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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fantastic Birding Along Highway 97

Location: Prince George, British Columbia
Population: 70,971

These first days are supposed to be filled with lots of driving, but so far they are ending up filled with lots of wildlife viewing as well. We're making a lot of short stops at viewpoints or points of interest, and today took two short hikes as well. With all the varying habitats we've traveled through, from semi-arid high plateau to farmland to pine forest, nearly every stop puts us in a different habitat which means there are different birds about. Today turned up an astounding 60+ species! A bucket load of them ended up being species for the year list as well, many of them birds I had down as potential but not guaranteed finds for the year, so it was an exciting day.

The day started out with a bang as from the breakfast table this morning we spotted a Lewis' woodpecker. I've only seen this species once before - I sought it out in January as a new life bird - so this was a spectacular find! Then, while loading the car, a western tanager (165) flew down out of the trees right into the grass in the parking lot - yet another good omen of things to come.

I hoping to maybe turn up some boreal chickadees on this trip as they would be a life bird for me, so when we stopped to look at an impressive geological formation showing various lava flows my years perked up when I heard an odd-sounded chickadee. It wasn't a boreal, but was a mountain chickadee (166)! Nearby I also saw mountain bluebirds and chipping sparrows.

Next we stopped at a series of lakes near 70 Mile House and 100 Mile House (towns named for their distance along the original gold rush trail which started in Lillooet). We saw a pair of barrow's goldeneyes, several spotted sandpipers (167), both red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds (pictured below), and the normal array of ducks. In addition to the usuals like wigeon, shovelers, gadwall, and mallards there were also a couple of redhead (168) and blue-winged teal (169).

At one point we had to loop back to check out what looked like a sandpiper standing on top of a telephone pole - never seen anything like that before! It turned out to be a Wilson's snipe. It seemed like kind of an unusual perch for a bird that's usually camouflaged among the grasses, but there was another one a little further along doing the same thing. Maybe it was a male, who is described as calling from a perch during the breeding season?

William's Lake turned out to be a birding hot spot. As soon as we reached the lake we spotted some American white pelicans (170) and a leucistic red-tailed hawk - the first of it's kind I've ever seen. Several species of swallows were flying over the lake, and our picnic stop at Scout Island turned up some singing yellow warblers and an abundance of Wilson's warblers (171):

After lunch we hiked some of the boardwalk trails through the marsh at Scout Island were we saw a common loon on its nest, a couple of red-necked grebes, and a pair of evening grosbeaks (172). I also heard a couple of soras (173) calling - a great find as I knew the spring was my only chance to pick up this otherwise silent and always elusive bird! The other impressive sight were all of the Canada goose goslings. There were families with young of different ages all over the marsh. The most ridiculous spot was this little area on the bank where it looked like, as one person described it, "an anthill of goslings". There were only 2-4 sets of parents in the area, but these dozens of goslings from multiple families were all mixed together into one big flock:

A hike near Quesnel turned up both warbling and Hutton's vireos, and the last bird species added today was a long-billed curlew (174) just a few miles out of town from our stopping place for the night. As amazing as the birding was today - a whopping ten year birds were added, leaving me just one species shy of my original goal of 175 - it wasn't all about the birds.

The coolest insect sighting of the day was definitely not the mosquitos (which weren't that bad yet but are only going to get worse), but rather this butterfly which I was later able to identify as a common alpine (Erebia epipsodea):

There were also two mammal highlights today. The first was a colony of about 15 yellow-bellied marmots near Clinton. These animals are also known as the rock chuck or the whistle pig:

And, I could hardly believe it, just day two of the trip but I already had my first bear sighting! We spotted this black bear thinking about crossing the highway, but it thought better of it and headed back to the hills, stopping only to take a bite out of the nearby shrubbery and take one look back behind it before disappearing into the trees:

Our stopping place for the night is in Prince George, home of the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars. I'm a fan of the Portland Winterhawks, which are also in the same league, and I have seen them play in 13 of the league's 22 cities. Needless to say, Prince George is not one of those 13, and after arriving here myself I cannot believe they travel this far by bus from Portland to play hockey! Not only that, but they're not doing it in the spring like I am, but in the dead of winter....quite a trek! Now I fully understand why teams play two games back-to-back while they're here, so they don't have to travel here as often.

One of the Hawks' announcers once said that Prince George isn't the end of the Earth, but you can see it from here. Well, I hope not! Tomorrow we press on a few hundred miles further to the north and will see the official beginning of the Alaska Highway.


Warren Baker said...

well if that lot is any thing to go by Monika, you're in for some real treats!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Leaving me standing now Monika! Just tallied up 37 new birds for us so far this trip but only seen warning signs for bears.

Keep travelling


Julie said...

birds and bears are cool but the marmots get my vote! i'm a sucker for the rodent types.

Monika said...

Warren - I'd say so!

Dave - We're having quite the adventures, aren't we?

Julie - The marmots were pretty darn awesome, and definitely the most unexpected!