Hope Airport occupies a unique site, both within the context of the Hope Region, and the eastern end of the Fraser Valley. Like most of the eastern Fraser Valley, it is enclosed by the Cascade Mountains to the East and the Coastal Mountains to the West. At this point, the valley is considerably more narrow than in the Chilliwack area. The area is often compared to the narrow end of a funnel, and the prevailing westerly winds will occasionally be strong and blustery, as the air is funneled into a more narrow space. This affect also occasionally causes poor air quality, especially in the summer.
The Hope Region is usually considered to be the most south easterly point of the Pacific Coastal Marine Climatic Zone in B.C., and its accompanying vegetative systems. Travel further north into the Fraser Canyon, and north and east up into the Cascades, will very quickly find the traveler in significantly different ecosystems. This, in turn, causes the bird life to vary considerably within a relatively small amount of geographic space.
Specifically, the airport is bordered on the north by mixed forest, smaller parcels of agricultural land, and its accompanying residences, and the Fraser River and Bristol Slough. To the south is a narrow strip of mixed forest, and the CNR Railway tracks. To the East is more mixed forest, and residences with acreages, and to the west are more farms, one of them being certified organic.
The airport itself consists of small buildings and hangars. It is home to the Vancouver Soaring Association, which uses it extensively on weekends in the spring, summer. and fall. The rest of the property is planted grass which is mostly kept cut to accommodate the planes. The airstrip is fenced and is technically off limits. However any part of the property can be birded from the outside with binoculars and/or a scope. The airstrip is surrounded by a paved road, which bears little traffic. It is 4 km around, and the locals, as well as visitors, use the road as a recreational walkway. This makes the site a very pleasant place to bird. With the airport grassland prevailing, the airport, and the surrounding land and water presents a variety of ecosystems to both resident and migratory birds. The funnel affect, previously mentioned, can also occasionally produce circumstances during the migratory periods, especially spring, when birds are trapped in the area due to bad weather. This can produce a condition called fallout, where large numbers of one or more species of birds are temporarily trapped in the area, hemmed in by the mountains, and weather conditions.
This site has documented a good number of rare birds over the years. One never knows quite what to expect during a birding outing. It can be quite busy with lots of birds around, or it can be the opposite with the site being fairly quiet making one ponder if it was worth the gas to get there. Airport activity also plays a role. Aircraft taking off and landing reduces birding potential. Usually an early morning and/or weekday visit has less avionics going on. The site can be windy at times, but the early morning is often quite calm until about mid-morning.
While the entire area has a lot of potential, the west and east ends of the airport are often the most busy for birds and should aways be checked.
In the winter, the site is least active with birds but is still a worthwhile stop if you're out that way. Northern Pygmy-Owls are most likely to be seen during the winter months. Watch out also for Long-eared and Short-eared Owls as both have been seen in the winter but also in the spring and fall months as well. The regular compliment of sparrows and finches are found. In good years, Common Redpoll and Pine Grosbeak can be recorded during these months. A Northern Shrike is often a reliable find here.
Spring and Summer
Possibly the most productive period for this site, many of the birds recorded here are seen during this period.
As elsewhere in temperate climates, spring signals the return of many neotropical birds, and also gives local birders an opportunity to see birds that are migrating through on their way to breeding destinations north, and east.
Tree Swallows are amongst the first arrivals. The organic farm, located at the western end of the airport area is a particularly attractive spot for swallows. Besides Tree, Barn, and Violet-Green Swallows, Cliff Swallows will nest on the property. Later in the spring, scan the skies for Vaux's and Black Swifts. Mountain Bluebirds and Say's Phoebe are also among the early migrants and are quite reliable at this site.
American Robins dramatically increase in number, and a number of other resident birds, previously mentioned, start their nesting behaviours. Look for Brewer's Blackbirds around the Interfor property. Rufous Hummingbirds are attracted by flowering Red Currant bushes, and the Alaskan Song Sparrow is joined by Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows as the predominant spring and summer sparrows. Annually, Lincoln, and Vesper Sparrows will also be seen.
Yellow-rumped Warbler is usually the first warbler to be observed around the property, and later, they are joined by Orange-crowned, Wilson's, and Yellow Warblers. Common Yellowthroats will nest in the tall weeds/wildflowers bordering the north side of the airstrip. Nashville Warblers are annual which is to be expected as breeding has been documented at the relatively nearby Thacker Regional Park.
With the return of the small passerines, the American Kestrel becomes a prominent raptor around the airstrip, often seen perched on overhead wires, scanning the grasslands for prey. The Northern Harrier is probably around all year, but is most noticeable from spring until late fall. Swainson's Hawk are casual migrants in the spring and fall.
As for flycatchers, The Western Wood-PeeWee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Eastern and Western Kingbirds are the most common. Red-eyed, and Warbling Vireos are also present. Western Tanagers can be looked for, and are always a pleasure to see, especially the males, with their bright plumage. Many Turkey Vultures can be seen continuously soaring aloft on the abundant thermals produced around this area. Band-tailed Pigeons breed in the area. Look for them roosting in a tall fir tree at the south east corner of the airport. Barn Owls can be seen hunting over the airport property at night.
Other birds to look for around the property at this time of year include Black-Headed Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Brown Creepers, Townsend's Solitaire, Swainson's Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, American Redstart, Brown-Headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Mountain Bluebird and Say's Phoebe.
Two Loggerhead Shrikes have been recorded at this site, both in the spring.
Over on Bristol Slough, and the Fraser River, there are a number of birds to look for. Mallard, and Common Merganser are the two most common ducks. Spotted Sandpiper nests along the slough. Double-crested Cormorant, and Great Blue Heron are also here. Osprey can be seen fishing over the river. Driving down to the Fraser River on Bristol Slough and Roads takes the birder through some densely treed parts of the region, and birds of the forest described above, can sometimes be more easily observed there.
This time of year gives birders the opportunity to see more migratory birds such as warblers, sparrows, flycatchers and the likes as they head back south. However it seems that the fall migration is not quite as good here as in the spring. That said, Upland Sandpiper, Lewis's Woodpecker and Swamp Sparrow are two fall species of note that have been seen here.
On the slough, Greater Yellowlegs are amongst the species that have been noted. Long-billed Curlew have showed up on Jack's farm and on the airport runway. American Pipits, sometimes accompanied by Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs, will be seen in large flocks foraging in the short grass of the airport, and Short-eared Owls will be seen competing with Northern Harriers as they course over the grasslands.
As with many parts of the Hope Region, the airport lies in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains, and can be devoid of direct sunlight, even on sunny days. This produces cooler than normal conditions. Nevertheless, birds continue to occupy the area. The resident Alaskan Song Sparrow is always present, as are Winter Wrens , both the Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadee , Steller's Jay , Spotted Towhee and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Dark-eyed Juncos are never that far away. Common Raven is also present. The Hope area is considered to be the rough dividing line between the limits of the Northwestern and American Crows . Both are present, but good luck telling one from the other! There is still the odd American Robin about, but they are mostly replaced by their cousins in the thrush family, the Varied Thrush.
Raptors are predominant. Bald Eagles are around, especially during early winter, feeding on salmon carcasses. The ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk is seen, and is joined by Cooper's Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk, although the latter is not common. Sharp-shinned Hawk will harass birds at feeders. A Long-Eared Owl was seen in the area during the winter of 05/06 and again in 2012, and Northern Pygmy and Barred Owls are fairly regular. Northern Shrikes are observed regularly, hunting from perches, and Golden-crowned, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are occasionally seen. The predominant gull here at any time of the year is the Glaucous-winged Gull, and will more likely be found near the river than around the airport proper.
Northern Flickers are permanent residents, and both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers frequent local suet feeders. Red-breasted Sapsuckers become more prominent in the spring. In irruptive years, Common Redpolls are seen feeding in the area, and about as frequently, Pine Grosbeaks will be seen.
~ By Thor Manson (updated by Gord Gadsden September 2, 2015)