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!

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