Sunday, November 20, 2016

Almost A Little Too Far Afield

When it comes to rare birds, I often think that if it weren't for the wrong place, I wouldn't have much of anywhere to be.  Likewise, if it weren't for the wrong time, I would never be there.

Today was one of those days.. .We were over in Surrey, visiting with my girlfriend's family, and were planning  on spending the morning with her niece and nephews before heading back on the 1pm ferry.  Then, at 8:56am, I got an email update from BCVIBIRDS that a Field  Sparrow had been found pretty much in my own backyard, at Esquimalt Lagoon, by Andy and Ellen Stepniewski!  A few minutes later I missed a call from Jeremy G, no doubt reporting the same, and I resigned myself to falling behind, his 301 to my 300 in the Victoria Checklist....  Unfortunately this was not one of those wrong place/wrong time situations that could be solved simply by climbing down a mountain, taking an early lunch break, or driving like a bat out of hell for an hour or two.  There is only one thing I believe in more firmly than twitching Field Sparrows in Victoria (or, any rarity, for that matter) and that is family - namely my family and Andrea's.

On went the visit, all the while my mind racing... we catch the one, what is traffic going to be like, is the light going to hold up, is it going to rain....... not to mention having to pick up my son at 4pm sharp in Langford!  Getting to the ferry was no problem, and I even managed to pick up a Rough-legged Hawk along the way, though 5 minutes after we got into the terminal a one sailing wait hit those unfortunate enough to be slower than us!  Off the ferry on the Victoria side and I was itching for an update on the bird, as it had been last reported by Ann Nightingale at 1:45pm.... Again, Lady Luck was grinning her ass off at me, as we made it all the way from the Swartz Bay Terminal to Langford, coming off of a full boat, without having to stop once for a red light or a turn (which has NEVER happened to me)!

I took 30 seconds to grab my camera and binos and headed right back out the door, getting a report from Agnes Lynn via BCVIBIRDS that the bird was still present 20 minutes earlier at 3pm, and I was 5 minutes away.  I was encouraged, but my enthusiasm was tempered a bit by the ghosts of all of the birds that I had missed by one minute or five, or would have seen if I  hadn't stopped for coffee in Port Alberni, or or or.....

I had told Andrea earlier that the quickest way to find a bird like this was to find the birders, and as I cruised down the  lagoon reading trash can numbers I found the birders!  Quickly parking and grabbing  my gear, I rushed across the road and slowed to a crawl, not wanting to spook whatever it was that the small band of merry twitchers was photographing.  A little behind the vanguard were David and Geoffrey Newell, who responded to my raised eyebrows and nod with a "it is right at their feet!".  Turns out the dynamic Newell Duo, responsible for many a fantastic find in the last  couple  of years, had had some good, quality time with the bird.

I crept up as slowly as my excitement would allow, finally seeing movement in the brush, before the Field Sparrow hopped out into view!  This is only the second record for BC and first for the Victoria Checklist Area, and my tick (no pun intended) number 301 for the latter area!  A very  unexpected rarity, and one that neither Jeremy G or  I had thought of last  week while trying to figure out  the next!

Despite the waning light, I managed a couple of (again, charitably speaking) record shots:




The birds timing was a little off as I have just ordered a new lens, an EF400mm 5.6, which should be here in a couple of days.  I had the chance to shoot one of these for a day and change on my Texas trip last year and was impressed with the compact size, reach, and how tight and fast  the autofocus is.... it has only taken me just shy of two years to pull the trigger on a purchase to supplement my 70-300 Sigma!

Oh well, maybe the bird will stick until the lens arrives.  But in any case there was a happy ending to the story, I got to see an amazing bird and picked  my son up on time!

Until the next unforeseen and  mindblowing rarity, good birding, and see you out there!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wow, Where Does the Time Go?

I just realized how long it has been since I have posted.... wow!  Between parenting and then half time single parenting, I haven't had much time for birding, let alone posting.... In fact, my two days of birding with the Naturalest Naturalist in the last week have been my only two days of real birding in the last year or so!

Time to catch up with Texas....

John had gotten a text of a White-throated Thrush at Estero Llano Grande and, as he said (and I fully agree), the first rule of chasing rare birds is you go!  We got to Estero and high-tailed it to where the thrush had been seen, and were greeted by a throng of  birders, and virtually no birds.  The bird in question had been travelling with thrushes, which were quite absent.  While we waited, I managed my lifer Eastern Screech-Owl and Northern Beardless Tyrranulet,  but the bird we most wanted refused to  show.... until the thrushes returned and someone called out the White-throated!  There was a mad dash of birders trying  to get a view of this amazing rarity, and a few of us, myself included, managed to spot it through a gap in the fence before it disappeared.... lifer White-throated Thrush, and my second amazing rarity at Estero in only a few days!!!  The rest of our group missed it, but picked it  up on the return trip the next day.

Our last  full day in Texas found us at Rio-Bentsen State Park, hoping for another local rarity.... while waiting we picked up a few birds, but the target of the day did not disappoint, as a pair of dark phase Hook -billed Kites flew almost right over out heads before disappearing in the distance!  From there we returned to Estero where, as I  previously mentioned, the rest of the group saw the thrush while I wandered the park, and from there we drove up to Brushline Rd.

While Brushline yielded little, our next stop at Hargill Playa delivered  my lifer Northern Bobwhite and several other goodies.  From there it was back to Resaca for a bit  of parking lot birding, then on to Oliveira Park in Brownsville for the show, which did not disappoint in the least!  We picked up Red-crowned Parrot, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Yellow-headed Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, and others!  Yes, ABA Police, most of these do not appear on  my official list.

All in all, an amazing trip, and I cannot wait to go back!  Huge thanks to John Puschock and Zugunruhe Tours for an amazing experience,  can't wait to bird with you again!  Attu next time?

So, to catch up for the last  year and a half, here are my favourite record shots from that time frame, then back on track, thanks to some encouragement from the wonderful Andrea, and from Jeremy G.  As usual they ain't all pretty, but the birds were!

Wild  Turkey, near Creston, BC, July, 2015

Black-throated Sparrow, Whiffin Spit, October, 2015

Magnificent Frigatebird, Samana, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Cattle Egret, Samana, Dominican  Republic, November, 2015

Cattle Egret, Samana, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

A bit of this and that, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Brown Pelican, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Brown Booby, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Broad-billed Tody, Samana, Dominican Republic, April, 2016

Humpback Whale feeding, off Victoria, BC, May, 2016

Tropical Kingbird, Sooke, BC, November 12, 2016

Red Phalaropes, Jordan River, BC, November 12, 2016

Red Phalarope, Jordan  River, BC, November 12,  2016
As usual, I can't wait to see what the next adventure is.... maybe south, maybe north, maybe east, maybe west???  Heck, maybe it will be right here at home!

In the meantime, good birding!