Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sorry for the lack of blog-action lately!

Hi all,

I must apologize for the lack of writing lately. I have been extremely busy with working and rarity chasing to the point of absolute exhaustion. Time to rest? No TIME TO DRIVE TO THE YUKON AND BACK DOWN INTO BC (HAINES TRIANGLE) NEAR THE ALASKA BORDER. Yes perhaps I am crazy, but since I just drove to Tofino and back (and didn't see that mega-bird Bristle-thighed Curlew) I figure I may as well go and get some "easy" breeders right? Enough of these unreliable things, I need a bird on territory to get me out of this slump. Oh and did I mention I drove from Golden to Vancouver for a Costa's Hummingbird, missed it, then drove back to Revelstoke to work the next morning!!! In my delirious drive home I came up with this feeble joke: (read in an Italian accent)-- "Costa's Hummingbird? More like- 'a COST-A-LOT OF a-MONEY!'" Hilarious at the time, not so much as I type.

Anyways, perhaps things are looking up as I just saw a SAGE THRASHER singing at White Lake! Finally!!! If only the Black-necked Stilts would come out of hiding in the same way.

Time to drive to Prince George though, I will give a full update in a couple weeks. Hang in there!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Clark's Grebe and other good birds

Hi all,

On my way back to Revy from days off I stopped in at Salmon Arm and managed to finally pick out a CLARK'S GREBE from amongst the many Westerns. I tried a couple times back in May without success so it was nice to finally see one in the fading June light. For those who are unfamiliar with Salmon Arm, there is actually a regular but tiny breeding population of Clark's at Salmon Arm (from 1 pair to 3 or 4 pairs depending on the year). And of course there are a few mixed pairs and no doubt some hybrids now to make it interesting!

Yesterday while working around Revelstoke I had the luck of getting great looks at both SHORT-EARED OWLS and LONG-EARED OWLS!!! Always a treat to watch those guys. The long-ear was especially sweet since up until yesterday I had only heard them.

Off to Bush Arm again in a couple minutes!

p.s. Hoping my camera will be fixed soon!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Early June--Bush Arm and Okanagan Birding

I have recently returned from a fabulous stint in the middle of nowhere, or is it the middle of everywhere? 5 days near the Alberta border in the gorgeous "Bush Arm" of Kinbasket Lake (about 90km north of Golden on a logging road), allowed for some great birding. A co-worker and I camped along the Valenciennes River (a main tributary of the Bush River and later the Columbia), and spent most of our time doing bird surveys along the river and reservoir for BC HYDRO. A lot of our working area is just barren mud and gravel but a few spots as well as everywhere in between can be very productive. Most days I would get up super-early and go out atlassing, then wake up my partner for work, then later in the afternoon we would go for a hike somewhere. Anyways, it was quite nice and we found some good birds for the area (and the atlas!).

Some of the highlights:

-a single YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER on territory for at least 4 days (will return soon to check on him). This may be the southern most record for this species in the province! I would appreciate any information on other records south of McBride if they exist (picture of habitat included, also a picture of my reaction... the best I can provide when you don't get a photo of the bird! My camera is currently getting repaired so I've just got this tiny point and shoot thing). For those interested in the habitat, it seems to favour a cedar snag and a tall birch snag that jut out of a mixed forest of cedar, cottonwood, aspen, pine, and spruce (mostly young stuff), and as one might expect, the ground cover is fairly moist and is mostly mossy. So far I haven't heard any other birds. This species (like Gray-cheeked Thrush) is probably more widespread in BC than anyone realizes simply because of limited access to appropriate habitat, limited coverage by birders in various regions, and limited experience with their calls and song. For instance, the YB Fly can sound a lot like a Least Flycatcher or even a Hammond's or Dusky to the unfamiliar ear.


-Several pairs of WESTERN and EASTERN KINGBIRDS (as well as a few migrant flocks- the biggest being 7 EAKIs and 1 WEKI)

-at least 4 singing male LECONTE'S SPARROWS in one spot plus at least 1 female

-Copulating BLACK SWIFTS (lots around!)

-1 possible BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (haven't seen it yet, it sings classic BT Green song for 90% of the time then switches over to a TOWA-like song every once in a while. This could be a hybrid or perhaps just a Townsend's that sings BT Green song (this has been documented in the Peace). Will continue to pursue this guy.

-1 singing GRAY CATBIRD

-1 female WILSON'S PHALAROPE (keep in mind, I'm in the middle of the mountains!) feeding in a creek (she has been there for at least 10 days and a male was sited a few weeks ago in the same area)

-I also found a neat hidden lake with lots of reeds that seems to have breeding WOOD DUCK, MALLARD, both HOODED and COMMON MERGANSERS, PIED-BILLED GREBE, BUFFLEHEAD, RING-NECKED DUCK, and both rails. Maybe I'll find a Swamp Sparrow if I can find time to check it in the morning.

Much more!

At the moment I'm back in the Okanagan where it is pouring rain (it was baking in the mountains!). Pretty much all my money is gone so hopefully I'll get payed soon and my little car tune-up won't be too pricey! Bird-wise I managed to find a singing GRASSHOPPER SPARROW along the first stretch of the Nighthawk Rd west of Osoyoos. Got great looks. Unfortunately however it seems like the Black-throated Sparrow and Sage Thrashers have moved on. Hopefully mote thrashers will return in late June as they do most years.

I'm afraid a trip to the coast for that Indigo Bunting would really drain the bank so I hope it either sticks around or calls up some friends!

Until next time,

Russ Cannings
Currently in Penticton, BC

p.s. Will probably try for Clark's Grebe this evening in Salmon Arm, fingers crossed... maybe a stilt will show up?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finally some R & R

After working in Revelstoke for a week or so, I had some days off so Sam and I explored a bit of the Columbia/Rockies/Kootenays. First we checked out my future work site in Bush Arm (Kinbasket Lake). As you can tell from the following photo it is a breathtaking place and really reminds me of the Waimakariri/Arthur's Pass area in New Zealand. This massive braided-river valley is where I will be spending the rest of June-- not bad eh? It's also where a Black-necked Stilt had been hanging out until the day I went there (I suppose this guy can join Harris's Sparrow as a nemesis this year!). We did however run into a couple LECONTE'S SPARROWS which is always a treat on the west side of the Rockies. Probably annual breeders but how many birders have checked out Bush Arm before?

After visiting some friends in Golden we struck out for Nakusp early the next morning. On the Galena Bay/Shelter Bay ferry I was once again reminded of New Zealand, this time of Fiordland Nation Park... what a breathtaking part of BC! You can't see a single house; mountain meets water in such a spectacular way and there are BARN SWALLOWS nesting on the ferry! (in the photo, look for the brown clump under the captain's bridge) They simply follow the boat back and forth all day; I wonder how long it takes to build the nest!

Once in Nakusp it started to rain, we tried birding around Summit Lake for a bit but retreated to the vehicle after an hour or so and took shelter further south in the gorgeous and CELL PHONE-FREE Slocan Valley town of New Denver. We both really enjoyed this quaint area and met a lot of nice folks. It was a great place to unwind and forget about birds for at least a moment!

The next day we headed back to Nakusp and the "secret" non-commercial hotsprings north of town. This capped the weekend off in primo fashion.

Upon returned to cell range and civilization I now know that by relaxing in Kootenay Heaven I missed out on CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR and BLACK-THROATED SPARROW.

Pah! I explored a part of this province I had never seen before, finally caught up on some much-needed rest, and most importantly-- I got away from it all with my special someone and reinforced my belief that this year is not only about a list of birds, but a list of memories and adventures...

what comes next? I can't wait!

Currently in Revelstoke, BC (tomorrow=heading into the mountains for a few...)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Photo review of the month of May

As anticipated, May proved to be one of the wildest and most eventful months yet. Below are some photos that I didn't have time to include on the blog earlier:

In order of appearance:

1) Steve Siegel of Miami, Florida filming boreal species near Dutton Creek above Okanagan Falls (although it looks like he is filming a yellow sign). He is one of the people responsible for getting bird footage for the 2011 film, "The Big Year." The plot has nothing to do with me, but if you see any shots of Evening Grosbeak, Say's Phoebe, Calliope/Rufous Hummingbirds, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Long-billed Curlew, or displaying Ruffed Grouse... I was right there! I had the pleasure of showing Steve around the south Okanagan for a day so maybe my name will be in tiny writing at the end of the credits... probably not.

2) 3 Common Terns pose for birders on a piece of wood in the middle of the Juan de Fuca

3) Rick Toochin of Juan de Fuca Pelagics, shovels yummy fish-oil and cheerios into the sea, while the rest of the crew tries not to breath through their noses

4) A Tufted Puffin shows of the plumes to some happy seabirders near Swiftsure Banks

5) 2 shots of a confiding male Spruce Grouse I found while scouting the upper elevations for our BIG BIG DAY

6) The always comical-looking Acorn Woodpecker, so much sweet seeing one in the Similkameen Valley!

7) One of the Great Horned Owl chicks that frequented my parents' back yard for most of the spring

So obviously a great month! There were some misses of course (e.g. Black-necked Stilt) but hopefully all these things will fall into place. Like how come I haven't seen a Semipalmated Sandpiper or Willow Flycatcher yet??? With TIME I guess!

I'm at 316 now which seems very close... but it's mostly a tough slog from here on out! I'll probably still be in the 320s by the end of June, then July might get me into the 330s... August maybe the 350s... then it's one here one there.... a race to the finish!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


On May 25th, Gabe David, Sam Brett, and I set out north... The much anticipated "Peace River Country." Definitely one of my favourite places in BC to bird, as you get a fantastic mixture of northern birds, western birds, and most importantly for the BCers: EASTERN birds.

We left Kelowna a little later than planned, then made a wrong turn in Kamloops--oops-- back towards Cache Creek, here we go! (at least Gabe spotted the trip's only BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER flying across the highway) Back on 97 we drove straight through the Cariboo and past Prince George (resisted my temptation to check the Shelley Sludge Lagoons)... then finally into Pine Pass at sunset!

A singing dendroica had us going for a bit but eventually we decided it was a wierd TOWNSEND'S WARBLER... drat!!!-- a WESTern bird!

Just a bit further though, through the mountains, and down along the Pine River... "chibek! chibek!" LEAST FLYCATCHER.. okay that's a start, keep it coming...
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK singing! Yeah yeah, ooo YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, AMERICAN REDSTART... TENNESSEE WARBLER! The highlight along this stretch of highway though was definitely what Gabe initially described as a "white mammel crawling up the bank." We eliminated Polar Bear based on range and habitat (are cottonwood lowlands good for seals?), but soon we all got a better look at what he had glimpsed-- 2 WOLVES!!! 1 white and 1 darker beast... sweeeet. Now it was too dark to bird so we headed to Chetwynd for a forgettable dinner then set up our tents in behind the bushes at a rest-stop east of Chetwynd. Perhaps not the best place to get some sleep, given the idling semis, BUT a nearby wetland produced a couple singing LECONTE'S SPARROWS which provided a final excitement to the day.

We awoke early the next morning to the songs of more cool (year) birds: RED-EYED VIREOS, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, more LECONTE'S SPARROWS (photo), at least 3 UPLAND SANDPIPERS (chasing each other around some nearby fields) and a couple fly-by BLACK TERNS.

Gabe also discovered a hidden-deep hole in the ground right beside our tents... to think we could have been lost forever!

Next we headed east to Dawson Creek, then north up to Fort St. John where we stopped into a few houses around Taylor hoping for good news-- aka ruby-throated hummingbirds. Apparently it's been a bad spring for them according to the hummer-watchers in the area but we stuck around for a bit anyways. More looks at YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS, loads of singing CLAY-COLOURED SPARROWS, a BLUE JAY, a single EASTERN PHOEBE, and in the humminbird department-- several Rufies and Callies but no rubies. One interesting observation was of a male CAllIOPE HUMMINGBIRD displaying vigorously to a female RUFOUS. Will have to check back and see if any funny-looking offspring are around later!

The main reason for scheduling this trip in late May however was for shorebirds. I figured this would be my best shot at white-rumped sandpiper since they pass through annually during a small window from late May to early June. When I was up here last year at the same time I had those birds as well as many breeding-plumage stilt sandpipers, and the prairie race of short-billed dowitchers... this year however, a heavy snowfall followed by sunny weather had preceeded us by about a week, effectively clearing out all the shorebirds. The other problem was that every single cell in the north and south sewage works around Fort St. John were high with little edge for peeps. As usual however, it was great to see the EARED GREBES at close range along with a small group of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES (photo). With no further ideas on where to find shorebirds, we decided to check out the Fish Creek Community Forest where I had never been before. It was mid-afternoon with a bit of a breeze so things were fairly quiet, but we did manage some good looks at BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, a couple BLUE-HEADED VIREOS, and heard a distant singing OVENBIRD.

Next it was back down to Johnson Road for some more forest birding-- highlights here were a gorgeous male CANADA WARBLER and a BARRED OWL who came in immediately to my call, and continued to whoop it up for the rest of our time there, much to the chagrin of nearby WESTERN TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and LEAST FLYCATCHERS.

For out last stop of the day we headed north to Charlie Lake, where we set up camp in Beatton Provincial Park. While walking to the bathroom I heard a singing BLACKPOLL WARBLER but couldn't track it down, probably a migrant as there didn't seem to be any good habitat for it nearby. After the tents were up we headed down to the lake where a real spectacle was taking place: thousands of FRANKLIN'S GULLS staging!!! It seemed like a scene from the coast with over 6000+ of these forming shearwater-like rafts out in the middle of the lake, accompanied by hundreds of WHITE-WINGED and SURF SCOTERS. The scoters breed nearby on several lakes, but the gulls apparently don't breed in BC at all... it seems as if they party it up on Charlie Lake for a bit, then some head back to Alberta to nest in the marshes!
That night a NORTHERN SAW-WHET called all through the dark and into the late morning-- our second of the trip as one had been calling near Chetwynd as well.

The next morning we slept in a little bit and didn't get to the Cape May Warbler spot until 5am. I'm not being sarcastic either... these guys like it bright and early! Maybe it was too early in the year though because we didn't hear one at all!

Once again the wind and sun picked up-- keeping a lot of birds quiet but we kept on birding of course. While trying to get to Boundary Lake using an old map we ended up on an abandoned road that lacked a bridge over the Beatton River so no dice there... oh yeah and we got a nail in the tire so that was a fun delay. Got the tire patched for free in FSJ-- thanks OK Tire! Then headed toward Boundary Lake on a paved road--- sigh*. Along the Cecil Lake Road a about 10km before Boundary Lake I saw some muskeg on one side of the road and thought we might stop in case of Palm Warbler. We got out of the car and within seconds Gabe got onto an odd call-note and there in the ditch beside the car was a PALM WARBLER! That'll save me some long drives around the gas line of Fort Nelson! There were no obvious roads to Boundary Lake itself so we decided to head south back to Dawson Creek on a road I had never taken before (crossing the Peace River right next to the Alberta Border). Certainly a very scenic route with a lot of birding potential but we didn't turn up too much in the afternoon sun.

We continued along all the way down to Swan Lake Provincial Park along Hwy 2 south of Dawson Creek. Here at sunset we picked up a singing SWAMP SPARROW (first photo is of me and Gabe looking at the sparrow, then the next is me with one boot and one flipflop... I guess I was excited to chase down my first swamper of the year and only got one boot on!

That night we tromped around in the sedge along the south shore of Swan Lake hoping for a nelson's sparrow or better yet- a yellow rail. No luck with those birds but we did pick up some local rarities-- 2 GREAT BLUE HERONS flying by and an AMERICAN BITTERN gave it's pumping display on 3 occassions.

On the morning of the 28th we headed up the southern stretch of 201 Rd nearby and got looks at a couple singing MOURNING WARBLERS in addition to the other usuals. At the Ducks Unlmt. site an ALDER FLYCATCHER sang from the willows-- huh? And back in DC we were surprised to see 200 FRANKLIN'S GULLS fly over Safeway... I guess they get around!

For the last half of the day we poked around the Brassey Creek Road between DC Tumbler Ridge. This is where the trip started getting crazy-- mainly thanks to a large male BLACK BEAR that trashed Sam's tent while we were (thankfully) on a hike.
(and NO we didn't have any food in there!)

This bear didn't really leave either. When we drove up to the campsite and yelled at him, he kinda loped up the hill then stood his ground and huffed for a bit. When we dragged the tents back onto the road to take them apart he walked back down onto the road just a little downhill from us and just stared for a bit. He hadn't been the only big bear on the road tody either so we decided to sleep in the car that night! Not the comfiest set-up in my 2-door tercel, but better than a half-naked encounter with a curious bear.

Woke up the next morning around 3:50am-- this time we weren't gonna let any keener Cape Mays evade us... but it was well below zero (felt like it anyways)and bird song was not plentiful. Once again we figured the CMs just hadn't returned yet. OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was a new year bird for me though (at long last!), and a tooting NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL and STELLER'S JAY were respectively north and east of their usual ranges. Our failure with Mr. C-May was vindicated however when we stopped the car for a listen near the bottom of the road (where it hits the highway)... from up on the hill in a stand of old aspens we heard an explosive-"tip-tip-topateepo!" CONNECTICUT WARBLER!!! We bailed out of the vehicle and loped up the wet hill and into the woods. Gabe played a recording and right away the bird flew in and gave us startling looks at this seldom seen Oporornis!!! Oh and I forgot to mention, right after we saw that bear, my camera ceased to function. Perhaps in fear, or perhaps due to all the times it got "bumped," all I could get it to say was "lense error," the darn thing wouldn't even turn on. So ya, no COWA shots! [This lack of a functioning camera would prove very frustrating later on in the day.]

Back up north and over to Chetwynd for breakfast... fantastic omlettes but can't remember where we got them... too tired. We fueled up with gasoline and food, then headed NE up the Jackfish Lake Road towards the fabled area known as "Del Rio" (ooo, exotic name!). Last year I spent a few days surveying the area for rare marsh species but didn't manage to find one of Mark Phinney's favourite spots for Yellow Rail etc. This time I had a map though-- printed off the internet--- what could go wrong? The map showed a road paralleling some railroad tracks, leading straight to the wetland. Took us quite a while to find the railroad tracks, even with the GPS, but when we got down there, the "road" my Dad and I had scouted out in the virtual world, was in reality more of a grassy trail through some trees and small marshes. Not to be outdone, and despite driving a tiny V4 car fully loaded with campers and supplied, we attempted to drive this path/track/quick-sand marsh/mountain range for a couple kilometers. Not sure how we made it that far, but eventually decided there was no way this was the right way to get to such a popular birding location. We backtracked, and finally discovered using the road-atlas, that a 2-lane graded gas road went straight to where we wanted to be... slightly frustrating...

Anyways, we drove right to the area and sure enough there were some great patches of sedge etc etc. We played around in the aspen woods waiting for dusk, and when the sun started setting the magic happened! We started out with point-blank looks at more LECONTE'S SPARROWS, then I heard a NELSON'S SPARROW sing nearby and eventually it popped out for about 10 minutes, singing away- lit up by the blood-red sun! (remember no camera). With the daylight waning, I gave up on any hopes for philly vireo or baltimore oriole (I guess like the CMs, they just hadn't come back yet)... it was time to turn our attention to one final target: Yellow Rail.

Easier said than done, I had spent 2 whole weeks last year surveying for them and only had 2 on the very last day in a place where one wouldn't expect. But the habitat here looked good, so Sam and I (Gabe didn't have boots) headed out into the marsh brandishing "rail stones" and with ears cocked to the max. We flushed lots of LECONTE'S SPARROWS and heard a few more SWAMP SPARROW but nothing responded to our clicking noises. Then on the far side, we stopped to talk about where to go next when a "tick tick tik-tik-tik" broke the silence with two insect-like phrases. We both looked at eachother to make sure we weren't imagining it. YELLOW RAIL! But what do we do? Poor Gabe who has never seen one and declared the species his main target for the trip was stuck back on the road out of view. We decided to rush back to the road, quishing and squashing the whole way, trying to avoid tumbling into the cold water. We exclaimed our triumph to Gabe, then Sam, in an act of ultimate kindness and birding solidarity, gave Gabe her boots. The two of us struck out back towards where we had heard the bird. In my mind I couldn't help but worry if I had dreamed up the bird... was it actually there? It only called once or twice... last time they called all night... please call again, please call again! We arrived at the spot and Gabe played the tape, no response. After a few failed play-backs I tried out my rock-clicking again-- this time it responded almost immediately! "Okay now let's see it" Gabe said. I cracked a nervous smile and we proceeded to walk in the direction of the calling bird. It had stopped a few minutes ago and despite a few passes of the area we turned up nothing. "Try your rocks again, it seems to prefer that to the real thing," Gabe suggested. I pulled out my lucky stones (chosen carefully from the roadside), and starting ticking. After about 20 seconds I heard something small crash into the sedge just a few meters from where I was standing. "Psssst---" I gestured in the direction of the noise... "I think it just landed there" I whispered. Gabe started slowly walking towards me, then suddenly the bird flushed from his feet and landed about 5 meters away... "__________!" (insert excited profanity here) The bird landed in view, then dashed over a tuft of grass and dissappeared into a small depression. We approached slowly and gawked in awe as the adult breeding-plumaged YELLOW RAIL let us get within a meter and a half!!! I guess its defense mechanism is to hunker down and hope that it's golden-streaked plumage would blend in to the old sedge grass. Well it would have if we hadn't watched it go there first. We were able to watch it continuously first in daylight then eventually in darkness. Was it on a nest? Why was it staying put? We watched it preen, we watched it stretch its wings, and cock its head when it heard our boots crunch... WOW. Now the question was, would it flush if one of us went back to get Sam? Our experiment proved that it was quite happy there, and Gabe-- who was in rail Heaven/Cloud Rail whatever... offered to return Sam's kindness my sacrificing his bare feet to the cold marsh water. I ran back with the boots and left him with the 2 lights since one was dying. Sam must have been a little worried to see me running back, huffing and puffing, no flashlight, with Gabe's boots but no Gabe. Was she expecting me to yell, "Gabe's gone! I saved your boots though, we need to get out of here!!!"? No, I explained the situation and once again we trekked out there and luckily the rail was still there! Sam got fantastic lifer views in the flashlight and even saw it catch an insect of some sort! Gabe was getting a little shivery and the tevas we gave him didn't really help. We stuck it out though, hoping to observe some rare unknown yellow rail behavior... perhaps it would lead us to a pot of gold or grant us wishes? OK, I think I was getting REALLY tired at that point... remember how we woke up at 3 something in the -10 or whatever? What a day though, a truly magical birding day from the connecticut to the nelson's sparrow, to the rail... and we were still running into bears everywhere. At some point (I lost track of time) the rail just decided it was time to go and took off, showing his distinctive white secondaries. THANKS BUDDY!

We walked back to the car and Gabe changed into some dry clothes. "Should we sleep in the car again or take turns driving through the night to Blue River to check out this Indigo Bunting?" The answer was obvious, I woke up at a gas station somewhere outside of Prince George, and took over the wheel. Evidentally we should have purchased some gas at that gas station because I realised somewhere out in between PG and McBride that we wouldn't be able to drive 130 KMs with the dial hovering around EMPTY. Not much we could do other than pull over at a rest-stop with 93 KMs to go and hope that someone (at 6 in the morning) had a jerry can or could give one of us a lift to McBride. Luckily we met a friendly couple who offered to escort us as far as the car could go, then they would drive the rest of the way to McBride and bring us back some gas. So we piled back into the car and set out: 80km left and the dial has been well below empty for 20kms now... 60km left-- we're still going? ... 35km left- well at least they won't have to drive as far now... 15km left, "NO WAY IS THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING... YOU CAN DO IT FRANNY (my car)... (insert rubbing of dash motion)... 2KM left!!! We can do it! Into the station, "wwweeeeewwww!!!! YEAAAAH!!!" The other patrons filling up must have thought we were drunk out of our minds. 110+ KMS on empty... thank you 1993 Toyota Tercel! "Must have been the new air filter I bought ya eh?"

Okay this blog entry is really starting to go on here. Basically we made it to Blue River in one piece and met up with the very friendly owners of the Bone Creek Wilderness Retreat" where the bunting had been seen. Unfortunately we missed out on it, but did see a male COMMON GRACKLE which must be a good bird for that area! Made it back to the Okanagan, and now I'm typing this in Revelstoke, BC where I've just started field work.

In addition to my broken lense, my back-up camera as well as both Gabe's and Sam's were out of batteries... I guess Yellow Rails don't show when you're ready. But I'll take it!

What a crazy trip and I can't wait to get north again! First though, I need to make some money... at least Revelstoke and Golden have their fair share of birds. Picked up MAGNOLIA WARBLER and COMMON NIGHTHAWK yesterday, waiting for black swift and willow flycatcher to finally catch up with me!

Until next time,

Russ Cannings

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

NMT BIG DAY (75km cycled)

Today (May 23), I was joined by Sam Brett, Ana Milner and Ryan McIndoe. Our starting point for this cycling "Big Day" was KM25 on the 201 Rd above Okanagan Falls. As you can see in the photo, it was a little wintery up there with light snow in the air and on the ground and YES it was very cold. We didn't have a thermometer with us but it was certainly below zero at 5am when we got our first bird: RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET. The rest of the morning up high was very quiet, much different from previous mornings leading tours and doing the driving big day; there were hardly any birds singing! Instead of the usual 30+ hermit thrushes around Rabbit Lake we heard only 1 singing, we missed white-crowned sparrow and Pine Grosbeak, and not a single spruce grouse was heard wing-capping. We did however hear some female SPRUCE GROUSES calling close to the road, and heard the NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL that has been very reliable up there of late. No woodpeckers early on but eventually down lower we heard RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER, PILEATED WOODPECKER, and NORTHERN FLICKER. We missed "Willy" but were happy to see MACGILLIVRAY'S and WILSON'S WARBLERS close at hand, many TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, a couple BOREAL CHICKADEES, and other common larch birds like CHIPPING SPARROWS and PINE SISKINS.

Once we got down lower I decided to take an alternate route to Vaseux Lake, both for old time's sake, and to save us a couple KM (at this point I was still suffering from my cold that caught me on the Red-throated Pipit chase... wasn't sure how long I could survive). The alternate route was of course the old Irrigation Creek Road (aka McIntyre Creek Rd) which branches off the 201 (Shuttleworth) around KM5.5. This road used to be one of the premier birding roads in the province but the fire of 2003 wiped out a large portion of the pine forest while other areas have been logged, plus it has been decommissioned to the point that few vehicles can pass through. Anyways, there are still birds there and we had a great ride down! No gray flycatcher this year unfortunately, but lots of LAZULI BUNTINGS singing, a family of CANYON WRENS poked around the rocks right beside us in the box canyon, NASHVILLE WARBLERS sang in the riparian draws, and pine specialists like RED CROSSBILL, CASSIN'S FINCHES, PYGMY NUTHATCHES, and CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS displayed themselves in a convenient and pleasant manner.

Further down along the Vaseux cliffs we heard several CHUKAR calling away somewhere up on the rocks; our first LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS of the day chased each other around, and from up on the hill we picked off some of our first waterbirds of the day on Vaseux Lake including a COMMON LOON, 5 EARED GREBES, 1 CANVASBACK, and many REDHEADS.

Next we cycled over to the Vaseux boardwalk where a VEERY called repeatedly, joined by chattering MARSH WRENS, witchitie-ing COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, and overhead-- WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS swooped and screeched.

Now it was time to head south to River Road where we found Mr. BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD perched on his usual wire; like last year we were skunked once again at River Road on the chat front... where does he go? Around the bend at Hack's Pond, RING-NECKED PHEASANT, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, and SORA were added to the list among other things... now it was time for the big slog!

All the way down to Rd. 22 north of Osoyoos, we fought the wind and gravel (okay it wasn't that bad but my bum was pretty sore!) We rode the dyke along the Okanagan River and picked off new species for the day such as WOOD DUCK, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, CEDAR WAXWING, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (at least 3 along there!), and EASTERN KINGBIRD. Upon finally reaching Rd. 22 we notched BOBOLINK, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD and NORTHERN HARRIER in quick succession, bringing our day total close to 130... pretty good considering out total last year was 118! We still had a couple stops though-- first was Deadman Lake where loads of waterfowl continued to be found, plus WILSON'S SNIPE and WILSON'S PHALAROPES. I scanned and scanned for the previously noted common goldeneye, semi plover, and least sand but no dice. Back to rd. 22 we headed south along Black Sage Road to the look-out over Osoyoos Lake: like most years, boat traffic was heavy on the Victoria Day weekend and little was left on the lake other than a few RED-NECKED GREBES and a distant loon in basic plumage... possibly a yellow-billed??? Too far...

When we returned to Rd. 22 Carlo Giovanella and his gang informed us that the goldeneye, plover, and peep were indeed still at Deadman Lake... uuuurg! Back on the saddle for the back-track and finally after 20 minutes of concentrated scanning with the bins (no scope), we found the LEAST SANDPIPER and the female COMMON GOLDENEYE... no plover though. So, that brought us to 135 around 4:30pm. We were all pretty bushed at that point and figured our total was a competitive one, so opted against heading up hill again to search for some of our big missed... bad yes I know: Lark Sparrow, Hairy and Downy Woodpecker... etc.

But a fun day all in all and mostly great weather! (75+KM cycled) THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who supported my DAY with a donation/pledge to the Baillie Fund and the Vaseux Lake Observatory. I believe it is still possible to contribute at: