Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March 7: Ptarmigan Hunt

This morning and early afternoon Denny Hodsdon and I birded the upper reaches of the Ashnola River Road hoping to relocate Chris and Ryan's famous ptarmigan. We parked at KM 46 alongside several other trucks-- yes unfortunately we shared ptarmigan country with ~12 snow mobiles. We walked the track up to KM 48, taking a few side trips through the deep snow (pictured) then turned back.

As expected there were lots of ptarmigan sign: tracks, tracks, and more tracks, droppings, and wing-markings. Despite all this fresh sign though we couldn't find any actual birds... I bet those machines flushed them off the path JUST before we got there. But it wasn't all failure; no we did get some nice birds. The forest below the clearcuts was chalk-full of AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS drumming and calling away; I figured there were at least 11 along a 2 km stretch. Also in there were a couple HAIRY WOODPECKERS, a single PILEATED WOODPECKER, a calling male GREAT HORNED OWL, flocks of MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES (pictured), and a flyover GRAY-CROWNED ROSYFINCH.

Another great highlight came after we had accepted defeat and started driving down the hill-- from the roadside a bird with white outer tail feathers flushed and landed 50 meters further along... a junco I thought? Better check......... after a bit of scrutiny it dawned on us that it was a SNOW BUNTING albeit a very drab one (first-winter female?). Down on the road collecting grit evidently, and BC Year Bird # 189 (not counting grouse sp.)!!!

Later on in the evening we joined up with Chris Dale of Squamish for another bout of Boreal Owling. When we got up to Ellis Dam it was raining lightly but eventually it cleared off. Very quiet at the dam and throughout most of the evening. The only for-sure owl species we recorded was a BARRED OWL calling at KM 27 on the 201 Rd. We also heard several mystery noises including a possible NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL at the dam (rarely heard at night), a possible BOREAL OWL at Rabbit Lake (gave 4 rapid toot notes then shut up), and another bird that hooted repeatedly near Rabbit Lake but couldn't be tracked down. My best guess is that it was a female GREAT HORNED OWL giving a begging call from the nest. While we explored the Rabbit Lake area it was a very peaceful night, what with the quiet boreal forest and the large flakes beginning to fall all around us, captured in our torched beams... what am I thinking? I'm supposed to be finding a Boreal Owl for Denny, no time for relaxation! A couple more hours of effort revealed nothing. What is happening up here? Are the Barred Owls eating everything? I guess we'll have to go out again tomorrow night!

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