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NMT - July 2009

July 2009
Species list: 4 Distance travelled: 139kilometress

            With hot weather and our kid's birthday's, June disappeared in a flash. With only three new species added in June and the clock ticking, I had to put some real effort in to get out birding.  On July 1st, Canada Day, I awoke at 04:15 a.m. and was on the road by 05:00 a.m. My goal was to get to Cassidy Airport, south of Nanaimo, and try snag a Vesper Sparrow, before it got too hot. The bike ride was better than I had expected, with very little traffic and a nice cool temperature. I stuck to my guns and didn’t get side tracked from my target: Vesper Sparrow. I arrived at the airport at exactly 09:00 a.m., four hours and 53 kilometres after departing Parksville. To my delight, I was still early enough to hear several Vesper Sparrow singing out on the grassland. One even landed on a fencepost for a minute, giving me a great view from my collapsed position on the edge of the gravel road!
Vesper Sparrow
            On July 4th, my brother-in-law Justin Lynch and I embarked on a quest that wasn’t that much further in distance than the Vesper Sparrow, but physically and mentally much harder. Another early rise and on the road at 04:00 a.m., our destination: Mount Arrowsmith! Now, I have driven this route many times, especially last year when I was putting a lot of time into the BC Breeding Atlas. So I had a good understanding of the distance. However, optimism and dreams of high elevation birds might have blocked my senses and clouded the facts. This road is brutal!
            The first three hours went by without any real problems, though the climb up the hump to the logging road was a real grind. Once on the logging road, we took a break and wallowed in our first geographical milestone. The temperature was perfect and it was just past 07:00 .am. The next four hours were grueling, I mean ridiculously grueling! Justin soldiered on and on; I lagged behind a bit but managed keep him in sight. I knew I couldn’t do any complaining, not just because I had roped him into this, but because he was pulling our backpacks in a small trailer pulled behind his bike! I had no right to belly-ache, though I wanted to.

Justin and Rich - halfway there
            There was not much bird activity, and even if there were, I am not sure I would have noticed; as the only way I could deal with the slog was to look at the ground and occasionally look up to see if we had reached the top of yet another hill. The hours passed slowly and at times my focus began to fizzle. It was madness! Finally, after four hours, we reached the Saddle Route. This is the main route up Mount Arrowsmith. Justin had been feeling a twinge in his knee since the beginning of the logging road. He stripped down and bathed his knee in a freezing cold stream. Luckily it seemed to do the trick, and after a good half hour break and some food we continued on.
            By now it was getting really hot and we took lots of little breaks, crawling into any bushes that offered shade. Though these were short-lived because the mosquitoes gave us no peace. We arrived at our first official stop sometime after noon and began scanning for an American Three-toed Woodpecker. Though we never managed to find it, we did pick up two of our four target birds: Gray Jay and two, very welcomed, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch!
Time to hike
            Not long after this sighting Lori, Donna and Nolan arrived in our car; bringing moral support and a Pepsi! We chatted for a while then decided to push on. Justin’s knee was still giving him some trouble so we stowed his bike on the car and he caught a ride to the ski lodge. I, on the other hand, had to ride the rest of the way. At the ski lodge we rested once more, then Lori took both bikes and the trailer back to Parksville. Justin and I put on our backpacks and began hiking up Mount Coakley. Actually, the hike was nice; it was great to be done with the bikes. En-route we got another Gray Jay, though that was the last new bird we would get. Once up in the Alpine we set-up camp and had a good meal. With our stomachs full, we decided to go look and listen for ptarmigan. Two hours later we were back at camp; it was about 08:00 p.m. and we were tired.  The thought of waiting another three hours for dark, and the fact that we were being eaten alive by mosquitos, prompted my next decision. I am done! Where is the cell phone?
Lori and Nolan grabbed an evening hot chocolate, and drove all the way back up the mountain. The plan had been to stay the night and hike Mount Arrowsmith in the morning.
The plan changed and we went home. No regrets-it was an epic quest and we got two tough birds. My sincere thanks to Justin Lynch. I will never ride that road again.
Rich and Justin on Mount Coakley

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