Monday, September 2, 2013

Westward Bound

One of my favourite local areas to bird is to head westward, to Sooke and beyond.  I've always thought the areas to the west to be under birded, especially given the potential for great rarities along rather small stretches of beach and forest.

With all of the jaw-dropping rarities being seen just south of us by our American counterparts, Jeremy G and I figured points west would be a great idea yesterday, and after meeting at our usual muster point, a certain Langford Tim Horton's at the usual ungodly hour, we headed first for Whiffin Spit, hoping to beat the human traffic and find some shorebirds.

A short-lived peep flock was the first sighting as we headed down the spit, and the usual suspects quickly showed - White-crowned Sparrow, Harlequin Duck, and a lone (early) female Bufflehead which made us wonder if it was the same one we had seen there last month.  The tide was well out and we walked down onto the slick rocks, hoping for some shorebird love.  Black Turnstones soon materialized out of the rocks, and before long Jeremy G was onto the stunning Ruddy Turnstone that had been seen for a few days.  What a treat to lock onto this great semi-rarity so early in the day!

Finding little else at Whiffin we headed further west.  Around Otter Point the second treat materialized when a Black Bear came out of the trees and crossed the road in front of us.  These may be commonplace in many areas of the island, but I can count on one set of fingers the number of times I have seen them on the south island.

Rounding the final corner into Jordan River I half expected to see a flock of Elegant Terns resting on the road, given the great start to the day, but it wasn't to be.  Instead, we were drawn to the small patch of brambles and trees across from the parking lot, which were so full of birds that we hardly knew where to look first.  Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler were all well-represented.  A larger bird immediately caught our attention when it flew into the top of one of the trees, and binoculars quickly revealed it to be a Lazuli Bunting

We ended up spending 5 hours exploring Jordan River and found great numbers of migrants everywhere.  In addition to the above we found a couple of Bewick's Wrens (a great bird for Jordan), Hutton's Vireos, Lincoln`s Sparrow, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Swainson's Thrushes, MacGillivray's Warblers, and Pacific-Slope, Willow, and Hammond's Flycatchers, plus many more.  Gull numbers were good as well with five species in attendance, including a lone Herring Gull, and a Greater White-fronted Goose was seen in the river.  Out in the surf, 500+ Red-necked Phalaopes were a continual sight, and small numbers of alcids drifted past.

We left Jordan River with 72 species in the bag and headed to Muir Creek, which was fairly quiet except for a flock of Yoga Participants off in the woods somewhere, and a good collection of Barn Swallows which included one Cliff Swallow and one Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  At Muir Creek I also (with much help) scored a lifer bug, Saffron-winged Meadowhawk.

A swing through the usual Metchosin areas at Lindholm Rd and Swanwick Rd yielded little.  Albert Head Lagoon padded the species total a little, providing Mute Swan, Greater Yellowlegs, and two early American Wigeons.  We spent a fair amount of time scanning a large collection of gulls well out on the water, which didn`t yield anything different, until Jeremy G called my attention to the one bird neither of us had paid attention to - a lone gull 20ft from shore.  How long the bird had been puttering around in front of us I don`t know, but how the Ring-billed Gull had managed to stay under the radar still puzzles me.  Perhaps it was the lure of tern or jaeger potential out in the heat haze.....

The last stop was Esquimalt Lagoon, where we held out hope for a mega of some sort.  My much-desired Elegant Terns weren`t there either, but we did finally add Least Sandpiper after 11 hours of birding, as well as a lone tern of the wrong type, Caspian Tern.

All in all we netted 93 species, a great total considering the total lack of woodpeckers and only 4 species of raptor.  Migrant numbers were amazing, and it was the perfect day for a more leisurely approach to birding.

It is shaping up to be a great fall birding season, and with all of the great stuff across the strait, who knows what`s lurking around our neighbourhood!

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