Saturday, 29 January 2011

Birding Back Up North

Arrived back up north from the sub-tropics in the early hours, and boy did it feel cool and damp.
After a good lie-in and some essential chores, I headed out to reacquaint myself with the Nanaimo River estuary.
Now that the wildfowl hunting season has finished, I had the place to myself for a couple of hours. And what a treat it was, to do some birding without feeling as if one was in the middle of a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme. I'm sure that the birds, were they capable of conscious thought, would agree.
Among the usual commoner stuff, I clocked a short-eared owl, a juvenile female northern harrier and 5 western meadowlarks. There were good numbers of pintail and American wigeon plus smaller numbers of green-winged teal, gadwall and bufflehead. A couple of dozen trumpeter swans were out on the estuary mouth.
The only thing of note that I could find in among the reduced numbers of golden-crowned sparrow and dark-eyed juncos was a lone fox sparrow. A Cooper's hawk buzzed through causing considerable panic.
There were plenty of bald eagles, mainly juvs and sub-adults sat around the area today. Hence the pic of a grumpy looking individual here.

Mystery revealed!

OK - there seems to be little point in going through the identification process with this. 86% of participants plumped for green heron.
Which of course, it is.
Thanks to Steve Large for the shot of this 1st year bird, taken in late summer 2010 at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo. Check out Steve's amazing bird photography here.

To the right, you will see a new mystery bird - enjoy!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Last Full Day in Florida...

Sadly, it was our final day today and we decided to return to Fort DeSoto Park. Paul once again indulged his love of fishing, Jenny and Satty took off on bikes, and I spent a few hours trying to find some birds to look at.
En route, we stopped briefly at a roadside pool that was positively covered with ducks. The majority were redheads, with around 300 present. Good numbers of lesser scaup, and smaller numbers of northern shoveler and ring-necked duck were also on the water. A few moorhen were around the edges.

In the park proper, I took the delightfully named Soldier's Hole trail. It was pretty quiet, and I spent a long time creeping around in search of nothing much. I came across a few cardinals, loads of yellow-rumped warblers and a couple of blue-grey gnatcatchers and common ground-doves but not much else. When I got a glimpses of the mangrove edges, there was little to be seen, but I did spy an anhinga, black-crowned night heron and a few egrets of various species. 
Walking back through the scrubby areas near the beach, I came across an eastern phoebe, several palm warblers and more cardinals. Several tree swallows buzzed over.
Offshore and around the beach there were the usual Forster's and royal terns (pictured), plus lots of laughing gulls and a few ring-billed gulls. Common loon, double-crested cormorant, red-breasted merganser, brown pelicans and such were all kicking around. Once again, many kestrels, loggerhead shrikes and mourning doves were utilizing the overhead wires and ospreys were all over the place.
After feeling somewhat deflated by the lack of exciting birds to be found in the bush, I decided to head back to the pools to go through the ducks more carefully, just in case a canvasback was lurking undetected.

I didn't locate any canvasbacks, but it was a treat to enjoy such large numbers of redhead. In a nearby tree, a red-bellied woodpecker showed well, hence the photo.
On another pool, there were good numbers of American coot and yet more moorhen. I scanned the edges for sora or other lurkers but couldn't find anything.
Well, I haven't exactly 'worked it', but my few days of leisurely Floridian birding have been great, and the opportunity for Jenny and I to hang out with Paul and Satty greater still. Who knows when that chance will repeat itself?


Never Mind The Monarchs - or leisurely Florida birding day 4

Wednesday morning, Paul and I went down to the beach to see if last night's storm had made much of a mess - or more importantly, dumped a booby or bridled tern down o the sands or offshore. Well, one must be optimistic!
Of course, our cursory check revealed no such excitement and the only interesting thing brought ashore was a dead barracuda, which the gulls and a turkey vulture were taking something of an interest in.
I took this pic of a Forster's tern, seeing as I had my 'scope to hand.

Later, we decided to go to the Big Bend Power Station - famed for its manatees. During the winter months, many of these engaging sea mammals congregate in a shallow lagoon alongside the power station.

The warmer waters in the area of the station's outfalls provide a comfortable alternative to the cooler gulf temperatures and for some 25 years the station has monopolised on this annual migration as a PR coup, and have built an excellent manatee viewing facility, with educational facilities etc.
We were hoping that some manatees would be visible, but weren't quite expecting the 250 or so that were basking in this welcome environment.
From the viewing platforms we could look down and observe the manatees as they went about their business below. Very nice indeed. 

While there we also saw cownose rays and bonnethead sharks, but few birds.  The usual opsreys, vultures, brown pelicans, egrets and such. The only 'new' bird was a peregrine flying around the power station.
A few monarch butterflies were flitting around, hence the pic (and poor punny blog title).

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Leisurely Florida birding: day 3

With severe weather on the way, we decided to make the best of the calm before the storm and headed down the coast to Oscar Scherer State Park, near Venice.
For me, the main point of interest at this site was the presence of Florida scrub jays - a potential tick and the only bird I was determined to make a point of seeing on this trip.
After chatting with park staff we found out the best area to look for the jays and headed off, after we'd had our lunch of course. Well, it wouldn't do to rush these things...
A small flock of chipping sparrows were feeding around the nature centre, while a couple of palm warblers flitted around in the nearby trees. Below a small bridge, a green heron was showing well as it hunted for prey.

Shortly after entering the open areas of scrub and oak, I was thrilled to spot a pair of the endemic Florida scrub jays sat up in small tree. Bingo!
We got really good looks at them, and I cursed myself for not bringing my 'scope to get some pics.
Oh well, I still got a snap of them with my little digital camera (pictured here), and to be honest a few minutes of taking pics of jays was probably not worth the effort of carting my 'scope and tripod around the several miles of trails we followed.
Another major highlight came when Satty noticed a nine-banded armadillo snuffling around in the undergrowth. We got some good looks at this bizarre animal, but it proved too shy for any decent shots to be taken.
Luckily, another armadillo in another part of the park was considerably more obliging and I managed to get the pic shown here as it dashed across the path in front of us.
Having only seen roadkill armadillos previously, I was delighted to see these curious creatures.
Among other birds seen in the park during the day were good numbers of yellow-rumped warbler and a few black-and-white warblers and blue-grey gnatcatcher, northern flicker (yellow-shafted) and red-bellied and downy woodpeckers.
A juv. red-shouldered hawk showed well, and both vulture species were a constant presence, particularly black vultures. A bald eagle, presumably one of the pair nesting in the park, passed over occasionally. We left the park at 4pm just as the rain started, and we drove back in the middle of a torrential downpour, complete with lightning and tornado warnings. What a caper!   

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Leisurely Florida birding: day 2

This morning, from our Madeira Beach rental home, we were treated to great views of some pretty cool birds.
Firstly, an osprey perched up by the waterway at the back of the house with a considerable fish and proceeded to join us for breakfast and a smart adult yellow-crowned night heron, sat upon a post and posed nicely (as pictured). Meanwhile, a white ibis foraged on the lawn, more parakeets squawked around and a northern mockingbird sang from a telephone wire. Not too shabby. 

Once fed and watered we headed to Fort De Soto Park, a large island with excellent beaches and lots of mangrove. After a leisurely tour of the park by car, we had a picnic lunch and then we all went our separate ways for a few hours; I headed off into the bush in search of feathery entertainment (naturally), while Satty and Jen hired bikes and went exploring. Paul, rarely happier than when he has a baited rod at hand, spent the afternoon fishing.

Some of the areas were disappointingly quiet, though occasionally I would jam into active warbler flocks and with a bit of pishing, dig out a few nice birds. Yellow-rumped and palm warblers were especially numerous, one group of the latter species contained some 50 individuals! Among these commoner birds I saw a cracking blue-headed vireo, plus a few black-and-white warblers, pine warblers and singles of ruby-crowned kinglet and blue-grey gnatcatcher.     
A pair of northern cardinals provided a splash of gaudy colour.  
Both common and boat-tailed grackles were seen around the more inhabited areas of the park and the only sparrow I could find was a lone savannah.
The overhead wires provided ideal perches for a number of species and American kestrels, mourning doves, mockingbirds and loggerhead shrikes were reasonably plentiful, and an eastern phoebe was also seen.  
Common ground-doves were relatively common and a couple of red-bellied woodpeckers showed well. 
An impressive flock of some 80 or so American white pelicans was a great site, and other waterbirds seen included common loon, red-breasted merganser, American coot, moorhen (rumours indicate a possible split from the European form may be in the pipeline?), blue-winged teal, double-crested cormorant and lesser scaup. An anhinga was, as always, a pleasant treat.  
Most of the expected herons and such were seen in varying numbers, the commonest being great egret. A couple of tricolored herons made appearances, as did a solitary wood stork.  
Shorebirds were pretty thin on the ground, with just spotted sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, semi-palmated plover, western sandpiper, willet and sanderling seen. Laughing, ring-billed and herring gulls loafed on the beach alongside smaller numbers of Forster's and royal terns.
Oh, and Paul caught a catfish. I don't think he was too happy about that...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Birding Out Of Area

Finding ourselves unable to refuse a kind offer to join my brother Paul and his wife Satty down in Florida for a week, we headed south on Saturday.
Jenny was looking forward to some sunshine and a relaxing few days in good company. I, naturally was thinking about the handful of potential new birds I could possibly see without it interfering too much with everyone else's plans.
A very long day traveling to Tampa, involving the 5.15am ferry from Duke Point, Nanaimo and a 11.15pm arrival time meant that Saturday was a birdless affair, with the exception of a few northern harriers seen at Tsawassen and Vancouver Airport. 
After a late night (early morning) catching up and imbibing a few ales, we awoke Sunday morning to bright sunshine. Following a leisurely breakfast we took a stroll along the beach to nearby John's Pass. On the way we encountered good numbers of ring-billed and laughing gulls, royal and Forster's terns, brown pelicans (pictured) and sanderlings. The occasional ruddy turnstones, willet, American herring gulls and black-bellied plovers also put in appearances along the water's edge.
Scanning over the channel at John's Pass, I added a few more species to the list including great egret, double-crested cormorant and, always a treat, black skimmer. Then I spotted a bird that has been eluding me for years - American oystercatcher. Somehow or another, this distinctive and common wader has managed to go unseen by me, until now. About time too!
A solitary great-black backed gull was also sat loafing on a sand bar and a screeching cloud of green flashed by as a flock of (black-hooded?) parakeets passed noisily through.
We also encountered boat-tailed grackles and belted kingfishers, plus numerous Eurasian collared and mourning doves.
By a bird rehabilitation centre at Indian Shores, there were also gathered many wild birds, obviously tuned into the fact that easy pickings might be had. These included common species such as black and turkey vultures, great-blue heron, white ibis, black-crowned night heron (pictured) and snowy egret.
Later, near our temporary home at Madeira Beach, we were treated to views of loggerhead shrike, osprey, tricolored heron and green heron (pictured).
All in all, given that I wasn't really birding, I had a pretty good day, ave-wise. It was great to re-familiarise myself with a few species that I haven't seen for a few years, and better still, I got a world tick on day one!

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Tale of Two Teal

Jenny joined me for my Coastal Bird Survey on Sunday (a week after it should have been, but better later than never, eh?) and we enjoyed the unforecasted sunshine as we trundled to Jack Point, counting as we went.
Bird-wise, it was bit on the quiet side and highlights were few. Just 3 greater scaup, 1 common loon, 3 horned grebe, 6 red-breasted merganser and 8 surf scoter were seen among the much more numerous common goldeneye and bufflehead.
Passerines were thin on the ground too, with just a few kinglets, chickadees and such to divert us from our oceanic gaze.

Later, I headed out to see what, if anything, was kicking around Quennell Lake. It wasn't much birdier there than offshore at Jack Point. A single American coot, a few shoveler, ring-necked duck, lesser scaup, mallard, American wigeon, common merganser and pintail were all seen, as were a few green-winged teal, along with the bird pictured here. It appears to be something on an intermediate between common teal and green-winged. Or is that vertical white stripe within the variable characteristics of green-winged?
Please offer any opinion, I'd love to know what others think.
A lone cackling goose was with the mass of usual Canadas and there 28 trumpeter swans present.

I headed off to the Nanaimo River estuary for the last hour and a half of daylight. A couple of hunters were returning empty-handed, and I was soon alone with what few birds were still around.
The male (pictured) and a juv female northern harrier were hunting over the marsh, but no short-eared owls emerged. 40+ trumpeter swan were out on the water's edge.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Not-so-great-blue heron

My only window of birding opportunity today coincided with the onset of rain, early afternoon.
I headed first to Holden Creek.
Among 300ish American wigeon dabbling in the wet fields by the farm was a single drake Eurasian wigeon. A small group of 7 trumpeter swans were also here along with several Canada geese. Further out in the fields were more wigeon and a couple of hundred green-winged teal. I couldn't locate any common teal among them.
Other than a handful of gadwall, the only birds out on the flooded marsh were a few mallard and pintail. Then I noticed an American coot on the creek - certainly the first I've seen here.

The Nanaimo River estuary was calling, so I headed down to Raines Road.
A couple of brace of dogless hunters were out on the marsh, but there was little actual shooting going on, just one failed attempt at bringing down a passing bufflehead.

Late blue heron
A more convincing dead bird concerned a deceased great blue heron (pictured), strangely found under a small tree.
It was a fairly fresh corpse, and there were no obvious signs of cause of death. It did appear to rather emaciated, so perhaps it had starved?   
The estuary was pretty quiet, and I trudged around vainly in search of interesting birds.
A single female northern harrier made a brief, and most welcome, appearance.
I spent a fair bit of time scrutinising both the large dark-eyed junco and golden-crowned sparrow flocks, but I couldn't find anything of note in with them. Just the attendant song sparrows, towhees and a couple of chickadees added some variety.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

No Business, Like Snow Business

Woke up this morning to a winter wonderland - there was snow all over the place.
This was not met with much joy in the Jon and Jenny household, given that we had to drive the hire car (pictured here, draped in the white stuff) back up to Parksville.
We had called to see whether we could return this Budget (surely a misnomer, given the hire rate) car to the depot in Nanaimo, thus saving us the half hour drive each way in the icy and snowy conditions.
Yes, of course we could, they said. For the small fee of $75. A bargain, I'm sure you'll agree.
We decided to risk life and limb on the roads instead.
Jen's employer, meanwhile, had kindly offered to lend us a car while our defunct money pit sits up in Parksville awaiting a replacement engine, so we dropped by to collect it before heading to Parksville in two car convoy.
I noticed, while we were there that the Eurasian collared dove I have seen kicking about has been joined by another, and some serious lovey-dovey stuff was going on between them.
Their continued expansion in the Nanaimo area seems assured.

Later in the day, we took a walk to Hemer Park, in Cedar. This is a great place for a stroll and is conveniently located within short walking distance from home.
The blue skies, low winter sun and snowy vista made for a lovely walk. While in the forest, the melting snow cascaded down from the trees, creating the impression of continual fine rain, while the damp ground and sodden logs steamed in the sunlight. Quite beautiful.
On the mainly frozen pool, a herd of 16 trumpeter swans were just about the only birds present, save for a couple of mallard and hooded mergansers.

Varied thrushes, golden-crowned kinglets, chestnut-backed chickadees, Pacific wrens and brown creepers accompanied us along the paths and the resident, almost entirely white, American robin was with a small group of its more typical congeners near the park entrance.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Whole Lotta Shootin' Goin' On

The morning was crisp and bright, and I headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary to see what was about. 3 trucks in the parking area suggested hunters, and sure enough there were camou-clad men out on the marsh.
I headed along the path running parallel to the long hedge. There were few passerines in the hawthorns; juncos, song sparrows, towhees, etc. I spotted a northern shrike hunting from a small tree some distance away but there was little else activity. 
On a flooded section of marsh there were hundreds of dabbling duck - mainly mallard and pintail with smaller numbers of American wigeon and gadwall. Approximately 30 trumpeter swans were in the area.

I headed toward the viewing tower for a general 'scope over the site. A juv northern harrier was hunting on the north side of the estuary.
Yet more hunters arrived.
Scanning the open water I could see rafts of common wildfowl, plus a few greater scaup and a couple of horned grebe.
I decided to check the estuary mouth and the shrubbery nearby but despite finding a sizable flock of golden-crowned sparrows, I couldn't dig anything more interesting than a fox sparrow out from among them. A short-eared owl cruised by, having been flushed from the marsh by dog-walkers, and headed for the relative peace afforded by the north side of the river.
Increasingly frustrated by the growing levels of disturbance, I left the area and took off toward Holden Creek.

Upon arrival, I could see a group of swans, geese and ducks feeding in the wet fields.
A single cackling goose and 5 greater white-fronted geese were among the Canadas. I scoped through the 360ish American wigeon dabbling in the partially flooded field but was disappointed, and a bit surprised, that no Eurasian wigeons were among them. I did find a hybrid drake, which sported features of both species.
Along the path, I was greeted by the sight of a hermit thrush and up to 30 American robins were searching for worms and such in the field by the farm.
Further out on the marsh, there were lots of green-winged teal and mallard, several gadwall (pictured) and more wigeon.
A peregrine passed through, clutching some hapless bird in its talons. Two red-tailed hawks were kicking around.
A couple of walkers crossed the far fields and headed along the creek embankment, flushing the swans, geese and ducks - just as three hunters appeared at the rear of the marsh and proceeded to shoot at the birds, bringing some down. I didn't see any attempt to retrieve the dead ducks.
Decidedly irked, I called it a day.

Later, Jenny and I took a walk down to Jack Point. The tide was quite low, so seabirds were pretty absent. Large rafts of disturbed wildfowl were sat just off the estuary, while several hunters still held territory on the marsh.
At the point, single black-bellied plover and black turnstone fed alongside 3 dunlin. Surf and white-winged scoter were seen offshore, as were common and Pacific loons.
A merlin was bombing up and down, and stopped briefly on a telegraph pole before a loud gunshot sent it off on its way.

Monday, 3 January 2011

To See A Mockingbird

Rich Mooney came down from Parksville to join me for a spot of Nanaimo birding this morning. We kicked off at the Nanaimo River estuary. Arriving shortly before 8.30am, I was amazed by the number of vehicles in the parking area. Looks like the duck hunters were out in force…
We had a good root about, but were unable to find anything of note among the large numbers of golden-crowned sparrows and juncos - just a couple of song sparrows and a 1st-year white-crowned sparrow.
A small flock of bushtits were feeding among the long weedy grasses, with a few chestnut-backed chickadees and a ruby-crowned kinglet – resplendent with its bright crown stripe on full view.
A flock of 11 western meadowlarks put in an appearance, showing brilliantly for a while (pic right).
We didn’t see any owls, harriers or shrikes, at all in the time we were there.
Out on the water, just out of shooting range were rafts of wildfowl including American wigeon, pintail, mallard, gadwall, plus a few green-winged teal, greater scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, common merganser etc.  There were around 30 trumpeter swans present.
We then went off to Brannen Lake, in search of a northern mockingbird, which was reported to be in the area. After a short search, we were joined by another birder (named Alan), and then Ryan Cathers appeared.
We soon came across the bird, spotted initially by Ryan, feeding on the ground in a small field by the roadside.
Soon, Ralph Hocken arrived so we should see some rather better photographic records than my characteristically shoddy effort, here.  Indeed, Ryan and Rich were also busy snapping, so this wee fella should be very well documented!
The mockingbird then gave fairly continual views for some time. It was a pretty mobile bird, actively feeding from posts, low branches, a steel pylon, farm machinery etc.
 In the time I was there, it seemed to keep within a fairly small area, working on a circuit. Thanks to the lovely bright morning, we were treated to consistently decent views – not bad for such a BC rarity. In fact, it was a BC tick for all present, and a lifer for some. 
Here's a short bit of film showing the bird.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Red crossbills and dead car bills...

Jenny and I met up with Rich Mooney and Lori today before heading up to Little Mountain, just outside Parksville. I'd promised Jen a visit ever since going there for the first time on the Parksville CBC, and the day was suitably glorious.
We tried calling for pygmy owls but had no luck. A pileated woodpecker was yaffling away and knocking ten bells out of a tree, while red-breasted nuthatches showed well in the nearby trees.
Something of a surprise came in the form of a flock of 20ish red crossbills - otherwise thin on the ground around the island so far this winter.
Sadly the most notable vent of the day involved our car dying, and us having to rent a car while we wait to have the sickness diagnosed. This isn't going to be a cheap month. Happy bloody new year...  

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year, new year list.

My first bird of 2011 was dark-eyed junco. Not too surprising, given their continual attendance at my feeders...
Jenny and I took off to Biggs Park for a walk to Jack Point. The sun was bright, there was no wind and visibility was excellent.
Offshore there were large rafts of mallard, plus scattered bufflehead, horned grebe, common loon, both goldeneye species and a few greater scaup.
There weren't too many passerines seen or heard along the way but a hermit thrush was a nice, unexpected find. Occasional chickadee flocks were encountered, often with accompanying Bewick's wren, red-breasted nuthatch or golden-crowned kinglet.
Off the point, there were several surf scoter, plus a river otter, numerous harbor seals and a sealion. 
After stopping off at home for a very welcome mug of hot-chocolate, we went for a walk to Hemer Park. 
It was fairly quiet here too. A group of hooded merganser were on the main lake while a number of American wigeon, 2 ring-necked duck and yet more mallard were on the mostly frozen pool. There were 22 trumpeter swan and a belted kingfisher here also. A pileated woodpecker called from within the forest. Pacific wrens seemed to be all over the place!
On our way out, we were somewhat surprised to see what was, presumably, the same white robin we came across in the same spot earlier in the year.