Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mystery Bird revealed

OK - had no time to pursue birds today, but I do have a few moments available so I'll go through last time's Mystery Bird.

Much of the bird is obscured by the rock that it is settled behind, and complicating things further, it also has its bill tucked away.
It appears to be dark brown overall with distinct streaking or heavy spotting on the breast. The parts we can see are pretty much concolourous and the eye appear to be open, and dark. There is no sign of any distinctive facial pattern visible.

So, is it a black oystercatcher? Well, a respectable 19% of the voters thought so. I think that the lack of matt black tones immediately rules that species out, and even at this angle one would expect to able to see something of that enormous carrot of a bill. True, juvenile oystercatchers will have dark eyes, but even very young birds are darker than our mystery bird.

So, how about Harlequin duck? The habitat looks right, and a female would certainly be brown. But, again, even at this angle elements of the face pattern would be discernible, as would the large white spot behind the eye. So I'm afraid its a no for the 19% who also chose this species.

Surfbird? Only one of you thought it might be. Assuming it's a winter plumage bird, as it clearly isn't a breeding plumage surfbird, I'd have thought that it simply isn't grey looking enough. Also, one wouldnt expect to see such heavy breast streaking on this species. 

So, that leaves black turnstone, which 57% of participants went with. This is a non-breeding adult, photographed at Jack Point, Nanaimo.
As always, please feel free to chime in with any other useful pointers I've failed to mention - or indeed anything that contradicts my reasoning!
Good luck with the duck...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cut Across Shorty

Made a quick stop by the Nanaimo River estuary after work today and had a quick check while Jenny remained in the car and occupied herself with a sudoku (or sodoku, or soduko...).

I took a walk along the hedge, it was quiet. I scanned the marsh, it was quiet. I checked the posts and shrubs for bluebirds, phoebes, etc, they were quiet. I looked up, it was quiet.

Then just as I was about to call it a day, I nearly stood on a short-eared owl. It flew up from its temporary roost and flopped off, dropping down again approximately 100 metres away. Having not seen any owls for several days, and given the rather unfamiliar orangey appearance of this bird, I suspect it was a migrant as opposed to one of the wintering ones. Needless to say, I left it where it was.
Checking the distant small trees along the embankment, I noticed a northern shrike actively hunting.
Then I went home.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Blues Are Still Blue

I managed to drag myself out of bed nice and early this morning, realizing that the overnight rain had stopped.
What transient goodies might be lurking undetected down at the estuary?
What amazing spectacle of migration might I witness in the first hour of daylight?
These are the sorts of things that rattle through my fugged brain as I contemplate resetting the alarm for another hour...
But no! You've got to be in to win it, as they say, and given that I have only a few days remaining as a Nanaimo resident, and I shall have to wave goodbye to my beloved, adopted patch, I headed off to the estuary full of my customary optimism.
As ever, it didn't quite work out as planned and I spent a good hour and a bit desperately searching for something of interest to cast by bins upon.
I eventually rooted out a northern shrike, who showed well for a while and even treated me to some weird buzzing sounds.
The regular female northern harrier put in an appearance, but no other raptors were seen, except the ubiquitous bald eagles. 
Good numbers of violet-green swallow were in residence, and as I scanned though in search of other hirundine species I only saw a few tree swallows.

common teal
Checking the ducks on the river, I noticed a drake common teal (pictured) among some green-winged teal, gadwall, American wigeon, mallard and common mergansers.
A gaggle of Canada geese came through low, and among them were 5 greater white-fronted geese. I presume these are the Holden Creek birds either out for a spin, or starting to head off north... 

On my way home from an exciting day in the office, I decided to drop by at the aforementioned Holden Creek for a wee nosey around.
It was pretty quiet, with very few birds on the creek or around the marsh. Checking the fields and fenceposts, there were at least 30 American robins kicking around and then I noticed something blue on the ground.
Was it a windblown wrapper from a chocolate bar, or a discarded crisp packet?

mountain bluebird
No. It wasn't.
It was a mountain bluebird, of course.
I expect it's the same one I saw here on Sunday, rather than a new bird.
Anyway, as it was again so far away, I only managed the poorest of pics - as demonstrated here. Through my 'scope it looked lovely and bright and sharp, but in the fading light with a compact digital camera held shakily in front of the eyepiece, it appears less so.
I think Mike Yip will sleep soundly tonight.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bluebird Of Happiness Returns...

Saturday: With just a small window of birding opportunity open to me today, I squeezed in a brief visit to Holden Creek and the Nanaimo River estuary.

american kestrel
The only thing of note at Holden was the group of 5 greater white-fronted geese in the fields and the large number of American robins in the general area.
At the estuary, I could find no sign of interesting passerine migrants, and so contented myself with picking through the large numbers of violet-green and tree swallows in search of other hirundine species. I didn't locate any.
The only new bird I came across was a female American kestrel, which was hunting distantly in the adjacent scrubby fields (pictured). A female northern harrier was cruising around the marsh, and good numbers of thermaling bald eagles and ravens were joined by a couple of red-tailed hawks.

Sunday: Once again, other commitments (and something of a fuzzy hangover) meant that my birding time was limited. And, once again, I headed for the estuary in search of avian goodies. However, it was absolutely dead down there, with no evidence of any passage birds.
After a good scan around, I eventually located a peregrine perched up on a stranded log, and a female northern harrier floated by.    
Disappointed, I decided to try Holden Creek. Just about the first bird seen here was a smart yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon's) - well, that was at least more encouraging!
Scanning the creek, I could only see a few green-winged teal and a couple of bufflehead. A couple of turkey vultures sailed by and a male northern harrier was circling high over the marsh.

mountain bluebird
Checking the fenceposts, I soon came across a distant blue shape flitting from post to ground and up again. A quick relocation with the 'scope proved it to be what I thought it was - a male mountain bluebird. Excellent. Four days earlier than my first one last year. Given the distance, I could only manage the shot here, but even still it's pretty unmistakable!

Before heading home we dropped by at Quennell Lake, passing the regular male American kestrel, sat on a telegraph pole, as we drove along.
The numbers of northern shoveler had gone up slightly and 18 birds were feeding in a frenzied huddle.
A flock of 62 lesser scaup and 2 ring-necked duck were on the main lake while a few mallard, teal and pintail were dabbling in the shallower vegetated edges. A Virginia rail called, but kept well hidden.
Well over 100 swallows were feeding out over the water and a northern shrike was hunting from fenceposts in the fields by the road.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Nanaimo Estuary Springs To Life

Another fine morning, and another early jaunt down to the estuary...
It was quite hard work today though, and the saving grace provided by the impressive sight of the migrating swans and geese witnessed earlier in the week was, of course, completely absent.

nanaimo river estuary
I arrived at the end of Raines Road just before 7.30am, and other than a couple of American robins muttering away, it was all quiet. Over the next half hour it picked up only slightly, with Bewick's wrens and song sparrows adding to the morning chorus.
I had a good trundle around hoping to come across something interesting, passing through.
I didn't.
There were 3 northern harriers seen in total, the usual male and female plus a 1st year bird. There were no owls on show.
A couple of noisy belted kingfisher rattled around the area and a lone brown-headed cowbird represented the only 'vis' as it flew high over, calling. A couple of tree swallows twittered around the nest boxes.
Then suddenly, just around 8.10am things really picked up. A pair of western meadowlark appeared, and one started to sing, then it seemed as if someone had emptied a bucket of robins out, with several darting about the place.
Next up was a northern shrike, which appeared from nowhere - presumably another migrant, as there haven't been any in residence here for the last few months.
And finally, to really add a bit of spring magic, the sound of a greater yellowlegs emanated from the river, soon followed by the gangly wader itself, as it rose up and flew off over the marsh.
Despite the encouraging upsurge in activity, I had to leave and go and earn some rent money...

After work, I made a brief stop at the Nanaimo River estuary again on my way home. the shrike was still in much the same area, singing its little heart out. Sadly, the video below does little justice to its delightful, jumbled song.
The only other thing of note was a solitary short-eared owl.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Wildfowl Exodus Impresses

Headed down to the Nanaimo River estuary this morning before work in the hope of stumbling across an early mountain bluebird, or something better! The first turned up down here on 31 March last year, and given the light southerlies overnight I thought it might jut be worth a check.
As it happens, there were no grounded passerine migrants, but between 7.30am and 8.20am there was a significant northerly movement of geese and swans. A total of 180 or so trumpeter swans headed over, with one flock containing 96 birds. A single tundra swan was among a smaller group. The bulk of geese moving were Canadas, though a single cackling and a handful of greater white-fronted geese added to the skeins.
It was a particularly high tide, and there were American wigeon, teal, gadwall and pintail scattered around the area.
Three northern harriers were hunting the area, as were 2 short-eared owls, a peregrine and a merlin. At one point the female and 1st yr harrier mobbed the peregrine, a particularly large and dark individual.
Small numbers of tree swallow were twittering around the nest boxes, and engaged in a bit of prospecting.

Post work Postscript
Stopped by at the estuary again this evening. Again, 2 short-eared owls were showing well. I presume the 'new' bird is a north-bound off-passage migrant.
Talking of new birds, a second adult female northern harrier was seen this evening. Similarly, I expect this is also a migrant. In fact as I watched this bird, it spiraled high, gaining height before heading off due west.  

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Raving About Ravens

The sun was shining, the sky was a welcoming shade of blue and despite the rather chilly wind it was a great day to be outdoors.
After a few essential chores, Jenny and I found ourselves at Neck Point where the stiff sea breeze and bright sunshine made a beach trek quite invigorating. Hundreds of gulls were wheeling around the area, and packs of sealions were porpoising close offshore. All the ones that we saw were California sealions, in contrast to yesterday's Steller's sealions just down the coast at Jack Point.
Flocks of surf scoter were passing over the waves, and a few harlequin ducks were feeding around the rocky bluffs. A small group of shorebirds included dunlin, black-bellied plover and black turnstone. A single wind-buffeted Anna's hummingbird whizzed by.

Later, once more important tasks had been tended to, I headed out to the Nanaimo River estuary. I arrived to find Lynne and John Thibault in the parking area, having come up from Victoria to look for short-eared owls. They had had considerable success, and as we were chatting the owl hunted over the fields in plain view.
Among the birds Lynne and John had seen were two scarlet macaws! I can only imagine that someone somewhere is regretting opening that window to let in a bit of spring air...
I had a good scout around the estuary area, but didn't see much more than the short-eared owl and a couple of northern harrier (male and female).
Ravens. as always were constant companions, and for once I decided not to ignore these amazing birds and took a couple of snaps of a pair on the marsh. Many of the ravens are now paired up and can be seen and, especially, heard all around the area.
Few birds have a relationship with people as deep-rooted and mythical as the raven. From ancient European and Middle Eastern fables to Native American folklore, these impressive and uncannily intelligent corvids have inspired humankind for millennia.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Saturday Birding Highlights

Hoorah! It's stopped raining (for now, at least).
Jenny and I headed out for a wander down to Jack Point. This is Jenny's favourite spot in the Cedar / Nanaimo area for a nice ramble, and I have to say it's one of mine too. It's never especially birdie, but it's a good trek with a nice mixture of habitat to check.
The tide was way out, looking more like Morecambe Bay than the Nanaimo River estuary and it seemed strange to scan over a large expanse of mudflats and not see a single shorebird. There were good numbers of green-winged teal and American wigeon dabbling away at the water's edge but little else.
In the deeper areas, further offshore there were greater scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneye and common loon. Other birds seen included pigeon guillemot, bald eagle, surf scoter and pintail.
We also got great looks at a 3 Steller's sealions, and the usual harbour seals.
On our way back, we dropped in at Holden Creek.
Highlights here included a northern shrike, and 5 greater white-fronted geese in among the Canadas.

Later, I headed out to the Nanaimo River estuary, and I was surprised to find I had the place to myself. Perhaps the recently created plethora of potholes all along Raines Road have put some people off from bringing their vehicles down?!

short-eared owl
Anyhoo, I perched up on the observation platform and soon noticed a female northern harrier. Within a couple of minutes a short-eared owl came into view and it hunted close by, giving excellent views (pictured here, complete with badly placed twig in front of its face). At one point a raven came in an started to mob the owl, and amazingly the harrier flew over and started to mob the corvid in return! The raven soon tired of this and flew off, leaving the owl to continue its hunt. Meanwhile the harrier returned to perch up on the log from which it came. Very odd.
Another harrier, the smaller juvenile bird, also appeared briefly.

bald eagle
A young bald eagle sat upon one of the raptor posts was too posing too nicely to ignore, hence the shot here. A merlin whizzed through, causing a stir among the local northern flickers. 
Passerines-wise is wasn't too exciting with just the usual golden-crowned sparrows and such and three brilliantly bright male yellow-rumped warblers - all Audubons.
Before calling it a day, I paid a visit to Quennell Lake where the hirundines now numbered somewhere around 130+. I could only see violet-green and tree swallows among them.
The American kestrel was hunting from the overhead wires and another couple of yellow-rumped warbler were flitting around.
Northern shoveler numbers seem to picking up with 14 birds present. Otherwise, it was pretty quiet with just small numbers of the common duck species seen.


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Swallows and Warblers and Owls, Oh My!

After a busy weekend, where are combination of other priorities and some grotty weather prevented me from doing any birding of note, other than my very unremarkable Coastal Waterbirds Survey, I was delighted to get out for a bit today.

Following a necessary morning visit to Victoria, Jenny and I stopped off at Quennell Lake upon our return to Cedar. High water levels had caused most the dabblers to clear out and just 3 shoveler were seen, other than a handful of mallard. Diving ducks were slightly better, with a large raft of lesser scaup and a few common mergansers and buffleheads out on the main lake.
The regular American kestrel was showing well (pictured) and then I noticed a group of 30 or so hirundines, containing both tree and violet-green swallows, hawking distantly over the water.

Once I'd dropped Jenny off at home I headed to Holden Creek.

A mass of dabblers were in the farm fields, the majority being green-winged teal and American wigeon. A drake Eurasian wigeon was among them (pictured). A sub-adult peregrine came barreling through, and attempted a strike, but emerged from the panicking throng duckless.
Scanning through the 320ish teal just one intermediate 'common' was found.
A female northern harrier was hunting at the back of the fields and a northern shrike was patrolling the hedgerow.

The rain had fully stopped by now, so I continued on to the Nanaimo River estuary.

The river was running high and as a result few birds were on the water, just a pair of gadwall and a few bufflehead.
A short-eared owl was seen from the observation platform (pictured) and a Cooper's hawk drew unwanted attention from a party of ravens.
Walking the length of the long hedge, I came across my first yellow-rumped warbler of the spring - a spanking male Audubon's, accompanying a small flock of dark-eyed juncos.
A turkey vulture drifted lazily north.
Well, it certainly felt a little more spring-like this afternoon. Hallelujah!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Distant ducks dismay

Yesterday evening I made a brief stop at Quennell Lake, but my arrival coincided with a hurricane and a freezing cold downpour. Nice.
Just before I abandoned all hope, however, I did see what appeared to be a couple of potential canvasbacks diving on the main lake. Just a little too distant to confirm, especially under the shitty conditions, and so I decided to get out there this morning in the hope of relocating the birds. After all, they could quite possibly have been lesser scaup, just giving the illusion of being whiter backed and longer billed...
Well, I scanned and scanned the lake, and found no canvasbacks... it's always frustrating when that happens. The regular male American kestrel showed and a ruddy duck was present, as were 2 drake shoveler. Once again the heavens opened and I headed off to work, slightly cheesed off and slightly damper than I'd started out.

After work this evening I took advantage of the brief dry, calm-ish spell and dropped by the Nanaimo River estuary. Immediately, 9 western meadowlark jumped up from the weedy field just in front of the parking area and flew up into the big oak.
Almost as quickly, 2 northern harriers glided into view; the regular tatty adult female and a 1st year bird. Well, they may not be canvasbacks, but very nice to see nonetheless.
After that, it went a bit quiet and, other than a few common bits and bobs, it was unremarkable until a short-eared owl showed up. After a brief attempt at hunting, the owl plopped down on a log and sat there looking decidedly unimpressed by the large black cloud rolling our way.
Yep, you guessed it - the wind picked up and the rain commenced. Again.
Anyway, below you can see a terrible video of the short-eared just before the monsoon commenced.

After 40 odd years on this planet, I really should have got used to the fact that the arrival of March doesn't necessarily mean lovely, warm spring days and brightly coloured birds singing in flowering hawthorns. It's still winter for a few weeks yet... I'd better not allow myself to forget it.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Weekend birding highlights

Jen and I were in Victoria for the weekend and although we had a full itinerary, I managed to squeeze in a couple of small birding opportunities.
On Saturday I found a few moments to spend at Clover Point - there were no stringy eiders this time, just a handful of dunlin, black turnstones, black oystercatchers and harlequin ducks, etc. The assembled jumble of gulls contained nothing of particular note.

Sunday, we decided to check out Cattle Point, only really known to me as the location of a small group of rock sandpipers that were there recently. Although they hadn't been reported for about a week, I still felt compelled to have a look, as I was in the neighbourhood! Sadly, no sandpipers were found, but I did manage to get a shot of a fine looking surfbird (pictured). I can never see enough surfbirds.

Returning to Cedar later in the day, we stopped off at Quennell Lake for a quick look before heading home. Green-winged teal numbers had increased since my last visit, but the common (Eurasian) teal that had been around for some time was nowhere to be seen. Just 3 northern shoveler were present among the pintail and mallard.
The regular male American kestrel was hunting in nearby fields.   

Later, I paid a visit to Holden Creek, where large numbers of wildfowl were feeding in the flooded fields. Among the several hundred Canada geese, I saw a group of 5 greater white-fronted geese.
Scanning through the 225 American wigeon dabbling in the wet fields I came across 4 drake Eurasian wigeons. Certainly the most I've seen together here.
A northern shrike was perched up in a hawthorn out on the marsh. 

As I was in the area, I couldn't ignore the Nanaimo River estuary, and I headed there for a late scout around. Upon arrival I bumped into Bernard Schroeder; a great fellow and, without doubt, one of the world's leading authorities on marbled murrelet! He was busy shepherding his 2 lively boys while trying to get a bit of birding in. We had a good chat and saw a female northern harrier, before going our separate ways.

Other than a few trumpeter swans, gadwall, common goldeneye, etc., I didn't see much to get excited about. A short-eared owl came to the rescue with a last-minute appearance, and even stopped hunting long enough for me to rattle off a pic.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Another post-work birding visit to the Nanaimo estuary

Once again the weather was kind and I managed 45 minutes at the Nanaimo River estuary on my way home this evening.
There were several hundred gulls coming in to roost at the river mouth, but I couldn't dig out anything different out from the mass of glaucous-winged, and associated glaucous-winged mutants, other than a few California and Thayer's gulls. 
A group of c50 common goldeneye were on the river, as were a handful of trumpeter swans and a few gadwall, teal, mallard etc.
Three northern harriers made appearances - adult female, male and juv.
A northern shrike was the first I've seen here for some time. Return passage bird?
Other passerines were thin on the ground, just a small flock of juncos and a single fox sparrow to speak of.
A single short-eared owl showed well briefly before heading off to hunt in the fields.

Post Work Drive-by Birding

Just a quick one... there were 2 northern harriers (male and a juv) and a short-eared owl at the Nanaimo River estuary when I stopped there for half an hour, inbetween the rain, yesterday evening (Wed).