Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blogging Again!

Owlet in Jim's experienced hands!
It's good to be back blogging after a short break since returning from Canada over a week ago. I've now begun to upload some of the many images taken during this years tour to my Flickr site and have to say that I'm quite pleased considering that I had a few camera issues during the second week.

Despite the lack of posts I have been out and about over the past seven days and this weekend Dee and I visited friends in Suffolk, managing to slot in a lovely afternoon walk and picnic at RSPB Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire. Nothing too exciting was on offer, the usual summer warblers were all recorded, plus a bonus Yellow-Wagtail but I think the extremely high temperature, time of visit and the fact that birding took a back seat was the reason for that.

Underwater Mink
I've also begun to refocus my attention on Brandon Marsh and a phone call from Geoff Haynes one of the Brandon regulars on Wednesday last delivered some sad news which required investigation. Apparently one of our Barn Owl parents lost it's prey when arriving back at the nesting box and when dropping to the floor to retrieve it was pounced upon by a Fox, unfortunately this was a box we knew housed 7 eggs within.

The following morning myself, Jim Rushforth and several other members of the team went to investigate. We were delighted to report back that the remaining parent was doing well along with 3 Owlets, who were subsequently ringed. During the same morning and on a less positive note Mike Lee and I spotted an American Mink swimming past big hide in the most bizarre fashion. Fortunately I was able to record the event on my camera and the picture (above) shows a Mink swimming underwater dragging a Gadwall Duck by the head, nature can be cruel at times.

Wood Sandpiper (Record Shot)
As the spring migration now winds down any birder knows that the chance of spotting the unexpected also diminishes as our summer visitors get down to the business of nesting. Having said that today's Wood Sandpiper was a pleasant bonus. As with many others like me it's time to concentrate on other matters and for me it's Butterflies, Moths and Bugs! For the first time at Brandon Marsh a Butterfly transect has been created in conjunction with Butterfly Conservation and having completed my first transect today I'm looking forward to seeing the overall results later in the year. Also worth a mention at Brandon this morning ♂♀Cuckoo.

France this coming weekend, can't wait!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Squamish - Vancouver

Caspian Tern
Yesterday we spent our last full day on this years tour at Squamish Estuary and Spit, this time joined by local birder and friend Derek Killby. Despite the sun shining the wind was very nearly gale force and although the para-surfers were having a great time birding proved to be quite difficult at times.

Bordered by the Spit to the West which juts out into Howe Sound, the Squamish Estuary stretches across the bay to the backend of downtown Squamish. Providing the best views of the Stawamus Chief, a huge rock dome often claimed to be the largest granite monolith in the world and reaching a height of 2,297ft

Western-wood Pewee (Record Shot)
The first notables of the day were the Barn Swallows, a real taste of home and a reasonable number kept us company throughout our stay, completely at home in the strong wind. A few shore birds were present, but to be honest we'd really expected more, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and a bonus was my first Pectoral Sandpiper for Canada, when we discovered one after lunch. Also recorded during our morning stay were: Marsh Wren, Savannah Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, Purple Finch and American Goldfinch.

We had lunch in the RV sheltering from the battering wind overlooking the estuary and I spent most of my time taking numerous photographs of a River Otter, which at one time took a huge flat fish! Several Caspian Tern were also battling the wind, along with a number of Glaucous-winged Gulls and we also managed a Hermit Thrush and Warbling Vireo during a walk of one of the trails.

Black-tailed Deer @ Maplewood
A few Butterflies were on the wing despite the conditions, Mourning Cloak, which has been by far the most common during our stay and my nemesis Anise Swallowtail, which I still failed to capture on camera! Also worth a mention were Turkey Vulture and Red-breasted Sapsucker, of which there were two just prior to Derek's departure back at the campground.

The RV was due to be returned to Delta on the south side of Vancouver by 3pm Saturday and so a bonus to our plan was to fit in a brief visit to Maplewood Bird Sanctuary on route. Maplewood is somewhere I'd spent a lot of time during my stay in Vancouver last year and it was fantastic to meet up with Derek once more, who'd just completed a dawn chorus walk.

Purple Finch Skulking In The Undergrowth
One of the main reasons for our visit was to see the nesting Purple Martins, Maplewood being one of the few places to see them in BC. Unfortunately, I'd left for home before their arrival last year and so we made straight for the nesting group. It wasn't long before we had several in view, North Americas largest Swallow and a pleasure to see and hear, they have an amazing call too.

As we were enjoying the Martin's Derek pointed us in the direction of nesting Bald Eagle and Osprey and as we enjoyed the views no less than 5 Black-tailed Deer wondered past. To draw a close to this years excellent tour we also managed Western-wood Pewee, Pelagic Cormorant and fittingly the final bird to be recorded for the day, and indeed this tour, was my favourite Common Loon.

BUBO Listing www.bubo.org

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lillooet - Squamish

Curious Hoary Marmot
With the rain still hammering down there was no chance of any birding yesterday evening and in fact for the first time since arriving we were confined to quarters. However, this being Canada where you can enjoy the four seasons in one day, I wasn’t surprised to wake this morning to beautiful blue sky.

My morning walk around the campground and along the Fraser River was bracing, with the sun not yet clearing the high mountain tops and a chilly northerly blowing it was bitterly cold. The first wildlife of the day was a Hoary Marmot sentry, one of the group assigned to watch the ground and sky for predators, and then let out the shrill piercing call of impending danger, which this one did! After the initial alert, the Marmots curiosity generally takes over and we both sat and watched each other for a short while before I moved on, really fascinating animals.

Friendly Gray Jay!
The usual Spotted Sandpiper, they seem to be everywhere, was feeding along the extremely fast running Fraser. An Osprey then flew by, large fish in talons, landing on the old suspension bridge further down where it was nesting. Spotted Towhee, Wilson’s Warbler, another bird that seems to be everywhere, Bald Eagle, Golden-crown Kinglet, Rufous Hummingbird, House Wren and Yellow-rumped Warbler were all recorded. Dee once again came up trumps, as she often does, when she located our first MacGillivray’s Warbler for Canada just prior to leaving the campground.

Our drive today takes us to our final campground, where we’ll spend our last two nights of this tour before heading into Vancouver and our flight home Saturday evening. The route as you head from the dizzy heights of Lillooet takes you south along highway 99 and has some of the most breathtaking scenery of the whole tour. In fact, some of the gradients heading down are so steep we stopped on two occasions to let the brakes cool down, smoke bellowing from the rear discs!

Golden-crowned Sparrow
The journey down offers some great stop offs to explore and one, Lillooet Lake produced two Trumpeter Swans, also of note during the drive: Gray Jay, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Western Tanager, Say’s Phoebe, Varied Thrush, and Pileated Woodpecker. We stopped for lunch at Pemberton overlooking one of the locally managed lakes and here we sat out watching Osprey, Otter and a family of ‘real’ Canada Geese. Once again I missed out on the opportunity of taking a shot of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, my nemesis of this tour!

Having done the sightseeing of what is Whistler Mountain, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics on our previous tour, we continued on past to Squamish and The Paradise Valley Campground. This is a stunning place set in complete cover of Pine, Birch and Maple and offers several trails, some of which run alongside the Cheakamus River and Canadian Pacific Railroad. The Cheakamus is better known for its wintering Bald Eagles who feed off the Salmon carcases post spawning and can contain over 2000 birds some years.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker (Record Shot)
After setting up camp Dee and I enjoyed a walk through several of the trails and at one stage came across a nesting Common Merganser, which we left in peace. The usual Spotted Sandpipers were around, a Turkey Vulture came floating through and before arrived back at the RV we’d also noted Red-Breasted Sapsucker and Hammond’s Flycatcher.

Squamish Estuary (Friday) and Maplewood Bird Sanctuary (Saturday) before sadly heading off back to the UK on Saturday evening, so its likely my next two posts will be slightly late and probably written when back in the UK!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

100 Mile House - Lillooet

Bonaparte's Gull
Our second night at Horse Lake was spent much the same as the previous night, dinner alfresco around the campfire. However, this evening’s weather was in complete contrast to yesterday. A break in the recent hot spell and a strong north-westerly wind had ensued resulting in a red flag appearing out towards the middle of the lake, apparently depicting no fishing boats.

Prior to leaving the campground this morning a quick scan of an extremely choppy lake had a similar sized flock of Scoter, several Red-necked Grebe, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser and the Common Loons seemed to be sheltering near the pontoons. A few California Gulls passed through and once again several Bonaparte Gulls were on the lake, one posed for a quick photograph.

After a fuel stop back at 100 Mile House we took highway 97 southwards until reaching Clinton and then the quieter and picturesque highway 99 towards tonight’s stop-over at Fraser Cove Campground, Lillooet.

Great To See Ruddy Duck!
We side tracked at 70 Mile House to check out a few of the many small marshy and lagoon areas in this part of the province and encountered the usual combination of waterfowl, notably: American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Scaup and Hooded Merganser. Also present, Pied-billed Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper and at one stop 6 Blue-winged Teal, the first we’d encountered since Inglewood Bird Sanctuary back in Calgary. It was also good to see Ruddy Duck, something that has become almost extinct in the UK, but don't get me started on that one!

A good number of Mountain Bluebirds were about and we had good views of a pair of these stunning looking birds mating next to a nesting box. Our first Pileated Woodpecker of this tour also burst onto the scene at one stage, its grating call echoing across the valley. A Ring-necked Pheasant was heard in the distance and also recorded were: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping and Savannah Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel.

American Kestrel (On The Prowl)
As we continued in the now intermittent rain showers we passed a number of nesting Osprey and Bald Eagle and paused to take it all in. As we passed through Maple Canyon on the 99 we could see first hand what devastation a wildfire can cause, when dampening down procedures were still taking place in a large part of the area, a huge swath of the mountainside still smouldering away.

Just prior to reaching Pavilion, around 30 or so kilometres out of Lillooet, I noticed a black blob in a field to our left. This is nothing unusual, we spend a lot of our time looking at black blobs in fields but on this occasion and with Dee’s good instincts, we stopped to take a better look. Sure enough our first Black Bear of the tour enjoying a snack with not a care in the world. A great way to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary!

A Moving Black Blob!!
As we approached Lillooet we stopped on a few occasions to take in the dynamic scenery, with some amazing views of the fast running Fraser River, which seemed like a thousand feet below. Western Meadowlark could be heard singing and a few Raven and American Kestrel were also on the prowl.

We made Lillooet at around 4pm in now pouring rain, a novelty for this particular tour and unlike our last stop here in 2010 the Wifi is actually working. A celebratory champagne dinner tonight but sadly not around the campfire, the weather has turned!

BUBO Listing www.bubo.org

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Horse Lake

Bald Eagle (Photo By Dee)
Last night we had dinner alfresco alongside our campfire and overlooking Horse Lake. Unfortunately one of the downfalls of setting up camp next to water in this neck of the woods is the mosquitoes, which are now starting to awaken from their winter slumber. Notwithstanding, we did well and only managed two bites each!

It was a lovely calm evening and we sat watching the many waterfowl on the flat calm lake. Good numbers of Red-necked Grebe looking stunning in full summer plumage and various numbers of Common Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye, both Surf and White-winged Scoter and my favourite all time water bird the Common Loon.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Loon calls are amazing to hear and can sound mournful and eerie to some people but to other Loons it’s a way of communicating with each other. Their calls are almost mesmerising when the long cries travel across the lakes. Loons have four distinct calls and the alert call can sound like a Wolf howling and it was this call that alerted us to a hunting Bald Eagle, which passed right overhead. Thanks to Dee the moment was recorded! As dusk fell a number of other birds were using the lake to roost and a couple of Great Blue Heron flew into the nearby wood. Both Californian Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull were also seen and at one stage two Black Terns passed through.

We made the decision to stay a couple of nights at Horse Lake and so today (Tuesday) we visited 100 Mile House Marsh, a local reserve we visited in 2010 and only around 20kms away. Just prior to setting off I recorded our first Western Grebe of this tour when a lone bird was seen on the lake among a large flock of Scoters while I was having breakfast.

Virginia Rail
100 Mile Marsh is an excellent stop off point to see migrating birds as it lies on the central migration route, it offers an excellent all round trail with nature centre and various observation points. The first vocal and obvious birds of the day were the Yellow-headed Blackbirds and we spent a good half hour photographing these stunning looking birds. The surrounding reeds were a hive of activity with nesting American Coot, Ruddy Duck, Red-winged Blackbird and Marsh Wren. However, the bonus was when we managed several shots of Virginia Rail.

The lagoon had varied numbers of Bufflehead, Canvasback, White-winged Scoter, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Common Merganser, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Lesser Scaup, there were also two Greater Scaup present.

Within the wooded areas on the southern end of the reserve a Garter Snake was basking in the afternoon sunshine and we also recorded of note: Wilson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Brown-headed Cowbird. Swallows were also in good numbers, mainly Violet-green and Tree with a few Northern-rough winged in among them.

Basking Garter Snake
The highlight of the visit was the sudden arrival of around 50 or so Long-billed Dowitchers flying low over the water and in pursuit a stunning Peregrine Falcon, the first of this visit!

Finally before heading back to Horse Lake, a drive through the nearby Green Lake Provincial Park once more. Here, unlike yesterdays visit, we concentrated more on the woodland areas and came up with two new species for our Canadian List in the form of Tennessee Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Dee also managed a Blue Grouse, which I missed while driving and today Mule deer were numerous.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gem Of A Day!

Chipping Sparrow
Before leaving the Brookside Campground, Cache Creek for our next stop of Horse Lake in the wonderful sounding town of Lone Butte I took an amazing 90 minute hike around the locality.

The Bonaparte River runs through Cache Creek and above the deep valley of the river lies rolling grasslands which give way to surrounding hills covered in sagebrush and cactus. Above the rolling desert hills lies a beautiful mountainous terrain. During the gold rush of the mid 1800's, Cache Creek served as a halfway point for many hopeful prospectors en route to the Cariboo Gold Fields.

Yellow Warbler
A gorgeous looking Meadowlark was my first bird of the day, closely followed by 2 Rufous Hummingbirds and a flock of around 20 or so Chipping Sparrows. I took a track which runs along a small creek and the close by Paper Birch held a good selection of birds which included of note: American Kestrel, Wilson’s Warbler, Say’s Phoebe, Savannah Sparrow, Black-caped Chickadee, Orange-crowned Warbler and a pair of Western Tanager. Ravens were constantly soaring overhead and a Mule Deer give me a bit of a shock when I spooked one just prior to locating a couple of small pools, he was probably enjoying a quiet drink.

The pools had the usual Red-winged Blackbirds forever ducking into the reeds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and a huge burp alerted me to several frogs in the vicinity! Dee also encountered a Coyote when she decided to come looking for me, but he’d vanished by the time we joined up.

Pair of Barrow's Goldeneye
The drive today took us to our most northerly stop of 100 Mile House along the very picturesque highway 97, stopping off at several points on route. The highlights being: Osprey’s mating , Bald Eagle and Western Kingbird. As we reached 70 Mile House we took a smaller road which runs through Green Lake Provincial Park. Incidentally if your wondering what the names of ‘Mile House’ relates to, it relates to a selection of ramshackle houses used to serve the traffic of the gold rush as a resting place for travelers moving between Kamloops and Fort Alexandria. Prior to reaching the main lake we investigated some smaller lagoons which produced Pied-billed Grebe, Greater Scaup, Common Yellowthroat, Mountain Bluebird, Yellow Warbler and Bufflehead. A Coyote also crossed in front at one stage before disappearing from view.

Surf Scoter @ Green Lake
Green Lake, one of the larger bodies of water in this area is made up of 11 parcels of land, the open rangeland and mixed forests of Aspen and Lodgepole Pine found here are typical of the Cariboo’s landscape. The lake has a low flushing rate and together with the chemical composition of the warm shallow waters, creates a greenish hue giving the lake its name.

We stopped of at a number of areas to scan this large expense of water which turned out to be a real gem for birds. Several large flocks of Scoter could be seen which incorporated Black, Surf and White-winged, a pair of Long-tailed Duck, numerous Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Common Loon were all recorded. Also on view were Red-necked Grebe, Gadwall, Bonaparte’s Gull, plus Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer.

We arrived at Horse Lake, a place we’ve stayed before and one of our favourite stopovers with an excellent days birding in the bag. We managed to secure a lovely spot overlooking the lake and shortly after setting up we ended the day with a trio of Otters swimming past our window!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Long Day!

Western Tanager @ Brookside Campground
Today was going to be a reasonably long day as far as the driving goes. Having given up on the original Okanagan plan we took a direct route for an initial stop of Merritt 105kms, taking the main highway 97C west. From here our final destination for tonight’s stop-over would be the Brookside Campsite at Cache Creek a further 106kms.

Once we’d come off the main highway at Merritt we took the smaller and less busy highway 8 up towards Spences Bridge and it wasn’t long before normal service was resumed. Stopping off on several occasions to take in the stunning scenery our first Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, which I very nearly stepped on before it took flight, you can guess where my camera was! As we were enjoying a coffee a large hawk, very pale in colour dropped in to a nearby pine. I managed a few shots of the bird before it took flight and I’m hopeful it could be a Krider’s. A scarce pale Red-tailed Hawk variant, but further investigation is required.

American Kestrel
Other raptors before stopping off for lunch at Spence’s Bridge included American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture and at one point a Sharp-shinned Hawk darted past in pursuit of what looked like a Brewer’s Blackbird. Dee also managed Yellow-headed Blackbird as we passed by a small reed area.

Spence’s Bridge is where the Nicola River, which has followed us since leaving Merritt, meets the fast flowing Thompson River and is where we join highway 1 the Trans-Canada Highway through to Cache Creek. Here we had lunch overlooking the Canadian Pacific Railway which runs alongside the Thompson.

Over lunch we watch quite a number of Swallows, mostly Bank and Northern Rough-winged following the river downstream and my first ever Swifts in Canada, when at least 3 Black Swift flew through. A few Butterflies were also enjoying the gorgeous weather and Mourning Cloak, Clouded Sulphur and Comma were all recorded.

Wilson's Warbler
Highway 1 had several stops of interest, including ‘The Last Spike’ a plaque and display which commemorates the driving of the ‘last spike’ to complete Canada’s transcontinental railroad. The plaque overlooks Eagle River and here Dee spotted a Western Meadowlark singing away from a nearby post.

We eventually arrived at tonight’s stop-over at Brookside Campground, Cache Creek at around 4pm and while Dee was checking us in I managed several shots of American Kestrel, when one was perched nicely atop a power pylon. After setting up the electric and services, and quite handily parking next to the Wifi booster point, I went for a little exploration of the grounds.

Lenticular Cloud
This particular area is extremely parched and dusty with small forestry oasis, mainly Paper Birch mixed in. With the temperatures currently at 30C it feels more like 40! Sticking with the weather theme we were also treated to some unusual cloud formations this evening and pictured is the beginning of a rare Lenticular cloud. During my brief walk it wasn't long before what seems like the ever present Rufous Hummingbirds were whizzing around. An American Goldfinch was singing away and a stunning male Western Tanager was in a tree directly over the RV. Lots of smaller birds could be heard but were very elusive, however I did manage to pick out Spotted Towhee and Wilson’s Warbler.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cherryville - Kelowna

Western Kingbird
Prior to leaving the Gold Pan Campground Dee and I took a morning walk around some of the trails and down towards the Shuswap River. As the name suggests this is an old gold prospecting area, very fascinating and full of old prospectors memorabilia. Birds of note were: Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Varied Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, several soaring Turkey Vulture constantly harassed by Raven, plus Dee spotted a Garter Snake which slithered out in front of our path.

Shortly after Vernon and prior to heading south down towards Kelowna we took a side road and stopped off for lunch overlooking an old First Nation Reserve. As I was wandering around camera and binoculars in hand it was a bit of a shock to be confronted by two huge guys in a pick-up, who pointed out that this was a private reserve! After a brief chat and explaining what I was up to I was allowed to continue and told to 'Have a great day' by what turned out to be a couple of really nice guys. However, I still can't see where we took a wrong turn!! The reserve produced some good birds too with Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch and Western Kingbird.

Colourful California Quail
The drive south down towards Kelowna is beautiful and scenic and constantly runs along the Okanagan Lake. Unfortunately for Dee and I there were simply no stop off areas to explore the wildlife. In fact nearly all of the journey is residential with most of the lake views containing private residence, you get the impression it's all about real-estate! To compound our disappointment when we did in fact reach Kelowna the Campground was fully booked, over 178 RV sites and we ended up for the night in car park paying the same rate. Apparently this is the busiest campground in the whole of BC.

Skulking Spotted Towhee
Making the best of what we had we managed to at least get a place overlooking the lake and to be fair we always make the best of things and it wasn't as bad as it sounds. Sunday morning prior to making an early start I managed a walk alongside the lake and ended up with a good selection of birds which included: California Quail, Spotted Towhee, Killdeer, Common Merganser, Orange-crowned Warbler, Brewer's Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler and American Kestrel.

We made the decision to give up on the area and head back north-west and come in to Vancouver from the north, the original plan being from the south. To be fair the Okanagan is a very beautiful and scenic region and you can see why people are drawn here but for Dee and I we much prefer the wilderness!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nakusp - Cherryville

Common Loon
My usual early morning walk produced Dark-eyed Junco, Varied Thrush, Black-capped chickadee, Pine Siskin and the ever present Raven and American Robin. However, the best of the morning was when I was filling our waters tanks and the unmistakable buzz of a Hummingbird whizzed passed. Another Rufous was scurrying around in the morning sunshine; I’m always amazed how these tiny little nectar feeders survive so high up in the mountains!

Back on track and heading west for the Fauquier/Neddles ferry and then from here onwards into the Okanagan. This time the ferry crossing went according to plan and we made the brief 5 minute crossing without a hitch!

After disembarking at Needles we headed west on highway 6 encountering a few Mule Deer. Not a cloud in the sky we managed a number of Raptors which included Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture and Swainson’s Hawk.

Spotted Sandpiper
As per my last post regarding investigating the unknown we decided to pull off the main highway at one of the designated rest areas to have lunch. Here we found a track leading down towards a lagoon, just about big enough to take the RV. I have to say that the hour we spent over lunch was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding of the tour so far.

Out towards the middle of the crystal clear water was a stunning Common Loon, accompanied by a pair of Common Merganser. Over lunch we watched as firstly a Bald Eagle came in to fish, shortly followed by a pair of Golden Eagle. Each time the Loon would send out one his amazing calls and instantly dive for cover!
A short walk after lunch and prior to leaving this wonderful oasis produced of note; Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch and Spotted Sandpiper.

Brewer's Blackbird
As we progressed towards our overnight stop of Gold Pan Campground Cherryville, we encountered more Common Loon on the Kettle River, managing to film two birds as they dove and swam alongside the RV as we drove slowly by. Both American Kestrel a Merlin were also seen along the route.

Before parking up for the day at Gold Pan we decided to drive down the 30 or so kilometers into the towns of Lumby and Coldstream, mainly to make use of the free Wifi at the Visitor Centre. It was noticeable, having come down from higher levels, that the temperature had raised quite a bit and we were now in the dizzy heights of the high 20’s.

The drive down itself took us past an Ostrich farm; sadly no species tick on that one but what was noticeable was the amount of Brewer’s Blackbird in the area, they were literally everywhere!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mirror Lake- Nakusp

Solitary Sandpiper @ Mirror Lake
Before setting off on the next stage of our tour I took an early morning opportunity for another look at the top reed bed. The sun was just peaking over the mountain tops when I arrived and it wasn’t long before I discovered several Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrow and a lone Solitary Sandpiper in the muddy vegetation.

Also on view was a pair of Wood Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser. The surrounding Pine held White-breasted Nuthatch and perched on the overhead electric cables, my first Violet-green Swallows of this visit. Just prior to driving off a Killdeer landed directly opposite the RV and offered a nice photo opportunity.

Today we made a slight detour to our planned route and decided to head further south towards the US border. We headed down highway 31 which runs alongside the beautiful Kootenay Lake and at one stage stopped to take a look at an Osprey nest which was positioned atop a wooden pylon within the lake. Ordinarily I wouldn’t dream of disturbing any nesting birds but this was a designated stopping area and she was obviously used to the attention. After watching the female proudly sitting on her nest from the comfort of the RV and taking several photographs we left her in peace and continued on our way.

Osprey on Kootenay Lake
We eventually arrived at Nelson, a largish town on the Kootenay River and managed to take on a few more provisions and also take advantage of the FREE supermarket Wifi, another lesson for the UK. Dee and I decided at this point that this particular area, although beautiful, was too built up for our particular taste and so we made the decision to head back northwards towards Nakusp.

Taking highway 6 north we made a slow accent back into the mountains with some stunning views of Valhalla Park and Slocan Lake. Unfortunately the weather had now deteriorated and we encountered a number of snow flurries before eventually arriving at New Denver, having now completed a full circle. From here we continued on northwards until arriving once more at Nakusp and chose the Nakusp Hotsprings Campground for tonight’s stop over.

Although with stunning scenery all around it wasn’t the most prolific day in our journey with little wildlife to report and I suppose its one of the disadvantages of heading into the unknown. However, we used the same philosophy during our 2010 tour, heading away from our planned route and ended up discovering some stunning places, so if you don’t investigate you’ll never know. Having said that, the American Robins have been entertaining us this evening, ever the companion and a number of Varied Thrush with their amazing whistling calls have also been very vocal. The stars are also very stunning this evening and now there’s not a cloud in the sky!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Halcyon to Mirror Lake

Rufous Hummingbird at Mirror Lake
After breakfast alfresco at Halcyon we set off in glorious sunshine for Nakusp, our next fuel and provisions stop. Like the UK fuel has risen here exponentially, during our 2 months in Vancouver last year regular was 85Cents a litre, today we paid $1.35 and the fill up this time was in excess of $200.

A slight change to our planned route we decided to keep heading south towards the US border and take in some of the local parks and lakes. We took highway 31A a back route which skirts both Goat Range Park and Valhalla Park, eventually ending at Kaslo and the large Kootenay Lake. The scenery was once again breathtaking with a variety of small marshes, and due to the snow melt fast running streams gave us numerous opportunities to stop off and scan for wildlife.

Lots of Butterflies on the wing once again enjoying the warm spring sunshine and at one stop a Belted Kingfisher and Spotted Sandpiper were also recorded. Siskin were plentiful high in the Pine, and Raven is a constant companion forever cronking away high up in the mountains. Two Raptors today with Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk and our first Stella’s Jay of the tour, when one flew across the road in front of us.

Our First Coyote of This Trip!
Finally our first Coyote, when we found one searching a marshy area and flushing a large flock of Finches, unfortunately too distant for any positive ID. We watched him for a short while skirting the perimeter of the marsh before he disappeared empty-handed into the brush.

Some of the lakes here are still 80% frozen but a definite thaw is in progress and in the unfrozen areas Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Bufflehead could be found. Cliff Swallows are numerous, nesting in the rocky outcrops and during lunch we managed to pick out 2 American Dipper which kept flying low over the fast running water. Mule deer were also seen on one occasion but sadly despite terrific habitat in this area our search for Moose is still ongoing.

We arrived mid afternoon on the outskirts of Kaslo and found an overnight stop at the Mirror Lake Campground. A lovely spot which overlooks the Lake and which has an interesting reed bed at the top end, which begs investigation! An afternoon walk finally gave Dee the opportunity to enjoy her first decent look at Hummingbirds when we located at least 3 Rufous, buzzing around and looking stunning in the bright sunlight, mesmerising birds to watch!

A walk down to the reed bed mid afternoon produced a selection of waterfowl which included the usual Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser and on this occasion our first Green-winged Teal and lone male Northern Shoveler. Also seen were Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch and Muskrat, when one swam across the lake. To end the day Dee managed to pick out a hunting Osprey over the lake which we watched for a short while before he made off!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Golden to Halcyon

White-crowned Sparrow
Prior to hitting the main highway we paid a visit to a large lagoon on the outskirts of Golden that Dee and I had discovered on a previous trip in 2010. The area is a designated community nature reserve, something the UK should perhaps consider.

One of the reasons for stopping here was to look for Yellow-headed Blackbird, a summer visitor to this part of the country and which we hoped had arrived on site. We weren’t disappointed as several of these distinctive looking birds were visible, sadly within the far reed bed offering no chance of a decent photograph but terrific birds to watch. Marsh Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Bufflehead, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Great Blue Heron, and American Coot were also noted. Butterflies included Mourning Cloak, Comma and Azure Blue.

The road from Golden to Revelstoke is all new territory for Dee and I and is literally all main highway with very few stop offs to search for wildlife. The scenery is absolutely stunning as you pass through Glacier National Park and the road can be demanding too in places with many pot holes. At this height, around 1500 meters, the snow is still feet deep and you pass through a number of snow tunnels designed to divert avalanches, plentiful in this area.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Apologies for over exposure)
After stopping at Tim Horton’s (our favourite coffee) in Revelstoke after a 2hr drive we moved south on highway 23 towards Shelter Bay. Here we cross Arrow Lake by small ferry but unfortunately things didn’t go quite according to plan. With the main ferry under maintenance a smaller ferry was being used resulting in long delays. In fact some truckers had been waiting for over 6 hours as the ferry was only carrying 1 truck and 10 cars per crossing. We spent the time investigating the surrounding area, listening to the Raven’s constantly calling, watching an Osprey and Coopers Hawk drift over occasionally and I had the opportunity to get close up to a Brown-headed Cowbird.

Fortunately for us our wait was just over 2hrs and after boarding we docked some 30 minutes later at Galena Bay. The short journey across the lake is free, the scenery beautiful and we also noted a number of Gulls, mostly settled on the many floating logs which are carried up and down the lake by local logging companies. Ringed-billed, Herring and Mew were recorded, plus at one stage both Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture came floating over, the latter dwarfing the Eagle by a mile!

Ring-Billed Gull
The 15km drive to the RV Park gave me an unexpected opportunity to take several shots of a pair of Turkey Vulture which kindly landed atop a tree right in front of us, unfortunately directly in sunlight but I managed a few decent images, one shown in my previous post. We eventually arrived at our overnight stop-off Halcyon Hotsprings after completing our longest day, 235km. Although the wildlife mostly evaded us today another breathtaking journey with stunning scenery and a chance to chill out tonight with a nice meal and some Californian wine, and for the first time since Calgary, it’s raining.

Apologies to my reader for the delayed posts, Wifi and mobile signal in this part of the mountains is thin on the ground!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Radium to Golden

Western Meadowlark
As we were leaving Radium this morning on highway 95 we noticed a small group of individuals with binoculars and scopes near the rivers edge, and so of course decided to investigate.

We met up with a small group of local birders who immediately put us onto a nesting Great Horned Owl with a single chick. A real bonus we managed great scope views of the birds, which had nested high in the sand bank on the opposite side of the river. During our short stay we further managed Barn, Bank, Tree, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Osprey on the Columbia River
The drive from Radium to Golden is one of my favourites on the tour. Just over 100kms through the Columbian Wetlands with stunning scenery, beautiful lagoons and always in the company of the Columbia River and Canadian Pacific Railway. There are plenty of areas on route to explore and Dee and I spent most of the morning investigating.

More Mountain Bluebird and Ospreys were plentiful including nesting birds, which come back year after year to make use of the various nesting poles. A good selection of Butterflies once again and we’re now beginning to come across various Dragonflies, something else that will give me endless hours of ID bliss.
Bald Eagle, Merlin, American Kestrel, Coopers Hawk and the huge Turkey Vulture made for yet another raptor-fest.

Belted Kingfisher
Lunch was spent overlooking the wetlands and during our stop a trio of Belted Kingfisher were constantly bickering just below, along with several nesting Bank swallows. Just slightly out from our location was a summer plumage Red-necked Grebe. The lagoons naturally provide great habitat for waterfowl and a good selection were located: American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye. During one stop to check out a smaller lagoon, a Mousse could be heard calling not far from our location, but unfortunately we were unable to obtain any decent views.

The Handsome Turkey Vulture
Tonight’s stay in Golden was at the Eco-Adventure Ranch, a site we discovered during our 2010 trip. Four Hundred acre’s of natural beauty which nestles at the side of the Columbia River and is surrounded by high snow-capped mountains. We practically had the whole site to ourselves this evening, being only one of three RV’s.

An evening walk around the site and along the river had of note Northern Flicker, White-crowned Sparrow, Winter Wren and topped off with stunning views of Osprey fishing. Sadly no Black Bears this year, only recently emerging from hibernation it’s unlikely that we’ll encounter any at the lower levels just yet.

Golden-mantled Squirrel
Before departure to Revelstoke this morning (Tuesday), another walk around the Eco-ranch while Dee had lay in. I knew immediately as I emerged from the RV that I had another addition to the birding list. The wonderful song of the Western Meadowlark is unmistakable; it was just a case of finding him. In fact it didn't take long when I found him on the meadow happily singing away! Also of note on my early morning walk were Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler and a stunning little Golden-mantled Squirrel.

Banff to Radium

Sunrise @ Bannf
It was 6am and -5C when I finally decided to get out of bed and put the heating on. Lovely warm days and bitterly cold nights are the order of the day while were way up in the Rockies.

An early morning walk before breakfast produced some spectacular scenes with the sun just touching the mountain tops producing plumes of cloud rising against the amazingly blue sky. I’ve seen Ruby-crowned Kinglet on several occasions before in Canada, a gorgeous little migratory passerine with a striking ruby red crown, but I’ve never heard one singing. A song I was unfamiliar with turned out to be a lovely male perched high in a Pine Tree. Pine Siskin were also constantly flicking around and I was surprised to come across a Savannah Sparrow, when I located one sitting on top of a boulder, looking stunning in the morning sun and likely on passage.

Downy Woodpecker
We set off after breakfast towards our next stop of Radium Springs but diverted slightly to visit Johnson’ Canyon, a 3km walk which takes you up to some stunning waterfalls and small glaciers. One of the lagoons on route held a pair of Bufflehead and a lone Barrow’s Goldeneye but things were generally quiet apart from the odd Tree Swallow filtering through.

I have to say that the walk to the top falls at Johnson’s was treacherous on occasions with thick ice on the walkways, so Dee and went up with extreme caution. A little too early in the year for Black Swift which nest here but we did manage some good views of Varied Thrush, a summer visitor and a bird which has an amazing trilled whistle call.

Our next stop Radium Hot Springs and the only way to get to there is on the main highway so with exception to the various stunning lookout points and occasional Deer the drive through was uneventful on the birding front, with surprisingly few Raptors on the wing although we did managed Coopers Hawk and Bald Eagle.

Mourning Cloak
We parked up around mid-afternoon at the Canyon RV Park, an excellent campground we discovered during our 2010 tour. With it being so early in the season we even managed to get the same pitch which sits right next to a fast running brook, American Dipper can be seen regularly from our RV window!

After a few beers in the lovely spring sunshine Dee and I took an afternoon stroll, discovering a nice walk which runs parallel to the grounds. Here we discovered numerous Butterflies, including at least 30 Holly Blue, numerous Mourning Cloak, Orange Tip and several other varieties of unknown Blues and Whites, something for me to get my teeth into!

Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Pine Siskin, and our first Hutton’s Vireo and Orange-crowned Warblers were all recorded, along with the ever present American Robin.

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