Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Autumn birding starts early

Visited Holden Creek again this evening and found that the place was more like late summer than the end of June.
A group of mixed waders were feeding along the creek, the majority being western sandpiper (34) plus least sandpiper (11) and a single bird which I believe was a semi-palmated sandpiper.
Now, I realise that they're quiet scarce on this part of Vancouver Island, so I'm happy to be corrected. I'm not terribly familiar with the species having rarely seen them in the past, and the thing that really bothers me about this individual is that it appears to be a juvenile, and it just seems too early for a young bird of that species to be down here at the end of June. As I say, please correct me if I'm mistaken. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see any webbing between the bird's toes, and taking shots with a hand-held camera up to my 'scope doesn't allow for quality images that might reveal that feature. All the exposed feet shots are blurred. The only thing I can't figure out is; if it isn't a semi-p - what is it? Am I missing something really obvious?  
Anyway, here are some dodgy pics and a bit of footage.


Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Okanagan odyssey and more...

Phew - I've let the blog slide a bit the last few days...

Anyhoo, last Thursday evening Jenny and I jumped onto the 5.45pm ferry to Tsawassen. We drove eastward, heading toward Princeton via the Crow's Nest Highway. Traveling over the winding mountain roads in the dark, we saw not a single nocturnal bird, though we did spy a coyote on the roadside. Which was nice.
Friday morning was glorious and as we ventured south to Osoyoos I was thrilled to spot some island-rare species I haven't had the pleasure of seeing for several years; western & eastern kingbirds, western bluebirds and black-billed magpies. Tons of western meadowlarks along the way too.
And the undoubted highlight came as we stopped to look for mountain goats on the Hedley-Keremeos road. As I scanned the ridges, Jenny said "what's that bird?" - now, despite this question often resulting in an answer along the lines of "it's a robin", I know always to check as Jen has found me some cracking birds in the past. I looked and sat on the top of a nearby conifer, at eye-level was a Lewis's woodpecker! Now, this was not only a lifer, but a bird I've really, really wanted to see for ages. I couldn't believe it. I got crippling views, and as it flew slowly past I couldn't help but be awestruck by it. Of the thirty-odd woodpecker species I've had the pleasure of seeing, this is the least woodpecker-like woodpecker I have ever clapped eyes on. In flight it is so unbelievably crow-like! Brilliant.
We visited the Desert Centre in Osoyoos, a place we tried to go to on our only previous visit to this part of the world, several years ago. It was closed for a training day that time, so we were happy to find the place open. Bird-wise I added a couple more not-seen-for-ages species in calliope hummingbird and mourning dove. I thought I saw a female black-chinned hummer too, but my view was brief and inconclusive. Other goodies here included ace views of Bullock's orioles, house wrens and yet more bluebirds.
We then headed up to Penticton - the reason for our visit to the interior. Jenny was here in an official capacity, as a maker of quality Elvis jumpsuits for Presley impersonators. Yep, we were spending the weekend at the Penticton Elvis Festival! I, was along for the ride as a wry and amused observer. Oh, what fun.  Other than overhead ospreys, the casual birding pretty much came to an end.
The return journey wasn't nearly as good as our drive in, bird-wise or weather-wise.

Monday evening - I nipped down to the Nanaimo River estuary after work and, thanks to a stiff breeze, avoided too much attention from the wretched mosquitoes. Not too birdy, a few youngsters around including a couple of yellow warblers. For my UK readers, I've posted this digi-film of a cedar waxwing - check out those undertail coverts!

Tuesday evening - Holden Creek this evening where the bugs had more fun than me. I did see my first baby spotted sandpipers though. And my first 'post-breeding' least sandpiper. A hairy woodpecker showed well in the dead trees, and common yellowthroat, rufous hummers, red-tailed hawk, and such, all put in an appearance.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Nanaimo River Kindergarten

I took a wander down to the Nanaimo River estuary this evening, and the place was positively jumping with young birds. It was like an avian kindergarten.
Fledged white-crowned and savannah sparrows were much in evidence, as were American robins. A brood of rufous hummingbirds were tazzing around the place, and one even sat still long enough for me to digi-film it. Not exactly National Geographic, I appreciate, but it's kind of nice to get some footage, however wobbly!
There were good numbers of American goldfinch around too, and 3 cedar waxwings came by.
Spotted sandpipers were by the river and a raft of common merganser were off the estuary mouth.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Holden Creek & Nighthawk hunt

Monday evening after work, I headed to Holden Creek, inspired in some part by Guy Monty's posting on the local birding forum that "...on the mudflats, were about 20 Least Sandpipers. Geez, the start of fall migration already!"
Well, as I dodged the mozzies, I was able to confirm that no post-breeding shorebirds had chosen the Holden Creek area for their summer destination. Just a few spotted sandpipers, very noisy and presumably with hatched young somewhere, kept me company.
At one point a cliff swallow started alarm-calling, setting off all the other hirundines. Scanning around for the cause of this unrest, I couldn't see what was upsetting them, A good 15 seconds later, a peregrine came hurtling through - by the left, those little swallows don't half have good eyesight... just count 15 seconds and see how long it is, then consider how far away that falcon must have been when first spotted!

Later, Jenny and I went out to Quennel Lake to see if I could find any nighthawks feeding over the waters. I didn't. We waited until 10pm, and what few swallows had been feeding over the lake had long gone, leaving clear skies for foraging nighthawks. Saw plenty of beavers though... and two female wood ducks with their collective, very young, broods.    

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Brief weekend round-up...

Not too much to report from over the weekend; I visited some areas that were new to me, while atlas-ing on Saturday (but didn't find anything wildly exciting) and had a couple of trundles around the local area.
Good to see black-headed grosbeaks still around, with a male in Hemer Park, and a pair near Cable Bay Trail plus western tanagers at both sites too.
I got great views of a black-throated grey warbler today on the Cable Bay Trail, gleaning caterpillars at eye level. Bizarrely, this is the first one I've seen this year on Vancouver Island. Lovely stuff!
Three ospreys circling together, in south Cedar, made for an impressive sight.
Plenty of young birds around, towhees seemed particularly evident today. There were two broods of wood duck on the pool at Hemer, plus a pied-billed grebe there.
I'm also enjoying the profusion of dragonflies all over the place, though still haven't got a field guide to confirm the identity of many of them... I believe the one I photographed here, is a California darner. Please feel free to correct me.  

Thursday, 17 June 2010

There Will Be Blood

Took an hour out, just to feed the mosquitoes again this evening.
There wasn't a great deal going on, on the birding front, down at the Nanaimo River estuary.
There seem to be good numbers of fledged white-crowned sparrows around, and a family party of bushtits were feeding along the long hedge. Quiet a few cedar waxwings were kicking around too.
A drake gadwall was with 3 mallard at the river mouth and a racoon was searching along the water's edge for something to eat.
I caught a glimpse of a bird on the opposite side of the river, from the platform, which very much reminded me of the female Bullock's oriole I saw a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good look at it. I haven't heard anything that sounds like that species' song down there, but I wonder if there's a pair nesting nearby?    

The mystery bird voting tool has reappeared, but I've lost the counts-so-far. So, if you identified the bird in the pic, you might want to vote again... sorry!

Window of Opportunity

Yesterday lunchtime (Wednesday) there was a Caspian tern amongst the gulls on a small area of exposed beach just off the Mafeo Sutton Park, Nanaimo. A black oystercatcher was also present and a pigeon guillemot was close inshore.
From my downtown office window during the day, I saw bald eagle, turkey vulture, peregrine & osprey. That certainly never happened in Morecambe... though, to be fair, I did see peregrine regularly and had the occasional spring passage osprey, nearby. The best office bird was, by far, the honey buzzard that drifted over my workplace during the big influx of September 2000. I'm waiting for something as exciting to pass by my window in Nanaimo...

Mysterious Mystery
The mystery bird voting tool seems not to be working - I've tried to fix it, but it's obviously something at the host's end... I'll try and sort it out. I may extend the voting deadline, depending on when it (and if) it comes back to life!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Brit Birder in BC Birds by Bike

Took advantage of the glorious weather to try out my 'new' bike, recently purchased from a garage sale for $30. I used to bike the 4 miles to work and back every day, all year round, back in old Blighty but I've not been on a pushbike since I came here to Vancouver Island in October. It was good to back in the saddle. Well, for a while anyway - my body was quite happy, but boy, did my arse hurt after a 3 hour ride around southern Cedar. I may need to replace that saddle...

Anyhoo, I went first to Quennel Lake, then out to the north end of Nanaimo airport, followed by a trek down to Ladysmith Harbour, and back again. It was great, and I saw and heard plenty of birds. The purpose of the bike ride was to see if I could find anything for the BC breeding bird atlas. I've not had any opportunity as yet to do any serious atlassing, and thought that I might, at least, be able to dig out some useful breeding records.

The warm weather brought thermalling raptors out - the highpoint being one moment where I had 2 bald eagles, an osprey and red-tailed hawk circling together, as a couple of turkey vultures drifted by.
Found breeding downy woodpecker and red-breasted sapsucker, saw plenty of common yellowthroats and bagged my first MacGillivray's warbler of the year (not quite sure how I've missed them up to now!) and came across a pair of California quail with approximately 20 very recently hatched chicks.
I came across my first 'local' olive-sided flycatcher, and saw yet more cedar waxwings and heard billions of singing Swainson's thrushes.

All in all, aching rear-end aside, it was really great to get out under the power of the old push-iron.
Loads of dragonflies, went unidentified, as did plenty of butterflies (including whichever swallowtail it is we get here). Still haven't got field guides for either.

Dabbling in Mystery

OK - that wasn't too hard was it? I must be being too soft with you lot...
So, obvious non-contenders aside: American wigeon or shoveler?
First, American wigeon can be easily discounted on the basis that, despite the pinky (at a push, they're clearly chestnut!) sides, black tail and white 'hip' patch (as Sibley calls it) which could favour this duck, the back colouration is all wrong, too dark. Also the female should give it away, as a female wigeon would not show anything like that level of scalloping pattern.
The birds' wing length, also appears much too long for wigeon.
Therefore, northern shoveler it is; as 88% clearly chose. Thanks to Ralph Hocken for the pic!
So, having been very generous of late, I'm turning the heat up slightly - not too much, but a bit. Good luck...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A mute Point

Jenny and I took a walk down to Jack Point this evening. The tide was well in, and looking over toward the Nanaimo River estuary, I could see a mute swan in among the Canada geese. Where did that come from?!
Also, cruising around the estuary mouth were a couple of Caspian terns.
Didn't see much along the walk, a few Bewick's wrens, juncos, robins, golden-crowned warblers, etc and just pelagic and double-crested cormorants offshore.
Several seals, an otter and a sealion were also spotted.

Of interest, there was something of an influx of crossbills around the yard this morning, and I even noticed a couple in Nanaimo on my lunchtime stroll. Has there been a bit of a post-breeding movement across the island or were these just very local birds on a wander?

A visit to Holden Creek yesterday evening was pretty unrewarding - for me at least, however the mosquitos had a great time and enjoyed me long after I'd gone...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Waxwing lyrical...

Had a pretty bird-free weekend, as it was Jenny's birthday, and we spent the weekend gorging ourselves on fine food and damaging our, already battered, livers down in Victoria. I did manage a year-tick in the form of an olive-sided flycatcher in Beacon Park, but otherwise I wasn't really make an effort...

Got back home with time to blast round the Nanaimo River estuary for an hour or so late this afternoon.
A cedar waxwing was perched up on wires along Raines Road.
As a Brit, I'm amazed how common these birds are here, having always associated waxwings (albeit Bohemian) with winter. In the UK, these eruptive birds only show up when poor berry crops, or severe weather, cause them to move from further north. In some years they're very scarce, while in others they can arrive in massive numbers. In fact, I along with many hundreds of other birders twitched the only English cedar waxwing that was found among a huge flock of Bohemian's in Nottinghamshire back in 1996. A Scottish record pre-dated that one, and recently the species made its Irish debut when a Cedar waxwing was discovered last October.
Later, I came across a single bird (pic) and then a pair nest building.
I saw my first western wood-pewee of the year, it was flycatching from the small trees near the large oak.
The usual supporting cast of goldfinches, assorted sparrows, purple finch, 2 ospreys, spotted sandpipers, cowbirds and what-not were in evidence and kept me busy.

Of note: I found a swathe of common camas in a more likely looking spot, and discovered one with white flowers (pic) - quite scarce, from what I believe...        

Friday, 4 June 2010

Very birdy wander

Having finished work early and enduring the two bus journey back to Cedar, I decided to dodge the raindrops and go for a walk round Hemer Park. Now, I didn't expect to see anything particularly thrilling here but I was quite surprised by just how birdy it was today.
In fact, had I been a Brit birder, in BC for the first time, I would have been pretty overwhelmed!
Uncharacteristic as it is for me to do so on this blog, I will list every species I saw/heard on a relatively relaxed 2 hour-ish wander around the northern end of the park.

Canada goose, Wood duck (inc. fem with 10 ducklings), Mallard, Great blue heron, Turkey vulture, Osprey, Bald eagle, Glaucous-winged gull, Band-tailed pigeon, Rufous hummingbird, Pileated woodpecker, Willow flycatcher, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Northwestern crow, Raven, Tree swallow, Violet-green swallow, Chestnut-backed chickadee, Bushtit, Red-breasted nuthatch, Brown creeper, Bewick's wren, Winter wren, Marsh wren, Swainson's thrush, American robin, Starling, Cedar waxwing, Orange-crowned warbler, Yellow warbler, Western tanager, Spotted towhee, Chipping sparrow, Song sparrow, Dark-eyed junco, Red-winged blackbird, Brewer's blackbird, Purple finch, Red crossbill.

Of course, there are a few birds missing off that list that a more competent birder would have picked up on, but on the whole, it's a fair demonstration of the variety of birds that can be easily found on a brief  afternoon visit to Hemer.
The undoubted highlight for me, was the willow flycatcher - which was actually a tick! My previous visits to Vancouver Island have either been too early or late for this species, and I've not encountered them in their wintering grounds.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Flower Power

The birding's been a bit crap for the last couple of days, to be honest. 'Highlights' have included the remaining greater yellowlegs at Holden Creek, 6 spotted sandpiper at Nanaimo River and another 8 at least at Holden, osprey and merlin from my office window, black oystercatcher and surf scoter on my lunchtime amble down to the waterfront, and not much else really.
I did, however, come across this rather stunning flower at the estuary. I have since discovered that it is a common camas -  a relative of the lily family. 
Apparently, the sweet tasting bulbs of common camas were highly valued and traded as a food by various indigenous peoples, including the Coast Salish of Vancouver Island, Squamish, Comox, and Kwak-waka'wakw of the British Columbia coast. 
This plant seems to be associated with wet meadows and often grows near Garry oaks, so it seems odd to me that there should be camas on tidal saltmarsh. 
I'm sure that local botany experts will tell me either a: that this is a normal occurrence or, b: that they've been artificially introduced, intentionally or otherwise. Anyway, whatever, it's a lovely flower with an interesting local history and in the absence of any ornithological excitement, and an almost total absence of butterflies and dragonflies, I'm happy to share it.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Blue-wingers linger

Jenny and I had a fortunate hour at the Nanaimo River yesterday evening, when we had a good 40 minutes of lovely sunshine - not something we've seen too much of lately...
Couldn't relocate the bunting, and other than a river otter, which performed well for us, it was relatively quiet until a cloud of c140 black swift came over and fed over the river and adjacent fields.
An osprey flew through just as we were leaving.

This evening, I headed down to Holden Creek for a root about. The persistent drizzle was keeping most of the passerines hidden away, and it was generally dull, on the bird front.
As usual, a few spotted sandpiper were on the creek and on the back pool there were 3 blue-winged teal, all drakes, and a greater yellowlegs (both pictured). I'm surprised that thing's still hanging around, I assume it's a non-breeder... Will it remain through the summer, until the first post-breeding birds start moving through?