Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas Gives Birding The Bird

All this Christmas stuff has really impacted on my birding... in fact I can't remember ever having so much time off work and yet finding so little time to get out in search of ornithological diversions. Oh well, the excessive gluttony just about compensated.
It wasn't all gout-inducing revelry though, I did manage to squeeze a few local walks in; binoculars at the ready. 
I checked out life in the Government House grounds a couple of times. There wasn't too much going on. The regular common birds were much in evidence, both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, downy woodpeckers, chestnut-backed chickadees, northern flickers, dark-eyed juncos, Pacific wrens, etc, etc.

Ross Bay
I managed to fit in quick visits to Ross Bay and Clover Point too. Offshore the usual species were seen in varying numbers including red-necked and horned grebes, common goldeneye, surf scoters, a single greater scaup, all three mergansers, pigeon guillemot, common loon, harlequins and buffleheads, pelagic and double-crested cormorants. Shorebirds were thin on the ground, thanks to the very high tides. I only noted a couple of dunlin along with a handful each of black turnstone and surfbird.

On Saturday morning I had a good stroll around Beacon Hill Park, primarily looking for bushtit/chickadee flocks. Maybe I would find a wintering warbler of some kind - or even the elusive blue-gray gnatcatcher seen there a few weeks ago? No reason why it shouldn't still be around. As it happens, I struggled to locate any decent sized flocks and those few birds I did encounter weren't harbouring any exciting waifs or strays.
Nice to see varied thrushes (always a favourite) mingled in with the many American robins and a few small sparrow flocks gave me something to scrutinize, albeit briefly. 
I spotted at least 4 Eurasian wigeon (3 drakes, 1 duck) among the many American wigeon present on the park pools. A couple of northern shoveler and a small number of ring-necked duck were also on the ponds, along with a billion mallard.

A short and soggy trundle to Harling Point today (Tuesday) revealed a pair of smart long-tailed duck close offshore and a gang of some 15 black-bellied plover but little else of note.

So, it's back to work tomorrow and my near-daily lunchtime dashes to Langford Lake will resume in earnest. I haven't yet seen anything too thrilling there, but it seems to attract a reasonably diverse range of birds from time to time. There have been good numbers of pine siskins there in recent weeks and red crossbills are tolerably frequent. On the water there are usually a few species of wildfowl to be seen and both mew and glaucous-winged gulls come in regularly to bathe. And I have never seen quite as many pied-billed grebes in any one location.

I hope everyone reading this had a jolly old Christmas, and here's to a bird-filled New Year ahead!

 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Last Gasp on Gasparilla

Our back yard in Boca Grande, Florida
Friday was our last full day on Planet Florida. The weather continued to be superb, and we opted to stay on Gasparilla and take it easy - especially as it was Satty's birthday. Of course my mind was, as always, slightly on the matter of birds and I was only too aware that despite this being my third visit to the Sunshine State I had still failed to add Carolina wren to my world list. Now, as anyone who knows about birding in Florida this species is, by all accounts, common as the proverbial muck itself. How was I missing them so spectacularly? Today, I was going to try and redeem myself. I listened to various recordings of their calls and songs, and read up once more on the habits of these skulking birds.

After breakfast we decided to explore a region of the Gasparilla Island State Park we'd noticed a few days ago; an area a little off the beaten track where invasive vegetation was being managed. This could just possibly provide the perfect habitat for my quarry... and I hadn't even manipulated the plan for my own benefit!

White ibis
We set off along a barely obvious trail, scattering multiple lizards as we went. An American kestrel was hunting the area and we flushed a red-shouldered hawk. The usual vultures and ospreys drifted overhead, but as for other birds it seemed depserately quiet. Until I heard a curious rasping call, not unlike that of a Bewick's wren. Surely this was my bird? I pished. It rasped. I pished again. It rasped again. I caught a glimpse of a bird moving in the dense tangled vegetation, then it was gone. Drat.
A few metres on, that call again. Once again I began to pish quietly. This time it really did the trick and two birds started calling excitedly back in response. And these were unquestionably Carolina wrens. It took a good few, frustrating seconds but eventually one, then two birds showed well. And what smart looking wrens! Big, bright chunky birds, with wacking great supercilliums, even my non-birder companions were reasonably impressed. They became known immediately, and appropriately, as Satty's birthday wrens.

Florida box turtle
We moved on, and we soon came across a Florida box turtle (actually a non-aquatic terrestrial reptile, and more like a tortoise - pictured). The track shortly petered out and we headed back out of the bush and toward the beach, spotting an ovenbird and common yellowthroat on the way.
On the beach it was the same stuff, white ibis (pictured), willet, ruddy turnstone, Forster's, Royal and Sandwich terns (pictured), etc, and we meandered along enjoying the delightful subtropical climate.

Sandwich tern
After lunch (we sat on a table next to a bunch of identically dressed gun-sporting secret service guys, newly arrived in town as part of the Bush family's detail - Gasparilla is the traditional Christmas destination and both ex-Presidents and their entourages were due any day) the ladies went exploring while I joined Paul on the beach and tried a spot of sea fishing. I was, as I expected, hopeless and I lost more bait and tangled more line than I care to admit...

Later that evening as we headed out to a local restaurant to celebrate Satty's significant birthday we heard an Eastern screech owl, very close but in some pretty dense vegetation. I tried to locate the singing bird with my head lamp but unsurprisingly it eluded my beam. Had we not had a table booked, I may have been tempted to dash back to the house and return with my recorder but I had to leave this particular potential lifer for another time. I know that many North American birders will happily tick a bird on call or song alone, but I'm not in that camp. If I don't see it, I don't count it.
The owl was still calling when we returned a couple of hours later and we could even hear it from the back of the house. Oh well, it's always good to have something to look for should I find myself in Eastern screech owl range again.

Magnificent frigatebird
Jenny and I flew back to Victoria on Saturday afternoon. We spent the morning lazing around the house in Boca Grande. A flock of warblers made up of around 40 yellow-rumped and 20 palm warblers came through, with a single pine warbler and a pair of northern cardinals among them. A fine yellow-bellied sapsucker put in an unexpected appearance in a palm in the back yard and 6 magnificent frigatebirds (male pictured) came over to wave us off.
And the highlight of our journey home was adding great-tailed grackle to the trip list at Houston Airport!
Now, back to reality and the onslaught of the festive period...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Babcock / Webb Birding Tick-Fest...

We got up nice and early on Wednesday morning; destination Babcock / Webb Wildlife Management Area. This huge chunk of land just northwest of Fort Myers, is primarily managed for hunting, but is famous in birding circles as one of Florida's best locations for finding the critically endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
We arrived on site, paid the paltry $3 per person and picked up a map from the reception office, and glanced at the tally of critters so far killed this season. This list included coyotes, racoons, doves and of course, 836 northern bobwhite. As one of the species I'd hoped to see, bobwhites are either so extremely common here that I'll have no trouble locating one, or there are now none left whatsoever...

Here be Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers
We headed to the first red-cockaded woodpecker cluster area - these woodpeckers are sociable birds and nest in close proximity to one another. The clusters are clearly marked by white stripes painted on the trees where the birds' nestholes can be found. Naturally, it's far out of breeding season and odds were somewhat stacked against our chances of finding any 'peckers at this time of year.
Nonetheless. we optimists pulled off the track and had a listen. A northern flicker came through. Then a red-bellied woodpecker stopped by. Then we heard the very un-woodpeckery sound of a red-cockaded as it flew across the track and through the trees. It was followed immediately by a second bird which kindly alighted on a tree right in front of us and showed brilliantly for a couple of minutes before it too vanished off in the distance. Result!
I couldn't believe my luck, barely out of the car for 5 minutes and my target bird was in the bag!  
We then spent the next few hours stopping off at likely looking spots and seeing what we could find.

Little Blue Heron
There were plenty of waterbirds around including little blue herons (pictured), sandhill cranes, wood storks, pied-billed grebes and green herons, great and snowy egrets etc. Glossy ibis made it on to the trip list courtesy of a small group of birds.
There were lots of northern mockingbirds around, as well as many flocks of feeding palm, yellow-rumped and pine warblers all over the place. A bit of pishing brought out some interesting birds including a showy and vocal gray catbird. Blue jays put in appearances, as did eastern phoebes, loggerhead shrikes and smart eastern bluebirds. Hundreds of tree swallows were hawking over the large grassy areas and small lakes.

Brit Birder in FL
Red-shouldered hawks were the commonest raptor seen, plus we spotted occasional Cooper's hawks and northern harriers, as well as the ubiquitous black and turkey vultures.
A few shorebirds were seen in one particularly large wetland area. These included killdeer, and around 70 greater yellowlegs and a single lesser yellowlegs.
Stopping briefly to check out a warbler flock we heard the distinctive 'rubber-duck' calls of another key bird - brown-headed nuthatch. Some careful, if panicked scrutiny of the feeding flock soon revealed one of these diminutive arboreal acrobats, which was soon joined by a second. They gave great views - always a bonus when seeing a lifer!     

Alligator
Alongside the birds, the park was also teeming with butterflies and dragonflies, plus we came across several alligators (pictured). Paul, as driver, noted racoon and deer crossing the road in front of him, en route.
In several hours we only covered a fraction of the 65,758 acre area, but had seen a huge variety of habitat (and only one vehicle of gun-toting good ol' boys).
I didn't get to see any bobwhites, but hey-ho, they're widespread enough and I like to think that I may well see one somewhere else someday.

We arrived back on Gasparilla mid afternoon and Paul set off to the beach to do some fishing. We all joined him, and as we neared the beach the distinctive hoot of a great horned owl was heard. Jenny, Satty and Paul carried on toward the water, while I dashed off in search of the vocal owl. It didn't take long, and I was soon looking up at a pair of great horned owls sat high in Banyan tree, one calling frequently. Very nice!
Once I joined the others on the beach, I scanned up and down taking in the numerous shorebirds present. Among the familiar willets, sanderlings and black-bellied plovers there were also white ibis, great-blue heron and the usual ring-billed and laughing gulls. As I looked offshore, 3 juvenile northern gannets were making a splash as they repeatedly dived into the water in their unmistakable manner.

Thursday
This morning Jenny and I spent the morning cycling around the north island. I had wanted to get a good look at the birds on the sand bars near the bridge, so I took my 'scope along with me.
Along the route we encountered the usual palm warblers, mourning doves, Eurasian collared-doves, ospreys, American kestrels and the expected herons, egrets and wood storks. An odd looking dove caught my eye sat on an overhead wire, and stopping to check it out I realised that it was a white-winged dove.
Once we reached the bridge, we were relieved to see that the tide was low enough to expose a few small sandbars and thankfully there were birds feeding on them... scanning through I was pleased to see a good mix of waders; willet, red knot, dunlin, black-bellied plover and semi-palmated plovers. However, the bird I really wanted to find (ever the optimist...) couldn't be seen.

Pelican, skimmers, terns...
We crossed the road and checked out another sandbar on the other side. Brown pelicans, Sandwich terns, Forster's terns, royal terns and black skimmers were all present in good numbers (pictured).
Then I noticed right at the far end of the spit, some smaller birds. One dunlin, 4 semi-palmated plovers, a Wilson's plover and, hello... a pale plover, short bill, orange legs - Bingo! Another world first for me, piping plover. I thought that this might be a long-shot, but it was the very species I was hoping for. Wonderful!
American white pelicans were gliding overhead, while the ever-present ospreys kept us entertained with their nest building and highly successful fishing forays. My first reddish egret of the trip was fishing the shallows, flanked by a little blue heron. A juv bald eagle was sat up in a dead tree.
A sizeable flock of palm warbler were feeding in the same roadside trees as they were a couple of days ago, and once again a single pine warbler and a black-and-white warbler were among them.
We headed back to 'town' and after a cuppa we headed to the beach to catch up with Paul and Satty.

Great horned owl
On the way, we stopped off to see if the great horned owls were still in the big banyan. They were, and we got a few shots of one of the birds as it sat high in the canopy.
On the beach, it was mainly business as usual.
As Jen and I walked along the length of the beach, we encountered more birds as we got further from the developed areas and here we found good numbers of dunlin, western sandpiper and red knot (pictured) as well as the familiar ruddy turnstone and other common tideline dwellers.

Red Knot
Paul's highlight of the day was catching a clear nosed skate, a rather charming fish which, when released, partially buried itself in the sand within inches of the water line. Eventually it realised that this wasn't the best place to be and swam off unharmed, if a little traumatised!  

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

More Florida Birding Highlights...

Hello readers. Well, it's been a touch hectic here in sunny Florida, what with all the relaxing, leisurely birding and my ongoing investigation into the state's microbreweries...

Monday was a bit of a write-off bird-wise as we all headed out to some monster outlet mall to indulge in a spot of rampant pre-Christmas consumerism. As it happens, I did add a few birds to the trip list. Floridian favourites such as loggerhead shrike, red-shouldered hawk, wood stork (pictured) and magnificent frigatebird were all seen en route, but eclipsing these fine aves was a rather fine crested caracara perched up in a roadside tree. Off the top of my head, I think this is the first one I've seen north of Mexico, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it sat there.
Once we got 'home', Jenny, Satty and I headed out to the beach to catch the sunset. Of course, there were willets, ruddy turnstones and sanderling on the beach with ring-billed gulls, laughing gulls and passing royal terns. On our way back in the dusky darkness we heard a great horned owl hooting from the confines of a huge banyan tree.

Tuesday was somewhat more productive on the birding front as me and Jenny, along with Paul and Satty, hired bikes and explored the length of Gasparilla Island, and beyond. As we headed out north along the island on the excellent cyclepath, we frequently stopped to check out the mangroves, bays and assorted interesting looking spots. There were loads of yellow-rumped and palm warblers all along the route, plus we got views of a single common yellowthroat and a dazzling northern cardinal. Both turkey and black vultures, American kestrels, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks and scores of ospreys competed with the white and brown pelicans, various egrets and anhingas for our attention. 
From a small bridge overlooking a shallow bay with exposed sandbars, I could see good numbers of willet, sanderling, black-bellied plover, killdeer and a couple of Wilson's plovers
On the other side of the bridge, another sandbar hosted around 400 black skimmers, plus hundreds of Sandwich and Forster's terns and brown pelicans.
A sizeable flock of feeding warblers were working their way through some roadside trees and, after a little pishing, I was soon surrounded by a horde of palm warblers, and in among them a single pine warbler and smart black-and-white warbler.

On our way, we also saw the lizard pictured here, either consuming a large spider or still sporting its Movember 'tache... (maybe one of my herpetologist pals can identify the reptile?)
After a return to the house for a much deserved cup of tea we cycled down to the south of the island, to the old lighthouse. Brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants were in good supply and a single horned grebe was fishing close to the shore.

On the beach there were good numbers of Sandwich and Forster's terns mixed in with the many laughing gulls (pictured). A bottle-nosed dolphin showed well, passing by just offshore.
The usual shorebirds were present.
We returned the bikes and headed to a bar to sample some local brews and review our plans for the following day... (going in search of a lifer or two - details to follow!)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Brit Birder Returns To Florida

Spent most of Saturday in transit between Victoria and Fort Myers, Florida. We arrived in darkness and were met by my brother Paul and his wife Satty, who had flown in from the UK the day before.
We headed out to Boca Grande, just to the north of Sanibel Island, where we would be staying for the week. After a few well-earned ales we hit the hay in the early hours.
This morning, I awoke and took in my immediate surroundings. The house backs onto a canal, and is flanked by mangroves. Reasonably interesting! The first bird I heard was a palm warbler, which eventually showed as it made its way through the waterside vegetation.
Within seconds an Eastern phoebe flew in and showed brilliantly, flycatching from the top of a nearby mangrove. Turkey vultures soon appeared overhead and several brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants were seen in the distance. A couple more palm warblers came by, as did a yellow-rumped warbler.

After a leisurely breakfast we strolled into 'town' - a small collection of stores and restaurants - and then on to the beach and back. Birds encountered along the way included American kestrel, Cooper's hawk, mourning dove, common ground dove, red-bellied woodpecker, common loon, willet (pictured), Forster's tern, laughing gull and ringed-billed gull.
Later we took a drive out to the nearest supermarket, passing through some great habitat en route. We saw more pelicans, cormorants, gulls and terns and such, plus added black vulture, white ibis, great-blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tri-coloured heron, black-crowned night-heron, wood stork, osprey, common grackle and boat-tailed grackle to the trip list.
Maybe I'll get chance to get out into some really good areas for some 'real' birding in the next few days, but given that that's not the sole purpose of this pre-Christmas getaway, I may just have to take what I can get!
I do have plans to get in the Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area where there is a relatively healthy population of red-cockaded woodpecker, but whether I'll be able to locate any at this time of year is up for debate. Oh well, I can only give it a go, and hope that I bump into any of the 4 potential ticks that occur in the large preserve...!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Green Gifts from the Nature Conservancy.

There are strings of lights all over downtown, scores of trees have been decked out in decorations aplenty, and we've even posted our Christmas cards before the Canada Post deadline ('tis a season of miracles, after all...).
But let's not forget that it is also the season for giving. And for those who wish to brush aside rampant consumerism there are ethical and actually useful gifts available for you to send to your loved ones.
The Nature Conservancy, along with many other charitable organizations, are offering an array of great gifts that won't cost the earth.
Whether you wish to 'Adopt an Acre' in Costa Rica or Zambia, plant trees in Brazil, contribute to the conservation of vital habitat for the protection of Kirtland's warbler or whooping crane, or wish to give the gift of wild animal adoption, the range of 'green' gifts available on the Nature Conservancy's website is sure to please.
After all, what's better - the knowledge that you're helping protect sea turtles, coral reefs, rhinoceros's and critically endangered habitat or yet another piece of mass-produced crap that will end up in the back of garage or the dump in a couple of years?
See the amazing range of alternative presents at the Nature Conservancy's donations page and sign the pledge at Green Gift Monday.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sanderling Sunday

This morning I spent about 2.5 hours around the Clover Point and Ross Bay area. For much of the visit I was joined by Lynette Brown, a keen birder who recently moved to Victoria, who I had arranged to meet for a spot of coastal birding.

Around the point there were the usual 20 or so black turnstone, a couple of surfbirds, 20ish dunlin (including several feeding on the floating kelp just offshore) and a single sanderling (pictured here with dunlin). There were plenty of ducks present, including good numbers of bufflehead and harlequin. A pair of stunning common merganser, (the male was immaculate, infused with that gorgeous salmon pink as shown by some drakes), were fishing close to the shore while a party of comparatively scruffy red-breasted mergansers foraged close by.
Further out, several surf scoters were seen and a pair of striking long-tailed duck were keeping their distance.
A flotilla of 30 horned grebe made for a spectacular sight, and smaller numbers of red-necked grebes were scattered around along with a few common loons and pigeon guillemots
The gulls at Clover Point were largely comprised of the expected raggle-taggle not-quite glaucous-winged/western variety, although one adult and a third winter showed signs of being dangerously close to pure western gull. A few mew gulls were kicking around close offhsore with many more larids way out, once again silhouetted in the low morning light.
Double-crested and pelagic cormorants were variously sat around on floating logs or fishing here and there.
Despite recent reports, I maintained my inability to locate any rock sandpipers. One of these days...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Brit Birder Makes Brief Return to Blighty

I've just returned from an unscheduled and brief visit back to North Lancashire. The unfortunate reason for my short journey to the UK was to attend the funeral of my great friend and brother-in-law Mark. I shan't dwell on the circumstances too much here, but I will mention that he had a wonderful woodland burial just over the border in Cumbria. Surrounded by native woodland with roe deer, great-spotted woodpeckers and all manner of wild creatures it is certainly a tranquil and beautiful spot where my sister and all other family and friends will be able to visit and enjoy their memories of one of life's true originals. So long, mate.

Of course, during my whirlwind visit I didn't do any birding but nonetheless one can't help but notice the commoner species, which now seem far less familiar to me.
Fieldfare, song thrush, dunnock, common buzzard, Eurasian kestrel, sparrowhawk, lapwing, Eurasian golden plover and curlew, red knot, great black-backed and black-headed gull, pied and grey wagtails, etc - were all seen casually in passing. It's easy to forget just how apparent and omnipresent birds are back in Britain...

Once I was back on Canadian soil, and compos mentis, I took a short stroll around the Government House grounds just to get some fresh air and refamiliarise myself with the native aves.
Anna's hummingbird, golden-crowned sparrow, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, spotted towhee and both ruby-crowned and golden crowned kinglets were much in evidence. Any birder in BC enviously reading the list of common British birds noted above, just remember that this selection of easy Vancouver Island birds has exactly the same effect on keen birdwatchers from across the pond. It's all a matter of context.
Among the large numbers of 'Oregon' dark-eyed juncos in the grounds was a single 'slate-coloured' bird, the first I've seen here for a while.

Saturday morning I headed out to check my favourite local spots along the Victoria coast. I started out at Clover Point, with optimistic thoughts of rock sandpiper in my head.
Shorebirds-wise it wasn't too exciting; 17 dunlin, 4 surfbird, 3 black-bellied plover, 13 black turnstone and 2 black oystercatcher. In the water there were lots of bufflehead, harlequin ducks and surf scoters as usual. Hooded mergansers (pictured), red-breasted mergansers, red-necked grebes, horned grebes, common goldeneye, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, common murre and common loons were also present in varying numbers.
Offshore there were 1000s of gulls, but the low light rendered them as little more than silhouettes; clearly the majority were mew gulls.
A fairly convincing western gull (complete with yellow orbital ring) was among the many mongrel glaucous-wingeds on the point.
Next, I headed round to Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery.
Here there were no shorebirds at all, but at least I added 7 stunning long-tailed ducks and a red-throated loon to the day list. Some murrelets were bombing around way offshore, but again they were just silhouettes making confident ID somewhat tricky.
A quick stop at Oak Bay Marina revealed a few more dunlin, black-bellied plovers, black turnstone, the usual seaducks, including 2 more long-tailed duck, and alcids plus a bald eagle and 9 killdeer.
I wound up at Cattle Point where the high tide and dog walkers had the combined effect of clearing the place out of birds. Just a few black turnstone, oystercatchers, American wigeon and what-have-you provided me with stuff to sift through.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Birding Points of Interest

I actually found some time for a little local birding today. The day was calm, clear and cold and I headed out for Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery for a scout about (or scoot aboot in Canadian).
Offshore it was business as usual, although certain species are increasing notably, such as bufflehead which are now all over the place.
Red-necked and horned grebes, common loon, surf scoter, the 3 cormorants, hooded and red-breasted mergansers, harlequin ducks and the like were all present in varying numbers. A few marbled murrelets and pigeon guillemots were seen as were a handful of rhinoceros auklets.
On the rocks there were 26 surfbirds, a couple of black turnstone and a black-bellied plover.
I couldn't find anything interesting passerine-wise scrabbling about in the tideline, just a lone 1st winter white-crowned sparrow.
Nearby Trafalgar Park was quiet, so I headed along to McMicking Point. There wasn't too much to get excited about here, just more of the same stuff really.
Next stop, Cattle Point. The high tide resulted in there being barely any exposed rocks for foraging shorebirds and as such there was little here, with the exception of single black oystercatcher and black turnstone
The usual seaducks, alcids and gulls were present, plus a few American wigeon. I thought I'd check out the Uplands Park area on the other side of the road - it looks good for a shrike (or maybe something like a displaced tropical kingbird kicked off Cattle Point by dogwalkers?). Not today Josephine. Other than the common sparrows (golden-crowned, white-crowned, fox & song), juncos, towhees, downy woodpeckers and what-have-you it wasn't exactly jumping. I did see my second 'yellow-shafted' northern flicker of the fall though, and came face-to-face with a roosting barred owl

I headed back toward home, making a detour to Clover Point en route. Again, the birds on the water were much the same as I'd seen at various places along the coast. Around 20 dunlin (pictured) were feeding around the area, alongside a few black-bellied plover, black turnstone, oystercatchers and surfbirds.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Birding the Nanaimo River Estuary

We headed up to Nanaimo over the weekend for a spot of mid-island socialising and I managed to squeeze in stops on Saturday at Quennell Lake and the Nanaimo River estuary for a bit of birding.
The lake, and adjacent field, was absolutely alive with wildfowl. 
On the water I counted over 2,000 mallard. Scattered among them were smaller numbers of other species including northern shoveler, pintail, gadwall, lesser scaup, ring-necked duck, common merganser, hooded merganser, bufflehead, wood duck, American wigeon and common goldeneye.
Around 20 American coot were also present, but strangely not a single teal.

Trumpeter swans
A large herd of swans were roosting and feeding in the, as yet unflooded, field immediately north of the lake. A small number were on the lake itself. I counted approximately 230 trumpeter swans and found a single tundra swan among them. None were ringed, or bore neck collars. There were only 12 young birds among them... sign of a poor nesting season?
Also in the area were several hundred Canada geese (no Cackling geese found with them) and 14 greater white-fronted geese. An adult northern shrike was showing well and a juvenile northern harrier was quartering the fields between the lake and the Crow & Gate (where, incidentally we enjoyed a fine roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner on Saturday evening...).

We then moved on to the Nanaimo River estuary. I really miss birding at this place, and I was delighted to be back on my old local patch. Better still, I had the place to myself.
There were 4 trumpeter swans on the river and a further 6 flew in. Up near the bridge the annual arrival of Barrow's goldeneye had taken place with well over 50 birds present.
Down at the estuary, I scanned from the raised platform and soon found an adult female northern harrier sat up on a post. As I checked the area for other interesting birds I noticed a very late barn swallow flying over the marsh. I watched it for some timeas it actively flew up and down the water's edge.
As seems to be the case when the salmon are running, there were scores of bald eagles sat out around the the estuary.
After a short while, I walked out onto the marsh, (optimistic as ever, I was secretly hoping to relocate the Gabriola Island snowy owl...) and soon came across a single western meadowlark.

Scanning the distant posts I spotted a short-eared owl (pictured, with customary crapness) and within a couple of minutes was watching a second one as it hunted over the saltmarsh, occasionally drawing attention from the local ravens.  
I checked the hedgerows for sparrows and such, but it was relatively quiet. Among a group of dark-eyed juncos, I could only see song, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows.
A second adult female northern harrier appeared, and for a while both birds were hunting in the same area.
As I headed back to the car a short-eared owl sailed across in front of me - maybe it was one of the birds I'd seen earlier, but I suspect it was actually a third owl as it came in from a different direction.

Seeing as I mentioned snowy owl - are we seeing the first signs of an 'invasion' year? There have been three reports from different areas of Vancouver Island in the past week, and as with other tundra breeders, snowy owl populations are closely tied to lemming/vole cycles. Has this been a boom year for Arctic rodents? Might we see yet more snowy owls on the island in the coming months, and will other northern migrant predators be more plentiful too?
Time will tell...!   

Friday, 11 November 2011

Snow Show for Owl on Trial

For those reading this back in the UK, today is Remembrance Day here in Canada and a 'stat' holiday. So, with Jenny working I decided I might as well do my Coastal Waterbird Survey.
It had been pouring down all night, though by late morning it was starting to ease off considerably. To compensate, the wind was picking up and gusting like a good 'un.
As I went about counting the various waterbirds off and onshore, I kept scanning Trial Island in the hope of picking up the snowy owl that was present out there all day yesterday. To be honest, had I been a snowy owl I would have been hunkered down in the long grass, or in a sheltered crevice somewhere rather than sat out in the open in those conditions.
Other than spotting a white plastic bucket nestled among some logs, I wasn't able to see anything Hedwig-like. A bald eagle was doing its best to keep upright, facing into the wind.
The survey was unremarkable, despite the howling winds and choppy seas. Alcids were notably few, with just a handful of pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets seen while seaducks were equally unimpressive in number. A feeding group of 97 American wigeon alongside a dozen buffleheads were seeking relative shelter in the bay between McMicking and Harling Points.

Later, I took a wander around the Govt House grounds where I saw and heard very little. A few juncos, golden-crowned sparrows and golden-crowned kinglets were about the only passerines encountered.
Not quite in the league as its Arctic cousin, a barred owl was seen and snapped.

Right, it's about time I gave the answer to the last Mystery Bird

Only one vote each was cast in favour of Tennessee warbler and common yellowthroat.
3 votes went for orange-crowned warbler while a further 4 participants chose northern waterthrush.
However 65% of the votes supported palm warbler. And indeed that's what it is. The photo shows an eastern 'yellow' bird, which I thought might throw some of you... maybe it did.

I've posted a new one - enjoy!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Aloha from Hawaii - A Brit Birder Abroad

The Koko Crater, Oahu
Only a month after starting my new job I found myself in the position of heading to a tradeshow, in order to gain some experience in how the company markets its key products and services. I was to be joining the Marketing Director (Eric) and one of the sales team (Jaime) to the Society of American Foresters annual conference. And where was this taking place? Oh, only Honolulu. On the island of Oahu. In Hawaii. In the middle of the bloody Pacific Ocean.

Naturally, my mind was filled with all the endemic birds that I wouldn't see, due to my being in this tropical paradise for work, rather than leisure. However, it dawned on me that despite my limited time there, I may just be able to see at least a couple of decent birds.

We flew out last Tuesday morning and arrived in Honolulu in the early afternoon. En route from the airport to the hotel in Waikiki I noticed a few birds, in particular several Pacific golden plovers which seemed to occupy any piece of grass or open ground available. Other less inspiring birds seen included several of the many exotic species which festoon the Honolulu landscape.
Having checked into the hotel and done some work related stuff such as assist with the erection of the exhibition booth at the conference centre, I managed to find a little time to explore the local area. An oceanside park was located close to the hotel and I headed there with my trusty bins and vague idea of what avian delights I might be looking for.

Various cage birds at large
I can't recall ever being in a place so littered with birds. They were absolutely everywhere. Well, everywhere that they shouldn't be, that is. There were zebra doves and Java sparrows, common waxbills, red-vented bulbuls, spotted doves and common mynhas all over the place. Spectacular red-headed cardinals and cattle egrets looked very much at home in this tropical environment but were equally untickable.

Pacific golden plover
Then it happened, an actual bonafide Hawaiian bird flew over - a gorgeous white tern. It was soon followed by another and I was able to get good looks at several birds as they came over, heading out to sea. Formerly known by the far more evocative (and personally preferable) name of fairy tern, this was a species I really hoped I'd see, and was fortunate enough to do so on a daily basis during my stay.
I got the chance to scrutinise the numerous, and highly variable, Pacific golden plovers that were feeding on the grassy areas, and managed a few snaps. A handful of ruddy turnstone were feeding along the water's edge and scanning offshore I noticed a distant brown booby (no sniggering at the back...) sat on a buoy. Not a bad start, really.

Wednesday

Red-footed boobies
Found ourselves with some time to spare today and we were keen to explore, so Eric and I decided to hire a car and head into the hills in search of a decent hike.
After a good scout around, stopping off here and there to admire the wonderful scenery (and a stream of red-footed boobies passing close offshore - pic), we opted to check out a trail heading up into the Kuliouou Forest Reserve. We took the Kuliouou Ridge Trail, a 5-mile round trek which took us up to an elevation of around 1000ft, passing through several habitat types.
Kuliouou Forest Reserve
The place was positively jumping with birds. But once again, they were almost all exotic non-native species. At the lower levels we were seeing the now familiar spotted and zebra doves, plus house sparrows, more waxbills and red-whiskered bulbuls. As we gained height Japanese white-eyes became a common sight as they flitted phyllosc-like through the vegetation. A few beautiful white-rumped shama showed well, their plumage every bit as lovely as their song.

Me and a Banyan Tree
As we emerged from a belt of mixed pines and entered an area of true montane tropical vegetation, we hit into a very active feeding flock of birds. Again, white-eyes were prevalent, and I got dazzled by the several incredibly stunning red-billed leiothrix (also known as Pekin robin). Then a small bird really caught my eye. Sat at the top of a small snag, it appeared almost wren-like to the naked eye, but as I got my bins on it my joy was formidable. A stunning apapane - one of the few remaining native bird species to be found on this island. I let out a little profanity of delight. Eric couldn't quite share my excitement, but he was very pleased for me.
Several minutes later, as we approached the summit and the end of the trail, I saw another (or possibly the same one) and watched it at eye-level, feeding in the upper branches of a large tree.
After we'd gorged our senses on the spectacular views (and gained our breath) we headed back down. I soon came across another feeding flock of avian exotica, and was thrilled to pick out a couple of Oahu amakihi among the mix.
The remainder of our descent went without incident, and we soon found ourselves heading back along the coast to Waikiki, stopping to admire the scenery along the way.

Thursday

Black-crowned night-heron
An early stroll around the park and waterfront near the hotel revealed little more than the previously seen escapees, plus the now expected white terns overhead. I also came across a few black-crowned night-herons (pictured) stalking a fisherman in the park, and a pair of wandering tattler on the breakwater, plus more brown boobies offshore. A lone sanderling was spotted making its way along the tideline and a couple of great frigatebirds drifted over. 
Much of the day was spent at the conference centre, where I was able to chat with local conservation experts and forest management professionals from around North America.

Friday

The last day. After a morning at the conference, Eric and I hired a car and headed up to the north of the island for a look around. Passing through large fruit plantations along the way, the scenery was considerably different from the south eastern region we had explored on Wednesday.
Bird life was almost restricted to yet more fence-hoppers, although things got considerably better around the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge area. Although we couldn't access the site, I was able to see Hawaiian coots plus local distinctive races of moorhen and black-necked stilt. Our brief stop didn't allow enough time to locate any Hawaiian duck or bristle-thighed curlew.
A paddle around at Shark's Cove allowed us to see some fabulous tropical fish at close quarters, and again, we stopped at various points to take in the many amazing vistas.
We flew home late on Friday night, arriving back in Victoria on Saturday. Quite possibly one of the best working weeks I've ever had...! And I added a further 4 birds to my life list. Nice.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Calm After The Storm

The rain overnight, and throughout the early part of the morning, had the desired effect and Clover Point was relatively people/dog-free when I got down there. 
Even so, the birding was pretty unremarkable. There were no shorebirds bar a lone black turnstone around the rocks and gulls were thin on the ground. The water was where the action was, and scanning around I could see good numbers of common murre, pigeon guillemot, harlequin duck and surf scoter. Scattered among the more numerous species were several red-necked and horned grebes, marbled murrelets, bufflehead, rhinoceros auklet, common and Pacific loon, a pair of white-winged scoter and my first long-tailed duck of the autumn.

Moving along the coast, my next stop was at Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery. Here things were even quiter disturbance-wise, and as a result there were good numbers of shorebirds present.
On the nearby rocks were 28 surfbirds, 22 black-bellied plover (pictured) and 11 black turnstone, plus a couple of black oystercatchers.
Offshore, it was much the same as from Clover Point. A flotilla of some 14 Pacific loons in various state of moult was a lovely sight.
I made the short stroll round to Trafalgar Park, but it was pretty quiet. The same waterbirds could be seen and a peregrine was sat out on Trial Island.
The total absence of Bonaparte's gulls was notable and I only picked up 3 or 4 Heermann's gulls along the whole stretch of shore.

McMicking Point was my next, and final, port of call. Once again, the birds offshore were much the same as seen from elsewhere. A group of cormorants roosting up on the rocks behind the golf course contained all three common species: Brandt's, pelagic and double-crested (pictured).

Early afternoon, I went to the Government House grounds in search of feeding sparrow or bushtit flocks. There were few juncos and sparrows around, but I did locate a very active group of golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets. Among the throng were the expected chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers and a downy woodpecker but nothing out of the ordinary.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

'Owls of Delight...

Well, this working 5 days a week is certainly having an effect on my birding life... No time to get out in the mornings and none in the evenings, makes the weekends extra special.
Though, I have been grabbing a few short lunch breaks around Langford Lake, near my workplace and I've clocked up some decentish birds in the last couple of weeks.
Highlights so far have included common loon, pied-billed grebe, lesser scaup, American coot, opsrey, merlin, bald eagle, varied thrush, hermit thrush, belted kingfisher, Townend's warbler, fox sparrow, and the like.
If I can manage a couple of visits a week it'll at least stop me from going completely mad.

Friday night, it absolutely pelted down and I woke on Saturday morning, expecting a thoroughly rainy day. As it turned out, it brightened up early on and in between occasional showers, it stayed reasonable for most of the day.

A minor herd of black-tailed deer had wandered round the back of the house and were nibbling away at some shrubbery in the grounds of Craigdarroch Castle that seemed to appeal to them. The buck was a particularly handsome beast, as you can see in the snap taken from our back door.
I dropped Jenny off at work and headed first to Clover Point. The previous night's wet weather had obviously kept many people indoors, and although it was bright and dry the Point was uncharacteristically quiet, people-wise.
Consequently, there were 14 surfbirds feeding on the rocks, along with around 10 black turnstone and a couple of black oystercatchers. A handful of Bonaparte's gulls were feeding over the water, and a couple Heermann's gulls were also present.
Offshore.all the usual suspects were seen; common loon, common murre, marbled murrelet, rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemot, horned grebe, harlequin duck, surf scoter, pelagic and double-crested cormorants, and good numbers of red-necked grebe. I saw my first drake buffleheads of the autumn too.
A couple of savannah sparrows were the only passerines of note.

I then headed along to the Chinese Cemetery and Harling Point. Here it was much the same, with the usual species seen offshore in varying numbers. As I was looking out to sea, I spotted the Victoria Natural History Society mini-pelagic crowd aboard the 'Fantasea' - it looked like a good turnout despite the potentially wet conditions!

White-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows were feeding on the shoreline with a few savannah and song sparrows.

A change of scenery beckoned, and I headed inland to Swan Lake. A few evenings ago, I had made a brief stop here on my way home and had seen an American bittern flying around the floating bridge.
This time, I'd take my camera and see if I could get a snap of one. Ian Cruikshank was pretty certain that there were 3 birds present recently, so you never know, I might just be lucky...

As it turned out a bittern was showing very well, right by the bridge - as the accompanying photos testify. Chris Saunders and I also saw another bird flying by, confirming the presence of at least two bitterns on the reserve.
While at Swan Lake we were treated to the sight of an adult peregrine piling in and driving a northern flicker into the water, which it casually plucked from the lake and took up into a large oak to devour. A second peregrine struck at a starling flock, but failed to emerge with lunch.
There wasn't much on the lake bar a few American coots, a couple of ring-necked duck, and some snoozing ruddy ducks
A few yellow-rumped warblers were seen, along with common sparrows species, red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings, downy woodpecker, etc.

On Sunday morning, I took a stroll around the Government House grounds. It was pretty quiet overall, with fewer juncos and sparrows around than on my last visit. I didn't even see or hear any kinglets. A couple of Pacific wrens were notable, but there was little to keep me there for long.
I then headed out to Cattle Point. There were at least 30 surfbirds here, along with smaller numbers of black turnstone. Offshore it was business as usual, although the Bonaparte's gulls here numbered somewhere in the region of 70 birds, certainly the highest concentration of the species along the coast from Clover Point to here.
I stopped off at Oak Bay, where there were 3 greater yellowlegs, a couple of black-bellied plover and 3 killdeer. Just off Bowker rocks there were around 100 American wigeon, plus a few hooded mergansers.
A quick look around Harling Point concluded my day's birding (other 'important' things to do...). Again, it was pretty much as expected, with the usual stuff seen. A juvenile peregrine passed over, but that was the only thing of note.
 
The undoubted highlight of my weekend was finally seeing a northern saw-whet owl. This diminutive owl has been hovering in the upper reaches of my 'wants' list for years, and I was absolutely delighted to catch up with one at last.
Located in a daytime roost, the owl was being lightly mobbed by local passerines but seemed relatively unperturbed by the minor commotion.
A truly stunning creature, this gorgeous bird was my second world-lifer this month! As you can see, I even managed to get a pic of it.
What will November bring?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Seeing red

Had an early bimble around the Government House grounds this morning and found the place positively jumping with dark-eyed juncos. There were literally hundreds of them around the site, though I wasn't able to relocate the 'slate-coloured' bird that was there the other day.
Another obvious feature was the large number of American robins, and a significant increase in northern flickers. There were at least 9 flickers in the area including one very interesting bird. I have seen many intergrade red-shafted/yellow-shafted flickers on the island, but this was the first one that I've come across that had totally bright yellow underwings and under tail. As far as its head pattern was concerned it was certainly more in the yellow-shaft camp too. A pretty different looking flicker indeed!
Otherwise, it was ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, fox sparrows, a Lincoln's sparrow, yellow-rumped warblers and such that kept me busy.

Later, I headed out to the Chinese Cemetery where the highlights included a moulding adult red-throated loon (actually my first in BC - ironic, as they're the commonest diver/loon back in Blighty). A couple of American pipits were feeding among the tombstones, and a few common sparrows were scrabbling around on the tideline.
Offshore good numbers of marbled murrelet, rhinoceros auklet, common murres and a few pigeon guillemot were seen along with red-necked grebe, common loon and lots of surf scoters. Bonaparte's gulls seem to be dropping off in number, though there are still lots of Heermann's gulls around.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Orcas, auklets and hawks... oh my!

As is often the case, I had things to do before I was able to get out birding today and it was just past noon by the time I grabbed my bins and headed out.

I started out at Cattle Point, once again with Lapland longspurs on my mind. The day was clear and bright, but rather chilly and as a result there were fewer people trampling about the place as one would expect. I flushed a few savannah sparrows, then a western meadowlark flew across in front of me. It ditched down briefly, before being chased off by a northwestern crow.
There was nothing out of the ordinary offshore - all 3 cormorant species, rhino auklets, harlequin ducks, surf scoters, Bonaparte's and Heermann's gulls, etc.
A group of 5 black turnstone and a single surfbird flew in, alighting on the rocks by the slipway.
A couple of yellow-rumped warblers were with some chestnut-backed chickadees in the area of small oaks by the big bluff, and a single hermit thrush put in an appearance. A sharp-shinned hawk came through, causing a bit of excitement among the chickadees.

I headed off along to Oak Bay Marina, to see if any shorebirds were around. On the yellow rocky islet offshore there were around 70 black-bellied plover and a dozen or so black turnstone. Roosting in their usual spot were 7 greater yellowlegs and 5 killdeer. A few hooded merganser and American wigeon were in the area, as were a couple of horned grebe. My first bufflehead of the autumn flew by.

Next, I stopped of at McMicking Point. Scanning the rocks, I couldn't find any waders but I did come across a wee gaggle of 4 greater whitefronted geese and 3 cackling geese in with the Canadas on the edge of the golf course.
There were loads of cormorants here, again all 3 species, plus the usual alcids, harlequins, scoters, gulls etc.
A group of 8 turkey vultures approached the coast, circled around a bit and then headed back inland.

The Chinese Cemetery beckoned, and here I found encouraging numbers of savannah sparrows, and a nice mix of other species including Lincoln's, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows.
Unable to find anything tasty among them, I had to make do with a pair of American pipits that were feeding on the shoreline.
I walked over to Trafalgar Point, passing the resident California quails on my way.
Suddenly the loud blow of a cetacean caught my attention and I looked down to see a pod of orcas passing by, close offshore.

The whales remained close to shore and visible for a good ten minutes, before they continued east along the coast. Unfortunately I only had my compact point and shoot with me, so the pics here are a bit naff. A wonderful thing to see, though!
Once again a group of 6 turkey vultures with a red-tailed hawk in tow, came over, thought about crossing the straits, then decided against it.

Later, I had a walk down to Clover Point. In Ross Bay, there were 7 red-necked grebe, 8 horned grebe and 7 common loon (1 pictured above), as well as the usual harlequin ducks and surf scoters.  
Mew gulls have really increased lately and are now the dominant species. Many of the California gulls have moved on, but Heermann's gulls are still present in fair numbers.
5 surfbirds and 11 black turnstone were on the rocks below the point, and again a handful of savannah sparrows were kicking around.

Monday, 10 October 2011

By Georgiana! It's a swamp sparrow!

Well, it's Thanksgiving Day here in Canada, which doesn't exactly mean much to a Brit Birder other than, nice one, a day off! And we all know what 'day off' means don't we? Yes, that's right, more birding!

The day started out a little bit Disney as I was confronted by the creature in the accompanying picture, scrumping apples from the tree outside the kitchen window... didn't get that too often in Lancaster, that's for sure.
With one thing and another, I didn't get out birding 'proper' till mid-afternoon, but Jenny and I did manage a mid-morning stroll around the Government House grounds in between rain showers.
A few yellow-rumped warblers were seen and heard, and ruby-crowned kinglets were still present in reasonable number.  A hermit thrush showed nicely, as did a couple of Lincoln's sparrows. A pair of adult Cooper's hawks were chasing one another around the area, much to the consternation of the local golden-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. And talking of juncos, a smart 'slate-coloured' bird was seen among the 30 or so typical 'Oregon' birds. 

Once I had deposited Jenny at work in the afternoon, I struck out for Clover Point. Silly, I know, to expect there to be much around on a public holiday, post-turkey dinner. The place was not as packed as it would have been had the weather been glorious (like yesterday, for example), but a few hardy souls had still managed to get out for a bit of bird bothering.
The combination of high tide and copious rock hopping humans meant that shorebirds were practically absent. Just 6 black turnstone and couple of black oystercatchers were braving the conditions.
Offshore there was quite a bit going on, with a notable increase in surf scoters. Common murre, rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemot and marbled murrelet were all present in varying numbers.
At least 4 common loons, 8 horned grebe, and several harlequin ducks were busily feeding in Ross Bay, while dainty Bonaparte's gulls skimmed the surface in every direction.

Misty Marbled Murrelet
The rain set in and I decided to head for the Chinese Cemetery and Harling Point to see if anything was going on there. Offshore, it was much the same stuff as at Clover Point, except that murrelets were more numerous here. One was even close enough for me to take a crappy digiscope pic. The rain didn't do much to improve my chances of getting a decent image, so I'm afraid it'll have to do.
I was rather hoping for a Lapland longspur or two, but I could only find a couple of savannah sparrows.

I walked round to Trafalgar Park, to see if anything was lurking there. I came across a covey of California quail and a couple of fox sparrows, but that was about it. Scanning the rocks below, I caught a glimpse of the back end of a departing wader, as it headed to Harling Point. Great, I'll be going back there then!

Just after I came through the perimeter fence a small sparrow popped up from some tangled weedy corner (pictured). To be honest, I didn't really know what it was right away. A very distinctive face pattern, dark forehead and streaky dark crown, with a paler median stripe, white throat, bright rufous wings and... it's gone. After a few minutes of grinding cerebral cogs, the penny dropped and I was sure it was a swamp sparrow.

Where the Wild Things Are - Sparrow Central
It's not really a species I can claim to have much experience with having only seen them once before, several years ago. I spent a good hour after the initial sighting, creeping around, pishing, and basically trying to get further views to check other salient features. Without a field guide to consult, I really needed to get good looks at the thing. It was relatively obliging, and I got three further opportunities to grill the sparrow before it, and I, gave up.

Back at the car, I consulted Sibley, and I was left with no doubt as to the bird's identity. Lovely. My BC list just went up by another 1.
Also in this weedy area, were at least 7 white-crowned, 2 Lincoln's and 3 song sparrows, plus a couple of towhees and a Bewick's wren.
Oh, and I did relocate that shorebird - it was a dunlin. In fact, there were two in winter plumage.
   
         

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Larking Around

It was once again time for me to conduct my Coastal Waterbird Survey and after spending the morning with Jenny I headed out for Gonzales Point. The only problem was, there was a 28km marathon on, and almost every road I needed to go down was closed off. Added this inconvenience, was the fact that each of the 3 marshalls that I spoke to had no idea how to get around the joggers and to my destination. They all confessed to not being local and had no idea of any street names. Marvelous.
My 10 minute drive took 40 minutes, but on the upside I was just about the first person through onto the route as the marathon had come to an end by the time I'd arrived at Oak Bay! Consequently, there were fewer people and dogs around the coast as would normally be the case on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Result.
The survey wasn't overly exciting, but did included the following highlights:
61 Bonaparte's gulls, 116 surf scoter, 35 black oystercatcher, 25 harlequin ducks, 4 horned and 2 red-necked grebes.
Various common alcids were counted, including a lowly single marbled murrelet.  
Shorebirds were extremely thin on the ground, with just the oystercatchers and handful of black turnstones seen. Trail Island was hosting good numbers of black-bellied plover, but they were all outside my count area. 
I was surprised by the lack of passerine migrants, given that the trees on our street were positively dripping with yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets this morning... I was rather hoping to stumble across some Lapland longspurs (buntings in English), but I was out of luck.

Post-survey, I headed on to Cattle Point to have a look there. The parking area was rammed when I arrived, and any thoughts of feeding sparrow/bunting/finches rapidly evaporated.
I did find 5 savannah sparrows, but that was it.
Looking offshore there were well into double figures of marbled murrelets, plus the commoner species. Around 20 Bonaparte's gulls were feeding noisily over the water.

I went and checked the bluff in the south-west corner and was pleased to find a group of 4 horned larks. The birds were quite wary were seemingly used to the flow of people who were spectacularly ignoring them, and would resume feeding soon after being disturbed. Here's a badly digiscoped pic of one of the larks.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ocean Waves Pay Dividends

Now that I'm thankfully back in the routine of working during the week, my birding has, unfortunately, taken something of a back seat.
On the plus side, my new employers are located in the City of Langford, and the building is right next to Langford Lake. So, I've managed a couple of exploratory lunch breaks checking out this spot. As yet, I haven't seen much to get excited about, but the habitat looks very promising. The birds that I have seen include: lesser scaup, common loon, American coot, Townsend's warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, osprey, bald eagle and such relatively common stuff. On Friday, there was even a 30ish strong flock of pine siskin flying around the area. Be interesting to see what I can turn up in the coming weeks and months...
Having completed my first week with FTS, I got home on Friday and managed to squeeze in a swift visit to the Government House grounds.

There were reasonable numbers of birds about, the most notable being an influx of ruby-crowned kinglet. They were all over the place! Good numbers of yellow-rumped warblers were seen and heard, but I couldn't find any other warbler species. At least 5 hermit thrush were present, and fox sparrow numbers seem to have increased. A single Lincoln's sparrow was found, and an impressive flock of feeding golden-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos totalled around 60 birds.I also came across the first band-tailed pigeons that I have seen in the grounds (pictured).

All At Sea

Bait-ball Action!
On Saturday I joined the VNHS (Victoria Natural History Society) pelagic out of Victoria, to Race Rocks off the coast of Sooke.
We were out for around 5 hours and we hit into some pretty good birds.
Gull species were well accounted for, mainly thanks to a couple of sizable bait-balls attracting throngs of the garrulous birds. Thayer's, glaucous-winged, mew, Heermann's, California, western and Bonaparte's were all present.

Mew Gull
Alcids too were thick on the surface with many 100s of common murres, reasonable numbers of rhinoceros auklet, a few pigeon guilemots and best of all - up 8 ancient murrelet.
Now, here was the first lifer I've had in ages. For a reason I can't even begin to remember, I didn't twitch the Lundy (Devon, UK) one back in the early 90s so this species has been very high on my 'wants' list for some time...

Ancient murrelets
The first pair were picked up very close to the boat, and allowed for great views. By the time I reached for my camera however (well, I really wanted to have a good look at the pretty little enigmas), they'd dived, and resurfaced some distance away. Hence the crappy photo here.
Red-necked phalaropes and phalarope sp. were seen frequently, as were a few Pacific loons, and Ian Cruikshank picked up a lovely fork-tailed storm petrel as it rose from the water's surface just ahead of the boat. We got excellent views, albeit rather briefly, as it took off and flew just off the bow, and headed away.
We could see large kettles of turkey vultures soaring around the Beechey Head area, and among them several red-tailed hawks, plus sharp-shined hawks, an osprey and other unidentified raptors (not easy to be thorough when you're trying to go through 100s of vultures, at distance, on a boat...!).

As we arrived back in the harbour mouth on our return we spotted a common tern sat on a piece of driftwood. Once very common passage birds in this area, today they are quite a rarity in Victoria's waters and the bird was a very fitting end to an excellent day's birding.
Well worth the trip, I may well do another soon!