Well I just got back from a day and a half in the West Kootenays. I had a great time and saw some amazing scenery and lots of birds... just not the ones I was looking for!!! Early in July I phoned a local Creston biologist about Forster's Terns and whether or not I had to worry about getting their right away. His notes indicated that they often linger until September so I thought, "no problem in early August then!"
I linked up with Nelson birder extraordinaire Avery "Gump" Bartels on Friday night, then headed to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area on Saturday morning. This place is truly the crown jewel of the Kootenays in my opinion: a vast expanse of rich wetlands surrounded my virtually untouched cottonwood groves and mixed forests (where else can you see ponderosa pine and western hemlock growing side by side?).
Around Salmo I spotted a large group of turkeys in a field; "are those countable?" I asked. Avery insisted that they were wild despite the fence and farm setting. "This is only the second time I've ever seen them there," he said. Feeling kind of dirty but also slightly desperate I ticked them as #335 on the year list. Fortunately later in the day while bushwhacking around the hills of Creston we came across 3 truly WILD TURKEYS running down a quiet logging road (including this fellow).
Anyways, our main targets after the turkeys were Forster's Terns (who have their only BC breeding colony here in Creston at Duck Lake) and Great Egret (which had been seen recently on nearby Leach Lake).
We started off at the old Summit Creek campground where I immediately had flashbacks of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Turns out today was going to be a trip down memory lane! Too hot for pants and long-sleeves + no bug spray + Leach Lake = AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARH df;gjbsdlfg'sd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We first tried overlooking Leach Lake from the Topaz Creek Forest Service Road. No egrets, but plenty of white objects to look at including 120+ AMERICAN WHITE-PELICANS and even more DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS (these guys are obviously increasing in the area!).
Next we visited the visitor's center for the refuge where of course I was so focused on the target birds I forgot to take a picture of the marsh for the blog. So instead, here is a picture of a nesting BARN SWALLOW which I took while chatting with a student naturalist.
After scouring the main refuge headquarters we headed out to Duck Lake for the terns... that WERE NOT THERE! Disaster strikes again! After missing a couple breeders in the Peace earlier this summer I really couldn't afford to miss another "gimme." BUT, as far as we could tell, the terns were all gone. On our way back to Leach Lake we stopped at the well-known community store "Mugwumps" to pick up some home-made sandwiches and a copy of Linda's "Bird of the Creston Valley." This is a fantastic little guide that is a great pick-up for any visiting birders. Interestingly enough however, the bar-graphs in the guide also indicate that Forster's Terns are reliable until the end of September? Did something crazy happen this year then or what? A local biologist said he had seen free-flying juveniles in mid-July (and also said he hadn't seen any lately) so it seems likely that the entire colony headed south in late July. I would feedback from people in the know!
So anyhoo... screwed that one up! So Avery and I spent the rest of the day walking around Leach Lake getting absolutely obliterated by bugs but still marveling at the high densities of waterfowl and huge cottonwoods. Looks a lot like Revelstoke except waaaay more habitat, I thought. After circling the 2 main Leach Lake units we bushwhacked up the hill to a nice look-out where we scanned and scanned for egrets without luck. We did however spot 2 distant adult TUNDRA SWANS (my best guess) which are probably more notable than an egret at this time of year. But it was not to be! Thoroughly itchy and sweaty, it was time to head back to Nelson.
On the drive back somewhere around Salmo, Avery shouted "Macaw!!!" I knew he had some great ID instincts but this seemed like, well, a bit crazy. Sure enough though, sitting on the telephone wires above the highway was a SCARLET MACAW!!! I Bet Mike Toochin missed this one on his big year right?
Apparently this bird is probably the property of a nearby resident who was recently busted for a massive marijuana grow-up and parrot collection. Therefore, I probably can't safely count it... darn.
Spent one last night in Nelson then headed back to the Okanagan via the Waldie Island Sewage Lagoons in Castlegar, wow a viewing tower at a sewage pond! Castlegar has its birding infrastructure in order!
Back in the OK briefly, looking for ptarmigan this afternoon, then down to the coast for a few months!