birding-aus Canada trip report 6 months late (long)

To: <>, "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: birding-aus Canada trip report 6 months late (long)
From: "Trevor Quested" <>
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 18:02:22 +1100
Trip Report. Canada May June 1999

This report is more our impressions and experiences than a formal report.

We arrived in Toronto, Ontario after 21½ hours and two airlines from Sydney,
Australia, at 8.30pm.  We arrived at our Downtown B&B and went out for a
coffee and see if we could pick up a few local traffic tips by watching the
locals.  Next morning we were picked up by Ron Orenstein from Mississauga
and given a tour of the city.

It wasn't long before we were in High Park and ticking off a few lifers.
When one spends time showing visitors from overseas rare Aussie birds, it is
very satisfying to tick utter trash birds.  Canada Goose - tick, Purple
Martin - yum yum, tick.  And so it went.  Time was running out so off we
went to the CN Tower for lunch.

Ron had been to Australia studying birds and knew many older Sydney birders
and we had a lovely lunch on a perfect day with a splendid view from our
revolving floor. He had just returned from Point Pelee and whet our appetite
with a warbler list.  After lunch he took us to the car rental place and let
us follow him to get on the 401 South.

"Keep on the right" was the mantra we chanted for the next four weeks.  Will
Russell from Wings had booked us into the Comfort Inn at Leamington and so
was the Wings Spring Migration tour with leader Jon Dunn.  At the coffee
stand at 5am the next day we met Jon and he said we could join the group for
the day.  What a day it turned out to be.

We drove to the Point Pelee National Park, parked and before we could go to
the Tip, Jon heard a Mourning Warbler back along the road so back we went.
After a futile search of the undergrowth it was discovered 20 feet up in a
tree.  The scope was quickly onto it and after the group looked so did Annie
& I.  Whacko! It was very nice.  Jon related the relevant identification
points.  He seemed to know an awful lot about warblers...

Point Pelee.  Here we were.  This was a place I had heard about and the
stories were of birdwatching as I had never experienced.  There were so many
birders.  They seemed so happy!  We certainly were.  Here is a list of my

1) The number of birdwatchers.  We were taken to the Tip in a motor driven
train with two carriages. The trains ran every 20 minutes from the Visitors
Centre to the Tip and they were mostly full.  Once we couldn't get on, as we
weren't quick enough.

2) The gadgets.  Oh I saw some fine cameras, lenses, binoculars and scopes.
No tape recorders.  I'm sure most had a good one but it was a no no at Point

3) The birds. North American wood warblers are so cute. We saw 17 species in
two days.  I think the Prothonotary Warbler came close to being the
 "perfect" bird. But then I saw the sun on the back of the Cerulean,  and
then a few male Blackburians were seen, and a few smart male Canadas...

4) The staff.  Such knowledge from so many.  There was an expert to answer
every birding question, you could put your name down for a bird tour, or ask
where a particular species could be seen.

5) The Visitors Centre shop was one of the best bird bookshops around.
There were book signings (Jon Dunn spent two periods signing his new Warbler
book, and Tom Hince signed his.)   The title is A Birders Guide to Point
Pelee (and surrounding region), by Tom Hince, May 1999. Retail is about $25
Canadian or $20 US. Right now it is available from the Friends of Point
Pelee (519) 326-6173, Pelee Wings (519) 326-5193, a bunch of other places in
Ontario, and likely in the very near future from ABA sales. It will also be
available for sale via his website

6) The trails were so maintained we were very impressed.  The marsh
boardwalk and observation towers were the impressive engineering feats.  The
picnic sites throughout the park were located in slightly different

7) There were volunteers running at food stall beside the Visitors Centre so
one could refuel and keep birding.

By about 11am on our first morning we had been around a few trails and were
going back to the car train stop when word spread that a Ross's Gull was at
the Tip.  A warm glow spread within us as we surged back to the Tip. By the
time we arrived, a strip of telescopes spread across the start of the sand.
The vibe was the best.  I knelt down next to a Brit and asked for a look
through his scope.  There it was.   Not a pink one but hey, who's picky? I
had just saved the airfare to Churchill.

Buoyed by this we adjourned to lunch at one of the park's excellent picnic
sites.  Jon Dunn pointing out new birds constantly interrupted our
sandwiches. Best of these was the Red-headed Woodpecker.  Neat birds.  After
lunch it was back along a new set of trails and more new birds.
After dinner we returned to the park to see the dusk flight displays of the
American Woodcock.  What a show!

Day Two.  Back to the Tip.  More trails and new birds.  Better views of the
Ross's Gull through Jon Dunn's Leica telescope.  News that someone had full
frame photos of the gull.
Throughout the time in the National Park we kept meeting other groups and
the leaders were all very friendly and information exchanged for each other'
s benefit.

After lunch we accompanied Jon and the group to Harrow Sewer Farm.  What a
spot!  We saw waders in breeding plumage that are extreme rarities to
Australia. Jon laid on a feather by feather talk on the differences between
the Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers.  They looked smashing birds.
Also I enjoyed seeing a White-rumped Sandpiper in breeding plumage.  Six
Red-necked Phalaropes did giddy circles by the water's edge.  I have very
good photos.  We couldn't thank Jon and the rest of the group enough as they
left for Crane Creek, Ohio.

After they had gone we took stock of our last two days.  We were on our own,
having a ball. The remaining five days were spent exploring the area.
Wednesday we went to Rondeau Park for the day. It had an excellent visitors'
centre and out the back, feeders enclosed in a low fence. Here was the
chance to set up the camera and tripod and bang off a few shots at the
common birds.  Common they may be but some are so beautiful.  Blue Jays,
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, Red-bellied
Woody.  And Chipmunks and Grey Squirrels that were black.

On instructions from the staff, we walked back from the centre to see a
Yellow-crowned Night heron.  We poked around other trails, as fascinated by
the forest, the light, and the colors as the birds.  Ground flowers
including  Jack in the pulpit, and Columbines. We soon bumped into others
looking for the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  One of the birders we met was
Fred Urie - a very tall slender guy with a wry sense of humour. He is also a
good birder.   He helped us see quite a few new birds.  We took a long walk
through a variety of habitats and our list benefited by Fred's generous

Over the next couple of days we went to Hillman Marsh, Kopegaron Woods
(where we had excellent views of Eastern Screech owl), St. Clair Nat.
Wildlife Area, and back to Point Pelee and Harrow Sewer Ponds.  One evening
we did the Marsh board walk at Point Pelee and with others we saw a Least
Bittern and added Swamp Sparrow to our growing list.

Alberta and British Columbia.

Well if we found the eastern birders friendly, then we the western birders
more so.  Bill Walker, Brian Elder, and Peter Miller met us at Calgary
airport.  We were whisked into the countryside to see birds to the east in
the sloughs and grasslands.  It was such a contrast to Point Pelee.  There
seemed to an abundance of new ducks and shorebirds for us.

Brian Elder had to go but Bill Walker and Peter Miller took us to an area
near Bill's home where we saw Cooper's Hawk on a nest, a Porcupine in a low
shrub and our first Beaver. We stopped birding at 10pm. Bill lent us "A
Birdfinding guide to the Calgary Region" by the Calgary Field Naturalists'
Society and the next day we went to Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park to
look for Wood Ducks and many other nice birds.

We were guests at Brian and Barbara Elder's home that night so we could be
up at the crack of dawn to see a lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse.  We dipped.  We
walked up and down the paddock, searching, Brian listening, searching again
but still no grouse.  Brian kept saying he could hear Sprague's Pipit but it
was way too high to see.  Dip number two.   Then he heard a Le Conte's
Sparrow and we all had excellent views.  A nice looking sparrow at last!

Brian took us to a friend's property which had a feeder and I was able to
get good photos of common birds again like Black-capped Chickadee, American
Goldfinch male, Dark-eyed Junco, and a White-throated Sparrow. We saw a
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker trying to hammer its way through a metal roof of a
garden shed.  Quite a racket. Brian had to get to work, so off we went to
find our own birds again.

We stayed one more night in Calgary then moved onto the Rockies. At Banff we
stayed at the excellent Odenthal's Bed & Breakfast.  We followed the notes
in the Birdfinding guide to the Calgary Region to take in the best birding
areas as well as the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding mountains. On
our first morning, while I showered, Annie saw a Clarke's Nutcracker on the
balcony.  By the time I got there it was gone.  Good grief, I thought, I
missed it.  I may never see another!  I waited half an hour, but back they
came.  Phew!

On the road to Johnstons' Canyon, we saw our first Varied Thrushes, feeding
on the road.  In the forest around the Canyon we saw our first higher
altitude birds and continued to miss a decent photo of the Mountain
Bluebird.  On the road back to Banff we stopped at the Muleshoe Trail and
saw Three-toed Woodpeckers and glimpsed a Pileated. Working out the
Empidonex flycatchers was challenging.

On Saturday May 29 we went to Lake Louise, expecting a blue sky and perfect
water reflections and instead had snow, and rain.  We were picking up a few
more chickadees and had good views of the Boreal and the Mountain.  May 30
saw us travelling up the Icefield Parkway through some of the best scenery.
The sun can out for all the best photos and we were so happy. We arrived in
Jasper and booked into a B&B with a feeder and saw our first Rufous

On May 31 in the Pocohontas camping ground we saw our second Black Bear of
the trip. At Palisades we saw Barrow's Goldeneye  and wrote a careful
description in our note book of a new sparrow.  We were so determined to
identify it correctly. It took us a while to confidently say it was a
Clay-colored.  I took some photos and felt quite pleased.

June 1 we left Jasper and drove to Kamloops through driving rain.  We
stopped at Mt Robson Nat. Park but never saw the mountain. We drove onto
Vernon and that evening met Dick Cannings.  We saw our first Calliope
Hummingbirds plus lots of Rufous and Black-chinned at a feeder on the
verandah of the house where Dick was staying.  Dick couldn't take us birding
but he did tell us where to go birding and also gave us the location of our
best B&B..

We stayed three days at Three Gates Farm  south of
Penticton, in the Okanagan Valley.  It was a beautiful log cabin house, and
Doreen our host, treated us like royalty.  Around the house, were lots of
different bird feeders and we were able to watch through any window.  The
house is located in 77 acres of forest & grassland.

On our first morning we joined the South Okanagan Naturalists Club outing at
Summerland and we had an excellent morning with many birding highlights.
Western Bluebird, Say's Phoebe, Vaux' Swift, Evening Grosbeaks and two
Common Nighthawks flying around and calling in the middle of the day. We
went to a carpark at the lakeside and there was the best woody of the
holiday, Lewis' Woodpecker, so close.

The outing ended with us being taken by one of the members to see American
Dipper but we dipped.  I glimpsed it disappear down the bank and that was
the last we saw of it.  A nice Western Tanager bathed from the rocks on the
opposite bank.  We enjoyed being on a bird club outing so far from home.

That night at dusk back at the B&B we awaited the departure from the nest
box of the Western Screech Owl.  It was a magic birding moment when the male
bird alighted nearby with a mouse in its bill and began softly calling.  The
female rose up and filled the hole with her face then quick as a flash, was
out and away.

On Sat June 4 we left the Okanagan Valley and headed west stopping at a
beaver dam in Manning Park.  The sun was out and I was able to get my best
photo of the trip when a Townsend's Warbler was at eye level on the end of a
pine branch.  A Yellow-rumped Warbler was obliging as well, and we saw our
first Golden-crowned Sparrows here. The drive through Manning Park then
beside the fast flowing rivers was very exciting.

We stayed the night in Hope and then on the way to Vancouver decide to give
the city area a miss and head straight for Tofino, Vancouver Island.  We
love being in forests and there were plenty here along the winding road.  We
decided to see the Grey whales from the shore at Grice Bay and save our boat
trip to Cleland Island off Tofino.  We used John Forde at The Whale Center
(250) 725 2132 who charged $40 each and took us for two hours.

It was lousy weather as we set off at 8am but the sea was smooth. John knew
all the birds and where they hid on the rocks and around the little islands
we visited.  He soon showed us about 20 Harlequin Ducks and around Cleland
we saw 3 species of cormorant, White-winged & Surf Scoter, Common Murre,
Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Cassin's Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and
the best bird was the Tufted Puffin.  We had four breeding adults so close
and they are such great birds.  Why can't all Pelagics be two hours long and
one sees 6 new birds?

Our last bit of Canadian birding was out of Victoria, Vancouver Island.  We
went to Sooke Park and enjoyed our last walk through a beautiful North
American forest. Last bird was Pileated Woodpecker looking out its nest hole
in the top of a tree beside the carpark.

Thanks to all my North American contacts who helped us decide where to go
and especially to Ron Orenstein, Jon Dunn, Bill Walker, Peter Miller, Brian
Elder and Fred Urie who took us birding.
For the record we saw   224 species and I saw 102 lifers.  It was an
excellent holiday with amazing scenery, beautiful birds and animals and we
met the friendliest birders one could ever wish to meet.

Trevor & Annie Quested

Sydney, Australia

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