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,

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