Birds and Blooms
Counting 100 species of birds in 100 Mile House, B.C., is a gruelling but rewarding task
It’s a late May afternoon and the day has grown progressively hotter. I’ve been birding since 5 a.m. and although I was full of enthusiasm and concentration during the cool morning hours, the heat of the day has made me a bit weary. My goal at the outset of the day was to count 100 species of birds in close proximity to the town of 100 Mile House, and I’m very close.
As I often do, I began my bird search at the 100 Mile House Marsh, a small wetland area in town, where it is possible to see over a dozen species of ducks, trumpeter and tundra swans, and several species of grebes. The marsh is also home to the ubiquitous yellow-headed blackbird. If you are really lucky you might also see all six species of swallows on the power line near the arena.
From town, I head west to the Bridge Creek area to look for birds such as the solitary sandpiper, hooded merganser, olive-sided flycatcher and the American three-toed woodpecker. To the south at 83 Mile’s Bogie Summit, the elusive Townsend’s solitaire cavorts on the volcanic bluffs. The golden- crowned kinglet can be heard singing from the treetops on the way to the lookout. And on it goes as I scour out all the bird species within a 12-mile radius from the centre of town.
As the afternoon warms up further, I slump into the welcome shade of a lone poplar tree on the sloping pastures above Exeter Lake. My list sits at 93.
But my relaxed attitude has a focus even as I take this little breather. I know that both species of rail—the sora and Virginia—birds still missing from my list haunt the riparian area of this lake and, being that they are furtive in their manner, listening for their voices is the best way to find them.
As I wait for the rails to call, I set up my scope on its short legs and scan the lake and surrounding area for other bird species. I spot a lone surf scoter far out on the water as six ring-billed gulls drift lazily past. Two brown humps, with just their backs showing in the tall grass, turn out to be a pair of sandhill cranes. A Northern harrier flies up from the
extensive sedge meadow on the east end of the lake and escorts a passing bald eagle away from the area—a sign that the harrier likely has a nest in the vicinity. These are all birds I need and my list continues to grow.
Then, over the strident call of a disturbed killdeer, I hear one of the rails, ”Ikit-ikit-iki.” It’s the unmistakable call of a Virginia rail. A short time later I hear a far-off whinny. It’s not a horse come to claim its pasture, but the sound of a sora rail. The number of birds on my list now sits at 98.
Satisfied with the results here at the lake, I make my way homeward, confident that I can add the last two species at the house. As the day starts to cool, I will hear the song of the hermit thrush from my back step. And the rufous hummingbird that has eluded me all day will visit my feeder before dark.
I’ve done it again. I’ve counted 100 species of birds in one day in close proximity to the town of 100 Mile House.
When I moved here more than 20 years ago, I kept notes on the bird activity around the area, noting everything from the arrival dates of migrants to the nesting times of the various species. Eventually, I realized that an impressive number of bird species could be found during a one-month period, from the middle of May to the middle of June. The goal of 100 species in a day is simply my way of taking a core sample of the richness of the bird life in the area. I have never failed to get within two or three species of reaching that arbitrary number, and oftentimes I have surpassed the goal by a few birds. But regardless the outcome of my quest, I am spending time outdoors in a most impressive part of Canada, the beautiful South Cariboo region of British Columbia.
Clockwise from top left: Bullock’s oriole; violetgreen swallow; yellow-headed blackbird.