Wildlife Highlights 2021

With Covid lurking around every corner, we didn’t do much traveling this year – in fact the small amount of traveling we did was all in British Columbia except for 2 days just across the border in Alberta. So most of our wildlife experiences in 2021 were close to our home in Logan Lake, southern interior of BC.


Winter is a lean time for seeing wildlife, but there are some interesting options. I usually try to get up into the high grasslands in winter, hoping to find Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and, once in a long while – a Snowy Owl.

I love the subtle light and texture of snow and grass with softly rounded hills. Douglas Lake plateau – 29 January 2021. © Alan Burger

Muted sunlight breaking through a snowy day – Douglas Lake plateau, 29 January 2021. © Alan Burger

Horned Larks breed on the Douglas Lake plateau. This bird might have been an early arrival or just passing through – 12 March 2021. © Alan Burger

Northern Pygmy-owls are year-round residents in our area, and they usually hunt in daylight, providing opportunities for winter shots like this. Near the Quilchena Hotel – 3 January 2021

I took these photos of a juvenile Northern Shrike through our living-room window in Logan Lake. On an exceptionally sunny January day this bird was having some success catching flies that were coming out of winter hiding spots. © Alan Burger

Two species of chickadees liven up our garden all year round: Black-capped Chickadee (left) and Mountain Chickadee (right). They are often together in mixed flocks in winter. © Alan Burger


My favourite season in Canada. Plants begin to come alive, insects emerge, migrant birds arrive and one is left amazed at the life that has survived the savage winter cold.

The tiny Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) is always the first plant to bloom in our area. The shiny yellow petals, less than 2 cm across, act as solar collectors and provide a touch of warmth to visiting insects in the chilly spring days. © Alan Burger

For the past two years in spring, a pair of elegant Black-necked Stilts has been foraging in the shallow ponds at Tunkwa Provincial Park, just 15 km from our home. They are rare breeders in BC so I keep hoping they will stay and breed, but they haven’t yet. 5 May 2021. © Alan Burger

In the same ponds as the stilts was this Wilson’s Phalarope. They do regularly breed in the BC interior but I’ve yet to see evidence of breeding in the Logan Lake area. Tunkwa Provincial Park, 5 May 2021. © Alan Burger

One normally encounters Grey-crowned Rosy-finches in high alpine areas at the edges of snow banks. But two of these handsome finches appeared in our backyard among the juncos. This bird is actually the coastal race of the species (hepburni), not the race one would expect in the interior. Logan Lake,  10 April 2021. © Alan Burger

Muskrats are quite common in our area, usually in small ponds or lakes. This one was munching on a tuber among the cat-tails at Tunkwa Provincial Park – 17 April 2021. © Alan Burger

The rushes and cat-tails around small ponds are the usual habitat for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. This is a male. Just before I took the photo he was giving his weird harsh song. Tunkwa Provincial Park, 19 April 2021. © Alan Burger

A male Mountain Bluebird – Tunkwa Provincial Park, 5 May 2021. © Alan Burger

Spring sees lots of waterfowl courtship – Barrow’s Goldeneyes at the Logan Lake marsh – 14 May 2021. © Alan Burger

One of our largest butterflies – a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail on a dandelion flower – Lundbom Commonage near Merritt, 26 May 2021. © Alan Burger

In early June I drove up to northeastern BC for 2 weeks. Stopped at several wildlife hotspots and spent several days around Tumbler Ridge with friends. I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of large mammals I encountered, despite the ever-present human activity of logging, oil and gas extraction and some ranching.

I spent a couple of days at the Muhaga Marsh near Mackenzie in central BC. There is a bird banding station here but it was boarded up. In the nearby marshes were numerous Moose. At one point I could see 10 at once, scattered around the wetlands – these 4 were part of that aggregation. 2 June 2021.  © Alan Burger

Common Garter Snakes basking in the spring sunshine. They have probably just emerged from their winter hibernaculum. Muhaga Marsh, 1 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Black Bears were common too – this one was next to the highway near Chetwynd – 2 June 2021.  © Alan Burger

One of the highlights of my trip was to have this family of Grizzly Bears – mom and 2 large cubs – eating dandelions next to the highway near Tumbler Ridge – 8 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Northeastern British Columbia supports many birds that are rare or absent in the rest of the province – Blackpoll Warbler is one of those species. This male was singing at the Bullmoose Marsh near Tumbler Ridge, 3 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Also at Bullmoose Marsh were a pair of Solitary Sandpipers – a rare species in most of BC. 8 June 2021. © Alan Burger

A short hike in the hills above the town of Tumbler Ridge produced this male Dusky Grouse – 3 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Macoun’s Arctic butterfly (Oeneis macounii) in the forest near Tumbler Ridge – 9 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Tumbler Ridge lies among the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and provides ready access to some excellent alpine habitats – Mt Spieker, 10 June 2021. Note the large wind turbine farm in the distance. © Alan Burger

Golden-mantled Ground-squirrel in the alpine of Mt. Spieker near Tumbler Ridge – 10 June 2021.  © Alan Burger

White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Spieker, 10 June 2021.  © Alan Burger

Hoary Marmot on Mt. Spieker, 10 June 2021.  © Alan Burger

On my way home from Tumbler Ridge I spent a couple of nights, and a lovely day of hiking in Mount Robson Provincial Park in the heart of the Rockies.

In a seemingly barren rocky stretch was this splash of colour – Yellow Ladyslipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). Mt Robson Provincial Park, 12 June 2021. © Alan Burger

After a day in cloud, Mount Robson finally emerged in all its glory as the sun was setting, 12 June 2021. © Alan Burger


Southern British Columbia had a rather brutal summer in 2021. First we had the “heat dome” with unprecedented high temperatures day after day in late June and early August. Even at Logan Lake, elevation 1100 m, we had 3 successive days over 40C and 4 weeks when it was over 30C most days. Then, driven by the heat and drought came the wildfires. Huge forest fires burning in many parts of the province. We endured weeks of thick smoke and the stress of the Tremont wildfire getting closer to our town Logan Lake. This fire eventually burnt 635 square km of forest, caused us to evacuate our town for 8 days, burnt to within 200 m of our house and destroyed the cherished ski and hiking trails bordering the town. The town was only saved by heroic work by 170 firefighters and a lot of heavy equipment.

This is what the forest adjacent to Logan Lake looked like when we returned from evacuation. Smouldering continued for a couple of weeks. 23 August 2021. © Alan Burger

The fire was so intense that it burnt up roots creating underground tunnels. 23 August 2021. © Alan Burger

A few days after our return home this Long-tailed Weasel showed up in our garden. It has injuries, probably burns from the wildfire or hot ash. 2 September 2021. © Alan Burger

Woodpeckers are one of the few bird species that one still sometimes finds in the burnt forest, mostly at the few trees that are still alive with just scorched bark.

A male Pileated Woodpecker in the Logan Lake ski trails forest. © Alan Burger

Months after the fire many trees show these distinctive markings – presumably where woodpeckers have flaked off the bark to seek insects beneath. Cooked insects maybe? Logan Lake ski trails, 7 November 2021. © Alan Burger

Before the evacuation we did escape the smoke for a wonderful 5-day trip to Cathedral Provincial Park. I’ve posted photos of that trip here:  Cathedral Park 2021

During this time we also spent several days kayaking in nearby Mamit Lake and enjoying the plentiful wildlife there. I’ve posted photos of that here:

Birding by kayak on Mamit Lake, Summer 2021 – click here

More Mamit Lake wildlife  – August 2021 – click here

Here are a few pre-fire photos

Wild horses are a feature of the Logan Lake area. In winter they do a lot of damage to our carefully groomed XC ski trails, but at other times they are quite fun to see.

A mating pair of Common Apline butterflies (Erebia epipsodea) in a meadow near Logan Lake – 22 June 2021. © Alan Burger

Anicia Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia) nectaring on a Brown-eyed Susan bloom. Photo taken just up the hill from our Logan Lake house – 26 June 2021. © Alan Burger

During our enforced wildfire evacuation we spent some days in Victoria. This Trumpeter Swan was still in Esquimalt Lagoon when its conspecifics had migrated north to breeding grounds in northern BC and beyond. 18 August 2021. © Alan Burger

A Western Sandpiper at Esquimalt Lagoon, Victoria – 18 August 2021. © Alan Burger

Fall and Winter

Early fall remains a good time for birding in our area, with the passage of migrant birds. Mamit Lake is a great place for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

Mamit Lake in fall – September/October 2021 – click here

On a cold, windy October day I went with 2 friends up to Tunkwa Provincial Park. A highlight of the day was this Great Grey Owl. It was hunting in the small areas of unburnt forest and wetland. One can see how windy it was in the photo on the left. 2 October 2021. © Alan Burger

Song Sparrows are one of our most widespread and common sparrows. A wooden fence created a pleasing blurring in the lower part of this photo. © Alan Burger

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are a difficult species to photograph. They are small and almost constantly on the move among the foliage. Tunkwa Provinicial Park, 2 October 2021. © Alan Burger

A trip to Vancouver Island allowed me to stop over at Blackie Spit, White Rock near Vancouver. I was there at high tide and the Dunlin were all resting. This is part of a dense flock that I estimated had over 2,000 Dunlin in it. 27 October 2021. © Alan Burger

On the same trip I enjoyed a day of ocean kayaking off Nanaimo and encountered this mixed flock of Dunlin and the larger yellow-legged Surfbirds roosting at high tide. 28 October 2021. © Alan Burger

During the Kamloops Christmas Bird Count my companion and I were attracted to this heavily pecked Douglas-fir tree. A female Pileated Woodpecker and a male Hairy Woodpecker were adding to the damage with a female Hairy out of the picture. Inks Lake area, Kamloops, 19 December 2021. © Alan Burger

In the same Inks Lake area we encountered a mixed flock of Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and White-breasted Nuthatches. Here is one of the two White-breasted Nuthatches – they are uncommon in our area and these were the only ones recorded in the Kamloops Christmas Bird Count this year. 19 December 2021. © Alan Burger



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Mamit Lake Wildlife – September & October 2021

I managed only one kayaking excursion in September on Mamit Lake, near my home at Logan Lake town – on the 2nd of the month. As is usual for early fall, the lake had abundant waterfowl and shorebirds. In total I recorded 44 species of birds while paddling the lake perimeter – about 8 km. A highlight was to see a young river otter – but it was too quick for me to get a photo. Loads of migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the bushes around the lake and these had attracted a Merlin and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

A contrast in size – two shorebirds that frequently stop over on Mamit Lake: Least Sandpiper on the left and Pectoral Sandpiper on the right. Mamit Lake 2 September 2021.

Baird’s Sandpiper is a relatively uncommon species passing through the southern interior of BC. Mamit Lake usually attracts one or two in late summer or early fall. Black legs, shortish pointed beak, long wings and scalloped back plumage are diagnostic features.

One of a small flock of Pectoral Sandpipers on 2nd September 2021.

Mallards are generally the most common duck on Mamit Lake at any time of year. This is a female.

Greenwinged Teal are also abundant on Mamit Lake. At least 60 were present on 2 September 2021.

These four Common Mergansers were the only ones seen on Mamit Lake on 2 September – but in the weeks that followed many more arrived here.

One of the summer-resident Ospreys. There are usually 2-5 of these fish-eating raptors at the lake.

Dozens of migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the bushes around the lake in early September. They are hard to photograph from a kayak as they rapidly flit around catching small insects.


Fully 6 weeks passed before I was out on the water on Mamit Lake again. During that time we had a solid dose of early winter, with low temperatures (overnight below freezing for most of early October and down to -12C one morning), rain, snow and almost constant wind. Not conducive to kayaking on an open lake. But on 18 October, in the midst of a spell of calm warmer weather, I had a wonderful morning on the lake, with glorious fall colours, lots of interesting birds and flat calm conditions.

Cottonwoods and aspen trees giving lovely coloration to the lake surrounds. Mamit Lake 18 October 2021.

There were fewer of the usual ducks and almost no Canada Geese (only 3), but instead there were some unusual species of waterbirds. A flock of 18 Snow Geese took off from the hayfield next to the lake and circled overhead. At this time of year in the southern interior of BC one sometimes sees one or two Snow Geese among the Canada Geese, but 18 is highly unusual.

Snow Geese at Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

Snow Geese circling over Mamit Lake. Look closely and you can see that several are juvenile birds with slightly duller plumage and black instead of pink beaks. © Alan Burger

Another somewhat unexpected bird was a Surf Scoter. They are, of course, super abundant on the coast of B.C., but much less so in the interior. This was my first record on Mamit Lake.

A juvenile Surf Scoter on Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

Other somewhat unusual waterbirds that were on the lake were the grebes – at the end of the morning I had tallied 12 Red-necked Grebes, 11 Horned Grebes, 4 Western Grebes and 1 Eared Grebe. These last two species were the first I’d seen on this lake. Having Western Grebes here was a special treat – I was able to drift up slowly to within photo range of these elegant birds.

Western Grebe – Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021. © Alan Burger

Western Grebes – the one on the left is in the act of diving. © Alan Burger

And yet another uncommon species – a lone adult Bonaparte’s Gull already in its winter plumage.

An adult Bonaparte’s Gull, in winter plumage, on Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021. © Alan Burger

Bonaparte’s Gull – Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021. © Alan Burger

And dominating the waterbird numbers on 18 October were Common Mergansers. I estimated at least 180 of them – all either females, immatures or males in eclipse plumage. There were no males in alternate (breeding) plumage. Seeing a flock of over 100 mergansers taking off is a thrilling sight. Many smaller flocks were sitting on the shoreline or feeding out on the lake.

Common Mergansers resting on the shore of Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

Common Mergansers in flight. © Alan Burger

A passing Bald Eagle put this flock of Common Mergansers to flight.

A pair of Common Loons generally breeds on Mamit Lake, but in fall others use the lake as a migratory stop-over. On 18 October there were four immature and one adult on the lake.

A juvenile Common Loon on Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021. © Alan Burger

The shorebirds that are a feature of this lake in late summer and early fall had nearly all moved on. The only shorebirds seen were two Long-billed Dowitchers.

Two Long-billed Dowitchers alongside a Green-winged Teal. Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

A closer look at the two Long-billed Dowitchers.

Likewise, most of the terrestrial birds that are common around the lake in summer and early fall had gone. But one interesting addition was a few Horned Larks. I could hear some of them singing snatches of melodious song and got to see one small flock of six birds foraging on the shore.

Part of a small flock of Horned Larks foraging along the shoreline, Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

Autumn colours around Mamit Lake, 18 October 2021.

Mamit Lake (also spelled Mammette)  is just 12 km from our home in Logan Lake town. I use a Canon 7D Mk II camera with a Canon 300 mm L series lens. I keep these in a waterproof dry bag as I paddle around in a small plastic kayak.

Here are links to my earlier postings of Mamit Lake excursions:

For August 2021 wildlife photos: Mamit Lake August 2021

For July 2021 click here: Mamit Lake July 2021

For Mamit Lake wildlife in 2020 click here:   Mamit Lake August 2020

or here Mamit Lake September 2020


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Mamit Lake Wildlife – August 2021

As August 2021 rolls in we are still dealing with nearby wildfires and near-constant smoky conditions in the Logan Lake and Nicola Valley areas. But there are some semi-clear days when it is good to be out exploring nature. Here are some more photos from Mamit Lake, just 12 km from our home, where we often go paddling in small kayaks – perfect for drifting up to birds and other wildlife for closer looks and photos.

In late summer Mamit Lake acts as a stopping place for shorebirds migrating south from their breeding grounds further north. For many species this means the high arctic tundra, so it is always a treat to see them here.

Long-billed Dowitchers are regulars at Mamit Lake in late July through September. On August 3rd there were 6 in one flock – these are some of them, still in their breeding plumage. Photo: © Alan Burger

Greater Yellowlegs are also regulars at Mamit Lake in late summer. This looks like a juvenile bird with fresh plumage. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs can often be found alongside the Greaters. Their smaller size and shorter bills are diagnostic features, especially when they are seen close to Greaters. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Our smallest sandpiper, aptly named Least Sandpiper, is easily recognized by its greenish-yellow legs. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Semipalmated Sandpiper is marginally larger than Least and can be separated from that species by its thicker, straight bill, blackish legs and slightly different plumage. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Here we have two peeps (small sandpipers) side-by-side: Semipalmated at the back and Least in front. Note the differences in their leg colour, beak shape and plumage. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Mamit Lake is unusually full in 2021, with many lake margins covered with emergent vegetation. This has provided good feeding opportunities for Wilson’s Snipe and they are much more conspicuous than in previous years. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Spotted Sandpipers breed on many of the gravel and sand beaches of Mamit Lake and by the end of July most of the chicks are flying and semi-independent. Notice that there is still a tuft of chick down on the neck of this juvenile. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

In late summer Mamit Lake is loaded with waterfowl – including many recently-fledged juveniles. This adult female Green-winged Teal had a brood of 5 almost-full-grown ducklings nearby. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

The hundreds of ducks and dozens of shorebirds on Mamit Lake have attracted an immature Peregrine Falcon. 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Several pairs of Bald Eagles breed around Mamit Lake. Judging by the size of this nest, it has been used by eagles for many years, with another layer of sticks added each year. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

These two Great Blue Herons are newly-fledged juveniles, part of a family that was flapping around Mamit Lake on 3rd August 2021. © Alan Burger

A close look at one of the juvenile Great Blue Herons. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Beavers are an unusual sight on Mamit Lake. This one emerged near my kayak and immediately got my attention by slapping its tail like a gunshot. It had a water-level burrow in one of the shoreline mudbanks. Mamit Lake, 3 August 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

There were few shorebirds on 12 August – not surprising since the air was full of smoke and there were advancing fires near Logan Lake. In fact the town was given an evacuation order later that day so we left. But here are a few photos from 12 August.

Buffleheads – some of these are nearly full-grown ducklings. Mamit Lake 12 August 2021 © Alan Burger

This newly-fledged juvenile Sora was very curious about my slowly drifting kayak. This species is normally very secretive and hard to see. Mamit Lake 12 August 2021 © Alan Burger

Killdeer breed on the shores of the lake and at times one can see over a dozen around the lake. Mamit Lake 12 August 2021 © Alan Burger

Willow Flycatchers are fairly common in the shrubs bordering the lake. This is a newly-fledged juvenile with brownish wing bars and unworn plumage. Mamit Lake 12 August 2021 © Alan Burger

This group of Mule Deer were wading along the shore. Note the bambi – this year’s fawn. Mamit Lake 12 August 2021 © Alan Burger

By 22 August the evacuation order of Logan Lake had been lifted, after fires had come very close to engulfing our town. We could once again bring our little kayaks to Mamit Lake. This time there were lots of shorebirds, with 11 species noted. Here are a few:

Greater Yellowlegs are regulars at Mamit Lake in late summer and fall – on 22 August there were 8 along the shore. © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs are also regularly found on the lake shoreline. © Alan Burger

By the end of August Least Sandpipers are generally the most common shorebird stopping at Mamit Lake. On 22 August 2021 there were at least 20 present. Note the yellowish legs which distinguish this species from other peep sandpipers. © Alan Burger

Wilson’s Snipe breed in the marshes around Mamit Lake. It is somewhat unusual to see one out in the open mudflat; they are usually among vegetation and harder to see. © Alan Burger

This Long-billed Dowitcher is a newly-fledged juvenile but has already flown hundreds of km from its arctic tundra birthplace. Mamit Lake, 22 August 2021. © Alan Burger

The first Pectoral Sandpipers appeared on 22 August at Mamit Lake. This species is identified by the speckled breast with a sharp lower margin, yellowish legs and a slightly down-curved bill. © Alan Burger

A highlight of my visit on 22 August was the sudden appearance of a huge scattered flock of over 160 Black Swifts. They were moving just ahead of a strong storm front which brought very welcome rain to our fire-ravaged area. True to their name these birds fly very fast and are hard to photograph.

Black Swifts over Mamit Lake, 22 August 2021. © Alan Burger

Part of a group of seven Great Blue Herons resting on the shore at Mamit Lake, 22 August 2021. © Alan Burger

For more photos from Mamit Lake in July 2021 click here: Mamit Lake July 2021

For more photos of Mamit Lake wildlife in 2020 click here:   Mamit Lake August 2020

or here Mamit Lake September 2020


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Cathedral Park hiking – 26-30 July 2021

It has been a rather brutal summer in the BC interior – with the phenomenal heat bubble (over 40 C in Logan Lake for 3 days in a row) and then the widespread fires and ever-present thick smoke. So we decided to head up to the high mountain country with 3 friends and booked a shuttle ride up to Cathedral Park near the U.S. border. It was smoky much of the time for the 5 days we were there, but much less than in the valleys below, so we enjoyed great camping and alpine hiking.

Camp at Quiniscoe Lake, Cathedral Park. We lucked out to get 4 adjacent campsites next to the lake so had a private, very pleasant location.

As usual for Cathedral Park, we were regularly visited by Mountain Goats. They come into the camping areas, attracted by the salt from human urine (people peeing near their tents at night). We used pee-bottles as recommended.

One of the families of Mountain Goat that came by our camp every day. This is a female with both this year’s and last year’s kids. Photo: © Alan Burger

One of the many immature Mountain Goats. It is shedding the thick winter coat giving it a ragged look. Photo: © Alan Burger

A few Mule Deer were also in the Quiniscoe Lake area. Notice the flies on the deer’s nose. This year we were plagued by mosquitoes, black-flies and no-see-ums – a product of the warm summer no doubt. Photo: © Andrea Lawrence

Yellow-pine Chipmunks were all over the camp area and beyond. This one is eating currants from the bush next to it. Chipmunks provide lots of entertainment, as long as they aren’t getting into one’s food supplies. Photo: © Alan Burger

Somewhat bigger than a chipmunk and much less common, a Cascade Golden-mantled Ground-squirrel. This species is restricted to the Cascade Mountains of B.C. and Washington. Photo: © Alan Burger

On our first full day we did the 8 km Diamond Trail loop and side trip to Scout Lake. This covers a wide range of habitats from sparse open alpine to lush meadows and forest.

Here we are in the high country, the only place with cell phone coverage, checking on the fire situation back home. All OK – nice to be reassured.

Lower down there are moist meadows with spectacular wildflowers – mostly fireweed in this photo.

Hiking through the fireweed.

A close up of fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium). Photo: © Alan Burger

Paintbrush (likely Small-flowered Paintbrush Castilleja parviflora) – one of several species of paintbrush in Cathedral Park. Photo: © Alan Burger

Along with all the flowers there were many butterflies and other insects. Here are a few.

A Freija Fritillary (Clossiana freija) – one of the more common and conspicuous butterflies we encountered. Photo: © Alan Burger

Tentatively identified as Vidler’s Alpine (Erebia vidleri). Notice that is has damaged wings – likely from a bird trying to catch it. Photo: © Alan Burger

Big, colourful and bold – a beautiful Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) nectaring on ragwort blooms. Photo: © Alan Burger

A spectacular large butterfly – the Rocky Mountain Apollo/Parnassian (Parnassius smintheus). Photo: © Alan Burger

Two moths and a fly sharing the nectar on a Subalpine Fleabane (Erigeron glacialis) flower. Photo: © Alan Burger

And, of course, we kept a close lookout for birds and mammals.

Cathedral Park supports many Spruce Grouse in the forested areas. This is a female. Photo: © Alan Burger

The harsh calls of Clark’s Nutcracker are a regular feature in the forests of the park. Photo: © Alan Burger

Columbia Ground-squirrels are common in the grassy areas – both in the valleys and in many alpine areas. Photo: © Alan Burger

A Snowshoe Hare. One can just see the huge white feet – these remain white all year whereas the rest of the bunny changes from winter white to summer brown. Photo: © Alan Burger

The next day two of us decided to take on the Lakeview Loop – down to Lakeview Creek, a long valley hike to Goat Lake, then up the steep ridge to the Boxcar, up the next long ridge to Lakeview Mountain, back down to the creek and up again to our Quiniscoe Lake camp. In total a grueling 19 km 10-hour hike with knee-grinding changes in elevation. But some spectacular scenery and interesting plants and geology.

We first descended almost 200 m in elevation to the Lakeview Creek. Then a very pleasant trail next to the creek heading up to Goat Lake. Some other hikers had spotted a moose in these willow thickets on the same day.

Along the way more Freija Fritillaries (Clossiana freija). Photo: © Alan Burger

Approaching Goat Lake one begins to get nice views of the Grimface Mountains.

A close look at the spires that make up Grimface Mountain.

Goat Lake is in a very scenic location, with an amphitheatre of high peaks forming the backdrop. A lovely spot.

After a steep climb up from Goat Lake one reaches the saddle separating the Boxcar formation from Lakeview Mountain. A great place to rest and enjoy a smoky view of the mountains to the east.

Approaching the Boxcar summit – a really interesting area with sandstone bedrock and boulders surrounded by gravelly flats. The far distant mountains to the south are in Washington State.

Lovely sandstone rock formations at the Boxcar.

One of the rare plants that thrive in the gravelly soils of the Boxcar and Lakeview Mountain is the Umbellate Pussypaws (Cistanthe umbellata). Photo: © Alan Burger

Another Umbellate Pussypaw plant in full bloom. The flowers reach about 8 cm high. Photo: © Alan Burger

Looking down from the Boxcar. Goat Lake is visible 500 m in elevation below. It takes a tough slog to reach this summit.

From the Boxcar we backtracked down to the saddle and then up the steep ridge heading to Lakeview Mountain.

Looking back at the Boxcar ridge as we climbed up the slopes of Lakeview Mountain. The saddle between these mountains was our route.

While having a well-earned rest and snack on the summit of Lakeview Mountain we were visited by this Pika – emerging from the rock crevices right at our feet. Photo: © Alan Burger

On the slopes of Lakeview Mountain there are huge areas with epiglacial stone stripes. The repeated freezing and thawing of ice over hundreds of years moves the rocks and separates larger boulders from finer gravel. Gravity then distorts these formations into stripes going downhill. Photo: © Alan Burger

The next day, despite creaking knees, I joined two of our energetic ladies for a loop around the Rim Trail – another 13 km hike with about 500 m elevation gain. But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to find some ptarmigan in the high alpine areas.

One of six Spruce Grouse chicks that we encountered in the forest heading towards Ladyslipper Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

Mama Spruce Grouse with one of her 6 chicks. Photo: © Alan Burger

This lovely butterfly is tentatively identified as a Zephyr Anglewing (Polygonia zephyrus). Photo: © Alan Burger

Ladyslipper Lake with Pyramid Mountain behind. This is a beautiful lake and a great place to rest on the climb up to the Rim Trail. Photo: © Alan Burger

After an hour or more of steep climbing we were once again looking down on Ladyslipper Lake as we neared the top of the Rim Trail

On the Rim Trail looking down at Ladyslipper Lake. In the smoky background is Lakeview Mountain with Lakeview Creek in the deep valley between.

Approaching the Stone City area on the Rim Trail. The scenic rounded sandstone and gravelly substrate are similar to those at the Boxcar. Photo: © Alan Burger

More rounded sandstone and gravel in the Stone City area. In the smoky distance are mountains across the border in the U.S. Photo: © Alan Burger

American Pipits are one of the few birds that breed in these high, sparsely-vegetated alpine areas. Photo: © Alan Burger

The high Rim Trail is a good place to look for White-tailed Ptarmigan. These rugged members of the grouse family are adapted to live in the high alpine and arctic areas. But they are hard to find – their summer plumage closely matches the lichen-spattered rocks and they sit tight as you walk past, reducing the chances of one noticing them.

After almost an hour of fruitless searching I finally spotted a White-tailed Ptarmigan. One can see how well camouflaged they are. I probably walked past several more without seeing them. Photo: © Alan Burger

This female White-tailed Ptarmigan did not move as I carefully approached so I suspected she might have chicks nearby. Photo: © Alan Burger

Sure enough, almost under my feet was this half-grown White-tailed Ptarmigan chick. I didn’t find any others. Photo: © Alan Burger

Lovely rock formations in the Stone City area. Photo: © Alan Burger

As one walks along the Rim Trail the bedrock abruptly changes from the pale sandstone (here in background) to black volcanic basalt. This wonderful columnar basalt feature is known as the Woodpile. Photo: © Alan Burger

Among the high alpine plants that thrive along the Rim Trail are many Lance-leafed Stonecrops (Sedum lanceolata). Photo: © Alan Burger

The tiny Alpine Lupine (Lupinus lyalli) is common in the harsh high-elevation areas of Cathedral Park. Photo: © Alan Burger

On our last night the park operator came around to tell us that the park was on evacuation alert because of a fire 10 km away. But we were leaving the next morning anyway – to return to the dark smoky lowlands and home.

Our September 2020 visit to Cathedral Park is featured here:  Cathedral Park 2020


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Mamit Lake wildlife – July 2021

With all the Covid travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021 it is great to have a place like Mamit Lake (also spelled Mamette) near our home (12 km drive), where we can explore and enjoy nature. The lake levels have been very high all through the spring and early summer in 2021, which means fewer mudflats to attract shorebirds. But we were pleasantly surprised on July 14th when paddling our little kayaks on the lake and up Guichon Creek north of the lake to discover some small mudflats and already a few interesting shorebirds. Plus, this is the time of year when the waterfowl breeding is in full swing with numerous broods of ducklings and goslings. Mamit Lake is an important nursery area for many species.

Kayaking on the edges of Mamit Lake, 14th July 2021. Normally there would be mudflats in this area but the high water level this summer has flooded into the lakeside vegetation.

Exploring Guichon Creek north of Mamit Lake. The creek here runs through a narrow channel (3-5 m wide). Fun to explore as the creek snakes through the tall grass and shrubs.

In June and early July the birding interest is primarily the local breeders. And there are many species that breed here – mainly waterfowl. Here are a few.

A Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage. Mamit Lake, 25 June 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Common Loon. There are two pairs that likely breed on Mamit Lake, although in 2021 we haven’t seen any chicks on the water yet. 14 July 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another Common Loon on Mamit Lake, 14

Several pairs of Barrow’s Goldeneye breed on the lake. By mid-June the males have all departed for their moulting grounds, leaving the females and the ducklings.

A female Barrow’s Goldeneye. Mamit Lake, 14 July 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

One of the unusual features of Goldeneyes is that the females tend to be aggressive towards other ducks and especially other Goldeneyes. When there is an encounter between two females, each with a brood of ducklings, this can lead to prolonged chasing – both above and below the water surface. This often ends up with the winning female making off with both broods of ducklings. The normal clutch size for Barrow’s Goldeneye is 9-10 eggs, which don’t all necessarily hatch, but one can often find females with 15, 20 or more ducklings in tow. These would be the winners of female-female conflicts.

Is there an advantage to a female in accumulating someone else’s ducklings? Since the ducklings feed themselves from the day of hatching there is no added cost to the female, and having other ducklings around might dilute the chances of her own ducklings being the ones taken by a Bald Eagle.

A female Barrow’s Goldeneye with 16 ducklings. Look closely and you can see that some ducklings are larger than others – the result of this female stealing ducklings of a slightly different age from another female. 14 July 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

The same group in a more relaxed mode. Photo: © Alan Burger

A Mallard female with her large ducklings. Photo: © Alan Burger

Part of a large flock of Canada Geese on Mamit Lake, including many almost fully-grown goslings. 19 July 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

With numerous large wildfires burning, the summer air of 2021 has been smoke-filled and often quite nasty. Here is a smoky view of Mamit Lake, early morning on 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

This Common Raven was one of a family that were eating Saskatoon berries along the lake shoreline. The pinkish gape (inner edge of the mouth) shows that this is a newly-fledged juvenile. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

With lots of nutrient run-off from adjacent hayfields and ranches, Mamit Lake is thick with algae and emergent weeds. This provides good breeding grounds for aquatic invertebrates, like mayflies. This in turn provides rich feeding for fish and, up the food chain, fishing birds like grebes, Osprey and Bald Eagles. The lake is also very popular with human anglers.

Bald Eagles gather around the lake to hunt the trout, burbot and other fish in the lake. Here are an immature (left) and an adult (right). On 19 July I counted 18 Bald Eagles on my paddle around the lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

An immature Bald Eagle powering by. Photo: © Alan Burger

Belted Kingfishers focus on smaller fry than the eagles. A pair breeds at Mamit Lake, nesting in a burrow dug into one of the steep sandbanks. This appears to be a newly-fledged juvenile with immaculate feathers and an incomplete breast band. Photo: © Alan Burger

As summer advances, shorebirds become a major birding feature of this lake. There are only three shorebird species that breed here – Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and, in the wet grasslands adjacent to the lake, Wilson’s Snipe. But many species stop over on their southward migration from distant breeding grounds. Each visit we make to the lake produces a differing set of sandpipers and their relatives.

An adult Spotted Sandpiper. This bird is agitated – probably because it has a chick or two hiding nearby. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

This newly-fledged Spotted Sandpiper was able to fly but was still staying with its parents on their shoreline territory. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

Here’s a closer look at the juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

Wilson’s Snipe live in the marshy areas around the lake. Except when they are displaying at the start of the season, snipe tend to be quite secretive and flush easily, so I was lucky to catch this one sitting on a mudbank. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

Here’s a bill to rival that of the snipe – a Long-billed Dowitcher. This bird is still in its breeding plumage, but is already a long way from its arctic tundra breeding grounds. 14 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

On 19 July there were 11 Long-billed Dowitchers at Mamit Lake. Here are two of that flock. Photo: © Alan Burger

Wilson’s Phalarope breed in ponds and lakes in the BC Interior. So far we’ve seen no evidence of breeding on Mamit Lake, but the lake is frequently visited by these birds. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

The long thin bill of Wilson’s Phalarope is adapted for picking up tiny aquatic invertebrates. Phalaropes often swim to find food in addition to foraging along the shoreline. 19 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

Gulls are quite rare visitors to Mamit Lake, but in mid- to late-summer one may find one or two stopping off for a feed. Here are two species that we saw on 14 July 2021.

Bonaparte’s Gull in breeding plumage is one of the most elegant of gulls. The adults lose their black head plumage in winter. 14 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

A closer look at the adult Bonaparte’s Gull. 14 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

This juvenile Ring-billed Gull has only recently fledged. It likely came from the breeding colony on Shuswap Lake at Salmon Arm. 14 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

The juvenile Ring-billed Gull taking flight. 14 July. Photo: © Alan Burger

For more photos of Mamit Lake wildlife (in 2020) click here:   Mamit Lake August 2020

or here Mamit Lake September 2020


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Cathedral Park hiking – 14-18 September 2020

Smoke from the huge fires in Oregon and Washington was making southern BC rather unpleasant and at times downright unhealthy. We had booked much earlier to go up with the Cathedral Lodge transport – so we decided to go anyway and we were really glad we did. This was our fifth (Andrea) and fourth (Alan) trip to Cathedral Park, and as usual we camped in the lovely Quinisco Lake campsite. This is very convenient for “luxury” camping, meaning that we only have to carry all our gear 300 m from the lodge and can take a big cooler and two-burner cookstove etc.

Camping at Quinisco Lake, Cathedral Park. The smoky conditions caused many people to cancel their visits, so the campsite was very quiet and peaceful all week.

On our first morning, 15 September, we awoke to drizzle. But this soon cleared and the rest of the day was beautiful, warm and sunny. The rain had cleared away the high elevation smoke.

Sunshine and blue skies on our first morning at Quinisco Lake.

Hiking the trails in the lower spruce forest. Unfortunately many of the older spruce trees were killed some years ago during an outbreak of spruce bark beetle.

Early autumn brings lovely colours to many plants – here mainly fireweed.

Dying fireweed and blooming Paintbrush make a colourful carpet in open forest glades.

Fall is also the time for berries – here Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Along the streams there were many Rosy Twistedstalk (Streptopus roseus) with their bright red berries.

A late-blooming fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

We encountered several Lincoln’s Sparrow in the forest.

Cathedral Park is a great place to see Spruce Grouse. I found this male on our first morning in the forest.

One reason for visiting Cathedral Park in early fall is to experience the glorious golden vistas as the Larch trees change colour and start shedding their leaves. Larches are one of the few conifers that are deciduous, and they are the dominant tree in the sub-alpine forests – at higher elevations than the spruce forests. Before our visit there had been relatively little frost so many of the larches were only just starting to change colour – but we still enjoyed some beautiful patches of gold.

Alan in the larches on the Diamond Trail – 15 September 2020.

Andrea in the larches on the trail from Quinisco to Glacier Lake – 17 September 2020.

Another primary reason for hiking in Cathedral Park is the easy access to the alpine areas (relatively speaking, of course, it is still an uphill slog!).  On our first day of hiking we did the Diamond Trail which gives an amazing variety of scenery and habitats.

Sparse vegetation on the exposed slopes leading up to Red Mountain.

Looking down at Scout Lake from the Diamond Trail. Notice the smoke in the valleys while we are enjoying clear air and sunshine in the high elevation. 15 September 2020

Fall colours in the alpine shrubs.

On the alpine portion of the Diamond Trail we enjoyed spectacular cloud formations that changed by the minute.

More interesting cloud formations.

Hoary Marmots were preparing for their long winter hibernation. Many that we saw were very fat but were still guzzling down huge amounts of leafy vegetation.

A Hoary Marmot among the rocks where it will find a cozy den to hibernate all winter.

A close-up view of a catchfly bloom, probably Parry’s Campion (Silene parryi). The name “catchfly” refers to the sticky glandular hairs that members of this genus often have – these will sometimes entrap small insects. Notice the tiny flies sitting on the flower.

Paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.) are notorius for hybridizing and being difficult to identify to species. This is probably Cliff Paintbrush (C. rupicola), or maybe the widespread Scarlet Paintbrush (C. minuata). Or maybe a hybrid?

Grassy sub-alpine meadows turning golden as fall approaches.

Another male Spruce Grouse in the forest near Quinisco Lake.

A female Spruce Grouse.

On our second morning the smoke unfortunately returned, but at our elevation it was only a moderate amount, unlike in the valleys below, so we still did lots of great hiking – including the wonderful Rim Trail which runs above 2400 m for much of its length.

A view along the high elevation Rim Trail. Easy hiking (once one reaches the rim) with spectacular scenery.

High alpine shrubs on the Rim Trail.

Stunted shrubs – mainly blueberry, mountain avens and dwarf willows – give spectacular fall colours.

The seeds of Arctic Willow (Salix arctica) are shed in cotton-like masses, as the leaves turn red.

In sheltered areas there were still many alpine flowers blooming – Golden Fleabane (Erigeron aureus). Note the bumblebee doing its pollination duties.

Alpine Lupine (Lupinus lyalli) thrives in the rugged gravelly high alpine areas.

Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) is a classic high alpine cushion-plant. It is also common across the Arctic in N. America and Eurasia.

The Devil’s Woodpile – a wonderful example of columnar basalt.

Just a few hundred metres further along the trail the black volcanic basalt gives way to yellow sandstone resulting in a totally different landscape.

Rounded outcrops and gravelly flats are features of the sandstone areas in the Stone City portion of the Rim Trail.

Frost shattering in the sandstone zone.

Wind, ice and snow have sculpted the sandstone into wonderful formations.

Ladyslipper Lake provides a welcome and beautiful resting place, after negotiating the slippery gravel of the Ladyslipper Trail down from the rim.

White-crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere – from dense forest to bare alpine. I even found one dead on the highest point of the Rim Trail. It had a head injury, likely caused by one of the resident Prairie Falcons.

On day three we paid attention to aging joints and did more modest hiking, but still in the wonderful sub-alpine area around Glacier Lake and in the spruce forests below.

Sub-alpine meadows near Glacier Lake.

A long-dead remnant of a large conifer in the sub-alpine meadow.

Pikas were abundant in the rocky screes at all elevations. These cute little animals, the size of guinea-pigs, are relatives of rabbits. They do not hibernate, but instead spend much of the summer collecting grass and other vegetation which they lay out on the rocks to dry . They then store this dried hay in  underground rocky hideouts to keep them going all winter.

A Pika soaking up the morning sun.

While we were watching the Pikas, this Long-tailed Weasel appeared. This vicious little predator can easily negotiate the rocky crevices in which the Pikas live, and must be a constant terror in Pikadom.

The Long-tailed Weasel was quite curious to see us and allowed a few photos.

Where small creeks cut through the meadow there is lush vegetation with flowers, butterflies and many other insects.

I got quite excited to follow this white butterfly, but I then discovered it was a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), an introduced species that is common in nearly everyone’s garden. It is obviously an adaptable species to be successful in an alpine meadow.

The striking Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) is a common butterfly in the moister meadows.

Mountain Goats are a regular feature of Cathedral Park. They are attracted to campsites – mainly to seek salt in the places where campers have urinated at night. There have been a few cases of goat aggression so BC Parks is urging the use of nocturnal pee-bottles (we complied). They have also put GPS tracking collars on 14 females to get a better idea of their movements and hang-outs, and are asking hikers to report sightings of all goats. Over 4 days we encountered 6 different groups of goats.

Collared female #12 and her kid visiting the Quinisco campground.

This group, led by a big male, blocked the Ladyslipper Trail for 20 minutes while they bedded down for a nap, chewed the cud, or browsed on the nearby trees.

Female #2 with her young kid. Females usually give birth every second year. She still has remnants of last winter’s coat – this is shed through the summer and a new coat grown in time for the snowfall.

Sibling rivalry? The one on the left is an immature male (I know that because I watched him urinate) and the one on the rock is probably his younger sibling.

Big Billy. These muscular males can weigh well over 100 kg.

A couple of Hoary Marmots digesting their latest big meal and getting ready for a 7-month sleep.

Yellow Pine Chipmunk – common in most parts of Cathedral Park, and especially around campsites.


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More wildlife from Mamit Lake – September 2020

Here is another batch of photos from my kayaking excursions on Mamit Lake, 12 km from our home in Logan Lake. By early September 2020 the lake level had risen almost a metre, so there was somewhat less area of mudflats and fewer shorebirds. But still interesting – each time I go I see something new.

With September comes cool foggy mornings until the sun hits the lake. Quite lovely to be out on the water with wisps of foggy mist along the shore.

Early morning fog on Mamit Lake, B.C. – 3 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

In the early morning misty light an Osprey keeps a lookout for its fishy breakfast. © Alan Burger

A big flock of Black-billed Magpies working the mudflats at Mamit Lake in the early morning. © Alan Burger

This Coyote emerged from the long grass to snuffle around the mudflats, frightening off a bunch of ducks. © Alan Burger

For some minutes the Coyote never noticed me sitting quietly offshore in my kayak. © Alan Burger

The first bits of sunlight starting to burn off the morning fog – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

The first touches of fall colours – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Once again, several Least Sandpipers were feeding on the mudflats but far off so hard to photograph. © Alan Burger

A Pectoral Sandpiper was a nice treat on 3 September – in the BC interior this species is usually found in the fall, migrating south. © Alan Burger

Pectoral Sandpiper – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

A Green-winged Teal is reflected in the early morning sunlight. © Alan Burger

Takeoff! – Green-winged Teal. © Alan Burger

Canada Geese arriving at the lake from some overnight grazing site. © Alan Burger

Canada Geese relaxing in the sunshine. © Alan Burger

A recently-fledged Red-necked Grebe still showing the striped head of its chick phase. © Alan Burger

On 3 September, dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the lakeside bushes, on their southward migration. Wilson’s Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler were also seen. © Alan Burger

Elegant Lesser Yellowlegs were once again foraging along the muddy shore – 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are quite common along the lakeshore, coming down among the shore boulders and beached logs to forage.  © Alan Burger

A Yellow Pine Chipmunk curious about me sitting just offshore in the kayak.  © Alan Burger

This leg action was part of its grooming – Yellow Pine Chipmunk.  © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunk – Mamit Lake, B.C., 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Losing confidence, the chipmunk scrambles off to the safety of the bushes. © Alan Burger

A couple of Common Mergansers – fish-eating ducks. © Alan Burger

Common Mergansers. Notice how the upper beak can flex upwards as the bird opens its beak – that extra gape is useful in catching fish and aquatic insects underwater. © Alan Burger


On 10 September, another lovely morning on the lake. The 15 pelicans that had spent most of the summer at this lake had disappeared by 3 September, except for one lone bird who tended to hang out with the Canada Geese. But on 10 September there were five pelicans.

Five White Pelicans at Mamit Lake – 10 September 2020. © Alan Burger

A juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper – a fairly uncommon sandpiper in the B.C. interior. Distinguishing features include long wings (extend beyond the tail), pale scaly-looking back and wings, straight thin bill, buffy upper breast and black legs. 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

A Pectoral Sandpiper (left) with the Baird’s Sandpiper – Mamit Lake 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of three at Mamit Lake on 10 September 2020.  ©Alan Burger

Killdeers on the mudflats forage by rapidly tapping one foot on the ground and then bending down to pick up any small organisms that might emerge from the mud. That is what this bird is doing. ©Alan Burger

A Killdeer backlit by the first light in the morning. © Alan Burger

The tall dead snags around the lake are attractive perches for birds – especially raptors on the lookout for potential prey.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk perching on a dead snag. ©Alan Burger

An Osprey using a lofty perch to scan for fish out on the lake. ©Alan Burger

A Great Blue Heron roosting on a tall snag at Mamit Lake. ©Alan Burger

A Cooper’s Hawk using a dead snag to watch for potential prey – other birds. ©Alan Burger

A closer look at the Cooper’s Hawk. The streaky breast indicates a juvenile bird, hatched this past summer. ©Alan Burger

The Cooper’s Hawk saw something and swooped down to disappear into the forest. ©Alan Burger

A flock of 12 American Pipits was a new addition to the species list for this summer at Mamit Lake – 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

There have been 15-30 Black-billed Magpies foraging on the shoreline during my September visits. ©Alan Burger


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Kayaking Gulf Islands – August 2020

Between 23 and 30 August, Andrea and I spent several days kayaking in the southern Gulf Islands, based with friends on Salt Spring Island. One day took us past Wallace Island to Galiano Island and then a loop through the southern Secretaries Islands. Another day up to Thetis Island via the Secretaries and Penelakut Island. A third day around Ganges Harbour and Long Harbour. Here are some photos of the wildlife seen from the kayak. It was fairly quiet for seabirds and shorebirds but we did have a few interesting sightings.

Paddling near the Secretaries Islands, Gulf Islands, B.C. August 2020.

We mostly passed by rocky shores, often with the beautiful Arbutus trees growing near the tideline. ©Alan Burger

Glaucous-winged Gulls, which breed in this area, were our constant companions. ©Alan Burger

The sandstone in these islands erodes near the tideline to produce wonderful natural sculptures. The round “ball” in this photo is bigger than a person’s head. ©Alan Burger

Pelagic Cormorants and a Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

A closer look at the Pelagic Cormorants and Glaucous-winged Gull.© Alan Burger

Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

We were surprised to find a small group of Red Crossbills down at the waterline pecking at something in the intertidal zone. Maybe after salt? A big change from their usual treetop habitat. This is a juvenile bird, hatched this past summer. © Alan Burger

An intertidal Red Crossbill – note the unusual crossed bill of this species, an adaptation for extracting seeds from conifer cones. These local birds specialized on Douglas-fir seeds. This is another juvenile bird – notice how wet the tail feathers are from standing right at the waterline. © Alan Burger

Adult Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

A Black Turnstone in its rocky intertidal habitat. We encountered several groups of 5-15 turnstones at various rocky points. © Alan Burger

Black Turnstone doing some stretches. © Alan Burger

Black Turnstone. © Alan Burger

A Black Oystercatcher posing in front of a sandstone natural carving. © Alan Burger

A close view of a Black Oystercatcher. Birds are wary of flashing paddles but if one drifts up slowly in a kayak there are opportunities for close photography without disturbing the birds. Notice how relaxed this bird is with one foot still tucked into the plumage. © Alan Burger

A lone Mink and numerous Harbour Seals were the only mammals to be seen …..

Wary but very curious – this Mink was scuttling among the rocks and logs along the shore but had to keep peeking out to watch us. © Alan Burger

A closer view of the Mink among the intertidal boulders. © Alan Burger

Harbour Seals are common throughout most of the B.C. coast. Several of the groups we encountered included large pups. Harbour Seals in the Salish Sea give birth to pups in late July – early August, much later in the summer than those on the outer coast (J. K. B. Ford – Marine Mammals of British Columbia). Females raise a single pup each year and nurse the pups for 4-5 weeks.

Harbour Seals – their coats vary a lot in colour and degree of blotching. © Alan Burger

Harbour Seals are very curious about kayaks and often follow behind us keeping low in the water. © Alan Burger

A female Harbour Seal and pup. © Alan Burger

This pup appeared to be nursing as we approached. Photo: © Alan Burger

Harbour Seal. © Alan Burger


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Birding Mamit Lake – August 2020

Mamit Lake (sometimes spelled Mamette) is a medium-sized lake 12 km from our home in Logan Lake. It is surrounded by private ranchlands so access to the water is limited. From a boat launch next to Highway 97C we’ve been taking small kayaks to explore the lake. This is especially rewarding in late summer when the extensive mudflats attract many shorebirds migrating south after their northern or Arctic breeding seasons. The lake also supports many breeding waterfowl and is a popular fishing ground for American White Pelicans. Here are some photos from several paddling expeditions around Mamit Lake – 8.7 km around the shoreline according to my GPS.

Greater Yellowlegs – in August there are regularly 15-25 of these large shorebirds around Mamit Lake. ©Alan Burger

Greater Yellowlegs. © Alan Burger

Greater (back) and Lesser (front) Yellowlegs. When they are together like this they are easy to separate, but when alone identification is difficult. ©Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs. © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs foraging in the shallows of Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs doing some stretches. © Alan Burger

Small sandpipers (“Peeps”) are the most common late-summer shorebirds on Mamit Lake. The vast majority are Least Sandpipers, but if one looks carefully there are sometimes other species mixed in – Western Sandpipers and Semi-palmated Sandpipers.

A flock of Peeps circling the mudflats at Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Least Sandpiper – the most common shorebird on Mamit Lake in late summer. © Alan Burger

A Least Sandpiper – a juvenile bird with fresh plumage. © Alan Burger

Compare the Peeps: Least Sandpiper on the left, Semi-palmated Sandpiper on the right. Note the difference in leg colour and the stubby beak of the Semi-palmated – both diagnostic features. Mamit Lake 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Semi-palmated Sandpiper – a juvenile with white-trimmed feathers. © Alan Burger

Long-billed Dowitcher. This large shorebird often migrates through the B.C. interior, whereas the very similar Short-billed Dowitcher is along the ocean coast. © Alan Burger

Scratching an itch – Long-billed Dowitcher, Mamit Lake 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Long-billed Dowitcher. It takes some skill to preen breast feathers with a bill as long as this. © Alan Burger

Only two species of shorebird breed on Mamit Lake – Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper.

Killdeer – this plover species breeds along the lake edges, foraging mostly on the upper mudflats and grassy verges. © Alan Burger

Spotted Sandpipers are a common breeding species on Mamit Lake – there are likely 10 or more pairs scattered around the shoreline. © Alan Burger

Perhaps the most interesting shorebirds to show up on Mamit Lake are phalaropes. These shorebirds generally feed by swimming, and as a result have evolved unique lobed toes. In our area they also tend to feed along the muddy edges of the lake, just like most other shorebirds. Wilson’s Phalaropes breed within southern and central B.C., but Red-necked Phalaropes breed further north, going up into the high Arctic tundra. So far only juvenile phalaropes have turned up on Mamit Lake.

A couple of juvenile Wilson’s Phalaropes. Very narrow, long bills and yellowish legs distinguish this species. © Alan Burger

Wilson’s Phalarope – juvenile. © Alan Burger

I was excited to find this Red-necked Phalarope on the lake on 5 August 2020. Notice the lobed toes. This species mostly migrates along coastal waters but a few travel inland. © Alan Burger

Red-necked Phalarope – juvenile. © Alan Burger

Gulls are relatively rare on Mamit Lake. None breed here and a few pass by en route to other areas. On 4-5 August there were a few gulls present.

A juvenile California Gull, probably moving from a distant breeding colony. © Alan Burger

Juvenile Ring-billed Gull. There are several breeding colonies of this species in southern B.C. – the nearest is probably at Salmon Arm. © Alan Burger

Juvenile Ring-billed Gull. © Alan Burger

It is not just birds that are of interest here. We often see Mule Deer along the shore and Yellow Pine Chipmunks are common, often coming right down to the water’s edge.

A Mule Deer doe – quite curious about my kayak and flashing paddles. © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunk. These little critters are common around the shoreline of the lake. © Alan Burger

And, of course, there are hundreds of ducks and geese, although I’ve been focused mainly on the shorebirds during my visits.

In August one can find 4-5 broods of Barrow’s Goldeneyes on Mamit Lake. I took this photo earlier in the year (27 June) at Logan Lake. © Alan Burger

There is no mistaking the magnificent snoz of a Northern Shoveler. This looks like a juvenile bird. © Alan Burger

Buffleheads – a few of this species might be breeding on Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Paddling along the shoreline also gives one some good views of land birds. The bushes and rushes bordering the lake are full of sparrows, warblers, flycatchers, wrens and others. Along with those birds I also encountered their predators – Sharp-shinned Hawk and Merlin.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk was hunting small passerines along the lakeshore on 5 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Probably the same Sharp-shinned Hawk, photographed here on 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Mamit Lake is a popular fishing spot for anglers, year round – ice fishing is very popular in winter. So too with fish-eating birds when the lake is not frozen over ……

Adult Bald Eagle. © Alan Burger

Belted Kingfisher female. © Alan Burger

For several weeks a group of American White Pelicans makes Mamit Lake their fishing ground. These are non-breeding birds. The only breeding site in B.C. is Stum Lake which is over 200 km away as the pelican flies. Many of them are moulting during their local visit and white feathers decorate the little rocky islets on which they spend much of their time.

American White Pelicans on Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

American White Pelicans roosting on a small rocky islet in Mamit Lake. Notice that most of these birds have grey on their heads, indicating that they are immatures. © Alan Burger

American White Pelicans. The birds are moulting and spend a lot of time preening. © Alan Burger


All photos taken with a Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon 300 mm EF L F4.0 lens.

To see bird checklists from Mamit Lake click here – eBird Mamit Lake

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Migrating from Montevideo – getting home from a COVID ship

Background: I was working as naturalist/lecturer on the vessel MV Greg Mortimer for Aurora Expeditions (More on MV Greg Mortimer and my Antarctic work). During our second Antarctic voyage the COVID situation around the world became very serious as a pandemic, and we cut the voyage short. Around this time, as we started heading north, one of the passengers developed a fever and was kept in isolation. Argentina and the Falkland Islands had closed their ports. We headed to Montevideo, Uruguay and anchored on 27 March about 20 km offshore in the huge gulf at the mouth of Rio Plato. Over the next 19 days we remained at anchor. Supplies were brought to the ship and a medical team came several times to do COVID tests. Eventually, out of 217 people on board (Aurora staff, ship’s crew and passengers) 128 tested positive for COVID. During our stay 8 people were taken off to hospital in Montevideo. On April 10 we went into the dock and the Australians and New Zealanders (the majority of passengers and staff) were allowed to leave and flew by charter to Melbourne. The 15 of us remaining, excluding the ship’s officers and crew, stayed on board and we went back to the anchorage.

Eventually, with a huge amount of planning and lobbying by our embassies, Aurora and many other people in several countries, the rest of us from Europe, U.S. and me from Canada were allowed to leave. I must give a huge thank-you to the Canadian ambassador in  Uruguay Joanne Frappier and her staff for amazing support and bulldog persistence in working on my behalf. At first the Canadian regulations would not allow me back into the country and it was just a day before we were due to leave that word came that I could go with the others on the flight out.

But then nature played a card and we had a major storm for 2 days which prevented getting a pilot on board, so our departure was delayed by half a day.

Stormy seas at our anchorage off Montevideo delayed our departure. The sea is only 10 m deep here so the waves churned up River Plate sediments making the sea brown.

Finally on 15 April we lifted the anchor and at noon docked at Montevideo harbour

Montevideo harbour

Part of Montevideo city near the harbour.

The wharf where we docked was cordoned off with a police barricade and there was a crowd of officials and media there. Even as we came into the harbour people on shore were waving and hooting their car horns. Our departure was obviously a major media event.

Waiting to leave the ship. Note the barricade and media at the end of the wharf.

After about an hour of waiting the bus approached the ship and we prepared to leave.

Our bus at the Montevideo harbour. A very welcome sight.

After weeks on the ship and 19 days at anchor we are finally leaving the ship. The person on the right in the PPE suit is the Uruguayan doctor who came on board for the final 10 days. Note the appropriate 2 m spacing.

Alan preparing to leave the ship.

As our bus left the harbour an amazing thing happened. We were joined by a motorcade of 6 motorcycle police who, with sirens blaring, cleared a path for our bus through the city – stopping traffic at all the intersections. I thought that the people of Uruguay would have been glad to be rid of us – we arrived uninvited at their doorstep, with COVID infections, and consequently added to the hassles they were already having as a small country dealing with this pandemic. But, it was exactly the opposite – the people were proud of how their country had helped us and were happy to see us finally off the ship. As we drove along the beautiful seafront boulevard that runs for miles there were hundreds of people out on their apartment balconies or in the street – waving and clapping, waving the Uruguayan flag and honking their horns. It was a very emotional experience. Joanne Frappier had told me to sit on the left side of the bus and that allowed me to spot her, on her 4th floor balcony, wildly waving the Canadian flag – what a great send-off!

This Boeing 737 configured for medical evacuations took us from Montevideo to Miami.

In my allotted seat on the 737 from Montevideo

This flight was organized by REVA – a company specializing in medical evacuations around the world. We had a doctor and 2 nurses on board who did regular checkups throughout the trip.

Nurses on our Montevideo – Miami flight. Note the plastic barricades which isolated parts of the plane.

We refueled in Manaus, Brazil, unfortunately in the middle of the night so we didn’t see anything of the surrounding Amazon river and forest. At Miami those of us going to the U.S. and Canada got off and the plane continued to England and Amsterdam with the European staff and passengers. We then went in smaller planes – one to Chicago and one to Phoenix and Vancouver.

The Learjet that took me and two Aurora passengers from Miami.

I have always wanted to fly in a Learjet. This is a Learjet 45. We flew at over 45,000 feet – about 10,000 ft higher than regular commercial jets. Quite spiffy. We landed at Houston to refuel and get coffee and then on to Phoenix where the last 2 Aurora passengers were deposited. At Phoenix the pilot was told that he was not permitted to land in Vancouver as planned (no reason given) so we took off and headed to Bellingham, Washington near the Canadian border.

Alan as the lone passenger in the Learjet. The other person in the seat behind me is the medical orderly who accompanied the flight.

At Bellingham there was an ambulance waiting to take me to the Canadian border. After some delays with lots of phonecalls we set off – Bellingham is about 30 minutes drive to the border. Half way there we received a message that Canada was not going to let me in and to return to the ambulance base. Half way back to their base the driver received another message that it was OK to proceed. Back again towards Canada. At the border another bizarre scene – a line of border guards blocking our way – eventually directing the ambulance to one of the search bays. After a long wait the expected agent from the Canadian public health authority arrived. As the back of the ambulance opened there was a line of 4-5 border guards with black uniforms, visors, and surgical masks and carrying guns in their belt holsters. One doesn’t normally joke with border guards but I thought “What the f..k is this?” and said to them “Are you here to shoot me if I make a break for it?” After a stunned silence they grinned and said “Welcome back to Canada”.

The public health lady was very pleasant and after reading me my rights, “$750,000 fine or three years in jail if you break quarantine”, I was put in a large Mafia-black SUV and we followed the government car into Vancouver. I had to contrast this reception with the joyous send-off that we had received in Montevideo, but I was impressed at how seriously Canada is taking this COVID pandemic.

So I’m writing this from my quarantine hotel in Vancouver near the airport. One of my friends, Nigel, sent me a poem to welcome me back to Canada and that spurred me to respond in kind:

I’m stuck here in this hotel
In a world that has gone close to hell

This Covid thing’s such a bad blight
My sentence is a fortnight

I’m up on the sixth level floor
Not ever allowed out the door

My view of the parking lot is clear
A freeway or two also near

In the distance coast mountains I see
Would love to be up there so free

Of birds I am sad to report
My checklist is awfully short

A robin or two and a crow
Some chickadees flitting below

Gulls sometimes come flying by
On the river a far goose I did spy

Our Antarctic expedition was shortened
So South Georgia visit abortened

A problem of where we could go
Ushuaia and Falklands said no

Montevideo was the next bet
Uruguayans might welcome us yet

At anchor we stayed nineteen days
Our exit faced many delays

When finally told we could leave
Relief like you wouldn’t believe

Our path was Miami-ed and Phoenix-ed
But landing Vancouver was nix-ed

To Bellingham I was then landed
At the border a Covid risk branded

Although my situation’s a curse
I’m ecstatic it isn’t much worse

I’m very much healthy and fit
Beating Covid I’m doing my bit

Looking forward to that happy day
When I’m free to go on my way

One day soon we’ll beat this bad bug
And once more be able to hug


My joy at being back in Canada was somewhat tempered by hearing, a few days after getting here, that one of the ship’s crew had died of COVID in the Montevideo hospital. Quite a sobering reminder of how lucky I have been in not getting seriously ill.


My longtime friend and expedition team-mate Robyn Mundy who was Deputy Expedition Leader on this voyage has written an erudite description with photos of what we experienced on the COVID ship:  https://writingthewild.net/

Detailed analysis of our ship’s infection published in BMJ Thorax journal: https://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2020/05/27/thoraxjnl-2020-215091.full

Our team doctor Jeff Green describes working in this situation: https://www.baybuzz.co.nz/2020/04/21/on-board-a-cruising-petrie-ship/

Article in the Guardian newspaper about the problems the remaining ship crew are experiencing: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/03/greg-mortimer-cruise-ship-uruguay-coronavirus-allegations

Majority of the ship’s crew allowed to leave for Montevideo (11 May 2020) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-52642875

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