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!

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