Tuesday, 31 August 2010

All quiet on the western front. And semi-p front... and everything else front.

All day, I was looking forward to a post work visit to Nanaimo's Holden Creek, convinced that last night's and today's rain would have dropped, and held, some waders.
Things looked relatively promising as I arrived, noting a group of 14 least sandpiper feeding in the channel. A quick scan along the creek however, suggested otherwise. Other than a juvenile great blue heron it was birdless. It's hard to believe that this site was once one of Vancouver Island's premier birding sites, as far as migrant waders are concerned. Perhaps it's just a particularly quiet year, or maybe the habitat management simply hasn't benefitted passage shorebirds.
I crossed the channel and made my way along the flood bank, scanning the empty marsh. The rain had done little to raise the levels in the dry pools and other than a fly-through pintail, there were no birds of note to be seen.
Of interest, was a large flock of 20ish white-crowned sparrows of mixed ages, along with a single very recently fledged cowbird among them. Later, I encountered similar numbers of savannah sparrows. A couple of common yellowthroat were in the brambles.
Other than a small group of 5 least sandpiper at the upper end of the creek, there were no other shorebirds on site.
Back on the channel later, a merlin came through with intent, scattering the sandpipers.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Poor Peep Show


A check of the marsh and channels in the Holden Creek area at low tide today revealed little of note.
Highlights included 12 western and 1 semi-palmated sandpiper among 26 least sandpipers. A single killdeer was over the marsh.
A Lincoln's sparrow was in brambles along the raised flood bank.


Once again I headed down to the estuary to see if any 'new' shorebirds had dropped in at Holden Creek. The same problem persists at his site, as it has during the whole shorebird migration period, where few tides are significant enough, in height, to fill the dried up pools on the marsh. Obviously, the ongoing lack of rainfall only adds to the issue.  
Consequently, there seems to be little to attract passing waders, other than the tidal creeks. Today's paltry mud dwellers consisted of just 37 least sandpipers and 6 western sandpipers
Still quite a few juvenile cowbirds hanging around the cattle.

* 2 black swift were over the house, in Cedar, at 7.50pm

Friday, 27 August 2010

Thursday, 26 August 2010

That's the wader do it...

There were plenty of shorebirds on and around Holden Creek this evening, but once again, with the incoming tide I was marooned on the higher ground - the blackberries and other dense vegetation along the sluiced channel bank is way too thick to get through at the moment, so a muddy crossing at low tide is the still the only option for access to the marsh. Maybe I should get myself a kayak...?
Even at distance, and looking into sun, I could make out at least 100 calidrids feeding in the mud. They seemed to be all least and western sandpipers - a ratio of 60/40 respectively.
I couldn't see any semi-palmated sandpipers amongst them, though I suspect better viewing conditions would have revealed one or two.
There were certainly no other larger species with them, although at one point I heard a greater yellowlegs calling from somewhere - presumably out at the back of the marsh.
Scanning over the marsh in search of any nighthawks I picked up a distant flying wader, which eventually turned out to be my first Wilson's snipe of the autumn.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hump day 'hawks

Made a brief stop at Holden Creek this evening, just to see if anything was being pushed out by the rising tide.
One of the resident red-tailed hawks was sat in its usual spot as I arrived, and I flushed a Cooper's hawk from the small trees, by the sluice.
On the creek a mixed flock of least and western sandpipers were feeding on the fast vanishing muddy edges. Probably 50 birds in total with around a dozen being westerns.
Swallows were notable by their relative absence - just a handful of birds around the barns.
A merlin came through, and had a go at tackling a couple of starlings, to no avail. A bald eagle was sat out on the telegraph poles (or hydro poles, or whatever they're called over here).

At around 6.30pm I noticed a few common nighthawks feeding over the estuary - a quick count revealed 30 or so. Before long they had been joined by more, and as I watched, nighthawks came pouring in until they peaked at around 200 birds.
They would occasionally break up, with flocks passing over me and heading off toward Cedar, while others headed out over Raines Road, before returning 5 or 6 six minutes later, and again swarming in one big flock over the marsh. Great stuff.
Impossible to photograph though, with a compact digital camera (see accompanying evidence).
It's times like this that I really miss my 35mm cameras... I must invest in a digital SLR one of these days.    

Playing catch-up

Just a brief round-up of the very few birds I've seen in the past couple of days or so...

Sunday: went out to Englishman River Falls with Jenny. Pretty birdless out there, but a really great spot nonetheless. Dropped by at Rathtrevor on our way back, and it was good to see numerous Bonaparte's gulls - we just don't see them in any numbers down in Nanaimo. Also, mew and California gulls, and a handful of least and 2 western sandpipers here.

Monday: A post-work visit to the Nanaimo River estuary was notable only for the mosquitoes. 3 cedar waxwings flew through, a merlin was hunting along the big hedge and 9 least sandpipers were dashing around over the marsh. Just 2 killdeer and a mute swan on the river itself.

Tuesday: Jen and I did our walk around Hemer Park in the evening. It seems many of the breeding migrants have totally cleared out now, we hardly heard or saw a thing.
My first post-breeding American wigeon of the autumn were seen, with 3 birds dropping in from high, onto the pool. Two adults and a juv.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The One That Got Away...

Very few waders on Nanaimo's Holden Creek at low tide this morning, just a scattering of least sandpipers. One group of leasts, that kept getting up from the marsh and flying around contained a considerably bigger bird. Unfortunately, every time they landed on any of the small dried pools among the pickle weed, they in effect, disappeared. I tried for ages to get a view of this distinctly larger calidrid, but to no avail. It was either a pectoral, or Baird's, sandpiper. Probably, the latter.
I realise that pec's a bit bigger, but it's quite hard to judge actual size when its the only larger bird among many smaller individuals. This is especially frustrating, as Baird's sandpiper is, by far, the commonest nearctic shorebird that I've never actually seen. Oh well, such are the delights of birding.

The bog-of-eternal-stench was still hosting the yellowlegs convention, with 7 lessers and the single greater present, plus just 3 least sandpiper. 4 green-winged teal were nearby.

A large influx of some 40-50 cowbirds had taken place, and they were feeding with starlings among the cattle. Otherwise, it was business as usual.


Friday, 20 August 2010

Thank Some Deity Or Other It's Friday

Despite the high tide, I checked out Holden Creek after work today.  After what seemed like a really, really, long week I was ready for a bit of meditative birding.
A party of 8 western sandpiper were feeding on a small pool on the marsh, viewable from the raised area. A flock of some 20 least sandpiper occasionally whizzed around, flushed variously by merlin, northern harrier and red-tailed hawk. They were apparently feeding at the back pool. Other than a pair of green-winged teal, the marsh was seemingly quiet.
A belted kingfisher and 3 great-blue heron were hunting around the flooded creek edges.
Mucking around in the shrubbery were a family group of common yellowthroat, numerous house finches and white-crowned sparrows as well as both Pacific-slope and willow flycatchers.

Mystery Revealed

Given the nature of the picture, I'm not going to go into finer identification criteria with this one...
So, the most popular vote was in favour of merlin, eh? I'm delighted to say after weeks of most people getting the mystery birds irritatingly right... it's not merlin!
Spotted sandpiper was next most voted. Guess what? Nope, it' not spotted sandpiper.
Equal votes went to marbled murrelet and Anna's hummingbird... and I'm delighted to reveal that the honours go to the hummer!

Phew - well, now that that's done, we'll get back to normal. I'll post a new challenge for you all in the next day or so. But I promise I'll go a little easier on you all... Watch this space.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Up and at 'em

I headed down to Holden Creek this morning for a pre-work scout around. It was cool and bright initially, though the temperature soon got up by 7.30am.
It was all quiet on the main creek bordering the fields, with just 3 least sandpiper, a great blue heron and a bunch of garrulous Canada geese present.

The marsh too, was fairly bereft of birds, with the exception of another 7 least sandpiper.
On the back pool I found another bunch of 12 least sandpipers along with 1 each of western and semi-palmated sandpipers. 
The bog-of-eternal-stench was again where the action was, and here there were 6 lesser yellowlegs & 1 greater yellowlegs, 1 long-billed dowitcher, 2 spotted sandpiper and another 4 leasts.
I spent half an hour checking the bushes and what-not for passerines near the viewing area, and I was rewarded with a nice Lincoln's sparrow. Also present were a family of Pacific-slope flycatcher, a hairy woodpecker, 2 juv common yellowthroats, and a singing Bewick's wren (pictured).

In the evening Jenny and I took a stroll around Hemer Park, where I photographed this obliging young bullfrog. Maybe I should have killed it, rather than capturing its portrait, but there are zillions of them down there and frankly, it's not in my nature to do that!
We spotted a couple of beavers at the pool but other than a bald eagle and the resident wood ducks and mallards it was quiet.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vancouver Island Pelagic Birding Trip - what a weekend!

All Aboard!

I've been itching for a chance to get offshore since I moved out here, and I finally arranged to join a pelagic trip with Just Birding out of Tofino on Saturday. I'd managed to talk Rich Mooney into coming along (didn't take much, to be honest) and we headed west in the early hours, having had about 2 hours sleep...

Me and Rich (left) relaxing onboard...
We arrived in Tofino at 6am, and after a bit of
general farting around, we took off toward the continental shelf on board a small boat with just half a dozen other paying customers, the skipper and on-board bird-guide, Adrian Dorst.
The conditions were immaculate. Visibility was excellent and the ocean was flat calm - even 35 miles from shore!
This calmness may have been a contributing factor in the relative small numbers of birds we encountered, but the lack of large fishing vessels was the main reason we didn't locate any big flocks.
Nonetheless, we did find some great stuff, and the whole experience was well worth the effort.
I did get 4 lifers, which was good enough for me!

Tufted puffin by Rich
These included tufted puffin, of which we had at least 7 sighting - all superb adults in full breeding regalia. The attached pic was taken by Rich.
Cassin's auklet was another new bird for me, and we saw lots of these diminutive alcids and had great opportunities to observe them at close quarters and in flight.
One of the birds I was expecting, and really looking forward to seeing, was fork-tailed storm-petrel - I wasn't disappointed, we came across many and got ace views. Thanks to Adrian for the attached pic.
Fork-tailed storm-petrel by Adrian Dorst

The final tick, was a species I really hoped we'd bump into, but given the absence of fishing boats, I wasn't too optimistic about our finding one. Thankfully Rich picked it up, as a black-footed albatross came in from the horizon. We didn't get great views, but it was a relief to get on one in the bag, so to speak.
Other stuff we saw on the 6 hour trip included common loon, harlequin ducks, good numbers of both sooty and pink-footed shearwaters, plenty of fulmars (the majority of which were dark-phase birds), couple of wandering tattlers, black turnstones, surfbirds, and both red-necked and red (or grey, to UK readers) phalaropes, large numbers of Heerman's gulls, common murres, pigeon guillemots, marbled murrelets and rhinoceros auklets.
Unfortunate omissions included Sabine's gull, and jaegers (ie skuas, dear Brits), terns, Buller's shearwaters and Leach's petrels, never mind any of the scarcer stuff. A pair of distant silhouettes were almost certainly South Polar skuas, but we got onto them too late to be sure. Dagnabit.

Humpback whale & pink-footed shearwater by Adrian Dorst
On top of the ace birding,we also had unbelievable views of several humpback whales. Again, thanks to Adrian for the shots. (ps that's a pink-footed shearwater to the right of the whale.) Harbour porpoise and harbour seals were also spotted, as was a family of sea otters, lurking in the kelp beds, as to be expected.

Back to land and normality...

Jenny joined me on my BC Coastal Waterbird Survey at high tide, late morning today (Sunday). It was pretty unremarkable, as to be expected in August. But, it was a lovely day, and we enjoyed the walk down to Jack Point. 
I headed down to Holden Creek after the tide subsided, and was delighted to see that the high water levels had replenished the dry pools with lovely bird-attracting water!

On the creek were a dozen least sandpipers and a pair of dowitchers (pic of one here). I was inclined toward short-billed, but I'd be interested to hear what others might think. If only they'd called!
The back pool was hosting 3 lesser yellowlegs and a pair of green-winged teal. The now watery, bog-of-eternal-stench had a further 8 lesser yellowlegs, 1 greater yellowlegs, 1 long-billed dowitcher, 6 least, 1 semi-palmated & 3 western sandpiper.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Raptor raptures

A leisurely trundle around the Nanaimo River estuary, Wednesday evening turned out to be quite rewarding.
The tide was quickly rising, pushing the waders from the shore onto the marsh pools and ditches. Goodness only knows what may have lurking, unseen, out there... As for the birds that were seen, the only waders included 4 lesser yellowlegs, 1 greater yellowlegs, 40ish least sandpiper and 1 western sandpiper.
It was quite a good evening for raptors though, with a juvenile northern harrier (my first here since May 17) hunting over the marshes, and a merlin patrolling the area (see vid). At one point the merlin piled into the long hedge and emerged with a small bird in its talons, within seconds a peregrine appeared and attempted to rob the smaller falcon of its prey. The merlin dropped the hapless victim, and the two raptors engaged in a game of cat and mouse before a raven joined in. The merlin cleared off, and the peregrine perched up allowing me to get the shots below.

As I came back through Cedar, approximately 40 common nighthawks were feeding over the road near the Cranberry Arms, a few were also over my house nearer the Yellowpoint junction.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Landlocked landlubber

Holden Creek, Nanaimo.
I was hoping that the tide would have dropped enough by 7am to allow me to get out onto the marsh this morning, but it wasn't to be. In fact, the channel was only just about crossable, with caution, when I left at 8.30am.
So, landlocked, I decided to just sit it out and see what came in and out.
First good bird was a McGillivray's warbler, feeding with a mixed group of orange-crowned warblers and white-crowned sparrows along the gravel pathway. A couple of groups of American goldfinch were buzzing about and a downy woodpecker came down and showed well.
A cedar waxwing and willow flycatcher were feeding in the small mixed trees by the viewing area.
The first returning green-winged teal were out on the marsh pools - a flock of 10, all in eclipse plumage, and 4 mallard were also present.
A group of 5 lesser yellowlegs (presumably the same as have been present for several days) were mobile, feeding on the marsh and creek while only a dozen or so least sandpiper whizzed around, uncertain as to where to settle.
A pileated woodpecker flew in to the tall trees and a Cooper's hawk made an appearance, unnerving the hirundines. A female belted kingfisher rattled through.

Post-work, Jenny and I took a stroll down to Hemer Park. It was good to see young black-headed grosbeaks in the area where I've been seeing and hearing adults all summer. Other stuff we came across included, a western tanager, pileated woodpecker, red-breasted sapsucker, northern flicker etc.
A pied-billed grebe was on the pool, along with the usual wood ducks and mallards. Plenty of red-winged blackbirds here too.  

Monday, 9 August 2010

Old Habits Die Hard

While checking through the few gulls down on the beach in Nanaimo at lunchtime, a pale flash of gull-like bird whizzed past my bins, all I got was black on the head and a bright orange bill - my obviously-still-not acclimatised bird-brain immediately thought 'Mediterranean gull', but obviously as soon as I found it and looked at it, it was clearly a Caspian tern. I must try and turn that 'autopilot' facility off.

On my way home this evening, I dropped by the Nanaimo River estuary at Raines Road, as it was the rising tide. Unfortunately, my work footwear (a sturdy pair of Doc Martens, rugged but not especially good for wading through water) prevented me from going out too far but I could see small groups of peeps flying around at the water's edge.
A cautious trudge, got me close to some waterlogged areas, and I found 3 lesser yellowlegs and several least sandpipers but nothing else. A slightly bulkier calidrid was among one flying group of leasts, presumably a western.
A single killdeer was calling from over at the river. 
Not much else doing apart from zillions of crickets and grasshoppers, oh, and the customary hungry mosquitoes.     

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Mad Dogs and English(wo)men

My visit to Holden Creek was considerably drier this morning, thanks to the easing off of the rain. The pools on the marsh weren't quite so replenished as I'd hoped, and they were birdless, but for 4 least sandpipers.

A further 25 or so were in the Bog Of Eternal Stench, at the back of the marsh, but no other peeps were among these.
On the main creek that borders the farm fields things were slightly livelier with 5 lesser yellowlegs, 18 least sandpipers, 8 western sandpipers (pictured) and 1 spotted sandpiper.
3 more lesser yellowlegs flew over, but continued south and a flock of 6 killdeer took off from the marsh and headed in the same direction.

Later, Jenny and I took a walk down the Cable Bay Trail. This was the first time since spring that I didn't hear any Pacific-slope flycatchers in the forest - have all the breeders moved on? Similarly, I haven't seen any rufous hummers for a while... they stopped coming to my feeders a couple of weeks ago.
The woods were generally quiet bar the usual Pacific wrens, robins, chickadees, orange-crowned warblers and such. At the beach we noticed pigeon guillemot and pelagic cormorant, plus great blue heron, and belted kingfisher.
On our way back we were 'greeted' by an overly-enthusiastic golden retriever which seemed intent on jumping up and down on Jenny and covering her with muddy prints. I pulled the dog off and asked the owner to control his hound - Jen's not too comfortable around big dogs and anyone with a fraction of a brain cell would have been able to tell that she was visibly unnerved by fido's unwanted attention.
The owner, barely uttered the dog's name as a means of 'control', walked by us without acknowledging either my, reasonably polite, request or Jen's mud-covered presence, and casually walked on as his dogged trotted off after him. Needless to say a rather un-lady-like barrage of colourful descriptions, suggestions and sarcastic thanks, followed them deep into the forest.
Jenny's still fuming...       

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Precipitation anticipation deflation.

Stomping around the marshes, cold and wet in the persistent rain, reminded me of being back in England in August. Except there are fewer birds here.

My customary optimism was once again, unrewarded this morning at Holden Creek - I was confident that the overnight downpour would have dropped something interesting, and of course fill the dry pools with some much needed water to attract passing waders.
Sadly the birds, as is their wont, did what they wanted and ignored my 'expert' predictions. Bloody birds.
So, what was the result of my extremely thorough trawl around the boggy estuary today, other than getting an absolute soaking?
Somewhere in the region of 45 least sandpiper (juv pictured), 2 killdeer and 5 lesser yellowlegs.
The supporting cast was nothing to write home about - red-tailed hawks, bald eagle, barn swallows, orange-crowned warblers, bushtit, house finch, cowbird etc. The Canada goose flock has now tipped the 300 mark.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Feeding frenzy

Heading back into Nanaimo along the Island Highway at around 6.50pm yesterday, there was a feeding flock of well over 100 common nighthawks over the road and adjacent neighbourhood, just north of the delightful Value Lodge. We didn't stop, but I didn't notice any swifts amongst them. Once again, I expect an emergence of flying ants or similiar was going on.
Soon after, a group of 6 were seen over Bowen Road.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Muggy, muddy, soggy creek

The early drizzle filled me with encouragement this morning, and I dashed off to Holden Creek for a pre-work root about. It was initially cool, but became muggy pretty quickly thanks to the smokey atmosphere (forest fires on the mainland have caused some pretty smoggy conditions over here, for those not in the know).
It was low tide and it seemed pretty birdless on the creek. The first things I came across were a pair of semi-palmated plovers - only the second time I've seen them here, a pair came through in early May.
A single killdeer was keeping close company.
A single lesser yellowlegs was with 6 least and 1 western sandpiper on the far section of the creek, and a group of 3 lesser yellowlegs were on what was left of the marsh pools.
Another group of 7 least sandpiper and another lesser-legs were on the sluiced channel at the back of the marsh.
There were lots of brown-headed cowbirds around, mostly juvs plus good numbers of white-crowned and savannah sparrows. A family group of orange-crowned warblers were feeding in gorse along the path.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Brit Birder on BC Day.

Happy BC Day! (does that stand for, Birding, Crap Day?)
As it happens, the birding wasn't crap as such, just slightly dull. But it is early August after all...

Jenny and I decided to spend the statutory holiday exploring somewhere new, so we checked the backroads map book and headed west. We followed the Nanaimo River Rd until we got passed First Lake and decided to have a wander around. Finding good walking trails seemed difficult, so we headed back, stopping off here and there as we went. At one point, we had up to 6 common nighthawks flying around calling, and seemingly displaying. This was late morning, and the birds gave us excellent views.
After following a few more dead end trails, we stopped and ate lunch at a curious, seemingly abandoned campsite.
signal crayfish
Heading back along the road we turned off and found a car park, with access to the Nanaimo River. We had a good walk around here, and even indulged in a little paddling. Noticing lots of discarded crayfish body parts (presumably the work of local raccoons), around the water's edge I decided to do a little searching myself, and soon found the fella in the pic. I expect these are signal crayfish - the ones that UK naturalists don't like for their impact on declining native species there. Here in Canada, though, they're where they belong, and I was rather pleased to find the wee chap.
Bird-wise we didn't see or hear much, other than Steller's jays and the odd bushtit, chickadee etc.
There were many butterflies around, unfortunately I was unarmed and most went unidentified. We came across good numbers of a medium size butterfly that was very dark, and on the underwing showed 'eyes' that looked like an orange figure of 8, with white dots in the counters - a common name would be very welcome, if anyone out there wishes to provide one!

willow flycatcher
Later, I took my almost-daily trek to Holden Creek to maintain my attempt at monitoring (very casually, I might add) the ongoing shorebird passage, and site use.
There were scattered least sandpipers around, probably 38 in total, they were highly mobile and unusually skittish. At one point they were all on the creek but were zipping about between there and the rancid mosquito-infested pool I now refer to as The Bog Of Eternal Stench. A party of 7 lesser yellowlegs were also on the creek and just 3 killdeer were on the marsh.
A scruffy willow flycatcher was preening near the raised observation area (see pic) and lots of house finch, white-crowned sparrow and American goldfinch families were whizzing around.

Weekend round-up

Managed to cover the marsh and Holden Creek pretty thoroughly on Friday after work, in advance of the incoming tide.
Around 20 least sandpiper were on and around the creek, plus a single semi-palmated sandpiper. The marsh pools were birdless - and increasingly drying out. Just the horrible bug-infested swampy corner had any waders present - again just least sands, and only 8 of them.
The Canada geese numbers are still growing daily, but no other wildfowl has shown up yet. Osprey, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle and merlin all put in appearances, and the usual passerines and hirundines were present.
Later, (approx 7.20pm) a group of 8 common nighthawk flew over the house.

Saturday was pretty much taken up travelling over to Vancouver airport to meet Jenny, who was arriving back from a week in Merry Old England. The ferry journeys were utterly crap bird-wise with very little to see both ways. A small flock of Bonaparte's gulls and a single rhinoceros auklet were the only things of note.

Sunday, Jen and I took a stroll down the Cable Bay Trail, and while we had a lovely walk, the place was pretty crumby as far as the birding was concerned.