2022-06-25 Road to Fort Saint John

Red-Winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus
Red-Winged Blackbirds ruled the wetland pond where I stopped to stretch my legs and greeted me on my drive south from Fort Nelson in British Columbia.
Pine Siskin - Spinus pinus
Pine Siskins greeted me when I was driving south from Fort Nelson in British Columbia. 

I left Fort Nelson Saturday morning after having breakfast at the Fort Nelson Hotel. The town has a well maintained RV Dump station at the west end of town. After assuring my water storage was maximized and the holding tanks minimized, I passed by the town grocer and stocked up my shelves for the road ahead.

Driving south, there didn’t seem to be much habitat that might deliver me any new birds. I’ve had my heart set on finding Rusty Blackbirds, but my luck wasn’t going so well. Near Whitehorse, while visiting McIntyre Marsh I caught a fleeting glimpse of a blackbird that flew out in front of the RV as I drove, and I watched it fly over a nearby ridge and disappear. McIntyre Marsh is where my only image for this species was collected in 2005.

Knowing I needed to stop and stretch my legs after an hour and a half of steady driving, when a side road presented itself along a lonely stretch of road, I pulled over and parked. With only circulating the blood in my legs on my mind, I walked down the road leading away from the Alaska Highway. After only a few yards down the road, I saw a pond just down-slope from the side road. I could hear Alder Flycatchers and Red-Winged Blackbirds, but when I saw a Rusty Blackbird land in a nearby tree, I walked back to the RV, retrieved my camera gear, and walked down to the pond to give the birds my best efforts. I met the Alder Flycatchers, the Red-Winged Blackbirds, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Pine Siskins, a Black-Backed Woodpecker, Robins, Flickers and others. But the Rusty Blackbirds were no-shows at this small wetland pond.

Large tracts of land in this region have suffered from recent fires. The location where I found myself now was one such place, surrounded by miles of still-standing charcoalized trees. I walked away from the pond toward a nearby stand of these burned out trees after hearing the incessant calls of an Alder Flycatcher. After spending a few minutes there with my head-on-a-swivel, and enjoying the company of the flycatcher and Pine Siskins, I finally spotted a small flock of 3 or 4 Rusty Blackbirds high in the burned out canopy. I’d been assuming the Rusties were a marsh loving species, but here, they avoided the marsh in favor of the dead trees. I wasn’t able to get any prize-winning images of them, but the experience taught me I need to revise my assumptions about these birds and expand my search-grid for them.

When I finished my “leg-stretching” regime and after spending time with these birds, I continued my drive south to Fort Saint John, where as I prepare this post, I’m getting ready to continue south to Dawson Creek. I had a productive couple of days here chasing local birds. I look forward to telling those stories in the coming days.

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