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 My staked out Sandhill Cranes had been replaced by a guy on a seed spreader chasing a flock of Pectoral Sandpipers from one end of the field to the other, and Witty's Lagoon/Tower Point was as quiet as I have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,
Already looking forward to next year!