Monday, 28 February 2011

Early Migrants Make A Show

Popped over to Quennell Lake after work this evening, to see if anything was going on.
The place was notably devoid of the usual large gaggles of Canada geese; the collection of decoy birds behind the farm probably went some way to explaining why they might be avoiding the area...
Just 6 trumpeter swans were in the area and all the shovelers present a couple of days ago had moved out.
In fact, duck numbers were low all round with just a couple of ring-necked duck, common and hooded mergansers to be seen out on the lake. In the shallower waters there were a dozen pintail and 18 mallard.
The most notable thing was the singing of red-winged blackbirds, who were in fine voice. As I scanned briefly through them I noticed 6 brown-headed cowbirds, my first of the spring. Did I say spring? Hahaha... didn't bloody feel like it.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Spring seems a long way, away...

Jenny tires of bird talk and legs it - Hemer Park
Jenny and I managed to coincide a walk to Hemer Park with the wettest part of the day (how marvelous). Despite the cold, sleety rain it was still great to get out for some much needed fresh air, especially following the previous night's efforts to imbibe several gallons of Philips Brewery's finest with our pals David and Susan.
The birding wasn't much to write home about - the usual forest denizens were in attendance; Pacific wren, golden-crowned kinglet, brown creeper, chestnut-backed chickadees, and so on.
On our way to Hemer we'd noticed what appeared to be something of an influx of Steller's jays, and also an increase in the number of American robins around the Cedar neighborhood.
The pool was pretty quiet with just a handful of ring-necked duck, a couple of bufflehead and a few mallard. 8 trumpeter swan were on Holden Lake, and a couple of drake wood duck were here too - the first I've seen for some time.
Of note: There were 2 varied thrush, and a slate-coloured junco among the dozen or so dark-eyed juncos at the feeder this morning.

Later, once I'd dried out, I headed down to have a wee root around at the Nanaimo River estuary. Once again, my timing was impeccable as the heavens opened and I spent a good hour trampling around in the cold rain. Of course, having spent most of my life birding in Lancashire, this was nothing new.
I tried to find something interesting among the golden-crowned sparrows but sadly didn't. There seemed to be more song sparrows around today, yet a considerable dearth of juncos.
Just as the rain ceased at about 4pm, a western meadowlark started to sing and I was soon looking at a flock of 10 of these soggy, supreme songsters.
The female northern harrier soon appeared, cruising over the marsh. I headed to the riverside, accidentally flushing a Cooper's hawk on the way.
A dapper Lincoln's sparrow popped up and gave excellent views for a couple of minutes before diving for dense cover.
Scanning the western side of the river, I spotted a hunting short-eared owl. As I watched it, another owl appeared and crossed the river passing in front of me and then actively hunting, much to the irritation of a loudly protesting belted kingfisher.
I headed back and just as I was leaving I noticed that one of the short-eareds was perched up on a post, and beside it was the female harrier.
By now it had started to rain a little again, and the birds were quite a way away, hence the accompanying photo being even worse then my usual efforts! But, I decided it was worth posting in as much as it's an interesting sight...

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Quennell, it was cold...

With only a small window of birding opportunity available today, I opted for a check of Quennel Lake, Cedar.
With much of the water frozen the waterfowl was limited, but at least concentrated in the areas of open water.

A single juv trumpeter swan was swimming around forlornly.
Several lesser scaup were in the deeper water along with reasonable, if reduced, numbers of common merganser.
A dozen or so smart ring-necked duck (pictured) were in another area of unfrozen water. Seems silly now, but I remember twitching my first ring-necked duck at Stocks Reservoir in the Forest of Bowland, back in Britain in the mid 80s.
Pintail numbers were down considerably, as were green-winged teal with just 4 present, including one of the Eurasian/GW intergrades.
By contrast, the number of northern shoveler had gone up and around 20 birds were in the area.
The regular male American kestrel was hunting nearby.
A Wilson's snipe flew up from the edges of the nearer lake edge, and a typically garrulous killdeer made its presence felt, noisily.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Nanaimo River Estuary Owls

By the time I finished work at 5pm, the sky was still clear-ish and I headed to the Namaino River estuary with a good hour of daylight left. The place looked incredible; covered in snow and lit by the last rays of the dropping sun.
The first bird I saw was a female northern harrier sat up on a log on the marsh. I had a short wander around but realized quickly that was little hanging around the crab apples or hawthorns.
From the viewing platform I could see good numbers of American wigeon, plus a few gadwall and a family party of trumpeter swans on the river.
Checking the marsh on the other side I picked up the male harrier hunting low, and soon came across a short-eared owl perched up on a stranded large piece of driftwood in the distance (pictured).

Scanning around I noticed a second short-eared owl out over the main marsh. Eventually the two came together and engaged in a fascinating 'mock' fight, briefly being joined by the male harrier.
A few eagles were cruising around but little else other than the odd heron and Canada geese. 
I checked diligently through the golden-crowned sparrow flock only to find the usual song sparrows, towhees, juncos and single fox sparrow.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Rich Mooney's Field Notes

Check out my mate Rich's new book. It's a really good read! Click on the link below for details.

Rich Mooney's Field Notes

(Not sure who that fool is who wrote the introduction, though...)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Band-tailed On The Run

Following incredibly unextraordinary visits to Quennel Lake and Holden Creek this morning, I opted for a stroll down to Hemer Park for a root about.
The only bird of note at Quennel was the male American kestrel. Wildfowl numbers were very low with no sign of any teal and only a handful of pintail, plus a few bufflehead and common mergansers.
Holden was equally duckless, but a couple of red-tailed hawks and a female northern harrier did their best to give me something to look at. A belted kingfisher and solitary trumpeter swan were also here.
On way to Hemer Park this afternoon I saw a band-tailed pigeon - another year tick. I assume it's way too early for a long-distance migrant, so is it more likely a hitherto unseen bird that has over-wintered locally, or a short-range migrant?
The usual suspects were encountered in the park; brown creeper, both species of kinglet, chestnut-backed chickadees, pileated woodpecker, Pacific wren, etc.
On the pool there were several trumpeter swans. ring-necked ducks, hooded and common mergansers, bufflehead, mallard and 1 lesser scaup. An adult bald eagle was cruising around and a pair of marsh wrens showed well below the viewing platform.
Walking back along the Colliery Trail to 'downtown' Cedar (no sniggering...) a barred owl betrayed its presence by hooting loudly.  

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Cedar Big Day

Although admittedly not the best time of the day for birding, I managed to spend most of the afternoon out at various local spots. It was a little breezy and cool, but gloriously bright and clear. 
I started out by trying to relocate the large swan flock that was by Adshead Road, Cedar last week but after driving around for a while it seemed apparent that they'd either moved on or were somewhere out of site.
I then made my way to Quennel Lake. A male American kestrel was hunting by the roadside (pictured) and before long an adult female northern harrier came by. The drake common teal was still present, as were the 2 intergrades, in among a few green-winged teal and pintail (the latter pictured below).
A flock of 96 lesser scaup were on the water, occasionally spooked by 2 gun-toting chaps in a boat who were patrolling the lake - I didn't see them actually shooting at anything, so heaven knows what their intended quarry was. Other wildfowl included common mergansers, bufflehead, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks and a couple of common goldeneye.

I then made a quick visit to Blue Heron Park at Yellowpoint. Remembering the reasonable seawatching that could be had from when I lived out there, I thought I'd see what was bobbing around on the sea.
As it happened, not much. A single common loon, and a handful of American wigeon were pretty much it. A pair of black oystercatcher were noisily interacting with one another on the rocks. The rather poor pic here shows the male.

My next port of call was Holden Creek. The highlights here were two northern shrikes, one hunting around the fields, the other along the hawthorns to the rear of the marsh. There were few ducks to see; the presence of 3 hunters at the back of the marsh soon explained that!
The Nanaimo River estuary beckoned and I headed to Raines Road. I was quietly pleased to see just one car parked up when I got there.
I first headed along the long hedge, scanning over the marsh as I went. Songbirds were notable only by their absence. A party of distant ravens, obviously mobbing something, drew my attention to a passing turkey vulture - my first of the spring!
I then noticed a short-eared owl hunting in the fields between the houses and the hedge. It gave brilliant views, and in fact showed frequently over the next couple of hours. A pair of northern harrier also showed well. At one point the pair were interacting, the male even attempting a food pass, but an irritated red-tailed hawk took exception and harassed them until they went their separate ways. I wonder if some harriers pair up on the wintering grounds before heading off to breeding sites?
A group of 8 western meadowlark added a welcome splash of colour to proceedings, unquestionably taking the award for best passerine of the day.
Two belted kingfisher, one each male and female, were hunting around the area. 
I walked out to the marsh edge and scanned through the wildfowl. Although greatly reduced in number, there were still plenty of American wigeon and green-winged teal, plus smaller numbers of mallard, gadwall, pintail, bufflehead and common goldeneye.
A very convincing western gull flew by and a party of 8 trumpeter swans were snoozing on the marsh. As always, several bald eagles were kicking around.
All in all, a pretty rewarding afternoon's birding.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Frosty morning larks

Managed to drag myself out bed this morning and got a good hour of birding in before heading into Nanaimo for work.
It was sub zero and once I'd de-iced the car, I headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary for a scout around.
Practically the first bird I saw was a rather miserable looking female northern harrier, complete with a veneer of ice on her mantle. From the viewing platform, I could see the male harrier too - equally hunched and thawing out. As usual, a few eagles were cruising around, or sat loafing on tideline logs or in the riverside trees.
There were reasonable numbers of pintail and American wigeon around, plus smaller numbers of other common species of duck.

Walking along the long hedge, I was struck by the apparent lack of passerines. Eventually, I came across a small flock of 10 western meadowlark. A couple sat up in the hawthorns, and I managed the fairly poor shot shown here.
Heading back toward the big oak, I finally found some sparrows. A flock of around 30 golden-crowned sparrows and approximately 15 dark-eyed juncos were feeding together. In among them were a couple of song sparrows and a very neat little Lincoln's sparrow - the first I've seen here for quite some time.
As I was leaving, the intentions of the owner of the truck that was in the car park when I arrived was made clear, as I heard shots out toward Holden Creek. The wildfowl season may technically be over, but for some it just never ends...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Buttertubs at Dusk

I fancied a break from tradition this evening, and decided to enjoy the last hour of daylight down at Buttertubs Marsh.
I wasn't expecting too much, but was optimistic that I might catch a glimpse of something crepuscular and interesting.
I arrived to see the usual cyclists and dog walkers bumbling around the place. It's hardly surprising that since the large and obvious signs clearly telling folk that dogs and cyclists are not allowed in the reserve were removed, and they erected the swanky new signage (where such directives are almost invisible) the increase in both pooches and push-irons has gone through the roof. Or at least, that's how it appears every time I go there. Grumble over.
Anyhoo - there wasn't much going on birds-wise. Red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds were gathering in noisy pre-roost flocks around the lake edges and a couple of great-blue herons chased each other over the reed tops. A couple of marsh wrens were sub-singing from the rank vegetation and a solitary Virginia rail squealed from the depths of the marsh.
The light was lovely, and a few hooded mergansers and bufflehead reflected beautifully on the calm water surface.
If it's fine tomorrow morning, I might try and get out early for a spot of pre-work birding, and try to convince myself that it's nearly spring...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sunday service

Jenny joined me for my Coastal Bird Survey jaunt down to Jack Point, on the eastern edge of the Nanaimo River estuary this morning.
The weather was kind, bright and just a little cool. There weren't too many birds to count, unfortunately. Perhaps the usual rafts of dabbling ducks that I've seen off here were safely feeding around the estuary edges and in the creeks now that the shooting is over. As a result, the count was restricted to a few greater scaup, red-breasted mergansers, common goldeneye, buffleheads, loons, horned grebes and the like.

Later, I took a stroll down to Hemer Park. On my way along Hemer Road a dazzling male evening grosbeak flew across the road in front of me, only to disappear into so trees. I heard it, or another grosbeak, call a couple of times but I was unable to relocate it. There were good numbers of juncos also flitting backward and forwards, so presumably it was visiting neighbourhood feeders with other common garden birds. Having had a couple of grosbeaks fly over my yard about 3 weeks ago, and noticing that there was mention of a local sighting on the Nanaimo bird forum recently, it was good to know that there are some hanging around the Cedar area. Thus far, they've stubbornly refused to visit my feeders...
There wasn't much going on in Hemer itself. On the pool, there were 26 trumpeter swans, plus several ring-necked ducks, and hooded and common mergansers.
While there, I had a chat with a couple who mentioned a large number of swans in nearby fields. Cue, a leisurely walk home followed by a dash to Adshead Road is search of said Cygnus.

I soon found the swans in question, not too tricky given that there were approximately 300 of them in a roadside field. I pulled into the farm driveway and positioned myself so that I could comfortably check through them all (tundra swans and ringed/collared trumpeters on my mind...).
Unfortunately, within a few seconds a pair of boisterous hounds appeared, either by unfortunate coincidence or mean-spirited design. Anyhoo, the result was the same; a swan exodus ensued. And, while the sight of multiple airborne birds can be thrilling, it was bloody irritating in this particular instance. Among the large white throng, was a flock of 26 greater white-fronted geese. Oh, and a cock pheasant did its customary panicky dance running for cover to a nearby hedgerow. 

I returned home via Quennel Lake. Not too much out on the main body of water - the usual common mergansers, buffleheads, common goldneye and lesser scaup were all present and correct.

Scanning through the dabbling duckies, of which the majority were pintail, I noticed my old friend the intergrade drake green-winged/Eurasian teal. Then I noticed another, curious teal with no white vertical stripe and only the faintest hint of a horizontal stripe (both birds together, right, in the pic). And then I saw a pure, classic drake common (Eurasian) teal, complete with striking face pattern (also pictured).
The ABA doesn't recognize this form as a 'species', but the BOU does. And I know which one I side with...!
With that I headed off home, reasonably pleased with the day's events.
Birding; it's not always exactly amazing, but it's always rewarding and a couple of surprises are often waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Post-work birding

Managed a quick sprint down to the Nanaimo River estuary after work tonight.
The tide was a million miles out, so waterbirds were either absent or simply too distant to bother trying to discern with any degree of accuracy.
A couple with 3 very lively and noisy dogs were out on the river mouth, adding further to the dearth of birds.
The only aves of note came in the form of a couple of northern harriers that flew in, in tandem, from the south-east. They were both juv-types, and given their size and structure one each male and female.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Who Wants To Be On A Record Committee?

Click on the image above to hear an all too familiar story... (for some reason only half the image appears on the screen above on some computers, but if you click the small icon top centre it should send you to the original site).

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Nanaimo Mockingbird Still Present

A slew of urgent chores and such ate into any potential birding time today, I'm sorry to say.
However, as a large chunk of the necessary things needing my undivided attention were in the Parksville area I was able, at least,  to casually spot a couple of American kestrels as I went about my business.
One was on wires by the highway near the Ugly Dwarf Meadows and another was seen on the Errington road near the Cozy Stove restaurant, or whatever it's called.
On my way back, late afternoon I managed to squeeze in a quick stop by Brannen Lake, Nanaimo where the northern mockingbird soon showed. It was doing the rounds of its usual haunts. The picture here was taken a few weeks ago, when I first saw the bird.
A cursory scan over the lake failed to reveal any loons, or indeed many waterbirds at all.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Some Photographers Don't Give A Hoot

With a modicum of daylight to tease me, I headed to the Nanaimo River estuary this evening on my way home from work. And with that simple, single event, spring seemed to be temptingly close.
I had a good 20 minutes of reasonable light before dusk descended and I managed to see a female northern harrier and a short-eared owl. Both were on the undisturbed, northern side of the river.

Talking of owls and disturbance - I recently had a conversation with a local photographer who described some of the scenes he witnessed down at the estuary earlier in the winter as nothing short of a 'gong show'.
Now, I know some people think that my concerns over disturbance from photographers is somewhat unwarranted, but this fellow described seeing some excessive behaviour by those in pursuit of the 'perfect' owl shot.
Of course there were gangs of tripod wielding paparazzi chasing owls from one side of the estuary to the other, but apparently some photographers were observed using lures on fishing rods to bring the birds closer.
Frankly, that is appalling and pretty inexcusable.
Hardly surprising that these birds became increasingly harder to observe as winter went on. The combination of shooters, dog-walkers, severe weather and over-enthusiastic fieldcraft-free photographers was surely enough to cause unrest among even the most hardy of birds. Some conservation area the Nanaimo River estuary turned out to be...