Thursday, 14 June 2012

Trench Fever

Almost a month ago, if you recall, I saw a Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) that had wandered up into the Rocky Mountain Trench and looked quite out of place in the Bush Arm of Kinbasket Lake, northeast of Golden.  The wave of interesting Great Basin species this spring in British Columbia left me optimistic that my work trip back in the Rocky Mountain Trench - the Golden-Mica Creek-Valemount circuit - might turn up an interesting bird or two.  My optimism was elevated even further when I received an e-mail from James Bradley with a photo attached depicting a female Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) found in Valemount.

The deck seemed to be stacked in my favour, so I birded from the Monashee Lodge to the Mica Creek camp after putting in a wet work day.  I was interested in wandering around the Mica Creek camp because it seems to pull in some interesting birds due to the matrix of disturbed habitats around the buildings (including a small golf course).  Last year I saw a rather lost-looking Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) feeding around the buildings, and a few years ago Jamie Fenneman had a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) there.

Once I reached the camp, I was immediately rewarded with a female Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena) feeding on a lawn near a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater).  I am not used to seeing Lazuli Buntings hopping around on the ground in the open, so I followed it for a bit and took a couple photos.

The tawny wash, bicoloured bill, and white wing bar peg this rather drab bird as a female Lazuli Bunting.  She's definitely not as flashy as the male counterpart.

The Lazuli Bunting flew a short distance around the corner of a building into another lawn area with gravel patches.  I was distracted for a minute by writing down other species, then turned back to the bunting and noticed there was another bird nearby.  When I focused my binoculars on it, I was surprised to see it was a stunning male Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)!

Lark Sparrows seem to turn up in weird places in the spring in British Columbia.  Considering their breeding range in the province is primarily in the Okanagan, they should be looked for anywhere between the coast and the Rockies.

As you can see, Lark Sparrows are quite striking with their bold black, chestnut, and white face pattern.  They are definitely one of the nicest sparrows going in the province and it's always a treat to bump into one!  The Trench Fever is running strong these days.  It truly feels like you can just walk out the door and encounter just about anything.  Maybe this will be my good bird of the trip - I'm definitely alright with that!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Sedges have edges, rushes are round... both are rare!

We're not talking just any old sedges and rushes here.  I ventured back to the Garry Oak meadows today near the Victoria waterfront in search of some rather inconspicuous rare plants.  I really didn't even know what exactly I was looking for from a visual standpoint, but I knew Kellogg's Rush (Juncus kelloggii) and Foothill Sedge (Carex tumulicola) were there to be found.  I even called up Jamie Fenneman to get some descriptions - one of these days I'll join the smartphone era and look up information for myself while out in the field.  Regardless, the descriptions seemed to work because I found both of my targets.  I also knew Heterocodon (Heterocodon rariflorum) and Tall Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior) could be found in the park, and Jamie also mentioned that I should keep an eye out for Muhlenberg's Centaury (Centaurium muehlenbergii).

A section of wet meadow with vernal pools (now dry) hosts several plants that are rare in Canada, so I focused my search in this area.  Kellogg's Rush looks quite inconsequential - it is tiny and was a bit of a needle in a haystack set within a carpet of Toad Rush (Juncus bufonius).  After an extensive scan, I eventually found an area with some small plants that appeared to be something other than Toad Rush.  I took some photos of these plants in hopes they might be the holy grail.  I was briefly worried that I was confusing Kellogg's Rush with Slender Plantain (Plantago elongata), which grows in the same area and has a vaguely similar appearance.  There were some noticeable differences, but it certainly added an extra level of complexity to my search.  For reference, this is what Slender Plantain looks like once it is in fruit.

Slender Plantain typically has several pinkish fruits, a slightly hair stem, and the fruits are more pointed compared to Kellogg's Rush

I wouldn't know the results until I got home and referenced E-Flora, which is a fantastic online provincial reference (  The photos on E-Flora revealed my rush is a dead ringer for Kellogg's Rush!

Kellogg's Rush is known only from one locality in Canada but may be overlooked due to its size

My search for Foothill Sedge was less directed.  I didn't know what habitat to look for it, so I just based my search on sedges and looked for features Jamie had informed me were diagnostic.  I eventually found one that I thought fit the bill.  Once again, a look on E-Flora confirmed I had nailed it.

I can hear you all oohing and ahhing at the majesty of Foothill Sedge

Near the Kellogg's Rush, I did manage to come across one Heterocodon.  Unfortunately it is still a little early for this species, so I was looking at a just a couple leaves.  I'm really not selling the excitement of rare plants here!

The plant in the centre with toothed leaves wrapping around the stem is Heterocodon,
which will look more impressive when it gets its purple flowers

The Tall Woolly-heads were no problem to find.  They are quite obvious and create a silvery-green carpet in some of the wet depressions.

You can get a sense of why they call these plants woolly-heads in this shot

Here is an example of a patch of Tall Woolly-heads carpeting a wet depression in a Garry Oak meadow

Along the waterfront, I checked in on Purple Sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida), which is another rare plant.  We really live in an area that is rich in rare plants, some of which would be scarce in British Columbia and Canada regardless of development.  Others have dwindled due to the extensive loss of habitat.  Purple Sanicle is quite rare, and most populations are limited to just a handful of plants.  This species can be inconspicuous until its purple flowers come out.  The leaves are diagnostic, but they don't stand out unless you're looking for them.

Close-up of Purple Sanicle's flowers

In this photo, Purple Sanicle is growing with Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis), left,
and Indian Consumption Plant (Lomatium nudicaule), bottom right

The scientific name "bipinnatifida" refers to the leaves being twice pinnate,
which is starting to show on some of these Purple Sanicle leaves

Just to make sure this entry doesn't alienate those that prefer animals, I'll add a shot of an Orange-crowned Warbler from Christmas Hill earlier in the morning.

This Orange-crowned Warbler was feeding in Garry Oaks

There's lots to see out there right, rare or not, so get out and enjoy the sights and sounds of your favourite local haunt!