Saturday, 20 February 2010

Here comes the sun

Westwood Ho!
After picking up Jen from work at 2pm, we headed off to take a leisurely hike up Westwood Ridge. It's a great walk up through mainly conifer forest, before opening out into mossy bluffs with mixed woodland, predominantly oak and arbutus. Some amazing views to be had, particularly on a day like today.
The major highlight for me though, less so for Jenny, was the finding of a Hutton's vireo! I heard an unfamiliar call (not too unusual in itself...) from amongst a group of chickadees, so I commenced with some finely tuned pishing. Within a couple of seconds a bird caught my eye and as soon as I had my bins on it, I knew what it was. Now, I realise that this is a common bird, but nonetheless it was a tick! having scrutinised countless ruby-crowned kinglets in earnest, here was the real deal. And despite what the books tell you, it's not so much like the kinglet that it isn't immediately obvious what it is, when you're looking at it.
The jizz is totally different, and those thick blue-grey legs coupled with its overall stockiness and fat bill are surprisingly apparent. Other, less diverting, aves included red-breasted nuthatch, red crossbill, pine siskin, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, et al.

The pic above shows the view looking over Westwood Lake, beyond Nanaimo and toward the coastal mountains on the mainland. If you get a chance, do this walk!


Down the estuary

Despite having to de-ice the windscreen before taking Jenny to work, the morning turned out to be quite stunning. I soon found myself bathed in sunshine and there was, as Phil Collins would so irritatingly put it, no jacket required.
Down at the Nanaimo River estuary, the birds weren't quite so convinced by this spring-like weather and most, rather than expending valuable energy showing off and singing, were mindful of the night's freezing temperatures and were busily seeking out food.
The usual mixed finch/sparrow group was immediately apparent, between the big oak and the platform. Practically the first bird I noticed was the white-throated sparrow, looking glorious in the bright sunlight.  
The other typical species were here such as juncos, song sparrows, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, towhees, a Bewick's wren and a fox sparrow.
A western meadowlark was singing from the hawthorns in the fields.
An minor influx of American robins was apparent, I'd noticed small groups all along Raines Road too.
A walk up the 'long hedge' proved quiet, with the exception of the juv northern harrier (pictured) and the usual norther flickers, though 3 pine siskin feeding in the hawthorns was something of a surprise.
All the trumpeter swans had gone, except for one lone bird. Maybe this is the 'resident' swan that was here when I first arrived back in October - a couple of local dogwalkers tell me that it stayed all summer.
A red-tailed hawk was sat up in an arbutus tree and other than the regulation bald eagles, it was uneventful on the raptor front.
The bulk of the wildfowl was out on the water and scoping through them it appeared to be as normal - pintail, American wigeon, green-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, bufflehead, common goldeneye, greater scaup, common and red-breasted merganser.
Trampling back to the viewing platform, the WT sparrow showed again. It's become quite an obliging bird of late, I'll miss it when it goes!
Although it is very spring-like here today, I imagine that the chance of early migrants has been seriously hampered by the very wintry conditions in the US. I doubt any north-bound birds are going to want to pass through, or over, that just yet...

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