Monday, 29 November 2010

Rich pickings on the Nanaimo estuary

After a birding-free weekend in Vancouver I was pleased to see that my old mucker Rich Mooney had been down to the Nanaimo estuary in my absence and got amazing views of 4 short-eared owls. He also bagged meadowlarks, northern shrike and harriers - as expected. See Rich's blog post at his brilliant birding blog.

Having got so used to only ever seeing chestnut-backed chickadees here on Vancouver Island, I was quite taken aback by the sight of a small flock of black-capped chickadees mucking about in some shrubbery on Granville Street, in the heart of downtown. I forgot they were the common tit on the mainland! The ferry back yesterday wasn't much to write home about - the usual surf scoters, common murres, rhinoceros auklets, common loons and the expected gulls and cormorants, etc.

Jenny drew my attention to a varied thrush by our feeders this morning, the first we've had in the yard this season. There were actually 3 thrushes, plus a Steller's jay, numerous juncos and the afore-mentioned chestnut-backed chickadees.

On my lunchtime stroll down to a bitterly nippy and drizzly waterfront, there was a flock of around 50 common goldeneye by the crabbing pier. Not much else though, a couple of red-breasted mergansers and a few bufflehead.   

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Chilly Tuesday

Tuesday's lunchtime walk was a touch milder than yesterday's - but when facing the onshore breeze, that windchill certainly made itself known.

Both pelagic and double-crested cormorants were present in numbers around the float-plane jetties, and a group of 19 Barrow's goldeneye were paddling around the crab fishing pier.
A single cackling goose was among the regular Canadas and the high pitched honking of a greater white-fronted goose drew may attention to a flyover adult.
3 common goldeneye, several bufflehead plus 4 common and 2 red-breasted merganser were offshore by Mafeo Sutton park.
These nice icicles (nicicles?) were pretty impressive...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cold front on the waterfront

Well, those forecast flurries turned out to be pretty much full-on snow yet again, and when I took my daily constitutional along the waterfront in downtown Nanaimo the below zero northerly wind cut through to the bone.
A little over the top perhaps, but it was bloody freezing. Not surprisingly, I didn't see many other folk out having a stroll.
Even the birds were behaving differently - a bald eagle made a feeble at catching double-crested cormorants, having dislodged them from their roost with a targeted swoop. It failed.
A pair of greater scaup were hugging the sheltered area near the float-plane terminal and a group of Barrow's goldeneye were seeking a windless spot by the lagoon. Other than a pair of American wigeon, red-breasted merganser and the ubiquitous Canada geese, it was otherwise fairly quiet on the water.
My first varied thrush of the season popped up in Mafeo Sutton Park, and a small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets made their way through the trees.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Swan day wonders

I was limited to just a check at Quennell Lake today, birding-wise.
There had been something of a swan exodus, with a considerable reduction in the number of birds present.
Trumpeter swans were down to 118, and not a single tundra remained.
Ducks were represented by the usual multitude of mallard, 8 northern shoveler, several hooded and many common merganser, lesser scaup and ring-necked ducks plus a few wigeon. Notably, there were 3 American black duck
A single cackling goose was among the Canadas.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Swan fine day

Started off at Quennell Lake this morning, expecting more swans to be present. I wasn't wrong!
A couple of days ago, there were 28 trumpeters and 1 tundra.
Today, there were 178 trumpeter swans and at least 12 tundra swans on the flooded field.
One of the trumpeters was a collared bird.
The variation in the bill patterns of the tundra swans is quite remarkable, some have no yellow at all, while others have clear loral patches.
One bird in particular actually looked more like a Bewick's (see the photo below).
It was encouraging to see many young birds and family groups, of both species.

Otherwise, it was pretty unremarkable - no interesting aythyas among the ring-necked ducks and lesser scaups.
There were good numbers of American wigeon, loads of mallards and common mergansers, plus a handful of shovelers.

I then headed round to the Nanaimo River estuary.
A few trumpeter swans and Barrow's goldeneye were on the river. At the estuary, at least 2 juvs and an adult male northern harrier put on a good show. A northern shrike was hunting from the hawthorns on the marsh.
A male slate-coloured darke-eyed junco was among a flock of regular birds. Incidentally, an individual of this form was at my feeders this morning too.  
A drake Eurasian wigeon was among its commoner congeners on the kidney pools (see pic) while many hundreds more American wigeon and green-winged teal were out on the water - occasionally put to flight by a lone hunter.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Taking an eary morning gander

Spent half an hour or so this morning checking the wildfowl at Quennell Lake, in Cedar. It was freezing! But at least it was bright and dry...
There were 28 trumpeter swans on the flooded field at the northern end of the lake, plus a tundra swan. This is the first 'tundra' swan I've ever seen, although of course it's just the north American race of the Euro-version known as Bewick's swan, with which I am very familiar.
There were 2 greater white-fronted geese among the many, many Canadas.
The bulk of ducks were mallard with smaller numbers of green-winged teal, pintail, gadwall and American wigeon thrown in.
On the lake itself, there were approximately 160 common merganser and a dozen ring-necked duck.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Snow and wobbly owls

Jenny and I farting about in the snow
Howdy - Jenny and I headed up the road a bit for a long weekend and spent a couple of nights up at Mount Washington.
We were rather surprised by the sheer volume of snow up there - it was spectacular!
Unfortunately, though, the cloud was very low for much of our stay and when we did try and head out for some decent hikes, visibility was reduced to under 200m.

Of course, we saw lots of grey jays; the colloquial 'whiskey jacks'. It's been several years since I last saw this species, so I was quietly delighted.
At one point we had at least 6, along side 8 Steller's jays, on the deck of our lodgings.  At least 3 of the grey jays were ringed.
See the photo below of one of the un-banded jays that liked our bread.
Otherwise, the birds were notable by only by their absence. A couple of ravens, a hairy woodpecker, a few chickadees & golden-crowned kinglets, a red-breasted nuthatch and brown creeper were all we could find.
Not even a crossbill was heard... mind you, the cone crop appeared very poor where we were.

We got back to Cedar late afternoon today (Sunday) and I managed a quick dash down to the estuary in the fading light. An adult female and a juv northern harrier, showed well hunting over the marsh and a single northern shrike was sat at the top of a hawthorn.
A single trumpeter swan was flying around and wildfowl on the river and estuary included pintail, American wigeon, Barrow's goldeneye, gadwall and bufflehead among others.
A short-eared owl soon came out to play and gave great views - once again I was treated to a display of 'how to make catching rodents look easy'.
After a while another owl emerged and again, showed well albeit in failing light.
I managed to get some truly terrible footage of the first bird, as you can witness here! Enjoy the wobbly owl.      


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Park Life

Hello dear readers.
The dark evenings rule out post-work estuarine meanderings, so I had to content myself with my daily lunchtime stroll to Mafeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo.
It was a bit more birdy today than it has been in recent weeks. A number of surf scoter and bufflehead were bobbing around on the water as were a couple of horned grebes, Barrow's goldeneye and a single common goldeneye.
In the parky areas, were lots of dark-eyed juncos, a couple of song sparrows and a golden-crowned kinglet.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Funday Monday

Given that the only birds of note that I saw today were 7 trumpeter swans flying over the office, my sightings contributions will be exceedingly short. And indeed, there it is.

So, here's a curious thing. Quite a good idea if you live in rural Italy, or southern California perhaps...
Bird boxes with a difference. They'd be great for encouraging house sparrows in places where they're declining at a serious rate, or indeed any other social nesters.

Mystery Bird revealed

OK - eventually, I'm revealing the mystery bird.

Nobody went for varied thrush. Quite right too, it looks nothing like one.

10% of participants went in favour of western meadowlark. Fair enough, right sort of shape, essentially brown with black markings, even what appears to be a pale supercillium. But what about that white rump? Hm - rules out meadowlark.

I was surprised to see that more people went for American kestrel than they did the meadowlark. The mystery bird seems pretty short tailed, and not nearly rufous enough on the mantle in my opinion. And that plainish head pattern really rules this species out too, as does, once again, the white rump.

So, that leaves us with northern flicker. 70% of the voters chose this species. The shape, white rump, the mantle pattern and colour all suggest this bird. This individual was a juv, explaining the lack of obvious grey tones on the head.
So well done - the majority rule! Although far from being a clear cut image, it was obviously easier than the last one (when very few took part. Cowards!).
And, just for a bit of extra fun - you have FIVE answers to choose from with the new mystery bird... Good luck!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Short-lived shortie shocker

Brit readers may be interested to know that the clocks went back last night/this morning - a week later than in the UK.

So, I took advantage of the extra hour and headed off to the estuary bright and early. And when I say bright, I don't half mean it. It was glorious; blue skies, and pretty warm for 7.30am in early November!
I was quickly met by a northern shrike, busily pursuing a chickadee. Not sure of the outcome, as they vanished behind the hedge...

From the viewing platform, I could see 3 trumpeter swans out on the water. Good numbers of American wigeon were visible, though distant. Similarly, buffleheads, mallard, pintail, common merganser, and a pair of gadwall were bobbing about.
Another northern shrike was hunting from a snag out on the western marsh.
A juv northern harrier sailed by, passing over the lone shooter out on the marsh. To be honest, I don't think the ducks had much to worry about - I didn't see the guy hit a thing, despite a number of attempts.
Walking back toward the hedge, I noticed a bunch of western meadowlarks as they flew up into a hawthorn. I counted 18 in total (one of which is pictured).
I was quite surprised to see an American kestrel sat on a post out on the marsh. I expect this is the same bird as has been present at Holden Creek for the past few weeks.

I noticed something of a commotion going on some distance away, involving around 40-50 ravens. They were all flying around, quite high and seemingly excited by something.
Getting my bins on them, I noticed a short-eared owl amongst the melee. The ravens were relentlessly mobbing the owl, which was flying around in small circles, in a panicked state.
Convinced that the shortie would soon break away and head for cover, I kept watching, fascinated. Suddenly a sub-adult bald eagle flew through the flock and grabbed the owl in its talons. It flew up, mangling the owl in the progress, and then spiralled downward, eventually releasing its limp victim, which fell toward the ground pursued by a mob of murderous ravens.
Very curious behaviour, and not a little depressing!
I've seen owls mobbed by all manner of things in the past, but this is without doubt the first time I've seen such a brutal, and terminal, finale.
As I left the estuary around 9.20am I met a number of the Sunday Bird Walk participants, who had just arrived, and told them of my grizzly sighting. Hopefully their experience was somewhat less violent!

I headed around to Holden Creek for a quick scan. There were still 24 greater white-fronted geese and 33 cackling geese in the fields. I couldn't see anything unusual among the green-winged teal.
A pileated woodpecker flew over and a red-breasted sapsucker put in an appearance.
I also saw my first ruby-crowned kinglet of the fall.

Later, Jen and I went to Cable Bay. We didn't see too much ornithologically speaking but it was very pleasant.
We got good views of both seals and sealions - which is always a treat. And I took the accompanying pic to demonstrate the season... 

I popped back down to the estuary for dusk.
I didn't see any short-eared owls at all, despite waiting until it was too dark to see.  
A shrike, a juv Coopers hawk and a female northern harrier showed before the light went. A Wilson's single snipe flew over, only detected by its distinctive call.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Late lake look

A healthy hangover, thanks to a night in the Cambie, prevented me from an early start today. Instead I subjected myself to numerous 'essential' chores (including a Craft Fair and a trip to the Bird Store) with Jenny.
Late afternoon, we were back in Cedar and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. From birds, of course, not the booze.
So, I headed out into the drizzly gloom for a quick check of Quennel Lake. On the lake itself was a large raft of duck comprising mainly mallard, plus several American wigeon. Large numbers of common merganser were also present as were 20+ ring-necked duck. A single pied-billed grebe, and a couple of hooded merganser added to the tally.  
On the flooded field were lots of Canada geese, a sprinkling of cackling geese, more mallard and wigeon, a couple of pintail and 24 trumpeter swans.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Toowit, two owls

Once again, managed a quick trundle around the Nanaimo River estuary for a spot of post-work birding.
It was nice and bright, and a couple of wildfowlers were out shooting at the water's edge.
A single juv northern harrier sailed over.
As I walked around I noticed a flock of some 15 or so western meadowlarks flying low over the marsh. I crept toward the area of long grass in which they'd landed, and as I approached, the strikingly bright yellow of an adult glared out from the rank vegetation. About time too! I watched the group for a while, before heading off in search of owls.
At 6.15pm a short-eared owl appeared, hunting over the area of rough grass near the 'bluebird' posts. As I stood on a raised gravel mound to watch it, it headed toward me and buzzed me, uttering its barking call. It did a repeat of this move, and then as I watched it head off over the marsh I noticed a second bird, hunting beyond the channel. By this time the light was getting pretty awful, so armed with a brace of owls in my mind, I headed back to the car.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fog at the bog...

Thankfully, the day stayed bright and clear to allow me to squeeze a good 40 minutes out down at the estuary, before the dusk, and heavy mist, completely stopped play.
It was all quiet initially, with the exception of the multitude of garrulous gulls on the riverside.
I eventually spotted a juvenile northern harrier sat out on a post on the marsh. As I trudged along the long hedge, a pair of adult harriers passed low over me, calling and interacting with one another. Very nice.
Just after 6pm, as I turned to return to my fog-shrouded car I noticed a movement, which turned out to be, as I suspected, a short-eared owl. It flew onto a stranded log and sat looking around before flying off and vanishing into the blanket of mist lying over the marsh.

* in other news... a 'slate-coloured' junco has been hanging out with the regular dark-eyed juncos in our yard for the past couple of days. (This is the form that I've seen a couple of times as a vagrant in the UK, in Portland, Dorset, and in Cheshire.)