Atlassing 2012, Scoop Lake 2

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August 11, 2012 by Rokman61

(Previously presented as email on August 11, reposted here in Oct;  last of 5 instalments on Atlassing 2012). 

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Scoop Lake, Part 2 of 2

Getting around to do our Atlassing in such a wilderness setting would normally require long treks on foot and more days than we had available to complete our surveys. Fortunately, there were many kilometres of tracks, suitable for horses and most of them usable by quad ATVs. This is the ‘mount’ that was provided for our use, allowing us to cover ground quickly and do our surveys efficiently.

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Here George is getting acquainted with a few of the more traditional mounts.

The horses work about 4 months of the year, and then are turned loose to fend for themselves. They wander around all winter, wherever they chose to go. In early summer they are rounded up and fitted with shoes, getting them ready for the upcoming season. This group of about a dozen animals materialized right out of the forest, and were so friendly they disrupted one of our point counts. On returning to camp, we mentioned our encounter, and immediately the wranglers set out on horse, quad, and even spotting aircraft to locate and round them up. They came back empty this day.

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By far the most abundant large animals in the area were elk. We saw a fair few, but for some reason they seemed untrusting and stayed well away from us, so I was not able to get any photos. One evening we were taken on a most pleasant boat ride around the lake. George got this fine image of two of them galloping through the shallows, desperately getting out of our way.

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Of interest, elk were not historically present this far north in the Rocky Mountain Trench, and were introduced many years ago. They are now so numerous that the big hay meadows around the camp never produce anything harvestable, as they are kept closely cropped by the big ungulates. This also explains the relative dearth of wildflowers we encountered – apparently the elks eat them. Trembling aspen is by far the most dominant deciduous tree species in the forest, and the trunks of nearly every one show scars from winter foraging by the hungry critters.

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Here is a creature of a somewhat smaller scale. We came across a congregation of these pretty little newly-emerged damselflies, a species of bluet.

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A White Admiral flutterby posed long enough for a portrait.

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This natty little brown amphibian with the classy racing stripe down its back is (I assume) a wood frog, Ranus sylvatica.

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And finally a few birds. Spotted Sandpipers were apparently nesting in some sandy patches around the camp, and we saw about a dozen of them foraging along the shore of the lake.

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A few decades ago, it was not uncommon to see clouds of swallows in areas that provided good nesting and foraging habitat. Since then, they have experienced precipitous declines across all of North America, and nowadays we are likely to see dozens where there used to be hundreds. Scoop Lake is a most remarkable exception! The air around the cabins and fields was continuously filled with the twittering birds.

Cliff Swallows build their distinctive gourd-shaped nests from mouthfuls of mud, placing them under a convenient overhang. The eves of the cabins provide prime real estate for them – we counted 183 of the structures.

Competition for nest sites is obviously fierce. In this macabre image, the corpse of one of the ‘losers’ is incorporated right into the structure.

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In contrast, Tree Swallows use existing cavities for nesting, and virtually all of the 35-odd wooden nest boxes in the camp were occupied.

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So what do we have here? Is this the work of one adaptable and creative Cliff Swallow, or of some kind of Cliff/Tree hybrid?

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Barn Swallows make mud nests under overhangs like the Cliffies, except their nests are open-topped, and sit on a shelf. We found more than a dozen mixed in with the numerous Cliff structures. Here is a portrait of a handsome male bird.

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Bank Swallows require a sandy bank in which they dig holes for nesting. Swarms of them commute from their colony on a nearby river to join the other species to forage around the camp.

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White-throated Sparrows are a very common species of the boreal forests right through to Newfoundland, but they barely make it west into the mountains of BC, so this was one of our better finds.

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This is a female Yellow Warbler, one of the most abundant small songbirds across North America, including this part of BC.

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Northern Waterthrush is another common warbler species, its loud ringing song can be heard anywhere near water.

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We had noticed an all-black bird in the vicinity of the camp, but at first could not tell which of two likely species it might be – either Brewers or Rusty Blackbird. When we finally got a better look, it turned out to be a Common Grackle – rather uncommon here, as it normally does not occur west of the prairies. It is one of the handful of ‘Eastern birds’ that has snuck into the area via the low-lying area as noted in my previous journal.

This one is a rather poor photo, taken into the light and heavily cropped. However, it is good enough to document the species (note the honkin’ big bill and elongated central tail), thus nicely illustrates the value of modern digital photography.

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We recorded nearly 60 species of birds at Scoop Lake, a respectable tally. As a bonus, the weather for our entire stay was near perfect – warm and mostly sunny, no rain, no heavy winds, no searing heat, and virtually no mosquitoes! The only time we had to lather up with DEET was in the last evening when we were tromping around at dusk in swampy woods – unheard of for July in backwoods BC! If this sounds like a plug for the ‘resort’, it is. A remote and interesting corner of the province, welcoming hosts, good food, fine weather, quiet wilderness setting, abundant birdlife – an excellent destination for an escape from city life!

www.scooplake.com

Having completed our work at Scoop, we were flown back to the town of Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway.

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This photo essentially marks the end of my participation in the BC Breeding Bird Atlas project. In each of the last four summers, I have been most fortunate in having had the opportunity to visit some of the more majestic corners of our magnificent province and experience some stirring adventures. It has been ‘a blast’. A final thanks to my good buddy George, who organized our sessions, and insisted on dragging me along, a somewhat reticent and reluctant participant. Good that he persisted, as I would have missed it all.

Carlo

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