Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Birding Year etc, etc.

Five greater white-fronted geese flew over me as I put some petrol, or gas if you prefer, in the car in Cedar this morning. I couldn't help thinking as I set off to work, that I"d much rather be going down to the icy estuary and optimistically scrutinising every bush, tree, frozen pool and clump off weedy grass for avian gems.
As it happens, I managed to leave work at 3pm, so thanks to the brilliantly bright weather, I was able to squeeze a good hours' birding in just before, and up to dusk.
Naturally, I found myself heading toward the Nanaimo River estuary.
The tide was well out, and so too were the more aquatically inclined birds. I could see good numbers of American wigeon, pintail and few other bits and pieces. Around 30 trumpeter swan were in the area.
A lovely male northern harrier was initially sat out on a small tree on the marsh, and spent much of the time I was there sailing closely by me and showing beautifully. A juv. female joined him for a short sortie, before heading off to the outer estuary marshes.
2 killdeer gave themselves away, calling noisily as they flew over the marsh. 
I came across a sizable finch flock in the hawthorns, made up of mainly dark-eyed juncos and golden-crowned sparrows. A handful each of song sparrows and spotted towhees were also in the long hedge, as were 2 fox sparrows.
A Cooper's hawk came over, heading determinedly toward Briggs Park area.
Just as I was leaving I spotted a newly emerged short-eared owl. It showed well for a short while before heading off to hunt beyond the fields. Another short-eared passed over, at height from the north of the river.
And with that, I can confidently say that short-eared owl was the last bird I saw in 2010. Not every year I can say that.

So, many best wishes to all for 2011 
- and next time I discover a major local rarity, let's hope that I'm aware of the gravity of the sighting at the time...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Ruddy ducks head the list

Back in Cedar after the excitement of the big city, I was itching to get down to the Nanaimo River estuary. I haven't been able to get down there for a couple of weeks, at least, and I was keen to see what was about. It was a bit later in the day, than I'd have liked (just before 1pm), but I thought that the dropping tide might prove interesting. 
As I arrived at the end of Raines Road it looked like Leighton Moss car park on a Sunday afternoon. And before I even got out of the car, I could see a short-eared owl hunting in the near field. Then I realised why the parking area was so full; sunny day = nice owl pictures.
I actually thought that Prince William and Kate whatserface must have been here to see the owls too, given the barrage of lenses on the marsh and field perimeter. I had a very quick scout along the river edge but, to be honest, I prefer the place when it's quieter people-wise, and I'm sure that with all those keen eyes out there, nothing interesting was going to go unfound for long.
Returning to the car, I noticed that there were at least 3 short-eareds hunting over the fields. Presumably the marsh was a bit too busy for their liking too.

So, off to Holden Creek I went, and soon found myself alone with the birds.
A scan through the ducks on the flooded marsh revealed at least 12 gadwall among the 230 or so green-winged teal. Despite my best efforts, no common teal were seen among them. There were no wigeon or pintail present and only 20+ mallard. A couple of bufflehead, common goldeneye and hooded mergansers were on the creek.
Out on the marsh I could see some trumpeter swans, I counted 30 as they were flushed by a small group of people with an inexplicably large gang of little dogs.
A couple of northern shrike were hunting various areas (1 pictured, badly as ever) and 2 juv northern harriers were also patrolling the rear of the marsh. A couple of red-tailed hawks were kicking about, as were the customary bald eagles and a merlin.
Other than a Bewick's wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, and a flyover purple finch, passerines were represented by the usual juncos, towhees, golden-crowned and song sparrows, etc.

I decided to make a quick detour and check out Quennell Lake on my way home. Very few swans were present, as now seems to be the norm.
Good numbers of ring-necked duck, lesser scaup and common merganser were on the lake, plus a pair of ruddy duck. Even though they were quite far out, I'm pretty sure that they were a male and female.
There were also 5 American coot present.
The American kestrel was hunting from the roadside wires.

 Eider known you were coming, I'd have baked a cake...

...and for those of you who aren't aware of the thread on BCVI Birds forum regarding yesterday's eider sighting. It turns out that common eider, while having been recorded off Vancouver Island in the past has yet to be recorded in the Victoria area.

Naturally, this troubles me. I really cannot begin to imagine what else it could have been! It looked like a female eider. I remember saying to Jenny, "Hey, female eider - that's the first I've seen on the island".
Problem is, I didn't really pay as much attention to it as perhaps I should have done, just casually remarking to Jenny that I wasn't sure about the status of the species in this part of the world, but I presumed they were reasonably frequent. Why else would I be seeing one? Anyway, I've made some notes on what I saw, and will submit them. As I write this I'm not aware of anyone relocating it. Or even looking for it, for that matter! (Though I'm sure someone will have done).
Anyway, having set something of a cat among the pigeons, here's a pic I took moments after seeing the duck, of a black turnstone among the pigeons.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Birding down south

Jenny and I headed down to Victoria for a couple of days and this morning we took a stroll through Beacon Park and down to Clover Point.

In the park there were loads of American wigeon, plus a few ring-necked ducks, etc.

Offshore, there was loads of activity out over the water, but it was a touch frustrating as I was without my 'scope.
The usual common sea ducks, cormorants, common loons and such, were clearly visible within bins range. There were masses of gulls way out.
Of particular interest was a bird that looked to me like a female common eider. I am very used to seeing this species, as they're common in British waters. It was only the fact that I haven't seen any eiders since I arrived in BC that made me even question it - so, without my books to hand, I can't really check on status. IS common eider a frequent bird off Victoria?

A couple of black turnstone, 3 sanderling and a black oystercatcher were the only shorebirds seen.

Great to see so many Anna's hummingbirds; they're positively abundant down here!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Quennell birds

Howdy - hope everyone had a jolly old Christmas.
I haven't been able to get out to do any serious birding over the last few day, but I did manage a quick stop at Quennell Lake yesterday.
Christmas Bird Count participants, may wish to know that the American kestrel is still hanging around the northern end of the area, near Cedar. Also, a Cooper's hawk was hunting around the nearby cemetery.
Wildfowl numbers were unremarkable - just 24 trumpeter swans and the usual hordes of Canada geese. Ducks were thin on the ground, the majority being pintail, with smaller numbers of mallard and American wigeon present. A few common merganser were on the main lake, along with a handful of lesser scaup and ring-necked duck.

As you can see, I've finally updated the Mystery Bird. Thanks to Steve Large for the pic. I'll post the answer to last one soon...  and enjoy!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Season's Greetings!

Happy Christmas to all -

and here's to a great,
birdy New Year!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lost for words.

This is how bad it gets... I'm reduced to taking shots of a mute swan.
This fine beast cruised by me down by Mafeo Sutton Park, Nanaimo while I was taking my lunchtime constitution today.
Also seen: many bufflehead, several common goldeneye, a couple of red-breasted merganser, and not much else.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Bird Count 2010 - Parksville

Sunday, I took part in the Parksville Christmas Bird Count for the second consecutive year. And, once again I joined Rich Mooney, Lori Lynch and Mike Ashbee for the fun and games.

With Rich having already bagged killdeer calling behind his house at around 5.30am, we set out at 6am, heading first for Little Mountain in the hope of hearing an owl or two. After Rich had just about chapped his lips mimicking various species, and the rest of us had succumbed to near hypothermia, we got a response from a northern pygmy owl. Hooray! Sadly, it wasn't so interested that it came so close for us to see it, but we left happy nonetheless.
The day went on well, with some great birds seen.
We scoured the neighbourhoods of Parksville for suburban passerines and did pretty well - the highlight for me, being the sight of 13 stunning evening grosbeaks.
This was a long-awaited new bird for me and was very much on my mind today, as they're relatively easy to find in this area, unlike down in Nanaimo and Cedar.
What a great tick!
Another interesting event came when we were trampling a marshy area, and flushed at least 4 Wilson's snipe. But before we encountered any snipe, I accidentally flushed a Virginia rail! This bird flew up almost at my feet, flashing its white undertail at me before it took flight. It flew for all of about 6 feet, barely above ground level, hit the deck and ran off into the rank and dense vegetation. Another tick! Hardly brilliant views, but unequivocal at least... 
We did OK with our numerous sea watches, nothing spectacular, but we did clinch the trio of scoter species. Harlequin duck was frustratingly absent until late in the day, and the only Bonaparte's gulls were a pair flying overhead on Shelley Road.
We had a lone pigeon guillemots, several common murres, a handful of marbled and 1 ancient murrelet. Again, this last species would have been a new bird for me, but I wasn't going to tick it on the basis of the crappy, distant flight views I had, by the time I got onto it.  
Rich the owl-magnet had managed to solicit a vocal response from a barred owl, and as we neared the end of the count a few obvious absentees started to really irritate us! While bagging California quail, (again, the antitheses of Victorian children, heard but not seen) we stumbled across a small flock of American goldfinch and finally added pileated woodpecker.
A few common birds remained elusive, such as both accipiters, red-tailed hawk, black oystercatcher and shoveler. Oh well, can't have everything eh? It was a brilliant day, the weather stayed relatively kind and the company was great.

As it happens, we actually ended up with the highest species count for the day, with 86. The actual total number of individual birds counted was 2791.
Now, just to compare, if I'd have done a Christmas Bird Count on my old local patch in north west England I wouldn't have likely beat that number of species, but the number of lapwing alone would almost have numbered twice the total of individual birds we managed here! And the counters at Heysham Harbour could have expected some 30,000 red knot... but they wouldn't have seen 13 evening grosbeaks, would they?

The Turbo Team scale the heights of Little Mountain... 

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Bit of Buttertubs Birding

Desperate for some birding, I managed to prise myself out of  bed Friday morning and take advantage of the cold, bright and dry conditions for a quick half hour at Buttertubs Marsh before work.
There wasn't a great deal going on, but it was just fab to be out in daylight.
To be honest, I was really hoping to find a Virginia rail, having still not had a decent look at one since my defection to Canada.
As is happens, I had no such luck. Optimism alone is no guarantee of success, it seems. These American rails certainly seem harder to locate than their European counterparts... 

The best bird that I encountered was a smart Wilson's snipe, caught crouching in a small channel of water - pity I was 'scopeless, as I could have got a decent shot of it, but I only had my happy snapper.
Hence the rather cryptic photo attached.
See if you can spot the little fella...

There was little out on the water, just a couple of hooded merganser and the odd mallard and a lone wood duck.
Creeping around in the undergrowth were a couple of varied thrushes, fox sparrows and the usual Bewick's wrens, juncos, towhees etc.
I did get great views of a marsh wren, frolicking in the frosty phragmites. Always a treat.

Saturday additions...

Just managed a quick run by Quennell Lake on our way out to somewhere less ornithological.
Of note: the American kestrel was again hunting in the nearby fields. Only 28 trumpeter swans were on the flooded field and wildfowl in general was much reduced. There were approximately 180 common merganser, and a single American coot on the lake.  

Monday, 13 December 2010

Out For The Count

Sunday, I was blessed with dry weather for my Coastal Waterbirds Survey.

Before I really kicked off, I scoped toward the Nanaimo estuary from the path just by the tunnel exit, and could see at least 2 short-eared owls and a northern harrier hunting over the flooded marsh.
The survey itself, was pretty uneventful but continued, at least, to remain rain-free as I walked down to Jack Point and back.
Highlights included 7 horned grebe, 4 common loon, 1 surf scoter, 1 harlequin duck and a Brandt's cormorant. The most plentiful birds were bufflehead and common goldeneye, with reasonable numbers of red-breasted merganser and greater scaup also present.

I made a quick stop at Holden Creek on my way back. The actual marsh was birdless (no doubt helped by the fact that a couple of local gunmen were creeping around at the back), but the wet fields contained approximately 1400 American wigeon plus several hundred green-winged teal and reasonable numbers of pintail and mallard. A peregrine bombed through, attempted a strike at the wildfowl but left empty-handed. Or empty-taloned, I suppose...
5 greater white-fronted geese were still hanging around with the Canadas.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


I headed out to the Nanaimo River estuary for the first couple of hours of daylight on Saturday morning. I arrived to find one hunter already out on the marsh, with another soon arriving after me.
There wasn't must shooting going in though, as the majority of wildfowl was staying offshore.
There wasn't a great deal of activity at all, to be honest, and I spent my time vainly searching for birds.

I didn't see a single shrike - most unusual here, and only a lone western meadowlark put in an appearance.
Two 'ring-tail' northern harriers were cruising the marsh but no owls were in hunting mode. I did manage to locate a single roosting short-eared owl, as pictured here. They can be tricky little blighters to find...
A couple of largish finch/sparrow flocks were deserving of thorough scrutiny but, alas, the best I could dig out from among the multitude of golden-crowned sparrows and juncos were a couple of white-crowned, a fox and a Lincoln's sparrow. Pah.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Audubon's Birds of America

I see that Lord Hesketh's edition of Audubon's Birds of America has gone under the hammer and fetched a record-breaking price of over 7.3million pounds.

If you ever want to find out more about this seminal work, read Duff Hart-Davis's 'Audubon's Elephant'  - a superb book chronicling the project from concept to completion. Boy, they were dedicated in those days...

Click here to read the BBC report of the sale...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ducks and geese and swans, oh my!

Didn't really get any time to do any serious birding today, but have binoculars, will travel...

Jenny and I walked down to Jack Point, enjoying the relative warmth and bright skies. We saw good numbers of waterbirds along the way including horned grebe, common loon, both goldeneye species, bufflehead, greater scaup, white-winged scoter and so on.
The woodland was alive with dark-eyed juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets. We also came across Bewick's and Pacific wrens, and a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets.  
A single dunlin was roosting on the rocks near the Duke Point ferry terminal.

It was late afternoon by the time we came away and we made a small detour to check Quennell Lake. There were fewer swans than were here yesterday when we arrived, but small parties arrived from the south intermittently. After yesterday's wigeon-fest, I was surprised not to see a single bird. In fact, other than 8 shoveler and a ring-necked duck the only ducks present on the flooded fields were hundreds of mallard.
On the lake proper, I couldn't see the ruddy duck - just lots of common and hooded mergansers.
A single juv greater white-fronted goose was among the Canadas feeding in the fields (pictured). You can make out the beginnings of its white blaze at the base of the bill, though it still retains much of its black nail.
A lone cackling goose arrived in a large flock of Canada geese, again coming in from wherever they'd been feeding to the south.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

My kind of birding

Suffering from severe withdrawals, I headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary at first light this morning. And what a glorious morning it was too - below freezing and awash with crisp white frost, but bright and clear.
A few Barrow's goldeneye, bufflehead and common mergansers were on the river, adjacent to Raines Road and a gathering of glaucous-winged gulls were assembled in the usual spot where the river splits.
A couple of varied thrush were in the big oak, and there were good numbers of American robins around the place.

A male northern harrier was perched up in a shrub out on the marsh, while a northern shrike similarly was keeping watch from a small tree nearby. The usual numerous bald eagles were much in evidence, and I even bothered to take a pic of one - as seen here.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I saw another 2 northern harriers (both juvs), a couple of belted kingfisher and just 3 western meadowlarks.
A trio of trumpeter swans were honking around the place, while a drake Eurasian wigeon was picked out from among a throng of American wigeon on the marsh.
Trying desperately to dig out something out-of-the-ordinary from the large junco and golden-crowned sparrow flocks I could only find 3 fox sparrows and 1 Lincoln's sparrow.
A flock of some 40 or so mobile red-winged blackbirds were kicking around throughout the morning. 
I located 3 roosting short-eared owls, and managed to observe them well at range without disturbing them.

Having exhausted this part of the estuary, I headed round to Holden Creek to see what was occurring there. 
I immediately spotted another northern shrike sat up in the large dead trees by the farm. A couple of killdeer were in the field, as were 7 greater white-fronted geese. Reasonable numbers of green-winged teal were out on the creek along with smaller numbers of American wigeon, mallard and pintail.
I was delighted to see that the American kestrel was still in residence, hunting from the fence posts out in the fields - at one point being mobbed by 6 western meadowlarks!
Other than a couple of red-tailed hawks, it was pretty quiet.

It was now nearly 11am and I figured I could easily squeeze a quick of Quennell Lake before making myself available for husbandly duties.
There were still 88 trumpeter swans by the flooded field and lake - much of the water was frozen here. Small numbers of northern shoveler, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, and common merganser were in the area as well as many American wigeon. A group of 47 American coot were sat in one small area of open water.
As I was 'scoping a pied-billed grebe a female ruddy duck swam through my field of view - perhaps that same returning bird I saw here in spring?

Later in the afternoon, as the sun and temperature were dropping, I headed back to Quennell with a half hour to spare. I was surprised to see another American kestrel sat on a telegraph pole just before I reached the lake. And a peregrine was sat up in a nearby conifer.
Checking through the significantly increased number of American wigeon on the flooded field, I found 3 Eurasian wigeon (one of which is pictured here, upper right). A few lesser scaup had joined the throng and the ruddy duck remained on the lake.
All in all, a really good day's birding, with some satisfying finds if nothing too extravagant!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dark times...

Sadly, these dark days are rotten as far as allowing me many birding opportunities.
However, I can report the following sparse sightings, or in the case of the first, hearings. Last night, I could hear the honking of numerous trumpeter swans from the yard. They didn't sound like they were flying, as the sound didn't alter in consistency. Presumably, these swans were over toward Quennell Lake and the sound was being carried by the breeze. It must be at least 1 kilometre away!
Anyhoo - as for stuff I've seen with my actual eyes... 3 varied thrush again at the feeders this morning along with 40+ dark-eyed juncos and a Steller's jay.
A high flying buteo over the office today was presumably a red-tailed hawk.
It was quiet down at Mafeo Sutton Park at lunchtime with just a handful of bufflehead, common goldeneye, the usual cormorants and a couple of red-breasted mergansers.

Our pals David and Susan have been enjoying having an Anna's hummingbird practically glued to their feeder, just off Bowen Road in Nanaimo, for a while.
Well, maybe not glued as much as frozen.
During the recent extreme cold snowy spell, the hummer was almost permanently in residence on their balcony - as evidenced by the accompanying photo.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Rich pickings on the Nanaimo estuary

After a birding-free weekend in Vancouver I was pleased to see that my old mucker Rich Mooney had been down to the Nanaimo estuary in my absence and got amazing views of 4 short-eared owls. He also bagged meadowlarks, northern shrike and harriers - as expected. See Rich's blog post at his brilliant birding blog.

Having got so used to only ever seeing chestnut-backed chickadees here on Vancouver Island, I was quite taken aback by the sight of a small flock of black-capped chickadees mucking about in some shrubbery on Granville Street, in the heart of downtown. I forgot they were the common tit on the mainland! The ferry back yesterday wasn't much to write home about - the usual surf scoters, common murres, rhinoceros auklets, common loons and the expected gulls and cormorants, etc.

Jenny drew my attention to a varied thrush by our feeders this morning, the first we've had in the yard this season. There were actually 3 thrushes, plus a Steller's jay, numerous juncos and the afore-mentioned chestnut-backed chickadees.

On my lunchtime stroll down to a bitterly nippy and drizzly waterfront, there was a flock of around 50 common goldeneye by the crabbing pier. Not much else though, a couple of red-breasted mergansers and a few bufflehead.   

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Chilly Tuesday

Tuesday's lunchtime walk was a touch milder than yesterday's - but when facing the onshore breeze, that windchill certainly made itself known.

Both pelagic and double-crested cormorants were present in numbers around the float-plane jetties, and a group of 19 Barrow's goldeneye were paddling around the crab fishing pier.
A single cackling goose was among the regular Canadas and the high pitched honking of a greater white-fronted goose drew may attention to a flyover adult.
3 common goldeneye, several bufflehead plus 4 common and 2 red-breasted merganser were offshore by Mafeo Sutton park.
These nice icicles (nicicles?) were pretty impressive...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cold front on the waterfront

Well, those forecast flurries turned out to be pretty much full-on snow yet again, and when I took my daily constitutional along the waterfront in downtown Nanaimo the below zero northerly wind cut through to the bone.
A little over the top perhaps, but it was bloody freezing. Not surprisingly, I didn't see many other folk out having a stroll.
Even the birds were behaving differently - a bald eagle made a feeble at catching double-crested cormorants, having dislodged them from their roost with a targeted swoop. It failed.
A pair of greater scaup were hugging the sheltered area near the float-plane terminal and a group of Barrow's goldeneye were seeking a windless spot by the lagoon. Other than a pair of American wigeon, red-breasted merganser and the ubiquitous Canada geese, it was otherwise fairly quiet on the water.
My first varied thrush of the season popped up in Mafeo Sutton Park, and a small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets made their way through the trees.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Swan day wonders

I was limited to just a check at Quennell Lake today, birding-wise.
There had been something of a swan exodus, with a considerable reduction in the number of birds present.
Trumpeter swans were down to 118, and not a single tundra remained.
Ducks were represented by the usual multitude of mallard, 8 northern shoveler, several hooded and many common merganser, lesser scaup and ring-necked ducks plus a few wigeon. Notably, there were 3 American black duck
A single cackling goose was among the Canadas.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Swan fine day

Started off at Quennell Lake this morning, expecting more swans to be present. I wasn't wrong!
A couple of days ago, there were 28 trumpeters and 1 tundra.
Today, there were 178 trumpeter swans and at least 12 tundra swans on the flooded field.
One of the trumpeters was a collared bird.
The variation in the bill patterns of the tundra swans is quite remarkable, some have no yellow at all, while others have clear loral patches.
One bird in particular actually looked more like a Bewick's (see the photo below).
It was encouraging to see many young birds and family groups, of both species.

Otherwise, it was pretty unremarkable - no interesting aythyas among the ring-necked ducks and lesser scaups.
There were good numbers of American wigeon, loads of mallards and common mergansers, plus a handful of shovelers.

I then headed round to the Nanaimo River estuary.
A few trumpeter swans and Barrow's goldeneye were on the river. At the estuary, at least 2 juvs and an adult male northern harrier put on a good show. A northern shrike was hunting from the hawthorns on the marsh.
A male slate-coloured darke-eyed junco was among a flock of regular birds. Incidentally, an individual of this form was at my feeders this morning too.  
A drake Eurasian wigeon was among its commoner congeners on the kidney pools (see pic) while many hundreds more American wigeon and green-winged teal were out on the water - occasionally put to flight by a lone hunter.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Taking an eary morning gander

Spent half an hour or so this morning checking the wildfowl at Quennell Lake, in Cedar. It was freezing! But at least it was bright and dry...
There were 28 trumpeter swans on the flooded field at the northern end of the lake, plus a tundra swan. This is the first 'tundra' swan I've ever seen, although of course it's just the north American race of the Euro-version known as Bewick's swan, with which I am very familiar.
There were 2 greater white-fronted geese among the many, many Canadas.
The bulk of ducks were mallard with smaller numbers of green-winged teal, pintail, gadwall and American wigeon thrown in.
On the lake itself, there were approximately 160 common merganser and a dozen ring-necked duck.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Snow and wobbly owls

Jenny and I farting about in the snow
Howdy - Jenny and I headed up the road a bit for a long weekend and spent a couple of nights up at Mount Washington.
We were rather surprised by the sheer volume of snow up there - it was spectacular!
Unfortunately, though, the cloud was very low for much of our stay and when we did try and head out for some decent hikes, visibility was reduced to under 200m.

Of course, we saw lots of grey jays; the colloquial 'whiskey jacks'. It's been several years since I last saw this species, so I was quietly delighted.
At one point we had at least 6, along side 8 Steller's jays, on the deck of our lodgings.  At least 3 of the grey jays were ringed.
See the photo below of one of the un-banded jays that liked our bread.
Otherwise, the birds were notable by only by their absence. A couple of ravens, a hairy woodpecker, a few chickadees & golden-crowned kinglets, a red-breasted nuthatch and brown creeper were all we could find.
Not even a crossbill was heard... mind you, the cone crop appeared very poor where we were.

We got back to Cedar late afternoon today (Sunday) and I managed a quick dash down to the estuary in the fading light. An adult female and a juv northern harrier, showed well hunting over the marsh and a single northern shrike was sat at the top of a hawthorn.
A single trumpeter swan was flying around and wildfowl on the river and estuary included pintail, American wigeon, Barrow's goldeneye, gadwall and bufflehead among others.
A short-eared owl soon came out to play and gave great views - once again I was treated to a display of 'how to make catching rodents look easy'.
After a while another owl emerged and again, showed well albeit in failing light.
I managed to get some truly terrible footage of the first bird, as you can witness here! Enjoy the wobbly owl.      


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Park Life

Hello dear readers.
The dark evenings rule out post-work estuarine meanderings, so I had to content myself with my daily lunchtime stroll to Mafeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo.
It was a bit more birdy today than it has been in recent weeks. A number of surf scoter and bufflehead were bobbing around on the water as were a couple of horned grebes, Barrow's goldeneye and a single common goldeneye.
In the parky areas, were lots of dark-eyed juncos, a couple of song sparrows and a golden-crowned kinglet.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Funday Monday

Given that the only birds of note that I saw today were 7 trumpeter swans flying over the office, my sightings contributions will be exceedingly short. And indeed, there it is.

So, here's a curious thing. Quite a good idea if you live in rural Italy, or southern California perhaps...
Bird boxes with a difference. They'd be great for encouraging house sparrows in places where they're declining at a serious rate, or indeed any other social nesters.

Mystery Bird revealed

OK - eventually, I'm revealing the mystery bird.

Nobody went for varied thrush. Quite right too, it looks nothing like one.

10% of participants went in favour of western meadowlark. Fair enough, right sort of shape, essentially brown with black markings, even what appears to be a pale supercillium. But what about that white rump? Hm - rules out meadowlark.

I was surprised to see that more people went for American kestrel than they did the meadowlark. The mystery bird seems pretty short tailed, and not nearly rufous enough on the mantle in my opinion. And that plainish head pattern really rules this species out too, as does, once again, the white rump.

So, that leaves us with northern flicker. 70% of the voters chose this species. The shape, white rump, the mantle pattern and colour all suggest this bird. This individual was a juv, explaining the lack of obvious grey tones on the head.
So well done - the majority rule! Although far from being a clear cut image, it was obviously easier than the last one (when very few took part. Cowards!).
And, just for a bit of extra fun - you have FIVE answers to choose from with the new mystery bird... Good luck!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Short-lived shortie shocker

Brit readers may be interested to know that the clocks went back last night/this morning - a week later than in the UK.

So, I took advantage of the extra hour and headed off to the estuary bright and early. And when I say bright, I don't half mean it. It was glorious; blue skies, and pretty warm for 7.30am in early November!
I was quickly met by a northern shrike, busily pursuing a chickadee. Not sure of the outcome, as they vanished behind the hedge...

From the viewing platform, I could see 3 trumpeter swans out on the water. Good numbers of American wigeon were visible, though distant. Similarly, buffleheads, mallard, pintail, common merganser, and a pair of gadwall were bobbing about.
Another northern shrike was hunting from a snag out on the western marsh.
A juv northern harrier sailed by, passing over the lone shooter out on the marsh. To be honest, I don't think the ducks had much to worry about - I didn't see the guy hit a thing, despite a number of attempts.
Walking back toward the hedge, I noticed a bunch of western meadowlarks as they flew up into a hawthorn. I counted 18 in total (one of which is pictured).
I was quite surprised to see an American kestrel sat on a post out on the marsh. I expect this is the same bird as has been present at Holden Creek for the past few weeks.

I noticed something of a commotion going on some distance away, involving around 40-50 ravens. They were all flying around, quite high and seemingly excited by something.
Getting my bins on them, I noticed a short-eared owl amongst the melee. The ravens were relentlessly mobbing the owl, which was flying around in small circles, in a panicked state.
Convinced that the shortie would soon break away and head for cover, I kept watching, fascinated. Suddenly a sub-adult bald eagle flew through the flock and grabbed the owl in its talons. It flew up, mangling the owl in the progress, and then spiralled downward, eventually releasing its limp victim, which fell toward the ground pursued by a mob of murderous ravens.
Very curious behaviour, and not a little depressing!
I've seen owls mobbed by all manner of things in the past, but this is without doubt the first time I've seen such a brutal, and terminal, finale.
As I left the estuary around 9.20am I met a number of the Sunday Bird Walk participants, who had just arrived, and told them of my grizzly sighting. Hopefully their experience was somewhat less violent!

I headed around to Holden Creek for a quick scan. There were still 24 greater white-fronted geese and 33 cackling geese in the fields. I couldn't see anything unusual among the green-winged teal.
A pileated woodpecker flew over and a red-breasted sapsucker put in an appearance.
I also saw my first ruby-crowned kinglet of the fall.

Later, Jen and I went to Cable Bay. We didn't see too much ornithologically speaking but it was very pleasant.
We got good views of both seals and sealions - which is always a treat. And I took the accompanying pic to demonstrate the season... 

I popped back down to the estuary for dusk.
I didn't see any short-eared owls at all, despite waiting until it was too dark to see.  
A shrike, a juv Coopers hawk and a female northern harrier showed before the light went. A Wilson's single snipe flew over, only detected by its distinctive call.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Late lake look

A healthy hangover, thanks to a night in the Cambie, prevented me from an early start today. Instead I subjected myself to numerous 'essential' chores (including a Craft Fair and a trip to the Bird Store) with Jenny.
Late afternoon, we were back in Cedar and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. From birds, of course, not the booze.
So, I headed out into the drizzly gloom for a quick check of Quennel Lake. On the lake itself was a large raft of duck comprising mainly mallard, plus several American wigeon. Large numbers of common merganser were also present as were 20+ ring-necked duck. A single pied-billed grebe, and a couple of hooded merganser added to the tally.  
On the flooded field were lots of Canada geese, a sprinkling of cackling geese, more mallard and wigeon, a couple of pintail and 24 trumpeter swans.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Toowit, two owls

Once again, managed a quick trundle around the Nanaimo River estuary for a spot of post-work birding.
It was nice and bright, and a couple of wildfowlers were out shooting at the water's edge.
A single juv northern harrier sailed over.
As I walked around I noticed a flock of some 15 or so western meadowlarks flying low over the marsh. I crept toward the area of long grass in which they'd landed, and as I approached, the strikingly bright yellow of an adult glared out from the rank vegetation. About time too! I watched the group for a while, before heading off in search of owls.
At 6.15pm a short-eared owl appeared, hunting over the area of rough grass near the 'bluebird' posts. As I stood on a raised gravel mound to watch it, it headed toward me and buzzed me, uttering its barking call. It did a repeat of this move, and then as I watched it head off over the marsh I noticed a second bird, hunting beyond the channel. By this time the light was getting pretty awful, so armed with a brace of owls in my mind, I headed back to the car.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fog at the bog...

Thankfully, the day stayed bright and clear to allow me to squeeze a good 40 minutes out down at the estuary, before the dusk, and heavy mist, completely stopped play.
It was all quiet initially, with the exception of the multitude of garrulous gulls on the riverside.
I eventually spotted a juvenile northern harrier sat out on a post on the marsh. As I trudged along the long hedge, a pair of adult harriers passed low over me, calling and interacting with one another. Very nice.
Just after 6pm, as I turned to return to my fog-shrouded car I noticed a movement, which turned out to be, as I suspected, a short-eared owl. It flew onto a stranded log and sat looking around before flying off and vanishing into the blanket of mist lying over the marsh.

* in other news... a 'slate-coloured' junco has been hanging out with the regular dark-eyed juncos in our yard for the past couple of days. (This is the form that I've seen a couple of times as a vagrant in the UK, in Portland, Dorset, and in Cheshire.)

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eurasian wigeon joins yanks

Jenny and I took a stroll down to Jack Point late morning.
We didn't see too much in the way of birds, but out on the water I saw my first buffleheads and horned grebes of the season plus good numbers of red-breasted mergansers, several common loons, and one Pacific loon.

We dropped by at Holden Creek on the way back.
The greater white-fronted and cackling geese were still in the fields. A scan through the 300, or so, green-winged teal revealed just a handful of mallard, pintail and American wigeon. Given how few wigeon were present, I was surprised to find a drake Eurasian wigeon. I wonder if there are more among the 500+ American wigeon out on the estuary?
A greater yellowlegs flew in.
The American kestrel was hunting in the fields, as was a northern shrike. Two northern harriers were quartering the marsh. A pair of belted kingfishers were charging noisily around the area.

Later I stopped off at Quennel Lake. Not too much going on, just a couple of lesser scaup, a drake Barrow's goldeneye and my first post-breeding American coot. The soon-to-be flooded fields at the northern end of the lake had attracted a pair of trumpeter swans, plus a small flock of white-fronted geese.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pretty birdy morning.

It was a bright morning, and the hunters were thin on the ground, making my visit to the Nanaimo River estuary rather enjoyable.

One of the first birds I saw was the northern shrike, sat in the large oak. There were lots of juncos, song sparrows, and golden-crowned sparrows in the vegetation around the area. A small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees had, sadly, failed to attract any transient warblers or similar.
A single Lincoln's sparrow was in the large hedgerow.
From the platform, I could see a single mute, and a pair of trumpeter swans, plus large rafts of American wigeon out on the water. A gathering of some 62 bald eagles was quite impressive.
At least 3, probably 4, northern harriers, including a male, were seen hunting over the marshes. A large Cooper's hawk flew through and an adult peregrine spooked the wildfowl over the estuary.
Met Ralph Hocken, who was getting some superb shots of the harriers. As always, it was good to stop and have a chat with Ralph - I eventually left him to his photography, and headed off to Holden Creek for the high tide. 

The goose flock was still present in the near field, comprising 116 cackling and 96 greater white-fronted.
The male American kestrel was still hunting around the fields (see rubbish video below). Might this bird stick around for the winter? A further couple of harriers were seen - presumably two of the same as seen earlier.
Large numbers of green-winged teal were dabbling out on the marsh, along with a handful of wigeon.
3 killdeer flew over.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Brief visit

Just squeezed a dusky half hour down at the Nanaimo River estuary this evening on my way home from work.
A northern shrike was hunting from the 'bluebird posts', and a solitary juv northern harrier was hunting nearby. A single Lincoln's sparrow was the only notable passerine.
The number of eagles continues to build, with 20+ out and about.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to give the place a good grilling tomorrow... maybe turn up some meadowlarks, if nothing else?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Swan-ee River

Spent the first 40 minutes or so of daylight down at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning.
On the way to the parking area, I pulled over for a quick look at a group of 18 Barrow's goldeneye, new in on the river.
Going through the many, many glaucous-winged gulls on the shingle banks, I picked out a 'decent' herring gull. Small numbers of Californian gulls were floating around over the marsh.
From the viewing platform, I could see large rafts of American wigeon at the estuary mouth, while green-winged teal, mallard, pintail, common merganser and hooded mergansers made up the remaining wildfowl.
A small flock of cackling geese passed over, and the large white blob floating on the sea turned out not to be my first wild swan of the season, but a mute swan. Pah.
3 different northern harriers made appearances, and the ever-singing northern shrike kept me entertained while I scanned the marshes.
A noisy greater yellowlegs, eventually showed, and flew off in the direction of Holden Creek. 
I couldn't locate anything out of the ordinary among the small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees, or various sparrow groups.

After work, I returned to the estuary. In the half hour of fading light, I clocked a single juv northern harrier, and the short-eared owl emerged just after 6pm. It showed well again, and even treated me to views of effortless vole catching.
My disappointment at finding that crappy mute swan this morning was eclipsed by the sight of 13 trumpeter swans flying over, heading south.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Asio like it...

Managed to squeeze in a visit to the Nanaimo River estuary on my home this evening, and just about caught the last half hour of decent-ish light.
A quick scan through the gulls revealed nothing of earth-shattering note. Good numbers of common merganser were on the swollen river.

As I walked toward the large oak, a distant bird caught my eye at the back of the meadow; it turned out to be my first short-eared owl of the winter. Nice. (The pic shown here was taken last winter, by the way).
According to Sibley, it fitted the description of a male, but I have to concede, that his is the only book that I have ever seen that makes reference to the identification of sexes in the field. Even Claus Konig and Friedhelm Weick make no mention of sexual dimorphism in their Owls of the World... what's the deal here?
I watched it hunting for a couple of minutes then headed to the platform for a scan of the area.
A pair of northern shrikes were chasing each other around, doubtless establishing territories for the winter.
Adult male and female northern harriers were hunting over the marsh to the west of the river, while a juvenile was hunting along the long hedge. A further adult female came onto the marsh from the fields to the south of the area.

Before it got too dark, I headed along the hedge where I got ace views of the short-eared owl as it hunted, and it even came to check me out before landing on a post and posing nicely.
Well, it may have only been half an hour, but it certainly set the pace for the next few months of winter birding on the estuary!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Raptor raptures

The forecast wind and rain was pretty much over and done with by the time I raised my head from the pillow this morning, so after a bit of essential domesticity, I headed down to Holden Creek for the dropping tide.

The place was teeming with green-winged teal, plus small numbers of American wigeon, mallard and pintail. There were far more wigeon there at this time last year. Equally, there were good numbers of long-billed dowitchers present into November, while today just one was on the creek. 
The mixed goose flock was in the far field and, once again partly obscured by the hedge, and accurate count wasn't possible. I could see at least 48 cackling geese and 54 white-fronted geese.

A nice surprise came in the form of a male American kestrel, hunting along the fence-posts (pictured, typically poorly) - I think this is a pretty late date for this species, though I believe small number do over-winter on the island.
Other raptors in the area included a juv northern harrier, juv peregrine, 3 red-tailed hawks and several bald eagles.
The call of a pectoral sandpiper alerted me to a single bird overhead. It did several circuits of the marsh and creek, before deciding to carry on south.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Calm before the storm

Started off the morning at Holden Creek. Looking at the forecast, this might be my best chance to get any decent birding in before it gets all nasty...

I was pleased to see that the white-fronted goose and cackling goose flock was still in the near field. The lone snow goose present last week had moved on..
There were approximately 90 whitefronts and 60 cacklers; the viewing angle, and the birds' proclivity for feeding just behind the hedge, made an accurate count impossible.
Up to 300 green-winged teal were feeding out on the water-logged marsh. A handful of American wigeon and mallard were also there.

After a while, I took off to see what was happening round at the Raines Road end.
There was nothing notable among the mass of glaucous-winged gulls on the river, just a handful of mew gulls and the odd Thayers.
Both the juvenile and the male northern harriers were showing well, hunting over the marsh.

I could hear a northern shrike, chattering from the small trees in the meadow, but I couldn't see the secretive little blighter...
A single Wilson's snipe flew over.
Nothing much in the way of passerines around, just the usual juncos, song, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows etc. Although, a flock of cedar waxwings that briefly dropped in were the first I've seen here in quite some time.
Still no sign or sound of meadowlarks.
Checking last year's records, the first short-eared owls weren't seen on the estuary until November 1. So, I guess they could turn up any time in the next couple of weeks, depending to some degree on weather.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Early trundle

I managed to get up in time for a trawl around the Nanaimo River estuary for the first hour of daylight this morning.
It was very peaceful, and I loved having the place to myself.
What was presumably the same northern shrike that I came across yesterday, was singing from a prominent perch along the long hedge. After a short while, it flew off to mob a juvenile red-tailed hawk that was sat on a post out on the marsh. Curiously, the alarm call that the shrike used, sounded a lot like a dunlin!
I could hear a Wilson's snipe calling from somewhere, and I later saw one being relentlessly targeted by a persistent peregrine
Pintails were coming over in small groups, and large rafts of American wigeon were out on the water.
Both the male and juvenile northern harrier were hunting around the area.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Shrike a light!

Yesterday's attempt at a bit of post-work birding at the Nanaimo River estuary was scuppered by the rolling fog that reduced visibility considerably. Also, a couple of local rifle-toting teens were shooting at anything that moved, and I didn't much fancy being one of those anythings...

This evening was slightly better, in as much as I could actually see a little bit, despite the fading light and onset of rain. Also, the absence of guns was an improvement. There wasn't much doing, however.
A curious bubbling song led me to a nice northern shrike singing away from the tangled depths of a hawthorn near the 'kidney pools', but other than that it was pretty quiet.
With a wet weekend forecast, I can't imagine the next few days being too exciting... maybe some passage stuff will get grounded? Let's see. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Quick evening visit...

Jenny and I dropped by at the Nanaimo River estuary on our way home from work this evening, taking advantage of the bright early evening light. The main reason for our visit being to see if any short-eared owls had arrived on site yet.
Didn't see any, but did see a 'new-in', or off-passage, adult male northern harrier, plus a juvenile hunting over the marsh.
Gull numbers continue to build, and there has been a bit of an increase in the number of bald eagles. Hardy surprising, given the large numbers of salmon in the river.
A single Wilson's snipe came up off the marsh. 
A smallish flock of Canada geese passed over, containing 2 cackling geese.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Benefits of jet-lag...

Still a little upside down from the effects of jet-lag I woke pretty early and decided, after an hour of tossing and turning, to go for a wander around the Nanaimo River estuary.
Naturally, I had the place to myself for the first couple of hours of daylight.
The various sparrow and finch flocks were rather small and scattered and consequently pretty difficult to go through systematically. However, a concerted effort revealed little among the juncos, house & purple finches and golden-crowned & song sparrows. There are very few white-crowned sparrows around now, all juvs, and the only other species seen were two Lincoln's sparrows, and singles of savannah and fox sparrow. The latter was singing.
Several parties of red-winged blackbird passed over, with a few dropping in. 
A pair of merlin and a Cooper's hawk were doing their best to disrupt my passerine search...
From the observation platform I could see a group of 8 adult snow geese out on the marsh to the west of the river mouth.
Good numbers of American wigeon plus a few mallard and common merganser were on the river, as was a single hooded merganser. 6 killdeer were gathered on the gravel bank.
A single Thayer's gull was among the many glaucous-winged gulls on the river.
I accidentally flushed long-billed dowitcher from the creek behind the long hedge.

Mid-afternoon, a quick stop at Holden Creek revealed a flock of some 90 geese, a mix of white-fronted and cackling plus a lone adult snow goose.
Better still, however was my first northern shrike of the autumn.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The bear neccesities

After a 27 hour trip back to Cedar from merry olde England, I was rather too tired to get up and do any birding this morning.
Jenny and I took a stroll around Hemer at midday, enjoying the glorious autumn sunshine. Not much to get excited about bird-wise, but it was evident that yet more juncos and robins had arrived in the last couple of weeks.

Later, I headed down to Holden Creek, where I bumped into Ryan Cathers. A group of geese in the near field was made up of 62 white-fronted and 46 cackling geese. The usual flock of 200ish Canada geese were in the far field.
A pair of greater yellowlegs were feeding on the marsh pools and a lone, but noisy, killdeer was also present.
Numbers of green-winged teal still seem pretty low, and other than a handful of American wigeon and mallard there was nothing much in the way of wildfowl. A couple of red-tailed hawks were hunting around the area.
After a while I decided to check out the Nanaimo River estuary at Raines Road. A single hunter was out on the marsh but was coming away empty handed. The 300 or so wigeon present were too far out for shooting at. Also offshore, were a few greater scaup and surf scoters.
A wander along the hedge revealed little of interest, apart from a couple of finch/sparrow flocks. Each contained just the expected commoner species.

Of note was the earth-shattering and extremely scientific discovery that, while bears obviously do shit in the woods, they also clearly, and unequivocally, shit on the estuary too.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rare warbler provides icing on the cake

I expect that this will be my last post from old Blighty, as I'm not expecting to see any birds of interest between now and the Tsawwassen to Duke Point, Nanaimo ferry.

This morning I went over to Morecambe where, first, I checked the Dome bushes for migrants (just a few 'continental' robins & blackbirds, unfortunately). A lone rock pipit flew by over the beach.
I had a scan through the numerous turnstones and redshank, in search of purple sandpipers, but I couldn't locate any. Most years, one or two turn up here to spend the winter. There were plenty of Eurasian oystercatchers and curlews around.
No sign of any Mediterranean gulls among the common, herring, lesser & great black-backed and black-headed gulls. 
Offshore, there were approximately 140 eider plus several great-crested grebes and cormorants.

I then headed up the road to Heysham Nature Reserve to catch up with some old birding chums. My arrival couldn't have been better timed as it coincided with the discovery of a yellow-browed warbler. I haven't seen one of these brilliant little eastern vagrant phylloscopus warblers for several years, so I was delighted to get great views as it actively fed in a group of willows.

I watched the processing and ringing of a few birds, including treecreeper, goldcrest (pictured) and chaffinch before heading off to Sunderland Point.
At least 8 little egret were on the marsh and there were more eider, plus several Eurasian wigeon on the river. There were plenty of rock pipits around, I saw well over a dozen, plus a few skylarks. Waders were represented by yet more curlew and redshank, plus grey (black-bellied) plover, lapwing, dunlin and a flock of 60ish bar-tailed godwit.

A return to the Jetty in Morecambe for high tide, was pretty unrevealing with much the same stuff as seen earlier.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Whirlwind tour approaches its end...

The whirlwind tour continues and, still, little time for productive birding...

A weekend in North Wales was more of a beer-tasting and curry-scoffing event, though I did add some common species to my UK year-list. I've managed another trundle around my old patch at Aldcliffe, too.
So, over the last few days I've seen such exciting stuff as common buzzard, sparrowhawk, jay, nuthatch, treecreeper, stock dove, red-legged partridge, skylark, 'normal' wren (as in troglodytes troglodytes), grey heron, grey wagtail, Eurasian wigeon, common eider, and the like.

I'm popping over to Morecambe tomorrow, so maybe I'll bag something interesting there... Mediterranean gull perhaps?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Brit Birder Not In BC

What a difference a year makes!
It's 12 months exactly since I left the UK and became a Brit birder in BC.
It's lovely to be back, but it seems odd that I should be paying so much attention to magpies, woodpigeons and pied wagtails...
I actually year-ticked Eurasian kestrel while still sat on the plane at Manchester airport!

For a Canadian birder, on a first trip to the UK, the species I've seen/heard casually over the past 3 or 4 days, would be quite thrilling, I'm sure.

Lapwings, Eurasian curlews, golden plovers and oystercatchers, black-tailed godwits, redshanks, green sandpiper, little egret, little & great-crested grebes, black-headed, lesser-black backed and greater black-backed gulls, sparrowhawks, long-tailed, blue, coal and great tits, robins (real ones), European goldfinch, greenfinch, pied wagtail, meadow pipit, jackdaw, moorhen, Eurasian coot, etc etc. And that's without actually doing any birding, as such. I've had a stroll along the seafront at Morecambe and a wander along my old patch at Aldcliffe, but both were brief and far from intense.

Unfortunately I left the lead for my camera back in Cedar, so I can't upload any pics just yet... oh, well.
I'll keep posting the stuff that I see on here anyway, in the hope that other ex-pats, would-be travellers, or anyone else, might find the range of species encountered in northwest England in early October of interest. (Rarity fans might be interested to know that a yellow-browed warbler was seen nearby this morning - let the eastern passerines flood in!)

Right, time for another cup of tea and an Eccles cake...

Friday, 1 October 2010

No Net Nonsense

Broadband issues continue to plague me at home, so here's a very brief recap of the past couple of days' sightings...

Wednesday: 22 greater whitefronted geese in fields at Holden Creek among c300 Canadas. Just 2 long-billed dowitchers there.

Thursday: Influx of American wigeon on the Nanaimo River estuary with c500 birds present. Couple of bald eagles kicking around, but otherwise pretty quiet.

Will be away for a couple of weeks from hereon in - so it's time to go and find that biggy on the estuary! Keep checking the blog though, as I'll be posting my sightings from the UK (don't know how much birding I'll be doing, maybe my posts will all be about Lancashire pub interiors...)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Easy ansers

Not a great deal going on down at the estuary this evening - the highlight was a flock of 35 white-fronted geese that passed over (pictured), heading south.
Another group of 13 followed some 40 minutes later, though this smaller group set down on the outer marsh. 
Other than a wisp of 4 Wilson's snipe and a hunting juvenile northern harrier it was altogether unremarkable.

On another note - those of you reading this back in Blighty, might be interested (or amused?) to learn that while British birders are marveling at the arrival of buff-breasted and pectoral sandpipers on UK shores, the locals here have been getting all twitchy over a ruff.
This bird has been wowing the crowds on the south of the island, at a consistently productive site called Whiffen Spit. Needless to say, I didn't go for it...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Weekend round-up

Been without broadband for a couple of days, for some reason, so here's around-up of events since Friday... 
An early morning pre-work amble around the estuary on Friday in search of migrant waifs and strays proved, sadly, fruitless.
The most noticeable thing was the arrival, en masse, of dark-eyed juncos, several of which had joined the sparrow flocks. Conversely, the continued departure of savannah sparrows continues, with just a handful being seen in the area. Lincoln’s sparrows are still very much in evidence, with at least 5 seen, while the white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrow numbers seem to have dropped off a bit with some having presumably just moved through. The only warbler I saw was a single yellow-rumped.
Common mergansers have built up to the 20ish mark, and 3 hooded merganser were also on the Nanaimo River.
A Cooper’s hawk was working the long hedge, must to the concern of the purple finches and towhees. The male American kestrel put in appearance, and was briefly mobbed by one of the local ravens.
Unfortunately, I had limited time for birding on Saturday, due to other commitments, and I decided to dedicate what time I had, to the estuary (just for a change). It was, perhaps, the worst idea I’d had for a while. I’d briefly toyed with the idea of a trip to Buttertubs Marsh (inspired partly, by local bird photographers Steve Large’s recent sighting of a green heron there). With hindsight, I should have done that...  
The estuary was super-quiet. There were very few passerines around, and I had to work hard to even find any significant numbers of sparrows.  Either the couple with two large dogs touring the area, or the Cooper’s hawk and merlin patrolling the hedgerow had contributed…
On the river there were around 40 common mergansers and a small group of turkey vultures and ravens feasting on the discarded skin of a butchered deer. Yum yum.
A single long-billed dowitcher flew over, calling, headed in the direction of Holden Creek. With that in mind, I took off there, dreams of ducks and waders on my ever-optimistic mind.
A group of 48 dowitchers were feeding on the sluiced creek, just by the path. Several flighty green-winged teal were also here, but no sign of the cinnamon. The marsh, and other creek areas were pretty quiet, though the family of white-fronted geese were still in the fields, despite the total absence of the usually omnipresent Canada geese. 
Sunday, Jenny and I took a stroll around Hemer. All the action seemed to be outside the park, with good numbers of American robins seen around the Cedar area, including another albinistic bird. This one was almost entirely white, with just a few dalmation spots. A pair of red-breasted sapsuckers showed well, and several Steller's jays were mucking around.
Later, I headed for Holden Creek for a post-tide amble. On arrival I met some remnants of the Nanaimo Birdstore Sunday Bird Walk crowd who mentioned that they had been watching a pair of short-billed dowitchers among the long-billed on the creek. 
Short-billed dowitcher - Holden Creek
Later, I saw these same birds, both juveniles, and got a few snaps of the brighter of the two, as you can see here. Now, I may well have overlooked these over the past few visits to the creek, or they may just dropped in. I counted a total of 54 long-billeds in total.
There were no other waders anywhere out on the marsh, and the only wildfowl were green-winged teal and a couple of mallard. A large sparrow flock was feeding in the newly ploughed field, though I couldn't find anything out of the ordinary with them. A flock of 20+ American pipits dropped in and started feeding in the fields. 
Out at the back of the marsh, 3 yellow-rumped warbler were in the hedgerow along wit yet more robins. 

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Falcon's rest

Once again, desperate to enjoy the last few days of post-work birding opportunity, I headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary this evening.
 It was clear and sunny, with great visibility - but there wasn't much to look at!
The majority of savannah sparrows appear to have cleared out, I only saw 3, while the increase in the number of white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows was evident.
The only real things of interest were 2 yellow-rumped warblers and the off-passage, rather attractive, male American kestrel pictured here.

Given that it's only a couple of weeks until the shooting season kicks off (October 9), there are very few ducks around. I guess the coming days will see the steady flow of wildfowl from the north. Short-eared owls and northern shrikes should have arrived too, by mid-October.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Sunset on the Creek

Jenny surveys Holden Creek
Jenny and I had an hour down at Holden Creek this evening.
The setting sun made the birding a bit tricky, as it got progressively lower, but it was just pretty lovely being out there.
There were plenty of savannah sparrows around, plus the usual house finches and a single Lincoln's sparrow.
At least 80 Brewer's blackbirds were roosting around the farm with around 30 starling.
The geese were too distant and the light was way too low to allow me to pick out any white-fronts among the silhouettes. 

Out on the marsh there was a feeding group of 66 long-billed dowitchers (at the least the ones I heard were long-billed, there could of course have been some short-bills in there, too) and what appeared to be 5 least sandpiper.

Male house finch - Holden Creek
Up to 50 green-winged teal were around the creek, but they were busy feeding in the wet boggy grass, thanks to the very high tide.
A belted kingfisher was rattling around, and an osprey passed overhead.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Last of the Summer - Whine...

A quick dash around the Nanaimo River, from the Raines Road end, after work resulted in the grim realisation that post-work visits are coming to a rapid close. The sun was setting quickly, and in another couple of weeks I'm going to be restricted to weekend birding. Boo.
While Jenny picked the last of the season's blackberries I trundled around looking for birds. Not too much doing, the usual sparrows and flickers etc. A greater yellowlegs was calling from out on the marsh, but I didn't see it.
The darker juv northern harrier was performing very well and passed close by numerous times. An SLR with a even a 200mm lens, would have given me some excellent shots but, alas, I no longer own such things.

It's a Mystery...

Now, I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed in the response to the last mystery bird pic. Perhaps I upset too many of you with that evil hummingbird shot, and you have decided to repay me by no longer joining in... let bygones be bygones and have a go at the new one. Go on, it's fun!

So, what about that last one?

It was clearly a warbler and one with bright yellow undertail coverts. All of our 4 contenders, could qualify. How about those thick pink legs? A clue there?
It pretty much rules out orange-crowned (which was the favourite with 50% of the vote) whose legs are darker and finer. It appears to be a more robust bird in general too, for that species.
 How about palm warbler? Well, no-one went for that - the undertail pattern clearly eliminates that species. Our bird has a plain concolourus undertail, while palm show distinctive white spots.
OK - MacGillivrays only received one vote. I would expect that species to have extensive yellow from the undertail coverts on to the belly and essentially be bright yellow on all the underparts. The bird in our pic has the yellow very much confined to the coverts.
So that leaves us with common yellowthroat. The posture, I think is a good indicator for this species too, showing the characteristic cocked tail.
As usual, complaints, other pointers etc, will be gratefully received!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Hawks and Doves

Spotted towhee - Holden Creek
Dropped in at Holden Creek (just for a change) for the rising tide. Arriving simultaneously, were Karen Barry, BC Projects Officer for Bird Studies Canada, and Eric Demers.
After introducing ourselves,  we headed down to the viewing area, from where we noticed that there were some dowitchers on the main creek.
It was a group of c30 birds, and nearby was a pectoral and a least sandpiper. As we scanned, 2 more pecs joined the fun, and a few more dowitchers were added to the tally.
A lovely male American kestrel was hunting from fence posts in the fields, where the family gaggle of white-fronted geese were hunkered down, initially making detection difficult.
As the tidewater rose, the pectoral sandpipers flew off the creek and into the field - revealing a 4th bird. Later, another passed over with 2 least sandpipers in tow.
A distant northern harrier was soaring over the estuary, and both red-tailed and Cooper's hawks put in appearances.
There were fewer teal around today, there was no sign of the cinnamon. A handful each of pintail and American wigeon were present.

Oh, and I keep meaning to mention that I've been seeing collared doves on Bluebell Terrace, off Bowen Road, and again in the Harewood area.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Teal for Two

Despite the promising overnight conditions there was little evidence of any significant falls of migrants around the Nanaimo River estuary this morning.
To be fair, having dropped Jenny off at work first, I wasn't able to get down there until almost 10am, so maybe the good stuff had all moved through... That said, I'd have expected a few remnants to be lurking in the hedgerows and what-not.
As it happened, the only passerines encountered included the expected sparrow species - savannah, golden-crowned, white-crowned, song and Lincoln's, a sprinkling of yellow-rumped warblers and a couple of common yellowthroat. Otherwise it was down to purple and house finches, and a single overhead American pipit, to keep me on my toes. Oh, and some flycatchery thing that actually looked quite like a western wood-pewee, from the brief look I got at it... but it shall go in the bin, uncomfirmed.
A pair of merlin and a Cooper's hawk, were doing their best to take advantage of the glut of sparrows.
Trampling the marsh, a pair of pectoral sandpiper passed over and a third was flushed from a small pool. A group of 12 dowitchers also came through, dropping down distantly on the marsh.
At one point, I heard the distinctive call of a snipe, and looking up saw a small flock of 7 Wilson's snipe passing over. They were swiftly joined by another larger group of snipe, bringing the total to a rather impressive 24 birds!

Having decided that I wasn't going to find a Siberian rubythroat today, I decided to head around to Holden Creek for a peek.
Again, the main channel by the path was teeming with teal.
'Scoping through, I couldn't see anything other than green-wingeds. Feeding alongside were a dozen long-billed dowitchers.  
There were, again, good numbers of sparrows around, including a single fox sparrow. At least 2 common yellowthroat were skulking among the gorse bushes.
The creek was hosting yet more teal, and couple of pintail, plus more long-billed dowitchers and a pair of pectoral sandpipers (both pictured).
A pair of killdeer were on the marsh pools, and a greater yellowlegs was among another group of dowitchers. In total, the number of dowitchers in the Holden area, was probably around 40 birds.

A juv northern harrier ( a 'new' bird, much more 'orangey' and generally brighter than the bird that has been present for a while), a merlin and peregrine were doing the rounds.
There were only a handful of Canada geese, and no sign of the whitefronts - so much for my prediction that they'd stick around for a bit!
Walking back along the flood bank, I noticed a small group of teal flying in and dropping into the creek.
One of them was the bird I saw the other day - blue-winged or cinnamon female/juv type.

They had joined a large group of green-winged teal on the main channel.
Keeping my distance, I 'scoped through, and eventually found the bird - pretty sure it's a juv male cinnamon teal (see pic).
Any comments to corroborate or argue against would be most welcome!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dowitching hour

Spent the last hour and a bit of light at Holden Creek this evening. How depressing - it was getting dark by 7.15pm...
Anyhoo, there were a load of green-winged teal and a couple of pintail on the creek as I arrived. A considered check through failed to reveal anything else of note.
Newly arrived were around 40 Brewer's blackbirds, in with the starlings around the farm. Otherwise, there were very few songbirds, other than a couple of golden-crowned sparrows mucking about in the undergrowth.
Taking up my position on the viewing area (you guessed it, the tide was too high to allow a crossing - in fact I even tried to see if the 'winter' route was clear yet but the brambles are still too dense to get through, so I'll have to carry on crossing at low tide for the foreseeable future) I scanned over the marsh. A tight bundle of shorebirds were busy in a small muddy pool. I counted 34 long-billed dowitcher, and single greater yellowlegs and western sandpiper with them. They were quite a way out, but I got a bit of footage of the sewing-machinesque feeding frenzy. As you can see below.
A red-tailed hawk was keeping vigil in one of the dead trees and a lone pileated woodpecker came through.
The Canada geese were feeding in the furthest field, behind the hedge, thus preventing me from seeing whether the whitefronts were still around. While I was scanning through the waders, the steady honk of some Canadas implied a few were taking off, then I heard the lovely call of the white-fronted geese as they joined the airborne flock. I got quite nostalgic at the sound - used, as I am, to the calls of multitudes of grey geese. Lovely. The family party of five, headed out toward the estuary though I suspect they might well be back in the fields tomorrow.  

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Late nighthawk, early...

No birding, as such, today but I did see a single common nighthawk flying over the office in downtown Nanaimo around 4.45pm. Presumably a late migrant, it wasn't feeding but heading determinedly south.
Oh, and a red-necked grebe again, down by Mafeo-Sutton Park at lunchtime.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

What's Good for the Goose...

Managed a quick 40 minutes down at Holden Creek en route home this evening.
The creek adjacent to the main footpath was teeming with green-winged teal. Approximately 80 birds in total, plus a pair of pintail. I couldn't find anything else among them, but when they flew I picked up a female/eclipse/juv type blue-winged or cinnamon in among them. Unfortunately they flew out onto the marsh, after a couple of spirals, and I was unable to locate the bird from the viewing point. Darn it.
There were no waders to be seen.

A family party (2 ads, 3 juvs) of white-fronted geese (pictured) were in the cattle field, where just under 100 Canadas were also feeding.
The brush was quiet as far as passerine migrants were concerned though a flock of some 50 American pipits came in high from behind me, dropping eventually into the ploughed field.
The juv northern harrier was hunting out at the back of the marsh, and fields.
A hairy woodpecker was kicking around.