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.
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?
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!