Sunday, 31 January 2010

Birding on a Sunday afternoon

Spent much of the afternoon down at the Nanaimo River Estuary today. Again, it was fairly undisturbed and in 3 1/2 hours fewer than 10 other people were seen. Just the way I like it!

I started off at the platform, scanning the area just to get an idea of what was about. I quickly realised that a good sized sparrow flock was feeding nearby and decided to concentrate on that for a while. Good idea, as it turned out as I was soon looking at the white-throated sparrow which, as you will see, stayed still long enough for a quick digisnap. The pic also confirms it as a 1st winter, white-striped, bird. Also here were plenty of golden-crowned sparrows (pic2), dark-eyed juncos, spotted towhees, song sparrows, 4 white-crowned sparrows (pic3), house finches (p4), 2 Bewick's wrens, a couple of purple finches and a ruby-crowned kinglet.

Checking out over the water, the usual hundreds of pintail, American wigeon and green-winged teal were present with smaller numbers of mallard and gadwall. There were also common and red-breasted merganser, bufflehead, common goldeneye, a flotilla of greater scaup, a common loon and a sealion!
A couple of California gulls were amongst the large numbers of glaucous-winged.

A peregrine was sat on a snag out near the water's edge. Even at 3 times the distance of that falcon I saw in oldtown last week this was soooooo clearly a peregrine. The white cheeks were clearly visible, even through bins, as was the contrast between the upper and underparts. The wings were obviously equal in length to the tail and even though this was a big female-type, it was nowhere near as immense a creature as the Nanaimo bird...  

The juv northern harrier made several appearances, hunting extensively over the various bits of the marsh.  

Good to see a northern shrike was back on territory, hunting from scattered shrubs around the marsh.

Oddly, the trumpeter swans all cleared out during the afternoon going from around 50 birds to just 6 by the time I left. I imagine they were going off to feed somewhere more exciting. They left intermittently, in small parties, and all headed off toward Cedar - Quennel Lake?

I trawled the long hedge but it was hard work. The most exciting thing I came across was a downy woodpecker, which says it all. I keep scouring the exceedingly long-eared-owl-friendly hawthorn/willow scrub but have yet to discover one alive...

Saturday, 30 January 2010

No gun salute

It was a bit grizzly out there this morning. Misty and grey with a lot of moisture in the air and occasional showers to add to the fun. Nonetheless, it was OK weather for birding and I had the Nanaimo River estuary to myself for almost 3 hours. Not a hunter in sight.
As I arrived, I did meet a birder who was coming away from the area, he'd not seen too much though he did mention a peregrine.

Undeterred I headed out and opted to 'do' the long hedge first. As it turned out it wasn't such a bad idea as I soon found a mixed flock and almost immediately saw the white-throated sparrow. Once again the majority of birds here were golden-crowned sparrow (c.20) and dark-eyed junco (c.40) plus a few song sparrows and towhees thrown in for good measure.
A juv northern harrier then drifted in from out on the estuary, hunted briefly over the marsh then went and alighted on a dead tree in the fields, where it remained for a couple of hours or so. A red-tailed hawk was also sat up on a snag nearby.
4 Western meadowlark were sat up in a tree out in the fields - the first I've seen here in a while.
Up to 60 trumpeter swans were on the marsh along with some 'newly' arrived Canada geese (do they know the hunting season's over?) and a small group of American wigeon.
I eventually came across another mixed group of passerines and hoped that this was the flock with the American tree sparrows. Despite my best efforts I couldn't see or hear any, although a very smart Lincoln's sparrow was amongst them.
I headed back down along the hedgerow, but with the exception of the resident flickers and a gang of red-winged blackbirds it was pretty uneventful.
From the viewing platform I could see that the majority of the ducks were out on the water - it was low tide and they were quite some distance. Scoping through them, I picked out a lone Eurasian wigeon amongst the many American wigeon (ironically, back in  Lancashire, many of my old birding chums have been heading out to see an American wigeon in with a load of common Europeans - quite a rarity!). As usual the bulk of the wildfowl comprised of pintail, A. wigeon, green-winged teal and mallard. Gadwall numbers were up with around 40 birds present. Buffleheads, common mergansers and common goldeneye were also seen.
A rather impressive 22 great blue herons were on the marsh, and of course bald eagles were a constant presence.
I came across the big flock again, near the platform, and once more saw the white-throated sparrow in with them but, as usual, it eluded being photographed. The ruby-crowned kinglet was with them again.
I walked out to river mouth a short way and was delighted to flush a short-eared owl, which then proceeded to hunt briefly over the marsh before taking to ground again. Whether the owl was as delighted as I was, is up for debate...
On my way to collect Jenny from work in the early afternoon, I made a  quick stop at Buttertubs Marsh  which was rather unremarkable. Apart from the return of the mallards, a dozen ring-necked duck, 2 hooded merganser and a pair of pied-billed grebe it was somewhat on the quiet side.

Friday, 29 January 2010


I don't know, what with all this working for a living, my Brit Birder in BC claims are looking a bit weak in the absence of any recent posts...

Well, the most exciting thing that happened, bird-wise, this week was also (without doubt) the most frustrating thing, bird-wise, that has happened since I got here in October.
I nipped out the deli in my afternoon break for some much needed Batchelor's Marrowfat peas (sad, I know, but we were having hot-pot for dinner and you can't have hot-pot without processed peas... I'm a Lancashire lad, I should know) and I looked up to see a very bulky raptor sat on the top of a nearby church. Now, the first thing I thought was 'bloody hell, that's a big peregrine!'. I looked at it again. Seemed pretty uniform colour-wise, except for glaring pale undertail coverts and very lower belly. And it looked way too long tailed for a peregrine... surely not a gyr? In oldtown Nanaimo?
Unfortunately, they're pretty strict about breaks at work and I had to race back to the office with every combination of what it could be going round in my head. Back at work, I managed to quickly leg it to a window with my bins (always keep 'em with me, just in case...). I could see the bird about 200 yards away. It really was big - pretty much buteo sized. Very hunched stature, and seemingly con-colourus and I couldn't discern any moustache. Admittedly the light was crap, it was getting on for 4pm, but even still surely a peregrine looks extremely contrasty at that range in poor light!
Anyway, the upshot is that I think it probably was a gyr, but I can't confirm that, so...

While we're on the subject of raptors, a juv Cooper's hawk was scaring the starlings in the car park on Wednesday and a (ordinary sized) peregrine has put up the numerous pigeons a couple of times this week.

I've obviously been keeping my eye out for any huge falcons as I go on my lunchtime walks but to no avail, so far. It's not too bad though, as I get to see harlequin ducks, buffleheads, Barrow's goldeneyes, bald eagles and such on a daily basis.

Well, it's Saturday tomorrow so I should be able to squeeze in a visit down the estuary at some point. Be interesting to see how it is post-hunting season.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Enjoyed a great couple of hours down at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning. The day started out overcast and cool, the tide was exceptionally high and there were no hunters present whatsoever. And I had the place all to myself for the majority of my time there - nice.
As I walked toward the big oak I couldn't help but notice the juv bald eagle, (as illustrated in my magnificent photograph) sat in it, looking rather grumpy. Apologies for the anthropomorphism.
As I drew alongside this mighty tree I was immediately aware of the number of sparrows, juncos etc flitting around in the area and within minutes the white-throated sparrow was showing well before my very eyes. The bulk of the flock was made up of c.40 juncos with a dozen or so golden-crowned and about 5 white-crowned sparrows. A couple of song sparrows flirted with the crowd and a Lincoln's showed beautifully for a short while. A few house finches dropped in as did single female purple finch and Bewick's wren. Having had a decent look at this WT sparrow a few times, I'm pretty confident that it is a 'white-striped' adult type. Mind you, despite its proclivity to show well it doesn't like staying in one spot for very long, hence no pics... though I have attached one attempt - as you can see, it flew.

I decided to see how far I could get along the waterlogged hedgerow path - as it turned out, not very far. I didn't locate the main junco flock which had contained the American tree sparrows, though I got good views of the juv northern harrier catching and eating a vole. A red-tailed hawk was seen sat up the hawthorns.
Approaching the flooded marsh cautiously, I was able to get into a decent enough position to scope through the mass of waterfowl. There were hundreds of pintail and American wigeon feeding in the brackish water, with good numbers of green-winged teal, several gadwall, mallard and numerous bufflehead plus a drake red-breasted merganser and a single drake Eurasian wigeon. I counted 63 trumpeter swans.

Flickers, belted kingfisher etc all put in an appearance, as per usual.

I headed off for a brief visit to Holden Creek, just to see what was there... as it turns out, not much! A group of 12 Canada geese, a fem hooded merganser, several bufflehead and mallard, belted kingfisher, house finches and not a great deal else. 3 crossbill flew over.

On my way to pick Jenny up from work I stopped in at Buttertubs Marsh for a brief visit. There had been something of a min-influx of ring-necked ducks, with at least 7 present. With only a brief window of opportunity at my disposal, I concentrated on checking the vegetated area by the river for passerines. There were good numbers of bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadees, robins, towhees, 2 varied thrush, a brown creeper, Bewick's wren, pine siskins, song and fox sparrows, a downy woodpecker, norther flicker and at least one cedar waxwing, which was engaging in what I took to be a display flight. Would have liked a bit longer here but as we were heading to Victoria for the evening, I couldn't really delay...

...and just for the record, we stopped at King's Pond on the way and the rusty blackbird was nowhere to be seen. I'll be popping by again tomorrow...

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Lunchtime exercise

Well, in the absence of any real birding I shall post the results of my lunchtime 'dry runs' to the waterfront.
Yesterday, I was binocular-less and merely did a time trial from the office. I got to Georgia Park area in well under 10 minutes so, in theory, if I was to take my lunch with me I could get a good 1/2 hour's actual birding in without knocking myself out. Great.

Today I tried it with binocs, and even with the added weight :-) I still managed it in under 10 mins. Cool.
I walked up to the catchily titled Maffeo Sutton Park and had a scan out over the water, turned round and went back to the office all in under half and hour. Which confirms that I could potentially get a good 30 minutes spotting in every lunch hour... come on spring!
Even though there wasn't a great deal for your average Canadian birder to get excited about, I can confirm that on my daily strolls down Morecambe's Stone Jetty I failed to see Barrow's goldeneye, bufflehead, double-crested & pelagic cormorants, glaucous-winged gull and harlequin, as I did today.
Admittedly, the two red-breasted merganser wouldn't have been much of surprise off Morecambe... and while my old chums back in Blighty may be envious of this list of mouth-watering birds, they must bear in mind that I'll never see purple sandpipers, Leach's petrels, gannets or knots on my new lunchtime wanderings. Those days are well behind me. For now.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sunday Gunday

A few commitments kept me busy for most of the day but Jenny and I managed to find time to take a walk to Hemer Park and back in the afternoon, which despite the drizzle was very pleasant.
Not too much to report in the way of birds but the following were noted.
Great blue heron, trumpeter swan (4), mallard, gadwall (2), A. wigeon, RN duck (4), goldeneye, com. & hooded merganser, bald eagle, Cooper's hawk, northern flicker, raven, CB chickadee, RB nuthatch, 'Pacific' wren (ha!), GC kinglet, spotted towhee, song sparrow, junco, pine siskin. As you can see, it was pretty quiet!

I was able to get down to the Nanaimo River Estuary later - I thought I'd see what pre-roost behaviour, if any, I could observe.
I arrived to find the car park busier than I have seen it for ages. Pick-up trucks mainly, which seems to mean one thing down there, hunters. And indeed the place was buzzing with gun-toting fellows. Hardly coincidentally, there were no ducks to be seen...
Still 50ish trumpeters out on the marsh. I couldn't find anything in the hedgerow at all...
From the platform the outlook was bleak and other than a few gulls heading roostward there wasn't much going on at all. I found the golden-crowned sparrow flock, or at least they found me but I didn't see the white-throated amongst them, just 4 white-crowned. They were gathering in the area where I first saw the WT, and appeared to be preparing to roost so it would seem that they are pretty well tied to that area. A downy woodpecker was in the large oak.
I left as it started to get dusky and some hunters were just setting up - I guess they too were waiting for some roosting behaviour. Oh well, as I mentioned previously next weekend sees the end of the wildfowl season so maybe I'll get a chance to venture out onto the marsh without fear of getting in the way of a Dick Cheney...
Oh, and there were 11 GB herons stalking in one overgrown weedy field by Raines Road, obviously taking advantage of a food source of some kind... any ideas?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

White-throated sparrow still present

Added varied thrush to the garden list of the new place this morning!

Didn't get to the estuary until 10am, having dropped Jenny off at work first. Only one group of 3 hunters were on the marsh initially and they didn't really seem to be shooting too much.

First I checked the area where I had found the white-throated sparrow last week and almost immediately the bird came into view. How very considerate. It was feeding with a group of 5 golden-crowned and showed very well but wouldn't keep still or in one place long enough for me to get a pic.

I then headed up the long hedge and noticed a juv northern harrier hunting over the fields.
A juv sharp-shinned hawk was sat in one of the bushes, must to the annoyance of the nearby sparrows. Flickers and a belted kingfisher were along the hawthorns and I soon came across a flock of juncos. This didn't appear to be 'the' flock and only numbered around 20 birds. Checking through, just a couple of song sparrows were with them.
I carried on up the hedge but failed to find the big group.

I noticed an increase in the number of robins this morning, was there a general movement given last night's clear skies?

Again, approximately 50 trumpeter swans were out on the marsh.

Walking back along the hedge I met another hunter coming out to shoot. I think next weekend is the end of the season so things should quieten down a bit after that... or am I being naive?

I went to the platform and I was delighted to spot a short-eared owl flying, intently, across the marsh and on over the river. It certainly wasn't hunting and I imagine had been flushed by the aforementioned hunter.
Up to 11 gadwall were visible among the many American wigeon and pintail out on the water.

I then headed over to Holden Creek just to see what was about. As usual lots of green-winged teal plus the occasional wigeon were present, plus a couple of bufflehead. Good numbers of pine siskin were feeding in some nearby alders(?) and a handful of crossbill were up in the conifers - they stayed put long enough for the above snaps! Again, I noticed plenty of robins around.

Popped by Buttertubs Marsh on my way to collect Jen this afternoon but access was severely restricted due to flooding (again!) - at least at the north end, so the single highlight was an Anna's hummingbird seen within seconds of arrival. Still very little in the way of waterbirds. Is this typical in winter at this site?

On the way home we had a quick walk around Hemer Park as dusk approached. Still 4 trumpeter swans on the pool plus 4 ring-necked duck and several bufflehead, hooded mergansers and a goldeneye.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Spring birding on the horizon...?

When I was back in dear old Blighty, I used to get a bit cheesed off as autumn approached and the nights began to draw in.
Well, it's not because I suffer from Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, or whatever it's called, it was simply because it meant that with a full-time job to confine me during daylight hours I was restricted to birding at the weekends.
In fairness, working in the coastal town of Morecambe meant that I was able to take my near daily pre-work and lunchtime visits down the Jetty but nonetheless, my post-work trawls around my beloved Aldcliffe were put on hiatus until spring.

I was thinking about this today as I considered my position from a modern office block with limited window access in downtown Nanaimo, but before I got too disheartened I realised that in even a relatively short time since taking full-time employment in Canada (for which I am very grateful) I had still managed to spot Cooper's hawk, peregrine, Brewer's blackbird, glaucous-winged gull and, er, pigeon from my workplace. And today I even noticed a soggy ruby-crowned kinglet flitting from one side of the car park to the other. So, it's not all bad eh?

I imagine that once the weather gets a bit better and birds start heading north again I'll find myself legging it down to the harbour for half an hour or so most days, just to see what's moving through. The prospect is quite exciting and this is the sort of thing that makes birding in BC so exciting for me - the relative unknown!
What will I encounter?
Will there be migrant passerines lurking in coastal vegetation?
Will there be a marked movement of gulls?
Do large numbers of turkey vultures pass along the coast?
What kind of visible migration takes place here?
See? I'm already cured of my S.A.D. and eagerly looking forward to lighter mornings and nights and drier, birdier lunchtimes...

ps - 3 American tree sparrows were reported from the estuary today.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Tree-mendous sparrows

Arranged to meet Rich down at the estuary this morning for a bit of sparrow-hunting.
I was delayed due to a welcome Skype-chat with my brother Paul from Guernsey, and by the time I arrived Rich had located the big junco flock along the long hedge.
Thankfully they weren't as far along as yesterday and although fairly difficult to work through thoroughly, Rich had managed to determine that there were TWO American tree sparrows present. Cheers to Rich for the attached pic.
I was eventually able to get ace views of this lovely pair but boy, did it take some work! Also amongst this 70-ish strong flock were a few house finches, song sparrows, couple of Bewick's wrens, towhees and a Lincoln's sparrow.
A juv northern harrier was hunting over the marsh and then the adjacent fields.
Flickers, belted kingfishers etc were in the area and Rich had seen a shrike prior to my arrival.
We tried to find the golden-crowned sparrows, in the hope of relocating the white-throated and they too took some finding. Eventually we came across them (along with Mike Ashbee) near the viewing platform, but unfortunately there was no sign of the WT up until 12.30pm when I left at least.
Up to 4 white-crowned sparrows were with this flock plus further house finches, Bewick's wrens, juncos, towhees, song sparrows etc.

Late Breaking News....
White-throated sparrow relocated by Rich near the platform about an hour after I left.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Not the sparrow I was looking for...

Headed off to the Nanaimo River Estuary this morning with the express intention of relocating the American tree sparrow I came across on Dec 31st.
Spent a good couple of hours working the hedgerow but I wasn't able to find any significant feeding groups of finches/sparrows apart from one very large gang of juncos which were about 70 metres away, on the wrong side of an impassable creek - right at the furthest, eastern end of the hedge. I scoped the group for some time but other than a few song sparrows and towhees I couldn't dig anything else out. Unfortunately they were only visible for a few minutes before disappearing off around the corner and away they went...
In the meantime a juv northern harrier had put in an appearance and I'd managed to pick out a lone Eurasian wigeon amongst a group of its common American congeners.
Flickers, belted kingfisher, a peregrine, a group of 42 red-winged blackbirds, Bewick's wrens, plus the usual bits and bobs kept me entertained(ish).
Returning to the big oak I noticed a group of golden-crowned sparrows feeding in the hedge base and despite my optimism found nothing among them bar the expected songs & towhees.
I headed off to the platform from where I noticed at least 12 gadwall out on the water with numerous pintail and American wigeon.
Returning to the oak I noticed the g.c. sparrow flock had now moved and were feeding on the gravel around the bottom of the brambles, more in the open. I had a quick look through them and BAM! A cracking white-throated sparrow! The bird was actively feeding amongst the other sparrows and when they started to drift over to the brush area by the river it joined them and disappeared into the undergrowth.
I tried some pishing bit it had little effect, so I crept slowly in to the area and accidentally flushed the birds which simply came up into a small tree in front of me where once again the white-throated showed alongside the many golden-crowneds. Nice.
Thankfully, having seen plenty of these distinctive sparrows before, I didn't have any problems identifying it!
I wonder what would be found (other than a pile of dead birds) at this brilliant site if feeders were established...

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Larking about

Got down to the estuary for an hour or so late afternoon having moved what few belongings we have to the new place in Cedar.
I really wanted to relocate the American tree sparrow, but it wasn't to be.
I imagine that today's relatively mild, dry weather had removed the need for many of the passerines to flock together in such a way as they were a couple of days ago and consequently the groups of birds were far less concentrated in area and smaller in number. A decent gathering of juncos had only a couple of song sparrows, house finch and a ruby-crowned kinglet tagged on while a group of a dozen or so golden-crowned sparrow also included a fox and a Lincoln's sparrow.
Of note was a very bright male house finch in full song - lovely!
A northern shrike was in the long hedgerow and 6 western meadowlark were feeding the tall grass near the broom patch.
A flock of 26 red-winged blackbird were kicking about and a smart adult peregrine came over.
No sign of any SE owls (though it is good to note that one was seen recently) or harriers.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Yearlist

I didn't really get any opportunity to kick start my yearlist proper yesterday (1st) so I contented myself with a few glances out of the window and bagged a mix of the usual common waterbirds and such. The highlight of the day however was a sharp-shinned hawk sat up in the trees outside the condo.

Today, I went 'up-north' and spent a few hours with Rich Mooney trawling the French Creek, Columbia Beach and Nanoose areas with the express intention of seeing an ancient murrelet or two. We didn't. However, a few good birds were encountered along the way starting off with a pileated woodpecker that flew over the highway while I was heading to Parksville.
Offshore there were absolutely loads of Pacific loons, plus a few marbled murrelets, common murres, grebes, cormorants, harlequins, a long-tailed duck, etc.
A greater yellowlegs was a welcome find, the first one I've seen since I arrived in October, but other shorebird sightings were restricted to a lone black oik and a flock of dunlin.
At one spot at Nanoose we had crippling views of ALL the alcids commonly found in these waters (marbled murrelet, rhinoceros auklet, common murre & pigeon guillemot) with the exception of the intended quarry. Dagnabit.
Moving from Yellow Point into 'downtown' Cedar tomorrow so my regular stares out to sea will be a thing of the past and as I have now found gainful employment my blog updates will be somewhat diminished from here on in.
Hopefully, once spring rears its welcome head I'll be able to get down the estuary before/after work and the near-daily postings shall resume...

I couldn't resist taking the above pic of this attractive deceased fishy wedged in some rocks by the beach. It looks like how I felt yesterday morning... is this the face of 2010? (it actually looks a lot like a Titan Terrorfish from Gerry Anderson's Stingray to me)