Thursday, 31 December 2009


I managed to get a couple of hours free this afternoon so, despite the onset of some very wet rain and poor visibility, I headed down to the Nanaimo River Estuary.
For the first time in ages there were no other vehicles in the parking area and even if hunters had been there earlier it looked as if I might have the place to myself for a while at least.
It was pretty nasty though, and my optics were rain covered in no time at all. A scan over the marsh from the viewing platform was uneventful so I decided to trudge up the long hedgerow in search of passerines.
Overall it seemed pretty quiet until I came across the regular mixed flock feeding on the deck and in the hedge. Maybe I could relocate last Sunday's yellow-rumped warbler? Scanning through, I was pleased to see a fox sparrow then something smaller and paler caught my eye as it flew up into the hawthorns. I found it with my bins and I noticed it had a bright chestnut crown, clear pale grey supercilium that extended into the nape and back onto the cheek (ie it actually had a grey face broken by a dark eyestripe), a sort of 'smudge' onto the breast which also had an indistinct dark 'spot' on it and very bright wingbars.
Now, as a north American sparrow novice I wasn't 100% as to the identity of this bird and being a pillock I hadn't brought a field guide with me, so I spent a soggy half hour getting brief scope views, and trying to find the fidgety thing amongst the mass of commoner species in the ankle deep grass and tangles of hawthorn. Tree sparrow did seem the most likely but do I really know what a winter chipping sparrow looks like? Or are there others that fit this description that I've forgotten about?
Luckily, my notes were of a good enough standard to unequivocably confirm its ID as an American tree sparrow once I got home and better still it was actually a new bird for me!

So, it just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year and here's to birdy 2010!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Is there life on marsh?

Following advice from Guy Monty, my morning visit to the estuary ended with me coming away with a dead owl in a bag. I called the Ministry of Environment to log the incident and I'll be taking the corpse to the office downtown tomorrow.

Back to the estuary - today was the longest I have spent down there without seeing any short-eared owls since they arrived. As is often the case, a few hunters were out and about but the with the exception of a Canada goose which got brought down, shooting activity was at a minimum. Seems the ducks are learning to keep offshore when there are people around...
A single adult female northern harrier was seen but unlike the behaviour of these birds a month ago, this individual was keeping well clear of the marsh and restricting her hunting to the fields in the south east corner.
I don't suppose birds can perceive danger in this way and perhaps it's likely that this harrier has escaped persecution as a result of her tendency to hunt away from the marsh, as opposed to her having 'moved' to avoid incident? Whatever, it's a pretty bleak picture out there at the moment.
The good news is that at least one northern shrike is still in the area, though certainly more elusive than was previously the case.
Perhaps (despite the long-eared situation) the high water levels followed by cold weather has actually reduced prey availability and the harriers and owls have simply moved on... gotta keep an open mind on these things. Mind you, there are a few gun-toting blokes with hard-looking dogs going down there now and again, they never wear camo and are probably just shooting for shooting's sake.
To cut a short story long, there was little else of note over the 3 hours I spent down there. I didn't relocate the Lincoln's sparrow or yellow-rumped warbler we saw yesterday, though the white-crowned sparrows now numbered 3.

A quick drive around a mostly frozen Quennell Lake, with a few stops, revealed little of note other than a single Steller's jay.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

When otus sings the blues

Well, I got up around 6.30am and peered out into the darkness and it didn't look too foggy.
OK, I'll do some owling.
Headed out and came to the rapid conclusion that it was in fact foggy as hell.
Oh well, you only need to hear them. I tried a few 'likely' spots but there was nothing... no response to calls played or badly imitated.
Headed to the appointed rendezvous for 8am where I met Ryan Cathers and his dad Andrew and Ryan's girlfriend Deni. Another team member, Ian, soon joined us and we discussed how best to proceed with the Christmas Bird Count, considering the poor visibility.
We headed off up Raines Rd toward the estuary counting as we went. Arriving at the estuary it was apparent that a count was going to be pretty tough given that we couldn't see more than 50 metres in any direction... and to make matters worse there seemed to be more hunters out than usual. And they were not exactly going by the book from what we could hear - it seemed that some were shooting where they shouldn't be.
Despite these setbacks we cracked on and a fair number of species made it onto the list, though numbers of individual birds were pretty low. Highlights included a yellow-rumped warbler, Lincoln's sparrow, peregrine, northern harrier and gadwall. We couldn't find any short-eared owls in the mist but it looks like a hunter had had more luck earlier with a genuinely scarce bird on Vancouver Island. See the accompanying pics which show a very fresh corpse of a long-eared owl which appears to have been shot. It was spotted by Ryan, who noticed it lying beneath a hawthorn and it looks as if it may have been shot in its roost.
Since discovering that this rare species has been recorded in the Nanaimo River Estuary area in the past, I have been diligently checking the hawthorns for roosting birds - pity this is how we had to confirm its presence... what is wrong with these people?
We carried on, albeit with a bitter taste in our mouths, and then headed to Holden Creek via Gordon Road. We added a few birds to the tally including Cooper's hawk, red crossbill and hooded merganser.
Our arrival at Biggs Park coincided with a brief break in the fog and we were able to scan the birds out on the water including common loon, greater scaup and horned grebe.
Finally we had a look around the somewhat abandoned arboretum near the industrial park which had some very nice trees but very few birds, although we were able to add red-tailed hawk as the last new bird of the day.
All in all another great day's birding with good company allowing me to overcome the crappy weather and the dead owl!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Happy Christmas, Boxing Day etc

Christmas Day passed pleasantly but was relatively birdless. We had a stroll around Hemer Park in the afternoon where the mostly frozen pool was hosting 2 trumpeter swans, 8 hooded merganser, 1 American coot and 2 gadwall. We took a couple of minutes out of our busy schedule to take the attached pic of us grinning like tourists.

Today, Boxing Day, was similarly fairly quiet aves-wise. The highlight was the arrival at the 'food pile' of a party of 17 California quail. The fuzzy pic here was taken at range through the window - these plump, delicious gamebirds are sooooo flighty.

Despite the forecast for sunshine we were shrouded in mist all day with visibility restricted to about 100 metres. With the Christmas Bird Count (part II) tomorrow, let's hope it clears otherwise I'll be back in bed for 8.30am...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

All about Eve

Again, no real opportunities for any real birding today what with having to track down a Christmas Pudding, having an informal job interview which resulted in my agreeing to start on Tuesday (Happy Christmas to me!) and sorting out some friends chickens and cats while they're off visiting family in Port Alberni.
So, with all that to deal with my avian encounters were somewhat restricted this bright, sunny Christmas Eve, though an impressive flock of 24 varied thrush were feeding on the lawned area by the condo. Offshore a group of 30ish black turnstone were clambering around on an exposed rock with a dozen dunlin and 2 black oystercatcher.

Jolly Christmas to all - whether you choose to recognise it, celebrate it or otherwise.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

All good on the Western front

With my newly rediscovered freedom, I managed a quick visit to the Nanaimo River Estuary this afternoon but it was under siege from some pre-Christmas hunters.
Nonetheless a short-eared owl was unconcerned and showing well. I didn't see any shrikes or harriers, though.
50+ trumpeter swans were present and a 150 or so dunlin were at the estuary mouth with 7 black-bellied plover. A few gadwall were in with the pintail, mallard and American wigeon.
A dozen red-winged blackbird were sat up in the hawthorns but passerines seemed pretty thin on the ground in general. A 1st year red-tailed hawk made an appearance and about 6 bald eagles were kicking around.

I dropped by at Holden Creek but that too was pretty quiet, bar a couple of hundred green-winged teal and a few wigeon. A drake hooded merganser came by and 2 killdeer were in the nearby fields. 4 crossbill chipped overhead.

Back at the condo I noticed a Western grebe offshore - not a regular bird here since I've been at Yellow Point. As you can see I managed to photograph it badly. As ever.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bird on a wire

Didn't get any birding in today as such, but on our way home from Nanaimo this evening (7.30pm) we had ace views of a barred owl sat on a telegraph wire near the condo, on Yellow Point Road. We turned around and pulled up slowly, eventually sitting right below it. It didn't give a hoot (sorry about that...) and just perched there, staring down into the verge. Nice.

Oh, and I passed my BC driving test this afternoon (thank goodness) so regular reports from the Nanaimo River Estuary will resume shortly...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Happy Christmas Bird Count

Having read about these things for many years it was a privilege to be invited to join a team for the Christmas Bird Count on Sunday. The count area was further north than my relative comfort zone and all the sites visited were all new to me.
Having spent the night at Rich & Lori's house we emerged into the damp and dark and kicked off with an attempt at some early morning owling which despite the rain, wasn't altogether unsuccessful.
Thanks to some canny impersonations Rich lured a northern saw-whet owl that responded with vigour and approached within metres, but the lack of light meant that it remained unseen. Good bird for the count, but a bummer for me as it's a lifer and I ain't ticking one on call alone!
Despite zero response following our attempts to attract other owls, a great-horned happened to fly across the road to the joy of Rich and Lori, both of whom saw it. Mike Ashbee and I missed it from the back seat of the car!
As it got lighter we headed for a few spots to locate some key species and then spent some time at the the Little Qualicum River hatcheries - a brilliant site which yielded American dipper (great views and it even started singing) plus a few other important birds for the day and incredible numbers of bald eagle. At one point I could see 18 individuals in one binocular view!
Unfortunately the tide was particularly high which meant that the estuary was full of water and therefore lacking in non-saline species of wildfowl etc. Offshore, numbers of all 3 scoter species were present along with grebes, loons, murres, buffleheads, etc. 1000s of gulls were present with particularly large numbers of mew gull amongst them. And it was really, really pissing it down. As you can probably tell from the attached pic...
Passerines were tricky throughout the day and some common species went unseen. A last minute stroll down a trail known to Mike had us finally bag both downy and hairy woodpeckers in the fading light.
We went to the post-count round-up and it became apparent that our total of 65 species for the day wasn't atypical, although one team led by Guy Monty managed an astonishing 98. In fact, this team even saw two species (Hutton's vireo & ancient murrelet) that would have been lifers for me!
All in all it was a great experience and I was delighted to be involved in such a renowned institution as the CBC.
Also, it has to be said, that we had a really good laugh throughout the day and the company of Rich, Lori and Mike made the whole thing that bit more enjoyable. Roll on the Big Day in spring...

For a more thorough assessment of the day and full count figures, check out Rich's blog via the links on the left...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Hawks and Doves

Had an early trundle around Buttertubs Marsh this morning, having been dropped off by Jen as she headed off to work, God bless her!
Much of the water was still ice covered and consequently birdless. In fact the only 'waterbirds' seen in an hour and a half were 2 hooded merganser, 2 great blue heron and glaucous-winged gull! Of course, a few mallard and wood duck had sought sanctuary on the river but the lakes were bereft of wildfowl.
A couple of flocks of bushtit and many varied thrushes kept me alert while other regular passerines included robins, towhees, fox & song sparrows, house & purple finches, chestnut-backed chickadees, brown creeper and a lone American goldfinch.
A juv bald eagle circled over the marsh and headed east pursued by a couple of ravens.
Two trumpeter swans flew high north-west.

I then walked through Bowen Park which while birdier than last week was still relatively quiet. The highlights here included a Cooper's and a sharp-shinned hawk - the latter feeding on a luckless red-breasted nuthatch. Hairy woodpecker, golden-crowned kinglets, flickers, Bewick's wren and such added to the tally.

Later on in Nanaimo I noticed both Cooper's hawk and peregrine over the downtown area, my attention being drawn in each case by the panicking pigeons (rock doves).

Friday, 18 December 2009

Short tale of long-tail

Confined to barracks again today, so kicked off the day with a trawl around Roberts Memorial which was quiet even by the standards of that often tranquil park.
The stroll back home wasn't too exciting either and the most thrilling thing to report was reasonable views of some red crossbills and again there were lots of pine siskin around, unfortunately I couldn't hear any redpolls amongst them.

Spent a part of the afternoon staring out to sea, not in a gormless/glazed-over way you understand, but intentionally looking for waterbirds.
I heard an unusual duck sound and spotted 4 birds flying in and was chuffed to see that they were long-tailed duck. Two drakes and two ducks (pictured). The males were being very vocal - I can't recall the last time I heard a long-tailed duck! Not too common a sound in Morecambe Bay... (older readers in the UK may remember that this species used to go by the rather un-PC name of Oldsquaw in American field guides).
Otherwise, it was pretty much business as usual: common loons (pictured), buffleheads, American wigeon (fewer since the thaw), both goldeneye species (common pictured), horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers, double-crested and pelagic cormorants, surf scoters, mew & Thayer's gulls and 3 common murres. Also the ever-present harbour seals and regular river otters were doing the rounds.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Warbler brightens already bright morning

Well, after the sub-zero temperatures, carpets of snow and some grim drizzle it was a pleasure to awake to a morning with bright-ish skies and an almost balmy mildness about it.
Jen dropped me off at Roberts Memorial Park on her way to the metropolis that is Nanaimo, and I had a stumble about in there for an hour or so. Even the Pacific tree frogs were impressed with the change in the weather and several were calling, but despite my best efforts I couldn't actually see any of the small beasties.
The forest was typically fairly quiet bar the occasional red-breasted nuthatch or crossbill calling until I came across a nice feeding flock near the car park. Brown creepers, r.b. nuthatches, golden-crowned kinglets, chestnut-backed chickadees all responded half-heartedly to my pishing and then a cracking male Townsend's warbler appeared amongst them. Lovely.
Walking back to the condo there were a few flocks of pine siskin passing over, the largest numbering about 70 birds. A downy woodpecker was once again in the apple tress over the road.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Great-horned owl, great!

I was delighted to bag a long anticipated, new bird this morning (very early this morning) when Jenny and I had pretty good views of a great-horned owl hunting around the slipway of the Duke Point Highway and McMillan Road around 12.30am. Nice!
I'll have to count up my Vancouver Island list one of these days...

Today, we went for a walk down to Hemer Park and back into Cedar along the Morden Colliery Trail.
Just before we got to the car park we flushed a couple of Wilson's snipe from a ditch by the roadside.
The pool in Hemer was still frozen over but there were still 9 trumpeter swans present in a small area of water at the water's edge. Here too were a pair of gadwall and 5 hooded mergansers.
The woods were typically quiet and little else of note was seen but the walk was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on a cool December afternoon.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Freezy does it

Got dropped off at Buttertubs this morning with thoughts of iced-out reed dwellers... Naturally all the wildfowl had cleared out although a few mallard and a handful of wood duck were on the river.
Having defied logic by not emerging when the place was undergoing its near-Biblical flooding recently I was absolutely confident that slow scrutiny would reveal either American bittern or Virginia rail - preferably both. Back home, denizens of the deepest reedbeds are virtually guaranteed to show themselves in such icy conditions but I was left, once again, disappointed.
An Anna's hummingbird was again in the same area as when I last visited, keeping very close to a well-filled hummer feeder. A few of the expected passerines were also around some feeders and a bushtit flock came through with the attendant chickadees and a single golden-crowned kinglet.
After a couple of hours of scanning the reed edges I walked over to Bowen Park where I had an equally fruitless wander. The duck pond (just about the only place where there were any birds) had attracted a belted kingfisher and the swarm of mallard were joined by a pair of hooded mergansers and a lone female American wigeon. Yippee.
I then went to the guitar shop, forgot about birds for a bit and drooled over a very affordable Gretsch semi-acoustic... all I need now is a job so I can justify buying one!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Ice, ice baby

Jenny's been working up in north Nanaimo for the past few days and so I've been stranded, car-less, at Yellow Point. Haven't even been able to find a decent second-hand bike to get about on... consequently, I've been wandering around the local area desperately trying to find some birds to look at.
The past three mornings I've checked out Roberts Memorial Park (the beach bit, complete with small flotilla of wigeon, pictured above) but as is typical of forests in winter, it's been pretty quiet. The occasional varied thrush, golden-crowned kinglets, chestnut-backed chickadees and winter wrens have hardly enthralled and the constant sound of tooting red-breasted nutchatches is now too familiar to solicit much interest.

Walking the 2.5km of road between the park and the condo has actually been more productive, though only slightly!

Yesterday I had ace views of a ruby-crowned kinglet that had unzipped its astonishing scarlet head stripe, only the second time I've actually seen the, usually concealed, crown on this species! Presumably this bird had fluffed out its feathers to trap air, in an effort to keep warm in the freezing conditions and thus it's crown was revealed.
Both downy and hairy woodpeckers have shown well along the roadside and good numbers of red crossbill and pine siskin are regularly heard and seen.
While checking the slightly thawed edges of a large pond, inhabited by a group of mallard and 2 hooded mergansers, I noticed a mink working its way around the water's edge and bank. I think that might be the first I've seen on the island.

Offshore, the only notable change has been a minor influx of American wigeon, doubtless escaping whichever frozen lake they had been on previously.
Otherwise, the usual cormorants, buffleheads, loons, grebes, surf scoters, goldeneyes etc, and a lone pigeon guillemot, were all present.

Things area little milder today, even the hummingbird feeder wasn't frozen solid this morning. Not that I've had any hummers anywhere near it since I put it up a couple of months ago...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Through the square window...

Didn't get out to do any birding today so the highlights came from mainly staring out at the sea for a while this morning.
A couple of distant marbled murrelets had me trying desperately to string them as ancients but when they turned and the sun illuminated them properly I had to concede...
A pigeon guillemot spent some time blogging around offshore while the other usual occupants of the water (common loon, horned grebe, harlequin, bufflehead, surf scoter etc) were all present and correct.
An otter was fishing, succesfully, and a small group of American wigeon came into the small bay at Blue Heron Park.
A California quail once again came to the food pile although the number of passerines visiting my generous avian festive feast was much reduced. Just 2 juncos, 1 fox sparrow and a towhee in the time I was watching.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The swanny river

It was bright, crisp, clear and cold when I made my visit to the Nanaimo River estuary this morning.
An obvious mini-influx of American robins had taken place and they were 'chacking' all the place. A female downy woodpecker was in the large oak and a Lincoln's sparrow was seen amongst the many golden-crowned sparrows and house finches moving through the hedges. The expected juncos, towhees, fox & song sparrows were also much in evidence.
A northern shrike kept watch from a hawthorn.
A single brant flew over the saltmarsh and the high tide resulted in the semi-flooded marsh being covered in pintail, mallard and American wigeon.
Scoping from the viewpoint I was able to pick out 1 Eurasian wigeon, 12 gadwall and a drake lesser scaup from amongst the masses.
On the sea there were many buffleheads, both goldeneyes in small numbers and a few trumpeter swans. A family flew in and of the 3 juvs, 1 was notably smaller and appeared shorter necked than all the other birds in the party but once they landed on the water, (and the structural difference was still apparent) I wasn't really able to determine anything other than it was a runty trumpeter (bill shape and pattern didn't suggest tundra, though it was distant). Maybe if it sticks around I'll get a better look at it and satisfy my curiosity.
Yet more swans were on the river adjacent to Raines Road.
A couple of red-tailed hawks were seen and a short-eared owl put in an all-too brief appearance.

I decided to have a quick look at Holden Creek on my way back to Cedar but other than about 350 green-winged teal it was rather quiet. Another Lincoln's sparrow was in the brush alongside the path from the parking area, the first I've seen here.

With half an hour to spare, I went the long way home via Quennell Lake and found a flock of c500 Canada geese snoozing on the ice. A handful of trumpeters were with them as were 4 white-fronted geese.
A further 400 or so Canada geese were further along the lake plus more swans but other than a few ring-necked duck, common mergansers and coot it was unremarkable.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dodgy ducks

Given that Jen wasn't working today my birding was pretty much restricted to what I could see from the condo, or the car. On the plus side, a new visitor to the pile of stale bread and black oil sunflower seeds that I leave outside for the regular juncos, towhees and song & fox sparrows attracted a fine California quail this morning.

We went for a walk round Westwood Lake, our first visit. Bird-wise is wasn't too rewarding (bald eagle, common mergansers, ring-necked ducks, Steller's jay, chickadees, and so on) but it was a great walk on a bright, crisp, cold day.
We treated ourselves to some nosh at the Crow & Gate pub where I was able to bag what's probably the island's entire population of American black ducks... nestled amongst some mallard and a brace of black swans. Yep, the Australian ones. I must say, the last time I saw these black ducks, dabbling in a nearby flooded field a couple of weeks ago they almost looked tickable.

I did manage to pop by the estuary yesterday afternoon where I had brilliant prolonged views of a juv harrier hunting in the grassy area by the large oak. No owls showed though a shrike put in an appearance. It was otherwise quiet.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Merlin dervish

The wee fellow in the accompanying photo was making quite a bit of noise outside our place this morning, nice of him to pose a bit while a took a couple of snaps.

With pressing deeds to be done, I was unable to get out to do any birding until mid afternoon today and eventually dropped by the estuary for an hour or so.
I hadn't even turned the engine off when a harrier drifted in front of the car and over the river. Once I'd got out of the car a short-eared owl came by, hunting over the grassy area between the car park and the big oak. Nice!
A couple of guys were out wildfowling on the marsh so the ducks were miles out. A flock of red-winged blackbirds chattered around the place and a lone ruby-crowned kinglet came to check out my pishing technique.
From the viewing platform over the next hour I noted 2 short-eared owls and 3 northern harriers including a 'new' male that I haven't seen previously. This too is a sub-adult bird though it has retained considerably more juvenile plumage than the other male that I regularly see.
A Cooper's hawk came through scattering the juncos and blackbirds while a red-tailed hawk decided to add itself to the list of raptors seen.
As I returned to the parking area 6 western meadowlark were flushed from the grassy area between the oak and the car.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Hermit saves the day

The appearance of some significant frost had me heading for Buttertubs Marsh once I'd dropped Jenny off at work. Working on the knowledge that water rails and Eurasian bitterns can be more readily seen in such conditions my optimism was on overload - well the high water levels had failed to produce the goods, so surely a bit of ice might entice a Virginia rail or American bittern out from the depths of the reedbed?
Nope, apparently not.
7 wood duck had reappeared, as had a few more mallard and hooded mergansers but otherwise it was pretty quiet waterbird-wise.
Checking the passerines around the edges, I was surprised to find a hermit thrush (in the brush by the river). Other more typical birds included a flock of bushtit and an Anna's hummingbird along with the usual varied thrushes, juncos, towhees, etc.

I then paid a visit to the Nanaimo River estuary where a short-eared owl and northern shrike soon put in an appearance. Again it was pretty quiet here, although the number of trumpeter swans had increased slightly with a number of birds along the river as well as out on the estuary.

A few stops by Quennell Lake failed to turn up much of note. Small numbers of American coot, ring-necked ducks, American wigeon, trumpeter swans, Canada geese, etc the only things seen.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Afternoon delight

An afternoon visit to the estuary was fairly standard fare really, a northern shrike and 2 short-eared owls were the highlights.

Met a nice couple who, it turned out, had initially found and put out the news of the hawk owl back in the early part of the year. They confirmed that it certainly hasn't been in the Morden Rd area over the summer. So, has it summered elsewhere in the Cedar/south Nanaimo area as recently rumoured?

Went to Quennell Lake to see if the canvasback were still there but couldn't find any. Still a few cackling geese in amongst the Canadas, ring-necked ducks, American coots, trumpeter swans, common mergansers etc present though overall duck numbers were generally lower than yesterday.
A northern shrike was seen here too.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

New duck for my VI list!

Had a quick stop by Quennell Lake this morning and, as usual, I had my spare pair of bins in the car - just as well, as I noticed a group of 4 distant canvasbacks, 3 drakes and a duck.
I returned later with my 'real' binoculars and 'scope and tried to relocate the birds and after around 40 minutes I came across a single drake. I couldn't see the others anywhere but there are considerable areas of the lake that impossible to view from the road. In fact this drake only showed for about 3 minutes before disappearing behind an island. Rubbish pics of the bird attached.
I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen this species on Vancouver Island, though until my old notebooks arrive from across the sea I'm not 100% sure...
Also present here were a small number of trumpeter swans, at least 12 cackling geese amongst the 250 or so Canadas, a few ring-necked ducks, American wigeon, common merganser etc. A Cooper's hawk and merlin flew by and a yellow-rumped warbler was feeding in a hedgerow at the water's edge.
Incidentally, I was in a band called Canvasback once...

I then headed over to the Nanaimo estuary for a quick visit. 1 short-eared owl and 2 northern harriers (juv & fem) were seen.
At Holden Creek 2 red-tailed hawks were sat up in the small trees, a peregrine flew over and amongst the many green-winged teal was one bird which had a clear horizontal scapular stripe as well as the typical vertical one on the breast.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

To Buttertubs and beyond...

Bit of a funny day today, cool and overcast with a threat of rain that never quite amounted to anything.
After dropping Jenny off for work this morning I had a trundle round Buttertubs Marsh as I was literally around the corner.
Not much doing really, though at least the water had subsided and a full circuit could be made. A few mallard had returned (yippee) and 7 hooded and 2 common merganser were on the water as were a pair of pied-billed grebe. A pair of American wigeon and 2 Canada geese flew in.
Amongst a throng of feeding passerines near the Jingle Pot end were 21 cedar waxwing and a handful of American goldfinch plus many red-winged blackbirds. An Anna's hummingbird came in to check me out too, landing about 20 inches from my head!

I then headed off to the Nanaimo River estuary where I had the pleasure of meeting Rich Mooney and his partner. Still no sign of the palm warbler although they had seen both yellow-rumpeds together which tends to make me think that perhaps the rarer bird has indeed moved through.
A short-eared owl was hunting all over the area and a northern harrier made an appearance while the northern shrike performed well as usual.

After leaving here I headed off to the Morden Colliery Park area, with the intention of having a look for suitable nearby hawk owl habitat (UK bloggers note: a bird was here for few weeks in early 09 and a rumour has surfaced that it may have spent the summer here too). There seemed to be a few good areas that looked likely but given where it was usually seen during its much-twitched residence last winter (a roadside hedge!) this particular owl's habitat preferences don't quite fit what the books say...

I returned to Buttertubs to kill half an hour before collecting Jen but, aside of stepping in some dog crap, the only notable difference from earlier on was the arrival of a flock of 30ish pine siskin.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Palmed off?

Just managed a quick visit down to the estuary later in the morning. Having been busy yesterday on that rarest of bright days, it was great to get out in the sunshine today!
I was greeted by the sight of more birders out hoping to relocate the palm warbler but from what I could gather, it hasn't been seen since my last sighting on Wednesday, though the skies were tantalisingly clear last night and if I were a long-distant migrant (which I suppose I am in a kind of way...) I'd have been off!

The whole area was unusually quiet with no owls or harriers to be seen, although one of the northern shrikes performed well.
An adult peregrine put in a brief appearance and put up a group of teal over on the estuary.

Eventually a yellow-rumped warbler flew in calling, landed briefly in the hedge (it was the adult-type with the yellow throat) before heading off again in the direction of the viewing platform. No other birds were with it, or followed it.

It was good to meet yet more local birders and photographers down there.

Later in the day Jenny and I had a stroll around Hemer Park. 3 trumpeter swans were on the marshy pool as were 12 gadwall, 4 hooded mergansers and I had an all-too brief view of a swimming mammal I took to be a beaver... seemed way too big for muskrat, though I am happy to be corrected. The usual kinglets, chickadees, nuthatches etc accompanied us around the trails.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Tale of Three Warblers

As the typically British autumn weather continues, so does my frustration! It seems to have rained non-stop for ages and I just haven't had the enthusiasm to drag myself around the estuary in the continual drizzle.
Until today, that is. Simply fed up with trying to find something interesting out on the sea from the condo (how quickly one gets tired of looking at the divers, grebes, harlequins and buffleheads that are a constant presence!) I decided on a soggy trek to my new patch.
Despite the pretty foul weather, a dog-walker and two hunters were enjoying the delights of the Nanaimo River estuary when I got there. I chose to try and relocate the warblers as my primary reason for being there and spent a good half hour scouring bushes and pishing in the wind.
Eventually my optimism paid off and I heard the distinctive call of a yellow-rumped warbler. Raising my bins I found the culprit in the nearby hawthorn - the 1stw bird, then to my surprise the very bright, well-marked bird with the extensive yellow throat appeared too. That solves my conundrum about that mystery warbler! I need to look into this, is it an adult in winter plumage? Or a very, very bright juv? I wish my books had arrived from the UK... apparently all our stuff's delayed in transit and might not even be here in time for Christmas. Great. Oh well, there's always Google images...
Anyway, then came another call and the palm warbler popped up giving superb views down to a few feet. Nice.
Given the conditions I think it's unlikely that'll be going anywhere too soon. I'd expect a south-bound migrant in need of re-orienting itself would need to wait until a relatively clear, calm night before traveling too far.

Bird-wise it was otherwise a total wash-out, although I was delighted to watch a group of 4 river otters haul themselves out of one the small pools just near the viewpoint, and join another 4 on the bank where all 8 proceeded to roll around together. Now, you don't see that in Britain very often...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Twitching with anticipation

Well, today I witnessed my first Canadian twitch.
When I arrived at the estuary around 11.00 or so (late I know, but it is Sunday after all) there were at least 6 cars in the parking area! And about 8 people all in search of the palm warbler. That's by the far the highest number of birders I've seen in one location (excepting the organised birdwalks of course) since I moved here. Mind you, it seems that photographers outnumber birders per se out here as there were just as many cameras as there were binoculars...

I met and had a chat with Mike Ashbee who, along with another birder Rich Mooney, had seen the warbler earlier but it had since disappeared and had not been relocated for quite some time.
As the crowd thinned out I continued to check the hedgerows and likely vegetated areas but to no avail.
I took a bit of time to scan through the wildfowl out on the marsh and found 2 drake Eurasian wigeon amongst the Americans plus 3 gadwall in with the pintail.
Up to 3 short-eared owls were on the hunt, and attracting plenty of unwanted attention from the large number of northwestern crows here today. Over 70 of these raucous corvids were in the area - my only conclusion being that maybe the nearby rubbish dump is closed on Sundays and they're seeking foraging opportunities elsewhere?
A northern harrier made frequent appearances as did 2 northern shrikes.
5 western meadowlark were present, again including a singing bird.

It was great seeing a few people out there today and a real pleasure meeting some of the dedicated local birders whose names I have seen on the forums but had yet to bump into.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Palm d'or

An update following yesterday's warbler conundrum.

I had very brief views of a couple of warblers moving along the hedgerow at the Nanaimo estuary, the first one I thought at the time 'might' be a palm warbler but I didn't get all that much on it and when I checked Sibley I noticed that it was well out of its range. I was utterly baffled.
The second bird seemed equally confusing, resembling a yellow-rumped warbler in many ways but with a bright yellow throat. I also thought it had yellow undertail coverts?

Anyway, I contacted Guy Monty (a very knowledgeable local birder) who thought I could be right about the palm warbler and came down this morning with his wife Donna, where we relocated the bird and indeed it was a palm warbler.
Those in the UK reading this, check out your American field guide distribution maps and you'll see why I was initially cautious... I suppose it's a bit like finding a yellow-browed warbler back home. Rare but not mega.

Today it was with a yellow-rumped warbler, which was probably the same bird it was with yesterday but God knows why I didn't ID it at the time as I've seen lots of them, and indeed one about half an hour earlier! Could have sworn it had a bright yellow throat yesterday (as opposed to the slightly buffy throat this bird has)... was it a different bird or was I hallucinating? I think I'll go for the latter...

Thanks to Guy for the pic of the palm warbler.

Other birds seen while warbler hunting included a northern harrier, northern shrike and later, 1 short-eared owl. There were quite a few trumpeter swans passing over during the morning including a flock of 13.

Back at the condo, a Cooper's hawk was upsetting the robins in the parking area.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Cut across shortie

Wow - a pretty dry day with just a few light showers! Can't remember the last time we had one of those...

Taking full advantage of this climatic rarity, I headed off to the Nanaimo estuary this morning.
The river was running high and the tide was up so once again the marshes were mostly underwater. Scanning through the assembled pintail, mallard and American wigeon I soon came across a drake Eurasian wigeon and a pair of gadwall.
A female northern harrier was hunting over the reduced saltmarsh while bald eagles and great blue herons were scattered around the area.
The flock of mostly female/juv type red-winged blackbirds numbered 73 birds.
Once again a Lincoln's sparrow was amongst a group of house finches, song sparrows and juncos near the viewing platform. A 1stw yellow-rumped warbler appeared in the riverside vegetation.
The usual number of trumpeter swans were feeding out on the marsh - later a pair flew over heading south east.
The first short-eared owl of the day appeared, soon attracting the attention of the local corvids. By the time I left I'd seen a minimum of 3 owls, though I suspect there may have been 4, and they put on quite a show. I was able to get these, not quite in Mike Yip's league, shots by holding my digi snapper up to my scope eyepiece.

The juv harrier made an appearance too as did, eventually, the male.
Only 1 northern shrike showed.
All-too-brief views of a couple of unidentified warblers in the hawthorn hedgerow left me frustrated and confused - a concerted effort to relocate them was unsuccesful. The options in late November must be surely limited? Perhaps I was hallucinating...
Having done little to satisfy my curiosity by consulting Sibley I decided I'd go and see if anything was happening over at Holden Creek.

The 2 cackling geese were still in the wet fields alongside a group of their commoner cousins.
The male northern harrier was now hunting over here and was busy upsetting the green-winged teal in the creek. The 1stw northern shrike flew by but other than a red-tailed hawk and a belted kingfisher it was pretty quiet.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ten feet high and rising...

Having dropped Jenny off in central Nanaimo this morning, I decided to head north and see what Parksville could offer before the rain set in.
I tried the Plummer Road area, for the first time, but the tide was rather too high for there to be many birds of note around the Englishman River estuary. The most noteworthy birds I saw included a northern shrike, 2 red-tailed hawks and a very smart little marsh wren.
Offshore, however, there was lots going on. Pretty much the same species as seen off Yellow Point, but in differing numbers. Red-necked grebe in particular seem numerous here and a group of greater scaup were good to see plus a single long-tailed duck whizzed through. A group of 4 brant geese flew south.
A couple of black oystercatcher flew by while 4 black turnstone and a dunlin were feeding on the beach.
A single western gull was loafing around on the surf while the usual other gull species searched the water's edge for tasty scraps.

After an hour of trying to seawatch in the rain I headed back toward Nanaimo and finding myself with an hour to spare thought I'd see how water levels at Buttertubs were getting on. Well, they were doing very well indeed and access was severely limited to a stretch of path at the Buttertubs Drive end of about 10 metres in length!
Seeing absolutely zero on the water, I went round to the Jingle Pot parking area and snuck in through the taped-off entrance. There was slightly more unflooded path here but for obvious reasons the parks guys had decided to close it to the public. Despite the amazingly high water I still couldn't locate any forced out rails... just 1 hooded merg, a pied-billed grebe and a coot were on the water. At least 8 varied thrush were feeding in the leaf litter at the flood edges.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Flood on the tracks

Made a fairly pointless visit to Buttertubs Marsh today. Even though it was in advance of the major afternoon downpour, there had been so much water deposited since I was last there on Sunday that a full circular walk was rendered impossible without wellies.
And I didn't have my wellies with me. (For those Canadians who may be unfamiliar with the term 'wellies' it refers to Wellington Boots, ie rubber boots.)
Minor pathway flooding was encountered at the western and northern end but the south and east tracks were well under water and too deep for my walking boots.
Not that it probably mattered too much as the place was pretty much bereft of birdlife.
The wildfowl count for the entire area comprised 2 drake hooded mergansers and a single first winter American coot. Full stop.
What is it that ducks don't like about high water levels? Have they sought new, richer feeding grounds in flooded fields? Even the usual bread-fed mallards had gone!
The few passerines that bothered braving the weather included a small party of purple finch and good numbers of varied thrush. A couple of red-winged blackbird were in the reeds and a virginia rail squeeled from deep within the vegetation.
At least at Leighton Moss high water levels often push rails and bitterns into the open...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Larking around

After a couple of days of torrential rain and gusty winds (with several flood warnings on the island) I was hoping for a few storm-blown seabirds, but there was little new offshore from the condo... south westerlies don't seem to have much effect here. Other than causing power cuts, that is.

A single Western grebe was this morning's highlight with the appearance of a common murre a close second, meanwhile a drake common goldeneye was 'new in' and a pied-billed grebe was fishing close by.

An early visit to the estuary gave me the place to myself - partly due, one presumes, to the flooded road.
A female northern harrier was busy hunting over the waterlogged marsh and bald eagles were sat around all over the place.
Scanning the American wigeon from the viewing platform, I picked out just one Eurasian bird. Plenty of pintail were also present as was a pair of gadwall.
Trumpeter swans remain in low double figures with just 11 seen.
An adult northern shrike was in the hawthorns.
I was delighted to find a Lincoln's sparrow associating with a feeding flock of house finches, juncos and golden-crowned & song sparrows, plus a juv white-crowned sparrow close to the viewing platform.
Up to50 red-winged blackbird were feeding out on the marsh.
I inadvertently flushed a male short-eared owl as I headed toward the long hedgerow, where I noticed a flicker showing features of both yellow and red-shafted forms.
I then heard the lovely fluting song of what I assumed must be a western meadowlark and soon found the bird, one of at least 5 present. Two were in song, sat in the hawthorns while others fed in the long grass alongside a group of starling.
A first-winter yellow-rumped warbler appeared and showed well in the bare branches of a nearby small tree.

Taking advantage of the clear morning I thought I'd go round to Holden Creek to see what was going on over there.
Not much, as it turned out.
A few crossbills were zipping around overhead and the 1stw northern shrike made its customary appearance.
The 2 cackling geese were still in the field, now joined by a few common Canadas and 5 mallard.
As usual the most numerous duck here was green-winged teal but they were very distant.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Barred owl brightens grey day

Joined the Sunday Birdwalk group this morning for a wander round Buttertubs Marsh. It was pretty cool and grotty early on but at least the rain eased off a touch as the morning wore on.
The areas of open water were pretty quiet with nothing like the numbers of birds present as on my previous visits.
Mallard and wood duck were the most numerous species (c50 of the latter) while just 3 American wigeon, 2 gadwall, 4 hooded merganser, 3 pied-billed grebe, 2 American coot and 4 Canada geese were also seen.
Along the pathways, common passerines were encountered including chickadees, kinglets, towhees, juncos, song sparrows, house finches and a varied thrush.
By the path near the Jingle Pot Road parking area a splendid, if damp, barred owl was sat out in the open and gave us brilliant views. Guess who'd forgotten his camera?
A single Wilson's snipe gave us a flyover.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Pileated pleasure

A cacophony outside the condo this morning drew my attention to the noisy arrival of a pair of pileated woodpecker who had flown in and started feeding on berries in the arbutus trees. I grabbed my happy snapper and took a couple of shots of this fine male with it held in front of my 'scope.

Late morning I headed down to Holden Creek where it was, again, pretty quiet.
Most welcome was the sight of a couple of cackling Canada geese that were grazing in the field. One of the birds had a very bold white neck-ring.
Up to 6 dowitcher were just about visible amongst a group of roosting teal at the far end of the creek.
I headed round to the end of Raines Rd, passing 11 trumpeter swans on the river.
A juvenile northern harrier was hunting over the saltmarsh but despite a considerable trundle around there were no short-eared owls on view.
A couple more trumpeter swans were out on the water.
A strikingly bright male purple finch amongst the more numerous female-types in the hawthorns added a much welcome splash of colour to the otherwise dull, grey day.
Two adult northern shrikes were seen, implying 3 present in the area altogether.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Learned hummer

Another day without any time for birding proper, but I did notice a large southerly movement of Bonaparte's gulls through Stuart Channel this morning, numbering over 1000 birds in a very short time period. Amazing.

Otherwise, the usual stuff offshore included numerous common loons, a few Pacific loons, several horned grebes (right), 1 pied-billed grebe (left), surf and white-winged scoters, American wigeon, harlequin ducks, buffleheads, Barrow's goldeneyes (new in), double-crested cormorants, pigeon guillemot etc.

Later at the University campus we came across an Anna's hummingbird, which was in the small trees by the car park at Nanaimo Art Gallery.

Made a quick stop at the end of Raines Road, on our way home, where we saw a short-eared owl and juv northern harrier hunting over the marsh. At least 11 trumpeter swans were on out on the water while a further party of 5 adults with 3 juvs were on the river.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Festival of owls

Added brant to my 'seen-from-the-house' list this morning as 4 headed south offshore.
Also managed to snap a typically poor shot of a superb varied thrush from the living room window. Definitely still my favourite Canadian bird.

An afternoon visit to the Nanaimo River estuary was quite rewarding with 2 short-eared owls showing well in the fields just by the parking area at the end of Raines Road. Later another turned up and all 3 were seen hunting over the marsh - very nice. The pair (male & female) seemed very much a pair, often hunting close together, while the other (female) only showed relatively briefly and kept her distance.
2 northern harriers were also doing the rounds, one a juvenile the other (pictured) appeared to be a sub-adult female but I'm happy to be corrected!
An adult northern shrike was doing its usual thing.
A couple of Eurasian wigeon were amongst the many American wigeon out on the sea, where the ever increasing bufflehead raft also contained a pair of common goldeneye. The large flock of Barrow's goldenenye were, incidentally, still on the river.
7 trumpeter swans were on the water and a group of 11 flew over heading south-east.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Straight to the Point

Managed a quick scan from the house this morning before heading off into Nanaimo to (finally) buy a car - having test driven every piece of junk and otherwise from Duncan to Parksville (something of an exaggeration there, but that's what it's felt like).
Two rhinoceros auklet (1 distant, 1 close) plus a pair of marbled murrelet were the highlights. A handful of pigeon guillemot and 4 common murre (guillemot) could also be seen along with the usual common (great-northern) and Pacific loons (divers), horned (Slavonian) grebes, harlequin ducks, buffleheads etc. The large raft of surf scoter seem to have moved on leaving just a couple of birds, plus a drake white-winged (velvet) scoter.
2 otters were showing well around the jetty.

Later in the afternoon I took the lovely new motor for a spin to Jack Point, a place I'd not yet visited.
From the pathway I could see up to 8 trumpeter swans over at the Nanaimo River estuary and hear an awful lot of shooting.
It's a public holiday here in Canada in honour of Remembrance Day. I hope I wasn't the only one who could see the irony in commemorating an anniversary of war dead by going out and killing things with guns...
The walk to the point was pretty quiet, just a notable flock of around 60 juncos - with a few hangers on (kinglets, wrens, chickadees) - and 50ish robins to sift through.
Off the point there was a single Brandt's cormorant, plus the commoner double-crested and pelagic cormorants, 4 marbled murrelets, good numbers of red-breasted merganser and other expected species.

Despite the rain I decided to pay a quick visit to Holden Creek, but all was quiet. The juv northern shrike put in an appearance, I heard but didn't see a snipe and the distant wildfowl was just not playing ball. An otter came by again and 2 trumpeter swans flew over.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Raptor raptures

Arrived at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning to see a short-eared owl flying high over the marsh. It continued to patrol the area for a while before disappearing into a clump of dense vegetation.
A hunter had arrived just minutes ahead of me and was busy putting out his decoys as the very high tide continued to rise.
Soon the sub-adult male northern harrier came into view and shortly after one of the juveniles put in an appearance.
A scan over the marsh found a male merlin sat on a large pice of driftwood - incredibly dark and different in appearance to European birds, it soon came nearer and sat in hawthorns allowing for further scrutiny of its plumage.
Four trumpeter swans were out near the estuary mouth while the distant ducks turned out to be the usual American wigeon, pintail, bufflehead, mallard and common merganser.
14 bald eagles of various ages were sat around and an adult northern shrike showed well as it hunted from the tops of the shrubbery.

After an hour or so I thought I'd have a look at Holden Creek and of course, this area too was under lots of water. A very high tide no doubt assisted by the swell in the rivers and streams as a result of the recent rain.
Most of the wildfowl was distant here too, keeping to the vegetated edges though at least one Eurasian wigeon was amongst the large numbers of the commoner American counterparts. A grilling of the green-winged teal failed, despite my optimism, to locate anything resembling a European teal.
A single trumpeter swan was grazing in an adjacent field.
The sub-adult male harrier drifted into view once again and soon a red-tailed hawk flew into a small hawthorn stood isolated in the floodwater. Continuing the raptor-themed morning a peregrine passed over, attracting the attention of a local raven which pursued the falcon off toward Cedar.
The first-winter northern shrike appeared and then I noticed a huddled group of 9 dowitchers on the bank of the creek.
A northern river otter came by.

Back at home at Yellow Point,a flock of around 250 American robins were feeding around the grounds (mainly in the berry-filled arbutus trees) - following a virtual absence over the past couple weeks when just ones and twos have been present.
Am I to assume that the large numbers here in October were southern-bound migrants preparing to go while these birds are the 'next-wave', newly arrived from further north? Are they too due to continue south or will they winter in the area?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Awkward aythyas

Pretty much a birding-free weekend, Saturday was spent having a grand day out on Saltspring Island while on Sunday Jenny and I took a walk around Hemer Park.
Not too much here, the pool was the quietest I've seen it. That said, the 50+ gadwall were still in attendance and a handful of hooded merganser, 2 American wigeon and the odd mallard were seen.
The woodland was very quiet with only the occasional red-breasted nuthatch, chestnut-backed chickadee and kinglet heard as we went along the trails.
At Holden Lake a couple of red-breasted merganser were amongst a wildfowl flock made up mainly of common merganser (goosander) and Barrow's goldeneye, with a few wigeon and coot thrown in for good measure.
A group of 7 scaup were here too, though I couldn't be sure which species they were - they looked good for lesser, while one lone female was almost certainly a greater... I think i'll leave them as scaup sp.!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Having a gander

A combination of rotten weather and a few chores meant a day without any birding plans. Ironic then that it should be the one day that I see a new species! At last a tick (and a rather appropriate one too)!

I found myself with an hour or so to spare while in downtown Nanaimo so I header for a quick stroll around Buttertubs Marsh. Fortunately I had my spare pair of binocs with me and while crappy they may be, they're better than nothing. And I was going to be very grateful, if also frustrated, to have them to hand.

I arrived at Buttertubs in an amazing spell of blue skies and sunshine. A downy woodpecker was with a bushtit/chickadee/kinglet flock near the parking lot.
The lack of wildfowl was something of a surprise, very few wigeon and gadwall and only a handful of coot. A few hooded mergansers were present as were a small number of wood duck.

Then it really started pouring down - I was totally unprepared and attempted to take shelter under some trees while I scanned the distant Canada geese on the water through a grey wall of water.

The I noticed 4 TINY Canada geese - hooray! Cackling Canada geese! They were barely the size of the nearby mallards and looked ridiculous alongside their more numerous larger cousins. Not too sure which race they were given the shocking viewing conditions but they didn't appear to be especially dark breasted, though the white chin straps did appear small. A 'scope (or even decent bins!) and a good few minutes would doubtless confirm their subspecific identity.
Of note there was also a pair of Canadas that appeared intermediate in size - do 'lessers' occur in this area on passage?
Also amongst the goosey throng were 3 grey geese which I assumed were white-fronted. Once it finally ceased raining I tried to get a better look at the birds and indeed they were white-fronts.

Then it started to rain again and I got fed up and headed back to the car.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

One that got away... and one that didn't

Had a rather disappointing owl encounter yesterday evening when a large grey owl flew across the road just on the upper edge on the headlight beam, had to be either barred or great-horned. The reason it's disappointing is that I've never seen the latter species and yesterday's view was way too poor to be able to string it! Maybe I should hang out there with a torch of an evening...

This morning the rain and wind were enough to keep me indoors for longer than usual. On the plus side, a red-necked grebe was on the sea, I've not seen many from here. Oh, and I forgot (again) my first long-tailed duck from the house was with the scoters yesterday.

When I did finally drag myself out to Holden Creek at midday I was met with a strikingly blank vista.
So, despite the return of some hefty rain I elected to go to the estuary at the appropriately named Raines Road. On the river by the road I noticed some immaculate Barrow's goldeneyes and a quick count revealed approximately 200 birds - probably small beer for local birders for we Brits this duck has almost mythical status.
A fair bit of shooting was going on out on the marsh (the sight of a winged wigeon flapping around in a panic while the hunter simply looked on was somewhat unpleasant - why go shooting without a dog to retrieve the stuff you bring down?)
4 trumpeter swans were out on the estuary and a northern shrike was braving the elements but it was pretty quiet otherwise.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Out for a duck

Just 9 dowitchers visible this morning at Holden Creek though three very helpful 3 birds flew around calling, confirming their ID - long-billed. As pictured in the terrible photo below...

Several hundred American wigeon and green-winged teal were on the flooded saltmarsh. Scanning through them with bins I managed to pick out a Eurasian wigeon but a low flying bald eagle scattered the wildfowl sending them out the coast, where they stayed. Fewer than a hundred birds returned and there was nothing notable amongst them.
A pair of hooded merganser and a bufflehead were in the main creek.
A pileated woodpecker flew over and the usual flickers. house finches, juncos etc were present as was a single 1st winter white-crowned sparrow.

Paid a visit to Hemer Park to see what was lurking on the pool there.
A couple of brown creeper were showing brilliantly along the path while varied thrush, red-breasted nuthcatches and chestnut-backed chickadees kept me company along the trails.
On the pond there were at least 52 gadwall, 8 ring-necked duck, a few American wigeon and mallard plus good numbers of hooded and common mergansers. A single American coot and 3 pied-billed grebe were seen.

Back at the condo, a flock of c50 pine siskin were flying around over the conifers while offshore 8 white-winged scoter had joined the many surf scoters. New in were a group of Barrow's goldeneye and a few more bufflehead.

Oh, forgot to mention - a single Rhinoceros auklet was on the sea here yesterday.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Shortie but sweet

5 trumpeter swans were in fields adjacent to Quennell Lake in Cedar this morning.

A mixed flock of red crossbill and pine siskin were showing very well by the condo while a raft of approximately 130 Pacific loons were offshore here.

Paid a quick visit to Holden Creek mid-morning where the highlights included a 1st winter northern shrike, 5 killdeer and 12 dowitchers.
I am assuming that these birds are long-billed as the only call I have heard certainly belonged to that species, although I haven't heard anything from this particular group recently - am I correct to assume that long-billed is also more likely this far north so late in the autumn?

I spent quite a bit longer at the Nanaimo River estuary area at Raines Road where an adult northern shrike was busy doing the rounds. Two juvenile northern harriers showed up and gave excellent views in the bright sunshine.
A short-eared owl emerged from wherever it had been roosting and also showed well - it was mobbed intermittently by both ravens and gulls.
A group of 20+ dunlin flew by in the distance with a couple of black-bellied plovers in tow.
Other regular stuff included belted kingfisher, common merganser, American wigeon, pintail, bald eagle etc.

Monday, 2 November 2009

No 'owls of joy

Had a weekend over on the mainland (no birding, but I did notice a flock of snow geese in a field north of Tsawwassen and again a small skein over Vancouver airport.)

So, Monday morning I was straining at the leash and legged it down to Holden Creek as soon as I got the chance. Despite my enthusiasm, the birds were a bit lacking..!
16 long-billed dowitcher were feeding in a muddy pool on the saltmarsh alongside around 50 green-winged teal. And other than the usual house finches, starlings, juncos, ravens, bald eagles etc there wasn't much doing.
A good trawl around the estuary from the Raines Rd end was really hard work - lots of seeking and very little finding.
Highlights included the eventual arrival of a juvenile northern harrier and a northern shrike. A red-tailed hawk passed lazily over.
The few passerines seen included a mixed finch flock in the hawthorns which comprised of juncos, golden-crowned and song sparrows plus a single 1st winter white-crowned sparrow and a couple of Bewick's wrens.
On the river, small numbers of mew and California gulls were amongst the numerous glaucous-winged and Thayer's gulls.
14 common merganser were on the river while a large raft of bufflehead was offshore with good numbers of pintail, American wigeon and mallard also present.
16 bald eagle were sat around and for the second time at this site, I saw an adult bird carrying a large branch...
Despite 3 having been reported on Saturday I didn't see a single short-eared owl! Were they on passage or was I just unlucky today?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Catch the wigeon

The day started bright, calm and mild so a dash off to Holden Creek was on the cards as soon as I dropped Jenny off.

The main channel was almost birdless upon arrival though the marsh area immediately by it was teeming with American wigeon and green-winged teal.
Despite being a rather duckless creek, it certainly wasn't a total loss - a pair of Wilson's snipe were feeding on the muddy edge and a single long-billed dowitcher flew in and started to feed alongside them.
6 killdeer, and a handful of pintail and mallard were also present.

Scoping through the hundreds of American wigeon on the marsh I soon found a drake Eurasian wigeon and before long, another.
Then I picked up a bird which looked exactly like the one I saw at Buttertubs recently.
This wigeon had a dark chestnut head with no discernible crown stripe, though a dark greenish area around the eye and blotchy pink and grey flanks. Presumably a hybrid of some sort, though I'd have thought if it was a straightforward American/Eurasian wigeon cross it would have some pale area on the forehead and crown?

Taking advantage of the good morning I went round to the estuary to see what I could find over there.
From the viewing platform I could see small flocks of dunlin and black turnstone with occasional black-bellied plovers out on the estuary.
There was no sign of any harriers though a red-tailed hawk was sat on the hawthorns and a sharp-shinned hawk came through scattering panicking house finches and flickers. It also landed in the hawthorns and gave great views.
A northern shrike showed well sitting up on top of the hedgerow and, rather incongruously, a downy woodpecker was sat in a small shrub.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Good weather for otters

Wet, with terrible visibility, and windy for most of today and birding opportunities were non-existent with the exception of staring at the drizzly sea from the condo.
Even still, a group of Pacific loons were just about visible while the usual cormorants and common loons were present, if in somewhat lower numbers. In fact much of the regular stuff, horned grebes, surf scoters etc were notable by their absence. Presumably they seek more sheltered waters nearby?
Added fox sparrow to the 'house-list' - one joined the regular song sparrows, juncos and towhees and we had a visit from a fine male varied thrush.
A couple of crossbills were zipping around overhead and a bedraggled red-tailed hawk came in-off the sea.
A small flock of small waders was seen distantly offshore - couldn't get much on them but they had the look of dunlin about them.
Mid afternoon I noticed a pair of Northern river otters just outside the window, they emerged from the water and proceeded to roll around together on the grass. I nipped back for my camera just in time to catch them before they left (or quite possibly before I disturbed them...). Watch the video here! (Look out Simon King...)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Swan fine day...

Paid an early visit to Holden Creek this morning where there were still at least 15 long-billed dowitcher feeding in the main channel. 5 killdeer were in the area.
Also 250ish green-winged teal plus a handful of wigeon and a couple of pintail there. Otherwise it was pretty quiet.

Made my way round to the Nanaimo River estuary (Raines Rd) around 10am where the trumpeter swan-in-residence was again on the river. Soon another single trumpeter came over heading west and that was followed a couple of minutes later by a flock of 9 headed, more logically, south-east.
Not much going here this morning either, a single juv harrier was posing well in the occasional bursts of sunlight but I couldn't locate any shrikes or meadowlarks today. With it being low-tide, all the wildfowl were way out. Added to that was the disturbance by the odd hunter out on the marsh and the glut of fisherman on the river...

Around midday, a quick count from the condo revealed 98 Pacific loon plus the usual common loons, horned grebes, double-crested cormorants etc. Then a single Bonaparte's gull flew by - the first one I've seen from the house.


Following an unsuccessful attempt to buy a used car, I headed to Buttertubs Marsh in an effort to salvage some of the afternoon...
That wasn't overly fruitful either. Pretty much the same stuff as was there a couple of days ago except with fewer coot and wigeon. A party of American goldfinch were a pleasant distraction, despite being in non-breeding plumage.
A merlin whipped through and a group of 5 grey geese passed high over - could only be white-fronted I suppose. Meanwhile a flock of c.120 Canada geese dropped in.
Otherwise it was business as usual.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Morning glory

While not quite in the same league as yesterday's stunning sunrise, I looked out the bedroom window this morning and saw 3 black oystercatchers wandering around on the rocks by the jetty. I couldn't resist the chance to take a crap photo of them and hastily ran off for my scope, stuck my trusty snapper up to the eyepiece and bingo! Mind you, it was a bit cold stood on that balcony in just my pyjamas...

Late in the morning (fully dressed by now) I had an hour or so at Buttertubs Marsh while Jenny was downtown seeing to some work stuff.
Wasn't too birdy though I did note the the following:
Cooper's hawk, a juvenile bird made two slow passes over the sanctuary and certainly kept the wigeon on alert.
2 female pintail were amongst a group of mallard - the first I've seen at this site.
No sign of the 'Eurasian-style' wigeon among its American congeners, despite a thorough grilling. Shame, as I wanted to get a better look at it in good light.
Again, plenty of coot and gadwall around plus the 3 ringed-necked duck but only 2 green-winged teal. Up to 3 pied-billed grebe seen.
Amongst the more notable passerines were at least 6 yellow-rumped warbler and 3 cedar waxwing with a feeding flock of bushtit around the car park. Also present were a couple of ruby-crowned kinglet, a Bewick's wren and chestnut-backed chickadees.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Mud, mud, glorious mud...

Before joining the Sunday morning Bird Walk (who were conveniently meeting at the Nanaimo River estuary) I spent an hour at first light at Holden Creek. Incidentally, the sunrise this morning was absolutely spectacular. See attached pic - and I swear it is totally untouched, that's what it looked like when I got up...

With the tide being low (see the pic in the sidebar for when it's up) at Holden Creek, I was treated to the rare sight of some muddy channels and indeed to some probing bills!
A group of 16 long-billed dowitcher were busy feeding along the water's edge. A couple of great-blue herons were also present and green-winged teal and a few wigeon dabbled nearby.
After a short while another small group of dowitcher's dropped in and brought the total up to 22 birds. Nice.
Meanwhile, a few crossbills were noisily flitting around overhead while a party of bushtit, with lone ruby-crowned kinglet in tow, bounced from shrub to shrub behind me.
A fox sparrow made an appearance and the usual flickers, juncos etc were much in evidence, as always.

Driving down to the estuary parking area I noticed 6 drake Barrow's goldeneye on the river plus the usual Thayer's and Glaucous-winged gulls.
As the bird-walkers assembled 3 western meadowlark flew up and away toward the viewing platform. We later had great views of birds perched up and showing brilliantly. A mixed group of house and purple finches were in the hawthorns soon after leaving the parking area.
A northern grey shrike was soon located and as the morning wore on we were delighted to discover a second, with both birds visible at one point.
One of the shrikes in particular was a feisty individual and was seen in aerial pursuit of a small bird and again seeing off a northern flicker.
Just one juvenile northern harrier was spotted, it gave great views in flight and also sat on a post.
Bald eagles and ravens frequently passed by.
Wildfowl numbers were down (hmmm, maybe due to the hunters out on the marsh?) although still in evidence - American wigeon, pintail, mallard and common merganser were all seen.
A belted kingfisher was by the river and the lone trumpeter swan was just downstream as usual.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ready, willing and Cable

Hooray, the sun returns!
A pretty lovely, if cool, day and Jenny has discovered a new trail she wants us to have a go at. The Cable Bay Trail, as it turns out is a cracker - just a short drive down the road and a good, relatively quiet (if you get there early) woodland walk that leads to the coast. Once there, one can carry on to Joan Point and the Dodd Narrows, which we happily did. And had it mostly to ourselves, bar the odd American red squirrel or 'chickaree' as it is also known. Not to be confused with chickadee, of course...
Before we set a, off quick scan from the the window revealed a flock of approximately 140 Pacific loons (they seem to appear here only after a day or two of wet, windy weather), 4 western grebes, 2 white-winged scoter, 4 bufflehead, 12 red-breasted mergansers plus the usual common loons, cormorants, pigeon guillemots etc.
A pileated woodpecker was in the parking area - as the attendant snap shows!

Not much bird-wise noted on the Cable Bay Trail, the usual kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, winter wrens and other common woodland species were seen and heard. A red-breasted sapsucker and another pileated 'pecker shone in the sunlight.
By the water we had great views of Steller's sealion , always exciting for us Europeans! Good numbers of harbour seal too.
On the way home a red-tailed hawk drifted over the road.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Penelope pit-stop

Despite the wet weather I braved a walk around Buttertubs today, which wasn't without its rewards.
Having spent the past God-knows-how-long searching through flocks of Eurasian wigeon for their American counterparts on muddy estuaries in northern Britain, the tables have now turned and chestnut heads and grey flanks are the target...
Following up (yet again) on the report of a penelope at Buttertubs that I received from a visiting Ontario birder I met at Nanaimo River estuary a couple of weeks ago I scanned the yankie wigeon flocks and at last spotted something gingery amongst the masses. However, once I got my scope onto it I heard alarm bells.
This particular drake is a very odd looking bird indeed and I suspect it's a hybrid. I'm not entirely convinced that it's a simple 2 wigeon job either as it lacks any clear crown stripe, though the flanks are both grey and blotched pink. Whatever, it certainly doesn't appear to be a straightforward Eurasian wigeon anyway. I'll have to do better than that!

Still around 20 American coot and similar number of gadwall on the pools plus 30+ wood duck, 3 ring-necked duck (1m, 2f), a few green-winged teal and good numbers of mallard.

The female northern harrier was making a commotion on the reed edges as she pulled apart some hapless bird that I'd just missed her kill - couldn't quite make out the victim, although it was formidable, possibly a teal.
A male merlin shot through.

Also present around the place were a couple of yellow-rumped warbler, a fox sparrow, plenty of red-winged blackbirds, flickers, robins etc.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Wildfowl wonderland

Having dropped Jenny off in Chemainus this morning, I headed up to Holden Creek at the Nanamio River estuary for a quick visit.
Not too much doing, the usual mass of green-winged teal and wigeon were present plus a few mallard and pintail.
The immature male northern harrier was again seen hunting over the saltmarsh.
Steady groups of Brewer's blackbird passed over and a belted kingfisher was belting around.
An adult bald eagle was carrying a large branch - do they maintain established nests even at this time of year?

Back at home a sharp-shinned hawk landed on the jetty, much to the annoyance of one of the local kingfishers.
Offshore a single drake black scoter and a female white-winged scoter were amongst the raft of 238 surf scoter. 8 horned grebe, 4 pigeon guillemot and the usual multiple common loons and cormorants were also present.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Newty beauty

After a bit of essential bureaucracy today, Jenny and I had a wander around wonderful Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, late afternoon.
The first thing we came across was the little fella in the accompanying pic - turns out it's taricha granulosa, or roughskinned newt. Cute huh?

Avian excitement was soon provided by a yellow-rumped warbler flitting around the trackside vegetation while a scan over the nearby water revealed reasonable numbers of American wigeon - though far fewer than on my last visit.
Amongst the wigeon were numerous mallard, 20+ gadwall, a handful of wood duck, small numbers of green-winged teal, a few Canada geese, 20+ American coot and a pair of ring-necked duck. 2 pied-billed grebe were seen.
A Wilson's snipe made a fly-by but carried on over the marsh.
A couple of great-blue herons were fishing the shallows and a northern harrier - appeared to be an adult female rather than a juv? (also pictured - badly!) - was sat on a branch over one of the pools.

Numbers of highly mobile red-winged blackbird were apparent and other common stuff included flickers, house finch, bushtit, golden-crowned kinglet, chestnut-backed chickadee, belted kingfisher etc.
An otter was freaking out small groups of wigeon as it went about its business.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Be-Holden Creek

Spent an hour and a bit down at Holden Creek (the area of the Nanaimo River estuary shown to me by Mike Yip yesterday) early this morning. Of course, the tidal water levels were too high to be of any use for what few feeding waders might be around but it was still an excellent spot for some pre-breakfast birding.
Once again there were loads of ducks, though this time the many American wigeon were outnumbered by several hundred green-winged teal. Also present were plenty of pintail and mallard.
A single drake bufflehead came through but decided to keep going.
The sub-adult male and a juvenile northern harrier were quartering the marshes while the ubiquitous belted kingfishers were noisily rattling around the place. I managed a quick snap of one through my scope - hardly competes with Mike's superb pics but then we're using somewhat different equipment and I'm not as talented!
Small groups (or the same mobile flocks) of red crossbill were notable, while other common passerines included golden-crowned sparrow, juncos, house finch and song sparrow.
Bald eagles, ravens and great-blue herons were much in evidence.

Jen and I went for a wander round Hemer Park in the afternoon and although there were far fewer wigeon (30 or so) on the marshy pool than on previous visits, the following were noted: an impressive 27 gadwall, 3 northern shoveler, 4 ring-necked duck, 6 American coot and 8 hooded merganser plus a couple of pied-billed grebe.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Happy Monday

Jen and I behaved like tourists today, visiting two well know beauty spots in north Nanaimo - Neck Point and Piper's Lagoon.
The day was clear, sunny and warm - when sheltered.

At Neck Point we walked around the small headland and I was delighted to spot a western grebe close offshore. This was the first one I'd seen in a number of years and I'd forgotten just how large they are, for a grebe. A couple of marbled murrelet flew by but otherwise it was pretty quiet on the sea.

Piper's Lagoon is a lovely place, we'd visited here in spring when we were over for a couple of weeks. Not much doing bird-wise here today though a single western meadowlark was of note. As usual, wherever there are trees there are chestnut-backed chickadees, juncos, flickers etc.

I popped out for and hour, or two, at 4pm and headed once more for the Nanaimo River estuary. Upon arrival I met a young fellow toting a rifle, with a brace of wildfowl hanging from his belt, coming away from the site. I had a little chat with him and inspected his bag (so to speak) - one each of pintail and American wigeon. That explained why the place was a bit quiet when I got to the viewing platform.
I went trampling around a bit trying to find something worthwhile to look at... highlights included:
2 juv northern harriers, 2 peregrines, 1 sharp-shinned hawk, numerous bald eagles, hundreds of American wigeon, many pintail plus green-winged teal and mallard present in lower numbers.
The northern shrike was keeping sentinel in its favourite row of hawthorns, a couple of savannah sparrows were flushed from the marsh and 3 common merganser (goosander) flew upstream.
As usual, the lone trumpeter swan remained in place on the river.

Returning to the car I met a photographer, who it turned out was Mike Yip - a local birder whose superb photographs and website Vancouver Island Birds I am very familiar with. We chatted for some time and he kindly showed me how to access another section of the estuary area not visible from where we were that tends to be favoured by waders. In fact, a stilt sandpiper, amongst other things, was reported from there yesterday... I know where I'll be going tomorrow! Check out Mike's website in the links section on the left.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Varied and Sunday

As mentioned in yesterday's blog, Jenny and I joined the Sunday Bird Walk and went to the Englishman River Estuary in Parksville. And it had stopped raining!!
The group saw/heard a total of 52 species, of which the highlights for me included:
Sharp-shinned Hawk (initially in an argument with a merlin then later chasing a Northern Flicker
Northern Shrike (juv).
Black turnstones and black-bellied (grey) plovers flying along the shoreline.
An adult peregrine came through, perching for a short while at the top of a dead tree.
Among the many American wigeon were smaller numbers of pintail, mallard, harlequin duck, bufflehead and green-winged Teal while offshore surf & white-winged (velvet) scoter, red-breasted & common merganser (goosander), common loon (great-northern diver) etc were seen.
Bonaparte's, mew (common), California, Thayer's and glaucous-winged gulls were all present.
Occasional passerines included yellow-rumped warbler, chestnut-backed chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned & ruby-crowned kinglets, Brewer's blackbird, golden-crowned & savannah sparrows, house finch and red crossbill.

It was good to meet up again with people who we joined for the Bird Walk back in April and the weather stayed mercifully pleasant. Thanks, as ever, to Colin and Neil and all involved.

Jenny and I paid a quick visit to Rathtrevor Beach on our way back, where we ate our butties and watched a flock of around 60 Bonaparte's gulls mucking about in the surf. Also here we saw a stunning group of around a dozen varied thrush (probably my favourite Canadian bird). Without being too indelicate, I could even see two though the ventilation slats whilst busy in the public 'washrooms'... What a country!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Varied and sundry

Added a couple of new birds to the 'as seen from the house' list this morning.
A fine pair of stunning varied thrush were feeding with a considerable number of American robins on the lawn right in front of the living room window - when the robins weren't chasing them off anyway...
Out on the water a couple of marbled murrelet, almost fully moulted into winter plumage, were bobbing around making their species debut as a house-tick.
In fact the horrible weather had driven a few more seabirds closer inshore, several pigeon guillemot were close by and in excess of 80 Pacific loons (divers) were feeding together in a channel alongside the usual common loons, pelagic and double-crested cormorants.

The drizzle unfortunately turned to deluge and an attempt to do some birding at Buttertubs Marsh was kicked swiftly into touch. A soggy merlin, several gadwall, half a dozen American coot and the large number of American wigeon was all that I could make out through the torrent, so I beat a hasty retreat back to Yellow Point. Not much chance of getting homesick with all this Lancastrian weather...

Disgruntled at my abortive efforts to do some birding I poked my scope out into the easing rain at 5pm and counted 182 surf scoter from the condo. An otter made an appearance once again and the usual supporting cast of horned (Slav) grebes, harlequin ducks, etc almost made amends.

The forecast for tomorrow is promising, let's hope so as I intend to join other local birdwatchers for their regular Sunday Morning Bird Walk - as organised by the good folk at The Backyard Wildbird & Nature Store (see the link on this page)

Friday, 16 October 2009

Raptor raptures

I managed a relatively quick visit to Nanaimo River estuary again today, once the persistent rain had finally ceased around midday.
I was joined by Jenny today who had not yet visited this great site. And while it was lovely to have her along, it goes some way to explaining why the visit was a brief one.

Anyhoo - as we drove along Raines Road the lone trumpeter swan was seen in the river and we arrived in the parking area to be greeted by the sight of the usual loafing gulls.
We headed for the viewing platform scattering towhees and robins as we went. A group of white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows - all 1st winter birds - were feeding in the bushes at the base of the steps. A couple of song sparrow were also amongst them.

Looking toward the estuary mouth up to ten bald eagles could be seen sat around waiting for... something, while great-blue herons punctuated the horizon. Within a few minutes a juvenile northern harrier came into view and showed well before vanishing over the marsh.

A female common merganser (or goosander in English) was on the river and a pristine drake Barrow's goldeneye dropped in to join it. Lovely.

Before long the harrier returned, joined this time by another juvenile bird. As we watched them hunting over the marsh the 1st year northern shrike made an appearance and sat obligingly in the top of an isolated bush.

A small group of female/juv red-winged blackbirds were joined by a party of house finches in a nearby hedgerow and a noisy northern flicker soon arrived to adda bit of colour.

A merlin was seen bombing over the marsh and a juvenile peregrine came in from the direction of Nanaimo, scattering the gulls before landing in a pine on the river's edge.

Groups of pintail were seed feeding distantly - with small numbers occasionally flighting over.

On the way back we noted our first racoon (well, first alive one anyway) since we arrived, as it ambled across the road in front of us.