Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm on a Boat (again.....)

For those of you that follow, ever since an incredible pelagic trip with Westport Seabirds in July, 2010, I have had a bit of a run of bad luck, having had 3 trips in a row since then cancelled due to weather (Jan '11, Sept '11, and Jan '12).  In fact this January Nathan Hentze, Jeremy Gatten, and I ended up all the way down in Ocean Shores prior to the cancellation of the trip, but still enjoyed a couple of rarites (see my post "The Longest Twitch").

My brother and I were keeping our fingers crossed from start to finish.  We lucked out early on, getting the second to last spot on the Coho despite showing up two and a half hours early for the 10:30am sailing on Friday morning.

The crossing was very quiet, with very few birds and no pelagic types present.  From Port Angeles, we headed south along Highway 101, enjoying the scenery and the odd bird enroute to Ocean Shores, where we planned to hunt down a number of vagrant shorebirds that had been reported recently.

Lake Crescent, between Port Angeles and Forks.  This lake is an
incredible blue-green, my pictures do it no justice.

 We really didn't run into anything of interest until we pulled into Ruby Beach, a unit of Olympic National Park.  We were greeted by Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and a little surprised when we set up our scopes and quickly noticed a line of Sooty Shearwaters moving north to south, and we estimated 3000 in the 15 minutes we were watching.  Also at Ruby Beach, our first Brown Pelican of the trip (and apparently my Jefferson County life tick, if I were keeping track!).  We took the long way around to get to Ocean Shores, making the turnoff onto the Moclips Highway.  The detour proved very worthwhile, as we encountered a stunning male Ruffed Grouse along the highway.

The Game Range at Ocean Shores was our first stop, as Ruff and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper had both been reported the day before.  Unfortunately for us, a Peregrine Falcon had the same idea, to go looking for shorebirds!  We located a good number of Pectoral Sandpipers, Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, and a single Baird's Sandpiper, but nothing with an accent.  From there we checked out the Ocean Shores Sewage Treatment Plant followed by the Point Brown Jetty, but only succeeded in adding my first for Washington Northern Shoveler, an American Pipit, Savannah Sparrows, and a seemingly endless stream of Brown Pelicans.

The next morning we were up early and at the dock, greeted by a harbour covered in fog, and assurances that it wouldn't last.  The boat loaded and the lecture given, we headed out into the harbour and the ocean beyond.


The way out.
 

We immediately found more Brown Pelicans and various mutt gulls.  Soon, Common Murres began to show, followed by Sooty Shearwaters.  Eventually we came upon a fin sticking out of the water, which created a buzz among the birders on deck, many commenting on the shark we had come across.  It wasn't, however, a shark showing us its fin, but something much, much better!


This was the best of many pictures showing the Ocean Sunfish, or Mola Mola that we had come across.  Everyone on board was in awe at the size of this fish, the first and biggest of the 10 or 12 that we would come across.  Our next surprise came shortly after the first sunfish, when Captain Phil slowed the boat down very quickly, and Ryan Shaw called out the next bird....

 

 
 
This fairly distant shot would almost make a good quiz bird.  Here is a heavily cropped picture that my brother got of the Scipps's Murrelet, of which everyone on the boat got incredible looks.
 
 
Scripps's Murrelet is a recent split, having formerly (up until a couple of months ago) comprised one half of Xantus's Murrelet.  The Northern population was split off as Scripps's, while the Southern population, which shows white above and in front of the eye, became Guadalupe Murrelet.  I believe the bird pictured above is the first Washington record since the split.
 
In short order we added Sabine's Gulls, Pink-footed Shearwaters, Black-footed Albatross, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers, plus a very distant Buller's Shearwater, before stopping well offshore to chum.  The chumming brought in few birds, due in no small part to the lack of wind.  From there, Captain Phil decided to chase after a shrimp boat that we had seen in the distance.  The shrimp boat hosted a large crowd of birds, mostly Northern Fulmars and California Gulls.
 
 
 
With a couple of Black-footed Albatross mixed in......
 
 
With time running short, we turned in the general direction of Westport, having taken a long detour to chase the "Jackpot".  On the way back in we finally got good looks at a Buller's Shearwater that cut right beside the boat, and then the boat stopped quickly for a log.  Wait, a log?
 
 
 
This Northern Fur Seal put on a show for us, stretching in every way possible and peering at us over its body.  We added a mystery shark, and as we got closer to shore we ran into more shearwaters including another Buller's Shearwater, this one perhaps only 3 miles offshore.  We also ran into a very early Yellow-billed Loon, and a bit of nostalgia - a cloud of Common Terns being chased by Parasitic Jaegers.
 
For some great pictures from the trip out of Westport, and many other pictures of Westport, Washington, and other birds, you can also check out Ryan Shaw's Flickr Page.
 
After returning to the dock we headed first to Bottle Beach, where there were no shorebirds, and then headed for Midway Beach south of Grayland, where we spent almost 2 hours on a wild Snowy Plover hunt.  There were good numbers of dowitchers, Sanderling, and Pectoral Sandpipers (including a couple of very bright individuals), and an American Bittern that my brother spotted in the reeds.
 
Sadly, this is the closest we got to Snowy Plover
 
 As the sun set over Midway Beach, we finished up with dinner at the One-eyed Crab. 
 
Sunday morning found us headed to Bottle Beach as soon as it was light enough to see.  We had no problem finding the shorebirds we were seeking, and we quickly located Western, Least, and Baird's Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers American and Pacific Golden-Plover (one of each), Short-billed DowitchersSanderlingRed Knots, and a large squawking mass of Marbled Godwits.  We had scanned the beach up and down a couple of times when a small group of peeps flew in, and with them a larger bird, a juvenile Ruff.  Later in the day, after we had departed to ensure our passage on the Coho, a female Bobolink was seen and photographed along the trail at Bottle Beach as well.
 
Our return trip was very uneventful, and the Coho trip from Port Angeles to Victoria was even quieter than the trip down.
 
All in all though, it was a great trip, huge thanks to Westport Seabirds (and to Capt Phil, Chris, Bruce, Bill, and Ryan!) and to everyone who posts to Tweeters for the timely sightings!  I found one of my targets (Buller's Shearwater) plus another bonus lifer in Scripps's Murrelet.
 
I am not sure when my next Westport Trip will be, but I am definitely looking forward to it!
 
Good birding,
 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Further West? AKA: The Jeremies and the Search for the Holy Grail....

Port Renfrew is about as far west as you can get, right?

Maybe not..... Jeremy Gatten and I joined up with Rick Shortinghuis, Charles Smith, and Ray Woods, Phil Cram, and Brian Elder of "Fur and Feathers 500" fame on a pelagic trip out of Tofino on September 12th.

With visions of pterodromas dancing in our heads, we left Victoria at 8am on Tuesday, Pacific Rim National Park in our sights.  After a quick stop at the Tim Hortons in Port Alberni, which netted us a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Eurasian Collared-Dove, in addition to coffee, the all great life-sustaining bean beverage, we headed on to our first serious stop, Wikkaninnish Beach.

The Long Beach Airport, which chose to deny us on this day.  The next day, the FF500
found 2 Pacific Golden-Plovers here.

We found the beach to be fairly quiet, with very few passerines, including a single Fox Sparrow, and only a few Red-necked Grebes (recent arrivals) in the surf.  From there we headed to Comber's Beach, where we a few more species, including an incredible 30 Herring Gulls, but only Black Oystercatcher and Western Sandpiper in the shorebird category, the main reason for our many stops.  Long Beach provided a bit more excitement, with a Whimbrel feeding high on the beach, and another Black Oystercatcher.  Grice Bay was also quiet.

A cropped shot of the Long Beach Whimbrel, I will leave the award winning
photography to The Naturalest Naturalist

Chesterman Beach is a location that neither Jeremy nor I had visited in the past, and we made a point of walking the entire length.  This stretch of sand and rock turned out to be the highlight of our days birding, as we turned up a single Baird's Sandpiper foraging with 14 Western Sandpipers, a flock of 14 Sanderling, and 8 Black Oystercatchers and 4 Black Turnstones. Not bad at all, but still none of the Asian vagrants we had hoped for.

Chesterman Beach, mecca for Surfers and Shorebirds

Our last pre-dinner stop was the end of Sharp Rd, where we scoped 200+ Western Sandpipers without so much as a Semi-palm or Least.  A quick stop at Wildside Grill was dinner, after which we headed back to Long Beach.  The Whimbrel we had found earlier was still in pretty much the same spot (and pretty much the only bird around), but we did manage to add 100+ Sooty Shearwaters streaming by over the horizon.

Wednesday morning dawned full of promise, with a Swainson's Thrush calling outside our five star room at the Dolphin Motel (chosen for convenience, as it is located at the corner of Sharp Rd and right near Chesterman Beach.  Nice rooms, but definitely no resort!).  We made our way to the rendezvous point with a coffee stop along the way, and were suited up and on the boat just after 7am.

We were only a few kilometers out when we started seeing our first birds, Sooty Shearwaters, followed not long after by the odd Pink-footed Shearwater.  Soon, Red-necked Phalaropes and Cassin's Auklets began showing, the latter providing stunning, boatside looks.  A real treat for any birder!

As we approached the edge of Clayoquot Canyon and began to contemplate chumming, we were surprised by a lone Black-footed Albatross that had managed to sneak up behind us, no doubt following the trail of orange peels I had left for it.  After ascertaining that we had nothing to offer, the albatross left us as suddenly as it had appeared, and we continued on to set out some chum.  At this point we also had distant looks at what appeared to be a Long-tailed Jaeger harassing Sabine's Gulls.  We gave chase, but the jaeger proved faster than the boat, and we lost sight of it.

Getting no bird love from the chum we moved further into the canyon, to a point our guide, Artie, called "The Abyss".  A little daunting, and perhaps melodramatic, but this is where we set out our second bit of chum, a concoction of fish bits and cheerios (even tubenoses need to watch their cholesterol, apparently).  Before long we had a taker, a Black-footed Albatross, which was quickly joined by another, then by a stunning Parasitic Jaeger.  Eventually, the mixed feeding flock totalled 6 Black-footed Albatross, 2 Pink-footed Shearwaters, 2 Sooty Shearwaters, the jaeger, and a drop-in Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel that gave everyone looks before taking off.

Two of our lunch guests
 
 
After the lunch show we turned for the 42 mile journey back to terra firma, finding the occassional flock of phalaropes or flyby shearwater.  Among a scattered flock of alcids, we located 3 Tufted Puffins, always a treat to see!  These birds were in various stages of acquiring their winter look, which trades snappy black and white with gold edging for all black, maintaining the honking orange bill.  Luckily, these birds still had their golden "tufts".
 
About 11 miles off Cleland Island, we encountered another treat, a group of Humpback Whales.  True, they aren't birds (and how would Victoria Whaler sound as a blog title?) but they were absolutely stunning as they approached us.  We had cut all power and had been drifting for 10 minutes or so when they passed closely beside us, thrilling all on board, and carried on to where ever it is that whales go.  For a very shaky YouTube video of the encounter, check here
 
 
 
We added a few other birds on the way back in, including Marbled Murrelet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Red-necked Grebe, but the last highlight was definitely sightings of 4 Sea Otters drifting in the kelp!
 
The trip back in.
 
 
The weather and company couldn't have been any better for this trip.  While the birds were not as dense as we had all hoped, you just never know what those pelagic species are going to do!
 
Huge thanks to Ray, Brian, and Phil for organizing this trip and having us along, and to Rick and Charles for rounding out a fantastic group!  For another perspective on the trip and some fabulous pictures, see the Fur & Feathers 500 blog hereThe Naturalest Naturalist also got some fantastic pictures over both days, and should have those posted soon as well.
 
A quick lunch at Big Daddy's Fish Fry and Jeremy G and I were headed south again, making one fruitless stop at Long Beach before heading straight for Victoria, with breaks only for coffee in Port Alberni and Ladysmith.
 
All in all, not a bad way to spend a couple of days, the countdown clock is now on for the September 22 Westport Trip!
 
Good birding,

 



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Go West Young Man, Go West!

Wow, 5am comes early!

Jeremy G and I decided to head west to Port Renfrew and Jordan River today, in search of shorebirds and trans-Pacific vagrants, and as such met up at 5:20am at the Langford Tim Hortons, our usual meet up and breakfast stop.

A quick fuel up for me at Tim's, and for Jeremy G at the Sooke McDonald's (where we found two Lincoln's Sparrows), and we were on the ground at Whiffen Spit by 6:20.  Whiffen is a spot full of potential, and has turned up birds such as Lesser Nighthawk, Ruff, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and many others, but today we had to settle for Western Sandpipers, Black Turnstones, California Gulls, Mew Gulls, and a single female Harlequin Duck.  There were no different sparrows with the 20-odd Savannah's or the few White-crowneds.

Jordan River was our next stop, another migrant trap that can greatly reward those willing to make the drive.  We found 41 species along the waterfront and back in the trees, including Bewick's Wren (unusual that far west), 300+ California Gulls, 2 Herring Gulls, a Spotted Sandpiper, a flyover Greater Yellowlegs, and a great variety (of garden variety) passerines.  We didn`t encounter anything of the magnitude we had hoped, but the birding was great anyway!

 
The San Juan River
 
The lure of vagrants and strays drew us further west, to the end of the road.  We started off birding the young alder and sand of the San Juan River estuary.  Immediately we started picking up new birds for the day, including Long-billed Dowitcher, American GoldfinchRed Crossbill, Osprey, Ring-billed Gull, and a Western Gull.  We also noticed four American Wigeon, a somewhat early arrival, while 2 Black Swifts flew overhead.
 
A hike through the two campgrounds along the river and bay also turned up new birds, including a Mourning Dove and a Red-necked Phalarope, both of which we flushed out of the grass.  Three Horned Grebes and two Red-throated Loons in almost perfect breeding plumage were seen in the bay, and while we saw many good-sized Coho jumping, it seems that they all managed to elude the swarm of anglers as well as the patrolling Ospreys. 
 
One of Port Renfrew's residential pockets was our last stop before lunch, and we turned up our first Eurasian Collared-Doves and Red-winged Blackbirds, as well as a very grey headed Orange-crowned Warbler and a couple Wilson's Warblers.
 
 Yours Truly Searched High and Low for Vagrants, whilst the Naturalest Naturalist took some time out to
get the perfect Collared-Dove picture
 
As far as I am concerned, there is only one place for lunch in Port Renfrew, and that is Coastal Kitchen Cafe.  When we ordered, the crowd was light, but it was packed by the time we left.  In order to maximize birding time, we decided to sit at one of the tables out in the garden area, where we added Rufous Hummingbird, plus another lunch companion.
 
 
This Pacific Chorus Frog chose not to order, but was still pleasant company.
 
 
After a fantastic lunch of Halibut and Chips, we decided to try the Botanical Beach parking lot before heading back to civilization.  Yet another migrant magnet, this parking lot has attracted Lark Bunting and Brewer's Sparrow in the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, the parking lot was full of cars and people, and we only managed to turn up one bird - our first and only Dark-eyed Junco of the day.
 
As it was getting to be home time, we headed back east without our much desired rarites but decided to make a quick swing through Metchosin on the way.  The Metchosin Golf Course turned up a female Blue-winged Teal, more Black Swifts, 4 Purple Martins, and a Pied-billed Grebe that I originally mistook for a very grebe-shaped stick, while Albert Head Lagoon added Mute Swan and Semipalmated Sandpiper to end the days adventure at 85 species.
 
And now for something completely different - from the rugged coast to a golf course pond!
 
Birding the western part of the South Island, while not as lucrative in terms of species count as Victoria and the Peninsula, is still a great time.  You just never know what could show up once away from the shelter of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Coastal Kitchen Cafe is worth the drive!
 
Good birding,
 


Monday, September 3, 2012

Sharp-shinned Vs. Sharp-tailed......

I must have dozed off on the couch, when the sweetest alarm clock rang, my "Surfin Bird" ringtone.  Much as in "The BigYear", I have assigned the above mentioned song to Victoria birders, so usually it means that something has shown up somewhere.

In this case, it was Mike McGrenere calling, with news that he had found a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at McIntyre Reservoir.  It figures that the one day I decided not to check the reservoir, something shows up!  As quickly as I could put on a pair of shoes I was out the door, texting Jeremy G. and Ann N. on my way.  Jeremy left just as quickly, and Ann put the word out to the birding community.

I decided to pass on a quick coffee stop, as a similar stop had cost me an Orchard Oriole in Tofino a couple of years ago, and got to McIntyre in record time, finding Mike and Jeremy intently scanning the fringes of a now full body of water with very little shoreline.  A couple of Pectoral Sandpipers ducked in and out of the waterside weeds, and a Greater Yellowlegs patrolled the fringe while 3 Western Sandpipers flew back and forth.  Eventually a bird that seemed a bit brighter appeared on the far side and promptly disappeared from view.  We all watched the area, Mike and Jeremy via scope, and me with binoculars as I had broken my tripod at Sidney Spit yesterday.

The bird finally came back into view, and Jeremy G was able to get the ID on it.  We all got great looks at the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper right out in the open, and managed to watch it in the company of a Pectoral Sandpiper for about 5 minutes.  Elaine P. showed up in time to get a brief look, and then disaster struck. 

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in low and fast, looking for a meal, and the shorebirds all scattered, sending the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper north in the company of 4 Pecs.  The birds looked for a time like they would circle back, and then disappeared just as a number of other birders showed up, an almost perfect reenactment of what happened last year with the Red-necked Stint at Witty's Lagoon.

We continued to search and eventually relocated 4 Pectoral Sandpipers as the hawk continued to patrol for dinner.  When I left at 5pm, the bird still hadn't reappeared.

A great bird for the year, and my first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper for the Victoria Checklist Area!  Many thanks to Mike for finding this bird and getting the word out!

Bring on the fall rarities!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Going the Distance

This weekend was not only a great weekend of birding, it was also a weekend of distances and somewhat non-traditional transportation.  That is if you consider, as I do, cars to be the usual means of conveyance for birding.

Early Saturday morning found a group of 12 of us at Mariner's Village in Sooke, gathered for a 6am departure bound for Swiftsure Bank, at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (the open ocean), for Rocky Point Bird Observatory's Pelagic trip.  After the fog that settled over the last trip I was expecting the worst and hoping for the best. The stars must have aligned somehow, as there was absolutely no fog on the water Saturday, anywhere!  Another factor, the water, also proved to be a non-issue, as it was the calmest day I have ever seen out on the bank.

Anyway, back to the birds.  There was little in evidence in the Strait itself, aside from the expected Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets, and a group of resident Orcas, but once we crossed an invisible line running from Cape Flattery to Carmanah Point, boy did it ever pick up!  Our first birds came during a drift to allow for washroom breaks, when two Pink-footed Shearwaters cut across the bow, followed by two more, then two more, and soon we were surrounded by gliding shearwaters, some coming very close alongside and allowing those with cameras an incredible opportunity!  Before too long, a Sooty Shearwater, which should have greatly outnumbered its pink-footed relatives, passed in front of the boat and disappeared.

With everyone ready to go again, we started heading further into the open water, quickly coming upon a jaeger drifting on the surface.  We puzzled over it until it took off, revealing a long, twisted tail with a spatula tip.  Pomarine Jaeger!  Before long we would find another Pom, and three unidentified jaegers that did exactly what I figured they would do, give a quick pass and then fly directly away from us, disguising all useful field marks.

Once we were out among the sport fishing boats, Capt Russ Nicks spotted a cloud of birds from his perch above, and we headed toward them, stumbling upon a massive gathering of Pink-footed Shearwaters and the odd Sooty Shearwater.  We estimated roughly 300 Pink-foots, an absolutely incredible number!  Also weaving among the shearwaters, and forming their own clouds, were about 200 Sabine's Gulls, another incredible count!  Add in the 30-40 Humpback Whales, 6 or 8 of which we got good looks at, and one that surfaced in the middle of a flock of shearwaters not far from the boat, and everyone was in awe.  We also had a distant look at a small pod of transient Orcas at the edge of the bank.  California Gulls and Red-necked Phalaropes rounded off the seabird count, and we also had flyover (and new pelagic ticks for most, if not all) American Goldfinch, Anna's Hummingbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

The trip back in gave everyone great close looks at our resident Orca "superpod", plus closeups of Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, Harbour Seal, and more Red-necked Phalaropes, plus a small gathering of California Gulls just outside Whiffin Spit.

All in all, a great trip!  This is the first time I have ever been either fishing or birding offshore and had not a single person succumb to seasickness.  Notable, however, was the lack of Northern Fulmars and low numbers of Sooty Shearwaters.  There have been upwards of 500,000 Sooties off Ocean Shores lately, so maybe no mystery there, but where are our fulmars?

Sunday was a target birding day, and another shot at Tugwell Lake.  My father-in-law decided to join my wife and I on this, our second hike of the year up Butler Main Line, just west of Sooke.  The weather was mild, if not a bit on the chilly side, and the sky was grey.  Perfect longer distance hiking conditions!

The birding was much slower than it was a couple of months ago when my wife and I went up there, with very few birds calling.  It didn't take long to stumble upon one of my targets, as we flushed a male Ruffed Grouse around km 1.5, which flew to a low branch nearby, then disappeared when I switched from binos to camera.  Newly fledged Dark-eyed Juncos were a common sight, and once we hit the more open habitat from km 4-8, small numbers of MacGillivray's Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows were seen.  Also in the first 8 kilometres we encountered single Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, and Western Tanager.

We were looking forward to a quick rest at km 8 after the long approach hill, but any weariness disappeared when two Gray Jays flew left across the road in front of us, followed by another flying right.  Cameras were out, and we waited for the birds to reappear.  The single that had flown right flew back directly over our heads and then disappeared into a clump of trees in the middle of the clearing.  I was so intent on refinding the birds that it took my father-in-law three tries to get my attention and point out another bird 200ft or so further down the road, just past the clearing.  A good look revealed the bird to be a female Sooty Grouse.  I tried to get close enough for a picture, but the bird strutted off into the trees before I could get much more than a dot.  Two grouse and two jays!  Not a bad start to a day of birding in the Victoria Checklist Area!

We hung around the kilometre 8 clearing for just over half an hour, hoping for the jays to come closer, but only managed to get distant looks at the north end of the clearing.  We also heard two Gray Jays calling just south of the clearing.  I am not sure if these were two of the three and had managed to sneak past us, or if there were actually 5 birds.  These are definitely not picnic area Whiskey Jacks, as they kept their distance from us.  Of note, this is the same location where a family of Gray Jays hung around last August, and this is also a fairly low elevation for them.  There were none present (detected) when I was there a couple of months ago, and they are known to breed at Tugwell Lake itself, so perhaps this is a favoured post-breeding dispersal site. 

While we were waiting for the return of the jays, the sky darkened a bit, thunder rolled, and the wind picked up.  We figured that this was probably a sign to cut our hike short, and checked as far as km 8.5 before turning around.  Highlights on the way down were two black headed, young-of-the-year Turkey Vultures, good numbers of Steller's Jays (which were also pretty much absent a couple of months ago), and the odd Band-tailed Pigeon.  Of note, zero Red Crossbills.  Back down near the gate, a family of California Quail were in the middle of the road, and a single Evening Grosbeak called.

The weekends birding entailed (aside from driving) 17 kilometres by foot and 100 kilometres or so by boat, not to mentioned great looks at a number of birds that are a treat locally.

Only two species were seen within the confines of the Victoria Checklist Area (bordered in the west by a line drawn from the Otter Point picnic table to Ladysmith), bringing the year's total to 219 so far.

Bird on!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Green Birding and other Miscellany

It's always nice to pick up a bird that I missed last year, it gives me a bit of hope that maybe there is still hope to hit 252 this year!  So far this year, I have seen a couple of regular/semi-regular species that didn't end up on my Big Year 2011 list, including Common Redpoll, Lazuli Bunting, and Ruddy Turnstone.  Another such bird decided to show up yesterday at Swan Lake, courtesy of a visiting birder named Jose.

Green Heron is a bird that I have only seen once on Vancouver Island, and that was 13 years ago at the Duncan Forest Museum Pond.  I have had no problems seeing them anywhere else from here to Ontario to Arizona to Costa Rica, but they have always eluded me (and most other local birders) right here on my own home turf.

Ann Nightingale sent out a text yesterday morning that an individual had been discovered near the south end of the bridge at Swan Lake, and by some happy coincidence I was due to be passing through the area between meetings with clients, so I figured I might as well drop in!

When I arrived, everyone there had seen the bird, but it had dropped out of view as I stepped on to the bridge.  Go figure.  After about 5 minutes or so of staring into the willows, the Green Heron flew up, and eventually ended up perched on an exposed branch, giving dynamite views.

This long-standing local nemesis bird made a great number 217, and puts me only 35 away from my target.  20 or so of these should be fairly easy, but we need a good fall migration to make up for the terrible spring window.

Now, on to the miscellany......

The weather is looking superb for tomorrow's RPBO Swiftsure Bank expedition.  This will be my first of three full pelagic trips this year, with a Tofino trip and Westport trip to follow.  Birds that have been seen in the past out yonder have included Black-footed Albatross, South Polar Skua, all three jaegers, Sooty, Pink-footed, Manx, and Short-tailed Shearwaters, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Tern, Northern Fulmar, etc, etc.

I remain with my fingers firmly crossed, as I have not been out into the open ocean since July 31, 2010, and have had three Westport trips (2 January and 1 September) cancelled since then due to weather.

As an offering to the birding gods for good luck, I post these pictures, which were taken off Grays Canyon, Westport, WA, on that long ago trip.



And this one, from a Swiftsure Bank fishing trip a few years back:



Good birding,

Monday, August 13, 2012

Visibility Zero

To say I was disappointed by the Mini Pelagic that I organized as a small fundraiser for Rocky Point Bird Observatory on August 11 would be a bit of an understatement.

I have been watching the weather for a week, making sure that everything would be good for the trip, and all signs pointed to the positive.  Trips like this are full of possibility, as the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca are very poorly birded aside from trip on the MV Coho to Port Angeles.  These trips still turn up good birds, but are much further inside the Strait than what I had planned.

Anyway, back to Saturday.  My heart sank when we reached the dock, and there was very little visibility.  12 other eager birders had made the trip out, hoping for the same exciting birds as I was.  A quick consult with Russ Nicks, skipper for our trip, confirmed my worst fears, that after a week of quite clear weather, the Strait was completely socked in with thick fog to the east and the west, with some patchy clear areas around Race Rocks.  So much for going west to Otter Point and closer to open water!

We headed out, chasing the clear patches to the east, and hoping for some bait ball action on the water.  Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets were visible on the water, but that was about it.  When we finally broke through the fog, somewhere around Pedder Bay, there were very few birds evident on the water, and definitely not the large gatherings of swarming gulls and accompanying Jaegers I was hoping for.  Again, lots of alcids were visible, but nothing along the lines of Tufted Puffin or, dare I say it, Long-billed Murrelet!

We counted a large number of California Gulls, Heermann's Gulls, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, and Pigeon Guillemots.  Chumming failed to attract any birds, and I find myself wondering if maybe someone had been out to feed them earlier in the morning!

Back into the fog, we circled Race Rocks, hoping to find a Brown Pelican or something of the like.  Sharp eyes quickly located a Spotted Sandpiper on the rocks, followed by a Surfbird in its breeding finery, and a few Black Turnstones and a Black Oystercatcher among the intimidating masses of sea lions.  Making a pass of the main island/rock, I noticed a shorebird that reflected very brightly in the light, and we all ended up getting good looks at a stunning breeding plumaged Ruddy Turnstone!  Add in Red-necked Phalaropes, and there you have our list for the day.

The trip back to Sooke to end our 3 hour tour was also foggy, and turned up nothing new.  A trip scheduled 4 months ago turned out to be the foggiest day of the year so far, but I did receive positive feedback from a couple of the participants, and I hope the rest won`t hold the weather against me!

There are still a couple of spots left for the Swiftsure trip in two weeks, which will be 8 hours out into the open ocean.

Thanks to those who came out in support of Rocky Point!

Good birding, land and sea,

Friday, August 10, 2012

Records were made to be broken!

While pursuing a record of one kind (again), I figure there are a few more that could potentially be taken down.

According to the ABA Big Day Report, the following are Big Day (for those non-birders, birding like a bat out of hell for 24 hours, and living on a steady stream of legal, liquid stimulants and fast food, all in the hopes of seeing as many species as possible) records for British Columbia.  Even being stuck on an island, we have potential to beat a few of them:

January - 127
February - 131
March - 105
April - 163
May - 202
June - 162
July - 176
August - 120
September - 136
October - 121
November - 117
December - 121

To me, the March, August, and October records look particularly doable, and I would definitely welcome anyone that wanted to join in on taking a run at one of them! (or any of them, or all of them, just for fun!)

A Big Day is a bit about birding, and a lot about strategy and the thrill of the chase.  Also, you never know what will turn up.  Jeremy G mentioned a few weeks ago that everytime we do a "Big-ish" or straight up Big Day, we always turn up some great birds, and he isn't sure why we don't do them all the time!  (Field work in Fort Mac and Golden may have something to do with it Jeremy.... just sayin').

Being that this blog is also dedicated to Victoria Birding in general, and a little beyond the boundaries of our fair city, I am going to create another tab of Big Day and Big Year Records, and yet another for local highlights.  There used to be a list floating around of month by month records, if anyone may know where to find it, please let me know!  Or, in the absence, if you have pulled off an amazing Big Day or Year within BC, also drop me a line and it will go on the list barring a bigger one coming to light.

The weather and chum are all set, and the boat full for tomorrow's Rocky Point Bird Observatory fundraising Mini-Pelagic with Capt Russ Nicks from Sooke Coastal Explorations.  Hopefully the birds will cooperate, and I will have some tales and photos to regale you with tomorrow.

Good birding (and listing)!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Finally!

At 8:15am on Sunday, the title of this post was looking like it was going to be "Red-eyed Vireo - 4, Victoria Birder - 0".  Happily, this is not the case.

Sunday was a housework kind of day, so I headed out before 6am, bound for Cowichan Bay and my fourth try for Red-eyed Vireo.  I was going to leave it for next weekend as I will be in Duncan anyway but, as Mike McGrenere pointed out on Saturday afternoon, next weekend is August, and August means migration time.  As dire as my chances of beating Chris Saunders' record are this year (thanks in no small part to a dismal spring, rarity-wise), I didn't want to tempt fate too much on a supposedly simple bird such as this.

For those who have visited the "Red-eyed Vireo Spot" in Cowichan Bay, I'm sure you can relate to the difficulty in locating these birds, even when they are singing right above you.  The trees, mostly cottonwoods and maples, are big, really, really big.  They are also dense.  On each of my previous trips up in the last month and a bit I have had four different birds singing non-stop, always from the same trees, and I have never managed a look for the tick.  Last weekend, I had a look at a bird high in a cottonwood that really couldn't have been anything else, but it was so distant and lit up by the rising sun, that I decided against counting it.  This is a far cry from last year, when a single pish on my first visit brought six inquisitive Red-eyes in for an eye level visit.  I think perhaps their shyness this year may come from the fact that a family of Cooper`s Hawks have set up shop in the same patch of trees, and likely nested right in the middle of the vireo area.

For those who haven't been there, the "spot" is an old dirt road, gated off, and likely on reserve land, directly across Cowichan Bay Rd from the Dock Road.  It is a neat little pocket of riparian forest, and always full of birds.  The vireos can be heard most days immediately upon exiting ones vehicle.

Anyway, back to Sunday morning.  I arrived in Cowichan Bay at 6:30am, to deafening silence.  The birds started up after a couple of minutes, with Swainson's Thrush and Pacific Wren leading the charge, followed by Bewick's Wren, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Yellow Warbler.  After 20 tense minutes, I finally heard the first Red-eyed Vireo singing a way back in the trees.  About 60ft down Cowichan Bay Rd (heading toward Duncan) there is a small trail that leads into the trees, again most probably on reserve land, and therefore "technically" off limits.  I headed down this trail and quickly had two vireos singing right above me.  Well, really high above me.  After they went silent, a couple started up over where I had originally started.  Back I went, again unsuccessfully.

This back and forth went on for an hour or so, with a brief stop at the base of the Dock Road, where a small patch of trees held a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks, a female Yellow Warbler feeding a young Brown-headed Cowbird, Downy Woodpeckers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and more.  No vireo here, though I did get a quick glimpse of what may have been a Warbling Vireo.

By 8:15am, I was ready to start yelling into the trees out of frustration.  I headed back over to the smaller trail to the east where 2 vireos were singing.  These could be heard from Cowichan Bay Road, and didn`t sound too far off.  The trail eventually takes two directions, left down a small embankment toward the river, and right, along the back of a couple of houses.  One bird was singing in each direction and I opted for the right branch this time, having tried repeatedly for the left hand bird already.  It didn`t take long to pin down the singer, but I still couldn`t get a look!  A quick pish and a Swainson`s Thrush popped up beside me.  Another quick pish and a bird flew from one branch to another, in the vicinity of the singing bird.  I quickly got on it and confirmed that even though it wasn`t the singing bird, it was indeed my first visual Red-eyed Vireo for the year!<

With the singing birds, and the silent one I actually saw, there were a total of six birds on Sunday, my highest count this year as well!

In other news, there is a pair of Merlin that have decided to call my neighbourhood home.  I am not sure if they are nesting or have nested, but one or two are very vocal and visible almost every day in the morning or evening around the Tim Hortons on Goldstream Ave in Langford.  Who knows, maybe they just like donuts......

Now where on earth is my Virginia Rail.......

Friday, July 6, 2012

Target Birding, Okanagan Style!

My wife and I decided to take advantage of the Canada Day long weekend by heading east, and spending three nights in Penticton.

Despite the number of years I have been birding, I was still missing a number of "Okanagan Specialties", and I had previously spent as much time birding in the Washington State Okanogan as I had on our side of the border.  I was hoping to correct this and made up my list, checked it twice, and sent off emails hoping for hints to find my targets, which ended up numbering 12.

We were in high spirits when we rolled off the first ferry on Saturday morning but things started to look bad when we passed Hope and the skies opened up in a big way.  Luckily, things cleared when we entered Manning Park and started birding.  Lightning Lake was quiet, so we moved up to Strawberry Flats, hoping for a couple of specific species.  We heard Barred Owl and three Dusky/Sooty Grouse calling, and had a smaller woodpecker fly over, though we couldn't get a good look.  Walking around the trails and up the closed road beyond the parking area, we didn't turn up much else, but on the way back a small shape caught my eye, about 60ft up the Poland Lake trail. 

Binoculars revealed my first target of the trip, and a lifer!



This male Spruce Grouse was not only very accomodating as it let me approach, but it walked the last bit toward me before lunging at my camera and then my hand!  It made quite the show of pumping its tail and grunting at me, and after a couple of pictures we left it alone and continued to the Spruce Bay part of Lightning Lake, where we headed down the Skyline Trail.  Despite my falling off a log, in slow motion it seemed, and incurring a few bruises and cuts while trying to track down a soft tapping, we kept going and located target two, 2 separate Three-toed Woodpeckers, a Canada bird.

Princeton turned up a good number of birds, including Ruddy Ducks and American Coots with young, a treat for an Island Birder.  Slow birding followed us to Penticton, and I ended the day with a trip down Max Lake Rd, where I picked up target three and another lifer, Common Poorwill.

Sunday morning found us up and out early, with my wife sleeping in the passenger seat (she had caught some kind of bug, and spent most of the weekend sleeping in the passenger sear).  We headed up Shuttleworth Rd headed for Venner Meadows, hoping for another dark woodpecker.  Despite over three hours of searching, we only managed to find the usual suspects, including Red-naped Sapsucker, Evening Grosbeak, Clark's Nutcracker, etc. 

Vaseux Lake treated me better, and I managed to find Chukar and Rock Wren (Canada birds) in very short order.  The wrens were singing from many exposed rocks, and the Chukar were hopping from rock to rock across the base of the cliffs.  River Rd, north of Oliver, also treated us well, with views of Black-chinned Hummingbird (Canada bird) and Yellow-breasted Chat and Bullock's Oriole singing from the shrubs.  A trip down to Km10 of Camp McKinney Rd produced my first Gray Flycatcher for Canada.

A valley favourite, Road 22, was also very birdy in the afternoon, turning up target number eight of the trip, a Veery singing from an exposed perch (BC bird).  The ever-present Bobolink were very evident, as were Lazuli Buntings, Grey Catbirds, Yellow-breasted Chats, and others.

A detour through White Lake on the way back to Penticton turned up little except an early Greater Yellowlegs, but did provide some nice scenery, though the water had disappeared from the lake.


Monday, our last full day in the Okanagan, started with a return to Venner Meadows and a 4km walk.  As the day before, Black-headed Woodpecker was nowhere to be found.  Very vocal and active Cooper's Hawks and a Red-naped Sapsucker nest with young were nice consolations, as were the Pine Siskin and Red Crossbill numbers.

We had some time to kill before going after the next target, so we detoured up the Naramata Bench and visited a couple of favourite wineries - Therapy Vineyards and Poplar Grove.  At Therapy, I managed to snag a couple of bottles of their 2011 Artist Series Riesling-Kerner, a spectacular wine which is unfortunately only available in their shop, and soon to sell out.  I didn't fare as well at Poplar Grove, where I only managed to get my name on the list for a shot at their 2009 Cab Franc when it is released in the fall.

Post-wining, we made our way up to Casa Cannings, where both Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds were holding court.  From there, Russ led us to a much and long-wanted lifer, Flammulated Owl.  Apparently this individual bird is likely the source of most of the life ticks in British Columbia.  Not a bad way to end the day.

I headed back out to White Lake very early on Tuesday morning, hoping to pick up a couple of last-minute birds before heading home.  Despite the mild weather and no rain (which had been on and off all weekend), there were few birds active.  Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows sang from the sage, Eastern and Western Kingbirds kept watch from the powerlines, and a family of California Quail bobbled across the road.

Finding no new birds, I returned to Penticton, packed the car with our luggage and my wife (thankfully she doesn't read this blog!) and headed south towards Osoyoos with the aim of hitting a few fruit stands and a few birds.  The dark sky above us was split by lightning and the rain made it easy to pull over and seek refuge among endless cherries and bottles of Ogopogo Hot Sauce, both of which came home from me.  40km and 8 fruit stands later, we happily encountered a break in the weather, in the exact vicinity of Nighthawk Rd and the Chopaka Border Crossing.

I had tried to bird Nighthawk on Sunday, but the rain was heavy to begin with, and only increased in intensity every time I got out of the car.  Tuesday allowed me to have my wife drop me off near the the border crossing, and head down the road for a nap.  The sagebrush along this road has always been a favourite of mine, having turned up Clay-coloured and Grasshopper Sparrow for me in the past.


I had a different bird in mind as I walked up the road.  Trying to filter out and listen through the endless song of at least two dozen Western Meadowlarks, plus calling sparrows and Black-billed Magpies, I finally heard what I was waiting for as I approached the wrought iron ranch gate near which my wife had decided to park.  Scanning the tops of the sage I saw nothing, until I turned my attention to a small deciduous tree in the middle of it all.  Perched near the top was the singer, a male Sage Thrasher!  I had considered this new for Canada bird highly unlikely, and had not even included it in my target list, but there it was, singing away in plain sight!

Singing behind me revealed a second bird, eyeing me and singing from a fencepost across the road.  The only thing better than an unexpected species is two singing individuals!  This was also the first appearance of this less than annual breeder in the Okanagan this year.  A perfect way to cap off a great weekend of birding,

Along the way, we also managed to pick up another target, and a long-standing Nemesis Bird for me:


We were first alerted by a begging juvenile.  When we tracked the bird down, we saw a sight that left me puzzled.  The recently fledged Great Grey Owl was attempting to beg food from an adult Barred Owl!  It would move from branch to branch around the Barred, and occassionally would land beside it on the same branch.  Bizarre!  Eventually we tracked down one adult while another called in the distance.  A couple of pictures, and we left them, hoping the real parents would step in for the negligent Barred.

All in all, we found 10 of my original targets plus one big bonus bird.  Of these, 4 were lifers, 6 were Canada birds, and 1 was a BC bird.  Not a bad trip, though my next target trip will have to be a little further north!

Good birding,

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Least of my Worries......

As with every weekend, this one dawned with promise.  I always look forward to sleeping in on the weekend, and always end up out the door much before I normally would during the week.

Ten minutes before seven on Saturday found me at the base of Mount Wells for try number two at our resident big chicken, the grouse formerly known as Blue.  I went up a couple of weeks ago, and the wind was enough of a factor to keep the birds down, or so I kept telling myself at the time.  I was feeling a little bit of pressure on the grouse, as in past years I have found them at Wells as early as late April, and others have found them even earlier.

There was no breeze during the climb up, and I had the mountain all to myself!  The dawn chorus was in full force as well, with the biggest surprise being a calling Willow Flycatcher about halfway up.  At the first summit, three separate House Wrens were singing and calling, and I thought I heard my quarry further up the hill toward the real summit (this one fools a lot of people!).  Just below the actual top, the grouse began calling again, and even though they are notorious ventriloquists, I figured this one had to be close.  A small, rough path branched off to the left, and I had hoped it would give me a better view.  The grouse continued to call as I looked left and right, scanning the trees with no luck.  Then I looked up.

Another quality record shot brought to you by the makers of Blackberry

The male Sooty Grouse continued its quest for love, puffing up its chest and pumping its tail as it called out for all to hear.  After watching for 10 minutes, it was time to continue the hike, and make it up island for an 11am coffee with my wife's parents.

I always complain (well, not really complain) about the inopportune times that rare birds decide to appear.  Had I found the Least Flycatcher that was reported from Cherry Point on Saturday, it would have been a most opportune time, as Chris Saunders called me about the bird as I was driving up the Malahat, planning a quick Red-eyed Vireo stop en route to the Oceanfront in Cowichan Bay.  Unfortunately, despite a thorough search, the bird could not be found.  Red-eyed Vireo also eluded me after the coffee.

Sunday was another early day, up and out the door at 5:30am to do some birding with Sooke Councillor Kerrie Reay as part of the Baillie Birdathon Municipal Challenge.  I stopped in at the Goodridge Peninsula on the way, and found eight Purple Martins overhead.

Councillor Reay and I started at Whiffin Spit.  While it was devoid of dogs, a good start, there were also very few birds.  Ditto for Gordon's Beach and area.  We finally got into a few warblers along Otter Point Rd, and found a great number of birds at Butler Main, including Western Tanager, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, many Swainson's Thrush, and a Yellow Warbler singing its song the fastest I have ever heard.  Out last stop was Sun River, where we added a few last-minute species including Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbird, and Eurasian Collared-Dove.  There is still time to sponsor Councillor Reay or any of our Municipal Challenge Participants at www.rpbo.org/birdathon.html.

Coun. Reay tries to track down the "whit" call


While birding in Sooke, I got another call from Chris Saunders, reporting another Least Flycatcher, this one near the parking lot at Swan Lake.  I did some quick mental math, figuring leave Sooke at 10, quick stop at home to grab some papers, meeting at 11..... how long does that leave me to find the flycatcher?  Not a heck of a lot if you run into a crew working on the telephone wires it seems, as I got to Swan Lake at 10:55am and immediately heard the bird chebecking away from the aspens.  I spent 15 frustrating minutes trying to get a look as hordes of birders showed up, and finally had to leave, hoping it would still be around when my meeting wrapped up at 2pm.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the lack of cooperation the bird showed.  I found my "lifer" Least Flycatcher last year in Gatineau Park (Parc?), where they were singing everywhere.  Despite their numbers, they held so tight into the leaves and bushes that it still took a fair bit of effort to find one!

Turns out the bird was still there after my meeting, or had been.  I arrived back at the octagon just after 2pm and sure enough, the bird had been there...... 20 minutes earlier, and not a peep, whit, or chebeck since!  To add to the challenge, as we shall call it, the neighbour decided that my arrival was as a good a reason as any to mow his lawn, just on the other side of the aspen patch.  It wasn't long before I was alone, straining to hear anything over the lawnmower with no luck.  Luckily, Ann Scarfe showed up before long.  An absence of wayward empids loves company!

We spent some time listening, and eventually the lawn mower moved to the opposite side of his house.  Just before 3pm, almost a full hour since I had arrived and even more since it's last appearance, we finally heard a sharp "chebeck!" not too far away.  Another minute passed, and "chebeck!" a little closer, then "chebeck!" really close.  "I have it!"  Ann had moved to the right for a different view, and had the bird perched midway up an aspen, singing away.  It took me a second to get onto the bird, but there it was, my first Least Flycatcher for BC!  We watched it flycatch a couple of times, perched out in the semi-open.  It sang a few more times, including a couple while it was in binocular view (gotta make sure, right?) before it flew over us and went silent.

It isn't often you get two tries in two days at a bird like this, but my wife turned out to be right when she said on Saturday (on the way to Cherry Point) that Least Flycatcher would be a great bird #201 for the year.  So it was.

What next?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Snowy in May?

During the winter, I used the term a couple of times to refer to the weather, but today, it is anything but!

I was enjoying the sun through my office window this morning, peering over a stack of files that still needed to be cleaned and organized, when my phone kicked out its "Surfin' Bird" ringtone.  This ringtone is reserved for those who actively bird, and it tells me "you had better answer me!"  This time it was Chris Saunders on the other end, and he only left me wondering for a moment at what might have shown up at Swan Lake before telling me some of the more exciting news I have heard recently, "Warren Drinnan found a Snowy Egret at Panama Flats!".

What an inopportune time for one of my many most-wanted Victoria birds to show up, as I had walked to work and my wife had taken the car.  She was preparing to leave work to come and pick me up when I finally had a bright idea, and hijacked a coworkers car.  With a quick pitstop at home to pick up my binoculars (and to forget my camera) I made it to the Carey Road entrance in record time.  Mary R was already there admiring the stunning adult Snowy Egret, and I quickly snapped this, my contribution to the record books, through her scope with my blackberry:


Hard to believe that this is the best shot I got!

We enjoyed the egret for about half an hour or so as more birders showed up in drips, drabs, and hordes.  It darted from one end of the water to the next, chasing whatever morsel it could turn up, and stopped several times to stir the water up with its foot.  What neat behaviour, something I had never seen them do before!  I always hate walking away from a bird like this, but I had a lot more work to do back at the office.

This was not only a new Victoria bird for me (and #196 for the year), but a new BC and Canada bird as well!

This has been an exciting couple of weeks here in Victoria, and I am going to officially predict that American Avocet is due to put in an appearance......

Good hunting,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When it comes to Big Days, size DOES matter....

After the build up, it was finally time to head out for my Baillie Birdathon Big Day on Sunday.

I had enlisted Jeremy Gatten as a co-pilot for the day and we met at my place at 11:30pm on Saturday, with the plan of heading north to the Cowichan Valley for owls.  The official start time, midnight, found us at the Mill Bay Tim Hortons with much coffee but no birds.

 Our first bird and only owl of the day, a begging young Barn Owl, came at 12:35.  It was a great start to the birding, and turned out to be one of a very few "staked out" birds that actually stuck around.  The next couple of hours were slow, and we added two Pacific-slope Flycatchers dueling on territory at 1:00am along Herd Rd in Duncan, two Marsh Wrens at Somenos Marsh at 2:00am, and three Killdeer back down the island at the breakfast sandwich-less Tim Hortons on Westshore Parkway.  A quick refueling stop at McDonald's for coffee and chicken (and Gatten charming the young guy at the drive-thru into throwing in some extra apple pies and french fries) and we headed west.

At Gordon's Beach the 4:30am pre-dawn chorus began, and we added Swainson's Thrush, Common Yellowthroat, and others to our list.  At a clearcut near Shirley we encountered our first Varied Thrushes and a MacGiillivray's Warbler.  The MacGillivray's Warbler spoke volumes to the skill and dedication of Jeremy G, as he was actually sleeping in the passenger seat when it began calling right beside the car.  He not only identified the call in his sleep, but commented on how it was the first bird we heard, and then later asked me if he had dreamed the warbler into existence!

We had a number of target birds for Jordan River and in a little over two hours we got them all - Fox Sparrow, Marbled Murrelet, etc, plus some surprises including a young male Bullock's Oriole, a drumming Ruffed Grouse, and large numbers of Wilson's Warblers and Swainson's Thrushes.  The return trip through Sooke netted us Band-tailed Pigeon, but our high hopes for Whiffin Spit were dashed, and it became 30 minutes that we will never get back.

The Western Communities from Metchosin to Langford were likewise quiet.  My staked out Sandhill Cranes had been replaced by a guy on a seed spreader chasing a flock of Pectoral Sandpipers from one end of the field to the other, and Witty's Lagoon/Tower Point was as quiet as I have ever seen it.  Birds were also mostly absent from Esquimalt Lagoon, but we did manage to add Caspian Tern, Cackling Goose, the resident Trumpeter Swan, and a very late female Black Scoter.

After our next Tim Hortons stop (coffee was a common theme throughout the day), we added the Colwood Corners Osprey and headed for the waterfront, where Clover Point also disappointed.  We were a little surprised to see small numbers of Marbled Murrelets at almost every stop along the waterfront, as we had banked on it only being far to the west in Jordan River.

We made it to McMicking Point just past the midway point of the day and set up to scope Trial Island, the golf course, and the open ocean.  As I was scanning up the golf course, having already done a sweep of Trial Island, Jeremy G started jumping up and down, calling for me to get over to his scope quickly, before I missed it.


I managed to get a "record shot" of one of the two Tufted Puffins that Jeremy had spotted lazily floating to the east of Trial Island.  Big Surprise Bird number three for the day!

We added very few birds between Cattle Point, King's Pond, Mt Tolmie, and Mt Doug, though the scooter parade putting down Mt Doug was a sight to behold!  After picking up Ian Cruickshank, we headed for Martindale Flats.

A very accomodating Mourning Dove was exactly where we expected in on the wires along Dooley Rd, and several other species, all repeats, were present in the various areas of the flats.  Surprise number four came about when we parked along Puckle Rd, hoping for a pheasant squawk.  We did get the Ring-necked Pheasant, but were taken aback when Jeremy G said "Kingbird!"  Indeed there was a Western Kingbird on a stake in the tree farm, and Ian quickly located a second!  We then headed to the airport, where a mob of American Robins and an  Anna's Hummingbird quickly betrayed the location of a dark phase Swainson`s Hawk.  No Sky Larks were seen or heard there or at the bulb fields, where we had gone in search (unsuccessfully) for American Kestrel.

We made it to Maber Flats just after 5:00pm, and quickly added Peregrine Falcon, Black-necked Stilt, all three teal, as well as all the other puddle ducks we had missed all day.  We also had six species of swallow, only missing Bank.  Unfortunately no rails of any type were calling.  Red Barn Flats was the next stop, for birds and a bite (can you have a turkey sandwich while birding....) and we added our only Greater Yellowlegs of the day.

With only six hours left on the clock we added Pied-billed Grebe and Hooded Merganser at Viaduct Flats, several shorebirds at Panama Flats, and made our way to Swan Lake.  Chris Saunders was down by the lollipop boardwalk when we arrived, and pointed out another Western Kingbird in the trees.  Old news for us, but a great bird nonetheless.  We added the Bufflehead tick and headed out, desperately hoping to add some of our missing passerines.  A quick stop at the bulb fields again yielded a singing Sky Lark, but searches along Thompson Place and Pat Bay failed to turn up anything new.  Saanichton Spit also had no new birds, not even Brandt`s Cormorant (which we ended up missing).

It became dark too quickly for our liking, and we changed strategy back to rail hunting.  Nothing was calling at Maber Flats, and we gave up completely when a couple of idiots on quads came down the hill and started riding around the fields and trails.  Panama Flats and Quick`s Bottom were also quiet.  After dropping Ian off, Jeremy and I spent some time at Rithet`s Bog, which had earlier failed to produce any new species.  Like other stops, no rails were calling.  Our final stop was Charlton Pond.  I don`t know if rails were just not present, or if it might have had something to do with me accidentally hitting the panic button on my car alarm (not sure how Jeremy G managed to sleep through that one!) but again there was nothing to be heard besides frogs and Killdeer.

Utterly exhausted after 23 hours and 50 minutes of birding covering 485 kilometers, 10 coffees, and 1 energy drink, we made it back to my place and called it a day at 120 species.

Given our list of misses (Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Cooper`s Hawk, most flycatchers, Brandt`s Cormorant, all rock-loving and marine type shorebirds), 135 could very well be my target next year.  Big thanks to Jeremy and Ian for the great company and extra eyes!!!

There is still lots of time left to sponsor my Birdathon (though at this point, I would recommend against per-species pledging!) at my fundraising link,

http://www.gifttool.com/athon/MyFundraisingPage?ID=1914&AID=1845&PID=259239

Already looking forward to next year!




Saturday, May 12, 2012

International Migrating Bird Day

When I set out this morning I was going to call this post "A Good Day for Grouse", but it turns out it wasn't.

I decided to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day by hunting for migrants.  7:30am found me in the parking lot of Mount Wells Regional Park, listening to calling Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and California Quail.  I had my sights set on picking up Sooty Grouse for my Big Year 2, but it seems I used up all my Grouse juju on Alberta Greater Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse.  I made my way up the mountain, surrounded by calling Black-throated Gray Warblers, Townsend's Warblers, Hammond's Flycatchers, House Wrens, Cassin's Vireos, and Pine Siskins.



The view from the first summit was as good as it gets, but the birdlife almost disappeared.  A fair breeze rustled the trees and played in my ears, which reduced my hope for my Gallinaceous quarry.  On the climb from the first summit to the second the wind got stronger, and at the top all I could hear was the moving trees and the sound of the wind.  Then my phone rang......

I should have expected the call, given the extreme inopportune time.  It was Jeremy Gatten, calling with news of a light phase Swainson`s Hawk at the Victoria Airport.  I spent ten more minutes at the top of Wells, cursing the wind the whole way, before heading back down to meet Jeremy and take a shot at the hawk.  When I reached the parking lot again, two hours after heading up, I finally got a look at my first year bird of the day, a singing Black-headed Grosbeak.  I had heard three year birds on the hike up, but never got the look for the tick.

I made record time to pick up Jeremy at his house and we headed for the airport, immediately noticing a number of hawks airborne.  The first couple turned out to be Red-tailed Hawks, but within a couple of minutes Jeremy noticed the light phase Swainson`s Hawk over the Purolator building, as seen from the Willingdon Rd pullof just before the terminal.  Before long, we noticed a second bird in the same area, which we eventually tagged as a dark phase Swainson`s Hawk.

After an hour of admiring the hawks, and after the light phase bird had disappeared to the south, we headed for the Vantreight Bulb Fields.  We managed to see Sky Lark, American Kestrel, and a few others in short order.  I had to make lunch for my in-laws, and was eager to get going, until I saw an email come through on my phone.  I let Jeremy know that we had to go, and left him thinking it was home time before showing him the email reporting a Wilson`s Phalarope at Panama Flats.

We made great time getting to the Carey Rd entrance to Panama Flats, and quickly located two female Wilson`s Phalaropes feeding near a flock of Long-billed Dowitchers.  What a score!

After lunch, I headed out to Metchosin to do my monthly Goose Survey.  While there were very few geese around, I got a surprise at Swanwick Rd when I noticed a couple of heads poking up from the grass.



My first Sandhill Cranes of the year (three of them!) slowly worked their way through the grass about 80ft away, and I kept my distance, not wanting to flush them.  I worried a little when a groundskeeper putted over in his tractor cart, which was extremely loud, to see what I was looking at.  As I pointed the birds out, they continued to feed, unconcerned.

Even without the grouse, I managed to add four new year species, and the phalarope was a new Canada bird for me!  It tuned out to be a great day, with a number of very unexpected migrants.  No complaints!

I am a little worried though, tomorrow I head to Vancouver for the night.  Hopefully I don`t miss anything....

Good birding!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Working for the Pot of Gold!

Last night found me in the office at 6:30pm, finishing up on some paperwork and getting ready to head out.  I had spoken with Jeremy Gatten briefly on a weekend birding matter, and he mentioned that it might be a good idea to check out Tower Point.  I have been going to Esquimalt Lagoon every day hoping for the arrival of Marbled Godwits, but without luck, and I have been neglecting other great areas like the Witty's Lagoon complex and other parts of Metchosin.

With the recent wind, Tower Point made perfect sense, you never know what could show up on the rocks or the beach!  Past birds seen there have included most tubenoses, Willet, Green-tailed Towhee, Philadephia Vireo, Sabine's Gull, and more!

I had intended to scan the rocks and beach, and then move on to Albert Head Lagoon and other areas.  My good intentions quickly disappeared when I spotted a shorebird sleeping on the rocks off the point.  Conveniently, it was sleeping on one leg, and had positioned itself facing directly away from me.  From the structure of the bird, it was no doubt a plover, and I orginially assumed it was still in mainly winter plumage from the looks I had.  Every once in a while, it would quickly lift its head before tucking back in, showing the golden-brown cap and thick white supercillium wrapping around a cheek patch.  Combined with the golden-brown back, the bird went from plover spp. to Golden-Plover spp! 

As a drawback of being a Victoria Birder, I am not as familiar with the varying plumages and sexes of the Golden-Plovers as I would like, and was determined to make a study of this one while I had the opportunity.  There was extensive white under the tail, which should have clinched the ID, but I was still under the impression that I was staring at the backside of a mid-moult bird, all the while trying to focus through a scope at 45X that was being blown around by the relentless wind.

After a couple of phone calls and 40 minutes, the bird finally started to forage around the rocks, and when it turned is showed spotty black underneath, running up to a fairly indistinct facial patch.  The supercillium, which I had previously only had spotty looks at, ran around the facial/cheek patch, through the shoulder, and along the entire flanks of the bird, creating a wide strip between the wings and the patchy black underneath.

What I had previously assumed was a moulting bird of some description became an almost full breeding plumaged female Pacific Golden-Plover, only my second in Victoria!  Looking back on it, the long-legged, heavier-billed appearance of the bird could have tipped me off much sooner, as could the extent of the white under the tail, but c'est la vie.  It was a great lesson to add to my plumages of lesser seen migrants library!

Let's see what the wind brings in next!