Young Birder Trip to Mount Cheam

Yesterday, 7 of us hiked up Mount Cheam in Chilliwack in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan. We were inspired by my friend Dave Beeke who recently went up there and got Ptarmigan. He actually goes every year and usually gets the bird. In 2006 Roger and Andrew Foxall, Carlo Giovanella and Ilya Povalyaev found 5 Rock Ptarmigan and 11 White-tailed Ptarmigans on the mountain! I rented a 4wd SUV because the road is not passable for a 2WD. This is not an exaggeration, it was the worst road I have ever driven. Even with a 4WD you need to be very cautious, as some 4WD drivers got stuck. It is a narrow winding high mountain gravel road with large rolling hills and ditches where you can bottom out with huge potholes and large rocks. It was an adventure that is for sure, and this year the road is particularly bad.

The gorgeous views we had as we neared the parking lot after driving the rough road - Photo: Ian Harland

We made it safely to the top with our 8 seater, 4WD Ford Expedition SUV that the kids call "The Tank". The parking lot was full at the top but we found a spot further down the hill. The views were stunning from the parking lot. We sprayed our bug spray and sunscreen and began our ascent. It was a piece of cake in comparison to our much harder Needle Peak/Flatiron hike last year. See that trip report HERE.

As we started hiking up through the pretty stream and flower filled meadow, we had many Sooty Grouse hooting, Rufous Hummingbirds, Hermit Thrushes, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wrens, Barn Swallows, Mount Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pine Siskins,Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Pipits and Vaux's Swifts flying low over our heads. Seeing the swifts like that was a really cool sight to see, as Vaux's Swifts are usually high up distant specs.

We traveled by the first little lake called Spoon Lake where the kids found some Western Long-toed Salamanders. The cool looking Salamanders with yellow stripes down their backs were a first for many of the kids.

Bridget and Katya looking for Salamanders at Spoon Lake - Photo: Ian Harland

Western Long-toed Salamander - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Spoon Lake in the meadows where the kids found the Salamanders - Photo: Bridget Spencer

As we climbed further up the Mountain we had Slate-colored Fox Sparrows singing their beautiful songs. The wildflowers were just gorgeous and we had great views of the winding road beneath us.

Hiking up to the summit of Mt. Cheam - Photo: Ian Harland

Cole looking for Sooty Grouse - Photo: Ian Harland

Cool Plants on Mt. Cheam  - Photo: Ian Harland

As we continued our ascent we stopped at a small upper lake where we had our lunch. We looked at native ladybugs, tiger beetles and many different species of butterflies. After lunch we headed up the hill towards the summit. The landscape was just stunning. Lots of people were on the trail this saturday. We met Mike Klotz and Uday Sant coming back down the hill and they told us they did not see any White-tailed Ptarmigan today due to the large amounts of people. Well we were not discouraged and continued on. Bridget spotted a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch that ended up landing right in front of her! We all got pics of it as it hoped along feeding on the snow. We also spotted several Townsend's Solitaires singing and perched on trees.

One of the 6 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches we saw on Mt. Cheam - Photo: Bridget Spencer

American Pipit - Photo: Katya Kondratyuk

We saw a Pika at its burrow that Viktor spotted and many Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, Yellow-pine Chipmunks, a Red Squirrel and Hoary Marmots. The Marmots were whistling all day.

One of the many "whistling" Hoary Marmots we saw on the hike - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Climbing to the summit of Mt. Cheam - Photo: Melissa Hafting

As we winded up the hill we got up to the summit at 2,104 m, where I watched the kids closely since there was sheer drop offs on both sides and slippery rocks. Some people have lost their lives here, so it is imperative you watch where you walk. Here we had Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, we saw a total of at least 6. The views were amazing of the Fraser Valley below and the mountain ranges around us. We could even see Mount Baker. We watched people at the top of Lady Peak with awe. It was nice and sunny at the top and the kids posed for a photo for me.

Young Birders at the Summit of Cheam Mtn. - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Katya as we descended down from the summit - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Other couples asked me to take their photo after reaching the summit, some stood a little too close to the edge for my liking. We watched Common Ravens fly above us and also saw a Bald Eagle. We searched all over the summit and below it for the White-tailed Ptarmigan but there was none that we could see. We did find many White-tailed Ptarmigan feathers though. Just as Mike and Uday said the mountain was extremely busy this Saturday with lots of people and dogs. We were having a great day and not too disappointed, even though it was the third hike we had done as a group now where we couldn't find Ptarmigan. We had great birds, great people and spectacular views so we couldn't complain!

Stunning views from the summit of Mt. Cheam - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Cole near Spoon Lake - Photo: Ian Harland

View near the summit of Mt. Cheam - Photo: Ian Harland

Cole near the summit of Mt Cheam - Photo: Ian Harland

Katya near a waterfall by the parking lot - Photo: Ian Harland

 We couldn't of asked for a more beautiful day and now had many good memories. I know from seeing White-tailed Ptarmigan in the field  myself that it is never a guarantee to see one. I also know that one day all of the kids and I will see one together. Liron and I saw one in full white plumage together on Mount Seymour in North Van, back in 2015 and it was a lifer for him then.You can see the photos and report from that trip HERE. I can't wait until I get to share that experience with all the kids together.

Young Birders Hiking on Mt. Cheam - Photos: Ian Harland

As we came down the awfully rough 4WD only road we saw Varied Thrush, Band-tailed Pigeon, Warbling Vireo, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Townsends' Warblers and a Western Toad. We finished off the day with a nice meal at Tim Horton's because we were all starving after our big 9.5 Km hike!

Another great day that we won't soon forget!

If you would like to join the Young Birder Program see contact info and list of events HERE


  1. Thanks again for the great hike Mel! It was so cool to have the rosy-finches feeding so close. The salamanders were a bonus!

    1. so welcome B, thanks for coming it was great fun! we will get those ptarmigan yet! :D

  2. Wonderful to see young people out enjoying nature!

  3. sounds like you had a great trip and saw lots of great birds

  4. Thank you both so much glad you enjoyed it.

  5. It was good seeing you and the amazing group of birders that you follow around. I wish things had gone slightly more our way with the Ptarmigan, but it was a beautiful day none the less.

    1. Was great seeing you Mike let's hope the next time we meet you have got your ptarmi and my kids too ! :D

  6. OMG, it sounds and looks so much fun! This is in my bucket list now.:) Thanks for the detailed story n photos!

  7. A wonderful trip Melissa. I find it so interesting that all those birds are around at this time of year. Especially because I look at the top of Mt Cheam from my back patio and yet all I see are goldfinches and the odd House Finch here at the bottom of the valley.
    I remember a few years ago, Dave Beeke and a couple of other guys climbed Agassiz mountain which is even closer to where I live and came up with a bunch of relatively uncommon birds as well. I guess it's all about the elevation in summer.

    Murray Brown


    1. Thank you kindly Murray, I'm truly touched by your lovely comments.

  8. looks like a scenic hike and im sure you and the kids will get your chicken soon


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