Thursday, 22 September 2011

Last day

Woke up on our last day to grey skies and heavy rain, not the finale we were hoping for.  Braving the elements, we went down to the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary, just south of Vancouver by which time the rain had stopped.  The reserve is a bit like Martin Mere with a lot of Mallards expecting to be fed in some areas but in others, they are very flighty, some of the American Wigeon, Pintail and Wood Duck too are the same.

American Wigeon

Wood Duck

It's not only the waterbirds that expect to be fed, if you stop anywhere for long enough you get mobbed by Black-capped Chickadees which will happily feed out of your hand.

One thing I have not seen a lot of on this trip is American waders, but thankfully that was put right with a good selection on the marsh, mostly Long-billed Dowitchers and Lesser Yellowlegs but also a few Least and Western Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs and single Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Stilt Sandpiper

There was quite a lot of other stuff to see, with several Great Blue Herons and a Night Heron around the pools and quite a few Spotted Towhees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common YellowthroatsLincoln's and Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a few Bushtits, a Cedar Waxwing and a couple of skulking Marsh Wrens around the bushes and Cooper's Hawk, at least 3 Northern Harriers and a Peregrine hunting around the area.

Cedar Waxwing

As we were leaving the reserve, we found a group of 16 Sandhill Cranes by the road along with 3 Lesser Snow Geese.

Sandhill Cranes

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Back to civilisation

After a couple of weeks driving around the vast open spaces of British Columbia, the trip is coming to an end and we have the head back to the bustling metropolis of Vancouver.  Leaving the wilderness of Wells Gray behind, we did at least see a Black Bear along the access road and Toni saw a Coyote too, we drove the 500km back to Vancouver.  To say it was a shock to the system was a bit of an understatement, we had got used to driving for large distances without seeing another car let alone a gas, sorry, Petrol station so to get back into lanes of traffic coming from all angles did take a bit of readjusting to.  We made our way back and settled into our comfortable La Quinta suite to take stock and repack our stuff for the flight home.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Nothing on this trip it seems will ever go to plan.

Having found the Mustangs for Toni quicker than anticpated, we had a day spare on the way back to Vancouver.  Looking at the map and the big moos-sized gap on our Mammal list we found Moose Valley just south of William's Lake and right near where we had to drive past where surely this gap could be filled.  Thankfully we stopped at a tourist information centre who told us the road there was only passable by 4x4, and although my track record of taking hire cars on tracks where I probably shouldn't, we decided against this and headed east to Wells Gray Provincial Park instead. 

Wells Gray is listed as one of THE places to look for good wildlife in British Columbia, especially many mammal species.  Unfortunately we only had the one day there which didn't leave much time for actually finding any, though a little family of Spruce Grouse by the road did at least pose for a few photos.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Wild Goose, I mean, Horse, chase

On our way back east we took a slight diversion to look for Canada's only wild Mustang herd.  I say slight diversion, but as with most of the slight diversions we have taken, it involved an couple of hour long drive along incredibly bumpy roads.  Thankfully, after much searching, we did find three genuinely wild Mustangs, in fact so wild, these ones (unlike the "Wild" Namibian, Camargue etc Horses we've seen on our travels) didn't come to have their noses scratched!!

Sad to leave...

After three days of fantastic bear watching, we have to say goodbye to Bella Coola and start to make our way back towards Vancouver.  It is quite a trek down to the valley but well worth it and it's not just the bears, but the bear watchers made the days so much more enjoyable.  Several other photographers were camped out on the platform throughout the days, all of whom were happy to share their tales and experience, in particular Murray, Sarah & Andy, Mirjam and John who made the hours pass much more quickly, and not forgetting the ever cheerful rangers Ken, Jerry and Jess.  Hopefully see you all again next year!!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Big Mac, Ruby and a Lady Diver please...

No, that is not the way Canadians order food at McDonald's, just the starring line up on another excellent day bear watching at Bella Coola.  Many of the bears that we have been seeing are regulars so much that the locals can tell them apart, and after only 3 days, so can we.

Big Mac is the dominant male of the stretch, a real brute of a bear with a distinctive mangled left ear, apparently from a dust up with one of the local females.

Big Mac

Ruby is a younger female with a distinctive face, much more Black Bear like in profile with her longer snout, and another bear we have seen a lot of in the last few days.


Lady Diver is a bit more difficult to tell (well for me), she's quite a big girl who I suspect is who bent Mac's ear, she looks perfectly capable.

Lady Diver

Saturday, 17 September 2011


The sun was shining and we were up bright and early this morning and at the viewing platform shortly after it opened.  Typically, with such good light the bears chose not to visit like they did yesterday and although during over seven hours of watching we did see 2 Grizzlies (including Big Mac, the local big male) and a Black Bear, they really didn't perform for the weekend crowds.  With a bit of luck, tomorrow may be better, though I fear the crowds won't be.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Bears, bears, everywhere....

Having survived “The Hill” (whose reputation far exceeded the actual scariness), we finally arrived in the Bella Coola Valley.  The original plan was to go straight to the campsite, have some lunch and get sorted and then maybe have a wander up to the Bear Viewing platform afterwards.  As we drove past the viewing area we thought we’d stop and have a quick look.  Three hours later we were still there surrounded by Grizzly Bears on all sides and wishing we’d made it here a week earlier rather than by the rather protracted route we took.
The Belarko Viewing Platform is manned by a couple of jolly rangers and the whole area is surrounded by electric fencing.  That said, the bears still walk around within 50 feet of you but never appear threatening, unless you happen to look (and taste) like a Salmon.  The views though really are amazing and every movement is greeted by a series of camera shutters from the various photographers camped out there.

The light wasn't the best but the views certainly were, a few bears even walked between us and the car park meaning no-one was allowed to leave until they had moved away.  Hopefully the light will be better tomorrow, but for now.....

The journey to the promised land

A week later than planned, we finally set off to Bella Coola and the promise of more bears.  The drive west from William’s Lake along the Bella Coola Highway doesn’t look far on a map, but it takes forever.  Thankfully unlike many of the other highways we’ve driven along in the last week or so, there were some good birds to look at on the way including stunning Mountain Bluebirds, Ruffed Grouse and a few Savannah Sparrows.  Just before we descended “The Hill”, we stopped at a viewpoint and were immediately harassed by a couple of Grey Jays, one of which even flew into the van to nick some of our food.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Plan D, or is it Plan A again?

Following last night's success, we were back down at the river at first light but with heavy drizzle set in for the day and a lot of logging lorries hurtling across the bridge and no sign of any bears, we gave in and headed south, stopping briefly to photograph a confiding male Spruce Grouse.

We are now back to Plan A, which is to head to Bella Coola where we had originally planned to go before they cancelled out ferry, so tomorrow we head west down the infamous Bella Coola Highway (it's even got its own wikipedia page!), where hopefully the Grizzlys should be even more plentiful.....

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Double Trouble

Following a tip of from some drunk locals, we headed further up the logging tracks to a bridge just north of Fort Babine where we had been assured there were Grizzly Bears.  On arrival we did catch a glimpse of one by the river but he didn't stick around long.  There were plenty of signs in the area and the surrounding tracks were littered with fish carcasses and bear poo.

With renewed optimism, we went back in the evening where something of a twitch occurred with up to 8 would-be bear watchers manning the bridge.  The local Ospreys did their best to entertain us and a Warbling Vireo nearby was a nice addition, but as the light faded, the crowd dwindled until it was just us, when all of the sudden two young Grizzlys appeared on the road at the other end of the bridge from where we were sat.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how close you really want to meet a Grizzly), a truck came along and they ran off into the trees.

Thankfully though, they then made their way down to the water's edge and although the light by this point really was fading and the ISO had to be cranked right up to capture anything, they did show very well as close as 50 metres away.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Plan C....

Suitably refreshed by a Starbuck's coffee, we devised a new plan to head up the Babine River, just outside Smithers.  Well when I say just outside, I actually mean up 125km of logging track from the highway.  Having spent much of the morning getting a crack in the windscreen replaced, we finally made it up to a fishery just outside the town of Granisle where we arrived just in time to see a female Black Bear with cub catching a pink Sockeye Salmon for its tea and an Osprey cirling overhead trying to catch his own.

Further up the track towards Fort Babine we did come across several other Black Bears, most of which took one look at our van and ran away, though this chap did stop long enough to get a photo of....

Monday, 12 September 2011

It never rains...

Having had a complete itinerary change due to our ferry being cancelled, we have now just had plan B go down the pan. Arriving in Prince Rupert at midnight, we replanned to go up to Stewart, right on the Alaska border only to find out (thankfully before we had got anywhere) the road there has been washed away! Now sat in Starbucks working on a plan C...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

We are sailing

With Plan A out of the window, we rerouted to Prince Rupert and spent a very pleasurable and relaxing day on a ferry winding our way up the stunning British Columbian coastline.  With glorious weather once the fog had lifted, we had excellent views of a few cetaceans including 5 Humpback Whales and a few Dall's Porpoises and Pacific White-sided Dolphins.

blowing Humpback

Seabirds too were much in evidence with Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets, Ancient Murrelet, White-winged and Surf Scoters, Sooty Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua the highlights.

This trip already has not got to plan so it was probably no surprise when we got back to the van to find the battery was flat, but thankfully the good folk of BC Ferries soon jumped the van and we were back on our way.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

We're on a road to nowhere...

With a day to kill we thought we would pop over to the west coast of the island to look for Sea Otters. What we didn't realise was the 70km of incredibly bumpy track involved to get there. A couple of hours later we arrived at Winter Harbour and did find a few Sea Otters going about their business but frustratingly after all the effort, they stayed out of the range of the cameras and we then had the 70km bumpy track to navigate back to Port Hardy with a flock of Band-tailed Pigeons the avian highlight of the trip.

Best laid plans and all that...

Woke up to light drizzle & a distinct lack of urgency to get out with camera in hand. Whilst staring out at Bear Cove and all its Bald Eagles we checked the ferry time table to see the word "CANCELLED" where we hope to see a sailing time. A quick change of plan means we are now catching a different ferry first thing tomorrow morning to Prince Rupert which is near the Alaska border, but still grizzly central...

Friday, 9 September 2011

A room with a view

After a couple of nights slumbing it in the camper van and being caked in insect repellent, we were craving a bit of comfort so have found a motel overlooking Bear Cove to spend the night.  Within minutes of checking in and looking from our balcony we were treated to a family of 5 River Otters just below us along with an American Dipper and as dusk fell, the distinctive shape of a Black Bear wandering around the estuary.

Tomorrow we head further north and a two day ferry trip before entering Grizzly country.....


No trip to Vancouver Island is complete without a boat trip out to see the resident Killer Whales.  We went out for an afternoon trip out of Telegraph Cove with Stubb's Island Whale Watch tours, and immediately ran into an eerie fog.  Spirits were soon lifted by a shout of "Orca" and there in the mist a couple of hundred yards away was the distinctive 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a male Orca.

Thankfully, the fog soon lifted and we were able to see at least 6 other Orcas, and further out we came across 2 Humpback Whales, though they weren't all that active.  As we headed back towards harbour we also came across a couple of Dall's Porpoise and a couple of Steller's Sealions.

Birdlife in the Blackfish Sound was quite interesting too with many Rhinoceros Auklets and Guillemots and also a Marbled Murrelet, a small party of 5 Harlequin Ducks and 3 juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes, whilst a few Bald Eagles watched us from the shore.

Once bitten....

A quick early morning foray around the shore of Buttle Lake and Ralph River campground first thing before the mosquitoes realised I was around did produce a gem in the shape of a cracking male MacGillivray's Warbler and a Hammond's (unless someone can tell me otherwise!) Flycatcher and a few Varied Thrushes.

Hammond's Flycatcher

Varied Thrush

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Getting better...slowly

Waking up at a picturesque Cumberland Lake to the calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches and eating my breakfast watching the local Steller's Jays clearing up the picnic tables and 3 Spotted Sandpipers along the lake shore and a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets (which looked and sounded for all the world like Thetford Forest Firecrests) was a vast improvement on the previous days.

Heading north up Vancouver Island we stopped at Oyster Bay where a Bald Eagle carrying a fish and then an Osprey trying but failing to catch its own was a nice start.  Amongst the many Black-bellied, sorry, Grey Plovers and posing Great Blue Herons were a couple of smart Black Turnstones.

There were also a few birds in the bay itself but mostly distant, though a Pigeon Guillemot, 2 Black Scoter, 3 Red-necked Grebes and a few Bonaparte's Gulls were in close enough to identify.

We finished the day in Strathcona Provincial Park, which late afternoon, once the heat had subsided, did produce 3 Blue Grouse playing chicken with cars along the road by Buttle Lake and a few Varied Thrushes (proper orange versions, not like the Cornish one!) and a White-crowned Sparrow around the campsite, along with the ubiquitous mosquitoes which always seem to appear when I am around which forced a hasty retreat back to the campfire.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

B.A in B.C

I'm not sure if it's the fact that my last big trip was to Africa where it was wall to wall wildlife, but after 2 full days of wildlife watching, we really haven't see all that much yet!  Most of the morning was lost picking up the camper van and supplies, but even driving around there just doesn't seem to be much wildlife around, apart from Northwestern Crows, there's not even much by the roads and the ferry crossing to Vancouver Island which promised much yielded just a pair of Black Scoter and a Common Seal!

Respectable Photographers....???

When we booked our camper van from Wicked Campers, we knew we weren't likely to get a run of the mill, boring van, and having told them we would be photographing wildlife so wanted something camouflage, this wasn't what we were expecting...

And whilst the side is quite funky, the message on the back does get me some funny looks, and comments...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bandits at 6 o clock (or should that be 3 o'clock?)

Having checked into the hotel, we set off for a quick afternoon trip into Vancouver before the full effects of jetlag set in.  Up to this point, the only birdlife we had seen were a handful of Northwestern Crows and Glaucous-winged Gulls as we made our way in the airport shuttle, though Stanley Park, an oasis on the outskirts of Vancouver was our destination in the afternoon heat.

With throngs of cyclists, joggers and roller bladers coming from all directions, Stanley Park really is not somewhere to try walking around when you are half asleep and struggling to come to terms with the fact it is 6 o'clock in the evening and not 3 o'clock in the morning as your body clock is trying to tell you.  The fact there are so many people around does make the wildlife remarkably tame, none more so than the many Racoons, dressed like highwaymen which appeared late afternoon and harrass passers by for any scraps, though they were very endearing, as was the Douglas' Squirrel eating a burger bun.

Dressed for the part

Even the local Squirrels are partial to fast food in this country

The birdlife was much like many city parks with truely wild Canada Geese and Wood Ducks also coming to look for scraps.  A Great Blue Heron fished oblivious to the many passers by stopping to photograph it with the camera phones and Glaucous-winged Gulls also posed for photos.

Great Blue Heron

Glaucous-winged Gull

Wood Duck

Other birdlife was fairly thin on the ground, though Northern Flicker, Black-capped Chickadee, White-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee and a Belted Kingfisher weren't a bad start to the trip.

Toto, we're not in Kansas any more!

Following an early start, a bumpy take-off from a wet and windy Heathrow and a nine hour flight we finally made it to Vancouver, an hour and a half after we left, or so the clock was telling us.  Normally long haul flights are tedious with nothing to see out of the window, but I'm not sure many people see a mass of Beluga Whales from 30,000 feet in Hudson Bay looking like grains of rice close in to the shoreline like we were lucky enough to and the view over the glaciers of Greenland wasn't bad either!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Lakes listing

Having only been down the Nunnery Lakes reserve a handful of times before this year, despite it being a short walk from where I have worked for the past 8 years, the BTO Vs RSPB TEAL Cup has changed all that and rather belatedly I am now an avid Lakes Lister.

Starting 8 years too late means there are still some glaring omissions to my list, but a text from Lakes resident (almost literally!) Nick Moran had me hotfooting it down to the meadow to successfully twitch 2 Yellow Wagtails this evening, though I only saw them in flight - but they all count.