British Columbia: Photo Tour
British Columbia in Canada is oddly not ranked next to tropical countries like Costa Rica or Brazil as a must-visit nature photography destination, but it should be. In summertime, British Columbia is home to hundreds of conspicuous breeding bird species, plentiful mammals, and almost all of them surrounded by captivating landscapes. Mountains, sage brush flats, rainforests and pines are all to be experienced on this tour. This is also when alpine meadows are brightened by blooms of wildflowers. Wetlands and marshes are extremely important in this region; the province is littered with lakes, rivers, and other wetlands that provide an abundance of breeding habitat for breeding ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds. Large, photogenic waterbirds are one of the undoubted focuses of this tour, although there will be plentiful other breeding birds too, from woodpeckers to warblers and grouse in the forests, to quail, raptors, bluebirds, bobolinks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the more open areas. By the end of this tour, you will be in no doubt that this Canadian province should be ranked as one of the best bird photography hotspots in North America, and one that offers very different species and experiences to those found in more southerly, or easterly, locales.
24 June - 4 July ($5520; single supplement $605)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 11 Days
Starting City: Vancouver
Ending City: Vancouver
Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Focus: Birding, Wildlife, Photography
Group size: 6 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Vancouver
After your arrival in Vancouver, you will be transferred to a local hotel for the night. The guide will meet the group for dinner on this night and to talk through the plan for the next day. This will include some tips on how to approach the upcoming barrage of birds, flowers and scenery to photograph! A single night will be spent near Vancouver airport.
Day 2: Vancouver to EC Manning Provincial Park
Just over two hour’s drive west of Vancouver, lies the amazing EC Manning Provincial Park. Set within the heart of the Cascades, the park comprises coastal rainforests, pine forests, and mountains peppered with flower-rich alpine meadows, and intersected by clean rivers and mirrored lakes. The variety of habitats is reflected in the park’s wildlife; more than 200 bird species have been recorded, and over 60 mammals too. This tour coincides with breeding season in British Columbia, a time when the greatest numbers and diversity of bird species are present. Thus birdsong, and birdlife is at its most conspicuous in this season. Where there are tall, pristine, protected forests, like these, woodpeckers do well, 3 species of sapsucker are possible, like Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers, as well as American Three-toed Woodpecker, and the formidable Pileated Woodpecker, a favorite of bird photographers throughout North America. Northern Goshawk, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Pine Grosbeak are local breeders too, as are a handful of warblers, like Townsend’s, Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers. Striking Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Common Loons breed on the glassy lakes, and Spotted Sandpipers can be found along the rushing rivers. At this time of year, the alpine meadows are very distracting as they are sprinkled with eye-catching blooms of flowers, and these will also be a target for our lenses, alongside the endless breathtaking landscapes, phenomenal forests, a bounty of breeding birds and other animals, like American Pika and Columbian Ground Squirrel. Two nights will be spent just outside EC Manning Provincial Park.
Day 3: E.C Manning Provincial Park
The early morning will be spent slowly driving the park roads in the hope of finding one of the three grouse species that roam there, and often come to the roads at this time; Spruce, Sooty and Ruffed Grouse are all possible. While making stops to admire the unfolding landscapes, and multiple flower meadows, we will continue to track down local breeding species, like iridescent Tree Swallows, which can be photographed going to and from their nesting cavities, along with a whole host of other exciting, photogenic birds at the height of their breeding seasos; Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds, four species of chickadee including Boreal and Chestnut-backed, Red-breasted Nuthatch, both kinglet species, Cedar Waxwing, Canada (Gray) and Steller’s Jays, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Varied and Hermit Thrushes, Cassin’s Finch and Pine Siskin are all on our shopping list. In this mammal rich park, there is always a chance of running into one of the furrier celebrities too, like Mule Deer, American Black Bear, and even the rare Canadian Lynx is possible.
Day 4: EC Manning Provincial Park to Osoyoos
We will drive southeast to Osoyoos, within the Southern Okanagan Valley, only just north of the border with Washington state. Osoyoos is located in the southern interior of British Columbia, and is a land of contrasts. The arid climate is close to desert, and also provides fertile land for vineyards, leading to the area becoming known as “Desert Wine Country”. The land comprises a rich combination of sage brush steppe among the desert-like parts of the landscape, in addition to lively wetlands, and pine forests too, making for an interesting mix of species similar to eastern Washington just over the border. Among the wetland species we will be seeking, will be gorgeous Red-necked and Eared Grebes, both looking extremely eye-catching at this time of year, as well as Western Grebe, Common Loon, and sharp dressed Common Mergansers too. The open country in this area hosts California Quail, Chukar, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sage Thrasher, Western Meadowlark, Lazuli Bunting, Bobolink, and Common Nighthawk. Overhead, we’ll be keeping a keen eye for any low flying White-throated Swifts too. Two nights will be spent in Osoyoos.
Day 5: Osoyoos
This beautiful part of British Columbia deserves more time, and so a full day will be spent there pursuing a variety of birds for our lenses, whether it be large subjects like Bald or Golden Eagles, or Great Blue Herons or Belted Kingfishers, or smaller birds such as Bullock’s Orioles, Black-capped Chickadees, and Violet-green Swallows, we will not be struggling for copy. This is a major breeding region for birds, and this will evidently clear from the sound of birdsong in the air and the activity of birds around us.
Day 6: Osoyoos to Kelowna
We will travel from the semi-arid, rural region of Osoyoos in the Southern Okanagan Valley, north to the central valley, and the urban setting of the city of Kelowna. It is the largest city in the interior, and is packed with fantastic, readily-accessible urban bird photography sites. There are literally dozens of excellent birding hotpots in and around the city. The focus will be on photogenic, wetland species, including ducks, grebes, shorebirds, but also songbirds around the borders of these wetland areas too, or along nearby roads that pass through rich grasslands. We will hopscotch between the hotpots, making sure we cash in on the best of these during the specific timing of our visit. It is an absurdly good area for getting photographs. Among the local breeders we will be seeking, include Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, Gadwall, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Buffleheads, both scaups, Wilson’s Phalaropes, American Avocets, Eared Grebe, and both Sora and Virginia Rail. Around the edges birds like Say’s Phoebe and Yellow-headed Blackbird may also feature too, along with a host of sparrows, including Vesper, Savanna, and Song Sparrows. The close of the day around the lakes brings with it another avian spectacle, as hundreds of swallows and nighthawks gather in the air, hawking just above the lake’s surface for insect life. Two nights will be spent in Kelowna, so that we can have a full day the following day to explore yet more sites and garner an ever growing species list of birds photographed on the tour.
Day 7: Kelowna
A full day will be spent around the city, stopping in at multiple photo locations, with masses on photo opportunities on offer. A final night will be spent in Kelowna.
Day 8: Kelowna to Kamloops
Kelowna is so good, and we will be reeling from all the photos taken, that most likely we will spend a little more time there, before heading west, and driving to the city of Kamloops. We will spend two nights in Kamloops.
Day 9: Kamloops
We may have left with a tinge of regret from Kelowna, but this will soon be forgotten once we have rolled into Kamloops. This city has a dramatic setting, sitting in a river valley at the confluence of the Thompson and North Thompson Rivers, and flanked by plateaus with extensive grasslands. There is plentiful open country photography here in good light, with dramatic scenery as a backdrop, again! The area is most famous as a place to photograph breeding Common Loons, and if we have not already partaken in this, we will do the same. The city is flanked by extensive grasslands, and is within reach of some, one hundred lakes or so! Like Kelowna, the list of species we could photograph here is enormous, with around twenty species of ducks, geese, and swans breeding in the area, over ten sparrow species frequenting the grasslands and lake edges, and plentiful raptors combing the grasslands for prey, such as Red-tailed Hawks, Norther Harriers, and American Kestrels. Another night will be spent in Kamloops.
Day 10: Kamloops to Vancouver
After some final photography around Kamloops, we will head back east to Vancouver for the night, invariably stopping for bird photography amongst the abundant bird habitat along the way.
Day 11: Departure from Vancouver
There is no scheduled photography on this day, and so you are free to leave whenever you wish. A hotel shuttle will be provided, and a breakfast if the flight does not leave too early.
PACE: Easy – Moderate. Most, if not all of our starts will be predawn, with the morning ending around 10am or so. The afternoon photography will start around 3pm and end with the setting sun. There will be some small walks but most of the photography will be done close to the car. The wading sections of this tour may be difficult as you cannot see where you are walking so you may choose to avoid this if you feel your balance is not the best. For the most part, photography on this tour will not be arduous but may be conducted in some fairly warm environments.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy – Moderate. As stated above, the wading section and some walks in the high mountains may be challenging. The high elevation we could possibly reach while in E.C. Manning Provincial Park will be 2500m (roughly 8200ft). It is not likely we will visit this site but please be aware it is a possibility. Most of our time will be spent walking, sitting or standing. There are not too many incredibly long drives on this tours. The longest (not including possible stops) will be from Kamloops to Vancouver. We are expecting this trip to be roughly 4.5hrs without stopping for possible photography opportunities.
CLIMATE: While we are in the west (everything before we leave EC Manning Provincial Park) the mornings and evenings will be chilly and then the days will be pretty warm. Mornings may be around high forties and the days in the high sixties or low seventies. Once we move east, the temperatures will warm all around. Mornings will be in the low sixties with days reaching into the mid 80’s maybe even the low nineties. Rain is not expected but is always possible.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout, with full-time electricity, hot water and en-suite facilities at the standard motels used everywhere. All places used have Wi-Fi Internet.
WHEN TO GO: Summer is a fantastic to be in this area as numerous species are nesting, breeding and some will even be rearing chicks at this time of year. This makes the photography very attractive and abundant.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This is a photography focused tour. We will not be visiting feeding stations, but instead visiting sites where opportunistic photography is abundant but not necessarily easy. However, these locations have been chosen because the photography opportunities are good and plentiful. The guide will be using a speaker and playback where allowed and necessary to provide the best photo opportunities. Playback and the speaker will not be used if the bird is actively nesting and where deemed prohibited.
GEAR: A big lens (something around 400mm) is recommended for this tour. Waders are recommended but not necessary. Waders will allow us to get to water level with the ducks to create a better photo but you can take great photos without them. You can take good photos without waders if you are not comfortable walking in the water. A tripod while we are wading will be helpful but again, is not necessary. You can technically handhold your camera but it is easier with a tripod. A flash is not necessary but is allowed if you wish to use one.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for all foreign visitors; this should be valid for 6 months beyond the departure date and have at least on full blank page. For many tourists on the visa waiver list, a visa is not required (e.g. citizens of the USA, UK, many European countries and Australia) – ). For citizens of these countries, an ELECTRONIC TRAVEL AUTHORITY (ETA) NEEDS TO OBTAINED BEFORE DEPARTURE. This is applied for online here. For other nationalities, you will need to apply for a visa well before departure. To check if you need a visa or ETA, and how to apply, click here
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 9; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 10; spare drinking water in the vehicle when required; Tropical Birding tour leader (who is also the tour driver) with audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the morning of day 10; airport shuttle to the hotel in Tucson for arrival; one group airport drop off on day 10; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the afternoon of day 1 to the morning of day 10 in a rental vehicle; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader (who is also the driver on this tour); tips for any luggage porters used; international flights; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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