Saturday, June 17, 2017

British Columbia 2017

My last birding trip away from Nova Scotia was back in 2014 when I spent two weeks in England where I gathered 72 new species for my life list. Ontario, Florida and British Columbia were options for this year's trip since I have friends in those places, and therefore a free place to stay. I decided on BC since I had never been farther west than Windsor, Ontario, and because I would get more lifers there than in Ontario. I decided against Florida at this time because I thought it was important that I get to see more of our country.

May 20, 2017
I dipped on a King Eider at Cow Bay in the morning and then headed to the airport. I chose window seats for both sections of my flight. I watched below as we passed the Annapolis Valley, the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan and stopped looking once we passed Mount Desert Island in Maine and headed inland - I probably wouldn't recognize anything after that.

Annapolis River and Belleisle Marsh, Nova Scotia. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I saw the CN Tower before landing in Toronto. Upon landing I made my way to the gate for my next flight and soon we were off again, I watched 3 episodes of Breaking Bad on my phone and opened the window cover. I had never seen the Rockies before and they did not disappoint.

The Rocky Mountains somewhere east of Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

My first lifer was a Northwestern Crow from the plane's window as we were landing. Previous to the trip I had calculated from eBird that I had the chance of getting about 70 new species, but assumed I'd miss about 10.

I made my way to Rory O'Connell's house in Vancouver with my Volvo rental which was a free upgrade from the Toyota Yaris I had actually bargained for. I had attended UNB with Rory and hadn't seen him in 9 years.

Rory O'Connell and me. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 21, 2017
The next morning I headed straight to Iona Island (hotspot), near the airport, an eBird hotspot with the potential of having quite a number of species that I wanted to see. I got Spotted Towhee and Marsh Wren on the side of the road before even reaching the hotspot. I walked around a bit seeing things like Glaucous-winged Gull and Yellow-headed Blackbird and ran into Cole Gaerber, a very talented young local birder. Cole and I birded together for a bit which resulted in brief sightings of Vaux's Swift and Rufous Hummingbird and a distant view of a few Cinnamon Teal. There were a number of pugetensis White-crowned Sparrows singing. They have pale lores and a yellow bill, unlike our leucophrys which has dark lores and pinkish bill. The gambelii subspecies of White-crowned is a regular vagrant to Nova Scotia, but pugetensis doesn't stray far from the Pacific coast.

Spotted Towhee at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
White-crowned Sparrow, Z.l. pugetensis with white lores and yellow bill, at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Marsh Wren, C.p. browningi which breeds from s.w. BC to w.-central Washington, at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Later that day I drove down to Boundary Bay, seeing Brewer's Blackbirds around the farms on the way, and ended up at Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal (hotspot) where I picked up Black Oystercatcher on the beach and saw my first big Great Blue Heron colony, a heronry of hundreds of nests.

May 22, 2017
I picked up Siobhan Darlington at her brother's place in West Point Grey and we headed across Vancouver Harbour to the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area (hotspot). I had previously met Siobhan in the Annapolis Valley where she and a coworker were doing swallow surveys. We did a quick loop around the area and saw Western Tanager, Purple Martins and a Willow Flycatcher. There is a feeder at the entrance to the forest where we happened to meet with Rob Lyske who showed us Black-headed Grosbeak and pointed out my first singing Warbling Vireo and Orange-crowned Warbler. We tried for Black-throated Gray Warbler, but none were singing.

Black-headed Grosbeak, Maplewood Flats, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
After Maplewood, we headed to Lonsdale Quay, which was suggested by Rob Lyske, to see the Pigeon Guillemots.

Pigeon Guillemot, a species very similar to our Black Guillemot, at Lonsdale Quay, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 23, 2017
I made my way to Vancouver Island on the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. A Pelagic Cormorant flew by giving me my best views of the trip, but otherwise, the ferry trip was uneventful with species like Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot but I did get bad views of California Gull and Rhinoceros Auklet.

Pelagic Cormorant on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Once on the island, I drove to Victoria to drop off my things at Siobhan's and went to Clover Point where I was surprised to find a Harlequin Duck. I did get somewhat better views of Rhinoceros Auklet and Glaucous-winged Gull, or some sort of Glaucous-winged Gull x Western Gull hybrids. Ronnie d'Entremont had kept reminding me to go to Esquimalt Lagoon (hotspot), so I made sure to make the short trip there from Victoria. I arrived at the lagoon as the wind picked up to about 50 km/h; the parking lot dirt was flying everywhere. I got some better photos of Black Oystercatcher and California Gull and was excited to find a second-cycle (seemed to have started primary moult) brachyrhynchus Mew Gull.

Adult California Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
First-cycle/second-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Second-cycle brachyrhynchus Mew Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Black Oystercatcher at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 24, 2017
I stopped in at McMicking Point long enough to get distant views of a Pacific Loon, about 108 Rhinoceros Auklets and a fly-by Black Oystercatcher. I was hoping to get Brandt's Cormorant or one of the murrelets, but you can't win 'em all. The next stop was Goldstream Provincial Park (hotspot) for American Dipper which I got within minutes of stepping out of the car. These birds are like nothing else. They are North America's only aquatic songbird, catching all of its food underwater. It is strange to see them flying low above the stream and suddenly plunging in. I got good looks of an Oregon Junco and heard what sounded very similar to a Mourning Warbler - it had to be a MacGillivray's Warbler. I did get to see it after a while. Other sounds at the park were Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Wester Wood-Pewee, Wilson's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler and Wilson's Warbler.

American Dipper at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Dark-eyed Junco, J.h. shufeldti, at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
MacGillivray's Warbler at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I then made a quick stop to Swan Lake (hotspot) near Victoria for Violet-green Swallow and Bewick's Wren. The wrens were very vocal and actually quite easy to see compared to our Winter Wrens. That evening I met up with Michael Bentley at Clover Point (hotspot) in Victoria. Michael has an ABA Listing Central Canada Life List of 540 species, which puts him in 2nd place, 6 behind Roger Foxall. Michael had contacted me a few months prior to see if he could participate in a pelagic trip that Ronnie d'Entremont is organizing in August 2017. This trip will be the first of its kind. It will be the first time that a group of birders will visit the continental slope near Nova Scotia in Canadian waters. There have been research trips to this area, but nobody has ever chummed. There is the possibility of megas like Audubon's Shearwater, Barolo's Shearwater, White-faced Storm-Petrel and Black-capped Storm-Petrel. If the trip is successful, Michael could boost his Canada list and approach or pass Roger Foxall.

Bewick's Wren at Swan Lake, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 25, 2017
I met with Michael Bentley near Goldstream and we drove north to Goldstream Heights Drive (hotspot) where we had Hammond's Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Cassin's Vireo, Stellar's Jay and Townsend's Warbler. We spent most of the time listening so I don't have any photos that are worth showing.

Michael Bentley and me on Goldstream Height Drive. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I left Michael and headed north to Nanaimo and took the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. I was chatting with a girl on the ferry who was just getting into birding when she pointed to a bird flying past the bow. It was a Parasitic Jaeger! Begginers luck. I ended up seeing one more before the end of the ferry ride. I had seen Parasitics before, but never this close.

Parasitic Jaeger on the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I left the ferry terminal and drove up to Cypress Provincial Park to the viewpoint overlooking Vancouver.

Cypress Provincial Park lookout. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 26, 2017
I walked through the section of Pacific Spirit Park (hotspot) north of W 16th Ave and the place was full of Pacific-slope Flycatchers. I briefly saw a Hutton's Vireo and got to record the songs of Pacific Wren, Wilson's Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak and Pacific-slope Flyctacher. I then visited the nearby Camosung Bog (hotspot) and got better views of Hutton's Vireo and Bushtit.

Hutton's Vireo at Camosung Bog, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Bushtit at Camosung Bog, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 27, 2017
I left Vancouver and took Highway 3 towards the Okanagan Valley. I hadn't expected to be driving kilometre after kilometre without cell service or even FM radio. The amount of forest on the stretch of road through the Cascade Mountains is impressive. I stopped alongside the road to see what I could find and luckily heard the only Varied Thrush that I would get on the trip. I assumed that I'd see more, but didn't. I stopped at the highest point on Highway 3, about 1400 m, at Allison Pass (hotspot) and got good looks of a Townsend's Warbler. I stopped in to Lighting Lake (hotspot) in EC Maning Park to eat and got Clark's Nutcracker and my first photos of a Steller's Jay.

Townsend's Warbler at Allison Pass. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Steller's Jay at Lightning Lake, EC Maning Park. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
From EC Maning Park I drove north of Highway 3 to Swan Lake (hotspot) in Priceton where there were Western Meadowlarks, Western Bluebirds and a Caliope Hummingbird.

Caliope Hummingbird at Swan Lake, Priceton. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
That night I stayed at the Samesun hostel in Kelowna. It was an alright place, but it was fairly big with a lot of people and more noisy than I'd like.

May 28, 2017
I met up with Ann Gibson, a friend of Michael Force, at Robert Lake (hotspot) near Kelowna. The water levels had been dangerously high in the area lately and were still high at the lake. This meant that the shoreline was closer as were the birds. I got full-frame photos of Cinnamon Teal and Wilson's Phalaropes.

Cinnamon Teal at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Wilson's Phalarope at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Ann Gibson and me at Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Ann knew of a Swainson's Hawk nest near Kelowna, and we spotted the bird quickly as it watched from the top of a telephone pole. She then showed me Beaver Lake Road (hotspot). This was one of the best places that I visited during the entire trip. There were Western Meadowlarks, Lazuli Buntings, California Quails and Western Kingbirds. Later that day I made a quick stop at Robert Lake again and got Eared Grebe and returned to Beaver Lake Road to get photos of the birds we saw there in the morning.

Eared Grebes at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Meadowlark on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
California Quail on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Lazuli Bunting on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Wood-Pewee on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Warbling Vireo on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I decided to change hostels and booked a single room in Penticton at the Hostel International for May 29. This would be closer to the remaining spots I wanted to hit in the lower Okanagan Valley.

May 29, 2017
The Vaseux Cliffs (hotspot) are a must see if you visit the Okanagan Valley. I immediately spotted a Golden Eagle and was surrounded by White-throated Swifts as I looked up at the cliff face. It took a bit of driving around and listening to hear Canyon Wren and Rock Wren and I didn't even get to see either. Although, I did have a Rock Wren at my house back in May 2012. I noticed there were a number of birds with their mouths open panting in the heat. The maximum temperature each day during the 5 days that I spent in the Okanagan Valley was 35 degree Celcius. I was drenched in sweat and I had an air-conditioned car!

Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Golden Eagle at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
White-throated Swifts at Vaseux Cliff. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Black-billed Magpie at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Cooper's Hawk at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
The White Lake Grasslands Protected Area (hotspot) west of Okanagan Falls is sagebrush habitat that is home to the nationally endangered Sage Thrasher. Its range in British Columbia is restricted to the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. The Canadian breeding population is about 6 to 36 birds, most of these are in BC (Cannings 2015)

White Lake Grasslands Protected Area. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Endangered Sage Thrasher at White Lake. Photo by Alix d'Entremont. 
Brewer's Blackbird at White Lake. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 30, 2017
I travelled 17 km of the Shuttleworth Creek Road (hotspot) near Okanagan Falls and added Lewis's Woodpecker and Mountain Chickadee to my life list and was able to get a few photos that I wanted. I had seen a pale Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax back in 2012, but it was great to see the adult males of the species. They would definitely stick out in Nova Scotia. I took quite a few photos of a Dusky Flycatcher on the road. I had twitched the one in the Annapolis Valley in 2014, so it was interesting to see one in its habitat.

The song of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee are fairly distinctive, but I hadn't studied those of Hammond's and Dusky Flycatcher enough before the trip. I had to brush up on them while I was in the field and get some recordings to confirm I had them correct. That is one thing that you can never do enough of - listening to calls and songs before a trip like this.

McKinney Hill Road, Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Dusky Flycatcher on Shuttleworth Creek Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler on Shuttleworth Creek Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I had contacted Avery Bartels a few months ago to plan exactly where to go during the trip. His help was exactly what I needed and was very much appreciated. One of the stops that Avery suggested was a place in Oliver where Black-chinned Hummingbird is regular.

Black-chinned Hummingbird in Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
My only successful twitch in British Columbia was at Haynes Point Provincial Park (hotspot) where a Clark's Grebe was hanging out with the regular Western Grebes. I got to see both species in the scope and was able to compare them. They were much too far for photos. After the grebes, I headed to McKinney Road (hotspot) in Oliver to get Gray Flycatcher. I did see the bird well and noted the tail movements (slow downward wagging) and how it perched and hunted very low unlike other flycatchers that I've seen. I did not hear the bird, but got many photos. The Gray Flycatcher's range has been expanding northward and it first nested in BC in 1986 and only breeds in the Okanagan Valley and most choose the transition zone between Ponderosa Pines and shrub-steppe grasslands (Webber 2015).

Gray Flycatcher on McKinney Road in Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 31, 2017
I drove back to Vancouver again through Highway 3 and EC Maning Park, but stopped in a few places on the way and got better photos of Mountain Chickadee, Clark's Nutcracker and Western Tanager. I stopped to see an old classmate and her family in Langley. It was great seeing her.

Clark's Nutcracker in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Mountain Chickadee in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Tanager in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
An old classmate and her kids in Langley. I believe this is my first selfie ever. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

June 1, 2017
Jason Dain, a birder from the Halifax area in Nova Scotia was in Vancouver for work, so we got together in the morning and went to Delta (hotspot), south of Vancouver, to look for the Bar-tailed Godwits that had been reported there. We didn't see those, but did get to see a Western Sandpiper, although it was quite far. Jason has photos of it on the eBird Checklist. We then made a quick trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary (hotspot).

Rufous Hummingbird at Reifel. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I was still missing Black-throated Gray Warbler so I made a late day trip to Maplewood Flats (hotspot), but couldn't locate one. This warbler species along with the Black swift were my only remaining species that should be fairly easy to get.

June 2, 2017
I returned to Delta (hotspot) the following day since another person had reported that the Bar-tailed Godwits were still present there on June 1. I again dipped on the godwits, but got to see 5 Western Sandpipers, but the looks were still less than favourable. I tried Burnaby Lake (hotspot) for Black-throated Gray and missed that one as well.

June 3, 2017
I still needed Black-throated Gray and Black Swift, and I was determined to get them. I visited Maplewood Flats (hotspot) for a third time and finally heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler in the canopy. I got horrible views of it, but was happy to have found one. I finally made it to famous Stanley Park (hotspot) and walked around for 1.5 hours. I was about to open the car door to leave when I caught the shape of a swift circling high. It was a Black Swift and was the last "easy" species that I needed.

Concluding Remarks
I ended the trip with almost exactly the amount of lifers that I thought I'd get. The total was 59. These are all listed below in chronological order.

# Species
1 Northwestern Crow
2 Spotted Towhee
3 Rufous Hummingbird
4 Vaux's Swift
5 Glaucous-winged Gull
6 California Gull
7 Cinnamon Teal
8 Brewer's Blackbird
9 Band-tailed Pigeon
10 Black Oystercatcher
11 Black-headed Grosbeak
12 Western Tanager
13 Pelagic Cormorant
14 Pigeon Guillemot
15 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
16 Bushtit
17 Anna's Hummingbird
18 Rhinoceros Auklet
19 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
20 Pacific Loon
21 MacGillivray's Warbler
22 American Dipper
23 Western Wood-Pewee
24 Red-breasted Sapsucker
25 Bewick's Wren
26 Violet-green Swallow
27 Townsend's Warbler
28 Steller's Jay
29 Cassin's Vireo
30 Hutton's Vireo
31 Hammond's Flycatcher
32 Pacific Wren
33 Clark's Nutcracker
34 Western Meadowlark
35 Western Bluebird
36 Pygmy Nuthatch
37 Calliope Hummingbird
38 Black-billed Magpie
39 Wilson's Phalarope
40 Bullock's Oriole
41 Lazuli Bunting
42 Red-naped Sapsucker
43 California Quail
44 Eared Grebe
45 Canyon Wren
46 White-throated Swift
47 Golden Eagle
48 Brewer's Sparrow
49 Sage Thrasher
50 Cassin's Finch
51 Mountain Chickadee
52 Lewis's Woodpecker
53 Black-chinned Hummingbird
54 Clark's Grebe
55 Western Grebe
56 Gray Flycatcher
57 Western Sandpiper
58 Black-throated Gray Warbler
59 Black Swift

As I write this (June 17, 2017) I am in a three-way tie for 7th place in eBird for species seen in Canada during 2017. I'm sure I'll be pushed down fairly quick, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

eBird Top 100 eBirders in Canada for 2017 - June 17, 2017.

I had a great time and would recommend a similar trip. A birding trip to BC should include the Okanagan Valley without a doubt. For me it was the most unique place that I saw and had the most interesting species. Thank you to all that gave me information before the trip and to the people that I had the pleasure of meeting during my stay there.

Cannings, R.J. 2015. Sage Thrasher in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [17 Jun 2017]

Weber, W.C. 2015. Gray Flycatcher in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [17 Jun 2017]