Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Okanagan day 1

April is always a weird month for me. Some migrants are back and some aren't. We rejoice at the first non Yellow-rumped Warbler, hope in vain for that first empid, try to turn one of those singing Purple Finches into a Vireo. The birds are on their way, but not soon enough. April is just waiting for May, and so am I.
On April 20th I headed out to the south Okanagan to add some of those early interior birds to my year list.

The plan was to leave Vancouver at 5am, of course a friends birthday and Jack Daniels happened to get in my way. So when that alarm went off at 5am, it was snooze, and when it went off again at 6am, again the snooze, finally i had the wherewithal to drag my lazy self out of bed at 7am. Its go time.

My first stop was Hope Airport, a legendary spot for rare birds, the winds were already quite harsh and it might have been a factor in the fact there really wasn't a lot of birds. I had a nice look at a hovering American Kestrel and not much else, so i booked it to Manning Park.

On the way I stopped at Sunshine Valley. This area has always held a mystique for me, an alluring small marsh along the highway nestled in between two mountain ranges, so picturesque one of those spots I always have to check out. I walked through a field absolutely filled with American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos and a few Varied Thrushes, and when I looked up I spotted 5 silent Snow Geese on their way to the arctic tundra.

I had now entered Manning Park, and as per tradition I saw my first Black Bear of the year. I'm so used to seeing Black Bears between April and May in Manning park that I cannot even remember the last time I haven't seen one.

Continuing on towards the Lodge I was surprised to see that it was closed, that's a first. I still turned in and drove towards the ski hill, I stopped a few times in hopes of hearing a Pygmy Owl or a Boreal Chickadee. Neither revealed itself to me, the snow was still quite high and the forests were silent other than a long Sooty Grouse hooting in some faraway tree.

After spending far too long sloshing about in the snow I gave up the search, and drove on to Princeton. From Princeton I took the scenic route along the old highway 3, checking the cliffs for Swifts and Wrens, and the Ponderosa Pines for Pygmy Nuthatches, coming up empty for either.

It was now around 12pm and still I hadn't added one new year bird, I hurried onward to Osoyoos, only stopping at Nighthawk Road. It was there I finally got a new bird, a Vesper Sparrow. These grasslands are one of my favourite places in B.C. i took my time sauntering through the Sagebrush, the sun was warm on my face, the wind was heavy, I scoped the plowed field across the nighthawk rd, I counted at least 15 Mountain Bluebirds, their bright blue shinning in the midday sun. Meadowlarks Chucked and Sang, and a few Red-tailed Hawks circled above. I was glad to finally have made it to the Okanagan.

One of my target birds on this trip was seeing a Dusky Grouse. The only place I'd ever seen one was driving up to Mount Kobau. This was back when Dusky Grouse was still Blue Grouse and it had been a lifer at the time. The road going up was a little hairy for my Camry but I managed to avoid a flat tire. a few Km's up I added a brilliant male Cassin's Finch to my list. Even further up I heard two Great Horned Owls, I followed their hoots into the forest but only managed to catch a glimpse of one flying off deeper into the forest.
I kept driving further and further up until snow covered the road, I decided it was better to turn around now and not risk getting stuck. A mass of Sandhill Cranes passed over as I turned around, at least 200.

The sun was just slipping behind the mountains as I made my way down Mt. Kobau Rd. Just before the highway i stopped to take some pictures of Wild Sunflowers, while taking pictures of them I heard a hooting coming from a tangle of willow brush on the other side of the gravel road. I did my best to quietly slide through the brush, the dry leaves scattered on the ground made this quite impossible. As I entered a clearing I came face to face with a male Dusky Grouse in full display. I reached for my camera but not fast enough as it flushed and flew off into the trees. I was dismayed I didn't get a picture but still a sweet moment of success.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Northern Saw-Whet Owl- Reifel Sanctuary

I'ts a little late to start blogging about my big year, hell I'm already 207 species in. I suppose after seeing a link to my blog posted a few days ago, and reading things I had written and forgotten years ago, I got to thinking perhaps for the benefit of just myself, I should be documenting this...here goes.

I will start off by saying yes, the rumors are true, I am doing a British Columbia Big Year. It happened on a Whim, it may have been a drunken new years resolution, I can't actually remember the point in time where I decided to do this, I guess it doesn't matter now, all that matters is yes, I am doing this. Somehow I must have decided that this year, as opposed to years past, or years in the future, was the perfect year for me. I haven't been the most dedicated birder in some time, and after dedicating the past 2 years of my life wholly and fully into my band, I figured I needed to take a break from it.

 Although now that I think about it, there isn't really a break, just putting my obsession with one thing onto another thing, in fact it may even be more work, never had to wake up at 5am to play guitar... But in all honesty this is something I have dreamed of doing, and so far its been a trip and a half to say the least.

So here we are the end of April and I'm sitting at a reasonable number of species seen so far(207). Doing the math and factoring in the amount of time I have, and the amount of species i have at least a 10% chance of seeing I figured out that 350 is an attainable but challenging goal. The record is held by wunderkind Russell Cannings, and its quite a remarkable record, because already in April I have probably spent more time birding this year than I have in the last 5...which is kind of sad, but ive lived a few different lives in that time.

Anyways, because I can't even begin to recount all that has happened this year, I will list my best memories so far, and going forward will try and be a better blogger...which isn't one of my strengths as anyone who reads the dates on my posts can easily see.

Northern Pintail-Reifel Sanctuary

January to April Birding:

- Seeing my lifer Gray Partridge. Years I had spent driving down Nighthawk road and traversing the sage flats around White Lake hoping to flush a partridge, and it never happened. Well I finally struck pay partridge and had 8 fly right up over my car along nighthawk road, it was an amazing sight.

- Waiting in the rain with Rob Lyske before work for atleast half an hour for the Brambling that was reported at a feeder in Vancouver, it showed up right before I had to leave. Gorgeous bird. Funny part of the story is I got a text from one of my friends asking if I had seen this rare asian finch, it turned out it was his yard! I could have watched from the comfort of his living room that whole time. Random.

- Frantically driving to New west before work in a snowstorm to see the now famous Red-flanked Bluetail. I managed to see it and get a record shot, all the while not getting stuck and making it to work on time.

Red-flanked Bluetail-Queens Park

-Making the trip out to Comox twice and getting skunked both times on the Citrine Wagtail. I saw it in November, but alas I can't trade months out in a Big Year. I did however see lifers Palm Warbler and Yellow-billed Loon. But man its still a tough pill to swallow missing it for my year.

- Looking for a Western Scrub Jay in New West again with Rob Lyske, and just as I was giving up Rob yelled that it was sitting right above my head.

- A day trip to the Sunshine Coast and arriving at Mission Point at the perfect moment where a Mass of Surfbirds/Black Turnstones and Rock Sandpipers had gathered. It was amazing to see all three at the same time, which I never have in Canada.

-Going back to where I began birding(Cranbrook) and meeting Diane Cooper, and seeing Greg Ross my birding mentor from when I was just 13. Seeing Three-toed Woodpeckers in courtship, Blue Jays, flushing a Lapland Longspur, was a great time just revisiting my old haunts.

Female Mallard Idlewild Park

-Getting attacked by a crazed Canada Goose at the Iona sewage ponds. Trying to flee I tripped over my scope, bent a leg on my tripod and fell getting a nasty gash on my hand, and my knee. Ok that wasn't such a great memory.

Those are just a few of the last 4 months, my next post will be about my second Okanagan trip and then the race back to see a Dickcissel.


Short-eared Owl - Boundary Bay Regional Park