Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It gets real

Clay-coloured Sparrow-Braden Road

That night became the development of my game plan. I had been emailing the peace river bird guru: Mark Phinney about locations to find birds and he had given me some good spots. Also he had arranged to take me to the Swan Lake Ducks Unlimited area where special access is required. It's his top pick for Nelson's Sparrow.

Meanwhile Russ Cannings was in Mackenzie and had volunteered to take me to a reliable spot for Willow Ptarmigan. I could stop there on my way back. He also gave me some reliable places to check for Upland Sandpiper.  With that I came up with the ultimate hail Mary game plan of epic purport ions:

Wed-Thursday would see me bust my ass birding like never before.
Friday I would meet up with mark and he would hopefully help me get Nelson's and Connecticut Warbler.
Saturday I would meet up with Russ for Willow Ptarmigan
Sunday would be me driving to the Okanagan
Monday I would attempt to see my last two Grassland specialties, Sage Thrasher and Grasshopper Sparrow before returning back to Vancouver.

 If it worked I would essential tick off all the specialty birds if it didn't I would have to let go of whatever Peace specialties I missed, as there would be no second chances.

I had managed to snag a spot at the Beatton Provincial Park campground, giving me a good opportunity for morning birding the next day. Sadly the rain made it more dreary than I imagined, and I failed to add any of the species I was hoping for. The skies looked a lot clearer south of Dawson Creek so I hit the road.

Russ had told me a good place to find Upland Sandpiper was Braden road. Being that it was a weekday morning the traffic seemed a bit busier than one would expect, semi trucks roared along it, to my immense displeasure creating an atmosphere most unpleasant and inconvenient when listening for birds.  The road itself goes quite a ways and eventually hits up with the highway towards Tumbler Ridge. There are plenty of fallow fields to pick apart though, the first of them were devoid of the Sandpipers I sought. Soon the road curved and came upon a flat stretch where the fields were filled with the headless stems of dandelions, recently gone out to seed.

Here I first heard the mournful cries of the Upland Sandpiper, their songs filled the field but spotting them was a bit more difficult, but with some patience i finally had a pair in my binoculars, they were doing flight displays. They would shoot up and circle a few times dropping back down. I estimated at least 5 but there could have been more, I was elated to witness these birds in their native grasslands.

I had missed the Upland Sandpiper that spent a few days at the sewage lagoons, I know the birders who saw it had better views, but being able to experience its calls and witness their courtship was definitely worth missing out on a rarity.

From Braden road it was on to Brassey Creek. Brassey has become a legendary hot spot in recent years for a lot of hard to find birds, but Brassey creek, at least the real Brassey creek is just as hard to find if you don't know what you are looking for. Being that I had only an idea of where it was, I google mapped it. Google map only gave me a Brassey road, so I assumed that would be where I should go. I figured wrong as it was definitely not the right location, I tried the road on the other side of the highway, that was a bad idea too as it lead me to a dead end and nearly getting stuck in the mud.

Dismayed I kept following the highway towards Tumbler Ridge, about 10 minutes further there was a road with a sign that said Brassey plant. Turns out this is the correct road, but because of the rain it had turned the dirt road into a puddle filled with jagged rocks. I decided to park my car, and just walk into the un-fenced deciduous woods.

As fate usually works in these situations it was a great decision, in the woods I found two Philadelphia Vireos! Finally! I fought the urge to get my camera lens wet and just admired these lovely birds, which soon grew tired of my pishing and went back into the canopy. The rain stopped and I did manage to take some pictures of a Myrtle version of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, who gave a great show fly catching from the lower branches.

Myrtle Warbler

Myrtle Warbler
On my way back to the car I heard a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and sure enough one was perched on a dead snag where some spruce trees bordered a marshy area.

I had it in mind to do a loop, continuing to Tumbler Ridge and end up back in Dawson Creek. Id never been to Tumbler ridge before so I had to tick it off my BC Towns list. I didn't expect that shortly after Tumbler Ridge the highway that loops back to Dawson would turn to Gravel for 50 km, but it turned out to be a good call as in one of the numerous bogs along the way I had my first views of a Blackpoll Warbler, and my first Boreal Chickadee. Also seen were a Northern Goshawk, and loads of those Tennessee Warblers I love so much. I was also hoping for Rusty Blackbirds, the habitat here fit them to a tee.

It was evening when I finally got off that dirt road near Swan Lake, I had come full circle and was back on the highway. Clouds were fading away allowing a soft warm light to shine down creating a serene mood. I took road 201, this time south of the highway, like I should have done before but was unaware of. Where the road curves I parked off the road and ventured onto an old trail filled with puddles, into the forest.

It was downright magical. The birds were all out in all their singing glory. Fox Sparrows, the eastern version had me totally confused, their songs a clear musical whistle, unlike the twisted chatters of the pacific version I am used to. Their clear notes ascended down from tree's and had me guessing as to where or who they were coming from, until I finally spotted one.

Redstarts were huge in numbers, darting back and forth along the trail, chasing each other, and chasing other warblers around. Speaking of warblers, I had Mourning Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Tennessee, Magnolia, Canada, and weird enough a Blackpoll Warbler, I wouldn't think to see one in a more deciduous setting. It was singing, and actively fly catching down low. Its song was like a low fat Orange-crowned Warbler. Two more Philadelphia Vireo's gave me impressive views as well.

It was an amazing place to be, fully surrounded by the birds and their beautiful songs. The amazement faded when I walked back to my car, apparently I was acting suspicious as a truck was waiting for me. A man dressed in I guess a blue oil company uniform asked why I was parked there.
I said "birding..:"
"birding? as in bird watching?" he replied
I said "yep"
I guess this is just something that happens up north, according to mark who I told this story to. People just think they should be in the know about what anyone is doing on a gravel road, maybe its because there have been pipeline bombings. Maybe its because if you have long hair and don't drive an ATV, you stick out like a sore thumb
Ah well
Ain't nobody gonna ruin a great day like I had today.

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