Merritt Birding Trip April 20 -21, 2024

Merritt Birding Trip April 20 -21, 2024

Submitted By Thomas Plath

April 20th

Fifteen keen participants met at the McDonald’s in Merritt for an afternoon and morning of birding. After the customary sign in and organization of people and overnight gear we were able to accommodate everyone in five vehicles. We headed up to our first birding area – the Interior Douglas-fir/Lodgepole Pine forest of the Interior Plateau south of Kamloops. The numerous small meadows inundating the montane forest make this prime habitat for Great Grey Owl. Taking the Lac Le Jeune exit, the intent was to drive the back roads across the plateau to Hwy 5A. A local who had just driven the McConnell Forest Service Road (FSR) told me they weren’t hauling today but a sign indicated no public access. The group played it safe and we headed for the public Goose Lake Road.

A quick stop to view an Osprey resulted in close views of a foraging Mountain Chickadee however strong winds made for tough birding. Goose Lake produced a bunch of waterfowl and early migrants. In addition to a few dabblers a lone Ruddy Duck accompanied a flock of 40 Lesser Scaup and 15 Barrow’s Goldeneye. Tree Swallows foraged over the lake and a pair of Mountain Bluebirds attended a nest box. Napier Lake beside the 5A en route to Merritt was much better producing a male Ruffed Grouse beside the road, two breeding plumaged Red-necked Grebes, more Ruddy Ducks and a flock of 30 Canvasback on the lake. A couple of Say’s Phoebe foraging for insects near some cattle pens was a nice treat and a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds perched on nearby wires.

Beaver Flats, one of the best birding areas in the Nicola Valley was our next destination. This Ducks Unlimited wetland often produces rarities but not today. We had to settle for an early male Cinnamon Teal and a few Northern Pintail in amongst the dozen species of waterfowl in front of us. Flocks of recently arrived Yellow-headed Blackbirds flew between reed beds and a lone Cliff Swallow aerial fed with the Tree Swallows over the marsh. Despite the wind and cold a singing Western Meadowlark reminded us, it was in fact spring.

Five cars parked on private property attract attention. Haley, the new owner of the Guichon Ranch drove up to greet us. At first with trepidation, after all environmentalists and beef ranchers might be at odds, however, a talk with our friendly group eased suspicions and it was apparent both groups were on the same side. Ranchers and birders want to protect and enhance wildlife populations. Not without humor Haley showed us a picture of a lost and floundering Blue-footed Booby on the grassland. It was exciting until closer inspection revealed it was a female Ruddy Duck!

The Guichon family raises cattle and has a long history of conservation and protection of wildlife in the Nicola valley including using their land for part of the Burrowing Owl raise and release program. Conservation is in part what attracted Haley’s family to purchase the ranch honoring the tradition of protecting wildlife while ranching.

A brief stop at the boat launch washroom gave us our last birds of the day a beautiful Horned Grebe close to shore and Common Loon. Dinner and a cheer at the Home Restaurant prepared us for tomorrow’s birding adventure.

April 21st

Following our meet at McDonald’s at 630 AM we headed up Midday Valley Road for our main prize of the weekend – Williamson’s Sapsucker. It had rained the night before, grounding early migrants. Dozens of Townsend’s Solitaires were observed along the roadside all the way up to our destination. Crazy! Getting out of the vehicles we were greeted by cold and wind. The weather didn’t seem to bother our target bird and almost immediately a couple were heard drumming and calling. It took a bit of time but eventually the group got scope views of a beautiful male Williamson’s Sapsucker perched up on a snag, and then shortly afterwards for comparison a nearby Red-naped Sapsucker. A close drumming Ruffed Grouse eluded us, and the wind kept the bird activity down. Following a couple of fruitless stops it was decided to pick up our gear from our accommodation in Merritt, briefly “refresh” ourselves and head for birding stops around Nicola lake.

An attempt to get out of the wind found us up Mill Creek Road where in a brief stop we recorded a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier and Swainson’s Hawk overhead, a Say’s Phoebe and Townsend’s Solitaire moving along a fence line, and close views of Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging along a rocky streambed. Photos by Adam revealed a closer look at the field marks of the early Swainson’s Hawk.

Our last stop was Monck Park for Ponderosa Pine associated bird species. It was unusually quiet with no crossbills or nutcrackers but with a little effort we finally picked up a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and more good views of Towsend’s Solitaire. Yellow-bellied Marmots fed on the grass areas near the beach and a Yellow-Pine Chipmunk sunned itself on a boulder.

It was early afternoon and we had a few hour’s drive ahead of us so the group said our goodbyes and left their separate ways, some continuing to bird others going home. Despite the unfavorable birding weather, much laughter was heard and great sightings were had, including “lifers” for a few of the group making this trip a fun and memorable experience. I would like to extend a big thanks to the participants for making it a great trip. I’m looking forward to our next excursion.

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