Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Chase is On!

With the Duncan Christmas Bird Count on January 1st, I took advantage of the 2nd to chase down some of the great birds that have been hanging around Victoria recently.

At 7:30am, coffee in hand, I met Jeremy G and his dad at the Beacon Hill Park tennis courts, hoping to turn up the gnatcatcher that was last reported in the middle of December. As the dawn chorus began, there was nothing even remotely gnatcatcher-like to be heard. I wasn't hoping for much, and even less when a Barred Owl flew into the middle of the patch of trees we were working. After the owl decided to heed my cursing and fly off, a Cooper's Hawk flew in to take its place.

From there, we birded the waterfront down as far as Cattle Point. Nothing spectacular showed up, but we did find three of Victoria's wintering Greater Yellowlegs near the Oak Bay Marina, as well as several other shorebird species. A quick walk along Midland Rd near Uplands Park turned up 30 Cedar Waxwings, 5 American Goldfinches, and a Hermit Thrush.

After another coffee stop, Panama Flats was the place to be. While there, we met up with Mike McGrenere, Rick Shortinghuis, Cheryl Mackie, and Mary Robichaud, all of us in search of the same few sparrows. Mary let us know that she had seen the American Tree Sparrow just before we got there, so we immediately turned our attention to the bigger prize, the Vesper. Being the only one fully equipped for the task, Jeremy G crossed to the west side of the flats, and quickly located the bird, which eventually flew unnoticed behind the rest of us, until it flushed out into the middle of the flats. Rick found a dry route for us, and eventually the Vesper Sparrow made a brief appearance at the side of the trail, and then again in a clearing in the grass. Also in the area were a Sky Lark, and several Savannah Sparrows and singing Western Meadowlarks. It was short work after that to find the American Tree Sparrow, which was basking in the sun near the top of the clump of bushes just out from the building. A fairly thorough search of the south end of the flats turned up zero Swamp Sparrows, but we did see a Eurasian "Common" Green-winged Teal, and have a few good laughs (most at my expense, I think - I owe you one Gatten!).

Islandview/Martindale turned into the last stop of the day, as the cloud and eventual pouring rain snuffed out the daylight a little early. At Islandview, I located the two Black Scoters after a fair bit of searching, and they disappeared just as Jeremy G and Mike Bentley made their way down the trail. Jeremy eventually located them again, as well as spotting an Eared Grebe, to the south of the main parking area. There was also a sharp looking Merlin in the treetops up the hill to the west.

Although we missed finding the Rusty Blackbird at the Lochside Pig Farm, we ran into Mike B again, who had just seen it near the corner of Martindale and Welch. Again, we missed it, but we did find one Brown-headed Cowbird, and get scope looks at a few Cackling Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese in the fields.

This morning (Jan 3) my brother was "down island" and had an hour to spare, so we went out to Rithet's Bog, and in fairly short order found a Swamp Sparrow which obliged us with some nice poses. The bird was right where Ian C had reported two back in December, near the first bench along the trail leading SW from Fir Tree Glen.

My brother had also hoped to see the Tree Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow, so we headed to Panama Flats. It took all of 45 seconds to locate the American Tree Sparrow in a plant at the side of the trail, just south of the building. My brother had wanted to get a picture of it, so we continued to look for the bird after it disappeared, but only had brief (though excellent) views of it, not enough for him to get even a distant shot. Eventually he ran out of time, and decided to leave the Vesper-hunting for another day.

Finally, after work I headed down to Esquimalt Lagoon with the last little bit of light, to pick up a couple of final birds. On the beach by the bridge (on the inside), there was a beautifully pure Western Gull mixed in with the Glaucous-winged Gulls, Mew Gulls, and mutts. Other than that it was quiet, with very little on the water. I did locate my two targets, with a number of Greater Scaup along the inside, and the ever-present Mute Swans scattered along the length of the lagoon.

Not a bad start, with yesterday and todays birds putting me at 101 for the year. There are another 39 I hope to pick up by the end of the month, plus whatever goodies happen to show up.

See you out there!

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