Sunday, July 5, 2009

B.C. Trip Part VII

June 18

Birding on the Selkirk Loop

It was our fourth day in British Columbia and a full day of birding along part of the International Selkirk Loop was planned. The scenic driving tour encircles the Selkirk Mountain Range and tours through the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Idaho. Mike at the Tara Shanti is involved with the committee of the Selkirk Loop and he provided excellent information for birding the area, including the Go Birding booklet 'Two Nation Birding Vacation'.

We travelled south along the picturesque 3A, reaching Creston in just over an hour.

After stocking up with supplies for the day we headed for the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, located 11 kilometres west of Creston on Highway 3.

The 7000 hectare (17,000 acres) site contains a variety of habitat for many animals and plants, including 280 bird species.

Entering the Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Jean spotted a small brownish bird repeatedly bobbing its tail. A phoebe. Wait a minute! We're in the west though. That's a Say's Phoebe! Lifer # 273.

At the entrance to the visitor centre a board listed the wildlife sightings of the day. Of interest to Jean and I, a pair of Cinnamon Teal, a western species of waterfowl we needed for our life list. The staff informed us that the pair were in the pond at the front of the centre, along with a Sora and its young. Scanning the pond we found waterfowl, a female Wood Duck and Mallard, both with young, but not the lifer we sought.

The staff provided us with a map of the WMA and upon seeing we were birders suggested we walk a loop that would take approximately 2 hours. It took this pair of eastern birders 4 hours to complete!

The GPS batteries were very low and I could only use it minutes at a time. I estimate we hiked at least 3.5 kilometres while exploring this section of the WMA.

Scoping the pond at the rear of the centre we ticked American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck, the lighting perfect for observing the "brown ring" on its neck.

Swallows were everywhere. Sharing space on the structure of the visitor centre were Barn and Cliff Swallows. The Cliff Swallows preferred to build their mud nests beneath the rafters of the picnic area.

Image by Bob

We walked along the Boardwalk Loop to the first observation tower and surveyed the waterways north of our location. A female Common Goldeneye with 8 young and a Great Blue Heron were seen.

From the Boardwalk Loop we continued our hike along the Marsh Trail.

Every nesting box we passed housed Tree Swallows raising their young.

A single note call came from the long grass to our left. The bird responsible continued to call out while remaining hidden. Jean and I patiently waited. It has to reveal itself sometime. It sounded like the bird was right in front of us but where was it? A Wilson's Snipe finally emerged from the grass taking fight and crossing the path behind us. Hidden from view once again it continued to call and would pop out of the grass a few more times.

Image by Bob

There were many Red-winged Blackbirds in the WMA and a slightly larger blackbird, one with a yellow head soon caught our attention. Yes, a lifer Yellow-headed Blackbird (#274). We spotted its mate and an additional pair as they flew back and forth across the trail, most likely nest building. The birds held material in their beaks flying in one direction and would return with their beaks empty.

The Marsh Trail turned left, running along a tree line. Yellow Warbler called from the trees and brush to our right. A flycatcher, a nemesis flycatcher, would fly from tree to tree ensuring its species remained a tough bird to identify. Its call was heard earlier this year and we were sure we had a Willow Flycatcher. Our persistence to identify the Willow Flycatcher led us to spot our third lifer at the WMA, a female Black-headed Grosbeak (#275).

We turned off the Marsh Trail, walking under Highway 3 to reach the Trans Canada Trail and a second observation tower overlooking the northern section of the WMA.

As we emerged from beneath the overpass a large flycatcher flew from its perch on a small tree to capture a flying insect across the path. When it returned to its perch we identified the bird as a Western Kingbird (#276). Our fourth lifer of the day.

Surveying a small pond north of the observation tower we spotted American Coot, Redhead and Blue-winged Teal.

No new species were added to the day's list returning along the remaining section of the Marsh Trail and Beaver Boulevard.

Image by Bob

During lunch at the centre we observed a beautiful male Rufous Hummingbird visiting the feeders hanging from the raised walkway. Before leaving the centre we scanned the front pond one last time.

In the distance I spotted a Killdeer and while trying to get it in the view of our scope Jean said, "There's the Cinnamon Teal!". The male and its mate were right below us. Sorry no photos. The reeds were quite dense here and capturing an acceptable image was hard to do. In addition to finding the lifer Cinnamon Teal (#276) we also got some good views of the Sora as it walked through the same area of the pond.

Ticking the 2 birds we could not find earlier was a great way to end our time birding the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. A total of 38 species were observed, 5 of them lifers. The best day of birding on our trip so far.

It was time for a change of scenery and habitat. We would continue west on the Crowsnest Highway with hopes of adding some alpine species in Stagleap Provincial Park at the summit of the highest all weather pass in British Columbia.

All images by Jean unless stated otherwise.

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