The second of three days in Glacier National Park, what an unbelievable treat for everyone on the tour. Today, we woke a bit later and enjoyed coffee and breakfast at Eddie’s Café in Apgar. The big targets for day were another chance at Pacific Wren, Harlequin Duck, and Black Swift. We carefully picked our way along the east side Lake McDonald with a productive stop at the Sprague Creek Campground. The ever-present Townsend’s Warblers were in full throat along with chorus mates Golden-crowned Kinglets and Varied Thrushes. Jon give a nice dissertation of the “western” Warbling Vireo song, and how it separates this current subspecies from the “eastern” subspecies.
As the morning drew on, we found ourselves at the Avalanche Creek Campground, and this time we had a companion. A large black bear lumbered along the road as we parked. He was all black without an hint of a white sash on his chest. The way he ambled into the timber without a hint of fear or haste was a bit disconcerting, so the bear spray was rapidly attached to my belt. Along the broad walk, the Pacific Wrens put on a show providing great looks at the dark, little bird with a large voice. It was at this point when learned that our British birder was racking up the lifers on this trip as it was her first tour in western North America. Her lifers become the group’s de facto mission from this point onward. A bit about the Pacific Wren and its newly acquired full species status from the Winter Wren complex of related birds. How did I know that these birds were definitively Pacific Wrens, and not the “eastern” Winter Wren? To be honest, it was strictly done on faith and the range of the respective species. That little conundrum will be the subject of a future posting.
Did I mention that we have missed the Harlequin Duck on 3 separate trips up and down McDonald Creek? This was our last chance to see this marvelous duck as it swam amongst the torrents. As we followed the creek, I checked every eddy and rapid that I had ever seen them in the past, and then like a materializing ghost, a beautiful male Harlequin Duck appeared in some slack water near a recently toppled cedar that laid across a portion of the stream. He perched on the exposed roots before diving once again, only to burst into flight. He crossed the waters and landed near a gravel bar, and there his mate sat, so perfectly camouflaged against the stones. Everyone rushed to the spotting scopes as great views were had and digiscoped pictures were snapped. They were not phantoms after all, it just took a little effort and timing.
Leaving the west side of Glacier, we drove around the southern edge on Highway 2. We had to do this detour because the Going-to-the-Sun Road was close, and it is still closed as of July 5th. This was just one symptom of the record snowfall and cool spring. We stopped at the Issak Walton Inn for the possibility of a Black-chinned Hummingbird, and although, we missed the hummer, we did found a host of cooperative Evening Grosbeaks and Steller’s Jays.
Everyone wanted the White-tailed Ptarmigan, which is tough bird to find in the best of conditions. I gave our chances as 1 in a 1000 (too generous) as several clients and I walked up the first 1/2 mile of Sunrift Gorge. I found a display of wildflowers and a Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler. A pleasant surprise as Jon’s passion for subspecies and possible splits was infectious and had me checking every bird, just in case (good habit to start). We decided to drive up to the Jackson Glacier Overlook, just to see the glacier, which was mostly obscured by banks of clouds. The consolation – several bears. We had great looks at a large black bear forging on leafy vegetation and a cinnamon black bear sow and her 2 yearling cubs.
What a day…tomorrow brings Many Glacier and the Front Range.