Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Birding Year etc, etc.

Five greater white-fronted geese flew over me as I put some petrol, or gas if you prefer, in the car in Cedar this morning. I couldn't help thinking as I set off to work, that I"d much rather be going down to the icy estuary and optimistically scrutinising every bush, tree, frozen pool and clump off weedy grass for avian gems.
As it happens, I managed to leave work at 3pm, so thanks to the brilliantly bright weather, I was able to squeeze a good hours' birding in just before, and up to dusk.
Naturally, I found myself heading toward the Nanaimo River estuary.
The tide was well out, and so too were the more aquatically inclined birds. I could see good numbers of American wigeon, pintail and few other bits and pieces. Around 30 trumpeter swan were in the area.
A lovely male northern harrier was initially sat out on a small tree on the marsh, and spent much of the time I was there sailing closely by me and showing beautifully. A juv. female joined him for a short sortie, before heading off to the outer estuary marshes.
2 killdeer gave themselves away, calling noisily as they flew over the marsh. 
I came across a sizable finch flock in the hawthorns, made up of mainly dark-eyed juncos and golden-crowned sparrows. A handful each of song sparrows and spotted towhees were also in the long hedge, as were 2 fox sparrows.
A Cooper's hawk came over, heading determinedly toward Briggs Park area.
Just as I was leaving I spotted a newly emerged short-eared owl. It showed well for a short while before heading off to hunt beyond the fields. Another short-eared passed over, at height from the north of the river.
And with that, I can confidently say that short-eared owl was the last bird I saw in 2010. Not every year I can say that.

So, many best wishes to all for 2011 
- and next time I discover a major local rarity, let's hope that I'm aware of the gravity of the sighting at the time...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Ruddy ducks head the list

Back in Cedar after the excitement of the big city, I was itching to get down to the Nanaimo River estuary. I haven't been able to get down there for a couple of weeks, at least, and I was keen to see what was about. It was a bit later in the day, than I'd have liked (just before 1pm), but I thought that the dropping tide might prove interesting. 
As I arrived at the end of Raines Road it looked like Leighton Moss car park on a Sunday afternoon. And before I even got out of the car, I could see a short-eared owl hunting in the near field. Then I realised why the parking area was so full; sunny day = nice owl pictures.
I actually thought that Prince William and Kate whatserface must have been here to see the owls too, given the barrage of lenses on the marsh and field perimeter. I had a very quick scout along the river edge but, to be honest, I prefer the place when it's quieter people-wise, and I'm sure that with all those keen eyes out there, nothing interesting was going to go unfound for long.
Returning to the car, I noticed that there were at least 3 short-eareds hunting over the fields. Presumably the marsh was a bit too busy for their liking too.

So, off to Holden Creek I went, and soon found myself alone with the birds.
A scan through the ducks on the flooded marsh revealed at least 12 gadwall among the 230 or so green-winged teal. Despite my best efforts, no common teal were seen among them. There were no wigeon or pintail present and only 20+ mallard. A couple of bufflehead, common goldeneye and hooded mergansers were on the creek.
Out on the marsh I could see some trumpeter swans, I counted 30 as they were flushed by a small group of people with an inexplicably large gang of little dogs.
A couple of northern shrike were hunting various areas (1 pictured, badly as ever) and 2 juv northern harriers were also patrolling the rear of the marsh. A couple of red-tailed hawks were kicking about, as were the customary bald eagles and a merlin.
Other than a Bewick's wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, and a flyover purple finch, passerines were represented by the usual juncos, towhees, golden-crowned and song sparrows, etc.

I decided to make a quick detour and check out Quennell Lake on my way home. Very few swans were present, as now seems to be the norm.
Good numbers of ring-necked duck, lesser scaup and common merganser were on the lake, plus a pair of ruddy duck. Even though they were quite far out, I'm pretty sure that they were a male and female.
There were also 5 American coot present.
The American kestrel was hunting from the roadside wires.

 Eider known you were coming, I'd have baked a cake...

...and for those of you who aren't aware of the thread on BCVI Birds forum regarding yesterday's eider sighting. It turns out that common eider, while having been recorded off Vancouver Island in the past has yet to be recorded in the Victoria area.

Naturally, this troubles me. I really cannot begin to imagine what else it could have been! It looked like a female eider. I remember saying to Jenny, "Hey, female eider - that's the first I've seen on the island".
Problem is, I didn't really pay as much attention to it as perhaps I should have done, just casually remarking to Jenny that I wasn't sure about the status of the species in this part of the world, but I presumed they were reasonably frequent. Why else would I be seeing one? Anyway, I've made some notes on what I saw, and will submit them. As I write this I'm not aware of anyone relocating it. Or even looking for it, for that matter! (Though I'm sure someone will have done).
Anyway, having set something of a cat among the pigeons, here's a pic I took moments after seeing the duck, of a black turnstone among the pigeons.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Birding down south

Jenny and I headed down to Victoria for a couple of days and this morning we took a stroll through Beacon Park and down to Clover Point.

In the park there were loads of American wigeon, plus a few ring-necked ducks, etc.

Offshore, there was loads of activity out over the water, but it was a touch frustrating as I was without my 'scope.
The usual common sea ducks, cormorants, common loons and such, were clearly visible within bins range. There were masses of gulls way out.
Of particular interest was a bird that looked to me like a female common eider. I am very used to seeing this species, as they're common in British waters. It was only the fact that I haven't seen any eiders since I arrived in BC that made me even question it - so, without my books to hand, I can't really check on status. IS common eider a frequent bird off Victoria?

A couple of black turnstone, 3 sanderling and a black oystercatcher were the only shorebirds seen.

Great to see so many Anna's hummingbirds; they're positively abundant down here!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Quennell birds

Howdy - hope everyone had a jolly old Christmas.
I haven't been able to get out to do any serious birding over the last few day, but I did manage a quick stop at Quennell Lake yesterday.
Christmas Bird Count participants, may wish to know that the American kestrel is still hanging around the northern end of the area, near Cedar. Also, a Cooper's hawk was hunting around the nearby cemetery.
Wildfowl numbers were unremarkable - just 24 trumpeter swans and the usual hordes of Canada geese. Ducks were thin on the ground, the majority being pintail, with smaller numbers of mallard and American wigeon present. A few common merganser were on the main lake, along with a handful of lesser scaup and ring-necked duck.

As you can see, I've finally updated the Mystery Bird. Thanks to Steve Large for the pic. I'll post the answer to last one soon...  and enjoy!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Season's Greetings!

Happy Christmas to all -

and here's to a great,
birdy New Year!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lost for words.

This is how bad it gets... I'm reduced to taking shots of a mute swan.
This fine beast cruised by me down by Mafeo Sutton Park, Nanaimo while I was taking my lunchtime constitution today.
Also seen: many bufflehead, several common goldeneye, a couple of red-breasted merganser, and not much else.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Bird Count 2010 - Parksville

Sunday, I took part in the Parksville Christmas Bird Count for the second consecutive year. And, once again I joined Rich Mooney, Lori Lynch and Mike Ashbee for the fun and games.

With Rich having already bagged killdeer calling behind his house at around 5.30am, we set out at 6am, heading first for Little Mountain in the hope of hearing an owl or two. After Rich had just about chapped his lips mimicking various species, and the rest of us had succumbed to near hypothermia, we got a response from a northern pygmy owl. Hooray! Sadly, it wasn't so interested that it came so close for us to see it, but we left happy nonetheless.
The day went on well, with some great birds seen.
We scoured the neighbourhoods of Parksville for suburban passerines and did pretty well - the highlight for me, being the sight of 13 stunning evening grosbeaks.
This was a long-awaited new bird for me and was very much on my mind today, as they're relatively easy to find in this area, unlike down in Nanaimo and Cedar.
What a great tick!
Another interesting event came when we were trampling a marshy area, and flushed at least 4 Wilson's snipe. But before we encountered any snipe, I accidentally flushed a Virginia rail! This bird flew up almost at my feet, flashing its white undertail at me before it took flight. It flew for all of about 6 feet, barely above ground level, hit the deck and ran off into the rank and dense vegetation. Another tick! Hardly brilliant views, but unequivocal at least... 
We did OK with our numerous sea watches, nothing spectacular, but we did clinch the trio of scoter species. Harlequin duck was frustratingly absent until late in the day, and the only Bonaparte's gulls were a pair flying overhead on Shelley Road.
We had a lone pigeon guillemots, several common murres, a handful of marbled and 1 ancient murrelet. Again, this last species would have been a new bird for me, but I wasn't going to tick it on the basis of the crappy, distant flight views I had, by the time I got onto it.  
Rich the owl-magnet had managed to solicit a vocal response from a barred owl, and as we neared the end of the count a few obvious absentees started to really irritate us! While bagging California quail, (again, the antitheses of Victorian children, heard but not seen) we stumbled across a small flock of American goldfinch and finally added pileated woodpecker.
A few common birds remained elusive, such as both accipiters, red-tailed hawk, black oystercatcher and shoveler. Oh well, can't have everything eh? It was a brilliant day, the weather stayed relatively kind and the company was great.

As it happens, we actually ended up with the highest species count for the day, with 86. The actual total number of individual birds counted was 2791.
Now, just to compare, if I'd have done a Christmas Bird Count on my old local patch in north west England I wouldn't have likely beat that number of species, but the number of lapwing alone would almost have numbered twice the total of individual birds we managed here! And the counters at Heysham Harbour could have expected some 30,000 red knot... but they wouldn't have seen 13 evening grosbeaks, would they?

The Turbo Team scale the heights of Little Mountain... 

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Bit of Buttertubs Birding

Desperate for some birding, I managed to prise myself out of  bed Friday morning and take advantage of the cold, bright and dry conditions for a quick half hour at Buttertubs Marsh before work.
There wasn't a great deal going on, but it was just fab to be out in daylight.
To be honest, I was really hoping to find a Virginia rail, having still not had a decent look at one since my defection to Canada.
As is happens, I had no such luck. Optimism alone is no guarantee of success, it seems. These American rails certainly seem harder to locate than their European counterparts... 

The best bird that I encountered was a smart Wilson's snipe, caught crouching in a small channel of water - pity I was 'scopeless, as I could have got a decent shot of it, but I only had my happy snapper.
Hence the rather cryptic photo attached.
See if you can spot the little fella...

There was little out on the water, just a couple of hooded merganser and the odd mallard and a lone wood duck.
Creeping around in the undergrowth were a couple of varied thrushes, fox sparrows and the usual Bewick's wrens, juncos, towhees etc.
I did get great views of a marsh wren, frolicking in the frosty phragmites. Always a treat.

Saturday additions...

Just managed a quick run by Quennell Lake on our way out to somewhere less ornithological.
Of note: the American kestrel was again hunting in the nearby fields. Only 28 trumpeter swans were on the flooded field and wildfowl in general was much reduced. There were approximately 180 common merganser, and a single American coot on the lake.  

Monday, 13 December 2010

Out For The Count

Sunday, I was blessed with dry weather for my Coastal Waterbirds Survey.

Before I really kicked off, I scoped toward the Nanaimo estuary from the path just by the tunnel exit, and could see at least 2 short-eared owls and a northern harrier hunting over the flooded marsh.
The survey itself, was pretty uneventful but continued, at least, to remain rain-free as I walked down to Jack Point and back.
Highlights included 7 horned grebe, 4 common loon, 1 surf scoter, 1 harlequin duck and a Brandt's cormorant. The most plentiful birds were bufflehead and common goldeneye, with reasonable numbers of red-breasted merganser and greater scaup also present.

I made a quick stop at Holden Creek on my way back. The actual marsh was birdless (no doubt helped by the fact that a couple of local gunmen were creeping around at the back), but the wet fields contained approximately 1400 American wigeon plus several hundred green-winged teal and reasonable numbers of pintail and mallard. A peregrine bombed through, attempted a strike at the wildfowl but left empty-handed. Or empty-taloned, I suppose...
5 greater white-fronted geese were still hanging around with the Canadas.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


I headed out to the Nanaimo River estuary for the first couple of hours of daylight on Saturday morning. I arrived to find one hunter already out on the marsh, with another soon arriving after me.
There wasn't must shooting going in though, as the majority of wildfowl was staying offshore.
There wasn't a great deal of activity at all, to be honest, and I spent my time vainly searching for birds.

I didn't see a single shrike - most unusual here, and only a lone western meadowlark put in an appearance.
Two 'ring-tail' northern harriers were cruising the marsh but no owls were in hunting mode. I did manage to locate a single roosting short-eared owl, as pictured here. They can be tricky little blighters to find...
A couple of largish finch/sparrow flocks were deserving of thorough scrutiny but, alas, the best I could dig out from among the multitude of golden-crowned sparrows and juncos were a couple of white-crowned, a fox and a Lincoln's sparrow. Pah.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Audubon's Birds of America

I see that Lord Hesketh's edition of Audubon's Birds of America has gone under the hammer and fetched a record-breaking price of over 7.3million pounds.

If you ever want to find out more about this seminal work, read Duff Hart-Davis's 'Audubon's Elephant'  - a superb book chronicling the project from concept to completion. Boy, they were dedicated in those days...

Click here to read the BBC report of the sale...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ducks and geese and swans, oh my!

Didn't really get any time to do any serious birding today, but have binoculars, will travel...

Jenny and I walked down to Jack Point, enjoying the relative warmth and bright skies. We saw good numbers of waterbirds along the way including horned grebe, common loon, both goldeneye species, bufflehead, greater scaup, white-winged scoter and so on.
The woodland was alive with dark-eyed juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets. We also came across Bewick's and Pacific wrens, and a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets.  
A single dunlin was roosting on the rocks near the Duke Point ferry terminal.

It was late afternoon by the time we came away and we made a small detour to check Quennell Lake. There were fewer swans than were here yesterday when we arrived, but small parties arrived from the south intermittently. After yesterday's wigeon-fest, I was surprised not to see a single bird. In fact, other than 8 shoveler and a ring-necked duck the only ducks present on the flooded fields were hundreds of mallard.
On the lake proper, I couldn't see the ruddy duck - just lots of common and hooded mergansers.
A single juv greater white-fronted goose was among the Canadas feeding in the fields (pictured). You can make out the beginnings of its white blaze at the base of the bill, though it still retains much of its black nail.
A lone cackling goose arrived in a large flock of Canada geese, again coming in from wherever they'd been feeding to the south.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

My kind of birding

Suffering from severe withdrawals, I headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary at first light this morning. And what a glorious morning it was too - below freezing and awash with crisp white frost, but bright and clear.
A few Barrow's goldeneye, bufflehead and common mergansers were on the river, adjacent to Raines Road and a gathering of glaucous-winged gulls were assembled in the usual spot where the river splits.
A couple of varied thrush were in the big oak, and there were good numbers of American robins around the place.

A male northern harrier was perched up in a shrub out on the marsh, while a northern shrike similarly was keeping watch from a small tree nearby. The usual numerous bald eagles were much in evidence, and I even bothered to take a pic of one - as seen here.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I saw another 2 northern harriers (both juvs), a couple of belted kingfisher and just 3 western meadowlarks.
A trio of trumpeter swans were honking around the place, while a drake Eurasian wigeon was picked out from among a throng of American wigeon on the marsh.
Trying desperately to dig out something out-of-the-ordinary from the large junco and golden-crowned sparrow flocks I could only find 3 fox sparrows and 1 Lincoln's sparrow.
A flock of some 40 or so mobile red-winged blackbirds were kicking around throughout the morning. 
I located 3 roosting short-eared owls, and managed to observe them well at range without disturbing them.

Having exhausted this part of the estuary, I headed round to Holden Creek to see what was occurring there. 
I immediately spotted another northern shrike sat up in the large dead trees by the farm. A couple of killdeer were in the field, as were 7 greater white-fronted geese. Reasonable numbers of green-winged teal were out on the creek along with smaller numbers of American wigeon, mallard and pintail.
I was delighted to see that the American kestrel was still in residence, hunting from the fence posts out in the fields - at one point being mobbed by 6 western meadowlarks!
Other than a couple of red-tailed hawks, it was pretty quiet.

It was now nearly 11am and I figured I could easily squeeze a quick of Quennell Lake before making myself available for husbandly duties.
There were still 88 trumpeter swans by the flooded field and lake - much of the water was frozen here. Small numbers of northern shoveler, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, and common merganser were in the area as well as many American wigeon. A group of 47 American coot were sat in one small area of open water.
As I was 'scoping a pied-billed grebe a female ruddy duck swam through my field of view - perhaps that same returning bird I saw here in spring?

Later in the afternoon, as the sun and temperature were dropping, I headed back to Quennell with a half hour to spare. I was surprised to see another American kestrel sat on a telegraph pole just before I reached the lake. And a peregrine was sat up in a nearby conifer.
Checking through the significantly increased number of American wigeon on the flooded field, I found 3 Eurasian wigeon (one of which is pictured here, upper right). A few lesser scaup had joined the throng and the ruddy duck remained on the lake.
All in all, a really good day's birding, with some satisfying finds if nothing too extravagant!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dark times...

Sadly, these dark days are rotten as far as allowing me many birding opportunities.
However, I can report the following sparse sightings, or in the case of the first, hearings. Last night, I could hear the honking of numerous trumpeter swans from the yard. They didn't sound like they were flying, as the sound didn't alter in consistency. Presumably, these swans were over toward Quennell Lake and the sound was being carried by the breeze. It must be at least 1 kilometre away!
Anyhoo - as for stuff I've seen with my actual eyes... 3 varied thrush again at the feeders this morning along with 40+ dark-eyed juncos and a Steller's jay.
A high flying buteo over the office today was presumably a red-tailed hawk.
It was quiet down at Mafeo Sutton Park at lunchtime with just a handful of bufflehead, common goldeneye, the usual cormorants and a couple of red-breasted mergansers.

Our pals David and Susan have been enjoying having an Anna's hummingbird practically glued to their feeder, just off Bowen Road in Nanaimo, for a while.
Well, maybe not glued as much as frozen.
During the recent extreme cold snowy spell, the hummer was almost permanently in residence on their balcony - as evidenced by the accompanying photo.