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:
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.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Western Screech Owl
Great Horned Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
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!