Sunday, 10 July 2011

No Pain, No Cain...

Following an invite I couldn't refuse, I headed up island on Friday afternoon to meet up with Rich Mooney and Justin Lynch. They were planning a trek up to the summits of Mount Cain and, conditions permitting, Mount Abel.
Knowing that they have both seen white-tailed ptarmigan in that same area, I was definitely happy to accept their offer to join them.
Leaving Nanaimo around 6pm, we eventually arrived at the Mt Cain ski area about 10pm. This area is about 20km from the community of Woss, and just under 300km from Nanaimo. After we set up camp we got our heads down and, despite the best efforts of the immense local tree frog population, we actually got some sleep before rising just after 5am.
Following brekkie, we commenced our ascent. Practically the first bird we came across was a fine singing male pine grosbeak - a great way to start any day! We added gray jay to the list, and hearing the distinctive hoots of a male sooty grouse we soon located the bird sat up in a tree and watched it 'singing'.

Before long we got into ptarmigan habitat and we were all finely tuned to any sound or movement. We optimistically discovered piles of ptarmigan droppings (pictured) and even came across a few feathers. But no birds were forthcoming.
A high altitude American robin was something of a surprise, and we had a fly-through merlin.
Then a large dark finch with a pink rump flew by emitting a distinctive 'churp' sound. Hoorah! Gray-crowned rosy-finch! One of the true alpine specialists that I was really hoping for. Later we heard what we assumed was it singing, but couldn't locate it. In this same area we also saw an American pipit and heard this bird singing too.

Given the high volumes of snow still present after the record winter, we struggled to find much in the way of suitable habitat for the ptarmigans to breed in. There were relatively few areas of open heather and rocky scree, and so perhaps the birds had moved to an area where food and suitable nesting sites were easier to come by? I can only imagine that if the birds were in this area we would have found them fairly easily, given the minimal snow-free habitat. Of course, small 'islands' were present here and there, and perhaps they were sitting tight in those?

Me, Rich & Justin at the Summit of Mount Cain
All in all, it was an excellent day, and other than my unscheduled speedy (and I have to say, rather scary) descent of 100 metres down into the East Bowl, it was a thrilling experience. The weather remained on our side throughout the day and the views were simply breath-taking.
The only bird of note we saw on the descent was another sooty grouse, this time a lovely female.
Rich and Justin's enthusiasm and energy made the whole thing even more enjoyable, and I'm extremely grateful to them for allowing me to join them. I feel privileged to have been able to venture into an area of Vancouver Island that would have otherwise remained a mystery to me.       
Read Rich's account of our day, and see more pics, at his Birding Field Notes blog.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you were able to come. Really enjoyed your company. Looking forward to birding with you in the U.K. and behond:)