Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Blue river

With Jenny's sister arriving tomorrow from merry old England, we had a post-work shopping trip to take care of. Having resigned myself to a birdless evening, we actually got the groceries in the car and back at home by 6.30 or so. So you guessed it, I managed a quick dash down to the estuary.
First up was a lovely male yellow-rumped warbler near the big oak. Then, seeing as a family (rug-rats in tow) was bumbling around, I decided to forego a scan from the platform and headed out onto the marsh to see if any owls were out there.
I spotted a distant bird on a post and checked it out through my bins. Huh? That looks like a mountain bluebird? Deciding it was probably a dusky female swallow, or something, I walked on extending my tripod legs as I went. Raised my bins again. Bloody hell, it does look like a mountain bluebird! Got my scope on it and bagged it. What a crippler! I've only ever seen this species once before, in Alberta - several years ago so - I was well chuffed with this - a BC tick!
I watched this handsome chat for some time before deciding to have a look around at what else might be lurking in the area.
A short-eared owl came out to play, as did a female northern harrier but other than a handful of violet-green swallows it was all quiet. I had another good look at the bluebird, which was getting restless and heading toward the long hedge, then decided to leave at about 7.30pm. Just as I got in the car I noticed a raptor gliding in from the estuary. It was obviously another harrier, this time a stunning adult male. Nice way to finish a visit that almost never happened...      

Monday, 29 March 2010

Coronata Street

The weather was on my side, for once, today. After it raining most of the night, and most of the morning, it actually stopped and brightened up for my lunchtime sorte down to the Nanaimo waterfront.
And, as most optimistic birders know, a bit of spring rain means dropped migrants. And as most optimistic birders also know, a calm spell between the showers means hungry migrants actively feeding up.
Armed with this optimism (when aren't I?) I headed down to the hideously named Sutton-Mafeo Park (apologies, if Mr or Mrs Sutton or Mafeo were hugely important Nanaimo-ites, but really, it's crap name for a park). First up - a turkey vulture overhead... ok, not really what I had in mind.
Then I heard a 'chip', and looking up I saw the expected culprit - a lovely male yellow-rumped warbler. Smart. Then another 'chip', and a female appeared. Good stuff.

Then the male Anna's hummingbird showed up and I pointed my happy snapper at it, and took the rubbish picture you see here.
Buoyed by my first warblers of the spring, I headed back to work, passing a cracking adult white-crowned sparrow grubbing around some ornamental shrubbery in front of the Pacifica building. Not exactly Cape Clear, but it was pretty encouraging!

The weather deteriorated again and it rained for most of the afternoon, and into early evening. With a Jon-friendly clear spell just after 6pm I legged it down to the Nanaimo River estuary. As I got out the car, I noticed the female northern harrier hunting over the fields.
Checking the bushes and shrubbery on my way to the platform things didn't look overly promising...
From the viewing platform I noticed that 200ish violet-green swallows were still feeding at the river's mouth. Then I noticed a short-eared owl sat on a post, nearby. Jolly good.
Finding nothing interesting among the few ducks present I thought I'd check the hedges for migrants. And then POW! A group of 11 yellow-rumped warblers - of which 9 were pristine males, resplendent in fresh breeding plumage - came through at knee height. They were frantically feeding and flitting through the weedy vegetation. Fabulous stuff.
I carried on along the hedgerow, but no more passerine migrants materialised. Then I noticed another short-eared owl. I could still just about see the other one, so it was definitely another bird.
Finding nothing else I returned for a quick look from the platform - from where I could clearly see both owls.
It was now 7.45pm and getting a bit dusky, and showery, so I headed back to the car where I got ace views of another short-eared owl hunting over the fields.
I just adore spring - there's the potential for something new every day... Roll on, April!    

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Owls about that...

Following a very pleasant day doing family stuff, I found a window of birding opportunity in the late afternoon, so I headed - guess where - yep, you guessed it, down to the Nanaimo River estuary.
It was pretty cool and showery, and I had the place pretty much to myself. There was one other person there, wandering around in a small area of riverside marsh carrying a clipboard, tape measure and field guide of some kind... I guessed from his behaviour, he was engaged in some kind of botanical survey? Unfortunately, our paths didn't cross, so I didn't get to ask him.

Again, a pair of red crossbill were showing really well, this time also accompanied by 3 pine siskin, in the small trees (crab apple?) near the viewing platform.
Heading up the long hedge, I came across a short-eared owl - the first I've seen here for quite some time.

A northern shrike was doing the rounds and a few violet-green swallows were moving through.
The hedge was quiet with just the 'resident' towhees, song sparrow and Bewick's wrens present.
A savannah sparrow was again in the weedy area near the gorse patch. Not sure if it was the same bird as yesterday, as it seemed brighter and better marked, with a much 'warmer' tertial/secondary patch.

Retracing my steps back to the viewing platform I noticed a cloud of hirundines feeding over the river mouth. Scanning through the 200 or so birds, they all appeared to violet-green swallows.
Then a tell-tale call alerted me to a Wilson's snipe - it flew up off the marsh on the other side of the river and rose high over me before flying out and plummeting down back onto the saltmarsh. When I say, 'tell-tale call' I mean I knew it was a snipe, not that I could distinguish it specifically as Wilson's, as opposed to common... I'm sure you know what I mean...

With it being high tide, at least the gulls and wildfowl were close enough to scope through - though, I couldn't find anything to get excited about.  

Oh, of note: we had our first red-breasted sapsucker in the yard* this morning.
* UK readers may wish to know that 'yard' in Canada means garden... not, like a back yard in Britain. And a shop is a shed, and a store is a shop... there's probably an entirely different blog in this...    

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Tasty sandwichensis...

It was a touch cool & breezy down at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning, but there were at least a few more birds around.
Unfortunately, the gulls and ducks were, again, miles away so there was no chance to give them a grilling. So, armed with little other than a heap of optimism, I went for a trample around looking for migrants.
I was swiftly rewarded with views of my first savannah sparrow of the year (pic right). My starter for ten so to speak, as this is a very common species - just not so in winter.
A northern shrike was hunting from the scattered trees out on the marsh.
Then I heard the distinctive and delightful call, of what was a new patch bird for me. Yes, the evocative sound of the magnificent pheasant. Hmm.
Back to proper birds, and a few violet-green swallows were moving through, though an hour's bush bashing failed to reveal any other migrants.
A single female crossbill turned up and posed nicely for a while.

I decided to head around to Holden Creek for a peek. The fields by the creek were teeming with American robins - at least 100. And, not one, but two more northern shrikes were hunting from the barb-wired fence. A flock of 30, or so, violet-green swallows were feeding over the fields.
Only a few green-winged teal and a couple of mallard were out on the marsh. More crossbills and a couple of siskin were scooting around. A pair of red-tailed hawks were out hunting, or seeing off passing bald eagles, while a female northern harrier was being bothered by a raven.    

Friday, 26 March 2010

Patch lowlights

It was pretty quiet down on the Nanaimo waterfront at lunchtime today, single pigeon guillemot and common loon offshore the only things of note.
A Bewick's wren was singing from one of the ornamental conifers, and the male Anna's hummingbird was perched up in his regular spot.

On my way home from work I noticed a merlin in pursuit of a starling over the highway near Petroglyph.
I went straight to the estuary for an hour, but it was painfully quiet. The ducks and gulls were miles out, with the tide, and there were no songbirds to be seen or heard at all. And I mean none. Not a song sparrow, not a towhee - nothing. In fact, other than a multitude of ravens, there was nothing until a lone flicker appeared. Its starring role was soon eclipsed by the appearance of a northern shrike - phew!
I need a better local patch...
Back in Blighty, I would have been trampling along the Lune estuary flushing smart wheatears and hearing chiffchaffs singing from the hawthorns on a day like today - mind you, I can't remember ever finding an American kestrel down there, so I suppose it's all relative!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Lake Late Show

Despite, or probably because of, the rain, decided to have a look around Quennell Lake this evening.
Not too much really to report, though there was an apparent increase in lesser scaup. I counted 56.
Also, around 60 common merganser were also there. Still approximately 60 or so shoveler, plus 30ish bufflehead and a few green-winged teal, pintail, mallard and American wigeon.
Good numbers of both tree and violet-green swallow were feeding over the lake and a bald eagle was cruising up and down.
As usual there were great-blue herons all over the place... oh, and best of all a beaver swan across! Forgive me, but I doubt I'll ever tire of seeing those...

Yesterday evening, Jenny and I walked to Hemer Park. Not excessively birdy, but it was great hearing the melancholic varied thrushes' haunting whistles throughout the forest.
A couple of ring-necked duck were on the pool along with pied-billed grebes, hooded mergansers and, er, mallard. A very loud barred owl was barking away from the depths of the forest, and kindly totally took no notice whatsoever of my crappy efforts to imitate it. On the way back home, a Cooper's hawk flew past us.
Incidentally, on my way home from work yesterday, a sharp-shinned hawk was being harried by a northwestern crow near the dump, and a turkey vulture drifted over the road at Cedar. Oh, and a pair of 'doves' flew across the road near the Co-Op gas station near the Cedar Rd junction. They looked like collared doves from the brief view I got...

And I'm starting to think that the current mystery bird is wwwwaaaayyyy too easy..!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Raptor raptures

Despite the only bird of note yesterday being the female northern harrier, I decided once again on a post-work trawl around the Nanaimo River estuary, this evening.

My optimism was actually rewarded, and I found a lovely female American kestrel. Despite the occasional unwanted attention from a couple of ravens, the bird seemed quite content and was hunting from a variety of posts and small trees. Nice.
A couple of tree swallows zipped through. I think I'm getting the hang of telling these from violet-greens, without having to clinch any salient plumage points, on the overall shape and jizz - the longer tail of tree seems quite apparent. Or am I deluded?
Again, the female northern harrier appeared from across the river and headed straight to the same area as last night - presumably to roost.
A belted kingfisher was rattling around.
Other than 7 great-blue herons bill-snapping in the big oak, it was fairly quiet.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Gulls just wanna have fun

Headed up the island a wee bit today for a grockle's day out. After a trip to Coombs, we dropped by Parksville to have a cup of tea at Rich & Lori's before heading out, Rich in tow, to see if we could find a slaty-backed gull. Two of these Asian vagrants have been seen recently, amongst the mass of birds along this stretch of coast, here for the annual herring spawn.

We went first, to French Creek. Offshore there were hundreds of long-tailed ducks & surf scoters, while there were almost constant fly-by's of birds, including numerous white-winged scoters. There were a few gulls on the beach, amongst them the commoner species: glaucous-winged, California, mew, and a cracking adult ring-billed gull - I think this may be the first RB gull I've seen on the island..? A large 1st winter glaucous gull dropped in, dazzling white. Guy Monty and Donna had arrived to do some gulling too, so we had a bit of a chat before heading round to another stretch a short distance along the coast where Guy informed us a mass of gulls were gathered.
We arrived to find the water's edge teeming with brant and gulls. Another glaucous gull was quickly found as we scanned through the birds, in search of something with a dark mantle. Today was not to be the day for such exotic rewards, but we thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

Back in Cedar, Jenny and I paid a quick visit to Quennell Lake for an early evening check. Still 70ish shoveler present, but only a few pintail and American wigeon. There was no sign of the large number of common mergansers that have been a feature of late, and only a handful of bufflehead.
There were, however, around 200 hirundines feeding over the lake - a mix of tree and violet-green swallow (approx. 70/30 respectively).
A northern shrike was hunting from a fencepost in the nearby fields and the single cackling goose was with just 36 Canada geese. A merlin flew through.  

Stop Press: we were obviously in the wrong place yesterday - see Mike Yip's pics of slaty-backed gull here: 

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Sprinkling of migrants...

Things looked good as I arrived at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning - there seemed to be robins all over the place. Had there been some overnight movement? I counted about 60 in the area around the big oak, plus a group of 30ish starling. There didn't appear to be anything associating with them though, and I was quickly distracted by a northern harrier hunting over the fields. It was an adult female, presumably passing through.

From the platform, it all looked pretty quiet - just the usual distant gulls. I could discern the regular glaucous-winged, mew and Californias only. Wildfowl continue to decline in number, the expected species were all present but with individuals. A drake Eurasian wigeon was still present, as can almost be determined by the accompanying photo. Not quite as good as last week's snow goose pic, but I'm trying. Now I come to look at it again, I'm assuming it wasn't someone doing a wildfowl puppet show behind that hump...
A sharp-shinned hawk flew through, briefly landing up in the hawthorns, and my first 'patch' turkey vulture passed over. Two tree swallow also came through. A western meadowlark was singing out in the fields and a northern shrike was hunting out there.

I squeezed in an hour at Buttertubs Marsh in the early afternoon but it was fairly unremarkable. Despite the profusion of yellow-rumped warblers that are around the island, I didn't find a single one! A lone male Anna's hummingbird showed well, and yet more tree swallows and 2 violet-green swallows were seen. Another 2 turkey vulture passed over.
The only waterbirds seen were hooded merganser, ring-necked duck and pied-billed grebe. Unless, of course, you count mallard and Canada goose, which generally speaking, I don't. Or 'The Heron'.
A few American goldfinch brightened things up and a group of 6 golden-crowned sparrow were by the feeders along with bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadee, etc.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Quintessential Quennel

Headed over to Quennell Lake this evening for a spot of post-work spotting. And what a lovely evening it was. Jenny even joined me, though chose to sit in the car doing a sudoku...

The frogs were croaking, the Brewer's and red-winged blackbirds were making their funny noises, and the mosquitos were emerging.

Approximately 400 Canada geese were feeding around the lake, and a single cackling goose was among them. As the geese left the lake area in small, noisy, gaggles the group containing the cackling goose passed overhead. Pretty easy to spot which one it is from the photo, huh? Any Brit readers, who have never seen this species, may well be surprised just how small it is!
Honestly, I haven't been at the Photoshop... nor is it actually a Canada goose just 50 feet further away...

Anyhoo, the usual small numbers of American wigeon, green-winged teal and mallard were around. Pintail numbers have gone down a bit, as have bufflehead.
I counted a total of 72 shoveler. About a dozen common merganser, 4 ring-necked duck and 22 lesser scaup were also present. 5 American coot were feeding along the weedy edges.
A belted kingfisher was sat on a snag.
A pair of killdeer were along the water's edge - the first I've seen here. Local returning breeders, or on passage?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Feast with Five Fingers

My lunchtime stroll today was brightened up by the lovely sunshine.
The house finches were singing on Front Street and the male Anna's hummingbird was in his usual spot. I wonder if I'll ever get used to, or indeed nonchalant about, seeing hummingbirds so regularly... I hope not.
Anyhoo, one of the glaucous-winged gulls-in-residence was doing the regular trick of swallowing a large purple starfish. When I say 'swallowing', I really mean standing there with a starfish hanging out of its gob. I wonder if they wait until the bit down the throat has dissolved, before turning it round and swallowing the rest? Nice thought...
Two black oystercatcher were feeding on an small, exposed skeer.

My post-work visit to the Nanaimo River estuary this evening was, initially, deathly quiet. Looking out to the water's edge - which was a fair way out, due to low tide - I could see about 500 roosting gulls, but I couldn't pick out anything notable at that range. A further 1500, or so, were about 1/2 mile offshore feeding in a long line. Pity I couldn't get closer...
The usual wildfowl species (wigeon, pintail, gadwall, mallard, bufflehead etc) were present, and a sub-adult peregrine provide a little bit of excitement, for a couple of minutes.
5 trumpeter swans were on the river. Incidentally, a herd of 20 or so, are often feeding in the fields at Yawning Acres Farm in Cedar. I wonder if these are the same birds that fly in and out of the estuary marsh?
Just as I was leaving a small group of sparrows flew up, and handily perched in a small hawthorn, just near the large oak. There were 7 golden-crowned, 1 white-crowned, 1 white-throated and a Lincoln's!

OK - the mystery duck. Well done, the majority of you got the ID correct. It was indeed a green-winged teal. I suppose the most obvious feature in support of this species was the pale patch along the tail side. That certainly, easily, rules out blue-winged without having to look much further. I think, the bird looks pretty dainty, and even without a direct size comparison the structure pretty much eliminates mallard. Likewise shoveler, though that can be harder to determine - being somewhere in size between teal and mallard. The face pattern is unlike shoveler, and the jizz is just not right for a feeding bird of that species. A bit vague, admittedly, but I think it was reasonably straightforward. Be interesting to see what the response is like to the new mystery bird... next time I'm going to make it really tough!            

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

(No) Power to the people

Went for my usual stroll around the waterfront in Nanaimo at lunchtime today.
Two pigeon guillemots were fishing around the place, as were a couple of pelagic cormorants - now resplendent with their white flank-patches.
The male Anna's hummingbird was keeping watch, as usual.
The sound of a bunch of birds in an ornamental conifer caught my attention, and a mixed flock containing 2 Bewick's wren, 3 juncos, 2 siskin and a ruby-crowned kinglet were all feeding in amongst the branches. It took quite some time to even figure out those from within the dense foliage, and I suddenly realised (to my horror) that on a good day, with a decent fall of birds I could easily use up my entire lunch break seeking inconspicuous birds quietly feeding in such vegetation... looks like I'll have to start having bigger breakfasts.

A post-work visit to Quennell Lake was met with a sodden downpour. On the plus side, the juv snow goose was back, and at least 2 cackling geese were present amongst the Canadas. Only 30 or so shovelers were visible, but that lake sure has a lot of hiding places. Up to 30 hirundines were feeding over the lake, but what with the rain and poor light, I really couldn't see anything more than silhouettes.
Got home to find the place without any power. In fact the whole town was out, and by 7.30pm we were starting to feel a touch hungry. We headed out in search of food and found ourselves at the first illuminated eatery we could find, a place called Smithy's.
I doubt we'll do that again.

Monday, 15 March 2010

More of the same...

As promised, made it down to the Nanaimo River estuary for a post work visit. As seems to be the case most times I go there (since the duck killing season came to an end), I had the place to myself.
Not so much avian activity, though a singing western meadowlark in the small trees in the field was a welcome, er, welcome.
Otherwise, it was a few song sparrows and towhees and little else.
Checking from the viewing platform, there were 11 trumpeter swans on the river plus good numbers of pintail, mallard and American wigeon. A few bufflehead and common goldeneye were also present.
A northern shrike was hunting near the river's edge.
I could hear the mournful song of a varied thrush drifting across the river, and picked it up singing from the top of a conifer. Very evocative in the dusky light!
I came face to face with a fine river otter, who after having a good stare at me, legged it off into one of the pools.    
I had a quick check along the long hedgerow, but there were no migrant yellow-rumps feeding up before roosting, or indeed, readying for a spot of over night migration. With all the juncos and sparrows having seemingly departed, it's bloody quiet down there! Only a matter of days and I'll be tripping over off-passage goodies... maybe!

Don't forget to vote on the identity of the mystery duck, if you haven't already. The truth is out there.  

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Good weather for ducks...

We abandoned our loosely planned trek down the coast to Maple and Genoa Bays today, and ended up just taking a walk to Hemer Park, in the drizzle.
It was pretty quiet down there, though we did spot the neighbourhood emus (I don't think they're tickable...) en route.
There was little on the pool, just a couple of ring-necked ducks and 4 hooded mergs.
The lake had good numbers of common merganser plus a few more ring-necked ducks and a pied-billed grebe, plus the regular buffleheads.
Siskins provided the soundtrack to our walk, along with the other expected common species.

Later, I felt the need to take a peek over at Quennell Lake.
The shoveler count was now at 94. A single cackling goose remained with the c250 Canadas still present.
A few American wigeon, mallard, bufflehead, pintail and green-winged teal were around, as were 5 lesser scaup and a single ring-necked duck. 4 American coot were present, and a belted kingfisher was sat, soggily, on a snag. There were no hirundines to be seen.

Oh yeah, just to confuse my readers from merry old England (and associated countries) the clocks went forward this weekend - so you're only 7 hours ahead of us for a couple of weeks... The good news is, it means I can enough light to get out for some decent birding after work!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Hard work, but worth it.

Blimey, it was hard work down the Nanaimo River estuary this morning. Quiet? Not half!
There was a very low tide, and as such all the wildfowl and gulls were miles out. The hedgerows were uncannily bereft of birds, no finch/sparrow flocks, at all... just the odd house finch, towhee and song sparrow.
I could hear a western meadowlark singing in the fields somewhere, but couldn't locate it.
There was a bit of activity overhead, with numerous bald eagles kicking around. Up to 5 were soaring together at one point, plus a couple of red-tailed hawks were busy hunting around the area - much to the chagrin of the local ravens.
A northern shrike showed up, and posed beautifully while I rattled off a couple of crap shots. See attached.
Only 2 trumpeter swans were out on the marsh, and a further 4 were on the river.

Deciding that I wasn't likely to stumble across much more, I headed to Holden Creek to see what was there.
Just a few dabbling green-winged teal were on the wet marsh. A couple of bufflehead were in the creek. 10 trumpeter swans were in the fields, along with the regular Canada geese and mallards. A pair of killdeer were back in the field, the first time I've seen them here for a while.
Another northern shrike was hunting along the hedgerow at the back of the marsh.

Checking my watch, I noticed that I could just about squeeze in a quick check at Quennell Lake before going and collecting Jenny from work...
There was no sign of the juv snow goose amongst the depleted number of Canadas, though at least 1 cackling goose was still present. A rather impressive 62 northern shoveler were counted. A few pintail, GW teal, and mallard were around as was a pair of lesser scaup and 3 American coot.
Best of all though, were the 40ish hirundines that were feeding high over the lake. The ones that I was able to positively identify, were all tree swallows. Spring! Whoo-hoo!  

Adding to the feeling that things were definitely on the move, we had a turkey vulture over the highway near Jinglepot.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Going for Gold

Not much to report today, but I thought I might as well post that there was a cracking male American goldfinch singing his heart out in the the Mafeo-Sutton Park in Nanaimo - once the blizzard stopped and the sun came out...

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Withdrawal pays out

With the exception of my old chum, the male Anna's hummer in Nanaimo's Mafeo-Sutton Park, I've not really seen much this week...
I was having some serious withdrawal symptoms, and so I dashed off down to Quennell Lake after work this evening, for a quick scout around.
There were still in the region of 750 Canada geese grazing around the lake edges and amongst them was a juv snow goose and at least 2 cackling geese.
Please observe the magnificent photo of said snow goose on the left... or is it a white plastic bag blowing past?
A family party of 5 trumpeter swans were on the water, as were up to 50 common merganser. Several American wigeon were present, as were bufflehead, mallard, green-winged teal, pintail and a minimum of 18 shoveler.

Of note: I suspect that there may be a heronry in the woodland by Cedar/Quennell Road, as at least 30 birds were 'flushed' out of it. They flew low around the tree tops in circles, before dropping back down out of sight.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Late lake look lacks life

Unfortunately, I was on the hunt for a much-needed tin-opener during my lunch break today, so the birding was somewhat limited... I made up for this atrocious state of affairs, with a dusky, post-work, visit to Quennell Lake.

The light, although fading, wasn't too bad and I managed a fairly convincing sweep through the 1000 or so Canada geese present - there appeared to be nothing of note amongst them.
On the water, there were about a dozen trumpeter swans plus small numbers of pintail, A. wigeon, GW teal, mallard, bufflehead & hooded mergs. A notable 'influx' of northern shoveler had taken place since my last visit, with 11 birds seen.
I hung around as the light vanished, but my only reward was the sight of a bunny.

Incidentally, I didn't find a suitable tin-opener.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Seeing red

Arrived at the end of Raines Road, at the Nanaimo River estuary, this morning to the delightful sound of singing western meadowlarks. At least 3 birds were visible in the scattered hawthorns in the fields immediately west of the parking area.
As I came up alongside the large oak there was a flurry of activity on my right, the golden-crowned sparrow flock was feeding in the low brambles and there amongst them, was the white-throated sparrow, plus 2 white-crowned, and a song sparrow.
Once again, there seemed to have been a mini-influx of American robins with small groups here and there.
I walked the entire length of the long hedge but it was rather dead, with the exception of the occasional towhee, song sparrow, flicker and a single fox sparrow.
A red-tailed hawk was keeping sentinel from a small tree out in the fields. I came across a small flock of c20 juncos, but they hadn't enticed anything interesting to join  them.
Out on the marsh just 12 trumpeter swans and 2 Canada geese were present, plus the usual 20-odd great blue herons. A couple of bald eagles were sitting around on old logs. A belted kingfisher was hunting along the creeks.

Checking the estuary mouth, there were around 500 gulls roosting there, but the heat haze made the option of going through them pretty pointless. Similarly, the wildfowl - but I could at least make out gadwall, American wigeon, hooded & common mergansers, common goldeneye, bufflehead, mallard, pintail & green-winged teal.

As I stood on the platform, a pair of red crossbill flew in and gave me some great views as they fed & drank by the pool edges, and perched up at eye level. Naturally, I couldn't resist getting a snap.

With an hour to kill before collecting Jen from work, I had a wander around the southern end of Buttertubs Marsh. I was rather hoping for a tree swallow... 
Being early afternoon, and very sunny, it wasn't too productive (lots of strollers) but it was good to hear, and eventually see, good numbers of marsh wren. Red-winged blackbird were also in fine voice, and were busy flashing their scarlet epaulets all over the reed beds. 
A nice male American goldfinch was singing away from the top of an alder.
I got incredibly good views of a mink too. I initially spotted it creeping around under some roots and a boulder, but I applied the old gamekeepers' trick of squeaking away and out it came to investigate. It approached extremely close, but was quickly disturbed by a couple as they clattered noisily along the path toward me.  

Incidentally, following the delivery of our worldly possessions from the UK on Thursday (only took 5 months...) Jenny and I took a stroll to Hemer Park. The birds were as expected, but we saw our first garter snakes of the year - 3 in all, sunning themselves and trying to get revved up for the season.
It's great to have got our stuff, I must say. I now have my many bird books to hand and my much-missed guitars. And Jenny has her impressive shoe and boot collection.


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Infamous grouse...

Okey dokey. Let's have a look at the 2nd mystery bird thing...

Well, it's definitely a grouse of some sort.
So, let's have a look first, at ruffed grouse. 14% of participants went for this species. There are few things that don't work for me, as far as this ruffed is concerned. No discernible crest, a lack of continuity in overall colour (ruffed are usually grey or rufous, not to my knowledge a mix of both - the pictured bird has both greys and browns in its plumage), there's no sign of a dark tail band and the bird appears to have a comb above the eye (lacking in ruffed).

How about Famous Grouse? Well, I was delighted to see that 7% voted in favour of this substandard blended Scotch whisky. Thank you for joining in with my crap gag.

Spruce grouse? Hmm, some good features in favour of this. And 21% of you agreed. That heavy pale scalloping on the flanks, the reddish(?) coloured comb, the white feathering around the eye, above the bill and sneaking onto the cheek... but what about that distinctly pale grey tail tip?

So, what about sooty grouse? A whopping great 57% went for this. The aforementioned tail tip certainly suggests this species, and the comb on this relatively newly split species does average darker than on interior dusky grouse. Also that pale feathering on the flanks does not suggest the heavy white spots, as should be seen on a spruce. Oh, and I photographed it in Tofino, which, of course, you didn't know...

In conclusion... well done, it is indeed a sooty grouse. Though, I feel that I must point out that it was still a blue grouse when I took the photo.  

Now, have a go at the latest one. Not quite so easy as the grouse, but not as tricky as the sparrow. I was tempted to put 'Duck' as one of the options...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A day of two halves

My lunchtime stroll around the Nanaimo waterfront today was a little more interesting than it has generally been of late (though, in fairness, yesterday a lone black oystercatcher was flying around).
A group of around 50 gulls were bathing just offshore. The majority were glaucous-winged, though several Californias were present, and a single adult herring gull (or at least, as close to a 'pure' one as any that I've seen over here). A couple of mew gulls were flying around, as usual.
Red-breasted merganser, common and Barrow's goldeneye & bufflead were busy fishing, as were pelagic and double-crested cormorants.
A 'mini-influx' of robins were feeding on the grassed areas with a pair of flickers and a pair of starling. The male Anna's hummingbird was making its funny farty noises, and posing well in the weak sunlight - gorget all aglow!

After work I made a dusk visit to the Nanaimo River estuary. Once again, I had the place to myself for the brief period of remaining daylight.
22 trumpeter swans were out on the marsh, they were joined by another 8, which came in in 3 small separate groups flying from the south-east.
A northern harrier, presumably the regular juv, was perched up in a distant hawthorn out in the fields and a short-eared owl eventually made an appearance in the fading light.

Oh, the answer to the mystery gamebird will be posted soon... (been delayed for reasons too dull to bore you with)