Wednesday 3 July 2024

Chilcotin Birding

June 23-30 

2024 Meadow Lake Ranch

South Chilcotin Range

Meadow Lake sits deep in cowboy country. A few kilometers north of Clinton a gravel road heads north-west toward Beaver Dam Lake, it's then a short drive to Meadow Lake Ranch. It would be home for a week. Beginning in 2009, our esteemed leader Gareth Pugh has chosen a different birding location for an ad hoc group of friends. There were nine on this trip. We always have a great time and the company always congenial. Some of the group are all-round naturalists, which is a great benefit to those bird centric members of the group. We ride share to reduce our carbon imprint and most importantly we tolerate each other's foibles. During the entire week we heard only one plane, one train and encountered few vehicles. I for one didn't miss the hum of the city. 

The Marble Mountains.

Remnants of times long past still remain in the Chilcotins, abandoned settlers homes, smalls towns with facades that give hints of gold rush mania. Bill Minor, the infamous and legendary train robber is reputed to have stayed in nearby Clinton while on the lam from the authorities both in BC and the United States. From the veranda the picturesque Marble Mountain range dominate the skyline, enticing, begging one to explore. Alkaline Lakes outnumber freshwater bodies. The latter offer superb fishing for those so inclined to cast a line. Each lake holds a surprise or two, some are devoid of birds, others teeming. When the birding slowed down in the heat of the day there were plenty of butterflies mudding on the wetter spots. I take my hat off to those who can photograph butterflies as the creatures have amazing eyesight and never seem to sit still. Below is a rare example.

Common Alpine/iPhone 8

 Our trip also included a Common Nighthawk watch, something we do on every trip. An e-bird trip list of the entire week will be included at the end of the blog. One of our group, Wim Vesseur who we call the "Nighthawk Whisperer," found not only one but four common nighthawks on the trip. One perched on a branch and later three accidentally flushed, both were happy enough to pose for photographs in broad daylight.

Common Nighthawk.

We watched three Common Nighthawks vocalizing and feeding during a lakeside lunch break. 

Common Raven harasses an owl.

One evening the group gathered outside on the veranda and listened spellbound as the caretaker Shea recounted stories of Timber Wolves (a subspecies of the Grey Wolf) that roamed the ranch and were killing horses, goats and decimating the local elk, deer and moose population. Trained hunters were hired to cull some of the pack. Another pack of smaller Grey Wolves were only slightly less voracious. Controversial as it sounds Shea explained how if the whole pack were taken out then the Grizzlies and Cougars would have come in and replaced them. The balance of nature is not a simple choice for ranchers trying to eke out an existence on a land that is changing and becoming less and less productive due to reasons not fully understood. 

Our most luxurious digs yet. Note the bat boxes.

Some of the group search for life/iPhone 8

Wim covered in tiny white mayflies while scoping Meadow Lake,

Unfortunately we heard that white nose syndrome has reached the region. Stories of bats waking up from hibernation and falling to the ground unable to fly, other species so numerous that houses have to abandoned as the bats also carry a mite that can infiltrated the attics and homes they roost in. Some bats winter in the Chilcotin, others migrate spreading the disease on their return

However, we were at the ranch to bird and explore. We didn't have far to go. A hundred plus Cliff Swallows were nesting on the property. 

Cliff Swallow

The view from the veranda was spectacular with the sound of sandhill cranes and the winnowing of the Wilson's Snipe. The buzz of the nesting Savannah, Vesper and Clay-coloured sparrows was a joy to hear. Here are some of the sightings.

Fledgling American Avocets.

Avocet chases away a bald eagle.

''Past ponds, lakes and trembling aspen, where the Western Meadowlarks whistle and warble. Three species of teal loaf on a roadside slough and a sandhill crane struts across the pasture. A Coyote bounds across the landscape sending every feathered creature into the air, a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs fly in circles acting a decoys. We stop the car looking for woodpeckers. A House Wren chatters and a pair of Mountain Chickadees chide us for being too close to their nest. Above us three Common Nighthawks circle us in the midday sun''

Solitary Sandpiper found by a roadside pond.

Cinnamon Teal. 

The gang look for signs of life.

Northern Checkerspot.

Clay-coloured Sparrows nest on the ground and prefer small bushes close-by to escape danger.

Clustered Broomrape/iPhone 8.

 A plant without chlorophyll, it is an obligate parasite, completely dependent on a host plant for its moisture and carbohydrates to grow and reproduce, apparently preferring Artemisia species as hosts

Mountain Bluebird.

Northern Waterthrush.

Red-naped Sapsucker.

Say's Phoebe close-up.

Say's Phoebe shot through the gap in a fence.

A Spruce Grouse flushed by the car flew over our heads.

Turkey Vulture flying over road kill.  

A few more for the road....

At dusk what appeared to be flowering plants were thousands of caterpillars changing to chrysalis stage.

Moth species unknown.

A phished Lincoln's Sparrow looks surprised.

Least Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

Seven days just flew by. The weather and birds co-operated, the accommodation and hosts exceptional. Friendships were renewed and everyone went home with a broad smile on their face.
What could be better than that; another trip perhaps?

Our group/photo supplied by Anne Gosse

Trip list

"It's never too late to start blogging again"
John Gordon


  1. What an interesting group and what a wonderful vacation! At least one member of the group is an accomplished photographer!

    So many birds i had never heard of, nor (knowingly) seen.

    Thank you for sharing!

    — JB from Texas

  2. Wonderful trip report glad you had a great trip to such a beautiful part of BC. This is the last place I brought my mom before she died when she was still able to walk. So many beautiful breeding birds in this region lovely photos as always