Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Have binoculars will travel

Barn Swallow

Last weekend I was excited to be able to stay local. It seemed like I had been on road trip after road trip, and while I love travelling through this beautiful province there's something to be said about relaxing at home after a long day of birding. Not to mention the comfort of a warm bed instead of the cramped backseat of a Toyota Camry. Of course all this changed Thursday night. 

A White-faced Ibis was reported from Wasa Lake near Cranbrook, also Black-necked Stilts were seen the next day, as well as Forster's Tern had been observed at their only breeding location; Duck Lake. 
Now seeing as I had only 2 more weekends left in May before I have to go to California for 2 weeks it seemed like those close to home locales would have to wait a little longer. 

For once I was up early..really early, I guess I'm starting to get in the swing of things, I only hit the snooze once. It was nice to drive those first two hours of Highway 1(easily the most boring part of any drive) out of the way before sunrise. When the sun did come up I was already up into Manning Park. Again as per tradition I had already seen two Black Bears...well one Black and one Cinnamon. 

Black Bear

Cinnamon Black Bear-Manning Park

At Manning Lodge the birds were singing like they were on Broadway. Townsend's Warblers gave a good show from the freshly leaved alders, Ruby-crowned Kinglets were scattered around the fir trees. I couldn't resist taking some pictures of The hordes of Columbian Ground Squirrels that have turned the picnic area into their own personal golf course. 

Lil' Fatty

Columbian Ground Squirrel

I pushed on knowing if I dawdled the sun would be breaking through the clouds and start to put these birds to rest. In Princeton I checked my email to see that a Sage Thrasher had been reported at Iona. Blast! This seemed to happen every time I left Vancouver, some crazy rare bird would be reported, and I would have to tell myself not to regret my decisions. 

Nighthawk Rd. Near Osoyoos was sparrow central. Savannah, Vesper, and my first Brewer's were all calling from the Sagebrush. 

Vesper Sparrow

Further up Richters Pass I had a Singing Lark Sparrow. At Spotted Lake I had 3 Willson's Phalaropes twirling around in the water below. A Rock Wren sang from the outcrop of the highway, and a gorgeous Bullocks Oriole flew over Spotted Lake into some shrubs. To the grassland across highway 3 my ears pricked up when I heard an insect like trill. It sounded like a Savannah Sparrow, but a little different, my initial thought was Grasshopper Sparrow!

I ran across the highway and down the embankment, praying for the bird to call again, It did, and flew up onto the power line...I fixed my binoculars on it but the way the sun was hitting I couldn't get a good look, all I could see was that its breast wasn't streaked like a Vesper or Savannah Sparrow. I fumbled with my scope to get a look but by the time I had it ready, I looked back up at the wire and the bird was gone. I assumed it flew back across the highway to Spotted Lake. I dashed back and spent another 20 minutes waiting, but sadly I couldn't locate it. Was it a Grasshopper Sparrow? I don't know, its one of the few Okanagan species that's always eluded me, so I have not the experience to know if it was or not. And with the sun now fully beating down, perhaps i just had some sort of hopeful delusion mixed with wishful thinking.

I didn't make many stops after Spotted Lake as all bird activity had ceased with the 32 degree weather. I did however make a few stops to check flooded fields, and shallow ponds in hopes of Stilts. Dianne Cooper one of my birding spies texted me she was looking at 4 Black-necked Stilts at Wasa Lake, I was just about in Creston and I figured I would have time to get the Forster's Tern and book it to Wasa for the Stilts/ 

And that would turn out to be a mistake, because even though I grew up in Cranbrook somehow the fact that it is an hour later than Vancouver. Doh. 

The Creston Valley Management Area was pretty quiet. The absence of waterbirds was odd. Yellow Warblers incessantly sang from the willow trees, and a real Western Wood Pewee was flycatching from the Cottonwoods. 

I drove down Kootenay River Road. There were reports that a small puddle had become a magnet for shorebirds, including some Stilts. On the way I came across this guy.

What a brilliant belly
This Western Painted Turtle was just chilling in the middle of the road, maybe sunning himself. I figured I best put him down in the grass before someone else came driving by and wasn't as considerate as me. Off on the grass I hoped he would move on to greener pastures..literally. 

The small puddle in the Farm field lacked the Stilts I wanted but it still hosted a number of wader. 2 Solitary Sandpipers my first of the year stood at the edge, while Least Sandpipers hung out in the dried up mud. Wilson's Phalaropes and Long-billed Dowitchers rounded out the shorebird troupe. 

On to Duck Lake. Channel Road, the road that leads 7 kilometers to Duck Lake was pretty rough and I'm lucky I didn't bottom out. The sun was starting to dip behind the tallest mountains when I finally made it to the end of Channel Road. I expected to be surrounded by Forster's Terns, but as I scanned the Lake, and the Marsh, I realized it didn't look good. I asked another birder if he had seen any but he said he hadn't. 

Sora's started calling as it sunset became dusk, and no Forster's terns appeared. Red-necked Grebes were making their awkward calls from out on the water, while Eared Grebes were decked out in breeding plumage from the marsh. It seemed hopeless but I remembered how I had seen Forster's Terns from a pullout on the highway to the Kootenay Lake ferry. There are a few places you can look down and scan Duck Lake and Kootenay Lake, so I hustled to the car to make one last furtive attempt. 

At the pullout I strained and squinted as the days last light faded, but there were no Terns on the lake, i had gone all out and bust, dejected I decided to drive to Cranbrook and sleep. That way I could do as much birding in Cranbrook before noon, then head back to Vancouver, making another stop in Creston for the Terns.

Day 2:

The older I get the harder it is to sleep in a car. I stretched and strained as i got out in the morning, ready for another whirlwind day. Elizabeth Lake at dawn was lovely and brought back many memories, how strange to be back in Cranbrook for only a few hours. Eared Grebes were very close to shore giving me great looks, while Yellow-headed Blackbirds machine like calls echoed through the marsh.

Parallel Grebes

Yellow-headed Blackbird

King of the Cattails 

At Wasa Lake, the pond the stilts had been seen in was vacant. They had probably kept on keeping on, I believe they move on to to Alberta where they next, but could also be offshoot from the population in Washington. Either way, this nice weather we have had really doesn't keep these birds down for long. 
It was beginning to look like this weekend was an egregious mistake, I moved on to the Irrigation fields where a Ross' Goose had been reported a day earlier.

The Irrigation ponds held a huge variety of waterfowl, basically everything but Ross's Goose, it was also light on shorebirds. I did however find a nice singing Clay-colored Sparrow singing from a fence. This has always been the best location for me to find Clay's. Shortly after I heard the mournful call of a Long-billed Curlew. One touched down in a field of flowers right next to the road. 

Long-billed Curlew

My last stop before I had to make the journey back home was Reade Lake. This year it had already hosted a handful of rarities including the only Tufted Duck seen in BC this year, I'm still kicking myself for not chasing that bird. I was here because I had heard reports of Stilt and Ross's Goose a week prior. It was a last ditch effort because I had all but written off these birds sticking around for any length of time. 

So when I saw the group of Snow Geese at the far side of the lake my heart skipped a beat, because if the Snow Geese had stuck around, maybe the Ross's had too!
I fixed my scope on the flock, there were 8 Snow Geese, one was a blue phase..and then there was a smaller goose, off to the side,  pure white face, small bill...small was a Ross's Goose!!!
I was filled with elation, maybe more so than any bird I've seen this year, because well...if I hadn't seen it this whole trip could easily been called a waste, but when it seemed hopeless there it was! Not only was it a good rarity for the big year, also a BC lifer.  What a weekend.

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