The Northern Cardinal Twitch and the 2017 Metro Vancouver Year List Record

On Saturday I drove 10 hours to see the Northern Cardinal in Cranbook. I have been itching to do this since the bird was first reported by Greg Ross and Katrin Powell on Nov 7th. I was waiting for a safe driving window because I know how bad Kootenay Pass can be and when my friend Danny Tyson went it was closed for 4 hours!

Well I checked Drive BC for Hwy 3 conditions and was pleased to see all the roads were clear with some snow in Kootenay Pass and Manning Park. Manning Park had not been plowed when I went through early in the morning but was nothing that my mud and snow tires couldn't get through easily. The snow was only at the summit. The snow dissipated as I pulled into Princeton and the roads were bare with hardly any snow at the sides of the road. I sailed through and stopped at Nighthawk to look for Grey Partridge. I did not see any Grey Patridge but there was 12 Chukar feeding beside the road which was a nice consolation prize.

The roads were clear but snow was accumulating on the sides of the road as I went through Anarchist Mountain (where I saw a flock of Pine Grosbeaks) and down into Rock Creek. The Black-backed Woodpeckers were still present in Kettle Valley Recreation Site.  I kept on and before the small quaint town of Greenwood, I saw 20 Wild Turkeys on the right side of the road feeding. I rarely ever see Wild Turkeys in BC since I live in Vancouver, so it was a highlight. I actually ended seeing 25 more of them on the return trip in Salmo. A few meters up the road there were 200 Bohemiam Waxwings gorging themselves on one tree that was full of berries. It has been a good finch year in Vancouver but a poor one for Bohemian Waxwings so this was a delight.  I forgot to mention that along the roads on the fence lines I noticed many Northern Shrikes, Black-billed Magpies and Rough-legged Hawks.

I had to pass through Paulson Summit that lead into Castlegar as it was getting dark which meant I would have to do Kootenay Pass in the pitch black. I wasn't looking forward to it but that is what happens when you have lunch and do a few birding stops along the road. I continued on and was pleasantly surprised how lovely it was through Kootenay Pass. I say lovely because I have been through this pass many times coming home from Lethbridge in AB. It can be seriously dangerous! One time in 2009 I drove through there in an awful snow storm I couldn't see the lights of the snow plow in front of me. It was a wall of complete fog and blinding snow. There was also lots of snow on the ground that required a 4wd or chains. Well not this time, I sailed through it with a little bit of blowing snow and fog. There were a few cms of snow on the ground but nothing that is not normal in winter in the highest mountain pass in BC!

I went for dinner in a really nice local restaurant there called "Soulfood." I highly recommend it! It felt so nice to rest and relax with a glass of wine after 10 hours on the road. Greg the homeowner had offered for me to stay at his place but I didn't want to impose, especially since I got in so late.

The next morning I went at sunrise which was 8:20 am and as soon as I opened my car, I heard the Cardinal calling.  I was then greeted by a huge black dog that was friendly as ever, who I later found out was named Sam. Cranbrook was covered in snow and more was falling as I stood there. Sam sat beside me in the snow as I waited for the Cardinal to reappear. As I did this I was kept company by many lovely visitors; at least 80 Common Redpolls and some landing right in front of my face allowing for excellent shots. I also had Mountain Chickadees, Bohemian Waxwings, House Finches (no Cassin's Finches - unlucky me), Downy Woodpeckers, Flickers and one of my favorite birds Blue Jays! With the Blue Jays and Northern Cardinal I had to laugh because here I was in BC with two of the most common Eastern birds.

When the Northern Cardinal flew back in and perched in the tree close to Greg's house as if on cue he came out of his house and said "are you Mel?!." He was so happy to see me and he brought out his partner Katrin who was equally as lovely and we chatted about the bird and I thanked them for how kind they were to allow all of us birders to come and view it. They were just so much fun and Greg took many photos of me (I think he is making an album of all the visitors) which was cute as I looked at his bird in the yard. Greg and Katrin invited me to stay for dinner and to spend the night, which was beyond gracious but I had to get back to Vancouver so I politely declined. I really had great fun seeing this Northern Cardinal, it was in such a beautiful Winter Wonderland setting. Thanks again to Greg Ross and Katrin Powell for finding this bird and for being so lovely!

Female Northern Cardinal in Cranbrook - Photos: Melissa Hafting

This bird if accepted by the BC Bird Records Committee will be the 1st confirmed Record for the Province of BC.

This bird was the 415th bird species I have seen in the province of BC, so you can imagine it was a special moment for me. I never thought I would drive 10 hours each way for a female Northern Cardinal but I would do so again in a heartbeat. If you think I am crazy for driving this far for a bird, my friend who is a winter lister has already driven to see it twice and will do so for each month until it departs!. Life is too short you need to do what makes you happy!

One of the 80 Common Redpolls in Greg and Katrin's Yard - Photos: Melissa Hafting

A record shot of one of 4 Blue Jays, I saw in Cranbrook - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was so nice to get away from the city and do a lovely drive through our stunning province. The Kootenays truly are a gorgeous and under-birded area of our province. Birders like Paul Prappas in Nelson, Gary Davidson in Nakusp and Craig Sandvig in Castlegar (just to name a few) do a great job of finding great birds up there but imagine if there was more coverage. I was last in Creston in May (it was snowing in Kootenay Pass then :))  last year and it is just such a gorgeous part of this province in all seasons.


After returning home I heard devastating environmental news from my friend Denise, that White-supremacist Trump had shrunk more National Monuments that President Obama had created in Utah. He did this so that they can be drilled and mined. If you want to watch an interesting news piece and hear the First Nations side of the story (whom feel extremely disrespected, since this ground is sacred to them) please click HERE.

I knew I had to go out and lift my spirits and look for birds and I ended up seeing a cute but FIERCE Northern Pygmy-Owl, which is always a treat.

Northern Pygmy-Owl - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next I knew I had to find the 2 nemesis winter finches that had been evading me all year in Metro Vancouver. They had been reported almost hourly since I left for Cranbrook.  I have spent many hours looking for Pine Grosbeaks and White-winged Crossbills but as soon as they get the memo that I'm coming, they depart. Well today I was able to see 2 Pine Grosbeaks (a stunning male and female) with my friend Quentin Brown who has also been dipping on them constantly. He is doing a Metro Vancouver Big Year and no one has worked harder to find birds than him! We were both so grateful to share that moment together; as the gorgeous Pine Grosbeaks ate the buds of the Cherry Trees near Horizons restaurant on Burnaby Mountain.

Record shot of Male Pine Grosbeak in Burnaby- Photo: Melissa Hafting

Later that afternoon I got a text from Monica Nugent alerting me to 9 White-winged Crossbills that she had seen at the entrance gate to Alaksen. So I rushed down there and like clockwork when I pulled up and saw my friends Mike Tabak and Brian Stech's defeated faces I knew I was out of luck. Well this time I was determined to stay and search for them as I had done so many times before for some reason today I thought my luck might be different. They were on their way out to beat the tunnel traffic but I kept walking up and down the road to Alaksen, looking and listening. I saw many Pine Siskins, Robins, and a flock of Common Redpolls but no White-winged Crossbills.

At 3:30pm, 5 people had joined me and I heard the call of White-winged Crossbills and told them and we all got views of them eating on the alder cones. All at once, just like that, as if they were never there, they picked up and flew, they did one circle over us as if to say goodbye and disappeared. I left the Alaksen gate at 4pm. I was tired, relieved and happy and for maybe the first time in my life ecstatic to sit through rush hour traffic at the Massey Tunnel :)!.

Those White-winged Crossbills were very special to me because it signified that I had reached 261 birds in the Metro Vancouver Area (according to the Nature Vancouver Checklist) and 260 birds in Metro Vancouver + 1 in Point Roberts (according to eBird). This allowed me to now become the current holder of the published record of the Metro Vancouver Year List. This record was held by Ilya Povalyaev until today. Funny enough he was the happiest of anyone for me today along with my friend Quentin. Now you know those are people who truly love and care about you when they know you beat the record they worked so hard for and still root so hard for you!

Anyways, the year is not done yet and the record is not etched in stone. I told Quentin who has 254 birds this year, that he very well can get 260 if we get a few good stretches of rarities. The record is even more attainable by Roger Foxall who is sitting at an amazing 258 birds. A few more and he will be miles ahead of me. This is by no means over and nor do I care too much about the record. However, I am the first female to hold it, so that fact is cool! I am not doing a big year, nor did I set out to do one. This is my personal best for the amount of birds I have ever seen in Metro Vancouver in a year, and for that reason alone, it's a special achievement.

Twitching birds is really about building community because we all share our sightings with each other. I try my best to share everything that comes my way. To me this is an important part about birding; the community sense we should all have and the friends that enrich our lives. When people twitch birds it's nice to see them so happy when they get the bird they have been searching for. This year my friends Rob Lyske, John Reynolds, Joachim Bertrands, Monica Nugent and many others have shared birds they think I may need and vice versa. It just doesn't get better than that. I have been looking out for birds for Quentin, Mike, Neil, Carlo and Roger for example who are also doing Year lists. This is what really enhances the birding spirit for all in my opinion.

Lastly, I will leave you with a very funny story called "The Bird" which is about twitching rare birds by the late great Stuart McLean of the Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio. If you are a twitcher, you will relate to this hilarious tale!

Listen to it HERE


  1. Big Congrats on getting the cardinal, and especially for holding the record year list for Vancouver!!!! What an achievement!!
    Beautiful photos, especially of the redpols, I love the bell-like chatter of a flock of them as they feed, sounds so wintery:)

    1. Thank you so mucin Viktor and yes I totally agree the sound they make is very cute. Redpolls remind me of Christmas everytime I see and hear them. In Cranbrook they filled the trees like Christmas ornaments! Haha see you soon at the Christmas bird count for kids!

  2. Lovely photos, Mel! With the snowy backgrounds, I felt I was looking at a series of Christmas cards! Congratulations on reaching # 261, it was a real pleasure for me to be there for the record-tying Pine Grosbeaks!

    1. Thanks Quentin! You are the best :)!


    3. Thanks sarah. I hope you find the black-backed woodpeckers. My friend just got them there a few days ago. Walk in through the gate to find the pair by the sani dump. I appreciate your kind words.

  3. Congratulations on raising the bar for Vancouver big years! That's a very impressive total and you are deserving of it considering how much you help other birders find their target birds in Vancouver and beyond.

    1. Thank so much ilya. I didn't even do a big year or work half as hard as you or Quentin but thanks!

  4. WOW! The redpoll photos are so beautiful! Congratulations on your yearlist, and OMG I feel like my BC yearlist is 250 or something. I need to check...

    1. thanks so much katya! i definitely got my best redpoll shots in cranbrook. sadly the northern cardinal has departed or has perished. A brown thrasher took his spot on dec 9th but he too disappeared. your yearlist is fantastic by the way and you guys make me proud. see you at the xmas bird count for kids on saturday!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification


Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)

*UPDATED* The First Ever Black Birders Week May 31-June 5th

Smith Island Tufted Puffins Trip!