Monday, May 24, 2010


Just when I thought I was on my way north, my Dad got word of an ACORN WOODPECKER in Princeton. Hopped in the car with Dad and Sam and got to Princeton by about 3:10pm. We were a little confused at first because we had the wrong address but when I called the home-owner (the bird was frequenting a suet feeder), we realized that we were right outside her house. She also mentioned over the phone that "the bird is here right now." WHAAAATT!!!?!?!? I threw open the door and sprinted across the yard and peaked around the side of the house... yup still there! Back to the car for the camera and this time through the front door. What a great bird and what a feeder! I'll post more photos later of the woodpecker and the other feeder visitors when I get home from up north!

Friday, May 21, 2010


This morning I observed an adult light-morph BROAD-WINGED HAWK along with Agnes Lynn, and Mary Robichaud; it was circling high over Rabbit Lake (way up the mountain above OK Falls, BC). This is my first BWHA for the Okanagan and a very rare bird in the spring in southern BC. I managed a couple photos before it disappeared into a cloud!

We also had an adult FRANKLIN'S GULL fly past us at Vaseux Lake! Not bad!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sponsor my NMT Big Day!

This Sunday I'm doing another Big Day, this time all by bike! Please support my Baillie Birdathon by donating at the following link. You can either pledge per species or a flat rate. The proceeds will go to both the Baillie Fund and the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory (which could use some extra $ thanks to government cutbacks to the Canadian Wildlife Service!)

Thank you so much!


If things weren't crazy and tiring enough, some friends and I recently decided to take a crack at my Dad's Big Day record: 196 species in 24 hours in BC. We didn't think we'd break it right away, and that this would be a good practice run. But sometimes things just go right. We cleaned up in the Okanagan and pick up enough birds on the coast (despite the ugly weather on Wednesday) to smash the record by 1! Here's the story:

(MAY 19)
Our team, consisting of 4 members: Myself, Avery Bartels, Ilya Povalyaev, and Chris Charlesworth began our night in the traditional “Big Day” way... at Tim Horton’s. Unfortunately this Tim Horton’s had a very limited supply of timbits and bagel varieties, and had decided to employ only one, very tired woman for the graveyard shift so our first birding stop for the “Day” ended up being at 3 minutes past midnight... time is ticking! Anyway, our first bird of the day was a calling GADWALL at Robert Lake--- here we soon added a few other species with the help of the headlights including WILSON’S SNIPE, CANADA GOOSE, and best of all- AMERICAN AVOCET. Next we dashed south to Penticton, where Max Lake provided us with some “big-bang-bong... chaching chaching” birding—COMMON POORWILLS calling, juvenile NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL begging (and seen well in our flashlight beams), both SORA and VIRGINIA RAILS in the lake, and a distant male GREAT HORNED OWL.. A brief stop on the White Lake Road gave us WESTERN SCREECH-OWL, then we were off up the mountains!

We tried for Barred Owls around the Venner Larches without success then dipped on Boreal Owls further up. It was quite chilly up top around Rabbit Lake but eventually the sounds of the first songbirds warmed us up a little bit—HERMIT THRUSHES, VARIED THRUSHES and AMERICAN ROBINS were the first to chime in of course, but soon GOLDEN and RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS joined in, followed by DARK-EYED JUNCOS and BOREAL CHICKADEES. A flyover MOURNING DOVE was a big surprise in the frigid high country, and a calling SOLITARY SANDPIPER gave us good reason to be optimistic about the day ahead.

After chalking up 48 species by 5:30am, we headed up to Venner Meadows where the sun came up to greet us and warm our frozen bones (photo); here we got onto some more goodies like NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, and WILSON’S WARBLER (quite a beautiful bird to see singing in a frost-covered willow lit up by the morning sun!). Back down into the Larches we struggled to find woodpeckers but did eventually hear both WILLIAMSON’S and RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS, and picked up DOWNY and PILEATED WOODPECKERS (notoriously tough birds on Big Days in my experience).

Then we headed down the road to the lower reaches of Shuttleworth Creek where more “Okanagany” birds awaited in the pines: WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, all 3 NUTHATCHES, ROCK WREN, SAY’S PHOEBE, CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, LAZULI BUNTING, and LEWIS’S WOODPECKER to name but a few.

In Okanagan Falls we scoped all 6 species of swallow over Skaha Lake as well as both VAUX’S and WHITE-THROATED SWIFT flying right over-top of us. CEDAR WAXWING was a good pick-up in town, and we were very pleased to see that the 3 HARLEQUIN DUCKS we had staked out on the river were still there.

White Lake produced its most feisty resident: the BREWER’S SPARROW, but unfortunately a concerted effort for partridge and grasshopper sparrow turned up nothing (photo).

Next it was River Road where BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT showed up on cue, then Vaseux Lake really paid off with some solid birds in a short amount of time: CANVASBACK, GOLDEN EAGLE, CANYON WREN, CHUKAR, and RING-NECKED DUCK... some solid day birds to be sure!

A EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE on Tuc-el-Nuit Rd was #132 and it was only 9:45am! Our luck continued up the McKinney Road where we had DUSKY, HAMMOND’S, and GRAY FLYCATCHER all at the same spot—from the car!

Back and the Hwy and heading south, Avery spotted a fly-by STELLER’S JAY (our only one for the day), then Deadman’s Lake really came through with WILSON’S PHALAROPE, LEAST SANDPIPER, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, HOODED MERGANSER, and COMMON GOLDENEYE (some very good day birds). Overhead we spotted SHARP-SHINNED and COOPER’S HAWKS, and best of all: 2 large flocks of AMERICAN WHITE-PELICANS flying north!

Rd. 22 was also productive with out first BOBOLINKS of the day (and year), a pair of LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, a NORTHERN HARRIER, and 2 PEREGRINE FALCONS. With #154 species at 11:30am we were feeling pretty good! Our luck started to wane a little however, as we failed to locate the long-staying yellow-billed loon on Osoyoos Lake. At least we found HORNED and WESTERN GREBE, and a lone TUNDRA SWAN (which would all turn out to be our only ones for the day).

We gassed up in Osoyoos and high-tailed it to Princeton where we nabbed RUDDY DUCK and BUFFLEHEAD on a nearby lake, then Avery spotted a MERLIN flying over the town!

When we got to Manning Park we made the poor decision to drive all the way out to Strawberry Flats to try and track down a gray jay (which we missed up high in the morning). The wind made birding a bit difficult and the birds just wouldn’t show. FINALLY at Lightning Lakes 2 birds flew in (photo) helping to ease our angst but now we had a 1 hour deficit to deal with.

When we finally got down to the coast, things were not looking good. Yes we had racked up 168 species by the time we rolled into Abbotsford but we were running out of light, the weather looked horrible to the west, and highway construction did nothing to make us feel better! Luckily most of the rain fell while we were stuck in traffic but the wind stayed strong throughout the rest of the day and into the evening. Luckily for us, Ilya Povalyaev was in the car and using his keen knowledge for the birds of South Surrey, we nailed 24 more species in quick succession including WHIMBREL, MARBLED GODWIT, and LONG-TAILED DUCK at Blackie Spit, and COMMON TERN and BONAPARTE’S GULL at Crescent Beach.

All of a sudden, the record seemed within reach. We were losing daylight extremely fast and the wind was blowing hard, but somehow we kept adding birds--- a BARN OWL off the Ladner Trunk Road, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, BRANT, PELAGIC, SURF SCOTER and BRANDT’S CORMORANTS at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, then we hit Iona with almost no light to spare. We scoped some GREATER SCAUP just in time, then walked the ponds after dark hoping to hear and possibly see some shorebirds. Some NORTHERN PINTAILS were nice new birds, but NO SHOREBIRDS other than a few Spotties showed themselves. Then, Chris spotted a small group of peeps in a wet area right beside the walking dyke!!! Through our scopes we could barely make them out as the light was going way down. If they hadn’t been within 10 meters it would have been impossible! Anyways, WESTERN SANDPIPER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER were picked out for sure but no dunlin or anything else.

Now with no light, we considered our prospects--- we had 194 species... 2 short of the record. What could we get at night other than Barred Owl? The first answer was “Mute Swan” and sure enough, with the help of our Canadian Tire-issue pit-lamps we lit up a single bird at the Westham Island bridge. #195... now what? Do we sneak into Reifel and try and find a crane? Do we spotlight the rocks at Brunswick Point for roosting Dunlin, pumping bitterns anywhere? It was decided that with our limited time it would be best to go where the birds were “easiest” and where we had a shot at the most amount of species. That meant driving back to White Rock where we walked into Crescent Park and headed for the pond... any wood ducks around? We panned back and forth across the pond... nothing. The wind was really raging now and it was starting to look like we’d reached our limit at 11pm. We started walking the perimeter of the pond and then suddenly heard a crashing noise and briefly saw 2 objects pop out of a bush and then into the ater. “THAT’S IT! THAT’S THEM!” Sure enough, a male and female WOOD DUCK now out in the open! High fives all around, we had tied the 15-year old record. Ilya took us to a corner of the park where he figured we had the best chance of Barred Owl. Under the windy circumstances we didn’t hold much faith for a response but we all took turns giving our owl hoots and hisses etc etc. Nothing... ah well we tried. After walking about 50 paces back to the car, a brazen voice broke through the maelstrom: “WHO COOKS FOR YOU!” The greatest miracle in my owling career. Soon the male was joined by his lady and we were treated to a full range of vocalizations as we left the park... what a way to break the record.

With 30 minutes to spare we zipped down to the White Rock peer to try and spotlight a mew gull or a white-winged scoter- just 2 of the many big misses for the day. When we got there however, the sea was black and very rough and no gull in their right mind would be loafing on the grass that night. I guess we’ll have to settle for 197—a one species “smashing” of the old record set in 1995 by my Dad, Blake Maybank, Tom Plath, and Alvaro Jaramillo.

Full list:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
California Quail
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ruffed Grouse
Spruce Grouse
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe
American White Pelican
Brandt’s Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Black Oystercatcher
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Phalarope
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Flammulated Owl
Western Screech Owl
Great Horned Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Barred Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Common Poorwill
Vaux’s Swift
White-throated Swift
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Lewis’s Woodpecker
Williamson’s Sapsucker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Hammond's Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Say's Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Cassin's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Gray Jay
Steller’s Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick’s Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Townsend’s Solitaire
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Varied Thrush
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
MacGillivray’s Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
Pine Grosbeak
Purple Finch
Cassin’s Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow

Judging from some of the big misses like Gray Catbird, Willow Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, WW Scoter, Dunlin, RB Merg, Pacific Loon, etc. 200 is definitely possible! Next year!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Update soon!

Just got back from the coast, will update tomorrow! Pulled off a pelagic out of Sooke sailing towards Bamfield and picked up some nice birds including Brown Pelican, Tufted Puffin, and Cassin's Auklet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Red-throated Pipit Chase

May 11:

I awoke sick and woozy this morning, lying on my camping-mat in Ilya Povalyaev's South Surrey home. I suppose waking up at 4:30am to bird all day then driving through the night to the coast is not the best way to nurse a progressing soar throat. BUT THERE WERE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS AT STAKE! We left the house at 5:50am and headed to Ladner where we met Larry Cowan and Kevin Neill who would be our pipit-chasing companions for the day. Larry kindly offered his vehicle for the carpool and we were off to the ferries to catch the 7am sailing... only to find out from the cheery ticket-booth operator that we would in fact be on the "9 o'clock sailing." Disaster! We were already nervous enough about the prospects of coming all this way for a bird that might not be there, and now we had to sit through several more hours in ferry terminal purgatory... praying for a miracle. We passed the time by working on our "terminal lists"-- the usual GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS and ROCK PIGEONS floated around the buildings, while SURF SCOTERS and COMMON LOONS floated offshore; a fly-over AMERICAN GOLDFINCH gave us some relative excitement, and this obliging VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW allowed Ilya to test out the close-focus on his bins:
At some point during the wait, Roger Foxall called to inform us that the pipit was still there. Definitely an encouraging sign but of course this only added to the torture.

Finally we were able to board the ferry and get under way... fingers and toes crossed! Bird-wise the ferry crossing was fairly slow compared to the previous week. The 8,000 or so BONAPARTE'S GULLS were replaced by 3, and our Rhino count was reduced to 2. There were a good number of PACIFIC LOONS passing by, and the highlight of Active Pass was a group of ~50 PIGEON GUILLEMOTS.

Once on land we raced to Island View Rd and were relieved to see three vehicles nearby with some birders nearby in a field with scopes trained on something. But when we approached, local birder Jeremy Gatten informed us that the bird hadn't been seen for several hours and that only 20ish out of the 100 American Pipits were left in the field near the reservoir. OH NO! Was missing the ferry the final dagger! Had I driven all the way down to the coast and ferried across the Strait of Georgia for nothing? (Well perhaps not nothing, I knew I could see some cool things like Purple Martin and Whimbrel perhaps but STILL! you know what I mean) Our hunting group, now totaling 7 1/2 able-bodied birders (I was a bit out of it at this point) continued to scour the field where the pipit HAD been. After about 20 minutes Jeremy suggested we split into several groups to check all the other fields in the area for larger groups of pipits. I ended up with Jeremy and we headed over to Lochside Drive where the bird had originally been discovered by Mike Bentley. Soon after our arrival we did discover a medium-sized group of pipits but try-as-we-might, no birds with red throats. Viewing wasn't necissarily ideal though, the problem with these pipits is that they seem to enjoy feeding in fields with a grass height of exactly 1 pipit-length. AND, if there are any depressions or hills in the landscape, it appears that spending long periods of time completely obscured by these geographical features is quite preferable.

It was a pleasure to re-meet Michael McGrenere who was passing by on his road-bike. Apparently he was with me and others at the Tumbler Ridge BCFO when I saw my lifer MOURNING, CONNECTICUT, CAPE MAY, and CANADA WARBLERS along Brassey Creek. That was indeed a fantastic field-trip led by Mark Phinney back in my high-school days! Anyways, Mike stopped in and helped us search for the pipit for a bit even though he had already seen it. After a while he headed off to check some other fields and we resumed our vigil... still no rare pipit but I got to see and hear my first "North American" SKY LARK flight-songs! Then we noticed Mike M peddling hard back towards us, could he possibly have seen the bird? He pulled up and announced that there was a GOLDEN-PLOVER of some sort in an adjacent field. Not a mega-rarity of course but a nice novelty for all three of us since the majority of golden-plovers pass through the inner coast in fall as juveniles or as adults in basic plumage. We tracked down the bird and checked it out in the scope as it darted from grass tuft- to tuft. No obvious white-flanks so American right? Well apparently not, later on Michael returned got some photographs revealing several very Pacific Golden-Plover characteristics. (You can follow the ID discussion on the VI Birds email group) So a nice humbling experience in hindsight!

Anyways back to the main event: The other pipit-team came by to announce that they had not seen a single pipit in any other fields so they joined us and soon we discovered that there were indeed around 80 pipits nearby... perhaps the red-throat was amongst them? As I mentioned before, scanning the flock was not an easy task. At any one point only 5 or 6 seemed to be visible, then once you got onto something potentially interesting the entire flock would take off and land in another field. On top of this I was starting to feel very light-headed and my nose just wouldn't stop running... but knowing that we needed as many eyes open as possible I tried my best to stay upright (choosing to cope by constantly complaining of course). Then all of a sudden, after hours of staring at weeds through my broken scope, Ilya exclaimed, "I've got it, I've got THE BIRD!" I abandoned my scope in the middle of the road and sprinted over to the rest of the groups where eyes were now being trained on the RED-THROATED PIPIT, eventually we all got good looks at the bird (or so I thought) and it was now time for the celebration shot!

[For this photo I asked everyone to give me their celebration poses-- in my elation and sudden burst of energy, I did not realize that Larry Cowan, the leader of our expedition had not yet seen the pipit! Ironically, he is the only one giving the THUMPS UP. I suppose is scope-case is masking an expression of sarcasm and deep frustration... now that's loyalty to the Big Year Blog!!! But don't worry readers, Larry got a great look at the pipit a few minutes later and finally the rest of the group could celebrate including Ilya who re-spotted it (good thing he didn't do this immediately after finding it!):

With a bit of time to kill before the next ferry, Jeremy G kindly offered to take us to Saanichton Spit where he had seen 3 whimbrels the day before. A quick check of a couple of the good spots finally revealed a single WHIMBREL on the outer side of the spit-- another great year bird!

Too bad the Canucks lost that night...

A HUGE THANK YOU to all the Island folks who stuck around to help us see the pipit even though they already had! I invite you all to come up and visit the Okanagan any time!

May 10 Little Big Day

This morning David Chapman rolled into the driveway at 4:28am. I was feeling a little under the weather but that's no excuse to avoid doing a big day of birding in the South Okanagan! David had challenged me to design a route that would get us over 100 species and obviously starting early helps! I call this a "Little Big Day" since we didn't start until 4:30 and we ended in the afternoon; a true "Big Day" is midnight to midnight!

So off we went, first to Max Lake to try for poorwill just before dawn. No luck with the goatsucker but we picked up some good birds like DUSKY GROUSE (single-hoots from high on the ridge), both SORA and VIRGINIA RAIL, and many singing SPOTTED TOWHEES and HOUSE WRENS. From there we headed south to OK Falls and up the 201/Shuttleworth Ck Rd where we rain into a gangling pair of MOOSE!

Our first stop was out at KM 25 where snow still covered most of the road! Consequently, not a single Hermit Thrush could be heard in the forest. We did pick up some nice species though: BLACK-BACKED and AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER, NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL, VARIED THRUSH, and flyover NORTHERN HARRIER, and a single PINE GROSBEAK. David had never seen a Boreal Chickadee before so we spent a fair amount of time at my "no worries-guaranteed" spots but no luck! Finally somewhere around KM 20 we called in at least 2 of these gorgeous tits (!).

The woodpecker extravaganza continued downhill where PILEATED and HAIRY WOODPECKERS drummed and called loudly from the the larches, and coolest of all-- a pair of WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKERS + a pair of RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS perched briefly in the same tree on the Dutton Creek Rd!

Down the hill we went, and the forest birds continued to produce: all 3 nuthatches, singing CASSIN'S FINCH and WESTERN TANAGERS, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, DUSKY and HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHERS, CASSIN'S VIREO, EVENING GROSBEAK, RED CROSSBILL, and NASHVILLE WARBLER-- to name but a few.

From OK Falls we turned south and headed to Vaseux Lake where YELLOW WARBLERS and MARSH WRENS called along the boardwalk, then we met Laure Neish near the cliffs and she informed us of a couple groups of LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS up the road. We headed up there and sure enough! We now had every possible woodpecker (except White-headed) for the morning list! We also added WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, CANYON WREN, and a brief look at a PEREGRINE FALCON.

Next up was Rd. 22 where we watched a male LONG-BILLED CURLEW dive-bomb an adult BALD EAGLE, then picked up over 10 species of waterfowl at Deadman's Lake plus half a dozen stunning WILSON'S PHALAROPES.

I was planning on driving to Creston today to look for stilts, terns, and turkeys so we headed back to Penticton in the early afternoon where we easily added GREAT HORNED OWL, CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD. We ended the day with something like 126 species (later in the evening David added a few from Kelowna bringing his personal total to 130!) so not a bad outing!

After taking a quick nap, I made the rash decision to drive to Vancouver instead of Creston, opting to chase a mega-rare RED-THROATED PIPIT in spring plumage... a big risk as spring pipits aren't known to stick around too long, especially with sunny weather... details on the twitch soon!

Thanks for the great day David!

(photo of a big BLACK BEAR seen in Manning Park during my drive to the coast-- it was around this time that I realized I was getting pretty darn sick and that this might not be a good idea!)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gray Partridge finally!

After a few failed attempts to locate Gray Partridge around the Okanagan, today Sam Brett and I were finally successful! (I think the photo just about explains it). Also present nearby were my first WILSON'S PHALAROPES of the year!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Okanagan Birding

May 7: Today I trying going after Doug Brown's Black-throated Sparrow near Osoyoos. Since it had been seen with a roving band of White-crowned Sparrows I didn't have my hopes up... and rightly so as I missed it of course! I did have a nice day down in the south Okanagan however seeing lots of newly arrived CHIPPING SPARROWS, my first YELLOW WARBLERS of the year singing at Haynes Point, a single WARBLING VIREO (also at Haynes Point), and a WESTERN KINGBIRD (along Black Sage Road). After attempting the BT Sparrow I headed over to Richter Pass for a shot at a Sage Sparrow. Once again I did not fluke out but got some great looks at VESPER SPARROW (pictured-above) and 5 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS.

May 8: I headed up to Vernon this morning to meet up with my friend Aaron Deans and check out his new place... the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary! Not a bad place to live! Great finch diversity at the feeders including CASSIN'S and HOUSE FINCH, a couple families of RED CROSSBILLS (juv., and adult male with juv. shown below), 10+ EVENING GROSBEAKS (male featured below), PINE SISKINS, and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH. The main reason for making the visit however was for a North Okanagan Naturalist Club event: Everyone was gathered at the sanctuary to pay tribute to the club's founding member and one of the most esteemed naturalists in British Columbia's brief birding history: James Grant. A Sycamore has been planted in his memory and various group swapped memories about the great man before we all split into groups to "BIO BLITZ" the sanctuary. After 30 minutes and despite it being the afternoon my group had over 30 species of birds and over 50 species of plants! Definitely a nice "yard" Aaron! Below are some photo highlights:

I left Vernon around 3pm and headed straight to Salmon Arm in the hopes of turning up a stilt. No luck on that front (of course!) but there were still tons of birds. Very high duck numbers especially GADWALL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and AMERICAN WIGEON (still a few EURASIAN WIGEONS mixed in). A couple AMERICAN WHITE-PELICANS loafed out on a sandbar and it was absolutely fantastic to watch the WESTERN GREBES carry out their impressive courtship display, with all 6 species of swallows overhead, chirping OSPREY, the "pweep-pweep-pweep" of my first SPOTTED SANDPIPER of the year, and the raucous noise coming from the RING-BILLED GULL colony. I suppose the bird highlight for the Bay was a single BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER near the rive outlet-- always a nice bird in spring in the interior.

On the drive back south as dusk set in, I stopped at Otter Lake where picked up a single LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, and a SWAINSON'S HAWK (among the other usuals). O'Keefe's Pond was full of ducks as usual, and L&A Crossroads turned up a flock of 20 LEAST SANDPIPERS (lots of them around). I made it to Robert Lake just before it got too dark to see but unfortunately still no stilts!

Time for bed, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!
(Here's a photo of some expecting parents-- nice comparison of sexes)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sponsor my NMT Big Day

Hello everyone!

Thank you so much for tuning into my humble blog and checking out all the birding activities I've been carrying out. Things are really starting to pick up now that spring is here and it's hard to find the time to stay inside and update this thing. Anyways, I thought I would put the word out that I will once again be going for an NMT "Big Day" on May 23rd in the Okanagan. I will be joined by 3 or 4 other cyclists and we will try and see 120+ species in one day using bikes. As part of this fun Meadowlark Festival event known as the "Okanagan Big Day Challenge" I hope to raise some money for the Baillie Fund and more importantly-- for the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory. I would really appreciate the support, so if you have a few spare dollars floating around please sponsor me and my crazy amigos! You can either donate a flat rate (i.e $5, $10, $20, $10,000.. etc!) or by the species-- for instance if I see 100 species in 24 hours and you pledged 20 cents per species, that would be $20. Follow this link to pledge:

or, if you know that you will see me before May 23rd, you can certainly hand me the donations directly.

Have a great spring and thanks for helping out! NTM ALL THE WAAAY!

Russ Cannings
Penticton, BC

Cancelled pelagics can't keep me from birding the coast!

After hearing that both of our Juan de Fuca pelagics (May 1 and 2) were cancelled due to high seas, Avery Bartels (who had just driven to the Okanagan from Nelson), Tanya Seebacher, and I decided to make the best of it by going over there anyways. Perhaps high winds out of the west would drive some things into shore?

Avery and I birded around the Kelowna area on Friday morning enjoying a great variety of new arrivals to the Okanagan including my first DUSKY FLYCATCHER of the year that gave us his soft "wit" call in Sutherland Hills Park. Several passes of Robert Lake and the dump didn't turn up anything out of the ordinary but it was nice to see that several avocets are starting to look "nesty." After lunch we met up with Tanya and headed straight to the coast where we spent the night in South Surrey with Ilya Povalyaev.

The next morning the 4 of us started off at Brunswick Point in hopes of tracking down the reported Ross's Goose. We did see a large flock of SNOW GEESE and 1 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE but no tiny white birds. Just as we walked up onto the dyke however we were treated to a fantastic display of WESTERN SANDPIPERS (a lifer for Tanya)!!! Several thousand lined the rocks along the dyke at high tide and allowed for a very close approach. Every once in a while the flock would take off and swirl this way and that, revealing a number of DUNLIN amongst their ranks (see photo).

I added a few other new birds to the year list here as well including: COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, WILSON'S WARBLER, and CASPIAN TERN. It was also nice to see a MARBLED GODWIT pass overhead calling away.

Next stop was the Beach Grove area where we met up with my dad who was in town for the big BC BREEDING BIRD ATLAS party. Lots of warblers moving through the woods including at least one BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (heard but not seen). Out on the shoreline at the foot of 12th some of the northern atlasers including Mark Phinney and Sandra Kinsey joined us for some shorebird scoping. Loads of DUNLIN and WESTERN SANDS out there of course, plus a few new BC birds for me: SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and LEAST SANDPIPER. The 4 of us mid our farewells then headed to 72nd street where we birded the old subdivision near the airport with Nathan Hentze. Wind was a factor but there was still a nice selection of warblers including a single male TOWNSEND'S. A quick afternoon stop at Crescent Park provided me with my first PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER of the year... funny how the first Okanagan birds don't return until late May?

A mad dash to the ferries got us onto the 3pm sailing with 8 minutes to spare! The ride across was fairly productive especially around Active Pass where thousands of BONAPARTE'S GULLS fed in the tidal rip. Many PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and RHINO AUKLETS were also present and the highlight of the trip was an adult JAEGER of some sort that was spotted by Avery as it flew away. Unfortunately we couldn't confidently assign it to species but it was likely a Parasitic based on what we saw (plus they are the most likely jaeger to be seen from the ferry).

When we arrived on land we stopped in at the bulb fields on Central Saanich Road where we quickly got onto an inconspicuous SKY LARK (pictured).

MAY 2: We spent the day in the Victoria area fighting wind and rain but still finding a few neat things. At Clover Point a playful RIVER OTTER (pictured) put in appearance as well as a very large STELLER'S SEA-LION. Next up was Esquimalt Lagoon where the weather was really starting to get unpleasant and I had not dressed appropriately. The main highlight there were 2 flocks of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE totaling over 300 birds!--a novelty for an Okanaganite. (These geese would put on another great show the next day) Our last stop of the day was at the very scenic Witty's Lagoon where a great mixture of seabirds, shorebirds, and forests birds, all mingled amongst a backdrop of towering fir and arbutus.


Today 3 of us (Ilya had left for a job in Whistler) headed out early towards Port Renfrew hoping that the high winds might turn up a winged-treasure of some sort. We checked out the Sheringham Point lighthouse west of Sooke where about 30 SOOTY SHEARWATERS passed by well offshore. A single MARBLED MURRELET floated nearby and 2 ANCIENT MURRELETS whizzed by in quick succession. We left just before the rain really got going and headed straight to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. There we met Louie ______(?) who was out there scoping the towering waves. Unfortunately there seemed to be very little in terms of birdlife on the sea itself but overhead a real spectacle was taking place: hundreds of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (I'm sure it would have been thousands if we had spent the entire day) were pouring over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, struggling against the wind but always pushing north. In amongst the ~1000 white-fronts were a few CACKLING GEESE and oddly enough, single male NORTHERN SHOVELERS accompanied the geese in 2 flocks... a little desperate for company I guess but still keeping the V formation (pictured)!

While taking a break from scoping I noticed a mid-sized shorebird land on a rock in front of us-- a casual glance through the bins... "WANDERING TATTLER!!!" It took off right away (either because I yelled or because the winds were blowing at 100km/hour) then a second one joined it! They both flew over to another wave platform nearby where we all got it in the scope. Although this is a regular spring and fall migrant along the outer coast of BC, I was relieved to see one as they're passage is often in a few small window and they never stick around too long.

We checked a few more PR spots with Louie (who has birded this area quite a bit), turning up a few bits and bobs including my first LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS of the year, a single MINK (pictured), and 7 ROOSEVELT ELK!!! I seem to be racking up a good mammal list this year too!

After a great day out on the wild coast we set out on our long journey back to the Okanagan-- the only setbacks being a 4-2 canucks loss to Chicago, still no whimbrels or martins at Blackie Spit, and a massive snowfall between Hope and Merrit which eventually resulted in a 3am return home.

Looking forward to the next big trip!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shorebirding just starting to get going in the Okanagan

Usually I start to see the first Solitary Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Wilson's Phalaropes in late April. This year however has been late! Solitaries arrived around the beginning of May, Leasts arrived 2 days ago, and I still haven't seen nor heard of a phalarope yet! American Avocets have put on a good show however with 23 birds at Robert Lake and 6 more at Alki Lake. So far I haven't been able to catch up with any Black-becked Stilts but hopefully some will show up soon! Here are some photos of a pair of AMERICAN AVOCETS at the Kelowna dump (aka Alki Lake), a nice GREATER VS. LESSER YELLOWLEGS comparison, and Avery Bartels scoping the Bonaparte's Gulls at L&A Crossroads near Vernon where I picked up my first WESTERN SANDPIPER.