Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beautiful BC

Sunrise near Clinton

If there is one major takeaway from this year, it would have to be that British Columbia is even more amazing than I ever knew it to be. It was this fact that would stand out in my mind after my five day long BC Holiday weekend.The plan was simple enough: All out attack. There were still holes to be filled in the interior, birds that lay in the back of my mind taunting me. Prairie Falcon, Rusty Blackbird, Ptarmigan both Rock and White-tailed.  And oh there was that Sharp-tailed Grouse, how they vexed me so.

As was becoming the norm, Friday I struck out after work on that familiar highway, Treo is loving my business this year. Thankfully traffic wasn't as bad as I imagined for a Friday of a long weekend, and I managed to make it to Clinton by 10pm. I stayed at my old haunt, the rest area north of town. On the drive up there had been a terrific lightning storm causing me a bit of dread, both because I am scared of lightning, and the fact that it could cost me some birding if the heavy rains were to continue through the morning.

I woke up pleased to find the sun shining through the clouds, it felt like it was going to be a good day. My plan was to take Meadow Lake Road off highway 97 through to Dog Creek Road, then along Churn Creek protected area in to Alki lake and then Williams Lake, although technically its only about 200 Kilometers its a dirt road almost the whole way, so it takes a good amount of time to do the drive. Not far into the drive I had my first Grouse of the trip, a female Ruffed along the side of the road, a few of her chicks poked their heads from the shrubs behind her.

Ruffed Grouse

There were plenty of birds along the first part of the road, most notable being two separate pairs of Merlin's as well as American Kestrels. I kept a steady eye on the farmland and grassland patches for Sharp-tailed Grouse, and after coming down a hill I exclaimed, thinking I had finally found one, only to realize it was an almost full grown Dusky grouse juvenile, I found his mother shortly after clucking away at me.

Meadow Lake Road

Meadow Lake Road

Churn Creek

As I approached Dog Creek the Cliff Faces started to appear and I intently scoped them out managing another pair of Kestrels, but no Prairie Falcons. I had seen an Ebird report of a pair seen at a nest somewhere in these cliffs, but an exact location was not given. I carried on until driving underneath the largest bluffs to be found along this road, it had to be the location.

A Northern Harrier glided along the lower bluffs, while I checked every little crevice that had white wash coming out from it, a few White-throated Swifts cruised overhead, and then I heard a lough "Kreee Kree Kree Kree" It could only be a large Falcon! Frantically I scanned with my binoculars, finally catching sight of a medium sized raptor, it had something in its talons and was circling below the bluffs. Another Falcon called from the cliffs, it must be delivering food to its babies, the shape was good for Prairie, but I needed more than just a silhouette, finally it hit into the sunlight and I could see its brown back, and buffy streaked undersides, Prairie Falcon!

Sadly instead of keeping on the bird I tried to get my scope on it, and in the process lost the bird, and could not find where it had gone into to drop off its meal. Regardless I was extremely relieved to have this species crossed off the list, I carried on through the huge grasslands along the Fraser river, the scenery was outstanding, even more outstanding were the number of Vesper Sparrows along the road, i would imagine there could have been thousands, but at least every km I would flush about 50 off the road. With them were Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Eastern kingbirds, and even a heard of California Bighorns.

California Bighorn near Churn Creek

Churn Creek Bridge

Finally I reached Williams Lake, by this time it was 1pm and dreadfully hot out. I picked up a few supplies, and set out east along highway 20 towards Bella coola. My destination would be Tweedsmuir park, I planned on hiking to the rainbow range the next day in search of Ptarmigan, hopefully Rock, but would accept a White-tailed. There were reports of Northern hawk owl and Rusty Blackbird in the area for the previous month, and those were my other targets.

Cows are given free range along highway 20, and often are on the road

For anyone who has never done the drive, if you ever do, be prepared for two things: A complete lack of cell reception from just outside of Williams Lake for the rest of the drive, and that there are few gas stations, or other amenities along the way, so its good to fill up when you can.  The drive itself is scenic, and wild. I felt more isolated from the world here than when I was further up north, there is not a lot of traffic, and there aren't the same kind of industrial/resource developments happening, its just forest, fields and mountains the whole way. I would recommend any nature enthusiast visit.

I didn't make it to Tweedsmuir until almost sunset, I stood in a burnt out forest at the trail head marvelling at the sheer quietness, the dead trees were filled with families of Mountain Bluebirds, Chipping Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Junco. I also found a family of American Three-toed Woodpeckers having at a tree, they were all hammering away and it sounded like an old fashioned pop corn maker.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

When I returned to my car I jumped as I noticed a Red fox sniffing my tires, when he noticed me he jumped too, and took off into the forest. As darkness came I went to bed anxiously awaiting the sunrise.

Sunset at the Rainbow Ridge trail head

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