Well it was already September and I still didn't have a White-tailed Ptarmigan on the year-list. Ptarmigan are in some ways a good bird to be "missing" for a year list since they stay in the same place all year. The problem is that they are very hard to find in THAT place and once the snow comes... well you get the picture. I needed to bag this chicken before October, and I was happy to have some highly motivated ptarm-hunters along--> Jess Findlay, Connor Stefanison, and Devin Mackenzie. We met up in Burnaby at 6am, then headed off up Hwy 5 north of Hope where Fraser Valley expert Dave Beeke had seen them last September, a place called "Needle Peak" opposite the well-known "Yak Peak" near the old Coq toll-booths. We started up the trail around 8am and immediately I realized how driving in cars and sitting on boats for several months does not equal good cardio conditioning. The trail up the mountain is in good condition, it's just that it's STRAIGHT up... makes for a quicker trip I suppose and you don't need a 4x4 vehicle to get to the parking area.
In the spruce, hemlock, and fir forest we picked up HERMIT THRUSHES, a single SWAINSON'S THRUSH (of the olive-backed interior race), and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES. We were all a bit surprised when a single BOHEMIAN WAXWING flew over calling; quite an early record for southern BC?
[photo thanks to Connor Stefanison]
Once into the alpine MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES, a couple bonus BOREAL CHICKADEES (we ended up missing Black-capped for the grandslam... how often does that trio happen eh?), flocks of juv CHIPPING SPARROWS, and a NORTHERN HARRIER flushed off the trail in front of us. In fact, it ended up being quite a good day for raptors, with 2 or 3 RED-TAILED HAWKS, the NORTHERN HARRIER, 2 NORTHERN GOSHAWKS, 3 COOPER'S HAWKS, 3 SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS (all accipiters were juvs), a MERLIN, and an adult GOLDEN EAGLE.
At the top of the first ridge the trail splits; you can either head to the left up towards Needle Peak itself or go down a ridge to the right which then pops up to a small lake and another ridge. Dave Beeke told me that he has had ptarmigan at both ends but that they have been more reliable along the last spine before the needle (pictured).
So we headed off to the Needle! No ptarmigans unfortunately but Connor found a few feathers which pushed us on, all the way to the top (a bit of a scramble) where breathtaking views gave us a look at the misty landscape on all sides. A large flock of HORNED LARKS swirled below us while PIKAS and called from the boulder-slopes. While eating lunch we were visited by this inquisitive little guy:
(Short-tailed Weasel by Jess Findlay)
By the time got back down to the trail fork it was already 3pm. We were tired and the clouds were looking menacing but we still didn't have that ptarmie! So, we struck out for the alpine lake, took a break (pictured)then split up and scoured the hillside.
[surveying our handy-work-- Needle Peak in the back]
It didn't take long for Jess to spot one!!! YEEEEAAAHHHH BABY! A whole family.
[Jess and Connor get so into the art of photography that large gashes to the leg (from crawling over granite boulders) go completely unnoticed]
There were five young guys with mom in all, we were all quite stoked (if you will).
On the hike back down we ran into a couple of SOOTY GROUSE (more young'ns too).
Didn't get back to Vancouver until around 8 o'clock at night-- but what a day! Sleep well-deserved!