Birds and Blooms

Count­ing 100 species of birds in 100 Mile House, B.C., is a gru­elling but re­ward­ing task

Our Canada - - Features - By Tom Godin, 100 Mile House, B. C.

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.

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