My wife Rachel and I were on our first birding trip to British Columbia. We had our two young children with us, so our time in the field was limited, and when out we probably missed quite a bit through being noisy and frequently distracted. We still managed to see plenty of birds, but we could definitely have done with a third week, for a more relaxed pace, and the chance to look at more sites. We didn’t want to come home, in other words!
We flew Gatwick - Vancouver on Zoom Airlines — a Canadian equivalent of Easyjet, but we found them pretty good. The practicalities of birding in Canada are easy — good roads, plenty of accommodation etc.
For site information we used "The birders guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland" published by the Vancouver Natural History Society, ISBN 1-55285-207-5. This is good, but doesn’t cover sites outside the Greater Vancouver area.
For further afield, we relied for ideas on trip reports, tour group itineraries and other information from the internet, and contacts made through http://www.birdingpal.org/britishc.htm and http://www.birding.bc.ca/. A big Thank You to those who emailed me, and to those who take the trouble to write trip reports. I hope this one helps someone too.
May 30th — Arrive Vancouver, where we will be based until the 4th. No birding aside from a brief stroll around nearby Vanier Park, opening the account with Bushtit, Bald Eagle, Wilson’s Warbler, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird…
May 31st. Stanley Park. Lakes, tall forest, and coast (inc. cliffs with breeding Pigeon Guillemots) — all in the middle of town. The Aquarium is good too — as long as you don’t have a problem with the ethics of keeping cetaceans in captivity. Highlight — a close Red-breasted Sapsucker.
June 1st. Jet lag belatedly kicks in, and the planned morning at Reifel Refuge is abandoned. Instead we spend the afternoon at Iona Island sewage works and vicinity. A good site, and reputedly outstanding during wader passage, but note the "birders’ gate" has a combination lock. We were lucky in meeting another birder (and you don’t see many) who was just leaving and gave us the combination (now forgotten). Others would be advised to ask a local birder for the combination before they visit, as the best pit isn’t visible from the road. Outside the sewage works, there’s a lake that’s good for ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, amongst other things.
June 2nd A morning at Cypress Provincial Park. Forested mountainside, still snowy at the top. The viewpoint (large car park halfway up entrance road) deserves a special mention as its very good for scanning the treetops — plus our only Anna’s Hummingbird was here. Further up, Blue Grouse were heard but not seen.
June 3rd — Minnekhada Regional Park — forest and wetlands about an hours drive east from Vancouver. A lovely place, but it was a very hot day, so we didn’t get very far round it, and probably didn’t do it justice. On the way back we called at the Maplewood Conservation Area, which is the best site for Ospreys and Purple Martins in the Vancouver area. Both nest on wooden structures out in the estuary.
June 4th — caught the ferry from Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay (Vancouver Island).
The sea is quiet for birds in June, but there were plenty of seals and a sea lion.
Checked various seawatching sites around Victoria’s coastal "scenicommondrive" in the afternoon (see http://www.birdinfo.com/birdroute001.html), but none was better than the one nearest to the town centre — Clover Point. Our first Harlequins!
June 5th — Clover Point again, then Beacon Hill Park. The latter was mainly for the kids but has some birding potential. In the afternoon we drove through the rain to Port Renfrew — quite a contrast — huge forest and wild coastline. And when the rain stopped it was magical — Ospreys, Bald Eagles, divers, scoters, murrelets, Harlequins and a Caspian Tern in the bay.
June 6th — Botanical Beach, nr Port Renfrew. We found the famed rock pools a slight anticlimax, and the trail down through the woods was quiet. But we had great views of an otter on the beach, Steller’s Jays, and the only Common Murres of the trip. Later we drove back to Sidney, in preparation for catching the return ferry on Monday morning.
June 7th — returned to the mainland and drove east to Manning Park. With hindsight, it was a mistake not to have a look at Boundary Bay before leaving the Tsawwassen area — it was our only decent chance of seeing some shorebirds. Instead we opted to scan the south side of Burns Bog — but failed to find the bog, let alone any Sandhill Cranes (there are apparently easy resident Sandhill Cranes at Reifel Refuge, but they sound of dubious tickability). We stopped for lunch in Hope, where we saw our only Raccoon of the trip.
Manning Park Resort is a slick commercial operation that (ahem) won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it is the only accommodation within park boundaries (and the park is huge, perhaps as big as Dartmoor?), and there are plenty of good birds in the immediate vicinity e.g. very tame Clark’s Nutcrackers around the picnicommontables. There are plenty of trails to explore. For birders, Beaver Pond is essential, otherwise take your pick, and try not to surprise a bear.
June 8th. Spent the morning at Manning Park, then drove approximately another 200km
east to Osoyoos in the Southern Okanagan Valley. The area has wetlands, thickets, open dry conifer forest, mountain and desert habitat — as well as a lot of vineyards and fruit farms. Birders could easily spend a week here. There were quite a few sites we didn’t have time for (e.g. the Camp McKinney Road out of Oliver, which was recommended).
June 9th. Birded in the Osoyoos area — mainly Road 22 and the dykes leading off from it (about 5km north of the town — essential) and Haynes Park (tiny but quite good, on the south side of town). Highlights — a Beaver lumbering across the track, lots of Orioles, Catbirds and Bobolinks (proper male Bobolinks, mind, not the dowdy skulking things that turn up on the Scillies), and the general variety and ease of birding, which came as a relief after coniferous forests, which can be tough going.
June 10th. We were in a semi-desert region — so of course it rained for most of the day. Visited the north end of Vaseux Lake — renowned as an excellent area, but the adjacent forest has been damaged by recent fires. Later, stopped at Okanagan Falls for American Dipper, which duly appeared in under 5 minutes, and drove up to White Lake (like a Sagebrush version of moorland), where we saw Western and Mountain Bluebirds, but no Long Billed Curlews.
June 11th. Morning around Osoyoos, including at "The Throne", a big rocky outcrop at the end of Road 22 (take Meadowlark Rd to a small car park). Then drove back to Manning Park. Stopped en route at the Rocky Mountain Goat viewpoint between Hedley and Keremeos. No goats (probably on higher pastures by June) but had excellent views of a Common Nighthawk flying about calling, at 3 o clock in the afternoon.
June 12th. Morning at Manning Park. Returned to Vancouver in the afternoon.
June 13th. A final morning at Stanley Park, spent mainly in the playground. Lowlights — the Totem Poles, because a) it was an overcrowded tourist trap, and b) I didn’t get my bins onto the large woodpecker that flew over (almost certainly a Pileated, given the habitat); also, England’s last minute defeat to France in Euro 2004, which happened just as we arrived at the airport.
SP = Stanley Park
CP = Clover Point, Victoria
PR = Port Renfrew
MP = Manning Park
Ok = Okanagan / Osoyoos area
VL = Vaseux Lake
Pacific Loon Gavia Pacifica 2 CP, 1 PR
Common Loon Gavia immer fairly common around coast.
Also 1 calling on Osoyoos lake
Pied-billed Grebe - various sites
Red-necked Grebe - several pairs on large lakes in Ok. Not seen elsewhere
Western Grebe - 5 on Osoyoos Lake, from Haynes Pk
Double Crested Cormorant - some on sea at Iona, some Clover Point
Pelagic Cormorant - common
Great Blue Heron - common near coast but not in Ok valley
Mute Swan - SP only
Canada Goose - common
Wood Duck - common
Mallard - common
Blue Winged Teal - several Iona and SP
Cinnamon Teal - 2 at Iona , also seen Road 22
Shoveler - plenty at Iona, not seen elsewhere
Gadwall - common
Redhead - several at Road 22 , VL
Ring-necked Duck - 1 Iona, several on VL
Lesser Scaup - 1 Iona
Harlequin - a pair at Clover Point, half a dozen at PR, odd ones on rivers inland
Oldsquaw (aka Long-tailed Duck) - 1 Minnekhada
Surf Scoter - fairly common offshore
Barrows Goldeneye - 2 at lake en route to MP
Common Goldeneye - female with chicks at MP
Common Merganser (Goosander) - common
Ruddy Duck - common
Turkey Vulture - 1 PR
Osprey - common
Bald Eagle - common, and tame by large raptor standards. Around coasts, in SP etc.
Northern Harrier - 1 Iona, 1 Road 22
Coopers Hawk - 1 Cattle Point, Victoria, another probable at Maplewood Conservation Area
Red-tailed Hawk - common
Golden Eagle - A pair near Osoyoos
American Kestrel - common in Ok, not seen elsewhere
Ring-necked Pheasant - heard only , Ok
Blue Grouse - a male by the roadside at Manning Park . Heard at other sites e.g. Cypress Pk
California Quail - common in Ok
American Coot - widespread but far less common than European Coot is at home
Semipalmated Plover - 4 at Iona
Killdeer - common
Black Oystercatcher - common on rocky coasts
Spotted Sandpiper - common
Whimbrel - 1 at Tsassawen ferry terminal
Snipe - 2 Road 22 — is this "Wilsons Snipe" ?
Mew Gull - A few at Iona
California Gull - CP, and Osoyoos lake
Glaucous-winged Gull - common
Caspian Tern - Fairly common offshore. Biggest concentration was at Iona
Common Murre - Some offshore at Botanical Beach, PR
Pigeon Guillemot - common
Marbled Murrelet - odd ones offshore from Vancouver Isl. Small, and difficult to get good views of from land .
Rhinoceros Auklet - plenty offshore from CP
Rock Dove - Ok (+ plenty feral pigeons in Vancouver)
Band tailed pigeon - a few in forest areas, but not common
Mourning Dove - Common in Ok
Vaux’s Swift - most at Lost lagoon, SP and Iona
White-throated Swift - VL and The Throne, Ok
Common Nighthawk - 1 at Mountain Goat viewpoint , Keremeos
Black-chinned Hummingbird - Ok
Anna’s Hummingbird - 1 Cypress Pk. Meant to be resident in Beacon Hill Pk, Victoria, but none found there.
Calliope Hummingbird - fairly common in Ok
Rufous Hummingbird - common
Belted Kingfisher - widespread, half a dozen sightings
Lewis’ Woodpecker - 1 at VL. We were told these are much scarcer than usual this year.
Red-naped Sapsucker - common in Manning Park
Red breasted Sapsucker - Fairly common around Vancouver
Hairy Woodpecker - widespread. A pair nesting in MP Lodge picnicommonarea allowed very close views.
Three toed Woodpecker - Several sightings in MP
Northern Flicker – common in drier, more open habitat
Western Wood Pewee - MP and Ok
Willow Flycatcher - MP and Ok. Also saw various flycatchers we could not identify
Hammonds Flycatcher - MP
Say’s Phoebe - 1 Road 22
Western Kingbird - common in Ok
Eastern Kingbird - common in Ok
Purple Martin - a small colony uses nestboxes at Maplewood . Not seen elsewhere
Tree Swallow - common
Violet Green Swallow - common
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Iona, MP, and doubtless elsewhere
Bank Swallow riparia riparia - Iona, and a colony at the Desert Heritage Centre, Osoyoos
Cliff Swallow - widespread but not as common as tree or violet-green swallow
Barn Swallow Hirondo rustica - common
Gray Jay - 2 at Strawberry Flats car park. Very tame.
Steller’s Jay - 2 PR, 2 VL
Clark’s Nutcracker - Plenty around MP Lodge, and a few sightings in Ok
Black-billed Magpie Pica Pica common in Ok
North-western Crow – common at coast
American Crow – common in Ok — but looking more or less identical to Northwestern to me. I heard the different call, honest.
Raven - common
Black-capped Chickadee - common
Chestnut-backed Chickadee - common
Bushtit - common in Vancouver parks, but not seen in forests
Red-breasted Nuthatch - calling birds widespread, but only seen twice
Brown Creeper - common
Rock Wren - "The Throne" only
Canyon Wren - heard only, at The Throne
Winter Wren - many wrens heard, but only one seen - in SP
Marsh Wren - not the commonest but the easiest to see
American Dipper - 1 at Ok Falls
Golden Crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa- A family in SP. 1 MP
Ruby crowned Kinglet - widespread but difficult to see well
Western Bluebird - several in Ok. Easiest way to see this species is to look for distinctive slotted nest-boxes.
Mountain Bluebird - 2 males and several females/immatures at White Lake
Townsend’s Solitaire - 3 , MP
Swainsons Thrush - widespread but not easy
Hermit Thrush - widespread but usually at higher elevations than Swainsons
Veery - 2 singing at VL, one conveniently in a bare tree. The song is quite strange, like something you’d hear in a tropical rainforest.
American Robin - abundant. The most frequently seen passerine
Varied Thrush - eerie song widespread in wet forests. Only 2 seen, both in Cypress Pk
Cedar Waxwing - common
Starling - common
Orange crowned Warbler - 2, PR
Yellow Warbler - 1 MP , common in Ok
Yellow-rumped warbler - 2 MP, 1 Beacon Hill Pk
Black-throated Gray Warbler - SP, Cypress Pk
Townsend’s Warbler - 2 , both in MP
Yellowthroat - fairly common. An excellent bird.
Wilson’s Warbler - widespread — possibly these were late passage migrants ?
Nashville Warbler - 1 in Ok
Western Tanager - 2 Minnekhada, 1 VL
Black-headed Grosbeak - fairly common
Lazuli Bunting - 1 singing male at the Throne
Spotted Towhee - common
Chipping Sparrow - MP, Ok
Lark Sparrow - 1 Black Sage Road, Ok
Savannah Sparrow - Minnekhada, Road 22
Song Sparrow - common. The easiest sparrow, found near water
White-crowned Sparrow - fairly common
Dark eyed Junco – common in mountains
Bobolink - Road 22
Red-winged Blackbird - common
Western Meadowlark – common in Ok
Yellow-headed Blackbird - Iona , and common in Ok
Brewers Blackbird - common
Brown headed Cowbird - common
Bullock’s Oriole – common in Ok. Very striking
Pine Grosbeak - several sightings in MP
Purple Finch - around Vancouver
House Finch - common
Pine Siskin - flocks in Cypress Pk and MP
American Goldfinch - Iona, and common in Ok
Evening Grosbeak - 1 in MP, which landed in a tree next to the playground, much to my delight
House Sparrow - common
Green-backed Heron - silhouette of small heron in flight seen at Stanley Pk
American White Pelican - back view of a dozen v large white birds flying over Osoyoos lake, when I didn’t have my bins on. Drat.
Greater Scaup - group offshore at Iona, just a bit too far away to confirm
Vesper Sparrow - Ok. Views inconclusive.
Pileated Woodpecker - large woodpecker f/o in SP
We don’t really know our mammals but the list below will give you a rough idea. N.B. there are plenty of companies offering Orca-watching trips from Victoria, but we didn’t pursue this.
Black Bear - MP, nr Beaver Pond.
Beaver - Road 22
Muskrat - Road 22
Porpoise Sp - from ferry
Seals - common
Sea lion sp - very large, with beige body , from ferry
Various chipmunks and squirrels
Ground Squirrels - abundant and tame around MP Lodge
Snow-shoe Hare (?) - rabbits with white legs and feet, anyway, in MP
Another Rabbit sp - Victoria
Otter - Botanical Beach
Raccoon - Hope
Mule Deer – common in MP
Other deer sp (White-tailed?) - Ok, VL
Yellow-bellied Marmot - MP and Ok
Monarch, and misc. other nice large butterflies
Purple Sea Urchins etc – common Botanical Beach
Rattlesnake - being radio tagged at Desert Centre , Osoyoos
Film Crews on location - 3 in 2 weeks. They must have a lot of channels to fill in Canada
Conspicuously absent from the above list.
Owls — lots of species possible, but had neither the opportunity to search for these at dusk, nor the detailed gen required to find daytime roosts.
Shorebirds — again, made no serious efforts to find these, but the few mudflats we scanned held nothing but herons and gulls in June. Going in spring or autumn would be a very different story.
Vireos — don’t know if they are scarce or just inconspicuous, but I was surprised that we didn’t see any.
Ah well, we’ll be back someday.