Saturday, 30 April 2011

Flycatchers and Deer and Racoons, Oh My!

I was hopeful, thanks to the overcast skies, that this morning might prove more fruitful than the past couple of days and I headed off to have a walk around the grounds of Government House at 7am.
A band-tailed pigeon was sat up in the trees near the back car park, indicating that there was at last some migrant movement. 

The deer photographed here was more intent on keeping its eye on the dog being walked past - I offered little threat, obviously.  
As I carefully and slowly made my way along the trails, stopping for the occasional bout of pishing, I soon realised that I wasn't going to find myself in the midst of an historic fall of epic proportions. A hermit thrush showed and a couple of skulking golden-crowned sparrows emerged from the brush but otherwise it was business as usual for the most part.  
I continued to pish, make pygmy owl noises and tweak my rustic 'Audubon Bird Call' as I made my way along the path and eventually got some response from a yellow-rumped warbler. I looked up, it was a female.
Then another bird caught my eye up on a snag. It was an empidonax flycatcher - nice, my first of the year. 
It flitted between a large fir and the exposed branches of an adjacent garry oak, keeping mainly in the upper reaches.
It looked like a Hammond's flycatcher, then it called, further confirming it. Phew. That was easier than it could have been!

As I was grilling this small empid, a rather cumbersome racoon (pictured) came along to check me out. I'm sure that long-time residents and natives of this fair land are ambivalent about these mammals, but I have to say I'm still very much charmed by them... 

Friday, 29 April 2011

All Quiet Around The House

Another early wander around the Government House gardens and woodland trail this morning failed to reveal much of note.
A fox sparrow was seen as were two hermit thrush, with a third heard. Just 3 territorial orange-crowned warblers were heard and seen, and only one ruby-crowned kinglet.
Pine siskins were bombing around, chasing each other in pairs.
Other than the usual towhees, Bewick's wrens, nuthatches and such it was pretty quiet.

A morning trundle around the Government House grounds on Thursday was equally unremarkable,
the highlights being 1 each of hermit thrush and fox sparrow.
A couple of ruby-crowned kinglet were seen but it was otherwise quiet passerine-wise.
An adult Cooper's hawk was busy doing that flappy nighthawk-like display flight over while a young bird was also doing the rounds.
Two large skeins of white-fronted geese passed over - very high. One group contained around 120 birds, the other about 160. At least 3 smaller birds, presumably cackling geese, were discernible.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Mid-Island Year-Tick Fest

Yesterday (Tuesday) Jenny had to go up to Nanaimo for much of the day for work purposes and so I decided to do the decent thing and keep her company. Of course this meant that I had to fill my day somehow, and I eventually chose to spend several hours on my old stomping grounds.
I started off at Holden Creek.
Although somewhat disappointing on the shorebird front with just a pair of least sandpiper and a couple of killdeer present, the wet fields had attracted a flock of c40 American pipit, and around 20 savannah sparrows. An American goldfinch was singing near the sluice, and a single northern rough-winged swallow came through, joined by barn and violet-green swallows.
An osprey circled over, and several turkey vultures cruised over the firs. A pair of greater white-fronted geese were among the Canadas in the fields.

I then headed along Gordon Road where I added common yellowthroat to my yearlist in the marshy area near Harmac Road. The ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds were here too, as was a showy, singing marsh wren.

Arriving at the Nanaimo River estuary, I noted a hefty and ominous cloud headed my way. Could be good, I thought... and indeed it was as a pair of purple martin preceded it and showed well above me for a few minutes.  Further hirundines came trickling through including my first cliff swallows of the year. No swifts materialised, but you can't have everything...
A female northern harrier was hunting over the marsh and a lone cackling goose was hanging around with 4 Canada geese on the river mouth. A handful of green-winged teal, American wigeon, pintail, bufflehead and common mergansers were also present. 
The tell-tale call of yellow-rumped warblers revealed a couple of males - one each myrtle and Audubon's. Since my last visit on 9th April, the number of savannah sparrows had gone through the roof and they were all over the place. White-crowned sparrows, having been absent all winter had replaced golden-crowneds with just on of the latter seen. A single Lincoln's sparrow was in the brambles by the big oak.

After grabbing some barely edible grub in Cedar, I went to see if anything was happening at Quennell Lake. Not much, as it happened. 12 northern shoveler, a few GW teal and lesser scaup were pretty much the best of the bunch. Tree, violet-green and barn swallows were all present in good numbers.

My next port of call was the airport where I hoped to see vesper sparrow. The first bird I saw as I stepped out of the car was however a lovely bright chipping sparrow, one of a pair present. I soon heard what I thought sounded right for a vesper singing and eventually located it sat in a distant bush.
It soon came a little closer but refused to stay still long enough to allow me to get a pic.
It then flew toward me and started feeding on the ground just about 6 feet away from where I was stood, scope and tripod at the ready. Way too close to focus, follow and photograph with my primitive set up... oh well, i got a really good look at it and even managed to read one of the numbers (2) on its metal ring! I probably could have seen more but for the fact that it was constantly moving, and favouring short grassy areas that obscured the ring somewhat.
It also sported darvic rings: orange over blue on the right, and a black over the ABA ring on the left. That should identify the individual - not sure who uses this info but if anyone reading this wishes to pass this on to the relevant person/people or let me know who to contact, I'd appreciate it.
I did get some nice sharp pics of it with its back to me, and the one here is the only one that shows its head. Not too sharp though... apologies.

After having my fill of this fine bird, I left it grubbing around in the dirt and headed off to Buttertubs Marsh before picking Jenny up. 
On my way, I noticed another osprey - adding sticks to a nest just by the highway south of College/5th. Noticing the time, I realised that my time at Buttertubs would be short and I barely had time to walk up to the platform. There were a handful of yellow-rumped warblers along the way, as well as downy woodpecker, Anna's hummingbird and marsh wrens blasting out from the rank vegetation. On the water there were just hooded mergansers and a pair of wigeon.

All in all a decent day's birding, and a reminder of why I love birding around estuaries.  

Monday, 25 April 2011

One Good Tern...

After a drizzly night I woke to find that it was still grey and overcast this morning, with lovely showers to entice me out. I had toyed with the idea of going to Oak Bay Marina to see if I could locate the rock sandpiper reported from there yesterday, but the lure of a few fallen migrants proved too strong and I headed off to the Government House grounds.

Well, what a poor decision that turned out to be! After covering the area as diligently as I could, and finding little more than a single Lincoln's sparrow, I started to think about that sandpiper... and by 8am I was heading home to get the car and head off to the coast.

It took less than 10 minutes to get there, and the rain really stepped up its game. I spent a good hour scouring the rocks to the north and south of the marina but failed to find any rock sandpipers. Three distant summer plumage dunlin momentarily caught my attention, and a group of 8 black turnstone did their best to compensate but frankly, failed.
Now, I'm not too prone to chasing ticks much these days, but I've never seen rock sandpiper and it's one of only 5 or 6 North American shorebirds that I haven't seen, so I was a little disappointed not to connect with it, but hey - it's not like I won't come across one sooner or later. Sooner would be nicer, though.
On the plus side, I did get a 'year-tick' while I was out there getting soaked. A pair of majestic Caspian terns came by, improving my mood a little... 

Me, atop Moss Rock - looking windswept and uninteresting.
Later, after I'd done my daily quota of work and washing up, Jenny and I decided to walk down to Moss Rock Park - just to check it out. The views are great; looking south across Juan De Fuca Strait to the US, and the impressive mountains of Olympic National Park, and north back toward Government House.
I can imagine it being a great spot for grounded migrants in the right conditions - for the first hour or so of daylight, after which I expect they would melt away or simply re-orientate themselves and continue moving in whichever direction they should be going.  

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Good Morning For A Mourning Dove

Although it was encouragingly overcast as I looked out the window this morning, the forecast rain had failed to materialise. Nonetheless, I trundled off to Government House just to see if the southerlies and cloud cover had caused anything to drop. The cloud ceiling was a touch high, and my optimism waned somewhat as I walked through the gardens toward the bluffs.
It was eerily quiet, with few birds singing. Even the Bewick's wrens and towhees were reticent, and took a while to get revved up. In fact the noisiest birds were the Cooper's hawks - a juvenile bird was making a right racket and was being chased around the place by the adult male. In fact, this went on throughout the hour or so I was there, and every time the young bird approached the area of the park where the nest is located, the adult came out to see it off. Later, I located both adult birds near the nest; the female was pulling some hapless songbird apart while the male looked on, from several feet away. I'm assuming that it's too early for a fledged bird of this year, and that the youngster is one of last year's offspring?
As I slowly made my way around the trail I came across several orange-crowned warblers, a lone male yellow-rumped warbler, a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets and the other usual denizens of the area.
Just as I coming away, however I noticed a mourning dove sat up in the trees near the parking area. I think I'm right in saying that this is the first one that I've ever seen on the island, so that certainly made the walk worthwhile!
On my way back, I once again saw the flock of cedar waxwings on Joan Crescent - there were 16 present.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Owls About That Then

An early scout (6.45-8.30am) around the Government House woodlands this morning wasn't without its rewards.
The area was positively buzzing with the sound of birdsong and even a few migrants had dropped in to brighten things up a bit.
As well as the 'resident' species, there were several yellow-rumped warblers (all Audubon's) around plus a number of what appeared to be 'new' ruby-crowned kinglets.
A savannah sparrow popped up and I came across two Lincoln's sparrows.
A pair of noisy red-breasted nuthatch led me to discover a roosting barred owl (pic).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Not Bad Friday

The garry oaks and bluffs below Government House, Victoria
I just had a trundle around the Government House garry oaks area and gardens in the brilliant sunshine this morning. Bald eagles were soaring high, as were a couple of Coopers' and a single sharp-shinned hawk. A couple of 'new in' orange-crowned warblers were singing, adding to the voices of those already present.
A pair of downy woodpeckers were busy chasing each other around in between bouts of drumming and nest-hole excavation.
I came across my first 'myrtle' yellow-rumped warbler of the spring, all the birds I've seen previously have been 'Audubon's'. A single barn swallow passed through, but there was little other sign of visible migration. 
As ever, Anna's hummingbirds were all over the place, as were red-breasted nuthatches, chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits, Bewick's wrens, spotted towhees and the like.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Early Trundle Around The Parish

Started off the morning with a maiden visit to the Chinese Cemetery, just to check it out, following Ian Cruikshank's recent advice on the BCVIBirds forum.
It certainly has all the appeal of good vagrant passerine habitat! Unfortunately no on told the birds, and the place was conspicuously quiet. At least there was quite a bit of stuff off-shore to divert me.

The usual pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets (terrible pic attached!), harlequin ducks, surf scoters and pelagic and double-crested cormorants were all present in reasonable numbers, as were the expected gull species. The latter were augmented by 5 fly-by Bonaparte's gulls, looking smart in their summer garb.
I headed along the coast to Clover Point, ever mindful that I needed to get there in advance of the joggers and dog-walkers.
Talking of which, what is with the hound-lovers?
Do they set off from the house while it's still dark? It's almost impossible to find a bit of potentially decent birding habitat that hasn't got some old dear and her beloved yappy hooligans trampling all over it... 
Anyway, it was still early and the point car park had fewer than 6 vehicles parked up when I got there. Scanning the rocks I counted 21 black turnstone and 2 black oystercatchers.
A river otter was gamboling around and as I checked offshore I noticed a couple of porpoise and a sealion sp. breaking the surface.
Also out at sea were 19 brent, with another pair flying by. Again, the usual alcids and ducks were all visible and a further flock of 16 Bonaparte's gulls joined a throng of activity offshore, where I noticed another one of those very bleached out mew gulls.
On the beach there were 26 dunlin feeding along the tideline close to a bunch of harlequin ducks.
Just before 8am I decided it was time to go and look for some migrant songbirds, so I headed for Government House.
Highlights of a trundle around the garry oaks and woodland path included a neat hermit thrush and a couple of singing orange-crowned warblers, but no other obvious arrivals. The usual red-breasted nuthatches, towhees, Bewick's wrens, Anna's hummingbirds and such were all making themselves known.
I found a couple of active nests - as unalike as it's possible to get. One, the neat and delicate moss and web woven structure that is a bushtit's exquisite creation, the other a large bundle of precarious sticks and the handy work of a Cooper's hawk.    

Monday, 18 April 2011

All At Sea

After managing to drag myself out of bed early this morning I headed out to Clover Point, in an effort to beat the crowds. It was delightfully quiet when I arrived and I spent some time checking the rocks for shorebirds and scanning the water for, well, waterbirds.

Just 5 black turnstone and a lone black oystercatcher were sifting through the seaweed, while harlequin ducks dabbled around the edges. Offshore, there were the usual pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets, plus a couple of common murre.
A breeding plumage Pacific loon was preening close to shore and several surf scoter were diving in the calm waters. A pair of brant flew by and I added barn swallow to my year list.
I headed north along the cliff top path and in some shrubby areas I heard and saw my first orange-crowned warbler of the spring (pictured).

All along here there were also numerous Anna's hummingbirds (male pictured), plus Bewick's wrens, spotted towhees, song sparrows and the like.
It was getting towards 9am now and the place was getting a bit heavy on the dog front, so I took off, stopping at Government House on my way.

The first bird I saw was a cracking Cooper's hawk sat out in full view, in the bright sunshine. Sadly it didn't stay still long enough for a snap. I heard, then saw several pine siskin, but other than a couple of ruby-crowned kinglet and a fly-by tree swallow it was pretty much business as usual. Given the decent light and the fact that I had my scope with me, I got a pic of the Anna's hummingbird nest I'd found a few days ago, high up in a Garry Oak. Just as I was headed back to the car, a merlin zipped through.

Later in the day, once work and chores and other boring stuff had been dealt with, Jenny and I took a stroll around the block and came across a nice flock of c18 cedar waxwings along Joan Crescent.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Local birding

Work kept me in for most of the day today, but I did manage to sneak for an hour late afternoon (not the best time time of day, admittedly).
I took a stroll down to Government House and had a trundle around the woodland path, to the rear of the building. The bluffs and garry oaks here really do help conjure up visions of lost vagrants and weary northbound migrants... we'll have to see about that! 
The place was actually quite birdy and alongside the common chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits, Anna's hummingbirds and the like, there were still good numbers of ruby-crowned kinglet and a pair of yellow-rumped warbler busily gleaning insects from the emergent buds.
Red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper and northern flicker all kept me entertained and several smart golden-crowned sparrows looked neat in their newly acquired breeding finery.

Oh, and our first Anna's hummingbird came to the feeder this morning. Hopefully, we'll see more hummer action - it's been a bit slow thus far... 

Sometimes, Good Guys Don't Wear White

Regarding yesterday's gull - I was grateful to receive word from two top local birders, Jeremy Gatten and Ian Cruickshank, that the bird is indeed a mew gull - but simply a heavily worn bird. I have to say that I have never seen as bleached-out a worn first year common gull, and I didn't realise that mew gulls could appear so strikingly pale. The pale brown/cream primaries really threw me, hence my assumption that it was a leucistic bird.

Thanks Jeremy and Ian - your comments were most welcome - I'll certainly be looking at 1st cal mew gulls more closely from here on in! As they say, every day's a school day...
Here are a couple more pics of the bird for those who might want to see some other shots.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

White-winged gull conundrum

pelagic cormorant
Taking a break from work this afternoon, I headed off to Cattle Point to see what I could find.
Offshore, there were good numbers of pigeon guillemot plus a handful of rhinoceros auklets. A few surf scoters and harlequins were kicking around.
A small flock of a dozen or so spectacular long-tailed duck flew in and landed on the water.
7 brant were flying around offshore.
Searching the shoreline for waders I could only find a group of 13 black turnstone, and at one point I heard a greater yellowlegs but failed to locate the bird itself.
Pelagic cormorants were perched up, posing nicely - hence the accompanying pic.
The only passerine of note was a savannah sparrow, seen feeding along the tide rack.

leucistic mew gull
Among the muddle of gulls by the slipway, I spotted what I initially thought might be a Kumlien's gull but on closer inspection, I wasn't convinced.
Some of its plumage features suggest that species, but its small size, head shape and dainty bill had me leaning toward a leucistic mew gull...?

leucistic mew gull
Please have a look at these photos and see what you think. It's certainly a curious looking individual.
I'd be interested to see what others think.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Rufous Hummer Christens Feeder

It was still a bit breezy and cool this morning, but I thought I'd had a wander down to the gardens at Government House and see if anything interesting was lurking therein.
Before I set off, however, my first rufous hummingbird of the year appeared at my feeder - result! It stuck around for a while, and then proceeded on its merry mega-metabolic way.

On the subject of hummers, the gardens at Gvt. House certainly host a fair share of Anna's hummingbirds and they seemed to be everywhere. I even located a nest, complete with attendant female, but I couldn't see whether there were any young in the delicate cup. How protracted is this species' breeding season? I'd have thought that most would have fledged by now - do predated, or early successes, promote second broods of this early nester?
There were fair numbers of ruby-crowned kinglets around, but sadly no sign of any other migrant passerines from the south.
Among the 'resident' birds clearly engaging in the joys of spring, were American robins, song sparrows, Bewick's wrens, red-breasted nuthatches, spotted towhees and fox sparrows.
Despite the relative quiet this morning, I'm still of the opinion that this small site might well attract some interesting passage stuff in the coming weeks... I suppose only time will tell!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Clover's Return

With yet more chores to attend to today my chances to get some birding in were looking grim. However, I did manage to grab a few moments at Clover Point - well, we were driving past; it would have been rude not to stop...

harlequin duck
Offshore, there were plenty of pigeon guillemots kicking around, plus a few rhinoceros auklet. A lone western grebe made an appearance and there were buffleheads and harlequin ducks in good numbers.
Just one pair of black oystercatcher were seen and a group of 19 black turnstone were feeding on the windblown rocky shoreline.
Looking through the baffling mix of messy gulls, I found one interesting individual. In many ways it was good for western - jet black primary tips, yellow orbital ring, pale flecked ochre iris - but it had a mantle colour barely a shade darker than the more typical glaucous-winged gulls. What fun these mongrel larids can be!

Of note - not had any hummers visiting my newly erected feeder yet, although interestingly, a bush tit came in for a drink... Sadly my other feeders will have to remain in storage, as our landlords won't allow anything that could entice rodents. Shame, as I was really looking forward to hanging cheese from the nearby apple trees.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Last Post from Cedar - Hello Victoria!

Amongst the tedium and relative chaos of packing our belongings, hiring and driving a 16ft truck to Victoria and back, and giving our Cedar suite a thorough cleaning, I actually managed one last visit to the Nanaimo River estuary last Tuesday morning.
Apologies for the late posting, but a combination of zero internet service and lack of time for such luxuries prevented me from doing an update until now.
So, Tuesday - it seems like an age ago now... what were the highlights?

savannah sparrow
Well, the obvious arrival of the first savannah sparrows of the spring was notable, with at least 8 birds seen. Four of those were already establishing territories, and singing heartily.
Otherwise, it was pretty quiet with little to suggest the arrival of migrants.
A handful of turkey vultures drifted lethargically over during the morning, and the familiar 'resident' flickers, kingfishers, towhees, bald eagles and such went about their business as usual.
The Lincoln's sparrow was again with the golden-crowned sparrow flock by the large oak. 
A total of 3 northern harriers showed, 2 females and a male. Among the decreasing wildfowl out of the water were the expected species; gadwall, mallard, bufflehead, common merganser, green-winged teal, American wigeon and of course, Canada goose.

Now that we're 'settled' in Victoria, I'm looking forward to discovering what the south island has to offer a Brit Birder in BC!
I've had a wander around the local area, and have identified what may be a potentially interesting spot for migrants - the gardens and garry oak woodland area by Government House.
This is in easy walking distance, and given my penchant for local patching, could become something of a regular haunt.
I have no idea whether anyone already covers it, or whether it has any previous form, but I'll give it a whirl and see... So far my paltry, casual list there includes Anna's hummingbird, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned sparrow, Bewick's wren and hairy woodpecker, among other common birds.
Jenny and I walked down to the waterfront today, where we were treated to the sight of horned (Slavonian) grebes in spectacular breeding plumage, harlequin ducks, 20+ black turnstone, black oystercatchers and a pair of surfbirds.
Here's to a new home, and some new birds to find!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Cedar round-up

Early this morning, singles of both peregrine and Cooper's hawk were seen over the house.
After an essential visit down to Victoria this morning, we got back to Cedar mid afternoon.
Despite the persistent drizzle and grotty conditions, I found a couple of hours to go for a quick trawl around my favoured patches.
I started out at Holden Creek. Out in the fields, the usual party of 5 greater white-fronted geese were back with the gaggle of resident Canadas. Other than a few mallard, green-winged teal, common mergansers and a pair of bufflehead it was pretty quiet.
In the distance, a raven was mobbing a female northern harrier and a couple of juv. bald eagles were sat around, looking damp and bedraggled.
I then took off for the Nanaimo River estuary to see whether there were any decent soggy birds in residence. It was incredibly, incredibly quiet. The most interesting sighting concerned what was almost certainly the largest gadwall flock I've seen down here - 42 birds in total.  Otherwise, highlights included a Lincoln's sparrow among the golden-crowneds, 2 northern harriers (smart male included) and good numbers of violet-green swallows.
So, slightly dejected I headed for Quennell Lake for a spot of duck spotting. There were no unusual aythyas among the 40 or so lesser scaup on the main lake, the only other species being a couple of ring-necked ducks. In the shallower areas there were a few pintail, shoveler and a nice drake common teal among the numerous green-wingeds.
I couldn't locate any other species than violet-green and tree among the 100s of swallows feeding over the water. A northern shrike was hunting from fence-posts in the adjacent fields and a yellow-rumped warbler flitted through the nearby shrubbery.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Great Skua

Jenny and I went over to Vancouver this weekend with our friends Dave and Susan, to see a gig by British Sea Power at the Biltmore.
The ferry journey was a bit disappointing to be honest, the only birds of note being a few rhinoceros auklets and a common murre. Otherwise, it was the expected gull, cormorant, loon and duck species.
On the plus side, the gig was fantastic and we had a great time.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this wonderful band, I have attached a YouTube link of them performing the bird-related instrumental track Great Skua - at least it's in keeping with this blog theme... (just in case you're not aware, great skua is a bird).

Indeed, the guitarist Martin Noble (far left in the vid), is a keen birder himself and was part of a very British indie-rock trio who made a superb BBC Radio 4 programme, by the name of In Search Of The Holy Quail. The other two bird-loving musicians involved were Guy Garvey of Elbow and Marc Riley, my personal favourite BBC 6 Music presenter and former member of seminal post-punk band The Fall.

Over the next few days I shall be upping sticks and moving south to Victoria. I am hoping for one last visit to the estuary, Holden Creek and Quennell Lake, but if I don't manage it, there will be few postings until I get settled. I will miss this great area, and I admit that I am rather sad to be leaving the Nanaimo River in particular, and the birds that I may have found there this coming spring!