Day 1 - Arrival in Calgary. We will have dinner together this evening. Night in Calgary.
Day 2 - From our home base of Calgary, we'll travel south for about an hour to the town of High River, where we will take a quick 'pit-stop' before heading east a little to the Frank Lake basin. Along the journey this morning, keep your eyes open for Swainson's Hawks, Osprey, American Crow, Black-billed Magpie, Red-winged Blackbird and Double-crested Cormorant. While we're in High River, we have a reasonably good chance of finding Common Grackles, though this tends to be the only location on the route where we encounter this species. As we near Frank Lake, we often get distracted by birds on smaller ponds along the way. Once we're at Frank Lake, we'll explore the area of prairie and wetlands that is teeming with avian life. There are often hundreds if not thousands of attractive Franklin's Gulls here, along with California and Ring-billed gulls, and occasionally Bonaparte's Gulls as well. Terns, including Forster's and Black, can be somewhat numerous as well. This is the only location on our tour where we should find White-faced Ibis, and perhaps we'll see some Black-crowned Night-Herons here as well. Red-winged Blackbirds, alongside their cousins, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, put on a nice show for us, singing from the tops of reeds. Deep in the marshes there are Virginia Rails and Soras, and we'll attempt to see them today, along with Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroat.
After lunch in High River, we'll head back out towards Frank Lake for a little more birding, exploring first, a country road where we'll look for Vesper and Clay-colored sparrows, Swainson's Hawks, Gray Partridge and if we're super lucky, roosting Great Horned Owls. We have found Ferruginous Hawk here in the past, though not in the past few years. Driving some of the dirt roads around the east side of the lake could yield things like Northern Harrier, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Cliff Swallows and the like. By this point in the day it will be time to head back towards Calgary. Night in Calgary.
Day 3 - We'll head west from Calgary and explore the Foothills, near the city of Cochrane today. We will look for Great Gray Owls this morning, since this is a good area to find them. The foothills are home to a nice variety of eastern species that we most likely won't see elsewhere on our tour. Some of these birds include Blue Jay, Eastern Phoebe, Alder Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cape May Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and LeConte's, Nelson's, Swamp and White-throated sparrows. Later on in the afternoon, we'll drive through the western front of the Rocky Mountains to Banff. Night in Banff.
Day 4 - Any visit to Canada's Rocky Mountains must surely include a visit to the town of Banff. We'll start out before breakfast with an early morning visit to Vermilion Lakes. Here, the scenery is unforgettable, especially as the sun rises and the mountains reflect off the waters of the lakes. Early morning is the best time to visit if one hopes to see wildlife, so we'll aspire to find some mammals such as American Elk, Moose, Columbian Ground-Squirrel or maybe even our first Black Bear. The birding here, first thing in the morning, is also quite good. Patches of willows in the wetlands are home to Northern Waterthrush, Lincoln's Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and Willow Flycatcher. We usually find Bald Eagle and Osprey here, as well as nesting Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes. Occasionally we spot a Trumpeter Swan or two. Warblers to watch for include Townsend's, MacGillivray's, Orange-crowned, Wilson's, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart, and ocasionally something more unusual like an Ovenbird, a Cape May Warbler or a Blackpoll Warbler.
After breakfast we will travel along the Bow Valley Parkway, which runs through the forest and allows access to many good sites. At Mule Shoe Picnic area we often find some interesting woodpeckers, such as Pileated Woodpecker or American Three-toed Woodpecker. A little pond here often yields something interesting, such as Barrow's Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Spotted Sandpiper or perhaps a Belted Kingfisher. At Johnstone Canyon, a hike up along the fast moving stream often yields our first American Dipper of the tour, and we can also find Canada Jays, Pacific Wren, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and a few other goodies here. As far as mammals go, Johnstone Canyon is fantastic for the endearing Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. We'll stop at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise as well, depending on if they are busy or not. Increased visitation in the area in recent years has forced the park service to limit the number of vehicles entering these locations. Night in Banff.
Day 5 - A morning visit to Cave and Basin can often be quite productive. The area is good for finding American Elk, so we may see some on our way here, or as we walk about the trails. Wetland species of note are Virginia Rail, Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow, as well as ducks such as Ring-necked Duck and Green-winged Teal. The woodlands here hold a variety of birds too, such as Blackpoll Warbler, Boreal Chickadee, Northern Waterthrush, Swainson's Thrush, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet to name just a few of them.
Much of the rest of the day is a travel day as we move from Banff to Salmon Arm, in British Columbia. Along the way, we'll pause at a couple of locations to stretch our legs and to look for birds. Planned stops are at Eidelweiss Slough in Golden, and at the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk near Revelstoke. At the slough, we'll look for Belted Kingfishers, Barrow's Goldeneye, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Kingbird and the such, and at the boardwalk, potential highlights are Veery, Rufous Hummingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird and MacGillivray's Warbler. With any luck we'll spot a Black Bear on our journey somewhere today, as well as Bighorn Sheep. From Revelstoke, we'll drop significantly in elevation, and we'll leave the towering mountains behind. Night in Salmon Arm.
Day 6 - Situated along the shores of Shuswap Lake, Salmon Arm lies at the doorstep of some fantastic birding. The wetlands here are home to a thriving colony of nesting Western Grebes. It normally takes some scanning with the scope, but we often pick out one or two Clark's Grebes amongst the Westerns here. This is the only location in B.C. where Clark's Grebes nest, though perhaps only 1-2 pairs per year, and occasionally the Clark's will pair up with a Western. Other ducks we will look for include Blue-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. Great Blue Herons and Ospreys seem to also thrive in Salmon Arm so we should see our share of them today as well. This is often a good place to study the swallows and we can see all of the regular species here (Cliff, Barn, Bank, Violet-green, Tree and N. Rough-winged). Occasionally we'll also see Vaux's or Black swift here too. After we've spent much of the day at Salmon Arm, we'll follow the Trans-Canada Highway west into the arid Thompson Valley where we will find Kamloops, our home base for the next two nights.
Day 7 - Kamloops, and many of the other towns and cities in southern B.C., are named using local first nations words. Kamloops, in the local Shuswap language, means 'where the rivers meet', and it us true, as the South Thompson and North Thompson rivers converge here to become the Thompson River. This morning, we'll visit Lac du Bois, a lovely area of grasslands, rolling hills, lakes, ponds and wetlands. As we head up the road, the first several kilometers will take us into the vast sagebrush habitat. This is where we'll hope to find some of the introduced Burrowing Owls that reside here. Also, the area is excellent for Clay-colored, Vesper and Chipping sparrows, as well as the brilliant Lazuli Bunting. Western Meadowlarks are common, and we may also see some beautiful Mountain Bluebirds. The lakes and ponds along Lac du Bois Road are great for good views of waterfowl, such as Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Barrow's Goldeneye, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Blue-winged, Cinnamon and Green-winged teal, Eared Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes and more. Marsh Wrens are particularly common and they're fun to watch as they sing from the reed tops. A stop at a grove of aspens can be very productive, and in the past we've found Dusky and Least flycatchers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Tanager and American Goldfinch. We will have lunch at Isobel Lake, which is a higher elevation lake surrounded by a forest of mostly conifers. We have had luck finding Northern Pygmy-Owl here in the past. Other birds, like Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch and a variety of warblers are also here. We sometimes find a Virginia Rail lurking in the marsh at the edge of the lake, and Common Loons often announce their presence with loud, wailing yodels. Night in Kamloops.
Day 8 - We leave Kamloops this morning, heading south on the scenic route Highway 5A towards Kelowna, birding along the way. Our first stop, at Separation Lake, is a good one for ducks, shorebirds and grassland species. We often see our first Say's Phoebe of the tour here and occasionally something more interesting like a Short-eared Owl or a Horned Lark. Continuing along 5A, we also stop in an area of large Ponderosa Pines, excellent for one of the areas most sought-after woodpeckers, the Lewis's Woodpecker. At Guichon Flats, we will admire the nesting colony of Eared Grebes, as well as many other birds. The area is excellent for Bald Eagles and we can see dozens today, with some luck. From Merritt, we'll take the Okanagan Connector up over a high-elevation pass featured on the television programe 'Highway from Hell' named so because of the rather treacherous winter driving conditions. This time of the year it should be smooth sailing however, and we'll get nice views of Okanagan Lake as we descend down into the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan is home to Canada's wine industry, in addition with areas near Niagara Falls. The region has become known as a first class wine destination, so if you're into it, you must sample some of the local vintages. In addition to wine, many other fruits are also grown in the valley, such as pears, peaches, apples, plums and cherries. This valley is often the temperature 'hot spot' in Canada as well, with summertime temperatures often nearing 40 degrees Celsius. Add to this that the Okanagan is also one of Canada's top birding destinations, and you can see why we will spend four nights here, two in Kelowna and two in Osoyoos. Night in Kelowna.
Day 9 - Today we will explore the forests S.E. of Kelowna, as we head up to close to 7000 feet in elevation at Big White. Along the way up, we'll have a look for some grassland birds like Western Meadowlark, Western Bluebird and Western Kingbird. If we have yet to find an American Dipper, there are creeks here that offer good chances to see this species. Also, Northern Pygmy-Owl is a possibility this morning. Once we're at Big White, we'll explore some boreal forest where we could find birds like Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, White-winged Crossbill, Hermit Thrush, Wilson's Warbler and if we were very lucky, Spruce Grouse. At the Big White Ski Village, there are often Steller's Jays, Canada Jays, White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Junco. This route gives us yet another opportunity to spot a Black Bear as well.
Descending back down into the valley, we'll visit Robert Lake, one of Kelowna's best birding locations. This shallow, alkaline lake is home to a wide variety of breeding waterfowl, including Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Redhead, Bufflehead and Gadwall. Eared Grebes also nest here in numbers. Shorebirds, including Wilson's Phalarope, can be found around the edges of the lake, and in the reeds there are noisy Yellow-headed Blackbirds, chattering Marsh Wrens, elusive Soras and Virginia Rails and Common Yellowthroats. Night in Kelowna.
Day 10 - This morning we head south from Kelowna, crossing Okanagan Lake on the Bennett Bridge. If we have not yet found a dipper, we'll stop at a stream near Peachland and have a look for this species. Otherwise, we'll continue on to White Lake, an area of sagebrush, home to some sought-after birds. Most years there are one or two pairs of Sage Thrashers present. We'll look for this federally endangered species that likes to sing its song from the top of tall, aromatic sagebrush. Sparrows are also a highlight at White Lake and we'll see plenty of Vesper Sparrows, and hopefully a few Brewer's Sparrows, Lark Sparrows and perhaps a Grasshopper Sparrow as well. As we pass by Mahoney Lake, we'll pause to check the Ponderosa Pines for woodland birds like Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Wood-Pewee, Cassin's Finch and perhaps a Gray Flycatcher.
The Vaseux Lake area, with its towering cliffs, is a must-stop location for birders as they travel through the Okanagan Valley. Here, we'll search for cliff-loving birds like Canyon and Rock Wrens, the introduced Chukar and White-throated Swifts. This area is also fantastic for Lewis's Woodpeckers. Golden Eagles can often be seen hunting at the cliffs. There is a large population of Bighorn Sheep that reside in this area as well, so we should encounter at least a few of them. Heading south from Vaseux Lake, we'll pop into Inkaneep Provincial Park, an excellent spot at which to look for birds like Yellow-breasted Chat, Bullock's Oriole, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler and Bewick's Wren. We'll arrive in Osoyoos, our base for two nights, and after dinner, either tonight or on the following night, we can head into the forest near town, in search of nocturnal birds. We have a fair chance at finding a Common Poorwill. This nightjar sits on gravel roads at night and its eyes glow a ruby red color when headlights illuminate them. Tiny, cryptically colored Flammulated Owls are also found here, though they are not particularly easy to find. On past trips, we've encountered Long-eared Owl, Great Horned Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl as well. Night in Osoyoos.
Day 11 - This morning we'll head to Road 22, an area of riparian bottomlands, agricultural fields and wetlands at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. Hay fields here are home to B.C.'s largest breeding colony of Bobolinks, and the attractive males can be seen as they perform their flight song / display over the waving grass. Northern Harrier often hunts over the fields as well, and Ospreys seem to be almost everywhere. In the riparian habitats there are more Yellow-breasted Chats and Gray Catbirds, as well as Willow Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak and House Wren to name a few species.
From Road 22, we'll venture higher up into some coniferous forest in search of the rather rare Williamson's Sapsucker. In addition to the sapsucker, we could find American Three-toed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker or North America's largest living woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker. Barred Owl can sometimes be coaxed out of the forests here, even in broad daylight.
If we have time, we'll search for Lesser Goldfinches this afternoon. This species has only recently (within the last 2 years) become a regular breeding species in Canada, with a tiny population near the U.S. border, west of Osoyoos. Night in Osoyoos.
Day 12 - Leaving the Okanagan behind, we travel west towards Vancouver today. The journey takes about 5-6 hours, and we'll make a couple of stops along the way. The Nighthawk Border Crossing is a good place to stop and look for sagebrush birds, should we have missed any at White Lake on the previous days. There can be Sage Thrasher here, as well as Lark Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow. Occasionally we see introduced Gray Partridge here as well.
Along the route, we often stop near Princeton, to look for Mountain Goats on a hillside above town. We'll pick up lunch in Princeton and take it with us up into Manning Park, where we will have a couple of hours to poke around, before we have to carry on to the coast. Generally, we're in 'mop-up' mode here, searching for any species we have not yet seen, or some that we have seen but would like a better look at. Some of the expected birds here include the Canada Jay, formerly known under a variety of different monikers, such as Gray Jay, Whiskey Jack and Camp Robber. We could also see the Varied Thrush, and we'll most certainly hear its flute-like, ethereal song. Occasionally we find a Red-breasted Sapsucker here and there is at least th echance to find an American Three-toed Woodpecker. The area is good for Sooty Grouse, though luck is needed to find one. We'll carry on to Vancouver, where we spend the night.
Day 13 - This is our final full day of birding on the tour. We'll head through the metropolis of Vancouver, across the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore, where we will spend the day. At Lighthouse Park, the trail descends from the parking area to the rugged coast, taking us through a forest of towering, ancient trees along the way. Some of these trees, which include Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock, are nearly a thousand years old. West Coast passerines such as Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, Pacific Wren, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and such are found here. Hummingbird feeders near the lighthouse often yield Anna's and Rufous hummingbirds. Sometimes we find Band-tailed Pigeons here. We'll scan out across the sea, where we should spot Pelagic Cormorants and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and occasionally a Pigeon Guillemot.
After picking up our lunch, we'll take it down to Ambleside Park where we'll have a picnic. We often find Harlequin Ducks here, and sometimes a few lingering Surf Scoters. This is another good location at which to find a Pigeon Guillemot. In the shrubbery in the park, we could find flock of tiny Bushtits.
Next up, we'll head up to Cypress Mountain, an excellent spot to look for Red-breasted Sapsucker. Other forest birds here such as Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Warbler and Brown Creeper can be seen here as well. On our way back down the mountain, we'll stop in at a viewpoint that offers sweeping views of the sprawling Vancouver area, and on a clear day we can see all the way over to Vancouver Island. Night in Vancouver.
Day 14 - Our last morning on the tour, we'll begin at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty. Here, we will look for Black Oystercatcher, a species that breeds here, and occasionally we find other interesting birds like Whimbrel or summering Brant geese. This spot is also a good place to look for summering Surf Scoters. We sometimes see hundreds of Great Blue Herons here at low tide, as there is a nearby heronry.
The Reifel Refuge opens up at 9 AM and this is our final stop of the tour. There shouldn't be too many species left for us to see, but still, this is a fantastic location at which to conclude our tour. The park is home to breeding Sandhill Cranes, and we have a good chance at finding them. Other goodies include Great Horned Owl, Purple Martin, Wood Duck, Peregrine Falcon and perhaps a few shorebirds like yellowlegs or dowitchers. If we haven't found Anna's Hummingbirds, Bewick's Wrens and Bushtits, this is a good place to find them. After lunch, we'll wrap up our two week adventure, and say our goodbyes.