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?