year's count sits at 88! As I write this on the 4th (in my parent's dining room in Penticton), it is dumping snow outside so perhaps this will be a good opportunity to send out some emails!

Jan 2: Osoyoos Birding Bonanza

'Twas 1:10AM Jan 2 when I awoke for the Osoyoos Christmas Bird Count. "I'm doing a Big Year after-all" I said to myself the night before, "so why not get up ridiculously early to do some owling?" Got down into the Osoyoos counting area and first bird was a GREAT HORNED OWL on a post along the highway near Willow Beach. My first official stop though was the Nk'Mip Desert and Heritage Centre in east Osoyoos where screech-owls are sometimes detected. After 20 minutes of calling however I was out of luck so I pushed back north to Rd. 22 where I brought out an 800,000 candle-power pit-lamp and started scanning for hunting Barn Owls and any other bird that might be out and about in the middle of the night. Unfortunately it seems that the Osoyoos Barn Owls disappeared after last winter's cold-snap and today's experience provided little evidence to refute my suspicions. I did however spot 4 more GREAT HORNED OWLS perched in trees, a power-pole, and 1 on the old Barn, and a single NORTHER SAW-WHET OWL responded to my calls near the old MAPS banding station. From there I headed north of Black Sage Road and the GREAT HORNED OWLS continued to appear! On that road alone I counted 7 different birds plus another at the bottom of the McKinney Road. Up McKinney Road (which heads east up to Mt. Baldy from Oliver) I had hoped to rack up a good number of saw-whets but I guess it's not a great year for them either since I could not find a one! A fabulous consolation prize however was hearing a barking LONG-EARED OWL circling overhead near the KM 10 cattle-guard, and then later (after trying for an hour) getting a BARRED OWL to respond at KM 17.

I made it down the hill by about 7:20am so was able to catch up on a few minutes of sleep before my team-mate for the day Michael Force showed up to meet me. Once he arrived we headed back down Black Sage Road to start our count (basically our area was everything east of the Okanagan River south to the Indian Reserve... so mostly along and around Black Sage Road itself. It turned out to be a great day including many highlights least of which being the raptors. All in all we tallied 4 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 3 MERLINS, 2 SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS, 3 COOPER'S HAWKS, 1 adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK, 5 RED-TAILED HAWKS, 4 NORTHER HARRIERS, 2 GOLDEN EAGLES, 4 BALD EAGLES, and 3 NORTHER SHRIKES (not technically a hawk but a raptor of sorts!). In terms of rarities I was glad to pick out a RUSTY BLACKBIRD at the Oliver feedlot, in amongst the thousands of starlings, pigeons, and other blackbirds. A single BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD was another rare find although they'll be common enough in a few months! Mike found a SWAMP SPARROW along the river which was certainly a nice bonus, and we both heard a few CANYON WRENS calling from the cliffs but alas no chukar calling today. The highlight of the day though, at least for me, came at dusk. We had just picked up may parents who had been walking around the Rd 22 oxbows all day when my Dad said, "hey what's happening up ahead?" Before I could even focus my binoculars on the distant shapes he shouted, "SHORT-EARED OWL!!!" We all piled out of the vehicle beside the old barn and got great looks at the bird as it dove repeatedly on a NORTHERN HARRIER. "But wait, there are two owls!" someone said, and sure enough another short-ear flew into view and again the first bird attacked the newcomer. I called up Chris Charlesworth who had been covering the reserve south of us with Chris Siddle, Ann Gibson, and Tanya Seebacher. They showed up within minutes (photo included) and Chris spotted a third bird further back!!! This isn't Boundary Bay folks, Short-ears have been regular but rare in the Okanagan as long as I have been birding and to see 3 at once is truly special (unless you birded here in the 60's!). So a great way to cap off the day and as usual Osoyoos dominated the other interior counts this year by posting an unofficial tally of 110 species.

Princeton tomorrow! Good way to fill up with forest birds!

Jan 1: GOT THE GULL!!!

After a long night, I roused myself around 10:30 with a heart full of anticipation and a head filled with a reminder that I was severely dehydrated. After two large glasses of OJ and a bottle of Snapple Peach Iced Tea (hard to find these days), I was refreshed. So what was my first bird? MALLARDS! Seen from the bedroom window and later on from close-up. (In the photo: Kevin Easthope and my #1 species) Other common Kelowna birds followed but after a call from my good buddy Chris Charlesworth who had spotted the Lesser Black-backed Gull on the lake-shore, I knew it was time to boogie! This bird has been seen off and on all fall but hadn't been spotted since mid-December and I was starting to worry about its health. Chris called back again to say that a Red-tailed Hawk and put up all the gulls but some good friends and I headed down to Beach Avenue to check just in case. Down there (near the Kelowna bridge) very few gulls were in sight but a large raft of diving ducks including REDHEAD, CANVASBACK, and both SCAUP provided some hope for a good start to the year. Wyatt SJ spotted a young BALD EAGLE perched silently above us and several HORNED GREBES fed offshore.

Next stop was Maude Roxby where Mud Bay was completely iced over and kids were out there playing hockey! Not promising I thought but wait! Out at the edge I spotted a group of about 300 gulls taking a rest. After a bit of scoping I landed the prized bird: the adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL standing amongst 5 other species. A weight off my shoulders to be sure! (I will include a poor but recognizable record-shot I took through the scope.) Other bits n' bobs were present including an obliging pair of MERLINS and 4 TUNDRA SWANS.

Time to head south though, since I needed to get some rest for the Osoyoos Christmas Bird Count! On the way down to Penticton, my friends Devin Mackenzie and Wyatt Seddon-Johnstone and I stopped by a woodlot in Trout Creek and BAM! The gorgeous resident LEWIS'S WOODPECKER came right in. What a stunner against the snow!!! I probably won't see another one of those until the spring so a nice bird for Jan 1.

Before dark, I added a few more birds in the Penticton and Naramata area including MOURNING DOVE (Devin's driveway), CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Wyatt's driveway), and AMERICAN DIPPER (Okanagan River in Penticton). Not sure what my count was at the end of the day but I was just so relieved to have that gull!