Birding in the South Cariboo
From the sub-boreal and cedar-hemlock forests east of 100 Mile House, to the dry sagebrush slopes near the Fraser River, and the lakes, grasslands and aspen parklands in between, the South Cariboo is home to nearly 200 breeding bird species. The ranges of some southern, boreal, coastal and interior bird species overlap on this wide plateau of rolling hills. The South Cariboo offers abundant habitat for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds.
Breeding birds include:
- Common Loon
- Red-necked, Eared, and Horned Grebe
- American White Pelican
- Sharp-tailed Grouse
- Black Tern
- Long-billed Curlew
- American Avocet
- Wilson’s Phalarope
- Sandhill Crane
- Great Gray Owl
- Black-backed Woodpecker
- American Three-toed Woodpecker
- Alder Flycatcher
- Mountain Bluebird
- Vesper Sparrow
- Clay-colored Sparrow
- Many warblers, including Townsend’s, Wilson’s, Yellow, Orange-crowned, Magnolia, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush.
The cold Cariboo winters bring flocks of northern species to the South Cariboo, including Pine Grosbeak, Bohemian Waxwing and Common Redpoll. The winter is a great time to spot a hunting Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk-owl, and the surprisingly common Northern Pygmy-owl. Short-eared hunt over grasslands, and can be found by those who know where to look. Watch for lone Northern Shrikes on atop shrubs and fence posts. Dippers fly along almost frozen stream. Birders can also find the year-round chickadees, nuthatches, jays and woodpeckers, including Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers.
As soon as the ice begins to melt, innumerable ducks, geese, swans, and coots fill the ponds and lakes of the South Cariboo. Watch for less common migrants in early spring, including Eurasian Wigeon and Tundra Swan. Late April and early May bring Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Western Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, and Bonaparte’s Gulls to the larger lakes, such as Green Lake, Horse Lake and Lac la Hache. April brings an influx of Mountain Bluebirds, Juncos, Robins, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Swallows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and White-crowned Sparrows. By late April and Early May, riparian and wooded habitats are exploding with bird song from warblers, sparrows and vireos. Watch the muddy edges of shallow ponds for migrating shorebirds in early May. See the return of Osprey to the fish in the deeper lakes. Listen for the eerie calls of Sandhill Cranes or the nighttime songs of Northern Saw-whet, Barred, Great-horned, Great Gray and even Boreal owls.
The woods and lakes of the South Cariboo are rich in songbird diversity. Look and listen for American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, MacGillivray’s Warbler and many other songbirds, especially east of 100 Mile House. Rich riparian areas host singing Yellow Warblers, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and Bullock’s Orioles. Open grasslands are home to singing Clay-coloured, Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Western Meadowlarks. Watch for Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows nesting in boxes. The innumerable ponds and lakes offer breeding habitat for many waterfowl species, including loons and grebes and the majority of North American duck species. By June and July watch for mother ducks leading their chicks through the reeds. A few shorebird species, including Wilson’s Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and American Avocet, may be found breeding in the area’s ponds. Summer also offers access to higher elevation sub-boreal habitats that are home to Pine Grosbeaks, Boreal Chickadees, Spruce Grouse and Townsend’s Warblers. Birders would be rewarded with a trip west to the Dog Creek and similar habitats along the Fraser to look for breeding birds of the hot, dry habitats, including Western Kingbird, Say’s Phoebe, Rock Wren, White-throated Swift and Cassin’s Finch. Nighttime around these areas may yield the mournful song of Common Poorwills, or the hoots of Flammulated Owls and Dusky Grouse.
“Fall” migration begins with the arrival of migrant shorebirds as early as July, and picks up in August and September with mixed flocks of songbirds. Watch warbler and vireo flocks for less common migrants, including Tennessee, Magnolia and Blackpoll Warbler. Sparrows of many stripes flock along brushy roadsides. The extended migration of shorebirds can offer many opportunities to see species such as Semipalmated Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper or, more rarely but regularly, Stilt Sandpiper. Late fall may yield Long-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover. In September and October, watch the skies for migrating eagles and hawks. September and October bring loon, grebe, gull and waterfowl species to the larger lakes in high numbers. Late fall is one of the best times to bird on the Cariboo’s lakes, and the late season may bring in rare birds such as Pacific Loon and Red-breasted Merganser.