Wednesday, April 28, 2010


After hearing about the appearance of a small group of Ross's Geese in Vanderhoof (1.5 hours west of Prince George), the wheels in my head started turning. Although these rare geese sometimes turn up in the southern interior or on the coast, you just never know. Would I regret it if I didn't go for it? The word "Yes" came immediately to mind, so... I contacted some PG birders and basically said if the birds are seen again, I'm coming! They were re-found on Saturday, plus Phil Ranson had just informed me that the Harris's Sparrow I had missed in February was once again frequenting a feeder in Williams Lake. With nothing important pressing down south I decided to go for it.

I left Penticton at 5am Monday, and arrived in Williams Lake around 10:30am. I met up with Phil at the Harris's Sparrow spot, but try as we might, we could not find it! There were loads of White-crowns, Purple Finches, goldfinches, siksins, and a Downy Woodpecker, but alas no Harris! "Oh well, I guess I'll try on the way down." Besides, I knew I had a shot in the fall. "Time to get up north for the main target!"

Around 2pm I rolled into the Superstore parking lot in Prince George where a group of the city's finest birders awaited-- Sandra Kinsey, Laird Law, Nancy Krueger, and Carolyn McGhee. We all loaded into one vehicle and headed to Vanderhoof, where after a quick pit-stop near the Nechako River we arrived at "the pond." After a few nail-biting seconds we rounded the corner, revealing a group of 20+ white geese out on the water-- the SNOW GEESE that the Ross's Geese had been consorting with... hopefully they were still in there! We got the scopes out and sure enough, there were 5 smaller white-headed geese... ROSS'S GEESE. After a huge sigh of relief, I pumped my fists and let out a loud "YESSSS!!!" Here is a photo of the Ross's Goose crew:

And here are the geese (note the small size, smaller bill and pure white heads in comparison to the big snowies)

After about 5 minutes of watching the geese a large truck drove by and all the geese took off and flew away! Where did they go? I have no idea but I consider myself VERY lucky to have caught up with them!!! There were many other duck species in the area as well as some newly-arrived swallows including my BC year firsts: CLIFF SWALLOW and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW. We cruised around some farm roads nearby and found a small flock of AMERICAN PIPITS (new for the year believe it or not) as well as many LONG-BILLED CURLEWS including a group of at least 12. Perhaps there were more but as you can see, they blend in quite well!

We finished off the day by checking Nulki and Tachick Lakes (of Ross's GULL fame), as well as a few marshes. Highlights: My first PG checklist area REDHEADS, several YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, and BLUE-WINGED TEAL (the first time I've ever seen this species before Cinnamon Teal in a year). On the big lakes there were hundreds of GREATER SCAUP, RING-NECKED DUCKS, BUFFLEHEAD, and other divers, while the trees and bushes were filled with WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. Up in the sky we had a few raptors: BALD EAGLES, OSPREYS, RED-TAILED HAWKS, AMERICAN KESTRELS, and always a treat: both ROUGH-LEGGED and SWAINSON'S HAWKS on the same day!!! A fantastic outing-- Thank you Sandra, Laird, Nancy, and Carolyn!!! I'm sure I'll be back soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lists updated

I have updated the list on the blog (see the tab near the top left), and have also updated the lists on the various chat groups around the province. For the time being, I have included American Black Duck because I've copied the list off eBird-- I recognize the fact that many birders don't consider the VI population legit so more on that later I guess. Also note that the lists on the bird groups are in taxonomic order but on the blog they are in chronological order.

It's been great to get back to BC birding after a great trip to Texas. Some recent yearbirds from the Okanagan include AMERICAN AVOCET (pictured) in Kelowna (22 of them!) and CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD.

Tomorrow I'm heading north again hoping to catch up with Harris's Sparrow and Ross's Goose among other things... should be fun!


Thursday, April 22, 2010


So it sounds like a missed a couple nice birds while away... King Eider, Sage Sparrow, Parakeet Auklet... oh well I guess I'll have to settle with the 50 or 60 lifers (still haven't counted) I got in Texas. Yes it was an awesome trip. Here's the brief story and a few photos to browse:----->

Well Dad and I have just returned from a great trip to Texas. We had 12 days to bird and covered a lot of ground between Houston the Rio Grande and the eastern portion of the Edwards Plateau. We ended up with 305 species so obviously there were a lot of grins and high-fives but a few birds were missed as usual, either by bad luck, torrential rain, or because early/mid-April is too early for several breeders. Here’s a summary for those interested:

We started bright and early in the Piney Woods north of Houston on April 8th where we easily picked up the specialties we had hoped for, namely: RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER, BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, CAROLINA CHICKADEE, and PINE WARBLER. After a few hours in that area we drove all the way down to Harlingen (near the Mexico border) because we wanted to get out raptor-banding with Bill Clark (pictured) before he headed to Alaska to work on Harly Hawks. In addition to getting point blank views of HARRIS’S HAWKS (in the hand) Bill also took us to some great local spots where many other Rio Grande specialties came into view; stuff like APLOMADO FALCON (3 different unbanded birds seen in the Brownsville area), FULVOUS WHISTLING DUCK, CASSIN’S SPARROW, GREEN JAY, WHITE-TAILED HAWK, and ALTAMIRA ORIOLE. SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS (pictured at top), COUCH'S and TROPICAL KINGBIRDS, EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, and LARK SPARROWS were all over the roadsides, and Bill even casually pointed out 2 RINGED KINGFISHERS perched on a wire in the middle of suburban Harlingen! That evening we checked an RV Park where Green Parakeets supposedly roosted. No luck with them but instead we were rewarded with 4 RED-CROWNED PARROTS including a pair checking out a potential nest hole in a tall palm (we did later see GREEN PARAKEETS on the side of the highway one morning while driving through Harlingen).

The next day was spent at Santa Ana State Park (a beautiful forest reserve along the Rio Grande) where highlights included several CLAY-COLORED THRUSHES, a GREEN KINGFISHER, many MISSISSIPPI KITES, 2 GRAY HAWKS, hundreds of BROAD-WINGED and SWAINSON’S HAWKS (all on their northward migration), NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULETS, an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL, and my lifer SEDGE WREN and SUMMER TANAGER (yeah I had lots of lifers on this trip).(GREEN JAY)

We were getting a little worried about missing Whooping Crane (most leave the Texas wintering grounds by early April) so we dashed back up to Corpus Christi (central coast) where we boarded “The Skimmer” in Fulton—we headed out into the middle of the Aransas Refuge where 8 WHOOPING CRANES (a cohort of young birds) awaited our bins and cameras!!! YESSSS!!! Other lifers for me from the boat were REDDISH EGRET, and PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and SCARLET TANAGER which we spotted in a bush on a small island in the middle of nowhere!

From Aransas we headed back down to the Rio Grande (yeah our itinerary was a little wonky) where things are a little blurry--- all I remember is that there was a lot of driving and very heavy rain involved as we birded the Rio Grande Valley for a few days. Some of the highlights that stick out in my mind: Seeing several SWALLOW-TAILED KITES and an ELF OWL (pictured below) at Bentsen State Park, 2 MUSCOVY DUCKS (Roma Bluffs), a RED-BILLED PIGEON (Salineno), and COMMON PAURAQUE. We also twitched a reported Black-vented Oriole on South Padre Island at some point. Like everyone else we missed it but there was a mini-fallout on the island at the same time so we picked up a good number of migrants including BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, KENTUCKY WARBLER, PAINTED BUNTING, BLUE GROSBEAK, and much more.

Because of all the rain we couldn’t visit the Brownville Dump where “THE crow” had been seen recently—the extreme wetness also hindered our attempts to locate Brown Jay and seedeaters but I wasn’t complaining…. well I was, but really…. We were still having a wicked-cool time!

Next up was the Edward’s Plateau (aka the Hill Country) where GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER (pictured below) and BLACK-CAPPED VIREO were both surprisingly easy to locate (despite continued rain). We added many more birds to the trip list here, western stuff like HUTTON’S VIREO, CANYON TOWHEE, BLACK PHOEBE, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, and VARIED BUNTING.

With only a few days left on the trip we made another looong commute back towards Houston and further west. First we twitched a very late Canada Goose (for the trip list of course) but failed to locate it… darn eh? But at the CAGO spot we did pick up BELL’S VIREO, a couple singing YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS, and thousands of BRAZILIAN FREE-TAILED BATS--- still swirling around at 8am! So, that day we drove all the way to the famed High Island where… of course… they experienced the “slowest day of the season.”

No time to worry, we opted to hit Anahuac (a vast swamp/grassy reserve) the next morning and boy did it pay off!!! There is a large expanse known as “Yellow Rail Prairie” where on Saturdays people can join a tour where 10+ people line up and drag ropes and cans across the marsh and sometimes flush up rails. Well it was a Sunday so Dad and I thought we may as well try ourselves. Within 5 minutes we flushed a YELLOW RAIL—no rope cans or bottles dragging required! The best was yet to come as we could hear 2 or 3 BLACK RAILS calling constantly. We headed in their direction and all of a sudden realized that one was only 5 meters away concealed underneath the grass. We stayed with that bird for about 10 minutes, parting grass, walking around, even playing a tape… every once in a while it would call or we would see some grass move but it never showed itself. One moment it would be 2 meters away to out right then 15 second later it was 5 meters to the left. This thing probably walked through our legs and we never saw it! Still a fantastic experience as this is probably the hardest breeding bird in North America to see (well… Gray-headed Chickadee can be tough if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands). Anyways, later on in the morning we got great looks at KING (pictured) and CLAPPER RAILS, SORA, and 2 LEAST BITTERNS. Lots of great birds that day in the wetlands, then later at “The Willows” near the park’s headquarters and at High Island thanks to some scattered showers which pushed new migrants in. Both species of waterthrush, WOOD THRUSH, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACKPOLL WARBLER, and PURPLE GALLINULE were all tallied among other things.

April 19th (our second last day) was spent birding the migrant traps at High Island and Sabine Woods. More lifers came for me including BLACKBURNIAN and CERULEAN WARBLERS, and some other great ABA birds like FISH CROW and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (2 females flying over the beach near High Island).

Our last day was for The Big Thicket (NE of Houston) birds. That’s “East Texas” where pine, oak, and various broadleaves dominate the landscape. Just before dawn we heard CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOWS calling away, and soon after I welcomed 2 more new birds: PRAIRIE and SWAINSON’S WARBLER. After hearing a couple at a great distance, it was great to finally get good views of a BACHMAN’S SPARROW up near Jasper. We looped back to Houston the long way through Louisiana (just for kicks) and finished off the trip at the Best Western in Houston where Chris Charlesworth’s tour patrons were still stranded.

50+ lifers for me and 11 for Pops. A fun time to be sure… but time to get back to BC birds!

Russell Cannings
Back in the OK

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Looking back and looking forward

It's been over 3 months now since I set off on this "quest" to find as many birds in BC as I possibly can. Well, "possibly can within reason" is more like it as I will surely be working here and there, socializing with friends and family, and... I'm going to TEXAS TOMORROW MORNING!!! Yes I'm off to Texas for 2 weeks with my Dad for a bit of spring birding, should be awesome as I have never been down there-- it will be nice to work on my Blackburnian chip notes for when I go up to the Peace! Anyways, the last 3 months have been great; I've made many new friends and reacquainted myself with a few old ones, I've discovered some great new places, and there have obviously been some incredible experiences along the way (both with birds and with the rest of the world). Over this time period I managed to see about 85% of the birds reported in BC. Many of the ones I missed I will pick up in good time but some may be tough.

There are 3 species in particular that I had hoped to have by now but don't:

1. SLATY-BACKED GULL- several were reported both on the mainland and on the island. I searched very hard for this species in February but unfortunately did not get over to the Herring Spawn until after things had died down. Apparently this years' spawn has not been a good one. This could have been a factor but I probably could have picked one out had I put in the time. All is not lost of course, I can still get this bird in Nov/Dec if I keep scanning those darn gulls on Boundary Bay or somethin!

2. HARRIS'S SPARROW- The only report of this species that I know of for 2010 is one that frequented a feeder in Williams Lake in early January. I visited that very feeder about a week after it was last seen with no luck. So why were there no Harris's Sparrows being seen in the interior this winter? I think the principle cause for this was the above-average temperatures. There were plenty of feeding opportunities in the forests and in the fields for sparrows this year so few had to huddle around feeders. Hopefully I'll pick this species up on spring migration with the white-crowns and failing that perhaps in December.

3. HOARY REDPOLL- The only chance I had for this species down south was in the mountains around the Okanagan in January where several individuals were reported with Common Redpolls on Christmas Bird Counts. I tried and tried but couldn't find the massive redpoll flocks and thus struck out. Hoaries were present in decent numbers in the northwest including Telegraph Creek and Houston, BC but frankly I just couldn't find the time to get up there. I suppose a November trip to Fort Nelson is in order!

SO... I'm off on holiday for a bit, time to enjoy some new birds! I'm sure many of you will find some great things while I'm gone--please convince them to stay until I return!!! May is going to be crazy and I can't wait! 300 ain't that far off...

Also, I will make sure to post a full list on both my blog and on the birding chat groups; Right now I need to get to some last-minute packing so when I get into Houston, TX tomorrow I'll get to the lists.

Cheers--- to spring!

Russ Cannings

p.s. Just saw my first Yellow-headed Blackbird today!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Birding in the Okanagan: RAIN+WIND+SNOW

The weather hasn't been great of late (although apparently a lot nicer than on the coast!) but there have been some nice birds around. On Friday I headed to White Lake hoping to scare up some partridge or perhaps a singing Sage Sparrow. What I found instead was a light blizzard (and poor visibility), but with the bad there was some good! The bad weather had created a thrush fallout! Over 140 MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS on my little walk (probably 500+ in the whole area) and over 100 AMERICAN ROBINS (and loads more around Willowbrook). I have included one of bluebird photos (the one where you can actually see a bird!-- also note the horizontal nature of the precipitation).

Today (Saturday), Sam Brett and I cruised around to a few spots in the South Okanagan including McKinney, Rd. 22, and Vaseux Lake. More wind and rain today but some birds showed themselves well including my first OSPREY of the year at Rd. 22, a LONG-BILLED CURLEW (also at Rd. 22), my first winter-female RUSTY BLACKBIRD for the Okanagan (Vaseux-- yes it's a bad shot but you can tell what it is--note the pale eye), a couple WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS (Vaseux--year bird), and a TURKEY VULTURE eating a dog on the Penticton Indian Reserve... yummy.