Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eurasian wigeon joins yanks

Jenny and I took a stroll down to Jack Point late morning.
We didn't see too much in the way of birds, but out on the water I saw my first buffleheads and horned grebes of the season plus good numbers of red-breasted mergansers, several common loons, and one Pacific loon.

We dropped by at Holden Creek on the way back.
The greater white-fronted and cackling geese were still in the fields. A scan through the 300, or so, green-winged teal revealed just a handful of mallard, pintail and American wigeon. Given how few wigeon were present, I was surprised to find a drake Eurasian wigeon. I wonder if there are more among the 500+ American wigeon out on the estuary?
A greater yellowlegs flew in.
The American kestrel was hunting in the fields, as was a northern shrike. Two northern harriers were quartering the marsh. A pair of belted kingfishers were charging noisily around the area.

Later I stopped off at Quennel Lake. Not too much going on, just a couple of lesser scaup, a drake Barrow's goldeneye and my first post-breeding American coot. The soon-to-be flooded fields at the northern end of the lake had attracted a pair of trumpeter swans, plus a small flock of white-fronted geese.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pretty birdy morning.

It was a bright morning, and the hunters were thin on the ground, making my visit to the Nanaimo River estuary rather enjoyable.

One of the first birds I saw was the northern shrike, sat in the large oak. There were lots of juncos, song sparrows, and golden-crowned sparrows in the vegetation around the area. A small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees had, sadly, failed to attract any transient warblers or similar.
A single Lincoln's sparrow was in the large hedgerow.
From the platform, I could see a single mute, and a pair of trumpeter swans, plus large rafts of American wigeon out on the water. A gathering of some 62 bald eagles was quite impressive.
At least 3, probably 4, northern harriers, including a male, were seen hunting over the marshes. A large Cooper's hawk flew through and an adult peregrine spooked the wildfowl over the estuary.
Met Ralph Hocken, who was getting some superb shots of the harriers. As always, it was good to stop and have a chat with Ralph - I eventually left him to his photography, and headed off to Holden Creek for the high tide. 

The goose flock was still present in the near field, comprising 116 cackling and 96 greater white-fronted.
The male American kestrel was still hunting around the fields (see rubbish video below). Might this bird stick around for the winter? A further couple of harriers were seen - presumably two of the same as seen earlier.
Large numbers of green-winged teal were dabbling out on the marsh, along with a handful of wigeon.
3 killdeer flew over.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Brief visit

Just squeezed a dusky half hour down at the Nanaimo River estuary this evening on my way home from work.
A northern shrike was hunting from the 'bluebird posts', and a solitary juv northern harrier was hunting nearby. A single Lincoln's sparrow was the only notable passerine.
The number of eagles continues to build, with 20+ out and about.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to give the place a good grilling tomorrow... maybe turn up some meadowlarks, if nothing else?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Swan-ee River

Spent the first 40 minutes or so of daylight down at the Nanaimo River estuary this morning.
On the way to the parking area, I pulled over for a quick look at a group of 18 Barrow's goldeneye, new in on the river.
Going through the many, many glaucous-winged gulls on the shingle banks, I picked out a 'decent' herring gull. Small numbers of Californian gulls were floating around over the marsh.
From the viewing platform, I could see large rafts of American wigeon at the estuary mouth, while green-winged teal, mallard, pintail, common merganser and hooded mergansers made up the remaining wildfowl.
A small flock of cackling geese passed over, and the large white blob floating on the sea turned out not to be my first wild swan of the season, but a mute swan. Pah.
3 different northern harriers made appearances, and the ever-singing northern shrike kept me entertained while I scanned the marshes.
A noisy greater yellowlegs, eventually showed, and flew off in the direction of Holden Creek. 
I couldn't locate anything out of the ordinary among the small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees, or various sparrow groups.

After work, I returned to the estuary. In the half hour of fading light, I clocked a single juv northern harrier, and the short-eared owl emerged just after 6pm. It showed well again, and even treated me to views of effortless vole catching.
My disappointment at finding that crappy mute swan this morning was eclipsed by the sight of 13 trumpeter swans flying over, heading south.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Asio like it...

Managed to squeeze in a visit to the Nanaimo River estuary on my home this evening, and just about caught the last half hour of decent-ish light.
A quick scan through the gulls revealed nothing of earth-shattering note. Good numbers of common merganser were on the swollen river.

As I walked toward the large oak, a distant bird caught my eye at the back of the meadow; it turned out to be my first short-eared owl of the winter. Nice. (The pic shown here was taken last winter, by the way).
According to Sibley, it fitted the description of a male, but I have to concede, that his is the only book that I have ever seen that makes reference to the identification of sexes in the field. Even Claus Konig and Friedhelm Weick make no mention of sexual dimorphism in their Owls of the World... what's the deal here?
I watched it hunting for a couple of minutes then headed to the platform for a scan of the area.
A pair of northern shrikes were chasing each other around, doubtless establishing territories for the winter.
Adult male and female northern harriers were hunting over the marsh to the west of the river, while a juvenile was hunting along the long hedge. A further adult female came onto the marsh from the fields to the south of the area.

Before it got too dark, I headed along the hedge where I got ace views of the short-eared owl as it hunted, and it even came to check me out before landing on a post and posing nicely.
Well, it may have only been half an hour, but it certainly set the pace for the next few months of winter birding on the estuary!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Raptor raptures

The forecast wind and rain was pretty much over and done with by the time I raised my head from the pillow this morning, so after a bit of essential domesticity, I headed down to Holden Creek for the dropping tide.

The place was teeming with green-winged teal, plus small numbers of American wigeon, mallard and pintail. There were far more wigeon there at this time last year. Equally, there were good numbers of long-billed dowitchers present into November, while today just one was on the creek. 
The mixed goose flock was in the far field and, once again partly obscured by the hedge, and accurate count wasn't possible. I could see at least 48 cackling geese and 54 white-fronted geese.

A nice surprise came in the form of a male American kestrel, hunting along the fence-posts (pictured, typically poorly) - I think this is a pretty late date for this species, though I believe small number do over-winter on the island.
Other raptors in the area included a juv northern harrier, juv peregrine, 3 red-tailed hawks and several bald eagles.
The call of a pectoral sandpiper alerted me to a single bird overhead. It did several circuits of the marsh and creek, before deciding to carry on south.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Calm before the storm

Started off the morning at Holden Creek. Looking at the forecast, this might be my best chance to get any decent birding in before it gets all nasty...

I was pleased to see that the white-fronted goose and cackling goose flock was still in the near field. The lone snow goose present last week had moved on..
There were approximately 90 whitefronts and 60 cacklers; the viewing angle, and the birds' proclivity for feeding just behind the hedge, made an accurate count impossible.
Up to 300 green-winged teal were feeding out on the water-logged marsh. A handful of American wigeon and mallard were also there.

After a while, I took off to see what was happening round at the Raines Road end.
There was nothing notable among the mass of glaucous-winged gulls on the river, just a handful of mew gulls and the odd Thayers.
Both the juvenile and the male northern harriers were showing well, hunting over the marsh.

I could hear a northern shrike, chattering from the small trees in the meadow, but I couldn't see the secretive little blighter...
A single Wilson's snipe flew over.
Nothing much in the way of passerines around, just the usual juncos, song, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows etc. Although, a flock of cedar waxwings that briefly dropped in were the first I've seen here in quite some time.
Still no sign or sound of meadowlarks.
Checking last year's records, the first short-eared owls weren't seen on the estuary until November 1. So, I guess they could turn up any time in the next couple of weeks, depending to some degree on weather.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Early trundle

I managed to get up in time for a trawl around the Nanaimo River estuary for the first hour of daylight this morning.
It was very peaceful, and I loved having the place to myself.
What was presumably the same northern shrike that I came across yesterday, was singing from a prominent perch along the long hedge. After a short while, it flew off to mob a juvenile red-tailed hawk that was sat on a post out on the marsh. Curiously, the alarm call that the shrike used, sounded a lot like a dunlin!
I could hear a Wilson's snipe calling from somewhere, and I later saw one being relentlessly targeted by a persistent peregrine
Pintails were coming over in small groups, and large rafts of American wigeon were out on the water.
Both the male and juvenile northern harrier were hunting around the area.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Shrike a light!

Yesterday's attempt at a bit of post-work birding at the Nanaimo River estuary was scuppered by the rolling fog that reduced visibility considerably. Also, a couple of local rifle-toting teens were shooting at anything that moved, and I didn't much fancy being one of those anythings...

This evening was slightly better, in as much as I could actually see a little bit, despite the fading light and onset of rain. Also, the absence of guns was an improvement. There wasn't much doing, however.
A curious bubbling song led me to a nice northern shrike singing away from the tangled depths of a hawthorn near the 'kidney pools', but other than that it was pretty quiet.
With a wet weekend forecast, I can't imagine the next few days being too exciting... maybe some passage stuff will get grounded? Let's see. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Quick evening visit...

Jenny and I dropped by at the Nanaimo River estuary on our way home from work this evening, taking advantage of the bright early evening light. The main reason for our visit being to see if any short-eared owls had arrived on site yet.
Didn't see any, but did see a 'new-in', or off-passage, adult male northern harrier, plus a juvenile hunting over the marsh.
Gull numbers continue to build, and there has been a bit of an increase in the number of bald eagles. Hardy surprising, given the large numbers of salmon in the river.
A single Wilson's snipe came up off the marsh. 
A smallish flock of Canada geese passed over, containing 2 cackling geese.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Benefits of jet-lag...

Still a little upside down from the effects of jet-lag I woke pretty early and decided, after an hour of tossing and turning, to go for a wander around the Nanaimo River estuary.
Naturally, I had the place to myself for the first couple of hours of daylight.
The various sparrow and finch flocks were rather small and scattered and consequently pretty difficult to go through systematically. However, a concerted effort revealed little among the juncos, house & purple finches and golden-crowned & song sparrows. There are very few white-crowned sparrows around now, all juvs, and the only other species seen were two Lincoln's sparrows, and singles of savannah and fox sparrow. The latter was singing.
Several parties of red-winged blackbird passed over, with a few dropping in. 
A pair of merlin and a Cooper's hawk were doing their best to disrupt my passerine search...
From the observation platform I could see a group of 8 adult snow geese out on the marsh to the west of the river mouth.
Good numbers of American wigeon plus a few mallard and common merganser were on the river, as was a single hooded merganser. 6 killdeer were gathered on the gravel bank.
A single Thayer's gull was among the many glaucous-winged gulls on the river.
I accidentally flushed long-billed dowitcher from the creek behind the long hedge.

Mid-afternoon, a quick stop at Holden Creek revealed a flock of some 90 geese, a mix of white-fronted and cackling plus a lone adult snow goose.
Better still, however was my first northern shrike of the autumn.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The bear neccesities

After a 27 hour trip back to Cedar from merry olde England, I was rather too tired to get up and do any birding this morning.
Jenny and I took a stroll around Hemer at midday, enjoying the glorious autumn sunshine. Not much to get excited about bird-wise, but it was evident that yet more juncos and robins had arrived in the last couple of weeks.

Later, I headed down to Holden Creek, where I bumped into Ryan Cathers. A group of geese in the near field was made up of 62 white-fronted and 46 cackling geese. The usual flock of 200ish Canada geese were in the far field.
A pair of greater yellowlegs were feeding on the marsh pools and a lone, but noisy, killdeer was also present.
Numbers of green-winged teal still seem pretty low, and other than a handful of American wigeon and mallard there was nothing much in the way of wildfowl. A couple of red-tailed hawks were hunting around the area.
After a while I decided to check out the Nanaimo River estuary at Raines Road. A single hunter was out on the marsh but was coming away empty handed. The 300 or so wigeon present were too far out for shooting at. Also offshore, were a few greater scaup and surf scoters.
A wander along the hedge revealed little of interest, apart from a couple of finch/sparrow flocks. Each contained just the expected commoner species.

Of note was the earth-shattering and extremely scientific discovery that, while bears obviously do shit in the woods, they also clearly, and unequivocally, shit on the estuary too.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rare warbler provides icing on the cake

I expect that this will be my last post from old Blighty, as I'm not expecting to see any birds of interest between now and the Tsawwassen to Duke Point, Nanaimo ferry.

This morning I went over to Morecambe where, first, I checked the Dome bushes for migrants (just a few 'continental' robins & blackbirds, unfortunately). A lone rock pipit flew by over the beach.
I had a scan through the numerous turnstones and redshank, in search of purple sandpipers, but I couldn't locate any. Most years, one or two turn up here to spend the winter. There were plenty of Eurasian oystercatchers and curlews around.
No sign of any Mediterranean gulls among the common, herring, lesser & great black-backed and black-headed gulls. 
Offshore, there were approximately 140 eider plus several great-crested grebes and cormorants.

I then headed up the road to Heysham Nature Reserve to catch up with some old birding chums. My arrival couldn't have been better timed as it coincided with the discovery of a yellow-browed warbler. I haven't seen one of these brilliant little eastern vagrant phylloscopus warblers for several years, so I was delighted to get great views as it actively fed in a group of willows.

I watched the processing and ringing of a few birds, including treecreeper, goldcrest (pictured) and chaffinch before heading off to Sunderland Point.
At least 8 little egret were on the marsh and there were more eider, plus several Eurasian wigeon on the river. There were plenty of rock pipits around, I saw well over a dozen, plus a few skylarks. Waders were represented by yet more curlew and redshank, plus grey (black-bellied) plover, lapwing, dunlin and a flock of 60ish bar-tailed godwit.

A return to the Jetty in Morecambe for high tide, was pretty unrevealing with much the same stuff as seen earlier.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Whirlwind tour approaches its end...

The whirlwind tour continues and, still, little time for productive birding...

A weekend in North Wales was more of a beer-tasting and curry-scoffing event, though I did add some common species to my UK year-list. I've managed another trundle around my old patch at Aldcliffe, too.
So, over the last few days I've seen such exciting stuff as common buzzard, sparrowhawk, jay, nuthatch, treecreeper, stock dove, red-legged partridge, skylark, 'normal' wren (as in troglodytes troglodytes), grey heron, grey wagtail, Eurasian wigeon, common eider, and the like.

I'm popping over to Morecambe tomorrow, so maybe I'll bag something interesting there... Mediterranean gull perhaps?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Brit Birder Not In BC

What a difference a year makes!
It's 12 months exactly since I left the UK and became a Brit birder in BC.
It's lovely to be back, but it seems odd that I should be paying so much attention to magpies, woodpigeons and pied wagtails...
I actually year-ticked Eurasian kestrel while still sat on the plane at Manchester airport!

For a Canadian birder, on a first trip to the UK, the species I've seen/heard casually over the past 3 or 4 days, would be quite thrilling, I'm sure.

Lapwings, Eurasian curlews, golden plovers and oystercatchers, black-tailed godwits, redshanks, green sandpiper, little egret, little & great-crested grebes, black-headed, lesser-black backed and greater black-backed gulls, sparrowhawks, long-tailed, blue, coal and great tits, robins (real ones), European goldfinch, greenfinch, pied wagtail, meadow pipit, jackdaw, moorhen, Eurasian coot, etc etc. And that's without actually doing any birding, as such. I've had a stroll along the seafront at Morecambe and a wander along my old patch at Aldcliffe, but both were brief and far from intense.

Unfortunately I left the lead for my camera back in Cedar, so I can't upload any pics just yet... oh, well.
I'll keep posting the stuff that I see on here anyway, in the hope that other ex-pats, would-be travellers, or anyone else, might find the range of species encountered in northwest England in early October of interest. (Rarity fans might be interested to know that a yellow-browed warbler was seen nearby this morning - let the eastern passerines flood in!)

Right, time for another cup of tea and an Eccles cake...

Friday, 1 October 2010

No Net Nonsense

Broadband issues continue to plague me at home, so here's a very brief recap of the past couple of days' sightings...

Wednesday: 22 greater whitefronted geese in fields at Holden Creek among c300 Canadas. Just 2 long-billed dowitchers there.

Thursday: Influx of American wigeon on the Nanaimo River estuary with c500 birds present. Couple of bald eagles kicking around, but otherwise pretty quiet.

Will be away for a couple of weeks from hereon in - so it's time to go and find that biggy on the estuary! Keep checking the blog though, as I'll be posting my sightings from the UK (don't know how much birding I'll be doing, maybe my posts will all be about Lancashire pub interiors...)