Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Back to the grasslands

I made it to Oliver that night and crashed at a local campground. The rain had come in overnight and I didn't feel so good about my chances as I drove up white lake road, regardless I would still give it a shot. Russ had gone over some locations for the Grasshopper Sparrow and Sage Thrasher on google maps with me the previous night and I felt confident I would at least know where to look this time.

I pulled over on White Lake road at the famous S curve and started walking up the hill into the sagebrush. About 600 meters up there is a plateau where the sage gives way to a mini short grass prairie. Right there was a singing Grasshopper Sparrow!
Grasshopper Sparrow-White Lake
 In fact after a bit of looking I noticed there were three of them. It was almost ridiculously easy. I took time to enjoy the long looks I was getting, and listen to the raspy call, similar to a Savannah Sparrow but less musical more insectesque quality.

I returned to White Lake road and investigated the large sage tract on the other side. A Sage Thrasher had been seen recently here, and I listened for its song. My ears got a work out from the dozens of meadowlarks, chucking and singing from all over the grassland. There was a moment I swear I heard a warbled song from somewhere, resembling a Thrasher, but I could never pin point it. I figured I should check Nighthawk Road before it got too hot. The clouds were starting to break way to the desert sun.

From what I had been hearing there were a few Thrashers being reported from Nighthawk Road. The first one was right at the turn off, and then another by the famous big rock on the Elknik ranch side of Nighthawk Road. I began at the start, and while there were plenty of Lark, Vesper, Brewer's and even one Clay-coloured Sparrow, there were no Thrashers.

I kept up the search, all the way to the Elknik Ranch sign.
I preface this by letting the reader know that of all the birds in British Columbia, The Sage Thrasher has been my number one since I started birding. Many times I have been to the Okanagan, year after year hoping to catch a glimpse of what has become a mythical bird to me. Its always been a case of wrong place, wrong time, wrong season. Common sense would say May is the best for a bird like this, but no, its actually not, they are mostly encountered in early July. Why early July? Well its thought that they may be younger birds, or attempting to nest for a second time after failing further south in the Washington desert.

Sage Thrasher-Nighthawk Road

Today I could finally put all the frustration to rest. On either side of the road was a singing Sage Thrasher. There melodic warbling chatter bounced back and forth ping ponging between my ears. One was perched on the only deciduous shrub in plain view. The other actually on the Elknik Ranch sign, as I watched I noticed he was singing without moving its mouth, just his throat moved, like he was Yodelling. I couldn't believe I was witnessing these creatures I had dreamed of now sitting out so conspicuously singing, it was a magical moment.

I was sad to have to leave, but I did still have to drive home. I felt a new energy from all this success I had had at the end of my trip, I felt like I could just keep birding for another 12 days, if only I had more time.

This whole Peace trip will go down as the best birding adventure I've had so far. Not only did I hit every species I wanted, I got last two Okanagan species I needed as well. All of a sudden my needs list had shrunk down to 45 more birds. I was at 307, I think I began the trip at 268. I had expected to miss a few, it was only natural, but instead I got them all. Some birders must make a few trips to the Peace to get all the ticks. I was fortunate to have had the timing perfectly lined up, and the help of a few good birders, and a focus I don't think I've had before.

Birding for a day is one thing, but 12 consecutive days of tunnel vision is something not a lot of people can handle, in fact something I didn't even think I could. All and all it was a good way to end the first six months of this big year.

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