Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The wall has been hit

Lazuli Bunting-Tranquille
July is to birders what February is to seasonal affective disorder sufferers. Its as if someone were holding a remote control to birdsong and decided to hit the mute button. All of a sudden I;m walking through quiet forests that 2 weeks ago were deafening with songs of all kinds. This has a terrible affect on the psyche. Its almost like I want to Hibernate until September.

So this weekend I felt a bit clueless as to what I should be doing. Should I spend the weekend shore birding? Should I visit the alpine? I still needed that pesky Green Heron that had managed to avoid me at every turn. So many possibilities but I chose another excursion to the interior. My choice was an easy one as a late report surfaced of a Black-throated Blue Warbler in Princeton.

I arrived in Princeton that evening with enough light to check the deciduous groves along the trans Canada trail. The orange light falling on the cottonwoods cast a warming calm. There wasn't much out but I did manage to catch a Black-Swift whipping through the skies.

In the morning I returned hoping for the rare warbler. I was kept busy by a family of Bullocks Orioles. Lazuli Buntings, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers were all busy feeding nestlings, but alas no Black-throated Blue Warbler to be seen.

Bullocks Oriole-Princeton

From Princeton I took the scenic road that cuts straight through to Summerland. Its about a two hour drive but definitely more peaceful than the highway, as long as you are ok with a large part of it being gravel. The birding was decent, I kept Pygmy Owl on my radar, but intently welcomed Cassin's Vireos, Macgillavrays, Wilsons, and Yellow Warblers. Dusky and Pacific Sloped Flycatchers. Where the road entered a cool lush canyon several Veery's were foraging out in the open, green caterpillars dangled from their mouths. 

From Summerland it was up to Dee Lake near Winfield. Its quite the drive up into the mountains, further than Beaver Lake, along the same road though. I was there because of a report of a family of Rusty Blackbirds. I spent a bit of time at the private resort but could not find any, skunked again...

So I was 0-2. I checked out Roberts lake, finding very little in Shorebirds. Two Sempipalmated Sandpipers, 1 Western and 1 Least. A few Wilson's Phalaropes, I could not locate a Red-necked reported days earlier. There weren't even any Avocets. Afterwards I booked it to Kamloops where I decided my final destination of the day. The last two options I had for new birds were Prairie Falcon and Sharp-tailed Grouse, not easy birds by any means.

 The heat of the day was finally wavering, radiating back up into the cloudless sky. I was west of Kamloops in an area called tranquille, and tranquille it was. I spent a good amount of time scoping the rocky cliffs along Tranquille rd. A herd of California Bighorn lazed about at the base of  the cliffs, while a few White-throated Swifts cruised above. Every sign of whitewash I could find I scoped, finding a few nests with nothing in them, and no sign of Prairie Falcons.

Lac Du Bois

The fields to the end of the road were fully flooded, Great Blue Herons were lined up as well as Ring-billed Gulls, all along the fence line. Where a deciduous grove bordered the fields it harboured a variety of birds including Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Lazuli Bunting, and Black-capped Chickadee. The surprise bird was a Cassin's Vireo, in uncharacteristic habitat.
Lazuli Bunting

Black-capped Chickadee

I followed a road branching off Tranquille road up into the hills of Lac Du Bois. These were some impressive grasslands, I was soon out of the car and wandering through them in the pale dusk light. Along a trail I began photographing Wildflowers along a ridge, every time I would get involved in my photos, I would hear a rustling of feathers and wings. I kept standing up and surveying the area but could never find what it was. Finally i followed the sound, my mind could only revolve around the possibility of Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Mother grouse

Walking across the hill I finally found what had been making the noise, 4 shapes were perched low in a Saskatoon berry bush. I jumped too quickly to the Sharp-tailed Grouse conclusion, when I first saw them they sort of resembled them, but then i noticed the 4th shape was a lot bigger, and realized this was a family of Dusky Grouse. As I approached the 3 youngsters flew off into the grass, but the Hen was unperturbed and let me get some photos while she continued to pluck berries into her mouth. I was a little dismayed as my hopes were dashed for the Sharpie, but Dusky Grouse aren't all too common a sight for me either. I headed down the hills back to Kamloops satisfied.

It was dark and I was saddened to discover that the Wal mart in kamloops does not take kindly to overnights in the parking lot...this was a first. So I drove along Lac-du Bois road looking for a place I could stay, along the way I saw a bird fly up off the road, it was rail sized I thought. I kept driving and noticed 2 more, these ones were still on the road. I got my binocs and gasped as I was staring at two Burrowing Owls! I would see 2 more making it 5 that night. I tried the best i could to see weather or not they had leg bands but under these lighting conditions it was not possible, so I cannot count them as they were likely part of the reintroduction program. Too bad, but still wonderful to see, and the first Burrowing Owls I've seen in British Columbia.

In the morning I spent a few more hours checking for Grouse and Falcons, but could not find either. I then turned towards home, it got hot fast and I did little birding other than taking the Quillchena way back to Merritt and checking around Nicola Lake area as well. This would mark the first time I had returned home empty handed an entire weekend. The wall has been hit, there are few easy birds left and at 310, getting to 350 will likely take the rest of the year, the only chance I have left to add big numbers in one trip is my Pelagic in September, but until then I will continue to slug it out, the best I can.


Dusky Grouse

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