ARRIVAL IN CALGARY
Our birdwatching tour to the Canadian Rockies begins with a British Airways flight nonstop from London Heathrow to Calgary, where Chris will be waiting to welcome us. Evening arrival and transfer to our nearby hotel. Night Calgary
Our birding should get off to a cracking start today with a visit to Frank Lake, which lies to the south of Calgary. This impressive wetland is home to a wealth of exciting birds and our bird list could very well top the hundred species mark by the end of the day. Out on the water, we’ll watch for Redhead, Canvasback and the dainty Bufflehead, while the lake’s reedy margins are attractive to richly-coloured Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teals, whinnying Sora Rails, scolding Marsh Wrens and eye-catching Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Huge numbers of dapper Franklin’s Gulls breed at the lake, completely unconcerned by our presence so close to their nests. As they drift noisily overhead, with them we should find smaller numbers of the attractive California Gull, along with Forster’s Terns.
Investigating more open stretches of shoreline, we should also enjoy our first North American shorebirds. American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Snipe and Wilson’s Phalarope are usually about, with White-faced Ibis and the outsize American White Pelican possible, too. We should see our first Tree Swallows and Cliff Swallows - two common species that we are sure to encounter most days, but seeing the first is a special joy.
The lake is fringed by grasslands, where the rich fluting song of Western Meadowlarks fills the air and Northern Harriers quarter in search of a meal. There are Horned Larks to watch for as well as Savannah and Vesper Sparrows. If we are very lucky, we might also come across the secretive Le Conte’s Sparrow and the furtive Sprague’s Pipit, both of which nest here in small numbers. Late in the afternoon we return for a second night at our hotel in Calgary - and reflect on a superb day’s birding! Night Calgary
Days 3 - 4
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
We make an early start on Day 3 and head west from Calgary towards Banff, birding in the foothills as we go for eastern North American species such as Nelson’s, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, Cape May Warbler, Eastern Phoebe and Least Flycatcher - to name but a few. We should arrive at our destination around mid-afternoon.
Set against a backcloth of high snowy peaks, our birding around Banff promises to be spectacular. Pristine coniferous forests harbour such gems as Townsend’s and Audubon’s Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Pine Siskin, and Mountain and Boreal Chickadees. Looking for Wilson’s, Tennessee, MacGillivray’s, Orange-crowned, Yellow and Blackpoll Warblers will keep us on our toes, while shy Swainson’s Thrushes taunt us as they sing from deep within the forest. Showy Willow Flycatchers flirt in... yes, you guessed it!... the willows, uttering their incessant ‘fits you’ song. The look-alike Alder Flycatcher also occurs here and Chris will help you to learn how to tell this testing twosome apart. Animated Red-breasted Nuthatches feed acrobatically in the woodlands, where their distinctive nasal ‘beeping’ call is reminiscent of a reversing lorry. The Banff area is also excellent area for mammals and we have chances of seeing Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Coyote - and possibly even American Black Bear!
Our stay at Banff will be enhanced by visits to several wetlands, including the evocatively-named Vermilion Lakes. These shallow waters are home to nesting Ospreys and Bald Eagles, Great Northern Divers and Trumpeter Swans, while on the deeper waters of Moraine Lake we shall hope to find two of North America’s most desirable ducks: Barrow’s Goldeneye and the immaculate Harlequin. Grey-suited Clark’s Nutcrackers can be especially confiding here and will doubtless try to steal any morsel of food that we have upon us! Nearby woodlands are home to Grey Jay, Varied Thrush and that monster of a finch, the highly desired Pine Grosbeak.
A stroll along the Johnson Canyon trail to the waterfall may reward us with our first Pacific-slope Flycatcher and American Dipper. Here we should also find the exquisite Calypso Orchid - while inquisitive Golden-mantled Squirrels are sure to find us! Two nights Banff
BANFF TO SALMON ARM
We cover quite a bit of ground today as we continue westwards from Banff, up and over the high Rockies to Salmon Arm, a small town on the shore of Shuswap Lake. Our journey along the Trans-Canada Highway will take us through Banff, Yoho, Glacier and Revelstoke National Parks. Boasting some of the most spectacular scenery in all North America, we’ll make stops along the way simply to enjoy the views. We will pause to look for birds - and any bears! - when opportunities arise and also to break our journey at Skunk Cabbage trail in Revelstoke.
Despite its name, the Skunk Cabbage is a wonderful plant, its brilliant yellow spathes brightening Canada's marshes in spring. With luck, they will be past their smelly ‘best’ by the time we arrive to enjoy the boardwalk through the reserve’s alder and willow carr in search of American Redstarts and Willow Flycatchers. Elusive Veeries sing from deep within the scrub and the shy MacGillivray’s Warbler may pop into view - then out again! Night Salmon Arm
SALMON ARM TO KAMLOOPS
Having got a fair chunk of the driving out of the way yesterday, we will be free to spend the first part of the day exploring the varied mosaic of habitats by the lovely lakeshore at Salmon Arm.
Waterbirds should be much in evidence and we may well encounter our first Wood Ducks, along with numerous American Wigeon, Shovelers and Redheads. The large flocks of Western Grebes here usually harbour one or two Clarke’s Grebes and we will endeavour to pick one out by its contrasting paler flanks and more richly coloured bill. The marshy fringes are alive with noisy Brewer’s, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds; furtive Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats are also present but with all those distracting 'blackbirds' around, they are easily overlooked! Virginia Rails and Soras call from deep within the reedbeds and, with a bit of luck, we will hope to lure one into view. The adjacent woodlands hold Black-capped Chickadees, Red-eyed Vireos and Audubon’s Warblers.
In the afternoon, we follow the South Thomson River into Kamloops. Progressing westwards, we'll notice that the habitat becomes noticeably drier, with towering Ponderosa Pines dotting sage covered hillsides. By the roadside, many Ospreys nest on poles and Bald Eagles are numerous. We should arrive in Kamloops with time to enjoy some birding at one of the many superb sites around the edge of town. Night Kamloops
Our two-night stay at Kamloops offers a chance to sample the different range of birds to be found along the productive Paul Lake Road. Running through a succession of habitats - from riparian woodland through arid, aromatic sagebrush to meadow grassland - the Paul Lake area is rich in small rodents, which in turn attract numerous raptors. Likely species include Golden and Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk and American Kestrel. We’ll also hope to find stately Long-billed Curlews stalking the grasslands and watch lemon-chested Western Meadowlarks singing from roadside fenceposts.
Moving higher, the Kamloops woodlands are frequented by Red-naped Sapsucker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and the beautiful Mountain Bluebird. We have good chances to bump into American Black Bear here, perhaps seeing one feeding nonchalantly on daisies beside the road.
Arriving at Lake Paul for lunch, we will listen out for singing Townsend’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers, American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Warbling Vireo and Dark-eyed Junco. The lake itself is a good spot to see Barrow’s Goldeneye, numerous Lesser Scaup and the immaculate Great Northern Diver, while restless Spotted Sandpipers teeter beside the shore.
If time allows, we will call at Tranquille, along the shores of Kamloops Lake. This delightful corner is home to many commoner species and we can look for any that may have eluded us until now - the colourful Lazuli Bunting perhaps, or Grey Catbird, Eastern Kingbird and Cedar Waxwing. The Cottonwood trees often hold one or two pairs of Lewis’s Woodpeckers. This most unusual woodpecker - with a pink, grey and dark green colour palette all of its own - can look remarkably Jackdaw-like in flight and is often be seen flycatching from the tops of the taller trees! Night Kamloops
Days 8 - 9
Leaving Kamloops today, we make our way slowly towards Chris’s home town of Kelowna. As we pass through these low-lying warmer valleys, exciting birding on the numerous roadside lakes is sure to slow our progress! Fortunately, we have set aside most of the day to complete this short drive, allowing ample time to seek out some of the more alluring inhabitants.
Some of the best birding will doubtless be at Beaver Ranch Flats, a superb wetland that is home to a breeding colony of American Black Terns and where we can also expect to catch up with ducks such as Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal that we won’t have seen since Frank Lake. American Coots and Pied-billed, Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes are numerous here, too. If we are lucky, we may encounter Black Swifts and Common Nighthawks hawking over the lakes, or watch a dashing Peregrine hunting the duck flocks. Eventually we must drag ourselves away from this delightful spot and continue on to our hotel in Kelowna, where we stay for two nights.
Surrounding Kelowna is a patchwork of beautiful mixed forests and lakes that are home to some of Western North America’s most sought-after specialities. Following breakfast next morning, we will drive into the forested hills high above the town at what should be the start of another exciting day!
On the lower slopes we may find Calliope Hummingbird - North America’s smallest bird - along with the skulking Northern Waterthrush (with its decidedly Chaffinch-like song), Dusky Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and the gorgeous Western Tanager.
Higher up, parties of Grey Jays may glide across the road, bringing us to a sudden halt. One of the ‘most wanted’ specialities in the forests is the gorgeous Varied Thrush, and we will hope to find a male in his exotic black and orange garb. Nearby, we are sure to hear noisy gatherings of Steller’s Jays - although it is often them that manage to ‘find’ us. These wonderful woodlands are also home to the big Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow, shy Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes and, if we are lucky, the elusive Pine Grosbeak. The latter is seldom an easy bird to find, but is seemingly quite numerous here.
We will seek out patches of burnt forest that woodpeckers - especially Hairy, American Three-toed and Black-backed - find particularly attractive. The evocatively named Townsend’s Solitaire also frequents these blackened forests, its song drifting through the stark, charred skeletons of the trees. On the way back to Kelowna, we visit Robert Lake. Although we may be a little too early in the season to find migrant shorebirds here, there are sure to be many Wilson’s Phalaropes, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, spotty Spotted Sandpipers and possibly American Avocet to keep us entertained.
One of Kelowna’s star attractions most years is the elusive Flammulated Owl - and being local, Chris usually knows exactly where best to look for them! So, for those that want, one evening after dinner we will drive for 40 minutes or so up into the surrounding hills and begin our search. The owl's call is deceptively quiet, invariably sounding distant - when it isn’t! In fact, if you can hear it, the owl can almost certainly see you! We will hope that we can again get close enough to encourage one into view and repeat our past successes with this bird, when we have enjoyed fantastic views of this elfin denizen of Canada's western forests.
Returning to town, we’ll make a short stop to try for Common Poorwill, North America’s smallest nightjar, which is fairly common in this region. Two nights Kelowna
Days 10 - 11
OKANAGAN FALLS & OSOYOOS
We travel south to Osoyoos, last stop before the border with Washington State and the USA. We’ll pause en route to bird at Hardy Falls and in the hills above the Okanagan Falls, where silvered torrents cascade through the extensive mixed woodlands. The delightful American Dipper, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo and that ultimate test of field skill, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, are here waiting to be found!
As we approach the Okanagan Falls, we’ll search the hills for Williamson’s Sapsucker, a stunning woodpecker which frequents old trees surrounding secluded glades. Nearby, we may encounter Black-backed Woodpecker, Barred Owl and Goshawk, while hoping that the likes of Lewis’s Woodpecker, Mountain Bluebird and Pygmy Nuthatch will also give themselves up without too much of a fight in the upland forests of Ponderosa Pine.
Our time at Osoyoos will take us into some varied habitats, including extensive sagebrush flats that are home to some of Canada’s rarest breeding birds. With any luck, here we will find Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow and the tiny Grasshopper Sparrow. Later we shall go in search of Canada’s rarest Empidonax, the Grey Flycatcher, stopping along the way to seek out the boldly-patterned Lark Sparrow along with White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Wood Pewee, Cassin’s Finch, Common Crossbill and Nashville Warbler.
The cliffs, wetlands, fields and woodland edge surrounding Osoyoos should reveal yet more enticing birds. Large numbers of Ospreys and Bald Eagles breed here, often very close to the roads and affording photographers unparalleled opportunities. Bobolinks nest in the grassy meadows and the striking Yellow-breasted Chat hides in the roadside scrub. Nearby, Northern Harriers drift low over the fields, and graceful Violet-green and Tree Swallows hawk insects over the rivers. While we are here, we’ll check to see whether the powerful Prairie Falcon has returned to its favoured haunt on Throne Mountain.
Weather permitting, there may be a further opportunity for those that wish to go out again after dinner in search of owls and other nocturnal creatures. Although night-birding is always unpredictable, over various previous visits here we have been lucky to see Great Horned, Long-eared, Western Screech and Barn Owls. Two nights Osoyoos
OSOYOOS TO VANCOUVER
After some early morning birding near Osoyoos, we head west to Manning Park. The cool hills are a pleasant place to break our journey and it is here that we may enjoy our best looks at Rufous Hummingbirds as they zip about the feeders. When seen well, this really is a spectacular little bird! Overhead, parties of stub-tailed Vaux’s Swifts dash above the forest canopy and, in the parking lot, we’ll doubtless be pestered by the resident Clark’s Nutcrackers that want to share our lunches!
In the afternoon, as we continue down towards the Pacific coast, Glaucous-winged Gulls and Northwestern Crows become ever more plentiful.
The range of habitats and great birding spots in and around Vancouver is impressive, so we’ve allowed ourselves plenty of time to make the most of what is on offer. To avoid the worst of Vancouver’s traffic we stay towards the outskirts of the city, with easy access to the freeways and best birding spots. Night Vancouver
VANCOUVER: THE PACIFIC COAST
Birding along Canada’s Pacific shore offers a superb contrast to that in the mountains as we seek to round off our tour with a wealth of exciting coastal species.
Lighthouse Park is a quiet spot set in a pleasant neighbourhood. Here we’ll find ourselves birding amidst British Columbia’s ‘temperate rainforest’, with its dense groves of stately old Western Hemlocks and Western Red Cedars, draped in lichens and mosses, towering high above our heads. This is one of the most threatened habitats in all of North America - and rich in birds. In quick succession here, we may find the snazzy Red-breasted Sapsucker, Black-throated Grey and Townsend’s Warblers, Brown Creeper, the kinglet-like Hutton’s Vireo and the engaging Chestnut-backed Chickadee. The treetops are home to Olive-sided Flycatchers and we are sure to hear their ‘quick, three beers’ song... but actually seeing one sitting right up there, one hundred metres or so above our heads in the dense forest canopy, may prove taxing - not to mention a literal pain in the neck!
As we reach the lighthouse itself, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, American Black Oystercatcher and Pigeon Guillemot will be likely additions to our list. We might even be fortunate to spot the strange Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that, bizarrely, nests high in the tree-tops deep within the old-growth forests – a fact only discovered as recently as 1974!
Later in the day we will visit the Maplewood Flats Reserve, situated on the Burrard Inlet. Caspian Terns, Great Blue Herons and Pelagic Cormorants sail by over the inlet, and it’s at Burrard that we have our only real chance to see the scarce Purple Martin. Unlike their eastern counterparts, here they attend nestboxes set on pilings out in the marshes, shunning the garden settings which they prefer elsewhere! Parties of diminutive Bushtits roam the adjacent woodland and Song Sparrows are also numerous - but sounding quite different to those we may already have heard in the Rockies. Night Vancouver
Days 14 - 15
VANCOUVER WETLANDS, FLY LONDON
On our final day in Canada we’ll visit two excellent birding localities that lie to the south of Vancouver and conveniently close to the airport.
At low tide, the extensive mud flats at Tsawwassen hold huge numbers of Great Blue Herons, but as the tide starts to rise these retreat to their nearby colony. Feeding shorebirds and gulls are displaced too and we should enjoy good looks at the many birds here. We’ll scan the sea for parties of summering Surf and White-winged Scoters, and Harlequin Ducks, and may also be lucky to spot a tardy Pacific Diver or watch as a distant party of Rhinoceros Auklets goes skittering past. Lounging groups of Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants sometimes conceal a stray Brandt’s Cormorant, a scarce bird here at the northern edge of its range. American Black Oystercatcher is the most likely shorebird, but we can also hope for a lingering Black Turnstone or possibly a Surfbird on the rocks and groynes.
To round off a superb birding tour, we’ll call in at the Reifel Migratory Bird Refuge. Even at this late stage we may come across one or two new species for the trip - perhaps a pair of majestic Sandhill Cranes, a vociferous Bewick’s Wren or a party of stout-billed Greater Yellowlegs with their Greenshank-like call.
On the afternoon of day 14, we transfer to Vancouver Airport for farewells to Chris and our overnight flight home. Arrival back at London Heathrow on the afternoon of day 15, where our Canadian Rockies tour concludes.