Our new June birdwatching tour to the Canadian Rockies begins with an Air Canada morning flight from London Heathrow to Calgary, and onward connection (50-minutes) to Edmonton, where Chris will be waiting to welcome us. Evening arrival and transfer to our nearby hotel. Night Edmonton
EDMONTON, BEAVERHILL LAKE & HASTINGS LAKE: WOODLANDS & PRAIRIE WETLANDS
After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, our first day of birding will be within easy reach of Edmonton. Heading east, we'll stop first in a woodland park where we should encounter a good range of ‘eastern’ North American birds (i.e. species that don't occur west of the Rocky Mountains faunal divide). Philadelphia Vireo, Mourning Warbler, Ovenbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Purple Martin and Rose-breasted Grosbeak are among possibilities here.
Continuing on towards the town of Tofield, the Beaverhill Lake area is home to classic prairie wetland species such as American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Marbled Godwit and Wilson’s Phalarope. In open grassy areas we will search for the difficult Sprague’s Pipit, a species that's more often heard than seen as it ‘larks’ high overhead, all but invisible to the naked eye. Other likely inhabitants of these grassy fields include the snazzy Eastern Kingbird, and Clay-coloured and Le Conte’s Sparrows. The prairie grasslands also hold many Richardson’s Ground Squirrels and, for the luckiest of observers, a few American Badgers, which feast on the squirrels - as do the likes of Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle and American Kestrel, which are all very likely today!
On our way back to Edmonton, we'll stop by Hastings Lake, where an array of waterbirds including Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-winged Scoter and Western Grebe should round off a splendid first day. Night Edmonton
EDMONTON TO SILVER SUMMIT & JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Leaving Edmonton this morning, we first travel west to the town of Edson, about a two hour drive. Once there, we turn north and head on up to the Silver Summit Ski Hill to explore an area of boreal forest and spruce bog. Among a wealth of special birds are Boreal Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Canada and Blue Jays, Ruffed and Spruce Grouse, several species of woodpecker and perhaps the uncommon Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Warblers are well represented too and we could encounter Magnolia, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Cape May and Wilson's, as well as the furtive Northern Waterthrush. Throw in a few other gems - such as Olive-sided Flycatcher and Blue-throated Vireo - and we should be in for another very productive day!
As we travel west towards our destination this evening, we will enter Jasper National Park, which is Canada’s largest national park. Late afternoon arrival at our Jasper hotel, where we spend the next three nights. Night Jasper
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Before breakfast we visit an area close to Jasper called Cottonwood Slough. As we drink in the breath-taking Rocky Mountains scenery, we’ll also be looking out for birds such as Calliope Hummingbird, North America’s smallest species, as well as its brightly coloured relative, the Rufous Hummingbird. Willow Flycatchers may be seen here and are often to be heard singing their ‘sneezy’ song from the marshes. Common Yellowthroats, tiny black-masked warblers of the wetlands, scurry about amongst the cattails, with the occasional male sitting up nice and tall to sing his song. Soras, a rather elusive relative of the crakes, sneak through the cattails, occasionally coming into view as they cross a clearing, and Red-winged Blackbirds - the continent’s most numerous land bird - will be displaying in full force.
After returning for breakfast, we explore the Celestine Road, a remote dirt track that leads through spruce forests where Golden-crowned Kinglets flit and Swainson’s Thrushes sing their ethereal songs. The road give us access to some nice meadows, where wildflowers should be in full bloom. If the weather is warm enough, butterflies could be a real treat to watch here. This is also a good area for mammals and we could come across anything from Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep to Black Bear and Moose.
The road to Maligne Lake is well travelled, though we are still likely to see some interesting wildlife, with Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and perhaps American Elk to watch for. Along fast moving streams we’ll search for the enigmatic American Dipper. Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Pacific Wren and Townsend’s Solitaire inhabit the riparian habitat along the creeks and we could be lucky to spot a Black Swift, though they are quite uncommon and often feed so high overhead you just can’t see them. Second night Jasper
JASPER NATIONAL PARK: SKY TRAM & POCOHONTAS PONDS
This morning we take the Sky Tram up to visit the alpine habitat of Whistler’s Meadows. Spectacular scenery, of the sort you could never forget, awaits... as long as the weather cooperates, of course. So we'll be hoping for a fine day for our visit to the tops.
Once we reach the top of the tram we’ll be at over 2700m (almost 9000ft) above sea level. There are few birds up at this altitude - but those that are here are very much of interest. Breeding Buff-bellied Pipits, Horned Lark and the lovely Grey-crowned Rosy Finch are all possible, along with White-tailed Ptarmigan, Willow Ptarmigan and Prairie Falcon - all sought-after species. We could possibly catch sight of the iconic Grizzly Bear up here, too, as well as the very much smaller, but no less important America Pika.
After taking the Sky Tram back down to Jasper at 1060m (c3500ft), if time permits, we may head out to explore the Pocahontas Ponds, a willow infested wetland not too far from town. Osprey, Cinnamon Teal, Great Blue Heron, Ovenbird, and Orange-crowned and Magnolia Warblers are among a good variety of species possible here. Third night Jasper
ICEFIELDS PARKWAY & EIDELWEISS SLOUGH TO GOLDEN
Leaving Jasper this morning we travel south via the Icefields Parkway, stopping here and there to take in the amazing scenery along this famous route. Of course, we’ll also be keeping our eyes open for birds, which here could include high elevation species such as Pine Grosbeak and Clark’s Nutcracker, as well as Steller’s Jay and perhaps a Golden Eagle.
There are mammals to watch for, too, in the form of American Elk, American Red Squirrel and Snowshoe Hare. And as we travel west along Highway 1, we’ll keep our eyes open for bears, since on past visits we have seen both American Black Bear and Grizzly Bear in this area. After crossing over the continental divide we leave Alberta and will be in British Columbia for the rest of the tour. The stretch of highway as we near Golden, our destination today, is good for herds of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and occasionally Mountain Goats as well.
We'll have lunch in Golden, check into our hotel and later head out to explore Eidelweiss Slough, a lovely little wetland area that's often home to Hooded Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-headed Blackbird and much more. Night Golden
SELKIRK & PURCELL MOUNTAINS, SKUNK CABBAGE TRAIL & MOUNT REVELSTOKE
Today we leave the Rocky Mountains proper as we travel west from Golden into the Selkirk and Purcell Mountain ranges. Shortly after starting our drive this morning we’ll cross into the Pacific Time Zone and set our clocks back an hour... An extra hour of birding! In Rogers Pass we’ll look for Varied Thrush, Black Swift and British Columbia’s official provincial bird, the Steller’s Jay.
As we near Revelstoke we’ll visit the fantastic boardwalk along the Skunk Cabbage Trail. The lush vegetation here is home to a nice array of birds including the flamboyant American Redstart, the tiny Rufous Hummingbird and one of Canada's nicest songsters, the Veery. As if these were not already enough, we often see Grey Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo and Willow Flycatcher here. The trails’ namesake Skunk Cabbages will probably already have bloomed, but their massive leaves are still impressive and there is often a slight 'skunky' scent in the air when in this plant’s presence.
From here, we take a drive up to near the top of Mount Revelstoke at over 1800m (c6000ft) elevation, via the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. This 26 km drive will get us into excellent boreal forest habitat, good for species such as Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Hermit Thrush and Canada Jay (formerly called Grey Jay). From viewpoints along the way up, superb views can be enjoyed - of course, depending on the weather. Mammals to watch out for include Hoary Marmot and American Pika, as well as the big mammals like bears, elk and Moose. Night Revelstoke
COLUMBIA RIVER, SALMON ARM & OKANAGAN VALLEY TO PENTICTON
We begin the day by checking out an area of riparian habitat along the Columbia River, home to gorgeous Lazuli Buntings and flamboyant American Redstarts as well as Least Flycatcher, Veery and Downy Woodpecker, to name just a few. Turning our eyes skyward, this is a good place to find Vaux’s and Black Swifts, as well as Cliff Swallow and Violet-green Swallow among an assortment of hirundines.
Our journey west from Revelstoke will take us via picturesque Salmon Arm, where we'll pause for a while this afternoon. Shuswap Lake attracts a great diversity of birds and many of them can be seen from trails and viewpoints right in Salmon Arm itself. There are large numbers of breeding Western Grebes and, with a little luck, the careful observer may pick out one or two 'look alike' Clark’s Grebes, too. The gull colony at Shuswap has had poor success in recent years due to high water levels, but the birds are nevertheless still present - mostly Ring-billed Gulls, with a few California Gulls and American Herring Gulls mixed in. Wetlands near Christmas Island are home to Sora and Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird and many Common Yellowthroats, while Ospreys seem to be everywhere at Salmon Arm and many nests will be seen on an average day of birding here.
From Salmon Arm, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive south past Kelowna to Penticton, our destination this evening and where we stay for the next two nights. Night Penticton
PENTICTON: OKANAGAN VALLEY & OPTIONAL 'OWL PROWL'
We start our birding today in a private garden in the hills, surrounded by Ponderosa Pines, and excellent for hummingbirds and other species. With a little luck, we could tally up to four species of 'hummer' here: Rufous, Calliope, Anna's and Black-chinned, for all occur in the Okanagan Valley. Other pine forest species to watch for include Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee and the tiny Northern Pygmy Owl.
Next we explore the dry sagebrush habitats of White Lake, home to declining specialities such as Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s and Lark Sparrows, and the characterful Burrowing Owl. We might also see the rather curious Lewis’s Woodpecker, an unusually coloured woodpecker that forages like a flycatcher and looks like a Jackdaw in flight! Lemon-chested Western Meadowlarks are numerous and on June days their songs fill the air. And Mountain and Western Bluebirds are always treat to see, as are the cinnamon-hued Say’s Phoebes and yellow-washed Western Kingbirds.
We travel on to Mahoney Lake, seeking Red Crossbill, the colourful Western Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren and Western Wood-Pewee. With luck, we will find the rare Grey Flycatcher, too.
Dropping down into the valley through a maze of lovely vineyards, Vaseux Lake is our next pot of call. Towering cliffs near the lake hold both Canyon and Rock Wrens, Golden Eagle and White-throated Swift, and we could find the introduced Chukar. This is another good area to see the impressive Bighorn Sheep, although unlike the ones we may have seen in Jasper (which are the Rocky Mountain race), those found here are of the California race. Other mammals to watch out for include Mule Deer, Yellow-bellied Marmot and Yellow Pine Chipmunk, while a walk along the boardwalk at Vaseux Lake could yield mouth-watering birds such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole and Yellow-breasted Chat. From the viewing platform we’ll get a good view of the lake’s northern end, where American White Pelicans and other waterfowl and may be seen.
Following an action-packed morning's birding, our afternoon session will take us out along the Shuttleworth Road to look for a different suite of birds amid the Western Larch forests. One we shall be especially keen to find here is the rare and handsome Williamson’s Sapsucker - but there are also American Three-toed and Pileated Woodpeckers, the big Barred Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl and Northern Goshawk to watch for, too. Songbirds up at this elevation include the oft elusive MacGillivray’s Warbler, sharp-suited Townsend’s Warbler and the relatively drab Warbling Vireo, with its redeeming Sylvia warbler-like song.
We'll return to Penticton in the late afternoon and, after enjoying dinner in town, take an (optional) evening trip out to look for owls - with a chance of finding Great Horned, Western Screech, Northern Saw-whet and Flammulated Owls! This same area is also very good for Common Poorwill, smallest of North America's nightjars. It is likely to be quite late by the time we get back to our hotel tonight... Second night Penticton
OKANAGAN VALLEY: PENTICTON TO OSOYOOS
Penticton is such a great area for birds that we'll leave this morning open so we can track down any species we may have missed. But we’ll be sure to visit Road 22 today to look for Bobolink, which have a small nesting colony amongst the hayfields. The open country is ideal for raptors and regularly seen species include Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and Cooper’s Hawk. Wilson’s Snipe inhabit the marshy areas, and occasionally a Long-billed Curlew or two are present in the fields here, although this species has suffered severe declines in recent decades in southern British Columbia. Grey Catbirds and Least Flycatchers are often to be found in the riparian habitat, along with skulking Yellow-breasted Chats and Black-capped Chickadee.
From here, we head to Osoyoos - our base for the next two nights - and travel up into the Richter Pass. We’ll pause to have a look for Canada’s first breeding population of Lesser Goldfinches, that were only discovered in 2018.
Heading up Mount Kobau, we will see where a forest fire scorched the trees a few years ago, creating excellent new habitat for woodpeckers. There is a good chance we will see several of the more common woodpecker species here such as Hairy, Downy and Northern Flicker, and with a little luck we’ll also find our target species for this area: the Black-backed Woodpecker, a bird whose distribution is closely tied to 'forest burn'. Night Osoyoos
OSOYOOS: ANARCHIST MOUNTAIN, ROAD 22 & OPTIONAL 'OWL PROWL'
It will be worth going out today just so you can say you have birded on Anarchist Mountain!
Situated on the east side of Osoyoos, Anarchist Mountain rises to 1491m (4892ft) and lies close to the US border. In an area of old growth mixed forest we'll try to track down one of the most sought-after species in this region: Great Grey Owl. This same area can also be good for the rare Williamson’s Sapsucker - and on some of our previous Rockies tours we have also been lucky to see American Badger here!
In the afternoon, we can return to the bird rich environs of Road 22, along the Okanagan River.
Osoyoos is another great spot for owls and, after dinner this evening, those with energy to spare may wish to join Chris for another 'owl prowl'. Participation is again optional but possibilities include Great Horned, Long-eared, Northern Saw-whet and Flammulated Owls - and there are Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwills about, too. Second night Osoyoos
OSOYOOS, WEST TO VANCOUVER
Today we push on through to Vancouver, on Canada's rugged Pacific shore - a journey by road from Osoyoos of about five and a half hours. However, we’ll pause along the way at the Nighthawk Border Crossing - an excellent area for localised sagebrush species - in case we've missed out on the likes of Sage Thrasher, Grasshopper Sparrow and Lark Sparrow earlier in the trip.
On reaching Manning Park, if the road up to the subalpine meadows is open, we will spend a couple of hours looking for birds such as Red-breasted Sapsucker, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Pine Grosbeak here. If we are fortunate, we could run into a Sooty Grouse. Most trips along this particular road also result in sightings of the rare Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel.
Late afternoon arrival at our hotel in Vancouver, where we spend the final two nights of our tour. Night Vancouver
VANCOUVER AREA: LIGHTHOUSE PARK, CYPRESS SKI MOUNTAIN & AMBLESIDE PARK
After breakfast, we travel through the maze of high rise buildings that make up 'downtown Vancouver'. We'll then cross the Lions Gate Bridge onto the North Shore and continue to Lighthouse Park.
The trail at Lighthouse Park, which descends to the coast, will lead us through towering stands of old growth temperate rainforest - its monster sized Western Red Cedars, Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks well worth a visit in their own right. But among a host of great birds to look out for are the stunning Varied Thrush and alluring Black-throated Grey Warbler, Pacific Wren, Hutton’s Vireo, Anna’s Hummingbird, Band-tailed Pigeon and Pileated Woodpecker. Every once in a while we get lucky and spot a roosting Barred Owl here, too. And while we will likely have seen many American Red Squirrels on our travels up until this point, we could add the 'coastal version' - Douglas’s Squirrel - to our growing mammal list today.
After lunch, we’ll drive up towards the Cypress Ski Mountain, from where fantastic views of Vancouver below can be enjoyed (as long as the weather is clear). The moss and lichen cloaked forest up here is home to nesting Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Varied Thrushes and many more; White-crowned Sparrows are common around the base of the ski area and we could see Canada Jays and perhaps even a Sooty Grouse.
On the way back down to our hotel, a short stop at Ambleside Park will provide us with a first chance to see some west coast seabirds - perhaps including Harlequin Duck, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot and Glaucous-winged Gull. The bushes at Ambleside can sometimes hold little flocks of drab but endearing Bushtits, and the pond is good for Belted Kingfisher - plus some feral Mute Swans, just to make us feel at home! Second night Vancouver
TSAWWASSEN & THE REIFEL REFUGE
We begin our final morning in Canada by driving the short distance to Tsawwassen Jetty, a reliable spot to find Black Oystercatcher which is a fairly common nesting species here. Even in late June, it's worth 'scoping the bay for a few Surf Scoters - and perhaps White-winged Scoter, along with Great Northern Diver, Western Grebe and the occasional Greater Scaup.
On our way to the George C. Reifel Refuge, we’ll pause for a quick look for Barn Owl (where else but in an old barn), though the bird is unfortunately not always present. Once at Reifel, we’ll walk out on the trails in search of the park's many birds. Most notable however are the nesting Sandhill Cranes. For many years now, a pair of Sandhills have nested and raised young, and these particular birds are often quite tame - allowing excellent views! We can also expect a nice variety of waterfowl at Reifel, though at this time of year it is the reserve's Wood Ducks that usually steal the show. We will also discover that the American Crows of the interior have been replaced by its coastal relative, the Northwestern Crow, which is an abundant bird throughout the Vancouver area.
Of course, no proper birding trip would be complete without a visit to some sewage ponds - so we'll remedy that after lunch today by rounding off our tour at the Iona Sewage Ponds! In late June, lingering or returning shorebirds could include Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson’s Snipe, while summer waterfowl include Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal. Purple Martins nest in boxes alongside the sewage ponds, and in the bushes nearby we may encounter Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee and the lovely American Goldfinch.
Our birding over, we transfer to nearby Vancouver Airport late this afternoon for farewells to Chris and our overnight flight home.
ARRIVAL IN LONDON
We arrive back at London Heathrow early this afternoon, where our Canadian Rockies: Jasper-Vancouver tour concludes.