Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rarities sure are inconvenient critters.....

Having spent Friday night in Vancouver while my wife attended a concert, I was on my way back, trying to pull something different out of the thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls in Active Pass when I got an email about a Yellow-headed Blackbird at Panama Flats.  Minutes later, I got a text from my brother saying that he had refound the Arctic Loon!  These things keep showing up when I am elsewhere!

To say I was eager to get home was some kind of understatement, but I made it in the door just before 4pm, stayed long enough to grab my keys and scope, and headed back out again.  There were no birders at Panama Flats when I arrived, only a number of Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, etc on the water, and a few swallows overhead.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Several Red-winged Blackbirds sang and called from the cattails and grass around the building at the Carey Rd entrance.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Even an American Coot and a singing Common Yellowthroat.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.

After 20 minutes of searching and a walk along the centre dyke, I was on my way back to the building side when I noticed a dark bird with white whing patches flying across the water and, with binoculars up, the brilliant yellow head came into focus!  Finally, the male Yellow-headed Blackbird flew in and settled on a log on the north side of the trail before moving to the grass on the south side.

I always hate to tick and run, but in this case bigger things were calling.  I managed to head out of Panama Flats at 4:45, and make the run to Jordan River, albeit with a coffee stop in the middle!

Once in Jordan River, it didn't take long to locate Mike Bentley, who had the same idea as I.  We carefully checked through every bird on the choppy sea, but failed to locate the Arctic Loon.

On Sunday I received a phone call with 40 minutes left in a Home Show shift.  Mike M. had found an incredible fallout at Mount Doug, which included 6 Townsend's Solitaires and a Western Kingbird!  The rest of the shift passed quickly, and I stopped in at home long enough to change and collect my wife.

We found Mount Doug almost as Mike described it, minus the Solitaires and Kingbirds.  Excellent numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers were foraging in what seemed to be every tree, and Orange-crowned Warblers sang from what seemed like every bush.  Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks cruised overhead, while Pine Siskins chased each other below the summit.  After an hour and bit of searching, we finally spotted a lone Townsend's Solitaire further down the east slope.

The million dollar question was where to head next!  With migrants dropping in, pretty well any location had the potential to harbour a rarity.  We decided to head for Whiffin Spit.

While birds were few and far between, we did find a flock of 60 Black Turnstones, along with 6 Western Sandpipers, 12 Least Sandpipers, 1 Dunlin, and the first of the year Semipalmated Plover.

I started this post earlier, and saved it for finishing later.  My intent was to end the post after Whiffin Spit on Sunday, but in between saving it and coming back to it, I received a phone call about a bit of a rarity, which also falls into the "inconvenient critter" category.

Having finished work for the day, I raced out to Panama Flats, where Mary R. had found two Black-necked Stilts, an incredible 4th record for Victoria.  When I arrived, still decked out for the office, I spotted Ann N, Rick S, and Agnes L, who had the birds sitting in the scope for me when I tip-toed through the soft ground to reach them.  The rain was coming down steadily as we watched the Stilts foraging back and forth, while my first Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows of the year flew overhead.

Until this afternoon, this had been one of my most wanted Victoria birds, and was also my first for Canada!  I joked that I had stopped paying attention to them after getting the tick, but thoroughly enjoyed the hour that I got to spend admiring them.  I always hate walking away from a great bird like this, never knowing when I will have the privilege or luck of seeing another!

Conditions out there are ideal for more fallouts and more rarities.  Panama Flats has gotten better and better (and more and more birded) over the last couple of years, it will be interesting to see what turns up there next.  Good birds could be anywhere this week, watch especially for Ruddy Turnstones, Marbled Godwits, and more passerines to show up!

Good birding,

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