Sunday, 30 May 2010


After a pretty rubbish day yesterday, when I couldn't find any birds anywhere, today was a significant improvement.
Just to put yesterday morning into perspective: I arrived at the Nanaimo River estuary to find top local birder Steve Baillie tapping determinedly into his Blackberry. He informed me that I'd missed a male lazuli bunting by minutes! Nice find, Steve!
Despite an hour searching the area, I failed to relocate it - or anything else of interest. Ralph Hocken arrived, and after a while I decided to go and check the mudflats, in case any shorebirds were out there taking advantage of the low tide. Ralph came along and we soon discovered that the food-rich estuary was being spectacularly ignored by any long-billed transients. A quick, desperate, stop at Holden Creek was equally bleak.
Ever optimistic, I returned to the estuary in search of a certain bunting late afternoon, to no avail. Though, a pair of warbling vireo in the oak provided a pleasant distraction.

So, I decided to take Sunday a lot more easily. Jenny and I took a leisurely stroll to Hemer Park, before the rain commenced. Highlights here included: chipping sparrowswestern tanager, black-headed grosbeak & gadwall.

Later, I headed down to Holden Creek and gave it a thorough once-over. A single pectoral sandpiper was on the 'back pool' - see pic. Other than that, just the usual spotted sandpipers, killdeer, red-tailed hawk, yellow warbler etc were noted. An osprey flew over.
I drove over to the estuary and decided to have a careful creep around the bushes near the big oak - just in case...
After rousing a few white-crowned sparrows, my pishing was met with a distinctive 'tick' call, considerably less metallic sounding that the w.c. sparrows'. I continued to pish and BINGO! Up popped the lazuli bunting. It sat out in the open for a short while, allowing a snap or two, before diving into the brambles. Thrilled (yes, it was a world tick!), I decided to leave it alone and have a quick check from the platform.
The rain was coming in now, and other than 3 green-winged teal on the river, there was little to get excited about. I headed back to the car and was amazed to see the lazuli bunting feeding on the footpath between the oak and the car park! It flew up and landed on the wire fence, posing nicely before flying off towards the fields.


Friday, 28 May 2010

Teal for Two

I made my way down to Holden Creek this evening, just as the tide was rising. Other than 7 spotted sandpiper, there were no shorebirds to be seen until I spotted a greater yellowlegs way out on the back pool.
The a flock of 17 teal flew in and landed on the same pool - they all appeared to be blue-winged. Scoping through, there were 15 drakes and just 1 duck, plus a drake cinnamon teal that I hadn't picked up in flight(!). Nice sight.
Otherwise it was all quiet, with the exception of a peregrine that came through briefly scattering the starlings.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Oriole surprise

A quick visit to Holden Creek after work this evening was pretty unproductive - the tide was rolling in but nothing was being flushed out of any channels, boggy nooks or, indeed, muddy crannies. At least 5 spotted sandpiper were seen, with some renewed courtship taking place.

I decided to leg it round to Raines Road, to check the estuary from there. I arrived to find the river rising significantly, and the marsh flooding. I scanned around but other than two very distant flying peeps, there were no shorebirds of note. The pair of spotted sandpiper were moving noisily around the place and a pair of killdeer were also present.
Paddling around with the few mallard still in the area, were 9 gadwall and a lingering drake American wigeon.
A bald eagle was taking advantage of the high water levels and grabbing at something from a flooded grassy area by the river (pic).
A surprise came in the form of 3 cedar waxwings that were flycatching from a hawthorn near the viewing platform.

Just before I left I thought I'd have one last look out by the 'bluebird posts'. Glad I did. I spotted a distant, medium-sized passerine flying into a small bush out on the flooded marsh. Through bins at considerable range it looked greenish. Huh?
Keeping my eye on the bush, I erected my tripod and got onto it with my 'scope, just as it flew! I could see yellow on its head and undertail... I found it again as it clambered around in a small crabapple. Oriole! White wing bars, brownish upperparts, pale belly - female Bullock's oriole. Nice one. I watched it distantly for a few seconds as it moved around from small bush to small bush, and I even managed a quick, crap, shot (pic) before it took to the air and flew high in the direction of Holden Creek.  

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Water, water everywhere...

Blimey, the water levels were really high at Holden Creek this evening. As I was there the tide continued to bring water in until it resembled not so much as creek, as a lake.
Anyhoo - I expect that a couple of pairs of spotted sandpiper will have lost eggs. I guess it's early enough for them to re-lay, if that is the case.
At least 2 pairs seem to have established their nests out of harms reach, as regards flooding.
There weren't any other waders in evidence - just goes to show that frequent coverage is essential as regards spring passage birds. The dowitchers, semi-palmated plovers and pectoral sandpipers, that I've seen, have all been one-dayers. Makes one wonder what was there, on the days no-one checked! That's the kind of thinking that can keep me awake at night!
A female purple martin briefly joined the other swallow species to make a full suite of hirundines and as I was leaving a handful of black swifts came in with a single Vaux's among them. As I watched them, the sky practically filled with swifts until there were approximately 80 blacks swirling around. I'd always just thought of black swifts as being pretty much the nearctic version of European common swift, but the more I see of them the more apparent it is that they are strikingly different in so many ways.  

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Pec' 'pipers prove positive

The tide was encouragingly high this evening when I arrived at Holden Creek but my thoughts of hordes of refuge seeking shorebirds seemed dashed.
A check along the creek revealed the usual spotted sandpipers.
A combination of recent rain, and high tidal levels, meant that the marsh was at least wet and several of the flashes contained enough water to, hopefully, attract any passing waders over the next few days. Ever the optimist...
Scanning out across the marsh I spotted a large shorebird feeding on the very furthest pool. Great. 'Scoping it, it was as expected, a greater yellowlegs. However, some smaller waders were nearby and I just couldn't get enough on them as they weaved around in the grassy edges. Unfortunately, it wasn't only distance that was against me but the sun had decided to show up for the first time all day, and was liberally blasting down and creating lovely silhouettes.

I walked out onto the marsh and eventually positioned myself at the base of one of the pilings for the electricity poles.
Through bins, at this far better range, their identity was pretty well confirmed but a 'scoping made it certain. 4 pectoral sandpipers (2 of which are pictured, with customary lack of skill, left).
Not exactly what I'd have liked them to be, but beggars, as they say, can't be choosers and it was great to watch them feeding alongside the yellowlegs. I guess they're not particularly common birds on Vancouver Island in the spring?
Otherwise, 3 killdeer, 2 ospreys, common yellowthroat and the usual stuff kept me busy.

Monday, 24 May 2010

One good tern, etc

An early evening wander around the Nanaimo River estuary was timed pretty nicely to coincide with the exodus of the last of the day's dog walkers & saltmarsh wanderers.
Naturally, it was reasonably quiet bird-wise (UK readers note: today was a Bank Holiday, Victoria Day. In honour of the Queen of the same name. Pity these Canadians don't have a day off for every dead British monarch, I'd have a lot more time on my hands for birding...) athough an osprey fishing over the sea made for a pleasant sight.
A spotted sandpiper was on the river and I could hear a greater yellowlegs calling from out in the creeks. As I scanned over the tide edge I noticed a pair of Caspian tern fishing around the estuary mouth. Nice.
Crossbills were still in evidence, with a small group feeding by the pool edge.

A quick check of Holden Creek was, unfortunately, pretty unremarkable. Just a handful of spotted sands were on the creek.

Mystery revealed...

Okey dokey. Mystery bird time. Not as straightfoward as I assumed it would be.
Nobody went for peregrine. Odd, given a majority vote for a falcon sp.
11% chose short-eared owl. I think we can quickly discount this species on the upper wing pattern and colouration alone. The overall wing shape doesn't look right for an owl, and the tail seems way to long.
19% of those taking part went for sharp-shinned hawk. Structurally, more convincing than SE owl, I must say, and those wings do look a little accipiter-ish even if the overall jizz seems a bit off. But what about that reddish upperpart colouration? I'd be surprised to see that on a sharpie. Looking at the tail, I'd suggest also that the barring is too 'fine' for this species.
So, that leaves us with a clear winner: American kestrel, which attracted the lion's share with a whopping 69% of the participants' votes. And indeed they're all correct. This was a female kestrel photographed on the Nanaimo River estuary by Ralph Hocken (thanks for the pics Ralph). Same bird shown here.

Thanks, as always for taking part and please feel free to comment on any pics, or my wishy-washy descriptions.  

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Had a quick late morning scan over at Quennell Lake today. Couldn't see the ruddy duck, but there were a few boats on the water, so maybe it had moved to a quieter part of the lake.
A Cooper's hawk caused some consternation amongst the swallows and Brewer's blackbirds, who mobbed it relentlessly until it scarpered. At the southern end of the lake, 6 purple martin were feeding among the commoner hirundines.
What was presumably a cedar waxwing flew by, identified as such only by the sight of yellow tail tips and absence of white in the wing.

Later, Jenny and I had a walk along the Cable Bay Trail. It was pretty birdy, with lots of stuff calling and singing - very frustrating for a Brit birder such as me with a lot of aural learning to do! Of the things I did recognise, or see, were black-headed grosbeak, Swainson's thrush, Wilson's warbler, western tanager, brown creeper, hairy woodpecker and pileated woodpecker and peregrine.
Best of all however was the Cassin's vireo that kindly responded well to my pishing. My mate Adrian had found the nest site of a pair here last week, and having thoroughly embedded the song into my head picked up on it immediately as it sang from up in the canopy. I got great views of the male as it came down to investigate the curious psshhh noises below. Now, as it hard as it may seem, this was actually a world tick for me, and certainly the commonest Vancouver Island bird I'd not seen. Yippee!
We also came across a fab little masked shrew, which allowed us close approach as it scoffed an unfortunate beetle. Jenny's undoubted highlight of the walk...

Late afternoon, spurred on by my first tick in 5 months, I decided to go the airport and see if I could add Vesper sparrow to my BC list. I eventually found a single bird (pictured), and as I looked at it I had the horrible feeling that I was looking at a vesper sparrow for the very first time. Somehow or other, I'd got it into my head that I'd seen this species before, but after I got home and checked through some notebooks it would appear that I had gained another tick! How the hell did that happen? Idiot.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Ruddy heck, a noteworthy duck!

Didn't really get any birding in today until early evening when an, ill-timed, visit to Holden Creek coincided with a spell of persistent drizzle. Nice.
Not too much to report, as a result. A single least sandpiper was on the creek, and at least 5 spotted sandpipers were chasing each other around. A couple of Wilson's warblers were feeding in the gorse.

As it started to clear, I headed to Quennell Lake to see if I could find anything interesting there. Again, a single least sandpiper was on the muddy ex-lake, as were a couple of killdeer with 1 chick.
A lone drake green-winged teal was with 5 mallard at the back and a drake wood duck was on the actual lake (ie the one with water). Tones of hirundines were feeding around the place - northern rough-winged, barn, tree, violet-green and cliff were all present in good numbers. I couldn't resist snapping a couple as they sat on the wires in the low sunlight. (For those not familiar with American swallows, the pic shows from left to right, violet-green, cliff & tree). A Vaux's swift came through and fed briefly before heading off north.
Something of a surprise was a female ruddy duck on the lake. I think they're pretty scarce 'round these parts... I think this is another species I last saw on vancouver Island back in the early 90s.

Glad to see such a good response the most recent mystery bird... answer, and a new one, coming soon!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Black Friday

After seeing our guests off at 6.45am, I headed off to the Nanaimo River estuary for a spot of pre-work birding, despite the downpour.
As soon as I arrived at the parking area it stopped raining - wow, what luck!
The area around the big oak was jumping with yellow warblers, plus a couple of Wilson's. It became apparent however, that little had been dumped in the rain and my hopes of a kingbird, redstart, or such treasure, drained away along with the rain water.
As I was leaving however, a handful of black swifts appeared overhead and as I watched them, yet more  pass through - I estimated a total of around 70 birds. They continued to feed over the estuary and drifted toward Holden Creek.  

After work, I went to the aforementioned creek but it was just as quiet as yesterday, really. On the plus side, the spotted sandpiper numbers had crept up to an impressive 8 birds.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Devil birds over Nanaimo

The undisputed highlight of my day was noticing some dark scythes heading my way, as I glanced out of the office window just before 11am today. A small flock of approximately 12 black swifts started feeding around the building, having come in just ahead of a gloomy, dark cloud. They continued to whizz around for about 40 minutes before spiralling away. Excellent stuff - another bird I hadn't seen for quite a few years!
The only other ave of notice was the male Anna's hummer down at the Mafeo Sutton Park at lunchtime.

In the evening, Adrian joined me for his final Canadian birding jaunt down to Holden Creek, before heading back to Blighty in the morning. It was pretty unremarkable - 3 spotted sandpiper were the only waders seen. Otherwise, it was hirundines, cowbirds and goldfinches... and Mike Ashbee.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Early birder swiftly does it

Squeezed a quick half hour down at the estuary this morning on my way to work. Seemed quite birdy with a few seemingly new yellow warblers around and a couple of spotted sandpiper on the river.
Couldn't find anything too exciting, unfortunately, but just as I was about to leave a single Vaux's swift came over and spent around 30 seconds flitting around close by and giving great views. Last time I saw one of these in BC was back in '92 or '93, or whenever it was I first visited Vancouver Island...

Later, in the evening, Mr Dawson and I headed down to Cable Bay Trail to follow up on a Cassin's vireo nest that he had found earlier in the day. While we were there, a barred owl was betrayed by 'pinking' robins and we heard several, and saw one, Swainson's thrush.  

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Am I being gull-ible?

Headed down to Buttertubs Marsh with Adrian for a bit of early morning birding and it was rather quiet, unfortunately.
Wildfowl comprised: 3 drake hooded merganser, 1 drake ring-necked duck, 2 mallard, 3 wood duck (inc brood of 7 ducklings) and a bunch of those Canada geese. A western tanager made an appearance.
Good numbers of common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, etc around. A male Anna's hummingbird showed well, as did a racoon - providing Adrian with a mammal tick! Still didn't hear any frackin' rails - what's going on?!

Yesterday - incidentally, I came across this gull in Nanaimo. It was very white, as you can see, and rather dainty compared to the nearby glaucous-wingeds. I assume it's a very worn and bleached-out 1st w GW, it's all dark bill suggests that, as much as anything else (and I doubt a Kumlien's would turn up here!). It actually had no tail, which was odd. Anyway, any thoughts would be welcome!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Long weekend

Well, dear readers, I feel I must apologise for the lack of posts in recent days. I'm sure you're all devastated.
So, what have been up to?
Early Friday morning, my chum Adrian and I headed down for a trawl around the Nanaimo River estuary and Holden Creek. Highlights included a cracking drake blue-winged teal (my first here & a year tick), northern harrier, American goldfinch and the usual stuff at the estuary. We stopped at the marshy area on Gordon Rd and had two fab black-headed grosbeak (another year-tick) and common yellowthroat.
At Holden there were 3 dowitchers out on the marsh. Our perception was that they were 2 short-billed and 1 long-billed but I'd hate to put money on it! The 2 appeared paler bellied, and slightly smaller and shorter-billed than the darker bird. Silent dowitchers make me very unhappy..! Three spotted sandpiper were present.

Later we set off for a long weekend in Sooke. To cut a long story short, we did plenty of hiking and what-not, but the birds weren't terribly forthcoming. Adrian was pleased to see immaculate harlequins (having only seen one previously, a female on the Isle Of Lewis) and was chuffed when we went trundling into the forest to find the cause of a 'pinking' robin - a barred owl (pictured). Other stuff included rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemot, osprey, merlin, Wilson's warbler, etc etc...
To be honest, the table-football, food, company and cottage at Anderson Cove were enough to compensate for the lack of rare vagrants and seabirds. And we enjoyed the pot-holes.
On the way back we stopped at Swan Lake. Ridiculously, this was my first visit to this brilliant site. We had a quick look and got ace views of yellow warblers, Anna's hummer and a pair of purple martins. And I've never had as good views of marsh wren!
I met up with Chris Saunders to collect vols 1&2 of Birds of BC (cheers Chris!). Pity we didn't have time to join him for a spot of birding at Swan Lake, but 18 month old Isobella had set the agenda and we had to get back to Nanaimo...

Monday evening -  a quick visit to Holden with Jenny after work and there were four spotted sandpipers now present, plus 7 least sandpiper but little else of note. Later, Adrian and I had a look at Quennell Lake. Despite the northern lake area being all mud and shallow pools now, there were no waders to be seen. Looks promising though... A red-necked grebe was on the 'mid' lake, and 5 wood duck were near the northern end.            


Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tanager tops tally

Another delightful morning down on the estuary.

No sign of any passerine migrants, just the regular stuff. There were yellow-rumped, orange-crowned and yellow warblers and a couple of American goldfinch in the big oak.
A small party of red crossbill were flying around and the usual savannah and white-crowned sparrows were scattered around. A single golden-crowned sparrow made an appearance.
5 least sandpiper flew over from the river and I could hear a greater yellowlegs calling somewhere.
A air of cinnamon teal made a surprise appearance, dropping in onto one of the small pools below the platform. They hugged the shaded bank for a few minutes before taking off and flying back across the river and onto the marsh. I managed to get a typically crappy shot, as you can see.

The highlight of my working day was seeing an osprey from my newly acquired window seat!

In the evening my old chum, visiting from merry old England, Adrian 'Ziggy' Dawson and I went for a stroll down to Hemer Park. Highlights included a superb male western tanager, which responded nicely to some pishing. We also saw marsh wren, Pacific-slope flycatcher, brown creeper, chipping sparrow and what-have-you.
Muskrat was a nice new mammal for my Hemer list!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Tennessee Waltz...

Yesterday morning (Tue) I went down to the estuary, and there had obviously been a bit of movement as the big oak, and immediate area, was alive with warblers. Several yellow warblers, 2 Wilson's warblers, a couple of yellow-rumped and a few orange-crowned.
Also there was a curious little warbler that caught my eye... my first thoughts were that it might be some very pale, washed out orange-crowned, maybe a 1st year bird. But I have absolutely no idea whether birds hatched last year, retain a juv plumage or indeed, if they do, whether they would bother moving north until in breeding plumage.
Anyhoo - as I watched this interesting critter I noticed that it had a tendency to feed in the lower vegetation around the base of the tree, as opposed to all the other birds, which were feeding in and around the canopy. Its jizz reminded me of a phyllosc.    
On the whole it resembled an orange-crowned but for the following things: very pale off-white undertail coverts, a clear eyestripe (creating a pale supercillium effect), a pale yellow wash restricted to the breast and greyish head, contrasting with the olivey upperparts. My thoughts were, that it was possibly a female Tennessee warbler.
Now, I have since been informed by Derrick Marven that 1st year non-breeders do return in spring & look pale and washed out, and having since done some reading on the matter, I am no less, or more, confused! These avian beasts can lead one a merry dance...
I also hadn't realised quite how scarce Tennessee warbler is on the island, which of course doesn't preclude it from being one but does make it less likely. Had it been a male Tenn. then, it wouldn't have been a problem - however, I'm going to have to scrutinize more of these atypical orange-crowneds and see if I can find more that looked like this bird! Oh, what fun...!

Other birds noted through the fug of confusion included: downy woodpecker, northern harrier & 2 peregrines hunting waders over the estuary.
A racoon was along Raines Road (my first here) and later 2 band-tailed pigeons (my first of the year) were near the Nanaimo River bridge.    

Monday, 10 May 2010

Owls well that ends well.

Jen and I elected to take an evening stroll to Hemer Park when we got home from work today. It was lovely, and the outskirts of the wood were alive with comma butterflies (not sure which species - we only have one back home, I'll try and look it up...)
The forest was quiet, until we arrived on the east side of the pool, where the sun was still hitting the trees. Varied thrush still singing, plus brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatch and so on.
We stood on the platform and watched 3 beavers for 20 minutes - great! A pair of wood duck were on the pool fringes.
Then a barred owl called from our side of the pool, soon followed by another deep into the woods on the other side. This carried on for a while and when we eventually set off back we heard an agitated robin - hmm - and there were a couple of anxious chickadees and a Pacific-slope flycatcher... ah, there it is! A barred owl was sat on a low branch poking out from the side of a cedar. We had a good look at it, then left it to its own devices.  

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Weekend round-up...


Went to Holden Creek for a scout around in the morning. Not too amazing - a spotted sandpiper, a greater yellowlegs and about 20 least sandpiper were around the creek. A group of 5 dunlin and 7 western sandpiper flew in briefly. Had the mystery surrounding the killdeer disappearances illustrated by a Cooper's hawk as it snatched the last remaining chick from the marsh, and pulled it apart in a nearby hawthorn.
The cliff swallows were mud-gathering again, and allowed some rubbish pics to be taken, as evidenced by the attached photo.

A quick check of the Nanaimo River estuary revealed little of note, just the regular stuff.

Went for a very swift visit to Buttertubs Marsh on my way to retrieve Jenny from work and the place was jumping with my first dazzling yellow warblers of the year. An osprey was sat, conveniently, on the osprey platform.    


Jen and I went for a walk to Hemer Park and back along the Mordern Trail. Pacific-sloped flycatchers were calling throughout the forest, and one even bothered to give us ace views as it fly-caught from a branch at eye level.
We had an osprey pass low over the pool, and circled a couple of times in search of prey.
Along the Mordern Trail, we had views of a couple of warbling vireos which were an 'almost' tick, in as much as I haven't seen one since 1993!
Other stuff we spotted along the way included California quail, rufous hummers, yellow-rumped and orange-crowned warblers, rough-winged swallow and my first chipping sparrows of the year.

Later (roughly, Hockey O'clock) I went for a look at Holden Creek.
2 spotted sandpiper, 1 killdeer and 14 least sands were the sole representatives of the wading fraternity.
A fine adult peregrine came through upsetting everything.
A frustrating flock of 40+ American pipit kept getting up and flying around, landing only in the choicest, most distant, furrowed and undulating ground with the deepest vegetation... sods. Particularly in light of the red-throated pipit discovered today amongst its yanky congeners further down the island. Not, of course, that I am suggesting that such a rare bird would have been in the Holden flock - but it goes to show how rarities will latch onto common carrier species and by checking every flock of common birds, you significantly improve your chances of discovering that mega!
Now 5 white-fronted geese in the fields. It's a bit crap when, in the first week of May, a common goose species is still making the top 10 of birds seen at a site...                

Friday, 7 May 2010

Golden Holden

On the way home from work, Jenny and I stopped off at the Chase River Estuary park trail - a lovely wee spot, probably not too bad for birds at the right time of day/year...

Anyhoo, I dropped the missus off and legged it down to Holden Creek.
Quite an increase in the number of least sandpiper this evening with approx. 60 birds scattered around the marsh. The killdeer have 'lost' two of their chicks. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one is unfortunate, to lose two, looks like carelessness...
A single greater yellowlegs and 2 spotted sandpiper were on the main creek.

Up to 8 American pipit were feeding on the marsh, and a couple showed on the muddy creek edge briefly (pic left). Got chance to have really good look at these spanking birds - absolutely gorgeous, far better than silly bluebirds or flashy warblers.
No sign of the semi-p plovers.
3 cackling geese and 4 white-fronted geese had dropped in and joined the 'resident' Canadas.
All the swallows were showing really well in the glorious golden evening sunlight, including the cliff swallows which were gathering mud again on the creek.

Popped by the boggy area on Gordon Road to have a listen for rails but there was nothing doing. A pair of common yellowthroat were nest building and the drake wood duck was there again - where's the female gone? In a hole somewhere nearby?

Oh, forgot to mention yesterday - had my first house wren of the spring down at the Nanaimo River Estuary.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

New birds make my day

A beautiful morning, and couple of new birds in at Holden Creek.
On the sluiced channel, a small party of 12 least sandpiper were busy feeding away, while a single spotted sandpiper worked its way along the muddy edge.
A greater yellowlegs was present on the main creek, and the pair of spotted sandpipers were feeding in tandem at the creek junction - making 3 present in all.
The killdeer family appear to have relocated onto the marsh. A pair of semi-palmated plover (shoddy pic, right) were new in out on the muddy areas on the marsh - my first here.
Otherwise, a dozen or so more least sands were the only other waders in evidence.

After work I nipped down to the Nanaimo River estuary, but there was little going on. A couple of American goldfinch were in song, as were plenty of white-crowned and savannah sparrows.
A merlin caused some panic amongst the hirundines briefly, who saw it off with impressive determination.
A couple of greater yellowlegs and a least sandpiper were on the river.
A pair of brown-headed cowbirds were working the hedgerow, no doubt seeking nests to parasitize.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Spots before my eyes

Very pleasant, though not too birdy down at the Nanaimo River estuary. Hardly surprising really, given that a pair of free-range, 'ownerless' alsatians were running around the marsh for around 40 minutes - mainly chasing savannah sparrows.
A greater yellowlegs was on the river, as was a single least sandpiper.
2 American goldfinch were zipping about as were a couple of crossbill. No real evidence of any migrants, other than 4 golden-crowned sparrows, a yellow-rumped and a handful of orange-crowned warblers. Female northern harrier still around.
Then, at 8.20am, a huge skein of c.450-500 white-fronted geese headed south, followed by another of c160 around 5 minutes later.

After work I headed to Holden Creek. A few more least sandpipers around this evening, but still only 35 in total. Another spotted sandpiper had arrived, and it was great to watch the slightly larger female displaying to the rather timid male. First time I've ever seen this - ace!  
Looks like the white-fronts had got the hint this morning and moved on...
Otherwise, regular stuff included red-tailed hawks, killdeer, goldfinches plus cliff, tree, violet-green & barn swallows.


Monday, 3 May 2010

Crappy Monday

You'd think that after all these years I'd know better than to go out when it's freezing, blowing a gale and chucking it down. Trouble is, some of the best birds I've ever seen, or found, have been in such grizzly conditions... what's a birder to do? Get a dousing, suffer an hour, or several, and trust that one day it'll all be worth it when that real crippler pops up in front of your bins.

So, from my opening paragraph, you, dear reader, can assume that I saw buggar all this evening. Correct.
I headed to Holden Creek, soggy shorebirds on my mind. Unfortunately, it was even worse than yesterday and just 13 least sandpiper (pictured) and the regular spotted sandpiper were present. It was utterly devoid of anything else, except a heron and a bunch of green-winged teal. Even the majority of the swallows were hiding. On the subject of swallows, I'm often taken aback by the difference in the colour of the underparts of North American erythrogaster barn swallows, compared to rustica ones - they're quite startling!

Still on the subject of swallows, I recently moved desks at work, and bagged a window - where I've been adding such stuff as bald eagle, turkey vulture, pigeon etc to my 'desk list'. Today I was rather delighted to see 8 purple martins heading right at me. Perked me up a bit.          

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Promise fizzles in the drizzle

Great - the wind's got some south in it, it's drizzling - surely some diurnal migrants would give themselves up today? (I was up 'late' and had stuff to do, so any early morning searching was out of the question)

I went to Holden Creek and scoured the marsh. There were even fewer birds here today, just two small groups of least sandpiper totalling fewer than 20 birds (one of which is pictured, badly, left). No westerns at all.
The spotted sandpiper was still present, as were 4 killdeer (confirmed that there are actually 4 chicks).
Raptors included northern harrier, 2 peregrine, merlin, bald eagle & red-tailed hawk. Turkey vultures were also floating around.
9 white-fronted geese were still in the fields, with an attendant cackling goose.
I suppose, if nothing else, I was able to add weight to my thoughts that low tide is crap for many waders here, as they've got tons of other suitable feeding habitat to go at. (I guess that only applies to those prone to feeding in intertidal areas, whereas more 'marsh-loving' species wouldn't be too affected by tide times.) I'm supposing that given a smaller area in which to feed, the birds will become more concentrated and therefore, on a dropping tide there may well be more shorebird activity at Holden Creek. Incidentally,where do these migrating peeps, etc roost?
A quick visit to the estuary was pretty birdless, bar the zillions of swallows and good numbers of golden-crowned sparrows, seen along Raines Road.

Bad identification confession no. 1 (in a series of, probably lots, to come)

Oh, one more thing (as Columbo might say) I've decided that my identification of 3 semi-palmated sandpipers the other day was absolute bollocks. Having spent a few more hours in the field, and reading lots, I am pretty confident that they were westerns. Embarrassing, I know... but a lesson learnt, if nothing else. Every day's a school day, etc etc. D'oh!

Mystery bird revealed!

Well, it looks as if sparrows present some of the more interesting responses to these mystery bird pics than I might have expected.
So; house sparrow didn’t really come into play and took just a measly 10% of the vote.  I thought that more might have gone for this, but I was obviously doing the readers of this blog something of a diservce!
So, why not house sparrow?  One of the most obvious things is the length of the tail, our mystery bird has a pretty long tail, while house sparrow’s is significantly short. And that deep notch too, is a no-no. Given that this would be a female were it that introduced species, the wing pattern too would be clearly different to the bird in the photo.
Also with 10% was Brewer’s sparrow and structurally our bird is all wrong for this species, plus it’s a bit too colourful!  Even at the angle of the bird in the pic, it clearly has a ‘plain’ face and a Brewer’s would surely show some sign of a pattern? I’ve seen very few Brewer’s myself, but the sheer bulk and warm-tones of this bird clearly say no, to me.    
White-crowned was favoured by a significant 36% of contributors. Not too surprising as there’s a lot here to suggest that species. Overall, the structure’s good, as is the general colouring but I reckon that yellow bill would be more obvious and even on a 1st winter  bird surely there would still be a discernable eye-stripe? And some darker feathering at the rear of the crown?    
Golden-crowned just sneaked through as favourite with one more vote than white-crowned, and took an impressive 42% .  Well, that’s because it is one! It’s quite featureless at that angle – something that aids its identification, ironically. I’ve attached another pic of the same bird at a slightly different angle, just for proof!
If anyone has anything to add to my rather poor descriptions here, please feel free to comment – I need to learn as much as I can (as proven by semi-p-gate)! 
A new mystery bird will wing its way onto this page shortly...  

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A Cedar sites Saturday

A latish start today, after dropping Jenny at work, and I headed down to Holden Creek. I met Mike Ashbee as I arrived, he was just coming away. He reported that it was bit on the quiet side, but he'd at least had 4 fly-by dowitchers and an overhead osprey to brighten up the morning.
I had no such luck, and despite a pretty thorough search couldn't add anything of note to the birds that Mike had seen.
Least sandpiper numbers were down, probably fewer than 40 birds present, but I counted 5 western sandpipers (pic). Other than 4 killdeer (and the 3 growing chicks), that was it for waders. Even the teal number were reduced.
All the hirundines were in the 'hood, at one time they all got a little disturbed by a passing sharp-shinned hawk.
4 white-fronted geese remain with the Canadas in the field.
As I came away, I met Ralph Hocken, who was hoping to get some shots, particularly of the mud-gathering cliff swallows.

I headed round for a quick check at the Nanaimo River estuary, but it was painfully bereft of notable avian activity... so, I elected for a brief look at Quennell Lake. Unfortunately, that too was on the quiet side with no wildfowl present, bar a few Canada geese. A lovely male American kestrel showed brilliantly, and attracted a violent response from the local Brewer's blackbirds!

Early evening, Jenny and I took a walk along the Cable Bay Trail. Birds here included numerous rufous hummingbirds, 3 red-breasted sapsucker, 3 hermit thrush, and the usual forest denizens. Identified Pacific-slope flycatcher on call - thanks to Rich Mooney's empidonax vocalisations masterclass...!