Thursday, September 30, 2010

100 Mile House to Lillooet

Moutain Bluebird
Breakfast at Horse Lake prior to setting off on the next stage of our tour was enjoyed al fresco and in glorious sunshine. Further scans of the Lake produced 8 Lesser Scaup, 4 Common Loon, 7 Western Grebe, 1 Horned Grebe and 2 Bonaparte Gull, plus more incredible views of a Bald Eagle diving for fish. The nearby Paper birch and Spruce also yielded Mountain Chickadee, Cassin’s Vireo and both Chipping and White-crowned Sparrow.

Prior to setting off down Route 97 for tonight’s stop in Lillooet we visited the 100-Mile Marsh. This marsh is actually situated along a central migration route and includes a great variety of ecosystems from arid sage and cactus benchlands of the Fraser, to sub alpine forests in the east. I think we only scratched the surface of this vast area during our visit today but managed Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Harlequin Duck, and Muskrat on the lake, plus Northern Flicker, Savannah Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Purple Finch in the surrounding area. Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle were also recorded.

This leg of our journey to Lillooet started from 100-Mile House southwesterly on route 97 to Clinton where, thanks to Dee’s navigation skills, we took an amazing detour across a mountain track towards Pavilion. The road itself ranged from tarmac to dirt track and at some stages we were actually rising at 14% or declining at 12%. The views were sensational, looking down on occasions to a steep drop into oblivion; we also recorded our first Mountain Bluebirds plus Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Rock Dove, Steller’s Jay, American Pipit, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Brown-headed Cowbird. On occasions the detour was hair-raising but well worth the risk, we also took 45kms off the journey!

We rejoined the main highway, this time Highway 99, at Pavilion and are accompanied once again by river and rail, the Fraser River and the Canadian National respectively. As I post overlooking a cloudless sky and the fast running Fraser River it’s time for a full-English breakfast and the next stage of our tour towards Whistler!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blue River to 100-Mile House

Western-wood Pewee
No Internet or cell phone for the last 36 hours has been spooky to say the least, especially for a techno freak like me, but I’m glad to say that our current stopover has a full wifi service.

Over the past two days we’ve gently made our way southwest, stopping over at Clearwater on the Sunday night and arriving about 20km short of 100-Mile House earlier today. Tonight we’re laid up overlooking the beautiful Horse Lake, at Cariboo Bananza Resort in the intriguingly named town of Lone Butte, where we’ve already recorded Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe and Mule Deer.

Last nights stopover was on the outskirts of Well’s Gray Provincial Park next to a fast running Creek and a walk during the early evening boosted our species count with a Three-toed Woodpecker, Western-wood Pewee and Golden-crowned Kinglet, on the same walk we also encountered Red and a more rare Black Fox. Why is it that each RV Park we visit seems to have stories that occurred the day before, on this occasion it was a Black Bear with two cubs that was on site, suffice to say, no signs today.

This morning an early walk before moving on produced Blue Grouse and Common Yellowthroat but considering this is a renowned Moose area they still have yet to show. Having said that, the hunting season started today and so if you were a Moose you probably wouldn’t show either!! I’m still at a loss to understand why a small number of these animals are still allowed to be hunted in Canada each Fall!

Rare Black Fox
Our progress over the past 48hrs has seen us leave the dizzy heights of the Rockies behind us and into more colourful and tree lined surroundings with less dramatic mountains and some beautifully stunning lakes. We’ve also left behind the North Thompson River and Canadian National Railway, which have recently been our constant companion. The temperature has risen too and the weather a balmy 20C today, although reports have reached us concerning flooding down towards the Vancouver area, our final destination on Saturday.

As for today’s sightings, the several lakes we’ve stopped to overlook have produced good numbers of American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup and Cinnamon Teal but the bird of the day has to been Northern Goshawk which over flew the RV as we approached Lac des Roches Lake, giving some sensational views.

Tonight we’ve enjoyed a good meal, an excellent campfire and some truly amazing sights of the Milky Way, (no light pollution here), and the moon rising over Lake Horse was just magical. The bats have been around too tonight but I’m unsure as to what species they might be.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Valemount to Blue River

After leaving our RV site at Valemount we backtracked slightly on Yellowhead Highway 5 to visit the nearby Starratt Wildlife Sanctuary and Cranberry Marsh.

We took the 6.2km circular route, visiting the two observation decks and from here had good views of Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Ringed-necked Duck, Bufflehead and American Black Duck.

The remainder of the walk took place in some strong winds, almost bending the Paper Birch and Englemann Spruce to breaking point, this made the birding hard work but we managed a few further species of note with American Robin, Pine Siskin, Cassin’s Vareo, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and our first Lincoln’s Sparrow.

From Valemount we continued on Highway 5 surrounded by some stunning scenery, the colours of the trees, shrubs and heathers simply awesome. We stopped briefly to look down on the North Thompson River where we’d sighted a Bald Eagle, amazingly followed by Golden Eagle and immediately understood why these two birds were in close proximity. Looking down on to the river it was awash with literally hundreds of young Salmon, almost turning the water pink!

We arrived at Blue River at around 3pm, which I actually thought was 4pm, after two days of Pacific time I’d forgotten we’d gained an hour, and as we crossed an open rail crossing there sitting mid track, having a snooze, was our first Black Bear of the tour! We watched in amazement as the lights of a Canadian National goods train came slowly around the corner, the Bear nonchalantly moving aside to let the train pass, and within an instant he’d vanished.

Before locating our overnight parking we took advantage of the Blue River, River Safari, in what turned to be an amazing hour in a high-speed boat. The boat takes you through what we discovered is the worlds only inland temperate rainforest and took us through the mountain glaciers and jade-coloured waters. Here we were treated to three more Black Bear, Belted Kingfisher and stunning views of adult and young Bald Eagle, it was truly an unforgettable one-hour!

We eventually arrived at the Blue River RV Park at around 6pm and for the first time since arriving in Canada had our first Campfire, burgers and beer, another awesome day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wk 1 Calgary to Valemount

It’s really hard to believe that tonight’s stopover at Valemount completes the first week of our tour, and almost 1000kms travelled too thus far through four National Parks, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. The highlight once more has been the stunning scenery, some of which just takes your breath away. The view from Bow Summit was simply stunning and has to be the most spectacular so far, and from a birders prospective the Cedar Waxing which accompanied the views was the icing on the cake.

From a wildlife perspective this visit has not produced anything like what we encountered in May 2009 with almost all the lakes encountered producing very little wildfowl, or anything else for that matter. We are still yet to connect with any Bears or Moose and the mammal species we have seen thus far have been hard work, but the expectation remains high for our second week with some Bear hot spots on route.

The weather has played it’s part too with temperatures down almost 10C on the norm for this time of year, the low cloud and rain that dogged us on our arrival seems to have returned overnight but the forecast looks good so we live in hope.

Having said all of the above lets not give the wrong impression, on a number of occasions the sun has come shinning through, quickly raising the temperatures to 18C on one occasion, and the birding has produced some spectacular moments. Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Swainson’s Hawk and Northern Harrier all on the same day is a stunning haul.

Today we continue southwest towards Well’s Gray Provincial Park and depending on our progress our overnight stay will be Clearweater.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lake Louise to Jasper

Bow Mountain Summit
This was the first time we’d seen Lake Louise in all it’s beauty, when we visited last year it was completely frozen over and there was about 3 inches of snow lying too. If I’m being completely honest, although the lake looked beautiful in today’s bright sunshine, I preferred it in its winter setting.

Unable to visit Lake Moraine on our previous visit last year, the road was closed due to snow, we finally got to see this spectacular lake, some say more beautiful than Louise but personally I think not! The 15km drive to Moraine was stunning and we managed a mammal first for Canada while stopping for photographs in the form of Pika. This intriguing little mammal looks more like a miniature guinea pig with big ears and can only be found high in the alpine, usually amidst boulder strewn fields and slopes. The birding today was slightly disappointing, the only species we could muster was Gray Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junko, Yellow-rumped Warbler and of course the ever present Raven, but today was really more of a sightseeing tour.

The drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is by far the longest, completing 237km passing the Saskatchewan River Crossing and on into Jasper National Park at the Columbian Ice Fields. The weather across this section can change in an instant but luckily only a few snow flurries hindered us on our way.

Cedar Waxwing
During the journey we stopped at Bow Summit (pictured top left) and took the short walk to the top, ending up around 7,000ft. Bow Summit is the height of land between the Bow River system, flowing southeast to Banff, and the Mistaya River flowing northwest. The view was simply awesome and is of a glacial-fed and brilliantly turquoise Peyto Lake. I was also delighted to make contact with a large flock of around 100 Cedar Waxwing swirling from tree to tree and showing beautifully in the bright sunshine, could this get any better!!

We stopped for lunch overlooking the Saskatchewan River and encountered our first Golden Eagle of this visit as it glided majestically over the top of the RV giving some stunning views before moving off down river.

There are many small lakes on route to Jasper and each one was scrutinised but produced surprisingly little in numbers. Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal and Common Loon were the only bird species of note. Other notables were Elk, Mountain Goat, Red Squirrel a plenty and Mule Deer.

Jasper is our furthest point north and we now turn southwest and begin to descend on route to Valemount where we hope to stop tonight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Golden to Lake Louise

Northern Harrier - Female
After heavy rain overnight, which had settled as snow about 500ft above us, the cloud began to break giving some stunning views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.

Prior to leaving Golden Eco Ranch Dee and I had one last walk around the grounds and down to the River, seeing more evidence of Coyote, and even more Bear Pooh! At the river we watched an Osprey looking for breakfast, and catching too, as he hit the water with amazing speed before heading off with his catch.

On the way back a Northern Harrier was quartering the meadow and a Merlin was perched in the same spot as yesterday evening, high up in a dead pine. As with each morning thus far the local Ravens were calling and a Northern Flicker could be heard deep within the Pinewoods. Arriving back at the RV for departure we’d also added White-crowned Sparrow and Yellow Warbler.

Stopping in Golden for provisions, and also seeing our 2nd Pileated Woodpecker which passed overhead, we spent a short time on an observation deck overlooking a local lake. Here we had Red-winged Blackbird, Snipe, Real Canada Geese and Green-winged Teal. We eventually hit Highway 1, which follows the Kicking Horse River to our first stop of Emerald Lake around midday. Dee and I had visited and walked the perimeter of this stunning Lake last year but decided that it was something worth doing again, and of course Dave was not with us at this stage last year.

The walk is 5.2kms and took us around 3hours with our constant stop start. The Lake itself lives up to expectations and becomes a deep Emerald Green in the sunlight. Unfortunately at this altitude, around 5,000ft, and the make up of the Lake, rock powder which supports very little plant life, the Lake is devoid of any wildfowl. The surrounding Pinewoods however produced Chipping Sparrow, Clarks Nutcracker, Stella’s Jay, American Tree Sparrow, Least Chipmunk, and Red Squirrel.

A brief stop at the Spiral Tunnels to watch a train snaking through this amazing construction before our final destination of Lake Louise, arriving at around 7pm, produced very little more for the day, except for several Elk which were posing for photographs at the roadside. Minus 2C is forcast tonight!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Radium Springs to Golden

Red-tailed Hawk
From the Canyon RV Park, Radium Springs we set off for the town of Golden around mid morning, stopping for a swim in the famous hot springs before hitting highway 95. I’m pleased to say that the weather was much improved with long sunny periods and only the occasional shower, it was quite warm too at times.

Thankful that the low cloud that had dogged us for our first few days had lifted, it wasn’t long before we began to spot various Raptors as we made our way slowly along. On almost every bend American Kestrel and Merlin could be seen, enough Merlin to last you a lifetime in the UK!

Red-tailed Hawk is probably as common here as our very own Common Buzzard and at least 6 were seen before we stopped for lunch on the roadside near Brisco. Our lunch spot looked down on a number of lagoons which branch off the Columbian River, but temping as they were they were inaccessible due to the Canadian Pacific railroad which runs alongside the road for the whole length of today’s stretch. Before moving off we watched more Merlin and also some large flocks of smaller birds, which I believe, were Red Crossbill.

We stopped off at several observation points to take in the breathtaking views and at one stage walked down to stand on the rail tracks which overlooked a magnificent lagoon, Dee and I had passed through this very same spot last year when travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer. Our first Butterflies were recorded; one completely white, the other resembling a Clouded Yellow but more research is required on both. The Lagoon provided very little but Great Blue Heron and Ring-billed Gull were seen.

A short while later Dee spotted our first Bald Eagle of the trip, perched high in a dead tree looking magnificent in the bright sunshine, a couple of Osprey were also observed floating across the river nearby and before reaching Golden we also managed Swainson’s Hawk and a definite on the Red Crossbill.

Golden Eco Adventure Ranch is our overnight stay and once again upon arrival we were warned regarding Grizzly and Black Bear which had been seen very recently. After hitching up to electric and water we decided to set off for a walk along the Columbian River, shall I say with our wits about us!! Amazing views of an Osprey fishing, a second Bald Eagle, Merlin, Great Blue Heron, plus White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow were the birding highlights, but I have to say that the Bear Poo we discovered was even more fascinating, a huge black mound with lots of berries within.

To end a fantastic day my first Pileated Woodpecker flew right overhead as I walked to the shower block, roll on tomorrow!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Canada Update

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
As hoped we managed to fit in an excellent 2 hour visit to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary Calgary before picking up our RV later in the afternoon (Saturday). Our walk around produced a couple of Canada firsts for me, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Wilson's Warbler, a stunning and distinctive bird with unmarked wings and amazing yellow plumage. Dee took some good shots of Mule Deer and went chasing a Black Squirrel and Dave, who's also travelling with us in his RV went nuts with his new camera!

Also seen of interest were Wood Duck, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, Osprey, Californian Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Downy Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow and Swainson's Thrush.

After picking up our unit and supplies we spent out first night at Ghost Dam, around 64km from Calgary on route to Banff. Here the RV site overlooks the dam and sits alongside highway 1A. A short walk before dinner in drizzle surprisingly produced 2 more Wilson's Warbler, plus Red Squirrel and a good number of Herring Gull, but the weather was not kind!

Setting off on the Sunday morning for Banff the weather had worsened with low cloud and persistent rain, so the drive up, entering Banff National Park about 10am, produced nothing of interest on the birding front, the surrounding Rockies totally obscured by low cloud.  However, it was lovely to be here once more, the town where we were married last year. Arriving back at the RV, which we'd parked next to the Bow River, I did manage a Spotted Sandpiper feeding on the river's edge, more Red Squirrel and a good number of Raven which are prolific here.

We set off, using the quieter back road from Banff towards our next destination of Radium Hot Springs, picking up 5 Barrow's Goldeneye at Mule Lake, but once again the weather was appalling with low cloud and persistent rain, ruling out any chance of soaring Raptors.

Having said that we did discover an Osprey nesting on a bridge near the Canadian Pacific Railway at Castle junction which provided some excellent views. Our journey on this stage took us on the Banff-Windermere Highway (93S). Completed in 1922, this scenic 94km drive was the first motor road to cross the Canadian Rockies. At one stage we pass from Banff National Park into Kootenay National Park and also cross the Atlantic/Pacific Continental Divide, we are also now in British Columbia having crossed from Alberta.

We arrived at Radium Hot Springs at around 5.30pm and parked up for the night at The Canyon RV Park, a lovely riverside park set in a valley. The park has a good population of American Robin which seemed to be stripping a nearby tree of berries, and as we reported in to reception there were many signs warning of a roaming Black Bear with two cubs, your in Bear Country now we were reminded.

 Dee and I had a pre-dinner walk around the site and managed Red-naped Sapsucker, Black-capped Chickadee and Cassin's Vario. As I write this post while having breakfast from the RV dinette Dave has just spotted an American Dipper feeding in the creek which runs alongside us!!

Today Monday, and the plan is to have a dip in the famous Radium Hot Springs and then head off to Golden on route to Lake Louise and eventually passing into Yoho National Park. The weather, not kind to us thus far is an improving picture.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Canada Day 1

I thought I'd do a quick update while I'm dealing with the jet-lag and have the hotel wifi at my disposal, as later today we set off towards Banff and on into the Rockies, from there who knows when I'll be posting again!

Our flight from Heathrow with Air Canada was excellent once more arriving into Calgary at around 3.30pm local time. I love this airline, no nonsense, no fuss just good friendly service and good food. The flight across was smooth and we had some stunning views as we flew over Iceland and Greenland. I just can't but help imagine as I look down from 38,000ft the Whooper Swans migration to the UK from Iceland and the amazing Arctic Tern, which has been known to travel an average of 44,000 miles from it's breeding grounds in Greenland to the Weddell Sea on the shores of Antarctica and back, simply stunning!!

The current temperatures on this side of Canada are currently running well below the average for September (17C) and on arrival at Calgary earlier it was a chilly 6C with sunny intervals, as I look out of the hotel window at 4am local time it's 1C and quite misty. The plan today is to hopefully visit Inglewood Bird Sanctuary before picking up our RV later this afternoon, we visited Inglewood before flying back to the UK last year and our post in relation to that visit can be found here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Frampton Marsh

Frampton Marsh 360 hide
Spent the day with other members of the Brandon Marsh Conservation Team and our guests visiting RSPB Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire.

The reserve is part of the most mature saltmarsh in the Wash and is exceptionally rich in plants, birds and invertebrates. The upper levels, which have extensive zones of sea-lavender, sea aster and sea-purslane, are intersected by large creeks, one of which was the old course of the River Witham before the new cut was made in 1880.

The area supports a breeding black-headed gull colony, while common tern, redshank, oystercatcher, reed bunting, meadow pipit and skylark are all regular breeders. In winter the saltings attract wigeon, mallard, shelduck, teal and brent geese, with large flocks of finches and buntings, notably linnet and twite. The tidal mudflats form part of the wader feeding grounds, which give the Wash its international status. Large flocks of dunlin occur, as well as considerable numbers of grey plover, whimbrel, curlew, bar-tailed godwit and greenshank.

Little Stint
We arrived at the visitor centre around around 9.15am and were welcomed by one of the reserve volunteers who gave us an excellent introductory talk before we moved out onto the reserve. A very blustery day but it remained dry and quite warm for nearly the whole visit.

The reserve boasts 3 hides, two of which have 360-degree views and there are over 3km of new footpaths to explore. We started by taking the footpath directly to the sea wall in the hope of catching some wader activity at high tide. Unfortunately after arriving we realised that it would have to be an exceptionally high tide, if not a tsumami, to reach the reserve as the sea remained about 3km out!

Curlew Sandpiper
Notwithstanding the walk down to the wall produced of interest 2 Common Tern, Greenshank, Little Egret, Meadow Pipit, Curlew and good numbers of Dunlin and Golden Plover. As we continued along the wall A Common Buzzard was seen along with Kestrel and Marsh Harrier.

On the surrounding creeks various Wildfowl were present with Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shelduck, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Pintail and Egyptian Geese. With the constant wind the best viewing of the day was from the hides with a good selction of waders. These included Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Redshank and more Greenshank.

Little Stint numbered at least 4 along with several Curlew Sandpiper and these undoubtedly where the birds of the day! Personally I missed out on the only Ruff seen but after arriving back at the nature centre did manage two final waders with two Green Sandpiper feeding close by.

Also worth a mention along with the sporadic Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow was a single Swift which seemed to keep us company for around 20 minutes before heading off on his journey south.

A stop at Eyebrook Reservoir in heavy showers on the return to Brandon gave us a few additions to the day with Hobby, Red-legged Partridge, Shoveler and Pochard. An excellent days birding and some really awful jokes was enjoyed by all, but you know what they say? The old ones are always the best!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Invasive Species Alert!

What is Dikerogammarus villosus?

Dikerogammarus villosus is an invasive non-native shrimp that has spread from the Ponto-Caspian Region of Eastern Europe – it is native to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is believed to have invaded Western Europe via the Danube. It has spread across most of Western Europe over the last 10 years. It can grow to 30mm long in ideal conditions, much larger than our native freshwater shrimp.

Specimens being recovered from and observed in Grafham Water at present are between 10 and 15mm in size. It often has striped or spotted markings. Due to its voracious appetite, it is commonly known as ‘killer shrimp’.

Why is it a problem?

The killer shrimp is a voracious predator. It kills a range of native species, such as freshwater invertebrates, particularly native shrimps and even young fish. This alters the ecology of the habitats it invades. It often kills its prey and leaves it uneaten. It tends to dominate the habitats it invades, sometimes causing the extinction of native species.

Why this post?

It has been found at Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire on 3rd September. This is a water supply reservoir popular for angling and watersports. Anglian Water and Environment Agency scientists are monitoring lakes and streams nearby to assess whether it has spread to other sites.

How did it get into the lake?

We don’t know. The shrimp is now widespread on the continent, and any boat, trailer or kayak that had not been sufficiently cleaned after use on mainland Europe may have introduced it. It is possible that it may have been transferred by a migrating bird.

What should the public do?

This shrimp is one of many invasive non-native animals and plants that we spread by our activities. Please ensure that you clean boats and watersports equipment after use. Take great care when moving plants and animals around the countryside.

What should a member of the public do if they come across what they believe to be a non-native shrimp?
Members of the public should carefully check the identification of the shrimp with details provided on Images of suspected non-native shrimps can be sent to for confirmation.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Surprising First!

When I set off from the marina for Brandon Marsh this morning just before sunrise Orion was high up in the east with Sirius the 'dog star' rising just below, winter is on the way!

The local Little Owls were calling quite close by but I failed to get a glimpse and as I reached the carpark my eye was taken by a black figure which darted into the undergrowth. I'd like to think it was a local cat rather than a Mink, the latter would be a very unwelcome visitor as I've not seen one within the marina grounds for a long while.

Brandon was idyllic when I arrived, the mist was rising across the reed beds, but despite last nights reports of Little Stint on East Marsh Pool I decided it was too lovely a morning to go straight to the hides. As I passed by Sheepfield with Paul Norman for company several Linnet came overhead, followed shortly after by a lone Great Spotted Woodpecker. Why have Chiffchaffs suddenly begun calling one more? perhaps it's something in their hormones but I'd heard two on my trek around to New Hare Covert. On entering the covert a male Blackcap and juvenile Goldcrest were seen close to the only American Oak on the reserve.

We eventually arrived at Wright Hide and met up with Jeff Hood who pointed out a single Turnstone on one of the back Islands, reported on site yesterday by Steve Chapman, but no sign of any other small Waders. River Pool delivered 2 Kingfisher and a Reed Warbler and Teal Pool offered nothing more, so on to big hide for coffee. Over coffee 8 Snipe were present and around 10/12 Swallows came through, and I managed 1 House Martin in amongst them, a recently reported eclipse male Gargarney was also nowhere to be found.

My trip to Carlton Hide was a rather quick event with the hide completely full of photographers and resembling something like a typing pool, the clatter of automatic shutters just too much to take. "Apparently the Kingfishers were showing well".

A quick visit to Teal Hide on my return to Big Hide gave up a Green Sandpiper feeding quite close in, and on returning to Big Hide the highlight was a Hobby which flew low across the pool before departing over the Covert. Having seen some record shots of yesterday's possible Little Stints the general consensus is Dunlin, Stint would have been an excellent record but I'm afraid it's not to be.

As things began to warm up 6 Common Buzzard took to the thermals as we departed for a tour of Farm Field where despite the dampness a number of Butterfly were also on the wing. These included Small Heath, Small Copper, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma. There was also plenty of evidence today indicating some busy Badger activity, which included a couple of Badger Latrines, the location of which you can understand should remain anonymous!

Arriving back at the marina at around 12.30pm I was delighted to see a large flock of around 30+ Tree Sparrow, this included a good number of juvenile, more evidence of a good breeding season in our locality. Finally after checking my Brandon records I discovered that this mornings Turnstone was a Surprising First for me at Brandon Marsh having missed our earlier spring visitor.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Another Gem

Leading on from my previous post in relation to ending up trumps when you least expect it, well once again I struck gold this afternoon!

I’m based for a few days at a holiday cottage in Mollington, about 6 miles from Banbury celebrating my mothers 90th birthday. Not expecting to get too much birding in over the next few days I still always go tooled up, just in case. After taking mum for lunch in Leamington Spa I decided to take the back roads back to the cottage and happened to drive straight through Burton Dassett Country Park (Library Picture).

The park, situated in southeastern Warwickshire covers around 100 acres and is situated on a spur of rugged ironstone hills that rise to 203 meters above sea level. From here the park projects out into a relatively flat plain and as a result the hills provide magnificent views in all directions, and of course like Napton Hill should be a superb stop off for migrating birds.

After dropping mum back at the cottage for a well earned snooze I took the 10 minute drive back and managed 90-minutes walking this wonderful new find. Immediately after parking up a couple of Grey Wagtails flew across the open plain and down into a shallow gorge which housed a good selection of berries, Elder and Hawthorn mainly. I sat at the top scanning below and after a relatively short time caught site of a red flash which dropped to the ground before flying back low into a Hawthorn, my first Common Redstart this Autumn!

A signpost pointed in the direction of Fox Covert, a ¼ mile copse of mainly Pine as it turned out where I had Treecreeepr, Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tit and Chaffinch. Emerging from the Covert I took a high hill skirting a good selection of Hawthorn bushes and finding a good observation point, watched a spotted Flycatcher in the lovely warm sunshine doing his stuff for a good 20 minutes.

After returning to the car I decided to take a short drive further around the park avoiding the many grazing sheep and stumbled on the amazing sight of at least 30+ Yellow Wagtail, in all phases of plumage, bathing in some large puddles which had formed on the path, In amongst them was a single Wheatear.

What a storming find and to top off a truly fascinating experience I located a distant Red Kite looking out across to Oxon.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Napton Surprise!

Firecrest- Library Picture
I always say that when you set off birding with a wish list of species you always end up disappointed, but when you just go adhoc to enjoy the outdoors you can end up trumps! Today was one of those rare and exciting moments.

I'd completed some shopping in Leamington this morning and returned to the boat to find the wind hitting a healthy average of 27 km/h, gusting to 35 from the ESE. My roof plants were already taking a battering so in preparation for tonight's forecasted downpour I battened down the hatches early.

After a late lunch and my chores complete I decided to have a bracing stroll up to Napton Windmill before the rain set in. With reports of various migrants around the area I was quietly confident of at least a good count of Spotted Flycatcher, but really wasn't that bothered about scanning every tree and bush, my normal routine.

I arrived at the church just as the first spots of rain were beginning to fall and set off towards the windmill. A quick scan of the churchyard produced Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Treecreeper and a fair number of House Martin and Swallow. As I reached the Leys Farm gate the rain had begun to fall a bit heavier and so I took time out under the trees to search the surrounding area and came up trumps with a count of no less than 7 Spotted Flycatcher, all in the immediate vicinity. To my astonishment in the field were two of what I can only identify as Helmeted Guineafowl, domesticated of course, but I'd never seen these here before and a shock to the system nevertheless!

The rain had eased slightly and so I continued to the windmill with Mistle Thrush, always around this location, along with Buzzard, Raven and Kestrel. I emerged at the top and decided to have a sit looking out across the county and down towards the old quarry, with the wind from the south-east this was a lovely sheltered spot too and the rain had now stalled.

Halfway down to the quarry I paused again to take a look at a small flock of tits which were feeding happily on the tumultuous selection of Blackberry, Elderberry and Hawthorn. Amongst the flock were Long-tailed, Blue a few Great and what I initially thought were 3 Goldcrest. You can imagine my delight when looking straight at me in the centre of my binoculars was a very pristine looking Firecrest, fiery orange crown and white eyebrow almost bursting out glaring at me, what an amazing jewel of a bird!! I watched the flock for about 10-minutes, only just managing to text my find to others, before I lost site of them as they went deeper into cover.

I continued down to the quarry and turned for the accent back up to the windmill, trying to beat the incoming shower, when something caught my eye perched atop a nearby bramble. An amazing co-incidence as just as I identified the bird as a Whinchat I received a text message from Brandon Marsh informing me of one there too. Delighted with my work I picked up the pace and made it back to the car just as the heavens opened once more, two gems under my belt and headed back a very contented man.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Canada - Final Preperations

With less than 2-weeks to go to our departure for our RV tour of Canada preparations in relation to our planned route are in the final stages. There are two vehicles planned with Dee and I in one and Dave my best mate who resides in Spain in the other, the plan is to meet up in Calgary on September 17th.

Dee has planned a provisional route which begins at Calgary and takes us immediately west toward the Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park, a visit to Banff where we were married last year will be out first stop for provisions and a reminisce.

From Banff, where we are now at 4,800ft, we move west and across into British Columbia visiting the Vermilion Lakes and pass. The Vermilion Lakes are a large wetland area of sedge and willow flats and shallow water bodies connected by many small channels. Spruce stands are home year-round to Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pileated Woodpecker have also been seen in the aspens and dead conifers. Northern Pygmy-, Barred and Boreal Owls are also possible and during autumn and winter you may be lucky enough to encounter Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin (rare) and Evening Grosbeak.

White Winged Crossbill
After Vermilion we travel north and back into Alberta taking in Lake Louise, Johnson's Canyon, which is one of only three known breeding sites of Black Swift in Alberta, and Lake Moraine before crossing into Jasper National Park a few days later at the Saskatchewan River Crossing.

From Jasper we now head west crossing from Alberta back into British Columbia once more at Yellowhead and then turn south-west for several days to investigate Wells Gray Provincial Park. Black Bears, Grizzlies, Moose, Mountain Goats, Caribou, Wolves, Cougar and bird species such as Merlin, Osprey, Eagle, Cranes and Heron are all a possibility.

Our next way point is due west, and uncharted territory for us, as we head for Williams Lake near the San Jose River, the lake offers a unique opportunity to view shorebirds and waterfowl that populate the wetland marsh. Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Black-capped Chickadees, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh Wren, Brewer's Blackbird, Great Blue Heron, Hooded Merganser, Swallows, Flycatchers, Gulls, Hummingbirds, and songbirds. Animals include Red Foxes, Mink, Otters, Beavers and Muskrats. Here we also plan to visit the Indian reserves at Deep Creek and re-assess the trip for timings.

From here and over the following week we turn in a southerly direction towards Carpenter Lake, then progressing further south arriving at The Whistler, Garibaldi Provisional Park. The final leg of our trip will see us arriving at Vancouver where we split and depart for our journeys back to the UK and Spain.