Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Flammulated Owls and a birding itinerary.

Dominic Cormier. Present. Tim Sneider. Present. Fueled up Nissan? Birding beers? Personal birding itinerary for the Okanagan written up by Russ Cannings? Check, check and check.

Let's get this party started!!!!!!!!!!!!

The summer is on, and so are the adventures! Me and Tim are working together in Revelstoke this summer but with some days off, it was time to hit the road in search of owls and whatever else Russ could get us on.

We drove into Penticton to crash at the Cannings' residence, a home that has seen its fair share of famous birders stay there, Steve Howell and Paul Lehman come to mind. Now it boasts two more birding luminaries after our nights stay.

Up at 4:30 we hit the road. Our first stop was Shuttlecreek Rd. where the Ponderosa Pine gives way to Larch/Spruce forest and a boreal feel. Lewis' Woodpecker and Pygmy Nuthatch were our prime targets and with little effort we saw both. Chilling with them were Western Bluebird, Western Tanager, Say's Pheobe, Spotted Towhee, Calliope Hummingbird and others. So far so good!

With high hopes we hit the more boreal zone, hoping to spy one of the most sought after woodpeckers in North America, the Williamson's Sapsucker. Quickly our luck ran out. Try as we might we could not find one. The splendid Western Larch remained void of sapsuckers. Tooting like owls, playing the calls, and scratching at trees with suitable nest holes did nothing. The day was getting on. It was time to switch focus. We had intel on a Boreal Owl box which needed checking. With deft skill I scaled the tree only to find the box empty, back to the Willy search. Finally I catch a glimpse of a female in the distance, but before I could get the scope it was gone. Frustration was setting in. After 6 and a half hours looking we conceded defeat.

Setting out further south we followed Russ' wise plans, adding Okanagan specialties like White-throated Swift, Canyon Wren, Black-chinned Hummingbird and Yellow-breasted Chat to our list.

Gray Flycatchers? No problem, we even found a nest!

In the hills east of Osoyoos, there is also the possibility of the White-headed Woodpecker, but with our luck so far with the woodpecker family we didn't linger long to search. Back up into the larch/spruce forest we were set on Great-gray Owl. And not just any one, but a nest.

Setting foot into the quiet forest we peered into the gloom of the canopy. After a false start or two there it was. And wouldn't you know but a baby Great-gray was even poking its head out of the top of the nest. Not many people have the fortune of witnessing a adult feed its young a mouse, but we were cashing in some karma coins and reaping the benefit. The female fed the young while the male continued his watchful vigil over the surrounding fields for more prey to feed the ever demanding young.

 "Preik". Whoa that sounded like a Williamson's Sapsucker! Could it be, and where's Tim? The woods remained silent. Finally I decide to go investigate. I quickly spot Tim beckoning through the forest. He had found a nest in a large snag and had watched as the male and female Williamson's switched incubation duties. Unfortunately, though I remained there for over an hour they did not reveal themselves. With dark setting in and still under the eye of the female Great-grey we left only to have the male delivering a parting call from within.

We awoke with hopes of a Black-throated Sparrow in the little sagebrush habitat that BC has to offer. Lark Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow reined supreme but we could not find the black-throat. With the wind howling we took shelter in a cave. One must always be weary when entering caves as they are seldom unoccupied. Thankfully this cave was not the front porch to a goblin city but a geocache and like a wise sage I left any future occupants a message.

In the end the quest was not in vain for Tim in fine form spotted us a Western (Pacific race) Rattlesnake. This particular one was an immaculate juvenile and we corralled it with great deft and cunning.

Ah but the itinerary kept us going ever onward, though no where did it say risk our lives climbing a massive cliff, which we of course did with great gusto and intense concentration when there was nothing but our own guts and glory between the top and potential Chukar glory and an impending death below.

We survived and even made it back to Penticiton where Dick showed us one of his famous Flammulated Owl nest boxes which happened to have a female sitting nice and pretty on some eggs. Incredible and quite surreal to climb up a latter, lift the lid of a box and see one of North Americas most elusive and tricky owls!

Sun burnt and weary we high-tailed it back to Revelstoke eager for our next adventures and the unexpected.

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